|Summary:||In which Area 51 is real.|
|Timeline:||February 2013; ten years since February 2003.|
|Published:||February 1, 2014.|
|Rating:||PG/K+ - Cake for everyone!|
|Cameos:||Agents Decima and Sedri.|
Agent Supernumerary sat at a small circular table in the middle of the Cafeteria, alone. Most people who wanted to be alone went straight for the corners and edges, so inevitably they were almost always crowded. Nume didn't even try for them anymore. People tended to avoid him just fine no matter where he sat, and save for the odd rampaging bear, he could enjoy his god-awful coffee and write in peace.
"Hey, Nume!" Jennifer Robinson plunked down into the seat next to him.
<Hello, Nume!> Ilraen lifted the chair on his other side out of the way and stepped into its place.
They both looked inordinately cheerful. Nume felt something wither inside him, and his expression fell to match. "What the hell is this?" He glared at Jenni, who was the first to react.
"You mean you don't know?" She made a show of being aghast. "Typical. Just like a man!"
"That's sexist, and I have no idea what you're talking about. Spit it out or get lost. I'm busy."
"It's our anniversary! Well, all right, just your anniversary," she added, relenting. "I can't believe you don't know what day it is."
"Well, of course I know," he spat. "I didn't think you knew, since I never told you. Either of you." He turned his glare on his partner.
Ilraen just shrugged and squinted and waggled his stalk-eyes in what Nume took to be the Andalite equivalent of a shit-eating grin.
Jenni answered gleefully in his place. "Ilraen figured it out. If you live with someone for six years, you're bound to pick up on his habits, even infrequent ones. Apparently, once every year, you bugger off to sit here with that toxic sludge they're calling coffee for a few hours, you have a single standard-sized bar of Hershey's, then you swing by the Postal Department, and you return home with a book published at least twenty years ago. I knew it couldn't be your birthday, because you did tell me when that is, so we realized what it had to be. Nume . . . ." Her voice abruptly dropped into tones of awe. "You've been here ten years. Do you realize how special that is? Only a handful of agents ever make it past one."
Throughout this tale, Nume had passed through disbelief, shock, annoyance, and anger, and he finally settled on disgust. "For the love of—okay, first of all, no, it damn well isn't. Why would you put that word to any PPC agent, let alone me? Second of all" —he rounded on Ilraen— "I . . . I don't even know what to say to you. You've been spying on me?"
<No!> Ilraen answered quickly, holding up his hands. <I merely . . . happened to go the same way one year, and . . . . Yes. I followed you.> His ears lowered and his stalk-eyes drooped. <You see, despite the fact that you are my partner and I have known you for more than six years, I know so very little about you. I was curious.>
"Yes, that's one of your worst qualities." Nume crossed his arms.
"Hey, be nice," Jenni said. "It's not his fault you force people to go to absurd lengths to be your friends."
"I don't force anyone to do anything," he shot back. "I didn't ask you people to be my friends. I do distinctly recall asking for my privacy on numerous occasions, though, which I would expect my self-proclaimed friends to respect. What is so frelling hard about that?"
"Well, you're fascinating." Jenni grinned. "Irresistible, really, like a whole room full of big, shiny red buttons that say Do Not Push."
"Ugh." He rolled his eyes.
<I really am just curious,> Ilraen said for his part. <I try not to push your buttons.>
"You mean except when you do it deliberately? Don't think I don't—wait, you just used an idiom. Correctly." He glanced at Jenni for confirmation.
She nodded. "Yep. Perfect tens, Ilraen. Way to run with a setup." She gave the Andalite two thumbs up.
<Why, thank you!> He returned the gesture.
Nume shook his head. "Just bizarre. But, look, to get back to the point: Go away? Now?" He made shooing motions at them.
"Sorry, no can do." Jenni leaned over to bump shoulders with him. "It would be criminal to let this occasion pass unmarked, and we're here to make sure you don't escape. By the way, what are you writing? Did I see something about Area 51?"
Nume snatched up the papers on the table in front of him, crinkling some in the process. "Lady, do you even know the definition of the word 'private'? Butt out!"
<Perhaps it would be expedient just to tell us?> Ilraen suggested. <That way, you would end the mystery and take out all the fun.>
"He's right, you know," Jenni said, leaning back in her chair in smug satisfaction. "People who spill their entire life story at the drop of a hat are boring."
Nume sat a moment in gaping silence. Finally, he shook his head, dropped the papers back to the tabletop and threw up his hands. "Fine! You've already crashed my very personal, private ritual, so fine. You win. Since you must know, I'm writing a letter. A long letter by necessity, since I only write once a year. To my folks," he finished on a reluctant grumble.
<Oh, I see! Regular correspondence with one's family unit is important to many people,> Ilraen said as if reciting. <I was not sure you had a family unit. So many of us here do not.>
"Of course I do," Nume grumped. "I had a life before the PPC. You knew that," he added to Jenni. She had gone uncharacteristically quiet, and it was unnerving him just a little.
"You never, ever talk about them," she said wonderingly. "You mentioned they were doctors, or one of them was a nurse, or something, but . . . you don't talk about them. But you've been writing every year, on the anniversary of your disappearance? That's . . . something." She didn't sound quite sure what.
He rolled his eyes again. "Spare me, will you? We're not in session here. You wanted to know what I was writing, I told you, end of talk."
"Why Area 51, though?" Jenni asked, displaying her remarkable talent for ignoring hints to shut up and drop it.
<Is that not the focus of a number of World One conspiracy theories regarding 'space aliens'?> The Andalite tilted his head.
"Yes," said Nume, looking determinedly at nothing.
"So you're telling your parents about . . . " Jenni broke off as a grin stole across her face. "No, I can't guess. This is too much. Spill!"
"I . . . ." He took a deep breath and heaved it back out again. "I . . . may have told them I was shanghaied into the CIA," he muttered, still staring at a fixed point in the middle distance. "On account of my brain. It makes a good cover, since it's not like I can explain what I do here. But . . . I may have implied that certain things I was into as a kid are actually real and not just made-up nonsense and/or the lies of Satan." By this point he was blushing about as deeply as it was possible for a human being to blush.
"Nume." Jenni's grin was firmly entrenched now. "Tell me the truth. Were you a little sixties proto-Mulder?"
He gave her a look of pure withering misery.
"You were!" She clapped her hands softly together.
"I hate you so much."
<Did you tell them about me, then?> Ilraen jumped in. <That is, I understand you could not tell them much, but . . . .> He looked hopeful.
Nume raised an eyebrow at him. "Why do you care?"
<Well . . . you and I are not unlike family in some respects, as I understand the concept.>
"No! I didn't mean—Jesus Christ. Never mind." He pulled off his glasses and dug the heel of his hand into the knot between his eyebrows. "You guys are killing me. Is busting my chops all day your idea of honoring my decade of service?"
<Oh, no, no! Do not worry. This was just the distraction,> Ilraen explained.
Nume stopped kneading. "The what?"
"The distraction," Jenni repeated. "See, we had to keep you from leaving until everyone could get here. And now they have, so we can stop."
He couldn't open his eyes. "Oh, no. Please, god, no."
"Oh, yes," said a new voice from behind him. "So, ten years, huh? I have to say, sweetie, I'm impressed. I didn't think you had that kind of stamina!"
"Decima," Nume muttered. "Nice to know I can count on a Bad Slasher I met once to not have my back in any way whatsoever."
He finally forced himself to crack his eyelids and take his first fuzzy look around. The faces of Jenni and Ilraen were blurred, but he could see well enough to tell that the tables around him had filled in with people he recognized, and that he disliked all of them intensely. He was also pretty sure someone was putting a large three-tiered cake in front of him.
"Convenient Cake!" announced the bearer. He recognized the voice—Agent Sedri had assisted him with a mission once, back in 2008. "I know you'll like it, because it's everyone's favorite flavor. It's made with plotholes!"
"Plothole cake is worst cake," Nume said feebly.
With the cake in place, Jenni climbed up on her chair for a commanding view of the room. "All right, everyone!" she called. "I trust that most of you are here because you got my e-mail, so you already know what this is about. If not, welcome to Agent Supernumerary's anniversary party! He's been an agent for ten years, people!"
A susurrus of appreciative murmurs and scattered applause went through the crowd. Nume sank lower in his chair and covered the top of his head.
"Yeah!" Jenni nodded, taking in the whole group. "Impressive, right? To commence celebrating this momentous achievement, I hope you'll all join me in a round of 'For He's a Jolly Good Fellow.' If you don't know the words, just make some up! Fooor . . . !"
As the Cafeteria burst, or rather staggered, into song, the man of the hour felt the last of his willpower leave him, and his forehead hit the table with a solid thump. Sadly, it was not enough to render him unconscious, and he was forced to eat cake and shake hands and listen to insipid congratulatory speech after insipid congratulatory speech, all led by his so-called friends.
All in all, it was pretty much the best tenth anniversary he could have expected.
|Summary:||In which various agents show up to celebrate. Some of them are from the future!|
|Timeline:||February 2013, right after the corresponding interlude. But also February 1-6, 2014, depending on who you are.|
|Rating:||PG/K+ - No "ethnic spices" for the kiddies.|
Neshomeh (Supernumerary, Ilraen, Jennifer Robinson)|
Lily Winterwood (Christianne Shieh, Eledhwen Elerossiel, the Disentangler, the Agent, Jeeves, Rooney, Lori Starrett, and Bill Fallis)
wobblestheclown (Wobbles, the Notary)
Desdendelle (Desdendelle, the Librarian)
SeaTurtle (Penny Chang)
Antigone68104 (Arthur Briggs and Lynn Gillies)
PoorCynic (Gremlin, James Pittman, and Laura Dukes)
doctorlit (Doc and Vania Tolluk)
Herr Wozzeck (Anneli Rodriguez and Cinderella)
Tungsten Monk (Suicide and Diocletian)
Ekyl (Basilico Andretti)
February 2013. Along the timeline of things that occurred in HQ in 2013, this was indeed one of those calms before the storm.
"How lovely," Agent Christianne Shieh remarked as the console lit up with a message. "Agent Supernumerary's tenth anniversary of being in the PPC."
"A remarkable achievement," agreed Agent Eledhwen Elerossiel.
"Especially given the high turnover rate." Christianne turned from the console. "There's a celebration in the Cafeteria. Want to go?"
"Will there be chocolate?"
The Disentangler and the Agent landed their TARDIS just inside the Cafeteria. Their TARDIS had taken on the look of a distasteful floral display.
"What a nice party. They have tea and everything," said the Agent cheerily as he looked around.
The Disentangler rolled her eyes. "Pretty high turnout. Surprising, given the venue," she said, grinning and waving at some of the other partygoers. "There's Jeeves and Rooney from DoI. What the hell are they carrying?"
"Looks like presents."
"Looks like a pile of socks to me."
"Why would Nume need more socks?"
The Disentangler rolled her eyes again. "I dunno, sock puppets?"
"Is he the sock puppet sorta guy? Because he's a lot like . . . which one of me was it, again? No, wait, it was one of you. I swear, every other one of your regenerations is sarcastic."
The Disentangler rolled her eyes. "Hush," she said, waving at Nerys and Lisa, who were standing by the food (which looked a bit meatloafy and way too glittery to be edible).
"Happy anniversary!" declared Rooney as he and Jeeves presented their present to Nume.
"It is, I believe, an achievement to have come this far," agreed Jeeves, even if the only times the two DoI agents had ever seen Nume were usually from afar and rarely on Cluedo nights in the Cafeteria.
Rooney nodded. "The socks are all patterned for different days of the week. And there are lots of bright green patterns. To go with your glasses."
"We're just going to go have some Convenient Cake," added Jeeves, tugging his friend by the arm towards the table of slightly more edible-looking refreshments.
After the singing ended, Jenni got down from her chair and scooted it under the table, making as much room as possible. As the first pair of guests approached, she reached down and gave Nume's shoulder a shake. "Come on, at least look like you're alive!"
Nume grunted something unintelligible, but raised his head and shoved his glasses back onto his face. He blinked a few times at the pair of DoI agents. He'd seen them around, but had no idea who they were. Then he squinted at the socks.
"That's. Uh. Sure . . . green?" he uttered.
"He means thank you very much for the thoughtful gift," Jenni said with a grin. "Enjoy the cake!"
"I put an experiment on hold for this," Scientist Lori Starrett groused as her husband Bill presented a set of ever-changing coloured pens to Nume.
"Yeah, well, try reaching your tenth anniversary in this madhouse. I think it's worth a stab at celebration," her husband muttered.
Lori rolled her eyes before smiling at Nume. "Happy anniversary," she said in a much nicer tone.
The pens were met with curiosity on all sides. Ilraen and Nume each picked one up to inspect.
<So, the ink constantly changes colors, or does the pen itself change, too?> the Andalite asked, peering intently at it in case something was going to happen before his eyes.
"They aren't going to write in urple or something, are they?" Nume added with wells of skepticism.
"There is a distinct possibility. The pens change colour at random. Sometimes the pens themselves change at random. I think it picks up Sue colours if you leave it exposed to Aura of Smooth for too long." Bill shrugged. "So I wouldn't use it on Sues, if I were you."
"Pretty good party, isn't it?" wondered Christianne as she and Eledhwen entered the Cafeteria. "Ooh, there's Lori. She looks well."
"Is she not supposed to be?" wondered Eledhwen.
"Pregnancy rumours," Christianne replied quickly before hefting a colourfully wrapped bag of Bleep-candies (Gummyblees, Bleepolate, the works). Eledhwen has suggested a pocket watch, but Christianne had shot the idea down. After all, in some cultures (like hers), it was rude to send people clocks. It was a subtle way of telling them their time was running out.
Eledhwen frowned. "I was not aware there were rumours," she said as they stepped over to where Nume was.
"Yeah, well." Christianne shrugged. "You hear things at the pub during game nights. Moreso at the poker table, though.
"Speaking of which, you have yet to show me how to count—"
"Not mentioning that here," snapped Christianne before grinning over at Nume and tossing him the candies. "Happy anniversary!"
"I see." Nume put the pen down and not-so-subtly slid it toward his partner. "I think I'll just stick to red, thanks." He was in this against his will, he didn't have to be polite.
<I think they are very interesting,> Ilraen assured the scientists. He turned to Jenni. <If Nume does not want them, perhaps Henry would like one? He is beginning to write, is he not?>
Jenni started to respond, but all three of them jumped when a bag of candy hit the table with a thwack. A voice called "Happy anniversary!", and they looked around for the source.
"Oh god, it's those two," Nume groaned upon spotting Christianne. "Thanks for the heart attack!" he called back, and shoved the bag into a pile with the socks and the pens.
"They're excellent for scribbling on the walls." Lori grinned. "I'm sure Henry would love it." She tugged at her husband's arm. "Let's go get something edible."
As Lori tugged Bill away, Christianne grinned over at Nume's scowling face.
"No problemo, sweetie!" she shouted as she tugged Eledhwen off to go get refreshments as well.
Wobbles joined proceedings the only way she knew how: bursting in at pace with a party hat perched atop her massive rainbow-striped wig. "Whooooooooooo's the birthday lifeform? Come on, don't be shy! You're in the Cafeteria, you can't be that shy of . . . a . . . wha?"
"Human," said the Notary with withering scorn as she trudged behind her partner, "it is a tenth anniversary party. It is commemorating the extremely long service of a respected agent, who is also a human. I was under the impression that all your people knew each other."
"Oh. Okay, so, we can still do the balloons, right? Hiya mister Nume! Congrats on ten years of doing the strangest job in the known multiverse! You get a llama!" With that, she wobbled over to Nume and tied a large, surprisingly detailed balloon llama to his right wrist. "YAY!"
"I'm sorry about her, Agent Supernumerary. She's . . . excitable. Human, you're in breach of several health and safety regulations."
"Meaning get off of that ridiculous unicycle."
"Well spotted." The Notary walked over to Nume and fished around in her robe pockets, eventually pulling out a hardback tome that made War and Peace look like a Mr. Men book. "This is for you. It's a beginner's guide to easy requisition of necessary items. Nobody fills out the order forms correctly these days and it makes life hell." Her voice got louder. "If anyone else at this gathering desires one, they are for sale in RC 1875 at a reasonable and competitive price. Follow the sound of human circus marches. I do not accept favours, payments in kind, or painted rocks. Thank you for listening."
"D'you really think they were?"
"Yes, and I told you to dismount."
"I know," said Wobbles as she trundled off in search of some cake.
Nume sat in shock for a moment. "Why," he finally said, "is there a llama tied to my arm?"
Ilraen blinked all four eyes. <I am not sure, Nume. It was as though the whole Department of Angst were suddenly embodied in a single brightly colored humanoid form, and just as suddenly vanished, leaving behind naught but this inflatable object and a faint odor of sugar.>
Jenni wore a puzzled frown. "I think I know her. Or will know her. I dunno; it's hazy. Does the Nursery have a clown?"
"Don't ask me," Nume said. "At least the other one made sense, though . . . oh, look, she's talking to the Time Lords. Good lord, they're like thousands-of-years-old children. This is why Star Trek will always be superior."
"Don't say that too loud if you want to live another ten years. Who's very in right now."
Ilraen perked up as though he were about to say something, but Nume cut him off with a glare.
"I swear to Christ, if you start an Abbott and Costello routine right now I will strangle you with this llama."
"Remind me again why this is a good idea?" the Librarian asked Agent Desdendelle as the duo entered the Cafeteria.
"Same reason I dragged you here last time," Des replied, rolling his eyes. "You're a worse recluse than me, and that's something . . . ."
"Your point?" demanded the Time Lord before dodging out of the way of a large, red magpie.
Des stared at the magpie, which seemed intent on crashing into someone or something, before replying. "Point being you need to see more people than just dreary old me. Humans are social animals, and I imagine Time Lords are, too."
"While that might be right . . ." the Librarian said, then paused. He narrowed his eyes. "Well . . ." he continued, pointing, "this is why I am a . . . recluse."
"Should I know this person?"
"She is called the Notary, and she is the most obnoxious Time Lady I know."
"Why's that? She stepped on your toes or something?"
"She is the worst obstructive bureaucrat I have ever seen."
"Oh." Des's mouth formed a perfect circle for a few seconds. "No wonder you hate her."
The duo threaded their way between chairs, tables, and PPC agents in various states of food poisoning. Of course, their way took them toward where the Notary was advertising some sort of "beginner's guide."
"Will you stop being a bureaucrat? Do you not see you are bothering people?" the Librarian told the Time Lady, annoyance plain on his face.
Des, meanwhile, looked apologetically at the table's other occupants.
"Oh dear. Not her." The Agent crossed his arms. "Who invited her?"
The Disentangler shrugged. "No clue," she said, walking over to the Notary-and-Librarian confrontation. "Hey, you two! Why don't we go have some cake? Yes? No? Too busy staring hatefully at each other? Gosh golly gee, I can see the sparks flying from here. Anyone got popcorn?"
"Lachesis, you're going to make it worse," hissed the Agent as he sidled up next to her.
"You keep saying that, and it will get worse," retorted the Disentangler.
"Bothering? If good workplace practice and efficiency in a working environment in which lives are at stake bothers you, Jade Warden Librarian, then I respectfully suggest that you find employment somewhere less dangerous. Perhaps an actual library, if you could find one that would take on an exiled mountebank from a Chapter of fools and vagabonds. Now, are you going to purchase one of my clear, easy-to-read, helpful guides to the bureaucracy of the PPC, or are you just going to stand there gawping at me like a sheep with a heavy concussion?"
Wobbles trundled up to Des's side, a plate of cake in one hand and a huge array of balloons in the other. "Aw, boy. She's at it again. I'll never understand that girl, not ever. Not while she's being such a grump, at least. Here, have an ostrich." She proffered a string to the agent.
"What's a Jade Warden? I didn't know you were into inane babbling, Notary. You haven't been replaced by anything, have you?" wondered the Disentangler, tilting her head to the side.
Were the Librarian one to curse, he'd have done so now. That not being the case, he simply frowned. "Yes, bothering," he said. "Things get done in spite of bureaucracy, not because of it, fool of a lawyer!"
Raising a hand, he pointed at the Notary, nearly poking her. "You have no idea what you are talking about! And what is a Jade Warden anyway?! Unless you have filed forms until you went blind, you can see that my coat is obviously brown!"
Des, meanwhile, accepted Wobbles' balloon, absentmindedly putting it on top of his head. "Well, she isn't the worse I've seen," he said, taking a packet of dried apples from a pocket and opening it. "Dried apples? I'm Desdendelle, by the way. You can call me Des."
"Mmm. Apples and apple by-products. Thank you." Wobbles plucked one daintily from the bag and scarfed it down. "'M'name's Wobbles. I work in the Nursery and I'm pretty big in the A/V Division as well; I make a TV show for the kids down there. Also, I . . . might be an agent? When did that happen? Has it happened?"
Meanwhile, the Notary was on the verge of drawing her staser. "I—I would have thought you'd remember the Council you helped Agent Morgan set up, even though it concerns the homeworld you renegades so revile! And do not presume to talk about bureaucracy like you understand it! A stable, clear, and accountable civil service is essential for any organization with power, and the people who cannot accept this might as well be the mewling infants my colleague over there entertains of an afternoon!"
Wobbles wheeled over to the bickering Time Lords and prodded the Notary. "Uh, Agent Trampoline?"
"What do you want?"
"Um, this might sound like a silly question, but . . . exactly how busted is your TARDIS?"
"Extremely. I wouldn't be stuck in this dump with naught but clowns and exiled vermin for company otherwise. What of it?"
"Only, I think something might be a little bit wrong with time for us. Just a little."
"Don't talk nonsense, clown woman. I'd know."
"Like you'd know if the cassette player got stuck again?"
" . . . Present your evidence."
"Nobody here knows us, nobody here knows anything that's happened so far, and one of your tea party doesn't remember meeting two Doctors at the same time in the first meeting. That sorta thing tends to, y'know, stick in your noodle a bit."
"I . . . now you mention it, that is rather strange. It's almost as if something was wrong with time."
"Yeah, which I just—"
"It takes quite the intellect to figure out something like that, which is why I got it before you did. Of course, we could have waited for the universe to expire before you got it, but that is immaterial."
"Be silent. Librarian, Disentangler, Agent, attend me. There's a paradox in RC 1875. We must fix it."
"Ya sure they're gonna help you? Only, the Librarian looks kinda ticked off at you. Like, that-close-to-snapping-and-then-snapping-your-neck ticked off."
"He will come. I am a representative of the Continuity Council of Gallifrey and I am in need, and article 15-b of our council clearly states—oh, yes, that doesn't exist yet."
"Okay. Desperate measures."
"And what do you mean by—PUT ME DOWN!"
Wobbles grabbed her partner and skedaddled at an impressive turn of pace, considering her cargo was trying to kick her in the head and she was on a unicycle. They made their way out of the door and vanished, never to return. Not for a good few months, at least.
Des and the Librarian exchanged looks.
"What was that?" the human agent asked.
"That was the Notary. From the future, apparently."
"Why—never mind. I'll probably fry my mind if I get an answer." Des munched on a dried apple and surveyed his surroundings. "Y'know? I think you were right after all. There're way too many people here, not mention a party." He pointed at Nume and co. with his thumb.
"Well, you insisted we should come here, so stand behind your words and interact," the Librarian replied, annoyance dripping from his voice.
"Bloody bugger, you sound like my mother, except not," Des said, looking around some more. Upon further inspection, the party turned out to be something about celebrating an agent's long stay at the PPC—a decade, apparently. Digging around in his coat's pockets, he procured a dusty book of Zen sayings. Muttering under his breath, he waved it around a bit—cleaning some of the dust and making him sneeze—before heading toward Nume.
"Apparently people are giving you gifts," he said, "so here, have this. Joushuu's Book of Zen."
The Librarian, meanwhile, made his way to the Disentangler and the Agent. "From your reaction I surmise that you have also encountered that obnoxious Notary," he stated.
"Who hasn't?" snorted the Disentangler. "Well, that is, who hasn't out of the who who's got time machines, but you know. Never expected to see them back here, though. Definitely remember seeing them in December. Does that come before February?" The Disentangler's brows furrowed. "Wait, no. It doesn't. If it did, we might've figured out exactly what sort of nonsense they were talking about."
"Take a breath, Lachesis," suggested the Agent.
"This is what happens when you do 2013 out of order," said the Disentangler, rolling her eyes.
"And to be fair, we might've also encountered the Notary on Gallifrey way before . . . you know." The Agent made a face. "We were chasing down a Sue who popped in from . . . what was it again?"
"Artemis Fowl," said the Disentangler. "One of those child genius things."
"Yes." The Agent nodded. "The Notary, or rather, Antrilovorasilendar—"
"She was that really annoying little Dromeian at the Academy, wasn't she? The one who kept on correcting everyone and talking in technicalities?" The Disentangler paused. "She got worse."
"Yeah, we weren't sure if the canon would allow us to kill her and the Sue together." The Agent shrugged. "Guess that's come back to haunt us."
The crowd shifted around Nume, revealing a short Chinese woman sporting a black bob cut and an enormous grin. She worked her way towards the DIC agent and placed a shoebox in front of him.
"Agent Supernumerary, is it? A pleasure to meet you!" she chirped. "I'm Penny Chang, from Intelligence. I just wanted to say that it's really fantastic that you've managed to tough out ten years here! Now, I think that you'll appreciate this gift, it's handmade . . . ."
Penny flipped the top of the shoebox with a thumb. A painted balsa wood model of an Excelsior-class starship—model registry NX-2000, also known as the Excelsior—silently rose from the container and started to hover around the table slightly above head height.
"A few friends of mine came together to make this. We know you really like Star Trek, so we thought you'd get a kick out of a model ship. It can avoid obstacles and curious minis on its own, so no need to keep it tied up or anything. If ever the floaty charm starts to fade on this, you can just take it down to RC 845 and ask for the resident wizard. He'll gladly re-work his spell on it for you."
She took a single step back from the table. "Well, I'll be seeing you, then. Don't work yourself too hard, 'cause we Spies love reading your mission reports. If you go mad or missing or something, we won't be getting any new ones! Cheers!" she said with a smile.
After what he'd seen so far, the little starship was such a good surprise that, just for a moment, a gleam of pure fanboyish excitement was able to shine through.
"Excelsior-class," he murmured as he followed the ship with his eyes. "Any particular ship, or . . . ?" He rose halfway to his feet, reaching up to try and get a better look, before catching himself. He straightened up the rest of the way abruptly and pinned Penny with a steely look. "Well, you're certainly living up to your department's nickname, Penny Chang. I'll be watching for your name on my console from now on, so don't screw up."
Behind his back, Jenni gave the younger woman a wink and two thumbs up before the crowd shifted again and she vanished from sight.
Arthur Briggs held the Cafeteria door open for his intern. It wasn't for reasons of good manners (though he tried to maintain them), it was because Lynn Gillies was carrying a much larger present than he was.
"Congratulations, Agent Supernumerary!" Briggs held out a carved wooden box. "Reaching ten years here is quite an accomplishment. I don't think you've met my current intern, Lynn Gillies. Gillies, this is Agent Supernumerary from DIC."
Gillies smiled, and placed a neatly folded mass of fabric on the table. "It's good to meet you." She glanced down at the fabric. "I wasn't sure what the appropriate present for these events would be. I hope you like this. It's a tapestry I snagged out of a badfic; the designs are supposed to be Arabic."
The three had to scramble to clear enough space for the tapestry. Jenni and Ilraen wound up moving all the gifts to an adjacent table while Nume guided the little Excelsior back into its shoebox. It did its best to dodge the "obstacles," and he eventually corralled it in a triangle formed by the box, its lid, and his chest.
Finally, after setting it on the other table and adjusting his glasses, he nodded to the DMS agent. "Briggs. I try to ignore the recruits, so no, we haven't met." He gave the smiling young woman a skeptical once-over, then turned to examine the tapestry. "Still, the RC can always use livening up, within reason. I'll have to verify if this actually says anything sensible."
Next he turned to the box and opened it cautiously, just in case anything was going to fly out of this one, too. He stared for a moment at the TOS-era phaser, wondering if people targeting his nostalgia like this was going to be a trend. "Is this the real deal?" he said aloud.
"It's real," Briggs said with a smile. "I haven't recertified in Trekverse since the reboot, and I thought this should go to someone who would appreciate it."
Nume nodded once. "I think there's a space above the console next to Ilraen's Dracon beam. Cheers, Briggs."
A young Asian-looking woman with a pixie cut and lightning bolt tattoos on her midriff cut her way through the crowd on her way up to Nume. Somewhere between the door to the Cafeteria and the center table she'd acquired a rather festive party hat.
"Sup, old timer?" she said with a nod. "Name's Gremlin. We haven't met, but apparently you know my partner Xericka from somewhere. Or she knows you, anyway. She wanted me to give you this."
She handed over a rather sizable bottle of what appeared to be Bleeprum. There was a simple black ribbon tied in a bow around the bottle's neck.
Nume picked up the bottle and examined it. "Now, this I can use. It's about time someone gave me alcohol. Or pseudo-alcohol; can't have the real thing anymore." He gave Gremlin a nod of approval. "Actually, we have met," he added. "2011, Mary Sue invasion of the Hetalia fanfiction university. I'm not surprised you don't remember. I heard you Bad Slashers had it up to your eyeballs. That fandom." He shuddered. "Anyway, thank Xericka for me."
Gremlin's eyes widened in recognition. "That's right, yeah! We did meet! Sorry I forgot, but . . . Hetalia . . . ." She shuddered, just a little. "Yeah, that was a thing and a half. I'll give Xericka your regards. She wanted to come herself, but Aiden's sick right now. You know how it is. Happy anniversary, dude." Gremlin gave Jenni a nod. "Lookin' fine as always, Robinson. See you when you next swing by the Nursery." She then ducked back into the rambling masses with a final cry of "Somebody point me in the direction of something to drink!"
As Gremlin went on her way, Jenni grinned back. "You, too, babe. Take 'er easy!"
James Pittman gave a awed whistle as he took in the Cafeteria crowd from the relative safety of the door. "This Supernumerary fella must be something to get a reception like this," he said.
"Ten years of solid service," Laura Dukes replied. "I'd say that qualifies as being something."
"And how do you know him again?"
"Reputation only. What, you haven't heard anything about him?"
James gave his partner an appraising look. "I'm still new round here, darlin', in case you forgot," he said. "Haven't yet gotten to know enough folks well enough to start swappin' gossip."
"Well, here's your chance. Go! Mingle! I'm gonna go grab a slice of cake before they all vanish." Laura paused. "And if you see any aliens, don't stare. Or shoot them."
"I'm not that new, Lar. I know the general sort of weirdness that goes on 'round here."
"Just making sure," Laura said before pushing her way towards the cake.
"Wow. Okay. So this can be a learning experience. 'Never send Doc to get any kind of present ever.' Lesson learned."
"I don't even know the man, Vania. You asked me to go get a present for some guy named 'Supernumerary'. I thought a high-end graphing calculator sounded like it would be appreciated."
Vania huffed and put her forehead into one hand. "Generic presents for people you don't know would generally be candy, Bleepstuff, maybe a card. Not a calculator."
Doc looked away. "Sorry I don't know your social people customs."
"Well, we're almost to Nume. And since you're the one who picked out the present, you can be the one to embarrass yourself." Vania shoved Doc forward towards Supernumerary.
Doc's eyes widened, and he clutched the present to his chest. "Um. Hi. Hi! Well, we . . . I . . . we got you a . . . something." He stiffly thrust the bow-bedecked calculator out to Nume.
"Hi?" Nume took the calculator with a raised eyebrow. What was he, an accountant?
Fortunately, Ilraen spoke up first. <That is a fine-looking piece of equipment.> He leaned down for a closer look.
Nume handed the thing over before his personal space got any more compromised. "Yeah, uh . . . that sure is a calculator," he added. It probably wouldn't be for long, though. He suspected his partner was already taking it apart in his head.
Seeing the situation rapidly deteriorating, Jenni came to Doc's rescue. "Thank you so much for coming!" she said, spreading her hands in a welcoming gesture. "Have you had any cake yet? It's just over here, please have some . . . ."
"Geek," Nume muttered accusingly to his partner.
<Nerd,> Ilraen happily shot back.
Doc backed away, his expression stony. "Ah. Yes. Cake. Will do cake."
Vania grabbed Doc by the shoulders and steered him away from the other agents. "Come on, Doc. Maybe you'll be less awkward over in this part of the room."
"Okay, so, um . . . Cindy, can you tell us exactly what it is we're doing here?"
Cindy shot a glance at Anneli as the two of them walked in. "Well, since it's Supernumerary's tenth anniversary, I just thought . . . well, you know."
Anneli grunted and wiped her forehead. "So that's why you had us shove a player piano all the way here from . . . from . . . that weirdo's house in Paris?"
"Hey, it was the most authentic thing I could think of for the occasion," said Cindy. "Ever since Xanthus told me about it, I figured it'd make a good gift somehow."
"I totally don't think this is gonna work, but whatever," she said. "Besides, I think we both know you just wanna see your boyfriend again."
Cindy blushed furiously. "Ilraen is not my boyfriend!"
"Yeah, you keep telling yourself that," Anneli replied, clearly unconvinced. She then looked past the player piano and suddenly composed herself. "Oh hey, I think it's him!"
Cindy immediately jumped up, glancing at the Andalite before bowing in front of Nume. "Um . . . hi," she said. "You probably don't know me, but I've met your partner Ilraen a couple of times. And . . . well, here I am, presenting you with the gift of a player piano."
Anneli sighed. "Like, we had to travel to early twentieth-century France for this one," she said. She glanced at Cindy. "Don't ask her how she even heard of that Ballet Mécanique or whatever."
Cindy nodded, starting the contraption.
Three seconds later, complete chaos rang out from the strings of the piano.
As the player piano rolled up to the table, two of the three people holding court at it felt their jaws drop. The third didn't actually have a jaw as such, so he could only boggle.
"What," said Nume. Then he repeated it, just in case it hadn't been clear the first time. "What."
<Hello, Cindy!> Ilraen said, ignoring him. <What a marvelous gift! And you went to such trouble to get it, too.>
Jenni swooned slightly at the disturbance currently happening to her timeline, but recovered without a fuss. She glanced between the two sets of agents and casually slid out of the foreground. "So not getting in the middle of this one . . . ."
At the discordant cacophony that rang out from the player piano, all three cringed slightly. (On the other side of the room, though, Agent Derik, Harper of Pern and Phantom of the Opera clone, looked up from his plate of cake and grinned. "What a fantastic noise! I must see what makes this sound." He got up and left. His partner, Gall, shrugged and stole the rest of his cake.)
"You really shouldn't have," Nume was saying, looking over his glasses at the DMS agents. "No, really. You shouldn't have. It's a piano. I don't know what kind of luxury resort you lot live in, but I do not have room in my response center for a piano!"
<Nume!> Ilraen said sharply. <You could at least appreciate the time and effort they put into honoring your achievement.>
"No, I couldn't! I didn't ask for this! What am I even hearing, anyway?" He grimaced at the thing. "Is it broken?"
<I—uh . . . .> He didn't have an answer for that. He wasn't the most musically educated, and it didn't make sense to his ear, either.
At that point, Agent Derik arrived and, without waiting for an invitation, began inspecting the player piano. "I see! A piano!" he said, more or less to himself. "I've only read about these! And this one, it plays itself? What mechanism . . . or what magic?" When you worked in the PPC, you had to accept that magic existed.
Nume and Ilraen just stared. They knew who he was, since Jenni had recruited him during one of their missions, but that was about the extent of their relationship.
"Yes indeed," Cindy said. "Xanthus thought it would be fun if we got you a player piano with a particular piano roll. Which is what you're hearing . . . ." She rubbed her chin.
Anneli looked on. "You know, maybe we should've gotten all those percussion things too," she said. "I mean, I totally don't know how well a siren would work in an RC, but I swear this song made more sense than this."
Cindy shrugged, noticing that Agent Derik had begin inspecting the player piano. "Oh well," said Cindy, looking at the piano. "Happy anniversary, Nume!"
Where there is Convenient Cake, there will also be Convenient Moochers. Agent Diocletian might have forcibly divorced herself from her Sue days—mainly by avoiding singing, shapewear, using the word "pathetic" or allowing herself to be described as anything much beyond "oh, that one"—but she hadn't quite been able to conquer her need for sugar. The minute the cake appeared, she noticed it.
Then she noticed what was being celebrated, and it killed her mood somewhat. "Ai Elbereth," she muttered to Agent Suicide, who was sitting beside her eating a cheesy goat burrito. "Ten years. And he's from the Real World, too. I've never even seen the Real World."
"It's not all it's cracked up to be," Suicide said with his mouth full. "Colder and grayer. And there's no Universal Laws there, unless you count gravity."
"No wonder he's so twitchy, then." This from Diocletian, who looked like—"Hey! What did I say?"—nothing in particular, and certainly nothing beautiful or notable. Although there was a hint of chipmunk in her features. "Better. Anyway, he doesn't look too happy about it. That looks like good cake, but . . . maybe we should leave him alone."
"Nah. Got to give him his present, don't we?"
She shot a glance at Suicide. "You knew this was happening?"
"Jenni told me."
"And she sent a mass e-mail. What, you don't check your messages?"
"Not recently. Anyway, I thought you hated e-mail. How would you know about the message she sent?"
"I do hate e-mail, but I still check it. I kinda like watching Nigerian princes beg for my help." He finished his burrito and stood, pulling a little fabric-wrapped bundle out of his pocket. "C'mon, let's go say hi."
"Wait a second." Dio put a hand on his arm, less friendly and more restraining. "What did you get him?"
Suicide never blinked. "Ethnic spices."
"It's hemp, isn't it."
"May have a certain hemp-like quality, yeah."
With a sigh, she stood and followed Suicide over to where Nume was sitting. Scythians of his time had considered smoking hemp a religious duty—a way of communing with the dead, especially at royal funerals. She wasn't sure how Nume would react to that kind of present, though, considering that he (a) wasn't Scythian, (b) didn't like Suicide, and (c) seemed to be in some kind of personal hell. With cake.
"Happy anniversary," Su said cheerfully as he put down the packet on the table. "May your enemies fall before you, their fields be sown with salt, and their women lament for your mercy."
"Aw, jeez, you invited him?" was the very mature complaint Nume made to Jenni when he saw Suicide on his way over.
Jenni gave him a flat look. "Like I'm going to throw a party with all of Headquarters but snub the man I'm sleeping with."
"Don't remind me!"
"Get over it! Just be polite and don't start anything, and it'll be over before you know it."
Nume gave a long-suffering sigh, but composed himself and managed not to snap anything sarcastic at the whole "lamenting women" thing. Instead, he grunted something that might have been a thank-you and unwrapped the cloth around the small bundle. Then he blinked, lifted it to his nose, and gave Suicide an interrogative—but surprisingly not hostile—look.
<What is it?> Ilraen asked.
"Not for you, if it's what I think it is," said Nume.
"Knowing Su? Definitely," Jenni chimed in. "Be careful. I don't think we have any reliable studies about interactions with Bleepstuff." She wasn't disapproving—more curious to see where this was going.
"Right. Let's just . . . ." He wrapped the slightly dubious herb back in its cloth and slid it into his pocket. "Out of reach from small hands."
Jenni looked around at the dearth of children in the Cafeteria and raised her eyebrows.
<But what is it?> Ilraen asked, a slight hint of annoyance creeping into his mindvoice.
"I'll tell you when you're older," said Nume.
This did not help.
Suicide seemed unfazed by Nume's initial reaction. To be fair, the last significant length of time spent in each others' company had involved violence, vague sexual harassment, head injuries, and the second-highest level of collective trauma in his own experience, so there was understandably some tension there. He seemed pleased that Nume hadn't rejected the "ethnic spices" out of hand, and Diocletian let herself relax a little.
"Congratulations," she told Nume. "I didn't hear about this until thirty seconds ago, so I'm afraid I didn't get you anything . . . though the good news there is that I also didn't get you anything oversized or, uh, possibly contraband."
"It's not contraband if they don't know about it," Suicide said calmly. "Have a little faith, will you?"
And still more agents arrived. Most were humans of various departments, ages, sexes and genders, others were all number of alien creatures, and one was a vending machine. It, surprisingly, only used the word "meatbag" once when congratulating Nume.
One particular standout was a dark-skinned Sicilian man who looked to be somewhere near his early thirties, in a plush, comfortable-looking but formal suit, certainly not usual attire for a PPC agent at all, let alone one trying to relax. Basilico Andretti was grudgingly willing to admit that that might have been due to a lack of practise; if Nasira—and just where had she gone?—hadn't dragged him over here, the mass e-mail that came to his office's console might have gone read but ignored. It wouldn't have been out of dislike for anybody involved in this situation; it's hard to dislike people when you frankly have barely any idea who they are beyond what's in their files. No, it was more that few people really understood just how much paperwork went into keeping the DIA's Patrol Division running and effectively policing such a cheerfully anarchic community.
But here he was all the same, the weight of his gifts under one arm, his free hand covering one ear thanks to the sudden commotion from somebody's player piano. It sounded like it needed to be tuned up . . . with a sledgehammer. Eventually he made his way through the throng and to Nume's table, politely waiting until he wasn't engaged with anyone else before moving ahead.
"A decade's service is no small thing, Agent Supernumerary," he said, slowing down so the name wouldn't send his tongue tripping and rolling down a hill. "Please accept my congratulations, and these gifts."
After speaking, he gently placed his offerings on the table: a leather-bound hardcover book with no visible title atop a rosewood writing box with fluid brass inlay that ran over the wood in floral patterns. Gifts received, he gave Jenni and Ilraen a small nod as well.
"Nurse Robinson and Agent Ilraen-Aroline-Fothergill, I presume? I hope you're both well today."
Area 51 truly is real. The US government declassified its existence in August 2013. Learning that, coupled with inspiration from The X-Files' season four episode "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man," is what finally gave me a hook for writing this story.
If you're not intimately familiar with The X-Files, the episode features the most mysterious recurring antagonist of the series as a younger man, trying to validate his crushingly top-secret life by getting the bizarre events he's witnessed published as pulpy sci-fi novels. Being a pathetic writer, he doesn't succeed; but I thought to myself, "Haha, I can totally see Nume writing pathetic pulpy sci-fi novels, giant geek that he is."
When I learned about Area 51 being declassified, I thought to myself, "Wow, just imagine what you could do in the past if you had that kind of knowledge from the future," which led to "Why, a PPC agent could write some really convincing made-up letters about their life based on news from the future, which they can totally get because of portals and HQ being all timey-wimey." I'd been pondering off and on whether or not Nume keeps in touch with his parents for a long time, and the pieces just fell into place.
And that is how Nume came to be writing a pulpy sci-fi novel about being a secret agent in the form of letters to his family, and why this story wasn't written until months after it takes place.
Incidentally, Jenni also joined the PPC in 2003, but I don't know exactly when it happened because I don't remember exactly when I joined. (I picked February for Nume based on school semesters and when I'd determined his birthday to be.) She probably had a quiet little celebration in FicPsych, and I'm not planning a story about it because it would be redundant and not nearly as fun to write as this was.
On the timeline: Due to the party RP being set in February 2013 but actually taking place in February 2014, this event may seem to be out of place in relation to other events in certain people's timelines. This is both true and not true. In Headquarters, everyone is on a relative timeline; the dates assigned to it are quite arbitrary. Therefore, it's perfectly reasonable for one day in February 2013 to come after October 2013 for Ilraen, Anneli, and Cindy, but fall where you'd expect it for everyone else. These things happen. If it hurts your brain, it's probably best not to think about it. ^_~