1. For prospective new members, a word of warning: don't use common names like Dennis, Simon, or Kenny if you decide to create an account. Spammers have used them all before you and gotten those names flagged in the anti-spam databases. Your account registration will be rejected because of it.
    Dismiss Notice
  2. Since it has happened MULTIPLE times now, I want to be very clear about this. You do not get to abandon an account and create a new one. You do not get to pass an account to someone else and create a new one. If you do so anyway, you will be banned for creating sockpuppets.
    Dismiss Notice
  3. If you wish to change your username, please ask via conversation to tehelgee instead of asking via my profile. I'd like to not clutter it up with such requests.
    Dismiss Notice
  4. Due to the actions of particularly persistent spammers and trolls, we will be banning disposable email addresses from today onward.
    Dismiss Notice

Capital Offense [The Return Book 4 (SM, R.5)]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Sunshine Temple, Sep 29, 2018.

Loading...
  1. Threadmarks: Index
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

    Joined:
    Oct 8, 2016
    Messages:
    212
    Likes Received:
    545
    A simple plan to steal some equipment form a government Facility goes awry for one of the Soviet Combat Cyborgs and her cultist hireling and things rapidly get out of hand. Soon Canadian Special forces, Company Contractors, Ranma and her succubus brood, and even Serenity and her magical girls get pulled into the mess.

    (Book 3 can be found here and Book 5 can be read here)

    The Return Book Four: Capital Offense
    Chapter 1: Intruding Thoughts
    Chapter 2: Simple Plan
    Chapter 3: Options and Improvisation
    Chapter 4: Breach and Hide.
    Chapter 5: Backup
    Chapter 6: Bottoming Out
    Chapter 7: Overloaded Rescue
    Chapter 8: Dark and Light Senshi
    Chapter 9: Room for Recovery
    Chapter 10: Cost of Acquisition

    A bit of a structural note. This is the last big book of the revision process. There are some corrections to Blood Debts (Book 5), but they are pretty minor and I won't make a thing of reposting those.

    That means that the next big thing will be Bonding Allure (Book 6). And chapter 1 of that is nearly done.
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2018
  2. Threadmarks: Chapter 1
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

    Joined:
    Oct 8, 2016
    Messages:
    212
    Likes Received:
    545
    C&C is appreciated.

    Book 4: Capital Offense
    Chapter 1: Intruding Thoughts
    Formerly: Reconcile and Refine Part 2i



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Any interesting dreams?" Nariko repeated.

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

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

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

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

    Minako blinked.

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

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

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

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

    "She had those, sometimes," Minako admitted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Minako shook her head.

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

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

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

    Minako nodded, evenly mechanically.

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

    This time Minako's silent nod was more halting.

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

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

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

    "You okay?" Minako asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Unstoppable?"

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

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

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

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

    "Well, what did you do?"

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

    Nabiki gave a little pout

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

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

    Nabiki nodded. "Commitment is important."

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

    Nariko's little, almost challenging, smile returned.

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

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

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

    Akane laughed. "You are cuter, now."

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

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

    Nabiki raised an eyebrow then nodded.

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

    Minako turned and saw that Makoto bore a similar expression.

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

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

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

    "And your sisters?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Nariko gave her cousin's hand a squeeze and turned to the Senshi. "Svetlana is the name Morgan gave her gun. Like how Misa-chan named her weapon Sasha. " She patted her own sword fondly. ScarletBane was a better name than either.

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

    "Her first with it." Nariko nodded.

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

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

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

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

    "Nabiki!" Nariko scolded.

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

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

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

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

    "I'm unstoppable," Makoto repeated.

    "I reformed," Minako added.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Then where is she?" Rei asked.

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

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

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

    Seeing both Rei and Minako fume at that Makoto blinked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Ma'am" Gabriel stated.

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

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

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

    Dom's expression brightened. "Right."

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

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

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

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

    Bearing the same expression Sophie nodded again to Lieutenant Tendo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Shame about Ramirez," Gabriel replied.

    Whipple grunted in thanks..

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Really?" Brummet skeptically asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The demon gave an approving nod.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "A trigger-puller, eh?

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

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

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

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

    "Questions?" he asked.

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

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

    The demoness shrugged.

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

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

    Looking at his troops, Sifton nodded.

    "Which is more than just trigger-pulling."

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

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

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

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

    "Hmm?" Ranma blinked.

    "The bills you guys send us."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The room was a cinderblock box with some monitors bolted to the walls while several sat on the few metal tables that also held workstations and some radio equipment. Feed from several of the cameras and microphones that were spread throughout the training base were being displayed.

    One of the technicians, a small woman with mousy brown hair, was watching the access gates and perimeter detectors. Another, a fidgeting man with a shaved head and russet-colored skin, was on over-watch duty. While the last, a taller blonde-haired woman, was observing the Pattern Silvers. Scanner data was fed into supplemental windows that complemented the video and auditory take.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Eve raised an eyebrow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "You didn't watch?" Eve asked.

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

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

    "And the Pattern readings?"

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

    The green-haired succubus smiled and leaned back.

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

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

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

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

    Nodoka nodded, seemingly distracted by her thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Nodoka tilted her head.

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

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

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

    Nodoka shook her head slightly.

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

    Nodoka exhaled. "You believe that?"

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

    Nodoka nodded.

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

    "But not a clear one," Nodoka frowned. "Miss Mano was born on earth, and is on the Company's subcontractor list."

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

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

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

    Looking at her granddaughters, Nodoka gave a little sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Eve purred. "Is it that simple?"

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



    End Chapter 1

    I'd like to thank my pre-readers. They read through my most egregious mistakes so you don't have to. J St C Patrick, Pale Wolf, DGC, Wray, Kevin Hammel, and Ikarus.


    Revision Notes: And here we are. The start of the last book before Blood Debts. The end of this revision project is in sight.
     
  3. Threadmarks: Chapter 2
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

    Joined:
    Oct 8, 2016
    Messages:
    212
    Likes Received:
    545
    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 4: Capital Offense
    Chapter 2: Simple Plan
    Formerly: Reconcile and Refine Part 2i


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Facing the Site, Earth nodded. Her senses expanded out and she could feel the buzzing of life in the clearing as the energies vibrated against her horns.

    The rich almost peaty smell of the ground rose up to meet her nose and clashed with the crisp smell the chilled air and the dried dead leaves that drifted on the ground. The strong sharp odors of the troopers, and the flat scents of their equipment added to the medley. However, pulsing beneath it all was the rank, almost wrong scent and... presence of the Site.

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

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

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

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

    Sifton raised an eyebrow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "What are you doing?"

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

    "Sir?" MacDowell asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "That is not part of our mission."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Shest suppressed a groan. "See previous."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The man glanced down at the shorter woman.

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

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

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

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

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

    Mal laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Finally, some taste," Mal looked behind him at the retreating building.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Clear!" Shest shouted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




    End Chapter 2

    I'd like to thank my pre-readers. They read through my most egregious mistakes so you don't have to. J St C Patrick, Pale Wolf, DGC, Wray, Kevin Hammel, and Ikarus.


    Revision Notes: It started out as a simple, if audacious, plan....
     
    armourdefense and david15 like this.
  4. Threadmarks: Chapter 3
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

    Joined:
    Oct 8, 2016
    Messages:
    212
    Likes Received:
    545
    Book 4: Capital Offense
    Chapter 3: Options and Improvisation
    Formerly: Reserve and Release Part 1i


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "There's a palace on the moon?"

    "Yup."

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

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

    Corporal Green shook her head.

    "You know that sounds insane," Sifton said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "You think things will get better?" Makoto asked Rei as they walked down the grey corridor.

    Rei stopped. "Better?" she asked giving a laugh. "Oh yes, our Princess is playing house with our demon friends while we're stuck in a cinderblock and sheet metal box." The black-haired girl swept her arms to indicate the reinforced Quonset hut they were cutting through.

    Makoto leaned on a wall next to a set of double doors labeled: Supply. "Yeah... that's what I'm asking. You think things will get better after we move?" she added the last part with a bit of exasperation.

    "Move?" Rei's voice was hopeful. There was a shuffling sound on the other side of the door.

    The tall brunette nodded. "Back to B Site or whatever they call it."

    Rei sighed. "Not back home?"

    Makoto broke out into laughter "What... back to Japan?" She asked, still snickering. Her outburst had attracted the attention of some armor-clad agents at the far end of the corridor. They were not quite an escort but they were a non-subtle reminder that the Senshi were not alone. "Sure... Puu will let us simply go home."

    "No, I meant back to our apartment."

    "The one we had to abandon or the one the Russians burned down?"

    "They didn't burn it all down!" Rei yelled before catching herself. She inhaled and held it. "Fine. I'm sick of living like a bug in a jar. And I'm worried..."

    "What, that Usagi's starting to like it?"

    Rei glanced down the corridor.

    Makoto kept herself from rolling her eyes. You should be concerned about the microphones, the brunette thought to herself. There was a thump in the supply room. Or perhaps whatever was going on in there, she added as she stood back up and turned to face the door.

    After steeling herself, Rei spoke in a low voice. "No... well, yes. I mean Sailor Earth. I can see why Ranma's doing it, but I also can see why she's doing it. She's playing the whole 'cute new Senshi' thing pretty spot on don't you think?" Rei ran a finger over the metal skirting of her uniform. That was another change, courtesy Mercury via Minako and ultimately, Princess Rubber Stamp.

    "This is the same Ranma that's off training the Canadian special forces?" Makoto asked just as there was a creaking crash in the other room followed by a bunch of concerned shrieks and the sound of metallic objects spilling and scattering

    "That's... odd." Rei looked to the door.

    "Sounds more like us," Makoto admitted. "Though with less swearing."

    One of the doors opened and a youthful, almost gangly, woman with twin black short ponytails hesitated at the threshold. She had pale chalk-white skin and wore a gray-green Kevlar bodysuit. The garment resembled a jumper but with longer legs and sleeves.

    The young woman was nearly Makoto's height, but she seemed to deflate a bit on seeing the brunette and Rei. It was then that Makoto fully realized that she was looking at a succubus, and not one of Ranma's.

    The demon hovered by the threshold her black tail hung low and swished a bit at the tip, the fins of which were curled inward. Her hands went to her sides, and without taking her eyes off the two she shouted back into the room. "Meredith! Priscilla! There's Pattern Silvers at the door."

    "Really? Do they have cookies?" Priscilla yelled back.

    Rei eyed the sidearm holstered on the succubus' lanky frame. The immense handgun seemed to fit the larger demons like Eve, or the aggressive ones like Misako. It even worked for the diminutive ones like Ranma, though Rei noted that the redhead was unarmed when in her Sailor Earth form. But here, Rei got more of a "playing dress-up vibe."

    The door opened further as another demon stepped to the threshold. "Yes, I smell them, Isabel," she gently chided. This one had short turquoise hair cut in a pageboy bob. Cool maroon eyes looked over the Senshi and met Rei's gaze.

    Makoto leaned in to look into the "Supply" room, and laughed. It was an armory. There were crates and boxes off to one side, and a long workbench that dominated the far wall. There were metalworking tools, vises, bins of parts, bags of brass and bullets, and several tall press-like devices that topped with colorful clear plastic tubes full of granular powder.

    However, the brunette's attention was on the broken plastic crate that had fallen off a stack atop a handcart. Hundreds of fat cartridges had spilled out and scattered across the floor. A pair of succubae hovered over the spill; one with light green hair pulled into a perky ponytail that hung over one ear, the other with rich chestnut hair that made Makoto jealous.

    The green-haired one pulled up the lid of the broken crate and began to write down numbers on a clipboard while the brunette with rich brown, almost chocolate, tresses was scooping up rounds into a pair of buckets.

    Makoto saw another succubus was still at the workbench, this one had a head full of tight white ringlets. Seemingly ignoring the others, she was diligently loading a magazine.

    Finished, she put it in a stack with others on the bench, marked down the count on a ledger and then took a count from the ammunition box, and finally picked up a stubby, but blocky rifle and slung it across her back. It was only after doing that that she moved to help the other two.

    Back at the doorway, Meredith looked down the hallway and waved to the two male agents before turning back to her sister. "It's okay Isabel, go and give them a heads up. Then find Mom or Auntie Eve or grandma Nodoka."

    Isabel eagerly nodded and started to rush off.

    "But be calm! This isn't an emergency!" Meredith warned. She shook her head and looked at the two magical girls. "Little sisters, always so eager."

    "I'm an only child. So's Mako-chan," Rei stated.

    Meredith smiled politely. "What a shame," she stepped back but Makoto had crossed the threshold. "Yes?" she asked, confused.

    Rei also looked to Makoto inquiringly.

    "You're one of Cecilia's daughters, right?" Makoto asked.

    Meredith's smile became genuine. "Yes, yes we are." She stepped back and looked between the two magical girls. She noted the jeans and green blouse Makoto wore and frowned a tiny bit at Rei's bronze Senshi armor. She then looked Rei in the eye. "We're a bit busy right now but do you two need any help?"

    Priscilla put down the clipboard and eyed the two Senshi. "Desiree, get some blue boxes so we get a count quicker."

    Nodding, the white haired succubus stood up and went to one of the bins under the workbench. She pulled out some blue plastic boxes. The chestnut-haired succubus, Hazel, took one and flipped it open. Inside the box was a grid of square compartments.

    Rei watched as the demons started filling boxes with spilled ammunition, and then immediately emptying them. "What're you doing?"

    Flipping one of her curls, Desiree took a full box from Hazel. After making sure it was a full twenty count she poured the casings into a large bucket. Looking back to Rei, she added another checkmark to Priscilla's clipboard. The little demon sighed. "We're doing inventory," she slowly explained.

    "Have to find out how many we missed," Hazel added, sweeping under the workbench for any loose cartridges.

    The door closed behind Makoto, and she stepped forward. She noticed the other crates and gun cases, complete with shipping manifests. Hanging from a row of coat hooks were several sets of succubus-style armor: Kevlar bodysuits complete with ballistic vests and skirts. There was also a collection of boots and knee pads and a box of gloves.

    "Inventory?" Rei took in the room, seemingly for the first time. "This is a job?"

    "Yes." Meredith's smile became strained. "We've got to get this load ready and time is a bit short." She motioned to the door, and pointedly caught first Makoto's and then Rei's eyes. "So, don't let us detain you."

    "We could help," Makoto said as she knelt down and started picking up cartridges. She looked at the pile in her hands. The cases were about as long as her palm was wide, while the bullets were thicker than her pinky finger. Shaking her head she was about to dump them into a bucket.

    "No!" Hazel cried as she cupped Makoto's hand and pushed it to a different bucket. "Use this one. We haven't counted these bullets yet."

    Makoto nodded and dumped the cartridges into the right bucket.

    "You're clerks," Rei flatly stated.

    Still keeping Rei's gaze, Meredith smiled thinly. "Among other things."

    "We help keep the Fifth NH Task Force running," Priscilla added.

    "But you're demons! Look at the hardware you've got." Rei pointed to the heavy block-of-steel bullpup rifle slung over Desiree's tiny shoulders.

    "Yeah.... and you're a magical girl," Hazel muttered.

    Rei raised an eyebrow at that. She opened her mouth then closed it, unsure of what to say. "What's that supposed to mean?" she asked, genuinely confused.

    Hazel looked to Priscilla.

    Putting down the clipboard, Priscilla addressed Rei. "You've got fancy powers and everyone treats you with kid gloves. It's –well- scary."

    "Scary? You're the demons." Rei looked at the broodlings. She felt too confused to be angry.

    "Is this because magical girls attack demons?"

    Still looking away, Hazel rolled her eyes. She then went back to cleaning up the spilled ammunition.

    Now Priscilla stared. "Uh, no?" the green haired succubus asked.

    Hazel's quizzical and slightly nervous look provided a counter viewpoint.

    "It wasn't magical girls who broke into our house and held us at gunpoint," Meredith stated. "You didn't tie us up and bring us before Mother Alexia's killer."

    "No, it was the Canadians! I made a mural for them." Desiree proudly stated.

    "What." Rei's voice was flat. "You're okay with the people that almost killed you? But you're afraid of us?"

    "They do give Ranma lots of group hugs," Makoto reminded.

    "We were afraid she'd eat us," Meredith ruefully nodded.

    "Given her record..." Priscilla shrugged.

    "We wouldn't eat you!" Rei yelled. "Why are you afraid of us? We're the nice ones. We don't kill people... okay, we've killed evil minions but they don't count."

    Meredith gave the raven-haired Senshi a flat look.

    "Oh." Rei exhaled.

    "Maybe it'd be better if we did kill people... er humans.," Makoto guessed. She picked up another handful of cartridges and dumped them into a waiting bucket.

    The older demon rubbed her chin. "Actually... yes, that'd reassure us," Meredith brightened with the realization.

    Rei's eyes narrowed. "No. You're pulling my leg."

    "You would be a lot easier to deal with, or at least more like us," Priscilla said.

    "We would?" Sweeping up another handful of shells, Makoto gazed off. Her eyes widened and the bullets fell from her hand.

    "What?" Rei asked.

    "You just want us to be demons!"

    Hazel giggled; her tail swishing.

    "It would give us some common ground," Priscilla happily said.

    "And would be very complicated." Meredith eyed Priscilla.

    Tail drooping, the green-haired succubus looked embarrassed.

    "Complicated?" Eyes smoldering, Rei clenched her teeth. "That's an understatement."

    "I'd like to think we'd have some say in the matter," Makoto said as she continued to scoop up cartridges. It looked like they were almost done. "Our humanity's not something that we can just idly give up."

    "True, I'm sure you were offered some sort of contract or wish to become magical girls. Tsukino's not the type to force that on people."

    "Well..." Makoto's mouth opened, then slowly closed.

    Ignoring the brunette, Meredith turned back to Rei. "Yes." She bowed her head, but kept her gaze level. "My apologies. The choice is up to you... and your Princess."

    Exhaling, Rei carefully opened her hands and pressed them against the sides of her armor. Despite this, a couple red sparks popped in her hair like tiny jewels.

    The turquoise-haired succubus straightened herself and smiled. "Let me assure you that I know what it's like to have your humanity ripped away." Meredith reached out and snuffed one of the sparks that appeared on Rei's bronze bodice.

    The air in the room heated as Rei went still. Her hair started to lift as the sparks continued to flare about.

    Priscilla edged closer to the room's fire extinguisher; the armory was a bad place for open flames.

    Makoto stood up, and noticed that the others were also giving the Senshi their full attention.

    Meredith crushed another spark with her long translucent green claws. The glowing green tip cut a tiny scratch on Rei's armor. "Being twisted into something else... the violation, the power. You lose control, you can't even claim your own body. Someone else took that from you, forced it upon you."

    Rei's eyes became incandescent. Her irises brightened to a fierce, blowtorch-blue.

    Meredith's own blue-green irises had little emerald flecks that made them seem deeper, as if there was a forest of crystalline shards behind her eyes. Her pupils dilated and her smile warmed. "Ah, it was consensual for you. How wonderful." Her claws retracted and she gave Rei's gauntlets a hesitant pat.

    Stepping back, Rei broke away from Meredith's eyes. She turned to Makoto.

    "That's actually a great idea," Meredith's mood brightened.

    "What?" Rei blinked.

    "Safety you know," Meredith said as she led Rei away from the spilled ammunition and the loading benches. "Can't have sparks or open flames near gunpowder."

    "Oh, right," Rei said as they went to the side of the room where the armor, radios, boots, and other odds and ends were stored.

    "As I was saying, you had a choice with these changes. Is that right?"

    Makoto coughed. "Uh, Usagi kinda sprung these new uniforms onto us."

    "Kinda? She was wearing Minako like a gown when she converted us one by one?" Rei snorted.

    "Maybe we do have some common ground," Meredith meekly noted.

    "Don't you play sad succubus with me! I swear your kind can be so moody I have to wonder if you all sync up your periods."

    "Far from it." Priscilla snickered.

    Desiree frowned in confusion and looked to her older sisters.

    Meredith patted the girl. "That's not something we have to worry about, Dear."

    "What?" Rei flatly asked.

    "Not human." Meredith raised her tail and waved it.

    Priscilla tried to keep a straight face.

    Makoto's brow furrowed. "Meaning you don't..."

    Meredith shook her head. "When a succubus and her mate get close and want to spawn they have sex."

    "My you sex demons sure are different from us humans," Rei said in mock wonderment.

    "The correct kind of sex." Meredith clarified. "The first mating won't get her pregnant but it'll make her body ready for the next time."

    Makoto blinked. "Oh, that's one way to ensure fertility."

    Holding her tail low but straight, Meredith stepped towards Rei. "As you said, we are sex demons."

    "And more complicated than I thought."

    Priscilla held her tongue. The Silvia Succubus books Auntie Ranma had lent them spelled it out very simply. They even had pictures and everything.

    "Yes, we know that love... that duty can be complicated, and it can hurt. We're here to help. We can listen."

    Glancing at her watch, Priscilla tapped her clipboard onto a crate.

    After getting Hazel's attention, Desiree pointed. Then she put a hand behind her mouth and giggled, while Hazel smirked.

    Makoto followed and saw Meredith's tail. It was still angled downward, but now was curled up at the tip and swished back and forth. The brunette frowned. She had seen Ranma and her brood making the same motions.

    Now standing inches from Rei, Meredith blushed. "Well... maybe not when we're busy, but maybe... later we can talk. Or you can talk."

    Looking into her blue-green eyes, the raven-haired Senshi felt her tension sublimate. The sparks stopped and the stuffy warmth waned. "This isn't how Ranma treats us," Rei stepped back.

    "I would hope not," Meredith said.

    "Auntie Ranma's different," Priscilla looked down and rubbed her shoulders. "She didn't have Alexia... she wasn't... trained like we were.".

    Never breaking eye contact, Meredith took Rei's hand. The metal was cool. "It's okay."

    "It is?" Rei frowned suspicious. "What is?"

    "Don't worry about taking advantage of us," Meredith assured. "It wouldn't be a burden."

    Seeing the demon's tail rise up and swish a bit faster, Makoto leaned in. "I'd appreciate it if you didn't try your mind-magic on my friend," she whispered into Meredith's ear.

    Her smile stiffening, Meredith blinked. Suddenly, her eyes seemed a bit flatter, as if the sparkle had gone out. "Of course, that was rude of me," she turned and bowed her head to Makoto.

    Rei rubbed her neck. She looked at the others and frowned. She expected the succubae to be looking at her with an expectant, almost hungry look. Even the fear the younger ones had was not surprising. But Makoto bore the same expression.

    "Mako...." Rei swallowed as her body cooled. Her hair fell down, landing heavily on her neck and back.

    "If you're feeling better..." Meredith gave a nervous smile and stepped back. However, her tail was still held straight and curled up.

    Rei glared for a moment, but shook her head and sighed.

    Writing on her clipboard, the green-haired succubus inspected the repaired and refilled crate and checked the ammo count with the listed inventory. "Even if you're not.... we'd be happy to help." Priscilla said as she put the clipboard down.

    "We're really good at listening," Desiree happily added, returning to her inventory work.

    "And putting people at ease, removing their stress, you know... comforting." Hazel pulled out a crate of 40mm grenades and started inspecting the linkages of the belted ammunition. "It's nice having people to help again."

    Priscilla hugged her younger sisters, and looked up at the Senshi with a pitying smile. "Yes, we were made to be very... accommodating."

    Makoto's stomach lurched as she recalled what she knew about the darker side of succubae. The nausea grew when she thought of Minako and the things that had been done to her. How she had become "very accommodating."

    Meredith coughed.

    "I can imagine," Makoto said.

    The demon's blue-green eyes locked onto Makoto. "No. You can't." She leaned forward and looked over Makoto's forearms. "No needle-marks for one."

    "What?"

    "Not everyone gets to be as high class as Cecilia was." Meredith sighed. "I suppose the change was easier for some of us than others. Those no one would miss, no one would even notice."

    Priscilla took Meredith's hand. "No, it wasn't."

    "Oh? As I recall we just needed your car."

    Pricilla cracked a slight smile.

    Makoto's eyes darted to Desiree and Hazel, but Meredith shook her head at the unanswered question.

    "You didn't have a choice did you," Rei quietly asked.

    Meredith snorted.

    "We were turned by Mother-Alexia," Priscilla answered. "We weren't fighters. We did the other stuff." she then admitted in a low voice.

    Wincing, Makoto nodded. That fit in with the briefing Setsuna had given on Alexia back... back before Ranma had killed her and sucked the marrow from her bones.

    "Ah." The last of Rei's ire faded. These girls didn't have an agenda. They were the remnants of a demoness' minion army. And here they were working for a different army.

    "I'm sorry," Makoto said, shuffling her feet.

    "Not your fault. Not like you girls ever attacked us." Meredith gave a toothy smile.

    "But we would have. We'd have dusted you without a second thought," Rei muttered.

    "That's what magical girls do," Priscilla added in the same under-her-breath tone.

    "Even demonic magical girls." Meredith's smile slipped a bit. "Though we can rise above that I suppose."

    Rei exhaled and made eye contact with the turquoise-haired succubus. "Mere-chan, you don't need to be afraid of us."

    "Cautious," Meredith corrected. "And the short form of my name is Missy."

    "Missy?"

    "Short form? Don't you mean nickname?" Makoto looked to Pricilla and rubbed her chin. "And your mother's named Cecilia right? That' can't be a coincidence."

    Priscilla rolled her eyes. "Shall we do a rollcall?"

    Meredith tilted her head. "Ah there's Isabel, and... auntie?"

    "That name shortens the same way too?" Makoto asked as the door opened.

    The twin ponytailed demoness rushed into the room. A couple of agents followed behind with Eve in the rear. All three were wearing combat armor.

    Isabel's eyes darted the room. "Oh good all cleaned up!"

    Meredith held her tongue; she wanted to ask what was going on. Instead she checked her holster and made sure her sisters were squared away.

    Seeing the ammunition had been secured and accounted for, Eve smiled. She glanced at Rei and Makoto and nodded. "Miss Kino if you'd suit up please? I'd prefer you and Miss Hino to come with me."

    Rei frowned. There were no alarms, no explosions, and no mad rush. But Rei knew better than to just assume. "What's going on? Who's attacking?" She asked while Makoto closed her eyes and transformed.

    "The Russians."

    Opening her eyes, Makoto let her copper armored hands form into crackling fists. "Here?"

    Eve shook her head. "Ottawa."

    "What? That's hundreds of kilometers away! What are they doing up there?"

    "Attacking Canada's military headquarters." Eve turned to Meredith. "I want an extra Unit of Fire for the entire Fifth. And go heavy for Morgan's and Misako's support weapons."

    "Yes, Ma'am." Meredith said as her sisters started moving equipment. "Desiree, AP mags for the Pugs and SSPS. Hazel HEDP for Sasha and Svetlana." She turned back to Eve. "Frags?"

    "A few, conventional grenades can be handy, but I wouldn't count on it."

    "Where do you want it?"

    "Hangar Three. Kristen and Christine are already there squaring away the door guns."

    Rei blinked. "You're going to charging into the capital city? What are they even doing there? They were hired to kill Usagi."

    "What's a unit of fire?" Makoto asked.

    "A balanced supply of ammunition for a given soldier. Enough for a day of normal combat."

    Makoto nodded as the blonde succubus took her by the shoulder and led her and Rei to the door.

    "Yes, Miss Kino, we're preparing options. And no, Miss Hino, we don't know why they're attacking, or even how many of them are participating. Ranma's liaising with the Canadian response team, but I'd prefer if you followed me back to Miss Tsukino."

    "That doesn't make sense," Rei said, stepping into the hallway. Two agents fell in behind her and Makoto. "What could they want up there?"

    As they walked, Makoto noticed the increase in tempo. Company personnel were busy moving equipment, and she could hear the sound of helicopter engines being spun up.

    "Whatever it is they've knocked over a huge wasp's nest." Eve nodded to another group of agents guarding a door: Lieutenant Tendo and her team. "Any news?"

    "None," Kasumi shook her head as she entered a code into the panel next to the armored door. "Miss Meiou seems at a loss and-" her eyes went to Makoto and Rei. "And Miss Tsukino seems lost."

    "Good. Nariko, Akane, and my girls will be arriving shortly. We'll then move everyone to Briefing Two."

    Kasumi nodded.

    The locks clicked and Specialist Agent Gabriel Smith opened the door. Inside was the concrete box that the Guardian Senshi, and Kiri had been using as a home. Between the bunk beds, some posters and blankets had been hung on the walls to give a bit of color.

    Eve stepped into the room and swore quietly.

    At the far end of the room was a television. Usagi was watching the newscast while the young-looking green-haired woman watched her.

    The video feed was being taken from across the canal and showed thick, almost greasy, smoke billowing out of the Military Headquarters building.

    "I wonder what cover you'll use." Kiri eyed the blonde.

    "JTF2 is heading this operation," Eve replied. She frowned at the television. "Terrorists would be my guess."

    "It could be a fire," Usagi offered. "That's what they think it is."

    Rei gave a pitying smile. "Um..."

    The blonde princess rolled her eyes. "I know what it really is. I'm not a moron. But they could say it's a fire, it's just a bunch of smoke right now."

    Rei turned away and focused on the newsfeed. Something did not sit right with her.

    "Not with the witnesses we're looking at. Even military personnel will talk, and that's not counting if the casualty figures are remotely accurate," Eve said. "Has to be an attack, either by state or non-state agents, too brazen to be anything else."

    "And since there's no country willing to take the fall for invading Canada," Kiri shrugged.

    "Right, go with the simplest lie. Still, they're up to something," Eve noted.

    Kiri glance indicated how obvious she thought that statement was.

    Rei's disquiet grew: the Cyborgs were fast. Their whole combat style was to hit hard and quick. But here... were they stuck? Cornered? Why so few?

    Usagi glared at the screen. "They're doing this because of me?"

    Sitting on the edge of her bed, Makoto looked at the screen. This was not the first time their enemies had made such a blatant threat. Jadeite's illusion of him destroying the Tokyo Tower and burning the city came to mind.

    "Likely," Eve allowed. "It's doubtful that they took on a second contract."

    "It's too small," Rei muttered. "But it's too big."

    "What?" Usagi asked.

    "The Russians hit hard right? So how come they're doing this mission on the sly?"

    "This is hardly covert." Kiri gestured to the news.

    "Exactly, as distractions go, this is far over the top. They might as well hold the Prime Minister hostage."

    "That is a fear," Eve admitted.

    A lopsided smile grew on Rei's face. "You really do have no idea what they're up to?"

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

    Standing in the shade of a hangar at the Dwyer Hill Training Centre, Agent Gagnon adjusted his tie and then ran his hand over the part in his short brown hair. Behind his black sunglasses, he glanced up at the steel cross beams of the prefabricated ceiling before looking back down at the freshly painted concrete floor. The day was already a mess, and if his suspicions proved correct, it was going to get far worse.

    The flat concrete apron continued outside the wide low-slung building to where it butted a long line of concrete slabs bordered by landing lights. The left half of the line had four octagonal helipads painted onto the surface while the right half was still bare.

    Next to Gagnon was a slightly shorter man. He had black hair buzzed down short and his muscular frame made Gagnon look nearly emaciated. Both were dressed in black suits, though Gagnon's was tailored, while his companion wore a cheaper off the rack coat and pants.

    The agent next to him cracked a smile. "Don't worry boss you look just fine."

    "Well, Bernie, I'm glad I have the approval of a man that buys his suits from a mail order catalog," Gagnon turned to Agent Lopez.

    Shaking his head, the brawny agent put turned his attention to the overcast sky. "I think I hear the Black Devils." There was a clink of metal as he shifted the arm carrying the titanium briefcase.

    "Naturally." Gagnon gave a little sigh. He could appreciate the historical legacy of the name, but calling Major Sifton's JTF2 group the Black Devils seemed a bit too whistling past the graveyard. "There will be a Special Contractor on this operation. Remember your briefing."

    "Stay calm, be direct, and keep eye contact." Lopez recited. A frown crossed the shorter agent's blocky face. "How are we supposed to do that with these?" he lifted the darkly tinted heavy black framed glasses revealing light blue eyes.

    "We only have to contact their eyes, contacting ours is their problem."

    "Glasses stay on then?"

    "That would be wise," Gagnon agreed as the drone of several helicopters became louder.

    "Be nice if they had some special properties."

    "They're ballistic grade."

    "More than being fancy safety glasses. I mean, come on," Lopez lifted his arm and shook his wrist. The steel handcuff chain jangled. "We should be getting the good stuff. We're superspies, damnit! I know Bond was false advertising and all, but we should still have something, right?"

    "Unfortunately, procurement departments don't work off rule of cool."

    Lopez's first instinct was to mention the Project Caledfwlch but he knew better than to speak that name aloud. "Have you seen what those mercenaries use?" he asked instead.

    "If you want a bloated pig of a gun that weights more than your C1A1 FAL despite firing the same caliber and having a smaller grenade round then be my guest."

    "We should at least have Heads Up Displays on our glasses."

    "That's a rumor, the mercenaries don't have magic glasses that do that." Gagnon sighed. "Besides, it was hard enough getting our first production batch of Pattern Scanners."

    Lopez grumbled.

    "This is about the briefcase?" Gagnon asked, realizing the subtext of Lopez's concerns.

    Lopez lowered his arm. "Sir, she could cut through the chain."

    "Or rip your arm off." Gagnon chuckled at Lopez's frown. "You're not looking at the bright side."

    "Well... it'd be pointless as I doubt she could open the case without setting off the charges."

    Gagnon raised an eyebrow.

    "That brings me some spiteful reassurance." Lopez nodded.

    "Does it?" Gagnon stepped forward and looked down at his subordinate. "Agent, you know how to open the case. If she really wanted it, she'd make you open it."

    After briefly putting his right hand on the butt of his holstered sidearm, Lopez shrugged and folded his pinky and ring finger, extended his pointer and index and pointed them at his temple.

    "That's the spirit!"

    The noise increased as the squadron of CH-146 Griffons landed. In the second helicopter from the lead Gagnon spotted a woman with a deep crimson mane. She hopped off the helicopter as soon as its skids touched down.

    Her body armor was a mottled blackish-grey and dark green and was slightly different in color and pattern from the JTF2 forces.

    There were more obvious differences. Kevlar-sleeved armored pleats around her waist that formed the lower half of her protective armor. Similar, if larger ballistic plates over her chest and back formed the upper half.

    However, Gagnon's attention was on the front of her chest, specifically the four down-swept antennas that spread from a dull red jewel. Gagnon eyed the demon's jammer rig. Technology like that would have made Project Caledfwlch far more elegant and would have allowed some much needed miniaturization of the Widget.

    It would also put far less stress on Canada's already limited production lines. However, even WIC could only get those "micro jammers" to work by cribbing off the Pattern Silvers.

    Seeing the redhead wait for Major Sifton to exit the craft, Gagnon had to keep himself from frowning. Of course, she would wait and fall into step next to him. He knew that as an advisor she had a professional reason to stay close to him. It was also a good move intelligence-wise.

    The rotors began to slow, and low-slung fuel trucks wheeled out. They lumbered past the exiting troopers. The air was still full of the sound of idling gas turbine engines. Gagnon knew that the response was going to be high tempo. Sifton was throwing everything he had at this operation.

    A sentiment Gagnon fully approved of and was more than willing to assist in.

    The spy glanced over. With the glasses it was hard to read Lopez's face. But Gagnon knew he was staring at the wings and tail the demoness sported. "We've met her before," Gagnon said in a low voice. Despite the distance and the sound of the helicopters' still-running engines he could not be certain that she could not hear them.

    "Yeah, but not with her 'game face' on."

    Gagnon chuckled. "We still haven't."

    Lopez tilted his head.

    "No blood. Not yet, at least."

    Major Sifton crossed the concrete apron. Looking at the two black-suited spooks he frowned. Then he saw the briefcase chained to Lopez's arm and seemed to sag in his armor. "I should have stayed back and let Lieutenant Hill handle this," he grumbled.

    "Oh you don't mean that," Ranma assured patting him on the arm. She then smiled at Gagnon. "Ah, Andre!"

    After glancing to make sure Lopez was not looking too nervous, Gagnon locked eyes with the demon. "Major," he broke away to nod to Sifton. "Miss Saotome."

    Ranma tilted her head.

    "It's nice to see that you can get some time away from those you're... watching," Gagnon mildly stated.

    The demoness eyed the man's expression. The glasses hid his eyes and he did a passable job controlling his emotions. "Yes, it is." Ranma gave a thin smile.

    "And how is the family?"

    "Doing well: numerous and belligerent." Her smile grew giving a flash of teeth. She could still feel them, but the connection was stretched and pulled. It was less like a giant branching tree and more like a long humming tether. "How's the spook business going?"

    "Wishing we had more time." He then nodded to Lopez. "If you'll excuse Major Sifton but Agent Lopez has a briefing."

    Sifton rubbed his forehead. He looked past the spooks and into the hangar where he saw his men reading weapons and equipment. There was also a table setup with computers, radios, and maps. "We're in a rush here."

    Gagnon let a bit of air hiss out through his teeth. "Yes, which is why I made sure there's a Level IV briefing room one building over."

    The major's eyes narrowed.

    Gagnon's tone became sympathetic. "There's not much time, and you need to know what your Options are."

    Giving his head a little shake, Sifton relented. "Fine," he said, walking after Lopez.

    Ranma raised an eyebrow. As a member of a species that did not officially exist and a "trigger-puller" who was more concerned with the pointy end of black operations she did not particularly care about secrecy levels. Her sister had trained her on the minutiae, but most of it came down to keeping your mouth shut, doing your reports on the right computers, never writing anything else down, and only talking about sensitive things when you had to and only with people you already knew were cleared.

    Thus even she knew that Canada only had three levels of security clearances, at least officially. More importantly, she saw Sifton's reaction to Gagnon's words. "Options?" she asked the spook.

    Gagnon pushed his glasses back up his nose. "Miss Saotome. My nation's Military Headquarters has been breached by a teleporting cybernetic super soldier and a assassin summoner cultist. I will ensure that the commander of the response team is aware of the tools at his disposal."

    Ranma glanced at the Canadian flag pin on Gagnon's lapel. It was the only splash of color on the man's suit. He was wrong about Shest. What she could do was not teleportation, not really. Though a jammer would halt her phasing ability just the same. Also for that matter, while Mal de Veste was a summoner, that was not where his primary skill lay.

    "What are you worried about Andre?" Ranma took a step closer and looked up at the thin man. "Do you know why they're attacking? They're hired killers and we're over 250 kilometers from their target."

    "Their target," Gagnon paused. Behind his glasses, his eyes scanned the apron. "Tell me, you've been operating under the assumption that the cyborgs are only after one person. If I recall, this is not the first time they've struck at a command facility. Point of fact, going after NATO command organizations was one of their specialties."

    "You're worried they'll attack in force. That killing Usagi's only part of their plan."

    Gagnon tilted his head slightly.

    "We still don't know where they're deploying the Thracian Union." The demoness flexed her tail. "But you wouldn't go all Secret Options over a bunch of Bulgarian mercenaries. They're conventional forces."

    Ranma's lips curled up as she sniffed the air. "You're not delaying a commanding officer with conventional Options are you?"

    Gagnon's jaw clenched. At least her deduction was not entirely correct.

    "You don't care about the Pattern Silvers, not really. No, you're a patriot," Ranma said without any ire. "This is about defending your country." She exhaled. "And we just flew in from a Wakeup Call event. But it could have been a Beachhead."

    "The timing is suspect," Gagnon allowed.

    Nodding, Ranma considered the implications. The CSIS had a suite of... unconventional responses to a Beachhead Scenario. "I'm guessing these Options were already being warmed up."

    "The Weslemkoon Lake incident did put certain assets at a higher readiness."

    Ranma eyed the spook for a moment. "Good. I'm glad someone's taking the threat seriously." Her tail relaxed. "And if you don't need to deploy your... Options. Well, that's a good training mission isn't it?" she asked, making a mental note to include this information the next time she called back into base.

    Gagnon's eyebrows rose up, peaking from behind his glasses. He slowly turned to face the interior of the hangar. "I believe JTF2 is being briefed on the situation."

    "Right." Ranma smirked lightly as they entered the hangar and walked towards a table where, a map, a sheet of blueprints, a computer, and a projector had been setup.

    "We believe the enemy is currently in the basement levels," Lieutenant Charlotte St Etienne La Tour said, pointing to a cutaway view of the Major-General George R Pearkes building. "Patrols have not found casualties anywhere else," La Tour added, her sharp mocha-colored features flickering with offense. "Personnel are being moved across the canal to City Hall which is secured as a backup command post."

    "They haven't been flushed out?" Sergeant MacDowell asked, eyeing the projection. That such a brazen attack had yet to be put down was one thing... also that the two attackers had not tried to run. The cyborg could flee at will... couldn't she?

    Lieutenant La Tour tapped a button on the computer. An image of a smoke choked hallway came up. Despite it being a still shot, the sickly grayish cloud seemed to writhe with overlapping patterns.

    Ranma tilted her head. She was sure that cloud would be more than merely disorienting. It was a ready-made ambush. Looking at the assembled JTF2 troops, she could see them having the same thoughts.

    MacDowell blinked. "How long does this last?"

    "The clouds are still up. NGVs and thermals help a bit, but it's slow going. Right now Command's concentrating on securing a perimeter," she eyed the redheaded demon and the suited spook. "Perhaps our guests have more information at hand?" she asked, somewhat sharply.

    Ranma shrugged. "I haven't seen this before. The cyborgs haven't used this trick. They do like ambushes, and have used remote turrets in the past. I'd guess it's de Veste." She eyed the picture again. "That'd make it tied into his magic. When you go in you'll want to go in force, and with enough firepower to crack that cyborg's armor."

    "What about using blowers, or big fans?" MacDowell asked.

    "I'll contact facilities control; the HVAC system might be able to pump it out," Lieutenant La Tour said. "Though then it'll be outside."

    "It may break apart with a larger volume to diffuse in," MacDowell offered.

    "There's also the sprinklers," Gagnon said.

    Ranma gave the Canadian spook an approving nod while la Tour gave him a sharp glance.

    "That's a valid idea," Sifton said as he and Lopez joined the group.

    "If it's magic, dousing it in water would do a lot to dissipate it," Ranma said.

    Sifton looked around and saw that his men were split between the briefing and taking on more ammunition. "Right. We don't have much time," he said, his voice a bit haunted.

    "There's also fire. Burn it out." Ranma looked at the briefcase Lopez carried and frowned. She leaned in closer to Sifton. "How was your briefing? Plenty of Options?"

    Looking at the short demon, Sifton slowly nodded.

    Gagnon coughed.

    "Yeah, lots of Options," Sifton's eyes went from Ranma to La Tour. "Lieutenant, what's the status of the Museum crew?"

    "The Leopards are ready; we just need traffic control. Local police is on high alert so..."

    "Good. I want them to sortie. They'll cross the Rideau with us."

    "Sir," La Tour nodded and pointed to a subordinate who was at a radio.

    Gagnon's attention went to the map of downtown Ottawa. Sitting next to the Rideau canal, the military headquarters building was at the center of the map. About three kilometers east of that was the Canadian War Museum. The agent's eyebrows went up as he decoded the icons hovering over the museum.

    He turned to Sifton and bowed his head in a respectful little salute.

    Sifton smiled thinly. "You boys weren't the only ones getting worried. I'm impressed. You've made our paranoid preparations seem... restrained."

    "Does this mean your Afghan War exhibit is going on tour?" Ranma asked with glee that for a moment revealed her actual age.

    Not taking his eyes of Gagnon, Sifton nodded.

    "I haven't seen tanks in action before." Ranma's smile grew and her tail began to swish back and forth. "But I've heard good things about the Leopards, especially those fancy block 2 ones you just got from the Germans."

    "I'll admit it's less firepower than your fellows down at Dow's Lake have, shorter range too. And that's not counting the other Options you've cooked up but we'll make do."

    Gagnon held his composure but met the JTF2 officer's stare and held it. Leaks about Option Lanark he could handle. It was like Option Cold Lake and used mundane enough weapons. Still either Option would result in massive repercussions if used. The spook did take some amusement at that.

    Technically, Cold Lake had originated as a Company proposal on forward staging of CF18's. Gagnon's croup had simply changed the deployment and targeting orders. Even Option Polaris was technically a conventional weapons system. Though its delivery system came at significant cost both in material and collateral damage.

    Option Widget, however, was different. Not even the Company had something like Project Caledfwlch. However, the resources Caledfwlch required delayed the production and deployment of locally-made Jammer technology.

    That was why he only had two Jammers for this mission, one of which being appropriated from Dwyer Hill Training Centre itself. Technically he had a third one in the micro-Jammer that Miss Saotome carried, but that was unproven technology and came with risks if it was pushed too hard.

    "Sir?" La Tour asked.

    Sifton looked to his troops. "These nice men from CSIS are worried that we've got a Beachhead Scenario."

    Gagnon nodded. Agent Lopez shifted his feet awkwardly.

    MacDowell stared. "More than just an attack?" he asked after a moment.

    "Sir... that's an invasion." Corporal Jon Jones reminded.

    Sifton nodded and gestured to Ranma. "And they're not alone in the seriousness of this threat."

    The demoness blinked. "Maybe. I know after seeing that weak spot earlier today that things are getting bad. This could be an overreaction, but you guys had a Wakeup Call class event. I can't blame you for worrying about a Beachhead too." She stepped to the side and pulled out her encrypted satellite phone. It was as good a time as any.

    Major Sifton raised an eyebrow. "Anyway, we're bringing a pair of jammers. Delta and Gamma teams will be detailed with their positioning and protection. Furthermore, CSIS has prepared some responses in case things go bad."

    Gagnon took a step forward.

    Glaring at the well-dressed agent, Sifton raised his hand. "I'm not saying what they are. I'm just informing them that they exist. That way if things go pear-shaped, and I'm not available, they'll know to call you."

    Ranma frowned. She knew what "not available" meant and had a fair idea of how bad would be "pear-shaped" if it meant using secret Canadian weapons systems.

    "I've informed Agent Lopez on my choices of which Options would work best."

    MacDowell shared a glance with Jon Jones: they had backup. Though what was required to get said backup made it seem a dubious asset at best. "I'd rather have the tanks," MacDowell muttered.

    "I'd rather the demons, hell I'd rather those other girls," Jon Jones quietly added.

    Sifton clapped his hands. "If that's all, let's wrap this briefing up. It won't be much longer before the helicopters will be ready to take us the rest of the way."


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


    The mercenary and the assassin rushed the concrete room. They were a study in contrasts. The mercenary was a lithe woman with short pixie-cut hair. She wore a grey and red trimmed bodysuit. A couple straps went around her shoulders and waist forming a harness. Attached to it were knives, clamps, medical kit, a collapsed haversack, and other odds and ends. Somewhat bulky, the harness' fittings were slightly archaic, but the whole ensemble pointed to compact, no-nonsense lethality

    The assassin was completely different. His dark hair hung in a greasy mop that fell over smoked aviator style sunglasses. Strong-chinned with brutish features and a sharp Gallic nose, he loomed over her by a head and a half. His suit was pressed and custom tailored, which made the garish patterns even more distressing.

    This was a man who had deliberately commissioned a grey-green plaid coat with a "matching" pair of pants; a man who then wore said suit with a sickening paisley tie and mint-green pin-striped shirt. It was a riot of nasty, twisting patterns, a collection of ugliness that was greater than the sum of its parts.

    Covering the mercenary from behind, he stepped in after her. A large slab-like pistol was held in his hand. Smoke billowed in from behind him. It was nearly the same sickening green-grey color as his suit.

    "Clear," Mal de Veste said as he checked the hallway and backed into the room. Clouds of probability flickered before him, but in the near term the hallway remained empty.

    "Clear," Shest repeated, doing the same for the concrete room they had entered. It was a vault-like box with arching supports and a collection of bulky, humming equipment. "Secure the device," she ordered.

    Mal nodded and walked towards the tall sheet-metal box in the center of the room.

    With one hand, Shest slammed the heavy steel door shut. It was the right half of a set of double doors. There were three separate locks that had used long pins that extended into reinforced housings on opposite door. Cutting the pins was rather easy. Her suspicion was raised: getting in was easy, getting out should be even easier, neither seemed quite right.

    The Russian mercenary could hear Mal opening his briefcase behind her. The brutish assassin made a thoughtful noise and removed a metal panel off the boxy and tall machine that dominated the center of the room.

    Shest dropped a metal wedge onto the floor. Using her foot, she gently nosed the edge of the wedge into the small space between the floor and the door. Her leg went back, and with a solid kick the cyborg jammed the wedge into place, stopping the door.
    A wisp of sickly gray-green smoke oozed out from underneath the door. The gunfire had died off, but the shrill alarms were still going at it.

    She slipped to the side, out of direct line with the door. Then facing the door, she stepped back. Shest glanced around taking in the concrete room. They were alone.

    It was as dreary as the rest of the sub-basement: bare concrete walls, ceilings and floors lit by fluorescent tubes kept behind long wire cages. The room itself was a basic vault - three blank walls and one door. The only visual interest came from various pipes and electrical conduits that had been bolted onto the structural beams that ran from wall to wall like the ribs of some colossal beast.

    As basic and bare bones as the room was, it was not empty. Sitting in the center of the room like some metal altar was a tall boxy structure. It sat on a raised section of flooring that was a full step above the rest of the room. Made out of metal panels that partially covered a roughly cylindrical core, the machine was fed by several pipes and bundles of cables, some came in from above the ceiling while others snaked along on the floor.

    Turning to face the machine, Shest closed her eyes. She could feel the hum of the building's jammer. Her power pushed against the signal. Pressing down, the jammer pushed right back. It was like being smothered in a blanket of white noise. She was surprised, this close she would have expected to feel like she was being assaulted by wave after wave of interference.

    Instead, the pressure was more like a standing out in a heavy rain. Her Deep Diver system would not work. She knew she could burn through the jamming. However, that action carried... consequences. The jammer was only a machine, it could be defeated... or simply turned off. The cyborg exhaled. She would only have to deal with it for a little bit longer.

    Still holding his slab-like handgun, Mal held a flashlight in his left hand. The beam revealed the insides of the metal box. The tall, muscular man hissed through his teeth and slipped the light back into the pocket of his hideous suit coat, the feeling he got when he removed the panel had been correct.

    "Well? Shut it down, pull the core out, and let's be done with it," Shest unsung her pack and readied a carrying case.

    Mal's heavy chin set into a frown. "You don't know?" he muttered kneeling over his alligator-skin briefcase. He slipped some grenades into his pockets and put fresh magazines into the mag carriers on his belt.

    Shest checked her heads up display. She blinked. Holding her arm she tried her power. The jamming signal pushed back and kept her from shifting but... "It's not here... Chyort voz'mi!" Shest swore. "It's a decoy!"

    Closing his briefcase, Mal shook his head. "No, it's a water heater."

    Shest stared at. "Fucking Canucks!" she yelled after a beat. Anger grew within her. So did her power. For a moment she wanted to release it all; ignore the demon's warnings, ignore Galina's orders, and shoot off a Pulse.

    "What do you expect?" Mal shrugged as he pocketed one more grenade before closing his briefcase.

    Shest's eyes darted back to the door. "That their jamming device would be-" She gritted her teeth before swearing again.

    "This is a country that paints decoy canopies on the bottom of their fighter jets," Mal idly played with his ring. It was a gold band set with an obsidian stone that gave off an iridescent sheen. He looked at the water heater and sighed.

    "Cute." Shest kicked the side of the metal wedge, knocking it out from under the door. By now, enough smoke had poured in from under the door jamb to cover the floor in a layer of sickly mist that slipped over her boots and ankles.

    "We still find the device?" the brutish assassin asked, slinging his briefcase over a shoulder and pulling his sidearm. "Or do you propose another revision to the plan?" he asked with a mocking grin.

    "The jammer has to be adjacent to one of the mains from the power vault. It has to be down here somewhere. Our intel was too clever, let's go direct." Palming her blades, she pulled the door open and slipped through.

    The brutish man grinned.

    A surging grey-green cloud with yellow undertones pressed against Shest. For a brief moment her eyes glazed as twisting, horrible patterns swirled in front of her, then her enhancements adjusted and she saw through the smoke.

    The corridor was still dim with the walls looking oddly bowed-out, but she could see no more than a meter in front of her. Her memory flashed and she rushed down the bare corridor. She paused in front of another door and listened.

    Her back arched in revulsion, as Mal pressed his hand against her shoulder, alerting her that he was in position.

    "And if it's not here?" Mal whispered. He had an idea what was behind the door, but the odds were too vague. It could go either way.

    Glaring, Shest pressed her palm against the door. If not for the jammer she would have been able to pass through the door. If not for the jammer she could simply walk out. It had to be here.

    She held up four fingers, then pointed at the door, then made a fist and a pumping motion.

    Nodding, Mal pulled a grenade. "Go blind," he whispered

    There was a tiny flash as she sliced through the locks. There was another press against her shoulder. She wrenched the door open. The Canadian soldiers opened fire. Mal lobbed his grenade in an underhanded bowling motion. She flicked her arm and threw a knife. Eyes closed, Shest then rushed though the doorway.

    Bullets slammed against her chassis. The blade hit, spearing one soldier right through his goggles. The grenade popped. Of all the cyborgs, Shest's vision was the most augmented. It was hard to "see" when you were phasing through solid rock. Thus to use her Deep Diver system, she saw more than visible light.

    And when de Veste's flash bang went off, her senses were assaulted with a prickly heat that felt like hot oil splattering her face.

    It must have been worse for the soldiers. Their screams were even louder. Blade out, she slammed into one. Her knife jabbed in, but so did his rifle. A muzzle pressed against her neck and she whipped back as the blind soldier emptied the magazine.

    Her blade caught the soldier's torso as she fell. The man's scream cut into a gurgle as he collapsed on top of her. The Canadian drew his sidearm and the pistol was clumsily jabbed against her chest.

    Feeling the first shots hit her armor, Shest lunged up and slit his throat. The burning and ringing dissipated. She opened her eyes and stood up. The green-grey cloud was now up to her knees. This room was larger than the previous vault. It stretched back a good fifteen meters and the far end had several squat-looking generators with complicated exhaust and air supply systems.

    Mal looked at her with a tiny frown. Blood leaked out of the torn wound on her neck. It dribbled over her bodysuit as the gash revealed bits of metallic struts and plastic sheathed bundles and cables. Across her chest her bodysuit was puckered and torn from where bullets had impacted and smashed against her armor. More blood oozed out from some of the little holes.

    The cultist on the other hand, was unwounded. His suit was still pristine. Though his tie had loosened a bit. A gut-shot soldier stirred; Mal's slab-like handgun rang out; brains splattered out of the soldier's head.

    Mal nodded. He knew that man would have gotten back up, would have made a move on his own rifle. Mal then slowly tracked along the edge of the ceiling and fired twice more, destroying cameras. "Time."

    After slapping a sealant patch to her neck, Shest's attention went to the clock on her heads up display before she realized he was not asking a question. "Yes, more than enough."

    "Reinforcements."

    Shest nodded; she knew that was not a question. She concentrated her senses, the jammer signal was pervasive, but it should be stronger the closer she got to it.... The only reinforcements coming would be the enemy's. "Remember, if you see a magical girl with short black hair and purple eyes do not engage."

    "Right, right," Mal said as he lobbed another grenade into the corridor. "Aren't we hundreds of kilometers away?" he asked, securing the door with another wedge.


    Shest stopped in the middle of the long power vault. She swore. There were no secondary doors. No hidden alcoves. No isolated cage where an inter-dim jammer would be stored. There was no adherence to WIC doctrine.

    Mal strode up to her. "Shest, don't improvise. If you screw this up Galina will not be happy."

    Shest spun on her heel and glared at the hulking man.

    Mal de Veste brushed one of the lapels of his suit. "Orders?" he mildly asked his French accent thickening slightly.

    "We have to find the device," she muttered concentrating again.

    "That or retreat." De Veste cocked his head to the side. "Any luck?"

    She ignored the comment. The power of the jammer pressed down on her, making her senses tingle. The direction was... Her eyes widened. The power was pressing down on her. "Yob tvoyu mat!" She looked up. "Those sneaky Canadians!"

    Mal's eyes rose. "It's not in the basement?" he asked, studying the ceiling.

    "They moved it." Shest shook her head. "They let WIC install it and then they moved it," she laughed.

    Pulling up his sleeve, Mal pointedly looked at his watch.

    Shest's glare returned.

    Mal knelt down and took a blood-spattered rifle and slipped a couple of magazines off the soldier's vest and into his already bulging coat pockets. "Perhaps you should improvise after all?"

    Shest rubbed her neck. The buzzing from the jammer rained down on her. It was somewhere above them. Instead of one sub-basement they risked an entire building to search.

    Mal stood up and checked the rifle. Surprisingly, the black plastic of the stock and black metal of the frame and fore-grip managed to not clash with his suit. A soldier's radio was crushed under Mal's leather shoe, just as it chirped.

    The assassin pulled two grenades out of his coat and placed them onto the two generators nearest him. He then walked over to a breaker panel and looked at the bank of levers. He adjusted his tie and waited. The man's face unreadable behind his smoked glasses.

    "Okay! I know we're running out of time." Shest paced up to Mal. "This wont' do much, we haven't even cut their main power. And besides the jammer would at least have a battery backup."

    "We can break it." Mal shrugged.

    "Look..." Shest exhaled.

    The cultist raised a thick eyebrow.

    "I might be able to do something. I can Pulse my Deep Diver system. It'll overload the jammer. But-"

    Mal cut her off. "You were ordered not to." He looked at the door. "We'll have to break past whatever perimeter they've setup, but once we get to the upper floors we'll have more space to move. They should have evacuated those parts of the building."

    Shest gave a flat look. The building consisted of two towers bridged by a third; each was over fifteen stories tall. "With the jammer off I can just fly us up."

    "This is your improvisation?" Mal sneered. "Fry the very thing we came here for?"

    "I'll do just enough to shut it down. We can still recover it."

    "You were ordered not to do this. Mademoiselle A'deen-"

    Shest's eyes pulsed blue as she pushed her power against the jamming field. "You know why I was told not to. You're right. Reality is a fragile farce. We're walking on worm-eaten planks built over a crumbling gorge." Her eyes went to the door. "But right now there's a mess of soldiers out for blood, and we're stuck in a basement."

    Concealing a grin, Mal snorted instead. "Fine. Burn it out. Least if things go real bad we can run."

    "Your confidence is appreciated," Shest said.

    "You better do it now, unless you want me to improvise."

    Shest eyed the cultist. For a split second the patterns on his suit... shifted. She was hit by a churning sensation akin to being tossed on a ship in heavy seas. "Ah, motivation," she gasped seeing a slight iridescence twinkle around the bulky man's shoulders and hands.

    "I'm at about the limits of my clouds. The smoke's starting to get... hungry. I can guess what will happen after that."

    "Lovely. I'll do it now then," Pressing her fingers to her temples, the cyborg triggered her Pulse sequence. Power slammed into the Deep Diver system's drives.

    The noise from the jammers intensified. The rain of forced reality came down in a torrent. Shest screamed as she dumped her capacitors and triggered the Pulse.

    Feeling his insides churn and vibrate, Mal was brought to his knees. His ring flared and an iridescent bubble popped into existence before floating up. The large man coughed. Rapt, he watched the bubble shrink as it drifted away becoming smaller and smaller until it turned into a pinpoint of light.

    He was then punched on the side of the head. "Mal!" an angry voice shouted.

    Mal de Veste found his ears ringing. He shook his head. "Did it work?"

    "You tell me?" Shest grinned offering her hand.

    Mal took it and found himself pulled up to his feet. He looked down and saw that the cyborg was now floating above the concrete, smoke, and bodies. "Ah. We're good?"

    "We've still got to find it but I felt it overload and..." Shest thoughtfully looked up.

    "You melted it into slag didn't you?" Mal shook his head again. The ringing was not in his ears. It was a deeper resonance. The Pulse had shattered the reality imposed by the Jammer signal and that discord was echoing out. A wave of weakened dimensionality followed the pulse like a signal flare's burning tail.

    "No! No," Shest shook her head. "I mean I felt it overload. I think I know where it is. Or at least a general area."

    "Huh." Mal frowned slightly as Shest pulled him closer and grabbed his shoulder with her other hand.

    "Why do you have to be so heavy?" Shest grumbled as she ghosted through the ceiling with him in tow.

    End Chapter 3

    I'd like to thank my pre-readers. They read through my most egregious mistakes so you don't have to. J St C Patrick, Pale Wolf, DGC, and Kevin Hammel.
    For reference chapter 32 is already written and so is almost all of ch33.


    Revision notes: And here's where a simple plan... stops being quite so simple.
     
    armourdefense and david15 like this.
  5. Threadmarks: Chapter 4
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

    Joined:
    Oct 8, 2016
    Messages:
    212
    Likes Received:
    545
    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 4: Capital Offense
    Chapter 4: Breach and Hide.
    Formerly: Reserve and Release Part 1ii


    The briefing room had been converted into a dispatch annex. A good part of the long table had been covered in computers and communications equipment. Maps, aerial feeds, and sensor data has been projected on the long wall adjacent to the door. The room was also linked up with the main operations control at the downtown Company facility.

    The Senshi waited on one side of the room while the brood waited on the other. The one closer to the door. In between, several company agents manned the communications stations.

    Eve crossed her arms and glared at the screen. "ETA for JTF2?"

    "Their birds have lifted off," Kasumi said from her workstation. "What about us?"

    "The Commander is keeping local assets in reserve," Eve stated evenly.

    "Ma'am," Lieutenant Tendo nodded her head.

    Kiri's attention was split between the display screens and watching Usagi.

    "You disagree, Auntie," Misako grinned widely.

    Eve sniffed and turned away from her niece.

    "Don't get her mad or we'll get punishment duty," Ukyou whispered into her mate's ear.

    "Worse than princess-sitting?" Misako asked.

    Nabiki looked up from her knives. "Do you really want to challenge an officer to come up with an imaginative punishment. A demonic, German officer?"

    The orange-haired succubus wilted a bit. "Fine."

    "We will do what we're ordered to; we will all do our best," Nariko gently reminded with a core of steel behind her soft words.

    The other broodlings nodded.

    Nariko leaned in and kissed her mate. "Make sure our sisters behave."

    Akane nodded.

    Nariko stood up; one hand automatically tapped the butt of her SSP to ensure the pistol was still secured while another did the same for ScarletBane, her katana.

    From across the room, Rei watched the red-eyed demon glide over to Captain Jarvis. Nariko was tall for a succubus, but the blonde-haired demoness still towered over her.

    As the two quietly talked, Rei watched their tails. Nariko's was thinner and a bit shorter, but it had broader fins on the end and moved with a nervous animation that contrasted with her quiet even voice. Eve's thicker tail simply hung back and occasionally gave an idle swish.

    Rei sighed. There was little else to do: Makoto was trying to read a book while Luna napped on her lap, Usagi was pacing while Kiri tried to calm her down, and Minako, to Rei's surprise, was also asleep.

    "You're winding yourself up," Kiri said from where she was sitting.

    "Of course! You pulled me away from the news. You said that was making me too nervous." Usagi rubbed her stomach. "And then you brought me in here!"

    "Sometimes, you have to wait."

    "They also serve, who only stand in wait," Kiri muttered. In her more melancholy moments, Milton's sonnets tended to be particularly fitting. Especially ones like "On His Blindness." They were also old enough to have something approaching permanence in her view.

    "Which was why it was so urgent for the Company to find Mako-chan and I," Rei grumbled.

    Blinking, Kiri cocked her head. A shiver went through her body as she swallowed and flexed her hands.

    "Hurry up and wait," Makoto said, not looking up from her novel. It was some mindless dross about an Albertan bounty-hunter, but it was distracting.

    Kiri nodded. Her head began to swim and her temples pounded.

    Usagi bit her lip. "If I gave the order..." She stumbled and Kiri jumped out of her seat. For a moment the blonde leaned against the smaller Senshi.

    "Yes... if you gave the order I'd get you out," the green-haired girl said. She then paused and coughed.

    Usagi nodded and stood up.

    "But please... don't be rash." Kiri then frowned. She looked at her gloves, and her armor. The obsidian material flashed with an almost pearlescent iridescence. The pounding in her head increased but she pushed it aside.

    "Thank you I..." Usagi swallowed. Bile rising, Usagi fell to her knees. Her gold and silver armor clattered against the floor. Pain blossomed between her eyes as she felt her gorge rise up.

    The princess retched. It was an ugly, hacking noise as watery, phlegmy material was expelled from her empty stomach.

    Kneeling down, Kiri was at her side. She patted Usagi's shoulder. "It's okay. It's okay." Kiri paused; there was another sensation like static electricity.

    Minako's eyes snapped open and the golden Senshi was immediately kneeling down opposite Kiri. Flashing red, the blonde's pupils burned with intensity. Luna also woke up; the cat jumping down from Makoto.

    "Medical to Miss Tsukino in briefing room Beta!" Eve shouted.

    "No, it's okay, she's just wound up. Mako-chan get her some water. Rei grab a rag."

    Makoto pulled a canteen off the table while Rei took two of the giant green and grey handkerchiefs that the Company seemed to have ordered in bulk and seemed to use whenever they needed a rag, wipe, or wrap. One was handed to Usagi and the other was dropped on the floor.

    "Help her up," Kiri said to Minako who immediately obliged. "How you feeling?" she asked Usagi.

    Leaping to the table, Luna leaned forward and sniffed Usagi. Worry crossed the cat's face.

    Kiri looked to Luna. "Well?"

    The cat frowned. "I... I remember the Queen mentioning some problems like this. But Usagi's not using any far-seeing powers. And it's not the menses part of her cycle."

    Nariko and Eve looked thoughtful at that comment.

    Yeah, menstruation can hurt your concentration, especially when trying to clear your mind for a fire reading, Rei thought. But that's not something you two have ever had to deal with is it? She added a bit bitterly.

    The blonde princess glared at the cat before swallowing some water. "Really?" She handed the canteen back to Makoto.

    "Icky," Usagi took the offered cloth and awkwardly wiped at her face. The thing was almost the size of a tablecloth.

    "Wanna go to the bathroom? Just to settle things down?" Kiri forced a smile. There would be a mirror on the bathroom. Even the Company was not paranoid enough to remove all reflective surfaces.

    "We can have a medic look at her."

    "It was just a bit of... sick," Usagi admitted. "I'm fine." She tried to wipe at her chest bows and frowned.

    "After I get her cleaned up you can look at her."

    Eve stepped forward. Her nostrils flared. The blonde demon frowned.

    Usagi gave a weak smile. "Please? I just want to use the bathroom."

    Eve nodded.

    "Thanks Minako, help us," Kiri said as the trio started walking to the door. "Luna, keep an eye on things here."

    The cat nodded.

    "JTF2 is reporting an Inter-Dim spike!" Agent Maya Iverson said with forced calmness.

    "What? Source that!" Eve's heartbeat sped up. Ranma's last check-in had mentioned that the Canadian Spooks were particularly jumpy; they were worried that the other shoe was going to drop.

    "It's from their picket sensors. Our sensors are seeing it... now," Maya said as more icons on her screen flashed indigo.

    "Damn! Well that confirms it. Shest is there," Eve gave Kiri a pointed glance.

    "It isn't me this time," Kiri said as she pulled Usagi across the threshold.

    Usagi nodded and wiped her mouth.

    Kasumi watched as Maya put the readings from the spike on the main display. "Breakout?"

    Eve nodded. "What's the status on their Jammer?"

    "JTF2's not..." Maya hesitated.

    "Come on Princess, let's get you cleaned up," Kiri said as she and Minako took her out of the room. Minako stopped for a moment to grab the canteen from Makoto and one of the rags Rei had.

    Eve looked to Nariko and Kasumi. Both nodded. The Lieutenant switched to the surveillance system and radioed the rest of her team. The demoness pointed to Nabiki and Akane and motioned for them to follow her.

    Entering the bathroom, Usagi went straight to the sink. Minako wordlessly offered the canteen while Kiri watched. Usagi filled her mouth, swished, spat into the sink, and repeated.

    She then wetted the rag and started to wipe down her uniform. "Puu, what do you know about this?"

    Kiri Meiou looked at Usagi's reflection. She sighed and nodded to herself. "The attack, the Pulse, or you getting sick?"

    "The one you've got a secret about." Usagi gripped the sink. "You were acting pretty nervous after I retched all over the floor." She took another drink. This time she swallowed some of the water before spitting out the rest.

    Minako took the canteen and began refilling it.

    Meiou put a hand on Usagi's shoulder and gave a little laugh. "Someone wants to talk to you."

    Usagi slowly turned away from the mirror and stared at the shorter girl.

    Minako's eyes narrowed. "Who?"

    Meiou's eyes darted towards the cameras bolted on the ceiling.


    "Right." Minako's hand went to the hilt of her sword.

    "No. You won't get them all," Kiri lifted up her hand, palm up. A collection of iridescent black spheres bubbled up and went to the cameras. A few went to some more innocuous places including an outlet by the toilet, and a crack in the wall-tile next to the sink.

    "Mina... if you'll be a dear, go outside and tell the demons that we just need a moment of privacy."

    Venus frowned but Usagi nodded to her.

    "And make sure they don't come in," Kiri added as she summoned more orbs.

    Putting the canteen down next to the sink, Minako bowed and stepped out of the room. After the door closed, Kiri lifted her hand and glowing spheres began to bubble into existence above her palm.

    "Those are the little balls you use for our training, right?" Usagi asked.

    "They do other things," Kiri tightly said as a cloud of the little iridescent spheres flew out and began covering the walls and ceiling and floor with a shimmering almost pearlescent sheet.

    "I saw how you ordered Luna to stay behind with the others." Usagi crossed her arms and glared down at Kiri. "And now you've gotten rid of Minako too."

    Kiri nodded.

    "Why am I feeling sick? Who's trying to use my head like a radio?" The blonde ran her tongue over her teeth. Her mouth still felt a bit gummy. "Is that it?"

    The green haired girl nodded again.

    "Well?"

    "Who showed up the last time something went wrong inter-dimensionally?"

    "You mean that creepy field Ranma was investigating..." Usagi blinked. "Oh. Her."

    "Yes, her"

    "Nuit."

    Kiri winced. "It's a shame she doesn't have a Love-coda alias," she said technically not lying. While Nuit herself was not in the Love-coda several of her relatives were.

    "Yes, because memorizing a secret name for a secret goddess is so much simpler," Usagi rolled her eyes. "She's the one that broke into the Time-Space Door isn't she?"

    "Not exactly," Kiri admitted. "But yes, she was there," the green-haired girl lied.

    "Why didn't she talk to me last time?"

    "Last time you were asleep while using Minako as a suit of armor."

    Looking down, Usagi rubbed her forehead. Her stomach gurgled again.

    "It's happening again," Kiri's tone was flat.

    Usagi coughed. "What should I do?" she asked spinning back to the sink. Her hands gripped the sides.

    "I can stop it, block the... signal."

    "Or you can answer it?" Usagi breathed deeply, steadily. "Right? That's why you knocked out the cameras and sent Minako out. So I could have a little chat?"

    "You don't have to talk with her."

    "Then why'd you set this up?"

    "You deserve the choice." Kiri squeezed her right wrist with her left hand. "I can deal with Nuit or you can face her yourself."

    "Meaning? You're not going to summon her in here? I think that'd get Eve pretty angry."

    Kiri laughed. "No, no summoning."

    "No danger then?"

    "She'll just show up as an illusion," Kiri gestured to the mirror. "I'll be able to sever the connection any time.

    "Oh, okay." Usagi squared her shoulders. "Let's see what she wants then."

    Nodding, Kiri slowly reached out and put a hand on each of Usagi's shoulders.

    The blonde felt her stomach lurch again. She leaned forward towards the sink, but this time she kept it down. After coughing she pulled herself back up and... stared.

    A strange woman stood on the opposite side of the mirror. Her golden hair was cut into a slick-looking pageboy. It was actual gold, thousands of fine threads that reminded Usagi of the golden golem form Ami had forced Minako into.

    Her skin was dark, and embedded with sharp points of cold starlight. It was like the night sky had been cut down and carved into a feminine figure. Golden ankh earring hung from ears made of literal darkness.

    The woman wore a crisp-white top that bore a gold bow with a pearlescent milky-white gem in the center. Surprised, Usagi took a step back. The figure in the mirror did not move.

    Usagi then looked down. The woman wore a pleated white skirt. It had gold trim and jewel encrusted piping on the top hem, but it was obviously a Seifuku. Usagi looked back up.

    The woman, Nuit, wore a silver tiara. In the center was a ruby and sapphire encrusted cobra rearing up ready to strike. Surrounded by intricate golden makeup, her eyes drew Usagi in. Golden "whites" surrounded deep maroon irises, and her pupils were bottomless shafts that twinkled with the ghost-light of galaxies that had been dead for eons.

    "This is her?" Usagi asked staring at the image. She could see the rest of the room in the reflection. Even Kiri was there, save in the mirror world she was holding Nuit's shoulders.

    Kiri nodded as she pulled a hand away, and switched hands to that her left hand was now on Usagi's right shoulder.

    "Well?"

    "My apologies," Nuit assured as her gold lips curled into a satisfied smile. She lifted her arms and clasped her gold-gloved hands. Heavy gold bracelets set with lapis lazuli and rubies clinked with the impact. She then bowed. "I wish to convey with the utmost sincerity that I had no role in these unfortunate events."

    "That seems a bit much. Yeah, it was embarrassing to puke in front of the demons and mercenaries but..."

    Nuit's smile vanished. She tilted her gaze and looked to Kiri. "Truly?"

    "The Pulse or the Attack?"

    "Yes." Nuit tilted her head, and looked at Kiri as if for the first time. "Ah you're still wearing that little sleeve?"

    Kiri's grip suddenly tightened.

    Usagi frowned.

    The youthened Sailor Pluto eyed the dark goddess. "Yes."

    "Shame, I preferred your real body," Nuit gave a dismissive shrug.

    "You mean her older form?" Usagi's frown grew. "Yeah, it has been a while since the Russians –um- killed you. Can't you go into another one?"

    "We can discuss my physical age later," Kiri assured. "I doubt that's why Nuit called."

    "This is about the fight." Usagi nodded and looked to Nuit. "Yeah... the Russians got a cultist. He working for you?"

    Covering her mouth with her hand, Nuit giggled. "Oh my. No. I'm not the object of his worship. Though, regrettably, some of my followers are about to become a problem."

    "And why are you dressed up as a Senshi?" Usagi demanded.

    "It seemed appropriate. Everyone else is pretending."

    "I'm Sailor Moon."

    Nuit shook her head. "No. No, you're Serenity's daughter," the dark goddess sharply replied, her voice laced with jealous venom. "You're the Princess who got to play at being a magical girl. You got to ignore your bloodline. Got to ignore your responsibilities. Ignore your parents' gifts."

    Usagi's eyes smoldered. "Better people than you said a lot worse."

    "You mean Ami?" Nuit's smile returned. "How is Mistress Lyra's star pupil doing?"

    Usagi stared. "That was something Ami made up, a fake villain to get us to follow."

    "Oh? Your mother never did figure out what happened to Mistress Lyra. And she did help design so many of Serenity's wonderful toys; she even helped design the Queen's greatest creation." Nuit smirked at Lady Pluto.

    "The Silver Crystal? What about it?"

    "You don't know? My, do you even know yourself?" The dark goddess chuckled.

    "Nuit!" Kiri's voice cut across the small room. "You are a guest here, and you will behave like one."

    "Of course." Nuit bowed her head.

    "You didn't just call to mock me did you?"

    "Well, I'll admit some avaricious venting was part of my goal," Nuit sighed. It was a strangely humanizing gesture for the dark goddess. "But I did want to apologize. What's happening is not my fault."

    "And what is happening? Why are these worshipers coming? Who are they?"

    Kiri's grip tightened and, feeling it through her armor, Usagi yelped

    The green-haired woman's eyes widened. "Your worshipers, the pulse called them."

    "The Mad Seer rang the dinner bell. The voyeurs had already peered through the windows. They know I'm home." Nuit gave another sigh. "And they will come."

    "The Wakeup Call? That was them?" Kiri asked. The last time Nuit had appeared was during that incident.

    Nuit nodded. "They were taking a peek. They would have moved on but..."

    "Someone drew their attention," Usagi said.

    "What strength? How many?"

    Nuit looked away. "I can't say."

    "Wait..." Usagi exhaled. "This summoning, what does it have to do with me?"

    "I am unaware of the plans of your enemies, Princess."

    "But, the Russians and their hired goon break into a Canadian base and summon some creepy crawlies, but..." Usagi gave a bitter laugh. "But de Veste doesn't worship you does he?"

    "He does not," Nuit hissed glaring at Kiri.

    "Right, so not your summoning?"

    "Correct. I am the last person that wants Them here."

    "Can you stop them?"

    "They are not of this universe, and the barriers are too thin for me to stop them." Nuit lifted her chin. "Especially not when malformed witches are pounding holes into reality."

    "You really did do all this just to tell me that this isn't your fault?"

    Nuit turned to Kiri. "I was not lying when I expressed interest in a relationship."

    Usagi's lips parted and she slowly turned to the shorter green-haired girl.

    "She wanted to make friends."

    Usagi shook her head. "Right. Uh... so these things... they're coming pretty soon?"

    "I'd imagine they're already staging their forces. Soon, they'll breach the veils." Nuit folded her hands and bowed her head.

    "We have to tell Eve."

    "I'm sure the Brood Mother already knows. Doubtless her spawn are trying to convince your automaton to stand aside. And won't this be a fun meeting for them to burst into?"

    Kiri grit her teeth.

    "I do apologize for any inconvenience." Nuit chuckled. "As a bit of advice, this universe is quite hostile to them. Close the door and they should be susceptible to your reality strengthening devices."

    "Why? Why tell us this?"

    "I'm trying to show some civility." Nuit raised her head. Bright blue eyes locked onto deep maroon as the two glared at each other.

    Usagi found herself smirking. "These invaders, they worship you. Why don't you get off your jeweled butt and stop them yourself?"

    "Because it's not an invasion. It's a rescue mission." Nuit leaned forward and pressed her palms against the glass.

    Eyeing the golden gloves, Usagi stepped back.

    "They want you," Kiri said, her voice haunted.

    Nuit nodded.

    "You're hiding!" The Princess' smile grew. She walked up to the sink and leaned forward. "So the big scary star-goddess who mocks me for hiding from my responsibilities is hiding from her own?"

    "We don't get to choose who worship us," Nuit muttered. "Are we automatically bound by obligations just because someone chooses to kneel before us?"

    Kiri's grip on Usagi's shoulder shifted slightly.

    "And what? Now you'll be rid of them?"

    "Just the ones your contractor and her comrades catch." Still keeping one hand pressing against the mirror, Nuit absently tugged at an earring. "I had hoped to find friendship here." She looked to Kiri. "I had hoped to find redemption here." She looked to Usagi.

    The Princess' eyes narrowed.

    "She is being civil," Kiri reminded.

    "She's some weird inter-dimensional dark goddess. That's all kinds of suspicious and wrong."

    "The Court of Serenity has had diplomatic relations with worse," Lady Pluto stated.

    Nuit's smile grew. "Listen to your advisor. She's thoroughly versed on her Queen and Mistress."

    Usagi sighed. "Ranma, BlackSky, Lyra. Is there anyone who didn't know my mother?"

    Nuit pulled her hand back and covered her mouth. She looked down. "I'm afraid I never had the pleasure; the woman couldn't stand my father."

    Usagi looked to Kiri.

    "The Queen courted many during the Unification War; not every alliance proved to be fruitful."

    "Or wise. And it's not like she stopped after the war ended," Nuit sharply added.

    "My mother tried to make an alliance with a dark god from another dimension?"

    "She made an alliance with a demon queen from another dimension. An alliance you've continued."

    "That's different! Ranma's one of us."

    "Sailor DarkStar or Sailor Earth?"

    "What difference does it make?"

    Nuit looked thoughtful. "Right. Did you make this decision before or after she started the cute little pink and blonde demon girl act?"

    Usagi's eyes narrowed. "What's it to you?"

    "Peace," Nuit raised her hands. "Don't get mad. If anything I'm trying to help."

    "Help?"

    "She's a succubus. They're empathic mimics. She knows what you want, knows which heartstrings to pull. Are you really sure you're not being played?"

    "No way! I hired her."

    "Yes," Nuit gave a vulpine grin, her teeth flashing momentarily as her gold lips parted. "Fascinating that, the rest of your Senshi just fall into line. But she's different."

    "We're not forcing her." Usagi looked thoughtful. "I'm not sure that's possible."

    "Perhaps you should talk with her employers for some advice," Puu remarked.

    "I didn't force Ami or Makoto or any of the others. They volunteered."

    "Reincarnation." Nuit shrugged. "People are creatures of habit; they fell into doing the same thing over again"

    "We pledged our lives to the kingdom. And we paid up in full. Only in Death does duty end." Kiri stated, flexing her grip on Usagi's shoulder.

    "Pretty words. But they don't apply to your ilk do they?" Nuit sympathetically asked. She looked to Usagi. "The Silver Court does own their souls," the dark goddess stated as it if were a basic fact.

    Usagi glared but remained silent.

    "Thus your Senshi habitually serving you is... worrying. Even your traitors, ultimately, think they're serving the throne."

    "Puu? Is this true?"

    "Serenity was a stickler about securing consent." Kiri turned her head to the side and the iridescent of the walls reflected in her eyes, making them look black and glossy. "Why, I remember well how she recruited me..."

    Usagi lowered her head slightly at Nuit and leveled her gaze. "You're really trying to paint my mother in a negative light."

    "No more than the people that knew her." Nuit tilted her head and gave a sad sigh. "And now you're following in her footsteps. Hiring demons to do your dirty work." She raised a gold eyebrow. "For what I wonder."

    Usagi looked down. "None of your business."

    "Finally, some sense," Nuit smirked.

    Kiri gently shook the blonde's shoulder. "Usagi, we really need to go."

    "I've detained you long enough," Nuit added.

    "Right." Usagi glanced back at Kiri. "End it."

    "With pleasure."

    "Hey!" Nuit groused as Meiou raised her hand from Usagi's shoulder. The dark goddess vanished. The princess' reflection returned.

    As Usagi stared at her blue eyes, the glossy iridescence covering the walls faded and normality returned to the bathroom. "You didn't like her either?" she asked turning away from the mirror.

    Kiri's hand went to the doorknob. "Pardon?"

    "Nuit; you seemed more disturbed by her than me," Usagi said as the green-haired girl opened the door.

    "She was... playing nice this time. You don't know what she's really like," Kiri said, technically not lying. She stepped into the hallway and saw Venus standing off against Nariko, Nabiki, and Akane. Both Nariko and Venus had their hands on the hilts of their swords. Nabiki was also holding the handle of one of her blades while the shadows around Akane squirmed.

    Both Nariko and Venus turned to Usagi. The Princess stepped back at the twin pairs of nearly identical cold, red eyes.

    "Per contract, subverting surveillance measures during emergency procedures is punishable by Section Three, Clause One," Nariko recited. "Failure to comply will be a breach of contract."

    Akane smiled. "You're lovely when you get all commanding, Dear."

    Usagi swallowed. "What?"

    "Usagi, next time a demon gives you a contract to sign, read it first," Venus stated, her eyes turning blue for a moment. A golden sheen flashed across her face as she returned to staring down the black-haired succubus.

    Nariko's grip tightened and she started to draw her blade.

    "Stop!" Kiri waved her hand. "Fine. We'll negotiate terms. I'm willing to consent to a series of medical tests including the extraction of tissue samples."

    "Puu!"

    "It's not important, Usagi. We'll make arrangements later." Kiri walked past Nariko and Venus. "She turned and waved. "Come on! We've got a Beachhead Scenario."

    Nariko's eyes widened. She let her katana slip back into its scabbard. "Source? Location? Size?"

    "What the hell were you doing in there then?" Akane demanded.

    "Talking with an intelligence asset, obviously," Nabiki remarked. The powder-blue-haired little succubus eyed the similarly diminutive Kiri. "An asset they don't want us to know about."

    Frowning, Venus fell into step at Usagi's side.

    "That's broadly correct. More details will follow. Right now, tell the Canadians to get jammers back online at their HQ. If they're not too late."

    "A Beachhead? In Ottawa? Why the hell do the Cyborgs want an alien invasion?" Akane asked.

    "They did bring their pet cultist, and it'll certainly draw JTF2's attention," Nabiki said.

    "Not to mention, it'll keep mother up there," Nariko added nodding to the guards to the briefing room.

    Usagi stepped inside. If anything, the room's quiet intensity had thickened. The agents manning the radios and computers were talking in clipped, terse phrases, and both groups of Senshi, demonic and guardian, were tense, taut.

    Once the door clicked closed behind Usagi and the others, Eve pushed down the microphone to her headset. The tall demon strode forward, her eyes cold and business-like "Miss Tsukino, you get sick, we get an Inter-Dim spike. Then you go off for a secret chat. And now I'm to learn that we might have little Beachhead Scenario?"

    Usagi squared her shoulders. "That's right. I, well, to be honest I don't know if I'd trust the source but that's what she said."

    "Who?"

    "Nuit. She said, she said they're aliens from another dimension; de Veste summoned them."

    Kiri kept her face neutral at Usagi's lies. She did not want to betray her. It might be that Usagi had made the assumption that de Veste had intended to summon Nuit's worshipers; it might be that Usagi wanted the Company to think so. However, Kiri was certain that Usagi was deliberately omitting the fact that said invaders were devotees of Nuit.

    Luna stared. "She talked with Nuit? Directly?"

    Kiri nodded. "It was necessary."

    The cat's ears folded back.

    Eve exhaled. She pulled her headset back up. "Sir, we've got a Beachhead Scenario. I repeat a Beachhead Scenario. Yes Sir."

    The demon turned to one of the communications agents. "Maya! Get in line with JTF2. They'll want to deploy whatever jamming assets they have. Immediately."

    "Ma'am," Maya said as she swapped radio channels.

    Nodding, Eve went back to her command line. "Sir, JTF2 will be first on scene. If this really is a Beachhead, I recommend deploying the Fifth and the Silvers." The demoness' tail twitched as she got her orders. "Understood. Very good, Sir."

    "Finally!" Cradling her grenade launcher, Misako's grin grew until it nearly bisected her face.

    Eve pointed to Nariko. "Go, get ready. Meredith and her sisters should have a full set of extra ammo and equipment already staged. Coordinate with my girls. They'll provide close support."

    The demons began to rise.

    "Tendo, get your team up too. Secure their spearhead."

    Smiling, Kasumi pulled her headset off. She stood and saluted.

    Returning the salute, Eve turned to the Senshi.

    "What's going on? You weren't really sick were you?" Rei asked Usagi, a bit of anger leaking into her voice.

    "I was," Usagi said.

    "Side effect of a mental 'phone call'," Kiri explained.

    "Right. So Miss Creepy Dream Invader comes to warn you about freaky aliens And now suddenly everyone's willing to throw us into battle? What happened to waiting for the Cyborg counter attack?"

    "That was before we got this bit of intelligence," Eve bowed her head to Usagi, briefly presenting her horns.

    Usagi blinked.

    "I know you're missing a member but if you had to can you teleport?" Eve's voice gained an insistent edge.

    "You mean to Ottawa?" Usagi asked.

    "It's closer than Antarctica," Rei dryly remarked.

    "Regrettably this is something that should been have practiced. However-"

    Kiri cut off the blonde demoness. "You didn't want to punch holes in reality and risk losing your Ace in the Hole."

    Eve nodded. Though she knew that her sister was the Company's real "Hole-Card", and Ranma was already being deployed.

    "Wait, now you want to risk having us teleport without Ami?" Makoto asked.

    Eve held up a hand. "Yes. As a contingency. The Canadians might be able to close it themselves... if not, we should have enough time but..."

    "You want to be prepared." Kiri paused then slowly shook her head. "I'd recommend against it. The same worries you had about them training are even worse now."

    Eve raised an eyebrow.

    "If there's no other choice, and we have to teleport in... It can't be into the city." Kiri's eyes narrowed. "It'd be like parachuting into quicksand."

    "We can arrange pickup at a safe location."

    "Really? Where?" Rei demanded. "Because between cyborgs, cultists, and nameless invading horrors I'm not seeing much safety."

    Eve gave a thin smile. "Yes."

    "Oh good. Glad Kiri's got a creepy friend willing to sell out her enemies."

    "She's not my friend," Kiri petulantly said, for once actually looking like her physical age.

    "Handy that." Eve frowned. "It looks like Gagnon and his spooks were right. We'll have to see what CSIS knows."

    "Who?" Makoto asked.

    "Canadian Intelligence," Eve waved her hand. "Somehow they got the same info that Miss Tsukino just acquired."

    "Right, so based on what they've said, and a conversation Usagi had with Puu's dream-friend you're worried that a cultist and a cyborg attack could morph into what... an alien invasion?" Makoto asked.

    "An alien invasion in my country's capital city." Kasumi clarified. "Centered at our military headquarters. This is on par with flying saucers strafing JSDF headquarters in Shinjuku-ku, or Mole-Men hitting the Pentagon."

    "Oh, so this attack is more than just a distraction so the Numbers could get to Usagi?" Makoto asked.

    "It'd be a hell of a diversion!" Misako grinned.

    "If it really is a Beachhead Scenario," Kasumi reminded.

    "The Numbers aren't known for doing things halfway," Nabiki countered.

    Eve looked at Usagi. "Miss Tsukino, I know you Pattern Silvers have not seen eye to eye with us, especially against the Cyborgs."

    "That's an understatement," Rei muttered.

    Nariko gave her an innocent-looking smile.

    "Starting with calling us Pattern Silvers," Usagi narrowed her eyes.

    "I'm a Pattern D. Endure." The blonde brood mother's expression softened. "But Miss Tsukino.... Usagi, this could get very bad very fast," Eve took her hand.

    Usagi looked up and saw worry in the demon's eyes. She told half a step back in shock.

    "Miss Tsukino, if we can't stop this, if the Canadians can't stop this..." Eve lowered her head. "It'll be up to you: containing a Beachhead Scenario is exactly why you're here."

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


    A hand gripped Mal de Veste's shoulder and pushed him forward. The barrel and slide of his CZ 52 reached the door and... slipped through. Walking, the rest of the gun and his arms passed through. Vision returning, the cultist stepped forward. A former utility space, the room had been converted into a server room several years ago. It was full of twin rows of boxy server racks and connecting cables and the hum of ventilation and coolant systems.

    However, the computers had been stripped out. The racks were mostly empty. Their insides were exposed with thick bundles of cut cabling spilling out. And yet, the coolant and backup battery systems had remained.

    Mal's eyes went to one of the metal boxes. It had the same drab grey frame as the handful of remaining computers, but it was free of dust and had a thicker power cable snaking into the side. A stream of blue-silver smoke was also lazily rising out of the vents near the top. He glanced around the room and grim certainty fell upon him.

    From below came a heavy thump followed by a lurching, metallic squeal that reverberated through the building. Mal smiled thinly. Visiting the fourth floor was not a total waste then. At least the Canadians were unable to defuse the charges he had left in that electrical room.

    There was another thud followed by a deep gurgling, almost liquid noise, as if a massive pipe had been punctured. Pausing at his work, Mal's fingers went cold, especially his ring finger. He shook his head and disconnected the power cables. It was redundant, the breakers had already been tripped, but he felt some caution was warranted. Even if it was too late.

    Slipping through the door, Shest saw the hulking assassin remove a sheet metal plate. Peering inside, his flashlight turned on. "Finally!" the cyborg walked up and peered over the man's shoulder. "Did we get it?"

    "Most certainly," de Veste sighed as he reached in with his left arm and released the clamps holding the jammer's core to the metal frame. Still using just one hand he pulled the ribbon cable off the device's controller circuit.

    Roughly the size of a loaf of bread, the core's outer surface was made out of a rounded, somewhat gritty looking metal-ceramic composite. The whole thing looked like it was somehow cast as a single unit with various fittings and connectors that had been smoothly extruded from the surface.

    This included cooling pipes. Built into the composite surface, coolant conduits wound around the mid-span of the core. Mal popped off the flex hoses on the input and output of the cooling system.

    Shest watched as the man pulled a wrench from his briefcase, loosened some bolts and then rotated out the power supply interlocks. Finally, he unscrewed the retaining rings that held the two thick braided cables from the hemispherical ends of the lozenge-shaped core. Both braids bent upward and twisted to where they connected to a pair of long antennae that ran the full length of the box.

    Moving his flashlight, Mal then inspected the core. It had been fully disconnected. Frowning, the cyborg noted that Mal had yet to directly touch the rounded-lozenge shaped jammer core. Satisfied, the bulky man then stepped back.

    Shest noted his pained frown and stepped forward to inspect the device.

    A long, splintering crack ran from the top and down a side in a diagonal gash. It terminated a couple centimeters short of the cooling bands. In the middle, blue smoke hissed out from the widest part. This gap gave the only clue to the interior workings of the device: polished curved plates that gave off a twinkling blue light.

    "Damn." Shest shook her head. "Can it be fixed?"

    Mal's frown grew. Even after being overloaded, even after having the power cut off, even after being physically disconnected the device still radiated its power. "Maybe. It probably won't last long."

    "How long?" Opening her haversack, Shest eyed the cultist. Here was a man willing to attack a military facility with just one person for backup. Here was a man who openly worshiped cosmic horrors. Here was a man willing to work for Galina. And he was afraid of the jammer core.

    Mal shrugged. "These things are supposed to have months of continuous uptime." He paused to watch Shest pull the core out and place it into her bag. "We'll have to run tests but... has the supporting machinery even been built?"

    "Desyat has finished the antennas, power supply, and cooling system. She still needs to finalize the controllers, but for that she'll need the core."

    Mal gave a vaguely satisfied grunt.

    "After we get it plugged in how long will it last?"

    "I'd be surprised if we get more than twenty hours cumulative. I wouldn't leave it on."

    Shest shouldered the bag. "Right." The building shook as another explosion went off. This time on the floor immediately below them. She immediately gave Mal a withering look.

    The man seemed unsurprised by the explosion. "What? I didn't put anything on the sixth floor."

    Shest looked pensive. She could feel a buzzing noise welling up around her. It was not like the signal from the jammer, in many ways it was the opposite of the pressure that device had given off.

    "We leave. Now."

    The cyborg nodded. "Agreed, at least the plan's finally starting to go smooth."

    Mal gave her a flat look. He exhaled and offered his hand. "Smooth. Right."

    With a grimace, Shest took it. "Remember, we go down and we get out. If we separate-"

    "I'll make my way to the Beta site," he interrupted pulling her close. The cyborg's stronger grip pulled him into a cold embrace.

    Shest activated her Deep Diver system and the two sank at an oblique angle, first through a wall then through the floor.

    Mal's body tingled; his vision blacked out. It returned once his head cleared the ceiling.

    The cyborg's breath caught and her grip nearly slipped. The pair hung over a ravaged analysis office. One end of the room held computer servers and a series of secure file cabinets. The other had a group of cheap cubicles and workstations.

    The room's bare institutional carpet was room covered by twisting plaid smoke, and there were two dead analysts sprawled out. One had fallen against a desk, her nearly decapitated head flopped over a computer monitor.

    The other lay spread-eagled on the floor, surrounded by several masses of writhing tendrils. The gunshot wound in his chest was still visible. Covered in a navy blue and matte-black material, the ropey tendrils fanned around small barrel-shaped bodies.

    Each tendril was tipped in a various sleek little blades, clamps, needles, and probes. The soldier's body was flayed open. The cut through the abdominal cavity cleanly went through armor, uniform and skin. The writhing congregation busily and silently tore the body down. Bits of flesh, cloth, and even the front half of a boot were gingerly ferried into a collection of rounded cylindrical pods made out of the same matte material.

    On the other side of the room were more of the tentacled creatures. Each had two rings of tentacles. A ring of thicker ropey ones that encircled the midsection and a line of longer thinner tendrils that surmounted the creatures "heads".

    One of the cabinets had been pulled apart and a wide wave of documents had been pulled out. Another flock surrounded that pile and was going through it with just as much interest as the one disassembling the body.

    Between the two was a larger creature, this one twice the size of the others. There were wing-like membranes, also encased in the matte-black material, that spread from three slots along the length of its body. It occasionally exchanged waves of its tendrils with members of the other groups. This was the being that lifted its tendrils at Mal and Shest when they descended into the room. It carried a rounded white-grey pod that Mal assumed was some kind of weapon.

    Mal's eyes swept the room. "Pull us out. Now."

    Angry, Shest complied and pulled them through a wall and into a bare hallway "Is this what happens when your clouds get hungry?" Shest hissed as her Deep Diver cut out and her boots hit the ground.

    "This isn't me," Mal stated as he pulled back the bolt on his stolen rifle. It was still loaded. He then did s a similar check on his handgun, and patted the grenades he had pocketed.

    "Right. I just happen to work with a cultist and we just happen to run into a mess of many-angled tentacle things having a meal."

    "You call that feeding?" Irritation crossed Mal's heavy features. "You're not that unobservant. Think."

    "Fine. Maybe they were harvesting snacks."

    "Oh? I didn't realize that squid monsters ate paper and optical disks."

    Shest frowned. The secure cabinets had been cut apart. Her eyes narrowed slightly. Some of the papers were being held up before being discarded. Some had been placed into the... specimen jars.

    "Reconnaissance?" Shest asked.

    "It looks like we're not the only ones robbing the Canadians today."

    There was another almost-liquid grinding noise. They could hear a few angry shouts down a bend in their corridor. The pair tensed. In the distance gunfire erupted. There were the familiar scream of men being set aflame and meaty thumps and the wump of an under-barrel launched grenade going off.

    Mal chuckled. "Unlike us, they're not doing this on a skeleton crew."

    "Right," Shest nodded. "We've still got to get out. Plan's the same."

    End Chapter 4

    I'd like to thank my pre-readers. They read through my most egregious mistakes so you don't have to. J St C Patrick, Pale Wolf, DGC, and Kevin Hammel.
    For reference chapter 32 is already written and so is almost all of ch33.


    Revision Notes: There's a reason the Company and the Brood went through so much trouble to warn the Combat Cyborgs not to mess around with reality.
     
    armourdefense and cl20 like this.
  6. Threadmarks: Chapter 5
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

    Joined:
    Oct 8, 2016
    Messages:
    212
    Likes Received:
    545
    Book 4: Capital Offense
    Chapter 5: Backup
    Formerly: Reserve and Release Part 2i



    The redheaded demoness rode in a Canadian Army Griffon helicopter. As she listed in on her radio, her grip on the hang-strap above her tightened. "Oh, that sneaky spook!" Ranma shouted, feeling a chill in her stomach.

    Major Sifton of JTF2 watched her lips. The engine noise from the helicopter garbled most of her words. Normally, the headset she wore would transmit straight to his earpiece but she was currently on a different channel.

    "Which one?" Eve asked with an arched eyebrow.

    "Both of them, Sis!" Ranma replied to Eve. "Keep an eye on Puu."

    Sifton leaned forward and tapped her shoulder, in the cramped confines of the Griffon it was not a far move. "Say again!" he yelled while tapping his ear.

    "Of course she knows more than the Princess," Ranma rolled her eyes. She then caught Sifton's gaze and paused. "Gotta go." She switched channels on her headset.

    "Our paranoid friend in the black suit may be right," Ranma said over the local JTF2 network.

    The helicopter banked as it followed the Rideau Canal. Sifton felt his stomach fall out. "Beachhead? Confirmation?"

    Ranma nodded. "Someone on the eldritch side contacted one of our assets. It seems even the local creepy-crawlies are against this little invasion."

    "Shit." A second later Sifton's thoughts reorganized. "Intel?"

    The demon nodded again. "It's a summoning. "

    "Wait. I'm putting us on the general channel." Sifton switched over to where the whole team could hear. "This is the Major. We've got a Beachhead. Repeat Beachhead. Miss Saotome has additional info."

    "Cutting it a bit close, Sir," a voice said from one of the other helicopters.

    Ranma's eyes went out at the houses that passed below them. They were about to hit the city proper. "Yeah, I'll cut to the chase. These two clowns broke into your facility, rang the dinner bell, broke your jammer, and now you've got the many-angled ones tumbling in looking for god-knows-what."

    Silence stretched over the channel.

    The spike in controlled anger hit the succubus in a heavy wave. The strong undercurrent of bloody minded vengeance warmed her heart

    "They're 'porting in somehow. Priority is sealing the door." Sifton's mind flashed to the list of Options Gagnon had prepared for this exact scenario.

    "Scanner results? Corporal Green report," he then asked after keying into the channel his Scanner crew used.

    "Sir, we've got a smear," Lily Green said. "It hasn't resolved but.... it's shining like a beacon."

    "We're too far out. Pattern won't get clearer until we close in. That is if it's something we know." Ranma admitted. "But that don't matter you've already got to have troops fighting these things."

    "Sir, Ma'am," Lieutenant La Tour's voice cut in. "We've got contact reports on floors six, ten, and the basement. Something's fighting our men in at least three distinct locations. We're trying to contact the officer in charge of the quarantine for a situation report."

    "Right, we'll make contact with the forces and bring in our heavy weapons. La Tour contact the museum crew I need them crossing the canal now." Sifton looked to Ranma. The dull red gem at the center of her Kevlar-sheathed chest bow bounced with the helicopter's rough flight.

    The succubus nodded.

    "We've got three jamming units. Delta and Gamma will protect our ground stations. Miss Saotome's got the mobile model. Alpha and Beta will go with her and slam the door shut."

    "I can also dump more power into mine, boost the range but not for long," Ranma added. Her ears tingled as the gleaming black gems of her capacitor earrings throbbed.

    "Sir!" La Tour said. "I've got a Lieutenant Borgne on the line."

    "Lieutenant?" Sifton's eyes widened.
    He had expected at least a fellow Major, and that was presuming that one of the generals in the building had not decided to command from the front.

    Ranma got his glance and shrugged.

    "Put him on." The radio channel chirped. "This is Major Sifton Joint Task Force Two. What's the situation Borgne?"

    "Bad," a man with a Quebecois accent smoothly replied. "We've managed to scrounge up extra ammo and find men but not fast enough."

    "Right, we're ten out. Headed straight to your location. Can you hold?"

    Borgne chuckled. "Bypassing second line, eh? Yes, we shall endure."

    "Where's your CO?"

    "Captain got his face burned off... Sir," Borgne said with faux joviality. "Siboire de crisse, those two freaks were bad enough but then... hosti de tabanaque de calisse those fucking squids with incendiaries started tumbling through the walls."

    The officer's voice grew distant as his attention diverted. "Ostie! Fankie secure that door!"

    Borgne's attention returned. "Sorry Sir, but we've got a fucking alien invasion on our hands." He chuckled.

    A tiny smile touched her lips; Ranma flexed her hands. "What're you up against? You said squids? Incendiaries?"

    "Yes. Like white phosphorus grenades but mixed with some armor piercing rounds. Clusters of missiles too. There's also rumors of something... amorphous in the basement,"

    "How fast? How big? How many?" She asked looking up. To the north smoke billowed out of the National Defense Headquarter building. She could see little fires sparking in some of the broken windows.

    "Quick."

    "As bad as the cyborg?"

    "The what?"

    Ranma frowned for a second. Then shrugged. Secretly was out the window for now. Borgne was already in it up to his neck. "The team that broke in. It was a super-powered cyborg and a cultist assassin."

    Borgne started to snort but then made a thoughtful noise.

    "Alien Invasion, LT," Sifton reminded. "Are the squids as fast as the cyborg?" the Albertan officer asked.

    "No. We can kill them. As for how big... I've seen Them up to the size of dogs. When the Captain went to the Sixth Floor to find General Fochs, he reported a big red one the size of a 'fridge. Only got two men back from that."

    "No more recon, you hold until we get there," Sifton ordered.

    This time Borgne's Gallic snort was able to fully execute. "Yes, Sir. Good idea Sir. As for how many? A platoon or three... maybe. Hard to tell, they're just probing us. They've definitely got a reserve force. No breakout attempt yet. Size is bad. One patrol said they saw something fill a whole hallway, black goo or something. Barely got out."

    Ranma leaned to the side and got a better look at the target. A chill ran through her. The column of smoke had broken up into several distinct plumes. The streets adjacent to the Pearkes building were empty. The Laurier Avenue bridge to the south and the Mackenzie King Bridge to the north had been closed off by a cordon of military trucks. Nicholas Street to the building's east was similarly blocked off.

    The west side of the building butted against the Rideau canal. Ranma could make out the machine gun positions that had been put on the far side and spotted the police boats sitting beyond the bridges.

    A block or two beyond the military positions, every intersection glittered with the flashing lights of police roadblocks. In between, the roads were largely empty save for the few cars that had been left when the perimeter went up. However the roads were still busy with military traffic.

    Ranma spotted City Hall. Just across the canal and a bit to the south. It was within the police cordon. Several helicopters were taking off and landing at the green parkland adjacent to the complex.

    The demoness concentrated, her horns tingled. There was a gnawing anxiety that was like the weak spot in that swampy field, but magnified and throbbing. They had broken through here.

    The city hummed with life, with nervous apprehension. However, inside the quarantine zone fear and panic was welling up.

    Sifton looked to Ranma. "Miss Saotome?" In addition to a thousand yard-stare, he felt that she looked eager, hungry.

    The demoness nodded. "It is a Beachhead Scenario. We didn't expect them to take such a high profile location but they've hit your command structure. Dunno how many they got, depends on how many evac'd at the start and if the Squids are hunting anyone with stars on their shoulders." Ranma closed her eyes. She could feel the wavering, wobbling pull of the rift. A soft spot had torn loose in the world, and it preyed on her mind.

    "Right now command structure is gutted since we can't get in touch with any of 'em," Sifton said.

    "Have we gotten anyone else inside?" Sifton repeated. "The good LT could use some more support."

    "Plenty. People can still call out." La Tour said, somewhat cross. "But Borgne's the biggest group with anything more than their sidearms," she added.

    Borgne noted the strange woman's use of the phrase "your command," she definitely had a foreign accent. Korean or Japanese if he had to guess. Though this was JTF2. "Sir... Ma'am I'm just relieved someone sounds like they know what's going on."

    "Do we know what Pattern this is?" Ranma asked.

    "Yes Ma'am. Well sort of," Corporal Lilly Green responded. "Our Wasserfall scanner's jumping up and down. We're getting a big smear of low level readings and several higher spikes. But it keeps fuzzing out. Worse, it can't decide between Pattern O and Pattern... K. What the hell's a Pattern K?"

    "I don't know..." Ranma exhaled. "I didn't think that one was assigned."

    Sifton noted the trepedation in cross the demon's face. "Well Pattern O are squid monsters aren't they?"

    Regaining her composure, the demoness nodded. "Yes. I don't think the Company's seen a live one. Mostly from archaeological digs, preserved corpses."

    "Looks like you folks will get get plenty more to study," Sifton stated.

    "Patterns? You lot know what these things are?"

    "Oh no Lieutenant, you know far more about this enemy than us," Rama assured.

    "That is not comforting."

    "We're bringing bigger guns," Sifton added.

    "Ah there's that welcome West Canadian spirit." Borgne's mock amusement suddenly stopped. "Some more advice. Don't let Them take you. Whatever happens don't let Them take you"

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


    Just north of the National Defence building was the Ottawa convention center. The facility had four floors of spacious offices, meeting halls, ballrooms, banquet halls, and theater space. It also had a two story underground parking facility.

    Pulling Mal behind her, Shest slipped through a concrete wall and stopped in front of a parked car. She exhaled. Passing beneath the street had taken some time. Fortunately Mackenzie King Bridge was elevated when it ran between the convention center and the National Defence building. That gave her several "air pockets" where she could stop and get her bearings.

    Mal looked around the low-ceilinged cavernous room. Other than a few scattered vehicles, they were alone. He looked up at a pillar. A sign declared: Level B, Lot 4.

    Shest straightened her shoulders. She checked to ensue she still had the core. "Come on," she said after glancing at Mal.

    The brutish man cocked his head. He could feel the pull to the South. There was the growing hole. There was also... She had arrived. Mal frowned. "Yes, it's definitely time to get out of here."

    After holstering his gun, Mal shrugged his shoulders. The two ran down a row of parking spaces and around a corner. A white panel van sat the third spot from the end in Lot 3. Signs on either side proclaimed it to be part of Tawil Sisters Cleaning Service.

    Fishing out a set of keys, Mal unlocked the back door. Shest followed and closed it behind her. Once again, she checked the haversack containing the jammer core before pulling sweater over her armored bodysuit. She pulled on a pair of sweatpants and without looking back at Mal climbed to the front seat.

    The haversack went down on the floor between the driver's seat and the passenger seat. She sat down and turned on the ignition. The van's engine turned over, and she put it into gear.

    Mal de Veste climbed up to the front when the van came to the parking garage's exit. Giving a vague smile, he had slipped off his coat and tie and pulled a baggy green boiler-suit on over his shirt and pants. His sun glasses came off and he blinked at the dark tunnel. He slipped on a black ballcap. The security gate to the garage's exit was still open. Though a red and white bar was lowered across the exit lane, as expected.

    Shest glanced over. Mal had brought his briefcase and was stuffing it into a canvas duffle bag that was loaded with various supplies. It already contained his suit coat, tie, and the rifle he stole. He then concealed his gun amid the junk in the open glove box. She drove up to the pay-station and slipped her ticket and put a few dollar coins into the slot.

    The white and red bar went up; Mal nodded. Before the mission, they had made sure that the pay-station was automated. He leaned out and looked both ways; the road in front of them was part of an underground tunnel that ran for most of the block.

    There was some traffic on Daly Avenue, but he could see police cars on the intersection with Colonel By drive to the east and Nicholas Street to the west.

    Shest swore. "We should have gone to the Beta."

    Mal shrugged. "Okay, let's do that." Leaving the van, he grabbed his gun and duffle bag. He went to the back and opened the doors.

    Exiting the van herself, the cyborg raised an eyebrow. "What about the vehicle?" she asked as Mall rooted around in his duffle bag.

    "Scuttle it," Mal said as he tossed her an explosive charge.

    Shest eyed the white vehicle. Left there, it would block the exit. On fire, it would make for an obvious distraction. It would also mark their egress point. She swore, popped the hood, set the timer on the charge, and placed it.

    Mal had already crossed the street and stood in the shadows of the tunnel. "This way."

    "Into the roadblock?" Shest asked, as she walked down the tunnel.

    "Before that," he pointed to an door lane to the right side just before the tunnel ended. A painted sign said: "Deliveries Only. Restricted Access. Westin Ottawa."

    Shest nodded, a hotel gave them options. She looked ahead, there were not just police cars at the intersection. A couple military vehicles had also advanced to the point.

    Mal shrugged. "If they stop us go with the cover story, if-"

    "If they don't buy it go to plan B." Shest sighed. They would not be able to stop her, but it would delay things.

    Shest got them through the door and they went down the back corridors of the hotel. After heading north for a hundred meters, they reached a flight of stairs. There on the second level they found a bridge that arched over the east-west Rideau Street that connected the hotel with the Freiman Mall.

    A small crowd had gathered on the bridge. Most of them faced the west where they watched military vehicles close down the various streets crossing the canal. Mal spared a glance as the two briskly walked across. Both heard the fleet of helicopters that were flying above them.

    "They're really throwing their all into this," Shest said.

    Looking off to the West, Mal noted a road that had been cleared of traffic. Seeing what was traveling down the road, he gave her a bemused smile.

    Shest eyed him but held her tongue. They entered the mall. It was pandemonium as confused shoppers and staff rushed about. Store guards talked with police. The PA system cut in and announced that the mall was being closed and for everyone to leave out the north George Street exits.

    "Quarantines are a lovely thing." Mal smiled as they used a fire escape to cut ahead of the crowd and use a side door.

    Stopping to wait for an opening in the traffic, they crossed the road and found a side lot for the Ottawa School of Art.

    A small black sedan had signs for Umr Courier Services on either door. Shest unlocked the car and got in. Silently, she turned the ignition and waited for Mal to stow his gun between the center console and his seat. He looked back and up at the smoke rising from the National Defence building. The fraying, draining pull from the building had increased.

    Mal's eyes went to the glove compartment. "Not going to call?"

    "We're still in the city. Job's not done."

    He made a thoughtful grunt. "Hell of a job."

    The cyborg snorted, put the car in gear, and started driving east. Once they hit King Edward Avenue she went took it north and crossed the Ottawa River, leaving the city.

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


    Lieutenant Borgne tilted his head when he heard the helicopters. Long-limbed with sharp features, the Quebecois officer had a thin dark moustache, a hawkish nose and deep chestnut eyes. The helicopters were much closer and in larger numbers than the last few batches of "reinforcements". Puffing on his cigarette, he nodded to Corporal Peck and Private Simone, the two soldiers then crossed the lobby using various pillars as bits of cover. Furniture had been broken and scattered. Spent casings sparkled on the tile and bunched up bits of carpeting.

    He allowed a slight smile and inhaled some acrid smoke. It was all hardly within regulations, but there was not much time. And he supposed that some allowances could be made for the Apocalypse.

    The officer stepped around a bend and noted the area where the wounded had been staged. It had been ten minutes since the last ambulance run. Fortunately, they had dropped off supplies for the medics he had dragooned.

    Turning back to the elevator bank, Borgne went to a crouch. Here the bulk of his men had taken positions. All the elevators but one had been wedged open with chairs that had been dragged in. The remaining elevator was held by a squad and had been sent up to retrieve the odd group of stragglers that had missed the initial evacuation. However, its use had all but stopped off after the Captain's failed attempt to retrieve General Fochs.

    Beyond the elevators, a barricade had been thrown up. It was made from tables, concrete planters, stone and metal facing from the walls and the pillars. Notably, there was nothing flammable in the pile.

    The burn marks on the walls and the one chair still aflame were explanation enough. And yet, his men were not behind the barricade, not directly. The splashes and splatters of dried blood around the barricade showed the reasoning behind that. Instead the men were further back and used the wall itself as cover.

    Past the elevators, opposite the barricade, was a set of double doors that had been wedged open. On the other side was a set of stairs. Smoke still welled up from the steps and most of Borgne's men kept their rifles trained on the stairs leading to the basement. The remainder watched the ceiling, floors, and walls.

    A cloying, squirming pressure gripped his chest. "Attention!" he briskly ordered. It was different than the prickly dread that came hand in hand with an attack of Them. If anything it was more like the soothing warmth that came from his cigarettes.

    "Sir, JTF2's here!" Peck shouted as he and Simone ran across the lobby.

    Borgne backed away from the barricade. He turned and stood. The cigarette bobbed at his lips. That western Major was correct. Their guns were bigger. They were definitely larger than the 5.56mm rifles his men were using.

    They looked like refurbished C2A1s that had underslung grenade launchers added. The troopers were loaded down with boxy 7.62×51mm magazines and pouches full of 40mm grenades. Additionally, there was a couple teams with belt-fed C9 machine guns.

    Their shoulder patches gave a twinge of familiarity: elongated red arrowheads consisted of CANADA running vertically topped with JTF2. However, what caused Borgne's cigarette to fall almost fall from his lips were the other heavy weapons. The rocket tubes slung over a couple JTF2 soldier's were one thing. The Carl Gustav recoilless rifle was another.

    The weapon fired an 84 mm by 246 mm shell, nearly three and a half inches in diameter. Borgne noticed the loader/ammunition carrier of the group. The man was doubtlessly weighted down with the massive 3 kg shells. There was even another Gallic-looking fellow who had the bulging satchels of a demolitions man.

    It was overkill. Borgne smiled. "Lovely, lovely! Finally someone took my calls seriously."

    "Naturalment, I'm Lieutenant La Tour. Major Sifton gives his regards," a smooth, feminine voice replied. "MacDowell, have your team reinforce the barricade," Lieutenant La Tour ordered. "We'll keep the quarantine here before we move in with Saotome."

    La Tour frowned at the cigarette dangling on Borgne's lips. He sighed, pinched the end off, and stuffed it into the vest pouch next to the pack with the rest.

    He smiled and gave a Gallic shrug to La Tour and her companion. So Apocalypse or no, it was still a no-smoking zone, Borgne thought to himself. "Ah. Canada."
    "Ma'am." Sergeant Billy MacDowell nodded. "Jones, Bishop get the Carl into position. Rich! Get up here with your sack-of-boom. I want options in case we need to blast through these bastards."

    Corporal Richard Bonhomme nodded and duck-walked over to MacDowell. He had already taken out a folded section of blueprints and was frowning over it.

    "Tahnee get that MG up. Mind the back blast Jones!" MacDowel added in a shout.

    Borgne studied the woman who stood next to La Tour. Her uniform was as different shade of grey-green and had a skirt-like ring of pleated armor that hung below her vest and chest rig. There was also a big stiff bow of some kind on her chest centered with a dull red gem; a matching bow stuck out behind her.

    The two women stood in contrast. One had rich mocha skin while the other had an unnaturally pale pallor. La Tour's straight glossy black hair was cut into a very short bob while the other woman had a wild, wavy crimson mane. Bright brown eyes were opposed to deep, deep violet ones. La Tour had a rifle, a side arm, a combat knife, and several grenades. The other woman... simply had a massive bright steel handgun.

    Borgne's smile grew and he extended his hand.

    "It was getting quite bad here," he said, noticing that some of his men were pulling back, having been relieved by the JTF2 troops. "We almost felt alone. Out at the pointy-end."

    Both women looked at it and the warm pressure spiked against his chest.

    La Tour's hand darted out taking Borgne's hand before the redhead could. "Never. We're bringing everything we can into this." Her eyes narrowed slightly as she glanced at her diminutive companion.

    "And who might you be? Miss Saotome I presume?" Borgne asked. She was probably the Asian woman he had heard on the radio. Though her features were not quite right. The bone-china white complexion was only part of it. Her jaw line was a just too sharp and her eyes were a bit off. He kept looking away, looking to La Tour.

    "Why yes," Ranma smiled. She stepped to the side and looked to the barricade.. "Your men have held well."

    The corners of Borgne's lips curled with amusement. Despite her diminutive size the redhead had a rich contralto voice. He idly wondered if she sung. La Tour's own higher register would be rather complementary, if the two were to do a duet.

    Ranma sniffed the air and glanced at La Tour. "You should detail a team to watch the wounded. Just in case."

    La Tour glared at the redhead for half a second. The redhead briefly glanced at her then back to Borgne and the other soldiers. La Tour exhaled and nodded. "Good idea. I'll make the assignment."

    Borgne raised an eyebrow. "Uh, right. I'm just glad we've got some real firepower here."

    Ranma tilted her head. "Full power to the jammer but... I don't know." Her earrings flashed and sparkled. She was reluctant to push it much further. Her shoulders slumped. Her stomach shuddered and a headache fluttered in and out of existence. Being this close to the "rift" was starting to get to her.

    "Yeah, they're fighting it; they're still active. I need to get closer. Hell, we might have to smash their counter-jamming equipment." The redhead's lips separated flashing shiny, pointed teeth.

    "Quarantine protocols," La Tour stiffly said. "Right, it couldn't be that easy to close the door, but now they know we're here."

    Pointing back to the elevators with his rifle, Borgne raised an eyebrow. "Look at the ichor, they already know we're here."

    Ranma stepped back forward and resumed her observing. She could see some charred and burst tentacles. They reminded her of overcooked sausages wrapped in blackened tinfoil. Her eyes scanned quickly but hungrily. That warm pressure flowed over Borgne again.

    Borgne noted that despite the heavy armor and boots she was light on her feet and walked with a nimble bounce. "And what's your role here?"

    "Moi?" the redhead leaned forward. A slim hand with long, long fingers darted forward and snaked a cigarette out of Borgne's pocket. She held it up. Flames sparked on the tip and the cigarette caught aflame.

    "I'm just a contractor." The cigarette tumbled between her fingers and she offered the filter end just in front of the officer's lips. She smiled warmly. "Good work Lieutenant."

    La Tour observed the exchange, and shrugged. She tapped her radio. "Sir, we've met Borgne. He's holding. Saotome is active. No Sir... I mean her Jammer is active. Yes, it's being opposed."

    Borgne's men stopped. Corporal Peck blinked. Getting backup from special forces troops was expected, but the short redhead was something different.

    "If it's opposed, that probably means they know we're here," Ranma said into her headset as her horns popped out. She flexed her neck. "Ah, much better." Her eyes unfocused for a second as she looked down at, through, the floor between the elevators.

    La Tour swore.

    Borgne stared. Aliens, cyborgs, contractors, demons... sure why not. He turned back to the barricade. "Break's over men. Peck! Get you ass in gear. Simone put some distance between you and the gent with the rocket tube. Frankie snag some grenades from these nice men if you will."

    Ranma's eyes refocused and her hands flexed. A lazy smile crossed her lips. With her horns out everything was much clearer. She could feel the enemy, or at least sense a churning mass. It was centered around the sucking tear that dominated the sub basement. They were on the move.

    "Yeah. They noticed." The redhead chuckled as her tail snaked into existence. The fins unfurled. "Someone kept a reserve force," she added in a sing-song voice.

    Sergeant MacDowell's eyes narrowed. "Load Jones with anti-personnel zero-range, keep a HEDP on ready! Everyone mind the back-blast!"

    Ranma's tail stopped swaying back and forth and she took a step to the side.

    La Tour raised an eyebrow.

    "It's a 84mm with over 3 kilos of explosives. I can respect that," Ranma's tone was sober though her mouth was split into a broad eager smile.

    For a moment La Tour wished that she had not swapped with Lieutenant Hanna Hill. Though knowing her luck, if she had, then that barren soft spot out in the woods would have been the invasion site.

    "Sir, expect incoming. Yes, Sir, good luck."

    Ranma rolled her shoulders and her wings unfurled. Great purple on the outside, red on the inside membranes grew out from special slits in the back of her uniform and armored back-plate.

    "So, our military hires demons; I did not know that," Borgne observed. "I suppose I should have expected it."

    "Not directly, I'm a sub-contractor. The Canadians hired the-"

    "Contact!" Corporal Peck shouted. Followed a split second later by MacDowell. Writhing, matte black tentacles appeared at the stairwell at the far side of the room. Pods of a glossy white-grey material were clutched at the ends of several of the tentacles.

    Both Canadian units opened fire.

    Several of the tentacle-creature's barrel-shaped bodies were perforated. The larger bullets of the JTF2 members sliced right through the tentacles while the smaller rounds the other troops were using required a cluster of shots.

    Steam-like clouds came up and an angry hiss came from the creatures. The rest opened fire. Arcing blue-white comets raced out of their guns and slammed into the barricade and some of the troops. The incendiary material began to splash about.

    "Grenades!" La Tour ordered, as Borgne's medics darted forward. The under-slung barrels of the JTF2 guns thumped.

    As that happened, the creatures towards the rear launched the larger pods they carried. Sparkling clusters of rockets snaked out, lobed over to the Canadians, and exploded in a blindingly bright shower of burning shrapnel.

    Amid the explosions, there was a tearing sound as the floors were ripped out of the elevators. More creatures swarmed up out of them. They writhed out and right in front of the Canadian's field of fire. Which had been drawn away from the stairwell at the end of the elevator bank.

    Ranma's eyes widened. "Stairs!" she shouted her voice cutting through the chaos.

    The doors leading to the stairwell had been propped open, providing a choke point while adding some visibility (and giving the enemy a bit of concealment).

    Tentacles thicker than a fire hose grabbed the door and ripped it off. A bulky rounded body the size of a refrigerator levered its way out of the stairs. A mass of smaller barrel-shaped creatures boiled out below it carpeting the far side of the room in the blue with matte-black trim of their armored environmental suits. The larger creature had thicker armor than its smaller cousins. Its armor was also matte-black and bronze-red as instead of matte-black and dark blue.

    "Hit the big one first, I'll finish it off!" Ranma ordered as purple beams burst from her eyes and raked across the attacking mass. Her head and heart pounded.

    JTF2's machine gun crew added to the kill-box the riflemen and grenadiers were trying to keep contained. Then the giant creature heaved itself up and the thick-barreled weapons it clutched opened up. A brilliant blue bloom burst across the room.

    "Back!" Borgne ordered his men as the barricade was blasted apart.

    "Gustav!" MacDowell shouted.

    Jon Jones had already stepped around the corner and the instant he planted his foot pulled the trigger. There was a hollow metallic twang. The blast shot out the back end of the tube and down the corridor while the shell shot out in a white blur.

    The concussion echoed across the barricade and the projectile slammed into the lead creature. The Gustav was designed for long range anti-armor, anti-fortification and anti-personnel roles. The high explosive anti personnel round barely went over the 20 meter minimum arming-distance before it detonated, overwhelming the massive creature in a conflagration.

    The concussion shredded the smaller squid-like creatures ripping them apart in a mass of tentacles and pulped bodies. Steaming ichor splattered against broken walls and dented elevator doors.

    Jones stepped back and Bishop was already on him, holding a new shell the size of his forearm. He lifted up the weapon's back end, pulled out the spent shell which hit the floor with a clang, and rammed the fresh shell in.

    Gas hissed out of cracks in the great creature's armor. Many of its tentacles had been ripped off and the front part of its protective suit had been dented in. Still, it levered itself up and pointed one of its great blue-silver guns at the Canadians.

    "Active! Active!" Ranma swore as she fired off a DarkStar Burst. The purple-wreathed obsidian orb shot towards the creature. "Engaging!" the demon shouted as wings snapped back and she jumped over the barricade.

    The orb swerved in midair and slammed into the creature's gun. Tentacles writhing, it twisted to get a better view when the demon bounded straight at it. The thick appendages shot forward to crush her.

    Claws went out and sliced through the armored limbs. Yellow fluid seeped out and tingled where it hit against her fingers. She then landed on its back. Her boots braced against the pebbled-armor while her claws sunk through and began to tear. Filaments extended out of her tail and the appendage stabbed right through the armor. More gas vented as she breached the armor.

    A fusillade erupted from down the room as the Canadians retook their position. The support machine gun opened up spitting tracers across the sides of the creature below the demon. Every fourth round in the belt was a tracer and they shot across the room in a laser-like beam which raked further back on the creature's body and started cutting at its tentacles.

    The creature bucked but she managed to tear a long strip of armor away before being tossed off. Mid-air, she twisted, flared her wings, and shot another DarkStar Burst out of her hand. The orb kinked and arced and popped right into the exposed bit where the armor had been torn away.

    Ranma landed in a mash of broken squid-like bodies as the orb detonated. The explosion was muffled by the creature's bulk but it flopped down to the ground with its tentacles flailing about.

    More seams appeared in the armor and more creatures tried to scramble out. These were smaller and had rubbery blue-green bodies and tentacles. However once exposed to the air they started to thrash as they made high-pitched screeches.

    The demoness had bounded back and their screeches grew more intense as they tried to pull away from her. Ranma blinked and with a flick of her claws sliced through one of the dying creatures. Thick yellowish fluids came out and began to boil and fume in the alien atmosphere.

    Eyes flaring, the redhead growled flicked the gunk off her claws. She sliced into the alien and flicked a piece into her mouth. She grimaced and spit the rubbery flesh out with a hiss.

    Angry, she drew her SSP and the monstrous handgun barked as she blew the remaining three apart. The room stank of burned gunpowder, smoldering plastic, and an ammonia and mint-like smell rising from the alien bodies.


    It was then that Ranma realized that she could hear gunfire in the distance. It was muffled and had to come from somewhere several stories and many rooms away, but it was definitely the heavier caliber guns that JTF2 had brought.

    Sergeant MacDowell and Lieutenant Borgne approached the redhead while the medics went to work on the wounded and the uninjured troops moved forward and dispatched the few creatures that still stirred.

    "Your coming really got them riled up," Borgne dryly noted. He glanced between the ichor splattered demoness and the prim La Tour who had stood back and was on the radio.

    A few explosions detonated several stories above them. The redhead smiled. "I think they felt us coming." She tapped the gem at the center of her chest rig.

    "What, the critters felt someone futzing with their gateway and decided to put a stop to it."

    "They sent something after us they normally reserve for killing Generals."

    Borgne returned from ordering his men to drop some donated grenades down the opened elevator shafts. "I don't know if this bastard was sent specifically to kill General Fochs but... the timing is pretty bad."

    MacDowell nodded. He went over to Jones and Bishop to talk to the about using some of the short-fuse shells before getting got onto his headset and relaying Borgne's message up to Sifton.

    "Jammer, eh?" Borgne nodded at the wide Kevlar ribbons on Ranma's chest armor. "Little something to keep the squids from coming in?" he asked taking a drag on his cigarette

    "I'd say it's classified but..." Ranma shrugged her wings and kicked one of the creatures. It bounced off her foot with a rubbery squelch.

    The gunfire above them increased. Ranma tilted her head, she could just make out the sound of breaking windows. It was immediately followed by the burping, tearing noise of helicopter door guns opening up.

    "You guys really brought everything."

    Ranma stared at the Gallic officer. Her gaze flicked between horror and hungry anticipation. "No... not yet."

    Borgne's cigarette slipped from his lips.

    "Saotome here. Moving the timetable up. All teams keep pressure on the basement levels," Ranma radioed before she turned to the JTF2 troopers. "MacDowell! I'm going down. Get your men in gear! And shadow me on this level."

    MacDowell looked at Bonhomme's map; he then looked at the demolition man's satchel. The plan formed. He smiled. "Call the Beta team! I want their gadget to come in, right behind Bonhomme." He turned to the demolitions specialist. "Richard, scrounge whatever you can, but I want you to make me a doorknocker; be creative."

    Poker-faced, Bonhomme saluted and ran off. He then immediately started pilfering ammunition and grenades.

    Ranma nodded. Jammers were designed to work on multiple dimensions; they were hardly limited to a mere two.

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


    Sitting in its office, the Comptroller's tentacles stilled. Weak light from the sky-spanning buttresses and sallow silvery fields streamed through the partially-opaque shades. Sensor cluster gaped at the projection before the Comptroller. The feed was shaky and distorted, but a Scout Surveyor had managed to reach a window.

    The Head Surveyor respectfully bobbed next to its larger superior.

    "Tell it to aim up," the Comptroller ordered with a quick tendril flick.

    "Of course," Head Surveyor completed transmitting a link to the Aperture Overseer. The Head normally hated such micromanagement but this...

    Some time passed and the Scout flittered forward and lifted its camera pod. The view shifted from showing slab-like constructs full of curiously narrow windows. It fumbled and the camera panned wildly showing the rest of the scout team, including its Level 3 escorts. A dismembered alien quickly flashed past the screen.

    But the Surveyor's and Comptroller's attention was on the sky. Bright light streamed from a sky that seemed aflame. High in the center was a great burning ball.

    It was something that the Comptroller only had second-hand memories of. Something in the dead past of the Astronomers' Lore.

    "They have a main sequence star," Head Surveyor's said, tendrils hushed.

    "It seems Echo-382 is pre-Cataclysm."

    The Comptroller's intensity grew. If the Herald were to place his Heir somewhere safe...
    "The Holder of Souls?"

    The Surveyor paused to wipe its tendrils. It then moved them clearly and precisely. A lifetime had been spend preparing for this. "Comptroller, as Head of the Pathfinder Survey it is confirmed. My Pathfinders have breached the veils and broadcasted the Herald's call. We found Her. The Holder of Souls, the Coverer of the Sky, She's here," the surveyor formally stated gesturing to the display.

    "The reply was weak," the Comptroller stated. "We've been fooled before," it added, though its words were laced with longing.

    "Not like this." The Surveyor was amused. "As you say: it is not blasphemy to be skeptical. The Herald blessed us with minds; minds it expects us to use."

    "The reply was... weak, but it was exact. It was like the Holder was unable to reply..."

    "Trapped? Imprisoned?"

    "I cannot say. We are beyond the precipice. Something alerted us; something wore down the barriers on their side of the wall.. So the Holder must have allies; maybe even worshipers."

    The great barrel-shaped tentacle creature examined some recognizance reports. "I wish we could see the horizon... see outside their city," the Comptroller absently waved at some of the other buildings the Scout camera had captured. "We need more information. We're going into this world blind."

    The Head Surveyor gave an amused respiration. "It is not so easy. My teams..."

    The Comptroller waved in acknowledgement. "The locals?"

    The Surveyor's gesture was noncommittal. "Strange. Tenacious. Bilateral symmetry, independently motile. Cryptography and Chemistry are doing a workup. We'll have plenty of samples... if they stay preserved. But..."

    The Comptroller turned away from the alien sky with its florid nuclear furnace. "But?"


    "One is different." The Head Surveyor's tendrils flailed for a moment. "It is particularly tenacious. Moreso than the baseline locals. It also bears the stink of the Enemy... and the Holder."

    "Capture it." The Comptroller said, annoyed.

    "Of course, but... alive?"

    The Comptroller paused, then moved its tendrils in negation. "This is just basic reconnaissance. A permanent collection outpost will come later. Preserve if you can, but I'll take a corpse for examination if that's all we'll get."

    "Understood," the Head Surveyor replied. "Shall I deploy the Servitors?"

    The Comptroller pondered once more. Their lineage was getting harder and harder to bud fresh growths. "Only the younger of the three. I want the rest in reserve."

    The Surveyor bowed its tendrils. "It is an honor to serve the Herald."

    "The honor is mine," the Comptroller patted its subordinate. "Your tenacity will be rewarded."

    Neither particularly cared when a buzzing construct crossed the sky and engaged the Scout Team. They carried themselves well, but were ultimately destroyed. There was plenty more in reserve. Besides the risks were minimal. Before crossing the Threshold it was standard practice to get one's data copied.

    No one ever died on a survey mission. Not permanently anyway.

    End Chapter 5


    Author's Notes:

    I'd like to thank the prereaders for their help in this project: J St C Patrick, DCG, Pale Wolf, Kevin Hammel, and Crimson Vixen.


    Revision notes: And now we're in the meat of the battle. Or it looks that way
     
    Dues_machine likes this.
  7. Threadmarks: Chapter 6
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

    Joined:
    Oct 8, 2016
    Messages:
    212
    Likes Received:
    545
    Book 4: Capital Offense
    Chapter 6: Bottoming Out
    Formerly: Reserve and Release Part 2ii


    The succubus dropped down the stairwell. Her boots lightly hit the concrete. Sickly gray smoke oozed before her. Lifting her arm to signal the troops behind her, the redhead slipped past the landing and into a short corridor that ran deeper into the basement. There was a gentle pull to the north, which made the floor feel like it tilted down. Horns quivered with a tingling itch that seemed to run right down her spine and churn her stomach.

    The basement was dank. Water and other fluids had spilled and splattered onto the floor. The lights flickered and many were simply out. Smoke also drifted and sank near the floor in lumpy drifts.

    Her nostrils flared at the deep tang of blood and the spicier scents of various viscera. She went down the empty corridor following the scent. It was decidedly human, there was only a slight undercurrent of the mint-like smell the aliens gave off.

    Glancing over to the open door, Ranma knelt down. Idly, she summoned a couple DarkStar bursts and sent them down the junction where the corridor crossed with two other hallways.

    She could see streaks of blood along the floor. Overlaying the gore was the whisk pattern the alien's tentacles made on the floor. Ranma slipped into the room. It had been a storage and shipping room but it had been repurposed.

    Sheeting had been pulled out onto the center of the floor. It looked like a matte plastic. To one side was a small pile of rounded containers. They looked like they were made out of the same material as the squid's armored suits, but without any blue sections. It was all stiff matte-black material. On the other were three piles.

    One was a haphazard stack of various computers, binders, books, data drives, and other electronic odds and ends. The middle was a neat pile of little matte black balls. The final was a stack of corpses. It was a mix of civilian and military personnel. Some were in a bloody pile on one end of the plastic sheeting while others had been propped up against the wall.

    The latter group were especially ghoulish. Most had had their skulls sawed off at the top and their eyes were removed. Some had their lips peeled back and their tongues cut out. Others had everything inside their skulls scooped out, and the skin on their faces and hands flayed off.

    "Fuck, those're the worst Jack-O-Lanterns I've ever seen," MacDowell swore as he strode into the room. His eyes went to the plastic sheeting itself and the... processing that had been going on there. A laptop had been meticulously disassembled, so had a young clerk. Her skull had been cut open and a neat incision went down from her sternum to her hips.

    MacDowell's rifle jittered slightly in his hands. He knew... he knew shit like this could happen. He knew it was not something that only happened "over there". Still... this was military HQ. If the ultimate rear echelon was not safe then the shit had truly hit the fan.

    He glanced back, his squad was in position at the corridor and the hallway. The demon was still crouched down over by the line of corpses.

    Corporal Cordell Giddings looked in the room. Face ashen, he forced a grin. "Making a bag lunch?" he asked.

    Ranma whipped her head back to face the tall soldier and the grizzled non-com.

    "I somehow doubt that Cord," MacDowell said. His dark walnut eyes briefly met her glance before looking into the empty eyes of an navy lieutenant. "That what they're doing here? Bagging up some snacks to send back... back wherever it is they came from?"

    The demon forced a laugh. "And you think they like to eat computers?"

    "They're squid-fucking-aliens."

    Ranma stood up. "No, I'm thinking this is an intel op."

    MacDowell looked at the first pile and kicked over a bound photocopier manual. "Yes quite the trove they've found. Can they even read this shit?"

    The demon shrugged. "They're squid-fucking-aliens. Maybe they're real good at languages, maybe they'll take this stuff back home and decode it later. Maybe there's a reason they like taking human brains."

    "They're eating them?"

    Ranma snorted. "Taste lousy."

    "Maybe they don't have the same tastes as you?"

    The redhead nodded, and knelt over the clerk. "True, the squids taste like shit to us..." Inspecting the cuts that had been done to the young soldiers, the demon frowned

    MacDowell noted her casual use of the word "us".

    "Yup, this ain't surgical or culinary cutting. They're just poking around for whatever's... interesting?" The redhead picked up the clerk's head. And peered into the skull cavity. "Save for this. Delicate work in here. Guess they figured that much." She eyed the pile of matte-black containers the squids had left. "Wonder how they preserve the brains... or maybe they didn't think they needed to..."

    MacDowell stared. "You're telling me we don't just have an alien invasion, but we've got a brain-eating alien invasion."

    Ranma lowered the body back to the floor. She wiped her gloved hands against a clear spot on the plastic sheeting. "You're really fixated on the eating part? Look Sarge, next time I'll be sure to save the brains of something tasty for you."

    MacDowell laughed at her earnest expression, until he saw her sincerity. "Fine maybe not eating, but absorbing, preserving, maybe they're just tossing them into jars. Shit. This is an intel mess."

    Standing up, Ranma's brow quirked. "Yes, the whole invasion thing. And anyway, it's a lot easier to get data out of that stuff-" Ranma pointed to the pile of binders and computer equipment. "than out of a bunch of brains."

    "Now who's making assumptions," MacDowell grumbled.

    "Right, right." Ranma's headset then clicked over. "Red here."

    "This is Sifton. Contact? Cultist or Commie?" the head of JTF2's black Devil's unit demanded.

    The demoness looked down at the bodies. A frown flickered across features. "Negative."

    Major Sifton swore. "Same up here." There was the sound of a helicopter engine thrumming in the background. It was followed by the burp of a door-mounted machine gun. "Fuckit Winston, Tahnee. Lead with the damn tracers!" Sifton ordered the door gunner.

    He returned to the comm. channel. "No one else has seen 'em yet, they either got out before the quarantine fell or they went to ground."

    Ranma looked up and met MacDowell's eyes. He nodded and pointed out of the room and down the hallway. She summoned a DarkStar burst. The obsidian orb flared and bobbed out of the room streaking violet flames. She exhaled and summoned another orb.

    "Status?" Sifton ordered.

    "We found a chop shop. Squidies cutting stuff up to send back home: computers, papers... people," Ranma's voice wavered slightly. There was more pressure from the rift down here and she had to force that headache down. Guiding her DarkStar bursts towards it did not help either.

    "I see." A wave of distortion shrieked over the channel. "Leave it for cleanup, unless..." Sifton's voice was weary. "No one's... no one's getting back up?"

    Concentrating on where her orbs were going, Ranma sniffed the air. "No, sir."

    "If they do burn 'em," Sifton's voice hardened. There was a hiss of a rocket being launched of one of the helicopter's racks.

    A few seconds later Ranma felt the explosion. It was above her and maybe fifty meters to the North "I've narrowed down the gate location, its between Site E and Site H. Repeat sites Echo Hotel. Echo Hotel. Is Beta team-"

    "Getting into position, Red." Sifton cut off her question. "We're done screwing around."

    Ranma's lips curled up. "Good," she purred as she mentally controlled the DarkStar burst. The orb bobbled down the hallway and then....

    Her pupils dilated. The orb detonated. "Contact! Contact North!"

    A few armored troops from the hallway lunged into the room and took position. "What's going on?" a shorter troop lugging a heavy recoilless rifle asked.

    "Evil brain eating aliens; standard fun stuff, Winston," Private Tahnee laughed. There was a strained edge to it.

    "We were looking for their gateway right?"

    Swearing, MacDowell knelt down and switched to his squad channel. "How many?"

    Ranma's lips peeled back, flashing her bright fangs. "Uh... all of 'em?" she asked as her horns erupted into a pricking tingle that made her eyes water slightly.

    There was a whistling sound in the air as a barrage of incendiary rounds began to pelt down the hallway.

    "Jones you better have that beast ready with short fuses this time!" MacDowell demanded.

    Corporal Jon Jones nodded he nodded to his loader, Corporal Bishop "Check my back-blast will you."

    Bishop pulled a face but looked out the door. "Oh no Jon... looks like you don't have to worry about anyone... behind you at least."

    The bright phosphorus rounds the squids favored began to the door frame and go against the stairwell where the rest of MacDowell's squad was. Their machine gun and rifles opened up.

    Eyes slightly glowing, Ranma blinked. She flexed her hands. A fresh pair of DarkStar Bursts appeared in her hands. Purple light began to pool around her eyes. Purple and red flames raced over her body. She stood up and bent down next to Jones.

    The soldier inched aside, automatically drawing the large artillery tube away from the demon's combustible aura.

    Fighting down a wave of nausea, Ranma didn't seem to notice. "I'll go out, draw fire and shoot my load. You'll get an opening. Use it."

    Jon Jones nodded. Standing in front of a Carl Gustav was almost as stupid as standing behind one, but this was the scary demon lady.

    He blinked and the demon was gone. She had lunged out into the hallway. Burning phosphorus rounds splashed against her aura. White flames fought against violet. Her hands whipped out and the twin obsidian spheres launched.

    They raced down the hallway towards the Squids. The aliens had taken position at the end of the hallway and were using a pallet load of filing cabinets and other office equipment as makeshift cover, though they seemed more keen on firing from behind the corner of the wall.

    The demon's spheres simply flew over the barricade and around the corner and blew up in a meaty splat. The incendiary fire increased as smoke began to choke off the hallway and the walls started to smolder. That's when the dribbling purple light around the demon's eyes flashed over and a pair of thick purple beams shot out.

    They lanced straight through the barricade and cut squid, armor, and concrete with ease. However the fire only slackened slightly. More alien reinforcements were boiling down from the side hallways.

    A missile cluster launched from one of the larger creatures and the demon dropped down her burning aura taking the brunt of the hit.

    Running on auto-pilot, Jones took the opportunity and stepped forward. Ignoring the incendiary rounds, one of which hit and began to burn through his vest, the solider planted his foot, aimed his recoilless rifle, and pulled the trigger.

    The Carl Gustav fired with a loud prang. The 88mm shell launched down the corridor and tumbled through the mass of squids. It crossed at least three ranks of the alien soldiers before the shell tripped

    Ranma had thought the detonation in the elevator lobby had been bad. From her position on the ground this was far, far worse. The pressure hit her like a giant foot stomping on her back and pushed all the air out of her lungs.

    Wheezing she rose up and a vicious smile crossed her face. As bad as it was for her, it was far worse for the enemy.

    The elevator lobby had been different. It was spacious compared to this cramped corridor stuffed full of squids. Bodies crumpled against the massive concussive wave. Bits of alien splattered about, some splashing against her face.

    Broken black, red, and blue-sheathed forms pressed against the floor and the walls. The shattered cases of white-grey gleaming metal-ceramic weapons pods dotted the floor. Ichor dripped from the calling, and an overpowering black and blue flecked wave of greasy mint wafted down the hallway.

    Gasping, Ranma pulled herself up to her knees. Her stomach growled but when she looked at the mass of meat around her it turned. She licked her lips and gagged. It was strange, being in a fight without any... food.

    One JTF2 fireteam ran past her and secured the opposite end of the hallway while the other hovered near her. Private Sherrise Tahnee had already gone down and dropped her machine gun on its bipod.

    "Go on!" Ranma waved as she stood up. Her earrings tingled as power trickled from the magical capacitors. Her hands flexed and she dumped more energy into her jammer. Her stomach also growled.

    Her horns buzzed, she could still feel the twisting pull of the alien rift. "Shit." She exhaled and flicked one of her jammer's antennae.

    "We still locked out?" MacDowell asked as they advanced to the next position. Soon they were up to their ankles in battered barrel-like bodies, tentacles and torn blue and black environmental suits.

    Ranma nodded. The tingle pulsed down the length of the inner arc of her horns. Part of her wanted to extend both pairs of horns but the wave of nausea from the greasy prickling sensation held her back..

    "Well we'll just have to take out their countermeasures." MacDowell looked down the hall. The slithering, brushing noise increased. "Adams! Get another belt for that gun!" he ordered the loader of one of the C9 machine gun teams.

    The redhead flicked her hands and a trio of DarkStar bursts flew off. She hoped MacDowell was right. She hoped that these squids had some powerful counter-jamming gear setup. She hoped they were stabilizing their gateway.

    The alternative was far worse. An inter-dim Jammer forced a degree of dimensional stability. It was like nailing a plywood sheet over a hole in the floor. However, sometimes the floor was too rotted for the nails to hold and sometimes... the hole was too big.

    She pushed as hard as she dared. Not only was there a rapid diminishing returns on signal strength versus energy drain, but the jammer rig, a kludge of WIC tech and Pattern Silver magic, could burn out if it was redlined for too long.

    Ranma's concerns were cut short when one of her DarkStar bursts was hit by a wave of incendiary bolts. The demon growled and directed the remaining two to a white-grey missile pod being carried by one of the larger squids.

    "Contact!" Ranma cried. Her horns buzzed again. It was hard getting a feel for the squids, but when enough were packed together their scent became easy enough to pick up.

    As she launched another brace of obsidian orbs, Ranma's radio clicked on. "Bonhomme here with Beta team."

    "Status," MacDowell barked out as his two heavy machine gunners opened fire.

    "In position. Light off in four," Bonhomme stated. There was a rattle of small arms fire in the background, though nothing at the level of what was happening in the basement.

    "We're clearing back!" MacDowell ordered his men. "Grenades!"

    The eight forward members of MacDowell's team, minus the two machine gunners, switched to the under slung grenades on their rifles. A clutch of 40mm grenades lobbed out followed by the minty smell of battered squids. The incendiary fire paused, but not before several of the Canadians were hit.

    Jones and Bishop flashed an irritated look, but firing a Carl Gustav was not a wise move when your men were behind the recoilless gun. Instead they grabbed one of the wounded. Jones taking the trooper while Bishop covered.

    MacDowell knelt down and helped a limping trooper. There was a burning tear through his leg and his rifle's foregrip was melted and its barrel was slightly bent. "Come on Pete... you can let go," MacDowell gently said to get the trooper's hands, one of which was bleeding though the glove, to release the rifle.

    The FAL fell out of the trooper's hands and hung from the strap attaching it to his harness. Eyes a bit glassy Specialist Pete Verger's hand went to the pistol strapped to his thigh.

    Still withdrawing, MacDowell's attention went straight to the battle. He was down another man, but the remainder were pulling back in good order. However in front of them...

    "Red, what the fuck are you doing!"

    While the other troopers had been pulling back, out of the danger radius, Ranma had advanced. Flames cascaded down her hair, sparked off the tips of her horns and billowed down her arms.

    The bare concrete floor and walls had started to char and the paint had begun to curl and peel adding a large burnt zone to the stippled burns and gouges from the squid's weapons' fire.

    One of the larger missile-bearing squids had surmounted the mass of fallen comrades. It was supported by a fresh squad of the smaller squids. The redhead flashed into motion. Incendiary rounds blasted against her flaming aura.

    As the missiles launched her arms shot up and a fountain of red flames stabbed out. The beam wobbled and even dribbled bits of flames. It hit the larger squid, knocked it down, and then the flames leaped off its armor splashing around in a burning mess.

    There was a piercing shriek as half the Squids cooked in their own suits which then ruptured spewing out hot gas.

    The demon raced forward and MacDowell swore again. The flames around her began to sputter and flicker out. Her long red hair hung limply on her back and she gave a labored gasp. At the same moment she leapt in and kicked a dying squid to the side while slashing through another with her claws. It was brutal, economical work. They flailed at her, one of the squids managing to land on her back where it was eviscerated by her tail and had two of its tentacles bitten off.

    The alien was flung to the side where it hit the wall like a garbage bag full of wet newspaper. Sniffing the air, she made a displeased expression and spat to the ground. She glanced back and saw MacDowell's carefully neutral expression and the remainder of the JTF2 troops. She turned and started running back to their position.

    And then the wall right to her left blew apart. Concrete block showered her as a hole large enough to drive a golf cart was suddenly blasted into existence. One of the larger chunks slammed into her face, first hitting her cheek then bashing her forehead as it tumbled through the air. She wobbled; her boots slipping on the slick debris strewn floor.

    An avalanche of Squids boiled out of the opening. A quartet of the smaller incendiary and blade-bearing invaders were immediately upon her, tackling her to the ground, while a pair of the lumbering missile carriers were right behind her.

    "You cheating bastards!" Ranma growled as she thrashed. Already two of the squids on her had been killed. One was gutted by her tail while the other made the mistake of wandering under her eyes. She was less angry at the trap and more the Squids had sprung theirs first.

    Ranma flicked her hands over and sliced through the two squids that were trying to pin her arms down. Blades flailed and slashed against her sleeve's Kevlar weave but one managed to stab through. Using a wing, she pushed herself into a tumbling roll and slid under one of the heavy missile squids.

    Her claws sprung out and she sliced through a sensor cluster while her tail battered along the creature's barrel-like body. Writhing mono-filaments scoured the armor and with flickering sparks and the scream of tortured metal, tore several steaming holes in the alien's environmental suit.

    Clearing the screeching being, she popped into a crouch and punched another squid with an open palm strike. Five claws sunk into the alien's "head" and it violently shuddered firing off incendiary rounds as she wrenched it to the side.

    Rising up, she kicked one squid, knocking it over. Drawing her pistol she gave a quick twist, and fired a sweep at the lunging creatures. Over half a dozen 500 S&W rounds were fired, and each hit a grasping, grappling squid at the base of the cluster of sensor organ tendrils at the front of their bodies.

    Finishing the elegant rotation, she popped out the spent magazine, rammed a fresh one in, and stomped on the squid she had originally kicked. Vomiting blue and black fluid one of the "head"-shot squids rose up.

    A blast of incendiary rounds burst out and slammed into her skirt. Kevlar began to smolder and some ceramic plates rattled. Gasping, she shot another team of squids, while she kicked the interloper.

    However, its tentacles sprung out, and wrapped around her right leg. Securely gripping Ranma, the creature began to cut through her boot at the ankle. Screaming, Ranma arced her leg up and slammed it into the missile rack of the dying refrigerator-sized squid to her left. Red and black armor crumpled.

    The remaining missiles in the rack detonated. The blast flashed, shrapnel shot out, and Ranma was blinded. One shard of metal crossed next to her right eye while a smaller piece lodged right into her left. She felt a wrenching pain as the squid was torn from her leg and her body was once again knocked to the side.

    Her horns throbbed as she momentarily focused on her other senses. She could smell the old-mint and sulfur of the enemy; she could feel their buzzing, pressing wills. Her second pair of horns had slid out and proudly curled ram-like on the sides of her head.

    Gunfire was all around her. It sounded like the Canadians were holding their position. There was a burst of heavy machine gun fire and she felt a group of squids about to flank her get torn apart.

    There were plenty more; they mobbed her. Tail, wings, and claws lashed out. She concentrated less on killing them and more on disabling and diverting. She blinked and like a nightmarish tear, a long sliver of metal popped free. Her eyesight just returning, she tossed another squid and tried to rise to her feet.

    The demon screamed in pain, and nearly stumbled. She glanced down; she saw that it was not just a squid that had been blown off of her leg. Leaning on her good foot, she narrowed her eyes and a pair of purple beams shot out. Squids fell before her in a wide twitching arc. Her head swam.

    Another blast of incendiaries hit her in the vest which tore open exposing her composite plate armor. Kevlar began to burn through and the skin on one of her hands began to blacken. The burning material oozed down, and a couple ceramic plates on her skirt broke loose and tumbled onto the squishy floor.

    Her stomach screamed in protest; her earrings throbbed. Ranma gutted a pair of squids to her left, tried to reform her missing foot, and then turned to shoot the swarm leaping from her right. In the center of that mass was one of the lumbering refrigerator-sized creatures.

    She turned too slow. The gun fired; the bullet was heavy and, for a handgun, very powerful, very fast. However, it was still slower than the 7.62 NATO rounds the Canadians had for their rifles. Instead of slicing through the micro-weave of the squid's armored environmental suit, the bullet deformed, slowed, and then pierced through the suit. It still left a tumbling wound track but only wounded the creature instead of blowing through its organs.

    The manic, pained alien wrapped its tentacles around her arm. The creature found the tear on her sleeve, slipped a bladed appendage in, and ripped down the length of her forearm.

    Its companions then fell upon her. Claws and beams shot out while her tail thrashed and her remaining boot stomped. Aflame, and chewed apart she still managed to scythe through the squids.

    Then the lumbering giant flopped down onto her. There was a sickening crunch and the demon screamed. Her chest was pounded by pressure worse than a Gustav going off next to her in a confined hallway. Ribs snapped; armored plates buckled; organs mashed.

    Howling, Ranma's eyes flared. A twin gouts of flame shot from her flayed arms. The heavy creature squirmed as alien plate and woven armor boiled and burned through. Its thrashing grew when the Canadians shifted their fire.

    Tracers splashed against the creature's hide as a machinegun tore into it. There was another sproing-like thud of the recoilless gun going off followed by a flat explosion. The demon gave a wet, mushy scream as the weight doubled on her chest then suddenly relented.

    Vision blurred she found herself being dragged away as familiar and human scents filled her nose. A pair of soldiers had taken her harness and dragged her away while the rest of MacDowell's men gave cover fire.

    A medic rushed over to her and froze for a moment. The pale woman's ribcage was crushed, her entrails spilling out; she should not be alive, let along attempting some rude joke of breathing. Gasping, the demon held up a hand before rolling over and vomiting a gout of black smeared blood with pulpy pink chunks.

    The ropey fluid splattered onto the concrete with an iridescent purple sheen. The demon's breath caught as her chest creaked, popped and rose a bit higher with each pained labored breath. She tossed off a shattered canteen and munched on a mashed ration-bar. As she was dragged off she eyed the medic's kit.

    "You've got any blood... or plasma?" the demon wheezed hoping her nose was wrong. Silver dripped down her limbs and oozed out of her broken torso.

    "Upstairs at the station..." the medic hesitated watching the blood swirl around the demon's mangled limbs. The woman's er foot was slowly forming back and tight skin was knitting on her arms.

    "Light Off. Light Off," Bonhomme declared in a loud steady voice that distant and distorted in Ranma's headset. A part of her was surprised that her comms had survived in any shape. She blinked at the familiar tingling of an active Jammer field.. It seemed that had survived as well.

    Above them Bonhomme spared a glance at his emplacement and grinned. Concrete could be a pain to work with... that is unless you cheated. Concrete was heavy, it took a lot of momentum to move; it was prone to fracture, which also absorbed energy.

    But... it was not solid. Not in buildings anyway. Holes had to be cut for electrical conduits, for water pipes, for ventilation. The latter were especially handy since they were already pockets of air.

    "Fire in the Hole," Bonhomme shouted with something akin to glee. The squids had holed up in a power vault. A room full of generators. Generators that needed plenty of air and had to vent a lot of exhaust. Sure the vents were small and secured from infiltration, but they were not that small.

    There was an explosion.

    It was not particularly loud. Especially not when it was a couple dozen meters away and separated by several concrete walls. However, it did come with a cracking, earthquake like vibration as a couple tones of poured concrete flooring broke loose and fell.

    The squids had concentrated their forces where the walls of reality were thinnest. Protected on all sides by several heavy squads with missile-support the former power vault was also guarded by stabilization drives that had been pulled through the rift.

    And Corporal Richard Bonhomme had blasted a rough meter and a half wide hole in the roof right above them. An exhaust vent had been cut into and stuffed with explosives. The remnants of which hung listlessly from the ceiling cables.

    Before the smoke could clear, elements of Beta team rushed forward and, standing at the crumbling edge fired tube-launched rockets right through the hole. They were then followed by a squad launching their 40mm grenades.

    Behind them, Bonhomme ran up lugging a bulging, jangling duffle bag that he had tied his half-empty demolitions satchel onto. Corporal Green helped him carry the massive bag. The demolitions man bore a serene if manic grin. Green, for her part, was a bit worried.

    His comrades were already withdrawing from the smoking hole. They seemed more afraid of him than the incendiary fire coming up towards them.

    The duffle bag was full of loose hand grenades, rifle grenades, a belt of machine gun ammunition, some shaped charges, a couple Carl Gustav rounds that he'd gotten from Bishop, a pair of warheads stripped out of helicopter rocket reloads he had stolen, and whatever else he had managed to stuff inside.

    Compared to that, his satchel was simply a bunch of blocks of plastic explosives with a remote detonator. However, it had been tied to the duffle bag using det cord. With a heave he tossed the explosive kludge over the lip of the hole, spun on his heel and started running back. Pulling the detonator out of his harness, the soldier sniggered.

    Near the doorway that gave some cover he tripped on a bit of greasy concrete. Green and one of the jammer technicians from Beta team picked him up. Bonhomme hardly noticed as he turned back towards the crater. "Fire in the hole!"

    He took out a remote, flicked back the molly-guard, and pressed the detonator.

    The satchel detonated. As it blew, a concussive flame-front knocked apart the various explosive odds and ends that had been stuffed into the duffle bag. Some immediately detonated, while others, like the helicopter rockets, took a bit longer to cook off.

    Sounds of rippled explosions and squalling shrieks came from the hole. The detonations destroyed stabilization equipment, containers, and Squids alike. Greasy smoke smelling of charred mint rose in a meandering plume.

    Beta team cycled the power on the bulky jammer that had been wheeled in and called in the other units. There was a deep vibration that rose in pitch like an electric motor under a heavy torque-load. The demolitions specialist could almost feel his teeth shake.

    Suddenly a metallic twang echoed up from the hole and the vibrations dampened down. As he was lifted up by Green, Bonhomme no longer felt like his fillings were about to come loose.

    "Did we get it?" Green asked as she looked towards the hole.

    Bonhomme shrugged. "A bit above my pay grade." He tapped his headset.

    Seeing the destruction, Warrant Officer Francis Young turned and nodded to Sergeant Olsen Brummet. The Sergeant and a few corporals under him made for the stairs. The enemy was bound to be angry, and the troops down below would probably appreciate some reinforcement.

    "This is Bonhomme, package has been delivered, but has not been signed. Repeat. Delivered. Not signed."

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


    In the sublevel, the remaining squids... hesitated. The incendiary strikes had trickled off and they backed away from the intruders. The remnant hovered over the broken, battered bodies of their comrades. Many were pulped with blood leaking out of holes in their suits.

    Others had sections torn away exposing blue-green skin to the toxic, alien atmosphere. They tried to drag their wounded back, but still left plenty of matte black, blue and red armor and gleaming white weapons pods.

    Confused communications bounced between them. The gateway had been closed. The insidious presence of this world pressed even harder upon them. They were trapped.

    Armored vest torn apart, ribs shattered arms stripped, hand and foot mangled, the demon pulled herself up. A couple empty IV packets fell down. Exhaling she coughed up thick bubbles; her lungs were ripped up and the rest of her organs were not much better.

    The queasy buzzing in her head had been replaced by a different vibration, one that flickered about her horns. Despite the bleeding from her scalp, her head had cleared. Without the interference, she could feel her family stronger than before. Other connections popped up as well.

    Ranma gasped, inhaled, and then lazily smiled.

    Wobbling, she rose up on one foot. Seeing the Squids flick their "heads" back towards the gateway, her grin turned feral. "Yeah! That's how WE do a diversion yah boneless bastards!"

    She exhaled, coughed, then whispered "Earth Power Make-Up!" A bright green Earth symbol flared on her forehead surrounded by the violet energy.

    Her hair began to flare about as violet flames sprung up and her aura rekindled. Silver began to bleed into the purple flames and a four pointed silver star flared on her forehead.

    Liquid silver light began to pour out from her skin as shadows billowed out from her hair and wings. Darkness eagerly bounded across the floor, pouring over the dead and dying Squids.

    Silver coated her Kevlar bodysuit and began to infiltrate the weave, repairing and filling in. The coating reached her limbs and her body shuddered as her healing flared. There was a shortage of raw materials but the magic could make do with what it had.

    Retreating, gravid shadows left the stripped, mint-smelling barrel-shaped bodies of the invaders in their wake. Dark, violet tinged shadows swirled around gleaming silver.

    Giving a toothy smirk, the succubus straightened her right leg. Billowing hair pulled back, split to either side and began to braid and wind around her rear-most pair of horns. Her body flowed and reduced in height and size, the excess flesh being greedily consumed by her burning muscles and organs.

    A long, slightly stiff, navy blue skirt extruded out of the shadows. Made out of a dense, strong weave the matte-blue material ran down to above her ankles. There dark, almost bronze, red shin guards had formed. Gold crescent moons shined on the guards.

    Polished, almost pearlescent white, a bodice-like armored vest molded around her torso. Thicker than her composite amour, it had the ceramic insets built-in instead of separate plates.

    More of the blue armored material formed a protective collar and tiered shoulder pieces. Beneath the blue cloth armor pauldrons, her gleaming, almost wet-looking, chest armor went up to her neck where it buckled in place. The heavy clasp at the neck bore a four pointed amethyst star over the Willard International Consulting logo in silver set in an obsidian backing.

    Sleek, smooth green-trimmed gauntlets made of white armor matching her sculpted chest-piece went from her elbows to the tips of elongated, pointed fingers. Sparkling purple flames flared down the lengths of the long, claw-like digits.

    All together this made her face and ears the only exposed skin on her entire body. Even her thick silver woven under-armor was only visible between her gloves and tiered pauldrons and on the bits of her legs not covered by her skirting or her crimson leg guards.

    Flashing bright silver fangs, she stomped down a gleaming silver hoof echoing across the concrete floor. Thickly swaddled in ribbons of crimson armor, her lengthened tail lazily looped behind her. Having grown at least longer than she was tall, it ended in an array of bow-like fins, all extruding razor-sharp filaments.

    A gleaming heart-shaped ruby adorned the tip of her tail, centering the nest of armor and cutting threads. Its twin formed the center of a little bronze bow pinned above her left breast. A deep green v-shaped belt wrapped around her waist. Secured in a glossy blue-green, and mint-smelling, thick leather holster was her SSP.

    The giant handgun had been polished to a gleaming silver and its grips were a pearly white similar to her bodice. The rest of her equipment and ammo had been moved to various pouches along the belt.

    The one exception was her jammer rig. The dull-red oval stone formed the center of a diadem-like gold tiara on her forehead. Her little curving forward horns had been integrated into the crown and had been gilt.

    Woven silver and violet braided cables branched from the tiara and to a pair of pointed hair buns that alternated between braids of white-gold and ruby red tresses.

    The cables wrapped around the horns and then both were covered by the buns. Little green bows summited the horn-buns. A pair of ponytails tumbled out nearly reaching the floor and brushed against her skit and hooves. A matching pair of green bows tied off the ends of the ponytails.

    The jammer antennae had been woven down the braided length of the long white gold and ruby ponytails, making them easily triple the length of the chest-mounted antennae. And her horns throbbed, now being able to directly feed the jammer channels, instead of the earlier remote transmission of demonic energy.

    Cheeks hollow, her face looked as it if had been dusted silver, especially the elongated points of her ears and the contrastingly glossy metallic-plum lips. Her sharp, almost bony chin also gave a stark division against the unaccented curves of her bodice armor and the rounded flare around her billowing pleated skirting.

    "Move up!" MacDowell ordered as JTF2 troopers began to filter past the succubus. "Get that Tahnee MG in place! Adams eyes up front!"

    A trooper paused and looked up and down the length of Ranma's form. As if in a light breeze, her ponytails swayed. He could feel the buzzing pressure coming from them. It felt like standing next to a vehicle-mounded jamming station. Bemused, she nimbly, almost daintily stepped aside.

    Sherrise Tahnee looked back at the tiny silver succubus. She shook her head and focused on checking her rifle's ammunition linkage. Let the higher ups deal with the crazy magic demons.

    Sergeant MacDowell slapped Adams on the back. "Yeah she's got hooves, don't act like you haven't seen those before. "

    Ranma watched the tall soldier pass before turning back to MacDowell. He could have sworn he saw her tongue dart out for a split second. She stayed to one side to let the rest of his men pass. Her smile quirked at the appreciative if... confused looks she got.

    It was then that Sergeant Olsen Brummet had caught up with the rearguard. He blinked and went to MacDowell. Corporal Lily Green and several other troops were at his heel.

    Lily peeled off to the side and found Corporal Giddings. "Cord what the hell's going on?"

    Cordell Giddings exhaled. "The more she fights, the more she burns out, the more she..." he shrugged. "You grab any smokes from that dapper Lieutenant topside?"

    Lily patted him on the shoulder and watched the other troops try to make it past the demoness and into position.

    Eyes down, one trooper, Winston, almost tripped over her long looping tail. Cheeks flushing a pinkish silver, she pulled the thick appendage over so it hugged the wall. However, the end of the tail still curled off to one side and hung in midair like an alert cobra.

    For his part, MacDowell stared. It was not the armor, or even the demonic extras. He had seen enough magical girl silliness, and he had seen her with hooves and extra horns before. But forcing himself to look into her slitted violet eyes, he had never seen her this... hungry.

    "Such polite boys," she said after Jones and Bishop passed. She ran a long finger over the shaft of their Carl Gustav recoilless.

    "Secure the next position! These bastards may be on the run, but they're gonna regroup and they'll be pissed! Now Olsen brought some more of his boys and girls, which means that the brass think things are going to get even worse!" MacDowell ordered.

    He then leaned in towards the demoness. Standing on hooves, at the tips of what had been feet, her height had increased and her head was now just a bit below his. "Red, I know today's been... you wanna go back and watch the wounded?" It had not been quite the meat-grinder he had feared, but there were more than enough burns and KIAs.

    Uncertainly flickered across the demon's eyes for a split second.

    "Are you contained?" he asked, after discretely making sure his headset was live. If the mercenary's pet slipped a gear, then the least he could do was ensure the officers listening to the command channel knew about it.

    The flames went out on the fingers on her left hand. She reached up and cupped his chin. Wriggling her hips she straightened her knees and ankles to eke out a few more centimeters of height. Silver flashed across her sharp face as she licked her lips.

    "My dear Sergeant, I am quite contained. That's why we're having this lovely chat instead of something even more... lovely." She gave him a quick kiss on the lips, and this time MacDowell was certain that her tongue had darted out.

    "But your concern is most appreciated," she said spinning on one hoof and marching up to the next position.

    Stunned, MacDowell watched her for a couple paces and wondered if she was deliberately swaying her gait or if that was just how her new legs worked. He radioed a quick status and caught up to her.

    She glanced back and smirked. "Status? I heard the package has been delivered but-"

    "Not signed," MacDowell completed. Bonhomme's bomb had destroyed the counter-jammers but there was no confirmation that the gateway was down. "What about your..." MacDowell gestured to her tiara with its dull-red jammer gem.

    "I'm not getting any pushback. It could be due to the upgrades on my gear."

    MacDowell eyed the swishing long armed clothe skirt and the waving two-tone meter and a half long ponytails "Upgrades. Right."

    "I'm thinking we need to see if the package has been signed."

    Signaling to his men, MacDowell nodded. His team was still at half strength.

    Ranma tapped the little bow above her left breast. The heart-shaped center gem glowed and a tiny bone-white ruby-tipped headset flashed over one pointed silvery ear. "Sifton? Major?"

    MacDowell kept his face neutral. At least she had a headset. Voices coming out of that little bit of magical girl frill it would be a bit much.

    "Good work Red, William." Sifton's voice drawled.

    "Sir, " Sergeant Billy MacDowell replied.

    "The few bastards topside are freaking out. I think they know they're cornered. I'm sending in everything we've got."

    Ranma's slitted pupils widened. "Everything?"

    There was hesitation in Sifton's voice. "Everything... I've got. I don't think we'll need the good Agent Gagnon's help today."

    MacDowell had caught up and was even with the demon. He wondered what Gagnon and those other spooks had cooked up. What they had that the Major, who had let a demon loose, was reluctant to use.

    Ranma exhaled. She did not know exactly what were the Options that Agent Gagnon had offered Major Sifton, but she knew that they were on the more extreme end.
    "And the Fifth NH?" she asked, amused that a brood of mercenary demons were one of the more mundane "options" at hand.

    "Fifteen out," Sifton grumbled. "There was a delay, something about teleportation risks being too much and them going back into the air." Five hundred kilometers was a frustrating distance. It took a couple hours for helicopters to make that distance, half that for a jet plane.

    Even the fastest transport jets would still take a half hour to make that time, and while those mercenaries did have such high speed business jets; one was not at their Toronto base at the time.

    Ranma grinned, she missed her daughters. They should be here. She touched on her connection with her brood, her family, and it was getting stronger. They were coming. "Good, they can help keep a lid on things. We'll push on through down here."

    "And we'll catch whatever tries to run out," the Major agreed. "Sifton, Out."

    "Red, Out." The tip of a long clawed finger tapped the heart gem above her left breast. Her tail trailing behind her like a crimson kite, the clopped forward. Her dress slowly swished reflecting its armored weight.

    MacDowell also signed off and switched back to his team's channel.

    "Shall we?" Ranma turned to the Sergeant. "You and your men have had a bad enough day, let's finish this." The bowed and finned tip of her tail drifted forward and brushed past MacDowell's hip and thigh before settling just below the demon's waiting hand.

    The sergeant's mind sharpened. He had casualties, at least three KIAs. A good third of his team. She knew it too. It was then that he saw what her... flirting really was. MacDowell looked the demoness in the eye. "I'm not sure you're fully contained... Ma'am. You're leaking a bit."

    "I know," Ranma exhaled. Something other than playful hunger entered her eyes. Her embarrassment and fear were pushed aside.

    Her stomach growled. It was a deep, churning, needy noise. The demoness looked away from MacDowell and down towards the Front. Swallowing, the purple star on her forehead flashed and the silver dusting on her face increased.

    Now her pointed ears were fully silver and it looked like she used a metallic foundation on her cheeks. This made the silver under-armor visible on her upper arms and lower legs look less like armor and more like a gleaming, stiffer type of skin.

    Sporadic gunfire had resumed head of them, but there was none of the tell-tale crackle of the enemy's incendiary weapons.

    Meter-long white and purple claws idly scratched the tail-head. A blissful smile grew contrasting with her gaunt, taunt cheeks. "Now that we've got a second wind let's show our guests a proper greeting," she purred before darting forward, past MacDowell and towards the forward lines.

    MacDowell almost whistled. She was more agile than he had expected. Her lopping, almost cantering, gait continued. Despite her legs never going fully "straight" she rapidly put distance between them. Her long skirting was no encumbrance to what must be powerful legs.

    He wondered if it was because of how her ankles were higher up due to her hooves, or if it was because she had to walk on "tip toes". He was pretty sure the Major would know. He had grown up around horses and other hoofed animals.

    Many paces ahead, the demoness slowed, turned back, and gave the Sergeant a grinning wink and a beckoning claw.

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


    Less than a hundred kilometers south of Ottawa was the town of Brockville. There the cyborg and the assassin swapped cars. While Mal picked up a rental car he had reserved under an assumed name, Shest drove to a self-storage facility and parked it next to some boats, cars, and other vehicles being stored for long term.

    Within a half an hour, the black two-door compact car was driving down the 401. Mal was behind the wheel and had the radio on.

    Shest gave the frenetic French language news broadcast a cursory listen.

    "Are you going to call?" Mal asked. His tone was gentle, almost jovial, but Shest was well-aware of the hidden barb.

    "Giving me orders now?"

    The large man turned slightly. Even divested of his ugly suit, Mal still looked the brute. "Heaven forbid." He gave a mocking smile.

    Shest glared. She knew he no more believed in heaven than she did.

    His attention returned to the road. "But maybe you should consider my advice. I did warn you against firing that Pulse."

    "I didn't have a choice!" Shest's eyes flashed. She did not relish the idea of having to spend at least five more hours on the road with this man.

    "Perhaps." Eying the road, Mal let his shoulders drop. "At least we achieved our primary goal."

    Shest glared at the man. She reached to the bags between her feet and checked that the jammer core was still present. She then went to one of the bags that had been stashed in their previous car and pulled out a pre-paid cell phone still in its plastic packaging.

    She slit the clamshell packaging apart, pulled out the phone, and inserted the battery. Once it booted, she popped open a cover on the side and ran a cable from the data jack to a plug just above her wrist.

    She engaged her communications system, dialed a long number that routed through several phone switches, and connected. Only after she received the proper handshake and password did she open the one digital time pad Arisha had given her during the mission briefing.

    It was nothing more than a long text file full of random strings of numbers that were demarcated into little time blocks. There was a brief check as she made sure her internal clock was synchronized with her caller's.

    Each block was then used in sequence to encode the voice data before being transmitted. As long as no one else had a copy of the file, and they did not repeat any of the time blocks, it made for an unbreakable code.

    However, its presence as an encoded message was somewhat obvious, which made it less than desirable from a statistical signals analysis standpoint.

    There was a hiss on the line almost as if someone was breathing.

    Shest wondered who would answer. Arisha and Desyat were busy working with their Bulgarian mercenaries today, but they might pick up if they were on break. The thought of talking to the former filled Shest with dread.

    Ideally, she was hoping that Sem would answer. The other girl hated using the one time pads and would make the conversation as brief as possible. Shest would not have minded Dve'nadtsat either, though she would have felt a bit guilty at interrupting her research.

    "Combat Cyborg Klara Shest what were you thinking?" Galina A'deen's voice transmitted.

    "There were complications. I completed the mission." Shest replied back. Her heart sank. She would have preferred dealing with Arisha. While their group's second in command was more vehement and... political she was also more understanding of failure.

    "Complications you say?" Galina's transmission sounded like it should be accompanied with a snort. "I should scoop out your brains and strip you down for parts. Dve'nadtsat could always use a spare set of eyes for example."

    Shest closed her eyes. "If that is the best use for me."

    Mal took his eyes from the road. He saw her distress and gave a tiny chuckle.

    "Like you would bow down and let me slice open your skull." Galina paused. "Maybe you would. You acquired the core?"

    "I completed the mission."

    "No you disobeyed orders, deploying a proscribed weapons system, and thus caused an international incident."

    Shest could imagine Galina's grim, mocking smile, and see the taller cyborg give a thin laugh.

    "An incident that we were ill prepared to exploit."

    Shest exhaled. That was the true tragedy. Yes, she and Mal de Veste had unleashed alien horrors into a capital city, but they had done so without coordination. With a bit of planning, the others could have made quite the mess as the Company tried to deploy their demonic and magical girl assets.

    The pixie-haired cyborg frowned. The opportunity would have been sudden, yes, but there was still fighting going on in Ottawa there should have been time for the rest of the cyborgs to mount an attack. Maybe the Bulgarians would have been ill-positioned but there was a chance...

    "Was Zaika moved?" If Tsukino had been sequestered somewhere then an attack would be futile. Ensuring that they could prevent such an egress was the whole point of Shest and Mal's mission.

    "She is now, you might have crossed her."

    Shest frowned. The Company was moving her to Ottawa? Of course they were, the mercenary's primary goal was, apparently, forestalling some kind of inter-dimensional invasion. Keeping Zaika, Tsukino, alive was key to that.

    "I made a honey-pot," Shest muttered as she transmitted.

    "Yes, if only I had known you were going to draw her towards a strange city..." Galina paused.

    Scenarios played across Shest's mind. There were significant Canadian forces present, but if the Thracian Union was pre-positioned and had their heavy weapons ready...

    "The opportunity had passed us by. Our sources indicate that the Red Demon was already deployed. In fact, you just missed her."

    Shest's heart stopped. Galina's anger was still present, but there was wistfulness in her words as well. Wistfulness and jealousy. She knew her superior had unfinished business with the demon DarkStar. But she assumed that such... indulgences were contained.

    "I did? That would have been troubling." Having helped install it, Shest knew all about the intelligence network they had emplaced around Toronto. How live was their confirmation that Tsukino had left the city? How heavy was her guard? Could a handful of cyborgs had attacked her on the runway?

    Galina's comment about Shest and Mall passing her indicated that Tsukino had not simply been teleported into Ottawa. Shest's thoughts were interred by Galina's reply.

    "Yes, I would have been out a jammer core and a valuable, if incompetent, asset."


    The cyborg glanced over to the brutish man driving the car. There was a question she wanted to ask; one she was afraid to ask; one that would, no doubt, make de Veste laugh.

    But it was a question that had begun to eat at Shest: Was Galina letting their mission drag, letting more of their number die, all in the hope of getting a second chance to fight DarkStar?

    End Chapter 6


    Author's Notes:

    I'd like to thank the prereaders for their help in this project: J St C Patrick, DCG, Pale Wolf, Kevin Hammel, and Crimson Vixen.

    Revision notes: And things keep getting worse.
     
    armourdefense likes this.
  8. Threadmarks: Chapter 7
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

    Joined:
    Oct 8, 2016
    Messages:
    212
    Likes Received:
    545
    Book 4: Capital Offense
    Chapter 7: Overloaded Rescue
    Formerly: Reserve and Release Part 3i


    Pretty Silver Succubus Sailor Earth danced. Her movements graceful and fluid, she spun and twirled. Her tail arced up and down and spiraled about like a fluttering kite on the end of a gymnastic ribbon. Long, long fingers waved, cutting through the air.

    A purple aura burned around her. Jets of silver flame occasionally flared on her armor repairing some of the damage and burning the accumulated ichor away. Her skirt was loose enough for her to easily make high kicks as she took to the air, but heavy enough to protect her legs.

    Sailor Earth was not dancing alone. A literal mob of squids pressed towards her. Clusters of rockets and incendiary rounds raced across the concrete corridor that led to the power vault. Smiling, the demon dipped down, snagged a blue-armored Squid with her claws, and spun on one leg. The Squid shrieked and screamed as one of the ponytail-encased jammer antennas draped over it.

    An alien, toxic, signal burned into the creature's mind. Pulled by a silver spike adorning the ponytail's end, it curled and tangled with the squid's body.

    The pain would not last long. As incendiaries burned against her armor she lifted her arms so that the missiles hit the impromptu dance partner. As the body disintegrated, she ended the spin and planted her hoof, right onto the midsection of another Squid.

    Constantly moving, she crossed the hallway in a twirling dash. Trying to delay her, the Squids would form up into strongpoints, often centered around the handful of red-armored refrigerator-sized behemoths. One lumbered over her and stabbed at her face. She turned and dodged incoming fire from a different direction. The tentacle hit and a cheek parted in a splash of blood and silver flame.

    Sailor Earth went right at them. The demon crossed the threshold and entered the power vault. The room stored backup generators for the Canadian Defence Headquarters. It was also where the Squids had anchored their invasion. The ceiling had caved in and much of the room had been torn to shreds.

    Broken glossy black columns were scattered across the bare cement floor. The shattered bases formed a pointed oval-shape large enough to allow a pair of the larger red-armored squids to pass though.

    The room itself was scarred with storage pods, weapons racks, and shredded, squished aliens. Ranma only took the above details in passing. Her attention was on the living squids that had been frantically trying to reopen their gateway. Plain black, they were smaller than even the blue-armored ones. They were also waving their tentacles in a vigorous argument with the more militant aliens.

    Armored tentacles met glowing claws, steel-bending kicks, and silver fireballs. A glowing filaments extended out of the folds of her tail and began slashing in a shimmering rainbow of writhing mono-blades.

    Once the Squids broke, she stomped with her hooves and the shadows oozing around the bottom of her gleaming armored skirt finished the job.

    Squids that were further out were harried by machinegun fire and taken out by judicious usage of rifle and hand grenades. The JFT2 troopers kept their distance but they had the advantage of firepower, range, and the ability to pin down troops occupied by the succubus.

    "Arc Light!" MacDowell screamed, his headset transmitting.

    Just beyond the threshold, Sailor Earth did a split, dropped to the ground and lay forward. Minimizing her height. The concussive pressure beat against her.

    Bishop's Carl Gustav barked. As did the two remaining rockets and as many rifle grenades as he could muster. At least Brummet's reinforcements had brought more rounds for that beast. It had taken time to get into position; time Sailor Earth had bought them. The supporting masses of squids in the vault were blown apart.

    Before the smoke could clear, the succubus was up. In a flying leap, she hurtled towards a stunned group of Squids hiding behind a broken bit of rounded obsidian machinery. She landed heavily with both hooves while slicing with her claws and tail. It was quick work.

    MacDowell eyed the demoness. He had to admit she had her second wind back, but he did notice that she was still husbanding her power. There were no eyebeams, no fancy black fireball orbs. No biting either. She was even keeping her sidearm in reserve. "You still good?"

    Standing over a pile of burned and crushed aliens, she nodded. Shadows and silver fire were still being drawn into her. The flaming aura shimmered and her armor flexed as if something rippled beneath.

    A squad of JTF2 troops rushed past her to secure the rest of the vault.

    MacDowell watched as the whites of her eyes were consumed by the deep purple irises. The black slits then grew longer, as if her eyes were somehow larger than they could be.

    "Package has been signed," MacDowell radioed. He looked around the ruined concrete box full of scrap metal and mint-smelling corpses. "Fuck... that's what this was all about?"

    Picking up the sides of her skirt and pulling them up, she almost daintily stepped over the pulped, stripped, bodies. "Great work. I think I'll need one of those recoilless guns for my girls," Ranma said with a bow, her face shimmering slightly.

    When the demon's face returned to view. MacDowell stared. The gauntness, hollowness to her cheeks was gone. Fully silver, her features had grown smoother, almost stylized, like a silvery doll.

    He could see something almost like seams around her chin line and by her ears. He looked down, it was just like the edges on the silver armor protecting her upper arms. On closer look, her face even had the same slightly-woven texture as her silver under-armor.

    Pretty Silver Succubus Sailor Earth released her grip, letting her skirts fall back down. "Yes?" she asked, raising a white-gold eyebrow. Metallic purple lips curled into an amused smile.

    MacDowell looked her over. Her armor was almost... fused. Her gauntlets were a part of her arms, and it was hard to tell where glove ended and claw began. The wraps on her tail and the extra bows had all merged into a fluttering appendage that seemed to have a will of its own. The filaments on the end seemed to glow with a multi-hued shimmer.

    Instead of buckling over her skin, the top of her chest armor was just flush with her silver neck. Her neck was now encircled by a green choker. And in front of that collar was the purple crystal four pointed star over a silver on black company logo which seemed to have grown thinner and less prominent.

    The rounded, fused changes were most obvious with her chest armor. It had doubled in thickness. The armor had become a slick, almost organic-looking sculpture. A rainbow of colors gleamed in the bright polish of her sleek chest armor.

    Multicolor arcs of sapphire, emerald, gold, ruby and silver had grown down from her pauldrons and collar amour. They curved down, edging her sharply curved bosom, giving the illusion of cleavage to the jutting curves.

    The rainbows also accented her narrow torso simulating a slimming bodice. While her chest armor had gotten thicker, her waist had gotten thinner. She was not quite wasp-waisted, but the contrast with the armored skirting and thrusting chest armor readily gave that impression.

    Her hair had not escaped either. Individual strands had blended together forming sculpted bangs. The hair on her scalp had smoothed and merged into a sculpted metal-smooth gloss. Emerald and silver inlay ran down the part on the center of her scalp.

    Similar inlay was set where her hair was divided between the sections that went to her bangs and the parts that went to her buns. Resembling stark chevrons, emerald and silver lines gave the impression of access panels and armored sections.

    Her horn-shaped and horn-covering buns had grown. They now dominated the sides and top of her head. Forming fused curling mountains that added over half a foot to her height. The buns themselves had swelled into curled puffs alternating gold and ruby. Resembling cotton candy the two-tone twin puffs throbbed with power absorbed directly from her horns.

    Finely woven emerald threads formed meshes that strained against the softly luminescent fluffy buns. Energy accumulated up the buns culminating emerald caps that covered the tips of the twin puffy structures. Long ponytails had been extruded out of the two glossy green caps.

    There was not more power, but it was more efficiently integrated and was much less of a drain on Ranma. The demoness idly wondered why the original rig had been so isolated. Doubtless it was a safety precaution.

    Her ponytails had transformed twin long cord-like appendages that constantly swung and twirled. Braids had given way to alternating spiral bands of glossy gold and slick ruby. Ending green bows had turned into faceted emerald bands terminating in stout silver spikes.

    Deep inside the crystal ponytails, MacDowell could see a slight blue shimmer of the jammer antennae at work. Part of him wanted to reach out and see if those ponytails were as smooth as they looked. The twin-tails swayed and swished about, mirroring the motions of the demon's tail.

    A mass of tentacles flailed out as a battered squid began to rise up.

    Smiling beatifically, Sailor Earth stepped to the side and stomped. A polished silver hoof the size of a saucer plate came down with the sound of crane dropping a steel I-beam. Concreted shattered.

    The hoof had razor-sharp gilt armored edges that merged with her crimson leg-guards forming solid ankles. First the squid was cut, then it was crushed as if by a hydraulic ram. Ichor splattered. MacDowell saw her skirt flare as her muscles flexed. She then leaned her weight and crushed the alien a second time.

    He could see that his men were staring at her. He turned to them. "Dress up that line! The squids have nowhere else to run and they can't be happy. I don't want you to be caught with your pants down."

    The demoness smiled.

    "A moment if I may?"

    "Of course you may, my Sergeant," Sailor Earth promised in a smoky, hungry voice. A silver-tinted forked tongue came out and licked metallic lips.

    MacDowell simply stared. He also stared down. Despite her armor, she was almost pixyish in height. More than two heads shorter, she now came up to his chest. She had to be under a meter and a third, not even four and a half feet. At least if one did not count her hair buns.

    The soldier frowned, it was hard to tell given how she kept her knees bent at a slight angle even when standing. She might be taller, but not by much. "Are you contained because you seem to be... leaking."

    A moan slipped past the demon's lips as she closed her eyes. "Oh, it's mounting up," Ranma admitted, biting her lip. She turned away, putting her back to him.

    MacDowell looked down. Her hips were wider. The blue material to her skirt had also thickened and seemed to switch between billowing about and being stiff as steel-plate. Combined with her diminutive height, she bore some resemblance to an armored vehicle in miniature.

    This was accentuated by her wings. They had become larger and armored at the joints, especially where they came into her back. However they were neatly folded against her back, but with the folded booms and metal accents, it looked more like something akin to a helicopter rotor growing out of her back than something organic. It did not help that MacDowell could almost swear he saw a geared hinge in there.

    "Are you in control?" He asked, noting the demon's hungry eyes. She had been steadily taking in damage bit by bit, but she had yet to actually eat any... thing.

    "We've both got our clothes on," Sailor Earth said, almost wistfully. She took a step forward, then turned halfway, then walked backwards. Always keeping her eyes on the front, the direction where the enemy was coming from.

    The sergeant for his part was struck by how she moved. There was less of the effortless grace she had earlier. Instead she was boosted, more solid, with a lot more... inertia. It was as if she had switched over from muscle power to heavy hydraulics. He started wondering what was under her skirt...

    Earth gave sultry chuckle at MacDowell's frustrated shout. She tilted her head. The connection to her family was getting stronger.

    Looking around the room, MacDowell started counting. "Skeletons," he muttered.

    Ranma's large, luminous violet eyes blinked. "Yeah what? These clowns don't got any." She kicked a squid; the sharp edge of her hoof slicing open its barrel-shaped body.

    "No, skeleton crew." MacDowell said. "There's at most a few squads here. Seem a bit light for a last stand?"

    The demon narrowed her eyes. "Where'd they go then? This is their only way out."

    "Not with these pulsing about," MacDowell brushed a gloved hand against one of Ranma's ponytails. Glossy, and smooth to the touch, it waved closer to his hand and seemed almost reluctant to let his arm go.

    Slitted pupils dilated into something almost round, as the succubus murmured. "Good point," she breathed.

    MacDowell forced himself to step back. "The question is-"

    "Red, this is Sifton," the Major's voice cut in over the radio.

    "Yes? I know my girls are here." For a moment longing etched Ranma's voice.

    "Landing, yes, but it's not that." Major Sifton paused for a half second.

    Her tone turned more business-like. "We've secured the gate room. Sealed on our end but..."

    "But the creepy monsters bugged-out somewhere else?" Sifton's voice was grim.

    "Situation?"

    "I'm sending the other teams to the other access points and doing a sweep of the sub-levels."

    "We're pretty worn out here, running on empty," MacDowell stressed the last word.

    "And us?" Ranma asked, trying to sound eager.

    Noting the tone of both, Sifton cleared his throat. "You hold position, the Fifth NH will meet you and reinforce."

    "Contact!" Adams screamed in both MacDowell and Sailor Earth's headsets.

    Other soldiers joined in and the screams turned into terrified yells.

    The demon's eyes flared and she sprinted past MacDowell towards the far side of the power vault. The screams were coming though a halfway open set of double-doors that had been sheared apart. Gunfire and dull grenade explosions came from the adjacent room, as well as a slithering, whisking noise.

    "Fall back! Take position behind me!" Ranma shouted into her bone-white headset. Silver and purple flames burst around her and her tail flicked itself forward.

    A trio of JTF2 soldiers rushed past the doorway: Adams, Green, and Giddings. One turned and paused to throw a grenade. He was smashed down when the door flew off its hinges. Bones broke and organs ruptured.

    A churning sable mass vomited across the threshold. It was dotted with writhing tentacles that helped pull it along. Between those were blinking apertures that appeared and disappeared. Some held large glossy eye-like structures. Some were full of rows of ridge-like dull blue teeth. Others were full of delicate, whipping filaments that waved and sampled the air.

    As the thing poured through the doorway a meaty pseudopodium fell onto the soldier. The soldier rolled himself over and let his grenade's spoon go.

    "Cord!" Ranma cried recognizing the trooper's scent. Bright beams burst from her eyes.

    Sable hide burned and smoldered. Tentacles were charred and teeth were cut apart. Furrows of flesh several inches deep were cut into the rubbery hide. The creature hardly noticed and the primitive appendage slammed down. In his last moment Corporal Cordell Giddings weakly lobbed the grenade into the circular mouth just above his head.

    There was a meaty splat as blood flew. Then the grenade went off and a yowl of surprised pain came from dozens of churning mouths. Lilly Green helped pull Franz Adams back past the demon.

    "Smithfield get some fucking distance!" Ranma ordered. "Machine guns! I want some rockets. Bishop where's your Gustav!"

    The demoness slammed her armored wrists together and cupped her long talons. A silver-wreathed purple beam shot out from her palms and began to rake across the creature. The yowling increased, and its pace slowed, but it continued to lumber forward.

    By now MacDowell's two machine gun teams had set up and tracers had started to slam into the creature. Eyes and mouths burst apart, only to be replaced by raw-looking new growth.

    The creature pulled itself though the doorway. Flesh rippled as it pulled some fresh sense organs and mouths towards the front and thickened the portions being cut into. The creature logged the damage updated the status of its reserve.

    Once the gateway failed, failsafe orders had been activated. They were simple: Rearguard. As the Servitor advanced previous orders floated to the surface of its mind: Collect samples from the locals. Its eyes focused on the small bilaterally symmetrical creature before it.

    Several eyes burned out. The flaming jet that become annoying. Other attacks were starting to accumulate in damage. Belching, the creature spewed out its acid reserves causing the attackers to draw back as it lumbered further, closer to the small creature. This one was different from the others.

    Another order floated up: Capture the Deviant Sample. The creature reared up, raising much of its bulk above the ground. Stubby tentacles waved on its exposed underside.

    Machine gun and rifle fire continued to hit the creature's "face". Or at least a blank slab of thick-skinned meat that was at the front of the being's inky mass. The occasional 40mm grenade also hit.

    For a moment it seemed to slow down.

    Her flames guttering out, Sailor Earth took a half step back. The creature was still a few meters away. Then she noticed that while the front had stopped, the rest of the creature's mass was still oozing forward. Pressure built, and suddenly like an uncoiled spring the reared front of the beast shot right over the demoness.

    Instead of running, she planted her hooves. Her wings unfurled out fold and then turned forward. Gleaming joints hinged as the long silvery membranes fell in front of her. Gauntleted hands went up and grabbed her wing's armored struts.

    Tonnes of inky, mouthy, writhing flesh fell upon the reinforced membranes. Her elbows, knees, and ankles began to burn as the weight pounded down on her. Her teeth gritted, Sailor Earth drew upon her power. As hooves cut into the concrete, the strength of the Earth was drawn up.

    The silver weave coating over her limbs thickened as the pressure was alleviated from her joints. Less and less of the load was being carried by her muscles. More and more was being carried by the bodysuit. Her knees almost buckled, but she found her footing. Next her elbows almost fell, but she was getting help.

    MacDowell's estimate was, broadly, correct. There was something special at work beneath her skirt. Flexing reservoirs formed along the limbs of the suit. Pulses of Silver energy constricted the bladders anchoring them and giving them strength, and Earth-magic-filled them giving them more and more power.

    Layering grew over her thighs and legs. Channels ran over her joints and formed a load-bearing chain that went from her hips to the tips of her hooves. More grew in place over her torso and connecting to her arms.

    Chest armor clicked tighter as it formed structural arches between her hips and shoulders. Limbs became smoother and less refined as the coverings stiffened to take the load.

    Her upper arms were now flush with her gleaming white gauntlets, and her crimson shin guards had now fused and become integral parts of her hydraulic system. The long blue skirt was even more volumous in order to provide more room.

    Joints locked, power swelled, and the tiny demoness held the load. The creature pulled itself up, over, and to the sides as it tried to drape itself over Sailor Earth and crush her.

    Her body hummed. Silver power and Earth magic was now being drawn up in regular pulses even as the supply of flesh, bone, and blood diminished. Simultaneously starved and engorged, the demoness rose. It was a slow, steady motion, but her knees had begun to straighten. Her arms were rising.

    Looking out past her stretched wings, Sailor Earth set her teeth. She could feel the creature gnawing at her hide. They were nibbles, it seemed to be holding back, merely content at crushing her.

    Her tail shot forward, curved around her tiny waist. Threads and mono-filaments sprung out and like a crimson kite it tumbled through the creature's underbelly. She narrowed her too-large eyes and a pair of purple and silver beams shot out.

    The pressure grew upon her, but her body held. She did wish she had more limbs, given her wing-arms were indisposed. She put more power to her ponytails and was gratified to see their swaying turn into spinning gyrations. Their sharp silver tips slashed against the creature. Like a machine, it mindlessly absorbed the damage.

    Swollen cottony crystal buns atop her hear pressed against the emerald mesh and grew out flaring into foot tall swept ruby and gold structures. The silver weave of her skin thickened smoothing her features into more doll-like proportions.

    Her mind focused on the creature, on drawing in more power, on the pressure, on the connection to her family, on anything but the gnawing hunger that felt like it had consumed even her stomach.

    She concentrated. The creature was immobilized, the Canadians were slowly chipping away at it, and her family had landed. However, it was still pressing down on her. Earth's ponytails joined with her tail and began stabbing. Combined with her eyebeams she was making some headway but...

    The creature seemed almost content to keep her here. Its body elongated over her shielding wings and part of it started to creep along the floor, towards her hooves. Soon she would be enveloped. A vibrating ponytail shot forward; its silver tip slicing through a cluster of sense-organs.

    The creature yowled in pain.

    The demoness focused and stilled her ponytails. The squids hated her jammer. It was toxic to them. Her Jammer was already at max output, but it had grown. The signal generating gem had grown and was now rooted in her tiara.

    The Jammer antennae were getting a boost from her horns. Pattern Silver energy powered the whole thing. It was a blend of WIC tech, Senshi magic, and demonic power. It was the inspiration for her uniform's modifications.

    Her teeth clenched as she drew up more Earth magic to keep her arms from falling. Inspiration hit. An inter-dim jammer worked by reinforcing reality, this reality. Ranma surmised that the magic from the earth itself would be more of the same.

    The connection was easy to make. Integrating the rig directly over her horns simplified putting in more power. She did wonder why the rig had originally been placed on her chest instead of on a tiara mount. Warnings about red-line limits flickered in the back of her mind.

    Her ponytails began to thrash. The blue glow in the center began to tinge green. The jammer vibration grew until it started to rattle her teeth and ring her hooves. The gold and ruby spirals of her ponytails began to split and blue-green light poured out.

    The creature simply pressed on with more weight.

    Sailor Earth drew up more power and rammed it through. The dull-red gem on her forehead flashed. For a moment it turned a glossy ruby-red. Rays of blue light burned out of the now-translucent jammer core.

    One of her ponytails flailed as the emerald end piece shattered. The silver spike on the end fell to the concrete with a ringing thud. Green-edged blue light poured out of the ponytail's seams as it twisted itself apart.

    Gold and ruby spirals unzipped exposing the burning wire of the antennae itself. Pupils narrowed into thin black lines as her irises burned with purple fire. Wings shuddered as power was rammed into both her limbs and her jammer rig.

    The egg-sized gem cracked. Ranma felt the explosion. Her eyes snapped shut. Crystal shrapnel peppered her armored eyelids, chin, and ears. A split second later there was another burst followed an instant later by a third.

    Yowling, the creature pulled back. Ranma staggered. Pain nearly blinded the demon, the raw nerves of her horns' sense organs were thrashed and ripped apart. Her right delaminating ponytail met the surge of the self-destructing jammer core.

    Odango-shaped magical capacitors had surrounded each of her two rear horns. The right hair bun exploded. The horn itself survived, but it was scoured raw.

    The demoness fell. Silvery blood gushed out of ragged slashes on Ranma's scalp. Parts of her face armor peeled off around her right temple and ear.

    The explosions had halted the creature for a moment, but it was about to resume.

    As she fell, Ranma bent her knees, built up pressure, and at just the right moment kicked off with one hoof. Her wings flipped up in scything motions.

    Her tail fluttering behind her like a streamer, the demoness flew out of the tarry mess of the collapsing creature. She hit the ground with one shoulder. The armor absorbed most of the impact, but the demon then tumbled and her charred horn ground against the concrete before she slammed into a wall.

    "Oh... that's why Jammers are isolated," the demoness gasped as her head pounded and her consciousness faltered. Worse she recalled the warnings about overloads and core-burn out. A distant part briefly worried about how much worse she had made things.

    Then warmth filled her; despite the pain she felt a serene warmth.

    Her head pounded but one thought was quite clear: Don't integrate delicate technology, certainly not anything you plan to overpower, with your body.

    The steady background noise of gunfire shifted. In addition to Canadian FALs and C9 machine guns, there was the deeper report of 17 by 65 mm WIC custom. It was then followed by the steady, pneumatic-like, pops of a 40mm grenade launcher firing.

    As rippling explosions began to detonate, Ranma opened her eyes. A pale face with long black hair and bright red eyes was staring at her.

    "Mommy!" Nariko cried. She had her sword out and with a free hand gently cradled Ranma's ravaged horn. "What happened?" she looked up at MacDowell.

    "I have no idea," the sergeant replied. "Red got herself swallowed by that tar-monster, fought it, then blew up."

    "Jammers have a do not exceed redline for a reason," Ranma muttered. It had seemed like a good idea at the time; that time being buried under a writhing inky monster.

    "So, the diversion worked," Ukyou dryly remarked as she helped Nabiki lift her mother.

    MacDowell tilted his head. "Hell of a diversion. What got out?"

    "A bigger one of those, maybe two," the blonde succubus pointed at the creature. "And a lot of... squid things. They're trying to get out of jammer range."

    "Go. Fight." Nariko ordered before glancing down at her mother. "She's starving,"

    Ukyou, Misako, and Akane had gone ahead and were engaging the creature. Misako ran Sasha in steady bursts that blew rippling craters into the inky hide. Ukyou used her PUG to lob heavy 17mm bullets into various mouths and eyes. Shadows burst out from Akane and raced to claw apart and explode the flesh shredded by her sister's attacks.

    Combined with the Canadians' firepower they had managed to halt the creature and were even grinding enough of its flesh to push it back. This did not keep the three fighting succubae from stealing glances back at their mother.

    Nabiki had knelt down next to her mother and took out a trauma kit. "This has been going on a while." She pealed back more of her mother's face armor and pushed some burnt and fused hair aside.

    MacDowell frowned. The demons were wearing drab-grey-green Kevlar and ceramic plate uniforms. It was easy to forget that Ranma's getup had started out looking like theirs. "Yeah, she just kept fighting."

    "Her tail's much longer," Nabiki noted.

    Nariko glared slightly at the non-com.

    Nabiki turned back to her first aid. It was a worrying sign that this was even necessary; mother's normal healing rate made took care of such things.

    "I'm just glad that you girls got here," MacDowell said.

    "That the cavalry finally arrived?" Sergeant Olsen Brummet remarked.

    "Yes, they have," Nariko agreed.

    MacDowell frowned. "There's more? Wh-" His question was cut off by a huge concussive blast going off in the distance followed by a crackling explosion. The thundering noise was unmistakable a tank had entered the fight.

    "Armored cavalry? Hah! I knew the Major and that slimy spook had something held in reserve." Corporal Lily Green laughed. The Royal Canadian Armored Corps were originally the Canadian Cavalry Corps. She loaded another grenade into her rifle's under slung launcher.

    Next to her another soldier lumbered a far heavier, if shorter, 40mm grenade launcher. "What on Earth is Mother wearing?" Misako shouted to her mate.

    After a second Ukyou got the pun. Mother's getup did look just like a battle-tarted version of her Sailor Earth uniform. "That's not funny!"

    "I know, wearing the skins of your defeated enemies?" Misako gave a triumphant grin. "I didn't think Mother had it in her."

    Bristling, Akane used one of her shadows to blow apart an ichor-drenched tear that Ukyou had opened up. "It's not..."

    The platinum haired succubus frowned. The brood had come down in a rush, but the heaps of stripped squid-like aliens were telling. Not to mention the broken white ceramic weapons and torn blue and red bits of armor. "I think it is," her heart ached but she pushed it aside.

    "Poor Mom, she must have been very desperate," Akane wanted to go over to her, wanted to hug her mother but the big space monster that hurt Mother was right in front of her.

    Nabiki took a protein bar out of her harness; the redhead greedily tore into it. "What were you thinking?"

    Violet slitted eyes locked onto the powder-blue haired demon. "That I had to stop an inedible enemy. Also MacDowell's boys have a recoilless gun, they're a bit bashful about using it, but the thing's a lifesaver."

    MacDowell snorted. "Well maybe now that I don't have a friendly trying to dead-lift the damn ink-alien we can get a clear shot."

    Nariko smiled. Once Nabiki had finished checking her mother for sources of major blood loss, she reached out and took her mother's taloned hand. Red eyes briefly took in the polished gauntlets and chest armor. She then lifted the shorter demoness up onto her hooves.

    "We're here now," Nariko assured. She turned and looked at the creature. Wide area attacks with penetration seemed to have the most effect.

    Ranma smiled basking in the love and warmth of her daughters.

    Nariko's grin remained, but her eyes hardened. "Akane, Ukyou, take mother topside. Bring her to Eve. Get her food. Raid the commissary, hit a butcher, whatever it takes." the red-eyed demon ordered in a stern, if warm voice. "Get the status from Auntie Eve."

    Relief was evident on MacDowell's face. "Green, take our wounded and escort Red and her girls out of here. Bring back whoever, whatever you can."

    Ranma stared. Nabiki packed her kit and dashed to the front. The battered Sailor Earth tried to follow.

    Nariko leveled her katana. "Mother..." her voice had a tiny tremble. "No."

    Ukyou and Akane had pulled off the line and flanked their older sister. Looking at their mother they took a half step back.

    Nariko growled and slapped Akane across the butt with the flat of her blade and shoved Ukyou forward with her free hand. "Do it. Mother won't trouble you." She gave that last line staring directly into those luminous purple eyes.

    The platinum blonde demon nodded and worked on her headset. Her alabaster cheeks stiffened and her eyes widened. "Quarantine breaches! Multiple. West going to the Canal! East over Nicolas Street!"

    Ranma glanced around at the scene. The shards from Nabiki's Icicle Parade were slicing right though the creature's hide where they exploded deep within its body. This complemented the concussive and shrapnel damage Misako's attack was doing. Not to mention the steady fire from the Canadian troops.

    Nariko chewed her lip for a second. "Go, take mother up. Auntie Eve or Major Sifton will give you your next orders."

    The brood mother flexed her hands; the tension eased from her shoulders. The pressure in her bodysuit lessened, but the roiling pain in her stomach continued. "Yes, Daughter." She bowed her head, presenting her horns. The demoness winced as a clotting pad shifted and silvery blood leaked out down the side of her face.

    Ukyou and Akane walked past Nariko and stood on either side of their mother.

    Ranma stepped forward, but nearly stumbled. She was caught by her daughters. Hugging Nariko she rested her head on the taller demon's shoulder.

    Nariko lifted her mother back up and gently pushed her towards Akane and Ukyou. Akane took Ranma's arm and led her back out of the room while Ukyou took point with her rifle at the ready. Lilly Green and the other wounded followed.

    Lightning crackled across the black-haired succubus' katana as she drew her sidearm and rushed the Shoggoth. The heavy fifty caliber bullets tore through many of the creature's eyes, and blew out heavy chunks of ropey gooey flesh, but the damage still paled compare to Misako's and Nariko's attacks.

    ScarletBane swung; thick rubbery flesh parted. Nariko screamed" Lightning Devastation!" Electricity arced through the creature's body and it began to shudder and char.

    Nariko pulled back and Misako resumed her barrage.

    MacDowell nodded to Bishop who had reloaded Jones' recoilless rifle. "Hey girls! Get down!" He shouted as John Jones leveled the Carl Gustav at the inky horror.

    End chapter 7

    I'd like to thank the prereaders for their help in this project: Milanda Anza, Mahou Sensou, J St C Patrick, Crimson Vixen, DCG, Pale Wolf and Kevin Hammel.

    Special thanks to Ckosacranoid for pointing out that Usagi and the Inners had a role to play in this battle.

    In other good news there's some new fanart. They can be found on the fukufics forum or on my new deviant art page. There's also another piece of art with Nabiki that's in the works.

    Username for that is sunny-temple so just put that in front of the deviantart com

    Revision Notes: A short chapter, but Ranma did screw up and not think through her powers.
     
    armourdefense likes this.
  9. Threadmarks: Chapter 8
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

    Joined:
    Oct 8, 2016
    Messages:
    212
    Likes Received:
    545
    Book 4: Capital Offense
    Chapter 8: Dark and Light Senshi
    Formerly: Reserve and Release Part 3ii


    The suite high in the Grand Hyatt Tokyo had a sweeping view that consisted of Azabu-Juuban below, the Tokyo Tower to the left, and Tokyo Bay in the distance. Only one of the four women in the suite was interested in the view.

    The other three had their attention on an arcing bank, two by four, of slim monitors that had been propped up in the center of the suite's main room. Two women operated a pair of work stations in front of the screens.

    One was a statuesque woman of opaque lavender crystal. Her hair was a sculpted piece of darker, but more translucent purple crystal that took the shape of a large bun in back with smaller twin odango buns on either side that had flexing ponytails

    On her back were a pair of large swords in an X patterned scabbard. Parts of her body took a milky-white coloration to mimic the bodysuit of a Senshi seifuku. The constellation Virgo was a repeated accent mark done in blue gems, the most noteworthy mark being upon the top of the sculpted purple boots on the ends of her legs.

    An ersatz choker made out of an embossed golden mercury mark and inset silver band encircled her neck. Her pleated skirt, ribbons and bows, and sailor collar were made out of stiff, translucent purple cloth. They were the only parts of her uniform that could not be directly shaped out of her crystalline body.

    Eyes that bore gem-cut faceted purple irises scanned the screens as strong gloved-hands danced across the keyboard. The gloves were as much a part of her as her hair, boots, tiara, or silver-inlaid eyebrows.

    Next to her sat another crystalline Senshi. Made out of a warmer light green jade, her face was not quite as stylized as her companion's. There were more human imperfections and details to her construction. She was also less monochromatic. Her bows were the same light green as her body, but her skirt, trim, and collar were a light purple.

    The biggest difference, however, was her hair. Instead of being a single crystal sculpture, it was a collection individual crystalline strands that reflected the light like an auburn tinted bundle of fiber optic cables. The hair itself was styled in a wavy pageboy that resembled a perm and had an emerald hair bow.

    Adorned with the constellation of Orion, she bore the same Mercury mark around her neck. She also had slightly less monomaniacal focus as her companion, and she occasionally paused to take an unneeded breath.

    Virgo made no such motions. She remained strikingly poised as her gloves danced with beautiful, mechanical precision across the keyboard. Both Senshi wore trim black plastic headsets that managed to complement their gem styling.

    Pacing in front of her chair, Mistress Mercury watched the screens. She was a pale young woman with dark blue lipstick and a satin-slick midnight blue dress that clung to her body before tumbling off her thighs and down to the floor.

    Bearing tiny shoulder straps, the dress was low cut and gave glimpses at a tight, almost armored, bodice. Her hair was piled atop her head in a dark blue plaited bun that was almost as glossy and sculpted as Virgo's. A pair of frozen chopsticks was stuck into her bun and on her brow was a heavy silver tiara that bore a mercury-shaped ice crystal as the center gem.

    Mercury paused in her pacing and picked up the wine glass placed on the table next to her chair. Beside the glass was a slim crystal vase holding a single pale pink rose surrounded by fluffy dark violet begonias. Taking a sip she looked at the screens. She had ordered the sound cut off after the first half hour. The prattling of the news casters was bad enough, and she had people to filter through the dross for her. Most of the screens bore footage of the situation in Ottawa. The cameras were shaky and several blocks distant, but it was a live feed.

    Her preference was for direct, live, camera feeds of the building itself. Something that Orion had been most skilled in acquiring for her. She watched the helicopters buzz around for a few seconds. There were several types in use; she briefly wondered if there was a variant unique to the Company. Or if the Princess and the demons would be flown in using Canadian hardware.

    "We're ready to transit." Virgo stated. Her mistress' question unasked.

    Mercury shook her head. "No, we're not teleporting yet."

    Virgo glanced at one of her displays. "Safe House Bronze is still reading as secure. It's the closest facility we have."

    Mercury glared. "Really? Are you that eager to drop into a major fight without knowing what's going on?"

    Virgo's unblinking gaze was held steady, but she tilted her head fractionally.

    "Fine, we've 'ported into fights before, but this is bigger. This isn't a bunch of cultist trying to kill Ranma. This is shaping up to be a real invasion."

    Virgo turned back to her workstation.

    "If it is an invasion... wouldn't the Princess show up?" Orion asked as she tracked the video feed. Helicopters buzzed around the smoking building. They occasionally dipped down to allow their door gunners to open fire. Machine guns, and the occasional rocket pod went off and lanced into the building's broken facade.

    "She may already be there," Virgo replied.

    Orion reluctantly nodded. The constellation Senshi idly wondered about the civilian casualties. Clearly, not every shot the Canadians took hit. That the situation was bad enough to allow such weapons freedom in an urban area... that made it all the more likely that the Princess would be summoned…

    If she was not already there, but that begged the question of what she was being held in reserve for.

    "That's why we're watching," Mercury she went back to her chair. Lacquered black, with a high back it almost looked like a throne. "If..." Mercury looked down to her side. "If we're needed we will come."

    "Surely we won't teleport straight in," Orion said.

    Mercury gave a thin smile. "Oh yes, let's punch a hole in reality right atop one already being used to invade." She gave Virgo a sharp look. Mercury wished she had more information. She had no idea if the rift was stabilized, growing, of even if it had been closed.

    The statuesque Amazon simply continued to work, her sparkly fingers dancing across the keys.

    Mercury took a sip of wine. "I'm sure Ranma would love it if we gave them another beachhead to deal with." Still.. she eyed the camera feed, then looked at the sensor output. Their closest scrying rig was at House Bronze, and even at that distance the readings were... worrying.

    Orion saw where Mercury was looking. "Yes, the matches are... manifold: the Raven-Shard Prophecy from the Path of the Will's book, the Angled-Sky Coda from Chronoscopic Travelers, The Broken Map from volume seven of the Revelations of Glaaki, 'The Theft of the Silver Cocoon', from chapter eleven of the Book of Ebon, and finally the Clashing Men described in Unaussprechlichen Kulten."

    "Made worse by the creeping horror those degenerates are said to worship." Mercury looked at her glass, then at the simple bouquet of pink and purple flowers. Its presence was disquieting enough, it meant that their presence was no longer a secret. "The Guardian of the Gate knows where the Old Ones broke through of old. She knows... she's supposed to stop Them from breaking through again."

    Mercury shivered and taking the glass with both hands drained it. She should have had Orion burn the damn things after scanning it for bugs.

    She looked to the side. It was sad that the brood of demons was one of the less dangerous influences her Queen had to face. "Now you see why I required your help. There is only so much the three of us can do."

    Sitting on the floor with her knees drawn up to her chin was the fourth woman of the group. Staring out the window, she was another crystalline Senshi. Attached to her temples via a pronged tiara-like device, were a pair of glassy little silver spheres.

    "And I suppose you've learned enough for now." Mercury leaned over and removed the silvery tiara. "Can't have you to burn out." The spheres came off and the gem girl blinked.

    She was a rich sapphire blue. Hair in a slightly lighter shade had been formed into a glossy pixie cut that was halfway between the individual strands of Orion's hair and the sculpted single piece of Virgo's.

    However, her seifuku was bare of any constellation marks, or any other accents for that matter. Her skirting and bows were a plain, crisp white. Even the center of her tiara was bare and held no gem. The only jewelry she wore, other than, arguably, her body, was the gold Mercury mark around her neck. She looked curiously blank, like an inked drawing ready to be colored and shaded in.

    Her face had been smoothed and idealized, if not as much as Virgo's had been. The resemblance to Mistress Mercury was obvious. The mistress stopped and leaned over the blank Senshi.

    "Mother, you still have to choose a new name. I've indulged your needs, your... adjustment but as you see... time is short."

    The blank nodded, then returned to her pose, continuing to stare out the window. Her gem-cut eyes unblinking. She could feel the carpeting through both the outsoles and heels her feet had been formed into. With similar intimacy, she felt the carved feet of the chair she leaned her back against. She could feel when the air was hot, when it was cold. She had expected this body to be stiff and numb, bit if anything it felt more sensitive and almost... raw.

    "I was thinking Aquarius or maybe Libra, but it's your choice." Mercury placed a gloved hand atop the Senshi's head and gave an affectionate pat. Surprisingly, the crystal hair was soft and yielding to the touch, but was cold under Mercury's hand

    "I'm not human," Saeko Mizuno stated. "I can keep my eyes open. I don't need to blink. Maybe in the morning I can try staring at the sun." She lifted her right hand and clenched her fingers.

    Mercury sighed. "I knew I should have gotten the presidential suite. That one came with a pool. I could have had Virgo hold you under for a good twenty minutes."

    Saeko looked down. "Daughter..."

    "Don't ask me why Mother. You know," Mercury knelt down. "You're brilliant. You're resourceful. And you were wasted. You were being held back. I know what that's like." She cradled her mother by the neck and ran a thumb over the Mercury mark she had cut into the crystal and filled in with gold. A frown flickered across her face, apparently, she was not the only mistress giving out magical chokers.

    Mistress Mercury leaned in and whispered into her ear. "I've seen you looking at my tools, watching the recording of how I made you, then watching me make Orion. The potential you see it... you can't help but think of it. Don't deny it."

    Saeko averted her gaze. There was a hunger within her, one that had grown after her... change.

    Mercury smirked. "We're family. You created me and I... well... you're at least proud to be back to your peak." She closed with another confidential whisper. "I've seen you looking at your reflection. And I must say I'm a bit jealous with how you've turned out, but... we both believe in self improvement. Don't we?"

    Saeko forced herself to blink.

    "You've already got ideas on how to improve the process. Don't you?" Mercury purred.

    She felt Saeko nervously swallow under her thumb. Her hand went up and turned Saeko's chin towards her. Blue lips met blue lips as Mercury gave her a quick kiss. "When the time comes to pick up Father... you can have him."

    Saeko's eyes widened. She felt her heartbeat speed up, which clashed with what she knew of her new internals. She was hit with similar nervous and chemical spikes in her nonexistent endocrine system.

    "You can bring him in... bring him to heel. And he is an artist." Mercury ran a finger down Saeko's shoulder. "And we can use someone with an artistic eye. Though maybe you'll prefer Orion's mother. She's a jeweler and a doctor. Besides, we're family, and a certain redheaded... friend of mine has shown me the value of family."

    Saeko found her cheeks flushing. A hand went up and confirmed that they did feel warmer.

    Mercury chuckled. "I did built in some reactions. I'm not totally heartless."

    "Mistress!" Virgo shouted.

    "What?" Mercury spun around nearly spilling her wine.

    "Something's coming out of the building."

    "Oh? Did DarkStar decide to make a grand exit?

    "Not unless she can turn into a giant loaf-shaped mass of tar," Virgo flatly stated.

    Orion glanced over at Virgo. "You haven't seen her cut loose have you?"

    "I've heard. Demon queen, mass of shadow and blood. But loaf? Has she let herself go?"

    "True, she is prideful." Orion nodded. "The Canadians are readying a counter attack. I'm getting chatter of something coming from the east," Orion stated.

    Saeko's head was turned to the display bank. "What is that?"

    Mercury stood up. A collection of matte-black and blue squid-like creatures had squirmed out of the north corner of the building. Spears of bright phosphorescent light lanced out from them. A sparkling brace of rockets were loosed by one of the larger creatures and sliced through the tailboom of one of the helicopters.

    However, the mistress of ice ignored the smoking spiraling helicopter even as it crashed on the bank of the canal. She hardly noticed, when the soldiers manning the bridge checkpoint had opened up and began exchanging tracer fire from a sandbagged machine gun nest.

    Her focus was on the giant sable mass that lurched and slithered its way at the head of the alien procession. The size of a large truck, it moved in a shuffling, amorphous, lurch like a rolling sack of heaving tumors. Its surface was dotted with writhing tentacles and glossy apertures that formed and opened.

    Mercury stared. Her body chilled and her mind tried cataloging the thing. Some of the vacuoles opened and waved flexing, winking fronds that might be sensory in nature. Some seemed to help with locomotion by gripping the ground as it turned over.

    Lacking ranged weapons it was still formidable as it merely rolled up the bridge, it's writhing bulk bridge shredding sandbag, concrete, and soldier alike. It also had considerable fire support from the smaller creatures using it as cover.

    Seeing her daughter's surprise, Saeko smoothed her gloves against her skirt. "You seem troubled. Are things not going as you thought?"

    Mercury turned and glared at the crystalline woman. She snapped her hand and a dark blue tessen appeared. "Troubled? Do you grasp what this means?" she demanded pointing to the display with the heavy war-fan. " That's a protoplasmic Servitor!"

    Behind her the Canadian forces rallied and from both the quarantine line and the building itself began pounding the alien forces. However, the giant tarry mass seemed immune to the fire being focused on it

    An RPG shot out of a barricade perpendicular to the bridge. It hit the amorphous thing square on. The explosion was muffled. Ichor and goo splashed out in ropey heaps but the creature continued to trundle forward.

    "I suppose the Princess will make her appearance," Mercury noted.

    "DarkStar could still preempt her," Virgo reminded.

    "Contact east!" Orion shouted as she pulled in another camera feed.

    "Oh, what now."

    "Reinforcements," the auburn-haired Senshi said.

    Mercury blinked. "Those are tanks. They have tanks." She watched as a vanguard of military and police vehicles cleared the road ahead of a pair of mottled black, green and russet armored tanks. Surprisingly fast, the vehicles raced down the road, their whip antennas bobbing and their gun barrels slightly raised.

    "Yes, armies tend to have those; Canadian Army Leopard 2's by the look," Virgo said with mild reproach. Reaching the quarantine line, the police cars peeled off while the tanks and other armored escorts drove on through.

    "This is their operation," Virgo added. The Mistress had assigned her to collate reports on rival capabilities and assets, but apparently had not bothered to read them. The former Amazon gave an internal sigh. For all her talk, the Mistress had the most curious blind spots. Back in the village they always knew what assets the People's Liberation Army had in the Golog prefecture. And kept up to date on the major movements in the rest of the Qinghai Province.

    Mercury's eyes darted to the screen showing the invading force. Lances of light and black splatter-blisters shot out.

    The lead tank crested the canal bridge. Its gun barked; the barrel recoiled back. An orange smoky plume blew out.

    The shell tore a gaping hole through the tarry beast before continuing on and hitting the corner of the convention center across the street from the Defense Head quarters. The round exploded in a flat grump and the oozing hole began to seal back up.

    "Tough thing," Vrigo noted as she gave Mercury a questioning glance.

    "Quite the opposite," Orion stated. "Through and through, it must have altered its density to keep the fuse from triggering."

    Mercury dismissed both with a wave. She had no intention of teleporting into what was essentially an armor versus armor fight. "That's what they were built for."

    The Squids opened up on the lead tank. The incendiary rounds bounced off the composite hull. Then the larger Squid darted around the reforming Servitor and fired and a brace of rocket pods. The rocket cluster burned out and snapped the tank's right tread.

    "Clever, they know what they're up against," Orion noted as the Servitor surged forward. The fire intensified as the force of Squids split. Half moved with the Servitor to engage the tank while the rest tried to go around the bridge and towards the canal.

    "Or they figured out it needs those to move," Mercury replied. The immobilized tank's coaxial machine gun raked over the advancing... infantry. As the exposed Squids and their armor blew apart, the ones using the Servitor as cover fired their rockets. The fleeing group had come under fire from the remaining Gryphon helicopter and was exchanging more incendiary rounds with it.

    "Could be luck," Virgo frowned. The tank's main gun boomed again and the half of the Servitor was blown away like ripping the top off of a load of moldy bread.

    As that happened the supporting tank had revved its engine and raced down the bridge. Passing its immobilized companion at max acceleration, it slammed into the tarry mess. Treads churned the protoplasmic structure as the tank tried to find purchase. The Leopard reared up then with a heavy thud slammed back down rolling over the creature crushing Servitor and Squid alike.

    The tank alternated reversing its treads and ground down into the bubbling mass and broken encounter suits. Some of the Squids had avoided being crushed and were swarming up on the tank's skirts. They were quickly hosed off by machinegun fire from its immobilized partner.

    Mercury's hand twitched and she paused to put her fan and her wineglass down on the table next to her chair. The heavy fan clinked against the crystal water-filled vase. "Well."

    The tank drove forward , kicking up a rooster tail of black ichor behind it in the process. A tarry substance misted into the air and was joined by dirty smoke ad the remaining mass began to smolder. It finished crossing the bridge and moved in to support the infantry from the side of the canal and air support that had boxed in the remaining Squids.

    "I don't think your Princess will be needed today," Saeko stated.

    "Yes Mother," Mercury absently noted. "Orion, are we recording us?"

    "Of course, but..."

    "Yes?"

    "There's something going on to the east of the building, it looks like..." Orion frowned.

    "Another group is trying to escape," Virgo completed. "It looks like the mercenaries are deploying."

    "Keep me appraised," Mercury's eyes narrowed.

    "One more thing, Mistress." Orion blushed, her checks glistening. "We're not the only ones getting these feeds. Hell, these aren't the only cameras on scene."

    Mercury picked up a bottle and began refilling her glass. "Interesting. Well I suppose of all the secrets that could be revealed today that we're at risk of invasion by gibbering horrors is one of the minor ones." She raised the glass then paused as it touched her lips.

    "Right? Don't tell me I missed footage of DarkStar or the Princess fighting out in the open?" Mercury asked as the tank finished crossing the bridge.

    "There battle may not be over," Virgo allowed. "There are more forces yet to deploy."

    Absently nodding, Mercury watched the tank as it lumbered around the edge of the building. It seemed almost... hungry. Taking a sip she patted Saeko on the head.

    The new Senshi frowned, part of her enjoyed the contact; she even scooted a bit closer to her... Mistress. Saeko shook her head, but she did not scoot away from her mother.

    Mercury did not notice. Her attention was on the tank. It had suddenly sprung into action and raced to the access way that ran beneath the military headquarters. Virgo had to keep switching cameras to keep it in frame. Soldiers and other vehicles pulled back, away from the tank.

    Perplexed, Mercury put the glass to her lips. The tank had stopped and lowered its main gun. It then began to slowly inch backwards until it halted and simply sat there idling. "Huh."

    Mistress Mercury took a sip. The main-gun fired. The concrete half a dozen meters in front of the tank blew apart and began to collapse. A thin plum of greasy black smoke started to rise from the smoldering hole. The main gun fired again. After the fireball dissipated the greasy plume returned.

    "Huh," Mercury repeated.

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


    A grey Blackhawk helicopter banked towards the University of Ottawa's Tabaret Lawn. Brown and red leaves blew off the maples and oaks that bounded the east side of the campus green as the downwash from the rotors blasted dust and debris.

    Exhaling, Mars held the disguise pen as light flashed over her. Now wearing a set of fatigues she handed the pen to Jupiter and popped the buckle on her harness.

    Pluto knelt her head down to the black cat she held in her lap. Scratching at the heavy collar she wore, Luna frowned but climbed into the crook of Pluto's arm.

    "Stay behind us, if things go bad... get in contact with the Company or the military, tell them what's going on," Pluto insisted tapping the radio slung under the collar, as the cat rested against her torso.

    Holding onto a strap from the ceiling, Mars stood and ripped off the sound dampening headset she had been wearing and slipped on the Company headset. The heavy pulsing noise of the engines and rotor blades assaulted her ears.

    A Company agent was helping Jupiter and Serenity to their feet followed by checking their headsets. The brunette in her new illusionary green fatigues gave an expectant grin and followed Serenity to the right side of the helicopter where Pluto stood by the door-gunner.

    Mars went to the left. Minako was already at the open door. Despite the helicopter being five meters up, Pluto and Minako neatly jumped out. Seeing the blonde plummet, Mars exhaled again as her stomach tightened.

    They had jumped from much higher up, frequently. But not from a pitching helicopter. Watching Minako gracefully land on a narrow strip of asphalt, Mars waited. After a few more beats the helicopter had descended a couple more meters.

    With a gasp, Mars leapt. Boots hit the dried, browning grass of the western edge of the campus yard. Wind and air buffeted around her and grew in intensity as the helicopter lifted. Following Minako, she turned and saw Pluto, Serenity, and Makoto taking up positions facing the long three story university building to the west.

    "There!" Pluto shouted as the diminutive Senshi pointed to some smoke rising from the glass dome rising behind the heavy pillared entrance of the blocky stone building. Luna jumped out of her arm and sprinted to the side.

    After completing a sweep behind her, Mars glanced up at the building that loomed above them. Their helicopter had moved off and she could just make out another on approach to the roof of the three story building. Lines came out and a trio of company agents rappelled down.

    "Go!" Meiou ordered; the slightly delayed sound in Mars' headset much stronger than the actual shout.

    Despite the tension, the raven-haired girl smiled and glanced down at the green combat uniform she appeared to be wearing. There was something amusing about seeing demons rappel instead of simply flying. Their camouflage was less elaborate than using a magical disguise pen, but it was simple enough.

    Shadowing Minako, Mars bounded across the narrow road that fronted Taberet hall. The empty, evacuated campus gave an eerie sense of abandonment. It was all the more disquieting by the humming, penetrating noise of the helicopter and the beat of flat, crumping explosions to the west that rattled and could be felt in her chest.

    Tension grew as she followed the blonde beyond left side of the broad staircase while the other three magical grills went to the right.

    "We can still cut 'em off!" Minako grinned as the pair paused behind the wide trunk of a broad oak that gave them some cover from the building's silent eyes. As the blonde's hands flexed, Mars could see flashes of gold appear and disappear.

    Fronted by six two-story stone columns the front of the building looked like a prototypical university to Mars' eye. The facade of the building behind the pillars even included mats of creeping, if browning ivy, and a giant stone-carved university crest on the gable above the pillars. A pair of glass-panels wood doors sat between the innermost pillars.

    Blinking, Mars forced her hands to flex.

    "You feel it too?" Glancing back, the blonde's stern face looked bashful for a moment. "Of course you do."

    "It's wrong." Mars' tongue felt oddly stiff, as if the pressure in her mouth was suddenly too high "They're wrong; it-"

    A booming crack assaulted Mars' ears, followed by a shout on her headset.

    "Over the top!" Minako gleefully cried as she rushed out and bounded over the three meters of stairs in a couple steps. "Mars! Hole! Right window!" she screamed as her disguise flickered.

    Waiting a beat, so that she was couple meters behind the other girl, Mars took the stairs. Her disguise shimmered and threatened to peel off as she moved her right hand in a circular motion around her body. As she passed the pillars and fell under the roof overhang, fire sparked around the edge of her hand forming a flickering, burning ring. The ring split turned into eight smaller rings, which then compacted into white hot orbs that race forward. Half slammed through the window itself and they exploded in the room beyond. The rest hit the sides of the window and blew the whole assemblage out of its frame.

    Crystal Wink sword appearing in her hands, Minako jumped though the newly made ingress point. A whispered "Death Scream" to the right created a similar opening.

    Vaulting the shattered windowsill, Mars found herself in a ravaged lounge. Chairs and cheap round tables were knocked over and spotted with smoldering flames. A cloying minty smell tickled her nose.

    The scent spiked. Three paces before Rei, Minako stood over a roiling body with her sword extended. Her disguise had evaporated revealing, shining golden armor and twin blonde ponytails.

    Minako jabbed forward. The gleaming edge of the large grey and gold sword stabbed into a... creature. Bits of white-silver vaguely-ceramic material limply hung from a harness attached to its back. Dark-blue composite armor plates easily parted as did the matt black environmental suit beneath.

    There was a flash of reflected light as the double-bladed curved tip sliced through the underside of the creature's barrel-shaped body and embedded into the tile floor beneath. Thick yellow fluid began to hiss out of the exit wound as the mint scent flared, and almost rancid ammonia undertones rose to prominence.

    Giving a tiny, satisfied, smile, Minako twisted her wrist. Withdrawing, the sword tore apart the wound track. Thick ichor poured out, and steamed, boiling in the air. Armored tentacles writhed and flailed as the Squid tried to pull itself up. A ceramic-edged blade attached to a tentacle flashed and met Minako's sword.

    After blocking the blow, the blonde wheeled the blade around and slashed through the front of the barrel-bodied creature. Half a dozen, sheathed, flailing tendrils plopped to the ground in a messy, heap of seaming yellow ichor.

    "What the hell was that?" Mars demanded gagging at the smell of the thing and hearing the heavy engines of a helicopter in the distance.

    Minako gave her a level look before her eyes darted down to the creature as she flicked her sword.

    "Yeah... one of the invaders," Lady Mars exhaled and flexed her hands. "Damn, they're creepy."

    "Come on, there's sure to be more of Them."

    Mars glanced down at it one last time. "You think it was scouting ahead?" she asked in a whisper.

    Shifting her grip, Minako gave a quick nod.

    The two edged out of the lounge. Beyond the threshold was a north-south running hallway. The floor had more tiles and the walls were painted a soft beige. There were more doors down the corridor, made out of maple paneling. The occasional book-bag was left discarded in the hallway and smoke wafted in from the right. Splotches of blood on the wall showed that the building's evacuation had not gone off cleanly.

    From down the hall came a whisking scuttling noise. Minako stepped forward, and Mars turned. Wondering what one of those things was doing out alone, her eyes swept up the hall then down to the left.

    There was another rustling noise as a bit of white-silver ceramic poked out past a doorway. The weapon lanced out hitting Minako in the side with an incendiary burst the size of a softball. Burning fragments embedded into the blonde's golden armor, sizzling her skin, and marring her skit.

    Off balance, Minako spun and a second shot hit her in the chest. More flaming fragments splashed out. As the squid's weapon cycled and fired yet again.

    "Burn!" Screaming, Lady Mars clasped her hands and with a thrust released an angry orange fire ball. The sphere hit the squid and it made a scrambling, whisking noise as it retreated.

    Eyes narrowing and hair lifting, Mars clenched her hands and a torrent of red flames hosed out burning the doorway and saturating the room within. The squid screamed, or at least a whistling noise screeched out after the creature boiled until the pressure caused it's suit to rupture in a wet steaming mess.

    "Mars!" Minako gently grabbed the raven-haired girl's shoulder.

    Flames gutting out, Sailor Mars shook her head. Stepping to the side she looked into the burned-out room. The occasional flame still flickered in the battered office. Laying in front of the charred desk was a burst open squid. Its armor peeled back and its barrel-body blown apart and oozing steaming yellow ichor.

    "Damn," Mars gagged, turning from the remains.

    "Well, we don't smell too good burnt up either." Minako smiled as the rivulets of molten gold on her chest armor began to smooth and heal. She took Mars' arm. "Thanks."

    Mars gave an appreciative, if disquieted, smile.

    Down the opposite end off the corridor came a barrage of explosions, a screaming flash, and a frizzling electrical discharge followed by thunderous clap.

    The pair raced down the corridor. It abruptly opened up into a broad multi-story atrium enclosed under a glass-pane dome.

    Mars nearly stumbled at the flashing, blasting sight before her.

    Several squads of blue-armored squids were advancing from the far end of the atrium. An incendiary burst arced up from the aliens. Under their cover, three red armored creatures sidled out. Each about the size of a refrigerator, the lumbering tentacles swished as missile racks swiveled on their backs.

    Pluto's head tilted fractionally. "Down!" she screamed, grabbing the other two girls. At the sight of the diminutive red-eyed girl pulling down the taller brunette and the silver-haired woman, Mars stopped and fell to the floor.

    The black cat slinking in the back of the atrium dived behind a stairwell.

    Clusters of missiles launched, shattering the corridor the trio had emerged from. The hallway was blown apart as the ceiling collapsed and walls shattered. Pressure from the concentrated barrage blew out the windows on the front of the building and caused its stone facade to slough off. One of the broad stone pillars cracked and shed fragments.

    The raven-haired girl thought she saw blood splash up from the collapsing mess. Mars's hands were already in motion as Minako sliced apart the smaller squids on the flank near their side of the atrium.

    One of the creatures rotated its racks and a flight of missiles launched at Mars and Minako. Mars launched her attack. The streaking fireballs and missiles crossed paths and there was a series of detonations.

    It was not a mutual destruction.

    Four fireballs managed to rain down on one of the giant creatures as it tried to slide back. The racks detonated sending missiles exploding and randomly shuddering off. The creature reared and slumped down, to be dragged back by a squad of its smaller compatriots.

    As that happened, a trio of stubby missiles sprinted out. One jerked and blew up in the wall behind Mars raking her back armor with stone fragments, while the other two went towards Minako. One detonated late, ripping a gout in the side of the blonde's thigh while the other blew over her midsection. Polished armor and skirting tore and gobs of golden viscera spurted out as the swordswoman went to her knee.

    Adding to the pandemonium, a shot rang through the atrium. A 25mm grenade exploded through the front part of one of the other red armored squids. Losing its forward tendrils and much of the pulpy flesh around its mouth parts the creature thrashed and spurted yellow ichor.

    Its blue armored guards immediately shifted their guns and started raining incendiary fire up to the atrium ceiling where the shot had originated.

    Mars' headset crackled with a message from the succubae on the roof.

    The sole remaining missile carrier retreated but not before launching a desultory, smoky barrage.

    "Mako-chan!" Luna cried rushing to the girl.

    Sprinting, Lady Pluto got there first and pulled up the bleeding bronze-armored brunette. Ignoring her own wounds, she checked the damage and gave a sight of relief as she wrenched Jupiter's shoulder back into place and released a flock of shimmering iridescent bubbles over the frothing puncture through the taller girl's chest.

    The brunette screamed with as much surprise and pain. Her yell cutoff when she looked down and saw the roiling iridescence emanating from the smaller girl. Her shoulder burned and the jagged twisting pain in her chest wound became grew in spine-wrenching electric, tingles.

    "You're going to be okay," Luna assured sitting at Makoto's side.

    The brunette reached out and patted the cat.

    Shrugging under her torn, smoldering navy-blue jacket, Serenity stood. The garment's torn gold piping slowly mended as the fire damage and rips slowly healed. Her flat silver gauntlets s were scared and dented.

    Similar damage was on the silver articulated, knee-length armor over her pleated dark blue skirt and gold trimmed cream-colored ankle-length under skirt.

    In contrast, the high collared-beige blouse beneath the jacket was spotless. However, the thin silk bow adorning her chest was halfway undone. The golden crescent moon in the center of her heavy silver tiara shone.

    The mess of her glossy silver hair also slowly repaired as the braids retied themselves restoring the short tight bun and evening the short bangs that framed her face.

    Pale blue eyes glanced over the battlefield. Pausing to look at her bloodied friends, her gaze hardened; her jaw clenched putting the tendons of her long slender neck in sharp relief.

    A long polished ash wood staff was clenched in her hands. Inset along its length was a long shaft of blacked crystal that was tipped with her crescent-mooned scepter. A crescent of golden light flashed off the scepter as she slammed the stock of the staff into the tile floor.

    Trailing a shimmering rainbow, the arc of light cut through the smoke stripping away the concealing cloud.

    Suddenly exposed, the squids paused in their well-ordered retreat to cover. Their tendrils froze and slowly tilted towards the moon queen.

    "In the name of the Moon, I will personally dismember every single one of you!" Serenity promised, her voice low and resonate.

    Helping Jupiter to her feet, Pluto watched the squids wave their tendrils at each other. "Luna... watch out backs," the green-haired girl ordered as the cat nodded.

    Out of the corner of her eye, Pluto watched Serenity's arms tense and her stance shift.
    "Mars! Cover fire! Now" she yelled, pointing a black gauntleted hand and leveling her own garnet-tipped staff.

    Clasping her hands, Mars summoned her flames, and with a flick of her wrists she released a wide sweep of smoldering orange orbs.

    Shouldering her staff, Serenity took off. Spears of golden light stabbed out, pinning the squids tending to the remaining missile-bearing behemoth.

    As the fireballs raced across, Minako grinned and sprinted across the atrium, a slow trickle of gold dribbling down her side.

    Flames sparking along her hair, Mars covered Minako while Pluto and Jupiter loped up in the end.

    Hissing from the ichor-streaming wounds on its tendrils and body, the head-shot red-armored squid reared up. A golden crescent tipped staff was thrust into its "head". As the missile racks swiveled on its back a golden figure came in, crystal sword flashing, cutting the armatures.

    While the rocket pods tumbled to the floor, lightning skittered across the tile and waves of fire hit the retreating group of squids that had coalesced around the remaining red-armored squid. The crescent-tipped staff fired, and the wounded squid squealed.

    "They're running!" Serenity declared. She withdrew her ash wood staff from the smoking boiling corpse and flipped it to the end towards the next squad of squids.

    Arcing rainbow beams shot out as the armored queen charged. Streaks of yellow ichor flew from her armored skirting. Recovering from its shock, a squid in blue flicked out its silvery blades and tried to parry the queen.

    Quickly looking up, Pluto radioed the trio of succubae by the atrium's glass dome. Confirming that the succubae had moved to more secure positions, her stomach twitched. "I'm not sure that's what-"

    Curved blades reached up their inset miroscale ceramic edges catching the ash wood shaft. For an instant, Serenity stared at the writhing creature. The squid's tendrils halted.

    Pale blue eyes darkened to a deep blue. Usagi blinked. A weapon mount slowly swiveled up; the incendiary cannon pointed at the queen. Then with a quiver, the squid began to pull away. The queen blinked again; her pale gaze narrowing.


    A silver gauntleted fist smashed into the Squid's front end. As ichor sprayed up, Serenity wrenched her staff and used the edge of her scepter to sweep out the squid's tentacles.

    As it tumbled to the ground, an armored silver boot stomped down pinning the creature to the tile as the queen pressed her scepter against the squid's side.

    "I'm too slow," Serenity whispered as she aimed her scepter at another retreating squid. Watching the hit she panned around and blinked at the now empty atrium.

    "Hey Princess! Watch out," Luna shouted from her perch halfway up the stairs in the front side of the atrium. "They're up to something!"

    The Squids deeper in the building parted to allow something to pass The black mass was covered in waving fronts, forming eyes and transitory mouths. Lumpy, amorphous, and churning it oozed forward. Much larger than even the red-armored Squids, the being pushed through the corridor and poured into the atrium.

    Flames liking the edges of her bronze skirt and lofty hair, Mars stared at the protoplasmic creature. Despite its amorphous nature and gibbering offices there was something almost... mechanical to its lumbering, extruding motions. The vaguely burnt machine-oil scent that added to the rancid mint smell that filled the room did not help matters.

    "So, that's how they broke past the quarantine," Minako noted as the succubae on the roof opened fire. Roaming, shifting mouths and eyes started to bust as heavy 17mm rounds tore into the tarry hide. Larger 25mm grenade rounds began to knock out vast chunks that oozed ichor and wriggling flesh.

    "A Servitor." Pluto's face paled. She turned to Minako. "Protect the queen."

    The blonde nodded stiffly and sprinted to the silver-haired queen.

    Pluto keyed the radio incongruently pinned to her obsidian armor. "We'll handle this; take out the everything else," she transmitted to the demons.

    Serenity lowered her staff. The crescent on the end began to glow as Lunarian markings on her armor began to flicker into existence.

    Delicate-looking sensor fronds aligned and twitched as the Shoggoth lurched and a vacuole bulged up in the front and swelled until it burst. A stream of buzzing, squamulous gunk spurted out in a messy arc. Where it hit tile it burned and ate through.

    Where it hit Pattern-Silver armor, it sizzled and etched. Jumping in front of the queen, Minako deflected most of it with her sword but a ropy line ran down one arm and sunk into the flesh turning it into a golden runny mass.

    "Jupiter! Mars! Concentrate your fire on it!" Pluto ordered. "The Queen needs a clear shot."

    Eyes tearing, face wincing, Jupiter brought her arms up and snapped her hands down. Copper skirt sparkling, lightning spat forth and arced over the tarry creature.

    Standing beside the brunette, Mars screamed casting her attack. Fed by a stream of fireballs, a wall of fire flared in front of the Shoggoth. A stench like burning rubber rose as the creature compressed, reared and tried to flop over the fire.

    Planting her feet, Mars clenched her jaw and pulled the flames in tighter. The tips of her hair flared behind her like a halo their ends splitting and flickering with firelight.

    The stink intensified as the charring smell grew. Greasy smoke began to belch off the creature's surface as it tried to barrel through the flicking constricting flames.

    The diminutive green-haired Senshi rushed to one side and aimed her staff. The red garnet orb at the top flashed and the vacuoles at the head of the Shoggoth exploded in a burning mess.

    Glancing back, Pluto saw the brunette's eyes flash. "Take cover!" she yelled into her headset.

    Giving an inarticulate scream, Jupiter slammed her fist to her palm. There was a moment of silence, and then the top third of the dome sheered off shattering all of the remaining windows. Several wide lightning bolts, heralding a deafening thunderclap, stabbed down from the sky pinning the Servitor to the ground.

    Pieces of shattered glass and chunks of steel frame fell to the ground. Shots rang out as the demonic agents retook their positions and resumed firing on the stunned Squids. Thick coils of rubbery, rancid smelling smoke pulsed off the top of the Servitor. Its gelatinous form quivered as the deep red flames corralling it tightened.

    Serenity's staff raised; the black crystal along its length brightened until it glowed a pulsing bright purple. More Lunarian script formed along the queen's armor.

    As the Shoggoth weakly thrashed, the last invader squads rallied. Precision fire rained down from above while Pluto's own staff blasted the squids and Minako took guard of the queen herself.

    "Gorgeous!" Serenity cried as her staff snapped down. A blinding corona formed around the crescent tip. "Meditation!" A searing blast of energy full of shards resembling vibrating, shining shards of glass slammed into the shoggoth in a torrent of rainbow light that lit the atrium.

    Dozens of malformed mouths screamed under the deluge. For a second, creature's thick hide bent and deformed. Then with a shrieking hiss, the thick skin failed as hundreds of magical shards sliced through the amorphous mass. A moment later the Servitor fell silent as a ragged ash-filled hole bored through its side

    Sweat beading under the rim of her tiara, Serenity raked her staff dousing the smoldering creature. Shredded, fried, and burned, the tarry matter boiled into ashen dust. The light died off and Serenity's hand twitched as she lowered the staff, its crystal crescent tip almost hitting the floor.

    Blinking, she looked around the suddenly darkened atrium. The squids had been dispatched with Minako slicing one in half while another, twitching and bleeding from a gunshot wound was burned by Mars.

    Looking up, Serenity saw the demonic trio descent from the roof, their wings arresting their falls. Blinking she turned to the giant stinking corpse before her. "Oh... we won?"

    Luna bounded down the stairs and her nose immediately wrinkled.

    Favoring a shoulder, Jupiter walked up. Bits of static discharges still came off her skirt with every step. "I think so..." she coughed, gagging on the malodorous odors.

    "How's your wounded?" the taller succubus with pale-green hair asked as her black haired sister went straight to Jupiter.

    A diminutive succubus with short red hair held back. She carried a heavy-barreled sniper rifle longer than she was tall.

    Exhaling, Mars withdrew her power and the flames died down revealing more of the damage and ashen shoggoth remains. Her hair also cooled hanging down her back armor in a sweaty limp mass.

    "Uh..." Serenity shook her head, trying to get the ringing out. "How are we?"

    "I'm okay," Luna said as she circled Serenity. "And none of the... blood on you is yours."

    "Yes, you seem fine," Minako stated after running her hands down Serenity's arms, torso armor, and briefing checking up her skirt.

    "Mina!" Serenity blushed.

    "She's checking your for wounds," Sophie noted with amusement. "And you're not alone," the black-haired succubus pointed to Mars who was grudgingly letting herself be examine by Pluto and then to Jupiter who seemed to be more accepting of Morrison's attention. "With the adrenaline up, sometimes people don't even realize they're hit."

    "Speak for yourself," Morgan smirked as she refilled one of her rifle's giant blocky magazines.

    After bending down to pick up the black cat, Serenity looked at the stern-looking young succubus. The top vest of her armor was torn, her neck had been bandaged, and the jammer antennae-bow was slightly melted. "What?"

    "Oh nothing..."

    "I warned them before your attack," Pluto reassured.

    Worry crossed, Jupiter's face. "It wasn't-"

    Sophie cut the brunette off. "Friendly fire happens. And we've been too close to artillery before."

    "And you needed to stop that thing," Morgan said reassuringly stroking the side of her rifle.

    "Besides, the time for going over our mistakes will come later," Morrison stated as her light green gaze held each of her sisters in turn before returning her attention to Serenity. "After the fight's over."

    "Can we get out of here?" Serenity hesitantly asked lifting Luna to a shoulder so she could inspect her staff.

    "I'll arrange for transportation, there might still be more of the enemy," Morrison said before stepping to the side and keying her radio.

    Giving a little cough, Minako rubbed her mouth with the back of her hand. Eying the golden discharge she sighed.

    "And how are you taking this?" Sophie quietly asked.

    "It's good to have a victory." Minako paused and slowly sheathed her sword. "To finally fight, especially after being..."

    "Changed?" the newborn succubus asked, a playful lilt to her voice.

    The golem nodded slightly. "And disgusting space squids are better than jumpy Russians."

    Morrison returned to the group. The light-green haired demoness nodded to the short dark-green tressed magical girl. "Status?" Pluto asked.

    "We secure here; JTF2 will relieve us once the quarantine is reestablished." Tail swishing, the demon rubbed her forehead.

    "Will we be in mixed company?" Sophie asked flexing her wings. Her first combat drop with them had been... routine. Which was better than the alternative.

    Morrison nodded. "Yeah, Mother said we'll be going across the canal to meet up with eh others."

    Morgan blinked, she could tell her sister was holding something back, but let it slide. "No wings and tails then."

    Morrison nodded.

    "And us?" Serenity asked. "Use the disguise pen to dressup as soldiers?"

    "A group of all female soldiers with odd hair colors?" Mars asked.

    Sophie coughed.

    "No, I've got another idea." Pluto slowly shook her head. "Besides, we've still got some work to do there."

    Serenity turned and raised an eyebrow.

    Pluto pointed to one of the gutted squids. "I want to see where these things came through."

    Wiping her brow, Serenity then nodded. "You want to find out where they came from? What they're after?"

    "Yes," Pluto lied.

    End chapter 8

    I'd like to thank the prereaders for their help in this project: Milanda Anza, Mahou Sensou, J St C Patrick, Crimson Vixen, DCG, Pale Wolf and Kevin Hammel.

    Special thanks to Ckosacranoid for pointing out that Usagi and the Inners had a role to play in this battle.

    In other good news there's some new fanart. They can be found on the fukufics forum or on my new deviant art page. There's also another piece of art with Nabiki that's in the works.

    Username for that is sunny-temple so just put that in front of the deviantart com

    Revision notes: Mistress Mercury has been busy while this has been going on, and the training has paid off for the Senshi. Two chapters left, and then Blood Debts, and after that Bonding Allure.
     
    armourdefense and cl20 like this.
  10. Threadmarks: Chapter 9
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

    Joined:
    Oct 8, 2016
    Messages:
    212
    Likes Received:
    545
    Book 4: Capital Offense
    Chapter 9: Room for Recovery
    Formerly: Reserve and Release Part 4i


    Across the canal from the National Defence Headquarters was Ottawa city hall. It was being used as a staging area, command post, and triage station. Several of the conference rooms in the upper floors had been commandeered by JTF2 and was being used as a collection point for the Black Devils and allied forces.

    The door opened and a pair of armored JTF2 troopers allowed a squad of WIC agents to enter. The Company mercenaries were in turn escorting three young women.

    A silver-haired woman wearing blue windbreaker over a darker blue suit, with a long matching pinstripe skirt strode into the conference room.

    A black haired woman in a maroon suit with a matching windbreaker was at her heel. She carried a pair of white helmets emblazed with "NORR Systems" on the front. A blonde in the same dark suit, helmet, and jacket combo followed.

    The room was full of soldiers sprawled out on the floor, resting at chairs, and eating. A whole side table had been filled with steaming metal trays of food including a tureen of savory stew and a pile of bloody steaks.

    The trio took in the room as the door closed behind them. Their Company escorts nodded to the JTF2 troops as they crossed the room to another pair of doors on the opposite side.

    These doors were being guarded by another squad of Company Agents, their bulky HOG rifles slung low. These doors were opened and the trio were ushered inside.

    The silver-haired woman pulled a pink ruby tipped pen out of her jacket and tapped the gem. Her suit and sensible shoes flashed over into a dark blue armored gown.

    She handed the pen over to the blonde who grinned and shifted into a golden seifuku. The blonde then tossed it to the black-haired woman who rolled her eyes and shifted into a polished red-bronze armored seifuku.

    The taller woman stopped before one of the tables, her armored boots ringing against the tile. The two Senshi behind her stopped, making a similar ring with their metal heels.

    Sitting before the trio were a sextet of succubae. The one in the center had dark red and blonde hair that was being brushed out by an orange-haired succubus. On the table were a few bows, hair gems and pins. Gingerly working around burnt and scarred horns, the orange haired demon removed another bow and placed it on the table.

    The hair still bore some braids, ragged ends, and out and out burnt sections. Only half of her hair flowing back into a wild mane that contrasted with the smooth fall of the raven-haired Senshi, and the tight French braid of the silver-haired queen.
    However, the demon's hair did have some similarities to the twin tails of the blonde Senshi.

    The demoness had a large bowl of stew before her and a plate bearing a pair of thick rare steaks. Bowls of salad and stew were in front of the other succubae. A white polished armored bodice hung loose on an emaciated frame. Silvery wings were folded against her back.

    Matching gauntlets draped on her arms. As she walked up the silver-haired Senshi could see a torn and charred long blue skirt, a set of crimson shin guards, and a pair of polished silver hooves. Snaking under the table was a long red tail.

    Contrasting with the frippery of the battered armor, the other succubae wore Senshi uniforms made from grey-green bodysuits and vests and skirts with armored insets.

    The demon paused between eating the stew to tear into the dripping rare meat. Her cheeks were hollow and the rest of her frame was thin, wasted. One side of her face had slowly healing cuts and scrapes and bare patches around the scalp near an almost cut-off horn.

    The queen could see the demon's collar bones pushing against the pale, ashen, skin above her chest armor. Over her shoulders lay a pair of mostly shattered pauldrons. A green and gold quartered circle flared on the demon's brow, which was a greasy silver-grey color.

    Flanking the brood mother were her daughters. The one with glossy black hair had a concerned expression while the one with teased orange hair had an expression of self-satisfaction as she brushed out her mother's hair. They all fussed and fed and cleaned their mother.

    The silver-haired woman sniffed the air. Even here the room was permeated with the smell of burnt gunpowder, blood, sweet, and a newly familiar scent vaguely like crushed mint. It seemed especially strong coming from the armor that Ranma had stripped out of. The armor itself was familiar to the Queen.

    Ranma looked up from her meal. As she sniffed the air, thin lips curled into a smile. "Dressing up? Or something more?"

    Smiling, the orange haired demoness stepped back and whispered to her platinum-headed mate. The two then pulled their elder sister to the side and quietly chatted with her.

    Queen Serenity, Usagi Tsukino, looked down at herself. "I didn't like something I saw in the mirror."

    Ranma laughed. "That's not what I meant."

    Minako, who looked more like Usagi than "Serenity" did, waved one of the helmets in front of her queen.

    Serenity blushed. "Ah yes, our disguises."

    "NORR Systems?" Ranma asked her voice a bit hoarse.

    Misako then went over and quietly talked to Akane while Ukyou chatted with Nabiki.

    "Some structural engineering firm," Serenity shrugged. "Our cover is we're here to inspect the damage."

    Returning, Nariko looked up from polishing her mother's gauntlet and getting it to fit a bit better on the brood mother's arm. "It's better than us just putting a blanket over mom and putting her in an ambulance."

    Frowning, the redhead speared a chunk of beef and thoughtfully chewed.

    Serenity stared. With the demon's hollow cheeks her jaw seemed even more pronounced.

    The demon swallowed. "No tall brunette friend? No Kiri either."

    "Inspecting the damage," Serenity said. Luna had gone with Pluto; she assured Serenity that she knew all about such rifts. Serenity was not so convinced. However, Pluto seemed to disagree.

    She noticed that the demoness had another pair of black horns sticking out of her hair. In addition to the damaged and mangled rear pair.

    All the daughters had returned and renewed their ministrations. Nabiki concentrated on gently polishing a battered horn while Misako resumed brushing and piling back up, the brood mother's crimson locks.

    Nearly purring at the attention, Ranma's smile grew. Her teal-rimmed, purple eyes with their narrow slits went glassy for a moment. "Ah, and how is the damage?" Glancing over the Senshi, she took a long pull from a glass of milk. "Especially since a little bird told me that you girls stopped one of those... things."

    Serenity stared, noticing the demon's long fingers. She shook her head. Ranma was in her Sailor Earth form, this was as expected as those hooves. She cleared her throat. "Mina-chan got burned some by acid, and Mako-chan got torn up some."

    "Probably why Setsuna's keeping an eye on her," Mars noted.

    "Good job," Ranma smiled.

    Serenity blinked. "Uh... thanks."

    "I know how tough those 'Servitors' are." the demoness worked her jaw. "What about how those things broke into our world?"

    "We don't know yet."

    Ranma nodded. "Yeah, Eve and her girls haven't reported back either."

    "Ah, that's how you knew about us."

    The demoness bowed her head.

    "And you've also got your people inspecting the rift?" Serenity asked.

    "That's why Mother's not here; she and Dirac are inspecting the damage too." The demoness paused slightly. "Thanks for the heads up."

    "Nuit's warning was spot on." Serenity looked down. "Wish I could have done more."

    "But..." Ranma stared. She then turned to the other Guardian Senshi. "Do one of you girls want to handle this?"

    "You blew up a shoggoth. The Canadians had to use a tank to kill theirs," Minako reminded.

    Whistling, Misako gently tapped her mother's scalp with a hairbrush before going back to wrapping up some hair buns.

    "More?" Mars bapped Serenity on the back of the head. "Minako and I nearly passed out pinning that thing down for you,"

    Chagrined, the brood queen and moon queen both nodded.

    Serenity met Ranma's gaze. The door opened and the redhead glanced over to see a group of WIC troops lug in a couple ammo boxes, some large plastic crates, and a drum of water.

    Meanwhile, Serenity's eyes then went to the armor, which seemed to fit a bit better. She saw a little ruby bow atop the left breast of the polished white bodice.

    The queen nodded. And wondered why Ranma was in her Sailor Earth uniform. It was different, more armored, but the fundamentals (white top, long blue skirting, red shin guards) were the same.

    "Still from what I've heard you did plenty," Serenity assured, noting that the demon's face wounds were closing in, though her skin was still a bit silver-grey.

    "I should have fought smarter... I... " The demon downed some milk.

    "Should not have wired your jammers directly into your horns, Mommy" Nariko sternly said before leaning in to kiss the now healed horn.

    Nodding, Serenity thought of Makoto's attack and the friendly fire it had caused. They had made mistakes, and fortunately it seemed the damage could have been a lot worse.

    Delightfully warm, Ranma smiled and basked in her daughter's love.

    As the eldest daughter moved away and started helping her mate keep her mother's plates filled, Misako began to wrap ruby tresses over the last horn.

    Watching the broodlings fuss and work, Serenity took a chair and slowly sat down. Minako and Rei followed, taking seats on either side.

    Ranma eyed the queen. "The Canadians took it kinda personal."

    "It would have been nice if your secret friend called you earlier," Misako told Serenity as she put down the brush.

    She then snatched the pitcher of milk before Nabiki could get it and refilled Ranma's glass. She gave her mother a quick smile and a somewhat lingering hug.

    Watching the redhead wolf down food, Serenity exhaled. "How... how was it? I mean, we fought a breakout to the east, then- well we saw the bridge, the tanks."

    "The Canadians fought well," Nariko approvingly said as she polished the thin white gauntlets that clung to Ranma's forearms.

    "It is their military headquarters," Nabiki reminded as she cleaned her mother's face.

    "Plus those Squid bastards squish real nice." Misako picked up a cherry tomato and crushed it between her teeth.

    Remembering the smell, Mars found herself nodding.

    "Though it was Nari's idea to have the tank fire into the basement," Misako bashfully added.

    Pausing her work. Nariko gave a tiny, but prideful smile.

    Taking another tomato, Misako continued as she resumed her hairstyling. "Stupid goo monster. Blew up good."

    "Ours got cut up and boiled down into a slimly ash," Minako thoughtful said.

    Misako gave a toothy grin.

    Ukyou gave her made patronizing smile and leaned in to wipe some of the spilled juice off Misako's chin with a napkin. The platinum blonde then picked up the mangled antennae to Ranma's jammer rig and sighed before going to one of the crates the agents had brought in.

    "I'll have to contact Major Sifton and see about commending the tanker crew, plus Borgne and his boys. I should have known the Major would have held something up his sleeve." Metallic purple lips curled into a dreamy smile as Nabiki hovered over her face.

    "Who?" Serenity asked.

    "Lieutenant Borgne, he's the officer that took charge before JTF2 showed up."

    "Held the line then?" Serenity's mind flashed back to the atrium and the Squids that tried to roll over her and her friends.

    "Indeed." Ranma beamed.

    Serenity returned the smile. "The Canadians did good."

    "The ones that survived the initial invasion." Ranma looked at her glass.

    "They came at you skulking and slithering," Mars whispered.

    Ranma nodded. "The building was half empty anyway. What with Shest and that cultist attacking."

    "Good thing ours was too," Minako noted.

    "I didn't start that many fires!" Lady Mars protested.

    "I can't believe the cyborgs would do that... would do all this," Serenity swore.

    Both Misako and Mars scoffed. "Really?" the black-haired Senshi asked. "Because Russian cyborgs are known for their restraint?"

    "They don't...." Serenity leaned forward in her chair. "They've got a mission, they're not sloppy. They don't do this much collateral damage..."

    "Usa... they burned down several blocks of downtown Toronto and shot down a helicopter, as a diversion," Mars gently reminded.

    "This is an alien invasion!"

    "And at a big Military HQ. They broke in, did something nasty... and took something right?" Mars looked to the demons.

    Nariko glanced to her mother and then Ukyou. Both succubae nodded. Akane and Nabiki were still feeding the brood mother, while Misako happily teased the redhead's hair into shape.

    Looking up from the Kevlar sheathed antennae rig she had spread out on the table, Ukyou cleared her throat. "JTF2 inspected the building's jammer. They found an overloaded rig with several missing components. Our guess is they took the signal generator so they could build their own Jammer. It could have been a target of opportunity since they had to disable the Jammer in order to escape and allow the invaders to come."

    "What other reason is there to attack?" Minako asked. "It's not like the Canadians were watching the Princess... um watching me," The blonde recovered as she slid back into her familiar cover of pretending to be the Moon Princess.

    Nabiki held her tongue at the slip up. She honestly wondered if this pretense was more harm than good.

    "Many records were also taken from the facility. Though it's hard to tell how much of that was due to the otherworldly invaders."

    "The Squids made a real mess of the place," Ranma explained as she tore into the fresh steak. "Ripped computers apart, cut the spines out of books, gutted filing cabinets, and took people apart and stole their brains. Creepy things."

    "It could also have been a diversion."

    Ranma nodded. "Maybe."

    Mars whistled. "Hell of a diversion."

    "But they did it with just one cyborg and a cultist."

    Serenity nodded her head in defeat. "But why didn't they use this opportunity to attack me?"

    "Maybe they thought the Shoggoth would kill you," Minako suggested.

    "You really think the cyborgs knew we were going to be deployed that way?" Mars asked.

    The blonde golem shrugged. "The demonic Senshi were deployed, with Captain Jarvis running command that left her daughters and us being held in reserve."

    "And you girls would only be deployed if it was real important. Maybe...," Ukyou shrugged. She went from the unspoiled jammer antennas to examining her mother's wings. "But that would suggest, some sort of coordination between the Squids and the cyborgs."

    Serenity noticed that Ranma's wings had bits of armor along their upper edges and looked almost mechanical. Or perhaps more medical, like a cast of struts and plates to keep broken bones fixed in position.

    "Maybe, maybe it would have made you an easier target," Ukyou explained, nodding to herself before she started removing armored sections.

    "You cousins were watching our backs," Serenity added. "Still if the cyborgs had attacked in force."

    "Fighting's a risk." Nariko patted her hand. The red-eyed demon blinked and wriggled her fingers at the buzzing tingle. She briefly looked to Misako who gave a triumphant smile. "Still, please sit down all of you. You need to unwind too."

    "Yes, maybe you can help," the orange-haired demoness purred.

    Serenity sighed; Ranma's daughter sounded sincere. "Thanks." She sat down and met Ranma's quizzical gaze. "Well, at least you got to shut down their gateway... whatever it was."

    Mars took a seat, sighed, and found Nariko serving her a glass of water. She took a long sip and sighed happily.

    Pausing in her chewing, Ranma gave an awkward smile. The demon swallowed. "Nope... that was Bonhomme and Beta Team."

    The Moon Queen's arms fell onto the table with a clunk

    "I was in the basement drawing their fire while Beta blasted through the ceiling and dropped charges on 'em."

    Tapping the table, the silver-haired woman frowned. "Huh, they had the Company's trump card, the scary uber-demon, the dreaded brood queen, and you were... backup? A... diversion?" She blinked in confusion.

    "I wasn't alone," Ranma narrowed her eyes.

    Seeing the demon's pupils contract to the point where her eyes were nearly solid purple. Serenity pulled back. "Sorry, sorry... what happened?"

    "I was with a squad. We were loaded for bear. The enemy... well we kept their attention."

    Serenity's shock slowly sublimated into a smile. "They are tenacious," she noted, having a sip from her own glass.

    Ranma smirked. "Incendiary missiles will get your attention."

    "You and your team freed up Bonhomme?"

    Ranma nodded.

    "I guess that's one way to use a demon that you've got a blank check."

    "Well, I wouldn't do anything. Depends on how nice Sifton asked, I expect at the very least a smack on the ass, and some hoof polishing later" Ranma blissfully added as Misako went from brushing Ranma's hair to smoothing it. Some color returned to her cheeks, but there was still a silver sheen to her face.

    Coughing on her water, Mars blinked while Minako's cheeks pinked.

    Giving a knowing smile, Serenity leaned forward. "Sure, sure, but they could put you to any use. They could have sent you straight into the gateway itself."

    The demoness looked down at her armor; there was less damage than she had expected, and at least the fit was better. "Might not have been the best idea. When it comes to tossing magical girls at inter-dimensional horrors I'm not the most... experienced."

    "That's something we've fought a lot," Minako admitted before getting up to make Serenity a plate.

    "With today being another tally mark." Mars added, though her attention was transfixed on the four "bun horns" Misako had crafted atop the brood mother's head.

    Serenity also lowered her gaze. When she looked up the brood stared back, eagerly.

    "That actually is something you've got experience with," Ranma offered. The demon's smile returned. "We were fortunate today."

    "Did... did they really need us?" Serenity asked, picking at the sandwich before her. With the Canadians being the ones to shut down the rift, and with them taking out a shoggoth using entirely non-magical means...

    "We made a difference. Your girls stepping in when you did reduced casualties. Can you imagine what those things would have done if they'd have gotten loose in the city?" Ranma's eyes went to the door in front of her. The one that lead to the larger room where the soldiers were having their R&R.

    Serenity shivered. "They needed a tank to kill the other shoggoths."

    "Then add in the infantry support of the Squids themselves and it would ahve been some very messy urban combat."

    "Not to mention if they somehow managed to open a new gateway," Lady Mars growled.

    Ranma nodded. "But if we weren't here... Yes, there were other... Options in place."

    "Oh, what?"

    The brood mother coughed. "I don't know."

    Taking a chicken-sandwich from Serenity's plate, Mars snorted. "Secrets being kept from WIC's pet uber-demon?"

    The demoness rolled her shoulders. "Our hosts are keeping some of their cards tight."

    Blinking, Mars paused. "The Canadians? They're keeping secrets. Isn't that... impolite?"

    "Ours isn't the only culture to value politeness while also valuing discretion," Minako reminded.

    "They did arrange a counter diversion. Attack on the front, then blow them up from behind," Akane said as she buffed up a bit of her mother's bodice.

    Mars tapped the table. "It was those nice Canadians that decided having the uberdemon bait all those crawly squids, while they snuck around up and stabbed 'em in the butt?"

    Misako and Akane laughed.

    "It was a good trick," Serenity noted.

    "It's only fair, as they had a gaggle of authentic magical girls and merely used you to keep the quarantine secure," Nabiki said with a sly little grin as she ferried a fresh platter of steak.

    "I told you humans are dangerous," Ranma said, with a hint of a smile, and some pride leaking through.

    "Ah so, the demonic magical girl isn't feeling used by the scary military types?"

    "Used? I came back. Plenty of men went down, didn't come back." Ranma looked contemplative for a moment. "I can't say I was used. Can you?" The demon asked before devouring fresh steak.

    Serenity blinked. For a moment she could have sworn the demon's mouth had... split. That is it had opened further than her purple lips would allow.

    "What happened - what happened to you?" Serenity clarified polishing off her sandwich.

    Ranma raised an eyebrow.

    "You're famished. I thought fights were supposed to be... filling." Taking more water, the queen looked down at her empty plate.

    The succubus exhaled. "Not if you can't eat them. I fought and bled. And bit by bit I starved." She patted her armor. "But I found a workaround."

    Misako brushed one of the buns. "Using your Senshi form isn't exactly a workaround, mother."

    "And you still starved," Ukyou remained.

    "It's still keeping my guts from falling out," the brood mother said gesturing to the glowing forehead sigil.

    "That's why you're..." Serenity trailed off.

    Ranma nodded

    Serenity stared at the shiny armor. The material was unusual. The matte blue fabric seemed to shift between flowing pleats and stiff sections. The gleaming white bodice and gauntlets had a similar almost organic flexibility. There was also something that looked almost like silvery piping on the backside of much of the armor.

    "Normally, you eat your enemies." Serenity paused, realizing how strange it was to have an ally who did that in the first place.

    "Oh, I ate plenty of squids. I just couldn't keep them down." Ranma looked a bit embarrassed.

    "I can see that... I mean they didn't look very appetizing," Serenity fitted with her water.

    After eying her queen, Mars shook her head. "You had to spit instead of swallowing for once?" she asked the demon.

    Pausing in their work, Nabiki and Nariko's eyes narrowed while Ranma blinked. "What?" the redhead asked.

    Mars blushed. "Uh... sorry that was crude of me."

    "We're surrounded by soldiers, it happens," Ranma shrugged. This time getting a bap from Akane. The blue-haired succubus then resumed stripping off the broken pauldrons from her mother's armor.

    Disbelief colored Ukyou's face as she shook her head. "Really mother?"

    Forcing a neutral expression on her face, Akane stood up. "I think I'll get Mother some more meat."

    "I don't get it." Ranma tapped her sharp chin with a long claw. Her tail raised up off the floor. The long appendage swished back and forth.

    Serenity watched the rainbow iridescent tendrils sway to-and-fro. She nodded to herself, the ribbon wrap to the long tail was familiar, down to the heart accents. It the spiraled tail the demon had in her Sailor Earth form.

    Ranma continued to talk to herself. "I mean yeah I tried to swallow but it was too alien. Made me sick." She shrugged and dug into the fresh plate of steak Akane had returned with.

    "Really?" Mars stared at the confused demoness. "Spit or swallow... you know the old joke about fellatio?"

    "Oh, I get it!" Ranma's face lit up. Her skin was no longer grey and ashen, but there was still a silvery pallor about her.

    "You talking about ejaculate!" Misako cheered, her own tail swishing about.

    Ranma's purple eyes locked onto Rei but she addressed Serenity. "My Queen, were you aware your priestess had such a dirty mind?"

    Serenity coughed.

    Misako leaned forward and looked up at the standing Senshi of Mars.

    "Uh yes?" the raven-haired Senshi asked.

    "Spit or swallow right?"

    Mars blushed. "Look it was a bad joke; you don't have to keep harping on it."

    "No, no," Misako tried to give a disarming smile; it had too many teeth. "I'm just amazed that spitting was an option."

    "Not counting splashing on your face," Ukyou muttered as pulled another section of armor and silver sheeting from the brood mother's wings. Her eyes went to the remnants of her mother's jammer rig. Inspiration hit, the wings did provide enough space for antennae... and there could be some armoring. However, the platinum blonde sighted and went back to her work.

    Misako raised her tail and idly flipped it in Mars' direction. "Tell me more. Mother Alexia just gave us the two options."

    "What? You just said you didn't know that phrase." Rei shook her head. "And I can get Miss virgin sex-demon-mommy being clueless but weren't you turned into a full blown succubus?"

    Misako smirked at the pun. "It's still new to me, we didn't have spit or swallow." She leaned forward and looked up to Mars. "The choice she gave us was swallow or bite... and then swallow."

    Mars winced. "Drain 'em then eat 'em? Saves money on food." Staring at the near-luminous green eyes she quickly turned away.

    "Can't you get as much energy from simply draining someone as you kill them?" Minako asked.

    "Yes," Ranma absently replied as she cut up the fresh steak. "Real good stuff, Akane, where did you find this?"

    "There was a butcher just outside the quarantine zone."

    "I think you can get more energy if you have sex first." Misako shrugged. "Clearly, we'll need to run some tests," she leered.

    "No murdering with sexual experimentation." Ranma said without looking up from her meal.

    "Even if I wear a lab coat?" Misako asked in a pouting whine.

    Ranma looked up.

    Lip quivering, Misako's pout grew.

    "Yes, yes, you're cute," Ranma patted Misako on the head then drew her into a hug and then whispered into her ear. "But no, you can't do that. I can't let you get away with everything."

    "You do know what she's done to your hair right?" Mars dryly asked. Licking her lips, she reached out to her water.

    "The Pretty Lunar Demon Senshi odangos?"

    "Four of 'em!" Minako cheered.

    Ranma's protest was cut short by Misako polishing her glossy, silky hair while kissing the tip of one of her buns. And by Nabiki and Akane giving her a hug with wings and tails.

    Mars tilted her head at the spectacle. It was disquieting how one could get used to this. She coughed. ."At least it's not feeding by ripping out heart crystals."

    "Crystallized hearts? Those can't taste good," Ranma rubbed her stomach and the broodlings switched of as Nariko and Ukyou leaned in to hug her.

    "Maybe they're like rock candy," Misako mused.

    "I dunno, a lot of those energy draining schemes weren't exactly the most efficient." Serenity rubbed her chin. "I remember one time Ami worked out a spreadsheet showing how the Dark Kingdom could have just paid people and drained 'em."

    "See, that's where we have the advantage. A succubus can get the energy and get paid for it," Misako pointed out. She looked to Ukyou and then nodded.

    Mars gave a slow blink, but then shrugged. It made sense. "Right, your... aunt? Cecilia right? She did that."

    Ranma looked up and smiled at Mars' tone. "Yes, apparently she was one of the best."

    "She may have more experience," Mars thoughtfully said as she remembered talking to Cecilia's daughters in the armory. She recalled, blue-green eyes with emerald flecks and dainty hands snuffing out the flames that danced along her arms.

    Preoccupied, Mars shook her head.

    "Rei, something on your mind?" Minako asked with a playful, almost knowing, lilt.

    "Still it's just odd. I mean the Company's gotta have information on what means of energy draining work the best."

    Ukyou inclined her head. "Well, yes."

    Misako crossed her arms and with her tail raised, the curled the spade-shaped end forward like a cobra-head. "Sounds like you're pretty curious Priestess Pyro. Would you like to help too?"

    Even as her neck and ears began to redden, Mars found herself grinning. "Oh?"

    "How about it? How curious are you?" Misako's lips pursed, her tail swishing behind her.

    Bits of flame sparked around Mars' temples as her hair started to blow as it being lifted by heated air.

    "What?" Mars asked.

    "She's a succubus asking if you're curious about energy draining. What do you think she wants?" Minako dryly asked.

    Mars' frank stare grew and more sparks and flames crossed her hair. She blinked and shook her head. Unlike with Cecilia's brood, there was no... pressure on her. This was all in her head. She rubbed her hands against each other. Mars looked away.

    "Clever, clever," Misako, and her tail, leaned forward. "You sure you don't want to play? We've got some real fun planned." She shot the queen a look and winked.

    Serenity's attention was between the famished redhead and her gleeful daughter. The silver-haired woman's arms tingled; she felt... she wanted to help.

    Eyeing the tail, Rei leaned back.

    "Now let's calm down." Serenity put out her arm. At the last moment, she caught herself and froze her hand bare centimeters from Misako's tail.

    A silver spark flashed, arcing from Serenity's gloved hand to the tail's orange fins. Green eyes dilated and Misako gave a lazy smile as her tail slowly lowered until it lay limp on the table.

    The other demons blinked and sniffed the air while Serenity and Mars both stared at the queen's hand. Minako's face was strangely neutral.

    "I told you it could work," Misako dreamily said.

    "Usag- err Serena... what did you do?" Mars asked.

    "I just wanted to help," Serenity said flexing her fingers. The more she stared the more she could almost see a wavering mirage of tiny silver threads around her hand.

    "It's like one of your hugs, Mom," Misako happily said as she leaned onto Ranma and snuggled up. "Oh... exactly." Nursing, the orange haired demoness purred. "But much sharper. Almost electrical. And I think we can use it. Wouldn't that be nice?"

    "Really?" Sniffing the air, Ranma leaned over the table. "I think I know what you mean." The redhead seemed to savor the scent as she slowly breathed out. Her eyes went to the gold and bronze Senshi armor Mars and Minako wore.

    "She drained me?" Serenity asked, noticing that the brood mother's eyes locked onto her hands.

    "We're all Senshi here." Ranma said pointing to her uniform. She looked at Serenity with hungry eyes, but then sighed in disappointment.

    Minako quietly refilled her queen's glass and went off to refill her plate.

    Taking the drink, Serenity nodded at the still marred white and blue Sailor Earth uniform. It was heavier, more embellished, but it was still a Senshi uniform, so were the broodlings' uniforms too, technically.

    Mars followed her queen's gaze. "Well, her Sailor Earth getup does look like a proper magical girl uniform. If you ignore what it's made out of," she hastily added catching Misako's smirk.

    "It's no heavy bronze armor," the green-eyed demon agreed.

    Mars crossed her gauntleted arms. "True. The shoes are bad enough, but at least Serenity didn't stick us with bare midriffs, or exposed cleavage. And you have to admit the armor's still effective."

    "Even held up to Shoggoth acid," Minako noted.

    "The design was Minako's idea," Serenity assured Mars.

    The blonde stuck out her tongue.

    Her claws busy demolishing another steak, Ranma nodded and swallowed. "I know what you mean about bare midriffs. Just be glad you didn't have to deal with a leather miniskirt. It's a fun look, but not exactly combat grade. And don't get me started about the high heels."

    Rei gave a sympathetic nod.

    "It is nowhere near as sensible as shiny hooves, a nice long dress, and a silver bodysuit under a ceramic bodice," Ukyou assured as she patted the demon's smooth white gauntlets.

    "It's... not totally impractical...," Ranma guiltily admitted and forked a piece of steak and absently waved it at Serenity. "But I prefer my Kevlar getup. Sure I had plenty of magical energy but I just kept getting hungrier and hungrier."

    "But we're fixing that," Akane beamed.

    Serenity looked between the overwrought Senshi armor, the too glossy horns, and the still-gaunt cheeks. "You couldn't eat these Squids; you kept fighting, you almost starved."

    The demoness swallowed a dripping nearly raw chunk of steak. "It's not a weakness I thought I had."

    Mars tilted her head. "Not being able to eat your enemies... is a weakness?"

    Ranma returned to her stew. "Yeah, funny the things you don't notice until you can't do them anymore."

    "Like draining me?" Serenity looked around the table. "Is that what you want me to do to help?"

    "Not... quite," Ukyou admitted while Misako eagerly nodded.

    Ranma eyed her daughter. "I'm not short on Senshi energy." She licked some blood off her plate.

    Serenity stared at the lowered odangoed horns.

    "No, but you're depending on it until you're fully healed," Ukyou reminded.

    "I'll be okay." Ranma turned back to the queen. "Course that doesn't mean you still don't have something to offer," she absently added her tongue wiping a splash of blood off her lips. "But I don't think you'd want me to take what I need from you."

    Mars blanched.

    Minako's lips curled into a naughty smile.

    "Uh.... which way am I supposed to take that?" Serenity gasped, blushing... until she realized exactly what the brood mother had said.

    The redhead looked up from the beef bone she had snapped with her hands. "Oh..." she sucked out some marrow in thought. "Huh."

    "Say you want to ravish her, Mother. It's the less creepy option" Nabiki assured.

    Misako rolled her eyes. "Oh, just be honest."

    The redhead pinched the bridge of her nose.

    "You want to eat me?" Serenity asked agog; she then winced. "Uh... I didn't mean it like that."

    "Actually, you kind of did," Minako corrected.

    Her head still lowered, Ranma looked up and past the hand still holding the bridge of her nose. "Yes, you are very attractive and I'm certain that you would taste delicious."

    "Uh...." Serenity pulled at her jacket. "That's... huh. Very demon," she nervously said, remembering her own bloody daydreams about Ranma feasting. The tingling in her hands increased.

    Her stomach growling, Ranma smiled, pleased with herself.

    Serenity looked at the broodlings. "What do you girls want then?"

    Misako took the tall queen's hand. "What you did to upgrade your Senshi's uniforms."

    The brood mother raised a strawberry blonde eyebrow. "Misa..."

    "But not as strong!" Akane corrected slipping to Ranma's left.

    "Yes, we'll channel and focus the power," Nabiki promised as she took to the right.

    "You pulled in these powers, alone. Look what happened," Ukyou said slipping up next to Akane. "This time," she hugged her mother. "We want to be there with you."

    "You'd also look fabulous," Misako smiled relishing the electric buzz from the queen's hand. "That is if you want to help."

    Both Ranma and Serenity had twinned apprehensive looks. Ranma looked back to Nariko who had hugged her from behind. "Nari-chan?"

    Nariko leaned in. "You almost lost today Mommy. Why not take in some more power? It'll also help mend fences with the Silvers," she whispered. "Besides, it'll give you an excuse get close to her," she added with a kiss to the cheek.

    "There's no reason she shouldn't have the same joy we got," Mars glanced over at Minako. "But for full authenticity shouldn't you be wearing your... special armor?"

    The blonde pretending to be Sailor Moon blushed.

    "Oh, there's no need for that," Misako breezily said as she helped the queen to her feet.

    "Yes, having Usagi... well Serenity in this form will keep her... more focused," Ukyou explained while the broodlings also got their mother up on her hooves.

    Soon the brood queen and the silver queen found themselves facing each other, surrounded by their Senshi.

    Looking up at Serenity, Ranma licked her lips. "Well... it could be fun."

    "If I can help..." Serenity tried to keep her eyes on the smaller woman.

    "Oh just make out you two!" Mars cried.

    "That's it then!" Misako cheered as she took Serenity's hands and put them over Ranma's. Serenity gasped at the cool nature of the demon's long fingers. Her balance shifted as a pulling, draining force went from her arms to the brood mother's.

    The broodlings crowded in as a silver flash enveloped the redhead. It darkened and throbbed turning to a purple aura before shifting to emerald green then gold then red and back to purple. Each time the light throbbed the demoness' body twisted as more power soaked into her and her armor and tresses shifted and fused.

    Fading towards the floor the light revealed smooth silvery almost velvety features. Her nose was thin with a tiny turn up. Delicate cheeks had a bit of a hollow. Her metallic purple lips had grown a bit broader and gained gilt trim. The gold seam-like lines then ran from the corners of her lips to the bottom of pointed silver ears with obsidian edging.

    Curled white gold lashes fluttered around solid purple glossy eyes with hints of teal at the edges. Inset in her silver skin were a pair of thin white-gold brows. Above those was a gold and emerald earth symbol set in a similarly inlaid gold tiara.

    Swelling straight from the upper edge of the tiara was the slicked, polished ruby mass of her hair. Growing over her scalp, the soft solid mass fed into the four buns on the top and sides of her head.

    All four of her horns were coated and covered by layers to reform the two pairs of puffy hair buns with the back pair rising ten inches above her already voluminous hair, while the front pair only stuck up four inches.

    Pushing against fine emerald netting, the buns shifted from ruby to golden tips. Long pendulous, silver spike-tipped, crimson ponytails sprouted from the back pair, and gold spirals fell from the tips of the front pair of buns.

    Silver bands holding a deeply purple gem cut into a four pointed star encircled her neck. Below that was the pearlescent gleam of the high-necked white armor, now more sculpted vest than bodice.

    Narrow shoulders were encircled by stiff blue "puffs" of flexible armor. Soft silver arms came out of gold bands that encircled the lower hem and were met at another gold band at the elbow.

    Forearms were covered in sleek slick white armor that seemed too thin to be gauntlets but too thick to be fingerless gloves. Silver fingers looked even longer with the extra "joint" on her long gleaming blade-like claws.

    Large wings loomed proudly out of her back. With folded booms and metal accents, and between silvery membranes the structures were all the more impressive given the demon's diminutive frame. Their upper edges also hummed from the jammer antennas woven into the armored struts.

    The curvy torso of a body scarcely over four and three quarters feet tall was contained within the gleaming white bodice that gave her a tiny waspish waist. It flowed and hugged her curves. A red bow with a heart-shaped center was pinned over her left breast.

    Spilling out over wide hips was a long pleated dark blue skirt. Moving over silver thighs set a bit apart from each other, the dark pleated material moved with its own variable stiffness and slowly bobbed between a knee length and a shin length hem.

    The bend-kneed stance the demoness took also helped reduce her height and make her seem all the more diminutive. Great silver hooves came out of crescent-moon adorned dark red armored greaves. Hovering behind her like a fluffy crimson kite was the rainbow filament edged great bows of her fused-ribbon wrapped tail.

    The demoness blinked her big shinny purple eyes flared as she daintily spun around on a single hoof. Purple lips curled into a smile and she fluttered her white-gold lashed.

    The spin turned into a full pirouette and she popped up into the air to land in a flourish with her long hands up and to the sides and her hooves hitting the ground with a ringing chime.

    "The Pretty Lunar Silver Succubus Senshi: Super Sailor Earth, is ready for Love And Justice!" She gleefully purred as the last bits of light faded, She crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head, causing ruby twintails and golden curls to flail to either side.

    "In the name of the Moon and Earth: I'll punish you with my ribbon-tail!" the thin little demon gleefully said as her coiled tail rolled back and forth as she twisted and shook her hips.

    Triumphantly showing her gleaming white fangs, she raised her right arm while moving her left arm from her hip to across her chest while extending out the V for victory sign and then finally lowered her right arm to point straight at Serenity.

    The statuesque silver-haired queen let her gaze fall on the diminutive demon. Meeting the succubus' eyes her heartbeat sped and she tried had to resist licking her lips. She stepped forward on a rolling, fluid bent-knee gait.

    Misako and Nabiki had wheeled around the room and appeared behind the queen and nudged her back to her seat. Eying the demons, Mars gave a curt but respectful nod.

    Sauntering forward, the silver succubus rolled the puffed, flared sides of her armored skirt. Unlike the queen, the demon let her tongue slip out. The silver forked appendage curled over glossy metallic lips.

    A hand reached out and long silver-bladed talons caressed the navy blue skirting and grey armor of Serenity's uniform. The queen sat; the demon stood. And the demon's eyes were only a bit higher than the queen's.

    Her smile growing, the succubus crossed her legs and with a light clop of a silver hoof, gave a little leap and hoped into Serenity's lap.

    Gasping, the queen found her arms wrapping around the thin, glossy torso. The demon's long be-ribboned tail curled around her legs while a wing flopped over Serenity's right shoulder. Sizing up the tall queen, the demon lifted her gaze.

    Serenity stared down captivated by glossy solid purple eyes. They drew her in; they, more than the demon's still hollow cheeks, showed the demon's pressing hunger. The aching need that of the succubus.

    Now, Serenity licked her lips. The motion a pale imitation of the demon's far more physical and sensual actions. She cleared her throat. "Mina... can you get me some steak?"

    Smirking, the blonde bowed her head and complied.

    "Well, now you've got her," Mars remarked. She eyed the rest of the room and was a bit surprised that not every soldier and company agent was staring. Some of the more experienced, or perhaps just more exhausted ones, seemed to ignore the display.

    "I do..." Serenity murmured. She let her gaze drift from the succubus' eyes to the glittery, slick, almost puffy structures of her hair. A hand drifted from the demon's bodice.

    It neared the demon's ruby tresses. A brief caress confirmed the slick, strangely pliant nature of the hair atop the succubus' head. However, now the horns beaconed. Fingers curled around the pointed cotton-candy looking bun. The emerald netting pushed against Serenity's palm and she gave a gentle squeeze.

    Giving a low-pitched purr the demoness snuggled up against her queen.

    Misako and Nariko approached the pair. Each carried a plate of dripping steaks. Green eyes flashed with amusement while crimson eyes were more guarded.

    Nostrils flaring, the little demoness looked up and her tongue flicked out.

    Giving the queen a warm smile, Nariko lifted off a chunk of bleeding meat and held it out over the silver succubus.

    As Ranma lifted her head, Serenity felt the bun shift under her gentle grip. The soft material pulsed as the demon chewed. Serenity's attention drifted from the puffed, spun, and fused hair, down the shiny tiara and over the soft brows.

    Serenity then stared at the demon's lashes. Curled delicate gold wire, they were the closest thing to "hair" the demon had left. Unlike the hair atop her head, and the inlaid eyebrows, her lashes were still individual strands.


    Glossing over the demon's wide-eyes, Serenity looked to the gold inlay running from the corners of the demon's puffy purple lips. As the demon chewed, Serenity saw the inlay rise and fall and... shift.

    Rapt, Serenity's hand lifted from the bun.

    Pausing her chewing, a little frown fluttered over the demoness' features. Feeling the cool, gentle press of her queen's fingers on her cheek, the demoness resumed her meal.

    "Soft," Serenity muttered, feeling the almost velvety texture of the demon's silver skin.

    Smiling, Ranma snuggled a bit closer to the taller woman's armor and swallowed. Misako stepped forward, an this time the redhead leaned hear head back and let her daughter deposited a long almost raw rib neatly between her jaws.

    As the demon's teeth crunched, Serenity watched the gilt seams. She then ran her finger over the one that went from the right corner of the demon's lips to just before her ear.

    The transition from the velvety soft silver skin to the slick gold metal was noticeable. As was the little seam within the inlay itself. Stroking her cheek, Serenity let her eyes go down the line of the demon's chin.

    A tiny gasp slipped from her lips. The demon was wearing her chocker; the choker Serenity had given her. More than that the purple crystal had been integrated into, the demon's armor form.

    With an embarrassed blush, Serenity realized her other hand had been cupping the slick porcelain iridescence of the demon's bodice armor.

    Serenity lowered her head until her lips brushed against the demon's long-tipped ear. "You're holding back,"

    Ranma laid her head on Serenity's chest. "Always," she purred as her tail tightened around Serenity's legs. “And you’re one to talk.”

    "Not that," Serenity cradled the demon's neck.

    The demon gave a broad smile and a slow wink.

    "Nariko... could you give me another steak? A big one," Serenity sweetly added.

    After catching her mother's eye, the elder daughter nodded and picked a giant slab of meat from Misako's platter. Holding it up it dripped with such frequency that a constant stream of blood rained down in splatters.

    Lifting her hand from the seam, from the hinge, Serenity gracefully took the cut of charred muscle. The scent of blood and cooked meat filled her nose and her mouth watered slightly. Blood dribbled over her and her... companion.

    "Open." Serenity commanded, as she ran a finger over the four-pointed star. "All the way."

    Purring, the demoness opened her mouth. Her lips parted, then separated completely. The gold seams running from their corners split down the middle and the demon's mouth popped open in a gaping maw.

    Jaws separated, and silver tongue forked out. Serenity stared; her hand almost slipped off the demon's neck. There were twin rows of gleaming silvery teeth, there were twin jaws, or at least another joint that hinged out the massive opening.

    Stunned by the scene before her, Serenity hardly noticed the spots and pools of blood were being absorbed by the demon's armor. She completely missed the same process happening with her own armored gown.

    The silver queen let her grip slacken. The giant hunk of dripping meat slipped from her hands and plopped right into the demon's waiting mouth. Teeth clenched and pulled. Shredding meat and pulling it in.

    Serenity's other hand was pushed out as the demon's neck swelled as the muscle was steadily pulled down her throat. With a lunging gulp, the succubus swallowed the last of the meat. She sighed happily and, mouth still agape, nuzzled up and licked her queen.

    For a second Usagi froze as both tines of the warm silver tongue rolled over her chin and neck. She closed her eyes and forced herself to bask in the sensations: warm and velvety soft. Serenity's lips curled into a smile.

    Bending over she kissed the demon's snaking tongue. Purring, the succubus started to close her mouth.

    Serenity's cool eyes sparked and she simply held her hand out. Misako, eager to please, dropped another hunk of meat, this one a mix of bones and gently seared flesh.

    The queen strained with the kilograms of meat held in her outstretched arm, but easily deposited them into the demons' waiting mouth.

    End Chapter

    Revision Notes: One chapter to go. And this whole revision project will be done.
     
  11. Threadmarks: Chapter 10
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

    Joined:
    Oct 8, 2016
    Messages:
    212
    Likes Received:
    545
    Book 4: Capital Offense
    Chapter 10: Cost of Acquisition
    Formerly: Reserve and Release Part 4ii


    Looking up, Makoto could see dirty light streaming down into the burned room from a ragged hole in the concrete ceiling. Sirens and the rumble of mechanized vehicles also drifted down, intruding on the hushed quietude of the room.

    Battered squid-like corpses, bits of their armor, and equipment had been pulled off to one side. Helmed by a smiling tall man with fine brown hair and round glasses, a team of WIC agents in grey armor and thick blue gloves was carefully stripping the creatures of their armor, and organs.

    The brunette in her brown suit and emerald blouse watched as a team of JTF2 soldiers solemnly removed one of their dead while another team was marking off unexpended munitions.

    She exhaled through her mouth. The atrium was bad, but at least the casualties had been low.

    Still more soldiers were working with the Company agents examining several glossy black columns that lay toppled and broken across the dripping burnt floor. Like the forensic team, they had set up portable halogen lamps. Their harsh light cutting into the dimness of the room. They had also unpacked crates of sensors and a large tripod mounted machine gun. Makoto noted that the science teams only worked from one side and made sure to keep a clear line of fire for the support weapon and the agents, soldiers, and succubae on guard.

    In her heart, the brunette could hardly fault their paranoia. The atmosphere was bad enough on the campus, but at least that university building had an airy atrium. Until Makoto had destroyed it.

    The smooth featureless columns before the brunette had a fluted, twisting ovid cross section that hurt Makoto's eyes when she looked to closely at them. One upside of the alien artifacts was that the tooth-rattling, temple pressing hum of the multiple jammers the Canadians and mercenaries had brought in felt much less irritating.

    Heels clicked, crunched, and splashed as Makoto stepped closer to the broken pillars. Adjusting her jacket, she was once again glad that she had specified pants for her disguise, unlike the skirts the others had chosen. Looking at where their bases had been punched into the concrete floor she could see they were originally laid in an oval pattern.

    With a familiar overlay of semi-rancid mint, the room itself stank of burnt plastic, spent powder, and sulfur. There were also the undertones of blood, offal, and dank water, with the occasional cloud of concrete dust being kicked up.

    She walked up to a smaller Senshi, this one in gleaming black coat and skirt with green pinstripes and maroon accents. A petite black cat paced around the outside of the oval and periodically sniffed the air. Makoto could swear she saw bit of gold flash on the cat's forehead, but then it was gone, suppressed by the disguise field.

    The cat's companion wore a deep red blouse with a black kerchief knotted around the throat. To Makoto's disquiet, the young-appearing woman was intently staring at one of the most intact pillars. Dark red eyes stared at it while a black gloved hand was held above the glossy, twisting surface.

    For a moment, Makoto thought she saw the a rainbow of iridescent slip from the pillar, to the green-haired Senshi's clothes, which seemed to flicker, and then back again. Blinking, Makoto’s hand unconsciously went to the wound the Senshi had healed. She then blinked, and realized that the room was either too dim to show those kinds of reflections, or had such harsh lights that they would be burned out.

    "Puu?" Makoto asked, unsure if she was disturbing the woman. She was also unsure of her purpose here. She was supposed to be a guard... well making sure Meiou was okay surely counted. Given the enemy they had just faced, Makoto could agree with that.

    But she was also supposed to be in disguise. To pretend she was part of an engineering firm; here to make sure the building was structurally sound. Another level of masquerade made the brunette feel ill-at-ease.

    The diminutive Senshi slowly lifted her head. "Yes?" she asked dark red eyes briefly meeting Makoto's before returning back to the pillar.

    "Have you and Luna figured anything out?" Makoto asked before glancing back at the WIC science team a couple meters away. She could see the a thin young man with buzzed short black hair checking the readout on a scanner before taking out a pair of forceps.

    Next to him was an older woman with blue eyes and short auburn hair. Despite wearing a WIC combat armor, Makoto had a hard time seeing the woman in something other than a lab coat. A bright green-haired demoness stood near as the scientist unlocked a small case.

    The same height as Makoto, the demon was tall for a succubus and had striking features. Makoto looked back at the broodling. Like those of DarkStar's lineage, including her sister, she had epicanthic folds on the corners of her upper eyelids, but uniquely she had neither Caucasian nor Asiatic features. Instead she had a having fuller lips and a slightly broader more upturned nose.

    The cat stopped her pacing and looked up at the brunette. "Something wrong Makoto?" Luna asked.

    Makoto looked back and glanced between the demoness and one of her sisters, a smaller succubus with black hair. The difference in height, and shoulder width was readily apparent. Of course both were dwarfed by the blonde brood mother.

    Catching Makoto's eye, the black-haired succubus whispered to her mother and excused herself.

    "Will you quit staring at the demons," Pluto stated, not looking up from her work. "You can thank them for their help later."

    "Uh..." Makoto coughed.

    Ears folding back, Luna pouted and gave a little sigh. "It was bad enough when we just had to worry about the Senshi being attracted to one species."

    Morrison smiled and idly brushed back a strand of green hair. She then knelt down, the armored pleating of her skirt armor shifting as she held a container stable for her aunt. The succubus gave the brunette a quick opaque glance, but her tail swished back and forth.

    Makoto blinked and then gave a gasp, having totally missed that Sophie's approach.

    "How are you feeling?" the young succubus asked, eying Makoto's neck and chest.

    "Pretty much healed. Shoulder's still a bit sore," Makoto looked over to Pluto, who had pointedly stepped aside.

    "That's good."

    "And- uh- you?" Makoto asked. She then winced. "Sorry about..."

    "I'm healed too." A little smile crossed Sophie's lips. "But we'll have to work on our coordination. Compatible comms averted disaster, at the very least."

    Makoto found herself blushing nervously.

    Sophie blinked. "Well, it's good to talk to you again." Frowning slightly, she stepped back towards her mother.

    Makoto quickly looked away, focused her attention on one of the shattered pillars, and regretted it. "So... have you... uh found anything?" she asked Pluto

    "At the very least it's not the Dark Kingdom's work. Or anything from the Silver Millennium," Luna said.

    "And the mercenaries are correct," Lady Pluto said.

    One of the agents glanced up from his equipment.

    "They are?" Makoto asked.

    "Yes." Impatience colored Kiri's face "However, think stabilizers more than beacons. First, they were drawn here. Then they opened the way. Finally, they placed these to wedge the door open."

    Luna darted a paw out and batted the fractured foundation where one of the shards had been rooted into the floor. "And, it looks like all the energy needed to sustain the portal came from the other side. I'm not seeing anything energy storage around here."

    "Lovely." Makoto sighed. "Once again we're dealing with something that's got a boatload of inter-dimensional technology?"

    Pluto smiled. "Is it that surprising?"

    "Not really" Makoto refrained from kicking one of the shards. "There's even the sinister black crystals."

    "They're more of a ceramic than a crystal," Pluto murmured as she pulled her hand back and started at her glove.

    "What gets me is why'd these... things even bother with us."

    "Yes, normally inter-dimensional invaders need a reason," Luna sniffed. "Even if it's just 'take energy' or 'kill princess'. "

    "They also don’t start out throwing giant monsters at us," Makoto added.

    "There was the warning we received," Pluto stated.

    "And you believe some shadow mistress?"

    The green-haired Senshi made a fist and exhaled.

    "You tell me that Nu-"

    "Don't say her name," Pluto ordered. "Not here."

    Makoto huffed and looked away. "Fine. You tell me that she won't be trouble later on?"

    Pluto's expression softened, and for a moment she actually looked at ease in her own body. "I can guarantee it."

    "Well, that's good." Makoto frowned a moment later, wondering what exactly Pluto was guaranteeing.

    The brunette sighed. "This place gives me the creeps. At least where we fought wasn’t so cramped."

    "It's no sylvan glen," Pluto said.

    This time Makoto did kick a shard. The chunk of pillar scratched against the floor and rolled to its side.

    The brunette frowned and wriggled her toes in pain. The material was much denser than it looked.

    "Careful, this isn't a place you'd want to set down roots," Pluto absently said.

    Luna tittered as the cat slunk around the green-haired girl.

    Makoto tilted her head. "I don't think there's any risk of that," the brunette slowly stated.

    The small green-haired girl rolled her shoulders and went back to inspecting the pillar.

    Makoto knelt down. "Do you know anything about Them? Was what your... friend told Usagi true?" she quietly asked.

    Pluto withdrew her arm and, scooping up Luna, stood up. With the cat in her arms and Makoto at her heel, she went over to the dissection team.

    Under the harsh bright light one of the creatures was spread out over some plastic sheeting. Makoto had fought plenty of them a couple hours ago but this was the first clear and detailed view of the enemy.

    It had been flayed in separate layers. First the armor, then environmental suit, then bubbling, rubbery skin, and finally hissing ropy muscles and pulpy mint and sulfur-reeking organs. The creature's barrel-shaped body had also been sectioned and several of its tentacles had been neatly cut off and put into storage containers.

    Wordlessly, Section Chief Tofu Ono shifted to the side and began sterilizing the long-handled knives and forceps. Pulling down his mask, he then took a step to the side and looked over the camera feed. After a few seconds he paused the playback and looked up.

    "These aliens; have you captured any alive?" Pluto asked stroking the black cat that lounged in her arms.

    "Classically isn't it supposed to be a white longhair?" Morrison asked.

    "Well, I had a mate who was a white cat," Luna hissed, her eyes narrowed to slits.

    Tail drooping, Morrison bowed her head.

    "Yes, some Russians got the last of ours," Pluto said scratching behind Luna's ears while the cat grumbled about golden golems and body-snatching red-eyed Lolitas.

    "Any survivors would be Captain Jarvis' department," Ono stiffly replied.

    The blonde succubus looked up. "Apologies Sir. Our various allies were most..." she caught Makoto's eye, "exuberant."

    "Even if we'd got one alive, it'd need a lot of environmental containment," Pluto murmured peering down at the decaying body.

    "Suicide watch would be hard too, given all they need to do is pop a suit and they'll be dead," Eve noted.

    Absently nodding, Pluto's attention was on the putrefying flesh to the armor and containment suit. "Have you found out what their atmospheric conditions were?" she asked leaning over to look at a pair of curved glassy metal tanks.

    "We've taken samples, but still need to run an analysis. It's at a higher pressure and we think has more sulfides and a much larger argon component." Ono exhaled.

    "And their flesh?"

    "Fortunately, we think we've got a good idea on how to preserve enough organic samples, or at least prevent further decay. But that's just the start," Tofu stated. "I’ve sent a team to look at the samples you all produced, but if anything you girls damaged them worse than the Canadians."

    Pluto raised an eyebrow. "Well, what do you know?"

    The scientist sighed. "First guess. Based on similarities to preserved Pattern O remains, we're looking at organosulfur compounds. There's also some very interesting differences. For one, they've got a more angled buildup to their internals."

    Tofu pointed to some rigid, bone-like structural members.

    Makoto frowned. Nore than alien, they looked wrong. Looking more like something that was extruded than grown, the creatures were built up of straight lines and kinked angles. there was none of the organic curves and arcs she had come to expect from living things.

    Pluto narrowed her eyes but nodded.

    "We've also found similarities in their accouterments and artifacts. Frankly, these are what will help us place these creatures relative to previous finds," he said using, the long forceps to point to a knurled flask, with a hinged socket top that could plug into the containment suit.

    "What are those?" Makoto asked, once more trying to breathe through her mouth.

    "We have records of similar tanks found in the Antarctic dig site. Those contained denser organosulfur compounds, and protein equivalents suspended in a thiol solution: carbon-bonded sulfhydryl," he clarified.

    Pluto nodded while Makoto and Luna blinked.

    Ono coughed. "The sulfur analogue of alcohols."

    "They were drinking it?" Makoto blinked then looked down at the ropy and flayed corpse.

    "Yes, it seemed to be a nutrition supplement. Possibly with a recreational aspect too."

    "That might be taking too much of an analogy to human biology," Pluto cautioned.

    "Of course," Ono agreed.

    "Oh," the brunette frowned. The idea that these creatures had food and... drinks disquieted her. Of course if humans had made the same kind of attack... she glanced back at the demons and shook her head.

    The auburn haired officer had approached the group. She was carrying a couple secured cases while the succubus at her heel carried another.

    Ono turned. "Ah, Major Saotome, I've got some of the armor sections off and ready for storage."

    "Excellent, Sir." Nodoka pulled up her mask, connecting it to her goggles and knelt in to the pieces of armor. She knelt down and took out a magnifier from her vest and began to study the flexible material. Her camera clicked off occasionally as she made some notes.

    "Huh, different weave and liner design. Even the fittings are different. I'll have to run a full materials analysis to compare with the Pattern O samples from Survey 418, but..."

    "It's different?" Ono prompted.

    "Sir, I'll need to do a full study to be sure. It could just be that this is a newer, much newer, version of their armor. Or maybe it's because this is combat armor," Nodoka frowned.

    "I'm guessing what you found in Antarctica wasn't a military facility of Them?" Pluto asked.

    Luna's ears perked at the mention of Antarctica. That had been another big mess for the Senshi.

    Nodoka glanced to Ono who gave a slight nod.

    "It was an outpost. We don't think it was military in nature," Nodoka explained.

    "We're also not sure they're the same creatures. Yes we've got the same limb count and the internals seem analogous but there’s key differences in the neurological structures and sense organs."

    "Could be evolutionary drift," Pluto looked down at the glossy white armor. "I'm guessing that dig site's old."

    Ono nodded.

    "Would it be possible to loan me a sample container?" Pluto asked her gaze shifting between Nodoka and Morrison. The green haired succubus looked to her grandmother.

    "For what?" Nodoka frowned.

    "Just some of the pillar material. I've got my own tests. I'll also want to examine the creature that was killed on the bridge," Pluto explained as Luna tried to conceal a quizzical expression.

    "In addition to the one you all killed?" Ono asked.

    "As you said, " Pluto smiled. "We damaged ours worse than the Canadians."

    "I'll ask for authorization," Ono assured as he stepped aside and keyed on his radio.

    "What do you know about their armor?" Pluto asked, shifting back to Major Saotome's area of expertise.

    "It is definitely military in nature, there's a whole layer that's been added in addition to the environmental suit." Nodoka flipped out a multi-tool and poked some latches. "See how the armor can be replaced without removing the whole suit. We'll need to check the after-action reports. See how much damage these things could take."

    "Later we can give a good report on what our attacks can do," Pluto said.

    "Rather effective, and I'm sure your daughter can help with that," Makoto added.

    Nodoka set her jaw. "Yes Miss Kino, I'm looking forward to talking with my daughter once my duty here's done," she said her voice tight and strained.

    The brunette winced. "I'm sorry," she said

    Major Saotome gave a curt nod as she returned to her work.

    Returning, Ono handed Pluto a locking storage container, after she let the cat down from her arms. "You're authorized to take samples." He paused. "Please don't punch another hole through reality. When you're ready to go topside, Lieutenant Tendo will escort you to the bridge."

    Makoto noticed the officer had given Pluto one of the smaller containers.

    Pluto gave a bitter little laugh that contrasted with her youthful body. "Believe me, that's the last thing I want," she said before turning on her heel and walking back to the broken pillars.

    As Makoto followed, she glanced over and saw that the green-haired succubus had slipped up next to her. She noticed that the demon was about equal in height to her, though her sheer presence made her feel larger. The armor, harnesses, magazine pouches, and slung rifle also helped, not to mention the folded wings or the swishing tail.

    "Apologies if Major Saotome came off as curt," Morrison assured, eying the brunette. "And I'm sorry for accidentally making light of your loss," she then bowed to Luna.

    "She has a lot on her mind," Makoto admitted.

    "Yes."

    Stopping, Makoto angled her torso to face the demon. "What did I do wrong now?" she asked with exasperation. "I'm maintaining eye contact. I haven't accidentally touched you. I'm not getting in the way. We even bonded over the corpses of our enemies! What did I do wrong?"

    Morrison frowned. "We really are a finicky lot," she admitted.

    The brunette snorted.

    "It's just the issue with Aunt Ranma is… sensitive."

    Makoto stared. "How badly did she get hurt?" she asked. As far as she knew the redheaded could just soak up damage and bounce back.

    The demon looked down; she did not like being here, instead of with the rest of the brood. But her being out here freed Ranma’s daughters to comfort her. "It's not just the damage," she eventually said. "It's the lack of food; she was starving."

    Confusion colored Makoto's face until she looked around the room and spotted the dead squid creatures. Sulfur compounds, or whatever that scientist said they were made out of, must not be compatible with demonic biology.

    The succubus nodded at the brunette's dawning realization. "She's recovering but..."

    "Things are sensitive right now?" Makoto guessed.

    Morrison nodded.

    Makoto thought of the other Senshi; they were being held in reserve across the canal. Depending on how severe things were for DarkStar the two groups might even be at the same location.

    Morrison raised an eyebrow at the other girl's little wince, but shrugged and walked back off to watch over her grandmother.

    Bearing a little frown, Makoto went back to the pillars and found Pluto kneeling over the shattered remains. Luna sniffed around until she found a somewhat clear patch and sat down to the side, her tail swishing back behind her.

    "You shouldn't let them get to you," Pluto quietly said, adjusting the pair of obsidian gloves she wore.

    "It wasn't that bad; she's just worried about DarkStar."

    The green haired Senshi nodded. "Good."

    "Good?"

    "That she didn't get to you," Pluto clarified as she lifted a split piece of pillar into the waiting case. She made a thoughtful noise before adding a couple more shards.

    "Get to me?"

    Snapping the case's lid shut, the green haired girl gave Makoto a dumbfounded gaze. "She is a succubus."

    Jumping up to Pluto's shoulder, Luna shook her head in sympathy with the younger-looking Senshi.

    "What's that... Oh," the brunette frowned. "When did that become a concern?"

    Standing up, Pluto help the case one-handed like a wide briefcase or a large lunchbox. "It isn't? My mistake then," the maroon-eyed Senshi said mirthfully. She patted the cat. "Isn't it good we don't have to worry about fraternization between sex demons and our teenaged warriors?"

    Makoto's footing slipped a bit in surprise. "Funny joke."

    Pluto gave a thin smile. "Come on then," she said before walking towards one of the hallways out of the scarred chamber.

    "That's it then?"

    "We have what we need."

    "What about another invasion?" Makoto demanded.

    "I'm sure it's only a matter of time," Luna shrugged. The cat's nose twitched. "Oh you meant right now."

    "There's enough Jammers to lock things down here." Pluto's hand drummed against the case. "Though that's a bit like locking the barn after the horse has escaped."

    "Before or after it mutated into an inky monster with acid sprays and gone on a rampage in a major city."

    "A national capital." Pluto held her free hand up in correction.

    "Much better," Makoto rolled her eyes. "At least we got some early warning this time."

    "Last night's intrusion?" Pluto asked.

    "I was thinking the meeting you and Usagi had."

    The young-looking girl's face clouded. "I wouldn't put much stock in what she has to say. She does not look upon the Silver Millennium with fondness nor would she approve of Crystal Tokyo."

    Makoto looked back at the blasted room. The corridor they were in was little better. In fact it had more water pooled along the floor and the closer-in burned-out walls were covered in streaks of gore from two realities. "But why?" she asked in a low voice. "Why is... Nuit so hostile to us, to Serenity?"

    Pluto frowned at the name being uttered. She slowly rolled the locked case in her hands. "Serenity, Usagi's mother, brokered a peace deal with our hostile friend's father." Regret colored the girl's face. "It did not last."

    Luna's face clouded. She did not remember much about Nuit nor her father. Unfortunately, that was not particularly informative given her continuing memory issues.

    "Oh," Makoto rubbed her neck. It made sense. Serenity had made deals with demons and had conquered planets. "Was there a war?"

    "No," Luna shook her head; she could remember that much.

    "But it was a near thing," Pluto added. "And a sense of betrayal colored... relations ever since."

    "She sounds like quite the 'daddy's girl' to carry a grudge so long after the Queen's death."

    "You've faced immortal beings from those days. Do you recall any of them to be particularly forgiving?" Pluto asked as they resumed walking. She found she had to hasten herself to keep ahead of Makoto's longer stride.

    Luna snorted. "By those standards Queen Nehellenia was one of the less obsessive ones."

    The brunette shuddered. The mirror queen had tried to usurp Serenity in the past, and the Senshi had defeated her before, only for her to come back. In fact, her final defeat had come before Mamoru died and everything went wrong. "Not before Usagi healed them," Makoto admitted.

    Nodding, Pluto spread out her hand. She frowned at her diminutive fingers.

    "Maybe Usagi should do that with Nuit."

    Stopping in her tracks, the green-haired girl nearly doubled over with laugher. The locked metal case fell to the ground in a clatter.

    Unsure of how to react, Makoto helped the shorter girl up and handed her the case.

    Smoothing her dark jacket and blouse and making sure Luna was draped over a shoulder, Pluto quickly regained her composure.

    "I'm guessing she's not actually evil."

    "Would Queen Serenity have brokered a peace with someone like that?"

    For a moment Makoto was mollified. "Wait. What about BlackSky?"

    "Just because you're a dark alien invader doesn't mean you're evil," Pluto smiled as she scratched under Luna's chin, quieting a potential protest from the cat.

    "What about these things then?" Makoto asked as she kicked the arm of an eviscerated Squid that had died near the stairwell.

    A pair of Company agents in their grey armor and heavy double-barreled rifle grenade launcher combo weapons continued to watch the two girls.

    "That's different," Pluto said as she started on the steps. Being short was a frustration; times like this she missed her old body. Well, an old body, she mentally amended.

    "Why did the Russians have de Veste summon Them?" Makoto asked as they rounded the landing in the middle of the stairwell.

    Kiri exhaled. "He wanted to impress."

    "Impress?"

    "Oh yes, big and flashy. Very showy." Reaching the head of the stairs Kiri gave an encompassing sweep with her arms. Luna lifted her head and stabilized her grip.

    Before the three was the battered and mangled elevator lobby. The hulking corpse of a giant armored squid dominated the room. Its shredded rubbery body and peeled, shattered, armor laying between the torn elevator doors.

    The two girls slipped past the stinking corpse and its flock of smaller bodies and made their way to a burnt barricade. Again the smells of blood, cooked hair and flesh, spoiled milk and crushed milk, and smoke filled Makoto's nostrils. The brunette took some comfort in the lack of the rubbery stench of charred Servitor. Luna's whiskers rustled as her nose wrinkled in distaste.

    The brunette gagged slightly. Despite it all, the odor was better than that in the basement. Glancing over she noted that the green-haired girl hardly seemed to notice.

    Makoto frowned. "Showy? That doesn't seem their style."

    Giving a little smile, Kiri cocked an eyebrow as their shoes crunched across the room. She paused and then sidestepped a large blood smear surrounded by scattered packaging from bandages and other bits of medical kit.

    "The Combat Cyborgs took out a helicopter and engaged in a running gun battle... in downtown Toronto. And that was after assaulting and burning down our previous headquarters," she explained her red eyes dancing. "Surely you remember that battle?"

    Both Makoto and Luna narrowed their eyes.

    "Are you saying this is their style or not?" Makoto demanded.

    Kiri's smile grew fractionally.

    "Look, what happened down south was a mess but this is a disaster. It's worse than Jadeite's last stand at the airport."

    "A lot of planes were destroyed at Haneda, not to mention that terminal building," Pluto conceded.

    "Even so, this is a lot more visible," Makoto swept her hands at the canal and city that could be seen beyond the bank of broken windows. To the east she could see wisps of smoke coming out of the University of Ottawa building they had fought in.

    A security station had been setup in the entrance room as armed groups of Canadian and Company personnel walked around the deactivated metal detectors. Most were moving crates of equipment through a some were doing cleanup work and a somber men working graves detail were logging bodybags.

    Kiri sniffed. "Yes, yes it was. Do note that what I said earlier."

    Makoto bowered her head.

    "Wait..." Luna's tail flicked. "You said he wanted to impress. Not they wanted to impress."

    Smiling, Kiri nodded.

    "The Russians didn't want all this?" Makoto asked.

    "Hardly, this... extravagance-" Disgust filled Kiri's face. "-was one man's indulgence. I fear the cyborgs have not realized what they've hired."

    The relatively pristine equipment, some of which looked like it had been pulled straight from the depot contrasted with the rest of the room's stripped, bombed out look. Constant sirens, the drone of helicopters, the rumble of heavy trucks and armor came in through the windows.

    Makoto frowned. Schemes within schemes, factions within factions. "But who did he want to impress then?"

    "Please, the man is a cultist. Draw your own conclusion."

    "A sacrifice then? Was all this some sort of sick offering?"

    Pluto held up a hand to silence the brunette.

    Several of the soldiers looked up at the pair of civilian-dressed women, one of which had a cat, though there were intercepted by a pair of JTF2 troopers followed by a female Company officer with short brown hair.

    Makoto inhaled; there was a rather strong cross breeze. The air was fresher but that simply highlighted the rank smell of burnt powder, smoke, offal and spoiled milk, mint from within the building. It did not help that the incoming air was also heavily scented with engine fumes and exhaust.

    Looking across at the slightly shorter fellow brunette, Makoto stepped aside.

    Lieutenant Kasumi Tendo nodded to her before going to Kiri. Her brown eyes fell over the case the green-haired girl carried and the cat draped over a shoulder. "Here to see the Servitor? Apparently, it was bigger than yours."

    Makoto nodded.

    "I'm afraid the tank did a number on it; what's left isn't very impressive."

    "It wasn’t electrocuted, burned and then magically shredded." Kiri shrugged. "Maybe I can learn more about what kind of Servitor this one was."

    "Are you sure you don't want to see the third one?" Kasumi offered.

    "The one the tank actually shot point-blank and the brood finished?" Kiri asked. "I'd presume there's even less of that one left than ours."

    "This way," Kasumi nodded. "The other bodies have been bagged, but we're still scooping the thing off the bridge and into containment. The military propped up a frame and dropped a tarp over most of the stuff, but it's all terribly exposed," she explained as they towards a door on the eastern side of the building.

    At the doors was set of ambulances, a coroner van, and another armed detail.

    "Bringing in a lot of people." Makoto frowned. "I thought the Jammers had things locked down. They worried the enemy will be back?"

    "Always," Kasumi gave a conspiratorial little smile. "But this is recovery and graves detail." There was a distant edge to her voice.

    Luna tightly closed her eyes as the cat gave a nervous, pained purr.

    "The medics logged all the cadavers when they and security swept the building?" Kiri asked.

    The company officer nodded.

    As they went down the sidewalk, the engine noise increased and the air became slightly more palatable. Makoto looked out over the canal bridge. A large snow removal backhoe had been scrounged up from a garage. With flashing lights, the orange vehicle drove into a hastily constructed tent, and then with beeping as it reversed drove out with a bucket-load of black ichor.

    A team of soldiers and agents, half of them armed with flamethrowers tensely watched as the hydraulics extended and the bucket lifted and a pile of gelatinous inky matter slumped into a steel dumpster bolted onto a waiting flatbed truck.

    Passing a mechanic team working on one of the idling Leopard tanks, the group made their way to the canal-spanning bridge. Makoto's disquiet grew as she looked around and took care to keep to one side of the scarred bridge.

    "Something wrong?" Kiri paused after her question.

    "We're watching them scoop black alien sludge into a dumpster," Luna dryly stated. "Oh look there's a cluster of eyeballs and some tentacles."

    "I mean something else wrong?" she quietly appended.

    "Oh nothing, it's just..." the brunette magical girl sighed. "It’s all this." Makoto gestured to the idling tank and the helicopters flying overhead.

    Kiri raised an eyebrow.

    "How many years have we been alone?" Makoto exhaled. "And I wasn't even around for the bad old days. Back when it was just Minako and Artemis or Usagi and Luna."

    "It got better when we found Ami," Luna said with a sigh.

    "This wasn't our home or even a Company base that got attacked. This was a military headquarters," Kiri reminded.

    "Because of our enemies," Makoto added.

    "Not every otherworldly invader can have the restraint of Pharaoh 90."

    Makoto eyed the short red-eyed Senshi. "Maybe it's because unlike the JSDF the Canadians are willing to send tanks into their capital city," Kiri shrugged.

    "It would not be the first time." Kasumi snickered.

    "What?" Makoto asked. "Aliens have attacked before?"

    Luna sighed.

    The lieutenant shook her head. "Humans. October 1970. Quebecos separatists started kidnapping government officials and the Governor General implemented the War Measures Act. The army rolled tanks right on the lawn of Parliament. There’s probably one or two there now. But in '70 after that, they secured other governmental buildings another force marched on Montreal."

    "Oh." Makoto blinked. She knew Japan had some unrest during the 60's and 70's but was surprised to hear that the Canadians had similar... if more extreme issues. "Well at least none of the secrets about monsters and magic got out."

    Kasumi shrugged. "After years of working in the shadows, being seen at best as an unpleasant necessity that 'important' people don't talk about, someone that's called when their toilet backs up or when deep ones start eating too many constituents. it is nice to see your warnings taken seriously for once. And have them do more than pay lip service to the idea of sinister invaders from beyond the moon. Especially if that they're willing to bring in the big guns."

    Eying the armor on the bridge, the Company officer gave a fond little smile. "Though I will confess, the idea of throwing tanks at a Shoggoth did swell my national pride."

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

    Bearing a pensive face Lady Mars turned from the... overt display to the broodlings. At least not all of them seemed as enrapt by their mother's actions. Ironically, the platinum blonde daughter seemed the most concerned. Her smile was more guarded than the other daughters’.

    Minako slipped up to Mars' shoulder. "Troubled?" she asked in a low voice, her blue eyes slipping to their queen before back to the raven-haired priestess.

    "Is it that obvious?" Mars whispered back as she watched the broodlings circle around their mother and the queen, including Ukyou.

    The blonde took Mars' gauntleted arm and drew her towards the food-laden table, and away from the others.

    "Jealous?" Minako asked, despite her serious expression a playful lilt still entered her voice.

    "Concerned."

    Minako nodded.

    Mars looked over the table. There was plenty of food. However not much that was non-meat. She picked up a bottle of water from a half opened box. Her glass was back at the table, and she did not want to... intrude. "Interesting that you would suggest jealous."

    Minako gave a serene smile.

    "Don't you wish you were on Usagi's lap?"

    "Who doesn't?" Minako brushed some of Mars' hair back.

    Ignoring the gesture, Mars laughed and opened the cheap plastic bottle. "It's so crude."

    "Would you have preferred a more subtle seduction?" Minako leaned in, her little smile still affixed to her face.

    Mars thought back to Meredith; she had offered to be a supportive ear for Rei. And the girl's the blue-green eyes with little emerald flecks were so very deep.

    "Maybe you're insulted that such a... simple approach is working."

    Mars nodded. "I mean sexing herself up and squirming into her lap."

    "And all the blood. I didn't realize our Queen's tastes were so... sharp. Perhaps if I had gone with more teeth..." Minako mused.

    "This isn't about your attempt to get into Usagi's skirt, Mina!" Mars' voice was sharp before she regained control.

    Some of the broodlings glanced over towards her. Misako even gave a snort.

    "Get into her skirt? Please dear Lady Mars, I was her skirt." Minako shook her head and ran her hands down the twin ponytails she worse before passing them over the blue skirting of her Sailor Moon disguise. "But now... yes, I'm wearing it."

    "This attraction..." Mars shook her head. "You and Ami."

    Minako's face clouded, and her smile... slipped. "Yes... she made sure we had so much in common," she hissed through clenched teeth.

    "Maybe that's it," Mars muttered to herself, ignoring Minako's comment. "Straightforward is her style. We are dealing with simple creatures here."

    "The demons or our queen?"

    "Yes."

    The strain eased from Minako's face as her smile grew.

    Taking a sip of water, Mars glanced over her shoulder. "How about you?" she asked turning back to Minako. "How are you taking all this?"

    "It's surprisingly cute... in a blood and iron queen with her minion of war way."

    "I meant in general," Mars narrowed her eyes. "I mean you've lost the most. With your... changes. And the other thing," she added awkwardly.

    Minako stilled.

    "I know Luna's not taking it well, you were almost as close as her." Mars stated not noticing that the blonde had stopped breathing. "Artemis was your longest friend right?"

    Her lips still frozen in a now-forced smile, Minako slowly swiveled her head. "Yes."

    "At least you're taking it... well." Mars exhaled. "When mother died. Well, I had my rage at my father. Did you know he abandoned her?"

    Minako simply stared. She knew about the "great" Takashi Hino. The rising start of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the man that despite his wife's tragic illness secured a critical Non-Proliferation agreement. One that was violated two years later via a botched nuclear test under the western side of the Sea of Japan.

    "I had a... focus for my mourning," Mars gave a tiny bitter laugh.

    "Well Rei, of all the violations Ami did to me, deadening my ability to mourn will be the hardest to forgive," the blonde's voice was flat, cold.

    "Oh... so we're not so different?" Mars reached out, Minako's upper arm was surprisingly cool, and worryingly stiff. In that moment it was hard to pretend that Minako was still human. "But Ami didn't kill him. The Russians did."

    Minako's eyes flashed red. "I know."

    The arm Mars held seemed to ripple. The cool flesh chilled and felt smooth... slick. "Mina..."

    The stiff blonde looked to Mars. Her smile grew; it was an awkward halting motion as her lips curled unnervingly.

    Mars' heart sank. Minako's natural, effortless joy seemed slipping away.

    "Yes?" Minako crisply asked. The blonde's eyes languidly drifted between crimson and blue in a slow, blending oscillation.

    "I..."

    The blonde waited.

    Mars swallowed.

    Still, the blonde stood quietly.

    The dark-haired girl noticed a lack of rise and fall in the other girl's chest. That her blinking seemed infrequent, perfunctory. As seconds drew out Mars realized that her friend's newfound patience was more eerie than the other changes, including the increasingly metallic cast her skin was getting. "I..." Mars swallowed. "Uh, can you hold it together?" Mars quietly asked. "You seemed fine in the fight..."

    Minako's eyes flashed over, and bright ruby irises stared back at Mars. "What kind of question is that?" she levelly asked, her voice a monotone.

    "Our queen's been very lonely. After the loss of her Prince."

    Minako stared, but her eyes burned less bright.

    "I don't think you're jealous of the demon, of Ranma. You did seem pretty proud based on having been Usagi's 'skirt'." Mars found she couldn't help but grin. "Maybe that's it... you want to get between them. I mean literally between them. A gold gown for the queen. Or maybe some shining armor for-"

    Still smiling, Minako put her finger to Mars' lips and pressed. "How would you know?" the blonde asked as she withdrew her finger.

    "I was... tempted. Back at the base. Mako-chan and I ran into some succubae. And... "

    Minako chuckled, her smile turning genuine. "Not Ranma and her girls by my guess."

    Mars glanced to one side. Catching a glimpse of her queen, she turned further.

    Still nuzzling and curled in her lap, the demon had a large, very large, smile as she chewed on a chunk of steak.

    "No, not one of hers."

    Minako leaned in. "Which of Cecilia's darling girls was it?" she asked, her flat voice gaining a teasing undercurrent.

    Blushing slightly, a tiny orange flame sparked from Mars' bangs. "How did?"

    "A guess, Eve doesn't have many spawn, and they seem a bit... cold," Minako idly brushed Mars' hair, "for your taste."

    "I wasn't attracted to her!" Mars hissed, her voice almost rising.

    Minako pulled back and tilted her head slightly at the darker haired girl. She waited.

    "I wasn't," Mars repeated.

    "Tempted?" Minako asked a teasing lilt, momentarily, breaking her monotone.

    Lady Mars closed her eyes; she inhaled. On her exhale her body shook, her fists clenched and tiny sparks lifted from her hair.

    Idly catching one of the tiny motes of flame, Minako's smile slipped off her face. "I see."

    "For a moment... a moment. It felt like Meredith could... That she would understand. Or at least listen. That I wouldn't be... or that I wouldn't be rejected not for what I'm... becoming." Mars opened her eyes.

    "And now you're wondering if that's what it's like for me? If this is how the loneliness works for me?"

    Mars gave a tiny nod. "And how Usagi can stand up to their affections."

    Minako looked over Mars' shoulder. The queen had dropped a slab of raw meat into the demon's waiting maw and then clapped as it was snatched and swallowed in one quick chomp.

    Mars looked over her shoulder. "It helps that Ranma's far more... straightforward in her methods."

    Still watching the near gluttonous display, Minako smile returned. "There is a certain sweetness in being so blunt. An innocence."

    "Innocent," Mars laughed. "Well, it's a matter of degrees. We've all got blood on our hands. At least Mercury didn't make you kill anyone."

    Minako's face clouded.

    "Oh, I'm sorry," Mars released the blonde's arm and automatically drew her into a hug.

    Minako leaned on her friend, and for a moment Mars realized the full weight of the blonde. "It's so hard," Minako whispered, her whisper once more completely monotone.

    "What?" Mars put her other arm into the hug.

    "Remembering that Ami's a victim too." Minako returned the hug and sighed.

    Mars froze at the little sigh, her friend's warm breath on her neck. It was such a little thing, such a human thing. However part of her wondered if Mercury had given Minako that capability, for this exact scenario. "We will save her. She's afraid of Usagi healing her."

    The faux-Sailor Moon gave a melancholy laugh. "True, she saved me."

    Mars frowned and at a loss for what to say simply renewed the hug.

    Leaning into the embrace, Minako lifted her head.

    The antics of her queen and the demon continued. Now Serenity had a large bowl thick with a meaty stew. The glossy silver succubus blinked and paused in her chewing. Expression turning quizzical, Minako watched as the platinum blonde demoness approached her mother and whispered into her ear.

    The brood mother brightened, her large mouth splitting into a broad grin. Meanwhile the queen gave a little frown.

    "Mina? Something up?" Loosening the hug, Mars turned back and looked at the others. The demons had shifted their stances and looked expectant.

    "Yes," Minako murmured.

    Ukyou walked up to the pair. She politely coughed and looked aside until two Senshi separated.

    Mars glanced at the demon in her grey-green uniform with its bodysuit, ceramic inset vest and skirt. The armor was functional, and in its way understated, but it was also undeniably a Sailor Senshi uniform. A bit of jealousy colored the priestess' face as her bangs lifted slightly.

    Smelling a hint of something like wood-smoke, Ukyou paused and bowed her head. "Miss Hino, Miss... Tsukino," the demon's pause was deliberate as she bowed to Minako. "We're having some guests in here, and it would be best if you returned to your disguises."

    "What about her?" Rei pointed to the silver succubus, now drinking deeply from a bowl of stew.

    "And what about you?" Minako waved towards Ukyou's neatly folded wings.

    The blonde demoness gave a bright toothy grin. "These gentlemen are, ah, friends of mother's."

    Minako nodded. "Right. They know about demon mercenaries, but not about magical girls."

    "Right, can't let that secret get out," Mars rubbed her neck in irritation. "I'm guessing they weren't anywhere near the University."

    "Let's not presume they were. Every bit helps," Ukyou then turned to Minako and nodded. "You are right, it probably would be best for her to not be so ostentatious."

    "Trust?" Minako asked as Serenity pulled out her disguise pen. The queen's form wavered and her pristine armor shifted into a dark blue suit and pinstripe skirt equally lacking in any blood drops of stains. She peeled off the windbreaker that came with the disguise and draped it over a spar chair.

    Mars briefly wondered how Usagi had managed to stay so clean, despite messily feeding a brood queen. However her attention was diverted by a rising pressure and heat from the demon right next to her. The diversion was made moreseo by how familiar it was to Rei herself.

    Eyes flashing, Ukyou controlled her breathing. "They fought alongside mother."

    "It is still a risk. Infiltration, replacement, subversion, mind control," Minako stated.

    Ukyou allowed a little nod. "Which is why we will still be in the room," she explained.

    Walking back to her queen, Mars rolled her shoulders. "I suppose you're right," she said to the demon following at her side.

    "You have argued that there's too much paranoia and security around her," Minako teased.

    "Says the woman that literally became her armor."

    Minako gave a little, and quite deliberate, cough.

    "No, refreshments?" Serenity playfully asked her returning Senshi.

    "It's not like they were making out in the corner," Ranma noted, lifting her head of the taller woman's chest.

    "True," Serenity said almost regretfully, then tapped her disguise pen against her lips.

    Rolling her eyes, Mars held out her hand.

    After kissing the ruby tip, Serenity dropped the pink pen into Mars' waiting hand.

    Shaking her head, Mars used the device and shifted into a maroon suit and dark windbreaker. She then handed the pen to Minako who also reverted to her structural engineer disguise.

    "What about her?" Mars gestured to the silver succubus.

    A pout crossed the glossy-redhead's velvety soft features. "I've indulged myself enough," she gave Serenity's cheek a kiss and slowly unwound her tail. The demoness then held her crystal choker. There was a flash and silver and ruby started to boil and run. Glossy white armor and long blue pleats began to smolder and evaporate. Accents and accessories withered as embellishments withered and the demon's hair became unbound and reverted to individual strands.

    Stepping back, Mars looked away while Ukyou started talking into her headset.

    Several seconds latter, the doors opened and a group of soldiers entered, heralded by a smiling pale woman with a perky green ponytail. Despite the lack of visible wings, horns, and tail, she was clearly a demon. Especially when one compared the slight-looking short woman with the more muscular and mostly male group of Canadian soldiers.

    They had uniforms very similar to the JTF2 troops. However, their armor was lighter than the Black Devils'. They also lacked grenades, and their rifles were lighter looking and of a smaller caliber.

    At the head of the group, next to the young demoness, was a young officer with a thin moustache under a hawkish nose. His dark eyes were prideful but vaguely haunted. He spotted the cluster of demons and well-dressed women and immediately strode towards them.

    The green-haired succubus slipped off to one side and walked towards Mars. She gave a slightly apprehensive wave as she slipped up next to the black-haired women.

    "Ma'am," the demon nodded.

    "Priscilla," Mars bowed her head in return, wondering if she heard a tremble in the succubus' voice, and if so, whether or not it as an affectation. Cecilia's girls honestly seemed afraid of them, but that was when they were alone with two magical girls. Here Pricilla had her aunt and her more powerful cousins.

    "Meredith hopes you're doing well," Priscilla said with a warm wink before slipping out of the room and locking the doors behind her.

    A still thin succubus with stark greyish cheekbones wearing a crisp grey-green Kevlar vest and armored skirt over a dark green bodysuit that matched her daughters' uniforms pushed off of Serenity's lap. She was taller and had regained the sheer presence of a mature brood mother.

    Mars looked over the pair and blinked. She knew the Serenity disguise was older, but the silver haired woman looked even more mature and actually filled out her blouse and jacket with more grace.

    There was also more... gravity to the brood mother. Her deep crimson hair was unbound and tumbled back, but other than a choker, obsidian earrings, and a glossy holster her Senshi uniform was now crisp, professional, almost drab. The black-haired Senshi exhaled; maybe it was hard to slouch with a succubus in your lap.

    Jumping up onto silver hooves Ranma stood. Thick armor-like spats were laced over the leg cuffs of her Kevlar bodysuit and formed something like shin-guards, despite being below her higher ankles. Unlike her daughters' looser bodysuits, Ranma's seemed almost stretched along her arms and down her legs. There the woven armor almost looked like some type of especially thick stocking.

    As the brood mother clopped forward, Nariko slipped into place at her side. It was not the tanker crew, but these were men she wanted to thank as well.

    "Lieutenant Borgne, how wonderful to see you." Ranma beamed, her metallic purple lips smiling broadly as her dark red hair fanned behind her. "You and your men did a wonderful job." She strove over to him and took his hand in hers. She nodded to the two of his troop that she readily recognized. "Peck, Simone. How was the fight?"

    Borgne gave a Gallic shrug. "Really, after you and the sangfroid Lieutenant La Tour showed up things became much smoother."

    Nodding, Ranma neatly turned on a hoof and walked back to the table. "We don't have as much to eat in this room."

    Akane laughed.

    Ranma glanced at her daughter. "But my girls can get more" There was the barest hint of a tremor in her gait.

    Watching the way the demon's armored skirting swayed Serenity noted that Nariko hovered at the brood mother's side, seemingly ready to catch her.

    Mars adjusted her jacket and went to the depleted refreshment table. As she picked up a bottle of water, Minako slipped up next to her and gave a sidelong grin.

    "What?"

    "That's the second bottle of water you've gotten," Minako whispered as she grabbed a bottle of her own and carried it to her queen.

    The redhead looked relived as she circled the table and sat down. There was a flash of silver as she lapped up a bit of blood that had pooled in the bottom of a bowl. "That's real good. No surprises?" she asked glancing over as the tall silver-haired woman took a long drink.

    "Alas we were on the opposite side of the building from the Enemy's little escape attempt." Borgne looked at the table. "I see JTF2 was not kidding about bringing in more support. Demons? Same uniform as Red? A whole unit then. My, my."

    "Yes, they're also my daughters." A tinge of a blush colored Ranma's pale cheeks.
    To Serenity's eyes, it did more to liven up and fill in her face than a several platters full of red meat. A spark of jealousy popped and fluttered within the queen.

    "A lovely family," Borgne took a moment to look over the broodlings before he turned to Serenity and her girls. "And more allies? Hmm." He looked at the uniform of Ranma's then at the suits the Senshi wore.

    "You're not JTF2 are you?" Minako asked.

    Borgne gave a sardonic laugh. "Not today no."

    Peck, Simone and the other men shifted a bit uncomfortably.

    "Girls, could you please get the Lieutenant and his men some refreshment," Ranma happily offered.

    Borgne, well aware of "suggestions" watched the gaggle of pale girls get to their feet. A blonde and one with blue hair left the room, presumably, to get more supplies, while the other two started procuring bottles and other odds and ends.

    "No this is Lieutenant Bornge, he held the line before JTF2 showed up," Serenity said recalling what Ranma had mentioned earlier.

    "Ah, my reputation precedes me." Borgne turned to his men. "Go on, get some food in you, then you can chat with our new friends."

    "Regular army?" Serenity asked.

    "You're taking all this pretty calmly," Mars said after Borgne nodded.

    "My Dear, the day started out with a break in by superhuman people who summoned clouds of smoke, were immune to bullets, and could pass through walls. Then came the alien invasion. Right now I'm running on adrenaline, caffeine, shock and some little helpers a medic we... procured gave us," Borgne's voice became more jovial, but it was obviously forced.

    He looked and saw he was alone, the rest of his group had been pulled off to be fed and entertained by the demon's girls. His voice lowered. "I lost half of my men to Them, then lost every officer above me until I was in charge. All this before this lovely woman and her friends the Black Devils showed up."

    "Ah," Mars nodded, jealousy coloring her neck and cheeks despite herself. The Senshi should have been among that list...

    "No, I'm not to concerned about how many demons my government has secretly hired, or if you and your friends are actually structural engineers," Borgne said tapping a NORR Systems hardhat that had been left on the table.

    Mars blushed.

    The lieutenant sighed and pulled a cigarette pack out of a pocket. He looked at it before putting it away. "In fact, I'm stunned by the level of foresight this has shown. Shocking that we actually had a plan."

    Serenity looked up at the officer. "I wish we could have gotten here earlier."

    Borgne raised an eyebrow. His curiosity as to what these young women in their stiff starched suits really rose then fell. There was enough weirdness for the day, he concluded with a shrug. "It happens."

    "What brings you here? It's great that Major Sifton's decided to bring you and your men in but..." Ranma's pupils dilated. "Oh."

    "It would seem that some positions have opened up in JTF2."

    "And since you've already been exposed to..."

    Borgne nodded. "Yes, a Mr. Gagnon and his friends in matching black suits gave me a lovely debriefing."

    "It'd be good to have you," Ranma said as she stood up.

    Glancing down at the demon's hooves, the lieutenant chuckled; it was a dry noise. "Not to mention get some revenge." He turned and saw that his men had started to disperse, with some of them going back to the other room. "Until later." He bowed his head.

    Taking his hand, Ranma returned the gesture. After a split second's consideration, she bowed her head deeper, bent her knees further, raised her tail and curled the tip up, and stuck one leg forward, her hoof ringing on the floor.

    While Borgne blinked, Misako slipped up and gave the officer a cup of warm tea before he left.

    As she handed out some sandwiches, Ukyou gave a little whistle. "His men were really the ones holding things before you got there?"

    "Yes." Looking at the closed door, the redhead smiled and started to filter through the room. Trotting about in a slow rolling gait, she warmly chatted with the soldiers and wished them well.

    "I like him, he's got a good handle on his hate." Misako proudly said when she caught up to her mother, and then returned to she passing out more drinks as the other soldiers slowly filtered out of the room.

    As the room cleared, Serenity stood up and stretched her legs. Her thighs were a bit sore. She took an indirect route, that just happened to give a glimpses of the backside of the brood mother's legs where they emerged from the bottom hem of the armored pleats of her skirt. Gliding over to the refreshment table, she noticed her disguise meant that steps had to be taken with a bit more swing. She liked how the trim on her heels matched her hair..

    And as Serenity watched her demon Senshi, Mars watched her queen. The dark-haired girl frowned at the deep blue heels. However, it was not the rich glossy, almost metallic, color or elegant silver chasing on the shoes that got Mars' attention. Instead, it was the four inch heel and how easily the Queen carried herself in them.

    Soon the guests were down to Nariko quietly talking to Corporal Peck. The red-eyed demon gave him a quick hug, and holding his hand thanked the man before he stepped out of the room.

    The silence that fell over the conference room was short lived

    As Ukyou and Nariko received new calls on their headsets, Ranma's nostrils flared. Tail swishing, the brood mother looked expectantly at the door. One of her hooves tapped impatiently on the tile.

    Serenity slipped up to her, the soft silk side of her suit-skirt brushing against the redhead's ceramic armored skirt. "Your mother?"

    The demoness smiled. "If it were her do you think I'd be this contained?"

    Serenity nodded, and grinned as she imagined the brood mother skipping from leg to leg. Her gaze went down and she looked down at her shoes and then glanced over to the demon. After a moment's though, the queen decided she also liked how the silver trim on her heels matched her demon's hooves,

    The doors were opened by the WIC troops on guard and a weary Canadian officer paused to shake hands with Lieutenant Borgne before passing through. A somewhat tall man with a brawny physique, he had a heavy rifle with an under-barrel grenade launcher slung over his broad shoulders.

    The officer's eyes were haunted, tired, sorrowful, but flashed with pride. The doors closed behind him and demons and Senshi parted as he strode straight towards the brood mother.

    Beaming, the young demoness clopped up to him. "Major Wellwood Sifton," she purred. "You are a delightfully resourceful man."

    "It does help that you brought such resourceful friends," the officer nodded to Serenity.

    The queen frowned at the loss of contact, but the redhead turned back and with a quick wink pointed at the queen's chair.

    The major waited for the demon's attention to return. "Miss Saotome, it's wonderful to see you looking well. I heard you over exerted yourself helping my men," Sifton understated as he took note of the different cut of her uniform, the sharp gauntness of her cheeks, and the gleaming hooves.

    "Thank you for your concern. It was my pleasure." Ranma's tail swished as she took his hand in both hers and drew down deeply bending at the waist and actually straightening the customary bend of her knees. "As would be anything else you require," she added in playful whisper.

    Serenity watched as the demon's skirt rode up and how the bow put the succubus at about waist height to the officer.

    Sifton looked down.

    The demoness idly tapped a hoof and slowly exhaled, her lips parting. Feeling his fatigue fating, Sifton's eyes calmed.. When he opened them the demoness was rising up and drawing closer.

    Her tail going limp, the brood mother slipped an arm around the side of his shoulder. Her silvery forked tongue licked her lips and she drew herself to where she stood on the tips of her hooves and put her lips to his.

    The kiss broke and Sifton exhaled and squared his shoulders. He felt fresh, energetic, and a bit hungry. He rolled his lips, straightened his uniform, and made sure his gun was still hung properly. There was an almost professional smattering of clapping from the broodlings.

    Sparks lazily popped off Mars' hair. Watching the demon's display, she gave an irritated sigh. And to think that this woman lectured them on professionalism. Mars' sigh deepened. She expected naked voyeurism from Minako, but the hungry, almost jealous expression from her queen was worrying.

    Cantering back to Serenity, she gave a leggy twist and flipped onto the queen's lap. There she crossed her legs ad the knee rocking one hoof over the other. "Sorry for kissing you so quick like that," Ranma teased.

    "Well, physical contact like that is against regulations."

    The demoness flexed an ankle. "It was just a bit of post-battle celebration," the demoness purred with a wink.

    Feeling heady, Serenity tried to process the display, and the demon squirming in her lap. It did not help that she had resumed winding her tail around Serenity's legs. Only this time the tail was winding up, from Serenity's shins towards her thighs.

    Sifton snorted and shook his head. "Well, I've had worse R&R."

    "High praise!" Misako semi-sarcastically cheered.

    Ranma glared at her daughter before going back to the officer. "You did manage to get those tanks in position. Impressive bit of paranoia."

    Eying the demon's legs, Serenity nodded.

    "There was some difficulties with the museum staff, but they did agree to the display. And they are a war museum. But turns out a tank platoon wasn’t enough, nor were they able to block all the quarantine breaches. My thanks." Sifton’s smirk waned at the end as he bowed to Serenity and the Senshi.

    He then frowned at his watch and slipped his headset back in. "Just wanted to check in on you and your girls, and thank you for your help. I'm sure we'll have a more thorough debriefing."

    The demoness smiled. "Oh yes."

    "Until then," Smiling, Sifton bowed his head and marched out of the room.

    "He really hid tanks at a museum?" Serenity asked.

    Ranma nodded, "Yeah, a display of modern armor for the Canadian War Museum. There just was a little detail that some of the 'extra' pieces in the storage shed with some more kit."

    The queen whistled. "I can see why you like him," Serenity said, a bit of jealousy in her voice again.

    "Aww, don't be that way," Ranma said as she snaked her tail a bit higher and slipped the fins between skirt and stocking.

    The queen gave an eep and knocked her knees together.

    The demon in her lap raised an eyebrow and Serenity slowly separated her knees and then crossed her legs at the ankle. After shifting in her seat she exchanged a conspiratorial smile with her demon and then wrapped her arms around the smaller girl's shoulders. Idly wondering if the disguise pen changed her underwear too, she let her thighs part a bit more and leaned in to give the demoness a kiss.

    Minako glanced at the tableau and tried to remember how long the demon's tail was. It was hard given how much of it was hidden by wrapping behind the queen's legs and skirt.

    Finishing her bottle, Mars smiled thinly. "Well.. we gonna talk about the looming alien invasion? The one that just got broadcast live on TV? Or should we talk about how everyone has a crush on the Queen."

    "It's hardly the first time we had to deal with an alien invasion," Minako said.

    Misako ignored the blonde. "So, you admit it," the green-eyed succubus smirked at the black-haired girl.

    Mars rolled her eyes.

    "This is related to..." Serenity lowered her voice. "Her."

    "Your special bathroom friend?" Nariko asked.

    Wriggling in her "seat", Ranma tilted her head. "You talked to her... in the bathroom?"

    Serenity's composure cracked and for a moment she looked her age. "I was feeling sick, and there was a mirror that Puu used to make the connection, with you know, the visitor from the dreams."

    "Ah," the redhead nodded as she rotated her shoulders and looked Serenity in the eye. "And nice, keeping the name on the down-low. It probably doesn't matter. I mean I am openly demon right now, but it's a good habit to get into."

    "Puu told me as much," Serenity sighed.

    "Little Miss spooky Meiou would know," Mars muttered.

    "I'll have to talk with her when she gets back," Serenity flexed her fingers. "I feel like a spy."

    Leaning herself on Serenity's chest, Ranma gave a fanged grin that stretched over sharp cheeks. "You get used to it."


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


    Four months previously, in late-summer, the Shade Tree garden center moved to a new facility. About ten kilometers north east of downtown Toronto, the former location lay on Allen road across from Viewmont Park.

    Banners advertising the property was up for lease by Dagon-Fields Property Management had been pasted over the windows of the main building and a couple of the semi-circular greenhouses.

    In a storeroom, several old bags of fertilizer had been pushed aside clearing a patch of old hardwood floor. A large man happily whistled as he swept the workspace clean of debris. Next he hammered a steel punch into a spot in the center of cleared area. He worked precisely, but jovially.

    He was a man with purpose and vigor. Finding the summons waiting for him in the safe house replaced the annoyance of explaining events to his employers with a bright enthusiasm.

    The large man took out a giant wooden drawing compass. The legs were over twenty centimeters each. The nail on one leg went into the divot he had hammered into the aged oak. Two swipes of the chalk on the other leg inscribed a thick walled circle nearly a meter and a half in diameter.

    Still smiling, he worked carefully and measured the diameter of the circle, both the inner line and the outer. Satisfied he took out a calculator and a tape measure and began marking points on the circumference of the circle.

    Nails were pounded into the spots and a chalk lines were strung between. Thick fingers moved with nimbleness as the lines were snapped against the wood. The man was careful not to smudge or mar the guide lines.

    The man allowed a smile. His employers thought he was a thug, a mad-dog, a simple killer. It was an image that he enjoyed cultivating. Let them dismiss his gifts. He tried. He thought the Mad-Seer would understand, but pride blinded her.

    Satisfied, he picked up the compass and started marking smaller arcs at some of the points where the inscribed lines intersected within the circle. The man stood up, and dusted his hands, making sure to keep chalk dust away from the figure.

    He gave a satisfied grunt and opened up a can of silver-doped paint. Taking a fine badger-hair brush he resumed his whistling. The hard part was done. The rest was just filling in the lines.

    Soon the silver paint had been laid down revealing the design; his design. Her Design. A five pointed star had been inscribed within the circle. Overlaying that was a triangular figure that ended with strange arcing hooks and little whorls. The whole thing looked like a pentagram merged with the curving cloud chamber tracks from an old cyclotron.

    The man sealed the paint bucket closed and moved his tools away from the circle. A spill would cause a big mess. He slipped his suit coat on and straightened his tie. The brutish man crouched down. The obsidian gem on his ring tapped the edge of the silver paint.

    He released his power, his god's power. The conductive paint flared with an iridescence and the viscous fluid began to bubble even as it heated and dried. Standing back up he used a paisley handkerchief to clean his ring.

    Silver and green fumes began to rise from the circle. He glanced at his watch. He knew the time but he knew that you always double-checked your measurements. As symbols went this one was powerful. It was not for nothing that the Company itself had adopted it as one of the three glyphs they used as part of their logo.

    Anything less would be insulting, anything more would be presumptuous. Mal de Veste grinned. If he wanted to get technical, this was something more in the purview of a High Priest, but after today.... his heartbeat quickened. Not since he had first taken his oaths, not since he had seen his first vistas, not since he had gotten his summons today had he felt quite like this.

    Mal cleared his throat. "Hear me Keeper of the Keys! Hear me Guardian of the Threshold! Portcullis of the Ways. Protector of the Beyond One! Bearer of the All-in-One! Hear me Harbinger of the One-In-All!"

    The air shimmered above the circle. Twisting globes of shadow began to float up. The spots of wood between the silver paint began to glow with a shimmering pearlescence.

    "Mistress of the Gates! Holder of the Silver Key hear me! I have done as you bid. I present myself!" The shadows over the circle began to solidify and de Veste dropped to his knees. His drew his gun and placed it before him and bowed in supplication.

    The room's pressure increased and there was the sound of heels clicking on the wood.

    "Rise," a female voice said impatiently.

    Mal lifted his head.

    Standing over the ugly-suited man was a short, young woman with dark features and maroon, almost red, eyes. Mal swallowed. She wore the skirt, ribbon, and bow of his employer's enemies.

    And yet, the great silver key she carried like a staff of office, made her position undeniable. "Mistress," he gasped. He knew she would be a worshiper too; he had once bragged to head of the Thracian Union about his "insurance". His grin grew, more than ever he realized how small a part he was of a much, much vaster machine.

    "Oh, get up." the green-haired woman sighed as she stepped out of the circle. Her eyes darkened. All color, all differentiation was overwhelmed; they became deep black orbs that flickered with iridescence. She frowned at the silver paint that had gotten onto her slim, obsidian boots.

    Mal holstered his weapon, and rose to his feet. "This is about my offering, right? The All-In-One knows, yes? Do you think Yog Sothoth will like it?" he babbled, an almost boyish blush coloring his cheeks.

    Sailor Pluto put her staff in the crook of her left arm. Iridescent bubbles floated off the garnet orb toping weapon. Fully a head shorter than him, she had to look up. Her black, unblinking eyes studied the man's rough features.

    Staring into those twin voids, Mal's blood surged. There were depths in there that transcended time, that made a mockery of the idea of an ordered universe. This was the purity, the Truth, he worshiped.

    An ebony-gloved hand raised towards de Veste's pinking cheeks. It halted, drew back, and then slapped with the sound of snapping an oaken beam.

    Mal's head whipped to the side and he stumbled to the floor with a groan. He fell onto his tools, breaking the wooden rods of the compass and crushing paint can splashing silver paint on his suit.

    Black eyes utterly impassive, Lady Pluto stared down at the man. "No. Priest. I do not like your offering."

    End chapter 10

    I'd like to thank the prereaders for their help in this project: Milanda Anza, Mahou Sensou, J St C Patrick, Crimson Vixen, DCG, Pale Wolf and Kevin Hammel.

    And hopefully with this battle, finally, over the story can advance further.

    Username for the fanart is sunny-temple so just put that in front of the deviantart com


    Revision Notes: And there we are. I still have to go and give Blood Debts a once over to get it up to date. But other than that... the Return has been updated. It went from 34 large chapters and an unwieldy and uncomplete narrative, to 50 chapters split over for distinct arcs. (Again not counting Blood Debts). But now Blood Debts fits in as another "book".

    I'd like to thank everyone who helped me with the revision process, DCG, Ellf, Kevin Hammel, J St C Patrick. And thank everyone who commented on this. I know it's not new material, but next week I'll post the first chapter of Bonding Allure.

    I'll also be posting updated chapters of Blood Debts next week, but since those are minor fixes they'll all be done at once.

    Thanks again everyone!
     
Loading...