|Summary:||In which an Andalite recruit gets a culture implant.|
|Timeline:||Early October, 2006.|
|Published:||January 6, 2007 (probably).|
|Rating:||PG/K+ - Some references may be over the heads of children and badfic recruits.|
|Cameos:||Twiggy and Brittany.|
Excerpted from the files of Agents Twiggy and Brittany:
Beyond [the portal], tinted slightly blue, the two agents and the Andalite could see what looked like a hospital room-cum-laboratory, filled with people. Many of them were lying on beds or leaning uncomfortably against gray walls, waiting to be seen to. Legolas was there, and Dumbledore, and Severus Snape too, looking alternately dazed and furious.
Twiggy stepped in. “Lots of Harry Potter characters in here today, Nurse Robinson,” she said questioningly to a harassed-looking woman with a clipboard.
“Don’t ask,” Jenni Robinson responded, peering at the Andalite, whom Brittany was leading through the portal. “Who’ve you got? That’s not Alloran, is it?”
Brittany shook her head. “No, he’s . . . um . . . he hasn’t got a name. He’s a bit-part. We’ve recruited him.”
“Well, he’ll need a name,” said Jenni.
“Ilraen-Aroline-Fothergill,” supplied Twiggy brightly. She blinked as the other two stared at her. “Whaaat? It’s a nice name. I’ve given it a lot of thought.”
“Ilraen-Aroline-Fothergill,” Jenni repeated thoughtfully. “I know someone who’d walk barefoot over broken glass for an Andalite partner. Welcome to the PPC,” she said to the newly Christened Ilraen, holding out her hand. He looked at it politely.
“You shake it,” Jenni explained.
<Er . . . why?>
Brittany raised her eyebrows. “Let’s go, before this turns into a Narnia rip-off,” she said pointedly. She looked at Jenni. “Okay, thanks, bye.”
Twiggy grinned at Ilraen. “Have fun.”
Jenni saw the two DCUP agents out the ward door and planted her free hand on her hip. “Have fun,” she muttered, repeating Agent Twiggy’s parting line. It was easier said than done. Behind her, she could hear the sounds of the busy ward. Some were reassuring—Severus snapping acerbic remarks at the nurse on duty always made her smile—but mostly they represented the chaos of a few dedicated individuals trying to restore the proper personalities to their patients while preventing them from going stark raving mad: the rattle and pop of a new bottle of Bleeprin being cracked open, the whine of a neuralyzer charging in the next room, the subsequent scramble for sunglasses and the accompanying cries of “Ackwaitnotyet!” All of these served to inform Jenni that she would be remiss in her duty if she had the gall to enjoy herself.
All the same, this new recruit had to be dealt with. The Andalite stood patiently where he had been left, stalk eyes swiveling this way and that as he took in his surroundings. His main eyes were fixed on Jenni. Not entirely vacant, she observed, but not sparking with the acute intelligence for which his species was noted. She looked over the rest of him while she was at it, which proved to be a somewhat uncomfortable experience. Coming from a badfic in which little to no attention was given to detail, his morphogenic field was unstable. It was nothing one could see happening, but a blink of the eyes could mean the difference between looking him in the stalk-eye or the chest. The pattern of his blue and tan body hair swirled gently in and out of focus, making Jenni’s eyes water until she looked away.
“Well, this won’t do,” she said. “Ilraen, was it? We’d better get you checked in and to the secondary ward. Come on.” Very much thinking about it, she reached out and took his hand. As soon as she had, she could feel the seven fragile digits taking definite shape. Long fingers, he had, and warm. That was good.
<Ilraen-Aroline-Fothergill. That is my name,> he replied, sounding out the syllables as he walked. <I am Ilraen.>
Jenni nodded and smiled at the child-like wonder in his mental voice. “That’s right. You should remember to thank Agent Twiggy when you see her again. A name is a very important thing.”
<Oh.> A pause. Jenni could actually feel the idea taking root in his mind. <Do you have one?>
“I do.” She didn’t snicker. It wasn’t nice to laugh at someone who was just coming to grips with the idea of a self. “It’s Jennifer Robinson. You can call me Jenni.”
At that point, they arrived at the place where the door to the Kudzu’s office could usually be found. At the moment, all Jenni could see was a blank wall. Letting Ilraen go, she rapped on it.
“Hello-o-o,” she called. “Hello, the Kudzu! Got a recruit to process!”
There’s no need to go around shouting and banging on walls, the Kudzu didn’t say. Jenni saw Ilraen blink all four eyes as the words arrived in their minds without apparently being processed in any usual manner. If you’ll kindly turn around, I believe you’ll find the door wide open.
They did, and it was. Beyond, the Kudzu Vine was sprawled in all her glory across the greater part of the room. There were rumors that she had tendrils throughout the walls of FicPsych, but no one had worked up the courage to break through and find out. She beckoned them with a wave of two purple panicles of flowers.
“One would think,” said Jenni, “that in a place dedicated to sanity, we could do without the shifting architecture. Ilraen, mind the runners.” The Andalite adroitly stepped around the strands of green at his hooves.
You know how it is, dear, replied the vine. Can’t have you agents getting complacent. Now, what have we here?
Jenni supplied her boss with a brief synopsis of Ilraen’s situation, which was really all she had anyway.
I see. You’ll have to talk to Doctor Freedenberg about whipping up a culture implant, then. I don’t know that we have Andalites on file. Here’s your authorization. From somewhere in the tangle of leaves was produced a slip of slightly damp paper written and signed by the Kudzu. Jenni took it. In the meantime, for heaven’s sake don’t over-expose him, but do something about that morphogenic field. Room A-202 should be open. He’s your project, Nurse Robinson. Good day.
“Right. Thanks. Good day.”
<Good day,> Ilraen echoed in what Jenni thought was a valiant attempt to keep up.
There was a rustle and snap of foliage moving in a big hurry as they turned to go. And mind that tail!
Dr. Freedenberg’s face telescoped into focus as he withdrew, taking the small, spindle-shaped device away as he did so. Ilraen breathed a sigh of relief and blinked rapidly.
<Jenni,> he said on a tight line to the nurse, <if the miniature Character Analysis Device is linked to a computer display, why did he have to squint into my eye? It was rather disconcerting.>
Jenni, who was standing behind him in Freedenberg’s very yellow anteroom, shrugged and smiled at the stalk eye pointed at her. Smiling, Ilraen understood, was a human way of expressing a wide variety of emotions, some of which seemed to contradict each other. It was very confusing, but in this case he could deduce from the shrug that she didn’t have a real explanation and from the smile that she was about to make one up.
~I think,~ she said, employing her personal brand of telempathy, ~that it has something to do with being a psych specialist. If they don’t get to peep through the windows to the soul at least once a day, they feel they’re missing something.~
<Oh.> He would have pressed her for elaboration, but Freedenberg had finished looking over the data on his console and faced them both again. He also smiled, but his was harder to interpret because it always seemed to be there, as if it were propped up by its scaffold of skin grooves and silver facial hair. Jenni emoted the impression that it was comfortable that way—it was the stiff, uncomfortable ones of which he had to be wary.
The doctor spoke. “Well, my lad, it comes down to this: your morphogenic field is still fluctuating somewhat, but thanks to Nurse Robinson’s ministrations, you’re stable enough to have a personality. I can’t give you that, but I can lay the groundwork, and that’s what we’re here to do today. Let us proceed to Unit B.”
Freedenberg slipped spryly around Ilraen, easily ducking the tail, and led the way down the hall. Jenni walked at Ilraen’s side and translated what had been said. Her telempathy, like liquid, seemed to take the form of the space it was in and easily filled question-shaped gaps. Unlike the Kudzu’s telepathy, Ilraen could feel it work with his brain rather than in spite of it; unlike his own thought-speak, there was something more than sensory impressions and proto-ideas behind the word-forms. If Jenni ’pathed “human,” he not only got what was meant by the word, but a little of what was meant by humans. The culture implant he was about to receive, she told him, was something like that, only more permanent.
<And this will help me get a personality?>
~Personality comes with experience. You have none beyond a glimpse into bad fanfiction and what we’ve provided for you here, which is not enough to function as a healthy adult anything, let alone an Andalite. The implant will instill a sense of what it means to be a member of your species as of the latest update to your canon, which is fortunately complete and includes a bit of Earth culture. What you decide to do with that will be your first step in developing a sense of what it means to be Ilraen-Aroline-Fothergill.~
His name was empty of all definition beyond the basic form and feel of him, and that still carried a newness about it. It had taken several long sessions with a large mirror before his size sorted itself out. He was about half a head taller than Jenni’s five feet and seven inches. The exact shade and pattern of his fur still shifted every few hours, but the changes were less obvious each time. Ilraen only noticed because they itched. The sensation had been interesting at first, but soon lost its novelty.
Dr. Freedenberg waved him into a small room with a white screen mounted on one wall and an assemblage of machinery (some of which might have been there just to go “ping!”) toward the opposite wall, including a metal chair bolted to the floor and equipped with steel restraints. Some of them had the look of being gnawed upon. The Memory Implant Device itself, a technologically superior version of the hand-held device used in Despatch, was a computer housed in the small projection booth behind the viewing area. Jenni hung back at the door.
“Here we are,” said the doctor. “Don’t be misled by all this clutter—no clockwork oranges in this department! If you’ll just face the screen—all four eyes, thank you—we’ll hook you up and begin calibration.”
“I’ll see you later, Ilraen,” Jenni said, casually deflecting his queries with the assurance that they’d discuss the literary reference another time. “It’ll be nice to meet you.”
“Yes, thank you, Nurse Robinson,” Freedenberg said with a genial but pointed nod. “Now, if you’ll kindly close the door, we shall get started.”
An hour later, Jenni was sitting at a table in the cafeteria with a half-full mug of Earl Grey cooling in her hands. Normally the lounge was her favored retreat, but at the moment she was actually hoping to accomplish something. No agent in her right mind ate in the cafeteria, and no agent in her right mind went to the lounge to hold a conversation. That was PPC logic for you. Across from her, Agent Supernumerary re-crossed his long legs and took a pull from his flask of Bleepka. One suspiciously Vulcan eyebrow raised on his suspiciously Noldorin-complected face.
“You know you look like a bad Weaving!Elrond photocopy when you do that,” Jenni remarked.
“Elves don’t wear spectacles,” he replied dryly. The eyebrow settled. “But, you said ’Andalite’ just now, and I believe you implied that this Andalite could become my new partner. Am I correct?”
“You heard me right. I’m certainly going to recommend he be placed with you. You’ve transferred, right? You’re officially Implausible Crossovers?”
Supernumerary grimaced. “Not quite. Technically, I’m still a floater until a new partner is assigned. You know they don’t let us stop working for silly things like procedure.”
“Ah.” Evidence that Jenni’s recommendations meant very little when it didn’t suit Action. She and the Flower heads knew Nume’s flask was the only thing between him and a complete meltdown. The difference was that she cared and they didn’t, just as long as he could do his job. “And Cameo?”
“Haven’t seen her, thank the Powers. As far as I know, they dropped her off somewhere she wouldn’t be a problem. Ankh-Morpork, perhaps. She’d get on well with Mr. Teatime . . . .”
“I doubt it,” said Jenni. She drank off half of what was left in her mug and swallowed in thought. “They wouldn’t get rid of her, anyway. But, look, the question is, can you work with a newbie this . . . new? He’s already got an insatiable curiosity, even if it is just a case of nature abhorring a vacuum. Imagine, once he gets an Andalite taste for knowledge. It’ll be like having a two-year-old with an interest in quantum physics.”
“If we avoid the Men in Black continuum . . . .” Nume took a deep breath, glanced at his flask, and locked gazes with Jenni. “Yes. I have no problem with intelligent questions. On a good day I can even tolerate ignorant questions. I trust you won’t leave him with a yen to ask stupid questions.”
Jenni grinned. “We do our best.”
“Hm. And . . . morphing? Tail-fighting?” He leaned forward slightly, eyes bright behind his green-framed glasses.
“Included in the culture implant, I think. Don’t expect much of the former, though. The guy just learned how to hold his own shape, never mind something else’s.”
“But he can do it?” Nume’s eyes took on a look that could be described as the inverse of far away—just as distant, but in the other direction. Jenni would have said he was sketching on his retinas, but she wasn’t often called upon to describe the affect associated with creative plotting.
“Listen,” she said, interceding before the smile on his face got any scarier. “You can be canny or devious or cunning or whatever on your own time. Ilraen should be up to it, but I can’t promise he’ll have any kind of skill.” She drained her mug.
Nume raised a “well-that’s-all-you-can-reasonably-expect-from-inferior-species-you-know” eyebrow. “No new recruits have any kind of skill.”
“This is true.” Jenni chuckled. “If I were you, I’d cross my fingers and hope for natural talent. I should get back now,” she added, apropos of nothing, and rose. Nume stood with her. “You’ll probably find out when Ilraen is ready for duty before I do, knowing Action, but I’ll keep you abreast of anything I learn first.”
He looked puzzled for a moment and shook his head. “Such an odd expression. But never mind. I won’t say I look forward to our next meeting, because if I do, it will probably involve wailing, gnashing of teeth, and painful IV lines.”
Jenni tilted her head. “I see.” Her smile wandered vaguely to the left.
“Ironic Overpower, you know.” Nume cleared his throat awkwardly, but Jenni wasn’t concerned about his lack of social grace.
“Am I that bad at IVs?”
He leveled a look at her over the top of his glasses. “Have you ever been on a Bleepphene drip? The Bleep- stings like hell until the -phene kicks in.” With that as his parting remark, he tipped a slight nod and left the cafeteria.
Jenni stood for a moment in contemplation, then shook her head and set out for FicPsych. It was one of those times when it seemed the walls moved as she walked in place, as though she was on a treadmill hooked up to scrolling matte scene paintings. When she passed the Department of Personnel for the second time, it occurred to her that she should have saved the contemplation for transit. Rather than repeat the loop again, she stopped to scatter her thoughts.
Do you have an appointment?
She hadn’t meant to scatter so loudly. She forced her facial muscles to stop squinching and faced the DoP door. This swung slowly ajar so that Jenni was face to bowler with the Department Head.
“Marquis, I beg your pardon—”
Well, stop it. The daisy rustled his leaves, somehow giving the impression (but not, in fact, the effect—the effect was rather less subtle) of arranging his attire as a cover for scrutinizing hers. You’re from the Kudzu? Then tell her I do not need anger management therapy, thank you, and to please cease these ridiculous attempts to ruffle my petals. I am and ever will be the picture of serenity and composure. Tell her that.
“Yes. Well.” Feeling she was on the verge of a side quest she had neither the time nor interest to pursue, Jenni sought a plot device. “Actually,” she said brightly as she stepped into the room, “I’d like a copy of the Manual. New recruit. Andalite. Fascinating. Tell you what, I’ll not even trouble you for hard copy. Just send it to my console and I can burn a disc. All right? Great! Thanks! Bye!” With a smile and a wave, she beat it back into the corridor before the Marquis recovered sufficiently to remember that all consoles came equipped with the Manual in PDF format.
Fear of a psychic thrashing was an even better distraction than personal contemplation. Jenni was safely back in the primary ward in no time. Well, certainly no appreciable time. No one appreciates fleeing in fear.
A sudden influx of Redwall characters, which gave her cause to seriously consider sticking her head under a pillow to sleep that night, kept her busy for several hours. It saved her from thinking scandalous thoughts about the Kudzu and the Marquis de Sod, but it also kept her from seeing Ilraen.
When the implantation was completed, Ilraen was taken back to Freedenberg’s anteroom and once again subjected to ocular examination by mini-CAD. This time, he turned one of his stalk eyes to the computer read-out. [Ilraen-Aroline-Fothergill. Andalite male, adult. BitOrigiBBBitOriginal character,] it said. [Morphogenic manifold 99.999% stable. 49.359% saturation and climbing.] He guessed that it was personality with which he was forty-nine percent saturated.
“Yes, laddie?” He didn’t look up from the notes he was making in Ilraen’s file.
The Andalite decided to try an experiment. He got irritated. <Pardon me, but I’m not a ’laddie’. I am a fully mature male of my species. I don’t mean to be objectionable, but if I hadn’t been so rudely snatched from the fabric of my continuum, I would probably be in the later stages of training as a warrior and a scientist deserving of some respect. Also, I would appreciate it if you didn’t squint into my eyes anymore.>
They both glanced at the monitor. The saturation percentage went up by five tenths and stayed that way. The doctor nodded, adjusted his glasses, and blinked at Ilraen in a benign, grandfatherly way.
“Now, listen: I’ve enabled more sorry, half-baked messes of consciousness than you are hours old. Until that changes, it’s my prerogative to treat you as a being of equivalent age and experience. And it’s part of your treatment, if you’ll forgive the play on words. For your own good.”
<Er. Oh.> He wasn’t sure exactly what he had expected, but Freedenberg’s reaction wasn’t it. He particularly wasn’t sure about the last line. The man’s eyes had been more twinkly than usual.
Freedenberg waited a beat. “Was there something else, son?”
<I actually wanted to know what my read-out was before the implant,> Ilraen mentally murmured.
The Andalite blinked. <I beg your pardon?>
“It was depressing. Your read-out. But don’t worry about that. You can request a copy of your charts when you check out, which should be in a couple of days. Now, we’re finished here. I’ve prescribed some reading material to occupy you until Nurse Robinson or myself looks in on you tomorrow. I believe you’ll find it waiting in your room.”
It was: a stack of the eleven volumes of the PPC Manual.
This is my first complete PPC story aside from episodes of Fill the Plothole. Excitement! Ilraen comes from an actual fic PPC’d by Twiggy, but I don’t know the location of the fic or the mission. I’ll put links up if I find out. Thanks to Twiggy for beta-reading.
EDIT (11.30.2019): Twiggy originally referred to Jenni as Master Robinson instead of Nurse Robinson in the excerpt. I have no idea why I thought that would be a thing or why I left it there so long, but it’s fixed now.