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/

 

Temporary Backup Site.

http://www.fukufics.com/fic/

 

 

Other website Temple of Ranma's Senshi Seifuku

http://fukufics.com

 

C&C as always is wanted.

 

Chapter 23 Reequipped and Repulsed Part 1

 


            "Alright, it's time, everyone get dressed," Ranma idly said, standing up inside the partially reconditioned Quonset hut. Most of the holes had been patched, and the blood had been washed out.


            "You heard Mom," Nariko ordered before closing her eyes and shifting her own clothing. Her skirt and blouse morphed into a bodysuit reminiscent of their training clothes but a bit thicker with some rigid inserts on the arms and thighs. Heavy, armored, tall boots appeared, and fingerless gloves formed.


            Over the bodysuit, which went from neck to wrists to calves, a vest with the inset plates on the front and back, which were modified slightly to allow for wings, shifted into sight and was followed by pleated skirting. Each mid-thigh pleat held another armored plate and was articulated to maintain mobility and coverage. Hair was pulled back and helmets appeared with connected headsets and radios.


            "Check the electronics. I want to know if they... summoned properly," Major Saotome said as she walked among her granddaughters checking the fit of the armor. "How's the bodysuit? I want to know if they breathe enough."


            "It's fine," Nabiki pouted.


            "Normally Kevlar doesn't allow moisture out, but your..." Nodoka shook her head. "I just want to make sure this magic isn't messing things up."


            "We've tested this. We trained in these; we ran in them; you made sure we got sweaty." She moved her hands to confirm that her knives had shifted back with her.


            "I want to be sure," Nodoka stated. She had now turned to Misako and was checking the quick-release on that girl's vest. Nodding with satisfaction her eyes went down to the gun in the demon's hands.


            "Is Sasha okay?" Misako asked, handing over the grenade launcher.


            "At least we don't have to deal with ribbons anymore," Akane smirked as she stretched her shoulders a bit. "Is my tail clearing out the back fine?" she asked Nariko.


            Her mate nodded.


            "Well, those researchers keep saying that the Pattern-Y gate we captured over half a year ago is giving them lots of new ideas. If they can produce a teleport jammer that's compact then they would have antennae that need protecting," Nodoka explained.


            Ranma blinked. "A reinforced Kevlar bow?"


            Nodoka shrugged. "You're the one that insisted on skirting. Would a bodysuit be that much harder to transform into?"


            "We're already cheating the Senshi magic enough," Ukyou said, adjusting her HSMG. After she finished she moved on to the sidearms mounted in their thigh holsters. "You look good in that," she smirked, noting Akane's annoyance at her own weapon.


            "I'm just happy I finally qualified on the annoying thing."


            "Blame Mother for coming up with the requirements, or would you rather be outshot by an old man?"


            "I don't think Colonel Edwards would like that," Nodoka cautioned. She frowned and knelt down to check out Nariko's boots.


            Ranma chuckled. "I think he'd laugh. The man was holding back. Don't worry Akane, it took me just as long to qualify for my handgun too. Now turn around." Ranma then checked Akane's wings, making sure they were clear of interference. "Any chafing?"


            Akane sighed. "No, I'm fine. We've been training with these things for over a week."


            "Well, the better plates only came in yesterday. Remember the trouble the extra weight gave you?"


            "That was only when I landed," Akane growled.


            "Yes, the extra weight is all up top," Nodoka warned. "It's heavy stuff. I wanted an armor to deal with knives, teeth, tails, claws, blunt trauma, rifle rounds, shrapnel, napalm, magical napalm, beam weapons of various types." She listed off. "The standard WIC insert plate was a great start, but you girls can handle more weight than any human, as long as it doesn't interfere with your flying."


            "Yes, our legs can carry more than our wings," Nabiki reminded as she checked Misako's back.


            "We can't make it too thick or it'd be too bulky, but still you girls should be happy sets came as fast as it did."


            "Odd, I thought you already had those plates on order from my armor," Captain Jarvis noted as she entered the Quonset.


            "Yes," Nodoka admitted. "And it's not bad for a prototype, but it is a bit weak in crotch protection and the extremities are a bit looser too." She looked Eve over with a critical eye. "And are you okay sitting this one out?"


            "I kinda like my role in this demonstration," Eve said as she smoothed out the hem of her dress uniform's skirt.


            "I'm afraid they want me to change too," Nodoka sighed.


            "I think your helmet improvements are the most useful," Eve countered. "It was a real pain to have it shift in flight. However, I'm not sure of using our horns to help stabilize them. Yes, the padding dampens most blows, but..."


            "I could always use a stronger elastic." Nodoka frowned. "And why do you fight with your horns out? Isn't that just a big vulnerability?"


            "They help with our senses," Ranma shrugged.


            "It's harder to feel others without them," Eve added


            "You would know if it's that important. Your senses do make Pattern Scanners and night vision systems superfluous," Nodoka admitted. "That reminds me, did your radios... summon correctly?"


            The broodlings nodded.


            "I'm still amazed that works," Eve noted.


            "Why not? We can change our clothes at will, add in that Senshi transformation, and shifting our armor makes perfect sense."


            "What about weapons?"


            Ranma shrugged, "The pistols and ammunition come in fine; they fired on all the previous training sessions. We even got the summoning time down."


            "Sasha didn't, but I'll work harder on it." Misako swore.


            "Nothing wrong with my blades," Nabiki said, her hands once again going down to the knives at her hip. The possibility of losing them in the... wherever that her clothes went, was disconcerting.


            "I couldn't get my sword to vanish with my uniform," Nariko sighed. "Though if I link it with my armor transformation, will I be able to summon it independently?"


            "I can do that with my guns," Ukyou reminded. "Well, my pistols, not this guy," she said hefting her newest gun, a technically compact, bull pup semi-automatic that fired a custom 17mm by 65 mm round.


            "Yes, Morgan can't make hers vanish either," Eve admitted.


            "Well she does have the biggest gun," Ukyou said, giving a sideways smirk to Misako.


            "By length, not caliber," Misako hissed under her breath.


            Eve smiled thinly. "Are you ready?"


            "Oh? Are our guests getting restless?" Ranma asked.


            "Quite the opposite. They're getting bored. Perfect time to give them a bit of a show."


            Ranma grinned. "Is Morgan in place then?"


            Eve's eyes shined. "Oh yes."

 

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

 


            Sergeant Olsen Brummet, Joint Task Force 2 shifted in his seat. The serenity of being so close to Algonquin Park was mitigated by the... detail of this training facility. The level of destruction in the various vehicles, buildings, and bunkers was very positive. A chance to do some actual live fire training was worth dealing with some Yankee defense contractor.


            Another bit of... professionalism was the minefield that was marked out. An irregular section of churned dirt was marked out by several flags; there were even a few vehicles set inside the area. That would certainly pose an interesting challenge. He chuckled looking at one of the vehicles. "Looks like the Americans have a sense of humor," he said pointing to Corporal Green.


            Lily Green looked out at the burned out vehicle. "Huh... they actually got the color right. Poorly done dummies though." She noted looking at the numerous mannequins in camouflage and holding prop weapons positioned in many of the vehicles and trenches.


            "Well, it's not a big deal to know that blood dries brown, but splashing some around and then washing it off, that's a nice touch." Olsen chuckled.


            "It sounds like you're looking forward to playing in this training setup, Sarge."


            "They certainly put a lot of work in it, and it's a break from our normal training," Olsen looked forward to some of the officers in the front row. Their presence was expected, since this had to be an expensive project. "Heck, they actually burned down a building and destroyed a bunch of tunnels," he said pointing to the hill in the distance. "It looks like they've been training artillery before us."


            "That's the rumor." Green nodded.


            Olsen looked up to see a non-descript man in a grey uniform and sunglasses walk up to the lectern in front of the rows of seats. Olson raised an eyebrow.


            A ghost of a smile crossed Stillwater's face as he looked at the military personnel before him and their rippling interest and curiosity. "I appreciate your patience in waiting. No doubt I'm sure you've heard the rumors. Your superior officers were quite terse on describing this mission."


            Stillwater's eyes darted to his watch. "You all volunteered for a pilot program centering on a new style of training. That is the truth. Now I'd like to show you what you'll be training for."


            Olsen's attention focused as several of the vehicles were gutted by explosions, one after the other. The last of the flat blasts was followed by a series sharp cracks, and another group of explosions. These were larger and more frequent; he immediately recognized 40mm grenades, which fell around the trenches and the burning vehicles. For a split second, Olsen smirked.


            Then his eyes widened and his jaw began to slowly lower at what happened next. Later on he would try to organize the events into a coherent timeline. A group of figures in battle dress darted out of a nearby forest. Then a helicopter flying at treetop appeared and dropped a group of what Olsen first assumed were paratroopers. However, they fired as they descended, were too low for parachutes, and had... wings.


            After this, events degenerated into an orgy of precise violence. The troops landed and proceeded to literally tear into the targets. Some of the damage was being done by bullets of a ridiculous caliber, each round blasting heads and torsos apart. Some was done by claws and tails that seemed to slice through the dummies, and some by various blades and thick purple beams. In one moment, the attack ceased and the attackers spread wings, lifted off the ground and flew just over the trees before dropping out of sight.


            For the first time since the initial shots, Olsen blinked.


            Stillwater pushed his sunglasses back up his nose. "Ladies, Gentlemen, we are Willard International Consulting. Our mission is the protection of humanity from various non-human and paranormal threats. What you just saw was the Fifth Non-Human Task Force, and yes, they are demons."


            The Commander of Canadian Special Forces Command got up from his front row seat. "Commander Stillwater is correct. Our government hired them to provide combat and training assistance with the recent grouping of troubles."


            Olsen stared. He had heard the rumors but this was... He looked around at the other soldiers in his platoon. There was the expected mix of shock, curiosity, and disbelief.


            "You have all volunteered for the training part," the Canadian officer remarked. "You are the best we have. Your work in Iraq, Peru, Bolivia and Nepal have shown this. You know that the world is darker and more violent than your countrymen admit that it is. The mission hasn't changed, just the enemy. We need you."


            Stillwater kept his face neutral. That was not his preferred style of encouragement, but it would do. "And now Captain Jarvis will tell you about one of the enemies you will face."


            Olsen watched as the older WIC... officer stepped aside and a woman in a dress uniform consisting of a grey skirt and blouse stepped up to the lectern. Olsen's appreciation of her rather pale body was interrupted by him noticing several projection screens quickly being erected.


            "After several years of research the Company found a way to classify non-human entities by the energy patterns they give off. What are popularly considered demons fall under Pattern-D," Jarvis made a motion and another agent turned on the three projectors. "And this is what they can do in a real battle," she said as the screens filled with gouts of blood and torn bodies. The footage was grainy and often poorly shot, but it showed enough. The quick messy violence was occasionally interrupted by slower but more gruesome footage of screaming humans being slowly eaten. There had been decades of footage in the WIC archives to choose the best from.


            "Why am I showing you soldiers, women and children being killed and worse? So you'll remember. If you lose, being eaten alive is what happens if you're lucky." Captain Jarvis narrowed her eyes.


            "Pattern D's have the physical advantage over humans; this variety included. They are stronger than you, faster than you, can see better in the dark than you can with NVGs, can smell you dozens of meters out, have claws that can slice through steel, tails that are like a chainsaw crossed with a blender, fangs that hopefully will just tear your throat out, and fully functional wings. And they can throw balls of self-igniting napalm."


            Olsen tore his eyes away from one of the screens and looked at the blonde woman. She was quite the looker, and gave a nice distraction from the gore.


            "Now comes the good news. Humanity learned long ago not to fight on purely physical terms. Weapons, intelligence, counter-intelligence, strategy. This is where we come in. We have the weapons, ammunition, armor, and equipment to fight Pattern-D's and other NH's. More importantly, we can teach you how to fight them. How to use humanity's advantages to beat them."


            Olsen looked past the screen to the left to see a few people in grey uniforms wheel out some horizontal barrels mounted waist high on platforms and carrying a few unmarked crates. He turned back to the speaking blonde, still glancing over to see what kind of equipment was being setup. This whole presentation was getting a bit "cute".


            "We'll be splitting up into modules and starting with a more one-on-one introduction. After some refreshments we'll start familiarizing you with some equipment and give a brief overview of the global NH situation," Captain Jarvis said as she stepped down from the lectern. "If you'll all get up, please."


            After Olsen stood up he froze. One second the Jarvis woman was standing there, the next wings, horns, and a tail appeared. As the demon smirked showing her sharp teeth, Olsen wracked his brain. Aside from the... extras she did not look very different. It was just that the chalk white skin, pointed teeth, and killer body did not seem... odd.


            "This is another important lesson," Eve said as she adjusted her wings slightly. "Many NH's can pass as human. You need to be careful that the pretty woman next to you won't disembowel you." Her face brightened. "We're going to fire up the grills; so get some refreshments while we assign your groups."


            Olsen and Lily followed the rest of their platoon to the drums which turned out to be charcoal grills and the crates which were coolers. "That's a pretty sick sense of humor they have here," she said eyeing the large amount of meat being staged onto a table near the grills.


            "We've seen stuff like that before. Remember that camp we found in Nepal? The bad guys' supplies were cut off and it's not like they planned on returning the hostages," Olsen causally said as he fished out a soda can.


            "It also gave them some entertainment," Lily added. "Great, so we can cannibalize and rape right up there with the worst hell can offer. Go humanity."


            "Damn straight! We can be total bastards because we want to. Not because we have to. That's what gives us the edge. If this is the worst they could show us..." Olsen took a sip, casually enjoying the caffeine. It was not as good as the medication used for missions when they had to stay awake, but it was not like he needed waking up.


            "We are Special Forces. I'm pretty sure the spooky mercenaries know all about us," Lily said deliberately turning her gaze slightly in the direction of their superior officers chatting with the WIC officers.


            "And we just wanted to make sure you knew all about us," a voice behind them stated.


            Lily turned around. "Very quiet approach. I mean Olsen kept looking around. Demon right? There's the wings, but I don't want to assume." Green composed herself.


            The demoness smiled.


            Olsen's head simply threatened to split apart as he ginned madly. Want in his eyes, he stepped closer to the demon. "That's an Mk 19.. with a shoulder stock," he said almost reverently. It was amazing that she could even cock the thing. The statement drew the attention of most of the other Canadian troops who all turned to Misako and Olsen.


            Misako beamed with pride. "Yes."


            "And you shot that thing standing," Olsen said with ecstatic glee. "Damn, how do I sign up?"


            "Are you sure about that?" Lily asked. "Isn't it odd how there's only female demons in the Fifth?"


            Olsen shrugged.


            "Look at her, her hair's perfect, too perfect for having just worn a helmet. She's got great makeup. Even her uniform is pretty!" Lily waved her arm around. "They're all beautiful. There's a word for demons like that."


            One of the demons, with red hair and violet eyes, warmly chuckled as she cut her way through the crowd to them. "You're right. We're succubae. We're not the strongest Pattern D. Our real advantage is that we can easily pass as human."


            Lily had to keep herself from stepping away from the redhead, despite the demon's diminutive height. "Mimicry. Sometimes predators evolve to look like its prey. That way the prey doesn't realize it's being hunted."


            The redhead chuckled. "Good. Keep it up and you'll do well here." She held out her hand. "Ranma Saotome, Special Company Contractor."


            Straightening her stance, Lily grabbed the demon's hand, with what she hoped was a lack of hesitation; it felt normal, if a bit smooth. "Corporal Lily Green, Joint Task Force Two."


            "Sergeant Brummet," Olsen nodded, tearing his attention off of Misako's gun. Seeing the other succubae walk up, he let out a low whistle. They all carried some type of large sidearm strapped to their waist. Based on the magazine girth, they had to be double-stack, Olsen guessed some type of fifty caliber, possibly used in a Desert Eagle.


            One of the new girls, like Ranma, carried just a sidearm, but the rest carried a very pleasing mix. Olsen was reminded of the chocolate samplers he would get as a child. There was a wide variety, but the boxes were too small to do anything but whet his appetite. It was one thing to see them in a demonstration; it was another to see them up close. There were a pair of giant knives, a sheathed sword, two guns that looked like the sullen, hulking older brothers of the FN P90, and lastly, being shouldered by another diminutive redhead, was a sniper rifle that looked like something Barrett engineers would make on a drunken dare.


            It looked like it started out as a normal anti-materiel rifle, but, like the rest of the Fifth's weapons, it was increased in size and power. The barrel alone had been lengthened until the rifle was longer than its user was tall.


            "I should be finding my team," Ranma said as she excused herself and walked around the crowd of special forces busily talking with the rest of the brood.


            "She seems... " Brummet looked at Misako trying to gauge her reaction. "... in charge."


            Misako chuckled. "Oh?"


            "There were seven of you in the attack. Captain Jarvis was up here playing human. Your sniper was God-knows-how-far-out giving cover. Of the seven there, I recognize all your weapons. Now only two types of people just use sidearms. Officers not in the fight, and those that don't need 'em."


            Lily nodded. "Given how she fought, and the way you defer to her, she's both, right?"


            "Clever, clever humans. Shouldn't you be scared that we can eat you?"


            "Nah, people don't give neat presentations and refreshments for their food." Brummet shrugged. "Besides, seeing these weapons makes up for it."


            Misako looked at Brummet's eyes to make sure his lustful gaze was at her gun and not Morgan's. "Shouldn't you at least be looking for your demon instructor?"


            Lily let out a slow sigh. "You're her, aren't you?"


            Misako smiled. "The two of you being together just made my job too easy. So where's Giddings?"


            "Cordell?" Lily looked around. "Oh, he's over there with Tahnee."


            "So, how long have you been with WIC?" Lily eventually asked as they walked to the other side of the small crowd.


            "Few months," Misako said as she got her own beverage and eyed one of the steaks that had just been tossed onto a grill. "Before that I was part of an 'evil' brood," Lily saw the demon roll her eyes, "and before that I was in the Assembly of Man."


            "Assembly?"


            "Bunch of losers that pretend they're knights and priests and fight demons. They thought that just because they had some powers they could take on WIC and us," Misako laughed to herself.


            "They didn't like WIC working with demons." Lily slowly noted. Demons being real was a bit more believable than one of the most bland defense contractors actually being a premiere private military corporation. In retrospect, it made sense. The best cover for a spy was someone too dumb to be a spy. "What happened to them?"


            Misako raised her arm and swept it over the destruction that surrounded them.


            "You're holding our orientation at an enemy base. An enemy base in our country that you wiped out."


            Nodding Misako gave another little laugh. "And people say WIC doesn't have a sense of humor."


            Olsen stopped. "And you were a part of this group of pretend knights and priests?"


            Misako nodded before ducking aside to drag Corporal Cordell Giddings over to them. "Good, that's all three then."


            Cordell's eyes widened at the demon's face but then took on a measured cast and eventually narrowed. "Oh, man I'm starting to wish I had flunked that psyche exam."


            "I thought we were the failures," Olsen said. "I mean, it's like they picked the most unstable, amoral, anti-social, and just plain weird batch of JTF 2." Almost all of the of female soldiers in JTF2 were picked, constituting ten percent of the new unit. Women infantry, especially woman Special Operations personnel tended to be a bit ... strange.


            Cordell looked at the burned out mountain top and shattered tunnel entrance and gave a slight cough.


            "In other words we were selected for being the least religious, the least attached to family, the unmarried, and those that have half a chance of accepting a world with demons and other freaky monsters."


            "It's a good thing our military's not lacking oddballs then," Cordell noted. "So what did all this? I'm guessing there was artillery and something with sub-munitions dropped. Unless these... Assembly right? Unless these assembly were so stupid to put a minefield over their own line of retreat."


            Misako tapped her chin. "Well, they are that dumb."


            "Okay, blew the tunnel then? That concrete's pretty chewed up."


            Misako simply smiled.


            Olsen paused and recalled how the crowd parted for a certain demon, unconsciously "That Ranma Saotome lady."


            Misako shifted the hand she was holding Sasha with. "Not by herself. Good eye, Cord. WIC opened the door with an MRLS strike. The AOM was staging their own attack and was caught off guard. Over a dozen vehicles and a hundred troops were killed right then."


            She inhaled and closed her eyes as if savoring the memory of a pleasant meal. Disquieted, Olsen was certain that was exactly what she was doing.


            "That killed half of them, everyone outside. Then WIC encircled the base and kept them bottled up. Sharpshooters picked off those that tried to escape," Misako said as they walked among the burnt-out wrecks.


            "Then Ranma blew open the door and you girls went into the base to finish them off," Lily surmised.


            Misako gave a frown and shook her head. "And you were doing so well," she said, disappointment dripping off her words. "No, we stayed out and intercepted anyone that got past Mother."


            "One demon. One demon went into a bunker complex and killed a hundred people?" Cordell asked.


            "Wait? That redhead's your mother? Wow, you girls age great," Olsen added.


            Misako paused, appearing to think things over. "Well yeah, but no. We're about same age."


            "That's related to how you used to work for a... religious demon hunting group, but are obviously a demon?" Lily proposed.


            "I'm a demon now," Misako stated.


            "And that evil brood, that's different from the current thing you have, with Ranma," Olsen added.


            "Fine, yes I was human," Misako sighed. "It's not a big deal."


            "So people can be turned to demons; like vampires?" Lily asked.


            "Not like vampires!" Misako's eyes flashed. "Vampires are pitiful spirits that reanimate their old bodies. Little more than fancy flesh-golems that figured out how to build more of each other."


            "So, vampires are real too." Olsen sighed. "Why don't you like them? They taste bad?"


            Misako ignored the joking tone. "Yeah, they're a waste of perfectly good meat."


            "Perfectly good meat... humans?" Cordell started to wish that he had pretended to be a bit more normal during that exam.


            "You saw the videos," Misako sniffed.


            "I thought that was demons in general, not like - you guys specifically."


            "If it makes you feel better, Pattern D's taste way better than humans." Misako rolled her eyes.


            Cordell stared at the demon.


            "And, Ranma's your mother, in charge of the brood?" Lily asked. "So, WIC hires a group of demons and starts giving you armor and special weapons."


            "Sounds like a good deal. You get food, money, and great toys." Olsen's eyes went to Sasha again. "How do we sign up?" he asked with a bit of a smirk.


            Misako raised an eyebrow. "Don't disappoint in battle. Do that and Mother may make you a deal."


            Olsen paused, both at the insult to his combat ability and by the apparent seriousness of Misako's statement. "That's what happened with Capitan Jarvis?"


            Misako gave a slight nod.


            "I guess... I mean if you can look great and use giant guns. I mean that'd appeal to a certain type of woman," Lily slowly allowed as they looped back around and returned to the... party. She saw everyone in the new platoon had split off with their demonic... instructors.


            Chuckling, Misako shook her head as they walked. "It has a certain appeal, yes. WIC's smart too. They took in mother when she was alone and unsure. They did the one thing no one else did."


            "Being?" Cordell asked.


            "They didn't try to screw her. They played it straight, earned her respect and built up trust. Ruthless, clever bastards." Misako smiled smugly.


            "And now her brood's the jewel in WIC's little demonstration," Lily noted.


            "What about you?" Misako's gaze went between the three soldiers. "Can you handle this? Answer honestly, though I'm not sure what'll happen to you if you quit after hearing all this," she added, with a toothy grin.


            Cordell was the first of the group to reply to the sudden question. "Well, we've got no idea what we're up against, but that's what the training is for. Someone obviously thinks we should be doing this, otherwise we wouldn't be here."


            "Or we could be sacrificial lambs, set up to show that even the best our military has to offer just isn't good enough," Lily cautioned.


            "Good." Olsen's grin threatened to split open his face. "Fighting monsters? That's pretty damn scary, but spite? I can get behind that; I'm all for proving someone wrong. We'll do it, and we'll pass your training."


            Misako smirked. "Good enough."


           

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

 


            Her HSMG across her lap, Morrison leaned onto an oak at the periphery of the clearing. As she told her story, she looked at the troops that had somewhat reluctantly sat down facing her. "And then I was wounded in an ambush and turned, since then I've been training on how to use this new body. Questions?"


            "There's actually a program to turn guys into female demons?" Sergeant Billy MacDowell asked.


            "It was this or die," Morrison gently reminded..


            "It doesn't sound that reliable... in execution. You only get 'saved' if you get wounded and are dying and a... friendly demon finds you before you die," Willkie Bishop clarified.


            Morrison gave a slight nod. "That's why there's just two of us."


            "That sucks," Corporal Jon Jones said, finally speaking up. "I'm just glad you're normal. Some of the rest are pretty..."


            "Intimidating?" Morrison asked with a raised eyebrow, once she got over the bemusement of being called normal.

            "Yeah, that redhead and the blonde of-" MacDowell froze, remembering who had turned Morrison.


            "Yes, Mother can be quite scary."


            "Ah," MacDowell looked at Morrison's gun. "So, what's the story with that gun?"


            "Willard Munitions 17S. WIC custom Heavy Sub-Machine Gun. It fires a 17 by 65 mm cartridge developed specifically for this project. Double column horizontal magazine with a forty round capacity. It weighs nearly twenty kilograms loaded," she said handing the weapon to MacDowell.


            The special forces trooper grunted a bit. "Damn, why don't you just use a fifty cal machine gun?"


            "It was too long."


            MacDowell looked down at the gun he was holding and then back up at Morrison. She did have a point, weight aside, it was a compact weapon. "Still... isn't this overkill?"


            "Sounds pretty good to me," Bishop said.


            "It's too heavy," MacDowell frowned at the gun and handed it to Bishop.


            "And the kick is something else," Morrison said a bit of concern forming. As long as she could keep them talking, they'd at least start working through this.


            "I can imagine. What're we going to use," Bishop asked.


            "Depends, the 9 x 19mm of your MP5's is passable for some uses. As you know it's compact, good for inside buildings. Give the ammunition the right loads and you can do some real damage."


            "A lot of what we're doing is counter-terrorism?" Bishop asked.


            "Pretty-much. Most combat is fairly low intensity. Most NH's don't want anything to get too public. Their primary safety lies in anonymity."


            "So, it's like spies and terrorists with them?"


            "Yeah just like spies, but with fangs, regeneration, super strength and a taste for human flesh," MacDowell's grin died when he turned to Morrison.


            Who simply laughed. "Ain't it the truth. Course, I don't know what human tastes like," she warmly said. It was good that they were starting to make jokes.


            "Really? So you don't eat people?"


            "I've only had one combat mission as a demon," Morrison shrugged before taking her gun back.


            "Ah, so we got the green demon," Bishop stated, noting the color of her hair.


            Morrison frowned. There were jokes and then there were bad jokes. "Now your C8 rifle has similar stopping power problems. The old debate between 5.56 and 7.62 mm is pretty settled for NH combat. Stopping power is what counts."


            "I get it, these things won't go down as easy as a person," Jones said.


            Morrison nodded. "Larger bullets also allow for specialized payloads."


            "What, like hollow points filled with holy water capsules?"


            "Holy water is an unreliable agent."


            "Really? What does work then?" Bishop asked.


            "Depends on the Pattern. Certain types of iron work well. Part of why this thing is steel." Morrison said patting her gun.

 

            Bishop's brow furrowed. "In... case you have to beat a... fairy to death?"

 

            "Don't see many Pattern F's these days, but if you have to use your gun as a club it might as well be one that doesn't break." Morrison stated.


            "I thought it was to keep a 17 mm shell from blowing up the chamber," Jones noted.


            "That too," Morrison nodded. "Silver affects some, particularly Pattern L, lycanthropes. White oak is good, if properly treated. There's also a few more esoteric metals and some caustic chemicals."


            Bishop eyed the barrel to Morrison's gun. "With bullets like that you could have a whole sampler pack."


            A chuckling Morrison peeled a cartridge off of one of her extra magazines and tossed it at Bishop. "There's your party pack. Even if the NH isn't weak to that mix there's still plenty of trauma and shrapnel."


            Bishop inspected the bullet and brass; it was the same rough dimensions as a 12 gauge shotgun shell, but with a pointed aerodynamic slug. "Must be nice to have all this special equipment."


            "That load's actually a downsize of an existing 20 mm grenade round."


            Jones raised an eyebrow. "None of you carried that. Closest was that sniper rifle, but that was 25 mm."


            Morrison smirked. "That's because the 20 mm grenade is a human weapon. The Heavy Armament Optional Gun or HAOG is the main weapon for a WIC trooper, though the A is often dropped. It's two guns in one. The lower assembly is a 7.62 mm carbine and there's an upper attachment with 20 mm grenade."


            Bishop raised an eyebrow. "That sounds like the Objective Individual Combat Weapon boondoggle you Yanks tried a few years back, and the South Koreans are workin' on now.."


            Morrison gave a sympathetic nod. "With an even heavier rifle round for the under barrel. We called it a Hog for a reason. The gun was a total pig. They made it as light as possible but..."


            "It was still carrying two guns," MacDowell laughed. "So that's what it takes for that weapon to be practical. Inhuman monsters."


            "Yup, it's a good gun. That extra firepower is real handy."


            "What about missiles and rockets?" Jones asked.


            "You all know the problems of launching inside a structure, which depends on the weapon. In close quarters you have to watch out for who's behind you, but it's really nice to be able to shoot a Pattern D out of the sky, or blow apart some Pattern G's, ghouls, while they're still far off." Morrison rubbed her chin.


            "Those are pretty standard. Sometimes we tweak the warhead a bit, but most of the time they're fine as is. Your existing training should be good for a lot of that. You'll have to learn some new tactics and targeting," the demon evaluated.


            "How will we know someone's a target?" MacDowell coughed when his comrades looked at him. "I mean when they're not being belligerent. How do we tell the non-humans from the humans? Heck how do we tell the friendly non-humans from the ones that want to eat our brains?"


            "That's ghouls. Most demons prefer the liver, followed by the heart and the rest of the muscles. Marrow's good too, but hard to get. Of course the energy from the body is a major source of sustenance but that is taken at the moment of death."


            "A hungry succubus can render a body down to bone splinters and entrails in under half an hour. A brood can do it in minutes."


            "Sounds like something we'll be learning," Bishop noted.


            "Yes, you probably won't be exposed to the more... visceral knowledge of it. You raise a good point. Our Pattern scanners are reliable at detecting most NH's. That's what should worry you. That's why learning how to watch people and how they act is important too."


            "Yeah, like if a vampire hires some human goons," MacDowell said.


            "Exactly!" Morrison nodded. "And when dealing with mixed NH's it can be a real pain to sort out the friendly from unfriendly. We have some restraining equipment that can help. It also helps to look at the local registry. That'll give you an idea if there should be any friendly NH's about."


            "Registry?"


            "Yes, WIC keeps tabs on the non-belligerent NH's in our operational areas. Most NH's are just trying to live out their lives, keeping their heads down and staying out of trouble. They remember when mobs with torches would come hunting for them."


            "And some get hired by the Company?" Bishop asked.


            "It's honest work. Especially if you have certain... dietary needs."


            MacDowell inhaled. "Yeah about that, you're a succubus now. So... sex means..."


            "Yes, we can feed during sex. That's why we look like this." Morrison chuckled.


            "Ah, and the gender stuff..."


            Morrison sighed. "I was male, but it was this or going home in a box."


            "Tough choice," Bishop muttered.


            "Still, can't go home again," Jones noted. "Your family would notice another daughter, I'd bet."


            "Yeah, that's the hard part, but I have a new family now."


            "That's kinda creepy," Bishop stated.


            "I am a demon," Morrison dryly stated.


            "Sorry, sorry. So... brood thing. Sounds good for teamwork. You girls really worked well out in the field." Jones looked at the perplexed expression on the demon's face. "Is that just the training or, uh, can you read minds?"


            Morrison raised an eyebrow.


            "Like they'd tell the truth if they could. I'd keep that ability secret," Bishop said.


            "No, we don't do that. We're really good at reading body language and smelling pheromones. But that's a real good point. It's a bitch fighting someone that can read your mind."


            "What do you do? In that case they'd know what you were planning to do before you do it," Jones said.


            "Best way is to stay out of range and kill them at a distance, or rush in and box them, so it doesn't matter that they know what you're thinking. What's worse is teleportation."


            "That can happen?"


            Morrison nodded. "Yes, some Patterns can teleport from location to location, others can simply pass through matter. Less tangible ones can do that. The rules of teleportation differ. Comon limits on teleportation include range and/or frequency, but either way..."


            "It's a major advantage for the enemy to have." Bishop blinked.


            "Yes it is, that's why WIC spent decades developing technology to jam teleportation and honing tactics to fight enemies that can do it. The biggest problem is that without jamming there are no safe zones, as the enemy could show up anywhere and bypass any defenses."


            "Nasty ambushes then. Also a lot of tactical material and personnel targeting. Strategic too," MacDowell said.


            "And you don't want an NH to suddenly pop up next to you." Morrison summoned the claws on her left hand and flexed the glowing blades that appeared along her fingers and extended past them several inches.

 

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

 


            "Not to be rude but... how old are you?" Master Corporal George John Pattison asked the short demoness.


            Nabiki smirked. "That's a loaded question."


            "This is why you English have such poor luck with women." Corporal Richard Bonhomme smirked.


            "Then you must be a poor example of Quebequois romance," Private Sherrise Tahnee said laughing at Bonhomme.


            Nabiki looked down at her watch. "So, you were recently transferred into the same unit?"


            "It's that obvious?" Bonhomme asked.


            "At least you don't seem to be too nervous."


            "Oh please, arguing with each other is a way to diffuse the tension," Tahnee noted.


            "You are half our age and can easily kill us." Pattison noted.


            "And that's why you should always carry a gun," Nabiki dryly remarked.


            "You weren't using yours." Bonhomme's eyes went down to the knives on Nabiki's hips.


            "These?" Nabiki drew one of her knives and flipped out the foot long blade locking it in place. "Sixty centimeter reach, sharper than a razor, and when filled with demonic power can block energy blades and other insanity," she flatly recited from memory.


            "Those aren't knives, they're short swords. That can fold" Tahnee added. "Better in close quarters then?


            Nabiki nodded.


            "And what are the blades made out of?" Bonhomme reached his hand out slightly, but then thought better. Trying to grab someone else's blade was not the wisest of moves. "The handles are... dense grain... nice glow... Cocobolo? That's used for fancy gun grips."


            Nabiki raised an eyebrow. "Right on the handles; no one else has guessed that. The blades are Dantite. The pair was built by Master Oskar Nishina and Major Nodoka Saotome PHD."


            "Dantite?"


            "Common name for a type of rare metal. It's very good at channeling energy. It's toxic to humans. Especially when inhaled or exposed to blood," Nabiki explained with a cute smile as she closed the knife and slid it back into its holster.


            "What's it going to do to us?" Richard asked.


            Nabiki smirked. "Don't touch the blades and you'll be fine, and it'll only drive you insane if you try to channel energy through them."

 
            "Sounds dangerous."


            "It doesn't hurt my kind, and grandma and Master Nishina used glove boxes to make them." Nabiki shrugged.


            "Wait... Major Saotome, she designed the other weapons too, and she's your grandmother?" Tahnee raised an eyebrow. "How long has WIC been planning this?"


            "They are certainly well equipped," Bonhomme smoothly stated.


            "Grandma was also behind our battle armor's design too," Nabiki gave an evil smile and went with it. "She's been a part of this project as long as mother's –well- been our mother, of course she's been training us since day one."


            "And Willard?"


            "Mother has their full support."


            "See. That's what's wrong with our country. The Americans spend good money breeding demons, and what do we do? Try to bring back the green-eyed ferret. Merde." Bonhomme sighed.


            Nabiki chuckled. "Canadians are known for their insanity too. Besides, Grandma and Mother are Japanese."


            "So WIC really is some globe-spanning mercenary organization fighting creepy monsters?" Pattison asked.


            "Sure."


            "Just like all those movies and comics where secret agencies do just that. Ones that also just happen to have small teams of supernatural beings that also fight to protect humanity."


            "I can think of worse marketing ideas," Nabiki noted as she frowned at one of her fingernails.


            "You're saying WIC is behind a lot of the supernatural paranoia media out there?" Tahnee asked. "Conspiracies don't work that big."


            "We would know; we've been part of enough," Pattison nodded.


            "You don't need a conspiracy. There's a reason human myths have all these monsters. WIC just kept the ball rolling. Where do you think pulp horror got a lot of their ideas? Once this stuff is in the popular consciousness WIC had to do even less."


            "I'm sure a swimsuit calendar would be a great way to raise funds," Bonhomme noted in a carefully neutral voice.


            Nabiki raised an eyebrow.


            "Just leak the right events? And assume people will read the subculture zeitgeist right? Huh... that's not a bad plan," Pattison admitted.


            "It's also good cover whenever something unexpectedly leaks out." Nabiki smiled.


            "Like how all those TV shows with US Air Force and Feds dealing with aliens coverup real alien encounters," Tahnee noted.


            Pattison and Bonhomme looked at her.


            "Oh come on. Aliens are real. Right there." Tahnee pointed to Nabiki.


            "That's a demon, Private " Pattison stated slowly.


            "No, being from another world: alien,"


            "I guess Hell counts," Pattison admitted.


            "She's right, we are from another place, but it's not Hell. It's the Succubus Homeplane. From what I've read it sounds like a great place, kinda like here."


            "The mangled earth of a battlefield that turned into a complete rout and slaughter?" Pattison asked.


            "I meant the forest and trees."


            "The succubus home world looks like Ontario?" Tahnee asked slowly drawing out each word.


            "A bit, there's more trees, more mountains. There's a lot more wilderness, and some really big lakes."


            "So it's like planet Canada?"


            "You haven't been there yourself?" Pattison asked.


            Nabiki shook her head. "Born right here on Earth, mother and grandma too."


            "So demons are... just another immigrant group?" Bonhomme asked.


            "Well we're more violent, sexual, and aggressive."


            "Eh, Quebequois then," Pattison said.


            "Jealous," Richard smirked


            "You were reading about this place?" Tahnee asked.


            "Yes, our great grandmother sent us some books and a few other gifts when she visited."


            "Like Dantite demon metal?"


            "Good, perceptive." Nabiki allowed.


            "And you're still in contact with your ancestors in the old-country," Pattison noted. "I'm betting demons don't have to deal with old age."


            Nabiki smirked.


            "So what is WIC doing about that? Or are they chummy with elder demons too?"


            "BlackSky found WIC to be rather impressive," Nabiki noted.


            "Well, that's a nice feather for their hat," Pattison noted.


            "The Company is feeling confident enough to show this project off," Tahnee said waving to the surroundings.


            "It does show they know how to handle demons and the like," Bonhomme agreed.


            "The Company is a business, so this must be good for business," Pattison said looking critically at Nabiki.


            "So it's not a coincidence that our official reveal is at the same event as your induction?" Nabiki asked.


            "I don't think you guys are that sloppy," Tahnee noted. "No, this is just WIC showing that they've still got something we don't."


            Nabiki shrugged.


            "There is plenty of money to be made training and equipping the military," Pattison said.


            "This is also a chance for you to prove you can handle this," Nabiki idly noted.


            Pattison raised an eyebrow.


            "Ah, a challenge," Bonhomme smiled.


            "Great, why don't you get into an argument over who can make the biggest fireball," Tahnee sighed.


            "Pyrokinetic?" Nabiki asked.


            "Demolitions," Bonhomme stated.


            "So you set bombs to kill unsuspecting people allowing the rest of your team to pick off the disoriented survivors."


            "It's not our fault someone thought a fight was going to be fair."


            Nabiki smiled "Good. So you are professionals. Remember that, NH's don't play fair, and if you try to fight by their rules you'll get eaten."


            "So all the non-humans eat people? Why?" Tahnee blinked.


            "Well, some that don't need to eat don't. Really, it's because you guys are so plentiful, and have all sorts of good nutrients, muscle, energy, blood, souls. Very handy food source."


            "What about other NH's? Or do they not have souls?"


            Nabiki rubbed her chin. "Well some are just animated corpses, not very much energy there and the meat can be quite spoiled. Other species are edible enough but bland, and then there's the really tasty ones."


            "Oh?" Bonhomme asked


            Nabiki gave a wide smile. "Succubae are great. Amazing flavor and great nutrients and energy."


            "But humans are the main food source." Pattison set his jaw in thought.


            Her grin shifting to a more subdued expression, Nabiki gave a slight nod.


            "And that's because we're more 'common' right? I guess eating your own kind is some kind of rare treat."


            "Caliss," Bonhomme swore. "If you're gonna eat us at least enjoy it! Nom de dieu de bordel de merde!"


            Nabiki raised an eyebrow. "In the name of the god of the brothel of shit? That does sound something an angel'd worship."


            "That's the literal translation. It's really just 'Goddamn fucking shit almighty!'" Bonhomme blinked. "Wait? Angels?"


            Tahnee gave a slow wave at Nabiki. "Demons are real, why not angels?"


            "As you've proved, demons are less corrupting spawn from Hell and more aliens," Pattison reminded. "And what's the big deal Rich? If demons can be nice despite their reputation, why not angels?"


            "Because demons make sense!" Bonhomme hissed. He paused and regained his composure. "They can manipulate our emotions, are stronger than us, live a lot longer, eat us, oh and they can turn us into more of them. So, it's perfectly logical that humans would make those myths around demons.


            "Demons are corrupting, tormenting monsters. That's a perfectly normal reaction to a predator. What the hell are angels? Benevolent all powerful creatures that help humanity? In this world?"


            "So they're only a more better camouflaged predator then?" Nabiki idly asked.


            "Well are they?" Bonhomme asked. "You're the supernatural expert. Is there a species with feathery wings that cons humans into thinking they're here to save us?"


            "At least a demon's honest," Tahnee agreed.


            Nabiki chuckled and wondered exactly what test WIC had that measured skeptical cynicism so well.


            "Honest to their true nature," Tahnee clarified. "Bonhomme's right. Angels sound way too good to be true."


            "To the point, are there angels? And if so how dangerous are they?" Patterson asked.


            "Planning a war on Heaven?" Bonhomme smirked. "Now there's a challenge worthy of our nation."


            "We're already in a shadow war with demons. Isn't that WIC's stance?"


            "Johan Willard's motivations when he founded WIC were simple. His family, his whole hometown was wiped out by monsters. Succubae understand vendetta."


            "Is that why you fight on... our side?" Tahnee tried to hide her pause.


            "Mother watched the various factions; she learned the history." Nabiki ran a hand over her blade's holster.


            Bonhomme smiled. "She went with the winner?"


            The demon tilted her head. "She realized why WIC, why humanity, will win. There's a reason why we're such powerful fighters."


            "You're using our technology, our tactics, our support."


            "Humans are weak, because of this you learned that 'fighting fair' was a loser's game. One fit only for the complacent, for those that wish to stay weak, and for those that foolishly think they're strong." Nabiki flexed her hands.


            "So, your mother sided with the humans that chose to fight?" Pattison raised an eyebrow


            "That's what you all did. You know how the world works. This is just yet another ugly secret war."


            "At least we get another batch of cool weapons," Bonhomme said, dryly.


            "So are angels real?" Pattison asked. "You didn't answer us."


            Nabiki frowned. "There's been... reports. Occasionally something will pop up that sounds angelic."


            "But that doesn't mean they're working for God." Tahnee paused. "Or even a species. The angelic look could just be a disguise."


            "At least one of the 'angelic' sightings did turn out to be a Pattern V with a dark sense of humor."


            "So, you don't know what they are, how dangerous they are, or if they're even real," Bonhomme frowned.


            "Not all NH's are as clear cut as the succubae," Nabiki smiled.


            "Isn't your species split between those that want to exterminate, forcefully feed on, peacefully feed on, work with, or ignore humanity?" Bonhomme rhetorically asked. The videos seemed to make that fairly clear.


            "Yeah, pretty straightforward."


            "I guess your motivations are clear," Pattison allowed.


            "Makes me wish we were back in the Commando Olympics," Bonhomme sighed.


            "Ah, Afghanistan, plenty of bullets and bad guys," Tahnee smirked.


            "You just liked showing them what a woman with a gun could do."


            "And you liked blowing them up."


            "The boys on the M77 did most of the work." Bonhomme gave a Gallic shrug. Artillery was nice, but it often lacked the personal touch of something hand-placed.


            "You guys aren't going to lack targets, but they won't all be assaults," Nabiki cautioned.


            Tahnee sighed. "Peacekeeping?" she asked with exasperation.


            "Worse," Nabiki smiled, once again showing her teeth. "Immigration."


            "How does that work? I mean NH's don't exactly come from 'official' countries." Pattison said.


            "That makes it simpler. The standard procedure involves registration and surveillance. Make sure there's not a rash of missing persons or the like."


            "And if there is, the law enforcement side is much simpler?" Bonhomme asked. "Sounds fair, the innocent would have nothing to hide," he chuckled.


            "Of course, you guys being 'official' may have more regulations to deal with. You don't have quite the plausible deniability that we do."


            "Yes, independent contractors hired by a consulting company working for the government," Tahnee noted.


            "Still the work will vary. The fights will vary too."


            "Swarms of minions versus one or two powerful guys?" Tahnee asked.


            "And any combination of them. Mother fought a brood that had a few dozen minions, one demon in charge, and the rest of us."


            "Us?" Pattison asked.


            "It happens. Mother rescued us from Mother Alexia, after she ate her," Nabiki quietly said. It was hard to believe that, aside from her and Akane and Misako, everyone else was dead. There were just so many, but it looked like Mother got them all.


            "I'm guessing the ways to kill NH's vary too."


            "Broadly speaking, no" Nabiki shrugged. "Just about anything will die if you destroy the brain. Failing that, dismember it and burn it."


            "But there are more... elegant solutions?" Pattison asked.


            "Not really, some chemicals are more effective on certain NH's, and of course the regeneration abilities vary between the species. When in doubt do as much damage as you can," Nabiki said her mood brightening.


            "A woman after my own heart," Bonhomme said.


            "Learn all you can from us, keep your eyes open, don't hesitate," Nabiki advised.

 

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

 


            Jacob opened the lid and rotated some of the excessively thick steaks. "You see, most people confuse grilling with barbecue. The difference is time and temperature." He looked over to a grill where Lieutenant Tendo was cooking some hamburgers and sausages. "Barbecue is much slower and a bit cooler. More work but it's worth it," he explained as he picked up a small container of spices and sprinkled them onto the slabs of beef.


            "Not that there's anything wrong with grilling. Often it's the best way for a lot of meat," he closed the grill and looked up. "Oh, hello Miss Saotome. I was just talking with our guests."


            Lieutenant Hanna Hill looked from the older man to the redhead. "It drifted off on a tangent though." She looked over to see the demons group a few feet away at a table where the cooked meat had been placed.


            "Jacob will do that," Ranma said before taking a bite out of the hamburger in her hand. "So... how much longer?" she asked happily sniffing the smoke coming out of Jacob's grill.


            Jacob grinned. "Not long."


            "Good." Ranma's eyes went over the officers with Jacob before returning to her group.


            "Intense," Major Wellwood Ellis Sifton noted.


            "At least you maintained your composure," Jacob stated. "Though you'll need more than a poker face to deal with demons."


            "They really can smell us?" Hanna asked.


            "Yes, it's very well developed." Jacob opened a small ceramic container and stirred his sauce glaze. "Now I'm sure you've figured out why you're talking with me and not one of the 5th."


            "There are more than twenty-seven of us," Hanna said.


            "And we will have more people under our command than even Captian Jarvis," Sifton added.


            "Jarvis' experience would have come close, that's why she's got your squad leaders, but you have a point. You and your auxiliary staff will have to learn the support, logistics, and command details of NH operations."


            "And equipment which your organization can provide," Hanna noted.


            "Yes," Jacob said, glancing at his watch. He still had a few more minutes before he could put on the finishing sauce.


            "You're taking this rather well," Sifton noted, he looked out to the ravaged building at the summit of the charred hill. "You need us. What's... going on?"


            "You think this isn't the status quo for us?" Jacob said with a ghost of a smile. "Perhaps."


            "I think he's... happy," Hanna stated.


            "I am cooking." After opening the lid he flipped the meat and started brushing the meat and ribs. "The D program and the 5th are doing well, too."


            "Why is it the Fifth Non Human Task Force?"


            "Why are you the Second Joint Task Force?" Jacob idly asked, closing the grill.


            Sifton put his fingers to the bridge of his nose.


            "Well, there never was a Joint Task Force One. We got the 'two' to add an air of mystery." Hanna sighed.


            "My condolences. For the Company, this is the Fifth such unit, and two of the previous ones are still active."


            "You have other Non-human teams?"


            "Of course," Jacob mildly said. "But I wouldn't discount the psychological effects of your unit name. That's important."


            "So what are the key organizational differences?" Hanna asked.


            "Our NH task forces tend to be more of a counter-terrorism role. Most of your operations will be within Canadian territory and short in duration," Jacob explained.


            "At least resupply will be easier," Sifton noted. "Though civilians will be a big problem."


            "Secrecy's another concern," Jacob nodded.


            Chewing her lip, Hanna looked around. "The steaks are almost done, right?"


            Jacob raised an eyebrow.


            "Well, the demons are back, all of them."


            "They like meat." Jacob shrugged before stepping over to get a platter.


            "Can you be a bit more specific?" Hanna asked.


            "The only change to draw them is that the meat's being cooked. They didn't need to wait if they wanted raw," Sifton said in a carefully even voice.


            "Just because you're a cannibal doesn't mean you can't appreciate good food," Jacob said as he started removing the steaks and ribs.


            "What... kind of... meat is that?" Hanna reluctantly asked.


            "Are you prepared for me to answer?"


            Hanna blinked. "Well it's not like I've eaten any of it."


            "Those steaks are too thick to be human," Sifton snorted. He grew up in rural Alberta. "The ribs are the wrong shape too."


            Jacob smiled. "Yes, the shape is quite distinctive, and it's not like I'm cooking sausage. Good, fresh meat's difficult to find anyway, even harder to get experience in cooking it."


            "A joke?" Hanna raised an eyebrow.


            "No, that's the truth," Jacob shrugged.


            "It's important to keep the troops happy?" Sifton's voice was strained.


            "Morale is vital." Jacob stated.

 

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

 


            Vosem walked up behind Galina. When the older girl did not respond, Vosem coughed politely.


            Closing her hand, Galina turned to her subordinate. "Have all the pods checked out?"


            Frowning, Vosem nodded. "They're checked and ready."


            Smirking, Shest looked up from her work. "So the little chatterboxes still work?"


            Vosem shot the diminutive girl a glare. "No shipping damage."


            "Shame we can't do a full test," Shest muttered.


            Galina looked over to Arisha with a raised eyebrow. "We'll see." Arisha allowed.


            "Any progress on your side?" Galina asked Shest.


            Shest pulled up her display. "I've got plenty of data," she bit her lip, "and the results aren't good."


            "So their jammers work against us?"


            She gave a slight nod. "But the pulse idea does hold promise." Shest coughed. "Testing will be problematic, worse than Vosem's little friends."


            "Don't blame those pods on me," Vosem glared. "Besides, they'll do their job."


            "The pulse would alert the mercenaries... prematurely," Arisha frowned. "What are the chances of it working?"


            Shest shrugged. "I can make the pulse powerful enough, but I don't know what kind of redundancy systems they have."


            "If I were them I'd have a backup system powered off and ready to kick in," Arisha noted.


            "I can deal with that," Shest assured. "The problem is this won't be subtle. They'll know about it."


            "Keep up the work," Galina said, looking over Shest's notes. "See if you can find a less brute-force method."


            "We're not a blunt instrument," Arisha noted.


            Galina raised an eyebrow. "Speaking of blunt instruments..."


            "I've made the calls."


            "Got anyone interested?" Galina asked.


            "Any Bulgarians?" Vosem chuckled.


            "When will Dve'nadtsat, Sem, and Desyat be back from their recon?" Vosem asked.


            "They were ordered to keep their distance?" Shest quietly asked.


            "Just to look." Arisha reassured. " Zaika's up to something."


            "You mean the Princess is actually planning something?" Vosem smirked. "That why you're making the calls?"


            "It'll take time to make all the arrangements," Arisha said.


            "Good," Galina looked at the girl's frowns. "We need to be prepared. We've been watching the demons and the Company. They're the real problem here, not Zaika."


            "I wouldn't discount Zaika's green-haired guardian. I still haven't figured out what power she used to stop Svetlana," Shest stated.


            "Magic," Vosem dryly noted.


            "Yeah, but what kind?" Arisha asked.


            "They have power," Galina warned. "But they lack training."


            "Meiou is training them," Shest reminded.


            "With mixed results." Arisha looked out the window.


            Galina went back to looking at her fingers as they flexed. "In general they're getting better, but the magical girls are still keeping their distance from the demons. That makes me suspicious. It's too obvious."


            "You think they're pretending to not get along? Make us underestimate their cooperation?" Vosem laughed. " The magical girls aren't that smart."


            "Meiou is," Shest said.


            "True, but Zaika's a good guy. That means playing fair, not tricking us."


            "You really think we can count on her being that dumb?" Arisha raised an eyebrow.


            Vosem nodded. "It's a safe bet."


            "So? Zaika may be as pure as driven snow, but we know Miss Sunshine and her Fascist Friend aren't," Shest stated as she got up from the couch and pulled a few bottles of juice out of the fridge.


            "Unwitting bait?" Galina's eyes sparkled. "So, we're dealing with the kind of minds that'll use people like that?"


            "Worthy?" Arisha asked.


            "We'll see how the brood responds." Galina took the drink Shest offered her. "I'd be disappointed if they didn't make a good showing, but that would make the payoff that much easier."

 

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

 


            Hearing the sound of a throaty engine, Usagi looked up from her menu and out the window to her left. The blonde smiled a bit as she watched the motorcycle park across the street and the rider pull off her helmet, revealing a long mane of crimson tresses.


            "You're early," Ranma said with an amused smirk as she sat down across from Usagi. The redhead's nose flared as she took in the scent of the restaurant.


            "And you're not surprised," Usagi said with a bit of a sigh.


            As she picked up a menu, Ranma raised an eyebrow.


            "I guess it was foolish of me to think I could surprise you." Usagi's expression turned to a smile. "It was nice of you to invite me out to lunch."


            "I see we have a chaperone," Ranma gave a respectful nod to Setsuna who sat one table over, appearing to read the paper.


            "It's not safe; I can't pretend otherwise," Usagi's tone was of reluctant resignation.


            "One can't do it alone," Ranma's voice was sympathetic.

 

            Setsuna wondered how much of that sentiment came from the social nature of succubae. As a species they did not handle solitude well; forced isolation was a sure way to drive a succubus mad.


            Usagi looked to her left and could not spot any other agents or demons in the restaurant or outside, but that did not mean they were not there.


            Ranma smiled, at least Usagi was trying. "Did I keep you waiting long?"


            "Not at all," Usagi blushed a bit. "Setsuna wanted to be sure."


            "If it helps, think of this as a working lunch," Ranma said giving Usagi a pat on the hand.


            Usagi's reaction was cutoff by a waitress arriving and asking for their drinks. After asking about the specials Ranma turned to her companion. "Have you ever had BBQ ribs?"


            The blonde froze, the cooking meat filling the small restaurant with a charred, primal scent, which only compounded the visuals in her head. At the very least, Ranma was eating ribs. Usagi's lips quivered.


            "We'll have two orders of pork short-ribs then." Ranma watched the waitress leave and almost immediately return with their drinks. "So why are you moving?" she asked after taking a sip of water.


            The blonde's eyes went to Setsuna's. "I took your advice. I'm doing something," Usagi's expression hardened. "They think I'm spoiled, that I'm weak. Good."


            "You're learning." Ranma chuckled. "Though they're going to know you've moved, and that it's to a better defended place, but you know they'll know that."


            The blonde smiled. "I then remembered your plan in the helicopter."


            Ranma blinked. Usagi had control over the one thing the assassins needed. "They'll be expecting something," she cautioned.


            "At least it'll be where I'm in charge," Usagi stated.


            Ranma leaned forward. "So, how can I help?" she quietly asked.


            Usagi coughed at the eyes. "I'll still be going to school. Setsuna said staying in one spot all the time would be too suspicious and they'd probably try something else."


            "They'd prefer to take you on the move," Ranma reminded.


            Usagi hesitated. "Setsuna's planned for that."


            Ranma slowly turned her head to the green-haired woman who just gave a curt nod. Smirking, the redhead blew a kiss and noted to get the details from Setsuna in a more... secure place.


            The blonde narrowed her eyes at Setsuna, but quickly blushed when Ranma turned back to face her. "I... I can do this, but..."


            Ranma tilted her head and wondered if Usagi's tenuous confidence would become problematic. "But you want some help?"


            "I'm not staying on some Company base," the blonde stated her eyes hardening again.


            Suppressing her irritation, the redhead looked down at her watch. "Safe house? At least we could integrate defenses," she evenly said.


            Usagi turned to Setsuna who gave a slight shrug. "That... depends. I don't want to anyone else to get hurt."

 

            "I think the Company can handle themselves," Ranma lightly noted.

 

            "Well, so can I," Usagi glared. "I've been doing this longer than you, and I've faced enemies far more powerful."

 

            Ranma raised an eyebrow. "More powerful, but were they more skilled?" she eventually asked.


            "I did defeat the woman that destroyed the Silver Millennium."

 

            Holding her tongue at the almost... haughty remark, the demoness paused. It was true. Usagi had defeated the very foe that had destroyed Queen Serenity's Empire. However, during the Fall the attack originated from Earth, while Usagi had to face an enemy that had to climb over a strong dimensional barrier. That counted for a lot.

 

            Usagi blinked at Ranma's lack of response. "Anyway, two of them have been killed. You gave us copies of those Vatican files. We know their powers, we know their weaknesses, we know what needs to be done to take them down."


            Focusing on her job, Ranma gave a... charitable smile. "That was from a couple kilometers away, and those files... had gaps. It's very different reading what the enemy might do and actually preparing to fight them. How far from you will they be during your little plan?" Her question hung in the air as the waitress came in and served them their ribs with coleslaw and mashed potatoes.


            Rapt, Usagi watched as the redhead picked up one of the ribs and neatly tore it off the rack. Ranma bit her teeth into one and quickly stripped the flesh off with an experienced efficiency. She licked the bone clean and then grasping it with her long fingers snapped it in the middle and began to suck out the marrow.


            Bone still sticking between her lips, Ranma paused and looked at the staring blonde. The demon bit down, spitting the rib with a sharp crack.


            "So how is it," Usagi asked suddenly studying her plate.


            "Not as good as Jacob's stuff," Ranma slowly licked a couple fingers. "But, he uses a dry rub as well as a spicier sauce. This is more tangy and obviously," her tongue darted out and cleaned the back of her palm, "a thicker sauce."


            Eyes on her plate, Usagi reached out and tore some meat off the bone, splattering some sauce across the table.


            "Good?" Ranma playfully asked as Usagi took another bite and started devouring the meat. Once the blonde was down to the bone she bit down on one of the ends.


            "Owww!" she whined dropping the rib and holding her jaw.


            "Do you really want the marrow?" Ranma asked.


            "Well you did it," the blonde pouted.


            "I can bite through a femur," the redhead said before trying some of the potatoes. "And I broke it in half with my hands first," she added.


            "Yeah... sorry. It's good." Usagi stared at the mess she had made.


            Ranma glanced over to see Setsuna's face hidden by her newspaper. "Fine..." she reached out and holding Usagi's bone, slipped it into her mouth, and cracked it down the middle.


            Usagi stared at the offering in front of her. "Uh... thanks," she said taking the split bone. Tasting some of the marrow, her eyes widened.


            Looking at the blonde, Ranma kept her face neutral. "It's an acquired taste... will you be okay?"


            Usagi took a long drink from her glass. "Are you laughing at me?"


            Ranma's face broke into a wide grin. "Yeah."


            The blonde pouted.


            "It's funny."


            "I can eat it," Usagi glared as she picked up the bone.


            "Better?" Ranma asked as a slightly green-about-the-gills Usagi put down the finished rib.


            "Very good," Usagi said starting to pull another rib loose. "So what have you been up to? You missed school a couple days ago."


            "Training," Ranma shrugged. "How about you?"


            "I'm sure you know." Usagi raised an eyebrow. "We've got that move we're finishing up. So just more training? Nothing special?"

            Ranma raised an eyebrow before going back to her ribs. "Hinting that you know something?" she eventually stated.


            Usagi sighed before she took a bite of her meat. "I'm trying to be subtle."


            "So what did you hear?" Ranma asked while looking over to Setsuna who had put down her newspaper and was sipping at a mug of coffee.


            The green-haired woman put down the cup, smiled a bit, and added some sugar.


            "So has she told you everything she knew? She's not keeping anything hidden from you?" Ranma asked.


            Memories of a long low-ceilinged room full of... tubes and Setsuna standing in the middle looking vaguely ashamed hit Usagi. "Yes, she told me," the blonde slowly said.


            Ranma arched a thin crimson eyebrow. "I was talking about what I was up to. Has Puu revealed some dark secret to you? Something personal?"


            Usagi turned to Setsuna. The green-haired woman rolled her eyes. "Well... no... it's not about her," Usagi admitted.


            "So there is something about her?"


            "Yeah, but it makes a lot of sense, she would-" Usagi quickly closed her mouth.


            "Learning to keep secrets are we?" Ranma smiled.


            Mirroring Ranma's expression, Setsuna smiled to herself.


            "I'm trying," Usagi pouted.


            "I suppose I should be encouraging this," Ranma shrugged. "So what do you know?"


            "You were north of the city, in that base you destroyed. It looked like there were other soldiers there, different soldiers."


            Ranma gave a theatrical sigh. "Willard International Consulting is a defense contractor. They're supposed to do business with the military."


            "And you're a contractor for them," Usagi stated.


            "What I do is legal," Ranma chuckled. "Loopholes are useful things, so are lawyers, and monster-fearing governments."


            "Privateers are legal too," Setsuna muttered.


            "What's that?" Usagi asked.


            "Pirates that have state sponsors, it makes their operations legal... in the eyes of one country."


            "That would make you more illegal pirates," Ranma said. "Course I get piracy, that makes sense. Magical girls on the other hand..."


            "Are you going to mock me?" Usagi glared.


            "Nah, don't really care. 'Sides it doesn't even look like you really believe in that nonsense."


            Usagi looked down at her meal. "Anyway... so you're training the military here? In what?"


            Ranma smirked. "I think you can figure it out."


            "Fighting monsters and stuff?"


            The redhead nodded.


            "Why?"


            Ranma rotated her fingers in the "move it along" signal.


            "You need more men? There's money to be made? The government's forcing you too?"


            "All very good reasons."


            "You're not making this easier," Usagi sighed.


            "I'm a demon; you've gotta let me have some fun." Ranma coyly leaned forward.


            Usagi blushed at the thought of "fun". "Okay... so it was done for a lot of reasons. Do you need the extra people? Are things going to be that bad?"


            Ranma shrugged. "It's better to have too many allies than too few."


            "So, what is going on?"


            The redhead blinked and started to chuckle which built into laughter that almost became maniacal. "So Setsuna didn't tell you everything?" Ranma asked after she regained her composure.


            Usagi turned to the older woman. "You said you didn't know!"


            Setsuna glared at Ranma.


            "You're either incompetent or keeping secrets," Ranma grinned.


            "I'll sort that out later," Usagi's voice was firm, despite the redhead's expression.


            "Going to punish her?" Ranma asked. "Want to borrow any toys?"


            Once again the blonde's imagination caused her cheeks to flush.


            "That's the spirit." Ranma picked up another rib. "So, what about this new place of yours? You going to have a housewarming party?"


           

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

 


            Saturn flipped the sharp end of her glaive near the ground. "What do you think these guys are up to Usa?"


            The pink-haired girl peered around the apartment. "Black robes, black magic. Standard bad guys. Why don't you ask our friend?" the Sailor Senshi asked, pointing a pink glove at the man whose neck was millimeters below Saturn's blade.


            Saturn narrowed her eyes at the prone man. "Are you going to be nice? Or are you scared of a couple of little girls?"


            Hood pulled away from his face, the man's bloodshot eyes seemed to bulge from his head. "Monsters!"


            Saturn flicked her wrists with a brief sigh.


            "Huh, so their bodies disintegrate," Usa noted. "Guess I owe you lunch."


            Flicking some blood off her blade, Saturn tilted her head. "Momma and Poppa are taking too long."


            "Don't tell me they're having trouble? These guys are a joke."


            "Yes, your attacks can kill them," Saturn lightly giggled. She turned and frowned at the kitchen where a pantry door was torn off, exposing a passageway with a set of darkened, descending stairs.


            "Go on, help them," Usa insisted.


            "But we're supposed to stay up here and watch their backs."


            "Then I'll stay up here," Usa said waving the Moon Rod.


            Saturn raised an eyebrow at the small sparkly cylinder. Her skepticism was cut off by a large and wet sounding explosion below them. The Senshi of Death and Rebirth gave a curt nod and then ran down the stairs.


            Alone Usa walked around the living room of the apartment, and gave the bookcase a passing glance. It seemed to be the standard mix of paranoid tracts and dark magic. The self-help and motivational books were a new twist.


            She looked up to see a group of men cloaked in hoods, robes and shadows rush into the apartment. They carried meter-long rods of metal covered in glowing runes, and surrounded her in a third of a circle within a few paces of the pink girl.


            "Oh, please. You're not scared of me?" She asked in a high-pitched but bored voice. Their hesitation and frankly the entire group's... stylistic tactics spoke of inexperience, at least in anyone real combat. "I'm tiny, an annoyance. You can take me," she assured, her red eyes sparkling. Faces obscured by their hoods the men silently leveled their oversized wands.


            Usa took a few steps and eyed back at the stairwell behind her.. "We're going to use magic then?" she asked holding her rod.

 

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

 


            By the time Saturn crossed the flooded basement to get to the room where her parents were, the fighting was all but over. At least she managed to get there in time to use her glaive to help in the finishing move, and release all the captured energy back to the hospitalized victims.


            It was then that she heard the high pitched shrieking. In a dark blur Saturn ran out of the basement with Uranus and Neptune at her heels. Bounding up the steps, Saturn could hear several loud thuds and a gurgling squeal. Once she got into the kitchen she stopped, causing the other two Outers to bump into her.


            Surrounded by fallen bodies was Sailor Chibi Moon. In her hands was a plain broadsword about her height in length. The pink girl easily held the two-handed sword by a, too large for her, blue-grey hilt with a simple brass guard and an unadorned, but obviously functional from the ichors staining it, pommel.


            The blade itself was a steel that only stood out by how much the black liquid contrasted the silver-white metal. Pinning one of the hooded goons to the wall was a long grey scabbard, with a few somewhat ornate brass fittings on the top.


            "That wasn't you screaming," Saturn noted.


            Switching to a one handed grip, Usa tried to wipe some of the black goo from her skirt. "How come when you kill these things they turn to dust, but I get covered in gunk?" she whined.


            "That sword looks familiar," Neptune noted.


            "It's Endymion's," Uranus said eyeing the blade.


            "About time I got it back," Chibi Moon muttered as she pulled the scabbard out of the wall, and the minion. With a yelp she jumped back to avoid the body, and tripped over one behind her.


            Uranus had to keep from chuckling, at least that much was the same, but at least it looked like hanging out with "real" warriors was starting to help the girl.


            "You used your father's blade in the future?" Neptune asked as she helped the girl back to her feet.


            "Of course," Usa said as she used her back bow's ribbon to clean the blade. "It's not like he was... alive."


            "I'm sorry," Hotaru said, giving the girl a hug.


            "Least you've got another blade to sharpen," Usa said as she slid the sword into its scabbard. She then flipped it over where a strap formed and pinned it diagonally to her back. The angle allowed it to go from several inches above her head to even with her knees.


            "That is too long to keep at your hip," Uranus noted.


            "Maybe we can spar, Aunty," Usa offered, her eyes sparkling.


            "You seem... happy," Neptune noted.


            "She's always bubbly," Uranus shrugged.


            "I did get my-" Usa reached up to hold the handle. "- father's sword back. I've had a lot of memories with this thing." Her hand lowered and she sighed.


            "From a future that may not happen," Saturn gave her a pat on the shoulder.


            Usa sighed.


            Neptune pulled a hood off one of the bodies. A vaguely reptilian face peered back at her. In parts the human skin had peeled back to reveal scales and other... changes. "Looks like the thing in the basement."


            "So what, pretending to be human?" Uranus asked. "Corrupted?"


            Neptune looked back to the dust filled robes that Saturn had made and the dust saturated water of the basement. She turned back to the fresher body and groaned in revulsion. The corpse had started to run and break apart, but the goopy chunks quickly dried and began to crumble.


            "That's... not normal," Usa took another step back, this time looking down to make sure she did not trip.


            "At least their plan was," Neptune said literally dusting her hands. "Drain a bunch of people, put them in the hospital, and collect the energy."


            "But why the delay in their disintegration?" Uranus asked turning to Usa. "Did you use any magic? Or just bash them with a sword?"


            Usa looked down, to better hide the ghost of a smile. "With the sword."


            "Her magic attacks are weak," Saturn helpfully added.


            Uranus looked at the dust-filled cloaks littering the room, then back to her lover. "Yes, I suppose that's what happened. Saturn, be more careful next time, don't leave her alone. Chibi Moon's still... weak in... magic."


            "I'm trying to get better," Usa whined.


            Uranus raised an eyebrow. "You just took out half a dozen magic lizard-men, kid."


            "And without crying," Saturn happily added.


            "That's my mother's power," Usa sourly noted.


            "She... can hurt enemies by crying?" Uranus asked.


            Usa nodded. "Yup, can take out people under basic possession."


            "That's so... expected." Neptune flatly ended. "Look, there anything else? I think it's time for us to go?"


            Saturn looked out a window. "One of our escorts is pointing to his watch."


            "What?" Neptune looked out and saw a pair of... salarymen in bland suits and windbreakers standing in front of a grey van. A pair of crates slowly getting wet in the light rain between them, they were having an animated conversation, one into a cell phone and with his companion who rudely gestured using a hand holding a cigarette. Then Neptune noticed that the non-smoker had his free-hand wrapped around his opposite wrist, just below his watch.


            "Guess the police are coming," Saturn said stepping back from the window.


            "Why didn't they help?" Uranus asked.


            "Do you want the Company to? I think they'd just get in the way." Neptune shrugged.


            "It's creepy; they're not even trying to hide," Uranus said as they exited the apartment and started running up the stairs.


            "Why would they? They're working with the Inners and Puu," Saturn said as they reached the roof.


            "So why aren't they doing anything more than watch?"


            "You have to ask for their help," Usa said, after they had jumped to an adjacent roof.


            Neptune swiveled on the concrete of the roof and looked down at the younger girl. "And should we? What do you think?"


            "Well... Aunty Ranma really likes them, and Mom... she gets their help all the time, but she's too stubborn to say it."


            "Usagi... stubborn?"


            Usa raised an eyebrow. "She's a romantic with an-all powerful artifact that grants her heart's desire, and she knows she's going to rule the world."


            Neptune raised an eyebrow. "I can see what you mean."


            Usa gave a nod. "Yeah, that's a problem."

 

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

 


            Akane gave a slight murmur and leaned on her mother, as they lay on the couch.


            "Happy now?" Ranma asked, wrapping an arm around Akane.


            "I just wanted to spar," Akane yawned.


            "Just before bed?" The redhead raised an eyebrow.


            "You said we should constantly hone our skills," Akane remarked.


            "And I'm sure making Misa-chan jealous wasn't part of it," Nabiki remarked as she stepped in from the kitchen.


            "If that were true I wouldn't have bugged Mom after Misa'd gone to sleep."


            Nabiki took a contemplative sip of her drink. "Maybe you're just incompetent at revenge," she said before sitting down on Ranma's opposite side and nestling in.


            Akane pouted.


            Ranma's chuckle was cut off by a ringing from the leather jacket over her unitard. She answered and her eyes widened. "I see. Arrange transport then."


            "Who is it?" Nabiki frowned.


            "What happened?" Akane asked.


            "Nabiki, go upstairs. Tell the others to get ready. It's Jacob. Something happened at Usagi's place, the cameras cut out too."


            Akane frowned.


            "Okay, so what surveillance teams are in the area?" Ranma asked as she mentally recalled the layout of the Sailor Senshi's new domicile. It was a light industrial complex that consisted of a short office building attached to a small warehouse. Ranma had gone on a small tour of the place and had seen the surveillance images of it.


            The building was set back on its lot, with groomed grass expanses surrounding it. The wards setup around it seemed thorough. It was not... poorly defended, but it looked like Ranma's concerns were warranted.


            The rest of the brood came down the stairs in their armor and checking out their weapons. "What's going on?" Genma asked, following the demons down.


            "Work." Ranma closed her eyes and in a flash her clothing shifted to her new combat armor. She walked over to Akane and checked out her back armor.


            Genma nodded. "Good luck, then."


            "Thanks," Ranma, still juggling her phone, gave him a brief hug. "Okay, anyone short of equipment? Ammo?"


            "I'm fine." Ukyou checked her HSMG.


            "I could use a bit more," Misako said with a grin.


            "Right. Jacob, make sure there's some extra 40mm for Misa," she said into the phone.


            There was a knock at the door. Nariko looked out to see the idling vehicle and a pair of agents at the door. She gave a wave and the girls centered onto the door. The brood left and piled into a Company APC.


            Still holding her phone, Ranma turned to her sister. "What's the story?"


            "Red Team trying to get some long distance recon," Eve said as the vehicle shifted into gear.


            "Don't want to tip our hand early," Ranma nodded.


            "We could have brought a van and had it pull into your garage," Eve stated.


            "Too slow," Ranma said as she hooked up her headset. "You see anything Kas?"


            In another vehicle several blocks distant from them, Kasumi picked up the transmission. "It's real windy but the Raven we launched is giving us something," she said, referring to the micro UAV one of her men literally tossed out from the top of the vehicle past the ring-mounted machinegun. "There's a lot of interference but it looks like part of the building's on fire.."


            "So, it's an attack," Ranma frowned.


            "Better to assume that than a house fire," Akane noted.


            "We can't get a better picture," Kasumi said over the connection. "We almost lost the bird, and I don't want it any closer."


            "Do the same for your vehicle," Eve cautioned.


            "We're actually driving away," Lieutenant Tendo said with a light chuckle. "Shit, we lost the Raven." There was a wave of static over the connection followed by an explosion. I's volume muffled by the transmission. "-Attack! We are under attack!" There was a grinding noise and a dull thud. "We have wounded-" Kasumi's voice was cut off by a squeal of static.


            "We've lost the signal, unable to reconnect," Maya Iverson's voice, almost reproachfully, said over the channel.


            Eve frowned. "Trap."


            Ranma nodded and gripped her wrist with her right hand. "Yes, they could have blown up her vehicle instead of wounding it, or they could have jammed her out before the attack."


            "Lt. Tendo was three miles away from the Senshi residence. It's a fair diversion," Eve looked and saw the smoldering looks from Akane and Nabiki. At least their anger seemed honed, contained.


            "They want to split our force, delay us and upset the rescue mission." Ranma closed her eyes for a second. "Fine. They got their wish," she smiled thinly. "Colonel Edwards. The brood is yours. I only need Nariko. We'll go to Usagi, that leaves the rest of you free."


            Over the encrypted link, Jacob gave a thin smile. "Ah, I see our style's finally started to rub off on you. Happy hunting."


            "You too." Ranma turned to her sister. "Do I need to explain myself?"


            Eve chuckled. More than being the eldest daughter, Nariko was a good choice for a "wingman" "Not at all."


            "Good. Find them; kill them," Ranma said.


            Feeling a nearly physical pressure from the brood mother's violet eyes, Eve gave a quick nod. "Yes. You'll be out of radio contact. When do you want backup?"


            "When you're finished," Ranma stated before going up to the APC's turret. After moving the turret operator to the side, her senses unfolded and she scanned the area. It was some comfort, though the enemy could have defeated that. Behind her, Nariko was checking to make sure her sword and equipment were properly stowed for flight operations.


            "Right," Eve said, and the redhead squeezed over to a rear ramp door, and after opening it a tiny bit, climbed out. Wind whipping the compartment, Nariko followed.


            Ukyou sealed the door. "What now then?"


            Eve paused briefly. "I believe we have four teams available tonight."


            "Immediately," Jacob assured. "More are coming onto alert."


            "Good, send them three km west of the second waypoint from last week." Eve said. "Turning off radios now, they won't be reliable as we get in." Eve looked to the brood and the two human agents crammed into the transport. "We have two tasks: Rescue and elimination. Two groups, both with human support.


            "Myself, Akane, and Nabiki with Gold Team and Blue Team will get Lt. Tendo and Red Team. Ukyou you take the rest and position them as you see fit."


            "They're going to attack you," Ukyou advised.


            "Yes, but that gives you the ability to locate them and cover us," Eve explained. "They may still assume we've split our force."


            "Unless they broke our encryption in addition to being able to jam us," Nabiki said.


            "Then they think we're messing with them." Misako chuckled. "Saying we're sending only two to rescue Usagi and then immediately reducing communications."


            "True there's probably more of them at the Senshi's place. They just want to delay us; they want to kill Usagi," Akane growled.


            "Meanwhile they expect WIC to muster in strength, do recon to get an idea of what's going on, and then strike with overwhelming force," Misako gave her gun an affectionate rub. "At least they're right about the last part."

 

 

End Chapter 23

 

I'd like to thank my pre-readers. They read through my most egregious mistakes so you don't have to. DGC, J St C Patrick, Terra, Pale Wolf, Wray, Kevin Hammel, Ikarus, Jerry Starfire, and Mike Koos. Special thanks to Terra for coming up with the chapter title and Nadrek for finely sifting through this chapter and giving notes on the next one