Recommended Background Music, unless you're Godboy, who doesn't need to download it and should be blamed for giving me the idea. This fic sees a returning plot thread from the ancient IRC Fic...if you haven't read it, don't worry - I intend to explain all shortly. Suffice it to say they seem to have grown a bit...
Theodore Edward Downs, known to his friends as Ted, whose life until last week had been the epitome of generic, looked at his hands...his blurred, twitching hands that pulsed with a bluish light like a flickering flourescent tube...with a mixture of fear, horror, and adrenaline. What...the &^$...had he just done?
The usual dark minds behind the Boardieverse, with the minor addition of Mari and SabinXIII, although they didn't know it at the time...
Damn, this guy was heavier than he looked. Louie KNEW he should've brought the hit squad....but after that kid in Mexico had managed to thoroughly mess up the one fun pasttime his mother let him have...still, this guy was out of it, and going in the back with his friend...
The rear door on the blacked-out van thudded shut with a resounding and highly ominous thud.
...proudly present, in glorious 3D imagino-colour (unless it's the Funky Horror, of which we now have images)...
"GET THOSE SENSORS BACK ON LINE!" Toxic managed to set back the recovery effort by a good minute by stunning his bridge crew with sheer mental volume. "And get me HQ, we need speculation down here!" Or possibly a task force, whichever could arrive sooner. Goddess damn those two, what have they done THIS time?
...a tale of envy, insidiousness, and sandwiches...
"Drive...I said drive!"
The driver took the hint and gunned the engine into life as Louie expressed defiant teenage independence by not buckling up his seatbelt, a minor transgression that could earn him a good two hours with the Habit Hygiene Department if his mother found out. "...Mum'll kill me if someone sees us."
One Month Later...
March 10th, 2003 Hong Kong, People's Republic of China 20:52 local time
A small six-man shuttle of the kind ubiquitous everywhere on the Board lazily detached itself from the colossal white-and-grey hull, coloured faintly orange by the setting sun, of it's mothership and ignited it's engines, slowly turning almost on the spot to line it's nose up with the Green estate before half-gliding towards the marked helipad. The overall impression is that the pilot isn't really bothering.
The small craft is also white, aside from the usual insignia. In fact, the only thing marking it out from dozens of it's brethren is the fact that this shuttle just happens to bear a large 01 on each wing, and even that's not much of a claim to fame. It just happens to have been the first one off the production line when it's class was built. It's still "just" a shuttle, with the unglamorous job of ferrying people from a very large hovering A to B. Any tingles onlookers may feel will extend not from the shuttle itself but entirely from the full wing of "escorts" holding perfect formation around it.
We are not looking at the palatial elegance of the family estate in North America, for once - rather, the decidedly more glitzy "summer house" on the more decorative areas of the Hong Kong seafront. Some past Green magnate had bought it in the days when it was considered sporting by the British occupation to rip off the wogs as much as possible, and the current matriarch regarded it as perfectly sited to keep an eye on little things like her oil tanker terminal. A considerable amount of her hit squads were drawn from the infamously mean streets, and for that matter the growing Chinese economy offered plenty of opportunity for one of the Dragon's calibre to flex a few conspiratorial muscles - to say nothing of the practical concerns one can bypass in a country not known for the severity of it's employment law. Really, that kind of industrial base was going to attract attention sooner or later.
And judging by the size of the escort-cum-honour guard, she's attracted the attention of some people very high up indeed. It's probably a good thing the Green family collection of "diverted" Chinese early-warning systems wasn't up to seeing the full extent of the aforesaid guard, although enough low-level fighters were visible to make a point. When the Board wish to venture out into the world, they see no reason to hold anything back.
There was a time when the sight of such an effortless potlatch of power would have driven the Dragon's eyes green with envy. Now, of course, there was nothing but fellow-feeling.
"How...Return of the Jedi..." The Dragon's voice had a decidedly disdainful tone as she watched through a window. "There's no way they ever use even half of the capabilities their technology must give them. Or they'd be ruling the world by now."
"One observes, Madame, that they seem to think they already do."
Yes, of course Thaddeus is here. Should the world end and the sky fall Thaddeus will probably be on hand to dust the furniture afterwards. Actually, it's funny you mention that...
"And who am I to quibble, Thaddeus?" She twitched aside what might be a priceless oriental wall hanging if it weren't for the kevlar lacing, and watched proceedings on the monitors concealed behind it. "How long does it take them to land?"
"They do seem to be dragging their heels, Ma'm."
"Giving us time to realise just who they're sending, presumably." The Dragon wryly smiled. And about time, too. I dropped enough hints.
* * *
Meanwhile, in a dark night somewhere in Connecticut...
"My, my..." muttered Hayasaka Kosei to the wind-haunted rooftops of the kind of rundown industrial area you often see around the old railyards she was stalking through, her sword making an ominous *tzing!* sound as she unsheathed it "...aren't we a busy little cult?"
Despite the rhetoric, suppressing unholy cults isn't really in the Board's mandate. Boardies still do it, particularly if a cult shows dangerous signs of actually being successful in contacting the Netherworld or somesuch, but it's hardly glamourous work. Even so, a Boardie with nothing to do will often be encouraged to "check out" whatever Speculation has on file, to pre-empt any of those ugly soulless dark sorcerers or demonic rampages that the Board do have to intervene with, hence the presence of Kosei and company. However almost all the groups the Board find are mostly composed of a mixture of rebellious 13-year-olds and preppy goth wannabes - about as dangerous as a pickled herring.
This bunch, on the other hand - spilling into a derelict building that looked like it might have been a factory about 30 years ago - actually seemed organised. And they were lighter on the 13 year olds and heavier on the skinheads.
Level with Kosei, what might have been a very out-of-place gargoyle revealed itself to be Archer.
"Ssst! They've got a bonfire going behind that crane...Spam's heat sensors can't make out how many around it."
"Tell him to limber up and do whatever he does before the fun starts. We're gonna have to step on this bunch."
Archer nodded and ducked back down behind the rusting ventilators that dotted the roof, leaving Kosei to narrow her eyes while she loaded her railgun. Pure organisation wasn't what piqued Kosei's interest in the first place. Some cults have incredibly convoluted ranking systems, but this bunch seemed downright stratified. Not the usual crowd, either — looked more like someone had waltzed into the worst bars within three miles and grabbed the 100 people closest to the door. And just to make matters worse, one or two of them were clearly carrying firearms.
Yeeeah. There might actually be a fight here, thought Kosei.
Better get the team to check their....Heeeeellllllloooooo.....what DO we have here?
A glint of firelight on something metal on a toiling "cultist" below caught her eye and she snapped out a pair of night-vision goggles to focus on it. Well, well, well. Now there was a name she'd only ever read about in the archives...
"SKID...wonderful. Just wonderful. Joshua! Rocket launcher time!"
* * *
"The Director regrets she is unable to be here in person."
Hazel Green reached into the icy fury in her heart and found a smile somewhere, ever the casual hostess in her own entrance hall. They still sent her underlings! Any other organisation, she'd send this gormless idiot home in the oil she boiled him in!
"She does, however, hope to meet you at the inspection tour next week..."
Better. At least a promise.
"...in the meanwhile, I'm perfectly able to answer any questions you have."
But still hardly satisfactory! Even if this...whoever he was...was worth her time, he was still so reserved as to be worthless, and doubtlessly primed with all kinds of evasive responses.
"I look forward to meeting your leader at last, ah?"
"Aer will do, Ma'm."
"...but business before pleasure, as ever."
Aerilon smiled to himself at the reassuring weight of his "insurance" cattle prod. It had better stay that way. "As ever. I'm 90% here for the paperwork, Madam, so if we could just sign off on a few matters...?"
The Dragon reproachfully tisked at the breach of etiquette, the implication being that such matters are for technical consultants and underlings rather than two upstanding industrialists, but filed "long flight" for future reference. Her agents never had found the Board Headquarters...or, for that matter, it's reclusive command.
Despite a slight tendency to be loathe to attach anything to permanent as a signature, a brief scribble of ink accounted for thousands of metric tonnes...as ever, there is no mention of anything so crass as commerce — but then there never is and hasn't been in the several weeks through which these meetings have occurred at regular intervals. The Green industrial cartels lend their manufacturing weight, and their payment is in the processes they lend their weight in.
Mutual co-operation. The Dragon gets a decided increase in her organisation's technological level and a run-through the incredible intelligence network that is the Board's all-seeing speculation, and the Board get to borrow her industrial capacity, operating capital, and ability to make people think they know why she wants them to look the other way... for a massive new base to add to their ever-modernising network of depots and laboratories.
Yes. Laundreu will get his heaters installed in Nemo, no questions asked...