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Part Three: Slippery Little Devils Back in the Connecticut Railyards:

The night-vision goggles swept back and forth until they alighted on a figure...again. Hayasaka had been noticing this guy a lot around the place...he wore some kind of feature-hugging robe that was down in the archives as classic SKID high-up outfit. It also covered his..or maybe her, it was hard to tell, although the walk looked male...features enough to preclude getting a decent snapshot. Which was worrying.

"Can you see under the hood, Arch?"

"No...but I bet we can guess who's in there."

Hayasaka's tone went grim and her grip on her sword tightened. "Yeah. I'll bet we can."

Guess wrong, in fact. Boardies do tend to see Satan everywhere these days. It's a cross between paranoia and the endless hope that tomorrow will bring the final showdown.

"All right, I'll call it in..." Archer flipped open his POST. "Scout team to Funky Horror..."

* * *

Funky Horror Conference Room. High Command meeting in Progess

"She expects someone like herself. A powerful self-made autocrat who reaches out and bends the world to her whim. We've got one, we just sure as updates ain't letting that phirana of a woman anywhere near her."

"So? Don't I qualify?" The Director pouted from her "throne", in reality a chair with the back cut out to allow clearance.

Starlock smiled from his seat. "It's the tentacles, CG. They freak people out."

The cross between a coyote and something Lovecraft might have thought up if he'd been a Furry switched her tone to a decidedly caustic one. "If the Dragon's serious about her career shift she'll have to manage! Next time, I get to do the talking."

Coyotegirl was in her second week of Directorship and loving it. Under her guiding paw the Board had shifted towards a kind of exploratory weirdness as they pushed the envelope on all their myriad abilities. She was already acquiring a reputation as a patron of the arts and sciences, judiciously working on restoring the old art galleries lost during The Adversary and dividing her time between prowling the Command Deck and watching the newbies build Nemo with a sense of maternal pride. Oh, and she'd swapped the usual headset for a lopsided half-headdress. It had feathers.

Speaking of Nemo, Mari wanted a chat about that. Better give the meeting a nudge, since so far it had polarized into a two-way argument with Dagda and Starlock lobbying FOR the Dragon's acceptance as a full-scale operative, and Jordanis, Loweko and Shenalia practically screaming their heads off in horror at the thought.

"Too dangerous, CG...." Loweko's words had quiet force to them. "We cannot afford to even risk losing a Director to the Green cartels."

"Aww, stop being so paranoid..." CG flexed her tentacles and made the room's lighting levels dip by way of demonstration that she could look after herself, thank you very much. "She wants to meet me, fine. I'm Director, I get to meet whoever I please."

"Yes! And when we created the office of Director we didn't expect Baphomet, Mother of Traitors down there to make an appointment!" Shen still didn't sound convinced. In fact he sounded decidedly unhappy about the entire prospect."Guys, it's like going fishing with a killer whale. She might have the same ideas but as soon as she's hungry...or we get in her way...she'll turn on us."

"Less o'te'hyperbole, please..." Dagda waved a hand irritably. "Star, remind 'tese sceptics ov an indea o' what she can bring aside from her dele'table self."

"Well..her devious mind and spy network, of course. Plus her own private mercenary cadre. We get to tone down our speculation on her, too."

"Star..." Loweko paused. "Aside from her tactical strength, what's her current fiscal assets? What's she got aside from the commandoes?"

"Eeeh...well, from memory..." Starlock glanced down and appeared to draw odd symbols in the air (actually he was just manipulating the cursor on the reference screen built into the table for moments like this). "Here we are. That we can trace...good ballpark figure might be two or three hundred million dollars, euros, whatever. That's liquid assets, anyway." He shrugged. "Add her considerable material assets, trusts, industrial enterprises..."

"The interesting stuff, in other words." Jordanis looked thoughtful.

"...we're looking at somewhere bobbing at the billion mark."

"Yes. Only a billion." Jordanis interruped in calm tones that set heads nodding as light dawned. "We've got people like himi and Rigger on hand if we need a little banking skulduggery, and lots of leverage on the stock exchange...after Enron, that kind of wealth is just as vulnerable as money under the bed. She's not..."


CG wore the headdress, CG got to answer the comms... "Conference One. Mmmr?"

"Command, this is Flax down in Spec'd better see this..."

CG quirked her head and Hayasaka's preliminary feeds scrolled across the monitors, each stream custom-fed in accordance with each Boardie's spheres of influence. "Trouble!"

"Begorra!" Dagda and Jordanis were on their feet before the feeds had finished scrolling. This was their area, after all. From his seat Loweko tapped an intercom button.

"Get me Orbital Operations...and Tchernobyl."

* * *

***System Alert!***

In her Chinese sanctum, the Dragon smiled from a recliner chair as she heard the familiar warble of a Board communications system from her laptop. One of her flunkies immediately raced to present it to her.

"And I wonder what that might be..."

She unfolded the device's screen and widened her smile when she saw her usual stylised logo replaced with a spinning globe-and-target insignia of unmistakably Board origin.

Let's see how the Board react to a large-scale threat, shall we?

After a second of uplinking the globe suddenly covered with what looked like satellite orbits. A number of said orbits were obviously highlighted, and seemed to be shifting position somewhere over North America.

CallID: GpB Archer, POST #883941 Prefix Code Verified. Fire Support/Weapons Discharge Request Condition Red — Priority High Requesting Approval...

My, we're an efficient conspiracy... As she watched, a trio of icons began flashing solid blue, lines forming between them and their fellows...and down to the United States. A swift check of her watch, mentally adjusting for timezones, and a decidedly unpleasant tone settled onto that Green family smile.

"Winters, grab the phone and call Connecticut. Tell"

"At once, ma'm."

Strike Approved TIME TO MISSION EXECUTE: 00:13:19

The Dragon tisked as her reflexive attempt to trace wherever the satellites were getting their orders from gave her a response somewhere in the address of one of HER old bases.

"Quickly, Winters...I'd hate to lose them."

* * *

"Twelve minutes!" hissed Archer to Joshua and Spamotron as he slid into their hiding spot between a pair of rusting boxcars that probably hadn't seen use since a certain gas explosion. "Grab your gear and head for the ship!"

Joshua's expression twisted. "We're not gonna...?"

"Oh, we're gonna, but not in person. Too many."

"Conjecture. Rejected. Archer unit, our tactical superiority is sufficient." Spamotron's voice sounded like a chorus of zombies speaking through an echo tube, and to make it's point the robot extended a pair of multibarrelled rotary cannons from it's midsection.

"Spam, there's over a hundred of them and High Command's prepping the satellite bounce now. We. Are. Leaving."

Instructions. Accepted. Proceeding...

* * *

Not less than a hundred meters away, in a hollowed-out gap amidst the rusty metal and bonfires, a cellphone went off.

The atmosphere here is different from the windswept miasma of decay surrounding it — for a start, the leaping pyres add heat hazes that ripple in the shadows. In fact the Board have missed the "ceremonies" for the night, but they're correct in that very few of these people have ever touched a computer. The grouping is more one of anarchists and dissidents, the people in any society who are convinced of their oppression and express it in near-criminal "non-conformity". Not one of them knows what SKID stands for — they were mostly here for the beer and guns.

Aside from the one in the robes Hayasaka was watching earlier, who seemed to jerk spasmodically like a puppet as he listened to a strange series of electronic tones being played over the phone line. It seemed all he could do to keep his grip on the phone.

"I...I try to is..." He winced again at another series of tones played, and his hand began to shake. "I...I understand."

Then the robed figure mechanically folded it's cellphone back up, secreted it somewhere in the folds of the tattered garment, and ran like hell.

* * *

"Six minutes, Joshua!" yelled Hayasaka from the ramp leading into what looked like nowhere but was in fact a heavily stealthed Board shuttle. "Time to leave!" She didn't really need to yell, as the rest of her group were pounding towards the ramp and anxiously casting glances at the sky above.

WARNING! Kosei Unit, Vehicular Activity!"

"Wha...?!" Hayasaka looked up at the sound of screeching tyres to catch a glimpse of one of the generic SUVs/utility vehicles scattered around the urban wasteland. One of the blasted open-topped vans was performing a classic bootlegger reverse out of it's parking "spot". "Somebody KILL THAT TRUCK!"

"I got 'im, I got 'im!" Joshua's voice rose to ear-splitting levels as he kicked aside a rusted stack of abandoned rails and steadied his rocket launcher on one arm to pick off the fleeing vehicle.

It is at times like this that the Board, particularly it's younger members, prove to be less professional than they would wish. Joshua half-knelt to try to get some semblance of a steady shot at the fleeing car's rear window...and froze.

The entire Board, full stop, has met Roger. He gives seminars sometimes. Most of them have met Dave, because he has a knack for wandering onto the firing line, and the same goes for April. After that, Margaret is known to a few, Mike is known to even fewer (DOOM, alas, having long passed into lurkerdom), and you'd be hard-pressed to find a Boardie who's even been in earshot of Marsha. Such are the quirks of the Board.

On the other hand, every Boardie knows of Waldo and Steve, as the pair whose incessant meddling attracted Satan's attention and kicked off the whole shebang. Boardies who've actually run into them always class them as utter morons who only qualify as Pawns Of Darkness because they're small and ivory-looking...but you have to have met them first to know this!

Joshua pulled the trigger while still in utter abject shock at what he was seeing through the scope. His rocket went wild, corkscrewing crazily into into a decrepit telephone pole on the roadside with an ugly whumph! sound, and with a creak it sheared and collapsed into the decaying tarmac, sending up a cloud of dust through which his target's tail lights could be seen as they raced into the distance.

Behind him, the abandoned yards and their occupants dissolved in a halo of blue fire from on high, the better to be made anew.

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