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Brooding Responsibilities [The Return Book 1 (SM, R.5)]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Sunshine Temple, Dec 24, 2017.

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    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

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    I started writing The Return over a decade ago.And beyond the normal "early installment weirdness", I'd like to think my writing skills have advanced since then.

    Writing Blood Debts also had me go back to the start of things.... and I realized that with some key revisions I could improve the early chapters and that there actually was a complete arc.

    And here's the first part of this revision process:

    The Return
    Book 1: Brooding Responsibilities
    Chapter 1: Mistaken Arrival
    Chapter 2: Beginning Delusions
    Chapter 3: Emerging Risk
    Chapter 4: Cruel Education
    Chapter 5: Mother Figure
    Chapter 6: False Cures
    Chapter 7: Denial's End
    Chapter 8: Family Concern
    Chapter 9: Multiple Fronts
    Chapter 10: Converting Enemies
    Chapter 11: Escalating Rivalry
    Chapter 12: Blind Desperation
    Chapter 13: Maternal Acceptance
     
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2017
    TmDagger and moon so bright like this.
  2. Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

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    But before we go with the chapters here's some Christmas art.

    From the same artist who did the Dame BlackStone pic here's a bit of Holiday WAFF of Ranma and Usagi.

    [​IMG]

    Link to the fullsize here.

    And to go with the corruption theme there's also this Usagi and Ranma sequence.
    Part1
    Part2
    Part3

    And now onto the story.
     
  3. Threadmarks: Chapter 1
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

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    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 is appreciated.

    Book 1: Brooding Responsibilities
    Chapter 1: Mistaken Arrival
    Formerly: - Reunions and Recalls


    A woman looked to the horizon. Her red eyes strained to see the far shore, but instead could only see sky meeting water. She knew the futility the attempt: the elevation was too low to see that far. She had grown up with the ocean and the sea of stars, but there was something distinctly wrong about this particular body of water.

    As such things went it was fairly small, to the west of here there were other, larger, bodies of water. It was not the size that caused her to fear. Nor was it because this chain of immensity was surrounded by peoples who were not part of her plans.

    What she feared most of all was that this freshwater sea represented failure on her part. More than the reserved, but gleeful interference from Murdock, more than the plane crash, and even more than the DarkStar incident, it represented her inability to control events.

    Turning abruptly, her long green hair caught in the wind that the water seemed to constantly generate. Sighing, she left the balcony and returned to her apartment.


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

    Another woman, this one much younger, drove a silver sedan down the Queen Elizabeth Way. The QEW, as it was commonly called by locals, was one of the main highways that serviced the city. She was traveling east with Lake Ontario to her right.

    As she approached the city, the highway ran in a sunken trench. Bizarre frescos made of colored blocks of concrete formed the retaining walls. In the distance, she could see skyscrapers and one thin, innocent-looking spire. It only appeared to be a hair taller than the surrounding towers, but as she drove on, the concrete needle grew taller and the two round bulges on it gained definition.

    As her car entered the city proper, the road rose on a procession of cylindrical pillars. For the first time she was able to get a good view of the city. Under her, the suburbs coalesced and the buildings grew.

    It was a clean city, almost eerily so. While working for the Company, she had been to a dozen cities in eight countries. A smile played on her lips as she remembered the time she spent in Budapest. Amazing how one can have fond memories of struggling to decipher a frustratingly alien language.

    She had now passed into the core of the city. The QEW maintained its parallel course to the shoreline, making the right side of the road a waterfront district filled with marinas and high rise apartments. A largish barrier island sporting cottages, docks, and surprisingly enough, a small airport, protected the city's harbor from the great inland sea.

    The woman glanced disinterestedly at the horizon hugging structure. She had grown up around the Great Lakes and took the gray weather they constantly created in stride. She laughed at the bittersweet sentiment. No matter what she did or where she went, this place would always be a part of her.

    Her path had taken her to the city's stadium… and that thing. She managed to keep her vehicle in control as she drove up to and then past the monolithic creation. The point of the needle was actually in the clouds. It was not concealed by them, but was actually slicing whatever hit it, like the prow of an icebreaker.

    She felt a wave of relief when the cyclopean monstrosity passed out of her view, though it was still visible in the corner of the rearview mirror. She was now in the city's financial district. The buildings on her left were of sane dimensions, actually possessing workable floor space. The jagged and toothed Canada Trust Tower caught her eye. The Company had offices there and it would be prudent of her to explore that area soon.

    As she left the city center behind, she shifted lanes, preparing for her exit, highway 404. From there, it was just a small distance to highway 407. Once on that road, she felt a distinct nervousness. She was no longer just passing through an anonymous city. She was heading for Markham, the suburb, the town where she grew up.

    The silver car exited the off-ramp and entered the suburban sprawl. Weaving along the blacktop roads, she passed through acres of banal sameness. However, the further she went, the more the houses slid further and further from the street and the distance between them increased, until she was driving past almost entirely wooded land with multi-acre plots. She turned onto a small side-street that had almost a dozen houses on it.

    Unceremoniously, the silver vehicle pulled into a driveway. The woman killed the engine.

    As the brunette out of the car, she put her sunglasses up on her forehead, pushing back her center-parted, fairly short hair. She would have preferred it to be longer, but company regulations prohibited it.

    Unconsciously, she locked her vehicle while checking to make sure that all of her gear was properly holstered. Quickly and efficiently, she felt to make sure that her flashlight was in her right pants pocket along with her wallet, that her keys were put in the left one next to her Company-issue knife, that her palmtop and cell phone cases were on her belt, and that the docker's clutch was secured and weighted properly.

    She walked around to the back of the car, humming a little tune as her boots crunched on the gravel. Flipping out her keys, she unlocked her trunk and pulled out one of two large, black duffel bags. Looking calmly at the remaining bag, she closed the trunk, locking it inside.

    There was the remote possibility that the police might search her car, but considering her company's relation with local officials, it would be a minor inconvenience at worst. Carrying the bag by its shoulder strap, she walked up to the front door. Kasumi Tendo had come home.


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

    Across the city, by the same bay that Kasumi had passed, two people were standing on a pier. Their backs were to the giant lake, and they were looking at the city ahead of them, paying particular attention to the gigantic spire directly in front of them.

    The pair maintained their silence for a minute, entertaining entirely different thoughts. Finally the younger of the two spoke. "So, Pop, what brings us to Canada?" he asked in quite passable English, speaking the last word with definite puzzlement.

    "Not thinking about going back?" the older of the two asked, quite surprised.

    "Considering what's on the other side of the world, and that our ship left a half an hour ago… Nope."

    "Good. Perhaps you're learning, boy."

    The younger man smiled darkly. "You still haven't answered me. Why are we here?"

    "To visit an old friend of mine," the other replied, visibly unnerved. Gods how he hated it when the boy looked at him like that.

    "In Canada?'

    "Well, he didn't always live here. No, about nineteen years ago he was convinced to move here. Our friend the Drake had this crazy land scheme that he worked out."

    "So it failed," Ranma observed, turning his attention to the disturbingly sluggish water of the harbor.

    "Nah, it worked marvelously." The man adjusted his glasses. "They both managed to get quite a sum off of it," the elder said, hoping that the boy would not do anything too rash. Well, as long as he got to his friend's house, things should work out.

    "Oh," the one who wasn't quite a man said. Was this why his father dragged him all the way to Canada? This was much further than the time they had gone to Tibet, and at least that was for legitimate, if abbreviated training. Sure they had trained in Seattle, but he was now suspicious that was a con to get them across the Pacific. Why go across an Ocean and a continent? Just to mooch off of an old friend? No — there had to be more to this.


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

    Kasumi had reached the front steps. Before climbing up them, she got one last glimpse of her car. The thought of getting behind the wheel and driving into the city crossed her mind. She could easily have the Company find housing, maybe an apartment, for her. She did not have to return. It would be a shorter commute.

    However, there was one thing that Kasumi did not do; quit. So she walked up the steps. Standing in front of the door, she looked over at the bench swing. About five years ago, she had sat there while her father signed her over to the Company.

    Kasumi hardly blamed him for it. The Company was one of the best things that happened to her. It was a terrible shame that it took an event of such a magnitude for her to be recruited. She could still remember the sound of her father's voice coming through the screen door.


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

    Soun looked at his old friend and sighed. "Drake? Are you sure there's no other way?"

    "Of course there are other ways," the Drake said, giving a rather unbalanced smile. His strong, square jaw made it look dashing and roguish instead of insane He then regained his composure. "But I think Willard is the best option for her."

    "Are you sure? It seems a bit drastic," Soun replied stroking his brushy, black moustache.

    "She wouldn't be the first teen I've recommended to them."

    "You trust them?"

    "Absolutely," the Drake replied, leaning back into his chair.

    "What about your own kids?"

    "They're both a bit too young right now, but my daughter has been reading their brochures as of late."

    Soun looked down at the coffee table. "You're sure of this," he said looking up.

    The Drake nodded, "The Company will send someone over if I make the call."

    Soun returned his gaze to the table, looking past the police and medical reports on the table. The Drake always had these outlandish propositions, but the reality of it was that they usually worked. Soun trusted the man. Granted, he had a strange sense of humor, but he was ultimately responsible for the financial independence Soun had. The Drake had introduced him to his wife, and short of Genma, was his closest friend. Calling Genma and asking for his advice briefly occurred to him, but was dismissed. While Genma did have a child, Ranma was not a girl, and Genma's wife was still alive. Besides, the man was not easy to get a hold of.

    "I'd like to speak to them," he said finally.

    The Drake nodded, picking up his phone. The stack of papers pinned under it moved slightly with the removal of the impromptu paperweight. After dialing the number, he spoke briefly before hanging up, "Yes, he's agreed to see you. You have the address? Good."

    "That was short," Soun observed sourly.

    "Obviously, I gave the Company all her records. How else would they be able to determine if she was acceptable for the program?"

    "When did you do this?"

    "As soon as I was able to get a full appraisal of the incident," The Drake said, returning the phone to its place on the table. "It did happen in my sphere of influence," he appended.

    Soun sighed, then looked at his old friend sitting across from him.

    The Drake looked at his watch. Even under the best of circumstances, it would take several minutes for the recruiter from the Company to arrive. In an effort to pass the time, the Drake tried to engage his friend and former business partner in small talk.
    Soun himself was essentially retired; his teaching more of a hobby than anything else. While the Drake had a full time job, he attacked his responsibilities with a gusto that some called outright insanity. This was not technically true. Granted, he was eccentric and enjoyed rather unusual jokes, but this did not mean that he was not in full possession of his faculties. It just looked that way.

    So, they discussed their jobs, hobbies, and families. In true small talk fashion, the pertinent topics were avoided, although Drake could see Soun's eyes regularly dart back to person sitting on the porch.

    The Drake had passed the girl when he entered the house. She was sitting in one of those swinging benches. Gently rocking and staring down the driveway, the girl was humming a little song to herself. When the Drake tired to talk to her, she seemed amiable enough. She was responsive, pleasant, even friendly, but something was amiss. It was as if he were talking to a particularly well-designed artificial personality. A construct, a cutout, a simulation. The girl on front of him simply did not seem real.

    When he left, the girl resumed her rocking, happily fingering the collection of struts and bars that encased her right forearm. Kasumi smiled as she felt the pressure her left hand placed on the metal transfer into the flesh of her right arm.

    For the first time since her mother's death Kasumi could feel something. She rocked back and forth, absorbed in reality. She felt the pain, the light, the darkness. She had awakened, and considered that simple fact worth any price. As she contently watched, a strange silver car pull up into the driveway, she had no idea how high the price would be, or how long it would take to pay off.


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

    "Kasumi is a very sweet, intelligent, and caring girl," the man from the Company said. Looking to be in his mid-thirties, he wore a conservative suit that practically screamed "government agent". Introducing himself as Jacob Edwards, he said that he was a psychological consultant specializing in brilliant but troubled teens. The dark humor came in how close this description was to the truth, and how the few deviations made the deception all the more horrid.

    "Unfortunately, this is what caused her problem," Jacob continued. "After her mother died, she reacted by caring more about others, becoming very helpful, showing extreme empathy. This in and of itself is hardly a bad thing. It's a sign of good character. Unfortunately, she had put too much on herself, trying to take on the troubles of everyone around her, while all the time maintaining a cheerful, happy façade. It could not last forever," Jacob concluded.

    "In a way, it was fortunate that her break happened now, instead of two years from now, or five, or ten. The longer she spent keeping up this charade, the worse the eventual break would be."

    The Drake shuddered involuntary. Kasumi's little incident left two people hooked up to machines, three in the burn ward, and another in the morgue. The fact that the chemistry lab had been mostly empty only illustrated how bad things could have been. Technically, it was not Kasumi's fault, but that hardly changed things.

    "And your company's program can help solve her problems?" Soun asked.

    "In a way, yes. As long as she doesn't backslide into her old ways by becoming a cheery automaton, waiting for the chance to blow again, she will be fine. Under normal circumstances, she would recover on her own."

    "Then why do you think she needs your program?"

    "Do you honestly think that she'll have normality here? Do you honestly want her going back to that school? And while it's incredibly doubtful that she'd be convicted, do you want to risk it? Willard International Consulting can give her a fresh start, real world training and experience, a college education… a second chance. Don't let a rash decision haunt you for the rest of your life. Or theirs," Jacob concluded, morbidly amused at the irony of it all.

    "Why would your company do this? What's in it for you?"

    "Aside from the benefit of helping someone, there is an economic reason for this too. Kasumi is exceptionally bright and resourceful. Our company is a bit of a think tank. We sell our ability to find solutions to complex problems to companies and governments around the world. She would be taught by these great minds, gaining invaluable experience, and, hopefully once her schooling is over, decide to work for us for a year or two. Think of it as a boarding school."

    "So she won't be able to stay home?"

    "No. Unfortunately, our nearest research facility is in Des Moines," Jacob said. He was dressed in the trappings of authority and his regret seemed genuine.

    "She'll be unable to stay close to home?"

    "Yes."

    Soun considered the pros and the cons. On the one hand, The Drake trusted this program, they seemed to have logical reasons for taking in these kids (not only did they get assistants and underlings, but they got potential recruits), Kasumi would recover, and be practically guaranteed a job. On the other hand, she'd be moving away, gone for months at a time.

    "But what if the charges aren't dropped?"

    "You'll have access to the Company's legal resources. Considering the circumstances of the case, there is no way she would be convicted, let alone have to enter a courtroom," Jacob simply said. His organization had made larger problems go away.

    "I have to discuss this with my daughter."

    "Take all the time you need," Jacob said, pulling out a card from his briefcase and handed it to Soun.


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

    Kasumi remembered the discussion she had with her father. For once, she'd actually agreed with him. There were several more meetings with Jacob. There were preparations, tests, and exams, right up until she boarded the plane. Then real training began.

    She reached out to the door and knocked lightly.


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

    Kasumi was in the kitchen, humming happily. She was wearing an apron over her blouse and slacks, her well-worn boots locking onto the hardwood floors. Two years ago, when asked why she always wore the heavy-duty boots, she had simply replied that she enjoyed the traction and ankle support that they gave. There were other reasons, but they would only have led to more questions.

    She was greeted by a surprisingly exuberant family. Granted, she hadn't been home for over ten months, and even then it was just for a couple of days. Almost as soon as she had dropped her bag, the questions had started. How was Melbourne? How was work? Was she going to find a place in the city?

    Kasumi gave a fairly detailed description of the Australian city, leaving out only some of its more unpleasant aspects. Kasumi talked about her coworkers, her bosses, her office, but not about what she actually did. She repeated the simple statement, that because her company worked with such sensitive information, she could not reveal anything that might compromise a client.

    The eldest daughter resumed her work. It was sad that the kitchen got so little use when she was gone. Though that made sense. Nabiki was usually busy, and Akane was… Well… Akane. Kasumi shuddered when she remembered the question her little sister asked. On the surface, it was innocent enough. Kasumi had returned home, she was a rather good cook, there were things that she was better at (not that she could tell her family about them), and Akane was willing to learn.

    Kasumi supposed that her cheery but flat-out refusal was a bit harsh, especially considering what her father had announced today. Kasumi sighed as she resumed her cooking. Sometimes that man could be such a fool. Even if he was serious with his plans, they were hardly applicable to her. Kasumi's obligations to the Company would cause too many conflicts.

    About an hour later, Kasumi heard a knock at the door, followed by several confused sounds. Correctly assuming that her father's friends had arrived, she left the kitchen to meet with them, and for one of the few times in her life, was genuinely surprised.


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

    The pale girl looked around the room. She sat down and crossed her legs, causing her leather mini-dress to creak. She did not want to have to do it, but considering how short her skirt was, there was no other choice.

    Sighing, she swept a hand through her long, full, red hair. There was no way she would have worn this dress had she any choice in the matter. Well… She did have a choice, but that was three months ago, and she had obviously made the wrong decision. The sad part was that after almost an entire month of wearing nothing but leather skirts and such, she'd actually gotten used to them. There was a sort of comfort to the constricting nature of the material, the security and solidarity of it.

    No, the devastatingly beautiful redhead corrected, she did not have to wear her little leather dress. She could go about naked, or turn back into her birth sex, and while there was another style of garment, it carried with it other problems. The second choice was the preferable option; however, the requisite fluid was always hard to find. She shuddered slightly as she remembered a time when changing back was not even an option.

    The worst part of it was not the fact that she turned into a gorgeous girl, not that she seemed to be, despite her best efforts, getting used to the curse (well, technically the bit with the dress and the other stuff was a different curse), not that she had to wear those damn high-heeled boots, but that her father gave no indication of caring. Here she was in a garment that could have been sprayed on, and her father was trying to get her engaged.

    Finally, her father was getting to the curse. The redhead groaned at such stupidity.

    Soun looked skeptically at his old friend. Why was Genma trying to pass off this girl as his son? It was obvious that this beautiful, albeit pale, girl was not male, especially considering how she was dressed. The strange part was not that Genma was not rabidly insisting this, but simply stated, it was as if it were a fact, despite all proof to the contrary.

    When Kasumi saw the girl enter the house, she immediately knew something was off. That the girl's father, a bandana-wearing oaf of a man, maintained that this was his son was irrelevant to her. What mattered was the small twinge she received when she met this girl.

    Naturally, she pulled the expensive device out of the palmtop case she carried. Once the relatively simple device was activated, she was rewarded with a very disturbing pattern. The procedure for such an event was clear enough. She discretely tapped out the alert on her phone, sending a message.

    Genma's explanations were interrupted by a shrill ringing. He looked over to see the eldest of Soun's daughters pull a small cell phone out. She apologized and took the call on the other side of the room, talking softly. "What was that?" he asked.

    "Kasumi's a technical consultant for Willard International Consulting. She just got transferred back to the city," Soun responded with pride. Both the Drake and Jacob were correct. The program had done wonders for the girl.

    "She's a viable option too?" Genma inquired.

    "What's going on here?" Nabiki interrupted. "I mean trying to engage us to some guy we've never met is one thing, but Ranma is a girl," she said pointing to the redhead.

    "Just show them," Ranma sighed.

    Kasumi had described the situation as best she could. Being unable to say specific words had limited what she could get across, but the Company employee on the other end was able to figure out the situation. Her call had been transferred, and she was now getting her orders. An operation was already being put together.

    Akane sat, glaring at the redheaded bimbo across from her. It was not really this girl's fault that her father was an amazingly inept moron. Akane remembered how she felt when her own father made the announcement, that an old friend of his was bringing his son to be engaged to Akane or one of her sisters. Her irritation grew as the spectacled oaf weaved his lies — cursed training grounds, chaotic magic, and what was worse was that her father seemed to be taking this man seriously.

    Soun looked over at his friend. His friend's request was simple enough. Soun hoped that after proving that this girl was not Ranma, Genma would fess up and tell him what really did happen to the boy.

    Akane walked to the kitchen grumbling to herself. Why did she have to be a part of these delusional fantasies? Leaning to one side of the entranceway between the two rooms was Kasumi, still talking on her phone. The woman muttered something about a crisis involving a new client. Akane let the issue fall, the older girl did sound rather strained at the news and was busy trying to get things straightened out.

    Kasumi also kept her eye on the room, it seemed that Akane wasn't the only one who seemed perturbed by this redheaded harlot.

    When she returned with the glass of hot tap water. Kasumi had her keys out and was fiddling with them. "Poor girl. She's way too attached to her job," she thought, remembering just how Kasumi got her job.

    Ranma looked quizzically as the youngest daughter slammed the glass down on the coffee table. Ranma was getting weird vibes from all of these girls. The youngest was looking for reasons to hate her, the middle was appraising her like a piece of meat, and the eldest took one look at Ranma and backed off. Although in the case of Kasumi, she did receive a phone call, but why did she have a little palmtop gizmo out just before she was called? While the redhead did have a way to learn more about them, it was not something she wished to use just yet.

    The redhead shrugged off her misgivings and used the water. She felt the familiar transformation. Every time Ranma changed back, he gave a sigh of relief in that not only was he able to change back, but that he returned to his original clothes. He looked around to see the shock evident on everyone's faces. There was Mr. Tendo with a hint of depression and regret. Akane with some revulsion and disgust thrown in. Nabiki, quickly regaining her composure, gave a tight little smile. Meanwhile, Kasumi had stopped talking and was looking at him, not quite with shock, but with an almost expectant dread.

    Soun looked at Genma. "So, it's true."

    Genma nodded solemnly, then brightened, "Don't worry, the boy has handled it remarkably well."

    "The engagement can continue?"

    "Yes."

    "Well, son, you've seen my daughters. Akane sixteen, Nabiki seventeen, and Kasumi nineteen; choose one and she'll be your wife."

    Ranma froze, he knew this was what his father was trying to do, but he had completely forgotten that eventually he would have to do something.

    "Oh, he definitely wants Akane, right, Kasumi?" Nabiki started.

    "I wouldn't be so sure of that," Kasumi said, closing her phone. "Don't you think that's a bit too hasty? We shouldn't commit ourselves without careful considerations," she said, walking up to the rest of the family.

    "You saying that you might want Ranma?"

    Kasumi looked the young man over. It really was quite a shame, but she had her orders. "That depends on a several factors." She looked at her watch. "I have to take a quick drive over to the office, and on the way back I can stop at the grocery and get some decent food. Ranma could come with me," she proposed.

    "Looking to get some private time with him?" Nabiki smirked.

    "Yes, that would be the idea," Kasumi said, smiling.


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

    Ranma was riding shotgun in Kasumi's sedan. She was driving the car with remarkable speed and control down the twisting avenues. Ranma was surprised as to how much forested land there was this close to a major city, though he had heard that the Canadians liked their trees. He also found the conversation pleasant if a bit impersonal with Kasumi. She seemed a very nice, but distant girl. In the back of his mind, he was still mulling over what she did when they first met.

    Ranma looked in confusion as the silver sedan slowed to a stop He looked over to see a grey van pulled off to the side of the road. The vehicle's four-way blinkers were lazily flashing. He could make out a twenty-something man standing under the raised hood, staring at the engine. A slightly younger girl was sitting in the driver's seat, her legs sticking out the open door.

    Ranma could see that the girl had extended her pinky and thumb, raising the hand to her ear in the universal phone gesture. He turned to see Kasumi nod, unbuckle her belt, and start to open the door.

    Ranma turned his head back to the van to see the man pull a blocky assault rifle from somewhere out of sight behind the hood, the girl pull a similar weapon from the interior of the van, followed by another man stepping out of the van carrying a handgun. Ranma looked back to Kasumi to see an empty driver's seat and an open door.

    Kasumi had slipped out of the car, drawing her sidearm while turning to face the target. Out of the corner of her eye she could see that Aram, Gabriel, and Sophie were in position.

    Ranma gauged the situation. Kasumi was forward and to his left, the man from the hood was in front of him, the girl was a bit closer and more to the right, and the other man was between them near the van. Each had their weapons properly seated with fingers at the ready. Ranma slumped down. Like this, there was nothing he could do. At this range, he could be hit dozens of times before getting the passenger door open. He was fast, but not that fast.

    Ranma looked to see the man with the handgun pull out a surprisingly complex electronic device out of his coat. Pointing it in the same direction as his sidearm, he looked at its small but detailed viewscreen

    Kasumi saw Gabriel's slight shrug. So in this form, the target had only residual energy. Nothing too unique or special, but entirely disturbing in its implications. Keeping her weapon aimed, she gave her order.

    Ranma looked down to see a plastic water bottle between the front two seats. He looked up to see Kasumi's neutral face. The girl repeated her order in an inappropriately sweet and pleasant voice.

    Kasumi saw the transformation for the second time. There was that redheaded anomaly. Although her weapon did not wavier she found this target easier to lock onto. The leather-clad girl was not human.

    Gabriel managed to keep his composure as he watched black-haired guy turn into a voluptuous redhead in a leather mini-dress. The readings on his scanner jumped from nearly background levels to an intense pattern that left little doubt as to the nature of the target. There was an anomalous variance, but it seemed to be immaterial. "Pattern D, signal strength strong, a six or seven," he spoke in a grave voice.

    "She's a seven?" Aram gravely, making sure to keep his gun on target.

    "Lucky," Sophie continued.

    "She arrived at my house today," Kasumi said simply.

    "Could the opposition know about us?"

    "They could," Gabriel said, watching the readings as much as he could while keeping lock on the target. Getting this close to a live Pattern D was not something he relished.

    "The roadblocks holding up?" Aram asked about teams that were ensuring their privacy and would provide backup if necessary.

    "The longer we wait…."

    "Let's do this," Kasumi said flatly.

    "Yes. Why the fuck not?" a new voice interjected.

    Ranma's moods had gone from confused, to started, to despondent, finally stopping at indifferent rage. It did not matter what she said from this point on, if they got tired of her ranting, they could try to shut her up.

    "First Pluto cons me using this 'save the world' scam, then she makes my curse infinitely worse. I end up getting trapped like this, and it isn't until this wizard guy comes along that I can change back. Course Murdock tricked me and I got another curse. I then try to move on with my life only to find that my moronic father tried to engage me to a pack of loons, and now I'm going to be gunned down on some deserted road in the middle of Canada."

    Blue eyes studied the gunmen. "So, just kill me now. I don't fucking care."

    Kasumi narrowed her eyes. "How do you know those names?"

    "They're the ones responsible for this," Ranma said pointing to her dress, her eyes starting to glow.

    "We have a spike!" Gabriel shouted, reading his scanner.

    "Go?" Sophie asked.

    "Wait," Kasumi ordered, thinking over what the redhead said.

    Sophie was puzzled, this was a Pattern D. For the moment, they had the drop on her, but if she got close to them then all bets were off. They had backup, but backup wasn't right here.

    Kasumi watched as the glowing eyes shifted in color. "What've you got, Gabe?"

    "Not sure. It looks like we have a divergence here," Gabriel said, looking at the conflicting readings.

    "If you're gonna do something, do it now," Kasumi said to the redhead

    Ranma hit the activation sequence. Her body became wrapped in bands of red, amethyst, and black energy.

    Gabriel watched as the divergence grew. He still had a definite pattern D, but it was overlaid with something else. He refused to accept what it looked like until the scanner made a positive ID. "Pattern Silver and Pattern D, damn... intensity's spiked up, maybe a ten, can't say... it's fuzzy." he finally said.

    The rest of the team looked at the redhead. It was obvious that she was a combination of both patterns. How this could be possible was unknown.

    "Confirmation?" Kasumi asked.

    Gabriel gave a definite nod. "She's a Pattern Silver. I don't know how but she is."

    Kasumi swore. Things had gotten well above her pay grade. "Weapons safe," she then said, lowering her sidearm, shortly follow by the rest of the team.

    "Now what?" Aram asked, still keeping his eye on the target.

    "We were given orders in the event of meeting a Silver."

    "But a pattern D?"

    "Irrelevant," Kasumi said, holstering her weapon.

    "What about her?" Gabriel asked.

    "I'll do the debriefing," she said, walking to back to her car. "You guys go back to base."

    The three Company employees shrugged, and after closing up their van, gave the roadblock and backup teams the mission scrub command. They were to provide escort. This was now the brass' problem

    "Please change back. I don't want you to wreck my seats," Kasumi said, climbing onto the driver's seat.

    Ranma looked over to see the black van pull off the side of the road in front of Kasumi's car. "You're not gonna try to kill me?" Ranma said, reverting to just her leather-clad girl form.

    "If we don't want to be up against the opposition as well as Pattern Silvers," Kasumi said putting her car in drive.

    "Pattern Silver?"

    "The energy signature your team uses."

    "Team?" the redhead exhaled. This was... she didn't know what was going on with these trigger-happy loons, but at least she didn't have guns pointed at her face.

    "The group of girls Murdock told us about," Kasumi said keeping her eyes on the road.

    "I'm not with them. I was tricked," Ranma nearly growled.

    "That's a shame, that was the main thing that kept us from trying to kill you," Kasumi said rather happily.

    "But you're not now," Ranma asked relived but puzzled.

    "We're good, but a Pattern Silver and D... well let's just say our backup would have to be called in."

    "Now what?" Ranma asked adjusting her skirt. One would think something so small could not possibly ride up at all.

    "You tell me how you became what you are, and we'll take it from there."

    Ranma was perplexed. Kasumi was calmly, pleasantly talking to her, where five minutes ago she had a gun pointed at her head.

    "You'd think Murdock would tell us that you were coming to my house first. He'd have to know how I'd react to seeing a pattern D."

    "Have you actually met Murdock?" Ranma inquired.

    "Nope."

    "Trust me. This is exactly the kind of thing he'd pull," Ranma said, leaning back. Despite it all, she was amused by the idea of the mage ruining someone else's life.

    "I take it you don't like the man?"

    "Unlike other people, he's never lied to me, but he's tiring and an ass."

    "How did you get caught up in all this?"

    "Well, what my dad said was true, inasmuch as I did pick up a curse in China. That just turned me into a girl. There was no leather, no patterns Silver or D; all I did was turn onto a girl. Eventually we went to Seattle to train, learning from some schools to the South of the city. While we were there, I was given a proposition by a certain woman."

    "You accepted," Kasumi remarked.

    "Going in, I knew there would be strings attached, but I thought I would be saving the world, not stuck in skintight leather." Ranma sighed. "You ever have a situation like that? You know you have to do it and that it's gonna be bad, but you didn't know just how bad?"

    Kasumi gave an amused, bitter laugh.

    "This has to do with your job?'

    Kasumi simply grinned.

    The redhead looked over at the girl and shrugged. What did she have to lose? Sighing, she began her story. Ranma still remembered walking into the vast warehouse. The martial artist was surprised to find the center of the floor covered in an intricate collection of symbols and shapes, and in the center of it all was a woman carefully examining the last few designs.


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

    Setsuna Meiou watched the progress of the transference. The subject was in place at the center of the focusing glyphs. The now unbound line of reincarnation was summoned. All she had to do was make sure that it met up with the teen standing in the center.
    She smiled as she felt the energy of a thousand generations converging on the center of the massive mural. It was a transfer of power, someone taking the mantle of the fallen.

    It was almost there when Setsuna heard the sound of tearing metal. She looked up to see a large, ceiling-mounted pipe break.

    "Ah, nuts," the soaked redhead muttered. "Can we stop? I don't think it'll work too well with me like this."

    The Senshi ignored the girl's surprisingly accurate assessment as she attempted to do just that. It was too late. The line of transfer was already upon what was now a girl. Setsuna gave an angered yell as she watched the confused energy begin its work. She then gave a self-deprecating laugh. Why would she have even dared to assume that this would work out well?

    The mere fact that she had to resort to this procedure was evidence that someone was actively trying to mess with things, and that she was forced to use this particular person was the kicker.

    The energy was what remained of the Earth Kingdom's royal family. The Silver Millennium energy was most dismayed when its current avatar died. Fortunately, it was an accidental death and the energy was able to be freed. That the last avatar died without leaving an heir was a considerable snag.

    The energy was considerably relieved when it was summoned to enter a new host. As it coalesced into the girl, the energy paused. Girl? But all the previous avatars had been male. Except for one. Ah, yes… Her. She was another recruited to fill in for a terminated family tree. The energy looked at its new host. Yes — there was quite the resemblance, except that this girl was human, or close enough. So that's why she was chosen, the energy concluded as it made the necessary changes.

    Ranma felt a strange power enveloping her. She tried to get away, but found herself immobilized as the power did its work. She felt the power stretching her body while making other changes to her proportions. She could not tell that she was going from cute to devastatingly beautiful, except that the fact was being blasted into her mind. Her skin went from being fair to a perfect alabaster that went beyond pale. Her hair lengthened until it reached the middle of her back, becoming feathered, turning a deeper shade of red.

    She then felt a different set of physical changes. She felt her canines grow, becoming sharp and pointed. A pair of surprisingly cute little black horns grew on her forehead. There was a rustling sound as a spade-ended tail snaked its way out of her pants. It was three feet long, with a red body and had amethyst colored fins at its end. Her shirt then ripped as a pair of large, dragon-like wings grew out of her back. The inside membranes were blood-red while the outside was dark purple.

    The energy had done a good job of calming its new avatar, for the only reaction Ranma had to the changes was irritation as to having to replace her shirt. This thought stopped as her clothing dissolved, to be replaced with something else.

    The reincarnated girl Ranma was becoming was no more a Sailor Senshi than the male users of the power had been. Five hundred years before the fall of the Silver Millennium, she fought alongside the Senshi, ensuring peace and helping the Earth Kingdom through a difficult time when its lineage had all but disappeared.

    Though that girl's other family had a responsibility in the diminishing of that royal bloodline.

    Granted, her Senshi teammates had reservations about working with a demon, despite the trust Serenity had put in her, but in the short time she was with them she had earned their trust.

    Despite the modifications a young demon girl made to her uniform when she took up the defense of the Earth Kingdom.

    Ranma felt her heels lift up as her legs and feet became encased in black leather knee-high boots with five-inch heels. A dark purple thong replaced her underwear and was surrounded by a tiny little leather skirt. It was black with red trim, and styled off of a traditional Senshi uniform.

    Her black top could have been called a bikini except for the dark red and purple ribbons on the abbreviated, bosom-hugging, cleavage-accentuating garment. Its minimal straps avoided her wings while keeping the top snugly in place.

    A simple black choker formed around her neck. A golden tiara with a single jet-black stone formed just under her horns. Dangling earrings with similar stones came into place. Her finger nails became blood-red and lengthened into feminine talons. Her makeup then formed. The red lipstick made an amazing contrast to her pale skin, and the eyeliner-shaped eyebrows and lashes complimented her eyes perfectly.

    The energy, satisfied with the reproduction, did the last step. Her eyes changed from their normal blue to a glowing, deep amethyst. The transfer of power done, the energy dissipated back to the realm where it originated.

    Setsuna looked up to see the demon girl exit her trance. Her glowing eyes looked around in shock as she took in what had happened to her. "My gods. It's like I'm naked," she said, one hand tugging at her skirt, another at one of the ribbons on her top.

    "It feels pretty good..." she then said in a much silkier voice. Her hands traveling around her body. Her fanged smile grew as she went, taking special notice of her "additions".

    "Gods… What happened" she then said, her hands freezing.

    She then noticed Setsuna. "You!" she snarled, her eyes glowing even brighter. "You said I would be free of the curse! That I could help save the world! Instead, you turn me into THIS!"

    She started walking over to the time mage, but noticed that in her raised footwear, she had to walk in a very feminine gait, and that as her hips swung, her tail followed, swishing back and forth, but with a slight delay so that her tail swung in the opposite direction as her hips. She then noticed how her breasts swung too, along with her earrings. Even her hair bounced as she walked.

    "Oh, yes. I'm going to have to thank you for this," she said in a seductive, powerful voice. She then smiled, showing her fangs, and licked her lips. The demon then flapped her wings and took off at the other girl.

    "Damn! I'd forgotten what she's like," Setsuna thought as she teleported just in the nick of time, leaving a confused demon girl alone in the warehouse. She would have a "talk" with Murdock once she got back. At least Setsuna had figured out why he had selected her as the replacement.

    After watching Pluto disappear, Sailor DarkStar's seductive smile shifted to a frown. She tugged her skirt. This body felt...

    She shook her head and wondered how she could get back to normal.


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

    "Murdock filled you in?" Kasumi asked pulling off the road.

    "Yup. I guess Pluto had a little talk with him after the incident."

    "He wasn't there?"

    "Nope," Ranma said, once again being both entirely correct and still quite wrong.

    Kasumi maintained her silence as she maneuvered her car off the road.

    "What the…." Ranma said as she looked at her surroundings.

    "I said we were going to go to the store," Kasumi said, after parking the car.

    Ranma considered her statement. "You also said you had to go to the office."

    "Yes, I did," Kasumi said getting out of the car.

    After Ranma stepped out, she looked across the roof in confusion. After an attempted assassination, the leader of the hit squad usually does not go grocery shopping with the intended target. Ranma watched as Kasumi pulled out her phone and started reading some text on the screen.


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

    Ranma was carrying the last load of groceries into the house when he heard Kasumi make her proposal. Standing at the entranceway he became the center of attention.

    "I'm glad to see that you've finally grown some backbone, boy. I was afraid that the decision would have to be made for you," Genma said approvingly. Granted, Kasumi was not a martial artist, but she did know how to cook, clean, and already possessed an independent source of income. Ranma would be able to spend more time on the Art. Combined with Soun's assurances that certain events would not be repeated, it made her a rather good prospect. Genma certainly knew enough about letting the past stay in the past.

    "Why?" Akane asked. They hardly knew anything about this boy. Aside from some curse that turned him into a leather-clad hussy, and the rumors spread by Ranma's rather questionable father, the boy was a complete stranger. Yet somehow after their little drive, Kasumi decided to take up the engagement. What could someone possibly learn in a couple hours that would change her mind like that?

    "Someone should at least try to make this work, and after our little talk, I've found that Ranma may have a few things to offer," Kasumi said, giving a strange little smile that seemed to only unnerve Ranma.

    "Better you than me," Nabiki allowed. It was odd that Kasumi would take on extra responsibility like this. She was just as attached to her job as she was her family. That could be the connection — Kasumi was doing this out of obligation to family.

    "As you say," Kasumi said, then turning to Ranma, "Come on. I'll show you where to put these."

    "Right," Ranma said. As he crossed the front room to get to the kitchen, his father stood up, meeting him in the middle of the den.

    Walking next to his son, Genma asked in a low voice, "Tell me, boy, why'd you choose her?"

    Ranma looked at his father's grinning face, then into the kitchen to see Kasumi happily unloading the foodstuffs. With a second glance, Ranma realized that in she was not simply shelving the items, but was placing them in some sort of precise, exacting pattern. There seemed to be some subdivision based on container type, but that was all Ranma could readily discern.

    "Already watching her," Genma nearly whispered, quite amused, "So she's the one that persuaded you. A few errands, indeed."

    Ranma considered the kind of conversation you have with a person when guns are pointed at your head. Then he recalled what happed in the supermarket. Under the painfully bright florescent lights, where the only sounds were the dry rattling of improperly oiled shopping cart bearings, air being blown through a surprisingly noisy ventilation system, and groggy motions of the night crew restocking the shelves, they made their agreement. It was all very businesslike, practical and logical. Given what Kasumi's job was and what terms were discussed, made the tone it was done in all the more creepy.


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

    "I don't see why you're so freaked. It's not like he died in the plane crash," the girl said, trying to comfort the tweaked blonde sitting to her left.

    "Wow, Mina! That really helps!" another girl to the right of the blonde remarked sarcastically.

    "What, Rei? It's technically true. He didn't die until he boarded the fishing trawler that came to rescue them," remarked the girl one row behind them in the aisle seat.

    "Ami, that doesn't help things," Rei replied, shaking her head.

    "Don't knock the spaz around. For Gods' sakes, she lost her boyfriend. He's dead and he's not coming back," the fifth girl remarked, this one sitting in the window seat behind Rei.

    "You guys wonder what's up with Pluto?" the unusually quiet blonde asked.

    "You mean aside from shipping us off to Canada?" Makoto asked looking out the window. According to the Captain, they were about to make landfall any minute now, and the sky under them was fairly cloudless, so she had a good chance of seeing the British Columbian coast, unless they were far enough north to cross Alaska.

    "Yes, when she talked to us, she seemed uneasy and nervous."

    "Almost human?" Minako suggested.

    "That's it. She seems unsure. Even during the worst days of the war, she managed to keep her calm."

    "That's because she's got access. It's easy to be confident and cryptic when you know what's coming around the corner," Makoto said, watching with interest as the ocean began to lighten.

    "And that's changing," Usagi said simply. "Remember how she looked when she told the Outers to stay in Japan? She was scared."

    "You don't think this is another 'I can't tell myself what's happening in the future because it will corrupt the timeline?' " Rei asked.

    "That boat has already sailed," Makoto said as she watched the plane make landfall over the Pacific Rim archipelago.

    "He was an integral part of Crystal Tokyo," Ami stated.

    "Pluto's stuck with damage control."


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

    Setsuna glared at the average-looking man sitting on her couch. Spread out in front of him on the coffee table were a dozen or so textbooks, and a wild array of papers. Most of them were scribbled with what appeared to be archaic runes. It was only after a second glance that she noticed that they were simply graphs containing hundreds of little arrows, sets of lines and curves, or stranger, more convoluted geometric shapes.

    "Oh. Hey, Pluto-chan. Sorry about the mess. I was at that university a few blocks east, and after my workshop was over, I decided to wander around the lecture halls for a while. After sampling a few, well, rather dull ones, I found a winner."

    "What does this have to do with you breaking into my apartment?"

    "I didn't break in. You gave me a key."

    "No, I did not."

    "Well, that's what I told the building Super and Security," he said, shrugging before going back to his pile of scribbles.

    "Why the hell would they believe you?" Meiou grumbled. "I gave them your description solely to prevent you from getting in."

    "You told them to look for a short, fair-skinned, clean-shaven, short brown-haired, white male of medium build. Now how would they think that person was me?" he smiled as he continued his calculations.

    She ignored the conversational trap he laid and simply sat down on the couch across from him. "Why are you here?"

    "One moment," Murdock said as he, jotted down a few lines. Finishing with graph that resembled a sideways pitchfork, he looked up. "Ah, yes. Why am I here? I guessing that you're a bit angry with my actions as of late."

    Her left eye twitched as she made a fist. Setsuna thought she was over this interloper's interference. She thought that she had accepted that there was nothing she could do about it, but no, Murdock had to play "Captain Obvious".

    "Judging by that vein in your forehead, I'd have to say yes," Murdock said, sorting his work.

    Setsuna glowered and for just a moment Murdock's facade slipped. "I would like to apologize for my actions and say that I regretted my part in this ghastly business. Especially the bit about the plane, and then the incident with the boiler room," the mage almost sounded sad about that, or at least afraid.

    "You crashed a Boeing 747 into the Bering Strait," the green haired woman stated in an almost completely even voice.

    "All I did was ensured that he boarded a specific flight," Murdock pointed out. "Hell! The boy didn't even die in the crash. The pilot did a beautiful water landing. Thank goodness the seas were calm for once, and that there was a ship nearby."

    "You were the one that put him on that fishing trawler. You might as well have killed him yourself."

    "Ahhhh! Ethics in applied causality. If anyone has authority on that subject, I'm sure you do."

    "What I do is for a greater purpose."

    "Spare me that glorious future crap. You're just like me — an officer carrying out orders."

    "I hardly think you're acting under official sanctioning. No, you're just a rogue agent." They both knew that her last statement was a complete lie. If Murdock truly was acting on his own, he would already be dead. It was only by the grace of whoever he was working for that he managed to stay alive. Setsuna knew that eliminating him would just result in someone else taking up his job, and that replacement would be even worse. That's how she got Murdock in the first place.

    "You're quite right," Murdock said finally dropping the humor in his voice. It was not an overly pleasant tone. Rather like the one a bombardier for Strategic Air Command would have after receiving that final go code. "While the Rune Order disagrees with Crystal Tokyo in principle — we've had enough with exile and purification — we are sufficiently distant that we need not interfere."

    "You jeopardized thousands of years of work."

    "By ensuring the death of one person," Murdock replied gravely.

    "You admit that the Order has not sanctioned your hobby."

    "You think that this Machiavellian scheming is my hobby?" Murdock said sickeningly. "This is my hobby," he said pointing at the hideous pile of paper. "You should know what my job is."

    ""Supposedly, you're some type of ambassador."

    "Right, I'm a go-between for the Order and various other organizations. Although sometimes I'm sent out on loan."

    "Who are you working for?"

    "Now, you know better than to ask that. But the answer is right in front of you."

    Setsuna replayed the details of their conversation.

    "You're not going to figure it out that way," Murdock said, sorting his mess into disheveled stacks. "At least this particular job is simple enough that I can concentrate on my personal work."

    "And that is?" she asked, hoping that Murdock would actually have useful information.

    "Amazing things these mundanes can do, isn't it? Already their technology is making impressive scratches on the pillars of reality. Like this," he said, pointing to the math equations and charts. "It may be too late for them, but they won't be totally ignorant."

    "It's differential equations and multivariable calculus."

    "Ahh, but of a special order; chaos complexity, bifurcations, resonance, null clines, Jacobian transformations, and other such fun stuff."

    She cataloged the equations yet remained silent.

    Murdock shook his head. "You don't see it, do you? You of all people, too blind to its implications. Points where a minute shift can cause drastic changes later on, cycles that can repeat endlessly, varying each time, yet having the same bounds and limits, methods to map out even the most complex geometries as simple planes. Consider it."

    Setsuna looked over past Murdock, through the sliding doors of her apartment balcony.

    "I see you're unwilling to accept that more variables could emerge," he said, putting most of the papers and books into a briefcase. Closing the case, he stood up. "I should be going. Even now, there is much that needs to be done." At the door, he turned back to the other mage. "That's why you hate me, isn't it? I have no personal interest in all this. No elaborate, festering vengeance, no emotional scarring of past betrayal. To me, it's just a job," Murdock said, leaving the apartment.

    Setsuna grit her teeth after he left. That was not quite it all of it; she hated him because he was more level-headed, more cryptic, and more in control than she ever was. Although she hated herself even more for having such petty feelings. Fully aware of how she felt, Murdock naturally never mentioned it. Once again, it was he who subtly proved who was in control.

    She looked down at her table to see a small stack of papers, held together with four binder clips running down the left side. The first page was covered with his narrow precise handwriting. Ignoring the manuscript, she walked across the room and out onto the balcony.

    She sighed as she looked out at the lazily moving water, buffeted by the constant wind. Murdock was right; there was still much to do. The girls' plane would be landing in a couple hours, and she had to be ready for them. As she walked back into the apartment, Setsuna could hear the distant drone of helicopters.

    End Chapter 1

    Special Thanks to my prereaders: The Jak, Joe Fenton, Jerry Starfire, and Jakub. They make this fic much better than it should be

    Revision notes: Wow.... fifteen years? That's impressive. As you may have guessed this is a revision and spruce up of the Return. Given how long it's been, and the hope that my skills of a writer have improved, I'm going through the earlier chapters of the Return and doing some fixes and the like.

    Thanks to Ellf, J St C Patrick, Kevin Hammel and DCG for their help this time around.
     
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2017
    Haphazard, jjlph18, TmDagger and 3 others like this.
  4. Threadmarks: Chapter 2
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

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    Book 1: Brooding Responsibilities
    Chapter 2: Beginning Delusions
    Formerly: Reassignments and Revisions


    Kasumi was on her bed in front of her laptop. Sitting with her legs crossed, she typed quickly and efficiently, watching the characters appear on the screen. Command agreed that the actions she took were appropriate for the situation. Frankly, that was a bit warring. That operation against Ranma had been a mess.

    While writing the formal report, she emphasized that it was Gabriel who noticed the pattern anomaly, and thus prevented her strike team from making a "critical" mistake.

    The fact that this entire incident seemed to be a "test" orchestrated by Murdock was also mentioned. She then made the inquiry as to exactly what Murdock's relationship was with the Company. Granted, his reports seemed to be accurate and useful, but the man's agenda was a mystery. After revising the report, she encrypted it and sent it out to Command.

    Opening another session, she started examining the reports from Forensic Pathology Section. Sighing, she scrolled through the gruesome images and the meticulously detailed reports. Midway through the second report, she heard knocking at the door.

    "Who is it?" she asked, reflexively drawing her right hand to her hip.

    "Ranma," the slightly bored voice from the hallway said.

    "Enter," she said moving her hand back to the keyboard.

    Ranma opened the door to see the young woman seated on her bed, laptop in front of her. She was wearing a light tank top and a pair of shorts. He could see two pairs of boots lined up next to the bed.

    "Come in and close the door," she said, not taking her eyes off the screen. "What do you want?" she asked after the door clicked shut.

    "I was looking for some sheets for the guest bed and your father told me to ask you."

    "Even though just I arrived today," she observed, sighing.

    "I thought it was some attempt to get us together," Ranma agreed.

    "Undoubtedly."

    "Why did you take the engagement?" Ranma asked, walking to the foot of the bed.

    Kasumi looked up from the machine. "I told you, it was the easiest way to get it out of the way."

    "Really? Neither of your sisters has a job like you do," Ranma replied to the woman, who appeared to be wearing a sidearm.

    "True, but since neither of us has any intention of taking this engagement further, we can handle it like professionals."

    "I guess it's a relief that you're not interested in me."

    "Considering what I was planning to do to you earlier today?"

    "About that; if you and you friends managed to kill me, how in the hell would you explain the body to the cops? I mean, what the hell? Just because your pager tells you to doesn't mean you should kill someone."

    "You think we were the only operatives present?" Kasumi sighed. "Granted, the operation was rushed, but there were other assets. If you managed to get past us, which according to Gabriel you could have, there were three armored strike teams with aerial support. If you got past that, Command had authorized the use of more drastic weapons."

    Ranma looked at the young woman, unsure of how to proceed. He was not prepared for situations like this. A calm explanation of an attempted assassination was not something one expected in a fiancee.

    "And how long did it take to plan this?"

    "Time from my first call to the ambush was thirty-two minutes," Kasumi said, still working at her machine.

    "This doesn't make sense. Even if you killed me, how would you explain my corpse and the bullet-ridden car? What about your family? Hell — what about the police?"

    Kasumi slowly turned her gaze to her fiance. She allowed a small smile to grow on her face. "Minutes away from the ambush site were medical and forensic crews ready to come in once the situation was controlled. Our wounded would be evacuated. Whatever was left of your body would be bagged and put into containment. My car and any other damaged vehicles would be taken away on flatbed trucks. Forensics would stay at the site until everything was cataloged and cleaned up. If you were captured instead much of the same procedures could be used, save we'd have to contain you."

    Ranma looked at the girl strangely. How large was this organization that she was working for?

    "Now, as for explaining your disappearance, that would be rather simple. On our way home, we stopped to help some people with a flat tire. Just then a drunk driver ran through a red light slamming you into the passenger side of my car. If I wasn't wounded in the fight against you: the drunk missed me."

    Ranma stared. "You'd crash that car and stage an accident?"

    "Actually, an exact duplicate of it taken from the Company's motor-pool would be used in the 'accident'. It wouldn't do to use a bullet-riddled car. You died instantly. Identification by your wallet and whatever dental records could be found. Your father would be put under observation. Any suspicious activities would lead to his immediate detention."

    "And if you happened to die in the attempt to take me down, well, the accident could be set up so that we both died," Ranma said, trying to digest the information. For Kasumi and her associates to pull off an operation of this size and complexity, they had to be organized, and they had to be in with the cops.

    "Exactly," Kasumi said, again typing while thinking, Good, it looks like he has some intelligence. Then aloud, "Now, when it became apparent that you were a Pattern Silver, the entire mission was called off. If Murdock had given us a full brief, we could have avoided all this unpleasantness."

    "Murdock knew how you'd react to seeing me?"

    "Yeah. It was most likely a test of his."

    "Test?"

    "To see if the Company can figure out the truth without getting into an unnecessary firefight. To test out the mentality of the Silvers' new recruit"

    "You think I'm one of them," he noted sourly.

    "Oh yes. The possession is quite strong. How Pattern D and Silver can commingle like that is unknown, but perhaps with time," Kasumi said, terminating her connection.

    "Why are you telling me all this? What the hell does this 'Company' have to do with anything? Why did you take the engagement?"

    Kasumi closed her laptop and then swiveled her body to face him. It really is a shame, she thought looking at him, He was just a kid. He didn't ask to be a part of this. The only reason he's in this mess it because he was tricked into more than he bargained for.

    Kasumi's empathy was mitigated by the realities of the situation. This was war; sacrifices were going to be made. Besides, WIC always recruited young. When she was Ranma's age, she was already on field assignment. "Command ordered me to answer all of your inquiries," she said simply.

    "The same people that told you to kill me."

    "When a demon appears in the house of a Company operative, hostile intent is assumed. I was quite surprised when you didn't try to rip out my throat."

    "It's all Pluto's fault," Ranma said rather defensively.

    Kasumi nodded slightly.

    "Okay, you thought I was a demon, so tried to get me away from your family before I could hurt them."

    Kasumi nodded again, thinking, Good, he's walking through this rationally. This will make tomorrow's business all the easier.

    "And after you found out that I associated with those magical twits, you called command, scrubbing the mission."

    Kasumi noted his choice of words.

    "And then you took me grocery shopping. It was the produce aisle where you suggested that the engagement should be held between us. That's what doesn't make any damn sense! Instead of a simply apology, something like 'Hey, sorry about how me and my friends jabbed guns in your face. I know how that can be a real drag. Oh, and by the way, thanks for not justly defending yourself by ripping us apart.'

    "No, I get something nice and crazy like 'Well, it turns out we're not supposed to kill you, and you'd kick our ass if we tried. Wanna get engaged? I'm a better choice than Akane!'" Ranma finished.

    "With all due respect, Akane is rather violent, has anger management issues, and is ever so slightly unstable."

    Ranma looked on as the young woman, still wearing her sidearm, gave a flat assessment of her sister's mental health. Ranma considered saying something like "Pot to kettle?", but the sick part was that Kasumi wasn't angry, just violent. Throughout the entire ambush, she and her team had maintained their cool, levelly staring down certain doom. Instead Ranma found himself saying, "Let me guess: your Company told you to take the engagement?"

    "I'm sorry, that information is classified," Kasumi stated flatly.

    Ranma sighed.

    "Sorry, just joking," Kasumi said in the same voice. "I did it because you'll attract a lot of attention to whoever you got engaged to. It's not just DarkStar; your file speaks for itself. Neither of my sisters should be put at risk by the engagement. I'm the one with the training. I should take up the responsibility."

    "You don't actually plan to go through with this?"

    "You think that because I was prepared to kill you that I'd be willing to marry you?" Kasumi laughed. "As I've stated before, I did this to just get the engagement out of the way."

    "So you can do your job unencumbered."

    "That is a part of the story," Kasumi admitted.

    "What's that supposed to mean?" Ranma asked indignantly.

    Kasumi looked at Ranma and sighed. He deserved more information, but orders were orders, and the wait would only be several more hours. "The linen closet is across the hall, two doors to the left," she said, reopening her laptop.

    "That's it?" Ranma asked, shaking his head as he turned to the door.

    "For now," Kasumi muttered once he had left the room and the door had clicked shut.


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

    Setsuna gave a sigh of relief as she keyed into apartment 1029. She could sense that her apartment was completely empty. That meant no Murdock. While she could devise a security system that could keep the wizard out the presence of such a magical construct would tip the Rune Mage off.

    She wanted to keep some secrets from him, Especially since, she believed that these games of his were another way for Murdock to subtly expressed his control of the situation. And she wanted him to retain that view.

    She turned around, her neutral face scanning the five girls. Their presence also reaffirmed Murdock's disruptions and influence.

    No, she thought. The Senshi would have been needed here even without Murdock's interference. Her reconnaissance had shown that much. All Murdock did was bring the situation to her attention early on, before it became critical.

    It was another frustration the Time Senshi had with that rogue Rune-Mage. All of Murdock's actions to date seemed to be centered on the recall of Sailor DarkStar. That he had even known of the original DarkStar, a one-time fluke in over a thousand years of Silver Millennium history, was quite worrisome. As to what his future plans were, Setsuna had no idea, something that irritated her to no end.

    "Why are we here?" Usagi asked, following the older woman into the apartment.

    "There's probably some other group that wants to enslave mankind, but this time they moved their operations to Canada," Rei replied.

    "That's part of it," Setsuna said, turning on the apartment's overhead lights. She turned and waited for the five girls to enter so she could close the door. Unsurprisingly, they all had some degree of sluggishness and disorientation. Crossing fourteen time-zones and the International Date Line will have that effect on the human body. Although the time-mage's knowledge of this was purely academic.

    After she had stored the girl's luggage in her spare bedroom and gotten them settled down in her living room with some food, Meiou went into her hall closet to get her equipment. The girls were undoubtedly tired, but they had to be briefed now.

    Makoto sipped her soda, still relieved to be on the ground and proud to have handled herself as well as she did during the flight. Having lost both her parents in a plane crash, she could sympathize with Usagi. It was only now that the reality of the situation had hit. They were far away from home, in a foreign land, getting ready to once again fight indescribable horrors. Hopefully this time no one would get killed or possessed.

    She hoped that her English was good enough. She had done fairly well in class. Well, at least they had Ami, Minako, and Rei in addition to Setsuna. Minako had lived in England during that whole Sailor-V thing. Rei was taught by Jesuits at T*A Private Girls' School. It still amused her, despite the frequency and normality of it, that a Shinto shrine maiden went to a Catholic school. Then there was Ami who was not only fluent in English, but also German, and was recently trying to pick up Welsh for some reason.

    "What's with the projector?" Minako asked, looking at the slide projector the green-haired woman had brought into the room.

    "It's to get you up to speed," Setsuna said as she placed the projector on an end table. She then walked over to the living room's floor-to-ceiling windows. In the center was a sliding door that connected to her balcony. After giving a brief glance at the inky blackness of the smallest of Great Lakes, she pulled the blinds shut. She turned around, looked the girls over, stopping at the twin-ponytailed blonde.

    "I should start at the beginning," she said, plugging in the projector and loading the slide carousel. Holding the projector's corded remote, she began. "It started with JAL flight 5827," she said as she pressed the forward button on the control.

    The first slide was that of a Boeing 747-400 in mid-flight. It had the white body, grey wing and fuselage strips, and red tail crane of Japan Airlines. The only visible change it had from earlier models of the four-engine, two-level plane were the vertical winglets on the tips of the wings.

    Usagi looked at the image projected on the apartment wall. She knew that was the plane he had been on. She remembered waking up an hour before the alarm went off and just knowing what had happened.

    Setsuna continued with her presentation. She mentioned that while JAL, Boeing, and the NTSB had yet to figure out the exact reason for the crash, they believed it to be some sort of electrical and computer sabotage. It is of note that shortly after takeoff, two mechanics and one technician working for JAL at Tokyo International went missing.

    "According to the fight data recorders and the cockpit voice recorders, the flight crew lost all control of the plane. The plane simply nosed down nine degrees below the horizontal and increased its velocity ever so slightly above cruising speed. Unfortunately, with that velocity and angle of descent, the plane was falling two hundred and fifty feet every second," Setsuna stated with clinical detachment, switching to a slide that illustrated the plane's velocity and rate of descent as if it were a basic physics problem.

    Pointing to the portion of the graph where the plane finally leveled off, the emerald-haired woman went on. "The only reason the plane didn't slam into the North Pacific at over six hundred miles per hour was the flight crew's disabling of the rogue systems. It took them two frantic minutes switching to different backup and subsystems to regain control of the plane. In that time the plane had descended from its cruising altitude of thirty-five thousand feet to a mere five thousand feet."

    She then described what happened next. Yes, the pilot had had control of the flight surfaces, but then they had lost power to the engines. They were then flying a four-hundred-forty ton glider. There was no choice; it had to be a water landing. There was no chance of reaching land, not flying barely five thousand feet above the water with no propulsion.

    "However, it was at this point when things started looking up for JAL flight 5827. For once, the North Pacific seas were calm, the air temperature was hovering at sixty degrees Fahrenheit, and there was a ship nearby to pick up any survivors," Setsuna said as she clicked the control forward.

    The third slide contained a large red and grey fishing trawler. The name written on its bow was "Arctic Keinsmith". The hundred or so crab pots stacked on the stern deck of the ruggedly reinforced ship seemed ominous somehow.

    "It was a textbook water landing. The plane slowed gently, making contact with the water without rolling or flipping over. The crew was well organized on getting all the passengers out before the plane could sink. It was only after boarding the Keinsmith that he was killed. His body was found in a bathroom near the center hold. It looked like he slipped on some wet tiles just as the ship lurched forward. The autopsy revealed that the gouge in his left temple exactly matched the corner of the sink."

    "That's how he died?" Usagi asked incredulously. First of all, her boyfriend was not supposed to die, what with how the future was going to unfold, but if he was, it should have been in battle, or saving lives, or at the very least in some horrible disaster he had no control over. But to die in a simple one-in-a-million home accident was somehow even worse.

    "Well, yes. You knew he survived the crash only to die in what appears to be a freakish accident."

    "And he can't be brought back?"

    "No. I didn't get to him in time, and even if I did, I'm not sure it would have worked. There are other factors at work here, ones that should not be taken lightly." Setsuna lowered her gaze.

    "You're saying Mamoru's death was a deliberate act. Why?" Makoto asked. She kept the rest to herself. Why not try to kill someone more powerful or important? Why him?

    "It doesn't make sense. Why go through all the trouble and expense of sabotaging a plane, if you're just going to kill the person in a bathroom?" Ami asked.

    "Maybe what happened on that ship was a backup plan. You know, in case they somehow managed to land the plane safely," Rei proposed.

    Meanwhile, Meiou had stepped of to the side with a glass of water, watching where this little brainstorm went.

    "That makes even less sense. Plan A is a spectacular plane crash at more than six hundred miles per hour, and Plan B is a bathroom slip-up job," Makoto responded.

    "How could they have even done this plan B? Unless they had someone on the plane, willing to die if A went off," Rei said, adding her two cents.

    "They could have had someone on that ship," Ami said pointing to the projection.

    "But why go through such a convoluted plan? There were so many ways it could have failed. I mean, the plane didn't even crash. They had to resort to that insane backup plan."

    "Unless there was no backup plan," Ami mused.

    "What, the plan was to have them regain control of the plane only to have to ditch it into the ocean? That's even more convoluted," Rei replied.

    "It doesn't make any sense. Why kill him in such a manner?"

    "To allow his power to pass on to his heir," Usagi replied, her voice hollow.

    "That's exactly right," Setsuna said. "The power he wields was designed to be passed down to the designated male heir when its original owner died."

    "But he didn't have anyone to pass the power to."

    "Yes. This has happened before, and there is a procedure to let someone else take up his powers, his mantle."

    "You mean replace him?"

    "Yes."

    "When are you planning on doing this? Do you have a list of candidates?"

    Setsuna shrugged. "Oh, I did the transfer a couple of months ago."

    "What?" Usagi demanded. "Why did you do that?" the blonde asked narrowing her eyes.

    "It had to be done," Setsuna replied flatly.

    "You should have told me about this before you went ahead and changed someone. How long would it have taken to give a simple call? Damn it, Meiou, you've got powers over time. Why didn't you tell me about this until now?"

    "The selection and transfer process had to go off a certain way, or else things could go very wrong — much worse than they currently are."

    "This has happened before?" Rei asked

    "Oh yes. Let's see, twice the process had to be used due to assassination. In one case, several explosive devices were smuggled into an Earth Palace during a state dinner. The other series of assassinations was a particularly nasty variable time delay bio-agent. Over twenty-six hundred died before a stable quarantine was established. The other three cases were more of a lack of heirs due to a few generations of inbreeding," Setsuna said in the manner of a contained, yet contented, historian.

    "The process itself is fairly intricate, needing the proper series of glyphs," Setsuna said, clicking the projector forward twice. Projected onto the wall was the inside of a cavernous, rundown warehouse. Drawn on the floor was an immense mural of runes, geometric shapes, and other assorted symbols. Despite the chaotic, frantic look of the immense scrawling, there seemed to be an overall pattern and geometric coherence to the design.

    In the center of the figure was a largish null area devoid of the monochromatic lines and dots. It bore some resemblance to the union of two parallel but opposite ellipses with three scalene triangles running across the ovals.

    "I had the candidate in position and at the right time." Setsuna said clicking the projector back one. This one was of a black-haired teen standing on a pier, his back to grey water. He was average height, well-built, and had a small braided pigtail. His blue eyes were precise yet slightly muted.

    "Handsome," Minako observed.

    "His name is Ranma Saotome. He's an exceedingly skilled martial artist. He's also an honorable and just person, one that would take well to that power. I asked him if he would be willing to volunteer for the procedure. He agreed."

    "This is the man that we'll be working with?" Rei asked. It was a shame that Usagi would end up with him, what with that whole Earth-Moon thing.

    "Not exactly," Pluto said slowly.

    "What, did he get killed too?" Makoto asked sarcastically.

    "Well, during the transfer, there was some unpleasantness," Setsuna said clicking the projector forward twice. Her eyes narrowed at the image of a cute little redhead. The young woman looked annoyed and amused at the same time. "While training in China, Ranma picked up a water-based curse that turns him into a girl. This curse activated when an overhead pipe broke during the procedure."

    "We now have a redhead on the team? Cool, that's new at least." Minako asked.

    "I hope you can swing that way," Rei teased Usagi.

    "I hope he doesn't mind the fuku," Makoto observed.

    "Oh, come on. I don't think this procedure would be so harebrained that some curse activating could turn some guy into a magical girl," Ami stated. "Right, Pluto?"

    "You'd think so, wouldn't you?" Meiou observed. "The problem is that only men are supposed to have the power that Endymion had. During the entire Silver Millennium, there was only one instance of a woman wielding that power, and she — well, was not exactly human, and the transfer used her as a template to use on Ranma."

    "What happened?" Usagi demanded, her voice cold and even.

    "This," Setsuna said, clicking to the next slide. On it was a rather voluptuous redheaded woman. She was wearing something that almost looked like a Senshi uniform. Her black leather knee-high boots were not terribly unusual, given the group's esoteric mix of high heels, knee-highs, sandals, Mary-Janes, and what could have almost passed for ballet slippers. While having a rather high heel on them — almost five inches — these were not simple shoes, but actual, to use an expression, shit-kickers.

    The red-trimmed black leather skirt was about right, although it was even shorter than usual. The top was something else entirely. Resembling a bikini, it used purple and red ribbons to keep it in place. She also had the standard jewelry, although the stones in her earrings and tiara were pure obsidian orbs. Her hair, reaching to mid-back, was a dark, almost blood color. Her makeup was slightly more elaborate than the normal for a Senshi, and meshed very well with her violet eyes.

    However, the girls present did not focus on these details, for the woman on the screen had other, more unusual, features. The pale skin and particularly long and pointy canines could be overlooked. The little black horns, purple-barbed red tail and large dark purple and red wings could not be discounted quite so easily.

    Usagi was the first to speak. "Pluto, one question: during your selection process for a replacement for Mamoru, something which you're only telling me of now, did it not occur to you to choose a person who might not end up being turned into a demon just because they got a little bit wet at the wrong moment?"

    "There are few who match the exacting requirements needed for the procedure, and fewer still willing to put themselves through it. This happened…" Meiou said, pointing to the demon-girl. "…because during the Silver Millennium, a demon by the name of DarkStar defected to the Serenity. The royal lineage of the Kingdom of Earth was... thin at the time. For lack of others mantle passed to her.


    "It was not easy for the young demon, forced to fight in a war she didn't understand. Her species of demon thought of humans akin to dairy cows: pleasant if not dumb animals that could be milked easily enough without the need for permanent harm. She could never understand why humans wanted to exterminate them all.

    "She was loathed by humans and thought of as a traitor by many of her own kind. You can see what happened when the Senshi found out about the transfer," Pluto said remembering the event. No one ever thought a demon would be allowed in the Lunar Palace, much less as a personal guest of the Queen.

    Oh yes, those were interesting times. A gutted leadership on Earth with a demon on the throne. DarkStar quickly abdicated, leaving the chancellor in charge of Earth. The powers she absorbed could not have been passed so easily.

    "The resemblance between DarkStar and Ranma's cursed form caused this problem to happen, and now Sailor DarkStar is back."

    "Sailor? I thought she used the power of Earth," Ami asked.

    "Well, technically she has the starseed and the power, and she has the fuku and the powers, so Sailor it is," Pluto said. "I suppose technically she could be Sailor Earth, but for diplomatic reasons the original DarkStar never used that title."

    "Poor Ranma, he must have been so confused after the procedure. To turn into a girl is one thing, but to be turned into that…" Usagi said looking at the projection.

    "Yeah. Where is she, or he?" Rei asked.

    "There was some more unpleasantness after he got turned into DarkStar. I had told him that not only would he help save the world and fight evil, but that he would cured of his curse if he took up this power."

    "And instead, you turned him into a demon that practically oozes sex," Makoto observed.

    "That, and he was stuck as a female for the first month afterwards," Setsuna stated, clicking to yet another slide. This one centered on a fairly tall redhead wearing a black leather dress that looked as if she had to be poured into it. Her hair was long mass of crimson locks. Her alabaster skin contrasted interestingly with her eyes, blue with violet flecks.

    "I'm surprised this Ranma's not out to kill you," Minako observed.

    "Who's to say that she isn't?" Setsuna noted sourly.

    "Pluto, if it wasn't for your years of faithful service, the fact that you somehow managed to save my daughter even though her father's dead, and that I honestly believe you used your best judgment during this whole Ranma incident, I would have severe questions as to your competence," Usagi stated levelly.

    "Yes, your highness," Pluto replied. "Although I would like to point out that it was not random chance that Ranma's curse activated during the procedure. The event was engineered to happen, much like the assassination of your boyfriend."

    "Do you know who's behind this?" Usagi asked, her eyes narrowing.

    Setsuna simply clinked the projector to the next slide, which projected an image of a man holding a can of wild mushroom soup. He looked surprisingly amused with his possession.

    Slightly under average in height for a Caucasian, his exact ethnicity was rather hard to pin down. Despite the amused watery-grey eyes and the reserved grin, his was a face that seemed to slip from one's memory.

    He somehow looked — well, harmless. He gave the feel of a slightly weird uncle you could always count on to help you clean your gutters. The only unsettling thing with the image was how his gaze appeared to switch between the can and the camera.

    "He goes by the name Murdock. He used to be a kind of ambassador for the Runic Order. Currently, he seems to be more of a free agent. I do not know who he is working for or what his plan is, but I am sure that he is behind this."

    "How do you know this?" Usagi asked.

    "For one thing, he has met me on several occasions," Setsuna said, glaring at the projected image.

    "Really?"

    "Yes. He keeps asking me to cooperate with him. He says that things will go easier this way," Setsuna stated.

    "He killed Mamoru because you failed to work with him?" Usagi asked.

    "No, Mamoru was killed so DarkStar could take his place. Although whether this is part of Murdock's core plan or just him amusing himself, I do not know."

    "Wait, this person would sabotage an airliner, nearly kill hundreds, ruins someone else's life, all just for fun?" Ami asked.

    "It would seem that way. Murdock is rather unbalanced."

    "Why hasn't anything been done about him?"

    "I tried dealing with this personally when it started. I managed to contain the fallout. After the plane crash, I had the Outers go after him when he showed up next," Pluto said.

    "And he's still alive?"

    "Yes. He is very good at deflecting, avoiding, or simply absorbing our attacks. Extreme care must be taken if you see him. His offensive capabilities are unknown, but he is an expert at manipulating events."

    "So, he's like you," Rei remarked.

    "And how dangerous can I be?" Setsuna inquired.

    "I see."

    "Wait, the only thing Murdock's done so far is conspire to get this DarkStar back. What else has he done? Why are we here?" Ami asked.

    "It is true that Murdock wanted us in Toronto, but there are other reasons for us to be here," Setsuna said, clicking three slides forward, stopping at a particularly gruesome image. "The remains, about sixty percent of a human corpse, were found in the woods outside Bradford, a town thirty-two miles north of here. The coroner estimates that only half of the lacerations, broken bones, and torn limbs were administered after death."

    Clicking to the next slide, this one centered on a pleasant Victorian-style house facing a sparkling tree-lined lake, Setsuna continued, "This house in Orchard Beach was found ransacked, with the residents, a family of six, stuffed under the floorboards. Time of death cannot be accurately be established, due to irregularities in the bodies' decomposition."

    Setsuna pushed the button forward. "As can be seen by close-up of the youngest daughter's chest, there are several discolored puncture wounds. Examinations of organic material found within still remain inconclusive."

    Setsuna went to the next one, "I apologize for the angle, but you all should still be able to see the markings on that wall. That is a summoning and binding rite that dates to before the Silver Millennium, and was a favorite of Beryl's. The things behind this series of murders want us to know it."

    "Why did Murdock tell us to come here if we would have anyway?"

    "I don't know." Setsuna seemed pained to admit those words. "I don't even know if Murdock is working for whoever's been killing these people. He might just be playing both sides against the middle."

    "We have monsters that have been killing people in Canada, Murdock who's doing God knows what, although none of it seems to be good, and us in Toronto," Rei surmised.

    "With the outers and my daughter back in Tokyo, in case anything happens there," Usagi appended.

    "There is one other group involved," Setsuna said clicking the remote back to one of the slides she skipped. It centered on a group of what looked to be an armed squad of counter-terrorism troopers standing in front of a large greenish-black helicopter. Their heights and genders were apparent — if nothing else, for they were dressed in patterned black and dark grey body armor, combat boots, what looked to be very close fitting gloves, balaclavas, helmets, and dust goggles. There were four men and two women in the group. One of the women stood slightly apart from the others, apparently the group's leader.

    "The Canadian government contracted Willard International Consulting to find and eliminate what's behind these murders."

    "They're mercenaries?"

    "More of a paramilitary organization covered as a corporation than anything else."

    "Magical?" Ami asked. It might have just been the projection, but there was something hostile, something wrong about these people.

    "They are mundane, but they compensate by using the equipment, training, and intelligence. They have several devices that can detect and specialized munitions, that can weaken or destroy various magical fields. They are experienced in fighting the supernatural and use numbers and weapons to take out creatures more powerful than they are. Do not underestimate them," Setsuna said.

    "But they're good guys, right? I mean, they fight evil and all that?" Usagi inquired.

    "Oh, their intentions are good. It's just their application can be quite ruthless. Like us, they are soldiers," Setsuna said simply.

    "They won't attack us," Rei asked.

    "I doubt it. I believe Murdock has been giving WIC information, but I know that they have been covertly gathering data on us for at least a year. They should have some idea as to what we're about."

    "They've been spying on us?"

    "They've managed to record a handful of our battles, yes. They have a base in Hokkaido, and keep a routine watch on events in Tokyo."

    "Why haven't they helped us there?" Usagi asked leaning forward.

    "Because the Japanese government asked them to not interfere."

    "Why would they do that?"

    Setsuna tilted her head. "Because I told them to not let WIC in."

    "You know, there were some times that we really could have used some help," Usagi stated, recalling the times her friends had died.

    Pluto nodded. "I'm sorry, but the future required that—"

    "Don't give me that 'future' bullshit!" Usagi shouted. "Everything that's happened recently has gone right in the face of destiny and what 'should be'," Usagi said in a calmer voice. "I don't think even you can tell what's going to happen."

    Setsuna looked down. "No. We are in a period of great destabilization. Events of a magnitude well below my normal scope are having dramatic effects on the timeline — if one could use such a word for the time stream's current state. It's like a vast trainyard that's run by a madman randomly switching tracks and reversing trains. This is why I'm being so forthright with you. I've lost all reliable contact with anyone from the future."

    "What do we do now?" Usagi asked.

    "You guys eat what you want, then get to bed. I've got some pills that will let you sleep and should cut down on your jet lag. Then in the morning, I'll get you settled in with where you'll all live. After that, I'll take you to the school and get that all squared away."

    "The old exchange program, eh?" Rei said.

    "Talking like a native, I see," Makoto commented, receiving a glare for her efforts.

    "Well, the school you'll be attending is a private school that caters to international students, so getting you in was quite easy."

    "Tell me you're not posing as a guidance counselor again," Rei remarked.

    "What about DarkStar — er, Ranma?"

    "We should have time to meet him tomorrow."


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

    Ranma woke up to someone calling him to breakfast. It took him a moment to realize who it was. Before he could fully wake up, the door opened and she walked in.

    "A little privacy?" Ranma asked.

    "What? You act like we're not going to get married," Kasumi commented, grinning slightly.

    The martial artist looked up to see that his fiancée wearing an apron over her blouse and slacks. He noted that she was still wearing boots, and while he could not see her gun, he knew she was carrying one somewhere. "Okay. Gimme a couple minutes to get dressed."

    "I'll try to save you some waffles, then," she smiled before leaving.

    Ranma blinked at this. This was the same woman that had a gun trained on him last night. How can someone's attitude change from merciless executioner to, if not affection, then professional courtesy, overnight?

    Ranma followed his thoughts as he got out of bed and made his way to his bag to get his toiletries. The Company Kasumi worked for was in the business of killing certain life-forms. They also had recent dealings with Murdock and knowledge of the Senshi.

    He was brushing his teeth when his line of thinking turned to himself. What did the Company want with him? They seemed very reluctant to kill him, now that it was known he was a Pattern Silver.

    But what of the other Pattern Silvers? That bitch Pluto made it seem that her cohorts wanted him on board — as that chick DarkStar, though. Ranma was back in his bedroom, changing into a new set of clothes. He had yet to figure anything out. He had a definite sense of being someone else's pawn. The question that needled his mind was why and for whom? Setsuna? Murdock? This Company?

    "You sure picked a winner," Genma said to his son in between bites of his breakfast. Ranma scanned the kitchen, noting the amount of food prepared. There were two kinds of bacon, hash-browns, eggs — both scrambled and sunny-side up — grapefruit, and a pile of waffles. Ranma recognized most of the food from the shopping trip last night. He also noted how the room had already been cleared of the pans used to cook it all in.

    "Sit here," Kasumi said, pulling out a chair. "I asked your father what you liked, but it was the devil's work to try and keep him from eating it, though," she said, amused with herself.

    "Um… thanks," Ranma said, sitting down. He looked to his left to see Kasumi taking the seat next to him. On his other side sat Akane, who appeared to be slightly annoyed. Across the table was the middle daughter, Nabiki, his father, and her father.

    Ranma noted that both Akane and Nabiki were wearing school uniforms. That they were of a seifuku style unnerved him. Fortunately, these looked to be normal uniforms, not the embellished and abbreviated ones the other magical girls wore, let alone the skimpy parody that he was forced into. Ranma was glad that Kasumi was perfectly willing to keep his secret, provided he returned the favor.

    "Your fiancee's going to drive you to school?" Nabiki asked, taking a sip of her coffee after adding two spoonfuls of sugar.

    "Actually, I have a meeting in twenty minutes," Kasumi said, sipping from a black mug with the Company logo. Mostly grey, it consisted of a globe with gothic typeset letters W, I, and C spaced equidistant from each other around the circumference. The W was in the upper left space, with the I to the right and the C in the lower center. Also on the circumference, in between the W and the C was a slightly twisted five-point star. In the center of the star was a cross between an eye and a pillar of flame. In between the C and the I was a strange grouping of crossed lines contained within a circle. In between the W and the I in the very top of the image was a branch-like collection of lines fanning off a central spar.

    "I'm going to have to drive him today?" Nabiki asked.

    "Yes, and I'd prefer you didn't bill him for it," Kasumi said.

    Nabiki paused, then agreed.

    Kasumi smiled, took a large drink from her cup, and checked her watch. "I've gotta go," she said to her family, then at Ranma, as she took off her apron, "Try not to get in trouble today. I'll be seeing you after school."

    "I have school today?" Ranma asked, watching Kasumi leave the room and hearing the front door open and close. At least the food was good.

    "You think you don't need school?" Akane asked.

    "Well, no — but I just got here yesterday," Ranma said, still eating.

    "Your education is very important, that's why I was able to arrange for you to go to the same school Soun sends his daughters," Genma boasted.

    "And getting an insider's deal due to a personal relationship with administration had nothing to do with it either," Nabiki noted, savoring her coffee. Kasumi's brew was little strong on the caffeine, but it was still some of the best she had had.

    "Well, yes, there's that too," Soun said while reading the newspaper.


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

    Ranma leaned back onto his headrest. Nabiki's car was a ten-year-old little green Ford. It was very clean and was in excellent running condition. Bored, Ranma watched the route the car took. Nabiki took her car down to Markham Road and then west on Highway 407. Entering the suburb of North York, Nabiki took the off-ramp to Bathurst Street. This she took North until she reached the intersection with Rutherford Road, which she turned onto. Shortly after that, she pulled into the parking lot of a largish private school.

    Ranma got out of the car and followed the Tendo girls out of the parking lot. He looked up at the name of the school. "Furinkan High School? What the—" Ranma muttered to himself.

    "It was established twenty years ago as a Japanese-style private school. They said it was supposed to cater to the increasing number of Asian families moving into the greater Toronto area, although that wasn't exactly what happened," Akane said, slightly more annoyed than she had been at breakfast.

    "Well what to you expect? It's not like this place was founded to make money, help the community, or anything sane like that. No, it was set up as a toy for the founder."

    "What?" Ranma was confused.

    "You'll see," Nabiki said as they passed through the gate and onto official school grounds.

    "And who is this that associates so freely with the Tendo sisters?" a slighter older teenager asked them, leaning on a nearby tree. His eyes, while calculating, were slightly deranged.

    "Ranma, meet Tatewaki Kuno," Nabiki said, curious as to how this would unfold.

    "I'm Ranma Saotome," he said simply.

    "I see, and which of the Tendo sisters did you chose to be your bride?" Kuno asked, walking towards them.

    "Um, Kasumi," Ranma said.

    "Ah, excellent! Then there will be no problem. You see, I am engaged to Akane. Soon, our three houses will be bound together," Kuno proclaimed.

    "We're not engaged!" Akane seethed.

    "But you also denied an engagement between the Tendo house and the Saotome, but there is one," Kuno said confidently.

    "How'd you know?" Ranma asked.

    "My father is a long-time associate of your and your fiancee’s fathers."

    "I see," Ranma nodded. "Where's the principal's office?" he asked to no one in particular as he looked over the school. To Ranma, the building looked rather handsome, if a little blocky, in dark brick and wide windows. It was in the shape of an "H", with three stories in each of the sides and five in the central spar.

    "Why do you wish to speak to that madman?" Kuno asked.

    "Mr. Tendo told me to go straight to his office to get registered."

    "I see," Kuno said narrowing his eyes. "His office is on the fifth floor at that right end," he said pointing to one upper corner of the building's center wing. "Just take the elevator up to the top. I'm sure you won't miss it," Kuno said, his voice becoming cold.

    "Okay, then. Thanks," Ranma replied.

    "I've got class," Akane said as she walked off, angling towards the rear of the building. She was followed by Kuno, who was still trying to convince her that they were engaged.

    "What was that about?" Ranma asked as he followed Nabiki towards the front entrance.

    "His father is the principal," she said, opening the doors. Once inside she turned around. "Let me give you some free advice. Watch yourself around him. He's more dangerous than he looks."

    "Right," Ranma stated as he made his way to the stairs.


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

    The Kuno son was right. The office was quite easy to find. At one end of the fifth floor corridor was a blank wall. On the other was a glass-walled enclosure. Entering, it he found a secretarial anteroom. After Ranma gave his name, the receptionist directed him to a door with a pair of crossed hockey sticks mounted on it.

    Opening the door, the first thing he noticed was the large Canadian flag that dominated the wall behind the desk. To the left side of desk was a tabletop hockey game. The little plastic players mounted to move in their tracks unsettled Ranma in some way. The orange and grey goalie was especially creepy. On the right wall was a collection of photographs. Some focused on the construction of this school and other buildings, some of them residential, others commercial. The rest centered on the man's friends and family. During his quick glance, Ranma was able to recognize younger versions of his father and Mr. Tendo in several of the pictures.

    It was only then that Ranma noticed the man behind the desk. He was a large man wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey jersey. His hair was unkempt and seemed longer in the back that it was on the sides and the top. He seemed to have a faraway amused look on his face, as if he was privy to the secrets of the universe and that they turned out to involve trout and trousers. The nameplate on his desk said, "Drake Kuno, Principal".

    "Hello, Ranma. I've been expecting you," the Drake said as he stood up. He pointed to one of the chairs in front of his desk. "Come sit," he indicated with a meaty hand.

    Ranma sat down and continued to examine the office. It felt more like a basement recreation room than an administrator's office.

    The Drake pulled out several immense files and started flipping through them. He looked across the desk at Ranma. "As you can see, your record is surprisingly extensive. When your father told me he was planning on sending you here, I asked him what other schools you had attended. It wasn't until I started got the first half-dozen packages that I began to believe him. You may not have spent a long time at any one school... and there are gaps in your education, but you have made an impression.

    "You seem to be a bright boy. Despite your horrid attendance, amazing number of transfers, and inability to remain conscious in class, you've still managed to pass almost every single class you've taken, especially your English classes. A language which you are quite fluent in." The Drake then closed the files. "Your disciplinary records, on the other hand, are another matter entirely."

    "Hey, most of those fights weren't my fault. It's just that… Well, I seem to—"

    The Drake cut him off. "I know. You seem to attract challenges and rivals. It's not your fault, exactly. There just seems to be something about your face, or is it your personality, that makes some people want to beat you and leave you for dead in a drainage ditch," he said pleasantly.

    "You're saying I'm a troublemaker."

    "Yup. There's also this curse that your father's told me about," the Drake said pulling a plastic bottle out from under his desk. It was only one third full and the remaining water sloshed merrily.

    "You want to see it?" Ranma asked, sighing.

    "If you don't mind."

    Ranma took the bottle and upended it over himself, transforming into a gorgeous redhead in a leather dress. She then put the bottle back onto the desk.

    "Yes, I think this could work," the Drake muttered.

    "What are you suggesting?" Ranma asked, eyeing the nearly empty bottle.

    "That Ranma Saotome not attend my school. Instead, we will have his sister register in his place."

    "No fucking way," Ranma replied, narrowing her eyes, which, the Drake noticed, were subtly different than before.

    "This problem of yours is not something you want to become common knowledge, is it? It would be easier to hide your curse as a girl. Cold water is much more common than hot."

    "I don't have to take this," Ranma stated simply.

    "Call your father if you want," the Drake said as he slid his phone across the desk. "He was quite insistent that you not cause too much disruption. I asked him if you attending as a girl might ameliorate the situation, and if that would be an acceptable solution. He agreed."

    Ranma glared at the man behind the desk. She picked up the phone, and after being told to press 9 to get an outside line, dialed the number for the Tendo residence. Soun answered the phone and was quick to hand it over to Genma.

    "Did you tell the principal that I should attend school as a girl?" Ranma asked, in a calm collected voice.

    Genma had had only one small drink in celebration of the engagement. It was still early in the morning. He also had the comfort of distance and impersonality that a phone brought. If he had been able to see Ranma's cool, determined eyes, especially those that the boy possessed when he was a girl, the ones that seemed to almost glow with fury, Genma would have buckled instantly and insisted that Ranma attend school as a male.

    Instead, he confirmed his harebrained plan. "Now, son, we both know that you've had your share of problems. You're engaged now. We can't have you leading around all those girls that would get crushes on you. You know it's going to happen. Maybe if Kasumi still went to school, her presence could stop that. If you told them that you were engaged, but never seen with a fiancee, no one would believe you."

    "So, you suggest going from girls chasing after me to guys?" Ranma stated in that same cold voice of hers. She had a good reason to tell her Pop that spending more time in this form, especially around other people was a bad idea, but she knew he wouldn't listen.

    "Are you saying you can't handle having a few guys lusting after you? That you might find yourself enjoying it? I'm sorry, son, but I have confidence in your character and abilities. I think this is what's best for you," Genma said, while thinking, Excellent. If he attends school as a girl, the only romantic outlet he could ever have is Kasumi. They'll be married in no time.

    "You will pay for this," Ranma said with eerie calm.

    "We shall see," Genma said before hanging up.

    The Drake watched Ranma cradle the phone without breaking or even slamming it. He admired her control. "I trust that went well," he said, watching Ranma's reaction.

    "What is your plan?" Ranma stated. Her voice still had that cold edge, but it was tempered with resignation.

    "Some of your records will be altered to reflect your new identity. The cover story is quite simple. Genma helped me cook it up a week ago," the Drake said as he handed a slim folder over to Ranma.

    "You must be joking," Ranma said after reading the first three words.

    "At first I thought this was one of Genma's jokes," the Drake said as he ran his hand over the bottle. "So, I treated it as such. I did have to choose a name. Unfortunately, by the time he convinced me it was true, it was too late to change much of anything."

    "That's just great," Ranma muttered as she continued reading the document

    "Now that that's over with, we need to get you into a proper uniform and off to class," the Drake said, getting up.

    'That might not be possible. My curse seems to choose my clothing for me," Ranma said, putting the folder back down on the desk. The Drake was right. It was a fairly simple and easy-to-remember cover story.

    "Yes, you weren't wearing that when you came, in were you?" the Drake noted, amused. "Well, I'm sure we can work something out."


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

    A young woman stood in front of the classroom. While she appeared calm, a seething pool of annoyance, exasperation, and anger brewed behind her violet-flecked blue eyes. She was dressed in a uniform similar to that of the other girls. It was of a fuku style, with a pleated purple skirt darker and shorter than normal, and a tight black blouse as opposed to the customary white. Her feminine ribbon tie was crimson instead of blue. Her jacket was a much darker blue than normal. She also wore calf-high leather boots and fishnet stockings.

    Her crimson hair, except for two pairs of long strands that hung in front, was pulled back and twisted into a tight bun that served as the source of a fan-like pony-tail that cascaded from the back of her head. She also wore a black, purple-trimmed military-style beret in place of the more artistic blue beret that served as the girls' mandatory head-covering. She had a silver necklace with a hanging black stone that sat over her tie, and black stud earrings. A blackish-violet, red-trimmed backpack was slung over one shoulder.

    "We have a new student today," the teacher said as she walked to the redhead, while thinking, I wish I looked like that when I was her age. She is a bit pale, though.

    I can't believe I'm going to have to do this. At least Akane isn't in this class, the redhead thought with resignation. She breathed inward.

    "Hi. My name is Sunshine Saotome," the redhead said, trying not to grit her teeth while simultaneously hoping that she did not sound too cutesy. "I'm a martial artist. I just transferred here. I would prefer it if I could be left alone."

    "Don't worry, Sunshine," the teacher said, earning a glare from the redhead. "I'm sure once you get used to Furinkan, you'll make lots of friends. Now go sit down in that open seat in the third row."

    Ranma walked to her seat, her boots resonating on the tile. After putting her bag on the desk, she sat down and crossed her legs, a reflex picked up from wearing her leather dress.

    "I like your uniform. You make the alterations yourself?" a brunette behind her asked.

    "Yeah, I guess I did," Ranma said, pulling out a purple notebook and a red pen.

    "That's a very cute name," a blonde to her left remarked.

    "I hate it," Ranma replied.

    "I love your hair," a fellow redhead cooed. "How'd you get it to fall like that?"

    "I kinda just pull it back, twist it, and feed it through," Ranma explained.

    "You have a boyfriend?" a male on a forward diagonal asked.

    "Stop it, Ken!" the blonde hissed. "Don't mind him, he'll date anything that moves. I'm Samantha," that blonde introduced herself, extending her arm.

    "And you know my name," Ranma said shaking the offered hand.

    "So why do you hate it so much?"

    "Because I'm not a cheerful, silly, cute girl. My name's a cruel joke," she commented, being thoroughly honest.

    "No, you strike me as more of the darkly beautiful brooding type," Samantha laughed.

    "You have no idea."

    "Now, Sunshine, as happy as I am that you seem to be making friends, class has to begin," the teacher reminded her newest student.


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

    Kasumi had arrived at auxiliary parking garage of the Canada Trust Tower. Originally serving as a storage bay for snow plows and salt trucks, it had been converted to a Company motor-pool. After passing through three security checkpoints, she was able to walk into the District Support class facility, WIC Toronto-A.

    When the Canada Trust Tower was built in 1990, its foundation was of an unusual depth and size. The plan had been to use the vast expanse of sublevels to store the new service node for Toronto's phone system. Unfortunately, AT&T Canada had a management restructuring at the time. The new crop of executives decided to pass on the offer to move operations to the sublevels.

    The sublevels were converted into storage rooms, maintenance rooms, furnace rooms, and the communications switching for the entire building (a far cry from the entire city and region). As part of their contract with the Canadian government, Willard International Consulting was given these sublevels to do with as they pleased.

    Kasumi was pleased with the progress that Construction Section had made. In only a matter of weeks, they had converted what was essentially an old basement into a secure Company facility capable of running several operations simultaneously. It was nowhere near the size of the First Operations Centre, the sprawling Company facility outside Topeka, Kansas, or even the Fourteenth Training and Development Grounds, fifty miles west of Richmond, Virginia. She made her way to the main conference room. Last night's operation was to be evaluated and plans were to be made as for this DarkStar situation.


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

    Ranma sighed as she looked up at the clock. Third period was just about to end. She looked down at her notebook. She had spent all of first period and half of second planning on ways to hurt her idiotic father and that lunatic of a principal, a man who insisted being called by his first name preceded by the definite article. It was their fault that she had to go to school as a girl and that everyone called her Sunshine.

    She could only spend so much time on her fantasies of revenge. Eventually, she grew bored of it and tried to occupy her mind in other ways. So she transcribed her notes using the red and purple pens that she picked up at the school store, along with other supplies along similar chromatic themes. Just like my uniform, she thought.

    In one of the dressing rooms in the back of the school store, she slipped out of her leather dress and tried to put on the normal girl's uniform. She fully expected it to morph into another copy of that damnable dress, just like anything else she tried to wear when she was a girl. The uniform did change, but only in its coloration, and how is showed off her body. The cut and fit of the uniform shifted just enough to be more flattering.

    It annoyed her to no end that a school-girl uniform could be the lesser of two evils. That thing she wore as DarkStar was not even worth mentioning. She watched the teacher get up as the bell rung. He had short hair cut into a flattop and wore a simple suit with a thin black tie.

    "Now remember, I want you to do all the primes in section 7-5. Sunshine, you can do those problems for extra credit if you want, but I insist you do the review problems on that sheet I gave you first," he said as he exited the room.

    Ranma nodded, before slumping her head on the desk. She had a few minutes of quiet before the next teacher came in. For her grade, the morning classes were primarily lectures, with the teachers rotating between the rooms while the students stayed in the same place. After lunch, classes such as gym, labs, home economics, music, wood and metal shop, computing, and anything else that required special rooms were held.

    She sighed again, pulled her head off her desk, and stood up. She closed her math notebook, put it in her backpack, and then took out a small red purse. Normally she would have left it there, but she had the suspicion that some of her classmates would search through her bag to try to find out more about Sunshine. Slinging it over her shoulder, she made her way to the door.

    "Where're you going?" asked Naoko, the brunette that sat behind her.

    "The bathroom," Ranma said, looking back at her.

    "Good idea," Naoko said, getting up.

    "I'll come too," Samantha said as she followed them.

    Some guy near one of the windows made a snide comment about them always going in groups. As Ranma left the room, she kinda wanted to hurt him. She did have several options open to her, but no — zapping or beating someone just because they were trying to be funny was an entirely wrong thing to do.

    "Your father a businessman too?" Samantha asked.

    "What?" Ranma asked as she followed them down the hall. "At least these boots had less heel than my other ones," she thought neutrally.

    "You've got an accent," Naoko said, "My father works for Nippon Electric. He got transferred to their Toronto office fifteen months ago."

    "I see. No, my father's a martial artist. He came here to meet an old friend and to get my brother engaged to his friend's oldest daughter," Ranma explained.

    "You got a photo of him?" Samantha asked.

    "Nope," Ranma replied, then looking at the blonde's expression, changed her mind. "I might. Let me look," she said as she went through her purse. She passed over some US currency, some Canadian, an HSBC bank card she picked up about a year ago, a new school identification card for a Sunshine Saotome, and below it all were two pictures. One was of her father, the other was of her male-form. She was not the type of person to carry photographs, but they were in the Sunshine file and the Drake insisted she keep them. She handed the photo over to Samantha, while Naoko grabbed her school ID.

    "I'm so jealous. You even take a good ID picture," Naoko said.

    "That's nothing, look at her brother," Samantha said as she angled the picture so her friend could see it.

    "Are you sure he's engaged?" Naoko said to Ranma.

    "Yeah, Ranma's fiancée is the eldest Tendo sister," the redhead admitted, taking the ID and picture and putting them back into her purse.

    "It's not Kasumi Tendo, is it?" Samantha asked, concern on her face.

    "Well, yes," Ranma stated.

    "I'd tell your brother to look out for her. She might need some special help," Samantha said.

    "Why?" Ranma inquired, wondering what information she could gain about Kasumi.

    "Well, my older brother was in her grade. After school one day, there was this explosion. I think something like four people died. Kasumi left school after that. According to her sisters, some company decided to take her in."

    "Yeah, Ranma told me the same thing," Ranma allowed. She had wondered how the Company managed to recruit Kasumi. Ranma turned her head to see that they had arrived at the girls' bathroom. She followed the other girls without hesitation.

    Ranma walked into the bathroom and selected a stall. As she readjusted her skirt and underwear, an amused thought hit her. Pattern D's needed to use the bathroom. She idly wondered it the Company had information on the urination habits of demons. The idea was significantly absurd, yet hideously plausible. She started to laugh.

    "What's so funny?" Samantha asked from the next stall over.

    "Nothing, just something Ranma told me about Kasumi," Ranma stated.

    "What?" Naoko inquired.

    Ranma paused. What to say? Kasumi always wore a sidearm. Kasumi had this funny habit of killing supernatural beings. Kasumi always wore boots. No, none of those would work. "Never mind, it's really stupid."

    "Oh, okay," Samantha said.

    Ranma finished and flushed. She was glad to be done with that. Despite having the curse in one form or another for a significant fraction of a year, female plumbing still unnerved her. It did not help that she was now a different species as well as female.

    Exiting the stall, Sunshine looked to see Naoko dry her hands and begin touching-up her makeup. Ranma simply washed her hands while looking at her reflection. As usual, she looked like a darkly beautiful "Bad Girl".

    "Still going strong, I see," Naoko said, reapplying her lipstick.

    "Yeah," Ranma agreed. Her makeup had yet to smudge or run, not that she ever put any on. It just showed up on its own. It probably had to do with her being a demon or a Pattern Silver or something.

    "So everyone in your family's a martial artist?" Samantha asked as she washed her hands.

    "Yup," Ranma said, looking out the window. "Myself, Ranma, our dad."

    "What about your mother?"

    Ranma turned back to face them. "I don't really know. Dad never really talked much about her."

    "Wow, you were raised without any girls around?" Naoko said, opening the door.

    "Yeah," Ranma allowed, following the two other girls out of the bathroom.

    "That explains a lot," Samantha said as they walked back to their classroom.

    "What?" Ranma asked.

    "Well, you act all dark in rebellion to your name. You're then raised with two guys so you talk like one, but you also want to affirm to the world you're a woman, so you dress like you do."

    Ranma forced herself to smile, "Exactly."


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

    Akane had left to go to the bathroom. Unfortunately, the one nearest her classroom was being renovated by maintenance. Instead of going down or up a floor, she simply walked down the corridor to the bathroom at the other end. Before she could get there, she saw a fairly tall redhead talking with a blonde and a brunette. The blonde she knew in passing, Samantha, with a last name that began with a "K". The brunette she had only seen in the halls before. The redhead, however, she had only just met. Her hair was different and she was wearing a girl's uniform, albeit of a slightly different coloration, but the face was the same.

    "What are you doing here?" Akane demanded of the redhead.

    Ranma looked at the youngest Tendo, then at her classmates. "Can you excuse me? This's Kasumi's sister Akane."

    "We've met," Samantha said before she and Naoko continued on to their classroom.

    "Answer me! Why are you at school like this? It's not something perverse, is it?"

    Ranma sighed and considered saying something sarcastic, like: Yes, Akane, I'm going to school as a girl just to get inside the girls' locker room. Never mind that I have access to a girl's body whenever I feel like it. Never mind that my classmates would be thoroughly unsettled by a girl staring at them. But she decided that that would only make things worse.

    Of course she could let slip the sexy demon thing, but that would really make things worse with Akane.

    She decided to tell the truth. "It was my father's idea. He thinks I'll stay out of trouble if I go like this. You think I wanted this?"

    "That's idiotic!" Akane exclaimed.

    "You've met my father," Ranma said, looking at her black-and-red watch.

    "Yeah, but to his own son?"

    "No, I'm Sunshine Saotome, Ranma's sister," the redhead said, giving a sour smile.

    "How did you end up with that name?" Akane asked coldly.

    "The principal enjoys his jokes," Ranma said as she started walking back to her room.

    "I'm still not convinced. You could be up to something," Akane shouted, but it was ignored by the redhead.


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

    "Our conclusion is that neither Lieutenant Tendo nor any member of the strike team was deficit in their actions. Indeed, they operated excellently, adhering to the mission guidelines. When it became apparent that the target was a Pattern Silver, they handled the transition quite well," Jacob stated. Kasumi was surprised that her old recruiter was assigned to be the executive officer of WIC Toronto.

    He continued, "Indeed, the problem is not Operations Section's. The mission was carried out properly. No, the problem was Command's. When Kasumi called in a suspected Pattern D, the situation was analyzed and a mission was designed.

    "I must say that the analysis was grossly incomplete. Granted, we were working in a limited timeframe, but that is no excuse for the errors that were made," Jacob said, his voice growing stern. "A Company agent has been running a search for a Ranma and Genma Saotome for several years. That this search was assumed to be a mundane missing persons case is irrelevant. The limited information on that file may have been useful to the operation. Knowing that Ranma had been in contact with N, Q, C, and H-Type locations could have been taken as evidence of a contamination, or it might have been taken as something to fool our sensors. Need I remind you that they are not perfect. Especially not the smaller models that Tendo got the initial scan on.

    "The blame falls upon Murdock, but more importantly, upon those of us that take his 'advice' as holy writ. Murdock is not a member of our organization. Yes, he does have critical information, but his motives are unknown. It is obvious that Murdock was instrumental in creating this DarkStar, yet he did not inform us about it in the slightest. I believe Operations Agent Tendo said it best. 'Murdock was testing us'."

    Jacob looked around the table. His faded green eyes met each man and woman. The Company agents, including Kasumi's strike team, stared back. "I know that you do not deserve this. None of you have actually had contact with Murdock. The likelihood of you meeting him in the future, however, is quite high." Jacob sighed as he stood up.

    "That operation is over. We have to deal with what we've learned from it," he said, turning on a display on the far wall. On it were three images, one of male Ranma, one of female Ranma, and one of DarkStar. "This is Ranma Saotome. What we have here is a pattern Silver that is not part of the Senshi organization.

    "Indeed, he has had quite the falling out with them. This is due to him becoming DarkStar as opposed to what he expected. That there is a high probability of interference on Murdock's part should be noted. How can we exploit this situation?"

    "Our original plan was to contact the Silvers, by either finding their civilian identities or meeting them during an operation," Aram said, recalling the plan. "Integrating them into our command structure seemed to be too far-fetched of a goal. Instead, we hoped on being able to provide tactical, if not strategic, assistance to them."

    "And how does this development change things?" Jacob asked.

    "Potentially, it has no effect," Kasumi stated.

    "Explain," Jacob ordered.

    "I could simply tell Ranma that DarkStar is Senshi business, and tell him to wait for them to show up. We would then proceed as planned."

    "Obviously, that is not our best option," Sophie stated.

    "Yes, we should use this opportunity," Jacob said. "Kasumi, how did Ranma react to your explanation of the operation?"

    "He still has strong reservations against us, but he seems to understand why we did what we did."

    "Good. Don't want him to take last night's events too personally."

    "Sir, a question?" Kasumi asked.

    Jacob's expression softened. "Go on."

    "Ranma has started attending school today. How are our assets inside Furinkan?"

    "We have patched into their security systems, and are setting up supplementary observation means. A team is on standby in the North York sector. Human assets are about to be placed within the school."

    "As students or faculty?" Kasumi asked. The Company had operatives in both age brackets.

    "Both," Jacob said.

    "That's a lot for just one Silver," Gabriel noted.

    "Yes, it is. We are expecting more Silvers shortly. The school's principal is a long time affiliate of the Company who has been particularly useful in the past. He has given us records of planned transfers to his school," Jacob said switching the display to a collection of pictures. "As you can see, most of the transfers are female and from Japan. The chances of most of them being Silver is quite high."

    Kasumi looked over the nine pictures. Only two of them were male. Neither was Ranma. She then noticed a certain redhead in the upper left. "Sunshine Saotome," she said, reading the information next to the picture. "I see that the Drake still has his sense of humor."

    "Quite so," Jacob nodded. "Your opinion on the effect this will have on him?"

    "How has 'Sunshine's' day gone so far?"

    Jacob typed for a few seconds, changing the display to a collection of images captured from observational means. He then summarized how her day had gone so far.

    "I see. This will no doubt irritate him greatly. It will add on to the list of crap that has been put on him. If he has been experiencing identity issues, this will make the situation worse."

    "We can be the ones to respect his identity. We can be the ones to offer him a cure. If we could be the ones that help him instead of trying to use him, things might just work out," Jacob said, smiling.

    "Genma said that the original curse was picked up in Jusenkyou, somewhere in the Qinghai province of China."

    "Specifically, near Mt. Quanjing, in the Bayankala mountain range. The Company surveyed the area in 1975, roughly a year after Nixon 'opened' China," Jacob said, amused.

    "Is there a cure?"

    "Yes, we have several samples in the Company archives. One could easily be shipped to him."

    "It most likely won't work," Gabriel said flipping through his notes. "I did some research today on the data the Company had on these curses. Granted, it's three decades old. But…"

    "Yes?" Jacob said.

    "Well, given the scans I've taken of all three of his forms, and the transfer process he described, it's not likely work. The possession, for lack of a better word, is very strong."

    "If we tell him we have a cure and it does nothing, he will doubt the sincerity of our motives."

    "He could think that it was just tap water," Kasumi said.

    "And even if we tested it on someone else before using it on him, that won't prove anything. The survey mentions several products that can simulate curses and cures," Gabriel said.

    "If he has any doubt as to the sincerity of the gesture, he will suspect us just like he does the others," Sophie said.

    "But if it fails, he will always doubt it."

    "What if we take him right to the source? Then he will know that it was the correct water to cure him. If it doesn't work then, he will know that it is Pluto's fault and not ours," Gabriel proposed.

    "There is the matter of flying him out to such a remote location," Jacob stated, then nodded. "I shall take this up with Command. This might just be the plan that we need."

    "What happens if this really does cure him?" Sophie asked.

    "Then we don't have DarkStar. Instead we'll have a young man who may or may not be a pattern Silver. I doubt very much that Murdock and Pluto would be so sloppy, but more importantly, I don't think the poor kid is going to be that lucky. No, we will try our best to cure him, but I don't think any of it'll actually work."


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

    Ranma ate alone. She had had no less than a dozen offers to eat with one group or another. The only one that she considered was Samantha's and Naoko's, but the prospect of spending an entire lunch enduring girlish small talk while playing Sunshine was too much for her. She told them that she wanted some time to collect her thoughts.

    She sighed, eating her food. Ranma feared that such excuses would last for only so long. At least the lunches in the cafeteria were fairly good, she thought as she ate her spaghetti. The Italian sausage was especially good.

    "Good morning, Sunshine!" a nauseatingly happy voice said.

    "It's twelve o' five," Ranma said before looking up. When she did, she saw the smirking face of Nabiki.

    "I told you not to piss off the principal," she said as she sat down.

    "I didn't. This was planned in advance."

    "Really? For such a pig of a man, you father sure doesn't mind your curse."

    "He's punishing me with it," Ranma said simply.

    "Now, now, Sunshine. You'll never get a guy with an attitude like that," Nabiki said, laughing.

    "Why are you here?"

    "To give you some fashion advice," Nabiki laughed. "This dark look won't do. Sure, you make nice eye candy for all the guys. But you should try to get a wholesome relationship with a nice guy. No, I say you should use cheery pastels, and curl your hair. Maybe put some yellow ribbons in it."

    "Leave. Now," Ranma said before she resumed eating.

    Nabiki pulled back, something cool ran down her spine. "What?"

    "I won't let you have fun at my expense, too."

    Nabiki's eyes narrowed. "You're making a big mistake. Now I'm really going to have some fun."

    "Whatever," Ranma said, ignoring her.

    Nabiki frowned slightly before resuming her little smile. "If that's the way you want it," she said as she got up. As she walked away, she started singing. "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy, when skies are gray. You'll never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don't take my sunshine away."

    Ranma simply shook her head. With people like Murdock, Pluto, and the Company after him, what did this one girl hope to accomplish?


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

    Jacob was walking down a corridor of WIC Toronto-A when he was about to pass Kasumi. "Agent Tendo," he said, causing the woman to stop.

    "Sir," she said in reply.

    "Command has approved of the operation. Have two members of your team bring Ranma in after school."

    "Hard or soft?"

    "Very soft. If he doesn't want to come, let him leave, but have your men tell him what we're offering if it will bring him in."

    "He will be suspicious."

    "Yes, but as always, we have a limited timetable," Jacob said.


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

    Ranma sighed as home economics neared the halfway point. The Drake had enrolled her in this class as an elective. By saying that such a class was nothing more than institutionalized bridal training, her teacher, Ms. Polanski, decided that her new student needed to get in touch with her feminine side and would deserve special attention.

    The door flew open, startling the entirely female class. Ranma turned her head to see Kuno standing in the doorway. She raised an eyebrow in puzzlement.

    "Oh my glorious Sunshine, I accept your yearning feelings for me," he said triumphantly. "Do not despair. I shall love you like the beautiful light of your namesake."

    Ranma began to growl and gave serious consideration on canceling her plan to not blast anyone today.

    "Sunshine, you're excused to go outside and talk things out with your friend," Ms. Polanski said delicately.

    Ranma looked at her teacher, then at the overly-enthused man at the doorway. "Fine," she said, standing up. She left the room, closing the door behind her.

    "Come, let us celebrate our engagement!" Kuno said, reaching out to the girl he knew of as Sunshine.

    Ranma stepped back. "Who gave you the idea that we are engaged?"

    "You need not hide your feelings," Kuno said happily.

    "Who Told You?" Sunshine asked, her voice gaining a considerable edge.

    "I know what can bring you out of your gloomy shell! Your favorite song," Kuno said, then began to sing.

    It was then that Ranma was able to figure out who told him this. Kuno was on the line "Please don't take my Sunshine away", when she reached out and forced his mouth shut. "Listen up. I do not like you. I do not yearn for you. The person who told you this is lying to you. She is making you look foolish. She might even be trying to distract you from your true love," Sunshine suggested coldly, releasing her hand.

    Kuno looked down. "It is true that Nabiki Tendo is a known liar, but when she showed me the pictures and told me who you are, I could not resist."

    "Pictures? Show me." Ranma said, holding out her hand.

    "You are quite photogenic," Kuno said, handing over three images of her that were taken when Ranma was walking in the hallway.

    "Idiot," Sunshine muttered as she put the photographs in her purse.

    "I see now that I have been manipulated. It is obvious to me that my lovelife is being sabotaged. It is clear to me, that someone is planning to take from me the glory of uniting the three houses."

    "Um, right," Ranma said, hoping that the fool was talking about Nabiki.

    "The jealousy of your brother is contemptuous. Is it not enough that his impending marriage helps unite our families? No, he must also make sure that no one else does. No doubt he is plotting as to how he can woo my sister as well."

    "Hey, you're the one trying to get multiple engagements here. Not… um… Ranma," Ranma said.

    "I expect you to defend your kin. No problem. I am sure that I can make your bother see the error of his ways," Kuno said confidently. "He seemed to be of honorable enough stock. After all, he is your brother. Do not worry, my Ray of Sunshine. I shall find your bother and convince him to allow us to be engaged. You have my word on it," Kuno said confidently. He then turned around and began walking down the corridor.

    Ranma shook her head. "Was this supposed to punish me in some way?" she asked herself as she opened the door to her classroom.


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

    "I never thought we'd be doing this," Gabriel said from the passenger seat of a Company sedan.

    "What, trying to recruit a magical girl that's really a guy?" Sophie asked as she turned the car into a parking lot.

    "No, going back to high school."

    "You get recruited the same way as the LT?" Sophie asked, stopping the car in front of the parking lot entrance.

    "You know I was recruited after saving my sister from a Pattern V."

    "Axe to the back of the head, followed by a 12-gauge slug to the heart. Nicely done," Sophie surmised.

    "Yeah. Good think I watched all those horror movies when I was a kid. Sometimes I think the Company consults Hollywood on how to kill these things."

    "Yeah, I can see them doing that," Sophie laughed.

    "I know we did that in the twenties with Howard Phil—"

    Sophie cut him off, "There she is. Two o'clock."

    Gabriel turned his head, "I see her. Damn, she's got legs. Not to forget the rest of her."

    "Get out and talk to her," Sophie said.


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

    Ranma had gotten through the day. Aside from the Sunshine business, things were going well. Although anything would be good if you ignored everything about it that made it bad. She was still unsure about how to handle Nabiki. It was slightly rude to tell Nabiki to buzz off, but it was also slightly annoying to have to deal with Kuno. She feared that Kuno would become more obsessive and annoying with time. Ranma shrugged and decided to deal with Nabiki as it happened.

    She was still being hit on by guys. Sadly, it was something she was used to. At least this uniform showed off less than her leather dress. Fortunately, most guys took the hint when she gave them the brush off. Only three needed to have special encouragement to leave her alone.

    Walking out onto the school's parking lot, she noticed a familiar vehicle. The silver sedan was an exact match for Kasumi's. It might have even been the same car, provided that the license plates were changed. Kasumi's had two nines in it, this one had none.

    Ranma was able to recognize the man leaning on the hood. In his early twenties, short black hair, thin yet in very good shape, he was one of Kasumi's flunkies, and sitting in the driver's seat was the female one.

    "What do you want?" she asked. She was fairly sure that they would not attack. She could tell that he was armed, but that meant nothing with these people. They seemed to always be carrying.

    "Ms. Saotome, Kasumi would like you to come with us," Gabriel said as he removed his sunglasses.

    "Why should I?"

    Gabriel motioned for her to come closer. When Ranma was a foot away he spoke. "She has a way to give you a cure."

    "What? How?"

    "We are willing to take you to the source of your troubles," Gabriel allowed, giving a slight smile. Damn, sometimes this job had some real perks, he thought. I do love this spy shit!

    "Really," Ranma said. This had to be some kind of trick.

    "Well, if it isn't my sister's dorky coworker." Nabiki said, walking up from behind Ranma. "Hi, Sunshine. Akane's going to be a few minutes. It seems that Kuno managed to find her."

    Ranma glared at Nabiki and then looked at Gabriel. Gone were the cold, hard eyes of last night. Instead, he looked geeky and awkward.

    "Yeah, well, Kas sent us up here to pick up Ms. Saotome."

    "I see," Nabiki said trying to hide her distaste for the office drone. He was like Kasumi; efficient, competent, and he had no life outside of the Company — or if he did, it consisted of memorizing Klingon, watching old episodes of Dr. Who and pointing out every continuity error. The guy wasn't overweight or rail-skinny, and he wasn't unkempt. she had to give him that. But he did look painfully, awkwardly boring.

    She then turned to the redhead, who in heels was the same height as her. "I guess you've got your ride, Sunshine."

    Ranma looked at Nabiki, then at Gabriel. There were only two of them. She could always turn into DarkStar if things went sour. However, it did not seem terribly likely that they would try to kill her again. "Looks like I do," she said.

    "Okay," Gabriel said, opening the back door for her.

    "Bye!" Nabiki said as Sunshine tossed her backpack in and stepped into the car.

    Ranma buckled her seatbelt and watched Gabriel get in. "Sorry about last night," Gabriel said as Sophie pulled the car out of the parking lot.

    "Yeah, that was a big cluster fuck last night. Sorry," Sophie said.

    "It seems that a Pattern D is bad news?" Ranma stated flatly. Nothing like knowing that you are a monster.

    "Very bad."

    "So, what's this about a cure?"

    "How would you like to be flown to Jusenkyou?


    End Chapter 2

    Usual thanks to prereaders Gerald Jordan, Joseph Fenton, Wray.
    And of course Larry F for hosting my fics.
    Thanks to Black Dragon for "the simple apology" and the "something nice and crazy" lines.

    Revision notes: Yeah... toned down the "Sunshine" bits. Now Ranma's only called Sunshine in dialog. Way back I recall some readers complaining about the name change with him being called Sunshine in the prose was confusing. I objected, but upon reflection they were right. They also complained that the name was awful, and yeah... that's the point to give her a really bad alias. Of course in the years since then I've adopted Sunshine as my one nom de plume so... who knows.


    Thanks to Ellf and DCG for their help this time around.
     
  5. Threadmarks: Chapter 3
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

    Joined:
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    Book 1: Brooding Responsibilities
    Chapter 3: Emerging Risk
    Formerly: Responsibility and Resolve


    Ranma leaned back as the Company sedan drove into the city. Twice during the drive Gabriel had used a black and grey phone. Ranma presumed that he was contacting the people he and his partner worked for.

    "Traffic's fairly light," Sophie muttered as she drove the car.

    "That's because rush hour is headed out of the city now," Gabriel said.

    "At least we have a straight route. We'll only have to change roads at the very end," Sophie commented.

    "Where are you taking me?" Ranma asked, still in her school uniform. She had considered changing out of it, but the sad truth was that the fuku was better than her leather dress.

    "WIC Toronto-A," Gabriel stated.

    Ranma nodded. Kasumi had told her the name of the Company. Willard International Consulting. It was a nice meaningless name. There was one part that she did not understand. "A?" she asked.

    Gabriel snickered. It did sound like the redhead had just gone "Eh?"

    "Be careful." Sophie warned. "If Agent Tendo were to find out you'd been making Canada jokes—"

    "She would blink and order me to the range for more practice. Well, she might just quiz me on Pattern recognition," Gabriel said.

    "Right. You see, Ms. Saotome--"

    "Call me Ranma."

    "Okay," Sophie said, somewhat amused. "The facility we're taking you to is the primary one we have in the area. There are a handful of others, mostly for training, testing, helicopter maintenance and storage, and general redundancy."

    Ranma nodded slowly. Again she was confronted with the apparent size of this organization. Although as of yet, she had only seen five personnel, one van, and two sedans. This could all be an elaborate scheme of some kind.

    "Now don't get us lost," Gabriel said as they drove into the heart of the city.

    Sophie simply glared. Gabriel was a good agent. Like herself, he was a veteran of the Company's Operations Section. It was work that required determination, skill, and professionalism.

    Sometimes, however, his joking became tiring. At least it was better than their superior, who often did not seem entirely human. Which would not be unheard of at the Company.

    Turning off the road, she made her way to the entrance to the underground parking lot that served as the Company motor-pool. She was relieved to see that the barricades were sealed. It was only after showing her and Gabriel's identification and waiting for a scan that the tire spikes and the fence retracted. She then drove the car into a large alcove with a large metal door in the back of it. This door then rolled open.

    She then drove the car into the large airlock. The outer barricade, a thick slab of steel specially reinforced with exotic polymers, locked back into place. A deeper Pattern scan commenced. With a hollow click the inner barricade unlocked and slid away.

    Gabriel sighed as the sedan drove out of the airlock and down a small concrete and steel tunnel. He held his breath as the sedan drove up to the next set of barricades. While the gates were necessary, as the attack on WIC Singapore ten years ago illustrated, he did not have to like them.

    The car passed the final lock and entered a large, brightly-lit underground room. A few dozen vehicles sat in neat rows. Ranma could see several sedans of the type she was in, large vans in mostly dark colors, and a variety of heavy and light military trucks. The machine shop, hydraulic lifts, large tool sets, and another pair of large, reinforced doors illustrated that this room did more than just hold vehicles. She noted the people dressed in black and grey jumpsuits working on the vehicles and machines.
    Sophie parked the car and turned it off. As Ranma got out she realized that one of her questions had been answered. The Company was more than just a half a dozen people. That gate system alone must have cost a fortune to build and install. Gabriel pointed her to a human-sized door mounted in one of the far walls.

    Grabbing her backpack, she started walking, barely noticing the odd, almost musical, resonance her heels made within the concrete garage. Her attention was more on the other people in the room. Sophie and Gabriel were flanking her on either side. Their eyes scanned the room while the other Company personnel watched the procession with some interest.

    When they reached the door, Gabriel placed his palm on a black tablet next to the doorframe. "Authorization granted," a pleasant female voice said as the heavy doors opened.

    "Who do they think it is?" Gabriel asked, shaking his head as he stepped into the small corridor.

    "We are escorting a Pattern D," Sophie said, then turning to Ranma, "Not that we'd do anything to you… um, now."

    "Yeah, usually we have our interrogations off base. Much easier cleanup," Gabriel assured as they went through another check point and through a second set of doors.

    Ranma's face paled ever so slightly as she followed them across a hallway into a small chamber that turned out to be an elevator.

    Sophie gave Gabriel a very hard look but remained silent as the elevator began its descent.

    The door opened into a room that reminded Ranma of a lobby. It was vaguely semi-circular with elevator bays at the arc and a series of heavy doors on the inside wall. The two Company agents and one demon stepped into the sparse room. The elevator behind them closed with a heavy click.

    "This is the Company," Gabriel said as one of the reinforced doors opposite them slid open. Sophie shook her head and sighed.


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

    Ranma looked around the office. Like the rest of the subterranean facility, it was minimally decorated, using large quantities of brushed steel and high strength plastic polymers. She leaned back in her chair. It was surprisingly comfortable, especially given the grey room. She then looked over at the man behind the desk.

    Somewhere in the late part of middle age, the man was wearing a grey Company uniform. Thin with graying dark brown hair and dull green eyes, he looked reserved, contemplative, and, like nearly everyone else here, oddly calm and cool.

    He seemed the exact opposite of the Drake, whose office she was in earlier today. During that meeting, it was decided that she would attend school as a girl under the nauseating alias of Sunshine. The redhead wondered what would happen to her after this meeting. The nameplate on this man's desk read "Colonel Jacob Edwards: Operations Section."

    Jacob glanced over at his monitor. On it were the status bars for the Company facilities under his and his immediate superior's control. Toronto-B had just checked in with condition green. Toronto-C was still being constructed and was listed as grey. According to Command, each Operations Centre was secure as well as all subsequent bases and facilities.

    There were a total of twenty-six hot operations being executed at this moment. At least that's how many his compartment and rank allowed him to be informed of.

    Sighing, he turned from the display to the young woman. Jacob assessed the girl. He had been a front-line agent before the advent of man-portable pattern recognition devices. He remembered having to radio back to a technical team looking at oscilloscopes and television screens in the back of a van.

    Now Company agents expected to get definitive pattern classification in seconds -- it was a troubling crutch. Jacob relented as he looked over the girl. If he were a young agent in charge of the strike team, he would have shot the redheaded demon, and likely died for his efforts.

    Jacob further calmed himself by remembering that the Company had been hunting these creatures well before electronics or modern weapons. It was only now that technology was becoming comparable to the natural advantages the opposition enjoyed.

    "Colonel Edwards?" Ranma asked. The man behind the desk seemed to be looking past her, his hands folded on his metal framed and wood paneled desk.

    "Sorry, I was reminiscing," Jacob said as he tugged on his cuffs. "And please call me Jacob."

    "Why?"

    "It's part of a long, old story. I'm sure you want to change back," he said, taking a water-filled pot off a hot plate and handing it to her.

    Ranma looked down at her school uniform. She thought that it would likely revert back to what she was wearing when she was a guy. Putting a finger in the pot she was surprised to find that it was hot enough to cause the change without being boiling. Ranma then dumped a small portion on herself. Ranma stretched, relieved to be male and back in normal clothes.

    "We could help cure you of this," Jacob proposed.

    "Yeah. so you said. Flying me to Jusenkyou," Ranma said with suspicion.

    "You don't trust us. Understandable. It is of note, however, that you were willing to have this meeting here as opposed to some place more public."

    "I didn't think you guys would go through the trouble of bringing me here, when you could have just killed me last night."

    Jacob leaned back. "And I'm sure you thought you could get out. You are a highly trained Pattern D and Pattern Silver. On the other hand, this is an extensive complex filled with Company Agents, and even if you did get to the surface you would have to deal with whatever higher weapons Command saw fit to level against you. If combat were to have broken out last night, it would have been interesting. Here it would be a disaster."

    Ranma raised an eyebrow. She wasn't sure what group of grey-suited "agents" could really do if a little demon woman decided to rampage in their fancy base.

    "Er, right. About this cure. Why take me there? Isn't that inconvenient for you?"

    "Yes, it is," Jacob admitted. "The Company could just ship you a few gallons of Nannichuan which is supposed to cure Nyanniichuan, the pool you fell into. However, it's not that simple, is it?"

    "DarkStar," Ranma stated.

    "Pluto's meddling has complicated things. Not just the Pattern Silver, but the Pattern D as well. Patterns D, I, L, V, and Z have varying levels of resistance to Jusenkyou. One question, is your female form now the same as before Pluto turned you?"

    "No, it isn't. It's close, but my hair is a darker red, my skin is paler, and well... I'm better looking," Ranma said with some annoyance.

    "I suspected as much," Jacob sighed. "No, if this would work, we've got to take you to the source where it's strongest, and even then it might not work."

    "Because Pluto used my curse to try to convert me into a Senshi," Ranma said, narrowing his eyes.

    "It looks that way," Jacob allowed. "Although even if Nannichuan right from the source does not work, the caretaker of Jusenkyou might be able to tell you of another cure. If anyone knows, it would be him."

    "What'll I owe you for doing this for me?" Ranma asked, quite wary of such deals.

    "Nothing. This is us repaying you for that incident last night. The Company made a mistake. We thought you were working for the enemy. Helping you find a cure is the least we can do."

    "I'll think about it," Ranma said after a slight pause.

    "That's all I ask," Jacob said, standing. "If you want to contact me, just ask Agent Tendo," he said, opening the door to his office.

    Ranma looked out the open door and was unsurprised to see one of Kasumi's men snap to attention. This one was male with brown hair cut down to a quarter inch in height.

    "Agent Kowalski, show Ranma the commissary. Kasumi will be ready to drive you back home in a few minutes," Jacob said, returning to his desk. Before his door closed fully, he watched as Aram lead Ranma down the corridor. Shortly after that, there was a knock on his door.

    "Well, what do you think?" Jacob asked the woman that entered his office.

    "From the tape he seemed more receptive than anticipated. Although suspicious of our motives, he is willing to entertain the possibility that we want to make amends," Kasumi reported.

    "It would seem that the assassination attempt will be less damaging than suspected. Or at least it makes our actions look less suspiciously altruistic," Jacob observed. "It is a strong point in favor of his character that he has yet to snap -- given what has happened to him."

    "As you say," Kasumi said, maintaining an even expression at the comment. "One point of advice, if I may?"

    "Yes?"

    "Placing all the blame on Pluto may be unwise. The creation of DarkStar would seem to be Murdock's doing. Alienating him from Pluto and thus the other Silvers serves our short-term interests by potentially bringing him closer to us. But our goal is to eventually work with all the Silvers."

    "I noticed his reaction, too. I agree. We cannot afford internal fighting among the Silvers." Jacob gave a small sigh. "But it may be unavoidable."

    "There might be a way we can isolate Pluto from the other Silvers. Recent events seem to be raising questions as to her competence, given that she is supposed to maintain 'temporal integrity'. If we can get the other members of their team to distance themselves from Pluto, then Ranma might be able to work with the Silvers, if not her," Kasumi stated as she replayed the conversation in her mind.

    "Perhaps. Although, we do not know enough about how they interact with each other, nor do we know the civilian identities of the other Silvers."

    "Given the odds on who those new students might be should help us," Kasumi said, referring to the nine students newly enrolled in Furinkan. It was likely that at least some of them were Pattern Silvers.

    "I'm going to brief our Chief of Forensic Pathology on the information we have on DarkStar," Jacob said as he sat back down behind his desk.

    "Including the data you've just gathered now," Kasumi noted. She was certain that Jacob had some scanners either hidden in this room, or placed in the adjacent ones.

    "Yes. You've worked with him. Is he as good as Command says?"

    "Yes, in the Oak Ridge Operations. He is quite competent," Kasumi allowed. "He handles research and field work equally well. His knowledge of opposition anatomy is impressive. He is also a competent rifleman." She looked at her commanding officer evenly. Doubtless, he was aware of the relationship they attempted after that Operation. Their personalities clashed too much. Like any other Company agent, he was in control when on duty, but during intimate moments he would break down and become too emotional, something that Kasumi found repulsive.


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

    Aram watched as Ranma ate from the tray that he had filled. The teen could put away an impressive amount of food. The Company agent wondered if this was due to the teen's natural metabolism or if this was something brought upon due to the influence of DarkStar.

    From his seat across from Aram, Ranma looked around the commissary. The room was fairly large. It could comfortably seat about fifty people. Unlike other rooms in the complex, this one actually had some decorations on the walls. It was an eclectic mix of framed photographs. Some were aerial view of majestic landscapes. Others were of old military uniforms, weapons, machines, and vehicles, ranging from the American Civil War to World War Two. More images were of buildings, most of which were simple, sturdy buildings, made of stone, brick and in the newer ones concrete.

    "Agent Kowalski?" a familiar voice said from behind Aram.

    "Yeah, Doc?" Aram asked.

    "How did last night's operation go?" the man asked. Asian, he was fairly tall, average framed, had short dark brown hair, and slim brass-framed glasses.

    "Can't tell you, Doc," Aram said, shaking his head.

    "Really? They compartmentalized that one?" The man raised an eyebrow. Hot operations usually produced bodies, or at the very least some sort of organic material that needed to be analyzed. For the section he headed to have not been required made the outcome of last night's operation rather interesting. "Must have been an important one."

    "What, Sir? Angry that you don't have any corpses to dice up?" Aram joked. That much he was allowed to say.

    "You know I don't enjoy my job… Although it does have its moments."

    Ranma looked up. A doctor who cut up the dead. That meant he was a coroner. If last night had gone differently it was likely that this man would be the one dissecting a red-headed corpse.

    "Well, I'm sure Command will brief you."

    "If they decide to," the doctor allowed as he looked at the young man across from Aram. He was unfamiliar to him, but he assumed it was just another cadet. Although the presence of a cadet at this facility was a bit odd.

    He noticed that the teen had resumed his accelerated eating, doubtless he had just returned from some particularly draining training. The doctor smiled slightly remembering his own training. After a particularly interesting autopsy in medical school, he had decided to change careers a bit.

    "That's above my pay-grade," Aram remarked as he peeled an orange.

    "But not quite above Kasumi's," the doctor responded.

    "Command does seem to be grooming her for something," Aram allowed.

    "She is pretty good," the doctor added. In the Company, "pretty good" meant that she was one of their best.

    "Not that she'd want to get too far from the action."

    "True, combat does seem to be her one passion," the doctor said with bitter humor. He had been with her before, but for him it was how he imagined a quiet prostitute would be like -- very little emotion, just business. He was sure she enjoyed it. She had told him so. Besides, what other reason was there for her to be with him? Unless the Company ordered her to do it. The doctor shook his head. That was too much, even for the Company.

    Ranma thought about what the doctor had said. Was Kasumi like that last night? Upon reflection Ranma decided that she did seem a bit more animated last night. She was not quite as distant. There was something dreadfully wrong with a person who acts the most normal when they are about to kill, Ranma thought.


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

    It was a nondescript housing complex in a suburb of San Francisco. A meeting had just concluded in an apartment on the sixth floor. The resident of the apartment and his second remained to discuss the event.

    "We've been activated," the subordinate one observed.

    "I had wondered how long it would take," the resident responded.

    "Especially given our queen's defeat."

    The resident glared at his assistant. Capable and loyal, his cool-headedness was part of the reason their sleeper cell had lasted so long. Longer than the queen they had sworn to serve. "You heard the Regent. We have a chance to get our vengeance."

    The younger of the two looked at his superior. "Please do not doubt my willingness for the cause. I merely suggest caution. Every one of us, each and every one, that has gone up against them and stood their ground has died. We have only survived by running, teleporting, and hiding. Yes, I wish to avenge our fallen comrades, but getting ourselves killed pointlessly serves nothing. Especially given how few of us are left."

    The resident nodded. His team was selected for their discretion. They were able to slip in unnoticed and quietly gather energy. It was a point of pride to the resident that not a single one of his plans had ever been discovered. The queen had decided to create a series of sleeper cells and seed them in cities around the world. However, there had not been enough time to setup more than a couple cells.

    The resident was never told what the ultimate plan of his troops was to be. He assumed that he would be briefed when the time was right.

    It took some time for the resident to realize that the dispatches from home, always infrequent, had stopped. He was not to learn of the fall of their kingdom until the Regent gave what until today had been his final message. Now, after nearly two years of waiting, they had a mission.

    "It's a good thing that we've still been collecting all this time. We should have enough energy to pull this thing off, in addition to other supplies," the subordinate stated, interrupting the thoughts of other entity in the room.

    "But will we make it?"

    "If you can trust the planning of the Regent's assistant," he said bitterly.

    "You distrust that lackey." It was not a question.

    "Dave, the stench of ambition is on him," he said, using the name the resident has assumed upon his arrival in this place.

    "Well, Frank, it's not like there's anywhere for him to be promoted to," the resident stated, using his visitor's alias.

    "Not if the mission fails," he warned.

    "It won't," the resident assured.


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

    Kasumi stopped her car in the driveway. "We're home," she said, opening her door.

    "Right," Ranma said as he got out after opening his own door.

    "Given any thought about the cure?" Kasumi asked as she locked the car.

    "I'm still very skeptical about your motives," Ranma stated as he walked around the front of the car.

    "A prudent choice," Kasumi smiled. Her face then darkened. "Especially, given the circumstances. No one should have to go through this."

    Ranma looked at the young woman. Her face seemed to soften. She then made eye contact. For the first time Ranma did not see the cold, distant, uncaring killer. Instead he saw a girl, hardly older than he was, scarred by experience, and hardened by loss. Last night she had told him what she did, what the Company fought, but Ranma was unable to make the connection at a more than an intellectual level.

    That night he was the enemy. They thought he was a dangerous potentially hostile creature. Ranma questioned their competence, but at least they had some sort of reason for being overzealous shock troops. He still did not like them, trust them, or even care about them.

    Today he was -- what? Ranma looked at Kasumi. He was not being treated like a civilian. If he was not an enemy or a neutral, then he must be an ally, but he refused to work with the Senshi. Then it hit him.

    Ranma looked back at Kasumi, who by now had slight concern on her face. He had stopped walking and began to stare off into space. She was looking at him like he was family -- or a fellow agent.

    "I can't believe you guys!" he exclaimed. "You try to kill me one day. Then you find out what powers I have, and the very next day you start trying to recruit me!"

    Kasumi blinked. She decided to go with the truth. "Yes. We would like the Pattern Silvers, including you, to be working with us--"

    Ranma's eyes narrowed.

    "--but that does not change the offer made to you today. We will take you to Jusenkyou, regardless."

    "In reparations for last night," Ranma observed with skepticism.

    Kasumi nodded. Jacob had an inkling that he might figure out their motives.

    "But if I get cured, there won't be any DarkStar to recruit, will there?"

    Kasumi tilted her head at this. He should know better.

    "Wait… no," Ranma recalled looking at the stone walkway. "The guy I replaced was a guy. I would have been like him, but someone activated the curse at the wrong moment."

    "Unlike other parties, we do not require you to wear a fuku," Kasumi stated, regaining most of her composure.

    "Still trying," Ranma said with bitter humor.

    "I do what I must," Kasumi said, smiling slightly.


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

    Kasumi filled her mug and returned the pot to the coffee machine. Sipping the hot liquid, she made her way through the house to the path that connected the house to the dojo. Her father still took on the occasional student, and her sister Akane still used the building, but right now it was serving a slightly different purpose.

    Holding the mug emblazoned with the Company logo, she started to walk away from the dojo. Her eyes occasionally returning to the treeline at the end of the back yard. She listened in on the sounds within the dojo. The discussion, for lack of a better word, was over.

    She had only seen a part of it. The martial artist had turned around to find her watching from the open doorway, and the dark look Ranma gave her was quite unsettling. Kasumi had decided to give Ranma some privacy, for about the time it took for her coffee to brew.

    Of greater note was Genma's expression. Ranma's father did not seem quite right. Kasumi remembered how he described their curses. How he kept shifting his eyes. It was as if he was afraid of his child. Kasumi herself did get a red flag when she first met Ranma too.

    She sipped her drink. She grinned ever so slightly, savoring the bitter taste. That was something the Company missed. They needed more information about the father. The contents of that Company search were a good start, but they needed more information about the time surrounding the activation of DarkStar. What was he doing then? How did he react to Ranma's new cursed form?

    Genma seemed to be pretending to ignore it. Again, there was that fear. Last night, Ranma had inferred that he had seen Pluto again and the results were not terribly pretty. Had another incident happened with his father? It was something to look into.

    What of the mother? Where was she? Dead? Back in Japan? Who had already had a Company search running? That was a file she had to get. She terminated her thoughts, changing her focus to the sounds emanating from the dojo.

    Ranma's control was impressive. She had yet to hear a bone break or any other sort of serious damage. She had heard several contact events, though. Kasumi estimated that while Genma would not need an ambulance tonight, he would be quite "roughed up".

    To Kasumi it did not sound like a simple beating. Ranma was moving around too much, as was Genma. The older man simply seemed unable to effectively defend himself.

    Perhaps it had started as sparring and then progressed into something else. Perhaps Ranma simply commenced beating his father. Kasumi did not know. The mix of control and rage did intrigue her, both professionally and personally.

    Kasumi continued to listen, cataloging their conversation and the other noises. She then heard the back door slide open followed by a familiar voice. "I was wondering where you went," Nabiki said, closing the door behind her.

    "It's a clear night," Kasumi said, looking at the sky. She knew a fair number of the stars. Stellar navigation was part of her training.

    "Noise not distracting you?" Nabiki asked as she looked over to the dojo. Ranma seemed to have landed a particularly meaty blow, causing Genma to gasp. She winced at what Ranma was doing, but she knew the old buffoon did piss him off.

    "Not particularly," Kasumi shrugged, wondering if Nabiki realized the potential trouble The Company agent thought Ranma was near his breaking point. She also knew that retribution was an excellent release valve. If one that many frowned on.

    Nabiki nodded. When she wanted to, her sister was capable of entering her own little world. She was much better now. Nabiki wanted to talk to her, but she found herself hesitating. She looked at the older girl's face. After their mother died, Kasumi took up much of the slack. At first she was happy and sweet, almost a caricature of the helpful housewife. Then came Kasumi's incident, and her recruitment to intern for that company.

    When Kasumi returned, she was still like a mother, but in a different way. Sometimes when Nabiki looked into her sister's eyes, she saw the cold eyes of a mother wolf protecting her pups.

    "What do you think about Ranma?" Nabiki finally asked.

    "He is very interesting," Kasumi stated.

    "Holding your cards tight, I see," Nabiki laughed.

    Kasumi gave a little salute with her mug.

    Nabiki eyed the little gray logo. It always seemed to make her eyes hurt. She shrugged as she made her next statement. "I don't think Ranma likes me."

    Kasumi almost blinked at this. That was obvious after the stunt she had pulled today, but more importantly why would her sister care? Kasumi knew all about Nabiki's ice-queen businesswoman persona. It seemed to be mostly an act. Something for Nabiki to keep herself entertained. Was Nabiki afraid for her safety? That might actually be a legitimate concern for the girl.

    "It might not have been terribly wise to make fun of his curse," Kasumi said, after taking a small sip.

    Nabiki looked at the shorter-haired girl. "He seemed fairly okay with it last night. Besides, that Sunshine thing was too delicious to pass up. It's the Drake that he should be mad at."

    Kasumi looked up at the stars again. The sounds from the dojo seemed to be dying off. "I'm sure he will be. Why are you so concerned about what he thinks? Is my little sister showing some emotion? Regret perhaps?" Kasumi joked. Both knew who was better at concealing their emotions.

    Nabiki smiled. "No, Ranma just seems -- how do I say it? He's different when he's a she."

    "Really now?" Kasumi remarked with a slight trace of sarcasm. "You have only just met him."

    "He seems to be more uptight and cold when he's that girl."

    "Can you blame him?" Kasumi asked. She had some suspicions on just what type of Pattern D she was in that form.

    "Well, no."

    Kasumi looked at the younger girl. "Try to go easy on him? He doesn't need this kind of hassle."

    "Fine."

    "How's Akane handling this? She always had problems with the unusual. Remember the fish?"

    Nabiki laughed, remembering that ill-fated fishing trip their father had taken them on. Back when Kasumi was in middle school, the Drake invited the Tendo family up to the Kuno's summer house near Orchard Beach. Soun and the Drake were gutting the day's catch on the patio when Akane came in. Seeing a pile of gasping, decapitated fish heads, Akane ran off and hid under the couch, refusing to come out. That the Drake's son had decided to start tossing them at her had not helped. "Well, it was pretty freaky."
    "And a guy turning into a redhead isn't?" Kasumi said. She was thankful that the knowledge of the curse was, at the very least, restricted to her immediate family. It was rather convenient of Genma to make such a proposal. Yet another reason to investigate the man.

    "I know," Nabiki admitted. "Sis doesn't know what to do about Ranma. He's not obsessing over her, he isn't making fun of her, but he isn't being nice to her either. She doesn't like this Sunshine business, but then neither does Ranma."

    "And indecision does not suit her," Kasumi said, looking at Nabiki. She looked like she had one last thing to ask. Kasumi hoped that it did not pertain to her job. She did not enjoy lying to her family.

    "Yeah," Nabiki said. She paused, then turned around heading back into the house.

    Kasumi smiled. She was able to turn her full attention to the matter at hand.


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

    Rolling over, Ami turned her alarm clock off. She blinked a few times, her brain regaining full consciousness. She looked out the second-story window to see a bright morning sky. Getting out of bed, she stretched, relieved that her jet lag was essentially gone. She still felt a bit out of sync, but it was nowhere near as bad as yesterday; the night before that was not worth mentioning.

    "School today," the blue-haired girl muttered as she put on her robe. She exited her room, then made her way to the bathroom. The apartment Setsuna had set them up with was large enough. The main entrance lead to a good sized kitchen that flowed to the living room. On either side of this central space was a small hallway. Each had a door that went to a bathroom and two that went to the bedrooms. Due to a bend in the building, one of the bedrooms was nearly twice the size of the other three.

    Setsuna remained at her downtown, tenth-floor apartment. The five girls got the four rooms. They used matchsticks to find out which two would have to share the big bedroom. Makoto and Minako pulled the two burnt ones.

    After using the bathroom she shared with Usagi, Ami walked into the main room. She blinked to see Rei dressed in their new school uniform, watching the news. "You're already up?" she asked, yawning.

    Rei turned to see the girl standing behind the couch. "Woke up, couldn't get back to sleep."

    "Ah," Ami stated. "What're you watching?"

    "Canadian news. It's odd there isn't anything about those deaths Setsuna told us about."

    "Maybe the government is covering it up," Ami proposed as she rummaged in the cabinets. After showing them the apartment, Setsuna had driven them around to familiarize them with the area. One of the places they had stopped was a supermarket.

    "They did hire that company," Rei said as she changed to a different news channel.

    "It would be nice to have some help," Ami said. She had moved on to the refrigerator.

    "Not nice people," Rei stated, summarizing what Setsuna had said about WIC.

    "Setsuna didn't seem sure if they would be on the same side as us." Ami stated simply. That Setsuna did not know something was a considerable shock. They were used to her saying that she knew, but for the sake of the timeline she had to remain silent. Often, Ami suspected that the Senshi of Time was pretending to know more than she did. Nonetheless, she was effective at covering up her lack of knowledge, if she even had any.

    But now, there was this Murdock. Setsuna was sure of his role in the creation of DarkStar. Aside from that, Setsuna was frustratingly in the dark.

    Rei turned off the television. "I guess we should wake up the others. More school," she noted sourly.

    "We're Magical Girls. We spend all night fighting monsters and all day at school," Ami stated.

    "Makoto thinks she saw Ranma yesterday."

    "Really? Why didn't she say anything earlier?"

    "She didn't recognize him until she thought about it. She told me last night in the bathroom when we were getting ready for bed. Remember how yesterday, after Setsuna registered us for classes, we wandered around the school for a bit?" She continued after Ami nodded.

    "Mako-chan was on the second floor near the end of a hall. She looked out the window to see a redheaded woman in the parking lot, talking to another student and a slightly older guy in casual business wear, near a gray car. She remembered it because the girl's uniform was not the normal one."

    "What happened?"

    "The redhead got in the car. They then drove off, leaving the other student to walk to her own car. Makoto didn't think much of it at first because Ranma's a guy. Why would he go to school as a girl?"

    "I wish Puu would tell us more about Ranma," Ami sighed.

    "Yeah, she told us all about DarkStar, but nearly nothing about Ranma."

    "It's like she's afraid to research about him. It's almost as if she's afraid of him."

    "That may be it," Rei observed. "Ranma is a guy, but now he's one of us."

    "Technically? Is she a Senshi." Ami frowned. "I guess that depends on if Ranma has a star seed..."

    "Ami, Ranma's got the powers, the reincarnation from the Silver Millennium, and the miniskirt. It's dang close enough."

    "And he thought he would be cured, not made into a Magical Girl. Yeah, he's pissed."

    "I'm surprised DarkStar didn't attack Pluto," Ami said.

    "Maybe she did."

    "We should try to talk to Ranma at school today."

    "Why do you think he's attending as a girl?" Rei asked.

    "I have no idea."

    "When will the cats be out of quarantine?" Rei muttered. When live animals are transported internationally, they are usually required to spend around a dozen days under government observation. This is done to make sure that disease is not spread to livestock and other animals.

    Ami blinked, the change in topic was rather strange. "Um, I think Usagi said they have three more days."

    "I wonder what they have to say about this situation."

    "Even if they were alive when DarkStar was around, I doubt they would remember much."

    "I was referring to Setsuna's actions."

    "Oh."


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

    Ranma dried himself off from his morning shower. He was reluctant to leave the stream of hot liquid, but he had to get ready for school. He used a towel to dry himself. He looked at his reflection. He thrust his arm under the running faucet. Wearing no clothes as a male, his cursed form was also naked. Ranma sighed as she looked at her reflection. There were two outfits her curse would let her wear, not counting DarkStar's getup. Shaking her head she shifted into the marginally better of the two.

    It was a seifuku. While it was not the overly skimpy parody that the Senshi preferred, it was still very form-fitting and revealing. It was similar to the Furinkan girl's uniform of purple pleated skirt, white blouse, blue woman's tie, blue jacket and beret, but with a few key differences. Her version was tighter on her frame than normal, was darker in the skirt and jacket, and had a black blouse, black military beret, and red tie. She also wore calf-high leather boots and fishnet stockings.

    She had an obsidian pendant hanging on a fine silver chain that sat over her tie, and black stud earrings. Annoyed, Ranma pulled back the two long strands of hair that framed her face. The rest of her hair was pulled back and twisted into a tight bun that served as the source of a fan-like pony-tail that cascaded from the back of her head. She looked at the makeup on her face with resentment.

    She sighed again as she left the room. There was not much she could do. She would have to go to school as a girl. A part of her mind told her to refuse, to rebel. She could transform all the way, spread her wings, and fly away from this mess. Another part told her to change back to a man, tell her father to fuck off and walk out. Yet another part of her mind was seriously considering the Company's offer. Those clowns certainly had the resources to take her to China, and that was the best chance she had of finding a cure. Finally, she decided to simply go to school.

    She hoped that she would make it through the day without causing any serious problems.


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

    Deep in the sub-basements of the Canada Trust Tower, in the heart of WIC Toronto-A, a meeting was taking place.

    "Wow, Marv. I can't believe you're actually going to shave that thing," Jacob said as he poured himself a glass of water.

    Commander Marvin Stillwater, head of WIC operations in Toronto and vicinity, turned from his shaving to glare at his executive officer. He was in the middle of reducing his beard. On the left side it was trimmed down to match with the corner of his mouth, and on the right it still connected up to the hair on his head.

    His upper lip was already shaved. He had never been able to grow an even mustache, so for the last twenty years he had opted to simply have a mustache-less beard. Now he was trimming the beard down to a goatee.

    "Come on now Jacob, I was not that attached to it."

    "Yes Sir, you were," Jacob replied, smiling as he said "sir". In the decades that they had known each other, the two men had alternated between being each other's superior as they both climbed the Company ladder. "I remember you started growing it after you were promoted beyond regular field work."

    Stillwater grunted at that as he shaved the hair on the right side of his face. He and Jacob had met as fresh agents just out of training. They had both moved up the chain of command, Stillwater moving further up the Operations Section into Command itself. Jacob had been transferred to Recruitment and Training Section.

    "Don't tell me that the great Stillwater is showing some vanity?" Jacob said, slightly amused.

    "Despite the training and our years of experience, we are still human."

    "It is because of our training and experience that we are still human," Jacob countered.

    "It would seem that way," Stillwater said as he finished reshaping his beard.

    "I'm pleased to report that the DarkStar situation may be salvageable. We have also gotten the background checks to the other new Furinkan students. Some of them are rather -- interesting. They are in the file on your desk."

    "It would be quite the coincidence to have all the Silvers in one place," Stillwater said as he washed his face.

    "It would seem that this operation is replete with coincidences."

    "Murdock," Stillwater stated.

    "Yes. He was most useful in telling us about the Silvers. He did neglect to inform us as to their civilian identities. Something that our own limited surveillance of the Silvers has failed to yield."

    "You know that the Japanese government has restricted our activities in Tokyo," Stillwater said with frustration. They let the Company built an Operations Centre in Hokkaido and gave WIC a free hand to operate throughout their nation, except for a circle fifty miles in radius centered on their capital. The Japanese government created the exclusion zone "to prevent conflicts of interest between governmental police agencies, both civilian and military, and various consulting firms."

    Command was puzzled by this action, but there was little they could do. They operated at the pleasure of the host government.

    "I wonder if the Silvers were the reason for that. How much do they know about us?" Jacob shook his head before returning to the original subject. "Murdock also said nothing of DarkStar."

    "He would probably smile and tell us that she's not technically a Senshi."

    "Semantics. She is a Pattern Silver. That is what counts," Stillwater bitterly said.

    "Indeed."

    "Lieutenant Tendo has performed admirably, although one wonders if she is the right person to interact with Ranma."

    "Once again, circumstances have given us this situation. You read her transcript from last night's events."

    "Yes. His mental state is quite precarious."

    "That's why I say we give him a very soft touch, no manipulations, no bullshit, no head-games, no obligations."

    "And what if he turns his back on us and walks away?" Stillwater asked, sitting down at his desk.

    "Do you think we could control a being such as DarkStar? With preparation we could kill her, but control? No." Jacob sat in one of the chairs in front of Stillwater.

    "Why do you think Ranma will work with us, then?"

    "I think he would help us because to ignore the threat we fight would be unacceptable to him."

    "You would challenge his morality," Stillwater said as he leaned back, smiling.

    Jacob nodded.


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

    Ranma looked up from her desk to see two new students. One was a good looking brunette with a long, curved ponytail. The girl was tall, about even with Ranma's current height. The redhead felt a tinge of familiarity when she looked at the girl. She seemed happy yet reserved. She seemed to be waiting for something to happen, something decidedly unpleasant.

    The other was a tallish guy, who was most likely fairly thin. His shirt seemed to hang off his frame and was poorly tucked into his pants. Oddly, his tie was knotted expertly, but in a style unfamiliar to Ranma. He was fairly pale, though in a sickly way, as opposed to Ranma's -- now Sunshine's -- more alabaster skin tone. The twerp set off warning bells deep within Sunshine's mind. He looked nervous. His squinting eyes were downcast when they were not darting around the room.

    But there was something more. It was only noticeable if you managed to make eye contact during his seemingly pointless scans of the room. Sunshine had looked directly into the teen's eyes and saw a controlled and confident mind. His actions, whatever they might be, would be ones with purpose. These were not the eyes of some shy, bullied geek.

    Ranma watched the two, memorizing their faces and voices. There was something to these two people. She supposed that her classmates would find this influx of new students odd, but they gave no indication of it. She planned to keep tabs on her fellow new students, unaware that there were more newcomers in other classrooms.

    In one, three people were being introduced. Ami and Minako stood in front of a similar room. Next to them, also being introduced, was a girl with short, dark auburn hair. Her name was Janet Fraiser. She was newly moved in from the States. Her uniform was immaculate, with perfectly ironed creases. She stood with her feet shoulder length apart and her hands clasped behind her back. The other two girls felt that this smiling girl was hiding something.

    In a third room, Rei and Usagi looked questioningly at the teen who stood between them. He called himself Rod Ferris. Tall, with broad shoulders and dusky complexion, he appeared to have both Scottish and Native American blood in him. His tie was loosened, looking like a noose cut before the trapdoor could open. His smile was predatory, in a vague, amused way.


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

    "If you hate your name so much, why don't you have everyone use a nickname instead?" Samantha asked the redhead that sat across from her.

    Ranma blinked. Today she was unable to avoid eating with anyone. Fortunately, it was just Naoko and Samantha, two girls whose company she could stand.

    "Wouldn't work," Naoko said before Ranma had a chance to respond.

    "What? She just picks a name and tells everyone to use that instead of the one her hippy parents gave her."

    "Don't you know anything about how nicknames work? You never get to choose your own. It's always given to you. The best you can hope for is something completely random or something from a memorable event in your past. Both are out. Sunshine's new here, and I doubt a name like ‘Tire Iron' or ‘Rutabaga' would fit her. No, that leaves something based on her physical characteristics or a bastardization of her name."

    "Ouch," Samantha said as she tried to think of a nickname that was worse than Sunshine. She could not come up with one, but she did not doubt that several existed.

    "Best not to even try," Naoko warned.

    "Yeah. Sunshine's bad enough as it is," Ranma said as she glanced at another table halfway across the room. The other new girl, Kino Makoto, was sitting there with four other girls. They seemed to be in a hushed conversation, and they would occasionally look over at Ranma's table. At another table in the corner of the room, sat the other new kid. Named Gosunkugi Hikaru, he had some sort of thick, old-looking hardcover book out next to his lunch. He appeared to be softly talking into a tape recorder as he looked over the yellowed pages.

    "Apparently there's been a rash of transfers these last two days," Samantha said, following Ranma's gaze.

    "Yeah, see all those girls that Makoto's talking to, Sunshine?"

    "They're all new too?"

    "Yup."

    "Interesting," Ranma remarked, taking a sip of her soda. Five girls from Japan arrive three days after she had arrived in Toronto. One of them is oddly familiar. Oh, not in how she looked. Having a familiar smell was the closest human sense to which she could equate it. The redhead imagined that if she got close to the other four girls she would pick up the same "scent".

    Ranma resumed eating. After a couple of minutes, she looked up to see the quintet approach. As they got closer Ranma felt the slight twinge that they all gave off. She assumed that some demonic sense organ of hers was picking up on something that the girls gave off.

    The girl at the head of the group was a bubbly blonde with a nauseatingly cutesy hairstyle. Ranma shook her head. Why in God's name would someone place their ponytails there? And why let them get that long? The girl could trip on them if she was the slightest bit klutzy.

    Usagi looked at the sinfully beautiful girl in front of her. She thought Ranma was a boy. Sure, he had that curse, but to go to school as a girl, especially with the name "Sunshine", was very odd. Her own name was not much better, but at least she was born a girl. The blonde was starting to suspect that the transformation had eaten his brain… although it might be for the best. Usagi could not imagine what kind of hell being a Senshi would be for a guy.

    "Hi, Sunshine. I'm in your class," Makoto said, trying to break the ice.

    "Yeah? So?" Ranma responded.

    "There's something we want to talk about," one of the girls with black hair said as she looked at Naoko and Samantha.

    Ranma glanced at her two companions. "Let me guess. This is something that you only want me to hear? Never mind that this is a high school cafeteria that's monitored by cameras." She had noticed the cameras yesterday, but only today was she paranoid enough to think that they were being used to monitor her movements.

    The blonde with her hair unbound swiveled her head around taking note of the black security camera hemispheres in the ceiling. "Well. Would you two still mind leaving us for a bit?"

    Ranma looked at Naoko and Samantha. "Would you two mind?"

    Samantha shrugged as she got up and left. She was followed by Naoko.

    Ranma watched the five girls sit down across from her. "You made me shoo away two people that I can actually stand. Make this good," Ranma said coldly.

    Usagi cleared her throat. "Um, we have a mutual acquaintance. A Meiou Setsuna."

    "Ah, the Time Bitch. So, you're the cheerleaders. Now I've got shadow organizations and magical girls after me. What next? The Free Masons? Elvis? Maybe the Canadian Dental Association?" Ranma laughed.

    "This is serious."

    "I'm sure it is. You guys do get a point for not trying to kill me. However, the fuku is a big mark against you," the demon-girl smirked.

    "You know why we're here?" Ami asked.

    "Oh, yeah. Ancient evil is loose or something. I do have one question. Assuming that Pluto told you about my curse, would you guys be willing to help me cure it?"

    "You're setting terms to work for us?" Rei said skeptically. "Didn't you make a deal with Pluto?"

    "Yes. And she lied. She knew I would never agree to be a magical girl, so she told me it would cure me instead. And now the Company's using the same carrot. But what are those goons going to do to me? Try to make me into one of their tin soldiers? I don't think they're dumb enough to try to kill and dissect me." She paused. "Again."

    As Usagi watched the redhead quietly rant she lost interest in what the girl was saying and instead concentrated on how her body was moving. Her eyes glazed over slightly and she smashed her head into the table. She moaned and impacted it a second time.

    "Meatball-head? You okay?" Rei asked.

    "Make the bad thoughts go away," Usagi whimpered silently. "No. I'm fine," she said as she raised her head. For a brief moment her eyes locked with Ranma's then turned away.

    "Ditz," Rei muttered.

    Man, she can't handle one lesbian daydream, Ranma thought to herself, correctly guessing the nature of the blonde's trouble.

    "You feel betrayed," Usagi stated.

    "Exactly. Now, would you guys be willing to help me find a cure to this?" Ranma asked.

    "I could use the Ginzuishou on you," Usagi suggested.

    "I'm guessing that's some kind of magic trinket. What's it do?"

    "It heals and purifies."

    "Oh," Ranma said. She did not like that word "purify". It could mean something as harmless as removing her curse and the demon DarkStar. It could also mean a purification of personality. A little magical head-cleaning that would make her into an obedient little Sailor Senshi.

    Or, perhaps even worse what if the magic gizmo thought that DarkStar was the "real" her, and it went about purifying out her human guy form. That sounded more like her luck. "I'm not so sure about that."

    "What, you don't trust us?" Rei demanded.

    "Hell, no! I don't know you, and considering the actions of your teammates…"

    "Pluto acted without authorization," Usagi coldly said as she narrowed her eyes.

    "Well, Princess, I suggest you keep better tabs on your troops, because she royally screwed up," Ranma said, meeting her gaze.

    "She is being dealt with."

    "If you say so," Ranma dismissively said. "She was the one to send you here, and I'm guessing she was the one to tell you about me."

    "Yes, there's been a rash of missing persons and a series of bizarre murders," Usagi said as she remembered the condition of the corpses.

    "And she did tell us about you," Makoto added.

    "Although, she only told us about Ranma. Sunshine never came up," Rei said, emphasizing that name.

    Ranma's violet flecked, blue irises contracted. "First of all, my status at school is caused by my idiot father who happens to be friends with the principal. That name was chosen as a cruel joke, and like many other things in my life, I seem to be stuck with it."

    The redhead sighed, took a drink, and continued. "As for Pluto... I guess it was good of her to tell you about me. She could have just sat on that information and let you nimrods attack me because I'm a demon."

    Usagi paused at that. Setsuna did have a habit of withholding critical information.

    "I don't see why you blame Pluto for all this. After all, it was Murdock who killed your predecessor and sabotaged the transfer. Pluto wanted you to be cured. Having you be DarkStar messes up the future," Ami stated.

    Ranma smirked as she put down her soda. "And she told you all of this?"

    "Yes."

    "And have you met Murdock?"

    "No."

    "I have. He's a fairly competent mage specializing in transformations. Apparently, he knows a fair bit about you guys. He knew enough to help me after Pluto's little trick. Look, he is weird. His sense of humor is incomprehensibly dry, but he doesn't care about your precious future. He's too apathetic to do that much scheming."

    "Setsuna told us that WIC has been using him as a source of information."

    "So? I already told you he knows about you guys. It's not like your activities are very secretive what with the skimpy uniforms, bright magical lights, and explosions. The Company found him and pumped him for information."

    "You can't take him for a bystander. He is an unbalanced saboteur who will stop at nothing to fulfill his plans… whatever they are," Usagi said, her ire deflating a bit.

    "I won't deny that he's strange and has caused problems. He did neglect to tell the Company about my situation, but he's not the boogeyman your pet Time-manipulator makes him out to be."

    "You don't know what he's capable of."

    "Neither do you. He's a scapegoat to cover Pluto's incompetent scheming," Ranma said, her eyes looking past the girls at the entrance at the far side of the room. She groaned as she recognized the person entering the room.

    "My glorious Sunshine, how I have missed you," Kuno declared as he strode over to Ranma's table.

    Ranma closed her eyes as tightly controlled rage welled within her. "Leave now, or I will kill you," she said in a disturbingly casual voice.

    Kuno's resolve paused for a second. He was confused. It was obvious that he was meant to be with this beautiful woman, but a part of him told him to run like a frightened field mouse and hide somewhere for a few hours. Steeling himself, Kuno held his ground. "Your hair is like the setting sun, crimson locks burning brightly."

    Ranma put her hand to her forehead. "If you don't leave right now. I will tear open your stomach, hog tie you with your own intestines, and let you bleed to death."

    Usagi's face twisted with revulsion and another emotion. She could clearly see Sunshine doing this, but for some reason her mind pictured the redhead naked as she eviscerated the unfortunate boy.

    Rei blinked. The only emotion the redhead possessed was exasperation. There was none of the raw anger that should accompany such a declaration. She wondered if the redhead was bluffing, if so it was a rather good bluff.

    Kuno opened his mouth. He then slowly closed it. Repeating these two actions several times, he started to resemble the fish heads he had terrorized the youngest Tendo with years ago.

    "Go on, get," Ranma said in a voice eerily similar to a heavily armed hermit talking to a trespasser.

    Closing his mouth with such speed that his teeth clacked together, Kuno turned around and wandered out of the room. A couple of times he drifted into a lunch table causing some of the room to take notice of his passing… although a woman getting fed up enough to threaten to kill Tatewaki was a relatively common occurrence.

    Ranma felt herself drain as Kuno left the room. She was quite relieved that he had actually left.

    "Maybe we should get going," Usagi said as she stood up. She felt the need to get some distance from this redhead. She had trouble blocking the bloody and naked mental images.

    "Okay, then," Ranma said as she resumed eating her lunch. The Senshi seemed to be about what she expected them to be: a group of girls being lead around by the Time Bitch. She did wonder what they were like in combat.

    Usagi shook her head as she returned to her original table. Her four friends followed her. "What do you think of our newest member?" she asked.

    "Scary," Minako said.

    "Look at it from his perspective. Ranma is a guy who turns into a demonic magical girl," Makoto stated.

    "She was about to lose it back there," Rei observed.

    "But he didn't." Makoto stated.

    "Only because that buffoon backed down."


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

    In Etobicoke, a suburb of Toronto to the northwest of the city, there was a series of motels that stood on highway 427, opposite the Lester B. Person International Airport. In one of these motels, a large contingent of rooms has been reserved for a handful of days.

    The occupant of this particular room stood over the table. On it was a series of blueprints and maps. His second-in-command stood off to the side. He gave one final glance to the pen-marked building schematics before addressing his guests.

    "You have just heard the reconnaissance accounts of our operatives. The facility is easy to observe and its structural information is a matter of public record. Pretending to be package deliverymen, we have been able to get our people inside the building. This has given us a more personal description of what the building is like. You have been briefed as to our plan. Any questions? I will not take any legitimate question as insubordination. This plan has to be perfect," he assured his subordinates.

    "Are we sure of the enemy's presence in the building?" asked the head of Cell 3. She appeared to be a very attractive young woman, a trait that was very helpful in past energy collection missions.

    "Within a fair degree of accuracy," the resident nodded. "The men that we had inside detected some trace energy signatures. These match what little information our superiors had collected on the enemy, before the fall of home base," he added sourly.

    "We have confirmed that something magical has been there, and that it is likely to be the enemy?"

    "Yes. In the event that the enemy does not show, we will have plenty of hostages ready to convince them to come, and the Regent has assured us that a significant number of the enemy are in this city," the second stated.

    "And our hostages will be quite useful," the head of procurement and supply, Cell 5, stated. "Conversion will not be an issue. We have ample energy stores for even a very fast change."

    "Good. Our patience and continued collection has paid off," the resident said.

    "The cameras do concern me," the second stated. "The operation is at its weakest in the early stages. If the enemy comes before we are fully set up, we will not have enough weapons or forces to defeat them."

    "That is why our first stage is to remove the surveillance system entirely. Not only will it prevent prying eyes from observing us, it will also give the first group access to the heart of their security system," the resident smiled. "After all, it is the security company who is called in when the cameras break."

    The resident's second then interjected, "Remember, during this operation we will be using our human names." He turned to his superior. "Isn't that right, Dave?"

    "Indeed, Frank. We have all lived under these names for several years, so we will respond to them. As you know, our true names have a theme that may enable those girls to realize our true nature prematurely."

    "It is only by eliminating unnecessary risks that we will succeed," the entity known as Frank said.

    "Once the first team is inside and in control, they will activate the gate and bring the rest of our personnel and material in. Heavy weapons will be placed at these points and hostages will be contained to these rooms," Dave said as he pointed to several spots on the blueprints. "Brief your teams again. Make sure they understand how the mission will go off. This is our last, best chance. We will succeed where all of our comrades have failed. They underestimated the enemy. They had the raw power to find them and kill them, but they insisted on treating the enemy as little girls. Tomorrow we will kill as many of them as possible and escape to strike again."


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

    Ranma was right. The cameras in the school were being used to keep tabs on her. Given the special relationship the Company had with the principal, obtaining access to the school's security system was a simple matter. No one was presently monitoring the cameras. It was 3:15 AM, and the school was empty.

    WIC Toronto-A was not. The Company facility was in full operation. Its staff was currently observing search parties looking for a missing group of campers last seen in the Hilton Falls Conservation Area, twenty-five miles southwest of the city.

    A Company technician was alerted to a signal drop. Checking the source, the young agent was puzzled to find that the observation signals from Furinkan High School had been dropped. Following orders, he lifted his phone and called the base commander.

    Jacob rose from the bunk in his office. Almost instantly regaining full consciousness, he answered the phone. "I'll be in momentarily," he said after the situation was explained to him. He stood up and walked out of his office down the short hallway to "C3", the Command and Control Center. "Why did we lose our signal?" Jacob asked as he entered the large, monitor filled room.

    "The system was installed and is monitored by Keystone Security. We have been monitoring Keystone as well. They have also lost their linkup to Furinkan. Their computer has logged it as a Type 12 Maintenance Fault of unknown origin. A repair team has been slotted to arrive at six hundred hours," a communications agent responded as he organized the data in front of him.

    "Damn Drake and his bargain hunting," Jacob stated as he shook his head. "Do we have any evidence of infiltration before this system failed?"

    "No, but we have a team analyzing the data from just before the signal was lost."

    Jacob considered the situation. Keystone and the Company got their signal from two different places in the security system. Keystone had a landline directly into the control system so that an emergency, fire, medical, police, or other services could be quickly reported to the authorities. Unlike the connection the Company used, it was not a broadcast of everything all the cameras saw. To have both fail meant that the mechanical fault was deep within the core of the system, or that it was a planned sabotage of the system. "Send the strike team on North York rotation in," Jacob ordered. "Have them observe the grounds for intrusion."

    Jacob sighed as he sat down at his chair in the C3 room. It could be a simple breakdown in a cheaply installed security system with a history of failing. The cameras had malfunctioned in one level or another over thirty times in three years of service, Jacob found out as he read Keystone's database on the Furinkan system. It could also be a way for the opposition to set up a trap without being observed.

    If it was nothing, then this could be an excellent training opportunity, yet another shakedown of the capabilities of the agents, especially working as a large group. WIC Toronto-A was a new facility and more training would be helpful.

    By a quarter of four, the situation had become more complete, but still rather unclear. Digital analysts confirmed that the cameras in the school did not detect anything unusual. The team sent in to observe the school was unable to detect any Pattern classifiable energies. After getting approval from Jacob, the team entered the grounds of the school. They were unable to find any obvious signs of break in.

    Entering the building, the team found the electrical system in disarray. Half of the building's circuit breakers had been tripped, some of them going as far as to be broken by the apparent surge. The ones supplying power to the security system and to the lighting on the forth floor had failed to block the surge causing damage to the electronics they serviced. This surge was why the security system cut out.

    Further investigation lead to a nearby electrical substation. The North York team found a repair team from Ontario Power Generation already at the scene. It would seem that the station had fluctuated in its power supply, damaging the buildings it serviced, including Furinkan.

    Jacob continued the alert. It seemed like a simple equipment fault, but that was exactly the cover that a well-designed operation would use. The previous day's surveillance had shown Ranma talking with five girls newly arrived from Japan. They matched the limited physical descriptions that the Company had gathered on the Pattern Silvers. It was not definite, but the probability did point to them. This was something that the opposition could also have figured out.


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

    "I can't believe they get away with those fuku," Sophie said as she sipped her coffee. She was in the Company commissary with Aram and Gabriel. Their team was about to go on duty at 06:30 hours and they were getting a few minutes of relaxation in before they had to get to start work

    "The Pattern Silver ones or the Furinkan ones?" Aram asked as he drank his orange juice.

    "Well, as amazed as I am that high school students would be willing to wear those things -- God, some of those girls are eighteen!" Sophie exclaimed. She was that age two years ago.

    "It's a private school. The owner can choose what uniform he wants for the students," Aram stated.

    "Anyway. I was really talking about the Silver uniforms. How can they stand to fight in those things?"

    "They're magical girls. It's standard procedure."

    "Aram this isn't some anime," Sophie explained.

    "Said the secret agent of a paramilitary organization that fights eldritch horrors," Gabriel said. Sophie glared at him. "What? That's what we do."

    "It's not like they chose to dress like that. Look at DarkStar," Aram said.

    "What do you guys think? Another day of watching Ranma?"

    "Maybe we'll follow those five girls Sunshine had lunch with."

    "Agent Tendo told us that those girls have a rather interesting record," Gabriel said.

    "Really? She tell you the particulars?" Sophie asked.

    "Nope. Where is the lieutenant anyway?"

    "Still at her house. She's there in case Ranma wants to talk to her."


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

    Samuel Chase entered his new place of employment. He was to be the new substitute teacher. He had met with the principal yesterday to finalize his job placement. The Drake was an odd fellow, but Chase had worked for stranger in the past.

    As Chase opened the front door he gave a nod to the maintenance man cleaning the windows to the left of the entrance. The man gave a slight nod and continued his work. Until he reached the faculty lounge, Chase saw no one else. It was still an hour and a half before homeroom would start.

    Opening the door, Chase found about half a dozen teachers, most of them drinking coffee and killing time until they had to get to their rooms. "Hey, Sam! Who're you covering today?" Peter Gibbons, a history teacher, asked. About the same age as Chase, Gibbons had befriended the new substitute. The other teachers were polite to Chase, but they had no real concern for a new teacher who did not even warrant his own class. Chase cared little for what others thought. His was a job that while dull and often unpleasant, was necessary, and that was it.

    "I'm still covering for Sasha Ulster," Chase said as he pulled his mug out of his briefcase.

    "The Sophomore English teacher?"

    Chase nodded and filled his mug from the coffee machine. Sitting down across from Gibbons, he proceeded to talk sports. Interestingly the man was a fan of rugby, a sport that Chase had played back in high school.

    After a few minutes, Chase had finished his second cup. He turned to see the "out of order" sign still on the sink. "Dang," he said holding, the stained mug.

    "The Drake will hire a team to fix the security cameras the second they break, but will he hire a plumber? That girls' bathroom on the other side of the wall is still broken. Bureaucratic nut-job," Gibbons said, cynically.

    "Guess I'll have to use the bathroom again," Chase muttered sourly.

    "You don't have to wash it after every usage."

    "It's important to me."

    "Why? It's just a plain black mug. There's nothing on it."

    "Let's put it this way. It was one of the few things I was allowed to keep after the separation."

    Gibbons gave a bitter little smile. "So your ex kept everything else?"

    "It happens," Chase said, giving the impression that he answered his coworker's question. Chase then left the room. After walking down the hall a bit, he entered a boy's bathroom. He washed his mug in one of the sinks, dried it with some paper towels, and returned it to his briefcase. The man paused. After shutting the faucet off he had heard a couple of people running heavily in the hallway. Now, the sound of a door being slammed open drifted into the room. It was followed by a series of harsh words and a shout that quickly ceased.

    Chase calmly pulled his phone out of his jacket pocket. He turned it on and pressed a series of buttons. After listening to make sure that it connected properly, he returned it to his pocket. Chase then picked up his briefcase with his left hand, put his right hand inside his jacket until it touched a familiar device, and went into the hallway.

    Outside of the bathroom, Chase found the door to the teacher's lounge open. He walked slowly, silently, until he got a full view of the room. Part of him had hoped that this was just a pair of irate teachers kicking open a door and ranting about their crappy jobs, but another part told him how he should do this, how things must be done.

    Slowly looking into the room, Chase was thankful of his precautions. The seven teachers were huddled in one corner of the room, their faces a mixture of confusion and shock. Corralling them were two men in beige jumpsuits that announced them as employees of Keystone Security. Each was holding an Avtomat Kalashnikov. Chase could not tell the exact model, but that hardly mattered at this point. He had been briefed as to the situation with the surveillance system and Keystone's appointment.

    He did not know who these men were, or even if they were human, but he had a fair idea of why they were here. He frowned slightly as one of them turned to the door and caught a glimpse of him. His right hand gripped his sidearm and drew the weapon. In one smooth motion he brought the handgun around and extended his arm so that it was sighted over the closer of the two targets. His only thought was the relief that the current trajectories would be clear of bystanders.

    The youma's face betrayed his surprise as he dumbly raised his weapon. How could anyone know they were here? Their leader has assured them of their secrecy. These thoughts ended as a pair of silver-jacketed forty-five caliber hollow-points blew apart the back half of his skull.

    Immediately after his first two shots, Chase swiveled his arm and dispatched the remaining target in an identical manner. He walked up to the corpses which had started to slowly dissolve. He fired a single shot into the heart of each. Still holding his gun at the ready he pulled out his phone. Talking in a clear crisp voice, he assessed the situation, "I have just dispatched two targets in the second floor lounge. Despite being armed with automatic weapons, they are NH, I repeat NH. Accelerated decomp on the bodies. Repeat their bodies have accelerated decomposition."

    "Sam, what's going on?" Gibbons asked, apparently not noticing the splatters of blood.

    "We have a situation," Chase said to him and headquarters. He then turned back to the doorway and received his orders, each sentence accompanied by an abrupt pause. "Yes sir, very high likelihood of more targets. Recommend immediate quarantine. Agreed. We do not want more bystanders in here. Reconnaissance? It may be possible. It depends on if others heard the gunfire. What about the others? Yes sir, I understand. I will keep the channel open."

    Chase put his phone back. His piercing eyes met the others in the room. "Who here knows how to use these?" he asked pointing to the rifles being held by the corpses.

    "I like to hunt," a physical education teacher said, stepping forward.

    "My brother's a gun collector," Gibbons said, wiping some of the blood off his forehead. "Why here, Sam? What would terrorists want with us?"

    "This is a school," Chase said simply. "Frank, Earl, I want you two to pick up those guns, ready them, and watch the door," he said, looking at the two men.

    Gibbons blinked, and then pulled the Kalashnikov out from under a partially dissolved arm. He checked the magazine, replaced it and chambered a round in the Russian-made firearm. The gym teacher had done the same with the other weapon. "What're you going to do?"

    "My job," Chase said as he prepared to leave the room. He would not go far. Reinforcements were on their way.


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

    "The pair Cell 2 sent to the teacher's lounge has failed to report in," Frank reported to his superior.

    The youma leader sighed. They were in the control room for the security system. Gaining entrance was incredibly easy. A team from Keystone was expected, and intercepting the truck and disposing of the real team was a simple task. Then came the assembly and activation of the gate. Fortunately, there was a storage room next to the control room that was of suitable size for the men and material that they needed to teleport.

    Once the rest of his men were in place, they could secure the rest of the building and set up their equipment. They did repair the security system. Once the Senshi arrived, it should come in handy.

    "I told them to subdue them and prep the hostages for conversion. We do not have time to play with the humans," Dave stated assuming that the delay was simply his troops indulging themselves a bit.

    "I'll send another team up there to reprimand them," Frank suggested.

    "Only slightly," the resident ordered. "Then bring them to me."

    Frank nodded and left the room.

    Dave shook his head. They were too close to have it fail due to petty incompetence. He was unaware of the true magnitude of that pair's failure.


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

    "I want everything we have on Furinkan pulled up and ready when needed. There's a reason we went through the hassle of collecting all that," Jacob ordered as he entered an elevator in the Company facility. "Do we have the information from the North York team?" he asked a Major in the elevator.

    "The full scans are waiting for you in the command truck," the agent said as he handed Jacob a few papers. "Sir, they detected slight inter-dim signals," the operations section officer stated as the doors closed.

    "We need jammers." Jacob read the report as the elevator rose. "We'll have the Black, Red, and Gold teams brought in on this. Alert the local police. They should be adequate crowd control. Agents will be placed with them to make sure no one gets in. We cannot have students getting into the building. I want the local transmitter cells disabled before we leave."

    The elevator stopped, and before the doors could fully open Jacob stepped out briskly, walking to some of the vehicles in the motor-pool. He was stopped by Stillwater, who had just arrived.

    "Commander," Jacob said.

    Stillwater looked over at the Company agents in their armor and helmets assembling and checking their weapons. He then turned to Jacob, who was also wearing combat gear and a pair of Colt 1911's low slung on his hips. "I've been briefed. Your proposal is risky, but it may be our best shot. Have her ask him if he wants to help," Stillwater said to his old friend. "Happy hunting."

    Jacob saluted. Stillwater returned it. The two men went on their ways, Jacob to the vehicles to command from just outside the building, and Stillwater to the C3 to watch from a distance.


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

    Ranma was woken up by a gentle shaking. He opened his eyes to see Kasumi standing over him. She waited for his eyes to open fully. "We have a problem."

    Ranma looked at the girl. He could tell that it was early, but not how much. "What's going on?"

    Talking in a low clear voice Kasumi briefed her fiance. "The high school has been taken over by an unknown number of entities, most likely Pattern Y."

    "The Senshi?"

    "It's likely they were the intended target. You might be one too," Kasumi said.

    "It's early," Ranma observed rising out of his bed. Having Kasumi standing above him made the martial artist uncomfortable.

    "We were alerted before they could finish setting up. As it is, they only got twenty people. They could have had the whole school."

    "Hostages," Ranma said bitterly as he walked over to his dresser.

    "At best. Batteries are likely as well. Maybe cannonfodder too," Kasumi said with distaste.

    Ranma closed his eyes. Murdock had warned him. He told Ranma of the things that these things were capable of. "I know why you woke me up," he stated flatly.

    "Good," Kasumi replied.

    "You want me to go with you and kill some monsters," Ranma said as a statement.

    "Are you coming?" Kasumi asked, looking Ranma in the eye.

    "What happens if I say ‘Fuck Off, Bitch?'" Ranma asked, looking at his bed.

    "I leave. You go back to sleep." Kasumi shrugged.

    "And this will have no effect on you taking me to China. This nice approach is really starting to annoy me. What kind of secret organization doesn't threaten, bully, or blackmail the people it wants to recruit?"

    "One that wants loyal, competent people? We screwed up with you that first night. we made a bad first impression but..." Kasumi shrugged and turned to leave the room. "I have to leave now," she said, exiting the room.

    Ranma blinked, then blinked again. He looked at his bed then at his dresser. He weighed his options. He could go back to sleep, or he could go with Kasumi and fight whatever had taken the school. The choice was his. He wasn't even sure these secret agents really wanted his help. It wasn't like he had trained with them.

    He was under no obligation to go. But then he would be turning his back on innocent people just because he had a bone to pick with WIC. It did not matter how good his reasons to dislike the Company were; he had the power, as distasteful as it was, to make a difference. Ranma knew that his character dictated the choice he had to make. A martial artist is supposed to protect the weak.

    "Bastards," Ranma muttered as he quickly got dressed. He left his room, went down the stairs, and opened the front door. The house was quiet. It seemed that he and Kasumi were the only ones awake. He found his fiancée sitting in her car. The engine was on and it was halfway down the driveway.

    He opened the front passenger door and got in. "If this is a lie, you realize the consequences," he said after he buckled his seatbelt.

    Kasumi nodded slowly and drove her car out of the driveway and onto the street.


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

    A few well-placed phone calls can make all the difference. At this time of day, Furinkan would normally be swarming with activity: cars and busses in the parking lots, and students and faculty walking in and around the buildings.

    Now the well-maintained grounds were empty and still. This quiet area consisted of the building itself, the grounds it sat on, the parts of Bathurst Street and Rutherford Road that the school was near, and some of the buildings and lots on the opposite side of those roads. Outside of this zone was a shifting group of people -- confused students, the morbidly curious, and surprisingly few representatives of the media who had a different type of curiosity.

    In between these two zones were two perimeters. On the outside it was made up of Toronto's police department. There were a number of cruisers and officers maintaining the barricades and security. Among the policemen were a few dark green Humvees, their occupants watching the people milling about.

    The inner perimeter was much closer to the school, and was composed of even more Humvees and several larger vehicles, including a few strangely sleek medium armored trucks, a couple larger flatbed trucks that were equally reinforced, and a large tractor-trailer. Some of the Humvees had formed a perimeter around the building. The fifty caliber machineguns mounted on their roofs were manned and trained on the building.

    In a parking lot across the street, but still inside the perimeter, were half of the remaining vehicles. The other half was positioned in at the edge of a small forest at the northern edge of the property. The athletics fields had been torn up by the heavy treads of the vehicles.

    After passing through the outer perimeter, Kasumi's car met up with the cluster in the parking lot. Her sedan was dwarfed by the large vehicles around her. "We're here," she said as she killed the engine. She then stepped out of the car, opened her trunk, removed a large duffel bag from within, and quickly ran to the large semi.

    Ranma opened his door and ran after her. It was a strange experience. Only sixteen hours ago, as Sunshine, he was able to walk freely on these grounds. Now they were being watched by hard-eyed men and women wearing military body armor and holding weapons.

    Ranma quickly climbed up the steps, the trailer's armored door closing behind him. It was a small airlock chamber. After passing through another heavy door, he entered a large room that was slightly wider than it was long. It was a miniature laboratory of some kind, and it had several incomprehensible pieces of equipment on the walls. Ranma followed Kasumi through another thick metal door. This one lead to more rooms that made up the inside of the trailer.

    Near him were several storage closets and secured containers. After that was a collection of manned computer terminals followed by a small briefing room. In the very front, Ranma could see some bunks opposite a door marked "Bathroom/Shower" and a small kitchenette, and between them at the very front was a heavy door that presumably lead to the cab of the truck.

    Sitting at the head of the table and facing Ranma was Jacob. "So good of you to come," he said, looking up from the display at the center of the table. Projected above the surface in an impressive if slightly phantasmal hologram of the high school in schematic format.

    "You think you need my help?" Ranma asked, walking forward. He passed Kasumi, who was removing her clothing in the storage section.

    "Probably not," Jacob admitted as he looked at some of the symbols floating within the wire-frame building model. "Our reconnaissance gives their probable numbers and our Scanners haven't picked up anything worryingly powerful. Our jamming equipment has made teleportation exceedingly difficult. We have faced worse with less."

    "Right. That statement's full of weasel words," Ranma said flatly. He was now standing near Kasumi, who was down to her bra and underwear.

    "Correct. We don't know exactly what's in there," Jacob said. "Our instruments can be fooled."

    Ranma nodded and looked over at Kasumi. She was putting on a set of grey and dark green fatigues. As he looked at her right forearm Ranma noticed several thin lines of scars. They appeared at least several years old. On her torso he caught a glimpse of what looked to be a larger puncture wound of some kind. Before Ranma could get a better look at it, the scar was covered by Kasumi's clothing. He also noticed that she wore a necklace. It was a simple gold cross that was quickly tucked under her fatigues. Ranma turned back to Jacob who appeared to have not noticed the pause.

    "What do you want me to do?" Ranma asked.

    "That's up to you. We can have someone drive you back home. You can stay here and observe. Or you can fight," Jacob said simply. "Oh, if you have your own plan, you can try that too."

    "Being very accommodating," Ranma said skeptically.

    Jacob shrugged. "It's not like we can control you. All the Company can do is show you what's happening and let you decide."

    Ranma turned back to look at Kasumi. The girl had finished dressing. Over her fatigues were several sections of camouflaged body armor. There was a back-and-chest piece, pieces that went over her legs, overlapping a pair of tightly laced combat boots, and pieces from her upper arms hinged at her forearms and had a little section that went over the back of her hand. She was wearing a pair of very tightly fitting gloves. The black and grey material fitted like skin, especially on the pads of her fingers.

    Her hair, chin, neck, and forehead were concealed by a balaclava that was tucked into her armor. She had a headset clipped behind her ear with a microphone that went to her mouth. She had a webgear harness on over her armor. Secured to it were several pouches and items that Ranma could not easily discern. He assumed that they contained ammunition, medical supplies, tools, radios, and other such equipment. After securing her helmet, Kasumi moved to her weapons to load up.

    Ranma considered his options. He could do whatever he wanted. It was good that these nimrods knew they could not control him.

    Interestingly, they did not seem terribly certain that they could even kill him. Given the hardware Ranma had just seen, he thought that was a bit of a cautious estimate.

    The decision was his. He could help or he could do nothing. It was refreshing to have someone ask Ranma what he wanted, but it was also infuriating. It was his choice, his decision, his responsibility.

    Ranma exhaled.

    He had to fight. To turn his back when he could have made a difference would be unacceptable. The Company's desires were irrelevant. They would fight with or without him. Ranma knew his character. He knew that he would be putting his life on the line, but if he turned his back, if he left, if he hid, he would not be able to live with himself.

    Ranma shook his head and walked over to the table. He sat down opposite Jacob. "So, what've you got planned?" Ranma asked. He had to fight, but he did not have to fight with the Company. However, it would be shear stupidity to rush into battle without knowing their plan.

    Jacob paused the slightest bit before responding. His face was carefully neutral.



    End Chapter 3

    Author's Notes:

    Prereaders for this chapter are Joe Fenton, Gerald Starfire, Wray, The Jak, and Jakub. They read my typos and mistakes so you don't have to.

    Revision Notes: Not too much changes in this. DCG and Ellf have helped with the revisions.
     
  6. Threadmarks: Chapter 4
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

    Joined:
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    Book 1: Brooding Responsibilities
    Chapter 4: Cruel Education
    Formerly: Reactions and Results


    The ranking youma looked at the monitors. He appeared to be an average, if rather tanned, twenty-something male human. Dressed in a plain beige jumpsuit, he was sitting at the observation chair for Furinkan High School's security system. Also in the basement room were several similarly dressed entities. All were carrying weapons, of one sort or another.

    The situation was bad. The authorities had been alerted and sealed off the building. This left them with only a couple dozen humans to work with. It was much less than the several hundred they were expecting. The number was considerably fewer people than youma. It was all that stupid teacher's fault. Dave shook his head. Some of the blame could be placed on those two dead idiots who let their guard down.

    The situation was not hopeless. They still had plenty of energy. He had many troops, and powerful weapons for them to use. He also had some humans. These would buy him some time with the police. Already, the news reporters had arrived on the scene. No doubt, the Senshi would find out about this and rush in "to save the day".

    Their ideal plan required plenty of humans, but they could make do without them. Dave smiled. Even if things went horribly wrong, they still had a gate. Thanks to that, retreat was still an option. They might be surrounded but they weren't trapped.

    The situation with those armed teachers was resolved as well. They had to kill the one with the handgun that was wandering the halls. Somehow the fool had managed to kill two more of his men before finally being put down. For the rest of the teachers, all they had to do was gas the room, incapacitating them all. Dave would have preferred to kill them for their insolence, but with a limited supply of humans that was not an option.

    Dave looked at his watch. His second in command, who used the alias Frank, should be arriving from his inspection of the troops in the upper floors. Once here, Frank could take over here. Dave really wished that he could have taken that substitute teacher alive. It would have been nice to… talk with the man responsible for this mess.


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

    "That's your plan," Ranma stated. He then stood up and looked around the room. They were in the briefing section of a Company mobile command center. A large tractor-trailer converted to the purpose, it was parked in a lot across the street from the target building.

    From his seat, Jacob nodded. The boy seemed to be capable enough. Ranma was more interested in learning what the Company was doing than telling Jacob what he planned to do. The agent was pleased that the boy was showing that much caution.

    He had almost expected Ranma to blindly run into the building the second he arrived. Instead he asked about what the Company's plan was and where the insertion points were.

    The situation was amusing in a twisted way. Jacob had just explained an entire operation to known Pattern D. It was not the first time his organization had worked with NH entities, but it was still a bit of a novelty.

    "Good luck," the old agent finally said to the young man.

    Ranma gave a curt nod and stretched a bit. He hated what he had to do, but there was no choice.

    He had to fight, and it would be complete idiocy to not use a very powerful advantage.

    Ranma's form wavered and shifted into his female form. Bands of crimson, violet, and black energy then wrapped around her body. Pattern scanners in the room recorded the transformation.

    The lights quickly died down and revealed the changes. The woman was an exceedingly beautiful, alabaster-skinned demoness complete with fangs, little black horns, large wings that were dark purple on the outside and blood red on the inside, and a long red tail with purple spade-shaped fins at the end. She was dressed in an abbreviation and simplification of a Senshi uniform, itself an abbreviated of a schoolgirl's uniform.

    She wore black leather knee-high boots with a five inch-heel and a red-trimmed black leather pleated skirt. Her top was composed of purple and red ribbons with bikini-like panels over her generous chest. Like her dangling earrings, her gold tiara was set with a single stone of obsidian.

    Feathered, her hair now reached mid-back and was the deep red blood-red. Her fingernails had lengthened until they resembled crimson talons. Her makeup was slightly more elaborate than the normal for a Senshi, and meshed very well with her eyes, which were now a very deep, almost luminescent amethyst.

    Sailor DarkStar folded her wings tight against her back. She then shook her head. Her hair swished back and forth. Jacob's face was carefully neutral as watched the display. He had seen the footage from the aborted assassination attempt, but to see the transformation in person was something else entirely.

    Jacob then turned to one of the computer operators. "Agent Iverson, show the communications equipment to— what name do you want to use for this?" Jacob asked the demonic magical girl.

    "DarkStar's fine, I guess," the redhead said, her violet eyes starting to glow slightly.

    Maya Iverson stood up. Dressed in combat gear similar to the other agents, she had dark brown hair that was cut to just above her neck. She had picked up a small object. She walked over to DarkStar. She stood before a girl that even without her heels was a couple inches taller than her. Iverson handed the device to the pseudo-Senshi.

    "This is a Mark 302 communications system," the brunette said in a surprisingly cheerful voice that was oddly familiar to DarkStar. "It clips onto your ear like so. Just make sure that it clasps properly or it will cause some discomfort," the young woman said as she demonstrated the mechanism on her own headset.

    DarkStar looked at the device in her hands. There was no real reason not to wear the thing. It was easy enough to take off. Besides she had just spend the last few minutes grilling these guys about their plans.

    She had pulled back some of her crimson tresses and was prepared to clip the headset into place. She looked at Jacob's carefully neutral face and paused.

    It was too much. This was exactly what they wanted. She was being far too accommodating to these fools. "I can't take this," she stated as she handed the headset back to the young woman.

    "That's fine," Jacob said, dismissively.

    DarkStar went to the back door of the room. The armored door opened and she walked through.


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

    Stillwater sat in the central chair of WIC Toronto-A's Command and Control Center. His elbows were placed on the table in front of him. Save for his index fingers, the Commander's digits were linked past each other. Those two other fingers were extended and rested on the bridge of his nose.

    "Are all the pieces in place?" he asked.

    "Yes, sir, everyone is ready. The cryptographic team has recovered from their delay," one of the C3 officers responded. "They are ready—" he paused for a few seconds then spoke again as a few symbols changed on his display, "—now."

    "Excellent," Stillwater said, putting his hands down. It had taken some doing for the software experts in Communications and Cryptography Section to get in. Having access to Keystone Security's files did help speed things. He then picked up a black phone that sat on the table. "All teams are 'Go'. I repeat, 'Go'," he said in a clear, cold voice.


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

    The power lines that serviced Furinkan were disconnected by Company personnel that had accessed a telephone pole outside of the quarantine zone. Most of the phone lines were disabled as well. Those that the cryptography team required were left intact. At the same time, cellular phone service for the area was disabled by a few timely commands to local transmitter towers.

    The youma monitoring the school's security system watched the power fail. He waited for the backup system to kick in. The emergency lights had kicked on, but the security monitors remained blank. The monster quizzically looked at the black screens, unaware that the computers controlling the system had been compromised.

    Inside several of the larger Company vehicles were some large, complicated machines. They were being activated by the agents that operated them. A few gritted their teeth as machines powered up. The fields they generated were supposedly imperceptible. However, some of the more experienced operators could feel a strange resonance that was reminiscent of how air feels right before a lightning strike.

    Dave rubbed his forehead. He should have known that the police would try to cut the building's phone and power. He reminded himself to punish the head of Cell 4. That idiot had assured him that the security system had been repaired and would still function in the event of blackout.

    The youma leader was in the storage room that their gate was stored in. He was watching as two members of Cell 1 carried a large crate across the threshold of the portal. Dave watched as the swirling, almost invisible curtain that marked the gateway between the two locations intensified in brightness before extinguishing completely.

    The gateway failed. The crate fell to the ground. The youma carrying it from behind was unable to hold it up as he was missing everything from the left side of his neck to his left foot, except for part of his left arm that had fallen off the crate.

    Dave watched as the body slowly dissolved. All their time living as humans had given their bodies a bit more substance. Unfortunately, this made their corpses much messier. "I want the gate back up and running," he told the youma in charge of the gateway in a very quiet, dangerous voice.

    The youma quickly agreed and stated that the gate failure was probably due to interference from the energy cells or something.

    Dave then turned to his second. "Alert everyone," he ordered Frank. "Ask our rooftop observers if those police have done anything."

    Frank had sent three members of Cell 2 up onto the roof. One was in the center on the fifth floor roof, and the other two were on the third floor roof and opposite ends of the H-shaped building.


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

    The observers had been using a spell that gave them a fair degree of invisibility, and another for protection. Unfortunately for them, they were not thermally or magically stealthed. Dressed in their own specialized Ghillie suits, the Company sharpshooters found Frank's observers rather easily. Unlike the two Pattern Y's dispatched by Agent Samuel Chase, these creatures had their protective fields up. It would prove to be insufficient.

    The sharpshooters were using Model S03 ammunition, more commonly known among Company personnel as Lead Flowers. These projectiles consist of two sections. Under a thin coating designed to facilitate feeding were six sabot-style metal segments. When the rotating slug hit a barrier, these pieces of metal bent out, revealing a high-density dart at the core of the slug. The six high-strength metal petals then drilled into the obstruction, allowing the core to pass through.

    The sharpshooters fired. The bullets hit the youma shields. For only an instant, a section of the youma shields the size of a small nail failed, but it was enough.

    The core of the sabot bullet separated from the outer sections and closed the remaining handful of inches. There the core hit the youma and blasted a surprisingly large cone of organic fragments out of the side opposite the sharpshooter. The other two youma met identical fates. The kills were confirmed, and the operation's next sequence activated.


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

    From the shadows in a grove of trees near the athletic fields, DarkStar watched as the armored vehicles and helicopters moved in. She had listened to Jacob because she wanted to know what the Company's plans were: where they would be putting men, where the hostages were, and where they would be setting the explosives.

    Informed she was free to make her own plans. Jacob seemed oddly cooperative. DarkStar cleared those thoughts from her mind and spread her wings. She had WIC's information, and what she had observed in the few minutes she had waited for the Company to make its move.

    She had let her demonic senses fold out, despite the distance she could smell the invaders. The youma, pale imitators her school offended her. She was too far away to get individual locations but from sheer numbers she could they were there.

    Her horns tingled there was something coming from the basement of the school, that felt wrong, like a sucking hole. Then Company powered up some strangely intense machines that really set her horns, and her teeth on edge and the sensation from the basement ceased.

    As Company agents stormed the building, DarkStar took to the air. She flew low and fast, right into a third story window. Her wings folded in and she tumbled through the large window. She smoothly landed behind a desk, her knees bent and her tail extended behind balance.

    She heard footsteps in the hallway, towards the classroom she was in. There were discinct smells, maybe three or four.

    They were youma; closer, she sensed they were fairly weak. She edged to one side of the room and waited for them to get through the doorway.

    A youma entered the room, his Kalashnikov raised to his shoulder. The creature was nervous; there had been a crash in the ground floor, followed by gunfire.

    DarkStar could feel his almost human-like emotions.

    There was also something going on with that helicopter that had passed overhead. The youma noticed the broken window first, his eyes scanning the room. Confusion drew on his face as he saw the girl. She was wearing the uniform of the enemy, but she was obviously something else.

    DarkStar saw the man raise his weapon, finger on the trigger, and charged her own attack to counter. A violet orb wreathed in white flames appeared in her hand before being propelled at the youma. After passing though his shield with the all ease of a match through tissue paper, the orb then slammed into the youma hard, covering him in a goop that stuck to his body and ignited instantly. The youma died quickly as the flames consumed his body, and DarkStar slowly walked over the charred smear on the floor, towards the door.

    "What the hell happened to Earl?" a frightened voice asked from outside in the hall.

    "Cover me, I'm going in," another voice, this one much closer to the door, stated. He slipped into the room, keeping his back to the wall.

    He almost ran into the tall redhead, who quickly eviscerated him. Partially-translucent red claws had appeared on her fingers. They extended several inches beyond the tips of her fingers and sliced through the youma's body with little resistance.

    DarkStar ran into the doorway and quickly shot two spheres of magical napalm. One hit a youma right in the head, instantly killing him. The other struck the last member of the squad in the left hip, only splashing part of his body in the adhesive incendiary. Before DarkStar could grab the youma and get him with her claws, he managed to squeeze off three low shots that embedded themselves into the floor. They were the only shots fired by this group.

    DarkStar dropped the youma. A wave of... something drew around her; her skin tingled. She looked at the corpses. One was nothing more than a smear on the tile floor. Two were cut into rapidly decaying chunks of flesh. The last one was slumped against some lockers, the remains of his head and shoulders still burning like some horrific candle.

    She withdrew her power and the flames snuffed out. At least they stopped looking human once they died. DarkStar knew those shots would attract some attention. She tilted her head and sniffed the air. There was another group coming in from somewhere else in the building.


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

    Kasumi crouched on the fifth floor roof her team had just rappelled onto. Their boots softly crossed tarred gravel that made up its surface. The access hatch to the roof was open, and a concerned voice was calling up from below. "Irving, what's going on?

    She turned to Gabriel. Her left hand made a series of gestures before returning to her weapon. Behind his goggles, Gabriel's eyes narrowed. He unclipped a grenade and readied it. Sophie and Aram slowly moved towards the hatch.

    "That helicopter sounded awfully close," the youma said, oblivious to the situation.

    Gabriel released the grenade's spoon, held it, and neatly lobbed it through the hatch.

    "Look, I'm coming up there," the youma said as he gripped the ladder that was bolted to the wall. He saw the green canister neatly fall towards him. It detonated roughly even with his head. The youma's body above the hips disappeared in the blast.

    Aram waited a second before he went down the ladder. Sophie followed immediately afterwards. They found themselves in the remains of a janitor's closet, and Aram found himself up to his ankles in the rapidly decaying remains of the youma. He grunted at this, glad that his boots didn't slip too much.

    The concussion and shrapnel from the blast had destroyed the room. Several containers of cleaning supplies had ruptured. The chemical smell mixed unpleasantly with the stench of burnt meat and hair that emanated from the remains splattered all over the walls of the small room.

    Sophie had made her way to the door. A small display with some concise characters and words was projected onto a corner of her goggles. She motioned for Aram to take position next to the door near the knob. Gabriel checked a larger scanning device he had strapped down to an arm.

    Sophie listened, waited, and fired. She depressed the trigger to her weapon, releasing two three-round bursts at the locations Gabriel had indicated. The sound was suppressed quite effectively. The gun only gave off a slight metallic brushing sound.

    Aram then tore the door open, ready to fire a 20mm grenade round. Both agents were carrying the same model gun.

    While having only one trigger guard and trigger, the weapons had two barrels, actions, magazine receivers, and magazines. The gun looked like a bulky merging of a shotgun and an assault rifle.

    And offshoot of the Objective Individual Combat Weapon (OICW) project developed, and then abandoned, by the US military. It was a heavy weapon.

    The Company version was even heavier as instead of the 5.56mm NATO of the US military version fired, these guns shot 7.62mm NATO ammunition for the rifle portion.

    Company scientists had determined the larger bullet was worth the increase in weapon weight and the greater size allowed for the design of specialized cartridges. Despite the use of lightweight and high-strength composites in the stock and other applicable locations, excessive weight was still an issue with this weapon.

    The HOG, as it was affectionately known to Company agents, was a pain to lug around, but the firepower it offered was some consolation.

    Aram found the hallway empty save for two more decomposing Pattern Y's. Aram was relived to find that the Model 703, a Company enhanced version of the US Army M993 armor piercing 7.62mm cartridge, was sufficient. He motioned for Sophie to exit the room and sent the signal for Gabriel and Kasumi to come in from the roof. They had to clear the floor before proceeding downward.

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

    The leader of Cell 6 groaned. He had just told Frank the situation. All personnel on the fifth and third floors had failed to report in. An explosion had been heard from above and some gunshots had been heard below. Frank's response was particularly abrasive. His troops had been hit by these humans as well, and they were being held back.

    Frank told the subordinate youma that the forces at his disposal were more than adequate to eliminate the intruders. Cell 6's leader was expected to kill those interfering fools and then move to the ground floor. With that statement, Frank disconnected up. The entire transmission had an annoying distortion to it, a stretchy reverb with maddening static.

    The youma split his forces and gave his orders.


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

    DarkStar heard and sensed the larger contingent of youma moving down the stairs towards her floor. She could smell about half a dozen youma in a cluster. There was the prickly tingle of something magical, maybe ammunition.

    Slipping a peek she spotted three had tubes that swirled with a miasma of dark energy. Before she withdrew she caught a glimpse of two more that were carrying something large and bulky — most likely a machinegun of some sort — and one that had something strapped to his back that connected to an object in his hands.

    She waited for the ones at the point to reach her landing.

    A particularly tall youma lead his squad down the stairs. He was in front, with two other riflemen on either side and a bazooka-man in the back. He cautiously moved forward. The interior stairs were gloomy, and with the classroom doors closed the hallways didn't get much more light.

    He thought he saw something moving in the shadows of the hallway in front of him. Cursing the blackout, he put a bit more pressure on his trigger and stepped forward.

    Suddenly, a red, black, and violet blur propelled itself towards him.

    DarkStar surged at the knot of youma in the vanguard. As she slit the throat of the youma on the left, his finger spasmed on the trigger. Slipping to the side, demon turned the gun towards the one in the center.

    She smiled as the bullets tore unusually large holes in the monster's body. Blasts of napalm from her hands turned the remaining two members of the squad into screaming hunks of burning meat.

    DarkStar bounded up to the landing between the floors, and inside the middle group of youma. A series of filaments shot out of the spade-shaped fins on the tip of her long tail. Freeling warm, despite a gurgle from her stomach, the demon smiled as she tore into the surprised entities.

    "Open fire!" the ranking youma in the rear group ordered as he watched the massacre. There were five men in that squad, three with Kalashnikovs, one with a bazooka, and one with a machinegun, but they were caught surprised and the redhead was among them.

    As they tried to bring their weapons to bear, the girl spun around in an intricate movement, breaking legs and arms with her heavy boots and indiscriminately slicing through limbs, necks, and torsos with her claws. Her tail was like a hybrid of a chainsaw and a mace, whatever it touched with those squirming razor-sharp filaments was reduced to a ground, shredded slurry.

    The last group had a bit more time. DarkStar had finished with the middle group and was moving forward. Some of them actually managed to fire. It was panicky, uncontrolled, and hardly aimed, easy to evade. Those that did shoot earned a drenching in her enhanced napalm for their troubles. DarkStar made quick work of the remains of the team.

    The demonic magical girl paused to catch her breath. Glancing about, she counted over a dozen youma. Sniffed the air again seemingly drawing in the energies of the dead monsters, she frowned; she could have sworn she did not smell that many.


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

    As Gabriel and Kasumi finished clearing the fifth floor rooms, Aram had heard the enemy coming up the south stairs. Aram had waited for them to round the corner at the half floor landing before firing a 20mm fragmentary cartridge. The three of Pattern Y's quickly disintegrated in the blast. The four behind them were disoriented, wounded, and dispatched with another shot.

    Sophie was at the north stairwell. She was surprised to find there was not a secondary attack. The youma paused just around the corner of the south stairs, hiding behind the concrete wall that separated the two ends of the stairway. Kasumi came up to support Aram, while Gabriel went to the north stairwell and joined Sophie as they waited for a flanking attack that never came.

    Kasumi motioned for Aram to quiet down. The woman listened then smiled. These creatures were disorganized. She could feel panic in the air.

    She pulled out a grenade and removed the pin. She gauged the distance and then tossed the explosive. It hit on the wall above the landing and bounced down the stairs. It exploded in the midst of the youma.

    The sounds of screams, explosions, falling bodies, and sporadic gunfire echoed up from the stairs that Sophie and Gabriel were positioned by.

    Sophie's pattern scanner did not have the power of Gabriel's larger and heavier model, and thus he was the only one able to pick up what had happened.

    Below them, around a dozen weak intensity Pattern Y were eliminated by a much stronger Pattern D and Silver.

    "We've found DarkStar. North stairwell, third or fourth floor," Gabriel said into his headset. It was the first words that any of them had uttered since landing on the roof.

    "Understood," he and Sophie said as they received their orders. The two agents then made their way down the stairs.


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

    The demon looked up from her position just at the fourth floor landing. Two humans slowly walked down the stairs. They paused just above the middle bend in the stairwell.

    "DarkStar!" one of them stated in a clear, yet quiet, voice.

    "Yeah?" she replied, walking forward a bit.

    "Confirmed," said the other one. Then they both rounded the corner. The maneuver was quick, and practiced, and allowed both of them to maintain clear lines of fire during the entirety of it.

    DarkStar once again found herself facing down Company agents with guns. They still had the blocky assault rifles, although now they appeared to have another much larger barrel assembly attached on the top of their guns.

    They were in the same dark grey-and-green camouflaged body armor that she had watched Kasumi put on. Their goggles were now pulled down over their eyes.

    Helmets extended down to cover their ears and the back of their heads, and secured the goggles into place. The only exposed skin they had was a bit of mouth that ran from above the chin to below the nose, not including the headset microphone. DarkStar could also see gas masks clipped onto their harnesses that would complete the coverage.

    The redhead watched them approach. Their guns were no longer aimed at her, instead they were low and to the side. They walked up to her and then passed.

    The one that was female motioned for DarkStar to follow. The demon could tell her gender by her scent though the slightly smaller frame under that armor, and the shape of her lips, were strongly suggestive too.

    Gabriel managed to keep his face neutral. It was a relief that the Pattern D was on their side, or at least not their enemy.

    She might have the miniskirt, heels, and jewelry of a pattern silver, but she had the horns, fangs, wings, and tail of a Pattern D. He imagined that the girl would be drenched in blood if not for the accelerated decomposition of the enemy.

    The agent pushed those thoughts aside. He covered Sophie as she peered into the forth floor hallway.

    At the other end Sophie could see the group of Pattern Y's that Aram and Kasumi were engaging. She clicked her headset two times. After receiving the one click reply, she and Gabriel moved into the hallway and each fired twice. The explosions of the four grenade rounds in the south stairwell were quickly followed by two more coming from Kasumi and Aram.

    Sophie moved her selector switch to 7.62mm three-round burst, and watched for movement. After seeing none, she and Gabriel moved in. They found the jumbled, mushy remains of over a dozen youma pilled in and around the stairwell. Twisted bits of metal that were once weapons were scattered over the goop like nuts over pudding.

    The 20mm grenade rounds had also caused some structural damage to the concrete walls and steps. There would have been more, if not for having most of the kinetic energy absorbed by the youma's shields and then their bodies.

    Kasumi and Aram made their way down the cracked, stained, and organic-covered steps. Aram shook his head as his boots got covered in gore once again. Kasumi simply walked through the obstacle as if it were a bank of snow or some thick mud.

    DarkStar watched as the four Company agents checked the all the rooms in the floor. Her own senses could not detect anything else on the floor, and she imagined that their pattern recognition devices were similarly blank. Despite this, they still swept the entire floor. "Floors five, four clean. Have linked up with DarkStar. Proceeding with next stage," Kasumi spoke into her headset after they had finished.


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

    Dave looked at his second, Frank. He then gave the order. The situation was grim. They had just lost contact with the personnel guarding the hostages in the cafeteria. It happened shortly after all the teams in the third, fourth, and fifth floors had fallen silent.

    Those were the last groups outside of the basement to fall.

    They were all that remained. Dave would not have been so worried but they could get the gate working again; nothing seemed to work. None of them had the power to teleport without one. They were trapped.

    As of this moment, they were able to defend their position, but their lines of defense were rapidly failing. Ten minutes ago, the humans were just charging at the basement stairs.

    Five minutes ago they broke through the strong point Frank had setup at a hallway juncture. Now they were at the last line of defense, and once this room fell...

    What should have been impenetrable barriers, bristling with deadly weapons and clear killing zones were only minor obstacles to these mysterious foes. Shields that had been carefully designed to protect against magical attacks and normal police weapons were frustratingly inadequate against whatever these humans were using.

    Worse there was something else skulking on those halls. An creature that neither magical girls nor police should have working with them.

    Dave could hear the sounds of battle grow closer. That last line was being pounded by what sounded like a constant buzz of small arms fire, punctuated by several small and large explosions. Dave could hear the muted sounds of his troops being killed, and cringed. Not in sympathy for those he was responsible for, but out of fear of his life and fear of failure.

    Dave made sure that the door to the gate room was locked and shielded with their remaining energy. He knew that the humans would eventually get in, and that this would only delay the inevitable.

    Frank nodded in agreement. There was nothing else they could do. Might as well take out as many of those humans as possible. It was the most they could do. The hated Senshi had not even bothered to show up.


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

    From behind the police tape, Usagi gaze at the building. She and her friends had walked to the school and had found the building quarantined. The military vehicles and people dressed in combat gear were disturbingly obvious.

    While there were no logos or identifying marks on them, it was obvious who these people were. They were agents of Willard International Consulting, the organization that Setsuna had warned them about.

    Rei could sense the dark energy inside the building. Ami's computer picked up the disturbance and could narrow down what kind of enemy was in the school —youma. No one in the group needed to be told what those monsters were doing in the school. It was obviously a trap.

    "They had to have been watching the school to have known they were here," Minako observed.

    "They might be watching us too," Makoto said as she looked at the military-looking Humvees that were intermingled with the police cruisers. The eyes of the personnel constantly scanned the crowd but kept returning to those five girls. Makoto did not think she was being overly paranoid. Though it was creepy how the guns up in those turrets would jerk and move about all on their own. She wondered if they were robotic or remote controlled or something.

    "What I want to know is, why youma? We killed them all," Usagi's attention returned to the building. Occasionally one of the windows would light up in a brief flash or extended collection of flashes.

    "Maybe they were trapped somewhere or waiting for some reason," Rei shrugged.

    "Should we go—?"

    "No," Usagi said.

    "What?"

    "It's almost over. By the time we got in, they'd be done. Besides, something's not right here, and I don't mean the youma. There's something more going on here."

    "DarkStar?" Makoto asked.

    "Murdock?" Ami inquired.

    "Yes," Usagi replied to both questions.

    "They're both here?" Ami asked as she looked around. Her eyes found Janet Fraiser, the other new girl in her and Minako's class. The auburn-haired girl looked at the school, shrugged, and turned away, pausing only to give a small wave to Ami.

    Janet then walked away from the school. She disliked crowds. The girl found being lost in a sea of humanity to be quite claustrophobic. She stopped herself from bumping into Rod Ferris, another new transfer student. What was a rather handsome face was soured by an expression that, while subtle, was rather disturbing.

    Ami watched Janet nearly bump into that other new kid Ferris. There was something about him that upset Ami. And Janet too, it seemed. The girl glared at Rod before walking away.

    "Oh, it's that creep Ferris," Rei said as the turned to what Ami was watching.

    "For such a handsome guy, he's got something wrong with him," Minako said, relieved that they had something other than the school to look at.

    "That's the problem. He knows he's good looking, and he uses that as a weapon," Usagi said in an eerily cold voice.

    By now, Rod had noticed the girls staring at him. His eyes twinkled, and he gave a knowing smile. The teen then gave a strange little gesture that was part the forked fingers of the evil eye and part military salute. Ferris then chuckled and disappeared back into the crowd.


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

    Setsuna watched Rod walk away. She was looking out the window of an empty fourth story office in a commercial building to the south of Furinkan. Her red eyes were looking into a powerful set of binoculars. The green-haired woman's face darkened as she watched the dusky teen and the auburn-haired girl.

    Questions came at the Time Guardian. Why now? Why youma? Was this all a plot to get DarkStar to work with WIC? She had only vague notions of what Murdock was doing, let alone what he was planning.

    He's playing with them, She thought as she replayed the meeting of Janet and Rod. Setsuna had seen something, something familiar. Then it hit her. Would he do something like that? Yes. If it suited his plans, he would. She thought carefully. After all, the Senshi now knew what Murdock looked like and what he had done. A new face would make him more palatable.


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

    Hikaru Gosunkugi watched the school with a worried expression on his face. He sighed and turned away, ready to return home. He would watch the news and try to decipher what was active media bias, passive media ignorance, and organized disinformation.

    He left the crowd behind and started walking down the street. Before he could get very far, he nearly ran into one of his fellow students. It was that other new guy, Rod Ferris. The teen had an amused and somewhat smug expression on his face. Hikaru supposed that Rod found his little trick quite entertaining. He mumbled some vague pleasantry and tried to walk away.

    "You bring that book?" Rod asked, ignoring what Hikaru said.

    "What book?"

    "Oh, you know, that ancient tome you've been translating."

    "Ah," Gosunkugi said. He had made no attempt at hiding the book. He had to get the job done a certain way. Disobedience was not something he was willing to entertain the thought of. It carried far too high a price.

    "It's funny. There are very few who can even read, let alone translate, such a text. One wonders what someone with your linguistic skills is doing here." Rod's smile grew. Several of his gleaming white teeth were now exposed.

    "Where are you getting at?" Hikaru asked. His face was carefully neutral.

    "Let's just say there are certain associates of mine that wish to talk with the people that you work for," Rod stated, his tone rolling on the word "people".

    "Oh? Is that all? I'd be more than happy to relay that to that particular group," Hikaru said with some amusement. He thought he saw surprise on Rod's face, but it was only there for an instant.

    "Excellent," Ferris said as he left.


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

    Kasumi loaded a fresh 20mm magazine. She was currently firing high explosive incendiary (HEI). The rest of her team was using armor piercing incendiary. Traveling with DarkStar, they made their way to the ground floor to reinforce the assault on the basement stronghold.

    The M60 gunners were watching the head of the basement stairs from an oblique position. The air was heavy with burnt powder and the smell of something chemical and metallic. The alert had gone out, and all Company agents donned their gas masks and activated their light enhancing systems.

    Grenades were then lobbed down the stairs. Only some of them were fragmentary or concussive. Most of them were tear gas and smoke. Company agents then charged at the head of the stairs. They fired several volleys of 20mm HEI at the youma defensive barrier before pulling back.

    By now, the two M60's had been moved. It was a straight shot to the youma position at the base of the stairs. The youma's shield generators had been overloaded by the initial round of 20mm shells. This enabled the next waves of HEI to hit their targets unobstructed.

    It was into this confused, wounded, and dying mass that the two machine gunners immediately opened fire. They had Model 723 7.62mm ammunition in their guns. It was halfway between the immense Lead Flower used by sharpshooters and the almost mundane Model 703 armor piercing.

    The two gunners moved their sights over the enemy, looking for targets that were still viable. Finding none, they stopped firing. Eight Company agents then went down the stairs to secure the area. The two M60's were then moved to this new position. Kasumi's squad and another then went out to find the next youma formation.


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

    As usual, Tatewaki Kuno had gone to school with his father. This allowed him to get in before his beloved Sunshine Saotome and Akane Tendo. Things had been proceeding normally, until they came.

    Kuno was rounded up and placed in the cafeteria with the others. He noticed that the vile beasts had not frisked him, nor were they even watching him closely. It was then that Kuno came knew what he had to do.

    For the youma guarding the humans, the hostage operation was proceeding within acceptable limits. The cafeteria had been sealed off. And then it happened ne of the humans — a young man, he appeared to be the only student — shouted something and attacked one of the youma.

    He had pulled a large boot knife out from a leg sheath and had jumped one of the them. The shield resisted the blade, but the teen eventually forced it through and stabbed between the ribs, piercing the youma's heart. Unfortunately, the delay gave the gunman enough time to shoot the boy.

    Kuno's timing could have been worse as Company agents were just about to strike when it happened.

    The lieutenant in charge of the strike used the opportunity and gave the "go" code. Multiple teams came in and stuck from two directions.

    The remaining guards were killed in a firefight that while brief, was not as clean as hoped. One of the agents that charged through the west door took a round in the chest and a grazing one in the arm.


    With the youma killed and the room secure, the call for medics went out. One went to the agent, and was relieved that his armor had protected him. Even with the advanced materials in their protective armor, stopping a rifle bullet was tricky business, especially at this range. The agent had considerable bruising, several broken ribs, a sprained knee, and a fracture in his arm, but he would live.

    The same could not be said for the teen, who soon got the attention of all the responding medics. He had been gut-shot, and it ruptured a couple organs. If it was a normal bullet, they might have had a chance. Given the helicopters air evacuation to a surgical suite was possible, there was also the capability to perform some operations in situ.

    However, the youma were not using normal rounds. They had been enhanced with certain energies. The plan was to use these weapons against the Sailor Senshi, not mortal men.

    The medic's eyes could see the boy slipping away, and his pattern scanner could detect the bullet. The medic then talked into her headset. The doctor might be able to help.

    Section Chief Doctor Tofu Ono was surprised by the call in his headset. As he led his team into the building, he chastised himself for being caught off guard. It was rather likely that he would be called in before the shooting was over. There was always a chance of getting wounded.


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

    The demonic Senshi allowed a small smile to form on her face. She had originally planned on watching the Company eliminate this defensive position just like the other two, but she had changed her mind. She had softened the target a bit using her own ranged attack.

    In an closed space, the splash damage was quite impressive. Flaming orbs were flung high and low, and were large and small. Soon the youma were trapped by a crawling barrier of white and violet flames.

    Returning fire was not an option for the youma in the front. Their weapons had weakened and slumped and eventually turned to slag onto their arms and hands. Long before that had happened their ammunition ignited, turning their weapons into crude grenades that did further damage.

    The shrieking monsters were then pushed back. Once the combusting bodies had a bit of time to cool and become passable. Once again the youma lines had broken. The cowering monsters found themselves being covered in the flaming liquid.

    DarkStar's eyes flared as she felt the last of the defenders die. Her flames, having nothing interesting left to consume, stopped. The magical girl looked down the corridor.

    Two burning orbs were being held in her hands. The hallway ended with a metal door. Its edges glowed slightly. She made the two balls of napalm vanish. As she walked forward, her eyes scanned the burned bodies piled in the end of the surprisingly wide hallway.

    Kasumi walked up behind her. DarkStar could hear that someone was talking to her through the girl's headset. "Understood," Lieutenant Tendo stated into her microphone. "DarkStar."

    The redhead turned to face the Company agent.

    "Nice going there." Kasumi said with genuine admiration. The girl had the power, and the self-control to use it well. "Inside is the last of them. You want 'em?"

    DarkStar shrugged. Something gurgled in side of her. The fight was... draining, it was exhilarating. She wanted more. She wanted to make this idiots pay for thinking they could use children as hostages and canon fodder.

    Then, with her lips curling into a smile she nodded.

    "Okay, we'll open the door for you," Kasumi said as she waved some troopers over to her. One was Agent Steven Deschain, demolitions specialist. Deschain inspected the door while Gabriel some readings. Like most doors, this one opened into the room.

    Deschain smiled. The door could be bypassed easily enough. "Breaching rounds," he said, pointing to the door's hinges and deadbolt lock.

    Gabriel pulled a single 20mm cartridge out of a pocket that until now still had its original four and loaded it in his weapon. The round had a relatively thin copper jacket that upon impact would peel back revealing a heavy core of compressed zinc powder. He then moved off to the side, while pointing the upper muzzle of his gun at the lower hinge. Three other agents put in identical loads and took similar positions.

    Deschain then secured a small black device on the middle of the door. Stenciled on the flat side that was stuck to the door were the words "Front Toward Enemy". Similar in concept to the jammers used by the Company, this object was a Model E53 Burst Disruptor. The device charged a very powerful capacitor that released a specifically patterned burst of energy designed to weaken and destroy energy shields.

    Deschain then wired a detonator to the device and backed away and to the side. He gave a nod to Kasumi. "Go?"

    DarkStar looked at the door. She could see the shield and had a fair idea as to what Deschain's device would do to it. The Agents would blow out the hinges and locks and that machine would disable the shield. DarkStar supposed that if she hit the door in the right place… Yes, that would work. There was only one thing missing. "Take out the lights," the redhead said as she pointed to the battery-powered emergency lights, some of which were still functioning.

    Kasumi nodded and positioned agents to take out the remaining lights. "What about the lights inside the room?" Kasumi asked.

    "I'll handle it," DarkStar said as she walked down the hall. She turned and looked at the door. The wires on the device were tucked out of the way. The guns were in position and not a problem.

    DarkStar inhaled and sprinted towards the door. As she leapt up, Deschain detonated the device and the Company agents fired their weapons. The redhead's high-heeled boots slammed into the metal door. Without anything to keep it in the jamb and the majority of the redhead's force above its center of gravity, the door tipped over and skidded back.

    The redhead had to use all her skills to maintain her balance as she rode the toppling door down to the floor. Fortunately, she had been raised for as long as she could remember practicing these kind of agility stunts.

    Sailor DarkStar found herself standing on the door in the middle of a storage room. The youma found themselves plunged into darkness. The emergency lights in the hallway were shot out.

    Sprinting to one side, DarkStar had released a number of small spheres, destroying the room's emergency light and a few monitors and stationary lamps that had been hooked up to a generator.

    "Fire!" Frank shouted and shot at where he thought the intruder was. After firing a burst, he reached for the remote control in his pocket. Now was the time. It looked like he would be able to kill at least one Senshi.

    DarkStar turned to the youma that had given the order. Seeing him pull out something, she reacted instantly. Two orbs of napalm rather messily amputated his arms at the elbows. The demon then closed in and turned around, grazing the youma's chest with her tail. The filaments sliced several of Frank's organs into irregularly shaped chunks. Mortally wounded, the creature slumped to the floor.

    The demon was working on her next targets. The youma were firing blindly and were easily destroyed. Quickly it was down to two left. One was disemboweled just above the hips to the spine with DarkStar's claws, while simultaneously the other found her head diced by the redhead's tail.

    DarkStar stopped and looked around the room. Everyone was dead. Several Company agents then entered the room. Their night vision goggles gave them a somewhat insectile appearance. Sophie found the control in the remains of Frank's hands and showed it to Deschain.

    Kasumi finished the inspection and called the C3. "All targets have been dispatched. I repeat, all targets have been dispatched. Securing the area. Request Forensic Pathology section. Really? He's already here? Understood," Kasumi said into her headset, while talking with Stillwater.

    "Interesting," Deschain said looking at the inactive gateway leaning on one wall. "We'll need some people from S and T here too," the demolitions expert said, referring to Science and Technology section.

    DarkStar shook her head as she looked around the room. Scattered on the floor were half a dozen piles of rapidly decaying organic matter. She took a few breaths. The building still stank of youma but she didn't get the feeling of any being alive. But she wasn't sure if that was because she was in the basement, or if everyone was dead.


    Despite the exertion of the last fifteen minutes, Sailor DarkStar felt fine.

    The redhead blinked. No, she felt wonderful. She felt... full.

    Youma might be weak constructs, but they had energy in them. And even they would add up to a meal in bulk.
    As she walked out of the room she tried counting. A lot of it was a blur but she guessed thirty or so. There were four when she entered the building, about a dozen in the stairs, eight in the hallway, and six in the storage room.

    She gave a sharp short exhale as her tail relaxed. It was quite the rush. DarkStar then looked at Kasumi and paused. The agent seemed pleased with herself. A slow smile formed as DarkStar realized she was not the only one invigorated by combat.

    DarkStar put her hand to her forehead and massaged her horns. The tingling felt surprisingly good and helped settle her mind.

    Also leaving with Kasumi and the demon, Gabriel raised an eyebrow as he watched the redhead. Her tail had retracted its filaments and was swishing back and forth in a way that was reminiscent of when his sister rubbed her cat's belly after dinner.

    He turned to Kasumi. "Orders?"


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

    DarkStar walked down the hallway. She was looking for an exit. She then passed the cafeteria. A pair of Company agents flanked the open doors. Through their dust goggles they watched the Pattern D. Most of the hostages had been moved to the gymnasium for processing. The Company agents wanted to be sure that they were clean.

    The redhead looked inside the room. In the center of the room was a cluster of people. Jacob was standing near the Drake, talking softly. Below them, a team of medics was working on two people. One was a Company agent sitting on the floor and leaning on an overturned table. The armor over his chest and arms had been taken off and a medic was tending his wounds. The man seemed in reasonable sprits and was calmly chatting with the female medic.

    The other casualty seemed to be in worse shape. DarkStar could make out the medical team franticly working on a person.

    The whole building stank of blood, but it smelled worse here. Almost... infected. Curious, she entered the room. Kasumi, who was following DarkStar, motioned for the agents at the door to stand down.

    The redhead was able to identify the wounded person rather quickly. "Kuno?" she asked, looking at the gravely-wounded teen.

    "Brave, stupid boy," the Drake said as he looked at his son. Jacob put his hand on the Drake's shoulder.

    "What happened?" the magical girl asked.

    Jacob gave a brief summary of the incident.

    DarkStar shook her head. Kuno was a damn fool. "Can't anything be done?"

    "No," Dr. Tofu stated evenly as he worked on the doomed teen. "The bastards tainted their bullets."

    Most of those he worked on were not human and were already quite dead, but he was also a medical doctor. "We're lucky he's the only one. At least I don't think he'll have to be disposed of," the doctor said, his voice was detached and clinical save for the last two words.

    It was then that DarkStar noticed the one of the nearby Company agents had his weapon pointed at the teen's head.

    It was then that Tatewaki's eyes cleared slightly and focused on the scantily-dressed girl. "Sunshine," he croaked out.

    DarkStar blinked at this. Murdock had told her that this form had some kind of identity cloaking. He had seemed partially amused at how it was able to provide some protection for the Senshi's identities.

    "He's in shock and on a lot of painkillers. It's the least we can do at this point. He might be hallucinating." Tofu said as he checked the teen's pulse.

    DarkStar looked at Kuno and something deep within her trembled. An alien, but so familiar urge surged and she felt her body grow warm.

    While she had no healing powers per se, she did have an ability that might spare his life. She did not know much about it. Murdock had seemed oddly reluctant to explain that attribute of her demonic form.

    "I think I can save him," DarkStar said as she watched Jacob sigh and turn to the Drake.

    Jacob met her gaze. Faded green eyes looking to purple.

    DarkStar was impressed. The man had to know that she tore through the enemy better than whole squads of his men. The older man simply nodded.

    "What?" Drake asked, hopeful.

    "But at a considerable cost," Jacob said as he looked at the Drake.

    "If it'll save my boy," the Drake said.

    "Ask him, then," Jacob stated to DarkStar.

    "Colonel, he's in no condition to make such a decision," Tofu protested.

    "If he regrets it later on, I'll pull the trigger myself," Jacob stated, his voice cold.

    DarkStar shook her head. "Kuno, it's me."

    "Sunshine?"

    "Um, yeah. Look, I can help you, but you won't be the same," DarkStar said as she knelt down near the teen.

    Kuno nodded slowly and then mumbled, "My life for you."

    Jacob ordered the medical team to pull back. He then looked at DarkStar and sighed. Tofu checked to make sure his equipment was still recording. This would be the closest he had ever been to an event of this nature.

    DarkStar leaned down towards the dying teen. She opened her mouth, her four elongated canines almost seemed to hum in anticipation. Her wings unfolded and covered the teen's body as her teeth made contact with Kuno's neck. While the demon's teeth injected fluid into the teen's bloodstream, the redhead put her hands on his chest and poured specifically patterned energy into his body.

    She could feel her blood and her magic working in him. The flesh they came into contact with shifted and changed. The body was being shaped in accordance with some design that DarkStar was only unconsciously aware of as she obeyed primal urges that she scarcely wanted to admit to.

    She watched as his wound was healed and the destructive magics were removed, but healing was only a side effect of the greater changes going through him. The teen's entire body was being changed.

    Jacob turned away and used his headset to order a helicopter to land outside the school. He then had a brief, whispered conversation with the Drake, who despite his long association with the Company could not quite believe the day's events.

    Gasping, DarkStar folded her wings and stood up. That... she paused.

    The redhead blinked, she was tired. At least she no longer had that oddly full feeling. A little bit of blood dribbled down her chin. She looked at Kuno and stared, while breathing in short irregular bursts.

    "Oh god. What have I done?" she asked with mute horror.

    Tofu went to the teen and took some readings. "The... patient should live now," he muttered before turning to Jacob. "I recommend immediate transport back to base." The doctor then ordered the medics to unfold two stretchers

    "The helicopter is landing now." Jacob replied as the two casualties were moved onto litters. "You coming?" he asked DarkStar.

    "Damn straight. I'm not going to let you kill him and dissect him," the demon said as she looked at what she had created.

    "Interesting choice of pronouns," Jacob said, looking at the teen on the floor.


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

    "Toronto Trust Tower pad number three is cleared for landing," a communications officer in the C3 said to a Company helicopter. The aircraft was a heavily modified UH-60A BlackHawk that was part of a group purchased from the United States on "military surplus" several years before. It was quite a different machine from the one that had rolled out of the Sikorsky Aircraft plant in Stratford, Connecticut many decades ago.

    Stillwater looked at the large screen in the front of the room and smiled. The operation had been a success. The Pattern Y's had been dispatched, and the next phase was already underway. Teams from Forensic Pathology section were already on scene analyzing the battle and collecting evidence. The nature of a Pattern Y's body made analyzing their corpses nearly impossible, including this batch which seemed more solid than expected.

    They had even bagged another interdimensional gate to examine, and this one seemed to be undamaged. Stillwater knew he had DarkStar to thank for that. They had a fair idea of why the Pattern Y's had attacked the school. It had also confirmed their suspicions that the Pattern Silvers were attending Furinkan. The Company also had a fair idea of how these creatures intended to kill the Senshi. Pattern Y's were known for their ability to possess and control people.

    There were still several unanswered questions. Where had these creatures been hiding, and why did they choose now to attack? Someone had sent them here with orders to create an ambush for the Pattern Silvers, but who?

    Stillwater reminded himself to write a letter for Chase's family. If not for him, they would not have known about the situation at the school. It was a shame that his relatives would never know the exact details of his death or what his job really was, but dying protecting the innocent from terrorists was close enough to the truth.

    The commander made a mental note to look into the cover story that Public Relations section was cooking up. At least Miss Saotome and and the Kuno teen had been removed from the school with some discretion.

    PR was going to go with the old terrorist standby. It was simple, believable, and essentially true. That these terrorists were not human would be left out, as would the organization that had eliminated them. A special group within the Canadian military would take the credit for the operation. One day even that might be true.

    Aside from Agent Samuel Chase, they had only taken one other casualty, but that agent was expected to recover fully. His armor would be sent to the Company lab that designed it and examined by the scientists that worked there.

    There was one other casualty. Stillwater had watched most of what had happened in real-time through the headset cameras and had just reviewed the recordings. It was a troubling situation. They had just let a Pattern D turn a human. There was some consolation in that the boy's father was already associated with the Company and would be easy to keep quiet.

    Stillwater shook his head. Whenever nonhumans worked with the Company, problems always cropped up. Sometimes it was worth it, but it could be delicate work.

    He had secretly hoped that the Pattern Silvers would be close enough to human, but that was before he learned about Sailor DarkStar.


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

    WIC Toronto-A was a District Support class facility. Included in the underground complex was series of medical rooms, laboratory space, surgical suites, and recovery rooms. One of the rooms was currently in use.

    "Moron," the demonic magical girl said. She felt drawn to the figure sleeping on the bed.

    The agents in the room were unsure if she was talking to herself or if she was talking to the person in the bed.

    "I really don't need this anymore," she said looking at her miniskirt. Sailor DarkStar closed her eyes and powered down.

    "Damn it," the girl known as Sunshine Saotome said. She was wearing her Furinkan uniform. "Stupid fucking fuku," she muttered as she walked to the room's attached bathroom. That the fuku she was wearing now was much less revealing and embellished than the previous one she was in was small consolation.

    The demoness looked at her reflection and blinked. The pale girl with her crimson hair looked somehow different. It was her eyes. The violet flecks in her blue eyes seemed to be more numerous than they were yesterday. As she stared at her face, her corneas seemed to flare. She shook her head and splashed herself with water from the faucet.

    Ranma looked at his reflection and sighed in relief. He was back to normal. It was good to be human and male. On that note Ranma turned back to the entity on the bed. The odd feeling of connection was mercifully done.

    "Oh shit. What have I done? How did I do this? Why?" Ranma muttered as he walked over to the bed, and took stock of the changes. For some reason they were more apparent now that Ranma has back to being human.

    One of the Company agent in the room was a medic from Operations section. He was dressed in a grey jumpsuit and had a sidearm, but his job was simply to watch the patient, who was just starting to move. His companion had a rifle and while also a medic, had a different role.

    "Doctor, she's getting up," the agent with the rifle said into his headset.

    Ranma didn't pay attention to ether agent.

    The person in the bed was not human, and not male. What had been Tatewaki was now a girl with a lithe, attractive form. Her hair was the same length, only now it was glossy black. She also sported two small red horns on her forehead. Her eyes suddenly flipped open. Ranma saw that they were now a deep blood-colored red.

    "Mo- Mistress?" the person in the bed asked, heisting at Ranma's ire. She looked at Ranma. Confusion was on her face.

    I really turned him into a demon-chick. Not good. Ranma thought as he backed away

    The demoness sniffed the air and the confusion on her face increased somewhat. "You are her. At least you smell like her. But..." She pouted. "Tell me, are you Sunshine in male form?"

    "My name is not Sunshine! You call me that again, and I'll finish the job those pathetic monsters started!" Ranma shouted.

    The girl wilted and fell back onto the bed.

    He stared at the shocked, amlost crying, girl. "Well yeah," he then admitted.

    The girl nodded she looked at the dark-haired martial artist, her lip trembling. Her will had been strong, this was... confusing. But if this was her... her creator then she had to show her love to him.

    "Mistress!" she cried as she leapt out of the bed and clung to Ranma. She also had a pair of wings now. Black with violet tips, they spread out and wrapped around Ranma's shoulders.

    Ranma froze and was about to enjoy the position but froze. This is not a hot chick! he mentally chastised himself, ignoring that it wasn't quite attraction he was feeling. This is Kuno, you fool!

    "Get off of me!" he ordered the young demon girl.

    "Why? You saved me," the girl asked, her face only a few inches from Ranma's.

    "You were dying, you idiot!" Ranma said. He then noticed that her tail was wrapping itself around his leg, and that the demon was not wearing any clothes.

    "What the hell is going on here?" Dr. Tofu asked as he ran into the room.

    "She — he — won't get off!" Ranma shouted.

    "Maybe if you tell her again?" the medic stated with a small smile. Being in the Company was a lot of work, but at least it was never boring. And there weren't many ordinates to get this close to a Pattern D without things going to hell.

    "Get off now," Ranma said while staring down the nude demon. "And what happened to your clothes?" he demanded.

    The girl whimpered as she untangled herself from Ranma. "The hospital gown they gave me was very itchy. I'm sorry... Mistress," she said as she looked down at the floor.

    "Don't call me that. I'm a guy." Ranma then turned to Tofu. "Okay, being a demon I get, but why's he a girl? And put something on!" he shouted to the demon.

    "There could be several reasons. Your species of demon might be one that has only females. Your curse may have done something to make him a girl. You might have done it subconsciously as a way to punish him for hitting on you," Tofu said as he walked over to one of the scanners in the room.

    "Well, that's just great! Now, I've got a demonic girl after me," Ranma said as he looked at Kuno.

    "You don't like me?" the demon asked as her, black-finned violet tail swished back and forth.

    "Well, not really," Ranma admitted. The girl had conjured a black bikini. It was not much, but it was better than being nude.

    "But I love you," she said as she chewed on her lower lip.

    "Why did I have to do this?" Ranma said very unsettled, and felt guilty for putting Kuno into this situation.. I can act like a guy when I'm a girl. Why can't Kuno? Was Kuno that deranged?

    "Because you didn't want to let him die," Tofu said after looking at a pattern scanner. "Her Pattern is D and seems normal enough given her age some variance but nothing too off-pattern. And she's not trying to kill us is a big plus, too."

    "Well, now what?" Ranma asked.

    "What do you mean?" Tofu asked.

    "Aren't you going to try and blackmail me? I did turn a human into a demon."

    Tofu smirked. "If we had a problem with you doing that, we would have tried to stop you. You saved his life."

    Ranma sighed. "Oh, you guys suck as a scary secret organization."

    "We try," Tofu said. He then placed a call to the Drake. "Tatewaki's awake. Looks healthy, as far as I can tell. Okay." He then turned to Kuno. "Well, your father is coming to see you."

    "My father?" the girl blinked.

    "You do remember being human right?" Tofu's voice was distant.

    "Of course," the girl replied. "It's just kinda embarrassing."

    "Okay, I'm leaving," Ranma said.

    "But Master, you can't!" she didn't like using that title, but it was clear her creator wouldn't let her call her by what she really was.

    "Why not?"

    "Um, I love you."

    "You told me that before. It's still creepy," Ranma stated before walking out of the room. He had to get away from Kuno. There was something wrong this. Something that made Ranma want to pour lye in his ears to burn away the bad, traitorous, alien thoughts.

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

    Jacob was in Stillwater's office. They were sitting on opposite sides of a brushed steel-framed, glass-topped table. Several files on the day's operations were spread out on the table. Displayed on a nearby wall were several graphs and video images.

    "That went well," Jacob said.

    "You think so?" Stillwater remarked.

    "We only lost one agent. It's a shame about Chase, but if not for his help, things would have been much messier. We also got DarkStar to fight with us. Granted, young Mr. Saotome still dislikes us, but as long as he'll fight as DarkStar, things should work within acceptable parameters."

    "And this incident with the Kuno boy?"

    "He was dying. Remember those morals that Ranma's got? DarkStar had to do something. That Kuno changed sex too is, well, I think we have confirmation what kind of Pattern D we're dealing with."

    "And that is a complication," Stillwater noted.

    "Perhaps, but one we can use. It certainly explains some of the difficulties young Mr. Saotome is having."

    "At least the secrecy from the Drake can be counted on," Stillwater admitted.

    "It has been tough for him; both his son and his school."

    "It could have been much worse."

    "Yes, but we stopped them," Jacob carefully looked at his old friend. "Something's bothering you. Is it the demons?"

    "Only a bit. We've had NH's working with us before, and it's always caused problems, but we've made it work before. There's something else that worries me."

    "Not many," Jacob commented referring to the nonhumans.

    "We have not had much luck recruiting in that field," Stillwater knew that Jacob was a recruiter a few years ago.

    "You're afraid that we're being used as pawns," Jacob said with some amusement.

    "Not us. You know me. I'm past caring about such things. The Company is another matter. Our organization will not be used."

    "Yet you expect us to use the Pattern Silvers," Jacob stated. While he had no problem with their plans, he would not let Stillwater indulge in hypocrisy.

    "Point. Although consider their ultimate plans."

    "We do not have full verification of their intention to resurrect their empire," Jacob stated. The Company had done extensive research and funded several expeditions in their quest to learn more about early-human and pre-human civilizations. One of them matched what they knew about the Pattern Silvers.

    "Exactly. For the moment we are on the same side."

    "If you say so."


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

    The Senshi had returned to their apartment. Usagi had called Setsuna, but the time guardian was not answering her phone. They were calm about that. As a group, the girls were used to attacks on them and having an unreachable time guardian.

    The television was turned to the news. Understandably, the story was being covered by the major networks. However given that the situation was resolved quickly and without any hostages dying, there was little fodder to feed a raging firestorm of coverage.

    There was a single loud knock on the door. Makoto got up to answer it.

    "Mako-chan—" Rei started, but was interrupted by another knock at the door.

    By now, the brunette was at the apartment's entrance. As she put her eye to the peephole, Rei got a vision. She saw someone holding the barrel of a handgun over the fisheye in the middle of the door. She then imagined Makoto putting her eye to the peephole. The brunette's confusion at her inability to see the hallway was then cut short by the gun being fired.

    Rei gasped as the vision ended.

    "It's two guys. They're a few years older than us," Makoto said as she looked into the corridor. She could see two men standing in front of the door. Both were dressed in boots, slacks, button-down shirts, and black windbreakers. One was thin with short black hair and the other was average in frame with even shorter brown hair.

    "We're from the Company," the one with brown hair said as he pulled a wallet out of his jacket. He flipped it open, and held the plastic sleeve his identification card was in up. The slim card was bordered in black and had "Willard International Consulting" lettered dark-blue on the top with the "Investigative Division" under it. Aside from the letters W, I, and C on the logo, those were the only words on that side of the card. The rest of the ID was filled with several long strings of numbers placed in groups of five. The man's picture was off to the left side of the card and a strange grey logo that was a composite of a globe and several other strange symbols.

    The other agent had pulled his ID and was holding it up. "We'd like to talk to you about what happened today," he stated as he removed his sunglasses.

    "Really, now?" Makoto said loud enough that the agents could hear her.

    "Let them in," Usagi said.

    "What?" Makoto asked. "Um, okay," she said as she opened the door.

    "Thanks," the black haired one said as he entered the apartment. "I'm Gabriel, and this is Aram," he said, pointing to his companion while Aram closed the door behind himself.

    "You girls are the Sailor Senshi?" Aram asked in a calm voice.

    "Oh yeah, that's them," Gabriel said after seeing the girl's reaction to the question. These were the same five girls that had come from Japan, and their hair colors and styles matched the limited profiles of the Senshi that had been developed from their Tokyo observation team. Despite best efforts said team had not acquired any clear images of the Pattern Silvers, at least nothing that produced results when out through facial pattern analysis.

    Before today it was only a high probability that these girls were Pattern Silvers. Now it was almost certain.

    "There was an incident at the school today," Aram said after he looked around the apartment living room.

    "We believe that you five, and possibly Ranma Saotome, also known as Sunshine Saotome and Sailor DarkStar, were the targets of a group of Pattern Y, youma. They took over the school early this morning. We had an undercover agent who managed to alert us early on."

    "You had people already in the school. Why?" Ami asked, interrupting him.

    "To spy on the Pattern Silvers. That would be you, girls," Aram said in a matter-of-fact tone.

    Ami blinked. "That's creepy. Why are you spying on us?"

    Gabriel looked at Aram and shrugged. "We're not really sure," Gabriel admitted sounding embarrass.

    His partner continued. "The Commander and the Colonel seem to think that the Company really needs the Pattern Silvers for these Toronto Operations."

    "Oh, so you guys are just henchmen," Rei said.

    "I prefer the term mook," Aran offered.

    "Well, we're in Operations Section, so that puts us relatively high up, but yeah, we're basically grunts. Just this morning, Aram was up to his knee in youma guts. Twice," Gabriel said, smiling and exaggerating slightly.

    Aram shrugged. He'd had time to shower, and Pattern Y's dissolved quick enough.

    "Wait a minute. When you came in here, you asked us if we were the Senshi. But if you didn't know who we are, how did you know to spy on the school?"

    "Simple. Ranma was already going to that school."

    "Technically as Sunshine," Gabriel interrupted.

    "That's irrelevant," Aram said with exasperation. "Curious, we then looked into the transfer records and saw you five. There was a very good chance that you were the Pattern Silvers. It looks like we were not the only ones to make such a connection," Aram continued.

    "Why are you telling us all this?"

    "The Commander thought you deserved to know what really happened… You were targeted by them, after all."

    "Okay. How many of them were there?" Ami asked.

    "Roughly a hundred Pattern Y's. Most were fairly weak, not much more powerful than human baseline to be honest. Getting an exact number is hard because they tend to dissolve rather quickly."

    "These ones were surprisingly juicy, though. They had blood and organs. Our pathologists believed that these guys had spent a while living as humans," Gabriel said.

    "Where'd they all come from? We defeated them a while ago," Minako said, turning to look at the two men.

    "We don't know. They did have a pretty clever plan to get in," Aram stated. He then gave a brief summary of how the youma had disabled the security system, gained entrance to the building, activated a gateway, and started shipping their weapons and men over.

    "Right now we're tracking their weapons. They look like old Soviet surplus. It seems likely that they were going to make their move once school started. They would have turned the students and faculty against you," Aram added.

    "Although the fools would have been better off if they had done some combat training too. I guess they didn't consider that people might be shooting back at them," Gabriel observed.

    "A hundred youma using empowered weapons, and a couple hundred humans that had been turned into zombies, possibly armed too. That might have been some trouble." Ami thought through. If the youma had the chance to raise an army of brainwashed students and had run into the Senshi... well. She knew her friends would be able to mow them down by the dozens, but they could still be outnumbered over fifty to one.

    "It gets better," Gabriel said, smiling slightly. "They had an impressively powerful bomb in their gate room. It looks like they planned to detonate it if things ever went south."

    Makoto gave a mute node. Youma were never ones to value their lives.

    "It looks like you guys managed to prevent that bomb from going off," Minako offered. There had been nothing in the news about an explosion. That would certainly have upped the coverage.

    "Well, we had a lot of help from DarkStar. She got a third of the kills," Aram said.

    "Wait, Ranma's working with you? She said you tried to kill her," Ami said, using female pronouns because she had only met Ranma in female form.

    "I guess Pluto really pissed him off?" Rei asked Ami.

    "Tricking a guy into a fuku would do that," Minako stated.

    "But that's Murdock's fault," Ami said.

    "Ranma thinks that it's Pluto's," Usagi countered.

    "I guess we should go," Gabriel said as he put his sunglasses back on.

    "You're just leaving?" Usagi said.

    "Unless you have any other questions?" Aram stated as he walked to the door.

    "I don't suppose you know what's going on here?"

    "Probably less than you do," Aram allowed.

    "The enemy, whoever it is, could know where we live?"

    "We were able to figure it out," Gabriel said, simply.

    Usagi frowned. "That's not good."

    "You want us to have some people watch this place?" Aram asked as he put his hand on the knob.

    "You're not already watching us?" Rei skeptically asked.

    "We have a strike team in the area that's monitoring the police transmissions, but we can place them closer if you want," Aram stated as he opened the door.

    "No thanks," Usagi said.

    "Well, here's our card," Gabriel said as he handed one over. In top left corner was that strange logo. The star with the flame wreathed eye in the center was especially creepy, and oddly familiar to Ami.

    "Willard International Consulting — providing definite solutions for clients with special situations" was written next to the Company logo. Below that was a phone number.

    "Um, thanks," Usagi said.

    "Right," Gabriel said as he walked into the hallway. Aram followed and closed the door behind him.

    "That was strange," Rei observed.

    "We need to find Ranma," Usagi stated. "There's more going on here than what they told us."


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

    A research scientist looked out the window. The view was of pleasant rolling hills. Dairy farms could be seen off into the distance. The cows looked like white-and-black mites crawling on lumpy green linoleum. The woman sighed. It was a shame her office was underground. At least the designers of the complex decided to put at least one of the cafeterias above ground.

    The woman picked at her lunch. The report was late. In the eight years she had been getting it, the report had never been late. Often it had little or no information, things like a police report or a bank account being accessed. Other times there was more substantial information, and once in a great while a photograph. The most recent was a photograph of her son in a Kobe newspaper that was taken two years ago.

    Like many in this organization, there was something that drove her, something intensely personal. Like many it had to do with losing her family, although in her case her family was still alive. The woman felt confident that the Company was the best people to find them, her husband was and elusive man. They were also the only private investigative organization with the resources to conduct global searches.

    Finding people that had gone missing under strange circumstances was what the Company's mission was back in the beginning, back when the WIC stood for Willard Investigative Company. It was still an important part of the organization. Despite this, often people were never found.

    "Afternoon, Doctor," said a younger man wearing a lab coat similar to the woman's. He had hair parted on the left, slim glasses, and a few freckles.

    "Don't call me that, Aida. You know how testy the medical sections get," she chided the junior researcher.

    "Sorry, Major" Aida replied. He was still working on his doctorate. It was a shame it would be automatically classified secret by the Japanese government, but there was no way around it.

    "Still going with the nine millimeter?" she observed while looking at the Beretta on his hip.

    "I find a heavier weapon a pain to wear, and I get greater capacity.."

    Kids these days, she thought. "The latter part is valid but... tell me, when do you go on field rotation?"

    "In five weeks."

    "Trust me. When you're out there with those Operations grunts, you'll want as much firepower as you can carry. Either way it's irrelevant as you're going to carry what your team leader tells you to, that way you'll all have common magazines."

    Aida nodded. He knew this, but he was working in the lab now. The only reason he carried here was because of the eccentric regulations from Command. If fighting broke out in the heart of the Third Operations Centre, then the caliber of his gun would be least of his concerns.

    "I thought you were going over that batch of AN-6 body armor we got from Germany?" the woman asked. Her doctorate was in Materials Science. Her specialties were in high-strength composites, advanced fabrication and finishing processes. She had been an instrumental part of the Company's next generation of armor.

    She had just gotten a report of one of her vests stopping a point-blank 7.62 by 39 Kalashnikov round. It was not unexpected but field confirmations were always nice. She could not wait to take apart that one and see how it worked.

    "The fire-damaged ones from Operations Centre Two? I had just finished the second one when Commander Akagi told me to find you."

    "Okay. What does she want?" the woman asked. She was on good terms with the of Science and Technology head.

    "She told me to tell you: 'They found him. He's alive. They both are. Expect a meeting'," Aida recalled.

    The scientist stared. "My god. That's why the report was late," the woman said in awe. After all these years, the Company found him. She idly wondered how her husband had screwed up and what they were doing to make sure he would not escape, or if they even knew where he was.

    "Good for you," Aida said. He knew about the woman's loss and it was nice to see things, finally, go well for her.



    End Chapter 4

    Author's Notes:

    Thanks to Joe Fenton, Jerry Starfire, Black Dragon, and Larry F for prereading.
    And also thanks goes to the Military Analysis Network for their excellent weapons information. (http://www.fas.org/man/index.html)

    Revision Notes: Annnd here's where things start off. First fight for Ranma, first daughter, not that Ranma knows it at the time. Gave some minor edits to put the portrayal of demons in this chapter in line with latter chapters. DCG and Ellf have helped with the revisions.
     
  7. Threadmarks: Chapter 5
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

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    Book 1: Brooding Responsibilities
    Chapter 5: Mother Figure
    Formerly: Revelations and Rendezvous


    Ranma was in the commissary. The large room was empty save for three Company agents softly talking in one corner, and a man behind the counter that connected to the kitchen. The martial artist was silently eating his early lunch. He was focused on the consumption of food. He was trying to block his memory of the morning's events.

    The agent working behind the counter took his order without question. Ranma did not see a cash register or any sort of payment slot and supposed that the Company did not charge its employees to eat in their cafeteria.

    The Company might be a disturbing organization of dubious ethics and methods, but they did have good food. Ranma was working on his third bowl of beef stew when he saw his fiancee enter the room. "What do you want?" he asked, an edge on his voice.

    Kasumi smiled slightly at this. "Oh, nothing. You did very well out there today," she said as she sat down. She had changed out of her combat clothes, showered, and had dressed in her casual wear of boots, slacks, blouse, and ten millimeter handgun.

    "That's it? Nice job and a pat on the back," Ranma said critically. "You guys suck! Unlike you, I don't like being turned into a soulless killing machine."

    Kasumi eyed him. "You don't regret what you did."

    Ranma shook his head.
    "If you had to do it over again, would you have stayed in bed and done nothing?"

    "No. I still would have gone in and fought them." Ranma said, looking into the girl's hard brown eyes. I'm not so sure about Kuno though, he admitted to himself. Sure he's alive, but as a demon- chick. Pluto would find that real amusing.

    He picked at his food. "But you guys knew that. You knew that I would go in there. You didn't know how much I'd cooperate with you, but you knew that I would go in. You took advantage of that."

    "It looks that way," Kasumi flatly stated.

    "Yeah, you don't care much about that do you?"

    "Nope," Kasumi honestly replied. "Look Ranma, we're in a war. A war that you agreed to participate in."

    "Pluto lied to me!"

    "Maybe about the curse," Kasumi allowed. "But she did mention the fighting evil part. Those seifuku are silly, but those girls have are powerful and have an impressive record." And an amazing amount of luck from the look of things. Though given what they faced maybe it's the world that got lucky, she thought.

    "We're all on the same side, eh? One big happy family."

    "Why not? Compared to those things that we fight," Kasumi said as her face darkened. "You know what these creatures were planning to do today. They were going to corrupt and brainwash school children and use them as cannon fodder. These are the type of monsters that we fight. Things that will murder children without a second thought! You can't negotiate with them. You can't rehabilitate them. They must be exterminated, one-by-one if need be, and damn the cost!" Kasumi said as her control slipped the slightest bit.

    Ranma looked at the woman with a glimmer of understanding and a bit of fear.

    "You're in this war, and the only thing making you fight is your own sense of right and wrong. We can't force you," Kasumi continued.

    He leaned forward "Why are you here?"

    "Jacob would like to speak with you," Kasumi said simply.

    "I didn't mean right now... but..."

    Kasumi simply looked blankly at him.

    "And what does he want?"

    "Ever wonder what happened to your mother?" the operations agent asked.

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


    Usagi sat on the stoop of the apartment building. About fifteen minutes after those two men from the Company left, Setsuna managed to return Usagi's calls. Following the brief conversation, Usagi was told to wait outside. Meiou said she was driving over.

    A large dark green two-door car stopped in front of the apartment. The idling engine sounded powerful. Usagi could almost see air being pulled into the large, low-slung, intake scoop in the center of the hood. The blonde was not a car person. She had no idea that it was a custom-job 1968 Dodge Charger as opposed to the 1974 Dodge Charger that Setsuna said she was driving over. She walked over to the car.

    The heavily tinted driver's side window slid down revealing a familiar face. It was not a tanned woman with red eyes and long green hair, but a somewhat pale man of indeterminate age with watery grey eyes and short brown hair. It was Murdock. Usagi's eyes flared in anger. Here was the man who had killed her boyfriend. Here was the man who had ruined Ranma's chances at getting a cure. The monster was in front of her. Hell, he might have killed Setsuna and stolen her car.

    Usagi had flipped out her transformation compact, and had started her transformation phrase.

    "Please don't," Murdock said in a calm, almost depressed, voice.

    Usagi paused. That was an unexpected tone.

    "You can transform and attack me if you want," Murdock admitted. "But I just got this car and I'd prefer it not to be wrecked," he said as he patted the dash.

    Usagi hit the panic button on her communicator.

    "Sure, call your friends. You'd tell them anyway," Murdock sighed.

    "What do you want?" Usagi asked sternly.

    "It's not what I want. It's what I have to do," Murdock laughed. It was the rough, unpleasant sound of a man who was desperately trying to stay sane. "Pluto thinks that I'm the mastermind of all this. I guess she can't accept that I'm just another pawn in this tiresome game."

    Usagi blinked. Setsuna did admit that Murdock had to be working for someone else, something very powerful. "You still killed him," she said, looking into those strange grey eyes. His corneas almost seemed to be filled with squirming motes.

    "It's not like it was the first time he died," the man joked. "I see that Setsuna is still overestimating my impact, and still keeping you in the dark." Murdock stated. He allowed a small smile to form on his face.

    "She knows you're up to something," Usagi said defiantly.

    "But she doesn’t know what it is," Murdock smiled. "That's pretty funny. After all she knows the Gate. Hell, she is the Gate. She is the key and guardian of the Gate. Past, present, and future, are all one in her, or at least they used to be."

    Usagi blinked. That made sense. Setsuna was deeply connected to the Time Gates and her staff was a giant key.

    Murdock continued. "She knows where the Old Ones broke through of old, and where they'll break through again. And yet- she is also of Yuggoth. That is most curious. The Mi-Go were never too fond of old Yogi."

    "Yuggoth?" Usagi asked.

    "It's another name for the ninth planet, back when we had nine," Murdock said dismissively. "I have to ask you something."

    "What?" Usagi said, still clutching her transformation device.

    "Why is your daughter still alive?"

    "If you harm her-"

    "That's not a threat." Murdock said. His voice was hard. The man seemed genuinely insulted by that. "Quite the opposite," he then said, this time smiling.

    "What are you talking about?"

    "Paradoxes. Remember the last time that happened? Neherenia's little curse hit your boy-toy. He was doomed to die, and your daughter started to fade out. But now she's fine and he's dead."

    "Pluto saved her."

    "If that's what she told you," Murdock said, his grin growing. "Still believe that love and hope will save your daughter... and the future?"

    Usagi glared at the man in the driver's seat. "What are you insinuating?"

    "Certain people have had an interest in her before. Although, I can't say that those alterations made her any better. I mean, turning a spoiled brat into an insufferable bitch."

    Usagi looked at him questioningly. Murdock knew of the Black Moon Family. Was he connected to them in any way? They had been defeated, but so had the Dark Kingdom. "You're not from the future are you?" the blonde asked.

    "Close," Murdock smiled slightly. "You think of time solely in linear terms, forward or backward. I guess sideways never occurred to you. Think of a mystery train that travels through lands riddled with fallout and demons, past that damn tower where even death dies, and right into the twisting churning nuclear chaos at the heart of everything. Is it all mystery, a riddle, or a joke?" Murdock stated as his grin twitched.

    "What are you talking about?"

    "It's rather simple," the man said before he recognized the car that was approaching the parking lot. It was the same make and model of his car, just six years newer. "Oh shit! Gotta go," he said in a panicky apology just before he put his car into reverse, turned it almost completely around, and raced out of the side entrance to the lot.

    Usagi watched the other green Dodge drive up to her. This time when the window slid down she was rewarded with Setsuna's image. "Did he hurt you?" the woman asked as she watched the other Dodge race away.

    "No," Usagi said as she looked back at the apartment building. Where were the other girls? She had hit the emergency button. "At least you heard my distress call," the blonde said to the time guardian.

    "No. I didn't," Setsuna admitted. "He must have blocked the signal," the emerald-haired woman stated as she slide over and opened the passenger side door. "Get in," she nearly ordered.

    Usagi complied. As she buckled her belt, she noticed that Setsuna was not wearing her safety belt.

    "What did he say?" Setsuna demanded as she drove her car back onto the road.

    Usagi paused before responding. It felt natural, right to do what Setsuna told her to do. After all, she was older, much older, and had a lot more experience, but recent events had caused the woman's motives to come into question. Setsuna had never been forthright and seemed only to work with them when it suited her goals.

    "What did he tell you?" Setsuna repeated. "You can't trust anything he says!" Setsuna stated, paranoia creeping into her voice.

    "He didn't tell me anything. He just asked a question," Usagi said simply. She was still digesting the tone of Setsuna's voice. The woman very rarely let her emotions show, let alone reach into her voice.

    "And the question was?" Setsuna asked as she stopped at a red light.

    "Why is my daughter alive?" Usagi asked.

    Setsuna looked into her review mirror. "You know, we never figured out who released Neherenia. You defeated her. You imprisoned her. Then someone woke her up. And that same someone helped her spread those mirror shards."

    "Are you suggesting that Murdock woke her up? That's insane! He killed Mamoru. If he was behind Neherenia's return, why didn’t Murdock kill him back then?"

    "Why did he crash a 747 into the Bering Strait when he was just going to kill Mamoru in a bathroom? Madness is Murdock's misdirection. If you think someone's just crazy you'll underestimate them and they'll put out so much inane chaff that you have to sort through to find their true goals." Pluto countered.

    "You still haven't answered that question," Usagi countered. "All I know is you found some way to keep her from drifting away."

    "Yes, I did." Setsuna stated as she changed lanes. "When Neherenia came back and almost caused that paradox, I knew that something was very wrong. There are supposed to be safeguards to prevent such things. That's part of what the Space-Time Door does."

    "What did you do?"

    "I set it up so that your daughter will no longer be affected by having Mamoru be dead."

    "What did you do?"

    "I asked him to give me several samples," Setsuna finally admitted. "It was quite awkward, but now they're all stored in several very safe places."

    "My god," Usagi said. "You had him- I mean - in the cup?"

    Setsuna nodded.

    "I see." It made sense. How else could a dead man father a child?

    "I did what I had to do," Setsuna said, not lying, yet not really answering her question.

    Usagi nodded. Her concern as to why Murdock had told her to ask that question was minimal. Murdock continuously did things that made little or no sense.

    The red-eyed woman was relieved. Usagi was not pushing the issue. Her own mind was trying to understand why Murdock did that. Was he simply sowing discord, or did he have a greater purpose. Kill the father, save the daughter? Setsuna did not like knowing what was going to happen, let alone what had already happened.

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


    Ranma charged into Jacob's office. There was no attempt to stop him. "What's going on here?" he demanded. "First you jerk this cure around on me, then you guilt me into fighting, and finally you use my mother against me. Explain. Now," Ranma stated in a dangerously calm voice.

    Jacob looked up from his report. "Major Saotome, Nodoka, Science and Technology Section. Registration number 34528-88325-42821-90982," Jacob read from the header of his file.

    "Right, like she's been working for you clowns," Ranma said with considerable skepticism.

    "For over eight years. She heads one of our advanced materials labs," Jacob stated.

    "That's way too much of a coincidence. I can't see my dad marrying someone like that."

    "According to this, she met your father during her undergraduate days. She then went on to get her doctorate in materials science and engineering from Tokyo University."

    "Sure, she did. Look, Pops never talked about her. Hell, he told me that I didn't even have a mother. I sure as hell don’t remember ever having one."

    "Yes, that's why she came to us, all those years ago. The police couldn't find you or him. So, she hired us."

    "And she just happened to be a scientist willing to make weapons for you guys. You nimrods are pathetic."

    "Well, she mostly designs vehicle and personnel armor, and it was rather convenient," Jacob admitted. "Setsuna, or perhaps Murdock, did specifically select you."

    "Prove it. I want to see her."

    "Fine," Jacob said simply. "She's at our base in Hokkaido now."

    "And this is where you say sorry but-"

    "We can have you on a flight in two hours," Jacob stated.

    "Really," Ranma said skeptically.

    "Simple. You take a Company plane from here to the First Operations Centre in Kansas and get on one of the regular flights that goes to the Third Operations Centre."

    "Right, sure."

    "The Company also has those old samples of Jusenkyou water that you can try before you go on to Japan, and if that doesn't work we can then take you to China."

    "And how will I explain that to my father?"

    "You want to bring him along so he can get cured?"

    "No. I haven’t even started to punish him."

    "Ahh, the Sunshine thing," Jacob observed. "In that case you're just spending a few days with Kasumi on a Company recruiting workshop."

    Ranma blinked. "You guys just love telling lies with the truth, don't you?"

    Jacob smiled. "Will you do it?"

    "If it will get rid of Sunshine and DarkStar." Ranma nodded.

    "We make no promises that it will cure you, but we will get you there."

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


    Major Saotome sat in her apartment's kitchen. She lived in one of the residential buildings located within Operations Centre 3. Her rank allowed her to have private, if small, housing. She lived alone and did not need that much space. It was also cheaper, which allowed her to save more of her income.

    She sipped from a glass of water. She would have preferred something stronger, but she was about to go back to work soon. The woman was trying to digest what had been told to her. She had been ordered to Commander Akagi's office.

    Nodoka shook her head. Her son was alive and well. He was currently staying with an operations agent. That was all that was written on the message the Commander had handed her. She found the lack of information troubling. She did not even know how they actually found Ranma or what had happened to Genma.

    It was unusual for them to split up. According to the reports, Genma kept a fairly close eye on his son. Could something have happened to Genma? Was that why the Company was able to find Ranma? The simple fact that there was not more information meant that someone saw it fit to restrict that information. Something was going on with her son.

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


    "My god," Nabiki said as she turned off the television.

    "Good thing that the police got there in time," Akane observed coldly. This was not something that was supposed to happen here. Canada had no enemies. Canada was obscure. There was no logical reason for them to come after us she tried to rationalize.

    "I can't believe it," Nabiki remarked darkly.

    "In our school," Akane said as she stared off into space.

    Nabiki nodded. Reality had a troubling way of interfering with life.

    "We're back," Kasumi said as she opened the front door. Ranma followed her into the house.

    "You see the news?" Akane asked rather innocently.

    "Yes," Kasumi stated.

    "Where's Pops?" Ranma said as he narrowed his eyes.

    "Out back with father," Nabiki said as she looked at her older sister. The young woman was her usual controlled self. Nabiki almost expected her to be somewhat unnerved by the day's events. After all, the last time someone had gotten killed at Furinkan, it was at Kasumi's hands.


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


    "Poor Drake," Genma remarked as he looked into the woods from the back porch.

    "At least he managed to avoid any student casualties," Soun said from the seat next to him.

    "But why his school?"

    "Who knows what those dishonorable monsters were after," Soun stated as he took a sip from his drink.

    Genma then turned when he heard the back door open. "You have a good day with Kasumi?" he asked his son.

    "Amazing," Ranma flatly stated.

    "Excellent," Genma said in a pathetic imitation of an evil mastermind.

    "Yeah sure. I'm just telling you that I'll be going away for a few days or so."

    "Really where?" Genma asked as he put down his cup.

    "I'll be taking him on a Company workshop," Kasumi said as she walked onto the porch.

    "Good for you," Soun said.

    "Yes, a brilliant plan," Genma added.

    Ranma shook his head and went back into the house.

    Kasumi smiled as she followed her fiance. It was that easy.

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


    Kasumi drove her Company sedan to the Lester B. Pearson International Airport, located to the northwest of the city. After passing through security, she drove her car to the airport's freight terminal. Parked on the tarmac was a mid-sized commercial jet. It was light grey with a thick black line on the tail. Within that line was the Company logo. The letters, symbols, and globe seemed to float in obsidian fluid. There were also several Company vehicles and agents in the area. She stopped the car, walked out, and handed the keys to another agent.

    "You chartered a plane for me," Ranma said as he exited the car.

    "No," Kasumi said. "Command sent for a team from S and T to come up and look at that gate in the basement. We'll be taking their plane back."

    "I see," Ranma said as he picked up his backpack and walked towards the plane. Wonderful. Going to fly halfway around the world. That's if the water these nitwits have in storage doesn't work. Which it probably won't. At least they'll take me to Jusenkyou, and after this morning they should think twice about trying to mess with me. Ranma thought with a smile. It quickly disappeared when he recognized one of the people standing near the plane.

    It was a pale girl with red eyes and black hair. A pair of black shorts and a black tank top clung to her well-formed and human-looking body. The girl noticed Ranma and ran over to her. "M... mistress!" she cried as she tried to hug the martial artist.

    "Stop it, you freak!"

    The girl pulled back and cringed as if slapped. "But, but... you saved me," she muttered.

    "Why is this thing here?"

    "You shouldn't be so mean to her; she's your responsibility," Kasumi stated.

    "She's –he's- not ."

    Kasumi looked at the sniffling girl and chuckled. "Kuno's father wants his son to be human. The curse is a chance to help her."

    "But, Jacob said that Jusenkyou is ineffective against demons."

    "Kuno changed sex during the conversion. That might be due to your curse. Thus she might be susceptible to the water. It's a slim chance."

    "Just like how I'm human right now, and might be able to get cured."

    "Exactly."

    "Okay, I can understand wanting to get cured," Ranma said before turning back to the Kuno girl. "You can come, but you will not touch me or do anything creepy. Understand?"

    The girl simply nodded, enthusiastically. "One question if I may?" she asked.

    "What?"

    "Why are you in this weak form now? This bag of meat you inhabit is pathetic compared to your true power. And um... I can't feel you like this," the young demon whispered.

    Ranma rubbed his forehead. "What did I do to deserve this?"

    "Come on," Kasumi said to the two teenagers. "The plane's leaving soon."

    Ranma grumbled as he walked to the plane. He was followed by a demonic minion happily humming to herself. The plane had rows of two seats on either side of a central aisle. The rows alternated between facing forward and backward. Kasumi walked toward the back of the plane and sat down in a forward facing aisle seat. The woman then took out her laptop and started typing into it.

    Gabriel looked up from his book. It was a thick volume documenting instances of nonhuman activity from the twenties. The text made for an interesting if dry read. The agent found the afternoon's actives unusual. Normally, after an operation, there would be an extensive debriefing. But now they were going to provide escort duty for a Pattern D - two Pattern Ds - Gabriel corrected himself as he looked at the girl who was trying to sit next to Ranma.

    To the casual observer, the girl looked human, but Gabriel could tell that there was something off about her. Reading the Doctor's report helped things too. Gabriel shook his head and went back to the documentation on how several Company agents discovered a group of Pattern L's in Chicago.

    Jacob entered plane. He was carrying a grey metal briefcase. The man looked at Ranma with an almost puzzled expression before taking the seat facing Kasumi. The door to the plane then closed and locked into place. The aircraft then taxied into position and waited for takeoff clearance.

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


    Ranma looked out the sixth story window. The sun had just finished setting and the gently rolling farmland was cast in a dim orange and grey light. The farmland ended over five miles from the building complex he was in. The Company Operations Centre stood on an almost rectangular parcel of land that was about eight by twelve miles and totaling over sixty thousand acres in area.

    There was a series of fences that marked the edge of the gigantic compound. One pair was at the edge with another pair over half a mile inside it. Periodically there were steel observation towers and small concrete pillbox-like buildings. A couple pairs of Humvees with fifty caliber machine guns and missile launchers patrolled the perimeter.

    Ranma could also see a pair of helicopters flying off in the distance. One was landing at the private Company airport to the South of the central building complex and the other was doing intricate maneuvers to the west. He then turned his attention to the buildings directly below them.

    Made of concrete, steel, and glass, the buildings were squat with clean lines. Of differing heights, shapes, and sizes, these buildings made up a central complex. It resembled the bland campus of a technical school. Ranma had only been in part of the underground levels, but he knew that there had to be miles of corridors under the central complex. Like the Toronto facility, it was brightly lit, mostly grey, and vaguely unsettling.

    Ranma was morbidly curious as to what sort of business was conducted here. The facility seemed far too large for the task of monitoring and controlling what the Company called Pattern Registering Non Humans. Unless the situation with paranormal creatures was far larger than Ranma had originally thought.

    "I'm sorry," Jacob said as he walked into the conference room Ranma was in.

    "You said it most likely wouldn't work," Ranma observed as he continued looking out the window.

    "That water was sitting in a storage room for thirty years. Hell, that stuff was collected before I started working here," Jacob noted.

    "Yes, I read the tags on the metal crate," Ranma stated as he turned to face Jacob.

    "With our archives, proper labeling is a necessity," the Company Colonel stated. Buried to the east were the warehouse-sized general archives. A smaller and more secure depository housed the more interesting items.

    "What now? You guys really gonna send me to China?"

    "If you want to go. A flight bound for Operations Centre Three departs in an hour," Jacob said as he exited the room again.

    Ranma nodded as he returned his gaze out the window. Another cure had failed. That is if he could trust the water. Neither himself nor Kuno had been affected by the water. He certainly didn't want to ask some woman tog et cursed just to prove to him that it worked.

    Ranma supposed that they could have filled the containers with tap water and then faked the documentation and the readings the scanners gave off.

    His eye twitched at the thought of this all being some Company trick. If these morons were that stupid, he would show them. He would show them all. His lips pulled back into a smile that really didn't fit his current form.

    It was a shame he'd have to turn into DarkStar to get his revenge. Jacob seemed to be a tricky bastard, and Ranma wanted to be in a form that was bulletproof if he had to take the older man out.


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


    Rei walked down the darkened forest path. It was late and the only light came from distant ground light reflected off of the overcast sky. This created an orange tinted grey-scaled coloration. She could hear Makoto walking behind her. The girl then stopped just short of a small knoll. The brunette walked up to Rei and crouched down next to her.

    "Don't you hate walking outside in heels?" Makoto quietly asked as she looked at the just visible dwelling that sat in a clearing on the other side of the knoll.

    "I don't know why Pluto insisted that we activate as soon as we got into the woods," Rei said as she rolled her eyes. "We're in position," she then said into her communicator.

    "So are we," Mina's voice responded from the wrist-mounted device.

    Makoto gave a thumbs up to Rei and readied herself. Rei simply looked at the building with mute horror. She could sense evil and corruption drifting out of the building in lazy wisps. In spite of the nighttime cloud cover the cabin seemed to be wrapped in more gloom and darkness than the rest of the forest.

    "Pluto was right. He's here," Rei incorrectly assumed as she watched the building.

    "Quiet," Makoto whispered. From their position they could just make out the cabin's front porch. The door on it was now being opened. The girls could make out a dark shape with softly glowing eyes exiting the building. They could see the shape put a lighter to a cigarette. Smoke began to lazily curl from the smoldering tube.

    The shape on the porch shut the door and leaned on it, appearing to enjoy its cigarette. The still air was then punctuated by the sound of someone hitting the ground somewhere in the forest. The entity at the porch dropped his cigarette and pulled a large gun out from within his coat.

    Makoto watched the creature raise its shotgun and made her decision. There was a good chance that was Usagi. She readied herself and began the attack. The girl then spun in a circle, summoning hundreds of leaves. With a shout of "Jupiter Oak Evolution," she charged the leaves and fired them at the shape on the porch.

    The entity was hit by the magical attack and was blown apart. "Cover me," Sailor Jupiter said as she moved towards the cabin. Rei watched as the front door began to open. She waited until the targets were verified. It was a pair of shadows with glowing eyes. She aimed and fired a single fire arrow at the creature to the left and quickly launched another at its companion. They were destroyed before Jupiter could add to the attack.

    As Rei kept her Mars Flame Sniper ready, she moved forward. Jupiter was halfway to the porch. Rei looked over to see the others running in from their position at the other side of the clearing.

    Shots came from inside the cabin. Ami shouted a number and pointed with her finger. The blondes then fired into the building. Minako went first. The Crescent Beam lit up the inside of the cabin, produced a flash that illuminated the entire clearing for a second, and killed the one creature unlucky enough to be hit. Usagi then launched a Moon Gorgeous Meditation into the cabin.

    Sailor Jupiter was the first inside the building. She found a small living room littered with the sand-like remains of their enemy. The only sounds in the room were strange, somewhat distorted, shrieks and explosions.

    A television was on in one corner of the room. Playing on it was a space battle between two groups of ships, one was green and somehow squid-like and the other looked like a cross between a spider and Makoto's worst nightmare.

    "Anyone in here?" Sailor Venus asked, surprising the brunette.

    "None in this room," Makoto said as she walked to the next room. It was the kitchen. The smell of brine permeated the room. But when Makoto paused, she could smell something under that salty scent. It was a familiar and horrifying stench. It was a mix of blood, bile, urine, and worse. Makoto could see a large, neatly folded tarp sitting next to the wall. It was heavily stained.

    "What's going on in here?" Usagi asked.

    "Whoever's left went out the back door," Minako stated, the smell of blood and salt filling her nose.

    Makoto looked at the open door that lead outside and then at the other two in the room. One was open and went to a small bathroom and the other was secured with a heavy padlock.

    "Okay let's go," Usagi said, leading them out of the cabin and back into the house.

    Makoto lingered for a second. She had a fair idea as to what was being done in this cabin. She then followed the other Senshi outside.

    Several miles to the south, a monitoring device in the Hilton Falls Conservation Area had detected the magical burst of their attacks. The data was transmitted to WIC Toronto-A where it was decided to send out a strike team just in case the mid-range Pattern Silver discharges weren't practice or something else innocuous.


    A drone was vectored into the area. First on scene the robotic craft began orbiting the area. Its onboard scanners detected several Pattern Silver signatures and some signatures that were too weak to type

    Soon it was joined by one of the facility's helicopters reached the location. The modified UH-60A Black Hawk was followed by an armored strike team that would provide backup. The pilot took his craft a bit closer.

    His gunner then saw, standing in a clearing, a group of girls in color coded miniskirts saturating the forest with magical attacks. The video feeds were transmitted to the C3. The pilot then received his orders.

    Sailor Mercury scanned the trees. The remaining creatures were somewhere in the forest, but she was no longer picking them up on her scanner.

    "Incoming!" Ami shouted as a warning signal appeared on her visor. It was little forewarning. While it was quieter than a normal helicopter of that size, the Company modified machine was still rather loud.

    The girls turned to see the hovering machine drop four lines. From the ropes rappelled a quartet of Company agents. They softly landed on the ground and quickly brought their weapons at the ready. Once they were on the ground the helicopter pulled up to a higher altitude.

    Usagi looked over the troops. Their camouflaged body armor, boots, and helmets, made them appear to almost melt into the background. Their night vision goggles gave them a bug-like view with their clusters of sensors. Even their double barreled weapons were in that mottled pattern.

    "What are you doing here?" she then asked. Back in Tokyo, the authorities never arrived this fast. On the rare cases that they bothered to come, they were always too late.

    One of them looked at the girls strangely before speaking "Two days ago a scout troop went missing in the park to the south of here. All we found were some splatters of blood that were tainted with strange chemicals. Our search was interrupted by today's attack," Lieutenant William Paterson quickly explained to the blonde. He looked over to see that his squad had taken covering positions at the edge of the clearing.

    "And you just happened to see us," Rei said.

    "Our attacks are very flashy," Ami stated.

    Makoto simply froze as her mind connected the missing people to the smell from that cabin.

    "Are there still enemy targets out here?" Patterson asked.

    "Yes," Ami said before telling the agent the last known position of the targets.

    "Any friendlies nearby?"

    "No. Why are you asking this?" Usagi asked.

    Patterson simply smiled and called in the air strike. The two 7.62mm Gatling guns on the helicopter opened fire. The tracers from the mini-guns blurred into lances of flame.

    Usagi almost shrieked at the intense chainsaw-like noise. Why did their weapons have to be so loud? She then watched as the Company agents fired several grenades from the larger of their gun's barrels.

    Rei watched the attack. It made sense - hit the enemy hard to ensure that it got killed. Then she gave an evil grin and flames burst form her gloved hands. The night lit up with a magical inferno that drowned out all the other attacks.

    Patterson gave the order for the helicopter to stop firing. His goggled head turned to Mars and gave an appreciative nod. He then had his men to approach the target.

    Makoto watched as one of the armed agents moved past her. She shrugged and went after him. The rest of the Senshi went with the agents further into the forest. Usagi could see the scarred land where the aerial and Mars' assaults had taken place. The same gritty sand-like substance was scattered all over the area as well as burned ashes.

    "Forward left, incoming!" one of the agents shouted as she started to fire into a humanoid bundle of shadows.

    "They're cloaked," Ami shouted as she began to fire at the same spot. Bubbles came out and they were easier to see

    Usagi could see that the attacks had hit something, killed it, and turned it to more of that strange sand. She then noticed a movement ahead of her. She turned and attacked it.

    Patterson blinked as the light amplification cut out on his goggles.

    He did not just see that. Magically powered teenage girls in bows and miniskirts were one thing, but that blonde did not just use a kaleidoscope as if it were some type of particle beam weapon. Whatever it was, it was overkill.

    There turned out to be only one other target remaining. It tried to move and was blown apart by three magical attacks and two bursts of automatic weapons fire. "Check the area," Patterson ordered his troops.

    The Senshi looked at each other, looked around, and went back to the cabin. Once again Makoto found herself in the kitchen. She looked at the padlocked door. "I'm going in," she said as she ripped off the lock.

    "You think someone's still in there?" Usagi asked.

    Minako was a waiting outside the back door with Ami and Rei. "They're back," Ami stated as she watched the agents walk back out of the forest.

    "Oh god," Patterson said as he walked into the already crowded kitchen. The smell was unmistakable. "Orbital One, tell HQ to send a forensic team." He paused as he listened to the reply. "Really? Well tell them to have another on standby. We'll probably need more," he said into his headset. "Open it," he then ordered one of his men, who then went to the door and scanned it for anything unusual.

    "What are you doing?" Usagi asked.

    "We may have found those missing kids," Patterson sighed from behind his goggles and balaclava. "You should clear out of the cabin, it might be booby trapped."

    "No," Usagi said, reading an attack. Now she understood why Pluto had sent them here. She still did not know how the Time Guardian learned of this place, but at least she knew why she was here.

    "Okay," Patterson shrugged. He had very specific orders for how to handle the Pattern Silvers. "Do it."

    The agent at the door then swung open the door. It opened to a darkened stairway.

    Makoto smirked slightly. Here were two groups of soldiers, one pretty and sailor-suited, and the other in camouflage and body armor. Both were intently watching the stairway.

    The air hummed with readied magic.

    It proved to be rather anticlimactic. The basement was empty of enemies. The dirt-floored cellar was being used as a store room.

    Mounted on the rough walls were several shelves that held well over a dozen large jars. The room was lit by only a few bare bulbs, but that was more than enough to make out their contents. The Company agents looked at them with familiar revulsion.

    "Dear god," Makoto said looking at the dozens of neatly labeled jars of brine-cured meat, bottles of blood and other fluids, opaque buckets of unknown contents, and a large crate full of stained bones.

    "We're too late. Always too damn late," Patterson said as he and the agent with him conducted a preliminary examination of the room.

    "Strange echo gradients coming from the containers," the other agent noted as he scanned the jars and bottles.

    "There's a tilting autopsy table in right here," Patterson said in a cold emotionless voice. "The drain appears to have clogged. Watch out for the spill," he said with considerable distaste.

    Usagi looked at the room and shuddered. She then started regulating her breathing. Previous enemies had been just as vicious and contemptible for human life, but the bastards were not nearly this messy. She felt surrounded by this careful, deliberate barbarism. It was oppressive and claustrophobic, like being smothered by a burning couch.

    "I can't get a body count from this. There's at least an eight, most likely more."

    "Forensic Pathology can figure out what they did. Let's go back topside," Patterson ordered.

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


    Back at the porch, the girls were trying to make small talk with the agents who were with them. "So... what got you working for –um- the Company?" Minako asked the taller of the two agents.

    The man turned to the girl and smiled. That much the blonde could tell. The man's mouth was just about the only visible part of his body. "It was either this or join the Marines, and frankly, the Company has better pay," he had a deep baritone voice.

    "Don't mind Morrison," the other agent stated. "His whole family, grandfather, father, uncle, brother and sister, are in the Corps, and he takes a bit of flack for not being a 'real' solider."

    "Shame I can't tell them what I do," Morrison noted as he checked his scanner again. The backup team should be arriving in five minutes.

    "We're not in it for the fame." Morrison's partner stated.

    "Yeah, we know all about that," Minako remarked.

    "It is amazing you've managed to keep your identities secret for so long. Sorry about earlier today," Morrison stated.

    "Everyone at the Company knows who we are," Minako observed.

    "Only select members of our Toronto personnel." Morrison assured the girls. He neglected to inform her that the command staff including section chiefs and their alternates, most of Communications Cryptography, and almost all of Operations made up the select members.

    Minako was about to ask another question but was interrupted by Usagi bursting out of the cabin. "What took you so long?" one blonde asked to another.

    "The basement's crammed with human parts," Makoto stated simply.

    "Oh," Rei replied. "I guess it's good that you forgot to give a speech this time."

    Morrison simply looked at his companion and sighed. They had expected this; it was too large a group which had been missing for too long.

    Minako considered saying what the speech would be. Something like, "Organs and blood are for transplants and transfusions, not for eating. In the name of the moon, I will punish you!" She then decided to not say it. Those two girls had just seen the results of a mass murder.

    Suddenly, a trio of Humvees and a pair of medium trucks with boxy cargo compartments drove into the clearing. Their approach was masked by the sound of the circling helicopter. The three Humvees quickly took positions around the cabin. Their machine guns swiveled on motorized gimbals and out into the woods. The trucks stopped near the cabin. From the backs of the trucks came two Forensic Pathology teams. As the cabin was still an active site, they were dressed in the same armor as the Operations personnel. In addition to the mandatory weapons, they were also carrying several containers for their scanning devices, cameras, specimen containers, and other equipment.

    The Senshi watched as they silently walked past and entered the cabin. A couple remained in the kitchen to analyze what was in there. The rest went down the stairs and into the basement.

    Usagi turned to see Lieutenant Patterson talking to his headset. "Forensics has arrived. Yes, sir. The Pattern Silvers are still here. I'll ask sir." The connection was then terminated. Patterson paused to reflect on the absurdity of it all. "The Commander would like to see you," he said to the magical girls.

    He extended his hand. "Personally, I'd thank you for you help, but you didn't really need us."

    Usagi shook it. "Better to have it and not need it I guess."

    Patterson grinned.

    Several miles away Rod Ferris listened as the orbiting helicopter landed for a bit and flew off. He shrugged. Losses were to be expected. He was still alive, and more importantly, the plan was still proceeding on track.


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


    Once again Ranma found himself waking up to the sound of jet engines. He did not bother to pull up the window cover. It would just show water and nothing else. He stretched slightly; at least the chairs were comfortable.

    Ranma looked over to see that once again, the demon girl had moved to sit next to him. The martial artist sighed as he quietly disconnected his safety belt. He would rather let the creature sleep than wake it up just to yell at her. Ranma then stood up and walked down the aisle.

    "ETA eight hours," Jacob said when Ranma passed him. The man had a laptop out and had a headset plugged into it. "No sir, I was just talking to Ranma. What is the count according to forensics?"

    Ranma nodded before going down the remaining rows and into an open bathroom. After closing the door he looked at his reflection and sighed. Eight more hours of travel and then he'd be back in Japan.

    He paused considering this. His mother was supposedly there. Ranma assumed that Jacob was telling the truth. It made no sense to lie about something like that. It would only alienate Ranma further from the Company. It was also easily verifiable. His father was still alive after all.

    Ranma supposed that the person he was about to see might be some sort of impersonator or a replicate of his mother constructed to win him over, but that seemed too unlikely. Not that likelihood meant anything to Ranma.

    Given that massive secret organizations, demons, and magical girls existed, a deranged plan involving someone pretending to be his mother might be perfectly logical, but did the Company have time to do something like this? They had first met him a couple days ago.

    Ranma shook his head as he walked back to his seat. He groaned as he looked at the sleeping demon girl. Part of him... he shook his head, he wouldn't sleep with her.

    Turning her seemed like the right idea at the time. He did not want to let the idiot die, but now he was stuck with the same obsessive nutcase, just with a different gender and species.

    Jacob had offered to kill the girl, but that was not a particularly useful option. Maybe Ranma could convince her to get a job with the Company, far, far away from him. The martial artist smiled as he sat down in a new seat, this one in a new row and on the opposite side of the aisle. That would get Kuno out of the way.

    Bored and unable to return to sleep, Ranma found himself asking one of the agents for something to read. One of them shrugged and, after getting approval from Jacob, pulled out a small tablet. He then activated a program and handed it to Ranma.

    The martial artist looked at the screen and found an outline with titles such as Interpreting Pattern Recognition Systems, Communications Signals, Properties Index for Pattern Registering Entities, and the ominous Methods of Intelligence Extraction. There was also a feature that allowed the language to switch between English, German, and Japanese.

    Ranma tried the signals section first. It was better than nothing and much better than starting a conversation with anyone. He scrolled past pages of radio codes and procedures, until he found something interesting. It was a series of drawings that demonstrated various hand and arm signals and what they meant.

    He recognized several of them from the gestures that the Company goons had been making in the school. Ranma shrugged and read that section, and when he finished browsed for another section to read.

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


    Sailor Moon looked around the grey office. It was surprisingly spacious given that it was located in an underground fortress. There was an area that contained two couches facing each-other and another that had a desk and several chairs. There were also two doors on either side of the room, one of them undoubtedly serving for a bathroom.

    "Hello, I'm Commander Stillwater," the man behind the desk said as he got up.

    "Sailor Moon," the blonde responded.

    Stillwater smiled despite himself. He would rather Jacob do this, but he was with the other Pattern Silver. It was one thing to work with another organization, but these skimpily dressed girls were vigilantes. However, Stillwater reminded himself that they were not complete amateurs. They had taken on several threats that, while often absurd looking, were dangerous. The senior agent also reminded himself that they were integral to the plan and that they had plans of their own.

    Sailor Mars looked at the man standing behind the desk. His eyes were a dark, almost brown, green and both his hair and goatee were neatly trimmed. As she watched him move, Rei got the impression that he prided himself on control.

    "Please sit," Stillwater said as he pointed to the two couches in the room. "I'd like to start by thanking you for finding that cabin. You must have had pretty good scanners or intel to find them. We had been looking for them...." Stillwater trailed off.

    "Actually, Pluto told us about the cabin," Sailor Moon admitted as she sat on the couch to the left.

    "Ah intel then," Stillwater said. From Murdock's reports, Pluto seemed to be a dedicated but aloof and paranoid person.

    "Aren't you going to ask how she knew about it?" Sailor Mars asked.

    "I'm afraid to ask and find out it has something to do with Murdock," Stillwater admitted.

    "How did you know?" Sailor Moon asked.

    "It's always Murdock isn't it?" Stillwater said flatly.

    "What do you know of him?" Sailor Moon asked.

    "That he has an interest in all the Pattern Silvers, including Ranma. We also have some evidence of Murdock meeting with various entities and cults associated with Pattern registering entities. He's been stirring up the Non Human community too.."

    "Was he at the school today?" Sailor Moon asked. At the time, she had a strong feeling that he was there.

    "It is possible. You weren't the only ones watching," Stillwater said simply.

    "He could have been watching from one of those office buildings that overlooks the school," Sailor Mercury proposed.

    "Or maybe he was closer," Sailor Moon said as a sliver of memory hit her. In the crowd outside the security perimeter, one of the other transfer students ran into another one. It was a little thing - a gesture, a wave, a small expression, and then it was gone. At the time it meant nothing, but that was before she had met Murdock.

    "What's wrong?" Sailor Mars asked, concerned that the blonde had spaced out.

    "Nothing," Sailor Moon said, shaking her head. Rei's interruption had caused Usagi to lose her train of thought.

    "Anything else you'd like to ask?" Stillwater offered.

    "What's going on with Ranma?" Sailor Jupiter asked.

    "Ranma's a young man that turns into a demonic Senshi." Stillwater would have preferred to say Pattern Silver and D, but the girls would likely not know the terminology. "Due to an incident during his activation, he feels betrayed. Ranma is cautious but willing to combat evil," Stillwater stated, his voice precise and clear.

    "We already knew that," Sailor Moon countered.

    Stillwater nodded before speaking. "Then we're on the same page. We have to try and earn Ranma's trust."

    "Why do you want him to work with you?" Sailor Mercury asked, meeting the man's disturbingly focused gaze.

    "Same reason you want him with you. We're all here for the same reason," the Commander stated. "Unfortunately, Ranma is suspicious of ulterior motives from everyone."

    "He blames Pluto when Murdock's the one who did it."

    "That is what Ranma thinks." Stillwater's precise tone changed slightly. It sounded almost as if he was disappointed.

    "What about our identities?" Sailor Venus asked, speaking for the first time.

    Stillwater responded after a slight pause. He had sent two agents to specifically address that issue. "Until today, we only had suspicions as to who you were." He did not say just how certain those suspicions were. "Remember that, someone else had figured out who you were before us. We still do not know who those Youma were working for, and now there's this group that you just eliminated."

    "You're saying we should be on our guard," Sailor Moon observed.

    "Our offer for protection still stands," Stillwater stated.

    "No thanks."

    The agent nodded as he pressed a button on his phone. The door opened and an agent stepped into the office. Still in his body armor, the man had taken off his helmet, goggles, and balaclava. "If there's nothing else," Stillwater said to the girls. "Lieutenant Patterson will make arrangements to get you back home."

    Stillwater watched them leave the room. He feared that the girls would ask to see footage of DarkStar's combat. Seeing a demon viscously rip apart and burn tens of human-looking creatures might have caused problems. The agent shook his head. There were several calls to be made, a fair bit of video footage to go over, clients to meet with, and orders to give. He was already too busy.

    And things were just getting started.
    ***************

    Operations Centre 3 was located on the island of Hokkaido roughly between the cities of Sapporo and Tonakomai. Situated a few miles outside the small city of Eniwa, the compound was built on a several thousand aces of pastureland. Slightly smaller than the Kansas facility, the complex centered on a cluster of concrete and steel buildings that resembled a particularly ugly school campus.

    Ranma sighed as the elevator doors closed and the device began a controlled descent. Large enough to fit a good sized truck, the freight elevator was empty save for himself, his fiancee, and Jacob.

    He was relieved that the demon girl was staying with Kasumi's flunkies. Ranma knew where they were - it was a ground floor lounge in an oval shaped building. However, he had no idea where he was. He had followed Jacob and Kasumi through a maze of corridors and checkpoints.

    Ranma looked up at display over the door. It was on SL14. Their destination was sub-level twenty-seven. Ranma turned to his companions. Both were silently looking at the doors.

    The elevator then stopped and Ranma expected a harsh buzzer or a computerized female voiced to precede the opening of the doors, instead there was a happy pinging noise that came before the two pairs of metal doors slid open.

    Ranma stepped out of the elevator to find himself in an intersection of two hallways. The one to the front of him was large enough to drive a truck through and had to be at least a couple hundred yards in length. The one to his right side was a little under a third that length, but it ended into a sturdy, armored door. Ranma could see a group of agents talking near the end of that corridor.

    The subterranean level followed the same design methodology that would be found elsewhere in the Company. Concrete, steel, and, various polymers were the primary materials. It was clear that functionality and security were their primary concerns.

    "Come on," Jacob said as he walked past Ranma. He and Kasumi were already walking down the longer corridor. Ranma followed them to a pair of oversized double doors. Labeled next to the door was a sign with the words, "SL27-15 Materials Lab A." Jacob opened the door on the left and motioned for Ranma and Kasumi to wait in the hall.

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


    Major Saotome was at her computer. It was located in a corner of the lab that served as her office. She was sitting with a peripheral view of the door. Two of her subordinates were inspecting armor that had been damaged in the field. Aida was still going over the fire damaged armor from WIC Germany while Ayanami was working on a set that had just come in from a newly opened Company facility.

    She had a particular interest in that armor. A key scientist in its design, she was interested in how that model survived. Unfortunately, Commander Akagi had told her to expect a meeting from Command today. Not wanting to delay the inspection of the body armor, the major reluctantly decided to allow her subordinate to go over it.

    The woman was vaguely nervous. Unexpected visits from Command were rarely pleasant. The major knew that she had nothing to worry about. Her record was clean, but there was some slight anxiety. She hoped it was about what they had found, that it was about her family.

    The fragmented information about her son was a concern. She feared that the two events were related. That the agent from Command would tell her that they were unable to get to her child in time, that Ranma had been contaminated, and had to be put down. The woman sighed as she continued reading the report on rotor blade fatigue. Such thoughts were counterproductive, at least during work hours.

    She then heard the door being unlocked. Nodoka automatically moved her hand nearer to her sidearm. She would have been pleased to know that her two assistants had had similar ingrained reactions. The door opened and an older gentleman walked in. The four-lobed silver leaf on his collar gave him a rank of Colonel and the black trim of his uniform marked him as Operations Section.

    "Hello Colonel," Nodoka said as she saluted. Jacob returned the salute before speaking. "Major Nodoka Saotome, what you're about to be told is classified level six,"

    Nodoka nodded. She then turned to her assistants. "Aida, Ayanami, go out and pick up some lunch."

    Jacob waited for the two younger agents leave. "Major, this is your son Ranma" the senior agent said.

    The woman paused as she looked at the two people standing just in the room. One was a reserved and competent looking woman with the black trim of Operations Section and the silver bars of a lieutenant.

    More importantly was the other teen to enter the room. She recognized him immediately.

    Ranma looked at the woman. Her relatively short auburn hair was held back behind her head. The woman's face resonated within his memory. Her eyes were strangely evaluative in the second before she stood up, walked over to Ranma, and embraced him.

    "My son! At long last! it's been too long," Nodoka cried as she continued to hug him.

    Ranma accepted the hug, but it was somewhat uncomfortable. Unsurprisingly, under the lab coat Major Saotome wore over the standard Company uniform was a rather large handgun. As it was currently positioned, it dug slightly into Ranma.

    Nodoka broke of the hug and looked at her son. "So, how did they find you? Where were you?"

    "Pops took us to Canada. Then she saw me," Ranma said as he pointed to Kasumi, who was silently standing near Jacob. "After that, she tried to kill me."

    "Really?" Nodoka responded. "Why would the Company do something crazy like that?"

    "Technically that's not correct, ma'am. The operation was called off due to new information becoming apparent," Kasumi said slightly insulted. She was not the kind of person to merely try something. She did it.

    "Who are you?" Nodoka politely asked the younger woman.

    "Lieutenant Tendo, Kasumi, ma'am. It was my operation."

    "Is your father's name Soun?" Nodoka asked. After getting an affirmative response she continued. "The bastard did go to him, but Soun was one of the first people the Company interviewed. He said that Genma hardly ever talked to him. He even let the agents make copies of the few postcards that had been sent. I'm guessing you maintained surveillance on him and picked up Ranma when he arrived there."

    "Our surveillance was in the form of a mutual acquaintance of yours. Someone who already knew the involved parties," Jacob stated. He found it interesting how certain events kept coming back to that man.

    "The Drake," Nodoka stated with a bitter laugh. "You know, he was the one to suggest that I use the Company to find you," the woman said to her son.

    "I know him. He's the principal of the school I'm stuck going to," Ranma said with distaste.

    "Oh, so he finally got that plan off," Nodoka noted patting her son on the shoulder. She smiled. He was growing into a fine man at least.

    "Actually, the Drake had yet to inform us to Ranma's impending arrival. We are looking into certain inconsistencies involving his recent actions."

    "Oh, then what did happen?" Nodoka asked.

    Kasumi looked at Jacob who nodded. She then began to explain. Kasumi watched the older woman's face as she talked. The major was admirably in control. The only times the researcher gave off even the slightest reaction was during the rambling explanation of Jusenkyou her estranged husband gave.

    "So, your father took you to an H-Type location and got you an aquatransexual curse. Then a Pattern Silver asked you join their team to replace someone recently assassinated, most likely by this Murdock person. That ritual to transfer his mantle of power ended up turning you into a demonic magical girl," Nodoka stated, looking at her son. Her voice was even, but her eyes were intensely focused. The situation had just gone from joyous to surreal.

    "Yeah," Ranma admitted, a little disturbed by his mother. What did the Company do to its employees?

    "May I see it?" Nodoka asked.

    "I guess," Ranma stated. He was not too concerned that she might shoot him. The woman was his mother after all.

    Jacob reached into his pocket and pulled out a phone. He then linked with the Command and Control Center for Operations Centre 3 (WIC Japan). "This is Colonel Edwards. Please be ready for those two spikes. Yes. We're in SL27, Room 15, Building Epsilon. Good."

    Ranma walked past several examination tables filled with equipment that was neatly organized to find a sink near several shelves filled with books and other information storage devices. The far end of the room possessed what looked to be a fair sized storeroom and a small machine shop. He placed his hand under the faucet and opened the valve.

    As Nodoka watched the transformation, her hand immediately went to her sidearm. There was something unnatural about the pale-skinned redhead in the tight leather dress. The voluptuous young woman her son had turned into was indeed a Pattern D.

    Ranma sighed as she looked at the agents' reactions. They had all reached for their guns. Kasumi and Jacob were better at hiding it. Ranma could only see the slightest twitches in their hands, but it was there. She shook her head, causing her mass of unbound crimson tresses to cascade around her.

    "My god," Nodoka said as she walked over to the young demon. "Why would a Pattern Silver turn you into this?"

    Ranma smiled sourly showing off slightly elongated canines. "This isn't what she wanted me for." The redhead decided that she might as well show her the final form.

    Nodoka frowned at the girl's expression. She then noticed that her child's eyes had changed. There were now noticeable violet flecks mixed in with the blue of Ranma's eyes. "I suppose that you have another more powerful form. One that no doubt involves ribbons and a miniskirt," Nodoka said with bitter humor.

    "You know about the Sailor Senshi?" the redhead asked with some surprise. Ranma thought it was all a secret.

    "When the Pattern Silvers became more numerous and active in Tokyo, the Company decided to conduct some surveillance on them. The observers also recovered some items leftover from their fights. It was mostly piles of a gritty somewhat complex compound that varied from sample to sample and but had a roughly constant Pattern residue. However, sometimes the Forensic Pathology teams recovered a shard of crystal," Nodoka explained in a professional and interested voice

    "I was the one to examine those objects. Most of them had a fairly quick half-life and disintegrated into their base components before a full analysis could be conducted. Footage of Pattern Silvers was part of my briefing."

    "Wait. If you guys knew about the Senshi that long ago, why are you only now trying to talk to those girls?" Ranma asked Jacob.

    "The Japanese government forbid us from conducting operations within fifty miles of Tokyo, but they normally ignored us as long as we only observed and did not create an obvious presence" Jacob stated.

    "Like having dozens of military vehicles in the streets and armed helicopters flying overhead?" Ranma inquired.

    "That would be it. Because we were not allowed to make contact with them, we did not learn of their importance. That is until certain events happened. Such as Murdock coming forward to tell us what he knew," Jacob explained.

    "And what did Murdock tell you?" Ranma asked as she stared intently at the agent.

    "According to him, the same things he told you after you left Seattle," Jacob replied as he maintained eye contact with the tall redhead.

    "Sir?" Nodoka interjected. "About my son's other form."

    "Fine," Ranma said as she glared at Jacob. Part of her suspected that the man was telling the truth, and that the Company was as much in the dark as everyone else was, but another part of her feared that WIC knew much more than it let on. One thing she knew for certain there was no way she could get the information out of Jacob. Not here at least.

    If she laid one finger on him, the Company would likely send everything they had to try and stop her. Ranma did not want to consider what kind cataclysmic paranoia induced response would happen in that event.

    Ranma paused to glare at Jacob and activated the transformation. Bands of violet, crimson, and black energy encased the girl. When they died down she was wearing an incredibly short black leather miniskirt, a violet bikini top with dark purple and red bows and ribbons, and knee-high, five-inch heeled, black leather boots.

    Her hair was longer and had even more body. Her choker was black as was the stone in her golden tiara and the stones in her earrings. She also had even longer canines, a pair of little black horns, a three foot long spade shaped tail and a pair of large dragon-like wings. Her eyes had also turned completely amethyst

    "Well, that's a change in design," Nodoka commented. She took a deep breath and maintained her calm. It took most of her training to do this. The demonic influence of the girl was beyond obvious, yet the young woman was still her son. Thoughts of contamination were pushed aside. NH's working for the Company was rare, but not unheard of, and if she was being escorted by agents from Operations Section, she had to be clean.


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


    In Toronto, a street car drove down Dundas Street. It was a fair sized avenue that was roughly between the Canada National Tower and the University of Toronto and ran parallel to the lake. The tracked mass transit car stopped at the where the road intersected with Saint Patrick Street. A man in a dark brown trench coat and a wide brimmed fedora used this opportunity to disembark.

    Quickly crossing the street, he made his way to the sidewalk. Once there, he tightened the ties on his coat and flipped up his collar. The rain was coming down quite heavily and he did not want to get completely soaked. The man looked out from under the brim of his hat to see his destination. It was a small pub a couple hundred feet from his current location.

    The arched letters painted on the front window proclaimed it to be the Red Turtle. Drawn below the bar's name was a drawing of that crimson reptile. The creature's knowing expression brought a smile to the man's face as he looked into the establishment.

    The Red Turtle was paneled in polished hardwood and trimmed with simple but skillfully crafted moldings. The bar gave off warm, sturdy sense of comfort and stability, which was only magnified by the downpour. Powerful gusts of wind had made the precipitation even more unpleasant.

    The pub appeared to be a place that had stood for decades and would continue to stand for decades more, each night providing the same service to the same group of regulars. The man was now using his left hand to hold down his hat, preventing it from blowing away.

    The bar itself was a heavy construct of oak and brass and looked to be older than the city itself. Sitting at the end furthest from the window was a tanned woman with vibrant green hair. Her head was down to where it nearly touched the aged wood. The man smiled when he saw that she was there and he quickly made his way inside.

    As he took of his coat and hat and gingerly placed them on a coat rack near the door, he started to hum. Few would recognize the tune. It was the theme song to a short-lived cartoon that chronicled the fictionalized adventures of a Rhode Island horror writer. The man walked past the scattered patrons of the pub and over to the woman at the far side of the bar.

    She looked up when he was eight feet away. Recognition darkened her face as the woman watched him approach. The man was wearing an expensive suit that would have looked quite good on the man, except for one thing. It was rather rumpled. Even his tie's knot was not done quite right, "Hello Murdock. Come here to gloat? Or maybe you just want to babble incoherent riddles to me?" she asked coldly. Even his tie clasp, a silver bar with strange symbols that were either occult or mathematical etched on it, was crooked.

    Murdock looked at the woman and sighed. "You know, I was going to just congratulate you on your girls' performance yesterday, but now I'm just disappointed," the man stated as he sat down. The runic mage then proceeded to order an especially dark German beer.

    As if she had just heard something particularly incomprehensible, Setsuna shook her head. Murdock noted this as he took a sip of his drink. The Time Guardian then went back to nursing her Manhattan.

    "If it was up to me, I'd leave right now, but I have my orders," Murdock admitted.

    "Like when you tormented Usagi?"

    "All I did was direct her attention to an important issue. I presume you were forced to tell her the truth."

    Setsuna looked at the man, her face neutral.

    "They're not going to like you lying to them. They can handle the truth."

    "This coming from you?" Setsuna asked, horribly annoyed.

    "You don't think you're better than me?" Murdock asked as he straightened his tie clip. "It's really bad when people find a secretive organization with questionable motives is more forthcoming than other members of their own team."

    The woman took another sip.

    Murdock sighed as he took another drink. "I'm surprise at how much you botched up Sailor DarkStar. You just ran away. What, were you afraid of being sexually assaulted by a demonic redhead?"

    "It surprised me."

    "Now, you're just lying. You knew of Ranma's curse. You knew what the original DarkStar looked like. You should have seen it coming."

    "Well, you've taken steps against that, haven't you?"

    "Because events aren't neatly flowing from one point to another, you're blaming me? You act as if I could simply raise the Reynolds number of the time stream and turn that nice predicable laminar flow into something turbulent."

    "Are you done?" Setsuna asked as she ordered another drink.

    "I guess," Murdock stated. He then drank his beer in silence. The red-eyed woman then received her drink. They spent the next two hours without talking as they sipped their beverages.

    In the end it was Murdock who paid his tab and left first.

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


    "Sunshine Saotome?" Nodoka asked in a very confused voice.

    "Damn, damn, Drake," Ranma swore as he followed his mother. When they left Nodoka's lab, Jacob wandered off taking Kasumi with him.

    According to the signs on the walls, they were in SL-14, corridor 3B, but that was meaningless to Ranma. All he knew was that they were going back to that lounge. From there they would go to the hanger.

    "Yes, the Drake does love his jokes. Although now, I'm afraid he's gotten over his head," Nodoka chuckled.

    "Yeah, I'm going to shave that bastard's mullet right off."

    "That is if the Company doesn't get to him first," the older woman said coldly.

    "I thought he worked with them?"

    "Yes, and he knew we were looking for you. He told you that Genma contacted him a week before you two arrived in Toronto. And yet he does not tell us who you are? The Company takes missing persons cases rather seriously."

    "Didn't he tell Jacob?"

    "No. Colonel Edwards found out about the search I had running after that incident with your fiancee. He ran your name and that came up."

    "Why am I not surprised," Ranma muttered as they rounded a corner and entered yet another corridor. "So what'll happen to him?"

    "They'll interrogate him, and if they find out that he betrayed the Company, well that's it," Nodoka said simply.

    Ranma remained silent for a few seconds. "What about Pops?" he then asked.

    "What he did was criminal. The exact punishment has yet to be determined," Nodoka stated as her pupils contracted and her hand moved to rest on her sidearm.

    The martial artist's eyes widened in comprehension. He now knew why his mother was so accepting of what he did as DarkStar. His mother, like almost all Company agents, seemed disturbingly familiar with death.

    "Your father is at fault for what happened to you, but some of the blame can go to me. I might have been able to stop him, but I let him take you. It was only when he failed to return that I began to worry. I had no idea what he was doing with you and only sketchy reports that you were even still alive," the major confessed.

    "But no matter how much we regret our past decisions, we can't go back. There's only the present. That's why I work for the Company. I do what I can to pay for my mistakes. My developments have helped save countless lives," Nodoka stated in a melancholy yet prideful tone.

    "At least Lieutenant Tendo seems like a nice Company girl," Nodoka stated in an attempt to redirect the subject at hand. She then smiled. "I wonder if Genma has the slightest clue."

    "She pointed a gun at me. There's nothing going on between us," Ranma said flatly.

    "You two are somewhat young, but at least you're engaged to a professional," Nodoka stated as they entered and elevator. It was a quick ride up a couple of floors. The corridor that the lift arrived at was rather familiar to Ranma.

    "Oh, we're back," Ranma said with some dread. He had wanted to avoid this, but he had no choice.

    One metal door in the corridor was open. It lead to a smallish room with a couple couches, a kitchenette, a table, a pair of televisions, and a computer station. From within the room came a black and white blur. A rather pale girl with black, violet highlighted, hair in and dressed in skimpy black clothes had tried to tackle and embrace Ranma.

    "Stop doing that! You damn stupid freak!" Ranma shouted after he dodged the demoness.

    "But mistress, I really missed you," the demon said in a voice that would have been pathetic and would have tugged at Ranma's heart, if he did not know who the creature had been before.

    Ranma shook his head. "Why couldn't that damn water have worked on you?"

    Nodoka looked at the young girl. Her eyes, a strange color of red, and other factors, notably calling her son mistress, lead the agent to her conclusion. "You... spawned?"

    "DarkStar converted her," Jacob stated as he entered the hallway from the lounge. "It was a life or death situation and I Okayed the decision."

    "Of course sir," Nodoka said as she looked at the little NH in understanding. Her son had saved a girl mortally wounded when those Pattern Ys took over that school. "Now Ranma, you shouldn't be so mean to her. The girl's just trying to show her appreciation. You should know what it's like to be in her place."

    "You have no idea," Ranma grumbled, eyeing the Kuno girl.

    "I'd hate to interrupt but your flight is ready," Jacob stated.

    "Okay," Ranma said before turning to his mother.

    "Don’t worry, I'll see you on you're way back, and I'll look into getting some leave," the woman said with a strange glint in her eye. Jacob noticed this and reminded himself that he would have to warn the major that vengeance had to be taken through proper channels.

    "Um, all right," Ranma stated.

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


    Over the Sea of Japan, Jacob dialed a number into his phone. After his encryption system synchronize with that of his caller, he spoke. "We're on our way to the final base."

    Over six and a half thousand miles away, Commander Stillwater responded.
    "Good, how did the meeting go?"

    "Adequately. A petition for transfer may be a result from that meeting." Jacob stated somewhat quietly. Ranma was reading near the front of the plane and the senior agent was at the opposite end in the back.

    "I see. I'll go over her file. When can I expect her request?"

    "Shortly," Jacob responded.

    "Okay. What about the three stooges?"

    "That is a troubling issue," Jacob admitted. "They are all closely tied to our organization. At least one of them seems to be without blame. A thorough investigation will be needed."

    "Agreed, and once that is done penalties can be decided."

    "At least with one of them a family solution can be arranged," Jacob stated.

    "Perhaps with the others as well."

    "Perhaps. Any information on those Pattern Ys from the school and the Vs from the cabin."

    "Nothing on the Vs, but we have found the motel rooms where the Ys were staying. Forensic teams are going over them now."

    "Good. Do we have clearance to our final destination?"

    "Yes. Command was quite annoyed with that request," Stillwater smirked. "You know what we had to do to get our helicopters into China?

    "I'm sure our negotiators explained the recent rise in NH activity in their nation," Jacob stated as he smiled slightly.

    "Not to mention the sensitivity of the base you plan to use as a staging area."

    "Ranma has already been inside WIC Japan and WIC America."

    "And he was never in one of the more sensitive areas," Stillwater cautioned.

    "Not nearly as risky as what our plans for the Pattern Silvers are," Jacob replied.

    "Just remember to keep him away from the dig site."

    "If we could use a different base to stage the mission from I would, but that site is the closest one we have to Jusenkyou. The next nearest one is five hundred miles further out."

    "Still, discretion is recommended. If the Pattern Silvers knew what we had found in the Gobi, it might cause problems," Stillwater cautioned.

    "It's not what we found. It's what we're planning to do with it," Jacob replied with distaste.

    "That issue has already been decided," Stillwater stated, ending the discussion.

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


    Based on the position of Polaris, Ranma knew that he was facing southwest, but the predawn view was the same no matter what direction he was facing. All around the Company Field Command Post was the barren land of southern Mongolia. The nearest city, Dalandzadgad, was just below the northern horizon.

    Ranma had no clear idea why the Company had a base here. Jacob had said something about a salvage operation being conducted at the request of the Mongolian government. The nearest WIC facility to Jusenkyou, the base was a small cluster of mobile buildings positioned on a tarmac next to an abandoned airstrip. The actual salvage site was a few miles to the east.

    "The helicopters should be ready in under half an hour," Kasumi said once she had walked over to her fiance.

    "Good. Hopefully, I'll be rid of this damn demon," Ranma stated. He knew that Jusenkyou was his best hope at getting cured.



    End Chapter 5

    Author's Notes:

    Prereaders for this chapter at Starfire, Joe Fenton, and Wray.


    Revision Notes: This one took some tweaking, mostly in the Ranma and /Nariko/ interactions and how the Senshi and the Company fought together. DCG and Ellf have helped with the revisions.
     
  8. Threadmarks: Chapter 6
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

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    Book 1: Brooding Responsibilities
    Chapter 6: False Cures
    Formerly: Requirements and Reactivations



    A green-eyed young man with a shaggy mop of black hair sighed as he looked out the window of his hotel room. Coincidently, the window faced the jagged concrete and glass building of the Canada Trust Tower. It had been a long journey but he had arrived.

    The enemy was here. His thoughts of vengeance were carefully muted. There were other dangers. Caution had to be taken, the foe had become stronger and more vile than he had thought possible

    Fortunately, he had the experience and the abilities to prevail. He looked at his watch. His partner should be returning shortly, that is if her ride was not delayed.

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


    The UH-60L version of the Black Hawk had an External Stores Support System. It consisted of a pair of removable pylons. These could carry weapons pods or external fuel tanks. These tanks can extend the range of the Black Hawk to 1,150 nautical miles.

    Given a start at the Company site to the south of Dalandzadgad, Mongolia, this placed nearly all of the Qinghai province within an acceptable distance.

    A pair of low-flying helicopters crossed the Mongolian border and entered the People's Republic of China. Still before sunrise, the passage of the twin aircraft was only seen as a pair of faded radar blips. The Chinese soldiers in that section had been given specific orders. They were not questioned. The two echoes were allowed to enter their country.

    Inside one of the helicopters, Jacob worried about what the Company had done to get such access, but if they were going to try to cure Ranma, they had to go to Jusenkyou. This was the fastest, and taking that into consideration, least expensive way.

    All he knew was that the helicopters were required to have the Company logo affixed to their aft sides and certain weapons had to be left in Mongolia. Having obvious identification on Operations vehicles was not a preferred tactic, but apparently the Chinese Government insisted. Jacob was suspicious of this, but he had his orders.

    If Ranma wasn't brought here it would eat away at the teen, causing his suspicion and paranoia to grow. There were other ways to get him to Jusenkyou, but this was by far the fastest, and time was very critical.

    Jacob sighed and leaned back, listening to the drone of the engines and the rotor blades. He was also dressed down in a suit that was a bit more suitable to travel and the outdoors. Most of the other agents in the transport were dressed similarly. All had low-profile armor on. It made things look a bit less... aggressive. The pilot and co-pilot had their lowlight enhancement goggles on.

    Ranma was looking out the darkened window. In three hours he would be there. The Company was making good on its promise. He worried whether or not the pools would actually cure him. He would find out soon enough.

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

    "Arrival in seven," the pilot of the lead helicopter said into his headset.

    Ranma, who still refused to wear a communications device, was told when Kasumi tapped his arm. She then showed him her left hand. Her ring finger was tucked under her thumb and her other fingers were extended. She then pointed to the door on the side of the helicopter.

    Ranma nodded in understanding. For the last few minutes the rolling countryside has started to look rather familiar. He had trudged over those mountains and hills.

    By now, the pilot could see the landing zone. It was a roughly flat clearing. More interestingly was the smallish valley to the east of the LZ. In the early morning light, it looked picturesque, hundreds of small pools partially shrouded in wisps of fog.

    The pilot also knew what this place really was. It was an H-Type location. Those tiny ponds of water possessed some sort of Pattern altering ability. The pilots were under strict orders to not fly too close to them.

    Nothing popped up on the scanners, other than Jusenkyou itself. That place caused all sorts of interference. The lead helicopter then nosed down to the LZ while the other Black Hawk provided cover. Inside, the agents pulled down their goggles and checked their weapons.

    The agents watched the field as the helicopter neared the earth. When it was a couple of feet above the ground, the Black Hawk stopped and hovered. Kasumi was the first one off. She jumped over, ran forward several feet, and then took a prone position. Five other agents, Kasumi's three plus two who were proficient in Mandarin and Cantonese, exited and set up a perimeter.

    Ranma then jumped out followed by the Kuno girl. After walking a few feet, the powerful down draft intensified before slowly reducing. Ranma turned to see the helicopter lift off.

    "Don't. It's bad luck," the demon said as she looked at Ranma.

    "Let's go!" Kasumi ordered.

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


    As Jacob watched as the squad made its way to the rally point, he thanked the engineers behind the Talent Keyhole programs. They were the ones that developed Corona, the world's first overhead satellite imagery system.

    Things had advanced much since the early sixties. Back then, the satellites had Kodak cameras that deorbited and returned to earth when they ran out of film. Now essential imagery was available to private businesses, although the Company itself never bothered with such issues. As a think tank with several contracts with the defense and intelligence sector, Willard International Consulting enjoyed certain fringe benefits.

    Granted those benefits were contingent on satisfying contrasts with client agencies and host governments. But, that was part of the game.

    However, Jacob did not rely solely on such reconnaissance. Procedure was to check the area with scanners and visual reconnaissance before deploying ground troops. The original Company survey of the area indicated that here were several unstable and potentially violent factions at work in the immediate area.

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


    Lieutenant Tendo stopped at the ridgeline that overlooked the valley. She scanned the target area. Finding it clear the agent gave her orders. Gabriel, Aram, Sophie, and Shigeru, one of the translators from WIC Japan, stayed behind to secure the ridgeline while Kasumi, Ranma, Kuno, and Hyuga, the other translator, walked down the slope into the valley itself.

    Ranma smirked. He had been cursed for nearly half a year, and now he would get rid of it. The water in the Company had in storage did not work, but it was almost thirty years old. Here it was fresh and still potent.

    Ranma looked at his companions and sighed.

    "You're not coming all the way with me?"

    "Personally, I'd rather not," Kasumi stated as she looked at the pools.

    "Then why are you here?"

    "Escort and in case a translator is needed."

    "I told you the guide speaks Japanese."

    "Doesn't hurt to be prepared," Kasumi responded.

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


    The warrior watched as the two soldiers escorted a pair of teenagers into the cursed valley. The uniforms were unfamiliar to her. They were not identical, and somewhat looked like Western traveling garb, but they moved like soldiers.

    She gave a quizzical glance to her partner who shook her head in negation. Neither recognized any in the group.

    Ever since they heard the approaching aircraft, they had been wary. The two other members of their patrol had run back to alert the village. Overflights were a rare enough occurrence that they warranted observation.

    They saw the dark helicopter land and deposit a squad of soldiers. The grey symbols on the side of the machine were quickly memorized. She watched the machine lift back up into the air. The young woman then motioned to her partner that it was time to go back to Jusenkyou.

    What she saw was quite familiar. One of the teenagers was talking to the valley's caretaker while the girl and the two soldiers watched. After a brief conversation the guide pointed to a specific pool. As the man led the two teens towards it, he kept warily glancing back at the two soldiers who hung back.

    The warrior noted that they were maintaining their distance from the springs. At least they showed some caution. She then curiously watched as the two teens entered the Nannichuan. The boy did it with great enthusiasm while the girl did it with some reluctance.

    The reaction was particularly strange, especially for the spring-of-drowned-man. The girl remained a girl, and the boy turned into a girl. She then watched as the two teenaged girls exited the pool. The raven-haired girl simply shrugged. The redhead's reaction was quite different.

    The warrior observed the crimson-tressed girl's rage rise. She also noticed that the girl's clothing had changed. She was now wearing a very tight black leather dress. As the Amazon watched the redhead angrily converse with the guide, she knew something else was amiss. To start with, the girl looked oddly dry for someone who had just been immersed in water.

    When she got a look at the furious redhead's eyes it became somewhat clearer. They were burning with a bluish-violet light. She and her partner watched as the guide had the two girls immerse themselves again.

    Again, there was no effect.

    The redhead ranted with the guide and moved with... familiarity. She had been here before.

    Realization hit the warrior: the two were not trying to pick up a curse but instead trying to cure one.

    It was not working. The warrior knew that some creatures were immune to the effects of the waters. She also knew that many of those creatures were not particularly kind to humans.

    The situation here was most strange. The warrior hoped that the rest of her team would return with reinforcements, and more importantly, orders about what exactly she should do.

    By the time they arrived, the pair of strange teenage girls, the soldiers, and their helicopters had left. Naturally, the Guide was interviewed, but his story, while informative, did not answer any real questions.

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

    On an abandoned airstrip to the South of Dalandzadgad, Mongolia was a WIC Field Command Base. A collection of rather ugly mobile buildings, the facility provided housing and workspace for a couple dozen agents. The command building was made from three interconnected boxes that had some resemblance to shipping containers.

    Inside the building was a room that doubled as both mess hall and briefing room. Sulking at one of the tables was Ranma Saotome. The martial artist was staring down at the table in front of him.

    Across from him sat another teenage girl. "I'm sorry Mistress," she apologized in a quiet voice.

    "Dear lord, now what did you do?" Ranma groaned.

    The girl winced. It gave way to confusion clouding her face. "Nothing, you just seem unhappy that you're still a demon."

    "What? You don't understand why I preferred to be human," Ranma stated.

    "I don't, but I know that you want to be fully human," the young demoness admitted. "And I'm sorry that you didn't get your wish."

    "Oh, thanks," Ranma replied looking up. Kuno was actually doing something nice, and more importantly, normal. He decided to try some apologizing of his own. "I know how hard it is. I've had to deal with being turned into a female demon too. It's not permanent for me but - "

    "If you want, I can help cheer you up," the girl offered, holding a hand as she leaned across the table.

    "No! Damn it!" Ranma cried as he pulled back, a part of him, buried deep hated his reaction. "I try to do one nice thing, and look what happens! Gahh!" He then got up and left the room, nearly running into the Company agent that was posted on the outside of the door.

    The girl looked down at the table as her hands trembled.


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


    Ami carried the mostly empty laundry bag down the basement hallway. According to the fire escape map, the apartment building's laundry room should be just a little further down and to the left.

    The room was in the expected location. She opened the door to find the lights on in the room and one of the washers in operation.

    Sitting at the table in the center of the drab basement room was one of her classmates. Ami immediately recognized the Seifuku-clad girl who appeared to be doing homework. She had dark auburn hair and greenish-grey eyes.

    "Hi, Janet," Ami cautiously greeted as she entered the room. Ever since Usagi's brush with Murdock, they had been slightly on edge.

    "Oh hi, Ami," Janet Fraiser said cheerily as she looked up from her work. "You live here too? And you've already run out of clothes?" she then asked with some surprised.

    "Yeah, I do," Ami said, she then looked at her diminutive cloth bag and sighed. "I mean live here. Not that I'm out of clothes. One of my roommates spilled something on a blouse she was borrowing, and I have to wash it before the stain sets in." She said with some irritation.

    The other inner Senshi were her friends, but she wondered if they could stand living with each other. Ami then went to one of the unused washing machines and started to pretreat the stained blouse.

    "Ahh," Janet stated in understanding.

    "Why are you down here? I mean you transferred the same day as I did," Ami asked as she loaded the blouse and the rest of her dirty laundry into the machine. She was going to have to do the wash anyway, might as well get some other clothes clean as well.

    "Simple," Janet replied as she wrote another line of equations in her notebook. "The freight movers that my mother contracted lost our stuff," the girl said as she shook her head. "We're stuck with what was in our carry on and stuff we bought here. Hell, that's why I'm in this thing," Janet said, pointing to the school girl uniform she was wearing.

    "Oh, that's a shame."

    Janet simply shrugged and drew a sketch to accompany the equations she had previously written.

    "What are you doing? School's still closed," the sapphire-haired girl inquired as she walked over to get a better look at what the other girl was doing. To the Janet's left was a stack of three large textbooks. From her position Ami read their spines. They were all from the Jane's series of technical and military texts. The top one was a soft-cover and the thinnest. The middle and bottom were hard cover and were twice and three times the thickness of the uppermost.

    The top was titled "Jane's Military Training Systems 1990." The middle was "Jane's All the World's Aircraft." And the bottom, a volume thicker than a phonebook, was simply called "International Defense Directory." Each had numerous Post-It notes bookmarking various pages.

    To Janet's right was a pair of large black three ring binders. Neatly labeled dividers separated the reams of paper. The one on the top was open. The current page was that of a Drag Coefficient Table.

    Ami looked at the books and then at Janet. From the couple of days of classes that they had shared, Ami knew that the other girl was very strong in her math, science, and surprisingly history, but somewhat weak in English. It was not that she was incapable of doing the work. It was just that she did not seem to care about the finer points of literature.

    "It's just a personal project," Janet said flipping to a previous page. She then turned her notebook around so Ami could see it. The page was covered with several neat and precise mechanical sketches. They appeared to be the components to a helicopter of some kind. A miniature remote controlled one if the scale on the drawings were right.

    "Interesting," Ami said, looking over the diagrams.

    "Yeah, shame I can't build it for a while," Janet wistfully said. "I had to leave most of my workshop back home in Cheyenne, and what I did bring is lost with the rest of our stuff."

    "That is a shame," Ami agreed as she turned to another page.

    "What are you going to do?" Janet shrugged as she got up and checked her washing machine. As she turned away and bent down to pick up her clothes and transfer it to a dryer, Janet's jacket rode up slightly, exposing a weapon's tip.

    However, this was missed by Ami. Her eyes were on the readout of her recently activated Mercury computer. After confirming that Janet was human, the blue-haired girl reflected on her paranoia.

    Am I going to scan everyone I meet? she asked herself. Well, it is quite the coincidence that we live in the same apartment building, but Janet seemed just as surprised as I am, and this place is close to the school we both go to..

    "When do you think school's going to resume?" Janet asked after she had activated the dryer.

    "I guess in a week or so. Those terrorists didn't blew anything up but there's still a mess of damage and things to cleanup," Ami answered, carefully looking at the other girl. She remembered that Janet was with them that day, as well as that Rod Ferris.

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


    After Ranma asked how much time was left before their flight landed in Toronto, he thought about that second meeting he had with his mother. She seemed disappointed that the water did not work, but not surprised. There was also something rather strange about the way she said goodbye to him.

    Through the window, Ranma looked questioningly at the noonday sky. Apparently it was almost noon Eastern Standard time. He had left on this trip at three PM two days ago. By his estimation he had spent over twenty-eight hours in planes of one kind or another, excluding the seven hours he had spent in that helicopter. The rest of the time, some eleven hours, was spent waiting for his flights in various Company facilities, and visiting his mother.

    It had been physically and mentally draining. Despite being tempered by suspicion, his hopes had been raised and now... well at least he had some closure. He knew that his curse could not be cured so easily.

    Looking at his traveling companions, Ranma noticed that the Company agents were showing some signs of jet lag. He supposed that despite their secretive training they were still human.

    In under an hour, the Company Learjet made contact with the Northern runway of Toronto's Lester B. Pearson International Airport. It taxied and its passengers disembarked. Ranma went with Kasumi to the lot where her sedan had been parked. As he left he saw the Kuno girl walking with two of Kasumi's flunkies. Ranma assumed that they were taking her home too.

    "Sorry, you didn't get cured," Kasumi said as she unlocked her car. She then popped open the trunk and they both deposited their bags inside it.

    "Like you really care," Ranma responded after opening the passenger door.

    "You would be much happier without it," the Company agent simply stated while she turned the car's ignition. "And you'd still be a Pattern Silver, just in a form you approve of."

    "Let me guess, bad morale causes poor performance?" Ranma inquired.

    Kasumi nodded. She then put the car into gear and drove it out of the airport lot. The drive home was done in silence. They arrived to find an empty house. Furinkan was still closed, so neither Akane nor Nabiki could be at school. Kasumi noted that both Nabiki's and her father's cars were missing. It was likely that they were simply out doing errands or such.

    After dropping off his bags in the guest room he was using, Ranma went out to the back yard to practice. Martial arts was difficult at best to do in a passenger plane. And it gave him a bit of distraction and maybe burn off some energy to help him nap and hopefully get back onto a normal sleep schedule.


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


    The Drake looked around the plain grey room he was in. Earlier today, he had been at his school overseeing the repairs. The day before, the Company agents from Forensic Pathology section had finished with their analysis and had pulled out. They were replaced by agents from Construction and Maintenance section, Communications and Cryptography section, and a passel of private, building, contractors.

    Directed by the agents the construction workers repairing the damaged walls and floors, upgrading the security systems, and cleaning up the mess. The Drake was glad that his insurance policy was comprehensive enough to cover "acts of mass violence". One advantage of being associated with the Company was a heightened sense of paranoia.

    However, now more paranoia was not a benefit. He had been escorted from his office to this room within WIC Toronto-A by a pair of silent Company agents. The school administrator felt an almost prophetic sense of foreboding. He knew what WIC was capable of and for the first time in his life, he was afraid of them. The Drake looked up to see the heavy metal door open.

    "Hello, Drake," Jacob sighed as he entered the small room. He sat down in the chair on the opposite side of the table from the other man.

    "What's going on? Did something happen to my boy?" the Drake asked.

    "Your son's still a female Pattern D if that's what you mean," Jacob replied. "I'm sorry, but this meeting is about something else."

    The Drake sighed with resignation.

    "Why?" Jacob asked. "You knew Genma was here and you knew we were looking for him. Why didn't you tell us?"

    The principal looked at the brushed steel of the table. He had to tell the truth. As much as it shamed him, he owed the Company that much.

    Jacob patiently waited as the Drake composed his thoughts. The agent concealed his disappointment and worry. Removing and replacing the Drake was a simple enough task, but it still weighed on his conscience. The elder Kuno had been a useful associate to the Company. He had helped recruit over a dozen agents. It was a shame for a man to be brought down like this.

    But the Company does not take betrayal lightly. Jacob reminded himself. He would also allow the Drake to explain his actions. He deserved that much.

    Jacob frowned minutely. He could have let Captain Jarvis deal with it. Counter Intelligence and information extraction was that officer's remit. But Jacob decided to extend the courtesy of handling this personally.

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


    Ranma looked at the grandfather clock in the den again. It was now almost a quarter of eight. He eased back into the recliner he was sitting in. There was still time.

    "You should be happy that school's closed 'til next week, and maybe longer." Nabiki stated as she came into the room.

    "I guess," Ranma replied. After the events of two days ago, going back to Furinkan as a student seemed most strange.

    "You should be happy, it's less time as Sunshine," Nabiki stated.

    Ranma wanted to make a comment about how much he hated that monumentally moronic name, or about the sickness inherent in being happy at getting a vacation just because your school had been held hostage. Instead he shook his head and looked at the clock again. He did not want to be late.

    "Okay, at least you got to spend some time with your fiancee," Nabiki tried. She found Kasumi's interest in Ranma puzzling. It was strange. The elder Tendo sister did not seem to have a romantic or a professional interest in Ranma, but some slight hybrid of the two.

    "Yeah, I should go talk to her," Ranma said before getting up. It was still early, but maybe he could get some help from Kasumi.

    "Okay," Nabiki said as she watched Ranma leave the room. She then heard him go up the stairs. She was slightly hurt and jealous. Kasumi seemed quite reluctant to talk about her work, let alone help Nabiki get an interview, and now this guy that she's just met is being whisked away to special corporate workshops.

    She had the distinct feeling of being in the dark. It was a vertigo-like foreboding sensation. Something was going on, and she was going to find out what it was.

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


    "Where do you want me to drive you?" Kasumi asked in an even voice. She was sitting on her bed working on her laptop.

    "Just a mile or so away from here. Someplace secluded ideally," Ranma said.

    "Why?" Her eyes were still on the computer screen.

    "I have some personal business to attend to."

    "And you don't want to have the people here wonder where you went?"

    "Yeah."

    "Okay. When do you want to go?"

    "That's it? You're not curious as who I'm meeting with?" Ranma was somewhat surprised. He expected her to cooperate. She was under orders to help him, but he thought that the agent would be more inquisitive.

    "If you wanted to tell me, you would have," Kasumi stated as she continued to type. She would not pry into Ranma's personal affairs, but she would alert the Company about what Ranma was doing.

    "Okay then. You mind taking me now?"

    "No problem," Kasumi said simply as she locked up her equipment and set the charges.

    On their way out, Kasumi told her father that Ranma had left some of his stuff at the office and that she was driving him back to pick it up. She then drove him to a tract housing construction site in the outskirts of Carrville, a town eight miles west of the Tendo residence in Markham.

    "Where and when should I pick you up?"

    Ranma got out of the car and turned back to Kasumi. "I'll just go to your little base downtown when it's over," Ranma stated as he closed his eyes and activated his transformation. His form wavered to that of his female form before the violet, black, and red lightshow turned her into Sailor DarkStar.

    After demon stretched her wings and took to the air and flew off, Agent Tendo pulled out her phone.

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


    DarkStar's flight path was on a southerly course. She went for about ten miles until she reached Sunnybrook Park and made her landing. It was rather dark and her approach was seen by only one man.

    The redhead then shifted out of her pseudo-senshi form and into her human looking form. "At least it's not a fuku," the teenaged demon said as she looked at her little black leather dress.

    "Hello, Ranma," the man who had watched her landing greeted.

    The redhead simply glared at the man. While he did not call her Sunshine, he did arrange for their meeting at Sunnybrook Park. "What's so urgent?" she asked. The letter that had been placed inside her upper drawer had simply listed the time, location, and name.

    "Pluto's getting more and more desperate," the man stated as put his hands in his coat.

    "What's she up to now?" Ranma asked, her eyes narrowing.

    "If your lack of cooperation continues, she might have to take more drastic measures," Murdock warned.

    "What?" Ranma's voice was a growl.

    "That blonde's magic rock is quite powerful. It would be more than enough to make you 'get with the program'." His voice was dangerously even.

    "Fuck," Ranma swore. "What about the Company?"

    "As long as you kill monsters, WIC's happy. Just be careful. If they consider you a threat, they will try and eliminate you, but I doubt you'll start indiscriminately killing people," Murdock said as he began to lead Ranma down one of the park's paths. Two people standing in the same spot while they talked was a bit too suspicious.

    "Good. Those clowns are at least accommodating. I still think they're up to something," Ranma said as she scanned the smallish glen they had entered. Her night vision, while not as good as when she's DarkStar, was still quite good.

    "Undoubtedly," Murdock admitted. "However, they did try very hard to cure you."

    "Yeah, they did that, but I still can't trust them," Ranma said. "Hell, how do I know you haven't been working for them all along?"

    "I met you a few days after Pluto turned you into this. If I had been working for the Company, I would have told them all about you. You would have met them before coming here."

    "No, instead you omitted that fact, knowing full well that I'd meet an agent," Ranma indignantly responded, an edge to her voice.

    "You asked me to keep your secret! And now you're angry that I didn't break that promise to some creepy organization," Murdock countered, his voice finally sounding not amused.

    He glared at her, for once not looking amused. "Your father had run off, and the woman that had stolen your humanity had disappeared into thin air. Who helped you after Pluto tricked you? Who was the one that showed you how to stay sane? Who helped you through that month when you were locked? You were alone. I helped you, and I risked my life to keep your secret.

    "How was I to know that your father was going to take you here? Are you taking Pluto's side in all this? You know me. Do you really think that I've been orchestrating all this? For god's sake! I'm not some all-powerful chess master! I'm just a runic mage, hardly a wizard."

    "I'd like to believe that," Ranma said while looking at her feet. It was hard not to believe him. The only people who thought Murdock was a monster had never met the man and had only learned about him second hand from Pluto. The Company simply considered his motives questionable, but they said that about everyone.

    "Look, I'm not asking you to trust me. I'm just here to warn you about Pluto." Murdock shook his head

    "What about the other Senshi?"

    "They're good girls. A bit naive and overly trusting though."

    "That's what I thought. Can you tell me where Pluto lives?"

    Murdock blinked. "You're not thinking of going after her? That's exactly the kind of thing that'll convince Moon to try and purify you. Usagi is protective of her girls, including Pluto."

    "I'd like to know where she lives," Ranma repeated, making eye direct eye contact with Murdock. Violet flecked blue eyes locked onto watery grey ones.

    "Fine," Murdock stated, looking off to the side. "You know those oval-shaped buildings down by the Skydome? She lives in building three. It's on forty-two Wellington Street, apartment number ten twenty-nine. It's the same number as her birthday," Murdock added smiling slightly.

    "Thanks," the redheaded demon stated after she repeated the numbers to herself a couple of times.

    "Least I could do," Murdock stated. "Is there anything else I could do for you?"

    "Nothing now. I just wish there was a way out of this," Ranma sighed.

    "You could always leave. Pack up and go on the road," Murdock suggested as he adjusted his silver tie clasp.

    "I can't do that. I can't just run away," Ranma said, mostly to herself.

    "The problem of ethics eh?" Murdock said. He then laughed. His voice then turned grave. "Your morals are what keep you from being a monster. Not your body. Just remember one thing though: don't allow yourself to be manipulated by them, by anyone."

    Ranma nodded. She had strong suspicions as to why Murdock was telling her this. "But what do they want?"

    The man smiled. "Victory."

    "Thanks Murdock, that really cleared things up," Ranma sighed. It was the kind of answer she'd grown to expect from him.

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


    He was ready. The years of preparation, the innumerable sacrifices, the grueling training, it was all going to pay off. Tonight he will slay the demon Saotome. He gave his equipment and weapons one last check.

    The young man closed his eyes and cleared his mind. He then felt the gentle pull to his right. Thanks to the Assembly's help, his curse was no longer a liability, indeed it had become a most useful tool. Before he refined it, his sensitivity to certain energies would cause a form of disorientation and confusion. Now, he would never lose focus, never drift off course.

    He smiled slightly as he followed the trail. Soon his target was in visual range. The monster matched the description he had been given earlier today. He noticed that there was a bystander in close proximity to the target.

    "Someone's coming," Murdock said as he turned to face the person approaching from the southwest.

    Ranma looked over to see the dark shape of a large, tall man running towards them. "Damn," she muttered knowing no good could come from this.

    "Filthy monster! Your havoc ends now!" the man declared in a bellow.

    "Not again," Murdock sighed, under his breath. "You should get out of the way," he advised Ranma.

    Confusion crossed the young man's face. "I'm not after you. You're not in need of destruction, human," he said to Murdock

    Murdock smiled faintly at this.

    The young man pointed to the redhead. "I'm after her."

    "Damn," Ranma said as she looked at the man. He looked to be a year of so older than she was, and while his face was somewhat familiar his eyes were completely alien. Ranma would remember someone with eyes in that bright shade of green.

    "Damnation is correct, demon. I will be the one to send you back to hell." His eyes narrowed and for a second Ranma could swear that they had flashed brighter.

    The mage appraised the intruder before speaking. "I think you can handle this," Murdock laughed to Ranma. He then turned to the teenaged boy "So, this is the caliber of the Assembly's latest crop of acolytes? Let's see if you'll handle this better than the Company." He then tipped his fedora to Ranma before walking off.

    "The Company! Hah! Those faithless fools! They're nothing more than mercenaries with fancy toys," the teen responded to Murdock's back.

    Ranma smiled slightly at this.

    "I wouldn't underestimate them," Murdock said as he continued to depart.

    "Now that the bystander has gone, we can get to business," the acolyte sneered as he pulled a weapon out of his cloak.

    Ranma's eyes widened as she noticed the man's teeth, more specifically the canines that were longer than the ones she had now but shorter than DarkStar's, and the weapon he was wielding. It was a large heavy umbrella.

    "Ryoga? What the hell's going on? What's with your eyes?" the girl asked. The last time she had seen him was years ago, but she remembered that his eyes were dark brown.

    "What's the matter Ranma? Surprised that you're not the only one to have changed? Although unlike you, I have not betrayed humanity," Ryoga taunted as he gripped the handle of his weapon. "My long hunt ends now, tonight this ends!" He then dove towards his opponent swinging the long blunt object at the redhead.

    Ranma dodged to the side and grabbed the ludicrous weapon. As she tried to twist the oddly-heavy black umbrella out of his left hand, Ryoga made a move with his right. It was a small silver spray bottle, whose contents were propelled into the demon's face.

    The redhead had a fraction of a second to chastise herself for falling for such obvious misdirection. After that the skin on her face started to burn off. She fell to the ground as the substance ate through her flesh.

    "Do you really think I'd fight a demon without preparing myself," Ryoga taunted, as he sprayed the dissolving flesh again.

    "A blend of holy water and the right alchemical compounds is most effective," he smirked as ribbons of muscle peeled off her skull and burned away. Ryoga knew that the holy water and acids were the easier parts to get. Even the blood of an innocent had plenty of volunteers. The other ingredients were harder to get.

    With her last bit of energy Ranma gathered her will. Ryoga saw the mutilated girl's eyes flare a brilliant violet and instinctively stepped back. Bands of black, crimson, and purple energy began to wrap around her. Ryoga responded by trying to bash her skull in.

    His weapon was blasted away by a violet beam that came from where the girl's eyes would have been. Another hit him in the chest, knocking him back several feet. Ryoga quickly got back to his feet and ran to retrieve his weapon. As he grabbed the hardwood handle of his umbrella, he turned to his foe.

    The redhead was standing again, her face no longer being eaten away by blessed fluid. She was now wearing a violet bowed bikini top, a miniskirt that barely covered her bottom, and black leather knee-high high heeled boots.

    Required most of his training to keep his concentration in spite of the nearly naked female in front of him. Knowing her true nature was a dramatic help. Most of his attention was on her fangs, wings, spade-ended tail, and glowing violet eyes.

    "I've had to deal with magical girls, secretive corporations, overly affectionate minions, and monsters with bad Californian accents. I will not accept jilted and revenge bent demon hunters!" Sailor DarkStar shouted as she summoned a violet orb in each hand. They glowed slightly and were wreathed in white flames. The demonic magical girl then lobbed one of them at her attacker.

    Ryoga pushed a button on the handle of his weapon and placed it to block. The material of the umbrella was reinforced to act as a shield against most melee weapons. Magical napalm was not something it had been designed to take. When he saw the orb burst on the surface of the umbrella and ignite, Ryoga pressed the other button on the handle.

    As he side stepped the other orb, he flicked his wrist. The burning umbrella slid off a long metal spar that was concealed within the unusually large central tube. The acolyte had just unsheathed a thin and relatively long, oddly hilted, sword. He then trusted forward with the slivery blade.

    DarkStar smiled as she saw it approach. Partially-translucent red claws appeared on her fingers, extending several inches beyond her nails. Shock hit her face when her claws met his sword. Instead of neatly cutting through it, the blade's edge began to glow in a sickly green light. Her ethereal claws met resistance.

    This did not slow her down, she twisted the blade with one hand while blasting at her enemy with the other. Her tail then snaked around her body and rammed its way into his stomach above the belly button. The minimal armor under his shirt provided next to no resistance. Dozens of razor-sharp filaments from within her tail sprung out and reduced several of his organs to an undifferentiated mush.

    His eyes unfocused and his grip lessened. His body fell to the ground, and the demon's tail pulled itself out of him with a sound reminiscent of removing a ladle out of a partially thick stew. This caused blobs of tissue and somewhat firmer pieces of organs to splash out of the gapping wound. Ryoga's blood and chunks of his body slowly dripped off the fins of her tail.

    "Stupid Ryoga," the redhead breathed. "You just had to try to come after me," she then said looking expectantly at the corpse. Something was wrong. She was not getting anything from the body. Unlike those pathetic youma this was a nice juicy human. "What a rip off!" the demon grumbled. It was a guilt-free kill and nothing to show for it.

    "The hell?" she mumbled as she noticed something strange going on with the cadaver. Her demonic senses could detect an external energy entering the body and she could visually see the gaping hole in his chest reseal, and the burnt chunk of meat that was his left shoulder regenerate.

    The body's eyes flipped open, revealing a pair of glowing orbs. DarkStar growled and lobbed a sphere of napalm at him. With exceptional speed, especially considering Ryoga's condition, he grabbed his sword and intercepted the round. This caused it to burst with predicable results.

    "Let's see you regenerate when you're just a pile of ash?" DarkStar taunted the blazing body. She then noticed that the flames were changing color they went from violet and white to a greenish color before sputtering out.

    Ryoga then flipped to an upright position. His grey cloak was in tatters and much of his clothing had burned off revealing armor that resembled a modern version of plate-mail. The burns on his skin, some of them quite severe, were in the process of healing. "Filthy demon, you think I would go down that easily?" Ryoga then asked as he readied his sword. It's blade was shimmering in a green light.

    "It would have been nice," DarkStar admitted.

    "This is one soul you're not getting," Ryoga said as his body became surrounded in a green light. It took a lot of concentration to do this, but his opponent had proven herself to be quite dangerous.

    "Hey!" the redhead cried indignantly. Her eyes then flared and she fired a volley of napalm filled spheres at her enemy. Ryoga did not even move. They hit him, burst, ignited, and burned on his body before turning green and going dead.

    Ryoga smiled as he charged at the demon. He then came in from the upper left and slashed down. As DarkStar dodged she noted that the demon hunter was noticeably faster.

    Using her claws, she blocked and met his blade. This continued until he overextended his blade in an attempt to pierce her heart. The demon then pushed the blade aside with one hand while her tail made for his crotch.

    Ryoga's other hand reached out and grabbed the tail. He did it behind the spade-shaped end and out of its filament's reach. Sailor DarkStar responded by pulling her tail back. The acolyte dared not lessen his grip.

    He could easily regenerate his hand but it would cost him precious seconds.

    As she drew him closer, Ryoga twisted his weapons out of her grip. As he then tried to stab it into her side, DarkStar used her other hand to grab the soft flesh of his neck. Her crimson claws sunk into the green energy that rested above Ryoga's skin.

    He watched as a sadistic smirk grew on her blood-colored lips. The acolyte felt the power protecting him wane. He knew what he had to do. Stabbing at her tail with his sword he forced her to move that lethal appendage. When that happened, he released his grip on it. He then used his now free hand to grab a small object he had clipped to the back of his belt. As he pulled the pin and released the spoon, he hopped that the fire had not damaged the mechanism.

    Ryoga then positioned the grenade so that it was between him and the demon. The explosion served its purpose. Ryoga and DarkStar were torn apart from each other. The acolyte looked down to see that several pieces of shrapnel had gone through him causing what would be lethal levels of damage in a normal human.

    The shrapnel had no supplemental effect on him. It simply tore through his body causing extensive but repairable trauma. He was broken and bleeding, but he would recover. A demonic entity, however, would find the specially engraved and treated metal most unpleasant.

    As he picked up his sword he felt his neck. There were several deep and oozing scratches on it. Their healing rate was alarmingly slow. Before he left he gave a brief glance at the demon thrashing on the ground. She was extremely injured too, but seemed much more lively than him.

    Even with her right leg bent in several unnatural places, he knew that she could still kill him if he tried to finish her off. Without his full protection, he was quite vulnerable to her attacks. He had to make his decision quickly. She seemed to heal even faster than he did, and in his weakened state he would be quite vulnerable to her fire attacks.

    With a sigh he closed his eyes and recalled the rendezvous point. He was loath to do this, but he had no choice. He needed time to heal and rearm. The acolyte also acknowledged that it was a mistake to go after the demon alone. He would need help.

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


    The young brunette nervously scanned the area around her car. Her darkened car was parked on a road that bordered the park where the target was. The woman kept her indignation controlled.

    Her partner refused to let her accompany him on this mission. She shook her head as the man's poor judgment. It was foolhardy to go alone against a demon, especially for a lone male to go against one of that type.

    She also worried that her partner was keeping things hidden from her. During the pre-mission planning he was unusually quiet and focused. She looked with some care as a pair of silver sedans and a large black van drove past her.

    She only caught a glimpse of who was in them, but it was enough. The Company had arrived on the scene. She felt a shudder go through her spine. Their presence complicated things.

    A few minutes later, the women gave a sigh of relief as she saw the large form of her partner. "I told you I should have gone with you!" she reprimanded as he slumped into the passenger seat.

    Her partner looked like hell. His clothing and armor was burnt, cut, smashed, and drenched in his own blood. Despite his healing abilities, he was covered in hideous wounds. As he placed his sword in the space between the passenger seat and the center console, she noticed that it was missing its umbrella scabbard.

    "Did you at least kill the little demon?" she asked after making sure that none of his wounds were mortal to him.

    "No," Ryoga admitted as he concentrated on letting his body heal.

    She nearly drove off the road at this "What? What happened? Did she fly off?"

    Ryoga simply nodded. He had already concealed so much from her, what did a little more matter?

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


    "Damnit!" DarkStar screamed as her shattered leg bones finished knitting back together. She stood on somewhat shaky feet. The rest of her wounds had healed, but her clothing, boots, and skin were still covered in blood and gore.

    Some of it, annoyingly, was hers. She realized grenade had to have been designed to cause harm to demons. The pieces of that had embedded in her burned fiercely and left angry wounds that healed slowly and painfully. She closed her eyes and a brief purple flash cascaded over her, restoring her uniform to its post transformation condition.

    The demon barely noticed this as she took to the air. To a lesser scale, the grenade had damaged her opponent as well. Her extended senses allowed her to follow his blood trail, both literally and metaphorically. She landed at the side of a road that made the southern edge of the park.

    Her eyes flared as she looked down either side of the road. Ryoga had obviously gotten into a vehicle of some kind. In the couple minutes it took her to heal, he could have gone miles in any direction. Sailor DarkStar growled as she flexed her fingers. She was so close. In the moment before the grenade went off she felt his shield sputter out and her claws begin to carve into his flesh.

    The presence of a pair of humans behind her caused the demon to swivel around. "Oh, it's you guys," the demon said to the Company agents. They were both twenty-something males that were dressed in the expected Company fatigues and armor. They had night vision equipment over their faces and had good sized rifles pointed at the ground.

    "Hey Gabe, hey Aram," she then greeted, looking at both of them as she said their names. She recognized them by their scent, but did not know which one was which.

    "What happened out here?" the one on the left asked.

    "Yeah, base picked up a pretty big Pattern bloom on the remotes," the other stated.

    "Some guy I knew came after me seeking revenge. It's over now," Ranma explained after transforming out of her DarkStar form. With some annoyance she found herself in her school uniform.

    "Oh, I see," the one on the right replied while the other talked into his headset. "This is Gabriel. Signature has been identified. Debriefing on incident. Returning to base."

    "Good seeing you," Aram replied as he and his partner turned around.

    Ranma blinked. That was awfully casual. These guys were really treating her with kid-gloves. They had to know more than they let on.

    "You guys mind giving me a ride?" the redhead inquired. "I'm supposed to meet with Kasumi."

    "Sure thing," Aram responded.

    The trio quickly crossed the park. Ranma looked over to see that the area where she had fought Ryoga had been marked off and a pair of agents were guarding the position.

    The demoness figured that a team from Forensic Pathology section would arrive soon enough. They would then photograph the scene and collect everything of interest from the site. No doubt Ryoga's trick umbrella will eventually end up in some obscure WIC warehouse among other oddities.

    They emerged in a parking lot positioned on the park's North side. The lot was splashed with blue and red in slowly rotating patterns. The two grayish-silver sedans with their pulsing headlights taillights and partially hidden grill lights looked remarkably like unmarked police cars. The large black van with its roof mounted lights also bore a strong resemblance to a SWAT vehicle. Ranma knew better.

    She followed Aram and Gabriel as they commandeered one of the sedans. Ranma found herself in the front passenger seat. After he sat down in the driver's seat, Gabriel handed his rifle to Aram who was sitting in the back. Both agents then pulled their night vision goggles up onto their helmets.

    A young man who was tall with broad shoulders and had a dusky complexion observed the proceedings from a distance. He wanted to get closer, but there was a plainclothes agent who was watching the small crowd. The teen did not want to be recognized by the Company. It was bad enough that they were monitoring the school. It would be rather counterproductive to attract this much attention, at least this early in the game.

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


    Ranma walked down the corridors of WIC Toronto-A. She was finally starting to get the hang of the layout of the underground structure. An agent was still providing escort. This time it was in the form of Aram following three paces behind the redhead. Apparently, Gabriel had been called to appear before Jacob or something.

    It was a rather amusing - a lone schoolgirl in a Seifuku and a soldier in battledress walking down the grey hallways of what looked to be some type of governmental installation. Soon enough, they reached a lounge that was positioned near the main briefing room and the Command and Communications Center.

    Entering, Ranma was surprised to see Kasumi sitting in the room's couch reading a worn paperback. The woman looked up at Ranma and her subordinate, looked back at her book, and then placed it on an end table.

    "I heard your meeting ended poorly," Kasumi observed as she got up to refill her mug.

    "There was an intrusion at the end," Ranma said evenly. She turned around to see that Aram had left and closed the door behind himself, giving the simulation of privacy.

    "Someone from your past you said," Kasumi stated before taking a sip of her coffee.

    "Yeah, stupid bastard Ryoga." Ranma remarked as she went to the kitchenette's sink. The fluid from the hot water tap quickly restored the martial artist's birth gender. "What do you know about a group called the Assembly?"

    "Their full name is the Assembly of Man. They’re a, rather fanatical, group that hunts demons. Smaller than us of course." Kasumi stated with some distaste. She did not mention that they had a quasi-Christian ideology of purity, one that most Christians would find downright repugnant, and students of history would find worryingly familiar.

    "They're like the Company then?" Ranma asked as he dried his hands. They felt strangely dirty.

    "Not in the slightest. Willard International Consulting organized in a paramilitary fashion. We use highly trained and equipped teams to kill our targets. This requires three things: personnel; infrastructure to recruit, train, equip, deploy and command the personnel; and lots of capital to pay for infrastructure, equipment, and personnel."

    "And the Assembly can't afford things like helicopters, jets, and giant underground complexes," Ranma surmised. He remembered that Ryoga said that the Company was "nothing more than mercenaries with fancy toys."

    "Exactly. But they still want to fight rather powerful Pattern Registering Entities. Small groups of normal humans fighting such monsters will eventually be overrun."

    "I suppose you need a large enough organization to soak up a couple teams dying if a mission goes bad," Ranma ventured.

    Kasmi nodded. "Fortunately for the Assembly, they had a solution. It was hard to control, dangerous to their own people, and insanely risky."

    "They found a way to make their hunters, acolytes, whatever regenerate," Ranma said with realization. This was the exact kind of procedure that Ryoga would take up.

    Given that there original animosity had never been resolved, Ranma had waited for three days for their duel, Ryoga would obsess over it until thoughts of revenge consumed his mind.

    That Hibiki's childhood nemesis would turn out to be a demon complimented Ryoga's quest for revenge. The vengeance was no longer something personal and petty, it was something... holy. Ryoga now had a duty to slay the demon.

    Ranma wondered how long Ryoga had been a member of this Assembly. If he had joined before or after Ranma had even become of DarkStar.

    "Yes they did," Kasumi answered, interrupting Ranma's thoughts. "We don't exactly know how they did it. Obviously, their process is a closely held secret. We do know that it allows them to rapidly recover from injury. Some of their more advanced personnel can even generate something close to a protective aura."

    "Yeah, he had that."

    "How old is this Ryoga?" Kasumi asked, recalling the name.

    "About my age."

    "And he's still an acolyte?" Kasumi asked. Ranma nodded. "Then he's something of a prodigy."

    "Well, that's just great," Ranma grumbled.

    "There's also the issue of how he found you and when he'll come after you again. Clearly, he knows of the curse and DarkStar."

    "Don't worry. I can take care of him," Ranma flatly stated.

    Kasumi simply nodded.

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


    "Well, this is just what we need," Jacob observed after he watched the conversation between Lieutenant Tendo and Ranma Saotome for the second time. He and Stillwater were in the Commander's office.

    "I find it interesting that an acolyte was able to survive a Pattern D, Pattern Silver hybrid," Stillwater remarked.

    "Pattern D's are their specialty. I'm sure he had plenty of demon juice and holy hand grenades," Jacob replied using Company slang for holy water that was mostly very caustic acids, and grenades that had various lines of Scripture on them and special chemicals that were quite unpleasant to demons. Some of the mundane compounds had been reverse engineered and had been quietly used to augment various Company munitions.

    The effectiveness of the religious aspects was a matter of some debate among Science and Technology section. The acolytes and other hunters of the Assembly certainly believed those aspects helped, and given their variety of supernatural powers that could have been a factor. It was at least another point of debate in S&T section.

    Jacob continued. "What I find interesting is that this Ryoga was an associate of Ranma's."

    "What's one more coincidence with him? Lord knows he's got enough of them," Stillwater observed as he scratched his goatee.

    "You think Murdock's involved?" Jacob asked in a statement that was only half a question.

    "When isn't he?"

    "Ranma did go to the park with the intention of meeting someone."

    Stillwater nodded. "And because we're respecting his privacy... somewhat, we don't know who it was or what they said."

    "You're still worried that Murdock's playing us all against each other."

    "Yes," Stillwater agreed.

    Jacob nodded. "What should we do about the Assembly? It's a shame we can't just convince them that DarkStar's not something they have to worry about."

    "That would be just great. Finally give those lunatics the proof that we're in league with dark forces. Even if they did call it off, there's still a chance that their hunter might not listen. After all, this is personal to him. Especially after tonight."

    "And what if they respond by sending more of their people?"

    "If these upstarts want to cross us, I have no problem with putting them in their place."

    "There aren't too many of them," Jacob confirmed.

    "There are enough that they can ruin our operations here. And that would have consequences." Stillwater's tone hardened. "What about the Drake?"

    "You haven't watched the recoding?" Jacob asked with some puzzlement

    "Yes, I have. It's just that I'd like to get your take on what he said. Do you really believe his explanation?"

    "As insane as it sounds. There is some credence to it. A team just found the old school surveillance tape he hid."

    "The blackmail part was true at least," Stillwater observed.

    "Any guesses as to who else is with him on that tape?" Jacob said smiling slightly.

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


    Usagi wandered what should have been familiar crystal corridors of the palace. She was wearing the white gown she would later wear as Neo Princess Serenity. That is if Crystal Tokyo was still a viable future. Her dress did not fit quite right, especially around her waist, but she discounted that.

    The formally dressed blonde eventually found a doorway that lead to a large overhanging balcony. From it she could see the terrain. The first thing she noticed was the sun rising over a body of water that stretched to the horizon. Looking down she could see that the central complex of spires she was in was surrounded by a series of gardens, grass, and paths. These inner courtyards were then bounded by an immense crystal wall. On one side, this wall met the water. One the other sides, buildings had been removed and grass had been planted to provide clear lines of approach.

    She could see one impressively solid-looking gatehouse complex. On the road approaching it were a pair of black armored vehicles, and around them were groups of armed black and grey clad soldiers. Looking at the courtyards and the wall again she could see groups of them patrolling the castle complex. When she strained her eyes, she could just barely see the orange of their visors or goggles.

    Usagi could also hear the waves smashing onto that one wall, but she did not smell salt in the air. With that piece of knowledge she knew what city she was in. A brief glance at the other building she could see quickly confirmed this.

    The royal then turned when she heard someone approach. She looked to see five of nubile demons in a protective detail: one at the center with two flanking on either side in an arrow-head formation.

    Each was wearing black, low-cut skin tight tops with thin armor paneling. The garments had red trim and were open in the back to allow for their wings. They also wore tight, little dark violet skirts that barely went to mid-thigh, red leather belts, violet-trimmed fingerless gloves that went to the middle of their forearms, and heavy boots with two inch heels.

    The blonde looked briefly looked at the demon in the front of the procession. She had a lithe attractive form. Her long black hair was and pulled back into a loose ponytail. Her eyes were a deep blood-colored red. She had the expected physical attributes. The horns on her forehead were red, her tail was violet with black fins, and her wings were black with violet tips. Usagi found this demon particularly familiar.

    She then turned her attention to who they were escorting. It was a woman in a highly corseted, petticoated, and lacy dark-violet ball gown. Her deep crimson hair was pulled up, then down her back and between her wings through the use of dozens of spiraled black ribbons. Usagi also noted that there was a discrete hole for the woman's spade-shaped tail.

    As she walked Usagi could just barely see the demoness' towering six inch high violet high-heeled pumps. The blonde could see the sparkle of sequins, or maybe tiny jewels, on the woman's footwear.

    The young woman wore a golden crown that was set under her horns. It was set with a black orb in the center Little silver four-pointed stars were inlaid in the upper half of the orb with thin line lines radiating out from the bottom. The symbol was familiar to the blonde but she could not precisely recall where.

    A large ruby sparkled on either side of the silver and obsidian sigil. She had a silver necklace with a large ruby gem and multiple pairs of hanging earrings. She also wore the Silver Millennium era ring that was only to be worn by the sovereign of Earth. Made out of gold, it had the Terran seal on it.

    Her makeup was in an elegant and regal style that perfectly set her deep violet eyes that looked simultaneously seductive and commanding. "Greetings my queen," the woman purred in a feminine and courtly voice.

    "DarkStar? What's going on?" Usagi asked with uncertainty. Things were quite confusing. The only way she kept herself from losing it was by locking onto those beautiful violet eyes.

    Worry crossed the redhead's face. "Nariko, can you and your sisters please step out for a minute?" the queen of Earth asked to the demon with the red eyes and black hair. The demon nodded and then had the four other demon girls march out of sight.

    DarkStar then turned to the blonde magical girl. "I know how troubling this is for you. You were supposed to rule the world with my predecessor," the demon said in a soothing voice as she walked closer to Usagi. "But in spite of those setbacks, we are triumphant. Murdock has been defeated. The world is safe and at peace. We won," as she said this, DarkStar gently grasped Usagi's hands. She then pulled the other girl in close, and hugged her.

    Usagi responded to the embrace. She felt secure, safe. "So Crystal Tokyo happened?" Usagi asked as she leaned her head on the taller girl's chest.

    Sorrow darkened the redhead's face. "I'm sorry. We lost Tokyo. The resistance managed to smuggle a bomb into the city. The palace's shields protected us, but everyone else in the city..."

    Usagi blinked unsure of how to take that piece of information. Tokyo destroyed. A resistance that was willing to wipe cities off the map to stop them. She started sniffled and her eyes started to tear up.

    DarkStar saw this and held the blonde's face close to hers. "Don’t worry, my love. I will always protect you," she said staring into the blonde's eyes. Once again Usagi held onto those wonderful amethyst eyes. When the demon moved in to kiss her, Usagi leaned in to meet her lips.

    The two girls pulled each other closer. They crushed their gowns into each other as they continued to kiss. Usagi felt the redhead's tail wrap around her legs. Eventually they broke apart.

    The demon then took on a wistful look "I've always been fond of humans. My time as one of them has only reinforced this. I would never be cruel to these sweet and useful people, but regretfully they do need to be controlled. After all, we need them as much as they need us," Queen DarkStar stated with a smiled as she looked over at the animals she stewarded.

    "We?" Usagi asked with definite dread.

    DarkStar turned to her mate. "Don't you remember? You decided that you wanted to be converted."

    Usagi shook her head. That made no sense. She would never sign off her humanity… but a part of her knew that she was more than human. She was a being of great power. One that was destined to live for centuries and to rule all of humanity.

    Usagi then turned to one of the rather reflective crystal walls and looked carefully at her mirrored image. Her eyes were still the same. So, were her teeth, although her gaze did linger on her canines for a rather long time.

    She still had a pair of large white wings, but they were no longer puffy and feathered. What was even more damning were pair of little horns that poked their way out of her hair. That they were a pure white in color only seemed to make it worse, like a cruel, cruel joke. With dread realization she knew why the back of her gown did not fit quite right. Undoubtedly, there was a white spade-ended tail hidden within her dress.

    Screaming in revulsion, horror, and a bit of desire and anticipation, the blonde girl forced herself out of this dream. She then found herself awake in her apartment, unsure of what to do next.

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


    Janet Frasier knew a thing or two about dreams. She knew that while some dreams could be prophetic, most of them were not. She also knew that some dreams were not created solely by the dreamer, instead they were sent by others. Her training had taught her to control and protect her dreams. For some, sleep was when they were most vulnerable.

    Last night was the first night since moving to Toronto where she had been able to sleep undisturbed. The girl feared what she had she had to do. There was some dread at the tasks ahead.

    Janet pushed those thoughts aside and concentrated on finishing getting dressed. She carefully scrutinized her uniform. Her white blouse was properly pressed, buttoned, and tucked in to her purple skirt, and that there was no noticeable bulge in the small of her back where her weapon was kept. She then checked that the skirt was straight and that the pleats hung properly.

    She then carefully tied her blue ribbon tie, and put on her jacket. The girl then put on her Mary-Janes. She would have preferred boots, but her mother insisted that she wear something more feminine. As she secured the buckles on them, she reflected that at least they were a nice shade of blue and that the heel on them was rather low.

    After applying her makeup, the girl then brushed out her rich shoulder length auburn hair into a light center part. Her uniform also came with a blue beret, but that went into her backpack. It was the one part of the uniform that really annoyed her. Fortunately, wearing them was not heavily enforced.

    Janet then put her notebooks, textbooks, and purse in her backpack. The girl then walked over to the mirror on her closet door and appraised her reflection one last time. Her lightly made-up lips smiled slightly. She did clean up nice, she had to admit. Her thin eyebrows then raised in surprise at the familiarity of the Seifuku. It was a frustrating sense of deja-vu. One that she fully understood, but there was nothing she could do about that.

    Janet then walked out of her room and into the main room of the apartment. She looked to see her mother cleaning up the breakfast they had finished a ten minutes ago. The teen then exchanged pleasantries with the woman in the white lab-coat and nametag that read "Dr. Nadine Fraiser (Radiology)", and had a logo for North York General Hospital on it.

    The logo consisted of a blue semi-circle. Inside of it was a white N who's second vertical spar became the vertical spar of a Y that had a strange echoing repeat on it's right side. A dot that was placed in the cup of the Y gave the impression of a line of stick figures with their arms raised.

    The girl understood her mother's worry. Today was the first school day since the incident, but she was confident that it would be okay. And even if things went sour, she could take care of herself. She hated keeping secrets from her mother, but certain things had to be done.

    Janet then left her apartment, went down the hallway, and took the stairs to the ground floor lobby. She checked her watch to confirm that she would have more than enough time to walk the few blocks to Furinkan and take care of something.

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


    "You okay?" Minako asked the other blonde. The quintet of girls were walking to school. The Monday morning was unusually clear and had a slight wind that made it bright yet brisk.

    "What?" Usagi asked with some confusion. "Oh yeah, I'm fine. It's just... nothing."

    Rei studied the girl's face before speaking. "No, there's something. You've been acting weird ever since that night you woke up screaming with that 'Charley Horse.' " The girl's tone indicated that she did not believe Usagi's excuse.

    "Yeah, I mean, normally she's the one with the freaky dreams," Makoto said pointing to Rei.

    "Thanks," Rei deadpanned before turning to Usagi. "Seriously, is anything wrong? Is it something we need to be worried about?"

    Usagi stared at the sky for a few seconds. She assured herself was just a dream, and it was far, far into the future. "No nothing. At least for a while," the girl stated.

    "If you say so," Rei responded.

    "Was Setsuna able to get the cats out of quarantine?" Ami asked, interjecting into the conversation.

    "Yeah. After school she's going to take me and Usagi to get them," Minako replied.

    "Maybe they can help," Usagi supposed.

    "I doubt it. They can hardly remember the end of the Silver Millennium, let alone something that happened five hundred years before that, and don't get me started about this Murdock business or the Company."

    "Still... they might be of some use," Usagi stated before changing the subject to something a bit more inane. They walked for a few minutes until a salutation from behind caused them to stop.

    Strolling out of the entrance of the convenience store the girls had just walked past was a Furinkan High School student. She was reading from a magazine that she had just purchased.

    Minako's face lit up with recognition at the neatly dressed girl. It was the other new kid in the morning classes she had with Ami. Her name started with a "J."

    "Hi Janet," Ami greeted her classmate.

    The auburn-haired girl smiled as she put her magazine down. "Hey Ami. So, these are your roommates then?" she

    "Yeah," Ami confirmed with a slight twinge of nervousness.

    "So, which one stained your blouse?" Janet asked as she briefly studied the other four girls. One of the blondes was in several of her classes.

    "Ami, who's your friend?" Usagi asked as she looked between the two girls.

    "This is Janet Fraiser. We share some classes together," Ami introduced.

    Janet transferred her magazine to her left hand and shook hands with Usagi. The blonde looked into the other girls gray-green eyes and saw nothing amiss. "Hey, how's it going? Yeah, I just moved here with my mother," Janet explained. She then turned to Ami. "Oh, the moving company finally found where they shipped all our stuff."

    "Where?"

    "Toronto." Janet then paused, "But Toronto Ohio. Fortunately it's like only five and ha half hundred kilometers away. We should have it by tomorrow."

    "Good for you," Ami said.

    "So how did you meet?" Makoto asked she had turned her head to read the title of the magazine. It had a futuristic plane of some kind on the cover and was entitled Popular Mechanics. Strange reading for a teenage girl.

    "In the laundry room. When you were cleaning the blouse I stained. That would mean you live in the same building as us," Usagi stated.

    "Not too shabby," Janet observed. "You're right. Because the movers lost our stuff, me and mom were short on clothes. Good to see a blonde who's brains aren’t mush."

    "She just got lucky," Makoto teased.

    "American right?" Minako asked the girl.

    "Yup," Janet readily said. "And you guys are a group of Japanese exchange students if I'm not mistaken."

    "Was it our accents?" Minako inquired. She had spent time in England and hers could be harder to detect.

    "That and how at ease you are in these things," Janet said as she lightly tugged at her uniform's collar. She was careful not to mess it up.

    "This is great and all, but we should start walking to school. Unless you guys want to be late to school?" Rei interrupted.

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


    Ranma picked at her lunch in the Furinkan cafeteria. While tasty, the bowl of beef stroganoff was disturbingly familiar. The redhead sighed and idly tugged at her left earring. She stopped when the back to the stud post started to dig into her earlobe.

    "What's wrong?" Naoko asked, concern on her face.

    "Oh, I'm okay, just distracted," the crimson-haired demon said in a distant voice.

    "You sure?" Samantha inquired as she put her left hand on Ranma's right. " If something's wrong you can talk to us. Is it about the attack? To tell you the truth, I'm still weirded out by it."

    The martial artist smiled faintly at this. It was kinda nice to have some normal people to talk to. Her smile then died. These were not Ranma Saotome's new friends but Sunshine Saotome's. They only knew her as another school-girl who had a stupid name and rebelled against it by dressing darkly, to such an extent that she found the normal Furinkan uniform too cheery and made a set of custom ones.

    They knew a girl that favored purple, black, and red. To them, Ranma Saotome was her brother, and to her great discomfort, someone that they asked if they could date.

    Given all this, Ranma knew that she could not tell them the truth. That the real reason she was out of it did not have to do with the attack, at least not directly. Destroying those youma had been fun and satisfying. The real reason was that the last time she was in this room, she had turned Tatewaki Kuno into a female demon.

    There was also the fight with Ryoga. She remembered the sense of frustration at being unable to take his soul. She had no qualms about trying to kill him, the bastard burned off her face, tried to skewer her with that stupid umbrella-sword, and then he used a grenade on her. Lethal force was more than justified. Wanting to devour his soul afterwards however....

    "Sunshine!" Samantha stated as she waved a hand in front of the redhead's face.

    "Sorry, I guess I am out of it today," the Saotome girl admitted as she looked at her blonde friend.

    "That's alright," Naoko reassured.

    Ranma nodded and resumed her attempts to eat. She was interrupted by an enthusiastic greeting by a familiar voice. The girl turned to see another teenage girl. She had glossy black hair, skin just as pale than Sunshine's, and eyes that were a deep crimson. Her appearance was quite human, though the redhead knew better.

    "Hi... Sunshine, I've missed you" the girl repeated in a gushingly sugary voice as she sat down next to the other demon-girl. She seemed to be especially happy just being near the redhead.

    "You're here!" Ranma cried angrily. Her tone then became more morose. "Of course you'd be here. It's not like it'd be hard for you to get enrolled."

    "My uncle is the principal," the girl countered.

    Ranma's brow furrowed in puzzlement, but she kept silent. If her identity was being kept secret by the Drake, the same thing would likely be done for his "son."

    "So you're the Principal Kuno's niece?" Samantha asked.

    "Yup, I'm Nariko Kuno," the girl smiled while trying to lean on Ranma, who pushed her aside. She then spoke in a conspiratorial tone "I transferred here because I got kicked out of my previous school. They said I was a troublemaker."

    "And with a relative in charge they think you'll be under control?" Naoko asked.

    "I guess," Nariko shrugged.

    "You know where Tatewaki is?" Naoko asked the girl. He had a crush on Sunshine and would normally pester her, but he was nowhere to be found.

    "He finally got accepted to that military academy," Nariko replied after a slight pause.

    "The one in Ottawa he always babbled about?" Samantha asked.

    "That's the one."

    "Looks like you have another friend here," Naoko said to Ranma.

    "Woo ho," the redhead deadpanned. Though part of her, a part she did not want to admit, almost did miss the black-haired loon's presence.

    "She's just kidding," Nariko smiled. "You know how Sunshine is. Can't let anyone see her happy or smile," the red-eyed girl joked, causing Samantha and Naoko to laugh and Sunshine to groan.

    Usagi had reentered the cafeteria after using the bathroom. As she passed the table that Sunshine was at she stared at the three girls that sat with her. She had a sickening sense of vertigo as she looked at them. There was a disturbing correlation between the quartet of demoness in her dream and the four schoolgirls sitting at the table.

    Usagi stopped when she heard the name Nariko come up. She then looked at the red-eyed girl more closely. Save for a lack of the extra anatomy, she was identical to the demon that had lead Queen DarkStar's... security detail in her dream.

    "Um, Sunshine? Can I talk to you?" Usagi asked eyeing the redhead.

    "Let me guess - it's in private again," Ranma asked as she stood up. She then led Usagi out of the cafeteria and into the bathroom that, coincidentally, Usagi had just left. There was undoubtedly some form of camera surveillance, but the redhead just wanted privacy from the other students.

    "Okay so what do you want?" the redhead asked as she studied her reflection. It looked like Ryoga's attack had left no permanent damage to her face.

    Usagi blinked. For someone who was really a guy, she really spent a lot of time checking her makeup. "What's your relationship with that Nariko girl?" the blonde asked. She half expected the redhead to open her purse and start rummaging around in it.

    Ranma made eye contact with the other girl. "Look, I just saved her life, that's all!" she stated, sternly.

    "Oh I see. Look just don't do anything to her," Usagi warned. The dream may have foretold that girl's name and physical description, but that was all it was going to do, she swore to herself.

    Ranma paused, her face darkening. "Good lord no! What the hell's wrong with you! I'd never do anything with her!"

    "Thank goodness," Usagi said with relief.

    "And what's this all about?" Ranma asked.

    "I had a dream with you and her in it," Usagi admitted as she looked down at the floor.

    "That's... creepy," Ranma responded.

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


    The redhead grumbled as she got out of Nabiki's Ford. School had definitely gone downhill after lunch. Despite being a year older than her, someone had decided to send "Nariko" back a year and be in all the same classes as her.

    At least during class Nariko was quiet enough and did not try anything weird, but it was still creepy. As she walked up the driveway, she saw that Kasumi was sitting in the swinging bench on the front porch. She was reading a book while her left hand idly scratched her right forearm. She then put her book down and greeted her two sisters and her, currently female, fiance.

    As she passed the Company agent, the aqua-transsexual saw something that made her stop. Kasumi turned to the redhead, smiled, and winked. She then went back to her book.

    The demon blinked and continued into the house. She was trying to figure what that meant, and almost ran into Soun, who was standing in the foyer. The elder Tendo cleared this throat. "Akane, Nabiki, could you to please go upstairs?" he asked his daughters before leading the Saotome girl into the kitchen.

    "Why hello... daughter," Nodoka said from the kitchen table while Genma sat somewhat stunned at the other side.



    End chapter 6

    Author's Notes:

    Original notes: Prereaders for this chapter are Starfire, Joe Fenton, Black Dragon, and Wray.

    Revision notes: Some more cleanup and minor tweaks to get this in line better with future story elements. Also I removed from the original author's notes, my original fanart address (man that link was a blast from the past, I didn't even remember I used to have an anglefire account...), a discussion of the greater "mythos" of the Return verse (given I've gone from half a dozen chapters to about three dozen, /and/ Blood Debts and other assorted side stories, I'd say that prediction bore some fruit), and the original address for the list of Ranma as a Sailor Senshi fics (yeah over a decade ago there used to be a lot more of those stories being written). Thanks to DCG and Ellf for their help with the revisions.
     
  9. Threadmarks: Chapter 7
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

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    Book 1: Brooding Responsibilities
    Chapter 7: Denial's End
    Formerly: Response and Recruitment




    Ranma looked at her parents. Her mother was wearing a white lab coat that almost certainly concealed a firearm. Her father was maintaining a surprising level of composure. The man was only fidgeting slightly, and he remained fairly silent.

    "Now husband, is this your idea of raising a 'man among men' ?" Nodoka asked in a cold, even voice. "Look at her!" she then shouted as one of her hands dropped to her waist.

    "It was the Drake's idea," Genma replied.

    "Since she was the alias of 'Sunshine Saotome', I have no doubt. I told you that man was a bad influence. He's an irresponsible lunatic," Major Saotome said flatly.

    "I was simply trying to get the engagement to work," Genma defended. He was still off kilter. He had not expected his wife to simply walk into the kitchen and sit him down. And now their son was here. It felt like a setup.

    "I'm amazed that you haven't screwed that up as well." Nodoka narrowed her eyes. At least Kasumi was a good Company girl, and she had a fair deal in common with Ranma.

    "What's going on?" Ranma asked. "I didn't expect you to be back so soon," the redhead was still in her improved Furinkan High School uniform.

    Genma's eyes widened with realization. Ranma had found her mother and told her that they were at Soun's place.

    "Before Genma took you, he wrote and signed an agreement. Basically it stated that if he failed to make you into a 'man among men,' both of you would commit suicide. This was supposed to make me feel better about the abduction."

    "That's insane!" Ranma cried. She then turned to her father. "You were under that agreement, and you still put me in school as a girl. What the hell is wrong with you?"

    "It was for your own good," Genma said as his eyes tracked the exits. His friend Soun had left the room, but Kasumi had entered the hallway that lead to the kitchen. He did not see her move nor did he hear her arrival, but he had more pressing concerns than the observation of Ranma's fiancee.

    "Now, Genma I'm giving you a chance to make things right," Nodoka said as she reached into her coat. The steel machine she pulled out, while placed softly on the table, still made a heavy metallic clunk. Nodoka then pulled back letting the firearm complete her statement for her.

    Genma looked at the gun. He blinked. It was still there. The bore of the weapon stared back at him. He knew that the backdoor was behind him. Escape was still an option.

    Ranma shook her head; stupid Company theatrics. Her mother could not be serious. If she really wanted him dead, she would have just shot him. The Company had no problems with disposing of bodies.

    The demoness then turned to see Kasumi alertly watching everything. The agent's hand hovered near her weapon and she seemed ready to draw. Ranma took some comfort in that, at least Kasumi had not drawn her weapon.

    "Genma!" Nodoka shouted, getting her husband's attention. "I'm giving you a chance to take the easy way out," she then said in a much friendlier voice.

    Genma looked at the gun then at his wife. Putting his left hand on the table, he took a couple deep breaths. The man then leapt to his feet, knocking his chair over in the process. He then spun around and ran to the back door, which he tore open and dove through. Genma then sprinted across the back lawn and disappeared into the forest that surrounded the property.

    Nodoka sighed and holstered her sidearm. She then pulled out a phone and flipped it open. Nodoka entering a speed dial number and establishing a connection. "We have a runner. Stage one complete. Yes, I'd like to be picked up,"

    "What just happened?" Ranma asked.

    "Oh nothing Dear, just a little training exercise," Major Saotome said as she got up.

    "You're going to have a bunch of agents go after him," Ranma observed.

    "Of course I will. We have to make sure he's not working for the enemy," the woman said to her daughter in a soothing voice.

    "What are you going to do to him?" Ranma inquired. She was just starting to think that these guys might not be so bad.

    "Nothing too damaging I'd suspect. Chemical means can extract just about anything now," Nodoka mused with what seemed to be disappointment in her voice. "Though we still have some people of the old school."

    Ranma blinked, her eyes felt a bit strange. "And now what are you going to do?"

    "I'm going back to WIC Toronto-A. The Commander wants to speak with me." The woman then turned to the Operations agent. "Lieutenant, please make sure my son doesn't do anything rash."

    Kasumi nodded and turned her attention to Ranma. "Please don't make this difficult."

    "Why would I do that? I'm still angry at the stupid oaf for this Sunshine crap. If a few Company goons are gonna dope him just to find out what bars he stole from, why should I care? And that's even if they catch him. Pops is one slippery bastard." Ranma said in a muted tone. Her mind was distracted. It seemed like Nodoka wanted to have Genma's death be payment for her absence in Ranma's life.

    Kasumi smiled. Ranma was taking things well. She then left the room. It would not do to watch the redhead, and if she really wanted to go there was little Kasumi was allowed to do to stop her.

    The lieutenant's concerns were unnecessary. Ranma sat at the table for a few minutes before going up to her room.


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


    "Stupid trees," Genma mumbled as he dodged another branch. He had been on the run for about ten minutes. His plan was to spend the hiding somewhere, a place that preferably had a bar, and then come back in the morning. By that time his wife would have either left or calmed down and Genma would have a fool-proof explanation, one that would prevent her from taking out that gun. He almost wished his wife had brought that damn sword of hers instead.

    Before any of that could happen, he would have to get out of this forest. His eyes widened when he saw the end of the trees ahead. A few seconds after that he was able to make out an asphalt centered cut in the woods. He knew there was a road behind Soun's house. The martial artist's elation was cut short when he felt a pair of strange pains flare in his chest. His pace staggered and he found it hard to concentrate.

    Agent Morrison paused just long enough to confirm his visual. Immediately afterward he depressed the trigger. He then watched the projectile make contact with the target. His partner had fired another shot. It too made contact. They waited for the target to go down before the approached the body.

    From his position, Genma saw two shapes from just before the tree-line rise up. Their outlines were somewhat humanoid, but they were broken up by a strange mesh of leaf litter and other debris. They had weapons aimed at him.

    "Bishop One to King. We have the pawn," Lieutenant Patterson said after confirming that the target was breathing, unconscious, hooded, and that his arms and legs had been properly secured. The shackles on the man were rated beyond human capability so they should hold.

    "This is King. Acknowledged Bishop. Rook is ETA in six. Repeat. Rook in six," the voice responded in Patterson's and Morrison's headsets. The senior agent then turned to the road. All they had to do know was wait for the van to stop at the side of the road and load their cargo onto it.

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


    Genma's vision swam into focus. Or at least it tried to. The room he was in was bright, far too bright. Several lights were pointed at him. Behind them he could see several shadows moving around that might have been people. The martial artist then noticed that he was strapped into the chair he was sitting in. Even his hands and feet were rendered immobile. He closed his eyes and tried to gather his thoughts but he found the process sluggish.

    "Ahhh, you are awake now? Very interesting," a voice with a strange clipped accent said. Genma tried to twist his head to see who was talking but he could only turn it a few degrees.

    "I apologize for inconvenience," the voice said emphasizing the G in the second word. "But we must be ... certain that you will be... cooperative," the man said, pausing as if to remember the correct word.

    Genma was sure it was a man now, and possibly a European man. He listened as the voice from behind him said a few sentences in some language. He recognized the words "Hans" and "und." The words "Königin" and "Pfandgegenstand" were particularly odd and stuck in Genma's mind.

    "Now my friend, we will talk. Yes?" the voice from behind Genma asked in a jovial voice.

    Genma froze when he saw the needle. It was being held in a nondescript man's hand.

    "Again, I apologize, but it is your fault. If you hadn't run from us all those years ago. Why did you have to take your son, Gendo?" the man asked.

    "That's not my name," the martial artist said trying to break out of his bonds.

    The interrogator simply laughed.

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


    "Well, that was disappointing," Jacob remarked after he finished watching the recording. He was in Stillwater's office in WIC Toronto-A

    "At least we've confirmed that the man knows nothing relevant to our plans," the commander replied. "The Major should be pleased at the other things we learned."

    "Unless Genma has had his mind worked over before," Jacob pointed out. The interrogation had gone by the book and their subject was already released, but something nagged at his mind.

    "If that's the case then he would have been useless anyway. It also served as good training. I see that Captain Jarvis has gotten more skilled with information retrieval."

    "But that god awful accent?"

    Stillwater smiled slightly. "Other than English, German was the only language all the agents involved spoke. We had to give Genma the impression that we got the wrong man. I thought the Captain's acting was quite good."

    "Fine, it seems to have worked," Jacob conceded. "I also like that rum spray idea. What about Major Saotome's wishes?"

    "They'll be granted for now," Stillwater stated.

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


    Genma woke up to the sound of wind brushing through leaves and distant traffic. With a headache that normally accompanied the darkest kind of hangovers, the old martial artist pulled himself upright. He fought off vertigo as he tried to take his bearings. He found himself sitting in a gully in a lightly wooded glen. Looking at the sun, he guessed that it was still early morning. His clothes, even his skin, stank of liquor.

    Stumbling, the man made his way towards where he heard the cars. Genma soon found himself at the edge of a paved road. As Genma followed the asphalt path, his mind slowly cleared. Eventually he arrived at a familiar intersection and made his way back to Soun's place.

    While he walked back, Genma considered what had happened to him the previous night. His memories were jumbled and confused, but he knew that his wife had found him and he had been abducted by some strange people, foreign men who thought he was some Gendo character.

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


    "Where's Pops?" Ranma asked as she got into the kitchen. "Didn't he come back last night?"

    "I haven't seen him," Soun said with only a hint of concern. Genma normally ran off when faced with a difficult decision. It was how his friend got time to think things over.

    Ranma then turned to Kasumi who was brewing coffee.

    The agent shrugged at the seifuku-clad redhead. Kasumi then turned to the front of the house. She had heard the sound of an approaching car. "It sounds like we have guests," the young woman observed as she walked towards the front door.

    "Oh hello, Mrs. Saotome," Kasumi said respectfully as she opened the door.

    "At ease young lady," Nodoka smiled. "Has my husband shown up yet?" she asked. She hoped that the agents were not too rough on him.

    "Wait mom? You don’t know where he is?" Ranma asked skeptically.

    "No I don't," Major Saotome replied honestly.

    Ranma was not sure how to respond to that so she changed the subject. There was something else that was nagging on her mind, something that had not let her sleep. It kept circling in her head. "Mother, I have a question. It's about that girl that I turned."

    "Oh? What about?" Nodoka asked.

    "I think that's Genma," Kasumi said, interrupting her fiance while pointing at a disheveled figure that had just come into view.

    "We'll talk later," Nodoka assured her daughter.

    "What the hell happened to him?" Ranma asked as she walked over to her father.

    "Seems like he's been drinking," Nodoka observed. "He used to do this back when we were living with each other."

    Ranma held her tongue but she wanted to know how often her mother threatened her father.

    "He certainly smells like it," Kasumi noted once they had gotten close enough to detect the odor wafting off of the man.

    "Nodoka, you won't believe what happened to me!" Genma cried. He then spoke in a hurried pace. "I was running through the woods and I had gotten abducted by these angry Germans. They thought I was this Gendo guy, so they drugged me and asked me all these weird questions. They thought I was him! And he was some sort of scientist! Then they found out I wasn't him so they dropped me off in a ditch out in the woods."

    "Definitely been drinking," Nodoka noted.

    "I was not!"

    "You were drunk dear, you probably hallucinated the whole thing," the elder Company agent said, her voice darkening at the word dear. "Remember the day after our third anniversary. You disappeared for a week and when you came back you swore you had been kidnapped by aliens."

    "This is different! I wasn't drunk this time!"

    "I'm sure it is," Nodoka sighed. "Now if you don’t mind I have something to discuss with our son." Her eyes then narrowed. "I'm planning on talking to you afterwards. Don't leave."

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


    "What do you want to talk about?" Nodoka asked after Ranma had closed the door to her child's bedroom.

    The redhead sighed and sat down on the bed. Nodoka noticed that the girl's fishnet-stocking-encased legs were held together at the knees. At least Ranma had enough sense to do that; that purple skirt of hers was very short.

    Beyond a miniskirt, it was a micro-mini. The older woman shook her head and sat down next to her child. The seifuku was very racy, but at least she was wearing a uniform. Some demonesses found clothing restrictive.

    "I've done something horrible," Ranma finally admitted as she made eye contact with her mother.

    Nodoka paused. What was her son admitting to? With her demonic body it could be any number of things. Keeping her voice clear and free of distress, the major asked Ranma what she had done.

    "It’s about that demon girl you saw me with. After I well... made her, I ignored her."

    Nodoka nodded. She had noticed the cold shoulder Ranma gave Nariko in Operations Centre Three. Her eyes then widened. Ranma had made another demon and depending on the type of Pattern D those two were...

    The redhead sighed, and looked at her modified Furinkan High School girl's uniform. "I'm only now starting to realize how... wrong that was. All she wanted was some attention, but I was too afraid."

    "It's okay," Nodoka soothed as she put her hand on the girl's shoulder. "You're owning upt o it now. It's not too late. Not for her, not for you. You..." the officer hesitated. "You know what that makes her, what that makes you?"

    Ranma blinked and looked down.

    "Do you have any idea what you should do?" Nodoka asked.

    "Yes," Ranma Saotome said, staring at the wall. "But I'm not sure if I can go through with it."

    "You have to do what you think is right," the agent advised. "No matter the price," she then added somewhat to herself.

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


    Hikaru Gosunkugi waited in the hallway. His eyes narrowed when he saw Rod approach.

    "You have the translation?" Rod Ferris asked, grinning slyly.

    Gos sighed and held up a burnable compact disc.

    Ferris quickly pocketed the jewel case stored media. "Isn't technology grand?"

    Gos simply shrugged. It was a bit out of date but at least the media was read-only.

    "What are you afraid I'm wearing a wire?" Rod inquired. "Never mind. My associates are much appreciative of this token."

    Gos looked the other teen in the eye and walked past him.

    Rod smirked and walked off in the opposite direction.


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

    Two floors above exchange another was taking place.

    "Mistress, what's going on?" Nariko asked after Ranma locked the door to the Drake's office. The principal was kind enough to allow them to talk privately in the room.

    "I have something to confess. Ever since I made you I've been treating you badly," Ranma said, looking at the other demoness.

    "That's not true."

    "Yes, it is. I've done nothing but treat you like dirt." Ranma used a decorative Canadian beer themed mirror to study her reflection. "Normally, that'd be fine but you are my responsibility, and it's time I owned up to it."

    "M... Mistress, what are you planning?" Nariko asked, expectantly.

    "Nothing like that," Ranma responded, sternly. "The thought of being romantically involved with you is... wrong and it's not just because you were once male."

    Nariko nodded, that's not what she wanted either. "What then, Mistress?"

    "I spawned you," the redhead said while gazing into her violet flecked blue eyes.

    Ranma exhaled. "I'm your mother. That's why I can't be... romantic with you, why I can't do it. It's not what we're supposed to be."

    Nariko let a bit of hope form in her chest.

    "But I can still love you as a parent. I have to take care of my... child," Ranma admitted haltingly. It was a strange concept to the redhead, but her mother had provided good advice.

    Nariko blinked. "Mistress? Mother?" The black-haired demon found the concept... satisfying, like it unlocked a void within her. The demoness before her had given her life.

    "Yeah, that's it." Ranma turned to face the other girl. It was then that she stopped ignorint the bond between them.

    It was the connection between an elder demon and one of her children. Though that link she felt the absolute loyalty and devotion that Nariko had for her. The desire for affection that had repulsed her so much, that she had to deny in order to hold onto her manhood, was now in a completely different light.

    "I'm sorry," Ranma gasped in realization.

    "Mommy!" Nariko shouted as she bounded over to the other demoness. She then embraced the slightly taller girl.

    Ranma tensed at first but then she returned the hug. This was not some girl that was hitting on her this was her flesh and blood. Nariko sighed happily, enjoying the sense of security and protection that her mother gave off.

    The redhead looked down at... her daughter. It was hard to accept, but it was the truth. She sighed and hugged her child tighter.

    "I love you Momma," Nariko said, happily.

    Ranma paused. She decided to go with her gut. "I love you, too," she said as she stroked her daughter's hair.

    The redhead then kissed Nariko on her forehead. It was the simple loving kiss of a mother to her child. If she had turned to the mirror she would have seen her eyes briefly flare purple before turning back to blue with an increased density of violet flecks.

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


    Two school girls were walking back to their apartment complex. They were both dressed in the fuku of Furinkan High School. One had fairly short blue hair and the other had longer, shoulder length, auburn locks.

    "Well, that physics club was a bust," the somewhat taller girl observed sourly.

    "They weren't that geeky," the other girl countered.

    "Yes Ami, they were, but that's not why I'm disappointed. They're not doing anything. Back in Cheyenne, our physics club actually made things. These guys go to competitions where they regurgitate physics trivia. That's interesting but eventually you have to do something with what you've learned," Janet stated.

    "What'd you guys do?" Ami asked. Janet had shown her blueprints and photos of some of the machines that she had built.

    "Mostly fighting robots."

    "Maybe they can do that too," Ami suggested.

    "I doubt it. Those guys don't even have a workshop," Janet countered sadly.

    Ami shrugged. She then looked at the convenience store that they were about to pass. "You mind if we go in? I have to pick up some orange juice."

    "Okay." The two girls then crossed the small parking lot. Only Janet paid particular attention to the small puce-colored Honda that had pulled into the far end of the lot.


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


    "Come on Davis. We have a meeting to get to, and I for one don't want to be late," the man in the passenger seat said.

    "Sorry Mitch, I'm hungry," the driver countered. "It'll be a simple in and out. Just another dead 7-11 clerk. Not only will we get fed, but we'll have some spending money."

    "It's broad daylight though," Mitch stated.

    "Are you afraid of some clerk? We can take him out before he has a chance to do anything. Anyone else in there's a bonus," Davis stated. He then opened his door and stepped out of the car ending the discussion.

    Mitch shrugged and followed his associate.

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


    Janet was browsing the snack aisle when she saw two average-looking men walk up to the clerk's counter. They were dressed in black and dark blue sweats and looked like a pair of college students stopping in for a quick snack, a fresh pack of smokes, or a case of beer. She then watched as one distracted the clerk by asking for some lottery tickets, while the other moved his arm towards the man behind the counter.

    A lead-filled sap hit the shopkeeper, and he fell to the ground. The taller of the two guys leaped over the counter and pried open the register. The other then pulled a pair of large revolvers. The guns were stainless steel and polished until they shined brightly.

    "Okay everyone! This is a holdup!" the armed man shouted to the handful of patrons in the mini-mart. "I'm sure you all know the deal. Keep them high were I can see them, and I'm sure you'll be home before diner." he said in a reasonable sounding voice. Davis smiled inwardly. Humans were so much like cattle, a few soothing words and they would ignore the man with the maul.

    Janet did not have her hands up. She went down just after the clerk did. There was a chance that the robbers were simply that. However, it was also a large coincidence that they attacked the one store that had a Sailor Senshi in it.

    Even if the two men were human, they were still criminals. Janet knew what she had to do. Normally, she would have drawn her weapon and taken them out right now, but there were too many witnesses and she had to maintain her cover.

    Staying down, she went to the back of the store. The girl hoped to find a bathroom, or some other place she could change without being seen. Janet did not see her friend Ami and hoped that she was okay.

    Janet quickly found herself in the dog-legged hallway that lead to the stockrooms and a pair of bathrooms. "God damn it," the girl quietly swore when she found out the door to the women's room locked.

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


    Ami had taken to leaving her Mercury Computer on and in scan mode. She knew she was being paranoid, but the precaution made her feel safer. It paid off, when in the beverage aisle her computer started to beep. Recognizing the tone, she glanced around the store. Her gaze fell on a pair of men that had just entered the store, except they weren't men. She calmly made her way to the back aisles where she could get some privacy.

    Ami was in the small women's bathroom when she heard one of the men start to shout out orders. Even if they had been simple criminals she had a duty to stop them, especially with Janet still out there. She locked the door; she couldn't leave Janet alone out there with a pair of monsters.

    "Mercury Crystal Power. Make Up!" Ami shouted, activating her Super Sailor Mercury form. Having the transformation sequence occur in such a small space made for an unusual spectacle.

    After the lights died down, Sailor Mercury turned to see someone try to turn the room's door knob. It turned slightly before meeting resistance. Mercury then heard a familiar girl's voice on the other side of the door swear.

    The magical girl blinked, and walked over to the door her in knee-high, high-heeled boots. If Janet was in danger, she had to help her. Mercury unlatched the door and popped it open.

    Janet's reaction to the sudden appearance of a Pretty Sailor-Suited Warrior of Love and Justice was puzzling to Mercury.

    "Oh, good! Looks like I'll have some help," Janet stated after pausing to look at the Sailor Senshi.

    Mercury watched as Janet shrugged off her backpack and pulled a weapon from behind her back. As her eyes tracked the length of the metal object, puzzlement crossed her face. The auburn-haired girl then held both her hands, one over the other, on the grip of the handle.

    Mercury stared in amazement at what happened next. Janet smiled as she thrust the large gold and silver inlayed hunting knife upward. Several points of white light flared on the auburn-haired girl's forehead. They formed a somewhat hourglass-shaped figure. The "belt" of the figure consisted of three points that formed a slanted line. She then shouted, "Orion Constellation Power. Make Up!"

    Bright green and purple light swirled around the girl as her clothing dissolved. The etchings on the double edged blade of her knife flared to life and the edged itself began to glow a golden color. As Orion started to twist the weapon, the handle on it began to grow in length.

    A white body hugging garment that was very familiar to Mercury appeared on Orion's body. As that happened, the purple light split into three parts. One went to her waist and formed a pleated, white-trimmed, light purple miniskirt. The middle went to her chest and formed a similarly colored collar. The last divided and went to her arms forming purple-trimmed elbow-length white gloves.

    The green light then divided into three streamers. The first two hit her chest and the back of her waist. They formed big almost neon green bows. The third went to her feet and formed a pair of light green two and a half inch high-heeled pumps.

    The girl continued to twirl her weapon around. Its silvery handle, now over a meter long, continued to elongate.

    Jewelry then flashed into place. A white choker appeared around her neck. On the front of it was a diagram of a familiar constellation. The stars were represented using diamonds and the lines connecting them were done in gold filaments sewn into the material. Her earrings were bright green eight-pointed stars. A golden tiara then appeared. Set in its center was an Alexandrite, a gem that seemed to change from light blue to dark purple depending on how the light hit it.

    Her hair was then styled slightly. It was still center-parted and shoulder length. But now it looked like it was freshly cleaned and brushed, making her auburn tresses shine. Makeup that was slightly lighter than Ami's in intensity then formed into place.

    By now, her weapon was no longer a simple knife but a glaive-like object. Its shaft, nearly two meters in length, was topped on either end by a long double-edged blade.

    "I'm glad I finally found another one," the auburn-haired, apparently magical, girl said as she adjusted her bladed staff and made her way forward.

    Mercury blinked at the other sailor-suited girl. "Sailor Orion?" She had never heard anything about Senshi of constellations.

    "Yeah," the other girl nodded. "Come on, let's do this," Orion said quietly as she carefully approached the corner with her staff pointed forward and slightly inclined. While staying low, she used one of the polished blades from her staff as a mirror to check on the location of the two enemies.

    With her free hand, Orion pointed at Mercury and then moved the hand so that it was horizontal. She then lowered the hand. Orion then pointed right. Mercury nodded in understanding. The other girl wanted her to crouch down and go around the store with her.

    The two girls moved out. Janet had halved the distance between the bathroom and register, when Mitch turned to look at the movement in the corner of his eye.

    "No.... not a Senshi," Mitch sighed as he gripped his weapon.

    With her cover blown Sailor Orion stood to her full height. "Convenience stores are for quick transactions involving overpriced commodities. They are not a harvesting ground for monstrous bastards. In the name of Orion, you will be destroyed," the Senshi announced in a cold voice as her eyes narrowed.

    "Davis help!" Mitch cried, redundantly. His partner already had his guns trained on the green and purple Sailor Senshi.

    Mercury positioned her hands and with a shout of "Mercury Aqua Rhapsody," fired at the creature. Her eyes widened. It was too late. He had gotten off a couple of shots.

    Sailor Orion's thoughts were carefully controlled. This was what she had practiced for. There was no time for second guesses, she had to act now. Assuming that Mercury was covering her, Orion leaped at the shorter of the two enemies. In an efficient motion she rotated the forward blade of her weapon through the target.

    Mitch screamed as his left arm was sliced off at the elbow. His eyes then tracked the girl in front of him rotate her staff while increasing its pitch. He caught a glimpse of a blade heading for his neck.

    Just before the other Senshi's blast connected, Davis watched his partner's decapitation. Davis did not even have the satisfaction of hitting the girl. Poorly aimed, his shots hit nothing but the dairy section.

    "You okay?" Orion asked as she warily looked at the two piles of ash.

    "Yeah," Mercury replied.

    "I didn't think it'd be so fast," Orion commented.

    "We should get going."

    "Just let me get my bag," Orion said as she dashed to the restroom hallway, careful to not step into the growing pools of spilt milk.

    Mercury followed her after she realized that she too had left her own book bag there.

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


    "Where are you staying?" Ranma asked her... daughter as they walked down a subterranean corridor in WIC Toronto-A. The Company was more than happy to give the girls a ride from Furinkan to their facility.

    "With father," Nariko stated.

    "How is he taking this? You're not having trouble with him?"

    "No, he seems to be okay with it. Unnerved but okay. I'm just glad my sister is still away. I don't know how she'd handle it," Nariko admitted leaning on the other girl as they turned left at an intersection. "What about your parents?"

    "My father's clueless. He wouldn't understand anyway, and my mother's an agent."

    "Oh, and what does she think of me?"

    "That's what I'm about to find out," The redhead sighed as she knocked on a door.

    "Come in," an older female voice said. Major Saotome then looked at the two girls in the hallway. One was her son the other...

    "Is this my granddaughter?" Nodoka asked feeling out the last word. She had wanted grandchildren, but her child had been missing for so long. She had also helped Ranma admit what she needed to be done, but seeing the demon before her...

    "Yes. Nariko Saotome, this is my mother Nodoka Saotome," Ranma introduced.

    "Saotome?" Nodoka asked.

    "Well, she is my daughter," the redhead shrugged. "I'm going to ask Jacob if he can change her name again."

    Nodoka looked over the demon girl. She had been cleared by Command and turned by her son. It was strange, but what part of her life was not? She then smiled. "It's a pleasure to meet you. Please come in. I apologize for the mess, but I just moved in," Nodoka then turned to see a woman bounding over to her.

    "Grandma!" Nariko shouted with glee as she hugged the lab-coated woman.

    Ranma smiled, amused that this time she was not on the receiving end.

    The older woman returned the girl's embrace. The girl seemed so eager and affectionate.

    Ranma looked around the lab. Smaller than the one her mother had in WIC Japan, the room was filled with crates and boxes. Some of them were open, their contents stacked on the counters and floor. "You got your transfer?"

    "Yes, I wanted to be closer to my family," Nodoka said as her eyes fell on her granddaughter.

    "Nariko-chan was born a boy named Tatewaki Kuno. He had a thing for me and Akane." Ranma explained as she told her mother how she had gotten a daughter.

    "I wanted both of them," a blushing Nariko interrupted.


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


    Three generations of Saotome women were in the commissary eating a light snack. At least Nodoka's portions were light. Ranma's were slightly larger - and Nariko had already surpassed both.

    "She's been doing this for a while now," Ranma said after chastising her daughter for eating too fast. Normally, she would not care, but she wanted Nariko to have some restraint in front of her grandmother.

    "She's a growing girl," Nodoka said with amusement. This was perfectly natural for young demons. They grow rather fast in the first few months, the agent thought to herself.

    "Sorry," Nariko said after taking a drink of water.

    "Excuse me," a female Company agent said as she walked up to their table.

    Ranma tuned to look at the woman. It was the communications agent who was in the mobile command center.

    "Miss Nariko, your father is here," Maya Iverson stated.

    "I guess I should be going then," Nariko said sadly.

    Ranma looked at the girl's expression and sighed "I'll call you when I get back. Okay?"

    Nariko's face brightened. She then turned and followed agent Iverson out the commissary.

    "What do you think?" the redhead asked once Nariko had left the room.

    Nodoka had to keep from smiling at her... at Ranma's eager tone. She wanted her mother's aproval just as much as Nariko did. "I'm very proud of you. You had a very tough decision, but you made the right choice."

    Nodoka's daughter nodded.

    "Just remember being a parent is a lot of responsibility. She may look like a teenager, but she's really very young."

    "I know," Ranma said. "I'm not sure what I've gotten into, but I couldn't ignore her. God, all she wanted was some affection from the person that created her, but I was too repulsed by what I had done to treat her like a person."

    Ranma's head was down and she could feel her eyes beginning to tear up. She had kept her emotions in check for so long, only to lose control now.

    Nodoka put her hand on her child's shoulder. "What's important is that you came around now, and you're giving her the love she needs. The worst thing that can be done to a child is to take away her parent. That's what I did to you. I'm sorry."

    "It's okay," Ranma said, returning the gesture to her mother.

    "I did everything I could to try and find you. It just took so long," Nodoka confessed.

    The redhead slid herself closer to her mother and hugged the woman. "I know mom. I know you're trying your best."

    Nodoka returned the hug and smiled slightly. "I think your own daughter knows that you're doing the same."


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


    "I don't remember there ever being Constellation Senshi," Luna said from her perch on the kitchen table. Three girls and two moon cats were having a meeting to discuss what Ami had seen.

    "You didn't remember DarkStar either," Usagi countered.

    "She was before my time," the black cat said, a bit tartly.

    "What did you do after the fight?" Minako asked Ami.

    "Well, Janet looked at her watch and ran off."

    "Does she know who you are?" Artemis asked as the white cat rolled onto his back.

    "I didn't tell her my name, but I was the only one missing and I picked up my book bag."

    "There's also the hair color," Ami idly remarked.

    "Makoto and Rei are going to wish they hadn't gone to the video store," Usagi commented, referring to the two absent Senshi.

    "What should we do?"

    "I scanned her. The results were very close to a Sailor Senshi signature."

    "She's a new Senshi? Wouldn't be the first we've met in Canada," Minako stated.

    "And she seems to be more of a Sailor Senshi than this DarkStar," Luna noted.

    "We should ask Pluto about Senshi of constellations and then talk to Janet herself," Usagi said.

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


    Akane was taking her after school jog. Her mind was mulling over today's events. She had seen her sister's fiancee hugging that new girl Nariko. At first she thought that Ranma had a girlfriend and was into some sort of weird lesbian sex. Further inspection showed that the body language was wrong for a romantic embrace.

    It was more like the two girls were sisters, or at least very close friends. Upon further reflection the girl found something wrong with her assumption. There was something about how the redhead had been talking to the other girl, something that Akane felt should have been obvious.

    Asking Ranma proved to be no help. The redhead stated that they were close friends and dismissed all further inquiries. Frustrated, Akane went jogging. Initially, it was successful at preventing her from obsessing over it, but then Akane had an epiphany.

    The reason she did not recognize Ranma's stature and tone initially was because of how absurd it was. The conversation Akane overhead was like that between a parent and child. It did not make sense. Granted a person could take a protective stance over a friend, but what Ranma had been doing was eerie.

    This realization only spawned new questions. These were much more urgent than the initial one. What did she really know about Ranma? Why didn't the curse bother Kasumi? Why did Kasumi keep taking Ranma with her to work?

    Akane pondered, but was not able to solve anything. There was a missing piece. Her thoughts were interrupted by what felt like an insect biting her left hip. She slapped the spot and continued running.

    After a couple more paces, the girl's legs began feeling numb. Her left foot then failed to land properly, and she tumbled off the shoulder and into the drainage ditch that ran next to the road.

    The driver in a passing green van saw the body, pulled over, and stopped. What looked like a pair of good Samaritans got out of the vehicle, checked to make sure that the girl was alive, and then placed a quick call using a cell phone. After carefully loading the girl into the back of the van, they drove off.

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


    In the suburb of Vaughan off exit thirty-four of Canadian Highway 400 was a small light industrial park that had recently come under new ownership. Parked inside one of the small warehouses in the lot was a green van.

    The warehouse was deserted. After parking the two people in the van carried their package into an adjacent building. What had originally been the office space for a custom machine shop had been redecorated in manner Spartan, yet plush. It looked like someone with fine taste was building up their furnishings in stages.

    "Mistress, we have her," the van's driver called out while gently placing the teenage girl on the room's thick burgundy carpeting. She immediately averted her gaze from the woman standing before her.

    "Excellent, you have done well, Laura," Mistress Alexia said after she confirmed that the stock was not unduly damaged. With mid-back length curly blonde hair, dark green eyes, tanned skin, and an erotically proportioned six foot tall body, the woman looked imposing, sexy, and very, very cold. This was accentuated by her long blood-red nails, her leather ankle-high, five-inch-heeled boots, her pieces of gold and ivory jewelry, and her green-trimmed black leather dress. The garment was low cut and hung from a pair of shoulder straps, and was secured down the front center by a series of small gold buckles.

    She knelt down and removed all of the girl's clothing. Alexia swung one of her legs over the girl's body so that she straddled the unconscious teen. The blonde then smirked as her canines elongated and her eyes began to glow. Alexia's teeth pierced the teenager's neck. She summoned a bit of her power and started to remake the young woman.

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


    "You’re all Senshi?" Sailor Orion asked the five girls seated in front of her. The six teenage girls were in the living room of the apartment the inner Senshi shared.

    "Yes," Sailor Moon responded.

    "Thank God, I'm not alone," Orion sighed. "We're all stellar or astronomical objects, interesting. Are there more of you?"

    "Yes, there's a few more of us back in Japan," Moon stated.

    "Any of them named after constellations?"

    "None that we know of," Mercury replied. "So, you don't know any other Senshi?"

    "Nope, you're the first I've met," Janet gave a big smile that she directed at Moon, but also at Venus.

    "So how'd you get your powers, Janet?" Venus inquired.

    "A couple months ago, I had a weird dream. In it a man wearing old fashioned hunting clothes asked if I would be his avatar. I said yes. When I woke up I found this under my pillow," Orion said patting her double bladed staff. "Of course it wasn't this big then," the auburn-haired girl laughed.

    "I guess we can change back," Mars said.

    Orion shrugged and powered down. Her weapon shrank back down to a silver and gold hunting knife. "Damn, that's still cool," Janet laughed.

    After transforming out of Senshi form, Usagi looked over the girl. Earlier, she had called up Pluto and asked her what she knew of Sailor Senshi of Constellations, specifically of Orion. Setsuna's voice had strained briefly. The green-haired woman then told Usagi everything she knew about them.

    During the Silver Millennium a group of mages working at Serenity's request researched the possibility of expanding the number of Sailor Senshi. Several methods were looked into: bonding candidates to the other moons in the system, linking candidates to elemental sources, having more than one Senshi to a planet, and tapping into the energy that the Constellations represented.

    Setsuna recalled that the group had made little progress. Their work was all in the theoretical stage. They were only just starting to test mockup spells and modeling when the Silver Millennium fell. The time guardian then said that if Ami's computer gave her a positive match then she probably was a Senshi, but that it was best to be cautious.

    "This is definitely Silver Millennium," Luna said as she looked over Janet's knife. "Don't normally see this type of transformation item though."

    "I still can't get over the cats," Janet noted as she brushed Luna's dark fur. "You guys really are a troop of magical girls."

    Usagi sighed. She would have liked to have Pluto look over the girl, but apparently Setsuna had urgent business. There was a fresh lead with Murdock that the older woman was investigating.

    The blonde woman looked into Janet's green-grey eyes and made her decision. Sailor Orion had already proven herself in the store today, and now was not the time to keep prospective members out. Especially considering a demonic nearly Sailor Senshi who simply refused to join their team.

    Besides, there was something that felt right about Janet, and Ami got along well with her. "Welcome aboard," Usagi finally said.

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


    "What will you have me do, Mistress?" a newly created demoness eagerly asked her mother. Naked, she had a pair of dark blue horns, a black tail with blue fins, and a pair of wings with blue-black membranes.

    The rest of her body was remarkably similar to a certain human female. If her demonic extras were removed she would be nearly identical to that girl. It was the eyes where the difference was; they were still brown but something was not quite right about their shape and pattern.

    "Patience my child," Alexia said, with a cold smile. "I think I'll call you Eclipse," the blonde said as she stroked her chin. For such a quick job, she was pleased with the results. Maybe she could have put in more effort in crafting the minion, but she could last long enough for what Alexia needed her to do.

    The demoness smiled at her new name and bowed to her mistress.

    "I have a mission for you," Alexia said as she strummed her fingernails on the armrest of the couch she was sitting on. "Inside you are the memories of a little piece of meat."

    Eclipse nodded. She felt the experiences of a weak, pitiful human inside of her. Nothing like what Mother had created.

    "These memories will help you kill a traitor," Alexia said before she described DarkStar.

    The young demoness' face hardened. To her mind there was no greater sin than betraying her mistress, her mother.

    "You will assume a human looking form, go to this girl's house, and pose as a human. Do not arouse suspicion. Once the traitor has fallen asleep you will go into her room and kill her. She normally sleeps in the guise of a male human so it should be very simple." Alexia grinned. The traitor was weak.

    She only had one daughter, one minion. And she acted as of ashamed of her nature, of what she was. Alexia would kill the traitor and show how low she had fallen, Grandmother would admit to being wrong and welcome her back.

    "As you wish," the young demoness replied as she bowed again.

    "For your reward you may eliminate the other humans in the house."

    "Thank you," Eclipse stated, her eyes looking adoringly at her mistress.

    "Get dressed. Laura shall drop you off."

    Eclipse nodded. After making her demonic appendages disappear, she grudgingly donned in Akane's clothing. She would suffer the indignity of wearing the dead girl's clothing to serve Mother's will.

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


    "So, where's Mommy?" Nariko asked the Company agent.

    Kasumi looked at Ranma's progeny and sighed. The two young women were in the kitchen of the Tendo house. Her father and Genma were out, most likely drinking. Nabiki's car was also gone. Akane was either out with Nabiki or jogging. Given that Akane's running shoes were missing from the shoe rack next to the front door, Kasumi guessed the latter.

    The lieutenant then turned back to the demoness. She really hated babysitting assignments, especially the ones that literally involved watching some kid. "Ranma's still at the base. I believe he's in a meeting with the colonel."

    "Ahh, so she's going to be here soon?"

    "Yes, she should be coming home soon. Major Saotome is coming too."

    "Yay! Mommy's coming soon!" Nariko practically squealed. "And Grandma's going to be here too!"

    Kasumi smiled, despite herself. It was hard to stay cold in the face of a girl who was so exuberant at the simple prospect of seeing her parent. The agent wondered if Ranma had any idea of the kind of commitment he had made. She imagined that he did, given that Nariko was essentially moving in with them.

    Her thoughts were interrupted by the front door being unlocked and opened. Kasumi walked over and saw her youngest sister entering the house. The agent evaluated the girl and found a few things amiss. Her clothes were stained and ripped in a few places yet her top was still tucked into her running shorts. The girl's gaze was also off somehow. Lt. Tendo knew that something was wrong and kept her guard up.

    "Oh dear, did you trip?" Kasumi inquired.

    "Yes. I did... Kasumi," the blue-black haired teenager replied in a distant voice.

    "You hit your head?" A concussion could explain this behavior, however it would not explain the slight buzzing coming from Kasumi's belt. At the moment she couldn't spare the time to unclip the device to check the display. The micro scanner she had was not too sophisticated, and it was already picking up Nariko's presence...

    The younger sister nodded as she walked into the house.

    "Let me look at your injury," Kasumi proposed as she approached the girl.

    "No, I'm okay. It's just a little bump," the girl backpedaled.

    "Okay, maybe you should sit down for a bit," Kasumi said carefully examining the girl. She then closed the front door.

    "What are you doing?" the younger woman asked in a panicky voice.

    "Just checking to make sure you're not badly cut or bruised," the agent stated, looking at the girl. Concern was evident on her face. Less obvious was whether it resulted from her sister's injury or her sister's behavior.

    "Oh, it's Ranma's friend," the girl noted looking between her sister and the other girl. Her expression became confused. Akane's memories did not say that the traitor had any demonesses with her, but that human's memories also missed that there was a demon living with her in the first place.

    Kasumi turned to look at Nariko. The girl's confused expression that made the agent even more wary and thankful she had already hit a panic button on her radio.

    "Did Mommy turn you too?" Nariko asked the younger girl. "It doesn’t smell like it was her," the demoness commented, curiously.

    "What?" Eclipse asked with confusion. Mistress had said this would be easy.

    For the Company agent, it became all too clear. Training took over as she drew her weapon, and lined the sights up on the girl who was wearing her sister's skin.

    "Kasumi, what are you doing?" Eclipse asked, trying to keep her tone innocent. This was her largest mistake. If the real Akane had suddenly found her sister holding her at gunpoint she would have been livid and accusatory.

    "Get down on the floor. Hands above your head!" Kasumi ordered taking a step back and to the side.

    As Eclipse started to kneel down, she began to think. If she could kill both the human and the traitor's spawn and hide the bodies, then the plan would be salvageable. When she was crouching, Eclipse sprung forward at the human and manifested her true form.

    Eyes narrowing, Kasumi ignored the wings that had torn out of the creature's back and the tail that had popped out of her shorts. The woman even overlooked the horns, fangs, and glowing eyes that appeared on her sister's face. The agent simply acquired her target and depressed the trigger.

    The silver-jacketed slug hit Eclipse in the top of her right shoulder. The angle allowed for the projectile to travel through several of the demon's internal organs.
    The young demoness yowled in pain as she tumbled from her planned trajectory.

    Kasumi swiveled to avoid the creature and fired another round into the demon's chest. Eclipse fell to the ground. Raw hatred filled her face as she looked up at the human who had done this to her.

    It took all of the agent's training to keep her hand from shaking. "Stay down," she ordered to the demon.

    Eclipse flared her eyes and tried to charge forward.

    Kasumi uttered a noise that was halfway between a sigh and a sob and placed another round into what used to be her sister. She noted that the monster was bleeding heavily, but still breathing, for now.

    Eclipse cried. She had failed her mistress. She was worthless. She deserved to die this way, gunned down by a mere human.

    Kasumi adjusted the aim of her weapon. It would be easy to end it. One more pull and she could destroy this mockery of her sister and end Akane's suffering right now. It was then that the agent looked over at Nariko. "Will you save my sister?" Kasumi asked. She knew full well what that meant, what obligation she was putting on Ranma.

    Nariko looked at the broken demoness. She remembered the feelings she had for Akane. Since her conversion, she had neglected them. Her mistress had taken all of her affection. However, with Ranma as her mother now, Nariko still needed a mate. The red-eyed girl knelt over the other demoness.

    Eclipse tried to fight the intruder, but she was too weak. She then felt the other's teeth sink into her neck and her essence mingling with hers. It was then that the mortally wounded demoness lost consciousness.

    Nariko hoped that she was strong enough to do this. Not only would she have to bond Akane to herself, and by extension Mother, but she also had to heal the girl's wounds. While healing was only a side effect of the bonding procedure, and in the case of humans the conversion process, it still took power.

    Kasumi looked away slightly. She then pulled out her cell phone and hit the speed dial for WIC Toronto. She explained the situation and then called in a medical team and a strike team.


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


    "So your... daughter's going to live with you?" Nodoka asked her child as they wandered the corridors of WIC Toronto-A. After Nariko had left, Ranma had stayed to talk with her mother. Given the subject they were discussing, her son felt more comfortable in female form. Nodoka fully understood this.

    "Yes. We'll tell them that she got in trouble with her uncle Drake and that he kicked her out. Given that she just transferred here and I'm an old friend..."

    "Ahh, I see. What will your father think of this?"

    "He can be convinced to look the other way," Ranma said, smirking. Whether Genma admitted it or not, he was afraid of his son's new cursed form and would try to avoid confrontation when Ranma was a girl. That was another factor that had made the Sunshine thing all the more irritable. Especially given that she could almost start to stand that name.

    "And Lieutenant Tendo can talk to her father," Nodoka surmised.

    "Exactly. Now my only problem is-"

    The redhead was then cut off by the public address system activating. "Major Saotome and Ranma Saotome are requested in medical lab one. Medical emergency. Incoming wounded," the inappropriately pleasant voice of that Company dispatcher stated.

    The two Saotome women ran to the nearest stairwell and went up the two floors to the level where the medical laboratories were. As the entered the corridor, they glimpsed a medical team rushing two gurneys into one of the rooms.

    "Dear god," Nodoka gasped after she had gotten a clear view of the two unconscious people being moved from the gurneys to a pair of beds in the medical room.

    "What the hell happened?" the redhead asked. On one of the beds was a familiar demoness. She had black hair, red eyes, little red horns, black violet-tipped wings, and a violet tail with black fins.

    The other demoness was somewhat new to Ranma. This one had, light blue hair with silver highlights, brown eyes, dark blue horns, blue and white wings, and a white tail with blue fins. Her face however was very known to the redheaded demoness. There was also something strange about her form. It was a familiarity that she could not quite grasp.

    "Nariko turned Akane," Ranma observed flatly. "What the hell happened?" the redhead repeated.

    Lt. Tendo cleared her throat and began to speak. "I was alone in my residence with Nariko. Akane then came home. Her speech and movements were unnatural, my scanner was picking up something in addition to Nariko. Akane then panicked and manifested, revealing that she had been turned into a demon. She then attacked me."

    The agent paused, then continued. "I defended myself. I shot her three times. I then asked Nariko to heal her."

    The redhead blinked in disbelief. Someone had turned Akane and sent her back to her house.

    "That's horrible." She now understood why Kasumi had reacted that way when they first met. An unfamiliar demon was a very dangerous thing, especially if she was once a family member.

    "Yes," Kasumi stated.

    "And uh... we don't really... we don't heal that way," Ranma's mouth was dry.

    "Yes, I know." Kasumi did not meet Ranma's eyes.

    "What do we do with her?" Nodoka asked.

    "There may be a chance, Nariko claimed her and Nariko's mother is..." Kasumi proposed. She then looked to see Section Chief Tofu run into the room.


    "Okay, one's a rather immature Pattern D. She's healthy, but rather drained," Tofu said as he looked over the scans of Nariko.

    Ranma smiled a bit with pride despite herself. Her daughter had gone up two classes.

    The doctor then started examining the other girl. "Almost newborn Pattern D. She looks like-" He stopped when he examined the readout from his scanner.

    "Incomplete conversion! She's... who turned her? She's a baby. Nariko was more complete when Ranma made her!" the doctor said shock cutting into his professional tone!

    "What?" Ranma asked.

    "Nariko tried her best, but the underlying...." Section Chief Tofu shook his head. "Whoever made her didn't care."

    The redhead noted. Her daughter had tried, but she was not strong enough to both heal Akane and break the bond to her original parent. Ranma could not let Kasumi's and Nariko's efforts go to waste.

    She leaned over to the younger Tendo sister's form. Gasping Ranma pulled herself up, opened her mouth, and completed the work her daughter had started. It did not take much time.

    She had done this before, and now she was only finishing up, completing the work that Nariko could not due to immaturity and whoever... made Akane didn't due to... indifference.

    Kasumi's eyes narrowed. She kept her hand at her side. The other guards stiffened and watched. This made a total of three demoness at Akane's neck today, but this was the only option.

    Nodoka froze. She knew that her son had the body of a demoness, but until now she had been acting as if her son simply turned into a girl. Now... she had to face the truth. Her child was not human. She had a demoness for a daughter.

    When it was over, the forensic pathologist examined the blue-haired demoness. "That should do it," he said, indicating that the girl was now healthy.

    "Akane? Momma?" Nariko muttered as she began to wake up.

    "Yes?" Nariko's mother asked, going to her daughter's side.

    "I saved her," Nariko said, smiling at her mother.

    "Yes, you did. I only had to help a little bit," Ranma beamed. It was an odd thing to feel prideful for, but she was happy for her daughter... her daughters.

    "She's now one of us," the younger demoness said. Her eyes were now alert, and she was alternating between gazing lovingly at her mother and her... mate.

    If the redhead could have gotten any paler she would have. The consequences of what had just happened had finally hit her.

    "I've got another daughter," Ranma realized with a mix of horror and euphoria.

    "Can I speak to you outside?" Kasumi asked Ranma, startling the redhead.

    "Sure." The two young women then stepped out of the room and into the hallway. After the door closed Ranma sat down on one of the benches that were next to the wall. Kasumi sat down next to the redheaded demoness. She unholstered her handgun, dropped the magazine, ejected the chambered round, and started working the slide.

    "You know why I let Nariko do that? You have to. I couldn't let my sister die. Fuck. I never thought my life with the Company would come to my family," she rambled as she field stripped the weapon. The pieces went into a small pile on the table that was next to the bench.

    "Akane's now bonded to you and Nariko," Kasumi observed as she reassembled the pieces without looking at them. "She's now your responsibility. You will help her recover. You won't neglect her." the agent stated staring into the redhead's eyes. "Am I being clear?"

    Ranma stared at Kasumi for a moment, and then her eyes narrowed.

    Kasumi's breath caught in her throat as Ranma's hand blurred toward her, and she felt a sinking feeling in her stomach as the newly reassembled gun clattered on the floor in front of her.

    "Shut up," Ranma mumbled. "Shut up now." The redhead's eyes remained hard. "Don't you dare talk down to me like I'm some goddamn agent under your command."

    The agent's face remained expressionless, though her hands twitched slightly from the stinging sensation of having the gun slapped away.

    "I know you've just been through a lot of crap. I know it hurts. I know that for all you act like a robot, you're not going to stand there and shoot your sister in the head, all right!" Ranma grit her teeth as Kasumi's face continued to stare straight at her, unflinching.

    "Yes, I'll help her recover. No, I won't neglect her. I'll be responsible for her." Ranma's eyes hardened again. "But you keep in mind that YOU asked Nariko to do that, not me, and that I don't take orders from you. Am I being clear?"

    Kasumi continued to look at her fiance. She reached down, picked up her gun, and holstered it. "Crystal," Kasumi replied with a hint of a smile.

    "Dear God. That better not have been a fucking test!"

    "I was concerned about Akane," Kasumi replied, simply.

    "She's my daughter now. Since I finally understand and... accept what that means, I know what I've got to do. I won't screw up again." Though the young mother felt insulted by what Kasumi had done, she felt both it and her defense were justified.

    "Good, I'm very concerned about her. You know how delicate these things can be," Kasumi then said.

    The redhead then put her hand around the agent's waist. The older girl stiffened at first, but she then relaxed. "Its okay Kasumi. If you hadn't thought to use Nariko, we'd be arranging a funeral."

    "Just don't fuck this up. It's too important." Kasumi said as she closed her eyes, trying to hold back her emotions.

    The redhead nodded. The guilt over what she had done to Nariko weighed on her mind, and now there was this. It was too much. "I promise," she said, attempting to hold back her own tears. It did not last. The demoness started to sob.

    Kasumi smiled and held the other girl. After a minute, the lieutenant looked into the redhead's blue and violet eyes. This demon... this girl... her fiancee had very human emotions and motivations. It looked like Akane had some hope after all, and for just a moment, Kasumi almost wished their engagement was more than just a charade.

    The demoness stared back. "Come on, let's go inside," Ranma smiled through her drying tears as she stood up.

    Kasumi nodded and followed the other girl into the room.


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


    A blue-haired demoness opened her eyes to an unfamiliar room. It was very drab and grey. More importantly were the people in the room. She smiled at tallish black-haired demon that stood next to her bed. She then leaned up and kissed her mate on the lips. Nariko immediately responded and leaned into the girl's embrace. Soon the two demonesses were in the bed, tangled into each other.

    Ranma sighed. Part of her felt uncomfortable at this. Another part felt very lonely. She almost wanted to lean over and kiss Kasumi herself. The agent was her fiancee after all. "After you two finish, I have a few questions."

    Nariko broke away from her mate and looked at the redhead sheepishly. "Sorry Mommy."

    "Mommy?" the blue demoness asked. Yes, this was her mommy.

    "Yes, she's our mommy." Nariko smiled.

    The redhead then walked over to the youngest demoness and stroked her hair. On a whim, she then kissed the blue-haired girl on the forehead. "What happened? Do you remember who you are?"

    "I was Akane Tendo, but then I was taken. My old mother made me into Eclipse," the blue-haired demoness said with a mix of revulsion and pleasure. Akane then closed her eyes and sighed. "She then sent me to... to... kill you. All of you," she added sadly. "But then Nariko saved me. She broke me free from my mother- no- from Alexia. You saved me too," the blue haired demoness said, as she looked at her mother's face.

    "It's okay. You couldn't control yourself," Ranma said to her daughter. She then turned to her other daughter. "You did good Nari-chan. Akane's alive because you saved her."

    "I'm happy that you're back," Kasumi smiled at her sister.

    "Thanks Auntie Kasumi," Akane beamed before she kissed Nariko again.

    Kasumi sighed. Her sister still needed a lot of help.

    "You have my word: Akane will have all the love she needs to recover. Unlike..." Ranma was unable to finish the sentence.

    Nariko looked at her mother. "Stop beating yourself up, Mama. I... I... was an ass before..."

    "I know. I thought only of that. I could only see you as a horny transsexual trying to get into my panties. Not as my child who only wanted love from me."

    "But with Akane-chan we'll get it right, right Momma?" Nariko asked.

    Ranma looked at Nariko and smiled despite herself. She felt a powerful urge and went with it. She grabbed both of her daughters and held them tight. "We'll try girls. Kasumi, Mom, will you help us?"

    "Of course," Kasumi said smiling, at her fiance.

    "You didn't need to ask. I would be honored to help my daughter heal my granddaughter," Nodoka replied. For the Company agent, the words were still strange to speak, but they felt so right.

    "Sorry to interrupt, but I'd just like to tell you that, both of your children are healthy," Section Chief Tofu said after checking the sensor readouts.

    "Great," Ranma smiled. At least her children were physically healthy.

    "Well, I'll leave you alone then," Tofu stated before leaving the room.

    Akane leaned back in her bed and yawned.

    "You sleepy?" Nariko asked her mate.

    Akane nodded.

    "We should leave then," Nodoka said tapping on Kasumi's elbow. "Come on Lieutenant."

    Kasumi looked at her sister before following the major out of the room. Akane needed some time alone with her... mother.

    Ranma looked to her sleepy daughter. "Scoot over," she then said as she slipped into bed with Akane. The blue haired girl complied. Ranma then looked disapprovingly at Akane's clothing. Her jogging suit was ripped in the back and covered in blood. "Take those off."

    Akane happily slipped out of the trappings of her old life. Being naked in front of her mother did not feel odd in the slightest.

    "Come on in," Ranma then said to her other daughter.

    Nariko looked at the empty space by her mother's left side. It would be a tight fit, but she did not mind. She then climbed into the bed and snuggled next to her mother. The older demon's form then shimmered and she became naked. The three demonesses laid there, blanketing each other with mutual reassurance.

    Somehow, Ranma knew sleeping as a family would help... and the waves of warmth and love from her children told her why.


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


    "This is an interesting turn of events," Jacob commented as he watched the live feed from the medical room. As usual, the two senior agents were meeting in Stillwater's office.

    "Have we found any information on the demoness that turned Miss Tendo?" Commander Stillwater inquired.

    "Just a name: Alexia. We also have teams searching the area where she was captured. We might get lucky," Jacob shrugged.

    "This does not bode well."

    "We should have expected them to try hitting Ranma close to home. At least they'll be safe for now."

    "This demonic brood is of some concern to me," Stillwater said, looking at the monitor.

    "I disagree. I think it's the best thing that could have happened to Ranma. Before, he had nothing to anchor him. He was divided between his humanity and the demon within. Now she has responsibilities and a family that loves her and trusts her," Jacob countered, emphasizing the pronouns in the last sentence.

    "Provided that she can bear the responsibility."

    "Yes, that is a given. However, we do have excellent support in place. Major Saotome and Lieutenant Tendo will be invaluable."

    Stillwater nodded in consideration.

    "Now please turn off that monitor. Give them some privacy. You can always review the archives later," Jacob stated respectfully. Those three demonesses might not have a problem with nudity, but the agent still had his sense of decency. Given some of the things he had done for the Company, it was a strange for him to have a sense of modesty like that, but Jacob held onto what he could.

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


    Ranma could not believe how quickly all her apprehensions and doubts melted away as she lay between her two children. She even knew that the Company was watching them, but she did not care. For once she had nothing to hide. Given her state of undress, her thoughts had a more literal meaning as well.

    Each of her daughters slept with an arm under their mom, and another loosely draped over, as if sharing something valuable. The two girls had weathered a lot today, but their mother's presence... her presence... had helped both sleep soundly at last. As she drifted off to sleep, content, she wondered what her life in the future would be. And what choices she would make.

    Her last conscious thoughts were of Akane... and her new child's fate. Would she be like Nariko? Or... would she be able to help the new demon back to being Akane, or as close as she could be considering her daughter's new body, and its needs?

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


    Ranma looked over at Kasumi. It was easier to gaze at his wife than look through the glass. Only a few years had passed since he had come to the toughest decision of his life. "Sunshine" was just a memory now, still brought to life in cold water, but he did not surrender his soul to the demon. And the Enclosure was the cost of his personal victory. The Company was willing to maintain the room, and that too had its price. Swallowing, his gaze returned to the two residents of the glassed-in area.

    Food had just been dropped off, so the demons were eating. Though both had regressed to a near feral state since Ranma had freed his mind and soul from DarkStar, the two demonesses had matured and certainly looked content. What remained of their humanity could be seen in their grooming, or perhaps it was natural for demonesses to groom themselves too.

    The silvery-blue haired demon who had been Akane blinked for a second, and then looked up to the glass that allowed the humans to see into her world. She spoke only one word, "Mommy."

    Ranma and Kasumi both read the girl's lips from above. Ranma closed his violet eyes. Akane was not there in the darkness. Her tears were not falling. He could not see her. He had done what he had to do. He had been saved. The schools had been joined, even if by a marriage of scant love.

    He knew that when they got home Kasumi would take out her handgun, that handgun, and stare at it. He was certain that his wife was just remembering that day, and that she was not planning anything... rash. Later they would go out and have a nice quiet dinner.

    He was happy.

    He had to be.

    The scene shifted.

    Akane, dressed in the yellow gi she favored, leapt into the air with a cry. Soun tried to dodge his daughter's attack, but failed. Akane landed a solid blow to his chest after snaking around the attempted dodge. Flipping, she landed softly on her feet, her long, light-blue hair falling gently to her middle back.

    "Good choice of attack, Akane. The Saotome School is excellent in that situation," Genma shouted from the edge of the mat.

    "Yes, Daughter, well done," Soun said as Akane hurtled towards him...

    "Thanks Daddy," the girl said as she hugged her father tightly. She had passed father's test. She had proven herself.

    Ranma watched from a position next to her own father, a proud smile on her face. She turned to Genma, "So, Pop. Does this mean the schools are joined?"

    "Yes, Boy... err... daughter. I guess it does. "Genma said as he turned to face his child.

    Ranma held out two arms in an offer of embrace.

    Genma looked a bit sheepish, but lightly encircled his daughter with his arms. Ranma, never one for half measures, squeezed her father hard for a few moments before letting go. "Are those tears I see, Pop?"

    "No, just some dust in my eyes," Genma said as he looked away.

    The sound of bare feet on flooring interrupted the redhead's thoughts as a yellow blur flew into her field of vision. "We did it, Mom. We did it!"

    Ranma looked down into her daughters eyes and saw intellect, happiness, but most of all... Akane.

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


    Rama awoke to a pillow wet with her own tears. Her children still enclosed her with warmth. She realized that this was the choice she would make. No, this was the choice she had already made. To stay Ranma, and true to himself, she had to become... she had to become and embrace her life... and make it his.

    Later, the redhead would reluctantly untangled herself from her children to visit the bathroom. She glanced at the mirror while washing her hands. Though the reflected demoness' eyes now were almost a quarter violet flecks, she was neither surprised nor concerned.

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


    "What happened to my newest toy?" Alexia demanded. She and her minions were in their Vaughan hideout.

    "I'm sorry, but we lost contact with Eclipse," Laura stated as she bowed before her mistress. "The observation team spotted a contingent of police and military style vehicles on the property. They believe it was the Company. Since night has not fallen, we suspect she has failed."

    "Someone alerted the Company? Interesting. Any sign of her?"

    "None. We must assume that the Company has killed her," Laura replied.

    "Yes, that is how they operate. But it is unusual for them to respond to a house where a demon has been staying. Hmm, they also came very quick. Eclipse hadn't been there all of a half hour. I wonder..."

    Alexia's smile widened. "Of course! DarkStar always had a soft spot for humans. Very clever girl. So you've found another group of meat bags to defect to. I wonder if she'll get all of these killed too."

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


    Murdock sat alone in the Red Turtle bar. "You believe in fate?" the runic mage asked the bartender.

    The man behind the bar paused and looked at his customer. There was something strange in the man's watery grey eyes, something repellant but enticing. "Yeah, I guess I do. I mean there's got to be some reason for everything, some point to all this."

    "My thoughts exactly. I can tell you that there is definitely something behind this," Murdock smiled before he took a sip of his beer. "Of course then we get the question of fate and free will."

    The bartender nodded. His experience had taught him to let the customer do the talking.

    "Now, anyone with knowledge of history would know how free will affects fate. History is the consequences of the choices that individuals make. That's it - nothing more. Now a person's choices are influenced by past decisions of others."

    "What about fate?" the bartender asked after he returned from pouring a drink for another customer.

    "Fate, destiny is the pattern that all these choices sum up to," Murdock chuckled and looked into his opaque beer. "The thing people forget is that it's a two way street. Yes, people are influenced by the choices of others and from that destiny, but they often forget that destiny can also be changed by individuals. Hell, look at whatever happens when someone dies," Murdock said with a dark grin. He then sighed. "I can't believe that I forgot that second part, and now I've lost her."

    "Women problems?" the bartender asked. Maybe it was that tall, tanned woman with the nice green dye job. Sometimes she would sit with this customer. She was not here tonight which was a bit odd.

    Murdock smirked. "Yeah, I guess it was that obvious. What with me getting all maudlin, but I thought I could make it work. Hell, I'd gotten so close, but it's too late for that."

    The bartender gave a sympathetic nod. He knew that now was definitely the wrong time to ask for more information. It was much better to just let the man talk... and drink.

    "I keep leading her along, and now my lies are catching up with me. I guess, I went too far today. I thought that it would bring her to me. But I didn’t take into account everything. I got sloppy."

    As he refilled his customer's glass, the bartender suppressed a sigh. That made sense; there was something of a flimflam man to him. Charming and smooth, chicanery was undoubtedly this fellow's forte.

    "All I wanted was to be the man behind the woman behind the queen, and now I'm going to pay for it. It's a damn good thing I have a backup plan."

    End chapter 7


    Author's notes: Here it is the first chapter in the Second Arc of The Return.
    Many thanks go to Kevin D Hammel for spurring this fic in a new direction and getting it out of its production slump. Also there are a couple of scenes he had a direct hand in making. Mike Koos also gets credit for getting me into contact with Kevin.
    Prereading credit goes to Kevin D Hammel, Jerry Starfire, Wray Loflin, Joe Fenton, Bill Heineman, and Black Dragon.


    Revision Notes: Well. This chapter needed only a bit shifting. But I wanted to get stuff right, because so many key events happen. In a way this is the turning point of Book 1. And again I'd like to give special thanks to Kevin Hammel for his help all those years back, because if Ranma never became a brood mother this story wouldn't... well it wouldn't be.

    Also thanks to Lord Anime for pointing out I didn't do the "Sunshine" cleanup in this chapter. Should be fixed now.
     
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2017
  10. Threadmarks: Chapter 8
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

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    Book 1: Brooding Responsibilities
    Chapter 8: Family Concern
    Formerly: Recreation and Retribution



    "I have news," Setsuna said after her princess sat down in the passenger seat of her car.

    "Good or bad?" Usagi asked after buckling into the green 1974 Dodge Charger.

    "Complicated," the green-haired woman said as she engaged a forward gear.

    "Orion?" the blonde asked, referring to the newest Sailor Senshi.

    The older woman looked contemplative for a moment. "Not yet. It's about the other new Senshi, the one going to school under an assumed identity," she stated as she drove them through an avenue.

    "Ranma?" Usagi asked. She was finding it somewhat hard to even think of that redheaded demoness as being male.

    "Perhaps more DarkStar than Ranma," Setsuna sighed. She then concentrated on merging into the highway traffic.

    Usagi recalled that dream of hers, the one with Queen DarkStar and her... entourage. "What happened? What did she do?" she asked, fearing the response.

    "She converted two humans. They are now demons in her brood."

    "What?" Usagi gasped as the color drained from her face.

    "It's not that bad. They were both dying. It was the only way she could save them," Setsuna explained as she shifted into the left lane.

    "What?"

    "When a person is turned into a demon, their body is dramatically altered, transformed into their new form. Healing is a side effect of the conversion process," Setsuna explained.

    "So in order to save their lives, she had to turn them," Usagi noted with hollowness in her voice. The story made sense but there was something off about it.

    "Yes."

    "Who did she turn?"

    "Akane Tendo and Tatewaki Kuno."

    "Kuno?" Usagi asked to herself. That name was familiar to her. "Oh god, Nariko. So that's how Ranma saved her."

    "Yes. It happened when those youma attacked the school."

    "I see," Usagi said. "Wait. Wasn't Kuno a guy before?" the blonde asked. She distinctly remembered that Tatewaki was a guy.

    "Ranma changes into a certain readhead.," Pluto reminded.

    "Oh yeah," Usagi replied in a distant voice. Another part of that dream had come true. She had to make sure that the rest of it never did.

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


    The redhead gazed happily at the two young demonesses. After she had gotten up to go to the bathroom, the two girls had moved closer to each other, filling the spot where their mother had lain. They then entwined each other in a tight embrace.

    After summoning her leather dress and boots, she walked over to the medical bed where her two daughters were sleeping. She knew what she had to do, but she was still unsure of how to do it. As Ranma watched the two sleep, a plan formed in her mind. The demoness would need some help with it, but she knew who would be willing to help her.

    She looked at a clock mounted on the wall and decided it was time to get her children up. Gently pushing the girls, she woke them up.

    Akane's eyes fluttered open. She smiled at the sight of her mother's face. Noticing who she was lying next to, she kissed her mate as the red-eyed demoness woke up.

    "Get dressed you two," Ranma said softly.

    "Do I have to?" Akane pouted. She found clothing to be to constrictive....

    "Yes, we're guests here and our hosts would rather we stay dressed," the girl's mother explained.

    "Yes, meatbags don't like being naked," Nariko said casually. She had spent a fair bit of time around humans.

    A small growl escaped the redhead's mouth as her eyes flared violet. "Never say that!" the demoness chastised her older child. "Not only is it insulting to every human, but also to your whole family. Your grandmother's human. I'm part human. You and your mate were human. I will not stand for such language," Ranma explained, her voice stern and commanding.

    "I'm sorry Mommy," Nariko whimpered. Mommy's mad at me. The girl recoiled, pulled her knees up to her chest, and tried to hide within her wings. She found that they were being held back. One was being held by her mate, another by her mother.

    Akane's glance alternated between at the two women. She comforted Nariko, but she knew that Mother was right. Their humanity was important.

    "I didn't want to yell at you, but it's important that you understand," Ranma said as she sat down on the edge of the bed and held the girl.

    "About humans?" Nariko asked, her mood brightening.

    "Yes, now get dressed. We can get some breakfast," Ranma said.

    Nariko nodded and summoned a dark red leather dress. Strapless and hanging at just above her chest, the dress was short and went her mid-thigh with slits on either side. She was also wearing a pair of calf-high red leather boots that were a bit more feminine than her mother's despite having a slightly lower heel. Nariko's version had more pointed toes, a narrower heel, and some fringe decorations.

    Akane shrugged and tried to generate some clothing. She was soon wearing a pair of little dark blue leather shorts and a light blue leather top that exposed her midriff. It had a simple collar that transitioned to a plunging neckline. Instead of shoulder straps, the top wrapped around the back of her neck before coming down her back and connecting back to her top. Akane was wearing a set of simple, unadorned ankle-high, blue-black leather wedge-heeled boots.

    Ranma ruefully smiled at Akane's skills. She was proud that Akane was willing to wear clothing for her mother, and that she figured out how to generate clothing. Something that she herself still had trouble with.

    The trio of demonesses then left the medical room. As they walked down the corridor, the agent positioned at the door called his commanding officer.

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


    Because she was a recent transfer and permanent housing had not been assigned for her, Major Saotome was sleeping on a cot in one of the barracks rooms in WIC Toronto-A. A subordinate agent from Operations Section woke her.

    "Yes, Lieutenant?" a somewhat bleary-eyed Nodoka asked. The first thing she did was ascertain the rank of the person waking her up.

    "They're up, Ma'am," Kasumi stated.

    The older woman nodded and got up. "Early," she noted. It was before five in the morning.

    "They did go to sleep very early," Kasumi noted.

    Nodoka nodded. She then got out of her cot and put on a fresh uniform with the dark green trim of Science and Technology Section. If she were in the US military she would have pinned a set of gold oak leaves to her collar.

    However, she was a major in Willard International Consulting, and therefore used a set of paired silver bars to indicate her rank. As a separate organization with its own history and traditions, the Company's rank and symbol system was unique.

    Her lab coat then went over the gray uniform. The officer checked to make sure her gun was loaded and secured.

    "I'll take you to them," Kasumi said.

    The two agents then walked through two hallways and entered the commissary. Nodoka smiled slightly upon seeing the three demonesses. "Major, Lieutenant," a voice from one of the corners of the room said.

    The two officers turned to see the Commander and the Colonel sitting at a wall-mounted table. Behind the table was an aerial photograph of a half constructed WIC Operations Centre Two, located near Stuttgart, Germany.

    "Yes Sirs," both Nodoka and Kasumi responded saluting.

    "At ease," Stillwater said after returning the salute. The commanding officer of WIC operations in Toronto looked at his executive officer before continuing. "Given the personal nature of yesterday's events and their relevance to the Company, both of you have leave to spend time with your family," Stillwater stated in a guarded voice.

    "We feel that your presence would greatly benefit Miss Ranma and her children," Jacob added before he took a sip of coffee.

    "Thank you Sir," Major Saotome replied.

    "Same goes for your sister."

    Kasumi nodded respectfully. Last night after her sister had fallen asleep, she and the Colonel had gone over that day's events. Command had determined that the lieutenant's actions were correct, given the circumstances.

    "Dismissed," Stillwater then said. As he watched the two agents head towards their family, Stillwater reflected on the path the Company had to take. He wished he could have Jacob's sense of optimism when it came to this demonic brood, but he was a more cautious man.

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


    "What was that about?" Ranma asked as the two older women sat down across from her and her children.

    "We were just given permission to spend more time with you," Nodoka said with a smile.

    "That's good," Ranma said before gently scolding Akane for eating too fast. She turned to see that Nariko had learned from yesterday's table manners lesson and was conducting herself appropriately.

    "I'm sure she's very hungry," Nodoka observed.

    "Yes. I'm just thankful we can eat normal food," Ranma said.

    "Your species is omnivorous," the Major observed. "You shouldn't have any problem with eating any type of food..." There would be certain other things they would require... in time.

    "It would certainly be a pain if we needed something more... exotic," Ranma said hesitantly. She then remembering when she had killed those youma and absorbed their energy. While being nice and filling, she felt that it was not terribly necessary.... yet.

    "Well... you were probably feeding them as you slept last night," Nodoka explained, recalling what she knew of demonic biology.

    The redheaded-demoness recalled cuddling with her children. There was a sense of warmth and security; there was also a gentle draining, a feeling that she was nourishing them with sustenance that she had gathered, stored, and converted to a more easily absorbed form.

    "It's like I was breastfeeding them," she said with more wonderment and much, much less horror than she had expected.

    "So, Auntie Kasumi, you're a secret agent? That's cool," Akane observed as she ate some bacon.

    "Something like that," Kasumi said as she forced herself to smile. To the untrained eye, it looked like Akane had simply gotten extensions for her canines and dyed her hair a light blue. However, Kasumi's eyes were trained; she could tell that there was something off about Akane even without the girl manifesting attributes that were unique to demons.

    The agent justified what she made Nariko do the same way she justified failing to immediately put two rounds through that demon's head. Kasumi could not let her sister die. Now, Akane had a chance.

    "I'm sorry, but Akane was asking what this place was and what you do," Ranma said, smiling at her daughters.

    "It's good that she's... inquisitive," Kasumi said with greater relief than she let on.

    "Yes," the redhead said. She then turned to her mother. "Sorry for getting distracted but I'd be honored to have your help." Ranma then turned back to her fiancee. "Both of you."

    "What are you planning for today?" Nodoka asked.

    "Oh, I've got a few things in mind," Ranma said. "But first I have to go to the bathroom," the redhead said with some annoyance. She had gone after getting up in the middle of the night, but she needed to go again. Sometimes her new biology irritated her.

    "I'll go too," Kasumi said, standing up after her fiance. The two girls then left the room.

    "How are you two doing?" Nodoka asked her two granddaughters.

    "Okay," Akane said, looking out the door Mother had left through. That her mate and grandmother were still here helped her, but she hoped Mother would be back soon.

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


    "We're going after Alexia," Kasumi stated to her fiancee as the two young women walked the short distance that separated the commissary from the nearest bathroom.

    "Of course," Ranma replied. Her eyes flared with anger at the thought of Alexia. That demoness had no respect for life, neither human nor demon.

    For Alexia, her children were nothing more than minions she could easily control. Disposable minions at that. She had sent Eclipse out on a suicide mission immediately after Akane had been hastily, and poorly, converted.

    "I thought so. The Company is putting its weight on this mission. Someone knew enough about you and me to put together this plan."

    "You think it was Murdock?" Ranma asked as she opened the bathroom door.

    "It could have been him. Or it could have been someone else. We'll find out," Kasumi promised as she followed the redhead into the bathroom. The two young women then went into a pair of adjacent stalls.

    As Ranma washed her hands, she gazed at her reflection. There was that beautiful woman with crimson hair, pale skin, and blue and violet eyes. On an impulse she increased the heat of the water being poured onto her hands.

    The person's form shifted to that of a male teenaged human. Ranma looked down at his pants and sighed in relief. He was glad that he was wearing something when he last activated his demon form.

    Ranma then smiled at his reflection. His eyes were still blue, he was still human. His smile then faded. Something was wrong... something was missing. He could no longer feel his children. That was another thought that confused him. In demon form, the thought of having Akane and Nariko as kids seemed perfectly natural. Now, it felt strange and alien.

    Kasumi looked quizzically at Ranma. His emotional state seemed to be confused and muddled.

    Ranma sighed and put his hand under the sink while decreasing the water temperature. The demoness looked at her reflection and sighed again. Kasumi was not able to tell whether it was in fear or relief.

    "You okay?" the agent then asked.

    "They need a mother, not a father," Ranma said, staring at her reflection. "I can't help them as a human," she said in a very quiet voice.

    "Let's go back to them, then," Kasumi said after washing her hands.

    The demoness nodded and followed the agent out of the bathroom.

    "I'm amazed that you haven't been overwhelmed," Kasumi stated as they walked down the hallway.

    "Who's to say that I haven't?" Ranma asked in a darkly humorous voice. "Ever since I admitted to Nariko that I was her mother, I've been going with my instincts."

    "And since you've been in a demoness' body..." Kasumi proposed.

    "Exactly," the mother sighed as she ran a hand through her hair.


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


    "What's wrong?" Nodoka asked her two granddaughters. Both of the young demons' eyes had gone wide with fright.

    "Mommy's gone!" Akane exclaimed.

    Nariko nodded. She could no longer feel mother's presence. Unlike the other times it had happened where their link had faded with increasing distance, now was a sudden cut.

    "Ranma was going to the bathroom," Nodoka said, trying to comfort the two. She was about to inform the Commander when the two girls gave a confused, but happy, pair of sighs.

    "Is she back?" Major Saotome asked.

    Instead of responding to their grandmother, the two girls leapt over the table and ran towards the commissary's entrance. They went straight to the redheaded woman that had just entered the room. Both leapt into the air and clutched onto their mother; Akane on the left and Nariko on the right.

    Kasumi blinked as the two bounding demons ran past her. She shook her head and made it back to the table where her breakfast was. Her fiancee was going to have an interesting time raising those kids.

    Agents of Willard International Consulting had been trained to accept and combat the unusual. However, the sight of a demonic brood mother comforting two of her spawn, right in a Company commissary, was something new and strange.

    "This used to be a professional organization," Commander Marvin Stillwater stated with a carefully neutral face.

    "They're just kids happy to see their mom," Jacob chuckled in reply.

    The senior officer paused to stroke his goatee as if he were in deep contemplation. "So, it would seem," Marvin Stillwater finally answered before resuming his breakfast.

    Jacob smiled slightly. It's a good sign Marv has a sense of humor about this, he thought. If thing go... well if things go this might not be such an uncommon sight here.

    Ranma's attention was divided between her two children. "Yes?" she asked the demonesses that were still clinging to her.

    "You turned into a human didn't you?" Nariko asked, worry on her face.

    "We couldn't feel you," Akane added.

    Ranma sighed and hugged her daughters. "It's okay; I shouldn't have worried you like that."

    "Please don't go back to that icky form, Mommy," Nariko pleaded, her crimson eyes large and scared. She had just gotten her mother back; she did not want to lose her again.

    "That wasn't the first time you couldn't feel me," Ranma countered, still holding her daughters close and soothing them.

    "Yes Mommy," Nariko said, sighing in remembrance. Those first days had been so hard for her. In a new body with new needs, she was confused and alone. It was only mother's presence that kept her from breaking down completely. But mother had not been there all the time, and had not been "Mother".

    Akane untangled herself from her mother and went to her mate. She wrapped her arm around the taller girl. "It's not so much that we couldn't feel you. It's just that it was so quick. We thought.... we..." the blue-haired girl uttered, unable to complete the thought.

    "It's okay," Ranma said as she moved her kids back to the table where they were eating breakfast. "I'll be more careful next time," the demoness promised as she considered the implications of the event.

    "Next time?" Nariko asked in a worried voice.

    "I'm still part human, dear. That's who I am. Don't worry. I'll do it in front of you. If it gets too scary, I can change right back," Ranma explained, hoping that she would be able to avoid spending all of her time in demon form.

    Nariko whimpered slightly.

    "It wouldn't be so bad if we could still feel you," Akane suggested.

    "I'll see what we can do," Ranma promised.

    Nodoka smiled as she watched her child control the situation. It looked like Ranma was handling herself well. The major finally noticed the leather shorts her granddaughter was wearing. She knew of underwear that was less revealing than the garment the blue-haired girl had on. They looked painted on and barely were long enough to actually have leg sections. She shook her head and made a note to talk to her daughter about Akane's tastes.

    "Sorry about that," Ranma apologized after she and her children had sat back down.

    "That's okay," Nodoka reassured. "So what are you planning for today?" the agent asked her daughter.

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


    A pair of grey Company sedans stopped in front of a gate complex. After traveling twenty miles on a roughly northern heading, the two vehicles had left the city and were now in forested lands. The gatehouse straddled a tall length of razor-wire topped fencing. Looking out from one of the sedans, Ranma was not surprised to find that there was another fence several hundred feet within the second.

    "Let me guess, WIC Toronto-B?" the redhead asked as their car was inspected by a group of agents in nondescript grey work clothing.

    "Yes," Kasumi replied while she kept her hands on the steering wheel. "This is where we store and service our helicopters, maintain training facilities, and have backup services."

    "How private is it?" Ranma asked after they were waved through the first checkpoint.

    "It's private enough where we can do most of our helicopter maneuvers and execute small simulations," Kasumi said as she pulled up to the second checkpoint and turned off the car. "Notice there's trees around most of the property," the lieutenant then said, pointing at the trees on the inside of the fence.

    "Good. I don't want to attract too much attention. I'd do this at home, but the neighbors are too close," Ranma noted.

    Kasumi nodded and after a brief conversation with the agents guarding the gate, restarted the car's engine, and drove through and headed down the wooded path.

    Despite containing only human Company officers, the second car went through a similar series of inspections. This vehicle was being driven by Agent First Class Aram Kowalski. Major Nodoka Saotome sat next to him. Colonel Jacob Edwards sat in the back.

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


    "Wow, this place is actually... nice," Ranma commented as she looked at the collection of buildings that made up the Company facility. Unlike the other WIC bases she had been in, this one was made up of several tastefully designed buildings instead of ugly blocks of concrete, glass, and steel. The demoness and her fiancee were standing on a large flagstone patio that connected two of the buildings.

    "Yes, it was an unoccupied business park that the Company bought. I believe it used to be the test site for a company that produced aviation engine controls," Kasumi explained as she parked the car. "The Drake got us a rather good deal on it," the agent added before she unbuckled her seatbelt and opened the door.

    As Ranma got up, she thought back to what she knew of the Drake. The unbalanced educator was more than a principal. He was also a trader in land and property. It was a land deal that had gotten him and the Tendos into Toronto, and the walls of his office were covered with photographs of properties he had bought and sold. "I guess he's an important part of the Company," Ranma observed.

    Kasumi's eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly. "Yes, he has done much for WIC. Why here? Why train them now?" Kasumi asked.

    "You know what happened yesterday. I'm a target. So are the rest of you guys. So are my kids," the redhead added.

    "Yes, Eclipse was ordered to kill all of us," Kasumi stated, her voice emphasizing the name. She then looked to see Akane and her mate exit the vehicle.

    "And Alexia's not the only one after us. The Assembly also wants kill us. Not to mention whatever other enemies are out here," Ranma sighed.

    "Like that group of Pattern V's Lieutenant Patterson and the Senshi killed last week."

    The redhead nodded. "I have to make sure they're able to defend themselves," the redhead said as she looked at her children.

    "You're going to train us, Mommy?" Akane asked.

    "Yes, Dear," Ranma smiled. She might have to be some kind of demon mommy, but teaching martial arts? Well, that was something Ranma Saotome could do.

    "Ohh, neat," Akane replied happily. Mother was a powerful demon; she had to be knowledgeable and experienced.

    Nariko smiled. It had taken Mommy some time to realize what she was. Now Mommy was taking care of the two of them. She idly ran her tongue on one of her fangs and reached for Akane's hand. The other demon accepted the contact and returned the grip.

    "Come on," Kasumi said as she escorted the three demons further into the WIC facility. "I'll show you some of our training areas, but I suppose you're more interested in aerial work," Lt. Tendo stated as they walked down one of the paths that ran between the buildings.

    "Yes, first off is making sure they can fly. Then we can move into more complicated moves."

    "We can fly?" Akane asked somewhat rhetorically. She remembered having wings, but that was only after she had been first turned and when she was trying to... kill Kasumi. The blue-haired demoness shuddered at the memories, and tightened the hold she had on her mate's hand.

    "Yes, we can," Ranma replied. She then sensed that something was off. "What is it?"

    "I'm sorry Mommy, Auntie, Nari-chan. I didn't... I didn't mean to," Akane choked out. She remembered the delight she felt at the prospect of murdering her family. The demon closed her eyes and whimpered. "It wasn't me. I didn't mean to-" Her speech was cut off by a tight embrace.

    "You're absolutely right," Ranma said as she hugged the smaller girl. "You were just a puppet of that bitch Alexia.

    "You're free of her now," Kasumi said as she put a hand on her sister's shoulder. The agent looked into brown eyes that were familiar yet alien.

    "I know, I've got Mommy and you to protect me," Akane said, her spirits lifting somewhat.

    "Yes," Kasumi said as she got the demons walking forward again. "Now remember to keep fairly low. If you get too high there's a chance someone outside of the base could spot you," Kasumi warned.

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


    "I should go talk to my son," Major Saotome said as she watched the agent and three demonesses walk away.

    "After this meeting if you will," Jacob stated.

    "Of course, Sir," Nodoka replied. "May I ask what it is?"

    "Recently, we came into possession of an interesting artifact. You might be able to help us analyze its composition," the older man said.

    "Why is it here, and not in the A base?" the scientist asked. She suspected that the artifact was too large to be studied in the main base.

    "There is some risk in its use. We have it powered down so it should be safe, but to be cautious we have it out here," Jacob replied. He thought that it was a bad idea to be experimenting with such an object, but Command was adamant. They wanted Inter-Dim technology. It was one thing to be able to jam its use, but quite another to be able to use it. And given what was coming the more they learned the better their chances were.

    "I see," Nodoka replied as she was lead to the warehouse where the captured gate was being analyzed.

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


    Ranma looked around the field. She could see a forest, a cluster of buildings, and several agents. The closest group was a squad of armored troops lounging around a helicopter. Kasumi had told her that the Company maintained at least one team near a helicopter for fast response at all times. They were close enough that the redhead could hear their hushed conversation. Undoubtedly, they suspected that she had superior hearing; their conversation was fairly clean.

    "Now, these girls know how to dress," Specialist Agent Morrison joked as he watched the demonesses stretch.

    "Careful there Rich, those girls bite," Agent First Class Alfred Stevenson replied as he looked them over.

    "At least they're not wearing demented school-girl uniforms like the others," Richard Morrison responded. His dusky features concealing his slightly embarrassed blush.

    Ranma gave a toothy grin to that. That was one advantage she had. Her uniform might make her look like a bimbo, but it could have been worse.

    "That's true," Alfred replied. "Hey, Lieutenant what do you think?"

    Lieutenant Patterson had been watching the trio of demons with a neutral expression. "This is not the first time we have had non-humans working with us, and Command seems to think that we need the Pattern Silvers," the officer carefully said.

    Ranma pulled her attention from the agents and went back to her kids. "Okay, I really can't explain much of flying to you girls. I'm still puzzling out what works and doesn't myself. Fortunately, your instincts should be a big help. So bring out your wings."

    Nariko stretched and summoned her red horns, black and violet wings, and black tail with violet fins. Her strapless dress had lowed its back to accommodate her wings and had gained a small hole to allow for her tail. Consisting of a flap and a clasp, the hole could be opened up to allow for her tail, and its fins, to be pulled though.

    Akane had also summoned her demonic extras. Her top went around her neck and back in such a way that it did not need to be modified for her blue and white wings. Similarly her tail with white with blue fins was able to form above the top of her tiny shorts.

    "I wonder," Ranma said as she closed her eyes. She knew that she could make her wings and tail appear without going into DarkStar form. Hiding and showing such demonic physiology was a basic power of her species. Both of her children were capable of that minutes after they were converted.

    Her leather dress changed, becoming backless and gaining a hole at the base of her spine. The redhead's body then changed. Small black horns grew into place on her head, her canines lengthened slightly, her crimson and dark violet wings appeared, and her three-foot long tail with violet spade-shaped fins formed into place.

    "Mommy's pretty," Akane said as she looked at her Mother's true form for the first time.

    "Umm thanks, Honey," Ranma said as she swished her tail back and forth nervously. At least this time the compliment on her physical form was not sexual in nature.

    "No, you really are beautiful, Mommy. You shouldn't be embarrassed about it," Akane said.

    "I know," Ranma admitted. "Okay, you're going to want to start by extending your wings," the redhead said as she began to instruct her children.

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


    From his seat on a flagstone patio that connected to nearby buildings, Jacob watched the three demons flying through the air. It was clear that Ranma was the most skilled, but her children were quick to learn. Initially, they had been unsteadily ascending and diving, but after some acclimation had learned to properly use their wings and tails.

    The old agent smiled. Their maneuvers reminded him of his childhood. Only Stillwater knew that in his youth Jacob had been interested in falconry. He had even gone so far as to take an apprenticeship for two years in order to obtain his license. Jacob had considered following in his father's footsteps and becoming a professional falconer.

    There had been something to raising and hunting with a powerful raptor. Jacob remembered the lecture his father had given him before he had been given his hawk, a beautiful Redtail named Rebecca.

    "Always remember that she is not your pet, boy. She'll tear off a chunk of your flesh if you're not careful. You can't tame her and if she doesn't like you, you can't train her, but if you work hard you can teach and hunt with her," the elder Edwards recited in the WIC officer's memory.

    Jacob grinned slightly as he traced a faint scar on the back of his right hand. His father was right. It did not take long for him to slip up and end up with Rebecca digging one of her talons into him.

    His attention returned to the brood of demons. They really were magnificent. Like the raptors of his youth these were beautiful hunters, but with much greater potential. Unlike his hawk, they did not just have their instincts; there was intelligence to their actions. They were also much more lethal and powerful than a simple bird of prey.

    Jacob knew from experience that this particular species of demon made for a dangerous opponent, but he could also see how they would make for an extremely useful ally, especially one that was a Pattern Silver as well.

    The agent knew that he had to tread carefully with Ranma. Her reaction to "taming" would be worse than any raptor's. The destruction was not something Jacob wished to consider. Especially if one of her children were threatened. Already, Ranma had become quite protective of her brood. It would also be unwise to treat Ranma or her children as animals. They might be inhuman, but that did not mean that they were subhuman.

    Fortunately, his agents were following their orders and conducting themselves properly around the brood. His main concern was the higher ups in Command, but having the demon be a Pattern Silver went a long way with them. That Ranma was also the son of a high-ranking WIC officer also helped.

    Honestly, Jacob thought of Ranma as a demoness first and a human second, if at all. He had started using male pronouns when referring to Ranma out of deference to Ranma's preference, but as time passed and Jacob saw more of the demon than the human, his views on Ranma shifted. That Ranma was now the brood mother to a pair of young demons reinforced this greatly.

    The agent even harbored theories that Ranma's human form was really just a very, very good illusion, but the Pattern Scanners said that form was human, as did Ranma and Major Saotome. The Major had not seen her child in years, and Jacob did not want to cross her on that issue.

    For the Colonel it was a moot point. Ranma had shown herself to posses acceptable values and ethics, and that was enough for him. It was Ranma's character that had gotten her to fight these monsters, and it was her morals that had made her a mother.

    Jacob also had to remind himself that while he was providing support for them and hunting with them, he was not controlling them. Unlike Rebecca, Ranma was a thinking creature and Jacob was not her handler.

    The agent thoughts shifted away from those things and returned to simply watching the demons fly. He chuckled to himself as he watched the Drake's child swoop down and tag Lt. Tendo's sister.

    From his position, the agent could just barely see the blue-haired demoness' eyes flare as she corkscrewed around and tried to catch her mate. Their mother then swooped in a bit closer and shouted some advice to the pursuing demon.

    Shortly after this the three demons landed. The younger demonesses were not quite as graceful as their elder, but they managed to touch the ground without tripping or falling. The Operations Section colonel smiled as he watched the demons walk over to a waiting Lt. Tendo.

    The agent sighed with relief. Despite the strangeness, things still looked like things could go according to plan.

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


    "Yes, what do you want?" the mullet-wearing educator asked the person that stood next to him. His tone was pleasant but strained.

    The girl the man had given the name Sunshine to looked at the grass and the trees that lay beyond the porch rail they were leaning on before continuing. WIC Toronto-B was much nicer than that underground warren that served as their A base. She knew that a pair of fences surrounded this facility; they were on the other side of the trees and were out of sight.

    "It's about Nariko," she said after checking to make sure her daughter was out of sight. She and Akane were being watched by Nodoka elsewhere on the base.

    "Our child?" Drake chuckled, darkly.

    "Actually, that's exactly it," the redhead sighed. "You took care of her. You took care of her even when I thought she was an annoying monster. So far, you've been a better father to her than I've been a mother."

    "A lot of good that did. When she asked if she could change her name, I simply called up Jacob and asked him if he could have the Company do it. Nariko's not my son," the Drake admitted, while maintaining most of his composure.

    Ranma put her hand on his shoulder. "No, she's your daughter, and you kept her from doing anything... unacceptable. If you hadn't been there for her, she would have lost all of her humanity and turned wild."

    "What are you getting at?" the Drake asked his voice gaining an edge.

    "I'm thanking you for keeping my daughter out of trouble. You saved her life," Ranma said before moving her hand back to the railing. The redhead knew full well what the Company would do to Nariko if she had not behaved herself.

    "I see," the principal stated. "Your daughter? So you're accepting what she is to you?"

    "I tried denying my relation to her and look what that did," Ranma sighed.

    "She needs you. She needs to be with you. She needs your love," Drake noted.

    "Yes. You seem to be taking this well."

    "Only out of concern for my child," the Drake said narrowing his eyes. "You abandoned her. You ran from your responsibilities, and doing so ruined a person. That she still needs you is the only reason I'm going along with this. I just hope you won't betray her again."

    "I know, and I won't," Ranma affirmed, her eyes glowing slightly. "You're still her father; she still needs you."

    "However?" the Drake asked, eyeing the demoness.

    "I think she should live with me. She'll spend time with you, likely even overnight, but most of the time she'd be with me."

    "Physically, that would be best for her," the Drake admitted not quite spitting out the words.

    "You talked to Dr. Tofu about what had happened last night?" Ranma asked. It made sense. The Drake would be curious about his child's new mate.

    "Yes," the Drake said looking over the redhead. "I also talked to him about Akane and her chances for recovery," the man accused.

    Ranma looked down and sighed. She had discussed things with the pathologist as well. "Then you know she can recover, but that Nariko can't," the redhead said. Nariko had been abandoned during those first formative days and her old personality was essentially lost, but Akane had a chance.

    "You saved my son's life, but then you killed him," the educator said in a cold voice that matched with the anger in his eyes. "If you hadn't been so selfish he could have recovered. Granted he still would have been a demoness, but it would have been him in that girl. Instead, Tatewaki died alone and scared."

    "I am sorry. But come on! I saved someone's life, and suddenly I'm their mother! I didn't see that one coming!" Ranma defended.

    "That's not good enough!" Drake shouted, his eyes staring down the demoness. "I hope you were simply ignorant about one of your children needing you so much! Otherwise that would make you a negligent, horrible mother."

    Ranma's expression hardened at the accusation. "At the time, I didn't know she was my daughter! I'm new at this! I even tried to cure her. I brought her to Jusenkyou, but that didn't work!" the redhead countered, part of her wanting to silence him for his arrogance.

    "I lost my only son. I had to watch you change him. And I tried to love the girl she had become, but it wasn't enough. She needed her mother. A mother who could barely tolerate her!" Drake angrily lectured.

    Ranma looked off into the distance, and tried to control herself. The words hurt, and she wanted to reciprocate. The redhead noticed that her claws were starting to flicker in and out of existence.

    "No, you simply turned him and dropped a creature I was wholly incapable of raising in my lap," the man continued.

    Ranma inhaled. She had to control herself. Her daughter would be unhappy if she killed Nariko's father. Mom would also be disappointed in her. She paused to regain control and check her emotions.

    "First off, you have no idea how close you were to becoming a burnt smear. I am the wrong person to lecture. Not today and certainly not about my daughter!" the redhead growled.

    "You know why it took me so long to realize that Nariko was my kid?" Ranma asked as her eyes glowing in anger. "First off, I'm a child myself who has no idea about raising kids. I'm only sixteen, and a guy. And don't get me started about my parents. I hadn't seen my mother in years, and my father's an incompetent oaf and a thief. So, I'm sorry if I'm a bit shaky at this!

    "As for your son, I hated Tatewaki! He was a total jerk who kept hitting on me. So again, I'm sorry that I thought the girl who kept trying to be with me was just the female version of the guy who had done the same. I didn't know that I was her mother. Hell, did you?" Ranma ranted.

    "Misinterpretation?" Drake asked. "Was it all that simple?" he inquired mostly to himself. He was still angry at the demoness, but he was also aware of how precarious his position really was.

    "Yes. A very, very bad one. I couldn't understand what I was feeling around her, and she couldn't articulate it," Ranma glared at the man.

    Drake nodded in thought. Ranma was remorseful, and was racked with guilt about what had happened. She also wanted Nariko to succeed, grow and be happy very badly. He could not ask for anything else that was obtainable, but he still felt angry and cheated. "I guess it's not your fault. Besides if it wasn't for you he would be dead," the man admitted, reluctantly.

    "Yes," Ranma nodded. "But with all of our help, we can do a lot to help Nariko. And I can do with or without you," she added, sternly.

    "Especially now that's she's got both her Ray of Sunshine and her Noble Akane," Drake chuckled despite himself.

    "At least she was able to get that much," Ranma offered as she gave a slight smile.

    "True," Principal Kuno admitted. His options were limited and he had to do what was best for Nariko. "She can stay with you, but I'm still going to be in her life."

    "Thank you. Nariko needs both her mother and her father," Ranma replied. She then turned to see a Company agent approach them.

    "There you are," Jacob said as he walked to the two parents. His hands were clasped behind his back and his stance was loose. The WIC officer almost looked relaxed.

    "Yes?" the Drake asked the other man.

    "I'm just here to tell Ranma that we have found the necessary videos. When do you want to brief her family?" Jacob asked the demoness.

    "Today if possible," Ranma said.

    "You're going to tell Akane's family?" the Drake asked.

    "Yes, Soun and Nabiki are going to know something's different with Akane. They should know the truth. Akane will need her father too," Ranma nodded.

    "I can make it this afternoon," Jacob offered.

    "You don't have to come," Ranma suggested. Despite being more approachable than most of the WIC officers she had met, Colonel Edwards was still creepy.

    "Yes, I do. I was the one that convinced Soun to let Kasumi to join WIC. It's my responsibility."

    "Fair enough," Ranma nodded.

    "Good," Jacob said as he smiled slightly at the partially cloudy sky. "Your mother and daughters are waiting for you in the break room," he informed, pointing his finger to a nearby building.

    The agent waited until the demoness had walked out of earshot. "Try to be accepting with her. She is trying her hardest at this," Jacob advised the other man.

    The Drake eyed the agent. In the years they had worked together, the Drake finding likely recruits and Jacob getting them to join WIC, the two men had gotten something of a friendship. Jacob knew everything about Principal Drake Kuno, but he knew nothing about Jacob's personal life. Most of the time, he doubted if the man even had one.

    There were rumors. The most popular formula being that Jacob was a young SWAT policeman, FBI agent, or Army Special Forces Officer that had lost his wife and young child, pregnant fiancee, or parents to cultists, vampires, or demons, and in order to get retribution swore revenge and joined the Company. The Drake had his doubts, and they were not just because Jacob never wore a wedding or engagement ring.

    The Drake did know that Jacob was absolutely committed to the Company and was willing to do anything for it. Despite this, Drake said what he was thinking. "I know why you're siding with her. God forbid you lose your pet Pattern Silver. You know she's going to need a lot of help to raise those kids, and the Company's going to be right there to foot the bill. And I know you're just praying that her kids become Pattern Silvers too, or at least have enough Silver in them to work for your ultimate plan. That is why you're here isn't it?"

    "You are still on thin ice Drake," Jacob warned while suppressing a smile. Whoever the Drake was getting his information from had an amusing sense of humor. There was also the issue of Drake's blackmailer, but that would be resolved rather soon. It was just a matter of making sure the extortionist did not have anything unpleasant that would be released if anything happened to him. For good reasons, WIC has always been wary of journalists.

    "The worst you can do is kill me," Drake countered. "You won't harm either of my daughters, not with one training to be an agent and the other being protected by 'Sunshine'," the principal laughed darkly.

    "I'm not threatening you." Jacob sighed. "I'm just giving you a suggestion. We have to work together if we want to survive this."

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


    Ranma entered the room. She smiled when she saw her family sitting around the coffee table in the Company break room. Her daughters were sitting next to each other on the couch. They grinned and separated to make a place for their mother.

    The redhead sat in the offered spot and wrapped her arms around Nariko and Akane. "You girls have fun with Grandma?" the redhead asked, having her girls lean on her helped her calm down.

    "Yes, she's got lots of interesting stories," Akane smiled.

    "I'm sure she does," Ranma sighed as she held her girls tighter. Their presence helped sooth her.

    "What's wrong, Mommy?" Nariko asked, looking at her mother's face.

    "Oh nothing," Ranma assured.

    "Is the Drake still here?" Nodoka inquired.

    "Yes, he's talking with Jacob."

    "Nariko, why don't you show your father your new mate?" Nodoka suggested.

    "Okay," the demoness said as she and Akane got up and nearly scampered out of the room.

    Major Saotome stood up and sat back down next to Ranma. "Things didn't go well with Drake?"

    "I'm not a bad mother; I'm not," the redhead uttered as she leaned her head on the older woman's chest. "I shouldn't even be a mother!"

    "It's okay. He's just grieving," Nodoka said as she wrapped her arms around her daughter.

    The girl smiled at her mother's touch. "I won't fail them ever again," she promised, her tone hardening. Concern for her children's welfare gave her demonic body a purpose and made the situation tolerable. "I don't have the luxury of whining and fighting this. I can't be that selfish. I have to be strong for them, I have to help them become strong."

    Nodoka looked into the demon's eyes. Despite being a different shade and shape, they were still very familiar; they were still her son's. "Is this what you want?" Nodoka asked, now stroking her child's hair.

    "I'd be lying if I said that it didn't feel good and right," Ranma said smiling slightly in remembrance of the previous night. "But that's not relevant. I have to be their mother. They need me. I accept that. Even if it means being... this."

    Nodoka nodded. "That's a very adult thing to do. I'm very proud of you. You've shown immense character and strength," she said with genuine admiration in her voice. Despite all the trials her child had gone though, he had won.

    Ranma smiled and closed her eyes. She now understood why her children loved to be in her presence. Being held, being protected by Mother was an amazing experience. The demoness and the WIC officer stayed like that for a couple minutes.

    The two were interrupted by the return of Akane and Nariko. With a mischievous smile on her face, Ranma told her spawn what to do, and Nodoka soon found herself being almost dog-piled by a trio of young demonesses.

    The agent observed how the effect Nariko and Akane had on their mother's sprits, and she became quite sure that her daughter would be able to handle this.

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


    "Oh, hello Jacob," Soun said to the man standing on the front porch. "What's going on?" Beyond the suited Company man Soun could see a pair of silver sedans and a large van parked in the driveway. His eldest daughter was talking with her coworkers between the vehicles.

    "It's about your daughters," the agent said.

    "What about them? I got the message from Kasumi, but it wasn't too clear. All she said was that Akane was hurt," Soun stated his voice a bit hollow. The last time one of his daughters had gotten hurt and Jacob had appeared at his doorstep, he had lost Kasumi for months and the girl that came back was... different.

    "I think we should talk inside," Jacob said. He then motioned for some of the waiting agents to follow him in.

    "Oh, okay," Soun replied with some confusion as he watched Kasumi and a couple other WIC personnel enter the house.

    "Can you please call Nabiki and Genma here as well?" Jacob politely, asked. From their surveillance they knew that both people were still in the house.

    Soun nodded and called his daughter and old friend into the living room.

    Jacob used this opportunity to make sure that the Communications and Cryptography agent had connected her laptop to the TV in the room.

    "What's going on?" Nabiki asked as she entered the room. She looked to see her father, Ranma's father, Kasumi, a man who appeared to be her boss, and a few other corporate drones in the room.

    "Apparently, something happened to Akane yesterday," Soun said.

    "Yes, but fortunately she got medical attention quickly and is stable. The problem is that Akane's condition is... well, complicated. I think this short video will best prepare you for it," Jacob explained.

    Kasumi wished she could roll her eyes, but her training and respect for the Colonel prevented that. The civilian briefing videos that WIC used were notoriously dated. The only reason they were not updated was because they were used so infrequently.

    The communications agent activated the recording stored on her computer. As the television screen switched to a crew-cut tall man wearing a grey suit with a thin black tie, Kasumi allowed a small smirk to appear on her face. At least this one's in color, Lt. Tendo thought to herself. As the recording played, the three civilians watched with some confusion as the Company agent from Public Relations Section began to explain things.

    The video itself was essentially a brief history of the Company, its goals, WIC's activities, and some of the things that the organization had done. It was a basic primer used to get people familiar to what Willard International Consulting was.

    Given it documented the actual purpose of the Company's Investigative Division, and not the organization's public front as a defense consulting contractor and think tank, the entire presentation was highly classified.

    Jacob watched the reactions the uninitiated were giving off. They were all confused but Soun seemed to be especially befuddled. It was as if he was incapable of, or was refusing to connect the dots. The other two were faring better. Genma's face looked bored, but his eyes were contemplative.

    The agent had believed that Genma knew something was off with his son. After all, Ranma's cursed form had supposedly changed and he had spent some time locked in demoness form. That Genma did not know anything specific about what Ranma had become was found out during the martial artist's 'interview'.

    The girl seemed to be the fastest at putting things together. Nabiki's face was in a mix of shock and contemplation. Nabiki waited until the short film had finished and Kasumi had explained some of her past before she spoke.

    "Am I to believe that my older sister has spent the last five years working for a secretive organization dedicated to fighting demons and other supernatural invaders? If it wasn't for Ranma's curse I'd assume this was all an elaborate hoax," Nabiki said in a tone that indicated she had yet to be fully convinced.

    "If you find that hard to believe, you should hear the rest of it." Kasumi's laugh was bitter.

    "I'll assume it has something to do with Akane and Ranma. They've both been missing since yesterday."

    "I think it's time for them to be told the rest of it," Jacob observed. He then turned to the communications agent that had set up the video. "Agent Iverson, please get Miss Ranma and her girls."

    "Dad, Nabiki, when you see Akane, please remember that she's still Akane," Kasumi advised as Iverson returned with what appeared to be three girls.

    "Why because she got a dye job and started wearing trashy clothes?" Nabiki asked when she saw Akane. "Is she sick? Her skin's pretty pale," she noted after a second glance.

    Kasumi looked at her fiance and her children before responding. "You don't know the full extent of Ranma's curse. Ranma does not simply turn into a girl," Kasumi said as she began to explain what Ranma was and how Nariko and Akane had been turned. Her explanation only omitted the Pattern Silvers and that Ranma was one of them.

    "Okay girls, show them," the redhead said.

    As she watched her little sister turn into a demon, the middle Tendo mumbled something, likely containing the word God and maybe an expletive or two.

    Soun's befuddlement at the video had transposed into simple denial at Kasumi's story. However, seeing Akane in her true form was too much for him and the man passed out.

    "Boy! What's going on here?" Genma demanded after he had checked to make sure that Soun was all right.

    "I got tricked and ended up with my girl-form turning demonic. I had to turn Akane and Nariko," Ranma explained as she idly swished her tail.

    "And now you're their mother," Nabiki reasoned as she tried to figure out the insanity before her.

    "I'm so embarrassed," Genma moaned. "My poor son. His mind's been twisted by this new body, and he thinks he's a weak, silly girl. If only he were strong enough to resist."

    "Don't you dare say that!" Ranma's eyes flared blue-ish violet in anger. "I had to turn them. I was asked to save them; I couldn't just let them die."

    "So, you saved them. That's not so bad. But you still abandoned your masculinity. I guess you're weak after all," Genma smugly replied.

    "I'm more than strong enough to fight these urges! I did that with my first kid for a while, and you know what? It ruined her! I won't do that again." Ranma growled as her fangs lengthened slightly.

    "Obviously, you don't know how to be a competent parent."

    "Just shut up!" the redheaded demon exclaimed, her eyes flaring again. "I'm not going to be lectured by you about parenting. Stop this crap or I will hurt you. And don't think that these Company goons would stop me. They were going to let Mom kill you."

    Jacob remained silent, neither conforming nor denying, but he did allow the right corner of his mouth to form a slight smirk.

    Genma gazed into Ranma's eyes and his will faltered.

    "So Akane, you're a demon now?" Nabiki asked

    Akane nodded happily as she nuzzled her mate.

    "What did you do to her? What happened to her?" Nabiki demanded from the strangers and people she thought she knew.

    "It was either this or death," Kasumi repeated. "She was already a demon. I made the decision to save her."

    Nabiki's response was interrupted by her father. "I had the worst nightmare," Soun said as he regained consciousness. "My baby girl had turned into a-" His eyes then widened with realization.

    "Hi Daddy!" Akane cheerfully greeted. "This is my mate Nariko and you already know my Mommy."

    "Mommy?" Soun asked.

    "Yeah, that's me," Ranma sighed. "Look, Akane is a demon now, but with everyone's help we can bring her back. It will take time and effort but she will recover," the redhead suggested in a pleading tone.

    "You're saying this lesbian leather-fetish bimbo can be my sister again?"

    "But Nabiki, I am your sister," Akane whined.

    "I don't know. Akane would never willingly touch Kuno." Nabiki said. The resemblance between Nariko and her cousin Tatewaki aside, Nariko had shown up days after Tatewaki had left.

    "But... Nariko's pretty and nice," Akane said.

    "Nabiki, that's enough!" Ranma growled.

    "Yes, daughter. Don't pester your sister," Soun stated his focus still on his winged child.

    "You can clearly see that there's a problem with Akane!"

    "Just because Akane's a bit... different doesn't mean that she's still not a part of this family," Soun said in a distant voice.

    "Wow, that's remarkably lucid Dad. I'm impressed," Kasumi remarked.

    "I have to be, if Akane is to overcome her disability."

    "I see," Lt. Tendo replied. She should have expected him to do something like this. Denial was his main coping mechanism. Father had yet to broach the subject of her own job.

    "Kasumi, I'm surprised at you. If you're some kind of demon hunter, how could you do this to Akane?"

    The operations agent narrowed her eyes. "Are you asking me why I didn't kill Akane? Why I didn't shoot her in the head?" Kasumi asked, her voice strangely casual. It had taken a lot of effort on her part to avoid doing just that, but Nariko's presence gave Kasumi an alternative.

    "I didn't want to die," Akane cried. Her eyes locked onto the younger of her two sisters. "I already was a demon. This way I'm still myself, not some puppet," the blue-haired girl said as one of her wings was scratched by her mate.

    "And what kind of demons are you anyway?" Nabiki inquired, trying to shift the subject.

    Ranma sighed. This was something she really did not want to admit, let alone think about. But denying who she was had hurt her eldest daughter. "Succubae."

    Nabiki looked at the brood of demons. They were extremely good looking. It went beyond their physical appearance, which was only slightly marred by their extra, non-human appendages. "Hmm, you are cute demon girls. Yeah, I can see that, Saotome."

    "Awww, you think I'm cute," Ranma smiled. "Think you could handle me though?" the redhead teased as she licked one of her fangs.

    "No thanks," Nabiki sighed. "I don't swing that way. And I thought that your kind was into guys."

    "You have seen your sister and her mate?" Ranma asked dryly. "No, human males are nothing more than a food source."

    Nabiki raised her eyebrow.

    "No, not like that!" Ranma said in disgust. "Actually... it is just like that," the demoness corrected herself. "Thankfully there's other ways we can feed, and we don't need too much energy."

    "So what do you do instead of seducing guys?"

    "Actually it's guys and girls. It's just that with our forms it's easier to go after guys. But from a nutritional standpoint it's the same," Ranma explained, recalling some of what had been taught to her about this body.

    "My youngest daughter's now a soul draining monster!" Soun wailed.

    "Well, that got him to respond," Kasumi remarked.

    "What do you do for food?" Nabiki asked.

    "We eat meat, and sometimes we kill things and drain them as they die," Ranma said, simply.

    "Oh God."

    "You're no vegetarian; you eat the flesh of animals. We just take something else from them," Ranma explained.

    "You sure you're a succubus? I thought they had to drain humans," Nabiki asked. Her sister and Nariko seemed amorous enough

    "Well Nabiki, you haven't had much experience with demons and other non-humans. Surprisingly, they don't exactly match the description that's in your Monster Manual."

    Nabiki blinked. She should have known that Kasumi would remember that. Nabiki had only played it casually and she had quit Dungeons and Dragons years ago,

    "Heh, you played that game? Man, what a dork," Ranma laughed.

    "Keep it up and I'm sure some comic book geeks will 'just happen' to get some photos of you and your kids."

    "Brilliant plan sis, threaten the hormonal, gender-confused, demon mother's children. And besides if you do expose this secret, it will be a race between her and me to see who can silence you first."

    "You wouldn't," Nabiki responded before she had time to consider her statement. She then looked at Kasumi, who had a slight smile on her face. Of course Kasumi would be willing to do it; Akane was living proof of that. Nabiki might not be killed but her life could be made very unpleasant. The middle daughter was just now starting to grasp how out of her depth she was.

    "Hey! I'm not gender confused. I'm a guy! I just have kids," Ranma said before adding in a much sterner voice. "Yes, Nabiki don't even think about threatening my girls. I'll take out anyone, anyone who's a threat to them. Isn't that right Pops?"

    Genma froze when he looked at his currently demonic and female, son. He had always been afraid of those purple and blue eyes, but now they were much worse.


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


    As Ranma walked down a series of dull grey corridors, the martial artist's mind was pondering... Memories was the word that fit best. Pluto's procedure had done more than just turn Ranma's cursed form into a demonic Sailor Senshi.

    There was something else. There were things that the occasional demon was starting to recall. The species of demon Ranma's girl-form was among them. Murdock had explained some demonic biology to Ranma, but there were some things that only certain people knew that the martial artist was now aware of.

    Ranma's thoughts stopped. The destination was in sight. The distance to the door was closed and it was opened. Ranma stepped through. The drab room was quite familiar to the teen.

    Ranma turned to see a demoness nearly identical to herself. If Ranma were to activate her Sailor DarkStar form then two demons would be identical. The new demoness walked over to the others and sat down on the armrest of one of the chairs in the room.

    "Howdy partner," the other demoness greeted.

    "Who are you?" Ranma asked.

    The other redhead tilted her head. "DarkStar. The first one."

    "Oh, well... this is just great. My dream self-image is that of a succubus," Ranma said, wishing that she had shown up as a guy.

    "That's because you're sleeping in between your children," DarkStar said with a smile. She never got to have kids during her life and was happy that some part of her managed to get them.

    "Oh, makes sense," Ranma said. She would have preferred to sleep as a human male, but her brood's needs were more important.

    "For what it's worth, I am sorry." DarkStar apologized to the other redhead. "But you know that, you're me."

    Ranma exhaled. But didn't object.

    "Turning into a demon is never easy. Well... it can be but then you're just a slave of the person that turned you. On the plus side. This is a dream. So just change your form," DarkStar added.

    Ranma shrugged and shifted into her birth form. "Nice," he said while looking at his hands. "This didn't actually turn my body male did it?" the pigtailed martial artist asked. "I don't want to freak out my kids."

    DarkStar smiled again. "No, your form didn't really change. Your girls are still sleeping soundly against their mother."

    Ranma nodded. The girls would definitely have woken up if their connection to her had been severed.

    "I don't want to be brainwashed. But what about using Usagi's powerful crystal to turn us human?" Ranma asked. If her kids could be returned to human form, that might work.

    "Sorry Ranma. I knew the Queen Serenity of that day, when I was alive. She tried that exact same thing on me."

    "It didn't work?" Ranma asked.

    "Nope. I wasn't evil so there was no darkness to exorcise out. Sure it purified me, but I was still a demon. It did relieve Serenity greatly that I had passed that test though. Contrary to the rumors around her, she wouldn't let just anyone work with her, especially a demon."

    Ranma blinked.

    "The Ginzuishou could turn a demon into a human through brute force. Problem is that that much energy rewriting and altering would essentially destroy the demon's mind. That's why I was never changed."

    Ranma shook his head. "I'm not doing that to my kids. I'd hate to say it, but you're right. I don't see a way to cure myself and my kids... without ruining our minds. Jusenkyou certainly didn't work. I've had enough of that. Something might come along, but right now I have to raise them. That's more important."

    "Good for you," DarkStar agreed.

    "I'm surprised you're not some sex-crazed bimbo," Ranma noted.

    "Do you really think so poorly of your past self?" DarkStar asked.

    "Well... you're a, you know." Ranma gestured at the redhead.

    "This is our body, doofus. You're me, you're just as much a succubus and I know you're still a virgin."

    Flicking some hair behind an ear, Ranma coughed as her form shifted back.

    "Hey! I'm not that bad. Though, it would be nice to have a mate, for once," DarkStar sighed. Her life had been fairly lonely. Her brood mother had loved her, and her grandmother doted on her, perhaps too much.

    Grandmother did not take DarkStar's death well. But before that the Sailor Senshi had learned to trust her, but DarkStar had still died without taking a mate.

    "What's this all about?" Ranma asked crossing her legs.

    "Nothing much. You've just started to unlock our old memories," DarkStar grinned, showing a fang.

    "Our? What do you mean? You're just the demon I was modeled after." Ranma frowned. "Wait... our body... "

    DarkStar snickered.

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


    Ranma looked at her reflection in the changing room. Her eyes seemed to contain the same amount of violet as they did four days ago. She smiled, glad that training her children in how to fly and fight and spending nearly all of her time in demonic form had not accelerated the change.

    "How's the dress, Mommy?" Nariko asked from the other side of the door that separated the changing cubicle.

    "I'm still taking off my clothing, and be more careful with that name, dear," the redhead warned as she took off her modified Furinkan uniform. She could have made it vanish, but someone might wonder where it went if they noticed it missing.

    "I'm sorry... um... Sunny," Nariko said as she thought of something else to call her Mother. It sounded like Mommy and was close to the alias her Mother used for school.

    "I guess that works." Ranma said begrudgingly. She did not care for the name that the Drake had invented for her and the diminutive form "Sunny" was even worse. However, Ranma did not want to correct her daughter; Nariko was trying her best, and she did come up with a name that was not Mommy.

    The redhead would have preferred to be called Ranma, but she knew from experience that neither of her children was comfortable with calling her by that name. Down to her underwear, she looked at the garments that her children had picked out for her. She sighed as she put on Akane's selection. At least it was not a skirt, but that was small consolation.

    As she slipped on the shorts and the top, the redhead concentrated. When she had first been turned into a demon, Ranma had only been able to wear that one leather dress. Everything else she tried to wear would simply turn into it. Later she managed to put on a school uniform that only modified itself. It seemed that now she was able to put on clothing and not worry about it changing. Though she had only tried certain leather and Lycra items.

    The redhead smiled. This was at least one problem solved. She was no longer forced into wearing that leather dress or her school uniform. After stepping back into her boots and adjusting the tiny black shorts and scoop necked tank-top, Ranma stepped out of the dressing room.

    "It looks really good on you," Akane said with a smile. As much fun as it was to pick out clothing for herself and her mate, it was another matter to find stuff for their mother. The blue-haired succubus found her mother's modesty endearing.

    "It shows off your legs really well," Nariko complimented.

    "That's because there's nothing covering her legs," Kasumi stated. She was neutral on most of the store's clothing selection. Although there was a leather jacket that she found interesting.

    "It's quite revealing," Nodoka said. She should have known that this store would be where her grandchildren would want to shop. At least now they were looking at the clothing section. The scientist was not sure how to handle it if they went to the video or toy sections.

    "But Mo- Sunny should show off her body," Akane said, remembering to use the name Nariko had come up with.

    "It's nice but a bit much for being in public," Ranma added. "Even you're wearing more."

    Akane nodded. At Mommy's insistence, her shorts now went to mid-thigh.

    "Though it is a pretty nice outfit. I like how the top buckles in the front," Ranma said trying to please her daughter. Honestly, she did not find the shorts too bad.

    "Thanks Sunny!" Akane gushed.

    "Here try on this one." Nariko offered as she handed a folded garment to Ranma. "Grandma and I picked it out."

    Ranma gave a questioning glance to her mother.

    "It's strange for me too, but Nari-chan was insistent," Nodoka explained. It had been a trial to find something tasteful in the store. She was curious to see how her daughter (definitely daughter in this case) looked in the dress.

    Ranma took the leather garment and shrugged. She then turned and went back into the dressing room. The redhead slipped out of Akane's offering and donned the article of clothing. After making sure that it was on straight the demoness exited the dressing cubicle.

    Dark red, the succubus' leather dress ended within a couple inches of her knees. It was zippered in the front, and the interlocking teeth ran from the waist to the neck. The dress was designed to be worn either fully zipped up or partially zipped.

    The redhead found it a bit constricting around her neck when it was zipped up all the way. Therefore zipper's pull tab currently rested just above the redhead's breasts. This formed a sharp V of visible flesh that went from Ranma's neck to her chest.

    The dress had a dark violet, almost black, collar that was wide in the front and thinned in the back. Full-length sleeves with simple cuffs came out of its shoulders. Unlike the previous garment, the dress did not cling like a second skin. Granted it still hugged the girl's curves, but it was much less brazen than her other leather dress.

    "See, Grandma and I could make a compromise," Nariko grinned.

    "Sunny does look good," Akane agreed.

    Nodoka smiled. It was good to see her child was wearing something a bit more modest, but more importantly, more mature. "What do you think of it, dear?"

    Ranma looked at the dress she was wearing. "It is better than my old dress. It's much more comfortable. It's simple, not too flashy or girly," the succubus appraised.

    Kasumi raised an eyebrow, but remained silent. She supposed that such a dress could be described as not girly. A piece of clothing could be feminine without being girly.

    The redhead tapped one of her boots on the floor as studied her reflection in a full-length three segmented mirror. "Even the color's right. Yeah, I actually like it. Thanks Mom, Nariko," Ranma said before hugging her daughter and Mother.

    "What about my choice?" Akane asked in a concerned voice.

    "It was nice, but it's not quite for everyday use. Maybe for training and around the house," Ranma reassured.

    "Come on Akane, let's find something Sunny will like," Kasumi offered as she took Akane's hand. The blue-haired girl nodded. Lt. Tendo then flashed a small smirk at her fiance.

    How bad could it be? Ranma thought with a shrug. She had already tried out something that was one step from being naked. The demoness shook her head. The things she did for her kids.

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


    "Thanks for paying Mom, but I could have handled it," Ranma as the trio of demons and pair of agents entered the restaurant. Her bank account could have just paid for the two outfits each that she and her two girls had purchased.

    "I could have paid too," Nariko pouted as she followed her mother in her new leather tube dress. Shoulderless, it went from the top of her breasts to mid-thigh. It was a vivid purple with slits on either side of the skirt hem.

    "I wanted to reward you girls for what you've done these last few days," Nodoka explained.

    "Nariko, you and Akane should go with Kasumi and make sure the hostess gets a good corner booth for us," Ranma suggested before giving a questioning glance at her mother.

    "Akane seems to be doing better with people," Nodoka observed as she watched the pale, blue-haired girl chat with the hostess.

    "They have done well in their training," Ranma said with genuine pride. It was such a pleasure to see her children not only develop their powers and skills, but also to see them interact normally with people.

    "I want to help you with this. I may have missed out on your childhood, but I'll be with you for Akane's and Nariko's," Nodoka reassured. If only she had been able to stop Ranma from leaving... her son might have been human; Ranma might have been safe. Nodoka cut off that line of reasoning. It was pointless to try and think of what could have been. Her child needed her now.

    "Thanks, I didn't know how expensive this could get. Even with Mr. Tendo's and the Drake's help. I still think I should get a job."

    "Don't, you've already got two. I've been saving my money while I've been working for the Company. It'll be enough."

    "Right, two," Ranma mussed. The martial artist did have her responsibilities as both a mother and a Sailor Senshi to worry about. At least school was not a major concern. Officially Ranma was out sick, but she was really on maternity leave, until she had gotten things straightened out with Akane and Nariko, who were also "out sick."

    "Akane also seems to be improving in her taste in clothing," Nodoka remarked as she walked with Ranma to the table where the others were seated.

    "That's just because I've been suggesting that she wear something that's street legal."

    "Unlike the other outfit you bought," Nodoka remarked.

    "Yeah, I can't believe she found something more revealing than a bikini," the redhead agreed, referring to a Lyra garment that was both see through and miniscule. "But I did get that dress that you and Nariko picked out," Ranma sighed, indicating her own dress.

    "At least it was shorts, and not another skirt, that Akane picked out for you," Nodoka noted with a little smile.

    "Thanks for remembering what I really am."

    "I know it's just that you have to do this for your kids. Come on they're waiting," Nodoka said before the mother and daughter went to their table.

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


    "What do you mean it's impossible, Janet?" Usagi asked with some confusion on her face. She then took another bite of her Sundae.

    "Look, you can't make a dress like that. You can't have a full length dress be tight down the entire length of the legs. It would be impossible to walk in, or sit for that matter." The newest member of the Sailor Senshi counted before spooning the last of her ice-cream into her mouth.

    "That doesn't mean it's impossible to make or even wear," Ami countered.

    "Yeah and it flares out around the ankles," Usagi added.

    "Oh yeah, forgot about that," Janet dryly remarked. "Well, I'm getting another scoop of strawberry. Either of you want anything?" the auburn-haired girl asked. After getting negative responses from the blonde and blue-haired teens, she shrugged and walked up to the counter.

    "I'm glad I let her in. I think she'll work out fine," Usagi said. With Janet, she got that sense of familiarity that she normally only had with other Senshi, or Naru. The blonde kicked herself for not looking up her old friend. Already reduced with her becoming Sailor Moon, contact between them had all but disappeared when Naru's mother moved her shop to Kobe.

    "Yeah, I really like her too," Ami said, her gaze shifting over to Janet before returning to Usagi.

    "It must be nice to have a friend you can talk about smart stuff with," Usagi offered.

    Ami laughed nervously.

    "Don't be bashful, I know you sometimes get lonely with us small brains," the blonde joked.

    "She did handle herself well at that convenience store," Ami admitted.

    "It is a bit odd that she's an American. Even Ranma's from Japan."

    Aim shook her head "Ethnically, I'm all but certain Janet's mostly Japanese. Her family probably just moved to the states a couple generations back. They either changed their name when they immigrated or she has a paternal ancestor named Fraiser."

    "Okay, makes sense," Usagi agreed. She then looked over to see Janet walking back to their table.

    "Well, a gown like that would look very good on you," Janet admitted, carrying a fresh bowl. "Though you'd only be good as a statue," Janet smiled, her greenish grey eyes twinkling.

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


    On an approach from the North-west, a Company helicopter was within five minutes of its destination of WIC Toronto-B. Like nearly all Company vehicles, the black flying-machine carried an Ostar series Pattern scanner. Bulky and heavy, the Ostar series had a much larger range and finer ability to resolve Pattern Registering Entities than the man-portable NordStar series. Either vastly outperformed the compact little SulStar scanners.

    The Pattern scanner was being manned by Specialist Agent Richard Morrison. This meant that the agent kept an eye on the display and waited for anything significant to show up. Morrison wondered if he would be able to detect the D-Silver brood. Like the last time he had flown in to Toronto-B.

    It was somewhat unnerving to see two moderate and one very strong Pattern D show up over a Company base. The nineteen year old operations agent found seeing the demons in flight just as unsettling.

    The agent then noticed that a blip of the static on the edge of the scanner's range was unusually cyclic in how it fluxed on and off the screen. Curious, the agent increased the power on the system. He was rewarded with a slightly steadier signal.

    "Lieutenant Patterson, sir? I've may have something on the scanner. It hasn't resolved into a coherent pattern yet, but I'd guess it's either D, E, or V," Richard said as he continued to adjust the scanner.

    "How big? How many?" Agent Morrison's commanding officer asked.

    "I can't tell at this range, but it's either a dozen low to mid class or a couple higher ups," Richard evaluated as he analyzed the displayed pattern further. "Hmmm, I'm leaning more towards D for the pattern," he said, feeling it was more likely demonic in origin, as opposed to elemental or vampiric.

    "Where is it Rich?" Lt. Patterson asked as he leaned over to see the display.

    "West of here in Vaughan, near highway 400," Richard read from the map that was overlaid onto the scanner's readings.

    "Simmons, call base and tell them we're taking a detour. We might have found something," the lieutenant instructed the helicopter's pilot.

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


    Kasumi's dinner was interrupted by the ringing of her cell phone. She answered it and exchanged a few sentences.

    "Who is it?" Nodoka asked.

    "The Colonel, Ma'am. They've found a nest of demons. They're getting ready to go in. They've analyzed the sensors and they are the same sub-Pattern as Akane was."

    "Get the check. Now," Ranma ordered her ears perking up.

    "Sir, we're on our way. ETA ten minutes." Kasumi said into the phone before hanging up

    "It's her isn't it, Auntie?" Akane asked.

    "It might be," Kasumi confirmed as she got their waitress' attention and asked for the bill.

    "Good," Ranma said as she looked at her children.

    The bill arrived, Kasumi paid for it, and the quintet of women left the restaurant. "The Pattern D's are in a group of buildings in a suburb to the North of here. Command just learned about them; we're still getting people in position," Kasumi explained as they quickly walked to her car.

    The drive to the staging area was mostly silent. Ranma, sitting in the back flanked by her kids, furrowed her brow in thought.

    "What's wrong, dear?" Nodoka asked.

    "I've got a question for you two," Ranma proposed, her eyes darting to Nariko. It was something she had to know. "Let's say you're wounded in battle, unconscious, and –well- dying. Would you want me to... to...?" Ranma's question trailed off.

    "What?" Kasumi asked. She had a fair idea what Ranma was trying to ask. It was then confirmed when Ranma pointed to the black and violet-haired demon.

    "Oh." Nodoka blinked. That was an interesting question. Death or life as a demon.

    "It's okay if you don't want to do it. I understand. I want to know, just in case," Ranma explained.

    "Sorry, I appreciate the offer, but no thanks," Lt. Tendo stated, her eyes lingering on the reflection of her sister in the rearview mirror.

    "How come it's death for you but demon for Akane?" the redhead asked.

    "It was never Akane's choice. And it was between dying as a demon and living as one," Kasumi answered.

    "I don't know, Ranma. It's a big change," Nodoka said. "I'm not sure I could handle it," she admitted after a short pause.

    "It's okay. I had to ask," Ranma explained in a distant voice. That confirmed it. If her mother or her fiancee was wounded beyond medical treatment, she had to watch them die.

    "Mommy? You okay?" Nariko asked as she leaned on the taller succubus.

    "Not really," Ranma admitted as she gazed at the tips of her fingers. "There's going to be fighting. And we're probably going to have to kill some demons. It'll be unpleasant but it's something we have to do." Though the succubus was actually afraid it would be pleasant, both for her and her kids, and what that would mean.

    "It's okay Mommy; they're evil. They're monsters," Nariko reassured.

    "I know. I'm still concerned. It's one thing for me to go in and kill them. I've crossed that bridge already, but you girls haven't."

    "There are worse fates than death and there are worse things than killing. Evil triumphs when good men do nothing," Kasumi quoted.

    "I know that!" Ranma said indignantly. "I'd have no problem ripping apart anyone who came after any of you!" the demoness declared with more force than she intended.

    Kasumi blinked at her inclusion yet did not comment on it.

    The redhead continued. "That's not an issue! Same with you two," Ranma turned to her daughters. "I have been training you on how to use your bodies to defend yourselves. If someone came after you... that's it. Some things you have to do, no matter how bad they are, because the alternatives are worse.

    "My problem is that I feel like today's another day of training. Only now I've set up live targets for you to go after. I don't like that I'm sending you off to kill. If it was us defending ourselves that's one thing, but us going in and taking them by surprise."

    The redhead noticed that that Kasumi was about to speak and cut her off. "Yes I know that it makes sense to take them by surprise. They'd do the same... well, worse to us. This way we can be the ones prepared and ready. That way we might not get hurt. I understand why; I wouldn't be here and I certainly wouldn't have brought my kids if I didn't."

    "But?" Kasumi asked.

    "I don't want to be a killer, and I certainly don't want them to be," Ranma said, feeling the connection to her children. Physical contact helped with that. "But I can't just stand aside and do nothing." Ranma closed her eyes, knowing that some of her did want her kids to be just that. She wanted them to be their best, and sometimes she found herself imagining what her children would be like as hunters.

    "I understand," Nodoka said.

    "I'm not sure if you're ready girls," Ranma said as she put a hand on each of her daughter's legs. "And if I think it's too hot in there, I won't let you fight. Are you two sure you want to go with me?" Ranma asked, part of her hoping that they would decline, another wanting to see her children perform.

    "Yes. Alexia needs to be punished for what she did to me and you," Akane confirmed her own eyes flaring slightly.

    "It's the right thing to do. And I can't abandon my mate and Mommy," Nariko said hesitantly. She was afraid, but she was also eager.

    "We're almost there," Kasumi announced. The Company sedan was only a couple of miles from the staging area.

    Ranma nodded. She looked out the window to see the post dusk twilight. At least she did not worry about that approaching darkness.

    Kasumi parked her car in a supermarket parking lot. Nearby was a group of WIC Humvees and a pair of trucks. One of which was the modified tractor-trailer that served as a mobile command center. Kasumi went to the trunk of her car and pulled out her combat gear and armor. The two agents and three demons cleared the plain-clothes agents guarding the vehicle and entered.

    The tall, somewhat thin, agent in charge looked up from a holographic display of a group of small industrial buildings to see an older woman approach. "Major Saotome," Adam Jarvis saluted once he recognized her. Jarvis was a taller man with short blonde hair and blue eyes.

    "At ease, Captain," Nodoka said as she returned the salute. "What's the situation?"

    "As you can see, we've detected Pattern D's here, here, and here," the Captain indicated on the translucent display. "Their power levels are somewhat low. It was rather fortunate that Agent Morrison was even able to detect them at this range. Our current location is just a couple miles from theirs. When we're ready we'll go in. I intend to take Patterson's team and Tendo's team in at these points," Jarvis said before going into further detail of his plan.

    "Good, I trust your ability to execute this plan." While Major Saotome was the ranking agent present, it was still Jarvis' operation. Nodoka would let him run the operation, provided that she agreed with his decisions. Situations like this were one reason why all WIC agents regardless of Section receive combat training and go on field rotations.

    "And I won't have to remind you that we have three Pattern D's working with us," Nodoka added.

    "I've already notified the strike teams Ma'am. They won't rely on only their Pattern scanners."

    "They'd better not. I won't stand for one of us hurting my son or my grandkids. Understood?" Nodoka inquired.

    "Yes, Ma'am," Jarvis agreed, wisely not making a statement about the gender of the Major's son or about the descendants of a Company officer being demonic.

    Ranma looked at the display and shook her head. It looked like she could bring her kids in on the fight. She still felt reluctance at it, but they had to start sometime. "Mom, I'd like you to change the battle plans a bit," she requested. Her own fears for what the fight would do to her humanity, her kid's humanity, had to be pushed aside.

    "Of course, dear. Captain, we're modifying things a bit," Major Saotome said.
    .
    "Yes, Ma'am," Jarvis replied. He kept his face neutral. At least the other NH's working for the Company were actually part of WIC. The redhead and her spawn were not. The captain worried that there were insufficient safeguards around this brood, but it was not his place to complain.

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


    Sailor DarkStar flew above the town of Vaughan. She spotted the building visually slightly after she sensed the energy being given off by its occupants. On her left and right sides, Akane and Nariko followed her. Changing her approach, the redheaded demon angled her wings and twisted into a steep controlled fall. Akane and Nariko replicated this maneuver with relative ease.

    Ranma gently landed on the roof of the smallish beige building, which was originally designed as a machine shop and office. The other two demons landed shortly, only making a bit more noise than their mother.

    The redhead looked over the two girls. Both had changed their clothing to more practical leather boots, simple shorts that were a bit longer than Akane would prefer, and backless tops. The demonic Sailor Senshi smiled despite herself. Akane and Nariko looked as ready as they were going to be.

    The sound of approaching truck engines was then followed by gunfire. She was relieved that the WIC agents were on time. Ripping off a roof-access hatch, DarkStar jumped into the room she sensed to be clear.

    The three demons quickly exited the cramped storage room and entered a short hallway. Ranma's eyes widened and she generated a violet orb wreathed in white flames in her left hand.

    A door across the hall, to the left and marked "Women" opened. A demoness with white hair launched herself through the threshold. The snarling demon's eyes were glowing and her claws were extended.

    Ranma released the orb. The adhesive fluid within it doused the enemy succubus' neck and left shoulder before igniting. Ignoring her burning flesh, the servant of Alexia continued to close in.

    Ranma blocked her arms with one hand and grabbed her by the neck and squeezed with the other. Ranma did not extend her partially-opaque crimson claws. There was no need for blood. She simply crushed the demon's neck. As she died, the redheaded demon looked into the still angry eyes and smiled slightly. True demonic energy was much better tasting than youma knock-off.

    "Mommy!" Nariko screamed as she released a dark purple orb similar to her mother's at a demon that had just come around a corner in the hallway. The approaching succubus dodged the magical napalm, summoned an orb of her own and was about to toss it.

    Both Ranma and Akane turned and fired at the new target. The redhead's orb hit her in the chest and Akane's blue one engulfed her head. The demon went down as everything above her chest burned. Nariko looked down at the writhing demon and shuddered in revulsion.

    A series of filaments then extended out her black tail's violet fins. With a whimper Nariko plunged the end of her tail into the dying demon's chest. The poor thing at least deserved a quick death. Nariko shuddered again. This time not in revulsion. The energy was nowhere near as good as what she got from Mommy, but it was still quite nice.

    Ranma looked on with her eyes tearing slightly, both out of pride and sadness. Her daughter had made her first kill. Her thoughts on this were interrupted by Akane.

    "Mommy! I think I hear something coming," Akane said quietly, now facing the opposite end of the hallway from where Nariko's kill had come from.

    Ranma nodded. That was where the larger rooms of the building were and that was where she had sensed more demons. "Nariko, watch our backs," the redhead ordered as the trio went forward.

    The brood of succubae exited the hallway and found themselves in an unusually well-decorated room. The tile flooring had given way to thick carpeting, and the furniture was large and comfortable. More importantly were the half-dozen demonic residents of the room. They seemed to have been waiting for Ranma's brood.

    "Where's Alexia?" Ranma demanded, her eyes flaring an angry violet.

    "You will not get the Mistress," the lead demon, a tall woman with strawberry blonde hair, replied. She then turned to Akane. "Hello Eclipse. Don't worry, we'll soon have you back," Laura smiled, showing her fangs. It was a shame she had lost two of her mistress' minions, but the intruders were now outnumbered.

    "Die!" Akane growled, as she launched a pair of blue orbs wreathed in white flames at the blonde. She then lunged at Laura, claws and tail filaments extended.

    "Nariko, right!" Sailor DarkStar shouted as she fired on the demons on the left side and leapt in between the leftmost pair...

    Meanwhile, Akane had Laura's charred, but still lively, form pinned on the ground. The blonde tried to rake her talons over the other the traitorous spawn, but found her hands caught. The blue-haired succubus attempted to use her tail but found that her prey had wrapped her own around it.

    Growling in frustration, Ranma's daughter forced herself closer to the prone demon. When she was in range she opened her jaws and closed her mouth over Laura's neck. Like a child eating an apple, she tried to bite off as much as she could. Her sharp teeth easily cut through the demon's flesh. As her face was sprayed with arterial blood, Akane instinctively chewed and swallowed what was in her mouth.

    Ranma looked up from disemboweling a demon to see her younger daughter licking her blood-soaked lips. The redhead simultaneously cringed and rejoiced at Akane's accomplishment. The brood mother was happy that when instead of taking another bite, Akane got up and dispatched another demon, this one only grazed by one of Nariko's fireballs.

    Nariko stood over a pile of burnt and dismembered parts. They clearly belonged to a pair of succubae. However, telling which torso went with which head or arm would be a bit more difficult. The smell of freshly cut meat and hot blood was very appetizing to her.

    Her dinner had been interrupted; she was still hungry. The black tressed girl found herself kneeling down and reaching towards the pile. Their energy was nourishing and delicious. She wondered what their meat would be like.

    "Come on!" Nariko's mother shouted. "There could still be others out there."

    "Are you sure Mommy?" Akane asked as she used her hand to wipe some of the blood of her face. "I don't feel any," she stated, idly licking her bloodied palm.

    "Neither do I. But we're still going to search the place. Alexia could still be here and she might be able to conceal herself," Ranma said. She was extremely glad that she still wanted to get her kids out of the room, away from the bodies, though she could see the benefit to letting them stay and allowing them to feed.

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


    In a neighboring building, Lt. Tendo increased the pressure on her weapon's trigger. The weapon released a burst of 7.62mm WIC-custom rounds. The agent smiled slightly as the demon's head disappeared in a cloud of blood, bone, and hair.

    Before the demon's corpse had a chance to fall, Agent First Class Kowalski had lobbed a grenade around the corner she had come from. After the explosion, Kasumi pointed to Specialist Agents Gabriel Smith and Sophie Addison, and made the hand motion for them to go round the corner low and fast.

    The two agents nodded and went forward. They found the splattered remains of one demon and the mangled form of another. She was a small succubus with light green hair. The demon growled and tried to lift herself up, but the shrapnel wounds in her body were severe.

    "Don't," Kasumi ordered. This opportunity might be useful "Unless she can get at you." She then talked into her headset. "Captain, we may have a prisoner. Understood sir." The lieutenant then turned to her team. "Aram, you're with me. We'll secure the rest of this corridor. Gabriel, Sophie watch the demon. Patterson's team and the Captain will be here shortly."

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


    Murdock looked at the woman sitting across from him with very well-concealed contempt. While the mage found her to be an insufferable harpy, there was no reason that she should be made aware of his feelings. After all, she might still prove useful to him.

    The rather tall woman across from Murdock gave a very cold smile as she brushed back some of her curly blonde hair. "I can't believe you're still worried about that redheaded traitor."

    "She did easily subvert your first attempt," Murdock smirked slightly. He found the impudence was worth seeing her tanned face contort into rage. Tweaking the vain always amused the rumpled suit-wearing man, and the woman sitting across from him was vain even compared to her kind. That she even bothered to keep her skin tanned spoke volumes.

    "The impudence!" Alexia's eyes would have flared but she was in a restaurant and did not want to attract attention. "To steal my own creation. She will pay for that! That little bitch took her from me on purpose!"

    Murdock admired his ability to keep a straight face during the demoness' little rant. This creature was only jealous because DarkStar had decided to make "Eclipse" into more than a use and discard minion.

    "It is a shame what happened to her. But we do have business to attend to," Murdock stated as he tapped the briefcase that he had brought with him. Personally, he found this method of exchange a bit melodramatic, but he was acting under orders. The needless micromanaging really got on his nerves; fortunately, the fringe benefits made up for a lot of it.

    "I am aware of that, and I am pleased that your associates were able to supply the requested information so quickly. As I trust you will be pleased with what I will give-" the demoness was interrupted by a ringing coming from within her purse.

    Murdock suppressed a sigh as the woman answered her cell phone.

    "Helen, what's wrong?" Alexia asked. Her dark green eyes hardened in rage at her minion's response. "Kill them all then! Damn that redhead! What do you mean; they're coming in too fast? There's over twenty of you there! Organize and hunt them down! Hello? Helen answer me!" The blonde slammed her phone onto the table in frustration.

    "What's going on?" Murdock asked in a concerned voice as his hand reached for the briefcase. He had a fair idea what had happened.

    "My brood is being killed off by the traitor and her human lackeys," Alexia snarled.

    "And one of them called you here?" the grey-eyed man asked in exasperation. She really was a stupid creature. "I'm sorry I have to go," he said as he stood and put on his wide-brimmed hat.

    "Why are you leaving? We're not done here."

    "Yes, we are. If you're lucky, WIC was not monitoring mobile transmissions in that sector. If you're unlucky, they've traced the phone call and found out your current location," the mage explained as he grabbed the briefcase and held it at his side.

    "We had a deal!" Alexia's control started to slip and her eyes began to flare.

    Murdock nodded solemnly. "Yes we had one. I'll be informing my associates of your failure tonight. It was my fault for assuming you would be competent, or at least be able to conceal your base."

    "You're going to pay for this!" Alexia cried. She wanted to tear him apart for his insolence, but the demoness knew that the mage would not be taken down that easily.

    "Undoubtedly," Murdock admitted honestly. He could not believe he had failed to expect that something like this would happen. The plan was starting to depend more and more on his backup plan succeeding. "Goodnight," Murdock said, tipping his hat to the demoness. Turning so that his coat billowed out behind him, he walked out of the restaurant.

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


    "How'd we do, Mommy?" Nariko asked as the trio of demons left the building they had cleared.

    "Hello Ranma," Kasumi said from outside. Her team's stance was more relaxed and her weapon was pointed at the ground.

    The redhead raised an eyebrow questioningly.

    "You show up as a Pattern D and a Pattern Silver," Kasumi explained, her eyes twinkling in amusement. Not that anyone could see them behind her goggles.

    "Oh, okay."

    "Any wounded?" Kasumi asked. The brood looked okay.

    "None, thankfully. You?"

    "Nope. You find Alexia or anyone in charge?" the agent inquired.

    "We fought someone who seemed to be in charge, but she wasn't Alexia."

    Kasumi nodded. "No one else spotted a demon matching her description. At least we've destroyed this base of hers."

    The redheaded demon was about to comment when she heard a young woman scream. "What the Hell's that?"

    "Do you really want to know?" Lt. Tendo inquired, in a flat tone. In the darkness her eyes were obscured behind her night vision goggles.

    Ranma's glare was answer enough.

    "Okay, but I think your kids should stay here," Kasumi warned.

    The redhead nodded, her sinking suspicion as to what the scream meant seemed to be more correct. "Girls, go with Kasumi's men and find a place to wash up," Ranma said before she followed her fiancee to another building.

    The agent and the demon entered and walked down a battle-scarred hallway. Sailor DarkStar stepped over the demonic fluids and body parts. The demoness could sense a group of humans and a single succubus ahead. Her heart sank at the surety of what she was about to see. They soon reached the warehouse's storage room. Unlike the other rooms in the building, the lights were on.

    The agents had set themselves up in a large open space towards the center of the room. Three WIC soldiers had positioned themselves near the edges of the room, while another pair was much closer in and had their weapons directly trained on their target.

    Standing near that pair of agents was the officer that Ranma's mother had talked to. Captain Jarvis had pulled his goggles up onto his helmet and Ranma could see that the agent's dark-blue eyes were fixed on readying a syringe. "I should apologize. While our methods are not as elegant as your mistress', they're all we have," Jarvis explained.

    Sailor DarkStar's attention was on the person Jarvis was talking to. She was a fairly young succubus, not too much older than Nariko and a bit less powerful. The demoness' wings, arms, legs, and tail were bound using shackles of an unusually strong and resilient alloy. Her long, bright green hair was matted with her own blood, as was her sparse leather dress.

    Ranma noted several large tears in the membranes of the captive's wings, numerous wounds in her chest and arms that were healing with agonizing slowness, and that one of her horns had nearly been sheared off. The redhead shuddered at that. She knew how sensitive her horns were and could not imagine what having one almost torn off would feel like.

    It took the green-haired succubus a bit longer to notice the visitors. At first her large forest-green eyes looked at the other demon pleadingly and she made a weak mewling noise. Then she noticed who it was standing before her.

    It was the traitor; the redheaded bitch who had lead these humans against her own kind. No doubt, she was here to gloat, torture and to eventually turn her. The demoness' snarled as she tried to break out of her bonds.

    Ranma cringed at the pitiful sight before her. The succubus was too weak to even make her eyes glow uniformly. All that she could generate was an uneven green flicker. "What the hell? I can't believe you ruthless bastards!" Ranma exclaimed.

    "She may have information as to where Alexia went off to," Jarvis said as he cautiously injected the demoness. She tried to struggle away but the bonds were too strong and she was too weak.

    "So you decide it's just okay to torture her?" The redhead and her brood had slaughtered the enemy, but at least those deaths were fairly quick.

    "Not physically," Jarvis counted. He then noted Ranma's skepticism. "The demon got wounded during battle. That's how we were able to capture her. Besides, right here, right now drugs are more effective than physical pain for information gathering."

    Ranma looked at the dying demoness. It was probably for the best that her brood did not get the chance to take prisoners. "It's still wrong," the redhead said as she considered what she should do.

    "There is a way she would tell us everything rather quickly," Jarvis proposed.

    "No, I'm not going to turn anyone unless they ask for it," Ranma said as she looked at the green-haired girl.

    Ranma ached inside and felt a part of her grow cold. She wanted to find Alexia and make her pay. She had already helped kill plenty of little succubae already. Ranma had plenty of excuses.

    "Just make it quick," the redhead said as she stood by to watch Jarvis get to work.

    Ranma watched the short procedure carefully. If the agent went too far she'd kill the demon herself, and maybe even the agent too, but she did want to know where Alexia was. It turned out to be mercifully short. The young succubus did not know anything and was put down.

    Sailor DarkStar carried the body out of the warehouse and gingerly put it with the others of Alexia's brood. The redhead took comfort in the pain she had for the fallen.

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


    Assembly of Man Acolyte Ryoga Hibiki's partner observed the operation from a concealed position near a bridge abutment on the highway that ran next to the light industrial park. She pushed back a lock of brown hair that had fallen in front of her starlight scope.

    Her partner's powers were a double-edged sword. While they gave him increased strength and endurance, rapid healing, a protective aura, and an ability to track demons, they also made him show up on WIC scanners. There was another drawback, one that only she thought of as one.

    Everyone else seemed to think that the increased loyalty, dedication, and obedience to the Assembly was a good thing, that the blind fanaticism her partner showed were signs of a promising young acolyte, not of those of someone being corrupted.

    At first the Assembly seemed like a godsend. They would give her new powers and skills and all they asked for was that she would destroy evil. The Assembly even promised to look into finding the people who dishonored her. However, as time passed she started to doubt the morals and goals of her organization, and regret ever joining.

    It had taken several embarrassing mission failures for the Assembly to realize that their more powerful operatives could be detected by that rival organization. This was why the young Assemblywoman had to observe their target alone. It seemed that the redhead was closely linked to the Company.

    The observer considered abandoning her post, walking over to an agent, and... Surrendering. The Company had its faults, but at least they were not a cult. She could be valuable to WIC. She had codes. She had names. She had locations. She had information.

    She had a responsibility to her partner.

    Ukyou Kuonji sighed. Her defection could wait. She still harbored a secret hope that she could get her partner to go with her, and that the Company might even be able to help him. At the very least she wanted to settle things with that redhead, and figure out exactly what had happened to the childhood friend who had betrayed her.

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


    "Where's my little sister?" Nabiki asked the redheaded demon slumped on the living room couch. The past few days had been most odd for her. Seeing her sister as a nudist-lesbian-bimbo was very distracting. Annoyingly, she was not allowed to tell anyone anything about this. She knew that tempting her older sister or her younger sister's... mother was not a good idea.

    "Akane and her mate are up in her room putting away clothing," Ranma said as she stretched her neck.

    "No doubt having some sort of weird demon sex."

    "Good for them, shows they're in love and healthy," Ranma replied.

    "Uhhh... right... healthy" Nabiki shuddered at the image of Akane and what used to be Tatewaki all claws, wings, and tails rolling around doing unspeakable acts. God knew she had heard them doing it often enough.

    "Normally, I'd be willing to tell you all about how our bodies work, but I'm not in the mood for it right now," Ranma sighed as she replayed the day's events in her head. She hoped that her kids would do something to unwind. The redhead knew her body could benefit from some relaxation.

    Both girls turned their heads upward in response to the sound of a door being opened and someone running down the upstairs hallway. The person then rushed down the stairs in just a handful of steps.

    The redhead's eyes widened when she saw who was coming at her. Nariko leapt up onto her mother and hugged the slightly taller woman in fright.

    "Nari-chan, what's wrong?" Ranma asked as she comforted the girl.

    "Akane was putting away her new clothes, but she had to make room for her closet for the new outfits. We started talking about her old clothes and she started to get mad." The younger succubus spoke in a scared, halting tone.

    "Then what happened?"

    "She yelled at me! She told me to get out! Mommy, what's wrong with her?" Nariko asked.

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


    A naked blue-haired demon sat on the floor crying softly. She did not want to scare her mate away. She loved the crimson-eyed succubus and wished she was here. She had manifested her true form including her claws. The girl looked through her long, transparent blue talons and her sobs increased.

    She had killed and drained today, and worse, she had fed. The taste of... of Laura was still in her mouth. She was a cannibal. A gentle knocking on the door got her attention. "Go away," she said in-between sobs.

    "Akane, it's me... Mommy," Ranma said.

    "Mommy," Akane muttered. She felt herself starting to feel better in her mother's presence. Akane then noticed the end of her tail. "No! You're not my Mommy! She's dead. You're just some... thing!"

    Ranma leaned on the door, amazed at how much those words hurt. "Let me in, we can talk about this," the redhead pleaded. "I really don't want to force you to do this."

    Akane looked at the doorway. Every part of her being was urging her to open the door, to let Mommy in. She stood and shambled to the door. Opening it she nearly fell onto her mother and renewed her sobbing.

    Holding onto her daughter, Ranma looked into the girl's eyes. With a free hand she went to Akane's left horn and gently stroked it. The blue-haired demon's eyes dilated and her crying stopped. A small smile even formed on her lips and a purr-like rumble started to form within her.

    Continuing the stimulation, Ranma lead Akane to her bed. The redhead then had her sit down next to her. The brood mother stopped the rubbing and started to wait.

    "What, what was that?" Akane asked as she pulled out of the bliss filled haze. "I knew these were sensitive, but that...."

    "I'm your mother," Ranma said in explanation. "Sorry I had to do that, but I didn't know what else to do."

    "Another inhuman thing I do," Akane sighed. She wanted to cry but she found it hard to while leaning on mother.

    "Yes. Is that what's wrong?" the redhead asked. "You're upset that you're no longer human."

    "Not just that. That until now I haven't seen anything wrong about what I am!"

    "But you are now. That's good," Ranma said as she put an arm around Akane. "You're recovering. You're turning back to yourself."

    "No I'm not! I'm still a winged-freak. I'm still a killer. I'm even stuck with that feeble-minded girl."

    Ranma raised an eyebrow.

    "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that about Nari-chan. I shouldn't have yelled at her. She's the sweetest, nicest, most beautiful person I've ever met," Akane apologized, ashamed at what she had said about her mate.

    "See, some good came out of your change," Ranma reassured.

    "That's not so bad. What's bad is what Nariko and I were going to do. We were about to have sex, in celebration of today. What kind of monster does that after killing and eating their own kind?"

    "It's part of our nature," Ranma sadly said. "And we can't fight our nature, not completely. Look at me. I'm a guy, but I'm also your mother. I'm a demon. So are you. We don't have to be evil, but we do have to do some things."

    "I'm afraid... afraid of liking- No I already like it, even love it a bit. Sinking my teeth in her neck and then licking the blood off my hands," the blue-haired demon cried.

    "You're afraid that it will control you. That you'll turn into an unthinking beast that simply hunts."

    Akane nodded.

    "The Akane of yesterday didn't care about killing. She didn't care about her humanity. But you're not that Akane, are you?"

    "But I'm still... I'm still..."

    Ranma squeezed her daughter again. "Yes, you're still a demon. But you're not a monster."

    "Thanks, Mother," Akane said. "What's wrong?" she asked, seeing the strange expression on the redhead's face.

    Ranma smiled as ran her hand through her daughter's hair. "I'm so proud of you," she said before kissing her daughter lightly on the cheek.

    "Mother, what's this for?" Akane asked.

    "Say my name again," the redhead beamed.

    "You're my mother, so?"

    "It used to be Mommy didn't it?" Ranma asked.

    "Well, I'm not some little kid; I'm sixteen years old," Akane said before pausing in realization. "Oh, I was a little kid. Wasn't I?"

    Akane's mother nodded.

    "Poor Nariko." Akane could now understand what had happened to her mate and how bad it was. Nariko would never have a break-through like this. To her Ranma will always be Mommy.

    "We'll do our best to help her," Ranma reassured. "Having a mate like you really helps."

    "And you're doing a wonderful job as our mother," Akane smiled.

    "Now, I've got a favor to ask you," Ranma stated as she looked at her reflection in a mirror on the wall. The fight and the discussion with her daughter had both increased the number of violet flecks in her eyes. They were now a third of the area of her irises.

    "What Mother?"

    "Could you help me –well- learn how to be... or at least pretend to be... a girl," the redhead blurted out. "Sure I know how to be a sexy demoness-"

    "Well, that's easy," Akane laughed.

    "Yes it is," Ranma laughed. "Sometimes TOO easy."

    "I'm honored, but why Mother?" Akane asked. She was a bit nervous about the prospect of having to teach Mother, but she was in awe of the responsibility.

    "I'm a Mother. I should know something. Also, it'll help you too," Ranma explained. "Now go and get dressed."

    Akane looked down to see her nude form. "I'm sorry, Mother," she apologized, her pale skin blushing just a hint. She then got up, made her wings, horns, and tail vanish, and went to her closet.

    "Its okay, Honey," Ranma laughed. She had no problems seeing her children in the nude.

    "How's this? Akane asked after she had gotten dressed. She was wearing a yellow floral print mini-skirt and a spaghetti strap top with a bare midriff. On her feet was a pair of leather boots.

    "It's very nice," the redhead said, smiling. It was more clothing than her daughter had been willing to wear since she'd been turned. It might not be as much as she wore when she was human, but it was a start. "Come on, let's go downstairs and make up with Nariko."

    "Can we go out and get some dinner?" Akane asked.

    "Sure, ours was interrupted," Ranma replied, happy at the day's progress.

    End Chapter 8




    Author's Notes:

    Prereaders for this chapter have been. Kevin D Hammel, Rebecca Heineman, Black Dragon, Jerry Jordan, Wray Lofin, Mike Koos, and Joe Fenton.

    Very heartfelt thanks goes to Rebecca Heineman for all of his help on this project. Unfortunately, I can't tell you exactly what he's done. That would contain innumerable spoilers.

    Revision Notes: This had some sprucing up, especially in the dream. Another dense chapter but one that's more "a day in the life" showing the new situation emerging in the wake of ch7's decisions.
     
  11. Threadmarks: Chapter 9
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

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    Book 1: Brooding Responsibilities
    Chapter 9: Multiple Fronts
    Formerly: Revenge and Rebirth Part 1


    "Section Chief Tofu completed the autopsies," Jacob said as he dropped a thick folder onto Stillwater's desk.

    The WIC commander picked it up and started to skim the report. Later, he would read it more thoroughly. "I thought that the demons there were pretty weak."

    "Yes, the eldest was the one Miss Saotome's brood killed," Jacob agreed.

    "Though her kids are progressing well," Stillwater noted. The agent paused to find the appropriate word. "Any… personal requirements they need addressed?"

    Jacob allowed a slight smile to form. "Sir, if you're asking whether or not the brood needs some… male companionship? The answer's no. Besides, I'm fairly certain Miss Saotome doesn't swing that way."

    "But no women for her either?" Stillwater asked, a hint of amusement entering his voice. He knew that succubae tended to have no personal gender preference when it came to feeding on humans. Males were just much more susceptible to their charms.

    "She has an impressive amount of control. Plus, Miss Saotome's got another way to release stress and gather energy." Jacob chuckled slightly.

    "Good, we don't need more complications," Stillwater nodded. "We've confirmed that this was Alexia's brood. But we didn't get her, and I suspect that her stronger minions are still alive," Stillwater said as his eyes lingered on the photographs of the demons that had been killed by other demons.

    "I agree with that assessment. I'd be very surprised if that was the extent of her brood. Her continued existence will be a complication. As is the Assembly presence. We must also watch Murdock more closely. At least we stamped out the Pattern V's in the forests to the south of the city." Jacob added.

    "Yes, I'd be very interested to know who Murdock's working for," Stillwater sighed as he stroked his goatee. "Clearly, these groups are here for much the same reason we are."

    "And they will be after the Pattern Silvers too."

    "Likely. The documentation unearthed and translated by Historical Research Section seems to indicate that the Silvers are key in both forestalling the cataclysm or bringing it to its ultimate end."

    "A part of me still hopes that this all just the deluded ramblings of madmen," Jacob said, shaking his head.

    "Sadly, we've both seen too much to discount it entirely. This is cyclical in nature, and current events are starting to match past ones."

    "A hundred and ten years ago it was nothing more than a bright light observed by loggers in the Yukon. Eighty-seven years ago it was just a thousand acres of destruction in northern Montana. Forty-two years ago the Company lost nearly two hundred men and barely contained the situation.

    "And it was only five years ago that HR discovered the connection between those events," Jacob explained, using the abbreviation for Historical Research section. Willard International Consulting also had a Human Resources department. A commonality that caused more than some confusion. "Eventually, they managed to convince Command that the risk warranted this level of resources, and here we are."

    "Yes and other… recent events have lent credibility to that… prophecy," Stillwater said, showing clear distaste for the last word. The only reason he, and the majority of Command, put stock in the scenario was the mass of evidence that seemed to confirm it.

    "This time, I fear our own abilities will be insufficient. Our Jammers can only do so much; our own weapons are not designed for this task. The energy increase is exponential in nature. We need the Pattern Silvers," Jacob explained.

    "You're not proposing full disclosure?" Stillwater asked with some annoyance.

    Jacob shook his head. "There's no need, Sir. They'll do whatever it takes to stop it of their own free will. They are the good guys after all," the agent said with a slight smile.

    "Provided that this event is not key to their own plans for the future," Stillwater warned.

    "If a global calamity of the scale foretold was a part of their plans, then we have more than this event to worry about." Jacob shook his head. He had read the reports from Historical Research. The accounts, if they were to be believed, of an interplanetary civilization dominated by the Pattern Silvers and the possibility of its return were… disturbing.

    "That would make the Pattern Silvers the enemy," Stillwater said in a cold voice.

    "I know. WIC is charged with protecting humanity from all threats of a Pattern Registering Nature," Jacob sighed. He hoped that it would not have to come to that, but he was pragmatic enough to face that possibility and to have contingency plans for it.

    "This is not the first time the Company has faced cataclysm, and it will not be the last. We will stop this threat. The alternative is unacceptable. The world will not end in either way Robert Frost said it would," Stillwater stated.

    "'Fire and Ice,'" Jacob responded giving the title. He suppressed a sigh. Stillwater was almost obsessed with that poem.

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

    Kasumi approached the dojo. Her mug was in her left hand and her right rested just above her waist. It was natural for her to keep her free arm at the ready. The agent entered without knocking.

    Her eyes narrowed at the sight of her sister being attacked by the succubus' mate. Akane blocked Nariko's arms and tried to use her legs to sweep the taller girl off her feet.

    Nariko tumbled backwards but used her wings to regain her balance. Akane closed in and tried to tackle her mate, but found her stomach being tapped by Nariko's tail. Akane frowned but continued on and embraced Nariko.

    "You've got to keep track of your opponent's tail. Even if it just grazes you, it'll be very damaging," Ranma said as she looked down at her cuddling daughters.

    "I know; it's just that my training has been for people who don't have tails." Akane frowned before lightly kissing Nariko.

    "Yes, you've been sparring like a human. But we're not… limited in that way. Look at Nariko; she used her wings to keep from falling. Nice work there, honey," Ranma complimented.

    "Thanks Mommy," Nariko said, her skin reddening almost imperceptibly in what passed for a blush in her species.

    "But I can still fight like a demon," Akane said, remembering her first battle: the killing, the draining, the feeding.

    "We're going to do more than that. I learned martial arts as a human too. But we need to adjust to our new bodies."

    "Planning on making Saotome Anything Goes a truly aerial art?" Kasumi interjected as she considered the possibilities. Ranma's brood had considerable potential.

    "Yes, though it's not too different really. One of the key points of Musabetsu Kakutou is learning to adapt to any advantage or disadvantage, including extra body parts," Ranma said as she stretched her wings slightly.

    "Good," Kasumi nodded. "Cute… spandex," the agent commented on the garments the brood was wearing. They were in matching low-backed and sleeveless unitards that went to mid-thigh. Akane's was deep blue and white, Nariko's was black and violet, and Ranma's was dark purple and red.

    "Lycra actually," Akane said, pointing out the minor difference in the materials. She had gotten up off the floor and was as putting her straps back on her shoulders.

    "With our wings and tails, it's practical," Ranma shrugged.

    The agent nodded. "I heard you're going back to school tomorrow," Kasumi stated.

    "Yeah, they've done alright in the mall and other places," Ranma said before telling her kids what kata they should practice.

    "And Akane's cover story?" Kasumi asked.

    As she watched her daughters' forms, Ranma gave a brief explanation.

    "Impressive," Kasumi noted. The story was simple and close to the truth. Akane had been injured very badly. She was recovering. The experience had changed her life and Akane had decided to stop hiding who she really was.

    "Mom helped… and Jacob," Ranma added. "Nari-chan, keep your left leg straighter," the redhead then advised the other demoness. She watched as Nariko tried the sequence again. Shaking her head, Ranma walked over to her daughter to help.

    "I like how it takes care of her hair color, pale skin, and mate."

    "Mother says I shouldn't call Nari-chan that," Akane said as she practiced a kata that was familiar except for the bit involving her wings that Mother added.

    "Girlfriend would attract less attention," Ranma confirmed before turning back to her older daughter. "That's it. Very good."

    "Thanks, Mommy," Nariko beamed.

    "My friends seemed to like Nari-chan," Akane recalled. The blue and silver-haired succubus' first impression of Nariko was amazement at a sane, but airheaded, member of the Kuno family.

    "That's good," Kasumi noted. She hoped that her sister would not have too many problems going back to school. There were going to be some, but she knew Akane could handle it.

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

    Nabiki sighed; she watched the brood of demons enter the house and walk upstairs. At least Akane was able to practice martial arts with… her mother. The middle sister had an idea as to what they were training for. They were working with Willard International Consulting, an organization she only recently learned the truth about.

    The brunette mentally kicked herself for not seeing it earlier. Kasumi's coworkers were a bunch of company drones with no lives outside of their work. Nabiki had just assumed that their work was white-collar, not black helicopter.

    "Nabiki," a familiar voice behind the teenager stated. Nabiki's body jerked in surprise as she turned to see Kasumi standing behind her.

    "You're going to be asked questions tomorrow. I trust you'll not divulge anything sensitive?" the operations agent inquired in a friendly voice. A slight smile was on her face.

    "No. Akane's my sister too," Nabiki said, somewhat insulted by the comment. She then looked into her sister's eyes. She always knew something was… off with Kasumi. Her older sister's incident of five years ago was still fresh in her mind.

    "Good," Kasumi said with a grin that was much less threatening.
    "It's just so very strange. Sure it's still Akane, but she's not human."

    "Akane's gotten much better," Kasumi noted. "Ranma seems to be doing a good job."

    "For a sex demon sure."

    "That's what Akane is now."

    Nabiki did not know how to interpret her sister's tone.

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

    "Okay, it's my turn," Ranma said as Akane stepped out of the shower.
    "You're not going to use any hot water, are you Mommy?" Nariko asked while she handed her mate a towel.

    "Yeah," the redhead said.

    "Mommy…" Nariko whined.

    "Are you sure you want to, Mother?"

    Recognizing the girl's shock, Ranma sighed. "I'm sorry, but I'm going to take a hot shower. Look, I'll be right here. You'll even be able to see me through the glass."

    "If you insist," Akane acquiesced. She then hung up her towel. "Don't worry, Mommy's still here," she reassured her mate.

    Nariko nodded and took comfort in Akane's embrace.

    "Yeah, I'm not leaving," Ranma said to the pair of nude demons. The redhead closed her eyes, and her unitard and undergarments disappeared. The demoness walked into the shower stall. Using the hot water that came out of the faucet, she changed forms as her male clothes appeared

    Ranma stepped back to avoid the water and disrobed. His clothing was then tossed over the shower curtain. He knew his children were still in the bathroom, but he could not feel them. Ranma put those thoughts aside concentrated on washing his body. If the girls needed him it would be quite easy to bring Mommy back.

    After he finished showering he shut off the water and asked for a towel. Ranma expected one of his girls to toss one to him. Instead, Nariko slid open the door and handed him a towel.

    Ranma blinked at his daughter. He should have seen this coming. Grabbing the towel he quickly wrapped it around his waist.

    "Something wrong, Mommy?" Nariko asked, with some confusion. How could she have a problem with nudity? The brood slept in the nude and only wore clothing for convenience.

    "Oh, nothing" Ranma forced himself to either avert his gaze or keep it centered on his girl's face.

    "Mommy's bashful." Nariko smiled to her mate.

    "Don't see why, Mother's very good looking in either form," Akane noted. The blue-haired demon looked over the human form of her mother and formulated a plan. Mother had sacrificed so much for them. It would be nice if she could show her appreciation.

    "It's just that I'm male, like this and you're… Never mind." Ranma walked to the sink. He was actually pretty happy. The girls were joking about his male form and not cowering and whining for their Mommy. That was a good sign. He had a bit of hope he could make this work.

    "You're going to change back, aren't you?" Nariko asked.

    "In a little bit." He inspected his eyes; they seemed to be clear of violet flecks. He sighed in relief before placing his hand into a flow of cold water from the faucet. The martial artist watched the reflected pair of eyes subtly change shape and not so subtly change color.

    Ranma looked her body over. She was planning to summon her unitard and wear that, or go to her room and get the leather dress her mother had bought her. Her growing powers had given her more options. Ranma shrugged and decided to see what she could do.

    The black calf-high, high-heeled, leather boots were the same, but everything else was different. She wore a pair of black leather pants that were not quite painted on. Her top was sleeveless and silk. Of a Chinese style, it bore considerable resemblance to the top of a cheongsam. The shirt was dark green and clasped with buttons in the front and had gold trim.

    "Wow, you look great," Akane said, looking her Mother over.

    "It's very nice," Nariko confirmed.

    Ranma's reaction was a bit different. "Pants! I'm finally wearing pants!"

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

    Assembly of Man acolyte Ryoga Hibiki leveled his gaze at his partner. The two demon hunters were in the hotel room that was serving as their base of operations.

    "I assure you, I have no doubts." Ukyou gazed out the window of the room. The Canada Trust Tower loomed prominently in the view. She pushed those errant, those traitorous thoughts out of her mind; now was not the time.

    "Really? Father Oslo has told me about your previous relation with the target."

    "I didn't know the demon was Ranma!" Ukyou shouted. "You knew who this demon was, but you never told me! And you've had just as much personal contact with Ranma as me."

    "I had my orders," Ryoga said simply.

    "It's moot, anyway. Even if Ranma was my friend which he's not, that's not him, not anymore. Besides that bastard's father ruined my life. I wanted revenge before I found out that a demon that took over and corrupted his body. Just like you."

    Ryoga was unmoved by her outburst. "Be sure to keep that in mind."

    "I will… though, maybe we should ask for assistance."

    "No. We don't need any help," Ryoga indignantly replied.

    "Are you sure? You couldn't kill her before, and now she's got two spawn."

    "I tried to do that alone before, but together we will destroy them."

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

    "Umm, Red, I really don't need to see your butt in that much detail," Nabiki remarked dryly to Ranma as the brood mother walked into the kitchen.

    "Hey! You're the one staring at me." Ranma turned to face the teenager.

    "It's hard not to," Nabiki replied. "You're wearing skin-tight leather pants."

    "They're pants. At the moment, that's all that matters. So, shut up." Ranma paused to pull some material off her skin. "Besides, these aren't that tight."

    "A whole quarter inch of extra material. No, not tight at all," Nabiki observed, dryly.

    "Actually, Mother's clothing's pretty modest," Akane interjected as she and her mate walked in from the porch.

    "Well, she is wearing clothing," Nabiki remarked.

    "I was only naked in the living room once!" Akane bristled. In practice for school she kept control of herself and prevented her eyes from flaring.

    The middle sister decided to not comment about the other places Akane was naked, and instead comment on something else. "At least the school uniform looks good with your new hair. I'm surprised you're wearing the normal version and not the fashion disaster that your mother does."

    "Hey!"

    "Please tell me you're not going to defend that… thing you wear," Nabiki smiled.

    "Well…. no," Ranma said before changing the subject. "Akane, what were you doing out there?"

    "We were talking with Father and Grandpa about if we'd qualify for the joining of the houses," Akane explained.

    "Oh, any luck with that?" Ranma asked as she looked out to see her father and Soun sitting out on the back porch playing what looked to be go, but might have been something else.

    "Grandpa's strange. I don't know what he thinks of me," Nariko commented.

    "I'm sure he likes you. He's just… set in his ways," Ranma suggested. She hoped she would not have to straighten things out with her father… again.

    "We should get to school pretty soon," Nabiki remarked. "So Sunshine, not even going to bother with a mockery of the uniform?" the teenager asked, using Ranma's school alias.

    Ranma glared at Nabiki and used her powers to change her clothing.

    "No fishnets? And is that skirt just a miniskirt instead of a micro-mini?" Nabiki inquired in a teasing voice. Ranma's uniform was still darker than the normal, most notably in the use of a black blouse instead of a white one and a crimson girl's ribbon tie instead of a dark blue one, but her skirt was normal length. Ranma's kids were wearing their own standard uniforms.

    "You think I like wearing that stuff? I'm a guy," Ranma replied.

    Nabiki raised her eyebrow and snickered.

    "Let's just go," the redhead grumbled

    The middle Tendo sister's response was cut short. Something was off. She normally had to look up to meet the redhead's eyes, but now… "Just how high were those platform boots?" Nabiki asked after checking Ranma's footwear.

    "Those things are a pain to wear," Ranma said with a shrug.

    "But you look so delightfully Goth in them," Nabiki teased. She smiled after seeing Ranma glare.

    Nariko looked at her mommy. Barefoot, she might actually be a bit taller than the redheaded demon that had turned her. Nariko paused at that. She should not be taller than Mommy. Tatewaki was taller than Ranma. Nariko shook her head. It did not really matter.

    The quartet made their way out of the house and to Nabiki's car. Their progress was noted by the WIC team that was watching the house. The surveillance had been quietly added after Akane had been taken.

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


    "It's been fairly quiet," Janet remarked to her companions as they walked down the school's second floor hallway.

    "What are you talking about?" Usagi asked "Everyone's been talking about Akane today."

    "More demons," Rei muttered as she shook her head. There was a time when they would attack beings like that on sight.

    "Not that, with our… after school activities," Janet clarified. "So far I've just had that thing with Ami in that store."

    "You seem… eager," Usagi stated as the group walked down a stairwell.

    "Well, I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop. I can't help but sense that something big is coming."

    "The school did get taken over," Rei reminded the newest Senshi.

    "Where is Ami, anyway?" Usagi asked.

    "Yeah, it's not often we see you two apart," Rei joked. She did feel a bit perturbed at how much time Ami spent with the new girl, but she could see the reasons for it. Janet was smart and a Senshi. Granted, the auburn-haired girl was not a supergenius like Ami was, but Janet was very bright.

    "She told me she wanted to find Minako and Makoto," Janet explained, answering Usagi's question.

    "Oh, I see," Usagi said.

    "What do you guys think of Sunshine's brood?" Janet quietly asked.

    "They seem nice enough," Usagi's gaze was distant, at least there were only two of them. In her dream DarkStar had five.

    "Yeah, for a bunch of… demons. They seem okay," Rei admitted after they exited the stairwell and entered the ground floor.

    "I'm glad we got your approval," a voice calmly remarked.

    Rei turned to see a redhead with violet-flecked blue-eyes leaning on some lockers. "What're you doing here?" the raven-haired girl asked.

    "Akane and Nariko are in the bathroom," Ranma explained as she pointed to the door. While she had no problems with going into a girl's bathroom when she needed to use it, going in when she did not was different.

    "Oh, so how's your… family doing?" Usagi asked after considering her words. The school's general population did not know about the brood.

    "The girls are fine," Ranma replied, eyeing the other Senshi. "I guess someone told you about them. That's good. Now you won't do anything stupid."

    Rei bristled at the unspoken threat, but the princess had declared these demons off limits.

    "Wow, I've never been this close to a — well you know — before," Janet remarked as she looked over Ranma. The redhead looked human; though there was something off about her. It was mostly with the eyes, while there was nothing that looked inhuman about them, they were simply a little bit… strange, though it could just be their blue and violet coloration.

    "Yeah." Ranma turned to see her daughters exiting the bathroom. The mother smiled slightly at the sight.

    Akane stopped when she spotted the girls mother was talking to. She could smell a signature on the humans, something that Mother had as well. "Sunny?" the blue-haired girl asked, using the public name for Mother her mate had come up with.

    "It's okay, Akane. They're those girls we talked about," Ranma reassured.

    "Hi! I'm Nariko Saotome," the black-haired demoness greeted happily as she walked closer to Usagi.

    "Usagi Tsukino," Usagi smiled in return. The red-eyed demoness seemed to be very nice.

    "Nari-chan…" Ranma warned.

    "But my records still say my last name's Kuno," Nariko admitted, sheepishly.

    "Maybe we should eat lunch together," Usagi suggested. "We should get to know each other more."

    "We were planning on eating with Samantha and Naoko," Ranma said as the group of girls made their way to the cafeteria.

    "They're not cleared?" Janet asked. Neither of those girls were Sailor Senshi or demons, but they might be agents.

    "They're nice normal girls," Ranma explained, answering the girl's question. It was nice to have some friends who were not too weird. The downside was that they were Sunshine Saotome's friends.

    "Hey Akane, I like the new hair. You wanna have a good time?" a male classmate by the name of William Stetson said while leering at the girl. He was fairly handsome, but obnoxious.

    A small growl escaped Akane's lips as she turned to face the intruder. Getting hit on like this was starting to wear very thin, and right in front of her mate! "I'm not interested in you. I've got a girlfriend now. Just leave," the demon said managing to keep her voice even and her eyes from glowing.

    Part of her wanted to give Stetson exactly what he wanted, right up until she drained the last drop of life force out of his body.

    "Well maybe you could both come. I'm sure I could handle you two," Stetson said with a slanted smile.

    Ranma smirked. The poor fool had no idea what he was dealing with. She did know exactly what Akane was going though. Most guys took the hint and stopped bugging her, but there were always a few who kept coming back.

    It was as if they were drawn to her and her kids, which was quite true. Succubae were designed to be very sexy, sensual, and appealing. When they got around hormonal teenage boys…

    It would be simplicity itself to seduce one and drain him. Ranma shook her head. She would never do that. Not to a boy or a girl. It was just an urge she had. She could almost taste the energy the humans gave off. Her kids seemed to have even less of a problem with it. They did have each other and they were still draining energy from their mother. Though ever since she had killed those youma, Ranma had found those urges had been dulled. Killing Alexia's minions had also helped.

    Nariko bit her lower lip. She remembered Stetson. He was one of Tatewaki's friends and seemed like a nice enough guy back then. Now, he was a rude annoyance. Nariko sighed; things were so confusing.

    "No," Akane said as she narrowed her eyes. "Remember what happened the last time you hit on me?"

    "You hit right back," Stetson replied, thinking he sounded much cooler than he really did.

    "Well Nariko, it looks like he finally got one right," Akane almost snarled as she made a fist. She would have preferred to extend her claws.

    Stetson ignored the fist and looked in eyes that almost seemed to glow. The teen suddenly felt an overwhelming fear for his safely. A deep primal part of him got the urge to flee and hide. He was lucky that Akane had chosen that sense to give off. She could just as easily given another signal, one that would have ensnared him.

    "Bill. Go. Now," Akane stated.

    Stetson looked at the six girls glaring at him. The three paler ones seemed more threatening, not that the other half was friendly either. After giving one last, quite lame pickup line, he quietly slinked away.

    "Wow, no wonder you guys changed teams," Janet observed once Stetson was out of sight.

    Rei gave a sideways glance at the auburn-haired girl, but held her tongue.

    "You did good, Akane," Ranma reassured.

    "Why can't they leave us alone?" Akane moaned.

    "I'm sorry," Nariko said as she looked down at the hem of her skirt.

    "Don't worry. These guys would be after us anyway without what you… what Tatewaki did," Akane said as she wrapped her arm around her mate's waist.

    "No, I'm sorry about what I did to you and Mommy," Nariko clarified.

    "I can't forgive what Tatewaki did. He was a vile person."

    Nariko whimpered and closed her eyes.

    Akane pulled her mate closer. "But you're not him. You're Nariko."

    The red-eyed young woman frowned. "I know; I still feel bad."

    "That's what makes you a good person."

    A mental image flashed into Usagi's mind as she watched the two demons comfort each other. It was from the dream she had, the one where she and Queen DarkStar ruled over humanity. The blonde shuddered, not wanting to think of mated succubae, especially when one of them was herself.

    Usagi looked at Ranma. There was something she had to know — there was also something Usagi should tell her. "Sunshine," Usagi said, using Ranma's alias. "Can we talk… in private?" the blonde asked, her eyes looking at the redhead.

    "I guess so," Ranma agreed. "Girls, get your lunch. I'll be with you in a bit," the demoness said to her kids.

    "You two go with Akane and Nariko, we'll be right back," Usagi told Rei and Janet.

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

    "Queen DarkStar?" Ranma asked after Usagi had explained that dream. "That's pretty messed up. I'm not royalty, and I've got no intention to take over the world," the redhead said. Though part of her remembered that DarkStar was royalty... or at least of a ruling family. This quashed by another part that asserted she only had the body, memories, and powers of DarkStar.

    "The dream predicted Nariko," Usagi pointed out as the walked along one of the paths outside the school. The two girls were speaking in Japanese. It was a welcome change for Usagi who while understandable, did not enjoy exactly English.

    Ranma had been raised to be fluent in the multiple languages and hardly cared. When Genma learned of Soun's plans to move to Canada, he knew that it would be best for the joining of the houses if any children he had could speak English. It also helped that the various instructors Genma had dragged Ranma to were more likely to speak English than Japanese as a second language. For example that monastery in Tibet had more than a few English speakers. Though the lessons in Mandarin were more helpful in general.

    The redhead suspected that Usagi also switched languages to prevent eavesdropping. Ranma smirked a little bit at that. WIC had an Operations Centre in Japan and Furinkan was full of Japanese students. "But it didn't have Akane. I guess those other girls were Samantha and Naoko," Ranma said.

    Usagi bit her lip. One of the girls looks a lot like Akane, if with slightly different coloration. "Still…"

    "So, you knew the name of my daughter beforehand. That's the ONE thing your dream had that's real. I'm pretty sure we're not going to date. You're nice and all, but I've got more pressing things in my life. And didn't you just lose your boyfriend?" Ranma asked after she looked Usagi over.

    Usagi blinked. Most nights she still cried before falling asleep. It hurt to have lost Mamoru and in such a senseless way. He had died before, but at least those times it was in her arms… and of course he came back. She still hoped for a resurrection, but it seemed pretty grim. She was talking to Mamoru's… replacement.

    "Though the part about you being a demon is… interesting," Ranma said as she appraised the girl. The redhead could easily see how the blonde would look as a succubus. It was an image that would haunt her own dreams later.

    "It was horrible," Usagi said, shuddering at the memory. She looked to see Ranma's eyes appear to shimmer slightly.

    "I can imagine," Ranma noted. She idly licked one of her fangs. It would be simple to… The redhead halted that line of thought.

    The blonde stared at the demoness. "I know that dream's not real. It's still troubling. Why did it get that Nariko part right? Have you been having any odd dreams?"

    "I'm a guy who's also a demonic mother. Yeah, I get them a lot."

    "I still don't like knowing Nariko's name."

    "Neither do I. You sure no one told you about Nariko before you met her?" Ranma asked.

    "I don't think so…" Usagi said as she pondered.

    "The dream also has me treating those demons like minions and not kids," Ranma observed.

    "You really are a mother?" Usagi asked.

    "Uh, yeah," Ranma confirmed as she looked around the school grounds. While she could not see the WIC team that was monitoring them, she knew one had to be there. "There's two ways to I can turn someone into a demon. One, I force the person to change and they turn into a demon that's bonded to me."

    "A minion?"

    "A child," Ranma corrected. The thought of having mere minions instead of children sickened her. Monsters like Alexia had minions. "The other's more complicated and needs the help of the person being turned, but the new demon isn't nearly as dependent on me."

    "Why didn't you use that one?" Usagi asked. The possibility that Ranma wanted to have a brood entered the blonde's mind.

    "The second way's too slow. Both of my kids were dying when I turned them. I had to make them into my children."

    "I'm a mother too," Usagi admitted. "Or I will be."

    "What?" Ranma asked. That had gotten her attention.

    "My daughter's from the future. I have her with Mamoru. She was sent back in time for her safety. Good thing… I don't think the future's like I remember it anymore," Usagi sighed. She still believed in Crystal Tokyo, but with Mamoru gone things were going to be different.

    "Future? Yeah… with that –um Black Moon group, right? So you know what's going to happen?" Ranma asked. Murdock had told him about the Senshi, but a lot of what he said seemed too far-fetched.

    "We did," Usagi sighed as she rubbed her eyes. "But Murdock ruined that." Usagi's face twisted in anger.

    "Oh," the redhead stated as she let the Murdock comment slide "So in that future with your late boyfriend you had a kid. She came back in time; she's here right now?" the demoness asked as she tried to untangle the blonde's story.

    "Setsuna got a sample from him. He can still be her father," Usagi explained.

    Ranma nodded with understanding. "Then she knew he was going to die?"

    "Not quite," Usagi answered, glaring at the demon. "Before… before he died, there was this evil queen. Long story short, she did something to Mamoru that made our daughter start to fade in and out of existence. After we beat her, Setsuna did that to make sure my daughter wouldn't disappear again."

    "Good thing then," Ranma agreed. The thought of losing one of her kids made the demoness shudder. "You have a photo of her?" Ranma asked, suspecting the answer to that question. After all, she had pictures of her kids in her purse and her male form's wallet, and her mother carried much the same.

    "Yes, here's my Chibi-Usa," Usagi answered as she pulled out and handed over the image. The blonde smiled; at least one part of Mamoru was still alive.

    "Cute," Ranma said, looking over the picture. The pink hair was a bit much, but the eyes were very interesting.

    "A little bit too cute," Usagi said.

    "She reminds me of my Nari-chan. Same eye color," Ranma explained.

    "I wouldn't be surprised if she was a demon all this time," Usagi joked.

    Ranma noted that there was something strange in the blonde's tone, but shrugged it off. "She staying with you and the other Senshi?"

    "Sorta. She's back in Japan with the Outers, that's the rest of the planets."

    "Why?" Ranma asked. She suspected that there were Senshi to the other planets. Pluto was proof of this.

    "The Outers are there in case something happens in Japan."

    "And your daughter's with them because…?" Ranma asked. The thought of being on the other side of the world from her children was completely alien to her.

    "Pluto advised it," Usagi sighed. "It's… it's… going to be dangerous to have her here. She's just a kid."

    The demon blinked. She was training her kids to fight and had already led them into battle. However, Usagi's daughter was much younger. "I just think you should have your daughter brought over here. She did lose her father. She'd want to be with her mother again, and you do have your friends to help protect her."

    "When I talk to Usa next I'll ask her if she wants to visit."

    "Okay, I know it's strange to get parenting advice from an energy-draining male demoness," Ranma laughed.

    "You… drain people?" Usagi asked. She should have known. Ranma was a demon. Suddenly, the blonde wished she was not alone with her.

    "Nope, only the demons we've fought," the succubus said. Though a part of her wondered what she would do if she killed a human opponent… like Assemblyman Hibiki. Then there were the boys, and even girls, at school…. Ranma immediately terminated that line of thought.

    "Why?"

    Ranma leveled her gaze at the other magical girl "It's something we need. Well… I don't need it as much, but my kids are growing. It's a good way to do it. The energy would go to waste anyway."

    "I guess it's better than seducing and draining people," Usagi allowed.

    "Yeah myself or my kids won't ever do that Ranma evenly said, but her eyes did start to glow, and Usagi thought the redhead sounded a bit.. hungry at that..

    "Sorry," Usagi apologized, slightly unnerved by Ranma's reaction. "It's just strange. You feed on demons. They were your own kind—"

    Ranma glared at this.

    "—and you took their energy. It's kinda like cannibalism."

    "Kinda," Ranma agreed, deciding not to mention what Akane had done; that was cannibalism. "Look, it's not something I'm proud of," the redhead started. Don't kid yourself; you are proud, Ranma mentally corrected herself. Remember how you felt when your kids made their first kills? That feeling of satisfaction and pride.

    "It's just something we have to do," Ranma shrugged. "These monsters have to be killed."

    "I guess. It's just creepy… no offense."

    "How do you think it feels from my side? You think I want to be a demon?" Ranma asked in a quiet but forceful voice.

    Usagi made eye contact; blue eyes met with violet-tainted ones. "No, but you have to be one anyway," the blonde answered.

    "Yes," replied Ranma, her eyes guarded.

    "Let's go see how the girls are doing."

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


    Alexia watched the house down the street from her location. Getting herself in position had been the easy part, though finding an unoccupied dwelling was a bit of luck; controlling her power and not causing a scene so that she would not be detected was much harder.

    The demoness smirked despite this. Her minions, those that were still alive, had tried to suggest that it would not be in her best interest to go herself. If those humans found her they might— Alexia shut of that line of reasoning. Her mortality was not something she liked to dwell on.

    Besides, the demoness thought with a smirk as she turned her attention to the WIC van parked near the house. They're on the lookout for something demonic. They're expecting a brood of demons to swoop in and start killing, not carefully observing and plotting.

    Sneaking to that gray van and slaughtering the humans inside had a definite appeal to Alexia, but she knew it would simply increase their presence around the house. The demoness sighed. Her brood could storm the house, but the response from the humans would be swift. The chances of her minions slaying the treasonous brood were, sadly, slim.

    The problem was in those… agents. Their equipment provided an effective early warning system. Her spawn could easily get past it, but not without alerting them. The same was true of the school the traitor and her stolen minions still attended for some reason. Alexia preferred to ignore the little detail that only one of Ranma's children had been turned by herself.

    She then spotted a silver sedan approach and park in front of the house. Alexia's face clouded as she watched her spawn step out. The young demoness, now enslaved to and altered by that traitorous bitch, was happily chatting with a demon hunter. As she watched this… abomination, she was struck with inspiration. There was a way she could strike at that annoying redhead and reclaim what was hers….

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


    "Oh hi, Akane. How's it going?" Ranma asked as her daughter entered their bedroom. Nariko was spending a few hours with her father, and Akane had just been out with Kasumi.

    "When… when I first met you… I saw that little leather dress and thought you were just another bimbo," Akane admitted as she sat down on the bed next to her mother. "I'd never thought I'd end up in leathers of my own," the demoness sighed.

    "It's not like you wear them all the time… anymore," Ranma offered.

    "I know," Akane smiled as she picked the gift that Kasumi had helped her pick up.

    "What's this?" Ranma asked as she looked at the simply wrapped box her daughter had handed her.

    "Open it," Akane offered.

    The redhead ripped the wrapping off and gazed at the contents. Great, more clothes, she thought. She then looked closer at the two items. It was clothing, but it was not for her succubus form. Holding the shirt and drawstring pants, Ranma looked questioningly at Akane.

    "You were there for me, you helped me remember who I was and accept what I am. I want to be there for you too," Akane explained.

    "But this?"

    "I know you're really… really a guy. I've seen how you look at your male-side," Akane said, somewhat softly. "It's gotta hurt to do this — be a woman, a demoness, a mother. But you do it anyway, for us." She then flashed a fanged grin that went straight to the young mother's heart.

    The redhead closed her eyes and smiled.

    "Mother, are you okay?" Akane asked.

    "I'm fine," Ranma said as she wiped the corners of her eyes. There was still hope for her human side. "I'm just so proud. I love you so much." The demoness then leaned over and hugged Akane.

    "I love you too," Akane sighed happily in her mother's embrace.

    Ranma untangled herself from her daughter. "I think I'll go change."

    "I checked the size of your clothing before I went. It should fit you," Akane offered.

    "Thanks Honey," the redhead said as she walked out of the room.

    As her mother left, Akane chuckled at Ranma's modesty. But that helped prove that her mother really was a guy, at least when she was male.

    Once in the bathroom, Ranma returned to her birth form. He did not worry about Nariko losing her connection to Mommy. His daughter was already out of range. Ranma then changed into Akane's gift. Ranma chuckled as he pulled on the pair of black pants. Akane had gotten the right size and Ranma would not need to worry about asking her to return it. The martial artist then slipped on the rich yellow, almost golden, silk shirt.

    Ranma looked at his reflection with a sideways smirk. He still had a chance to exist, in spite of — or maybe because of his daughters. He then walked back to his room.

    "You look good," Akane said as she looked over Ranma. Part of Akane preferred her mother to be in demon form, but if this would make Mother happy…

    "Thanks, Akane. You sure you're okay with me being like this?" Ranma asked.
    "For a while," Akane admitted. While she could accept, and encourage Mother to be human sometimes, she still needed her mother. Akane wondered if her mate would be able to understand. "I know this coffee shop nearby. It's not a long walk," Akane suggested.

    "Hmmm, I guess." While Ranma was not a big fan of coffee, it would be nice to spend some time as a male with his daughter. Ranma and Akane walked down to the first floor and out the front door. Ranma looked questioningly at the overcast sky. He was starting to see that cloud cover was the norm in this part of the world, at least in fall. The martial artist shrugged. If it rained then he and Akane could fly back or catch a ride with the WIC team that was likely to follow them.

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

    Ami Mizuno's journey was not hampered by the threat of rain. Her and her friend's destination was in the building. The apartment door was quickly answered by a professional-looking woman with auburn colored hair. "Hi, Dr. Fraiser," the blue-haired girl greeted. "Is Janet in?"

    "Hi," Usagi greeted from her spot next to Ami. She idly wondered if all smart girls had doctors for mothers.

    "Yes, she's in her room," Nadine Fraiser said as she opened the door. Her shift at North York General Hospital had just ended.

    "Thanks," Ami replied as she crossed the threshold.

    "It's nice to see Janet's making friends," Nadine said as she closed the door.

    "Yeah," Ami agreed. Why did Janet's mother seem surprised that her daughter was making friends? Janet seemed nice and outgoing enough. Maybe I just think that because she's less shy than I am, Ami thought morosely. All my friends are Senshi, even my new one.

    "Janet's in her room." Nadine pointed to the location of her daughter's room.

    "Thanks, Dr. Fraiser," Usagi said as she followed Ami. The blonde noticed that Ami went to Janet's room before the older woman told her where it was. Usagi ignored this; she assumed that this was not the first time Ami had visited.

    In this Usagi was entirely correct.

    Ami knocked on the door. "Janet, it’s me and Usagi."

    Shortly after the music playing in Janet's room lowered in volume, the auburn-haired girl opened the door. "Hey, guys. Glad you could make it. I'll show you my room," Janet said while giving a sly smile to Ami.

    Ami sighed and shook her head.

    Except for a pile of papers and open books on her desk, Janet's room was immaculate. The level of organization was something that even Ami found excessive.

    Janet was showing off her bookcase when Usagi noticed something.

    Usagi looked over Janet. "You know, if you put on a lab coat, you'd be pretty close to your mom."

    Janet's face darkened. "No, I'm not."

    "But your noses are very close. Your faces have the same shape."

    "Your eyes are almost the same shade of grayish-green," Ami added.

    "It's a coincidence." Janet had sat on her bed and looked past her friends.

    "Pardon?" Ami asked.

    Janet paused. She did not want to keep secrets from her friends. She was going to trust them with her life. "I'm adopted," the Senshi of Orion admitted. "My birth mother… she… she died."

    "I'm sorry," Ami said as she hugged Janet. At least this explained how Janet got the last name Fraiser. Ami did wonder what had happened to Janet's birth father but thought it wise not to ask.

    "It's okay," Janet said in a distant voice as if reciting something from memory. "It… was years ago."

    "You poor girl," Usagi said as she sat down next to Janet.

    "I'll be fine," Janet said flatly.

    "You're not alone," Usagi gave Janet a supportive hand squeeze. Janet did have another mother now, unlike Makoto who was still an orphan as was… Mamoru.

    "I know," Janet stated with a slight smile.

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

    "What'd you think of your first day of school?" Ranma asked as he stirred his hot chocolate. He did not like coffee and the tea the cafe served was awful.

    "Could have been worse." Akane looked out one of the windows and sighed. "I kinda wanted there to be more of an uproar. I mean, I come back from being missing and more people comment more about my dye job than they do about me being a lesbian!"
    Ranma turned to see what the demoness was looking at but remained silent. A silver car had pulled up onto the opposite side of the street.

    "I guess those rumors about me playing for the other team were good after all." The blue-haired girl noted sourly. "Half the school probably was expecting me to get a girlfriend. I am Akane Tendo—" She glanced at her mother. "Well Saotome, but they don't know that… boy hater."

    Akane continued. "I guess it's not so bad. Nariko's much nicer than any boy."

    "She is a good kid," Ranma stated hesitantly.

    "It's not your fault," Akane said, trying to stop what she knew was going to happen.

    "It is. I'm guilty as hell. If I'd mothered Nariko from day one, she'd…" Ranma sighed.

    "You're her mother now, and that is helping her. Nariko used to be incapable of disagreeing with you, but now. 'No, Mommy, I think the pink skirt is better,'" Akane quoted from an earlier conversation.

    Ranma laughed. "Nari-chan is spending all day after school with her father. It's good that you both have dads." He glanced out the window to see that what was clearly a Company car had left.

    "Yeah, you're not a single mom," Akane said, her voice quite flat.
    "What's wrong Honey?"

    "Oh nothing," Akane sighed. She hated Tatewaki, but she loved Nariko. She was depressed at the near certainty that Nariko will never "fully recover," but she was relieved that her mate would never turn back into what she was. The demoness hated taking comfort in that.

    "It's about Nariko."

    Akane nodded. "After she tried to apologize to me. I asked her what she felt about her human life, her old life." She looked at her own drink. She took a reluctant sip of the caffeinated beverage.

    "What'd she say?"

    "Not much. I don't know whether she simply doesn't think much about it or if she's keeping it private."

    Ranma blinked. Nariko was the most open person he knew. This was something he had to keep his eye on.

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

    "What do you think I should do, Daddy?" Nariko asked. The demoness and her father were sitting in the expansive kitchen of the Kuno house.

    "You haven't asked your…. mother?" the Drake inquired.

    "You've known me longer," Nariko said, nervously.

    The Drake smiled. That his child still cared for him, still confided in him reassured him greatly. "I think I've got a solution," the Drake said before explaining what his daughter could do.

    "Oh Daddy! You're so smart!" Nariko leapt over and hugged her father.

    The Drake closed his arms around his daughter, who snuggled in. The Drake's resolve strengthened. His son Tatewaki might be gone, but his daughter Nariko still had a chance.

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

    A pair of teenagers walked down the edge of the road. The female was leaning on the male who had his arm around her. Ranma looked at his daughter who had a strange grin on her face.

    "What?" Ranma asked.

    "Oh, it's just the waitress at the coffee shop thought we were a couple," Akane laughed.

    "You did keep pretty close to me," Ranma said as he loosened his grip on Akane's waist.

    "You're my mother. Though I guess there was no way they could know that."

    "They saw a guy and a girl, same age," Ranma agreed with a sigh. A misunderstanding like that had been central to what had happened to Nariko. Ranma, and the former Kuno boy, had both thought that it was romantic love instead of parental.

    "I did have a cutesy nickname for you too," Akane laughed.

    "Yeah," Ranma sighed. It could have been worse. At least it was only Akane and Nariko who called him "Sunny". He did not like the name much, but Nariko had picked it and he did not want to hurt her feelings. He then heard the familiar sound of sporadic rain hitting the ground, leaves, pavement, and everything else.

    He looked up to see no discernable change in the heavy cloud cover, aside from the precipitation. Soon there was enough water to trigger the transformation.

    Akane nearly purred at the return of her bond with her mother. As nice as Mother's male form was, it was nothing compared to her true form. Akane paused. No, Mother's human form is her true one. It's the one she was born with.

    "Damn lake effect weather," Ranma grumbled as she pulled her now loose, longer and crimson hair, back. She looked at her soaked daughter. "Follow me," she said before walking into the forest that ran on the right side of the road.

    Once they were surrounded by trees, Ranma did a quick scan with her senses. She then shifted her silk shirt and leather pants slightly. Her true form then manifested. After stretching her wings and tail, Ranma turned to her daughter. "Come on, we're going to do some flying."

    Akane looked around the forest. The largely deciduous trees were not that close, but it would still be tricky to use her full wingspan. The constant downpour did not help either. "Mother, you sure about this?"

    "It's good training," Ranma said as she oriented herself in the direction of home. "Not all of our flying will be in open spaces and with clear weather."

    Akane nodded at this and reverted to her full-demon form. "I'm ready," she said after a brief stretch. Keeping her tail and especially her wings hidden, while easy, always left them a little bit stiff.

    "I'll follow you. That way if you hit anything, I'll see it," Ranma said as she spread her wings.
    Akane extended her light-cobalt wings and took to the air. It was hard to weave her way through the trees. She had to go fast enough to stay in the air but slow enough to avoid trunks and branches. The ends of some of the latter scratched against her wing membranes.

    When they were about halfway home, the blue-haired demoness took a turn too sharply and a branch went right through her left wing. It tore several inches of her wing membrane, until the twig hit one of her wing supports and broke off.

    Yowling in pain, Akane tumbled but managed to land on her feet. She almost slipped on the muddy ground, but her tail helped keep her balance. With a wince, Akane pulled her wing in front of her to get a look at the damage.

    The demoness looked up from examining the gash to see her mother land. Akane sighed — Mother was always so graceful. She never had problems flying and her posture was always perfect, even here in the pouring rain. "It doesn't look too bad," Akane said as her mother examined the wounded wing.

    "It should be okay," Ranma said after watching the torn membranes begin to knit back together. She also checked to make sure there were no splinters or other debris in the wound. "How's the pain?" the redhead asked as she held her hand over the wound. Their wings were nowhere near as sensitive as their horns, but they still had plenty of nerves.

    "I'll be fine," Akane said as she waited for the tear to seal. The accelerated healing she had was nice, but it felt so strange. Mother feeding her energy to help speed up her healing was also strange.

    Akane laughed at that. Everything about her new body felt strange. Though having her body repair itself before her eyes was rather weird.

    "You sure?" Ranma asked, concern on her face. "We can walk the rest of the way," Ranma paused, then added with a slight grin, "Or I could carry you."

    "I'll fly," Akane grumbled as she readied her wings.

    "Be careful," Ranma said as she watched Akane take off. It was a bit mean, but she had to push her kids. Ranma followed the Akane and was glad that the rest of their flight path was uneventful. Ranma smiled as she watched Akane burst out of the forest and increase her speed a bit as she crossed the Tendo's backyard.

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

    Major Nodoka Saotome, Doctor of Materials Science and Engineering, was in the Tendo living room working on her laptop. Displayed on the screen were the lab results on a sample of the material the captured Inter-Dim gate was made out of. Her next task was to develop ways to synthesize the material. She had a fair idea of why WIC wanted that ability.

    She had the house to herself. Her husband and Soun had left shortly after Nodoka had arrived. The Science and Technology Section agent smirked at that. It looked like Genma was still rattled, which was good.

    Nabiki had left a couple minutes ago. She said she was going out to meet friends. Nodoka hoped that Command had a team watching the girl. Lt. Tendo had gone out training with her strike team. Nariko was spending most of the evening with her Father and should return sometime before her bedtime.

    According to the observation team, Ranma and Akane had gone out to get something to eat. The strange part was that her son was… her son. Ranma had gone out with Akane in male-form. Nodoka had asked Nabiki about the event and was pleased to hear about Akane's gift.

    The agent had resumed her work when her phone started to ring. "Major Saotome here," she answered automatically.

    "Major, we have an incoming Pattern D," one of the agents running the surveillance on the Tendo property said.

    "Can you tell who it is?" Nodoka asked as her hand went to her sidearm.

    "We're getting another pattern! It's… it's a D-Silver, matching signature," the agent said with relief.

    "Good," Nodoka said, her hand still on her gun. It stayed there until she got a clear view of the demons entering the house.

    "How was your day?" Nodoka asked her daughter and granddaughter. She noted that Ranma was not in her Senshi form. Nodoka wondered if Ranma had increased her power levels or if she simply had the same power level in either form now.

    "Good," Ranma said as she ran her hands through her soaked mane of crimson hair. She had folded her wings against her back and was slipping out of her muddy boots.

    "Oh Akane, you got a phone call," Nodoka said as she retrieved the message she had stuck to the refrigerator.

    "Hmmm, Yuka called. Looks important," Akane said as she looked over the note. The demoness then walked to the phone and dialed the number.

    "Okay, I'll be down the hall," Ranma said before she headed off to the bathroom. "Damn little succubus bladder," Ranma grumbled to herself.

    Akane dialed the number. Her old friend answered. After the pleasantries were exchanged, Yuka got to the reason she had tried to call Akane. The blue-haired succubus' eyed flared in response. Akane tried to keep her tone even but was unable to control herself.

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

    Ranma was washing her hands in the first floor bathroom. A quick check confirmed that her eyes still had the same violet content. Part of her had hoped that today's events would somehow reverse the changing in her eyes.

    The redhead's attention shifted. She heard her daughter's pained cry, but more directly, she felt it. Ranma tore out of the room and ran to her daughter. She found Akane kneeling on the kitchen floor holding a phone. The dial-tone drone could be heard under the sound of Akane's crying.

    "What happened?" Ranma asked as she stepped down to her daughter.
    Akane paused in her sobbing long enough to make eye contact with Ranma. "I called Yuka and…" Akane shuddered and folded her wings over her chest.

    "Is she okay?" Ranma asked as she put her hand under Akane's chin so she could look into her daughter's face.

    As she nodded, Akane emitted a small whimper. Tears resumed their stream down her face. "She's… she was my friend."

    "What happened?"

    Akane tried to gather herself. "Yuka…. can't handle it. She said she always knew something was off with me," the demon's tone had hardened a bit at the end of the last sentence. "I wasn't even being too open with Nariko!" Akane exclaimed.

    "I know," Ranma said as she hugged her. She had taken pride in her daughters' restraint. During school, they had hardly even held hands. The redhead sighed. She could guess what the call was about now. Akane just lost a friend.

    "Maybe tomorrow—" Ranma tired to suggest before she was cut off.
    Akane shook her head and resumed her crying.

    Ranma held onto her daughter. Her hand moved up to Akane's right horn. The redhead gently rolled her fingers over the protrusion. Akane's pupils dilated as her sobbing stopped. Akane leaned on her mother and almost started to purr, almost.

    "Feeling better now?" Ranma asked. The redhead stopped and looked at her daughter. "Akane?" Ranma inquired her concern increasing. The blue haired demon's face had started to contort.

    Akane's eyes suddenly flared a brilliant blue. "How could you!" the demoness cried as she backhanded her mother. Ranma was knocked backwards onto the kitchen floor.

    The blue-haired girl stood up. She glared down at her mother. The glow in her eyes stopped and was replaced by tears. "I can't believe it! Is that all you can do when I cry? Use my horns to drug me?"

    "I…" Ranma said, dumbly. Before she could get further, her daughter had stormed out of the room.

    "What happened?" Nodoka asked after her daughter got up.

    "I'm not sure. Akane lost a friend. I tried to comfort her." Ranma shook her head and started walking towards the stairs.

    Major Saotome followed Ranma.

    "Akane, what's wrong?" the redhead asked after knocking on the locked door.

    "Go away!" Akane cried.

    "Let me in so we can talk about this," Ranma suggested.

    In her room, Akane shook her head. She knew what Mother had done the last time she had locked herself in her room. "Stay out!"

    "Akane…" Ranma pleaded.

    "No!"

    The redhead considered her options. Forcing her daughter, by either knocking the door down or badgering her to open the door did not seem like a good idea. However, leaving Akane to stew in her room might not be wise either. Ranma looked to see her own mother standing in the hallway. "Mom… could you help?"

    Nodoka paused before answering, not out of uncertainty, but out of bizarreness. Her son was asking for help in a mother-daughter dispute, and her son was the mother… the demonic mother. "Of course, Ranma."

    "Akane, it's grandma. Can I talk to you?"

    Akane looked up. Grandma was human. She would not be able to control her, not like Mother. "You can come in, but not Mother… not yet," Akane added. She got up and unlocked the door. The sobbing demoness looked at her mother. A part of her wanted to embrace mother and let her protect her, but another still felt betrayed, not just at her mother but at her body for feeling that way.

    Ranma smiled when she watched her mother go into Akane's room. Her expression soured when she saw her daughter glare at her and slam the door shut.

    "What happened?" Nodoka asked sitting down next to the demoness.

    "After I called Yuka. Mother rushed to my side. She was holding me and…" Akane paused. "She touched my… my horns."

    "Those are very sensitive." Major Saotome said after she recalled what Pattern D biology she knew.

    "She just used these to drug me," Akane said as she put a hand to one of the little horns that poked out of her hair.

    "I'm sure your Mother was just trying to help you," Nodoka said. The agent was beyond caring about the strangeness of the situation. "She's very proud of how well you're developing."

    "Is she? I gave Mother a gift today. Some clothes for her human form, and what does she do to me? She shuts me up when I start complaining!"

    "Ranma was just trying to make you feel better. She's your mother; she loves you," Nodoka countered.

    "If Mother really loves me, why is she trying to control me? Can't Mother respect me? I tried to show her that I understood her… him, and I got treated like a… minion!" Akane growled before resuming her crying.

    "I'm sure it was a mistake. You can tell Mother that," Nodoka suggested.

    Akane shook her head.

    "Why not?"

    "I'm afraid. This body… my body wants to be with her. She's my mother. It hurt to hit her like that, but I didn't want her to control me," Akane sighed as she leaned onto her grandmother. The succubus needed physical contact with someone.

    The agent looked into Akane's subtly inhuman eyes. "Missing your mother and not wanting to displease her is a perfectly natural thing for both humans and your kind."

    "My kind," Akane sighed.

    "It's great that you're remembering who you are and becoming a real person again." Nodoka reached around and ran her hand over the demon's wings. She stopped when she found the spot where the wings went into the girl's back. "But you are not human. You are a demon. You have to accept your body, its urges."

    "Mother said the same thing. 'Some urges we can fight, some we can't.'”

    Nodoka nodded. "Your mother's in the same situation you are. She's learning as she goes. She has to put her humanity aside to raise you two. You have to deal with being a demon. She has to deal with being a demon and a mother. Please let her in. I promise she won't touch your horns."

    "Okay, let her in," Akane said after a moment's thought. She knew that Mother did not really want to control her; if Mother did she would already be completely enthralled.

    Nodoka opened the door and Ranma stepped through. The redhead was still fully manifested. Her tail nervously swished back and forth.

    Akane got up and crossed the room. She stood facing her mother. Her tail was just long enough so that it could snake around and touch Ranma's knees. The demoness wiped her eyes and began to talk.

    Nodoka was off to the side watching. Much of what Akane had said to Ranma was identical to what Akane had told Nodoka. The brood mother's stance was depressed. Her head was held level but her wings dropped and her tail hung almost straight down.

    "Come over here, Mother," Akane said when she had finished her rant. She could see her mother's black horns had not been hidden.

    Ranma nodded and walked over. She was surprised to find her daughter had pounced on her. Akane held onto her mother. Ranma returned the gesture and failed to notice when her daughter had moved one of her arms.

    The redhead's eyes widened and she tightened her grip on her daughter. She then folded her wings over Akane's body and started to purr. Akane pulled her hand away from her mother's right horn and watched as the redhead regained herself.

    "Mmm… Akane?" Ranma sluggishly asked. Her wings still enveloped her daughter. Ranma blinked. "Oh…. I'm sorry, Akane." The redhead then pulled her wings back behind herself.

    "There's one thing you can't ever do! It's okay to hug me or hold me… like a real… human… mom might. Just don't do that!" Akane said her eyes focused on her mother's.

    Ranma held her daughter. She looked at the little horns on the girl's head. It would be easy for her to dominate her children and make them into whatever she wanted: her seductresses, hunting partners, servants, concubines, or lieutenants in an ever larger brood. Anything except the one thing that would be worthwhile, the one thing that would be hard for her to do. Something that would require her to be a mother instead of a mistress.

    It was difficult enough for Ranma to not use the dominance that already existed between her and her broodlings. Her children were bonded to her. The brood mother did not want to add any more methods of control, especially one as potent as the horns were.
    This made Ranma's decision an easy one. "I promise to never use yours or Nariko's horns again."

    Akane studied her mother's face. Her mother listened to her when Mother could have just rubbed her horns again. She sighed. Mother was still a very, very powerful force in her life.

    "Akane, I'm sorry," Ranma said still holding her daughter.

    "I know. I'm still wary but…." Akane sighed and leaned onto her mother. She only felt the normal connection between herself and her mother. There was no extra bit of control.

    Nodoka excused herself and left the two demons to each other.

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

    The bar had an atmosphere of a bad detective show. Sitting on the stools around a seedy countertop were the dregs of humanity. An old man with far too many stories to tell sat on the end, away from the others, whispering dark secrets into his glass of whiskey, hoping that this would unlock more secrets of the universe.

    A few stools down, sat a woman in her late forties. The years hadn't been kind to her. That didn't dissuade the slimy salary man who sat on the adjacent stool from leaning into her for a moment. She then slugged him for the third time in the last ten minutes.
    Next to the so called couple sat a mage. Although the other patrons just took him for another low-life, he was here for a purpose. He sat silently and ignored the pair as they went back into their touch here, punch there match. He had business to attend to and waiting in this seedy dive was part of it.

    The barkeep, a man in his thirties, but looked like he was in his fifties, belched as he placed a worn rag on the counter. He rubbed the countertop in an attempt to look busy because the rag was filthier that the counter he was cleaning. "So, ya gunna order somethin', or not?"

    The mage placed his elbows on the table and whispered. "I like women's underwear."

    The man's eyes glazed over. He slowly stuttered. "Y-y-yeah…"

    Calmly, the man continued. "I think I'll go get some."

    "I think I'll go get some."

    The runic mage smiled. He loved his powers. "There's some, right over there." He pointed at his neighbors.

    The bartender slowly backed away and edged toward the left. Murdock looked at the clock on the wall and noted the time. One thing was for certain, his employer was punctual. He got up and walked to a hidden booth in the back of the bar. His face, an evil grin as the screams of "Pervert", "Sicko" and "Die, scumbag" were being shouted from the bar behind him.

    He slid into the booth and just as he got comfortable, a familiar female voice was heard from behind a partition. "Having fun again, I see."

    "It's all part of my grand plan," Murdock assured as he straightened his silver tie clasp.

    The woman gave an oft used sigh. "Murdock, Murdock, Murdock… you can lie to the demons, the Senshi, the humans, but you know better than to lie to us." A smile crossed the woman's face. She could not see him, but she knew that the mage had stiffened in his seat. There were few things that Murdock was frightened of, and the associates she represented were on the top of that list.

    "I'm just having some fun. The job's actually ahead of schedule," he said in a voice reminiscent of a school boy swearing that his book report was almost done… he just had to read the book.

    "And what progress have you made? The Alexia situation is beyond repair."

    "Is it?" Murdock asked in an amused voice.

    Now the woman was glad that she could not see Murdock. That lopsided, inane, and insane grin disturbed her. Not because she was afraid of him, but it made her doubt their wisdom in using him. "Have you found a way to salvage the situation?"

    "Nope!" Murdock answered, cheerfully.

    The woman swore under her breath. She stopped when she realized that the only person who could understand what she was saying was Murdock. "Please justify your continued… employment," the woman said after composing herself.

    Murdock's answer was prompt and almost professional. The sudden shift would have annoyed the woman but she knew that Murdock had finally gotten to brass tacks.

    "So far Alexia has failed to start DarkStar's true emergence, but she was just a minor step in the plan," Murdock assured. There were other parts to the plan. Ones that had been working since day one. However, the spell that he had placed on Ranma was already degrading. The wizard supposed he could reapply it, but it was not worth the risk. Already the limiters he had placed on her clothing had vanished. It was only a matter of time before the other aspects of the spell broke down.

    Murdock continued. "Her continued existence could even be of use, but not in the way I first planned. Ranma's now a brood mother. This gives us a unique bargaining position." The woman knew that Murdock's smile had gone from inane to malevolent, and it relieved her.

    "You still believe that the redheaded demon will give us what we want?"

    "She's one of two people," Murdock shrugged. "Right now I'm working on procuring the other one."

    "Good. We cannot accept failure in this mission. Understand?"

    "I serve the Order," Murdock replied automatically. If this mission really was that important to his handler and her superiors, wouldn't they assign more than just him to the mission?

    That thought gave Murdock pause. What if I'm not the only one they assigned? Sure, I'm the best, but if it's that important to them… he pondered. Why didn't they tell me? Why haven't I met anyone else?

    "Good. I knew we could trust you," the woman said as she got up.

    Really? I'm not so sure anymore. Murdock thought as he turned to watch the woman leave. From behind she looked unremarkably average. Her eyes, which he had not seen tonight, were quite interesting. They were a shade of grey that he normally only saw in the mirror.

    Once she was gone, Murdock returned to the bar and ordered a drink from the waitress who was covering for the… indisposed bartender. This bar was no Red Turtle, his preferred watering hole, but it would still get the job done.

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

    As Nabiki exited the bathroom, she heard a familiar Norman Blake song. Though someone she would never expect was singing it. The simple song attracted the teenager to the room where it was originating from.

    Quietly, she leaned onto the close door. The voice stopped after signing "I'll always love you and make you happy."

    "You can come in, Nabiki," Ranma said with some annoyance.

    The middle sister opened the door. She first saw her sister sleeping on the far side of the crowded bed while in the center an upright-sitting Ranma cradled a fitful Nariko. "You're not naked?" Nabiki asked. It was a pleasant surprise to not have to deal with another nude demon.

    "I summoned this when I sensed you at the door," Ranma said, pointing to the simple black violet-trimmed bra she was wearing. Nariko made a whimpering noise but stopped when her mother hugged her tighter and increased the flow of energy going into her. Ranma took comfort that Nariko was taking her energy as opposed to a more traditional nursing method, one that would prevent her from wearing something over her breasts.

    "What's wrong with her?" Nabiki asked.

    "Nightmares," Ranma said simply. She had been woken up by her daughter's crying and had immediately gone to her aid.

    "Oh, I'm sorry," Nabiki said with sympathy.

    "Akane has them more often, but hers were earlier tonight. They were a bit lighter, too. But now, it's Nariko." Ranma hoped it was not because Nariko had spent the afternoon with her father and not her mother.

    "Because of how Akane was turned?" Nabiki asked. She could hardly imagine what her sister had gone through.

    Ranma nodded. Often in Akane's nightmares Kasumi was unable to stop… Eclipse. Ranma turned her attention back to her daughter. "It's okay. Nari-chan. Mommy's here," the redhead soothed her daughter.

    Still standing at the door, Nabiki cocked her head. It sounded like Nariko was quietly whimpering something.

    Ranma, who was closer and had better hearing, was able to make out what her daughter was saying. "Mommy, please don't leave…. I… I love you. No… stay… stay." Nariko's cries degenerated into pathetic sniveling.

    After skipping a few lines to Nariko's favorite part, the redhead resumed. "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy, when skies are gray," Ranma sang to her daughter, with a small smile on her face.

    "That's why you were singing," Nabiki felt... well she felt a bit of pity to the martial artist for what the redhead was going through, though a part of her was jealous of Akane. Nabiki had lost her mother when she was very young. Not that demonhood in exchange for a new mother sounded like a good deal to her.

    Ranma nodded as she continued to sing. Nariko quickly stopped her crying and settled down. Nariko even started emit the purring-like rumbling that succubae were prone to give off.

    The redhead then looked up at Nabiki. "She really likes this song. It helps her. I used to rub their horns when this happened—" Ranma said with a quick glance at Akane's sleeping form. "—but I've stopped. I don't do that anymore."

    Nabiki nodded. She had heard about the fight between Akane and her… mother.

    "Well, I'll leave you to your kids. Good night," Nabiki said before leaving the room and closing the door behind her.

    Nabiki was busy trying to digest the information and did not notice the person who had silently moved next to her. "Kasumi!" Nabiki exclaimed once she recognized who was in the hallway with her. "What are you doing up?" she asked in a quieter voice.

    "I came home from some night training," Lt. Tendo explained. "Why are you up?"

    "Bathroom. Then I heard Ranma singing." Nabiki shook her head. That little bit of jealousy nagged at her, but now it was added by fresh worries about Akane.

    "Is Akane having nightmares again?" Kasumi asked. She had heard Ranma's late-night lullabies several nights ago.

    "Right now it's Nariko."

    Kasumi nodded. She got nightmares too. Especially the one where she relived getting her face spattered in gore when a friend got hit next to her. Kasumi was not wearing goggles at the time and a shard of Ensign Robert Talbert's skull had almost hit her right eye. In some nightmares organic shrapnel hit both eyes blinding her, in others she could still see but the experience froze her, and when the enemy attacked again she hesitated.

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

    It was inevitable. Multiple groups were observing Ranma's brood. Two groups — really more of lone representatives — used remote viewing methods that while subtle, were limited in their capability. Two others used a more direct method that put them at risk.

    The one group that operated with Ranma's knowledge had the most complete coverage, but that was to be expected. All of these groups were hostile to each other to one extent or another. No matter how discrete they were, at least two of these groups were going to meet.

    To the south of Furinkan was the Regis Building, a small business park. The office space on the fourth floor was vacant and unused, save for two teens. "And that's the first bus," Ukyou said as she watched the trio of demons enter the school building.

    "You got the time?" the Assembly Acolyte asked as she put her binoculars down.

    "Yes," Ryoga said as he looked over the notes he had written. It was dull work, but they knew what car the demons used to get to school and when they arrived.

    They had physical descriptions of some humans that they associated with, arrival and departure times of other vehicles, where the brood lived, and a few other tidbits.

    "Shame you can't go undercover," Ryoga mussed.

    "With agents and demons in the school?" Ukyou asked with an amused laugh. "We're risking being detected getting this close."

    "I knew the Company was a bunch of filthy mercenaries, but to associate with demons? Have they no shame?"

    "They must have a reason," Ukyou defended, sincerely hoping that they did. She wanted out of the Assembly, but she did not want to be stuck with an organization that was worse.

    "They seek power. They're just a bunch of heartless mercenaries profiting from these unholy monsters. You know what they do with the bodies of the demons they kill," Ryoga snorted.

    "We'll just have to make sure we get these demons first then," Ukyou said, changing the subject. She had found that it was best to cut off her partner's rants early, before they had a chance to build up.

    "Yes, Ranma will pay for his… no, her," Ryoga corrected with a smirk. "…crimes as a traitor to humanity." The Assemblyman's grin grew exposing his own pair of fangs.
    Ukyou looked at those canines with a hint of revulsion. Her partner always had them, but they had slowly been getting slightly more noticeable.

    His eyes were also getting increasingly… strange. She had seen similar changes in other acolytes as they increased their powers, thought the original length of Ryoga's teeth only exacerbated things. The Company was not the only organization that was rumored to make... use of the bodies of dead monsters.

    Ryoga's stance suddenly stiffened.

    "What is it?" Ukyou asked

    "Can't you feel it?" Ryoga asked as he stood up and checked his weapons.

    Ukyou paused and concentrated on her own powers. "Succubae?" the brunette asked, feeling their presence. It was foggy and she had doubts as to their numbers, but there were demonic presences entering the building.

    "Yes," Ryoga agreed.

    "Damn, Ranma's brood must have spotted us and is coming," Ukyou said as she stowed her binoculars and did her own weapons check. All thoughts of defection were pushed aside as training took over.

    "There's a powerful demon coming, but it's not Ranma," Ryoga said. His powers were sharper than his partner's and he described the group of demons coming as best as he could sense.

    "Plan?" Ukyou asked.

    "I'll take point. We'll have to see where they're going for anything more specific" Ryoga replied.

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

    "Nari-chan, breakfast's ready," Ranma said after entering the dining room.

    "Okay, Mommy," Nariko said without looking up from the small pink book before her. Holding a pen behind her canines, the girl stared at the current page. She then removed the implement and wrote a couple words.

    "Working on homework?" Ranma noted the little pink book. She did not recall being assigned any essays yesterday, and she, Nariko, and Akane had all been transferred to the same classes.

    As her skin reddened just a hint in her species' version of a blush, Nariko shook her head.

    "Nari-chan? Is this about last night? If you want, I can be with you next time you meet your father."

    "It's not that," Nariko said, breaking eye contact with her mother. "I love seeing Daddy." The demoness let the statement drop. She did not fully understand why her parents did not get along, but she knew that they did not.

    "And your nightmares?"

    "I'm getting better," Nariko admitted.

    "Yes, you are," Ranma said with a smile. Her daughter was becoming more independent. It was very gradual, but it was in the right direction. Even Akane would be hard pressed to spend an entire afternoon away from her Mother.

    "I've got you to sing to me," the red-eyed succubus grinned.

    Ranma laughed nervously. In retrospect Nabiki's interruption had been rather embarrassing. "What're you doing then?"

    "Last night, Daddy suggested that I keep a diary," Nariko said as she closed the book

    "Why?" Ranma asked, her curiosity getting to her.

    Nariko paused. She looked down at her dairy. "It helps me keep track of… things." Nariko sighed. It was hard for her to articulate her point. Even as a human, she had never been that mentally agile. That was why she had gotten the diary.

    "Sounds nice," Ranma said. Even if Nariko's diary was filled with girlish prattling and odes to her mate and Mommy, it was still a good thing for Nariko to do. She was sure Kasumi would say it violated security or some nonsense, but that sounded like paranoia to Ranma.

    "It's pretty fun."

    "Nariko, how do you feel about Tatewaki?" Ranma tried to ask it casually, but her tone had shifted,

    The red-eyed girl froze. "I think…" she started before her eyes darted down to the diary. "I haven't written about that, yet. Sorry Mommy."

    "Oh, I see." Ranma smiled at her daughter. She had a feeling that there might be more to this diary than she first thought.

    "Is Auntie Kasumi cooking sausages?" Nariko asked as she licked her upper lip. In addition to the frying meat, she could smell cooked batter and maple syrup, but the flesh held her attention.

    "No, she's already left for work."

    "Akane's not cooking, is she?" Nariko asked.

    "Well… she's really just helping me," Ranma said. Akane was so eager to help, and if she was watched carefully….

    "But she's alone now. You should go and check on her," Nariko suggested.

    "It's only been a couple minutes." The redhead saw the downcast concern on her daughter's face. "I think you're right, Honey," Ranma said before returning to the kitchen. She could not smell anything burning but that only eliminated one kind of kitchen disaster.

    Nariko opened her diary. It looked like she had some time to add a few more sentences.

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

    Alexia had planned on doing some final observations of her enemy. She brought some of her strongest minions, just in case the correct opportunity presented itself. And if the oprotunity did present itself, and they killed the traitor, well Alexia was feeling generous enough.

    The minions she was grooming into honey traps were coming along nicely, and could make a nice reward. The blonde demoness sighed. The timing was off for a morning attack. Again the succubus cursed those human hunters. Their technology forced her to maintain an unacceptable distance from her prey. She would have another chance to deal with that redheaded traitor later today.

    Alexia and her minions were in a pair of large vans parked in a lot far out of WIC sensor range, yet still provided a line of sight to the demons observing the school. Alexia was not watching the school, at least not visibly. She had other more useful senses.
    Before her exile to this world infested with ignorant humans, she had been taught at some of the finest academies of her House. A sliver of her being did regret her lackluster performance, given how much more she could have known.

    Her eyes were closed as she opened herself to receive the energy emanating around her. The technique was passive and undetectable to those sensors. She could feel the glowing that marked the traitor and her illicit spawn, the rhythmic flickering that marked the WIC sensors, and….

    Alexia's eyes opened in shock. Assemblymen, here? The demoness concentrated in the direction from which source had come. One was fairly weak. The other… Alexia frowned as she shuffled over the energy readings and sniffed the air. An Assemblyman this powerful could be a problem.

    Or a good snack. Alexia thought with a laugh.

    Either way, these interlopers had to be disposed of. She would not stand for another group of human hunters, and there were only two of them.

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

    The receptionist to the Regis Building looked up to see a group of well-dressed women entering. She looked over the visitors with some jealousy. They all had nearly perfect bodies, especially the tall, tanned one in front. The woman leading the group was tall with long, curly blonde hair and piercing green eyes.

    "Hello, the people on the… fourth floor are expecting us," Alexia said after checking to make sure that was where the Assemblymen were located.

    "Of course," the receptionist agreed. "Go right in." She normally would have called in the people on four, or asked if they had an appointment, but she felt too agreeable. Naturally she also failed to notice that none of the women were carrying briefcases.

    "Thank you," Alexia said with a wry smile. Humans were incredibly easy to manipulate. The blonde demoness then led her minions down a corridor and gave them their orders.

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

    "They're coming," Ukyou said; her more rudimentary senses could tell her that much. The Assembly acolyte idly touched one of the throwing weapons she had secured to a bandolier. She had used them before joining the Assembly, only now they were coated in a material that was more detrimental to demons.

    She supposed that the words etched onto them helped too in some small way. She had seen the actions of her fellow acolytes and higher ups to know that faith in the Assembly's weapons did make a difference, though she also knew she was able to fake it and make do.

    Ukyou cleared her mind and concentrated on her surroundings and the sight picture presented by her weapon.

    Ryoga looked back to check that Ukyou had a clear path to support him. "You know what to do."

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

    "At least you didn't burn breakfast too badly," Nabiki remarked as she drove her car.

    From the passenger seat, Akane gave a sideways glance at her sister

    "Good thing Ranma came in to salvage it," the middle Tendo sister said.

    Akane glanced at her sister again but remained silent.

    Ranma wanted to tell Nabiki to stop picking on her daughter, but she thought Akane could handle it. Those two had been sisters much longer than Ranma had been Akane's mother.

    "What's wrong? This about you and Ranma?"

    "Mother and I are fine," the blue-haired demoness replied a bit curtly.

    "That true?" Nabiki asked Ranma. She noted Ranma was wearing a white blouse with her school uniform instead of her unusual black one. She did not know the importance of that change but it probably meant something.

    Ranma nodded. Akane did not seem to have any problems sleeping in the nude with herself and Nariko. Although, that was a very important part of their bonding and development.

    "You going to be okay in school today, with Yuka and all that?" Nabiki asked her little sister.

    "Yes," Akane stated. Her mother had asked her this same question when they were getting dressed today.

    "Maybe you should tone down being all kissy and cuddly in public?" Nabiki suggested.

    Ranma then felt something wash over her. Like the concussion that followed an explosion, the redhead was hit by a quick impulse of energy. She could see that her children had also sensed it. Akane and Nariko were confused. They had never sensed anything like that, but their mother had.

    "Ryoga," Ranma muttered before she sensed another bloom of energy. This was one that Akane was able to recognize.

    "Alexia," Akane uttered, horror chilling down her spine.

    "What's going on?" the driver, who could not detect the energy, asked.

    "Pull over and drop us off," Ranma ordered.

    "Why? What did you see?"

    "Drop us off now," Ranma stated in a cold voice. "And after that go straight back to school. Find the WIC team there. Wait with them."

    Nabiki looked at Ranma and held back her response. She found her will wilting and complied. The car pulled over to the side of the road and stopped.

    "Don't follow us," Akane pleaded after she got out of the car.

    Nabiki looked at her sister's blue hair, then at the office building that the brood was focused on. "Uh… yeah," she agreed. Nabiki resolved to continue on to school. She did not want to end up like her sister or worse.

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

    "Go!" Ryoga shouted as he maneuvered his sword to slice open an incoming demon-tail. The edge of the silvery blade flared green as it lopped off the fins from the demonic appendage.

    "But," Ukyou cried before she flicked a pair of her throwing weapons. The silver spatula-shaped implements buried themselves into one succubus’s neck and another's chest. The special coatings on the weapons immediately and violently reacted with the demonic flesh.

    Ryoga's bright green eyes tracked onto a tall blonde succubus that until now had stood off to the side. He could sense her power wafting off of her; he could also sense that she was holding back. "That's an order!" the Assemblyman shouted after he used his umbrella-sheathed weapon to dispatch the demon in front of him.

    Ukyou slowly nodded and backed out of the room.

    "Poor move, human," Alexia laughed, putting special emphasis on the last word. "Together, you would have stood a better chance.

    Ryoga simply smirked. His eyes flared green and from them spread a barely visible aura that surrounded his body.

    Alexia's smile grew, and she lazily extended her claws.

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


    Kasumi looked out the Blackhawk's open door. She was wearing sound-canceling ear-muffs that played Command's briefing directly to her and her squad.

    "The North York Observation Team has secured the area. We've detected heavy Pattern D's and what looks to be a D-Silver. More teams are on route," Jacob's even voice said before continuing on.

    Lt. Tendo nodded, cataloging the information and checking it with the heads-up display projected onto her goggles.

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

    "That's odd," Sailor Orion remarked, as she watched a grey and green helicopter approach from the east.

    "What?" Sailor Mercury asked as she checked the display on her visor.

    "That looks like a UH-60A Black Hawk. But it's way too quiet," Orion tapped one of the ends of her double bladed staff on the ground.

    "Let's discuss armaments later," Mars grumbled. She glanced up to see a pair of agents approach. Both were dressed in WIC combat gear. Their genders and skin color, were apparently but not much else.

    "We've got several Pattern D's in the building, including DarkStar and her brood. Further Company support will also be here shortly," the female agent stated briskly.

    "Uh… thanks," Sailor Moon replied. The blonde looked up to see the helicopter circle the office building. Off to one side, and quarantined by another group of agents, were the workers that had managed to escape the building. A pair of strangely-gurgled screams indicated that not everyone had managed to escape the Regis building.

    Orion perked her attention at that, but she followed the rest of the Senshi into the building.

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

    Sailor DarkStar scanned the office space before her. The blare of a fire alarm hurt her ears, but she was getting used to it. She carefully stepped to avoid spilled coffee, and a step later, spilled blood. The demoness could not see the owner of the pooled fluids; however she could see some drops leading from the main pool of blood

    "Mother?" Akane asked from her position next to Nariko.

    "Get ready," Ranma said as she formed a fireball in her hands. She had a fair idea what had happened. She lobbed the white-flamed orb around a corner. The magical napalm hit and started to consume both the human corpse and the demoness feeding on it.

    Inflamed, the demoness started to turn, only to have her head kicked in by a redheaded succubus. Following through, Ranma sliced diagonally across the chest of her prey. The demoness fell onto the still burning human; her spine had been quartered and her heart and lungs similarly severed.

    Ranma glared at the burning pile of human and demon remains. She ceased her fires halting the burning. She hardly had time to notice how normal it had become for her to receive energy from her kills when another demon appeared.

    The new girl looked to see what had been her mate torn apart and tossed onto what had ended up being the demon's last meal. "Integra!" the grey-haired demon cried. She then snarled at the intruding demons, her claws and tail filaments extended. She leapt at the redheaded demoness who dodged down and to the side.

    Ranma turned to see another demoness standing by the remains of an overturned water-cooler. This one, a brunette, appeared to be a bit more powerful than the previous ones. Sailor DarkStar could sense that her kids were handling the grey-haired demoness.
    Akane had dodged around the growling demoness. She looked to see her mate go in and trip the grey-haired demoness. Akane then flicked her tail up, intersecting the collection of razor sharp filaments with the demoness' head. The head was shredded into a pulp of mixed consistency. Surprisingly little blood sprayed from the destroyed skull.

    Nariko felt the surge of energy go into her. She smiled at her mate — this kill was theirs. It was shared between them.

    Akane returned the smile and licked her lips. A few drops of her prey's blood had splattered on her.

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

    Sailor Orion managed to keep herself from vomiting, but it was difficult. The auburn-haired Sailor Senshi could not get what she saw out of her mind. In a meeting room they had just passed was a table. On it a young woman had been dissected.

    It was not the first body the Senshi had run across, but unlike the other bodies, she had not been torn apart. The woman was carefully sliced open and select organs and choice cuts of meat had been removed. Orion tightened the grip on her staff. To these monsters, humans were nothing more than food.

    "You okay?" Mercury asked.

    "No." Orion switched the orientation of her staff. She was careful to avoid hitting Venus. Orion and the blonde were in the front of the group.

    "Trust me, she's not okay," Mars agreed from her rearguard position. She and Orion had been the pair to check out the meeting room.

    "I hate that fire alarm!" Jupiter grumbled.

    Sailor Moon's response was cut short by Orion's shout.

    "A little help!" Sailor Orion thrust her staff forward and upward. The double edged silver blade of the weapon cut through a succubus’s shoulder and pinned her to the wall.

    Sailor Moon glanced at the succubus. The demon was not Ranma, nor one of Ranma's kids. She prepared her attack.

    Growling, the pinned succubus pulled herself off the wall, ripping her shoulder open in the process.

    "Crescent Beam!" Sailor Venus cried as she stumbled away from the demon's talons. The magical attack blasted through the demon who stumbled to the ground.

    Orion looked at the broken demon and shuddered. The attack was overkill. Venus' attack had cut a giant hole in the demon's torso.

    Still the creature was twitching and despite all the blood was making a pained nocie. Gritting her teeth, Orion slammed her staff's blade into the succubus' chest and stepped back to allow Moon to finish her off.

    Orion blinked away the spots that came from the other blonde's blinding attack. Okay, that was overkill.

    The demon had been reduced to dust.

    Orion glanced down the narrow corridor. From somewhere above and ahead of them came the sounds of fighting. "I guess I feel a little bit better," she remarked as she watched the demon blood drip from her blades.

    "There!" Sailor mars cried pointing to a group of succubae down the hallway. They were dressed in dark leather and for a second stared at the Senshi and the pile of ash that was once their companion. Then the demons ran.

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

    Sailor DarkStar launched a fireball at the demon. It impacted with the brunette demon's flaming aura and splattered open. The two sets of flames battled briefly. The white and violet flames were then absorbed into the brunette's yellow ones.

    The enemy succubus summoned a pair of fireballs and lobbed them at the demonic Sailor Senshi. The redhead dodged under the orbs and tried to connect with her target. Frustratingly, the brunette managed to sidestep and fire another volley at Sailor DarkStar.

    The redhead rolled to the side and used her tail to sweep the other demon. The brunette avoided having her feet cut apart but at the cost of her balance. Continuing her motion, Sailor DarkStar thrust her arm into the brunette's chest. Her claws easily slid past the flaming aura, but her fingers and hand felt prickly and hot when they passed through it.

    "Ha! Your stupid fire-shield can't block that can it?" Sailor DarkStar snarled as she pulled her arm back and let the freshly killed corpse fall to the ground. "Though that is a useful technique," she muttered to herself.

    The cause of death was quite clear; the demon's ribcage had been punched through and a part of her had been torn out. That demon should have been easy to dispatch, but Ranma found her fireballs unable to penetrate that shield.

    Instead, Ranma went to a more intimate style of fighting. The redhead admitted that the enemy demon had been quite fast and pretty skilled, but not skilled enough.

    The pulsing organ the redhead held in her hand was proof of that.

    "Mother?" Akane asked as she walked over to see her mother take a small bite out of something in the redhead's hand. The blue-haired demon watched her mother's eyes flare with energy as she consumed the muscle.

    Ranma smiled as she used one of her talons to cut the heart into three pieces. She then tossed the larger two to her daughters.

    "Thanks Mommy," Nariko said as she gulped down the meat.

    Akane's reaction was just as automatic. The piece of heart was caught and slipped down her throat. "Mother?" the demoness repeated. "What'd you do that for?"

    "I wanted to share with you," Ranma said, sweetly. The redhead looked into the corpse hungrily, but she had delayed more than enough. "Come on, this place hasn't been cleared yet!"

    "But, Mom!"

    "What?" Sailor DarkStar asked, her eyes flaring slightly in irritation.

    "Why'd you do that?"

    "I'm sorry, but we don't have time for a full feeding," Ranma reprimanded, missing Akane's concern.

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

    "We've got a secondary hit," Gabriel announced from his position at the Blackhawk's Ostar series Pattern scanner. "Multiple Pattern D's concentrated and not moving."

    "Location?" Kasumi asked.

    "One kilometer, north by northwest," Gabriel answered.

    "Intercept them?" Kasumi queried command.

    "Reinforcements are two minutes out," Jacob's voice transmitted into Kasumi's headset.

    "Yes, you have a go," Stillwater ordered over the communications link. From his position at the head of WIC Toronto A's Command and Control Centre, he gave a brief glance to his executive officer.

    The helicopter's pilot nodded and adjusted his course. Sophie and Aram gave the pair of door mounted M144 armament subsystems, each consisting of a 7.62mm M60D machinegun one final check and took position behind them.

    "We're right on top of them," Gabriel stated after checking the range.

    "I see movement in a large white van," Sophie said, just before the back doors of that vehicle burst open. "Shit!" the agent swore as what seemed to be a swarm of demons poured out. She depressed the trigger on the machinegun and raked the fire over the incoming demons.

    The pilot twisted the helicopter around and increased the altitude. He knew full well what would happen if the demons reached the Black Hawk.

    As the helicopter shot up into the sky, Kasumi shouldered her weapon and fired a pair of 20mm high explosive incendiary rounds into the van. The vehicle exploded with a flat crump and a somewhat bright flash.

    "Anything left?" Sophie asked. She had stopped firing, but her finger still rested on the gun's trigger.

    "I'm reading clear," Gabriel said.

    "Request a cleanup team," Kasumi said before giving their coordinates. She gave one final glance at the fan of demonic body parts. Most of them were right by the remains of the van's rear end, but a few had managed to get a bit further before being shot down. "Sophie, go over the bodies again."

    "Yes ma'am," the agent replied, depressing the trigger.

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

    "You're skilled, Acolyte. A few years more experience and you might actually be a threat to me," Alexia allowed with a slight smirk.

    Silent, Ryoga tried to press on with his sword. The green aura surrounding him and his blade had begun to dim. The Assemblyman concentrated. He had another ability; he might as well try it. Father Oslo had taught him that one personally.

    Ryoga's mentor had told him the technique was a sacred one the Assembly of Man had developed. In reality, its origins were much more mundane. The Assembly had procured it from a mining engineer.

    Ryoga concentrated, and the aura around his arms intensified. He tilted his sword to one hand, cupped his other hand, held the two next to each other, and shouted. "Shishi Hokodan!"

    A bright sickly-green bolt shot out from Ryoga and sped to the demoness who intensified her shield and tried to step to the side. It sliced through her flaming aura and hit her body near the left hip. The blast sheared through the demoness tearing a large chunk out of her.

    "Insolence!" Alexia's eyes flared, and she spawned a pair of fireballs that she pitched at the human.

    Ryoga gritted his teeth and concentrated on strengthening his aura. Twin fireballs slammed into him… shattered, ignited, but his aura held. The exertion and the heat leaking through caused his sweating to increase. The demon's wound was healing alarmingly fast.

    Alexia lazily lobbed another fireball at him. The magical napalm contained within this one splashed onto Ryoga's green aura. It added to the flames that were already clinging to him. The demoness waved her hand and the flames intensified.

    Ryoga snarled and tapped into his powers. The aura surrounding him expanded spreading into Alexia's flames and snuffed them out. The acolyte then stared the demon down and readied his sword.

    "Interesting," The unusually tanned succubus smirked. He has quite the potential. He could be very useful, Alexia thought.

    As she dodged the Assemblyman's blows her grin grew. Even in his worn down state he was… impressive.

    "I've come to a decision, human," the demon said as her hand flicked out and caught his blade. Where she held the sword, the green light snuffed out. No longer holding back, the demoness wrenched the weapon out of the acolyte's hands and flung it across the room. Eyes of a darker shade of green met the human's.

    Ryoga rallied what remained of his power and attacked. His training, his morals, told him to fight to the very end. However when his eyes locked into hers, his will faltered.

    Alexia smirked. Ryoga froze. Blood began to drip from his left nostril. "I guess I pushed you a little hard," she laughed, watching a small trickle of blood ooze out of his right nostril.

    Ryoga tried to move his body but found that it was not just his powers that were dimming. He tried to fight her presence, to block out the influence. "Ukyou was right; we should have called for more support. At least she got away…" Ryoga mumbled not quite realizing he was actually talking.

    "I can't believe it. I never even got the chance to kill Ranma!" Ryoga snarled and managed to clench his fists just before falling forward…

    ….into the demoness' waiting arms.

    "Oh, I think you'll get your chance," Alexia said to the unconscious demon hunter as she hoisted him on her back.

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

    Sailor DarkStar ran into what used to be a copy room. At one end of the long room was a damaged human who was fending off a group of succubae.

    The demonesses turned from their prey to see another trio of blood-spattered, leather-clad demons. The tallest, a grey-eyed succubus with dark green hair and a face and scent that Ranma found strangely familiar.

    "Stop or the human dies," the green haired succubus said as she summoned a black and green fireball. She felt silly using a mere human as a hostage, but Mistress Alexia had said such a maneuver would work.

    Ranma narrowed her eyes and made a fireball of her own. "You're dead. All of you," the demonic magical girl swore in a level voice.

    Staring down the fireball, Ukyou tried to keep her weapon held ready, but her fatigue and damage made the weight of it problematic. She had seen rival demon clans fight before. Hopefully the two groups would decimate each other enough for her to be able to kill those that remained.

    "Really, now?" the green-haired succubus laughed as small flickering flames surrounded her and her two companions

    Sailor DarkStar paused. Fire was a handy weapon, but less handy when dealing with other pyrokinetic beings. The redhead concentrated and felt the orb within her hands… shift. "DarkStar Burst!" the redhead shouted as the orb propelled itself from her hands.

    The green-haired demoness saw what looked like a glossy black sphere leap out of the redhead's hands and zoom towards her. She growled and tried to release her fireball.
    Ranma watched the sphere travel. Before it impacted, she could almost make out small swirls of violet, crimson, and silver either in the orb or on its surface. It hit the green-haired demon's aura and exploded. Black shards exploded outward, passed through their auras, and sliced into the three succubae; they exploded in secondary bursts.
    Riddled with flaming holes, Alexia's demons crumpled onto the floor.

    "Wow… nice, Mother," Akane said.

    As she absorbed their energy, Sailor DarkStar looked over the broken bodies. Two were clearly dead; they had been torn apart. The third was slightly less damaged.

    The lead succubus' grey eyes flared in anger and then dimmed.

    It was then that Ranma was able to place the familiarity. The redhead was reminded of the young succubus with light green hair; the one that Captain Jarvis questioned. Their scents were close enough that they could have been sisters… or, perhaps before Alexia turned them, brothers.

    "What a lame name though. My attack sounds like some sort of evil candy." Sailor DarkStar shook her head. "Oh no…" The demoness ran over to the human. She was slumped against the wall and had been hit on the arm by one demon's fireball and grazed in the leg by a DarkStar Burst shard.

    "How bad is she, Mommy?" Nariko asked as she kept a watch on the doorway they had entered.

    "Can you talk?" Ranma asked the strangely familiar teenage girl. Having a fair idea what this girl's profession was, she kept some distance and eyed the girl's hands.
    Ukyou's eyes focused on the redhead kneeling before her. She groaned and tightened her grip on her weapon

    "Akane! Nariko! Get some medics! I can feel WIC on the lower floors," Ranma ordered.

    "Hold in there. You're not so bad," Ranma reassured the human. She could sense that the human was not dying and in no need of… turning. The redhead puzzled over who this girl was and what she was doing. It was obvious she was some sort of demon hunter, and very likely she was in the Assembly. She was dressed in a similar set of armor, cloak, and pants as Ryoga. Ranma supposed that was where she had seen this girl. She was an old friend of Ryoga.

    "Do you know where Ryoga is?" Sailor DarkStar cautiously asked. She was unable to sense that acolyte's very strong signature.

    "Demons," Ukyou stated before losing consciousness.

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

    "There was one very strong Pattern D we have not accounted for; most likely Alexia. We're going to do a full sweep of the building, while our aerial teams scan the vicinity," Captain Jarvis said to the agents and magical girls that had assembled in the building's lobby.

    "Lt. Morrison take your team and sweep the—" Jarvis stopped to see a group of demons fly down the stairs and into the entranceway. He was relived that his men kept their weapons ready, but did not point them at the Pattern D's.

    "Someone survived up there?" Sailor Orion asked, when she noticed the stretcher being carried by WIC medics.

    "She's from another organization, the Assembly of Man. I suppose Command will call them and tell 'em we've got one of their men and send her back," Jarvis explained. It was that or they'd interrogate and imprison the acolyte, but there was no reason to tell the Pattern Silver that.

    Sailor Mars concentrated on the casualty and tried to block out the blood splattered demons.

    "You didn't find Alexia," Sailor DarkStar observed.

    "No. We only ran into a pretty weak demon," Sailor Jupiter said.

    "We did blow it to hell though," Sailor Mars said.

    "Just one?! I had to fight like a dozen of them! And there are, what, six of you?!" Sailor DarkStar exaggerated as she watched the medics rush the Assembly acolyte to a waiting vehicle.

    "Uh... sorry, 'bout that," Sailor Moon coughed. "There were more but we... kinda scared them off and they ran away."

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

    "I knew the Assembly would be trouble," Jacob noted sourly. He was standing next to Commander Stillwater in the Command and Control Center

    "Yes, now we've got one wounded and what looks like another missing. I suppose we could say a demon ate that acolyte," Stillwater grumbled.

    "We'll go over the bodies. Something should be left… unless Alexia took him," Jacob replied.

    "I'm not fully convinced Alexia was even here. We've searched the building and the surrounding area."

    "I'll have the scanner logs checked and matched to what Forensic Pathology Section finds. Maybe that powerful Pattern D was killed. Or maybe Alexia teleported out before we got our jammers in place."

    "Hell, maybe she teleported out after we got our jammers in place," Stillwater responded.

    Jacob shook his head. "That would be an unpleasant thought."

    End Chapter 9

    Author's Notes: Thanks goes to my prereaders for enduring my mistakes and making this story better: Jerry Starfire, Black Dragon, Joe Fenton, Wray Loflin, Rebecca Heineman, Kevin D. Hammel, and Mike Koos.
    Special thanks goes to Rebecca Heineman for his work on writing the first part of Murdock scene.


    Revision notes: Welp, goodbye Ryoga. Hello Aurora. Did the normal changes to update and smooth out the fight stuff and other scenes. Still this chapter needed less work than the preceding ones. Which is a good sign.
     
  12. Threadmarks: Chapter 10
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

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    Book 1: Brooding Responsibilities
    Chapter 10: Converting Enemies
    Formerly: Revenge and Rebirth Part 2

    Ukyou opened her eyes. Being alive was a nice surprise. A more pleasant surprise came after she looked her body over: She was still human. Turning her head, she took stock of what seemed to be a hospital room. The drab concrete walls were somewhat comforting.

    The wounded girl leaned up on the bed to see the two other people in the room. The male was dressed in a grey Willard International Consulting duty uniform. Ukyou recognized the coloration and rank symbols on the uniforms.

    The woman was a Lieutenant in Medical section. Her chestnut hair was cut almost too short to pass for a business professional style, and her brown eyes carefully studied a clipboard in her hands.

    The man was a Captain in Operations section. Tall, thin, with dark blue eyes, and close-cropped hair, he looked Germanic to Ukyou. His clipped accent helped reinforce this perception.

    "You're awake. This is good," Jarvis said looking the Assembly acolyte over. "Dr. Covington, her condition is stable?"

    "Yes sir," the female agent nodded.

    Jarvis continued. "We shall call your people. Unless you have a specific way you want to us to contact them?"

    "No." Ukyou eyed the gun on his hip. She did not see her weapons anywhere in the room. This was to be expected; WIC and the Assembly were not on the best of terms.

    "Really? Unusual. Then we will use a number that we know of. Cooperation on your part would be helpful."

    "What happened to my partner?" Ukyou asked. There was a chance WIC had separated them.

    "We don't know. None of the other victims in the building were Assembly. The building was sealed, but we believe a powerful Pattern D still managed to escape. She might have taken him or destroyed him entirely. We are still investigating."

    "Oh." Ukyou slumped. She had watched Ryoga fight that demon, and now he was.... The girl pushed those thoughts aside. Now was her chance. "I'm not going back."

    "Pardon?"

    Ukyou exhaled. This was her chance. "I - I want to defect to WIC."

    Jarvis kept his face neutral. "Really? I'll have to talk to my superiors."

    "I'm sure they're already listening," Ukyou casually remarked.

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

    Alexia looked over her work. Teleporting out of the building was a pain, but it was the only option. She was angered by the loss, but those demons while powerful were still ordinary humans originally. Who she had now was.... special. Alexia had appeared in the large household that now served as her headquarters. The remains of her brood watched expectantly when they saw their mistress' new find.

    The blonde demoness smiled. The conversion process had some complications, but they were easily circumvented. It forced her to put some effort into the creation of a new broodling. The novelty pleased her in a way.


    It was time for her to wake her newest creation. The demoness smiled. The Assemblyman made quite the lovely little thing. Alexia went over to the sleeping succubus and gently rocked her awake.

    The first thing the young succubus noticed was her sense of smell The orange-haired girl could smell... another demon in the luxurious bedroom, one that was very familiar. Then came the other sensations from the new body. Her horns, wings, and tail felt alien and strange... The fangs were familiar at least.
    The new demoness was at a loss. Her Assembly training told her that she must try to kill the monster that had turned her or at the very least destroy herself. She shook her head. Why would I want to kill my Mommy? And why would I want to throw away the precious gift I've just been given?

    The orange-haired girl glared at Alexia. "Bitch! I’m going to destroy you!" She then screamed after steeling herself. She would kill the monster that did this to her, and then... herself.

    Alexia’s face dropped and to the newborn demon the elder looked genuinely disappointed and hurt. The smaller demon shook her head again. Why did she care what this… thing thought of her. She was an Assemblyman, demons like this were prey to her.

    The girl smiled in remembrance. Slaying all those demons had been satisfying. It was a shame she had missed out on the chance to feed on them. That was such a waste. She blinked and a slight growl escaped her lips as she promised herself that she would kill at least one more demon.

    Extending the talons on her left hand, she focused her attention on Alexia, who was simply watching this with a slight frown on her face. The younger succubus flexed her hand and was puzzled at the sensation. She then looked to see slightly glowing semi-translucent dark green claws coming out of her fingers. Gazing through the weapons she almost grinned. Until now her experience had been on the receiving end of such claws.

    Alexia maintained her outward appearance as her mood improved. The former demon hunter’s self image was being shifted. The young creature would have much the same fanatical hate and disdain to those not her own kind.

    Loyalties altered and reformed.

    The blonde demoness increased her influence over her new minion. The new succubus was almost ready. "Whatever you do, I forgive you," Alexia lied in a convincing tone. The demoness then relaxed her stance giving the appearance of compliance.

    The younger demoness paused. She had not expected this kind of reaction from the monster that had taken her humanity. "But..."

    "It's okay," Alexia said as she traced her fingers over the fins of the newborn's tail. Alexia was certain that the new girl would not extend her tail filaments.

    "Oh... oh... Mommy." the young succubus' eyes widened in horror at what she had just said. "What... what am I?" She had her memories, but those were what she was. The thoughts and sensations she was feeling now were more familiar, more right.

    Alexia gave a warm smile. She's almost ready. Just one more push. "I'll show you," she said as she stood up. The blonde then lead the smaller girl to the a full length mirror.

    The newborn young demon looked at her reflection in shock. A beautiful seductress stared back at her. Her nude, just over five-foot tall, body was perfectly proportioned. Large expressive eyes were a familiar shade of bright green though now their shape was subtly different. The confused smile on her face was accented by a set of slightly longer fangs.

    Little black horns peeked out of longish orange hair. Spreading behind her was a large pair of orange and red wings. An orange tail with red fins was pulled around and rested in her hands. Alabaster skin contrasted greatly to the tanned flesh the larger blonde demoness, who was also nude, that leaned over her.

    "What do you think... my child?" Alexia asked, affectionately.

    The orange-haired succubus stared at her reflection, mesmerized. It was the most impressive female body she had ever seen, and it was hers. A small trickle of blood flowed from her nose. Releasing her grip on her tail, she clumsily wiped it away.

    Alexia smiled and cleaned up the smeared blood.

    "I'm.... I'm a succubus," the orange-haired girl said weakly. The girl's eyes hardened. "No! You won't get away with this!"

    "I already have." Alexia laughed as she pushed even more pheromones out and used her hand to rub the other demon's left horn.

    The young demoness tried to fight the sensations within her, but soon she was purring and leaning into the hand petting her horn. The feelings intensified, and the young succubus' purring was mixed with cries of mindless pleasure.

    The orange-haired girl gave one piercing cry that was a mix of growl and scream before she slumped back down. Her mind clouded she looked to Alexia, who then grabbed one of the young demon's horns and twisted it. The newborn succubus yelped and tried to move her head to minimize the pain in her horns.

    "I'm trying to protect you, Dear," Alexia said as she held onto her creation. The blonde then angled the demon's head so the younger succubus was looking at her reflection. "You've got great potential, but you are so very young. And you will listen to your betters."

    Nodding, the young demon studied her image. Alexia released her grip, but the newborn could still feel her presence.

    "What are you?"

    "I'm Assembly of-" the demoness started but was cut off by Alexia caressing her neck. The last bit of resistance crumbled and the girl embraced her new form "I'm a succubus." Her tone was confident and prideful.

    "Yes you are, my dear Aurora," Alexia said, hugging the newly named demon.

    Aurora purred again, lost in the bliss of her mother's presence and reveling in the glory of her own body. "I love you Mommy," she uttered, snuggling with the succubus that created her. Aurora reveled in the sense of warmth, protection, and love the larger demon gave her.

    "I love you too," Alexia said, inwardly smirking. Normally, she would have corrected her spawn telling her to call her Mistress instead of Mommy, but she decided to let Aurora enjoy herself. The task of molding Aurora into the perfect minion could wait, for now.

    There was something that bothered Aurora. Something that remained from her old life. "What about Ranma?"

    "Oh, the traitor?" Alexia laughed. "Don't worry. We'll tear her apart... together," the blonde succubus reassured.

    "Good." Aurora's blissful grin turned sadistic and cruel. "There's nothing worse than someone who betrays their own kind." Her eyes flared and she laughed darkly. Alexia rewarded her minion by rubbing her horns again.

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

    Deep within the corridors of WIC Toronto-A a group of girls waited. The Sailor Senshi had detransformed. It was strange to do this inside a paramilitary complex surrounded by armed soldiers and a small brood of demons, but their identities were already known and these people were on their side.

    Rei eyed the two demons. They had showered and changed their clothes, but she would still clearly recall the blood and... other items splattered on them. She turned to see the redheaded demon step out of an adjacent locker room. Ranma's hair was still slightly damp, despite being pulled back into the style she wore at school.

    "You girls sure you don't wanna clean up?" the brood mother asked the Senshi.

    "We're fine, thanks" Usagi replied as she pushed the image of a certain redheaded succubus helping her clean up out of her mind. The blonde's frustration grew. She did not want some demonic replacement! She wanted her Mamo-chan! But he was gone... killed by a lunatic, who Pluto seemed unable, or unwilling, to help bring to justice.

    Usagi had met Murdock and she had done nothing. She chastised herself for not trying to... what? Kill the mage? A part of her wanted to do just that. Murdock had killed her Mamoru. It was fair.

    Usagi banished those thoughts. Sailor Moon did not kill people. She had to keep those thoughts controlled... like other urges. She remembered what she did the first time her lover died... picking up Venus' sword and.... She wanted to be with him so badly, but she was needed here, and unlike that time her Queen Serenity was not around to reincarnate them. There was no assurance that things would magically return to normal, and as much as it hurt and as much as oblivion appealed to her, she had responsibilities more important than her own needs.

    There was still the chance that Mamoru would come back. It had happened before. It will happen this time, the blonde swore. Usagi smiled at the thought. She would wait for him, he would be reborn, regain his memories, and she would find him. It would be very romantic. They would be together. What Usagi ignored, what had happened to her throughout her life, was that fate tended to have a sense of humor.

    "Yeah, we didn't get as bloody as you did," Rei stated.

    "Not for lack of trying," Minako said attempting to be helpful. "Our demons were just too scared and ran off."

    "I got blood on me," Janet said as she rotated her transformation item in her hands. The knife's silver blade reflected the florescent light.

    "It went away when you detransformed," Ami said.

    "And when I transform again?"

    "It will be clean and fresh. That's part of the magic."

    "Oh. Then why'd Ranma shower?"

    "I wanted to get clean," Ranma stated. After reverting out of Sailor DarkStar form she was physically clean but she did not feel clean. Disturbingly, she felt more sweaty than anything else. He, on the other hand... It was not just out of concern for her kids that Ranma returned to her demon form after the shower. The lingering taste of demonic flesh remained in his mouth too. The worst part was that feeding that way was not her worst option. There were other feeding urges she had, fortunately killing satiated them.

    "It'd be nice if we had uniforms that'd clean us up," Akane grumbled. She had tried using her powers to shift her clothes, but the gore remained, just on different garments.

    Ranma paused at that. For some reason her mind flashed to those demons with their fire shields. She then remembered her own fireballs consuming bodies. The redhead shook her head.

    Maybe you shouldn't tear into your enemies like that. Rei thought as she looked over to see Minako happily chatting with Nariko.

    "Hi, Mommy! Mina-chan thinks I should get my ears pierced!" Nariko smiled cutely at her mother.

    "What? How'd that come up?" Ranma asked.

    "We were talking and I noticed she didn't have pierced ears. It's odd for a girl her age to not have them," Minako said.

    "Can I get em, Mommy? Please."

    "I don't know. We'll see," Ranma shrugged.

    "But you've got pieced ears," Nariko said with a slight pout.

    "My senshi uniform has 'em."

    "I've seen you with earrings in school too," Usagi added, quietly. A normal, a girly, conversation had drawn her attention. She wondered if Ranma was having problems like she was. A loss of humanity instead of a loss of a lover. A brief glance at Ranma's eyes confirmed this suspicion.

    "Makes sense that it'd carry over," Ami said.

    "I wonder if Ranma's male form has them too," Makoto idly remarked.

    Akane snickered and Nariko giggled.

    "Girls, that's not funny." Ranma sighed at her daughters.

    "Now what?" Rei asked. She was not terribly interested in the demon's piercings. "Why are we here?"

    "I wanted us to talk to each other," Usagi stated. "We should be working together."

    "I'm just here because that Assembly girl's here," Ranma shrugged. "They'll tell me when she wakes up." She sighed.

    "What's wrong Mother?" Akane asked.
    "Oh nothing, just thinking about the girls we killed." Ranma lied slightly. She was also thinking about her eyes. It had happened again. The purple flecks had grown.

    There was still more blue than violet in her eyes, if barely, but the trend was clear. The more demon stuff she did, the less blue there was to her eyes.

    "They're just demons," Rei interjected.

    Usagi almost laughed. It was true that Sailor Moon did not kill people, however she did kill demons and other monsters, many of whom where once human. Some of them she healed, but others, like that succubus this morning, she simply destroyed.

    Ranma looked at Rei. The redhead's narrowed eyes softly glowed in anger. The demon's stance changed ever so slightly. Anyone who knew succubae body language would have been concerned for Rei's safety. Except Nariko and Akane, who didn't really care.

    "And what about her and her kids?" Ami looked between the succubae and the humans. "They're demons too. The difference is that they're not just demons. They fight for the same things we do."

    "But their methods..." Rei mumbled.

    "None of us hesitated to kill that girls. We blew her apart," Janet reprimanded. "We killed her so hard that cannibalistic demons fled us in terror."

    "Exactly, the only difference is that we didn't drain our kill," Ami stated in a strange voice.

    "You sound as if that's a bad thing!" Minako exclaimed

    "What? Of course draining's a bad thing! I was just saying that's the difference."

    "We didn't cut them apart," Rei counted.

    "Uh... I did." Janet held her up transformation item, a large knife that could expand into her staff.

    Ranma sighed as the senshi argued. She hoped that Assembly-girl would wake up soon.

    "Besides, is it really any different from us blowing away demons that used to be people?" Usagi asked Rei in a calm voice.

    Makoto glanced at her princess. The blonde seemed to have retreated from the conversation again. There was a distant look to Usagi's eyes. It worried the Senshi, more than Usagi's nightly crying jags. Puzzlement grew on Makoto's face when she noticed the small smile on Usagi's lips. She wondered exactly what the princess was thinking about.

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

    From a display on the wall of his office, Jacob watched Captain Jarvis' conversation with the Assembly acolyte. Looking over his shoulder, Jacob saw Commander Stillwater enter the room.

    "What did the general say, Sir?" Jacob asked.

    "We can conduct preliminary interviews with the acolyte. If she's a sincere defector we could learn a lot from her."

    "I'm sure that will be easy to determine," Jacob remarked dryly. "She could be full of misinformation, or better yet a simple spy."

    "Perhaps, but there's also the issue of her partner. Our scanners detected a powerful Pattern D and a Pattern A. Both have disappeared. If this was a setup, then the Assembly is much more capable than we thought. Our knowledge of them is somewhat limited, but it's best for us to be careful."

    "Perhaps our new guest can help us with that."

    "Maybe. I take it Section Chief Tofu did not find an Assemblyman among the dead?"

    "No he did not, but his team is still going through the building. The carnage is pretty standard, but fairly extensive. They have found several Assembly weapons however."

    Jacob nodded. "I'll tell Jarvis he can go a bit further then. What of Miss Saotome?"

    "She was the one that saved the acolyte from those demons. Make sure Jarvis does not do anything... excessive," Stillwater said as he got up to leave the room

    "Yes sir." Jacob then pulled out his phone. He would call Lt. Tendo and tell her to inform Ranma.

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

    "Interesting," Jarvis noted. "Revenge was the initial motivation for your joining?" Several sets of devices recorded his words.

    "Yes," Ukyou nodded. She was sitting up in the bed. It had been painful to get up, but the doctor that had examined her seemed confident in a quick recovery. The worse were the burns and cuts on her leg. Her mobility would be reduced somewhat until those healed more. "It was a... family dispute between my own and Ranma's." The brunette did not elaborate further.

    "I see." Captain Jarvis concentrated on keeping her talking. He could always go back and ask for clarification in subsequent interviews. The important part was to open up a dialog with her, to get her to talk. Jarvis paused to see if Acolyte Kuonji would continue of her own accord of if he would need to prod her.

    "Funny thing, my partner had the same vendetta. Well... different reasons but the same target. Then we learned that Ranma had been turned into a demon. Actually, Father Oslo told Ryoga first. Then after Ryoga was almost killed by... Ranma, I was told who that redhead was.

    "Though it was Ryoga who helped me see what was so wrong with the Assembly. Sure, he was always a bit... obsessive, and he could be a real stubborn jerk, but he was a good guy. We were killing monsters. Some of the things we'd seen demons do..." Ukyou had bowed her head and paused to clear her mind.

    "Sure they cured his... problems, but they made him worse. Then I noticed that he was starting to get strange... It got worse the more... proficient he became." Ukyou sighed.

    Jarvis nodded. He had read the reports on Assembly techniques, and knew they were dangerous but this girl had more detailed information.

    "I guess it ate at me. I couldn't even confide in my partner. If he knew... if he suspected...." Ukyou shrugged. Ryoga was a good little Assemblyman. He would do the right thing. She looked up to see the door being opened. The agent that entered was unsurprising, but the person accompanying her was...

    The pale girl appraised the room. "You! What are you doing here?" she suddenly shouted, flaring eyes that were a strange mix of blue and violet flecks.

    Ukyou reflexively pulled back until she realized that she was not the target of the demon's rage.

    "I am conducting an interview, Miss Saotome," Jarvis replied coolly. He leveled his gaze to meet the succubus'.

    Ranma almost smiled. It amused her that these agents were still able to stare her down. They might be creepy, but they had guts. "Really, are you going to torture her too?"

    "You were fully capable of stopping me last time, yet you stood aside and let me work." Jarvis darted his eyes to the defector before continuing. "I even gave you the chance to finish her off."

    Ukyou blinked. She knew WIC had information extraction personnel. She assumed they were equivalent to those she had met in the Assembly, but even the grim-faced and black-robed members of the Inquisitorial Branch never feed people to demons. Her appraisal of the blue-eyed-blond changed for the worse.

    "That was one of Alexia's brood. This is a human," Ranma replied.

    Ukyou relaxed slightly. It was a demon that they were talking about. She tensed when the redhead turned to face her. The demon studied her, and Ukyou was about to ask the Captain to remove her. Ukyou wanted to learn more about what had happened Ranma, but not while she was vulnerable.

    "Ucchan? Is that you?" Ranma inquired. "It's been so long!" The redhead then leapt up and embraced the acolyte. "Why didn't you tell me you were a girl?" the succubus asked while nuzzling her old friend.
    Impressively, Ukyou froze for only a split second. She screamed and shoved the demon, who surprisingly released her grip and tumbled onto the floor.

    "Sorry," Ranma apologized. Why'd I do that? I guess I really missed Ucchan, but... Ranma recalled how affectionate her children were, and some of the things she had done. Stupid succubus body.

    "You have no right to call me that, demon," Ukyou spat.

    "Hey, I'm not evil!" Ranma snarled.

    "You were evil long before you got turned; you and your father abandoned me"

    "What?"

    Ukyou stared. The demon's cluelessness was without guile. If the redhead had tried to do a coy pout or a sob story as to how she begged Genma to not abandon Ukyou, that she could have bought as a demonic lie. But no self-respecting succubus would blink with dumb confusion on her face.

    "You don't even realize what you did." Ukyo gave abitter laugh. To have caused so much pain and to be oblivious of it.... She would learn what had happened to Ranma, after she set the record straight with the demon.

    Jarvis listened as the two teens dug through their memories to piece together what had happened. He had interviewed Genma Saotome and was not terribly surprised by that man's actions.

    Ranma looked into her old friend's eyes. "Pops tricked me. I was just a kid! I didn't know that by choosing okonomiyaki, I'd abandon you. I didn't even know you were actually a cute girl!" Ranma slapped her hand to her forehead at that slipup.

    "That means a lot coming from a succubus," Ukyou tried to keep her voice cold but a slight blush did creep onto her face.

    "I'm not a succubus!" the redhead bristled. "Well... not all the way. I'll show you." She opened the door to the room. "Akane can you bring me two glasses of water?"

    "One hot, one cold?" Akane, who was waiting with her sister and mate outside the room.

    Ranma nodded.

    Kasumi watched Akane walk down the corridor. "A little demonstration, why?"

    "Turns out the Assembly girl's an old friend. Though, I could have sworn she was a boy back then."

    A ghost of a smile appeared on Kasumi's lips.

    "What?"

    "Mommy, if she's an old friend she must have thought you were a guy too," Nariko explained.

    Ranma blinked. "Yeah, Nari-chan that's right."

    Akane returned with the two glasses and gave them to her mother. Ranma reentered the room and demonstrated using the hot water. "See, I'm still human." Ranma's blue eyes made contact with Ukyou's.

    Ukyou looked him over. She knew powerful succubae could shape shift, and that she could not detect any demonic energy was meaningless. Her own senses were rudimentary and a demon powerful enough to change her form might be able to evade her detection. That water was a trigger however....

    "Jusenkyou? But I thought demons were immune to that." Ukyou paused to consider what she had seen "What is there a spring of drowned succubus?"

    "Might as well be. My cursed form's now a demon."

    "And you just happened to turn people?"

    "It didn't just happen!" Ranma almost growled. It was for the best that he did not. Ranma's male form was not nearly as capable as his female form in that department. "I had to save their lives."

    "So, you turned them." Ukyou's voice was flat.

    "Yeah. I know some crazy demon hunter like you'd rather die than live as a demon but not everyone thinks like that."

    Ukyou tilted her head slightly. "I'm not that crazy. I wanted out of the Assembly." The demon hunter sighed. "But not like this.... not at Ryoga's expense."

    Jarvis noted that Ukyou did avoided directly answering the question. His curiosity as to the nature of the relationship these two had increased.

    "What happened to that guy?" Ranma had wanted to... The martial artist paused. He did not want to think about what he... no what she wanted to do to the demon hunter.

    "We don't know." Jarvis spoke up. "We were unable to find him or Alexia."

    "When I last saw him he was fighting her. If he'd won he would have come for me," Ukyou quietly added.

    Ranma simply nodded. He knew what Alexia would have done to Ryoga. They all did.

    The former acolyte steeled herself and looked Ranma in the eyes, eyes that were the same blue she remembered. "Thank you." Ukyou flexed her fingers. It was a reflex from her training. "If you and your..." She paused to find the appropriate word "kids hadn't helped me... Thank you."

    "It was the right thing to do," Ranma shrugged.

    Ukyou smiled warmly at that. A succubus had saved her, a demon hunter, from other succubae, and why? Not for the "purity of humanity" like the Assembly spouted off or for whatever mercenary reason WIC used, but for something as simple as it being the right thing to do.

    "Now what are you gonna do?"

    "I defected to the Company. I'm sure they'll want to know everything I know. At least I'm out of the Assembly. I'd like to get back at Alexia, but that seems like a pretty long line."

    Ranma nodded. "I should get going. If you want to talk to me just ask one of these guys."

    "Uh okay," Ukyou said. Ranma was the only person she really knew here.

    Ranma gave a slight smile and exited the room.

    Ukyou watched her old friend leave. The brunette sighed and turned her attention back to her interviewer. She started thinking of her future, and how to make the most of it.

    Once Ranma was out of the room he used the cold water to return to demon form.

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

    "You really wanna see that?" Ranma asked her mother. She and the rest of the brood were about to use WIC Toronto-B's showers after their daily flight training session. They had been intercepted by the ranking Science and Technology Section officer.

    "From what you've told me it’s a very interesting attack," Nodoka said.

    "I just wish the name was better."

    "It's cute." Nariko's tone was eager enough, but her expression confirmed what she really thought.

    "What did you expect Mom? You are a magical girl," Akane smirked.

    Ranma sighed. "Somehow, being a succubus is less a problem than being a magical girl," she mumbled as she activated her Senshi form.

    "Where do you want the demonstration?" Ranma asked, now with fully violet eyes asked. It had been three days since she had first used that attack, she had to admit it would be good to practice it again.

    "I'll show you," Nodoka said. She lead them outside the building and across the facility's campus. Their destination was a large block of steel and concrete down at the end of an outdoor target range. The range was closed and a pair of young S&T agents were setting up cameras and sensors for what had to be a target.

    "How is the Kuonji girl doing?" Nodoka asked as she was handed a clipboard by one of her assistants.

    "I dunno. She seems happy to be out of the Assembly, but she did lose her partner. I guess she's warmed up to me a bit." DarkStar's tail swished nervously. She had gotten into the habit of visiting Ukyou in her... cell in WIC Toronto-A.

    The doctor noticed this and noted that her daughter had not mentioned what the former acolyte thought of her. She held those questions and instead explained what she wanted Ranma to do.

    Agent Aida checked the scanner before walking back to behind the line. For once the weight of his sidearm was a comfort instead of a burden. These Pattern D's might be the major's family, but they were still demons. The brood mother was especially worrisome. He looked over to see his coworker Anayami was her usual composed self.

    Sailor DarkStar smirked when she saw the agents scurry behind the protective shield and man their machines. One of them, the girl with an odd hair color, (a dye job, DarkStar could see the roots) had the almost robotic composure, that was extreme even among Company agents.

    Ranma could just imagine that girl getting along famously with Kasumi. The other assistant was more nervous, almost human.

    The demon focused her power. A fireball formed in her hands. Her concentration increased and its surfaced smoothed over becoming a glossy black. As she shouted her attack phrase she could see violet and silver swirls forming inside the orb, just before it launched out of her hands.

    The orb raced down the field and slammed into the armor-faced concrete target. The orb split apart on the four inch steel plate and exploded in a forward arcing cone. Strangely enough the attack's secondary explosion seemed to come from behind steel armor.

    Later examination of the high speed video capture and the test block would indicate that this is exactly what happened. The shards from the DarkStar Burst, sliced through the steel, embedded themselves in the concrete, and exploded.

    But that would not be the result Nodoka would find the most interesting of this little test.

    "Was that what you wanted?" DarkStar enjoyed blowing up the block. The demon walked over to the equipment's display. A slow motion tracking of the orb's progress was being replayed.

    "I don't see what's so important," Akane commented.

    "It's hard to see without obvious references, but that trajectory is all wrong." Aida pointed to the screen.

    Seeing the confusion on her daughter's face Nodoka explained herself. "We've found something odd with your attack." She then went on to explain what she wanted Sailor DarkStar to do for the next test.

    The redhead quickly smiled in understanding. She might not get science that much, but she understood the martial arts. If her mother was right, that attack might be much more useful.

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

    A tall man stood on a overlook. Rain steadily poured around him but he did not notice. Unusual for the location, there was little wind and the precipitation fell nearly vertical, and his wide-brimmed had kept his head dry. Draped over his narrow-shouldered, but surprisingly spry frame, was a long coat. The ends of plain but sturdy pants peeked out of the coat's ends. These were tucked into a pair of boots that while in good condition had been thoroughly broken in. The coat's material was a faded grey-black oilskin that had clasped up the center using a series of snaps. A large satchel, also made of oilskin, was slung over one shoulder.

    His eyes were a muddy brown, but his gaze seemed to dwell in the borderlands between dedication and obsession, faith and fanaticism. His hair, what could be seen under his hat, was a light brown that seemed to be of a respectable length.

    Even without the notch in his coat's high, almost chin reaching, collar he would have strongly resembled a saddle-back preacher. These were men who went from place to place preaching the word of God to towns too small to have a permanent Shepard.

    He stared at the rain soaked valley that spilled out below his position. Pine forests stretched bellow him. Out of necessity, the monastery was in a remote location, but the man enjoyed the scenic side effect.

    "Father Oslo?" A younger man asked, bowing his head. He had walked out of the monastery and like the other man seemed unfazed by the rain.

    "Yes?"

    "The Bishop is ready for you."

    Father Oslo nodded. He entered the monastery and after passing plain stone and wood paneled corridors and finally through a small, but interestingly stocked, library, was let into a spacious and Spartan office. There was only one embellished aspect of the spare room. It was an immense, cunningly carved desk. The lovingly cared for oak glowed under the soft lighting of the room. That thought brought a smile to the father's face. He remembered the hours he had spend cleaning and polishing such objects during his own days as an acolyte. Humility was important to impart onto the young.

    He did not allow his recollections to disrespect the man who had summoned him. Father Oslo bowed his head and let one knee touch the ground. The man behind the desk smiled, showing a little teeth that while white and straight were still... unpleasant. Though no one else at the monastery dared comment; besides after a while they stopped looking off.

    "Stand, Father," the man behind the desk said, to which Oslo immediately obeyed. "I wish I had more pleasant news."

    "Bishop Fortson?"

    "It's one of your proteges. Acolyte Hibiki and his partner have failed to respond." Fortson's voice was conversational and warm.

    Oslo nodded. He remembered sending those two. "There were complications?"

    The bishop gave a slight laugh. "One could say that. It seems that the demon Hibiki and Kuonji were tracking led them into a trap." The bishop ran a pudgy, but oddly nimble, hand over his bald head. "All we know was that our acolytes went into a building crawling with demons and Willard mercenaries."

    "You want me to ascertain what happened?" If he were a younger man he would have sighed, but he had experienced the deaths of enough brave and rash acolytes.

    "You and a squad of your best men. I want to know what happened, I want you to make sure our missing people's souls are laid to rest, and I want you to exterminate everyone who dared to stand against us!" the bishop shouted, his voice finally gained an edge.

    Oslo smiled. The bishop looked soft but he still had it in him. "I will avenge our people's sacrifice."

    Bishop Fortson smiled, again showing those upsetting little teeth. He knew Oslo would be able to take care of things. It was a mistake to send those kids in, but they were only tracking one demon; they were unprepared for such an ambush. It was a shame to have lost such a promising young acolyte, but Hibiki knew the risks.

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

    "Why are we here with these... humans?" Aurora spat out. Her green eyes scanned the filth that surrounded her. The demon wished her mother would let her dispose of them. Or at least give her a chance to train with her powers more.

    "Watch your tongue," Alexia corrected in a casual voice

    Aurora stiffened and bowed her head. She had quickly learned the folly of crossing Mother.

    "You need to learn the usefulness of humans," Alexia said as she opened the salon's door.

    The demon saw her spawn's respectfully skeptical look. "They're a species designed to serve us as food, fodder to make minions, or servants," Alexia whispered to her daughter as the entered the store.

    What she told Aurora ran counter to her own education, but it was better than the truth. If anyone other than her grandmother had told Alexia the true origin of their species, she would have considered it pathetic lies. But, while Alexia's grandmother was overly sentimental, the ancient demoness was not one to suffer delusions.

    "Hello Alexia. Is this your daughter?" the stylist asked. She smiled at the younger succubus. "She is a lovely girl." The woman could see why the girl's mother brought her here. Her body was very nice, but it could be complimented a lot better than the simple t-shirt and jeans the girl had on now.

    The orange-haired succubus nervously licked her lips. Mother had gone through a lot of trouble for her.

    "Daughter, it's a bit early for that," Alexia laughed. "First we've got to give you a proper makeover."

    Aurora would have cocked her head in confusion, but she trusted mother's judgment. She followed Alexia and the humans to a waiting styling chair.

    "Once we've made a proper princess of you then the fun can begin," Alexia whispered in Aurora's ear.

    The stylist smiled as she organized her equipment. It was good to see such a wholesome family: loving mother and adoring daughter.

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

    Ukyou smiled at the warm rays of sunshine on her face. For a few seconds she was able to put aside her worries. Her partner's fate, her betraying the Assembly, her imprisonment, the aches in her still damaged leg, and her... feelings for a demon, were out of her mind. Right now she was outside, breathing fresh air and laying on the grass. It was a welcome change from a solid week of recycled air, florescent lights, and concrete inside that underground base. It was also a positive sign, her privileges had increased

    She was still on a WIC base, but this one was much nicer than that other one. This was reinforced by the pair of agents that watched her from a few meters away. Ukyou heard someone approach. The person's footsteps were surprisingly quiet. Though his blocking her sunlight was a pain.

    The former Assembly acolyte opened her eyes. It was Jarvis. "Did you pass along my request?" she asked her interrogator.

    "I did." Jarvis' speech while clipped did not have its usual accent.

    Ukyou suspected that he could switch in and out of it to better aid information extraction in some way.

    "The Commander is considering it."

    "It's better than having me rot away in some safe house for the rest of my life."

    "There is the question of loyalty."

    "I know, I betrayed one organization. What's to say I won't betray another?" Ukyou almost laughed. In all her dreams of quitting the Assembly, she never really considered what she would do once she was out. Now that she was, she found herself being drawn back into the business.

    "I'll let you know when the Commander does make a decision," Jarvis smiled

    Ukyou's thanking response was cut short by an angry growl. She watched as all the agents moved their gaze to the direction of the noise and instantly moved to their weapons. Afterwards Ukyou would realize that she had done the same thing, except that she was unarmed.

    Soon, they were rewarded by seeing a trio of succubae fly over-head, dive down, pull up, twist and retreat. It was a maneuver Ukyou recognized: a demonic strafe. Though she could tell that the redheaded brood mother had added some new wrinkles to it.

    From Ukyou's prone position it was quite an impressive formation. Her eyes could even pick out the satisfied grin on the lead demon's face. She suspected that's why the succubus was so pleased. Ranma was fulfilling what she saw as her role as a male martial artist and a brood mother, protecting and training the weak, protecting and training her children.

    Ukyou could see the martial artist and warrior within the succubus, fankly, that worried her.

    Jarvis cleared his throat and pulled out an electronic device. "You mind? I believe we were at the composition of what the Assembly uses to treat their blades and ammunition?"

    Ukyou nodded and started explaining what she knew of the process and materials. It did not take long. "Is that all?" Jarvis asked as he stopped the recorder.

    The former Assembly acolyte nodded. Her eyes scanned the sky briefly.

    "I believe they're still on base. Jefferson, Reynolds, take Miss Kuonji to the brood."

    The two agents saluted and escorted Ukyou around a couple buildings. When she rounded a corner and got a clear look at what the demonic trio was doing she paused. It was not the flying that she had seen them do earlier, and it was not the sparring that she had seen the day before. It was a combination of the two.

    Ukyou saw a curious mix of ground and air combat. A demon would be flying in the air one moment then would drop to the grass, dodge and leap back up, or would try to intercept her sparring partner another way. The succubae instantly switched between aerial and terrestrial modes. The brood mother was the most fluid though her spawn were performing well too.

    Even Ukyou's trained eyes strained to capture their movements. Again she felt the absence of her weapons. The traitor to the assembly of man watched as the redhead neatly tipped over and landed on the ground in a tight roll. The demon then smoothly untucked and sprung her body liken an uncoiled spring. Claws appeared and seemed to cross over a dozen yards. The demon unfolded her wings and slashed into the air.

    Ukyou blinked. The redhead had turned towards her.

    Ranma turned, reduced her altitude, and landed a few paces from the brunette. She folded her wings back and her tail lazily swished back and forth. "Hi, good to see they're lettin' you outside now." The demon wiped her brow. It took more effort in this form but she could still sweat.

    "I guess it is." Ukyou found herself unable to meet the demon's eyes... for very long.

    Ranma noted Ukyou was more than intimidated and afraid. The succubus could smell those emotions radiating from her, but there was something else to. Ukyou's body language was also off a bit. The redhead noted that it had become easier to pick up on such things.

    The succubus had a fair idea what was making Ukyou uncomfortable. The demon sighed. She supposed it was a mistake to hug Ukyou and call her cute. Though Ukyou was not reacting too badly. Ranma wondered if Ukyou even knew what her feelings were.

    However, the succubus declined to broach that subject. She told herself that it was to avoid making the defector more uncomfortable, but that was not the whole truth.

    After what she hoped was not a terribly long pause, Ranma spoke. "They been treating you okay? I know that Jarvis guy's pretty... intense." She then turned to her kids, who were still sparring, and waved them to come over.

    "No, he's been okay. Captain Jarvis is a professional."

    "That he is," Ranma dryly remarked. She recalled that little green-haired succubus and what Jarvis did, and what Ranma herself did. The demoness turned to see her children land, much more gracefully than they used to. The brood mother smiled..

    Both Akane and Nariko felt the pride their mother had in them. Their cheeks gained just a hint of crimson. "How's it going Ukyou?" Akane asked.

    "Why're you guys so calm around me? I'm a demon hunter."

    "So are we," Ranma shrugged.

    "Yeah... you guys were training how to fight other demons I guess," Ukyou frowned. The brood was also training on a Company facility.

    "Sorta," Ranma laughed. "I've been tinkering with my family's school, modifying things for flight, tails, claws. Stuff like that."

    "I see." Ukyou's response was a bit muted. She was at a loss of how to reply.

    Ranma laughed again. This time it was strained. The demon turned away and tried to reduce the information she was getting from the human. Picking up all those emotions... it almost felt like an invasion of privacy.

    Kasumi walked up to the group.

    "Ranma, Major Saotome's on base." She eyed the former Assemblywoman before turning back to the redheaded succubus.

    "Mom? Oh, okay," Ranma sighed. Ukyou and "feelings" was not something she wanted to think about but she had to. "Akane, Nari-chan, stay here with Ucchan. I won't be long. Come on Kasumi."

    After the agent and the brood mother left, Ukyou looked at the agents and demons that she had been left with. She laughed nervously.

    "I guess we can keep sparing," Akane suggested to her mate.

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

    "I've done some thinking," Ranma said as she looked down at the glass coffee table in what looked like a reception room. She could see her reflection. Even at the awkward angle and the imperfect reflection the violet in her eyes was clear. "People die in what we're doing. There was that agent you had in the school. Chase I think his name was. I don't want.... We have to do this but..." The demoness cleared her throat.

    "I don't want my kids to be without a Mom. They still need me," Ranma blurted out.

    Kasumi and Nodoka exchanged a glance. "What do you... propose?" Major Saotome asked.

    "If I... die. My girls will need to be taken care of. They're a bit older now so I think nothing drastic will be needed, but still." Ranma knew that Nariko was not strong enough to use the forced biting method, but she might be able to do it the... other way. Ranma hoped that there would be no need for that. Not with them being at their age.

    Nodoka looked into her daughter's eyes. She knew what drastic meant, and wondered if her two granddaughters could survive without demonic parenting. "Of course. I'd do anything to help my family."

    "Well... I hope it doesn't have to come to that; you needing to be... something else. I think Nari-chan could.... You wouldn't be... babies... maybe."

    Nodoka nodded. She had assumed as much.

    "For my sister, I'll do what needs to be done." Kasumi's voice was flat but with conviction.

    Ranma smiled slightly. Kasumi, and her own mother for that matter, preferred to die as a human than live as a demon, but if it would save Akane and Nariko...

    "Good, I'm glad we got that out of the way," the succubus had one less thing to worry about. She stood up but was stopped by her mother reaching over and hugging her close. The demoness wrapped her arms around her mother automatically.

    "I'm so proud of you. You're such a good Mother," Nodoka said hugging the demon tighter. Ranma responded by spreading her wings and folding them other Nodoka's shoulders and back. Despite their disparity in height, the large structures easily accomplished this.

    Kasumi decided to give the mother and daughter this private moment and excused herself.

    Ranma leaned her head against her mother's chest and purred happily as her mother ran her hand through the demon's hair. Nodoka was careful to avoid the redhead's horns.

    I just wish I could be half the mother you were. Nodoka thought from within her child's wings.

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

    A pair of beautiful bronzed women leaned on the bar. They looked somewhat alike though their difference in ages was too close for people to think of mother and daughter. The younger looked like she was hardly the requisite nineteen to legally drink. The older had a curly mane of blonde hair, while the younger had an equally long wave of orange locks. They both had green eyes that evaluated the other patrons with hunger.

    Aurora smiled at her mother. Alexia was right. With the proper attire, attitude, and bearing, she did not even have to use her powers.... much. Aurora adjusted her dark green leather dress slightly. It took time to craft the right mix of regal and appealing, but the young succubus was confident that she had done it.

    Alexia slid over to her minion and smiled. She put her hand over one of Aurora's manicured ones. "Anything catch your eye?" Though it was really another sense that the demons were using. Both were scanning the humans looking for one who's scent indicated that they would taste the best.

    The brood mother smiled as she watched her daughter's reaction. The young demon was so eager to perform, yet so worried about screwing up and disappointing mother. While Aurora maintained an outward appearance of control, Alexia could tell how she really felt. Aurora's attention was on a human male who had entered the bar just now.

    Alexia smiled as she evaluated the human. His physical appearance was good, though the demon evaluated him in much the same way a stockman looked over a steer. The human's energy and scent indicated that he would be filling and tasty. Alexia nodded her approval.

    Putting a seductive smile on her face, Aurora got up. This was still hunting. Something she had done her whole life, even before... her life had really began. The succubus fell into her body's urges and used information and training mother had given her.
    Alexia observed her daughter's performance with pride, at her own skill in crafting minion. Her spawn had quickly gotten the attention of her prey and started working on him. The blonde demon smiled. Once you pushed the right buttons, humans were simple.

    Eventually, Alexia got up and paid for her drink. Aurora had persuaded the human to go somewhere more private. Alexia did not want to miss this. The demoness exited the building and took to the sky. As Alexia followed the cab her daughter and the human were in, the demoness smiled. Aurora had started to feed. It was just some minor draining while she made out with the human.

    Alexia landed on the roof of the apartment building that the human had taken Aurora. Alexia could sense that the young succubus was just about ready....

    Aurora reached out to the human. This was it. She was about to get a full meal... and if the appetizers were any indication. She was about to make contact when she felt a slight draining.

    The newly tanned demon looked down to see a single drop of blood fall from her face and onto the human's chest. It was quickly joined by another. The succubus snarled and put a finger to her nose. It came back bloody.

    The human asked a question, but Aurora's eyes flared at the human and he was cowed by her mental command. The succubus resumed her work once the flow had stopped. She then grinned at the human that she had dominated. It was time to get back to work.

    In-between feeding sessions Aurora checked her nose. She smiled when it came up clean. The young demon had another reason to be happy. Her mother was proud of her. Aurora basked in the glow of mother's approval... and a different sort of afterglow.

    Aurora wished Mother would let her kill the human. She had gotten what she wanted from him, and Aurora knew his flesh would be as tasty as the rest of him. However, Mother insisted she simply cloud the human's memory and leave. Aurora pouted as she primped in front of the human's bathroom mirror.

    Hopefully Mother will let her be more thorough with her prey next time. The demon also hoped that the next time would come soon. The energy she had gotten was good, but more important than nourishment was the sense of power that she could revel in.

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

    Aram sighed and looked at his watch. He glanced up at the overcast sky before looking back at his two companions. Conversation during the journey had been muted, to say the least.

    "You know... it's a bit too dark to wear those things," Gabriel chastised his fellow agent, as he locked the silver Company sedan. Aram sighed and pocketed his sunglasses. The trio of humans made their way across the parking lot.

    "Maybe it would've been better if you guys had just stayed in the car." Ranma sighed as he walked slightly ahead of them.

    "You're the one that wanted an escort."

    "No, I'm the one that wanted a ride," Ranma grumbled.

    Kasumi and Nabiki were busy, and Ranma could not ask his mother for help, not with what he was getting.

    "You sure your kids are.... fine?" Gabriel asked, for the third time by Ranma's count.

    "Yeah, they're having... fun." The pigtailed martial artist shook his head. He had found that times like this were the best chance for him to get a break. While mating pairs of succubae were surprisingly private with their intercourse, they still wanted Mother to occasionally watch them perform, both for approval and for... suggestions.

    "And they'd better be fine. I am trusting you guys to watch over where we live." Ranma knew they were not that far from home. If they got warning he could change and fly over there within ten minutes, and Mother was there too.

    "Of course," Gabriel said in an understanding voice. The kid was concerned about his spawn. The agent shook his head. He found it strange that a demon mommy was more normal than... whatever this teenage guy was.

    Ranma groaned. At least this was less awkward than when they were in the car. He smiled. He had seen the item in one of Akane's magazines and knew it would be perfect. Ranma's grin increased slightly; he could even give it to Mother while in his real body.

    The martial artist had his hand on the department store's door handle when he caught a beige van reflected in the glass door. He watched as the door slide open. "Guys... you see that?" Ranma asked quietly.

    "Yah, I seem 'em," Aram said. There was a large van idling in front a small bank that sat in the middle of the parking lot like an island in a sea of slowly rusting cars. The three young men watched another trio of men exit through the van's open side door. Their long coats were not too unusual given the brisk wind, but there where characteristic bulges in their coats. Bulges that were long and award enough to be more than pistols.

    "They're human," Gabriel said while he looked at the bulky bit of electronics he was lugging around.

    Ranma frowned, in his other body it would be easy to tell. But to his eye, those men moved like humans.

    "Call the authorities," Aram said as he knelt down to check his shoe laces. His head tilted slightly when he heard shouts.

    "What? Wha'ya guys talking about? Wait for the police?" Ranma's voice was conversational in tone and volume but his gaze was even.

    "They are human." Aram shifted to check his other boot.

    "Come on you're saying you guys can't do anything to humans?" Ranma looked at the two agents' guarded expressions. "Fine. Screw you losers, I'll do it myself."

    As Aram stood back up a small smile crossed his face. "You heard him Gabe. It's his idea, we're just providing backup."

    "Besides, it's a good chance they could be working for the opposition," Gabriel added as Aram made the call to command. "Non-humans need money too. And human mooks are cheap enough."

    "Stupid company rules and goons," Ranma grumbled as he walked over to one of the large concrete combination ashtrays and trashcans that flanked the doors to the store. It had rained earlier in the morning and some water had collected into the curved depression that surrounded the lip of the trashcan.

    "Goons? We're not that bad," Gabriel said as he adjusted his coat. The agent was really using that was cover for checking the position of his weapon and extra ammunition

    "We could have gotten something cleaner," Aram said after Ranma took the rain water and used it to transform.

    "No time," the succubus said as she glared at the bank, and extended her senses. "Human, as far as I can tell. And there's still one guy in the van."

    "I'll take the driver; you two go into the bank; I'll be right in," Aram said.

    "Good you're even wearing a purse," Gabriel noted.

    Ranma raised an eyebrow in curiosity. Despite being able to wear pants, albeit leather ones, she continued to generate a leather purse. She suspected that it was because of her time using one at school. Her eyes widened slightly with realization at the agent's plan.

    Aram separated from the two and walked around the back of the van.

    As the short redhead entered the bank she allowed fake shock to cross her face. Gabriel delved into a similar type of chicanery. Three gunmen: two in the main room watching the handful of customers they had forced onto the ground and the last was collecting money from one of the bank's employees. No one seemed hurt…. yet.

    "Hands up!" the taller of the two gunmen shouted at the two intruders.

    "Bad time for you and your pretty girlfriend to stop in, eh?" his partner added.

    "Just get them down on the floor, Mike!" the one collecting money shouted.

    "Right, right," the shorter of the pair, Mike said. "On the ground you two!" He then waved his gun at them, a pump-action shotgun, and suggested using a few choice offensive, both in explicit and racial nature, that if they cooperated they'll be home and having sex in no time.

    Gabriel's eyes darted to Ranma's purse then back to the gunmen. The redhead simply contained her anger at their suggestion.

    "Your little girl going to make a deposit?" Mike laughed. "Darrel, check her purse."

    The taller of the two gunmen stepped closer to Ranma, "Hand it over little girl."

    The redhead slipped the purse off of her shoulder and reached with the hand out holding it. Darrel responded by stepping closer. He barely say any movement as the small girl blurred, followed immediately by an immense pain in his chin as something impacted it.

    After smashing into the first gunman's jaw, Ranma tossed him aside and leapt at the other one. Mike only caught a hint of movement before the redhead had clamped down on the sides of his neck with one hand and twisted the gun out of his hand with the other. The maneuver broke his finger and almost ripped off a thumb. The demon then pulled his head forward and slammed it into her own.

    The robber at the counter panicked. Things had changed too fast. Darrel and Mike had been taken out by a little girl, and now her boyfriend had drawn a gun on him.

    "Just kill the moron," a new voice said. "Hey Red, go ahead and gut these two, then finish this last worthless bastard. I already took care of the driver," Aram said as he entered the bank and aimed his gun at the remaining robber.

    The demon paused in thought. "Nah, this is boring me," Ranma said after dropping the now unconscious Mike. Lack of oxygen and head trauma will do that to a person. The key was to squeeze the arteries going into the brain at the sides of the neck instead of the windpipe going down in the front. The former was a far quicker way to cut off the flow of oxygen to the brain. Though it did carry more risk of hurting the person.

    Though the redhead was not particularly concerned. She felt dirty just touching such incompetent lowlife scum. At least her real enemies were more of a challenge, and not just punks like these.

    "Wait no! You cops can't kill me if I surrender!" the last robber said as he dropped his gun and put his hands up.

    Aram laughed. "Sorry man, we're not the police."

    "Not at all," Ranma smiled showing a bit of her fangs.

    The last robber slid back. More afraid from the girl than the two men pointing guns at him.

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

    "Yeah Sis, I guess I could do that, but did you have to ambush me like this?" Nabiki asked.

    "Sorry." Akane blushed in that subtle way succubae did. She supposed that it was rude to question her sister immediately when she had gotten home, but Akane preferred to get this over with before Mother got home.

    "No problem," Nabiki smiled at the irony. For once Akane was the one asking Nabiki to take her photo, especially given who the photo was for. "You know my standard rate?" Nabiki said as she walked up the stairs to her room.

    Akane nodded. After Nabiki had picked up her camera and some film, they went into Akane's room, or at least the room Akane kept most of her stuff in. "Don't worry, I don't need to many photos," Akane assured her sister. She had been practicing in front of a mirror and had found the perfect pose.

    "Good." Nabiki fiddled with her camera. She was not terribly worried. Akane had asked her to take these photos. Ranma and Kasumi should not blame her if something happened. "Okay Akane, I'll do it, but you're gonna have clothes on."

    "But... it's for my mate," Akane pouted.

    "I've seen enough naked demons thank you. And I'm not getting your mom pissed at me." Nabiki had figured that Ranma was not home.

    "Please," Akane whined trying to look her cutest, which given her species was a bit of an achievement.

    Nabiki shook her head to clear her mind. "Just wear a bikini."

    "Yeah... good idea," Akane agreed as her clothing shifted into a tiny blue string bikini. She looked herself over then paused and shifted into a less skimpy version. After all, Nariko saw her in the nude everyday. "We're doing two. One with me looking human and another with my full form." Akane then posed.

    "Right," Nabiki said as she adjusted her camera.

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

    "You really scared the piss out of that last guy when you said you killed the driver. Heck I could smell that he was this-" Ranma held her finger a quarter inch apart- "close to losing it," Ranma said before she sipped her beverage.

    "I said no such thing. All I said was that I took care of him. I almost wish he'd have resisted," Aram stated leaning back into the booth.

    "Why? You know all the paperwork we have to fill out when we kill a civilian," Gabriel stated, deadpan.

    Aram nodded. "Also don't think that having Red here take out his two friends like that didn't freak him out."

    "Bah, they're worthless. They let me get too close."

    "Yeah, that was very clean for you," Aram laughed as he took a sip of his beer.

    "What's that supposed to mean?" Ranma bristled. "Yah know those special bullets you guys shoot are pretty dang messy too."

    Gabriel nodded in agreement.

    "You sure we should wait here?" Ranma asked as she looked around the bar.

    "It's the closest restaurant to the bank. That is where the Colonel told us to wait."

    "Yeah but I'm under nineteen"

    "You looked old enough that no one's asked you for an ID."

    "Yay... the wonders of being a sex demon," the redhead quietly deadpanned.

    "Hmmm, he's late," Aram said as he looked at his watch.

    "I'm sure the Colonel is talking with the police at the scene. Making sure everything's nice and smooth with them," Gabriel sighed.

    "Least we don't have to worry about getting chewed out... much."

    "What's with that? I thought you guys were working with the local police. They didn't seem to like you guys very much." Ranma had found the police were fairly annoyed by what they had done.

    "We stepped on their toes by going out of jurisdiction. We're not supposed to go after humans." Aram took a sip of his beer.

    "Unless they're cultists or mercenaries in the service of non-human entities of course," Gabriel added.

    "You know that reminds me about something Sophie and Rob did," Aram smiled. It was a shame what had happened to Rob, but risk was a part of the job.

    Aram had gotten halfway through the story about the incident between the Peruvian police and those two agents when Ranma's eyes widened. "Oh no! I forgot to get Mom's gift!"

    "Relax, Red. Just take another sip of your beer. You can get that thing for the Major after the Colonel stops by," Gabriel explained

    "Okay. You know the only reason I'm having one of these is because I'm curious."

    "Not like one drink would effect a Pattern D."

    "Yeah and she's just nursing it," Aram teased. He and Gabriel were also restricting themselves to only one drink and were slowly sipping theirs as well. They were WIC agents after all.

    "Anyway back to my story. Remember, Sophie was pretending to be Rob's wife so that's why the policeman said 'Mrs. Talbert are you aware that your cooler is full of human eyeballs.' "

    "I can't believe Rob blurted his real name." Gabriel shook his head. "And Of course those weren't human eyes, and the case was hardly full. There couldn't have been more than a dozen in there."

    "Look you wanna tell the story?" Aram sighed.

    "No, you go ahead."

    Aram grumbled and continued telling the story. When he got to the end, Ranma took a long pull from her drink and blinked at the two agents.

    "What's wrong with you guys? All that hassle just for some monster eyes? You two had to impersonate FBI agents just to get Rob and Sophie out." The succubus shook her head.

    "It was better than our backup plan," Aram laughed.

    "Lemmie guess. You guys were gonna bust them out with helicopters and a daring midnight raid?"

    Gabriel and Aram shared a conspiratorial grin.

    "Never mind," Ranma sighed. "What about those vampires or whatever that were out in the woods to the South?"

    "After the Pattern Silvers and Lieutenant Patterson's team busted up their base we haven't heard anything from them. We think they're done for." Aram tipped up his beer finishing the drink.

    "Though we did hear some weird stuff. You ever see the Senshi in battle?" Gabriel asked.

    "Not really. Why?" Ranma asked.

    "Get this. Their leader Moon, she's got this beam weapon and Morrison swears it's a kaleidoscope."

    The succubus shook her head. "Man and I thought my powers were lame."

    "Oh it might look a bit silly, but the thing burned a Pattern D to ash," Gabriel said.

    "Huh," Ranma frowned.

    "Kinda like how that attack of yours has a silly name, but, oh man, its effective" Aram said after coming back with another beer. He figured they could handle two without problem. Two was as good as one.

    Ranma blinked at them. "You guys know about that test too?"

    "Only that you tested a new power you found in that office building fight. Looked impressive," Aram noted absently.

    "You don't know the half of it," Ranma smiled darkly.

    Gabriel adjusted his coat and looked at his watch. "You and your girls were doing very well that warehouse and then in that office."

    "I think it has to do with all their training," Aram pointed out.

    "Of course I'm gonna train my kids. They're Saotomes."

    "Yeah, a bunch of bouncy succubae doing their 'demon-fu' would attract some attention," Gabriel said.

    "Yes and what they wear's got nothing to do with it," Aram snickered.

    "My uniform's a lot better than what those other magical girls wear!" Ranma defended.
    "Yeah, it's got an even shorter skirt."

    "It's still better," Ranma pouted.

    "Hey Aram, what's with that gut thing you said back in the bank?" Gabriel asked

    "Hmm... I was tempted. We didn't eat lunch yet you know," the succubus said with a wink.

    "See man, some things you can't just say around a demon."

    "What? I kinda forgot what you were for a min." Aram shrugged. "Just handled it like any other operation. It's not like you were gonna eat them."

    "Nah… not worth my time," Ranma smiled with genuine amusement. Her eyes widened and she turned to face the new arrival. The demon could have sworn she had not sensed the man enter.

    "Well, isn't this a surprise," Jacob said with a crooked smile that was almost natural on his normally stoic visage. The WIC officer sat down on the edge of the semi-circular booth pushing Aram closer to Ranma.

    The succubus blinked and adjusted herself. Unexpected physical contact was always... odd. She was also surprised that it had taken her this long to sense Jacob.

    "Colonel Edwards," the two lower ranged agents said simultaneously giving quick salutes. Jacob Edwards glared at the two agents. "I had an interesting conversation with a Toronto Police Captain. Two suspects with concussions and a few broken bones, one so scared he shit himself, and the less we say about what Agent Kowalski did to the driver the better. The captain had some... interesting questions."

    Ranma smirked. She knew that one robber was close to losing it. Serves the punk right. That'll keep him from stealing.

    "Now normally agents from PR Section handle this, but since a Pattern Silver was involved." Jacob gave a sideways glance at Ranma. "Commander Stillwater felt I should handle it."

    "What's wrong? We did the right thing," Ranma said.

    Jacob smiled as he reached over and took Gabriel's unopened replacement beer. "Yes it was," the officer said as he popped the cap off.

    Aram glanced at the table. Colonel Jacob Edwards, was one of the few surviving members of WIC's groundbreaking Epsilon Team. This was Gunslinger Jacob, Executor Edwards, the only way it would be more surreal was if Commander Stillwater or perhaps Johan Willard himself had sat down to have a beer.

    Gabriel similarly boggled. This man had been instrumental in their training. His operations were still analyzed by cadets, right up there with the Sheppard's Creek investigation that started WIC.

    Ranma simply shrugged.

    "I don't see anything wrong with your actions. You were assisting Miss Saotome here," Jacob said evenly as he sipped his drink. He disliked the Canadian beer but he drank cordially anyway. In truth this incident was something he wholeheartedly approved of. This Pattern Silver had gone from using Company facilities to leading agents.

    The officer allowed a small grin to form on his face. It seemed that his plan of being honest and supportive to Miss Saotome was paying off. At least that was one less issue to worry about.

    "What I'd like to know, right now, is what actually happened. Unsurprisingly, witnesses at the scene were a bit... unreliable." Jacob chuckled.

    Aram spoke up first. "Well, Sir, I took the driver. Annoyingly, but not surprising, his window was rolled up. I broke it, and extracted him."

    "You almost strangled him to death," Jacob noted.

    "Yes."

    "I see." Jacob sighed. "And after that?"

    Gabriel took a turn telling what had happened, with Ranma filling in the details of what she had done. "And you know what happened once the police arrived," Gabriel finished. "Sir, do we know who these guys are and why there were there?"

    "We're looking into their backgrounds now. So far, it seems like a quartet of simple and stupid thieves. Though that would be a great cover for something more."

    "Perhaps someone else sent them to that bank at that time knowing we would be there," Aram suggested.

    "Though that would require surveillance of us and having those guys on standby, and for what purpose? It's not like anything happened to us." Gabriel countered.

    "We're still investigating their backgrounds, their van, and their homes," Jacob said.

    "I can't believe you paranoid loons. Maybe we just stopped a simple bank robbery?" the succubus asked.

    "Why take the risk?" Jacob replied as he finished his beer.

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

    Lieutenant Tendo walked down the corridors of WIC Toronto A. She stopped when she passed the commissary and saw who was inside. She first saw Captain Jarvis looking over his cup of coffee. Kasumi followed her superior's gaze to see a quartet of teenaged girls.

    Inside the commissary, Ranma was chatting with her daughters and Ukyou. "Don't you mind that he's watching you?" The succubus looked at the agent with narrowed eyes.

    "Not really," Ukyou admitted as she sipped her iced-tea. "It's not like this place isn't crawling with cameras, and part of my defection was that I tell them everything."

    Ranma shrugged and resumed her lunch.

    Jarvis smiled slightly. The events of Miss Saotome's life were rather noteworthy. The young succ