A week later, Nene came bursting into Silky Doll, just at closing time. She waited impatiently while Sylia saw to her remaining customers and closed the shop. "How many times have I told you not to come in here like that?" Sylia chided her.

"They had him. They had him and they lost him," Nene said angrily.

Sylia was frozen with shock for a moment. "How...?" she finally managed.

"TPD got a tip Kusanagi was hanging out at the American Bar and Grill. A couple guys went in undercover to check it out, and he was there. They left to go get back-up, and when they came back, he was gone. No one knows where he went." Nene wiped her sleeve across her tearing eyes. "He's still on the street, and now we don't know anything more than when we started!"

"Go on upstairs. I--"

"But Sylia--"

"I've got to meet someone. Go on upstairs and get into TPD's evidentiary database. I want to see everything they have on Kusanagi. Then call Linna. Ask her to be here in four hours."

Sylia turned and left through the back entrance, leaving Nene standing alone in the middle of the store. "But Sylia..."


Sylia slid onto a barstool at C'est la Vie, a ratty bar located in the basement of a bedraggled downtown building. The bartender placed a drink in front of her, and stepped away to tend his other patrons. Sylia ignored the drink and lit a cigarette. "What happened?"

"And a good evening to you too, Sylia," the shaggy blonde man on the stool next to her replied.

"Cut the crap, Fargo, I want to know what happened. You assured me there wouldn't be any problems."

Fargo took a sip of his drink, the glass already half empty. "What can I say? They blew it." Sylia stared at him, then looked back down at the bar and puffed silently on her cigarette. "I did what you asked. We found him and tipped-off TPD. They sent in a couple clowns to check the place out. He was on to them the second they hit the door." Fargo shook his head in disbelief at the ineptitude of the Tokyo Police Department. "Instead of one calling for back-up while the other kept an eye on him, they both left to get back-up, the idiots. As soon as they left, he was out the back so fast, my guy lost him."

"Can you find him again? I need to know where he's spending his nights."

"Shouldn't be too much trouble. Why the interest?"

"I'll pay double if you can tell me by tomorrow night." She stubbed out the remains of her cigarette, burned to the filter, and stood to leave. Fargo caught her by the arm.

"You never answered my question."

Sylia shook her arm free. "Let's just say I'm keeping a promise to a friend."


"Did you have any trouble getting away?" Nene's question gave Linna a shivery sense of deja vu. It was strangely reminiscent of one she had asked Priss weeks earlier, before all this trouble began.

"No," she finally answered. "Priss went to bed early, and, frankly, I was glad to have an excuse to get away from there, even if it is just for the evening. Where's Sylia?"

Nene shrugged. "Computer Room, I guess. How's Priss doing? I haven't seen her since she went into hiding."

"It's not hiding, Nene, it's protective custody; you ought to know that," Linna said sharply. "Or, rather, that's what TPD keeps telling us." They began to move down the hallway, deeper into Sylia's apartment.

"Priss is... OK, I guess," Linna continued. "She's still spending a lot of time resting, which is probably for the best. And she's definitely looking better. But she's still having nightmares. I think it's been weeks since she's gotten more than one or two hours of continuous sleep."

Nene sighed and shook her head at the state of affairs. She was about to reply when Sylia intercepted them at the entrance to her living room. They were frankly shocked at her rumpled and distraught appearance. "I'm sorry, but this is going to be a very short meeting," she said, waving them toward the couch. "You're welcome to stay afterward, but I've got something I need to finish work on tonight." The younger women sat as directed, and looked on questioningly.

"Do you remember a few weeks ago, when someone vandalized the building?" They nodded. "Well, he did more than just break a few windows out. There was a message about Priss spray painted on the back wall. Someone followed her here that night, and got upset when she didn't come out immediately. I don't think we need to wonder who it was anymore." Sylia began to pace up and down the length of the room.

"It was obvious to me that someone had taken more than a casual interest in her. I tried to get her to go out of town until the police picked the guy up. They had the video from the security monitors, after all. I thought it would be only a matter of a few days, but she refused to go, and I didn't force the issue. And because I didn't, some nutcase managed to ruin her life, all in the name of 'love'." This last came out bitterly, and left Nene and Linna looking at each other.

"Sylia," Nene began hesitantly, "don't you think you're being a little hard on yourself? This wasn't your fault. You couldn't know--"

"That's the problem, Nene. I did know. Some lunatic almost killed one of my family, just like before, and I let him do it." She didn't see the surprised looks on her audience's faces. "I knew that whoever it was, he wasn't going to stop until he got to her, I couldn't do anything to stop him, and I couldn't get her out of the way.

"I tried to correct things by going through official channels. When Kusanagi got away from TPD, I hired someone to find him. They did, and they tipped off TPD about where to find him. But TPD blew it and Kusanagi got away again." Sylia's voice gained a touch of steel. "Well, they had their chance. Now it's my turn."

"Excuse me?" Linna asked. Sylia couldn't be thinking what she thought she was thinking. Could she?

"Tomorrow night I'm going to take care of Kusanagi Rei. I want to make sure he never destroys anyone else's life, ever again."

Nene was more than slightly alarmed. "Sylia, aren't you being a bit extreme? What you're talking about sounds like--"

"It's exactly what it sounds like," Sylia interrupted. Finally stopping her pacing, she dropped into her lounge chair, running her fingers through her hair in agitation. She took a deep breath, and seemed to be mentally gathering herself.

"Before I have to go, there's something I would like you both to consider. I made certain promises to myself about each of you when you joined the Knight Sabers. It doesn't matter to me that what happened to Priss was unrelated to our activities; this is just something I have to do." She paused for a moment, and Linna thought that she had never seen Sylia so intense about anything before.

"I'd like your help in this. But keep in mind that what I'm planning for tomorrow is going to be very different from our usual work. We won't be going out because of something Genom did. We won't be going out against rogue boomers. We won't be going out against Largo. Someone has harmed one of ours, and we are going to avenge her. This is, purely and simply, personal vigilantism." Sylia turned her full attention to Nene. "Consider this carefully. I don't want you doing anything that will put you against your oath as a police officer." She looked thoughtful, considering Sylia's words.

Sylia stood once again and faced her guests. "I'm sorry, as I said earlier, I have a project to complete tonight. I know this is a difficult decision for you, but its one you have to make for yourselves. I hope you can see your way clear to joining me without any reservations." She looked her two fellow Knight Sabers squarely in the eyes. "Remember, this is strictly voluntary. You don't have to do this, and I won't think any less of you if you don't come with me. But if you do decide to come along, be in the suit room at midnight tomorrow."


"May I join you?"

Startled, Priss's head snapped up and jerked around in incipient panic, immediately smothered, to stare at the figure standing in the doorway. The bright light streaming into the dark, empty room made it difficult to see who it was, but after three years of working together the voice was unmistakable. "Come on in, Sylia." Priss rolled onto her back and sat up on the bench as Sylia Stingray slipped quietly into the sauna. "Haven't heard from you much lately. Must've been pretty busy or something."

"Some things have come up recently..." Sylia replied, adjusting the towel she wore as she sat on the bench next to Priss. "But I'm not here to talk about that. Takezaki-sensei tells me you are doing well."

"Yeah. I got a little behind on my sessions since my keepers wouldn't let me out until today. But Linna told them that Doc Takezaki said I had to come by once a week, so they escorted me over. Real cloak and dagger stuff. His people gave me some things I can do back at the apartment."

"Oh? Well, that's good. And how are things there? Are you getting along all right?"

"Well, you know how it gets," she began, wondering why the sudden interest. Although Sylia hadn't exactly promised to keep in daily contact, she hadn't been exactly communicative either. To be fair, though, Priss thought, the TPD guys were screening the incoming calls. Sylia could have been calling hourly and she probably wouldn't know it unless someone remembered to tell her, or unless Sylia specifically asked to talk with her.

While Priss described the monotonous day-to-day life of someone in protective custody, Sylia half-listened with feigned interest. She was much more interested in other things. Priss was looking better, Linna was right about that. In the week since she'd last seen her, she'd regained some of her lost weight, and the pallor of a long illness was fading. Her voice seemed to have finally settled down into something a little deeper than it had been, with a rougher, gravelly edge. All in all, she looked like someone well on the road to recovery. Until you looked into her eyes.

Something in those red-brown eyes gave Sylia pause. Priss had more demons to deal with than most people, and she usually kept them under control. But, even considering what had happened to her, there was something off... something fey lurking in the back of those eyes... and Sylia suddenly realized just how close Priss was to going over the edge.

Sylia's own eyes hardened momentarily. That's one more thing for you to atone for, you son of a bitch.

Priss didn't miss the sudden change in Sylia's demeanor, and the equally sudden shift back. "OK, you didn't really come here to listen to me talk about watching TV, did you?"

"I'm not allowed to ask how you are?"

"You don't need to see me to find out how I'm doing," Priss shot back. "What's happened now?"

Sylia gazed calmly back, assessing just what she could and should tell her friend.


Midnight came and went.

The Lady 633 building was eerily quiet, as if the world was holding its breath. Inside the Knight Sabers complex, Linna Yamazaki slipped silently through the corridors. On reaching her destination, she touched a control on the wall, and the door to the Knight Saber's suit room slid open.

Sylia, wearing a sweatsuit over her softsuit, was already there, seated in front of the control panel for the main diagnostic analyzer, apparently running her suit through some sort of test sequence. Nene was performing a careful inspection her hardsuit's externals. As the door opened, they both turned and nodded their welcome.

Linna gazed back soberly, her full attention directed at Sylia. "I'm not going. What you're doing is stupid."

"All right," Sylia replied, looking a little disappointed as she went back to her work. Nene paused in her inspection, and turned to watch the other two quietly.

Linna crossed the room and grabbed Sylia by the arm, jerking her up out of her seat. "Let the police handle it," she began dangerously. "I'm not kidding about this, Sylia. He's scum, and he deserves whatever he gets, but what you're planning is flat out wrong. And if you make one move to hurt him, to really hurt him, I'm going to stop you."

The two locked eyes in a battle of wills, only broken when Sylia motioned toward Linna's suit. "Then you'd better get ready, hadn't you?"

With an exasperated sigh, Linna let go of Sylia's arm and stalked toward the change room, only to be halted by a hand on her shoulder. "What are you--"

"Have you really thought about this, Linna, or are you just being a 'good citizen'?" Nene asked, a little scornfully.

"What's that supposed to mean? She's talking about cold blooded murder!"

"Yes, I know," came the quiet reply.

"And?"

"I'm here, aren't I, Linna?"

"But, how can you stand for..." Linna trailed off in confusion.

"Come on, let's sit down. There's some things you need to know." Nene grabbed Linna's arm and dragged her to a work bench, then sat cross-legged on top of it. After a moment of hesitation, Linna sat on the edge, legs dangling over the side.

"First off, Sylia had me pull down the evidentiary database TPD has on Kusanagi yesterday. I shouldn't have done it, but I made a copy for myself and took it home to read. Sylia's right," she said with an almost-snarl. "Something has to be done about Kusanagi, the sooner, the better. And, as much as I hate to say this, I don't trust anyone but us to get it done."

She shifted in her seat, turning to face Linna more directly. "He was keeping a diary, and it's really sick stuff. And the first thing you need to know is that Priss wasn't the only woman he's done this to... he's stalked like this. And it looks like she wasn't the only one he's tried to kill either.

"The parts about Priss are pretty much like the rest of it. He raves about how much he loves her, then he starts on about how much she loves him too. Then he starts talking about people trying to come between them, and what he was doing about it." Linna looked a little surprised, so she elaborated, "That's right, not what he was going to do about it, but what he was actively doing."

She glanced over at Sylia. "There's an entry the night 633 got trashed, about warning off demons. And then a little later there's an entry about making sure the demons don't interfere any more."

"Kenji..." Linna breathed, putting it all together for herself.

"Yes," Sylia agreed, turning from the analyzer, "it seems to correspond to that time frame."

"And then," Nene continued, as if she hadn't been interrupted, "comes the really scary stuff. Things about demons blinding Priss, and Priss leaving him, and him having to save her from herself because he loves her."

"So he shot her," Linna said flatly, and Nene nodded her agreement.

Linna stood and began to pace about the suit room, a troubled look on her face. "OK. You're right, something's got to be done about him. But what you're talking about... I don't know. He's sick; he needs help, not an execution."

Nene hopped off the bench top and walked over to Linna. "He's followed the same pattern, written the same things, about all the women, not just Priss. There were six of them, before her. And Linna... he killed or maimed all of them."

While Linna pondered what Nene had said, Sylia shut down the analyzer and joined her friends. "Priss isn't going to be able to sleep again until something's done about him," Sylia said quietly.

Linna whirled on her, shocked. "That's dirty Sylia. I thought better of you than that." The two stared at each other for another long minute, and Nene waited for the silent struggle to come to a conclusion. As she expected, Linna broke first. "You knew about this last night, didn't you?"

Sylia nodded.

"And why didn't you say anything?"

Sylia paused, the answer weighing heavily on her. "Does knowing that he's done this several times make a difference? This is for Priss, not those others, and I don't want you involved if you have any doubts."

Caught between the Nene's facts and her own conscience, Linna replied defensively, "You don't, do you? It seems to me like you've been trying to manipulate me into agreeing to this." Sylia looked back, regret written on her face.

"All right," Linna finally decided. "I'll go, but only because I don't want you doing anything stupid. I'm still not going to let you kill him," and the sweatsuited woman nodded her acknowledgment.

Looking aside, Linna gave a small smile to her red-headed colleague. "You can be pretty persuasive when you want, can't you?" Nene grinned back, and returned to her suit to finish her interrupted survey.

Linna turned her attention back to Sylia and whispered, "I don't know how much longer I can take spending my nights listening to Priss's nightmares, and my days of watching her go through hell. And Nene's given me some things to think about." She sighed. "Besides, there's the chance you might be right," she conceded.

Sylia smiled grimly, and took her friend's hands in her own. "Shall we get started then?"


Nene Romanova wasn't happy. Running yet another sensor sweep of the area, her sixth in the past half-hour, she heartily wished that Sylia's informant had been able to come up with better information on Kusanagi's location. But for tonight, he was only able to place him as somewhere within this warehouse area. That gave them 36 square blocks to cover, which was too large for them to be able to search effectively and still be able to cover each other. All they could do was run scans and wait for him to show himself.

"Still clear, Sylia," she radioed. "If there's anybody here, I can't find them."

"Copy that," Sylia replied. She wasn't any happier with the situation than Nene was. "How are you doing, Linna?"

"Trying to find someplace comfortable to sit," came the grumbled response. The three Knight Sabers were positioned on a roughly northeast-to-southwest line running through the center of the six block by six block area. Nene, at the mid-point, was tasked with scanning the entire area every five minutes. If she picked something up, Sylia, at the northeast end, or Linna, at the southwest, would check it out.

"Yes, well, do the best you can, and stay out of sight."

"Right. Sylia?"

"Yes, Linna?"

"What made you change your mind? About tonight?" It was obvious to Linna that something dramatic had happened to her friend since their meeting the previous night.

"I'm sorry," Sylia said, answering an unspoken question first.

"Pardon me?"

"I'm sorry I led both of you on like that in the suit room. Yes, I'd changed my mind about killing him before we met, and I didn't tell either one of you. You were right when you said I'd been trying to manipulate you. Both of you. I'd do this by myself if I had to, but... I wanted you with me."

Linna considered Sylia's words in silence. Although she, Nene, and Priss had long ago realized that Sylia manipulated both people and situations to her benefit, it was the first time she'd ever heard her actually admit to doing it. That she had admitted to it was out of character for her, Linna thought. And, considering further, Sylia had been acting considerably out of character ever since Priss had been shot. It bothered her that Sylia didn't seem to be herself anymore, and Linna wished she'd taken the time to talk with Priss or Nene about it before coming here tonight. But Priss had her own problems to deal with, and there hadn't been the time to really talk to Nene.

"That's all right," Linna finally acknowledged, somehow knowing that some sign of acceptance from her would ease the psychic burden Sylia had seemed to be dealing with in recent days. "But why the change?"

Why indeed, Sylia thought to herself, and then her thoughts drifted back to earlier in the day, back to the warm, damp darkness of a sauna room. Back to her visit with Priss.


She had initially evaded Priss's questions about what was happening, why she had suddenly decided to visit after virtually ignoring her for a week. Especially when her mind was obviously not on the visit. But as Sylia continued to evade Priss's increasingly pointed questions, Priss became more and more agitated, her voice getting louder and louder. Although time had granted healing to her injuries, some things were by no means completely healed, and her abused vocal cords reacted predictably. Priss began to cough, and couldn't stop.

An hour later found Priss and Sylia alone in a treatment room. Priss was resting on a bed, while Sylia sat by her side, telling her everything, as if seeking some form of redemption. The diary. The attempt at recapture. Her plans for that night. Why she was going to kill Kusanagi.

Priss began to weep, and Sylia took her in her arms to comfort her. Unlike weeks earlier, though, Priss pulled away. "I'm not crying for me," she had sniffled. "Or not just for me, anyway. I'm crying for everyone else he's hurt too. Including you.

"What happened to me happened," Priss continued, swiping at her tear-filled eyes with a towel. "I don't have to like it, and I know my head's still messed up over it, but it happened, and I'll deal with it. But please, don't blame yourself. There was no way for you to have known for certain what he'd do. Remember, you warned me, you told me to get out of here. That's the best you could have done. It isn't your fault that I didn't move fast enough."

Sylia had been surprised at Priss's attempt to offer her comfort, and stared at the floor, tears in her own eyes, a little ashamed of her own recent actions. But Priss wasn't finished yet.

"Losing your father must have been rough. I know, I've lost people I considered family too." For a few seconds Priss seemed a long way away from the here and now, her eyes were filled with old pains as she gazed at something invisible in the distance. "You said you want to get Kusanagi because he hurt me, you couldn't stop him from doing it, and you couldn't stand the idea of losing another family member that way." Sylia looked at Priss in surprise; it was the first time she'd ever heard her mention her assailant by name.

"I'm glad you feel that way about me... about all of us, actually... But Sylia, there's no reason for you to beat yourself up over what happened. Mason knew what he was doing when he killed your father; Kusanagi is your run-of-the-mill stalker. In this city alone, there are thousands just like him. Much as we'd like, we can't be responsible for cleaning up every piece of garbage in this town. How many times have you told us that? Sylia, Kusanagi's small potatoes compared to what Mason could do. Mason was worth taking out. Kusanagi'll make a mistake sometime, and then he'll get his. You going after him... well, I appreciate the thought, but it's just not worth it."

Sylia was staring openly at Priss by this time, and she laughed softly. "I know, me telling you not to do this sounds weird, especially considering some of the stunts I've pulled in the past. What was it you said that time you guys went with me when I was so hot to get Mason after Sho's mother was killed? 'We're doing this to preserve the Knight Sabers Organization'? If you have to, think of not killing Kusanagi in the same way. I'd hate to have to execute you for breaking rules 2 and 3."

And then Priss had smiled and held out her arms, and embraced the openly weeping Sylia in a gentle hug.

Priss was the only person likely to really understand what she was going through, and as Sylia had told Priss what she was feeling, and why, it felt as if a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. Yes, there was still a niggling doubt that Priss was wrong, that it was necessary to wipe Kusanagi from the face of the earth, but reason prevailed. Priss was right when she'd said that they couldn't be responsible for everything that happened. Even when it concerned one of their own.

Back in the present, Sylia looked down at the blue right arm mounted on her white hardsuit and smiled to herself. She'd spent most of the last 24 hours dismounting the right arm from Priss's suit, including the railgun, and mounting it on her own suit's right arm. She had transferred her own right arm weaponry to her left. In her initial plans, using Priss's weapons against Kusanagi was going to be the 'coup de grace.' By the time she'd left Priss that afternoon, there hadn't been time to change things back. So she'd finished the modifications and adjustments, and hoped she wouldn't need to use it.

In an odd way, it was nice to have it here, though. It was almost like a part of Priss was with them.

"Why did I change my mind about tonight?" Sylia repeated Linna's question. "Let's just say that I don't feel the same way anymore. You see, I've been granted absolution."


"Sylia," Nene called out a couple hours later, "I'm getting something. One target, looks to be on foot, moving in this direction."

"Finally," Sylia muttered under her breath. "Where?"

"Coming almost directly for Linna's position. If she takes a look over the edge and off to the right she should be able to see whoever it is."

"Linna?"

"I'm on it." Linna eased out of her position between a ventilation intake and a sign depicting a boy, two girls, and a small black pig, advertising the 50th anniversary revival of some old anime series. After staring at the sign for so long, Linna wasn't the slightest bit interested in seeing it.

Once clear of her position, she crouched down and duck-walked to near the edge of the roof. She then lay flat, and eased herself forward, to a point where she could see easily over the side without being seen. "Nene, how far out?"

"On the street, about 200 meters out and closing."

Linna looked in the indicated direction, her helmet's night vision gear helping immensely in the dark. Once she knew where to look, she had no trouble picking her target out from the parked and abandoned vehicles clogging the side street. "OK, I've got him. One person, pushing a motorcycle. Must have had some sort of breakdown. I'm magnifying now, and... It's him, Sylia. And he's got his bike loaded down with bundles of something. That's why he's not riding, he's so overloaded there's no room for him."

"Right. Keep an eye on him Linna. Nene and I are coming over."

"Check."


Kusanagi Rei pushed his heavily laden motorcycle along the street near the abandoned warehouse he'd recently taken residence in. He'd been busy that night; he'd been given many gifts by his new love, and he was feeling good. All he had to do was stay clear of those ludicrous buffoons in the Tokyo Police Department for a while and things would be fine.

Turning a corner, he stopped short. Standing in front of him was what had to be an apparition: a white clad form, clearly mechanical, with short wings on its back. It stood unmoving in the middle of the road, featureless face staring at him.

Hearing a sound behind him, he look around to see another of these creatures appear from the shadows, this one in red. Glancing back the way he had originally come, he saw a form in green drop from the sky. He looked off to his left, expecting to see yet another of these creatures, but that way remained clear.

The form in white spoke. "Kusanagi Rei, your time is over. For destroying the lives of Aoki Yohko, Priscilla Asagiri, Carmelita Chang, Irina Grichinko, Matsui Megumi, Elaine Reed, and Watanabe Naoko, you are to come with us."

His heart began to pound, and his hand darted into his jacket pocket, coming out with a gun. The creatures, or whatever they were, stiffened, but did not otherwise move. He fired at the white creature, missing all three shots.

Its response was to step closer, echoed by its companions.

His response was to abandon his motorcycle and run off down the opening they had left him. The creatures watched him go.

"All right, ladies, next position please."


Kusanagi pounded down the dark roadway. These things, these demons, were everywhere! Wherever he turned, they appeared. From behind cars. From out of the shadows. Dropping out of the sky. He'd shot at them, but they wouldn't go away. He had no idea if he'd even managed to hit one. He'd cursed at them, and they just looked back, staring with those blank faces. The one in white was the only one that spoke, and all it ever said was "your time is over". It was unnerving.

He had to get away from them, he thought, as he turned into yet another dark alley.


They had him where they wanted him. Buildings hemmed him in on three sides, and there was nowhere for him to go. Kusanagi didn't seem to realize it: he was attempting to scale the sheer face of the wall at the rear.

Sylia slowly walked forward, flanked closely by Linna and Nene. They came to a halt about ten feet from him and stood quietly, watching his struggles. Finally he stopped, and turned to face them, the wall to his back.

Funny, Linna thought, he doesn't look like a murderer. He looks a little like Leon, in a skinny sort of way.

"Haven't you interfered enough?" he shouted at them.

Sylia blinked. "Why?" was her strangled reply.

"You people keep interfering. I find someone to love, and you try to take them away from me!"

"That's no reason to kill them!"

"They were mine! And you people took them away from me! I had to free them from you, so we could be together. Well, you're never going to interfere with us again!" He brought his gun up, firing his last round. It struck Linna in the head, and she dropped to her knees, falling like a stone. Her fellow Knight Sabers immediately raised their weapon arms, locking on their mutual target, and one fired.

While Kusanagi screamed in agony, a railgun bolt pinning him to the wall through his left shoulder, Linna struggled back to her feet. "Sylia, NO!" she cried out. "It's not worth it!"

Linna's words brought Sylia up short. She stood frozen, arm upraised and locked on target, but unable to fire again. Linna staggered to her friend's side, and forced the blue armored arm back down. "You don't want to do something you'll regret later, do you?"

Sylia was appalled with herself. All her promises to Priss, and she'd almost thrown them out the window because of an unthinking reflex action.

"Linna, are you all right?" Nene called out, her attention still focused on the writhing form on the wall.

"Yeah, I'm fine. He just knocked me off balance." God, I'm going to have a headache, she thought through the pain already pulsing through her head.

"Nene," Sylia said softly over her internal comms, "please get him down. See how bad it is. Linna, help her."

This has all been too much, Sylia mused as she watched her companions deal with the wounded man. I must be tired; I should never have fired at him in the first place. I need a break. I wonder how Mackie's doing? Maybe I should take a vacation and pay him a visit.

Sylia crossed to where Kusanagi now sat, leaning against the wall, Nene crouched over him. She looked up at her leader's approach. "Doesn't look too bad," Nene commented over her external speakers. "It looks like it went through cleanly. I'm no expert, but it probably looks worse than it is."

"Fine," the white Knight Saber replied over her own speakers as she looked over at Linna's green clad form. There was a scrape mark dead-center on Linna's helmet visor, and she was leaning against the same wall as Kusanagi, looking a little shaky. Switching back to the internal communication system, Sylia said, "Nene, go get into your Motoroid power armor. We'll wait here."

Nene acknowledged her instructions, and jetted down the alleyway. Sylia turned to face Linna. "How are you doing?" she asked simply.

"My head hurts like a son-of-a-gun," she admitted. "I'd like to get out of this armor and go lie down somewhere."

Sylia was a little alarmed at her admission. Being a dancer, Linna was used to working through pain that would sideline lesser mortals. "You take it easy then, and I'll get you out of here as soon as Nene comes back. And no arguments."

Linna, who had her mouth open, ready to debate that order, just smiled a little and nodded. It was beginning to look like the Sylia she knew was trying to make a return.

Several minutes later, a muted roar from up the alley attracted their attention. Nene was returning, not only wearing her power armor, but accompanied by Sylia's and Linna's Motoroids on remote control. She brought them to a halt in front of their owners, then landed herself.

"Good thinking, Nene," Sylia said. "Linna's injured, and I need to have her checked out. Can you drop our 'friend' here off at TPD by yourself?"

Linna started to protest, but Nene's response overrode her. "Sure, no problem. I don't think he'll cause any trouble." She glared at Kusanagi, still huddled around himself, and his injured shoulder, on the ground. It looked as if all trace of fight had left him.

Sylia mounted her Motoroid, motioning for Linna to do the same. "Fine. We'll be off then. I'll see you back at base." They triggered the ignition sequences, and rode off, side by side.

Nene watched them go, then turned to face her prisoner, switching back to external comms. "Get up," she ordered, pointing the Motoroid's cannon at him. Kusanagi struggled to his feet. "Come over here."

"What are you going to do with me?" he asked.

"Take you to TPD. Come over here." He crossed to in front of the Motoroid, and stood facing her. "Turn around."

When he complied, she slung the cannon, then roughly shoved him around, and picked him up, her Motoroid's right arm under his knees, its left arm around his shoulders. They launched into the air, and she triggered the autopilot to take them to their destination, across the Canyons and into the city. Five more minutes and it's over, she thought to herself.

"You know," he said conversationally, his courage apparently returning, "this is ridiculous." She didn't respond. "They don't have any evidence to convict me, because I didn't do anything wrong."

"You think not? Then why did you run off?" Nene replied coolly.

"They didn't have any right to hold me. It's nothing anyone else wouldn't do. So why are you doing this to me?"

"Shut up," she snapped, squeezing her Motoroid's left fingers a little tighter around his arms, and, not so incidentally, around his wounded left shoulder. He groaned a little, and took the hint. But his comments, indeed his entire attitude, had her thinking.

Nene remembered how angry her father had been, back when she was in Junior High, when the government had finally caved in to outside pressure and changed the penal code. Under the old rules, Kusanagi would be facing at least 50 years confined to a tiny cell, allowed out once a day, with no hope of parole. If he was lucky he would have been executed. Now, though, the emphasis was on rehabilitation instead of punishment. Due to prison overcrowding, unless it was proven that he was a murderer he was going to be on the street again in two years, tops. All he had to do was keep his nose clean...

She'd seen the evidence against him; except for Priss's case, there wasn't much that was admissible in court. The diary entries of an obvious madman didn't make for the best evidence...

He's going to get away with it, she suddenly realized. And when he's out, he'll just do it again. If it's not Priss he goes after, it'll just be someone else.

Not for the first time, Nene Romanova felt the impotent rage of a cop betrayed by the system. This time, though, it was personal, and something deep inside her snapped.

They were now 100 meters over the Canyons, the great rift left behind by the Second Kanto Earthquake of 2025. Nene switched the Motoroid back to manual control, allowing it to tip forward into a more horizontal flight mode. Her cargo started to slide forward on the slick metal plating of the Motoroid's arms at the change in flight attitude. She released the grip that the mech had on him, and watched silently as Kusanagi Rei, still reaching out for the non-existent grasp of the Motoroid's arms, pulped into the rough terrain at the bottom of the Canyons.

"That was for Priss, you son of a bitch."

The End


Author's Notes:
"True Love" is my attempt at providing an explanation for some of the many unexplained mysteries of the Bubblegum Universe, particularly why Priss's voice changed, what happened to the Replicants, and how come Nene got so aggressive. I was also attempting to show the members of the Knight Sabers in a slightly different light than we usually see them in. Stalkers are, unfortunately, a real-life problem, and you can find mention of celebrity stalkers in the news almost every day. But unlike many women, the Knight Sabers are in a position to do something about it.

The Eleven Regulations of the Knight Sabers were referred to in this story. For those who have never read them:

The Eleven Regulations of the Knight Sabers
1. Do not divulge any information concerning this organization.
2. Do not act upon a personal grudge.
3. Do act upon the mutual consent of all the members.
4. Do not secede from this organization.
5. Members are personally responsible for any damage done to the organization's equipment unless that damage was unavoidable.
6. Do not divulge any information concerning our clients.
7. Do not gather information on your own. The task of intelligence-gathering is to be distributed evenly among all the members.
8. Do keep in contact with the other members regularly.
9. The members do not know each other outside of this organization.
10. Do not get involved with a man.
11. The penalty for violating any of the ten regulations listed above is death.

-- from the B-Club Visual Comic Bubble Gum Crisis '89
Translated by Dan Su, Anime Berkeley

All characters (except the ones I made up myself) are copyright Artmic, Youmex, and everyone else who holds rights for Bubblegum Crisis.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to read and comment on this story while I was writing it. Special thanks are owed to Marco De la Cruz (for 'Creative Endings 101'), "Hitomi Ichinohei" (for discussion of the Japanese penal system), "Innpchan" (for the nightmares), Charles Lewis (for the club & trauma scenes, and for the generally well deserved beatings about the head and shoulders to get the revisions started), Andy Skuse (for the record industry, and for the continual prodding to get the revisions finished), and Bert Van Vliet (for the angsting and the editing - not a mutually exclusive process), without whose help and encouragement this story would not have been written.

True Love was written over the course of several months in the Spring of 1996.