All's Fair, Part Twenty: A Taste of Things to Come

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(April 17th)

“Wellp, that about covers that.” Wiping off her hands, Lucy practically skipped into the room, looking around. “Operation 'Everybody Loses' was a roaring success.” She looked around the table of the Inner Circle, strolling to her seat. “Hey, Shivarax! How's my favorite Akagari?” Despite the bantering tone, there was a slight tremble in her voice.

Hulking uncomfortably in his seat, Shivarax nodded to his companion genially. Through long experience, he kept his smile closed – while his thin grey lips could mimic them well enough, rows of serrated black teeth tended to discomfort humans. The alien was leaning forwards, rear legs splayed in the chair while his larger forelegs sat forwards like a human, almost looking like he was sitting normally. His scales glittered purple in the light of the meeting room, and his smooth, earless head tilted in her direction as he spoke. “My mission to the Homeland was a rousing success. Long have the Akagari eyed their Yocanu neighbours with suspicion, and the knowledge of the Sayleen conflict has drawn their attention.” He paused, before admitting ruefully. “They will not gather, of course. But raids and conflicts will expand tremendously in the coming seasons. The Yocanu will be unable to reinforce their brothers on Sayleen, and the Akagari will once again waste the bulk of their forces trying to destroy them.”

Lucy shook her head as she flopped into her chair, glancing around. “Cold, man. That's your folks you're talking about.”

Shivarax smiled again. “My people will not be taking part, child. They know better.”

“I meant your species… ah, forget it.” Lucy sighed heavily.

“Excellent work, both of you.” The front of the table was bathed in shadows, obscuring the shape and voice of Rex Mundi. “In a single blow, we have occupied the forces of three worlds in a wasteful conflict that will leave them unable to interact with our plans, and distracted the people of Earth.” Leaning back in his chair, he looked around the room. “With the Throx still weak from their last invasion of our space, and the others unlikely to interfere in what they see as internal affairs, we should be able to proceed without interference.”

“But really, Master Mundi. The Akagari?” Lord Mayhem spoke up suddenly from his seat, straightening. “I mean, no offense to Shivarax, but they've never been a threat as a group. Nothing's going to get them to unite as a species – why worry about them?”

“Don't underestimate them.” Lucy's voice was flat. Everyone glanced over at her, and she shrugged with exagerrated ease. “Just saying, I'm with the boss on this one. Wild cards are bad news.”

“I tend to agree.” Ada Byron studied her notepad. “I'm more concerned with the Ash issue.” When the others looked over at her, she frowned thoughtfully. “We could have a serious problem developing on Sayleen right now, entirely due to our own machinations.” She looked at the others. “And quite frankly, I think you're giving me too much credit, sir. The engineering you're talking about would be difficult enough under laboratory conditions. Acting on pre-thinking beings…” She trailed off unhappily.

You sell yourself short, Doctor Byron. And me.” Psiborg spoke up from his seat. “I have every confidence in the work you have completed already, especially given that Ecchs created that being using the patterns of your own zombification programming – an odd design flaw.

Ada smiled. “Spencer's a big fan of letting other people do work for him, and quite frankly he sucks at bioengineering.” She glanced around the table. “You should have seen the siamese fighting fish he tried to make. Granted, they took out half the lab, but…” She broke off, returning to the point at hand. “Besides, he had no reason to think I would be trying to hack his robots.” She sighed. “But we aren't dealing with his designs. Ash is fully capable of programming his own systems. He bypassed his restriction requiring him to obey Malefico orders. He removed the hard caps on creating additional node units. With that in mind, rewriting his core personality seems rather dangerous.” She looked around the table. “If he recognizes such a program before it is engaged, he could easily undo any changes made and counter-attack. If he fails to recognize such a program, a single mistake could leave us facing the greatest zombie threat to the world since the Black Winter, and we wouldn't be immune.”

“Already taken care of, Doctor.” Rex Mundi assured her blandly. “We can capture one of the tree's nodes shortly before deployment, and test the program for any flaws. I assure you, I am not interested in controlling a blighted wasteland.”

“Of course not, sir. But we are here to point out potential flaws in your plans, and this is one.” Ada shook her head. “There are just too many variables.”

Lucy snickered. “Don't fret the small stuff, Ada. That's what Hazard and I are around for. Speaking of which…” She glanced over to Psiborg expectantly. “Any luck on making our little family any bigger?”

The robot shook his head. “He is dangerously unstable, well above the safety parameters I was given. Worse, the SEA is already aware of his existence, and I expect that they will form a capture team to contain him – if he does not push the issue before they can. Under the circumstances, I did not feel that it was wise to push ahead with recruitment.

“That's unfortunate.” Rex Mundi shook his head. “It seems as though this aspect of our plan is the one causing the most difficulties.”

“They can't all be winners.” Lucy shrugged with a sigh, then reached over to punch Hazard in the shoulder. “Oh, well. Guess it's just you and me, bro.”

Hazard sighed ruefully. “That's too bad. If you got someone else to bother, maybe I'd get a day off.”

Lucy blinked. Then she grinned. “Hazard, that was very nearly a joke! I thought your sense of humour had been emo'd out of you! Good on you, man.” She stood slowly. “Rex, gimme a shot at convincing this guy. I'm a good touch with people, you know that.”

Rex Mundi looked over to Psiborg thoughtfully, and then to the table. “What do the rest of you think?”

“We are on a schedule, and we don't know what future candidates might look like. I suggest we risk it.” Lord Mayhem offered.

I deplore risk, and this seems a dangerous juncture. We only just got the SEA off our trail, we don't want them back so quickly.” Countered Psiborg.

“True, but… sometimes, you have to take the risk.” Ada frowned thoughtfully. “I say give it a try, but carefully.”

Hazard sighed heavily. “This means I have to go on a mission with her, doesn't it.” After a moment, he muttered something under his breath, then said, “We don't have much choice. I say we do it.”

“Very well.” Rex Mundi nodded. “Lucy, you have a chance. Be careful.”

“Don't worry, boss-man.” Lucy stood dramatically, putting one hand on her hip as she struck a pose. “I'll get you your new recruit, or my name isn't Lucy Ladd!”

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