- Karl von Clausewitz
"I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."
- Albert Einstein
"From time to time, the tree of Liberty must be watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots."
- Thomas Jefferson
"War is an art, and as such is not susceptible of explanation by fixed formula."
- General George S. Patton Jr.
"As much as some would like to think otherwise, man's history is a history determined, measured, and defined by warfare, with entire periods of time dedicated to the primary material or technology used to create the best weapons of the era. We are a species dedicated to annihilation. And from the beginning of civilization until the end of humanity itself, one truth remains: there is nothing that man, nature, God, or the Devil can create that we cannot destroy."
- Ken "Snake" Yakata
Black Dragon Productions presents...
A Guardian sequel/spinoff...
Which also happens to be a Sailor Moon crossover...
All characters not created by me, which are the vast minority here, are owned by their respective creators, who all get paid more than I do, seeing how I don't make any money off this. Those greedy bastards.
This is a Guardian spin-off that splits from the original Guardian timeline at some indeterminate point in a future chapter, likely just after the android soldiers come into play. As far as Sailor Moon goes, I'm using mostly secondhand knowledge of the anime continuity, and this story takes place some time after the end of that continuum, such that the inner senshi are college students (18 years +). And while it does allude to future events in the original Guardian timeline, I would not consider any of them spoilers persay...
Knowledge of the events and characters of Guardian are required for full enjoyment of the fanfic. It can be found and read at http/ Black Dragon Productions or any of its affiliates is not responsible for any brain damage incurred from the reading of this fanfic, or loss of employment or wages that come from reading this stuff at work and unintentionally informing your boss that you're not working on this month's numbers through hysterical laughter.
Notes: ' ' indicates thoughts, indicates sounds, " " indicates language other than Japanese, though entire scenes that take place in different countries with different languages may omit them. indicates writing or displayed words.
The soft, tranquil sound of rain filled the back lot as the groups of men and machines stood at attention, perfectly still in the light downpour. Underneath their boots, the rainwater collected in small puddles on the concrete ground, mixing with washed-off lubricants and oil from the boomers and mechs bringing up the rear of the company. Bright red lights, emanating from the various optical lenses of nearly fifty assault boomers, cyborgs, and battle androids all glowed as they stood at attention, piercing the dark haze of the rain among the looming shadows.
In front of the company, a single man paced the width of the lot. He was a tall, Russian man, with white hair that was combed back over the top of his head, and extended down to the base of his neck in sharp, spiked locks. Where his left eye should have been, there was instead a large metal peripheral over his face, with a red sensor lens to compensate for the lack of an organic optical device. The peripheral extended back over his ear, where it melded directly into his skull.
Rain trickled down the cyborg's dark brown trench coat, water beading on the metal stars on his shoulder that marked him as a General, while the rain was absorbed by the cloth patch sewn onto the front of his coat that bore the image of a cobra wrapped in barbed wire.
"Squad A! Deploy! Set up the defensive position once you reach your objectives!" The man suddenly shouted. As soon as he was finished, the six cyborgs and two battle androids turned as one, and marched into the alley in perfect synchronization.
"Ah, conducting another raid so soon, Yutchzky? You certainly have been busy lately."
Igov Yutchzky turned and looked down at the source of the annoying voice, beholding a short, bald man in a polyester suit. The man had a pair of round, wire-rim glasses on, and was holding up an umbrella to keep the rain off him.
"Yoshi Konta. What is business here?" the cyborg General said stonily, turning back to his troops.
The little man shrugged. "Didn't have anything better to do, I guess. It's so much more FUN watching you use my weapons than designing them..."
"Please stay out of way," Igov said, still using a perfectly neutral tone. "This mission is of great importance to strategic security."
"Ah, yes. Resource gathering. At the depot where the government is transporting a load of radioactive fuels which may or may not be a salvaged alien spacecraft?"
Igov's biological eye twitched. Yoshi's talent for personally gathering perfect intelligence was well-known, but it still irked the General, who most often faced losses due to poor tactical intel.
"Yes. Depot is heavily defended, but no units on standby to reinforce transport. Quick strike should take transport by surprise." Igov lowered his head slightly to hold it under Yoshi's umbrella, and took a cigarette from his pocket and placed it in his mouth.
"Actually, that's not completely accurate," Yoshi said, watching as Igov generated a sudden spark of electricity from his right index finger that lit the end of his cigarette. "The Department of Abnormal Phenomenae Containment will be on standby to intercept any threats to the shipment."
Yoshi forced himself to keep from smirking as Igov cursed in Russian, spitting out the cigarette before he could even take a puff.
"Is not... It is not their jurisdiction," Igov protested, managing to find the right word in his less-than-perfect Japanese vocabulary.
"True. And I'm certain lots of people are making quite a fuss over it, too. But alas, wiser heads prevailed, and they now stand between you and your goal, per the norm." The diminutive genius watched as the taller man pulled his head up again, exposing it to the rain. "Such a strange and lucky group, to persevere in every battle! Robots, androids, cyborgs, clones, super-soldiers, mutants; all have proven inadequate in combat with them. Why, it begins to seem like they are the sole enemies we cannot hope to defeat! And with so many other powerful and strange things in this world!"
Igov looked up into the pouring sky, ignoring the brief sizzling noise as his cigarette was extinguished from the constant downpour striking the ground where it lay. "Battle one cannot win, one must avoid." He lowered his head. "Forces strike before transport reach depot, take shipment and leave." Not striking against the depot defenses was dangerous, he knew, as that would leave the garrison there able to track and assault his forces while they worked to capture the shipment. The prospect of being assaulted by the forces of the DAPC, however, was much, much more horrifying.
Yoshi shrugged. "Well, yes. That's all well and good, but-" Beep! Beep!
Igov raised an eyebrow as Yoshi's pager went off, distracting the short scientist.
"Oh! Well, that IS interesting." He turned and saluted to Igov. "Well, good luck with your operation! I have important, high-level sciency stuff to do!"
"Yes, thank you." Igov frowned as he watched Yoshi leave, glad to have the little man out of his sight. Like all the leaders of the Freedom's Angels, he found the mad geneticist annoying at best, and downright frightening at worst. And while he had to admit that they had always been most successful when he and Yoshi combined their skills, Igov still found working with the man to be quite unpleasant.
'Make the plan, and move the pieces. Like I've done a hundred times before and a hundred times again,' Igov thought, commanding the next squad to move out. 'My army, risen from the dead and reforged in steel will not be defeated! Victory or oblivion! I will not lose!'
"Is that them? I think it's really them!" the waitress whispered to her co-worker. "Look! It has to be!"
The other girl frowned as she looked at the indicated booth. Seated at it were six people, four men and two women, and all of them were wearing dark blue nylon outfits, along with body armor. All were armed, and their larger guns were piled at the end of the table, earning quite a few stares from the other patrons.
"Oh, come on! Those guys could be anyone!"
"No, it's them! Look at that patch on their sleeves!" The first girl pointed discreetly to the large round embroidery on the bicep portion of their jacket sleeves, which had the image of a strange, alien-like fetus centered in some cross hairs. "And that guy!" She whispered, pointing at one of the men at the table's edge. He looked more like a Westerner than a Japanese native, and had short, sandy-colored hair which was held in place by a red bandanna. "Don't you recognize him from the papers? That's Ken Yakata! The infamous Snake! Those guys are Department of Abnormal Phenomenae Containment officers!"
The other young woman began to take her companion's claim more seriously. "Holy... I think you're right."
Glancing at the others sitting there, she was able to make out the other two that were recognizable from pictures taken and printed on the front of Tokyo newspapers; the relatively short woman with shoulder-length blue hair and a solid-looking build was Asuka Takami, the Captain and ranking officer in the DAPC. Sitting next to her, on the edge of the booth seat was a striking man of average height with a muscular build who had black hair in a short pigtail. That man hadn't gotten nearly as much media attention as Snake or his leader, but he was still relatively well-known among circles that concerned themselves with the prospect of Tokyo being consumed in a massive fireball. His name was Ranma Saotome.
"What should we do? Should we call the police?" The first waitress asked nervously.
It was all her companion could do to keep from facefaulting. "Idiot! They ARE the police! And what are you worried about? They're here to drink coffee, not kill us all!"
"You don't know that!" The first waitress said timidly. "Do you think it's true that they eat their enemies' hearts to take their power?"
"Oh, for pity's sake. Just give me the drinks."
Ranma sighed and leaned back in his seat, speaking to the trim, busty blonde woman across from him. "I dunno Sakura, I could think of a lot of things I'd rather be doing than sitting around waiting to MAYBE be called in to back up some Core guys. You'd think they could take care of themselves."
"It's been a long time since Core has directly engaged any Freedom's Angels," Asuka muttered, propping her head up with her hands as she leaned forward, "the last real setback they suffered was when the Mark III androids annihilated the sixth division. The last time they fought the cyborgs, they were actually on equal ground."
"Yet somehow, Core heavy infantry still run like frightened squirrels at the first sight of the walking dead," Snake said condescendingly. "It's pitiful. But on the whole, I agree with Saotome. Why do we have to sit around waiting for the chance to clean up Core's mess?"
"Because we were ORDERED to by self-important, bureaucratic nimrods who are not obligated to care about our own difficulties," Asuka said seriously. "We have a lot of stuff to follow up on, too. Three T-virus outbreaks in the last week without any sign of a creep mutant bears heavy investigation."
Sakura shrugged, but didn't say anything. Unlike most of the others, she had no desire to find the source of some vast outbreak of zombie-producing contaminants. As it was, she barely pulled through most operations alive, and it wasn't as if she contributed anything other than basic field medic knowledge (which had proven slightly helpful in a grand total of one mission). She'd take sitting around waiting for a possible engagement to actively seeking out zombie hordes any day.
Her brother Kyle, the tall, muscular blond man sitting next to her, was not nearly so timid. "Well, I certainly hope they end up calling us in. It'd be a waste if they made all this fuss and nothing even happened."
"It wouldn't be 'a waste', it'd be good luck," the last man mumbled sourly. He was relatively short and wiry, with short brown hair. "I don't want to take a crack at anything that two Core divisions couldn't handle."
Ranma snorted. "Don't worry about it, Tiro. If they do need us, we'll swoop in behind the enemy and take them totally by surprise. It'll be easy."
Tiro Yamazaki shuddered. Fighting the FA's cyborgs and new androids was NEVER easy, and although they were less common and less frightening than their mutant creations, they were generally more battle-worthy. To Ranma and Snake, it was just more fun that way. To Tiro, it meant he had to be that much quicker to stay ahead of the Reaper.
Snake suddenly sniffed the air, and frowned as the waitress came over with their drinks and wordlessly began to give them out.
Incensed by the sudden presence of tobacco smoke, the DAPC's weapons expert turned to look over the top of the booth seat into the booth behind him.
"Excuse me," he said calmly to the man who had just lit up, "could you put out that cigarette, please?"
Across from the man, a woman frowned at the clearly foreign man's rude bluntness. The man, however, turned and smiled at Snake apologetically.
"I'm so sorry, but this cafe doesn't have a separate smoking section! Normally I would go outside, but it's raining so hard! Please forgive me!" He turned back around, and then took a deep drag off the smoke.
Snake shrugged. "Oh. Okay."
Then he grabbed the back of the man's head, and pushed forward to smash the man's face into the table. Wham!
"I didn't ASK about the cafe's smoking policy, ash muncher," Snake growled, ignoring the woman's startled cry and the gentleman's choking as he nearly swallowed the lit cigarette. "NEXT TIME, put out the damn stick when someone tells you to!"
Gasps and whispers started reverberating about the cafe, and Asuka sighed. "Christ, can't I take you people anywhere?"
Kyle blinked. "Actually, Snake's acting kind of restrained... he didn't threaten to shoot ANYBODY."
"We just got here," Tiro noted, "give him some more time."
Seeing that the management and the employees were having some heated discussion in the back room, Asuka sighed and pulled out her walkie-talkie.
Beep! "Well, two minutes, and they're already working up the courage to kick us out. Any word from Core HQ, Junko?" Beep!
Yeah, they said that covert teams were investigating a suspicious disturbance in front of the site of operations. It might be a prelude to an attack. Or it might be a guy hanging out near the tracks. You know how Core intelligence is.
Asuka rolled her eyes. Beep! "At least they have intelligence," she murmured. Beep! Then she frowned, as if deciding upon something. Beep! "Pun intended." Beep!
That hurts, Captain.
Asuka dropped the radio. "Well, we're looking at an assault on a heavily armored and defended rail transport, with the likely intention of taking the cargo intact. Whaddya think?"
Snake grinned. "Cyborg divisions with sniper cover. Possibly androids to serve as minor engagement units and distractions... probably Mark I's. Definitely boomer support."
Ranma shook his head. "Mutants. Definitely mutants. I'm thinking creeps first to distract the soldiers, then carriers and maulers set up further back. Then you get a few higher-end androids to take the cargo."
Tiro leaned forward. "4 to 1 odds against the mutant tac."
"2000 yen," Ranma said, placing the bills in Tiro's hand.
"I'll see that," Snake said immediately
"1000 on borgs!" Kyle shouted, startling the customers who hadn't already fled the shop.
"I'm still hoping they don't need us," Sakura mumbled.
Asuka sighed. "I was actually referring to how you think we should go into this."
"I move that we enact battle plan 7-B's 'scorched Earth' maneuver!" Snake said, slamming a fist onto the table.
Asuka sweatdropped. "You want to call in a tactical long-range missile strike if we engage the enemy?"
Snake frowned. "No! I want to call in a tactical long-range missile strike NOW! They'll never see it coming!"
"... Because they're probably not there?" Ranma guessed.
"Details." Snake countered.
The DAPC crew looked over to see a young woman, apparently the assistant manager of the establishment, nervously wringing her hands as she approached them.
"Uhm... I'm sorry but... the other customers... you can't... what I mean to say is..."
Sweat began to pour down her forehead as police officers all stared at her with the same unreadable expression, waiting for her to explain her interruption.
"W-Well... you're being very... um, loud, and... your tank is... er, maybe not double-parked, but... well, your guns are... they're just LYING there on the table... and-"
"Do you want us to leave, or what?" Asuka finally asked. It seemed that if they had waited for the girl to finish, they likely would have been called out by then anyway.
"Ye-Yes please!" The woman squeaked, holding the drink tray against her chest like a shield.
With the kind of calm, silent acquiescence that indicated that they were entirely used to this kind of treatment, the DAPC officers got up and trudged out the door, stopping only to gather their respective weapons.
"I told you we should've stuck to street vendors," Snake mumbled as he pulled his jacket tighter around himself, trying to stave off the rain
"You'd think a police officer could look forward to a cup of coffee without being thrown out into the rain," Tiro said angrily. "Do we not risk our lives day to day in defense of the common good!" He suddenly shouted, thrusting a fist into the air and attracting the attention of all the surrounding pedestrians. "Do we not bleed! Do we not suffer! Do we not face unspeakable horrors for the defense of the public! And for what! WHAT, I ask you!"
"For a big, fat bonus at the end of the month," Asuka answered neutrally, opening up an umbrella above her head.
"..." Tiro frowned, and then let his arm drop down. "Damn, she's right."
Ranma walked past the others and headed toward the large, armored behemoth sitting in the thirty-minute parking zone along the curb.
The Firestorm Mark VI was an advanced super-heavy battle tank whose plans for mass production were scrapped due to its outrageous cost and several aspects of its construction that were considered "unstable" or "experimental". Naturally, this made it perfect for the over-funded and under-staffed DAPC, who asked for the original Mark V to be upgraded to better its anti-anomaly capabilities even further after Snake had again overestimated its ability to withstand titanic levels of punishment in a firefight.
The battle tank was twice as long as a large car, and almost twice as tall, with its chassis being so long that four tread bases had to be mounted instead of two. Much of the hull was covered by blue, angular planes of deflection armor placed in critical spots, with the uncovered portions being composed of a sleek, dark gray metal.
The Firestorm was (as if Snake would have it any other way) constructed for the sole purpose of optimal combat ability, combining effective, ammo-efficient weapons, nearly impenetrable armor, shocking speed for an armored unit of its size, and cutting-edge fuel cell technology.
It was not, however, intended for use as a mode of transportation in heavily congested urban areas, as could be ascertained from any one of hundreds of motorists struggling to get around the Firestorm's significant girth. Due to the width of the chassis, even while it was parked the vehicle stretched across the entire width of the next lane over, and crowded the only remaining traffic lane on that side of the street significantly.
Not that Snake cared. He took the damn thing everywhere he could, and would have used it for personal transportation if Asuka hadn't drawn the line just before that and forbidden him to drive it while off-duty.
The top hatch of the Firestorm squeaked as the opening lever was pulled, and a decently-tanned girl with mussy red hair that ended mid-back popped her head out, raising a hand up to shield her eyes from the rain.
"That was fast! So where to now?" Junko Chikiko asked, not really surprised at all that they had been kicked out. And not really minding, either. Being parked in the Firestorm had subjected her and Tycho, the current driver, to an endless barrage of honking and shouting that wasn't entirely muted by the tank's hull. When it was in motion however, people tended to be more polite to the huge, heavily-armed leviathan.
"I'm thinking we should probably just meet up at the rendezvous point anyway, even if they haven't called us yet. Don't have anything better to do," Ranma said. The rain didn't really bother him, as he had made his peace with irritating torrential downpours years ago, but the hanging uncertainty of whether or not they were going to be flung into a battle zone was grating on him.
"Yes, and wouldn't I just LOVE putting up with Captain Himadi's sputtering indignation about having us assigned as his backup, but I left my Aspirin back at HQ," Asuka muttered. "I'm in no mood to have some self-important windbag taking out his wounded pride on me. This will be less painful if we charge in after the shooting starts."
"Well, I wish it would start already," Snake groused, "Damn terrorists sure are taking their time."
Beep! Beep! Ding! Asuka blinked as the unique sequence of electronic sounds informed her that her cellular phone was ringing.
"Ask and ye shall receive," she murmured, glaring at Snake as she flipped the phone open. "Captain Asuka speaking. What is this about?"
The other officers waited impatiently in the rain as their captain received instructions over the phone, each one briefly considering trying to take shelter next to her under the umbrella that, of course, only she had thought to bring. Each one in turn discarded the prospect, not wanting to risk being the nearest breakable object when the Captain was finished being given bad news when already in a poor mood.
Asuka raised an eyebrow. "Well, that's new... I haven't seen one of those in quite some time... uh-huh. Understood. We'll take care of it... don't worry, we'll manage... YES, I'm sure we won't have to destroy the station in order to manage. Goodbye," Asuka twitched as she turned off her cell phone, none too pleased with being asked to restrict her squad's actions when being asked to split her already-scarce resources.
"So what's up? Are we moving out?" Kyle asked, hoping he wasn't the only one who didn't know what was going on.
"Well, this is a pinch..." Asuka bit her lip as she thought about the current turn of events.
Sakura looked tense. "What's going on? That wasn't the call for us to reinforce the station?"
"Far from it," Asuka said, sighing. "It would seem there's a youma devastating the general downtown area."
Everyone around her blinked. "What? A youma?" They all said at once.
"It's a class of monster that was relatively common a few years back in the Juuban area, back before the DAPC had been established," the Captain explained. "Tough, stupid, and they usually possess some strange abilities. Their attacks seem to center around the objective of draining the life from groups of humans, though this has proven temporary and non-life-threatening in the cases I've heard of."
"I've heard of them!" Tiro said suddenly. "They're the monsters that were the main enemies of those magic cheerleader babes!"
"Magic cheerleader babes?" Ranma questioned, sweatdropping.
"Yeah! They'd show up in these tight little sailor suits with impossibly tiny skirts, and throw multicolored blasts of light at the youma!"
Asuka's eyes narrowed. "How come you know such much about them?"
"I happen to have been quite the fan back in the day!" Tiro said somewhat indignantly. "In fact, I think I might still have that Sailor Venus body pillow in my basement..."
"Do ya think we can count on those girls to show up now and destroy the monster?" Junko asked worriedly.
"No, we can't," Asuka said firmly, "because the DAPC does not recognize the jurisdiction of unregistered vigilante magical girls. All class B sorcerous units must be apprehended along with the monster, per our regular charter, if we encounter them during target neutralization."
"We might have to arrest the Sailor Senshi?" Kyle asked, looking uncomfortable. He wasn't as quick to volunteer the information as Tiro was, but he had also been something of a fan in his pre-cop days.
"I love witch hunts!" Snake grinned as he cocked his shotgun. "I'm up for that!"
"No, you're not," Asuka said quickly. "We need to intercept the youma, but we can't abandon our backup position, especially considering the very real possibility that the youma attack is merely a ruse generated to distract us. Snake, you're going to take Saotome and Lieutenant Tekai and perform a sweep of the tracks down a six kilometer line centered at the station. After you have secured the area, if no enemy attack has occurred, you may leave once the transport reaches the loading station. Snake will be in command should you encounter enemy resistance. Should you encounter friendly resistance, then Kyle is in command." The distinction seemed odd to the others, but Asuka had seen her second-in-command in action, and knew better. There were very few officers who could stand dealing with Kyle for an extended period of time, which would help significantly if any of the Core officials wanted to complain about the DA's presence on the scene.
Looking somewhat disappointed, no doubt because his chances of armed conflict had dropped from certain to likely, Snake saluted and turned away.
"Do we get to take the tank with us?" Kyle asked. Not that the three of them could do much more damage with the tank than without it, but it made more sense to him to take the Firestorm to the Freedom's Angels rather than to the monster that might get stomped by glorified teenage cheerleaders.
Asuka shook her head. "Youma have proven in the past to be mostly impervious to damage from small arms. Of course, none of the police that encountered them were well armed in the first place, but it seems prudent to keep the heavy ordnance where we'll most likely need it."
"Fair enough. Moving out!"
As Kyle, Ranma and Snake headed for Kyle's car, Asuka turned toward Tiro and Sakura.
"So we're going to have to fight a monster without them?" Tiro said nervously, "I mean, couldn't you have at least kept Kyle? He'll probably just slow Snake and Ranma down anyway!"
"Yes, we're going to fight a monster without them," Asuka said in mock-whine as she walked past the Firestorm to her own car, Sakura and Tiro in tow.
Sakura grimaced. "What if we can't get the tank to it in time?"
"Well, then I guess you're going to have to shoot at it, won't you?" Asuka said sarcastically. Then she twisted her head around to look at the blonde woman. "You DO remember which end goes toward the bad guy, don't you?"
"Yup!" Sakura said brightly, "Kyle got me a training manual!"
"What was it?" Tiro mumbled, shaking off the rain, "'Combat: For Dummies'?"
"No, 'Marksmanship: For Dummies'. It's a big help," she said seriously, not noticing when Asuka slammed her head against the top of her car before getting in. "Chapter one is dedicated entirely to not shooting yourself." She then opened up the side door, stopping momentarily to shake some water out of her hair.
Tiro was about to say something dark and cynical, but found that nothing came immediately to mind. Even more odd, he couldn't feel the normal feeling of Impending Doom that normally accompanied a given DAPC mission.
'Is something good going to happen?' He wondered, opening the passenger side door. 'Although, if we were REAL lucky, we'd get to see those Sailor chicks in action!'
"I'm baaaaack!" came a cheerful cry from the front door, alerting its inhabitants as a young woman burst through the door carrying bags of groceries. She was trim, with long blonde hair that was done up in two long ponytails that flowed from a pair of balls of hair mounted atop her head.
The room's two human inhabitants, a woman with short blue hair sitting at a computer and another woman with long blonde hair tied with a bow at the top of her head who was lying on a bed reading, didn't bother to look up as their companion entered.
"Hi Usagi," they murmured, unwilling to direct attention away from their current activities.
The third inhabitant of the room, a small black cat with a crescent moon on her forehead, was less distracted, and she made a "tsk"ing sound as she shook her head.
"Really Usagi, did you just spend half the week's grocery budget on chips and... pork rinds?" Luna raised an eyebrow as she spied something new among the salt and fat-loaded snacks.
Usagi blushed. "Well, yeah. This girl at a party introduced me to them last weekend, and, well, now I'm hooked."
Luna glared at the other blonde woman lounging on the bed. "I keep telling you, those parties are a bad influence! Minako, I wish you wouldn't keep dragging her off to those late-night bashes."
"A 'bad influence'?" Minako asked, dropping the magazine to look at the cat, "What is she, nine?" Seeing Luna raise an eyebrow, and after taking a moment to appreciate that Usagi was one of the most immature people she knew, Minako rolled her eyes. "Give the girl a break. Other people go to parties to drink, smoke, and hook up. Usagi goes to leech snacks. She's doing fine."
"Although you really shouldn't take her during her classes," Ami said.
"In Usagi's defense, I must point out that she doesn't do any better in her classes when she actually attends them," Minako said, smirking. Then her smirk fell. "Wait... actually, I suppose that wasn't in her defense."
"Aw, you guys are so mean!" Usagi complained, sitting down on the edge of the bed Minako was laying on. "Besides, I've passed all my classes so far, haven't I?"
"Yes, technically a 'D' is passing," Luna drawled, "though it'd be nice for everyone if you could take a test without begging Ami to tutor you the night before."
Usagi blinked, and then frowned, considering her pet and advisor's words. "Are you suggesting I use blackmail instead?"
Thud! Luna fell face-first onto the floor of the dorm room, while Ami flinched, accidentally struck the wrong key, and then grimaced as she watched her character take a shotgun round to the chest.
"NO! I'm suggesting you do your own work!" Luna shouted.
Usagi considered it. "Well... you know, I DO have some good dirt on her..."
"Hey! Don't talk like I'm not here!" Ami shouted, bigsweating.
Shrugging to herself, Usagi picked up her groceries and left to put them away, obviously not ready to commit to working harder on her studies on such sudden notice.
Luna sighed and curled back up in her corner, trying to ignore the sounds of gunfire that emanated from Ami's desktop computer.
It always surprised Luna when she looked back on her life with the Sailor Senshi, and then looked at how it had ended up turning out. She had thought of herself more as an advisor to a champion for justice rather than a conscience and guardian for a teenage girl, but once the threats from youma and various greater enemies had finally petered out to nothing, she had found herself trying to maintain a soldier hidden somewhere deep within a regular schoolgirl's body. Not an easy thing given Usagi's personality.
For some reason, Luna had always assumed that it would be Usagi who would change and eventually grow up into a hardened warrior and regal, responsible queen, while the other Senshi would remain the way they were. Reflecting upon that idea, it seemed like wishful thinking now, as Ami, Minako, Rei, and Makoto had all taken to Senshi duty with unusual fortitude, and eagerly contributed to the fight in the best way they could. For all intents and purposes, Luna couldn't have asked for better soldiers; she just wished she had thought to ask to keep the ones she had.
For some reason, Ami had developed a liking for video games, taking the element of annihilating hideous beasts and madmen, of which she was quite familiar, to the digital realm, and often spending days at a time with minimal food and sleep to hold Counterstrike LAN parties with a few other friends. And as strange as it was to admit it, her new hobby had made the genius Senshi into something of a slacker. A brilliant slacker who aced her classes and could have gotten into Tokyo University if she hadn't decided to stick by her less-than-brilliant Moon Princess, but a slacker nonetheless. Though the blue-haired girl still criticized Usagi about her studies, Luna was well aware that Ami had sacrificed more than one lecture to get a head-start in playing the latest Metroid Prime title.
Minako and Makoto used to be hopeless romantics, who tirelessly sought boyfriends, yet maintained their chastity to wait for their "one, true love." Luna didn't know whether it was the modern culture, the college atmosphere, or common sense that eventually broke their fantasy, but evidently they arrived at the conclusion that when one was a magically-enhanced superhuman with a lifespan of millennia surrounded by normal mortals, the idea that you should only give yourself to one of them for your entire life would have left one pretty darn miserable as the centuries passed by. As it was, the two had taken to bouncing from party to party, and from boyfriend to boyfriend, in the way many college girls did, with the goal being to have a good time rather than snare prospective husband. While not strictly a bad thing, such deviant and loose behavior led to more serious problems, and Luna had spent several evenings lecturing the two girls about their actions.
Rei and Mamoru, thankfully, hadn't undergone any such changes, though each had grown more and more aloof as they concentrated on their individual projects. Rei had taken her studies of the occult to a more serious and professional level, while Mamoru had landed an internship at a promising corporation which demanded too much time for him to spend much time with his fated girlfriend, much less attend school with her like her friends did.
"What're you reading, Mina-chan?" Usagi asked, coming back into the main room of the dorm.
"Car magazine. Wanna get one," the other blonde said simply, turning the page. "Dunno how I'm going to afford it, though."
Usagi blinked. "Won't your parents pay for it?"
Minako sighed. "No. It was hard enough to get them to pay for all my college expenses. I don't think Daddy'll go for a car right now."
Usagi blinked again. "Really? My parents were pretty happy to pay for college."
"Are you kidding?" Luna muttered, "Your parents rushed out to the nearest shrine to give thanks to the Gods when they heard you'd gotten into a school."
"Hey! I was always planning on going to college!" Usagi protested.
"Of course you were. But your father had assumed you would have to get a job a McDonald's and stay home for twenty years, so he had saved accordingly. That's why he's so quick to send money whenever you ask for it."
"That's not true!" Usagi shouted vehemently, "You're just being mean! Daddy wouldn't..." She stopped, then raised an eyebrow as a thought occurred to her. "Wait... just how much money are we talking about here?"
Luna sighed deeply as Minako piped up again.
"You know, I'll bet we could make plenty of money easily if we-"
"NO!" Luna shouted, immediately jumping up with her fur bristling. "Minako, we are NOT having this discussion again! You are NOT allowed to make commercial appearances!"
"Oh, come on Luna!" Minako protested, sitting up and planting her fists on her hips. "It's been two years since the Sailor Senshi have done anything but guest appearances in parades or at fan conventions! What's the big deal if we drop the whole stupid secret identity bit!"
"NOT GOING TO HAPPEN!" Luna shouted, causing Usagi to wince and keep her own opinion to herself. "And I don't care if that moron Artemis thinks it's a good idea! The Senshi are NOT getting a sponsor!"
Minako sulked, lowering her head to stare longingly at the luxury car on the page below her.
Then she brightened. "Wait! What if we didn't have to reveal our secret identities?"
"What! No!" Luna growled, really wanting this argument to end for the final time.
"No, no, hear me out!" Minako said, pointing to her midriff. "We have all that white area on our costumes, right? So we just make some phone calls, and then put company stickers over those areas, like on NASCAR vehicles!"
"Ugh. That sounds tacky," Usagi said, being quite fond of her Senshi outfit the way it was. "Besides, the red part of the Pepsi logo would totally clash with my skirt."
"Or, wait!" Minako said, now standing up on the bed. "We could just modify our speeches! Check this out!" Clearing her throat, she then thrust her index finger at Luna, in the manner they usually reserved for their battles. "In the name of Gillette, provider of the world's closest, cleanest shave, I will punish you!"
Much to Luna's horror, Usagi started nodding. "It works, actually... and the speeches do need a little more variety to them..."
"Don't encourage her!" The moon cat hissed. "If you need money, go out and get a job like everyone else!"
The part-time Senshi of Venus glared. "Oh, that's real rich, coming from a milk-sponging little-"
Beep! Beep! Beep! The three Senshi currently present all blinked as a loud, distinctive beeping noise filled the room.
As Luna kept on looking surprised, Usagi, Minako, and Ami all checked their pockets.
"Is my cell phone ringing? Doesn't sound like mine..."
"Not mine. Minako?"
"Can't be. My ring tone is 'One Week' by Bare-Naked Ladies."
"I don't have one..."
"Hold on... nope."
"Is the alarm clock going off?"
"At this time of day?"
The girls all stopped looking for the source of the noise when Luna suddenly cleared her throat loudly, tail twitching irritably.
"You girls don't remember that noise?" The talking cat snapped.
The young woman all stared back at her.
Luna groaned. "It's the Mercury computer!"
"Can't be," Ami scoffed, turning back to her game of Counter-Strike. "The Mercury computer wouldn't be beeping suddenly, out of nowhere. Well, unless there was a..." she stopped in mid-sentence, realization dawning on her. "Oh, you have got to be kidding me."
"Are you telling me there's an enemy attacking?" Minako asked incredulously. After so long without any fighting, and with Setsuna assuring the other Senshi that the major threats to Crystal Tokyo were long over and done with, the Inner Senshi had mostly assumed that they would finally get to live out the rest of the young adult lives normally. To have that calm suddenly shattered, and after so long, filled each one of them with a deep sense of dread.
"And why not?" Luna snapped. "If an enemy DID decide to attack, now would be a rather opportune time, wouldn't it? Do you even remember what to do?"
"Vaguely," Usagi answered honestly. "First we have to do the transformation thing, right?"
Minako rummaged in her purse, muttering half-hearted curses. "Geez... transformation pen, transformation pen... Hey, 2,000 yen! Sweet!"
"FOCUS, ladies!" Luna growled.
"Got it! Venus crystal power, make up!" Minako shouted, raising her transformation pen into the air.
Usagi ignored the flashing lights and pretty colors as she looked through her own purse. "On no! I can't find my transformation pen!"
Luna flinched. "What?"
"My pen! It's not in here!" Usagi looked panicked as she up-ended her purse, allowing her belongings to dump out onto the dorm floor.
"Idiot! You don't use a pen! You use the brooch, remember!" Luna shouted angrily, jabbing a paw at the small piece of jewelry that had fallen out onto the floor.
"I knew that... Moon eternal, make up!"
As Sailor Moon's flashy transformation sequence began, Luna turned to Sailor Venus, desperately hoping that she wouldn't have to hold their hands this much once they got out on the battlefield. "All right, now call the others!"
Venus blinked, then bit her lip as she rubbed the back of her head.
Luna slapped her forehead with her paw. "What? What is it? Just spit it out."
The Senshi of Venus blushed. "Well... it's just... we haven't had to do the whole 'Senshi' thing in so long... I mean, I kept carrying my transformation pen around, but I, uh... replaced the communicator with an actual compact."
"Well, isn't that just fabulous!" Luna snarled, causing Venus to flinch back while making appeasing gestures with her flailing arms. "Now how are we supposed to contact the only two Inner Senshi who are in any shape to fight!" Given that Rei and Makoto had kept up their basic martial arts training while the others had quickly forgotten about fighting, Luna was pretty much counting on their help to see the Senshi through this.
"You could call them on your cell," Ami suggested, causing Luna and Sailor Venus to blink in surprise.
"Oh... yes, I suppose that would work almost as well," the moon cat muttered. Then she frowned deeply as she realized Ami was still on her computer. "Ami, hurry up! We need to go now!"
"Just a minute..." A burst of gunfire erupted from her speakers, and a vein popped up on Luna's head.
"Ami! This is no time to-"
"SON OF A BITCH!" The bluette suddenly shouted, causing Luna and her two fellow Senshi to jump back in shock. "DAMN YOU, BLACKDRAGON74! ONE DAY, I SWEAR IT, I WILL GRIND YOU TO..."
Ami stopped shaking her fist at her computer as she remembered that she had an audience, and immediately adopted a calm, cool expression as she exited the program.
Then she turned around, her expression looking perfectly controlled. "So, what are we doing again?"
"Monster attack." Sailor Moon reminded her timidly.
"Oh. Right, right." She turned around and opened her desk drawer, taking out her own pen. She was about to transform, when she noticed the small black box that she kept perpetually mounted atop her computer monitor. "Oops. Better turn off the webcam," she mumbled, making sure nobody else was watching as she deactivated the device.
Sailor Venus tapped her foot as she waited for her cell phone to connect. "Hmm, hmm-hmm hmm... Mako-chan! Hi! It's Minako! I... huh? Oh, okay, I can hold."
"No, you can't hold! This is important!" Luna shouted.
Venus glared at her. "Would you just calm down? Mako-chan! Listen, we have to... huh? Wait, who was that?" She blinked, and then she gaped. "Saitoma! You're joking! I am SO jealous!" She ignored Luna's hissing as she sat back down on the bed, chatting excitedly. "Well, don't leave me hanging! How was he? ... Really? I'd hope so! How huge? No waaugh!"
The orange-skirted protector of love and justice jumped and hopped around on one foot, holding the other to prevent any aggravation of the feline-inflicted wound. "Ow! Ow! Look, Mako-chan! We've got a monster attack! We have to go! Meet us behind the football field in Senshi form!"
"Good. Now call Rei! And no girl talk!"
Venus nodded rapidly, then quickly dialed the appropriate number, keeping a wary eye on the agitated feline.
Sailor Moon, meanwhile, was discussing their combat readiness with Mercury.
"So, I forget, do we have weapons?"
Mercury shook her head. "Not really, no. Though you have the scepter."
"That's no weapon. That's just a pretty magic wand," the Senshi princess muttered. "Why don't we get weapons? The Power Rangers get weapons! AND giant robot animals! That's not fair!"
Luna subsequently crawled under Usagi's bed, and covered her head with her paws as she decided not to head out to the battlefield with the Senshi after all. 'I did the best I could. I pushed them in the right direction. It's up to them now. I have had just about enough of this.'
Moving stealthily toward the tracks, the cyborg vanguard forces crawled through the high grass on their hands and knees, the optical scanners keeping a careful bead on the approaching armored train.
The exact time the train would be arriving had not been disclosed to any government or military agency in order to minimize the chances of an assault like the one being mounted. Igov had found such paranoia quite admirable, and had taken it as a challenge to maneuver his troops close enough to identify the transport and attack it before it got to the station, but not close enough so that their approach would be detected by the armored sentries guarding the station on high alert.
Since then, two other large trains had passed by, and they had managed to get an infiltrator close enough in each case to scan the cargo and determine that they were not the transports they were looking for.
The cybernetic soldier on point held up his hand to stall the men crawling through the brush behind him, and then he brought his hand to the optical relay mounted over his eyes.
Scan complete. The soldier relayed a digital message directly to Igov, marking the approaching transports distance and time until it reached the strike zone. Energy readings are too high for scanners to properly analyze, and on unusual wavelengths. This indicates this is the target tra- Shwang!
The cyborg's head pitched to the side as a large, armor-piercing sniper bullet punched through the dermal impact armor mounted over his skull, causing his body to follow the projectile's momentum and roll over to his comrades in the grass behind him.
Emergency! Emergency! Our position has been marked! We are under fire! One of the remaining cyborgs transmitted, switching his vision modes to see through the foliage. Core infantry is en route. Heavy weapons are making adjustments. Orders?
This is General Yutchzky, the transmission seemed to boom wondrously in the cybernetic man's head, and for a moment he felt a grand sense of purpose and spirit overwhelm the cold electronics that kept most of his brain functioning. Squad one, mark the transport for heavy weapons targeting. Squad two, engage the enemy, then withdraw to marker four.
As one, the bio-mechanical shock troopers rose to a crouch, their weapons trained and ready as the Core troopers began shouting and training their own weapons.
Br-raap! Br-raap! Br-raap! Br-raap!
Core autorifle rounds streaked past heavy carbine bolts as both sides opened fire, strafing the other side's front lines of infantry.
Though the bolt carbines used by Igov's cyborgs were stronger weapons, and the cyborgs' targeting more accurate, the cybernetically revived soldiers began falling much sooner than Core's men did, as the superior armor provided by the Mk. II Storm Suit and the higher rate of fire from the autorifles quickly began to dominate the small skirmish.
Target has been marked. Coordinates received. Withdraw has been authorized. Fall-back procedures initi- Whnnnng!
That particular cyborg stopped speaking as a railgun round pounded through his chest, spraying bits of bone and metal out of his back. Very quickly the wound began to glow a bright red, burning and expanding rapidly from the heat of the projectile's passing alone.
From the mouth of the mighty weapon, extending through the fallen trooper and far onward, an orange streak of intense heat lit up the air from the railgun's attack, creating the appearance of a solid yellow-ish beam bursting through the cybernetic puppet.
The other cyborgs took notice of this effect only to mark a higher priority target for elimination, their minds no longer able to comprehend the fear associated with such savage power being arrayed against them. Still crouching, and trading fire the whole way, the cybernetically enhanced soldiers slowly moved away from the quickly approaching train, unflinching as more and more of their number fell to the enemy's guns.
Igov looked over the Black Sabre artillery boomers that stomped past him, their four legs moving in careful, tedious tandem to keep their massive guns balanced.
'And so the game begins,' he thought to himself, wondering about the lack of any appearance by the DAPC so far. While the General could certainly appreciate the idea that no rational commander would want to have to rely on the fools normally, the fact that they had waded into combat against the forces at his command again and again and always emerged mostly unscathed should have told even the most stubborn idiot that there were no better soldiers to throw at Igov's resurrected cybernetic army. And while he was dreading the appearance of the "Angel Butchers," he had also adjusted his strategy specifically so that he could succeed in his mission despite their interference. And if there was one thing that grated on the Russian's nerves, it was wasted tactics.
Raising his arm and then dropping it, he commanded the combat robots on either side of him. "Unit 1, fire on marked target Alpha 2, 4, 7. Unit 2, fire on marker 3."
Whaboom-Whaboom-Whaboom-Whaboom! The thunderous symphony of two sets of quad cannons firing in rapid succession shook the ground as the two four-legged mecha trembled, their chassis straining to maintain the force pounding down atop them. Immediately afterward their back launchers were raised toward the sky, and a softer, more pleasing hiss filled the air as each weapons platform released a volley of ballistic rockets into the fray to mount the havoc caused by the artillery cannons.
Utilizing a wireless link to one of his sergeants, Igov was pleased as his cybernetic eye displayed the image of the advance Core unit being pulverized by the second heavy barrage, their armor doing nothing but creating more pieces to be scattered as they were torn apart.
The transport fared much better, as it was heavily armored, and the laser markers pinning its position had made adjustments so that the majority of the damage would hit the lower section of the train and immobilize it rather than pierce the hull and damage the train's precious contents. Rended metal burst out the bottom of the cargo car, and it trembled from side to side as its sub-structure buckled, landing the car on its underside and creating a whole mess of friction for the engine to try and compensate for.
On the opposite end of the battlefield, Captain Himadi lowered his macrobinoculars as the explosions tore his front line apart, and grated his teeth.
"Lieutenant! Analyze the angle of attack and get me a bead on that artillery! Heavy weapons, give our second line some room to advance!"
Outside the large, evacuated train station that housed the Captain and his retinue, the fighting slowed as Core soldiers moved to take cover, shaken by the sight of seeing their front lines smashed in a moment, while the cyborgs continued to spread out and gain distance, which thinned their own fire.
"What the hell are they doing!" Himadi groused, watching the fighting die down. "Do they mean to capture the train or destroy it? Why are they retreating so quickly?"
His first lieutenant shook his head. "Considering the... relative care with which they used their artillery barrage, they MUST be intending to capture the transport. Perhaps they were hoping to draw our troops into an ambush?"
Himadi shook his head. "When their objective is to capture the transport? It can't be that Russian rust-bucket commanding those freaks; he's usually better than this."
"Sir? Perhaps we should secure the transport?"
The Captain snorted. "I'm supposed to waste troops trying to guard something in the middle of the bloody battlefield? Call in the patrols around the area to reinforce and tighten our position! Be on guard from an attack from the rear and to our heavy weapons! Drive these freaks back and secure the area!"
"Sir!" A communications technician rushed through the doorway as the other armor-clad figures moved to obey their orders.
The Captain frowned at the man, who provided a stark contrast to the hefty suits of armor wearing his tiny flak vest and maskless helmet, and thus immediately gave the impression of a startled kitten weaving his way among lions.
"Sir, Unit 7 was assaulted while securing the front lobby! We're unable to re-establish contact!"
Himadi frowned. "Assaulted? By what?"
"I don't know, sir!" the technician said nervously. "The attack came by surprise, apparently! We were only able to make out a few shouts and some scattered gunfire before we lost contact!"
The Core Captain turned away, his mind awhirl as the battle outside escalated. The cyborgs that his troops were even now cutting apart outside were barely capable of covert actions; their very nature was to walk right into the thick of the conflict and slug it out face-to-face with their opponents, relying upon their weaponry and armor to protect them. In this manner they were similar in strategic value to Core standard infantry, though not as reliable, and more difficult to produce, as they were cybernetically revived cadavers taken from the ranks of terrorist and Russian soldiers that had fallen.
Thus, it was very unlikely that the station had been infiltrated by a group of cyborgs. Hamadi knew that the Freedom's Angels had many other weapons at their disposal, but not many of them were capable of breaking into and assaulting a heavily fortified Core presence. Unless their foes had a new weapon to use, this smacked of a distraction to lure guns away from the objective, which again seemed out of character for the General that Captain Hamadi assumed he was facing.
Perhaps it was a hunch, or perhaps some manner of a soldier's sixth sense, but the Core Captain looked up toward the scaffolding in the main lobby of the train station, and immediately spied a long mess of black hair hanging down from a larger mass that clung to the top of the scaffolding.
Without a word, and to the great alarm of everyone in the station, Himadi raised his autorifle up to the ceiling and opened fire. Shattered glass and bits of metal and plastic showered the troopers below as the large bullets sundered the scaffolding easily, and half of the confused and startled soldiers dove for cover and started searching for the enemy, while the other half actually trained their weapons on the Captain, fearing he had gone rogue.
That conclusion was quickly discarded as a lithe, robotic body fell onto the floor amongst the shattered glass and metal, its torso ripped open by autorifle rounds such that a multitude of torn wires and metal scraps curled outward in a grim, mechanical imitation of a human wound.
The Core infantryman standing directly next to the robotic corpse gulped. The tight, curvaceous body wrapped in a black spandex bodysuit would have sent him into a lustful stupor on his off-hours, but on the battlefield, the mechanical simulation of human beauty filled him with dread.
"Mark III androids! Check the entrances! Don't spread out!" The Lieutenant shouted, recognizing the signature metal sensor "ears" and waving his hands about as he directed the guards in the main lobby to form the best defensive perimeter they could.
The Captain frowned, a fact that was very noticeable to his men since he wasn't wearing his helmet and mask. "Androids. Nothing new. Definitely a diversion." While the Mk. III models were more than a match for Core soldiers one-on-one, their strength was performing covert assaults, which would be very difficult with how well that Core had fortified the station.
Nonetheless, it was a distraction that Himadi could not ignore, as the robotic killers were more than a justifiable threat to his men and his position. Even allowing for this, however, the ultimate goal of the terrorist forces remained unclear; they couldn't expect this to pin them down long enough for a truck or helicopter transport to make off with the cargo, so what good would it do?
A clanking noise, which managed to pierce Himadi's thoughtful musing where the rampant shouting around him failed, came from above him. With a growl, the Captain raised his autorifle toward the air ducts and opened fire.
This time, the multitude of infantry joined their captain's attack, and the large aluminum corridors were torn apart from gunfire as damaged, spasming female bodies tumbled out of the ducts and onto the floor.
Four of the androids had hit the ground in pieces before a fifth jumped out the ducts ahead of the gunfire, tucking into a tight somersault as it selected its target in mid-air.
Shwink! As the android reached the floor, it swung its arm in a wicked arc straight for a Core trooper's neck, activating a long, thin, mono-molecular blade that burst out of the android's wrist and easily punctured the thin layers of protection afforded to that tiny but vital area of the soldier's body.
Before the robotic assassin had even pulled its blade out of its first victim's throat, it leveled its other arm at a small cluster of troops, small but deadly mini-rockets emerging from its forearm in preparation to fire.
Ta-Ta-Ta-Ta-Ta-Ta-Ta-Ta-Ta-Ta-Ta! Chank! Bwam! The android never got the chance, as the well-prepared and positioned soldiers split its torso asunder with a carefully aimed stitch of gunfire, their training and skill such that not a single bullet had even struck the trooper's corpse that the robot was still attached to.
Two more androids suddenly burst from the ducts, these ones dropping solidly on the ground rather than leaping to melee range.
The Captain blinked, surprised, as the two Mk. II androids raised their arms mechanically, bringing their twin sub-machine guns to bear against the Core infantry arrayed against them. Within seconds the androids were falling to pieces on the ground, the autorifle rounds punching right through their thin, armor-like "skin," while their own bursts of fire proved far too weak to even bother the heavily armored troopers.
'Yeah, definitely a distraction,' Himadi decided, keeping his own autorifle trained on the remains of the air ducts, ready to annihilate any more of the highly sophisticated cannon fodder that dared appear.
As it turned out, the next threat didn't burst from the ducts like before, but instead came from the door, which was kicked off its hinges and sent flying across the room.
The Core troopers leveled their weapons, and the vast majority of them cursed into their breather masks as they recognized the technician being held in a tight grip around the neck by the advancing Mk. III android.
"No! D-Don't shoot! Please!" The man begged, knowing that if the android made to attack the soldiers in the room, they were authorized to return fire through him if they needed to.
The soldiers went into action via normal procedures, and the android brought its wrist-mounted blade closer to its hostage's neck as several laser sights started waving around it and its shield, attempting to find a clean line of attack.
The android raised its free arm above the technician's shoulder, and Captain Himadi muttered a vile curse as he prepared to give the order to fire, seeing the mini-rockets emerge.
Krnch! The android blinked, which was an odd quirk of its programming to act vaguely human-like, as an arm grabbed its own from behind and crushed it in its grip, grinding together the servos and wires necessary to complete the activation of its weapons.
KRNNK! It then winced, another oddity, as its other arm was grabbed at the bicep, before both limbs were torn straight off of its body.
As the shaken technician fell to the floor and scrambled away, the armless android calmly turned around, its programming dictating that if it had any hope of defeating the enemy behind it, which it probably didn't, it would be at its best after scanning the foe.
The last thing the android's memory banks ever recorded was the image of a man's face framed by long, blond hair, along with the image of the man's fist, which grew larger and larger in the robot's field of vision until the point of final deactivation.
The Core soldiers remained absolutely still as the shattered remains of the android flew across the room, not taking their eyes off the muscular blond man standing in the doorway wearing blue combat armor.
"Is that... is the DAPC here?" One soldier asked, utterly bewildered. With the department's reputation, the appearance of one of their officers always led to mixed feelings, similar to when a giant monster attacked Tokyo and Godzilla emerged to fight it; sure, ultimately you were glad Godzilla had arrived, but you sure didn't want to be within a five-mile radius of the battle.
"Uh... Captain? Should we open fire, or what?" The Lieutenant asked, significantly unnerved by watching someone who, for all he knew, was a normal human tear a robot limb from limb with his bare hands.
Kyle sweatdropped, and waved to the soldiers. "Hi guys! I'm here to back you up!"
Captain Himadi's face remained expressionless as he stared at the new arrival.
"I'm thinking!" The Core Captain snapped, causing his lieutenant to flinch. Finally, he settled on growling at the blond man. "Just what the HELL do you think you're doing here!"
Kyle frowned, planting his fists on his hips. "I'm backing you up. Duh, isn't that what I just said?"
"I did NOT request back-up! Especially not from you idiots!" Himadi shouted, causing many of his soldiers to stare at him questioningly. Didn't the officer just save a Core technician's life?
Kyle smiled. "I know! But here we are, ready to help! Pretty generous, huh? No, you don't have to thank us," the Lieutenant Commander rambled on, walking proudly through the middle of the train station as bits of broken metal and plastic broke under his boots.
Himadi seethed, his rage building at seeing someone stroll so casually through a zone that he had held firmly with solid formations and saturation of firepower. "I... see. And where is everyone else, then?"
The blond officer chuckled in embarrassment. "Well, it's like this. Something else came up, so most of our guys are busy fighting some kind of monster in the streets." Many of the Core soldiers sweatdropped. "But don't worry! We have three of our toughest guys here, including me!"
"Three men for backup?" The Lieutenant asked doubtfully.
One of the soldiers behind him shrugged. "Well, it's better than nothing... I guess... maybe..."
Captain Himadi twitched. "I have a bad feeling about this..."
Whaboom-Whaboom-Whaboom-Whaboom! The quick succession of cannon fire rang through the air once again, and the shells from the Black Sabre boomers arced high into the air, this time raining on the station itself to attempt to take out its heavy weapons.
Igov snorted as his visual uplink to one of the front-line cyborgs showed him the results of the bombardment. It seemed that Core had chosen the station well; the large, triangular steel roof that covered the main building as well as the train loading terminal, and gave it a neat space-agey look, was apparently also reinforced, and the Russian general was extremely displeased to see little more damage done than the creation of large, soot-covered dents smashed into the roof.
'The normal explosive shells cannot pierce the roof. Very well.' He briefly considered trying a rocket barrage, but discarded the idea just as quickly, as the missiles didn't carry a powerful enough charge to damage the structure extensively even if they did break through.
The cyborg General quickly began to regret leaving the Devastator-class boomers behind, as their shoulder cannons would have provided the combination of armor penetration and power needed to cause extensive damage to the station and significantly limit Core's resistance.
Igov sighed. That was not the objective. He had left the attack boomers behind because they were expensive units that could not be flippantly sacrificed, and because they weren't essential to the operation.
The Russian General hated the idea of fighting a battle for the purpose of stealing an objective and taking flight, but he had little choice; he wasn't about to try and tangle with Core and the DAPC at the same time. The Central Organized Response Echelon sported large squads of disciplined, well-equipped soldiers, while the Department of Abnormal Phenomenae Containment possessed superhuman crazy people with loads of experience fighting him. Taking on either force was a dangerous proposition that was likely to end in failure. Taking on both was simple suicide, and as it was Igov was desperately hoping that the two forces rallying against him would spend enough time getting in each other's way and struggling with each other that he would be able to take flight.
"Unit 1, adjust firing angle by 3.7 degrees and prepare to-"
Whang! Whang! Whoom! Igov's commands were cut off as several large armor-piercing rounds stabbed into the back of the Black Sabre boomer he was speaking to, and the Russian only had a moment to dive to the side as its ammo bays detonated, sending large chunks of metal and debris flying in a wide shower.
Sighing at the injustice of it all, Igov turned to the very expected sight of Snake standing on top of the eighteen-wheeler they had used to transport the cyborg squads, taking aim at the General with his light autocannon at the ready.
"Hey, tinhead! Not much of an army you got here!" The Lieutenant mocked, jumping onto the cab of the truck and pulling a detonator out of his pocket. "I mean, you've got two artillery bots, somewhere around thirty borgs... that's it? What happened to 'Mr. Red Death, commander of the unstoppable steel hordes?'" Grinning, he pressed the button on the detonator, reveling in the sound of the explosion as the truck behind him burst into a flaming maelstrom, sending debris scything out in all directions and burning tires bouncing down the street.
Igov twitched, but said nothing as the second Black Sabre boomer slowly turned around, its quad legs pounding the ground in furious tandem as it struggled to bring its limited anti-personnel armaments to bear.
Shrnnk! The boomer's motion stopped, and its entire chassis began to shake as its head was wrenched off its torso.
Getting up off the ground, Igov sullenly prepared a haughty, melodramatic speech to inform the two police officers that they hadn't won, and that he would be back, when he noticed that Ranma Saotome, who was still gripping the decapitated head of the Black Sabre, was seething with abject rage. The Russian General found this quite curious, as he had not committed any significant atrocity yet in this engagement, and the DAPC officers had always struck him as too whimsical and pinheaded to maintain grudges over past offenses.
"You stupid, ugly, poorly-dressed son of a Cuisinart!" Ranma shouted, crushing the boomer's head between his hands.
Igov blinked, and then raised an eyebrow questioningly, pointing at himself.
"That's right, YOU!" The pigtailed man screamed, idly firing a blast of red, angry ki down into the boomer's neck and pulverizing its internals. "It just had to be you, didn't it! You just cost me 2,000 yen, jackass! I'm going to rip you apart and pay by selling your limbs as scrap metal!"
A very large sweatdrop rolled down Igov's head, and Snake chuckled as he finally aimed at the cyborg General with his autocannon.
"Ha! Sorry about that. Saotome hasn't been in the best financial shape recently." Then he grinned and switched on the laser sight to his weapon. "So, you gonna whip out the guns, or what? It's no fun if you just stand there!"
Igov cleared his throat, and then stepped back with one leg while pointing his arm at Snake. "You may have won..." Then he stopped, and lowered his arm. "To hell with this. Goodbye." Irritated to the point that he couldn't even act the part of a proper villain, the cyborg straightened, and held his arms down at his sides as a blue energy field with webs of white shifting through it swiftly enveloped his body.
Shooooft! Ranma and Snake jumped back, startled, as their opponent teleported away to safety, disappearing in a haze of light blue and electric arcs as his body tore through the barriers of time and space.
"What the heck! Since when did they make chronospheres in those sizes!" Ranma groused. At least he assumed Igov had used a personal chronosphere device, as they had completely destroyed the full-function chronosphere the FA's had built, and it was assumed that the terrorist forces didn't have the resources or power to construct and activate more of the hefty teleportation devices.
"Dang. That was pretty cool," Snake admitted, lowering his autocannon and checking the surrounding area to see if perhaps the cyborg had merely teleported to a better firing position. "Doesn't look like he's here now, though. I guess that means we win."
Ranma frowned doubtfully. "Is it just me, or was that WAY too easy?"
Snake rolled his eyes. "Well, the main bad guy just ran away, we destroyed his heavy support, all that remains of the enemy forces are a few rank-and-file bits of cannon fodder that those Core dweebs are mopping up easily, and the objective lies on the train tracks, immobile and safe. What could possibly go wrong now?"
Kyle looked up at the immobilized cargo train as he helped the last of the conductors and engineers away from the battlefield, idly wondering what was inside that was the cause of the surrounding carnage.
Beyond the contested transport, the explosions of rocket volleys roared as Core's heavy weapon batteries smashed the remains of the enemies, reducing the formerly strong lines of the cyborg ranks to isolated pockets of soldiers being easily destroyed by the final advance of Core's infantry.
Kyle shrugged as he looked around the train to the battlefield; usually when Core fought a battle of the Angels' choosing, they would be over-powered or outmaneuvered. In such cases, those in positions of power were quick to suggest calling in backup from the DAPC, as the anti-anomaly specialists rarely had anything better to do, and were likely on their way to the biggest firefight in the city anyway. Core had always, on every single occasion, rejected the help, either out of pride or for fear that they would be destroyed along with the DAPC's enemies.
This time, however, it had appeared that the Echelon was doing just fine, and Kyle found himself wondering apprehensively if Asuka and the others were going to be okay fighting the youma without their three best fighters on the scene.
'Well, I guess we can get there quickly enough to back them up... after all, Core is swarming the area now and we've pretty much finished he-' Kyle suddenly jerked his head around as he heard a sharp snapping noise coming from atop the train car.
Two Core soldiers looked surprised as the DAPC officer whirled and looked up at the immobilized car. "Something wrong? We have to secure the cargo and relocate it into the station. Can you-" The man stopped speaking as Kyle suddenly held a hand up, still not facing the two troopers.
Kyle's suspicion grew as his enhanced hearing picked up a low-pitched whine, like the sound that he commonly associated with robots being powered up from standby.
Leaving the two officers below stunned and confused, the blond officer leapt up to the top of the car to investigate.
The car roof shook upon his landing due to the damage to its sub-structure, and Kyle grimaced as he almost fell backward, which would have made him an easy target for the Mk. III combat android arming some sort of device atop the train.
The android was lying almost flat atop the roof of the train car, and its sensor ears twitched as they picked up Kyle's less-than-subtle presence.
Quickly moving to activate a switch on the device, the android rolled toward Kyle and then bounced into a slashing leap, striking with its wrist blades in a tight, graceful arc.
Kyle's reflexes were even more impressive, as he suddenly let himself fall back toward the edge of the car slightly, while lashing out and grabbing the android's arm. Then he swung the assassin droid around hard and threw it in the direction he had been leaning, increasing its momentum tenfold, and managing to swing himself back onto the train car.
CRASH! Ignoring the sound of shattering concrete and glass from the android's impact with the train station, Kyle walked up to the machine mounted atop the train and tried to discern what it could be. It was shaped like a cylinder cut lengthwise down the middle, with several wires strung over the top. On one end was a display and switch panel, no doubt for using the device, and on the other side was a pit which housed a glowing blue sphere that appeared to be in rapid motion.
Were it anyone but the good Lieutenant Tekai who had discovered the device, it likely would not have succeeded in activating, as anyone else might have destroyed, disabled, or tinkered with the machine until its carefully aligned parameters could no longer perform the task it was designed for.
Alas, Kyle immediately decided that the device was some sort of bomb, which didn't seem horribly unreasonable if one didn't consider that Igov had been trying to take the train's cargo intact.
"Hey, you guys!" The blond officer shouted down to the two Core troopers. "Get a bomb squad guy up here!"
The soldiers, who had pretty much been on edge after seeing an android go flying from the train and embed itself in a concrete wall, stared at the police officer, unsure whether they should argue.
"A bomb? Are you certain?" One of them asked as the other one activated his radio, making the appropriate call.
"Pretty sure," Kyle answered. "I mean, it's one hell of a funky-looking space bomb, or something, but I have a feeling that bad things are going to happen when this thing goes off!"
Then the low-pitched whine increased in sonic intensity, and a glowing white aura of fluctuating energy wrapped around the train car, filling with blue in a bright, enigmatic wash of power as the chronosphere transmitter teleported the entire train car away to some obscure location.
Thud! The DAPC Lieutenant fell flat on his face, shocked as he was from having his perch torn from reality that not even his enhanced reflexes and combat training could compensate for the mental malfunction.
While lying prone on the train tracks, Kyle reflected upon how his sentence had actually been half-right, and decided that this was actually an improvement in respect to his usual luck with identifying battlefield hazards.
Looking up, he made note of the two Core soldiers from before. While he couldn't see their gaping mouths or shocked expressions behind the goggles and armor mask of the Storm Suit, Kyle could easily guess at the men's surprise judging from the way they had both dropped their guns, and their hands were twitching.
"Yeah, so... I guess you can go ahead and call off the bomb squad..." He said somewhat apologetically, embarrassed at having essentially blown the mission by himself. 'Hope there wasn't anything important in there.'
In a temple on Pluto, far in the outer reaches of Earth's solar system, a tall, green-haired woman wearing the silliest dark purple mini-skirt imaginable winced as a sudden, jarring bolt of pain lanced through her skull; the second time in the past ten minutes.
Gritting her teeth, Setsuna, the Senshi of Pluto and guardian of time, got up and turned toward the time gates to search for anomalies that had caused the jolt.
This was not the first time she had felt such sudden and short-lived twinges of agony, but for the life of her she couldn't figure out what they were. They were not a normal occurrence; the first time she ever felt them was less than a year ago, and they had happened sporadically for about a week before stopping altogether, until recently. After the incident she had checked the Gates of Time extensively, since the feelings bombarding her senses seemed to be very similar to those inflicted by time-space anomalies, most commonly being unauthorized time travel and dimensional tears.
The problem was, she couldn't pinpoint these disturbances, as the energy spike happened too quickly, and faded all but instantly; she could guess they were happening at the exact time she felt the stabbing pain in her cranium, but the Earth was a vast place, and now that the lives of the Senshi were in full swing, she couldn't afford to spend a couple hundred years scanning the entire planet for anything that looks like it may have to do with the anomaly.
The results of the disturbances were no less annoying, but hardly catastrophic; merely small rips and tears in the time-stream that loosened the entire matrix of energies, like a garment being nibbled at by moths. The difference being, of course, that too big a hole could create major warp-space anomalies such as time rifts and spacial voids. The minor holes were easy to fix, but Sailor Pluto found it unnerving that something was gnawing away at the time-stream and she couldn't find the cause.
It was most unfortunate that the Senshi of Pluto didn't consider the daily newspaper or military archives to be useful sources of information, or else she may have seen the several reports of military units being teleported around Tokyo, or even seen the report specifically detailing the chronosphere and its abilities. But alas, such feeble and easily manipulated sources of information were beneath her notice as she used her mighty clairvoyance in a desperate search for anything that was amiss.
She had just gotten past a quick scan of Roswell, New Mexico, to see if the alien technologies stored there were causing problems again, when she noticed something odd happening in a small desert town to the east, and she stopped curiously to watch.
A young man had finished smoking a cigarette, and flicked it over his shoulder in the general direction of a garbage can. Oddly enough, a wind that didn't seem to be there a moment ago carried the glowing ember much farther than it should have gone, across the length of a building and toward a gas station beyond, where a different man had very inconveniently spilled a puddle of fuel on the ground...
Pluto winced, but moved on quickly, convinced that the odd happenstance had nothing to do with the problem she sought. Such things were unfortunate, but happened regularly as tiny, inexplicable occurrences laughed in the face of chance and cast hundreds of people to the broiling ocean of fate. They were not her concern.
Sighing deeply, the guardian of time decided to do a quick check on the Senshi, on the off chance that they had something to do with the disturbance. It was unlikely, as in every other case of the anomaly the Senshi were fine, but strange phenomena did tend to occur around them, and it was a reasonable guess.
The Gates of Time shifted to show Pluto what she wished to view, and she blinked.
"... Oh... my... God..."
"Halt! The supermarket is a peaceful place for mothers and girlfriends to get delicious ingredients to make wonderful meals for their loved ones! To destroy and defile this place as you have done is an insult to all who love food! In the name of the moon, I will punish you!" Sailor Moon shouted, posing as she pointed toward the startled youma down below.
"In the name of Mars!" Shouted the red-skirted sailor of Mars, pointing along with Moon.
"In the name of Mercury!"
"In the name of Jupiter!"
The others remained frozen while they pointed, and then, as one, glanced over at Sailor Venus to see what was taking her so long.
They all sweatdropped as they saw that instead of posing and shouting with the rest of them, the Senshi of love was simply standing with a sign held high above her head which said Business a little slow? Your ad shouted here! Call 555-8217 today!
The youma, which appeared to be a forklift with metal claws for arms, looked singularly unimpressed by the performance, though it did attempt to make its escape by flinging a crate of vegetables at the sailor-suited heroines.
Turning around, the creature immediately rolled off in the direction it had come from, hoping the fallen bodies of the people it had already drained would provide some deterrent to the Senshi launching their magic attacks.
Mars growled as she leapt out of the way of the thrown crate, and reached one arm back as she took careful aim at the monster. "Mars flame sniper!"
Jupiter took less careful aim as she hit the ground, and shouted her own attack. "Sparkling wide pressure!"
"GWAAH!" The youma pitched forward as the flame arrow tagged it on the shoulder, and fell into a skid as its wheels lost control on the pavement, running it painfully into a car parked on the side of the road. The other attack subsequently missed as a result of the skid, and Jupiter's ball of lighting smashed into a storefront, shattering the glass windows and setting small fires about the place.
Sailor Moon blinked as she watched the youma struggle, and scratched her head. "Wow. This doesn't look like it's going to be any trouble at all. And here I thought it would be hard after so long."
Ami nodded as she scanned the monster with her visor. "This is one of the older youma, possibly belonging to Nephrite or Jadeite. Not only is it weak, but it also has very low energy levels. I'm guessing it was trying to hide and went on a rampage when it got too hungry for it to stand."
The youma winced, overhearing the Senshi of Mercury's perfectly accurate hypothesis. "Weak, am I? I'll show you weak! Super salad shooter!" Thrusting one arm into an adjacent vegetable booth, the youma aimed its other arm at the Senshi, which morphed into a cannon. It then fired off an iceberg lettuce cannonball, the projectile emerging from the barrel in a spray of water and green, leafy shards of cabbage.
Sailor Jupiter didn't even blink as the ball of lettuce struck her in the abdomen, bursting and splashing wet greenery all over her chest and skirt. "Boy, when you say you're going to show us weak, you don't mess around, do you?"
"Blast it now, Sailor Moon!" Venus shouted dramatically, afraid that if she made an actual contribution to the battle she would destroy their foe entirely, and steal their princess' thunder.
Sailor Moon frowned, and began making the proper motions with her arms, when she suddenly stopped. "I can't!"
"Why not! You DO remember how, don't you!" Mars asked angrily. Considering that none of them had known their attacks before their transformations imparted the knowledge, she didn't know how it was possible to forget them.
"That's not it!" Moon insisted, bunching her hands up under her chest. "It's just... I feel so sorry for it!"
Crash! Everyone in the vicinity, including the youma, facefaulted mightily.
"You feel SORRY for it!" Sailor Jupiter shouted in disbelief.
"It's next to harmless! I feel like I'm blasting a naughty puppy!" Moon insisted. Then she stopped to think. "A really ugly puppy, anyway."
The youma, rather than using the time to escape, seethed in rage as it bounced to its feet-like wheels, demonstrating the most likely reason why its species was just about extinct. "How dare you! I'll crush you like a... like a... what's that noise?" The youma scratched its head as a loud, unfamiliar ringing noise approached rapidly.
The Senshi blinked, and then each of them turned, surprised, as they recognized the sound of police sirens approaching from the street they had come from.
"The police? What're they doing here?" Sailor Venus asked, completely baffled.
"Most likely checking on the youma attack," Mercury reasoned.
"What? Since when do they do stuff like that?" Venus wondered, scratching the back of her head as the car turned a corner and came into view.
The youma frowned, then cleared its throat. "Uh, excuse me? Can we continue our fi-"
"Shush!" Sailor Mars interrupted harshly, causing the forklift monster to wince. "Not now! We need to find out what the cops want!"
Before long two patrol cars had rolled up to the edge of the market, and three officers emerged, immediately crouching down behind the food crates and aiming their guns in the direction of the skirmish.
"All right, everybody down! Get your hands on your head, NOW!" Asuka shouted, taking aim at the youma standing past the Senshi with her handgun.
The Senshi all stared at the police officers stupidly.
"I am Captain Takami of the Department of Abnormal Phenomenae Containment! Put your hands on your head!" She shouted again, quickly losing her patience.
Sailor Mercury gasped in surprise while the other Senshi looked at each other.
"You mean... us too?" Sailor Moon asked in confusion, pointing to herself.
"YES, GODDAMN IT!" The police Captain shouted angrily, causing the sailor-suited women to flinch. "HANDS! HEAD! NOW!"
"But... But... W-We're the good gu-" Sailor Moon began to make a case for the Senshi's presence when Asuka unloaded a warning round that zipped but a few feet from her ear.
Sailor Moon may have been considered the mightiest superheroine in Japan (in this aniverse, anyway), but like all sensible human beings, had a tendency to do what the person holding the gun at her said once it was clear that person meant business. Moon immediately dropped to the ground, holding her head and bawling while apologizing profusely.
The other Senshi were understandably shocked by this development, and Mars, Venus, and Jupiter each considered attacking and disarming the officer that had just shot at them.
After a moment of thought, which may or may not have involved looking at the larger machine gun that the short, brown-haired man was aiming at them, they decided that fighting the police would be an extremely poor way to restart their active status as defenders of love and justice, and each of the other Senshi reluctantly followed Sailor Moon's lead.
"You too, freakjob! Get down!" Asuka shouted, slowly advancing in a crouch while Tiro covered her.
The youma growled, and its mutated cab stretched upward in a haughty expression. "You dare order me around, human?" Unaware of the rumbling hum that was coming from behind him, he sneered at the DA officers. "Get out of my way, or perish!"
Asuka lowered her weapon. "Look behind you, and then tell me that."
The youma did so, and large beads of sweat began to appear over what served as the creatures head as it watched a massive 120 mm. cannon level off to aim directly at it.
Standing up, the police Captain addressed the monster in a calm, professional manner, completely surprising the Sailor Senshi, who, to be fair, were already horribly confused as to what was going on.
"You are hereby placed under arrest by the prime charter of DAPC section one. As a class four demonic presence, you are limited to the following rights: absolute silence, the violation of which may result in immediate termination."
The youma stared blankly at the Captain, then raised one of its arms. "Uhm-"
"Wrong answer," Asuka said immediately, raising her own hand and snapping her fingers.
It was generally believed, by those who found time to study such things, that youma were either bulletproof or completely impervious to physical damage, as all armed police engagements had ended with the cops' energy being drained, while the Senshi dispatched youma with some degree of efficiency.
This was not true, but was a completely understandable conclusion. The truth was youma were not natural life-forms animated through the chemical processes of several organs, instead being creatures of magic that coalesced into some limited physical form, or possessed one nearby that was convenient. Their body was nothing but a vessel to hold the other-worldly energies animating it, with no organs or vital parts responsible for motion, and as such, didn't suffer any of the normal bodily failures when they had several small holes punched in them.
In practical terms, this meant that youma were extremely resistant to physical harm, but their bodies faced the same physical limitations as all other solid matter when being pulverized by a thirty-pound tank shell.
Sailor Moon whimpered as she felt the shock wave from the detonation bathe her back in a wave of heat, and shook slightly as youma dust fell all around her like snow, being blasted into the air rather than neatly falling into a pile as it did as a result of the Senshi's attacks.
"Okay red skirt, on your feet!" Asuka said, roughly grabbing Mars' arm and hoisting her up before tying a pair of plastic wrist bindings onto her.
"What's this about? Why are we being arrested?" Moon cried, as two more officers emerged from the tank to help.
"The government of Japan does not recognize the actions of unregistered vigilantes like yourselves as a valid contribution to protecting the peace, and as such, you will be held fully responsible for endangering the lives of civilians and their property!" Asuka said, tightening the wrist bindings around an increasingly irritated Sailor Mars.
"Uh... does that mean there are registered vigilantes?" Mercury asked cautiously, being given much more sensitive treatment as she was handcuffed by Sakura.
"Yes, there are," Asuka said matter-of-factly, "and we're more than willing to cut such people some slack."
"This is ridiculous! We've saved the world before!" Jupiter shouted as Tycho struggled with her. "Besides, what're you talking about 'endangering civilians and their property'!"
Asuka stopped tugging Mars over to her car, and pointed toward the storefront that had been damaged by Jupiter's attack. "I think that proves my point right there?"
"Oh, give me a break!" Mars shouted angrily. "You don't think we read the newspaper! I've seen the kind of damage the DAPC does on a weekly basis! What do you take us for!"
The other Senshi looked up in surprise, since, in fact, Mars was the only one among them who read the daily newspaper with any degree of consistency. Even Ami shunned the daily news for magazines and web sites specific to her topics of interest, and thus had never heard of the DAPC before.
Asuka gave Mars a good shake to get her to pipe down, and then swung open the door to her car. "The DIFFERENCE, miss half-naked super heroine, is establishment of responsibility! Everyone knows who and where we are, or can find out, and we spend all day dealing with complaints about stuff we've destroyed! Now stop your whining!" With that, she shoved the Senshi of Mars into the back of her car, with Mercury being more gently helped into the opposite side.
Tiro chuckled as he bound Venus' wrists behind her, trying very hard to be professional and not touch anything he wasn't supposed to. "So, I mean... I-I really have to say, this is just... an HONOR for me. I mean... who would've thought that one day I would get to arrest the Sailor Venus! I'm a really big fan, but, well, who isn't, you know?"
"That's... uh... that's great," Venus said, sweatdropping.
"I swear, this is my greatest dream come true!" Tiro stopped tightening the bonds momentarily. "Well, the beginning of the dream, anyway. Except the handcuffs were all fuzzy then." Ignoring the grimace from the young woman he was binding, Tiro stood up and took her by the arm. "There! All done!" He looked around, then grasped his head. "I-I'm sorry, but, I HAVE to get a photo taken of this! Junko, can you help me out?"
"Yeah, sure!" The redhead let go of Sailor Moon, and then removed a small camera from her pocket. "Captain, can you take care of ponytails here? Thanks."
Tiro stood proudly behind the humiliated Venus as Junko got into position in front of them.
"All right, everybody smile!"
"Actually, I think it would be better if she kept looking miserable," Tiro reasoned seriously, "I want the picture to look as real as possible, so that the fan club doesn't think I doctored the photo."
Junko raised an eyebrow. "Well, whatever you say."
"Geez, you know, I hate to be a bother," the lecher said nervously to his captive, "but would you mind if I did the whole 'bad cop' thing and slammed you down over the hood of my car? Just for dramatic effect?"
"Fine. Just watch the face," the Senshi of Love mumbled irritably.
Wham! "Ouch!" Click!
"But don't you see? If we hadn't arrived, then innocent people might have been hurt!" Sailor Moon whined as Asuka shoved her in the second car next to Jupiter.
The police Captain sighed. "I assure you, the purity of your intentions WILL be taken into account when determining your punishment. Now stop complaining and get in the car!"
"Ow! No kicking!"
Sighing as she slammed the car door behind the whiny moon princess, Asuka scrubbed her head with her hand, shaking out some of the water that had collected there from the rain, which had lessened only slightly since they departed the cafe.
On the one hand, she had completed the arrests and finished her mission here, and the only damage the DAPC had caused was the large scorch mark where the youma used to be. On the other hand, no matter how firm she was in her resolve, she wasn't feeling very good about arresting the famed Sailor Senshi, who had probably saved more lives in the long run than the DAPC ever would.
'It's never easy, is it?' Asuka thought as she got in her own car, momentarily glancing at the seething Sailor Mars and the perfectly quiet Sailor Mercury sitting in the back with their wrists bound.
One other thing bothered her about the incident; the blue-skirted Senshi of Mercury seemed surprised when she heard her name, and hadn't offered any resistance or really said anything since the whole fiasco began. What's more, she could have sworn she'd met the young woman somewhere before...
Yoshi watched in fascination as the video feed showing the arrest of the Sailor Senshi ended.
"Hmm... not bad at all. Unit Shin-Alpha, terminate feed and return to base for processing and reassignment."
A beeping noise from the monitor informed the geneticist that his order had been received, and the display subsequently went black as the command was carried out.
"Watching the Senshi now, are we? Funny, you never struck me as a fan."
The short, bespectacled man ignored his lab assistant, and swiveled his office chair around to look at the scattered array of devices strewn about on the large table.
Nonplussed at being disregarded as usual, the tall, lithe woman who served as Yoshi's assistant, and frequently struggled to try and obtain the rank of partner, crossed her arms over her chest in annoyance.
Doctor Yamiko Nova had originally joined the Freedom's Angels after their incredibly advanced technologies had seduced her scientific interest, finally breaking down the already negligible moral reservations the bio-geneticist had to the point where she would go to any lengths to perform new and exotic experiments with mutation and genetic manipulation. She was an attractive woman, tall and thin with long, naturally white hair that reminded most of pure snow, but was frequently overshadowed by her and Yoshi's mutual commander Alexandra Tokima, as the terrorist General's voluptuous curves and bountiful chest tended to remind the Doctor of her own imperfections. Taking solace in her intellectual superiority wasn't simple either, as every attempt she made to surpass her superior, Yoshi Konta, in his work was neatly brushed aside with the same condescending attitude given to an art student trying to surpass the works of Da Vinci in her second class.
It was extremely frustrating for Yamiko, as she was very competitive by nature, and could find no solace in her significant achievements or rich personal life so long as Yoshi continued to generate more brilliant creations with such ease and apathy, or while Alexandra continued to drive her male colleagues numb with desire with a passing gesture.
Yoshi, for his part, liked Yamiko very much, for the simple reason that she would drive herself insane with study and concentration to ensure she could understand his theories, and would bring herself to the brink of exhaustion to complete her work faster than the genius Professor asked for. She was very useful like that, and Yoshi didn't give a flip whether she thought she was better than him or even whether she one day bested him. And Yamiko, naturally, found that fact all the more infuriating.
"These are remarkable machines... but their energy sources are too far beyond the possibility of replication. At least, for a unit of this size," Yoshi remarked, holding open one of the alien android's chest cavities. Knowing that his assistant may well take the statement as a challenge, he added "The materials used in their generators were completely destroyed when the DAPC engaged the ship, and the materials aren't natural to Earth. If we hope to match the power output that the aliens used, it would take years of analyzing the elements and attempting to synthesize our own equivalents before we could even start testing different reactors."
Frowning at the thought of a modular android being powered by a huge extension cord running to a full-size nuclear reactor, Yamiko sighed and moved on to more relevant issues, scanning the vast array of items sitting in front of them. "How much of this material was mounted inside the android?"
"According to intelligence from the DA's reports, and my own investigation, all of it," Yoshi answered simply.
Yamiko blinked. "The total volume of the materials here are at least FOUR TIMES the total space within-"
"Yes, yes, yes, I'm well aware," Yoshi interrupted, causing his assistant to grate her teeth. "No doubt some OTHER alien technology that folds matter into layered sub-space pockets that allow for the transmission of energy without compromising structural integrity from melding solids into the same quantum location." Then he plucked a small, flat metal square trailing wires from the pile of machinery. "Specifically, it's this doohickey here."
His assistant gaped. "What? You can't be serious! We've only had these parts for an hour!"
Yoshi ignored her. "I'm thinking of calling it a 'chip of holding' in honor of D&D. What do you think? Do you think most people will get the reference?"
"Th-That's ridiculous!" Yamiko said, throwing her arms up.
"Oh-kay. No 'chip of holding'," the diminutive scientist muttered, crossing the name off a list. "What do you think of 'hammerspace capacitor'?"
"We have more serious work to do!" Yamiko growled. "It's nice that you've managed to identify an alien device that can produce physical impossibilities in the time it's taken for me to wrap my head around what we're looking at, but there's still much to be done!"
Yoshi sighed and nodded, much to his assistant's surprise. "You're right, of course. I just get tired so QUICKLY with the observation aspect of science. I always feel like I'm wasting my time unless I'm working to apply a technology."
The terrorist doctor smiled softly, and was about to mutter words of empathy and understanding, when she remembered that Yoshi was a smug, self-satisfying little toad whom she hated. Her smile wilted, and she crossed her arms over her chest. "We should hurry, then. Were we able to secure any biological material from what was left of the aliens?"
Yoshi shook his head as he began toying with another piece of alien machinery. "There was very little material left, as most of the aliens were eaten in the process of the mission by the DA's pet, while the rest of the bodies had been incinerated by Lieutenant Snake, quote, 'just in case.' If there is any spattered alien blood or skin anywhere, it's most likely on the larger machine parts that Igov took for his labs, not on our android friend here."
"So we're looking for useful devices that can be hardwired into our existing cyborg schematics?"
The bespectacled man shrugged. "Eh. I was just thinking I'd take a living host and simply wire it all up, and then see what does what. Maybe add a few items of my own, that sort of thing."
Yamiko stared at her superior incredulously. "Professor, you can't be serious!"
"I can too!" Yoshi said defensively, "I just don't feel like it!"
"That's not... I didn't mean..." Yamiko grasped her head and massaged it for a moment, then took a deep breath. "Professor, how can you possibly expect to implant these in a host without first configuring and calibrating their function to be regulated by a proper computer interface? Never MIND that we don't know what most of them do!"
"YOU don't know what most of them do," Yoshi corrected, much to his assistant's frustration, "and besides, many of these devices are simple alien equivalents of technologies and tools we can replicate easily. We can weed out the machines that have too high an energy drain or emit totally unknown energy fields if it proves difficult to operate otherwise."
"But the interface-"
"Was originally a cybertronic neural net, which the human brain can easily replace," Yoshi explained to the flabbergasted woman. "The problem, of course, is that such extensive modification to the body in order to accommodate the hammerspace capacitor alone would kill a normal human being, thus necessitating a complete Mortem Override, and thus leaving the brain so dead that a complicated interface would be required anyway." 'Well, except in Igov's case,' the genius thought to himself. But then, nobody can figure out how the General's wife had converted such a large percentage of the man's body to mechanical equivalents without rejection or brain death. And with the technology available almost two decades ago!
Yamiko rubbed her head as she tried to keep up. The plan sounded ridiculous, and the sort of thing that would come out of a cheesy science fiction story. Of course, all Yoshi's projects were like that. "Why don't we just plug it into an android body, like where it originally came from?"
"I TOLD you, the power requirements are too high. The only hope for powering any useful number of the modular components are your own bio-plasmic generators."
Yamiko nodded slowly. "So... we need a superhuman? One of the genetically enhanced grunts, perhaps?"
Yoshi shook his head, bringing his assistant ever closer to the breaking point. "No, no. The problem with enhanced flesh is that once enough of the flesh is carved away, it stops working. What we need is an all-new kind of healing factor. And an energy field to compensate for the radiation."
Yamiko sighed deeply. "You already know exactly who you're going to use, don't you?"
"Yes. Glad you're catching on. Now help me sort out all the devices too unstable to cram into a human body."
Vhhm vhhm vhm-vhm, vhm vhm-vhm-vhm-vhhm... vhhm vhhm vhm-vhm, vhhm vhm-vhm...
"Okay! All right! I can't take it anymore! Just STOP!" Sailor Mars shouted, feeling as if the high-pitched humming was about to overwhelm her.
Sailor Moon winced, letting her instrument drop from her mouth. "Mars! You're so mean! I've been waiting for years to put my harmonica lessons to good use! What's wrong with a little music?"
"Because it reminds me that I've been ARRESTED and am locked up in a bloody CAGE, you meatball-headed twit!" Mars growled.
Jupiter winced, sympathizing fully with Mars' sentiments, but having far more patience toward their leader's odd little quirks.
The Senshi were all currently sitting in large animal cages that were obviously intended to hold creatures other than humans. This was attested to not only by the lack of the minimal jail amenities, such as beds and an actual toilet, but also by the overly thick, electrified, titanium-core bars that made up the wall of the cage. And while the good Dr. Seras Tuko of the DAPC's medical branch had done his best to make the cages more comfortable for humans (providing sleeping bags, a bucket with a toilet seat, and a plate of cookies), they still felt understandably humiliated (except for Sailor Moon, who, as it turns out, could be completely satiated with a harmonica and the cookies).
"Hey, I've got a question..." Venus started out, twitching slightly.
"You mean, who established a police organization dedicated to the elimination of supernatural threats behind our backs?" Sailor Mercury guessed.
The Senshi of Love frowned. "That's a good question, but no." Then she pointed toward a large, armored beast laying down outside their prison, "How come WE'RE in a cage, but THAT THING isn't!"
The Senshi all sweatdropped, and took another long moment to stare at the creature that slept peacefully by the door to the laboratory, its steady, unconscious breathing creating a calm hissing sound that Moon had decided went really well with certain parts of her harmonica song. It was about five feet long, from the head to the base of the tail, and had two powerful rear legs with two smaller front legs, all four armed with fierce-looking talons. Atop the creature's back were mounted two OTHER clawed arms, which occasionally twitched and jerked in the monster's sleep. Its head was a crested, armored beak, with two eye slits set in the thick bone carapace that had no eyelids; even now, the eyes glowed a dim red, and the only way the young women could tell the beast was asleep was because of its soft breathing, lack of motion, and general apathy for its surroundings. The entire thing was armored in segmented, layered plates of armored carapace, from the tip of its beak down to the end of its long, whip-like tail.
Moon shrugged. "Maybe it's tame?"
Mars slapped her forehead. "This is SO wrong... how did we come to this?"
"But still, don't you think it's intriguing?" Mercury asked, causing the others' attention to shift toward her.
"INTRIGUING! These people dragged us off the street and locked us in a cage!" Jupiter shouted.
Mercury blushed. "Well... yes, that's true. But just think of it! These people have been striving to accomplish with technology and human ingenuity what we've been doing for years!"
Jupiter, Mars, and Venus stared at the genius Senshi with half-lidded "you've got to be kidding me" expressions.
"You see, this is where you and me think differently," Mars explained, "because to ME, that sounds stupid."
Mercury looked frustrated as she tried to put the DAPC's actions in a different context. "No, think about it! Barring our own arrest, which you can think of as... kind of a fluke, think about what these people are doing! What they've already done!" Seeing that her friends weren't getting it, she tried to break it down further. "At certain times, we fight battles in which whole cities, or even the entire world, is at risk, right?"
The others nodded slowly.
"So, what makes you think that if we failed, everyone else would just roll over and die?" Mercury asked, crossing her arms over her chest.
"Ooh! Ooh! I know!" Moon shouted, waving her hand in the air. "They don't have magical powers!"
Sailor Mercury nodded. "Precisely! Why should so many people have to rely on the Senshi for survival? What they're trying to do is create a force of normal humans that can fight the sort of battles that we do! By replacing our natural magical abilities with advanced technology and experience!"
"That's ridiculous!" Mars insisted. "Magic is magic! You can't just screw together a couple of gears and stop a Negawarrior! You need Silver Millennium powers!"
Mercury shrugged, but looked solemn. "That may be true, but you shouldn't underestimate modern weapons! Besides, not all monsters are weak against magic in particular! The police forces should be trained and outfitted to do whatever they have to do to defend innocents! It's not just our fight, you know!"
The dissenting Senshi all mulled over this for a moment.
"Yeah, okay, fine. But they're still jerks for locking us up," Venus decided, hugging her knees to her chest.
"Granted. But let's be reasonable; we can't expect humanity to just give up and put itself in our hands."
Mars raised an eyebrow. "You know, you haven't said anything up until now since they arrested us... and then we get this glowing review of a police force you've never heard of before? Is there something else you're not telling us?"
"Erk!" Mercury blushed, and rubbed the back of her head as she scooted closer to her friends. "Okay, yes," she whispered, aware of the video camera that was mounted above the door. "The thing is, the police Captain, Asuka Takami? She's my cousin."
"Oh," Jupiter said a bit sullenly.
"Are you disappointed?" The Senshi of Mercury asked, sweatdropping.
"Well, yeah, a little. I thought it was going to be something juicier than that."
Sailor Moon nodded. "I can see the resemblance. You both have the same hair color, and you're built the same way!"
Mercury made a quick hushing gesture toward her princess. "Yes, I know. Anyway, I haven't seen her in a really long time, which is why I was surprised to see her when she rushed us today. And I'm REALLY surprised to see that she's become a police officer."
The blue-haired woman sighed. "My mother and her sister never... really got along, and their differences became far more pronounced once they grew up and married. Auntie made some very poor choices, and Mother all but severed her personal connections to her." She purposely kept her recounting vague, as she didn't want to have to describe to her friends how a family member had become espoused to a crime boss. "Mother had considered trying to take Asuka in herself, but it was too risky, so we ended up leaving her with Auntie. Then they disappeared."
Inwardly, Mercury was bursting with pride for her cousin. She couldn't imagine what the woman had gone through with her family, but to stave off such cruel influence and become a protector of the peace instead was a true example of iron will. Needless to say, she was already planning on coming back to the DAPC headquarters after the current fiasco was over and done with.
"Well, if you're related to her, why don't you two hug and have a big reunion that conveniently ends with us getting out of here?" Sailor Venus hissed.
The other Senshi raised their eyebrows at the Senshi of love, and patiently waited for her to realize the answer to her own question.
"Oh, right," Venus mumbled. "Another reason why this whole 'secret identity' business sucks."
"Maybe we can try seducing the guards?" Jupiter suggested, remembering a few key scenes from old spy movies.
Mars snorted. "There's only one guard, and I don't think you're his type," she said sarcastically, jabbing a thumb at the slumbering zergling.
Sailor Moon shook her head. "It's going to be okay guys, you'll see. We just have to patient and wait this out." Then she picked her harmonica again. "Now, who's up for singing 'My Darling Clementine'?"
"Give me that!"
"Ow! Hey! Leggo!"
Meanwhile, downstairs, an equally serious discussion as to the balance of powers in Tokyo was momentarily interrupted by the DAPC's driver rushing down the stairs and shouting across the room.
"Hey! Tiro! Come over here, you gotta see this!" Tycho pointed upstairs with both hands as Asuka glared at him, her debriefing being interrupted. "I just downloaded an awesome video feed from a webcam! Come on!"
Rather than jumping up at the chance, like everyone expected, Tiro didn't even look up from the newspaper he was reading. "What's the feed called?"
"'Co-ed cosplayers get n3kkid in a flash!'" Asuka twitched at the title.
Tiro calmly turned the page to the paper, looking unimpressed. "Downloaded it twenty minutes ago. It's not that great. Special effects are nice, but the bluette turns off the feed right in the middle."
As Tycho started sulking while heading back upstairs, Asuka sighed and turned back toward Ranma and Kyle, who were squatting patiently in front of her. Snake was nearby too, but seemed to be giving his whole attentions to something outside the window, and wasn't really paying attention.
"So, what, exactly, have we all learned today?" Asuka said condescendingly to the two men.
Ranma gulped. "Uh... shoot first, THEN banter with the enemy?"
Asuka nodded. "AND?"
"When the enemy is attempting to capture an objective, don't assume that the device they place on the objective is a bomb!" Kyle volunteered.
"And even if they're being real jerks about us messing up, beating the Captain of the Core forces and throwing him into a dumpster isn't the proper way to deal with the ridicule," Ranma said reluctantly. "... Though I definitely don't regret it."
Kyle sighed. "And, when using the keypad garage door opener, make sure that your code is accepted and that the door is actually opening before you try and drive through it."
The police Captain nodded in satisfaction. "Good. Now, the hole isn't THAT big, so I figure you can pay for it out of-" TOOM!
The assembled officers all winced at the not-uncommon sound of sudden, unsilenced sniper fire, and they all turned to look at Snake, who was grinning as he pulled a large rifle from an open window.
"And may I ask what THAT was all about?" Asuka said irritably, sticking a finger in her ear and twisting it back and forth.
Snake gestured out the window. "There was some weirdo in formal wear standing on top of the next building over scoping out the HQ. Got 'im though."
Tiro's eyes bulged. "'Weirdo in formal wear'? You just killed Tuxedo Kamen!"
"I did not," Snake snapped back, "I got him in the leg! He'll live. Probably."
Rubbing her forehead in exasperation, Asuka pointed toward Ranma. "Alright, now that that's done with, we have to focus on the issue of us having several relatively popular prisoners that-" TOOM!
"Oh no, you're not getting up today!" Snake shouted gleefully. Then he turned to the others and chuckled. "Got his other leg."
"Knock it off!" Asuka growled. "We have five young women in stupid-looking skirts locked up in our laboratory charged with performing unregistered vigilante action beyond the extent of self-defense, endangering civilians, 200,000 yen worth of property damage, carrying an unlicensed magic wand, and witchcraft."
Ranma raised an eyebrow. "Witchcraft is an actual crime?"
"Oh sure," Snake agreed, nodding to himself as he put down his rifle. "Not only that, but we technically reserve the right to execute them without due process of law, but only if we do it by burning them at the stake. How cool is that!"
"I don't see what the big deal is," Ranma murmured. Neither he nor Snake or Kyle had visited the prisoners since they got back, though they'd been given the full run-down on what happened. "They broke a law. Book 'em and move on."
"Originally, that was my exact intention," Asuka said glumly, "but I've been having second thoughts. This is a difficult problem that we're going to have to tip-toe through."
Then, to Asuka's surprise, a new voice briefly spoke behind her.
"Perhaps I can-" Sailor Pluto began, before being savagely tackled to the ground, her speech being brief mostly because by the time she had teleported in and had begun her trademark "all-knowing one coming from nowhere" technique for appearing mysteriously omnipotent, she realized that four of the five people in the room were already lunging for her.
Unable to dodge in time, and not being able to overpower Ranma and Kyle even in her Senshi form, the guardian of time was slammed against the floor, with her arms held firm on either side of her, and a Pancor Jackhammer aimed right between her eyes.
She sweatdropped, suddenly being able to better appreciate the situation that the Inner Senshi had managed to get themselves into.
"What the hell! Who are you!" Asuka demanded.
Pluto sighed, showing considerable control for someone just a finger-twitch away from death. "I am the-"
"Wait, hold that thought," Asuka interrupted, "I can understand how Ranma, Kyle, and even Snake would sense her and attack, but how did YOU know she was here?"
Tiro, who was straddling the Time Senshi so as to keep her pinned and restrict movement of her legs (or so he would insist later), chuckled and made a "V" with his fingers. "Babe radar, remember?"
"Wonderful. I'm overjoyed you managed to find an obscure, vaguely useful application for it," the Captain mumbled, massaging her head. "Okay, so what were you saying?"
Sailor Pluto cleared her throat, and leveled an icy glare at Snake. "I'm Sailor Pluto, leader of the Outer Senshi. I'm here to help take the Sailors off your hands. Something I cannot negotiate if I'm held on the floor at gunpoint."
Snake's eyes narrowed to match hers. "Oh, really? Well, you can negotiate their release from within their cage, then! You're under arrest for teleporting into a police station!"
The others looked up from Pluto to stare at Snake.
"Lieutenant, that's not a crime," Asuka deadpanned.
"Oh..." Snake frowned. "Breaking and entering?"
Asuka shook her head. "This room in this station is accessible to the general public at all times unless HQ is closed for the night."
"Witchcraft!" Snake yelled, causing the Senshi of Pluto to sweatdrop. "We've already confirmed that's a crime!"
"How do we know she's a witch?" The Captain asked, not immediately disregarding the possibility.
"She did teleport into the office."
"With that outfit, she's gotta be some sort of magic-throwing freak."
"She turned me into a newt!"
Pluto had, understandably, had quite enough of this by now, and began to shove the assorted police officers off of her, some small part of her mind really hoping that they weren't seriously going to shoot her for her resistance. "That's enough! I'm here on serious business! Get OFF of me!"
Tiro and the others reluctantly backed away, being (mostly) kidding about the string of comments about witches. Besides, all present were fairly sure that Kyle had never spent any time as a newt.
"ANYWAY," Pluto began irritably, "I've come here to make an offer for the release of the other Senshi."
Asuka's eyes narrowed. "'An offer'? We don't accept bribes."
"Not right in front of the ranking officer, anyway!" Kyle said, shaking his head.
Ignoring the Captain's glare, Pluto continued. "Don't think of it as a bribe, think of it as the collection of a fine, and a vast simplification of a very dangerous and complicated scenario."
Seeing that she had Asuka's interest, Pluto smirked and went on. "Think about it; on top of the mess of paperwork and government uproar this is going to cause, it would be a public relations apocalypse for your department, which isn't doing very well in that arena as it is." As the Captain's eyebrow rose, the Senshi of Time gave her key argument, and the final push. "Besides, if a monster attack were to occur while you had the Senshi incarcerated, and people were hurt, think of the repercussions. If the government were to think you were endangering the safety of the public rather than enforcing it..."
"All right, all right Miss Mystery, I get it," Asuka said dryly. "You win. However, there's still one other-"
"The Senshi's registration forms," Pluto said, cutting the Captain off as she held out a stack of filled-out forms that she hadn't been holding a moment ago. "In triplicate."
"Well, what about-" Asuka began, only to be cut off again.
"Money," Pluto said neutrally, handing Ranma a black leather suitcase that she again managed to procure despite the fact that she was wearing a skin-tight outfit with a miniskirt.
"Touche, Pluto-san," Asuka said carefully, her respect for the taller woman growing. "Very well, then the Senshi are-"
"Hey! This thing is full of Playgirl and Iron Man magazines!" Snake shouted in surprise, being able to read the English titles after Ranma had cracked open the suitcase.
As an atomic red coloring started to cover her face, Pluto produced another suitcase and snatched the first one away, desperately grasping the case full of magazines that her future self had given her to get through all those lonely nights watching the gates of time for so many millennia
. Snake checked the briefcase, glancing at the dark purple-skirted Senshi warily. "Cash this time. And lots of it."
"Ladies and gentlemen, we have a deal." Asuka whirled around and idly gestured for their guest to follow her. "They're being kept upstairs, though I suppose you already knew that."
"I did," Pluto responded mysteriously. "And I also knew that the creature guarding the upstairs lab wouldn't have been quite so... tactful as your officers in subduing me had I teleported up there."
'Hmm... superhuman abilities AND common sense. Don't see much of that around here.' "If I may lead the way..."
Pluto and Asuka entered the upstairs containment lab almost at the same time, and were treated to the not-too-rare sight of seeing Sailor Mars attempting to shove a musical instrument down Sailor Moon's throat, while the other Senshi struggled to keep her back.
Pluto sighed. "It's never easy..."
"Believe me, I can sympathize," Asuka murmured, noting that similar scenes had occurred between Tycho and Ranma.
The Senshi of Pluto walked up to the cage, and twitched upon noting that none of the Senshi had realized someone had even entered. She cleared her throat meaningfully.
"Mars! I'm sorry! Really! Please don't hurt me anymore!" Sailor Moon cried, trying her best to hide behind Jupiter as Venus and Mercury dragged Mars back.
"I swear to GOD! What kind of idiot forgets the tune to 'Old MacDonald'! I'm going to carve out your skull and-"
Bam! The Senshi all jumped at the sound of the Time Staff being slammed down into the floor, and they all turned immediately to see who had come to see them while they were preoccupied.
"PLUTO! Omigosh! When did you get here!" Sailor Moon said excitedly. "Are you here to bail us out? Thanks! I was afraid I'd have to call my parents, and that would've been REALLY awkward!"
Pluto twitched again. "Despite all my powers, and all the time I've spent watching the flows of time, THIS is a sight I thought I'd never see."
The Senshi other than Moon looked appropriately embarrassed, and Venus rubbed the back of her head.
"Ha! You're telling us! This really came out of the batter's box!" The Senshi of love joked weakly, sweatdropping.
"That's 'out of left field,' you loon," Mars said mercilessly.
Pluto shook her head, her cool, unflappable expression quickly returning and masking the momentary crack in her facade. "Be that as it may, the Princess is correct. I've already made arrangements for you to be released, and taken precautions to prevent this from happening again." Then she raised an eyebrow. "And while ultimately it's best that you didn't attempt an escape, I'm wondering why you didn't simply teleport out of the cell?"
The Inner Senshi blinked, and then took a moment to look at each other.
"D'oh!" They said as one, each of them having forgotten about that particular power.
Asuka then stepped forward, feeling that she had an obligation to try and mop up any lingering resentment the Senshi may have had. "Anyway, I'd like to personally apologize for the way that you've been treated, and to let you know that we have nothing against any of you personally, nor are we ungrateful for your heroic actions in the past. But I have procedures and laws to follow," 'unlike the dolts that I command,' she added mentally, "and it wasn't quite justifiable at the time to make an exception for you."
"Hey, no problem!" Moon said easily, not QUITE reflecting the level of forgiveness granted by the rest of her team, "We monster hunters need to stick together, right!"
"Right. Whatever. Just don't sue us or anything," the Captain said, immediately deactivating and unlocking the cage gate as soon as it was clear she was forgiven. "Purple skirt here knows the way out. Or teleport outside, for all I care. G'night." Relieved that a major issue was so conveniently and quickly resolved for once, Asuka snapped her fingers to wake up Hunter, and then gestured for the beast to follow her. The zergling roughly shook the sleep from its mind, and eventually following the Captain down the stairs and into the main lobby.
Pluto waited until she was sure the police officer was out of earshot, then shook her head as she regarded the Inner Senshi.
"Pull yourselves together and come on. We have a LOT to talk about."
The young women all winced, unpleasant thoughts of where this was going flitting through their minds. 'Oh boy...'
"Anyway, times have changed a bit, meaning that whenever possible, the Senshi should keep as low a profile as possible. We're swiftly approaching a point in time in which the current order will be obliterated by the Great Freeze, where the Princess can properly emerge and Crystal Tokyo can finally come to fruition." Pluto led the Inners around yet another street corner, ignoring the gaping stares of the pedestrians wandering the street this late in the evening; they were still in their uniforms, as Pluto didn't want to risk them de-transforming anywhere near the DAPC station.
"Until then, very little action will be required by the Senshi, and any appearances you make can only complicate things," the Senshi of Pluto chided as they finally moved on to an empty street.
Mercury nodded. "Okay... so what do you know about the Department of Abnormal Phenomenae Containment?"
"I can tell you that they're good at what they do, and that with their establishment the Senshi will most likely not be needed in the defense of Tokyo until the world is sheathed in ice." Seeing the Inners' surprised expressions, Pluto shrugged. "Technology may never fully offer the same degree or range of advantages as magic, but it comes closer every day. The civilizations of the world as we know it already possess many weapons that could have defeated some of the weaker enemies you've fought in the past, and the DAPC is a dedicated and elite force. They will do fine. What's important is that you get back to your lives and stay out of danger."
The Inner Senshi nodded, though Venus spoke up a moment later. "Pluto, why are we still walking? There's no one here. Can we de-transform now?"
The Senshi of Time's eyes narrowed, and she turned to look behind herself. "I could have sworn we were being watched..."
Quickly flipping out her visor, Mercury did a quick scan, and shook her head. "This entire block is an industrial sector that's closed for the night, and there are no life signs. No unusual energy patterns, either."
Choosing not to speak further on the topic and dwell on her growing paranoia, Pluto led the Senshi into an alley with a swift gesture.
Unit Shin-Alpha, a modified Mark VI combat android taken from Mishima Heavy Industries' stolen production lines, remained on low-power mode as it skulked in the shadows from the nearby parked cars, its own visibility all but uninhibited by the shadows of the alleyways.
Watching the Senshi pose briefly, the android noticed the distinct change in energy readouts from the young women, as well as the sudden relocation of mass as their uniforms were suddenly replaced with trendy street clothes.
After the brief sequence, the android continued stalking the women briefly, making several more detailed close-up recordings as the Senshi passed under the many street lights that illuminated the majority of the city.
All at once, the assassin droid stopped, receiving the command from its master indicating the objective had been completed.
Turning on its heel, and moving with such stealth that it bordered on absolute silence, the android skulked away into the shadows of the buildings, eventually jumping atop the roof of one such structure, and making its way through the darkened city.
On its way back to base, the android stopped momentarily when it heard a groaning sound, and stopped its progress, engaging its stealth capabilities to their fullest extent while analyzing it surroundings.
According to GPS sensors, it was very close to its previous monitoring station, which was also marked as dangerous territory to be otherwise avoided: DAPC headquarters.
Noting that a human's cry of distress ranked pretty darn low on the list of priorities without being in a grade "A" danger zone, Shin-Alpha turned back toward its objective and fled, being even more careful to keep to the shadows and minimize noise.
Groan! "Hey! ... Is anybody there!" Tuxedo Kamen shouted, having sworn he heard a scuffing sound on the same roof he was lying on. Unfortunately, there were no lights on the roof, and he was unable to make out anything moving around him until it had already passed on.
"Th-The hell with this!" The frustrated side-kick shouted, grasping his bloodied legs. "I tried! Usagi can get herself out of whatever her problem is now!" With that angry declaration the Senshi's part-time protector grabbed the edge of the roof and dragged himself over to it, eventually pulling himself up so that he could see over the edge.
He took a long look down at the first set of fire escapes that would have allowed for him to get down to the streets, as the large lead ammunition currently implanted in his calves firmly protested any running or jumping.
Frowning, he looked for any handholds that would have allowed him to get to the first fire escape. There were none. And the leap down would have been an impressive leap for a normal, uninjured person. The masked prince briefly considered where a superhuman, injured person was on the scale.
"Maybe I'll just spend the night up here..."
Ranma held up a hand to shield his eyes as he looked out upon the vast field of grass stretched out before him, and blinked as a bright yellow sun poured soft light down on him.
He was perched at the very tip of a huge cliff, and looking down, the pigtailed man could make out a gigantic crystal spire in the distance. It glowed with a cheery, calming sort of energy, and Ranma immediately found himself thinking about all the peaceful, quiet memories in his life, each one flitting through his mind and concluding in the space of a second.
Needless to say, he ran out of memories after ten or twelve seconds, and Ranma started to look around himself to get a better feel for where he was. He had the presence of mind to know he was in some sort of dreamscape, and yet he also knew that he was far too aware, and that the details of this dream were far too sharp and distinct to be an ordinary dream.
"You're probably wondering where you are right now," said a soft, lilting voice from right next to him, and Ranma jumped as he realized he was sitting next to a tiny, winged woman with long, flowing blonde hair and wearing a pristine white gown.
The small fairy-like person smiled up at him. "Do not be afraid. I am Queen Serenity, and I am here to guide you."
Ranma blinked. "Guide me? Guide me where?"
"To the apparition you see before you," Serenity said, missing Ranma's frown. "This is but a spectre of a possible future, a current in an ocean of possibilities."
The spiritual essence of the Queen looked down at her lap. "I have chosen you, Ranma Saotome, to lead my warriors. This most sacred of responsibilities is-" THWAP!
The tiny spirit's monologue was cut short as Ranma smashed her with a large flyswatter, flattening her against the pad of plastic and steel mesh.
Holding the flyswatter out over the edge of the cliff, Ranma shook the handle of it, watching the flattened fairy-woman slowly peel off the pad and then gently float downward on some errant breeze, like a dry leaf or sheet of paper.
"Well, that's over and done with," Ranma said to himself, tossing the flyswatter off the cliff as well and dusting off his hands. "Maybe now I can get back to my normal dreams!"
"RANMA SAOTOME, HERO OF THE EARTH! At last I have found you!"
Ranma turned around, and then smirked. "Why, if it isn't M. Bison, insane supervillain bent on world domination! Come to try your luck at defeating me again? Ha! As if!"
"You won't be so cocky for long, Saotome!" The video game boss character shouted, powering up his aura. "In front of this cadre of swooning female hostages who I brought along just so you could rescue them, I will crush you like a bug!"
"Oh, Ranma! Help us!" The women began to cry out.
"Beat that mean, ugly M. Bison!"
"Wow! You're so cool!"
"You can beat him Ranma! You're the greatest martial artist who ever lived!"
Basking liberally in the gratuitous praise, Ranma shifted into a battle stance. "Let's do this!"
Sakura sniffled as she waved to her former partners, dressing in a form-fitting pink gown as she stood in front of Tycho's car.
"I just... I can't believe it's all over!" She cried, tears of sorrow falling down her cheeks as the DAPC officers gave her chuckled reassurances and hearty pats on the back.
Sakura Tekai had prepared an actual speech to commemorate her retirement from the Department of Abnormal Phenomenae Containment, but alas, had ended up pulling it out and reading it, and subsequently crying over it, so many times since she wrote it that the entire thing had become a horribly wet, blotted mess... which was good for the officers she was speaking to, since none of them really wanted to turn the affair into a sob-fest, anyway.
Sakura had finally landed her dream job working for the Red Cross as an actual field doctor, her years of experience with the DAPC not only giving her valuable experience that may come in handy while on assignment in faraway war zones, but also removing her queasiness at the sight of blood, as she had seen such horrible and disgusting things over the past year that the most prominent nemesis to her career as a doctor truly did seem trivial and ridiculous in comparison. This also underlined another major attraction to the job, in that it was very unlikely to take her into frenzied, bloody combat with the most hideous and monstrous beasts both known and unknown to man; Sakura was no fighter, and a year ducking the front lines and hiding behind solid warriors like Ranma and Asuka had driven the point home.
The klutzy blonde wailed and latched onto Junko, almost crushing the woman who had been her dearest friend in the department. "I'm going to miss you guys so much! I don't know what I'll do!"
Asuka sweatdropped. "Hopefully get some real friends," she said half-jokingly.
Glomp! The bluette gagged as she was next on the death-grip list. "Captain! You've always been so patient and nice to me! I'll never forget you!"
"Patient and nice? In what universe was this?" Snake deadpanned, not having recalled any such tolerance from their Captain.
Junko kicked him lightly in the shins. "Hush. Let her dream."
Ranma was just starting to inch away from the crowd, when the blonde snatched him up just as quickly. "And Ranma! Thank you so much for saving my life over and over again!"
The pigtailed man blushed and idly tugged on his pigtail. "Aw, it was nothin'..."
"Yeah, okay, okay, moving on with the hugs," Tiro said, hoping to get one last feel on Sakura before she finally left.
Asuka shook her head and shoved him aside. "We'll have none of that, thank you very much." Then she smiled faintly and held up a folded garment. "Sakura Tekai, in spite of your less-than-perfect record of service and multiple failings of duty during your time here, I considered you less of an obstacle to success than Tycho."
The aforementioned driver, naturally, looked offended at the statement, while Sakura just wiped another tear from her eye and smiled brightly like she had won an Oscar.
"And so," Asuka continued, "putting aside my bitter sarcasm for just a moment, things aren't going to be the same without you here. For one thing, now that you're gone, we'll have no one to bridge the huge gap between Kyle and the rest of us in terms of intelligence."
Kyle, as usual, merely nodded, not realizing he was being insulted. Sakura kept smiling.
"I thought you were going to put the bitter sarcasm aside," Ranma whispered to the police Captain, frowning.
"What sarcasm? I was telling the truth!" She whispered back in annoyance. Then she cleared her throat and held out the bundle in her hands. "This is your DAPC uniform, Sakura, which we managed to get out of your locker before Snake and Tiro looted the rest of it. We also have your body armor and badge, both of which we'd like you to have. To remember us by, or if you get in a firefight, or something. Please don't hug me again." She added the last part as she saw the blonde getting ready to lunge for her.
"And I've also dug up your sidearm from the stuff I took," Snake said, stepping up and handing her a 9 mm. pistol. "We all signed the barrel for you. Plus I found that old sissy bolter stun gun I gave you when you first came here!" Snake had forgotten to request Sakura stay off him, and was immediately subjected to a painful, overly-affectionate hug. Meanwhile, Tiro was sorely wishing he had thought to give Sakura a going-away present.
"Thank you all so much!" The blonde woman cried. Then she spied Hunter sitting on the outside of the circle and rushed him, hugging the zergling strongly around his crested, bony neck. "Ooh, Hunter I'll miss you too! You've been such a good boy! Yes you have! Yes you have!" She said, rubbing the killer alien's neck and making baby noises to him in the way that only she could manage without risking having her face clawed off. "Does Hunter baby want to come with me to the airport? Huh? Do ya?"
The others all sweatdropped, deciding that would definitely be a bad idea. Surprisingly, it was Ranma who provided the solution.
"Sorry Sakura, but me and Hunter are gonna take a walk later today to meet someone. It's... kind of a special occasion." He tugged on his pigtail again in embarrassment as Sakura looked disappointed.
"Oh... well, then I guess this is it, huh?" The blonde said sadly as Tycho opened up one of the back doors for her.
"Hey, don't sweat it!" Junko said cheerfully, "I'm sure in a few months' time, Tokyo will be a big enough war zone that you'll be shipped right back to see us!"
Sakura was still smiling as she sweatdropped. "That's a horrible thought!" Then she turned toward Snake, twitching. "Snake, please don't go and start any wars!"
"I don't make promises I can't keep," the Lieutenant said simply, causing the blonde woman to grimace.
"Well," Sakura finally said, climbing into Tycho's car. "Goodbye everyone! I'll miss you!"
Sakura's departure from the DAPC weighed on Ranma's mind as he led Hunter into the park, his hands in his pockets as he stared up at the sky.
'Wow. She's really gone, now. I guess I really didn't think about it before when she was leaving, but... we really had been through a lot together.' The pigtailed man smiled faintly as he remembered moving in and briefly living with the Tekai siblings, his brief foray into dating her, and the playful flirting and less playful catfights that tended to occur around her. He couldn't tell if it was just his ego eating up the attention or genuine appreciation for the affection, but Ranma realized he'd miss the short, embarrassing hugs Sakura gave him whenever she got an excuse, and he'd miss watching her snap at other women that showed an interest in him (though he was pretty sure that part was just ego feed).
It also brought another point to the forefront: Ranma had been with the DAPC for over a year. And in that year he'd been through a LOT. He'd seen anomalies and oddities that easily rivaled the strange scenarios that plagued his teenage life, and seen acts of evil and cruelty that would have left the tyrants of China who he had dueled back then sick with disgust.
He'd also seen a lot of good being done, either through heroic sacrifice, righteous fury, uncompromising love, or just properly directed bloodlust. He'd seen vile hatred and evil accomplish great and wonderful things, and seen good and just intentions shatter people's lives. And while he hadn't come away from those experiences with a deep, meaningful life lesson like he felt he should have, the experiences themselves were remarkable enough for him to treasure.
Ranma had learned about unconditional friendship, and in keeping that friendship even when the other people weren't very good friends at all. He had learned about family, and how most people were probably better off without one. He had learned about love, and watched it crush a man like an egg in a power vice.
And then of course, there was the personal hardships and trials he himself had endured, ever making him stronger and teaching him new ways to survive. In the space of a year he had defeated two evil clones, stopped multiple giant robots, lost his virginity (finally!), stopped a plot for world domination, unearthed forbidden techniques and stained his honor as a martial artist forever for the sake of a practical joke and later for a cheap ki attack, contracted a lethal retrovirus, was infested by a mind-controlling parasite, gained and lost two fiancees, learned and used and then forgot the bakusai tenketsu no less than twelve times, and contributed significantly to the extinction of an entire alien race.
Ultimately, Asuka was right; Sakura was a very minor part of the team, being little more (actually a little less) than an extra body to carry a gun and drive a car when the skilled officers were off doing important, useful things. So they wouldn't miss her too badly in the long run, and especially not when times got hard.
'But still... she was there! She went through all that stuff too!' Ranma chuckled to himself. He couldn't imagine having gone on those adventures without the superhuman abilities he'd gained through his years of training and conditioning, and had wondered more than once how the other "normal" officers had dealt with the level of combat that frequently exploded around them. He guessed that when Sakura settled into her new job, she'd either be in complete bliss, or bored out of her skull.
"Ranma-sama! Overe here!"
The pigtailed cop broke out of his reverie and smiled as he caught sight of a girl waving to him from where she was sitting on a park bench.
With Hunter in tow, which was made all the more apparent by the wide berth or outright flight of the other pedestrians in the park, Ranma strolled up the girl while waving at her. "Hey Ta-chan! What's up?"
Hotaru Tomoe slid off the bench and knelt next to Hunter, petting the zergling's beak without any hint of fear. "Hello Hunter! How are you?"
The alien beast made a grumbling, clicking noise deep in his throat, which Ranma could only guess was an affectionate sound because Hunter made no move to eviscerate the school girl who was holding him.
Hotaru was a short, pale, skinny girl, being so thin that Ranma had wondered on more than one occasion if she might have one of those eating disorders that insecure women sometimes got to stay underweight. She had shoulder-length dark purple hair, and eyes to match, and usually wore black, laced clothing that Ranma figured meant something to people more culturally aware than he was. She claimed to be 17, but Ranma didn't believe her; she looked closer to 13 or 14 years old. Ranma had guessed that she either had a crush on him and was trying to get him to think she was old enough for him to date, or that she really did have an eating disorder, and it was stunting her growth. As time went on the second theory seemed more and more likely, as Hotaru also seemed to be quite weak and sickly, which could easily result from malnutrition.
"Did anything exciting happen to you this week?" Hotaru asked, gently grasping Hunter's spine-mounted arms so that she could climb onto his back.
Ranma sighed and laughed. "Exciting? Yeah, just a little. Fought off another terrorist cyborg assault, for one." He began to talk about the background of the battle, not bothering to edit out the parts that were not supposed to be public knowledge. As far as he was concerned, if you couldn't trust a friendly little girl playing in a public park not to betray government secrets, then you couldn't trust anyone, society was already doomed, and there was thus no point in keeping secrets in the first place.
Hotaru listened intently as she rode on Hunter's back, hanging on to every detail as Ranma gave a scene-by-scene recount of the battle, including what he had heard from his companions in other areas.
Ranma had quickly become an excellent storyteller in the time he had been making these visits to her, and in that same time span she had become increasingly interested in the human conflicts that existed outside of Senshi business and her own little slice of personal space.
The more she heard about it, the harder she found it to believe that such horrors and strife took place in the same city where she lived, and yet stayed distinct and separate from the magical, apocalyptic foes that demanded the attention of the Sailor Senshi. She didn't mind admitting that at times she felt downright ashamed for standing by and not doing something herself, when she possessed the power to make a difference.
However, her adoptive parents Haruka and Michiru insisted that such things were beneath them; human issues were for humans to deal with, without the interference of magical superheroes. And while it was perfectly appropriate to use her powers to put a stop to a crime in progress, actively pursuing human evils was fraught with complications and moral dilemmas. The Senshi existed to protect humankind from blatantly malicious threats it could not face otherwise, and could not be bothered with issues like terrorism and mad science.
She didn't like it, but Hotaru had to admit they had a point. From listening to Ranma's stories, the "real" struggles that occurred past the sunny image of a youma-free Tokyo were of a far more grisly and vile sort than what she'd seen as a Senshi, and the descriptions of a superhuman vigilante who was actively pursuing justice, the Catholic gunman Rayden Shikodan, disturbed her greatly.
Still, Hotaru really liked being with Ranma and hearing about the things he did. She could still remember when they first met...
(That's right, it's a flashback sequence! You know you want it!)
Hotaru propped up her chin with her elbows as she watched the duck pond behind the park bench, completely absorbed in the quiet, calming sights around her.
She gave the couples and other people passing by none of her attention, and in turn, none of them approached her. Sitting on a park bench all alone, wearing dark clothing and dark makeup and watching the animals listlessly as she was put out lonely vibes like crazy, but this was Japan, and Japanese culture dictated that one didn't go approach and make friends with strange girls out of the blue, but instead taught one to respect her space and solitude.
So the passersby gave the girl her berth, and even those who were looking for a bench to sit at usually decided to keep walking to find another one. Story of her life.
Hotaru sighed and finally turned away from the ducks. It almost felt wrong for a girl like her to make such a complaint, but she was bored. Very bored.
High school life was just that: a vast gray field of studies and paperwork. And it was boring.
Other girls made friends or romances, but not Hotaru. Because of her unique healing gifts, she had been shunned in junior high, and often bullied. She had hated and dreaded going to school back then.
As it turned out though, as people got older, they stopped indulging their fear of the abnormal, and started ignoring it, perhaps having their time consumed by other things, or maybe realizing that there could be legal ramifications for their actions now that they were closer to being adults. Whatever the reason, disgust turned to apathy, and Hotaru was now merely shunned, and never bullied. And as a result, she hated high school, but didn't really dread it anymore. Even when she stopped being hesitant and shy about her abilities and healed any papercut or bruise she could find, people just mumbled a quick thanks and rushed off, not deigning to give the weird healing girl a moment more of their time.
Being the Senshi of Saturn should have provided plenty of excitement, but quite simply, it didn't. The Senshi hadn't had a battle in years, never mind a major conflict that might have required the attention of the Outer Senshi in addition to the Inners, who were usually in the thick of the action.
Hotaru sighed. Even visiting the Inner Senshi just to spend time with a friend was hard now, as Chibi-Usa had returned to the future, and college life seemed to consume all the others' time as they crammed their personal ventures and rich private lives around their studies. She was extremely envious of them, and planned on going to the same college once she finished high school.
So, here she was, ignored instead of bullied, with every day passing by peacefully instead of bringing new conflict for the Senshi to overcome. And she knew she should have been grateful for it... but instead it was driving her crazy, and that's probably what bothered her most of all.
"STOP! MY PURSE! STOP, THIEF!"
It should be noted that while Hotaru was bored out her mind at the time, and the robbery occurring more-or-less right in front of her was an interesting distraction from the monotony of her normal day-to-day, it was hardly the sort of excitement she was hoping for. Watching the purse-snatcher sprint by, she only felt worse as she couldn't hope to do anything; by the time she found someplace to transform, the man would be long gone.
Watching sullenly as the man ran through the grass field of the park, shoving the few pedestrians near him away, she noticed that further back, where the grass gave way to a thick wall of trees and scrub that obscured vision, many of the plants were shaking or swaying violently.
The thief had just reached the wall of greenery, and was going to run through it to aid his escape, when the shaking reached its crescendo, and a huge, claw-bearing shape burst from the bushes right at the man.
The man screamed in horror as the beast's front claws dug into his shoulders, easily slicing through shirt and flesh as he was slammed onto the grass. He continued screaming as he looked up into the fearsome beak that snapped viciously above him, dropping long, thick ropes of saliva over his face and chest.
Hotaru's eyes widened, as did those of the park's other pedestrians. Many of the other people in the park quickly began to yell and run themselves, fearing that monsters had overrun the place. Most of those that stayed recognized the creature from a recent newspaper story about the Department of Abnormal Phenomenae Containment, and merely backed away while still staying close enough to watch.
Neither Hotaru nor the theft victim had heard of the DAPC, but both watched with horrid fascination as the thief begged for his life to the killer alien pinning him down, tossing the purse away in the general direction of the woman he had stolen it from.
"Hunter! Down! Not so fast!" A moment later, a muscular man with a pigtail, and wearing a blue nylon outfit that marked him as a police officer broke through the brush, and pulled on one of the creature's top-mounted claws, indicating that it should stand down.
The beast made a disgruntled, rumbling sound deep in his throat, as if arguing with his master.
"No. This one isn't food. Back off," the officer said firmly, pulling harder on the zergling's claws. Reluctantly, Hunter released his prey, who immediately tried to stumble to his feet and run.
The police officer easily caught the man by the back of his shirt. "I don't think so, pal. I saw what happened. You're under arrest." Wagging his finger as if speaking to a child, he started to lecture the man. "Maybe this will teach you to keep to honest work from now on. Or at least regret turning to crime. You know, whatever."
The thief, horrified as he was, managed to come to his senses well enough to speak. "A-Are you... Are you from the DAPC? You and that monster?" he asked, shaking.
The pigtailed man nodded. "Officer Ranma Saotome, DAPC. Says so on the patch over here, see?" He was moving his jacket sleeve to show the thief, when the man suddenly moved onto his knees and bowed down toward the ground.
"Please! I'm begging you! Just kill me before you eat me! That's all I ask!"
Ranma sweatdropped. "Uh... are you talking to me, or Hunter?"
"Whichever one of you is hungriest!" The man cried, squeezing his eyes shut as he awaited the decapitating blow.
Instead, Ranma growled and kicked the man over. "Oh, get a grip you loser! Get outta here!" Giving the man another kick, and hoping that he wouldn't regret letting the man go instead of making an actual arrest, he picked up the dropped purse and approached its owner, Hunter trailing behind him menacingly.
"Here Ma'am I think this-" before he could finish the sentence, the woman snatched her purse away and ran, screaming the whole way about monsters as she clutched her recovered property against her chest.
"You're welcome!" Ranma shouted somewhat bitterly, before kneeling down to pet Hunter.
Hotaru watched the entire exchange with the sort of morbid fascination one usually reserved for autopsies, and made a note of how even those few pedestrians still around who didn't look scared spitless of the officer and his pet were quickly leaving the area, unwilling to risk being around once their attentions weren't distracted elsewhere.
Despite her own fear upon looking at the beast, her heart went out to the man, and she felt irritated that the woman couldn't even manage to simply thank the officer before she fled. Here he had done nothing wrong but managed to help her where the others around the park would not, and he was rewarded with fear. It was a situation she was all too familiar with, and it left a bad taste in her mouth.
Swallowing nervously, Hotaru got up from the bench and approached the two.
"Easy there, big fella. Stay still. Last thing I need is Asuka breathing down my throat thinking you killed somebody today," Ranma mumbled, wiping the blood off of Hunter's front claws with a napkin while the zergling made disgruntled growling noises.
Turning his head, Ranma was surprised to see a young girl standing behind him, clasping her hands behind her back while she stared somewhat apprehensively at Hunter.
"What's wrong? Did that guy steal something of yours, too?" The pigtailed man asked, standing up to rush after the crook.
"Oh, no! Nothing like that!" The girl said, blushing as she stared at the ground. "Uhm... I-I'm Hotaru Tomoe!" She said suddenly, bowing sharply to the man.
Ranma blinked, then shrugged and bowed back. "Hi. I'm Ranma Saotome. Is something the matter?"
"No, I..." Hotaru looked down at Hunter, who stared back at her through angry, blood-red eyes. "Wh-What is that?" she finally asked, pointing toward the zergling.
"Oh! This is Hunter!" Ranma said, slapping him on the back of the neck. "He's a zergling!"
Hotaru stared. "Okay... what's a 'zergling'?"
"Apparently, it's a small killer alien that comes from a far-off galaxy... in a video game."
Hotaru continued to stare.
Ranma just shrugged. "I don't really get it either, but he's pretty much our pet and mascot down at the DA, and he comes in handy."
"DAPC," Ranma explained, giving the full acronym. "It stands for Department of Abnormal Phenomenae Containment. We hunt robots and mutants and stuff."
Hotaru's eyes widened. "Robots and mutants? Really?"
Ranma nodded. "Yup. Sometimes demons and aliens, too. Hey, you wanna take a walk with us? I can tell you all about it." He gestured toward Hunter, who made a clicking sound that, like all his vocal reactions, sounded violent and angry.
The purple-haired girl looked apprehensively at Hunter, but then she reaffirmed her resolve not to act like the scared simpletons that were staring at them from twenty meters away, and stepped up closer.
"I'd love to!"
Ever since then, they would meet on Monday afternoons in the park and talk to each other, both of them delighting in the company. Hotaru loved it because Ranma was the most exciting and interesting man she had ever met, and always had a new story to tell that sucked the boredom right out of her. And Ranma loved it because Hotaru was the only person he could talk to so freely for a short period of time without any chance of being led into a practical joke involving high-grade explosives.
Hotaru had developed a powerful crush on Ranma, but had forced herself early on to let it go. Besides the fact that Ranma had plenty of beautiful, intelligent women his own age to choose from, he also didn't believe she was 17, which was a reaction she got from most people. Chronologically she would be 18 in just a few months, but because of the side-effects from using her powers as Sailor Saturn, as well as her illness, she looked like a pre-teen, and she was growing at a painfully slow rate. Still, it was a nice thought...
She had also grown to become quite fond of Hunter, who seemed perfectly willing to endure her weight and minor abuses while being ridden without lashing out at the girl. Hotaru had even managed to sort out some of the creature's different vocalizations and try to associate each one with a certain emotion or response. Not an easy task, as anything coming from the zergling's beak sounded absolutely visceral, but it was an interesting project.
As Ranma moved on to the next topic, he jarred Hotaru's attention.
"Wait, you arrested the Sailor Senshi!" She asked, horrified.
Ranma shrugged. "Well, I didn't, but yeah, we had them arrested. Apparently Asuka was serious about enforcing the registration rules for vigilante action."
Hotaru sweatdropped. She thought it was pretty strange to force Rayden to fill out forms and register when he was essentially a wanted criminal, but it did make sense. "But they're defenders of love and justice! You can't just lock them up!"
"Relax Ta-chan, we let 'em go. After a bribe from that Pluto chick. And now they're free and registered, so they can blow up whatever they want, and we'll just bill 'em later."
"Don't you think it's counter-productive to make people pay for damage they cause when saving lives?" Hotaru said disapprovingly.
Ranma nodded. "Sure I do. But that's what we have to do, so dammit, we're going to spread the pain around as much as we can!"
Hotaru couldn't help but laugh at the statement, though she did worry for her friends; she didn't think they had any idea what they were getting into if they started tangling with the DAPC.
"... Ranma, I wanted to let you know that I won't be here next week," Hotaru said hesitantly, blushing slightly. "The school year is coming to a close, you see, and I have a class trip to Okinawa coming up, and it lasts a week..."
Ranma nodded. "Ah, yes. I remember my class trip in high school. We went to Hokkaido."
Hotaru blinked. "Really? What was it like? I've never been on a vacation with anyone but my parents before."
"It was complicated," Ranma said, frowning suddenly. "There was a hot spring inn, and somehow I ended up in the girls' baths like eight times. Then later there was a mixed bath, and... well, then things got REALLY ugly."
Hotaru sweatdropped, but listened intently.
"By the time we went home, six people had to be airlifted out of the area by medivac helicopter, two were possessed by restless spirits, an entire Ninja clan had been hospitalized, and I had somehow gotten engaged again." Ranma shrugged. "That relationship didn't last long, though. She melted pretty quick once she came to Nerima."
More sweatdrops came, and Hotaru decided it was time for her visit to end. She enjoyed visiting Ranma, and would miss him terribly come next Monday, but she always feared that if she was drawn too far into the retellings of his life that she'd finally lose her grip on her sanity.
"Well, I'll definitely visit you the week after I get back, okay?" The purple-haired girl said, slowly dismounting from Hunter's back.
Ranma smirked and rubbed Hotaru on the head, which always got her to pout at being treated like a child. "Hey, whatever you say kiddo. I'll be here."
He was a bit surprised when Hotaru suddenly hugged him around the torso, and started blushing.
"Hey, c'mon! People are starting to stare!" Ranma said quietly, slowly turning red.
"They've been staring. And they're looking at Hunter," she mumbled into his chest.
Ranma blushed harder. "All right, all right, I'm-Hey!" he shouted suddenly, being taken by absolute surprise as he felt one of Hotaru's hands suddenly squeeze his rear.
Her face glowing a bright red, Hotaru giggled and ran off before her victim could muster an appropriate response. 'Ha! That'll teach him to treat me like a kid!'
True to her design, it was several long moments before Ranma's brain finally managed to jar itself into thinking about what had just happened.
"I'm honestly not sure how to feel about that," he decided after a moment. On the one hand, the grope hadn't felt all that bad, but on the other hand, he was no pedophile, and didn't want to give Hotaru or anyone else watching the wrong idea. Yet, Hotaru insisted she was actually close to what Tiro had termed the "loaded and ready age," and she was pretty cute. But still, she looked way too young, and he didn't want to complicate their friendship by getting her hopes up...
"Ugh. Women," Ranma muttered in disgust, massaging his head. Then he turned to Hunter. "Be glad you don't have any female alien monsters bugging you. It's way more trouble than it's worth. Let's go home."
Usagi checked her watch as she rushed through her school's soccer field, clicking her tongue as she realized that she was going to be late for her next class... again.
The blonde sighed as he lamented upon how long it took to copy Ami's notes in the space between her classes, while still maintaining enough time to sprint to the next lecture.
Taking notes herself during class never occurred to her, the part-time superheroine having long since dismissed such a ridiculous waste of her precious nap time. If the professor was going to continue to insist upon making all his lectures long, hypnotic snooze-fests, then she would happily sleep through it all.
Thinking of Ami reminded Usagi of her plans to go with her to the DAPC headquarters the next day for what she hoped to be a wonderful and uneventful reunion between two long-lost family members. Ami had wanted to go the day immediately after their arrest, but Usagi desperately wanted to go with her, and their Monday classes were mismatched enough that they couldn't budget enough free time between the both of them.
Although it was really none of her business, Usagi insisted on coming too; in addition to wanting to see more of the monster-hunting police force from outside their animal cages, she also knew that Ami was very sensitive and awkward in powerful, turbulent emotional situations... an environment where the ponytailed princess thrived. In all likelihood Ami would need the support, and if not, it at least promised to be interesting to watch.
So engrossed was Usagi in planning the next day's hijinks that she never noticed the figure standing in her path until it was too late.
Thump! "Waaaugh!" Her arms windmilled as she fell backward, and Usagi landed on her rear in a heap as her textbooks scattered all around her.
"Oh, shoot! I'm really sorry about that! I know I need to pay more attention to where I'm going, but I'm really late for class, and-" She had gotten on her knees to pick up her belongings, when she happened to glance up at who she had run into. She immediately stopped recovering her books, and stared. "Whoah. Who are you?"
The person she had run into was a beautiful, voluptuous woman who looked to be about her own age, with long, blood-red hair. She was wearing a skin-tight black bodysuit that molded around her curves and breasts, and generally didn't look like accepted college or public wear. Emotionless gray eyes bored into Usagi, who clutched her books to her chest as she stood up.
"Are you part of a scuba diving class or something? What are you doing out on the soccer field?" The blonde asked suspiciously.
The woman said nothing for a moment, then bent her arms up at the elbows and clenched her hands into fists.
"Target located. Subject 7-A: Usagi Tsukino/Sailor Moon. Beginning retrieval process." Suddenly, a pair of metal fins with several wires and sensory pads along the sides popped up over her head from where they had been previously hidden under her hair. If Usagi hadn't been so shocked at the moment, she would have noted that they bore a striking resemblance to cat ears.
"Wh-Wh-What!" The blonde started to back away, her eye twitching. "Me? Sailor Moon? Ha! Th-That's ridiculous! What makes you say th-that!"
"Use of non-lethal force has been authorized," the woman said leadenly.
Usagi gulped. "Look, I really don't know who you are, but-" Thock! Her things scattered once again, and all the air rushed out of her lungs as the strange woman ran the side of her arm into Usagi's gut, crossing the distance between them far faster than the blonde could track.
"Ah! Ah! Aaugh!" Usagi began to cough, and tears leaked from her eyes as she slowly crumpled onto the ground, holding her stomach. "Wh... Wh-What are d-doing!" She cried out, her vision already getting blurry.
The redhead looked down at her. "Transform or you will be destroyed."
"What! Why! What's going on!" Usagi demanded, wiping away the tears and struggling to stand.
"Transform or die. A human cannot defeat me." As if in demonstration, the attacker held out a hand toward Usagi, and a yellow-white sphere of energy coalesced into her palm.
"Yipe!" Usagi dove to the side as the disruptor bolt sailed past her, impacting one of the aluminum stands in an explosion of energy and molten metal.
'Okay, not good! I think I have to transform!' Checking around herself, Usagi noted that in an incident of remarkable convenience, there was nobody else around to witness her transforming. Taking out her transformation brooch, and wishing that she hadn't stopped carrying her Senshi communicator like Minako had, she raised the piece of magic jewelry and spoke the activation phrase. "Moon eternal power, make-up!"
Her attacker waited patiently as the transformation took place, betraying no surprise or interest in the swirl of lights and magic.
After the transformation was complete, Moon pointed at the redhead angrily. "All right, now talk! Who are you, how did you know who I was, and what do you want with me!"
She wasn't really expecting a proper response, but to her surprise, the redhead gave one.
"I am a mark VI model NH-711 battle android, designation: Shin-Alpha. I have been observing subjects: Sailor Senshi for the past twenty-four hours. My mission is to neutralize subject 7-A and return to base for debriefing."
Sailor Moon blinked. "Oh... and I'm subject 7-A, right?"
"That is correct," the android responded neutrally. Then she moved.
"Whoa!" Usagi dodged as the android zipped past her, and then turned around to face her opponent-
- Only to get kicked across the face for her trouble. Moon rolled across the ground from the monstrous impact, reflecting upon the apparent strength of her opponent.
'Maybe if I lie here and play dead, she'll go away,' Sailor Moon thought, feeling the throbbing pain across her face spread. That idea was dashed as she felt herself being picked up.
"Hey! What do you think you're doing! You're fighting the wrong way!" The ponytailed Senshi complained as her robotic opponent lifted her up. "You're supposed to fire some sort of strange energy attack at me, and then give me time to fire one back at you! This isn't fair!"
Rather than respond to her opponent's whining, Shin-Alpha threw her into a wall, causing an explosion of brick and debris as the structure burst outward from the force.
"Argh..." Sailor Moon clenched her teeth as blood leaked into her mouth, and tried to keep her focus on her opponent, even as the current level of pain demanded that she submit to a state of bawling. 'Got to get it together! Be strong, damn it! She's not going to let you get away with taking a breather! If only the others were here...'
Shin-Alpha's eyes narrowed. "Force used deemed excessive. Combat authorization downgraded to level two." Then several warning systems went off as her sensors detected a few life-signs approaching from around the building. They were low-level signatures, so there was no chance that the Senshi were approaching to reinforce their leader, but if it were to complete its mission objectives fully, then it had to hurry.
Sailor Moon slowly stood up, and began her own attack while the android seemed distracted by something. "Moon... Spiral... He-WAUGH!" She shouted in surprise as the android once again crossed the distance between them in the blink of an eye, and grabbed hold of her arm.
Shwink! Three long, sharp-looking claws emerged from the android's free arm, and it clamped them onto Sailor Moon's midriff, though it was strangely careful not to cut into the flesh.
Moon gulped. "This is going to hurt, isn't it?"
"Affirmative." With that, the android activated its Tesla claw, sending thick, painful arcs of electricity streaming into its victim.
Thud! Letting Sailor Moon's comatose body hit the ground, Shin-Alpha turned its Tesla claw toward the scattered papers and books that laid on the ground.
Vhrr... Chunk! Cha-chnk! The claws retracted, and a small tube emerged from the droid's wrist, extending out past its hand.
FWOOSH! A thick stream of flames poured out of the tube, bathing the dropped items, as well as the general area, in a wash of fire that clung to the grass and debris left from the wall. Slowly it spread outward, covering more of the damaged wall, and the android made sure to launch a brief jet over toward the stands that had been struck by her disruptor. It was a crude method of covering up the site of the attack, and one that would not stand up to experienced scrutiny, but it was sufficient for its master's purposes.
Grabbing up the unconscious Sailor Moon, Shin-Alpha leapt for the rooftops just as a couple of college students rounded the corner to see what was causing all the noise.
"Whoa! Fire! Somebody call the fire department!"
"I've got a cell phone! Get an extinguisher or something, quick!"
"It's all so sad, isn't it?" Sakura said as she stared out the window, watching the rain-drenched scenery pass by as Tycho's car sped along the highway. "That after so long, and after so much, sometimes we just pull up our roots and move on?"
"If you were someone else, I'd be inclined to agree," Tycho said bluntly, keeping his eyes on the road as he weaved dangerously in and out of the tight-packed traffic to get ahead of the other cars. "But frankly, you should be glad you got through a year of DA enlistment and kept all your limbs."
The blonde woman grimaced and nodded, being able to fully appreciate Tycho's point of view. "Yeah, I guess it is for the best. And hopefully without me to protect, Ranma will be able to get through more missions without injuries."
"Doubtful, but it's nice to dream," the driver said, again not mincing words for the sake of sparing feelings. "Aw, man... looks like there's an accident up ahead. Damn." Tycho slowed substantially as he approached the static wall of rear bumpers ahead, and eventually came to a complete stop.
Sakura shrugged and continued to stare, not really caring about making good time to the airport. 'Bad enough they arranged for me to take a flight from a hub way out in the boonies...'
Sighing to herself, she thought about Ranma, and the things that might have been had she stayed to be with him, or at least tried harder for a relationship.
'Bah. It never would have worked out,' she decided. Ranma needed someone smart and competent to be with. Or at the very least, someone who didn't wade into battle alongside him and then use him as a shield against the mechanical and biological horrors they faced regularly. To Ranma, taking a hit for a friend was business as usual, but Sakura felt horrible about each and every wound the martial artist suffered to keep her safe.
"Hmph. Do you think I could get away with just squeezing into this little lane on the side, here?" Tycho asked, referring to the thin margin of road between the main lanes and the concrete off-road barrier.
Sakura blinked. "The car is wider than the lane."
"Betcha I can bump up one side of the car to run those wheels on the barricade!"
The blonde sweatdropped. "No! Don't do that! Besides, there's a person walking out next to us!"
At the time she had merely been grasping for reasons not to violate important traffic laws, but after a moment she realized that there WAS a man trudging along in the heavy rain alongside the car, apparently crossing the long stretch of distance covered by the highway on foot.
Being the caring, compassionate type of woman she was who possessed little to no common sense whatsoever, Sakura immediately opened the door and beckoned to the man.
"Excuse me! Would you like a ride to wherever you're going?" She shouted over the rumble of car engines, attracting the man's attention.
The pedestrian, who was a tall, muscular man with black hair secured with a yellow, black-spotted bandanna, turned around at her voice. He was holding a large, red bamboo umbrella up over his head, and was being very careful to stay dry in the heavy rain.
He brightened immediately at the offer of a ride, and quickly nodded his head, rushing up to the car and opening the door. Then he entered, all the while making absolutely sure to keep himself shielded from the rain, even when it was cumbersome for him.
"Thanks a lot! I'm Ryoga Hibiki!" The man said, attempting to bow respectfully in the cramped space of the vehicle.
Sakura smiled. "It's no trouble! I'm Sakura Tekai!" She nodded her head, then glanced toward Tycho.
"'No trouble' my ass," the driver mumbled, irritated at having to deal with a new passenger without his permission. "Tycho Wattai. Where you headed?" His annoyance was only slightly tempered by the fact that traffic started moving again.
Ryoga frowned. "Uh, well, I don't really know what it's called, or what the area is called, but I know how to get there. I just need to keep moving east for a few more miles, and then make a-"
"We're going west," Tycho interrupted, leaving unspoken the fact that Ryoga had been walking in the same direction.
Ryoga blinked. "Oh. Well, it must have been west, then. Sorry about that. But other than that, I know the way by heart!"
Tycho looked doubtful. "Look, is this going to take very long? She's kinda got a flight to catch."
"Tycho, don't be so mean!" Sakura chided, frowning at the ponytailed man. "We should be able to do a good deed once in a while without worrying about how it inconveniences us!" She crossed her arms over her chest, and grinned at Ryoga's grateful expression. "Besides, we have two hours to spare. How long could this take?"
"N'guh? Whazzat?" Sailor Moon woke up groggily to the painful glare of an adjustable lamp glaring right down into her eyes, and the moon princess winced as her mind and body began an accelerated recovery to update her as to her current surroundings.
Several things became apparent at once. She was in a steel gray room, surrounded by machines , and laying next to a large table covered in strange-looking gadgets that looked like they belonged in one of Ami's video games. She was bound fast to a steel slab, with thick, reinforced metal wrist and ankle bindings that seemed deliberately made to hold subjects of superhuman strength. Her attacker was nowhere to be seen. Her jaw, while it seemed to have healed significantly since the fight, still hurt like a mother &$#.
She became aware of two other people in the room, and raised her head to look at them. One was a nerdy-looking bald guy, while the other one was a supermodel-thin woman with strange white hair. Both were wearing lab coats.
Sailor Moon frowned. "Uh oh... have I been captured by the government?" She had heard theories before that if the Sailor Senshi were to ever be captured and held by federal forces, that they would likely be dissected in the hopes of allowing the creation of a new generation of magical super-soldiers. In which case it was imperative that she got herself a lawyer, as she was pretty sure there were laws against that sort of thing.
"Ah, hello there!" Yoshi said, turning away from Yamiko. "No, no, we have nothing to do with the government. You may rest assured of that."
Moon breathed a sigh of relief, and then rested her head back on the table she was bound to. "That's good! So, is this about those video rentals that I lost? I mean, I knew you guys were really aggressive with your return policy, but if you'd just called I could've sent you a check or something!"
"Konta, you can't be serious," Yamiko finally said, stepping up to the examination table. "There has to be a better subject than her."
Yoshi shrugged. "Probably. But I have Sailor Moon here and now; capturing Senshi isn't so easy that you can go ahead and get a new one if you don't like the one you've got."
Sailor Moon continued talking, not really understanding what the two scientists were talking about. "I get it! You're stalkers, aren't you? Well, I'm very flattered and all, but these cuffs are starting to chafe, so could I just sign an autograph and go? Or you can even have a lock of my hair if you want! But not too much, since-"
Without looking directly at his patient, Yoshi grabbed a breather mask and shoved it over the Senshi leader's mouth, filling her lungs with sedatives. In seconds, the Senshi of the Moon's eyelids closed, and she once again drifted into unconsciousness.
Yamiko clicked her tongue. "So we're going through with this... I still can't believe you wrote up those complete plans in a DAY."
"I still can't believe you're pestering me about how quickly I move on with these things," Yoshi shot back. "You must understand, Dr. Nova, in MY labs things move at my pace. If progress is not being made, one must forge ahead faster."
"Your actions are reckless," Yamiko said simply, crossing her arms over her chest. "I merely advise caution. FOR EXAMPLE, given our general allegiances, have you considered the ramifications of this project's success?"
"If I said yes, would you stop bothering me?" The diminutive geneticist asked blithely, putting on a pair of disposable rubber gloves.
"I'm just saying, perhaps it's not wise to do this to a likely enemy," Yamiko insisted, putting on her own gloves as she approached the table.
"Nova, Nova, Nova," Yoshi chided. "What happened to that true scientist's spirit you used to have? That thirst for the unknown! To see the wonders of science given life!"
"I'm afraid I suffer from an increasingly rare malady known as 'common sense,'" the doctor said irritably.
"Oh. Well, in that case, I'm your superior, so shut up and do as I say."
"As you wish, Professor," Yamiko said sarcastically, turning on several machines behind her. Above Sailor Moon, a mono-molecular powered scalpel tool dropped down on an articulated arm, and Yamiko gently grabbed the handle of the device and leveled it down to begin their work. "So where do we start?"
"Where the poor lass needs the most work done," Yoshi said simply. "Her brain."
Core soldiers butchered: 12
Cyborgs disposed of: 26
Mk. III androids scrapped: 8
Mk. II androids scrapped: 8
Major objectives captured by bad guys: 2
Black Sabre mecha destroyed: 2
DAPC officers (one present, one former) lost forever: 2
Dreamscape incarnations of rulers of long-ruined civilizations swatted: 1
Youma wasted: 1
Senshi captured, but not released within this chapter: 1
Sidekicks in formal wear effectively disabled: 1
Long flashback sequences that could have likely been done more effectively in a short descriptive paragraph: 1
End Chapter 1