Anyone who wishes to imagine the events on Nemo following the Dragon's departure is encouraged to just look around the thread. Sometimes I don't even need to write to advance the plot...although Silver's attempt to petition Mari to borrow her telescope failed when all he could get over the Hotline was a busy signal.
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"Oh, for Mari's sake, Kittens! Isn't there anywhere I can fit?"
* * *
There's a very old Speculation joke on the Boards. It goes something like this, although a little is lost to an audience that hasn't hung out around the free-flowing reality warps of the older, wilder days: "Be careful how loudly you shout out your greatest theory...it may tap you on the shoulder and say hi."
It's hardly a new sentiment, but it's worth keeping in mind that even an insular society like the Board has developed an appreciation of irony, especially when they're usually the ones inducing "kindness to strangers" myths in others.
The Funky Horror Speculation Deck
To call it a "deck" is actually a misnomer — while the "floor" used as the midpoint for speculation threads (i.e. the level that gets the entrance door with the CRFH logo on it) is what most Boardies dub the speculation deck, in reality Speculation sits above the hangars and takes up just as much space in a vertical cross-section — it's a lot flatter than the huge open spaces below, obviously, but that's still a f'narking lot of stuff.
Think about it. If Speculation can effortlessly tell you the number of suckers on a tentacle being waved around by a student on the ground in a university a good few thousand miles away, then it's going to see a heck of a lot more than just that. Each thread draws in the flow of information from satellites, cameras, wards, friendly genus loci, and POSTs in "the field", adds the opinions of it's operators, and shunts it all to the archives, where it can be used for the calculations for those other Board past-times — predicting the future, and messing with reality.
Ask yourself if you appear on one of those monitors sometimes.
By tradition, any Boardie can speculate. It started out in time immemorial as simply a method of ensuring every contribution was heard, although these days Dagda can hold forth on the pride in community values for just as long as he can hold forth on why the Board doesn't need to worry about OPSEC. It's a flipping space station, who's going to eavesdrop? It's not as if Spec's a military planning committee.
"I'm actually gonna go for the General on that one. Medium guns and a sound mind. Winning combination in our business."
Don't you hate it when someone ruins your point?
"You're kidding me! Joe would mop the floor with her! She's not exactly a tactical genius as it is and He wrote the book on warfare!"
"Eh-eh. She can't have cut a swathe across a dozen timelines without some strategic ability, and Joe's got a one-track mind. Imagination, yes, but it slows him down."
Ahh, morbid humour. Common to humans everywhere, and the Board are still human enough to swap jokes.
"Dude, you're missing it totally. They're just not on the same wavelength. It's not a matter of...hiya Flax, and...whoa..."
"Look who's back..."
"Oh, it's you two." The Dragon smiled as she glided through the door in her usual fashion, Flax hovering around her in a somewhat energetic orbit. "Haven't seen you two since I tried to lobotomise you. No hard feelings."
Roscoe, here to look around and keep his finger on the proverbial pulse..and ElObs. Here to avoid gunnery practice. Somehow being told "no hard feelings" by the closest reality got to the title role in American Woman...didn't help.
"Roscoe, Scott..." As Flax passed him the slack-jawed Roscoe found he'd had a salmon sandwich stuffed into his gaping mouth. It's worth noting that the Dragon was the first member of the cast of CRFH to ever actually see the interior of a Speculation Thread. Margaret's "work experience" hadn't extended that far, and during their respective brief visits Dave and April had only been passing through. "heckler, grab a chair and tell anyone who wants the thread we're busy."
Well, so this was where the Board drew everything together. Admittedly a lot of the "mystique" was lost once you knew it was in orbit, since that spoke of spy satellites and look-down capabilities, but still...the thought of what you could see with all this made the Dragon's mouth water.
"...ElObs, you're being booted. Roscoe, stay with the controls, Jappus...Jappus!"
"Help. Hazel, have a seat...I'd send for medicinal brandy but you don't seem the type. Let's discuss..."
If I wanted that I'd talk to my former husband. Judging by the meleodrama I would guess they're about to mention...
"...an organisation called SKID." The rather ridiculous logo snapped into focus on the thread's primary monitor, hanging in mid-air and giving Flax the air of a corporate executive discussing this month's budget, albiet one doing so in the middle of a communications centre that looked like at any minute someone was going to ransom world governments from it. "Have you had any contact with it?"
"Never heard of them."
"We've had 'dealings' with them before....ElObs can fill you in if you wish. Do you wish?" Flax made sure he could see her face as he spoke. Despite Jordanis's calls for co-operation and Reatheran's constant accusations of paranoia, Flax still wasn't entirely convinced she hadn't orchestrated the organisation's resurgence herself. It wouldn't be the first or even the twenty-eighth time she'd backed a paramilitary group, and Ockham's Razor takes on a whole new meaning when you can pop down to Hell and chat on the grapevine there — and as far as they knew Waldo and Steve were just proving particularly efficient evildoers. Homeboys done good.
"No, thankyou. What's this in aid of?" Out of the corner of her eyes the Dragon noticed her old nemesis making sword-fighting movements with his umbrella. Deep behind her layers of mental barriers a quiet part of her bunched it's fists and screamed "Yes!". For all his bumbling, Louie had evidently gotten his toys to make an impression. "Are they giving you problems?" Hopefully niggling, irritating problems...
"Ah, you have the problem, Madam. We...shouldn't be the people to break this to you, but I imagine Thaddeus is cursing the fact that your satellite phones are a little out of range up here..." Jappus scratched his head at his terminal in a gesture the Dragon recognised as worrying displacement activity. "One of your aircraft blew up over the eastern seaboard three hours ago. High Command think it might have been punishment for allying with us."
Well so much for that theory... thought Flax. If ever there was shock and anger in that voice, it was now.
* * *
A few decks up...
The lift dinged and popped back into the mortal realm, in that order, and the door slid open in a way that put the Director in mind of 2001...albiet in reverse.
"Ahhh, she's back in the land of the living...Hi Ahay. How'd it go?"
"She...she wants me to keep an eye on anything the Dragon brings in..." Ahayweh's eyes finally refocussed. "Is she bringing anything in?"
CG stifled a morbid snicker. "Judging by the way she just bit Flax's head off in Spec, I'd say...give her a bit, but yes."
"oh. Then I'd better..."
"Find NSD, he's off with Shen and probably Low somewhere." The directer tilted her head thoughtfully as she mentally queried the station's computers and went hunting for the relevant POSTs. "Deck...28. Follow the flashing road..." Yeeesh, Mari really flash-blinded this one. She looks like she's about to pass out.
"Okay, okay..." Ahayweh nodded, smiled as arrows lit up on the floor beneath her, and somewhat thoughtfully headed for the lift...arrow following.
"Pounce the elf for me! He's been getting complacent lately."
That little piece of mischief arranged, CG went back to her chair, and with a modicum of grace, leaned back into the padding. Really, 90% of her time was just watching Board and Comicside life scroll past. Sure, if something happened she could rush out and do some Heroic Leading but until then...she idly brought up manufacturing windows and wondered, not for the first time, about arranging a hairless face to avoid worrying their new arrival. The poor woman was going to have enough to deal with when Starlock caught up with her, and explaining to Mike why his mother had gone insane would be embarrassing.
Then she froze. A pained expression crossed her canine features as she carefully stood up again, turned, crouched to see just what she'd sat on...
"Tangent, that can't be comfortable."
* * *
Back in Speculation...
"If they're firebombing our assets then why aren't we finding and killing them?" I am going to have very severe words with Louie about this. Very severe. "Do we have counter-insurgency operatives? Have we penetrated their organisation? Can we find their installations? Cut off their funding?" Have you, in fact, done any of the stuff I was supposed to be offering to do?
"Pfft. This is a spec thread, Haz...el. Green." Roscoe's attempt at a nickname faltered as it ran headlong into a wall of sheer visual ice, but he rallied. "Watch this." He cracked his knuckles. This was going to be so worth it for the look on her face. "Thread, run a search for all current events concerning..." He cleared his throat and poised his hands over the controls, flicking his eyebrows suggestively like a man about to reveal a winning hand. "...the Dragon."
Thankfully ElObs had had the foresight to get Talix to rework the computers to only accept the Dragon's given name or underworld monikers, as it was better than the code-phrase shortcuts Boardies were known to use... and give her past reputation "Madame D" was only the printable end of an expletive and innuendo-laden iceberg.
At Roscoe's voice the console in front of him lit up, and as he spoke, he flipped toggle switches on the panel in front of him. The background hum noticeably rose in pitch. Lesse here, keep the biographical stuff...ditch the thought and action bit, that was only used for really complex, far-reaching spec and tended to flood the processors, naturally keep in the computer searches and it wouldn't be Speculation without symbolic data...lifesigns monitor? That was always a laugh...
"Why are we hanging around?"
"Wait for the cycle to run, first. Usually takes around 10 to 15 minutes." ElObs adjusted his pose stiffly and started saving his endless probability runs on D&M before Roscoe blanked the screens. "If we were in a rush, we'd just pull archive data from the last Update...that's 11 o'clock last night."
"Oh? I rank a place in your archives?" This should be entertaining...unless...no, if they were about to challenge me with evidence of collusion, they wouldn't play around. The Board only plays games up to a point, and evidently they're still at the playing stage with SKID.
"A particularly large and well-embellished section." ElObs grinned at the chance for a little backtalk. That, and there was little point in beating about the bush. The Dragon was one for frankness when she didn't bother with diplomacy, and you didn't need a Speculation thread to tell you THAT. "Madam, Boardies have requested your assassination eight times..."
"I'm flattered. I'm also still here."
"He said requested, Madam." Flax's respectful but hard 'madam' was a world away from Thaddeus's slightly-throaty 'madame'. A name, rather than a salutation. "Our current director used to be thought of as one of our experts on you, actually."
Obviously Mari's ability to speak without a trace of irony seeping into her voice had distilled down to her "staff".
"Really? I'm going to have to meet all your 'experts' on me, it should be educational." The Dragon fought back the thought that they wouldn't need to try very hard to be an expert given all the worryingly precise images and information on her operations beginning to appear, but her scepticism and paranoia was fading in light of the sheer level of detail to hand, and her own sense of triumph at getting her hands on all this. An hour in here and she could triple her fortune...another hour, and every movement against her would be a death sentence...
Speaking of plots, if they...no. What would they see, anyway? Exactly what they wanted to. For all the technical superiority this marvel was still limited by interpretation and the good, old human mind of whoever was actually watching it. Besides, when she got her hands on those two...Underestimated. Again. She HAD to stop doing that.
Enough paranoia. Clearly they wanted a reaction out of her.
"I imagine I'll be seeing a lot of this place." Her eyes hardened. "I trust our mutual support begins with this operation?"
Flax made a low, oddly-pitched sound. After a few seconds Hazel realised it was a laugh, but ElObs reflexively moved a hand to his umbrella as old demon-hunting instincts fired. The Dragon wasn't enough of a Boardie to recognise a diabolical chuckle when she heard it.