Condition Green!

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It's not friendly fire if the enemy steal your tanks and then shoot you with them... - AOANLA

Part 20: Target Engines Only!

Somewhere in Montana

"Nobody home..."

Shenalia stirred up dirt on a decaying firing range, peppered with bulletholes. Dust had been sprayed everywhere by the shuttles' downdraft, but even without it the scene of wanton desolation was enough to make the elf's flesh crawl. He was hardly a tree-hugger, and environmental depletion wasn't high on his list of major issues to be dealt with, but the random heaps of spoil and rusting truck and motorcycle parts grated a little. Oh, and SKID didn't seem to have bothered with plumbing, either.

A dusty Aerilon looked up from his POST. "Nobody at all?"

"Trust me on this."

"Typical. You get all dressed to kill, and they're not even polite enough to be here."


"I'll see if Pat has a spare demo charge, shall I? Leave a few booby-traps for their return?"

"We could set up an ambush if we can hide the ships..." Shen thoughfully wondered if he could bend enough light...and then everyone's POSTs went off at once.

"GUYS, CG here! Need you back up here now!"

With a planeswalker handy, they didn't even stop to retrieve the shuttles.

* * *

Green Family Mansion

The sight of Steve frothing at the mouth as he declaims against something or other is not new.

People agreeing with him...that's new. People with guns agreeing with him...oh crud. The pilot of his attack helicopter nodding and taking his rage out on the ground below...

Well, it was the final phase of the Dragon's insidious plot, of course. Having a certifiable nutcase the Board hated going after you would have added all kinds of legitimacy to her claims of brotherhood. A clear command to attempt to kill her (or specifically, to botch said attempt) at some point had most certainly been on the list of reprogramming measures.

Smooth move, Madame Green. SKID thanks you for the support, but will kill you now.

Despite it's imposing image, the Green mansion's "defences" don't come anywhere near a practical defence grid. A few fixed gun emplacements and plenty of booby-traps sure, but they're designed to stop infiltrators and maybe the odd team of assassins. The searchlights may look cool, but they're not actually linked to much in the way of surface-to-air weapons. Those things are big, expensive, and illegal anyway, even if you did want to invest in a little heavy home security - a Boardie might, but the profit-motivated Dragon wouldn't. Because, after all, even in the firearm-happy United States no-one would actually be dumb enough to try some kind of all-out armed assault. That stuff just doesn't happen in a modern nation-state.

Tell that to the Saturday-morning-cartoon reject of an army Steve has scraped together from cheap mercenaries, all of whom knew SKID was hiring and figured its near-legendary willingness to dole out money like cheap cigarettes overcame their misgivings about signing on with an outfit barely a month old and making lots of enemies fast. For Steve, it's a wonderful example of what you can do by borrowing against "tomorrow's profits", i.e. the ones he hopes to get by plundering the ruins and collecting the hefty underworld bounty on Green heads. He's got a disturbing amount of charismatic talent, that kid, and the Dragon has quite a lot of enemies that way. Looks like he had more bottled rage in him than even her psychologists suspected.

On the other hand, despite her lack of defences the Dragon has most certainly not skipped on training her personnel. They're up and returning fire even through the holes blasted in the mansion's walls with commendable efficiency and more loyalty under fire than you'd expect, and the sight of Thaddeus with a jackhammer shotgun would be enough to have Speculation doubled over laughing if it wasn't for the people trying to kill him.

And they have absolutely no idea what they've gotten themselves into

* * *

BSS Ghost of Citadel En route — Decerto/Green Mansion

"Hazel Green to the bridge!"

Nightshade Dragon looked up at the sudden tannoy announcement almost as he felt the ship's engines suddenly start again. They were aborting the operation? Why?

"We'd better get to the bridge, madam."

The Dragon's eyebrows raised at NSD's obvious agitation, and the sudden flurry of activity outside indicated something was up. "Lead on..."

* * *

High Earth Orbit Funky Horror Command Deck

With the Director elsewhere, the Command Deck was actually full for once with a operations crew. And even fuller now the station was on yellow alert.

"JJ!" Tangent waved the Jackal over to the speculation displays up here."We're got images."

"Holy fanart..." The temporary station commander's eyes widened at the scene of carnage being relayed by Speculation. It looked like their estimates for SKID had been decidedly too conservative...what next, fraggin' air strikes? How much kit did Waldo & Steve have?

For a horrible moment the thought occurred to him that SKID might have some kind of diversion for the huge tide of darkness Fleet just know lurks around every corner, but if this was a big one he could think of better places to start it. He hated to admit it, but the jackal was fighting a somewhat bitter urge to be deliberately slow, or at least delay long enough to ensure some severe damage to the mansion. A little polite revenge for past transgressions.

On the other hand there was a somewhat larger issue at stake which Tangent could handily sum up as one word.


"Blue. "

Pseudo's eyes flickered and he stabbed keys until Spec fed her biomonitor to one of the displays.

"Worried, but doesn't look injured."

"Let's KEEP it that way..." JJ hissed quietly at the horrible crawl of the Board flotilla's icons across the globe. "Ortillery?"

"You ordered that satellite de-orbited."

Jordanis mouthed a Pentaran expletive involving Blue's grandmother. It had been deemed politically wise to have the SpecSat (with that lovely onboard ionised particle cannon, proven to slice, dice, AND peel all known forces of darkness)over Decerto moved, mostly because it had been in place to fire at the mansion, not the grounds. It might been embarrassing if the Greens had found that little toy hanging over them when Hayasaka got their array switched on.

Pseudonym's hand hovered over the station's intercom keys, where Tchernobyl would be in reach, and gave JJ a pained look.

"Nope." Tangent's eyed flashed. "Not this time. I don't quite think we could trust them to stay dead."

"But couldn't we at least take advantage of the breather?"

* * *

BSS Ghost of Citadel Bridge

"Ah, Hazel...we need you up here. We've got severe trouble." Fletcher moved to get out of his station at the sensor controls and allow the Dragon the seat, but Toxic waved him back in. The Dragon might be here as a guest but she wasn't a sensor technician. NSD, on the other hand, wangled himself a free chair in the gunnery section.

"What's going on...?"

"SKID's not here and hasn't been here for a while. Shen's swept the compound." Fletch missed the Dragon's wince as another precious piece of information she alone was supposed to hold suddenly became useless. SKID were obviously no longer under any semblance of her control. "We found them again ten minutes ago...ah...they're attacking your house..."

Hazel actually blinked. No, really. Shock was actually seen to cross her face.

"They wouldn't dare!"

"They have dared. ...ah, ah, ah, we're en route. Don't panic. Thaddeus seems to be holding."

Yes, well, Thaddeus wouldn't, would he? Too busy impressing her with his efficient response to any crisis!

"With what?"

"Small-arms, mostly. One or two TOW rockets, maybe. "

"We'll have to engage long before visual range." Toxic ignored the rapid attempt at a breifing, which is harder than it looks without POSTs and a firm grounding in Board lore, and concentrated on the flotilla videoconferencing. "Which means fighters and missiles."

"A flyswatting operation, so long as purple and ugly doesn't show up..." Mol sounded confident, but a little nervous to see the Board's plan for dealing with SKID go down the pan so rapidly.

Omega stared "past" Toxic to the figures visible in the background of his pickup. "Tell that to the Greens..."

"Stay with the plan, guys, just move the area...." CG's usual voice sounded bizarrely distorted over the airwaves, but still discernible."Toxic, how's it going?"

"TomS, we all set for rapid launch?"

"Yeah, anytime."


"Get Kay to magazine for any last-minute checks. Omega, tell Shen...if purps turns up don't wait for us to notice."

The Dragon eyed her avengers warily. She'd have rather found a better way to test their opinions of her, but this would do. "You are actually going to intervene, yes?"

"You believe it."

* * *

BSS Ghost of Citadel Hangar Munitions Bay

Turn that key there, flip the top up, check the lights were green, punch the air and scream with delight...


Kay had always wanted to say that, and stifled a thoroughly inappropriate giggle as the autoloaders swung into action, re-arming Ghost's embarked fighters with a turnaround time in seconds. And aboard the other capitals even bigger versions would be being loaded into torpedo tubes. Oh, it was good to be a Boardie sometimes...

* * *

The Dragon watched the garbled sensor reports with the same detached rage she'd felt on first seeing the Funky Horror. She couldn't complain about the speed of response, but the sheer effrontery of SKID to attack her openly...well, they had to die, obviously, and preferably in a way that meant the Board couldn't do autopsies.

Any minute now, the Board would rain hot death...except they wouldn't be doing the raining, since they were so very secretive, and word would go out that the Dragon had done all this herself. Writing a cheque she couldn't cash? Maybe, but the Board would always be there to be called in if someone called her out on it.

There was the matter of the damage to her property, of course, but she'd come to the rather bleak little conclusion that either Louie had taken up arms against her totally, or SKID had gotten rid of his influence somehow. It didn't bode well for her child, but there was little she could do from here right now. After the battle there would be time for speculation, and hopefully if Louie was still active he'd have run a mile rather than be present for a suicide run like this.

She smiled as the deck faintly vibrated and one of the meaningless displays shifted from the red hieroglyphics of battle stations to telemetry charts. Fighter launches. Hot death time.

I hope you're watching, Blue. Watch and learn just what your mother can do.

* * *

Waldo watched from his circling, "untouchable" (or so he told himself) steel cockpit bubble at the mayhem below. Part of him wanted to leap out and join in, but he was rational enough to know he could do a lot more from up here. He was out of rockets but since when did that matter? The helo still had a nose cannon and was merrily dishing out suppressive fire.

About a hundred kilometres due west, still over the horizon but approaching in a way that would backlight them spectacularly against the evening sun, four capital-ships worth of torpedo and missile tubes went to rapid fire, fighter wings screaming in behind them. They covered said hundred KM in seconds, and Waldo actually cried aloud at the first airbursts.

Then he grinned. Airbursts weren't hits, and a helicopter's nap-of-earth capacity meant whoever was potshotting him would find all kinds of things in the way....

A missile erupted ten meters away and made Waldo flinch — that was close enough to kill the chopper if it had been explosive, but it wasn't. A brown dot suddenly formed on the canopy. Then another. And another. And then it seemed to start to rain as missles began to burst like flowers above the mansion...

Coffee? They were firing coffee?

* * *

Coyotegirl gave it ten minutes before she thought enough of the cultists/thugs/paramilitaries/general nuisances, what she called them, would have soaked up enough of the sour brown liquid for the side-effect to kick in. Sure, Rath might have done this with those psychic inducers of his, but they took too long to set up. Telling herself this meant she didn't give in to the impulse to break his neck and admit the coffee plan had been both a minor demonstration that death and destruction wasn't necessary for Board operations, and a way of showing Rath he wasn't indispensable.

Aboard Ghost Fletcher fired up the tactical radar that had started a large chunk of this mess and grinned at the Boardieborg making last-minute modifications. After the 'borg nodded assent he tossed Kay the microphone.

Kay cleared her throat and spoke with a reverberating voice that would have made even Mari Herself nod approvingly, as the flotilla's collective fire-control arrays pulsed "loud" enough to vibrate metal and make radio receivers melt. SKID and Green henchmen alike staggered to the ground clutching their ears in pain.


The Board Mind Trick has nothing on Kay.

* * *

CG snickered to herself as several hundred hard-bitten mercenary types just up and walked away. Watch and be amazed, Madame Green, for the Goddess has deemed you Interesting enough to be worthy of our attention...but that's more than just the gunnery. Maybe if she got Kay to tell them to all take up flower arranging or something...

"Now grab that helo...and remember Loweko wants prisoners for crazyfurries, people. Talix, I'm talking to you."

* * *

Steve stared in utter abject...not horror. He was incapable of horror any more. Rage was a good word. His screams to his deserting "troops" to stand and fight were having no effect whatsoever in the face of their mass desire to be elsewhere, and even opening up with the helicopter's door gun wasn't working. That witch had pulled something on him, he was sure of it...

Then the world filled with the blinding glare of a searchlight, and Thaddeus's voice echoed over the noise of the rotor blades as he spoke into a megaphone.

"Attention SKID helicopter!"

"Get him, Steve...we've still got the guns."

"Shaddup, Waldo..." Paramilitary leader or not, Steve still knew when to probably admit defeat. It was a word the Dragon had left in his vocabulary. His best bet would be to take the chopper and run, sell it to the highest bidder.

"He's just standing there!"

"And we're just hovering here, moron."

"We have anti-air weapons, and rest assured we know where to hit our own helicopters...." The rest of the mansion's surviving searchlights slewed around to bullseye the craft in the evening light. Thaddeus hem-hemmed and clicked the microphone on again for one smart remark too many...

"Might I suggest surrendering?"

From the co-pilot's seat Waldo screamed in fanatical rage and quietly proved just how damn good that Reprogramming job had been. The nose cannon whined, and Thaddeus went down in a hail of bullets.

Steve had a second to realise what the idiot had done before Minerva's cannons came on-line, and he bodily shoved his moron of a former partner out of the way to get at the pitch yoke. A helicopter isn't an aeroplane, where the controls get you an instant response and rapid vector change, and jerking the stick just made it wobble in mid-air and slew wildly.

It slewed enough to ensure the hail of cannon-fire from a P-47 merely ripped their tail rotor off, sending the burning craft into a flat spin that would have been terminal anyway, but the Dragon had the sadistically comforting knowledge that they'd seen the beam that speared through the fuselage coming.

* * *

BSS Ghost of Citadel


The Dragon fought off NSD efforts to tackle her aside and cooly met TomS's levelled POST with what might just have been tears in her eyes, but nodded and glided aside with what remained of her poise. Didn't matter. Board consoles used automated fire programs to slave together combined firing sequences, since most Boardies couldn't outthink a targeting computer, but there had still been a big, obvious "execute" button.

"So much for prisoners..."

Toxic favoured the Dragon with an enraged glance but his Boardiehood was telling him he couldn't really fault her for that. Well, okay he could fault her a hell of a lot, but he wasn't likely to. The Board might not have been on the best of terms with Thaddeus, but none of them had really wanted to see him get hit like that. That chaingun would have gone through him like a buzzsaw, and...well, only the Director was in a position to comment on what happened after that.

* * *

CG put her face in her paws aboard the Minerva. Damn, damn, damn....

"Is it me, or did she just do what I've been trying to do for three years?"

"Shaddup, Talix, I'm concentrating..."

Talix watched the expanding cloud of gas and wreckage with a mixture of satisfaction and minor sorrow that he hadn't been the one to pull the trigger. No way, no freakin' WAY could they have gotten out of that. A shame about the death toll, but people died in wars...and better the Dragon found that out from the Board than a certain snake.

"Send Joe my regards, cretins, and I hope he gives you longer than three minutes."

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