The Return

A Ranma Sailor Moon fic thingy.

By Josh "Sunshine" Temple


Naturally, I own neither Sailor Moon nor Ranma. So here's the disclaimer

Ranma 1/2 and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon belongs to Naoko Takeuchi, Koudansha, TV Asahi, and Toei Douga, and DIC.


Previous chapters and other works can be found at my fanfiction website.


Temporary Backup Site.



Other website Temple of Ranma's Senshi Seifuku


C&C as always is wanted.


Warning, the following contains graphic, potentially disturbing, content.


Chapter 27 Redesign and Relaxation Part 1


            Eve carefully inspected each of the tools that were laid out in a neat double row. Some were delicate blades of various curves and angles. There were long pliers and hooked shears. Others were far blunter. There was a small double-headed hammer. One end bore a spike; the other a rounded ball peen.

            Next came the medical kit. She paid special attention to the bandages, coagulating powders, and other methods of stopping blood flow. The case also contained chemicals that would numb, irritate, or inflame flesh. Most were disinfectants that would help clean wounds as they worked. She made sure the cameras and recorders were functioning.

            Finally, she checked the latest improvements to her kit. The rock salt and capsaicin oil had been replaced with sea salt and a variety of aromatic pungent spices. Feeling her sister's arrival, Eve closed her briefcase and looked up. "Are you ready?"

            Entering the impromptu control room, Ranma shrugged. Like the rest of the building, the room was unfinished and was more a concrete box than anything else. However, it had electricity, doors, and drains; it suited the Company's needs.


            "Sure." Ranma stepped over to the display and looked at the bank of monitors. She smiled at a slight brunette who operated the computers and gave nods to the other technicians.

             Most of the displays showed a bound nude man from various angles. The room was bare save for a single chair surrounded by a faintly glowing circle further surrounded by several agents who stood to one side of the room with their weapons trained on him. In the center of the squad Nariko stood with her sword drawn.

            Stepping deeper into the room, the redhead gave Lieutenant Tendo a gentle tap on the shoulder. Kasumi looked up and nodded. The rest of her team was armored up and waiting in the room.

            "No concerns?" Eve raised an eyebrow.

            "Sis, I've seen you work before, and I've done worse things."

            Kasumi looked up from the work station. "That's debatable, but I hardly think we're the ones you want moral advice from."

            The corners of Eve's lips rose. "Yes all true, but this is the first time you'll be helping, Dear Sister."

            "It's Murdock; I've got no qualms about working him over."

            "Oh, if only it were that easy." Eve chuckled.

            "Yes, yes." Ranma looked over the room.

            "Inflicting pain is easy, using it to extract information is challenging." Eve stood. "Just remember the rules."

            "Don't answer his questions. Don't let him negotiate. Keep him talking."

            "The last one's what the whole point. Secrets go one way. Every time the... client talks that's another chance for him to give something away."

            "So, torture's just a way to keep him talking?"

            Eve's grin grew. "Why yes. It's basic operant conditioning, specifically, the removal of adverse stimulus. Communication is rewarded with a reduction in pain, reinforcing cooperation. The goal is to make anything other than full disclosure unthinkable."

            "Sure sounds like fancy talk for hit 'em 'till he squeals." Ranma smiled showing her fangs.

            "Oh no," Eve looked around noting her comrades' discomfort. "There's a delicate balance. Do too little and they'll think they can keep secrets, they'll think they can win." The blonde demon's eyes narrowed. "That defeats the whole point. Pain is used to break them of that hope.

            "On the other hand," Eve tapped her chin. "Do too much and they'll say anything to make you stop. This isn't entirely worthless. Most people have poor imaginations, especially in situations like this. Such lies, will have some truth to them. Even cover stories have some value."

            "Right, I know this one." Ranma nodded. "People have poor memories, especially under pressure. If the story is too complete, too consistent then they're recalling a cover story they've got memorized."

            "Exactly." Eve's face lit up. "This is why we record, why we repeat our questions, why it's a team effort." She gestured to the various agents working in the room.

            "On that note, recording is online," the brunette technician said. "Let's check your earphones."

            "Thanks Maya," Eve tapped her earpiece. "Check."

            "Testing, testing," Maya's voice said in Eve's ear.

            Eve gave a thumbs up, and Maya Iverson repeated the test with Ranma.

            "I'm setting up a periodic chime so you'll know if it cuts out," Maya said.

            Eve nodded. "Ready?"

            "Yeah." Ranma adjusted her earpiece.

            "Good." Eve opened the door and led the redhead into the warehouse proper. "If he breaks his bonds or starts casting, kill him. If the teleport jammers go down activate yours and do exactly what I say."

            "Right no hesitation." Ranma nodded. "And the inhibitor circle?"

            "You tell me."

            Ranma stopped at the door. "Only one should cross it at a time. It's attuned to hinder rune magic, but would weaken us too."

            "Like a wet blanket," Eve said.

            "How dangerous is he?" Ranma asked. "How much does it limit him? We don't even really know what he can do."

            Eve frowned. "It will take the edge off, but don't let your guard down." She knocked on the door and waited. Agent Patterson opened the door and stepped back.

            Nariko nodded without turning away from the prisoner. "Mother."

            Ranma exhaled. Intended to be auxiliary storage for the warehouse the room was separate from the rest of the building. Inside there was a greasy pressure, which was exacerbated by the six bodies that were already within. Three metal boxes that resembled the jammers the brood carried were placed at equidistant points on the circle.

            Looking at the manacled and shackled man, Ranma chuckled.

            "Watch him." Eve knelt down and checked each box, making sure the small vial of blood contained in each had not dried.

            Murdock moaned and tried to lift his head.

            "We're still good." Eve stood and placed her case on the table and appraised the bound man.

            "Nari-chan, Wilde, Patterson: go take a break. Get something to drink," Ranma said.

            Nariko sheathed her sword and left the room.

            "Don't want her to see this?" Eve raised an eyebrow.

            "Nah, just wanted to add some defensive depth. This room's crowded as it is." She nodded to the two remaining agents.

            Eve nodded.

            Looking between the succubae, a greasy smile crossed Murdock's face. He looked down at the glowing circle. "Using a Silver Millennium ward? Did you get the Senshi's help or is this just more of their magic you're stealing?"

            Pacing, Eve appraised the man like a woodworker inspecting a well-seasoned and freshly debarked log. Never looking away from him, Eve kept moving. "I will ask questions. You will answer them. Do you understand?"

            Ranma also maintained vigil over the nude man.

            Murdock turned to the redhead. "Very funny, kiddo. You caught me; you melted my car."

            Slipping open the case, a tiny smile drew across Eve's face; she removed a long, eight inch thick steel knitting needle. A blue fire flared from her finger.

            Following Ranma's gaze Murdock raised an eyebrow and looked down. "Really? Been a long time then? You're the one that removed-"

            Stepping into the circle, Eve jabbed the needle into Murdock's left forearm. Pulling against his bonds, the mage screamed and the red hot spike was quickly pulled out, still trailing smoke. "You will answer." Eve inspected the needle and discarded it in a special box in her case. "Do you understand?"

            Glaring at his cauterized arm, Murdock nodded.

            "Good. Your choice is a simple one." Eve picked up a device that resembled a corkscrew, except instead of a spiraling end it simply bent ninety degrees and ended in a small blade. "You will answer. How much you will endure is up to you."

            Murdock's gaze lowered for a brief moment.

            Smirking at the mage, Ranma ran a finger along the edge of Eve's tool-case. "Come on Murdock, everyone knows what WIC interrogators do: you'll spill your guts, no one will be surprised. They might be a bit mad, but you've had people mad at you before." Ranma's smile widened, showing her teeth. "Besides, spilling your guts metaphorically is much better than literally."

            "Hah, you really are new at this," Murdock laughed.

            "We'll start simple." Eve nodded. "Under whose orders are you attempting to control Usagi Tsukino?"

            Twisting his head around, Murdock grinned. "You'll have to have to ask Red to threaten me again."

            Eve whipped the bent blade across his back. It opened a long shallow cut. With her free hand she twisted his head around and pushed it as far forward as the restraint around his neck would allow. The man gave a pained gasp as the air was forced out of his chest.

            Yelping, he watched Eve sink the bladed tool into the puncture wound formed by the needle. Grasping the top, she twisted and began to slowly, unevenly cut the flesh between muscle and skin. Like a sword-smith honing a blade she listened to the pitch and intensity of his screams and adjusted the speed and depth of the tool.

            After a few rotations she removed the bladed device and let a few chunks fall to the floor. She stepped back exiting the circle. "Now, who ordered you to go after Usagi?" she calmly asked.

            Murdock wheezed. "This won't work. I won't betray them."

            "Why?" Eve poured alcohol on the blade. "What betrayal are you speaking of?"

            Murdock snorted. "You wouldn't understand."

            "You're a mercenary, what client is worth this hassle?" Crossing the circle, Eve pressed the blade's tip against his fresh arm. Without piercing the surface, she ran the tip down the length.

            Murdock recoiled.

            "Who's worth this?" Eve flicked the blade over and sliced off a crescent of flesh.

            Listening to the mage's cries, Ranma stepped over to make sure her sister was not between her and their client.

            "I think you'll need to hit him again. Smug bastard's too stubborn to try to play ball."

            "Perhaps," Eve dug around with the bent blade.. "Rune mages know healing magic, fortunately it takes some time. Which is useful, you have no idea how much of a challenge it is to have a client without cumulative wounds. On the other hand it's like working with a fresh page every hour."

            Gasping, Murdock let out a little laugh. "You can't save Usagi from herself, what makes you think you can stop them?"

            "You've been burned. The Rune Order abandoned you. Your new bosses have abandoned you. Why protect either group?"

            Murdock's pained laughter grew. "Either?"

            As the penny dropped, the blonde's poker-face was immaculate. "Frustrating." Eve stood up and returned to the table.

            Still keeping her eyes on him, Ranma stepped back so that her sister, who was intently, merrily cleaning her tools, slipped into the edge of her vision. 

            The blonde selected what looked like a pair of long needle-nosed pliers and a long metal rod. This one had a small section of a wood rasp welded to one end. She stepped forward, her lips forming in a lazy smile.

            Murdock looked at the tools and shook his arms.

            Eve stood over him for a moment. Evidently satisfied, she put the tools down and took an antiseptic aerosol and sprayed the can on his wounds. A coagulant was applied next, reducing the blood flow to a pair of trickles.

            "Tell me mage." She said, replacing the medical equipment. "Why does the Rune Order want to control Miss Tsukino?"




            Fuming, the armored queen strode down the hallway. On either side, Makoto and Rei followed, both bearing worried expressions. Meiou hung towards the back with a small frown.

            "Where is he?" the queen demanded to the demon's back, her deep voice resonant.

            Half grinning, Ranma slowly turned away from Nariko. To meet the giant queen's eyes she had to look up by more than a foot. "Well, someone's not totally in the dark, and you're up at sunrise too, bravo."

            Nariko coughed and gave a quick nod.

            Ranma's eyes quickly darted to Meiou before returning to the queen's silver gaze. "Still wearing a little blonde?"

            The queen glared.

            Ranma shrugged. "You're too late."

            "Where is he?" the queen repeated, her sword flexing.

            "Awww... does the Duchess Dreadnaught want to try her little blade against the mage?" Ranma ran a finger down the queen's sword.

            Solid blue eyes narrowed.

            "Again, you're too late: the cleaners already took care of the warehouse." Ranma shrugged.

            Golden lips shifted into a hard frown.

            Her hands going to her waist, Nariko grinned.

            Still smiling, Ranma's eyes hardened. "Don't give me an excuse. It's been a long night."

            The queen glared. "I don't know which is worse, the thought that you'd be in cahoots with him or that you'd simply torture him if you weren't. Did you have a nice chat and let him go on his merry way? Or did you cut pieces out of him until he talked?" the queen asked.

            The redhead blinked and looked to the green-haired girl. "She doesn't know about the car?"

            Meiou looked down.

            "Well, someone's got some spirit then." Ranma looked to Rei and Makoto. "What do you two think?"

            Rei looked at Makoto and frowned.

            "You're not the only one that's getting sick of things. All these secrets, all these lectures, and you constantly looking down your nose at me." The golden queen's eyes flared. "Do you know who-"

            "Quiet," Ranma calmly stated. "Yes, I know who you are; I know what you are." Her eyes darted between Makoto and Meiou. "But clearly, you don't know who I am."

            The brood mother sighed. "You know I've met with Murdock in the past; you know I've used him as an information source; you know what my sister does; you know that I made her my sister fully aware of what he was and what she would become."

            Lacking a retort, the queen held her glare, an easy prospect given her metallic features.

            "You know all these things, or at least you'd know them if you'd use your intelligence assets." Ranma gave another glance to Kiri. "Or even if you used your... armor," the redhead's gaze ran along the bulky armored skirting.

            "So, you're just another manipulator. One more player peddling deals and secrets. Murdock betrayed you, and you were using him, did he stop being useful today? Maybe your so-very-efficient sister mapped out the ideal time to dispose of him," the queen's voice grew flatter and more distant.

            Ranma chuckled. "You're more perceptive when you're angry. Good."

            "I didn't expect this. I know you, or I thought I did," the queen's deep contralto cracked. "I didn't think you'd be like... Puu. So cold, so calculating. I thought you'd be... more."

            "Less," Kiri corrected. "You... I thought we'd have a maladroit macho martial artist or at least a scared Serenity-submitting succubus. Instead we have..."

            "The sum of yours and Murdock's betrayals." Ranma drew back her lips. "Serenity-san, are you quite sure it's wise to use one of your key advisors as an example of my moral decay?"

            The queen's glare broke when she looked back to Meiou.

            "Though compared to your other intelligence advisor... Well, at least Akumi is overt in her treachery." Ranma flashed another grin to Kiri.

            "Ami was corrupted because Naru was transformed by Murdock," the queen hissed. "Now do you see why I'm so angry?"

            "Yours isn't the only life he ruined. He's not a pleasant man."

            "You should have told me you had him, you should have told me what you learned. I need to know this."

            "No. You're my client, not my equal, and certainly not my boss. You hired me to protect you from the Russians and kill you if you were to fall. The methods I use are not up to you. You want a boot-lick or a servant, well that's what your Senshi are for."

            Ruby tiara gem flashing, the queen's lips narrowed and shifted her sword-hand.

            "Oh?" Nariko asked tilting her head slightly while Ranma snorted.

            "Funny way to treat your client, then."

            "You hired me for my combat skills, not my manners." Ranma looked at her watch. "There was a meeting with Murdock, and we got information out of him. Right now, that's all you need to know."

            "What did he tell you?"

            "Look, there's more to this than just breaking fingers." Ranma rubbed her forehead. "Information has to be run down, and data has to be organized and verified. He is a known liar, after all. Maybe I should have helped Eve, or seen what Mom was doing, she's been slaving in her lab finding ways to help you."

            "Will you tell us later then?"

            Ranma sighed. "Nariko, handle this."

            Nariko nodded, and the redhead started to walk away.

            "You can't just leave!" The queen stomped after Ranma, but found Nariko before her.

            "Any questions you have for Mother, you can ask me."

            Looking into seemingly serene, crimson eyes, the queen hesitated. "Look, Murdock knows things. And I know Ranma hates him. She wouldn't let him go unless it was made worth her while. She looks out for herself, and you all," she said, slightly bitter.

            "You expect her to spill her guts on demand."

            Kiri eyed the demon. "This is a bad idea," she interjected. "We should try a more diplomatic way."

            "What if they found out something important? Something we need to know?"

            "If it was really that important they'd tell us. It's not like they want us dead." Kiri smiled. "Unless you decide to keep pissing off Ranma."

            The immense queen, spun around to face the diminutive girl. "This was your idea."

            "Yes. I was wrong."

            "Wrong?" the gold queen raised an eyebrow. "Nice of you to admit that. Are you going to admit to all the other things you've screwed up?"

            Kiri shrugged.

            "It's nearing breakfast time in the mess. I'd suggest you get a good meal in, if you'll be doing training today," Nariko stated before turning away and walking down the hall.




            "Well, this could just work," Mistress Mercury drawled as she circled Virgo.

            The purple-haired Senshi looked down at her arms, but not her hands or forearms. Those were covered by her white gloves. Instead she concentrated on the purple hue of her skin.

            "How do you feel?" Mercury leaned over and checked the silver crown nestled on Virgo's glossy purple forehead.

            The former Amazon closed her fingers. "Cold," she said, her voice distant but almost musical. "Strong."

            Mercury nodded while Orion made a few notes. She then ran her hand through Virgo's hair, which was now the same shade, and gloss as the rest of her body. "I told you, you were weak. Your flesh was weak, but... I can make you strong."

            "Yes." Virgo felt the crown deeply rooted into what was once her skull tingle. She exhaled and then stopped. There was no point, not anymore.

            "Do you have any regrets?" Mercury motioned to Orion.

            The auburn haired girl studied the violet figure. Her skin had the wrong texture and transparency to pass as human, but it did have the flexibility and details at least. Her eyes were even more alien. Embedded in a crystal sphere for smooth rotation, purple sapphires seemed to hover within each socket. The shimmering facets of the brilliant-cut gems gave her eyes an unearthly slightly insectile quality.

            Virgo turned and stared at Mercury.

            "Good, spirit. I was wondering if something had been lost in the conversion."

            Virgo's confusion was cut-off by a forward thrust from Orion's double-bladed staff. Virgo screamed in pain, grabbed her swords, and stopped. Clumps of moist-looking, sand-like material oozed from the wound.

            Blinking, Orion twisted, then withdrew her blade. The flow increased for a second, before slowing, and eventually stopping. The front of her uniform was torn up, and it and her skirt were covered in debris and fluids of various shades of purple. To her amazement, the wound itself started to... knit back together.

            Picking her tablet back up, Orion noted that the process was more akin to the spread of crystals and that the wound itself resembled a... fluid geode that was rapidly filling-in.

            "Hmm, less resistance than I expected, and less reaction time." Mercury looked to Virgo.

            "She surprised me." Holstering a sword, Virgo ran a gloved hand over her stomach and felt her belly-button reform.

            "Yes, you started to trust her." Mercury absently shrugged.

            Virgo narrowed her sparkling eyes.

            Blue lips twisted into a smirk as Mercury tapped the seam where Virgo's flesh met the metal of the silver tiara. "Too late for any regrets, any lack of trust now, far too late."

            Mercury held Virgo's chin and stared into her faceted eyes. "In fact... I'm sure you have none, am I right, my creation?"

            High gloss, almost mirror-like, dark purple lips curled into an eager smile.

            Mercury licked her lips. "Yes... compared to you, Venus was primitive, prototype, but you can see what even she has done."

            Virgo's eyes went to the two phones across the room. Sitting on twin end tables, one was glossy gold while the other was a plastic and sickly green.

            "She has made our queen strong again; she has given our queen her control, she has given of herself to give our queen the weapons and armor to win the upcoming war." Mercury caressed the pliant crystalline flesh. "We should all strive to become better, and we will improve ourselves. You, my Amazonian friend are the first of a new kind of Sailor Senshi. One optimized to serve our restored queen."

            Virgo bowed her head.

            "Soon, you will be ready. Soon, we will all be ready." Mercury's smirk was cut off by a shrill ringing. All three turned their heads to the noise.

            "Is that?" Orion asked.

            "I don't think so..." Mercury turned to look at the phones to see which phone was ringing. It was the green one.

            Orion started to smile, but halted after the second ring.

            "I thought you got your mother to stop calling you?" Mercury asked.

            Orion flushed. "We normally talk over email..." Dr. Nadine Fraiser of North York General Hospital's radiology department was formerly, but unknowingly, Mayumi Osaka of Osa-P Jewelers. She was under the impression that her daughter Orion, formerly Janet, formerly Naru, was at boarding school.

            "At least she's buying your story. Of course doctors being far too busy to parent makes for easy cover stories," Mercury remarked. Her own medical doctor mother was similarly conned.

            "But mother, doesn't know that line." Orion crossed the room and picked up a lacquered platter that sat atop a small end table. A long cord unspooled behind her as she carried the platter to her mistress.

            Mercury eyed the sickly green, phone. A gloved hand hesitated before grasping the dust-covered plastic. "Yes?" she demanded, and for a moment she could swear she heard DarkStar's smooth, throaty voice, instead...

            "I'm sorry, was I interrupting? Maybe you finally broke down that Amazon and were having a little orgy, or were you feeling maudlin and decided to waste some perfectly good Merlot," Murdock drawled.

            "I was working," Mercury snapped, feeling her stomach go cold, emergency contact aside, the situation felt wrong.

            "Oh good, more playing soldier. I suppose if you're amusing enough someone might let you live," the mage humorlessly mocked.

            Mercury shivered. This was not Murdock's style. "What's wrong?"

            "Did you know that Captain Jarvis has a whole set of little tools? Made them herself, that's craftsmanship, of course it's a family business."

            "She tortured you?" Mercury gasped.

            "Oh you make it so dramatic." There was a wet burbling in the background. "The whole point of informational interrogation is the application of psychological stress in order to facilitate information extraction."

            "And physical trauma can help generate psychological stress?"

            Murdock chuckled. "Yes, but it's quite difficult, this is an art. For example, the Captain has these tiny hooked blades. They're so sharp that you almost don't feel them go in. It's a hot pain but quick, then she twists them around. Very... distracting." His voice grew distant. "The room had a drain and everything. She was right, it got so much more... civil, towards the end."

            Mercury swallowed. "Did you call for a reason?"

            "You just don't get it, you stupid boffin. We screwed up. This woman I'm talking about, Ranma turned her into her sister, knowing what she could do, knowing what she was. Ranma was there when that blonde worked me over, she helped. She knows."

            Eyes locking onto Virgo, Mercury froze.

            "I'm sure she knows about your plans." Murdock scoffed.

            Silent, Mercury eyed the gold phone. She gave a tiny, silent smile. Murdock could only betray what he knew.

            The mage continued. "But I'm talking about the big stuff."

            "You told her?" Mercury asked.

            "Hell yes! I was worked over by an empath with years of experience in information extraction and intelligence. Have you ever tried lying to a demon?"

            Mercury's memory went back to various meetings in posh bars. "Yes." She looked at Virgo with a little frown.

            Murdock laughed. "We've been played. Played by those serving a puppet queen."

            "You're the one that spilled your guts." Mercury looked at where she had spilled Virgo's "guts" and thought. Perhaps past successes could be repeated.

            "She already knew! She knew who I was working for; what I was doing; what Setsuna's been doing."

            Mercury smirked. "She's a demon, what did you expect? Diabolical plots and scheming are part of it."

            Murdock's unhinged titter returned. "No, no, no. Demons are simple creatures. Dangerous, but basic in what they want and how they'll get it. No, DarkStar learned this from humans."

            "You created her."

            "Yes, paranoia of people like me drove her to become what she is."


            Murdock scoffed. "The old DarkStar put her trust in Serenity and tried to mediate things. She got killed for it. No, Ranma's making sure history won't repeat."

            "What do you mean?"

            Murdock chuckled. "You're a smart girl; you can figure it out."

            "She hasn't killed me."

            "That's because you're useful to her, a threat to the queen but not to her. Handy, safe pressure she can exploit." Murdock chuckled.

            Mercury smirked a bit at Virgo and Orion. "Again, why are you calling? Why risk this secure system?"

            "It's over. Forget your little plans, the schemes we worked up. Crawl back and DarkStar might just let you live, let you serve your queen."

            "What about you?"

            "Well, I squealed on several groups of very scary people to another group of scary people, and that isn't even counting the rank disappointment many of these scary people had in me. First I'm going to find a quiet place and have a very large drink and then...  well what do you think I'm going to do?" Murdock mocked before breaking the connection.

            "Run, hide, and whimper. Like a little girl." Mercury's glare at the dead phone softened. "Not a bad idea," she admitted, grinning slightly.  Some distance could be beneficial, and she did know of a place.

            Still holding the platter and the phone Orion tilted her head. "So, how bad is it?"

            "Our illustrious mage got picked up by DarkStar and her Spooks. He spilled and is now running."

            "And he called to tell you this, better than letting us twist in the wind." Orion then collected the phone's receiver and returned the platter back to the end table, spooling in the cable. "Good thing he doesn't know about this place." She left the question unasked.

            Going back to her experiment, Mercury slowly turned to face the auburn-haired girl. "Really? How well did you obscure the landline? How certain are you that he couldn't trace it? Bah," she waved her hand. "It's pointless. I know where we'll go next."

            "What problem?" Virgo stated as she ran a hand over her healed midsection. "Annoying man leaves. That's good."

            Mercury rubbed her forehead. "That part's good, but-" she looked into Virgo's cut-gem eyes. "But he bugged-out after he told DarkStar everything. That hurts my plans."

            Purple lips formed into a smirk.

            Mercury shook her head. "It hurts your plans too." She exhaled. "Unless.... You want your revenge, yes?"

            After a moment's wary gaze, Virgo nodded.

            Looking at the gold phone, Mercury smirked. "Well, perhaps it's time to look at a contingency plan."




            Ranma leaned back as the conference room was locked. Sitting next to her, Eve looked up from a pattern scanner. "Jammers are up. We're secure, Sirs."

            Commander Stillwater cleared his throat. "I've been led to believe that this interview with the mage Murdock was fruitful?"

            Captain Eve Jarvis nodded. "Sir, it's more supporting evidence to our suspicions."

            "We knew his goal was the control of Miss Tsukino." Colonel Jacob Edwards leaned back in his chair. "That's why he killed Mamoru Chiba, sabotaged Miss Saotome's 'awakening', and abducted and converted Naru Osaka."

            "Yes Sir, his aim was to gain control of one of Miss Tsukino's confidants, and then her..."

            "Which is why that damned armor business is so worrying," Stillwater stated. "Jacob?"

            Colonel Jacob Edwards nodded. "What else, Captain?"

            "In addition to confirming those judgments," Eve smiled. "Murdock revealed his 'client', who is in actuality his employer: The Rune Order."

            Jacob nodded. "We had our suspicions, but..."

            "You didn't think his own order would be stupid enough to actually hire him?" Ranma asked.

            "Being a rogue agent, given the apparent animosity between him and the rest of the Order, was a useful cover." Jacob said.

            "Captain, no offense, but are you really skilled enough to dig that information out of an operative like him, in the time you had?" Stillwater arched an eyebrow.

            "What the Commander means is that you only had a couple hours to interview him."

            "It didn't take much to get him to spill." Ranma laughed. "That allowed us to offer the deal."

            Stillwater nodded. "He's betraying his masters then?"

            "Why not? He's betrayed everyone else." Ranma shrugged her shoulders. "And his bosses are gonna hang him out to dry anyway. They think he's a clueless failure."

            "And since, publically, he's persona non-grata and worse in the eyes of the Rune Order, one would expect them to assist in his disposal, or at least not begrudge whoever kills him," Stillwater looked to the collection of papers on the table. "Why does the Rune Order want Miss Tsukino? The expected reason?"

            "Pretty-much, she's got a lot of power."

            "The Rune Order isn't alone. The Path of the Will thought she was an eldritch horror destined to destroy the world," Jacob said, referring to a relatively small cult which took several hostages in a toy store. They sacrificed a mother and her child on a giant crescent moon in the hope of summoning Serenity.

            It worked. They were all killed; their leader, Master Kronecker's skull was crushed by Usagi's white gloves.

            "Don't tell me they were behind the Path of the Will?" Stillwater asked.

            "Murdock doesn't know, but he did say that the Rune Order had plenty of books like the one the Path used," Eve stated.

            "Yes, the Order is supposed to keep dangerous texts out of the wrong hands," Jacob frowned. "What other pies does the Order keep their fingers in?"

            "Probably the Youma attack on Furinkan. Though Murdock may have done that himself," Eve frowned. "I didn't press him too closely on that, there were... bigger fish."

            Stillwater waved his hand

            "However, Murdock's pretty sure the Rune Order's behind the Assembly of Man," Eve stated.

            "Really? Those God-botherers don't seem to have the patience to deal with magi," Stillwater stroked his goatee.

            "It does explain why they wasted most of their troops trying to stop me," Ranma smirked. "Someone was pushing them."

            "It wasn't revenge on the acolytes that you took?" Jacob asked.

            "Hell of a coincidence, two of my childhood friends join the Assembly? Sure they wanted revenge on me, but I wasn't even a demon when they joined, and their loss sure makes for a convenient excuse."

            "The common officers and troops have their casus belli," Stillwater shook his head. "Does the Assembly really have a Hollis situation?"

            "Hollis... a high placed mole?" Ranma asked after pondering the context.

            "The highest," Jacob nodded. "Sir Roger Hollis, Director General of MI5 and Soviet mole. Place a traitor that high and you've got nearly the whole organization."

            "It's possible. We don't know much about the Assembly Council. Maybe it's High Father Corvine or maybe it's the whole bloody council," Jacob frowned.

            Stillwater smirked coldly. "If I were the Rune Order, I'd go the latter way. Just in case any up-and-coming Bishop that tries to do the right thing and reveal the High Father's treachery to the Council."

            "We haven't heard much of them?"

            "We don't hear much about the Council, period, and that was before WIC started hunting down the Assembly." Jacob sighed. "I'm willing to consider that the Assembly is the Rune Order's cat's paw. But why? Why waste their forces trying to kill Miss Saotome here."

            "Control," Eve explained.

            "I got away from Murdock. Murdock got away from the Order, but I was getting closer to WIC and to Usagi." Ranma shook her head. "They saw me as the biggest threat. If I made Usagi a demon they'd have little hope of controlling her. Where we," the demoness smiled, "would have her eating out of our hands."

            "And now the Rune order has only a bare fraction of the forces they expected. Alternative forces..." Stillwater sighed before taking a sip of water.

            "The Russians?" Jacob asked.

            "Murdock didn't hire them, but he has managed to keep some surveillance," Eve stated.

            "This was before they hired a cultist who could sniff out his bugs." Ranma added.

            "Murdock has admitted to being cut off from his superiors. I doubt they'd tell him if they changed tack."

            "Simply killing Usagi does cover cases of corruption and conversion, but... they went through a lot, a lot of trouble to set up a scheme to control her. Are things that bad for the Order?" Ranma asked.

            "As you said, they invested a lot of work, a lot of time. If their timetable is as pressed as ours then they could be looking at a wall. Their prime operative failed and rendered unreliable. They've lost hundreds of ground troops. For all that their target has drifted even further out of reach." Jacob explained.

            "Why not kill her?" Eve rhetorically asked.

            "That is our backup plan." Stillwater stated.

            "But it doesn't have to be the Order. Usagi has plenty of enemies."

            "True, and the Order would see such assassins as fortune's smile" Jacob tapped the table. "I suppose that's strong evidence they want her dead."

            "If we presume the Order is behind Murdock," Stillwater stressed. "But yes, if they still had hope for converting Miss Tsukino they'd try to stop the Russians."

            "And given their initial ignorance of magical means, a cabal of mages should have been able to hurt them," Jacob said.

            Ranma leaned back. "Okay... that's something. The people behind this, they want Usagi dead. That's something, but still we don't know who hired the Numbers."

            "Most of Miss Tsukino's enemies are dead," Stillwater stated.

            Eve smirked. "That doesn't mean much, Sir."

            "Back from the dead? Or simply not really dead?" Stillwater raised an eyebrow. "The new Tokyo branch has been running down as much as they can. No real leads though."

            Eve shook her head. "Nothing that supernatural. Simply a deadman contract."

            "Ah," Jacob nodded. "That'd require someone with foresight, money, and a conception of mortality."

            Ranma looked down from the ceiling. "So, it's insurance then?"

            Nodding, Eve warmly smiled.

            "Right, so one of Usagi's enemies realizes that these Sailors could actually kill her. So what... she nips out and makes a deal 'If I die please hire some assassins to kill these girls' ? Why are the Numbers attacking now then?"

            "The traditional method involves drawing up a contract with a willing law office. Oblique terminology and sealed envelopes are used to maintain discretion. Periodically, someone contacts the lawyer. This keeps the contract from going out," Jacob explained.

            "And if she dies, then no more calls, and eventually the hit goes out." Ranma shook her head. "Revenge from the grave. Cute."

            "Insurance does bring peace of mind." The corners of Jacob's lips went up infinitesimally.

            "That doesn't help... us. It still could be the Order. It could be an old enemy that survived. Maybe they hired the Numbers now because they think Usagi's more vulnerable here than in Tokyo. What with the Senshi split and all."

            "Or it's taken them this long to raise the necessary funds to hire the Russians," Eve added.

            "Right." Ranma nodded. "But it could be someone Usagi killed, and after however many years their revenge is finally starting."

            "Or it could be some other group. Maybe this is a Path of the Will situation." Eve tapped the table. "But instead of having goons with guns they've got a bunch of money and underworld contacts."

            Jacob scribbled a few notes. "Well, we've got a bit more information. We'll have our branches rattle the bushes."

            "We can see if the Papal Expeditionary has dug anything else up," Stillwater said.

            "I suppose it's not good to concentrate on who'd actually know how to hire the Numbers." Ranma suggested.

            "We've been working that angle, but... there's plenty of middlemen. Likely the ones that commissioned the hit didn't even know they were getting the Russians. Not specifically at least."

            Ranma shook her head. "What an impersonal way to kill someone."

            Eve blinked. "Really? You've never questioned missile strikes or my daughter's work."

            "Distant isn't the same as impersonal. I know Morgan. I trust our missile crews. But having someone you've never met and can't vouch for..." Ranma waved her hand. "Not a reliable way to kill someone."

            Jacob smiled inwardly at Ranma using the word "our". "So, Murdock didn't find out who hired the Russians. What has he found out?"

            "They've hired their own mercenaries," Eve said.

            "This cultist for one," Jacob frowned.

            "There is the other group. They hired the Thracian Union, a Bulgarian group. Deeply against Glasnost and other reforms, the Union styled themselves as a paramilitary reincarnation of the Fatherland Front, one that would bring the organization back to its World War Two roots by focusing on action and anti-corruption and national unity."

            "Clearly they failed, and were left out in the cold." Stillwater allowed a tiny smirk.  "We have another hard-line group that felt betrayed by the corruption and eventual fall of their communist leaders?"

            Eve nodded.

            "Thracian... huh. The communists do have a secret love for nationalism, especially when it comes to appearing cultured and historically educated," Jacob chuckled.

            "Sir." Eve's head gave a curt bow. "From our database, it seems the Union spent the nineties doing odd jobs in the Balkans and other hot spots. Also the collapse and cutbacks of the Bulgarian military gave them a surplus of equipment and a source of men."

            "And with continued work, and given the other liquidating East Bloc nations, they've managed to keep themselves supplied," Jacob frowned. "And given what the Numbers had been through, they'd be kindred spirits, or at least they'd have spent some time in the same circles."

            "Manpower, equipment, professionalism? What are we looking at here?"

            "They haven't moved into the city yet. So far it's just been a few representatives of the Union. Apparently, Murdock didn't know much of their strength." Eve explained. "But our sources give a total force of about company sized. Maybe four or five platoons. They've got the expected East Bloc arms and in the past have used heavy machine guns, RPG, demolitions, and anything they could bribe out of an armory."


            "Nothing above armored cars and trucks. They're mostly light infantry and cleaners. They don't have a history of going head to head against regular military."

            Stillwater frowned. "I didn't think the Russians were being paid this well. Quite a commitment. Unless...  they're willing to take a loss and complete their target out of a sense of pride and revenge for their fallen comrades."

            "They could be putting everything they have, spending all their reserves, all to make sure she's dead." Ranma nodded. "I can understand that motivation."

            "This assumes they've hired the whole Union," Eve stated.

            Ranma gave a quizzical look at Eve while the two senior officers exchanged blank looks.

            "It is a possibility, Sirs. The Numbers may simply have hired a few specialized teams. Perhaps some sharpshooters or missile crews or even a couple mortar teams."

            "Broad range of what they could have hired. Professionalism?"

            "At last check, their officer and NCO equivalents are all veterans." Eve looked down at her notes. "At least forty percent of their regulars are also surpluses from the communist fall. It started out with more, but over the years many walked away from the Union. Those that have been hired on accept being a mercenary outfit, and their skills seem to be acceptable for the work."

            "We'll need to analyze their past operations," Jacob looked to Stillwater.

            "I'll tell General Anderson. It's clear that the Numbers want to have more bodies, unlike the remote turrets they've used before, they want a force with more flexibly and more mass. Potentially, this is a lot of men and material they're moving in."

            "With enough time and distribution they can get it in pretty quietly. A few hotels, a few storage places for anything big, and renting a bunch of cheap apartments is popular," Eve noted.

            "Right. What about this cultist?" Jacob asked reading the report before sliding it to Stillwater.

            Eve sighed. "The Numbers aren't just augmenting their manpower. They're getting some NH and magical expertise. The guy they've hired..."

            "He's got Murdock tweaked. He's the whole reason Murdock came to me in the first place," Ranma said.

            "Did Murdock say which God?" Stillwater asked his eyes glancing over to Jacob.

            "No Sir, he was quite adamant against it. He gave a pretty solid hint but he was most unwilling to say a name. He even refused to use a Love-coda colloquial name. Securing the guards and transcripts became... difficult at that point."

            "Well that's ominous," Jacob frowned. "Great Old One?"

            Eve shook her head and stood up. "Higher."

            Ranma noticed Stillwater tap the tabletop a couple times.

            "And this person is giving advice to mercenaries possessing equipment capable of dimensional collapse? Even the Silvers aren't that insane." Jacob watched as Captain Jarvis rechecked the jammers and locks.

            Nodding, Eve sat back down. "If it's any help Sirs. He gave some hints, fairly oblique but... it's not Black Goat, the Blind Ape, the Witch, or the Sultan. Also given his apprehension, it's likely a deity in the Love-coda."

            "Lovely," Jacob said, eliminating candidates from his mental checklist.

            Meanwhile, Stillwater mutely stared, especially at the corners of the room.

            "We did have our suspicions, Sir." Jacob reminded.

            "Yes, yes. The nature of the incursion, the prophetic hints, and the various scanner readings..." Stillwater sighed.

            "Murdock was also real paranoid about being watched," Ranma added. "And this is a man that figured out how to block Meiou."

            "There is a degree of familiarity," Eve added. "Especially in providing intelligence on magical elements."

            "Work that connection." Stillwater soured. "Sometimes, I really regret the Company's past work."

            "Howard Philip's writings have permeated society and provide fair warning." Eve looked down. "Or at least can act as an early warning tripwire. Someone's more likely to spot the symptoms if they're spelled out."

            "Yes, but they also increase access and provide a... gateway to anyone with enough interest. In many ways he got a bit too close. The Love-coda is not that far off. Named-by-reference is still Named." Stillwater looked to the blonde demon. "What else did Murdock have on this cultist?"

            Ranma blinked. "Other than worshiping a mutli-angled horror from beyond?"

            "His description has given us a likely target," Eve pulled a photograph out. Grainy, black and white, at an oblique angle, and cropped, it showed a brutish man in a garish suit walking down a tarmac.

            "Not just 'technical' advisor?" Jacob ventured.

            "Right, Sir. He's been linked to a handful of killings. Mostly in Europe but recently in South-East Asia. Nothing substantive, but he's been around for a while, at least two decades."

            Hearing the conversation, Stillwater mulled over the situation.


            "Firearms. Close-in." Eve stated.

            "Really." Jacob frowned. "Unusual choice."

            "Obviously, we only know some of his missions. Reports are... confused."

            "Glamour and mental fogging is possible," Stillwater studied the photograph. "I really don't like this coat. Are there any color photographs? Or something with higher resolution?"

            "Non-Euclidian-weave?" Jacob chuckled.

            "A man wears an ugly suit for a reason," Stillwater stated.

            "I'd recommend preemption when confronted. If he's serving who I think he is, hesitation would be lethal."

            Stillwater nodded. "Signs point to him having a dangerous level of knowledge."

            "Agreed, Sirs. For the suit, it's possible he likes it," Eve frowned. "However, he's made an effort to avoid Company, Directorate, and Vatican attention. He only came up in our unconfirmed database."

            "And now he's advising these Russians against us. We need more information on this fellow. What's the nome de guerre?"

            "Mal de Veste," Eve smirked.

            "Of course," Stillwater paused. "Right. Given who he worships this could be... interesting."

            "You assume he's got the-"

            Stillwater cut off Jacob. "I don't assume anything. Especially when it concerns the Threshold. You know what it can take to earn this being's favor. And here and now we have this man... with these Russians."

            Jacob sighed. "At least we managed to warn the Russians."

            "But you said it yourself. 'This person is giving advice to mercenaries possessing equipment capable of dimensional collapse.' "

            Ranma shrugged. "You knew this was going to happen. All sorts are crawling out of the woodwork." The redhead looked at the grainy photograph. "Besides, there's a use for him. As far as we know, he hasn't seen the Silvers, has he?"

            Stillwater nodded. "It would confirm some of our suspicions."

            "Though we do have to address Miss Tsukino's... armor use," Eve said.

            "Major Saotome has a mitigation strategy," Jacob said.

            "Right, now if the Order isn't behind the Russians. They've got to be regrouping. They've invested too much in getting Miss Tsukino to abandon it," Stillwater stated.

            "Now that we have a lead that points to the Order being behind this, we can apply more force on investigating them. See if they've hired anyone."

            "What about Akumi?" Ranma asked. "Her drunken ramblings are cutting awfully close to home. How much has she figured out? She's got her own plans and is going to strike Usagi. It's a matter of time."

            "Miss Mizuno can be your responsibility if you wish." Stillwater leveled his gaze at the redhead.. "If you think she can be used to stabilize Miss Tsukino then that is advisable, if she's a lost cause then it may be best to cut her off before further trouble."

            "She thinks Usagi's being corrupted by otherworldly forces; she thinks compared to that I'm the safe influence on her little queen." Ranma looked down at the photo of de Veste. "Her paranoia can cause some real trouble."

            "Paranoia is like drink, a little is healthy but too much and it starts to blur your thinking," Eve noted.

            "What does Murdock know about Miss Mizuno's activities?" Jacob asked.

            "Any day she was going to bring him over to show her latest development. The constant delays annoyed him, especially since he, supposedly, did not know the location of her current lair."

            "Miss Aino's new armor?" Jacob asked.

            "Timing doesn't fit, Sir."

            "Minako and Usagi came up with their stupid armor a couple days ago, and Akumi's still dawdling."

            "Though this is hardly welcome news," Stillwater frowned.

            "It gives us time to work our angle though," Jacob interjected. "The armor does give us options."

            Stillwater reluctantly nodded.

            Ranma chuckled. "Yeah, but it also means our pretend dominatrix is working on something else. Something we don't know."

            "Does Murdock have any inkling on what this new project is?"

            "After some encouragement he gave a few of his theories. Given the literature Miss Mizuno's collected he believes she's digging into power channeling and other support systems Pattern Silvers use. He thinks that Miss Aino was a prototype. However, the delays show that the new... designs are not without considerable upgrades," Eve explained.

            Jacob nodded. "Right, more transhuman claptrap."

            "This bears some similarity to the... upgrades that Miss Tsukino and Miss Aino gave their comrades," Stillwater noted.

            "Akumi's goal is to prove that her Senshi are stronger and that she is worthy of being Usagi's right hand. From there she can influence Usagi and show her what is required to be a strong queen."

            "Thus bringing the Miss Tsukino under her sway and transitively under the Order's control."

            "Which is what is so worrying about the Tsukino-Aino fusion. Any residual control in Aino would bring Tsukino under Miss Mizuno's heel and thus Murdock's." Jacob turned to Eve. "I trust you explained the situation to him?"

            The blonde nodded. "He believes we let him go in order to secure Miss Mizuno, and that we will protect him from the Order once his work is complete, or at least he was convincing enough to that effect."

            "We could have just killed him," Ranma grumbled.

            "And destroy such a useful tool? You are the one that brokered the deal with him."

            "I guess the mere fact that he's alive proves he squealed. That's gotta get the Order tweaked." Ranma grinned, showing her fangs. "If they're sloppy they'll send a hit team."

            "Proving to him that they're hanging him out to dry."

            "Good. He expects people to have backstabbing and Byzantine plans. Let him see what he wants."

            "It was nice to finally get someone to accept one of my Faustian deals."

            Eve put an arm around her sister's shoulder. "It's okay. Give the Russians more time... and more casualties. Your offer will be more appealing them, and that's not even counting Tsukino."

            Ranma nodded.

            "As for your offer to Miss Mizuno, you did come on a bit strong, and if she actually knew you, she'd realize that you don't lightly offer to turn someone."

            "She didn't object for that reason," Ranma muttered as she leaned onto her sister.

            "Right, so we have the possibility of the Rune Order being behind much of this, from Murdock to the Assembly of Man, some new paths on who hired the Russians, the Russian assassins hiring Bulgarian mercenaries and a... cultist, and Miss Mizuno is planning some new transhuman upgrade," Jacob listed.

            "Is that all?" Stillwater asked with mock levity.

            Holding a snuggling sister, Eve paused. "Sir, we suspected much of this. The only thing truly new to us is the cyborgs' outsourcing. Which is why Murdock approached us in the first place, something he has not done in quite some time."

            "You guys knew this goober had a head full of secrets. Don't get all sour just because I finally handed him over."

            "There was one looming blank-spot in his testimony," Eve stated.

            "No direct mention of Miss Tsukino," Stillwater completed.

            "Either he gave up on her, still holds hope on Miss Mizuno, or he managed to conceal a new plan from me." For a fraction of a second Eve chewed her lip. "I didn't have full.. freedom or time to work him over."

            Jacob turned and caught Stillwater's slight nod. "Understood. We did not expect full disclosure, and this is more than we expected. We'll need to be careful with this information, especially since it's from a very questionable source."

            "Limited distribution will follow verification. The Russian outsourcing is the most urgent, but the Rune Order is the most long term, and needs the most support. A plausible sounding unknown is more damaging than an outright lie." Stillwater stressed. "Perhaps we should take advantage of this meeting to discuss... countermeasures."

            "Usagi is getting more obnoxious," Ranma frowned.

            "You wanted her to be more assertive," Eve smirked.

            "I'd prefer more competent. Maybe we'll have to shoot for obedient."

            Stillwater raised an eyebrow.

            "I've been thinking on what she's been lacking, what she needs. Why she's been such a jerk," Ranma offered.

            "Run it by me when you get something solid." Stillwater nodded.

             "Our response to events like the Tsukino-Aino fusion can be tightened up," Jacob smoothly stated. "And the supplemental systems could use some testing."

            "They're happily giving us the access." Ranma grinned. "Still, mother would like that. She's learning a lot, and that Dirac kid's got some interesting ideas."

            Eve matched her sister's expression. "And Morgan has been itching for more practice."




            "Did you have a good drive?" Mal de Veste asked without looking up from his menu.

            "Must you dress this way?" Zhivkov sighed as he slid into the booth opposite the garish-suited man.

            Mal shrugged.

            The Bulgarian looked out the window; the burnt-out husk was out of sight but he knew it was there. The route in had passed several other demolished and burned out buildings. Work crews were still repairing the damage from the battle. "You want me to see destruction? So, this is nothing."

            "Yes, yes." Mal shifted into German.  "The Balkans very scary place."

            Zhivkov chuckled and let a bored waitress hand him a menu. "Not first time this happen in the West either," the officer said in the same language as he read over a list of mediocre sandwiches and pancakes. "Very busy girls. You know this."

            "This wasn't them. At least not entirely," de Veste smiled. "Besides, that's not important part..."

            "The important part is that they lost."

            "And that the enemy they fight is so... free. Most times the West..." Mal shrugged. "They do not do this. Not this open."

            Zhivkov frowned.

            "You are a loyal man, this brings problems."

            The head of the Thracian Union looked up at the approaching waitress.

            The young woman looked between the suddenly-silent suited men. They seemed to study her, the garish and brutish man staring at her eyes, the more... European man at her hands. Both then glanced at their menus and immediately placed full orders, instead of getting drinks first and then ordering meals.

            After she left, Mal shook his head.. "I, I can leave whenever it gets bad. Business will sour, but I manage," he said returning to his somewhat stilted German. "You however, you have responsibilities."

            Zhivkov laughed. "You don't trust them?"

            "I trust that they'll pay if we all live. Communists are funny like that; they of all people respect the power of currency." Mal tapped his ring against the tabletop.

            "Ah, so you're looking for insurance?" Zhivkov asked, concealing most of his annoyance.

            Mal finally lifted his eyes up. "Dear Comrade no. I have my insurance." He reached into his suit coat and pulled out a large envelope.

            Zhivkov clicked his tongue at the photograph. It was a glossy black and white of a diminutive girl with somewhat dark skin and medium to light hair. Despite capturing her at an angle the girl's eyes seemed to bore into the cameraman. Putting the photograph down, he unconsciously made sure to flip it over.

            Chuckling at the other man's actions, Mal nodded. "We are both men of the world. We both know the security that leverage can bring us."

            Zhivkov shook his head slowly. "You admit..."

            "I admit to planning what you plan. Galina needs us, as long as we are discrete, as long as she does not betray us..."

            "But her?" Zhivkov tapped the table. "Why? She's a target."

            "Yes, unlike what you plan to do, mine is a target." Mal grinned wolfishly as he turned the photograph back over. "Quite the impression she gives."

            Zhivkov stared at the piercing, almost disappointed eyes.

            "They say that taking a photograph captures the soul."

            The Bulgarian coughed and looked back up.

            "Total rubbish." Mal laughed. "For purely optic recording to capture that information, would require an abnormal intensity affecting the visible spectrum, though if it were to happen..." He leaned forward, the pattern on his suit seeming to shift. "It would be quite the thing wouldn't it?"

            Zhivkov turned away from the image. "I must admit to being... over my head."

            "With enough force, they die just like anything else. That's the way of flesh."

            "Our employers or their targets? Ah, both."

            Mal smirked, teeth gleaming. "Everything dies. There is only one eternal being."

            The mercenary communist sighed. "So, are we working a deal?"

            "Deal implies exchange and compromise. I prefer to think of it as an understanding."

            "Non-interference on... insurance policies? And our employer?"

            "If we need the insurance, then I hardly think her concerns are that relevant."

            Zhivkov frowned.

            "But as I said, you're at a disadvantage. You're a loyal man. You have responsibilities. Perhaps her concerns are relevant." Mal went silent and leaned back as the waitress returned with their meals. "But at least you don't have to worry about me," he said digging into his hash browns and bacon.

            Zhivkov sipped the coffee "Small favor."

            "Do you think insurance will be required?"

            Staring at Mal, Zhivkov pondered. "Our own reconnaissance has confirmed much, but there is even more that is unknown. If the information about the enemy she has given us is not exaggerated... there will be much blood."

            "Theirs?" Mal smirked.

            "That is the hope, but if these... monsters get close." Zhivkov took another sip.

            "You will have support. Our employer and her comrades. yes?"

            "I've seen her comrades in battle. I am.... apprehensive at the idea of getting between them and creatures that have forced them to acquire reinforcements."

            Mal snickered and continued eating his meal.

            "Clearly, I don't intend to have my men stuck between them."

            Nodding Mal chewed for a bit. "Men plan, god laughs."




            "Are you ready?" Nodoka looked over her clipboard at the armored figure.

            The queen looked to Kiri who gave a big smile and discretely remove a cable that connected the queen's head-piece to a small laptop and array of crystals.

            Kiri picked up the crystals and slipped them in small leather case.

            "So, what have you two been doing?"

            "Improvements," Eve tersely replied. "Mitigating some of the most severe deficiencies of the armor."

            The queen set her jaw. "I thought you didn't like it."

            Eve gave a sympathetic nod. "We don't, but if you agree to our improvements and follow our commands. Well, we can see how it goes."


            "You being encased in protective armor has appeal. As long as it doesn't make you a sitting duck."

            "There is much from Silver Empire that Minako didn't know about when she made the first version." Kiri said.

            "So what did you do?" the gold queen asked.

            Kiri blushed slightly.

            Nodoka cleared her throat and Dirac took that as the signal to start the various scanning recorders. The officer continued. "The change in armor design was akin to the difference between a battleship and a battlecruiser. Battleships and battlecruisers possessed similar firepower, but a battlecruiser used a slimmer hull and less armor to gain speed and maneuverability. We'll do this with you. You won't be a hulking nine foot monstrosity, but you'll be able to move."

            The armored queen nodded. "Fine." The familiar, constant pressure and encasement... changed. Her body felt like it was floating in complete numb, dark, silence.

            A warm embrace and a gentle massage heralded the changes. "You'll love this,, my Queen," Minako's voice cooed directly to Serenity as sensation returned to Serenity's limbs and her eyesight and hearing returned.

            "Feels nice... very... light." Serenity replied via the same connection. She looked down at the scientist and noticed that her body was indeed... smaller.

            "See, only seven feet tall, and at least half a foot of that is 'hair'." Nodoka smirked. "As I said, similar to a battlecruiser you have a slimmer profile."

            The queen nodded. The thinner armor actually gave a curve of stomach and hips, instead of being a single multi-inch thick mass. Improved composite layering and magical strengthening allowed for a reduction in the thickness of her bodice and slimming of her pauldrons, which were now short enough that she could actually look over her shoulder.

            In contrast her facial armor had thickened, making a smoother more masklike visage. The blue lenses over her eyes had also grown and were strengthened by the strongest layering on the armor. The sculpted mass of hair that served as an integrated helmet looked mostly unchanged. There were more gems on her crown. Her display and Minako quietly informed her that these were the probes for a suite of new sensors and transmitters. Several magical and mundane scanners that could fit in the space of her hair-bun without compromising the armor were added in.

            Her forearms still terminated in heavy gauntlets. She flexed her sword arm and found the blade retreat spit and form into a quartet of grasping claws. For a moment she was rapt by the complex sliding, bending and hinging the digits could accomplice. With a golden smile she made a long central spike shoot out of the middle of her "palm". Nodding she gave another motion and blades lining either side of the claws blunted and retreated, forming less lethal manipulators.

            Her right forearm was the standard wand barrel. Though this time the crystal prongs sticking out of it could flex and served as another set of claws, just as sharp as their metallic cousins. Both magical taps flowed into the wand structure and to a series of bands built deep under the armor. Each gently hummed and quietly absorbed spare energy.

            She looked down and saw the same ring anchor around her waist and from that a series of interlocking plates that made up her skirting. Like the rest of her armor the ring was a bit thinner and formed more shapely, while the bell shaped skirt flowed closer to her legs, occasionally revealing an actual contour.

            Major Saotome chuckled. "Yes, you're less wide. Now you can go through doors. Also, you're half the weight you were before. This mitigates a lot of ground-pressure problems, things like walking in mud or up stairs. We've also put in four 'float systems'. " Nodoka pointed to a quartet of round bulges on the armor, two on the front above the stomach and another pair below the waist in the back. "Embedding them further cut into your armor, but they'll place you at a human mass, less if you want to."

            The queen nodded, while not visible she could feel the devices emplaced behind the generous armor housings on her buttocks and chest, which also explained the size of those generous structures despite the lighter armor

            "Silver tech, so it should integrate fine," Dirac added, as he made sure his equipment was still recording. Gravity resistant magic was quite difficult to get stable, if they could reproduce it.

            "One of the Russians uses a similar technology to enable her to float while phasing through matter."

            "Even without the floats your weight's low enough that you don't need those massive clogs you had before, but... you should probably dial your mass down given the footwear you do have."

            Feeling the couple inch incline her gold-composite wedge heel boots had, the queen nodded and powered up her float system. She felt a slight tingling centered around the generators and the pressure on her armor lessened, easing the load on her systems. She did feel her hips spread apart a bit, giving her feet a wider more stable base.

            Circling the queen, Kiri nodded. "This could do it."

            "Field testing will be required, but mitigating the weight and maneuvering problems should really help," Nodoka appraised.

            The queen's silver lips shifted into a smile. "Thank you," she nodded to Major Saotome. "I'm sorry we've been such a burden."

            Nodoka frowned. "You should apologize to my daughter. She's the one committing so much of her time to this."

            The queen lowered her head. "Yes... yes I should." She tilted her head. "Good idea."

            Kiri ran a finger along the queen's armored skirting. "So, any viability?"

            Major Saotome shrugged. "Honestly? You're still down one Senshi with this scheme. I'm not sure the extra firepower and armor makes up for that loss. You'll also need to train them to use the armor, a lot.  And this all ignores the problem that she's still quite slow and despite the armor she's vulnerable."

            "Immersive training?"

            The queen blinked.

            Nodoka raised an eyebrow, and mentally made sure to emphasize this in the contact report. "I'd consider the psychological factors first."

            "Yes." Kiri smiled slightly. "That could be a problem."




            She was a large woman. However, she was not stout; she was too tall and not wide enough to be accurately called that. Big-boned seemed to fit as she was broad in shoulder and height, though she was also generously and heavily curved. Further difficulties in classification came with the lack of any stomach bulge.

            She was clothed in a sculpted leather gown. Each section was tooled in flowing patterns and cured with a golden shine. A built in bodice supported and exaggerated an already ample chest. Flowing over her legs were a series of somewhat-stiff, shining leather scallops that ran to the floor.

            A silver cape-like mantel rested over her shoulders, its leather gathered at her upper arms to form puffy tiers. It was tied over her neck with a silver broach. Thin leather sleeves went down her arms. Her hands were clasped in front and were covered by a muff. The silver-furred cylinder was fluffy and wide, extending far enough to cover the cuffs of her sleeves.

            A folded and tightly twisted bun adorned the top of her head. Honey blonde, the lacquered structure added four more inches to her height pushing her total well over six and a half feet. A silver crown set with a ruby crescent moon sat in the bun.

             Thick, oval-shaped, blue-tinted lenses obscured the eyes on a serene if circular and severe face. A somewhat too small, adorable little nose clashed with a broad-soft chin. The golden half-rim glasses' temple arms ran back and under her hair where they presumably hooked over her ears. Hanging silver earrings with sapphire orbs descended from the sides of her hairbun.

            Silver eye shadow and thin eyebrows were visible just above the blue lenses. Plump pursed lips glistened in metallic maroon as she smirked slightly. A similar if much less intense metallic sheen also adorned her blush.

            Rei and Makoto stared as the large woman made her way into the subterranean briefing room, waited for Kiri, who hovered about her like a tugboat escorting a cruise-liner, to pull out a chair, and then sat down, all without removing her hands from the furry tube of her muffler.

            Surprising the two Senshi, the chair did not break as if the woman was merely flesh and bone and the woman's dress bent around the chair as if it was merely leather and silk. Her skirt riding up exposed a pair of golden high heeled boots, made out of the same polished leather.

            Rei sighed. "Why are you two still playing with this? It's getting really creepy."

            "Well, at least she's able to... pass," Makoto tried to find the right word. "I mean she looks human at least."

            "They look human." Rei corrected before glaring at Kiri. "And what do you have to say about this?"

            "I'm just trying to keep the Queen safe." Kiri took her own seat and then fussed with the mantle over the large woman's shoulders. "If they insist on this armor then I'm going to make sure it's not suicidal."

            "How much lighter is she now?" Makoto cranked her neck to make sure that it was a normal chair the leather-gowned woman was in.

            "Is this still armor-form?" Rei raised an eyebrow, warily noting the concealment the glasses, the hand-warmer, and the gown itself provided.

            "It's a glamour." Kiri nodded. "And while the armor is much thinner now, it's still pretty heavy, so a float system makes up the difference."

            "Great, so you gave the two gluttonous blondes an anti-dieting device."

            Raising an eyebrow, the queen smirked.

            Kiri sighed. "Well, no one had pointed that out to them yet."

            "Way to go Rei. At least you didn't mention the built in corset and body slimmer." Makoto added.

            "Body slimmer?" Rei twitched. "She's built- They're built like a fridge!"

            "She's much lighter than she was before anyway – " Kiri stopped when one of the agents at the door opened it, and a redhead stepped through.

            Ranma's nostrils flared as she studied the large blonde woman. "My, you almost pass." She strode forward and peered into the queen's glasses and at the arm concealing muff demurely held in her lap.

            Reaching out the redhead pinched the bodiced-bosom and chuckled at the high pitched squeal the queen gave. "Fairly stiff, but you can blame that on the thick leather. Doesn't feel like metal armor, and that's what counts."

            The queen opened her mouth then closed it and finally arced up an eyebrow.

            "Ohhh, I do like the strong silent type," Ranma purred as she slid onto the queen's lap. The Queen's arms shifted placing the furry muff atop the redhead's thighs. Through the wall of the furry tube Ranma could feel the various claws and prongs that made up the queen's "hands". From her perch, she found her chest being pushed aside by the more massive leatherworks of the Queen's.

            "Finally acting like a sex demon? Took you long enough," Rei snorted.

            "Just admiring my Mother and Kiri's work."

            "Now that you've had time to check things out can you tell us anything of what Murdock has told you?" the queen asked in a rich voice that was deeper than Serenity's but higher and much less echoing than the previous armor's.

            Ranma smiled. "Well, your mouth moves pretty naturally, doesn't look like you're wearing a mask or anything."

            "Thank you, but we do think that this is important information."

            Ranma tilted her head. "Insistent, but will you be polite?" she ran a finger down the tooled leatherwork of the queen's bodice. Taking in the shift in scent, redhead smiled

            The queen paused and nodded.

            "Good, now can you go back to how you really look?"

            After a second the queen's face began to stiffen and shimmer. The appearance of hair and flesh gave way to sculpted metal. Glasses sunk in and became the lenses to her eyes while her half cape gave way to armored pauldrons. Cleavage tuned to silver while her gown shifted to a mass of sculpted armor plate and interlocking skirting.

            With a contented smile, the queen withdrew her arms from the muff exposing pronged ends to her wand and sword arms. The queen looked down to see the succubus playing with the small furred tube.

            Smirking, Ranma put the muff down on the table and ran a finger along the edge of the queen's mostly retracted sword. Suddenly, her other hand went up and ran those fingers on the inner lip of the wand's barrel.

            Deep within, Usagi shivered and her blade extended an inch, slicing the demon's finger. Ranma gasped, but allowed a few drops to fall onto the sword before drawing the dripping appendage up, over the queen's chest, and into her mouth where she sucked the wound.

            "Naughty," Ranma said after pulling the rapidly healed finger out.

            The queen lowered her head. "I'm sorry."

            "Well, that's a start." Ranma's face, which was reflected on the queen's face, brightened. Using her palm she wiped her blood off of the queen's chassis and then hopped to her feet.

            The queen looked at Ranma. "No, I mean it. I'm sorry I've been such a hassle. I..." She lifted a gauntlet. "I don't know anymore."

            "Again, it's a start," the redhead patted the queen's arm.

            "I promise, I'll make it up to you."

            After raising an eyebrow, Ranma looked at her watch and motioned to one of the agents at the door. "Right. Steve, let 'em in."

            Agent Deschain nodded and opened the door. A blonde succubus, carrying a small grey device and a Company officer with a leather file folder, stepped through.

            "Put it right there, Ucchan." Ranma pointed to the end of the table. "Kasumi, I think we're ready for the briefing."

            Lieutenant Tendo nodded and took position inside of the room, behind the table and opposite Ranma.

            Putting her arms back in her muff, the queen frowned and shifted back to her human glamour.

            Ukyou nodded, set the device down, popped a tiny two-button remote off of it, and activated the device. An aperture irised open on one end and projected a blue rectangle onto the wall. After some adjustment, the platinum blonde handed the remote to her mother and took position in the back of the room, eyeing the armored queen.

            "Here's the big thing we learned." Ranma depressed the remote and the blue rectangle shifted to a group photo of several military-garbed and armed men. "Galina and her little friends decided to get some hired guns."

            "But they're the mercenaries... " Makoto blinked. "Can they do that?"

            "Why not? The Company hires contractors, isn't that right?" Kiri grinned at Ranma.

            The redhead chuckled.

            Kasumi cleared her throat. "We believe they're hired two groups. This is the larger one. We just got outside confirmation on this one, the Thracian Union." The projector shifted to some statistics and images of weapons.

            "They got some of their commie friends," Rei sighed. "Great... how many?

            "Total force size: between a hundred fifty to two hundred. We don't know if Galina and her friends hired them all, but according to Operations Centre Two all of their known facilities in the Balkans are down to skeleton crews. They're well equipped and experienced at fielding large numbers."

            "Maybe they have two jobs," Makoto ventured.

            "I'm seeing a lot of East Bloc surplus. Anything other than small arms?" Kiri asked.

            "Some heavy machine guns, and maybe a few crew served missiles, definitely mortars." Kasumi raised an eyebrow. "They'd also have RPGs."

            "So, a couple hundred guys with guns? Didn't you guys kill that many from the Assembly? Like right here." Rei waved her arms around the room.

            Ranma nodded. "Yes, after an ambush of theirs, we were able to track them back to this base and strike them before they could muster and attack."

            "I'm certain the Russians have learned about that mistake and are planning their counterstroke." Kiri looked to the display. "Have they ever worked with the Russians?"

            "Maybe." Ranma used the remote and the projection shifted to two timelines. One for the Numbers and another for the Union. "As you can see there's some overlap and areas where they might have been on the same operation."

            "The Union seems to have been providing support and security for the Numbers in the past. This fits the disparity in capability and size between the two groups," Kasumi added.


            "They're above par for mercenary groups. They're unusually large and have been successful for a couple decades. Most of their work has been fairly low-key though. They normally don't go up against regular military. Doesn't look like they have any experience in fighting non-humans though." Kasumi shrugged.

            "But they won't be alone." Kiri pressed.

            "Yes, the Russians are gonna use 'em. Manpower's their big limitation. Now they've got plenty of warm bodies."

            Ranma grinned at Kasumi's words.

            "And why have you decided to tell us this, now?" the queen asked.

            "It's appropriate information for you to know," Kasumi stated.

            "Not buying the confirmation angle?" Ranma asked.

            "I'm sure you have checked out what Murdock told you," Kiri stated.

            Ranma chuckled. "We're telling you this so you'll be ready. If soldiers start attacking you, especially if they use these weapons-" Ranma clicked to another slide and the image shifted to a video montage, complete with their firing sounds from the projector's speakers. "-kill them."

            "You think we have hang ups on killing humans?" Kiri asked over the noise.

            "You don't." The montage completed, and Ranma turned to the other Senshi. "And I know the rest of you have killed before, but this way you won't be caught unaware. We'll step up your training and give you a taste of dealing with RPG's and mortars."

            Chilled, Rei looked around and saw every single WIC agent, officer, and contractor smile.

            "We can talk about training later," Kasumi said, her smile broadening slightly. "But there's still the Number's other hire."

            Pressing the remote, Ranma nodded to Ukyou. She then extended her senses and watched Kiri out of the edge of her vision.

            "Gah!" Makoto screamed at the black and white image of a man in plaid suit with a paisley tie.

            "Wow, glad that picture's not in color," Rei dryly remarked.

            The queen frowned and looked to the pensive Kiri and then back to Ranma. "Who is he?"

            "He goes under the alias Mal de Veste," Kasumi explained.

            "Of course he does!" Rei's voice was strained with manic glee. "What is he, some kind of hitman?"

            "Pretty much," Ranma agreed, eyeing Kiri's... relief.

            Kasumi cleared her throat. "Not entirely. Given the strange circumstances around several of his operations, we believe he's a cultist in the service of an entity in the Love-coda."

            "Love-coda?" Makoto asked.

            "A list of shorthand pseudonyms used to describe and categorize certain non-human beings. It's especially useful when describing entities that are... unwise to call by their actual name," Kasumi said.

            "Some of these things hear when you call," Ranma said.

            Rei shivered. "Yeah...  we've fought monsters like that."

            Kasumi nodded. "Correct. Our records are spotty on Mr. de Veste. It was only recently that we confirmed anything pattern related to his activities."

            "So you don't know what creepy crawly he's worshiping?" Rei asked.

            "Standard unpleasant angled-horror that'll drive you insane if you saw it." Ranma grinned broadly, while Kiri continued to glare at Mal's image.

            "Is that what happened to his fashion sense?" Makoto joked.

            Ranma sucked air in through her teeth. "Well...."

            "No... it's an ugly suit and tie." Rei rubbed her forehead. "Not magical."

            "Actually, there's a reason we're only showing you a black and white image," Kasumi stated.

            Ranma nodded. "If you see this man, don't hesitate. Kill him on sight. Kill him before he sees you, if possible."

            "Don't worry, if I see that suit, it'll be reflex," Rei said.


            The queen raised an eyebrow. "We are surprised. You're not this aggressive in your statements." She looked between Ranma and Kiri. "Even about the Numbers."

            Ranma nodded. "The difference is. You know the danger the Russians pose, personally. You've never seen this man, and wouldn't know the threat he poses."

            "What can he do?" Makoto asked.

            "His spotty record writes him as a flamboyant if skilled close operator. He's eluded capture even after eliminating well-protected targets," Kasumi explained.

            "So, there's a creepy cultist in ugly-as-sin suits that kills people with lots of bodyguards and then walks off scot free?" Rei sorted. "I thought you guys spied on everyone."

            "Regrettably we don't have sufficient contracts." Kasumi stiffly said. "This guy normally kills with a gun, sometimes a knife, and one time with wire. Witnesses don't describe any superhuman abilities."

            "No flying, no tearing apart cars, no energy blasts, no glowing runes. That's why this guy's dangerous. He just looks like a hard-case in a suit, and he can take the suit off."

            "How do you know he's a cultist? Are you trusting Murdock?"

            A ghost of a smile appeared on Kasumi's fac. "There are suspicious factors to his operations. The man is quite a good shot, skilled at moving and shooting. He's also exceptionally lucky, having never been wounded."

            "There's also that someone is providing advice to the Numbers. They've suddenly gotten quite capable at defeating magical surveillance and masking their Pattern signatures." Ranma added. "This all points to him being a player."

            Kiri nodded.

            "If he's a cultist which god does he worship?" Rei asked.

            "That's classified," Kasumi said.

            The queen's eyes went to Ranma.

            "Murdock refused to give us a name."

            "Don't you have ways around that?" Rei glared.

            "We didn't press the issue." Ranma exhaled. "Look there's some things that it's best for a person to not name."

            "Especially a powerful mage that's under extreme psychological and physiological stress." Kasumi looked to her notes. "If we find out it will be restricted. It really is better for you not to know."

            Rei, and Makoto shifted nervously while the Queen frowned.

            "Look, I don't actually know the name of who this mutt worships," Ranma offered.

            "I bet he'd tell us. Cultists are like that." Rei said.

            "Dunno, some cultists like to advertise, lots of symbols things spelled out in blood." Ranma gave a toothy grin to Serenity. "Others... they burrow down and hoard. Secrets are powerful."

            "You don't really know do you?" Makoto asked.

            Ranma rubbed her forehead. "Yes... that's what we're saying. That's what makes this guy so dangerous. We don't know what he can do."

            "So, he's our main concern?" Serenity asked.

            Ranma scratched her chin. "No, I'd say the Russians have the edge in combat power; they've also got more experience fighting you."

            "Don't discount the Union either," Kasumi reminded.

            "Yes, a couple hundred Bulgarian mercenaries," Makoto sighed.

            Kasumi looked at her watch. "Speaking of that, you should get some water and go to the bathroom before we start training."

            Makoto groaned.

            "Is that all?" Kiri asked.

            "That's all Murdock had about Serenity," Ranma said. "Bastard had some stuff on what he did to me."

            "He killed Mamoru." the queen stated.

            "I had a deal." Ranma shrugged. "You want to kill him, that's fine. We'll give you his address when we find him again. Anyway we're done here." She shut off the projector and handed it to Ukyou.

            "You listen to Kasumi, maybe she'll let you wear goggles or at least a cup," Ranma said as she made it towards the door.

            Kasumi smirked minutely.

            Rei paused. "Wait... a cup? We're... female."

            Ranma raised an eyebrow and glanced to Kasumi. "JTF2 didn't complain this much did they?"

            Kasumi shrugged. "They're experienced soldiers; they're just inexperienced with the supernatural."

            "Ah, well the reverse doesn't exactly work does it." The redhead sighed.

            "JTF2?" Kiri asked. "What do the Canadian special forces have to do with this?"

            Ranma rubbed her forehead. "Nevermind,  just don't be too angry if you forget that women need protection down there just as much as men."

            Makoto, who had more martial training, winced and nodded her head in agreement.

            "Like the time you used your SSP against Galina?" Kasumi innocently asked.

            Eyes sparkling, Ranma tilted her head. "Would compressed rubber be too risky?"

            "Not sure about that. Pattern Silvers are very hardy."

            Rei's mouth dropped open. "No, you're not..."

            "Good motivation to not get shot," Kiri remarked.

            Ranma smirked and exited the room, with Ukyou in tow.

            The two walked down a corridor and exited the small building. "I did what you asked," Ukyou said, her voice a bit distance.

            The redhead nodded. "Was it any trouble?"

            Ukyou exhaled. "I'm not... this isn't my exact skill. I'm better at transmitting emotions."

            Ranma looked back. "Eve was right out. She would have been definitely on her guard if Eve was there."

            "I know. I know why you needed me there. Mom..." Ukyou lowered her head.

            Ranma stepped in and hugged the girl. "It's okay. Was it that bad? What I sensed wasn't that bad."

            Leaning into the embrace Ukyou smiled. "Oh no, it wasn't much. Apprehension, worry, slight recognition, maybe, all flowing into a gnawing trepidation. She's... worried, worried like she's being extorted."

            "Ah," Ranma hugged her tighter.

            "I can guess what's going on, Mom. I've been a spook longer than you." The platinum haired demoness looked her mother in the eye.

            Ranma hardened her gaze. "Then you know you'll have to keep it quiet."

            "It's quite a jump though..." Looking at her Mother, Ukyou trailed off.

            "Are you sure about what you saw?" Ranma broke the hug and lead Ukyou towards the motor pool.

            Ukyou nodded.

            "Good, we'll go somewhere secure and write our reports."

            The blonde wilted slightly.

            "Paperwork's part of being a spook," Ranma teased.

            "Yes.... one of the reasons I defected." Ukyou sighed. "Almost makes me wish I didn't tell you what I picked up."

            "No, you don't." Ranma smiled.

            "Uh... hi." A soft feminine voice coughed.

            The redhead turned and nodded at her fellow brood-mother. "Cecilia."

            "Am I interrupting?" the lavender-haired woman asked. She was dressed in the grey skirt and blouse that made the WIC dress woman's uniform, though she bore no rank insignia.

            "No not anymore." Ranma glanced at Ukyou. "How's things?"

            Cecilia looked down but only for a split second. "Well, I was wondering about... housing."

            "Being on base is temporary," Ranma reminded.

            "Yes, about that. Where will we go? I don't think we can go back to our old place?"

            "Do you want to go back?"

            Cecilia looked around at the concrete walls of the underground base. "It doesn't seem safe."

            "Well, some arrangements can be made," Ranma allowed.

            "I was talking with Eve...."

            "Eve?" Ukyou blinked. "First name basis."

            "At least there's no honorific or pet name."

            Cecilia blushed fractionally. "And she mentioned that since we'd be working with you..."

            Ranma pinched the bridge of her nose. "Have you been talking with Nariko's father? Big guy, loud, loves hockey."

            Cecilia nodded. "And skating is very freeing."

            Ranma turned to Ukyou and sighed theatrically. "How do I miss this stuff? Who do I have to eat to prove I'm in charge around here?"

            "You have been very busy, with all this Serenity stuff," Ukyou allowed.

            "She's not moving in nearby is she?" Ranma asked.

            "I uh... my girls can stay on base, or be housed elsewhere." Cecilia wilted.

            "No," Ranma smiled and gave the woman a light hug. "I'd be happy to have you as a neighbor." She glanced at her daughter. "I just wish I wasn't kept in the dark on this."

            "It was Nariko's idea," Ukyou said.

            "Figures." Ranma's shoulders sagged. "Still, having you nearby, you'll be under the same protection as my and Eve's place."

            "While making the area a great big target. Though it is the house between ours and Auntie Eve's."

            "Great... always wanted to live in a giant compound," Ranma smirked.

            "So, that's it? Acceptance is that easy?" Cecilia kept her face neutral and held her tail still.

            Ranma grinned. "You girls are being armed. I think that shows a fair degree of trust."

            "That's different from living near you," Cecilia whispered.

            "But it's much easier to shoot... I mean..." The redhead stopped and winced. "Oh... Dear."

            Cecilia rubbed at the corners of her eyes.

            "Alexia didn't keep your girls close by did she?"

            "If she did, we'd all be dead," Cecilia stated, her eyes glowing slightly.

            Ranma exhaled. "That's not what I meant; I though she sent you away towards the end."

            "She had other... daughters." Cecilia shrugged.

            "But you weren't kept close were you? Mother kept you at arm's length." Ranma shivered, her tail drooping.

            "Succubae really are pieces of work." Cecilia laughed. "I remind you that you've killed and eaten dozens of my sisters, and you don't bat an eye. I bring up my mother's deficiencies as a parent and you get all weepy."

            Ranma snorted and pointed to her chest. "Demon."

            "Never noticed," Cecilia dryly replied.

            "So you'll be moving in." Ranma shrugged. "Sounds fine, wish I'd been told earlier though."

            "We haven't closed the deal yet; our old place hasn't sold yet," Cecilia said.

            "I'm sure the Drake will find someone that will buy it."

            "He did manage to find people willing to move out near us," Ukyou reminded.

            "That would be suspicious, but..." Ranma waved around the corridor to indicate the facility.

            "Sure, sure blame the eccentric real estate mogul in league with demons and cryptic mercenaries," Ukyou laughed.

            Cecilia sighed. "Is this really a joke?"

            "We could joke about the spoiled princess and the Soviet Cyborgs that want to kill her," Ranma smirked.

            "Right." Cecilia deadpanned.

            "You're pretty lucky you don't have to deal with that stuff."

            "Lucky..." Cecilia shrugged. "The blonde? With the armor? She doesn't seem that... bad. Maybe immature... spacey. Is she that much of a problem?"

            Staring off, Ranma gave a little laugh. "Sure."

            Blinking, Cecilia frowned. "Ah."

            "There you are." Eve smirked as she walked towards the group. Like Cecilia, she was wearing a dress uniform, but she bore the gold bars that indicated her rank.

            The redhead turned to her sister. "So, did you know about our new neighbor?"

            "Interesting." After tapping her chin, Eve's eyes brightened. "Oh! That's wonderful news."

            "Shameless." Ranma shook her head. "How can you lie like that?"

            "Years of practice." Eve grinned.

            "I guess it's time?" Ranma asked.

            "The meeting is starting."

            Cecilia tilted her head.

            "Need to know," Eve plainly said.

            "Right, right." Cecilia shrugged.

            "Ukyou should still write up her report," Ranma said, causing Ukyou to glare.

            "She can use my office. Just keep any Coda out of it." Eve said as they started walking down the hallway to the suggested room.

            Cecilia cleared her throat. "Well, I'll be in the commissary then. Desiree and Hazel are learning some new recipes."

            "Go, enjoy it. You won't get to spend as much time as you'd like with them." Ranma smiled and looked to her daughter.

            Thinking to herself, Ukyou nodded.

            "Great, nice to know my life can get even more complicated." Cecilia grinned showing her teeth.

            "At least you started out with the demon-mommy stuff," Eve shrugged.

            "I did have a life before I became a demon." Cecilia raised an eyebrow.

            "Right, and I had a life before I joined the Company."

            Ranma tilted her head. "Sis...."

            "It's the truth. Little Casey of Woodbridge University is gone." Eve looked Cecilia over. "We could have helped you with your past. You rejected all of it, for your girls."

            "Right, because I really want to open that can of worms." Cecilia crossed her arms over her chest. "We can't all have supportive human parents."

            Ranma blushed while Eve's shoulders drooped.

            Cecilia adjusted the skirt. "I did what I had to do to take care of my family. Isn't that enough?"

            Ranma smiled.

            "I can't help but agree. My point was more that some of us..." Eve looked to Ukyou. "Some of us have had to move on. And it's best to close off our pasts."

            Ukyou nodded in sympathy.

            Cecilia's gaze switched between the two girls. "I'm missing something."

            "Warrior for the White Christ." Eve pointed to Ukyou, then to herself. "Heir to the Guardians of the Millennial Reich."

            Cecilia rubbed her forehead. "Life was simpler when I was just a whore."

            "Hey! Misako was the real white-knight psycho. I was more his handler. I was in it for the revenge," Ukyou grumbled.

            "We're here," Eve unlocked the door to her office. "Don't worry Cecilia, that's my point. Things are going to get more complicated, and there's nothing wrong with wanting to wall off your past."

            Sniffing the air wafting out of the room, Cecilia grinned.

            The blonde turned and looked down at the slender demon. "But you must be careful.  Just because you've turned your back on your past doesn't mean it hasn't turned its back on you. Walk away if you must, but don't forget to learn from it before you do."

            The lavender-haired woman wilted slightly.

            "Lovely moral." Ranma said.

            Eve shrugged. "Anyway you can write up your report here, Ukyou. Doesn't have to be long, and avoid any critical terms."

            Ukyou looked around the bare office. Its only adornments were the collection of photographs that dominated one wall, and the large mattress and box spring that took up the majority of the back third of the room. "I'm guessing you don't want me to log onto your computer?"

            "Nope. Write it out by hand. Individual pages, on the steel top of the desk."

            "Great.... proper tradecraft." Ukyou's shoulders sagged.

            Eve smirked and closed the door. "Have fun"

            Cecilia shook her head. "Well... good luck... with... whatever."

            "Thanks. We're doing this to protect our families' too," Ranma assured giving Cecilia a long hug.

            Purring lightly, Cecilia walked off.

            "I like her," Eve said, making sure Ukyou had locked the door.

            "It is nice having normal –well- family," Ranma agreed, as they walked down the corridor.

            "Normal family," Eve laughed.

            "What? Compared to us, she is. It's nice to see that we succubae can be normal."

            "Oh, it's not the normal part that amuses me." Eve smiled at her sister.

            Ranma put an arm around the taller woman. "You're going to keep milking the whole 'friendless Germanic depressive' thing aren't you?"

            Eve nodded.

            "Trying to make me forget about the whole Cecilia moving in thing?"

            "That wasn't my idea."

            Ranma looked into Eve's eyes and sighed. "Right." She turned and saw the door to Jacob's office. "Well... shall we see how the old men will take the news?"

            Eve gave a tiny smile before her face slipped into its normal neutrality. She opened the door and let her sister enter.

            Colonel Jacob Edwards looked up from his desk. "Ah, good. Didn't have much trouble with Miss Cecilia's moving arrangements?"

            Ranma shook her head. "Of course, you'd know about it."

            Jacob smirked as Captain Jarvis sealed the door behind her. She picked up a scanner and walked to a seat near the desk.

            "Are we secure?" Ranma sat down in a couch opposite Jacob's desk, she picked up a decanter and eyed the amber liquid.

            Eve got up from her seat and then methodically checked the jammer feed and then the locks. She then nodded to Colonel Edwards.

            "Reasonably, just be careful with any Coda."

            "You've seen the video," Ranma said as she poured herself a small drink. "Ukyou's report won't add much but she'll have it in a bit."

            "Oh yes," Eve said as she retrieved a pair of ice cubes from Jacob's mini-fridge.

            Jacob eyed the scotch and nodded.

            Ranma took a sip. "How screwed are we then?"

            "A connection between Meiou and any Coda-grade cultists is extremely worrying," Jacob stated while he looked over the redhead with a minute frown.

            Eve coughed. "There is the possibility that he is operating undercover and has infiltrated the Numbers."

            "And given that damn armor, Miss Tsukino could even be in the loop."

            Ranma swirled her glass, letting the ice melt a bit faster. "I doubt it. That thing can seal up body language and keeps her from blurting anything out, but I can still read their scent. She didn't expect the Numbers to have anything like him."

            "Neither did Meiou in my estimation." Eve conceded.

            "So there's a connection between them, but Meiou didn't expect to see him?" Jacob asked.

            "You're certain we can't eliminate them all?" Eve's voice had some levity.

            "Do we have enough reliable Pattern Silvers?" Ranma asked.

            Eve sat down. "Projections of our brood's growth rates are positive but..."

            "But Serenity is a whole other scale," Jacob completed.

            "If you're right, we can certainly use Usagi."

            "You knew her mother. Is there anything different we can do?" Jacob asked.

            "The Serenity I knew... she was a demon-dealing imperialist bent on Unification. It's hard for me to comprehend what she became after I died." Ranma took a long sip and then refreshed her glass.

            "It does seem she became quite the submaternissima," Eve noted.

            Ranma shivered at the obscenity. "I'd like to say her parenting wasn't that bad but... Look, we're training her, and that armor seems to keep her in line. Kasumi's wargames will show us if the physical kinks are worked out."

            "And the physiological kinks and the strategic and security risks?" Jacob tapped his desk.

            Ranma shrugged. "She's a spoiled girl with god-like powers. Minako's a big risk but after what Akumi did to her..." She forced a cocksure expression. "As for those kinks. Well, they just give us more handles on her."

            Eve smirked. "She's pretty mad at you."

            "She's mad at herself too. She still wants my approval." Holding her scotch, Ranma lounged back on the couch. "We can use that."

            "Can you?" Jacob gently asked.

            "Assuming she can perform up to your standards," Eve pointed out.

            Ranma raised an eyebrow at the colonel but turned to her sister. "The more challenging it is to get my affection, the more she'll cherish it. It's not just approval she's starved for."

            Eve gave a tight smile. "Miss Hino did say it was about time you started acting like a succubus."

            Jacob leaned forward over his desk. "Are you sure about this? If you do this it may not be just her trust you violate?"

            "I'm sick of the problems she's causing us. If we can use her, we'll use her. If she'll play along willingly then great, if not..." Ranma shook her head and took a sip.

            "Are you sure you can handle this?" Jacob repeated, his eyes catching Eve's attention.

            Ranma eyed him. "Uh... yeah."

            "If not we can take care of it," Eve assured, giving a confused nod to Jacob.

            "We still have to deal with the Meiou issue. This Mal de Veste sets off way too many alarms and for Tsukino's main advisor to know him just raises my concerns." Jacob shook his head. "Captain I've got some files Operations Centre 01 just sent down. I want you to compare them with Mr. Murdock's testimony.

            Eve nodded in understanding. "I doubt it's a coincidental."

            "Great, we'll have to work out how big of a mess this all is." Ranma winced and drained her glass. She looked at the bottom and frowned.




           Virgo looked through the great curved window. Thick, thick crystal, it slanted outward, forming the inner arc of the softly glowing semi-circular observation room full of softly humming and pulsing equipment. However, the purple woman's attention was on what lay on the other side of the glass, within the dome-shaped room.

           The windows overlooked a great circular chamber. In the center stood a pair of giant paneled Doors; a riot of details, they were firmly shut, and smoke crept around the floor far below the observation windows.

           Out of habit, she exhaled. One advantage of her upgrades was that she was at no risk of suffocation.

           Back in the habitat section, Orion had mentioned that their Senshi abilities would protect them from the inert gasses that filled the rest of the facility. On the other hand, Orion had come up with a slew of excuses to stay in the shelter they had converted into a makeshift barracks.

           Unlike her previous Sailor Virgo form she found herself able to stay crystalline Sailor Virgo for extended periods without ill effect.  Which was a great advantage given the limitations on water and cleaning, especially during the first couple of days after they moved into the ancient facility.

            Virgo put her hand on the window. Despite the thickness she could feel a slight vibration. It was as if the circular room on the other side was full of some great machine, instead of a mere set of doors.

           The vibration increased, she shook her head. A moment later she pulled her hand away and the sensation lessened.

           Mercury walked up behind her. Holding a small silver box, she paused to glare at the gateway. "The Space-Time Door," she said after a moment of silence.

           "Dangerous?" the crystalline girl looked to her Mistress.

           Mercury cocked her head, a smile crossing her lips. A finger strummed along the box, tapping the star-shaped lock. "In a way, I suppose. The Door is considered the mechanism that gives Pluto her powers over time."

           Virgo frowned. "But it Pluto's?"

           "Not exactly," Mercury chuckled. "It's a prop, a mockup."

           Nodding Virgo stepped back and looked around the room. "A prop for what, Mistress? This is Millennium equipment, correct?"


           "Then who is being fooled?" After asking the question, Virgo blinked. The facets of her gem-like eyes flashed with realization.

           Mercury smiled. "So, you see it then?"

           "If this not real... then this was to fool the Empire, fool the court."

           "Yes." Mercury looked back at the Door. "It does not inspire confidence."

           "Is that why you brought me here?" Virgo asked.

           Mercury cradled the silver box. "Not quite," she said extending a tiny spire of ice from her finger.

           "What then?" Virgo narrowed her eyes. "Why leave me here?"

           "This was a safe place to put you."

           "Here?" Virgo waved a hand around the massive reinforced walls and doors.

           "Yes, for this room you hold sufficient authorization."

           "Here?" she repeated looking at the gate.

           "The Senshi, and top mages have access to this facility." Mercury glared at the gateway again. "Ostensibly to better protect and study it."

           "And where were you?"

           Mercury smirked. "A more secure place."

           "More than here?" Virgo blinked. "We are deep under Moon, yes?" she somewhat rhetorically asked, she and Orion had done much of the moving and knew how expansive and remote this facility was.  She had also learned to loath the crates of wine that Mercury had secreted with the rest of their equipment.

           "Deeper." Mercury grinned. "There are powers greater than you, greater than me," Mercury said as she worked the lock. Being one of the Guardian Senshi, the magical aspect was simple enough; it was what allowed her to get to the box in the first place. However, the physical aspects of the lock took a little bit more work.

           Virgo chuckled. "Greater than the demon I suppose?"

        "Oh much," Mercury chuckled and the lock popped open. The lid eased open and the blue-haired woman gasped in delight.

           Virgo peered over trying to look inside.

           "Well, what is it?"

           Giving a slight frown, Mercury angled the box so the crystalline woman could see the silver-framed jewel nestled in a velvet bed.

           A sculpted eyebrow rose. It was made out of the same semi-translucent filaments as the woman's long hair. She began to reach for the box.

           Mercury snapped it shut with a neutral expression. "Not yet."

           Virgo tilted her head "When then?"

           "Just because something doesn't work once doesn't mean you can't try again," Giving a resigned sigh, Mercury studied the engravings on the outside of the silver box. "It just means you have to be cautious with your timing."

           Virgo nodded. "Then we can go?"

           Laughing, Mercury began to walk out of the observation room.

           The former Amazon followed her into a bare corridor. Long rectangular rooms branched off. Most were empty save for piles of bolts, struts and the occasional stack of papers and cables. Runes had been scrawled into the floors, most of them encircling equipment that had been removed eons ago.

           However in some of the rooms, the runes and cables plugged into equipment that was still there. Hulking machines that despite their age still gave slight hums. Virgo found Mercury before one of the great machines.

           It looked somewhat like a medical scanner but had sleek robotic arms on either side of the work surface that gave it a distinctly industrial appearance. The blue-haired woman had placed the silver box on the machine's console and was powering the device up.

           "We're not leaving?"

            "Oh no," Mercury gave a satisfied nod as the device started up. "While this may be a Potemkin laboratory, it is still a laboratory."


           Annoyance crossed Mercury's face. "There's a story about Catherine the Great, a Russian Empress. She was being shown newly conquered lands, but according to the story they were actually desolate. One of her Ministers Grigory Potemkin had overseen the campaign, and he had a solution."

           "Ah," Virgo nodded. "He made fakes yes? He tricked his queen?"

           Mercury gave a cold smile. "I suppose the context makes it obvious. Yes, the legend has it that he built several villages, fake villages, Potemkin villages, along the banks of Catherine's journey. Though in reality he did build villages to impress her, save much of them were largely real.

           "Like this stuff?" Virgo gestured to the machinery. "This why you brought me here."

           "My, my," Mercury chuckled. "It's too late for cold feet now." She glanced down at the translucent purple boots Virgo wore. "It's too late for feet period I think."

           Virgo set her jaw.

           "Really, being obstinate now?"  Brushing a hand against her ice-skirt Mercury chuckled.

           "Suspicious." Virgo raised an eyebrow.

           Stepping forward, Mercury smiled. "Really?  You don't trust me, and after all I've done for you." She reached out and traced her finger over Virgo's crystalline skirt.

            "And now you do more?"

           Mercury's laugh returned. "Of course,  now do I need to force you or will you obey?" She grinned tight lipped. "Your choice."

           Virgo squared her shoulders. "Is it?"

           "In as much as you choose how long you delay the inevitable."

           "Our fate is already sealed then?"

           Mercury nodded at her reflection in Virgo's shiny skin. "I suppose it is, but this is nothing new. We are merely continuing the improvements I've promised you."

           Sensing her mistress being slightly less than truthful, Virgo smirked. "All for me, yes?"

           "Your vengeance, our queen." Mercury eyed the silver box. "They're all so interrelated."

           "Useful pawn then."

           "Naturally. On the table please."

           Sighing, Virgo pulled herself up onto the flat metal work surface.

           The ice-skirted Senshi looked at the supine woman. As the arms started up she smirked. "Don't worry. This will just... refine you."




            Kasumi looked up from her coffee. "Yes, what's wrong?"

            Akane pouted and took the chair across the table from Kasumi. "How'd...."

            Leaning on the kitchen counter, Ukyou smirked. "I can smell it all over you."

            Frowning, Akane blinked at Kasumi.

            "Body language. You're on edge, but you're not being aggressive so it can't be combat." She sipped from her mug. "Problems with Nariko?" she asked, eyeing Ukyou.

            "No," Akane bit her lip. "It's not about her." Flaring her nostrils Akane slowly looked around the room.

            "Just spill it. Mother won't care," Ukyou got up and patted Akane's head before slipping an arm around her in a light hug. "You can do this."

            Kasumi raised an eyebrow.

            Akane leaned onto the blonde. "But she's so wound up!"

            "Ranma? How serious?" Kasumi carefully lowered her mug and let go; an unsteady hand causing a spill would just make things worse.

            "Akane's working up the courage to talk to you about it. So, not that bad," Ukyou flashed a weak smile. "A real threat would have her, would have us running to you, Nariko, grandma, Auntie Eve, anyone."

            Kasumi nodded. "It's about Miss Tsukino, then?"

            Akane looked down. "Mother's getting fed up; she's getting tired; you can feel her pulse quicken and her muscles tense."

            "You know how Mom gets when faced with a stubborn challenge," Ukyou added pulling herself out of the hug and taking a seat between the two Tendo sisters.

            "She's spending less and less time with us," Akane petulantly, added.

            "A valid concern," Kasumi admitted. "But why tell me? Nariko or Major Saotome or Captain Jarvis are... closer." The lieutenant flexed her fingers.

            "You're my sister." Akane frowned.

            "You have four other sisters." Kasumi curtly said.

            "We wanted to talk to someone... out of the brood." Ukyou coughed. "But someone that knows Mom," the platinum blonde hastily added.

            Kasumi gave a light smirk. "The list of humans who 'know' her is rather short."

            "That's a factor, you're not..." Ukyou shook her head. "Mother isn't as much of a part of your life."

            "I don't have her fishhooks in my brain you mean?" Kasumi laughed slightly. "I have had sex with her, that was...." A smile formed but it was quickly crushed. "Still Akane, why me? We haven't exactly been close."

            "You think we've drifted further apart?" Blinking, Akane seemed to curl inward. "Why, because I was turned into a demon?"


            Akane stared then laughed, her clouded expression breaking apart. "Yes, your poor little sister transformed into a savage killing machine. Well Sis, you beat me on that score by several years."

            Kasumi tilted her head.

            "You're a Company officer, Operations Section. You are a killer." A smile formed on Akane's lips that touched her eyes. "And that's a good thing. Too many humans try to deny the reality of their species, but you... you embrace what you are, what humanity can be."

            "You're saying we had already drifted apart."

            "Please, I hardly saw you. You were always out... somewhere working for the Company, and when you came back you weren't Kasumi. You weren't even that shell-shocked girl that killed her classmates to keep from being raped. No, what would a real warrior have in common with some spoiled Ichinensei playing at martial arts." Akane sighed. "At least you were born in Japan, not that it matters anymore. Father's little deal with the Drake changed all that."

            "But now that you're a demon?"

            "We train together; we fight together; we live together. We've spent more time with each other like this than we have in years."

            "And next you'll tell me that I'm closer with Nabiki too?"

            Akane raised an eyebrow and tilted her head.

            "Fine, fine." Kasumi exhaled. "I see your point. It's just... weird."

            "You're hardly blameless." Ukyou said.

            "Yeah, you slept with your sister's mother."

            Kasumi chuckled. "That did complicate things." Her face darkened. "I suppose you may have a point."

            "What did you see?"

            "Last night Ranma was pretty eager to help Captain Jarvis."

            "She wanted to work out some stress then?"

            "She seemed really put out when Murdock gave up resisting." Kasumi looked at her mug. After a few seconds she exhaled. "Okay, you've got a point."

            "What do you think we should do?"

            "Talk with Major Saotome."

            Akane looked down. "What if she thinks we're being silly?"

            Kasumi put her hand on the demon's pale arm. "Don't worry; I'll support you, and I don't think she'll brush aside our concerns."




            Meiou stepped into the darkened barracks room. The light coming in through the doorway reflected off a giant golden figure that  dominated a corner of the room.

            The green haired woman looked over to the beds where Makoto and Rei lay.  After watching them long enough to be reasonably sure of their unconsciousness, she walked up to the golden figure.

            The ruby crescent moon atop the crown flashed. "Yes?" Minako's voice quietly asked.

            Meiou closed her eyes. The teenage girl's form shimmered and her clothing shifted into black iridescent  armored plate and skirting. A small leather pouch appeared between Pluto's gloved fingers.

            Minako chuckled through the gem. "I'll wake her up."

            The golden queen shifted and rose in height. After a couple seconds of motion, her silver face tilted and her blue eyes lit up. "Yes?"  Serenity asked, eyeing Pluto.

            Pluto opened the leather pouch revealing a purple-gemmed amulet.  The star-shaped object hung from a silver chain.

            "Is that...?" Serenity asked.

            "It's hers." Pluto eyed the gem. "Your mother never had the chance to give it, but it was right where Mina said it would be." She eyed the ruby crescent moon.

            Serenity reached out. The prongs of her wand-cannon acted like simple fingers.

            Pluto pulled her arm back.

            Golden lips shifted into a frown. "Problem?" Serenity asked.

            "I'm not sure such a bauble is the right way to show you're sorry.  DarkStar is deeply disappointed in you, and while she has some fondness for her mother, she'll be apprehensive to accept anything that reinforces her role as one of us."

            Serenity bowered her head. "It's just her transformation device.  She doesn't even need it."

            "Which is why I'm not sure it's the best idea. Not right now at least."

            "It's not like she won't figure it out." Serenity laughed glancing up at one of the cameras mounted up on the ceiling

            Pluto sighed. "There's a difference between them knowing we've dug up an artifact from Ranma's past life, and you gracelessly giving it to her as if it were some great magnanimous symbol of your contrition."

            Serenity's eyes flashed.

            Pluto held out the amulet. "Just think it over.  You don't want her upset."

            "Right," Serenity's claws grabbed the amulet and part of her chest armor slid open.   The gem was then placed inside the gleaming cavity.

            Pluto held back a sigh. "When are you planning to give it to her?"

            Serenity blinked. "I... I don't know."

            "Well, if you want help I'm sure we can come up with a good time."


            Pluto watched the armor reseal. "I'm not against the idea of a gift, not exactly. I'm just worried that if you do it wrong it'll set off Ranma.  Or worse... she'll ignore it."


            Pluto shrugged. "DarkStar's not one to care about such trinkets.  Not if they don't have any meaning behind them. You're really going to have to think about why you're giving this to her, what it all represents."

            "Ah,"  the queen nodded.

            "Sleep over it," Pluto suggested.

            "Right." Serenity paused. "Thanks, for getting it." The eyes dimmed and the figure stilled.

            Pluto stared at the ruby. She waited until she was sure that Usagi was asleep, or at least insensate.  After she was sure she kept waiting.

            Eventually, the crescent moon gem flashed. "Yes?" Minako hesitantly asked.

            "You should have made the pickup," Pluto stated.

            "I was unavailable."

            Running a hand over the silver sword, Pluto laughed. "Yes, I see."

            "You have concerns?"

            "Obviously." Pluto rolled her eyes. "Are you planning to tell your little host who picked that piece of jewelry up for her?"

            "Do you wish to upset her?" Minako asked, the queen's face contorting to frustration.

            Pluto smiled up at the hulking figure of frigid femininity. "Perhaps, she's been coddled too much. Perhaps what the queen needs is to be upset."

            The gem flashed a couple times but Minako did not speak.

            "Your urge to protect her is admirable, but standing here, can you say that you haven't gone astray?"

            Minako raised the queen's chin, haughtily.

            "Really?" Pluto stepped back shaking her head. "You're either rising far above your station, armor. Or," the small green haired woman smiled. "Or, you've carried out your coup."

            "I am loyal to the queen. I love Usagi!"  Minako wailed.

            "Mercury has the exact same stance."  Pluto's smile sharpened. "So do I for that matter." She ran a finger down the side of the large wand cannon. "You of all people should know how... flexible loyalty is."

            Minako was silent.

            "Is that why you refused to go to the pickup?  Yes, it was a dead-drop, but there was a chance Mercury would be there. Were you afraid of being tempted? Were you more afraid of leaving Usagi alone?"

            After asking her question, Pluto waited.  She sighed at the lack of response. "Pretending to be a mere robot will only increase the... concerns the others have. The queen... the Princess is not solely yours to use."

            Minako watched the pensive Senshi. "Others?"

            Pluto looked to the beds where Makoto and Rei slept; the last of the...  normal Guardian Senshi.

            "Really now?" Minako chuckled. "It would seem that I'm not the only one making a power play."

            Pluto tilted her chin. Her playful smile slipped away. "No, no, I'd never be that... transparent." Shaking her head she left the room,  leaving the golden queen in the darkness.




            Sitting at Eve's desk, Ranma reviewed the report on Murdock's "interview". The office had gained a bit more of a human touch, a second chair had been added behind the desk, and sitting at the corners were several brass-framed photographs. The redhead wore her riding leathers and had her hair pulled back in a loose ponytail.

            There was a knock and Ranma looked up from the laptop. "Yes, Nabiki?" she asked. "Please come in."

            Nabiki slipped through the door and looked at her mother. She wore a light pastel periwinkle cheongsam trimmed in a blue snowflake pattern. Her hair was pulled back in two little buns while the rest of it fell free.

            "What's wrong?" Ranma locked the machine and stood.

            "Well.." Trailing off, Nabiki's eyes darted to the door.

            "Are you in any trouble? Is something wrong?"

            The tiny demon shook her head.

            "Your sisters? The rest of the brood?"

            Nabiki raised an eyebrow. "Well, no..."

            "And it's not an attack as we'd already be fighting." Ranma smiled at Nabiki. "So what is wrong?"

            "Ukyou and Akane have some worries," Nabiki sighed.

            "Uh oh, are they teasing you?" Ranma hugged her.

            "No, it's not me. They're worried about you."

            Ranma blinked. "Why?"

            "Just come to the commissary. They're waiting for you."

            The redhead's confusion grew. "Why didn't they come?"

            "Because everyone wouldn't fit in here." Nabiki coughed.

            A moment of suspicion crossed Ranma's face. "Uh, okay." She exited the office, locked the door, and followed her daughter down the hallway.

            Her nose tickling, Ranma blinked at the various scents. Horns tingling too, the brood mother turned back to her daughter. The redhead gave the girl a raised eyebrow. She then looked back to the front door of the commissary.

            The young succubus kept her face neutral.

            Ranma turned and raised an eyebrow.

            Coughing, Nabiki squared her shoulders. "You're a real pain to surprise mother. You know that?"

            "What's this about?"

            Nabiki simply gestured towards the doorknob. By the look on her mother's face, the girl guessed that if her mother's tail were out it would have drooped a tad.

            The redhead hesitated.

            "Mother please," Nabiki pleaded. After a moment she sighed and opened the door. She stepped through.

            Frowning minutely, Ranma entered. In the commissary was what she expected. The eager, slightly concerned faces of her daughters. The five girls had been somewhat crammed onto one of the benches around a table. Her mother and Eve stood behind them while Cecilia sat alone a bit off to the side. Kasumi sat opposite Cecilia if a bit closer to her sisters. On the table were several glasses of water and a bowl of plums.

            Nabiki closed the door behind the redhead, ran past her mother, and sat down squeezing between Ukyou and Akane.

             "What's this then?" Ranma asked looking around at the group.

            "What's wrong mother?" Nariko asked her voice was hurt but concerned. She tilted her head meaningfully. "Why are you upset to see us?"

            "I'm not upset. I just thought you had work." Ranma frowned. "I mean someone should be watching Usagi." She looked around. "Eve, that'd be your daughters?" She looked to her sister.

            Eve exhaled but nodded. "Yes."

            Nodoka gave a sad nod. "You were right, Lieutenant."

            Kasumi shrugged. "It was Akane and Ukyou that brought my attention to it."

            "Attention to what?" Ranma crossed her arms. "What's going on?" she asked, somewhat frustrated and concerned.

            Eve was about to look away but she kept her gaze steady on her sister. "Perhaps you have been overworked."

            "Huh?" Ranma asked, her arms falling to her sides. "What's going on?" She looked to her daughters' concerned faces.

            "I was a skeptic but... seeing you like this." Eve cleared her throat. "We're worried about you. You're getting far too wound up about this Tsukino situation . It's getting to you."

            "I just... didn't expect..." Ranma sagged forward. Her horns and wings appeared as did her tail which was low and limp.

            "We're worried about you, Dear," Nodoka walked up to the redhead. For once Ranma actually seemed smaller than the taller officer as she hugged her daughter .

            "That's what this is about?" Ranma distantly asked leaning into the hug. Following her Mother's lead. Her feet took her forward and on automatic she ended up in the middle of her daughters. Sitting in the center of the long table's bench, she was between Nabiki and Ukyou. Misako and Nariko sat at the far ends flanking the brood.

            Ranma looked to her daughters. Nariko met her gaze while Misako and Nabiki looked away. Akane and Ukyou also steadily eyed their mother.

            The redhead opened her mouth, then closed it. She paused. "Huh, and this is coming from Miss Workaholic."

            "I'm making time for my kids," Eve said a bit primly.

            Ranma clenched her jaw.

            "It's not just that. You're losing your professional detachment," Eve clarified.

            After staring at her sister, the redhead laughed. Shoulders slumped forward she pushed the bench back slightly. Tile flooring scratched due to the weight. Her legs spread out slightly as she leaned forward onto the table top.

             "What do ya' want me to do?" Ranma squeezed the edge of the table "I'm kind of in a limited place here."

            "The cyborgs will kill the stupid blonde," Misako said

            "Is that worth sacrificing your family?" Eve asked.

            "But it's all about duty. Are you asking as Captain Jarvis or as Mommy-Eve? How do you juggle those duties?

            Eve looked down. "I know you, I know which way you'd pick."

            Ranma sighed. "Still... It's not that bad... not yet. In the meantime, I'm stuck babysitting her."

            Nodoka shook her head. "No, you're not."

            "Oh?" Ranma's voice cracked as she pulled her hands off the table. She leaned back and spread her arms over her daughters' shoulders. She looked down at the fruit bowl. "You're in the same boat as Eve as me. We have a responsibility that is greater than our families. We all fight knowing the risks, knowing what it could mean for our daughters, our sisters."

            Nodoka nodded. "It is a challenge, but you're losing sight of things. You don't have to pick between your family and Usagi."

            "Really?" Ranma's eyes flashed.

            Nodoka kept her gaze.

            Ranma pulled her head aside.

            The scientist frowned; she knew her daughter's reaction, her daughter's feelings but there was still a... gap.

            "Maybe your joke about just killing her is the best idea after all?" Ranma asked.

            The blonde lowered her head. "Yes. It might come to that. And that's a far better option than losing you due to stress because of her. Strategic success does not require her presence, only that she does not sabotage it."

            Sighing, Ranma sagged a bit more, bringing her daughters down via the group hug.

            "But Mother, why don't you just kill her?" Misako asked. Curly orange hair framed an innocent-seeming face with wide bright green eyes. "Or just let that other blonde nitwit continue to control her. That armor seems to be a pretty good way to keep her under control."

            Pulling at her own platinum blonde hair, Ukyou looked at her mate and sighed. "This is why we were worried Misa-chan."

            Eve reached out to Ranma. "Yes, we are worried about you. When was the last time you spent quality time with your girls?"

            "We still sleep together and train.... ah... damn," Ranma slumped further down pulling her daughters closer to her.

            "Mother is stressed." Nariko finally said. "She should take a vacation."

            Akane smiled. "That is the idea, Nari-chan. How about it Mom?"

            "I can't, Akane..." Ranma said, her voice almost a whine. For a moment she looked her age. Instead of a mature, powerful brood mother in the center of her power surrounded by her spawn, there sat a pale teenager who felt the pressures of responsibility weighting her down.

            Eve and Nodoka both reached out to the girl.

            Nodoka looked over and saw Eve react as if there was an... electric contact. The scientist felt a tinge of regret.

            "I can't," Ranma repeated; she shook her head. "Between training and watching the Princess, there's no time." Frowning, she picked up a plum.

            Sighing, Eve straightened herself up. "I'm sorry Ranma, but you don't understand."

            Nodoka tapped Ranma's hand. "We are here for you."

            "Thank you, Mother" Ranma nodded.

            Nodoka gave a little smile. She glanced at Eve. Despite it all, despite the advantages Eve had, she, not Eve, was Ranma's mother.

            Taking a bite, Ranma blinked. "What are you talking about Eve?"

            "Succinctly? We're not sure if it's best for you to be around Miss Tsukino like this. With how stressed you are, you'll just antagonize her, and it will be counterproductive."

            The redhead's violet eyes widened. "Oh. Really," she stated, flatly.

            "I'm afraid so."

            "Didn't we have a plan?" Ranma quietly asked. "We'd work Usagi over and if she started to show any improvement I'd begrudgingly give her approval and string her along that way?" She asked, her hair writhing and the shadows deepening around her form.

            "Do you think you can still do that?" Eve asked. "That's a lot of acting and commitment to the part. A lot of patience and dealing with her, and not the big armored version, but the real Miss Tsukino."

            Ranma broke away from Eve's gaze and her hair stilled. She morosely took a bite.

            The blonde brood mother lowered her head. "I'm sorry."

            "But...." Ranma shook her head. "Jacob thought I could; he approved the plan. He-"

            "Since when does great DarkStar seek the approval of a WIC Colonel?"

            Putting the half eaten plum down, Ranma looked down at the silent broodlings clinging to her staring at her.

            "Also when does Executor Edwards ask if a special contractor can handle a simple job? Repeatedly."

            "You all knew." Ranma exhaled, she closed her eyes and concentrated on sensing her daughter's heartbeats, anything to keep her from curling up.

            Kasumi nodded. "And it's not just overwork, it's the kind of work you're doing, or not doing.  This Tsukino stuff has kept you from training that JTF2 platoon, and they really should see what a powerful Pattern D is capable of."

            Nodoka shook her head. "No Dear, we were all worried but then your daughters started talking with Lieutenant Tendo and myself."

            "While the senior staff started talking to me," Eve explained. "It was when I went to Major Saotome that we pieced it all together and realized that we were all worried about you."

            Ranma laughed. "Great, secret meetings behind my back."

            Eve tiled her head and gave a big smile. "Why hello!" she said in a cheery bombastic voice. "Welcome to Willard International Consulting. You must be new here!"

            "Yeah Mom. 'We spy on you because we care' is practically the Company motto," Ukyou said.

            Ranma gave a weak chuckle. "I suppose that much is true. Underhanded spying is what we do."

            Eve allowed herself an inner smile at the use of "we" and a large outer one at her sister's slight improvement in mood. "Oh yes." She tapped her chin. "Now are you sure there's no one you want us to assassinate? How about abducted and presented to you bound and blindfolded?"

            The redhead pulled herself up, bringing her daughters with her. "Well... we already got Murdock."

            "It's good to see you getting your claws into the artistic side mother," Misako smiled. "Maybe you can do that to relax."

            Ranma raised an eyebrow at her daughter.

            "What? It was one of Mother-Alexia's favorite ways to unwind."

            Cecilia shivered. "Misa is correct." She shook her head at the memories.

            "Huh," Ranma frowned. "I'm not sure I should take... pleasure in that kind of stuff."

            "While I have a professional detachment with the whole process, I should remind you that you take pleasure from far more pain inducing and lethal pursuits than mere torture," Eve stated. "However, if killing some people is what you want to do for a vacation, I'm sure the Company can find some targets."

            Ranma looked up in thought. "True, that could be fun, but combat is pretty stressful too. What's a more relaxing... well... way to relax?"

            Smiling, Cecilia gave a light giggle. "That's a very loaded question."

            "Relaxation then? Suggestions?" Eve took out a slim notepad.

            The lavender-haired woman blinked. "Really?" She looked around the table at the demons and agents. "Huh."

            "I have some ideas," Misako offered.

            "Other than killing," Ukyou sighed.

            "A salon treatment could do wonders."

            "I don't want to look like a carrot," Ranma grumbled.

            Misako harrumphed. "Well there's other things. Looking pretty does help unwind, as does being treated by servants."

            "She has a point," Cecilia coughed. "That's what the whole spa treatment is about."

            "Yes, I can see that," Eve marked some notes.

            "If you want mother to relax, take away the things that trouble her and satisfy her urges, the things she wants to do, like sex."

            "Again, this is stuff you want," Ukyou stated before sighing again.

            Ranma blushed a bit while Kasumi looked away and put a hand over her mouth.

            Cecilia grinned.

            Nabiki eyed the former call-girl. "I suppose this is right up your alley."

            "Well, yes. I have extensive experience in... relaxation and actual non-carnal relaxation."

            Nabiki and some of the other broodlings blinked.

            "What? When you get into my price range the customer rarely asks for just sex."

            "Ah," Nodoka looked over to the notes Eve was writing. "Hence your expertise in this field."

            "I was paid good money to ensure the enjoyment and relaxation of some very stressed people," Cecilia shrugged. "Granted they didn't deal with quite this level of pressure, but they weren't this nice."

            "Interesting suggestion. We do have a full day to fill, and a full night." Eve looked down at the timeline she had begun to fill out.

            "Wait, what?" Ranma blinked. "You're planning to just hook me up with someone?"

            "Well, there's security and scheduling issues to work out."

            "I have my not-so-little black book," Cecilia offered.

            "That could be a good starting point," Eve nodded. "Though we could simply go to an appropriate bar."

            Ranma leaned back. "Really?"

            "Of course, you're more than attractive and attracting enough to snag anyone with even a mild interest," Eve assured with a little smile.

            A slight blush crept up the redhead's neck. "Well, I'm not so sure... well." She looked up around her family. "Okay, fine. I would like sex, but I'm not sure on the idea of just anyone." She shook her head and looked up with a little smile. "The rest sounds nice though. Anything to just stop."

            "Some good food too then." Eve then glanced to Cecilia. The lavender haired woman pulled a thick black leather address book out of her purse. The blonde gave a little nod and turned back to her other sister. "Don't worry Ranma, we'll make sure you have a lovely day off."




            Kiri looked up from the dossier. Mars and Jupiter had returned. Both were wearing their metallic uniforms and looked beat, worn.

            Holding a canteen, Jupiter slumped onto her bunk. She gave Mars a tired glance but leaned back onto the wall. She then crossed her legs with a pained wince.

            Mars stepped over to the younger Senshi and pointedly looked over Kiri's shoulder.

            Without turning, the Senshi of Pluto raised an eyebrow. "Yes, Rei?"

            "That's Murdock's... confession?" Mars asked before turning to Jupiter. "You sure you're okay Mako-chan?"

            "Peachy, the skirting armor took most of the blow," Jupiter nodded.

            "With the expected omissions of course." Meiou Kiri nodded. "Where is the queen?"

            "Doing another test with Dr. Saotome," Jupiter said as she worked a kink out of her knee. "Not like she got worn down by that Tendo girl's insane training."

            Kiri raised an eyebrow.

            "Doctor?" Mars laughed. "She's a mad scientist, who's also the Demon's mother." She narrowed her eyes at the diminutive green-haired woman. "And here you are staying in to read up on the Mage responsible for all this, the same man that the Demon let go."

            Kiri held a finger to her chin. "The takeaway, I'm left with is that you left the Queen alone with, as you describe her, a mad scientist. Why? So, you could yell at me?"

            Eyes narrowing, Mars laughed again. "Right, she can't be alone. And that's the problem."

            Kiri turned to face Mars. "The status quo is unacceptable then?"

            "Damn right! This is all your fault."

            "My, now you're exaggerating my abilities?" Grinning, Kiri pushed a strand of hair off her forehead. She then glanced down to the report where a large portion of Murdock's testimony had been redacted. "Someone else did much the same."

            Mars snorted. "Please, if you didn't want Minako to merge with Usagi and become her armor you'd never let it happen."

            "Or at least you'd reverse it. This only happening because you're letting it," Jupiter added.

            "You too, then?" Disappointment edged Kiri's voice.

            "Oh, come off it. We're all that's left!" Flames sprung into existence around Mars' fists. "You've quarantined the outers and spore. Ami's gone insane. Minako's not much better, and now Usagi's getting all strange."

            "Hardly a recent event, you recall the toy store, what she did to the Kronecker and his cult, the Path of the Will?"

            Mars stilled. "I was there." Flames crept up her arms forming a second set of gloves.

            "She crushed his skull, bare handed." Kiri warmly smiled. "Perhaps you should be more worried about the internal changes instead of the external ones."

            "Thanks to you and Venus she is an internal change," Mars spat. Fire began to flicker through her hair like sparking red and yellow ribbons.

            Kiri's smile died and she folded the dossier closed. "I think you need to calm down Rei," she steadily, calmly said.

            "Oh, you'll put me down if I get out of line?" Mars' teeth flashed. "I guess having me out of control isn't..."

            "Quite the opposite, your... passion for the Queen is admirable, and exceptionally useful. However, if you get too excitable..." Kiri tilted her head. "Yes, there they are."

            The door to the bunk room slammed open and Sophie stood just beyond the threshold off to one side. Her expression was neutral, and she kept her Pug low but the intention was clear.

            Morgan stood next to her, easily shouldering her rifle. Unlike her sister, Morgan had the long 25mm rifle held straight over Mars' smoldering form. Though her finger was held outside of the trigger guard. She used the iron sights below the scope, at this range a scope would useless and a hindrance to peripheral vision.

            "Ladies, is there a problem?" Sophie asked, flashing a thin smile.

            Slowly Mars turned to face Morgan who easily stood and held the rifle offhand without wobbling. She gave a light chuckle.

            "Normally, you guys aren't this... aggressive," Jupiter frowned.

            Sophie scoffed. "Our cousins are a bit... soft. They're far more patient."

            Morgan raised an eyebrow. For a split second she caught Sophie's eye then allowed the corners of her lips to form a smug, knowing smile.

            "Yes, I smell it too," Sophie agreed. Her attention went back to the Senshi. "You are here as guests; the Company would appreciate it if you did not try to burn the facility down." The black-haired demon flashed a toothy smile. "And if you have this much... nervous energy after training, well, we'll just have to inform Lieutenant Tendo that she's not working you girls hard enough."

            Mars set her jaw.

            "A conflict here does not benefit us. Even if you could beat them," Kiri said.

            "That red-haired lunatic is pointing a gun at me," Mars growled, flames running down her obsidian tresses in streaks and tracers.

            "Hence my qualifier." Kiri laughed. "Making enemies of the Company is a Rubicon you do not want to cross."

            "So, they can come in here armed and point weapons at us?"

            Kiri gave a pitying look. "They're Company agents and succubae. They're never unarmed. As for aggressive gestures, need I remind you that you are a very powerful Pattern Silver, and that you are on fire."

            Mars whipped her head back around. Her hair flailed around catching the bunk bed. Scorching cuts dug into the metal frame and mattress. Some strands actually brushed against Kiri's skin and clothes. They were put out by tiny iridescent sparks that bubbled up and popped taking the flames with them.

            Catching her breath, Mars flexed her fingers, which were now wholly encased in twisting deep red flames that flickered with white flare-ups. "I note you're not worried about them."

            "I'm not the one being visibly aggressive." Kiri leaned back. "Besides, they're simply doing what the Canadian government is paying them to do. Deal with aggressive Patterns."

            The flames along Mars' arms snuffed out. She exhaled. "Puu... we can't do this. Look at me." She gestured to her bronze-red armored seifuku and the sparking flames that were still weaving through her hair. "If I'm getting this... well just this, how well do you think Usagi is handling it?"

            "Just because we can't see her freaking out doesn't mean she's okay," Jupiter added, giving Mars a wary glance.

            "Minako is making sure she's okay," Kiri stated. She was watching the two agents. Their stance seemed to get a bit less tense, and their tails went from straight and angled low to a more fluid swishing.

            "Making sure." Mars laughed. "Great, we've got one blonde pumping another blonde full of happy juice. And this is a combat form. You want her to be blissed out of her mind in a fight?"

            "She won't be out of control," Kiri stated.

            "No, she'll be controlled."

            Jupiter looked down. "This isn't encasing Usagi in armor. This is inserting a giant battery into Minako."

            Mars nodded. "Yeah, who do we knows really in control?"

            "Does it make a difference?" Kiri smiled. Red eyes went to the two succubae and her grin grew. "Either Mina is controlling Usagi, or Usagi is letting herself fall into this state and is willingly hiding."

            Mars glared.

            "Which do you prefer? Personally, I'm leaning towards the self delusion and hiding from reality angle."

            "I'd prefer you help us with Usagi," Jupiter stated.

            Kiri raised an eyebrow; she recalled her nighttime delivery and she had made up her mind but she had to know what the others thought. "And if I don't? What if I take Mina's side? Will you two form your own little splinter group? Will you join Ami and Naru perhaps?"

            "I'd try to get the Outers," Mars said.

            "And if you can't get them? Or if they're... on my side."

            Mars' eyes smoldered. Again her gaze went back to the two demons at the door. "At that point I'd rather go to the brood for help. At least I know what they want, and right now DarkStar's plans for the Princess are still better than Mina's or Ami's."

            Staring at the woman with flickering, sparking hair, Kiri allowed a small smile to form. "Good."

            "Great, a test." Jupiter sighed. "Really how much commitment do we have to prove?"

            "It's not your commitment I question." Meiou looked at the dossier. "After all, Ami is very committed to the princess, and Minako's commitment borders on the disturbing."

            Jupiter rubbed her forehead. "So, will you help?"

            "Is it really down to me or a Faustian bargain?" Kiri turned to smile at the demons.

            "If you're serious our mother can make quite the offer," Sophie said as she motioned for Morgan to lower her anti-material rifle.

            The dark auburn haired succubus gave a disappointed murmur as she straightened herself back to a more at ease stance.

            Kiri chuckled. "Well Rei? I'm willing to help with your Mina problem, or would you rather work with the demons?"

            The flames in her hair extinguishing, Mars' shoulders slumped. "Well... that depends on what your plan is."




            After taking a seat, Cecilia tapped a worn hairbrush against the couch's armrest.

            Eve put her pencil on her notebook and studied the young woman. Under her notebook was a large ledger style address book: Cecilia's client list.

 She wore a crisp white blouse over an airy periwinkle skirt that concealed little of her legs. Her curly lavender locks were loosely held back with a long white ribbon.

            Under the blonde's steady gaze, Cecilia inhaled. Meeting Eve's eyes, the brood mother crossed her arms. "Yes?" she asked, frowning at Eve's sharp, stare. High necked, long-skirted, and trimmed in black lines, the tight blue dress was an illustration of gross sensual power.

            "Ah." Eve cracked a smile. "So?"

            "She complained at first, but we got over that little problem." The lavender-haired woman frowned at her brush. "Though I'm glad I bought a spare."

            Eve chuckled. "Next time don't do her hair until after she's calmed down."

            "I'm amazed I got anything out of her, and I guess what I did get was a miracle." Cecilia said. She eyed the notebook. "So, what do you think?"

            "You've made some interesting connections."

            "Connections were everything in my business." Cecilia smirked. "You know how the law is in this country."

            "I looked it up. It's rather fascinating, the act of prostitution is legal here, but none of the associated advertising, networking, or soliciting is. Must be challenging."

            "Not really," Cecilia shrugged. "Once I got my first good clients the rest fell into place. People with money form their own networks."

            "And with your skills you could name your own prices."

            Cecilia nodded. "I know most of my clients would be ill-suited, but someone could work."

            "Well, you do get around... some of them are on the Company's associate list."

            Cecilia chuckled. "Well yes, I did run in nearly the same circle as The Drake."

            Eve raised an eyebrow.

            "I wasn't his type," the lavender haired succubus explained. "Mr. Kuno has particular tastes when it comes to women."
            "Yes, he is a man that did not take the death of his wife well," Eve said.

            Cecilia giggled.

            "It is a handy list."

            "I suppose we could get someone on the city council."

            "I doubt that's her type." Eve chuckled. "As if she'd agree with this."

            "Depends on who you pick," Cecilia looked over Eve's shoulder. "Ranma did grumble about wanting some carnal fun without any strings attached."

            "She said she wanted a one night stand, not being setup with one of your clients, and we don't really have time."

            Cecilia shrugged. "So, we don't have time. It can always be done later."

            "That only postpones the problem."

            "What problem?"

            "Can Ranma handle this?"

            "Why not?"

            Eve raised an eyebrow.

            "And if anyone knows how to separate romantic bonds from sex it's me. This was my job." Cecilia raised an eyebrow. "I know who'd be more than happy to try a blind date."

            "My how... honest." Eve gave a toothy grin. "No guarantee of sex, but no charge."

            "Other than the meal." Shrugging Cecilia looked over the list. "Not bad... I suppose you'll need to check backgrounds. We're on short time."

            "I suppose it's fortunate that you just happen to have a list of... compatible and willing locals." Eve chuckled.

            "Didn't expect you'd have to be doing this kind of work?"

            "Oh no, I've had to play matchmaker before. Never for family, but the Company's had me do stranger work." Eve frowned at the list. "I'm just not sure who'd be Ranma's type."

            "In my experience succubae aren't too picky. Satisfy the security and background means, and as long as you pick a person that Ranma won't be repulsed by they'll be just fine."

            "Someone's cynical about love."

            Cecilia snorted. "You sound like Meredith. It's not the same with humans. We just can't connect with them, not at the same level with each other."

            Thinking about Ranma's failed relationship with Kasumi, Eve made a mark on her notes. "Maybe."

            "She needs this. Too tense, far too tense." Feeling the familiar scent, Cecilia turned her head towards the entranceway.

            "I could say much the same about you." Ranma stepped in from the hallway into the living room. Her motions had the same languid confidence, but there was a bit more smoothness and precision to her form. She held her hands clasped before her. She tapped the pearlescent purple lacquered tips of her left hand's nails into those on her right. Her steps were measured and light, though her footwear contributed.

            Thin heeled purple pumps pushed her feet to a pointed pinnacle and helped shape and accent legs skinned in pale hosiery that bore the barest hint of rouge. Just below the knees her shapely legs vanished into the scalloped hem of a fluted and flounced silk dress.

            Backless, the dress was made of a nearly shimmering deep purple. Matching the edging around her skirting, the hem around her bosom was done in white embroidery that transitioned seamlessly to décolletage. Thrust up and edged in lace, the presentation was flattering, ostentatious.

            Shining against her alabaster skin, a gold chain necklace held a small obsidian sphere that was set just above the cleft in the white lace edging. Framing this, a delicate stole draped over her shoulders. Pure white silk, it reflected light with a noticeable shine.

            Warm pastel makeup adorned her face, accenting the redhead's beauty and highlighting her near luminous eyes. Her lips were done in a rich glossy lavender that brought out her eyes and was the same shade as her stockings. The makeup was in a more mature and subdued style that complemented her beauty. Obsidian studs adorned her ears.

            However, Eve's attention was on her sister's neck. Save for the chain to her necklace, it was bare and gave a striking contrast from the normally concealing mass of hair.

            Ranma's hair, all of the flowing curled mass, had been pulled up and sculpted. Waist-length tresses had been folded, twisted and folded again. As thick as her head at the base, the crafted bun appeared to be a natural extension and added to an unearthly grace about her.

            Gently curving, the bun was topped, five inches above her head, by a purple ribbon that tied off the hairdo. The ribbon then tumbled down in two spiraled tails. Further support was provided by a series of long obsidian-headed plain hairpins that encircled her bun halfway towards the summit.

            Nose flaring, Eve stood and strode to her sister, her long stride eating up the distance. As Eve circled her, Ranma smirked. She then embraced the taller demon when the blonde paused in her circuit. Feeling Eve's hands go to her hair, the redhead giggled.

            "Soft," Eve said, allowing one arm to explore the pert upper thighs and buttocks the skirting hinted at. With her new hair and her delicately high heels, Ranma was only a few inches shorter than Eve, which gave the blonde a level view of the bun's beribboned summit.

            "Of course, no nasty hairspray or product for my girls," Cecilia smirked. "Succubae are a wonder to style once they calm down."

            Enjoying Eve's ministrations, Ranma blushed, keeping her hands folded before her..

            Feeling something, Eve blinked. "Your horns are out."

            "Oh yes," Ranma purred. "Having them buried like this is wonderful. No one can see them."

            "So you won't feel like you're feeling through gauze when out in public?"

            "That's a reason." Ranma stretched up and kissed Eve, on the cheek.

            "Well, your girls will be ecstatic to see you dressed up like this," Eve smiled enjoying the sensation.

            Ranma blushed. "Shame they can't come."

            "Not for the whole day, someone does have to stay on watch for the day," Eve said, watching Ranma stride over to Cecilia.

            "Sissy, this is lovely. I'd never be this relaxed on my own." Ranma leaned down and kissed the sitting succubus' forehead. "All that brushing..."

            "Oh the day's just starting," Cecilia beckoned Ranma and planted a kiss of her own. Lavender glossy lipstick mixed with matte lavender lipgloss. Cecilia felt the redhead's deeper power, as their energies gently blended at the contact. However while Ranma was the stronger, Cecilia was more experienced.

            She adjusted her lips and hugged the brood mother, using a technique that brought the diminutive demon to her knees and onto Cecilia. Cradling the pliant, pleased redhead, Cecilia summoned her wings and used them as an impromptu blanket, and began a light massage.

            With a shimmer, the wings withdrew and a contented redhead primly sat in Cecilia's lap. Her dress was immaculate, her makeup, even her lipstick, was perfect, and most importantly not a hair was out of place. Cecilia was similarly spotless, save for a purple four pointed star that flared on her forehead.

            Mindful of her bun, Ranma leaned her head on Cecilia, and purred. "Yes, you'll make a wonderful sister."

            Red tinged Cecilia's cheeks as a flush bloomed. She looked down at the serene and polished demon leaning on her. Despite her power, despite her grace, there was still an air of inexperience about her. Ranma was still a young woman barely into adulthood.

            Cecilia ran an arm over Ranma's décolletage.

            The redhead cooed.

            "So, Ranma I heard you wanted to unwind," the lavender-haired girl asked with a little smirk.

            "Well, isn't that what today is about?" Ranma asked.

            "Oh very much," Eve said folding her notebook and handing it over to Cecilia.

            Holding it out of Ranma's sight, Cecilia looked at the circled names. "Oh? It's short notice."

            "Well, we have a full day otherwise and there's always finding someone at a bar."

            Ranma crossed her arms over her chest. "I'm right here," she pouted.

            Eve wrapped an arm around the coiffed redhead. "Yes, you are, but the point of today is to let us take care of things for you."

            "And don't worry, I'm an expert in that," Cecilia assured, shifting some of Ranma's curled hair ribbons.


End Ch 27

I'd like to thank my pre-readers. They read through my most egregious mistakes so you don't have to. J St C Patrick, Pale Wolf, DGC, Wray, Kevin Hammel, and Ikarus.


I'd also like to apologize for the delay in posting this (and let's just bypass the delays in my other works). I had planned to get this finished earlier but had a couple other projects that took precedence. Also despite my efforts this chapter got larger than I expected. However, I am working on the next chapter and on AiTDW and some other projects.


Terms: Boffin; British slang for scientist, engineer, or other technical person has connotations of egghead and absent-minded-professor.  Nome de guerre; French, an alias used in war.