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 12:  Sharp Rescue

Formerly:  Restoration and Regret Part 1

 

 


            Three people sat on a bench in a back yard. It was a brisk fall afternoon. Of the three the redhead of the group was much more at ease and natural than normal. Naoko was amazed by the change, normally Red was sensual, to be fair she always exuded a sense of sex, but restrained. She often would have an air of exasperation and fear about her.


            Now however, she was still sensual and restrained but she was... open. There was a frightening conviction to her. Below the serious Goth girl mask was a serious succubus.


            Naoko chewed her lip. It was not much of a change, but that made sense. Why would Red bother pretending to be something she was not at school? Like a Goth? It would be easier to just try to act like the human version of her demon persona. The problems cropped up in that humans did not have children who were their own age.


            "And let me tell you, reincarnation... it sucks." Ranma leaned back, and looked up at the sky. Part of her wanted to fly; it would be neat to show her friends that...  but she was trying to limit the time spent in the air at her house. The neighbors had started to... comment.


            "Least, you got a better life than the first time around," Sam offered. "I mean you had to deal with... what, how many sides?"

            "There were the two invading demonic armies, the Terran kingdom, and a... goddess-like Moon Queen with her own expansion plans," the redhead looked at the four extended fingers and frowned. She was sure she was forgetting a group.


            "And you just happened to be related to all of them," Sam noted. "If it was anyone but you, I'd think you were lying. That you were some creepy fangirl that thought she was a video game character. Cute purple tail or no."


            "You think I liked it? Grandma and Serenity were nice." Ranma noted their blank faces. "Grandma BlackSky. She headed the smaller of the invading demon armies."


            "And Serenity was the Moon Queen?" Sam asked. Once you accepted the far-fetched and insane premise, it was fairly straightforward. A power-hungry Moon Queen would want to take over the Earth. Especially, if she had the rest of the Solar system. And what better time than when the Earth was weakened by a demonic invasion? That Queen could even make herself out as the hero, and if she aligned herself with a succubus connected to both the demons and the Terran Royal family...


            "Yup. Good leader, but guess she got soft in the head when she became a mom," Ranma frowned.


            "We don't have to worry about that with you?" Sam teased.

 

            The redhead swiveled her head, causing her eyes to lock onto her blonde friend. "No. Motherhood woke me up. I saw what I really was, what the world was, and knew what I had to do. It was the only choice I could make. I'm a brood-mother."


            Sam was transfixed by the pair of purple pools. There was no glow, no eye-shine, but she could tell that her friend was not human. Compared to the eyes, the redhead's horns were minor additions. The deep violet depths revealed a being of raw vitality. She had expected demons to be... undead. Instead, her friend was alive, more alive than either of them. Here was a being that controlled life: she could take it, consume it, shape it, even create it.


            Sam cleared the throat. "Nariko was your first."


            Ranma blinked, and when Sam looked into her eyes they were less intense but the pattern was still there. It was like seeing a hidden picture. Once she saw the leering old man made out of tree branches; it was impossible to not see him, or in this case, even when they were not glowing she could tell that Ranma's eyes were not human.


            The redhead nodded. "Yes, and... I didn't see.. I didn't want to see. Acknowledging what she was... what I was."


            "Denial is a powerful thing." Sam agreed. It had been a long time before she let herself see what her parents were. It was easier to pretend that their parties were just normal social events. If she faced the truth... she would have to confront them or accept what they were doing. Neither option appealed to a teenage girl, with her own sexual issues.


            Ranma nodded, and leaned onto Sam's shoulder. "Then there was the guilt. Nariko... she never gave up, she put her faith into me. She thought I was the greatest."


            "Certainly explains the mug," Naoko glibly stated and immediately regretted it as Ranma's eyes started to water.


            "She didn't deserve me. I wasn't good enough. I had abandoned her!" Ranma blinked back her tears and steeled herself. "She didn't care though. She didn't want some perfect mother. She wanted me." Ranma smiled. "She believed in me."


            "Tatewaki was very stubborn," Sam said.


            "Nariko is too. No matter how much I pushed her away or tried to forget... she was there, waiting. Then, once I accepted..." Ranma looked down.


            "She forgave you for what you did?"


            "No." Ranma said in a quiet voice. "She never blamed me in the first place. Having Mommy was enough for her. She did help me forgive myself though. She hated to see me sad."


            "Awww, so her faith in you turned your life around?"


            Ranma smiled. "Yeah, started being a sappy demon mom, for them."


            "It must be great for them to have such a supportive Mom," Sam wistfully stated.


            "Yeah, and my own mom's been wonderful. She helped me through this and never rejected me."


            Sam nodded.


            Naoko blinked. She knew Sam's mother. The woman was very understanding, much more than her own mother who had some very stiff and rigid ideas about sex.


            Sam chewed her lip. "You saved Tatewaki's life in that school attack, but what about the others?"


            "Same story really. I had to save them. Akane was shot by Kasumi, and Ukyou-"


            "What? Is she insane?" Sam asked.


           "Oh no, Akane was turned into a demon by Alexia, and was sent back here to try to kill me, or at least cause a mess. Fortunately, Kasumi and Nariko stopped her, but you can't stop a demon easily."


            Sam frowned. "Alexia... didn't you say she was your cousin... the one that died?"


            Ranma nodded. "She was a selfish, insane bitch. Grandma exiled her, and she figured killing me would get her back into Grandma's good graces."


            "But BlackSky doted over you, and destroyed a whole demon army when you were killed... the first time." Sam was starting to wish she had been taking notes.


            "Thanks for implying that I'll die again." Ranma shook her head. "Alexia had heard the stories of DarkStar's life, but she thought I was a traitor, working with the humans. Seeing my relationship with the Company proved it all over again in her mind."


            "What kind of moron was she?"


            "The kind that gave herself a deep carrot-like tan."


           Sam looked down at Ranma's bone-white skin, and recalled that the rest of the clique... brood, were the same pallor. "What did she do? Paint it on?"


            Ranma nodded. "Misako said that it took half an hour every day, not counting the time in the tanning booths to set it."


            "Why waste time with spray-on tans?  Isn't that what magic's for?" Naoko asked.


            Ranma held up her arm.


            "Yeah with skin like that wouldn't you fry in the sun?" Naoko paused. "Wait... no I've never seen you get any color."


            "It's just how we are," Ranma shrugged. "I wouldn't be shocked it we came in other colors, or could change to them."


            "Okay, you had to save Akane, but that doubled your kids," Sam said.


            "Yes, I was starting to really get deep into it." Ranma paused wondering if she should mention her birth form. They knew that succubae changed genders, but it did not really matter. At the very least she would tell them to call her Ranma before this was over.


            "And the others... Alexia grabbed Nabiki?"


            "Actually yeah, but not before Alexia turned Ryoga." Ranma smirked at their blank faces. They had no idea who Aurora was, let alone Ryoga or Acolyte Hibiki. "He was a grade school rival of mine, who ended up joining a cult. Got some glowing aura powers, an umbrella sword, and went after me. Partnered up with another rival from my childhood too."


            Sam and Naoko exchanged a flat look. "You're kidding us?" Sam slowly asked. She sighed. "No, you're not."


            "Yeah, my life's always been weird. So, Alexia found it a wonderful opportunity. Ryoga was a good fighter, but not good enough to defeat her. Alexia also got a kick out of turning a male demon-hating acolyte into a primping succubus. So she made Aurora, an aggressive girl that hated me just as much as Ryoga did."


            "What about his partner?" Sam asked.


            "Ukyou?" Naoko guessed.


            "That's her. Well she was... afraid. Like Ryoga, she'd joined the Assembly of Man to get revenge on me. They offered them powers in return for fighting demons. That I ended up being an actual demon seemed like proof to them.


            "But Ukyou, she was worried. She started seeing the Assembly for what it was, a cynical cult that used its members. She saw Ryoga being turned into a true fanatic. She wanted out. After Ryoga was turned, she defected to the Company.


            "She still hated me, but she was at least happy to be out. Even started to warm up to me. I'm shocked when I called her cute she didn't try to mount me."


            "You are a succubus. Who wouldn't want to have sex with you?" Naoko smirked.


            "Tease," Ranma stuck out her tongue. "Then came the attack. Aurora wanted to show off her new body, and take Ukyou as her mate. Guess that worked out in the end."


            "Ukyou was taken?"


            "No just wounded. Ukyou had talked enough with me and Nariko to realize that demons can be... well..."


            "Human?" Sam ventured, idly running her hand through Ranma's rich hair.


            "Close enough." Ranma adjusted so Sam could get a better grip, and maybe get both hands in. "That's how I got my third daughter, and lost my first friend."


            "Huh?"


            Ranma looked down. "Aram Kowalski, he died in that battle. Remember what I said about the Company? He went down fighting. The rest of the Alexia story's a mess. She took Akane remade Eclipse. She stole Nabiki. She had a habit of turning everyone she could get her hands on.


            "Most of them she neglected and they turned into simple minions. Easy to make but physically young and mentally..." Ranma's tone became venomous. "It was horrible. They were her daughters. She used them. When they died she just made more."


            "What about Aurora and Eclipse and whoever she made Nabiki into?" Sam asked.


            "Oh, her daughters?" Ranma gave a bitter laugh. "They were dress-up dolls. You should have see how she had them dress. Akane wore practically no clothes, too much jewelry and slut-war paint, Misako was in evening wear, tanned and used a tackle box worth of makeup, and Nabiki was made into a pink little sister."


            Sam raised an eyebrow. "They're kinda still like that, Sunny."


            "Welcome to the fun world of succubae. Sure we can fly and look great, but we're also sexually dependent violent killers that can be dominated and warped by our mothers."


            "Why not just reset them back?"


            "What are these wings like?  Leathery?  Big?  Feathers" Naoko interrupted.


            Ranma blinked. "No feathers. Well, they're large enough to fly with.."


            "That's so cool! Can we see?"


            "Not here, but I know a place."


            "Makes sense, you are a demon." To herself, Sam repeated the statement. As long as one accepted that part, the rest was... mundane. "So why didn't you just fix your girls?"


            "Because then I'd be like Alexia. Eating her body is close enough for me. It's not like there's a switch to reset them. At least Akane had the first time she was my daughter to aim for; she was pretty okay. Bit of a stubborn, mouthy girl at times."


            Sam nodded. "Sounds like Akane."


            Naoko snickered.


            "But Nabiki and Misako.... Misako didn't even have that name. She was just a poor succubus that had seen her beloved mother ripped apart by her worst enemy."


            "But Ryoga was tricked by Alexia! Alexia was a monster that used her." Sam gave her hands a rest, but left them on Ranma's back.


            "How does that matter? Alexia created her, and sure the love was cynical and twisted but it was all Aurora had. Love is a powerful thing. Aurora couldn't go back. The Assembly would kill her on sight; they've tried a lot. She's too female to be Ryoga. I'd have never taken her, but Ukyou was insistent."


            "But you were her mom." Naoko stepped closer and knelt down to Ranma's level. "You said that succubus mothers are powerful, wouldn't that really mess with her mind?"


            Ranma nodded. "She had a breakdown. We tried our best."


            "You did good," Sam said. squeezing her friend's hand. "Misako isn't as mature or responsible as Nariko, but she seems very happy, if a bit too loyal and... strange."


            "Yeah, she's figured that since I killed Alexia, that I'm a better mother. Training and battle's only reinforced that."


            "That explains her... exuberance."


            Ranma gave a little smile. "I can even see some Ryoga in her when she taunts in battle, but the point is that I didn't force her to be something. That'd be wrong; I helped her become who she wanted to be."


            "Nabiki wants to be Nabiki Saotome? Cute and little and pink?" Sam raised an eyebrow.


            "Nabiki wanted a mother. She's also pretty vain, but didn't like putting in all the effort to look... good. She was an opportunist. Being a demon gave that to her."


            "The pink's just a side effect?" Sam sounded uncertain.


            "I could remove it, but would it be worth it? I could have made her bigger too, forced her to be the middle sister, but why should I force her mind to some human ideal? Overcoming what Alexia did to her is hard enough without me adding new baggage."


            "But she's not overcoming it if she's still the cute little sister," Naoko argued.


            "Neither is Nariko by staying female and being a nice big sister." Ranma paused. "I guess overcome is the wrong word. We can't change what we are or what we've been made into but we can adapt and make the most of it. I wanted my daughters to be more than Alexia's dolls."


            "Okay," Sam eased back. "So... reincarnation. Did that Moon Queen do it too? Is she running around here?"


            "She reincarnated me but..." Ranma shook her head sadly. "No, her kingdom came out ahead and lasted for a while after I died. Then she had kids and," she raised a hand and flipped it over, "it's the one thing she screwed up as. When her kingdom fell she sent her daughter and the others forward."


            "Others?"


            "Yeah, whole gaggle of magical girls." She rubbed the bridge of her nose.


            Naoko gave the redhead a long stare. "Well... they did work for a magical kingdom on the Moon."


            "Magical girls? With the silly speeches and creepy fan-service uniforms?"


            Ranma sighed.


            Sam tried to imagine a lacy and bowed girl waving a sparkly wand standing next to a gruff agent in black body armor holding a large rifle. It did not work. Her attempt to match up a magical girl and a succubus worked better, if much more graphic.


            "The problem... the problem is that they got these powers. They got them before they learned how to fight." Ranma chuckled. "What made it worse was that it worked. Apparently, they beat a lot of bad guys, even saved the world a few times. All while standing in front of the enemy and making speeches."


            "Wouldn't that get you shot?" Sam asked.


            Ranma shrugged. "I dunno, before my time. I'm new to this, didn't know there were rules. I just figured: kill the bad guys."


            "Are they at least powerful? Do they know how to fight?"


            "They've got some serious magic, strong and resilient too, but as for their close-in fighting..." Ranma gave a noncommittal wave of her hand. "They're getting better." She laughed. "Course that's why little Akumi split off with her evil club."


            "Akumi?" Sam asked.


            "Evil club. How much have you been keeping secret from us?"


            "I'm a teenaged mother of five, a succubus, queen of the earth... I think, part of one of the larger global conspiracies, and it's that Ami and Janet were lesbian lovers that turned evil is the one you guys are shocked at?"


            "Huh," Sam rubbed her chin. "Well, we knew those two were lesbians."


            "They were only a little bit less blatant than you," Naoko added. "So are all the new transfers magical girls?"


            "There's Rod and Hiraku."


            "As weird as they are? They're probably KGB or dentists."


            "Probably," Ranma agreed, making a note to ask Eve about those two.


            "So... let me guess. Ami and Naru started wearing black... leather, getting more... aggressive. Maybe some increase in curves?"


            "Not every lesbian is a sensual femme fatale," Sam admonished.


            Naoko simply pointed to Ranma.


            Ranma coughed. "She did start wearing that corset, and the ice skirt, and then the evening dress."


            "That's... not comfortable," Sam said raising an eyebrow.


            "Neither are the heels she wears," Ranma agreed.


            "We can't all wear big boots with clunky heels."


            "They're comfortable and practical."


            "Less than a flat boot," Naoko reminded.


            Ranma pointed to herself. "Succubus, remember?"


            "Wait, you have to wear sexy clothes?"


            "Used to. Was a curse I was under, where I was stuck in a leather mini-dress."


            "Just one dress?" Sam wrinkled her nose.


            "Magic clothes. Anyway, it got better when I came to school here," Ranma gave a sarcastic smile. "I had two sets of clothes! The leather miniskirt and my uniform."


            "That's what you meant when you said you made that uniform?" Sam asked.


            Naoko blinked. "I thought you liked it. You girls wear it now; we wear them now!"


            "Explains the lack of seams," Sam muttered.


            "Yeah... I've had some... changes. Whole demon mommy thing. It wasn't fun alone, being stuck with a stupid name." Ranma then found herself being hugged by both her friends.


            "It's okay. We're not going to reject you," Naoko assured.


            "Yeah, we remember the sad Sunny," Sam added. "It makes sense to us."


            Ranma purred. "Really? You're just going to... accept me?"


            Naoko broke the hug. "We knew you were a scary, serious lesbian with something strange going on with your 'cousins'. This just explains it."


            Sam chewed on her lip in thought. "Going to school under the name 'Sunshine Saotome' a new thing?"


            "Uh, yeah."


            "What was your name before that?"


            "Ranma," the redhead said automatically.


            "But Ranma's your brother."


            "Who we haven't seen in months," Naoko added.


            "The last time was at a coffee shop when he was with Nariko." Sam noticed the slight blush on Sunshine's cheeks. "Come to think of it... I've never seen you with your brother."


            Ranma sighed. "Do I really have to say it?"


            "I dunno, maybe Red's brother is off with Tatewaki."


            Sam shook her head. "No, he's with Nabiki Tendo." She turned to Ranma. "So you were a guy. Huh, and so were Nariko and Misako."


            Ranma raised an eyebrow. "Yes, and we're more girly than Nabiki, Akane, and Ukyou. I know."


            "You, 'girly'?" Sam laughed.


            "I'm wearing tight leather and dark eyeshadow," Ranma pouted.


            "Yes, but that's just you. It's like your hair. It has to be open and wild like that."


            Naoko nodded. "Yeah, can you imagine it braided up?"


            "I don't I think it would fit her," Sam said running her hand though the thick mane. "It's hard enough to believe that you can put it up for school in that bun-ponytail thing of yours."


            Ranma shrugged. Her hair mostly behaved itself.


            "So dark conspiracies, magical girls, guns, sex; sounds fun," Naoko evaluated.


            "You're kidding, right?" Sam tugged an eyelid to get an eyelash out of her eye. "It's a miracle Red's sane."


            "You know, my name's really Ranma?" the redhead asked.


            "Awww, so we can't call you Sunny anymore?" Sam pouted half seriously.


            "Don't you try to be cute on me." Ranma grumbled.


            "You think I'm cute?" Sam laughed, and wondered if she should be more forward and try asking a guy out instead of waiting on him.


            "Now, you got her started," Naoko sighed. "It's pointless Sam, we call her 'Red' far more often anyway."


            "It's a real compliment to be called cute by a succubus," Sam defended.


            "I guess," Naoko relented.


            Ranma rubbed her forehead. "Guys, I'm not some fashion expert."


            "You made your own school uniform."


            "That was magic." Ranma flatly stated as she looked out into the woods behind her. At least there was some form of argument, it was still odd. "Um, you guys are.. okay with this?"


            "The school's been attacked, there's been rashes of bizarre murders, strange men and black helicopters about and we end up with a group of vaguely-scary Goth girls that are really good at martial arts."


            "Frankly, it's a relief that you're just a demon."


            Ranma blinked. Sometimes, her friends could be pretty weird.

 

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

 


            With a warm smile that never reached her eyes on her face, Galina A'deen stepped out onto the balcony of the suite she had reserved for her team. The luxuries their self-employment offered were rather nice, and it was the least she could do. There would be few chances to dominate a hotel's kitchen with special orders, including sending out for some of the more exotic items.


           Galina turned to see lanky Ivanova still cradling the bottle as the other girls poked at her with empty and full tumblers. It was a horrible rot-gut, and Galina was amazed to find it available outside of the Motherland. There was no cap, just a non-resealable foil cover, but Ivanova loved it. She said it reminded her of home. That bitter irony caused the smile to finally reach her eyes.


            Arisha stepped onto the balcony and stared out into the city. "The girls seem to be enjoying themselves."


            "It was good that you found that bakery. It was nice to have some proper black bread." Galina muttered as she watched them. Ivanova had pushed the others away and as she slumped onto the couch the bottle slipped. Twisting as she fell, she reached out and grabbed the tumbling bottle by the neck. Impressive reflexes aside, she was still soaked.


            "
Chetyre's getting clumsy again," Arisha noted without turning.


            Galina's mood dropped and became icy cold. "Not even going to entertain that it's just drunken silliness?"


            "We don't get drunk, and you shouldn't hope that it's just an accident."


            "She cleared her physical. Interface is fine, structure good, her power cell has ten more years."


            "Wonderful, it'll outlast the rest of her," Arisha dryly remarked


            "I'll have Svetlana and Sem look her over again. They may have missed something."


            "Possible. It's not like we know everything. Even with the blueprints, we're still guessing half the time." Arisha gave a bit of a smile. "But we're learning more and more each time."


            "I don't even think Comrade Scaglietti knew the whole story."


            "The Colonel merely headed the research. If anyone's to blame it's that stubby zampolit that hovered about him. It's traitors like him that cost us. Self-important little political officers and functionaries, they acted like tin-pot Tsars. That held us back. Proletariat sentimentality, we were the future. We were supposed to be a Technocracy from the start. That was how the New Soviet Man was to be made, and lead humanity to a better age."


            Galina frowned. She did not want to dwell on the past, not tonight. "We can be that again, the situation..."


           "The situation? Oh yes, the Motherland is sharpening its sword and strengthening its shield. But to protect what? Yes, impressive restorations in the Organs of State, but not in the ways that matter. Who does the sword work for? What does the shield protect now?"


            Arisha's eyes flared as she spat. "A checcka pig and his oligarch- let's be honest- bourgeoisie cronies. Hah. We were warned about the seductive call of capitalism, and look what it's doing to our homeland. Look what it's done to us."


            "Yes, there used to be twelve; a quarter of us are gone already. We can't keep doing these missions forever."


            "What are we supposed to do?" Arisha asked." Our homeland has fallen and the West's decadence keeps growing."


            "Yes, they're afraid of being offended. Maybe that's something, nationalization is just a euphemism."


            "What? Human Rights Commissions and Speech Codes?" Arisha smirked. "Those don't count. Sure, they regulate speech and operate outside of the court system, but so did the Volksgerichtshof. Now granted, no one over here's started executing people for distributing pamphlets, but they are prosecuting people for 'offensive speech'. The State being the moral arbiter for everything is something the Fascists did. "


            "And the Motherland," Galina mildly reminded.


            Arisha's brow furrowed. "That's different. That's the whole point. Political doctrine is everything. Without the correct ideology, the organs of the state just exist to keep power. Without an actual reason for it all, controlling the populace..." She shook her head. "There's a reason the Fascists copied so many of our methods. It shouldn't surprise us that the West is doing the same too."


            "The checcka did spend years cultivating 'useful idiots.' " Galina allowed.

 
            Arisha nodded. "Even here in this client-state of the Main enemy."


            "Yes, the capitalists were most cruel, letting puppet nations actually think they're independent and that sovereignty means something." Galina smirked. "The Europeans are busy building their own guiding bureaucracy, covering such important continental issues as sizing playground equipment and inappropriate names for livestock."


            "If anything this, all shows the decadence of the West.  The wine are happy to let their Oligarchs pervert technocracy into a new opiate of the masses, distraction, control, chains.   Some of these fools actually thought Batista's usurper had created a paradise, or that we were misunderstood. They were such pathetic traitors; it really was for the best that they fell under our influence. Better than the Chinese, at least."

 

            "And then we fell."

 

            "And people without doctrine, without the correct ideology, still tainted by their dedacende tried to replicate our work..."  Arisha spat.


            Galina raised an eyebrow. "Poor deluded fools."


            "Indeed."

            "Where are you going?"


            "This gives us some future options. I mean, if the West is creeping this way..."


            "What, take advantage of things? Help things get more secure? Make some "T
otalitarianism With A Smiley Face'?" Galina tiredly asked.  Arisha was hard to stop when she got wound up.


            "Sure, toss in a few other buzzwords. Make some harmonic multi-cultural sustainable collectivism. The romantic fools would lap it up; people love being able to save the world. Where else can you get a feminist anti-war club, a militant Maoist cult, and a Sharia law advocating alliance rally for the same 'revolution'."


            "All had been fraternal socialists allies in the past. That's why the same people fell for Worker Solidarity," Galina remarked leaning out onto the balcony.


            Arisha glared. "You still believe, right?"


            Galina turned, eyes narrowing. "Believe? Faith is an opiate, whether it's for religion or ideology. Anything that cannot be logically deduced from actual evidence is weakness, an illusion. Communism is perfect. There is no arguing about that."


            "Then why the doubts?"


            Laughing, Galina turned back to her subordinate. Her politicizing of everything was annoying, but it was proper doctrine. Politics were everything. "You should know why. It's the whole reason we were made."


            Arisha sighed. "Yes, I know. Communism is perfect; humanity is not."


            "That's where we were supposed to come in. A new age, the latest development, the New Soviet Man." Galina looked back into the suite at her "men" and smiled broadly.


            "But it was canceled. We were... too expensive." Arisha clenched her fists.


            "The politburo would rather purchase more arms trying to match some actor and his CIA flunky. Never mind that they had a project that could truly bring about changes. Their ideology demanded it, but we saw how much they cared about ideology."


            "You think Comrade
Scaglietti was..."


            Galina leveled her gaze "There were questions, people wondered about his loyalty. Especially on such a radical project."


            "But his father was a communist guerrilla. He died fighting the Blackshirts."


            "Italy was a mess then, is a mess now. It is Italy." Galina sighed. "Mussolini was a classist traitor, abandoning his socialist roots. He worked for a socialist party and wrote for Il Popolo, and edited L'Avvenire del Lavoratore."


            "Yes, Future of the Worker. A promising publication." Arisha clenched her fists.
"To think that a man who seemed to be such a... respected socialist would betray us so completely. He invented Fascism. He twisted something that would benefit, all workers, all of humanity, into something just for his country. How petty, how power hungry."


            "At least Il Duce's comrades were able correct him in '45." Galina shook her head.


            "Mussolini's why Scaglietti's mother fled East."


            "Yes, for someone whose father rallied against the very birthing of fascism, all they could see was his Mediterranean blood."


            "His loyalty should never have been questioned!" Arisha bristled.


          Galina took a sip. "His loyalty to what? The Party? The Motherland? The Politburo? International Worker Solidarity? The Glorious Future?"


            Turning, Arisha stared out at the city before them.


            "If anything, he was too trusting, he put too much... faith in his superiors. By the time he realized what was happening..."


            "It was too late."


            "And almost too late for us."


            Arisha glowered. "Yes, the humiliation of being... saved by those opiate peddlers."


            "Better than being liquidated by a State betraying its ideology, or maybe we would have been sold off to foreign governments, like so much other military hardware."

 

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

 


            "Any news?" Usagi asked after Setsuna entered the apartment.


            "Ami's been busy," Setsuna sighed as she sat down on the couch. "She's made a few changes." She pulled out a few photographs. The first one had a golden figure and a purple-haired woman in an approximation of a Sailor Senshi uniform.


            Usagi frowned at the smooth and bulky figure that, hopefully, was merely concealing Minako. "She took her face."


            "Yes." Setsuna pulled up another photograph.


            Makoto looked in from the kitchen. "Where'd you take these from?"


            "We have been watching Ami's lair," Setsuna stated.


            "Is it me, or is Naru growing up?" Usagi muttered with a deep frown.


            "Ami has been turning people, look at what she's doing to Mina," Makoto said walking over to get a better view of the photograph.


            "What's the sick dominatrix doing this time?" Rei asked as she left her room. She looked at the photo of the golden figure sword fighting with a purple-haired woman. "Damn... she's making Mina into a real toy, isn't she?"


             "She's gonna want to make the rest of us like Mina," Makoto muttered.


            "Why not? Ami's trying to show off how much 'better' she can make all of us," Rei sneered.


            Usagi stared at the pictures and clenched her jaw. The image of a corseted Ami teasing her old auburn-haired friend loomed in her memory. Her gaze slowly went to the glowing red eyes of Venus' blank face.


            "This isn't good," Makoto grumbled.


            "What are we going to do?" Rei asked. "It's just going to get worse. It's only a matter of time before Ami gets another one of us."


            "What then? We can't just wait for her to come and get us." Makoto turned to Usagi. "You have any ideas?"


            The blonde blinked and slowly worked her jaw. Eventually she found her voice. "I can't let this happen. I can't let Ami do this to all of you."


            "Finally in the mood to mount an assault?" Makoto idly asked.


            Usagi narrowed her eyes and turned to Setsuna. "Make the call."


            Setsuna raised an eyebrow. "To Ranma, or should we call the Company instead? They are her... business contact."
           

            Usagi nodded. "To the Company. I'll call Ranma. We need to do something. Ami has to be stopped."

 

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

 


            Morgan leaned down on the roof top and idly adjusted her Ghillie-suit so that it covered her head. At least her wings could be summoned at will, she noted. As handy as they were, they were conspicuous even when folded up. A less obtrusive and more violent object, her tail twitched and moved below the outline-concealing coverall.


            Similarly concealed was the massive bulk of the WIC Munitions 25mm SSS. Even with matte paint, a sixty-two inch weapon gave a noticeable silhouette, and needed a similar method of concealment.


            Her position on the roof, and even the roof itself were selected not just for its own views, but the proximity to other perches. An intelligent enemy would have their own sharpshooters in place. She licked her lips at the chance. Her new weapon practically begged it. She had always been a predator. Demonhood merely increased her options.


            Settling down, Morgan focused the lenses and began the main part of her mission. She inhaled and expanded her senses. The brownstone was unassuming, even the various energies emanating from it were unassuming. Her attention slowly moved, and she was able to sense Pattern Silvers and her... mother and family. Command had also radioed in: overhead surveillance matched what she could smell. They reported that orbiting drones also detected no visual activity.... yet. It was about to begin.

 

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

 


            A blaring alarm broke Mercury from her sleep. Righting herself, she tossed aside a silk sheet and the still-dazed form of Orion. After Mercury summoned her computer, her eyes widened at the display.


            A disturbing arrangement of symbols appeared around the perimeter. "Orion! Transform! Call Virgo!" Mercury ordered. She was about to activate Venus via the golden Senshi's alcove, when a sustained series of explosive thuds started up.


            "What the hell's that?" Orion asked after completing the call to Virgo.


            The thudding gave way to a loud crack followed by much closer explosions. "The brood." Mercury frowned at the display over her eyes. Apparently, magical shielding was one thing, but an automatic grenade launcher was another.


            "Teleport?" Orion asked.


            Transforming to her battle armor, a corset and ice-skirting, Mercury shook her head.


            "They jammed us? What do we do?" Orion asked, wondering which self-destruct system they would have to use.


            Mercury was about to advocate the survivability of surrender when the camera feed from the foyer caught her attention. The whole room was ruined, valuable woodwork and tiling had been thoughtlessly destroyed, but there was an upside. Instead of seeing leather-clad demons or armored agents, she saw a different group rushing in.


            The blue-haired woman allowed herself a slight smile. "Looks like our queen's taking a personal interest."


            Orion's mood brightened. "We're not doomed?"


            Already in her Senshi Seifuku Virgo stepped into the room. "The upstairs is still clear, Mistress."


            "It's still early," Mercury said as she flipped her tessen at the opening door. The war fans rapidly cooled causing some ice to fall to the floor.


            Virgo's glare quickly vanished. "Who's attacking?"


            "Senshi. We've got some leeway." As her composure reformed, Mercury adjusted her silver ring with its single obsidian stone. "Orion, when we leave, set the storage charges. Even if you've seen me do it. Virgo you and Venus will close in while we cover them. We've just got to delay them."


             "The demons are here too?" Virgo asked as she gripped one of her blades.


            "Oh, yes," Mercury laughed as she locked down the interior compartments of the house. "Our Queen's trying to prove she can fight with the big girls."


            Another explosion went off, this one almost beneath them. "Remember, we've beaten them before."


            The trio went down into Mistress Mercury's throne room. Venus was already standing, facing the armored doors. While the doors themselves were being damaged, the translucent-blue sheen of the shield was holding.


            One final hit and the shield dropped, Mercury rotated her tessen and a few dozen icicles shot into the hole, where they met an iridescent ripple and were flung aside. Mars and Jupiter were the first through, and were caught by Virgo and Venus' blades.


            Eyebrows going up, Mercury noticed that her former friends did not pause but cast spells right onto their foes. Arm flaming, Mars punched Venus in the side and caused some golden armor to drip onto the floor,


            Her forwards pushed aside, Mercury watched as Sailor Moon strode into the room. Her pace was brisk and purposeful. Standing behind her and to the side with her staff leveled was Sailor Pluto.


            "You finally decided to be proactive?" Mercury forced herself to smirk. "Orion, please entertain, Puu. The Queen and I need some privacy."


            Eyes still narrowed, Sailor Moon kept moving forward. She held her scepter at her side, but it seemed to be dead weight.


            "No speech on how your love will save me? No comment on justice? I'm surprised. Maybe all this working with demons is affecting you. Did it feel good to buy the services of a man-eater?" Mercury quietly asked as she looked up to see how Virgo and Venus were doing.


            "Why are you doing this?" Mars demanded as she tried to block one of Venus strikes.


            Venus seemed to pause. The face featureless, save the even glow of its red eye-slits. Finally seeming to use its entire surface, the golden warrior spoke. "Understanding will come after the Mistress improves you."


            Across from them Virgo grinned. "Outsider-girl has gotten better," she said after grounding a bolt of lightning with one of her swords which then absorbed the energy.


            Jupiter chuckled and stepped back to get closer to Mars.


            "They can't win," Mercury dryly noted as she motioned for Orion to attack.


            The auburn-haired girl lunged forward, locking staffs with Pluto. The green-haired woman paused briefly, almost as if she did not know what she held in her hands. After Orion's blade sliced a gash over her cheek, Pluto straightened up and flipped her staff over, nearly knocking Orion's away.


            Shaking her head, Mercury strode forward to meet her queen. "It was a good try. You used your allies, you even got into my throne room." She clapped her hands. "I was even scared when this began? Do you know why?"


            Still silent, Sailor Moon stepped forward. She looked around and saw her friends fighting... each other. Her gaze lowered.


            "You could have brought the demons in. They would have beaten us, easily. And we could have stayed alive. Probably like them, but in for a penny in for a pound." Unsummoning a tessen, Mercury reached out and touched Sailor Moon's shoulder. "You hesitated."


            Sailor Moon shivered at the contact but she still stepped forward. The blonde started to whisper, it was a quiet almost defeated voice.


            "I know why you really came. You've learned, but only enough to realize that you need me." Vanishing her other weapon, Mercury put her right hand around her queen's side and. "Is that why you're here? Don't be ashamed, I'll make sure the others still look up to you."


            Unresisting to the contact, Sailor Moon nodded, but the whispering did not stop.


            Mercury leaned her head in. Bright pain cracked into her chin as Sailor Moon jabbed her scepter into the blue-haired woman's jaw. She had a brief moment to scream before a giant white light burst from the scepter right into her head. Light consuming her, Mercury moaned in pain and slumped to the floor in a heap.


            "You're right. I couldn't win," Sailor Moon said, holding her scepter over the Mercury's gasping form. Her tone was quiet and sad. "Not by playing fair, at least."


            "Mistress!" Orion screamed, as she tried to run towards her, but Pluto stepped in and blocked her path.


            The blue-haired girl blinked. Groaning, she lifted her head. "Usagi... what's... what's going on?" She looked down and gasped. "What am I wearing?" She winced and poked her jaw. "Oww..."


            Hope welled within Sailor Moon. "Ami?" she cautiously asked.


            "Yeah," the girl-genius winced again, but her attention focused past the blonde. "Usagi. You've got to help Rei and Makoto!"


            The blonde turned to see blood splash from Jupiter's side as Virgo got a hit in. The brunette screamed, and fell when the flat of the blade hit her head. Meanwhile Mars had been cornered by Venus, who was holding her in place. Flames danced around Mars, but all they did was melt and soften some of the golden armor; the grip was held strong.


            Sailor Moon heard movement. She turned her back around, and jabbed forward with her scepter. The edge to one of the wings at the end of the handle thrust into Mercury's shoulder and cut deeply, pouring blood over the faceted crystal.


            Still woozy, Mercury screamed and stumbled back to her knees. "Stupid sharp thing. Guess trying the same trick back on you was a bit tacky." She grumbled holding her shoulder.


            "Why must you be so difficult?" Sailor Moon asked.


            "Knock her out, and finish Virgo," Pluto said as she kept Orion at bay. She wished she could do more, but...


            Sailor Moon nodded. "You'll thank me when this is over," she said turning back to Mercury.


            "Maybe," Mercury said as she pulled on the obsidian stone on her ring. It cracked and there was a flash. Unlike the blinding purity of Sailor Moon's attack, this was simply blinding, painful light. There was also a smell somewhat like spoiled beets and burning tin.


             Unable to see, Mars felt herself being pulled away and made her move. Flames intensifying, she slipped a hand loose from Venus' drippy grip. reached up, and after some scrambling rammed her thumb and pointer finger onto the eye slits and cast her spell.


            A fireball appeared and smashed onto Venus' faceplate, which started to melt. The figure stopped, and dropped to the ground, still holding Mars. Feminine screaming emanated and was then cut off.


            After a few seconds, Mars could make out vague shapes. She slowly saw the damage she had done to Venus. At least a blank face gave the hope of a human one underneath, but the molten broken mess that went deep into Venus' head sickened Mars.


            She wiped her mouth and stood back up. "Oh god..." In an exchange of one kind of horror to an entirely new one, Mars looked over to see Venus' arm twitch and reach out.


            "They got away," Moon said, as she held the bloody scepter at her side.


            Mars looked over to see a door on the side of the chamber that was ajar. "Do we..."


            Moon shook her head and pointed to the others. "It's just us." She stepped over to Pluto who was on the ground curled up retching.


            "That dirty little bitch!" Pluto managed to gasp out in between emptying the contents of her stomach.


            "Uh... what about Makoto.... and Minako?"


            Sailor Moon knelt beside Pluto. "Will you be okay?"


            "Give me... moment." Sailor Pluto nodded and rocked back and forth a bit. Her skin had a slightly iridescent sheen.


            The blonde went over to the unconscious form of Jupiter. The white light managed to make the cut vanish and her breathing seemed better. It seemed to do. Her frown deepened as she came to Venus.


            It looked like a facemask was smashed into an empty helmet. The rest of its armor was heavily warped and melted, even at the joints which moved with difficulty. The figure was trying to sit upright, and one unevenly glowing eye slit stared at Sailor Moon. "Mina..."


            "We need to tell the others that they got away," Mars reminded. "They may have stopped them."


            "You do it," Sailor Moon said, not taking her eyes off of the golden figure.


            Mars nodded and ran back out of the throne room.


            Closing her eyes, Sailor Moon centered herself. She opened them, and saw the same large, broken, melted monstrosity. She raised her scepter, and with light emanating from it, moved it like a torch over the figure. Golden fluid melted and broke off in thick streams and heavy chunks.


            For a brief moment Sailor Moon feared that it would all melt away, but she focused. Minako was still in there, she had to be. Her faith paid off when a slim female figure started to emerge from within the light. A final thin golden coating flaked away revealing human, if tanned skin. A helmet crest, turned to a Mohawk before filling out into a full head of hair.


            As solid red eyes faded into blue, the nude figure closed her eyes, and then opened them again. She blinked again, seemingly fascinated with this new ability. Her eyes focused on the other blonde, then she leapt up and embraced Sailor Moon and began to cry.


            "It's okay," Moon reassured.


            "You got her," Pluto said as she rose to her feet. In a personal affront unique to her, the room seemed off-kilter to her. "At least some good came of this."


            "What happened to you?" Mars asked as she led in a couple medics and agents. The armed men and demons rushed to the side door and entered it.


            "You girls can smell that, right?"


            "The rotten vegetable stuff? Of course." Rei asked as she helped Jupiter onto a litter.


            "Part of that special flash bang, well, she added a scent that I'm especially allergic to." Pluto gritted her teeth and closed her eyes. She needed to focus. "Mercury escaped, didn't she?"


            "We think she slipped into some tunnels under the building. It looks like she dug into the access conduits under the streets," Captain Jarvis stated after consulting with her subordinates. She gave the blondes a passing glance; they both smelled like Pattern Silvers, at the least. "None of our sharpshooters saw them get out. We've put some people in the tunnels but..."


            "Even if they dead-end, she just has to get far enough to be outside jammer range." Sailor Pluto said, finally feeling a bit more herself.


            "It was not a total loss," Eve stated, she wanted to admonish them for turning down direct support. A bit more help and things could have ended tonight, but the client, Miss Tsukino, had insisted on doing things her way.

            Minako coughed and spit up a bit of golden slime. She stared at it and looked around the floor. For some reason, the pounds and pounds of golden ooze and armor had just vanished. She turned back to Moon, who was still hugging her. "You saved me,"


            Eve nodded, walked back to the side door resting a hand on her holster. She wished Ranma was here, and briefly marveled at having family that she could rely upon for emotional support. She looked at the tunnel and sighed. It was likely that the enemy had already left, but even a routine search would be more satisfying than... this. But someone had to be here, and she would rather the rest of her family be out in more useful positions.


            Mars got up and followed Jupiter as she was carried to the APC. Her magic would heal her, but she was out of it for a while.


            Sailor Pluto looked around and noticed the smoke curling around various book cases, electrical equipment. "She must have linked self-destruct charges to her equipment. She would keep a copies of it all on her Mercury computer, so losing this wouldn't be much of a loss for her."


            "The building's going to go?" Sailor Moon asked, as she draped a Company-provided blanket over Minako.


            Sailor Pluto shook her head as she poked some of the melted slag. "I doubt it. She doesn't want us dead, but she wouldn't want us to have her data. Though I would check for charges.  Ami strikes me as the kind of person to have multiple self-destructs for her lair."


            "You've got me," Minako flatly stated. She blinked and then repeated herself in a confident tone. "Oh wow... that's what it's like to sound human again," she laughed. Reaching down, she cupped her chest and laughed.


            "Are you okay?" Sailor Moon asked as she shifted out of Senshi form.


            "I'm soft again! Oh, you've got no idea..." Minako quieted down and looked at her skin. It was skin, but... the tan and the slight sheen were... She shook her head.


            "She made you into a tool." Pluto stated.


            Nodding, Minako thought she heard some sympathy in the older woman's voice. "I was... programmed. She... she was making me for you, Usagi. As-" she stopped. Thinking about having a working jaw again had distracted her. She shook her head again. "She had reformed me as a present for you."

 

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

 


            Shouldering the modified M2 heavy machine gun, Morrison crept through the tunnel. It was a bit odd to have her eyes exposed. Training had shown that the standard-issue goggles were mostly superfluous and, worse, would sometimes conflict with demonic senses.


            A pair (kept in case dust protection was required) was still pulled up and over her helmet, which only needed slight modification. Morrison once again thanked Mother that her horns were small enough to not interfere that much. The rest of her armor had been modified by Major Saotome. It was lighter than the standard issue, allowing for more flexibility and mobility. With her new strength the weight differences were not readily apparent, until she took to the air. Then every pound shaved off became a blessing.


            Her mind concentrated on the task as she moved forward, careful to keep the long barrel of her gun free from obstruction. A hand reached out and squeezed her shoulder. She stopped and let Gabriel step up and whisper into her ear.


            "No reading," Gabriel said as he pointed to his scanner. Technically he was picking up several Pattern Silvers and Pattern D's, including one standing before him, but nothing of their quarry.


            Morrison nodded and knelt down. Before her, she could see a couple sets of heel prints. The disturbed dirt and dust was faint, but had given enough of a trail to follow. As she pointed and made a motion indicating tracks, part of her wondered how anyone could walk on a narrow spike under their heel.


            Eventually, the tracks vanished, and the group halted. Smelling a bit of ozone, Morrison sniffed the air more intently. The buzzing in the back of her mind had decreased and she stepped forward, over the last tracks. "Residual?" she quietly asked Gabriel, while the other men in the team stood back at the ready.


            Looking at his display, Gabriel simply nodded. They were far enough from the jammers for the effect to weaken.


            Frowning slightly, Morrison's hand tightened on her weapon's new grip and calmed herself. The silence was deceptive. In addition to the obvious scents, she could hear her own heartbeat and those of her team, but that was it. They explored further and found where most of the tunnels linked to blocked doors or dead-ended. She supposed that mechanical and other noises could interfere, but still, anyone else in the tunnels would have to be a long way off.


            She slowly rose back to standing. "They're gone," she quietly stated, and motioned for the team to pull back. Only at the end when she had to turn around did she experience difficulty in rotating the long gun in the passageway. Emerging into the damaged room, Morrison blinked at the sudden brightness, and was a bit surprised at all the people still around.


            "Status?" Captain Jarvis asked. turning away from the two blonde Pattern Silvers.


            "They went underground and teleported once they were out of range of the jamming. They might have gone further, but we probably got their teleport location."


            "She escaped?" Usagi asked as she adjusted the blanket draped over Minako.


            "Aerial recon didn't pick up anything?" Morrison asked.


            "Pattern detection doesn't work as well underground. Teleporting is even more of a challenge.."


            "You have a helicopter up?" Rei asked.


            "Drone plane with Scanners," Eve explained.


            "They can stay in position much longer than a helicopter," Morrison added.


            She blinked at the young agent and looked between her and Eve. "You're one of the new demons?"


            Morrison raised an eyebrow. Her wings were folded at her back and her tail was swishing behind her.


            Usagi bit her lip. "Sorry, it's just odd. I mean... succubae are supposed to wear little leather miniskirts, not... body armor." It was no sword or wand, but at least the giant gun seemed proper enough.


            "Better than my getup," Minako groused.


            "Mom won't let us wear bikini-uniforms yet," Morrison said with a false pout.


            "We should have some standards," Eve dryly remarked.


            "At least we got you back," Usagi said as she hugged her rescued Senshi.


            "And Ami can't have destroyed everything," Sailor Pluto said, clutching her head. She detransformed and blinked her eyes before standing back up. Inspecting the broken remains of Ami's equipment had intensified her headache. At least the "Venus Alcove" was still working.

 

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

 


            Over fifteen hundred yards away, Svetlana idly watched the collection of vehicles and armed men. They seemed strangely tense, probably due to the suspicious calm. The energy surge A'deen had detected had potential.


            Ivanova, her spotter, had flashed her sensors and picked up some strong magical signatures. Further evidence came in when a pair of their secondary targets had left the building and got into a waiting truck. They also split their time watching the area between them and the target for anything suspicious in a window or roof.


            Adjusting her cloak and easing closer to the building ledge Ivanova activated her radio. "Galina, this is Tri, confirmed Senshi, request targeting orders."


            Back at the hotel and using a holographic display, Galina looked at the images that Tri had sent her. She paused, tonight was supposed to be reconnaissance, but if the opportunity presented itself...


            Galina smiled thinly and looked at the other girls, now clustered around the rune-circumferenced display. "Yes, if you see Zaika, do it."


            "Understood," Svetlana said as she focused on the front door while Ivanova scanned the rest of the building. Her ash-grey weapon opened, revealing a red inner barrel and gave a slight blue light as muted patterns on her feet sprung into being and began to rotate against each other. Soon the fruits of their patience entered Svetlana's sights.


             

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

 

 
            As Setsuna lurched out of the building, she grabbed onto the door handle of the brownstone. She turned to see Usagi helping Minako down the steps. A smile briefly crossed Setsuna's face, Usagi had done well tonight and Minako had been saved. That made Ami's escape and knowledge of one of Setsuna's weaknesses more palatable.


            She knew the books Ami had bought, and had read them long ago, but it would have been nice to know what notes Ami had made. A piercing tingling interrupted her thoughts, the fuzziness in her mind burned away, she flashed to Usagi's side and an iridescent blue glow burst from her skin, instantly coalescing into thousands of glowing spheres that rose up and impacted with a blue-grey lance that seemed to strike down from the heavens or at least was a beam that shot down from above at an oblique angle. For half a second, the energy beam burned through several dozen of the spheres before it winked out of existence.


            "What happe-" Usagi started before she was pushed towards the ground and carried by Setsuna, who seemed to get them to a waiting APC in the blink of an eye.


            "Sergeant Graham, sniper. Take it out," Eve ordered into her headset as she pulled back into the brownstone for cover.

            Still wearing just a blanket and being helped by an agent, Minako froze for a brief moment. Then Minako dropped her towel and streaked towards her princess.


            Above them, Morgan had seen the blue beam and was already following it to its source before receiving orders from her mother. It was almost opposite from the brownstone-lair from her current perch and had to be over two kilometers away.

 

            Admiring the location chosen, she adjusted her scope and saw with still-shocking clarity the roof of a far off office building about even with her perch in height. A female-figure with something long and grey had pulled back to the stairwell on the roof.


            There was another figure in an identical grey and possibly red bodysuit with a smaller weapon, who looked like she was covering their escape. Pulling the trigger, Morgan frowned, preferring to take the sniper herself.


            Once the 25mm shell was away, she immediately pulled back, keeping an eye on the target for as long as possible.

 

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

 


            Cursing her target's magical shielding, Svetlana was backing down the first couple stairs when she saw Ivanova. Her spotter was rounding the corner when everything above her belly button was consumed by a flat explosion. There was no fireball, just a burst of gore and metal fragments ,large and small, that used to be Ivanova's upper half. Svetlana dove down, but shrapnel still pelted her own shield.


            It was not until her ears picked up a sharp booming crack that she was able to detect the source of the attack: a rifle. One with far too large of a payload to be fired by a normal human. "Bastard," she swore to herself as she cautiously eased up. Some small comfort came from her silent Geiger counter.


            The enemy rifle was not invincible, a thick titanium sphere within an armored chest would not be breached.

            Creeping backward, she licked her lips. After she killed this sniper she swore to return, Ivanova deserved better than being collected and studied. At least Ivanova's death had allowed her overeager "friend" to reveal himself, or more likely herself. Galina's questioning was ignored for a few seconds.


            Having hearing enhanced well beyond the human range was one thing, but without proper processing it was just more noise. Fortunately, mathematics had no politics. Therefore mathematicians were safe, and the Soviet Union produced some of the world's best. They also had the best people in espionage, so Svetlana had the hardware required to process the rifle's retort, including the delay between it and the bullet's arrival.


            Svetlana went down a floor and - after sensing it was empty - used a thin blade that extended from her left index finger to break into the proper office, one with a South-facing window.


            She went into position, and her eye automatically dialed into the right range and orientation. Svetlana saw a slightly shorter apartment block and adjusted her angle until she saw the roof. In a pool of shadow was a disorganized pile with a bit of a straight, long object to one side.


            "Ivanova has fallen to a sniper. Probably Company, probably not human, I'm going to kill her." Svetlana sighted her eye down the length of her weapon. "Going to radio silence." She turned off her communications system. Her location had been found out. It probably was via her weapon's luminescent beam, but there might be other ways. She was going with passive sensors from now on.


            Adjusting her output levels, she depressed her trigger and a thin beam struck out and flashed the pile which exploded satisfactorily. Her attention focused on the burnt remains, which seemed disturbingly mundane and inorganic.

 

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

 


            Morgan pulled back her wings and climbed up the far side of another building. She looked and just saw a thin blue beam appear connecting her previous perch to her prey's building. If the spotter was any indication, her target would be an interesting challenge. Frowning, she was only able to limit its origin to a few windows on the South-facing side of the topmost floor.


            Zooming in, she inspected the few windows until she found the telltale mark of broken - in this case, melted - glass. Thanking her new species, she was able to see inside the office, which looked completely empty. There was an open spot where a woman with a very large gun could have been waiting. Morgan gently rotated her gun and scoped out the adjacent offices to see if her quarry had moved just a bit over. She knew how many moments had passed since the beam had been fired, her enemy could not have gone far.

 

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

 


            Doubt entered Svetlana's mind. That had to be a decoy, but the trap had not sprung. There had been no counter-fire directed at the room she had shot from. The other shooter had to be alive, but had not used this chance to fire back. Something was wrong; maybe her location had been found via radio chatter. Her own scanners were not much help. She could detect encrypted radio chatter, but none of it was originating from the height where that sniper had to be stationed.


            She blinked at the time on her heads up display. She had been here too long; agents could be coming up the stairs right now. Before making her way to the  other side of the building. she adjusted her weapon and pulled out a part of the inner barrel, placing it on the floor.


            Once the legs were extended and the little tripod with its meter-long weapon was assembled she ran to an interior corridor and made her way to the opposite side of the building. She could not sense anyone coming towards her, but it was only a matter of time.


            Part of her attention was on her secondary sentry. It was a weak weapon with only a few shots, but it would do the job. She remotely adjusted the targeting device and scanned about until she found a rooftop. The silhouette just might have been her prey, but there was enough of a chance that it would not seem like a random shot.


            She waited until she had opened a window on the opposite side of the building and was on the ledge when she fired and jumped. Her leap was helped by a runic glow on her ankles, which had previously been covered up.


            She smashed through the opposing window and was shocked to find the feed on her sentry was still active.

 

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

 


            Morgan turned to the source of the attack and held her trigger finger. Something was off... the shot had been sloppy. From what she had seen her prey was better than that, more precise and machine-like. She looked into the office and found a single tripod-mounted weapon a couple windows down from the earlier shot. After ascertaining that there was no gunner she saw the weapon's elevation change slightly. Her eyes sparkled; her opponent's nature was becoming more and more apparent.


            The sharpshooter frowned at breaking radio silence, but knew she had to tell her teammates. "Remote rifle on top floor, North side, two windows off-center. Decoy," she whispered into her radio, and immediately changed her position to scan buildings behind the office tower.


            In one of the stairwells of the targeted building, Ranma stopped to listen to her earpiece. "Gotcha," she said, briefly pausing in her ascent. The other stairwell was watched by two of her spawn, and the elevators were held in the lobby by a squad of agents while Ukyou and Misako waited just inside the lobby.


            Ranma silently went up the stairwell and halfway up released a pair of DarkStar Bursts. The two orbs sliced through the door on the top floor and split up. One followed Morgan's directions, while the other hovered among the cubicle farm.


            Through them, Ranma could tell that the office building was empty, save for the turret, which was destroyed using one of the orbs. Its twin then went on and focused on a small office on the building's opposite side.


            From a roof two blocks away, Svetlana saw a black and violet orb fly near the open window. She had just seen her sentry get knocked out and wanted to destroy that demon, but... firing on the orb would only reveal her presence. She scanned her weapon, hoping for some other target, and for a split second considered just shooting through the lobby. If she had her beam wide enough, it would hit someone.


            She eased the pressure on the trigger and shifted her aim. Scanning the rest of the city, she frowned. That was merely a distraction from her real target, and effort to slow her down.

 

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

 


            Mercury glowered at the city below her. The smattering of long-range weapons fire had died down, and the city looked misleadingly serene. "Tonight has not gone well."


            "At least the self-destruct went off successfully," Orion gently said, standing on the opposite side of their high-rise condo's living room. She was at the  mini-bar.


            After slowly turning to glare at her lover, Mercury returned to her window-borne musing.


            Orion blushed and went back to the wet bar. She knew she had stocked this hideout with some of her Mistress' preferred reds.


            "You stunned Pluto," Virgo said, sitting at the breakfast nook. She had her blades out on the table and was looking them over. "That's good."


            "That worries me, but..." she sighed and accepted a wineglass from Orion. "That little stunt with the sniper." She took a long pull from the glass and motioned for it to be refilled.


            Virgo paused. Pluto had kept her combat talents hidden; secrets like that were always risky. "She's very fast, and those orbs-"


            "No!" Mercury screamed. "You don't get it. That energy... my computer..." Her hand shook, spilling some of the dark liquid on her evening dress. It matched too well. Her books, the data from the Moon, tonight's readings... it left one inescapable conclusion.


            "What are we up against?" Orion quietly asked, holding the bottle to her chest.


            Smiling slightly, Mercury reached for the bottle and caught herself. She then held out her glass and raised an eyebrow arrogantly. Once Orion started pouring, Mercury continued. "My little distraction worked better than I ever wished, but I never imagined... It's bad enough that our Queen has a new enemy, but we've proven something horrible about one of her most trusted Senshi."


            Virgo wanted to ask if this Senshi would start putting her hair up in a bun and wearing corsets, but instead went with a tamer inquiry. "What kind of monster is Setsuna?"


            "How very astute," she remarked thinly smiling before draining her glass. "It had all been very clever. We all thought DarkStar was the real monster, the real corrupter."


            "Setsuna's worse?" Orion blinked, as she automatically gave her mistress more wine. For that to be true she would have to be...


            Mercury gave a slight chuckle absent of joy or hope. "Our mission remains. Our queen's always been in danger. Setsuna's been playing us all from..." Her mind flashed to the observation room, buried deep under that Lunar complex. The secret had to be that old. "Back to the previous Queen." Mercury gasped. "There's been a monster in the house of Serenity since the start."

 

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

 


            Now overlooking a wide swath that encompassed enough of the battlefield to contain her prey, Svetlana settled down into position. It had been harrowing, but she had gotten enough distance between herself and the unpleasant distractions in the first building. A slight droning hit her ears and after triangulation, she zoomed her gaze in and saw the small plane.  With a wingspan of only a couple meters, it was a little plane without a cockpit.  Her attention went to the wings. The unmanned craft looked unarmed, though the sensors it carried were more dangerous to her than any missiles.


            Her camouflage was good, but that toy was still another set of searching eyes, and shooting it down would just alert others to her location.  Svetlana cursed using her remote gun.  That would have solved this problem nicely.


             After a moment's pause she tuned the sensor data she had already collected. She almost wanted to go to active scan, but it was not worth the risk


            Svetlana had other alternatives. Now secure in her position, she went back through what her sensors had recorded when she was moving and found something. The radio waves were encrypted but she did not care about their contents. That an encrypted radio was transmitted on a military band from a high building was information enough.


            At that time, backup had not even started to ascend the building, but it did not really matter who had transmitted; it was a lead. Thinly smiling, she adjusted her targeting to that building and watched. There was a chance her target was still there, or would even use her radio again.


            One benefit of encryption was that she knew which signals were meaningful and which were less of a priority. The constant chatter took a bit to triangulate; it would have gone faster if she had a spotter to compare signals with but...


            Svetlana calmed herself. She knew what she was up against. That rifle had a large charge, large enough to hold a fused-grenade or other explosive shell, but it was still a conventional weapon. Her target was just one person. Given the size of that weapon, the user's mobility, and the local composition of WIC she was up against a succubus. This made her rather formidable in close and medium range. If they got too close, the demon could smell her out.


            The good news was that she was up against a demon. Her body may be hardy, but those demonic senses, while honed, were primitive. The demon had excellent night vision, but she could not triangulate radio waves or rifle shots.


            A couple kilometers away, Morgan was executing her own search pattern. She was a demon and concentrated on what those senses would bring her. She calmed herself and checked the wind. The distance was in her favor. If she got within half a kilometer any competent NH would be able to smell her out, even in the bustle of a city that almost reeked with energy...


            Morgan blinked. Her target would not run away; the dispatching of her spotter ensured that. A sharpshooter and spotter team were close, and retribution would cloud judgment.


            She also had to have very advanced electronics, a variable output beam weapon, and at least one remote sentry. Morgan's mind flashed back to what she had seen before her first kill. A tight, grey bodysuit. The uniform was odd, but not as strange as fighting in leather miniskirts and bikini tops. The body armor and weapons seemed rather advanced in tech, but the real oddity occurred when Morgan took the shot.


            At first she thought it was unprofessional vanity, wanting to see what her gun would do. Normally, special tungsten-core sabot rounds (inaccurately called Lead Flowers) were used against shielded enemies. While the shield was a bit of a surprise, that it failed was not. The 25 mm by 59 mm round was more than sufficient. She was also able to see what was inside the spotter. It fit with the rest of the high technology and extreme mobility: normal humans could not jump between high rises.


            Morgan slowly tracked her scope between buildings and once again pondered what a sharpshooter with such technology would be like. Either the unmanned aerial vehicle had yet to fly over her location or her camouflage was sufficient to evade the UAV's cameras and scanners. The sniper also  had very good counter fire, but it was delayed. A thin smile formed as she did the math in her head. It matched up to the sound of her gun's firing. It was interesting to see that capability in a person instead of a vehicle.


            As she scanned roofs looking for the tell-tale glow, Morgan pondered. Her enemy was advanced, but there were limits. Given that she had not been fired upon, her target's optics had not been able to find Morgan. This implied that her concealment and cover methods, so far, were holding up.


            At the very least her target would have a few forms of night vision. Fortunately, the urban environment produced a lot of noise, deteriorating quality. Even thermal scanning was less useful if one knew where to shoot from.


            Morgan's tongue flicked out and felt the microphone of her headset. A slight smile formed. You found your prey by tracking light, sound, heat, scent, all things the target emitted. There was still something Morgan gave off.


             It was far-fetched, but so were cybernetic assassins, and paramilitary succubae for that matter. Morgan did not need to worry about how someone could locate her using radio transmissions, only what it would mean given the possibility that they could.


            Realizing that many agents were using their radios, Morgan surmised that she had her target's full attention and gave a little smirk. Contacting her comrades would be a challenge; her target could be tracking cellular transmissions too. The demon's eyes twinkled and she slowly eased to the metal wall to the left of her hiding space and with a flick of her claws sliced a small hole that she slipped through. Navigating her long gun down the roof access stairwell she found herself on the top story.


            After seeing a pile of three newspapers in front of a door, she listened and disengaged the lock on the silent apartment. After her eyes and nose confirmed the absence of the residents and that they still owned a landline telephone. She picked it up and made her call. It was a risk but, while decoding the electromagnetic broadcasts was one level of advanced technology, monitoring every single landline was another.


            It took longer to confirm her identity than explain her idea, but Morgan was fine with that, it was a simple plan. The timing was what was important. She had to reach her next shooting location before the others got into position. After hanging up, she used the fisheye and her nose to check the hallway before returning to the stairs. It would not do to run into anyone else who lived on this floor. While her "friend" might not be able to monitor every landline it would be smart of her to keep an eye on any calls to 911. Especially panicked calls about seeing a demon with a giant gun.

 

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

 


            Standing on a busy sidewalk, Shest looked up at the sky with dread spreading across her face. A few others would nervously glance up, the loud explosion still fresh on the minds of many. She fingered the edge of her coat.


            "Are you sure I can't go to the party?" she asked, desperation creeping into her voice.


            In a hotel across town, Galina sighed. "No, we can't risk it. We go in like this and it'll spiral out of control."


            "I'll just go in and get her. I don't think she can hold her liquor and I don't trust her driving home," Shest asked chewing her lip.


            "Could you really get the keys away from her?"


            "I'll get her before she notices. You know how I can just slip in and out," Shest offered.


            Galina closed her eyes. "She's already at the party. Don't you want her to help Ivanoa or just run off? They're... partners. You know what that means. Remember the Maltese Falcon?"


            Shest blinked and recalled Humphrey Bogart's lines as Sam Spade. "Da. 'When a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him.


            'He was your partner and you're supposed to do something about it. And it happens we're in the detective business. Well, when one of your organization gets killed, it's-it's bad business to let the killer get away with it, bad all around, bad for every detective everywhere.' "


            "It's something even those in the West understand. Should we have less honor than those that only care about money?"


            "I should still help her."


            "How? She's not answering our calls, and you don't even know where the party is." After not receiving a response, Galina continued. "She'll have to do it herself, I trust Svetlana's judgment."


            Stopping her walk, Shest stared at a large restaurant window. "I understand, but this was reconnaissance and there's already been one loss."


            "It might become three if you come blundering in. Svetlana does not need a distraction."
           

 

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

 


            Svetlana stewed and shifted her neck slightly. She was starting to wonder if her prey had run off. Still receiving plenty of encrypted chatter, she was inclined to doubt that. WIC was still hunting her. They had even started infiltrating that first building. Her eyes widened and she formed a wicked grin. Her capitalist friend thought she was so clever. So she had figured she was being tracked by her radio broadcasts, and returned to the one high place Svetlana would not find encrypted radio emissions unusual.


            Svetlana adjusted her position and was not shocked to find no visual signature. Her friend was rather good at hiding. Her computer locking down another location, Svetlana checked its overlay on her internal heads up display. The capitalist demon was waiting on the next-to-top floor in a corner room that was staged back from both the windows. Adjusting the aim Svetlana had to admire her foe's tactics. That spot gave a good view, and was far enough back to give good protection, nice concealment, and a viable escape route. There her friend had a reasonable view, but could securely communicate and direct the other mercenaries. Unfortunately for the demon, Svetlana's weapon was not limited by mundane things such as walls and floors.


            She held her gun and after a sufficient charge depressed the trigger. A thick blue beam shot out, slicing through the roof of the building on a diagonal and blew through the walls in that corner and exploded obliterating the entire room.


            The radio signal winking out, Svetlana immediately went to her feet, knowing that the mercenaries would track her beam. She was several kilometers away from the nearest agent but there was no reason to waste her head start.


           

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

 


            "Impatient," Morgan stated as she watched the beam destroy the corner of the building from several blocks away. Normally, going from one sniping perch to another was the most dangerous part. Instead, Morgan took the stairs to the garage of one building where she entered the waiting unmarked Company car which drove her to the current building she was perched on. The locations and the requirement for total radio silence were all in her original call.


            The rest of the plan was waiting. First was waiting for someone to place a radio within the right spot. It was bulkier than a headset, but was capable of making the exact same broadcast, and was set to do it whenever it heard the correct signal, from a phone line plugged into it.


            Then came waiting for Morgan's cybernetic friend to bite at the shiny lure before her. A lure that looked like WIC had figured out their radios were compromised. People liked to think they were being clever, especially when they could unravel someone else's less-clever scheme in the process.


            On the roof of a building she picked for its ability to watch over areas that could target the lure, Morgan's eyes hardened as she rapidly traced the path of the highly destructive but highly visible weapon back to its source. It winked out just before Morgan reached its terminus but she was able to see a figure get up and start to back away.


            She was over three and a half kilometers away, but Morgan clearly made out the bodysuit and large weapon. Happy to oblige its mistress, the modified Barrett Optical Ranging System adjusted the targeting for the range and other factors. Morgan aimed and took the shot.


            Keeping the moving figure in her sights, she counted down. Even for a round going at over three times the speed of sound, it would take three seconds for the payload to reach its destination.


            Too slow, Morgan scowled as she gave a follow-up shot with a longer lead on her target. She saw the first round explode on the staggered wall behind her target and blow up against a flickering shield. Damaged, the target was still moving when the next shot hit, it overshot her but the concussion blew her down and knocked her gun tumbling away.


            Her blood heating up, Morgan shifted her aim to that heavy weapon, and with a single 25mm round blew it apart. Her aim settled back to the distant target, sprawled out on the roof. Seeing liquid ooze from of the body, part of her wanted descend upon her prey.


            With the prone enemy sighted in, Morgan risked her radio. "I've got her immobile, destroyed her weapon. Permission to attempt-" her tongue came out and licked part of her lower lip. "-capture?"


            Back in the first building, Eve asked for the target's location. After receiving it she frowned, but she new it would be that far, given how hard it was to sense her daughter. Morgan was the closest by far, evidence that this sniper was slowly working a retreat. The blonde weighed her options. This did seem to be a new and unknown group. Waiting might allow for enemy reinforcements. "Approved, information is highly desirable, but no excessive risk," she said into her radio.  Immediately afterwards she informed the rest of the team and spread her wings.


            Smiling, Morgan spread her wings and took to the air, skimming the buildings. Keeping an eye on the prone target she closed the distance. Eventually she landed on the opposite end of the block, that the tall buildings were giving way to houses and low warehouses. She used her scope to get a hard confirmation and found that her target was still breathing. The wind changed directions and the scent of burnt powder and blood hit her nose.


            Her senses heightened, she leapt the street and landed on the final building. Shouldering her weapon, Morgan felt a bit ridiculous. Her gun was never meant to be used within a dozen yards.


            The scent of blood and the slight trace of a Pattern filled Morgan and tugged at her stomach in an urge that felt totally familiar to her. Her attention snapped back when the grey body-suited woman pulled her head up. The strong scent of blood had an almost oily undertone. One leg had been blown off at the knee, another was unnaturally twisted above the ankle, much of her torso had been broken apart and was leaking blood and a clear fluid that smelled unappetizing.


            Remarkably her head was fairly undamaged save for a few deep gashes and cuts that seemed almost cosmetic despite their gore. The rival sharpshooter coughed and gave a weak smile. "You tricky demon bitch," she gasped in a heavy accent.


            "Impatient," Morgan repeated from when her prey fell for the bait, resisting the urge to salivate.


            "Smaller beam would have been less visible," Svetlana agreed, reaching up with her good left arm and brushed back a bit of her hair. The demon was still wearing a concealing suit and had even covered parts of her weapon. "Nice gun," she noted appraisingly surveying the long steel weapon. She liked using a weapon that ran at the speed of light, but as current events showed, "slow" weapons were effective, too.


            "Careful with that friend of yours, at this range there won't be anything left of me to dissect," Svetlana coughed, her eyes almost twinkling with amusement. The young demon before her seemed almost... bashful and restrained, but it worked in Svetlana's favor.


            In a smooth motion, Morgan's left hand went off the stock and pulled out her SSP and only after the over-size automatic was aimed at Svetlana did she lower her rifle and flip her arm into a one-handed carry. "Better?" she smirked a bit, feeling the connection with her mother clear and strengthen.


            "Should call your friends," Svetlana said as she flicked her arm back down and flicked out a cylinder from within her arm.


            On seeing Svetlana's expression change, Morgan dropped her rifle and went down. As the blue beam shot out and hit, the succubus, having kept on target, depressed the handgun's trigger.


            While fifty caliber bullets broke through Svetlana's reinforced skull, the beam cut though Morgan's right shoulder and into her lung. Still holding her handgun Morgan checked the corpse. She did not smell any explosives in her, but caution and pain were mixed by the growth of her hunger.


            She could feel that backup would be here soon, but she had more immediate needs. Her claws sliding out, Morgan cut into the body like opening up a tin of ham, though with more hearty flavor.

 

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

 


            Eyes flaring a dark blue, Eve folded her wings and dropped to the rooftop. Body tensed and heart racing, every part of her was focused: protect. The scent of blood, her daughter's blood filled her nose, as she landed and went right to the crouched figure.


            Morgan gasped as her rifle was pressed to her chest as she found a pair of immense wings wrap around her body and her mother's presence fill out and spread around her. "Mother," she whispered from within the leathery cocoon.


            "It's okay, you did good," Eve said as she hugged her daughter with one arm while keeping her gun outstretched, she did not detect any enemies but that was irrelevant.


            Finding her mother's chest, Morgan leaned her head onto it and sighed happily. She could hear the larger demon's heartbeat slow from its panicked pace. Despite the dominance of mother's scent it was soon joined by other familiar ones.


            "How badly were you hurt?" Eve asked holstering her gun once her sister had landed and was able to balance out the embrace.


            "Not very," Morgan quietly said keeping her head in place. "I fed fine, Mom."


            Eve inhaled and blinked her eyes rapidly. Briefly freeing a hand to wipe, she turned to Ranma. "How do you do it?"


            The redhead sighed and crouched down. She looked at the chewed up corpse without any empathy. She smiled at her sister and niece, and leaned in. "Now you know my motivation," she said after giving Eve a quick kiss.


            Eve's eyes flared brightly. "But... I wanted to..."


            Ranma smiled, her teeth gleaming. "You understand."

            Eve froze, staring into the deep violet eyes. She saw the raw primal power. Here was the soul of a true predator, someone who would do anything to protect her family. Tightening the hold on her daughter, she gasped. "I'm... I'm."


            "Like me?" Ranma laughed and wrapped her wings around both Morgan and Eve. She leaned in and whispered into the blonde's ear. "Why did you think I turned you?"


            Eve blushed and held her purring daughter. She looked back at her sister's eyes and found herself unable to answer.


            Morrison landed and gave a whistle at the corpse, but it was mostly perfunctory. She looked to Ukyou and Misako who had already landed and were providing cover for the others.


            "Go on, it's your group hug," Misako said with a bit of jealousy as she cradled Sasha.


            "Yeah, we're going to have plenty of time to show our affection tonight," Ukyou added as she watched the young demoness eagerly walk to her mother.


            Eve's circling thoughts were interrupted by the presence of her other daughter. The captain's wings automatically parted to allow her access and wrapped back around the two girls. Feeling the two heartbeats of her spawn and the beating from her sister, Eve's mind focused and the answer came. She gasped and her tail straightened at the thought. "You turned me..." She hesitated; the simplicity was too stunning. "You turned me because you knew I would become your sister, fully and completely."


            "I knew you'd understand," Ranma laughed as she leaned in and kissed her sister again, this time she did not break away and Eve gasped as a flow arced between them, the blonde felt the demonic power buildup saturate her body. Ranma's obsidian earnings flickered a dark violet.


            Her wings flexed and quivered and became more accommodating, curving and swooping the now fully-embraced spawn as the insides softened and molded her spawn to her while hardening on the outside. Her tail spasmed as it greatly thickened down its length before reaching the fins which swelled to a larger spade shape.

           A burning hunger gnawed at her, and was then abated by the flow of sustenance from her sister. The excess filled her, deposited in choice locations softening her features and causing her pants and chest armor to tighten. Her hair bun undid itself; her tresses fell about and started to separate. The process increasing her hair's body as it mixed with writhing crimson tresses, and moving over her spawn.


            "Nice tail," Ranma laughed as she reached out and stroked it.


            Eve groaned. Her mouth moved and she felt her jaw open wider than ever before and her teeth sharpened, adding more fangs. She had seen Ranma feed this way before, and had briefly wondered about it. Before her mouth closed, she stuck her tongue out and was surprised it was able to reach to Ranma, who had reached out and was gently rubbing her horns, which felt more sensitive, curved and a bit larger.


            As the blonde began to purr, her tail wrapped around Ranma's thinner but longer one. She put her head on Ranma's chest and opened her mouth to gently lick her neck. Her clothing transformed, the armored plating shifting into a bodice and cupping her fuller figure around her chest while covering her waist in a series of pleated plates. The rest of her uniform shifted into a gauzy, stretchy dark blue material that clung to her body from her chest to her legs, which then fused from her ankles to her waist forming a long tight skirt. Her equipment and holsters migrated to a pair of belts slung over her hips.


            A dark violet four-pointed star flared into existence on Ranma's forehead and was followed by a similar mark emerging on Eve and her spawn's heads. As the flare died down leaving the purple marks, more power flowed into the demons. Eve purred again and found herself drifting off into bliss.

 

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

 


            "How do you, feel sister?" Ranma asked pulling away from the blonde.


            With a bit of a pout, Eve pulled away from the redhead and looked around and was surprised to find themselves in her office. Her daughters were sleeping on either side of her and a large mirror had been added to the room.


            "I flew us back to the rally point and got us back to base," Ranma laughed at Eve's blank look.

 

            "Fine, a helicopter landed and the rest of us moved you sleepy girls onboard, while the techs got out and started scanning the body," the redhead explained as she helped Eve up, and put her in front of the mirror. "Well? Is it everything you wanted?"


            The blonde froze. Her hair arced behind her, and had almost as much body and length as her sister's; by the way it was moving, she guessed that it had the same vitality as well. The increase in the size of her horns helped keep them from being overwhelmed by her tresses.


             Her face was subtly different. It looked somehow a bit more mature and much less harsh. She smiled and it looked more genuine and loving; she allowed her smile to widen, and found her teeth even sharper. She almost missed the silver-edged four-pointed star on her forehead as it flared purple before vanishing again.


            "Better than the silly quartered circle," Ranma chuckled as she summoned a similar mark. "And it's about time we started making more of a mark."


            Politely ignoring the pun, the blonde slowly nodded, warmth welling up within her. A heavier tail swung behind her, occasionally playing with Ranma's, and her wings had to be pulled away from her daughters. As she walked she found her hips swaying with more notice, but put that up to how her feet were angled. She found that her uniform had turned into a tight, thin, deep-blue dress that went nearly to the floor while silvery armor with a  breast plate and skirting shimmered in the reflection. Armor plating for her chest and pleated skirt shimmered in the reflection. Her weapons were still attached to her belts, and she had her rank and the Company logo pinned to her chest, though it looked almost like an afterthought.


            "I think it's cute, kind of like a Sailor Senshi skirt. You have good taste," Ranma playfully whispered.


            Eve nodded, finding the material stretchy enough to enable her to walk. She then looked at the bottom of her dress, and blushed. A pair of silvery spiked high heels were attached to her feet, arching her legs up a few inches.


            "They're not exactly regulation, but neither is that dress," Ranma teased.


            Eve nodded and sat down back between her daughters. Her wings automatically extended and comforted them while she crossed her legs. After adjusting herself to look over her chest she looked down at her shoes. "Well, I can always change them."


            "If you want to." Ranma broke away from admiring the view to check her watch and sighed. "We should get back and see how Usagi's doing."


            Eve frowned. "We'll have more time for fun later tonight."


            "But first we need to show Usagi a little something," Ranma smirked.

 

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

 


            "I'm sorry," Minako muttered. She glanced over at Usagi and returned to staring at a concrete wall. The grey WIC jumpsuit she was in was comfortable, but after being armored, any fabric would be.  Artemis sat in her leap. The white cat happy to simply be petted.


            "Don't be so morose," Rei reprimanded, looking at Minako, but only after the blonde had blinked did Rei turn away. The priestess resisted her own urge to look up, the blank ceiling of this... basement seemed to press down on her. She avoided the walls, too. Somehow, the attempts to make the place cheerier were even more depressing. Photographs of helicopters and planes and other military hardware seemed to be a bit over the top.


            "Give her a break. She was just freed from being Mercury's slave." Makoto said putting her hand on Minako's. The blonde sitting across from her did not move, but her hand was warm. Makoto smiled. "It's okay, we got you."

 

            "It's great to have you back," Artemis added as he rolled onto his back.


            A ghost of a smile appeared on Minako's lips.


            "So what was that?" Usagi asked, pulling back from the table to look at Setsuna, who was at the next table over nursing a cup of tea.


            Setsuna looked up and rubbed her eyes. "You were being shot, I moved in to protect you," she flatly stated, noting that Minako winced at her words.


            "Well, yeah, but those were just your training balls."


            "They're not just for training," Setsuna said, taking a slight sip from her tea. It was surprising - she had not expected to find this quality in a company commissary.


            "What, exactly, happened?" Usagi chewed her lip. Her mind flashed to the iridescent dome that had appeared over her. "Someone tried to kill me?"


            "Yes." Setsuna put the mug down, trying not to grin a the sight of Usagi's thoughtful expression, and her firm eyes.


            "Find out everything you can about who did this," Usagi stated, she looked over to the demons who were in the other side of the commissary, seemingly chatting to themselves. "Where's Ranma?"


            "Helping hunt down the person that did this," Akane shouted.


            "We heard Morgan got one of them," Nabiki added as she flicked one of her blades open and then closed again.


            Setsuna gave the group a closer look. In addition to Nabiki's idle play, Nariko was polishing the scabbard of her sword while clearly watching one of the doors. Akane  had chosen to watch the remaining door. She smiled thinly. Ranma appeared to be giving Usagi her money's worth.


            "That's it? People are just gunning you down in the street?" Rei put her fingers to the bridge of her nose. Things had been much better in Japan. At least there the people trying to kill them had the decency to gloat.


            "At least this time, innocents weren't used as bait," Usagi glowered.


            "Could it have been Ami?" Makoto asked.


            "No," Minako suddenly stated. "Mi- er... Mercury had plenty of chances to do it, killing our Queen was never her intent."


            "Queen?" Rei tilted her head slightly.


            "The Queen is dead, long live the Queen." Setsuna said with a mix of levity and sarcasm.


            "They still attacked when I was leaving. What happened? They must have been waiting at Ami's place."


            "Using it as bait?" Makoto asked. "Why didn't they just go after us at our apartment?"


            Usagi nodded. "Good point, maybe they were following us. But why then?"


            "The fight was over." Nariko interjected as she entered the room. "You were all calming down and looking towards the future. If the attack had happened earlier, you would all still be in combat mode. Instead, they took the shot when you were tired, distracted." The demon smiled happily. "Not a bad plan all in all."


            "You make it sound like that was a good thing," Rei grumbled.


            "It is," Setsuna stated. "Understanding how the enemy thinks is useful. That's how Usagi beat Ami tonight."


            "She didn't expect us to come after her. She didn't expect me to trick her." Usagi chuckled. "She expected me to break down, to fall into her arms and ask her to make it all better." The blonde smiled, eyes sparkling.


            "She still got away," Artemis said.


            "We hit her in her lair. Did you go upstairs? She'd built up a whole life there, and we kicked her out of it."


            "And you got me," Minako, quietly, said.  She resumed petting the moon-cat.


            "Yes, we did." Usagi hugged Minako, who brightened at the contact. "Soon we'll get Naru, and Ami too."


            "There's also Virgo," Minako added.


            Nariko looked up and ahead. "Oh good, mother's back."


            "What, can you smell her? That's just creepy." Rei shook her head.


            Nabiki blinked. "What's creepy about being able to feel our mother and family and know that they're ok?"


            Giving Rei a dark little look, Nariko stood up and walked to the corridor. Ranma and the remainder of her spawn entered, followed by Eve and her daughters. The blonde was wearing some type of long clingy dress and had an arm around each of her spawn.


            Behind them a pair of gurneys with large bags were being pushed along. One of the bags was lumpy, misshapen, uneasily distributed item that did not look like a human cadaver or even one item.


            Usagi looked at the tall blonde. Her form looked more mature and meshed with the love radiating off of her. Consistent with her body, her clothes also screamed demonic, complimenting her horns and wings.


            Ranma was the only one not carrying large guns. One of Eve's daughters was carrying an immense scoped rifle of some type, that made the other large weapons seem almost human scaled to the moon princess.


             Usagi's attention went from the weapon to the two body-bags being pushed down the corridor behind the demons. They were under heavy guard. "Are those?"


            "Why yes, they are," Ranma said, smiling a bit.


            Rei watched the redhead turn and seem to feign surprise.  Which was odd, the demon had to have known the bodies were being moved right behind her.


            "Yes, they were both cyborgs of some sort." Morgan's eyes brightened in remembrance. She made a point of keeping herself from licking her lips.


            Once again Eve frowned at the damage to Morgan's upper armor, but she had ordered her daughter to try to take her alive. "You did good, Honey," she assured with a hug.


            "Is that the gun?" Usagi hesitantly asked, starting at the weapon; it was longer than the diminutive and redheaded succubus was tall.


            Morgan blinked. Her mouth opened and closed in confusion. "Well, no. This' mine. Grandma made it for me."


            "Grandma?"


            "Major Saotome."


            "Oh, yeah... Eve's Ranma's sister," Usagi said in a tone she hoped was absent-minded, instead of jealous, as she stared at the length of the rifle. Surprisingly long and almost elegant, the weapon was not bulky. Her eyes were drawn to the inscription written on the side. "We do what we must, because we can," she automatically read aloud.


            Morgan gave the blonde a long puzzled stare and with a shrug moved over to where Akane and Nabiki were sitting. She put her weapon down on the table and noticed when Misako followed suit. The automatic grenade-launcher was much shorter than her rifle and elicited a sour glare from Misako and tight smirk from Morgan.


            Usagi shook her head as she got up and walked to Ranma. "So... cyborgs?"


            "Yeah, people with bits of metal and motors in them, pretty strange," Ranma shrugged. "You wanna see them? Well what's left of them."


            Usagi coughed. "Uh... no need."


            Rei noticed the frown on Ranma's face and wondered if the demon was disappointed that Usagi didn't want to see dead bodies or for some... other reason. Did the gurneys really have to go down this hallway?


            "We've fought droids before. Though I guess these are different. The robot things we've fought before never left bodies."


            "These were humans. Heavily modified with cybernetics, but still human," Eve stated.


            "How can you be sure?" Rei asked "If they were mostly robotic..."


            "The flavor is very unique," Morgan stated.


            "Oh hush, like you've ever eaten human before," Misako pouted.


            "So... not say... a gooish monster made from a glass of wine then," Rei proposed.


            "Oh, yes, Jamanen. Thanks Rei, thanks for reminding us about the creepy monster that could hide in ceilings, turn her arms into swords or trap us inside her." Makoto shook her head. It was horrible, she had to shower for over an hour to get clean afterwards.


            "We have fought a lot of them."


            "Speaking as someone turned into armor and goop, I can say it's not very fun, being controlled and used like that." Minako added.

 

            "I doubt most people turned into minions found the experience fun," Airtimes added, nuzzling her.


            "Did you figure out who they were? Why they were doing this?"


            "The one that shot at you had some kind of accent, maybe eastern European," Eve stated. "We're going to do a full autopsy, track down where their hardware came from at least."


            "That's it?" Usagi paused. "What's left of them, I mean. And you'll dissect them?"


            Ranma shrugged. "Right now, it's all we have to go on."


            "Least it's over," Usagi sighed.


            "Why?" Eve asked as she stretched her back a bit and flexed her wings. "There could be more of them. Their technology was rather advanced."


            "What did they use to shoot me?"


            "It's some kind of beam weapon. There's not much of it left." Eve explained, putting a hand to her hip.


            "It was all just cyborgs?" Rei asked. "No magic?"


            "I smelled a bit of a Pattern," Morgan said as Ukyou handed her a cup of coffee.


            "Major Saotome and Section Chief Ono will look into that." Eve stated.


            Usagi nodded. "Tell me what you find. I want to know why another group wants me dead."

 

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

 


            "Svetlana and Ivanova are dead," Shest reported, after she entered the bedroom to the hotel suite.


            "Yes, we were aware Svetlana had fallen." Galina frowned.


            "Svetlana managed to wound the demon, but she was shot and... eaten," Shest dropped her purse to the floor and started to undo her blouse.

 

            The old veterans who had trained them in combat had a saying. "As bad as the Fascists were, at least they wouldn't eat you." It was their way of saying that things could always be worse.


            "We did want a challenge," Arisha dryly remarked as she watched a replay of the footage Svetlana had managed to broadcast, while jotting down notes on a small pad.


            "Yes, little
Zaika has some formidable guardians," Galina remarked. "Do we have any idea what the green-haired one used to block the attack?"


            "No," Arisha moved to the end of Svetlana's data feed. "But we know that the demonic sharpshooter was armed with a... conventional weapon," she said, highlighting the image of Morgan's weapon.


            "Well, that pushes the upper limits of what gunpowder can do," Shest remarked, after she had stripped down to her red and grey bodysuit.


            "This matches our intelligence. The demons are a new program, and thus their weapons are adaptations of existing hardware," Arisha stated. "In time they'll have more fitting weapons. It's fortunate that we're facing them now, before they're more properly armed."


            "I wonder," Galina stated, studying the image.


            "What?"


            "Most of our weapons are tailored to our bodies. They're integrated. Our powers and our armor are also part of this holistic approach. It would be unwise to assume our enemies are using the same methodology."


            Shest blinked. "These are demons."


            "Exactly. It's a fascinating approach. They're transforming existing warriors into these demons, and instead of hyper-specialized weapons they're just upping the same equipment they already know." Galina tapped her lip. "It doesn't give as much of an individual advantage, but does provide a cheaper alternative, and one that's better integrated with their regular troops."


            "What of Zaika?"


            "I doubt she'd be foolish enough to be alone, but even now she's not using a full guard."


            "The smart thing would be for her to stay on base?" Shest asked, before wandering to the kitchenette.


            "Our surveillance shows that while Zaika's apartment is being watched, they are alone." Chetyre said, looking over her display.


            "Should we attack now?"


            Galina shook her head. "They will be on alert now, and clearly we underestimated their capability. We need more about how they perform. Especially the older dark-skinned woman."


            "Perhaps, she should be eliminated first? The rest are younger and fraught with internal splintering." Arisha suggested.


            "We must be careful. That may end up driving Zaika closer to the demons." Galina noted.


            "No matter what our next operation is, if it fails, Zaika will get more worried." Chetyre paused to look at her display and continued. "To be frank, tonight's event should have put her over the edge. The amount of complacency she has is... startling."


            "Is it? She's had many, many attempts on her life, and apparently has killed the leaders of all of them herself," Galina smiled thinly. "Right now, some of her forces are in open rebellion. Tonight was a part of that ongoing battle against that faction for Zaika. And she still has not changed her life that much."


            "She is either very stubborn or very sure of her powers," Chetyre stated.


            "Perhaps, she has faith in her own destiny," Arisha snorted.


            "Intelligence indicates she has... fanciful long term plans." Galina allowed. "


            "We have learned more about her plans," Arisha reminded. "One source indicates, she desires a revolutionary state with her at its core enforcing tranquility and equality. Others have confirmed that her ideology is strongly on justice and enforcement."


            "She definitely has a feeling of importance. People have called her a messiah, a princess, a queen, a goddess. Her family... well, has the white-collar wage-slave become part of the proletariat?"


            "If they have no ownership of the means or production and no tangible wealth, then yes," Galina patiently confirmed.


             "Then she's not bourgeoisie, let alone royal. Clearly, the messianic messages are just propaganda."


            "So, command driven, progressive, collectivist and propagandist?" Galina muttered. "Her ideology could have been pulled over to our side. What a shame."


           

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

 


            Minako hesitantly stepped into the room she shared with Makoto. Airtimes raced in in front of her and jumped up onto the bed. Makoto's half of the room was its normal state while her half looked frozen in time. Walking over to her dresser, she stripped out of the WIC-supplied jumpsuit and put on a skirt and blouse. She looked at a mirror and smiled at the curvy and tan figure reflected back at her.


            "Enjoying the chance to be yourself?" Setsuna asked opening the door.


            Minako gasped in shock, her eyes flaring a hint of red before going back to blue. "Uh... hi Setsuna...."


            "You should be more careful," Setsuna teased, walking up to Minako after she closed the door behind her.


            The blonde looked down. "I'm still adjusting."


            "You've been through a lot. Are you ready to tell Usagi?" Setsuna asked, suddenly changing the subject without changing her tone.


            "Are you?" Minako replied.


            Setsuna smiled thinly. "I was just protecting her."


            "Right, and guess that's what I'm doing too," Minako replied, as she started tying her hair back with a ribbon. "I'm still a Senshi, like you."


            Setsuna chuckled. "Well, not exactly like me."


            After raising an eyebrow, Minako turned back to her reflection. "Do the others know?"


            "About us? Not so much. Rei has some suspicions that you've been... changed."


            "I have," Minako glowered. "Least I'm still a Senshi."


            "Of course. Mercury wouldn't have changed that." Setsuna smirked. "She is starting to figure out just how far the definition of Sailor Senshi can be stretched."


            Minako nodded.


            "Getting you back is a good victory. It'll help our Princess. She's got some confidence back. Especially-"


            "Especially now that there's yet another new enemy."


            "The brood did kill both of the assassins."


            "There will be more." Minako frowned. "There always is. I still think we should move into Mercury's place. That's a much more secure facility."


            "That enemy knows where it is," Setsuna flatly said.


            "Like they wouldn't know where this place is either."


            Setsuna nodded. "But wouldn't it look bad? One of Mercury's former minions suggest that we move into Mercury's old lair?"


            Minako sighed. "Yes, Ami's original plans had us all moving into there, where she could slowly change and improve us at her leisure."


            "That was before you unraveled her Mistress Lyra story."


            "Nice way she repaid me for that bit of logic. She was a real state trooper, there." Minako shrugged.

 

            "That's not the right phrase,"  Airtimes said.

 

            The two women ignored him. 


            "At least she didn't make you into a trial princess."


            "Pretending to be the princess was bad enough when I was human," Minako grumbled. "I guess it could take some of the pressure off of Usagi, but she'd never go for it."


            "Careful, there," Setsuna smiled.


            "I figured you out," Minako started rummaging around in her dresser until she found a compact. "Ami will too; she did send me and Shampoo to get those books.."


            "Do you have a list of them?" Setsuna idly asked.


            "Course," Minako said, as she pulled out a piece of paper and wrote the titles down. She handed it over to Setsuna who frowned.


            "Mina... you wrote this out using an eyeliner pencil." Setsuna shook her head.


            "You wanted them right now." Minako started putting on eyeshadow.


            Setsuna frowned and scanned the list. "Revelations of Glaaki, Chronoscopic Travelers, Turba Philosophorum, Cthaat Aquadingen, On the Sending Out of the Soul, Unaussprechlichen Kulten Book of Eibon, and Kryptographik."


            "Any of it legit?"

            "Oh, they're all dangerous books. Most of them won't help her...."


            "But?"


            "They all have a high chance of driving her insane or attracting transdimensional monsters."


            "Yes, we wouldn't want Ami to get corrupted," Minako dryly noted. "What about you? You – I mean – the gates in any of those books?"


            "Pardon?"


            "Some stuff from the Silver Millennium survived, and it's not like primitive humans would understand it."


            "Yes, it would be easy to get a cult using magic and knowledge from that era."


            "You're evading," Minako teased.


            Setsuna gave a level gaze before breaking into a tiny smile.


            "It doesn't take a Conductor to figure something's up with you, and given that you're... you, it's gotta involve the gates."


            "And?"


            "That's assuming Mistress Mercury's paranoia isn't just her getting punchy, there's got to be something up with you. You're very mysterious and knowing." Minako smiled at her reflection. "It's nice to have eyelids."


            "True." Setsuna nodded.


            "Well, we've got to worry about the others."


            "Oh?"


            "Ami knows all about me, and has figured out whatever the deal is with you."


            "Yes, that will be a problem."


            "I'm certain that you have a plan, but do you need any help with it?" Minako offered as she put on some lipstick. "I mean it's not like Usagi's going to listen to what Ami has to say. Meatball-head is going to trust us over her, she's got that hopeful idea going on."


            "You've been thinking things over."


            Minako closed her compact and turned to Setsuna. "I've had a lot of time to think."


            "Ami didn't have much fun with you?" Setsuna teased.


            "Training, testing, and being powered down in an alcove." Minako shrugged. "I really feel sorry for Shampoo; Naru too, I guess."


            "Oh?"


            "Mercury did lose her test subject."


            "You've spent the most time with her. Will she do something rash?"


            Minako nodded. "She'll be upset, feel cornered. Shampoo... she was recruited to get to Ranma, but... Naru's the cheese."


            "Cheese? You mean Ami will use her?"


            "Usagi's relationship with Naru is about all Mercury has left."


            "But they're lovers, or has Ami changed that?"


            "They're still close. That's why Ami hasn't done anything yet."


            "Troubling."


            "Did your search of Ami's computers and records turn anything up?"


            " 'Course not, the charges she put in nicely destroyed whatever she was working on."


            "All she really needs is her Mercury computer." Once again, Minako smiled at her reflection. "And don't forget these cybernetic assassins, either. The princess is really going to need our help."


            "It's not like the Mau have been much help," Setsuna admitted.

 

            "I'm right here!"  Artemis said with all the angry gravitas a cat could give.


            "Of course not, this is beyond Artemis," Minako sighed.

 

            "Again,  magical advisor right here," he grumbled.

 

            "Or maybe he could just smell you." Setsuna smirked at Minako.

 

            "She doesn't smell that different," he muttered.

 

            "Something like that would shock me, too. Well no, not me, but a regular human, yes"  Setsuna admitted.


            "And no one gives you a second glance."


            "That's experience. DarkStar's grandmother can do it, too."


            "And Murdock."


            Setsuna's grin finished. "About him. What's his role? How often did he meet with Ami? Was he controlling her overtly? Or was he still using Naru as his plant?" she asked in increasing tempo.


            "Didn't meet often. He seemed... amused. Disappointed, too. Does he actually know what he's doing?" Minako asked with an arched eyebrow.


            "I used to think his ineptness was just an act, but now... Maybe things have gotten out of his control, or maybe that's what he wants us to think."


            "I doubt he planned for me to be freed or for Usagi to beat up Ami."


            Setsuna chuckled. "No, Ami didn't plan on that. Murdock? Maybe he's built up Ami just for Usagi to tear her down."


            "We can guess that Usagi is his real target." Minako paused and shook her head. "Nothing ever changes, does it? It's still some velour-dandy going after the Princess."


            Setsuna froze, imagining Murdock dressed in a velour jumpsuit. The idea of stretchy velvet over his grinning body was... upsetting in novel ways. It then shifted to Diamond of the Black Moon Clan in a similar outfit. "Wow... he doesn't dress that way does he? At least, polyester instead of velour?" she asked as she pulled out her flask.


            "Nope, still likes poorly-treated bland suits."


            "At least there's that," Setsuna sighed. "What about Naru? Is she being used as a way to influence Ami?"


            "Why not," Minako shrugged. "Naru does advise her, and is so polite and deferential, and is always there to give her Mistress plenty of wine."


            "And there's the sex." Setsuna sighed. "Troubling. Add in these cybernetic assassins..."


            "Yeah, least Ami and her minions.... we... they.." Minako gritted her teeth and "The plan wasn't to kill any of the Senshi."


            "Yes she had the very original idea of changing us, making us better." Setsuna smirked her mirth returning.


            "Talking about the first Serenity?"


            "She was the one that setup the Senshi."


            "Yes, whole 'planetary power' thing. Well, dwarf planets too, and asteroids. Pretty much any rock that's big enough."


            "Serenity wasn't using current planetary standards."


            "Guess so. She couldn't have looked into her future to see what was and wasn't a planet." Minako looked at Setsuna's blank expression and blushed. " I mean she could, obviously. But why would she care? Why this time period?"


            Minako tapped her chin and before Setsuna could respond, resumed her train of thought. "Well, this is the time she sent her daughter and the rest of us too. So, she should have at least checked out this time period." She stared off at one of the walls for a few unblinking seconds. "I know! She wanted to make sure that we would still resonate with the populace. That way, we could be the proper folk heroes to help Usagi takeover the world."


            "I don't think Serenity had time to plan all this during the Fall, even after sealing Beryl."


            Minako deflated. "You would know."


            "Quite. Don't worry about it. Usagi's got you back, and we'll make it through this. We always do.." Setsuna said, reaching for the doorknob.


            The blonde looked at her reflection one last time. She evened out her blush a bit more and turned back to Setsuna, giving a slight nod.

 

End Chapter 12

 

 

Once again, I'd like to thank my pre-readers. They read through my most egregious mistakes so you don't have to. DGC, J St C Patrick, Terra, Pale Wolf, Wray, Kevin Hammel, Ikarus, Jerry Starfire, and Mike Koos.

 

 

Revision Notes:  And here's the Combat Cyborgs making their debut attack.  And Morgan having her... start.   I suppose this is when some of the major elements that define "the Return" start to come together.