The alarm went off at the console, causing me to put down my notebook and pencil. It had been a busy time since I started out with the Protectors of the Plot Continuum, which meant that I'd barely had enough time to sit down between assignments. I had to push a few things away from the screen, so that I could see what was showing on it.
"Hokay, what's going on here," I muttered to myself. Then I got a good look at the Words. "Oh crud."
Another abduction (hey, I work in Despatch, what was I expecting?). This time by a thirteen-year-old who'd decided that the ideal way to get her happies was to get a combination of nine characters brought to Earth by her "Fairy Godfather". I snorted. Okay, one major reality fluctuation right there. I looked at the various dials and indicators that made up the console, then started cursing in earnest. Not only had she abducted the canon characters, but she was also going to be holding a sleepover with them, causing a major weakening in reality, with her bedroom as a nexus. I'd better get onto this one quickly, or Legal were going to go berserk.
A quick word about the Legal department: they don't deal with any country's legal system. Instead, they deal with breaches of the laws of canon, grammar, spelling, causality, physics, common sense, and reality. They tend to be a little overworked themselves. As a Despatcher, I don't have the authority to assassinate authors (although I have to admit, the notion is extremely tempting at times) so I just have to come up with a list of charges and hand those over to Legal to deal with. Then she's their problem.
Now, while I've been telling you all this, I've managed to get my gear together and load it all into my bag (I don't carry a backpack, rather a fairly large courier's bag. It's a bit more multi-purpose, and it sticks out less in some of the places I have to go). I checked the coordinates for the author's location, double-checked that I had some rather vital bits of equipment with me, and portalled in.
"Ah well, look on the bright side, Meg," I thought: "at least with reality going out the window, you'll have less trouble getting to the author than you usually would."
With that happy thought in mind, I pulled a cap out of my bag, and rang the doorbell. The door was answered by a rather vague generic mother figure (another sign of the reality slipping in this vicinity: normally humans are a bit more fully fleshed-out).
"Hi", I said. "I'm here to deliver the pizza."
I got a slightly curious look from the mother figure, then an affirmative nod as she opened the door. I reached inside my bag, brought out the neuraliser and zapped her. A minute should do it: long enough to get me into the house, not long enough to cause permanent damage.
"You didn't hear anything," I told her, ducking under her arm while she held the door open. "You've been watching TV and got confused".
I pushed her back toward the sofa that sat in front of the television, then dived for the stairwell before she came back to herself. Once safely on the stairs, I shoved the neuraliser into a pocket and pulled out the Reality Dysfunction Indicator. When I waved it around, I was glad I had it muted. Otherwise it would have been screaming away like a Geiger counter in the middle of a hot zone. As it was, it flashed colours all over the place, rather like a very cheap and compact set of Christmas lights. Bloody hellfires.
To give you an idea of what's going on here: when someone abducts characters from a canon universe and moves them to ours, the reality of each universe is weakened somewhat. If it gets really bad, you can get the two universes trying to co-exist. While this may sound like fun in fiction, in this reality it isn't. Just think about the following: Uruk-hai loose on the streets with shotguns. Orcs looting your local mall. Sauron with nukes. The first two were apparently part of the LA Riots, and it took a hell of a lot of hard work from the Despatchers to clean up after them. The third was very narrowly avoided at the same time. This was all before my time, of course; I'm fairly new. But they tell us all about it in training. Seems that the riots were actually caused by a rather contagious ficlet written by a LOTR fan who'd distributed paper copies among friends and asked them to write themselves in. Do these idiots realise what they're doing when they do that? (Don't answer that: I know they don't, or I wouldn't be doing this job). In a lot of ways, being in Despatch means that we're protecting two continua: the canon continuum, and our own.
So, I'm sitting there looking at a readout which says that this little missy has probably got a Stage-Two disruption to reality happening in her bedroom. This is, of course, in addition to the nine (male) characters she's got in there. Median age 50, average age approximately 1100 or thereabouts (the figures get stuffed up by the fact that nobody knows the ages of either Gandalf or Legolas). For a thirteen-year-old who's worried about "95 year old child molesters", this smacks just a little of logical inconsistency. A suspicion comes to me, and I draw out the Character Analysis Device. Now, in Despatch, we carry around the heavy-duty versions of these, designed to cope with Authors and up to a 200% OOC rating. After all, when you abduct a character from a mediaeval or pseudo-mediaeval world and bring them to 21st century Earth, most of them will wind up about 50% OOC just by not panicking the minute they get here. Given that bit of information, you'll understand my disturbance when it started squealing like a startled pig the minute I switched it on. Oh lovely.
I quickly muted the Character Analysis Device and rushed up the stairs, dodging flying pink pigs, pink elephants, little animated bluebirds and fluffy bunnies as I did so. At least this isn't as bad as some of them (the author doesn't appear to be gawdawful gawthic, thank all the gods there are). I made it up the stairs safely and grabbed the Reality checker out of my bag. It blinked all of its lights at once, tried to scream its head off, then shorted out.
Okay, things weren't going well here.
Time to go for the backup: I reached into my pocket and pulled out a coin. In front of the first door in the hallway, it came up heads. Second doorway, tails. Third doorway: edge. This must be the one.
I listened at the door while I prepared the next bits of kit I'd need. It's always a good idea to find out what you're getting into, after all. What I heard made me cringe.
"You have to elfie, we all had to hear about Frodo's sordid sex life, now you have to kiss Mr Slimy over there."
The voice was vaguely familiar, although it was in a higher register than usual. I waved the Character Analysis device in the direction of the voice.
[BLEEP] [Aragorn, Son of Arathorn; Canon:Lord of The Rings; abducted; 199.99% OOC CHARACTER RUPTURE! CHARACTER RUPTURE!! MR JELLY MR JELLY FLIBBLE FLIBBLE FLIBBLE WEEBLE WEEBLE SCHLUP!!!!!!] [BLEEP]
I swore. Fluently, long-windedly, and above all, silently. Definitely time to get in there.
I knocked on the bedroom door.
"Who is it?", came the voice from inside. Female. Ah, there's our author.
"Pizza delivery", I said. Okay, not really original, but it does get people to answer their doors. A pause from inside the room. Then the door opened a crack. A suspicious female face appeared, about shoulder height on me. I smiled sweetly, then barged into the door, knocking the author (well, there weren't any other females around, except for me) flying backwards into the room.
"Hi, pleased to meet you all," I said to the room in general (I have a maximum of about ten seconds to get my patter out of the way and the author safely knocked sideways before the warriors in this group annihilate me: this I already know from experience). "Could you please look over here, miss?"
A bright flash, one stunned Smeagol (who'd also happened to be looking that way) and an author neuralized for a few seconds. Now for the knockout drops.
"You must be thirsty," I told her, pushing a small flask into her hand.
8, 7... ah, there we go, nice drinkies. Now I've just got to distract the rest of them for another 5 seconds. Luckily the knockout drops tend to be fairly sweet-tasting, as well as fast-acting, so most people I feed them to don't object. However, the short time after they've been administered is always the trickiest few moments in my job. 4.. 3... The Middle-Earthers were starting to recover, and any moment now, they'd be leaping to protect our erstwhile authoress. I might have to duck and run for a wee bit. Especially as Aragorn and Legolas were starting to look somewhat less startled. 2... 1...
Oh bugger, here they come!
The gods were kind to me. Just as I was about to either get my head lopped off or shot through with an arrow, Shannon (our "author") dropped unconscious, which knocked her out of the story. Okay, someone up there likes me, if only in small doses. When the author is knocked out, their grip on the characters starts to slip, and the characters start to revert back to canon. For us, it's not the rapid process it is with the assassins, simply because we have to leave the authors alive, but the moment where the controlling force is removed still knocks the canons for a loop. I was safe, for now. I checked Shannon's eyes and vital signs: she was out all right, but only for about ten to fifteen minutes, if that. Time to start moving fairly rapidly. I took the remote activator out of my bag and opened a portal to Middle Earth, then shooed the Middle-Earthers through.
First priority for Despatch is always to return the characters to the appropriate universe; putting them in the correct time and place can wait until after we've got there. That way the disruptions to both universes are minimised. I actually have a fairly quiet spot picked out about 300 years after the War of the Rings around the Eryn Vorn that I use for just this purpose (for the very simple reason that it's somewhere which isn't mentioned anywhere as having anything even vaguely Ring-Quest related happen there). My disguise kicked in as I went through the portal: "Human Breelander". Once I arrived, I counted the people I had there. Aragorn, Legolas, Gandalf, Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Gimli (still unconscious, must have been carried through by the others)... I'm missing one.
"Where's Gollum?" I asked.
Shrugs all round. (Ack, this is not my day; verily the gods of probability have got something major against me. I shall have to Have Words with them.) In the meantime, I had to first persuade the rest of them to stay where they were, and then go fetch Smeagol out from whichever corner he'd crawled into. It generally takes about five minutes for the influence of an author to completely wear off, fortunately. I say fortunately, because one of the things which the authors of TS fics tend to do almost as a given is to make their captives nice and biddable.
So when I say something like, "Aragorn, Gandalf, could you please give me a hand in retrieving Gollum? The rest of you: could you all wait here for a bit, please", and smile at them before heading off through the portal again, they do just that.
Back through the portal I went with the two leaders of the group (chosen not only because the two of them caught Gollum once before, but also because without them around, the rest are less likely to try to wander off). I looked quickly at the author lying sprawled on the floor, then asked Aragorn to move her up to her bed. Things would be a lot more straightforward afterwards if I only had to persuade her that she was dreaming. As the ranger dropped her down on the mattress (not particularly gently, but then, who can blame him? I'd be grumpy too, if I'd been forced to behave like a snotty twelve-year-old) I heard a noise from below the bed. Ah, there was our fugitive. I reached below the bed, grabbed Gollum by an ankle, and dragged him out.
"Come on, Smeagol, time to take you home," I said, motioning the other two to go back through the portal, and shoving Gollum before me towards it.
Problem the next: Gollum didn't want to go through the portal, and dug his heels in as best he could. Oh how nice. Fortunately, both Aragorn and Gandalf were intelligent types, and saw the predicament. I think it helped that both of them were able to guess that taking Gollum home meant returning them back to their original locations, something that they were more than willing to co-operate with. Gandalf walked through the portal, while Aragorn picked up Gollum and literally threw him through it, following after. Then I stepped through and shut it behind me. Okay, that's that link to Middle Earth cut. Reality should start reverting to (what passes for) normal back on earth as well.
"Right," I said, having made sure that everyone was now present. "My name's Meg. I'm here to return you all back to the places you were taken from. Can you all remember what those were?"
Nods from a few (Aragorn, Legolas and oddly enough, Gollum).
"How about what you were doing before you got taken away?" I asked. Relieved nods from the rest of them (except Gimli, who was still out).
I breathed a sigh of relief myself. Sometimes, the "authors" of these fics would effectively create tabula rasa out of the canon characters, resulting in a lot of trouble replacing them. This is why the Powers-That-Be-Dangerous-To-Mess-With in the Despatch team finally got fed up, and raided the "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" universe to get the memory implant machinery they had. Then we handed the whole kit and caboodle to Makes-Things and the crew in Technical Support, who came up with a portable memory implanter that the Despatch folks now carry around as part of their standard kit. Now if we wind up with completely mindwiped canon characters, we can replace the memories from scratch, and just drop 'em off at the first convenient waypoint.
There's just one other very real problem to be dealt with here. At least some of these characters have eaten food on Earth. Now, I don't want to go into a whole heap of messy details here, but it's worth noting that most modern humans have reached a sort of equilibrium with the number of chemicals, additives, preservatives and so forth in our food. Beings from a pseudo-mediaeval world haven't. Beings which happen to be a completely different species to humans (Elves, Dwarves, Maiar) have some really weird reactions, such as Gimli falling asleep after a combined dose of caffeine and sugar which should have kept any human awake and bouncing off the walls for about a month. (I'm not going to say anything about some of the food allergies that I've had to treat various canon characters for.) Oh, and the other consideration is that the blasted stuff does horrible things to the ecosystem once it's gone through their digestive tracts. I trust I don't have to get much more detailed than that.
Luckily, after the first few Despatch assignments which resulted in the agent having to induce vomiting in the canon characters (and subsequently having vomiting induced in themselves) someone Had Words with Dr Fitzgerald from Medical and Makes-Things (or possibly his predecessor) in the Department of Technical Support. (Headquarters legend has it that it was around this time that the senior members of the Despatch team got their nickname of The-Powers-That-Be-Dangerous-To-Mess-With). All I know is that a standard bit of Despatch kit is a little whozamajigger which looks like a transistor radio after it's been in a nasty accident with a mobile phone, or vice-versa. I think the full technical name is something along the lines of "Anachronistic Biochemical Substance Eliminator" or similar. The people who trained me called it "the whatsit", which is a nice memorable name for it.
Gimli was first priority, given that he was looking close on comatose. I dialed up the correct metabolism (dwarf), switched the whatsit on and held the device next to the dwarf's wrist (anywhere on the body will do, but the closer you get to a major blood vessel, the better). I noticed when it had removed enough of the various toxins from Gimli's system: his eyes snapped open, and he reached for his axe. I had to move fairly quickly to get out of his immediate range.
"Hey, hey, enough with the axe, okay?" I yelled at him. "I'm trying to heal you!"
I backed away, holding my empty hands up in the universal gesture of surrender. At the same time that I was backing away, both Legolas and Gandalf grabbed hold of the dwarf, restraining him. Gimli was still muttering away to himself in what I assume was the Dwarven language: my universal translator was set to Westron, so I couldn't have figured out what he was saying. Mind you, I don't suppose swearwords ever need that much translation anyway. I ducked forward, picking up the whatsit from where it was lying, near the dwarf's feet. The one thing I didn't need was for it to be trampled on.
"You were taken away to my world," I explained to him. "You drank something which didn't agree with you. I'm trying to get it out of your system. You're currently feeling the ill-effects of having drunk it; a bit like a hangover after too much ale. Will you let me cure you? Please?"
No response from the dwarf aside from more cursing in Khuzdul, although I noted that Legolas and Frodo both seemed to understand what I was on about. Frodo stepped forward, holding out his arm.
"Maybe if you heal me first, he will be more accepting?" he said.
I nodded, calibrated the whatsit for "hobbit" and placed it against Frodo's wrist. Frodo hadn't had that much to eat, so there shouldn't be too much toxic matter to remove. I watched the display on the front of the whatsit while it gradually removed a fairly large amount of muck. This surprised me for a second, although I quickly recognised the reason: Frodo was a pipe smoker, and the whatsit was designed to remove all toxic wastes from the system of whomever it checked. It took the tar from his lungs as well as any additives, preservatives, colours, flavours and genetically engineered or modified biochemicals from his system (now you know why all the members of the fellowship lived such long, healthy lives). I surreptitiously looked at the gauge which indicated the capacity of the whatsit. About three-quarters full already. I fumbled in my bag for the hazmat disposal bag and the spare cartridges. Ideally, the Despatch department issues three of these per mission. I had been warned by my trainers: I carry at least ten. After all, in the full fellowship of nine, there are seven who smoke.
When the machine had beeped that it was finished, I lowered it from Frodo's arm, and popped out the cartridge containing all the goop that had been extracted. That went into the hazmat bag, and a fresh cartridge went into the whatsit.
"Who's next?" I asked.
They each volunteered, with Pippin, Merry, and Sam needing a cartridge each (food plus smoke). Legolas and Gandalf between them needed just the one cartridge (which was slightly surprising, because I knew that the wizard smoked like a chimney every time he had the chance, according to the canon). Aragorn was another who needed about half a cartridge (another thing to tell Intelligence: either Dúnedain are naturally rather resistant to the ill-effects of tobacco, or the strain of tobacco grown in the Shire for smoking is a rather low-tar version). Aragorn also brought over Gollum, who fidgeted and squirmed and carried on while I calibrated the whatsit to "hobbit" again and held it close to his neck (nice big veins, nice strong blood supply, which meant that I could get everything over and done with sooner).
"Hurtsssssss! Hurtssss!" was all that he'd say.
Now, I've undergone whatsit therapy a couple of times myself (I wound up on the wrong end of an assassin's arrow once, dropping off the canon characters a bit too close to where a Mary Sue had popped up to meet them) and I can testify that it does feel a little odd while it's happening, and that it will leave a bit of a bruise on your wrist if you've got something serious to remove. However, by no reasonable stretch of the language could I describe it as hurting. Maybe it was because I had the whatsit set to "hobbit", which was only kinda-sorta accurate for Gollum, after all.
I stopped trying to clean out his system, and instead slid in a clean cartridge. Then I twiddled a small dial on the whatsit, and used it to take a blood sample. At least this way, if I ran across Gollum again, I could get a decent calibration done. I pulled out another hazmat bag, and dropped the sample in there. There was still Gollum's food consumption to deal with, however. I'd have to do this the old-fashioned way.
"I need a couple of volunteers from the audience to assist me in this one," I said, brightly. I won't try to describe the looks I got from the "audience" as a result of that comment. It looked like the effect of the author was wearing off, which was both good and bad. Good, because it was another sign that I didn't have to implant memories. Bad, because a for lot of what I had yet to do, I required at least partial cooperation from the canons. If they started getting balky, I started getting problems.
I kept the smile on my face, while explaining that I needed someone to hold Gollum still while I fixed him up. "He's eaten something on my world, something that might poison him. I need to get him healed so that he won't die."
Okay, probably not the best appeal to make, given that I could see on at least six of the eight faces before me a colossal expression of "Where, precisely, is the problem with this?" Gimli was still in caffeine berserker mode, so he probably wasn't thinking anything from what I could tell. Gandalf (thank heavens) had caught what I was going on about.
"What do you require?," he asked, quietly.
"I need someone to hold Gollum still for a moment while I feed him an emetic", I explained. "Normally the device I held near each of you removes any poisons ingested while you were in my world. Unfortunately, this device doesn't seem to work with Gollum, so I need to get the poison out of his system by other means. It'll be messy." I shuddered. I hate it when this happens (it's happened to me once before: an orc who was picked up by mistake) because although my stomach is less than sensitive, the one thing which does make me reliably nauseous is the sight and smell of vomitus. Ewww, messy. The wizard nodded, and looked across at Aragorn. The two of them spoke briefly, I think in Sindarin (the cadences and sounds were right: as I say, the universal translator was set to Westron, so I couldn't tell), ending in Aragorn nodding a shade reluctantly. I thought I had my "volunteer".
I was right. Aragorn walked over to where Gollum was, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, and then looked over at me. I'd been busy in the meantime: after all, I didn't really fancy making a reluctant Gollum try to swallow. I took out the neuraliser, set it for 10 seconds, and poured a hobbit-sized dose of Ipecac into a medicine glass I carried around with me. Then I set the universal translator to "Sindarin" and warned Aragorn to look away. His eyes narrowed briefly at me, as I spoke fluently in a language I hadn't appeared to understand about five seconds earlier, but he nodded and looked away. I reset the translator to Westron, neuralised Gollum, put the medicine cup in his hand, and said the magic words.
"You must be thirsty; have a drink".
Then I ducked behind Gollum, while he swallowed the Ipecac, and proceeded to heave up all the food he'd eaten. Quick, but messy. I looked away from the resultant mess, and tried to breathe shallowly. I'd have to put all of that into another hazmat bag as well, so that it didn't contaminate the environment. Ewwwww. Sometimes I really hate my job.
When Gollum had finished heaving, I gave him a drink of water from my water bottle.
"I'm sorry, Smeagol," I said, kneeling before him. "I had to do that. You would have been very sick otherwise."
A look of pure, unadulterated hatred bore into me. Oh lovely, just what I needed; one guaranteed uncooperative canon. This really wasn't my day. Mumble.
Meanwhile, I had Aragorn looking at me in a suspicious manner. I didn't even have to hear him ask, "How did you do that?", to know that he wasn't going to cooperate if he didn't get an answer. I looked over at the rest of the group behind us, seeing quite clearly that the same question was written on each of their faces. I sighed. What the heck, I was going to neuralise them anyway, they'd not remember it when they were back in their proper places. Why not give them an answer, anyway.
"Sufficiently advanced technology," I replied, with a grin.
(Hey, I said an answer. I didn't say a good answer, did I? Before you ask, no, the canons didn't accept it either.)
I shrugged. Time to do the standard explanation. I'd done this a few times before, so I was getting used to it, although I don't know that I'll ever get used to having to do it every time I do a job. I think it's force of habit which makes me rather cagey about giving out more information than they absolutely need. Luckily, I'm rather practiced in the style and cadence of Westron.
"You were all kidnapped to another world. I serve in a fellowship which tries to mend such matters. My task is to return you to your own paths, and in that way safeguard Middle-Earth. I shall also be bringing the one who kidnapped you to justice. To this end, I am provided with the tools I require to complete my task, most of which are for healing your bodies and minds."
Glazed looks from the lot of 'em. Drat, the author's influence hasn't quite worn off. I changed down a gear or three.
"I used magic, all right? I'm not trying to hurt any of you, not if I can avoid it. You're all too important. Now, is it all right if I try and finish healing Gimli the easy way? I don't want to have to do to him what I needed to do to Smeagol."
I got a nod from Legolas, who was still holding Gimli steady. Gimli had ceased muttering for the moment - possibly he'd run out of cursewords, or maybe he was just trying to avoid repeating himself. I grabbed the whatsit, reset it to clear the dwarf's metabolism, and held it against his wrist. Off it went. As more and more of the combined goop was removed from his system, he gradually calmed down further and further, which was reassuring. As he calmed down, I explained to Gimli what I was doing and what had happened to him. The dwarf was a good patient, once enough of the caffeine had been removed from his system.
Once that was complete, I put the whatsit away in my bag.
"Did anyone pick up anything from the room you were in?", I asked. All of them shook their heads. I reached into the bag for the Anachronism Detector. Unfortunately, even though I trusted each and every single one of them implicitly, regulations were regulations, and I had to check them over.
Now, the Anachronism Detector is a neat little bit of kit, with a rather interesting history. It's the direct result of Makes-Things learning the hard way not to lose when playing poker against one of The-Powers-That-Be-Dangerous-To-Mess-With. Of course, it's also the direct cause of TPTBDTMW learning that Makes-Things can be the Bastard Engineer From Hell, when it suits him. It looks like a portable metal detector similar to the ones they use at the airports, being composed of a wand and a control box. The wand is lovely and straightforward - just wave it over the character, and it'll beep at anything anachronistic. It's the control box that contains the bastardry. First, you have to select the world, then the character that you're checking, then the exact page reference for the time that the character is going back to (from your particular copy of the books, which you also have to calibrate... each and every time you use it). It is probably the most cursed-at piece of equipment that any of us from Despatch carry, and it's the one piece of equipment that we absolutely have to use on each and every mission. By order. The particular member of TPTBDTMW who commissioned this is something of a bloody-minded sore winner.
Anyway, I fished out the Anachronism Detector, and smiled at them all. "Now comes the bit you'll probably all enjoy. I'm going to send you back to where you all started."
Smiles all round. They liked that idea.
"So," I continued, "we'll start with those of you who couldn't remember where you were, but could remember what you were doing. Who's first?"
Merry stepped forward, with Pippin. "We were both in the same place," he told me. "I can't remember much, but Pippin says that we were being carried by orcs."
Okay, this means that they were abducted from some point after Amon Hen. I needed a bit more information. I turned to Pippin.
"Were you tied up at all?"
He shook his head. "No, I don't think so. I can remember trees. Lots of trees, and a sense of stuffiness. It seemed almost familiar".
It sounded like they had both lost some memories, but at least I could place the pair of them successfully. Page 450 of my omnibus copy of the books, just at the beginning of the chapter where they met Treebeard. I calibrated the Anachronism Detector (swearing frequently as I did so) and dug out the memory implantation device, as well as the neuraliser and the remote activator. I'd drop them off at the edge of the Entwash, with the appropriate memories, and then leave them to it. I set the neuraliser to erase the past hour, then scanned them for anachronisms. As I'd expected, I found nothing. I opened the portal, then stepped them through, neuralised them, and implanted the memories they needed. They couldn't see me any more, safe in the canon that they belonged to, and set off into the heart of the forest. I stepped back through the portal again.
"They're back safely," I told the others. "Who's next?"
Frodo and Sam stepped forward. Between the two of them, they could remember having descended a cliff face, by means of a rope, although they weren't sure whether or not they'd retrieved the rope. So, just before they met with Gollum, then. I'd be able to return the three of them pretty much at the same time, by the look of things. Well, that was reassuring, anyway.
I looked around for Gollum. He'd vanished again. Drat, hells and damnation! Why, in the name of all the gods of both worlds, did that fool of a girl have to choose to abduct the one character who could be guaranteed to give the maximum amount of trouble to anyone who had to return him? I mean, why couldn't she have chosen someone nice and simple. Smaug, maybe, or the Watcher in the Water? Even Sauron wouldn't be this much trouble. Hells, a full troop of Uruk-hai in full battle frenzy wouldn't be half as much trouble as one slimy, sneaky, proto-hobbit. I sighed. When I got back to HQ, I was going to ask for overtime on this one. Or a partner. Either would do.
"Frodo," I asked, "could you please take out the Ring?"
Frodo looked at me suspiciously. "Why?" he asked me. "Why should I do that?"
I sighed again. "I'm trying to find Gollum, and it'll be a lot easier all round if he just comes back of his own accord, rather than me having to chase him. If you bring out the Ring, he'll be drawn to it."
Frodo was still looking stubborn. Looked like I was going to have to do this the hard way. Of course, if I was, I was going to cheat. I set the Anachronism detector to the defaults for this particular glade, then scanned. A dull beep off to the north a bit. Another away to the south. Same to the east and west. Great. Just peachy. On impulse, I decided to check above me. A louder beep. Ah yes, Gollum liked climbing trees. Just one small problem here: I didn't. I looked up. Yup, there he was, sitting clinging to the trunk of the oak tree that rose above us, muttering to himself. Damn, damn, double damn, triple damn, and a plague on all authors who think that hobbits are cute. I was running out of time, patience, and curse words. I closed my eyes, drew in deep breaths, and counted to ten in English, Westron and Rohirric. I added in French and German for luck. I opened my eyes again, and looked upward. Gollum was still sitting up there, no closer to coming down than he had been before. Time to appeal for further help. I looked over at Legolas.
"Would you mind fetching Gollum for me?" I asked. "I need to send him back to the same area as Frodo and Sam."
The elf looked doubtful. I sighed again. Overtime and a partner. I'd had enough of coping with this sort of thing single-handed.
"If I promise faithfully to explain later, will you get him down for me?", I asked, reasonably certain of what the answer would be.
Legolas nodded, to my surprise (I'd been expecting the answer to be "no") and headed up the tree. He quickly returned, dragging Gollum with him, and pushed Gollum toward me. I'd been taking advantage of the pause to calibrate the Anachronism Detector, so I was able to scan, neuralise and shove Gollum through a portal within seconds of his reaching the ground. There was a slight "oof" from the other side of the portal. Oopsie, I must have set it to open about three feet in the air. Silly me. Once the portal closed, I heaved a sigh of relief.
"Okay, quick explanation," I said. "Gollum is going to prove very helpful to Frodo and Sam. He's due to reach them in oooh... about a quarter of an hour. Or at least, he will once I've put them back in the correct place and time." I turned to the two hobbits. "Time to go, fellows."
I scanned each one of them for anachronistic objects (none found), then neuralised them and put them through a portal. Before I neuralised him, Frodo looked at me with those lovely big blue eyes of his, and thanked me. He's a polite hobbit, at least, and when he looks at me in that way, I can almost see what the fangirls see in him. I gave him a hug, and told him to be careful. He won't remember it; that's both the beauty and the pain of neuralisation. When I closed the portal, I was a bit misty around the eyes.
Next up was Gandalf. By now, I had a fair idea where to drop him off, namely Lothlórien. About the only problem with this was that Galadriel's magic sometimes tends to interfere with portal locations (although not to the extremes that the plotholes caused by Mary Sues interfere with things in Rivendell). I created the portal first, checked the location of it, then carried on with the standard routine. The wizard thanked me for my work as well. I gave my standard "t'weren't nothin'" shrug, and wiped the memory of me from his mind, before stepping back through the portal and closing it.
Now I just had the three warriors to contend with. They'd all been waiting patiently, as they had the best idea of where they were going to land up. I turned to face them.
"Are you ready to return?" I asked. This is always the hardest bit of my job: getting the last ones through the portal, then cleaning up the glade, ready for the next time I'd be back (which would wind up being around five minutes from when I departed, if any observers were watching from the sidelines). Each of them nodded. I got Aragorn to point out precisely where in Rohan they would have been, so that I could drop them off on the trail of the orcs, then got ready to portal them back. Nothing anachronistic, no memories to implant, just the ones of their captivity to erase.
"You will succeed in what you have set out to do," I told them all, as I raised the neuraliser to wipe the memories out. A grave nod from Aragorn, a smile from Legolas, and a formal bow from Gimli; then they knew me no longer, except as a vague figure pointing out their path to them, before they ran on.
Back in the glade, I sighed, grabbed another hazmat bag, and used it to scoop up the debris and mess caused by our presence, including Gollum's vomit. Eww. It had to be done, but this didn't mean I had to like it. Once I'd finished, I looked around, and checked for any anachronisms, using the detector. Nothing. Right, time to deal with the author.
I portalled back to her bedroom. She was still lying on the bed, right on top of about three books, and a walkman. If I'd timed things correctly, she should just about be ready to wake up from the knockout drops I'd given her. If I'd been really lucky, I should be able to find that "Fairy Godfather" deus ex machina, and put him on ice as well. I pulled out the Reality Checker. Ah drats, I'd forgotten it had shorted out. Time to return to coin flipping, I suppose. Or maybe...
Shannon woke up when I slapped her gently on the cheek.
"Shannon whatever your last name is, I charge you with the following offenses recognised by the Protectors of the Plot Continuum: Bending reality without due care and attention; causing to become manifest a deus ex machina to whit, one Fairy Godfather; abducting nine characters from the LOTR universe without due forethought; causing most, if not all, of the abducted characters to behave in a manner contrary to their true selves, most particularly Aragorn son of Arathorn; poisoning at least six out of nine of these characters; creating plot holes without due care and attention; endangering the fabric of reality; reckless disregard for the laws of grammar, logic, common sense and probability; heading in a direction which would have led to me having to cope with the staff from the Department of Bad Slash; and forcing me to deal with Gollum. Do you have anything to say in your defense?"
She looked at me blearily. "What?"
I smiled at her nastily. "You are hereby in Biiig Trouble," I told her. "These charges are going to be referred to the appropriate authorities, and an appropriate punishment will be determined. You will be contacted by these authorities at a later date."
Another bleary look, this time with a touch more coherence behind it. "Who are you?", she asked. "Hang on, you're that pizza delivery person! What are you doing in my room? Where are the people I had here for my sleepover?"
"I've taken them back", I told her, still with the smile. "They weren't yours to play with, so I put them back where they belonged. Find some characters of your own to play with the next time you want to write a sleepover."
"I'll bring them back! You can't stop me!" she challenged.
"Actually, you know, I rather think I can", I said. "You put it into the fic yourself: one wish from your fairy godfather. You don't get to bring them back."
She smiled at me smugly, and I felt the reality around me change. There was the Fairy Godfather, large as life and twice as irritating. I smiled back, and pulled out the trap from my bag. A nice little trick we picked up from the Ghostbusters universe, for catching extradimensional entities used as deus ex machina. One rather fancy lot of special effects later, I had the Fairy Godfather in captivity. I took some handcuffs out of a pocket in my coveralls, and slapped them onto her.
"Congratulations, Shannon. You are now under arrest for persistent reality violations. Anything you say will be taken down and used against you. I'm not going to read you your rights, because quite frankly my dear, you don't have any."
I portalled back to HQ, and dropped off the squirming author, the trap containing the Fairy Godfather, and the small voice-activated tape recorder that we carry these days at the Legal section. The various hazmat bags got dropped off in Medical, along with the case number that Legal had given me. All that goop was now evidence which had to be analysed. The Reality Checker got dropped off at Technical Support (Makes-Things agreed to fix it up quick-smart for me after taking a look at my expression), then I headed on my merry way Upstairs.
The lifts in this place always move too fast and too jaggedly for my comfort. I'm pretty damn certain that it's deliberate. After all, if we didn't mind the lifts, we'd be visiting Upstairs more often.
I stepped out into the corridor. For the assassins, it's grey. For us, for some reason, it appears to be blue. Sky blue, all over, with pretty cloud patterns all over the place. It's like stepping into a Windows Startup screen... which may be why our particular official in Despatch chose it. I looked around for a doorknob. No luck. Fortunately, I know our official's weakness. I sat down on the floor and started singing. Loudly, in my best Strine.
"Nine hundred bottles of beer on the wall, nine hundred bottles of beeeeer; take one down, pass it around, eight hundred and ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall; Eight hundred and ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, eight hundred and ninety-nine bottles of beeeer..."
At about eight hundred and eighty three, I noticed a crack in the blueness. The door had manifested. I walked in.
Why do you persist in making that racket?, the hydrangea sitting behind the desk asked.
"Because it's the best way of getting your attention", I told it, tossing a printout onto the desk for it to look at. My caseload stats. "That last mission was the absolute last straw. I want double pay for it, and I want a partner. If I have to deal with more than five people in the one go, I need backup. I really need backup if one of them is Gollum."
"A partner." I leaned on the desk opposite the official, glaring at it in my best 'Give Me Service Or Remove Me With A Forklift' stance. "You know, someone else to assist in this, an extra pair of hands, someone to bounce banter off, someone to keep me even marginally sane during these things. Don't pretend that you don't know what one is, you pigheaded plant. Get me a bloody partner. Or start paying me triple!"
It steepled its leaves before itself. You do realise our staffing difficulties these days, I'm sure?
I rolled my eyes. "Yeah yeah, I know... everyone's overstretched, everyone's doing double or triple their usual workload, people are being transferred in from hither and yon, oh it's terrible, pass the mustard." I put on my best helpful and cheerful smile. The one that people on the helpdesk had come to know and fear.
"You know what? I don't give a damn! I've been working without a partner since I started here, and I need assistance. Especially when I'm dealing with thirteen year old idiots who somehow think that abducting people who are three times their age at least is a good way of getting friends for a bloody sleepover."
We shall consider the matter, it said. Then I was back in the corridor, with the lift door open. I'd had all the hearing I was going to get. Oh great. I stomped back to the lift, which whizzed down at a great speed, and dropped me in the cafeteria. Ah well, at least I got a break. For now.
Author's Note: I'm definitely in search of a partner. Join the Despatch corps, travel the world, meet all the interesting people of the Fellowship, take them back to Middle Earth, interact with them, and wipe their memories. Okay, so it doesn't have quite the same ring as the Assassins, but just think, you can be in Despatch even if you can't shoot straight!
Update: Then again, don't. I've got my new partner, we're working on the next fic now. Watch this space for more!