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 4:  Questions

Formerly:  Replacements and Remembrance Part 1i

 


            Specialist Agent Sophie Addison frowned as a technician unpacked their equipment. She kept her arms crossed over her chest. Sweat beaded down her back.


            Science and Technology Section Agent First Class Jared Dirac kept a level gaze at the demon. His orientation briefing was very clear, and he could see a prime warning sign: her tail was slowly swishing back and forth at a low angle. The specialist's increased hostility was strange, he had a much easier time working with the Brood Mother.

 

            "Specialist, can you move your arms?" he respectfully asked.


            Sophie complied. "Does it have to look... that way?"


            "You're already wearing a skirt," Ukyou absently noted.


            Looking past her armored vest, and the custom web gear to hold the oversize 17mm magazines, Sophie sighed. "At least these make some sense."

 

            She tugged at one of the flexibly-mounted Kevlar pleats; each held an armor plate inset. The chest and back plates had been modified for succubus physiology. Overall, the armor's weight was somewhat heavy... by human standards at least.


            Then add in a twenty kilogram rifle, six additional magazines, each weighing eight kilograms, a six kilogram sidearm and spare magazines for that, a helmet, a pair of reinforced boots, and various other equipment. It had taken a while to actually, feel the weight, but after the first couple kilometers she started to notice. It took double that for her to start sweating. Though Dirac's invention provided a nice distraction; it kept Sophie from thinking too deeply on what her body was capable of.


            "Specialist!" Ukyou coughed.


            "Sorry." Sophie shook her head. "I was just thinking."


            "The change does that," Ukyou smiled. "That's why we're getting you trained now. Don't want you to get all introspective in battle."


            "I can imagine, the gender change must do a lot," Dirac noted, running a diagnostic on the device.

 

            Extending the antennae, he looked up. Both demons had still, straight tails. "Uh."


            "Born female." Ukyou pointed to herself and Sophie. "Though in her case, her hair changed to a sane color."


            "At least platinum blonde can pass as a natural shade." Sophie examined Dirac's device. "Do Pattern Silver devices require ribbons and bows?"


           Dirac looked down at the device, which bore and unnatural similarity to a set of bows with trailing ribbons. "Ah, well, the Pattern Silver contribution is quite small, if... critical." He coughed. "The antennae was my doing."


            Sophie rubbed her forehead. "How did this get past your CO?"


            "The Silver devices have a major limitation. Their range is enough for personal defense. By adding in our own jamming antennas we can get a device that gives actual area denial."


            "And they have to be half a meter long?" Sophie asked.


            Dirac sighed. "Do you want it to work or to look good?"


            "My concern is that you seem to want to make it look good."


            "The antennas are delicate, sheathing them in Kevlar prevents damage."


            "Maybe trying to merge WIC tech and Silver magic got to you," Ukyou smirked.


            Dirac gave a slight nod. "That was a concern. We set a battery of tests, just to make sure the devices didn't have any adverse effects or transmissions. Another team then tested the testing equipment and the testers."


            Ukyou blinked. "Let it be known I'm saying this as a former Acolyte of the Assembly of man: I bow to your paranoia," the blonde demon lowered her head.


            "These devices are using a magical apparatus as a replacement generator. As a pure black box, it can power out inter-dim jamming equipment which is then broadcast with those antennas."


            Dirac looked at the jamming rig. "However, a black box... allows for other features. Much of the delay came from our validation procedures. At the very least, this has given us more insight on how to miniaturize our own technology. They can create and manipulate the signals with far smaller equipment than our own."


            "How is this thing powered?" Sophie asked. "I know that's a major size limitation of our jammers."


            "That's the other advantage, but ultimately limitation, of the Silver system. Which is why I want to test it on you," Dirac stated.


            "It needs magic to power?"  Sophie was not sure she liked where this was going.


            "Essentially." Dirac caught a glance at the agent's tail. It was curled just at the end in a slight hook and hung to one side. "It uses the power of a 'Sailor Senshi' to function. Both as an easy power source and as a security measure."


            Tail dropping, a frown bloomed on Sophie's face.


            "That's right. You're an honest-to-goodness magical girl," Ukyou smirked.


            Rubbing her forehead, and one of her horns, the veteran Operations Agent sighed. "Fine. Just pin the damn thing on."


            "Yes, Specialist." Dirac picked up the forward of the antennae sets and threaded it through some mounting slits on the armor behind her web-harness. After repeating the process on the back antennae he checked their wiring and put the slim control box next to Sophie's radio.


            Sophie looked down at herself. She then moved her arms around and practiced moving her legs. "Well, they're not that in the way," she allowed.


            "Sticking them out further away from your body would have better reception," Dirac said after returning to his equipment. "So would making them longer."


            "Then just make them longer and have them run along my body," Sophie frowned.


            "You're not tall enough, and it's not like we can shorten an antenna by folding it up a few times," Dirac explained.


            "Mom spent a very frustrating afternoon with Agent Dirac," Ukyou noted.


            Jared blinked. "She was annoyed?"


            "Mom didn't want to scare you." Ukyou grinned broadly. "Also, she knew the testing was important."


            "That's good." Dirac recalled the way the briefing described Special Contractor Ranma Saotome and the way the diminutive redheaded demoness confidently and professionally carried herself.

 

            The briefing nailed it. WIC Toronto had a Brood Mother. One that not only enjoyed working with the Company but was actively and eagerly using and adapting WIC methods, training, and technology.


            "To be fair, that getup-" Ukyou pointed to Sophie. "-is a lot better than Mom's old uniform."


            "A micro-miniskirt and bikini top is still better than what the human Silvers wear." Sophie gave a slight sigh.


            "Still the bows, I'm sorry, ribbons really make a statement," Ukyou smirked.


            Dirac coughed. "The activation switch is the red one on the side. You'll see that the controls and indicators are those on the main panel on your basic Jammer. I kept the design as familiar as possible, but really you're going to use it as a black box in combat. Turn it on when you need it, off when you don't want to emit exotic fields."


            Sophie flipped the switch and saw an orange LED light up followed shortly by a green one. A tingling grew in her horns and teeth. Similar to the background "fuzz" she now felt on base, but it was more immediate and close, somewhat like having an electronic toothbrush strapped to her breasts and another just above her butt.  

 

            The reverberating buzzing in her horns was even more distracting.          It was then that Sophie felt the slight... draining sensation as the little box sipped power off of her and fed it into the Kevlar-sheathed antennae.


            Dirac looked at his scanner. "Okay, stable generation. Good range."


            Sophie bit her lip, the jammers gave an... odd sensation. "It's working?" she asked realizing the big downside to a body with enhanced senses; everything was so very... immersive.


            "Yes, output is nearly identical to the measurements I got from Miss Saotome."


            "My output is the same as hers?" Sophie raised an eyebrow.


            "The device has limits on how much input it'll take. These tests are all on the default settings. You can increase it, but that'll be more draining."


            "It's possible to increase the range?" Sophie put a hand up to a horn. The generator's vibrations did feel... odd.


            "If you have the power for it," Dirac shrugged. "We'll need to do more testing to see how much you can put out."


            Ukyou's face split into a broad smirk. "You're recommending some endurance testing?"


            "That would be handy," Jarred admitted.


            Sophie winced. "Shit."


            Ukyou nodded. "Get your gun, we've got some more running."


            The two Company agents sighed and started gathering their gear.


            "You're coming too?" Ukyou asked Dirac. She had expected Sophie to, finally, start getting exasperated.


            "I've got to monitor the jammer; so I've gotta keep up with you."


            "Good luck," Sophie checked her rifle. "It feels like Blondie over here's been pushing me to my limit."


            "Joy." Jared slipped his scanners on and followed the demons out of the room


            "That's exactly what we're doing." Ukyou rolled her eyes. "You got this shiny new body, we need to show you exactly what that means."


            "Like pushing me out of a helicopter," Sophie stated.


            "Misako was there to catch you if you froze. And it's not like Mom kicked you off."


            "That's how you learn how to fly?"


            Sophie turned to the thin technician. "They're demons."


            "You're a demon, too."


            Sophie lifted her tail and swished it back and forth.


            "Yes, yes." Ukyou noted. "You know it, but you don't know what that really means."


            Outside in the pre-dawn light, Dirac watched as the blonde demoness fussed over the black-haired one's armor, weapons, and equipment.


            "Okay, I guess that's enough weight. Now get going!" Ukyou prodded Sophie and the two started running down the training facility.


            Dirac gave a light sigh and ran after the two demons. At least this was a relatively... normal assignment.

 

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

 


            Grumbling, Inspector Richard Rebus pushed his cabin's door open. A couple steps into the one-room building, the tackle box and rod dropped from his hands and he drew his sidearm, looked through the pre-dawn gloom, and aimed at his recliner.


             A low chuckle came from the worn chair in the living room area. "I think your boss was right. You do need a vacation." The dark suited man paused to scratch behind the ears of a large Labrador retriever that was lying next to the chair. "Or was it Fred here?"


            "Normally, he greets me," Rebus said keeping his gun aimed on the figure. The man was thin and dressed in a dark suit. His face was obscured in darkness. On his lapel, a silver maple-leaf pin reflected the meager light.


            "He's a good dog," the man absently said.


            "Who are you?" Rebus asked as he sidestepped and flicked on the lights. The additional light was not very... illuminating. The man's face and hair were in that carefully-tended non-descript style that Rebus found worrying. The suit was black; the tie was black; his glasses... were black.


            "I apologize for the theatrics," the man said as he slipped off his sunglasses. "As for my name Gagnon will do."


            "Who do you work for?"


            Gagnon laughed. "You of all people know how... uninformative that answer would be. Who isn't working for the government these days?"


            "Spook then?"


            The black-suited man gave an approving smile and leaned back. "I am sorry about causing you that mess. Any luck?"


            "Only a couple nibbles."


            "This late in the season they're not really biting."


            Never taking his eyes, or gun, off Gagnon, Rebus closed the door and sat down in the seat across from his. "Fred come."


            Gagnon stopped petting, and let the dog return to his master.


            "Are we going to continue using fishing as a metaphor?"


            "Oh, nothing so tiresome."


            "Brass tacks then? I get put on a bit of leave because of my interest in some government contractors and a rash of terrorism."


            "And you were keeping your hobby so well concealed. No angry accusations, no paranoid rants, no trying to reveal the truth." Gagnon shook his head. "But next time, be more careful when looking at the exact time Joint Task Force Two arrives on scene."


            Rebus sighed. "It's not a terribly good conspiracy. The uniforms don't even match."


            "Trusting eyewitness reports now?"


            "Dozens of explosions, several running gun battles, collapsed buildings, even more fire damage, and a helicopter crash. What happened that night?"


            Gagnon folded his hands.


            "This isn't like some weird cult taking hostages in a toy store, or a bunch of sociopaths cutting up bodies, or even like some running gun-battle in a building or two."


            Looking out the window, Gagnon watched the sun begin to rise. "We're only a few kilometers from Algonquin Provincial Park."


            "That was simply a training exercise. They even simulated a roadside bombing and an ambush." Rebus dryly stated. "You can't hide everything."


            "No, but you'll be amazed at what one can hide. Especially when people... don't want to know." Gagnon sighed. "Look, you're bright. I'm sure you've figured out that there is an... oversight to all this."


            "Yes, there's a war starting."


            "There's always been a war. It's just most people don't want to deal with it. They can't accept it. They can't accept the wars they're told about."


            "I'm a cop. You think I need convincing that people are panicky, lazy, self-centered nitwits?"


            Gagnon chuckled.


            "Why the cloak and dagger? I'm a little bit shocked you weren't smoking when I came in."


            "Who do you think I work for?" Gagnon cheerfully asked.


            Rebus coughed. "Right. You want me to give up my own theories, that way you can tailor your story to fit. No."


            "Fine. I'm going to pull out my ID." Gagnon slowly opened his suit coat and pulled a leather wallet out of his shirt pocket and tossed it onto the coffee table.


            Without taking his eyes off the spook, Rebus grabbed the wallet. "Huh, not bad quality. But could you have picked a more realistic name?"


            "Bah, Andre's popularity has waned ever since he released 'Andre Gagnon au Centre Molson'."


            "An obviously fake name does not reassure me that you're really a CSIS agent."


            "For obvious reasons I can't take you to our Toronto, or even Ottawa, offices."


            "Obvious?" Rebus sighed, though he made it a point to memorize the numbers on the identification badge. "Still trying to get me to reveal my conclusions to you."


            "You're going to have to accept it. There's certain things I can't just tell you. That is something you should understand."


            Rebus sighed. "Go on."


            "Are you familiar with Faust?"


            "The play or a metaphorical deal with the devil from the play?"


            Gagnon made a bitter smile.


            "Back to this game then?' Rebus petted his dog. "I note there's something we've both avoided saying. An organization."

 

            "An organization that, publicly, is a defense contractor. One that had been hired to help train and provide new equipment for JTF2. One that conveniently happened to open business in Toronto just before the surge in violence. One that has a disturbing amount of latitude at various crime scenes. One that, of course, has to be operating with the permission of the government."  Gagnon calmly stated.


            "That leads to some... unpleasant conclusions."


            "It's only the best among a whole slew of bad options," Gagnon assured.


            "Yes, I took that into consideration."


            "You have to wonder. Why is a spook bothering a nosy homicide detective?"


            Rebus stared and when Gagnon did not continue; he sighed. "I'm alive. So you didn't want to kill me. If you were going to warn me to keep my nose out of things, you wouldn't have given me any hints."


            "I thought you weren't going to tell me your theories?" Gagnon smiled.


            "You're afraid. Which brings us to why you're here, and what you want from me."


            Gagnon tapped the side of his nose.


            "It comes down to what you want me to do." Rebus paused. "How paranoid are you? Are you worried what will happen if I change my behavior? If I change the style of my investigation?"


            Rebus studied Gagnon's face. "If that were the case, you wouldn't expect me to change my methods, but if you simply wanted the status quo you would not be here. So you must want something from me."


            Gagnon inclined his head slightly.


            "You also want something that you can't simply take. If that were possible you'd just spy on me. No, you need me to do something, and you need to help me do it."


            "Quite a lot of deduction. Sure you're not going to tell me your theories?"


            Patting his dog, Rebus sighed. "Broadly speaking, if the name Andre Gagnon causes a stir at CSIS then you might be legit. As legit as a person in your... profession can be."


            "Is that a Yes, then?"


            "It's not a No." Rebus clarified. "What's really fascinating is that instead of your own black-suited goons, you decided to contact a local when he was far from the city."


            Gagnon waited for a few seconds. "Oh? Not going to explain why you think that? The reason is obvious. I don't want to risk having me be seen with you in the city."


            "The conclusion interests me less than the reasoning that prompted it."


            "You were picked for your tenacity." Gagnon chuckled.


            "I thought it was because I had enough interest in the events to start digging and was experienced enough to keep it discrete."


            "Yes, people expect you to go out and try to piece it together. They already know your agenda."


            "Again, what do you want from me and what can you give me?" Rebus leaned back, keeping his gun ready.


            "You'll know what I want. Believe me, you'll know it if you find it."


            "How do I separate the horrible secrets you know to be true from the ones you fear to be true?


            "That's where my help comes in. I am... limited in what I can say, but I can put you on the right path."


            "And that's why you're not just secretly watching me? You want to make sure I don't give up, don't fall into a blind alley."


            "And make sure you're not shut up." Gagnon straightened a cuff. "There was talk of transferring you to Vancouver. Thankfully that was pushed aside. It would have been far too crude and wasteful."


            "Subtle and efficiency minded? This really is a black bag operation."


            Gagnon laughed. "Oh no, most secret programs crassly fritter away resources. Truth be told, it's not the lack of oversight that worries me, but the excess in competence."


            "I see." Rebus paused and lowered his gun. "Start from the top. Tell me everything you can."

 

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

 


            Giving a slight smile, Ranma approached the waterfront. The sounds of the street rapidly diminished and were replaced by the sound of water hitting the seawall below the concrete wall that served as a railing.


            Leaning on it was a woman of average height with her long brown hair tied above one ear and set so it spilled over her left cheek and shoulder. "Punctual," the woman stiffly noted.


            "I'm actually several minutes late," Ranma noted, placing a small cooler between them, on the wall. "Nice coat," the redhead said, examining the long, brown oilskin garment.


            "Must we suffer through pleasantries? I'm not like that inept poseur you delight in tormenting."


            Ranma turned to the woman and gave a warm smile. "Don't think that way. She doesn't deserve to be tormented. I was with her because-" the demon tapped the cooler idly. "-well, because she was precious to someone I had a financial interest in not upsetting."


            The brunette looked at the box.


            "No, my dear, dear, Galina A'deen." Ranma's eyes twinkled. She wagered that the assassin would presume it was some kind of insurance, which was amusing. No doubt. the Russian had prepared for various contingencies. "You don't deserve to be brushed aside, you deserve my full attention."


            Galina stared past the demon's violet eyes. "Why the meeting? We got your message."


            "Yes, but you may not believe it, or you may think that it'll make great blackmail against us. Hand over the princess or we'll summon monsters from beyond," Ranma gave a cold laugh.


            "Do you think we're suicidal?"


            Ranma smirked.


            "Do you think we'd doom all of humanity just to make the mission easier?"


            Turning slightly to catch the scent coming from the water, the redhead shrugged. "We felt we needed to show you just how serious we are."


            Galina frowned, waiting for the demon to give her big reveal.


            "It's a question of priorities, and we have to do what we have to do." She gave the cooler-lid a slight tap.


            "What's in the box?"


            "A bribe," the redhead smiled and pushed it forward.


            "You think we can be bought off?" Galina scoffed.


            "I know you can be bought off. That's how mercenary assassins work. Personally, I'm torn. I'd like to be able to focus on important threats, but I'd also like to eat your liver."


            "Fine, show me your offer." Galina mostly suppressed a sigh.


            "Now, I know that you're not doing this just for the money but.." Ranma popped the lid off the cooler and tilted it so the contents faced the cyborg.


            Galina stared. Surprising herself, she found herself shocked.


            "I decided to go with something you'd recognize." The demon's smile nearly split her face. "Is your little optical scan complete? Take it, perform all the tests you want on it, on her."


            "She trusted you." Galina stated, a mix of jealousy and admiration in her voice.


            Ranma nodded. "Made the job very easy. You can still see the shock in her eyes."


            Looking up from the decapitated head, Galina's face hardened.


            "Sorry it had to end this way, but you weren't the only one being paid to kill her. This way we both win."


            Galina looked up from the severed head to the demoness.


            "Oh? Or is there more to this little mission of yours than money?" Ranma's wide grin broke into a series of deep chuckles. After a few seconds of laughing, she straightened herself back up. "If I'd have known you'd react like this, I'd have taken the time to wrap the box, maybe put on a nice bow and a card."


            Ranma tilted her head slightly. "How much do you need to claim the money? If you need the rest tell us, before dinner."


            "Shocked you haven't eaten her already." Galina dryly stated. "And the others?"


            "Clueless, they think their princess was moved to a safe location." Ranma's broad grin returned. "Want 'em?"


            "Why?"


            "Because the princess thought she could wish it all better. She thought that things would work out, that she could wish away the bad people. She thought you and your friends weren't a real threat. She thought that my friends, my family would spill their blood, sacrifice their lives to appease her delusions." Ranma scoffed. "Did you expect me to keep protecting her?"


            Her hand flexing, Galina looked at the head.


            "Sure, it could be a trick. That's why I'm handing it over. Run your little tests, confirm that she's dead, then leave."


            "You just want us gone? You think you can just kill our target and we'll leave?"


            "Isn't that how hired killers work? Of course, you don't have to leave. We can use people like you, people like your team, or maybe we can just kill each other." Ranma purred.


            "I'll run the tests," Galina said closing the lid on the cooler.


            "You do that, then you call me with what you want to do." Ranma shrugged and started walking away. The demoness smiled, no matter what happened, things would be much simpler from now on. After a few paces she reached into her coat.


            Frowning at the cooler Galina was blown back when the box exploded in a dull flash. She could tell from her sensors that the damage was minimal. Her attempt to get up was cutoff by the demoness landing on her chest.


            The redhead's claws sunk into her chassis and started to carve. "Sorry, couldn't resist," she purred.


            "Ranma!" a blonde woman shouted into the demon's ear.


            The redhead lifted her head in irritation. "What?"

 
            "Were you paying attention?" the blonde asked.


            "No, I was napping," Ranma narrowed her eyes and looked at the blonde's head.


            "And you berate me for being unprofessional," Usagi sighed.


            "Well, you are." Ranma shrugged, still keeping her gaze skull-ward.


            "What are you looking at?"


            "Oh, just wondering how big that brain of yours is."


            "So, now I'm dumb?"


            "It's not that, just thinking about how many explosives I could fit up there."


            Usagi's laughter was killed by Ranma's direct, level stare. The blonde swallowed, and Setsuna shifted her stance. "You're serious?" the princess asked.


            Ranma set her jaw and stared into Usagi's gaze.

 

            The blonde swallowed, then noticed the demon's purple eyes twinkle with mirth.  "You're a monster!" she chided, hitting her on the upper arm.


            "You're still alive," Setsuna reminded. "DarkStar's not one to mince words." She crossed her thin arms over her reduced chest.


            "Then why's she being all passive-aggressive and snotty?" Usagi gave a sideways glance at the, physically, younger Setsuna.


            "You did just wake her up from her nap," Eve reminded.


            "Well, isn't she supposed to be guarding me?" Usagi inquired.


            "No, my daughter and myself have the shift now," Eve indicated Sophie who was sitting nearby with her 17mm Pug on the table next to the report she was skimming. Sophie found babysitting a pain, though it was a welcome relief from training.

 

            "Oh." Usagi tilted her head. "You came in here to take a nap?"


            Ranma shrugged. "I wanted to talk to my sister. But..." she looked a bit tired. And for a moment Usagi could have sworn the redhead looked guilty.


            "But you were too tired." Eve supplemented.


            "Tired?"


            "There's been a lot of cleanup." Ranma's eyes were weary. "How's your work been going?" The redhead gave a brief glance to Eve.


            Setsuna tapped a crystal on the table causing a translucent image of a silver-haired woman in a type of body-hugging metallic armor to appear. "I've been showing Usagi some images of the Queen's... campaigning clothes."


            "Not going with formal, impossible to walk in gowns?" Ranma raised an eyebrow. "Shame, those look good, but they've gotta be a pain to fight in."


            "She still needs a lot of work. Usagi still smells the same, her Pattern is still the same, and her body language is the same." Eve stated before turning to Usagi. "To pull off undercover work you can't pretend you're someone else, you have to be someone else."


            "I can't do that cooped up in here." Usagi moaned. "I can't even go elsewhere on base."


            Taking care not to show her teeth, Ranma gave a fatigued smile. "It's temporary, we're still figuring out exactly how much damage the cyborgs will do. But we're not keeping you here, you can leave any time you want."


            "It's not like you could detain us if we wanted to leave," Setsuna stated.

 

            The redhead gave a non-committal shrug. "On your own you might just beat them.  You know how those girls fight, but they know how you fight too.  Going alone is a risk."


            "I should at least be able to see my friends," Usagi stated.

 

            Ranma nodded. "Sure we can-"


            "No." Setsuna's voice was firm. "If we can fool them then it should work, and we can't fool them if they see you dressing up."


            "Minako should be here then, she's playing me after all."


            Setsuna shook her head. "We get your role established first. Then she learns how to be you."


            Usagi turned to Ranma and Eve.


            "It's an acceptable plan," the blonde demoness allowed.


            "Glad I meet your approval," Usagi sighed.


            "Still have to see the costume," Ranma stretched her arms.


            "We'll get it," Setsuna looked down, embarrassment crossing her young face..


            "Really?" The demon's eyes narrowed at Usagi. "There's a risk in this.  We're going to need to work together against these robotic assassins. It's really in your best interest"


            "Blackmail?" Usagi's gaze hardened.


            Idly adjusting her vest, Ranma chuckled. "Nah, blackmail would be if I threatened to call them right after kicking you out." Amusement laced the demon's words.


            "It would be rather rude. You are using our equipment," Setsuna pointed to the jamming bows. "And that's not counting breach of contract."


            "There's escape clauses." Ranma shrugged.


            Usagi blinked. "Nice contract you got us, Puu."


            Setsuna smirked. "What do you expect? They're demonic mercenaries."


            The redhead studied the princess for several seconds. "Do you want to be treated like an adult or a child?"


            Usagi blinked, there was something off about Ranma's venom, as if it were... forced. "But... I'm your age."


            The demon looked thoughtful. "It's a shame Puu can't cram you into a little girl body."


            "Well, her transformation pen could give a reasonable facsimile," Setsuna admitted.


            Ranma's nodded. " Maybe Queen or princess is the better way to look at it.  This isn't about us, it's about you and your Senshi.


            Usagi exhaled slowly. "You don't know what we've gone through. The things... how my friends died for me... I don't deserve them."


            Ranma put her hand on the girl's. "It sucks. You got a raw deal. You didn't get a choice. Some stupid cat comes in and ruins your life. In my case it was a guy in a rumpled suit and a tacky tie.  We  have to deal with it. It's not fair, but that's how it goes."


            "I've been adapting!" Usagi stood up, her palms slamming onto the table. "You can't stand here and sneer at me. I've had my friends sacrifice themselves. For me! I've seen cities burn! What makes you think you can talk me like this?"


            Out of Usagi's view. Ranma's tail straightened slightly and began to curve upward. "Good, have you had enough?"


            "Enough? The only reason Minako's alive is because Ami violated her! I'm sick of the weirdness. I'm sick of people trying to kill me and I don't even know why. I've had aliens, demons, cults, assassins, even a circus after me."

            "And?" Ranma's voice was low, almost curious.


            "And I'm getting to my limit. I'm sick of living in my mother's shadow. In the queen's shadow. Of being measured against the first Serenity."


            "The queen is dead." Setsuna murmured.

 

            Usagi shivered, it almost sounded like Pluto was... relieved at that.


            "She's been dead a long time," Ranma said.


            "Still been screwing up my life."


            "The queen is dead," Setsuna repeated. "Long live the queen."


            "Oh no...." Ranma rubbed her face.


            "What?" Usagi asked, before Setsuna's words sunk in. "You lied to me!"


            "Technically it was Luna," Setsuna said, mildly.


            "If I was the queen... wait... don't I need to be crowned?"


            "That's just a formality. The true succession happens the instant the reigning queen dies."


            "Okay, so I'm the Queen. I was gonna be one later, in Crystal Tokyo." Usagi paused. "So, is there a difference? Being a queen now?"


            "Princess is just that: a princess. A diplomatic token, a spare in case of regicide, but the queen... The Queen is in charge," Setsuna explained.


            "Not that you have a kingdom anymore," Ranma added.

 

            "There's a few scattered facilities and bunkers on some moons. Mostly junk," Setsuna corrected.


            Looking at her wristwatch, Ranma noted the use of the word "mostly".


            "I guess that fits. I was planning on pretending to be Queen Serenity." Usagi sat back down. "I might as well be her for real."


            "Oh? So you've made your decision?" Ranma asked.


            "You're just like Ami. You all want me 'better'. You don't think I can handle things on my own. You don't think I'm ready for this. You think I need to be pushed, molded, forced. You think your way is the best way."


            Ranma interlaced her fingers and let her hands rest on the table. "Your choices are yours."


            "You make it sound simple," Usagi grumbled.


            "I'm sure Puu has a place where she can hide you," Eve offered. "In all honesty that idea has a lot of merit."


            Usagi turned and saw Setsuna contemplative. "We are paying them to kill the these assassins."


            "It would keep you out of the way, and is the safest option," Ranma stated.


            "I'd be kept hidden in some castle? A real fairytale princess," Usagi grumbled.


            Eve chuckled. "Just sit back and trust Setsuna."


            Usagi's eyes darted over and caught Setsuna still in a contemplative state, though with a hint of anxiety.


            "Yes Puu, prove Akumi right and take Usagi and bend her to your dark will." Ranma chuckled.


            "That would stop the whining," Eve added.


            "I have been trying to help you," Setsuna turned from Usagi to the demons. "What do you propose?"


            Ranma fixed her eyes onto Usagi. "We could both put on smart black dresses, and go door to door to and explain to all those families why their husbands and fathers aren't coming home anymore.  We screwed up."

 

            Feeling the demon's ire shift to a blend of shame and guilt, Usagi reached out and took the redhead's wrist. "And why aren't we doing that?" Usagi asked. "It could help us..."


            Ranma's eyes flared. "Can't tell anyone what happened. At least, the firemen's families can be told something close to the truth, but they can't be told the reason: that some spoiled little princess... and an arrogant demoness did not take a threat seriously."

 

            "You can't blame yourself,  you've been harping on me,  you lectured us about them," Usagi squeezed her arm.


            Ranma stared at the, blonde. She shook her head. "I took out an Assembly of Man base, practically single-handed. They threw tier best at me, and I tore them apart. I was confident that some Soviet leftovers wouldn't be much more trouble. I got caught up in a one on one fight, on someone who was a... challenge.  Focusing on personal glory instead of the mission."


            "We were both complacent?" Usagi looked to Eve and Setsuna who were silent.   "I guess we can both learn from this?"

 

                       

            Ranma chuckled. "I can start teaching. It won't be fun, but you will learn."


            Usagi slowly nodded. "I understand."


            The demon's smile became almost sympathetic. "Not yet." Glancing at her watch, she stood up. "I've got an appointment,  but I am curious how this new body plan works out. "


            Eve smirked. "I'll make sure they get with the program."


            Usagi frowned at the demons' knowing expressions.


            Setsuna leaned in. "Good, even you can smell the setup," she whispered.


            Swallowing, Usagi looked at the redhead. "What do you  want me to do?"


            Ranma stopped at the door. "We need to both put our pride aside."

 

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

 


            Smelling the brisk nearly-winter air, Ranma held her disappointment. "I guess you're better than no one," she said walking up to the concrete wall.


            Turning slow enough that her short black bangs did not even move, Arisha gave a cold glance at the demoness. "Do you want me to summon Galina?"


            "Well upside, you'd be easier to kill than her." Ranma shrugged. "But, downside, you'd be easier to kill than her."


            Arisha's eyes narrowed.


            "Maybe I should have sent Nariko in my place," Ranma's lips pulled back in a simulacrum of a grin.


            "We got your broadcast, we got the message the broadcast directed us to. We listened to what you told us." Arisha felt her body's tension rise.


            "And Galina agreed to this meeting."


            "What do you want to say?" At that moment, Arisha loathed the gratification her self control was denying her.


            "The Princess is not our primary priority. I understand your desire to eliminate her, but your operations have the potential to cause great damage."


            "More than killing one of your precious Pattern Silvers? More than killing the most powerful of the Pattern Silvers?"


            Ranma blinked. "Don't insult me by feigning ignorance. You have the intelligence abilities to start digging around. Even the Princess was able to figure out what's really going on here."


            Arisha held the immediate response. She would not rise to the demon's bait. "And that's your warning?"


            "I doubt I can convince you to stop trying to kill her, but I can try to convince you to not cause an interdimensional collapse in the process. After all, it'd be hard to spend that money with the cities burned to slag and the countryside covered with giant brain-suckers from beyond space and time." Ranma leaned forward. "Maybe you can sell your services to them. Work out a deal, they can eat you last."


            The cyborg's cheek gave a slight twitch, and she wondered if this was what Desyat felt like during her "meeting".


            "Come on, you can have an emotional outburst, I don't care." Ranma's face turned serious. "I'm sure Shest has gone over the data, compared it to her own readings. She knows we're serious. She knows what her little device can do."


            "She has studied the data." Arisha expected the demon to give a condescending smile of approval. Instead, the redhead gave an absent nod.


            "Though just the term inter-dim collapse doesn't really explain what'll happen." Ranma tapped her lips. "I can recommend a few books."


            "We've already done a literature survey." Arisha kept her voice level as she recalled the reports Dve'nadtsat wrote.  The injured girl attacked the job with a grim gusto,  despite certain... setbacks. 


           And the information was... useful after a fashion.  They had been able to determine which of their components were... bugged,  if such a descriptor applied to "magic".  The rest was useful, if only to give vague boundaries to the yawning abyss before them.


            "Good!" Ranma's face brightened. "Now you should be careful, a lot of what's in those old books is crap."


            "I think we're bright enough to not try to summon things from eldritch tomes," Arisha eyed the demon.


            Ranma gave the cyborg a measured look. "Right. Paranoid but pragmatic," she gave a curt nod. "Good."


            "Is that all? Establish some face time to assure some limits? What assurances do we have about your end of the bargain?"


            Ranma raised an eyebrow.


            "Don't be coy. We're not the only ones playing with reality. The Senshi did something, something that caused Shest to set off her pulse. You know that." Arisha sighed. "So, we're supposed to stop weakening reality barriers with our pulses and you're supposed to keep the Senshi from doing something stupid with whatever the hell they've been summoning.


            Ranma put out a sigh. "They should know better, and what do you want from the Company?"


            "Nothing that we could reasonably ask for. Well, other than you keeping those teenagers in line."


            The redhead leaned in, conspiratorially. "Personally, I wouldn't trust the Senshi's word. They haven't exactly shown themselves receptive to Company policy."


            "Maybe you need a tighter leash." Arisha smirked.


            "Maybe I should just kick them out on the street and let you take care of them." Ranma offered with a bright smile.


            Arisha chuckled.


            "I'd recommend adapting the methods to block their powers, of course that could be a trap," Ranma shrugged.


            "Yes and instead of blocking us from paranormal resistance the whole process tags us." Arisha shook her head. "Infuriating."


            Ranma's grin grew showing more teeth. "If they're annoying you that much, just keep killin' 'em."


            "We're almost halfway there, of course then she'll be even more dependent on you."


            The demon chuckled.


            "Not that that's a downside, I suppose."


            "So, what do you want?" Ranma asked, keeping her grin.


            "To complete the mission." Arisha glared.


            "Not what the team wants, not what Galina wants. What do you want?"


            Arisha raised an eyebrow, the demon's smile was believably warm, she managed to get her eyes to look friendly. "The mission."


            The demon chuckled. "Is that it? Is that really all that you want?" She leaned forward and sniffed the air. The cyborg's scent was a delicate mix of light oils and sweat. "Tell me, there has to be more than that."


            "This is silly," the cyborg stated. Looking past the surface amusement on the eyes she saw a familiar... depth. The creature was measuring her, evaluating her, sizing her up, like a weapon, a tool, a piece of meat.


            Deliberately looking away, Ranma calmly repeated herself. "Yes, but still.. what do you want?"


            Sensing the pointed undercurrent to the question, Arisha clenched her fist. "Alright. Fine. You really want to know what I want? You really want to know the truth?" Her voice rose. "I want my people to reclaim their rightful place in the world. I want to see the Russians stretch forth their hand again and command the stars!"


            Arisha almost growled. "I want a rebirth of glory, a renaissance of power! I want to stop running through my life like a woman late for an appointment, afraid to look back or to look forward. I want us to be what we used to be! I want..." she paused and smirked. "I want it all back the way that it was!”


            Still looking at the water, the demoness pursed her lips slightly.


            "There." Arisha sighed. "Does that answer your question?"


            The demon returned and once again Arisha felt that heavy gaze fall on her again. Ranma smirked. "Yes... yes it does."


            "Is this where you make your counter offer?" Arisha asked, her tone once again controlled.


            "Do you think my associates can give you what you want?" the demon asked, her smirk in full bloom.


            "I should have known you'd try to tempt me, but I didn't expect it to be so crude. I won't betray them. We were betrayed."


            "What if you wouldn't be a traitor?" Ranma warmly asked as she looked out over the water.


            "Galina would not accept that logic. She'd see me usurping her authority, rightfully so."


            "Don't put her into the position then. Just tell her my offer."


            "What is your offer?"


            "You didn't know what you were getting into, did you? Despite your powers, the NH world is as alien to you as it is to a normal." Still grinning, Ranma turned back to the cyborg. "But now you've done the research, you know WIC's history, our history. Our organization was old when your dreams of technocratic utopia were young.


            "We're more than a mercenary force. In the NH combat field, we're the premier R&D think tank, weapons supplier, and training organization. Government policy bends to our will. You've seen what we've done here, but do you know our history? What we did during the Great Patriotic War?"


            "You asked me if I thought your associates could give you what I, what we, want," Arisha stated.


            "Yes." Ranma's eyes shined slightly. "We even have the ear of the Seventh Directorate. Would you like to know what information the FSB has on you?"


            Arisha set her jaw.


            "It's fascinating seeing how their reports match up with the Vatican's, of course the Checkists always had an axe to grind against you girls, they always were jealous of the Red Army." Noticing the other woman's body language, Ranma's expression became more contemplative. It allowed her to recall more of the information Kasumi had drilled into her head in preparation for this meeting.

 

            "How about revenge? Would you like to get back at the traitors that killed your creator? Would you like to bring down their whole corrupt system?"


            "Your offers are extravagantly outlandish."


            "Really? You don't think your sisters could change things? Moscow would be your playground. We would merely offer intelligence and logistics support."


            Outwardly, Arisha scoffed; inwardly she considered. Many times she had brought this very issue up with Galina.


            "You've got a lot of special parts. How's your supply of eyes holding out? What about your power systems? Do you have enough lubricants and field repair kits? How about your own dedicated machine shop?"


            "And for all this we simply have to give up our current mission?"


           "Nah." Ranma chuckled. "Talk with Galina, see what your terms are. If they're good, we'll give you Usagi alive, dead, free, bound, or any other way you prefer."


            Arisha stared. Of course the demon would try to tempt her.  But demons lied. "You'd abandon a contract so flippantly? Won't that hurt future business?"


            The demon's smile died. "Strange words from a communist. Have the years surviving on your own taken that much of a toll? Have you forgotten what it means to fight for something? For something greater than monetary gain?"


            Arisha's arms crackled with energy as she moved her hands towards her belt, and her sword hilts.


            "Ah, so there's more to your group than exchanging violence for money?"


            "Yes," Arisha hissed.


            "So it goes with us. We'll take a job, but not when it threatens our existence, our further goals. The princess' stupid, arrogant delusions have cost us a lot of good men."


            "They lost people too," Arisha relaxed slightly, fractionally.


            Ranma's smile returned. "Shame you didn't kill more of them. Then we'd have less complaining children to deal with."


            "We would have killed more, but then you came. You and that insane daughter of yours."


            "Heh, well we all make mistakes," Ranma laughed.


            "Cutting through a nuclear power cell is not a light matter."


            Ranma took a step to the side. "Your fault for carrying something like that."


            Arisha frowned. "Is that all?"


            "We're done," Ranma turned back to the water. "Just pass along the warning and the offer."


            "Would you really give her up? Betray her like that?" Arisha distantly asked, glaring at the demon's back.


            "It's a part of doing business, you have to ask yourself if the job is worth it."


            Arisha frowned. "I'll convey your message and offer." She waited for the demoness to acknowledge her with a slight nod. The cyborg then stepped back and briskly walked away from the water front. The demon alone with her thoughts began to happily hum.


           

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

 


            "This sucks," Makoto tossed a paper airplane against a drab wall.


            "Usagi and Setsuna insisted," Rei flatly stated without lifting her head off the pillow.


            "And you're okay with that? Them cooping us up in here? We can't hide forever."


            "Sure we can." Rei kept her gaze at the ceiling . The steady humming from the vents drew her attention and she wondered how WIC secured them. She was certain that they had some scheme in place.


            "If you're bored there's a TV. Or you can order some more clothes that we'll then buy for you." The diminutive redheaded demon narrowed her blue eyes slightly.


            "There's nothing on." Makoto had her fill of the local media's "disaster coverage" and none of the cooking shows could keep her attention.


            The demoness went back to her gun. "Dinner will be in an hour. Then you'll have something to do," she said without looking up.


            "Oh, we're inconveniencing you?"


            Morgan shrugged. "Being bored is part of the job. Hurry up and wait."


            Makoto snickered.


            Rei rolled over to face Makoto's bunk. "I don't like it. Setsuna giving Usagi all this special attention. She's different."


            "Yes, Setsuna is," Makoto dryly stated.


            "No, I mean after the Russians killed her. This pint-sized-Puu...." Rei trailed off.


            "Maybe it's just shock. Mina's not the same either."


            Rei shook her head. "Yeah, Mina's not."


            Makoto looked at Rei for a few seconds. "What Ami did to her-"


            "Changed her. That's why I'm worried about Setsuna. It's like she's gone around to Ranma's way of thinking; Ami's way of thinking."


            The brunette frowned.


            "You know I'm right." Rei stated.


            The phone by the door rang a couple times before Morgan reached over and picked it up. "Graham here. Yes? Alright then." Hanging up, she turned to the two teens. "Get up, we're going to the commissary."


            "Our dinner got moved up?" Rei asked.


            Morgan shouldered her 25mm rifle, and opened the door. "Sure," she said before motioning to the two agents guarding outside the door.


            "What do you think this is about?" Rei quietly asked.


            "DarkStar finally snapped and took out Usagi?" Makoto laughed as they walked down the corridor.


            "There'd be more noise..."

 

            "And explosions," Rei added with a growl.


            Morgan suppressed a grin and opened the door to a conference room.


            Inside, was DarkStar, her sister, the young Setsuna, and a stiff-looking Usagi, and one other woman. She held the entirety of Rei and Makoto's attention.


            Holding a cup of coffee she stood next to Eve and was only a few centimeters shorter. Glossy grey, almost silver, hair framed her face in short bangs while most of her hair was pulled back in a tight French braid that was folded back up forming a short, tight bun.


            Hanging on her shoulder by a leather strap was a long length of wood. At first, Rei mistook it for an old bolt-action rifle, but then she noticed that instead of a metal barrel, a long shaft of blackened crystal was set in the wooden stock. It also lacked a trigger-guard, discernable action, or magazine. The whole device was shaped more like a staff that had one end modified for shouldering and had a pair of forward grips. A golden crescent moon was inset on one side of the staff.


            Thin metal gauntlets covered the backs of the woman's hands and disappeared up her sleeves. The woman was dressed in a beige blouse with a high, thin collar. A restrained dark blue silk bow adorned her chest, bearing a closer resemblance to the brood's jamming antennae than the Senshi ribbon and bow.


            A dark-navy-blue jacket with gold piping went over the blouse and nearly covered the matching back bow that tied down the woman's skirting. The inner layer was a simple cream, gold trimmed, ankle-length skirt which was mostly covered by overlapping pleats of heavy dark blue material.


            Above that was a final layer of consisting of silver-grey armor. It was arranged in thick sections that resembled Venus' metallic armor, save longer, reaching past her knees, and thus more articulated. Heavy leather boots adorned her feet. Each had armored sections on the toes, heels, and tied over the shins.


            The only jewelry she wore was above her pale-blue eyes. Unlike Rei's tiara, this one was silver and made thicker, heavier, and instead of a jewel simply had a golden crescent moon at its center.


            A broad smiled crossed the woman's face, highlighting the tendons in her long, slender neck, and the slight lines on her... weary face. "Mars, Jupiter. It's good to see you," she stated in a resonant, even voice.


            Rei blinked. "What the...."


            "Okay, what's going on? Where's Mina?" Makoto looked over and saw Usagi lift herself out of her slouch..


            The older woman's smile died. "You don't recognize me? Kiri did; DarkStar did; my daughter, of course, did."


            Rei furrowed her brows. "No... you can't be Serenity."


            The woman gave a wan smile. "Because no one's ever come back from the dead?"


            "Wait, who's Kiri?"


            "Kiri, the new Guardian, the late Guardian's sister," the apparent Serenity patiently stated
           

            Makoto went to the teenage blonde. "Usagi what's going on here?"


            The princess sighed. "DarkStar came back, should Mother's return really be that surprising?"


            Ranma's violet eyes tracked the conversation for a moment and then went back to the slim folder in front of her. On the balance, there was more tangible progress on this front, not to dismiss the potential her earlier meeting could bring, especially if things fell through.


            "Yes, there were certain... contingencies in place," Serenity allowed.


            "Okay, where's Mina? This is all a bit too cute," Rei stole another glance at the silver-haired woman.


            Serenity stepped forward. "Oh? Been a while since someone called me cute," her resonant voice held an amused edge.


            "I didn't."


            "Slip of the tongue," Standing before the miko, Serenity smirked and looked down at the shorter girl. "And you're still staring at me."


            Rei kept herself from swallowing. "Who are you?"


            A silver eyebrow raised slightly, and she spoke in that patient, amused voice. "Queen Serenity."


            "Right. Setsuna didn't really die and Minako's conveniently absent. So there's obviously some kind of dress-up going on here."


            "Really, now?"


            "Well we know Setsuna didn't die," Makoto said.


            "There was a body, or most of one," the blonde princess reminded.


            "Yes, let's assume I'm a body double of some type." Kiri shrugged. "What about the Queen?"


            Rei turned to the silent women in the room. "I'm sure the demons know who's who."


            "It kept those two on their toes," Eve stated. "Do you think they know who's who?"


            "Process of elimination makes it pretty obvious," Ranma replied. "A real test is to see how Akumi reacts to Serenity."


            "Since Mina's not dead." Makoto looked between the queen and princess. "So... Serenity and Usagi are both-"


            "Don't stray from the official line," Serenity cautioned. "It's for the best."


            "Huh, and this getup?" Makoto stepped around the... queen. "It doesn't exactly look like the normal vacuum-tight gown."


            "That's after the empire was secured. This –" Queen Serenity fingered her jacket. "is pre-Unification. Imperial Lunar Navy specifically."


            "Okay... and the staff? Some sort of crystal... gun?"


            Serenity smiled and unslung the weapon. "Mark Four Focus Projector. Standard weapon of the Royal Reconnaissance Commandos."


            "Why not use your wand? Isn't that a good focus?"


            Serenity pulled out her wand and slid it into a slot on the end of her staff. Once in place she pulled the crescent moon on the end, locking the wand in place and causing a pointed crystal arc to extend out from the weapon's end. "Unlike the Mark Three, the Mark Four can be fitted with nearly any personal focus artifact."


            "I still think you should get a Wraith Raider cloak. That would really help things." Ranma leaned back and tapped on her folder.


            The blonde princess tilted her head.


            Serenity arched a silver eyebrow. "You just want one so your mother can reverse engineer the design."


            "We're already working on our own adaptive cammo," Ranma shrugged.


            "Really?" Kiri Meiou blinked. "Ah yes... you already can summon clothing of different materials and colors. So... it's just a matter of control?"


            "You're talking about those not-really-invisible cloaks?" Rei asked.


            "Don't underestimate the ability to have your cammo-pattern change to match local conditions." Ranma stated.


            "Indeed." Serenity turned back to Rei and gestured to a chair. "Please. Sit."


            Rei slowly sat down. "Right... this seems pretty weird." Watching Serenity nearly stumble as she tried to balance her armor and her staff, the miko gave a slight smile.


            "The plan makes sense." Serenity stated, after taking a moment to regain her composure. "We have an intelligence advantage over the Combat Cyborgs."


            Sitting next to Rei, Makoto looked around the table and was amazed to find not one smirk or snicker.


            "Yea, they don't know Minako and Setsuna aren't dead." Rei said.


            "Despite abilities, their experience has been limited to... mundane targets," Kiri explained. "This way they're in the dark about our true capabilities."


            "You two had to get disguises, but why do the Princess swap?"


            "I can survive the most damage," the girl wearing Usagi's form stated. Posing as the queen's double was the best way she could think to protect her... for now.


            Ranma and Kiri both smiled thinly.


            "The misdirection does have its limits. They're more than willing to kill all of us," Serenity admitted.


            "And why were we kept in the dark?" Rei icily asked. "Didn't trust us? Were you worried about another Ami incident?"


            "It was a test," Makoto looked into Serenity's pale eyes. "You wanted to see if you could fool us."


            Serenity nodded. "I'm sorry but we had only one chance."


            "You two can test your little dress-up against Ami."


            Rei kept her face neutral. "Yeah, Ami'd love this. You're doing what she wants. Just look at yourself."


            "I'm doing what needs to be done." For the first time, Serenity's reverberating voice gained a harsh edge.


            "Dress-up?" Rei asked.


            "We couldn't win against the Russians. I need the Company." Serenity tapped her armored hand on the table.


            "You should have told us!"


            The silver-haired woman narrowed her eyes. "This isn't a democracy. I am your Queen. That is not pretend."


            Reluctantly Rei broke eye contact and looked down.


            "We might be able to win," Makoto allowed. "We do have some heavy attacks. Stuff that even they can't brush off."


            "Hitting them would be a problem. They're rather agile and we haven't had a good track record at getting our attacks to connect," Kiri reminded.


            Serenity raised her arm. "Enough, we've got work to do. DarkStar if you'll start."


            A ghost of a smirk on her face Ranma opened her folder. "Okay, we've got a lot of work and not much time. Earlier today contact was made with a representative of the Combat Cyborgs."


            "You talked with them?" Rei asked.


            "Yes, Arisha Dva. I explained to her the devastating effects of their dimensional pulse device. She also stated the belief that they had killed several of you."


            "So, they think Minako and Setsuna are dead?" Makoto asked.


            "No, they said that they killed several of you," Ranma clarified. "She could have been lying to me. I know I was."


            "You made the offer?" Serenity stopped as she worked through the best way to phrase her next statement. "You know I'm not comfortable with that... deal."


            "It's a legitimate Psychological Operation. We want them to be unsure of what they're facing. What the rules are. Who their opponents are. We can feed them misinformation and make them doubt information they already have." Eve was firm but reassuring.


            "It just seems so... wrong. Lying like that."


            "Lying to people that want to kill your daughter." Ranma tapped her fingers on the table. "Interesting sense of fair play you've gotten."


            "Really though, using me... her as bait?"


            Ranma looked over the silver-haired woman. "You should talk with your daughter about the dangers of making deals with demons, then."


            "But I-" Serenity winced and shut her mouth.


            The princess turned to Serenity. "It's okay, Mother. I screwed up." Her voice was stiff and slightly mechanical. She knew there was no limit to what she would do to protect the Queen; she had already died for her.


            Rei's tension abated somewhat. The disguise was far from perfect then.


            Ranma looked to Kiri. "Yes I definitely think the Queen needs another session."


            Serenity stiffened slightly.


            "The meeting was enough of a success. We conveyed the information and avoided casualties. However, afterwards we lost track of Arisha and have yet to hear their response to our offer."


            "Tell me when you hear what their response is." Serenity fingered her staff.


            "Of course," Ranma smoothly assured.


            "If they keep using that pulse we can have some real problems," Kiri added.


            "Yes." Ranma flipped to a different page. "Okay, basic training plans."


            "We've been trained." Rei stated.


            The redhead chuckled.

 

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

 


            Inside one of the reconditioned Quonset huts on the opaquely-named Post-Incident Training Grounds a meeting began.

            Major Sifton looked at his assembled men. Many were looking at the WIC personnel at the front of the room with slight apprehension. Company officers wearing battle-dress usually meant combat drills and war games, while dress uniforms meant lectures. It looked like tonight was another training mission; looks were deceiving.


            Sifton's gaze checked out his platoon. At an initial glance they were all wearing their Canadian Disruptive Pattern (CADPAT) uniforms, and had their equipment and weapons at hand. He cleared his throat. "Tonight we will not be training. Lieutenant Hill."


            "Sir." At his side Lieutenant Hanna Hill activated the projector. "At sixteen hundred a 427 SOAS Heron UAV was on routine patrol. It was fitted with a Mark Seven Ostar Pattern Detector."


            The room quieted. "Sir, what did they find?" Sergeant MacDowell asked.


            "Peterborough. A cluster of Pattern D. Low emission. They're either not very powerful, or they're good, but not perfect, at masking their output." Hill gave a slight glance at the redhead that stood off to the side. "Local police have not recorded a spike in missing persons or murders," Hanna stated as the map of Peterborough, a town about a hundred kilometers Northeast of Toronto, was replaced by an aerial photo of a house.


            "Now that means a couple things. They could be hunting somewhere else, or they're not killing their meals. Command has seen fit to send us in to investigate." Major Sifton explained, watching his troops stiffen slightly.


            "Sir, this is not a Search and Destroy?" Master Corporal Pattison asked.


            "Correct. As far as we know, these people have committed no crime. However, they are non-humans unknown to us or the Company. WIC will be sending a small team of observers." Sifton gestured to the side. "Lieutenant Tendo and Special Contractor Saotome, Ranma will head the observation tem. Hill and Tendo will explain our continued intelligence."


            Lieutenant Tendo strode forward and began her presentation. "We do not know the intent of this NH group. Your government intends a policy of registration and monitoring. Any hostility on the part of the non-humans would warrant immediate action. And currently the government does not have suitable long term detention facilities."


            Pausing, Kasumi gauged the soldier's reaction. They understood. "Keep in mind, the abilities Pattern Ds have. If they are to turn hostile, the situation can get very ugly very quickly. Keep your fields of fire clear and maintain trigger discipline. Be ready, especially in a close quarters situation. Inter-dim countermeasures will be operational, preventing enemy teleportation."


            "Also remember the close range limitations of your C1A1's under-slung 40mm. You may decide that getting torn apart by shrapnel is preferable to getting torn apart by a Pattern D. However at close ranges 7.62 NATO should suffice." Tendo smirked slightly.


            "Current over-flight has the Pattern-Ds being stationary. They may or may not be nocturnal," Hill explained. "The police have given us the information on who owns the house and the listed tenants. Reportedly, half a dozen young, attractive females. The location has fallen under some police attention for solicitation, but nothing stuck."


            A couple minutes into the presentation Sifton cleared his throat to cut down the gradually growing muttering. "Settle down. I don't like the ambiguity either, I know you'd rather you were going after those cyborgs that tore up Toronto, but this is the job. We don't know what we're getting into or if they're even hostile. We've faced situations like this before, we've prepared for this mission and we will prevail. After the Lieutenants finish, the operation will commence."


            Kasumi nodded and went back to her NH overview. JTF2 certainly had the skills and the spirit, but it remained to be seen how they would react to the unreality of NH combat.

           
           

End chapter

 

Author's Notes.  Ranma's scene where she tempts Arisha has a sequence familiar to any Babylon 5 fans.

 

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,  Pale Wolf, Wray, Kevin Hammel, Ikarus, Jerry Starfire, and Nadrek..

 

 

Revision notes;   Well,  this is the first time I actually had to cut a sequence from this story.  Long time readers may note the scene with Usagi and Ranma,  and Eve and Pluto is not a bit... different.   This is more of my,  albeit long delayed, realization that the critiques of Ranma's attitude towards Usagi was too harsh were, well, correct.