Alan stood with his back to the window, facing the conference table. Standing upon the table was a vampire named Kyle. The window behind Alan was broken, and a stiff breeze circulated throughout the room, ruffling the papers on the table and causing the odd sheet to disengage from its brothers and float to the floor.
Beyond the broken window, Alan knew, was a very pretty sunset which was probably bathing the skyline of Vancouver-Prime with an unearthly pink-orange glow. From their location on the fourteenth floor of the Gramercy Building, the sight would be spectacular.
But Alan could not enjoy the sight at the moment. He did take some small comfort in the knowledge that someone had finally had the decency to name the building and the city they were in and to pin down which floor of the building they occupied, but beyond that, he could only focus on the immediate situation.
He looked up at the vampire, squared his shoulders, and took a step forward.
"I don't recognize you," he said.
The vampire regarded him for a moment.
"That's because I'm an enigma," he replied.
Alan frowned. "Well, enigma or not, nobody gets in here without an appointment."
Alan looked around to see who had spoken. It was Amanda.
"What?" he asked.
"Have I mentioned that you are an idiot?"
The vampire began to laugh.
"Ah, dissention in the ranks. I love it." He turned to Amanda. "A beautiful, fearless woman. I like your style. You'd make a fine addition to my little club here."
Amanda regarded him with disdain. "The rituals I perform at home would have you crying into your socks, you pathetic child."
Kyle's face shifted for a moment, and Alan thought that perhaps Amanda had really stung him, but he composed himself again quickly and turned back to face Alan.
"Boys," he said, evidently addressing the throng on the street below. "Let's have some fun."
A cheer swelled from the gathering, but it tapered off a bit too quickly, Alan thought. Like someone had choked a cat mid-meow.
Kyle was frowning now. Evidently he, too, thought that something was amiss.
Suddenly the door burst open and a group of dark-clad figures tromped into the room. The door at the opposite end of the room flew open with similar effect, a fact which surprised Alan even more, as he hadn't realized that the room even had a second door.
The shout had come from one of the first group of dark figures, who had stopped moving and were now pointing large, black, semi-automatic weapons into the room.
Now that they were stationary, Alan could see them more clearly. There were six of them altogether, three at each door, and they all wore black helmets, boots, gloves, and body armor over what looked like a dark blue jumpsuit. There were canisters, containers, and pouches of all sizes strapped to their waists and thighs, and small microphones extended from beneath their helmets to a point just beside the right corners of their mouths.
The one who had shouted, evidently their leader, stepped further into the room, his weapon trained on Kyle.
"Hands where I can see them. Step down from the table and move to the window."
Kyle raised his hands and stepped to the edge of the table. He crouched, sat on the edge, and put his feet on the floor. The armed man stepped forward, grabbed Kyle's arm, and dragged him towards the window.
"Everyone else, move away from the window and over to the opposite wall."
Alan began moving around the table, towards the wall, his eyes still trained on the man who had grabbed Kyle. Out of the corners of his eyes, he could see his colleagues moving away from the window as well.
The leader signaled to one of his men, who stepped forward and took Kyle from his commander. He turned Kyle towards the window, kicked his feet out from under him, and slammed him face down onto the carpet.
For a moment Alan could see the back of the man's body armor, on which was emblazoned, in large white block letters, "PROSE".
"What's PROSE?" Burt asked him.
Alan turned, startled. He'd known someone had ended up beside him at the wall, but hadn't realized who it was.
He shook his head. "I have no idea."
The leader of the armed men now faced them across the table. "PROSE," he said, "Stands for Protagonize Revision Operations and Story Enforcement. We're a special branch of Protagonize Field Operations, and we deal with, uh, special situations."
He looked up and down the group assembled against the wall.
"Now. Where is Ms. Hargreaves?"
Alan took half a step forward. "She's taken some time off."
"Well, that's incredibly bad timing on her part. Are you in charge in her absense?"
"Yes. I'm Alan Smithee, her assistant."
"All right. Just hold up that ID badge for me, if you would."
Alan looked down at himself. His ID badge, suspended from a light green neck strap, was still intact. He held it up for the PROSE officer to examine.
"Fine. Now, everyone else, if you would do the same?"
He looked up and down the line again as Amanda, Burt, Judith, Billy, Jake, and Susan all held up their badges for his examination. He paused for a moment as he looked at Billy's badge.
"Well, I'll be. Billy Barnes. How are you, old son?"
Billy looked puzzled for a moment, but then he squinted at the man and a glint of recognition came into his eyes.
"I know you," Billy said. "You were a student downstairs, weren't you?"
"Right as rain, Billy. I was fifteen years old, studying to be a mime. You had the office right across the hall from the studio where I practiced."
"Charlie, isn't it?"
The commander smiled. "Yep. Charlie Adams. Though I go by 'Chuck' now. Captain Chuck Adams."
Alan slumped back against the wall. "You were going to be a mime?"
Captain Adams nodded as he turned towards Alan. "I was going to make it my career. I was good at it too. But somewhere along the line, I realized that a life without words was not a life I wanted to live. Billy here introduced me to the wonders of Protagonize, and I haven't looked back since. I started in the mailroom, and finally figured out that field work was where I wanted to be. Most people want to see the world. I wanted to see the stories."
Amanda made a gagging sound. "I've been transported into an oatmeal commercial."
You watch your mouth, young lady," Adams said. "I've been trained in combat and tactics, not in delivering heartfelt monologues. Cut me some slack here."
Alan closed his eyes and shook his head. "Plus, he's got a semi-automatic weapon and five subordinates. Don't tick him off."
"I tick off who I please," Amanda said. "I have no tolerance for corniness in any form."
Susan chuckled. "Said the woman in the silver minidress."
Amanda curled her upper lip and gave Susan a baleful glare. "I'd like to see you pull this off."
Billy smacked his lips. "And I'd like to see you pull it off. I'll even help."
Amanda hissed. "You even come close to touching me, and you will suffer pain such as you have never even imagined."
"Oh, the givers of pleasure and pain…" Billy trailed off wistfully.
Burt grinned. "Hey, isn't that a line from that Star Trek episode where they go to search for Spock's brain?"
"You mean 'Spock's Brain'?" Amanda asked, her eyes practically rolling into the back of her head.
Burt blinked and frowned. "Isn't that what I just said?"
Alan sighed. "Burt, can we just let the references speak for themselves?"
Burt shrugged. "Sure. I guess."
Amanda crossed her arms. "Bumbling fool."
"Excuse me," Judith said.
Alan leaned forward to look down the line at her. "What is it, Judith?"
"Something about all this doesn't make sense. If this gentlemen was fifteen when he heard about Protagonize, well that would have to be…"
"Twenty-five years ago," Captain Adams said.
"But Protagonize hasn't been around that long…" Judith's eyes roved the room as her brow creased further.
"Ah," Billy said. "But with Protagonize, all things are possible."
Burt looked at Billy. "That's another line I've heard before, but it wasn't in a movie or TV show."
"It was Darla said that," Billy replied. "Not twenty minutes ago."
Alan scanned the room. "Uh… where is Darla, anyway?"
Captain Adams turned around and followed Alan's gaze. "Who we talkin' about here?"
"The psychic I brought in," Jake replied.
"Fortune teller!" came a voice from the other side of the room.
Alan pulled away from the wall and stepped into the room. "Where did that come from?"
"The window," Adams said.
Alan rushed towards the window, Adams barely a step behind him. The rest of the staff followed.
Alan leaned carefully out the broken window and looked down. Darla was hanging by her hands from the edge of the window casing, her feet dangling, her robe flapping in the wind.
"My cards," Darla said. "They have fallen to the street. We are all doomed."
"Help me get her in," Alan said, reaching down for one of Darla's wrists. "If anything happens to her, we're all in trouble."
"Why's that?" Adams asked, leaning out to grab the other arm.
"She was created by the guy who started Protagonize."
"Okay. Gotcha. That's a big problem, right there."
Alan and Adams began to pull Darla up the side of the building. She was not heavy, fortunately, but the angle was awkward, and there was still broken glass in the edges of the window frame.
"Her hands are sweaty," Adams said. "This is gonna be trickier than I—"
Almost as soon as he had spoken, Darla's hand slipped from his grasp. Alan lurched as all of Darla's weight was suddenly shifted to him, and a moment later, she was gone.
"Oh my God," Judith cried. "Oh my God."
They all leaned out the window to see Darla's rapidly receding form grow smaller and smaller until it finally joined her Tarot cards in the street below.
Near the base of the building, a large contingent of PROSE officers was herding groups of vampires into a number of black cargo vans. Every few seconds, another van's rear doors would be slammed shut and it would pull away. The scene was rapidly being pulled under control.
Alan turned away from the window, his head in his hands. He couldn't believe any of this was happening. If Rebecca didn't come back soon, he didn't know what he was going to do. Probably take a dive out the broken window and join Darla.
Adams seemed at a loss. He looked around at the other agency staff, his lips tight, his nostrils flared. Finally, he turned to his men. The one who had taken charge of Kyle now had his foot on the small of the vampire's back and his weapon pointed at his head.
"Take him downstairs," Adams said. "Put him in one of the vans."
"Yes, sir," his subordinate replied. Immediately, he yanked Kyle up from the floor and begin shoving him towards the conference room door.
"The rest of you go with," Adams said to the other members of his team. "We're done up here."
"Sir," one of the men said.
Adams turned. "What is it?"
"What about this one?"
Alan removed his hands from his face long enough to look towards the far end of the room. Adams' subordinate had his hand clamped on the collar of a scruffy-looking young man. His hands and face were dirty, his clothes ragged and worn.
"He was hiding behind this potted plant, sir," the subordinate said.
"I'm not with that lot," the young man said. "I'm not a vampire, really."
"What's your name, son?" Adams asked.
"How did you get here?"
"I honestly have no idea, sir. And that's the plain truth."
Alan blinked. Great. Another anomaly.
"Interesting day, huh, Alan?" Burt asked.
Alan glared at him.
"Shut the hell up."