The Return

A Ranma Sailor Moon fic thingy.

By Josh 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/

 

Other website Temple of Ranma's Senshi Seifuku

http://fukufics.com

 

C&C as always is wanted.

 

Chapter 15 Retrograde and Remade Part 1

 

            Ranma gingerly bit into her plum. Waves from the great lake rolled onto the concrete of the jetty she stood on. She absently stared out into the water. As the wind freshened, she was thankful that she hair-clipped her tresses back. A pair of bangs and a ponytail were more manageable than a full and spiked mane. The suit-skirt she wore was a bit thin though. A leather jacket would have given a bit more warmth.

            She smiled and took another bite. It was for her daughters, of course. She wanted to look responsible for the meeting with the school today. It was not like there would be a problem with her family returning to school. The meeting at Furinkan was nothing, it was for the other school that Ranma wanted to make a good impression, and one that made others think that she was at least fifteen years older than she really was.

            Using her free hand she pulled out the brochure to Saint Helena's Elementary School. Ranma smirked. She remembered the principal's surprise. No doubt Mrs. Susan Dietrich thought Miss Ranma Saotome was scandalously young to have a fourteen year old daughter, not to mention being unmarried. The Drake's vouching for her morality was a nice gesture, though Dietrich seemed weary and wary of her colleague.

            Ranma had toyed with the idea of passing herself off as Nabiki's older sister and guardian, but dismissed it at the start. Some things would have been easier; there would be no awkward questions about her age, but for Ranma being a mother was more important than public appearances.

            The demoness wondered how Dietrich would react to learning just how scandalously young she really was, or that Nabiki Saotome was her youngest. Ranma fingered the brochure. There was nothing new on it. The school was on the opposite end of the next block from Furinkan, and security would be taken care of.

            The decision was Nabiki's to make. The tour gave her a taste of what that school would be like. The choice was essentially grade eight or grade nine. At either school she would stand out as bright and developed for her age. One would have her as moved ahead a couple years to be a freshmen the other would place her at the end of elementary school.

            Ranma sighed. It was amazing. The last time she had been at this pier... she was still human, and his life was simple. Needing a cure to a curse was nothing compared to raising a brood. At least, she had all her girls back and they were stabilized and happy.

            She was never one for introspection. Living in the moment served her well as both a human and a demon. Ranma popped the plum into her mouth and sucked on the pit. She looked down at her nicely tailored clothes. Her body was hers. She had embraced her nature.

            Ranma remembered being male, being human. It was a fair body, certainly better than the human girl's body she had had. Even so it was limited. Her nostalgia was short lived. She had tried to live in both worlds, tried to be both a guy and a demon mommy.

            She spit out the pit and scowled at the splash it made. She had plenty of regrets, but none about the person she had become. The cost of staying male would have made her a true monster.

            The brood mother smiled. Things were looking up. Sure she was in a shadowy war with unknown numbers of persons and creatures trying to kill her, her family, and her friends.

            But that meant that she had friends and family. Something worth fighting for. Something she did not have in her previous life. There were still plenty of enemies, which solved any food problems for her brood.

            The redhead paused. Her past reminiscing was the only reason that thought stuck out. Ranma then grinned widely. She pulled another plum out of her purse. After taking a bite she looked down at the small leather bag. After swallowing she snorted. It amused her. The mighty Ranma Saotome carried a purse full of snacks, pictures of her daughters,  and even a bit of makeup (Misako had rubbed off on her the tiniest bit) and it was all natural to her.

            That she was stronger and more skilled than he ever was ameliorated things greatly. What Ranma put into the Art as a human paled before the efforts and accomplishments she made as a "overly affectionate demon mommy." Back then the Art was just for Ranma's use, now it was a family affair. It was integral to the brood's continued survival.

            As Ranma bit into her second plum, she felt some kinship with her father. She could understand his emphasis on the art as a family legacy, and the use of joining the schools.

            Despite ensuring the next generation was well versed in Anything Goes, updating the style, adding in practitioners of other styles, and even having a Tendo mated to a Saotome, Genma was still unmoved.

            Ranma frowned. Her father was the least of her worries. He did not even seem to grasp the situation. Alexia was dead, but there were still enemies. The Assembly had been quiet recently, which meant that they were planning... something. Murdock seemed to have gone to ground and had gotten harder to contact.

            Even the Senshi had problems. That cult, pathetic losers that they were, still shocked them. Ranma's eyes flickered at remembering Usagi's horrified and blood-splattered expression.

            The brood mother smiled as a slight blush formed. There was a brief instant when she saw... potential in Usagi. Ranma sniffed the air. "So what's the word?" she asked as her fiancee slid up next to her.

            "The music box and earrings have passed inspection," Kasumi put an arm around the redhead's waist and drew her a bit closer.

            Ranma leaned onto the officer and bit into her plum. She accepted the need to make sure her grandmother's gifts were safe, but it still felt strange. BlackSky was family. "And the books?"

            "Those are problematic to proof." Kasumi frowned. "They're being run through a full battery of scans but we're also making our own reference copies."

            "Yeah, figured you guys would do that." Ranma pulled out another plum and handed it to Kasumi.

            The brunette nodded and bit into the fruit.

            "I don't really care." Ranma laughed. "Heck, I'd appreciate the help if you had anyone that actually spoke that crazy language."

            "I'll look into it," Kasumi assured. "The major's having an interesting time analyzing that metal." She took another bite.

            "Yah, that's the kind of puzzle Mom'll really enjoy," Ranma nodded and leaned her head onto the larger woman.

            Kasumi swallowed some plum. "So is Nabiki going to junior high?"

            "She's thinking about it. Seeing kids 'her own age' really shocked her though." Ranma remarked.

            "Well, it'd be like you dealing with normal sixteen year olds," Kasumi said.

            "That's not so bad."

            "You spent the day easily pretending you were a mature woman in her thirties."

            "Not my fault I look good this way," Ranma pouted. "And what about Sam and Naoko? They're normal."

            "They don't think twice about hanging out with the gothic lesbian sluts of the school. I doubt they're very normal."

            "Whatever," Ranma shrugged.

            "Oh yeah, your kids are done shopping." Kasumi led Ranma away from the railing.

            The redhead smiled and kept her head leaning on Kasumi. "Gonna give me any hints?"

            "Oh no, I'm letting them keep the surprise."

            "Not even if I offer something fun for later?" Ranma saucily offered. She still had that negligee.

            "Like you'd hold out on me tonight," Kasumi smirked, as she pulled the succubus closer, who then started to purr.

           

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

 

            An old man leaned back on his seat. He smiled briefly at the cute stewardess and motioned for another drink. The master figured his time for pleasure could be limited. According to that briefing, his two students had become corrupt and lax.

            A lesser man would consider what they did a betrayal to the master himself and everything he taught his young charges. The master knew better than his more exuberant... colleagues. Crude punishment and revenge was beneath him. Something more precise and thoughtful was required.

            The master had his suspicions. The dossier given to him by that priest seemed complete. The photographs were evidence enough to the corruption of those two youths, but there had to be more.

            The old man shrugged. He would find out the truth once he arrived in the city. He wanted to know the truth behind that grey-eyed priest, and why that smiling man had information on his students and the.. girls they associated with. That tidbit of information made his trip even more enticing.

            The master was slightly cross; he knew where his students were already, and had a fair guess as to what was going on. The glut of information dropped in his lap was almost insulting, but he knew that earnest priest was trying to help, in his own eccentric way.

 

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

 

            "Are you sure?" Janet hesitantly asked. She and her companion sat in a secluded booth in the back of the club. Both had to dress up a bit to get in, but once inside they could get down to business.

            "Not entirely, but only a fool would think that they had planned for everything," Ami sighed.

            Janet blushed and played with the straw in her glass. "It's just... what will Usagi think? Especially about the lies and secrets."

            Ami took her partner's hand in hers and smiled coldly. "I'm not worried about the Princess. She understands; it's in her nature. It's the others I'm worried about. They may not be so open minded." Her expression then thawed.

            "What about Rei? She would understand us, what we're trying to do," Janet protested.

            "I don't think so," Ami said with a pitying expression, as she caressed Janet's cheek. "I know her; I know how she'd react to the truth."

            Janet looked down and muttered, "I think I have an idea how they'd react too."

            Ami's eye lit up. "Of course you would," she then reached out and pulled the auburn haired girl closer. "That's what I like about you. You can actually use your brain."

            Instead of protesting the rough treatment, Janet simply blushed and kept her lowered gaze.

            "What? You wanted me to be more assertive," Ami teased.

            "Everyone wanted you to be less shy and mousy." Janet admitted.

            "Well they'll get that." Ami licked her lips. The other Senshi also joked about Ami's lack of romantic luck. Not that any of the others had any success. The princess did, but her prince was gone now.

            "And Usagi? What about her?"

            "Oh, she's our primary concern," Ami said coyly. "We have to help her, make sure she's strong enough to deal with what's coming."

            "And if the others won't accept us? I mean... we're different from them."

            "They don't matter." Ami kissed Janet and lingered for a few seconds. "The princess is the only important one. She trusts me, after all I'm the smart one. You know what it was like for her at the start."

            Janet nodded and smiled as Ami roughly ran a hand across her body. "She was alone, and desperate for someone to help her, to confide in her." Jealousy played across Janet's features. "You were her first."

            Ami squeezed her hand over a tender area, eliciting a pained cry from Janet. "Yes, I was the first of the princess' Senshi, but you will always have a special spot in her heart. I figure everything out and you..."

            "I'm like an old and dear friend," Janet said dryly.

            "We will be getting more help," Ami said as she looked at her watch.

            Janet nodded. She had concerns about getting outside help, but Ami made a good point. Janet herself was a new Senshi, and they were only keeping things secret to protect Usagi.

            "Something on your mind?" Ami asked as she idly checked the bun she put her hair up into. It was small but over time it would grow, much like other things. It was nearing the time for the late bloomers to bloom.

            "I'm thinking about the new girl. At least her hair color fits," Janet smiled weakly.

            The blue-haired girl raised an eyebrow. She wondered if her partner was being sarcastic or just trying to make conversation. "I always did like smart girls," Ami said while pulling Janet in close.

            "Well, that's a lie," Janet laughed.

            "It just took the right girl to make me realize it," Ami smirked.

 

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

 

            Ranma wandered down the hallway with a spring in her step. Her tail swished happily behind her and she hummed lightly. The demon stopped at the door to her room. She considered turning around and going back.

            The demon licked her fangs at the flash of sensations. She understood now. It was one thing to have a hunger, it was another to satisfy it... well mostly satisfy it. She pulled her hand back from the knob; the spirit was more than willing.

            The flesh however.... that was tired and drained. There were limits to what she could do, and Ranma did feel satiated. In her satisfied haze, she opened the door. The darkened room suddenly illuminated and the occupants gave a shout. A quickly made banner hung on a far wall.

            "Congratulations?" Ranma asked with a blink.

            "For finally having sex, mom!" Akane handed the startled demon some cookies.

            "Well, with someone else," Misako muttered.

            "I should have known you girls would know," Ranma wearily said as she slumped onto the bed.

            "Mom, you were a bit... loud," Nariko said delicately.

            "That's an understatement." Ukyou closed the bedroom door.

            "So how much stamina does all that Company training give her?" Misako lewdly asked. "I lost count after the first ninety minutes."

            Ukyou shook her head. Sometimes it was hard to connect the bashful and bumbling Assemblyman with the saucy succubus.

            "Yeah... she's good," Ranma shrugged. "Was a pain though."

            "What?" Akane asked.

            "She's a human. Was tempted to drain her. "

            "So you used another type of sex right?" Nabiki asked.

            "I think so." Ranma shrugged before stretching out her back. "It... wasn't the same. She didn't get as tired and I was still a little bit hungry."

            "You do know we've got half a dozen types of intercourse right?"

            "Yes Honey, Mommy figured out that sex demons have many ways to screw someone." Ranma took a bite out of the offered cookie.

            "That draining one is just that. It's what we do when feeding on a human. Then you probably went to informal mating, which is below practice mating, actual mating, and impregnation sex."

            "So no worries about getting pregnant," Akane joked.

            "Duh, Kasumi's human. There's no chance." Misako rolled her eyes.

            "And even if she was a demon there'd be no chance. Without the mating ritual there's no egg release." Nabiki explained.

            "So you decoded some of grandma's diary?" Ranma asked.

            "Nope," Nabiki went to the small bookshelf and pulled out one of the recently cleared books. She flipped to a page that showed Silva Succubus in various sexual positions.

            Ranma studied the pictures. She had only learned a tiny bit of demonic Latin. Her mother was gently encouraging her to learn as much as possible. "So that's why I let you girls have all that sex."

            "It would be mean to have you be a grandma and still a virgin," Misako teased.

            "Yah, can't call me that anymore Misa-chan," Ranma reminded.

            "So how was it Mom?" Akane asked as she sat down next to her mother. "I always figured big sis for the dominating type."

            "She does have half a foot on me," Ranma nodded. "Though once her stamina ran out..." She then licked her fangs.

            "What about your horns? How rough was she with those?" Nariko noticed that Mother had her horns and tail out but not her wings.

            Ranma pouted. "Timid. She didn't like touching those or my tail. Well, I guess she warmed up to them a bit."

            "You mean after the time you made her scream out?" Misako smirked.

            "Yeah, she didn't expect me to do that," Ranma's expression mirrored her daughter's, as she waved her tail. "She was real embarrassed after that though."

            "So, no more kinky fun?" Misako asked

            "Give her time, she's just a human," Ukyou cautioned.

            "She was more comfortable with the lesbian stuff." Ranma pondered for a bit. "Akane, Nabiki, were there any rumors about Kasumi experimenting with girls?"

            "Uh Mom, I think she was a bit young for that," Akane reminded.

            "Maybe she did something during her training," Nabiki proposed as she flipped through the reading primer.

            "Yeah! Some fun after lights out in an all girl's barracks!" Misako exclaimed

            Ranma blinked. "Young? Wasn't she a freshman or something before she went to WIC?"

            "So what made her finally let you storm her gates?" Misako asked.

            "We've been getting closer and instead of jumping her in a negligee I took it slowly," Ranma said as she massaged her wrists. She was stronger than Kasumi, but it still hurt to be pinned there.

            "So you let your hot body seduce the cold officer? Impressive." Ukyou nodded approvingly.

            "And the best part is that it was all recorded," Nariko reminded.

            "Let's watch the tape!" Misako then dove for her cell phone.

            Ranma paled the slight amount that she could as her shoulders sagged.

            "You forgot about the surveillance didn't you," Nabiki smirked.

            "It's okay Mom. They've watched me and Akane mate plenty of times," Nariko reassured.

            "I guess Kasumi'd be more embarrassed than me."

            "Don't bet on it Mom. Kasumi's an agent. She knew full well her entire sex romp would be recorded," Nariko said.

            "Wonder what that'll do to her standing in the Company," Misako pondered as she dialed her phone.

            "She took on a sex demon at what we do best and just got a bit tired," Nabiki reminded. "Heck, I'd bet she's sitting in her bed sipping coffee and doing paperwork."

 

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            "Morning Pops!" Ranma said giving a salute with her mug after her father entered the kitchen.

            "Yeah, yeah," the older martial artist mumbled. That his daughter was using a mug that proclaimed her motherhood was not noticed. She always used that mug.

            "Oh, I'm sorry. Did me and my fiancee keep you up?" Ranma leaned back in her chair. "That should make you happy. Houses are well on their way to being joined... at least by your definition."

            "I should be happy about that - if things were different I'd be pushing you to get married." Genma said as he walked over to the stove. Pouring some hot water into a teacup he paused. "No, that's not right."

            "But they're already joined?" Ranma guessed.

            Genma snorted as he put a teabag in his cup. "Nope. As things are... Kasumi's the only human left."

            "You're still not countin' my kids?" Ranma glared

            "It's not what we planned," Genma replied evenly.

            "Yah, well things don't always go the way they plan." The redhead then took a sip. Ranma was actually a bit impressed. Her father managed to meet her gaze. Though his calm state did concern her.

            "And what about your fiancee?" Genma asked. "She has plans. You think she's ready to become your mate? After a simple role in the hay?"

            "What? You just said you'd be pushing us to get married if I was human."

            Genma sipped his tea to check it's flavor. "Foolish boy. What do you think Kasumi wants?"

            "We're just having fun."

            Genma smirked "You sure? First thing you said was that the houses are being joined. That's more than just having some girl for the fun of it." Genma sipped his tea. "No, it sounds like you're thinking like the girly girl that you've become."

            Ranma stared. She was not a girly girl per say, but she was proud of being a mother. "I don't need relationship advice from you."

            "Oh? It's a relationship, now." Genma shook his head. "Well don't say I didn't warn you."

            Ranma thought for a couple seconds. "You're getting better."

            Genma smiled thinly. "You know our secret technique, daughter."

            "So you retreated and drank until you finally figured out that I'm a succubus mom?" Ranma shook her head. "Took you long enough."

            "Stubbornness is a family trait. Something my granddaughters seem to have too." Genma said as he walked out of the room. "Oh, remember what I told you about Kasumi."

            "He called them his granddaughters," Ranma smiled warmly. It was a start.

 

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

 

            "Okay, the metal has passed the proofing tests and the plan has met with General Anderson's approval," Jacob explained after entering Major Saotome's lab.

            "Good to hear, Sir," Nodoka nodded as she put a clipboard down on her desk.

            "Estimate until you have a finished product?" Jacob walked over to the sealed crate containing the metal pieces, and the original box they were given in.

            "I'm still performing tests. Processing will have to be done under special conditions. The good news is that we have two and a half kilograms of material to work with."

            "Interesting. You'd also have to consider what to make out of it," Jacob nodded. The outlay of new machinery could be expensive, though much of it could likely be fabricated at Willard's armaments section.

            "That is the most important factor," Nodoka smiled broadly. "What of my other request, Sir?"

            "It's an enticing proposal. There is some risk mind you." Jacob offered. Major Saotome had given only some preliminary specifications.

            "Even if they don't join; their use of such devices would benefit us," Nodoka countered and pulled up some designs on her computer.

            Jacob's eyes widened slightly at viewing the designs. "I think, that this may be quite helpful in recruiting Miss Saotome's girls."

            "My grandkids will have the best I can give them," Nodoka promised.

            "Minimal modification on this one," Jacob pointed to the larger of the two gun designs. "Really just making a crew-served weapon into an individual one. Kick will be an issue," he added.

            "I've worked out the numbers, but I do need a girl to test it. That design I can have built within a day. Provided I have the stock weapon signed over to me so it can be modified," Nodoka explained.

            Jacob nodded. On the face of it that weapon was absurd, but that was with human standards. Succubae were stronger, but more than just raw strength was needed to compensate.

            "My other proposed weapon is more elaborate. ," Nodoka explained. "Fortunately I found an existing cartridge that made the design work simpler."

            "Point Five-hundred Smith and Wesson? That's only in revolvers. Making a semi-auto version will be challenging," Jacob then read more of the design. "I see, basing off of that Point Four-fifty-four design our friends across the pond use."

            "Oh yes, their documentation was most helpful. The Casull is an impressive cartridge, but it's over fifty years old. This S&W magnum has over eight hundred joules more energy than the Casull and tests with revolvers chambered in these rounds revealed a decrease in recoil."

            Jacob smiled at the scientist's excitement. "Though building a weapon to handle such a cartridge will be a challenge."

            "Semi-automatics that use Fifty Action Express, have been produced for years. Israel Military Industries is one of our vendors, and the pressure and temperature combustion performance of the Five-hundred S&W is well known." Nodoka explained.

            He looked at the design. The gun was relatively unassuming. After-all both cartridges were fifty caliber, one was simply longer than the other. He sighed. On paper the weapon looked effective, especially in the right hands, but a good scientist could make anything look good. "I'll talk with Commander Stillwater, but I don't see any issues with this."

            "Thank you sir." Nodoka grinned slightly.

            "Unlike the HOG, you have more flexibility with frame weight," Jacob noted as he pulled up a chair. "Though that's no excuse. Good, going with a sturdy design. You're going to need that."

            "Yes, it has to withstand a lot of shock and abuse. There's also a hell of a lot more moving parts in this design," Nodoka said as she took notes. It was good to get input, especially someone with Jacob's experience.

            "Revolvers are endearingly simple weapons. Though reloading them right is an art," Jacob said with a hint of wistfulness. "I assume you've planned to order some revolvers chambered in five-hundred to do your own testing."

            "Of course, Sir." Nodoka pulled out some more data-sheets to show. "I am surprised at how well you're taking to these. I'll admit, that these designs are pretty ludicrous."

            "We live in a world where fifty caliber semi-automatic handguns are mass produced. Our organization already uses weapons that push the limits of human use. When you remove some of those limits...." Jacob shrugged. Some of what Miss Saotome and her girls could do was enviable.

 

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

 

            "The situation is grim, Oslo," Karol Adams stated to his superior. "The mercenaries are organized. The targets are never without an escort."

            Father Oslo sighed and looked out the window of the hotel room the meeting was taking place in. "And while removing a few guards would be trivial, that would be enough to alert them all. "

            "Has the Bishop committed enough men for us to fight that?" Wendell Holmes asked. The short man's hands went to the pockets of his coat.

            "He feels that a war between human organizations would be counterproductive," Oslo sighed. The troop allotment for this mission had already been expanded twice.

            "Awfully restrained of that man," Karol noted. Though this mission was more complicated. It was not something for a pair of half-baked acolytes. Fresh faced youths with more ability to quote nonsense than actual combat proficiency.

            "What of the surveillance?" Randy Pinktree asked, wiping his glasses. "If we move forward we won't know what WIC wants with this brood."

            "Have we gotten anywhere?" Oslo asked flatly.

            "No. Our contacts in the government and police are, of course, in the dark. Even that mercenary we had feeding us information was clueless." Randy shrugged. "It makes sense. They're going to keep the reason for this brood a secret."

            "Whatever reason it is, it can't be good."

            Karol nodded. Like all higher Assemblymen he knew that the religious trappings were just that. It was a front to cover the real purpose of their organization. In a way they were like those mercenaries. Though WIC used a for-profit corporation to cover a small army for hire.

            The Assembly's rhetoric covered something simpler. Demons, abominations, and any traitorous humans that consorted with them were to be eliminated. Karol knew that was the failing of the Path of the Will. Their means were not questionable, only their goals. In the service of saving the world nothing was unacceptable. Of course Karol still used the traditional imagery to lead his troops. That was how things were done.

            "So the Bishop decided to just kill the entire brood?" Randy asked.

            Oslo nodded.

            "This would not be the first time someone tried to breed a force of unholy monsters," Karol stated as he fingered one of his blessed weapons.

            "There's already six of them," Randy reminded. "We have a man advantage over them, but just the demons."

            Karol kept his face neutral. Each of them had a team of acolytes. Karol could vouch for his dozen men but was not sure about the other squads. They were above the overly eager par that served for the Assembly.

            "You're worried? Worried that over forty Assembly Acolytes led by four fully ordained Assemblymen won't hold up against half a dozen demons." Oslo cracked a smile.

            Karol stared at his boss. It was vaguely insulting to get this kind of bolster but Oslo was a fan for dramatics. He frowned. "We all agree to the dangers involved, but proceeding incautiously is not wise."

            Oslo looked out at the window again. "You're right Karol." His face gave the impression that it warmed. "Our goal is to avenge those two acolytes that we lost, but there is more. We cannot allow these mercenaries to practice this blasphemy."

            Karol held his tongue, and simply nodded. The Assembly's pride had been wounded by losing the acolytes but whatever the Company was doing with these demons it could not be good.

            "What of other groups?" Randy asked. "Even the small fry are crawling out of the woodwork."

            "Let the small fry come," Wendell smirked. "They are nothing more than stumbling buffoons that happen to steal the odd tome."

            Leaning back, Karol suppressed another sigh. Wendell was average in how much he talked. He just happened to punctuate his silent periods with rants.

            Wendell continued. "Even the 'greater organizations' are accounted for. Those papist whores are a joke, and the Soviet group is a unit without a nation."

            It was too much for Karol. "That's not true. After the KGB dissolved they became the Seventh Directorate in the FSB."

            Oslo cleared his throat. "That is enough. The plan will be set with minimal interference. Our goal is not to have an open conflict with those mercenaries."

            Yet, Karol mentally added. He was doubtful that WIC would let them wipe out this brood without retaliation. Even if they failed there would be reprisals. That was how the Company worked.

            He internally shrugged. There was nothing he could do now. Once he spent a few more years toting the company line and mouthing the rituals promotion to an influential position would be in his grasp. Actual information and strategic plans would be within his grasp.

            He just had to keep toting the line and mouthing the words. That's what everyone else did. Having this mission under his belt would help too. The Bishop had given special attention to exacting revenge on this group of demons.

 

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

 

            Sailor DarkStar paced in front of her daughters. The demons were assembled in the dojo and were silently watching their mother. Ranma stopped and carefully inspected her brood. They looked fine, and the scent was... it was a good start. "I guess this is good enough."

            "We're wearing the uniforms," Nariko said as she fluffed a bow.

            "They're just costumes," Nabiki said with a little smirk. Looking cute was influencing and scary was intimidating, but a combination of the two worked even better.

            "Mom wants to show up those magical girls," Misako laughed. "We already fight better than them, why not out do their uniforms and powers too?"

            "Can't we just fight in normal clothes?" Ukyou asked.

            "Oh no, I have to deal with a stupid miniskirt and bikini top. It's time you girls did too."

            "We just have the uniforms; we don't have any of the powers." Akane said, then upon reflection added "Yet."

            Nabiki, who had been helping mother and grandmother translate some passages in great-grandmother's diary, coughed.

            Ranma smiled sinisterly, which, given her species, was remarkably easy. "Oh, I've got a plan around that. After nursing on me you girls have got a good base."

            Ukyou raised an eyebrow. "You're not just going to tap into this planet's... well whatever it is that gives you your Senshi powers, and dump it onto us?"

            "It sounds safer than the stuff the Assembly did to us," Misako shrugged.

            "If this succeeds, it is going to make Setsuna very upset, Mother." Nariko said with a bit too much innocence in her voice.

            "Imagine that," Ranma said flatly.  Then she concentrated for a moment her eyes blooming with their customary violet light and the various obsidian gems she wore hummed with the discharge of stored energy. "Form around me," the redhead ordered. The broodlings moved into a circular formation with their mother at the center.

            As per their instructions the surveillance agents activated secondary recording devices and readied their backup scanners, just in case anything overloaded.

            BlackSky's advice only addressed the forced empowering of broodlings by a mother. The details of Pattern Silver energy was not addressed, but that was the type of energy Ranma had been absorbing and processing for months, most of which was sent right to her spawn during their nightly nursing.

            Ranma consciously tapped into that flow and did what came naturally to her. Shadows erupted from her body and wavered around the room. They were edged in violet and silver but when they hit one of the other demons their coloration... shifted.

            Like their mother the primary color matched their eyes: Nariko red, Misako green, Ukyou orange, Nabiki sky blue, and Akane, being the exception, had dark blue instead of brown.

            As the silver edging strengthened the shadows became less mother's and more attached to each broodling. The flow of energy continued and each shuddered as their bodies acted as conduits. From Mother to daughter to ground and back to mother again.

            The circuit broke when the illumination from Ranma's eyes guttered out and she slumped down to her knees. The demon groaned and rubbed her forehead. A splitting headache had formed from the root of one horn straight to the other.

            "Mommy!" Nariko cried as she knelt down. The rest of the brood followed .

            "I'm fine; I'm fine." Ranma said as she clutched her head. "Just have a splitting headache."

            "Sounds like you blew a fuse," Misako surmised.

            "Very funny," Ranma groaned. "So do you feel any different?" she asked as she pulled herself back up.

            "Other than being quite full, nothing much," Ukyou shrugged.

            "What did you expect: flashy transformation sequences?" Akane asked before looking at her fingerless gloves. The leather did look a bit nicer. "It's not like Mom does that."

            "Yeah, I just shift into my new uniform," Ranma shook her head and inhaled to clear her senses. She then paused to sniff the air.

            "No, you've got flames, and purple, black, and red ribbons in there, very scary and cute," Misako corrected. "Remember that first real fight of ours."

            Ranma drooped. "I'd hoped you didn't remember that." She then resumed her sensing. "Well, I'm sure the sensors will confirm it-"

            "If you haven't fried them all," Nabiki reminded.

            "Yes, yes, but I can smell a lot more Pattern Silver in you girls."

            "So we're at risk of making lame speeches and having silly trigger phrases like Aurora Demonic Power Makeup?" Misako froze and waited for the inevitable sparkly flash.

            "You're already in Senshi form," Ukyou sighed.

            Akane continued looking at her hands. It was true that Mother did not have an activation phrase but there was something that she did have... The blue-haired succubus concentrated and felt the words enter her mind. "Solar Eclipse Ignite!" Her shouting was accompanied by her flicking her wrist forward. The motion elongated the shadows of her fingers unnaturally... right towards the shadow of the wall in front of her which then flashed brightly before exploding into irregular splinters.

            "Oh.... that's neat." Akane smiled at her hand.

            "What was that?" Ranma asked. "That wasn't what I thought it was?"

            "Moving shadows?" Ukyou asked. "Yeah that was it."

            "And immediately just before the wall exploded. Though, she was pointing at the wall too," Misako looked down at her own claws contemplatively.

            "That is handy," Ranma nodded. "Not much fire or explosion, but a good start."

            "Call in Grandma! I want her to see it," Akane begged.

            "She can hear you," Ranma reminded.

            "Have my girls found some fun things?" Nodoka asked. She had stepped away from the dojo during the process. They had no idea what energies like that would do to a human.

            Ranma nodded with a little smile. She knew training and natural ability would pay off, but not like this.

            "See!" Akane then proudly said her attack phrase and flicked out a shadow. It curved and stopped in the middle of the floor, where it exploded weakly, igniting the mat.

            "It's okay honey," Ranma said hugging Akane. "You just need more practice. It took me months to get the DarkStar Burst."

            Akane nodded and leaned onto her mother.

            "I think I've got one," Nabiki focused and a bead of sweat formed on her forehead. She whispered as a handful of very small crystals formed in her cupped hands. The crystals then shot off and embedded themselves into a beam. The holes they made were only noticeable by the trace of frost that formed. A split second after there was a loud creak followed by an intense and compact explosion around the beam.

            "Now that has potential," Ranma noted with a raised eyebrow.

            Nabiki smiled. Her attack might have a stupid name, but she could whisper it. Mother also proved that an attack with a stupid name could be devastating.

            "Yeah, how accurate can you get that? Could it go through a shield or armor?" Ukyou asked.

            "I don't know," Nabiki blushed.

            "Can you show us again?" Nodoka asked.

            Nabiki nodded and then repeated the incantation.

            Nodoka watched the impalement and explosion. "It's definitely cryogenic, and then rapidly sublimates and expands, looks highly flammable so it blows up."

            "So what is it?" Nabiki asked.

             "Well, it is ice. Most of the alkanes have a solid form if you get them cold enough. They also need compression, but it looks like a crystal too. It definitely warrants examination."

            "Do you think it's like the napalm we make?"

            "Possibly, though it has to be made at a radically different temperature and pressure. It does count as a red four on the NFPA 704." Nodoka noticed the blank looks. "That's a measure of how dangerous a chemical is. It's a diamond with a red, blue, and yellow sections. A four for the red means it will rapidly or completely vaporize at normal atmospheric pressure and temperature, or is readily dispersed in air and will burn readily. Also has a flashpoint below 23°C. Probably has a high reactivity, yellow, value too."

            "So it'll ignite at room temperature?" Nabiki paused. "Couldn't it just be oxygen? That's very flammable," the short succubus noted.

            "You're a species that can make orbs of complex hydrocarbons at will," Nodoka shrugged. "This is not too unusual."

            "It is tiring though," Nabiki pouted

            "It takes a lot of energy to compress and freeze." Nodoka paused. "It's kind of like a thermobaric weapon. The sublimation and decompression causes a rapid vaporization which is then ignited. We'll need more tests of course."

            "A thermobaric, really?" Misako asked. Her training at the Assembly had been thorough on armaments.

            "It's got real potential," Ranma repeated. She made a note to start Nabiki on speed training. All that time to cup her hands and form the ice was a huge liability in the fast pace of succubus combat. Ranma turned to her other daughters.

            "I got nothin'," Ukyou shrugged. She frowned; she could feel the excitement in her sisters but that did not translate into her own neat ways of making stuff explode.

            "Words just came to my head," Akane explained.

            "What about you, Misako?" Nabiki asked. Maybe "Alexia's spawn" had a leg up on it.

            Nariko smiled to herself and watched the conversation. She gave her finger a discrete little snap and her eyes twinkled at the little sparks that formed.

            "Well, I guess... I don't feel anything new," Misako looked at Ukyou and shrugged. She blinked and warily flared her aura.

            "That's not new," Ukyou said eyeing the green flames that danced around her mate's form.

            "Yeah, I always was good at this," Misako flexed her aura. She could now feel something new, something hungry. She ran up and pounced at her Mother.

            Ranma activated her own aura and dodged her daughter's attack Her eyes narrowed when she felt a sucking sensation at the point where the auras contacted. "Oh, I though you girls said you were full." Ranma smirked. "Well if you want more you just had to ask, dear."

            Misako's eyes widened at the burst in power and was shoved down. "Hey!" She sprung back up and found that her aura was still trying to consume her mother's.

            "I don't think this is going to work on me, Misa-chan." Ranma noted. "Cute attack though."

            "Oh?" Misako pouted.

            "We're built to drain mother. That whole ceremony took advantage of that." Nabiki noted.

            "What about you Nari-chan?" Ranma asked eyeing her eldest.

            "I... I think we'll have to go outside," Nariko coughed.

            "It's nice to see one of you girls realized that smashing up the dojo wasn't the best idea," Ranma remarked as the brood walked outside after Nariko.

            "I just know the phrase for it," Nariko said as she shook her arms. "I don't know what it'll do." Nariko closed her eyes and shouted "Lighting Devastation!" while pointing with her left hand. An arc of lightning appeared to spring from her hand and slam into a tree at the edge of the woods.  The wood splintered and burned nearly to the center and almost knocked the tree over.

            "Lightning Devastation? Hmm," Nabiki commented.

            "Yeah, it's almost as bad as Icicle Parade," Ukyou smirked.

            Nabiki glared cutely.

            "It's no worse than Mom's attack phrase," Misako shrugged.

            Ranma nodded. "Very nice Nari-chan."

            Nariko blushed and dusted off her hands. "Thanks, it's not too controlled. I think I need... maybe more focus."

            "It doesn't act like normal lightning," Nodoka commented. "But a conductor could help. We'll perform some tests at base."

            Ranma saw Ukyou hanging back near the door to the dojo. Noticing the blonde's face she slipped next to her. "Still not feeling anything?" Ranma asked putting an arm around Ukyou.

            "Nope," Ukyou sighed. She looked to see Mother's compassionate and insufferably understanding face. "I'm sorry I didn't get magically get powers like the rest. I'm the dud and I'm sorry."

            "Huh?" Ranma blinked.

            "It doesn't mater what I'd do, you'll always love me and you won't get mad at me. You can't." Ukyou glared.

            Ranma put a hand onto Ukyou's head. "That's not quite true. I'd be mad if you did use your powers."

            Ukyou blinked and looked into her mother's violet eyes. "You knew. You knew exactly what we'd get."

            "Did I? How observant of you." Ranma laughed.

            "So what the heck is my power?"

            "One that you can't use here."

            "Oh, so what is it? And how did you know all this?" Ukyou asked.

            Ranma shrugged. "You can figure that out."

            Ukyou glared at her teasing mother. "If anyone knew it would be you. You did give us a huge jolt of Silver energy. So what do you mean I can't use it now?"

            Ranma smiled.

            "I can't just blow up a tree or a rock? What do I need to use it on someone? So... I'd need a mind to affect. Some kinda psychic power?"

            "You know we're not psychic. Though we can affect people, make them uncomfortable."

            "Uncomfortable? Like how you made that traitor feel?" Ukyou smirked.

            "Something like that." Ranma hugged Ukyou. "You'll have a pain practicing it, but I think you'll like it."

            "As long as there's more to it than just that." Ukyou returned the embrace. "Wait... these aren't just normal succubus powers? I mean auras, shadows, making stuff explode, and messing with people's heads."

            "I'm sure grandma could do all that stuff. She's no Senshi," Ranma shrugged.

            "She's older than dirt."

            "So you girls got a shortcut to it. Though I don't think BlackSky's used lightning as an attack since the Silver Millennium." Ranma reminded herself to read more of grandma's diary.

            "I'm sure it'll come up during story time... eventually."

            "You're going to insist that I read you guys a chapter a night aren't you," Ranma sighed. Her Demonic was nowhere near that good, and Silva's pronunciation guide was a real pain.

            "I'll just have Nariko and Nabiki help me bug you." Ukyou smirked.

            "Yeah, yeah," Ranma relented. She would have to talk to her mother again.

 

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

 

            "When do you think Sunshine and her gang will be back?" Rod Ferris asked.

            Hikaru Gosunkugi sighed at his acquaintance's titter. "It is odd that they're all out sick. Also rumors that Akane's sister has transferred out."

            "Oh?" Rod asked sounding apathetic.

            Hikaru remained neutral. Rod had a habit of pretending to have a short attention span. It was irritating, but less so than the reaction calling him on it produced. "So, got any other book recommendations?"

            "You finished Elegant Universe already?" Rod laughed, though his eyes carried a different sort of amusement. He looked at his handsome reflection in his locker's mirror.

            "Oh, so nothing more exotic?" Gosunkugi needled further. The rules were simple. The details of their hobby were not to be discussed at school. After the attack on the school, the cameras were even more prevalent and undoubtedly coupled with microphones.

            Rod laughed as he combed his hair. "Well, maybe I have something to give you. I know you like macabre history."

            "Oh, well that's good." Gosunkugi felt a weight fall onto his chest. His hobby required him to work with all types of unsavory people. The paranoid lunatics were the easiest. All you had to do with them was agree with their delusions, which was easy for Hikaru.

            He knew just about how right such men could be. The militant cultists were best avoided. Dying or killing for the glory of some intergalactic, insane, and disinterested cuttlefish did not sound like a good plan.

            The last group was what Hikaru belonged to. The academics, the explorers, the researchers, the archeologists, the linguists, they all read the grimoires, studied the artifacts, and searched ancient temples for the most simple of reasons. They were there.

            On the other hand, at least the madmen and cultists were honest, Hikaru found the "hobbyist" type the most suspicious. It was a rare person that actually studied pre-human tomes just to get a handle on earth's real history. The "hobbyists" all had something to hide.

            "Despite her absence Sunny has inspired other girls," Rod amiably babbled.

            "I suppose so," Gosunkugi tried to shrug. He liked the gothic look, of course Sunshine and her friends wore it in a way that was actually scary. Unlike most other girls that dressed that way to be shocking and have an effect... it was natural for Sunshine. Having deathly pale skin naturally, instead of resorting to white pancake makeup, was a sure sign.

            After reflection Hikaru supposed that Rod was talking about more than just the normal gothic poseurs. "Did some other girls change their skin tone?"

            "Oh nothing as dramatic as Akane's change, well... there is a hair change." Rod allowed.

            "Who dyed their hair?" Gosunkugi asked just to keep the conversation moving.

            Rod laughed. "I said there wasn't anything dramatic. It's just that the Mizuno girl's started to grow her hair out, her friend Janet too."

            "What's the big deal with that? Isn't it normal for girls to change their hairstyles?"

            "That's what everyone assumes," Rod idly remarked.

            Hikaru shrugged. "That's girls for you."

            "Yeah it is," Rod laughed. "Well I've got some recommendations, perhaps your book club will like them too."

            "They normally do," Hikaru admitted. A "hobbyist" had to network and most found small groups that had some degree of association.

            "Just be careful. We've recently seen how the wrong book can tear apart a club." Rod inappropriately laughed before walking off.       

 

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

 

            "I have some bad news," Setsuna told the assembled Senshi. They were in the apartment that the inners lived in.

            "You found another branch of that cult?" Usagi hesitantly asked.

            "No, I think that group is done for." Setsuna noticed her princess' reaction and wished she could have phrased it better.

            "Then what?" Rei asked. Getting regular briefings from Pluto had made her a bit less mysterious and controlling.

            "DarkStar's spawn are now Sailor Senshi," Setsuna rubbed the bridge of her nose with her fingers.

            "That's not possible. Right?" Makoto asked. "I mean what planets would they all be?"

            "Why exactly is that bad?" Minako asked.  She could have sworn there was a tinge of jealousy in Setsuna's voice.

            "I'm not a planet," Janet said, from her place on the couch

            "And what planet is Usagi's daughter... or Usagi?" Ami asked rhetorically.

            "So if Usagi's kid can be a Senshi then Sunshine's can be too?" Rei asked.
            "I can see why you wanted to tell us this," Ami nodded as she activated her computer. It was not bad and not unexpected, but it was useful to know.

            "What's the big deal?" Makoto asked. "They were already a team of girls with magical powers."

            "They're gonna have to wear uniforms like ours," Minako said as she walked to the kitchen. "Well... probably not; look at how Sunny dresses."

            Ami sighed. They were just teenagers; that explained it, but it did not justify it. They were Senshi, warriors, they had to start acting like it. "Yeah, they were already organized and dedicated. How many years did it take us to start working as a team, a competent team?"

            "We're not just soldiers. We can't be like WIC and do this all the time." Minako replied after sipping her water.

            "Why not?" Janet asked.

            "Sunshine and her kids still attend school, and they train every day. Not just in their dojo, they do everything. The company is more than happy to give them grounds and equipment to train on. Look at how close those groups are, and it's not just the officers, the enlisted men are chummy with the brood," Ami said.

            "Makes sense that macho soldiers would like aggressive and sexy women," Rei muttered.

            Ami nodded. "Exactly. Doesn't it strike you as odd that an organization like WIC has put so much effort in courting demons that only just now became Senshi... instead of the human team? The team that's got more experience at saving the world."

            Janet looked around; she knew the answer to that question. Ami had to too. Setsuna probably, but would anyone actually point it out?

            "They got more response from the brood. Sunny's mom does work for them," Makoto shrugged.

            "And she's sleeping with an agent too," Minako wistfully added. "While we're just sitting in this apartment."

            "Oh-kay, ignoring Mina's desire to have a buzz-cut secret agent do her, we still have issues." Setsuna smirked at the blushes her statement caused.

            Ami smiled. Later on, Setsuna's perceptiveness might be a problem, but for now it was a breath of fresh air. "Yes, Sunshine is building alliances and accepting help. Do you girls know what Sunny's mom does?"

            "Advanced materials, but mostly works in armor," Setsuna recalled.

            "How much armor do her girls need?" Ami asked.

            Minako paused and switched her glass between hands. "Well our uniforms protect well enough, and if they're Senshi too now..."

            "Let's just say I don't think all her effort will be going into demon armor." Ami hung her head.

            "What's wrong?" Usagi asked. "We like Ranma and her girls. They're on our side."

            "They spend every day honing their edge. They train their bodies, they practice working as a team, and I bet they're getting equipment specially built for them." Ami gave a little laugh. "Oh yes, we've been at this longer, and in a few months they've outclassed us. They're serious."

            "Our magical attacks are still stronger," Rei corrected.

            "A sharpshooter can knock out a mortar crew," Janet asserted.

            "Raw magical powers is only useful if you can hit your enemy." Ami clarified, while holding back her exasperation. Janet could get this, why not the others? "That's another thing. WIC works by finding ways to defeat more powerful opponents."

            "The potential synergy is beautiful and terrifying," Janet agreed.

            "Now that's just melodramatic," Setsuna sighed.

            "I'm glad they're on our side. I really am." Ami shook her head. Things could get really troubling.

            Usagi watched the argument silently.

            "Then why are you worried about all their training and stuff?" Minako asked.

            "They're preparing. They don't want to get caught off guard by some stupid cult with an old magic book and a few guns," Ami glared.

            "We still won."

            "Only because the princess could still fight even after her powers were blocked." Ami rubbed the bridge of her nose again. "There could easily be more copies of this book, and what if someone competent used the information inside it?"

            "Ami's right, we can't rely on being lucky and hope that our enemies no matter how powerful they are, will always be stupid," Setsuna said.

            "What do you want us to do?" Minako asked.

            "Train." Ami wondered if they were being thick out of inexperience or fear.

            "Even more practice would be good," Usagi reluctantly admitted. It had been... hard to practice, especially wearing that uniform. It looked and smelled clean, but she swore she could still feel the blood.

            "We should ask to work with the brood," Ami proposed.

            "But you just lectured us about how scary and dedicated they are," Minako nearly spilled her glass.

            "Exactly, we swallow our pride and learn from them." Ami glared at the reluctant and incepting faces. "What?

            "We've been training," Rei corrected. "Ever since that hostage thing."

            "I wouldn't call that training," Ami coolly countered. "We just shoot off some attacks and call it done."

            "What do you propose?" Setsuna asked. The ragged look about Ami was concerning her.

            "We get serious; we train like the Senshi of old. Serenity didn't take over the solar system by having part time warriors."

            Setsuna raised an eyebrow.

            "You want us to be like Sunny and her brood?" Minako was not sure what to think of that. It seemed like too much work. They were not trained like the brood was.

            Usagi frowned.

            "Not exactly I hope. They're not exactly good guys," Rei sighed.

            "I don't think it's wise to compare the things they've done versus what we've done," Ami sighed.

            "I just don't think we should emulate a group that's new to being magical girls, heck they're even new at being demons." Rei's glare softened. It was time for the olive branch. "Yes, let's get better at our powers. We're due for another transformation upgrade anyway. We should train, but we'll do it our way."

            Ami refrained form rubbing the bridge of her nose. They were willing to die for their princess. That was as easy as being defeated in battle one single sacrifice, but the effort and constant daily sacrifice that was required now... that was too much for them.

            She smiled at the comforting hand Janet put on her leg. Such displays were risky, but Ami would rather have Janet's support. Leaning back, Ami collected herself. She would keep her cool; she could win this argument, intelligence was on her side after all.

            "Maybe you've been spending too much time with that book?" Makoto asked, noticing Janet's hand. "You've been up and out late a lot."

            "Someone has to figure out what was done to Usagi and how to keep it from happening again."

            "When did you become such a hawk?" Minako asked. "You're not this... aggressive."

            "I'm not." Ami narrowed here eyes. "I've just been piecing things together. This is not what we're used to. Look at Setsuna; she's got some idea what's going on, and it terrifies her. She just doesn't know how to break it all to us."

            Rei turned to Setsuna and for a brief moment caught fear in the older woman's eyes. "What are you holding back?"

            Setsuna looked past Rei to Ami. "Nothing. I've told the princess everything."

            "Really now?" Rei's voice was highly skeptical.

            "Huh?" Usagi asked. "You didn't tell me much."

            "I told you everything I found out about that cult," Setsuna corrected.

            "Not that, the actual point to all this. What's going on here? And don't just blame Murdock." Rei added.

            Ami looked to the phone, and waited for it to ring. She smirked, it probably was stupid to assume Murdock would call, the timing would be too good, too dramatic, too... narrative, even for him.

            "We should train more," Usagi allowed.

            "And concentrate in what will give us the most improvement. We've got more magical power than the demons. I mean they're new. We can use that, right?" Minako asked.

            "That is true. They don't have much in the way of Senshi powers," Setsuna reluctantly admitted.

            "So we concentrate on our magic. We'll build up our advantage," Minako offered.

            Ami forced herself to not groan. "No, that's a horrible idea. Don't even try to compare us to them. And we've got enough heavy attacks. We need to learn how to use what we've already got."

            "I think increasing the tempo of our training is good, and some of Ami's ideas should be used," Setsuna said while giving Ami a supportive look.

            "That makes sense," Usagi allowed, once she saw some approving nods.

            Ami's brow furrowed. This was not even a bad decision; it was indecision wrapped up in a consensus. "No! That's not enough. Don't you realize we're running out of time? You think if we screw up this time the world'll reset or we'll get resurrected?"

            "Please calm down," Janet said putting her left on Ami's shoulder. She found she had to actually keep her blue-haired partner from rising.

            "Ami... please," Usagi tried to sooth.

            "I'm sorry princess, but I'm afraid we're going to fail you... again" Ami stopped trying to stand up and closed her eyes. "I can't let that happen."

            "We're all dedicated to the Princess, Ami." Minako reminded.

            "Dedication is not enough," Ami said flatly.

            Janet felt a chill creep up her left arm. She had to act now. "Weren't you going to help me with my homework?" she asked, knowing full well that it was an obvious excuse. She hoped that someone else would figure that out too.

            After a moment, Rei spoke up. "Yeah, I said I would be calling my grandfather," she said with a knowing smile.

            "Yeah, I'll help you," Ami's voice was stiff as she stood up and left the room under Janet's escort.

            Makoto waited until half a minute after the door had closed. "I think that book is getting to her."

            "That's not all," Rei dryly remarked.

            "Don't say that, Janet's been really helpful, and it's good that Ami has a friend she can relate too."

            "Yeah, like peas in a pod," Minako chuckled. "Always going out looking for guys."

            Setsuna blinked. Sometimes it was very hard to get a read on Minako. The blonde was either incredibly clueless or being dryly humorous.

            "I'm worried about her," Makoto confessed as she stood up.

            "Her getting aggressive?" Minako shrugged. Ami being more assertive seemed to be a good thing. She was being more social and independent. Ami's romantic history was almost as bad as Makoto's and she deserved someone who could make her happy.

            Makoto looked out the apartment window. She scanned the vehicles in the parking lots below. Even counting only trucks and vans there were still dozens. "She's not being aggressive. No, she's being... cold, logical. Overreacting yes, but in her own way."

            "Exuberantly pragmatic?" Setsuna offered.

            "I'm going to talk with Ranma. At least we can get closer to those allies," Usagi rubbed her forehead and turned to Rei. "Have you been getting any visions or dreams?"

            "Nothing... nothing substantial," Rei coughed.

            Usagi nodded, then turned to Setsuna. "Find a shrine. Work out the details with Rei. And I want you to check Ami's findings with your own on that group. I'll ask Ranma what the Company found out about them too." Usagi raised an eyebrow at the startled Senshi. "What? I've been thinking about this for a while."

            "Yeah, no problem," Setsuna promised.

            "Good." Usagi then started thinking on the best way to approach Ranma.

 

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

 

            "There you are," Ranma said as she slid up next to her fiancee in the corridors of the Company base.

            "Yes," Kasumi stiffened as Ranma put her hand onto her butt. She reflexively moved the demon's hand to her hip. "How are things going with the Major?"

            "I told you about our trip to the range this morning right?" Ranma asked as they walked.

            Kasumi nodded. It was hard to forget post coitus that involved firearms. "I really hate that I had to miss that."

            "Oh it was something else," Ranma's eyes twinkled. "It was just one design, and there were a few flaws. It's still got funny balance, especially after you fire it."

            "So she's tinkering with the design?"

            "Kinda. Misako and Ukyou are in the lab with one of her assistants, Agent Ayanami. She's a nice girl."

            "So what's the Major up to?" Kasumi asked as they made their way to the commissary.

            Ranma turned and smiled. "She figured out what to do with Grandma's gift."

            "Oh dear," Kasumi let the redhead's hand move back down to her ass as they entered the commissary's queue. The looks from the other agents and officers was still novel.

            "It'll take a while to make. Mom doesn't have the machinery here," Ranma said as she looked over the various soups and stews.

            "The Company does have machine shops that can make armaments," Kasumi noted while taking a turkey and rye sandwich.

            "Well right now, Mom's working with someone in Michigan or Maine, maybe Manitoba. Someplace starting with an M, but..."

            "Slivers and dust from machining it can be very dangerous." Kasumi laughed. "So it's a chance for Major Saotome to expand her lab."

            Ranma nodded. "Today's weapon was simple enough for the Major to build herself?" Kasumi asked as they walked to a table where Kasumi's team was already eating.

            "It was just a modification," Ranma shrugged and sat down. She then looked at the four other agents. "You were there Steven, what did you think?"

            "It's big," Agent Deschain said controlling his voice. His eyes darted to the lieutenant and then to the demon sitting next to her. "If controlled, it could be very effective."

            Ranma nodded. Aram's... replacement seemed to be fitting in well, if a bit standoffish. He was good with demolitions, though. "Don't worry, Misako took a shine to it."

            "Ma'am, Red, I must say you two make a good couple," Deschain smiled.

            Kasumi coughed. Less from the comment, than Ranma moving her hand back to her butt.

            "There aren't many secrets in a place like this," Sophie ironically said.

            Ranma smirked. Before she could start her meal, the cell-phone in her coat pocket began to ring. She answered and asked who was calling.

            "Oh hi, Usagi. How are you holding up?" Ranma said into her phone.

            "How did Usagi get that number?" Sophie asked.

            Ranma covered the microphone "I gave it to her a few days after the toy store thing."

            Sophie nodded.

            "So what're yah calling about?" Ranma asked Usagi.

            "Well... I... it's kind of embarrassing," Usagi's voice was hesitant.

            "Oh?" Ranma's interest raised.

            "Are you free tomorrow?"

            "Well, sure." Ranma blushed slightly as she was struck with the image of Kasumi and Usagi. Both were nude and blood-soaked.

            "Uh Ranma? Hello?"

            "What? I said I could go." Ranma tried to push the vision down.

            "I was asking you if tomorrow at the mall would be good," Usagi repeated.

            "Sure, I'm free on Sunday, around one?"

            "Okay, see you at that leather shop you like." Usagi teased.

            "What do you want to talk about?"

            Usagi paused. "I think we should start working together. We're both leaders of Senshi."

            "That's true. So Setsuna filled you in on my little project?"

            "Five new Senshi was going to attract attention, Sunny. Well bye bye."

            "Yeah, bye." Ranma then hung up. She shook her head at the phone.

            "Meeting with Usagi?" Kasumi asked.

            "Yup, mall tomorrow." Ranma shook her head and started eating her soup. "I guess."

            "Should be fun. A pair of teenage girls enjoying the mall."

            Ranma glared. "You're going to pay for that."

            "Oh my, I got a succubus angry at me." Kasumi laughed.

            Gabriel concentrated on his lunch. The lieutenant flirting was surreal enough, but her teasing a sex demon was just over the top. Though it was cute how Red blushed from all the attention.

 

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

 

            The predator crept along the forest. She was at home among the underbrush and branches. It seemed as if the dusk-borne shadows were deliberately aiding her concealment. The chatter being broadcast into her headset was mercifully brief. They knew she had locked onto the scent. They would only tell her new information. They understood. They understood the hunt.

            A thin smile formed as she got close enough to make out the figure of the intruder. Her quarry was being cautious but it was not fair. She knew of only one group of humans that could even hope to out-track a succubus, and they were her allies.

            Someone was foolish enough to intrude on her home. She had planned a quiet night, but this was an interesting change of pace. Normally she would be more direct but this time caution seemed more prudent.

            The demon's movement slowed when she noticed the human look towards her. She was downwind enough to capture the scent, and that gave her pause. Well, their scanners were right, she's a Senshi too. Ranma gave a mental laugh. It figured. There were plenty of new Senshi, herself and her kids included.

            As she crept closer she got a clearer look at the intruder. The scent was proof enough, but it was satisfying to see the same hairstyle. The pleated skirt, bows, and those particular swords were new however.

            She paused and watched as the Amazon made her way forward. Her skills were fair enough. She could creep well, but several things were working against her.

            The first was that the pattern Silver output had tripped the scanners before she got remotely close to the house. The second was a seemingly gross underestimation of her intended target.

            Ranma slid back a few paces to keep the same distance between them. Shampoo knew she was a demon. That fit in well with her mission. Killing a demon was even better than killing a mere outsider woman.

            The redhead entertained the idea of ending things here and now. If Shampoo was smart she would know she was being tracked and have something planned. In all their previous meetings Shampoo had been alone, though that did not mean that Shampoo had to be alone this time.

            Ranma quietly summoned a small DarkStar burst. Holding the orb she considered her options. It would be easy, but she still had questions. Her eyes scanned the uniform Shampoo wore.

            The outfit was standard human Senshi. There were the long gloves, silly collar, tiara, and knee-high boots. Her eyes went back to the boots. In place of a planetary symbol there was a pattern of dots. She had only seen one other Senshi with boots marked like that.

            Ranma made her decision and darkened the orb until it was almost dead. She then released it so that it went perpendicular to the line between Shampoo and herself for a dozen yards before crashing into a stump

            "I know you're out there, demon!" Shampoo shouted in passable Japanese and roughly the stump's direction as she unsheathed a pair of swords that began to brightly glow.

            Ranma suppressed a groan. She made a natural Senshi. The brood mother let a bit more of her power leak out. This would be over quick. The next part was still a challenge for her. She waited.

            Shampoo brandished her weapons and strode forward. She had not planned to strike tonight, but would not let some demon intimidate her. This time the advantage would hers.

            The succubus slid back and considered things. That she was a Senshi complicated things, and the type of Senshi complicated them even more.

            Shampoo could sense the dark presence. She could also feel it retreat with every step forward she took. "Stop hiding from me! The darkness will not save you!"

            Ranma let herself chuckle. The irony was too much.

            Shampoo hesitated as malevolent laughter grew all around her. Her swords tried to banish the darkness, but it still felt oppressive, like an inky oozing weight.

            "How about a deal?" Ranma asked in a bored tone. "You tell me how you got these neat powers, and I'll turn you over to some nice men that probably won't dissect you."

            "Your threats don't scare me!" Shampoo stepped forward again.

            Ranma laughed. That was ludicrous. People like her did not need to threaten.

            "Laugh all you want. You're the one being pushed back." Shampoo paused her swords seemed to be just a bit dimmer.

            Ranma kept her silence. Shampoo was a talker, and a bit better at her Japanese than the last time they met.

            Shampoo hesitated as she recalled what she had been told earlier. The demon-girl was not alone. "You won't trick me, demon! I know your plan."

            "Oh?" Ranma dryly asked. She sighed and strode forward.

            Shampoo watched a figure wreathed in shadows suddenly appear to her left. She slid into position and held her flickering swords up.

            "Interesting design," Ranma remarked. The familiarity was more interesting than the workmanship.

            Shampoo watched as the dread demon diverged from the darkness. "You're..."

            "As much a Senshi as you are," Sailor DarkStar smiled brightly.

            Shampoo glared, but held her ground.

            Ranma nodded. "That's good. Fights aren't for mindless banter, and you don't want to give me any extra advantage," she explained as she paid special attention to the pattern on the top of Shampoo's boots. It had to be a constellation, and she could find out which one later.

            "Why aren't you attacking?" Shampoo asked as she kept her swords up.

            Ranma shook her head. It was a wonder that the Amazons had lasted as long as they did. On the other hand, that the girl did not simply charge in with her shiny swords, did point favorably to her self preservation.

            Shampoo concentrated and her swords stopped flickering. The meager light they cast did little to push back the darkness but it was a start.

            Ranma tilted her head and walked around the Amazon. A plan formed and was executed. "You really should calm down, Dear," Ranma purred

            Shampoo automatically flicked her swords down at the succubus that seemed to appear at her side. She gasped in surprise and then horror as the demon invaded her personal space. The overpowering... presence caused her grip to loosen for a split second, but it was enough.

            Ranma flicked the weapons out of the loose hands. She could feel her shadows enveloping the nervous girl. "I know your kind, you're not afraid to die." She laughed and licked her fangs. "But that's not nearly the worst thing I could do to you."

            Shampoo stiffened in shock, until the demon wrapped herself around the Amazon. The contact should have been repulsive, it should have been unnatural, especially what the monster was doing with her tail. As Shampoo looked into those hungry violet eyes, her will wilted. With a sudden source of strength she freed a hand and swung it up and at the demon's head.

            Shampoo felt the grip on her give way and leapt out of the demon's clutches. Immediately after she landed she turned and started to run. Thanking her magically enhanced abilities she put as much distance between herself and the demon. She was stupid; she did not intend to make... contact with the demon.

            "You want us to pick her up, Red?" an agent asked via Ranma's headset.

            "No, we're going see where she leads us," Ranma replied as she started the chase.

            "Nice work on the seduction scheme," the agent complimented.

            "It was nothing. I just gave her an escape route and she took it," Ranma then put her full attention to following her prey. At first it was not a hard trail to follow, Shampoo was going for speed not concealment. Her path was in the direction of the city.

            Ranma paused when the pattern silver signature suddenly vanished. She smirked as her own clothing shifted into a purple Lycra unitard that did not look out of place on a young woman out for a run.

            Shampoo was smart enough to realize that her Senshi powers made her trivial to track. Ranma sighed, the scent had gotten a bit colder, especially since she was now relying on her nose instead of a magical signature.

            "Did you lose her?" the agent asked via headset, once Ranma had stopped at a street corner.

            "Not really, but I think it's better to warn someone now." Ranma then cursed to herself. She had gotten cocky. Shampoo should have been captured right in the woods. Though that might have warned whoever had recruited her.

            "It's because she's a constellation Senshi?"

            "Yup, I'm going to need a pickup, and any photos of her."

 

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

 

            Ami looked up from her notes. "Are you doing okay?"

            "Yes," Rei said with a slight shake of the head.

            "I'm just not sure it would work well. This isn't your fire," Ami looked back down to the translations.

            Rei smiled. "I know, that's why it took a while for it to accept me."

            "I see," Ami looked back to the door. "You think anything will come from that informant of Setsuna's? She ran out of here right after getting that phone call. Really shocked the priest she smooth talked into letting you do this."

            "Nope." Rei was torn between telling Ami to be quiet and letting her talk. This was the most civil and calm that Ami had been in a while. Rei supposed her trying to get a vision helped. Ami was no longer alone, no longer the only serious Senshi.

            "Yeah, it sounded like some cultist fan boy, but if he has information..." Ami shrugged.

            "You're really worried about this aren't you?" Rei pushed the wood around a bit on the fire.

            Ami looked down and organized her papers. "I'm afraid."

            "We've faced worse before." Rei blinked. She thought she felt something... a flicker of shadow that did not belong.

            "No, we haven't."

            Rei stopped. "How... how can you be sure?" she asked deliberately.

            "It's just a feeling," Ami rubbed the bridge of her nose. "I can see why Setsuna's so frayed. The deeper I go into this-" she waved at the papers and books she had brought with her. "The more I realize that we're not good enough."

            Rei kept her eyes on the fire. "You don't think that WIC and those demons-"

            Ami's grim laughter cut deeply into Rei. "No, the princess will prevail, but she can't carry us. We can't fail her again," Ami said this with no fire or bolster. She was now stating fact.

            "We won't," Rei assured. Her voice grew distant as the flames started to change.

            Ami held her reply, and smiled slightly. Rei's visions were something Ami could not predict. They might greatly assist her plans or be a hindrance. This way she would be the first to hear what Rei had seen. She would also be the first Rei would talk to about the vision.

            Keeping an eye on Rei, Ami organized her papers and put them back into her bag. She then quietly waited. In the scheme of things a few minutes was not much of a wait. Especially given what might be at stake.

            Rei's hands went to her shoulders and she started shivering. Before she could fall forward Ami ran in and pulled her back. "Rei, what happened?" Ami asked after making sure she was breathing and absent of visible injuries.

            The maiden's eyes opened and locked onto the dark shape that loomed over her. "Get back!" Rei cried and watched as the shadow retreated and the air chilled. She then blinked and realized who was over her.

            "Bad vision, then" Ami said in that strange, matter of fact, voice.

            "She was cold, very cold." Rei mumbled.

            "Who?" Ami gingerly asked, kneeling closer to her.

            Rei breathed a few times as she tried to get her bearings. She remembered the blackness, a piercing chill that seemed to cut through anything. "I've seen our enemy."

            Ami motioned for Rei to continue.

            "There were shadows, but they didn't move, frozen. All I could see was a throne, it was crystal. The princess- Usagi- she was on it," Rei shivered at the irises on the blonde. "Her eyes were wrong. All wrong. No color, no color anywhere. But then the throne... I don't know. It moved over her... and she smiled."

            "Over her?" Ami tilted her head. She had to remember everything. Quick thinking was critical for this to work.

            "It formed-" Rei looked into Ami's somehow expectant eyes. After a hesitation she decided to tell Ami, she deserved it. "- hands. I think. Then the Mistress showed up."

            "Mistress?" Ami asked savoring the sound of the title.

            "It was terrible. She wasn't human. All cold... She wants Usagi. That's what we have to deal with. She's the one after Usagi" Rei shivered again.

            Ami grabbed Rei's shoulders "What did she look like?"

            "I..."

            "Tell me! It's important."

            Rei felt another chill and looked into Ami's worried eyes. "She was tall... I think. She was shapely, but it was the beauty of a statue. She wasn't nude, but it wasn't clothing. It was a parody of decency." Rei shuddered. "Prongs and bits poked and shaped and exposed everything. Her eyes... I don't know. She wasn't human. I don't know, it was all washed out. No color."

            Ami withdrew her hands and sat down next to Rei. "I'm sorry. I was afraid. The book..." She shook her head, things did not match up exactly, but visions were not literal things.

            Rei's eyes widened. "There's someone in that book? Like what I said?

            Ami shrugged. "There's a whole section full of sorcerers and necromancers. The... mistress you described, she sounds familiar. Is there anything else?"

            "That sounds like someone in the book? That's great." Rei brightened. At least something came from this. "Well, her hair... it was up. There was also a crown or a tiara. Not like ours. It was silver, I think. There were no gems on it, though. None."

            "Really?" Ami bit her lip. "That's not right at all."

            "So it's not the dark sorceress you were thinking of?" Rei's shoulders sagged.

            "Not necessarily."

            "Yeah, no reason she couldn't have changed her crown in the meantime. So who do you think it is?"

            "Maybe," Ami said as she pulled out some copies form the book.

            "I uh... can't read this." Rei said looking at the foreign symbols.

            "It's a list of contemporaries of Serenity."

            "Mages from the Silver Millennium," Rei said looking at Ami instead of the paper.

            "Earlier than that. One of them sounds kind of like your Mistress," Ami cracked an embarrassed smile. "It was the armor. Some of these people had some very odd stuff."

            "So who is she?"

            "There isn't much other than a description of herself and how she dressed, but she did help Serenity, or at least they worked together. She was big on enchanting artifacts. Her personality could also match what you mentioned; apparently she was a very dour woman."

            "What happened to her?"

            Ami shrugged. "She and some other explorers from around the same time as that DarkStar stuff, give or take a decade, went out on a trip beyond the solar system. Contact was lost. Nothing was found."

            Rei looked at the passage that Ami pointed at. The text was gibberish to her so Rei simply nodded. "What was her name?"

            Ami paused and ran her finger over the text. A wicked little smile formed. "You're right. Her name and title roughly translate as Mistress Lyra."

            Rei shivered. "Do you know what this means?"

            "What?"

            "We finally have a name. We know who's controlling Murdock, who's pulling all the strings. Everything. And we owe you," Rei smiled.

            "You had the vision," Ami reminded.

            "But your research told us who it was. This is all your doing."

            Ami blushed. "So what makes you think Lyra is doing this?"

            "It makes sense. You have this powerful mage that goes out, and who knows what happens to her. Maybe she's corrupted or possessed or maybe just drifting for thousands of years left her bitter. But she comes back, and who knows what she knows."

            "So she then works from the shadows... why bring us to Canada?"

            "Why was Beryl's base on Antarctica?" Rei shrugged. "We don't know the details, but we know what she wants."

            Ami smiled. "Usagi."

            "We need to call the others. The have to know this." Rei's enthusiasm damped the few qualms and questions that remained.

            "Yes, they'll be thrilled that you figured out who's behind all this." Ami remarked. Things were definitely looking up.

 

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

 

            Usagi sighed into her textbook. Ami was right; she felt like she was wasting her time. At least Rei was doing something productive. Setsuna had found a temple that might do the trick for her.

            The blonde's worrying was interrupted by a knocking at the window. She stared at the image of an inverted succubus. Usagi concentrated on the mass of crimson hair that fell down from her pale face. It took effort to keep her gaze from rising to see the redhead's chest, and how it was pressed against the glass.

            "You gonna let me in?" Ranma asked from the other side of the window.

            "But... how?"

            Ranma sighed and spread her wings a bit.

            "Oh, of course," Usagi blushed. Given the visual distraction, the walk to the window was made with great difficulty.

            "Thanks," Ranma said after the window was opened and she flipped into the room. She then raised an eyebrow at Usagi and where she was looking. "Yeah... they're called boobs."

            "I'm sorry," Usagi blushed. "I'm just not used... to. I mean it's not every

night a succubus visits me in the night."

            Ranma laughed.

            "So what's wrong?" Usagi asked. Luna had just wandered out of the apartment with Artemis. She had guessed the little snoopers were going to spy on their neighbors.

            "That's prompt."

            "Well, we're meeting tomorrow, so it's something that can't wait until then, and you're not calling so it's a big secret. There's also the climbing into my window." Usagi explained.

            "Very good," Ranma's face then darkened. "It's about Janet. Something's wrong with her," Ranma said as she handed some photographs to Usagi.

            "But, this is some other girl. She's a Senshi too?" the blonde asked while inspecting the print-outs.

            "Sailor Virgo." Ranma pointed to the constellation pattern on Shampoo's boots. The agents had been quite helpful on that.

            "What does this have to do with Janet?"

            "She's not here is she?"

            "No.... It's just me and Minako and Makoto. Rei's with Setsuna and Ami at a temple trying to do a fire reading."

            Ranma thought for a second. "Maybe we should talk in the living room. Those two might be a help."

            The two exited Usagi's room to hearty applause. Usagi glared at the clapping Minako and the sniggering Makoto.

            "We didn't do anything!" Usagi cried.

            "Oh? Why else does a succubus visit a nubile princess?" Makoto teased.

             Ranma shrugged. She already had a girl, but it was amusing to watch Usagi blush. Minako's appraising looks were also interesting. "No, we didn't do anything," Ranma allowed a hint of disappointment to enter her voice.

            "So you didn't come over for some fun?" Minako sighed.

            "I'm worried about one of your friends." Ranma motioned for Usagi to pass the photos around.

            "So? It's another constellation Senshi," Makoto shrugged.

            "Yeah, looks like Janet got another friend." Minako did notice the new Senshi's assets.

            "I find it pretty odd that a girl that was trying to kill me suddenly turns up as a new Senshi, complete with magic swords." Ranma remembered the agents grousing at the swords vanishing at about the same time Shampoo detransformed.

            "What are you saying?" Usagi asked.

            "Sailor Virgo is someone from my past, but I've got no idea who Sailor Orion was. Do any of you know her?"

            "Of course. She's Janet." Minako said.

            "No... I mean did any of you know her as someone else? Or maybe get an odd feeling from her?"

            "I'm pretty sure she and Ami are more than just friends," Makoto allowed. "But no. Janet's a nice girl."

            "So you just accepted her because she's wearing the right uniform?"

            "We accept you," Usagi reminded.

            "Okay, fair enough." Ranma shrugged.

            "Besides, half the time we fight a new enemy we get some more Senshi," Minako sighed. At least Usagi got Senshi allies within the first few weeks of her fight. Minako had to wait for months before she met another magical girl.

            "So there's nothing wrong with Janet? Perfectly normal?"

            "Yes, if anything she's been a calming influence," Usagi said. That part was familiar. Janet was not the first friend of hers who was like that.

            "She's been great at keeping Ami from stressing out," Minako added, though a part of her wondered how often Ami would yell and throw fits before Janet came around.

            "So you rushed over here because you were being spied on by a Senshi of the same type as Janet?" Makoto's tone was dry.

            "You at least should know about Virgo, but I just wonder about Janet." Ranma slumped down in a chair in the living room. "Not a bad place you got here."

            "So are all demons this paranoid?" Minako joked.

            "Just the living ones." Ranma smiled toothily.

            "It's not just demons that are paranoid," Usagi quietly said.

            "Yeah, Ami and Setsuna are pretty out there too." Makoto's voice sounded worried, at least to Ranma.

            "And Ami trusts Janet. So Janet has to be okay."

            "Ami also thought we weren't worthy of being Senshi." Minako reminded as she got a glass of water. "Heck, she wanted us to train under you." The blonde pointed at Ranma.

            The demon thought for a second. "She's right. You girls do need some real training."

            "Not you too," Minako sighed.

            "Yeah, you girls have been sitting in here watching TV. Guess what my girls have been doing this whole time?" Ranma asked

            "Having sex?" Minako ventured.

            "Waiting on a rooftop, ready to attack?" Makoto guessed.

            "Not bad," Ranma admitted.

            "Training in your dojo," Usagi said.

            Ranma brightened and nodded. "In between working on their reading, too."

            "Reading?"

            "Training isn't all practicing to fight." Ranma paused. "Maybe I should just wait for the other girls to come back."

            Makoto nodded. "Makes sense, ask Ami about Janet. She would know more about her. Those two are very close.

            "So why are you so worried about Janet?" Usagi carefully asked.

            "Well. Virgo's from my past. I know her. Now she's not exactly a friend, but still. I knew her before all this Senshi mess." Ranma shrugged. "I was wondering if the same was for your Janet. It's not like Janet was from the Silver Millennium."

            "Neither were you," Minako stated. She then froze at Ranma's glare. "Right. DarkStar and all that."

            "So you think that... what.. Janet's from our past too?" Makoto was confused.

            "Maybe. Seems odd that Shampoo just stumbled into those powers. How much do you know about how Janet got hers?"

 "She had a dream and woke up with her transformation item," Minako said.

 Ranma shrugged. She sniffed the air and smiled a bit. Someone then knocked at the door. Minako ambled over, checked the peephole, and then happily opened the door.

            "Great news," Rei beamed as she and Ami entered the apartment.

            "It's not that big," Ami cautioned. Everyone but Janet and Setsuna were there, which made sense. Setsuna was still running down that lead, and Janet had her own task for tonight. She then noticed DarkStar and gave a slight nod.

            Rei blinked in surprise at the succubus. It was unsettling to see her lounging in their living room. At least she was not too close to the princess.

            "You got a vision?" Usagi asked as Rei sat down with an assured smile.

            "Yup, we figured out what WIC and the demons couldn't."

            "Really?" Ranma asked, giving a measured look to Ami. "So what did you find? The big bad guy that's pulling all the strings?" The redhead noticed Rei's souring expression. "Sorry, I'm actually sincere. I want to know what's going on just as much as you guys."

            Rei eased back from her glare. "Well, it was all Ami. Her research made it so we could decode the vision."

            Ami looked down and blushed.

            "What did you see? Who's behind it?" Minako asked.

            "Mistress Lyra," Rei said.

            Usagi stayed silent. That name meant nothing to her, but it was comforting to give the enemy a name. It was more tangible.

            "Never heard of her," Minako said.

            Ranma paused and looked down. The name was a bit familiar.

            "Have you heard of her?" Rei asked the demon. "She's from about your time."

            "Maybe. I think she worked with the Wraith Raiders. Dunno what exactly."

            "Wraith Raiders?" Minako asked.

            "Nickname for Royal Reconnaissance Commandos. When Queen Serenity needed someplace invaded they went in first. Disabled protection wards, took out command posts, set up teleport portals, everything to make way for the main force. They were called wraith because of their uniforms," Ami explained.

            "They were invisible?" Minako asked.

            "No." Ranma sighed slightly. "They just had good camouflage. They didn't have shinny metal armor or big bright bows. They blended in." Ranma was slightly impressed with Ami. "So you've been reading up on what the Serenity from my time was like?"

            "A bit."

            "So Mistress Lyra was involved in Serenity's military too?" Rei asked.

            "It makes sense," Ami allowed. "She enchanted stuff. Weapons count. I'll have do to more research to see exactly what she did."

            Usagi was silent. She knew her mother had to have had an army, the Senshi could not do everything, but it still sounded odd.

            "So why do you think this egghead magical enchantress is behind everything?" Ranma asked.

            "I saw her. She had Usagi on a throne... and she..." Rei shuddered. "She wants to control you Usagi."

            Ami nodded.

            "Why?" Usagi asked. Once again some woman had come into her life and was hurting people, to get to her.

"Well there were Beryl and Nehellenia. Maybe Lrya had a falling out with Queen Serenity. There's also the Black Moon family going after you," Minako proposed.

"Maybe that's why Lyra left the solar system." Rei nodded. "That explains it. Mistress Lyra was last seen on an expedition out of the solar system."

"Is this normal for you guys?" Ranma asked. "Single madwoman villain from the past out for revenge."

"Nah, most are dark gods out to destroy or enslave earth," Minako explained ever so nonchalantly.

"Mistress Lyra was probably corrupted by something out in deep space, and is now finally back for her revenge." Rei said.

"You're reaching on all this.  You think some woman from only a vision is behind everything? Mamoru's death, my activation, Murdock, those cult guys. Everything?" Ranma skeptically asked.

"Everything," Rei nodded.

"Is she behind the constellation Senshi too?" Ranma somewhat sarcastically inquired, carefully watching Rei and Ami's faces.

"What? Activate Janet's powers? I guess, but why?" Rei leaned forward. It was annoying how the redhead avoided looking at Rei while they talked. "Why are you here anyway?"

"I've got some information too. Something a bit more... tangible" Ranma slid the photos of Sailor Virgo over.

"There's more than one constellation Senshi." Usagi sighed.

"So there's another constellation Senshi. Isn't that a good thing?" Rei asked.

"Ranma knew this Senshi before she got her powers," Minako said.

"I think she was given her powers to get revenge on me, and that got me thinking about the other constellation Senshi." Ranma reclined into her chair and watched Rei's and Ami's reaction.

Usagi walked over to Ami. "Do you know where Janet is?"

"Pardon?" Ami asked.

"We know you're close to her. It's okay," Usagi said reassuringly.

Ami coughed nervously. She did not want to betray Janet, but she had no choice. "Janet just said she was out with an old friend."

"At around the same time Virgo is scouting around my house." Ranma noticed Ami's poised demeanor crack or at least appear to.

"It can't be that. She would have told me. I'd know if she was with other Senshi." Ami's shoulders sagged.

            "Look, we don't know anything for sure. Janet's probably not related to this Virgo person," Makoto said.

            Ranma's observing was interrupted by her phone vibrating. She opened it and listened.

            "It's all just a big coincidence then?" Rei sarcastically asked. "I wouldn't be surprised if Virgo is another agent of Mistress Lyra. Right Ami?"

            "There is a constellation Lyra, but there's also a constellation for everything else." Ami sighed. "I'll have to do more research on her."

            Ranma quietly spoke into her phone. "Glad to know. Just keep watching for now." She hung up and looked at the Senshi. "Janet just came in. Unfortunately, she was alone, no purple-haired friend with her."

            Ami nodded. She expected no less from DarkStar.

            "You've got people spying on the building?" Usagi asked.

            "There was a chance Virgo could show up here." Ranma played with the recline feature in the chair she was sitting in. "You guys and Janet do live in this building."

            "So now what?"

            "You're asking me? I don't think you'd want me to talk to Janet."

            "Don't you think of touching her," Ami growled, before regaining her composure.

            "You're a sick demon," Rei agreed.

            "And that's why." Ranma gave up trying to make the chair recline. "Usagi, just call her up here."

            "Uh sure." Usagi wandered over to the kitchen phone.

            "So what do you think of this Lyra stuff? Any information from the Company" Makoto asked.

            "It all fits together, just fell into your lap, and it makes perfect sense to you guys." Ranma appraised. "So, I'm calling bullshit on it."

            Rei grumbled about smug demons.

            "Hey, Makoto wanted my gut feeling. Sure, be on watch for this Lyra chick., you know, if you get more proof about her. Ami seems to know plenty about her," Ranma smiled at the Senshi of Mercury. "I'm sure she can whip up a Lyra detector or something."

            "I'll have to see. I need to find more about her," Ami stated.

            "Of course, though it's odd that a sciency person like you would be so attached to this Lyra idea. My mom's a lot more skeptical, especially about supernatural crap, like visions."

            Ami twitched. The subtle but direct jabs were getting bothersome but at least the other girls did not seem understand them. "I merely took what I could from Rei's vision. I trust her sight. We all do."

            "But... doesn't your mom work for WIC?" Minako asked in confusion. "Knows for a fact that the supernatural exists."

            Ranma shrugged. "More reason not to trust it."

            "So if Lyra's not behind all this then how do you explain my vision? I saw Usagi frozen to a throne, and there as an inhuman woman next to her." Rei countered.

            "I dunno. Sounds like a lot of ways to read that one. Probably right that someone's after Usagi."

            "And it's Mistress Lyra, Ami identified her," Rei countered.

            "I see."

            Usagi hung up the phone. "Janet's coming up," she shouted towards the living room.

            "How'd she sound?" Ami asked.

            "Oddly relieved," Usagi admitted. "Like she was hoping I'd call."

            Ranma smirked.

            "That doesn't prove anything." Ami said. There was a knock on the door and Ami's face became worried.

            "That'd be her," Usagi walked towards the door.

            Janet rushed through the door and closed it behind herself. Ranma's eyes focused on the girl and began to glow.

            "Thanks for calling me up," Janet said as she leaned on the door. "Mom was like a woman possessed when I got home."

            "Possessed?" Usagi asked tilting her head while looking at Janet's hair. Ranma's earlier questions echoed in her mind.

            "Yeah, she was talking about my bad luck with boys. I think she wants to set me up on a date." Janet smiled at Ami before looking back to Usagi. "You really saved me there."

            Ranma shook her head. How could the others not see that there was something going on between those two.

            Usagi blinked. "I saved you from your mother." Her voice was hollow. "This wasn't the first time was it?"

            Janet looked at the blonde. "I suppose there was the time in the office building," she said carefully.

            "No that wasn't it."

            Ami jumped in while Usagi pondered. "Do you know any other constellation Senshi?"

            "There's others? Like me?"

            "Oh yes." Ranma rose from her recliner. She then handed the photographs over.

            "It's another Senshi. Looks like Virgo maybe." Janet evaluated.

            "Very good," Ranma smiled. "I knew you'd have met her. Now I'd recommend you play nice."

            "What?" Janet paled and backed away. "I just know what her constellation looks like. After I became Orion I studied them. I thought there would be others."

            "Paranoid demon," Rei remarked.

            "She has Shampoo's scent on her," Ranma stated. "It's fresh. She was with her today."

            Janet froze.

            "We're supposed to trust your nose?" Rei asked. "When was the last time you saw her?"

            "A while back, I was a new demon, but you don't forget the scent of someone trying to hunt you," Ranma said as she stared down Janet.

            Usagi sighed. "I did save you before, Janet. It was from your mother, but it was a different mother." Her voice was sad and drained. "Instead of a doctor she was a jeweler."

            "Are you saying Sunshine's right?" Ami asked.

            Usagi slowly nodded.

            "Yes, she is." Janet stood up to her full height. "Usagi's saved me before lots of times. In fact, saving me was her first act as a Senshi."

            "Oh God." Usagi shuddered. "Why?"

            "So I was right. Who is she then?" Ranma asked.

            Janet smirked. "Naru."

            "The hair color does match," Minako noted. "But your face is different. Why you?"

            Janet, formerly Naru, laughed. "Osaka Naru worshiped Sailor Moon, and was Usagi's closest friend that wasn't a Senshi."

            Usagi's voice rose. "Why turn you... what's the point."

            "To get close to you," Ami glared at Janet. "Your former best friend was made into a new Senshi. You'd feel strangely close to this new girl. We'd all welcome her."

            "Some moreso than others," Rei reminded.

            Ami spun around to face Rei. "Silence," she commanded. "You have no idea how I feel about this."

            Rei wilted before Ami's venomous gaze. "Sorry..." She looked to Ranma, who was still watching the... traitor. "Looks like we're both right," Rei laughed bitterly. "Virgo and Orion are both spies."

            "I kept telling you girls that you weren't good enough," Ami complained. "Look at this. Spies in our midst and it takes one of them being some aggressive moron with more balls than brains for you to figure it out."

            "Calm down," Minako tried to comfort. "I know you're feeling betrayed by Janet."

            "Why should I be? She was competent. In the end it took DarkStar to reveal her role in all this."

            "I'm sorry Ami." Janet kept her hands at her sides.

            "So you're working for Mistress Lyra?" Rei asked.

            Janet stayed silent.

            "Fine, the Princess will just purify you and then you'll tell us everything."

            Ranma smacked her hand into her forehead.

            "It won't work?" Usagi worriedly asked. She wanted to save Naru.

            "I'm just frustrated. I mean I'm used to dealing with pros, and this is amateur hour."

            "You don't think it would work?" Ami asked, interested.

            "How smart is Mistress Lyra?"

            "Very. She did all that work for Serenity."

            "So she knows about Serenity's powers."

            "Yeah."

            "And the purification powers can be blocked. Even goobers with a magical book can do that."
            For a split second, Ami smiled thinly before switching to a puzzled frown. "I'm afraid she's right. Even if you could purify her... Naru might not have any memories of being Janet."

            "Yeah, that's what happens with people who are possessed by youma," Minako agreed.

            "Are you girls gonna stand around and gab while I watch her?" Ranma inquired. "Unless you want to give her a chance to escape."

            "Well, what are we going to do?" Minako asked.

            "I'm sure Ami has an idea," Ranma graciously offered.

            "Well, I have been working on a way to defeat the interference the Path gave," Ami admitted.

            "So there's a way to save Naru?" Usagi's spirits rose.

            "Aww, there's the ever-hopeful Usagi I knew." Janet smiled.

            "So... you know how that power blocking thingy works?" Ranma idly flicked a finger closer to Janet and was pleased to see Ami flinch.

            "Of course, you can't defeat something without knowing how it works."

            "Then you'll just have to come up with something to get Naru all better." Ranma smiled warmly at Ami. "First you decode that magic book, then you help Rei with her vision, and now you'll try to cure Naru. I wonder if your teammates truly appreciate all you've done for them."

            Ami responded with her own warm smile. "It's hard work. I'm even trying to get them to train more, like you and your daughters."

            "Thanks, I try my best." Ranma said with false modestly. "So once Naru's dealt with, you've gotta get Virgo. Though I know the real Shampoo, obsessive jerk."

            "Yes, it seems that way," Ami agreed

            "What's with you two? Why are you having thinly-veiled super-villain banter? I understand Sunny, she's a secret agent demon, but why you Ami? Are you working with Naru too?" Minako jokingly asked.

            Ami froze then tried to offer a weak smile.

            "That's mean," Usagi chastised.

            "Oh come on Ami, you can't handle that?" Ranma walked closer to her. "Maybe you're not up to this sinister spy work."

            "Quiet you." Ami blinked and sighed. "Don't say that Minako. It's hurtful."

            Ranma shook her head.

            "So what's going on?" Makoto asked. "Ami's corrupted by Mistress Lyra too?"

            "Makes sense. Ami gets seduced by Naru and then turned. Oh how sinister." Minako mock swooned.

            "And that's why Naru was made all brainy. Perfect trap for Ami to fall into."

            Ami's eye twitched.

            "It's somehow worse when they're competent isn't it?" Ranma quietly asked.

            "If I do something a tad... mean to them you won't get in my way?" Ami whispered back.

            "What are you talking about?" Rei asked, noticing the hushed voices.

            Ranma smirked and gave a curt nod.

            "I'll tell you what's going on, Rei." Ami glowered. "I had a good thing going, but no, you girls had to figure it out."

            "You know, if you'd have kept a better leash on Shampoo, you could have used that Lyra nonsense for weeks." Ranma said.

            "Wait... so they're not working for Lyra?" Rei asked.

            Ami rolled her eyes. "I'd just found out about this Shampoo bimbo." She then smirked. "And yes, I did plan on having fun with this for at least a month. Rei focused on the one 'mastermind' behind it all so fast I nearly pissed myself to keep from laughing."

            "You tricked me?" Rei angrily asked.

            "Of course," Ami chuckled. "I told you girls you weren't ready. You didn't notice a conspiracy right under your noses."

            "We thought you and Janet.. er Naru... were sleeping together," Minako said.

            "She has a point," Janet agreed.

            "Ami... how could you?" Usagi asked, sadly. First Janet and now Ami; she was too in shock to really understand what was going on.

            "It's all for you," Ami promised.

            "So you're evil now? Corrupted like Chibi-Usa and Hotaru were?" Rei asked narrowing her eyes.

            Ami smiled thinly. "Maybe I'll just show you." She closed her eyes and a column of blue light and ice shards sprung up around her. They then coalesced around her nude form. Her hair lengthened and save for a pair of strands that framed her face, it was now all up in a large, high bun. On her forehead a silver tiara formed. Unlike a normal senshi one its bottom was horizontal and it had a raised center. Instead of jewelry, it was set with a large gem-cut piece of ice.

            She had black lipstick, eyeliner, and grey eyeshadow. Silver stud earrings were in her ears and a dark-blue choker was around her neck. She wore thigh high black stockings, that were oddly garter-less, and blue pumps with a low heel. Dark blue, elbow-length, leather gloves adorned her hands.

            The main part of the uniform she wore was technically a Sailor Senshi uniform, or at least it had many of the components. The was a bow over a chest piece and a pleated skirt.

            The materials and design were very different however. Her skirt was made out of segments of shimmering ice, and her top was simply a corset. Leather, it was the same dark blue as her gloves and shoes. Unlike most corsets the ties and lacing used to tighten were in the front. The bow on her chest was used to tie off the top of the light blue ribbon. At the bottom the ribbon wrapped around either side of her waist and was tied into the uniform's back bow

            The corseted woman then snapped her fingers and summoned two long items. She then unfolded them to reveal a pair of dark blue tessen. "Does that answer your question?" Mercury asked coldly as she moved the two war fans.

            Rei's stammering response was interrupted by clapping.

            "Now that's just some quality work," Ranma appraised. "Good use of ribbons, leather, corset, and that skirt. Sure it's very vain, but it works on you."

            "Someone already did the leather battle bikini," Mercury complimented.

            "Is it me or did her bust size go up?" Minako asked.

            "I think it's just the corset," Makoto asked. She was amazed. One of their own could get turned evil, again, and Minako would talk about their assets. Makoto wanted to forget the conversations about Mistress Nine's buttocks. Then again, Ami seemed to once again confirm that with evil powers came a complimentary boob job.

            Rei used the opportunity to turn into her Senshi form. Once she was Sailor Mars she immediately readied an attack. "Mars flame-"

            Mercury sighed and aimed her tessen. "Cold snap!" she said, flipping the fans closed at Sailor Mars. A pair of bands of ice flew out and froze around Mar's arms and legs immobilizing them. Unbalanced, she wobbled on her heels before falling over and landing in a painful heap.

            "Now you girls should stay quiet and pay attention. You might learn something from the big kids," Mercury advised.

            "Bitch, I'll stop you!" Mars screamed.

            "What did I say about quiet?" Mercury shook her head and snapped her fans twice again, forming an ice barrier over Rei's mouth and causing the two bands around her arms and legs to merge into one, hogtieing the Senshi.

            "And yes Minako, they are bigger, and no it's not from being evil," Mercury laughed, and snapped her fans at Minako and Makoto. She then leaned over the immobilized blonde. "And don't you dare start talking about my ass or I'll tell Hotaru those things you said about her."

            Usagi shivered as she watched Minako and Makoto get bound. She then looked on as Mercury bent over and felt a chill on her. It was invasive and sudden, like a cold hand groping her. "Ami...."

            "Yeah, nice job," Ranma said as she walked over to the struggling Senshi. "The ice negates their powers?"

            "Of course, Rei'd just burn through it otherwise." Mercury smiled. At least someone other than Orion appreciated what she did.

            "Course you'd know how to control ice. Otherwise your skirt'd melt. Shame."

            "Can't you do something Ranma?" Usagi pleaded.

            Ranma looked at Janet and Mercury. "Not if you want them in one piece. I reckon I could beat her tricks " She then shifted into her true form and smirked as her power flowed out, and stretched her wings before folding them back

            Mercury held her gaze. The demon was really something else. The demon's violet eyes were not threatening or challenging. A creature like DarkStar did not need to make threats.

            "You don't need to worry about me," Mercury promised, folding her fans and bowing to the demon.

            "Really now?"

            "You have my word. Neither me nor my people will harm you or your family," Mercury swore.

            "Say I don't believe you? That you won't keep your word." Ranma idly inquired.

            "Then you'll kill me. Quite painfully and savagely, I'd guess."

            Usagi looked down at her struggling whimpering friends. "Free them at once!" she whined, demandingly.

            Mercury's expression was pained. "I'm afraid I can't do that, Princess."

            "Don't forget about Shampoo," Ranma reminded.

            "Oh, I'm quite cross at her," Mercury said as she knelt down beside Rei, who was trying to break her bonds by rolling into a table corner with them. She reached out and froze the ice manacles to the table and floor. She laughed at the futile hatred in Mars' eyes. Mercury got up and looked at Ranma meeting her gaze. "I'm going to make Virgo wish she hadn't escaped your clutches tonight."

            "Good."

            "Ranma, how can you say that?" Usagi cried. "And Ami how can you do all this? We're friends!"

            Mercury walked over and embraced her princess. "I'm doing this all for you," she repeated in a whisper into Usagi's ear. "And really why is everyone getting so jumpy? Biggest thing that's happened is some bimbo forgetting her place and pissing off a horde of demons."

            Mars struggled against her bonds and tried to growl. Minako and Makoto watched from their places frozen on the floor.

            Moving her head to look down at the prone girls, Mercury laughed. "Oh that's right, I'm a servant of the master mind behind it all. I'm sure I'm somehow responsible for a school full of youma as well."

            "Ami... I'm confused." Usagi escaped from the hug and looked at her... friend. "What's happened to you?"

            "I'm finally able to be myself."

            "But... the evil?" Usagi hesitated.

            "Do you sense dark energy on me?"

            Usagi looked down.

            "Probably not, given how much Red over there's pumping out," Janet pointed out. "Look Usagi. Newly turned evil people don't normally swear not to hurt a family, promise to help, and then give a loving hug."

            "Help?" Usagi asked. She was even more unsure what to think about Janet.

            "You're getting ahead of the game," Mercury gently chastised. "Yes, we're going to help you. You're still our princess, and there are still people who want to kill you."

            "This is nice and all, I mean. I like the honorable, classy sinister-type person." Ranma's smile turned serious. "Don't disappoint me, but there is one thing I'm wondering about. Who turned Naru into Janet? After all she's the one that 'opened your eyes'."

            Janet laughed as she idly scratched her ear. "I'm afraid I can't answer that question just yet. You and I have a couple things in common, and that's one of them."

            Noticing the gesture and decoding the likely meaning, Ranma shook her head in bemusement. Those two were pretty paranoid, and of Murdock of all people.

            "What's going on?" Usagi asked.

            Ranma sighed. "This whole plot's part of some trick, like the scheme that got me made."

            "Yes, an enterprising and improvisational buffoon has taken a great interest in you." Mercury smirked. "It's one of the few things Setsuna's right about, but for the wrong reasons." She looked Ranma. "I've got a question. What happened to the moon cats? I'd expected to have to freeze those morons, but I'm not sensing them here."

            "Why would I know anything about missing cats?" Ranma innocently asked. She was interested to know Ami could sense life-forms now.

            "Oh, I think you'd want to know about their presence." Mercury shrugged.

            "Fair enough," Ranma said. That Ami seemed to know about the neko-ken could mean an intimate knowledge of Ranma's past. Maybe Murdock really was involved with these two.

            "So where are they?" Mercury repeated

            "Still on the roof I'd imagine. Found them when we landed." Ranma smiled. "Nabiki and Nariko were ecstatic. They just picked them up and started petting."

            "I'd imagine they don't get to pet many kitties now."

            Ranma shrugged.

            "So that thing behind your house. Is it a real dojo or just your brood's playroom?"

            Ranma growled.

            Mercury smirked. So the demon was not totally unflappable.

            "You'd complimented me on my training methods earlier."

            "Yes, your Senshi may be the youngest, but they're the best. Of course when the competition is like this..." Mercury pointed to the bound girls on the floor.

            "Well you've got a ways to go with yours too," Ranma reminded.

            Mercury nodded. "I didn't want it to go this way, but I'm doing to make the most of it."

            "I guess that's that," Janet sighed.

            "Oh," Mercury smiled sweetly as she and Janet were about to leave. "I'd find someone to teach you girls some more self control. I'd hate to imagine what would happen if someone trapped them using a simple binding spell."

            "Didn't that happen back when you guys were fighting Beryl, like all the time?" Janet asked.

            "Yes it did, but it takes a long time for some people to learn." Mercury turned to Ranma. "Oh can you have your agent friends let us pass? I don't want there to be any trouble with them either."

            "Same promise to them as my family."

            "Of course. You'd just kill me. Sure it'd be slow, but not as slow as the scientific dissection they'd do."

            Ranma chuckled.

            Usagi noticed that they were going and that she had still done nothing. "Ami..."  

            "Yes?" Mercury noticed the worried fear in Usagi's eyes. "I won't do anything to make you feel shameful. You can count on that."

            Usagi gathered her wits. "Don't worry Ami, I'll save you." She knew that if she tried to transform she would be encased in ice like the others, now was not the time.

            "Of course you will, my princess," Mercury smiled warmly as she and Janet left through the door. "You always do, but this time I'm going to save you first."

           

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

 

            "So there's problems with the Senshi?" Stillwater asked Jacob.

            "Yes Sir, it turns out that Mercury and Orion are double agents of some type," Jacob explained as he leaned back in a chair in Stillwater's office.

            "Yes, the images of her new uniform were interesting." Stillwater sipped his drink.

            Jacob smirked, and shook his head. "We need to know what she'll do, and what Miss Tsukino will do in response."

            "How much of a threat is this new Mercury to our plans?" Stillwater asked.

            "It depends. She is certainly well-informed. She's a major part of their intelligence wing. She does all their on-site scanning and much of their research."

            "It's safe to assume she also has a lot of insider information."

            Jacob nodded. "What do you think, Miss Saotome?"

            Ranma lowered her glass, after she choked on the first taste she resolved to sip. The burn was something to watch out for. "She's the biggest threat to her fellow Senshi. Though I think that's kind of the point."

            "Oh?" Jacob asked with a hint of amusement.

            "Well, she immediately promised to avoid attacking my family and the Company." Ranma sipped her drink. She was new to scotch, and it was... interesting.

            "And if she's lying?" Stillwater asked.

            "Then we kill her," Ranma said simply.

            "I don't think Usagi would approve." Jacob proposed.

            "So? I'm not going to put my kids at risk just to please her, and you shouldn't do the same with your men." Ranma sipped her drink again. This time finding the warming more pleasing. "Besides, she knows we're pros, that's why she respects us."

            "She was pushing the Senshi to be more serious, before she snapped," Jacob said.

            Ranma laughed. "Oh that's still her plan. Heck, before she left she told them how to avoid her binding attack."

            "All a training mission?" Stillwater skeptically asked.

            "This is a bit too dramatic for that." Jacob agreed.

            "Why? They're used to their teammates turning evil, and now Ami can force them to train. Otherwise she'll beat them horribly." Ranma took a contemplative drink. "Eh, she'll still beat them horribly, but she's the kind of threat that's personal and very offensive to them."

            "Offensive," Jacob stated.

            "Oh yeah, the hate and hurt on their faces was damn clear. Ami played them, betrayed them, and tricked them. It was dumb luck that she got exposed." Ranma shook her head. "Personally I think she could have wormed her way out. She didn't have to do the dramatic 'coming out as evil'."

            "Why'd she do it then?"

            "She was sick of playing nice." Ranma shrugged. "She finally got fed up with working on the inside. Hell, she cleared it with me right before she did it."

            "And now she's free," Jacob laughed and took a sip.

            "It's not just a desperate and unorthodox training plan. Someone transformed the Osaka girl," Stillwater reminded them.

            "Has the Japan branch found anything out, Sir?" Jacob asked after a drink.

            "It looks like Osaka Naru and her Mother moved. Shop was legally sold and they left the country. They're still at it."

            "Yeah, someone set this all up," Ranma agreed. "Janet hinted that it was Murdock. Which I guess makes sense. Setsuna thinks he did the same thing with me."

            "Why?" Jacob asked.

            Ranma shrugged. "Usagi."

            "Fitting, first use a sex demon as a replacement for her boyfriend, and then use her former best friend. This makes Mercury more of a risk." Jacob evaluated.

            "So she's still a risk. Especially if she gets to Usagi." Stillwater scratched his goatee.

            "That depends. Is there still influence? Is she a free agent?"

            Ranma sipped from her glass. "I don't know. We'll have to watch her."

            "Of course. Maybe there's even a Mistress Lyra." Jacob joked.

            Stillwater smirked. "That's fitting misdirection."

            "So, that's it about Ami?" Ranma asked as she ran a finger over the rim of her glass.

            "Did Miss Tsukino give you any advice, orders?" Jacob asked.

            "She told me not to turn or kill her." Ranma laughed. "So I'm not going out of my way to hunt her down, unless she gets dumb."

            "You're assuming she's going to be smart about this?" Jacob asked.

            "She wants her princess to be stronger." Ranma sipped her scotch. "She's got a big ego. She really likes being smart and liked showing off her powers. Getting herself killed isn't part of her plan."

            "She plans to live. Become the right hand to Miss Tsukino," Jacob stated.

            "Which is nice for anyone controlling her," Stillwater added.

            "So I'm not worried about her. It's those girls that should worry," Ranma shook her head. "They have no idea what they're in for. It's easy to underestimate Usagi. Just look at her, but when pushed into a corner she's tenacious. She won't give up."

            "And Mercury would know this." Jacob stated.

            "Yes, the Senshi face someone who won't underestimate Usagi. Ami knows her princess' mettle, I think she plans to use that to her advantage."

            "We'll keep an eye on them and her," Jacob assured Ranma. Mercury might be the catalyst needed to temper the Pattern Silvers for what was ahead or it could get them all killed or corrupted.

            "There's also the projects Major Saotome proposed." Stillwater reminded.

            "Oh, I know you're letting her make those guns. Is there more?" Ranma put her empty glass down.

            Stillwater gave a curt nod. "Yes. Her report was most convincing on the need for isolated machinery to work the demonic metal."

            "Good, I'm sure the girls will be very happy when it's done." Ranma pulled out one of the ice cubes from her glass and sucked on it.

            "No questions about us once again yielding to your needs?" Jacob slyly asked.

            Ranma shrugged and crunched the ice. "Now, now, you guys are just as interested in new weapons as my kids are."

            Jacob smiled.

            Ranma leaned back in her chair. "So how did your inspection go? You guys gonna keep your jobs?"

            "Pardon?"

            "There was that strange officer. He was asking everyone questions, especially about that traitor stuff. Jarvis said he was sent by the General. Guessin' that's your boss. You guys doing stuff you're not supposed to here?" Ranma winked.

            Stillwater laughed, and motioned for Jacob to explain.

            "Major Koster is an aide to the General Anderson, and yes he was checking up on this operation. Our working with you warranted special attention, to make sure we're following procedures." Jacob took a leisurely sip.

            "Anderson eh?" Ranma thought. "That's the guy that trained you two right?"

            Jacob and Stillwater exchanged a glance. "Yes, he was our commander when we were young officers. Still is now," Jacob said.

            "So he knows you two, and he still sent a lackey to look around." Ranma laughed.

            "Can't be too careful," Stillwater said.

            Ranma smirked. "The paranoia just keeps going don't it?"

            "Yes, but the base passed inspection. Major Koster even complimented you and your girls in his report," Jacob said.

            "Good for him."

            "He did not even bat an eye at your rescue proposal." Jacob wondered if the General was slipping or had finally gained a sense of humor.

            Ranma paused. "Oh that idea. Huh, cool then."

            "We'll have to work out the list."

            "Shouldn't be too long. Not too many people would want it."

            Jacob gave a sympathetic nod. "What about your tastes? I would think you'd be selective as to who you'd save."

            "I've got a pretty good idea who would say yes." Ranma sighed and thought about her fiancee. "And of those I don't have a problem; I'd rather they stayed alive and fighting with us. Maybe I should ask the candidates myself."

            Ranma looked up at the two officers. "No dry commentary?"

            "It's a good idea," Jacob admitted. "You, or one of our daughters, would be the one doing this. I would insist that one of us be there for the interview. I suppose we'd start with Lieutenant Tendo."

            "No need," Ranma crossly said.

            Stillwater's face remained neutral.

            Jacob's eyes widened nearly-concealed surprise. "Really? This is only for those that would be dead otherwise."

            "I know." Ranma sighed. "I'd like to think that it's because of the daughter thing, but it might not be that. If she's strong enough... she could be..." The redhead sighed again and put an ice cube in her mouth.

            Unsure of what to do Jacob offered to refill her glass.

            Ranma waved off the bottle. "I guess that's that."

            "There is the matter of Misako and Ukyou," Jacob said

            "There going to be any problems for them?"

            "We'll have to see how they take to the training. Things will be different for them."

            "Oh?"

            "Their training under you and their previous experience will cover a lot of ground. It's really gauging their skills and seeing what they need more of." Jacob allowed. In many ways WIC was more flexible with its NH applicants.

            "That's good. You shouldn't waste their time, and don't waste your men's time too. Don't pull agents away from their jobs just to baby-sit them."

            "I find it remarkable that Miss Ukyou kept her interest, even after being turned," Stillwater finished his own drink.

            "Miss Misako following her makes perfect sense. Those two have always been partners."

            "She always liked you guys, and she wanted to be more use than just a defector." Ranma shrugged. Ukyou was a demon Senshi and already worked with WIC. There was no need for her to formally join, but that's what she wanted to do.

            "And your youngest? Is she ready for school on Monday?"

            "Nabiki seems ready," Ranma stretched her legs. "I'm also worried about Misa-chan. She's been out of school for a long time; Ucchan will be there for her though."

            "They don't have to be in school, you know." Jacob's voice carried an offer.

            "I think it's good for them to interact with normal people, least some of the time, and I guess the work's good, more well-rounded." Ranma was tempted however. During the last couple weeks she had been able to get more done, but that was out of necessity. Her girls needed a breather and time to recover.

            "That's good, we're going to need you and your girls in top shape," Jacob said.

            "I know." Ranma looked at the far wall, her eyes distant. Things were coming. Anyone with heightened senses or good intelligence could see that. Ami certainly could.

 

End ch15

 

Author's Notes:

 

The interlude got pushed further back, but that's okay.

 

I'd like to thank my pre-readers. They're the ones that made sure this story was readable.

Acey, Trimatter, PyroRaven, Questara, Solara, Kevin Hammel, J St C Patrick, Pale Wolf, Wray, and Jerry Starfire.

 

I'm gonna repeat myself. I really apriate everything you guys have done.  My prereaders are a tireless group that go through my stuff on their own to make it better.  It's just amazing, and I don't think I can thank you enough.  The rest of you that review; thank you too.  It's great to hear more from you guys.  To get a reading of my performance and what you guys think of all this.

 

I can't express how much it means to me. Thank you all.