Seeing he’d have to wait at least a moment longer for Raptor and TribalMan to return, ChronicleMan sighed and took a seat again, the bookmark-tassel of his cap flopping limply with his rapid descent. “Oh, yes, the point of this organization is that we all have such grievances. It would please me if each of these aggrieved individuals present had also been hit by vehicles with reckless Neo-Shogunate nitwits behind the wheel,” the elder added, either not knowing or not caring how that sounded. “However, in all likelihood, theirs is a more trifling collection of miscellaneous fiddle-faddle. Well, the two of us will find out the exact nature together, hm?”
If Lyntael was worried about exposing her vulnerability to ChronicleMan, she probably didn’t have to worry too hard; whether it was his old “limousine hip” acting up or simply a renewed desire to get behind the podium and command the room, the Navi’s slightly distracted attention had become slightly attentive distraction. He nodded absently and affirmatively along at such appropriate moments as “it’s a bit scary,” “I’d probably get killed,” and so on. By the same token, at least, his mind had wandered so far by the time the food was out that he didn’t seem to notice either Lyntael’s growl or her apology, since he was determinedly flagging down the server to get his cohorts from the kitchen.
When someone had set about doing what he wanted, Lyntael had half his attention once more. “Hoho! It sounds like you certainly got more than you bargained for. Take a lesson from a seasoned elder who’s been around the NetSquare once or twice: Always have a goal and a reward in mind when you set out to do something. Never do anything, whether working, relaxing, or even casually conversing without keeping in mind what it is you want! That way, you’ll live a rich, storied life with never a moment wasted.” The man gave another inappropriately warm smile, letting the implications of his words hang, perhaps not realizing they might beg any follow-up. “Well! I’m certainly eager to hear the very fine details of that dangerous life of yours, but I’d say it’s about time to begin…”
ChronicleMan was noting Nikki returning with Raptor and TribalMan. Both were satisfied from their meal, but either of them would probably have been happy to hang out in the kitchen ducking their “boss.”
Things seemed like they were about to get started, but before they could, Signatory briskly walked back to Lynn. It didn’t look like she’d managed to get Cynthia to sign, and, furthermore, she’d recognized that she was being avoided, so she apparently intended to take care of another matter. “Ahem. Lynn. As the discussion begins, I’ll likely be tied up in the business. I passed on the fast food, no appetite for it, but if they’re serving something vegetarian later, I’d be interested. You should make sure you save yourself some time to eat, if you need it… Also…” She tapered off, then leaned in to whisper to the other woman. “I’m not sure if you’re aware of your uniform trouble. Be sure not to show any compromise around that MerchMan. He’d definitely take that as a sign you were trying to catch his attention, that empty-headed, womanizing moron…” She leaned away again, then took her seat once more, folding her hands and looking very professional.
Cynthia chose to search the ship, and she would likely be stricken by how completely devoid of other life it was. The cruise ship, like the original Wanderlust, was sized for much more than just the BOC, and a great portion of it was unused. As Cynthia traveled from deck to deck, she didn’t run into a single other person… Eventually, however, she came to the main exterior. She’d see there a shuffleboard deck, which, with a little studying of the hinges around the sides, could be easily interpreted to be serving double duty as a cargo deck. Quite a strange feature for a cruise ship…
Of course, Cynthia now had the context to understand what was inside that cargo hatch. She could hear some muted grumbling coming from inside. It was probably worth considering if there was really any point in entering that sour lion’s den… Sign had hint-hinted this guest was best left alone. However, if she did want to, there was a control panel on a nearby wall which displayed “CREW ONLY,” and a clearly-marked switch would be simple to find. Seeing as she was the closest thing this vessel had to “crew” right now, there probably wasn’t any harm.
It might also occur to Cynthia that unless Tango had taken to hiding in another guest room, the only place left on the ship that she’d likely be is her own room. In all likelihood, the pair had returned there upon departing. It was easy to imagine them dancing by themselves… Actually, that was probably the only thing one could imagine them doing with their free time.
Another thing Cynthia would become clearly aware of as she stood on the deck is that the very still water they’d all seen outside the windows was not just simply calm: the ship was, in fact, not moving. A bit of a bummer if one was hoping to enjoy a sea breeze, but it made sense, considering the ship was basically unstaffed.
As Raptor and TribalMan were leaving the kitchen, Mara was continuing to work her charms on MerchMan. He shouted out to the two as they left. “Hey you two, would you let the egghead know I’m busy back here and the meeting can go ahead and start without me? She already knows all my biz anyway.”
There wasn’t any evidence they heard or planned to comply, but they weren’t stopping and he wasn’t stopping them. Instead, MerchMan was left to a private conversation… with as many as four other people possibly listening, not counting operators or Takeout, who was busy on her phone again and didn’t seem to care to listen in.
“Well, me, I’m just a businessman, you know, an entrepreneur. Sign and I tend to work together a lot. I guess you could call me the genius, with the flashes of inspiration to seek out new opportunities, and she’s the brains, with the paperwork and the calculator and all the nerdy stuff. Working together, we’ve turned me into one of the premier merchandise licensing forces on the Net, while she’s split off a bit to work on expanding her law practice. Whatever. The point is, she’s the only one of these bozos I know. They’re basically here to, uh… Well, I don’t know all the little details, but I think it’s like we’ll strengthen our case with a shotgun approach, burying them in the legal system or something. So, really, it’s like they’re all tagalongs on my own completely solid case. Needless to say, I’m not too worried about making nice with people like that. Especially that old man, the guy that doesn’t know his book-head from his bookend, acting like he’s in charge of all this…”
MerchMan paused his rambling to quickly dip and munch another couple of fries, then flashed Mara an expectant grin. “Say, so, didn’t you mention some special service earlier? I assume you weren’t talking about, uh, this.” The man gestured at the plate in front of him with his hands spread. “A romantic cruise ship like this with a lovely lady like yourself… I bet you’ve got all kinds of experience satisfying customers, don’t you? If you’ve got any nicer services worth tipping for, I’d be happy to ask you about ‘em right here-“
A noisy cough came from beneath the overturned food carton Takeout wore on her head.
“Uh, or wherever. Back to my guest cabin, maybe?”
The group had quite a lot to juggle with all their own situations, but Yasu’s response added one more vector pulling their attention. If she’d keyed herself in, Lyntael would be able to receive the same message:
I’m currently engaged in discussion with Tango. I followed the same coordinates you did, so I’m in the room with him or her or them. This person is very difficult to deal with, but I will show them the NeoShogun army’s zero tolerance for hijinks.
Tango has asked me if you all have managed to “sew the seeds of passion throughout the decks of the New Wanderlust,” so I’m reluctantly passing that on. Tango appears to insist on this, but I will remind you that is not officially part of your mission objectives.
The food you requested is being obtained. I put Dee on it, believing she would be more well-suited to understanding the foolishness and frivolity required of cruise ship dining. I told her I would note her protests that she was not allowed to appear in person, but that would obviously be far too dangerous. I will have her enlist the help of an unknown from the GNA. It may take a bit longer. I have advised her to stick to a budget, and told her I would note her protests that it was too small of a budget. I have no luck with this woman. DragonierMan, please see if you can slip some discussion of frugality and common sense into your next chat with her.
On the note of that danger, I should also advise that I am jacked in and actually in Tango’s room. Obviously, it would be a critical error if anyone from the BOC was to meet me here, so please keep track of the guests.
About the names you mentioned… Our only record of ChronicleMan is the limousine incident, which Escort reported to me and which is not a concern. Memora and ArmoryMan were involved in an incident with the Terror Girls and engaged in hostilities with subordinate MachMan. Armoryman is certainly an enemy, and although she cooperated to some extent, Memora should be treated as one until proven otherwise, especially considering her appearance here with the BOC. DragonierMan is already privy to the details surrounding ReservoirMan and the incidents at the Alaki Reservoir.
The most concerning names are MerchMan and Signatory… I have heard these names before. but cannot remember where. It must have been something of low importance. Be aware that I handle many communications as the First General of the Neoshogun Army and can hardly be expected to remember all of them. Still, best to be cautious. Can you provide any additional information on why they are here?
Regardless of which members of the ship’s hospitality team did what, ChronicleMan was having his cronies hoist him on stage and starting the show. He tapped the microphone on the podium a couple of times, eliciting a loud and grating squeak. “Ahem! Your attention, please!” he shouted into it, far too loudly. Immediately, he had the irate attention of the entire room. Smiling, he continued. “The first meeting of the BOC shall be called to order! I want to sincerely thank you all for gathering for the collaboration and prosperity of-“
“ChronicleMan! Would you mind if I made the opening remarks?!” Signatory shouted his name early, and, seeing he intended to keep talking over her, rose her voice to a loud boom with visible exertion.
The offended elder obviously did mind, but he probably thought it would hurt his credibility to bicker over it at the very start of his speech. “Oh, fine! Make it quick!”
“Yes, well. Good evening everyone. You can call me Sign.EXE. On behalf of my regular client, MerchMan, I have gathered you all here to discuss your representation by my firm in building a case against the Neo-Shogun Empire and its parties. In simple terms, understand the following: the more people we have on board, the stronger our case will be.
The individual merits of each case are important, but the critical thing is having enough cases to scare them away from challenging each simultaneously. Simply speaking, unless one of the cases turns out to be exceptionally solid, our preferable outcome will be to receive out-of-court settlements paid by the NeoShogun empire. I assure you, those settlements would still be very lucrative. Second, please know that I have advised my client that meeting in this fashion is inappropriate and careless, yet we are proceeding, in spite of my advice… This is to say that, should discussion fall apart here, I would be more than pleased to continue conversations with each of you separately. Indeed, to reiterate, even if this meeting falls apart, I will probably be able to help you make even more compelling cases in a private, secure environment.
So, to recap for clarity, the goals for the BOC should be thus: One, avoid losing individual participants, and two, recognize the shabby state of security and, with all due apologies to the staff present, conveniences here and retire to a more productive and secure environment. Thank you.”
“Well, it sounds like we’re off to a great start already, according to our counsel!” Memora spoke up in sarcastic high spirits.
“Yes, well, our lawyer may be a master of all things in the realm of law, but clearly she lacks the personal touch to lead an organizational gathering such as this,” ChronicleMan dismissed her with a pitying smile. “That, of course, falls upon me.” He paused, obviously bracing himself for the auspicious position of “leader of the complainers to be challenged.”
“Why do you get to be the leader, anyway?!” Raptor shouted from her seat at Memora’s table, resting her head on her hands and her elbows on the tablecloth. TribalMan, his arms crossed, nodded.
Clearly furious at the backtalk from his own corner, Chronicleman growled into the microphone from gritted teeth. “Because I am the oldest
and the wisest
, and also because I have the greatest claim! I’d like to elaborate on that, but before I do, does anyone else have anything to add? Before I officially and formally kick off this meeting, that is?”