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 is appreciated.

Book 4: Capital Offense

Chapter 2: Simple Plan

Formerly: Reconcile and Refine Part 2i

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sifton raised an eyebrow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What are you doing?"

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

"Sir?" MacDowell asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"That is not part of our mission."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shest suppressed a groan. "See previous."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The man glanced down at the shorter woman.

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

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

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

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

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

Mal laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Clear!" Shest shouted.

Mal spun on his heel and sidestepped so he stood to one side of the door. He broke leather and in one hand was the heavy slab-like frame of his VZ 52 while the other held a small matte grey cylinder that had been clipped to his belt. Using a free thumb from his gun hand Mal pulled the pin, held it for a couple seconds, and gave a curt nod.

Shest pulled the door open a bit and Mal lobbed the grenade into the brightly light corridor within. The grenade bounced off a wall and hit the ground. There was some frightened shouting and then loud, obnoxious pop.

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

Pulling a fresh grenade, Mal slipped through the doorway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End Chapter 2

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

Revision Notes: It started out as a simple, if audacious, plan...