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Part 12: Fire in the Sky

Somewhere over the eastern United States March 12th, 2003

Allow me to introduce Marcos Devitt, of the Green family electronic warfare section. We have met Mister Devitt, very briefly - it was he who informed Mz Green that her transport to Nemo had arrived, not long ago. We've met him before that, too — he was involved in the Dragon's attempt to crack the Board's security on it's Instrumentality Project, almost a year ago, and perhaps this has marked him down to fate as a target.

Beyond that, he was only really a spear-carrier in the great unfolding saga of CRFH. It matters little to the Board or most of their dependants (It might matter to a few) that he had a sparkling career as an electronics specialist and was slowly working his way up the cosmopolitan ladder of the Green family "hierarchy of henchmen". For a start, he had talent — and the Dragon is a great believer in rewarding talent that gets results.

We now meet him again, attempting sleep in the decidedly uncomfortable spare seat on the flight deck of a cargo aircraft. The Dragon hopes to convince the Board to allow her a direct uplink to their spy satellites, and this shipment is flying out to collect part of an urgent consignment of replacement parts needed to upgrade the Green mansion's communications systems. Devitt has been attached to help ship and install them at the other end with his usual casual expertise.

It is bitterly ironic, therefore, that he will be killed in one hour and 47 minutes by someone who can barely rewire a plug. It should be in three hours, but the people who set the bomb in the cargo hold were amateurs.

* * *

BSS Captor One Somewhere over the South Pacific

The credit for the Fleet's newest toy should probably go to CoyoteGirl and Shenalia's stringent anti-Godmoding campigns, although construction had been passed through soleta's Design Bureau. In theory the rationale behind the long, cylindrical vessel was that Fleet had noticed the irritating tendency for people to steal their shuttlecraft AND hold their dependants hostage aboard them, and given the Roomies' continuing irritating refusal to accept even a small platoon of bodyguards the best solution would be to find ways of arranging in-flight rescues. To that end, the ship's bow was a streamlined cone. Someone had been watching too many reruns of You Only Live Twice.

But to stand on the vessel's bridge, deep under cloak, and watch the base below...the power kick was quite disturbing.

"Reatheran's gonna love you, Low..." Mol regarded the Admiral's constant need to stare out at the world slightly odd, but nothing compared to the quirks of some Boardies. "...if you're concerned about politics, is allying yourself to that loose cannon a wise move?"

"Reatheran's silly argument with the director doesn't concern me...and for a start, Mol, The Dragon's proving popular. Selfless rescues aside..." The snort MolTARE responded with made it abundantly clear what he thought of that, given half the people she'd rescued were her own technicians. "...there's a feeling that we've been too quick to judge her, and that she's displaying the proper humility to be treated as an equal."

"Oh, I doubt it. Hell, Low, for all I know Mari popped into her gazebo one day and said "Go join the Board", but until then we'll assume she's after the limitless-power-and-not-too-many-responsibilities angle. Which you're not helping, I might add, with this operation. She's gonna snap this up like a newbie to a war thread."

"I'm not stupid, Mol. Let me introduce you to the concept of the Stormtrooper Bargain..."

* * *

Nemo Facility: Repair zone.

Stardrake watched with mild fascination, and maybe a hint of brainwarpage, as Hazel Green rolled up her sleeves, elbowed aside a Boardieborg, and proceeded to demonstrate to the recalcitrant cyborg that since her companies built it, and since she'd read the blueprints, this meant she knew where that damned pipeline went decidedly better than he did.

The outline of Stardrake's larger, more impressive form was juuuust visible in the emergency lighting still in use down here, but no-one commented on this. Dragons were hardly news on the Board, har har har.

"Well, that was unexpected..." The drake mopped his brow in the heat down here, mostly caused by so many arc welders in the clastrophic corridors. "...he could have just uploaded the blueprints, you know."

"I'm meticulous about any machinery that keeps me alive."

"Well, yeah, so am I...but..."

"Stardrake, one day I will tell you a tale of a friend of of mine who didn't look after the air scrubbers on his own underwater base..." Hazel smiled at the way the Boardie's cheek twitched at that. Silly him for not realising her architects had to have learned the principles somewhere other than her oil rigs. " made it very easy for me to flood the complex with chlorine gas." I shouldn't mess with their minds like that but if I don't establish my dominance now I may never get another chance...

"Hello, hello...."

And who the heck was this?

"Hi, Jeff. What's up?"

"Signal from AOANLA..."

The Dragon had never seen AOANLA, although she was aware of his ever-present S-Cavs — the designs for which were already being picked apart by her naval architects, a small but significant token of the marvels to come.

"...Admiral Loweko and Specialist MolTARE present their compliments, and want you..." Jeff spun his hands and pointed them at Hazel in a way that would have earned most people a rapid trip to the Maximum Fun Chamber " join them on the upper superstructure."


Jeff shrugged."No idea. Ah, watch it with those two...they're, uh, High Command."

The Dragon gestured for him to lead the way and swept out. As she did so, Stardrake discretely removed the cover from one of the air scrubbers to check for gas discolouration.

* * *

There had been a time when Loweko and Silver Adept wouldn't even share the same base without one of them cutting loose on the other, but that was long gone...and FlyingFish stifled a grin at the curteous handshake Silver offered the Admiral as he disembarked. The seabed-built floating landing platform had, for once, worked first try and the polished bulk of whatever new ship that was neatly stood on it's landing legs in the middle of the rolling ocean. It was, thought Fish, a good sign./

"Welcome to Nemo, Admiral. " Silver's eyes dripped much less flame than usual, mostly due to exhaustion, but he was darned if he wasn't at least saying hi. "...can we borrow your chief engineers?"

"You've got half of them already...Omega and the Polygon are on their way with yet more parts and we tracked another batch of Green freighters on the way in."

"Oh, you have no idea how much Omega would come in handy. Losing a module's knocked us off schedule like nothing on Earth...whatever. Got your message...the Dragon's on her way." The mage scratched his head tiredly. "Sic transit gloria draconis. You're welcome to her, too, she makes my flesh between starting fights with Laundreu. Popular with the newbies, though. I can see her being here a lot when we're finished..."

"And is that a good or a bad thing?"

"I'll get back to you on that."

* * *

High Earth Orbit The Funky Horror

It is a well-known fact that there is no "Deck Zero" on the Funky Horror. Above deck 1 (the highest level of the command dome, mostly maintenance access) there are the structural supports for the station's huge upper arrays and antennae. Getting summoned to Deck Zero is a Board euphemism.

She's not going to bite my head off, she's not going to bite my head off, she's not going to bite my head off...

Ahayweh gulped. Why did Mari keep sending for her?

Okay, Ahayweh, get a grip. It's not like she's doing it THAT often, haven't been up there since W&S summoned me, she probably just wants to chat or find something to do or invite me to the next game of Foxx Poker...I should be happy, right?

The lift ding!ed, and the doors opened...on the Command Deck. CG waved.

"Good luck, Ahay..."

Ahay waved back limply and pressed the button. The doors shut again, and from her "throne" CG bemusedly watched the up arrow light on a lift shaft that actually came to visible halt only a meter above it.

* * *

The logs of the recent encounter ComicSide finished playing on Captor One's bridge recorder with the usual triple-beep and Board logo, and the Dragon delicately lowered the eyebrows she'd had hanging off the bulkheads throughout most of it.

I'm going to have a very long "discussion" with Louis when I next see him, specifically regarding keeping his damned pets under control. He needs to sit on them for a few more days, and that means not letting them out on flimsy leashes like that!

"Madam, first and foremost....what was your youngest son doing there?"

"I have no idea, Admiral." The emphasis on the rank was nothing new. Hazel had three navies in her back pocket already, and the Dragon was battling the psychological impulse to treat them as her own henchmen. Wouldn't do to antagonise the Board's hit squads, oh no. Especially not when she'd need them soon — badly. "...presumably visiting his brother."

"Presumably?" The other silent one raised an eyebrow.

"As you are doubtlessly aware, MolTARE...." Mol twitched. Not only did she recognise him, she knew not to use a rank with him either. Discovering you'd attracted Green interest, even retrospectively, was not an altogether pleasant feeling even for someone with 2000-plus posts under their belt. "...much as I would like to keep constant surveillance on Michael, he is extremely good at avoiding it."

"Hrm. We'll take that into consideration. Second you have any idea what that purple entity was?"

"No. Might I suggest...?"

"If you're about to suggest we find out..." MolTARE again. "...we're getting to that."

"Yes. Since this thing actively attacked our field agents we have to respond, and I'm forming a punitive strike group..."

Punitive. And what's he defining that loaded little term as?

"...Silver has repeatedly suggested we find something for you to do quote "commensurate with your talents" unquote. Given your experience with covert operations as soon as this meeting is over we will immediately undock and ship you to the Fu..headquarters, there to be attached to crazyfurries and Shenalia's suppression force. "

Oh yes. Oh yes indeed. Oh yes...Thank you, Adams and Archer, long may they stay dead once she caught up with them and removed a little evidence.

From her first tentative steps into the Board's frankly incredible intelligence network, the one so vast it physically overloaded the first mainframe her ELINT people had tried to crack it with, she'd been amazed by the constant logs of activity centring around Waldo and Steve - and absolutely stunned to see that Board agents were authorised to throw all their incredible rules of engagement out the window when dealing with their activities. She'd wondered just what on earth those two had. She'd wanted it.

And she still had to admit she didn't know. The pair of snivelling idiots Louie had dragged in with his usual disturbing enthusiasm (hopefully the Board had ways of diffusing trigger-happy newbies...well, it had to, really. No debate there.) had as much charisma as a dung beetle and brains to match. There'd been something there, the kind of sullen resentment for power and authority that drove half her own hit squads, but that pair couldn't have threatened her in any conceivable way...and given the remarks on them she'd intercepted her eldest son quipping to his sister, they were pretty pathetic stuff. Her conclusion had been that the Board had gotten to them first and shut them up.

So she'd...unshut them. And judging by the armada being deployed like bathtub floats, the Board thought that seeing them active again was a serious threat to their operations. All in all a complete success for the opening half of her plan...until this. Maybe they had had something. The question now became...what exactly had she let out of the bag?

No, that was needless cynicsm. A better question would be...what was she getting to clean up the mess with?

"And this is NightshadeDragon." The Admiral's voice started her out of her whirling thoughts as he indicated a tall, lean young man with a shock of black hair who'd spent the meeting leaning over a console so ardently the Dragon had taken him for just another crewman— a dangerous approach on the Boards. "He'll be my official observer for this operation."


* * *

In a crate added at the last minute by a corrupt airport security official who thought he was simply shipping a crate full of Airsoft products across a state line, a capacitor discharges. The explosive is crude, back-garden stuff...but there is a lot of it.

Thankfully Devitt is killed instantly by shrapnel that tears through the floor of the flight deck, sparing him the ghastly last minutes of a burning descent as the aircraft breaks up at relatively low speed.

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