ComicSide, 11:37am March 11th, 2003
External sensor damage detected — system Inoperable. Rerouting through backups... Activating self repair mechanisms...
Spamotron's "vision" cleared from a massive flash-blinding from an Anomalous Energy Signature to reveal the ground in-comic was packed with Boardies. When the Board panic, they panic in style, and the robot's IFF archives confirmed the friendly personnel as MDL operatives. Usual rapid-response, although explaining to Mari just where that antiaircraft battery had come from would be an amusing task. A location trace on his fellows highlighted Joshua was helping set up the AA gun and Archer was liaising with the MDL. There was no sign of his unit leader, and Spam's query on her revealed she was listed as MIA.
Somewhere in the crowd Patryn gave the order of the day with a megaphone.
"Kill that purple thing!"
* * *
Well, I'm in it now... thought Ted as a surface-to-air missile arced up at him like some kind of warped snowball. Flight had, it seemed, been within his powers even if he hadn't exactly asked for it...and right now, his tactic was best described as sheer raw velocity. Whatever else he could do, speed seemed easy to arrange in this...bubble...of his.
Bubble seemed the word. He had one, the people who'd gotten caught in his wake had one...no, two. Good thing, too, as the female agent from the Bad Guys had tried to shoot at the pair he'd rescued from them. Whoever they were. That damned robot thing of theirs had sprayed him with gunfire and burst the one forming around it and it's friend with the rocket launcher, and probably a good thing it had.
The bubble took less and less concentration to maintain as his velocity increased, and even seemed to make it's own...what was the Trek term? Evasive manoeuvres. He wondered if that meant it knew where it was going. If it did, he probably didn't want to find out just yet...not with that flying saucer thing spitting flak at him AND rockets flying!
And especially not with April groaning like that.
* * *
Hayasaka gave up on the attempt to snipe Waldo and Steve, both of whom seemed to just be standing there like goldfish as their whateveritwas dragged them to safety. She was more concerned with the half-conscious April with the huge cut down one side of her face and what Hayasaka really hoped wasn't a cracked rib. Hope she didn't mind having her coat used as a bandage..and what did you do for ribs, again?
And who the hell was doing the flying? Looked like someone had taken footage of the Human Torch and run it through a purple filter. Well, dammit, if it was W&S's new pet she'd go down fighting it before she let it claim April.
"What...what did you...what happened to her?"
Was it talking to her? Well, if it wanted an answer and if she could hold it off long enough to get a railgun shot in...maybe Spam's rocket boosters could get her down.
"A severe dose of concussion from flying debris when you punched out through the apartment wall!"
"I didn't...I mean..." He sounded waffly for a demon. Panicky, too. "Call off the pursuit and we can get her to a hospital..."
"Pursuit? That's her best bet for survival! They're not shooting at her! Who the hell are you, anyway?!"
"Who the hell are you?"
"Hayasaka Kosei, Maritza's Not-So-Secret-Service!"
And then one of the Spirit of Texas's plasma bolts struck home, and the air around Ted filled with ionised gas at several thousand degrees.
* * *
"GOT HIM!" Pseudowolf punched the air as his sensors showed whatever that thing was had been well and truly blasted, blown off-course (if it had a course) and tumbling into the cloud layer.
"Nice one, Pseudo..." ElObs's facial muscles twitched a little as he realised the free-falling dots were probably his missing Boardies...which included April. "Now do it again."
* * *
April's plummeting death-scream finished in a way that would have made Milesfoxx proud as she landed on something, and to her immense surprise failed to explode into bloody mush. Rather than hard death-inducing ground, it seemed...spongy.
"Metacreative barrier. Damn handy as a safety net, too." Someone April wouldn't possibly recognise as Omega offered her a hand up. "Can we ask what the hell just happened?"
Okay, spongy and occupied. By one of Strangeone's people. Well, okay, there was a short list of people who did stuff like this...well, that probably meant she was relatively safe. She hoped.
"Funny, I was going to ask you that...can I faint now?"
* * *
Waldo woke up in several things, one of which was pain. Although pain kinda dwindled away these days, gone into the red mist.
The other things his return to the ground included were mostly mud. He'd hit a bracken-filled ditch on one of the campus backroads, and didn't seem to have fallen far. Somewhere he could hear ambulance sirens.
Had...something like that happened before? Maybe....somewhere before the current tide of hatred driving him there seemed to be dim memories that...
...no, it was too painful to go there. Best get back to the Cause. His men would be waiting for him, and news of this fresh attempt to stop them by the Harlot would simply fire their enthusiasm. There would need to be vengeance for this.
* * *
High Earth Orbit Funky Horror Command Deck
The lift doors hissed open and Reatheran emerged, obviously angry by the way his eyes flashed. His walk was purposeful, but not quite a stride — and it gave him a kind of angry aura, a feeeling that his personal space was bloated by an obviously bad mood. Rath was strictly speaking a Board political activist, specialising in as he put it, "pissing off vast numbers of people at once", ostensibly for crowd control and manipulation of public opinion. His radical views on CRFH were well known, and as she checked the cameras to see who'd come in CG sighed the sigh of someone who had been expecting this, and wanted to get a bitter truth told and done with.
"Director!" Rath swept into her line of sight every inch the Dismayed Ambassador. "Are the reports from Speculation true? Have you genuinely issued a fire-on-sight order for all agents of SKID?"
"Yes, Rath." You knew that when you came through the door. "And my communique said "If they look like they're going to shoot you, stop them first.", actually..." Not that a little thing like reality will stop you ranting.
"ALL of them?"
"Oh yes...I'm going to go down in history now as the Director who shot Waldo and Steve. No way I can get out of that one."
"You're giving in to Board opinion? Since when has Talix set our operations directives? His...reactionary bigotism against a pair of innocent..."
The coyote sighed. "Be serious, Rath. This isn't toy robots territory anymore...this...arms shipments, mercenary contacts...It's moved to a less personal level. It's a serious level. They've run out of courtesy, and if you try the "innocent" line on someone who was here for The Adversary I'll get very angry indeed."
"This isn't a matter of courtesy! We shouldn't even be entertaining the option! They're Cast Members, for...!"
"No, Rath, they're a pair of college students who've suddenly taken a right turn into paramilitary Satanism and think this means they can take on the world." CG sighed again, wondering if Rath was listening or just blinking at regular intervals. "If we don't shut them down, either someone else will or they'll start calling on forces we'll have to stop. With extreme prejudice. Surely if you're worried about them, then you'll want to talk to Mari or try to..."
"You can't just declare an entire organisation persona non grata!"
"Yes I can. And have. Stop changing the subject."
"We've just proven we can make friends with a long-term enemy, with the Dragon! She's saved countless lives!"
"Rath, you're not hearing a word I say...how many faceless evil cults have we shot up, down, and sideways?"
"I don't care about cults, I don't care about what they're hiring or arming themselves with, [BMT]don't even think I'll let you touch Waldo and Steve!"[/BMT]
CG's eyes wavered for a second at that little stunt, and the repeater displays on her chair flickered as feedback from their controller surged it's way back over the airwaves and into their system. Certainly the lights in the central command dias either fused or flickered out, and when the Director spoke again her voice was tinged with the reverb of someone about to blow more than a few fuses.
"A Mind Trick on...Get off my Command Deck, Reatheran!"
"OFF! BEFORE I RIP YOUR VOICEBOX OUT!"
* * *
Article Four of the "Tips for Trusted Lieutenants" section of the Evil Henchman's Guide is "If you fail to complete your mission, skip town. Returning to the Evil Overlord to report on your failure will usually get you killed."
ToxicFrog knew this. Hayasaka knew this. So did ElObscuro, and Pseudowolf, and Archer, and in fact pretty much everyone else currently in the presence of Admiral "DuGalle was an amateur" Loweko, currently running at 27 people. Thankfully that isn't "27 and dropping".
"And now we've got the debriefing and it's catalogue of disasters over with, would one of you care to explain how those two can go up against a carrier and a battleship and get away? They outgunned you, perhaps? They had a mobility advantage over a wing of fighters?"
...yet. In some ways, Loweko was decidedly old-school, and hanging around the Board had if anything polarised him even further. The looks of disdainful sympathy in the eyes of the myriad supernumeraries and general Fleet officers wasn't helping the Boardies' morale one bit.
And the worst bit was that it wasn't even him doing the talking!
"Well, they did summon that thing..." Archer's voice sounded very small indeed, in the tones of someone who firmly expects to have his head ripped off for commenting but is just prideful enough to want to have said something.
"Yes, yes. I want to know what the hell that was..." Jordanis swivelled on one paw/heel, claws clicking and scrabbling on the decking - the entertaining squeaking noise this made lost in the background hum of restrained power. "I want it found, I want it killed, and then I want it's head freeze-dried and presented to Dagda so he can hark back to what the Celts used to do with the skulls of the fallen."
"Pssst...Scott...what did they do?"
"...preserved the scalps and brains as trophies..."
"ElObs, I am putting your crew in for a good solid week of gunnery practice, emphasis on point-defence and interdiction of small medium-range targets. That includes you, Pseudo, so stop smirking. Toxic, I want ways of stopping superpowered units from pulling this again on my desk by tomorrow's update, and then I want the Armoury to follow up with munitions that can shoot this thing down if it appears again..."
"Hayasaka, have Spamotron retrofitted with weapons that actually work on supernatural entities. Shades should have the necessary technical crew."
Jordanis's eyes narrowed faintly at the way Loweko had interrupted his rant when he should have been brooding, but let it pass — mostly in the hope that Loweko would forget whose idea the entire operation had been. In JJ's opinion, so long as Low stayed shrouded in those half-shadows of his and let him do the yelling, all would be well.
"Everybody else...you get to explain to Mari why April just spent three hours in the medical wing! And I mean that, so I'll be behind you all the way to the Command Deck! DisMISSED!"
Once that would have been quite a mess-up to explain away, but these days the Board was so big and it's operations so vast that there was little point in hiding it much from people In The Know, a term once famously defined by Jappus as "people who twitch a little around bulls." Okay, most Boardies viewed April as someone to watch rather than send tanks in over, but as Shen had put it the handy thing about portals is that you only have the word of the guy telling where you arrived to go on...and the Funky Horror's medical sections weren't known for their windows.
Loweko waited until Jordanis had shuffled the last of his group out and the bulkhead had sealed behind him before moving. If it wasn't that the Admiral was as human as you could get without being an embryo, an observer would have sworn he hadn't so much as breathed the entire time.
Except MolTARE, the handy observer, was too experienced to go in for that stuff. Of all the Fleet's higher echelon Mol was the one regarded by the rest of the Board as the most approachable. Technically he classed himself as an advisor, a role he got away with because of background respect for oldbies of his age, even ones that had embraced the new ways with enthusiasm.
"Well, that was unexpected."
"You didn't have to let JJ tear strips off them like that, Low."
"If I hadn't, people would wonder why I hadn't."
"No, they'd be too busy browbeating themselves. Waldo and Steve are an embarrassment enough as it is...now they're running this...this...armament program...the general consensus is that we let them get away with too much."
"Oh, we can find things to do that let our errant officers know they haven't earned that much disapproval. Come, let us formulate what responses we can...before Jordanis cracks heads in his tactical planning staff." The Admiral tapped a series of codes into one of the consoles that seemed to be all over the strategy centre at about arm height, which lit up and then projected the usual Board map of the globe in one of the plotting displays.
There was a hum and a slight pause as the display's processors tapped into worldwide air traffic control systems. After a second of whirring a small ribbonlike trail snapped into existence like a discarded strand of string, one end touching a base logo in the south Pacific and the other terminating in the northwestern United States. Another series of codes and an intercept course sprung into spaghetti-like relief, arcing down and twisting around the mote until both merged.
"Heh. Taking Dagda's demands for a 'real operation' to throw at her seriously, Low? I thought we'd decided to hate her guts."
"Mol, we'll discuss the politics of the matter en route. For now, have my ship readied."
"What, the entire DN?". The oldbie blinked. That would be a massive undertaking, since the Archangel was horribly out of place in an atmosphere, let alone a webcomic.
"No, just Captor One. No point in ramming our superiority down her throat, after all."