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 3:  Raising Trouble

Chapter 2:  Strike and Cleave

Formerly:  Reequipped and Repulsed Part 2 i

 

            Glowering, Ranma felt the remnants of protective wards tickling her extended senses. The damage was severe – fires and collapsed walls, including one section where it looked like the building had been cleaved by a giant axe. She could feel several life forms, a handful of pattern Silvers and some others but even with the extra help all she had was a... smeared and fuzzy picture of who was alive. It looked like the enemy could jam do more than radios.


            Her horns were pained by few objects with stronger electromagnetic fields that were placed around the building. They  were similar to some of the military hardware she trained against, but they were not on  Setsuna's map. Gliding along, near the edge of her sensory range, she frowned. It looked like subtle was out. She made a motion to Nariko who was flying at her wing and the two split up.


            Buffeted by high winds and a smattering of rain, Ranma folded in her wings, and rapidly plummeted towards the earth. The gutted cinderblock and glass structure grew rapidly in her field of view. It was isolated and had wide expanses ideal for defense, this cut both ways. Several of the electronic objects to her sides seemed to move. Since stealth was not an option, she decided on something that better suited her straight-forward nature.

 
             Prepositioned above the building, black and violet orbs suddenly raced towards the earth. Her suspicions were confirmed when she saw the feed from four of the DarkStar Bursts as each slammed into a different turret gun.


            A pair of the auto-guns that had escaped targeting began taking out some of the Bursts. Three orbs homed in on them and the guns fell silent. While this was happening a quartet of orbs dropped into the gash across the building and raced towards a pair of warm bodies.


            At the same time, Ranma continued her descent. When she was a hundred feet up and pushing her wings at max decent velocity, the cloak of shadows that concealed her seemed to ripple and boil as brilliant violet flames consumed it to announce her presence. Twin beams of light shot up from the building, attracting orbs to their source. After they hit her flaming aura's hottest point, the leading edge, which was several inches below where she was, the beam wobbled  and blinked out when Ranma felt the burst explode. A moment later, the violet streak slammed into the ground.

 

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

 


            Kasumi pulled herself up and looked around the vehicle's interior. Her headset gave a distressing hiss, but more worryingly, they were upside-down and had wounded. She retrieved her weapon and righted herself, slipped on her night vision goggles, and looked out into the darkness. "Status?" she asked Gabriel who seemed to be in fair shape.


           "Bruce's gone." Similarly equipped, Gabriel  peered out of the windshield, looking past areas of spider-webbed glass, blood and the remnants of Bruce Trenton's jaws and teeth.


            Kasumi briefly surveyed the scene. Trenton had been driving and took the brunt of it, next to him was Sophie Addison. Steven Deschain was over her and putting on clotting bandages and other first aid with a blank look; ironically Bruce was their medic. Lt. Tendo noted the chain Sophie's dogtags hung on; it was her decision, but time might take even that away from her.


            "She's the worst off..." Gabriel said.


            "Right, we'll go to that building, get in and hole up." Kasumi said pointing to a small factory close to where the vehicle had crashed. "Fritz and Steve take Sophie; the rest of us will cover."


            Holding back her cries, Sophie was moved and her side door was manhandled open and Kasumi and Gabriel eased out with their weapons raised. It was ten meters to that door, and she doubted that the dark night would give much concealment, even if you added the rain.


            Still, it was better than waiting to be killed in the vehicle. When they got to Agent Fritz Lang and the others, the two sprinted to the door which Gabriel broke down.


            Kasumi turned around and faced back at the smoldering vehicle while Gabriel cleared what looked like a lobby. She frowned as Lang and Deschain crossed the distance to meet her. The enemy did not care to inflict further damage, for now.


            After Sophie was put down on the relative comfort of the carpeted floor, Gabriel eased back over to Kasumi as she scanned the buildings that overlooked their damaged vehicle. "Honey pot?" he whispered.


            She gave a curt nod. "I'd say so. The scanners aren't picking anything up, it looks like we're being jammed, and they didn't finish us off."


            "They'll attack when backup shows up." Gabriel gestured with his off hand to the roof of a warehouse across the street and then to some of the trucks in a large depot next to it. "And behind the depot is that water tower; pretty good place to put a sniper. There's also the building we're in, and that's just if they'll attack close to this spot." As he spoke raindrops started to splash to the ground.


            "Fritz, stay with Sophie and watch our backs." The enemy needed them alive, at least until any backup units were attacked, becoming the next round of bait.


            There was the rumbling purr as a pair of armored vehicles in WIC gray raced down the street. Above that was came the whumping noise of helicopter blades. The vehicles started to slow down as they approached the flipped APC, and long silvery streaks flew towards them and exploded. The front of one was lightly damaged and the other hit the brakes hard and swerved.


            Kasumi spotted the flashes originating from the warehouse above them and fired a few bursts from the rifle barrel of her HOG, while Gabriel supported with the 20mm grenade barrel. The helicopter's door guns added their fire to the barrage.


            The turrets on the two armored personnel carriers opened up with 40mm grenades being marched over the roof, but soon enough there was a sequence of loud explosions and one of the gunners slumped over and was pulled inside.


            "That's on our side," Gabriel hissed as he flashed a light at one of the vehicles, before being pulled back from the doorway by Kasumi.


            One vehicle pulled to the same side as them and backed up to a small cinderblock wall. The ramp went down and a squad of agents rushed out. There was the familiar steady buzz of a mini-gun and a couple of the men went down but managed to be pulled back to the apparent safety just in the lee-side of the wall.

 

            The helicopter's hull sparked as one of the mini-guns raised its aim. The flying machine twisted and dropped in altitude, its own guns returning fire until it dropped behind a building. From there, it pulled back and seemed to get out of range of the surprising ground weapons.


            The enemy guns stopped. A couple of seconds later, Kasumi felt her tension ease, slightly.


            The more damaged of the two APC's pulled forward, turned and then went straight back into the lobby door, which shattered when the door to the vehicle slammed down. Kasumi gave a slight of sigh relief. It was small consequence that the other agents were pointing guns at her. "The interior's secure, as it stands," Kasumi stated as Akane and Nabiki came out  of the vehicle and gave her a reassuring smile before splitting up and checking the adjacent rooms.


            "Casualties?" Captain Jarvis asked as she quickly stepped off the ramp, followed by the rest of the agents in the vehicle, save for a couple who, despite the obvious target it would be, were using it as a makeshift pillbox for just a bit longer.


            "Addison's bad. Trenton's dead," Kasumi looked past to see that Speirs, the vehicle's original gunner was missing a portion of his skull just under the front of his helmet.


            Eve nodded. "Akane, Smith, Lang, link up with what's left of Blue team. Get casualties back here first. Then you'll form our Southern flank," she said as she walked over to Sophie. Eve knew who had signed on to the D program and could sense the life fading.


            Kasumi frowned. They seemed trapped and the Black Hawk sounded like it was pulling back. It probably had been damaged. All in all, things did not bode well. It looked like the trap would only grow, ensnaring more agents.. However, her men were still firing, and it sounded like there was still some life left in Blue Team.


            Kneeling over Sophie, Eve turned to Kasumi. "I'm sorry but your ex-girlfriend couldn't make it Lieutenant, she's stuck with her eldest."


            Shouldering her gun, Kasumi allowed herself a smile as she eased forward. So, that was that. It was nice to see the brass' priorities. Out of the corner of her eye she caught an explosion of napalm as Akane cleared an alleyway.

 

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


            As soon as the first turrets went offline, Galina modulated the jamming signal to alert the Diversionary Team. They had to finish the job. The jagged pain at her side reminded her that these enemies were not without teeth.

 

            Dve'nadtsat called. It was redundant. Galina could still see and hear the small explosions, reminding her of mortars. She ran to help; she had not seen WIC use that weapon, which meant-


            Her thoughts were interrupted by the thunderous crump that the Russian likened to the sound a tank makes when it falls off a bridge. Following that was a bright violet flame front shooting down the hallway. Galina leapt to the side and heat wave quickly washed past her. She ran into what was once a living room, judging by the shattered furniture. Much of the ceiling, and the opposite wall and the room behind it were taken out when Sem took out Zaika's guardian.

 

            The first moves had gone well,  then everything started to get worse and worse.


            That damage was overshadowed by the absent roof, blown back walls and... crater in the floor. Rain pouring in from above fought with the violet tinged flames that smoldered throughout the room. The crater looked as if the concrete had been punched by the fist of an avenging god. Sem had caused similar devastation a couple rooms over during their initial assault.

 

            "Liza, what happened?" Galina asked over their linkage as she edged into the room.


           From the other side of the impromptu... courtyard, Lizaveta Dve'nadtsat gave a tight shake of her head. "Don't know, I saw the incoming and shot it, then the whole room blew." She winced ever so slightly. The damage had cut through her abdomen, aggravating the electrical damage to her chassis she had acquired earlier in the battle.


            Galina looked over the crater; it was empty. To her left, a pair of purple beams shot out and sliced diagonally along Dve'nadtsat's side. She turned, raising her weapon and fired at a dark grey and violet figure as it closed the distance. Lizaveta dove at the figure, but the demon sidestepped and the beams burned through the armor on her side before the two collided.


            Running to intercept, Galina saw the figure launching a black orb at her while she lunged towards Dve'nadtsat's side. Galina twisted in midair, the sphere responded, and was then pierced by a glowing blade that flicked out from Galina's wrist.


            The intruder had knocked Dve'nadtsat to the ground and after a quick rake of her claws leapt back when Galina rushed her with her blades outstretched. "Ranma, eh?" Galina asked noting the red hair flowing down the demon's back.


            Eyes going to the slash in the cyborg's side, the demon merely smiled and dodged as Galina thrust forward. The dark-haired Russian dropped down to avoid Ranma's gaze and jabbed a blade to block a set of purple claws.


            Jumping back, Galina launched a volley of energy blades as she smirked slightly. The demon dodged most of them, but a couple went past and hit; two on the chest and one in the neck. The chest impacts seemed blunted, but the demon's neck sliced open, satisfactorily.


            But, Galina's pleasure was more at Dve'nadtsat 's actions. She had gotten to her feet and shot a pair of beams right at Ranma. Blood gushing out and soaking the armor on her left side, the twin attacks hit Ranma as she raised her hand and a tight column of violet and white flames shot out. Running roughly parallel to Dve'nadtsat 's attack, the two inch wide cylinder of fire hit at the bridge of her nose. Violet flames grew and danced around the demon's form.


            Burning skin, the flames failed to penetrate the armor built into her skull. But her eyes were another matter. Raising her hands to protect her face, Lizaveta screamed and dropped to the floor.

 
            The bleeding from her neck abating, Ranma jumped back to avoid another barrage of blades from Galina. The demon managed to keep her hand roughly on target and burned off the vast majority of Dve'nadtsat's face, exposing gleaming metal and warped components.


            In a blink, Galina had closed the distance and rammed two blades right into the holes Dve'nadtsat had burned through Ranma's chest armor.

 

Dve was still alive, if screaming incoherently over their communications channel

 

             Similar to mechanical expanding broad-head arrows, four glowing razor-sharp edges scissored out of Galina's knives. Just as fast, she twisted her wrists to maximize the damage, withdrew the blades, and used them to block the demon's claws.


            Hot, oddly-colored blood and entrails spilled out, much of it getting onto Galina.  She bounded back when Ranma's tail shot out at the Russian's knee, but the cyborg dodged, causing the tail cut through a massive chuck of the cyborg's thigh. Galina was thankful that her pain receptors were off.

 

            Launching another volley, this time from the blades that ran down the length of her legs, Galina roll-jumped to the side to avoid a set of eyebeams and as she came up barely dodged a black sphere that was launched right from the demon. The orb sped past Galina and vanished into the darkness of the hallway.


            Just before taking another rush, Galina took note of the sticky visceral substance that covered them both and for the first time the demon's face showed an expression.


            A satisfied little smile.


            As Ranma's arms came up Galina raised her arms spreading the energy blades that ran down the length of them like feathers and used them to block the.... beam of napalm. Galina had faced flamethrowers before, and found them to be troublesome weapons. Their capacity was a weaknesses, which did not seem present here.


            A pair of thin purple eye-beams drilled into the wound in her thigh, causing her to jump up and spread the blades that went down her legs. Going to a crouch, the demon kept adjusting her flames to try to bypass Galina's knives.


            The cyborg landed on Ranma, toppling the demon to the floor, and tried to pierce the squirming redhead with her knives. She had cut her several times when something slammed into her back and embedded shards into her skin and framework, which then exploded. The missing DarkStar Burst had arrived.


            Warnings flashing on her heads up display, Galina stabbed forward, embedding a set of blades into the demon's left shoulder and then jumped back to avoid the claws and tail. Rotating in midair she landed in a crouch. With a flick and twist of her forearm, she launched a salvo of blades at the rising redhead. Bleeding heavily from her back, Galina barely noticed as the blood poured down the waist of her bodysuit and splattered onto the floor.


            Ranma noted that Galina's expression mirrored her own.

 

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


            Desyat blinked as the feed from another turret pod cut out in a group of explosions. Each rounded pod consisted of an actuated turret and sensors. She could only get a few seconds of use before they were destroyed, but that sufficed. The helicopter's continued presence was... vexing. It kept her from going out into the open, and in order to keep it from providing actual support she had to allocate a few pods, which caused them to get picked off quicker than otherwise.


            Rain spattering down her back, she charged another few blades and fired them off into the distance. Running to a new position, she received footage from a currently unused pod. The metal shards flew onto an armored hull and exploded.


            Giving a slight sigh, Desyat watched their response and dived down as explosions landed where she had been. She had to give these mercenaries credit; they managed to keep their heads about them and were making steady progress, nibbling at the positions she had prepared with Vosem.


            "How's your mission?" she asked Vosem over their connection. Their jamming made it untenable over this range, but there were other ways of talking with Galina.


            "Swimmingly," Vosem tersely transmitted back, looking down into darkness with her enhanced vision. "I really think you'd love these girls, Des. They like explosives too."


            "How many?"


            "A few squads of agents, two to four demons."


            Desyat gave a slight nod and activated another pod. After firing a burst at a vehicle she pulled the turret up and swiveled the barrel around. She spotted a bit of movement in the distance before losing the signal. The sharp crack she heard later confirmed the weapon, and the reason that helicopter was still in the air. "Adding in their sniper, that means we've tied up a third to a half of the brood." Desyat paused as she and Vosem felt the jamming in the distance spike a couple times.


            Vosem sighed. Galina still needed their diversion. "Lovely," She transmitted back as she stepped back to reload her 23 mm shotgun. It was based on the KS-23 "carbine", a roughly four gauge weapon with a variety of rounds available. There were several buckshot rounds for it with fair penetration with a drawback of a ten meter range limit. Instead of a pump, her  weapon had a semi-automatic that allowed for a higher rate of fire and used a magazine instead of a tube.

 

            Vosem reloaded and pulled around a corner. The first shot was a Star flashbang, followed by a tear gas grenade. She had hoped the large flash would ruin their night vision; it was certainly hell for human troops using light enhancement. However, neither slowed down the demons much.


            The five round burst of shot cartridges that followed did. The taller of the two demons went down, with a regrettable shortage of blood. An inky, shadowlike appendage did arc out from the fallen demon and hit the wall Vosem was hiding behind.


            Shattered brick shot across the cyborg, some of the pieces embedding into her flesh and frame. Her partner responded by releasing a spray of tiny shards, some of which cut through the corner of the alleyway and exploded. Vosem dropped a pair of grenades and ran. She went up to an adjacent building and ran through a series of alleys and corridors.


            "Vosem?" Desyat asked.


            "Got them distracted and pissed off," Vosem noted as she switched to Barricade rounds. Each consisted of a single steel projectile which exchanged damage spread for much greater penetration.


            "We can't leave, not yet," Desyat transmitted, answering the unstated question.


            "No, but I'm linking up with you. These clever mercs are trying a pincer," Vosem transmitted.


            Desyat was prepared to launch another wave of explosives when she felt a taut chill in her gut. One group of mercenaries kept advancing towards those trapped in the warehouse to link up with them.

 
            Launching the blades she watched their progress as they arced up and hit the upright base supports to a water tank. Two explosions sliced through each support. Vertical beams bucking, the tank collapsed and fell across the road. It left a small area to one side that a vehicle could barely pass. She had expected a total roadway blockage, but a choke point was good psychological warfare, too. Perhaps the mercenaries actually had some courage; they certainly had thrown enough men at this "rescue" mission.


            Yes,  perhaps, they've decided to go after us. She thought with a cynical chill. It's not like they really care about Zaika. She backed down into the warren of trucks and vehicles that made up the depot.


            Dropping to the ground, she caught up with Vosem. Desyat frowned at the rips in her jumpsuit. Meanwhile Vosem just gave a labored glare. "Take out a few more vehicles?"


            Desyat nodded with a frown. One group was about to enter an area that still had some functional turrets. Despite the intelligence their turrets offered the mercenaries were frustratingly difficult to count. She knew that a couple squads had linked up to the trapped team.  The rest were flowing about,  nibbling at the turrets and generally being harassing. She guessed there was a platoon's worth of men out there, not counting however many demons were about.

 

            Cycling though the feeds, Desyat followed her partner. The two silently ran forward down the length of parked container trailers. Suddenly the alleyway they were in burst into a series of familiar explosions. The two dived down and scrambled under a trailer and into the next row.


            Desyat looked up, and saw a grinning demon in the distance. Dread welled into the cyborg as the specter aimed her oversized weapon. Firing her shotgun, Vosem jumped up and bounced off one trailer wall and made it to the top of another in a crouch. As the explosions hit, Desyat darted back and launched a single blade which hit near the demon's feet.


            Desyat doubled back and then jumped around as gunfire opened up from behind and to the side of her. She looked over and saw a pair of demons going up another alleyway in the depot. They both carried the large bullpup guns. Vosem was hit in the hip and went down in a roll and darted one passageway over.


            Above them, Desyat did not see any body from the grenadier succubus, but the demon's firing had stopped. Knowing the demons expected it, but not quite willing to let her partner go alone, she maneuvered back to Vosem. Apprehension swirling about that succubus, Desyat charged a large block of steel and threw it at the two demons. As the improvised weapon flew, she turned to pick up Vosem who had already gotten her bearings, despite the bleeding wound in her hip.


            "Go!" Desyat transmitted to Vosem while pushing her forward. Giving a quick look back, Desyat knocked her partner closer to the wall, and activated another turret. Anything to get that sniper's attention.


            "Chto za huy'nya!" Vosem actually shouted when a sickly green cloud flowed up from the sides and behind them. It did not burn, but there was a slight tingle.


            "We'll be okay, go!" Desyat transmitted. Their bodies had been built with immunity to all but the most caustic chemical agents. But you don't know that's what this is, a timorous part of her mind cautioned.


            Gasping, Vosem stumbled on the wet pavement and fell into a trailer wall.


            "Hurry!" Desyat pulled her back up and with her other hand pressed it on the side of the trailer. The charge spread out a couple meters across the thin metal wall. Desyat kept at Vosem's back but could feel them both slowing down. When the time was right, she pushed Vosem down and triggered the charged metal.


            The explosion blasted out and the air momentarily cleared, at least, of green miasma. The rain seemed to help keep it down as well. Strength returning, Vosem and Desyat gained speed and jumped to the next row. Just as they landed, the grenadier succubus made herself known.


            Broadly placed explosions hit in a wide area. At least they don't know exactly where we are. Desyat thought to herself.


            "You go east, I'll go west," Vosem sent as she fired down one of the alleyways, before darting down another corridor at an oblique angle.


            "Meet at Rally Three then," Desyat replied, as the 40 mm grenades joined the rain in falling towards the ground in a random but uniform distribution. She responded in kind. Firing at a high arc, she shot out two dozen slim fully-charged blades.


            Vosem paused and listened. She then crept around the corner of a cargo container and fired. Two of the 23mm wide steel projectiles hit a succubus in the chest and ruptured her armor plating. A feeling of elation hit her as she moved in with another burst.


            The reassurance died when that demoness got up and made eye contact. For a brief moment the cyborg's finger hesitated. The demon pulled the trigger. 17mm bullets provided motivation and significant damage. Vosem returned fire, but she was hit and pushed back. Screaming, the damage mounted. Her frame was warped, parts of her torso were cratered, spilling blood and other fluids.


            "Desyat! I need support," Vosem silently cried, pulling back. She turned, shot, and then ducked around a corner. Then the green miasma started to curl around her feet.


            From her position, Desyat ran towards her but was cutoff when grenades once again fell in front of her, and then the cyborg saw... her. Flicking out a blade, she stared at the grenadier girl's grinning form; coiling around her feet was a thick green cloud. The cyborg then heard two 17mm guns fire off in steady bursts before abruptly cutting off.


            Launching the blades, Desyat held out some hope. Vosem was a strong girl. That hope died when Vosem started to broadcast panicked screams for help and pathetic mewling that seemed to go on for too long.


            Her friend's incoherent begging scratching her mind, Desyat fired a sweep of blades at the succubus and slipped to the side. It was clear getting close to these girls in any way was suicidal.


            At least Vosem... stopped. She thought with a shudder as she darted out of the depot and into a neighboring warehouse. The demons could be hurt, just not up close. She reassured herself that pulling back was the only sensible option for now.


            You're scared because they found you. If you can see it you can hit it, if they can hit you they can disembowel you and eat you
, a mental voice straining her composure insisted.


            Controlling her shaking, Desyat pulsed her jamming signal three times, the emergency signal to discontinue the mission. There was no reply. Come on... they can't have run into much trouble. They had the Senshi by surprise and took two of them out and there couldn't have been more than two demons sent there.


            A cynical chuckling welled up within her. She had yet to see the redheaded demon, their leader. Apparently WIC was quite happy to send her and only her. Desyat tried to assure herself that the rest of the team could handle just one demon, but the rest of her mind responded with simple dark laughter.


            Back on the move, she tried to contact any remaining turrets, but the pickings were slim. At least that helicopter sounded like it had left, perhaps it finally succumbed to damage. She knew Shest would not fail in her mission, and Galina was sensible. She would not lose her head.


            Her ears picked up the slight sounds: movement. She left a few charges and jumped to the other end of the narrow warehouse. Breaking down a door, she raced across a side street and came under fire from a six wheeled armored vehicle. Its brakes screamed as it slowed and turned through the intersection. The grenade launcher on the top turret made an all too familiar noise. Triggering the explosives behind her, she flicked a full brace of charged blades at the driver's viewing slit.


            The first knives penetrated the armored glass with small blasts, allowing blades with a heavier charge free access. Explosions, including one that turned the insides of the vehicle into a torn, mangled pyre, knocked her down. Slowly, too slowly her internal voice insisted, Desyat got back up and resumed her sprint.


            Gunfire erupted behind her. Inertia almost knocking her off-balance, the heavy rounds broke several components. Damaged in the shoulders and around the lower back, Desyat ran to the next building, a small factory. From the recon, she knew there would be lots of small steel parts she could charge up. At the moment, it looked like the demons were more focused on the burning personnel carrier. At least, the rainfall would keep the fires from spreading. She doubted anyone would have survived that, but she could respect their concern.


            Unwilling to spend the time to catch her breath, she set a few more charges and broke through to a small office park that shared a back fence with the factory. She heard her pursuers had resumed their work.


            Once in the offices, she used the remaining turrets, specifically placed in case of retreat to this location, to check out the rest of the building. Finally slowing down, she felt some relief form within her. She had gotten to the rally point, and had tied up at least two thirds of the brood and most of the human mercenary personnel.


            Allowing a warm chuckle as she checked out the empty office she eventually made her way to the stairs. It was not her fault the others were having trouble. Standing on the first step she paused.... she felt... safe. Even... euphoric.


            "Shit." Desyat checked the feed from the last remaining turret cameras and saw the WIC units positioning themselves a distance from the building.


            Fighting the disturbingly pressing sense of safety, Desyat made her way down the stairs, setting more charges as she went. She could still make the mercenaries pay a steep price. Her determination was cut off by a series of explosions.


            From its somewhat awkward position, the turret pod showed grenade and rocket launchers opening up onto the building. The footage was redundant. She heard and felt the building being hit herself. Giving a brief curse she had the turret open fire. At least she managed to hit enough people to distract the grenadier succubus. Albeit just enough to get her to destroy the final turret.


            Running down the steps to the basement, she heard her own charges being prematurely set off by the mercenary's explosives. The sounds of falling walls and floors followed her, somewhat damping the unnatural feeling of safety. Once in the basement she went to the South wall and threw the knives, which exploded demolishing it.. Genuine relief filled her;  Shest's reconnaissance was correct.


            She ran into the storm water conduit with a backwards glance. At the very least the impending collapse kept anyone from following her... immediately.  She was sure the demons could  brute force their way through, the mercenaries could use some explosives to open up the storm drains, or even crowbar open some manholes, but that would take time, delaying them. She slipped into the water and slipped downstream as quietly as she could manage. She just hoped she had bought the others enough time.

 

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

 


            Lightning crackled from her fingers as Jupiter sharply exhaled. There was another report and she dove behind the corner as a set of green spheres shot towards her only to be incinerated by Mars.


            "Cutting it close," Jupiter gasped, then loosed another electrical barrage.  Magic hit the cyborg with a glancing blow that caused the assassin to add a twitching jerk to her inhuman grace.


             "Moon! Is the garage safe?" Mars shouted without turning her head. Safety was a laughable concept; they had a "safe" room. It was one of the first places that had been hit. Still, it was good that her attention had to be focused on battle, she did not think she could stand to look at the blonde, not now.


            "That's a no!" Moon raked the bright white beam from her wand across the expanse of the warehouse that their building butted into. Luna clung to her shoulder, the cat frozen with terror and grief. A shadowy figure danced between the support beams which were starting to char.

 

            Their new broaches kept anything unpleasant from coming through the walls well... now. they did. They had not been activated during the start of the battle; everyone thought the building's defenses would buy them enough time.


            She paused and with a flick of the wrist shot her wand to one side and caught the figure in the open.  Shadows burned and the smell of molten metal bloomed in the garage as the figure writhed and sprinted away, albeit favoring one leg.

 

            "I got her!"  she said with a vicious spark of vengeance.  The initial attack had been terrible,  they only got out with the most desperate of sacrifices,  but now it was a grinding slog as the cyborgs would try to close in to finish them off, but would retreat under the massed firepower of three Senshi.

 

            "There's more?" Mars sighed while pushing herself to provide more covering fire for Jupiter. She then heard a few small explosions which she initially dismissed, until a couple of seconds later when a loud crump shook the building.


            "The hell was that?" Jupiter demanded. Peering out past the corner for a split second, her bloodshot eyes widened before she pulled back, "Hey, some of them are leaving!"

 

            "Oh?  Well I got one and the way forward may be clear!"  Moon said with a bit of triumph in her voice.

 

            Jupiter leaned a bit closer to the black-haired girl. "Rei, go with Usagi... I'll..."


            "No." Mars' eyes hardened and she jumped forward, filling the entire hallway with fire.


            "What's happening?" Moon asked, the shadowy figure had vanished, but she had frozen at the edge of the room. Even to her it looked of a trap.


            "Something's got them distracted, there's just two left," Jupiter said. She blinked, seeing another, finer arc of lightning shoot into the room. The brunette saw a demon wearing a surprising hybrid of modern battle armor and a Sailor Senshi uniform run into the room. In one hand was a red-tinted katana and in the other was a large handgun.

 

            The lightning bolt that erupted from Nariko's sword. The bodysuit-clad cyborg nimbly dodged the demon's attack.

 

            Summoning the last shreds of power, Jupiter fired an instant later.  The Russian was unable to avoid both and the brunettes far stronger discharge hit the assassin full in the chest.


            Firing her SSP at the other cyborg, the succubus rushed the assassin Jupiter had just electrocuted.


            Sem's body spasmed and the spheres of energy she was about to launch vanished. She turned and raised a twitching arm to block the onrushing demon.

 

             Her limbs were armored and strengthened. It should have blocked the blade, capturing it and allowing her to step into the demon's defenses. Instead, the blade sliced right through her arm and the jerking, weakened cyborg ended up stepping into the blade's path.

 

            Jupiter had also charged and the tall brunette magical girl leveled a lighting-wreathed fist into Sem's back.  There was a buckling creaking noise as the impact hit home.

 

            Catching sight of Nariko's blade, Jupiter then grabbed the momentarily stunned, but still squirming cyborg her by the shoulders.


            Drawing two glowing swords, Arisha shot forward, but it was too late. The demon swept the blade through Sem's immobilized body a few inches above the cyborg's hips. Stunned and still shaking, Sem fell into two bleeding, sparking pieces.


            Nariko, briefly, eyed the body with a slight frown. It looked like this one had her power core positioned lower than the ones that her cousin had killed. Still, she had at least separated the power system from the control system.

 

            She then gave the ill-looking brunette Senshi a warm smile.


            Firing her gun, Nariko tried to slow down the other cyborg, but despite her shots hitting the neck and head, the damage seemed to be superficial. In the last couple seconds the distance shortened to where Nariko aimed at the assassin's left eye.


            Arisha jerked her head and winced as the bullet flattened just on the orbital and scrapped down her temple, leaving a big gash and slightly reducing the effectiveness of that eye. She noted the empty slide configuration of the demon's shockingly-effective handgun but her attention was on the crackling electricity swirling furiously on the red-eyed girl's sword.

 

            And then the brunette's electricity shot out.  Jupiter gave a fierce grin as she tried to push herself further.


            Arisha brought up one of her energized blades to block the oncoming bolts and immediately, overload warnings flashed on her heads-up display. More distressingly, the blade began to lose cohesion, the semi-liquid metal starting to ooze.. She then jabbed her other blade into the ground, stretching it through the concrete and a meter into the dirt below, the two blades flickered and started to dissipate but it held.  Her weapons requiring a lot of power to change their shape, they and her body were built to channel and distribute the load.


            Briefly glancing at Sem's stunned, but still alive, upper half, Arisha allowed a small measure of relief. As she slashed with one of her swords, the energy blade grew in length, forcing the demon to dodge out of its way. Arisha's blade now blocked Nariko's line of attack away from Sem.

 

            Seeing that Jupiter had taken the initiative,  Nariko ejected the spent magazine and pulled her sword away from Arisha's extended blade.

 

            She flipped her gun upside down and then used her tail to slice open a magazine pouch, and pushed the firearm up to "help" the magazine fall in.  Flipping the gun down she slammed the end against her thigh to seat the magazine in the gun. While depressing the slide release, she aimed the weapon at the cyborg who was still busy with Jupiter.

 

            Nariko glanced down and forced herself to keep from frowning, somehow the casualty had vanished - both halves. There was still plenty of blood and various mechanical fluids, just no body.


            Arisha gave a slight smile of relief, at least Shest was able to get Sem out. Arisha retracted her left blade to intercept the twin lighting attacks, while keeping her right blade as the ground.

 

            As the lightning hit, Nariko opened fire, this time aiming at the hilt of Arisha's right-hand sword - the one that had ended up embedded through the flooring. The bullets hit and caused some surface damage. More importantly was the momentum they imparted; Arisha's hand was jarred and flexed open, disconnecting the grounding sword from the energy conduit in her palm. Arisha screamed as Nariko's electrical attack was forced to find a different route to ground.


            Firing at Aisha's head while keeping the Lightning Devastation active, Nariko closed in and was surprised when Arisha shot up, still holding one of her swords in her right hand.

 

            Thankful that her equipment warranted extra electronic shielding, Arisha stabbed diagonally cutting through the front of that irksome handgun and knocked aside that katana before slashing it up towards the demon's neck.


            Nariko pushed back with her feet and arched her back. As she fell,  Jupiter stepped in with another crackling punch.

 

             The cyborg turned to block and jerked her right arm back down to the prone succubus who had raised her sword arm. Instead of a block of her own, Nariko stabbed forward with her left hand. Neither choosing to defend, the two arms passed each other. Nariko stabbing into Arisha's right elbow; Arisha's blade into Nariko's lung; and Jupiter's fist into Arisha's side.


            Twitching, Arisha had a brief smirk as she drove the blade in deeper, but it died when Nariko's lightning shot up the katana. Arisha extended her blade through the demon and managed to ground the blast, but then the demon gave the barest ghost of a smile and flicked her blade down, rotated it, and then flicked it back up, severing Arisha's right arm at the elbow, which Makoto kicked aside. The cyborg screamed and jumped back.


            Nariko used her katana to cut in half the unpowered sword pinning her. Some liquid metal dripped out of the cut ends as she pulled herself off the blade. The blood pouring out of the pierced armor slowed as the wound began to heal.


            Arisha had grabbed her other blade with her left hand and advanced. Suddenly, she was engulfed in flames. Bodysuit charring, she turned around and her blade shot forward in length into the hallway the other two Senshi had gone down.  She fell to her knees and screamed.


            It was then that two sets of lightning hit Arisha. Twitching and groaning, the cyborg fell the ground and saw the demon's blade descending towards her... just as a pair of arms came up, gripped around her waist and pulled her though the floor.


            Nariko's eyes flared red as she sliced at the body, the electrically-charged blade having no more effect on the cyborg than the floor did. Soon, the body had vanished, leaving only spots of blood and lubricant, and a carted and cut floor. "So that's what happened to the other one," Nariko muttered, looking up at the battered trio of Senshi that stepped out of the far hallway.

 

            "Thanks for the help they're tricky," she winced flicking blood and other fluids off her sword.


            "Our help? Aren't you here to rescue us?" Moon asked.


            Nariko blinked. "I'm here to help you fight the enemy."  She bowed her horns to Jupiter.


            Favoring a fresh wound on her side, Mars bristled. "I'm so sorry that we pulled back. You tried to slice open a nuclear reactor! Were you trying to get us killed?" she shouted.

 

            "I didn't pull back," Jupiter said.

 

            Mars glacred.


            Nariko seemed to ignore the complaint as she looked around the room, taking care to watch the floors, ceiling and walls. "They're combat cyborgs. Their power systems were built to withstand combat," she eventually said,  not making eye contact with Mars.


            "How did you know what would happen?"


            "I asked Grandmother what would happen if I sliced through one of their power cores. She then examined the captured cores and the notes the Vatican gave us," Nariko explained as she continued to  check the room and the hallways that connected to it. "Didn't you think up ways to kill them and what would happen if they got damaged?"


            Mars glared.


            "There's three of you, and I've taken out two cyborgs. Given at least one on the diversion and at least one with mother there's at most three left. and at the least, there's the one that can go ghost through floors."


            "We've got magic that can block that," Mars said, staring at the floor where the... wounded had been pulled under. The devices seemed to work, but she was starting to question their range.


            "That's good. Don't turn them off," Nariko concentrated on her senses. She could smell Mother and some more Pattern Silvers, now that the interference was gone. Also, the whole building did stink of blood.  "Where are the rest of you?"

 

            Moon's composure cracked and her wand almost slipped from her fingers.


           

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


            Cursing Setsuna's wards, Mistress Mercury stepped into the building. The shattered wall provided easy ingress. Orion and Virgo followed. The room.... was destroyed. Broken studs, smashed furniture, burned electronics, and shattered glass were scattered about. The walls were scorched, torn, and broken. The ceiling, where it was present, slumped ominously. Almost as an afterthought, rain poured into the room, adding to the damage.


            Dread blooming within her, Mercury pushed forward. In one hallway, dark shadows moved in the flickering firelight. The fallen Senshi froze when two violet orbs appeared. A grim figure coalesced out of the darkness.


            A torn Kevlar skirt hung onto the figure's hips. Many of the pleated armor segments were warped, their ceramic components shattered, exposing bent metal layers, and several more were simply missing. The vest had two large irregular holes exposing strangely gleaming flesh. She wore no helmet and her face and hair were streaked with gore.


            The wings seemed to be fairly intact, though Mercury wondered if there was enough membrane to be able to fly. Her arms and legs were covered in slashes and gashes and blood still oozed from many of the cuts. To Mercury it looked like the demon's armor was held together by clotted blood. The biggest incongruity was the fresh bandage wrapped around a couple inches of the demon's tail.

 

            Despite it all, the figure's pace was steady and controlled.  Her eyes narrowed slightly at Mercury, who stared and began to step back, until her heel punctured something soft, something squelchy and she stumbled and fell. On her ass, Mercury looked to see what her foot had spiked. It was an arm. Most of the white glove and the skin under it had been burned off but the dark, tanned skin was still obvious.


            Ranma stopped walking and laughed as she idly fingered one of her obsidian earrings. They had been quite useful, though it was a bit worrying that she needed all of the reserve stored within them.  It was like her armor; both that and her earrings were resources that could be burned through in combat.


            Using the other foot, Mercury pushed the arm off her heel. "That doesn't mean that they got her. It's only an arm."


            The demon shrugged and held out her hand.


            Mercury grabbed the blood-smeared, grimy appendage and was pulled roughly to her feet. "I mean, you can..."


            Ranma raised an eyebrow and looked at the two Senshi behind Mercury.


            "I know... Setsuna actually managed to ward this place pretty well. I didn't know something was wrong until the news started reporting all those explosions a few blocks away from here. I mean..." Mercury trailed off when she noticed interest flicker into Ranma's expression.

 

            "Explosions?"


            "Yes... the news was reporting... they didn't know. Some military thing and a bunch of buildings blowing up. Whole area's cordoned off. I figured someone might be attacking the Princess. Guess I was right."


            Ranma cocked her head. "I didn't hear too much." It was too far to make out individual members of her family, other than Nariko, but she could feel a general sense of glee tempered by frustration and loss.


            "I don't know, they didn't seem to have any idea. All their footage was really grainy, but there was a lot of impressive sounding blasts and gunfire, and some of the larger explosions lit up in the distance." Mercury shivered. "I guess that's why no one's here yet. This is just a burning building."


            Ranma frowned and pushed past Mercury.


            "It's over, right? So, what should I do?" she asked the demon's back.


            "Stay out of the way."


            "That's it?" Mercury glared. "You just want me to leave?"


            "I didn't say that." Ranma growled, slowly turning around. "These are professionals. If they come back, help, otherwise don't get in the way."


            Staring at the mangled succubus Mercury gave a slight nod. "Yeah... they even forced you to use that gun."


            Ranma raised an eyebrow.


            "You're missing a magazine from your vest," Mercury stated, still trying to wonder just what kind of person DarkStar had faced.


            The demoness smiled, this time her eyes joining in the mirth. "Emptied it into her crotch,  she didn't feel any pain, but it fouled the joints there.  Why she had to have her friend pull her out."


            "Oh."


            "Mistress, would the Princess even want to see us?" Orion quietly asked.


            "True... she could be... rash."


            "Nah, antagonize her." Ranma's grin grew. "Maybe all she needs is just another push. That's what you want, right?"


            Mercury opened her mouth. "I... see your point."


            Ranma shrugged. "It's your choice."


            "We'll wait outside, keep an eye in case they come back," Mercury looked at Ranma again. "If that happens, we'll make sure you hear it."


            The redhead nodded. "And I'll make sure the Senshi don't blindly stumble into you." She grinned thinly. "Oh by the way,  one of them can phase right through the floors.  I'd be careful if I were you."


           

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

 


            Climbing up a short ladder, Desyat pulled herself out of the flowing water. Walking down the access corridor, she would occasionally stop and simply listen. The building had collapsed behind her and running, often swimming through entirely flooded tunnels, should have broken up her scent...


            But paranoia still ate at her. Better feeling that way, if I felt safe then I'd be... influenced by them, she thought. While, her emotions seemed... normal, she was still...


            Desyat shook her head, flicking water from her short hair. She went down a long corridor, through a watertight doorway, and then up a flight of stairs. Her bodysuit had already wicked away the moisture and was almost dry. She stopped at a small alcove and reached behind a large electrical box  withdrawing a duffle bag.


            Pulling out some clothes, she frowned briefly. There were two sets. She slipped her harness off, its once massive collection of blades quite depleted. After taking a few minutes to dry herself off with a towel, she pulled a pair of jeans and a sweater over her bodysuit. Some slightly oversized boots covered up her bodysuit's footwear. Finally she pulled out a mirror and a medical kit out and tried to make her face as presentable as possible.


            Staring at her eyes, she frowned. The redheaded demon was definitely not present. In all probability, the demon had sortied straight to Tsukino's position, likely bringing another spawn in the process. Apprehension and curiosity gnawed at her.


            She shook her head again and shouldered the duffle bag. In time, she would know what happened. There was nothing more she could do now. Despite everything, Vosem and I succeeded, she reassured herself as she walked through the corridors. If Galina and the others couldn't do the job against just two demons... She sighed. Whatever happened, happened. Arriving at an access door, she popped the lock and walked down a small hallway to find herself in a nearly empty subway station.

 

            It was half an hour past midnight, and the trains should still be running. Closing the door behind her, Desyat looked at a digital display above the platform for confirmation. The two other people in the station hardly noticed her; one was busy listening to music, the other was reading and having a snack. In an almost picturesque tableau a punk with a bright blue Mohawk and a guitar case stood a few yards away from a tired businessman in a rumpled suit. Briefcase open over his knees, he was sitting on a bench and slowly eating cookies from a plastic bag.


            Allowing a small smile she walked a bit closer and sat down on another bench. It would be a wait, but it beat having to risk taking a cab. Though if the things lasted long enough that the subways closed... that's well over three hours of fighting... them.


            She looked around the station. Her attention mostly focused on the stairway to the surface, the access doors, and the tunnel itself. At least the station was clean, better than most in Europe. It lacked the artist grandeur of the Metro stations of her home city, though. Eventually, a subway train arrived, but she sighed. It was going the wrong way. The businessman and the punk went onto the west-bound train, and a few minutes after they left another train arrived from the opposite direction. She pulled her bag and got on.


            She eased into a seat and stared at the map. She was on the eastern end of the Bloor-Danforth line and only had a couple stops to go. At least the trains are pretty clean, she idly thought while looking around. She was the only occupant of this car. There was a lone old woman in the car ahead of her who seemed half asleep.


            Eventually, the subway train slowed to a halt at her stop. Emerging into the night air, her ears were hit by the rich mix of sirens and alarms. Fat drops of water fell around her, she would get wet, but after her swim this was almost refreshing. She looked down to the South-east with a slight smile. At least they've got that mess to clean up, she thought, walking down the empty street.


            She took her time getting to the safe house, attempting to make sure she had not been followed. Really? They can mess with my mind. Can I really be sure? She shrugged and entered the apartment building.


            Once the apartment door was locked behind her, she slumped down onto a couch. Her diagnostics indicated the most vital repairs.  Pulling out a case and a thick towel and plastic sheet, she gathered the parts.  Then she spread the sheet and towel on the floor, sat down, and with familiar skill opened up her body and began replacing components.  

 

            It did not take long. There were more repairs, but they were not critical. After she cleaned up, she sat down on the couch. Staring at the wall, she checked the time on her internal clock. Part of her told her that she should move again, but it was glossed over. Eventually when the time was right, she would have to call in.

 

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

 


            Sophie slowly opened her eyes. "It happened," she whispered. The connection she felt... Morrison was next to her, holding the new demoness. They were both on a couch in Jarvis' office. "Mommy?"


            Morrison pouted slightly. "She's in a meeting. She stayed with you as long as she could, but... there's still things that need to be done."


            "Yes..." Sophie looked down.


            "You can feel her," Morrison smiled.


            "Not just her... I didn't think it would be this... connected," Sophie looked down. Her body figure seemed about the same, except the complete lack of melanin in her skin.


            "They tried to explain it, but..." Morrison shrugged.


            After licking her teeth, the new demon reached up and found the expected pair of horns. "Wow..." she nearly purred after running a finger over the inside edge of one. Her tail twitched in response too.


            Morrison giggled. "Least you didn't play with anything else."


            "I already had breasts," Sophie pouted. "So it's just me? How bad... I mean.. no one else? What about Fred?"


            Morrison shook her head. "And Blue Team didn't work with Aunty as much as the other teams. Ramirez was the only D member and he died instantly. The rest... there were only two other D program members among the casualties. They hit hard."


            "Damn... what about the rest? Sounds like mostly, dead or minor injuries then?"


            "Yeah, only a handful of people in the middle, and they aren't D program." Morrison gave a slight nod. "And Speirs was the gunner on Mother's vehicle, he died."


            "How bad was it? What happened to Blue Team?"


            "The enemy had remote-activated mini-guns. Whipple and Stockton are in surgery now."


            Feeling the regret surrounding Morrison, Sophie nodded. She could guess what happened to the other four members of the "heavy support" team. Morrison hesitated, and Sophie could feel her sister's apprehension eventually give way.

 

            "It kept air support down too, not that they didn't try. The Black Hawk pretty much died on the way back. Hilbert and Lindemann had to put her down in someone's front yard."

 

            "Are they okay?"


            "They were lucky. Patterson got shot in the arm, but he'll be okay. The area's secured, and they're still repairing it. The whole thing's not very subtle." Morrison's quick laugh left a frown. "Bad luck, too. Orange team managed to spook one of them. Got off a few shots. Armor on the APC didn't do anything. Maybe we should upgrade to LAV's; at least we'd have more firepower."


            "Anyone get out?"


            Her face blank, Morrison shook her head.


            Sophie felt the anger radiating off of her. "What's wrong?"


            "Orange Team shouldn't have been in there. They would have stood a better chance on the move. Would have had more guns at least..." Morrison sighed. "Gold team lost Sherman, but they were outside of the vehicle. The others could regroup.."


            "How'd he die?"


            "One of the cyborgs had this heavy shotgun. Armor doesn't cover our faces."


            Sophie nodded. Headshots with a shotgun were challenging, depending on the range, but were far easier for an enhanced super soldier... Like... us, Sophie added in realization. She then looked into Morrison's green eyes. "You got a kill."


            Morrison smirked. "Ukyou helped flank, and Misako kept the other one away. It was good too; the bitch shot me." The demoness pointed to the hole in her chest armor.

 

            "How bad?"

           

            Morrison thought back to feeling her flesh knit itself together. "The armor kept it from penetrating much, body took care of the rest."


            "Least we got one. Good job," Sophie leaned back with a tiny smile. "How'd she taste?"


            Morrison raised an eyebrow before blushing. "It's...."


            "I'm new at this, but I've seen the brood- I've seen us fight before."


            "It felt good, real good. I can see why Red and Mom are so... into it." Morrison idly licked her teeth.


            Sophie gave her a quick hug. "And the other one?" she felt Morrison's mood shift. "She got away then."


            "Looks like the report was correct. She can make metal explosive, and can launch these charges with some real range and accuracy. She retreated to this building. Booby-trapped."


            "So, Misako and the others simply blew it up," Sophie guessed.


            "Safest way. We're betting she got out alive. She could have had an escape tunnel prepared, or made one. We swept the storm sewers and other tunnels. Found some debris and collapsed bits. So unless we find a body..."


            Sophie nodded. "Uh... how's the Lieutenant doing?" she quietly asked.


            "She's still out there. Organizing cleanup and containment," Morrison said. "Akane and Nabiki are still with her. Sis is with them, too."


            "That's good... "


            "The transfer was hard on me too," Morrison hugged her sister. "With Sherman gone, the old Gold team's..." Morrison shrugged. It was down to just Andrea.


            Sophie shifted. At least she was still alive, though Lt. Tendo would need yet another replacement for her team. "We'll need some replacements."


            Morrison nodded. "Blue and Orange will need all new agents. Even if Whipple and Stockton can recover quickly they'd just be moved to bulk up the others. Red, Gold and Green all lost people."


            "There's not much of us left." Sophie blinked. "Green's already been restocked. Gold was already reorganized after Lieutenant Richards was court-martialed and Platt was transferred out."


            "Yeah, and Red Team's changed too. The Assembly Ambush hit us hard too."


            Sophie studied her sister's face... and scent. "That's what... Mommy- Mom's meeting's about?"


            "Just like last time. Everyone's been called up, and I'm sure the standby teams will be put on full time Operations rotations."


            "Will Topeka send anymore Operations people?" Sophie asked, referring to the North American Operations Centre in Kansas.


            Morrison shrugged. "It'd be handy, but even experienced Operations people will take time to get used to... us. Agents already here may be a better fit." While everyone was trained for combat operations, most did not have it as their sole duty.


            "I guess it depends on what Topeka can spare more of. Support staff or Operations." Sophie flipped her tail about. "What about... Aunty and Nariko?"


            Morrison chuckled. "It was two to five."

 

            "The Senshi helped.  Miss Kino, practically took one out herself and held another down so Nariko could gut her."


            Sophie narrowed her eyes. "And look at the trouble two cyborgs gave us."


            "Nariko was right about her and Kino's power. They did more damage than Red did."


            "Oh?" Sophie's eyes widened slightly.


            "Yeah, Red only took out one, another fought her to a standstill. Where Nariko and Miss Kino heavily damaged two of them."


            "And the fifth?" Sophie asked.


            "Evacuated the other four by phasing through the floors," Eve said, stepping into the room.  "But not before Moon and Mars almost fried her."


            Sophie slipped out of Morrison's arms and ran to the tall blonde. Smiling, Eve hugged her. "It's okay. It's okay."


            The newborn demoness made a slight mewling noise before beginning to purr.


            "I'm sorry, I couldn't spend the whole night with you."


            "How bad is it?"


            Eve frowned, "Morrison told you about the casualties?"


            Sophie nodded.


            "There's other problems too. Public Relations is handling the media fallout," Eve said as she ran her hand through Sophie's glossy-black hair.


            "I doubt all that gunfire can be covered up. So, terrorists?" Morrison asked.


            Eve eased herself and her youngest to the couch. "That's the plan. JTF2 is being used to help with the cover story. They're a bit miffed they missed out on the fighting."


            "Not like they got there in time," Morrison noted.


            Eve smiled and positioned herself between her daughters. "That's what Stillwater is telling them, and they were called in as soon as things started up."


            Leaning on her mother, Sophie felt an almost... warm flow from the older demon to her. "So if the battle had lasted longer they would have been brought in?"


            "Training helps, but eventually you're going to be tossed into the deep end." Eve looked over to Sophie. "What's wrong?'


            "You're upset," Sophie pouted.


            "Yes, your aunt's stuck babysitting Miss Tsukino. And while it was the cyborgs that caused all this damage, Tsukino was the one who refused our help and created opportunity for this outcome."


            "Worried, too..." Sophie stated quietly, leaning her head on Eve's chest.


            "Ranma's been pretty badly mauled, and it's been a long time since she's come out of a fight without feeding. She's... quite... stressed," Eve cautiously stated.


            "Oh dear," Morrison said.


            Eve smiled faintly. "On the plus side, Sis being... impolite to her would solve a lot of problems."


           

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

 


            After refilling her glass, Ranma put the pitcher down. Twisting her head around, a few loud clicks and cracks came from her neck. She had stripped out of her vest and skirting and both of the soaked armored sections were slumped onto the seat next to hers. The redhead raised her glass and drank most of the milk inside in one long pull.


            "I'm... sorry." Usagi said from under the blanket draped over her shoulders.


            "Oh?" Ranma nodded before going back to her sandwich.


            "How can you eat at a-" Rei stopped and looked at the quizzical demon. "Right..."


            "The rest of you should eat something too."


            Rei looked behind her to the blanket that was covering the... body in the corner. It was rather sad that Usagi insisted they bring the body here. At least the Princess let them take Meiou... away. "I'm not hungry."


            Ranma shrugged and went back to her sandwich.


            Makoto looked between Usagi and Rei and then at the sandwich. It was a baguette stuffed with pickled vegetables like carrots and daikon, onions, sliced peppers, chicken and ham. "It... does look good. What is it?"


            "Banh mi," Ranma said taking one of the half baguettes off her plate and handing it to Makoto. "Vietnamese and French dish. Nice flavor. Quick to make and filling too."


            Makoto bit into it. "Nice, crunchy," she said enjoying the various textures. Then the peppers kicked in.


            "The cooks had some extra peppers from chili night," Ranma said pushing a second freshly-filled glass over.


            "Real good and not too spicy," Makoto said accepting the drink. She doubted that Ranma was drinking milk because she had a weaker tolerance for spicy food.


            "Are we just going to talk about cooking?" Rei asked.


            "Better than other topics." Ranma started into another sandwich.  "I know you girls..."  she frowned saying "had a bad night" seemed rather pat.


            Rei looked to Usagi who was staring at the table while she petted the cat that was lying in her lap. "She promised me they'd be back. She... showed me," Usagi mumbled without looking up.


            "Setsuna and Minako?" Ranma asked as Usagi moved Luna to her shoulder, got up, and walked across the commissary. "They can regen?"


            Instead of responding, Usagi summoned her rod.


            "Ah," Ranma noted while motioning to the other agents in the room to pull back from the... body.


            "This isn't good," Rei frowned. "At least Luna's just gone limp."


            "She was close, to the other... cat?" Ranma was not fond of them, but even she was depressed by the pathetic sight of a white cat crushed by cinderblocks.


            Makoto nodded. "And Minako....  well they just reuinted."


            Eating, Ranma watched as the blonde cast her spell. "Have you called the ones back in Japan?"


            "Not yet," Rei said, casting a cold glance towards Usagi.


            With Luna limply lying over her shoulder, Usagi slowly walked back to the table. "I think it's helping," she said, sitting down.


            Rei forced herself to give a charitable smile. "Are you sure?"


            Usagi's eyes glared and then turned to Rei. "Setsuna would not lie to me!" she declared, her voice focused and hard.


            Makoto put down her banh mi. "She knew; she knew how much trouble these cyborgs could be. She knew you wouldn't order anyone to stay and fight... unless."


            "So, she volunteered Minako too?" Rei angrily asked. It would be nicer if she could move the blame to Setsuna. It was easy to see the Princess as being misled, instead of calculating. Sailor Senshi were supposed to die for their Princess, but not like this, she thought.


            "We could have..." Ranma flexed her hands. After the initial shock the Senshi had rallied,  and with Nariko's help the three Senshi had turned the tied.  If the Ranma and her daughters had been there,  if they had arrived faster....

 

            She exhaled.


            "You think that would have made things better?" Rei asked.


            The demon nodded.


            "Yeah...  they bogged down we started to fight back; they knew they'd need  surprise."  Rei forced herself to drink. "What of the other fight? Wasn't that a diversion? They did it to tie up your forces."


            "Rei..." Usagi started.


            Ranma raised her hand. "No, she's right. Maybe we should have worked together."


            "Mina and Puu bought us some time, but...." Makoto cleared her throat.


            "How bad was it?" Usagi pulled Luna off her shoulder and put the sleeping cat in her lap. "How... bad was it for you?"


            Her own emotions roiling, Ranma took a sip. "They were prepared. We got one of them, but lost two teams and more."


            "I'm sorry," Usagi repeated.


            Silence fell in the room. Ranma and Makoto continued to eat while everyone sat quietly. After several long minutes the doors suddenly burst open. The redhead had gotten up and the smile she had on her face was warm and happy.


            "Hi Aunty!" Sophie said as she hugged Ranma. Behind her Eve and Morrison stepped into the room and briefly saluted the agents on guard.


            "Are we in a race?" Ranma asked with a bittersweet grin while Eve gave a slight smile in return.


            Usagi looked up. "So, you're.... new."


            Sophie looked at the blonde teenager for a couple seconds, eventually she nodded.


            Rei shook her head. "This is just great, you guys gain people while we lose-"


            Glowering, Usagi slowly drew her hand back and stared down at the girl she had knocked out of her chair. "Don't."


            "Mother had the right idea." Sophie glared at Rei.


            Rei looked up at Usagi's stern face. "But..."


            "No." Usagi picked Luna up and put the cat on the table. "You know why she's a demon, and if you keep this attitude, I'll get you before they do." She stood up.


            Breaking eye contact, Rei's eyes went to the floor.


            "I don't want to lose any, more people tonight." Usagi stated as she walked over to the gurney where Minako lay. She pulled off the sheet and stared at the still form. Her neck was bent at an unnatural angle, and there was a large furrow carved through her side. The rest of her body – face, arms, and legs – was slashed in multiple, deep cuts.

 

            It looked like dozens of razor blades had been launched at her. The melted and refrozen golden armor from her seifuku was splattered over the giant wound and was as still as the rest of her. One of her eyes was open and stared lifelessly.  Blood had pooled in the bottom of the bag as she had continued to... leak.

 

            Frowning, Usagi picked up the sword that lay half hidden by Minako's bloody hair. Holding the blade, the princess stared at Minako. "Wake up," Usagi ordered as the blade began to glow.


            "Uh... Usagi..." Makoto started. She looked over to the demons that were intently watching and... smelling the proceedings.


            There was a golden flash, an almost filmy greasy feeling of a slick magic, and Minako's body began to twitch. The short armored gloves made clanking noises as they opened and closed, and her high heeled boots, leg guards, and metal skirting rattled. Then the body went still.


            Usagi frowned, and the glowing increased. She then placed the sword in Venus' hand, which closed over it. The closed eye flipped open and began to turn red.


            Using a free arm the metal-armored Senshi rose to a sitting position. Her eyes, now entirely a glowing crimson, looked straight to Usagi. There was a grinding snapping noise as the... body adjusted her neck and it popped back into place. Golden and crimson fluid leaked out of her various wounds.


            "What did you do to her?" Rei cried, still on the floor.


            Usagi sighed and reached a hand out and ran it over Minako's cold cheek. "Ami did this. She's the one that... changed Mina."


            Makoto swallowed trying to keep her stomach under control. "You're not- I mean yeah... Ami tried to control Minako with that armor, but are you going to turn her corpse into some kind of ghoulish robot?"


            More gold poured out from her wounds, beginning to form a thin coating. Venus turned and, while keeping an utterly blank expression, swept her feet off the gurney and onto the floor. "It is still me." Minako's voice said in a monotone, while her mouth remained still and closed, but the jewel on her chest pulsed brightly.


            "What?"


            "Her voice box must have been damaged when her neck was crushed," Eve observed. "We were right. She's not human anymore."


            Usagi looked down. "Mina told me.... Puu convinced her. I was hoping...."


            "I'm sorry, I couldn't restart without you doing that," Venus flatly stated, her eyes still glowing red.


            "You didn't die?" Rei finally climbed back into her chair. "You're not dead?"


            "Her head's still intact." Ranma shrugged as she handed a few banh mi to her sister and nieces.


            "But... why did it take Usagi all those times to get her... back?" Makoto asked.


            "It's like starting a bike on a cold day. You just keep at it until the engine turns over and starts up."


            Minako's eyes briefly flashed on and off. "Yes. Fair explanation."


            "Are you... okay?" Usagi asked.


            "Repairs are proceeding." Venus said through the gem while the wound in her side slowly decreased. The golden coating over her arms began to flake-off revealing fresh, healed skin.


            "Oh God, is this what Ami wanted when she said she would upgrade us?" Rei asked.  She still felt a greasy...  wrong sensation at this.  She wanted to ignore the coldness of Minako's body, the staring open eye, that her friend was dead.

 

            But... this was not the first time Usagi had brought one of them back.


            Venus gingerly opened her mouth and after testing her jaw and voice began to speak. "Yes, Mistress Mercury was experimenting in the ways our Senshi magic could... modify our bodies."


            "That's... creepy."


            "But you're okay now." Usagi said hugging the stiff girl. "Right?"


            Venus turned to Usagi, the red glow in her eyes fading. "I seem to be."


            "You were dead." Makoto noted. "No breathing, no heart, no movement."


            "As Ranma said, my brain was fine; my body, however, was not." Her eyes blue again, if a hair brighter than before, she looked around the room. Two were missing, Setsuna's absence was not surprising. "Artemis?"


            Usagi inhaled. "I'm sorry."


            Venus frowned and after a moment lowered her head onto Usagi's shoulder and the cold facade broke as she began to weep.


            "If there's..."


            "There's nothing to do." Venus paused in her sobbing, looking at Luna's sleeping form, and then turned to Usagi. "I take it Setsuna is no longer... intact?"


            The princess nodded.


            "You were there; she was blown apart," Rei quietly noted.


            "I was taken out before she was," Venus crisply replied as she stood up. "You're the one that saved the Princess," she noted standing in front of Ranma and Makoto.


            Ranma had let Eve take back Sophie. "Nariko too."

 

            "Come on, Mina,"  Makoto glanced away avoiding the blonde's focused,  tear-stained gaze.


            A frown flicked across Venus' face. "Her sword was more use than mine, and your lightning."


            Ranma looked down at the long steel and gold broadsword. "Too slow, right?"


            Venus nodded. "The one with the two swords that could grow in length. Then the fast one with all the knives."


            Ranma smiled faintly.


            Venus tilted her head slightly. "I see, you failed to kill her as well."


            The demoness chuckled. "I think we all can say that we managed to wound them."

 

            "Yeah but they're like cockroaches. I mean I helped Nariko cut one in half!"  Makoto cried.

 

            "She did not like that," Nariko smiled.

 

            Makoto snorted. "They didn't like your sword at all.  Lightning and a blade sharp enough to cut through their armor? That's like their kryptonite."

 

            "Isn't her blade red?  Red kryptonite doesn't work that way,"  Minako idly noted.

 

            "Whatever,"  Makoto rolled her eyes. "Some sort of red anathema or scarlet bane."

 

            Nariko made a thoughtful noise. "I haven't name the my sword yet."


            Rei opened her mouth, but then looked to see Usagi's frowning face.

 

            "You fought their leader?"

 

            "Long dark brown hair delicate but stern face,  extremely fast wtih a  lot of blades?"  Ranma nodded. "Yeah, I met her."


            Venus paused to recall the name. "Galina A'deen. What of the others? Other than the one Mako helped Nariko bisect."


            "Four heavily damaged, but were all evacuated by the fifth," Eve stated. "Of the diversion: one was killed, the other escaped when the building she was in exploded."


            "Impressive." Venus looked back to Usagi. "We underestimated them."


            "There was a plan," Usagi stated. "It...  it wasn't enough."


            "But with Setsuna-" Venus stopped. "I see." She turned to the door as it opened and watched Nariko walk in. A small frown crossed the Senshi's face as she looked at the blade on the demon's right hip.


            Nariko handed a slim folder to her mother, who opened it. "Is this right?" Ranma asked after reading the contents.


            The eldest daughter gave a curt nod. "Kasumi reports things appear under control."


            "Fine," Ranma handed the file to Eve and went back to the table and picked up the platter of sandwiches, offering one to Nariko.


            "This isn't right," Eve frowned. "These two firemen shouldn't be on this list."


            "Still civilians," Ranma shrugged.


            Usagi blinked.


            "They were doing their duty," Eve stated.


            Ranma nodded. "Then tell the brass. I'm sure Jacob would change it."


            "What are you talking about?"


            "Don't worry, it's not your problem," Nariko assured, warmly smiling, with one hand on Usagi's shoulder and the other just above her right hip. Noting Venus step closer, Nariko's smile grew.


            "What happened?" Usagi asked.


            "You would have figured it out, and better to hear it from us than from the media's lies," Eve handed the file over to Usagi. "It's amazing what they'll come up with on their own. PR really just needs to give them a nudge"


            Having opened the folder, Usagi ignored the blonde demon. She saw lines of mostly neatly typed names. Several were just descriptions, disturbingly vague ones at that, some did not even give heights. Under each name or description, was information about the person's... condition. "What is this?" she asked, her body growing cold.


            Usagi's hands trembled.


            "They did fire that big beam right through our building. Who knows where it went afterwards," Venus said frowning at the preliminary report. "That many fires? Wouldn't the rain..."


            "There were a lot of explosions," Nariko noted.


            "But.... this many? It was night."


            "There's security, people cleaning offices, night shifts, and anyone on the road," Eve explained.


            "If the firemen had to do some stuff that cost them two men... what kind of nightmare was it out there?" Makoto asked.


            Ranma sighed. "These are combat cyborgs. What did you expect them to do?"

 

            "What did you expect them to do?" Usagi asked. "They were assassins, they could have been subtle.  Or at least just attacked me with some precision."


            "There's no police or paramedics on this list." Venus said after reading the list over Usagi's shoulder. "Did you lose anymore men? In the rescue?"


            "The Fifth is quite hardy. Thankfully they were fine," Eve stated. It was also good for Misako to help with the search and rescue. Initial reports were promising, but her weapon did do a lot of damage.


            Usagi turned to Ranma. "You wanted to be out there helping people? Instead of in here..."


            "Yes, out there or in here helping our wounded," Nariko completed. "I was doing that with Ukyou," she stated, her voice almost sounding irritated.


            "I'm sorry. Thank you... all of you for being with me," Usagi repeated.


            Nariko studied the blonde for a moment. She smiled. "Accepted."


            Looking at the demon's seemingly friendly face, Usagi frowned. "We... we did have a plan for... after an attack."


            "You... did?" Rei asked


            "What was it?" Ranma asked.


            Usagi coughed. "Setsuna was going to track them... I mean Ami knows how to block their powers, but they don't know... right?"


            "That is true," Ranma allowed.


            "We thought we could drive them off. Then, when they retreated, she would use her powers to track them." Usagi looked down.

 

            Nariko rubbed her chin. "Not bad... sounds like a plan my elder sister would come up with."

 

            "Oh, Kodachi graduated? Did she make Operations? Where did she get stationed?" Sophie asked after decoding her niece's subtext.

 

            Nariko nodded. "She's in Boston.  Mostly been doing support and containment work." The demon's voice was slightly apprehensive.

 

            "It's okay. She can handle it," Ranma reassured Nariko.

 

            "Yes, she is an agent," Nariko noted.

 

            Makoto empathized with the demon's worry. Tonight was illustrative of the risks. "So... we relied on Setsuna for everything?" she sighed. "We did that with Ami too. How well did that work out?"


            "And when things got bad, you ordered Setsuna to stay and fight?" Rei tersely asked.


            Usagi chewed her lip. "It wasn't... Even if she did... die; she said she could come back; she showed me."


            Rei raised an eyebrow. "What did she show you?"

 

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

 


            The  drab room was much longer than it was wide. This combined with the banks of angled containers that dominated the middle of the space made the ceiling feel lower than it really was. The reinforced metal tracking for an overhead crane did not help in this regard. A thick collection of cabling ran from the back of each tube to a socket in the floor.


            Low lights running down the walls met the ceiling and illuminated the chamber.  A constant even hum filled it with noise. Occasionally, a light would shift on top of one of the few full containers. Fans would periodically kick in and cycle and filter the air, keeping it from going stale. Beyond the large, essentially tubular containers were sets of lockers and kiosks that held rudimentary bathing and toiletry equipment. Bunks and other storage butted up to these walls; that equipment was sealed, unused.


            At either end of the long room was a heavy-set door that was large enough to comfortably accommodate two of the containers. To allow for an airtight seal, the crane track hinged to the side just before this door. When the doors opened, the tracking would swing into place.


            The sequence of noises, flashes, and pumping air was regular. There was no indication of age. The room seemed to simply exist. One moment fell into the next without altering character.


            It changed.

 

            A pleasant, but still jarring, chime came from one of the containers as the lights along its crystal display lit up. The container chimed again and the lights systematically went from red to green. When the final light turned over, the clear cover that dominated the front half of the container's length split down the middle and hissed open.


            Within the tube a nude figure stirred. Red eyes stared up at the blank grey ceiling. With a sigh the female form pulled herself out. She shivered when her bare feet touched the cold floor. Once outside, she closed the tube's door and looked at its clear reflective surface. She chided herself for not keeping the stock...  ripe, but this body would be suitable enough; there was work to be done. She flicked her wrist and a large red orb appeared in her hand.


            A metal frame consisting of a smaller heart stacked on top of a larger heart which contained the red orb appeared. From the tip of that heart a long metal rod shot out, gaining detail and embellishments as it grew. Then the female, still nude, vanished in an iridescent flash.


            The room returned to its regular cycle. The only sign of the change was one more empty tube. In the chamber below this one there were larger changes, specifically in the vast data crystals that linked to the tubes, but even those changes were not immediately apparent, just more patterns in row upon row of crystals.

 

End Chapter

 

Key to the Russian obscenities:

"Chto za huy'nya!" What the fuck!

"Tvar"  A) Creature  B) Vile, loathsome, foul person.  Both meanings fit here.

"schelkat' ebalom."  To be careless

"Chyort voz'mi!" Oh, shit! / Oh, damn!

 


Revision Notes:    This chapter has had the most reworking since Book 1.  I did a fair bit of work in this to adjust the performance of the Senshi.  The Combat Cyborgs would have been a devastating surprise to them in their fist battle, but the Senshi would have not have performed ad badly as they did in the original version of this chapter.  Especially given Nariko used lighting powers to great effect when Makoto was right there with her.