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 3:  The Cost of Failure

Formerly:  Reequipped and Repulsed Part 2 ii

 

 

            "Lizaveta and Sem are stabilized," Arisha stated as she limped into the common room of their suite. A police scanner was on in the corner, blaring out emergency dispatches.  Arisha's internal pickups had been damaged.  There was also equipment to track the encrypted  military and mercenary frequencies.


            Galina looked up from the surgery on her knee and thigh. She had already stabilized the damage to her crotch and back. It was a quick fix.  Her combat ability was... reduced.  It was a novel experience.  She had plenty of practice on both regular and emergency maintenance, but this was...

 

            Arisha frowned as she waited for a response.  Her superior's entire lower back had been gouged, torn apart, and turned into a bloody mess.  When Galina had stripped out of her bodysuit, the clotting it provided was removed and a mess of blood, metal, cabling, and lubricant  poured out. Only Scarlatti's brilliance had kept the wound from being immediately fatal, and only the collection of bypass relays and a large adhesive patch kept it from being mortal. It was still easier to repair than the wounds Dve'nadtsat or Sem had received, and was a bit worse than her own damage.  Even Shest had been burned and battered by the battle.

 

            "How long until they're operational?" Galina asked in an expectant voice with a weary grin.


            Arisha frowned and picked at her arm. Around the point of reattachment, the flesh was discolored and irritated; she wondered if that demon coated her blade with something. "Shest reconnected Sem's power and control systems. She still needs some structural connections and some muscular and skin joining. Give it a few days on the outside."


            Galina became fractionally more pleased. "And Dve'nadtsat?"


            "You saw what that tvar did." Arisha spat.


            Putting down the bloody forceps, Galina leaned forward. "Yes, dear Arisha, and how much non-cosmetic damage does she have?"


            "She can see now, but we're running low on spares." Arisha frowned. Those were one of the few precious parts they could neither purchase nor build themselves.  This one battle had burned through far more of their parts stockpile and medical supplies than they had expected.


            "We've also lost most of our remote guns," Galina calmly observed.


            "Vosem and Desyat's next check in window is coming."


            "They performed quite well," Galina smiled.


            "Yes, imagine if we faced more of those things or if the magical girls had forewarning."


            Galina returned to repairing her thigh. "Their results are worrying. It was... fortunate that their diversion received as much attention as they did."


            "The mercenaries care less about Zaika than we suspected?"

 

            "You were concerned that the mercenaries might have simply fired artillery at Zaika's house when we attacked, or maybe that they put a few 2000lb bombs in the foundation or maybe even some 1500kg ones.  It's not like they'd have trouble buying either."

 

            "Perhaps, or maybe they felt Zaika and her girls did not need so much help."

 

            Galina stopped her work. "We had them, a bit more time and we could have finished them."

 

            "Or they might have slowed us down enough to turn the tables. A few solid hits and things would be very different.  The mercenaries just two demons and that was enough to force us to flee."

 

            Galina resumed repairing her leg. "We underestimated them, but we learned."


            Arisha suppressed a sigh and scratched her arm. Galina's apparent contentment was... worrisome.


            "Lizaveta will be operational soon?"


            "For battle, sure. It'll take longer to get her face in an... acceptable state. There's still a lot of reconstruction." Arisha's frown deepened.


            "Noted."


            After waiting a few seconds, Arisha coughed. "I think we need to do something for Shest."


            "I agree." Galina finished her work and began sealing up the wound in her thigh. "Her performance was exemplary. Though we'll need to be careful. Next time they'll be sure to finish us off."


            "If either magical team can attack any faster than they were..." Arisha recalled the brunette's lighting fist and demon's sword cutting through her, just as Shest pulled her through the floor. "I don't like this."


            Galina's eyebrow raised. "We accepted this out of a desire to be challenged. Perhaps victory over the blonde with the sword and Zaika's advisor made you complacent."


            "You were the one wounded by that sword," Arisha reminded.


            Galina's contemplative smile returned. "Yes, she had potential, but lacked the training or even the will to really press the advantage."


            "I thought she was just slow," Arisha replied. "But once organized, Zaika's remaining bodyguards became a clear threat."


            "Their firepower is impressive. Especially that brunette, rather like the red-eyed demon you faced."


            "Not quite. The Kino girl was more powerful and her magic did more damage.   That tvar's blade scythed through us." Arisha said.


            Galina's smile remained but her eyes turned cold. "It was a mistake to send out Svetlana and Ivanova like that."


            Arisha knew Galina was looking at the time. "Vosem and Desyat have the turrets, orders to retreat, and prepared routes."


            "You were listening to the police radio. You heard the explosions. WIC sent two demons against us so they could send the rest against those two."


            "Diving headfirst into a trap? What, did they intend to use brute force and blast through the diversion?"


            "We merely tried to kill a schoolgirl." Galina laughed. It was a bitter noise. "And for our trouble they grievously wounded all of us."

 

            "We killed two of them."

 

            Arisha waved her hand. "Desyat and Vosem went up against trained military personnel. It is an issue of priorities."


            "I suppose it's refreshing to have an enemy that doesn't even pretend to be the 'good guys'."


            "Yes, our 'client' has that honor," Galina wryly noted.


            "At least we made those arrangements ahead of time," Arisha noted.


            "It cuts into our margins but after tonight-" Galina was cutoff by a phone ringing. She picked up the pre-paid cell phone that was specifically purchased for tonight and would be destroyed before sunrise. "Yes?"


            "It's me," Desyat said from her own purpose-selected phone. "Did you... get your exam results?"


            Galina frowned. Her subordinate's tone was disquieting. "Not well. C-Minus," she explained.


            "I see." In the safe house across town, Desyat chewed her lip. The C meant serious casualties but at least no deaths. The minus was obvious, Zaika was still alive.


            Galina felt tension increase. "And how was the concert?"


            Desyat closed her eyes. "Vosem met some guy; she'll be spending the night at his place. I was hit on... a couple of the guys were cute."


            "What's wrong, Nina? Did anyone try to... touch you?" Galina asked, feigning scandalous caution on the question.

 

            Desyat laughed. "You could say that. Damn tvar raped my mind."


            Galina froze, the breach in protocol secondary in her mind "What?"


            "Didn't know they could do that?" Desyat's laugh was resigned. "To make you schelkat ebalom," she spat under her breath.


            Controlling herself, to keep from tightening her grip on the phone, Galina pondered Desyat's punishment. "Careless, you say?"


            Watching, Arisha sighed. Their numbers were slowly being whittled away.


            "They can mess with our minds," Desyat slowly said, carefully enunciating each word. "That's how Vosem... she couldn't shoot straight."


            "Nina... now is not the time to complain. You were just supposed to delay them, not get bogged down in a full engagement."


            "Chto za huy'nya," Desyat swore. "I'm not here to bitch. I'm here to warn you! You don't know what you're dealing with here."


            "Oh?" Galina's mind went back to a specific slightly smiling redhead


            "We didn't get bogged down. They were the ones hunting us! They knew it was a trap; they knew we were setting up an ambush." Desyat paused to calm herself. "How sure are you that you weren't followed?"


            "We followed the procedures and-"


            "They're demons and magical girls. We don't know what they can do."


            "There were some.. problems on our end," Galina admitted. In addition to their attacks being more powerful than expected, the human magical girls had some type of short-range jammer that kept Shest from really going on offense. Galina frowned. "Arisha, get Shest."


            Arisha nodded.


            "How serious of a threat is this?" Galina asked returning to the phone.


            "How long have you been there?" Desyat asked, but continued on. "If it's been more than a few minutes... then you've got something worse on your hands."


            "They'd be watching us to gather intelligence." Galina swore at herself for blurting the statement out.


            "And you've got to ask why they'd do that?"


            Instead of responding, Galina turned to Shest who had just entered the room. "Can you do a sweep of the suite again? Just to be safe."


            Shest nodded and started adjusting her scanners. "It's.... " she frowned.


            Galina's eyebrows widened slightly.

 

            More puzzlement than shock on her face, Shest's form shifted ever so slightly and she activated her Deep Diver. With her body's state... questionable, her inter-dimensional senses unfolded. "There's no jammers..." Her eyes unfocused and she seemed to stare far off into the distance.


            Her mouth opened slackly. "Chyort voz'mi!" she screamed clutching her head. "The walls. Oh God the walls! The threshold opens!"


            Summoning her blades, Galina dropped the phone and ran to Shest. Out of the corner of her eye she caught a glimpse of an iridescent shimmer. The walls started to twist and things began to pour into existence. The closest Galina could come to explaining it was a time-lapse video she once saw of mushrooms growing. The fungi would swell and expand with an... unnatural fluidity.


            But at least those were things that grew from the ground. Now... things began to twist and form. It was different from Shest's phasing; she merely slid through matter. Things, the only appropriate word in Galina's mind, with vaguely spherical conglomerations possessing a rippling textured surface simply grew from nothingness.


            A blade shot out and punctured one of the... malignant growths. Like a pool of oil floating on water, it burst apart in a filmy rainbow shimmer. And like an oil slick, iridescent reflections danced over the surface.


            Screaming and clawing at her temples, Shest triggered the pulse sequence she had added to her Deep Diver system. Galina felt her insides churn and vibrate, her systems erupt in a massive communications fault, and finally her eyes overload. Suddenly feeling very heavy, she slumped to the floor.

 

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

 


            Adjusting her shoulders, Ranma stepped into the hallway. Behind her, a group of agents took up position around the elevator bank. Her nose picking up the scent, the demoness crossed the corridor in a sprint.

 

            The figure at the other end dropped her phone and flipped her arms in a defensive posture, but her limbs were knocked aside. Ranma swept the girl's legs and pushed forward. The green-haired female slammed into the ground. Supporting herself with one arm, Ranma leaned over the slender figure.

 

            Her other arm was pointed over the prone figure's face, claws extended to within millimeters.


            "What the hell are you?" the redhead demanded, staring right into her captive's red eyes. Ranma's tail hovered over the red-eyed girl's sternum; its filaments extending


            "Setsuna Meiou." The green-haired girl made sure to keep her head on the floor.


            "She's dead, and she don't look fourteen," Ranma told the shorter girl.


            Shivering slightly, the girl winced at the headache blooming in her mind. "You can smell me, and who else would actually call up WIC and announce they're wandering the basement hallways of the Toronto Trust Tower. We're only a few floors above the base here. Who else could I be?"


            Ranma smiled. "You'd be surprised what those cyborgs can do."


            "Believe me, I know," the girl sighed. "I know where they are."


            "Oh? My, my. Usagi's plan worked?" Ranma's voice was pleasant but her eyes were hard.


            "What will satisfy you? I smell like Setsuna; what else do you need?" Hearing the clunk of a heavy door open, her eyes darted to the side.


            Ranma sprang up, rolling off the girl, who started to lift her head.

 

            A blank-faced blonde stepped across the threshold. She aimed with a golden scepter and a burst of white light shot down the corridor enveloping the girl's chest and head.


            After the beam gutted out, the green-haired figure stood. The jeans and blouse she had been wearing were gone, replaced by a Sailor Seifuku of familiar coloration.


            "Interesting gambit," Sailor Pluto said, leaning on her staff. "I do wonder what exactly a purification spell would do to a combat cyborg."


            "There's more enemies than just cyborgs," Ranma reminded.


            "How'd you know I wasn't one of those?"


            "You could have tricked my nose and the scanners, but... those girls are heavy," the demon smirked.


            The newly diminutive Senshi narrowed her eyes. "That's why you tackled me."


            "I'm so sorry," Usagi cried as she ran over to Pluto and hugged her. "I didn't... I mean you showed me the..."


            "Where are they?" Ranma demanded.


            Pluto gave the address of a hotel across the city. "Suite rooms 807 and 809. I've only seen the five that attacked us."


            "Good." Ranma said repeating the information into her headset. "Let's go," she said, motioning for  Pluto and Usagi to follow her back to the armored doorway Usagi had emerged from.


            "You seem accepting," Pluto noted.


            "Usagi explained it; your link to the Time Gates and some kind of clone bank. Point is, you found them," Ranma's tail swished with eagerness.

 

            She could accept a device that allowed someone to follow a person, but it was interesting that the system was autonomous enough to run while the operator fought, died and... transferred into a new body.


            "Yes, that's-" Pluto stopped at the door. "Damnation. They see me."


            "They're onto the surveillance!" Ranma barked into her headset.


            "How can they...." Usagi blinked as the doors closed and the crowded elevator began to move. "That ghost girl? She could move through stuff"


            Pluto gave a smile; Usagi was getting sharper. "I'll buy you some time," she assured.


            "What?" Ranma asked.


            "How long until your troops-" Pluto stopped with an inhuman cry and crumpled bonelessly to the elevator floor.


            A series of alarms blared.

 

             "Inter-Dim spike," Maya Iverson's voice calmly said over Ranma's headset.

 

            As that happened, a vast almost electric tingling went through Ranma, concentrating on her horns.


            "What happened?" Usagi held Pluto's unconscious form.


            "Some kind of attack, they tried stop Puu from spying," Ranma said both to Usagi and into her headset. Her voice was strained and had a hint of fear to it; her horns were still tingling, not a good sign. "Kas, how far out are you?" she asked as they left the elevator bank and made it to the motor pool.


            "Minute out; we're driving in now," Lieutenant Tendo replied.

 

 

            "Watch your ass, they know we're coming." Ranma walked over to a waiting vehicle.


            "What about me?" Usagi asked her Senshi in tow. Though a medic was working on the girl and checking her for damage. Usagi saw one of the succubus agents waiting in the motor pool.


            Pulling a new armored vest and skirt over her bodysuit, Ranma turned to look at the blonde. "You still need to be checked out."


            "But..."


            Ranma turned to her niece. "Morrison, take Miss Tsukino and Setsuna to Doc Covington. I'm sure Eve knows but tell her to keep an eye on them."


            Usagi glared. "I'm okay-"


            Stopping her climb into the armored vehicle, Ranma turned to the blonde. "Maybe not. You got hit hard and are still pulling together."


            Usagi's expression softened.


            "Puu needs you, Mina too. She just lost a long time friend. Think about your girls, first." With a small frown at Usagi, the redhead slipped inside, and the large vehicle drove off.

 

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

 


            Desyat lowered the phone and stared at it for a moment. Terrified screams still ringing in her ear, she flipped it over and pulled the battery out. Her eyes went to the table, looking past the disassembled electronics.

 

            They'll make it out. They've planned for this. She sharply inhaled. Really? They planned to have things come through the walls?


           
Desyat clenched her fingers closed and listened. The building seemed quiet enough, and she did not detect... She shook her head. Of course we planned on that. Shest can go through walls.


            Frowning, she got up and walked across the room. It sounded like... The walls. Oh God the walls! The threshold opens... like surveillance. Of course there could have been an attack, in that case...


            They had some serious casualties, and it's not like you're out there to distract any of those demons. Two demons were enough to hurt them and scuttle the mission. What could thrice that do?


            Desyat tried to keep herself from responding. She could tell her mind was just going in circles. I managed to survive, she thought walking to the kitchen and pulling out a glass.


            Yes, but that's because I could run, and they were busy with Vosem, she reminded herself. After filling the glass with water she sat back down on the couch. After a few minutes, condensation started to form on the glass and drip down onto her fingers.


            "I can't just sit here." Desyat blinked, almost shocked at her voice. What then? Run to the hotel? That'll be helpful. They've either already left or are being killed.


            She moved the glass to the table in front of her. I guess the best I could hope for then would be to kill a bunch of mercenaries before dying. She frowned. It was a silly idea. Rushing in now would be a waste. If she really wanted to do some damage, she would have to plan her vengeance.


            Looking at the table, her gaze drifted between the still-full glass of water and the disassembled phone. Suddenly, she bolted to her feet, slipped on a coat, and grabbed her duffle bag and another, smaller case. Shouldering the cases, she went to the door and waited for a split second.


            After sensing that the hallway was clear, she went out into the corridor and started walking down the stairs. Once outside, she began walking down the sidewalk. She consoled herself that at least this time she remembered to slip on a raincoat. Why did it take so long for me to move? she asked herself as she crossed the street.


            Hearing police, fire and ambulance sirens, she sighed and continued walking. After going down another block, she slipped into a motel complex and climbed up the stairs to the second floor. She carefully passed a man in a long coat shambling down past her. Fishing out a room key, she let herself into the dingy room, locked the door, and flopped onto the bed.


            Well, now what? She frowned, looking up at the darkened ceiling. Eventually, she would have to see what happened. If this is it... then I've got to make some choices.


            She closed her eyes. If she were alone, what then? What else was there for her?


            I guess I could stay in the business, alone; I'll just avoid those protected by demons. She paused and started laughing.


            Once you figure out what a joke everything is, laughing is the only thing that makes sense.


           
Desyat stopped laughing. "Our betrayal by the Politburo, the demons, their mouths full of my comrade's guts... these are part of the joke?" she whispered to herself.


            Never said it was a good joke; just playing along with the gag... she thought grimly.


            Returning to distantly staring she waited. When her clock hit the right time she reached into the smaller of her two cases and pulled out another cellular phone and  after putting in the battery turned it on.


            After a couple minutes the phone rang. She looked at the number, it was one of Arisha's. "Why, hello Nina," an amused male voice greeted.


            Eyes widening, Desyat muted the microphone.


            "Sorry about the caller ID.  Sometimes electronics get their wires crossed. Magic, and technology, sufficiently advanced or not, don't always get along.  Oh where are my manners....  you seem upset. Is something wrong?" the caller teased. "Well, you can't be too shocked; anyone can call, provided they have the number."

 

            Desyat made sure she was recording the audio feed  and the radio emissions and turned the microphone back on. "You realized the mistake you've made," she said, getting to her feet.


            The man laughed. "No, I'm pretty sure this is Nina Desyat."

 

            After a moment of silence, he sighed. "Do you need more time to reason out who this could be? Obviously, this isn't the Company's style. They're nowhere near this playful. We both know they'd have already shot out the window."


            Desyat stepped away from the curtained window and out of direct sight of it.


            "Probably would have used a few rockets, maybe a grenade gun, or just sent in the demons," he continued. "We're beyond worrying about civilian casualties anyway."


            "Who do you work for, then? Desyat snapped, her impatience getting the better of her.


            "What a funny question." He laughed, gratuitously. "You of all people should understand how valuable the answer to such a question would be. However, I will give you something. Go to the window."


            Desyat inched to the front of the room. Instead of going to the window, she checked the cameras she had installed outside to cover the room.  Both were suddenly out. She then took out a mirror and angled it so she could see through the door's fisheye lens. The walkway in front of the motel rooms was clear, as was the parking lot, except for the part directly below her which was obscured by the walkway. Across the street, a man in a fedora and a long coat, illuminated by a street lamp, started waving to her. He held a phone to his ear, the metal of his tie clasp reflecting the pale glow of the street lamps.


            "You..." Desyat swore, her mind recalling the businessman in the subway and the man leaving the motel.


            The man chuckled. "I'm a bit surprised, actually. You got here a bit quicker than I had expected. Oh well, we all make mistakes. After all, to err is to be... human."


            Desyat flicked out one of her blades. He was out in the open and in easy range. "What kind of fool do you take me for?" she demanded.


            "Let's play a little game. Pretend that I know exactly which room you're in, and you know I got here before you did. Now, let's pretend I got into the rooms on either side of you, behind you, and just to be thorough, the one right below you. We can even further our imaginations by pondering the roof's potential."


            Desyat's grip on her blade tightened.


            "Now, can we pretend that you won't do anything rash?" he smoothly asked.


            "What do you want?"


            "Ah, down to brass tacks. Well, you are a businesswoman so it's not shocking. I'll be blunt. Your mission to take out Miss Tsukino is... congruent with some of my own plans."


            Desyat eyed the door wondering how powerful the explosives the man had claimed to have planted were. It was possible that she could leap out of the motel before they went off and only get minor damage. It was also possible that he had thought of that and either aimed or simply enlarged the charges. Similarly, he could be watching to make sure she did not go out through the back of the room.


            "However, after tonight.... I'm disappointed." He leaned on a light pole. "The Company keeps its contracts based on its reputation. You know what happened the last time someone ambushed and killed their men? Tonight. you did even more damage. What do you think they'll do to you? What do you think they're doing to the rest of your team? Worse... you took a shot at the Queen and missed."


            "What do you know?" Desyat coldly asked.


            "You're not going to ask how I know this?" Shock oozed into his voice. "Fine, I'll make it simple: you plan ahead and that's good. You even plan for what happens if things screw up, that's even better. You've got all these contingencies. That makes you very effective, provided they stay secret."


            "You've been watching us?"


            "Finally, I've got a dialogue instead of a monologue. Yes, I think tonight's... events have shown a certain weakness to... well magic, and very high caliber ammunition. Those girls and their magic proved far more formidable than you assumed."

 
            "And you're offering your services?" Desyat looked to her equipment. They had been cleaned for bugs... technological ones. She supposed someone could... enchant an object, or maybe use a creature. Something that could lurk in the distance, invisible. Like what attacked the others in the hotel? she thought to herself, running a hand down her thigh. With a growing horror, she wondered if he had tampered with their replacement parts.  That would put the bug inside of her.


            "I think I've proved my skills. I was able to track you here." Once again his laughter came over the lines. "Want me to give the Company a call? I'm sure they'd love a list of all of your safe houses."


            "They're alive?"


            "Ah... thanks for reminding me. Maybe it is just you. It'd certainly be rude of me to simply kill you. DarkStar would be most cross."


            "And yet, you haven't done anything."


            "Not to you, my Dear," he said, and Desyat could hear the greasy smile cross his face. "You girls really are marvels. Scaglietti was a brilliant artist; shame, he was a lousy politician."


            Desyat fingered a blade, and went back to the fisheye via the mirror.


            "Too soon? I'm sorry. It's just the irony..." He coughed slightly. "Anyway, you're really lost at this. Yes, you're very good at blowing things up and causing havoc, but for what?"


            Desyat watched him fumble in his coat and pull out a pack of cigarettes. The lit ember dangling off his face made a tempting target.


            "The problem... the problem of it all..." He took a drag on the cigarette. "... is that magical girls simply don't make sense. I don't just mean the magic. I've got magic; you've got magic. Hells bells, magic makes perfect sense, that's how it works. But..."


            "Magical girls don't make sense," Desyat supplied, morbidly curious.


            "Yes," he sighed. "They're what happens when you couple idealism with the power to enforce it. You think the machinations of the cynical are dangerous? Wait until you face the brute wrath of the naive."


            "Oh?"


            "Yes, once the White Queen makes up her mind, decides to take the gloves off. She'll come after you with more force than you can comprehend. Her history speaks for itself."


            "She sounds dangerous. Is that why you're offering your 'help'?" Desyat asked with a sarcastic undercurrent.


            "She has many enemies. One of which is paying you quite the sum." The man laughed. "Though, I wonder if that was money wisely spent."


            Desyat frowned.


            "Just look at the results. You're all that's left, and to be blunt...." He idly waved his cigarette.


            "Get to your point."


            "Fine." He sighed. "The supreme irony is that despite everything you're quite... How to say this? You're like a chess player, brilliant, fast, innovative, and able to predict the moves your opposition should make. Your record is impressive."


            "But?"


            "Not everyone plays chess."


            Desyat's fingers twitched.


            "The question you need to ask yourself is, 'What now?' Where do you go from here?" He dropped the half-burnt cigarette and stepped on it with his foot.


            "Don't worry." he assured, as he pulled out the pack and a lighter. "I'm sure you'll come up with something. You're nothing if not adaptable."


            "And that includes your services?"


            "I do know more about what you're facing. Think about what I'm offering." The man briefly looked at a watch before pulling out another cigarette. "Be seeing you." He joined his index finger to his thumb and raised the circle to his eye and then tipped it forward in a salute. He then stepped off the sidewalk and walked to a large muscle-car and drove off.


            Desyat pulled the phone from her ear and stared at it. After a few seconds she disconnected it. Moving back to the bed she sat down and stared at the wall. Shortly after that, she got up and started digging through her equipment, looking for... something.


            A minute into her examination, the phone rang. "What?" she angrily asked.


            "Why didn't you answer?" Galina demanded.


            "Thank goodness. You got out okay?" Desyat asked with relief.


            "Why didn't you pick up the phone?"


            "We have a major problem." Desyat sighed.


            "Really, now?" Galina dryly remarked.


            "Someone else called. Someone who's had us under surveillance, using magic somehow."


            Galina hesitated. "Like what Shest and us saw?"


            "I don't know what you saw," Desyat noted. "But after you saw that, weren't you attacked by the Company?"


            "Yes... they came... but we had  been gone by a few minutes."


           "Then that wasn't this.. guy's doing. He's not with WIC. He knew where I was. If the Company had this information... we'd be dead." Desyat looked at the collection of machinery and parts she had spread out on the floor.

 

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

 

            Gripping the phone, Galina looked around the safe house she and the others were in. "What did he want?"


            "He made it sound like he merely wanted to sell us something, but he didn't do too good of a job of that."


            Galina rubbed her forehead and looked at Dve'nadtsat who was lying on a couch crying a bit. It had been difficult to move her, but it was required. She was worth far more than the parts they had to leave behind. "That's a... troubling addition."


            "I believe that was his intent."


            "Lovely."


            "Are you certain that you weren't followed?" Desyat asked.


            "Shest's pulse seemed to work. There hasn't been anything... crawling. As for the mercenaries, they would have attacked already."


            "That gives us some time," Desyat allowed. "I've been going through my equipment, and I haven't found anything, but..."


            "We'll need to check everything."


            "And move to new locations. I mean all new. Every safe house, every route, every cache." Desyat rubbed her forehead. "I'm betting he's still watching us... somehow. We can't say anything until..."


            "Until we figure out how to counter him," Galina frowned. Part of her wanted to believe that Desyat had... cracked. As disturbing as that concept was, it would be less disturbing than the idea that there was someone else. Someone who had been watching them for weeks and could easily burn them all. The worst part was that was still less disturbing than whatever Shest had managed to... frighten off.

 

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

 


            Ranma stepped into the room and eyed the green-haired girl. "What did they do?"


            Pluto looked to Usagi for a moment. "It... hurt."


            Keeping a carefully neutral expression, the demon watched the girl as she walked forward.


            Usagi noticed the redhead's face change to one of pity.


            Pulling a chair, Ranma sat down across the bed from Usagi. "That was a real big pulse they shot off. I mean, I felt it too."


            Pluto nodded. "It... overloaded... the Time-Space Door." She winced as a flash of pain streaked across her mind. "That's not really the right term, but it's close enough." She turned to Usagi and gave a weak smile. "I'm sorry."


            "It's okay," Usagi assured giving the physically younger girl a hug.


            "Been a while?" Ranma sympathetically asked.


            Pluto blinked.


            "You died and got knocked out by some dimensional feedback." Worry entered her voice at the last part.


            Pluto looked worn. "No, a few years ago I... sacrificed myself." She looked to Usagi. "It was the helicopter, against the Black Moon, I saved Michiru and Haruka."


            "You knew your body double system still worked." Ranma noted that Pluto seemed much more disturbed about the "overload" than having her body blown apart. Before entering, she had talked with Doctor Covington, and was not surprised to find that the officer had not found any physical damage.


            "Yeah." Pluto turned to Ranma. "They got away, didn't they?"


            Ranma nodded. "They must've left right after... zapping you. When we got there the place was already burning."
           
            Usagi's face paled. "They didn't... they burned a whole hotel down?"


            "Not really." Ranma arched her eyebrow. "They were simply covering their tracks. If they wanted to burn the hotel down or set a trap, they would have used different incendiary charges or spread around more gas."


            "They destroyed their records and equipment?" Pluto asked.


            "The rooms are being sifted through now; we'll find something," Ranma shrugged.


            "What's the point of that?"


            "Well, it'd be nice to know what equipment they had to destroy. We know what parts they use and can guess at how difficult they are to make."


            "I don't think you can count on them stopping just because they've run out of spare batteries," Usagi noted.


            Ranma gave a chuckle.

 

            "How is Mina doing?" she asked, more seriously.


            "Back in the commissary with Luna," Usagi frowned. "I'm worried."


            "Give her time," Pluto said, quietly. "She's still getting used to it; what she is now."


            "Ami's sick."


            The redhead noted that Usagi's tone was plain, conversational. There was only a hint of anger in her voice; mostly, it was a statement of fact. "Still, you should be there for her. Make sure she knows you still see her as a friend and not some thing."


            Usagi's eyes went to Pluto. "Yeah."


            "Artemis was a close friend of hers. That's going to be tough," Ranma reminded


            "But he died in such a stupid way," Usagi muttered, unnerved by the demon's steady gaze. "How can we tell her that?"


            Ranma winced in sympathy to her pain. "It's...  Battle's ugly and people can die for stupid, random reasons."


            "That doesn't help."


            "I know. It can feel even worse, the pointlessness of it.."


            "So what? I should just accept that bad things will happen?" Usagi glared.


            "Of course not!" Ranma's eyes flashed. "Life isn't fair. Bad people do bad things. The whole point is to do what you can. You know that. You're the one who tries to make a difference, to bring a measure of justice to this random world."


            "Aren't you the one cautioning Usagi from too much idealism?" Pluto asked.


            "There's idealism; there's hope. You can wish about how the world should be, or you can fight, because you realize that there's no alternative. You know why I fight. Why I put my own children on the line. It's just that simple."


            Usagi chewed her lip. "You're worried about me?"


            "They're dangerous." Ranma frowned. "That pulse the cyborgs set off... it's going to cause problems."


            Inhaling sharply, Pluto's eyes widened.


            "Why? Didn't they just overload the Gates? That sounds like Murdock's blocking trick."


            "Shielding is a bit different than overloading." Ranma tapped her chin "You know why we're here... in Canada... that is. What effect do you think a giant dimensional pulse will have? You think it'll help things?" Ranma archly asked.


            Usagi looked down. "Well... I don't really know why I'm here."


            Ranma glared at Pluto. "You didn't tell her?"


            "I didn't know... at first." Pluto choked a bit. "And by the time I figured it out..."


            "You decided to keep it to yourself?" The demon shook her head.


            "Wait... what?" Usagi balled her fists. "You knew! You figured out what was going on and didn't tell me? Will you tell me?" she asked Ranma.


            The redhead rubbed her forehead. "First off, many things are... cyclic in nature. There's a certain rhythm to events. About a hundred and twenty years ago loggers observed what they thought was a strange version of the northern lights."


            "Forty years after that, a mysterious explosion leveled several hundred acres of Montana forest. Roughly another forty years passed and the Company lost about two hundred men in a single operation."


            "Which brings us to the present?" Usagi guessed. "So what is it? Aside from getting worse every time."


            Ranma chuckled. "You of all people should know there's never just one threat, but yes, this is why WIC was needed to prepare and setup base here."


            "The stars are right," Setsuna whispered.


            Usagi nearly glared at the diminutive girl. "This doesn't say what's happening."


            "It's nothing you haven't dealt with before," Ranma turned thoughtful.  "Really, fighting invading eldritch horrors is your wheelhouse."

 

            "Pharaoh 90? Metalia?"  Usagi shivered.

 

            The demon nodded. "I guess that's why Puu kept quiet about it. Inter-dimensional invasions are your thing after all."


            "That's it?" Usagi blinked. "All this mystery for some repeat of the attacks I've been fighting since the start, since the Dark Kingdom?"


           Ranma adjusted her gloves. "I don't know about that. There's no energy gathering or gloating figures in silly costumes, Mercury excluded. What we've got here is another dimension that's pressing against ours."


            "Yes, and every forty years, the pressure...." Pluto swallowed.


            Usagi recalled Ranma's bit of history. "If it keeps getting worse... the barrier's getting thinner?"


            Ranma nodded.


            "What is it? What's trying to get through?"


            The demoness chuckled. "Well, technically, that's a theological question."


            "Huh?"


            "Which would be worse? An invasion from a place that could be described as Hell or one that could be described as Heaven?" Pluto quietly asked.


            "Well... aren't the angels..." Usagi looked to Ranma and her horns. "So, who are the good guys?"

 

            "I sincerely doubt it's the creatures writhing against a dimensional barrier eagerly anticipating for the stars to allow ingress." Pluto deadpanned.

 

            "I'd be nice if we could count on celestial forces helping us but..."  Ranma shrugged.

 

            "You want me to have Rei give a few extra prayers?" Usagi lightly asked.

 

            "Really I should have her bless the family shrine.  If Amaterasu could help us..."

 
            Pluto cleared her throat. "Just to be clear, this isn't like BlackSky's and Vephar's invasion. Demons are more... human than what we're dealing with."

 

            Usagi almost smiled.


            "This is more like what Tomoe dredged up," Pluto clarified. "Not in exact nature, mind you, but in that the barriers between dimensions had to be... adjusted to let Pharaoh 90 in. Beryl and Metalia were similar too," she added, her voice bitter and offended.


            "How do you know this?" Usagi turned to Ranma.


            The demon blinked. "I asked Jacob and Stillwater."


            "And they told you?" Pluto's voice was disbelieving.


            "Lying would just bring more trouble for them than the truth would."


            "Really?"


            "My relationship with them is built on trust. It'd be very... disappointing if they were foolish enough to lie to me about the very thing we've been preparing for."


            "What are you and WIC doing about all this then?" Usagi asked.


            Ranma tiled her head.. "What do you think we've been doing? The D program, the Fifth NH Task Force, special weapons development, inter-dimensional research, training Canadian special forces in NH combat."


            "Well, there was the Assembly and those vampires and that cult. Plus Murdock," Usagi found herself leaning away from the redhead..


            "We've been doing this before they popped up; we've been doing this before those cultists took those hostages." Ranma shook her head. "I don't think even WIC would run roughshod over an entire government, because some fanatics were trying to kill me." She raised her arms and waved them. "Do you think all this is necessary for that?  This is bigger than either of us."


            "But, those are all related to what's going on..."


            "Of course, that's because they're symptoms. Non-humans and other sensitives can feel what's going on, and they're being attracted to this." Ranma leaned forward. "Now the Company's got some specialists looking at exactly what the cyborgs did... but what do you think? Given what's already happening to the dimensional barriers, what do you think a big pulse will do? What will it do to those that are... sensitive to such things?"


            "It was strong enough to disrupt my... connection, and hurt me." Pluto shivered.


            Ranma nodded. "The question is how much damage it does."


            "Well... the barrier is still up, right?"


            "Well, there's no tentacles creeping out of shadows, people aren't erupting into unthinking wails of madness, and of course the sky hasn't opened up with a rain of spores." The demon tilted her head. "Of course we're in an underground facility, hopefully, protected from such things."


            Usagi cast a fearful glance at the ceiling.


            "No, alarms would be going off in that case," Ranma assured.


            "So... how much time is left?"


            "That's the question isn't it," Ranma chuckled. "There's a window.... but the cyborgs may have sped things up." She turned to Pluto. "Especially if they keep using that pulse thing."


            Usagi looked at the grinning demon. "So you don't know, then."


            "It's a real pain. The old books are rather... interpretive, and despite all the talk about the stars-" Ranma glanced over at Pluto. "-things are apparently... fuzzy on that front too. Things don't seem like they're getting unglued, so we've got some time... maybe."


            "You're getting ready, preparing for the worst?"


            "That or I'm deliberately restricting just what information I'm giving you." Ranma's grin spread until it showed her teeth. "This could be my little way of keeping you in the dark, leaking just the right amount of information. All to keep leading you by the nose."


            "You wouldn't... I mean we're..."


            Ranma tilted her head. "If we'd been wroking together, maybe fewer people, both your s and mine would have died."


            "Ranma, I..."


            "You can hardly blame Usagi for the deaths of the agents. The cyborgs would have attacked them even if we had been working together."


            "Maybe so," Ranma stated as the shadows below her chair darkened. "But Artemis might have lived, maybe you wouldn't be in that fresh new body. Maybe we could have had a better defense and have killed more than one of those mechanical things. We could have been on a Company base, not ambushed in transit."


            Usagi looked down. "I tried...."


            "You did, and it's not really your fault." Ranma then glared at Pluto. "I can see why Usagi trusted you. You're supposed to be experienced, you should have known better; this was your idea."


            "This isn't our first time at this." Pluto's eyes hardened. "What experience do you have with invasions of inter-dimensional monsters?"


            Ranma laughed. "I've been on both sides of that, Puu. I remember what it was like in the old days."


            "Yes, but we've established that this is different. We're not dealing with cute demons," Pluto smirked. "I've been fighting the invaders, the real invaders since long, long before you were born, that including the little Terran prince used to make DarkStar. I remember the old, old days as you would put it."


            "How could you of all people have gotten so soft? Why are you afraid of a guy like Murdock?" Ranma glanced down at her watch. "I mean, sure he's a good spook, but why would you care that he can run good surveillance and flip a few Senshi?"


            "You don't understand the risk he poses. He's the reason you're sitting there. He's the reason WIC has that shiny new unit they can show off. He's been trying to get Usagi."


            "Odd, I thought I was here because you paid me a lot of money. So, you've had people corrupted before, right?" Ranma asked.


            "And people have been after me before, remember Prince Diamond?" Usagi reminded.


            "This is different." Setsuna glared.


            Ranma nodded. "So, he's an actual threat, then."


            "Murdock wants me... is he involved with this... invasion?" Usagi asked.


            "Maybe, maybe not. He could just be taking advantage of the situation. He knows you'd be here. He killed Mamoru and set me up to replace him."


            "Why does Murdock want me? Who is he working for?"


            Ranma shrugged.


            "I liked things better when I had to face just one evil person and her flunkies and minions," Usagi pouted.


            "Carl Sagan said: It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring," Pluto stated. 


            "Great, now you're quoting things at me too," Usagi sighed.


            "Well, does that count with things beyond human understanding and sanity?" Ranma smirked.


            "Though, perhaps, he's only saying that because he doesn't know the true nature of reality, because he thinks the truth won't drive him into jabbering madness." Pluto admitted.


            Ranma chuckled, and turned back to Usagi. "Well..."


            "Huh?"


            "Where do you go from here?" Ranma repeated. "Your house was burnt down."


            "Oh," Usagi chewed her lip. "Well, is it too late to ask for your help?"


            "You're already in this base being protected," Ranma gently reminded.


            "Yes, but I don't know if I can stay on base forever. There has to be more of a plan than that," Usagi sighed.


            "Yes, yes there does."


            Looking at the demon's quizzical gaze, Usagi coughed.


            "What's your idea?"


            "We are paying you," Pluto told Ranma.


            "Yes, and what do you want me to do? We've got a lot of options. Especially, when they find out they didn't kill Puu and Minako."


            Usagi laughed. "Why should we let them learn that?"


            Ranma raised an eyebrow. "Sure, Puu looks different, but they're gonna figure Mina's alive in the next fight.."


            "Maybe not." Usagi rubbed her chin. "Maybe she won't be Venus."


            Pluto's eyes widened. "You're thinking of doing... that, again?"


            "It's worked before."


            "We'll have to get Minako's approval." Pluto knew Minako would immediately volunteer for it.


            "What are you talking about?" Ranma asked.


            "Minako pretends to be the Princess, and draws attention away from the real Princess," Pluto explained. "It was used against the Dark Kingdom."


            "A body double?" Ranma asked. "I guess that makes some sense now. Mina is harder to hurt than you."


            "I don't know... I mean, it makes her a target." Usagi sighed.


            "There's also what you'll be doing while she pretends to be you," Ranma reminded. "And she's gotta pretend to be you all the time. Not just in fights. The Russians are smarter than that."


            "There's also what I'll be covered as," Pluto noted.


            "Oh?' Usagi asked.


            "We can't have the cyborgs realize that we're harder to kill than they think," Pluto cautioned.


            "They know your face. Can you girls change that?" Ranma asked.


            Usagi chuckled. "We've got disguise pens."


            "Ah, magic then." Ranma said as she wondered exactly what senses a disguise like that would fool, not to mention all the habits and gestures that were unique to each person "What will you disguise as?"


            The blonde shrugged.


            "Assuming Minako's for this idea, you could always go as the Princess' mother," Setsuna suggested.


            Ranma gave a sharp laugh. "I don't think Usagi can play a convincing Serenity."


            "Unlike you, these Soviet Assassins don't know Queen Serenity. Any information they have on her would be second hand."


            "So what... you and the 'Queen' will be reinforcements? Sent in because the Princess couldn't handle things?"


            "Lies work best when you dress them up with the truth," Usagi bitterly stated. "Do you think this would work?"


            "Right now it's just dress up. You need more to make it an actual plan. At least... at least you're starting to think of what do to," Ranma allowed as she stood up. "I've got a meeting to get to."


            "The cleanup?" Pluto asked.


            Ranma gave a curt nod. "I suggest you get back with Minako, Doc Covington can give you some painkillers, but she thinks you're fine." She turned and exited the room. Once the door closed behind her she exhaled sharply.


            "Andrea, Gabe. When they leave escort them back to the commissary. If they try anything... odd alert us," Ranma instructed to the two agents in the corridor.


            "Sure thing, Red," Gabe drawled. He did not like babysitting the princess, but he had volunteered to go back on duty and this was where he was stuck.


            "Morrison wants to go shopping with you," Ranma smirked at Andrea.


            "Oh? Clothes I suppose," Andrea Lytle drawled.


            "Maybe, it would be nice to have her socialize a bit. Later then." Ranma walked down the hallway. Shortly, she came to the door of a particular office and let herself in.


            Jacob looked up from his desk, and Eve lifted Sophie and shifted to open a spot on the couch.


            "What're your thoughts?" Ranma asked after closing the door. Obviously, they had been listening in on the medical room.


            "Your methods could use some more refinement," Eve noted.


            Picking up a glass of water, Jacob made a thoughtful noise. "I'm not sure about that, Captain. If Miss Saotome were too polished, then Meiou's suspicions may rise."


            "Where's Stillwater?" Ranma asked, sitting down on the couch.


            "Mending fences. The government got a few of their feathers ruffled tonight."


            "It's not our fault JTF2 missed all the action," Ranma sighed.


            "For the best, their training has just started," Eve noted.

 

            "The Combat Cyborgs: capability?" Jacob asked.

           

            "It's about what we thought it was," Eve stated. "They're very organized and professional. Their skill has grown since the Vatican's evaluation."

 

            "They're especially weak against Nariko's and Makoto's abilities and sufficient damage can disable them," Ranma stated.

 

            "The problem seems to lie in being able to damage them," Jacob noted. "They favor fire and maneuver. Their armor is a secondary defense; they concentrate more on avoiding being hit in the first place."

 

            "Their speed and agility is impressive." Ranma stretched her neck. "In close quarters Galina A'deen is... dangerous."

 

            "Indeed." Jacob refilled his glass with water. "Their use of remote guns was unexpected. We've got enough of them to study and be ready to jam them."

 

            "They are weak at unconventional tactics. In addition to Nariko and Ranma's attacks, Ukyou and Misako's abilities were quite effective."

 

            Jacob nodded. "Ranma, it would seem that your idea caught them off guard. Ideas?"

 

            "After the initial surprise, they bogged down against the Senshi,  they're inexperienced with magic.  Also they were... hesitant when I broke in." Ranma rubbed her chin. "I'd guess they were expecting a military assault and the time that would take, not some demon smashing her way in before they can do anything. We got in before they could react."

 

            "Their experience is with fighting conventional militaries. They assumed that the 5th would fight pretty much like they do."

 

            "Unfortunately, they received a full lesson on NH combat and Pattern Silver capabilities; they're fast learners," Jacob frowned.

 

            "Assigning one to medical evacuation shows they value their people," Eve noted. "This was expected, given their time together and the inability to get replacements."

 

            Ranma frowned. "They know they're outnumbered. We should have expected them to do something to balance that factor out."

           

            Jacob looked at a far wall. "It was a mistake to assume they'd continue stay with their own capabilities. This seems to be a more serious mission to them than the others."

 

            "Their sniper did use an automated gun against Morgan," Eve noted.  "So, automated turrets. They'll find other ways to augment their limited manpower."

 

            Jacob nodded. "I'll have our people start shaking the bushes. We'll see if they've started looking for help."

 

            "Watch the NH community, too." Ranma stated. "They're not the type to stay ignorant. They'll try to figure out what we can do."

 

            "What about this pulse they're using?  That's has the potential to go very bad for us all," Jacob stated.

 

            "I'd guess they're doing it out of ignorance.  They're certainly not suicidal," Ranma said.

 

            "We need to talk to them. If we're right and they want to learn, then they'll could be convinced," Eve suggested. "They might not believe us, but telling them is better than doing nothing."

 

            "Maybe we can work with that." Jacob looked into his glass. "There is an... asymmetry here.  They've put everything on the line for this mission: pride, vengeance, their very purpose. All they've ever had was each other, and we're taking that away from them. And for us? It's all a distraction, one that weakens us."

 

            "And what are their options? What's their end plan? They have to still think they can complete the mission and successfully hide. They can't think they can destroy the whole Company." Ranma took a sip of water.

 

            Eve rubbed her chin. "They're not suicidal."

           

            The redhead tilted her head. "What do they think we'll do when they attack again and it escalates further? Or they kill Usagi? It looks like we really want to keep her alive. What if things get to a point where they can't run? Why wouldn't they decide to fight to the end and do as much damage as possible?"

 

           "You don't corner someone unless you're prepared to do what it takes to destroy them," Jacob made a couple notes. "We'll try to get a meeting with them. It could give us a chance to learn more about their personalities and what they're willing to do. At the very least we'll warn them about that pulse device of theirs. That technology is more dangerous than any damage they can do to Usagi or this command."

 

            "Understood, Sir," Eve replied crisply.

 

            "Right." Ranma gave a slight nod.

 

            "And how did you do in combat?" Jacob asked Ranma.

 

            "Personally?  The armor worked great. It soaked up a lot of damage. Still, their attacks can cut it.  I don't know if more weight's worth the mobility hit."  Ranma looked down at her glass. "It's how I was able to hold my own against her. The SSP was handy too. The look on her face..."

 

            "A'deen had to be evacuated from that fight.  You walked away," Eve assured giving Ranma's hand a squeeze.

 

            "Yes, I didn't pursue her," Ranma's eyes flashed. "Morrison, Ukyou, and Morgan showed what's gotta be done to take them out. Area effects are good, especially ones that are new to them."

 

            "According to Agent Morrison's statements,  the one she killed was significantly hampered by Misako's draining and Ukyou's mental effects."

 

            "Sustained trauma?" Eve asked.

 

            Ranma nodded. "Anything else they'll shrug off and then run. That's what makes the new guns so useful. They've got the punch." The demon paused. "And A'deen...  I've talked with Nariko and the others. She's their trump.  Next time nothing cute with her."

 

            Jacob idly rubbed the scar on the back of his palm. "Where is our equipment lacking?"

 

            "Jammers." Ranma said without any hesitation. "This Shest can cause some real damage. The only reason the Silvers didn't have their throats slit one by one was because they had personal teleportation jammers."

 

            "That was a surprising development," Jacob flexed is hands. "Miniaturization of our jamming technology has been a constant goal."

 

            "Then I suggest we procure some of the Silver's equipment," Eve stated

 

            "It's limited," Ranma shrugged. "Their jammers have a range of only a couple meters.  It's enough to keep someone from grabbing you or stabbing you in the back,  but then she could appear just out of range and toss a satchel charge."

 

            "What would be nice is having extra jammers you can attach to someone," Eve noted.  "Block her phasing and you get an opening to kill her. With enough of them, we can stick them on walls, ceilings, throw them like rice at a wedding.  Really give that girl a bad day. "

 

            "Good idea," Jacob noted. "How come Shest didn't use satchel charges?"

 

            "Sir, according to the Silvers, she did. The wards Setsuna had setup prevented her  from getting too close to do anything easy,  like pop in a canister of nerve gas or a fuel-air bomb, but Shest managed to breach their defenses. That's how the initial assault went off. After that the Silvers formed a defensive position but kept being hammered. Shest only shifted to medi-vac after Ranma and Nariko arrived." Eve explained.


            "What about Usagi?"


            "Do you think she's worth salvaging?" Jacob asked.


            "Liquidating her would be the simplest move," Eve offered.  "But we need the capability of the Pattern Silvers."


            "Yes and such a plan would have to succeed. Betrayal from an unscrupulous corporation and Fallen Senshi would fit her narrative far too well," Jacob cautioned.


            "There is no need for action on our part," the blonde demon reminded.


            "Yes, all I'd have to do was make some demands Usagi would never accept. Then when she refuses we, regrettably of course, kick her out. Without us, the Russians...." Ranma's wry smile turned contemplative. "I'm not sure.  Both would be in a desperate fight out of their comfort zones.  Usagi may win,  but it'd likely be an ugly win. And she'd feel we broke contract with her."


            "That contract was to support her, when permitted, and assassinate her if she were to... fall," Eve agreed. "Yes, she knows we've been plotting on the best way to kill her, at her behest."


            Jacob leaned back. "We pacify the Russians, prevent them from causing a dimensional collapse...  only we've already scarified our best hope to stop the Stars from becoming right."


            "Her powers would be useful. You want Pattern Silvers, she's the top one. Maybe she'll be motivated." Ranma gave the sleeping broodling a bit of a hug. "As for the Cyborgs, killing Usagi would be their big win. What they do after that depends on how much revenge they want on us, on the remaining Senshi."


            "I'm surprised it took Miss Tsukino so long to just ask what this is all about," Eve chuckled as she adjusted her daughter.


            Ranma shook her head. "She didn't even ask Puu."


            "Lack of interest? Did she just assume this time would be like the others? Or does she simply not trust anyone?  I recall she didn't ask you until tonight. Interesting." Jacob took a sip from his glass. "Can you work her?"


            "I don't know," Ranma frowned. "She has heart, but she's stubborn."


            "Isn't that how it goes?" Jacob smirked. "Still, it is useful for you to.... mentor her."


            "Help her develop a persona for this Serenity she'll be pretending to be." Eve nodded.


            "It could help, but... look at all she's gone through. I wouldn't expect great improvements," Ranma reached out to the coffee table and poured herself a glass of water. It was far too close to sunrise to have the Scotch she actually wanted.


            Jacob put his own glass down. "Anything to make her less of a danger."


            "She's a sentimentalist, use the civilian deaths, use the cat's death. Make her realize that failure comes with a cost, that she can't just wish it all better," Eve stated.


            Ranma took a sip and frowned at the cut-glass. "That's the problem, she still thinks she can."


            "Even after that cult started killing hostages in the toy store?" Jacob asked. "She couldn't bring them back."


            Ranma looked over at Eve. "Denial is powerful," she sighed.


            The blonde nodded. "That's the problem: how do you get someone who has the power to wish it all better to realize that it's best if she didn't let her delusions put her into such situations in the first place."


            "What's her mental state then? How close is she to the edge?" Jacob asked. He noticed the Captain display an almost human sense of worry as she paused in recollection.


            "Past history indicates rash action following harm of her closest friends. We'll know more once the shock from tonight wears off, but I would rate her mental state as... fragile."


            "That's an understatement," Ranma dryly remarked as she took a sip. "That's the problem. She's waiting, she's stewing. If something like this happened to any of us, we'd do something. Hell, it did! We lost more people than the princess did."


            Jacob noted the use of the word "we".


            Ranma continued. "The point is, we're doing something. Tracking down leads, as we prepare for a response. What we're not doing is sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves."


            "She wanted to come; she wanted to help you," Eve reminded.


            "And she would have gotten in the way," Ranma said, her harsh tone almost waking up Sophie.


            "That's why you told her to go back and comfort Minako," Jacob stated.


            "Yeah, give her something to do, and have her help her team."


            Sophie opened her eyes and slid between her aunt and mother on the couch. "Colonel Edwards," she saluted Jacob, sheepishly.


            "Specialist Addison," Jacob replied returning the salute. "How much did you hear?"


            "Problems with Tsukino," she leaned onto her mother. "You're worried she might crack. Well... hasn't she already? Her file speaks for itself."


            "That seems to be what she does when the going gets tough, Sir." Eve agreed.


            Jacob put his glass down. "I want our contingency plans updated and our surveillance on her maintained." He turned to Ranma. "Make sure she stays on base or in a safe house. We can't afford to let her go off on her own."


            "At this point I think Moon would ask Auntie Red for any help before going it alone, Sir," Sophie sleepily said. "That's part of why she likes Red. They both lead teams; they're both queens."


            "True, that crush you two have works both ways," Eve noted.

 
            "Good, we can use that," Jacob leaned back. "Miss Tsukino's been alone for too long."

 

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!

 

I'd like to thank my pre-readers. They read through my most egregious mistakes so you don't have to. DGC, J St C Patrick, Terra, Pale Wolf, Wray, Kevin Hammel, Ikarus, Jerry Starfire, Mike Koos, and Nadrek. Special thanks to Nadrek, who has joined my preading team, for being a great help in cleaning up the combat scenes.

 

Revision Notes:   Once again some heavy tweaking of Usagi and Ranma's interactions.  In retrospect I feel that Ranma was far too harsh with her.