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 14:  Higher Supervision

Formerly:  Restoration and Regret Part 2 ii

 


            "Are we going back?" Usagi asked eyeing the helicopter.  The museum meeting had been disquieting.  The jovial Bishop had carefully explained that a group of cybernetic Soviet assassins had been hired to kill her, and the group of lethal woman had no emotional investment in her death other than relishing the challenge of it.


            "Nope. Stillwater's got another meeting," Ranma shrugged as the older agent went to the Security Intelligence Service men. Captain Dewey had rejoined the commander and followed the man into the black limo.


            "What do we do now?" Usagi almost whined


            "I thought this would happen. So, I did some research on the city and found a... fun place," Eve smirked.


            "Oh?" Ranma asked and leaned in while Eve whispered into her ear. The redhead's eyes widened. "Really? I've heard about places like... that. What if... that could get very expensive."


            "Don't worry, I'll pay," Eve laughed.


            "Well, we're going to have to get changed for it."


            "Where?" Usagi asked.


            "Somewhere where this just won't work." Ranma pointed to her skirt.


            "It would be impossible to get on or off wearing something this long and stay decent." Eve nodded. "And even if you could, it'd get too torn and stained."


            "It'd just get in the way."


            "Where are we going?" Usagi asked as they went to a waiting transport.


            "Someplace fun," Morrison said as she leaned back on the wall of the armored van.


            "You don't have to come," Nariko stated as she fussed with her blade's scabbard. "There's some agents guarding the helicopter.


            "Yeah..." Usagi noticed Eve's and Ranma's clothes beginning to ripple and shift. Their clothes eventually formed into what Usagi thought of as succubus-casual: leather pants, sturdy boots, and leather jackets. The blouses each wore were the same color and material as the dresses they had on before.


            "How far is it?" Ranma asked while adjusting her jacket.


            "It's only seven kilometers, mostly due east," Eve replied.


            "We're going east?"


            "South-east," Ranma corrected.


            Usagi blinked. "How can you tell?"


            "We started out north, right, left, right, soft left," Morrison explained.


            "There's also a compass on the dashboard," Nariko happily pointed out.


            Usagi sighed. "You're going to keep this a secret?"


            "You'll find out soon enough." Ranma looked out the heavily tinted windows at the small river while they crossed a bridge.


            "I called ahead they should have everything ready, but.." Eve paused. "You haven't really done this before. I mean there were some, but this is much more intense."


            "Isn't it like riding a bike?" Ranma raised an eyebrow. She smiled as Usagi tried to follow the vehicle's direction as it spun around on a cloverleaf interchange and then crossed another bridge


            "Somewhat." Eve chuckled, as they pulled off the highway.


            "Where are we now?" Usagi asked looking out at the collection of warehouses with their streams of tractor trailers.


            "Remember to use your.. mature identification," Eve reminded as the van drove down the industrial road.


            Ranma opened up her purse. "The one that has me as thirty-four?"


            "You're not that old."


            The redhead rubbed her forehead. "No, but most people wouldn't understand how someone my age could have daughters their age. What do you do with your daughter?"


            "I just say she's my cousin."


            "Not bad really," Ranma nodded, she then started brushing her hair, which almost seemed... eager at the contact. "It is a bit of a pain. My ID originally had me as 30, that was a little bit easier to pull off."


            "But then someone pointed out mother would have had to have been 13 when she had me," Nariko said.


            Eve coughed. "We did get your records straightened out."


            "Yes, a seventeen year old being pregnant is much less scandalous. That she would then have four more within three years is... not" Morrison remarked.


            "Funny," Ranma remarked as she got her hair pulled back into a more... mature set of teased tresses. She adjusted her neck with a slight pop and smirked.


            "You look the same," Usagi frowned.


            "But she's got old eyes," Morrison offered.


            "I... guess," Usagi shrugged. The truth was, she had a hard enough time remembering that Ranma was the same age as she was. That still didn't mean she thought Ranma was in her mid-thirties.  Twenty something was more appropriate.  Though the cap between that and seventeen could seem vanishingly small.

 

            "We're here," Eve said as the van stopped. She then opened the door.


            Usagi looked out and the first thing that she noticed was the two other vehicles that had followed her. That the escort was not unexpected struck her as surreal. She then saw where they had arrived.


            Suddenly, it all made sense.


            "Nice," Ranma said as she ran a hand over the chrome and leather of one of the motorcycles.


            Usagi read the sign on the shop. "Ottawa Harley Davidson? This is why you changed clothes?" She walked across the parking lot and looked at the motor-bikes. There was something very appealing about them. Primal.


            "You can't ride a bike with a skirt on," Nariko remarked.


            The door to the shop opened and a large bear-shaped man exited. His dark brown hair and thick beard concealing a broad strong jawed face helped enforce the ursine resemblance.


            Usagi was not surprised to see that he was wearing as much leather as Ranma and Eve were.


            "You're the biker Mom?" the man asked in a raspy voice as he lit a thin ill-smelling cigar. The man looked the redhead over, and then eyed the other vehicles. He recognized the type, and he saw that the women before him were carrying. It was only mildly surprising. The woman with the red eyes seemed especially... alert. Despite their mainstream popularity, motorcycles were still a part of the real counterculture. His gaze went back to the tall-blonde woman. "You must be Eve; we talked on the phone yesterday."


            "Yes and you're Michael 'call me Bob' Hodgson," Eve said shaking his hand with a smile that didn't reach her eyes.


            Hodgson smirked at her grip. "So have any of you ridden a motorcycle before?"


            Morrison and Eve nodded.


            "Bob? Why do they call you that?" Usagi asked.


            Eve frowned slightly.


            The large man chuckled. "My pa gave the name 'Mike Hodgson' a bit of tarnishing if you catch my drift."


            Usagi blinked.


            Ranma rose up from looking at one of the motorcycles. "Bob, I've never ridden a bike, what do you recommend?"


            Pulling out his cigar, Hodgson stroked his beard and then put it back in. "Well, I've got a few ideas. It depends on how you ride."

 

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

 


            After entering the conference room, Stillwater handed his briefcase to Captain Dewey who sat down at the large circular oak table and opened the leather case. Looking to the left to make sure the door to the low-lighted room had been closed and locked, he finally sat down at the remaining open spot.


            Taking the other six places at the table was a mix figures that any Canadian would recognize and some that only a real policy wonk would know. "Governor, Prime Minister, Ministers, Director, and Colonel," he said nodding to each of the officials. "What can I do for you?" he asked putting his elbows on the table, and leaning forward with his pointer fingers together and just in front of his lips.


            "We're glad you were able to fit this meeting into your busy itinerary for today," the Governor General smiled coldly, not showing her teeth.


            "This meeting has been scheduled for some time," Stillwater allowed, a bit comforted that the Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service managed to keep tabs on the diplomats in the city.


            The Minister of National Defense gave a sidewise glance to the Prime Minister who gave a curt nod. National Defense motioned to the one man at the table in military dress.


            "We've received your proposal to provide training for a group from Joint Task Force Two," the Commander of Canadian Special Forces Command a Colonel with a large face, thinning hair sitting to the left of Stillwater stated.


            "Yes?"


            "It's the location you wish to do the training. I don't see a logistical a problem with it," The Colonel's eyes flicked over to the right at the officials. "However, there is some worry about the potential fallout, if what happened there became publicly known."


            Stillwater taped his lips. "An organized and well equipped group planning to attack multiple targets inside Toronto was neutralized. We felt training Canadian military personnel there would nicely mesh with the cover story."


            "Do you realize the public outcry?" The Minister of Public Safety glared at Stillwater. "We don't want another Somalia Affair."


            The corner of Stillwater's lip rose slightly. "The Somalia Affair? Yes, special operations troopers torturing a young man. Shameful. How is that relevant?"


            "Well... your methods..."


            "Were fully documented and signed off by you and your predecessors," Stillwater reminded, motioning to Dewey who produced a large file from the briefcase. "You agreed that secrecy and victory were your priorities. You know what you hired us for."


            "The backlash-"


            The Governor General of Canada cut the Minister of Public safety off. "What of the backlash?" She smirked. "Which do you think the public will care more about? That some mercenaries tortured a few demons? Or the knowledge that demons actually exist? That is the panic that we have to deal with, and why the Crown has consented to this contract. The queen is rather fond of this country, and would rather it not fall."


            "Thank you, Willard International Consulting expresses its desire to continue working with the Crown and the Dominion of Canada," Stillwater said with a slight nod. Publicly, the position of Governor General had become largely that of a figurehead. Appointed at Her Majesty's pleasure, those in the position swore their loyalty to the Crown and were the representative of the Canadian Monarch. As a Commonwealth nation, Canada shared the same Monarchy as the United Kingdom, with the Governor General as the queen's representative in Canada.


            Legally, the position has extensive powers, but much like in the United Kingdom the royal powers are rather limited in execution, providing a symbolic chief executive. However, the position does have the power to act as the Crown's final check to express its interests.


            "Now see here...." the Minister of Public Safety Started.


            "He is correct. In the Crown's opinion this is still the Dominion of Canada." The Governor General held up her hand. "Everyone here knows the special... caveats to the1982 Canada Act. It was not just Quebec that had issues with constitutional sovereignty. You got your independence from British Parliament, and we got certain... assurances."


            The Prime Minister sighed. "I doubt the United Kingdom would assert its claim to the 'Dominion' just because of demons."


            "Why not? That fits the kind of threat the Crown had in mind in '82."


            "There is no need to extort cooperation," the Minister of Public Safety grumbled.


            "No, but apparently there is the need to remind you where your responsibilities lie," the Governor General stated. She turned to Stillwater. "That does not mean that we will rubberstamp anything the Company does. It seems to us that the problems with the Assembly of Man are outside of the scope of what you were hired to do."


            The Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service cleared his throat. "Highly illegal arms aside, they appeared to have studiously avoided civilian casualties. In fact, they even had a tenuous peace with your organization."


            "Until you started hiring demons," the Prime Minister said. "Which lead to this great... distraction."


            "What would you have us do? Hand over the demons?" Stillwater chuckled. "What of the fallout from that? Do you seriously suggest sending minorities to be killed by religious bigots? That is quite shortsighted and does not raise confidence in your allies view of your own abilities."


            "Who are you to talk? You'll work with demons and torture people to get information." Minister of Public Safety demanded. The information on what exactly WIC did was frustratingly scant; they seemed to feel only the most cursory accountability to any proper oversight.


            "And who at this meeting purchased my services? Who at this table just suggested appeasing the enemy, just because they haven't attacked us much. There's realpolitik and then there's cowardice. When possible, the Company attempts coexistence. Not all NH's are unthinking monsters. Many are allies that have just as much at stake as the rest of us."


            "How very enlightened," the Governor General pretended to look down at her notes. "And profitable too, I'm sure."


            "They are registered. They work and pay their taxes. Yes, their species is a state secret, but they're still people. Or are they? That's the whole issue here isn't it?"


            "You did not need to recruit them," the Prime Minister said. "The risks..."


            "Yes, working with non-humans always has risk, but as the Governor General stated the benefits outweigh the risk."


            "I can see how a group of trained demons is enticing from a military standpoint," the Minister of National Defense Stated. "But what about control?"


            Behind his interlaced hands, Stillwater smiled slightly. "That is not a concern."


            "And working with the demons has allowed you to get closer to these... magical girls," the Intelligence Director said.


            "Your distaste is justified, they are unprofessional, untrained children playing at an adult's game. The demons are quite simple creatures; we know what they'll do. However, teenage girls with phenomenal magical powers..." Stillwater suppressed another smirk. The succubae were also teenage girls with magical powers.  More so, Miss Tsukino was far more capable than he wanted this Council to know.  Given the things she was up to..., not that the men at this table needed to know that.


            The Prime Minister looked at the man quietly sitting across from him. Britain's pressure was sitting to his left wearing a conservative pantsuit. At least the United States, for once, was showing more subtle, if cynical, diplomacy. They simply expressed confidence in the Canadian government's commitment to a long tradition of martial skill, strength in the face of adversity, and close trade relations with their ally to the South.


            "And your other meeting today?" the governor general mildly asked.


            "The Holy See had information about the cybernetic assassins contracted to kill the leader of those magical girls," Stillwater stated. "They were the ones that helped that group escape a Soviet lab when their program was being shut down. They decided to save those young girls."


            The Intelligence Director sighed. It was outlandish and insane, but he knew that totalitarian states loved their outlandish and insane superweapons, especially when competing with the superweapons the West was building. "And I'm sure the Vatican was doing this for purely humanitarian reasons."


            "Perhaps, but saving some 'innocents' while hurting the most powerful group of atheists the world has ever seen, how could the Church resist?" Stillwater smiled slightly. "Needless to say, they destroyed the facilities and as many of the records as they could. After that, the assassins rejecting the Church's employment offer was a minor inconvenience."


            "Still, this would not be the first time someone has tried to kill this Tsukino girl. There was that hostage crisis in that toy store a couple months back," the prime minister noted. "What kind of enemies does she have?"


            "This is a young woman with powers beyond understanding, who is heir to an ancient civilization, the debris, remnants, and enemies of which still linger," Stillwater stated.


            "Events from that far in the past? It all sounds like some horrible fantasy."


            Stillwater nodded. "Yes it does, but... the truth is that civilizations are grown from the ashes of previous ones, that our world had been ravaged by monsters in the past, and it is up to us to prevent it from happening again."


            "We are aware of the importance of all of this," the Prime Minister tersely said, trying not to sound overwhelmed.


            "That is why we are making sure there is proper oversight," National Defense added.


            "What if..." the Intelligence Director paused, but caught himself. If any bit of this meeting became public, he would be dammed anyway. "What if this Tsukino girl were to become dangerous? She's the heir to that... kingdom I believe you've called it. What if she tries to bring it back?"


            "There are contingencies in place," Stillwater replied.


            "Quick and unflinching. Your organization's reputation for pragmatic paranoia is justified," the Governor General noted. She smirked a bit, her countrymen tried to hide it, but they all seemed... relieved at the Company man's statement. Being able to pay someone else to get their hands dirty had its conveniences.


            "There's also some concern about this... D Program I believe your memo called it," the Minister of National Defense stated eyeing Stillwater.


            "Are you suggesting that we take a more belligerent stance with NH's?" Stillwater asked.


            "No, it makes sense to only go after those that are a... danger. There's even a form of symmetry in recruiting amenable nonhumans, but the D program. It's odd."


            "Is it?" Public Safety snorted. "These are Americans we're dealing with. Sure they claim to be 'International', but even their agents from other countries... act a certain... way. Is that part of the training?"


            Stillwater leaned his head down a bit. "We will fight. We will win. If you'd want to call that a trait solely of the United States, then it shows a deep ignorance of your own country's history and courage."


            "Enough," the Governor General said holding her hand up. "This is a pointless argument. Though I must confess, who else would think of saving the human race from eldritch monstrosities for money?"


            "Johan Willard was driven by revenge, Ma'am."


            "But you can't buy bullets with vengeance."


            Giving a slight nod, Stillwater allowed himself to smile.


            "And you let your own men become demons," the Governor General smirked. "Well I suppose we should count our blessings that your plans are so... mild. Normally, your Yankee-ingenuity creates things even more outlandish than secret agent demons or Soviet cybernetic assassins."


            "It's an issue of trust," Stillwater stated.


            "Trust?" the Prime Minister asked.


            "It is the most valuable commodity we have."


            "It keeps your men loyal, your allies allied, your suppliers producing, and your clients paying you. All to enable you to kill the enemy. What a curious combination of morality and marketing," the Governor General noted.


            Stillwater gave another slight nod.


            "Now, before we were detoured... I believe the Colonel was trying to discuss the training of Joint Task Force 2."


            "Indeed, from our evaluations the unit has the bearing and skills to handle the training. Their experience with black operations should help them with their transitioning."


            "Agreed," the special forces Colonel stated. "Once you accept a hidden world of secrets and violence, merely adding monsters is trivial."


            "Yes, that's why Air Force pilots handle alien contact so well," Stillwater said.


            "Aliens?" National Defense asked.


            "Prehuman civilizations have dotted earth's history. Even that empire of Miss Tuskino's ancestor was interplanetary. We know nonhumans often come from other planes of existence. Yes, aliens are everywhere."


            "Is this relevant?" National Defense asked.


            "It's part of dealing with NH beings. They are alien."


            "I presume that the JTF 2 training will involve interaction with demons in your employ then?" the Governor General asked.


            Stillwater leaned back a hair, his smile almost visible behind his interlaced hands. "That is a fair presumption." Miss Saotome's reaction when he asked if she would agree to train Canadian special forces was amusing, but the succubus was a teacher at heart.


            "And the long term? Won't training our forces eliminate your job?" National Defense asked.


            "Assuming you no longer needed us to deal with the discretionary issues, we still provide training and supply services."


            "Yes, there aren't many others manufacturing the equipment you sell." National Defense knew full well the pricing the Company had on its technology. The stuff that was not overpriced worried him the most. He could at least understand a defense contractor price-gouging.


            "The proposed plan is to start with two platoons and have them trained to handle NH incidents. People with combat experience are strongly preferred, but the normal standards of JTF 2 should help ease the training."


            "That's a significant fraction of our forces," National Defense blinked.


            "The skills they learn are applicable to counter terrorism and hostage rescue," Stillwater stated.


            The Minister of National Defense nodded to the Special Forces Commander.


            "Right, we'll draft up a list, and make the transfer," the colonel agreed. "I can think of some men that would be suited to for this."


            "I've got one caution. Training existing special forces personnel requires the least training and has the highest success rate, but even among those in the black world, non humans are sometimes a bit too much."


            "What about the Emergency Response Teams?" Public Safety asked.


           "While they are useful in a containment and law-enforcement role, they could be ill-suited for most heavier operations. It was felt that concentrating on JTF 2 first would be better."


            "You see a law-enforcement role in all of this?" Public Safety, skeptically asked. "Aren't we dealing with man-eating monsters here?"


            "Not all of them are belligerent, many just want to move here and live out their lives," the Governor General gently reminded.


            "That... is frustrating. It'd be easier if they were all the enemy," Public Safety sighed; he had enough problems with terrorists hiding out in human immigrant populations. Add in supernatural powers... "What if this becomes public?" he eventually asked.


            "What exactly?"


            "The whole deal. Demons, monsters. You've had to have done studies on what happens if the public were to know?"


            A frown flickered past, Stillwater's face. "That is a weighted question. There would be considerable... fracture. There will be those that want ethical treatment for the NH's in their midst, those that would want total extermination, those that would utterly refuse to acknowledge the existence of NH's, those that are apathetic; they don't care what happens, as long as they, personally, are safe, and finally the fans. Some people would gladly serve anyone, add in supernatural charisma," Stillwater frowned.


            National Defense blinked. "People would still refuse to believe in NH's?"


            "People are quite stubborn in their ways. Especially, if they never personally see an NH. It'd be all some special effect to them," Stillwater said.


            "Your Company's media campaign has ensured that the public at large while being informed of NH's still regards them as... a special effect," the Governor General said.


            "But how much of each group?" the Prime Minister asked.


            Stillwater gave an exaggerated shrug. "How would the secret get out? The violence there would determine the outrage of the populace."


            "Most of these groups have conflicting goals," the Prime Minister looked down at the table.


            "That's just the humans. The NH's would split along similar lines, but add in those that would try to take over, both by subtle and overt means."


            "And thus the secret stays put and we continue to ride the tiger," the Governor General sighed.


            "Humanity is adaptable."


            "Enough to compensate if we fail?"


            "Humanity constantly fails. We are fragile and weak. Our advantage is that we learn."


            "I mean failure of a greater magnitude," the Governor General tersely clarified.


            Stillwater looked over his intermeshed fingers. "That is the hope. If we do fail, at the very least we can ensure that theirs is a phyrric victory."


            "Spite, a very human emotion." the Governor General smiled thinly.


            "Madam General. Willard International Consulting was founded on revenge," Stillwater reminded.


            "Is that enough?" the Prime Minister looked up. "Are these preparations enough? You've been bringing in these demons... what do you think?" His lip quivered. "Things have been here before. They will be back again. Who are we to stop them?"


            "Who are we?" Stillwater smiled. "We are not the first to live here. We are not the most powerful. We have barely scratched the surface of this world, but it is ours." Stillwater emphasized each word. "Gentlemen, our backs are to the sea. There is no where to run. There never has been."

 

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

 


            Nodoka looked up from her work. The sound of light snoring drew her attention and she was unsurprised to find Morgan and Ukyou side-by-side napping on the lab's couch.


            She smiled thinly at the sight. The door opening to the lab halted her musing, and broke the succubae's nap. The two girls opened their eyes and alertly watched as Major Saotome's two assistants wheeled in a pair of crates. Right on time...


            "You were right, Ma'am. It looks like Gladys released them," Ayanami stated as she opened one of the crates. Nestled in voids in the stiff foam were half a dozen weapons that superficially resembled bulkier Fabrique Nationale P90s, with their compact bull-pup configuration and horizontal magazines.


            "I'm a bit surprised the testing went as smoothly as it did." Nodoka noted as she went to her computer and checked the records. The release from WIC Munitions was still there.


            "The fixed the problems with the feed ramp?" Aida asked as he opened the other box and started comparing the boxes of ammunition, magazines, spare parts, and other accessories with the bill of materials. He frowned as he started moving the ammunition; in large numbers the weight increase started to really add up. A full magazine would have to weigh around seven and a half kilograms. "I mean with the top magazine the bullets have to rotate ninety degrees before going into the chamber."


            "Yes." Nodoka smirked as she pulled out one of the guns, and a small card that was in the bottom of the crate. It was one thing to design a weapon four times the weight of a P90; it was another to hold it. As always, the work was impressive; Nodoka worked the action and after making sure it worked smoothly slipped a bore scope down the barrel. Using the magnified camera in the small probe, she saw that the barrel, while clean, had seen some use. "I'm afraid to ask how many hours Gladys' team billed for this," she said, too pleased at seeing her design physically executed to even pretend to be annoyed.


            "Oh my, these are nice," Ukyou said as she took one of the guns out of Ayanami's hands. "Very sturdy," she said trying to flex the metal frame. The twenty-four pounds or eleven kilograms gave the weapon some heft but did not seem heavy to her. It felt like twice the weight of one of her handguns. Though this weapon was empty and forty of those 17mm shells had to get heavy.


            Nodoka absently nodded as she disassembled the weapon at her workbench, comparing the parts to the diagrams on her computer. She pulled out a set of calipers and started making a few notes on the dimensions, especially around the pieces that formed the action.


            "One of the requirements was 'If it goes empty, it's gotta bash a guys' head in and still work when I shove more ammo in it.' " Aida quoted as he inspected the over-size bullet boxes. He smiled as he looked over the various types. The ballistics had been very fun to work out on them, but he was going to pay for it when it came time to load the magazines and cart them around.


            "Misako helped on this?" Ukyou sighed.


            "She is a born infantry-trooper," Morgan noted as she handed one of the guns to Ayanami who was still frowning, and took another for herself.


            "Making it robust was helpful given the gas pressure of the 17 by 65 mm WIC custom, and weight isn't as much of an issue. The concern is their ergonomics. How do they fit?" Nodoka asked her granddaughters.


            "They're good," Ukyou chuckled a bit. The weapon was built strong and obviously on the heavy side, but it was designed for... smaller hands. "Misako's going to be angry she chose to hang out with Akane and Nabiki," she snickered.


            "It'll work," Morgan stated. She preferred her rifle but she had to admit this was an attractive little gun. "How's it perform?" she asked shifting her grip and holding the machined metal weapon to her face. The surface had been treated with antireflective coating which also gave a firmer grip.


            "Passable on bench tests, but Gladys didn't have anyone that could use it standing up," Nodoka said, looking up from the carefully spread parts before her.


            Morgan chuckled. "And they came when Mom and sis are out," she said, her voice getting more distant.


            "Aww... you miss them," Ukyou wrapped an arm around the short sharp shooter.


            Morgan gave the blonde a puzzled look. "Of course."


            Ukyou smirked. "You don't think Gladys rushed this do you?" she asked looking down at the gun in her hands. She liked her Standard Succubus Pistols, but it was nice to have some tailored options and flexibility for what she could carry.


            "Are you saying Head Machinist Coulton would force her workers into over time to push a weapon into production, just because we're fighting some type of Soviet Cyborg?" Nodoka asked.


            "Her husband did die fighting the communists in Korea," Ayanami reminded.


            "That does explain the note she put in the package. 'Hope this helps you girls stick it to the Reds,' " Nodoka read.


            "I killed the first two," Morgan grumbled.


            "That's why she thanks you on the other side," Nodoka said handing over the card.


            "Aww... she's a sweet lady," Morgan said as she pocketed the card.


            "What did it say?"

            The diminutive succubus smiled. "Morgan: That was a triumph. I've made a note here: Huge success. Gladys."


            "Heh, does that make you feel better?" Ukyou said after thanking Aida and taking a magazine he had just loaded. Sliding it on the top of the gun she nodded as it clicked into place. Making sure to keep the weapon pointed away, she tested the balance. Still good, the heavier weight was especially noticeable when she shouldered it.


            "Full mag adds another sixty percent to the weight" Nodoka chuckled as she reassembled the gun on her bench.


            "Seven and a half kilograms?" Ayanami blinked after doing the math in her head.


            "It is a pretty large bullet," Morgan said with a bare hint of a smirk.


            "But yours is still bigger," Ukyou teased as she lowered the bullpup... gun.


            Morgan nodded. "Grandma, why do you call this a Heavy Submachine Gun? Isn't that...nonsensical."


            "A submachine gun does traditionally refer to a smaller weapon using a pistol cartridge. I suppose a carbine is closer but those are normally shortened assault rifles with the same caliber but with lower muzzle velocity."


            "This has a lower velocity," Morgan offered.


            Nodoka took the fully reassembled gun and put it back into its crate. "Relatively, it's still an anomaly. 17mm by 65 mm is a custom round. Traditionally, a carbine does have more penetrating power than a submachine gun. The WM 17S is designed for close quarters combat. So, if you want to call it a heavy submachine gun or a –well- also heavy carbine. Either works."


            "You just picked a generic name?"


            Nodoka shrugged. "I guess you could call it a machine carbine."


            "Like a Sten gun?" Morgan shook her head. That was a cheap 9mm submachine gun used by the British in WW2 and Korea. Its official name was "Carbine, Machine, Sten" which came from the confusing early WW2 British habit of calling submachine guns "machine carbines". The Sten was almost a textbook example of a submachine gun. She sighed. "Fine, the term's murky enough."


            Ayanami cleared her throat. "Technically, the P90 is a Personal Defense Weapon, which has a form factor similar to a submachine gun but has a round with more penetration, power and accuracy."


            "Further blurring the line between SMG and carbine," Nodoka smiled at the line of guns. "Personally I thought that a defense weapon didn't give you girls enough credit."


            "You just picked a name for a small rifled gun?" Ukyou smiled.


            "Submachine guns do have a history of more unconventional form factors."


            "I'm sure we'll come up with a cute nickname for them," Ukyou noted.


            "No convenient acronym though," Morgan noted.


            "Still their size and configuration lends itself to an affectionate name. They're very compact and pretty cute."

 
            Morgan blinked. "Cute?"


            "You practically cuddle with your rifle,"


            "That's different." the sharpshooter pouted. "Well..." She sighed and sat on one of the desks. "Fine, it's not."


            "You don't need to be embarrassed. It's perfectly normal. Just be glad you're just finding weapons adorable," Ukyou comforted with a hint of a smirk.


            "Reassuring, given Misako and 'Sasha'," Morgan grumped.


            "There are worse fashions." Ukyou paused. "Like... Akane, and... Nabiki." The blonde succubus looked at the diminutive demon. "Actually, you could pull off Nabiki's look. Maybe not pastels but definitely that style."


            "Really?" Morgan dryly asked.


            "Your hair is too dark, it would clash with light colors," Nodoka explained. She looked at the gun snuggled in its crate, then to its twins in her granddaughters hands. "Take a full load of magazines and crate up the rest."


            "Training Ma'am?" Morgan asked as she pulled on her web-vest and started slipping on some magazines.


            "I want to see how easy these are to store and retrieve," Nodoka noted as she adjusted Morgan's gear, to the redhead's embarrassment. "And how do they fit on your belts?"


            "Uh... dangling." Ukyou had slipped on the crossed belts that held her handguns and their magazines. "They're a bit long.


            "Your mother has been dawdling on getting you proper armor," Nodoka sighed.


            Ukyou frowned. "Yes they're stupid, but our uniforms do have superior protection. We've tested that."


            "It's a bikini top with ribbons and a miniskirt." Morgan slowly stated. "Your bellybutton shows."


            Ukyou sighed. "Yes, magic doesn't have to make sense."


            "I can still make it better. Without sacrificing mobility."


            "Better armor would be nice," Morgan noted.


            Nodoka frowned. "Yes, we don't need to stand by and count on magic. If we can make the uniforms better, we will. Now load up, and bring the rest of the guns."


            "To test them all?" Ayanami asked.


            "That, and Misako, Akane, and Nabiki have been neglecting their training too."


            "They've been spending the whole afternoon training at the B facility." Ukyou adjusted the magazines to her belt. "Maybe a vest with some armor would be better. I can't sit with this."


            "Ayanami, closet to the left. On the red hanger." Nodoka smiled and patted Ukyou on the head. "We can test how well it goes with your Senshi uniform. As for the other girls? They don't spend enough time on the other weapons. Misako won't always have Sasha."


            Ukyou looked at the gun in her hands and allowed an evil little smile to form. "You know, Nariko and Mother hardly ever practice their gunnery. Even less than Nabiki does."


            "Yes, we'll need to tell them that," Nodoka said as Ayanami handed a light set of armor. She then helped her assistant fit it to the blonde demon. "How's that feel?"


            "Good," Ukyou admitted. It was similar to the succubus armor that Eve and her spawn wore but even more flexible.


            "Of course, we don't have enough of these guns, but we'll make do," Nodoka patted the crate and motioned for Ayanami to help her take it out. She then turned to Morgan who was helping Kensuke put more supplies in a rucksack. "And how is your close quarters training going?"


            "Good," Morgan coughed. Her last battle had thoroughly illustrated that her body was more than a collection of vastly improved senses, fantastic fine muscle control, and phenomenal mobility.


            "Excellent, there's no reason to not push the maximum advantage," Nodoka noted as they left her lab.

 

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

 


            Mercury's blue-tinted lips curled into a broad smile as she pushed out the chair opposite her at the small oak table. "You came alone, and no jamming," she idly noted holding up a glass of wine.


           "That was part of the deal," the redhead looked at the coifed young woman before her eyes went to the offered chair. She delicately sniffed the air and looked around the crowded bar. All she could detect was Mercury and her Pattern.


            "I suppose you could have your spawn and agents hidden, likewise you could easily start up a jammer," Mercury allowed before finishing the last of her drink.


            "Nice place," Ranma said turning her head a bit; she could sense almost a... damned field of magic within the fallen Senshi. "No wonder you said dress fancy," she said carefully watching Mercury's expression.


            "It doesn't have the intimate ambiance of your bar, but I like it here. Unlike most bars it's quiet," Mercury said looking about the bar and making a slight motion with her raised glass. "You wouldn't expect a few dozen people to keep their voices down."


            "It also has a nice patio out front," Ranma allowed watching a waiter walk up with a bottle.


            "And a wonderful little garden in the back." She turned to the server "Very nice lighting back there, Jerald."


            "Thank you Miss," The server nodded.


            "Please leave the bottle, Jerald," Mercury said with a slight wave.


            "Fancy place," Ranma noted as the man left.


            Mercury laughed. "Not really, mostly yuppies, but they at least have the sense to keep up the ambiance."


            "Yes, fancy dress. Though not as nice as a dark satin evening gown with long black gloves," Ranma's eyed appraised the clingy garment.


            "I guess the tiara would have been too much; Orion was right." Mercury shook her head, causing her dangling earrings to flutter a bit; her hair held up back in a sculpted bun with fixative stayed perfectly frozen. "You look good, but how can't you? And a nicely tailored leather bodice fits any occasion, and the pants have a certain aggressive beauty to them."


            Mercury took a sip and looked up to still see Ranma standing above her. Her eyes went to the open chair and her blue lips smirked. "I hope you're not worried about booby traps. The chair is perfectly safe." She lifted the glass to her nose after a slight swirl. "However, I have set a highly endothermic spell on a deadman trigger. It'll go off if you try to incapacitate or bind or even hurt me."


            "That wasn't in your message," Ranma casually noted, her eyes looking at the bar across from her. "Is the Scotch any good here?" she asked as her senses folded out. The damned energy she felt made sense,  Mercury had cast a containing spell and...  then cast another spell which was halted by the first spell.  If the barrier spell were to fail...


            "You do know what endothermic means?"


            Ranma leaned in. "I touch you and that'll set off a spell that'll freeze everything in this room. I didn't think you'd be willing to kill a bunch of random people," she whispered evenly.


            Without looking away from the flickering violet eyes inches away from hers, Mercury reached for her glass. "I didn't say I did. I intend to get through the night without killing anyone." She took a small sip. "However, we'll see how much of a monster you really are. Now please, have a seat. I do recall Jerald mentioned that they have a nice single malt from Islay."


            "You're finally putting that brain to good use," Ranma chuckled as she sat down. "You didn't trust my word? I said I wasn't going to give you to Usagi." Ranma gave a mock pout and then waved down a server different from Jerald and ordered a drink.


            "There's so many ways you could have defeated me without breaking your word," Mercury stated. "And thank you. I realized what I had to do when I realized just what you thought of me."


            Mistress Mercury had expected a lot of reactions from Ranma: something confident and securely, but subtlety, arrogant seemed appropriate enough, maybe a pithy phrase like "Oh really?" or "And that would be?", or even just a raised eye brow. The Mistress did not expect the demoness to bend over, literally holding her sides and start to laugh in a maniacal... no, manic manner.


            Other patrons began to stare at the laughing redhead, who continued until a server holding a small glass and an unopened bottle approached the table and cleared her throat.


            Ranma rapidly pulled herself up fanning her hair around her head. "Sorry, but my friend said something very... funny," she said after failing to find any more suitable word, while the server unsealed the top, poured her a drink and discreetly left the bottle


            Mercury sighed. "I really shouldn't be surprised."


            "You're the one that figured out what I think about you."


            Idly waving her free hand, Mercury nodded. "Yes, you think I'm a poser, a joke. Someone who tries to be strong, to be 'evil' but just can't get it, but right now that works for me. If I were a real danger you'd risk the lives of all these people. I might be bluffing, you might get me before the spell goes off, you might have simply killed me before the meeting with one of your lovely snipers. If you thought I was a real threat, you'd have treated me like one."


            "You're right. This is good," Ranma said taking a small sip. She always made sure to watch her intake, especially tonight.


            "I suppose it's enough that I'm alive," Mercury sighed.


            "It's best to take what pleasures you can get out of life." Ranma put her glass down. "What was so important that you just had to talk with me?"


            "To the point."


            "No, that would be if I stood you up and ambushed you on your way out of here. So please, don't waste the slack I'm giving you," Ranma stated sniffing her drink.


            Mercury kept herself from glaring; the succubus' eyes were closed as she enjoyed the aroma of her beverage, but that was obviously a test, or a statement of how little Ranma was concerned about her, or was the redhead just innocently enjoying her drink, which in and of itself showed how low of a threat she was in the demon's eyes. Mercury stopped that line of thinking.


            That would only drive her spiraling further and further, and she had enough circular thoughts. "It's about Setsuna. I'm worried about her."


            "Concern for your main rival to Usagi's ear? Or jealousy?"


            Mercury closed her eyes and inhaled. She had to tell someone; someone not a minion; someone who could do something. "I think she's a monster."


            "And?" Ranma plainly asked.


            "No, I mean how does she smell to you? Is she human now? What about back in DarkStar's time? What did she feel like then?"


            Ranma lifted up the cut glass and twisted it slightly, causing light to reflect and scatter off the cut faces.

 

             Mercury silently stared as amber colored light played off of Ranma's pale features. The murmuring from the other patrons seemed to grow louder and Mercury found herself concentrating on all the conditions she had placed on the Spell. The idea was straightforward enough, the question was if she had thought of enough contingencies.


            "I suppose... I suppose it's a question of age," Ranma slowly lowered her glass to the polished table. "Setsuna's been around a long time. Maybe as long as my grandmother. In that case, is my nose really worth anything?"


            "Yes, BlackSky was from that time too." Mercury's shoulders lowered. She had studied the records from that era. They had no clues about Pluto. "I thought so. I was hoping that you'd have something more... solid. I'd actually prefer it if her mask had slipped... just a bit." She looked into her glass. "I don't suppose you ever saw anything like that did you?"


            "No, most was when Murdock was messing with her, when she would start to drink," Ranma said, pointedly.


            Mercury rubbed the bridge of her nose.


            "At least you've managed to upset her. Like that stunt you pulled when they broke into your lair," Ranma charitably offered.


            "That's no good. That just means she knows I know! Or at least that I'm getting close."


            Ranma's gaze returned to the wine bottle with a raised eyebrow.


            "Don't patronize me, I'm not being paranoid. We live in a world full of baroque intrigue and dreadfully strange things."


            "It wasn't your ramblings I was noting."


            Mercury sighed and pushed her glass next to her bottle. "I know it sounds insane. Setsuna has been Serenity's right hand from the beginning. If there was something wrong with her then..."


            "It's a good thing your loyalties and ethics have been corrupted into serving the queen's daughter then."


            Mercury tried to parse that statement. "You're saying that if I was serving Queen Serenity I wouldn't dare question Setsuna?"


            "You know the relationship those two had." Ranma took another sip.


            "Yes, the Queen's right hand." Mercury refilled her glass. "That's what has me twisting in knots. If it's all true then... Setsuna... she's been planning this for a very long time."

 

 

            "Why not blame her for the Fall?" Ranma's sarcasm fell when she saw Mercury's expression. "You're not seriously thinking?"


            "That she worked with Beryl?" Mercury gave a bitter laugh. "If I'm right, she could have been the one to introduce Beryl to Metalia, but I doubt that. Such an activity would have been too risky. All she had to do was let the Beryl's movement fester and the opportunity would present itself, and how could such treason fester right under Serenity's nose? "


            Ranma gave Mercury a long gaze. When the blue-haired girl was about to speak the redhead raised her hand to stop her. Finally, after thinking it over a few times Ranma spoke. "Are you suggesting that Setsuna let her Queen's empire be destroyed so she could get Usagi in the present, what... without Serenity around?"


            "Her powers make the Fall an... unusual occurrence."


            "Just because you know a storm is coming, doesn't mean you can stop it."


            Mercury brightened slightly. "I didn't expect fatalism from someone like you."


            "There's a difference between fatalism and pragmatism. From what I know of Serenity, she would have planned for the Fall. Contingencies would have been in place. That's why we're both sitting at this table now."


            "And who would she entrust with an important, no, the most important task?"


            Ranma shook her head. "You really have it bad for Setsuna. You jealous of her too?"


            Mercury looked down at her wine. "She stole my plan."


            Ranma glared. "Last week, I met the head of the oldest active Intelligence Agency in the world, met with the heads of this government, and here I am listening to a teenage girl whine about someone stealing her 'secret evil plans'."


            "We can't all have the patronage of elite organizations."


           Ranma smiled slightly. She had not accompanied Stillwater to that second meeting, Mercury was either playing along, or, more likely, ignorant of Ranma's exact activities. "Anyway... your plan centered around inventing a fake enemy to push the Senshi into accepting your training; which you would then use to slowly turn to your way of thinking." The redhead chuckled. "You're right. Setsuna did steal your idea."


            "And I'm the fake villain," Mercury sighed.


            "To be fair, you were the one that started wearing the evil costume."


            Mercury simply raised an eyebrow.


            "Fine, but you have a point. Their priorities are screwed up. At least this group of Soviet assassins should get them in gear." Ranma stated.


            "Usagi does collect enemies. Huh, so you're saying I'm a distraction?"


            Ranma shook her head and emptied her glass. "No, regaining lost team members should be a priority. It consolidates strength, reduces confusion, and shows your girls that you care about what happens to them. Usagi was right to recover Minako and try to take you out."


            "Yes, it could have ended that night." Mercury's hand clamped down on the edge of the table.


            "And now this Setsuna stuff... there's no way you'd turn yourself in is there? Not even to pretend?"


            Mercury hesitated. "Aside from Usagi proving harder to fool... no. I can't get close to Setsuna."


            "What is it that you think is wrong with her, other than being a devious plotter. Isn't that part of being the guardian to those time gate things?"


            "The Space-Time Door is a prop." Mercury chuckled. "That's the truth. It's a big, ornate, impressive... prop. It was built so Serenity's egg-heads could have something to study. It gave off all the right readings, but that's all it was. An artifact to justify the power Serenity had acquired.


            "It's really quite brilliant. The Door was the highest of Secrets, Second only to the Silver Crystal. This kept the researchers studying the doors from talking with anyone not on the project. Information was controlled, collaboration was contained, their results were guided to the proper conclusion."


            "That Serenity had found or invented some magical artifact that gave her time powers?"


            "And her mages had affirmed that it was safe, accurate, and secure. The rabble ate it as a source of pride and reassurance in their Queen's power."


            "And Serenity's military gains a decisive intelligence edge. No wonder Unification seemed inevitable." Ranma gave a slight nod and allowed herself a second, small, drink.


            "You see my problem?"


            Ranma shrugged. "Not really."


            Mercury narrowed her eyes. "I just told you the greatest secret in the Silver Millennium. The Door is a lie."


            "So? Serenity and Setsuna kept how it really worked a secret. Seems like a good idea."


            Mercury stared. This... this person had outplayed her at ever turn, and yet... "Don't you see? If the Door wasn't the source of the power..."


            Ranma nodded. "That's pretty clever. People wouldn't question a giant magic key if you used it as a weapon and guarded a giant magical door. It makes sense, Serenity didn't have a magical throne, she had her crystal."


            "She didn't start out with the crystal,  she made it around he time she had Usagi." Mercury's hand reached out for her glass. She hesitated and looked at Ranma. It could be that simple. It would have made the research facility on the moon an even better fake. They were studying a powerful artifact, it just was not the one they thought it was.


            "What's wrong now?"


            "Do you have any idea how hard this is for me?"


            Ranma looked over her glass and gave a slight frown.


            Bristling at the demoness, Mercury composed herself. "I know what you want, I know what your goal is."


            Ranma's frown instantly shifted into a playful grin.


            "I told you; I figured out what you thought of me. I also figured out what you wanted. All the things a brood mother could want, what were you missing?"


            Ranma tilted her head a fraction of an inch to the side.


            "Being coy now? Setsuna's not the only one taking advantage of mean-old Mistress Mercury. The princess is looking for someone strong, confident, but also loving and just."


            "And yet... you're having this meeting warning me about Setsuna. So what's so bad about Puu that you'd rather me get my talons into your princess?"


            Mercury folded her hands in front of her on the table. "I know what you'll do to Usagi. Setsuna... it doesn't add up. She doesn't need to be this... "


            "Over intricate plots? Stupid schemes and destinies?" Ranma shrugged. "Seems like a problem you girls have."


            "The key..." Mercury laughed. "Oh yes, why not? Setsuna is the key! And Guardian of the Gate. Past, present, future, all are one in the Gate. She knows where the Old Ones broke through of old, and where They shall break through again. She knows where They have trod earth's fields, and where They still tread them, and why no one can behold Them as They tread." Her morbid grin died when she saw Ranma's thoughtful expression.


            "What? I'm finally no longer a joke?" Mercury glared.


            "Akumi, do you actually know why we're here? Why all of us are up here, instead of some other city?  Why you girls aren't in Tokyo?"


            Mercury looked down. "Yes, things are getting... thin. Setsuna knew it, Orion knew it, I... figured it out, but Usagi wouldn't see. That's why I had to do this! The Senshi wouldn't handle it. Usagi would try to use her crystal... and we'd all die mad and screaming, at best. She got complacent. Every other campaign ended with the same magic rock."


            "You can't expect the same tools and moves to keep working." Ranma frowned.


            "Oh? I thought you were this perfect warrior?"


            "No, I'm good. We're good because we keep training. We keep learning new things, and improving. My mother was real harsh last week when I got back," Ranma said, remembering how she almost cried at her mother's dressing down. It had been just the two of them, but she managed to just whimper a bit with her head in her mother's lap.


            Mercury raised an eyebrow "Really? What did she have to criticize you about?"


            Ranma shrugged. She could tell Mercury part of the story "I got complacent. I assumed that our magical armor was 'good enough'."


            "That's what I was trying to do."


            "No, you were trying to make better Senshi. My mother is trying to better equip us. Key difference."


            "It's still better than the Princess' plans." Mercury sighed. "I know what I've done, I know what I've become. I had to do this because no one else would. They were too shocked, complacent and reactionary; weepy drippy little girls," she spat the last few words out. "I'm not as good as you, but at least I'm trying."


            "I thought you're this way because you were seduced by a brainy lesbian honey pot?" Ranma remarked taking a sip of her Scotch. "But now you realize that the one person you had thought would understand... the one that knew what it took to be a real queen..."


            "And it looks like Setsuna understands too well."


           "It's possible we're on the same side, that she's just making Usagi into a proper queen... but... not if my theory is right. Setsuna's been at this for a long time... longer than your grandmother."

 
            Ranma motioned for Mercury to continue.


            "It's too much... this would have had to have started before Serenity had a daughter, before you, before Unification, before there was even a proper Empire. This is a plan that shows a patience and a level of detail that would be impossible... too many things would change. Too much could go wrong."


            Ranma suppressed rolling her eyes. She almost took pity on the girl, and decided to push a bit more. "Unless you happened to be an immortal guardian of some type of Space-Time thing."


            "Sarcasm aside, you're right."


            "Why tell me? Do you really expect me to help you?" Ranma flexed her fingers.


            "I expect your self interest to take what I have to say into consideration."


            Ranma looked the other woman over as she formulated her statement.. "Oh? Well you presume to know not just what I think of you, but also what I want, no... need." She slowly leaned in her teeth revealed in a wide grin. "Why don't you just give up to me? Have you considered that scenario?"


            Eyes twinkling, Ranma leaned back and sipped her Scotch. "You have the mind, you have the will, just imagine what you could become with my help. Imagine what the Princess could become with our help. Together, we could undercut any influence of Setsuna's..."


            Mercury knew enough to keep eye contact. "And what would this... offer cost me?"


            "Everything."


            "How generous," Mercury glared.


            The demon leaned closer. "How badly do you want to save Usagi? How much do you fear Setsuna? It's easy to wear dark clothes, turn evil, transform your teammates into puppets, but trusting, submitting to someone else. That's hard. Is your pride worth it?"


            "You assume that you can stop Setsuna and that your... demonic interest will save the Princess," Mercury stated, hoping that Ranma's offer did not have the... potential it seemed to at first glance.


          Still showing her teeth, Ranma idly rolled her glass in her hand. "From what you've said, who else could stop Setsuna? You don't have full confidence in your own ability, or else you wouldn't be buying me surprisingly acceptable Scotch. No at the very least, you called me here as insurance. You said it yourself, you'd rather I get Usagi, than Setsuna. So why not help it along?" she asked her voice nearly coming out in a purr.


            Once again Mercury checked the status of the Spell.


            "You want a strong Princess. One that will adapt to this new war. We can make her adapt. You know what she thinks of me."


            "And you get exactly what you want. Even have a prodigal 'daughter' to bring back to Usagi. You have a ready excuse for why I'd be a demon, and of course I'd fully corroborate your story." Mercury scoffed. "There are certain advantages to your species. You'd then use this assassin threat to bring Usagi in even closer, but with me and the others 'back in' her only threats would be external. There wouldn't be a rush; you could take your time, slowly bending her to your way of thinking."


            "Going to accuse me of stealing your ideas too?" Ranma chuckled.


            "No, that fits your own plans. Not going to mention that I could still have Orion, or that I could be even closer to her than I am now?"


            "Why would I mention the obvious?"


            "Do you actually expect me to agree with this?" Mercury wanted to ask if Ranma was being serious or of this was a test, but the firstly it was counterproductive, and secondly... she was not sure which answer would be worse.


            Ranma sighed. "Again, it's all a question of how badly you want to protect Usagi. You were able to turn Minako into something inhuman, would you be willing to do the same for yourself?"


            Mercury looked down. "Are these Combat Cyborgs... are they really that much of a threat?"


            Ranma shrugged. "They're military trained and have spent years as professional assassins. Someone spent a lot of money to hire them. Morgan killed two but..." She lifted her hand up.


            "Yes, your sniper," Mercury frowned. "Usagi hasn't moved. It's been a week since that meeting, what has she done?"


            "Usagi and Setsuna have been training.  They a pretty good defense they have setup, but-" Ranma sighed. "- I offered to have them stay on base, or have some of us help guard them."


            "She's stubborn," Mercury chuckled. "Though at least someone finally shocked her out of complacently."


            "Every time I ride over there, Setsuna's the one taking charge." Ranma paused. "Huh, you might be onto something. I don't see her asleep, much. She's been the big push there."


            "Of course, it's what I would have done," Mercury frowned. A crisis was the best time to slip in your own agenda; people were looking for solutions, for action, and it was the perfect time to bypass the normal means.


            "No wonder you two dislike each other," Ranma laughed.

 
            "This is the real deal? These cyborgs are not pushovers like the Assembly or Alexia?"  Mercury asked.


            "I'm not sure those are pushovers. Though you'd underestimate the likes of Alexia at your peril."

 

            "I've fought plenty of evil seductresses who converted people into their minions.

 

            "Before you became one yourself?" Ranma raised a hand to stop Mercury's protests. "Alexia... even she knew about indirect attack, monster that she was."


            "Turning all those people?"


            "Not exactly," Ranma frowned. "Swears work differently for demons. Alexia's a maternissima."


            "Meaning?"


            "Worst-mother." Ranma said. "Like calling you, subhuman. Wait. it's an adjective. I used it wrong." Ranma frowned. Demonic was proving to be easier than English. Unlike English, it had rules and followed them, but it was yet another language to learn.


            "Here's how it's used. Maternissima Alexia exposuit Filias," Ranma hissed.


            Mercury blinked.


            "The very worst-mother Alexia let her daughters die out in the Wilderness because she was not willing to care for them," Ranma explained with venom.


            "That's a compact verb," Mercury noted.


            "It's where exposure comes from," Ranma explained. "According to the language book, the Romans had a slightly different meaning, but it's still a way to get rid of unwanted children. For succubae it's sending their spawn into battle as cannon fodder, for the Romans it was leaving the kid outside somewhere to –well- die from exposure."


            "That's horrid," Mercury flatly stated.


            "To the Romans it wasn't necessarily a bad thing –cruel bastards they were-, but a brood mother has such power over her spawn that broodlings are only undesirable if the mother screwed up.


            "Alexia would stunt her spawn's development to keep them easier to control, and then she'd send them out to be slaughtered. She literally is the worse insult our kind can come up with," Ranma shivered.


            "Is this common?" Mercury was intrigued that some things could still disturb the demon.


            "No self respecting brood mother would do it. Some of the less reputable Houses do it, but... it's ghastly. It's a kind of mental violation that's... it's like turning your own children into ghouls. Alexia was impatient. She could have groomed her spawn and let them grow. Then she would have had a skilled, loving army."


            Mercury raised an eyebrow. Ranma's own family expansion was left unsaid.


            Ranma took a sip. "And the Assembly? They had pretty good intelligence gathering and could use it to setup a rather good ambush.


            "What they couldn't do was finish the job. They had me blown apart, should have had their 'elite' sweep in and finish me off. Instead, they got greedy, figured they could give WIC a black eye too. Gave me time to reform."


            "You beat them at every turn."


            "My spawn, the Company, and myself beat them," Ranma stressed. "And that wasn't without cost. Training helps too."


            "That's what I was trying to tell them," Mercury sighed.


            "We'll see. A good fight will test Usagi and you."


            "Like that cult in the toy store?" Once again, Mercury reached out for her glass.


            Ranma nodded.

            "We never did figure out exactly how those Path of the Will losers got that book, how they figured out the Princess was up here." Mercury took a pull from her glass and studied the crimson fluid. "I'm guessing you don't know who hired these cyborgs either."


            "Going to blame Setsuna?"


            "She'd blame Murdock."


            "And how is he doing?"


            "Absent," Mercury smirked. "I don't think his bosses like him very much either."


            "Ah, he is working for someone?" Ranma raised an eyebrow.


            "Someone that's his own boss wouldn't be so afraid of failure."


            "Ah, he's failed?"


            Mercury curled her gloved-fingers and looked at the silken fist. "Let's be honest, I know I'm just a backup plan." She frowned. "No I'm the booby-prize of a backup plan, and that plan went to hell when Minako figured out my charade. So, what does Murdock have left?"


            "A jilted demoness with a growing brood and an... unconventional team of evil Pattern Silvers?" Ranma allowed.


            "Being generous?"


            "Well, you don't cackle insanely, but you do have an ice skirt..."


            "Lovely," Mercury frowned "There's plenty of threats to Usagi."


            "Yourself included," Ranma reminded.


            Mercury gave a dismissive hand-wave. "I'm not a critical one. I'm just an emotional threat to her."


            "Now, now," Ranma reached out to pat Mercury's hand. Chuckling, she slowly withdrew her hand. The barrier had only trembled at bit. "Emotional damage is the best way to deal with her. Physical damage just gets her mad."


            Her hand twitching nervously, Mercury pulled it off the table. "You're giving me villain advice?"


            "You kept your nerve." Ranma lifted her glass and paused to enjoy the aroma. Without taking a sip, she put it down and stared at Mercury. "First thing, don't think of yourself as a villain."


            "I am trying to save her," Mercury glared.


            "Big deal," Ranma shrugged. "You're still treating it as a game. One where you play the dark Mistress and where Usagi plays the goody-goody princess. You know how that ends."


            "You're all in leather, like some kind of biker babe."


            Ranma raised an eyebrow. "There's a reason motorcyclists like boots and leather."


            Mercury sighed. "It's okay for you to have fun costumes but not me?"


            "Huh? I didn't mention clothes. Wear whatever you want. It's how you see yourself that counts. People that think they're evil are either pathetic posers or pathetic posers with some power. No one who's really nasty thinks 'I'm being evil right now'. Monsters are just monsters."


            "In other words: be evil but don't gloat about it?"


            The redhead gave a warm smile. "Just be yourself."


            Mercury repressed a sigh and reached for her glass. "Any other words of wisdom?"


            "Don't act like a magical girl, even an evil magical girl.  Usagi is better at the magical girl game than you are. If you play by her terms, in the fight she understands it won't matter how clever your plans are.  The turned evil magical girl going up against the chosen team leader can only end one way."


            "And the price for this advice?"


            "If you're less of a mess, then you'll be less of a problem to me." Ranma shrugged. "You won't be driven to do something... rash."


            "This Setsuna thing's driven me to seek out your help."


            "As long as you don't do anything stupid," Ranma eyed the coifed evening-dress clad girl. "Or 'evil'. Nothing that would make you cackle maniacally."


            "What's wrong with that? You did it when you first sat down." Mercury glared.


            "We're starting with baby steps here. A small satisfied smile on a job well done is a good start."


            "I suppose a modicum of dignity is more fitting my style," Mercury allowed.


            "That's the idea. Don't pigeon-hole yourself. So, you dress darkly and were turned into a lesbian and perform unethical experiments on your teammates, that doesn't mean the rest of you has to be a joke."


            "Glad, you have that much confidence in me."


            "What have you done? You beat the Senshi a couple times, they beat you once, you turned Minako, and you helped me fight the Assembly."


            "I'm getting to the bottom of Setsuna's secrets."


            "Sounds like a paranoid mess."


            Mercury raised an eyebrow.


            "Fine, that doesn't mean it's not true. This is Setsuna, but do you think you have a chance against her?"


            "You know... you're a real jerk," Mercury stated.


            "That's what I like about you," Ranma chuckled.


            "I'm perceptive?"


            "You're not family, you're not Company, you're not a friend, you're not even a diplomat or some other bigwig." Ranma smiled. "I don't have to be nice or polite to you. It's very refreshing."


            Mercury sighed. "Well, you are one of the few people I deal with that's not a servant or a lover."


            "Or a golden golem thing," Ranma smirked as she stood up. "You know how to contact me.


            "You're just leaving?"


            Ranma picked up the bottle of Scotch and studied the label. "Unless you've got something important to say." She leaned over the table. "Sure you're not interested in my offer?"


            Pulling back and standing up, Mercury maintained her composure. "As... elegant as your proposal is. I must decline it." She smiled thinly at the bottle the demon held. "Keep the Scotch."


            "Thanks. So, gonna gamble big then," Ranma shook her head and started to walk out of the bar. "Well, you're betting I'll stop Setsuna if you can't." The redhead smiled thinly when she smelled Mercury following her out.


            Once out in the rich night air, Ranma turned around and watched Mercury stand by the doorway. The succubus could just barely hear the engine of a small UAV. A few other patrons walked in and out of the bar some making their way to the tables put out front. "Getting cocky. I could have one of my girls watching you."


            "You could have taken me out in the bar," Mercury shrugged. "There's still enough people around. Just remember what I warned out about, please."


             "I will," Ranma promised, as she made a note to follow up the Company's future investigation and surveillance of the bar. She then turned and walked to her waiting ride.


            Despite herself Mercury laughed. The redhead was right. Dressed as she did, she looked completely natural walking up to a large violet, black and chrome motorcycle. She stuffed the bottle in a saddlebag and smoothed her hair back before putting on a full-face black helmet.


            Slipping on a pair of gloves, Ranma turned and chuckled to herself. Seemingly unaware, Mercury was a few strides closer to her. Ranma flipped up her visor. "It's a VRSC Night Rod, Harley Davidson."


            Mercury rubbed her chin. "It fits you," she said trying not to let on that she could not tell the difference between a Harley and Honda.


           "That's what Bob said, I thought it was a bit big... at first." Ranma said as she ran a hand down one of the handlebars.


            "Why'd you get it?"


            Ranma swung a leg over the bike. "My sister got it for me," she said as she eased into the saddle and turned the ignition. The engine turned over and she nearly purred to match the motor's rumbling. Flipping her visor down, she gave a wave to Mercury before darting into traffic.


            Mercury watched the bike race away and sighed. One had to take one's allies as they came.


           

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

 


            "The demon's back," Shest noted as she recorded the time and approach route.


            "About every other day," Arisha noted looking over the shorter woman's shoulder.


            "Not a standard time. The other mercenaries keep a pretty good rotation of coverage," Shest shrugged. "But it's not protective. We could easily get in."


            "Of course," Arisha chuckled walking over to an end table and inspected a box of chocolates Sem had indulged in. "But how easily could we get out?"


            "Is that why Galina's been holding us back?"


            "There are safer places to put our little Zaika. Clearly, she knows who we are."


            "They wanted us to know." Shest frowned. The Papists were fair warriors, but even more clever spies. To her, that was more repellant than their antiquated... theology. There was more than a bit of State Security hiding behind the broad smiles of the priests that had taken them, those years ago.


            Arisha sliced open a confection and frowned, nougat. "They assumed we would be watching the Papal Nuncio; so they turned the meeting into a statement."


           Wearing a robe Vosem had stepped out of the suite's shower, "They know what we are. They even have our bodies, and this is their slothful reaction?" The short-haired cyborg grumbled, as she walked to her suitcase.


            "You spent the day at the airport. Did you see any increased activity?" Arisha blandly asked.


            "No, but what does that matter?" Vosem grumbled as she slipped out of the robe and slipped onto a bodysuit. "There are crates, there are men. You don't need to read my report. Just a calculator."


            "Oh?"


            "If I were them, I'd always ship a full load, even with boxes full of sand. And extra boxes with sand, they're rich."


            "And when more capacity is required, they can bring it in without changing the volume," Arisha noted as she tried another chocolate. "You do know why the crates are likely to be pointless right?"


            Vosem gave a measured look. "They have vehicles. Transports and helicopters come and go. Much could be moved in those. Their base needs provisions. There are plenty of ways to hide something. You can ask Galina when she gets back with the others. I'm sure she'll have a nice list of vehicles and crates too."


            She straightened out her grey and red garment. "Of course much can be said about their troops. A female soldier could be human, or something else."


            Arisha nodded. "They are a species designed for infiltration."


            "They are also confident. Both the demons and their mercenary masters. So, they could take things the easy way."


            "But so far they have not?"


            Shest frowned. "So, why have they sat on their hands?"


            "You assume that since you don't see it, that they're not moving against us?" Vosem harshly asked. "They wiped out a team without a sweat. Before they were told what we were. Svetlana and Ivanova underestimated them."

 
            "You see a greater challenge?"


            Vosem chuckled. "We know how the Company works. WIC is in the 'business' of fighting the unknown, of killing monsters. They seem to be rather good at it."


            Arisha savored the candy. "Are you saying you were spotted, then?"


            "If I was, they were clever enough to not let on." Vosem paused. "If so, I had to have escaped their tail."


            "Because we're happily chatting and enjoying Sem's generosity?" Arisha handed the box over to Vosem.


            "Yes, there's no reason for them to let us live. We're a threat to their little Princess."


            "If they wanted Zaika dead, we would be out of luck." Shest nodded.


            "Then why are they doing such a shoddy job of protecting her?" Arisha icily asked.


            "It's either better protection than we think or the Princess is grossly overconfident," Vosem sated chewing on a caramel.


            Shest considered Arisha's words earlier. "Or it's a trap."


            Arisha smirked. "Relations do seem...strained between these magical girls and the Company. They seem more than willing to use WIC's resources when they need some backup or a nice place to shower but..."


            "Like the Soviet?" Vosem whimsically asked. "Oh yes, all members were equal, after all class was what counted not nationality, but there were the more important nations."


            "That's what happens when the Politburo is staffed with counter-revolutionary hacks more concerned with race and personal power than the true strides of humanity." Arisha frowned and slowly closed her mouth. "History aside, are these girls deluded? The older one, Meiou seems to be quite the realist."


            "Not enough to force them to try to get us or even adopt a decent defensive position," Shest noted. "It's like they're obligingly waiting for us to make the first move."


            "Their internal rift could be a factor."


            "The rogue girl has maintained a low profile. Since the night when we attacked after the girls attacked her, she has done nothing. You would think we would be the bigger threat, at least after the meeting with the priest," Shest said.


            "So, what have they been doing this last week?"


            "Training, planning, building their defenses, and... going to school," Arisha sighed. "It's mocking how unserious this seems."


            "And yet WIC poses enough of a risk to keep us from sweeping them away?" Vosem asked as she pulled out another chocolate.


            Shest got up. "They're not treating us as a joke. They know exactly what we are." She reached out and snatched an orange crème. "They're using the situation. They know we can get to Zaika, but that..."


            "That's a fitting trap. As long as they're more concerned about killing us than saving the Princess," Vosem noted.


            "Perhaps they don't think she needs saving?" Arisha chuckled.


            "Letting her die? That depends on what value she has to them," Shest asked.


            "Or they don't think we'll kill her," Vosem smirked. "They know more about the Princess than we do."


            "In the past, she has proven rather... resilient," Shest allowed.


            "Against whom?" Arisha put the box of chocolates down. "You've seen how she is. She's led around by Meiou. She refuses help. She's stubborn, overconfident, and naive."


            "It's like she expects the universe to accommodate her," Vosem snidely said.


            Arisha critically looked over the other woman. "Then our course is clear. We are the best suited to show little Zaika what the universe is... unkind to foolish dreams."

 

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.

 

Thanks to Stratagemini for the "Demonic" names for the various features and terms. His advice and his extensive knowledge of Latin was an integral part of doing this, especially in finding real Latin words and adapting them to the definitions, tenses, and other terms to make up the Demonic variant.

 

Revision Notes:   Well, that's Betrayed Consequences.  Thanks to everyone who read and commented.  We're starting to see Ranma (and Eve and Usagi and so on...)  grow into this situation.  Though a lot of this (especially with the combat cyborgs) is setting the stage for the third part "Raising Trouble". 

 

And with that, and the Battle of Ottawa, we'll have caught up to Blood Debts.   And from there the new stuff.   Such as Dame BlackStone centered short stories like:  "Our Sister, the Idiot" "Dreamland", and "Family Business".  That last one is also part of showing more of the succubus homeplane in general and Silvana in specific.  Something that will also be a major part of the post Blood Debts main story)