02. AV Division - A Different Flame




"Pol—oh, there you are, Frenchie." Adam hurried down the aisle to his partner and dropped his clipboard on a shelf. "How’s the inventory coming?"

Frenchie wrinkled her nose. "So far, I’ve counted three xhoomei recordings, seventeen of Bosnian hill singing, and one hundred seventy three different pop songs from Suefics. You?"

Adam leaned his head against a shelf. "I was cataloging the Legendary Movies section when I came across the Star Wars Holiday Special."

"You poor thing."

"Wookiee porn! I will never look at Diahann Carroll with a straight face again!" Adam wailed.

Adam. Frenchie.

The A/V Geeks tried to hide by squeezing themselves into the same shelf. It wasn’t that they didn’t have a healthy respect for the Rose of Sharon, but a summons from her invariably led to Bad Things.

Oh, stop it. It is useless to hide. Come out and present yourselves. There is an Assignment for you.

Trembling, the Geeks emerged from the stacks, brushing themselves more or less clean of archive dust. The Rose of Sharon, appearing at the door to the Cryptomusic Archives, waved her fronds against the resulting clouds.

"An Assignment?" Adam asked. "What sort of assignment?"

"Will singing Sues be involved?" Frenchie added suspiciously.

No. It is quite simple. I have examined the accounting you made yesterday of the B. S. Johnson Collection of Improbable Sounds, and I find the collection lacking.

"But we cataloged everything," Frenchie protested. "It took a whole day. The footfalls of a cat—"

"—the trumpet of the swan—" Adam chimed in.

"George W. Bush uttering a grammatically correct sentence," Frenchie finished. "We wrote everything down. I’m sure of it."

Precisely. The collection must be expanded. I am dispatching you on a Collecting Mission. Please take a remote activator and your field recording equipment and bring back the roar of a Balrog.

"But Balrogs don't make noise," Adam said.

Precisely. You will therefore collect recordings of all Balrog roars extant. And please, label them neatly.

There was no arguing with the Rose of Sharon. Frenchie and Adam set down their clipboards and started stuffing microphones, cardboard, cables and DAT tapes into their duffel bags. Frenchie clipped the remote activator to her belt and twisted the knob on the portal generator. Adam flipped through the list of disguises.

"We'll be Orcs," he said. "The better to get close to a Balrog. Shall we take a Canon Analysis Device?"

Frenchie shrugged. "Might as well. It'll help us determine the Improbability Level for cataloging."

"Right." And with that, the Geeks stepped through the portal.


The first half of the Collecting Mission went surprisingly well. The Geeks hid in the rotoscoped shadows of Ralph Bakshi's conception of Moria. There were plenty of hiding places for their microphones, and daring Frenchie even managed to weave a lavalier mike into the Balrog's enormous mane when it wasn't looking. The Balrog gave out a satisfying, if utterly uncanonical, series of roars, grunts and growls, and the DAT tape was sealed and labeled as to time, date, and Improbability Level (High as a Kite on the Fourth of July).

"Well, that went well," Frenchie said as the Geeks packed their duffel bags. "Let's see . . . the BBC had a silent Balrog, so our next stop is the Movie."

"Lead on, Macduff," Adam said. "And . . . um . . . may our next mission not be rough!"

Frenchie rolled her eyes and clicked the remote activator. Nothing happened. She clicked it again. Still nothing. "Stupid activator," she grumbled. "It's gone all two-and-a-half-dimensional."

"It's the rotoscoping," Adam said, peering over Frenchie's shoulder at the painted-over piece of electronica. "We're still live-action, but we’re in a cartoon world. Maybe if we use a cartoon device to activate it . . ." He searched around and came up with a nail from an Orc boot. Squinting a little because of the lack of depth perception in Bakshi's world, he stabbed at the remote activator. A portal obligingly opened up, and the Geeks wandered through without a second thought.


They had arrived just in time, it seemed. The Fellowship stood at one end of the narrow stone bridge. Gandalf confronted an impressively fiery Balrog in the middle. Frenchie hooked the microphone cord to the DAT recorder and inserted a tape as Adam held the boom.

The Balrog opened its maw and let forth a subtly threatening "hhhhhhhhhh" that shimmered out with the heat waves that rolled over the Fellowship and the hidden Geeks.

"That is some truly serious halitosis," Adam said approvingly.

The old man raised his own sword and his staff in silent answer to the demon.

"You cannot pass!"

'As if I wanted to, you idiot!' Durin's Bane thought as he brought his flaming sword down upon the old man –

"What the?!" Frenchie ripped off her headphones and turned to stare at the Balrog. "It's not supposed to talk in slang! That's one of the things Jackson got right! This isn't his movie! What happened?"

Adam frantically rooted around in the duffel bag and fished out the CAD. He waved it at the Balrog.


"Oh, fudgecakes and shinola, we're in a Mary Sue story," Adam groaned. "The rotoscoping must have screwed up the remote activator. I keep telling Makes-Things to put a tougher casing on them, those electronics are delicate—"

"Screw that," Frenchie said. "If we're in a Mary Sue story . . . where’s the Sue?"

"Don't ask, maybe she won't show up," Adam said. "Help me pack the equipment, stat!" The Geeks had only managed to pack the DAT tapes away when the Balrog fell, emitting a loud roar and a wave of Angst that knocked them to the ground. The minor bruising sustained by this was more than compensated for by the fact that the Geeks were already flat on their faces when a time distortion followed through, leaving them retching with the vertigo.

"Remind me to add Dramamine to the duffels when we get back to Headquarters," Adam said, when they could speak again.

"Never mind that," Frenchie snapped irritably. "I just want to know when we are and where that Sue is."

The ground shook, then shook again. Adam turned. He gaped. He tapped Frenchie on the shoulder. "Frenchie," he whispered. "Pick up the CAD and turn around. Very slowly."

Frenchie did so, and goggled. A female Balrog, with multicolored mane and deep blue eyes, was clomping lithely towards them. "Holy fire-breathing fashion plate, Batman!" she gasped, and thrust the CAD between her and the monster.


Frenchie dropped the CAD just as it exploded. "A Balrog Sue?" she asked rhetorically. The Geeks watched in horrified fascination as the Balrog Sue crawled on all fours to the lip of the chasm and snuffed around.

"No..." the female whispered softly before she gathered her wits about her, spread her wings, and dove off into the abyss.

As she fell, the tip of one wing caught the microphone stand. The Geeks and their equipment were swept after her into the abyss.


Long time she fell, and they fell with her, pausing in their screaming only to speculate on what latitude and longitude they had reached, whether they might emerge in a country where people walked upside down and once to enjoy a pot of marmalade lodged incongruously in a passing crevice. Just as they could see the waters of the subterranean lake growing closer, there was a roar and a dreadful jerking. For a brief, queasy instant, they were falling up, and then there was a soft whumph! and all was quiet.

Frenchie hauled herself out of the snowdrift in which she had landed and looked around. The Balrog Sue was occupied searching for the Balrog. Adam lay in a rapidly melting snowbank. Shards of microphone and DAT recorder lay all around them. Frenchie cursed in Yiddish. She poked around in the snow some more and came up with the duffel bag, which contained the DAT tapes themselves, unharmed. A quick eyeballing of the surrounding area revealed that the remote activator had fallen near the dead Balrog.

She assessed her situation, and did not like what she came up with: stranded in a Sue story, surrounded by the remains of her equipment and her unconscious partner. Frenchie pulled the headphones over her ears in a vain attempt to feel normal.

As it turned out, she did so just in time to avoid the brunt of the pop song that thundered through the air as the Balrog Sue found her mate's body. The headphones protected Frenchie's ears, and instead of reducing her eardrums to shreds, it merely stunned her so that she fell face first into the snow across Adam's body.

Adam's first sensation upon his tentative return to consciousness was of cold. His second was of damp. His third was of weight. For a while he debated with himself about the wisdom of opening his eyes. If he opened them, he would learn why he was cold and wet and what exactly was pinning him down across his stomach. On the other hand, he was fairly sure he would not like the answers. In the end, curiosity won out, and Adam cracked an eye open. A snowflake immediately hit it.

"Urrrk." Well, snow explained the cold and damp. So far, not too bad. He wiped at his eye and opened the other one. The sensation of weight seemed to come from Frenchie lying across his stomach. Adam was a red-blooded young man, and he was vaguely aware that by virtue of being so, he was expected to be ecstatic at the idea of waking up to find young women draped across his body. However, this particular young woman was not quite a 105-pound sylph, and she was lying over what Adam was sure were some valuable internal organs. Romantic opening lines could wait for a good shove. "Geroff."

The shove woke Frenchie, and the two A/V Geeks disentangled their bodies and searched for the scattered bits of their equipment.

"Well, at least we saved the DATs," Frenchie said philosophically.

"Good," Adam grumbled. "I wanna go home now."


"Why not?" Adam was not in a mood for mysteries.

"Because the remote activator is over there." Frenchie pointed to where the Balrog Sue was alternately scratching in the dirt and wailing pathetically. Fortunately, she seemed too interested in her own grief to notice the remote activator lying near the body.

"Well, I don't care," Adam said. "I want to go home, and the remote activator is the only way to get there. We're going to get that activator even if we have to kill the Sue to do it."

"Kill the Sue . . ." An unpleasant smile spread across Frenchie's face. "She did endanger our collecting mission, of course, and there is currently a Balrog-shaped hole in canon. On the negative side, we have no immediate weapons, but that's hardly a problem."

"I suppose you have an idea for dealing with a twenty-foot-tall immortal fire demon of the ancient world?"

"Now that you mention it . . ." The unpleasant smile on Frenchie's face grew wider and even more unpleasant. She whispered to Adam for a few minutes. Adam's face grew pale, but he grinned.

"You think Upstairs would go along with it?"

"Upstairs is not on need-to-know status with this one. And besides, it's the season for love, giving, and charity, right?"

"On my side of things, yes," Adam said, impressed. "From your angle, looks like it's more the season for chutzpah."

"Love, giving, charity, and chutzpah," Frenchie agreed. "Now, help me make the snow boulder."

The Geeks busied themselves for a long time rolling a large boulder of snow, which they carefully positioned at the edge of their little overhang. Frenchie crouched down behind it and waited. Adam took the microphone and its long cable and scrambled down the incline. He ran towards the Balrog Sue, stuck his thumbs in his ears and waggled his fingers.

"Yaaaaah! Yaaaaaah! Suey Suey Suuuuuuue!" he shrieked.

"How dare you profane my everlasting grief?" the Balrog Sue roared angrily. She took a swipe at Adam, and he retreated out of the way. He began to run, and she chased him. Just as they reached the cliff face, Frenche put her back to the snow boulder and gave a mighty shove. The enormous wad of snow teetered, then fell to land on the Balrog Sue with a satisfying whump. Great clouds of steam billowed from the impact.

After the steam had cleared somewhat, Adam tied a noose in the microphone cable and slipped it around the neck of the doused, stunned Sue. Frenchie collected the shattered equipment in the duffel bag, jammed the DAT tapes in her pocket and scrambled down the incline to pick up the remote activator. Adam smiled at the Balrog Sue.

"Harrow the Balrog," he said formally. "We don't actually have much of a charge list for you, but there are some doozies on it, so listen up. You are charged with giving the demon of Moria a stupid name, causing him to act incredibly out of what character he had to begin with, causing him to use modern slang, using modern slang yourself, deforming a canon by creating a warm and fuzzy family for a creature of evil, insulting the eyes of PPC members by trying to apply human standards of beauty to a fire demon, causing other PPC members the trauma of having to think about the implications of a Balrog pregnancy, acting soppy, endangering our collecting mission and Being a Mary Sue!"

The Balrog Sue began to cry piteously.

"Oh, stop it," Adam said. "The news isn't all bad. We find mitigating circumstances as well. In this case, seeing as how you are the very first Balrog Sue the PPC has ever seen, we won't be killing you on the spot."

"You won't?" the Balrog Sue sniffled.

"Nope." Adam smiled charmingly. "We're just going to introduce you to some new friends. At least, I hope they'll be your friends. Frenchie?"

Frenchie thumbed the remote activator. It sputtered, and then a portal flared into life. She stepped through, and Adam hauled the Balrog Sue after her.

"What is this place?" the Balrog Sue asked, staring at the featureless, gray, flameproof walls and at the colorful rubber squeak toys scattered around the floor.

"It's the exercise run for the minis," Adam explained. "We thought you might enjoy some company. Of course, we have no idea what the minis will enjoy . . . "

Frenchie cupped her hands around her mouth. "Yooo-hooooooooooo!" she called. "Freeeeeesh Balrog Sue! Come an' get it, or we'll throw her to the hogs!"

For a moment, there was silence. And then, the air grew warm. The flapping of dozens of pairs of wings grew closer. A hundred tiny, glowing eyes looked down at them. The Balrog Sue tried desperately to flame, but, still damp from her snow dousing, only managed a few jets of steam.

"Here they are!" Frenchie said. "Gindadial, Ewoyn, Lutrz, Elberath, Gothmorg, come an' get it!"

And they dived. The Geeks bolted out of a side door as the mini-Balrogs descended. The twins Thanduril and Tharanduil led the pack, followed by Leglolas, Eladen, Mary, Calymac, Myiar, Elrahir, Gordor, and scores of others. Through the closed, fireproof doors, the Geeks could hear the excited clatterings of the minis and the somewhat less enamored screams of the Sue.

"What do you think they'll do to her?" Adam asked.

"That's not my lookout," Frenchie said happily. "All we did was introduce them to a new friend. What they do with that new friend is entirely up to them."

"Think the Flowers will buy that?"

"Only if they find out. And I won't be the one to tell them."

Adam gave a happy sigh. "Frenchie," he said. "You look like you've been dragged down a chasm, hurled through the air and dropped in a snowbank."

Frenchie snorted. "Well, you look like you just roped a fire-breathing demon. Come on. Let's go back to the Cryptomusic Archives. The sooner we get there, the sooner we can clean up and label the Balrog recordings to show the Rose of Sharon."

"Think she'll give us a raise? Double our pay for hazard duty?"

"Adam . . . we don't get paid to begin with."

"Well, then, shouldn't be too expensive to double it."

And so the Geeks walked off down the hall, sparring happily, leaving the Balrog Sue to the tender mercies of the minis.


Author's Note: Truly, I'd never seen a Balrog Sue before. It would have been a fascinating thing, if only the story hadn't been so terribly drippy. Really, every angst-producing device this author could think of was crammed into two short chapters. And the heroine didn't even stand and weather it stoically. No, she wailed and cried and moaned. Something had to be done, preferably before the attack of the strange cave dog thingies and the arrival of the Lothlórien Elf named Lore, who I imagined as looking vaguely like Brent Spiner in pointy ears.

Anyway, even though it was drippy, it was at least an original take on the Mary Sue. I had initially thought of simply having Frenchie and Adam capture her alive and bring her back to Headquarters for observation and experimentation, but then someone suggested the minis, and things got going from there. What did the minis end up doing to Harrow? That, dear readers, is left to your over-fertile imaginations.

And, yes, the Star Wars Holiday Special is indeed that bad.