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 4:  Capital Offense

Chapter 5: Backup

Formerly:  Reserve and Release Part 2i

 

 


            The redheaded demoness rode in a Canadian Army Griffon helicopter. As she listed in on her radio, her grip on the hang-strap above her tightened. "Oh, that sneaky spook!" Ranma shouted, feeling a chill in her stomach.


            Major Sifton of JTF2 watched her lips. The engine noise from the helicopter garbled most of her words. Normally, the headset she wore would transmit straight to his earpiece but she was currently on a different channel.


            "Which one?" Eve asked with an arched eyebrow.


            "Both of them, Sis!" Ranma replied to Eve. "Keep an eye on Puu."


            Sifton leaned forward and tapped her shoulder, in the cramped confines of the Griffon it was not a far move. "Say again!" he yelled while tapping his ear.


            "Of course she knows more than the Princess," Ranma rolled her eyes. She then caught Sifton's gaze and paused. "Gotta go." She switched channels on her headset.


            "Our paranoid friend in the black suit may be right," Ranma said over the local JTF2 network.


            The helicopter banked as it followed the Rideau Canal. Sifton felt his stomach fall out. "Beachhead? Confirmation?"


            Ranma nodded. "Someone on the eldritch side contacted one of our assets. It seems even the local creepy-crawlies are against this little invasion."


            "Shit." A second later Sifton's thoughts reorganized. "Intel?"


            The demon nodded again. "It's a summoning. "


            "Wait. I'm putting us on the general channel." Sifton switched over to where the whole team could hear. "This is the Major. We've got a Beachhead. Repeat Beachhead. Miss Saotome has additional info."


            "Cutting it a bit close, Sir," a voice said from one of the other helicopters.


            Ranma's eyes went out at the houses that passed below them. They were about to hit the city proper. "Yeah, I'll cut to the chase. These two clowns broke into your facility, rang the dinner bell, broke your jammer, and now you've got the many-angled ones tumbling in looking for god-knows-what."


            Silence stretched over the channel.


            The spike in controlled anger hit the succubus in a heavy wave. The strong undercurrent of bloody minded vengeance warmed her heart


            "They're 'porting in somehow. Priority is sealing the door." Sifton's mind flashed to the list of Options Gagnon had prepared for this exact scenario.


            "Scanner results? Corporal Green report," he then asked after keying into the channel his Scanner crew used.


            "Sir, we've got a smear," Lily Green said. "It hasn't resolved but.... it's shining like a beacon."


            "We're too far out. Pattern won't get clearer until we close in. That is if it's something we know." Ranma admitted. "But that don't matter you've already got to have troops fighting these things."


            "Sir, Ma'am," Lieutenant La Tour's voice cut in. "We've got contact reports on floors six, ten, and the basement. Something's fighting our men in at least three distinct locations. We're trying to contact the officer in charge of the quarantine for a situation report."


            "Right, we'll make contact with the forces and bring in our heavy weapons. La Tour contact the museum crew I need them crossing the canal now." Sifton looked to Ranma. The dull red gem at the center of her Kevlar-sheathed chest bow bounced with the helicopter's rough flight.


            The succubus nodded.


            "We've got three jamming units. Delta and Gamma will protect our ground stations. Miss Saotome's got the mobile model. Alpha and Beta will go with her and slam the door shut."


            "I can also dump more power into mine, boost the range but not for long," Ranma added. Her ears tingled as the gleaming black gems of her capacitor earrings throbbed.


            "Sir!" La Tour said. "I've got a Lieutenant Borgne on the line."


            "Lieutenant?" Sifton's eyes widened.
            He had expected at least a fellow Major, and that was presuming that one of the generals in the building had not decided to command from the front.


            Ranma got his glance and shrugged.


            "Put him on." The radio channel chirped. "This is Major Sifton Joint Task Force Two. What's the situation Borgne?"


            "Bad," a man with a Quebecois accent smoothly replied. "We've managed to scrounge up extra ammo and find men but not fast enough."


            "Right, we're ten out. Headed straight to your location. Can you hold?"


            Borgne chuckled. "Bypassing second line, eh? Yes, we shall endure."


            "Where's your CO?"


            "Captain got his face burned off... Sir," Borgne said with faux joviality. "Siboire de crisse, those two freaks were bad enough but then... hosti de tabanaque de calisse those fucking squids with incendiaries started tumbling through the walls."


            The officer's voice grew distant as his attention diverted. "Ostie! Fankie secure that door!"


            Borgne's attention returned. "Sorry Sir, but we've got a fucking alien invasion on our hands." He chuckled.


            A tiny smile touched her lips; Ranma flexed her hands. "What're you up against? You said squids? Incendiaries?"


            "Yes. Like white phosphorus grenades but mixed with some armor piercing rounds. Clusters of missiles too. There's also rumors of something... amorphous in the basement,"


            "How fast? How big? How many?" She asked looking up. To the north smoke billowed out of the National Defense Headquarter building. She could see little fires sparking in some of the broken windows.


            "Quick."


            "As bad as the cyborg?"

            "The what?"


            Ranma frowned for a second. Then shrugged. Secretly was out the window for now. Borgne was already in it up to his neck. "The team that broke in. It was a super-powered cyborg and a cultist assassin."


            Borgne started to snort but then made a thoughtful noise.


            "Alien Invasion, LT," Sifton reminded. "Are the squids as fast as the cyborg?" the Albertan officer asked.


            "No. We can kill them. As for how big... I've seen Them up to the size of dogs. When the Captain went to the Sixth Floor to find General Fochs, he reported a big red one the size of a 'fridge. Only got two men back from that."


            "No more recon, you hold until we get there," Sifton ordered.


            This time Borgne's Gallic snort was able to fully execute. "Yes, Sir. Good idea Sir. As for how many? A platoon or three... maybe. Hard to tell, they're just probing us. They've definitely got a reserve force. No breakout attempt yet. Size is bad. One patrol said they saw something fill a whole hallway, black goo or something. Barely got out."


            Ranma leaned to the side and got a better look at the target. A chill ran through her. The column of smoke had broken up into several distinct plumes. The streets adjacent to the Pearkes building were empty. The Laurier Avenue bridge to the south and the Mackenzie King Bridge to the north had been closed off by a cordon of military trucks. Nicholas Street to the building's east was similarly blocked off.


            The west side of the building butted against the Rideau canal. Ranma could make out the machine gun positions that had been put on the far side and spotted the police boats sitting beyond the bridges.


            A block or two beyond the military positions, every intersection glittered with the flashing lights of police roadblocks. In between, the roads were largely empty save for the few cars that had been left when the perimeter went up. However the roads were still busy with military traffic.


            Ranma spotted City Hall. Just across the canal and a bit to the south. It was within the police cordon. Several helicopters were taking off and landing at the green parkland adjacent to the complex.


            The demoness concentrated, her horns tingled. There was a gnawing anxiety that was like the weak spot in that swampy field, but magnified and throbbing. They had broken through here.


            The city hummed with life, with nervous apprehension. However, inside the quarantine zone fear and panic was welling up.


           Sifton looked to Ranma. "Miss Saotome?" In addition to a thousand yard-stare, he felt that she looked eager, hungry.


            The demoness nodded. "It is a Beachhead Scenario. We didn't expect them to take such a high profile location but they've hit your command structure. Dunno how many they got, depends on how many evac'd at the start and if the Squids are hunting anyone with stars on their shoulders." Ranma closed her eyes. She could feel the wavering, wobbling pull of the rift. A soft spot had torn loose in the world, and it preyed on her mind.


            "Right now command structure is gutted since we can't get in touch with any of 'em," Sifton said.


            "Have we gotten anyone else inside?" Sifton repeated. "The good LT could use some more support."


            "Plenty. People can still call out." La Tour said, somewhat cross. "But Borgne's the biggest group with anything more than their sidearms," she added.


            Borgne noted the strange woman's use of the phrase "your command," she definitely had a foreign accent. Korean or Japanese if he had to guess. Though this was JTF2. "Sir... Ma'am I'm just relieved someone sounds like they know what's going on."


            "Do we know what Pattern this is?" Ranma asked.


            "Yes Ma'am. Well sort of," Corporal Lilly Green responded. "Our Wasserfall scanner's jumping up and down. We're getting a big smear of low level readings and several higher spikes. But it keeps fuzzing out. Worse, it can't decide between Pattern O and Pattern... K. What the hell's a Pattern K?"


            "I don't know..." Ranma exhaled. "I didn't think that one was assigned."


            Sifton noted the trepedation in cross the demon's face. "Well Pattern O are squid monsters aren't they?"


            Regaining her composure, the demoness nodded. "Yes. I don't think the Company's seen a live one. Mostly from archaeological digs, preserved corpses."


            "Looks like you folks will get get plenty more to study," Sifton stated.


            "Patterns? You lot know what these things are?"


            "Oh no Lieutenant, you know far more about this enemy than us," Rama assured.


            "That is not comforting."


            "We're bringing bigger guns," Sifton added.


            "Ah there's that welcome West Canadian spirit." Borgne's mock amusement suddenly stopped. "Some more advice. Don't let Them take you. Whatever happens don't let Them take you"

 

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

 


            Just north of the National Defence building was the Ottawa convention center. The facility had four floors of spacious offices, meeting halls, ballrooms, banquet halls, and theater space. It also had a two story underground parking facility.


            Pulling Mal behind her, Shest slipped through a concrete wall and stopped in front of a parked car. She exhaled. Passing beneath the street had taken some time. Fortunately Mackenzie King Bridge was elevated when it ran between the convention center and the National Defence building. That gave her several "air pockets" where she could stop and get her bearings.


            Mal looked around the low-ceilinged cavernous room. Other than a few scattered vehicles, they were alone. He looked up at a pillar. A sign declared: Level B, Lot 4.


            Shest straightened her shoulders. She checked to ensue she still had the core. "Come on," she said after glancing at Mal.


            The brutish man cocked his head. He could feel the pull to the South. There was the growing hole. There was also... She had arrived. Mal frowned. "Yes, it's definitely time to get out of here."


            After holstering his gun, Mal shrugged his shoulders. The two ran down a row of parking spaces and around a corner. A white panel van sat the third spot from the end in Lot 3. Signs on either side proclaimed it to be part of Tawil Sisters Cleaning Service.


            Fishing out a set of keys, Mal unlocked the back door. Shest followed and closed it behind her. Once again, she checked the haversack containing the jammer core before pulling sweater over her armored bodysuit. She pulled on a pair of sweatpants and without looking back at Mal climbed to the front seat.


            The haversack went down on the floor between the driver's seat and the passenger seat. She sat down and turned on the ignition. The van's engine turned over, and she put it into gear.


            Mal de Veste climbed up to the front when the van came to the parking garage's exit. Giving a vague smile, he had slipped off his coat and tie and pulled a baggy green boiler-suit on over his shirt and pants. His sun glasses came off and he blinked at the dark tunnel. He slipped on a black ballcap. The security gate to the garage's exit was still open. Though a red and white bar was lowered across the exit lane, as expected.


            Shest glanced over. Mal had brought his briefcase and was stuffing it into a canvas duffle bag that was loaded with various supplies. It already contained his suit coat, tie, and the rifle he stole. He then concealed his gun amid the junk in the open glove box. She drove up to the pay-station and slipped her ticket and put a few dollar coins into the slot.


            The white and red bar went up; Mal nodded. Before the mission, they had made sure that the pay-station was automated. He leaned out and looked both ways; the road in front of them was part of an underground tunnel that ran for most of the block.


             There was some traffic on Daly Avenue, but he could see police cars on the intersection with Colonel By drive to the east and Nicholas Street to the west.


            Shest swore. "We should have gone to the Beta."


            Mal shrugged. "Okay, let's do that." Leaving the van, he grabbed his gun and duffle bag. He went to the back and opened the doors.


            Exiting the van herself, the cyborg raised an eyebrow. "What about the vehicle?" she asked as Mall rooted around in his duffle bag.


            "Scuttle it," Mal said as he tossed her an explosive charge.


            Shest eyed the white vehicle. Left there, it would block the exit. On fire, it would make for an obvious distraction. It would also mark their egress point. She swore, popped the hood, set the timer on the charge, and placed it.


            Mal had already crossed the street and stood in the shadows of the tunnel. "This way."


            "Into the roadblock?" Shest asked, as she walked down the tunnel.


            "Before that," he pointed to an door lane to the right side just before the tunnel ended. A painted sign said: "Deliveries Only. Restricted Access. Westin Ottawa."


            Shest nodded, a hotel gave them options. She looked ahead, there were not just police cars at the intersection. A couple military vehicles had also advanced to the point.


            Mal shrugged. "If they stop us go with the cover story, if-"


            "If they don't buy it go to plan B." Shest sighed. They would not be able to stop her, but it would delay things.


            Shest got them through the door and they went down the back corridors of the hotel. After heading north for a hundred meters, they reached a flight of stairs. There on the second level they found a bridge that arched over the
east-west Rideau Street that connected the hotel with the Freiman Mall.


            A small crowd had gathered on the bridge. Most of them faced the west where they watched military vehicles close down the various streets crossing the canal. Mal spared a glance as the two briskly walked across. Both heard the fleet of helicopters that were flying above them.


            "They're really throwing their all into this," Shest said.


           Looking off to the West, Mal noted a road that had been cleared of traffic. Seeing what was traveling down the road, he gave her a bemused smile.


            Shest eyed him but held her tongue. They entered the mall. It was pandemonium as confused shoppers and staff rushed about. Store guards talked with police. The PA system cut in and announced that the mall was being closed and for everyone to leave out the
north George Street exits.


           "Quarantines are a lovely thing." Mal smiled as they used a fire escape to cut ahead of the crowd and use a side door.


            Stopping to wait for an opening in the traffic, they crossed the road and found a side lot for the Ottawa School of Art.


            A small black sedan had signs for Umr Courier Services on either door. Shest unlocked the car and got in. Silently, she turned the ignition and waited for Mal to stow his gun between the center console and his seat. He looked back and up at the smoke rising from the National Defence building. The fraying, draining pull from the building had increased.


            Mal's eyes went to the glove compartment. "Not going to call?"


            "We're still in the city. Job's not done."


            He made a thoughtful grunt. "Hell of a job."


            The cyborg snorted, put the car in gear, and started driving east. Once they hit King Edward Avenue she went took it north and crossed the Ottawa River, leaving the city.

 

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

 


            Lieutenant Borgne tilted his head when he heard the helicopters. Long-limbed with sharp features, the Quebecois officer had a thin dark moustache, a hawkish nose and deep chestnut eyes. The helicopters were much closer and in larger numbers than the last few batches of "reinforcements". Puffing on his cigarette, he nodded to Corporal Peck and Private Simone, the two soldiers then crossed the lobby using various pillars as bits of cover. Furniture had been broken and scattered. Spent casings sparkled on the tile and bunched up bits of carpeting.


            He allowed a slight smile and inhaled some acrid smoke. It was all hardly within regulations, but there was not much time. And he supposed that some allowances could be made for the Apocalypse.


             The officer stepped around a bend and noted the area where the wounded had been staged. It had been ten minutes since the last ambulance run. Fortunately, they had dropped off supplies for the medics he had dragooned.


            Turning back to the elevator bank, Borgne went to a crouch. Here the bulk of his men had taken positions. All the elevators but one had been wedged open with chairs that had been dragged in. The remaining elevator was held by a squad and had been sent up to retrieve the odd group of stragglers that had missed the initial evacuation. However, its use had all but stopped off after the Captain's failed attempt to retrieve General Fochs.


            Beyond the elevators, a barricade had been thrown up. It was made from tables, concrete planters, stone and metal facing from the walls and the pillars. Notably, there was nothing flammable in the pile.


            The burn marks on the walls and the one chair still aflame were explanation enough. And yet, his men were not behind the barricade, not directly. The splashes and splatters of dried blood around the barricade showed the reasoning behind that. Instead the men were further back and used the wall itself as cover.


            Past the elevators, opposite the barricade, was a set of double doors that had been wedged open. On the other side was a set of stairs. Smoke still welled up from the steps and most of Borgne's men kept their rifles trained on the stairs leading to the basement. The remainder watched the ceiling, floors, and walls.


            A cloying, squirming pressure gripped his chest. "Attention!" he briskly ordered. It was different than the prickly dread that came hand in hand with an attack of Them. If anything it was more like the soothing warmth that came from his cigarettes.


            "Sir, JTF2's here!" Peck shouted as he and Simone ran across the lobby.


            Borgne backed away from the barricade. He turned and stood. The cigarette bobbed at his lips. That western Major was correct. Their guns were bigger. They were definitely larger than the 5.56mm rifles his men were using.


            They looked like refurbished C2A1s that had underslung grenade launchers added. The troopers were loaded down with boxy 7.62×51mm magazines and pouches full of 40mm grenades. Additionally, there was a couple teams with belt-fed C9 machine guns.


            Their shoulder patches gave a twinge of familiarity: elongated red arrowheads consisted of CANADA running vertically topped with JTF2. However, what caused Borgne's cigarette to fall almost fall from his lips were the other heavy weapons. The rocket tubes slung over a couple JTF2 soldier's were one thing. The Carl Gustav recoilless rifle was another.


            The weapon fired an 84 mm by 246 mm shell, nearly three and a half inches in diameter. Borgne noticed the loader/ammunition carrier of the group. The man was doubtlessly weighted down with the massive 3 kg shells. There was even another Gallic-looking fellow who had the bulging satchels of a demolitions man.


            It was overkill. Borgne smiled. "Lovely, lovely! Finally someone took my calls seriously."


            "Naturalment, I'm Lieutenant La Tour. Major Sifton gives his regards," a smooth, feminine voice replied. "MacDowell, have your team reinforce the barricade," Lieutenant La Tour ordered. "We'll keep the quarantine here before we move in with Saotome."


            La Tour frowned at the cigarette dangling on Borgne's lips. He sighed, pinched the end off, and stuffed it into the vest pouch next to the pack with the rest.


            He smiled and gave a Gallic shrug to La Tour and her companion. So Apocalypse or no, it was still a no-smoking zone, Borgne thought to himself. "Ah. Canada."

            "Ma'am." Sergeant Billy MacDowell nodded. "Jones, Bishop get the Carl into position. Rich! Get up here with your sack-of-boom. I want options in case we need to blast through these bastards."


            Corporal Richard Bonhomme nodded and duck-walked over to MacDowell. He had already taken out a folded section of blueprints and was frowning over it.


            "Tahnee get that MG up. Mind the back blast Jones!" MacDowel added in a shout.


            Borgne studied the woman who stood next to La Tour. Her uniform was as different shade of grey-green and had a skirt-like ring of pleated armor that hung below her vest and chest rig. There was also a big stiff bow of some kind on her chest centered with a dull red gem; a matching bow stuck out behind her.


            The two women stood in contrast. One had rich mocha skin while the other had an unnaturally pale pallor. La Tour's straight glossy black hair was cut into a very short bob while the other woman had a wild, wavy crimson mane. Bright brown eyes were opposed to deep, deep violet ones. La Tour had a rifle, a side arm, a combat knife, and several grenades. The other woman... simply had a massive bright steel handgun.


            Borgne's smile grew and he extended his hand.


            "It was getting quite bad here," he said, noticing that some of his men were pulling back, having been relieved by the JTF2 troops. "We almost felt alone. Out at the pointy-end."


            Both women looked at it and the warm pressure spiked against his chest.


            La Tour's hand darted out taking Borgne's hand before the redhead could. "Never. We're bringing everything we can into this." Her eyes narrowed slightly as she glanced at her diminutive companion.


            "And who might you be? Miss Saotome I presume?" Borgne asked. She was probably the Asian woman he had heard on the radio. Though her features were not quite right. The bone-china white complexion was only part of it. Her jaw line was a just too sharp and her eyes were a bit off. He kept looking away, looking to La Tour.


            "Why yes," Ranma smiled. She stepped to the side and looked to the barricade.. "Your men have held well."


            The corners of Borgne's lips curled with amusement. Despite her diminutive size the redhead had a rich contralto voice. He idly wondered if she sung. La Tour's own higher register would be rather complementary, if the two were to do a duet.


            Ranma sniffed the air and glanced at La Tour. "You should detail a team to watch the wounded. Just in case."


            La Tour glared at the redhead for half a second. The redhead briefly glanced at her then back to Borgne and the other soldiers. La Tour exhaled and nodded. "Good idea. I'll make the assignment."


            Borgne raised an eyebrow. "Uh, right. I'm just glad we've got some real firepower here."


            Ranma tilted her head. "Full power to the jammer but... I don't know." Her earrings flashed and sparkled. She was reluctant to push it much further. Her shoulders slumped. Her stomach shuddered and a headache fluttered in and out of existence. Being this close to the "rift" was starting to get to her.


             "Yeah, they're fighting it; they're still active. I need to get closer. Hell, we might have to smash their counter-jamming equipment." The redhead's lips separated flashing shiny, pointed teeth.


            "Quarantine protocols," La Tour stiffly said. "Right, it couldn't be that easy to close the door, but now they know we're here."


            Pointing back to the elevators with his rifle, Borgne raised an eyebrow. "Look at the ichor, they already know we're here."


            Ranma stepped back forward and resumed her observing. She could see some charred and burst tentacles. They reminded her of overcooked sausages wrapped in blackened tinfoil. Her eyes scanned quickly but hungrily. That warm pressure flowed over Borgne again.


            Borgne noted that despite the heavy armor and boots she was light on her feet and walked with a nimble bounce. "And what's your role here?"


            "Moi?" the redhead leaned forward. A slim hand with long, long fingers darted forward and snaked a cigarette out of Borgne's pocket. She held it up. Flames sparked on the tip and the cigarette caught aflame.


            "I'm just a contractor." The cigarette tumbled between her fingers and she offered the filter end just in front of the officer's lips. She smiled warmly. "Good work Lieutenant."


             La Tour observed the exchange, and shrugged. She tapped her radio. "Sir, we've met Borgne. He's holding. Saotome is active. No Sir... I mean her Jammer is active. Yes, it's being opposed."


            Borgne's men stopped. Corporal Peck blinked. Getting backup from special forces troops was expected, but the short redhead was something different.


            "If it's opposed, that probably means they know we're here," Ranma said into her headset as her horns popped out. She flexed her neck. "Ah, much better." Her eyes unfocused for a second as she looked down at, through, the floor between the elevators.


            La Tour swore.


            Borgne stared. Aliens, cyborgs, contractors, demons... sure why not. He turned back to the barricade. "Break's over men. Peck! Get you ass in gear. Simone put some distance between you and the gent with the rocket tube. Frankie snag some grenades from these nice men if you will."


            Ranma's eyes refocused and her hands flexed. A lazy smile crossed her lips. With her horns out everything was much clearer. She could feel the enemy, or at least sense a churning mass. It was centered around the sucking tear that dominated the sub basement. They were on the move.


            "Yeah. They noticed." The redhead chuckled as her tail snaked into existence. The fins unfurled. "Someone kept a reserve force," she added in a sing-song voice.


            Sergeant MacDowell's eyes narrowed. "Load Jones with anti-personnel zero-range, keep a HEDP on ready! Everyone mind the back-blast!"


            Ranma's tail stopped swaying back and forth and she took a step to the side.


            La Tour raised an eyebrow.


            "It's a 84mm with over 3 kilos of explosives. I can respect that," Ranma's tone was sober though her mouth was split into a broad eager smile.


            For a moment La Tour wished that she had not swapped with Lieutenant Hanna Hill. Though knowing her luck, if she had, then that barren soft spot out in the woods would have been the invasion site.


             "Sir, expect incoming. Yes, Sir, good luck."


            Ranma rolled her shoulders and her wings unfurled. Great purple on the outside, red on the inside membranes grew out from special slits in the back of her uniform and armored back-plate.


            "So, our military hires demons; I did not know that," Borgne observed. "I suppose I should have expected it."


            "Not directly, I'm a sub-contractor. The Canadians hired the-"


            "Contact!" Corporal Peck shouted. Followed a split second later by MacDowell. Writhing, matte black tentacles appeared at the stairwell at the far side of the room. Pods of a glossy white-grey material were clutched at the ends of several of the tentacles.


             Both Canadian units opened fire.


            Several of the tentacle-creature's barrel-shaped bodies were perforated. The larger bullets of the JTF2 members sliced right through the tentacles while the smaller rounds the other troops were using required a cluster of shots.


            Steam-like clouds came up and an angry hiss came from the creatures. The rest opened fire. Arcing blue-white comets raced out of their guns and slammed into the barricade and some of the troops. The incendiary material began to splash about.


            "Grenades!" La Tour ordered, as Borgne's medics darted forward. The under-slung barrels of the JTF2 guns thumped.


            As that happened, the creatures towards the rear launched the larger pods they carried. Sparkling clusters of rockets snaked out, lobed over to the Canadians, and exploded in a blindingly bright shower of burning shrapnel.


            Amid the explosions, there was a tearing sound as the floors were ripped out of the elevators. More creatures swarmed up out of them. They writhed out and right in front of the Canadian's field of fire. Which had been drawn away from the stairwell at the end of the elevator bank.


            Ranma's eyes widened. "Stairs!" she shouted her voice cutting through the chaos.


            The doors leading to the stairwell had been propped open, providing a choke point while adding some visibility (and giving the enemy a bit of concealment).


            Tentacles thicker than a fire hose grabbed the door and ripped it off. A bulky rounded body the size of a refrigerator levered its way out of the stairs. A mass of smaller barrel-shaped creatures boiled out below it carpeting the far side of the room in the blue with matte-black trim of their armored environmental suits. The larger creature had thicker armor than its smaller cousins. Its armor was also matte-black and bronze-red as instead of matte-black and dark blue.


            "Hit the big one first, I'll finish it off!" Ranma ordered as purple beams burst from her eyes and raked across the attacking mass. Her head and heart pounded.


            JTF2's machine gun crew added to the kill-box the riflemen and grenadiers were trying to keep contained. Then the giant creature heaved itself up and the thick-barreled weapons it clutched opened up. A brilliant blue bloom burst across the room.


            "Back!" Borgne ordered his men as the barricade was blasted apart.


            "Gustav!" MacDowell shouted.


            Jon Jones had already stepped around the corner and the instant he planted his foot pulled the trigger. There was a hollow metallic twang. The blast shot out the back end of the tube and down the corridor while the shell shot out in a white blur.


            The concussion echoed across the barricade and the projectile slammed into the lead creature. The Gustav was designed for long range anti-armor, anti-fortification and anti-personnel roles. The high explosive anti personnel round barely went over the 20 meter minimum arming-distance before it detonated, overwhelming the massive creature in a conflagration.


            The concussion shredded the smaller squid-like creatures ripping them apart in a mass of tentacles and pulped bodies. Steaming ichor splattered against broken walls and dented elevator doors.


            Jones stepped back and Bishop was already on him, holding a new shell the size of his forearm. He lifted up the weapon's back end, pulled out the spent shell which hit the floor with a clang, and rammed the fresh shell in.


            Gas hissed out of cracks in the great creature's armor. Many of its tentacles had been ripped off and the front part of its protective suit had been dented in. Still, it levered itself up and pointed one of its great blue-silver guns at the Canadians.


            "Active! Active!" Ranma swore as she fired off a DarkStar Burst. The purple-wreathed obsidian orb shot towards the creature. "Engaging!" the demon shouted as wings snapped back and she jumped over the barricade.


            The orb swerved in midair and slammed into the creature's gun. Tentacles writhing, it twisted to get a better view when the demon bounded straight at it. The thick appendages shot forward to crush her.


            Claws went out and sliced through the armored limbs. Yellow fluid seeped out and tingled where it hit against her fingers. She then landed on its back. Her boots braced against the pebbled-armor while her claws sunk through and began to tear. Filaments extended out of her tail and the appendage stabbed right through the armor. More gas vented as she breached the armor.


            A fusillade erupted from down the room as the Canadians retook their position. The support machine gun opened up spitting tracers across the sides of the creature below the demon. Every fourth round in the belt was a tracer and they shot across the room in a laser-like beam which raked further back on the creature's body and started cutting at its tentacles.


            The creature bucked but she managed to tear a long strip of armor away before being tossed off. Mid-air, she twisted, flared her wings, and shot another DarkStar Burst out of her hand. The orb kinked and arced and popped right into the exposed bit where the armor had been torn away.


            Ranma landed in a mash of broken squid-like bodies as the orb detonated. The explosion was muffled by the creature's bulk but it flopped down to the ground with its tentacles flailing about.


            More seams appeared in the armor and more creatures tried to scramble out. These were smaller and had rubbery blue-green bodies and tentacles. However once exposed to the air they started to thrash as they made high-pitched screeches.


            The demoness had bounded back and their screeches grew more intense as they tried to pull away from her. Ranma blinked and with a flick of her claws sliced through one of the dying creatures. Thick yellowish fluids came out and began to boil and fume in the alien atmosphere.


            Eyes flaring, the redhead growled flicked the gunk off her claws. She sliced into the alien and flicked a piece into her mouth. She grimaced and spit the rubbery flesh out with a hiss.


             Angry, she drew her SSP and the monstrous handgun barked as she blew the remaining three apart. The room stank of burned gunpowder, smoldering plastic, and an ammonia and mint-like smell rising from the alien bodies.

 

 

            It was then that Ranma realized that she could hear gunfire in the distance. It was muffled and had to come from somewhere several stories and many rooms away, but it was definitely the heavier caliber guns that JTF2 had brought.


            Sergeant MacDowell and Lieutenant Borgne approached the redhead while the medics went to work on the wounded and the uninjured troops moved forward and dispatched the few creatures that still stirred.


            "Your coming really got them riled up," Borgne dryly noted. He glanced between the ichor splattered demoness and the prim La Tour who had stood back and was on the radio.


            A few explosions detonated several stories above them. The redhead smiled. "I think they felt us coming." She tapped the gem at the center of her chest rig.


            "What, the critters felt someone futzing with their gateway and decided to put a stop to it."


            "They sent something after us they normally reserve for killing Generals."


            Borgne returned from ordering his men to drop some donated grenades down the opened elevator shafts. "I don't know if this bastard was sent specifically to kill General Fochs but... the timing is pretty bad."


            MacDowell nodded. He went over to Jones and Bishop to talk to the about using some of the short-fuse shells before getting got onto his headset and relaying Borgne's message up to Sifton.


            "Jammer, eh?" Borgne nodded at the wide Kevlar ribbons on Ranma's chest armor. "Little something to keep the squids from coming in?" he asked taking a drag on his cigarette


            "I'd say it's classified but..." Ranma shrugged her wings and kicked one of the creatures. It bounced off her foot with a rubbery squelch.


            The gunfire above them increased. Ranma tilted her head, she could just make out the sound of breaking windows. It was immediately followed by the burping, tearing noise of helicopter door guns opening up.


            "You guys really brought everything."


            Ranma stared at the Gallic officer. Her gaze flicked between horror and hungry anticipation. "No... not yet."


            Borgne's cigarette slipped from his lips.


            "Saotome here. Moving the timetable up. All teams keep pressure on the basement levels," Ranma radioed before she turned to the JTF2 troopers. "MacDowell! I'm going down. Get your men in gear! And shadow me on this level."


            MacDowell looked at Bonhomme's map; he then looked at the demolition man's satchel. The plan formed. He smiled. "Call the Beta team! I want their gadget to come in, right behind Bonhomme." He turned to the demolitions specialist. "Richard, scrounge whatever you can, but I want you to make me a doorknocker; be creative."


            Poker-faced, Bonhomme saluted and ran off. He then immediately started pilfering ammunition and grenades.


            Ranma nodded. Jammers were designed to work on multiple dimensions; they were hardly limited to a mere two.

 

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

 


            Sitting in its office, the Comptroller's tentacles stilled. Weak light from the sky-spanning buttresses and sallow silvery fields streamed through the partially-opaque shades. Sensor cluster gaped at the projection before the Comptroller. The feed was shaky and distorted, but a Scout Surveyor had managed to reach a window.


            The Head Surveyor respectfully bobbed next to its larger superior.


            "Tell it to aim up," the Comptroller ordered with a quick tendril flick.


            "Of course," Head Surveyor completed transmitting a link to the Aperture Overseer. The Head normally hated such micromanagement but this...


            Some time passed and the Scout flittered forward and lifted its camera pod. The view shifted from showing slab-like constructs full of curiously narrow windows. It fumbled and the camera panned wildly showing the rest of the scout team, including its Level 3 escorts. A dismembered alien quickly flashed past the screen.


            But the Surveyor's and Comptroller's attention was on the sky. Bright light streamed from a sky that seemed aflame. High in the center was a great burning ball.


            It was something that the Comptroller only had second-hand memories of. Something in the dead past of the Astronomers' Lore.


            "They have a main sequence star," Head Surveyor's said, tendrils hushed.


            "It seems Echo-382 is pre-Cataclysm."


            The Comptroller's intensity grew. If the Herald were to place his Heir somewhere safe...
            "The Holder of Souls?"


            The Surveyor paused to wipe its tendrils. It then moved them clearly and precisely. A lifetime had been spend preparing for this. "Comptroller, as Head of the Pathfinder Survey it is confirmed. My Pathfinders have breached the veils and broadcasted the Herald's call. We found Her. The Holder of Souls, the Coverer of the Sky, She's here," the surveyor formally stated gesturing to the display.


            "The reply was weak," the Comptroller stated. "We've been fooled before," it added, though its words were laced with longing.


            "Not like this." The Surveyor was amused. "As you say: it is not blasphemy to be skeptical. The Herald blessed us with minds; minds it expects us to use."


            "The reply was... weak, but it was exact. It was like the Holder was unable to reply..."


            "Trapped? Imprisoned?"


            "I cannot say. We are beyond the precipice. Something alerted us; something wore down the barriers on their side of the wall.. So the Holder must have allies; maybe even worshipers."


            The great barrel-shaped tentacle creature examined some recognizance reports. "I wish we could see the horizon... see outside their city," the Comptroller absently waved at some of the other buildings the Scout camera had captured. "We need more information. We're going into this world blind."


            The Head Surveyor gave an amused respiration. "It is not so easy. My teams..."


            The Comptroller waved in acknowledgement. "The locals?"


            The Surveyor's gesture was noncommittal. "Strange. Tenacious. Bilateral symmetry, independently motile. Cryptography and Chemistry are doing a workup. We'll have plenty of samples... if they stay preserved. But..."


            The Comptroller turned away from the alien sky with its florid nuclear furnace. "But?"
           


            "One is different." The Head Surveyor's tendrils flailed for a moment. "It is particularly tenacious. Moreso than the baseline locals. It also bears the stink of the Enemy... and the Holder."


            "Capture it." The Comptroller said, annoyed.


            "Of course, but... alive?"


            The Comptroller paused, then moved its tendrils in negation. "This is just basic reconnaissance. A permanent collection outpost will come later. Preserve if you can, but I'll take a corpse for examination if that's all we'll get."


            "Understood," the Head Surveyor replied. "Shall I deploy the Servitors?"


            The Comptroller pondered once more. Their lineage was getting harder and harder to bud fresh growths. "Only the younger of the three. I want the rest in reserve."


            The Surveyor bowed its tendrils. "It is an honor to serve the Herald."


            "The honor is mine," the Comptroller patted its subordinate. "Your tenacity will be rewarded."


            Neither particularly cared when a buzzing construct crossed the sky and engaged the Scout Team. They carried themselves well, but were ultimately destroyed. There was plenty more in reserve. Besides the risks were minimal. Before crossing the Threshold it was standard practice to get one's data copied.


            No one ever died on a survey mission. Not permanently anyway.

 

End Chapter 5

 

 

Author's Notes:

 

 I'd like to thank the prereaders for their help in this project: J St C Patrick, DCG, Pale Wolf, Kevin Hammel, and Crimson Vixen.

 

 

Revision notes:  And now we're in the meat of the battle.  Or it looks that way