A Very Merry HBOmass - Part Two
Posted By: Jillybean<email@example.com>
Date: 17 December 2004, 12:02 AM
"Settle down there," Count Zero warned. "What do you mean 'taken over'?"
Goatrope stared at him. "I mean it turned into a giant pumpkin . . ." he drawled.
"Wait, was that sarcasm?" Gil-Galahad interjected.
"Get out the way," KP pushed past the crowd. "What happened Goatrope?"
"I don't know! We were just cleaning up then Lou came out and called a few of us into his office," Goatrope frowned. "Dodgy, yes, but not completely unheard of. Next thing we know, Blackstar comes screaming round the door frame, and this huge tentacle grabbed him and pulled him back."
"Ew!" The others looked disgusted.
"It was a plant's tentacle," Goatrope shivered. "This huge, cheap potted plant broke through the wall - and . . . HBO is completely under its control. It's eating people!"
Frantic spamming broke out in the crowd.
"What kind of people?" BOLL demanded. "Noobs?"
"Blackstar's a goner," Goatrope replied.
"Woo hoo! I mean, awwww," Warbow curbed his enthusiasm. "Guess I'll have to take his name off the strip then."
"Well, we've got to do something!" (GT)Juggler exclaimed.
"Do you have a suggestion?" Mnemesis snapped. He stood, pacing the stained floorboards. "We need to break in somehow . . ."
Finn pinched the bridge of his nose. "One does not simply walk into HBO," he grated. "There are . . . measures . . . far beyond your comprehension." He lifted his eyes to meet Mnemesis'.
"We need a plan," Mnemesis agreed.
Mig nodded, taking note of everyone they had there. "We need Frogblast."
"Out the way, out the way, coming through -" Ducain and Pico cleared the table of empty bottles as BOLL staggered in, lugging a large model.
"What's going on guys? Akba?" Frogblast was roughly manhandled into a chair by Jaxx.
Akba leaned over the table, trying to avoid BOLL's mammoth HBO model and yet still appear deadly serious. "We have a situation."
"See here," BOLL rapped the pointer over Akba's head. "Now, as you can see, HBO is a vast and complex structure, consisting of the main forum here," he indicated the vast hallway.
"That's been abandoned," Goatrope shuddered. "There's these little plant things patrolling it now."
"Ahem," BOLL tapped the baton off his hand, raising an eyebrow at the interruption.
"Sorry, BOLL, I was just giving some tactical information."
"As I was saying," BOLL continued archly. "The archives are off in this extension, they're heavily secured as it is, but there is one weakness."
"The door?" Mirel asked, looking blank.
"The skylight," Frogblast had a glint in his eye. "That extension runs the height of HBO, an airstrike!"
"Exactly," BOLL smiled at his student. "Now, there are air ducts that lead from here into the fan works section. I think your best bet would be to cut through fan fiction -"
"Why?" Frogblast glanced up. "I mean - it's chaos there."
"I see your thinking, BOLL," Finn nodded. "If you go through fan fic there's no way that Gravemind thing will be able to track you."
"I thought we were calling it Audrey . . ."
"Anyway," BOLL spun the model around, opening it up. "Once through fanfiction there's a long stretch of hallway to Lou's office, where we can shut down HBO's defences and launch an attack on Gravemind."
"What do you think?" Count Zero turned to Frogblast. "Can you do it?"
"I'll try," Frogblast promised. "We need a distraction coming in the front door though, so the strike team can slip in unnoticed."
"You're not seriously considering this - 'air strike', are you?" Wado asked.
"We're going to fly, high altitude, then HALO jump to the tower, rappel in through the vents and take it from there with guns. Lots of guns." Frogblast nodded, stroking his chin. "I think this could work."
"It'll be so dangerous," The Arbitress gasped.
Frogblast put a hand on her shoulder. "For HBO . . . we have to do it."
Mig nodded. "I'll lead the ground team, Frogblast - who's on your strike squad?"
Frogblast studied the representation of HBO, tracing the mission through in his mind. "I'll need a tech guy, BOLL, are you my man?"
Seemingly unsure whether or not to agree, BOLL settled for stoic silence.
"Mnemesis, I might need your access codes . . ."
"Uh, sure," Mnemesis turned to Mig, mouthing 'codes?'.
"And Wado - no one knows the fan fic section better than you, I'll need your help -"
"Wait, you said dangerous, didn't you?" Wado hesitated.
"Yes, the next pair I'm looking for are the expendable ones," Frogblast replied.
Wado gulped. "I'd love to, I really would . . . but I have a really bad back. Old war wounds, they act up sometimes."
Frogblast nodded. "I know how it is. Jillybean, are you in?"
"And I'll take c0ld and Stuntmutt," Frogblast slapped his hands together. "Are we ready to go?"
"Well I was going to say something dramatic," Mig sighed, "but you go, it's cool."
"Look at it," Stuntmutt glanced out of the Pelican, his face turning slightly paler. "It's . . . alive!"
Snowy gusts blew into the dropship, beneath them HBO spread over the ground, organic sinewy tendrils wrapped around it. Through the glass they could see a sickly green glow.
"Everyone ready?" Frogblast asked softly, pulling the straps tight on c0ld's pack. He checked the rest of them over.
"Good luck," Randall Glass called from the cockpit. "You're gonna need it."
Frogblast led his team out into freefall and Randall Glass swept away. "Mnemesis - they're out of our hands now." He did a double take. "Mnemesis? Why are you still here!"
Mnemesis shrugged, watching the swirls of snow below them. "Didn't fancy missing Christmas I suppose."
"Wheeeeeee!!!! Let's do that ride again!"
Stuntmutt quickly shut up off the looks c0ld gave him.
Frogblast was crouched over the skylight, inspecting the joins.
"What, no laser grid?" Jillybean frowned, clearing away the parachutes.
"None . . ." Frogblast sounded confused. "It's unlikely that this entrance was left unguarded . . ."
As he spoke, a large fan started to churn into life. The loud whirring drowned out all noise for five minutes, before slowly whining to a stop.
"That'll be why then," c0ld frowned dubiously at the fan, only a few feet down from the skylight. "We're going to rappel down that?"
Frogblast grinned. "It'll be fun!"
When the fan started up again, Frogblast blew the skylight and secured a line. "We'll have to do this one at a time," he called to them. "I'll go first, and shout the next person down."
The fan slowed to a standstill and Frogblast dropped through the gaps between the blades.
"Why is that thing even here?" Jillybean turned to BOLL.
"BOLL! Come on!" Frogblast hissed.
"Gotta go," BOLL hooked himself onto the line, muttered a quick prayer to the Forerunner, and dropped through the vent.
"Hold, guys!" Frogblast called. "Bring the line up, quickly!"
No sooner had the rope cleared the rotor when it started up again. Stuntmutt had gone rather pale again.
"You're next, Muttley," c0ld volunteered him. The fan slowed again.
"Quickly, come on!" Frogblast's voice echoed up. "I think we're attracting some attention."
No sooner had c0ld slid down the line and into the air vent when two overlarge Venus Flytraps stalked past the skylight.
At the opening of the vent, Frogblast stayed completely still, watching the two plants deliberate over what the blown window meant. When the fan started up again he pushed the others onwards.
Sephlock stamped his feet off the ground, peering up at HBO through the dim light.
"Hold it together there, marine," Miguel warned. He ran a critical eye over their higglety-piggelty little army. Ross Mills was about as professional as they got.
"Good news," Mnemesis hurried up, his breath coming as clouds of steam. "Deimos is bringing the Subnova gang."
"When will they get here?" Miguel turned to watch HBO. The doors had slid open. Out poured the dry, rotting plants, walking on their roots.
"Uh . . . five minutes?" Mnemesis glanced back the way he had come, wondering if he could make it.
Finn shook his head. "That may not be long enough."
Between two cliffs of musty tomes, the grating to the air vent dropped to the ground with a loud clang.
"Let's hope no one's here," Frogblast muttered, flexing his knees as he landed. A quick glanced around revealed only what he had been expecting.
The shelves were at least eight foot tall, the volumes stacked on them were mostly neglected, a thick layer of dust settled over their covers. Their little avenue continued past what Frogblast's eye could see. There may never have been an end to it.
"Wow," c0ld reached out, almost reverently to touch a crusty old saga, before Stuntmutt slapped his hand away.
"You don't know what you're doing here," Stuntmutt growled. "Any one of these could kill you with their poor grammar and merciless comments."
Frogblast turned, aiming the SMG in a half hearted manner. He had expected this, but the vastness of the fan fic section was overwhelming him. "Jilly? Where do we go?"
The others turned to look at her.
"Why are you asking me?" Jilly frowned. She waved her gun at the shelves. "Why would I know where to go?"
"Because . . ." Frogblast frowned. "Because you do this thing! You've probably got your own damned street of shelves!"
"Probably, but . . ." Jillybean shrugged. "I don't see why I should know my way around."
"Well!" Frogblast spluttered, going slightly puce. "Why did you think you were coming along?"
"To look pretty?"
Stuntmutt caught Frogblast by the shoulder. "I know some of this place. If we can at least find the more recent stuff, we'll be okay."
"Right," Frogblast nodded. "Spread out. c0ld, BOLL, you guys climb over that case and walk on the other side, Stuntmutt? You and Jilly take the right side. Anyone see anything that looks less dusty, just shout."
"I could provide comic relief . . . "
They had been moving for what seemed like an eternity when c0ld shouted out, clambering over more shelves.
"Where's he going?" Stuntmutt asked.
"No idea . . ." BOLL shrugged. "Should we keep going?"
"No!" Frogblast looked disgusted. "Come on!"
"What is that?" c0ld poked the lump with the muzzle of his gun.
"Hey!" Sep7imus flinched, belatedly. "Oh my God. Guys. And girl. So glad to see you!"
"Sep . . ." Stuntmutt was pale again. "What - happened?"
BOLL helped the wounded Sep7imus sit up, resting his back against some fic written by CoLd. "Take your time, Sep."
Nodding, Sep eyed Stuntmutt's water canteen, licking his lips.
"Just . . . take your time," Frogblast added, giving Sep7imus' shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "You can do it."
"If I could just, slake my thirst . . ."
"Oh, sure!" They waited expectantly.
Sep raised an eyebrow. "May I," he waved a weak hand in the direction of the canteen.
"Well . . ." Stuntmutt grimaced, handing it over. "We are the strike team, don't you know."
Sep drank, drawing his sleeve over his mouth. He seemed to ponder where to begin. "I guess it's just luck that I'm still alive. I had wandered into the fan fic section. I have a - er - fanfic obsession . . ."
"Liar," Jillybean folded her arms. "You hide a bottle of Talisker behind my fics."
"So you're the one who's been siphoning my reserve!" Sep7imus roared, leaping to his feet and promptly forgetting his fatal injuries.
"I had to check it was real . . ." Jilly dismissed his annoyance. "But keep going."
"So when I heard all this chaos outside, I took a peek out," Sep shuddered. "And I saw these little cheap potted plants, dragging everyone who left in HBO deep into Lou's office. Unfortunately, I had been - er - reading for quite some time and in my rather distracted state I knocked one of these scrolls off their shelf and . . . the things found me. I ran, of course, and woke up here."
"There's nothing wrong with you that a little sobriety wouldn't cure," Frogblast tutted. "Alcohol isn't cool, Sep7imus, you should know that."
"I shall never partake of the stuff again," Sep vowed.
"I have to shoot him!" Stuntmutt lunged forward. "I can't stand to see him like this!"
"Hold it, hold it!" BOLL pushed him back. "Maybe we can use this. Sep, do you know where Jillybean's stuff is?"
"No," Sep shook his head.
c0ld crouched down beside him. "Where's the Talisker?"
"This way! Lead on MacDuff! Tally ho!" Sep lurched to his feet and staggered onwards.
"Follow the breadcrumbs," c0ld frowned. "Why is Sep7imus dropping breadcrumbs?"
Turning from stacks of fiction, Frogblast looked to Jillybean. "Do you know where you are now?"
"Well, no," Jillybean admitted. "But I do know how to get out."
"How?" Stuntmutt demanded.
"This way," she pointed. Sure enough, there was a tiny door in the distance.
"Sep, feel like tagging along?" c0ld asked.
Frogblast crouched by the door, holding his fist up.
"What does that mean exactly," Stuntmutt asked.
"Stop, I think . . ." BOLL crouched and crawled up to their leader. "Want me to translate?"
"No, I can talk loudly myself," Frogblast retorted. "Me and BOLL will cover the door, Stuntmutt and and Jillybean go in when we say so, okay?"
The door hissed, drawing open.
Stuntmutt and Jillybean crept forward, keeping low as they crossed the floor of the hallway.
Stuntmutt hesitated, lifting his rifle to aim at the balconies. "I don't see anything here guys, I think we're-" he was cut off by a long root wrapping around his chest and yanking him upwards.
"Go, go, go!" Frogblast yelled, firing at the receding tentacle.
Stuntmutt disappeared over the balcony, screaming "blue murder! Blue murder!"
"What do we do now?" c0ld yelled over the roaring of the pot plants.
"Continue onwards," Frogblast grated. "It's the only way."
"I think I should go back," Sep announced. "I'm nowhere near as popular as Stuntmutt and he got killed off."
"I'll take him!" Jillybean grabbed his arm. "He wouldn't find his way back on his own."
"I would too!"
"Like a man ever knows where to go."
Frogblast considered this and nodded. "Alright. You two and c0ld, go back the way we came, make sure no one follows me and BOLL in."
"Why do I have to come with you?" BOLL grumbled, following Frogblast further into the hallway.
"We'll miss you, BOLL!" c0ld shouted. "Take a panorama before you die!"
"Well it was nice knowing them," Sep7imus mused as they disappeared into another room.
"Is that a terminal?" c0ld approached the panel on the wall. "Hmm. Maybe I can open the front doors from here . . ."
"Why would you want to do that?" Sep asked.
c0ld hesitated, disbelief on his face. "To let our army in?"
"Oh yeah," Sep nodded. "Go ahead."
"Thanks for your permission," c0ld replied sarcastically,
A squawk echoed through the corridor, drawing the attention of the other little plants.
Frogblast leapt out, gunning them down with some very neat dual wielding.
"Open the door," he nodded towards the control panel.
BOLL glanced at it, then did what he was told. "This does lead straight to Wu's office you know . . ."
"Gotta cut to the root of the problem . . . damn, I'm good."
"Stuntmutt good," BOLL grunted. The wires sparked. "Okay - the door's gonna open as soon as is dramatically convenient, what's your plan?"
Frogblast cocked the shotgun in his hands.
"What if you miss? . . . never mind," BOLL stepped away from the panel, drawing his pistol as the door slid open, their vision obscured with steam.
"Drop. Everything. Frogblast."
Gravemind perched on the large office chair, one long tentacle wrapped around Stuntmutt. Another was stroking a fluffy white persian.
"Gravemind," Frogblast shook his head.
"One step closer and your friend here gets it," Gravemind cackled, dangling the would-be artist over a vat of boiling curry. Off BOLL's look, the plant explained; "you'd be surprised what Wu keeps around."
"Where is he?" Frogblast demanded, a little belatedly.
"Right here," Louis waved from his computer. "Hows you guys?"
A quick scrutiny of Lou's chair and terminal suggested that he was under no obvious mind control, nor was he being threatened. Frogblast took a step back, half tempted to take his shotgun and shoot the poor man.
"What's happened to you, Louis?"
Gravemind flung his head back and cackled, tendrils waving madly. "You foolish fools! I have simply given him the chance to catch up on work!"
"No!" BOLL screamed, falling to his knees. "You monster!" He pummelled the carpet. "How could you do this?"
Gravemind lifted himself, snatching the guns from his attackers clutches. He shoogled Stuntmutt around a little, circling Wu's chair with a loving tentacle.
Frogblast looked away.
"What will you do now? Without your precious Wu what will you do? How long will you survive? You may launch wave upon wave of your soldiers - but as long as I hold this office you are lost." He drew back, sweeping the curtains aside.
Feeling ill, Frogblast stepped forward to watch the noble battle beneath him. In the snow the Subnova crew had done their best, but they were being beaten back. The potted plants were relentless.
"Now, now," Gravemind patted him on the shoulder. "It's not all that bad."
"Don't touch me." Frogblast pushed away.
"Cross that wire there,"
"No! Make the blue thing red!"
"I think if I could do this myself-"
"Maybe it needs a drink . . ."
"You think everything needs a drink!"
"Could you maybe not stand right there?"
"Well you're the one stealing from my Talisker!"
"Hidden in my fics!"
"BACK OFF!" c0ld spun, startling the other two.
"Sorry," Sep said.
"We won't do it again," Jilly added. "Promise."
c0ld turned back to the panel.
"Maybe if you make that one-"
With a bloody scream, c0ld filled the hole in the wall with lead. "Happy! HAPPY?"
"Actually," Sep pointed at the open door. "Yes."
"Look!" Finn pointed. "The main gate!"
Deimos glanced up, following the path of light shining down the snowy slope. Grinning, he lifted his plasma sword. "Charge!"
"Damn it!" Gravemind swept to the window again. "How did they - no matter. Call them off!"
Grinning, Frogblast folded his arms. "Never."
"Call them off!" Gravemind stood nose to stamen. "Or Stuntmutt gets curried."
"Kill him," Frogblast shrugged, "he means nothing to me."
"Oh really?" Gravemind lifted himself to his full height, looking Stuntmutt in the eye. "Prepare to say goodbye!" He hesitated, gripped Stuntmutt a little tighter. "Prepare!! It's the end, I tell you!"
"Awwww shucks," Gravemind set him down. "I just can't do it, with those puppy dog eyes and that bizarre accent . . ."
"Thanks," Stuntmutt coughed, flat out on the floor.
"Ssh," Wu muttered, distractedly taking a bite of his doughnut.
"Sorry," rubbing his very bruised and possibly broken larynx, Stuntmutt made more of an effort to stay quiet.
"I knew you couldn't do it," Frogblast told him, nodding his head. "You may be a plant, but deep down you're still - "
"Oh shut up!" A single sniper shot took out Gravemind. The voice behind it sounded less than pleased. "You think you're so smart, don't you?"
"Who is that?" Frogblast demanded, casting around wildly. "Show yourself!"
Laughter echoed from the shadows of the room and a small figure approached. Just a regular forum goer.
Frogblast's aim faltered. "Who - who are you?"
"Oh," the stranger laughed, his eyes quite wide. "Who am I? Good question, good question! Ha ha ha!"
Frogblast found himself taking a few steps away. "Did you do this?"
"Oh, moi?" He laughed again. "Little old v2 orchestrate all this? After all - he's only MISCELLANEOUS ART!" Without even a glance in BOLL's direction, v2 shot the gun the Swede had been reaching for to the other side of the room. "Down boy."
"I did this," v2 admitted coldly.
Frogblast frowned. "You just said you were only-"
A sniper blast cut over his shoulder, smashing the coffee mug in Lou's hand. Lou seemed not to notice and tried to take a drink from the handle anyway.
"I know what I said," v2 circled him. "Miscellaneous art. Do you know how I suffer for my work? The pain? My fingers bleed for my efforts and what do I get?"
"Uh -" Frogblast wondered which response wouldn't result in more gunshots.
"Oh, shut up," v2 spun the chair around and collapsed into it with a heavy sigh. "You know, last year? I drew a beautiful Santa Elite. What happened? Some crappy fanfic stole its place. I drew a spooky Hunter and the que didn't get updated till June. Do you know how far away June is from Halloween? They're not close to each other."
"Is that so?" Frogblast edged a little closer to Wu's chair.
"No," v2 shook his sombre head.
"That's," Frogblast stole a glance at Wu's screen. "That's really bad."
"Yes, yes it is." v2 sighed deeply. "Of course, you see why this had to be done, don't you?"
"Uh - to update the miscellaneous art?" Frogblast questioned, giving Lou a nudge.
"Oh, oh no, no, no, my poor, deluded friend." v2 rubbed his chin in thought. "Although . . . it might be an idea."
"Oh I think it would be a. Great. Idea." Frogblast stood on Wu's foot.
"Whaaa?" Lou glanced up. "Where's Gravemind gone?"
"Just go back to work," v2 told him.
"Or update," Frogblast eyed Louis meaningfully.
Louis stared back, completely blank.
"Such a . . . .a flood of artwork," Frogblast said hurriedly, turning back to v2. "I bet there's lots . . ."
"Oh yes," v2 nodded eagerly, glad to have found a sympathetic ear. "Tonnes! Almost enough to kill a person. All of it brilliantly done too."
"Yes," Frogblast nodded gravely. "If only. Someone. Would. THINK. To. Update."
"I don't blame Wu," v2 shook his head. "Oh no, I blame other things. Like fan fiction. We wait. Oh so patiently, we wait. Fanfic authors? No!!! They get their little kicks. We, on the other hand-"
"Oh!" Louis cottoned on and tapped a button on his keyboard.
"We're left to rot-" v2 was ranting on, Frogblast leapt for him, pushing his roll-y chair under the flow of unopened fan art.
"Come on!" Frogblast grabbed Stuntmutt by the scruff, leading the others on a helter skelter flee from the office, chased by a tidal wave of water-colours.
They skidded into the great hall of HBO, yelling warnings to the others.
As soon as he hit the drawbridge Frogblast flung himself into the snow filled moat, covering his head as the unsorted artwork went flying overhead, pelting into the snow like tiny creative missiles.
"Wow," Jaxx grinned, lying back into a snow drift. "Fireworks!"
"Pretty," Steve agreed.
Wado watched the plants get borne away by the tide. "You know guys, there's a Christmas message to all this . . ."
"Guys! Hey!" Blackstar bounced out of the snow, giving Warbow a big hug.
"Oh. Blackstar, how wonderful to see you," Warbow said flatly. "I guess we can put your name back on Calvin and Halo . . ."
"So . . ." Wu shook himself off.
"Lou!" Ducain leapt on him, arms out wide. "We were so worried!"
"Yeah!" Halochick sat up, eyes welling with tears. "We thought you were eated up by the plant!"
Frogblast glanced at the Wu, then back to the forumgoers. "Well, we saved him just in time."
"Yeah . . ." Lou sighed. "And I was nearly caught up on my work as well . . ."
Finn shuddered convulsively. "Not a moment too soon then."
Lou sighed wistfully, pulling himself to his feet. "Well, come on kids! Santa won't come if you're not all tucked up in bed!"
"I think Stuntmutt wants a new voice box," Grady eyed the frantic pointing. "Or maybe he wants to go to hospital. I'm really no good at sign language."
"It's an improvement if you ask me," 7he One grinned.
"Do you think Santa Claus knows I want a Master Chief action figure?" Tar asked, blinking up at Lou.
Wu stroked his snowy white beard, guiding the forum back inside. "Oh I think he knows, little one. I think he knows . . ."
Authors Notes: Gah.
Big thanks to Frogblast and v2, who allowed their names and likenesses to be defiled so much more than the rest of you . . .
Thanks to all the poor forum goers who were splattered across this . . .
Thanks to BOLL, c0ld and Stuntmutt, for being general pains and helping to distract me when I had much better things to do -
And dedicated to Wu, who works harder than the rest of us play
Have a very merry Christmas!