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<ToxicFrog[TrappedInHell]> ooh, that's just Evil. With a side dish of Evil, and a glass of Sadism.

"I have Big Guns, and so r0xx0r" — Flax, amusingly out of context in every possible way.

Part 19: Missing the Bus

Speculation can only get you so much information, and there is one unmistakable sign that tells you when the Board are doing something major. It's a somewhat boring job, but someone always has to do it...and sometimes it's very exciting indeed, in a not-fun way. More than a few past incumbents of this slot are remembered on the Memorial.


Jappus looked up from his newspaper on a park bench into the only mildly scary eyes of the Dragon's eldest son.


"Look, whoever you are, you're scaring my roommates and that makes them noisy. Can I get you to go away?"

* * *

A little history is needed before we progress.

With the loss of so many oldbies and subsequent rise of mass mechanised warfare on the Boards (and like most societies, it tends to be what the Dragon dubbed the Board's military-industrial complex that leads the way in science and engineering), Boardie strategists found themselves with a foe who could strike anywhere without warning and a growing force of response teams increasingly reliant on a chain of command simply to stay organised. While the dark heyday of Board militarism is over, the steady throughput of newbies and slow growth of many middlebies' abilities and powers has led to even greater forces being marshalled with even less regard for physical laws.

And let's not actually forget that many of these groups are effectively private armies in their own right (regardless of their actual function, every Board member is expected to be able to at least throw some form of raw force around if needed, and even the friendliest of Boardies still carry POSTs capable of blasting things). A Boardie with a following will naturally seek to expand and equip them as best (s)he can, and call on them to help with the Board's activities, and that means large groups of people moving around bringing equipment with them.

Hence...the Board have kept their battleships. Battleship in this case essentially meaning "large warship", since the vessels are just as homogenous as their crews. There's the dreadnought too, of course, but that's really only Loweko asserting his position as Alpha Male by popping one class up, and the term can expand to include carriers, Yarn Spheres and Boardies who insist on calling their ships "cruisers". While the use of deep space combat vessels in a webcomic is going to be overkill at best and just ridiculous at worst, they importantly represent the ability to pick up huge amounts of stuff in one place and fly it to another one. Oh, and blast the crap out of it if they so wish, but that's just Boardies being Boardies.

As Joe once rather crudely remarked, if you ever see one it indicates you have their attention. It's mostly a matter of degrees, really - most Comicside activity barely warrants one of those heavies, so pulling a group together indicates a desire for Clausewizt's old favourite tactic, overwhelming force.

BSS Symphony In Mental Blackout

Mol very boredly checked the clock...oh, sorry, chronometer...on his HUD for the eighth time in twenty minutes. it another hour, since Omega was taking it slow so the flights from Nemo could rendezvous, and that meant landing operations. Wasn't as if he even needed half his attenion on flying Symie, since the computer could handle formation-flying as it was. May as well get his POST videoconferencing and join Ahayweh's poker game, since Board card games tend to have weird stakes.

Formation flying.

As Roger has said, today might be a very good day to stay indoors and blink a lot.

* * *

Funky Horror Docking Bay 7 BSS Minerva Flag Vessel: 1st Waldo & Steve Suppression Battlegroup

By rights, the Minerva shouldn't really be flying point on this operation since she was one of the first vessels commissioned (meaning all the mistakes and bugs were still in) and the Board do have the dreadnought for leading major task forces. But Loweko was being political again and that meant every possible effort to avoid the operation turning into another round of "Fleet crushing poor innocents" accusations...and Minerva mostly had communications gear rather than guns since she'd actually been laid down before Satan had come gunning for Mari. She was built for going and looking, rather than going and possibly hitting whatever you might find.

Heads turned on the bridge as the doors opened and the throne floated in, CG perched in it like a latter-day Cleopatra. There weren't really protocols for this, but she garnered a few bewildered salutes from Fleet Boardies brought up to respect those of higher rank.

Blame ElObscuro and his reforms for this one. Unwilling to spend his entire tenure aboard the Funky Horror, he'd had the Director's cybernetic mess of an uplink system slimmed right down to little more than an oversized pair of headphones and a speaker mike and proceeded to bounce between the station and the Himalayas. One of the fun parts of ruling the Board is that no matter how entrenched the tradition there's always a few iconoclasts on hand, many of whom will be engineers or coders.

Speaking of engineers, Talix was hovering behind her convinced that at any minute her uplinks would fail or she'd lose carrier or something would go wrong with the jury-rigged receiver antenna she wore on her back like a warped Samurai banner. He was doing a lot of scuttling around following CG as she examined everything — this was a first for her, despite her long history with the Boards, and she fully intended to take as much in as she could.

"Oh, I'm only here incognito. Do go back to what you were doing."

Translation: I'm watching yooouuuuu. CG leaned back and wondered if the Dragon ever felt like this sometimes. It was kinda fun...

* * *

Somewhere aboard the Polygon

Board card games tend to be more a matter of skill and precision than luck, since Boardies mess with probability simply by existing. They tend to be a flurry of very high hands with whatever rules fit or can be bent to fit.

"I'll see that poing and raise you a munchkin."

Ahayweh tried to concentrate on the game and failed, again. Part of her was nagging at her to rush off and stick close to the Dragon, and another part of her was telling her to stay way the hell away. Across the "table" and glowing as a hanging projection, Mol raised by a Pyrodyne...making it her bid.

"Ah....I fold."

"Awww...." Aerilon snorted and went back to scrutinising his hand, but across from MolTARE Godboy sounded slightly apologetic. He could tell there was a lot on the young Boardie's mind. "Sure? Wanna sit out for a bit?"

"Yeah. Think I might, actually."

The horrible little question was, of course, why the heck was she here? If she was here, it meant Mari wanted her here for something, which meant she would have to do something...which meant she should really be looking for what she was meant to do!

Mol's projection snickered. "Call!"

Aerilon grinned and then broke into a laugh as he laid down a perfect royal hearts. Ahayweh noted that the queens seemed to be grinning with him....and looked worryingly like the Dragon.

* * *

Future Nemo Facility, Upper Rig

"Come on, come on..." FlyingFish twitched with impatience as the freighter crews struggled to unload the last consignment of materials so their ship could get out of the way and allow the Polygon and Ghost to land/dock/whatever. If it had been him in charge he'd have just ordered them out of the way but oh no, the angstboy had been flexing his muscles and wanted Silver to get his base somewhere near schedule again — despite the obvious fact, as FF had told Laundreu, that after the accident they clearly wouldn't be anywhere near their original timetable even if they poked it with a stick. Even if it was a long stick, passed down the ages and blessed by many hands specifically for the purpose of poking schedules, Laundreu, then no amount of poking with it, even poking by a great high priest of schedule-messing or even one of Starlock or Nomad's accellerator potions, would get them back on schedule, Laundreu!

But Laundreu had left the room by then, and Fish was stuck with another 50 tons of steel cladding. Blow this for a game of soldiers, they could unload without him....he was getting a drink.

Ten minutes later, teeth still chattering from the icy winds (Just because you have a weather control device doesn't mean you can use it when your links to that wonderful geothermic undersea power plant are still a bit shaky, Fish ran into Wingnut and a stack of Nemo's "nonessential" crews, i.e. Ones about to be assigned to SKID Suppression Duty in one of the rig's ready rooms — a minor throwback to WW2, but one High Command were willing to allow and FF was all in favour since it had a kettle.

"Well, Wing, you wanted to see how we do it at the sharp end." Oh yes, heat...heeeeat.... "Whatddya think?"

"Big. Very big. Nothing by halves on this Board."

Thank you, Captain Obvious! "Yes, well...this isn't a real snake hunt but you never know."

"Don't remind me."

"Oh, don't panic. We've got our very own big M out the front and that baby's seen everything from deep space to sulphur pits and she's always brought everyone home."

"I still can't quite believe you people did that." Wing shook his head slightly in a mixture of minor awe and the knowledge that he'd probably have to pitch in if they did it again. Fish chortled in an amused fashion and slapped the pilot on the back.

"Yes, Wing, yes we did. It was a great day for the Board. And I don't think I've ever been so scared in my life."

Wing smiled oddly at that. Nice to know they actually were normal in there after all, since he'd been worried they were paragons of virtue.

* * *

4:15pm BST, March 13th, 2003

Somewhere in Montana BSS Ghost of Citadel The Dragon laughed at her army, the sound making NSD jump from his position slightly behind her at the courtesy sensor terminal Toxic had found for her somewhere nonessential in his carrier.

Not her own poor, pathetic underworld enforcers, of course, and her brief foray into suicide commandoes had been a complete waste of time and money...but the one she'd assembled the old-fashioned way — with oratory. The Board were only marginally more professional than her own thugs, but they at least had the power to back up their efforts...and the legitimacy not to have to worry about little things like governments and the law.

There was some form of communications beep over the tannoy, and whoever was commanding this thing gave the order to engage in an odd feminine contralto. She supposed she should be somewhere, but right now it was too interesting to watch the activity around her as the vessel disgorged fighters and those too-familiar white shuttles like a swarm of angry bees.

It was a slight shame she had to eradicate SKID so early, given her investment, but clearly they'd proven uncontrollable. Hopefully Louie would have the brains to stick to her cover story for him, since even if High Command got suspicious the average Boardie would be more than willing to believe Waldo and Steve had nefariously abducted him. She was slightly worried about crossfire, but the Board seemed to have faith in their IFFs...and certainly enough of them were marksmen, that her own people could tell her from experience.

In fact the Board have more faith in RESPAWN, but that's classified Need to Know for non-Boardies these days and the only people who need to know tend to be dead ones.

* * *

Green Family Mansion Fourth Floor Communications Suite

Rule for Evil Henchmen #whatever... thought Winters as Blue purposefully wandered past him towards what was probably the kitchen, since power and wealth aside she was still a late-adolescent, and a small one at that, and that meant growth spurts. ...never mess with the wicked-but-beautiful daughter.

Not that anyone'd be dumb enough to try, since Blue had inherited most of the Green line's intellect and ambition, and there were dark rumours about covert ops jobs on anyone making eyes at her, but it didn't take an advanced degree in heartbreaker recognition to class her as a gal who'd probably be just as eye-catching as her mother.

Never mind, Winters had better things to do..mostly involving the stencilled Funky Horror codes on the boxes he was carrying down towards the rebuilt end of the stables Madame used as a storage area for less-than-legal electronics. That array poor Devitt had gotten himself killed over was a seriously schweet piece of kit, and the young woman who'd stopped by with it to install it...well, schwing. If the benefits of co-operation meant she talked to him rather than shot at him, then good move, Boss. Now to stow all the spares, turn the power back on to the upper stuff, and laugh as early-warning suddenly became able to see the current fashions in New Jalallalallalabad or wherever.

Finding a crate, yelling at the pair of Taiwanese idiots that ran Inventory, and then stopping by a 'phone to call the powerhouse and have then switch the juice back on took all of eight minutes, and Winters fielded more than a few smirks from his ELINT boys as he headed back up to what had been the radar room...there was a betting pool on as to whether a spec array could see through Blue's top, and despite his earlier thoughts he was still going to....hold on, was the boss back early? That looked like one of her helico..

And then Winters went to meet his maker, and Funky Horror's auto-attack warnings sat up and screamed their sirens out.

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