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.

Temporary Backup Site.

Other website Temple of Ranma's Senshi Seifuku

C&C as always is wanted.

Chapter 31 Reserve and Release Part 1

"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?"

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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."

"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 holographic 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...

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 makes 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.

La Tour gave him a sharp glance.

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

They were 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."

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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 boiling; 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.

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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 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 Pluto.

"The Silver Crystal? What about it?"

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," Sailor 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."

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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 31

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.

Also The Return has a TV tropes page which, I suppose, could use some updating.

It can be found under FanFic/TheReturn
Also scene previews and early chapters can be found on the fukufics forum.