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 20 Retain and Retrain

 

 

To: General Anderson Operations Centre 01

From: Colonel Jacob Edwards WIC Toronto

 

On this date, elements of the Assembly of Man ambushed a WIC convoy enroute to a Pattern V nest. There were 7 agents KIA and over 26 AOM. Given our contractors, exact count of enemy casualties will take some time. Speaking of them, Miss Saotome was the intended target. Attached information indicates the advancement of her regeneration. The weapons created by Master Nishina and Major Saotome performed well and proved pivotal in the combat.

 

The D program saved the lives of two agents. They will be put under Captain Jarvis' direct command. She had fought well and did not falter. I believe that she will be a good core for a possible new unit being formed from this program. Miss Mizuno also assisted with the capture of an Assemblyman that gave us the location of their base, which is currently under surveillance. Her risk is being evaluated.

 

As per your earlier orders, long-range assets have been released and will be used in the counter attack. That operation is currently commencing. Miss Saotome has agreed to spearhead this mission while our forces maintain the quarantine.

 

This seems to be the culmination of the recent AOM surveillance. Once they learned enough about our movements, they would strike, and attempt to eliminate our "demonic advantage". Following that, they would attack in force. Our operation will counter this.

 

As mentioned before, Miss Mizuno is quite busy. Her recent abduction and transformation of Miss Aino into a "golden succubus Senshi" has prompted Miss Tsukino to hire Miss Saotome and by extension WIC. This schism in the Pattern Silvers has given us a favorable position.

 

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

 

"May God have mercy upon my enemies, because I won't."

"Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men."


            -General George Patton

 

 


            Ranma flew just above the trees. The helicopter had let her off and she had to wait just long enough. To her relief the first helicopter on the scene had found a huge Pattern A signal in the suspected location. It was rough but they did not dare let the helicopter get any closer than necessary; it was enough to get targeting coordinates.


            The Blackhawk that had dropped her off went back to sweep the areas to the South of the base. There was still a chance that the Assembly had left for their attack and that this was just a decoy.


            "HIMARS is almost in range," Maya Iverson's voice said into Ranma's headset. She could now just see the base. It was active, her senses were quite clear on that. "I can see it now, and I can smell the bastards. Lots of them, right on some mountain, wow... how arch-villain can you get. It's a wooden building on top. Pretty large. I dunno if they've had time to dig into the hill." The redhead smiled cruelly and circled back a bit. She did not want to arrive first.


            Just under twenty-two miles to the South a blocky green truck pulled off to the side of the road. In addition to the two APCs guarding it, the truck was ugly and skeletal enough to have to be military in nature. As soon as it stopped the large box on its bed angled up and opened.


            The truck was a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, and carried one MLRS six-pack, half the capacity of its treaded and larger cousin the M270. Moments after it stopped and the box angled to the proper position a pair of 227 millimeter diameter and 3.94 meter long missiles shot out of the Multiple Launch Rocket System block.


            As the pod rotated back into position the truck started to accelerate and pulled back onto the road. It had been stopped for less than a minute before resuming its motion.


            Back near the mountian, Ranma could just make out the streaks coming in from overhead. She idly wondered what Jacob had done to get approval for these things. Fins on each of the missiles guided them to slightly different locations. Each rocket contained over two hundred pounds of high explosives and was fused to explode upon impact. Both struck the monastery on the summit which was blown apart by the pair of large explosions.


            Ranma's enjoyment at the explosions and the reduction in life she could sense was interrupted by Maya. "What's the status?"


            "They hit," Ranma said as she flew in. "Top building's gone. Can still sense 'em, they've probably burrowed in. Maybe around the mountain too." She adjusted her wings and was shocked to see movement on the East side of the hill. "I'm seeing some guys, and cuts into the mountain to the east. Big clearing." Ranma was miles out but could see them moving around, like ants out of a knocked-over nest.


            "We suspected that's where their vehicles are, firing another volley. Stay clear." Maya's even voice stated.


            Ranma landed on the upper branches of a tree and strained her vision. It was not a long wait. Three missiles came over and split apart well above the clearing and burning mountain. By straining her eyes she could make out what had to be hundreds of little objects.


            Her smile broadened as nearly two thousand bombs exploded around the mountain. Each one had a fairly simple seeker in it which adjusted its own fins to give some guidance. Each one tried its best to find something warm to kill. A parade of explosions ripped through the trees, destroyed outbuildings and vehicles, and slaughtered men. Whether they were trying to rescue people from the monastery, get to their vehicles or simply figure out what happened was immaterial.


            Soon enough the sounds of the explosions died away and the sounds of fires, secondary explosions, and screams became obvious. Despite her stealth, the succubus whistled. The fires nicely complemented the reds and oranges of the quickening sunset. "Maya, that'll do."


            "Is anyone alive?"


            "Yeah, I guess they had enough time to make a few bunkers. Specs did say there were some tunnels here already." Ranma laughed. She could smell maybe half of what was there originally. "I'm going to start the next phase," she said as she took off and flew towards the burning base.

 

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

 


            Once the rattle of explosions stopped Father Oswald pulled up his head. "So who's left?" he asked looking around the concrete room, and frowned at the widening cracks. Most of the tunnels had been built in here to support the old mine below them, but now....


            "B, C, and G groups are okay. I can't raise anyone in the monastery or outside," an acolyte at a radio said.


            Oswald sighed. "Send a team to look at what happened by the main entrance. But be careful. I don't know what the hell did this."


            "What about the top?" a paladin asked, leaning on his gun.


            Father Oswald laughed. "Those first explosions, that's what. Everyone go to the armory. Get heavier loads." He rubbed his eyes. "We'll send a team to the number three tunnel. If it's clear we'll leave through that."


            "No," a stern voice said from the passageway that once lead to the surface building. Bishop Fortson stepped into the room flanked by the High Father's Inquisitors. For once he was glad for their presence; they were the ones that had rushed him down into the mountain.


            "Sir, we've lost a third of our men, at least. No one's responding from the outside," Oswald shook his head. "We've got to regroup, and then get out of here."


            Fortson glared. "That's not feasible. We will not run; we cannot run. This is the best place to choke them. We knew there would be reprisals, and this is their cowardly answer." Fortson grinned at the assembled men. "This is the best they've got. They'll have to come into this mountain if they want to take us, and that is where we hold the advantage. You're correct. Go to the armories and secure all the entrances. Once they get into the tunnels, we'll destroy them."

 

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

 


            Ranma landed close to the edge of the cluster bombing. Destroyed vehicles, broken bodies, and burnt weapons were spread before her. Ranma smiled and moved past the ruined outbuildings, which were connected by a series of trenches and machinegun nests. Shadows crawled about, dancing under the burning wreckage; the demon's smile grew and she studiously avoided any unexploded ordinance. Everything was ravaged and the few survivors Ranma found on her way were impolitely dealt with. "Maya, tell those rocket-guys I owe them a few beers," Ranma whispered into her headset.


            She looked up at the steel entrance to the underground tunnels, it had a slight roofed overhang which gave it some protection. The train tracks built into the ground seemed to indicate that this was once a mine. "I'm going in, radio silence," Ranma said as she jumped over the door.


            The entrance had survived well, and she could smell that people had survived inside. If they had any sense they would cover the door and be ready for a demon to burst through.


            She landed on the slope above the entrance where she found a likely spot. The ground had cracked and started to collapse around what was once an air vent. She sliced off the vent cap and fired a pair of DarkStar Bursts that looped over, out, and shattered through the large doors of the front entrance.


            Gunfire immediately responded, and was followed by the now intimately familiar sound of rocket propelled grenades going off. Soon, with no enemy trying to burst in, it all quieted down. She smiled, knowing that the already nervous assemblymen inside would only get more apprehensive. A mental state like that was much more likely to cause mistakes.


            After a few more seconds she launched another diversionary attack. As the gunfire restarted, she flared her aura and jumped over the narrow vent. It bent a bit but a DarkStar Burst broke through the elbow and the part of the layer of concrete that made up the roof of the entrance chamber. Concrete shattered and rained down in chunks killing a few unluckily enough to be immediately underneath.


            Nimbly landing, she fired DarkStar bursts at the men in the far corners who had rockets and their unfortunate reloaders. In that time the people in front of her closer to the entrance had managed to turn around and face her.


            Shadows welling around her, she slowly rose to her full height. Her eyes scanned the crowd that surrounded her and watched as they fidgeted and tried to look away. Her nose detected the smell of urine. At least the people in the close circle had their guns up and shouldered. So, they had that much sense, she thought as her aura flared. They shot, and she immediately dropped to the ground.


            Friendly fire took out much of the crowd causing panic and confusion. Going low, she darted forward claws and tail filaments outstretched. Those in the circle who were shot had already fallen and were soon joined by a quarter of the remainder who were now missing legs and feet. She rolled over, fired two DarkStar bursts to the quarters to her left and right, and raked her eyebeams over the last quarter opposite her.


            Most were only wounded by the severe slices and physical trauma. Some even tried to lift their weapons, but a barrage of fireballs landed among them and ignited, splashing their magical napalm loads. As they died she pulled in and started draining, if she had more time she would have taken a few snacks, but this was business.


            The men furthest in the room had enough sense to fire. Her aura mostly held and she ducked to the side and used her beams to cut them down. She then ran to the far end of the room and looked through the doorway, and saw that there was one corridor that went down deeper into the mine and another that went up through a set of stairs. She could hear heavy footsteps.


            Nostrils flaring and soaking in the enticing, heady scents of blood, gunpowder and offal, she paused and glanced at a fire-evacuation map bolted onto the wall. Eyes twinkling she decided which way to go.

 

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

 


            "Bishop, this is Oswald," the father's scratchy voice came out on Fortson's radio. "We got to the main entrance. C group is gone. Looks like a bunch of demons." Oswald dryly swallowed. The room was a charnel house. It did not look like his men got anyone.


            "You're sure of this?" Fortson asked.


            "Sir, I'm up to my knees in torn-apart bodies," Oswald pulled one of the corpses and frowned. There was a whole set with even more worrying wounds. "Some were shot too." He kicked a piece of concrete away and looked up. "Oh God, they came in through the ceiling, and the rest took out the doorway."


            Looking outside, he squinted out onto the flaming hillside.


            "But they didn't come in? Why?" Fortson could think of a few reasons why they would pause, but none that helped him.


            "I don't know, Sir. Both the G group stations are still okay. There's nowhere else for them to go," Oswald's apprehension grew. He looked to the dozen men with him. Most were shaking and were wary of the doorway, at least they had that much sense.


            "Are you sensing any demons? They're probably waiting out there for you." Fortson asked.


            "No, nothing." Oswald said leaning forward and looking around the burning wreckage. Nothing was moving. His head then exploded and was followed by a distinctive crack a second later.


            Half a kilometer down and inside one of the less ruined buildings, Sergeant Smith worked the action on his rifle. He was quite pleased to have taken this role on the quarantine force. Taking aim at another enterprising target that tried to run out of the battered entrance, he fired.


            Mechanically, he took sight, and found a fool that was not crouching low enough. He frowned, these bastards took out Graham? They did not even have the sense to fight back, which was fine with him. After taking his fourth kill, he called into his radio. "Smith here, Red's right. They're snooping around the main entrance. I've got them bottled up."

 

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

 


            "Oswald!" Fortson shouted into his radio. "What the hell happened?" He pointed to one of the men in the communications room. "Go down, meet G group to see what they're doing."


            The paladin nodded and left the room and started running down the stairs.


            "Why did they pull back?" Fortson remarked. "They got right through C group."


            "Maybe the strength of our defenders gave them pause, and they retreated," the radioman offered hopefully.


            "That would be nice, but I wouldn't bet on it," Fortson looked to the two Inquisitors. "It's time for you two to do your job. Go down to the mine level. They're going to come in. Junction off the number three tunnel and the main entrance. It's got to be one of those two ways."


            The goggled men nodded and went down the stairs.


            "They're not taking anything from the armory?" the radioman asked cautiously.


            "They don't need anything like that," Fortson leaned back in the folding chair. "They're toying with us,"


            "Sir! Paladin Babbage's calling," the radioman said.


            "Yes?" Fortson asked taking the call. "Is your post holding up?"


            "Yes, no one's gotten past the main entrance, but Sir, Father Oswald's dead. Sniper. His team's being picked off. Should we help?" Babbage's voice cracked.


            "No, stay put." Fortson sighed. "That's what they want Son. They've baited that room nicely, but it's a trap. Stay put. You're getting some help."

 

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

 


            As Ranma slinked in the corridor, she paused to listen. Her ears managed to keep her from running into to anyone, aside from an unfortunate acolyte carrying a box of grenades. Maps always made places easier to get into. It had taken a few tries digging around on the summit, but people tended to think that passages choked with flaming wreckage were impassable.


            Even people who should know better, like those fighting a demoness with extensive fire powers. Ranma just had to find an entrance with the right balance of enough damage to look impassable, but not too much to actually be that way, and she was in.


            She leaped in and released a pair of fireballs. The female acolyte's frightened and pained scream was cut short by a glowing claw slicing through charring meat. Crouched over the flaming body, the redhead bit the shoulder and paused to savor. Rising from the lumpy smoking smear, she eyed the grenades. She flared her nose. Marveling at how there were not even patrols to avoid, she followed the scent. Tilting her head, she noticed a pair of acolytes guarding a door.


            A pair of eyebeams sliced though the head of one. As blood streamed out of the two holes in his face, his partner looked over in shock. It only took a second but by the time he turned back the demon was almost upon him. Fortunately, his gun was still on target and he fired.


            Ranma idly felt the bullets splash against her aura and one of them even pierced it, and tore into her sides, but her focus was on her prey. She fired a jet of napalm. As the man ignited in a panic, she turned and kicked him in the right arm, breaking it, and twisting his body. She then reached over and dragged her claws over his face; the bones of his eye sockets, jaw and nose giving only the barest resistance.


            Abandoning pretense of silence, Ranma sliced the metal door's hinges off and looked inside. Her nose had been right. Inside was a collection of large and small arms, ammunition, and a fair bit of explosives. The pair of large tanks in the back looked especially ominous with their warning labels and connecting pipes.


            She shrugged and tossed a few fireballs around the room and ran. While that map did not list such rooms as armory or command post, it did list stairwells, and Ranma was determined to get to a different level as soon as possible.


            She dropped down the stairwell, and  sliced apart a small checkpoint. Ranma was turning the first soldier into an interesting splash of blood and sculpture of entrails when she noticed another one pull out a radio. One purple beam bored through the radio spreading molten plastic fragments which landed on his face, which was irrelevant as the other beam sliced through his jaw and up into his soft and hard pallet. Meanwhile, the last man used this distraction to take careful aim and empty his magazine into her stomach, which flared purple before being shot.


            There was a loud flat explosion that shook the ceiling and smoke started to pour down the stairs.


            Holding a hand to her perforated and bloodied side, Ranma laughed, kneed the momentarily distracted man, and ripped the gun out of his hands. "Not bad, try to slow me, allow your buddy to call for help," she said as she slashed across his chest. "But, he should have called first thing."


            Recalling the layout of the facility, she went down the narrow corridor. There should be a major junction down and after a left turn. It would be sensible to guard such a place.

 

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

 


            "We've got to get out of here!" Johnson the radioman shouted, as the smoke thickened. More importantly, to him, were the even larger cracks in the ceiling.


            "What was that?" Fortson shouted.


            "I can't raise the south stairwell team, or the armory guards. They're on this level, coming for us!"


            Fortson's face paled. "They took out the armory?"


            "Yes, that's what that big explosion was. At least the men are already armed. It could have been much worse" Johnson looked up glad that the ceiling had not fallen on them... yet.


            "Yes... it could," Fortson rubbed his forehead. The armory was supposed to be the most secure place. It was already holding explosives. It seemed perfect to store the device there. The whole aerosol system was now worthless. "You're right." He stood up. "It's just going to burn and smoke us out. Like this it's more a risk to us."


            Johnson nodded, already packing up the radio system.


            "At least we've still got two more aces." The tunnel incineration system may have been knocked out before it could even have been used, but at least he still had the Inquisitors, and one last trick in tunnel three.


            Once they made it to B group by tunnel three, Fortson had them check out the situation.


            "Oh no..." Johnson gasped. "We've just lost Babbage and his team."


            "Raise him again," Fortson ordered. He looked down the corridor. There were only two options, back into the mine passages, or out the small discreet exit.


            "I got him!"


            "Babbage!" Fortson asked. "What happened?"


            "So that was his name?" a female voice paused. "He actually had a bit of sense. His men were not too shocked at having the enemy appear behind them. If he was the one in charge... ." Ranma chuckled. "I actually had to heal. I mean I needed to drain you scum, more than just a little fun."


            "You will be destroyed, unholy monster."


            "That's the spirit!" Ranma's tone brightened. "You went through a lot of effort to invite me over here. Made sure I was quite angry. The least you could do is try. This is what you wanted right?"


            "It's too late for you," Fortson smirked. "The Inquisitors will get you."


            "Oh, why didn't you use them before?" Ranma knew from her former acolyte daughters that the Inquisitors were the most powerful of the Assembly forces, and were used almost entirely as a means to keep the Fathers and Paladins in line. "I'd think that you'd have tried the extra scary guys a long time ago." Ranma blinked at the silence. "Hello? Huh, fine then," she switched off the radio and went down the smoky hallway. Her eyes focused when the larger Assembly pattern became more obvious.


            She could sense two of them, and saw their long coats but marveled at their masks and poofy hats. This is a joke right? she though eyeing the pair, and wondering how they could hear or see with any skill. They looked scary, or at least a juvenile thespian's idea of scary. At least they were each holding the expected pair of glowing blades. A pair of DarkStar Bursts were launched and guided towards them.


            The Inquisitors flashed back just before the orbs hit and even twisted when the spheres changed their course to match. The explosions were followed by several rakes of eyebeams before Ranma closed in.


            Huge gashes and bloodstains bloomed over their black sliced and torn coats. One had lost his hat, revealing a bald, veined head. With surprising quickness he put up a blade and blocked Ranma's claws. The other came in and tried to decapitate her, not even slowing when Ranma disemboweled him with her tail.


            She pulled back, shooting a fireball right at the hatless one's face. His aura flared and protected his head though the heat seemed to scorch his mask. The other one pulled back slightly and the hatless one charged in.


            Parrying a thrust Ranma blocked his left arm and then extended and broke his right at the elbow. She then twisted and sliced through the shoulder. Dropping down, she avoided the other one's blades while she fully removed the arm of the hatless one.


            Tossing the arm down the corridor, Ranma leapt back and was unsurprised to find the hatted one had healed his chest and was now covering the one-armed Inquisitor. She growled and, after deflecting the first one's blades and slashing his face, made for the one-armed one.


            His partner managed to stab his blade through her side, but Ranma had grabbed an arm and with a quick claw extension cut his hand apart. Still sliced open, she caught a glimpse of his right arm mostly regenerated. She tore the blade out and felt her flesh knit together. At least she had plenty of food before this fight. Between her two foes, she twisted and saw some acolytes down the corridor aiming a rocket launcher.


            Once the rocket fired she knocked the less injured of her foes into it and returned to the armless Inquisitor. She grappled him to the ground and tried to slice right through his chest, mincing most of his organs; she had separated most of his head, when she suddenly jumped away and watched a rocket hit the mutilated body.


            She flicked off a DarkStar Burst which followed the rocket team even when they ducked around a corner in the corridor intersection. Ranma turned to the hideously alive body and was about to feed when she was knocked away by the other Inquisitor. He smelled of cooked meat and burnt leather. Most of his coat and cloak was torn away, revealing a pulsating, strangely throbbing body.


            With increased vigor, he fought Ranma and did his best to keep her away from his prone partner, who was beginning to heal anew. She sighed and blocked her foe's blades while the shadows darkened around her. Knocking past him, she got closer and extended some of them to the injured Inquisitor, who tried to get to his knees.


            He stumbled and slumped back down in a bloody mess as the tendrils fed energy to their mistress. The demon's feeding was interrupted when the other Inquisitor slashed through the inky mass with his glowing blade. Ranma glowered and the room grew to near total darkness.


            She tried to dodge another attack of blades and despite having her chest pierced, knocked the healthy Inquisitor into the rising bloody mass of his partner. The two tumbled into each other and landed in a heap. Before they could recover Ranma fired a DarkStar burst at the two and only after repeated strikes with the magical shrapnel did she remove the blade embedded in her own chest.


            It came out painfully and was surrounded by rotted flesh, but her body was regenerating. The bloody hole closing, she leapt onto the mass and started cutting apart limbs and organs.


            As this happened, the pile thrashed and knitted itself together. A mangled torso headed with half a skull and with two and a half arms and a tiny knee coming out of the belly button even tried to rise out of the mess and tried to grab her. Violet eyebeams ripped apart the gibbering mass and her shadows started to consume it. Sickened, Ranma pulled back and sprayed it down with several fireballs, setting it alight.


            The mass of flesh was eventually reduced to an ashen smear and collection of brittle bones. She stepped forward kicking away a broken mask and a burnt floppy hat. "So that's the best you've got? Cheap monsters. Not even as bad as Ucchan had warned."


            Stretching her neck, she calmly strode towards the corridor juncture. There were still targets alive in this facility.

 

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

 


            "Bishop, we've lost G group," Johnson quietly said. He looked up from his radio and down the length of the tunnel. Even here the smoke was starting to curl and waft down.


            Fortson nodded. Part of him had prepared for this. If the Inquisitors failed... he looked over the remaining men. Most were behind metal and concrete barricades and had their weapons trained on the narrow bend in the tunnel. The enemy had to come through that opening. Behind them was the rest of tunnel number three; it extended down the mountain and to an unused side passage. When the men last checked their emergency vehicles were still there.


            "Men, we've got one last chance to avenge our brothers. When it comes through here hit her with everything. It'll slow her down, and then we can stop her," Fortson said in a tired, but conspiratorially confident voice. All his men had to do was hold her in one spot long enough, then she would be trapped.


            The battery powered lights the corridor seemed to weaken, especially down towards the rest of the tunnel system. A barrage of black orbs shot out and bent around the dog-leg in the corridor. The first two hit the metal plates being used for protection. Some failed, men screamed as they were hit. A few of the more exuberant troops opened fire.


            Rockets shot off and were followed by machinegun fire. Fortson frowned; he could see the bullets and explosives disappear harmlessly into the smoke, meanwhile the black spheres could shoot out with impunity.


            "Bishop! She's coming!" one of the remaining fathers screamed as he dragged a wounded acolyte further back.


            "Pull your men out, and hold!" Fortson yelled as he stared down the corridor and waited. The rockets stopped firing as the men inched further down the narrow corridor. Only a pair of machine gunners, were still shooting, keeping her at bay. A pair of purple beams shot out and tore into one of them.


            Twisting the handle of the detonator, Fortson smirked. He had her. The explosives were buried into the rock, muting the effect, especially when compared to the rockets that had been fired previously. Stone and concrete cracked and the ceiling at the bend collapsed, sealing the tunnel.


            Fortson strained his eyes to inspect the chamber. Satisfied, he allowed a brief smile. "Out of the tunnel!" He gave one final look and turned around. Hopefully she was crushed by the weight of the mountain; if not, there was still a few yards of solid rock between them and her.


            Sensing nothing, he ran down the tunnel and found the door already open, the camouflage netting already discarded off to the side. A few large trucks were parked around and men were already loading them up. "Good job men, we did it," he praised the men who were still suspiciously watching the trees surrounding them. An irate and highly lethal demon being excellent motivation, the engines started quickly... and loudly.


            They piled in and began to maneuver down the small forest path. It was not far until a larger trail. Fortson ordered some men to lean out and watch with their weapons. They were not safe yet. He wanted more distance. He had to tell Corvine what happened.


            Fortson's small smile evaporated, just as he could sense demons, the explosions started. The first of the trucks blew apart under the barrage, followed by the last one. His men spilled out of the other vehicles and started to fire into the woods.


            A splitting headache formed and his eyes blurred. He could see his men starting to become disorganized, and then the enemy gunfire died down. A sickly green mist came up and started sucking his men dry. Already shaky, many of them screamed and tried to run back to the vehicles, which was when the lightning hit.


            On the opposite side men were being impaled by icicles that then exploded into gory messes, others had their weapons become wreathed in shadows and explode in their hands, the metal shards turning to shrapnel. Then came the fireballs and the screams of men burning alive.


            Fortson himself gaped and tried to push back his headache when he was knocked down. Pain grew in his shoulders from several deep cuts and he could hear the distinct sound of demons feeding. He looked up and saw a blonde woman smile and raise her gun.


            There were a few shots and then blonde made sure to remove his heart and other key organs. She then checked with her sisters and spoke into her headset. "This is Ukyou, we caught the group trying to escape from the tunnels. Who's left?"


            She smiled hearing the response. "Good, we'll be coming back in."


           

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


           


            Ranma sipped some coffee and waited in the armored transport. "That's the only group to escape the mountain."


            "That matches our patrols," Kasumi allowed as she looked over a recently printed map of the area. "That initial strike took out everyone topside."


            "But did anyone make it out before that?" Ranma asked leaning back a bit.


            "Our first sweeps came up empty and we haven't detected anyone else. That's all we know." Kasumi looked at her former fiancee. "You're looking good."


            Ranma fluffed the deep red hair that spilled down to past her hips. "Well a good meal does wonders," she smiled toothily. "At least we got these bastards back."


            Kasumi gave a little nod. "Yes, there were enough here to cause some real trouble. I guess they thought that once you were killed the rest of us would be easy to kill."


            "And destroy your horrible demonic soldier program?" Ranma smirked.


            "Their actions started it," Kasumi reminded. She turned to see her sisters and the rest of Ranma's spawn return. "Hello girls."


            "Hi Aunty!" Misako smiled as she put her gun down. She turned to Ranma. "Thanks for letting us have them, Mom."


            "They tried to collapse the mountain on me," Ranma stated.


            "You just jumped back, out of the way," Nabiki dryly remarked.


            Ranma coughed.


            "You do look good, Mom," Misako noted. "And anyway, Ucchan got Bishop Fortson. Damn fool shit himself." She laughed.


            "He was rather pompous," Ukyou allowed. It had been shocking to see the effects of the MLRS strike; it was amazing anyone was left alive. "So how was your mission?"


            Ranma shrugged. "They tried. That bishop guy had a few tricks; he did manage to escape."


            "And then we heard their trucks," Nariko smirked as she cleaned her blade. She handed some of her cleaning supplies to Nabiki.


            "Thanks Sis," Nabiki said.


            "You sure you had to go into the mountain by yourself, Mom?" Akane pouted.


            Crossing her hands over her ample chest, Ranma narrowed her dark violet eyes. "Yes, I wanted to finish them, and this way you guys could capture anyone that got out."


            "I guess that works," Akane allowed.


            Ranma stood up and hugged Akane. "You girls still got plenty to eat."

 

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

 


            "Well that was successful," Jacob remarked looking at an overhead view of the former Assembly base.


            "Assuming we got them before their strike force left," Stillwater cautioned.


            "I doubt it. If their plan was to attack us in a weakened state they would not have left this many troops and vehicles in reserve." Jacob sipped his water. "No, we took out something two, three companies in strength. With minimal losses on our part."


            "Counting today's earlier casualties?" Stillwater shrugged and looked at the transcript of Ranma's report.


            "Yes, it's all part of the same mission. They thought they could destroy Miss Saotome, and then neutralize us."


            "Instead we got quick enough intelligence to get them before they even left," Stillwater raised an eyebrow. "They had to have known their ambush failed, and they were still there."


            "Yes? They thought it was secured. The late Father Pierce was not supposed to know the location of their base. So they waited, maybe they were going to try another ambush, maybe they figured a big attack was no longer worth it. They also tried to lay a trap there. Miss Saotome did say there was a lot of booby traps and prepared defenses in that mountain," Jacob shrugged.


            "Their defenses were formidable," Stillwater allowed.


            Jacob smiled. "Good thing the general allowed us to use our MLRS capability."


            "It gives a good impression. We repaid them with a fury fifty times what they did to us."


            "We? Miss Saotome was responsible for at least half of the casualties."


            "I appreciate her sympathy." Stillwater narrowed his eyes.


            Jacob nodded. "This will be interesting to follow. This is more than their last attack. The losses from that were a sixth of tonight's. Our intelligence has shown that their bases and training camps had drained. This..."


            Stillwater smiled thinly. "This hurt them. A bishop was killed, a fortress destroyed. Mountains of equipment, arms, and vehicles. They lost Inquisitors tonight. Their Fathers are getting strained, and even the hordes of acolytes add up."


            "The plan worked. Kill everyone outside, trap the ones inside, and pick off anyone that tries to escape."


            "Simple plans work best. I suppose Jarvis could have had an interesting chat with the Bishop, but there's still records in that facility. Searching will be difficult. Miss Saotome was rather exuberant." Jacob almost laughed.


            "I'm more concerned what the remaining Assembly forces will do. This was a massive commitment towards defeating us."


            "According to our reports, a force that size would be the bulk of their regular troops." Jacob paged to another document. "Yes, one Bishop would not have that many men under his command. Had to have been from higher up."


            "Yes, a big wager for them." Stillwater stroked his goatee.


            "I think it's appropriate for pressure to increase on other fronts too." Jacob suggested.


            "I'll kick it up to the general. I think the idea of massive reprisals will appeal to him."


            "He did let us use the big guns." Jacob reminded.


            "Indeed, and that Pattern V camp is still out there," Stillwater stated. "The larger target took precedence, but that group should still be destroyed."


            "The strike is already being planned. We'll do it at ten-hundred hours."


            "Good. How is the cover story going?" Stillwater inquired. "This was in a remote area, but not that remote. You don't have explosions that size without someone noticing."


            "We're going with the war-game excuse. Some testing of missile systems, dummies of course. Also add in a few demolitions work, including the destruction of an abandoned mine. Top it off with some training of their men by an eager military contractor."


            "The actual Canadian forces being used?"


            "I've placed a call with Joint Task Force Two."


            "They have been grousing that we've taken their territory." Stillwater reminded. They and the Canadian Special Operations Regiment had been quite cross with the Company contract.


            "Yes, well as good as Canadian Special forces are, JTF2 is trained for Counter-Terrorist operations, not fighting eldritch monsters. We'll bring some of them in. Show them some equipment and give them the training."


            "Yes, use an actual covert training mission to cover this up. That fits with our main cover." Stillwater allowed. "And the bodies, lotta cleanup there?"


            "They're soldiers. Only two select teams will come in, and they should have some idea what their country is facing."


            "Even if it's not really the Assembly," Stillwater chuckled. "Well, it is in our contract to start training them."


            "Yes, but I'll keep the demons under wraps. For now"


            "Still, this will keep Land Force Command off our back."


            "It is their country," Jacob pointed out.


            "Yes, and if anyone can handle it JTF2 can. Their work in Peru and British Columbia was exemplary and the rescue of that Peacemaker Team was top notch."


            "We'll see how it goes. Not everyone takes well to knowing the full story." Stillwater rubbed the bridge of his nose. He had not wanted to deal with the local military but this was a convenient time. "If things go very well, maybe we can have Captain Jarvis start to liaise with their team."


            "She may be busy with her extra responsibilities," Jacob reminded.


            "Yes, the D program is getting its first real test. Your evaluation of Graham and Morrison?"


            "They both have the personality to deal with it, and there's already a support structure in place for them. We'll just have to keep a close eye on their progress."

 

 ***************

 


            "I rather like this design," Morrison said as she pointed to one of the schematics.


            Nodoka smiled. "It started when I began building a weapon around a proposed 17mm round. Fascinating challenge. One of the more surprising aspects was figuring out how to give a magazine with reasonable capacity without being unwieldy. A horizontal magazine with staggered rounds, could allow for forty rounds and be only forty centimeters long."


            "That's a ridiculous round," Morgan said as she looked over the properties of the proposed munition.


            "Not really," Nodoka countered. "There's plenty of large calibers in our work. The Barrett XM109 fires a 25mm specialty round. Lots of options and is stock available. The 17mm is just adapted from anti-material sharp shooting roles."


            "That gun's almost impossible for a human to use." Morgan blinked. "Oh... oh my."


            Nodoka's eyes lit up. "Did you ever use that Barrett, Dear?"


            "It was okay. I didn't like that it wasted it's potential. The thing's only 46 inches long, they could at least have put a better barrel on it. It was also being held back.. they had to cut it down so much just so it could be... usable" Morgan's voice trailed off with the realization that it might no longer be such an unwieldy weapon. The action was a bit unusual too. Unlike many sharp shooters she was not married to bolt action, but it was more stable.


            "It still put the bullet at the maximum range," Nodoka stated.


            Morgan shrugged. "A good gun should be like a custom sports car, that thing... it was a concept car. It looks great at a convention with a busty girl on it, but it's not for real use. They had to rein it in too much."


            "Really now?" Nodoka turned to one of her aides. "Ayanami, go to the armory and sign out the XM 109. I believe we have two."


            The young Science and Technology agent nodded and walked off. On her return trip she would be irritated to find that the gun weighed over thirty-three pounds.


            Morgan raised an eyebrow. "What?"


            "Daughter, you challenged her," Eve said giving the diminutive sharp shooter a pat on the head.


            "Well, I bet you can't make this," Morrison mischievously smirked, pointing to another monstrous gun design. It was in a bullpup configuration and had some similarity to a submachine gun, but it was really a weapon unto itself.


            Nodoka chuckled. "Oh? That's the 17mm gun you pointed out? More work, total rebuild I can request the test gun. It's just a single shot, but it'll fire the round."


            "You did make these," Eve said pulling out her sidearm. She gave Morrison a little wink.


            "Much simpler task."


            "Yes, making a long-rifle to Morgan's specifications would be easier," Morrison teased.


            "I don't even know what I can do," Morgan sighed. Her body felt too strange, too familiar. The body was so... alive and connected, but it did not feel... herself.


            "We'll take you to the range tomorrow," Eve assured as she put an arm around her.


            "Don't worry girls, you'll be fine. Eve will be a wonderful mother to you." Nodoka said her eyes locking onto the blonde demoness.


            Eve blinked, and decided to do what came naturally and held Morgan closer to her. She then felt the young demoness start to drain her, and pulled Morrison over as well.


            Nodoka smiled. "Good." She started making some notes on her clipboard. Her phone rang. "Yes? Oh wonderful. Of course, send them down."


            "They're back?" Morrison asked, sleepily opening her eyes. She knew the mission was a success but it was nice to know her... aunt and cousins were coming back.


            Nodoka nodded.


            "I can see the benefits of such a large round, Grandma. Even at sedate speeds, it can impart a huge amount of power, and the dimensions allow for some very creative specialty rounds. But I'm worried about the logistics. I mean to even get it reasonably fast will require huge pressures and as a result lots of weight," Morrison said.


            "Misako's gun weighs almost as much as your sister," Nodoka gently stated. "I exaggerate but the nature of your bodies removes many constraints."

            "Physical, training will also start tomorrow," Eve added. "You don't have school so that's good. You have a whole slew of abilities you need to learn."


            "We can fly," Morgan muttered. She blinked. "We can fly?"


            "You knew what the D program meant right?" Eve asked as she continued to hold each girl to a side.


            "It's a great idea when you need some life insurance, it's another thing when you find yourself sporting an amazing rack," Morgan muttered as she lifted her breasts.


            "You get used to it," Misako said as she and other succubae entered the room.


            "How are you girls doing?" Ranma said as she ran over and hugged Eve and her daughters.


            "Are the numbers I've been hearing real?" Nodoka asked. It was obvious that her daughter had fed quite well. Her hair was quite glossy and... active.


            Ranma turned and gave a satisfied smile. "We annihilated them."


            "Mother did most of the work," Nariko added.


            "Good work," Nodoka put an arm around her daughter. Noticing the crimson hair curl around her arm, she resolved to purchase a bigger brush. "Hopefully, things will calm down a bit,  you've already missed most of the school week."


            Ranma nodded. "Hopefully day after tomorrow. It's not too long, I've already asked Drake to pick up our makeup work."


            "Is Master Nishina around?" Nabiki asked.


            "He's in the commissary having a late dinner," Nodoka said.


            "Good, I want to show him how my blades held up."


            "He was very proud of those grips."


            "I should go see him too," Nariko said before following Nabiki out.


            Ukyou looked at the two new succubae. "I guess my second gun will be postponed again."


            "No, I decided to place a larger order with our internal supplier," Nodoka said. "The next batch should be here in a couple days."


            "Excuse me," Ayanami said as she lugged a gigantic gun-case into the room. She knew her boss had her family in. The scent of succubae fresh from battle was quite distinctive. She put the case onto a workbench and opened it up.


            "Oh yes, that is a... stark gun," Nodoka said appraising the weapon.


            Eve allowed her daughter loose and Morgan walked up to her grandmother.


            "How you doing?" Misako asked crouching down to Morrison's eye level. "You killed one of us with a just a knife right?"


            Morrison nodded at the coifed woman.


            "Good, you'll make a great succubus," Misako patted Morrison's knee.


            "There's more to us than being violent and lethal," Akane noted.


            "Yes, we have to be sexy and sensual, and I think she's got that too," Misako said, causing Morrison to blush.


            "Misa-chan has a point." Ukyou agreed. "If she can become a proper succubus, anyone can."


            Eve raised an eyebrow.


            Misako coughed. "You've also got a very scary and intense mother too, but don't worry. You're healthy"


            Morrison blinked. "I forgot about her!"


            "Who?" Eve asked.


            "Andrea," Morrison's lip quivered. "I should go and see her."


            "I'll take you up," Misako said as she and Eve helped Morrison to her feet.

            "So you think, I'll be okay?" Morrison asked as the pair made their way down the corridors.


            "Aunty Eve is better at hiding her emotions, but she's strong, and lonely." Misako shrugged. "She wants someone to care for."


            Morrison gave a little smile as they entered the medical rooms.


            "Yes?" Dr. Covington asked, not looking up from her chart. Things had been stable for a bit, but the situation could always get worse.


            "Agent Lytle, Ma'am. Can she take visitors?" Morrison said as she gave a little salute.


            "She wasn't that bad, some breaks but should recover fine." Covington allowed as she looked the young demoness over. It was what she expected, not nearly as surprising as Captain Jarvis was. "Don't stay for long though," she said pointing to a bed.


            Morrison passed the other wounded agents, and exchanged pleasantries with the few that were awake.


            Andrea Lytle watched them approach and pull up seats. "Well you wondered what being female would be like," she chuckled at the blue-green haired demoness. She was about the right height and had some of Morrison's more solid build, but the skin tone was completely different and the body had all the sleek and very female curves of the species. Most notably her facial structure gave just enough of a hint as to who the woman was.


            "Yeah," Morrison coughed and pulled at her skirt.


            "Dress uniforms? Well, the captain is strange."


            Misako smirked.


            "It's good that you're okay," Morrison offered weakly. She could tell Andrea was confused "I mean... it was bad today."


            "Red took care of them," Andrea stated, coldly.


            "Young and the other missile guys did a lot and
Smith helped too, that'll make Sis jealous."


            Andrea chuckled. "Sis, now? Next thing you'll want to hug everyone and happily purr."


            Morrison crossed her arms over her chest. "No I don't."


            "Oh yes you do," Misako teased. "Just hug her, she won't mind it."

 

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

 


            "It's a fruit basket." Mistress Mercury said, glaring at the woven whicker container. It contained a few nectarines, a couple sour apples, a smattering of plums, some strawberries, and, of course, passion fruit, She closed the thick grimoire and steepled her fingers. "I trust it's been checked out?"


            "It's clean, nothing magical or technological. Though the note was... odd," Orion coughed and motioned to Virgo who handed the oddly thick pamphlet over. The cover showed a lovely rugged landscape with a dark blue lake surrounded by heavily forested rolling hills. Lettering on the bottom said "Greetings from Algonquin Provincial Park"


            Mercury opened it up and found on the inside cover surprisingly sloppy letters stating "Akumi: we couldn't have done it without you." It was unsigned. Though photos in a pocket on the opposite cover revealed who had sent the note.


            Virgo swallowed nervously; she was still shocked by the images.


            Mercury's eyes widened when she looked at the first picture. It was another landscape but this one looked to be a snapshot from, appropriately enough, hell. The ground was chewed up as if attacked by an angry god. Bodies and parts of bodies were scattered until they became too indistinct to make out. Vehicles and buildings were similarly ruined and marched up the hillside until they came to the shattered foundation of what had to be some kind of building.


            Morbidly curious, she flipped to the next picture. Her hand spasmed in shock as she stared at a corridor that was literally choked with corpses. There were burns, clean slices, ragged tears, shrapnel damage, and wounds Ami could not even begin to contemplate. Bite marks and missing chunks of flesh stood out to her more than the frightened, frightened eyes. At least, not many of the cadavers had heads let alone eyes.


            She turned to another photograph and saw a large room. Instead of a heap of dead, the entire floor was covered in a disturbingly even layer of biomass. Wide arcs, fine sprays, chunky splatters, and big droplets decorated the walls and ceiling of this chamber.


            Another photo showed a stairway and a... pile. It was only by counting boots that Mercury could tell that it was two people that had died. Yet another image showed a perplexing pile of ash, bones, and heat-warped blades. Her lip quivered as she flipped through the photographs. The carnage ran together.


            She knew what would happen to Pierce. She had even been there to watch Eve... work on him, and had been relieved to see it end. Mercury knew what they would do with this information, but still...


            The part of her that was inquisitive, thirsted for knowledge and wanted to prove how bright she was began to count. Mercury flipped back through the images, and tried to make sense. Even the raw, cold numbers were horrifying.


            There were weapons, they had all been armed, it was their base, and they were still completely slaughtered. She flipped the pictures over and tried to see if there were any comments, remarks, reasons why someone would send this.


            "She wanted you to know," Orion stated.


            "Demon wanted to show off, tell you what she can do," Virgo added.


            Mercury raised an eyebrow. "Yes, very perceptive Virgo." She frowned and put the photographs down. It hurt her head.


            "She also knows where you live," Virgo reminded.


            "You're right." Mercury paled. She wondered how much of this message was showing off and how much of it was a threat.


            "We teleported back yesterday, she couldn't have followed us."


            "So, she's known for longer," Mercury rubbed her forehead. "Great, how long has she known?"


            "It's addressed to here using your... birth name," Orion hesitantly said.


            "Really, I'm surprised she didn't list it as 'Secret Hideout'."


            "Well, we can check for surveillance?" Orion asked.


            "That'll tell us where they're watching us now," Mercury hissed. "Still that's good to know."


            "She tells us she knows your secret hideout is by sending pictures of her killing people in their secret hideout," Virgo slowly said.


            "How would our defenses hold up?" Mercury asked Orion.


            "These images show DarkStar tearing apart a mountain citadel with trenches, lots of weapons, concrete bunkers, and well over a hundred men. We live in a converted brownstone townhouse, and there's four of us."


            "There's more than numbers."


            "Yes, there's also skill," Virgo stated. "We're doing well, Venus especially, but..."


            Mercury looked over to Venus who still had upgrades being readied while on the golden alter. "Was this just her? Did her spawn help? Did WIC?"


            "I can study the pictures in detail... but it looks like demons did this. I don't know how many," Orion allowed.


            "And there's even more of them now," Mercury sighed and finally reached for her wineglass and a new bottle.


            "She could really just be saying thank you." Orion shrugged. "A demon thing?"


            "It's still a message. She wants you to know what she can do."


            "And what I did." Mercury frowned. She had killed quite a bit to be honest more back in Japan than here, but it was always... She shook her head. The Assembly was foolish enough to attack DarkStar, they had it coming to them. That could be the message being sent: This is what happens to people who think they can fight me.


            Orion nodded and had the photographs spilled out on her workstation. She pulled a magnifier out of a drawer and started examine for anything... noteworthy, and to count.


            Mercury eyed the fruit. "They even thought they had killed her. She was really damaged, but that just got her mad."


            "Worse than Pluto," Virgo muttered.


            Mercury laughed. "Maybe, maybe, she is worse, but I can almost understand DarkStar. Everything she does makes sense. I know what she wants; I just can't stop her."


            "And Pluto?"


            "I don't even know what she is," Mercury grumbled. She flipped her recently purchased copy of Unaussprechlichen Kulten open. "Take this book. On the one hand all these cults... it's rather depressing. The fall of the Silver Millennium let all these vile monstrosities creep back into the world and they started preying on ignorant humans. On the other, it's full of deluded ramblings: lurker beyond the threshold, star out of time, keys of the gate. It's all nonsense. Of course, a primitive cultist wouldn't understand a magical construct this complex."


            "So they're worshiping old junk? Broken things from old magical kingdom?" Virgo asked.


            "Why... yes. Some of them, some cults actually worship monsters, others merely worship... artifacts. How'd you guess?"


            "Old village had plenty of old stuff. Elders said were sacred artifacts, but didn't know how they worked half the time."


            Mercury nodded. "Yes, and we've got a time travel device, which of course they thought was some kind of god."


            "They did?" Virgo asked.


            "There's a strong correlation between the spells that we were given to block Setsuna and the apparent 'blind spots' of the gates," Orion explained. "The spells we're using are also similar to ones discussed in that book."


            "The Path of the Will shows that some of the Silver Millennium era knowledge was passed down. Over the years it got corrupted by all the translating. They thought our Queen would become some silvery monster," Mercury laughed and took a sip of her drink. "So it stands to reason that tomes dealing with the gates would similarly be warped.


            "Spells to block out spying machine become spells to ward off evil spirits," Virgo surmised.


            "Yes, that's about right." Mercury sighed, an alert came on her display and with a thin smile she got up and walked over to Venus' alcove. "At least this is working well," the darkly dressed woman stated looking over the gold figure.


            Running a hand over Venus' exquisitely detailed face, Mercury opened a hatch in the golden figure's stomach. After briefly marveling at the golden contents she typed in the authorization code, and sealed it shut. The new material being pumped in had enough time to connect and adapt. Golden liquid began to flow and solidify, especially around the joints. The limbs seemed to get longer and the frame expanded several inches, the plates growing to match the larger figure.


            Extra armored plates formed around the elbows and knees giving more protection while allowing for mobility. Shoulder armor came out and became two overlapping circular arcs. Boots went from pointed and stylish to heavy and articulated. Plates formed over the golden stomach becoming thicker and with a fine seam down the center.


            Skirting became heavier and more solid. Cleavage disappeared as the collar spread across forming a large protective triangular plate. Finally, the golden gel expanded over the face smoothing the features. Ears and lips were covered over and the nose was pulled in and the entire face was smoothed. The only details were Venus' currently dimmed eye-slits.


            "There, that's better," Mercury said gliding her hand over the polished featureless face. She punched a command in the alter and stepped back as the cables and piping retreated. Their connection ports were quickly covered by armor and the figure's eye-slits flared with a bright red light.


            The figure pulled itself upright, and paused. The armor had changed, and new routines and programs were activating. "Mistress," Venus said, bowing her head down.


            "Are you sure the time is right?" Orion asked.


            "Virgo, your assessment?" Mercury asked.


            "Golden-girl wants to learn and does it well, but she's not ready, still playing at warrior." Virgo noticed that Venus' head tilted ever so slightly towards her.


            "She still acts like a magical girl?" Mercury shook her head and put her hand on Venus' armored knee. "We've got to break you of that habit."


            Orion coughed. "Still, even when Venus is trained..."


            Mercury frowned. "I can't beat DarkStar. I have no idea what Setsuna's even doing. That leaves one person."


            "But the Queen is protected," Virgo reminded.


            "That's exactly why we need Venus."


           

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

 


            Lying down, Morgan sighted through the scope of the immense rifle. Controlling her breathing, she adjusted weapon's position ever so slightly and it shifted ten meters laterally down range. She paused and savored the moment. Sergeant Graham always felt connected to the target, linked by the power of the weapon, but now it was... different. For one thing the scope was more responsive and even took relative orientation and ballistic trajectories into account.


            She depressed the trigger and a twenty-five millimeter shell fired from the weapon. Obeying simple kinematics, it raced forward at well over twice the speed of sound. Even at this velocity, it still took two and a half seconds of waiting for Morgan to see the results. The target then exploded as the large high explosive round hit it and sliced through the inch thick armor.


            Remaining still, she inspected the damage. The large burnt hole was offset a couple inches to the left. She frowned. At least the reloading action was smooth enough, though part of her still wanted to work the action manually. Moving to another target she fired again and found this one hitting more symmetrically.


            Putting in a fresh magazine she went out another half kilometer. She was starting to understand why the Soviets liked female sharp shooters. It was all fine muscle control, add the succubus edge... she did not even have to adjust her sight. The widgets in the scope automatically compensated for air pressure and gravity. The weapon seemed... eager to help. Two and a half kilometers out was still perfectly clear. She knew her eyes were helping too, the clarity and range they gave her was shocking. The concept of not needing any special night scopes was thrilling too.


            This time she fired at the first target, and immediately shifted the gun as it automatically reloaded. After acquiring the third target and depressing the trigger, she heard the first giant bullet impact. It was followed by the two others.


            Moving almost imperceptibly, she swiveled to check the other targets. They had all hit, though the second one was the worst, accuracy-wise. She fired off the two remaining rounds, this time taking more patient shots and was pleased with the results. She ejected the magazine and slowly rose to her feet.


            "Interesting show," Nodoka remarked putting down her binoculars.


            "Barrett built a fair weapon. It's just not for humans," Morgan allowed. Even throttling it back as much as they did the weapon was still just barely usable... in human hands..


            "How's the BORS?" Nodoka asked referring to the Barrett Optical Ranging System. It would automatically determine targeting corrections using the tilt and position of the gun in addition to range, temperature, barometric pressure.


            "The gun..." Morgan's eyes flicked down to the weapon in her hands. "It wants to help. What's the fail-safe like?" She did not want to have the scope ruined because it ran out of batteries or a wire snapped off.


            "Power-off and the projection stops. The scope is fully functional in mechanical mode. It can be disabled manually by pressing the off button, which is a mechanical disconnect," Nodoka assured.


            "That's good." Morgan twisted her neck.


            "Is it worth pursuing?" Nodoka asked.


            Morgan looked down at the weapon. She had spent the morning practicing on it, and had found it had... potential. She could almost feel what the gun wanted to be, what it could be, if someone would just let it. It was also a good way to work out the feelings from last night. Being with Mother had been comforting. She looked back to her grandmother. "Yes... it could work."


            "There is room for improvement." Nodoka went on. "It's essentially a scale up of their fifty caliber version. Their receiver is good, but we can increase the velocity. The higher pressure will have to be compensated for, but I was thinking of a new barrel."


            "Oh?"


            "It's not even four feet long; we can make it bigger. That will help give it more range."


            Morgan looked down. She was already beating her old records. As a human, Morgan had preferred a slightly more manageable weapon, and had enjoyed the lead flower sabot system, but this... Where could she go from here? There was no point if she did not challenge herself, this body demanded that. She had to admit that the weapon was fairly short. The bipod was only a few inches short of the muzzle brake. "Yeah.. that sounds good."


            She put the weapon down and started gathering spent casings. The shells were very large in her little hands and made a big stack in a spare container. After cleaning up she looked at her old weapon and frowned. It was a good gun, but it felt both large and yet too light. It was designed for a body that was both larger and weaker.


            "Good work today," Eve said as she walked up and noticed the status of the targets. She hugged the short succubus.


            "Wow, that one's over one and a half miles," Morrison said checking out the range markers on the sharpshooter range. Her own test gun was sitting next to her sidearm.


            Morgan blushed slightly. "How was your pistol work?"


            "Good, I think you'll like it. Major Saotome made a very accurate gun," Morrison said smirking a bit at her sister's nervousness. "SO, what did you think of that test type gun?"


            "The 17mm?" Morgan shrugged. "The round has promise, the weapon itself was just a simple frame. But increase the rate of fire... I guess it'll work."


            "Yeah, for close to medium work it could be real devastating. Didn't even strain my shoulder" Morrison had found the recoil suspiciously manageable.


            "Come on, it's time for a snack," Eve assured as she lead her girls away from the range. Morgan whimpered a bit and decided to hold onto the rifle, while Nodoka took more notes and picked up the 17mm test gun.


            "It's not even noon yet," Morrison said.


            "You're going to be doing more physical training later," Eve explained. "You had a good start this morning, but we're going to start flying today."


            Morrison and Morgan nodded slowly as they walked to the small commissary in the B facility. "How did the S&D with the Pattern V go?" Morgan asked. Their early morning training had been cut short by Aunty Ranma and her spawn leaving for that mission.


            "Destroyed," Eve remarked. "They found some indication that the Assembly was watching them too."


            "So, they were bait." Morgan shook her head. She looked up to see part of the brood, her brood, eating at some of the tables.


            "If it isn't the bashful sisters," Misako teased.


            "They still slept nude with us," Nabiki remarked.


            Morrison coughed as she sat down. "Sorry, this is... new." She looked to her mother and was unsurprised to find Eve had a blank face. Morgan's similar expression wasn't unexpected either. Sharpshooters were a strange lot. "Oh come on, it was a bit strange to sleep with a bunch of amazingly good looking nude women."


            "Really? I didn't know you struck out with the ladies, Rich" Morgan plainly remarked as she put her gun down on one side of the table.


            Misako gave the rifle a slightly jealous glance.


            Richard Morrison rubbed her forehead. "Yes, I don't have an androgynous first name."


            "To be fair, you did nuzzle right onto my side," Eve reminded.


            "That's what succubae do," Morrison pouted.


            Ranma smirked. "Don't worry, it's surprisingly easy to be one of us."


            "Though it takes a lot of hard work to do it right," Misako added.


            "Yes, a tackle box full of makeup," Nabiki smirked.


            Misako glared.


            "The service is going to be later today," Eve suddenly interjected.


            Morrison looked down. Henderson was gone, Wetherhold too. She did not know Franklin and Porter as well. It was not the first time friends had died.


            "I know," Ranma nodded and looked to her quieted spawn. She coughed.


            "Maybe, Akane, Ukyou, and Nariko need help setting up the training equipment," Ranma casually remarked. Misako and Nabiki stiffened. The redhead then noticed her mother was still writing on her clipboard. "Cooking up something good for the girls?"


            "Oh yes, I think the girls will be quite pleased." Nodoka said with a little smirk.


            "So Aunty, how was the mission today?" Morrison asked.


            "Easy, only one of the vampires had any skill." Ranma remarked. She felt a familiar tickling in the back of her mind and placed a call with her phone.


            "He tried to dodge Sasha." Misako chuckled.


            Morrison blinked. An automatic grenade launcher was a good way to get suppressive fire against a high-speed NH, but she doubted if "Sasha" was used in such a restrained manner. Misako was able to manhandle her bulky weapon with unreal ability. The young succubus paused, remembering her own experience manhandling her new sidearm and that monstrous 17 mm round. The ability was all too real.


            "Lousy vampires, they turn to dust as soon as you start cutting them up," Nabiki grumbled.


            "You still got more to eat than I did," Misako pouted.


            "You saturated your guy with grenades at forty meters. There wasn't anything left!"


            "Jackass kept jumping around." Misako smiled. Once a bit of shrapnel sliced off his left foot he became trivial to take out. "Then he cried when he got a little booboo."


            Ranma smiled and turned to Eve's spawn. "So are you girls ready for more training?" She blinked, yes that was definitely a familiar sensation.


            "Oh yes," Morgan nodded, stealing a glance at her gun, while Morrison grinned and nodded.


            "Yes, Miss Saotome, you do have two clients in the entrance hall," Maya said at the other end of Ranma's phone.


            "Thank you," Ranma then closed her phone and stood up. "Nabiki, you're coming with me. Eve, start the physical training with your girls as normal. Akane and Nariko already have the lessons planned out."


            "Why me?" Nabiki asked as they left the room.


            "Usagi's brought someone." As Ranma approached the foyer in an adjacent building she could sense the two Senshi. Neither seemed fully... human, and their connection stuck out, it was like looking at an anchor from the seabed, where a slight chain ran up to infinity.


            Ranma stepped into the waiting room and motioned for the four agents to leave. She slowly looked at her two guests, both appeared ill-at-ease. Usagi was expected, as was Setsuna honestly. Ranma could imagine being under a teleportation jamming field was not something the Senshi of Pluto enjoyed.


            Usagi's eyes shimmered as she watched the redheaded figure confidently stride in. Her hair seemed to flow around her and freely mixed with the shadows, while a leather bustier and leather pants clung to her form.


            "I'm sorry for the guards, but this is a secure facility. So, what brings you out of school?" Ranma evenly asked crossing her arms in front of her chest.


            Usagi blinked back a tear and ran over to the demoness. "You're okay!" she yelled hugging Ranma and resting her head on the redhead's shoulder.


            Ranma returned the hug and gave a light chuckle. "I did call you and say I was okay."


            "And then you said you were gonna kill a lot of people."


            "Yes." Ranma smiled and with some regret let Usagi pull away.


            "How many?"


            "Half were taken out by Steel Rain."


            Usagi blinked. That sounded like a demonic name. "SteelRain... so is she a relative of yours?"


            Ranma laughed. "Not exactly."


            "It's slang for the bomblets in a type of medium range ground to ground rocket system. Basically each rocket contains hundreds of smaller explosives. It's very... effective," Setsuna explained.


            Usagi's face paled. "You... you bombed them."


            "Of course."


            "Why?"


            Ranma flicked one of her bangs aside. "To kill them. Made my job easier," she said in a slow, flat tone.


            "How can you be so cold?"


            Sensing the blonde's tone, Nabiki stepped a bit closer to her mother.


            "They came at us first," Ranma idly said, inspecting her fingers. "They wanted a war with me. They wanted to fight the Company. Fine. They got their fight."


            "But..."


            "Nowhere does it say that I have to fight fair." Ranma raised the corners of her lips. "You know this."


            "How many?" Usagi shuddered. "No, I don't want to know. You killed them all didn't you?"


            "Yes. Better in their mountain hideout than down here, where someone else could get hurt."


            Usagi looked down.


            "I don't know why you're fixating on this. You felt what they did to me, to my friends. They killed. I can regenerate from that stuff, humans can't. Ami felt it too. She actually came to help. She wasn't bashful either. Neither are you; I saw what you did in that toy store."


            Usagi narrowed her eyes and stared Ranma eye to eye. "That was different."


            Ranma's grin turned to a smile. "Yes it was. The Assembly only attacked demons and soldiers, at least they had that much. I can respect them for keeping it.. professional."


            "But... well.. yes." Usagi blinked. "So, why was Ami there?"


            "Well, she teleported in. Helped us capture someone that knew where their base was. Quite helpful."


            "She helped you? But... she thinks you're corrupting me."


            "I think Akumi wanted to prove herself to me. That she could help. Though that Assemblyman did give her some problems. Her pretty uniform was all cut up," Ranma flatly stated.


            "I'd assume she also did it to get on your good side," Setsuna added.


            "Probably."


            "Was... Minako there?"


            "Nope. Just her and Orion."


            "Why didn't she bring Virgo and Minako?" Setsuna asked.


            "That's a very good question. She could have used more help." Ranma rubbed her chin. "They might not have been available."


            "We can check to see if there was any other disturbances yesterday," Nabiki offered.


            "Thank you," Setsuna said.


            "What if Minako was imprisoned and... Virgo was guarding her?" Usagi asked.


            "Possible, but Merc's not one to waste an able body on guard duty. Not when she's got a perfect metal prison already made."


            "She might not trust Minako alone."


            "Maybe. Ami might be worried that Minako could be more than a... test subject. After all isn't that what your plan was? Make Mina into a double agent?"


            "She was supposed to contact us but has not," Setsuna said with enough distaste to convey her opinion of this plan.


            "Ami won't hurt her. That's not her aim. She wants me to be this proper queen she's got in her head. She's trying to... well... teach me. Hurting Mina pushes me too far."


            "Oh?"


            The corners to Usagi's lips rose. "Yes, she'll worry that I'll sic you on her."


            "Indeed, but what does she want Mina for?"


            "Turn her to her side. New armor, new mentality. Ami's showing me what she can do. How she can 'fix' us all." Usagi's hands clenched. "We're not broken."

 
            Ranma's eyebrow rose briefly. That was an interesting plan. Mercury was still trying to prove her worth, prove her value. "No, but you do need more training."


            "Yes, I've stepped up the pace," Setsuna said. "I'm inclined to agree with Usagi. Ami's plans for Minako are to transform her into a fully armored warrior. That first coating was just a test, Ami's would want this perfect. She is showing how she can take a random Senshi and turn them into a lethal warrior."


            "She's trying to impress me," Usagi sighed.


            "Nothing like a little kidnapping to do that." Ranma wondered about Mercury. Sure, Mina could be acting the whole time. If the suit was fancy enough, she could even be converted to Mercury's side. Though that probably involved a fair bit of mental manipulation. Usagi and Setsuna had to know this. Mercury and Orion were both mentally altered. Ranma once again looked to Nabiki who shrugged.


            "So, has your own surveillance picked anything up?" Ranma asked Setsuna.


            "It's definitely the place. You're right the she went overboard on the protection. Once you know it's there..." Setsuna trailed off. The protection was too good. It was exactly tailored to block her powers, and not just the parts cataloged by Serenity's research mages.


            "Anyone coming and going?" Ranma asked.


            "Just Virgo and Minako. It looks like Mercury has them on little missions. Probably to get more information. That may have been why they were unavailable yesterday." Setsuna remembered Usagi's face when she told the princess about that; it was worrying. So were the books that Mercury was looking for. If she got her hands on that kind of knowledge...


            Nabiki knew her mother's worry. Usagi was too paralyzed to act, and seemed to be throwing every bit of initiative to Mercury.


            "Ami's numbers will continue to grow. You should stop her. We can do this."


            "She's not a threat to you," Setsuna reminded.


            "That's because she knows what happens to people that hurt my family."


            "She could still take an agent. Try to get at you that way. Make a spy or something." Usagi looked out the thick doors.


            Ranma laughed. "Ami's more afraid of them than she is of me."


            "Really?" Usagi's voice was skeptical.


            "She expects a demon-queen Senshi to be a challenge and scary, but 'normal' humans? They're not supposed to factor into things at all. For all her talk, she still thinks like a magical girl."


            "You're a magical girl too."


            "Maybe, but I never thought like one. I've always been a martial artist or a succubus. Now I'm both. Mercury's making the same mistakes she's accusing you of making. For one thing she's underestimating humanity."


            "What, but she's human."


            "Irrelevant. She hasn't worked her head around what humanity can do. Shame, Janet seemed to have a pretty good grasp on that."


            "What do you mean... 'what humanity can do'. She's a human."


            "No, I mean what normal humans can do. People without a magical junction to a whole planet."


            "Huh?"


            Ranma exhaled. "You see, I've realized something part of why humans with the right tech and training will trounce any NH. It can be quite bloody, but the outcome is eventual."


            "Didn't you just beat a bunch of well-armed humans?"


            Ranma nodded. "Only because they were amateurs, that and other humans softened it up first. The Assembly had a real good defense set up, but they were expecting a demonic hoard, not Steel Rain. Once their lines broke, I could slip in. That's the human advantage."


            "Well of course, we're the good guys."


            The redhead gave a charitable smile. "They, demons and the like, kill because they can. Humans... humans have made it into their business, institutionalized it. Humanity got its start surrounded by superior predators. Things that had fangs, claws, night vision, stronger bodies. Stuff that could outrun a man and climb up a tree right after him. What did humanity have?"


            "Minds. Humans were smarter," Setsuna stated.


            "Yes, and the first thing humanity applied their minds to was killing. It's not fair to kill an animal with a gun, a bow, or even a flint knife..." Ranma shook her head. "And that's the point."


            Usagi blinked. "That's different. In an actual fight..."


            "What? Humans shouldn't use the advantages they made for themselves? NH's don't play fair. Why should humanity?"


            The blonde stared.

            "Humanity wasn't done; they got even more advanced. Science, industry, research, all for one thing: death. Eventually, humanity formed institutions and professions around it. Tactics, teamwork, spying. All to put the right people, with the right weapons, in the right spot."


            "That’s... horrible. You make us sound like monsters." Usagi gasped.


            "Do I?" Ranma shrugged. "Humans know death inside and out and are always coming up with new ways, new methods. I can slice a person's head off with a single claw. A human came up with the idea of building a machine do it for them. Primitive man learned how to kill predators. Modern man's doing the same thing."


            "Most of the time humans kill each other," Setsuna reminded.


            Ranma shrugged again. "Yes, yes they do. Cruel as it is, that innovates. It creates a need, a motivation. Ideas are pursued, designs are developed. This is what humanity offers."


            "It's not that simple!" Usagi shrieked.


            "No. Humanity's not that simple." Ranma agreed. "However, why it has still survived is that simple."


            "Ranma's right, Usagi. Look at what your mother did. She made the Senshi. She setup her navy, and equipped her commandos. She did this by organizing her mages while other kingdoms concentrated on flashy and impressive-looking spells. Other mages learned their own magic; hers learned how to teach, how to enchant, how to produce. She worked on effective spells. From making soldiers that could quietly kill from far away to acquiring the power to destroy a planet."


            Usagi rubbed her forehead. "Yes, I know. My mother took over and frequently killed to do it."


            "It's not bad. She honestly believed that Unification was the best for humanity, and it worked. Humanity advanced by leaps and bounds under her rule," Setsuna stated.


            "And was almost destroyed by a jealous noble in league with dark powers," Ranma reminded.


            "Not humanity's best moment." Usagi sighed.


            "You couldn't be more wrong." Ranma lifted up Usagi's chin. "You know the numbers Serenity's forces faced. You can't imagine what it was like for the normal soldiers. They weren't going to be reincarnated. They knew it was the end, but they still fought."


            Usagi stared into Ranma's violet eyes. "They all died. Everyone died."


            "You're half right. Serenity lost her armies, she lost her life." Ranma's voice sharpened slightly. "She lost her daughter when the fool killed herself. But humanity lived. Earth survived. Her armies held long enough to make sure that would happen."


            "Some victory."


            "For humans? That's enough."


            "Why is a succubus that has clearly been talking about humanity in the third person so strongly cheerleading for them? You've killed a lot of humans."


            "I've also killed a lot of succubae, and I still like my species." Ranma nodded to Nabiki slightly. "I chose my side." She pointedly looked at her watch. "Now I've got a memorial service for some friends soon, so what do you guys want?"


            "Fair enough," Setsuna allowed. DarkStar had chosen the same side back then. The difference was that she had more initiative now, and broader support.


            Usagi gave a dry, surprisingly cynical, smile. "It's great that I have the approval of one of the architects of Serenity's Unification. I know exactly where you stand with humanity."


            Sailor Pluto smiled wondering if Usagi was talking about her or DarkStar. "I suppose you do."


            "It's not all roses with humans. They adapt. Look at history. We know what people are capable of, what they can do, but it's still worth it. That's why people will fight and die for these ideals: country, duty, species, planet, honor." Ranma rolled her wrist as she recited the list. "But we also know that it really comes down to fighting for the people you're with. The guys right there with you."


            "You going to lecture me on that too?" Usagi glared.


            Ranma shook her head. "No, that's one thing you understand completely."

 

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

 


            Corvine looked around the circular table. The other council members were present and the doors to the chamber had just been locked. He cleared his throat. "It appears that Fortson's entire force was wiped out." His grey eyes watched the assembled men and women shift nervously.


            "There were three hundred men there, the bulk of the Assembly's forces," Catharine Longmans, the youngest looking person at the table, stated. "Well, how many casualties did they get?"


            "Yes, that mountain was a death trap. For all his flaws, Fortson knew how to dig in." a stout bald man named Futhark admitted.


            "I would guess his little ambush had to have failed, given that the mountain was attacked," Catharine stated sourly.


            "That 'little ambush' fared better than the mountain defense." Corvine shook his head. "We killed some of their men, then they responded by blowing up the entire base. Surface defenses were obliterated. Still the mountain would have held but..."


            "DarkStar survived the initial attack?" Futhark asked.


            "Sources confirm that she is still alive. We can only conclude that something went... wrong in the ambush. WIC and the demons learned of the base and counterattacked."


            "Knocking them out before they could attack." Catharine picked up a glass of water and stared at it. "But Fortson had planned for that. Those mercenaries should have died by the score trying to storm that fortress."


            Corvine kept his eyes from rolling. "That's why they didn't. There have been reports of missile testing in the area. Stories of war games being conducted with the military."


            Catharine leaned forward. "So they had the army attack it? Artillery? Planes?" She paused and whispered briefly to the man on her right.


            "We are still researching the means that they got in. I'm certain DarkStar was a significant factor."


            "If she survived, she would fight there," Futhark stated. "History is our guide here. DarkStar never looked down her nose on support. She's not too prideful to accept help."


            "Especially when it comes to killing her enemies," Corvine agreed. "Yes, WIC uses its technology to rain fire down and then sends in the demons to mop up."


            "There were two Inquisitors there," Catharine stated.


            "Obviously, they were insufficient."


            "Same as the Assembly itself," Futhark sighed. "What of other assets? Fortson wasn't handed everyone was he?"


            "There's our remaining Inquisitors, the other Bishops, a smattering of fathers, and some green acolytes left. Everyone else was pushed over to Fortson," Corvine said after consulting his notes.


            "So essentially everything was wagered on this operation? That does not speak well." Jameson, who until now had been silent, finally stated.


            Corvine turned to the robed man. "Risks have to be taken, and that is what the Assembly of Man is for. We had tried eliminating DarkStar and her spawn, but that required progressively larger operations. We still had to weaken the WIC presence there. Fortunately, Fortson came up with a plan that minimized the risks."


            "He still failed." Jameson stated.


            "And that's because this council underestimated our enemy. Fortson did his best, he planned well, and even kept it secret. Of course those converted acolytes were convenient motivation. Always good to get some revenge for inspiration."


            "And it happens so frequently with demons," Catharine noted.


            "The situation is even worse," Futhark added, glancing at Jameson. "Several monasteries and other facilities have recently been targeted."


            "WIC," Corvine ventured. "Fortunately most of those places have been emptied."


            "Yes, the Assemblymen there were already killed. In one day we have lost an army."


            Jameson raised his head. "Perhaps that is inevitable. It has become clear that our forces have become inadequate. Both Corvine's toy soldiers and Catharine's spies have proved inadequate."


            Corvine stared at his notes.


            "What? My group has been bringing in fresh information and is the only one still on target!" Catharine calmed herself, and rubbed her eyes. "We had people in place, our end was going fine," she said in a calmer voice. "I have only had one operation exposed and burned."


            "Yes, it was your asset that started it all," Futhark dryly remarked.


            "It is time to suggest... alternative means," Jameson smoothly stated. "While there is still a part for our conventional means," he gave curt nods to Corvine and Catharine, "it is also obvious that our current roster is insufficient for our future plans. Do we agree on this?"


            Corvine reluctantly nodded.


            "I still think there is hope in the intelligence angle," Futhark said, to Catharine's surprise.


            "Things are positive, but this is a long term plan... and the Company and DarkStar would still be a problem."


            "Yes, our lack of decisive action has allowed DarkStar to become a problem," Jameson said looking to Corvine. "Did she not start out as a lone demon easy to eliminate by a team of Fathers?"


            "That is a supreme underestimation of her ability," Catharine stated. "But yes, we should have destroyed her from the start." She turned to Jameson "So what is your plan?"


            "Recently my assistant has been courting a group that can provide us with the manpower and expertise that we so painfully require."


            "Expense?" Futhark asked.


            "Is that really relevant?" Jameson asked. "If we fail at this the world will be destroyed."


            "At best, at worst it'll fall under the complete domination of monsters," Corvine added.


            "Yes, it is our responsibility, but if we spend all of our resources now we will not have them for later," Futhark cautioned.


            "I'll show you what these clients have to offer; I'm certain you'll agree they are well worth the money," Jameson assured with a little smile.

 

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

 


            "And so missing out on his mom's strawberry shortcake the Poky Little Puppy went to bed feeling quite sorry for himself," Eve said as she finished reading the slim book. She smiled warmly at the two young women nestled up to her. "Thoughts?"


            Morgan frowned at the final picture and gave a little yawn. "I liked the Silva Succubus story better, Mommy."


            "The story's sweet, but it's sad too." Morrison pulled her head up off of her mother's lap and twisted her body for more comfort. It had been a busy day.


            "Thanks, for humoring me," Eve patted Morrison on the head.


            "No, I liked it," Morison said with a slight whine in her voice.


            Morgan nodded in agreement. "Yeah, it's nice." She then gave a reassuring hug.


            "Andrea's right we're all huggy and sappy now." Morrison muttered, turning her head to look up at her family.


            Eve coldly looked down at the young demon. A small smile formed that quickly bloomed and spread across her face. "We've changed. We're succubae. It's our nature now."


            Morrison blinked. Mother was right. That Captain Jarvis was her mother was evidence enough. The... power was frightening and comforting.


            "I have to go to the bathroom, be right back," Eve said as she lifted Morrison up and put her down on the couch they were sharing. She got up and walked out of the living room and passed through the kitchen.


            Soun and Genma stopped their low chatting and looked up at the blonde. Soun looked over to his friend and gave a little nod. He knew what Genma wanted. "Sorry, but I've got to call the Drake," he said obviously excusing himself. He hesitated by the door and turned to the tall woman. "Thank you for helping my daughters. It's nice to know that they're being led by someone that cares." He gave a little bow that the officer reflexively returned.


            Eve's face contorted into confusion briefly before returning to her customary expression. "Huh."


            Genma chuckled. "It's hard for him. He still sees them as his little girls." He motioned to the seat across from him at the kitchen table.


            "And you?" Eve asked sitting down.


            The older man laughed. "Oh that's a good one."


            Eve frowned. "Yeah, you never saw your child like that."


            "I raised him to be a man among men." Genma smiled wistfully. "I suppose it worked out pretty well." He sipped some sake from his glass.


            "She's a happy mother of five and you see how she dresses."


            "It's not very girly is it?" Genma countered. "There's also the Art. Very dedicated there. Even the Master's impressed."


            "She still training with him?" Eve asked.


            "In the dojo. Let them have their fun. He's an old letch and she..." Genma shook his head, and sighed. "Well, she won't take his crap."


            "She doesn't take anyone's."


            "How was that last battle? She seemed to have more of a spring in her step when she came back," Genma delicately stated. He looked at the bottle and offered a glass to Eve.


            "Yes please." Eve downed a couple fingers of the liquor. "I wasn't there, but yeah, it was big."


            Genma looked into his glass. "They were those cult weirdoes, right? The pretend priests?"


            Eve nodded.


            Leaning back he shrugged his shoulders. "At least she's got a good friend in you. Sister, I guess. I'm not the most.. moral person; so I really appreciate that she's got someone to count on. She needs that. needs someone she can look to."


            Eve's eyebrow raised. "Oh?"


            "I know, I know, Ranma dotes after her Mother." Regret entered Genma's voice. "But you're her age, or close enough, and you're like her."


            Eve stared.


            "I know what you do. You interviewed me once, remember?" Genma asked dryly.


            The blonde shrugged.


            "You're too hard on yourself."


            "I know what I am," Eve stated.


            Genma smirked. "Even with Ranma's help?"


            Smirking, Eve reached out and refilled her glass. "She does have that effect on people."


            "That she does."

 

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

 


            Part of the University of Toronto library system, the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library was the largest collection of publicly accessible rare books in the country. Hikaru browsed his list with a slight smile. Most hobbyists looked down on such places: they were too public, too open, and too little "good" information.


            He agreed with their statements. This was entirely the wrong place to get juicy books. That was why he liked it. He could research the details, the minutia, the stuff most of the hobbyists overlooked as "too boring". Its mundanity made it safer. From one of the upper levels of the mezzanine containing part of the stacks he noticed someone walk into the door.


            Not breaking stride, the person had waved his hand and collided with the unresponsive opening. The young man paused and with a rueful shake of his head grabbed the door handle and pulled it open. He walked through the next set of doors and stepped into the lobby and looked up onto the many levels of books.


            Hikaru sighed and looked down at Rod Ferris. He was a competent researcher and had access to some interesting tomes, but Rod seemed too... exuberant. This was not the field for impulsiveness.


            Briefly watching Rod confound a librarian and deal with the elevator, Hikaru shook his head and returned to his list. He was not surprised Rod knew he was here. If one could not figure out where a... colleague was researching, then that person was hardly cut out for the job of learning eldritch information that man was not meant to know.


            "How's the bindings going?" Rod asked with his customary slanted smile, but Hikaru could swear that he detected a hint of unease behind that lopsided grin.


            "Just fine," Hikaru muttered putting down his clipboard. "So what was so urgent that you drop in unannounced?"


            "Well there's been an incident." Rod's eyes darted to the shelves full of books. "I'm not sure if you'll be safe, you've done some business with..."


            "The bookstore? That's old news," Gos raised an incredulous eyebrow. Places that sold eldritch tomes did not stay secret at least not to those already in the know. "And I only went to Incognito for a few mundane books."


            "You don't like him?"


            "He's a businessman. He doesn't care who he sells to, that's dangerous." Hikaru pulled out a pen and absently wrote a note on his pad.


            "Dangerous enough to get some magical girls after him," Rod said, his not exactly amused smile returning.


            "Yes, he has attracted some... official attention," Hikaru shrugged. He knew about the rumors: men in black, magical girls, grey commandos, and white devils.


            "Well, that's not what I'm talking about." Rod's expression turned to a full smirk. "There was that explosion. Same night as Incognito's... closing." Despite himself, Rod was fairly impressed that Hikaru knew about the bookstore "robbery". Rod only knew because of a personal relationship.


            "Police reports indicated it as a training exercise. There's some conflict with the forestry people about proper permissions." Hikaru shrugged.


            "There's more to it than that."


            "Of course," Hikaru nearly suppressed his urge to roll his eyes. "There's obviously more... federal troops in the city, and they're not just after Azifist cultists."


            "Oh, a conspiracy!" Rod's face brightened. "You mean there's more to this than some terrorist lunatics? You know there's no confirmed connection between the Azifists and Al Qaeda." He chuckled darkly.


            "Both have death-cults full of useful idiots." Hikaru rubbed his forehead. "People do believe what they want to. Accepting terrorists trained by the Soviet bloc and then later down in the Middle East..." He shrugged. From a... historical perspective, most current events were like wasp hives: complex, impressive, dangerous but ultimately transient and easily circumvented.


            The emphasis in Hikaru's mind lay in the "most". He knew it could be still be wishful thinking and confirmation bias on his part but the evidence was starting to mount. Today's research was starting to add to the picture.


            "Humanity knows it's not alone. There's clay tablets in the Smithsonian and the British Museum that had to be dated using Potassium-argon. It clearly predates humanity, but people don't care."


            "Artifacts of Pre-human civilizations fall into two categories: the fraudulent and the boring." Hikaru shrugged. In his experience journalists were exceptionally gullible and ignorant, and why not? They only cared about the "narrative". Ancient, incomprehensible, tablets did not fit.


            "I dunno, Shinichi Fujimura was a bit of an artist, though he didn't have the scale and initiative of Dan Idaho."


            Hiraku nodded. He knew all about that archeologist. He claimed to have evidence that a "precursor civilization" had destroyed itself though uncontrolled genetic and industrial manipulations.


            It made a good splash with newscasters interested in framing environmental issues, until it was revealed that the archeologist was actually a confidence man that had been in and out of prison for setting up doomsday cults and then skipping town once he got all their money. The conned journalists had quickly tried to forget about the incident, which, Hiraku reflected, was helped by a news cycle measured in seconds and the implicit assumption that the consumers would not know any better. After all, they were the ones making the news. If it was not reported; it was not news.


            "I hear he's writing a book about it. Sure to sell well."


            "More with the healing crystals people than the black helicopter ones." Hiraku muttered, strongly suspecting that that was Dan's plan from the start. Scandals did make great publicity, something that no self-respecting... hobbyist wanted.


            "So, the stars are almost right, eh?"


            Blinking, Hikaru snapped out of his rumination and stared at Rod. "You've seen it too?"


            "Astronomy is rather specific on the subject. Are you familiar with the work of Oswald Bridge?"


            "Astrophysicist, excellent amateur billiard player, brilliant mind, standard cycle of discovery, theory, disillusionment, discreditation, and finally madness."


            "You left out the part where he subdued his fiancee and conducted a... detailed search."


            "Is this relevant?"


            "His work was on the gravitational resonance of various stellar objects," Rod smirked. "Of course at the end his work was considered just another cautionary tale like Blondlot and his N Rays."


            "Where is this going?"


            "You know as well as I do. Civilizations rise and fall, not all of them the same species. The archeological record is clear on this. We are at a crossroads."


            "We're always at one. The tomes and books have been pointing to that for decades."


            Rod smiled, his face contorting into an unpleasant, predatory glee. "Decades? Consider the timescale. For a book carved in basalt and found in a bog in the Welsh countryside, that's a rounding error."


            "That would explain the heightened presence."


            "You can feel them too? Impressive."


            Hikaru raised an eyebrow. That was a basic survival tenet. "So, things are... coming together?"


            "If you want to call it that. Things are going to get interesting." Rod smiled broadly. "But what if..."


            "What?" Hikaru leaned forward slightly.


            "What if, I am not... right?"


            Hikaru sighed. Dealing with Rod was like this: two steps forward, three back. A phone rang down at the librarian's desk on the ground floor of the lobby. Hikaru raised his eyebrows to see the librarian look up from her desk and stare right at him and Rod. "Maybe whoever's on that phone is," Hikaru sarcastically remarked, his voice a bit hollow.


            Rod leered conspiratorially. "It certainly has a certain element of... possibility."


            Hikaru looked down to his notes, and turned to see the still staring librarian out of the corner of his eye. "Uh, yes. Well maybe. Things are risky."


            "It could just be your parents calling," Rod offhandedly said.


            "That would be better," Hikaru allowed.


            "Than being picked up by anonymous gruff men in a black van?"


            "These things happen," Gos gave an apathetic hand motion.


            "I suppose you wouldn't mind being put into intellectual bondage." Rod's voice became serious. "It's not like you care what's done with the information you gather."


            Hikaru stared. He felt as if he had been slapped. Rod was least responsible person he had known, who was he to judge him?


            "Oh don't worry. If those weird Goth girls haven't gotten their attention, I'm sure you're safe," Rod said his voice once again jovial, but now there was a distinct undercurrent of malice.


            "They have gotten a lot of attention," Hikaru admitted.


            "I wouldn't expect anything less." Rod's voice was now its irreverent self. "You have to admire their ability to not care, and not worry about people judging them."


            Gos raised an eyebrow. "They're not open. Ranma and her friends are very private."


            "There's a difference between showing discretion and living in shame." Rod waggled his eyebrows suggestively.


            "Oh?" Hikaru was not sure if this comment was directed at him. He preferred to be left alone and knew that the right outward appearance would help facilitate that goal.


            "Sometimes I wonder about my sanity." Rod said, perhaps to himself.


            Hikaru held his tongue.


            "What if I am too sane? Like in the way a baker, a single mother, a barber, a radiologist, a barker, or a metallurgist is too sane."


            "Oh I don't think you need to worry about that." Hikaru was not one for dry and sarcastic commentary, but it was too obvious.


            Rod made a point of looking at his watch, even though it was upside-down, and was flashing all zeros. "Well, I've got to go to the auto-parts store and get some new Sierpinski gaskets for my Dodge."


            Not knowing much about cars, Hikaru simply nodded. After Rod left, he paused to wonder exactly why his... friend had come. Things had been getting stranger and stranger.

 

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

 


            Walking into the small shoe store, Svetlana adjusted her coat with a slight sigh. The capitalists were certainly out in force. Pulling off her sunglasses she glared at the collection of high heels. She had been raised a rather practical girl and had been taught such things were Bourgeoisie frivolities. Besides, the stores in Paris had much nicer quality. Rome too, for that matter, but she had other issues with that city. They all did. Despite her distaste for consumer excess she still wore nice coats and kept her blonde hair shampooed and held back with fairly expensive hair clips.


            "Your head's in the clouds," Galina coldly stated.


            "I've been thinking," Svetlana said, putting the ill-made leather pump down.


            "It's that bad?"


            Svetlana slowly turned and looked up her commander. "This could be a problem. A real... opportunity."


            Galina nodded. "Can we do it?" The two women stepped out of the store and she caught a glimpse of Vosem and Shest across the street. Vosem in her long hair and generous figure and lanky Shest in her pixie cut could almost pass as a couple.


            Svetlana looked straight ahead, her eyes recalling the rooftop view from earlier in the week. "We need to make sure we're not fighting them." Her hand went out and stroked her arm.


            Galina nodded. Finding the right city had been one thing, setting up a viable operation was a whole other issue, but her girls had made her proud. "Our client seems to be under their protection." In this case the person paying them was most definitely not their client.


            "There's no pressure," Svetlana reaffirmed "We don't have to beat them... much."


            "You do know why we lost, right?"


            Unlike her comrades Svetlana did not hold the delusion that they had not been beaten. "Superior organization and economic models."


            Galina looked around and her eyes studied the bustle. Even now she could tell which side any given city had been on. "Unpredictability. It doesn't matter how brilliant your intelligence organs are, if your enemy changes on their whims, if even they don't know what they'll do."


            Svetlana rubbed her left arm again. "We will wait, and we will strike."


            The pair walked a few dozen yards in silence and then by seeming coincidence ran into another young woman. During their warm exchange of greetings and handshakes a document could have passed between them. There certainly were enough people to cover a good pass or they could have done a brush-pass without even breaking stride.


            Instead the trio of girls kept idly chatting as they walked. "You're right. Ryzhaya bestiya is in town," Chetyre said just holding her voice even.


            Galina's lips thinned. "Is she still angry? Did she yell at you?" How dangerous is she? Were you spotted?


            "No, she was very pleasant. She had more important stuff than me. It looks like she's mellowed out, but I guess she's had a bad breakup. Fought with her boyfriend for a week."


            "That's a shame." Galina held her relief. Despite it all, they were the best. Chetyre knew the dangers that came with sloppy work. "See if she's on the rebound?"


            "I heard she's seeing someone new, yes." Ivanova Chetyre allowed. She took a sip from her water bottle.


            Galina stopped and turned to face her subordinate. "You didn't flirt with her boyfriend did you?"


            "No... of course not." Ivanova looked down. Her tradecraft was solid. It could rival anything that came out of Dzerzhinsky Square. It was just... "She's the jealous type. Ryzhaya bestiya could just be paranoid."


            Galina smiled. "I wouldn't blame her, given her looks."


            "There's also her other girlfriends," Svetlana said and was quietly thankful for the distance her role afforded.


            "There's also her birthday party. Huge turnout." Ivanova shook her had. "She's a bit miffed that we didn't come. Not to mention all the people that crashed the party."


            "Oh? How big was it?"

            "About three hundred or so, real nice. At a resort out in the woods. Fireworks too."


            Galina's eyes sparkled in interest. "Wow, she must have been one happy girl."


            "I haven't heard of a party that size in years," Svetlana added.


            "Yes, she seemed pleased with her presents. Her friend Johan helped with the cleanup too. Stayed after the party and rolled out all the drunks passed out on the floor." Ivanova added. It had taken some digging but a lithe girl with the right accent could get in with any forestry official.


            Pausing to decode, Galina chuckled. "Oh yes, that's wonderful news. Truly." She looked over to the other side of the avenue and caught a glimpse of Vosem and Shest boarding a streetcar. Good. they still had to do some surveillance at the school.


            "What of Dwa? When will she and her friends come back?"


            "Arisha and the rest are coming over here shortly. Their ballet competition in Tokyo is wrapping up. Only a couple other teams even showed up." Galina explained. The problem with codes was that their mere presence was often enough. If anyone were seriously trailing them, it would not matter what they said or how they tried to disguise it. On the other hand, some precautions were only prudent.


            "Good, I think she'll like the climate here, It's a bit like home." Svetlana twisted her neck and looked up at the cloud-laden sky. "Having the whole team over here will be good for them.  Can get a nice break before the next stop on our tour."


            "Oh, it gets better," Ivanova coughed. "Some of Johan's little sisters have joined her cheerleading squad."


            Galina stopped. The amused and slightly weary expression and look that would have been at home on any Comparative Literature Graduate Student, Russian of course, vanished and was replaced by a deep coldness. "Really? Huh. Good for her."


            Svetlana and Ivanova turned to face her and waited.


            "I guess we were wrong on Zaika and her friends." Galina's face broke into an broad and pleased smile. "But no matter. I think we'll be just fine here."


            "Are you sure? Ryzhaya bestiya's got a very impressive team on the floor, and we're gymnasts not cheerleaders. Totally different work."


            "Then it's up to us to show what we can do," Galina stated with pride. "We'll prove ourselves. We are over here representing our motherland."


            Svetlana nodded and allowed a brief smile to pass over her face.


            Ivanova inhaled. She was apprehensive, but there was nothing else for them to do. It had been quite some time before a mission that was truly a challenge. Recently their work had been just enough to keep their skills and bodies maintained. It would be good to test their limits.


            "Is Ryzhaya bestiya really that popular?"


            "Oh yeah, I saw her yearbook, full of signatures," Ivanova said, referring to the dossier she had slowly constructed over the last week. The data on the power scrying results alone were quite disquieting.


            "Excellent," Galina said resuming her stride with renewed confidence.

 
            "We don't need to go head to head with her," Ivanova advised.


            "Fortunately, she's not our client, so we can be more flexible with her," Galina smirked. Work was always a large portion of dull methodical preparations followed by a small period of intensity. The most pertinent question remained... what was the caliber of their opponents?

 

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

 


            Morrison frowned into the mirror; reflected back at her, a young green-haired succubus pouted cutely. She sighed which caused interesting effects on her chest. Flicking her hands dry she rose up to her full height.


            A blonde stepped out of a bathroom stall and observed. "Are you okay?" she asked as she washed her hands. Morrison could not be sad about today's training, she had flown beautifully, and even nailed her landings.


            "Fine, I'm just struck by how hard it is to not be drop-dead gorgeous," Morrison darkly muttered. "I really shouldn't complain. Mom's been great and the rest of you..." She smiled warmly but it faltered and the woman looked down at her high heeled boots and grey slited silk mini-skirt..


            Ukyou stepped up and patted her hand. "I know. It'd almost be easier if Eve sucked at being a mother, or if you had been altered."


            Morrison chewed her lip. "It's horrible to say that. I mean the others... they were brainwashed."


            "Not exactly. Akane really did become Eclipse... still is, I guess. And our little sister.... well... I don't think even she can think of herself being anything else. And Ryoga... well he and Aurora hated our mother before, but a mother's love just overpowered all that hatred... and changed her. Our bodies... we become what our bodies are." Ukyou's grip rose from Morrison's hand to her shoulder and drew her into a hug.


            "It's just... I'm an agent. I've been trained." She leaned onto her cousin and could almost feel herself start to purr.


            "So? It's okay. You should have seen how nervous and apprehensive Eve was at the start." She hugged the new demon tighter. "It'll work out."


            "I know." The base shrink was quite definite on that. Normally, the consolers dealt with issues arising from repeated and grisly carnage and exposure to the macabre and eldritch. Morrison's situation was clearly the later. Succubae do not get gender dysphoria or species for that matter, or at least not for very long. What they were, we were, Morrison mentally corrected, susceptible to  going feral.


            "Look Richard." Staring into her eyes, Ukyou noted the shock Morrison saw at the use of her first name. "You're going to make it through this."


            "That's what scares me," Morrison admitted in a quiet whisper.


            "What?"


            "I'm not like Mom or Morgan or you, I don't have problems with my family. Aside from not joining the Corps like the rest of them."


            "It's okay, Nariko's still on great terms with her father."


            "Yes, but she can go see him and cry in his lap."


            "They're Marines right? I'm sure they know..."


            "Know what?" Morrison said crossly. "My father knew enough to not be ashamed when I signed on. He was courteous enough to overlook the obvious cover story."


            "What's going to happen now?"


            Morrison smiled ruefully. "Say someone dies on a secret mission? With the military they can't tell the family how the person died or why or where. Just that they're not coming back. In WIC it's even worse. Guess that's an upside to most of us being alone."


            "You didn't die though... you could..."


            "What? Write letters?" Morrison sighed. "It's easier this way."


            "You don't have to give up like that."


            "Really? Are you going to see your family? I know you've got a father back in Japan."


            "True, but I would end up killing him and slowly feeding the remains to Mom." Ukyou growled. "Moron's the reason I spent years painfully binding my breasts."


            "Ouch." Morrison shuddered, she could imagine what that pain would be like. Becoming newly and intimately familiar with breasts would do that. She found that out when she flopped down onto the bed and then ignoring that first-hand warning tried to sleep face-down. Though sleeping in one brood-pile did mitigate things


            "Look, if you're thinking about giving up on your human life," Ukyou sharply inhaled. "What human life? You're a Company girl, always have been, save the girl part."


            "You're right. I didn't have anything, save the occasional phone call with my family." Morrison straightened up.


            "And you're worried a sudden swap to letter writing would be suspicious?"


            "To them? They're not dumb. The black sheep of the family goes off to some obviously black bag outfit and suddenly stops talking. What should they make of that?"


            Ukyou pulled away. "I don't know. It's not an easy question."


            Morrison nodded. At least her new family could be in on the secret.


            "The Sam and Naoko thing is tearing at Mom," Ukyou mentioned as the two walked out of the bathroom. "She wants to tell them, but..."


            "It's supposed to be a secret." Morrison eventually said. She then opened the door to the Major's lab and blinked. Morgan's eyes were happily sparkling. Morrison turned to see what had captivated her sister. Sitting in a complex and padded pair of vises was a Barrett XM109.


            Or it used to be, the already large weapon had seemed to grown by well over a foot. Most obviously, the twenty-five millimeter rifle had a new barrel. Inscribed on it in block text was was: WIC Munitions. Below that in a formal copperplate was "We do what we must because we can."


            Nodoka stepped up. "Our head machinist Gladys came up with that idea. She thought it needed more."


            Morrison nodded grimly.


            "Don't worry, we can put something on your guns if you want. Apparently, she came up with a whole poem." Nodoka said. "I'm sure she's come up with something nice for you girls."


            Morrison nodded and turned back to the large gun. Noticing the stock, she smiled. It had been reduced in size, to better fit Morgan's light frame. So, the new barrel had to be even longer than she first thought.


            "What do you want?" Major Saotome said as she checked the readings from a laser level. She gave a little wink to Ukyou. She also made a note to talk to Morrison later.


            "I didn't think it was coming in this fast." Morrison marveled.


            "The machinists are quite good. Especially if they don't want Gladys mad," Nodoka agreed. Her own caution had remained high until after she had inspected the metalwork herself. "There's still more work to do. The receiver and other parts need to be reinforced."


            "Even more power?" Morrison coughed.


            "Why not? We can use conventional low-velocity 25 by 59 mm grenade and something with more speed," Nodoka explained.


            Morgan's eyes gleamed.


            "How much range do you want to give it? " Ukyou said, wondering if Misako would be jealous. This weapon was much longer than Sasha.


            "This isn't for range but penetrating power. Kinetic energy does go up with the square of velocity." Morgan explained.


            "We've still got to test out the ergonomics." Nodoka said making a note on her clipboard. She made another to talk with Ukyou.


            "Practicing sounds good," Morgan said eyeing her new gun. Her arm was gently pulled by her sister.


            "Can we talk?"


            Morgan raised an eyebrow. "Sure." She followed her sister to the far end of the laboratory. "What's wrong?"


            Morrison looked into her calm blue eyes. "How are you doing?"


            Her eyes briefly flicked to the side and Morgan hesitated. "Well, my shooting's better than it's ever been."


            "There's more to life than that."


            Morgan leaned onto a counter. "Why complicate things? It's rather nice being a species that has no pretenses. Where being a killer's normal; it's expected."


            "We already had that," Morrison remarked.


            The corners of Morgan's lips pulled up into a cold grin. "Yes, handy that."


            "Things are going to be different," Morrison suddenly smirked. "Aren't you worried about what will happen when you make your next kill?"


            Morgan raised an eyebrow.


            "We eat our kills. Mom did it too."


            The russet-haired girl rubbed her forehead. "Well, I've hunted. I ate afterwards."


            "So we'll just go to the morgue and cut up some steaks? Maybe make jerky?"


            "Nah, the meat wouldn't be as fresh then. Oh well."


            Morrison smirked "Aside from that... how are you doing?"


            "Just going with it, I mean... we've kinda got a second chance here." Morgan frowned. "Well, we're still agents."


            "Like death would get us away from the Company," Morrison smirked.


            "At least the uniforms are better now," Morgan idly said.


            Morrison raised an eyebrow. "You spend most of your time in Ghillie suits."


            "Still can look good the rest of the time."


            "You're starting to become one of them," Morrison teased flicking Morgan's bangs.


            "I'm not the one wearing eyeshadow."


            "Misako said it looked good." Morrison quietly said. It had been easier to just let Misako put the makeup on her. It was not like anyone would really care. Succubae were supposed to look good.

            "Look, don't worry about it." Morgan hesitantly reached out and squeezed her sister's hand. "So you let yourself get a little makeover. Who cares? We're Company. We're past caring what other people think."


            "Mom, Ranma, the Colonel, Stillwater?"


            Morgan blinked. "Fine, but you think they care about that? No matter what happens, one thing won't change. It can't change."


            "The oath."


            "Sure, there's some new... fringe benefits, but the job is the same."


            "Okay, but if you start to feel..."


            "I'll talk to you and mom," Morgan said as she put her hand to Morrison's shoulder. The two walked back to the front of the lab where Nodoka was inspecting the sniper rifle while Ukyou had two Standard Succubus Pistols stripped and disassembled in front of her.


            "So you finally got a second gun?" Morrison asked as she slid up to the table. It was odd. The gun was not heavy, and the recoil seemed normal. It was only when she tried to use a forty five caliber that the scale became obvious.


            "Yes," Ukyou said giving an exaggerated pout to her grandmother, winking was too obvious. "Hmm.... not too much wear." She inspected the components and mulled over them. "Oh these are for you." She handed a new slide to her cousin.


            Morrison picked up the part and looked at it. This time, written under the WIC Munitions logo was: For the good of all of us. For the ones who are dead. She smiled and turned to Nodoka and gave her a hug.


            The scientist's smile grew when a slight purr came from the young woman. "I wanted to surprise you." The "blank" slides would be returned and could easily have new inscriptions placed.


            In addition to the new weapon, Ukyou had a slide replacement as well. Despite starting with a conjunction, the first message was simple enough. The sentence on the other gun was more baffling. "But there’s no sense crying over every mistake. You just keep on trying till you run out of cake."


            "What kind of sense of humor does Gladys have?" Ukyou asked


            "Gladys Coulton's first job was for Republic Aviation making parts for fighters. She and some of the other girls would put together... care packages to be delivered with the planes."


            "They thought the boys could use some encouraging photos?" Morrison ventured.


            "Nothing too... improper. It's how she met her husband John. She sent a photo and he wrote her a song."


            "Sounds like a nice couple," Ukyou sighed.


            "He was shot down over Korea."


            Morrison imagined the old widow scowling over the metal, searching for any flaws, and then finally chuckling as she wrote a message into the steel.


            "But why cake?" Ukyou asked staring at one of her guns.


            "She was a fan of cheesecake, apparently," Morrison deadpanned.


            Ukyou shook her head. Sometimes the Company could be a bit... eccentric. The constant pressures from the work had to be it.


            "Gladys is looking forward to more work. She enjoys a challenge too." Nodoka chuckled. Engineering was more than science; it was applied science.


            "I wonder if Jacob will give me any pointers." Ukyou mused as she reassembled her guns.


            "You know about that?" Morrison asked as she stripped her weapon and replaced the slide.


            "One of his nicknames is Gunslinger and he wears two guns slung low on his hips. I suppose it could all be rumor and him 'looking cool', but that's not something WIC troopers do is it?"


            Morrison smirked. "So you've never seen him fight then?"


            "The chance hasn't presented itself."


            "He likes to use the ranges real early in the morning," Morrison hinted.


            "That's just him shooting targets. I guess I'd see if he's fully ambidextrous."


            Morrison chuckled. "He has his ways."


            "I can ask him then, I guess. You think he'd train?"


            Morrison nodded. "Yeah, it's not a common skill, even among us. Normally, a rifle's more practical."


            "Well, we're not normal are we?" Ukyou asked holstering her weapons. "So how's Grandma's work with you? Going ahead with that 17mm monster?"


            "It's smaller than Morgan's."


            "Yes, that's kind of the point," Nodoka said as she approached. "Hers is a long range anti-material and special­-anti-personnel weapon. The WM 17S HSMG is a much lighter and compact weapon. It is roughly in the shape of a FN P90."


            "Heavy Succubus Machine Gun?" Ukyou ventured.


            "Willard Munitions Seventeen millimeter Shoulder-mount, Heavy Submachine Gun," Morrison clarified. "So, it got approved? We were just doing the single-shot testing."


            Nodoka nodded. "Yes, the case was made for a weapon between the SSP and Misako's IGMG. A... conventional rifle," Nodoka shook her head.


            "Has prototyping started?"


            "Yes, we know how the bullets perform, so fabrication is the next stage," Nodoka said as she went to a cabinet and pulled out a box of 17 by 65 mm WIC custom.


            "Wow," Morrison picked one of the shells up. "I'm still amazed at these. They're shotgun sized." That was fine when she was using them in a single shot gun, but having a semi-auto fire these...


            "Well the twelve gauge is 18.5 mm by 70 or 76 mm," Nodoka said as she picked up one of the relatively blunt bullets.


            "Still, they're big," Morrison said as she hefted the bullet, and wondered when she could fire the test gun again. The whole casing was reminiscent of a fifty caliber Browning Machine Gun but shorter and with a larger slug in the head.


            "Why don't you just make an autofire shotgun system?" Ukyou asked.


            Nodoka nodded. "I thought of that, but less accuracy. With the HSMG you'll have a forty round magazine."


            "What about temperature?" Morrison asked. "Pressure's one thing, but the heat expansion and wear..."


            "Thermal management did require some creative solutions," Nodoka allowed. It was wonderful to deal with such... robust users. Though that was a mixed blessing. She had to make the weapons rugged enough so they could be used as a blunt weapon and be able to block blunt and bladed weapons. "But I've got some good natural convection cells and good radiating sections. It'll hold."


            "Really?"


            "Oh yes, it's going to be a very solid weapon," Nodoka stated. The weight limits for succubus weapons were quite the blessing. Which was to say: what weight limits? Ergonomics was the main concern; the weapons had to be easy to hold and have good balance.


            "What about barrel wear? I mean if this thing can hold a forty round magazine..." Morrison asked as she rolled one of the bullets in her hand.


            "Based on the data from the test rig, I think I can get an acceptable lifespan. A good protective coating will help. The barrel will be easy to replace though," Nodoka assured. "However, it'll take some time to build the 17mm gun. We should talk about something in the meantime. I can adapt one of our larger machine guns, make the belt feed from an under-slung box. It's not exactly the ideal role."


            Morrison nodded. The primary reason for the bull-pup design on the HSMG was to allow its use in buildings and close-quarters.


            "Well, you don't need it to be terribly accurate," Morgan smarmily said as she turned and looked cutely at Nodoka. "So when can we go to the range?"


            Nodoka chuckled. It was easy to keep her girls happy. "After I get the requirements from your sister on her gun. Then we can test the 17mm rig more too."


            Morgan smiled and after loosening the vise, put the end of the gun on the floor and leaned it on her shoulder. The weapon extended past her shoulder and ended several inches above her head.


            "Good, we can meet the others," Nodoka added.


            "Well, Mom and Nariko are still home with Nariko's dad," Ukyou said.


            "He is a good father for her," Nodoka agreed.


            "Our Mom's there too, right?" Morrison asked as she rummaged around for the 17mm test gun. It was a single shot rolling-block weapon, that was reminiscent of a wall gun, a very heavy bore gun too large to be fired from the shoulder. They were leaned on walls and ledges and were a formidable if bulky defensive weapon in the 16th through 18th centuries.


            "Yes, Eve's there too," Nodoka said, wondering if her... other daughter, was trying to get more permanent housing.

 

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

 


            "So you want a house?" The Drake asked looking at the stern blonde. This was his responsibility. Being a Company associate opened a lot of doors for his real estate and land development business. Most opened on their own and could not be closed until he did what was expected of him.  At least, finding an appropriate house would be easier than a facility that can be used as a paramilitary base.


            "The closer to here the better," Eve nodded.


            The Drake looked to his older daughter. "Well, I can look. I'm certain some of the neighbors are concerned. I'm sure with the right offer..."


            "It would be handy," Ranma smiled. "It would give us more space."


            "Alternatively we could expand this house. I'm sure Soun wouldn't mind," The Drake offered. He had just talked with his old friends yesterday and it was certainly possible.


            "That might allow for more concentrated security." Eve nodded. "Possible."


            "Another house could work too, like if they share a border," Ranma offered as she sipped some tea.


            Drake Kuno looked at Eve. "So you've got some kids. Agents and succubae? They'll be a handful."


            "Tell me about it." Eve warmly smiled. She pulled out her phone. "Yes? Oh really." She turned to her sister.


            "What?" Ranma asked.


            "You've got some visitors. Sam's driving up with Naoko," Eve said.


            Ranma blinked. "School's out already?"


            "Time flies," The Drake said as Ranma got up and went to the front door. He had taken the afternoon off, but still knew when his school let out.


            Watching Sam, somewhat clumsily, park the car and get out, Ranma opened the door and stepped out to meet them.


            Naoko blinked at the redhead's hair. "Sunny? What happened?"


            "Clearly she took a few days off to go to the spa and get her hair done," Sam dryly remarked putting her mother's car keys away.


            Ranma's eyes looked down. "Uh, let's talk inside."


            "Right," Sam nodded.


            "So, what's brings you guys over?"


            "We were worried." Naoko said after entering. She looked out and saw the principal sitting with some striking blonde woman.


            "Yeah." Ranma sighed.


            "Sorry if we... interrupted anything," Sam said looking at Principal Kuno.


            "Maybe we should talk out back," Ranma said leading her two girls out to the side yard.


            "So where's your... cousins?" Naoko asked.


            "Aside from Nariko Kuno of course," Sam stated.


            They crossed to the back yard and Ranma sat down on a bench under a large oak. "I don't know what to say, I mean..."


            "We're not pressuring you," Sam assured, sitting down next to her pale friend.


            "We just want to make sure you're okay."


            Ranma gave a bitter laugh. "I'm feeling great. Course if you knew..." she shook her head, causing her long tresses to spill over Sam.


            "We're not stupid," Naoko said, while Sam tried to get Ranma's hair off of her.


            "I know," Ranma sighed. "It'd be easier... oh well."


            "So what is it? Alien?" Naoko asked.


            "Vampire?" Sam offered.


            "Demon?"


            "Werewolf?"


            Ranma's blush had grown to almost human levels and she began to sputter. "Uh... what makes you say that?"


            Naoko pointed to Ranma's hair, many of the strands still clinging to Sam.


            "Oh."


            "We know you're doing something," Sam looked down and rubbed her eyebrows. "I mean the flock of lesbians. Akane's new look. Tatewaki and Nabiki leaving and replacements showing up. That and the well... effect you guys have on everyone."


            "We do look like this," Ranma said pointing to her chest.


            "That's not all," Naoko said, noting the use of we.


            "And look at our uniforms," Sam said pulling at the dark violet material of her seifuku.


            "They look nice." Ranma said absently.


            "Yes, very complimentary. They fit great and stay real clean too," Sam said dryly. She decided not to mention the absence of sticking on the seams.


            "Look, don't worry," Naoko said kneeling down in front of Ranma. "You know us, we're not going to reject you. It's not like you're a cannibal."


            Ranma's eyes widened.


            "And even then it depends on who you've eaten," Sam added.


            "Sunny's always been a good friend, I'm sure they had it coming. Hypothetically, of course."


            Ranma twiddled with her fingers. "Well... there's a reason I look this way."


            "And why the rest of your friends do too?" Naoko asked.


            Ranma slowly nodded. "Oh yeah. It's even related to my... well you know that secret."


            "That you're a lesbian? That's not much of a secret. Or does it have to do with the scary secret agents you hang out with."


            "Are the sunglasses really that obvious?" Ranma asked.


            "Oh no, not at all," Sam said, remembering the van parked on the street, or the other people hanging around the property.


            "Well, we'll start simple. I work with those 'secret agents', though they're more soldiers."

            "Using your badass martial arts skills?"


            Ranma laughed. "Yes, that's right."


            "Well, unless you're insanely, insanely good no real group would use a high school girl, not without some training. So there's got to be something else," Sam mused.


            "And it's probably related to all the weird fights and missing persons going on," Naoko added.


            Ranma nodded. "Yeah, there's a lot of bad people out there, and we fight them."


            "And the rest of your... family is in on this too?"


            "Even my mother. She's a Major and builds all of our weapons," Ranma said quietly.


            "Good thing to keep secret," Sam gently stated.


            "There's more isn't there? Some young... counter-terrorism girls, well, that doesn't make any sense, but even if it did. Why dress all sexy?" Naoko paused. "No why... why ooze sensuality?"


            Ranma rubbed her forehead. She had risked worse rejection than this... or had she? She never knew her mother before meeting her, and she knew she would lose Kasumi as a lover. She chewed her lip for a moment. "I think you can guess," she said as her horns slid out into view.


            "Cool!" Naoko gushed.


            Sam reached out and poked one. "Cute little things."


            The redhead purred slightly. "Really?" Ranma asked looking up.


            "Well, I was right," Naoko smirked and held out her hand.


            "I should have known vampire was wrong," Sam grumbled as she opened her purse. "You're nowhere near emo enough, but I thought maybe the media portrayal was wrong. You're pale, seductive... have fangs."


            "That describes most of the mythological beings," Sam reminded as she affected a chipper smile.


            "But you guessed demon?" Ranma asked.


            "Well... not demon generally. With the body and clothes." Naoko left the unsaid question hang in the air.


            Ranma chuckled. "Yes, yes I'm a succubus."


            "The rest of them are too right? That's what happened to Akane."


            "And Nabiki..." Sam blinked. "And Tatewaki? Oh wow... you mean Nariko's?"


            The redhead raised an eyebrow. "Yes, she's my eldest daughter."


            "Daughter?" Naoko was curious. "So.. what, you turned them all?"


            Sam interjected before Ranma could respond. "Duh. How else would they become demons? I guess some other demon could do it."


            Ranma idly scratched her horns. "Yeah, there was this bad demon, she turned Akane, Nabiki, and Misako. I had to kill her," she said nervousness being replaced by happiness.


            "That's when Akane and Nabiki left school for a while. And then they came back and your 'cousin' had died," Sam remarked.


            "Yup, that's it. Was really sucky time. Before that I was having all these mother issues and then had to fight this evil selfish bitch."


            "I don't know how I'd deal with having kids, especially ones my age."


            Ranma shrugged. "The body takes care of a lot of it. We mature quickly and all that."


            "Wait, so... you're a succubus right?" Naoko asked. Something was off. It explained things, but that did not exactly put her mind at ease.


            The redhead pointed to her horns, and after a moment summoned her tail.


            "Oh wow," Sam said as she grabbed the spade-ended appendage. "Really cool."


            "So, how come you're a lesbian? I mean aren't you supposed to seduce guys? I mean you're all lesbians right? Sam and I are the only ones in the group that like guys."


            Ranma paused and half-heartedly tried to wriggle her tail out of Sam's grip. "I think Misako likes guys. Akane's more into Nariko. Nabiki's still looking for a mate."

            Sam let go of the tail. "Well, if Tatewaki became Nariko. Maybe there's no males."


            "You need males, or maybe Nariko is the male of the species," Naoko countered.


            "They could be hermaphrodites." Sam said. The thought was creepy, but not much more than that demons existed.


            "How do they impregnate then?"


            "They're sex demons, does it matter? I'm sure they find a way."


            Ranma blushed and made a point of hiding her tail.


             "True." Naoko tapped her chin. "So, a secret military organization is using sex demons as some type of elite soldiers? What to fight other sex demons?"


            "Sounds like that show you had me watch last year," Sam muttered.


            "La Blue girl didn't have a military organization in it."


            "Well, we don't just fight demons. Pretty much any supernatural or secret organization, but it makes a lot of sense to use succubae. We're strong, fast, heal really quick, great sense of smell, can see in the dark, and there's the flying."


            "You can fly?" Sam asked her eyes twinkling.


            "What's a demon without wings? Of course she can fly. That makes sense. Good reasons to use demonic super soldiers. So, who's that blonde woman? Your handler? She's gotta be government."


            Ranma nodded. "She's also my sister."


            Naoko raised and eyebrow. "Since she doesn't look Japanese but is pale and well..."


            "A knockout." Sam offered.


            "So who isn't a demon?"


            "Well... anyone that's male, and... well, Mom, Kasumi, you girls. Uh... that's about it."


            "And Kasumi's part of this too? I mean she's gotta be right?" Sam asked. Kasumi's past incidents in High School made it too much of a coincidence.


            Ranma nodded. "Yeah, you two... well you're my only friends... that... I was keeping it a secret from."


            "We know why you weren't telling us."


            "Yeah, normal superhero reasons. Protecting us and all that."


            "Secret agent sounds less lame. Superheroes are down there with magical girls. Silly uniforms and no killing," Sam sighed. "That nonsense is how you get the same damn enemy popping up again and again."


            Ranma raised and eyebrow. "Huh?"


            "You're a cannibal Sunny, and even if that's just eating other demons, that's still something namby-pamby 'good guys' don't do," Sam explained giving Ranma a hug.


            "There's also you being a demon. Heh, a demon named Sunshine. That's too cute."


            "My Dad's idea. Well, Drake helped on that." Ranma wanted to sigh, but she was being hugged.


            "It's okay, Sunny."


            "So, if your mom is human, how'd you become a succubus? Is your dad a demon lord or something?" Sam asked.


            Ranma laughed. "Oh man, that's hilarious. No... no. He's human. I've just..." The redhead shook her head. "Do you two believe in reincarnation?"


            "Does it matter? I mean you're a secret agent demon-girl," Sam smirked poking Ranma's horns.


            "It does make sense." Naoko added. "Well, it explains the scary pale Goth girls."


            Ranma inhaled. It was going to be a long story. "Well, it started with an ancient magical kingdom..."

 

End Chapter 20

 

Once again, I'd like to thank my pre-readers. They read through my most egregious mistakes so you don't have to. DGC, J St C Patrick, Terra, Pale Wolf, Wray, Kevin Hammel, Ikarus, and Jerry Starfire. Other thanks go to Stratagemini, Trimatter, PH Wise, Dorin, and others previously mentioned for some future planning.

 

I'd also like to give J St C Patrick special thanks for giving this chapter his attention and going over with again and again despite being very busy. I'm honored that he used his time to help me. Thanks.