Disclaimer: The PPC were created by Jay and Acacia. “Tough Cookie,” the story and the character both, were the property of an author whose name I unfortunately lost when the story was deleted. (I managed to save the story, but not the author's name, and if anyone can point me towards it I'd be most grateful.) G.I. Joe and all associated characters and concepts are the property of Hasbro Inc.
A few notes about the mission itself. First, I debated a long time about the method of assassination and showing (or not showing) what happened. The method of disposal was practically necessary, given the Sue's crimes, but showing the whole business struck me as unnecessary and creepy.
Secondly, this is marked as Mission #8 because the Mission That Shall Not Be Spoken Of was never completed and is considered tres taboo, making this the agents' eighth official outing together. Yes, the MTSNBSO will be coming back to haunt them.
Thirdly, thanks to my older brothers DGuy and shrapnil77 for clarifying my military information and brainstorming what would realistically happen to someone in that position.
And finally, the “smile” quote is from one of my favorite episodes of Firefly. I thought it was about time Suicide started expanding his continuum knowledge.
Warning: naughty language contained herein. Ye be warned.
Mission #8: Tough to Take
Diocletian poked her head into RC #2771a, being careful to step over the slumbering mini-dragon parked on the threshold. “We're in the clear,” she reported over her shoulder. “It looks like Thiranduil's still at his playgroup. C'mon!”
She propped the door open with one elbow and shifted her grip on one of the new mattresses with the other, trying to push it over the threshold without leaving marks on the floor or anything else. Her partner Suicide followed behind, supporting the weight of the bigger mattress and carrying the other, smaller one rolled up and tied to his back. Both mattresses were battered, lightly scorched, much-repaired, and had cost Suicide and Diocletian a lot on the Headquarters black market, but they were better for sleeping arrangements than the alternative. Neither of the agents had brought themselves to sleep on the inflatable Air of Isildur.
The Universal Laws of Comedy decree that anything involving furniture moving will inevitably end in disaster, so the agents were surprised when they actually managed to get both mattresses into the response center without something randomly hilarious happening. Suicide plunked them both down as far from the console as possible, and Diocletian rummaged through her oversized shoulderbag, eventually pulling out a small green bottle labeled “Balrog Repellant.”
“This had damn well better be worth the money,” she grumbled as she unscrewed it. “Your 'friend' made me pay through the nose for this thing!”
“It'll work,” Suicide said confidently. “You said you wanted something to keep Thiranduil off the new mattresses, you got it. My guy always gets quality products.”
Diocletian gave the mysterious liquid a cautious sniff, and didn't recoil right away. “Smells . . . woodsy, sort of. Like soap and trees.”
“It's Glorfindel's body wash. He doesn't strike me as a cinnamon kind of guy.”
Diocletian jumped and dropped the bottle, spilling pale-green fluid all over the floor. Not a sprinkle of it actually went onto the mattresses. “Son of a--”
“I wondered when the Narrative Laws would kick in,” Suicide said dryly. He stepped over the puddle and made his way to the console, brushing aside one of the many, many decorate fabric drapes that Mithiriel had used to cover it. “I thought she got rid of the damn beep,” he added, feeling around the edges of the carved wooden casing. “I mean, in addition to turning it into a home-ec project. Where the hell is that damn—aha!” He finally found the switch, disguised as a carved butterfly. A section of wood swung outward, revealing the printout of the latest mission report.
“I'd swear the thing rewired itself when she wasn't looking,” Diocletian grumbled. “You know how much they love the beeping.” The spilled fluid was already beginning to dissipate; that was ten gold coins, fifty credits, and six hundred Rasbuckniks that she wouldn't be seeing again.
“Evidently it fixed itself badly,” Suicide said. He was frowning, paging through the mission report. “This isn't the sort of thing we're supposed to deal with.”
“Let me see.” Diocletian hopped awkwardly around the damp patch on the rug and took the mission report from him. “Huh. It looks like Intel couldn't decide if it was a Mary Sue or a troll.” She read a little further and frowned. “Wait a minute. Is this a G.I. Joe fanfic?” A pause. “People write G.I. Joe fanfics?”
“If it exists, there's fanfiction of it,” Suicide said. “What's G.I. Joe?”
“I don't know exactly,” Diocletian said cautiously. She elbowed him away from the console and began to tap at the keyboard, searching the databases for information. “I've heard of it from the other agents—sort of a military-fantasy, modern-Earth-in-a-1980s-continuum thing made to sell toys. Lots of bizarre specialist soldier types, lots of stuff blows up, and I think there's ninjas.”
“What's a ninja?”
“Basically? You, less drunk.”
That got a grin from her partner. “So we're going to take it, right?”
“No . . . no, I don't think that would be a good idea.” Diocletian was frowning at the console. “The database says it's an expanded-universe canon—spread out over several works and interpretations. Competing canons are always a headache. And the story's set at some kind of secret military base loaded with classified technology.” Suicide was still grinning, and Diocletian shook her head. “That's a bad thing, Su. After the whole irradiated-Rivendell thing, we're not supposed to be allowed modern tech.” She got a wistful look in her eye. “No matter how much we want it.”
When Diocletian's eyes went misty, Suicide calmly reached around his partner and hit the “accept mission” button. She squawked and swatted at him, but the damage was done. “Sorry, Dio,” he said. “It had me at 'basically you.'”
“Less drunk, remember. And you just have a soft spot for militaries,” Diocletian grumbled. “Someday, I'm going to get Upstairs to give us a 300 mission, and you'll be sorry.”
“ . . . long story.”
* * *
After consulting with the database for several minutes, the two finally settled on a disguise. According to the report, the 'fic was short and took place entirely in 'the Pit,' the abovementioned top-secret super-classified no-take-backs-hidden military base, so Generic Background Soldiers would do nicely. Diocletian quickly chose a set of Army fatigues from the database and selected some sufficiently militaristic haircuts while Suicide, overjoyed at the opportunity to play with modern Earth weapons for once, debated between an M16 and a wire-guided anti-tank missile. Diocletian pointedly shoved a pistol into his hands, making him give her a dirty look.
Before they left, Suicide went over to Ithalond's storage cupboard and rummaged around in it. Diocletian was the one giving the dirty look this time, but Suicide ignored it just as easily as she'd ignored his. “Found it,” he said cheerfully, pulling out a rectangular object wrapped in pale orange silk. “Don't bother with the CAD, Dio. We'll bring this.”
“What's wrong with mine?” Diocletian said, crossing her arms. “This isn't one of DoSAT's 'special edition' CADs, is it?”
“More like 'special education.'” Suicide unwrapped the object in question. It looked a little like an early Gameboy, and seemed to incorporate some of its parts: there was a slot for a cartridge to be inserted and a grainy black-and-white screen. The case hadn't quite been able to contain whatever had been stuffed into it, and wires bulged out of cracks in the plastic. Somebody had painted over the original logo and stenciled the words 'Pocket Fictionary' underneath the screen. Diocletian, recognizing bait for the Rule of Funny when she saw it, took a half-step back when Suicide waved it.
“They originally knocked it together for Ithalond,” Suicide said, unconcerned with the fact that he was carrying a piece of technology experimental even by DoSAT's standards. “They needed to get him in the field as soon as possible, but he barely knew his own canon, let alone anyone else's. I don't think he ever used it, though: The purple case was a little too much for the poor dope.” He tapped the cartridge slot. “You install one universe at a time and it provides a quick reference guide.”
“So you grab it just when we need to go into a canon we don't know. That's . . . convenient,” Diocletian said. She eyed the device with trepidation. “I don't like it, Su. It's got that deus-exy smell about it.”
Suicide gave her his most charming smile. “C'mon. You were the one obsessing over getting the charges exactly right last time; don't you think this will help you be a more professional, thorough PPCer?”
“The words 'professional' and 'thorough' should never come from your mouth,” Diocletian grumbled, grabbing the Fictionary. “Let's go before I regain my brain function and cancel the damn mission already.”
“Cheer up, Dio. It's short.”
Diocletian was not cheered.
“It's a continuum full of often-shirtless soldiers.”
Diocletian was partially cheered.
“And we get to kill someone disrespecting those soldiers . . . ah. Now there's the smile made of sunlight. Shall we?”
* * *
The two agents stepped out into the unformed whiteness of the pre-story world. Both of them were wearing standard green uniforms with an eagle flashpatch on the shoulder, but Suicide frowned as he shook his head and felt something different. One hand went to his forehead.
“Dio . . . am I bald?”
“Shaven, specifically,” she said. “It's a good look for you.” It really, really wasn't. Suicide scowled a little, but Diocletian was unmoved: realistic disguises were for everyone, not just for the ones stuck babysitting their impulsive homicidal partners. Besides, she could have been even crueler and given him a jarhead high-and-tight, but she suspected his ego wouldn't have survived it. Ignoring Suicide's pouting, she turned her attention to the 'fic itself. The author's voice boomed down:
It was about three feet tall and human-shaped, dressed in a blue jumpsuit with a red snake insignia on the breast. Its head was covered by a vaguely Wehrmachtish coal-scuttle helmet, and its face was apparently obscured by a mirrored visor. When Suicide gingerly reached down and raised the visor, it turned out that there wasn't a face to obscure: a camera lens whirred and gears clicked as it glared up at him, somehow managing to be pissy despite its aforementioned lack features-wise.
“This must be Sargeant Commander,” Diocletian said, glancing up at the words. “It's a mini . . . cyborg?”
Suicide snagged the Fictionary from her and ran a quick scan. Mini-BAT, or Battle Android Trooper, the device reported, its words flickering on the screen. Robot loyal to the evil and despotic Cobra terrorist organization. It made a small 'bing!' noise. You are currently in Remedial mode. Would you like an explanation of term: 'mini'?
“Mini robot,” he reported, trying to shake off the sensation that that last line of text had somehow scrolled past in a sarcastic fashion. “They work for the bad guys, Cobra.” Sargeant Commander brandished a laser pistol at the name. “This one appears to be sentient. And no, Dio, you can't keep him.”
“He wouldn't even take up as much room as the microwave,” Diocletian pointed out, kneeling down until she was eye-to-camera with the mini. “Hey there, little guy. My name's Dio, and that's Suicide. We're here to . . . uh, how should I put this. . . fight for the freedom of--”
Suicide pulled her to the side just in time. Sargeant Commander fired off a burst from the laser pistol, and Diocletian let out a yelp as the bolt left a red burn across her cheek. “You little twerp!” she yelped, kicking Sargeant Commander in the metal shin. “What the hell was your problem? Try that again, and I'll turn you into a wastebasket!”
At that, the mini snapped to attention, clicked its tiny heels and saluted. Suicide and Dio frowned.
“Let me try something,” Suicide said. He leaned down, put his head right next to the mini's, and said “Freedom.” The mini twitched visibly, and Suicide smirked. Diocletian's frown only deepened.
“Su, what are you--”
“Laissez-faire markets.” Another twitch. “Truth, justice, and the American way.” If Sargeant Commander could have sworn, it would have; instead, it settled for aiming its laser pistol at Suicide and cocking it in a very meaningful manner.
“Now let's try . . . fascism.” The mini lowered its pistol and relaxed a little. “Enlightened rule by the intellectual elite.” Not a flicker of movement. “Hail Cobra?” Now it moved again, saluting briskly and clicking its heels once more.
“It's a bad guy,” Suicide explained, patting the mini on the head. “A bad guy from a cartoon universe, no less. Well done, Sargeant Commander! Keep up the goo--bad work, and I'll get you a baby seal to skin.”
“You're enjoying this!” Diocletian accused. The Scythian just smiled beatifically. “And if you think we're going to keep it, you're crazy . . . er than usual.”
Suicide just shrugged and patted Sargeant Commander, who had taken up a guard position next to him. “Add him to the charge list, would you?”
His partner eyed the list in question. “I repeat: we're only two hundred and seventy-six words in.” Sighing, she made the annotation and reached for the pause button again. “Ready to get this done?”
The fic gave a slight lurch as it transitioned into Chapter Two, and the world blurred into the whiteness of the pre-story space again. An Author's Note thundered down:
FYI Bateman, I know a REAL green shirt would never talk to a ranking officer like that, let alone a ranger p.t. instructor. Kinda makes you think, that she's not really a green shirt now, doesn't it?
“Reacting to concrit?” Diocletian said. “Maybe this means she'll patch some of her inconsistencies. Okay, fic. Explain yourself, por favor.”
A couple of weeks had passed since that first day in the kitchen. T.C. and Beach Head had been walking on egg shells with each other. When he demanded a fitness test, she said 'no' But when Bazooka bet a pie that she couldn't beat his own, poor, time on the obstacle course, she blasted it to hell. But then this was Bazooka and the obtacle course. The kitchen crew had learned how to bake pie that day.
The world around the agents remained shadowy and generic, since the fic had switched into summary mode and hadn't given them a specific place or time. Vague figures wandered past them, walking into or through walls and occasionally blinking confusedly as they tried to figure out what they were doing. Diocletian snapped a few photographs and did her best to ignore her partner, who was grumbling about any kind of subordinate saying 'no' to a direct order from a superior.
“Charge for--” he began. Diocletian had already written it down.
“Wait, how does that follow?” she wondered aloud as she reread the last few lines. With the mention of the kitchen, the scene had begun to grow a little more solid, and the two agents perched themselves on a random kitchen counter to observe. The world was still more than out of whack enough for nobody to notice them. “It's implying that she beat 'Bazooka' on the obstacle course, but the cooks were still baking the pie? And why wouldn't the cooks know how to make pie already?”
Suicide pulled a face. “Actually, that one I can believe. I remember one time in Plataea--”
Beach Head though, thought he had a way of getting a fitness test out of her now. He had Dusty challenge T.C. She turned him down flat. Beach Head had a devil of a time dealing with T.C. When he found out that General Hawk had requested her specifically, that just flummoxed him even more.
Duke had to explain to every Joe that T.C. was a civilian with military clearance. duke could only tell the others' that T.C. knew things that the Joes' would eventually need to know.
The world changed again, this time landing the agents in a nondescript office. The GI Joe 'Duke,' now wearing ducal regalia and a spiky coronet thanks to a lack of capitalization, was apparently explaining to every one of the hundreds of Joe personnel, at the same time, that T.C. was of course a special snowflake and not subject to the normal rules. Suicide growled as he dodged the misplaced apostrophe, muttering about exactly what “civilians with military clearance” could go do to themselves and their family pets. Diocletian merely sighed and began to scribble: civilian with important information, posted as a cook? Not protective custody? Cook talking back to DI? No matter how she wrote it, it didn't make any more sense.
"Then why not question the little chickadee?" Beach Head had burst out impatiently.
At that, the Pocket Fictionary let out a shrill chirp, and a little yellow light blinked next to the readout. Diocletian's brow furrowed as she examined it.
“Plagiarism alert,” she reported. “Ripping off another story, apparently, to add to the list of sins. I hate PPCing a fandom I don't know.”
“Just write it down. We'll be done soon enough.” Suicide was practically cringing as the Sue grew more and more speshul by the minute, and one of his hands kept twitching towards the place where his quiver normally was. Diocletian just shook her head and patted her partner's shoulder.
Meanwhile, Duke proclaimed that the Sue-shirt was “better at keeping secrets than Snake-Eyes,” something that made the Fictionary shrill again before Diocletian clamped a hand over its speaker. "If you want to take a turn, go right ahead Beach. Just stay out of her face. Clutch tried coercion and got a black eye for it."
The world gave a sickening lurch, and five seconds later, they found themselves in the infirmary. It was nice to be in a semi-defined location—for once—but the agents' good mood was somewhat spoiled by the sight of Beach Head, who was being checked over by two medics (Doc and Lifeline, apparently) while the Sue smirked at him.
"How's he doing, Doc? Bazooka didn't hurt him too much, did he?" T.C. asked with a grin at Beach Head, who growled audibly t her light tone.
Diocletian frowned, pausing in the middle of writing the next charge. “Wait a minute. I thought Bazooka was another one of these Joe guys. Why would he hurt Beach Head? Would he even be able to hurt Beach Head? And why is there an unrelated, possible-civilian in the infirmary while he's being treated?”
"You're lucky Bazooka listened to Heavy Duty and stopped beating on you." Doc said severely. "A black eye, cracked jaw, and multiple hematoma, are all you got. I'm putting you up for three days. Make Willims do all the shouting during p.t. Your jaw needs to heal."
The plagiarism alarm blinked again at the mention of “Willims,” whoever that was; it must have been an original character, because no mini-BAT spawned, much to the obvious satisfaction of Sargeant Commander.
"So no food that needs a lot of chewing?" T.C. Asked.
"Exactly." Doc said, Lifeline chuckled almost wickedly.
The veins bulged in Suicide's forehead. “Why are the medics . . .” he began. “They think it's funny that one of their own committed assault against a superior officer? Why isn't Bazooka being court-martialed right now? No, forget that. Why isn't he being made to fuck a tree until blood pours out of his gods-damned--”
Diocletian tuned him out at that point. Once he got on the topic of military discipline, he'd stay there for a while. She fished a butterscotch candy out of the pocket of her green uniform and ate it, still watching the travesty unfold.
"Well, there goes steak and baked potatoes for his dinner tonight." T.C. said with a shrug. "Happy now, Ranger Ridiculous?" she asked mock scathingly.
"This is your fault, woman." Beach Head snarled, trying not to wince at the pain in his jaw.
"I didn't go accusing Bazooka of harbouring a prisoner of war, and claiming that 'she was going to either talk or be in for a world of hurt!'" T.C. said, grinning in amusement. "How was poor Bazooka to know that you meant 'running me through the obtacle course' for 'world of hurt'?" she chuckled. Beach Head growled.
The Fictionary made a noise like 'harrumph.' Canon/fanon/canon/fanon, it displayed, the text scrolling very slowly as if it disdained to associate itself with such a gauche misuse of canon. Egregious disruption. Reference article “G.I. Joe training,” subheading “backchat,” second subheading "beat yo ass.”
Diocletian buried her face in her hands. “Of course. Of course. Bazooka attacked Beach Head because he thought the Sue was being threatened. Su, we're seven hundred and seventy-three words into this. Can we please kill it already?”
The story gave another lurch as the tone shifted, with T.C. hinting that she had Dark and Mysterious Connections to Cobra but was, for a nice change, actually regretful about something that had happened at that time. Beach Head appeared sympathetic despite the grievous bodily harm that the Sue's mind-controlled minion had just inflicted on him, causing the CAD to emit smoke.
"Where're you from" Beach Head asked suddenly.
"What's your real name?" T.C. countered. Beach Head grunted. "That's what I thought." T.C. said with a chuckle.
That got a sigh from Diocletian. “She knew his code name, rank, serial number et al, including details of his specific history, but didn't know the real name he would've been carrying for most of that history? I love it when they don't remember their own special powers.” She glanced over at her partner, who had calmed down an iota or two. “You got an idea for disposal, big guy?”
“I'm up to six. You?”
The scene froze and faded again, and the agents braced themselves, preparing for the third and final chapter. The world once more faded into the white of the pre-story world. This time, however, all of the canons—and the Sue—faded completely out of existence, leaving only blankness. Diocletian felt a grin edge across her face as the voice of the Author took a deep breath.
Wow, how picky can some people be? I post two short chapters of an ancient story and I'm accused of being vague and stealing some random name from someone. I came up with this and needed a quick and simple name that would only be used once or twice and I get a threat to be reported? If I was that touchy and reported all the names I had, that other people used, the number of stories would be cut in half.
“Willims' owner must've objected,” Diocletian guessed. Suicide merely leaned back and smiled a little as the Author continued in a huffy tone.
And as to my character being fiery and disrepectful, she is a civilian with only a little respect for the military as a whole. To her, the military is like air, it's necesary and it's there. Beyond that, it just doesn't really concern her too much.
“It's not the disrespect, lady,” Suicide called out. “It's the fact that nobody's curbing that disrespect.”
At that, Diocletian straightened up a little. “Hey, Suicide. What about those six ideas of yours? What are they?”
“Drowning in the obstacle course's mudpit for preference.” Suicide grinned at the thought. “Why, did you just come up with something?”
“You could say that.” She thrust the Pocket Fictionary into his hands. “You two play nice for a little, okay? I have to go check some stuff.” She flicked a button on the portal remote and, before Suicide could ask, jumped through the glowing blue doorway. Part of the room beyond looked like FicPsych, but he couldn't get a good look at it.
With nothing to do, Suicide tucked the Fictionary into his bag and considered Sargeant Commander. Above, the Author Rant went on.
None of you like flames and bad reviews, so what makes you think I like them? If you don't like it then just don't read it any further. In fact don't even bother leaving a review either.
Yawn. Business as usual. Meanwhile, Sargeant Commander opened up a panel on his own arm and began to tinker, carefully aligning a couple of gears and rerouting a wire or two—the usual mini ingenuity. Was that a small-scale machine gun concealed in the BAT's arm? Suicide couldn't tell, but he made a mental note to find out what this particular breed of mini liked to eat. It never hurt to be able to bribe tiny walking weapons.
A moment later, the portal opened again and Diocletian emerged, breathless. “It's all set,” she reported, fiddling with the remote activator a little more. “Technically, there are rules about Sues in Headquarters, but under the circumstances I think we can get a pass for sheer irony.”
Suicide raised an eyebrow. “What are you thinking?”
Diocletian told him.
* * *
T.C. blinked and raised her head. She felt . . . different, somehow. She must have always had hands—hands, and a face, and legs and everything, right? Of course she had: you can't be a super-secret civilian military operative masquerading as a lowly cook and not have legs! But somehow, she could feel them more strongly now, and it felt strange. New? More . . . solid?
Blinking hard, she looked around. She was in a blank, featureless room, no more than ten by ten. Its walls, floor and ceiling were all the same uniform shade of gray. The substance felt odd under her hand: not quite metal, not quite stone. Her head ached horribly, and touching the strange cool floor seemed to only make it worse.
“Yoohoo!” a voice called out. T.C. rolled over and stumbled to her feet, rubbing her eyes. A brown-haired woman and a tall, gray-haired man were peering through a small window in the cell's only door. The woman was holding up what looked like a list written on a piece of notebook paper, and the man had a humorless smile that reminded T.C. of Sgt. Major Beach Head's . That made T.C. smile to herself: if the sergeant major was such a pushover, this bunch could hardly present as much of a challenge.
“What do you want?” she demanded. The woman tsked. A moment later, the door whooshed open, and the pair stepped into the room. T.C. promptly bolted towards them, intending to tackle them, but something slammed hard into her stomach and knocked her wind out. She groaned, curling up on the floor and clutching her midsection, as the thing that had hit her clattered to the ground—a short spear, its head blunted and replaced with a heavy club of lead. Why did that hurt so much?
“Reality Room,” the woman commented, as the man retrieved his weapon. “I originally wanted to put you into a laundry press--'green shirt,' really?--but since I'm responsible for my partner's health and you were being so very bad for it, I thought this might be more therapeutic.” She waved the list again, and cleared her throat. “Now then.
“T.C., you are hereby indicted before this lack-of-court as a Mary Sue. Stand and hear your charges.”
T.C. growled weakly. Who the hell did they think they were, talking to her like that? She couldn't be court-martialed! She knew things! G.I. Joe needed her, dammit!
“On this day it is charged,” the woman continued, trying to be sonorous and failing, “that you did willfully and with malice aforethought corrupt the character of Wayne Sneeden, alias Beach Head, by making him petty and capable of being distracted and put down by a junior cook with a smart mouth.” T.C. growled again, but the woman ignored her. “You are further charged with corrupting the structure of G.I. Joe and the United States military by completely disregarding chain of command and the proper role of support personnel within a larger unit; advocating cannibalism as a solution for interpersonal problems; corrupting the character of Philip Katzenbogen, alias Bazooka, by making him strike a fellow Joe, proven soldier and superior officer in defense of your smarmy hide; and corrupting the characters of Carl Greer and Edwin Steen, alias Doc and Lifeline, by having them visibly enjoy the injuries done by a subordinate to a superior and find humor in blatant breach of the abovementioned chain of command--”
The man, growing antsy, snatched the list from her and began to read. Unlike his partner, he was quite good at being sonorous, and for the first time in a long time T.C. felt a shiver run down her spine.
“Further charges include: abuse of power, to whit, threatening to use your position to negatively influence a person you don't happen to like. Making yourself an animated piece of clothing. Being uncertain about your own position—are you a soldier or a civilian? If you're a civilian, why are you the battalion cook and subject to military discipline? If you're a soldier, why are you ignoring said discipline? Being uncertain of your own sources of knowledge: if you knew Beach Head's prior military achievements, why wouldn't you know his real name, which the achievements were presumably made under? Multiple instances of dereliction of duty, disregard of the chain of command, and inciting a soldier to attack his superior. That's insubordination! I've been in units that'd have you flogged for it.” The woman made a face at him, and he rolled his eyes and continued.
“For triggering the plagiarism alarm numerous times, though the gods only knows what exactly you did plagiarize; I'd like to hope that the other writers in this section have a higher quality of writing than this dreck. And finally, last but not at all least, obscenely misplaced punctuation and the creation of the mini-BAT Sargeant Commander. For all these crimes and those yet unnamed, this court finds you unfit to serve in the United States military. Your punishment will be to be subject to the discipline you previously scorned. Dismissed.”
“This is bullshit!” T.C. screamed, lurching to her feet.
“It was bullshit until you subverted everything a universe stood on.” Both the man and the woman stepped back, and the man slammed the door closed. “Have fun!” the woman called out.
As T.C. rubbed her aching midsection, looking around, figures began to fizz into being around her. They were shadowy and indistinct, but even as she looked, they began to grow more substantial. They were in uniforms, and one of them—the tallest—was scowling down at her.
“I said, fall in!” he shouted, and T.C. flinched. “Are you deaf, soldier? Get in the lineup!”
“Don't even think about talking to me like that!” T.C. screamed back. “I'll put you on bread and water for a year!”
The man—a sergeant by his stripes—loomed over her, and suddenly T.C. felt very small indeed. “Reeeeeally,” he said, the word drawn out almost as if he was savoring it. “I think we need to have a talk about your attitude, your highness. In the meantime, drop and give me fifty. Now.”
“I don't—” T.C. began, but something felt strange. Her legs buckled, and before she knew it, she was on the floor and balanced on her knees and palms. A tremor ran through her arms as she went down into the first push-up.
The Room hummed as it began its calculations. She was a civilian, who was now in a military position for some reason. Had she gone through boot camp? No? Pity; she wasn't going to be able to hack it with those pushups for long, not even on knees instead of feet. And she was a cook? Really? That plus female meant that she likely didn't serve on the front lines, and the sad but true fact was that some petty types were going to get on her back for that. Social alienation and several months' worth of pranks, coming right up.
Not to mention, of course, the fact that she was a cook with an attitude problem. Did she know what happened to people who acted like jerks to superior officers and enlisted men alike? No? Well, the Room could fix that. Whip up the illusion of a couple of superiors and see what happened . . .
* * *
“Well, dang,” Diocletian said contemplatively, eyeing the large olive-green spray of glitter in the middle of the floor. “I didn't expect that.”
“Some people just aren't cut out for the military life,” Suicide observed. “They're going to make us clean this up, aren't they?”
“Dunno. Does anyone know we're still here?”
“Probably not, but we should anyway.” Suicide opened the door, releasing the distinct smell of pulverized Sue. “C'mon, Dio. This is the real army experience. Didn't you ever scrub a floor with someone terrifying yelling at you?”
“Does Ithalond's wife count?”
“Just grab a mop already.”
“No way," Diocletian said flatly, crossing her arms. Maybe this was a weird pride thing, maybe this was Su being more-army-than-thou or reestablishing his bona fides or something, but she still had some standards. "You do not get to be the terrifying yelling thing. I yell, you scrub.”
“As the bishop said to the actress.”
“ . . . shut up.”