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 13:  Artificial Ideologies

Formerly:  Restoration and Regret Part 2 i

 


            "Fascinating," Section Chief Ono peered into the chest cavity. Even given Sergeant Graham's... incisions the subject's... chassis proved rather difficult to open up. "I can see where the organs were, but there's extensive support struts too. Titanium you think?"


            Dressed in a surgical smock identical to Ono's, Nodoka nodded. "Strong, light, not prone to biological rejection." Using a pair of pliers, she picked up another piece from her more diminished and already sectioned subject. "Sir, I think I found something."


            Ono stepped over to the other table, careful to give the two other agents in the room space. In battle-dress, they held rifles at the ready. The pathologist had conducted enough autopsies where the subject was still a bit... lively to appreciate their presence. In a similar precaution, a pattern scanner and a sensitive radio receiver were also active in one corner. Before entering the facility the bodies had been checked with a Pattern Scanner and inspected by a scent dog for more mundane booby traps.


            Leaning over the lighted magnifier, Ono blinked. It looked like some kind of hydraulic control but part of the sleeve was cracked exposing some writing. "Cyrillic?"


            "Makes sense, this... hardware." Nodoka shook her head. "A lot of it is what you would expect transmitters, chipsets, structural pieces, actuators, but other parts...." She picked up the wand to a narrow-range scanner and waved it over a couple pieces of meat and blood smeared metal.


            "Pattern V... no... maybe some S too. Very weak That doesn't make sense, not given Morgan's report." Nodoka chewed her lip. "The canine team has cleared the cadavers?"


            "Right as the bodies entered the base. They didn't like them much, but no explosives, other than the remnants from the sergeant's weapon," Ono agreed. "But yes there's no rapid decay of organics." He sniffed and noticed that he was smelling the normal cordite, burnt meat, and such cocktail. "Pattern V's also don't have urea or feces. These cyborgs actually have digestive tracts."


            "They do have musculature and skin, those parts do need nourishment."


            Ono nodded and started probing the a multi-meter again. He wanted to make sure this thing was dead.


            Nodoka frowned at the electrical reader. "Do we know what their power source is?" she asked as she poked a bit further into the chest cavity.


            "It could be magical, or some sort of battery or engine. We don't know what their fuel could be."


            "But the power requirements are far too large for anything normal." Nodoka's frown deepened as her probing pulled back a structural member and revealed an orange-sized sphere nestled in the chest cavity. Several cables connected to it. Motioning to the guards, Nodoka reached behind her and pulled up another piece of equipment. "Did they do a radiological study?" she asked moving the Geiger counter's probe over the sphere.


            "Yes, it came out clean," Dr Ono said leaning in to see Nodoka's readings. "Good shielding?"


            "Maybe," Nodoka said as she walked to the fragments that made up the other specimen. "A nuclear battery... well I didn't think it would give enough power or get this small, but I didn't think cyborgs were feasible either." The scientist poked around the debris until she found a similar sphere. It was battered and misshapen and in one location a piece of shrapnel had sliced through the surface revealing a layer of some kind of blue mesh.


            At the point of rupture the radiation reading was higher. "There must be more layers in it, maybe some lead after this blue stuff."


            "Are the levels dangerous?" Ono asked.

            "No, but we should use a lead shielded box for both of these," Nodoka motioned to one of her assistants who went past a guard and had him help her move a container to the specimen table. Foam sections were removed, and using a set of pincers, the damaged sphere was lowered inside.


            "I'll remove this one," Ono stated as he started photographing and logging the wiring on the undamaged sphere. Nodoka came over and started helping him disconnect the orb. Most of the connections were modular and came out easily.


            "Compact, it has to be advanced," Nodoka noted. "There's not much of a Pattern on it though."


            Ono nodded and started to lever the sphere out of place with some difficulty. "Damn thing, it weights enough to have some real heavy metals in it."


            Once the sphere was added to the other side of the box and the container was sealed Ono looked at it critically. "There has to be something wrong with those things. If they are a power system there has to be a reason they weren't used in other things. They're going to need watching. We don't know if they're shut down or idle or what."


            "Expense likely. They're stable enough to be in a combat cyborg, so they have to be hardy. Maybe they are used in other roles. Nuclear batteries are used in space probes, and some isolated facilities. They aren't this small, though."


            Ono went back to the body. "Yes, but that might not even be the power system. Though it does connect to this distribution network and right into this processor."


            "Did you find anything that could work as an interface?" Nodoka went over to the more complete body and moved that table's magnifier over sections of the ruined bits of metal and bone that made up the cadaver's skull. She looked back at the locked case. There were plenty of new things to learn from these specimens.


            After discarding the potentially contaminated leads, Tofu put the electrical reader down on a tray and walked over to the shattered head, using a long surgical pick he pointed to some bits of jelled brain and electronics. "There's a few areas here, but... it's crude. This technology. It shouldn't work."


            Nodoka nodded. "You can't just put computer chips in a person's brain and expect them to work."


            "I don't know what this is," Dr. Ono sighed. "That pattern's got something to do with this. Maybe whoever built this found a shortcut."


            "Ghost in the machine. Sir?" Agent Gabriel Smith suggested as he shifted his gun slightly. To his left Sophie Addison's eyes went down to the scanner output.


            Ono blinked. "Perhaps. Pattern V's are essentially flesh-borne golems reanimated by their former spirits."


            "Was that how they got around the technology limitation?" Nodoka asked.


            "You're right, this stuff... technically it's advanced, but I wouldn't be surprised to find it in a Russian sub."


            "Not many people would have access to this kind of technology and this... magical skill.  We don't know how they bonded the organic nervous system to the cybernetics. The smattering of obsolete equipment worries me though. While there are a few computers in here that appear newer than the rest, and some other things that I –think- are computers, there's also some old electronics too." Nodoka's eyes went to the metal plating that made up the walls, ceiling, and floor of the room. "We can't leave until these things are dissected and tagged."


            Ono nodded and resumed his work. "The obsolescence shows either a lack of a need for a total retrofit or a lack of a capability to do it."


            "The Pattern aspect also gives production questions. All the hardware can be purchased or machined, but how hard is it to... bind a ghost," Nodoka smiled at Gabriel.


            "I can probably get a date from the age of the stuff in the brain here. I doubt they would have repeated that surgery." Tofu said as he used a scalpel and a set of miniature wire-cutters. Once the specimen was loose he pulled it out using a hemostat and put it into a reinforced Plexiglas specimen case. There was still a lot of work to be done, but at least they had a place to start from.

 

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

 


            Morrison stepped into the commissary with a slight smile. She walked up to the table where Morgan was sitting. Another agent, was across from Morgan. Morrison calmly held her hand out for the large German Shepard that was sitting next to her sister. The dog gave her a sniff and then went back to looking at the meal Morgan had in front of her.


            "Good, Duke's gotten used to you," Agent George Clymer, the dog's handler, remarked.


            "Well, the rest of the brood's gotten them used to succubae right, Sarge?" Morrison asked.


            "They still don't like strange demons, humans either," Sergeant Clymer remarked.


            "What's wrong, Sis? Mom wants us to go to sleep soon," Morrison happily said.


            "Oh, it's that late?" Morgan said feeding a piece from her beef stew to Duke, despite George's cough. "That would be pretty nice."


            Morrison held the bridge of her nose. "We have a problem."


            "What? Because I'm having a nice meal with a K-9 unit?" Morgan's eyes flashed a slightly brighter shade of blue.


            "It's more that you're trying to be ambivalent about being with Mother. You felt her earlier tonight. You know what she's like."


            Morgan glared. "I'm not allowed that much?"


            "No, you're not." Morrison sighed. "We're not."


            "It's not like I was hiding, I'm not delusional," Morgan said petting the large dog. "I just saw them eating here. Duke was brought in special from the B base you know. Good boy, you made sure those girls I killed wouldn't explode or hide freaky monsters."


            "You shouldn't be having problems with killing," Morrison stated.


            "No, I shouldn't, and you're jealous."


            "Of course, I've smelled the kills. I saw mother hugging you first. You..." Morrison sighed and sat down on the opposite side or Morgan. "It was the feeding wasn't it."


            The diminutive sharpshooter simply looked her sister in the eye. "I was sloppy. It won't happen again."


            "Sloppy? About the feeding or the wounding?"


            "I need to file a report with my CO." George coughed as he stood up. Having three older sisters he knew when it was best to leave and go outside for a walk. "Duke, stay."


            Morgan watched the man leave. "Do you know much about the canine units?" she asked her sister.


            "Used as sentries, trackers, and for security. It's their noses." Morrison said reaching over to let the dog smell her again. She had an idea where this was going.


            "It's fascinating really. We raise them and they think we're part of their pack. The Company has been breeding dogs for at least a hundred years."


            "What? And we're the next in line?"


            Morgan chuckled. "Why not? We're a pack based species too. What do you think of Andrea, now that you two can go clothes shopping together?"


            "You're not one to get morose about becoming a 'dog of the military'. We signed away that part of us long before the D Program."


            "Yes, no one leaves WIC. Even those agents that are... discharged. They really just go to work for some useful company and moonlight on occasion." Morrison put her hand on Morgan's shoulder. "What's bugging you? Is it the urge to feed? Did it..."


            "No... I mean I was hungry, I'm not gonna deny that, but I don't think it made me sloppy. She just got in a shot, trying to take her alive..." Morgan shook her head.


            "Mother made that decision. You did the best you could," Morrison assured pulling her arm around the smaller woman.


            "It's not just that, there's the future," Morgan said scratching behind Duke's ears.


            Morrison's eyes went to the dog. "What? A Company breeding program for succubae? Isn't that a bit... superfluous?"


            "Convenient isn't it? The D program brings in plenty of already trained agents, and our... nature ensures that there will be pregnancies." Morgan leaned into the hug and smiled a bit.


            "Red? Well... once aunty Ranma gets Miss Tsukino. Yeah, I can see it." Morrison nodded.


            "There's also mother," Morgan smirked.


            "Sure, eventually she might go. So, what's wrong? Worried that the higher ups aren't doing this out of the goodness of their hearts?"


            "Pragmatically, it makes perfect sense. Keep good relations with Aunty Ranma and retain agents that would otherwise be lost. Makes up for the expense of the program. Of course..."


            "Yes?"


            Morgan patted Duke, and gave the silent dog, a bit from her stew, which he gingerly ate from her fingers. "Well, Mother's an officer, and she asked to be turned. We're the first. It's up to us to show how viable the program really is."


            "Getting performance anxiety? You did kill a pair of Russian super soldier cyborgs by yourself."


            "You're wrong, not by myself. That other sniper died because she tried to go alone. My trap worked because I knew when to call for help." Morgan paused. "Russian? Really?"


            "Yup, heard it from Grandma when I was telling her about my weapon's performance. Didn't even fire the bulky thing. But yeah, there was Cyrillic on a few of the components, some of which were pretty old."


            "Anything definite? Or just labels on some parts?"


            "I know. It doesn't prove Russians, but not many people would use Soviet era electronics, unless they had too."


            "And a pair of cyborgs were sent after Miss Tsukino."


            "She does have a way of getting enemies. Dangerous ones too. This one almost got you." Morrison hugged a bit tighter.


            "She was a very focused enemy," Morgan snuggled a bit closer. "There's going to be more of them."


            "Oh? Could have been a two woman hit team."


            Morgan shook her head. "Nah."


            "Why's that?"


            "Scalability. If someone can build one or two of these cybernetic women then a few more would not be that much more difficult. The design exists and one knows how to install the parts," Morgan explained.


            "If that's true then how come there's not legions of them?"


            "That's a good question. Maybe it's the same reason that the Schutzstaffel and Fallschirmjager were not able to field battalions using Project A."


            "Someone destroyed the factory where they were being built?"


            Morgan shrugged. "Maybe they were too expensive for only an incremental improvement. That's the problem any super-weapon has. They all sound amazing on paper, but often prove unreliable or too expensive for their capabilities. Mecha sound cool, but they'll break all the time, get stuck in mud, and cost a fortune."


            "While a normal vehicle can do the same job and not be a huge target." Morgan pause. "So what about us?"


            Morrison shrugged. "We're not super weapons... soldiers... whatever."


            "We have powers beyond humans."


            "So does he," Morrison said as she scratched Duke's chin. "We're just another species. It's not like we have to be specially made; it just takes an adult succubus."


            "So that's it? We're cheap?" Morgan snickered.


            "Why not? What's the main failing all super weapons have?"


            "Cost?"


            "Yup, that plagues all research projects, especially the ambitious ones." Morrison leaned in. "The money saved can be used to make better equipment. Like that gun of yours."


            "It's really just arming and training succubae isn't it?"


            "Yes, and you're a succubus." Morrison leveled her gaze at Morgan. "You know about the killing part, but you're gonna want to feed too." The green-haired succubus smiled. "And of course there's the sex."


            "I think I can handle lesbian demon sex," Morgan stretched her shoulders.


            "It might not be lesbian," Morrison teased.


            "Oh well," Morgan shrugged.


            Morrison blinked. "Huh... so what, the only problem was the kill? Succubae are up close and personal. Would it be hard to be so far away?"


            Raising her hand and flipping it over her wrist, Morgan gave a noncommittal grunt.


            Morrison sighed. "You should probably talk with Mom about this. This could get bad."


            "I was okay, until I got close. That's when the smell..."


            "Being wounded didn't help either."


            Morgan gave her sister a long stare as exasperation changed to befuddlement before mellowing into apathy. "Yes, food was on my mind."


            "We're still young. We've got to grow more."


            "Have any other tautological bits of advice?" Morgan dryly asked. "At least Mother's given me some space."


            "You loved it when she hugged you," Morrison reminded, embracing the smaller demon herself.


            Pausing to enjoy the contact, Morgan smiled. She felt a slight purr form and let it fade away. "It's not like resisting does anything."


            "I wouldn't go that bleak, but you were right. We don't need to make this complicated. The job's the same; we've just got to keep at it." Morrison said.


            Morgan gave a slight sigh. Feeding had healed her body and being with mother healed the rest of her but it was still... demonic. "And what about you? Have you decided what to do with your family. Your human one?"


            The taller demoness frowned. "I dunno. What are you going to do? You still keep in contact with them?"


            "Just my cousin. Pa died when his rig fell into the sea, and mom turned all the money the petroleum company gave her into Scotch. She's still in Glasgow, in a potter's field by now. Brother left the rest of us and married some girl. They moved South. Both died in the London Troubles." Morgan stopped and stared at her gun.


            Morrison raised her eyebrows. Until now she had no idea why her sister had joined the Company, instead of the SAS or a more... overtly Protestant organization, but that may have given her some clue. "Morgan?"


            "I still write my cousin sometimes. She's a nice enough girl. Does welding up in Glasgow."


            "Your handwriting the same?"


            Morgan shrugged. "Close enough."


            "Unfortunately, my family's a bit more suspicious."


            "Yes, the skin pallor and alto voice would raise questions, but... ain't that the point? They're Marines; they already know you're up to something."


            "Yes, leathernecks are perceptive like that," Morrison said dryly.


            "Eventually you're going to tell me why you did that."


            Morrison blinked.


            "Come on, you've mentioned your family's military history, and you up and decide to do mercenary work. It don't add up. One of these days your going to tell us why you joined WIC," the sharpshooter teased.


            "That information has been thoroughly documented by Recruiting and Training Section," Morrison said a bit briskly.


            "Yes, and the Colonel and Commander know. Heck, I'm sure Mother's had full access to our files since day one, but... that wouldn't be fun."


            "And I was curious as to what made you pick the Company."


            "Well, now we've got a bit of a trade to work out." Morgan turned and looked at the commissary's entrance and watched as another demoness walked in. Red eyes narrowed, she walked up to the table and wordlessly sat down.


            She was only an inch taller than Morrison but she seemed to loom over them as her presence dominated the room. Nariko cleared her throat "So, is everything okay?"


            "Is it that obvious?" Morrison blushed.


            "Well, it's making your mother a bit worried. Poor woman, she's been fidgeting all during her meeting. Mother's been trying to help her."


            "She's too professional." Morgan stated.


            Nariko laughed. "No, Mother told Aunt Eve not to go. She had to keep her from clawing at the walls."


            "What? Why?" Morgan asked.


            "It's some parenting thing? Independence?" Morrison asked


            Nariko nodded. "Independence is important. She's learning that you two are going to feel bad, are going to get sad and that she shouldn't come in and make everything better."


            "What if it got serious? What if we started to... spiral apart?"


            "She'd tear her way out of the office and run over here, but you two are growing up. Fighting is only part of it." Nariko smiled and pulled a treat out of her pocket and gave it to Duke, who broke his eyes away from the stew bowl long enough to crunch it down.


            "Emotional development?" Morgan asked.


            "That's close enough," Nariko shrugged. "It's important for you to bond and grow up, and for Aunty Eve to help."


            "Sometimes by not helping?" Morrison asked.


            "So, why are you here then?" Morgan inquired.


            "Well, there's a dog," Nariko smiled as she leaned over to scratch behind Duke's ears.


            "That's what brought her over here too." Morgan pointed to her sister. "Sure there wasn't a concern for us? No massive burst of empathy?"


            Nariko smiled. "That's a silly question."


            Morgan smirked. "The answers are never complicated are they?"


            "Why make things more trouble than they need to be?" Nariko agreed. "Your lives are complicated enough."


            "Being succubus secret agents?"


            Nariko grinned and put her hands on the two sisters'. "Don't worry you guys are doing great."


            Morrison blushed, her nostrils sniffed in a familiar scent. "Mother!" she said standing up as the blonde entered into the room, and somehow, despite her dress and heels, managed to sprint to her daughters. Smiling, more with her eyes than her slightly upturned lips, Eve embraced both of her spawn and held them to her chest.


            "Sorry for that, the meeting went a bit longer. Morgan's kills gave us quite a bit to talk about," Eve said hugging her daughters a bit tighter.


            After entering the commissary after the Captain, George Clymer raised an eyebrow. "Wow, still shocking to see Jarvis... human," he quietly noted, before looking at Nariko. "Emotional."


            "What else did the Captain have?" Nariko said patting Duke on the head. The dog's attention was split between Nariko and George.


            "Well, have a good night. I know Duke's going to be grouchy in the morning," George said before telling the German Shepard to come to his side.


            "A nice early run should straighten him out, Sergeant," Eve said as she walked past the canine-handler.


            "Yes, Ma'am."


            Eve nodded, and turned to her girls. "Come on, we need to get to sleep too."

 

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

 


            Genma took a drink, draining his sake glass. "I just don't know what to do. It's been such a long friendship. We've known each other for over twenty years, and I can't believe it's... I mean I'm trying to be better." He slowly refilled his glass. "I really am."


            Ranma frowned. It had come to this, even her father was asking her for relationship advice. It was not how she had expected to spend her weekend. Though it was nice to take the occasional break from training. "Sometimes people just grow apart."

 

            Genma gave his daughter a level look.  Nodoka had given him the papers. 

 

            "Have you talked about it?" the redhead asked.


            Genma snorted and glanced over at his... former wife. The divorce papers had been a disappointment, not a shock. They had been apart for over ten years. The marriage he had destroyed in all but name was now over.  The feeling of closure was a small comfort, but the hurt was larger. "What do you think?"


            Nodoka raised an eyebrow. "I'm amazed that you're actually being sensible about all this."


            "Exactly! I eventually accepted it. Why couldn't Soun?" Genma tapped his forehead with his index finger. "He's supposed to be the sensitive and deep one."


            Nodoka chuckled. "In this case I think being maudlin and emotional was a detriment. Succubae are simple creatures, much like oafish martial artists, though with less greed and a bit more impulse control."


            Genma turned to face her. "Left-handed compliments? Are you feeling okay?


            The officer shrugged and went back to her notes. "Well, I have realized that you have a valuable contribution towards the effort."


            Taking a sip, Genma thought over her statement. "The training's not that much. It keeps the Master off my back, and gives me something to do. It's also nice to interact with my grandkids."


            "Is spending time with Soun getting that difficult?" Ranma asked.


            "It's depressing. He keeps acting as if..." He waved his hand off. "And I thought The Drake had it bad when his wife died, but at least he faced her death."


            "You're not comparing that man's interests in negotiable affection to Soun's inadequacies?" Nodoka asked.


            "Why not? The Drake's certainly been the best father these girls have had." Genma laughed.


            "You have gotten better, Pops."


            "Which brings us to his problem." Nodoka turned to her former husband. "You're going to have to accept that you're the better man. It is good that you want to help Soun."


            "The Drake's taken him out today, maybe another voice will help him," Ranma offered as she took a sip from her own mug.


            Genma shrugged.


            "Doubtful, but worth a shot," Nodoka admitted. "Soun can still see his little girls. Not like what we and the Drake had to deal with."


            "Is the gender change that important?" Ranma asked.


            "Well it keeps us from confusing you with when you were human," Nodoka explained.


            "The curse screwed that up for me. I could still see you as you were," Genma added.


            Ranma downed her mug and paused as she refilled it. "Yeah, same thing happened to me. What do we do?"


            Genma shrugged. "I dunno, that's why I'm asking for your help."


            "Well, we can't do anything to make the situation much worse," Nodoka frowned. If things did get much worse,  Soun would have to be put into more... restrictive protective custody.


            "Well... can we have Soun actually spend some time with his three daughters. That should clear things up right quick. I can ask Akane and Nabiki what they think of it, they're in the dojo with the old Master right now," Ranma offered.


            Kasumi stepped into the kitchen gave a little smile. "Worth a try, but you're underestimating just how deep of a hole my father's hiding in."


            "It's really that bad?" Ranma asked.


            Kasumi smirked. "There's an obvious solution, just bite Father and get it over with."


            "That would make him face up to current events, or have a mental breakdown," Nodoka evaluated.


            "Well... it would be a more controlled breakdown," Genma allowed.


            "Shouldn't you all be more disturbed by this idea?" Ranma turned to Kasumi. "And you, you don't want to be turned but you're suggesting that I make your father my daughter?"


            "We're not being serious. Oh, you got some mail," she offhandedly said as she put a folded piece of paper in front of Ranma on the kitchen table.


            "Not only do you guys go through my mail, but you won't even let me have the original," the redhead grumbled as she picked up the photocopy.


            "This was a special case, we wanted to check it for fingerprints."


            Ranma blinked at the letterhead. "Is this thing for real?


            "Yup, the head of the Vatican Expeditionary Force and intelligence branch wants to meet with you."


            Ranma turned to her father. "Hey! What did you sell me for this time?"


            "That hurts Girl, like I would be foolish enough to make a deal like that." Genma stated with a bit of a laugh. "


            The redhead raised an eyebrow.


            "Well, we've never been to Italy. Besides you don't need to con a church, helping poor travelers is what they're supposed to do."


            "True."


            "Maybe it's your mother-" Genma caught himself. "Maybe she has an idea."


            "Our daughter is a demon. I think that's enough."


            "Doesn't say anything about me being queen," Ranma said, skimming the letter. "Just condolences for those Assembly morons and an offer of some information to help things about... Soviet cybernetic assassins."


            "The Vatican is in Europe and communism was a big threat to them."


            "They were atheists right?"


            "Very much," Kasumi nodded. "Any morality and beliefs that did not come from the State were seen as a threat to their power."


            "So... this information is an apology? All, because the Assembly was a bunch of aggressive losers."


            "Well Catholics do get angry when Protestants do stupid things in the name of Christianity." Kasumi held back the second part of the statement to the effect that such idiocy was the Catholic's domain.


            "What's this about?"


            "The Protestants are a breakaway faction that rejected the corruption of the Catholic church and formed their own organizations." Kasumi explained.


            "That's what I don't get, from what I've seen the Assembly plays priest dress-up as a way to look... legitimate." Ranma shrugged. "I mean I don't really get even what the difference is between Catholics and Prodestants."


            "Yes, Ukyou and Misako are not exactly brimming with theological knowledge or even a basic understanding of scripture."


            "Yes, you know more Christian teachings than they do," Ranma smirked with a little wink.


            Kasumi raised an eyebrow. "You thought it was cute."


            "Well it is nice to see that you do wear some jewelry, and I was a bit surprised when it didn't burn my hand," Ranma lightly said.

 

            "Oh?  It's not like an ofuda would burn on you either," Kasumi replied with a smile.

 

            "Shinto stuff's different,"  Ranma grumped.


            Nodoka paused then turned to Ranma. "You've been keeping up?" She glanced at Genma.


            "I made sure to go to temples on important occasions," Genma said with a bit of pride.


            "When you wanted something, and don't try to claim it was spiritual guidance."


            "The body still needs more sustenance than prayer alone."


            Ranma chewed her lip. "Well it's not hard to believe in kami, when you actually are a supernatural being."


            Kasumi nodded. "Also succubae have pretty familiar elements, being a slave race led to a promised land by a messiah figure. Add in some ancestor worship and you've got a pretty solid belief system."


            "Coming from someone that ritualistically consumes the flesh and blood of their man-god."


            Kasumi blinked. "That sounds like something succubae would do too."


            Ranma rubbed her forehead. "Great, maybe this Bishop O'Malley just wants to convert me."


            "If you do go over to their side, make sure you at least get some really good soup out of the deal." Kasumi laughed.


            "Huh?"


            Kasumi sighed. "During one of the Irish famines the Catholics would only give food to peasants that converted, hence the term 'Soup Catholic'."


            "Huh, obscure history reference," Ranma shrugged.


            "Don't they teach you anything in school?"


            "Well, we do miss a lot of days. Fighting cyborgs and monsters and cultists and what not."


            "And are you really touting the educational qualities of an institution run by Drake Kuno? I do recall you never graduated from there, Lieutenant." Nodoka stated while doing her paperwork.


            "He does fund and staff his little hobby fairly adequately, Ma'am," Kasumi allowed.


            "Careful a compliment may spill out," Ranma laughed. "So, this letter legit?"


            "Fingerprints match. We've been talking with the Papal Nuncio in Ottawa and confirmed it with the Holy See itself."


            "Nuncio their diplomat?" Ranma guessed.


            "Yes, over in the embassy in Rockcliffe Manor House."


            "Okay, let's see how that goes," Ranma shrugged.


            "Just like that?"


            "Well, the guys says he has information on these assassins, and we're all supposed to be allies."


            Kasumi nodded. "I'll tell them to set up the meeting."

 

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

 


            "How was your weekend been?" Naoko asked Ranma and her spawn as they sat down at the lunch table.


            Ranma tilted her head. "Well, Ukyou made dinner last night. Was really good."


            "Oh? Sounds like a wild time," Sam teased.


            "This is a bit public to get into the juicy bits," Akane smirked.


            "I dunno, everyone knows about the wild sex," Misako added as she pulled out her leather lunch bag and started unpacking her meal.


            "How's things going with Usagi?" Sam asked.


            Ranma raised an eyebrow. "Well... we helped her get a friend back."


            Sam gave Naoko a glance. "That's good," the short-haired blonde stated


            "Now you're not fishing for dirt, are you?" Nabiki asked as she opened the Tupperware container. "Hmm... is this mine? It smells like pork."


            "Oh, that's mine!" Misako said leaning over to snatch it.


            "No, we're just your friends."


            "Yeah, we don't really care about the greater intrigue. I mean, as long as you're doing the right thing what do the details matter?" Sam asked.


            Ranma blushed. "Wow, that's a lot of trust you're putting into us."


            "We know you. You don't care about power, you're all doing this because you have to."


            Nariko paused. "We do what we must because we can," she said quoting the inscription on Morgan's gun.


            "So you don't see any sinister motives on our part?" Ukyou skeptically asked. "I mean, have you met Misako?"


            "Aww... thanks," Misako blushed.


            "Misako? She's fine, it's not like she's spouting Love and Justice nonsense," Naoko remarked.


            "You guys aren't serious?" Ranma blinked. "I mean..."


            Sam sighed. "You did tell us, and it's not hard to figure out."


            "We've got secret identities too," Nariko reminded.


            "That's different." Sam said.


            "Yeah I can't imagine you guys dancing about shooting sparkles and glitter," Naoko added.


            Nabiki gave a little smirk.


            "What's the deal with Love and Justice being nonsense?" Ranma asked.


            "Oh they're fine, but you have to wonder about a person that makes it a point to say she's for that stuff. Isn't she already fighting monsters?" Sam asked.


            Naoko chuckled. "Yeah, it's like a guy that constantly says he doesn't care what girls think about him. Obviously, he does."


            "Otherwise he'd just shut up about it?" Akane asked.


            "He might not want to look like a painfully awkward geek," Misako shrugged as she forked a bit of pork.


            Ukyou sighed and went for the low hanging fruit. "Well that sounds about as successful as a girl putting on a few pounds of makeup so she won't look ugly."


            Misako shrugged. "I didn't say it was a smart idea."


            Ranma turned back to her blonde friend. "So what are you saying?"


            Sam looked to Naoko who nodded. "Sunny... don't get stupid. We know how you get around her and..."


            Ranma's eyes narrowed, and she felt the slightest hint of a blush struggling to form.


            Looking at the nearly luminescent violet orbs, Sam coughed. "We know her too, and it's all... black and white to her. She's not from the same world as the rest of us. My God... it's like she never got above the age where every girl wants to be a pretty princess."


            Misako snickered.

 

            "She's not that bad," Ranma stated a bit tartly.

 

            Misako's grin grew.

 

            Sam sighed. "Okay, you told us that, but there's a reason we believed you. Usagi's a total 'little princess'. She thinks the world will fall at her feet."


            Naoko nodded. "And from what you've told us, she can make it happen."


            "Usagi wouldn't," Ranma stated.


            "And if she tries? How would she make the world better?"


            The redhead tiled her head. "What are you saying?"


            "Just keep your eyes open."


            Sam turned to the other demons. "And if she does get stars in her eyes, you girls better be there to pick up the slack. Can we count on you to be paranoid and suspicious bastards?"


            "Don't forget ruthless and cynical," Naoko added.


            Akane and Nabiki gave each other sidelong smirks, meanwhile Misako simply cackled maniacally. Ukyou raised a single eyebrow.


            Nariko turned her head and looked at her mother's two human friends. "Don't worry. She's sacrificed everything for us; we have to do our best to help her."


            "And the best thing about having to kill Usagi, is chances are she'd pay us to do it."


            "Misa-chan...." Ranma hissed.


            "No, Sunny," the green-eyed girl gave a toothy grin at using a public code word for Mother. "If our little princess fucks up that big, I'd say it counts under the terms of that deal."


            "Even if it didn't... could you live with yourself for letting her do... something horrible, just because you want to find out how complete her dye job is?" Sam asked.


            Misako chuckled.


            "She's a natural blonde," Ranma stated without much thought as she opened a cracker packet and put a bit of cheese on one.


            "Oh? When did you check?" Naoko teased.


            "During gym, silly," Ranma said before eating some.


            "My, my, Sunny's got wandering eyes." Sam shook her head.


            "We are trying to warn her," Naoko added.


            "It is kind of hard for us to not look," Ukyou coughed.


            Sam blinked. "Oh, yeah... the lesbian thing. The locker room must be like one big meat market for you guys."


            Misako bent over laughing.


            "Are you trying to make her explode?" Ukyou asked as she put an arm around Misako and helped her calm down.


            "If I find any other double entendres, I'll let you know," Sam smirked.


            "So what's with this? I can take care of myself." Ranma reminded. "You girls kind of know what I've done."


            "Yes, very strong, very family minded, and good fighter, but you're still vulnerable." Sam looked down at her lunch.


            Ranma chewed her lip. "My desire for a mate?"


            "Yah," Sam stated.


            "Ask your sister for help?" Naoko suggested.


            "She is more level-headed," Ranma agreed.


            "Yes, very supportive, loving, and scary woman," Sam laughed.


            "Speak of the devil," Naoko muttered as she pointed to the far door to the cafeteria. She saw that it was quite superfluous. Ranma's nostrils flared before Naoko got her arm up. At least the redhead's obvious... interest did not seem to be clouding her eyes... much.


            "Least she's got them guarding her," Ukyou noted, looking at the trio of girls around Usagi.


            "Minako's looking alert," Nariko noted as the quartet moved towards them.


            Usagi looked at the silent octet of darkly dressed schoolgirls and blinked. "Sorry... were we interrupting something?"


            Misako lifted her head up. "Oh, we're just plotting to kill you."


            Minako stepped in front of Usagi who just blinked in confusion.


            Ukyou tightened her grip on Misako. "Do you have any tact? Any at all?"


            "It'd be nice to assume that's just a morbid joke." Rei's glare went from the demons to the princess foolish enough to hire them.


            "Do we wanna know what brought this up?" Makoto asked.


            "Don't worry, it's a joke. It's not like we're having a tactical planning session," Nabiki assured.


            Usagi sighed and stepped over so Minako wasn't in her way. "So, Setsuna told me that you've got some more information?" Her eyes darted to Sam and Naoko.


            "Yes, fine we can have a private chat about that." Ranma rolled her eyes and stood up. Her hand reached out and grabbed her packet of crackers.


            Minako made a facile cough. "Do you mind?"


            "No, you can come too." Usagi smiled. "Makoto, Rei, we won't be long."


            "So how have you been doing? Getting used to being... human again?" Ranma asked Minako as they left the lunchroom.


            "It's been taking some effort," Minako sighed. "I forgot my lunch today."


            "Eating?" Ranma said offering her crackers.


            Minako frowned and waved them away. "It's taking some adjusting."


            "Don't worry, you've been doing great," Usagi said giving her a quick hug. She knew from what Setsuna had said that Minako needed a lot of support. "So what do you know?


            Ranma glanced at Minako before turning back to the princess. "The Vatican contacted me. They said they've got some info on your cybernetic assassins."


            "Catholics? Why?" Usagi asked.


            "They're in Europe and those girls had Russian parts in them, and I guess they've got a big spy network."


            "They haven't given you the info yet? Planning a meeting?" Minako asked as they walked down the hallway.


            "Yeah, plan to meet at some museum in a couple days. I doubt they'd do anything too stupid, but... " she shrugged and ate a cracker.


            Usagi frowned pensively and looked at the redhead.


            "Cracker?" Ranma offered.


            Usagi reached out and bit into one. "Eww... what's in this? Meat?"


            "Chicken broth actually." Ranma chuckled.


            Minako's eyes widened. "If I didn't know better..."


            "I'm going to eat it. It's... just odd," Usagi said taking another bite of the cracker.


            "We're Japanese," Ranma sighed. "How's this strange to you?"


            "It just surprised me," Usagi said finishing the cracker and taking another from Ranma. "What is this? Some type of demon recipe?"


            "Uh no... just from the store. Called Chicken in a Biscuit or something."


            "Oh."


            "You're disappointed? What that it's not freshly baked using the blood of a kill? And you ate it anyway? What's wrong with you?"


            "It was free food."


            "What if it was some guy off the street?" Minako asked.


            "I'm sure he had it coming. This is Sunny we're talking about." Usagi shrugged.


            Ranma raised an eyebrow.


            "Back to the Vatican, they have information?" Minako asked.


            "They're setting up a little meeting, so things will get... unpleasant if they were lying." Ranma shrugged.


            "Because it would be a trap?" Usagi asked.


            "Pretty much, and the Vatican doesn't need a war with the Company."


            "The Assembly thought differently," Minako pointed out.


            "Yes."


            Usagi tilted her head. "These are good guys?"


            "They're not crazy cultists," Ranma allowed. "The Assembly was small-time. I've killed most of their troops. The Vatican wouldn't lie, least like this."


            Minako nodded. "Europe is a sensitive area, especially with the non-human situation, and its past history."


            Usagi blinked.


            "Sailor V. London. Remember?" Minako asked.


            "Oh yeah." Usagi turned to Ranma.


            "I'll tell you what they said after the meeting. We know what their bodies are like, but it would be nice to know more of their numbers, tactics, and why they're trying to kill you."


            Usagi's narrowed her eyes. "I want to come too. This is my life we're talking about, and I should be involved."


            Ranma tilted her head slightly and then smiled. "Excellent.
 
            "Oh." Usagi paused. "What's the catch?


            "None, it's good that you want to meet with this Bishop. It does send a message."


            "Really?"


            "Sure," Ranma said in that same bored tone. Her eyes then twinkled darkly. "Oh, have you ever flown in a helicopter?"

 

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

 


            Clenching her teeth at the vibration, Usagi tugged at the harness over her chest and closed her eyes. It got the jarring out of her vision but the lack of reference made the slight but constant altitude buffeting feel worse. "Ick," she said opening her eyes. "How can you stand this?" she loudly said into the headset that had been provided to her.


            On the opposite side of the helicopter, Ranma and Eve exchanged a smirk while Commander Stillwater merely raised an eyebrow slightly. "You did insist on coming with us Miss Tsukino, and it is over a four hour trip by car," he casually stated.


            Usagi frowned and turned to Ranma. "How can you handle it?"


            "I fly every day," Ranma shrugged. "Least we've got a nice view. Not many clouds. You can almost see the States from up here."


            "You're exaggerating," Eve noted with amusement as Usagi turned her head and tried to look at the southern horizon. She adjusted her legs so they crossed at the thigh instead of the ankle, not that it made much of a difference given her dress style.


            Usagi's stomach lurched and she twisted right back around and looking at the bulkhead across from her.


            "You're doing good," Ranma offered.


            Usagi nodded and fixated on Eve's clothes, instead of a pair of gun belts she had a large blue leather purse with a silver chain slung over a shoulder and a blue choker with a silver broach with the Company logo and flanked by what she presumed were rank insignia.


            "Like the new uniform?" Eve teased letting her horns become briefly visible. She looked at her daughter, felt the connection but there was still... She could only feel one, and a small frown formed on her face before vanishing.


            "It's informal much like the suits," Stillwater pointed to his own grey pinstripe suit with its black tie and silver WIC lapel pin. "It gives a bit more elegance than the skimpy skirts of the normal dress uniforms." Stillwater shook his head. "Not sure what the brass were thinking about that.


            "You can just do that?" Usagi asked.


            "I am the base commander."


            "We told you this was a bit formal," Ranma smirked as she smoothed her purple silk dress. Its collar was a bit higher than her normal taste, but Nariko had bought it for her.


            Usagi coughed and looked down at the white leather dress and heels she was wearing. "This isn't that bad is it?"

            "Oh no it's very lovely," Eve assured as she adjusted the strap to Usagi's dress so it stayed on the shoulder while Ranma untied it in back.


            "The problem is that you don't have it tight enough," Ranma said as she relaced the back and gave a tug. "It's all sagging." She then tied it off, and pulled back.

 

            The blonde teenager blinked, not sure if she was just insulted.


            "Yes, much better," Eve agreed, smirking as Usagi gasped for air. "It's a lovely start, Dear. I'm sure you'll fill out grand when you're a little bit older."


            Usagi coughed and went a bit green.


            Ranma leaned over and whispered to Eve in demonic. "Jealousy or airsickness?"


            Eve smiled and noticed Usagi hold her stomach. "Both."


            "Well, it's not like we told the pilots to roll the 'chopper," Morrison remarked.


            Eve's frown came back again.


            "You're doing fine," Ranma whispered to Eve in demonic. At least the language lessons were paying off. Though they only had a phonetic guide for pronunciation, they could understand each other...


            "Don't worry Mom, Morgan's having a good time practicing on base. She's getting really attached to her gun." Morrison's good-humored jealousy was plainly present.


            "Something wrong?" Usagi asked.


            "Eve just misses her daughter; she hasn't spent much time away from her. I still feel pretty sad to leave mine back at the base. You understand, I'd hope," Ranma ended tersely.


            Thinking about Usa, Usagi smiled a bit. "At least she's having a good time with Hotaru and the others."


            "It's not a long flight, we'll be there in no time," Nariko reassured patting Usagi's thigh.


            "And then you can talk to this Spook Priest about these Soviet cyborgs trying to kill you," Ranma said and gave a bit of a chuckle. "Sorry, but that sounds just... silly."


            "Maternal Magical Girl Demon Queen," Eve gently reminded.


            "Torturing spawn of a demon, a Nazi paratrooper and an Ace of Aces," Ranma replied.


            "And be careful," Stillwater advised. "This man is the head of the longest running intelligence agency on the planet. He's going to use this chance to see what you're like. He also knows Latin; so no Demonic. He can probably figure out what you're saying."


            "I figured it was more than to tell us about this new enemy," Usagi stated.


            "He could be chummy, or he could be confrontational. Maybe he'll belittle you or try to confuse you. I can guarantee that he fully intends to make this meeting a beneficial exchange on his part."


            "Just talking with me is worth giving up information on a group of assassins?"


            "It's what I would do," Stillwater adjusted the knot to his tie absently.


           "It also helps their relations with you guys too," Usagi noted. "And... you guys have... dissected two of these cyborgs. So... it's not that much new stuff."


            "Maybe, he doesn't know anything about you." Stillwater stopped fussing with his tie. "Unless Miss Hino's school was keeping tabs on their gifted students. Given their Sisters of Purity, a miko with spiritual powers would interest the Church. Of course that doesn't include the basic research even a novice spook would do on your history, especially recent."


            Usagi nodded. "Yeah, that came up at lunch. TA is a Catholic school. So... maybe they do know about us, but he may not reveal that during this meeting, or maybe he'd say the school did know about us."


            Stillwater gave a noncommittal gesture.


            "But if he said they had been spying on us back in Japan, he could be lying, and using that to make us think he knows more or using it to get me paranoid or slip up and reveal something."


            "Isn't it a delightful game?" Eve smirked.


            Usagi groaned. "And what about you? I mean you're bringing four demons to talk to a priest."


            "The letter was addressed to me and used my Company Freelancer title," Ranma noted.


            "Oh? Don't they know you're a Sailor Senshi and a Queen?" Usagi sighed. "Or are they keeping that secret. Stupid spies."


            "It's okay." Nariko patted Usagi's knee.


            "So they know about Ranma and probably her kids, but what about Eve and the agent succubae? What are you bringing them to show off?"


            Stillwater stroked his goatee. "Would that really be appropriate?"


            "You're giving them something to think about too? Aren't they your allies?"


            "They haven't balked at our employment practices in the past."


            "And we don't question their use of the Sisters of Purity," Eve added.


            Usagi hesitated an obvious question on her tongue. She thought over that name. "Nuns? Some kind of magic? Are they spies? Or is it more in a fight. I guess with a name like that they'd work on demonic possession. Maybe powers like me." Usagi groaned and felt her brain flip and see the world in a more... complicated way. "Or the name is a ruse and they're really warrior nuns with guns or axes or something."


            Ranma shrugged.


            "You seem rather calm."


            "Being tense right now won't help."


            "No, not that. I mean all the lies and secrets. Everything can be taken a different way and how can you trust anyone?"


            "Well you try to use your best judgment and work from what you do know," Ranma looked at Usagi. "You may want some help on the first part."


            "That was Ami's job. How do you do it? Ami fears you. She'd fight us all the time, but she'd help you. It wasn't until you started helping us that we actually beat her in a fight, and she only escaped because I didn't let you help in the actual fight," Usagi rubbed the corners of her eyes.


            "Genius is overrated?" Ranma ventured.


            "You can't beat someone at chess when they're playing poker," Eve stated


            "She knew what would happen if she messed with Mother."


            "The key to all this is simplicity. That's it: just simple, robust plans, with lots of backups. Shit happens, more complexity just means more stuff will go wrong," Stillwater explained.


            "That's it? Ami knew what would happen to her. That is simple," Usagi said.


            Ranma coughed. "You still have Setsuna."


            "Yes. A mysterious and aloof plotter is now suddenly my best chum. She's at my side all the time and has even started training us." Usagi tried looking out at the water in the distance.


            "Your pet suddenly isn't being useful, is it?" Ranma offered.


            "Luna? Yeah, that would scare me." Usagi laughed. "Poor thing, she's trying to keep up with all this, but it's overwhelming her.  At least Airtimes is happy to have Minako back and he's cheering up Luna."


            "Oh," Ranma dryly stated.  She was not fond of cats.


            The blonde's eyes turned to the floor and she chewed her cheek. Eventually her thoughts turned to the idea that on the other side of that flooring were thousands of feet of empty air, and came to something more disturbing. "So, what if we get shot at?" Usagi asked with her gaze still on the to the floor. It did not seem very thick to her, nor were the walls.


            Stillwater put his elbows on his thighs, interlaced his fingers and rested his chin down on them. "We're hoping for that actually."


            "What?"


            "The base commander, Sailor Moon, and DarkStar. Pretty juicy target," Morrison stated.


            "You're using me... and yourself as bait!"


            One of Stillwater's thumbs scratched his goatee. "Yes."


            "That's insane!"


            "Why?" the commander impassively asked, the gold band on his ring finger reflecting the sunlight.


            Usagi blinked. The man seemed to be perfectly at ease, but she would occasionally see bits where his eyes would focus on her, gauging her, evaluating her. "It's just so risky."


            "It is?" Ranma blinked. "We're already targets, we might as well take advantage of that and make a nice trap."


            "But what if they shoot us out of the sky?"


            "Won't be the first time," Nariko stated.


            A slight frown formed on Stillwater's face. "I'd prefer that not happen. It's an expensive requisition."


            "A joke?" Usagi asked.


            "We at Willard International Consulting do not have a sense of humor that we're aware of."


            "Well put, Sir." Eve added.


            Ranma raised an eyebrow. "Really? I was pretty sure you were smirking at the footage of that Assembly base we wiped out."


            "Taking pleasure in a job well done is one thing." Stillwater paused. "I'll admit there was some schadenfreude."


            Usagi blinked in confusion.

 

            "It's German: means taking pleasure at the misfortune of others," Eve smirked.

 

            "Wasn't that when Ranma killed a lot of people by herself?" Usagi asked.


            "Oh no, the artillery crews killed half. It was a wonderful way to say hello. I only killed a fifth of them." Ranma chuckled. "Humans are very interesting, aren't they Usagi?"


            "I'm human." Usagi blushed.


            "Of course you are," Nariko happily agreed.


            Not hearing even a hint of sarcasm, the blonde studied the demon's face: no smirk, no malice. "Well if we're bait, and the helicopter gets hit.. what'll happen? Guess you guys can fly out but the rest of us... what, would we be carried?"


            "Count the number of demons on board," Ranma smirked.


            After finding that the number of humans equaled the number of demons, Usagi blinked. "Insane."


            "It's worked before," Nariko shrugged.


            "I still think this Bishop is being a bit cute, Sir," Eve stated.


            "By scheduling the meeting today?" Stillwater gave a slight shrug. "He's showing he knows about our activities with the government, without being too blatant or crass."


            "Huh? Government" Usagi blinked.


            "Yes, the one that contracted our services," Stillwater stated.


            "This a normal meeting? Or are they going to chew you out for the whole rocket thing?" Ranma asked.


            "It was within the terms of our contract."


            "Your contract with the Canadian government covers blowing up a mountain full of cultists?" Usagi skeptically asked.


            "Asks the woman that contracted me with some... odd requirements," Ranma smirked.


            "She is trying her best," Nariko stated.


            "Sometimes it is not enough to do our best; we must do what is required," Eve stated.


            "So that's how you'll spin this? I mean all these demons. How would they take it?"


            "Churchill, right?" Stillwater turned to Eve. "Interesting man. Another quotation seems appropriate. 'If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.' "


            "I prefer what he would say if the Sea Lion had come off and my ancestors had invaded. 'The hour has come; kill the Hun.' "


            "That doesn't answer my question," Usagi grumbled.


            "Oh, it does," Ranma smirked.


            "That humans can be worse than demons? Yeah, I have fought plenty of humans, and things that used to be humans," Usagi sighed. "I just wish I knew why they hated me so much."


            Stillwater and Eve exchanged a smirk. "You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life," Eve quoted.


            Usagi glared. "Yes, I know that. I've saved the world before. Stupid rock, making it so no one remembers."


            "We don't get much accolades either, but then you know it best. ' If you are going through hell, keep going.' " Eve added.


            "That's why I'm here." Usagi paused. "That was another quotation wasn't it? What's with you and this guy?"


            "He was England's Prime Minister when the rest of Europe had fallen. The enemy looked nigh invincible and at the time the United States had not entered the war." Stillwater explained.


            Eve nodded. "And he was saying things like this. 'Never give in — never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.' "


            "Now that I can stand behind." Usagi's lips curled into a smile. Part of her wished she had heard these words before, to know that someone else had seen such dire circumstances and had still moved forward.


            "This is what WIC does. We've done it for a long time." Stillwater stated. "We don't have your powers. 'We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire... Neither the sudden shock of battle nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools and we will finish the job."


            "I get it." Usagi flexed her hand. "That's how you'll play it to the government? That this was all part of this long war? That you just had to fight them?"


            Stillwater nodded. "Things are that important. If you'll permit me another quotation. 'You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.' "


            "You're not the only one trying to save the world," Eve said.


            Usagi turned to Ranma "And what do you think?"


            "It's a bit more easy to swallow than babbling about Love and Justice. There's no need to gussy it up. We fight because we have to. These cyborgs are just more goons the enemy is throwing at us."


            "The enemy? Who?"


            "Does it matter?"


            "I don't know," Usagi sighed. "It is odd. I mean you're German right?" she asked Eve.


            "You're Japanese. Are we defined by what our ancestors did?"


            "That's an odd question coming from you, Captain." Stillwater raised an eyebrow.


            "I never thought I was defined by it," Eve stated.


            "Just weighed down by it?" Ranma asked.


            Eve smiled a bit. "Not as much as I used to be."


            Usagi noticed the demons suddenly tense up and start looking at the windows and reaching for their weapons. She turned and saw the sky shift, and her stomach go into a lurch.


            "We're on descent," Lieutenant Hilbert said from the cockpit. "Coordinates cleared with ground crew."


            "Landing site looks good," Lindemann the copilot said as the helicopter dropped down.


            Usagi looked out and frowned. To the side was a lumpy field. Momentarily distracted from her stomach, the increasingly closer view revealed that it was not a lumpy field, but instead... a field planted on top of a building. Her confusion was cut off as the craft throttled up to retard its descent and jolted as it landed on the parking lot.


            She blinked and watched as the others unbuckled and got up. Pulled up by Nariko, the blonde was ushered out of the helicopter and blinked at the collection of soldiers outside the vehicle.


            "I told you we had plans in place," Ranma teased as she walked out and started chatting with a group of agents waiting by an armored personnel carrier.


            "But that's a... limo?" Usagi blinked and looked at the black stretch car and the group of men in dark suits with automatic weapons near it.


            "That's for me." Stillwater frowned and put on a pair of shades. As he walked towards the black car a pair of men detached from the group. Both were appropriately bland and thin with nearly matching hair in the 'easy to manage but professional' style. Even their dark suits were similarly cut, one had a silver WIC pin on his lapel, the other had a Canadian flag on his.


            "Has this meeting been moved up?" Stillwater asked eyeing the black car.


            "Not as far as I know, Sir." The Company man coughed.


            "We merely wanted to give a bit more of a... official veneer to things," the Canadian said as he held his suit coat from being whipped around by the slowing rotor blades.


            "I suppose this is a bit much for you," Stillwater said eyeing the military vehicles in the lot. At the edge of the roped off area, the expected crowd had gathered and some of the more... personable agents and some of the local security had started giving a bit of a tour-guide spiel.


            "We've had military occupation of our capital before," the Canadian said stiffly as he watched the group of women move away from the helicopter.


            "Yes, October '70? Nasty bit there, Gagnon."


            "Yes, it was," the spook said tersely.


             "So Andre," Stillwater smiled. At least this man had a decent pseudonym. "Your boss at CSIS felt that the black limousine was appropriate?"


            "You felt that a helicopter in a museum parking lot was fitting. I suppose we're all allowed our clichés. Your Captain Dewey kept me informed," Andre said motioning to the suited agent standing between him and Stillwater.


            "Good," Stillwater said.


            "If anything our presence should help give the proper impression with the people you're currently meeting with. Your friends from Rockcliffe Park are still going to be fashionably late, but I'm sure they've seen this little entrance."


            "It may take them some time to leave their embassy," Captain Dewy commented.


            "Especially if they have to wax up their diplomatic vehicles," Andre remarked dryly. "Shame they don't have any of the Pope's tank divisions for an honor guard."


            "And your men will just wait out here until it's over."


            Andre shrugged. "It's a nice day."


            "And if it gets cloudy some of you may wander in and browse the exhibits."


            The Security Intelligence Service agent pointed to two of the men by the long black car. "Well John's a real art lover, Lopez is a real history buff, and Franz really likes the soup they have in the café out by the patio." Andre gave a little chuckle.


            "Well I'll have to tell the girls about that. They're always looking for new dishes to taste."


            Across the cordoned area Usagi was watching the exchange. "So, the limo's for Stillwater and his meeting. That makes the guys in black and that one guy talking with him... secret agents? For the government not you guys," the blonde clarified.


            "Yeah, that's about right," Eve noted.


            "And the guy at Stillwater's side? Some other Company guy? He doesn't quite seem... government."


            "That's Captain Dewey."


            "Huh... I've heard of him before."


            "You should have," Ranma smirked. "He's the one that soaked you on our contract."


            "Contract, so.. lawyer?" Usagi turned to look at the bland, thin man again. "That didn't seem very fair you know."


            "You did have Setsuna's help," Nariko reminded.


            "It's how you make things nice and legal," Ranma laughed.


            "Or legal enough." Eve glanced at her watch.


            "We're still a bit early, Mother," Morrison remarked.


            Eve nodded.


            "Should we wait for the Commander?" Morrison asked.


            Staring at the building, Usagi tuned out the conversation. The fields of grass growing on top of the museum was only part of the strangeness. The walls and windows of it were very stark and angular, especially the one spiked almost... prow-like thing in the front of it.


            "Ugly building ain't it?" Ranma asked after walking up to Usagi's side and prodding her forward.


           "I think it kind of  pretty." Usagi blinked and went with the group as they walked closer to the building. It's a museum, right?"


            "The pre-mission briefing did mention a war museum; it should be interesting," Nariko said in an innocent voice.


            Trying to see the smirk she swore was there, Usagi nodded and was led into the lobby. Her eyes widened at the collection of vehicles and weapons. Hung from the ceiling were several planes and a few tanks were parked in the entrance and outside. A slight contrast with the modern war machines idling out in the parking lot. Twisting her neck about, she was on a second floor overlooking a large internal space before, being nudged in the ribs.


            "You're acting like a tourist," Ranma whispered to her.


            "It's... a bit much," Usagi sighed. "I mean look at all this stuff!" she said waving to a 1:10 scale model of a U-boat.


            "Lots of neat stuff, shows what people can make, but you're not here to sightsee. We've got a meeting, one you insisted on being present for," Ranma reminded as they walked down a hallway towards the art gallery.


            "Huh, so Stillwater is with us too," Usagi noted looking behind her.


            "We've really got to work on her situational awareness," Eve sighed to Ranma.


            "Oh yeah," Ranma's eyes went over a few aerial images of bomber formations and black flak clouds. Her attention then went to the other people browsing the room as they passed through. She had yet to smell anything abnormal, but humans had attacked Usagi before. "Isn't Setsuna training you?" Ranma politely asked. Her daughters had already bugged their training site.


            "Yeah, she says I'm getting better." Usagi turned to see an oil painting from the perspective of an aircraft carrier's deck. Frozen in time, it looked like hundreds of planes were diving towards the ship, some were being destroyed by anti-aircraft guns and others were being taken out by other planes.


            Eve stopped and looked at the painting. "Good taste," she said leaning in with a critical eye. "Pacific. Ahh it's from the Hornet."


            "The meeting should be in the next room over," Morrison said as she folded the map and adjusted the large bag at her shoulder.


            "Check it out," Ranma nodded to Nariko and Morrison. The two young succubae eased into the room, Morrison with her hand going into her bag and Nariko clenching a long cloth-wrapped bundle.


            Ranma, Stillwater (who had pulled out a small Pattern Scanner), and Eve waited while the next room was given a brief sweep. The agents that had preceded them had already swept the room for explosives and other threats and the Pattern Scanners on their vehicles had not been tripped. "I've found it!" Nariko shouted the code phrase for all-clear.


            "Wow, you're not going to miss it," Morrison added.


            Following the group Usagi stepped into the next room. Embarrassment over lack of awareness vanished when she saw it. Transfixed she walked forward, closer and closer to the painting. This had to be it.


            It was the ocean. Rough seas consisting of waves of various sizes piled onto each other until it was one vast churning mass. Above, the sky was a collection of bruise-colored clouds and darker wisps and other riotous structures of vapor that mirrored the liquid below. The painting's scale added to the vastness.

            Dominating one wall the painting seemed to loom over the occupants. Several meters in height it was still much wider and seemed to wrap around the viewer in a panoramic view of a raging, churning world.


            Usagi found herself following the waves, and was shocked to find a dark ship. Almost the same grays and blues as the seas it was easy to miss at first. Sails ripping, it had several masts and the detailing on the decks and rigging showed a remarkable effort on a vessel that looked like it would be swallowed by the enormity of the seas around it.


            Looking at the sides, she noticed something that could almost be hints of red color. She blinked; the ship was firing its guns. Following the line of fire, she spotted another ship, this one with more minute splashes of color. Its guns were firing but the decks were also on fire and several small boats swarmed around it.


            After a bit she recognized that they were not rescue boats, but armed craft: boarding parties. Her gaze drifted off and she found another ship, this one listing heavily to one side and being swamped by a following wave. The artist had felt the need to detail all the crew being washed off even as they tried to fire their guns or make it to boats and escape.


            The blonde twisted her head and found her eyes resting on another part of ocean. This one appeared clear until she realized the bits of wreckage and floating bodies. Further inspection revealed sharks preying on the swimming survivors, and even a few tentacles bursting out of the water. A bit away a larger ship's crew was divided between firing at a pair of darting vessels and various... things creeping up the sides of the hull.


            She closed her eyes and when she opened them found her view had shifted to another spot, this one with a group of immense ships firing on each other. Some were still hidden in fog, but they all looked too close and too heavily damaged to survive the battle.


            Usagi tilted her head and saw more ships and more battles. It was all a jumbled mess, and looked to be just as many ships were being destroyed by the waves as by the cannons as by things rising from the deep. She stepped back, her stomach lurching more angrily than before. Her heel wobbled and she managed to steady herself


            "Pretty intense," Ranma almost reverently said. "You can almost smell it."


            "Most people say Kaster's 'Wilander Earl of Worcester at the Battle of Mammon Plain' is his superior work," Stillwater remarked.


            "The one in the British Imperial War Museum?" Eve asked. "That one has better detail, and takes fewer artistic liberties.


            "Oh?" Usagi asked, her eyes scanning over the maelstrom.


            "Yeah, things like having shields on the wrong side of the soldiers on the opposite side. Gives better symmetry. Here, Kaster put in far too many ships. There's never been a battle like this, especially ships from all these time periods, Cogs, Man-of-Wars, Junks, Ship-of-the-Line, and so on."


            "I doubt there was an Admiral Walsall or a Battle of Belphegor, Sir," Morrison noted.


            "Indeed,
here, he's just giving the impression of the battle," Stillwater noted, looking at his watch.


            "Lets the viewer fill in all the details," Usagi said with a shiver.


            "I guess if this Vatican guy wanted to make a point, this painting would do it."


            "Cheerful," Usagi dryly remarked. She twisted to see the demons change their stance and start to move their hands to their weapons.


            "Wonderful," a boisterous voice said as a man in dark clothes walked into the room. He was broad-shouldered and barrel-chested. Wearing black slacks and buttoned-down shirt; the notch in his shirt collar and white insert seemed to be the only concession to his station.


            At least clothing-wise, a large silver cross hung from a leather cord at sternum level. Usagi blinked, it looked upside down. She then noticed a pair of silver cufflinks and frowned. At least compared to his necklace they were subtle. Behind the priest was an old nun in a habit and eyepatch to one side, and a tight lipped man with short brown hair that had to be from some sort of military unit or the other.


            The priest almost walked past Usagi and stared at the painting. "Photos don't do it justice, even prints can't get the raw presence of it." He turned to Usagi and chuckled. "I didn't think you were going to come too, Princess, but this does involve you," he added almost absently.


            Still grinning, he turned back to the painting and sighed happily. "I've seen much of Kaster's work. One of his earlier pieces is in a library off to the side of the Basilica, and of course there's the one in
London but this..."


            "Fascinating,"
Stillwater politely stated. "It's good to see you Bishop." Technically O'Malley was early, though it was a near thing.


            "Agreed Commander," the bishop smiled. "So you must be Miss Saotome, a pleasure." He said with a slight bow.


            Ranma raised an eyebrow "O'Malley?"


            The bishop nodded. "First, let me formally apologize for the actions of the Assembly of Man. We've already forwarded what information we have on AOM members trying to seek refuge in Catholic Churches." The Irishman's tone darkened. "Even by protestant standards those men are scum."


            "Thank you," Ranma warmly replied, while internally wondering why the
Vatican would have such hostility towards the Assembly. She supposed it could be some political thing. Her attention went to the elderly nun; the scent was hauntingly familiar to that of a Pattern Silver but it lacked the smooth refinement. The power was contained but it was raw and rough, hardly the smoothed and faceted constructs that lay within the Silvers.


            The demoness smiled slightly and almost laughed when the old woman returned the expression. The Sisters of Purity seemed to be quite... interesting.


            "Why is your cross on wrong?" Usagi asked.


            "We are the sinister and secret part of the Church," O'Malley smirked.


            Eve raised an eyebrow.


            "Bishop..." the nun hissed.


            O'Malley sighed. "Yes, Mother Temperance. It's the Cross of Saint Peter. He was the first Pope, and we're the Papal Expeditionary."


            "Wait... all those rock bands trying to be Satanic are just... morons?" Ranma laughed.


            "You're a demon, should it surprise you that they got the basic symbols wrong too?"


            "Fair enough," Ranma crossed her hands over her chest. "What do you know about these cybernetic assassins?"

            "Much," O'Malley smiled that broad moon-faced grin again. "But I'll start with what we don't know. We don't know who assigned the hit, why, or even who the target is."


            "It's clearly Usagi."


            "Well, yes, the girl of magic with such interesting rumors around her." he turned to the blonde teen. "If you really do have the Holy Grail we'd be most interested in that. It is our Lord's favorite cup."


            Usagi's eyes widened and she looked away, back at the painting.


            "Is this a time for joking?" Ranma asked.


            "It was." Still looking at Usagi, O'Malley frowned. "What about the rumors about the future?"


            "That's not your business," Usagi stated.


            "No, but it could explain why someone sunk a lot of money into killing you," O'Malley chuckled. "This of course, assumes you're the target."


            "We come to what it is that you know,"
Stillwater stated.


            "We know who these assassins are, who built them, what their purpose was, and why they're freelancing now."


            "That was the gist of your letter,"
Stillwater agreed.


            "They are Russian. Their bodies would tell you that much. To understand why is to realize what the Soviet Ideology was like. Firstly, despite the evidence to the contrary, they're atheists," O'Malley looked among the demons and smiled. "Now don't get me wrong, as religions go, it's very succinct. No missed mass to feel guilty about either. If they'd just ended it there they wouldn't have had such a mess."


            O'Malley sighed and spun one of the small cross cufflinks using the opposite hand. "Now Communists... poor bastards. They gave up religion only to make it all over again. Their leaders promised a 'Glorious Future' a 'Worker's
Paradise' if only the people were faithful and obedient. They put all their power in their leaders who ruled like god-kings, what they said was truth, events that they approved of were history.


            "Here's the problem: there's no God to blame when things go wrong, and they tried to put heaven on earth. Classic rookie mistake. I mean, God's very accommodating, you let him do all the heavy lifting. If your religion is wrong, no one will find out until after they're dead."


            "That's very cynical," Morrison noted.


            "Well, that's how the Communists saw Religion, as an opiate. Something to keep the masses down. That's why they copied our methods, to help control their own populace. But there was a problem... the very equalizing, romantic appeal of their Ideology... is what made it impossible to work." O'Malley laughed.


            "Huh?" Usagi asked. "Pretend I don't know much history."


            "Communism presumes that people will purely work for the good of society. That they will submit to the State in all things: the redistribution of capital and resources to their very opinions and ideas. It's a design where everything is done for the people. Eventually, they believe that people will be so nice that there won't even need to be a government. People will just do it because it's right."


            Usagi smiled a little. "That sounds nice. Very fair."


            O'Malley sighed and reached into his black coat and pulled out a small flask. "So you're one of those?"


            "People being fair and working for the good is good," Usagi glared.


            After taking a small swig, O'Malley laughed. "You know what people are like. How would you make them behave? The Communists did it by controlling every aspect of a person's life, treating them as a resource, a cog in the machine, something that needed constant guidance and correction."


            "I think she'd wave a magic wand and wish it all better," Ranma darkly noted.


            "I see," O'Malley shook his head. "Well, the Communists didn't have magic... not like that at least, but even they had to admit the truth about humans."


            "And that is?" Usagi glared.


            "We are a mean, greedy, selfish, and deeply flawed species. There's a reason Original Sin has traction. People aren't always noble and don't work for the best. If that were true, the world wouldn't need people like me."


            "Soldiers? Spooks?" Usagi asked.


            "Priests." O'Malley corrected. "God has the ability to make people perfect, though He doesn't do that until it's too late, but the Soviets didn't have God. What they did have, was the New Soviet Man project."


            "They were planning to make people better?" Eve smirked. "The Fascists had a similar program."


            "Naturally, International and National Socialism have a lot in common. But other that ideological similarities, the Western powers weren't the only ones to raid the more... colorful German projects after the war."


            "Making people better is bad? How cynical are you people? I mean isn't that what you want? You're supposed to be a priest. That's what I'd do-" Usagi froze and closed her mouth.


            O'Malley looked over Usagi critically while the room went silent. The blonde teen looked around and saw people tensing and their hands begin to move.


            The bishop began to laugh. "Oh my no... sorry. Messiah? No thanks, already got one." He looked at his flask and took a sniff. "Have you tried the Jews? They still need one."


            "A joke?"


           
Stillwater cleared his throat. "Miss Tsukino, his God thinks it's a miracle to use divine powers to furnish refreshment and booze for a beer-blast, metaphorically. He actually used wine."


            "And our vision of heaven is a wake where the publican doesn't kick you out because it's sunrise," O'Malley smiled.


            "And your tab is always on the house," the stiff military-man said, finally speaking.


            "Quite correct Oberstleutnant von Silenen," O'Malley sighed. "As I was saying, they wanted to make people better. Not God, them. And by better they meant more... in-tune with the system. This is why they were so big on education.  Well, something the called education but was anything but.


            "They felt that they could mold the New Soviet Man and Woman by indoctrination. They had some results, but there was still that pesky humanity."


            "People are still people," Ranma nodded.


            "Indeed. Even the Anglicans didn't say that man could perfect himself." O'Malley, pocketed his flask. "The Garden of Eden says it all really. God gives us everything we could ever ask for and then adds a bright big Button marked 'Don't'."


            The bishop turned to the painting. "But I guess I can see why some people wish to make us the kind of species that wouldn't press the button."


            "The Soviets tried a more active method?" Ranma ventured.


            O'Malley smiled. "Quite right. Research like that needs a lot of resources; the Red Army got involved. They loved the idea of more reliable and obedient soldiers."


            "The cyborgs?" Usagi guessed.


            "The scope of the project had... expanded a bit." O'Malley felt it was a good time to fidget with his cufflinks again. "Perhaps a drink, that is some food would be in order. The café downstairs comes highly recommended."


            "I did hear they have a good soup,"
Stillwater allowed. Outside would allow them to have a bit more control over the situation, and reduce the potential for surveillance. Though the government could have bugged the whole building and exterior. As they left the room, he motioned for Eve to make the required call... discretely


            "The Soviets, in trying to make people into better, more obedient subjects, made these advanced cyborgs?" Usagi asked as they exited the gallery section.


            "It was really the union of two ideas. Sooner or later everyone tries to make super soldiers. Though some people are more sensible about it. They don't put all their eggs in one basket." He turned and grinned slightly at
Stillwater.


             "And the Soviets were very paranoid. The idea of giving such advanced and integrated powers to a single person... scared them. They wanted to be certain the Combat Cyborgs were reliable. It's bad enough when the occasional pilot lands some secret plane in
Japan or a NATO country, or heaven forbid a submarine's officers mutiny and defect. Losing one of these soldiers was too much to contemplate"


            "And once the system was proven... they would start turning more people. Start with the soldiers, and then go into the general population," Eve's eyebrows raised as they went down the stairs. "Ambitious."


            "Naturally," O'Malley chuckled as the group crossed an exhibit on biplanes and cut towards an exit. "These were men that thought boldly and dreamed big. It was not enough to want to rule the world. they wanted to change humanity to make it into their world. One is almost compelled to admire the sheer audacity."


            "How did it fail?" Ranma asked. "If their plan worked out, they'd still be around."


            "And have started on their quest to change humanity for the... better," O'Malley nodded.


            "That's about the worst way to help people isn't it?" Usagi asked. She was trying to catch up with the conversation and with the faster walking group as they exited the building using a set of side doors.


            "Indeed. Their whole brochure was a world without greed, hate, class strife or poverty. Where everyone would work for the good of the people and no one would want. Of course you can't just make a wish and have it all better," he tapped his flask but thought better. "Not everyone will want to submit to your utopian schemes, and then what do you do?"


            "Liquidating unbelievers is always an option," Eve stated as the group walked up to a patio that was next to a café off to one side of the museum.


            "It's always so... messy," O'Malley sighed as he sat down.


            Usagi hesitated looking around her. All the other tables were empty and she could see some people in dark suits out in the parking lot and idly chatting with men in more... aggressive armor and weapons in the grass outside the museum.


            "Short of closing the museum, the security here is as tight as it will be," O'Malley said noticing Usagi's unease.


            The teenage blonde pouted as she sat down. "How do you know so much about these cyborgs?"

 
            "How?" O'Malley laughed as he leaned forward. "You want to know how we know so much about these Soviet Assassins? We helped them! Considerably!"


            "What?" Usagi's shock bled into confusion when she saw
Stillwater and Eve looking on with blank faces while Ranma was cleaning under one of her fingernails. At a nearby table Nariko, Morrison, and O'Malley's entourage watched with what looked to Usagi as mild interest.


            "You also wanted to know how the program failed?"


            "Funding,"
Stillwater stated from behind his folded hands.


            "That's the short answer," O'Malley allowed. "Super weapon projects are always plagued by that fault. You sink untold resources, manpower, and money into a project and it creates what: a few hardly-guided missiles, a giant tank that can't cross bridges and breaks down easily, or a handful of super powered soldiers that were found to still be mortal."


            "The knowledge gained from these programs is often far more useful than the immediate results,"
Stillwater reminded.


            "Yes, to the benefit of the victors, who can pick over the remains of an enemy willing to indulge in such flights of fancy." O'Malley pulled out his flask. "But we drift. Money was only part of why the program was canceled. If the Politburo still had their original... faith in the program they would have been willing to reduce funding to their nuclear arms first.


            "No, the program failed because they became worried. A program this size had many researchers. Most had worked on ways to make minds more pliable to indoctrination and ways to get soldiers to last longer in the field before fatigue and stress kicked in. They had more esoteric information, too."


            "There were rumors that the Soviet had captured documentation about Project A."
Stillwater stated.


            "Yes, the Red Army captured a group of German scientists trying to escape to
Yugoslavia. Two of them were researchers on Project A. We don't know how much they gave up before they died, but we do know their information was not particularly helpful, at first. It wasn't until many years later that they got a researcher brilliant enough to use the data." O'Malley took a sip from his flask.


            "The Soviets did not want an army of ghouls?" Ranma asked. "Sensible."


            "A blunt force that depends on raw quantity to overcome the enemy? They already had that, and with more intelligence and control."


            "What's all this?" Usagi asked.


            "The Nazis tried to make an NH army in WW2,"
Stillwater explained. "The Allies stopped them before they got any real results."


            "And the Soviets then got a mess of the research, but didn't know how to use it in their own super soldier program. Until, some big brain figured it out and made these cyborgs?"


            O'Malley smirked and put away his flask. "Perceptive. Yes, the 'big brain' was a doctor called Scaglietti. He was the one who figured out how to integrate cybernetic components with human flesh. As you already know, some of those components are rather... crude. Project A's necromantic research included the ways to bind and modify flesh."


            "Giving a shortcut," Eve noted. "They couldn't make real cyborgs using their level of technology, but they could use magic to link it all up?"


            O'Malley nodded. "This was the first stumble in the Scaglietti's part of the program. Only some people could accept the 'treatment'. This greatly limited the number of people that could accept the modifications. Reducing an already small pool of politically optimal candidates."


            "Expensive and unscalable."
Stillwater noted.


            "The situation degraded further. Other scientists were unable to reproduce Scaglietti's results. The Politburo thought that Scaglietti was hiding something and started to get –more- paranoid."


            "But it's magic, it might not have been able to work for anyone else," Usagi said.


            "Either way, Scaglietti's masters were getting increasingly impatient with the gap between the scientist's rhetoric and his results. A fanatical communist, Scaglietti was obsessed with the perfection of humanity, especially when it went hand in hand with proving his own brilliance.."


            "He must have felt that that result was just within his grasp," Eve noted. "That he just needed a bit more time to perfect them, and then he would be able to show them all."


            "Yes. Then the Politburo then began to worry about him succeeding. Ignoring their expense, the Numbers were quite formidable."


           
Stillwater made the deductive leap. "He numbered them. Only the successful subjects?"


            "Of course."


            "How many?"


            "Twelve. Out of God knows how many victims, only a dozen survived and were still 'useful'. All were female, which was highly suspicious. One died in training. That was when serious questions started to be openly asked. Scaglietti promised perfection. Though I suppose that they could be killed came as a relief."


            Ranma smirked. "The Soviets themselves stopped the program. They didn't want to pay a man to make invincible totally obedient soldiers. They were afraid that they'd be the first ones he send them after."


            "Yes, they were more concerned about their own power than allowing the unfettered expansion and perfection of Scientific Communism," O'Malley shook his head "Scaglietti was not pleased. He felt that the Politburo was corrupt and that they were standing in the way and cutting off his funding because he was not ethnically Russian. He also believed that the program was being sabotaged by the KGB, which was livid that such a program was still under military control. I'm sure both contributed."


            "What happened?" Usagi asked.


            "Regrettably anti-climactic. During a visit to
Moscow, he was accused of being counter-revolutionary and planning to stage a coup. He was arrested and summarily executed. This gave a small window for the Politburo to organize a response."


            "They thought the Numbers were unreliable?"


            "Our agent had an oversight position in the program. His conscience compelled him to provide us with information; it also compelled him to try to get the program shut down. Unwittingly, he contributed to the order to have them executed.


            "The man had assumed that the project would have been quietly dismantled and the Numbers would be turned over to various Spetsnaz units. Instead, the Red Army was going to come in with tanks, artillery, and air support. Once the mess was cleaned up the program could be restarted, with someone more frugal and... reliable."


            "So, that's how you came to save them?" Usagi asked. "You're the reason they're free and trying to kill me."


            "You mentioned restarting the program. Did they?" Eve asked.


            O'Malley pulled out his flask and took a sip. "When we rescued them, we made sure there was no research material left at the base."


            "But you said others were trying to repeat Scaglietti's experiments," Eve reminded.


            "Yes, I did. They all failed. It seems that Scaglietti had kept some part of the process a secret, his own little edge. Not that it did him much good in the end."


            "Still..."


            O'Malley sighed. "Yes, someone could have figured out what the missing part was. Or maybe they figured out a new process, one superior to Scaglietti's. We don't know. Even if the Soviets were to throw even more funding at this project... it still had to have failed."


            "Why?" Usagi asked.


            "Same reason Scaglietti's had to have," Ranma stated. "The Soviets failed. They didn't have an army of super soldiers to hold their empire together."


            "They didn't fall because of military weakness, it was economic," Eve corrected.


            "Fine, there's still not an army of cybernetic soldiers loose. That many couldn't be covered up."


            O'Malley nodded. "I'd bet money that the Soviets kept dabbling in cybernetics, but... not on this scale, and they didn't get any-" he hesitated for the briefest bit of a second, "-spectacular results."


            "You don't think they're building a secret army and just waiting for the right time to strike?" Eve asked.


            "Frankly, I'd think that time has come and gone."


            Usagi sighed. "You're still going in circles," she grumbled narrowing her eyes. "This isn't about an imaginary maybe group of cyborgs. You still saved the group that is after me."


            "They were going to kill eleven teenage girls whose only sin was to have been indoctrinated into that belief system. They were the few who had survived hellish experimentation. What would you have us do?"


            "You saved them, but then what happened? Why are they after me?"


            O'Malley sighed. "For the money."


            "They're just assassins for hire? There's no reason for it?"


            "I'm sure the person that paid them had a very good reason for it," Ranma noted.


            "But why are they like this?"


            "Do you know what it's like to lose faith?" O'Malley asked. "These girls thought they were the chosen. They believed they would lead a new era in human history. Then they find out their that creator is a traitor, that they're too expensive, that troops have been sent to kill them all, and that their rescuer is the Church."


            "Impressive,"
Stillwater said.


            "We tried to help them. We at least kept them from killing themselves, or running back to
Russia. Then they'd kill themselves and a large part of Moscow would be destroyed. Eventually, the shock wore off and they left our care."


            "You didn't keep them?" Usagi asked


            "We were their liberators not a new set of warders. They were not particularly violent. They had only been trained in combat, they had not been used in battle yet."


            "You believed they wanted to lead normal lives," Eve noted.


            "And they did... for a time. We lost track of them and rumors started floating up about a group of 'hit men' that could take out even the most protected targets. Standard line really. They were the best, never failed, and were quite expensive."


            "Why did they do it?"


            "It costs quite a lot of money to keep their bodies in combat condition. We offered to help them, set them up with jobs, but they wouldn't take our... charity."

 

            "Okay, they wanted to work on their own, but they didn't have to become assassins,"  Usagi siad.

 

            "I think they were doing it to prove that they could. To show the USSR just what a resource they had thrown away. They had the thrill of the hunt. The Soviets would still try to track them. We were looking for them. INTERPOL and NATO were also interested in those that could get in and kill such... secure people."


            "And then the Iron Curtain fell," Eve said with a little chuckle.


            "That's when things got... worse. They had outlived the empire that had built them, outlived their creator. Their only purpose was to continue their path, and find a mission that wasn't... boring," O'Malley said the last with a wide grin.


            Usagi blinked. "That's it?"


            "Pardon? I thought I talked for quite a while."


            "Yes, there's a lot of background, but it really sounds like I'm being hunted by a group of powerful, well-trained super-cyborgs because they think it'll be a challenge!"


            "I'm sure you could always disappoint them on that count," O'Malley offered.


            "It's just..." Usagi shook her head. "How good are they?"


            "No one's ever been able to get a firm lead on them. They are quite good at infiltration and have some impressive firepower. I've got a file on what we have been able to learn about their abilities, which should compliment what you've learned from the two casualties."


            "You sound impressed. Has anyone else killed one?"
Stillwater asked.


            "There was the one back during their training. There were rumors that another was killed when a West German munitions dump they were sabotaging prematurely exploded. Another may have died after being wounded on a mission in
Gibraltar.


            "Nothing firmer?" Eve asked.


            "The only way we know is to find a likely target that's gone dead or missing and start snooping around. Most of their missions don't require their full compliment, or we never figure out how many of them were actually involved."


            "Their tactics sound like hit and run. What is their capability for sustained combat?"
Stillwater asked.


            "It looks like they start with extensive observation, but they're not above taking a shot if the opportunity presents itself, as in Miss Tsukino's example. Once they figure out the weaknesses they will come in hard and fast."


            "They'd then try to make the kill and leave right away," Eve evaluated.


            "Yes, they don't have the –heh- numbers to fight a prolonged battle. Unfortunately, they're very good at getting out." O'Malley sighed. "This is what they were built for."


            "Their armor protects against small arms and their electronic warfare gives a decided edge. Suitable for that mission," Eve evaluated.


            "And they still weren't good enough? What did these high up Soviets want?" Usagi asked.


            "Perfection," O'Malley stated.


            "They also wanted a lot more of them, and a lot cheaper," Ranma added.


            "What about non-humans? Do they have any experience in that field?"
Stillwater asked.


            "We don't have any records to that effect," O'Malley shrugged. "As I said, we've only been able to track their 'hits' by interviewing the survivors and investigating the destruction. That only happens when they have a... flashy mission; someone high profile dies in an.. interesting way. The quiet ones, we may never hear about."


            "Especially if their target doesn't officially exist," Ranma shook her head.


            Usagi narrowed her eyes. "Who hired them?"


            "That we don't know." O'Malley paused. "We've had a bit more success at tracking their financial side. It's what you would expect. They use lawyers in various... accommodating... countries as couriers. They seem to just pass papers between various parties. These set up the terms, target and payment. However, we don't know how the initial contact is made."


            The redhead blinked. "What, they have an agent?"


            "Perhaps. They have some way of leveraging their reputation into further contracts."


           
Stillwater frowned. "One supposes that a person requiring an assassin of their skills knows people. Informal contacts could get the right questions asked. I'd bet these Numbers then put out their own feelers, after verifying the interested party."


            "So you don't know why someone's spending a lot of money to get me killed?" Usagi asked.


            "We are working on it. However a list of your enemies with the resources available to pay such a fee would be useful."


            Ranma snickered.


            "Yes, I've had a lot of enemies, but they're all gone."


            "None of them survived? Not even a few adjuncts or other flunkies?" Eve asked.


            Usagi tapped her chin as images of destruction and death flew across her mind. "I don't... think so. Anyone alive was really just possessed. Everyone else seems to have been turned to dust. There was the time... time reset and there was that future timeline that collapsed."


            For a brief moment O'Malley's expression went from the jovial Irish priest to something precise and measured. He noted that the WIC officers had even less reaction to the blonde's outburst. His face melting back into a warm smile, O'Malley looked between Miss Tsukino and Miss Saotome. Of the two he rather preferred the demon. She seemed to have a firmer... grip on things. Not that he doubted the veracity of the blonde teen's babble, that would have been far more comforting.


            "There is Murdock," Usagi added. "But I don't think he wants me dead."


            "Unless, he's confident that you won't lose."


            "Or maybe they're not trying to kill me, maybe they're going to kidnap and brainwash me."


            "They shot at you with a giant beam weapon," Ranma gently reminded.


            "I've got hit with worse," Usagi shrugged. "Murdock could have given up trying to corrupt me, and figured that killing me was the next best thing."


            Blinking, Ranma thought for a moment. "That's actually a pretty good point."


            "Yay," Usagi deadpanned.


            "This Murdock is the cause of some trouble for you?" O'Malley asked.


            "Yeah, he's caused –" Usagi closed her mouth and looked at the warmly smiling Catholic. "Wow, you are good."


            "It's just letting other people talk, and listening." O'Malley eyed down at his watch.


            "Especially to what's not said," Eve added.


            "So what is known?" Usagi frowned. "We know how many of them there are... sorta. We know what they're like inside. We know how they fight, and a little bit of their powers. That's if we can trust what you're telling us."


            "That seems about right," O'Malley said as he motioned to Oberstleutnant von Silenen. The Swiss Guard smoothly lifted his briefcase and in one motioned unlocked it and withdrew a large, bound folder. O'Malley noticed the raised eyebrows. "It's not all paper. Some of is microfiche," he added with a smile.


            "Microfiche?" Usagi asked.


            "Miniaturized images on translucent film. It's a much denser way to store data, and more stable than magnetic tape," O'Malley shrugged. In some areas the
Vatican was quite slow to adopt new technology.


            "Oh. That's it then? They're loose and you've given us a good luck and God bless?"


            O'Malley stood up. "It sounds trite, but we had no choice. Destroying them, when we had the chance, would have made us no better than the Soviets. However, if you want more help from us, you only have to ask," he stated, idly adjusting his cross.


            Ranma chuckled. "You up for it, Usagi?"


            Ignoring the demon's suspiciously vague question, Usagi turned to the so... carefully disarming-looking man. "Uh... no thanks. I mean. We've already got it handled." She looked over to Eve and
Stillwater who had opened up the file and were already reading over the paperwork.


            "Understandable," O'Malley said as von Silenen closed the briefcase. "We haven't exactly inspired Miss Tsukino's confidence in our abilities have we Oberstleutnant?"


            Von Silenen tapped his chin. "I would be inclined to agree with you, Sir."


            "It seems that the redhead has enough spirit in her," Mother Temperance cackled.


            Ranma eyed the older woman. "Huh, I guess being a battle nun loosens you up."


            "You have to have a sense of humor in a job like this, Dear."


            O'Malley's grin became more of a smirk. "Yes, see how well-behaved and civil we are even to mercenaries and hell-spawn. We understand that we are all God's children."

            "And what, children fight each other?" Usagi asked.


            "And, we know that family pulls together in the tough times." O'Malley gave a slight nod. "But there's more to that. Something that people seem to forget."


            "And that is?"


            Temperance smiled, it was the same bittersweet smile that Usagi had seen Ranma so often sport. "Children grow, and are forced to mature. Forced to lead their own lives, and fight their own battles."


            "Perhaps it's best to ponder the theological implications of that," O'Malley advised.


            "Well..." Usagi paused and wondered what that meant.


            "It's just part of growing up," Ranma said as she got up.


            "I guess." Usagi turned to O'Malley. "Thank you for your help," she said with a little bow.

 

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

 

            Back inside the museum, a man and a woman sat in the cafe enjoying their coffee. "It looks like the meeting's wrapping up," the woman quietly said to her companion. The other tables were starting to fill, and some of the other patrons had noticed the group out on the closed patio. Some were even rude enough to stare, reflecting what the woman gauged as a severe lack of culture and breeding.


            "Why, so it is," the man muttered as he folded to a new page in the paper. The fawning, smug editorials, the blatant, inept lies of the articles were quite familiar to him. It had none of the fear-inspired craft of his homeland's productions nor the rigorously state-approved themes. He'd seen vastly better but it was a remarkable study on the prisons people would build for themselves.


            "You're not concerned?" the woman asked, pushing a lock of chestnut hair behind her ear. She did not like wearing the wig, but sacrifices had to be made.


            "Why? Our Dear Comrade Doctor is... history." The man said the last word with care as if savoring it.


            "Still, it will be fascinating to watch his legacy perform."


            Mulling over her words, the man flipped to a new page. Legacy was quite appropriate. "No doubt."


            "It is useful and fitting. Failed systems we can learn from. However, if they succeed..."


            He knew what she meant; buoyed by victory, they would be eager for another mission. The man lowered his paper and locked his blue eyes onto hers. "Flattery is appreciated, but I did not hire them. That is what worries me. Fate can be generous, but not this generous. Besides we have our own mission,  and our own prodigal... daughters to watch."


            She bowed her head briefly. "Understood," she said as she picked up the mug. Her eyes caught one of the... guards walking out beyond the patio. The whole spectacle was a crude display of power, but she had to admire the lack of fear in expressing it. At least some were still able to be comfortable with the idea of power, even if their ideologies were reprehensible lies.


            "Do you?" the man returned to his paper, and its soothing banality.

 

End Chapter

 

Author's Notes:

 

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.

 

An extra thanks goes to J St C Patrick. Go onto the fanart page of the Fukufics site and you'll find an opening sequence for The Return that he made. It's really something else.

 

 

Numerically Designated Magical Combat Cyborgs designed and built by Doctor Scaglietti is from Nanoha StrikerS owned by Keizō Kusakawa and Seven Arcs. The individual characters are different from the StikerS ones, being they're bitter Russians living as mercenaries and not prototypes being used by a man fighting the Time-Space Administration Bureau

 

 

Revision Notes: And here we've got the big meeting with the Vatican and more information on the Combat Cyborgs.  A group that turns out to have been a long running enemy.  One chapter left in Book 2.