Will your grace command me any service to the world's end? I will go on the slightest errand now to the Antipodes that you can devise to send me on; I will fetch you a tooth-picker now from the furthest inch of Asia, bring you the length of Prester John's foot, fetch you a hair off the great Cham's beard, do you any embassage to the Pigmies, rather than hold three words' conference with this harpy! — Much Ado About Nothing, Act II Scene i.
<Aer_Bloodlust> Some people are only alive because it's illegal to shoot them.
Admiral Loweko, cunning master of insidiousness and titular leader of the Board's aero/space forces, sat in his "office" (in reality a small gap in the bulkheads surrounding the bridge of his flagship where some enterprising naval architect had run data access lines), and brooded. Not his usual "I am scheming and know it" brood, but instead more of a "How on Earth did I get into this?" brood, a mental state he was more used to inducing in others.
Sitting on the desk in a neat folder, under one whitish hand, are the final accident reports for the recent "incident" with the BIP. Despite having been checked over several times, the massive apparatus hasn't shown the slightest sign of developing a nice dramatic system failure that would require a complete shutdown, meaning that a certain event in three hours would have to be postponed. The Admiral finds this annoying.
Under this is another folder with a small pyrotechnic charge attached, containing intelligence reports on the Board's myriad foes. Not one, even the guy the Board don't mention, has emitted so much as a peep. None of them are likely to try a gatecrash or assault in the next three hours. The Admiral regards this as badly-timed.
But directly in front of him, and the subject of so much displacement activity on his part, are the words for the service for Jordanis's upcoming wedding. The one in about three hours. The Admiral finds this, along with JJ's insistence on a shipboard wedding conducted by Fleet personnel...just plain embarrassing. "Chin up, Low..." he'd said when he and Kira-chan had announced the date. "...you'll look cute in white for once."
Oh please can that be news that a thousand screaming demons are laying siege to Tokyo or something...
"Commander, uh, ToxicFrog, sir..." relayed the intercom, the faint pause punctuating his crew's faint confusion over Board naming conventions, even after a year,
"Send him in..." The Admiral swivelled his chair and keyed the lighting levels up a little. "Will your grace command me any service to the world's end?"
"Uh, sir?" Toxic stepped forward through the hatch, puzzled.
"Shakespeare, Commander." Toxic inwardly flinched at the rank. There had been a time when he was regarded as a promising officer with a rising star, and would have been on first-name terms as an active Boardie...until he'd had his soul swiped temporarily, which meant that despite checks by both Shen and FlyingFish, and the fuzzy drug-induced haze the Board medics had used to suppress the memories, he was ever-so-slightly regarded as a possible security risk by his former friends.
"Never mind. What is it?"
"Executive Action request, sir..." Why's he grinning like that? "...it's not really important, but you said..."
Loweko smirked and took the datapad from Toxic's hands with fierce glee...and his heart sank as he read it.
"High Command wastes it's time for this?"
Merely some minor quirk about Waldo and Steve. A 30-second problem with a 30-second solution, potentially an even longer one if some Boardie snapped and gave them both red hot one-way tickets to their Dark Master...
...but there'd been this weird atmosphere of fellow feeling around those two ever since their attempts to start summoning Boardies, which meant turning them into greasy smears was Politically Inadvisable. Again. Loweko irritably waved a hand. "Just...interdict them. Speculation's panicking again."
"Admiral, most of our assets are already..."Well, lining up for JJ's obligatory honour guard.
"Just...find people on the reserve lists, Toxic."
"Aye aye, Admiral!" Toxic ripped off an elated and thoroughly unnecessary salute, and practically ran from the room.
* * *
Approximately one hour later... ComicSide
"Would it be too much to expect Dover to actually be bound by a timetable?" spat a young woman with black hair in obvious disgust as the post-calculus-class crowd emerged from the maths block into the afternoon sunlight.
"Aw man..." said the unknowing catalyst for Hazel Green's near-apotheosis over the next month and a half. "...Blake's gonna kill me."
The girl with the hair didn't hear him, natch. Nor did her similarly-scalped boyfriend or his pair of offsiders. The boyfriend muttered something that made all four laugh sarcastically. Our newfound catalyst merely sighed, spent a second lingering his gaze over a slightly-giggly blonde young girl who moved into step with the quartet ahead, and checked his watch. As ever, just behind time to be late when he got there, not behind time enough to just write the day off. Mind you, getting to Spikey's was usually a half-hour walk from his dorm room and lately he'd been doing it in a mere eight minutes. Maybe the daily walks were doing him some good. He unzipped his coat to reveal the half-assed uniform for his job beneath it, an eye-watering ensemble in purple.
Well, no...not after last week. Last week had...actually, he wasn't quite sure what it had had. Probably, he thought as he struggled to mentally penetrate the horrible fog of jumbled memories, one too many drinks.
Eeeeh, whatever. If George "The Boltcutter" Blake, dreaded district manager, decided to whine about his attendant's...Oh my God, what the HELL is that thing?
* * *
BSS Ghost of Citadel "Parking Altitude", ComicSide
Toxic bit his lip. Admittedly one had to allow for the relaxed atmosphere encouraged among Boardies and Board agents, but it rankled him to hear his name called out across the bridge of one of Her Twistiness's carriers like a student in the quadrangle a mere hundred meters below. And dammit, he should be watching his crew go about their tasks like the efficient tacticians they were, not shepherding a cobbled-together crew who barely knew how where to find the helm controls.
Thank Mari that cloaking maintenance was one of the first things taught to any Boardie who might need to fly a shuttle, or the inhabitants of what the Board mentally dub as Nameless U would be getting an entertaining lesson in just how much attention is paid to them by the Powers That Be. The last time a Board vessel had lost it's cloak people had started worshipping it, and that had been embarrassing.
Still, it wasn't as if much could go wrong. Just keeping an eye on the Gruesome Twosome. Their summoning success rate had been a mere 3% lately, and frankly the speculation had been triggered more by paranoia than rational analysis — as he intended to point out when he got back Topside, while you might be able to summon demons with the ingredients W&S had been spotted buying, you were more likely to make omelettes.
"Fletch, would it be too much to ask for you to use my rank?"
"Sorry, TF...Commander...just...little dots here and they're not good dots..."
"That's not a proper sensor report, Fletch..." TomS cut in from leaning over the helm console (much to the chagrin of the otherwise-capable helm officer) with a somewhat smug tone that did even less for his popularity in Toxic's eyes. "...what dots?"
"Well, for a start...I've got two blacked-out vans on the northbound campus road."
Toxic's hand reflexively went to his POST but he stayed it in time. While the sight of Green family vehicles often meant trouble, it didn't always. "Aaaaand?"
"This weird double-sine wave from the crowd down there."
"Once again for those of us who can't talk to the computers?"
"Well, it sorta looks like what we see when Dave's about to laser something..." Fletch drove on VERY quickly to head off Toxic's inevitable response, which would have involved alert sirens. "ButIt'sNot! I've got Dave on Speculation One...he's just fine, and it's too..." Fletcher struggled to translate the concept that the ship's computers had expressed to his digital aspect. "Well, wonky."
"Wonky?" TomS's voice managed to attain new heights of incredulous disapproval, meaning Fletcher angrily open his mouth to reply in a decidedly unprofessional manner when Toxic butted in.
"Just...keep looking at it, Fletch. TomS, go back to spotlighting Waldo..."
It was the equivalent of 1960s nuclear missile targeting, really. You did everything expect push the button (or in this case launch a fighter wing) in the hope that this would mean you wouldn't have to. TomS didn't quite see it like that, and brought up one of the carrier's targeting arrays and began pinging the oblivious cultist's cranium like a laser off a mirror. He hoped it would give the guy a headache.
* * *
What's it DOING?
It didn't so much as faze him. Waldo would get his headaches later that day in much less pleasant surroundings.
Some kind of beam? A Death Ray?
In fact, Toxic had been right. The poor guy was only ambling back to the Apartment of Doom with lunch and some minor shopping, merrily daydreaming of a certain blue-haired demoness he'd met once.
* * *
"Give him a ping, TomS. For old time's sake. Just so we can say we did."
"Heheheh." The Boardie punched a button that pulsed the carrier's fire-control radar. All over the campus, radios squawked and TVs skipped a frame.
* * *
The guy with messy hair...oh my GOD! "GET DOWN!"
The relatively innocent cultist had a second to register the guy in the purple shirt rugby-tackling him before he seemed to blur and slam into him...and then the ground dropped away like a rock off a cliff.
* * *
"Holy cripes on toast...!" Fletcher watched his displays dissolve into static. "What in the name of the ever-twisty one was THAT?"
* * *
Waldo blinked. And then fell into a skip behind a garage. Not to worry, the crap broke his fall.
He bleched as he shook industrial garbage out of his shirt, which now had suspiciously banana-flavoured stains in it (just his luck to find a garage with a fruit-loving mechanic) and was dripping with used oil, a thoroughly disgusting combination. Various dull aches announced several new bruises here and there from high-speed garbage impact. And it wasn't even as if he'd been summoning anything.
Somewhere in the distance was the squealing of brakes, but Waldo had yet to actually work out what the hell had just happened and wasn't really listening. He was too busy being in shock.
"You okay in there?"
The features of a sprightly teenager gradually emerged over the edge of the skip. Looked slightly tall for his age. Blonde hair - sickeningly so, in fact. Seemed faintly dishevelled. NOT wearing purple, Waldo managed to register. So unlikely to do that again.
"You need a hand up?"
Oh well, never look a gift horse in the mouth when it's offering you a way out of a painful situation. To the rustle of metallic cast-offs Waldo unsteadily clambered to the edge of the skip and hauled himself out with the aid of his new "friend".
"Heh. Thanks, kid."
"Anytime." said the so-called kid. "While I'm here, lemmie show you something."
"Yeah, that's what your roommate asked a few minutes ago, too..." said Louis "Jungle Boy" Green as his tazer crackled.