P&L 1 and P&L 2

Ph34r & Loathing at the CEA

The top three dumbest things I've ever done all occurred within one two-week period. That's how long I'd been in Japan, and I was on a roll. Number three was signing that temp agency contract. The name of the agency should have tipped me off, I suppose: Bakawaka, Inc. Number two was going back there after completing the first couple of assignments they gave me, and the absolute dumbest followed hard upon.

"Hey Tosh', What's shakin'?" I said as I entered the agency office. He looked up from his paperwork as I came in, a stocky, thirty something guy with premature gray in his hair.

"Just in time," he observed. "We have an emergency request from the CEA. They need someone who knows his way around a special weapons inventory. You have any experience with that?"

I shrugged. "I once dated the daughter of a props armorer for a movie production company."

Toshiya grunted. "Close enough. Go on back to the dispensary, and the staff will fix you up."

"But I've already had a medical exam!"

"Special requirements for this job," he said, going back to his paperwork. I heaved a mental sigh and turned to leave. At the door I paused and looked back.

"What's CEA stand for, anyway?" I called.

"Conscience Enforcement Authority," he said, without looking up. I stared a moment, then shrugged. That was probably the local equivalent of the FBI, or something similar. I decided not to ask. Big mistake.

In the dispensary they had me remove my shirt, and attached electrodes to my temples, neck, and various areas of my torso and back. Then they had me lie back on the table. "What kind of examination is this?" I asked the doctor.

"It's not really an examination," she replied. "More in the nature of transportation."

"Huh?"

"When you get out there," she said, reaching for a switch, "just follow the light, and someone will meet you."

"Now wait just one goddam min----!" TZZZZZZZZZZZZZT! Next thing knew, I was seeing angels. And that's how I got a temp job with the CEA.

#$%$ temp agency.

***

The CEA special field agent was getting her wings a bit ruffled. "Look," she said, for the third time, "all I need is a replacement for a Peacekeeper Mark IV, OK?"

"What happened to the one you were issued?" asked Supply Officer Obriel in a bored-sounding tone of voice.

"I told you, it was destroyed in action!"

I had one of the said "Piecemakers", or whatever they're called, stripped down on the work bench in front of me, cleaning and oiling the parts. Though I'd only been on the job for a month, I must've overheard this conversation a hundred times already, in about a dozen variations.

"And how exactly does a light adamantium alloy sidearm get 'destroyed' in action?"

"There was an overload in the aethirium reaction chamber."

"Which you admit that you set off yourself, purposely damaging CEA equipment."

"I needed a grenade! I improvised!"

"And now, after blowing up your own equipment, you waltz in here and expect me to screw up my inventory by issuing you a new sidearm, just like that?"

"It's covered by the bloody regulations, isn't it?"

"Well lessee...that would come under Title 17 of the CEA Code, Regulations on Equipment Distribution, Transportation, Allocation, Production, and Effectiveness," the supply officer said, leafing through the dog-eared pages of his own copy. "Here we go - CEA REDTAPE Part 19 - Requisitions, Section 64 - Personal Weapons, Subsection 27 - Replacements, Paragraph G - Field Attrition..."

"Just cut to the chase. What do I have to do to get a replacement?"

"First, fill out a loss report on form W4NK/M3."

"I already did that - it's right there in front you!"

"Sorry, this form is a stroke-U, Accidental Loss. You need to fill out a stroke-M3, Loss Due To Negligence."

"I wasn't negligent, dammit!"

"You also need to fill out a replacement request on form 4N1L-R3T3N-T1V3/J3RK. In triplicate."

"You can take your stroke-J3RK and stick it in your slash-455!" she shouted, and stormed out.

"Huh. What kind of language is that for a Conscience, I ask you?" Obriel grumbled as the door slammed. He came over to the work bench and sat down next to me. "Damned uppity hot-shot special agents."

I grunted, but he wasn't satisfied with that. "Why they always gotta go around acting like they're the kami's gift to the frickin' universe?"

"Really," I commented. "If we gave them everything they wanted, we wouldn't have anything left to inventory."

He gave me a sharp look, but I'd kept a straight face. "Got that right. We do our part too, and it's every bit as important as their end!"

"Damn straight," I said. "We're understaffed, overworked, and the Organization is swamping us everywhere. Best chance we have of stopping them is to keep all of our gear in the warehouse."

Obriel scowled and got up. "Funny guy," he said. "Make sure you get all this lot cleaned up before you go off shift." He stalked off toward the break room. Sigh. I really should learn to keep my mouth shut in these situations. At least I'd be out of this place and back to Tokyo in a couple of weeks, assuming that the temp agency is able to revive me from the coma they'd induced. The CEA personnel director assures me that it's strictly a routine procedure, but the whole thing makes me nervous.

A few moments later a young woman from the Monitoring Section poked her head in the door and looked around. "Hey Rin," I called and waved. She smiled at me, took another quick look around, then bounced over the service counter, aided by a sharp flutter of her wings.

"Where's ol' fussy-feathers?" she asked, landing beside me.

"Taking a break. What's up?"

"Well, there's a high tide tonight along the fourth astral medial, and a group of us are going to view the star-swell. I thought you might like to join us."

"I'd love to, Rin, but it looks like I'll be working late tonight," I told her. She made a face and stuck her tongue out in the direction of the break room.

"That meanie! He works you too hard."

I gave a rueful shrug. "Well, I wouldn't have been able to go, anyway. I still can't shape a proper pair of wings."

Rin giggled. "That's true. At least you got your spirit-form stabilized. For the first week, you looked like some kind of weird penguin-creature!"

"I like to think of it as a 'positive self-image.'"

"It was kinda cute. Anyway, you don't need to worry about wings; Dori and I could carry you between us!" She said, eyes twinkling.

"That would have been interesting. Maybe another time, ok?" I said, privately cursing my luck.

"We'll have to see." Rin winked at me as she left.

***

I had made it about a third of the way through the rack of weapons I was cleaning, when I heard someone clear her throat behind me. I looked around and saw a dozen of the female office staff standing at the service counter. They looked serious and determined.

"Rin, Dori," I said as I approached the counter. "I thought you guys were going to the 'swell...what's up?"

"Where's Obriel?" asked Rin, without a trace of the diffidence that had colored her voice earlier.

"He's gone for the day. And Duriel hasn't come on duty yet," I said. "She's overdue, actually. What's this all about?"

"We've got a couple of special agents in trouble," said Rin, looking anxious. "One of them's been captured by the Organization, and the other needs some special equipment to get her out."

"Well, Duriel should be here any minute," I said. "Why don't you guys have a seat..."

"We can't afford to wait! This is an emergency, and time is critical!"

"That's right," one of the others piped up from the back. "That cute little Boo needs our help!"

"Boo?" I asked, surprised. There'd been a hamster with that name in the waiting room with me, the first time I'd applied for work at the temp agency. "You've got that little furr-ball working as a special agent?"

"Well, a temporary special agent," said Dori, a little defensively.

"I'll be damned," I said, shaking my head. "I'm outranked by a hamster!" I looked at Rin. "So what do you want to send him?" She handed me a list:
code:<hr/>
1 J-Pak, twin-engine aether fusion, stealth mod, w/fur-shield, small
1 FlakJak anti-ballistic, ablative armor vest, light weight, size elfin
1 Swing-Lo electromagnetic railgun, 500 micro-gauss, w/shoulder stock (Sciuridae mod)
500 rds steel-jacketed 20 mg osmium pellets, calibre 0.8 mm
1 Clouds-o-Mystery gas canister launcher, ladder sights, w/adjustable bi-pod and auto-firing mechanism
5 canisters, riot-gas, active agent 'Nepeta cataria' extract, 5000 liter dispersal
5 canisters, restraint cartridge, 1-mil nylon netting treated w/ultra-fast drying epoxy resin, 1 sq m coverage
2 portable microwave comm units, w/scrambler and millisecond burst capability
1 duct-tape knife
5 kg coarse sawdust (subst. 1 kg shredded newspaper if necessary)...
<hr/>
Et cetera, et cetera... "Cripes! What's the little guy up against, a brigade?"

"He's up against the Organization's top field agent," said Rin. "Can you help us out?"

"It's fine with me," I said, "But I'm not really authorized to check this stuff out, you know. And there's no way either Obriel or Duriel would ever let you have all this. If she comes in while I'm getting it, she's going to put up a fuss."

There was a giggle from the back of the pack. "Oh, don't worry about her..." someone started, and was hushed. The rest of them suddenly became intensely interested in the floor tile pattern.

"All right, what!" I demanded, catching Rin's eye.

"Um...well, Duriel kinda had an accident," she said. I raised an eyebrow. "She sorta tripped on a roll of duct tape."

"Got all tangled up in it," added Dori.

"It'll probably take hours to cut her loose," added another.

"I see. Well since it's an emergency, I suppose I can help you out," I said, picking up the list.

"Hey thanks!" said Rin, brightening.

"Not at all. I wouldn't want to have an accident with duct tape...that stuff can be pretty fierce when it's aroused." Giggles from the crowd. As I headed back to the stock area, I stopped and paused. "By the way, Rin..."

"Yes?"

"What the heck is Nepeta cataria extract?"

"Oh. Um...it's concentrated catnip," she said.

"I had to ask," I muttered.

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