Bound and Gagged
Summary:In an uncharted future, the Potted Fern Official receives an unexpected visitor.
Timeline:Ten Years Hence . . . ?
Published:July 3, 2013.
Rating:PG/K+ - Reckless and irresponsible pop culture references.
Beta:Neshomeh. Thanks also to Huinesoron and Ellipsis Flood for their helpful comments.

The potted fern sat in its RC. There wasn't much else to do. It didn't need to sleep, wasn't on duty for eight more hours, and couldn't stand being out in the Department anymore. So it sat in the glow of the room's artificial sunlight and thought.

What happened? it asked itself. I used to just hang around the Bloffee pot and chat with the nurses. How did I come to this? But it knew the answer to that. After the assassination of the Board of Department Heads and the initial stages of the occupation, there were few people left to turn to. The potted fern was one of the few Plants left, and the only one that wasn't in Janitorial. People needed stability and that meant having a Plant running the show in some capacity. So it had been chosen for the Council of Nine because if not the potted fern, then who? The Peyote? The Nepal Poppy? No, there had been only one logical choice.

The potted fern hadn't wanted the job. It never wanted that kind of responsibility. It had accepted anyway. If not me, who?

But the people hadn't been satisfied. They'd wanted more than just another councilor. They'd wanted something they could rally around. They'd wanted a symbol. It wasn't long before the capital letters started sneaking in when agents had addressed the lead Flower. The potted fern hadn't done anything to stop it, not even when the additional title was added. But, it couldn't bring itself to think of itself in those terms, no matter how often they were used. It couldn't be the symbol they wanted. In the core of its being, it could never really be the Potted Fern Official.

Yet, here I am, it thought. And now I'm stuck.

The potted fern's melancholic revery was interrupted by a knock at the door. The fern's first thought was that the Department of Resistance had finally been discovered and was under attack. It rushed to the door and opened it onto the matte-black hallway. It was greeted by a tall woman.

Everything about her was lacking in decoration. She had pale green eyes and sandy-blonde hair that was pulled back in a ponytail. She wore a black suit, carried a plain black briefcase, used little makeup, and had no discernible jewelry. The most important fact about her, in the fern’s mind, was that it had never seen her before. She straightened her tie and said, "The potted fern, I presume.”

Who are you and how did you get in here?

"I'm from Legal," she claimed in a brisk but inflectionless tone. "I'm here to deliver some documents."

You’re what? said the fern. After all this time? Where was Legal when the Kudzu fell?! Where was Legal when the Sues closed in around us?! Where was Le—? After all the years we've been fighting this war, you Legal ash borers have finally decided to do something? And that something is PAPERS!? No. You can go compost yourselves. We haven't needed you so far; we don't need you now.

"You mistake me, sir. These are not just documents from the Legal Department. These are documents from the Department Head himself."

And that's supposed to help? The Fern watched its friends and colleagues suffer and never so much as lifted a frond to stop it. And don't even get me started on how it's treated family. I don't need its help!

"The Fern anticipated your feelings. I was instructed to assure you that this is not help. The Legal Department does not get involved in events, as you have previously stated. These documents were sent because the Fern is aware of your Operation Sweeper and wanted to make it very clear what manner of legal minefield your council has decided to step into."

The potted fern rustled its fronds in agitation. Fine. Just leave the documents and get out.

"Of course," she said. She produced a pen and a stack of papers from her briefcase. "If I could just get your signature here, here, here, initial there, date and time here, another signature here, here, and here."

The fern did its best to keep up, if only to not prolong the insufferable lawyer’s stay.

With the newly signed delivery confirmation in her possession, the woman took an even larger stack of papers from her briefcase and handed them to the fern.

I do have to wonder how that selfish son of a birch knows about Sweeper. The potted fern glanced at the documents in its fronds and was taken aback. Are you aware of what you've just handed me?

"Of course. Section 9, subsection 111, paragraph 2 of the Unified Code of Narrative Law states 'If one's superior dispatches one with a message to be delivered, one is required to browse the contents before delivery.' I would be in violation of the law had I not read this correspondence. What I have handed you is a summary of all the legal statutes that one would need to navigate in order to—"

All right, enough with the legalese. You may leave now. And tell the Fern that it's going to take more than a stack of paper to earn my forgiveness.

The lawyer turned to walk away but stopped when the fern added, And tell your boss I wouldn't mind a visit . . . before this is over, one way or the other.

She nodded, straightened her tie, and walked down the hallway.

When she had gone, the potted fern looked at the documents in its fronds. This probably meant that the situation was worse than any of them had guessed. Timetables would have to be accelerated if they were to have any hope. The fern took the papers, turned off its artificial sunlight and headed for the command center. It had to bring this to the rest of the council's attention immediately. If not me, who?

I could really use a doughnut right about now.

Phobos' Notes

This is a prelude to a larger story, and as you may have noticed, this isn't your usual TYH setting. What happened to cause this timeline? What is Operation Sweeper? Will the potted fern ever find true love? Find out the answers to at least two of these questions in future "Catastrophe Theory" stories.