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Prologue: Dropping Hints

February 16th, 2003
Last Month, in other words

Roger gets a fan club, I get the Illuminati on steroids. — David Jones, naturally talking about the Board, The Green-Eyed Monster.

Postulate, if you will, a variant on CRFH where the fandom can actually assert itself in the way it dreams. Where speculation threads see all, fanficcers warp the world around them, war and party threads spread mayhem and chaos...and little acronyms such as D&DC and Rsc&L actually have more weight to them than sig-filler.

Consider the impact of such a vast organisation on world affairs, since the comic does actually have a world going on around it — a fact taken as proof of Mari's Goddesshood by the Boardies, since She can obviously create on a vast scale. If the forces routinely marshalled in war threads are any indication, such a Board would be a powerhouse of raw force, and possess a military juggernaught like no other.

Consider some of the practical concerns involved. Artefacts have to be cleaned or tuned, weapons need ammunition, vessels need crews, all the equipment will need parts. They're going to need places to put all this stuff, and people to maintain them. We're looking at a major industrial base and legions of support personnel.

Consider the prickly situation surrounding Guest, really. Think about that. Think about it hard, and try not to think about the implications.

Consider the poor cast, who admittedly have a lot more friends now - but on the other hand have to content with several thousand demigods playing games with destiny all the time.

And finally, consider what this...monstrous benevolent conspiracy...would look like to any third parties who might encounter it. After all, it is somewhat single-minded...


"It is a well-understood principle of evolution that humanity's sentience arises from it's tendency to adapt it's surroundings to itself, rather than the other way around. All the Board does is keep an eye out for individuals who take the adaptation process beyond little things like physical laws. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Even the most hardline technologist will be doing a little bending somewhere to get his stuff to work.

You may think of it as an exercise in free will. And one of the reasons we hit so much trouble with the guy downstairs is that he hates free will." — AOANLA, Board scientist and part-time philosopher (and co-incidentally an oversized echinoderm).

Somewhere in the South Pacific (Where all the best pulp fiction begins...)

Time, tide, and the next update wait for no man.

It is a slightly overcast morning when the clouds are parted briefly by a swirling black rift. Of all things a P-47 Thunderbolt emerges from it, looking very lost indeed in the skies of the 21st-century. The archiac WW2 fighter wobbles slightly as it's propeller claws at the air, before eventually righting itself, engine growling as the pilot cuts his throttle back slightly and levels out for a long, steady flight.

After about a hundred miles or so, although distance is almost impossible to judge when the only sight in every direction is ocean, the clouds part again...this time to reveal a trio of decidedly meaner and much more advanced craft, glowing bluewhite engines suggesting that their wings are only gliding aids. They circle the Thunderbolt and then settle into finger-four formation, and as they do so an observer would get a perfect view of their bold insignia, the CRFH acronym having an entirely different stylistic meaning when used like this.

After another ten minutes or so of flight, the oil rig comes into view...or at least, that's what it's marked on the shipping charts as.

There is no way the scaffolding-covered glass pyramid on legs that gleams on the horizon could drill for oil.

* * *

Construction Site, "The base with no name". Future Board Equipment Depot, Atomic Storage Facility, and Deep-Sea Habitat

Laundreu spun the bulkhead locking wheel on a surprisingly heavily armoured doorway and winced at the shock of the icy "sea breeze" as he emerged from the mostly-complete control tower, a low-slung block of a building with a massive transmitter tower sprouting from it's roof like a steel thicket on growth hormones.

It looked like the topside rig superstructure was shaping up to be nice and draughty, and once the base was operational he anticipated many long and happy hours of installing heating elements. Cartographers called it the Ring of Fire but it was still bloody cold when you were standing in the middle of it. Just to make matters worse, getting to the rickety runway where a P-47 waited, idling engine faintly audible over the waves, meant crossing most of the rig, picking through the forest of scaffolding as he went. Eventually he emerged, pointed teeth chattering, and spent a brief second folded up in his obligatory long black coat, regenerating lost body heat. And this was what the place was like during daylight...! He'd HAVE to get one of Tcher's weather-control devices down here, and have HQ run a climate check to see if he could divert a few wind patterns. There was actually sunlight breaking through the clouds, but heat just leeched from the metal rig in this wind.

Internal matters dealt with, Laundreu took a deep breath of bracing sea air (*shudder*) before starting forward to greet the Thunderbolt's pilot, who had had time to taxi into one of the perpetually-open hangars - which were of the classic sheet metal style used everywhere aircraft must be kept out of the elements.

The pilot proved to be as 1940s as his chosen method of transport, although admittedly period flying gear will have that effect. It was a far cry from the ultramodern survival suits Laundreu was used to, although just as elaborate.

"Mister Hunt...Wingnut..." There was genuine affection in the Boardie's voice for the newcomer when he finally had enough energy to speak. "Welcome to CRFH. It's been far too long since we had someone from your people on the Boards."

Wingnut smiled at "your people", which was one way of putting it.

"Only one aircraft? We were given to expect a full wing. The patrol flight were quite surprised."

"They'll be around. But don't go emptying hangars for them, they're not stopping here."

Laundreu raised an eyebrow and tilted his head slightly, but mentally shrugged. His not to reason why.

"You're up to speed, so that cuts down on the introduction..." The vampire spoke with complete confidence that, of course, his new friend WAS aware of the overall situation faced in CRFH. There was no way someone from his people couldn't know. "'ll find our methods tend towards the spectacular but effective, our equipment some of the best in the business, and our leader...well, she's just plain undefinable."

"I've heard."

"Well, of course you would. You'll find it looks a lot shakier once you're on the ground. One of the reasons we're so darned happy to have some more of you around is because matters have moved in the last three Board-time years from the grandstanding innocent-protection most of us can one of those pivotal destiny paradoxes. Temptations, mutations, and a side order of deviousness...and that's just our side!"

"Ugh. Enough..."

"Oh, you haven't even heard the half of it, Wing."

"Yeah, yeah..." The pilot grimaced at the task he was taking on with these people. "Take me to your leader and then you can give me the awful truth. I've just been flying for six hours straight..." Three hours not even in this universe.

"Well...I can try to rustle something up..." Wingnut winced at the thought of what a vampire, even one his "superiors" firmly regarded as back on the side of righteousness, might consider a pick-me-up "...but you can see this place is nowhere near ready for furniture deliveries yet."

Wingnut took in the hangar's complete lack of anything except possibly brackets for future equipment and was very glad his Thunderbolt didn't need fuel. "So I see..."

"The undersea stuff's pretty civilised, though - and warmer too."

"Lead the way."

"Indeed, indeed. You can meet AOANLA. This place will eventually be the new Nemo base..." Laundreu indicated the back wall's massive stylised N...or rather, the patch of primer-coated steel plating that would eventually have the logo sprayed on it. "For now, it's a big hunk of metal. There'll be a ship due in the next few hours and we can stow your fighter until then..." the Boardie smiled. "...if you trust us with it."

"By all means. She'll tell you if you're doing something wrong."

"No doubt. I'll see if we can hijack a few people from the construction crews to arrange a tour or something to pass the time."

"You're building all this yourselves?" Wingnut sounded slightly surprised, as the normal "bases" used by Forces of Light/Soldiers of God/whatever you call organisations who have to face down the Guy with the Horns tended to be very old or steeped in tradition.

"Close. If you think this place is impressive you should see our HQ, but yes we do a lot of our own design work...although we're getting an external contractor in for this one, actually. Matter of mass production costs...and we don't have the right kind of "ships" anyway..."

* * *

A good ten thousand miles away from that discussion, a button is pressed and a fan whirrs into life.

Somehow, you never quite expect to see the Dragon with a laptop. One would think she was more of the "sit back and watch wealth bleed into my coffers" type — which obviously goes to show that this 'one' has never actually run an aggressive multinational cartel or six. Karl Marx famously declared that capitalism requires constant dynamism to survive, and the Dragon is nothing if not dynamic. In fact, she's so dynamic she'll quite happily encourage all kinds of dynamism in others, ranging from sudden mental flexibility up to and including rigor mortis.

-NickServ- This nickname is registered and protected. If it is your nick, type /msg NickServ IDENTIFY password.

>/msg NickServ IDENTIFY *******

-NickServ- Password Accepted. Please wait while NickServ validates your ID.

Verifying Systems Access! Thank you for your patience...

However for the moment, the only thing she's bending is a modem cable so it doesn't snag the laptop's self-destruct charges. There are files on here it would not do for others to read, or even think they might have read.

"Please emphasise to Louie my instruction about not using his tazer on bystanders, no matter how much of a "keen sound" it makes."

"So noted, Madame."

"And then have Winters steal his backup batteries so he isn't tempted."

"Understood, Madame. Perhaps a no-witnesses policy might be simpler? I'm sure the Board would be unlikely to object if the team were tidy."

"On the contrary, Thaddeus, the Board is an immensely powerful digerati, an underground elite, but it has morals. Leaving bodies would be extremely prejudicial to our interests."

"Understood, Madame. They'll never know our people were there."

The Dragon smiled to herself in the glow from the plasma screen. Despite it obviously not being what her butler meant, it was too good a feed line to pass up. "They, Thaddeus? They?"

-NickServ- You are now recognised.

"We, if you please."

She chuckled to herself. Being a newbie had promised to be throughly entertaining, but on the other hand she was well and truly past the one-month limit. It was time to delurk...

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