Would it be too evil to reveal the ending to this PFF was set up three fics in advance? I'd love (for reasons that will become apparent when you read it) to claim my influence stretches even further than that, but there was no way I could have seen a certain [At this point I'll remove the spoiler, but if you got back and read this paragraph after the finale you may kick yourself] coming. Given Mari's tendency to pre-empt a few of my twists in past PFFs anyway, I suppose we can just add this one to the list. Actually I got the idea from Josh's fanart, but I thank DC for reminding me about the swords. Now there's a prop the Boardieverse hasn't seen for a while...
To Waldo and Steve. Of all the villains we ever faced, you were the most... annoying. - FlyingFish
The only thing better than a good friend is a good enemy — Trad.
ComicSide, Unnamed Hospital Burns Unit
Shen, Patryn and a team from the MDL skidded to a halt in the ward entrance, hyperrifles at the ready. Crude weapons by Board standards (and even using a weapon is considered crude by many Boardies), but they worked.
"In Margaret's name....!"
"Holy trout on a stick, Ahayweh!" Shenalia sounded rather proud that she'd hooked him such a class-one demonspawn. "...get away from that thing!"
"I can't!" Ahayweh's pained voice echoed down the hallway. "He's not...Ted, please...it's me..."
But Ted seemed to be running more on adrenaline than sanity, and Ahaweh clawed at his grip and the weird flame effect that seemed to support his battered body as he staggered upright. It wasn't purple from here, it was a kind of distorted transparent flicker with a faint tinge of light blue.
"We've gotta get him off her!" Jappus's POST roared with everything he could think of in the way of nets, stun charges, and eventually energy bolts as everything was just absorbed by this...arch-monstrosity.
"Ahayweh, twist aside and we'll try 50,000 rounds!" Patryn half-turned to someone behind him. "Spam, open fire!"
"Not in here! You'll go through the...!"
* * *
There is an old Boardie joke stretching back to the days of Volante Himself. It goes like this: What time will Mari be updating the Boards, and will there be speculation?
The modern variant asks "will there be cheese?", but that's just the Board being quirky.
Time: Ψ Location: Ω
The Board's operational mandate doesn't extend here. The Board aren't entirely sure who/if they report to someone higher up the proverbial chain of being, and most of them don't ask. The "stop the bad guy because he's, well, nasty" line tends to be enough of a rationalisation for their good deeds, and their patroness "obviously" approves because otherwise she wouldn't keep okaying the budgets. Most Boardies have plenty of reason to do what they do even without divine intervention.
Probably a good thing, thought Mari. Even though some of her oldbies were pretty unworldly after hanging around Her for so long, at this level it was less about Her conventional assets and more about intentions. Her minions got crazy results sometimes, but they tried. Every time Her nemesis ever got His act together Her reasons for creating them were generally vindicated, and His incessant interference in Her Plan for the the comic was intolerable as it was.
Eeeh, whatever. What's done is done, and if She had a mandate She hadn't told anyone about it. The telescope snapped open, She spent a second searching for something with it, and then snapped Her fingers...or the closest you got to fingers this far from all mortal ken.
NOW it's somewhere the Board mandate extends. Well, sort of.
6:08 am, March 14th, 2003 "Deck Zero" Location: UNKNOWN
"Really, you two..."
The shades of Waldo and Steve hung their transparent heads.
"...you messed that one up royally. Honestly!"
Mari regarded Waldo and Steve as a downright pain sometimes. You create something that sells it soul at the first opportunity, fine. Not unfixable, and getting them back "on deck" would be a serious one in the eye for her rival. Having Her minions after you practically constituted penance in itself.
But they'd gotten themselves killed in the process! Too early!
"Now what the heck do I do with you? I'm open to suggestions..." And make it quick, because there's only SO long I can do this before Questions start being Asked, and I can only call on the Board for righteous causes in these situations and you two flushed THAT one down the drain...
"uh..." Steve...or what was left of him...faltered in the face of his last chance. Well, knew he'd been for It ever since he'd carved his first rune, but the point about a career in Evil is that you don't expect it to end. Even in the face of a Dark Lord specifically telling him he was pathetic, he'd still held out for the infinite power just around the corner.
A very, very old trick, that one. Someone the Devil was probably laughing expectantly.
"...can we, y'know, stick a few more years on the penance?"
"I can't, guys. I've got my own/i] divine law here..." Which meant writing them off. And She [i]hated doing that.
"Ahm...there was, y'know, mind control and all that. We're weren't...responsible for our actions, yeah!"
"Nice try, Waldo..." Mari ran one hand over her face wearily. You could still get tired, even as a Goddess. "I made sure her blocks were faulty in that area. Steve, you ALMOST managed to shrug it off...It was supposed to be an exercise in building sympathy..." Mari sighed. It had taken her long enough to wean half the Board off trying to gun down Blue every time they met her, and her mother was the kind of thoroughly nasty woman the Board generally combated. Usually while Mari applauded and offered popcorn to her fellow deities.
Now they'd managed to completely get everything the wrong way round, and while redeeming Hazel Green had lots of merit — more than enough for her to not squelch the idea, and just waving her pen and fixing everything ruined the whole point of free will...but the price!
Steve's "face" was a contorted mixture of fear and embarassment. "Is there anything we can do?"
Mari sighed. Still, at least She'd found a way of ensuring it wasn't a total loss, and one of the perks of being a Goddess is getting to cheat a little on moral laws, since the principle generally is that if you've acquired the interest of a diety you're probably moral enough to warrant the bending. She snapped her fingers again and the fabric of reality...Her reality...neatly opened into whatever her personal equivalent of hyperspace was.
"Talk to him about it..."
Flame flickered around the emerging shape, and it didn't look good for our anti-heroes...
* * *
High Earth Orbit Funky Horror Command Dome
Ah yes, the mighty Board command. At last.
The Dragon smiled to herself as the hum of machinery and occasional tone of status readouts spoke to her in the language of power.
"h'mi. Te' command deck's off-limits, I'm afraid — sometin' came oop downstairs and CG's co-ordiantin. Ye can take the lift from te' Operations Centre."
Of course, the language of power was being used all around her, in the carefully deferential greetings the Boardies up here gave one another...and her, she'd noticed. Her grin made a panel beep.
"A delay?" Or a calculated reminder by this insidious leader that she sets the timetable?
"Not for the person you're visiting." himi paused, thoughtfully. One does not knock on the Goddess's door, after all...particularly if she's the one that made the appointment, but presumably the Funky Horror had some way of lettiing her know about audiences.
The Dragon also paused for a second. Her forays into Board life (and most importantly, her theft of as many of their files as she'd been able to get her hands on) had told her the Board had incredible reverence for their leader. On the other hand, it had seemed strange that she'd never sighted this person given the Board's love of leading from the front. She wondered if she was just going to meet a puppet — or worse, a senile husk unable to control her agents but deferred to in name only.
Really, it's entertaining to see her get it so totally and utterly wrong.
"What do I need to know in the way of protocol?"
"You asked that last time and the answer hasn't changed..." himi was somewhere between slightly unnverved and struggling to keep a straight face. "Oh, you'll find she's quirky but...ah, very well-informed."
Then the lift doors slid open, and himi courteously motioned for Hazel to enter. She nodded and glided in. The doors sealed with their usual hiss, and the faint hum of lift motors sounded for a second.
Good luck up there, whatever you find...
* * *
ComicSide, Unnamed Hospital
Spamotron's rotary cannons weren't built for subtlety, and Boardies winced and dove for cover as the little robot let rip with a hail of the Board's attempt at duplicating Wingnut's soulfire ammunition.
He did more damage with kinetic impact than any actual mysticism, the volley ripping into Ted's energy-bloated form and tearing chunks out of it, each "wound" rapidly filling with energy. The thing that had been Ted earlier returned "fire" with a jet of something that slammed into Spam's armour and whittled away at it, both combatants blasting away at each other and the ward until they mutually disengaged with a crackle of energy.
Patryn took a deep breath as his people aimed their rifles. If there was ever a sign Mari watched over her Boardies, it was the way Ahayweh had managed to stay intact during...oh, he'd bubbled her. Those bubbles had taken direct hits from SAMs and Hayaska's railgun...
"Put the Boardie down, abomination." The closest the Board got to a full-blown demonslayer quietly unsheathed his sword. "And unhand that young man. I won't stand for possession, and you won't be the first banishment we've done."
"Ted, please! We can help, we've got treatments and people who know how to deal with this stuff...Please, Ted!" Ahayweh screamed in the hope of stunning him with sheer volume. "He'll cut you in half, Ted!"
Shen screamed a battlecry and threw his cloak back as he leapt, the ancient diresword picking and prying at Ted's weakened "shield" until it eventually cut through, ripping the bubble open like a Patryn raised his arm in the classic "attack" signal in preparation to pump pure gravitic hell into Ted...
...and Jappus got a shot in with his stunner.
* * *
High Earth Orbit, The Funky Horror Speculation Alpha
Flax's minor rage battled his shock as he watched the crowds assembling in the largest Spec thread, all eager to hear this..cock-a-mamie theory.
"I don't believe this..."
"Oh, believe it." Godboy's eyes were spending more and more time at the top of their sockets, indicating that the mind behind them was thinking more and more expletives. "This is his third crowd."
"I don't fricckin' believe this..."
"Ladies and gentlemen..." At the centre of the thread, backlit by huge projections of Baord files on Waldo and Steve, Tangent stepped onto the platform and tapped his POST so it functioned as an ersatz microphone. "...it is imperative my theory makes it to High Command, so listen and listen well...." He tapped a button and cued in battle footage. "I have examined their actions and past footage, and come to the overwhelming conclusion..." He paused for emphasis. "They were not Waldo and Steve."
From his vantage point, Flax actually deflated physically, exhaling an angry breath.
"Think about it! " Tangent proudly tapped a button to delete the "Neutralised" overlays filling the screen above him."No way could those idiots scrape together an army or hack our databanks, even with help from Dark Powers! No way could they do all that!"
There were murmurs as the crowd took this in.
"They're a pair of idiot cultists! No possible way these two could be capable of taking on the Dragon, let alone us! No, no, these were impostors! They're still out there, somewhere."
Reathern cried "Brilliant, Tang!" from the floor, and the thread thundered with applause.
Behind them, Flax sighed and walked out, the better to find a nice bulkhead and bang his head against it. It would sink in eventually, he told himself. Sooner or later even the most oblivious Boardies would get the freakin' hint that yes, they'd actually offed those two, may they rest....wherever.
* * *
Location: Somewhere between Here and the ultimate Fate awaiting Sinners
Yes, we're in mandate territory here. Something's up.
Steve took in a deep breath...pointless, but reassuring...and figured he may as well take it like a man. It would probably get boring after the first million years. There was a tunnel, black and faintly warm but comfortably so. Bad sign, but the bad sign was overruled by the good sign humming to himself in the middle of it.
"...all on that day...Hi guys."
Oh wrath of ye Gods, he had wings.
"What?" said the last person you'd expect to turn up for Waldo and Steve. You got a lot of stares in this job.
"Shuddap, Waldo!" Steve clipped his errant roommate about the ears. If Dave was willing to forgive them long enough to bail them out of the Abyss, he'd rather not remind him of past insults. Then he remembered he'd just committed an act of violence and apologised profusely. Maybe...maybe it would turn out all right after all.
"I...we...didn't know you were THAT high..."
Dave chortled and waved the duo onwards. Oddly enough, there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
"Explains why everyone wanted his soul..."
"Shut up about that!"
"Eeeheeheheh. Sorry guys." The pair's eyes widened as it became apparent the end of the tunnel was on fire. "Not THAT Dave..."
"He works for me, actually."
* * *
Funky Horror Medical Wing
Ted slowly swum back into consciousness in an unfamiliar bed. The pain was gone, and so, apparently, was the numbness. He could still feel the restless energy in him but it seemed calmer, and less likely to tear it's way out through his skin. There was some kind of drip hooked up to one of his arms.
And then he screamed as a dark, robed figure leaned over him, looking like the very icon of Death himself
"Hello. I'm Tchernobyl."
"Heheh. Whoo...? Where's Ahayweh?"
"She'll be along."
"I saved your life, pretty much." Tcher spun his scythe and bent it in odd ways until it formed a makeshift chair. "You caught a backfire on one of my projects. It was etching at your cellular structure. Another...week, let's say, and you'd have gone into that flame effect and never come out."
"Flame...?" Oh yeah, I wondered where the superpowers had come from. This guy, obviously.
"A very snazzy, very brief precursor to your body reverting to primordial goo. You got lucky — merely caught enough to ramp you up temporarily."
"Aaaand...what now?" Ahayweh's trustworthy, she's not likely to set me up...I will stop panicking...
"Oh, I don't know. I'm hoping I can look you over now that I know the BIP can be used like that. It was in the plans but not tested, for, ah, obvious...."
Ted became aware that there were other people in the room, one of whom had just spoken. His eyesight was still a little off, but his "doctor" seemed to be talking to someone. Looked vaguely...no, had to be a hallucination. Nothing looked like that. He was still unsteady, obviously.
"What? Don't panic....I'm not going to start BIPing people left, right, and centre..." Tcher smiled under his cowl. "...but it's nice to know the principle behind it's original purpose works..."
crazyfurries sniffed. As far as she was concerned, Ted was going for a checkover in her labs and that was it, BIP be damned.
* * *
12:08pm, March 15th, 2003 ComicSide
There was a squad of Green family henchmen waiting outside the lecture hall.
"Adios!" screamed Mike as he shoved his roomies forward to give him space to dive over the topiary marking out the landscaped grounds of the maths department. Duck past the shrubbery, skulk down the line of parked cars, back into the block through one window, scuttle through the building to room A8.16, swing out using tentacle to hop over the over side of the thick hedge, putting a good 300 meters between himself and those boys, and calm down. A plane ticket to Abu Dhabi could be arranged within the hour.
"Nice try, Michael, but I can see where you're going."
Oh crap. HidehideHidethetentacle! Thank God he'd worn a long-sleeved coat in the spring weather, and a glove could just about hide his "assset" if he didn't try to move it.
Those weren't family guards...their guns were too big, for a start. They looked like Dave's groupies. Oh boy. Maybe a year of meddling with the kid's mind was about to come home to roost if they'd told on him.And what had his mom done to her eyes?! They...flared like the pyro charges at a rave!
The Dragon smiled at her son's obvious shock. She and Maritza had had much to discuss...
"I was talking to some people and offered me a makeover..."
Maybe, thought Mike, if he scrabbled his shoulderblades against the wall for long enough, he could tunnel through it and run away?
"...I'm just stopping by to get Louie out of his closet...really, Michael, this isn't Harry Potter..."
Mike was too unnerved to answer. Just nod, maybe she'll go away.
"Oh, I'm not handing out punishments....yet....but I'll just remind you that I know where you are..and expect you home for Easter."
Mike gulped as she glided away, NSD and a pair of shock troopers behind her in perfect step.
* * *
Epilogue: Who was that talking, again?
A terrified Waldo and Steve threw themselves at the feet of the shadow before them, wailing in despair.
"Have we not always been faithful servants, Lord?"
"We...did...help with the plan to bring about Hell on Earth...Can...that...count for something? Please?"
"Not really, because... Iiiiii hate doing that voice..."
Come to think of it, the Lord of All Evil isn't known for his heeled boots.
"Hello dahlings." said the Board's only viable alternative to an eternity of torment on short notice, lounging amongst her harem. "Dooo come in..."
Nemo Facility, Operations Centre Base Commander's Office
Stardrake proudly gave the Board salute (there is no Board salute...it's really more for the hell of it) as his report landed on Silver's desk. "I can confirm, Mage-Sir, that I and my team have completed a comprehensive check of every oxygen scrubber and atmospheric recycling unit in this base, and not one has been tampered with."
Kum-El and JeffL nodded enthusiastically at this. Thanks to their tireless efforts, Nemo was safe!
Silver flipped over the first few pages of the...yes, he'd actually done a printed report with schematics. A bubbling laugh from AOANLA's habitat comm indicated with the brittle-star thought of this.
"Are you sure, drake?"
"Every scrubber dismounted, opened, and checked by Jeff, Kum, and myself..."
Silver sighed at the team in front of him. They looked so proud.
"Well, I think I'll have Fish run atmosphere checks, 'cos this looks like something someone does when they're suffering from anoxia!!!"