The Return

A Ranma Sailor Moon fic thingy.

By Sunshine Temple

 

Naturally, I own neither Sailor Moon nor Ranma. So here's the disclaimer

 

Ranma 1/2 and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon belongs to Naoko Takeuchi, Koudansha, TV Asahi, and Toei Douga, and DIC.

 

Previous chapters and other works can be found at my fanfiction website.

http://jtemple.florestica.com/

 

Temporary Backup Site.

http://www.fukufics.com/fic/

 

 

Other website Temple of Ranma's Senshi Seifuku

http://fukufics.com

 

C&C is appreciated.

 

Book 2:  Betrayed Consequences

Chapter 10:  SteelRain

Formerly:  Retain and Retrain i

 

 

To: General Anderson Operations Centre 01

From: Colonel Jacob Edwards WIC Toronto

 

On this date, elements of the Assembly of Man ambushed a WIC convoy enroute to a Pattern V nest. There were 7 agents KIA and over 26 AOM. Given our special contractors, exact count of enemy casualties will take some time. Speaking of them, Miss Saotome was the intended target. Attached information indicates the advancement of her regeneration. The weapons created by Master Nishina and Major Saotome performed well and proved pivotal in the combat.

 

The D program saved the lives of two agents. They will be put under Captain Jarvis' direct command. She had fought well and did not falter. I believe that she will be a solid core for a potential new unit being formed from this program. Miss Mizuno also assisted with the capture of an Assemblyman that gave us the location of their base, which is currently under surveillance. Her risk is being evaluated.

 

As per your earlier orders, long-range assets have been released and will be used in the counter attack. That operation is currently commencing. Miss Saotome has agreed to spearhead this mission while our forces maintain the quarantine.

 

This seems to be the culmination of the recent AOM surveillance. Once they learned enough about our movements, they would strike, and attempt to eliminate our "demonic advantage". Following that, they would attack in force. Our operation will counter this.

 

As mentioned before, Miss Mizuno is quite busy. Her recent abduction and transformation of Miss Aino into a "golden succubus Senshi" has prompted Miss Tsukino to hire Miss Saotome and by extension WIC. This schism in the Pattern Silvers has given us a favorable position.

 

***************

 

"May God have mercy upon my enemies, because I won't."

"Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men."


            -General George Patton

 


            Ranma flew just above the trees. To her relief the first helicopter on the scene had found a huge Pattern A signal in the suspected location. It was rough but they did not dare let the helicopter get any closer than necessary; it was enough to get targeting coordinates.


            The Blackhawk that dropped her off had gone back to sweep the areas to the South of the base. There was still a chance that the Assembly had left for their attack and that this was just a decoy.


            "HIMARS is almost in range," Maya Iverson's voice said into Ranma's headset.

 

            The redhead could now just see the target. It was active, her senses were quite clear on that. "I can see it now, and I can smell the bastards. Lots of them, right on some mountain, wow... how arch-villain can you get. It's a wooden building on top. Pretty large. I dunno if they've had time to dig into the hill." The redhead smiled and circled back a bit. She did not want to arrive first.

 

 

            Just under twenty-two miles to the South a blocky green truck pulled off to the side of the road, escorted by to the two APCs guarding it. The truck was ugly and skeletal enough to have to be military in nature. As soon as it stopped, the large box on its back bed angled up and opened.


            The truck was a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, and carried one Multiple Launch Rocket System, half the capacity of its treaded and larger cousin the M270. Moments after it stopped, the box had angled to the proper position  and a pair of 227 millimeter diameter and 3.94 meter long missiles shot out of the block of six missiles.


            As the pod rotated back into position, the truck started to accelerate and pulled back onto the road. The convoy had been stopped for less than a minute,.


            Nearer the mountains, Ranma could just make out the streaks coming in from overhead. She idly wondered what Jacob had done to get approval for those things.

 

            Fins on each of the missiles guided them to slightly different locations. Each rocket contained over two hundred pounds of high explosives and was fused to explode upon impact. Both struck the monastery on the summit which was blown apart by the pair of large explosions.


            Ranma's enjoyment at the explosions and the reduction in life she could sense was interrupted by Maya. "What's the status?"


            "They hit," Ranma said as she flew in. "Top building's gone. Can still sense 'em, they've probably burrowed in. Maybe around the mountain too." She adjusted her wings and was shocked to see movement on the East side of the hill. "I'm seeing some guys, and cuts into the mountain to the east. Big clearing." Ranma was miles out but could see them moving around, like ants out of a knocked-over nest.


            "We suspected that's where their vehicles are, firing another volley. Stay clear." Maya's even voice stated.


            Ranma landed on the upper branches of a tree and strained her vision. It was not a long wait. Three missiles came over and split apart well above the clearing and burning mountain. By straining herself, she could make out what had to be hundreds of little objects.


            Her smile broadened as nearly two thousand bombs exploded around the mountain. Each one had a fairly simple seeker in it which adjusted its own fins to give some guidance. Each one tried its best to find something warm to kill. A parade of explosions ripped through the trees, destroyed outbuildings and vehicles, and slaughtered men. Whether they were trying to rescue people from the monastery, get to their vehicles or simply figure out what happened was immaterial.


            Soon enough the sounds of the explosions died away and the sounds of fires, secondary explosions, and screams became obvious. Despite her stealth, the succubus whistled. The fires nicely complemented the reds and oranges of the quickening sunset. "Maya, that'll do."


            "Is anyone alive?"


            "Yeah, I guess they had enough time to make a few bunkers. Specs did say there were some tunnels here already." Ranma laughed. She could smell maybe half of what was there originally. "I'm going to start the next phase," she said as she took off and flew towards the burning base.

 

***************

 


            Once the rattle of explosions stopped, Father Oswald pulled up his head. "So who's left?" He looked around the concrete room, and frowned at the widening cracks. Most of the tunnels had been built to support the old mine below them, but now....


            "B, C, and G groups are okay. I can't raise anyone in the monastery or outside," an acolyte at a radio said.


            Oswald sighed. "Send a team to look at what happened by the main entrance. But be careful. I don't know what the hell did this."


            "What about the top?" a paladin asked, leaning on his gun.


            Father Oswald laughed. "Those first explosions, that's what. Everyone go to the armory. Get heavier loads." He rubbed his eyes. "We'll send a team to the number three tunnel. If it's clear we'll leave through that."


            "No," a stern voice said from the passageway that once lead to the surface building. Bishop Fortson stepped into the room flanked by the High Father's Inquisitors. For once he was glad for their presence; they were the ones that had rushed him down into the mountain.


            "Sir, we've lost a third of our men, at least. No one's responding from the outside," Oswald shook his head. "We've got to regroup, and then get out of here."


            Fortson glared. "That's not feasible. We will not run; we cannot run. This is the best place to choke them. We knew there would be reprisals, and this is their cowardly answer." Fortson grinned at the assembled men.

 

            "This is the best they've got. They'll have to come into this mountain if they want to take us, and that is where we hold the advantage. You're correct. Go to the armories and secure all the entrances. Once they get into the tunnels, we'll destroy them."

 

***************

 


            Ranma landed close to the edge of the cluster bombing. Destroyed vehicles, broken bodies, and burnt weapons were spread before her.  Smiling, she moved past the ruined outbuildings.

 

            They were connected by a series of trenches and machinegun nests. Shadows crawled about, dancing under the burning wreckage. The demon's smile grew and she studiously avoided any unexploded ordinance. Everything was ravaged and the few survivors Ranma found on her way were impolitely dealt with. "Maya, tell those rocket-guys I owe them a few beers," Ranma whispered into her headset.


            She looked up at the steel doors blocking the entrance to the underground tunnels. There was a roofed overhang which gave them some protection. The train tracks built into the ground seemed to indicate that this was once a mine. "I'm going in, radio silence," Ranma said as she jumped over the door.


            The entrance  was intact well, and she could smell that people had survived inside. If they had any sense, they would cover the door and be ready for a demon to burst through.

 

            Thus she was not going to simply burst through.


            She landed on the slope above the entrance and searched.. The ground had cracked and started to collapse around what was once an air vent. She sliced off the vent cap and fired a pair of DarkStar Bursts.  Concentrating she guided the orbs out and over the lip that roofed the doors and right into the flat steel plates.

 

            The demonic orbs flew into the blast doors and detonated.


            Gunfire immediately responded, and was followed by the now intimately familiar sound of rocket propelled grenades going off. Soon, with no enemy trying to burst in, the response quieted down. She smiled, knowing that the already nervous Assemblymen inside would only get more apprehensive. A mental state like that was much more likely to cause mistakes.


            After a few more seconds, she launched another diversionary attack. This time there was a thud as one of the doors blew out of its tracks and fell to the ground. As the gunfire restarted, she flared her aura and jumped over the narrow vent.

 

            It bent and buckled but a DarkStar Burst broke through the elbow and the part of the layer of concrete that made up the roof of the entrance chamber. Concrete shattered and rained down in chunks killing a few unluckily enough to be immediately underneath.


            Nimbly landing, she fired DarkStar bursts at the men in the far corners who had rockets and their unfortunate reloaders. In that time the people in front of her closer to the entrance had managed to turn around and face her.


            Shadows welling around her, she slowly rose to her full height. Her eyes scanned the crowd that surrounded her and watched as they fidgeted and tried to look away. Her nose detected the smell of urine. At least the people in the close circle had their guns up and shouldered. So, they had that much sense, she thought as her aura flared. They shot, and she immediately dropped to the ground.


            Friendly fire took out much of the crowd causing panic and confusion. Going low, she darted forward claws and tail filaments outstretched. Those in the circle who were shot had already fallen and were soon joined by a quarter of the remainder who were now missing legs and feet. She rolled over, fired two DarkStar bursts to the quarters to her left and right, and raked her eyebeams over the last quarter opposite her.


            Most were only wounded by the severe slices and physical trauma. Some even tried to lift their weapons, but a barrage of fireballs landed among them and ignited, splashing their magical napalm loads. As they died she pulled in and started draining, if she had more time she would have taken a few snacks, but this was business.


            The men furthest in the room had enough sense to fire. Her aura mostly held and she ducked to the side and used her beams to cut them down. She then ran to the far end of the room and looked through the doorway, and saw that there was one corridor that went down deeper into the mine and another that went up through a set of stairs. She could hear heavy footsteps.


            Nostrils flaring and soaking in the enticing, heady scents of blood, gunpowder and offal, she paused and glanced at a fire-evacuation map bolted onto the wall. Eyes twinkling she decided which way to go.

 

***************

 


            "Bishop, this is Oswald," the father's scratchy voice came out on Fortson's radio. "We got to the main entrance. C group is gone. Looks like a bunch of demons." Oswald dryly swallowed. The room was a charnel house. It did not look like his men got anyone.


            "You're sure of this?" Fortson asked.


            "Sir, I'm up to my knees in torn-apart bodies," Oswald pulled one of the corpses and frowned. There was a whole set with even more worrying wounds. "Some were shot too." He kicked a piece of concrete away and looked up. "Oh God, they came in through the ceiling, and the rest took out the doorway."


            Looking outside, he squinted out onto the flaming hillside.


            "But they didn't come in? Why?" Fortson could think of a few reasons why they would pause, but none that helped him.


            "I don't know, Sir. Both the G group stations are still okay. There's nowhere else for them to go," Oswald's apprehension grew. He looked to the dozen men with him. Most were shaking and were wary of the doorway, at least they had that much sense.


            "Are you sensing any demons? They're probably waiting out there for you." Fortson asked.


            "No, nothing." Oswald said leaning forward and looking around the burning wreckage. Nothing was moving. His head then exploded and was followed by a distinctive crack a second later.


            Half a kilometer down and inside one of the less ruined buildings, Sergeant Smith worked the action on his rifle. He was quite pleased to have taken this role on the quarantine force. Taking aim at another enterprising target that tried to run out of the battered entrance, he fired.


            Mechanically, he took sight, and found a fool that was not crouching low enough. He frowned, these bastards took out Morgan? They did not even have the sense to fight back, which was fine with him. After taking his fourth kill, he called into his radio. "Smith here, Red's right. They're snooping around the main entrance. I've got them bottled up."

 

***************

 


            "Oswald!" Fortson shouted into his radio. "What the hell happened?" He pointed to one of the men in the communications room. "Go down, meet G group to see what they're doing."


            The paladin nodded and left the room and started running down the stairs.


            "Why did they pull back?" Fortson remarked. "They got right through C group."


            "Maybe the strength of our defenders gave them pause, and they retreated," the radioman offered hopefully.


            "That would be nice, but I wouldn't bet on it," Fortson looked to the two Inquisitors. "It's time for you two to do your job. Go down to the mine level. They're going to come in. Junction off the number three tunnel and the main entrance. It's got to be one of those two ways."


            The goggled men nodded and went down the stairs.


            "They're not taking anything from the armory?" the radioman asked cautiously.


            "They don't need anything like that," Fortson leaned back in the folding chair. "They're toying with us,"


            "Sir! Paladin Babbage's calling," the radioman said.


            "Yes?" Fortson asked taking the call. "Is your post holding up?"


            "Yes, no one's gotten past the main entrance, but Sir, Father Oswald's dead. Sniper. His team's being picked off. Should we help?" Babbage's voice cracked.


            "No, stay put." Fortson sighed. "That's what they want Son. They've baited that room nicely, but it's a trap. Stay put. You're getting some help."

 

***************

 


            As Ranma slinked in the corridor, she paused to listen. Her ears managed to keep her from running into to anyone, aside from an unfortunate acolyte carrying a box of grenades. Maps always made places easier to get into. It had taken a few tries digging around on the summit, but people tended to think that passages choked with flaming wreckage were impassable.


            Even people who should know better, like those fighting a demoness with fire powers. Ranma just had to find an entrance with the right balance of enough damage to look impassable, but not too much to actually be that way, and she was in.


            She leaped in and released a pair of fireballs. The female acolyte's frightened and pained scream was cut short by a glowing claw slicing through charring meat. Crouched over the flaming body, the redhead bit the shoulder and paused to savor. Rising from the lumpy smoking smear, she eyed the grenades. She flared her nose. Marveling at how there were not even patrols to avoid, she followed the scent. Tilting her head, she noticed a pair of acolytes guarding a door.


            A pair of eyebeams sliced though the head of one. As blood streamed out of the two holes in his face, his partner looked over in shock. It only took a second but by the time he turned back the demon was almost upon him. His gun was  up on target and he fired.


            Ranma pushed the rifle to one side away from her body.  Most of the shots missed,  a few bounced of her flaming aura, but  one pierced, and tore into her side. However her focus was on her prey. She fired a jet of napalm. As the man ignited in a panic, she turned and kicked him in the right arm, breaking it, and twisting his body. She then reached over and dragged her claws over his face; the bones of his eye sockets, jaw and nose giving only the barest resistance.


           Abandoning pretense of silence, Ranma sliced the metal door's hinges off and looked inside. Her nose had been right. Inside was a collection of large and small arms, ammunition, and a fair bit of explosives. The pair of large tanks in the back looked especially ominous with their warning labels and connecting pipes.


            She shrugged and tossed a few fireballs around the room and ran. While that map did not list such rooms as armory or command post, it did list stairwells, and Ranma was determined to get to a different level as soon as possible.


            She dropped down the stairwell, and  sliced apart a small checkpoint. Ranma was turning the first soldier into an interesting splash of blood and sculpture of entrails when she noticed another one pull out a radio. One purple beam bored through the radio spreading molten plastic fragments which landed on his face, which was irrelevant as the other beam sliced through his jaw and up into his soft and hard pallet. Meanwhile, the last man used this distraction to take careful aim and empty his magazine into her stomach, which flared purple before being shot.


            There was a loud, flat explosion that shook the ceiling and smoke started to pour down the stairs.


            Holding a hand to her perforated and bloodied side, Ranma laughed, kneed the momentarily distracted man, and ripped the gun out of his hands. "Not bad, try to slow me, allow your buddy to call for help," she said as she slashed across his chest. "But, he should have called first thing."


            Recalling the layout of the facility, she went down the narrow corridor. There should be a major junction down and after a left turn. It would be sensible to guard such a place.

 

***************

 


            "We've got to get out of here!" Johnson the radioman shouted, as the smoke thickened. More importantly, to him, were the even larger cracks in the ceiling.


            "What was that?" Fortson shouted.


            "I can't raise the south stairwell team, or the armory guards. They're on this level, coming for us!"


            Fortson's face paled. "They took out the armory?"


            "Yes, that's what that big explosion was. At least the men are already armed. It could have been much worse" Johnson looked up glad that the ceiling had not fallen on them... yet.


            "Yes... it could," Fortson rubbed his forehead. The armory was supposed to be the most secure place. It was already holding explosives. It seemed perfect to store the device there. The whole aerosol system was now worthless. "You're right." He stood up. "It's just going to burn and smoke us out. Like this it's more a risk to us."


            Johnson nodded, already packing up the radio system.


            "At least we've still got two more aces." The tunnel incineration system may have been knocked out before it could even have been used, but at least he still had the Inquisitors, and one last trick in tunnel three.


            Once they made it to B group by tunnel three, Fortson had them check out the situation.


            "Oh no..." Johnson gasped. "We've just lost Babbage and his team."


            "Raise him again," Fortson ordered. He looked down the corridor. There were only two options, back into the mine passages, or out the small discreet exit.


            "I got him!"


            "Babbage!" Fortson asked. "What happened?"


            "So that was his name?" a female voice paused. "He actually had a bit of sense. His men were not too shocked at having the enemy appear behind them. If he was the one in charge... ." Ranma chuckled. "I actually had to heal. I mean I needed to drain you scum, more than just a little fun."


            "You will be destroyed, unholy monster."


            "That's the spirit!" Ranma's tone brightened. "You went through a lot of effort to invite me over here. Made sure I was quite angry. The least you could do is try. This is what you wanted right?"


            "It's too late for you," Fortson smirked. "The Inquisitors will get you."


            "Oh, why didn't you use them before?" Ranma knew from her former acolyte daughters that the Inquisitors were the most powerful of the Assembly forces, and were used almost entirely as a means to keep the Fathers and Paladins in line.

 

"I'd think that you'd have tried the extra scary guys a long time ago." Ranma blinked at the silence. "Hello? Huh, fine then," she switched off the radio and went down the smoky hallway. Her eyes focused when the larger Assembly pattern became more obvious.


            She could sense two of them, and saw their long coats but marveled at their masks and poofy hats. This is a joke right? she though eyeing the pair, and wondering how they could hear or see with any skill. They looked scary, or at least a juvenile thespian's idea of scary. At least they were each holding the expected pair of glowing blades. A pair of DarkStar Bursts were launched and guided towards them.


            The Inquisitors flashed back just before the orbs hit and even twisted when the spheres changed their course to match. The explosions were followed by several rakes of eyebeams before Ranma closed in.


            Huge gashes and bloodstains bloomed over their black sliced and torn coats. One had lost his hat, revealing a bald, veined head. With surprising quickness he put up a blade and blocked Ranma's claws. The other came in and tried to decapitate her, not even slowing when Ranma disemboweled him with her tail.


            She pulled back, shooting a fireball right at the hatless one's face. His aura flared and protected his head though the heat seemed to scorch his mask. The other one pulled back slightly and the hatless one charged in.


            Parrying a thrust Ranma blocked his left arm and then extended and broke his right at the elbow. She then twisted and sliced through the shoulder. Dropping down, she avoided the other one's blades while she fully removed the arm of the hatless one.


            Tossing the arm down the corridor, Ranma leapt back and was unsurprised to find the hatted one had healed his chest and was now covering the one-armed Inquisitor. She growled and, after deflecting the first one's blades and slashing his face, made for the one-armed one.


            His partner managed to stab his blade through her side, but Ranma had grabbed an arm and with a quick claw extension cut his hand apart. Still sliced open, she caught a glimpse of his right arm mostly regenerated. She tore the blade out and felt her flesh knit together. At least she had plenty of food before this fight. Between her two foes, she twisted and saw some acolytes down the corridor aiming a rocket launcher.


            Once the rocket fired she knocked the less injured of her foes into it and returned to the armless Inquisitor. She grappled him to the ground and tried to slice right through his chest, mincing most of his organs; she had separated most of his head, when she suddenly jumped away and watched a rocket hit the mutilated body.


            She flicked off a DarkStar Burst which followed the rocket team even when they ducked around a corner in the corridor intersection. Ranma turned to the hideously alive body and was about to feed when she was knocked away by the other Inquisitor. He smelled of cooked meat and burnt leather. Most of his coat and cloak was torn away, revealing a pulsating, strangely throbbing body.


            With increased vigor, he fought Ranma and did his best to keep her away from his prone partner, who was beginning to heal anew. She sighed and blocked her foe's blades while the shadows darkened around her. Knocking past him, she got closer and extended some of them to the injured Inquisitor, who tried to get to his knees.


            He stumbled and slumped back down in a bloody mess as the tendrils fed energy to their mistress. The demon's feeding was interrupted when the other Inquisitor slashed through the inky mass with his glowing blade. Ranma glowered and the room grew to near total darkness.


            She tried to dodge another attack of blades and despite having her chest pierced, knocked the healthy Inquisitor into the rising bloody mass of his partner. The two tumbled into each other and landed in a heap. Before they could recover Ranma fired a DarkStar burst at the two and only after repeated strikes with the magical shrapnel did she remove the blade embedded in her own chest.


            It came out painfully and was surrounded by rotted flesh, but her body was regenerating. The bloody hole closing, she leapt onto the mass and started cutting apart limbs and organs.


            As this happened, the pile thrashed and knitted itself together. A mangled torso headed with half a skull and with two and a half arms and a tiny knee coming out of the belly button even tried to rise out of the mess and tried to grab her. Violet eyebeams ripped apart the gibbering mass and her shadows started to consume it. Sickened, Ranma pulled back and sprayed it down with several fireballs, setting it alight.


            The mass of flesh was eventually reduced to an ashen smear and collection of brittle bones. She stepped forward kicking away a broken mask and a burnt floppy hat. "That's the best you've got!" She demanded. "Tenacious but not skilled!"


            Stretching her neck, she calmly strode towards the corridor juncture. There were still targets alive in this facility.

 

***************

 


            "Bishop, we've lost G group," Johnson quietly said. He looked up from his radio and down the length of the tunnel. Even here the smoke was starting to curl and waft down.


            Fortson nodded. Part of him had prepared for this. If the Inquisitors failed... he looked over the remaining men. Most were behind metal and concrete barricades and had their weapons trained on the narrow bend in the tunnel. The enemy had to come through that opening. Behind them was the rest of tunnel number three; it extended down the mountain and to an unused side passage. When the men last checked their emergency vehicles were still there.


            "Men, we've got one last chance to avenge our brothers. When it comes through here hit her with everything. It'll slow her down, and then we can stop her," Fortson said in a tired, but conspiratorially confident voice. All his men had to do was hold her in one spot long enough, then she would be trapped.


            The battery powered lights the corridor seemed to weaken, especially down towards the rest of the tunnel system. A barrage of black orbs shot out and bent around the dog-leg in the corridor. The first two hit the metal plates being used for protection. Some failed, men screamed as they were hit. A few of the more exuberant troops opened fire.


            Rockets shot off and were followed by machinegun fire. Fortson frowned; he could see the bullets and explosives disappear harmlessly into the smoke, meanwhile the black spheres could shoot out with impunity.


            "Bishop! She's coming!" one of the remaining fathers screamed as he dragged a wounded acolyte further back.


            "Pull your men out, and hold!" Fortson yelled as he stared down the corridor and waited. The rockets stopped firing as the men inched further down the narrow corridor. Only a pair of machine gunners, were still shooting, keeping her at bay. A pair of purple beams shot out and tore into one of them.


            Twisting the handle of the detonator, Fortson smirked. He had her. The explosives were buried into the rock, muting the effect, especially when compared to the rockets that had been fired previously. Stone and concrete cracked and the ceiling at the bend collapsed, sealing the tunnel.


            Fortson strained his eyes to inspect the chamber. Satisfied, he allowed a brief smile. "Out of the tunnel!" He gave one final look and turned around. Hopefully she was crushed by the weight of the mountain; if not, there was still a few yards of solid rock between them and her.


            Sensing nothing, he ran down the tunnel and found the door already open, the camouflage netting already discarded off to the side. A few large trucks were parked around and men were already loading them up. "Good job men, we did it," he praised the men who were still suspiciously watching the trees surrounding them. An irate and highly lethal demon being excellent motivation, the engines started quickly... and loudly.


            They piled in and began to maneuver down the small forest path. It was not far until a larger trail. Fortson ordered some men to lean out and watch with their weapons. They were not safe yet. He wanted more distance. He had to tell Corvine what happened.


            Fortson's small smile evaporated, just as he could sense demons, the explosions started. The first of the trucks blew apart under the barrage, followed by the last one. His men spilled out of the other vehicles and started to fire into the woods.


            A splitting headache formed and his eyes blurred. He could see his men starting to become disorganized, and then the enemy gunfire died down. A sickly green mist came up and started sucking his men dry. Already shaky, many of them screamed and tried to run back to the vehicles, which was when the lightning hit.


            On the opposite side men were being impaled by icicles that then exploded into gory messes, others had their weapons become wreathed in shadows and explode in their hands, the metal shards turning to shrapnel. Then came the fireballs and the screams of men burning alive.


            Fortson himself gaped and tried to push back his headache when he was knocked down. Pain grew in his shoulders from several deep cuts and he could hear the distinct sound of demons feeding. He looked up and saw a blonde woman smile and raise her gun.


            There were a few shots and then blonde made sure to remove his heart and other key organs. She then checked with her sisters and spoke into her headset. "This is Ukyou, we caught the group trying to escape from the tunnels. Who's left?"


            She smiled hearing the response. "Good, we'll be coming back in."


           

***************


           


            Ranma sipped some coffee and waited in the armored transport. "That's the only group to escape the mountain?"


            "That matches our patrols," Kasumi allowed as she looked over a recently printed map of the area. "That initial strike took out everyone topside."


            "But did anyone make it out before that?" Ranma asked leaning back a bit.


            "Our first sweeps came up empty and we haven't detected anyone else. That's all we know." Kasumi looked at her former fiancee. "You're looking good."


            Ranma fluffed the deep red hair that spilled down to past her hips. "Well a good meal does wonders," she smiled toothily. "At least we got these bastards back."


            Kasumi gave a little nod. "Yes, there were enough here to cause some real trouble. I guess they thought that once you were killed the rest of us would be easy to kill."


            "And destroy your horrible demonic soldier program?" Ranma smirked.


            "Their actions started it," Kasumi reminded. She turned to see her sisters and the rest of Ranma's spawn return. "Hello girls."


            "Hi Aunty!" Misako smiled as she put her gun down. She turned to Ranma. "Thanks for letting us have them, Mom."


            "They tried to collapse the mountain on me," Ranma stated.


            "You just jumped back, out of the way," Nabiki dryly remarked.


            Ranma coughed.


            "You do look good, Mom," Misako noted. "And anyway, Ucchan got Bishop Fortson. Damn fool shit himself." She laughed.


            "He was rather pompous," Ukyou allowed. It had been shocking to see the effects of the MLRS strike; it was amazing anyone was left alive. "So how was your mission?"


            Ranma shrugged. "They tried. That bishop guy had a few tricks; he did manage to escape."


            "And then we heard their trucks," Nariko smirked as she cleaned her blade. She handed some of her cleaning supplies to Nabiki.


            "Thanks Sis," Nabiki said.


            "You sure you had to go into the mountain by yourself, Mom?" Akane pouted.


            Crossing her hands over her ample chest, Ranma narrowed her dark violet eyes. "Yes, I wanted to finish them, and this way you guys could capture anyone that got out."


            "I guess that works," Akane allowed.


            Ranma stood up and hugged Akane. "You girls still got plenty to eat."

 

***************

 


            "Well, that was successful," Jacob remarked, looking at an overhead view of the former Assembly base.


            "Assuming we got them before their strike force left," Stillwater cautioned.


            "I doubt it. If their plan was to attack us in a weakened state they would not have left this many troops and vehicles in reserve." Jacob sipped his water. "No, we took out something two, three companies in strength. With minimal losses on our part."


            "Counting today's earlier casualties?" Stillwater shrugged and looked at the transcript of Ranma's report.


            "Yes, it's all part of the same mission. They thought they could destroy Miss Saotome, and then neutralize us."


            "Instead we got quick enough intelligence to get them before they even left," Stillwater raised an eyebrow. "They had to have known their ambush failed, and they were still there."


            "Yes? They thought it was secured. The late Father Pierce was not supposed to know the location of their base. So, they waited. Maybe they were going to try another ambush, maybe they figured a big attack was no longer worth it. They also tried to lay a trap there. Miss Saotome did say there was a lot of booby traps and prepared defenses in that mountain," Jacob shrugged.


            "Their defenses were formidable," Stillwater allowed.


            Jacob smiled. "Good thing the general, and our hosts, allowed us to use our MLRS capability."


            "It gives a good impression. We repaid them with a fury fifty times what they did to us."


            "We? Miss Saotome was responsible for at least half of the casualties."


            "I appreciate her sympathy." Stillwater narrowed his eyes.


            Jacob nodded. "This will be interesting to follow. This is more than their last attack. The losses from that were a sixth of tonight's. Our intelligence has shown that their bases and training camps had drained. This..."


            Stillwater smiled thinly. "This hurt them. A bishop was killed, a fortress destroyed. Mountains of equipment, arms, and vehicles. They lost Inquisitors tonight. Their Fathers are getting strained, and even the hordes of acolytes add up."


            "The plan worked. Kill everyone outside, trap the ones inside, and pick off anyone that tries to escape."


            "Simple plans work best. I suppose Jarvis could have had an interesting chat with the Bishop, but there's still records in that facility. Searching will be difficult. Miss Saotome was rather exuberant." Jacob almost laughed.


            "I'm more concerned what the remaining Assembly forces will do. This was a massive commitment towards defeating us."


            "According to our reports, a force that size would be the bulk of their regular troops." Jacob paged to another document. "Yes, one Bishop would not have that many men under his command. Had to have been from higher up."


            "Yes, a big wager for them." Stillwater stroked his goatee.


            "I think it's appropriate for pressure to increase on other fronts too." Jacob suggested.


            "I'll kick it up to the general. I think the idea of massive reprisals will appeal to him."


            "He did let us use the big guns." Jacob reminded.


            "Indeed, and that Pattern V camp is still out there," Stillwater stated. "The larger target took precedence, but that group should still be destroyed."


            "The strike is already being planned. We'll do it at ten-hundred hours."


            "Good. How is the cover story going?" Stillwater inquired. "This was in a remote area, but not that remote. You don't have explosions that size without someone noticing."


            "We're going with the war-game excuse. Some testing of missile systems, dummies of course. Also add in a few demolitions work, including the destruction of an abandoned mine. Top it off with some training of their men by an eager military contractor."


            "The actual Canadian forces being used?"


            "I've placed a call with Joint Task Force Two."


            "They have been grousing that we've taken their territory." Stillwater reminded. They and the Canadian Special Operations Regiment had been quite cross with the Company contract.


            "Yes, well as good as Canadian Special forces are, JTF2 is trained for Counter-Terrorist operations, not fighting eldritch monsters. We'll bring some of them in. Show them some equipment and give them the training."


            "Yes, use an actual covert training mission to cover this up. That fits with our main cover." Stillwater allowed. "And the bodies, lotta cleanup there?"


            "They're soldiers. Only two select teams will come in, and they should have some idea what their country is facing."


            "Even if it's not really the Assembly," Stillwater chuckled. "Well, it is in our contract to start training them."


            "Yes, but I'll keep the demons under wraps. For now"


            "Still, this will keep Land Force Command off our back."


            "It is their country," Jacob pointed out.


            "Yes, and if anyone can handle it JTF2 can. Their work in Peru and British Columbia was exemplary and the rescue of that Peacemaker Team was top notch."


            "We'll see how it goes. Not everyone takes well to knowing the full story." Stillwater rubbed the bridge of his nose. He had not wanted to deal with the local military but this was a convenient time. "If things go very well, maybe we can have Captain Jarvis start to liaise with their team."


            "She may be busy with her extra responsibilities," Jacob reminded.


            "Yes, the D program is getting its first real test. Your evaluation of Graham and Morrison?"


            "They both have the personality to deal with it, and there's already a support structure in place for them. We'll just have to keep a close eye on their progress."

 

 ***************

 


            "I rather like this design." Morrison pointed to one of the schematics.


            Nodoka smiled. "It started when I began building a weapon around a proposed 17mm round. Fascinating challenge. One of the more surprising aspects was figuring out how to give a magazine with reasonable capacity without being unwieldy. A horizontal magazine with staggered rounds, could allow for forty rounds and be only forty centimeters long."


            "That's a ridiculous round." Morgan  paged over to  look over the properties of the proposed munition. "If velocity drop is correct then this round would be limited to closer ranges.

 


            "Not really," Nodoka countered. "There's plenty of large calibers in our work. The Barrett XM109 fires a 25mm specialty round. Lots of options and is stock available. The 17mm is just adapted from anti-material sharp shooting roles."


            "That gun's almost impossible for a human to use." Morgan blinked. "Oh... oh my."  She frowned.


            Nodoka's eyes lit up. "Did you ever use that Barrett, Dear?"


            "It was okay. I didn't like that it wasted it's potential. The thing's only 46 inches long, they could at least have put a better barrel on it. It was also being held back.. they had to cut it down so much just so it could be... usable" Morgan's voice trailed off with the realization that it might no longer be such an unwieldy weapon. The action was a bit unusual too. Unlike many sharp shooters, she was not married to bolt action, but it was more stable.


            "It still put the bullet at the maximum range," Nodoka stated.


            Morgan shrugged. "A good gun should be like a custom sports car, that thing... it was a concept car. It looks great at a convention with a busty girl on it, but it's not for real use. They had to rein it in too much."


            "Really now?" Nodoka turned to one of her aides. "Ayanami, go to the armory and sign out the XM 109. I believe we have two."


            The young Science and Technology agent nodded and walked off. On her return trip, she would be irritated to find that the gun weighed over thirty-three pounds.


            Morgan raised an eyebrow. "What?"


            "Daughter, you challenged her," Eve said giving the diminutive sharp shooter a pat on the head.


            "Well, I bet you can't make this," Morrison mischievously smirked, pointing to another monstrous gun design. It was in a bullpup configuration and had some similarity to a submachine gun, but it was really a weapon unto itself.


            Nodoka chuckled. "Oh? That's the 17mm gun you pointed out? More work, total rebuild I can request the test gun. It's just a single shot, but it'll fire the round."


            "You did make these," Eve said pulling out her sidearm. She gave Morrison a little wink.


            "Much simpler task."


            "Yes, making a long-rifle to Morgan's specifications would be easier," Morrison teased.


            "I don't even know what I can do," Morgan sighed. Her body felt too strange, too familiar. The body was so... alive and connected, but it did not feel... herself.


            "We'll take you to the range tomorrow," Eve assured as she put an arm around her.


            "Don't worry girls, you'll be fine. Eve will be a wonderful mother to you." Nodoka said her eyes locking onto the blonde demoness.


            Eve blinked, and decided to do what came naturally and held Morgan closer to her. She then felt the young demoness start to drain her, and pulled Morrison over as well.


            Nodoka smiled. "Good." She started making some notes on her clipboard. Her phone rang. "Yes? Oh wonderful. Of course, send them down."


            "They're back?" Morrison asked, sleepily opening her eyes. She knew the mission was a success but it was nice to know her... aunt and cousins were coming back.


            Nodoka nodded.


           "I can see the benefits of such a large round, Grandma. Even at sedate speeds, it can impart a huge amount of power, and the dimensions allow for some very creative specialty rounds. But I'm worried about the logistics. I mean to even get it reasonably fast will require huge pressures and as a result lots of weight," Morrison said.


            "Misako's gun weighs almost as much as your sister," Nodoka gently stated. "I exaggerate but the nature of your bodies removes many constraints."

            "Physical, training will also start tomorrow," Eve added. "Unlike your cousins, you don't have school so that's good. You have a whole slew of abilities you need to learn."


            "We can fly," Morgan muttered. She blinked. "We can fly?"


            "You knew what the D program meant right?" Eve asked as she continued to hold each girl to a side.


            "It's a great idea when you need some life insurance, it's another thing when you find yourself sporting an amazing rack," Morgan muttered as she lifted her breasts.


            "You get used to it," Misako said as she and other succubae entered the room.


            "How are you girls doing?" Ranma said as she ran over and hugged Eve and her daughters.


            "Are the numbers I've been hearing real?" Nodoka asked. It was obvious that her daughter had fed quite well. Her hair was quite glossy and... active.


            Ranma turned and gave a satisfied smile. "We annihilated them."


            "Mother did most of the work," Nariko added.


            "Good work," Nodoka put an arm around her daughter. Noticing the crimson hair curl around her arm, she resolved to purchase a bigger brush. "Hopefully, things will calm down a bit,  you've already missed most of the school week."


            Ranma nodded. "Hopefully day after tomorrow. It's not too long, I've already asked Drake to pick up our makeup work."


            "Is Master Nishina around?" Nabiki asked.


            "He's in the commissary having a late dinner," Nodoka said.


            "Good, I want to show him how my blades held up."


            "He was very proud of those grips."


            "I should go see him too," Nariko said before following Nabiki out.


            Ukyou looked at the two new succubae. "I guess my second gun will be postponed again."


            "No, I decided to place a larger order with our internal supplier," Nodoka said. "The next batch should be here in a couple days."


            "Excuse me," Ayanami said as she lugged a gigantic gun-case into the room. She knew her boss had her family in. The scent of succubae fresh from battle was quite distinctive. She put the case onto a workbench and opened it up.


            "Oh yes, that is a... stark gun," Nodoka said appraising the weapon.


            Eve allowed her daughter loose and Morgan walked up to her grandmother.


            "How you doing?" Misako asked crouching down to Morrison's eye level. "You killed one of us with a just a knife right?"


            Morrison nodded at the coifed woman.


            "Good, you'll make a great succubus," Misako patted Morrison's knee.


            "There's more to us than being violent and lethal," Akane noted.


            "Yes, we have to be sexy and sensual, and I think she's got that too," Misako said, causing Morrison to blush.


            "Misa-chan has a point." Ukyou agreed. "If she can become a proper succubus, anyone can."


            Eve raised an eyebrow.


            Misako coughed. "You've also got a very scary and intense mother too, but don't worry. You're healthy"


            Morrison blinked. "I forgot about her!"


            "Who?" Eve asked.


            "Andrea," Morrison's lip quivered. "I should go and see her."


            "I'll take you up," Misako said as she and Eve helped Morrison to her feet.

            "You think, I'll be okay?" Morrison asked as the pair made their way down the corridors.


            "Aunty Eve is better at hiding her emotions, but she's strong, and lonely." Misako shrugged. "She wants someone to care for."


            Morrison gave a little smile as they entered the medical rooms.


            "Yes?" Dr. Covington asked, not looking up from her chart. Things had been stable for a bit, but the situation could always get worse.


            "Agent Lytle, Ma'am. Can she take visitors?" Morrison said as she gave a little salute.


            "She wasn't that bad, some breaks but should recover fine."
Covington allowed as she looked the young demoness over. It was what she expected, not nearly as surprising as Captain Jarvis was. "Don't stay for long though," she said pointing to a bed.


            Morrison passed the other wounded agents, and exchanged pleasantries with the few that were awake.


            Andrea Lytle watched them approach and pull up seats. "Well you wondered what being female would be like," she chuckled at the blue-green haired demoness. She was about the right height and had some of Morrison's more solid build, but the skin tone was completely different and the body had all the sleek and very female curves of the species. Most notably her facial structure gave just enough of a hint as to who the woman was.


            "Yeah," Morrison coughed and pulled at her skirt.


            "Dress uniforms? Well, the captain is strange."


            Misako smirked.


            "It's good that you're okay," Morrison offered weakly. She could tell Andrea was confused "I mean... it was bad today."


            "Red took care of them," Andrea stated, coldly.


            "Young and the other missile guys did a lot and
Smith helped too, that'll make Sis jealous."


            Andrea chuckled. "Sis, now? Next thing you'll want to hug everyone and happily purr."


            Morrison crossed her arms over her chest. "No I don't."


            "Oh yes you do," Misako teased. "Just hug her, she won't mind it."

 

***************

 


            "It's a fruit basket." Mistress Mercury said, glaring at the woven whicker container. It contained a few nectarines, a couple sour apples, a smattering of plums, some strawberries, and, of course, passion fruit, She closed the thick grimoire and steepled her fingers. "I trust it's been checked out?"


            "It's clean, nothing magical or technological. Though the note was... odd," Orion coughed and motioned to Virgo who handed the oddly thick pamphlet over. The cover showed a lovely rugged landscape with a dark blue lake surrounded by heavily forested rolling hills. Lettering on the bottom said "Greetings from Algonquin Provincial Park"


            Mercury opened it up and found on the inside cover surprisingly sloppy letters stating "Akumi: we couldn't have done it without you." It was unsigned. Though photos in a pocket on the opposite cover revealed who had sent the note.


            Virgo swallowed nervously; she was still shocked by the images.


            Mercury's eyes widened when she looked at the first picture. It was another landscape but this one looked to be a snapshot from, appropriately enough, hell. The ground was chewed up as if attacked by an angry god. Bodies and parts of bodies were scattered until they became too indistinct to make out. Vehicles and buildings were similarly ruined and marched up the hillside until they came to the shattered foundation of what had to be some kind of building.


            Morbidly curious, she flipped to the next picture. Her hand spasmed in shock as she stared at a corridor that was literally choked with corpses. There were burns, clean slices, ragged tears, shrapnel damage, and wounds Ami could not even begin to contemplate. Bite marks and missing chunks of flesh stood out to her more than the frightened, frightened eyes. At least, not many of the cadavers had heads let alone eyes.


            She turned to another photograph and saw a large room. Instead of a heap of dead, the entire floor was covered in a disturbingly even layer of biomass. Wide arcs, fine sprays, chunky splatters, and big droplets decorated the walls and ceiling of this chamber.


            Another photo showed a stairway and a... pile. It was only by counting boots that Mercury could tell that it was two people that had died. Yet another image showed a perplexing pile of ash, bones, and heat-warped blades. Her lip quivered as she flipped through the photographs. The carnage ran together.


            She knew what would happen to Pierce. She had even been there to watch Eve... work on him, and had been relieved to see it end. Mercury knew what they would do with this information, but still...


            The part of her that was inquisitive, thirsted for knowledge and wanted to prove how bright she was began to count. Mercury flipped back through the images, and tried to make sense. Even the raw, cold numbers were horrifying.


            There were weapons, they had all been armed, it was their base, and they were still completely slaughtered. She flipped the pictures over and tried to see if there were any comments, remarks, reasons why someone would send this.


            "She wanted you to know," Orion stated.


            "Demon wanted to show off, tell you what she can do," Virgo added.


            Mercury raised an eyebrow. "Yes, very perceptive Virgo." She frowned and put the photographs down. It hurt her head.


            "She also knows where you live," Virgo reminded.


            "You're right." Mercury paled. She wondered how much of this message was showing off and how much of it was a threat.


            "We teleported back yesterday, she couldn't have followed us."


            "So, she's known for longer," Mercury rubbed her forehead. "Great, how long has she known?"


            "It's addressed to here using your... birth name," Orion hesitantly said.


            "Really, I'm surprised she didn't list it as 'Secret Hideout'."


            "Well, we can check for surveillance?" Orion asked.


            "That'll tell us where they're watching us now," Mercury hissed. "Still that's good to know."


            "She tells us she knows your secret hideout is by sending pictures of her killing people in their secret hideout," Virgo slowly said.


            "How would our defenses hold up?" Mercury asked Orion.


            "These images show DarkStar tearing apart a mountain citadel with trenches, lots of weapons, concrete bunkers, and what has to be hundreds of men. We live in a converted brownstone townhouse, and there's four of us."


            "There's more than numbers."


            "Yes, there's also skill," Virgo stated. "We're doing well, Venus especially, but..."


            Mercury looked over to Venus who still had upgrades being readied while on the golden alter. "Was this just her? Did her spawn help? Did WIC?"


            "I can study the pictures in detail... but it looks like demons did this. I don't know how many," Orion allowed.


            "And there's even more of them now," Mercury sighed and finally reached for her wineglass and a new bottle.


            "She could really just be saying thank you." Orion shrugged. "A demon thing?"


            "It's still a message. She wants you to know what she can do."


            "And what I did." Mercury frowned. She had killed quite a bit to be honest more back in Japan than here, but it was always... She shook her head. The Assembly was foolish enough to attack DarkStar, they had it coming to them. That could be the message being sent: This is what happens to people who think they can fight me.


            Orion nodded and had the photographs spilled out on her workstation. She pulled a magnifier out of a drawer and started examine for anything... noteworthy, and to count.


            Mercury eyed the fruit. "They even thought they had killed her. She was really damaged, but that just got her mad."


            "Worse than Pluto," Virgo muttered.


            Mercury laughed. "Maybe, maybe, she is worse, but I can almost understand DarkStar. Everything she does makes sense. I know what she wants; I just can't stop her."


            "And Pluto?"


            "I don't even know what she is," Mercury grumbled. She flipped her recently purchased copy of Unaussprechlichen Kulten open. "Take this book. On the one hand all these cults... it's rather depressing. The fall of the Silver Millennium let all these vile monstrosities creep back into the world and they started preying on ignorant humans. On the other, it's full of deluded ramblings: lurker beyond the threshold, star out of time, keys of the gate. It's all nonsense. Of course, a primitive cultist wouldn't understand a magical construct this complex."


            "They're worshiping old junk? Broken things from old magical kingdom?" Virgo asked.


            "Why... yes. Some of them, some cults actually worship monsters, others merely worship... artifacts. How'd you guess?"


            "Old village had plenty of old stuff. Elders said were sacred artifacts, but didn't know how they worked half the time."


            Mercury nodded. "Yes, and we've got a time travel device, which of course they thought was some kind of god."


            "They did?" Virgo asked.


            "There's a strong correlation between the spells that we were given to block Setsuna and the apparent 'blind spots' of the gates," Orion explained. "The spells we're using are also similar to ones discussed in that book."


            "The Path of the Will shows that some of the Silver Millennium era knowledge was passed down. Over the years it got corrupted by all the translating. They thought our Queen would become some silvery monster," Mercury laughed and took a sip of her drink. "So it stands to reason that tomes dealing with the gates would similarly be warped.


            "Spells to block out spying machine become spells to ward off evil spirits," Virgo surmised.


            "Yes, that's about right." Mercury sighed, an alert came on her display and with a thin smile she got up and walked over to Venus' alcove. "At least this is working well," the darkly dressed woman stated looking over the gold figure.


            Running a hand over Venus' exquisitely detailed face, Mercury opened a hatch in the golden figure's stomach. After briefly marveling at the golden contents she typed in the authorization code, and sealed it shut. The new material being pumped in had enough time to connect and adapt. Golden liquid began to flow and solidify, especially around the joints. The limbs seemed to get longer and the frame expanded several inches, the plates growing to match the larger figure.


            Extra armored plates formed around the elbows and knees giving more protection while allowing for mobility. Shoulder armor came out and became two overlapping circular arcs. Boots went from pointed and stylish to heavy and articulated. Plates formed over the golden stomach becoming thicker and with a fine seam down the center.


            Skirting became heavier and more solid. Cleavage disappeared as the collar spread across forming a large protective triangular plate. Finally, the golden gel expanded over the face smoothing the features. Ears and lips were covered over and the nose was pulled in and the entire face was smoothed. The only details were Venus' currently dimmed eye-slits.


            "There, that's better," Mercury said gliding her hand over the polished featureless face. She punched a command in the alter and stepped back as the cables and piping retreated. Their connection ports were quickly covered by armor and the figure's eye-slits flared with a bright red light.


            The figure pulled itself upright, and paused. The armor had changed, and new routines and programs were activating. "Mistress," Venus said, bowing her head down.


            "Are you sure the time is right?" Orion asked.


            "Virgo, your assessment?" Mercury asked.


            "Golden-girl wants to learn and does it well, but she's not ready, still playing at warrior." Virgo noticed that Venus' head tilted ever so slightly towards her.


            "She still acts like a magical girl?" Mercury shook her head and put her hand on Venus' armored knee. "We've got to break you of that habit."


            Orion coughed. "Still, even when Venus is trained..."


            Mercury frowned. "I can't beat DarkStar. I have no idea what Setsuna's even doing. That leaves one person."


            "But the Queen is protected," Virgo reminded.


            "That's exactly why we need Venus."


           

***************

 


            Lying down, Morgan sighted through the scope of the immense rifle. Controlling her breathing, she adjusted weapon's position ever so slightly, and it shifted ten meters laterally down range. She paused and savored the moment. Sergeant Morgan Graham always felt connected to the target, linked by the power of the weapon, but now it was... different. The scope was more responsive, it even took relative orientation and ballistic trajectories into account, but there was more to it than the equipment.


            She depressed the trigger; a twenty-five millimeter shell fired. Obeying simple kinematics, it raced forward at well over twice the speed of sound. Even at this velocity, it still took two and a half seconds of waiting for Morgan to see the results.  The high explosive round hit it and sliced through the inch thick armor in a bust of fire.


            Remaining still, she inspected the damage. The large burnt hole was offset a couple inches to the left. She frowned. At least the reloading action was smooth enough, though part of her still wanted to work the action manually. Moving to another target she fired again and found this one hit more symmetrically.


            Putting in a fresh magazine she went out another half kilometer. She was starting to understand why the Soviets liked female sharp shooters. It was all fine muscle control, add the succubus edge... she did not even have to adjust her sight. The widgets in the scope automatically compensated for air pressure and gravity. The weapon seemed... eager to help. Two and a half kilometers out was still perfectly clear. She knew her eyes were helping too, the clarity and range they gave her was shocking. The concept of not needing any special night scopes was thrilling too.


            This time she fired at the first target, and immediately shifted the gun as it automatically reloaded. After acquiring the third target and depressing the trigger, she heard the first giant bullet impact. It was followed by the two others.


            Moving almost imperceptibly, she swiveled to check the other targets. They had all hit, though the second one was the worst, accuracy-wise. She fired off the two remaining rounds, this time taking more patient shots and was pleased with the results. She ejected the magazine and slowly rose to her feet.


            "Interesting show," Nodoka remarked from her spotting scope.


            "Barrett built a fair weapon. It's just not for humans," Morgan allowed. Even throttling it back as much as they did the weapon was still just barely usable... in human hands..


            "How's the BORS?" Nodoka asked referring to the Barrett Optical Ranging System. The advanced scope would automatically determine targeting corrections using the tilt and position of the gun in addition to range, temperature, barometric pressure.


            "The gun..." Morgan's eyes flicked down to the weapon in her hands. "It wants to help. What's the fail-safe like?" She did not want to have the scope ruined because it ran out of batteries or a wire snapped off.


            "Power-off and the projection stops. The scope is fully functional in mechanical mode. It can be disabled manually by pressing the off button, which is a mechanical disconnect," Nodoka assured.


            "That's good." Morgan twisted her neck. Electronics could fail at the worst of times, and even hardened systems could fail in a hostile enough environment.


            "Is it worth pursuing?" Nodoka asked an eager edge to her voice.


            Morgan looked down at the weapon. She had spent the morning practicing on it, and had found it had... potential. She could almost feel what the gun wanted to be, what it could be, if someone would just let it. It was also a good way to work out the feelings from last night. Being with Mother had been comforting. She looked back to her grandmother. "Yes... it could work."


            "There is room for improvement." Nodoka went on. "It's essentially a scale up of their fifty caliber version. Their receiver is good, but we can increase the velocity. The higher pressure will have to be compensated for, but I was thinking of a new barrel."


            "Oh?"


            "It's not even four feet long; we can make it bigger. That will help give it more range. Though that will make it more unwieldy."


            Morgan looked down. She was already beating her old records. As a human, Morgan had preferred a slightly more manageable weapon, and had enjoyed the lead flower sabot system, but this... Where could she go from here? There was no point if she did not challenge herself, this body demanded that. She had to admit that the weapon was fairly short. The bipod was only a few inches short of the muzzle brake. "Yeah.. that sounds good."


            She put the weapon down and started gathering spent casings. The large shells made her hands look even smaller and made a big stack in a spare container. After cleaning up, she looked at her old weapon and frowned. It was a good gun, but it felt both too large in length of pull and yet too light. It was designed for a body that was both larger and weaker.


           Eve walked up and noticed the status of the targets with a smile. "Good work today." She hugged the short succubus.


            "Wow, that one's over one and a half miles," Morrison said checking out the range markers on the sharpshooter range. Her own test gun was sitting next to her sidearm.


            Morgan blushed slightly. "How was your pistol work?"


            "Good, I think you'll like it. Gra-... Major Saotome made a very accurate gun," Morrison said smirking a bit at her sister's nervousness. "What did you think of that test type gun?"


            "The 17mm?" Morgan shrugged. "The round has promise, the weapon itself was just a simple one-shot frame. But increase the rate of fire... I guess it'll work."


            "Yeah, for close to medium work it could be real devastating. Didn't even strain my shoulder." Morrison had found the recoil suspiciously manageable.


            "Come on, it's time for a snack," Eve assured as she lead her girls away from the range. Morgan whimpered a bit and decided to hold onto the rifle, while Nodoka took more notes and picked up the 17mm test gun.


            "It's not even noon yet," Morrison said.


            "You're going to be doing more physical training later," Eve explained. "You had a good start this morning, but we're going to start flying today."


            Morrison and Morgan nodded slowly as they walked to the small commissary in the B facility. "How did the S&D with the Pattern V go?" Morgan asked. Their early morning training had been cut short by Aunty Ranma and her spawn leaving for that mission.


            "Destroyed," Eve remarked. "They found some indication that the Assembly was watching them too."


            "So, they were bait." Morgan shook her head. She looked up to see part of the brood, her brood, eating at some of the tables.


            "If it isn't the bashful sisters," Misako teased.


            "They still slept nude with us," Nabiki remarked.


            Morrison coughed as she sat down. "Sorry, this is... new." She looked to her mother and was unsurprised to find Eve had a blank face. Morgan's similar expression wasn't unexpected either. Sharpshooters were a strange lot. "Oh come on, it was a bit strange to sleep with a bunch of amazingly good looking nude women."


            "Really? I didn't know you struck out with the ladies, Rich" Morgan plainly remarked as she put her gun down on one side of the table.


            Misako gave the rifle a slightly jealous glance.


            Richard Morrison rubbed her forehead. "Yes, I don't have an androgynous first name."


            "To be fair, you did nuzzle right onto my side," Eve reminded.


            "That's what succubae do," Morrison pouted.


            Ranma smirked. "Don't worry, it's surprisingly easy to be one of us."


            "Though it takes a lot of hard work to do it right," Misako added.


            "Yes, a tackle box full of makeup," Nabiki smirked.


            Misako glared.


            "The service is going to be later today," Eve suddenly interjected.


            Morrison looked down. Henderson was gone, Wetherhold too. She was not as close to Franklin and Porter. It was not the first time friends had died.


            "I know," Ranma nodded and looked to her quieted spawn. She coughed.


            "Maybe, Akane, Ukyou, and Nariko need help setting up the training equipment," Ranma casually remarked. Misako and Nabiki stiffened. The redhead then noticed her mother was still writing on her clipboard. "Cooking up something good for the girls?"


            "Oh yes, I think the girls will be quite pleased." Nodoka said with a little smirk.


            "So Aunty, how was the mission today?" Morrison asked.


            "Easy, only one of the vampires had any skill." Ranma remarked. She felt a familiar tickling in the back of her mind and placed a call with her phone.


            "He tried to dodge Sasha." Misako chuckled.


            Morrison blinked. An automatic grenade launcher was a good way to get suppressive fire against a high-speed NH, but she doubted if "Sasha" was used in such a restrained manner.

 

            Misako was able to manhandle her bulky weapon with unreal ability. The young succubus paused, remembering her own experience manhandling her new sidearm and that monstrous 17 mm round. The ability was all too real.


            "Lousy vampires, they turn to dust as soon as you start cutting them up," Nabiki grumbled.


            "You still got more to eat than I did," Misako pouted.


            "You saturated your guy with grenades at forty meters. There wasn't anything left!"


            "Jackass kept jumping around." Misako smiled. Once a bit of shrapnel sliced off his left foot he became trivial to take out. "Then he cried when he got a little booboo."


            Ranma smiled and turned to Eve's spawn. "Are you girls ready for more training?" She blinked, yes that was definitely a familiar sensation.


            "Oh, yes," Morgan nodded, stealing a glance at her gun, while Morrison grinned and nodded.

 

            Then Ranma's phone rang and a familiar voice addressed her. "Yes, Miss Saotome, you do have two clients in the entrance hall," Maya said.


            "Thank you," Ranma then closed her phone and stood up. "Nabiki, you're coming with me. Eve, start the physical training with your girls as normal. Akane and Nariko already have the lessons planned out."


            "Why me?" Nabiki asked as they left the room.


            "Usagi's brought someone." As Ranma approached the foyer in an adjacent building she could sense the two Senshi. Neither seemed fully... human, and their connection stuck out, it was like looking at an anchor from the seabed, where a slight chain ran up to infinity.


           Ranma stepped into the waiting room and motioned for the four agents to leave. She slowly looked at her two guests, both appeared ill-at-ease. Usagi was expected, as was Setsuna honestly. Ranma could imagine being under a teleportation jamming field was not something the Senshi of Pluto enjoyed.


            Usagi's eyes shimmered as she watched the redheaded figure confidently stride in. Her hair seemed to flow around her and freely mixed with the shadows, while a leather bustier and leather pants clung to her form.


            "Usagi, how nice to see you. What brings you out of school?" Ranma smiled slipping her arms in front of her chest.


            Usagi blinked back a tear and ran over to the demoness. "You're okay!"  She hugging Ranma and resting her head on the redhead's shoulder.


            Ranma returned the hug and gave a light chuckle. "I did call you and say I was okay."


            "And then you said you were gonna kill a lot of people."


            "Yes." Ranma smiled and, with some regret, let Usagi pull away.


            "How many?"


            "Over half were taken out by Steel Rain."


            Usagi blinked. That sounded like a demonic name. "SteelRain... so is she a relative of yours?"


            Ranma laughed. "Not exactly."


            "It's slang for the bomblets in a type of medium range ground to ground rocket system. Basically each rocket contains hundreds of smaller explosives. It's very... effective," Setsuna explained.  "And not normally used outside of war zones."

 

            "They had three battalions, over three hundred men, material, and vehicles ready to go."

 

            Usagi's face paled. "You... you bombed them."


            "Of course."


            "Why?"


            Ranma flicked one of her bangs aside. "To kill them. Made my job easier," she said in a slow, flat tone.


            Usagi swallowed.  "If they had that many. They were going to attack but.."


            Sensing the blonde's roiling emotions, Nabiki stepped a bit closer to her mother.


            "They came at us first," Ranma idly said, inspecting her fingers. "They wanted a war with me. They wanted to fight the Company. Fine." She smiled. "They got their fight."


            The blonde exhaled. "It's not like you had to fight fair is it?" she asked her voice a bit strained. "They weren't were they?"


            Ranma raised the corners of her lips.


            Usagi shuddered. "You killed them all didn't you?"


            Purple demonic eyes flashed. "Personally?"

 

            "We'd have to subtract those the artillery killed,  and how much support did you have on the ground...."  Setsuna's musing trialed off when Usagi shot her a look.

 

            "Better in their mountain hideout than down here, where someone else could get hurt?"  the blonde asked.


            Ranma smiled. "You felt what they did to me, to my friends. They killed. I can regenerate from that stuff, humans can't. Ami felt it too. She actually came to help. She wasn't bashful either. Neither are you; I saw what you did in that toy store."


            Usagi narrowed her eyes and stared Ranma eye to eye. "That was different."


            Ranma's grin turned to a smile. "Yes it was. The Assembly only attacked demons and soldiers, at least they had that much. I can respect them for keeping it.. professional."


            "But... well.. yes." Usagi blinked. "What was Ami doing? I mean helping you?"


            "She teleported in. Helped us capture someone that knew where their base was. Quite helpful."


            Usagi gave a skeptical look. " 'Quite helpful.' And yet she thinks you're corrupting me. Doesn't that strike you as suspicious?"


            "I think Akumi wanted to prove herself to me. That she could help. Though that Assemblyman did give her some problems. Her pretty uniform was all cut up," Ranma flatly stated.


            "I'd assume she also did it to get on your good side," Setsuna added.


            "Probably."


            "Was... Minako there?"


            "Nope. Just her and Orion."


            "Why didn't she bring Virgo and Minako?" Setsuna asked.


            "That's a very good question. She could have used more help." Ranma rubbed her chin. "They might not have been available."


            "We can check to see if there was any other disturbances yesterday," Nabiki offered.


            "Thank you," Setsuna said.


            "What if Minako was imprisoned and... Virgo was guarding her?" Usagi asked.


            "Possible, but Merc's not one to waste an able body on guard duty. Not when she's got a perfect metal prison already made."


            "She might not trust Minako alone."


            "Maybe. Ami might be worried that Minako could be more than a... test subject. After all isn't that what your plan was? Make Mina into a double agent?"


            "She was supposed to contact us but has not," Setsuna said with enough distaste to convey her opinion of this plan.


            "Ami won't hurt her. That's not her aim. She wants me to be this proper queen she's got in her head. She's trying to... well... teach me. Hurting Mina pushes me too far."  Usagi flexed her fingers and then curled them in.


            "Oh?"


            The corners to Usagi's lips rose. "Yes part of her is afraid... afraid of what the battle-queen she idolizes, the fantasy of My mother, that Serenity would do when faced with a wayward Senshi."

 

            Ranma blinked.

 

            The blonde smirked. "She'll worry that I'll sic my pet demon, you, on her."

            "Indeed, but what does she want Mina for?"


            "Turn her to her side. New armor, new mentality. Ami's showing me what she can do. How she can 'fix' us all." Usagi's hands clenched. "We're not broken."

 
            Ranma's eyebrow rose briefly. That was an interesting plan. Mercury was still trying to prove her worth, prove her value. "No, but you do need more training."


            "Yes, I've stepped up the pace," Setsuna said. "I'm inclined to agree with Usagi. Ami's plans for Minako are to transform her into a fully armored warrior. That first coating was just a test, Ami's would want this perfect. She is showing how she can take a random Senshi and turn them into a lethal warrior."


            "She's trying to impress me," Usagi sighed.


            "Nothing like a little kidnapping to do that." Ranma wondered about Mercury. Mina could be acting the whole time. If the suit was fancy enough, she could even be converted to Mercury's side. Though that probably involved a fair bit of mental manipulation. Usagi and Setsuna had to know this. Mercury and Orion were both mentally altered.

 

            Ranma once again looked to Nabiki who shrugged. "Has your own surveillance picked anything up?" she asked Setsuna.


            "It's definitely the place. You're right the she went overboard on the protection. Once you know it's there..." Setsuna trailed off. The protection was too good. It was exactly tailored to block her powers, and not just the parts cataloged by Serenity's research mages.


            "Anyone coming and going?" Ranma asked.


            "Just Virgo and Minako. It looks like Mercury has them on little missions. Probably to get more information. That may have been why they were unavailable yesterday." Setsuna remembered Usagi's face when she told the princess about that; it was worrying. So were the books that Mercury was looking for. If she got her hands on that kind of knowledge...


            Nabiki knew her mother's worry. Usagi was too paralyzed to act, and seemed to be throwing every bit of initiative to Mercury.


            "Ami's numbers will continue to grow. You should stop her. We can do this."


            "She's not a threat to you," Setsuna reminded.


            Ranma shrugged. "That's because she knows what happens to people that hurt my family."


            "She could still take an agent. Try to get at you that way. Make a spy or something." Usagi looked out the thick doors.


            Ranma laughed. "Ami's more afraid of them than she is of me."


            "Really?" Usagi's voice was skeptical.


            "She expects a demon-queen Senshi to be a challenge and scary, but 'normal' humans? They're not supposed to factor into things at all. For all her talk, she still thinks like a magical girl."


            "You're a magical girl too."


            "Maybe, but I never thought like one. I've always been a martial artist or a succubus. Now I'm both. Mercury's making the same mistakes she's accusing you of making. For one thing she's underestimating humanity."


            "What, but she's human."


            Ranma waved a hand. "Irrelevant. She hasn't worked her head around what humanity can do. Shame, Janet seemed to have a pretty good grasp on that."


            "What do you mean... 'what humanity can do'. She's a human."


            "No, I mean what normal humans can do. People without a magical junction to a whole planet."


            "Huh?"


            Ranma exhaled. "You see, I've realized something part of why humans with the right tech and training will trounce any NH. It can be quite bloody, but the outcome is eventual."


            "Didn't you just beat a bunch of well-armed humans?"


            "But only because they were amateurs, that and other humans softened it up first," Ranma's expression sobered. "The Assembly had a real good defense set up, but they were expecting a demonic hoard, not Steel Rain.  If we hadn't simply leveled them with artillery it would have been a meat-grinder to get rid of them.  They were dug in, well defended and ready for demons."

 

            "So you hit them with something they didn't expect?" Usagi asked.

 

            The redhead smirked. "Once their lines broke, I could slip in. That's the human advantage."


            "Well of course, we're the good guys, and we have numbers."


            Ranma paused then nodded. "Good point on the second one.   Still demons and the like, kill because they can. Humans... humans have made it into their business, institutionalized it. Humanity got its start surrounded by superior predators. Things that had fangs, claws, night vision, stronger bodies. Stuff that could outrun a man and climb up a tree right after him. What did humanity have?"


            "Endurance,  humans could outlast most ambush predators, when other species would tire out, the humans would just keep following," Setsuna stated.  "That and brains."

 

            "They are tenacious, clever buggers aren't they?"  Ranma grinned. "Yes, and the first thing humanity applied their minds to was killing. It's not fair to kill an animal with a gun, a bow, or even a flint knife..." she shook her head. "And that's the point."


            Usagi frowned.  "In an actual fight..."


            "Humanity wasn't done; they got even more advanced. Science, industry, research, all for one thing: death.  And those numbers.  It takes a whole society to build up that research and industrial capacity. Eventually, humanity formed institutions and professions around it. Tactics, teamwork, spying. All to put the right people, with the right weapons, in the right spot."


            "That’s... you make us sound like monsters." Usagi  flexed her fingers.


            "Do I?" Ranma leaned forward with a pleased smile. "There's the history of your own kingdom.   The things your mother did with magic."

 

            "It's not that simple!" Usagi shrieked.


            "No. Humanity's not that simple." Ranma agreed. "However, why you have still survived is that simple."


            "Ranma's right, Usagi. Look at what your mother did. She made the Senshi. She setup her navy, and equipped her commandos. She did this by organizing her mages while other kingdoms concentrated on flashy and impressive-looking spells. Other mages learned their own magic; hers learned how to teach, how to enchant, how to produce. She worked on effective spells. From making soldiers that could quietly kill from far away to acquiring the power to destroy a planet."


            Usagi rubbed her forehead. "Yes, I know. My mother took over and frequently killed to do it."


            "It's not bad. She honestly believed that Unification was the best for humanity, and it worked. Humanity advanced by leaps and bounds under her rule," Setsuna stated.


            "And was almost destroyed by a jealous noble in league with dark powers," Ranma reminded.


            "Not humanity's best moment." Usagi sighed.


            "You couldn't be more wrong." Ranma lifted up Usagi's chin. "You know the numbers Serenity's forces faced. You can't imagine what it was like for the normal soldiers. They weren't going to be reincarnated. They knew it was the end, but they still fought."


            Usagi stared into Ranma's violet eyes. "They all died. Everyone died."


            "You're half right. Serenity lost her armies, she lost her life." Ranma's voice sharpened slightly. "She lost her daughter when the fool killed herself. But humanity lived. Earth survived. Her armies held long enough to make sure that would happen."


            "Some victory."


            "For humans? That's enough."


          "Why is a succubus that has clearly been talking about humanity in the third person so strongly cheerleading for them? You've killed a lot of humans."


            "I've also killed a lot of succubae, and I still like my species." Ranma nodded to Nabiki slightly. "I chose my side."

 

            Usagi studied the demon's eyes.

 

            The redhead's composure slipped as she tried to glance at her watch and she covered up and awkward expression. "Um... I've got a memorial service for some friends soon, so you guys have any last questions?"


            "Fair enough," Setsuna allowed. DarkStar had chosen the same side back then. The difference was that she had more initiative now, and broader support.


            Usagi gave a dry, surprisingly cynical, smile. "It's great that I have the approval of one of the architects of Serenity's Unification. I know exactly where you stand with humanity."


            Sailor Pluto smiled wondering if Usagi was talking about her or DarkStar. "I suppose you do."


           "It's not all roses with humans. They adapt. Look at history. We know what people are capable of, what they can do, but it's still worth it. That's why people will fight and die for these ideals: country, duty, species, planet, honor." Ranma rolled her wrist as she recited the list. "But we also know that it really comes down to fighting for the people you're with. The guys right there with you."


            "You going to lecture me on that too?" Usagi stated her voice adamantine.


            Ranma shook her head. "No, that's one thing you understand completely."

 

End Chapter

 

 

Revision Notes:  Here we go the big battle at the AoM base and the immediate fallout from that.