The Return

A Ranma Sailor Moon fic thingy.

By Sunshine Temple

 

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

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

 

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

http://jtemple.florestica.com/

 

Temporary Backup Site.

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

 

 

Other website Temple of Ranma's Senshi Seifuku

http://fukufics.com

 

C&C as always is wanted.

 

Chapter 30 Reconcile and Refine Part 2

 

 


            With grey walls that curved up to make the ceiling, long unadorned tables, and bare concrete floors, the room was plain, utilitarian. Most of those in the room wore grey and green uniforms. Even the succubae were more muted given that mode of dress.
            . However, at one of the tables a figure in gold drew all eyes towards her. Even shedding her armor only mitigated things.  Minako still wore a gold bodysuit trimmed in silver and blue. Crescent moon marks adorned her collar and the breezy short blue skirt she had on over the bodysuit. Around Minako,  demons sat at a table covered in a befuddling array of cleaning chemicals tools,  and parts and pieces from their weapons.


            "Dreams?" Minako slowly blinked. She was staring at one large bottle of oil.  Its name had something to do with whales. A glass of water was in front of her. Appreciating the sentiment, she had taken a few sips.


            Her hair was done in the expected twin ponytails, though thankfully they were a bit shorter than how the Princess, and Ranma, wore them. Her shoes were also plain flats which were more comfortable, especially after the hits her shins and ankles got during training. The demons seemed to have an aversion towards fighting fair.


            "You were very close to Sere- to Usagi," Nariko innocently said as she checked the edge to her katana. The demoness frowned at a couple places; she then placed it on the table and picked up Venus' gold-accented broadsword.


            "Ah," Minako chuckled and ran a hand through her hair and placed it against her brow. It was dry as usual. Even the succubae would sweat if they worked hard enough.


            Nariko looked up from the Crystal Wink Venus sword. A small file, a set of drifts and pins, a couple picks, an oil cloth, some steel, brass, and fiber brushes, some cleaning pads, and a couple bottles of cleaning oils were laid out in front her.


            Minako looked at the bottles and blinked. The names were strange. Hoppe's 9 Lubricating oil and the Rem-Oil were normal. She could understand the gun oils, but the neatsfoot, chronometer, arctic sperm-whale, and Rangoon oil were bizarre. The blonde's curiosity was dammed. She recalled when, a couple days ago, Rei had the same urge and asked exactly what a "neatsfoot" was.


            She watched the succubus inspect her sword paying particular care to the edges and where the tang of the blade went into the hilt. Minako looked over and saw Akane cleaning one of her sidearms. The list of cleaners and lubricants was smaller but no less strange. Half of them seemed to be automotive. A big bottle of automatic transmission fluid was prominent, while a tub of bearing grease also sat on the table. Minako found the green Ballistol bottle reassuringly normal, if rather Germanic.


            At least firearms was mentioned among the long list of supposed materials and the protecting, penetrating, lubricating, preserving cleaner could remedy. The most egregious example was the big bottle containing a sloshing red, mint-smelling liquid simply called: Marvel Mystery Oil. There was even a spray-bottle of blue window cleaner.


            She would have accused the succubae of some sort of elaborate hoax or sabotage, save they were using the bizarre chemicals to maintain their weapons, along with the Senshi's. "Okay...   what's with the Rangoon oil?"  Minako asked picking up the green tin of heavy, viscous oil.


            Akane looked up from the oversized pistol she was cleaning.  "Like a normal gun oil but thick, evaporates slowly.  Good for keeping out rust if your weapon's gonna get wet,  especially if they're hot and steaming.   Name came from the Rangoon where it was first used."


            "Ahh,"  Minako put the can back down. She felt some relief at the normality of that.  At least it was not as bad as she feared the whale-oil or the mystery oil would be.   Her eyes went back to the table.  This time on the two swords laying on tautly spread, power blue cleaning clothes. Of course, one was hers, the other was Nariko's


            Minako was wary of the demon blade. Glowing a sullen, irritable red, the katana acted as a power channel. Each hit shocked Minako and then sapped her, leaving the golden Senshi a bit hollow. Sparring was bad enough, she did not relish the idea of a full fight.


            Minako saw that Akane had her own collection of little tools and picks, including a bunch of brushes and jags that fit onto the end of a cleaning rod for her gun's barrel. The two demons busied themselves with their work.


            Minako resumed her wait, she had become good at waiting.


            "Any interesting dreams?" Nariko repeated.


            "You're acting like... like I could see what she was seeing."


            Nariko tilted her head. She tapped the hilt of the sword and flipped it over. "Yes."


            "That's a huge invasion of privacy," Minako's voice rose but she pulled her arms in and crossed them under her chest.


            Reaching out, Nariko put her hand over Minako's. "It's okay. I just thought you might want to talk about. Your Mistress and our mother are getting quite close..."


            Minako blinked.


            Nariko mentally noted, the blonde's lack of reaction to the use of the word "mistress".


            "Not to mention Pluto driving you further away from your Mistress," Akane stated. Her gun's barrel went into the slide. She put it over the frame slid the slide back, snapped it forward, and set the forward retaining pin into place with a loud click.


            "Well..." Minako looked down at her hands. She rotated her wrist watching the light reflect off the golden bracers. She could hear the demon doing a function check as she manipulated the weapon's pieces and did a safety and dry fire check. "Well, they're dreams.... her dreams. She escapes."


            "Better than nightmares," Nariko said brightly. She looked to Akane and smiled softly.


            "She had those, sometimes," Minako admitted.


            "But she wasn't alone." Nariko looked down at Venus' sword.


            "What was her escape?" Akane asked leaning over the table. "She's got enemies and responsibilities here, did she imagine someone strong fighting them off for her? Maybe she fantasized that she was better, that she really was the queen?"


            Minako shook her head. "It wasn't like that. The differences. She was... well we were there, the Inner Senshi, plus Naru. That made six of us. We were still Senshi, but Serenity, Serenity the First, was alive, and lived with her sister DarkStar. And Pluto was there... she's our... handler giving missions."


            "And with Mother taking the mantle of Sailor Earth it's already obsolete," Nariko noted.


            "The blonde bunny dreamed our mother was her aunt?" Akane dryly asked as she loaded one of the magazines with massive 500 S&W cartridges. Unlike many modern magazines these consisted of a single slim stack. The cartridges were such that a thicker higher capacity double stack was out of the question. Even a single row of cases made for a hefty, if relatively thin, grip. "Huh. Well after today, that doesn't seem too odd."


            "No," Nariko looked up. "Queen Serenity was not her mother. Usagi was just Sailor Moon. Being the princess, that's what she was escaping from."


            Minako nodded. "That and the violence. It was like the old days, our friendship could bring us together. Even Ami was good. But instead of being lost and unsure we knew we were part of a magical kingdom, we had a benevolent, if teasing mentor to help us.


            "Serenity bore the weight of the Moon, DarkStar bore the weight of the Earth, and Usagi... Usagi was free to grow." Minako released her arms and patted the hilt of her sword.


            She looked up and saw the pensive, distant looks the three demons were giving her. "What? Surely you've had dreams, little escapes. Your mother for-"


            Akane cut her off. "Mother didn't have dreams like that."


            "Not after she stopped living in denial," Nariko added force entering her voice.
           


            Minako felt as if the pressure in the room had gone up. Unlike Rei's outbursts this far more focused, contained and tempered.  You're lying, Minako thought.  Do you even realize? Or  do you just idolize your mother and think there's nothing she can't do? Minako caught Nariko's eye.


            The demon turned to the golden-Senshi and smiled. Some of the joy even touched her eyes. "Do you think you'll miss them?" Nariko sweetly asked.


            "Miss them?"  Minako blinked trying to regain her train of thought.


            "Ah," the demoness nodded. "You intend to continue sleeping with your Mistress.  Is that what you want?"


            Minako felt herself blushing, and hoped that her cheeks were turning red. Sometimes she was worried about her skin shifting to a more golden hue when stressed.


            "I don't know if Pluto will let you do that. I think she's got her own ideas," Akane teased.


            "Yes, she does," Minako's voice was flat. "Your mother too."


            "Is there something you need to talk about?" Nariko put her hand on Minako's and gave a little squeeze. "What about you in all this?"


            "Well..." Minako looked away from Nariko's deep red eyes. She knew that among demons it was a faux pas, a sign of weakness, a lack of trust. Minako did not care.


            A bit of disapproval crossed Nariko's face, but she tried to look sympathetic. "In all the rush to get their Princess back, do you feel you were pushed to the side?" 


            "That the others cared more about getting Usagi back?"


            "Did they blame you?" Nariko's voice lowered.


            Minako shook her head.


            "If not the villain, maybe something worse.... something that can't be blamed."


            Keeping her head down,  Minako laughed. "Like a tool?  A thing of no will of it's own?  Pitied and pushed to the side.  It's not the lightbulb's fault it burns out.  You just get a new one."  There was a harsh, clipped edge to Minako's flat tone.


            "You're okay,  your friends do care about you," Nariko assured.


            Minako nodded, evenly mechanically.


            "You were forced, you became someone else and you tried to do what you thought was best. Maybe it was wrong, but you tried." Akane added her own hand. "We understand.


            This time Minako's silent nod was more halting.


            Nariko gave a little smile. "It's okay, we can talk about it later." She glanced at the door.


            Minako saw that Akane had also tensed and the blonde herself could feel a bit of a... connection. Her concerns were cut off when Makoto entered the room followed by a delicate-looking small blue-haired demoness and a taller, more broad shouldered demon with shorter black hair.


            Both demons wore their combat armor as did Makoto. Her patinaed copper plating and skirt segments bore a few gentle scorches and her brown hair was frayed at the ends and pulled into a messy, lopsided ponytail. Wobbly, Makoto made it to the table and slumped down while propping her head with her hands, which were contained by fairly thick gauntlets and armored gloves.


            "You okay?" Minako asked.


            "Sure. I'm unstoppable!" Makoto gave a strained laugh and snapped her armored fingers causing a flare of sparks.


            "Really?" Minako turned to Nabiki. Studying the demon she could see the Kevlar sections of her armor had been pushed aside and part of the chest piece had even been dented a bit. The jammer antennas were also bent out of shape and there was some faint, fading discoloration to the demon's left cheek.


            Sophie stood off to the side and gave a slow nod. "Well, yes."


            Pulling up a chair, Nabiki shoehorned herself between Akane and Nariko and gave each sister a hug before settling down and drawing her knives. She flipped open the blades and gingerly set both on the table.


            Looking at the collection of cleaning chemicals Sophie chuckled lightly. Company armorers were notorious for keeping stashes of the more... esoteric products. This was in spite of most weapons only needing a cleaning solvent, a bit of lubricant and a bit of grease.


            She looked over and saw the brunette boggle at the vast collection of bizarre chemicals, especially the historical and automotive ones. Makoto blinked as she watched Nabiki hunt between the bottles like a sommelier looking for the proper vintage.


            Minako also eyed Nabiki's knives and saw that their rich, dense wood grips were marred by little scratches and the ruddy gleaming metal of the blades seemed to look almost sullen. The blonde could swear she could see a couple sparks dance across the surface as Nabiki started cleaning the blades.


            "Unstoppable?"


            "Miss Kino is fair in hand to hand and flexible with her powers," Sophie explained. She looked at the table, hesitated, then took a seat. She nodded to Nariko with a smile.


            Returning the gesture, Nariko reached out and put an arm around the woman.


            Minako crossed her arms. "I'm a magical girl made out of enchanted metal with a silver crystal sword that can kill eldritch queens."


            Makoto looked between the crystal wink sword and Nariko's understated plainly elegant katana. The brunette blinked. "You tried sword-fighting her? She's cut a combat cyborg in half!" Makoto looked to Nariko who gave a tiny smile.


            "Well, what did you do?"


            Smirking, Makoto cracked her knuckles. "I just charged my fists and gave her a shock whenever she tried to stab me."


            Nabiki gave a little pout


            "Really? That's it? And her exploding icicles? The fire? The eye beams?"


            "It's not like I could use any of my real attacks." Makoto shrugged. "I'm like a head taller than her. So with the blades the reach is..." She coughed and looked at Nabiki. "Okay fine. You're a scary little demon and I figured the best way to keep you off was to clock you whenever you got too close."


            Nabiki nodded. "Commitment is important."


            Looking between Makoto and the demons, Minako forced a sigh. Her brunette friend was jittery and seemed charged up, while the succubae, especially Nabiki, were relaxed, almost like predators lounging after a fruitful hunt. "So I should have actually tried to gut Nariko then?"


            Nariko's little, almost challenging, smile returned.


            "Don't be cute," Nabiki stated, picking up a bottle of light gun oil and dabbing some on a cloth.


            "That's your job, eh?" Akane smirked.


            The young-looking demoness gave a big dimpled smile and tilted her head so the tresses framing her bangs fell swished across her face. "Whatever do you mean, Oneechan?" she asked checking the hinge on one of her weighted foot-long bladed folding knives.


            Akane laughed. "You are cuter, now."


            Nariko caught her mate's eye and gave a demure cough.


            Staring into her mate's deep red eyes, Akane whimpered and lowered her head. "Sorry. Least mother being turned all cute's not my fault."


            Nabiki raised an eyebrow then nodded.


            "You're just being a good sister," Nariko said her voice merry but stern.


            Minako turned and saw that Makoto bore a similar expression.


            "Family issues, best not to get involved," Sophie stated.


            "And how are you?" Nariko reached out to black-haired agent.


            Sophie took the offered hand. "I'm holding on. Mother... the Captain she's great." She gave a smile.


            "And your sisters?"


            "They're good," Sophie looked down. "Morgan's quiet but sweet. Morrison's still worried about her first name and... you know."


            Nariko nodded. She knew she was lucky to have a human family that understood. She could not imagine what Morrison was going though, especially since she would be completely unrecognizable to them.


            "Does Morgan bring Svetlana into bed?" Akane gave the hilt of Nariko's sword a playful caress.


            "What?" Sophie blinked. "No. That'd get in the way."


            "Svetlana? One of the Russians?" Minako asked.


            "I think she's the sniper, the first one to try to kill... us." Makoto flexed her hands and wondered what the demons were doing. "You don't.... have the body right?"


            "No, Morgan ate her." Sophie wanted to roll her eyes, but decorum kept her from doing it. However, her stomach did tingle a bit at the idea of Mother presenting a fresh meal to them, to her daughters. She could just smell the blood and meat and feel the flickering life energy.


            Nariko gave her cousin's hand a squeeze and turned to the Senshi. "Svetlana is the name Morgan gave her gun. Like how Misa-chan named her weapon Sasha."


            "Ah." Makoto recalled in memory. "Morgan killed her with that gun right?"


            "Her first with it." Nariko nodded.


            "I see." Makoto shivered slightly. It was morbid, but she could understand a sniper naming her gun after a "worthy opponent",


            "And what do you call your weapon?" Minako asked the elder sister.


            Nariko released her hand from Sophie and ran a finger down the spine of the blade until it reached Akane's hand. "She doesn't have a name yet. Master Nishina said it will come in time, and be obvious."


            "He said that about mine," Nabiki said before she tilted her head. "I thought he was just being lazy and didn't want to come up with a name himself."


            "Nabiki!" Nariko scolded.


            Minako then saw the other demons reacting similarly and focused her own attention at the door. For a moment, she wondered if it would be Rei or Usagi and Pluto. Then the doors slammed open.


            Eyes wide and grinning madly, Rei stepped into the room. She was in civilian mode and had transformed out of her armor. Seeing her teammates her pace quickened and she marched directly to their table. She snaked past a handful agents and a couple tables without slowing down.


            Minako saw the expected demonic escort and noted that Misako bore the same gleefully mad expression as the priestess. The platinum haired succubus at her side was more reserved but was still quite confident and looked almost smug with herself. Minako looked around the table and got a similar vibe from the rest of their "trainers".


            Rei looked at the full table for a second then grabbed the nearest chair and swing it around. She eyed the Senshi still in their metallic uniforms. "So, how badly did you two get mangled?"


            "I'm unstoppable," Makoto repeated.


            "I reformed," Minako added.


            Rei's brow furrowed at the potential meanings of the blonde's statement. "Right. Right." She laughed and tapped the table causing a couple sparks to flare up. "Well, I'm doing great. Turns out I can keep pace with the craziest of you lot," she smirked at the demons.


            Misako's big grin shifted into a thoughtful little frown. She caught Ukyou's attention, but the platinum blonde succubus just shook her head. Misako pouted.


            "What do you think the..." Rei glanced at Minako. "The Queen is up to? She's still off training with Puu and the creepy German demon."


            Sophie straightened her posture and glared at the Pattern Silver. Her attention fell onto Rei and she... pushed. She could feel her presence, her will pressing out. The other demons, her cousins, smiled with Misako giving a toothy grin.


            Glancing at Sophie, Rei coughed and turned back to her teammates.


            Specialist Agent Sophie Addison knew, even being a demon, she was far weaker than the pyrokinetic magical girl, but she was a Company Agent, a member of the Fifth Non Human Task Force, and the unstable little blowhard had badmouthed her mother.


            "Probably getting used to being outside of.... her... of the armor." Makoto delicately stated hoping she avoided upsetting Minako or the demons.


            "Whatever, it's something she's gotta learn," Rei stated. "Sorry Mina... uh Moon, but you turning into armor for your um... mother. Gah!" She shook her head. "Sorry, you just had to make an awkward charade even more confusing."


            "It was an experiment, it didn't work out." Minako hissed crossing her arms. "I tried something new."


            "Yeah... yeah. I hope Captain Jarvis isn't trying something new. Not after what she and DarkStar did earlier. All while Puu watched," Rei grumbled.


            "You mean what Jarvis and the Queen did to DarkStar," Makoto clarified.
           


            "I'm sure Auntie Eve's just proctoring while they fight each other," Ukyou explained.


            Misako brightened. "Yes and then the winner will be rewarded with delicious heart and liver."


            "You're joking," Makoto said, almost pleadingly.


            The orange-haired demon huffed in exasperation. "Of course, if I really thought they'd be fighting to the death I wouldn't be in here with you all."


            "Right, you wouldn't want to miss the show," Rei dryly stated.


            "That's right new friend!" Misako slapped her on the back. "You're learning, now if we could only do something about your hairstyle."


            Rei exhaled. She paused and cleared her mind and did not say the first thing that popped into her head. "What's wrong with my hair?" she slowly asked. "You said you loved it."


            "The color, not the style and well… your friends are starting to outpace you."


            Looking at Makoto's sloppy ponytail and Minako's golden odangos Rei snorted.


            "Don't pretend you don't see it. Why do you think your queen spent so much time playing with my Mother's hair? Weren't you jealous of her?" Misako lowered her voice. "You don't want to be left behind?"


            Rei shook her head. "My hair's fine."


            "Oh yes, it really is a very nice start. Wonderful color," Misako agreed.


            Nabiki snickered. "You're having too much fun, Sis."


            "What? I helped you with your hair," Misako said.


            "Right, where's the Princess?" Rei demanded cutting through the demonic banter. "Why isn't her training over with?"


            Sophie tapped her headset. As she listened, a smile bloomed across her face. "Of course mother." She said into her headset as she got to her feet. "Yes, Miss Hino, the training is over for now." She savored the young woman's confusion and slight fear for a moment.


            "Then where is she?" Rei asked.


            Sophie's joy momentarily dimmed. "I'm afraid you'll have to ask Miss Meiou." She nodded to Nariko and the rest of her cousins.


            Rei exchanged a glance with the other Senshi. "What?"


            "Miss Meiou decided to take Serenity straight to the showers after training," Sophie calmly stated before turning on her heel and leaving the room to rendezvous with her mother and sisters.


            Seeing both Rei and Minako fume at that Makoto blinked.


            Misako snickered and gave a cocky smirk. "Really now?"


            "Now, now Misa-chan. No need to be suggestive, I'm sure Puu is just taking care of her queen," Nariko said with just a hint of an edge to her voice.


            Nabiki and Akane snickered. Ukyou raised an eyebrow but nodded; her elder sister's sarcasm was expected, especially when annoyed


            Nariko turned to the Senshi and smiled. "I'm sure Puu wouldn't mind the help. If you hurry you won't miss out." She returned to inspecting her katana. "Or you could stay here."


           Outside the mess hall, Sophie was already down the corridor when her nose twitched at familiar scents. Taking a different turn at a junction she found herself in the garage.


           Lounging at one end of the concrete room were four Company agents. One had a serene-stern face and brunette hair cut into a pageboy. Next to her was a thin man with short black hair and olive green eyes. Particularly watchful, he immediately spotted Sophie, while the two other agents both with buzzed down dark brown hair and short solid builds were a touch slower. The one on the left had dark brown eyes and a narrow face while the other had guarded hazel eyes and a sharp chin and almost hawkish nose..


           Seeing Sophie, the green eyed agent smiled and scooted over on the ribbed plastic crate he was sitting on. "How's the Fifth? Been enjoying the glamorous life of babysitting?" Agent Gabriel Smith asked.


           "Fortunately, I was working with Miss Kino." The demon nodded to her former commanding officer. "Ma'am."


           Lieutenant Kasumi Tendo returned the gesture. "Please take a seat," she said with a slight smile.


           "Sorry, Ma'am but I've got a meeting with Mother-" Sophie's cheeks turned slightly red in what for a succubus was an embarrassed flush. "With Captain Jarvis."


           "Our little demon is growing up," Agent Steven Deschain noted, his pale blue eyes glancing up from the nitrate chemistry text he was reading.


           "Quiet you!" Sophie hissed her tail straightening out behind her. Looming, she paused then laughed. Gabriel and Steven joined in with Kasumi's smile growing.


           The fourth man Agent Dom Whipple frowned slightly, his dark brown eyes tracking the demonic agent.


            "You should spend more time with us, LT, uh with your sisters, that is." Sophie noted, while glancing at Whipple her... replacement.


            Between Alexia's brood, the Assembly, the combat cyborgs and various other critters every team had needed replacements. Many replacements. Of the five strike teams, all had casualties and KIAs. Her old team Red was down to half of its starting members. Lieutenant Patterson's Green team was in a similar situation. Like Red they had one dead a member and one transferred over to the Fifth: Morrison.


           Kasumi exhaled. "As a matter of fact Agent Addison, I'm planning to spend my upcoming twelve hour pass shopping with my sisters. No doubt they'll find some ghastly dress that I'll look gorgeous in." The officer theatrically sighed. "What about your sisters?"


           "Clothes shopping? With those two?" Sophie broke into laughter. "Oh, I've gotta see that... I'm not even sure they really have civilian clothes."


           "Though there have been some... interesting uniforms too. Perhaps Major Saotome can arrange for you to get a more... Senshi-like Uniform," Kasumi said her voice perfectly deadpan.


           Sophie blinked and for a moment imagined herself with hooves, a long pleated silk skirt, and twin braids. She visible winced. "No. No... This skirt is bad enough."


           "Really? The camera footage made Red look darling," Kasumi shook her head with exaggerated slowness. "And to think we used to date, turns out she really was too young for me…"


           Still poking her Kevlar sheathed armor plate skirt, Sophie turned to Whipple. "Hey Dom, how you finding Red Team? Fitting in?"


            "Doesn't have the ambiance of Blue, but Red team exists," Dom shrugged. Functionally Blue team ceased to exist as a team with Ramirez killed in action and later on losing their Lieutenant Speirs. The remaining two members Whipple and Stockton were wounded and subsequently transferred to other teams as they recovered.


           "Fitting in just fine," Gabriel assured slapping Dom on the back. "Rounding out nicely as our team's requisite woman."


           "My someone's feeling comfortable with his seniority," Kasumi noted.


            "Patterson's Green Team doesn't have a woman," Deschain pointed out.


           "Ma'am" Gabriel stated.


           "Glad to see that you're back on the active roster,"  Sophie added.


           Dom's right leg unconsciously bent a bit at the knee and he shifted his shoulder.  His armor had stopped most of the shrapnel but some had gotten through. "Just puncture wounds,  good thing we had plenty of blood."  He rubbed the back of his neck; his palm going over the far edge of the scar tissue from the above his shoulder. "Got lucky. Could have had my knee blown out. Imagine how long the recovery would have been then?"  He asked eyeing the demon.


           Wincing a bit, Sophie nodded. She had been wounded worse, and was up and ready for duty in far less time.   But at the cost of changing  her species and family. "Yeah,  well don't think you can take it easy under the LT here.  She'll work you into the ground."


           Dom's expression brightened.  "Right."


           "Is that a favorable comparison to Captain Jarvis?" Kasumi asked. "My, my."


           Feeling his confidence mixed with mourning, Sophie found herself giving a bittersweet smile. With her transfer and Aram's death Gabriel was the senior agent under Kasumi. The sad part was that Red team, and Green, were still faring better than the other strike teams.


            Gold was reorganized after their officer Lieutenant Richard and his aide Platt were charged, and later convicted, on treason. After being restaffed, they lost Sherman against one of the cyborgs and had another casualty. Rendering them like, Blue, into a hollow shell farmed out for internal replacements like Whipple and Stockton.


            However, Orange Team had fared the worst, being wiped out in an ambush fighting the Russian mercenaries. Of the team-lead officers who started out the Toronto operations only Lieutenants Tendo and Patterson were left alive.


            Bearing the same expression Sophie nodded again to Lieutenant Tendo.


            Kasumi was experienced with succubus body language, but more importantly she knew Sophie. "It's okay. We know the job's hard. It's what we signed on to do. Death is part of the deal... you of all people should know that."


            Sophie nodded; she knew that the constant operational tempo had yielded about fifty casualties, if one did not count those wounded in multiple engagements or Pattern D's who seemed to attract damage. That still left nearly two dozen agents, officers, pilots, and undercover operatives, killed in action.


            Men and women who left behind families who would never know how or why they died only that they were never coming back. Sophie also knew that the only reason she was not part of that KIA list was because she had agreed to become a demon.


           After studying her former subordinate, Kasumi's smile returned. "At least you're not blaming yourself. That's good."


           "That's it?" Sophie asked her tail drooping slightly.


           "What else is there?" Kasumi's expression hardened and her hand went to her dog tags.


           "It's nice that you're helping take the load off babysitting," Gabriel smirked.


           "These Pattern Silvers aren't the same as the brood," Deschain said.


           "Yeah, following around Red is always a blast. I ever tell you the time me, her, and Aram stopped a bank robbery?"


           "Yes, several times. Especially the part where the Colonel stops and has a beer with you three," Whipple sighed. "Shame about Aram."


            "Shame about Ramirez," Gabriel replied.


            Whipple grunted in thanks..


            Her horns tingling, Sophie caught Kasumi's eye and nodded. "Well, I should go and report to Mother."


            "Agent, give the Captain my best." Kasumi ordered,

 

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

 


            Roughly between Toronto and Ottawa was Weslemkoon Lake. The sprawling, vaguely starfish-shaped, body of water lay about a hundred kilometers east of the WIC training facility. In a clearing several kilometers south of the lake many of the JTF2 helicopters had landed on a basic helipad in a clearing maintained by the Bon Echo Provincial Park rangers.


            Intended to serve as a place for medical evacuation helicopters to land and to stage forest firefighter crews, it had a couple of basic support shacks, plowing equipment, and access to many of the trails and roads in the area.


            Several vehicles had already parked around the helipad and many of the buildings were in use. The location was designed as a prepositioning area and was the closest to the breakthrough point.


            One of the CH-146 helicopters spooled up its engines and began to take off. Strapped into a seat, Major Wellwood Ellis Sifton ran a hand through his buzzed-short hair and looked at the map on his tablet. It was typical of this part of Ontario: forested, dotted with little lakes and relatively unpopulated. Being isolated helped; it was away from major towns which was a relief.


            The area of interest was in Addington Highlands a sprawling township of over a thousand square kilometers and hardly twenty-five hundred people. A contour plot overlaid the map showing the results of scanner sweeps with the more powerful helicopter borne equipment. It looked like a topographical map of rolling hills dominated by a narrow cliff-like mesa in the center.


            The Major sighed and looked out the open door as the wind rushed past him. Trees and water flashed below him as the helicopter closed in on the breakthrough point. He shared the troop compartment with three other soldiers. Two were on the radios while one, who was not under his command, sat with her back to him and looked out the opposite door.


            "Lieutenant Hill reports that the roadblocks are secure," Corporal Green said. Her voice came in over their headsets which dampened the engine noise and reduced the need to shout, somewhat.


            Sifton nodded. The map was clear, the nearest paved road was ten kilometers away, but there was a trail that ran pretty close. "Right. Has Sergeant MacDowell reported?"


            "Yes, Sir. So far no vehicle or... other tracks," Sergeant Brummet reported.


            "Good," Sifton gave a relieved nod. Sergeant Billy MacDowell and his team had been ordered to check the trail for any signs of recent traffic.


            "If something got through, they may not have used that trail to leave," the demon stated. Her voice resonant in spite of the electronic distortion and rotor noise.


            "That's not my only concern." From earlier reports, Sifton knew the trail was too small for trucks and cars to pass, but it looked like ATVs and motor bikes would be able to use it. There were already plans to widen the trail; Sifton knew the higher ups would want to truck in plenty of heavy equipment to the Site.


            The demon turned around to face him. Her deep purple eyes studied the officer for a moment. "Ah, a witness." Ranma nodded. "Troubling that."


            "Any advice on how to deal with that?" the major asked, feeling slight distaste. Intimidating average citizens into shutting up did not appeal to him. At least the "brisk" interrogation methods were  reserved for the enemy,  what comfort that was, and then there was the Fifth's... dietary concerns.


            The succubus shrugged. "Not my area. Check for recording devices and all that. Though the longer time passes the more chance someone'll upload anything strange."


            He nodded. Video footage was the worst way to get outed. He recalled an operation in Kabul. What was supposed to be a simple, and unofficial, snatch-and-grab at Kardan University became a nightmare when a civil engineering student managed to use his webcam to record at least half of the ensuing firefight.


            "Colonel Edwards or Sis- Captain Jarvis are the ones to talk to. The way they say it you've got two options. It's either crappy footage and you can have someone dismiss it out of hand, or if it's too good you can have someone come out and claim it's viral marketing."


            "Really?" Brummet skeptically asked.


            Sifton shared his subordinate's feelings. He doubted you could pass off a botched firefight as a movie, not when there was a shot-up dorm and a lecture-hall leveled by a improvised bomb.


            "I know; it's cold and crazy." Ranma nodded at their expressions. "It helps if it looks outlandish, and then release your own footage 'proving' it's a fake. Course the key part is to make sure no one's got any hard evidence," the demon shrugged. "Not my thing, really."


            The helicopter banked and as the clearing came into view the crew compartment hushed. Though the noise of the engines and the pilot and co-pilot ensured there was nothing even close to silence. Sifton saw the demon's pensive, focused expression and noted that the pilots had also taken a wide curve around the Site itself.


            Oblong and the size of a smallish farm, the marshy clearing was half a square kilometer and covered with lumps of dry land. Groves of runty trees popped up in the drier places. Landing in one of the raised areas, the helicopter touched down near a sister CH-146 Griffon from the 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron. A large jammer device that took up much of the crew compartment was running its onboard generator off the helicopter's fuel supply.


            Stepping behind the door-mounted Dillon Aero minigun, Sifton jumped off followed by the demon and the two JTF2 soldiers. Slinging their FAL's over their shoulders, each hefted a large plastic equipment crate and carried them two handed. The Major noticed that Ranma followed behind two, and kept a careful eye about her.


            Stepping onto the ground she seemed to brighten for a moment, as if the dirt and grass itself was a pick-me-up; the ground itself seemed to lighten as if a break in the clouds just opened up. Then, inhaling deeply, she looked towards the Site. Her face clouded and her eyes hardened.


            Seeing that her tail was held out long and straight behind her, Sifton expected the demon to have good situational awareness, but he did note that she constantly looked to the eastern side of the clearing.


            Walking east, they crossed a bit of marshy terrain and met up with Sergeant MacDowell who had had his squad dig into the back side of a hill that faced the Site. Scanners were up and pointed towards the blackened spot of ground at the edge of the clearing. Other pieces of equipment were also unpacked and pointed in the same direction.


            Sifton saw the demon put her arm to the bow-like collection of sheathed antennas on her chest. He could almost feel a slight vibration as she activated her personal jammer. "Sergeant. Status?" Sifton asked, giving a nod as he crouched next to the squad behind the somewhat excavated hillside.


            "Sir, the situation.... it's weird." MacDowell returned the gesture and motioned towards the Site, which lay down the opposite side of the hill less than hundred and fifty meters away.


            Ranma gave a little smile at the lack of saluting. She had also crouched down and studied the Site with narrowed eyes. Her nostrils flared as she sniffed the air.


            Sifton caught her expression with a shrug. His attention returned to the broad-shouldered very muscular trooper next to him. "Weird? You'll have to narrow it down, boy."


            "Whole place is wrong. We're not picking up anything new, but the mercs are right," MacDowell nodded at the demon. "Something bad broke through here." The sergeant looked over to his support team with a somewhat relieved smile.


            A bit down the line of cover, Corporal Jon Jones had the 87mm recoilless rifles at hand while Corporal Bishop, carried the pack full of High Explosive Dual Purpose shells with a couple unpacked and ready for loading.


            Sergeant Billy MacDowell's team was trained to specialize in reconnaissance. That meant they got first crack at the mercenaries' fancy and balky electronics. However, the large man had found some of WIC's advice quite agreeable and made sure his men were qualified for the Carl Gustav recoilless rifle and that the section had at least one signed out at all times.


            He had also volunteered to have the furniture on his team's C2A1's modified to allow rails and other equipment mounted on. Which allowed for the subsequent volunteering that allowed M203 40mm grenade launchers to be mounted under the barrels of their 7.56 NATO firing FALs.


            He was a fan of reconnaissance in force, and on days like this his men's griping about the weight of their equipment seemed most worth it.


            The fall air was crisp, but there was a sharp, almost decaying undertone to the air. Sifton frowned. "You kept a quarantine?"


            MacDowell raised an eyebrow. "Sir, my men only got as close as Lieutenant Hill ordered. We let the drones do over-flight."


            Feeling his men's unease, Sifton translated that into: "We obeyed the letter of the order as far as you'll know and kept our Carl G trained on that stupid burned stump the whole time."


            Sifton looked over and caught the demon's eye. Her tail had begun to curl near the tip and her wings were pulled in close. The Albertan had grown up on a ranch and found the body language familiar enough. "Something really did break through here?"


            Ranma blinked. She inhaled and shook her head. "No, if it did your men would already be shooting, but something did happen here." Her eyes caught the Site: a roughly circular patch of burned grass, burnt trees and dried dirt. "Maybe a breakthrough would have been better."

            Major Sifton resumed looking at the Site. It was a bare hundred and fifty meters away. There were no birds, no insects, no animals. No sight or sound, but the helicopters could account for that. With a greasy, queasy feeling the major realized he was glad for that. The idea of being in this clearing alone without the helicopters and their guns and rockets, without their noise, without his men... all alone filled him with dread.


            "How small have the men been split up?" he asked MacDowell.


            "Assault groups, sir." MacDowell nodded in understanding. "I wanted to keep us in section size, but the LT overruled.


            "Good. No one splits up into fire teams unless combat requires it, and don't ever split up alone." He then clicked on his radio and repeated the order to Lieutenant Hanna Hill.


            "Yes, I agree two groups of four will cover the trail faster than one group of eight," Sifton sighed. "But you're not sitting out in a bog staring at a little patch of burnt ground feeling like you're about to be invaded. Keep your men together as much as possible." He clicked off the transmit button.


            The demon gave an approving nod.


            Setting up another bit of scanning equipment, Sergeant Brummet glanced at Corporal Lily Green. Being two troopers, they were a fire team, half of an assault group, that had been detached from another section. Lilly shrugged and powered on the equipment. There were worse places to get stuck.


            Sifton conferred with MacDowell for a bit and looked at the updated sensor feed form one of the Sergeant's men. There was nothing new. The Site was... wrong, but at least it did not seem active. He moved back to the demon who would have seemed fixated on the ashen spot if she had not kept occasionally looking to the sides, back, and above. "This isn't quite your thing is it Red?"


            The demoness tilted her head. "Oh?" she asked with a hint of irritation.


            "No offense intended, but you're normally called in when something goes wrong. You told me you don't do cover-ups, and I'm guessing you don't do over-watch or recon. Though I can't blame you for getting tweaked out here."


            Sifton turned back to the Site. "I don't have your fancy powers and even I'm getting tweaked out here." He turned to MacDowell and each of the men (and women) in his section. "Good work, Sergeant, you have a strong team to keep it together alone out here."


            Ranma waited for the MacDowell and his troops to awkwardly take the praise. Corporals Jones and Bishop, the recoilless rifle team seemed particularly embarrassed. Once the major had returned to giving her his partial attention, while keeping the bulk on the Site, the scanner feed, and his radio, Ranma cleared her throat.


            "You're right." She shrugged. "I don't really do that other stuff. I've been branching out into training, but my main job is to kill whatever stupid things've decided to cause trouble."


            "A trigger-puller, eh?


            Ranma glanced down at her single SSP. The massive fifty caliber handgun was slung in a great holster strapped to her right hip that was longer than the Kevlar-sheathed plates of her skirt armor.


            "Metaphorically," Sifton explained; he knew Red tended to rarely use firearms. Apparently, at the distances she normally worked at her innate powers were more than suitable.


            The demoness chuckled. She flexed a black gloved hand. "Yeah, I suppose that's right."


            Sifton nodded. He then turned away to check in on his radio. When he turned back the demon was still pensively looking out into the distance.


            "Questions?" he asked.


            She gave a slight smile. "I suppose you're not the only ones getting training today."


            Sifton recalled the conversation the demon had with Colonel Edwards before leaving. "Being groomed for command then?"


            The demoness shrugged.


            "The Fifth Non Human," Sifton stated. The wind picked up and some of the taller weeds began to wave across the clearing. He looked at her and realized how young the woman actually was. Despite her demeanor, she could not have been older than a Royal Military College officer cadet.


            "It is my brood," Ranma shrugged. "It's my responsibility."


            Looking at his troops, Sifton nodded.


            "Which is more than just trigger-pulling."


            "Command does that." Sifton glanced at a display screen. The... effect of the Site seemed contained. "Have you started budgets and procurement paperwork yet?"


            "Only a bit..." The redhead sighed. "It's scary to realize how expensive all this stuff is," she said sweeping her arms to encompass the helicopters, equipment, and weapons.


            Sifton simply nodded. Even the black areas of JTF2 and the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command newly entrusted with defending the Dominion against other-worldly threats were nickel and dimed. The hard part was not getting approval to do operations, but justifying the expenses after the fact.


            "You won't do the actual billing?" Sifton asked.


            "Hmm?" Ranma blinked.


            "The bills you guys send us."


            The demon gave a tiny wince but quickly regained her composure. "Ah, no. I don't do that. It'll just be the internal budget. The rest-" She shrugged. "That's above my pay-grade."

 
            Sifton nodded. At least the demon gave no excuses: there was no defense or explaining away the cost of the Company's services, or even that they were a mercenary army operating on Canadian soil.


            The clearing grew quiet as the wind picked up in gusts and bursts. "Though I do agree with the Colonel's and the Commander's push to bring you guys in on this," Ranma admitted.

            Looking at the Site, Sifton recalled the comments about artillery and fighter bomber support. "Yeah."


            "At least things aren't too bad here. And you did coordinate with the 425TH Tactical."


            Sifton nodded. CFB Bagotville was about 700km away. And the combat radius for an CF18 was only 540km. However, if things were dire enough that the Canadians needed to bomb themselves, the jet could simply land at an Ontario airstrip. Looking at the Site, the soft-spot, Sifton no longer found Colonel Edward's suggestion of staging fighters in Toronto quite so ludicrous. It even made the museum idea seem less insane.


            He turned from the succubus to the Site. It was easy to calculate the threat escalation ladder. After the fighter-bombers came progressively heavier payloads until... well until Colonel Stillwater's comments about Canada retiring their nuclear launch capability came into high relief.


            The officer exhaled. He turned to see the demon's pensive expression grow more concerned and thoughtful.


            The demon glared at the Site. Her stomach lurched but she made her decision. "I'd like to try my Sailor Earth getup."


            "The... uniform you wore before we left?" Sifton delicately asked.


            Ranma gave a slightly embarrassed nod. "Yeah... that one."

 

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


           


            Eve stepped into the observation room with all three of her daughters at her heel. Major Saotome looked up with a smile. She knew they were coming. In a room such as this it would be hard to miss, though much of the take was encrypted and sent to their A Facility downtown. "Please, come in," Nodoka stated to her... elder daughter.


            The room was a cinderblock box with some monitors bolted to the walls while several sat on the few metal tables that also held workstations and some radio equipment. Feed from several of the cameras and microphones that were spread throughout the training base were being displayed. One of the technicians, a small woman with mousy brown hair, was watching the access gates and perimeter detectors. Another, a fidgeting man with a shaved head and russet-colored skin, was on over-watch duty. While the last, a taller blonde-haired woman, was observing the Pattern Silvers. Scanner data was fed into supplemental windows that complemented the video and auditory take.


             The blocky core to a Wasserfall long range pattern scanner sat in one corner of the room with one antennea array taking up half of a wall while thick cables sprouted from the top of the device connecting it to a larger array that had been mounted on the roof of an adjacent building.


            There was a Thiel grade inter-dim jammer at work. Concealed by the same dark green steel plate box as the Wasserfal, the jammer looked much the same as the rest of the equipment. Its control pannel was slightly different, but it could easilly pass as a battery backup or even a generator.


            To human eyes at least. For demons and others sensitive to such things the vibrations it produced were different than those of a scanner, and set Eve's teeth on edge and made her horns tingle. She knew that this was only one of several devices, another was secured in a guarded power vault that had been constructed to company specifications.


            As the demons entered, Morgan angled her immense rifle to clear the doorway then kept it angled down towards the floor. Thus, while she held to Rule Number Two, her gun did fire a 25mm grenade which would cause some damage no matter where it was pointed. Albeit shrapnel would be far less damaging than a direct hit. However, she also held to Rule Number Three and kept her finger indexed alongside the frame well outside the trigger guard.


            Eve and Morrison simply kept their sidearms holstered and in Morrison's case her 17mm Pug was slung over her left shoulder muzzle facing down. Sophie slipped next to her mother and gave the taller demoness a quick but heartfelt hug.


            Morrison unclipped a portable scanner from her uniform's harness. It was a larger version of the Kaskade series normally worn by members of the 5th.


            It was actually identical to the model used by analysts such as Jarred Dirac, who Morrison handed the device to. He had a laptop out and was making notes on the recordings he had made earlier in the day. He had expected to record Miss Tsukino and later the other Pattern Silvers using their powers. Being able to track the activation and ascension of a new Senshi was something else entirely.


            "What do you think of today's training?" Nodoka asked, stepping towards the blonde demoness. The room was large enough to hold eight people comfortably, and that was before the machinery and equipment was brought in, though that was about it.


            Eve glanced at the security monitors then back to Nodoka. "Well, given what preceded it..."


            Worry clouding her face, Nodoka exhaled. "That is an issue, but let's talk capabilities. I didn't expect the symbiotic armor to be discarded so easily."


            Eve raised an eyebrow.


            "Yes, I know. It would seem that Miss Meiou has been pushing Miss Tsukino more. That's not what I'm asking about. How was she today?"


            "How is the leader of this new team my daughter's got herself tangled up with?" Eve mentally translated. "She has potential. It's interesting; Miss Tsukino has an odd type of stubbornness. For big things she won't ever give up, but the little things... she'll let them slide."


            "Big things are made out of little things. You screw up on the small stuff the whole thing will fail." Doctor Nodoka Saotome scoffed in the way only an engineer could. Materials science was all about precision and process. For her, a little screw-up meant that someone's armor, arms or ammunition could fail, and that would get people, the wrong people, killed.


            "Yes Ma'am," Eve agreed. "Basically, she's willing to die for what she believes in, but she's less willing to wake up early and work her ass off for what she believes in."

            "And my daughter, your sister, has decided to become... closer with her?"


            Eve pulled back her lips and gave a toothy smile that did not reach her eyes. "Ranma is an excellent motivator and a demanding teacher."


            Nodoka nodded, reassured slightly. "So, how did you fare as her teacher?"


            "You didn't watch?" Eve asked.


            The scientist gave a slight smile. "Your impression?"


            "She's afraid of failure, afraid of what she did. I don't think she wants to disappoint her friends, or Ranma."


             "And the Pattern readings?"


            "We'll have to see what Morrison picked up," Eve said as she stepped over to give her daughter a hug.


            The green-haired succubus smiled and leaned back.


            Looking over Dirac's shoulder, Nodoka gave a thoughtful murmur. Miss Tsukino was the Pattern Silver. Every other Senshi was... degraded in some way. Even going from Sailor DarkStar to Sailor Earth was a mere refinement for her daughter.


            Eve looked back. "You're concerned about the timing too?"


            "Miss Meiou was content to leave Miss Tsukino concealed inside a golden golem, until we get probed by an exo-dimensional force, and then she abandons that plan. I can see her adjusting her plans in light of a new threat, but I am concerned with how much Miss Meiou knows, and her intentions." Nodoka frowned. "At least Sailor Earth has caught her by surprise."


            "There is that. Miss Meiou was most agreeable with our plans. Although...." Eve shook her head and then glanced at the data Dirac had downloaded from Morrison's scanner. "She seemed to just go along with today's makeover fun."


            Nodoka nodded, seemingly distracted by her thoughts.


            Eve turned; she could feel the other woman's state, see her apprehension. The succubus hesitated then cleared her throat. "Mother? Is this... Earth situation that bad?"


            Leaning to the side, Nodoka saw Eve's tail was hanging limply. "Oh Eve," she stepped forward and put her arms around Eve and the blonde's daughters. Morgan shifted her rifle before giving a bit of a purr.


            "Mother?" Eve repeated as she nuzzled the older woman.


            Nodoka looked at the taller woman and patted her on the head. "No, it's not just Sailor Earth. It's not Miss Meiou and the recon sweep either."


            Eve held her tongue. Silence was often easier, and allowed her to concentrate on the other woman's emotions.


            "I know about Miss RedStorm, Dear." Nodoka said chidingly. "The Colonel briefed me, before Ranma, which I'm not sure I agree with."


            "BlackSky then?" Eve asked, eying the monitoring crew.


            "Yes, I do wonder what she has planned." Nodoka's voice hardened. "Everyone wants something from Ranma." She sighed.


            Eve shivered at that. "You would make-" the blonde paused. "You should talk to BlackSky then. One matriarch to another."


            Nodoka pondered the slip of the tongue. "Is everything okay with you? You did have to let Ranma... go today."


            "Her going off to train with JTF2 will be good for her."


            Nodoka tilted her head.


            "She needs to expand her command experience." Eve stated. "That's not what you meant is it?"


            "You're not just talking about Major Sifton are you?"

            "She can handle Miss Tsukino. We shouldn't be the only ones worried that we've got in over our heads."


            Nodoka shook her head slightly.


            "If she has... feelings for Miss Tsukino, then she should explore them, before she gets hurt." Eve returned to look at the monitors. Specifically, the camera recording Usagi and Kiri. After Ranma had left Usagi had changed to her Serenity form. She sat on a metal stool under the shower as Kiri washed her long silver hair.   Kiri then turned off the water and took a comb and started combing out the long wet hair.


            Nodoka exhaled. "You believe that?"

            "It's Ranma's choice, but if Miss Tsukino hurts her, we will take care of her," Eve gave her daughters a squeeze. She continued to watch the feed. Maya had turned on the audio channel; Kiri was lecturing, giving an after-action debriefing.


            Nodoka nodded.


            "What about BlackSky? Sending another one of her granddaughters is a strong signal," Eve reminded as Morrison and Morgan snaked out of their mother's embrace.


            "But not a clear one," Nodoka frowned. "Miss RedStorm was born on earth, and is a Company contractor."


            "That is a message. I'm sure... grandmother has plenty of heirs that she could have sent from her Homeplane empire. However speculation only gets us so far."


            "Yes." Seeing Eve's pensive expression, Nodoka gave her another hug. "We could always be proactive about this."


            Eve turned to face the monitors and Nodoka followed. They looked at the screen displaying the mess hall, the Senshi, and the rest of the brood.


            Looking at her granddaughters, Nodoka gave a little sigh.


            "You should spend more time with them," Eve added.  Again she looked to the monitors.  Still sitting on her stool, Usagi was now wearing a white towel over her torso, and Kiri had finished drying off her hair. Obviously enjoying herself, the serene, younger looking, green haired woman  began styling the Queen's silver hair.


            Once the large twin odangos with their long ponytails were in place,  Kiri presented Usagi with a mirror,  the Queen smiled and hugged Kiri.  Then the two left the room and the monitor was switched to a different camera to continue tracking.


            "We just had that day off together," Nodoka stated. Her eyes went to Serenity and Kiri. She paused, remembering sitting next to Miss Tsukino on the bed. "You're right. I'll do my best."


            Eve nodded. "That is all we can do." She turned to her own daughters and gave a smile.


            "But I can do more," Nodoka said a bit sharply. "You're right; we need to know more about BlackSky's plans. I should talk with her," the scientist paused. "I can do that."


            "And the Commander, the Colonel?" Eve asked.


            "I can present my case to them, they understand the risks. Colonel Edwards has met BlackSky." Nodoka gave Eve another hug. "My daughter... my daughters, you have enough complications in your lives. But..." her eyes flickered to the monitor. "But what is one more."


            Eve purred. "Is it that simple?"


            "BlackSky cares for her long lost granddaughter. She wants to make sure she is loved and taken care of. I can show her that I'm fulfilling my duties."

 

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

 


            Major Sifton took MacDowell's offered binoculars and studied the burned stumps and logs from the Site. He briefly wondered about the cause of the burning at the breach location, and how long it would take to get a robot to go over and take soil samples. "That uniform. It's... cute. May I ask why?"


            "Nicely put." Ranma chuckled. She flexed her tail. "I think, I'm more... in tune with my powers, I've got a stronger feeling of connection with things." The demon shrugged. "I just activated them today. This is the first chance in the field."


            "More sensitive then?" Handing the binoculars back, Sifton nodded. "Are you sure you want to see this thing with stronger senses?"


            "No," the demon immediately replied. "But... I should try anyway."


            Sifton kept his expression neutral. He felt in over his head, but at least so did these mercenaries, and looking at the Site did not reassure him. They needed more information on what had happened here. "Do it."


            "Let's see if I can do this without the whole song and dance," Ranma said as she swayed her hips. Whispering to herself, she tapped her forehead and a bright green glow began to emanate from the spot. It flashed over, spreading rapidly across her body. Obscured in green light, her gray-green armored vest began to shift while her pleated Kevlar-sheathed plate skirting began to flow down.


            Brightening from red into a shiny pink, her hair parted down the middle, wrapped around the large horns on either side of her head, and began to braid itself into twin ponytails. The dark green jammer "bow" shrank and turned into a tiny crimson silk bow that moved from the center of her chest to above her left breast.


            A matching red bow blossomed at the base of her spine, and ribbons spiraled out from it to encase and conceal her tail. Heavy boots transmuted over into dainty silver hooves with red leather spats adorned with golden crescent moons.


            Her height shrank down as the green glow diminished revealing a dainty looking demoness with a delicate youthful face. She had cute little green bows on her braids, pointed ears, and claws. Her eyes had gone from purple to turquoise with a purple rim around her now silted pupils.


            Softly smiling with her pink lips, she gave a little bow which dipped her hips in something like a curtsy. The maneuver was enhanced by the long blue skirt to her modestly demure blue and green-trimmed seifuku. Rising back up to her diminutive height, she shook her coiled tail back and forth as it began to spiral in on itself.


            She looked at herself and gave a smirk. "I do make a pretty lunar demon," Sailor Earth said to herself.


            "It makes sense that you'd be like them... the others I mean." Sifton noted that the demon's jewelry was not quite the same as before. She still had the tiara and earrings, but the choker was absent leaving her neck bare.


            "Yes Major." The demoness' expression became more reserved. "It's a true shame I didn't see that earlier."


             Lilly Green turned to Brummet who just shrugged. "What?" he quietly asked after another prodding. "We saw her change outta that getup before we left."


            "Yeah, but this isn't exactly the place to go around dressed for high tea with the queen," Green replied as she adjusted the power supply for the scanner Brummet had lugged over from the helicopter.


            "Well?" Sifton asked, echoing his subordinate's concerns. "Do you have a deeper connection in this form?"


            Facing the Site, Earth nodded. Her senses expanded out and she could feel the buzzing of life in the clearing as the energies vibrated against her horns. The rich almost peaty smell of the ground rose up to meet her nose and clashed with the crisp smell of the newly turning leaves, the strong sharp odors of the troopers, and the flat scents of their equipment. However, pulsing beneath it all was the rank, almost wrong scent and... presence of the Site.


            Feeling light headed, she realized that starting out as Earth in the company of the Senshi and her brood was a wise move. As powerful as the connections were, they were at least familiar and known quantities.


            She blinked and nodded. "Yeah, I've... well I can feel more, and it's just.... wrong. It's like a spill. A bit of their reality leaked into ours."


            Sifton watched as the little demon seemed to drink in the air, and angle her head as if she could get better reception by tilting those giant buns on her head. "Is it still leaking?"


            "I don't think so." The demoness looked down at her swaying braids.


            Sifton raised an eyebrow.


            The blonde and pink haired demoness tugged at one of the ponytails. She looked down at the green bow at the end and nodded to herself. "I'm gonna try something." Her eyes closed and the emerald set in her gold tiara glowed and was matched by twin pairs of bows on her braids.


            Her eyes opened and for a moment her silted pupils widened in shock


            "Red?" Sifton asked, noting that his men were watching with interest and... caution.


            Staring at the site and turning her head, Earth's lip quivered, "Oh those bastards... ruining my home."


            Watching the demon tilt her head, Sifton could almost catch sight bits of green flecks that moved from the green bow at the bottom of each braids to the green bows at the top. He noted that the braids went straight into large horn-like buns on either side of her head. "They're related to your horns?" he asked. "Like... adding a longer antennae to a radio receiver?"


            "My Dear Major, that's exactly what they are." Earth smiled. Looking back at the site, her expression soured. She then turned her attention from the burned stumps and grass back to the shallow muddy trench she stood in. Her silver hooves were already covered in grime and splashes of dirt were on her red spats and the hem of her dress.


            "You keep upping your sensitivity... here of all places?"


            The little demoness nodded. "The hole was small and only open for an instant but... the other side... a taint spilled through and has soured this place." Irritation flashed and she looked down. "The dirt itself rejects the intrusion."


            "Are we safe? Are our scanners right? Did anything get through?"


            "I don't feel... here. If something got through it's gone. Everything in the clearing is from this world." Her tail curling into a tighter coil, she nodded. "But I would adhere to the quarantine protocols. And watching from here would be no fun." A silver-tipped claw tapped her chin.


            Sifton and his men watched as the little demon pulled up her skirt a little bit and knelt down on her knees. Her long skirt fanned out a bit, exposing the green hose above the spats to her hooves. Twin braids fell to the ground and seemed to sparkle with a green light. Her tail also went limp and curled onto the ground. Spreading her little silver wings, she bent forward and planted her long, white-gloved hands onto the muddy dirt.


            "What are you doing?"


            "I can feel. I'm seeing what I can do," Earth said as she closed her eyes.


            "Sir?" MacDowell asked.


            "Let her be," Sifton ordered but he still motioned for Jones and Bishop to be ready with their Carl Gustav and that Green and Brummet were off their line but still had their rifles ready.


            Heat pulsed out from the demon's hands and tiny licks of green and violet flames poked out from the wet ground. Like a billows she breathed in and out in deep steady breaths.


            Major Sifton then saw that snaking lines of heat were coming from the demon's braids, tail, and knees. Wherever she contacted the ground the... whatever spread from. Steam began to puff up and was replaced by lines of running water as the ground started to dry.


            The breathing deepened becoming labored as the wall of the hill started to gently heat and dry. Then, weeping water, the dirt began to pulse. With each breath the wall in front of them rose a few centimeters. It was slow, plodding work, and made slower each time the rising was stopped when the wall sank back down as the layers compacted. Even the sandbags MacDowell's section had emplaced shrank and hardened becoming something like bricks or rocks in the growing wall.


            Gasping, the demoness let out a quick almost maniacal giggle and then resumed her steady breathing, though this time bearing a broad, smug grin.


            "Damn, this is... somethin' else,eh?" Brummet noted.


            Green raised an eyebrow. "Four of us with shovels could outpace her," she flatly stated. "Pretty though."


            Sifton had to move his men back and prod them to keep them from watching the slow but steady growth. It was after the second rotation of men and fifth minute the he noticed Corporal Green's comment. He looked down and saw green shoots spreading around the kneeling demoness.


            Unlike the slow steady work on the now waist-high and lengthening wall, the green grass quickly spread out popping up in the rich moist earth and growing into thick carpet-like turf as they watched.


            "It's magic, damn magic," Bishop muttered as he glanced back at the manicured lawn that was growing into place.


            "You were okay with their super strength and fireballs?" Jones reminded.


            "That's not... this..." Bishop exhaled and rested the tube of the Carlo on the upper surface of the wall. Crenellations with firing ports were even starting to slowly, slowly rise into place.


            Sifton shifted his feet as the first shoots met his boots. He gave a slightly embarrassed shuffle. The growth might be unnaturally fast, but it still took time to fill in. "Damn... can all of you do this?"

            "You have to have a... " Earth paused to breathe a few times. "A connection to life and... the planet." She resumed her work and the wall finished forming. It had stopped rising and instead had thickened and lengthened, forming a gentle arc that was waist-high on one side and a bare hand height on the side facing the Site. The ends curled in to give positions to protect against flanking and the ground on the inside was gently stepped with thick soft grass and sections that could serve as seats in a pinch.


            Sifton noted with some relief that the "upgrades" were limited in area and hardly got more than five meters from where the demoness knelt. He keyed into his radio to update his, and her, status.


            Letting her labored breath calm down, Earth drew back in her magic and the fires dampened and she rose back to her hooves. Now her spats, gloves, and skirt were spotless. Opening her eyes, she bowed her head to Sifton and then gave a deeper bow at the waist to the rest of the Canadian troopers. "How's this for a start, Major?" she asked with a playful smirk.


            "It's something," Sifton shook his head the position was almost... livable. Though once the trail in was opened up proper buildings and concrete could be poured in. Sifton frowned, fully realizing that the Site would have to be watched and guarded from this point forward.


            The diminutive succubus then blinked and looked at the miniature park she had created. "Oh wow," she gave a few deep breaths and blinked again at her heart-rate. It was still elevated. "How long?"


            "Call it ten minutes," MacDowell stated looking at his watch. "And demons can do this?"


            Sailor Earth sat down on one of the "seats". She could just see the Site from her vantage point. Worry crossed her face. " Mako-chan could do it, she's got power over plants... for moving the dirt... maybe if she were on her world. Though if that's true then Usagi could move moon rocks." She crossed her legs and her right hoof nervously kicked at the knee.


            Major Sifton sat down next to her and placed his hand on her knees. "This really is something amazing you did."


            "I just feel a... connection you know? Like this is my world, it's like how I can feel my family." Earth exhaled. "Sorry."


            Sifton gave a quick laugh. "Compared to that," he pointed to the Site. "This is a little bit of Eden." His grin grew as he saw the young woman begin to blush.


            Giving a silly smile, the demoness shook her head. The glow on her green bows faded and she blinked a few times. Her face drew more serious. "Wow, now I know why our horns are normally so small." She stretched her neck.

            Sifton handed her a canteen. "How you feeling?"


            After taking a long drink from the canteen, the demon gave a flat expression at odds with her adorable accoutrements. "Like I laid some sod right after digging out a hill and laying a foundation." She flexed her fingers. "Least my hands aren't aching. Sweet of you to ask." She chuckled and gave Sifton a peck on the cheek before standing back up.

 

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

 


            Sitting on a bench in Confederation Park, Shest looked across the narrow Rideau Canal. To her left was the pile of odd polygons that made up the National Arts Center, to her right and behind her was the sleek glass fronted Ottawa City Hall.


            However, her attention was primarily on the large building on the opposite side of the canal. The target was a beige, roughly twenty story building consisting of three rectangular blocks. There were two towering blocks anchoring either end of a longer and shorter mid-section.. Even stranger the whole thing seemed to be on stilts. There was even a road that went under the center of the complex.


            It was barricaded and closed. Which showed that the Canadians had some sense at least. On the other hand, there were several boats tied up on the canal right next to the building itself.


            She ran a hand though her short pixie-cut hair. The sun was high and the air was cool. The fence around the building was short and there were hardly any guards posted outside. She extended her senses and hit an immense vibrating wall.


            Looking at the Major-General George R Pearkes building, the combat-cyborg nodded slightly. There was another example of them being sensible. It seemed that inter-dim jammers were required around these parts. Though having such a device was a target in and of itself.


            Trying her systems, Shest ran a diagnostic. She was careful to limit her output. Not for fear of attracting the mercenaries, she was over five hundred kilometers away from Toronto. Plenty of distance from their area of operations. Instead she was concerned about being detected by local forces. She was out in the open and her companion was not... inconspicuous.


            A few seconds after she had completed her scan her companion cleared his throat. "You know there's a mall right across the street from it?" He was a large man with a strong chin and brutish features. This was enhanced by the hideous grey-green plaid suit with big shoulders and a wide paisley tie. His hair was dark and greased and hung in a long mop that showed more evidence of combing and care than should be possible given the result.


            The whole ensemble hurt to look at and to Shest's eyes was even more horrible for how it actually matched. The grid of the plaid lines was not fully orthogonal and would cause distorted patterns. The whorls and dots on his tie were disturbingly suggestive. Even the mint-green pin stripes on his cream shirt seemed to bend and double back.


            Looking at the hired-gun, Shest suppressed a shiver. Many would say this was man who did not know how to dress himself. Shest knew nothing could be further from the truth. Mal de Veste was a man who knew exactly what he was doing when he got up in the morning and picked out his wardrobe.


            "Why? You want to do some shopping before we go? Maybe see if we can pick the item up in the appliance section?" Shest asked. "They don't sell those things next to toasters you know."


            "Well no. Just you..." Mal gestured to the long white sweater and loose pants Shest wore over her red and grey bodysuit.


            "Do not dare to criticize my fashion sense," Shest stated, her cheeks reddening slightly. There was a sliver of embarrassment as she had to admit she had dressed more for ease of ditching her street-clothes than anything else.


            Mal was nonplused. "Ah. Don't have time anyway. Just wanted to make sure you had no problems with the natives..."


            "Yes, they speak your language here," Shest eyed the man. He had a large alligator-skin briefcase on his knees. Which was, depressingly, the least garish part of his ensemble.


            "My language?" Mal asked without a trace of French in his accent. He rolled his shoulders and adjusted the fit of the shoulder holster for his VZ 52. One advantage of a custom tailored suit was allowances for such things.


            If anything to Shest's ear his clipped English sounded a bit more Germanic than anything else. However the man's pseudonym was obvious enough. "Yes, your language."


            "Please, this provincial backwoods gutter-snipe of a pidgin is..." de Veste shook his head. "I suppose it could be worse. If these were Frenchmen then they would be under the English Queen... unacceptable. Besides, right here we're not even in Quebec. We'd have to go North to cross the river to enter that debased mirror world."


            "That is not part of our mission."


            "Our mission." Mal grunted. "We are each part of a smaller whole. Brick by brick we will complete our mission. Good thing too. The call has gone out and they rise." He looked down at his gold ring with its shining stone. "Have you prepared for what is coming?"


            Like most of her comrades, Shest was a lapsed communist. She was still more than wary of religion, especially, as it unfortunately turned out, of those who worshiped something that just might be real.


            She looked at his face her brow furrowed in confusion. Like always, his eyes were hidden behind smoked aviator style glasses. "Are you trying to convert me?"


            "Well, I have some literature." He tapped his briefcase then sadly shook his head. "But no, finding the right altar would take too long. I guess Canada's got granite, that's a start. And then there's finding the proper empty night to induct you. It's a cliche, but really, the stars would have to be just right. To be impatient is an insult, especially when dealing with a being that sees an eon as an eye blink."


            "That's not what I meant." Shest groaned. "I've really got no interest in your god."


            "Ah, but I'm sure she has an interest in you." Mal leered. "Reciprocity would only be polite. Your powers... seeing the unseen, ghosting through the walls of reality." He undid the clasps of his briefcase. "Maybe I should make our case to you."


            "We have a mission. Galina will be told of this."


            "Yes, yes, I wouldn't respect you if you didn't" Mal dismissively waved his hand. He cleared his throat and met Shest's skeptical gaze. "Have you ever suspected that reality is merely a front? That it is nothing more than a creaky, poorly-built facade. Surely you must have glimpsed the inner workings of the world? Beings of vast power beyond ours, the pillars and gears and machinery that keeps things spatially and temporally discreet... and discrete. The universe is a rusting machine that is grinding itself apart, spitting out parts."


            "And you want me to sign on with the goddess that is going to fix all that?"


            "Hah!" Mal shook his head. "Oh my no... we're all doomed. Those above us have no more ability to escape their fate than those below us. But we do have a chance for revenge, and that is what I offer." The brutish man leaned back and lifted the lid to his briefcase a couple centimeters. "You have been wronged, your comrades have been wronged. Yes, the world is unfair, the universe is an uncaring mess but you can still get your pound of flesh."


            "No, just no." Shest slammed her fist onto the briefcase forcing it shut. She returned his gaze and fought the urge to rip his glasses off and throw them into the canal. "You're really bad at this whole recruiting thing are you?"


            "My god is an eldritch abomination beyond space and time," the assassin said with all sincerity. He opened the briefcase a bit more and took a few baseball sized rounded cubes out. Dark grey and green, he fiddled with the recessed dials on the top of each before slipping them into his now bulging coat pockets. He then took a leather shoulder strap out of the briefcase and clipped it to the sides.


            Shest suppressed a groan. "See previous."


            "Right, right." Mal de Veste closed the latches on his briefcase and glanced at his watch.


            Shest glanced at the clock on her heads up display. "We still have time. Or do you propose another revision to the plan?"


            "We can get a head start," Mal stood and smoothed his coat.


            Shest got to her feet and followed Mal towards the canal. "Mal, don't improvise. If you screw this up Galina will not be happy."


            Mal looked down at the shorter woman. "I think that's a bit of an understatement." He looked across the park then back to the target building. "No, if someone screws up on this, Mademoiselle A'deen will be most creative with her displeasure."


            "This has enough risk." Shaking her head, Shest had reached the path on the far edge of the canal and leaned on the railing. "I can't believe there's not a better place. This is their national military headquarters."


            "Where else? Mademoiselle A'deen doesn't want us to raid a mercenary base, or attack those demons. That leaves the few the Canadians have on proving grounds, labs, or that factory they're starting up. All of which are on military bases, with infantry, tanks, and helicopters."


            "Yes, I know what soldiers are. I've been raiding NATO bases since before you started worshiping gibbering gods."


            The man glanced down at the shorter woman.


            "And I'm aware of the irony that this is the less defended location." She eyed the building again. The defense in depth was nonexistent, parts of the building butted right up against the sidewalk.


            Mal tapped his chin. "I suppose we could knock over 24 Sussex Drive. That's probably a bit better."

 
            "No, we're not attacking the Prime Minister. This is bad enough. At least we know the vast majority of the people inside won't be armed."


            "Exactly. Outside of battle soldiers tend to be disarmed." Mal smirked. "Thus is dirty secret of military bases. Consider your own experiences. How often did your superiors lock up the men's ammunition."


            "I hardly think Canada is worried about a military coup."


            Mal laughed.


            "Not that your research is wrong," Shest sighed. She had done much the same, at least the West Germans, back when they existed, would have some semblance of defense on their rear-bases. "I'd say the West is soft but-"


            "Your comrades do much the same. And I know you have found this situation useful in the past."


            Reluctantly, Shest nodded. "Right, there was this one time we got onto a cruiser... the damn fools only carried one loaded magazine." She laughed, saw the pattern on his coat shift, blinked, then looked away.


            Mal lifted his nose. "The British have a saying, lock a Tommy in a room with nothing save for two bowling balls overnight. In the morning you will find he has lost one and broken the other."


            "Right." Shest's urge to rip his glasses off and toss them in the water grew. "What's your point?" she asked as they turned south and began walking towards the Laurier Avenue bridge


            "My point is that the neo-aristocratic bureaucratic class does not trust the common man. Though the cultist in me does not find their position terribly disagreeable. After all this classism will be quite useful for us." He paused and waited for the intersection to clear before they could cross to the bridge.


            Shest shivered, at least the brute was not directly spouting Marxist theory. "Yeah, yeah, get past the door, get to the subbasement. Secure the room." Shest narrowed her eyes. "Just don't improvise. Once they discover us, and they will discover who we are, it's a matter of when not if we have to make sure we get out before they run it all the way up the flagpole."


            Stopping on their ascent of the stairs that connected the lane to the bridge, Mal chuckled. "Is that your real concern? You've had your own... flashes of improvisation."


            "Yes, pardon me for being more afraid of cannibalistic demons than I am of Canadians."


            "If I recall a good chunk of them are Canadian."


            Reaching the top Shest looked around the tree-filled city. They were hardly ten meters higher up but the wind was sharper here, and the traffic over the bridge was faster. They stuck to the sidewalk and began to cross.


            "And as you said small arms. Unless you screw up royally, worst I'll face is some 223 caliber. It's not like they'll bring in heavy weapons. And hitting a small, mobile, supernatural target with anything bigger? Not happening," Shest assured. That was their advantage, they were too heavily armored for small arms, and too mobile to be pinned down by heavy arms.


            They paused on the mid-span of the bridge. Ostensibly, this was for her to call back to base and to see if there was any chatter from the city's emergency bands. At the same time Mal... she looked over and saw the man staring off to the North up the length of the canal. Though his smoky sunglasses, she could just make out a shining glint coming from his eyes.


            Turning back to look at the water, and her heads up display, Shest's fingers twitched. This close to the target her Deep Diver was blocked, but she had other abilities. Normally, she would be better contained but the stresses had been piling. In addition to the parade of death and failure she had been exiled to playing nursemaid and evac...


            Now, now she was stuck on a milk run with an arrogant French cultist who was trying to convert her to his crackpot religion and laughing at the demons. Shest allowed a tiny smile, at least her heartbeat had not risen. She was a combat cyborg, and no matter how ugly his suit was a blade could still pierce it.


            Her hand twitched and she knew just a bit more motion could release one of her knives. Another motion and she could risk some of her onboard power and burn a whole through him.


            As if hearing something distant Mal's head slowly tilted to one side.


            Shest flexed her fingers; she knew she had not made a sound. She knew her hand had not gone near the man. Worry crossed her mind at the possibilities, but Galina knew of Mal, and she would not be so unwise to bring a reader into their midst.... that is... Shest pushed her doubts aside and instead tensed herself.


             "Ah," he eventually said. "When Galina first hired me for this mission I was... curious. And while my own professionalism stays my hand..." Mal made a show of putting his briefcase onto the ground and clasping the bridge's guardrail with both hands.


            He shifted his weight slightly and grew more irritated . "It does not prevent me from defending myself. So, please continue. If you are going to ruin this mission, I'd rather you do it here where my escape will be easier."


            "Though I'll confess I did spend a fair time preparing for this mission and it would be a shame to waste my efforts," he admitted hefting the briefcase and slinging it over his shoulder.


            "Fine." Shest flexed her fingers stepped back from the guard rail. "Let's get to work."


            "After you," Mal curtly gestured forward with his arm.


            The two resumed their walk and crossed the bridge. Reaching the eastern shore the two looked to their left and saw the southern side of the National Defence Headquarters' principal building. The bridge ran right up against the building and the sidewalk connected directly to a second story entryway.


            The glass doors were set back from the street under the overhang of the building and behind a fence consisting of thick metal bars. A gateway in the fence in front of the doors was open.


            A couple of short boxy concrete bollards rose out of the sidewalk. Bearing no decoration, the stubby constructs had one purpose: to prevent a vehicle from being able to jump the sidewalk and crash into the building.


            Chained to one of the bollards were a pair of newspaper dispensers. Mal went up to them and made a show of deciding between the Ottawa Sun and a local independent newspaper.


            As she waited, Shest glanced through the doors. The security setup was the same as the last couple of times: tall heavy front desk, no less than four soldiers at least two of whom carried carbines, metal detectors, and another set of glass doors behind them.


            She turned her attention back to the street. In and of itself, the room would be easy enough to crack, but it could not be breached quietly. They would be stuck on the wrong end of the building and have to fight their way down to their true objective.


            Tapping her foot, Shest heard a slam of plastic on plastic and turned back to Mal. Shockingly, he had gone for the cheap, free actually, independent rag. She eyed the newspaper somewhat approvingly. At least the ink was not staining Mal's slab-like hands. She looked at the dispenser itself. Not only did it cost less, being free, but the dispenser itself was a bit cheaper, and the plastic door was at a slight angle, easier to jam.


            "Anything good?" she asked, as they briskly continued their eastward walk. She noticed his coat pocket was less bulky than before and hoped that his tradecraft had held up.


            "There's an art showing. Hmm... oh lovely, Socialist Realism," Mal sarcastically snorted.


            Despite herself, Shest found herself nodding in agreement. "Ah yes. Skillful but unimaginative." The sidewalk descended as the road lowered from bridge height to street level. They were on the thin side of the building and quickly walked past its width.


            "Finally, some taste," Mal looked behind him at the retreating building. Now to their left was a sunken green space with trees and a set of curving concrete benches. The metal fencing had followed at their side cutting across stairwells and concrete walls. This indicated that the encirclement was not part of the original, and more open, design. However, the age of the fence indicated that it was not a recent addition either.


            They reached the intersection of Laurier and Nicholas. Instead of waiting at the crosswalk they simply turned north, continuing their circumnavigation of the NDHQ's block. At the corner was another bit of greenery with grass and a few small bushy trees in boxy planters. On the way, Mal stopped and used one of the pots to brace his shoe. After bending down to adjust his loafer he stood back up, his pockets a bit lighter.


            They walked north until they got to the main entrance. Next to the road was a parallel driveway long enough to hold a couple busses. Behind that was a boxy security checkpoint. The driveway alongside it was the same avenue that ran underneath the building. Shest turned and could see the canal and Confederation Park in the clear space under the raised building.


            The alleyway itself was blocked with raised barriers on either side of the checkpoint. A parking lot was to the right side of the squat concrete building while the green space they had passed earlier lay on the left.


            Neither gave this area much pause. They had already dismissed it as too open and too defensible. Presuming they took out the guard building, that still left a good twenty meters of open ground to cover before the headquarters building itself.


            The pair soon got to the corner of Nicholas and the Mackenzie King Bridge. There was another smaller guard building and yet another driveway to the parking section. As expected the station was manned and the white and red striped steel barriers were raised
           


            Walking under the elevated Mackenzie King Bridge, they passed through a parking lot for a small bus station that sat to their left. To their right were the underground parking levels to the mall that Mal had pointed out earlier.


            Two stories tall, the bus station was a rounded glass growth that clung to the North-eastern tip of the NDHQ. Going through the lower story Mal paused to throw something out before the two went up the stairs to the upper level and out the doors to Eastern side of the Mackenzie King Bridge.


            Like the abutment of the Laurier Avenue Bridge the NDHQ ran right up to the sidewalk. If anything it was pressed even tighter with the perimeter fence a bare meter from the side of the building.


            Walking away from the bus stop, Mal glanced at his watch. Putting something that looked like the ear-bulbs to a music player on, he looked over to a spot where the building's wall retreated from the fencing. In the middle of the inset area was a plain metal door. Thick and with hinges and locks on the inside the door was for service use only. The matching gate in the fencing was chained shut.


             Shest gave the gate a glance and looked at the timer on her heads up display. She then rechecked the settings on her breathing system and her low light support displays. A moment later, Mal adjusted the shoulder strap on his case, nodded, and put his hands at his sides. The two waited and soon the sounds of screeching cars came from the South. Twenty seconds later screaming came from the bus station.


            Shest caught a glimpse of panicked people running out the doors and bits of strangely shimmering smoke. Then Mal gave another nod and she turned back to the target. She only caught a glimpse of the grayish green smoke that began to billow out of the bus station.


            Blades flicked into her hands and she sliced through the gate's chains and lock in one blow. Eyeing the alleyway, she tore the gate open and cut though the door. Behind her, Mal faced the street and stepped backwards. His right hand was already into his coat while his left went to his belt.


            Digging into the doorframe she wrenched it open. Her feet dug into the sidewalk as the servos in her arms pulled and warped the door and tore it from the bolts holding it to the frame.


            By now the alarms were going off in earnest. Part of Shest noted that they were at least a few in the distance. The door came suddenly free, and Shest pulled back on her power to keep it from slamming open. She could hear shouting on the other side of the door. There was no shooting, but that could mean the defenders were being patient.


            "Clear!" Shest shouted.


            Mal spun on his heel and sidestepped so he stood to one side of the door. He broke leather and in one hand was the heavy slab-like frame of his VZ 52 while the other held a small matte grey cylinder that had been clipped to his belt. Using a free thumb from his gun hand Mal pulled the pin, held it for a couple seconds, and gave a curt nod.
            Shest pulled the door open a bit and Mal lobbed the grenade into the brightly light corridor within. The grenade bounced off a wall and hit the ground. There was some frightened shouting and then loud, obnoxious pop.


            Smoke billowed out, pushing past the small gap formed by Shest holding the edge of the door. With diffusion pressure like that, she knew how bad it had to be inside. The cyborg inhaled, and once again pulled the door open, this time a bit further.


            Pulling a fresh grenade, Mal slipped through the doorway.
            The heavy gun barked twice. The sound would be deafening in the enclosed space; Mal's hot-loaded 7.62x25mm Tokarev cartridges would push a ninety grain soft tip racing out at over seventeen thousand feet per second.


            Pushing into the corridor, Shest knew it would only get worse. They had trained, they had practiced, and the sight before her was still shocking. The entire corridor was filled with grey and green smoke that hung in the air.


            Shifting patterns seemed to emerge and disperse. The haze would shift in density and suddenly a drunkenly leaning wall would sidle into view. Even the corners between the ceiling and the walls would meander about.


            Shest felt a pulsing pressure against her ears and her nose itched with irritation. The true layout of the corridor flashed onto her heads up display, revealing a wide hallway that was used for storage and connecting a stairwell to another hallway and a steam room.


            The whole thing drew in the senses, led them around the corner, then shot them in the back. Switching to her burner and setting the torch onto a longer beam, she took a covering position behind and to the side of Mal.


            She almost bumped into him. He was in his element, and paid no mind to the smoke's irritation. If anything he reveled in its presence, and it reciprocated. The multi-hued smoke shifted with his motions helping conceal and mask his presence. Which, considering his sartorial display, was a blessing


            After firing a tight beam of fire at a soldier who tried to edge around a corner behind them, Shest gave a giddy, gibbering chuckle. It only made sense. Of course de Veste's smoke bombs would be plaid. Why would they be anything else?

 

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

 


            Looking at the Site, Sailor Earth rolled her shoulders. She sighed and tapped the gem on her tiara. There was a green flash that blossomed out then began to turn purple.


            Sifton watched the transformation. He noted that his men, especially Sergeant Brummet and Corporal Green seemed almost complacent with a demon changing from a delicate, demure figure in blue and white silk with braided pink-blonde hair and a coiled ribbon tail into an almost predatory figure in green-grey Kevlar and composite plate armor with deep red hair and purple eyes.


            Ranma adjusted her neck as her hair unwound itself revealing her twin pairs of horns. The set on the side blackened and curled while the pair on her forehead were tiny and had also turned black losing their gilt coating when her tiara vanished. She blinked a couple times and checked her holster.


            Idly wondering where her weapon went when she was in that other form... as well as the rest of her kit, Sifton noted that the demon seemed a bit more relieved without her more heightened powers. Though she did step on the grass with a slight frown. The major assumed that it was because, unlike her hooves, the boots she now wore insulated her feet.


            Crossing the grassy steps, she walked over the length of the wall. A hand ran over the crenellated top of the compacted and reinforced earthworks. Her tail twitched and she gave a low whistle.


            The recoilless rifle team shifted their gun tube when the demon passed them. Sifton caught up and fell into step next to her. "What is this?" he tapped the wall. The lush green turf seemed out of place with the more drab and dry vegetation of the rest of the clearing.


            "Well, I got a new magical dress so new powers are expected... I'm not sure really." The demon's confidence waned. "I do have a greater connection to the Earth."


            "Right, from that Moon Queen," Sifton shrugged.


            "Yeah, I guess she'd be able to reshape the Moon," Ranma tapped her chin. "Could be how Serenity made the palace and all the bunkers up there."


            "There's a palace on the moon?"


            "Yup."


            Sifton sighed. "Right, and the Americans have been keeping it a secret since the Apollo missions?" he sarcastically asked.


            "Maybe." The demon shrugged. "But I doubt it. They landed nowhere near it. In any case it was just one city and the thing was blasted to bits at the end of the war, but the deep bunkers are still there."


            Corporal Green shook her head.


            "You know that sounds insane," Sifton said.


            "Tell me about it, I'm a magical girl demon who remembers the damn palace and I only half believe in the damn thing." Ranma glanced up into the sky.


            Sifton checked his radio. It was Lieutenant Hill. "Yes? Calm down, what's your status?" Hearing Lieutenant Hanna's exited tones the officer's face turned ashen. "Bombs? Repeat those descriptions." As his subordinated talked, the bottom fell out of Sifton's stomach The timing alone... "Shit. Right we'll redeploy."


            The demon tilted her head. "Has someone tried to cross the perimeter?"


            "No." Sifton gave a glance to the weak-spot. "At least something's going right. Thirty minutes ago there was an attack at the National Defence Headquarters," Sifton said as he motioned to Sergeant MacDowell. "The bastards are still in there, apparently fighting in the basement."


            "Non Human?" Ranma asked as she tapped onto her own radio. "How many?" She frowned and talked with Company dispatch and was then bounced to Colonel Edwards.


            "Not quite human, and two." Sifton shook his head and ordered MacDowell to organize a pull out with the helicopters. "They looked human, at first it was treated as a crazy terrorist thing, especially with the bombs outside, but once images of were sent out our boys at Dwyer Hill recognized your robotic friends," the officer explained his tone clipped and a bit detached.


            Purple eyes The demon swore. "The Russians? How many?"


            "Just one, but she's got that big guy, the cultist with her." Sifton looked up from his display pad. "Now you tell me Miss Saotome, why the hell are your enemies attacking my country's military HQ?"


            After talking with Colonel Edwards, Ranma shook her head. "I don't know. Jacob, the Colonel, doesn't seem to have much extra information. The enemy seems contained...which is..." The demoness frowned.


            "All kinds of wrong," Sifton pointed Corporal Jon Jones and Corporal Bishop out to MacDowell. It was a snap decision but he wanted some heavy mobile weaponry with him. Hill could rearrange her heavy equipment to keep an eye on the Site. "From the reports on these... women, they'd be able to tear through any small arms."


            "With just one? I think you've got more than enough pissed off Canadians to keep them contained, especially with the jammer. But if they really wanted to escape they'd have made a bigger mess... well maybe they did." Her tail swished back and forth. "Do you have a description on which of the Russians it was?"


            "Sir? Brummet asked as he stowed his scanner's display panel into the body of the device and locked the outside of the crate. The device would be able to operate autonomously and broadcast its readings until the batteries ran out


            "We just got word. Half an hour ago there was an attack on the NDHQ. So far, just two active shooters, which, given that they're still alive, should tell you the problem they are. The situation's pretty confused and it took the brass this long to realize something spooky might be up. The whole situation stinks and I want to be ready for whatever these freaks try to pull. I'm peeling most of us back. Lieutenant Hill will maintain a small over-watch team here while the rest of us redeploy to Dwyer Hill. Once at base we'll get an update on the situation, figure out available resources, and given our luck have to deploy." Sifton explained.


            Standing a bit off to the side, Ranma watched the soldiers' expressions. There was a bit of disbelief. They had just been told that there was an attack on their capital, and even worse, one that seemed insultingly small. But after sitting out in the mud observing a weak-spot in reality, they were now faced with the real possibility of deploying in downtown Ottawa.


            "Which of the Numbers?" Ranma asked again as the equipment was quickly boxed up and the JTF2 troops made an orderly retreat back to the helicopters at MacDowell's orders.


            "I don't know. Description wasn't reliable." Sifton rubbed his forehead. "Who the hell attacks a military HQ like this?"


            Ranma stopped before pulling herself onto the helicopter. "They do."


            "But as a team. Not babysitting one cultist." Sifton said as he sat down. "And they're mercenaries, assassins, they're hired to kill that blonde girl. What does going up to Ottawa have to do with that?"


            "With just one cyborg? Could be a feint. Cause a high priority target, split up the forces guarding the target," Ranma shrugged as the Griffon's rotors spooled up.


            "And yet you seem to be coming along," Sifton noted.


            The demon narrowed her eyes. "They brought the cultist." She flatly stated. "They've been keeping Mal de Veste in reserve. And this time they deploy him?" Ranma shook her head. "No. This isn't just a diversion."

 

End Chapter 30

 

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.