Disclaimer:

Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha is the creative property of Seven Arcs, whom created this wonderful anime/manga series. Anything not attributed to Seven Arcs belongs to their respective owners, such as other series, references, and vice-versa. This story is written purely just for fun, guys; please for God's sake, don't sue me! I'm just a college student with too much free time on his hands! On the other hand, any specific author created characters I created for this fic (despite how unoriginal they may be at times) are mine. So without further ado, let's get on with the show!

The Surgeon General's Warning:

Read at your own risk.


Mahou Shounen Enforcer Chrono!

Before Lyrical

Entry 1.27:

Infiltration

A Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha AU fanfic by James "Ray" Edwards


So, did ya enjoy in the flight movie?

By the way, it's cold.

No, really.

It's balls to the walls cold.

So, wake up.


"Hn? Oh, looks like..." a voice, familiar, called out to me in the Blackness.

Cold.

Osik. Why am I... My head. It feels. So heavy. A new scenery. Flat plains. Free, open sky. A frontier.

"C'mon, sleepy head..."

A foreign invasive sensation to the void scenery I had become intimately acclimated to, what amounted to my dreams more often than not.

Wait. No.

"Hey, don't play cute..."

Like a keen scalpel, it pricked and prodded the flesh, explored the wet sinew, and soon had traded the surgical tool for a hack saw, carving its way into bone and...

Stop. I can almost see-!

"Chrono? Oy, Chrono Harlaown!"

I woke to a pair of blue eyes, wide with the hanging shadow of worry lurking overhead. Even in the haze of first waking from nothing, I matched the eyes to her face, and though it was a short time we were together, that sparkling color had been engraved into my heart. Honestly, I admit it was a strange way to memorize someone, a habit that infected me from childhood, yet as frivolous as it sounded, I believed in the "romantic" concept that the eyes were windows into one's own soul. You can change your face as many times as you wish, ten thousand hooks in every crease and wrinkle, but your eyes will always tell the truth. The idea worked in my favor, more often than not, though I would not recommend it to another.

Use the cues and techniques that works for you, which was what I was taught by my instructors in Investigative Sciences.

"I'm up. I'm up," I grumbled back, though I could not help but react on reflex, that is to snuggle up further into my non-existent pillow. Well, there was a pillow, except...

...it belonged to a certain someone's shoulder, and boy, could I feel the baleful heat from coming from her glare, sending a rush of red up the nape of my neck.

"Hey. Yous. You're really trying to play cute with me today, aren't you?"

I turned about and stared back, as straight faced as humanly possible, which was not more than a hapless half-grin.

"Err, is that a bad thing?"

Unbelievably, as if struck by an explosion, a metaphorical smokescreen erupted around the Corellian hellcat's face. She turned beet red and her hair appeared to defy gravity by standing on end for a full five seconds before settling down to veil her gaze. I could scarcely believe my own eyes. Had I just defeated the legendary...

Whack.

"Ow! M-My head..."

Obviously, I spoke too soon.

"Mir'osik. I almost wish we weren't wearing utilities today, so I could let you freeze. But what did I do instead, out of the kindness of my heart? The only thing we got close to a blanket? And the fact, you were out cold? Well, I decided to share this snow-pattern poncho liner between the two of us."

"Uh, thanks," I acquiesced impulsively, without even thinking it over. Some say it was a bad habit of mine, for I seem to be quick to thank others for the tiniest of things. Case in point, Nina Wang, obviously, had been offended, despite my good intentions.

As for right now, it was the equivalent of the mouse biting the cat in the nose, for Ryuune Zoldark turned even redder and her armor of composure was wearing quite - thin.

"The mission assignments are supposed to be random! Oh, Tumorah, what did I do to get stuck with you as a battle buddy, and us two, alone, in a dug out cave?"

Wait, what? The examination has already begun? B-But that cannot be, I had only been walking into the in-processing tents, after saying my farewells to everyone, and then...

"Hey, what's with that stupid look? Oh, or is it..." she cleared her throat histrionically and spoke once more, "doth I displease thee, mi'lord?"

Now, it was my turn to redden, but...

"No. I could not fathom a better partner right now, and as much as you might think I favor Nina, her place is with Nagi."

Damnation: why am I always blurting out unnecessary things-!? It must be his influence, again. Wait. Hey, was she turning --- pink?

"H-Hey, if you're awake, do you mind?!"

This time I did not offer a verbal apology, but made to move - only to meet with unexpected difficulty. My body was "straining", a strong indicator that I needed my next "fix" soon. Admirably, I managed to keep the grimace from my face, and thinking better, decided to distract a flustered Ryuune Zoldark with a new line of conversation.

"So, care to spare me a sitrep on what I missed?"

Eagerly, she took the bait, hook, line, and sinker.

"Well, sir, though you can't hear the fighting from our little safe haven here," the blonde gestured at the dim expanse around us, which would have been a barely tolerable fit for a full grown adult, "OpFlashpoint has started. And by the horrible draw, we're stuck together on S-O-F mission."

Us two on a sensitive special operations mission? ...Could there be any other combination that could make any more "noise"? Hold that thought. I would rather not imagine.

"I got pretty much the same story as you, said goodbye and good luck, walked into the tent, and," she clapped her hands together crisply," what do you know? I was here!"

I nodded, an unspoken assent for her to continue, as I checked myself over, casually.

"As you oughta figure, I woke up first, and boy, did things get interesting fast. The fighting must've tipped off my danger sense: yellin', screaming, the bark of an E-WEB, the yips of blaster rifle, explosions, and yup, a fire, which means smoke. Our crash site. See, looks like we were on some civvie airspeeder transport originally, as part of our cover to infil the zone. We weren't shot down, but it was obvious we had suffered some kind of catastrophic failure.

"I swear, if I ever find out which shabuir strapped me into the co-pilot's seat, that aruteisse and I are going to have harsh words with Lord Mirdalan, as the referee. Miraculous, there wasn't an ache or a scratch on me, so at least the accident had been staged perfectly. You, Harlaown, weren't so lucky."

She was right. I had been - strip searched...

"You were in the cargo hold, strapped in, but - you still got ejected. Can you imagine how hacked off I was to find you laid out could on the deck?"

"Very."

My compact emergency medpack had been confiscated, likely deemed an unfair advantage in an environment where other examinees had to make do with what was available. Granted, if I had been more sly, as in the exemplarily character of Nagi Dai Artai, I would have had one less critical hassle to worry about. Yes, officially, these next fourteen days was to be unpleasant to the extreme, and some unknowing person had just royally hacked me off!

"But, y'know, I swear you've got that Devil's luck on your side, 'cos guess what? You were thrown into a whole bunch of pretty cushy boxes, softened up the impact nice, though you were still out cold. The bruise I took care with your little present. Fun, eh?"

Ryuune beamed and thumbed a finger up at the bandanna I had gifted to her only the day before. Indeed, I was affirmed once more how it suited her, and somehow, the sight combined with the fact my creation had served its purpose well managed to curb my rising ire. Now, I only dreaded how I was to keep my condition secret from her.

"Well, there wasn't too much time to pat myself on the back. When in a chaotic warzone, where lines of command-and-control and a frontline ain't there yet, expect the worse even out of trained boots on the ground. Yup, a whole posse of opportunist, scum sucking frakkers showed up real fast in some half-assed speeder. It wasn't fun but I got us both out and what little I could scavenge on the fly."

"Inventory?"

"Two five gallon utility jugs that, surprise-surprise, had water in 'em, so we're both good for a minimum of five days. A dossier. A map. A poncho liner. An old school lensatic compass (time to see whose the real land, no, ace orienteer). And an open case with six flavors of post-traumatic shavit disorder, or in trooper talk, the brown river of Montezuma. How thoughtful of 'em, right?"

Meal, Ready-to-Eat, a necessary evil out in the field, and so it appeared to me that nutrition and defecating in the negative four-degrees centigrade weather would be our most immediate challenge. Condensing water I could do easy with my Class-III certification as an "Alchemist" (a magical specialty I will always thank Countess Lowran for recommending me to), but conjuring useable toilet paper... Note to self: find nature-friendly toilet paper, along with a whole list of other necessary gear ASAP, or I had better figure out how to broach the subject of scourgify to Ryuune Zoldark. ...We were going to need a small miracle to complete this mission.

"Anything else?" I raised an eyebrow, taking a sidelong glance at our "stash". I admit, I was quite impressed she managed to drag me plus our supplies and locate a temporary safe haven for us, the cave entrance painstakingly disguised with twigs and uninviting flora.

"'cept for what we got on us? Zero percent," she gave me the thumbs up, a wholly inappropriate gesture considering our circumstance.

Wait. That bloomingly cheerful...

"There is something you are not telling, is there not?" my gazed turned cynical and flat.

By the looks of her, you would believe that such a young, passionate lioness would be inscrutable under the suspicion of wrong-doing. Ordinarily that would be a "yes", but in the case of things she deemed trivial or petty, it was a definitive "no". Though a recent habit, I believe, living with her for three-odd cycles as she grew stronger and wiser, bequeathed unto me a point of reference whose validity could not be denied. Oh yes, there was the tell-tale blush, the pout of her trembling lips, and a clearly nervous tremor to her open expression, eyes open wide and an almost smile on her face, clearly trying to prove her innocence. Had we been in warmer weather, it would not be a stretch to see her break out into a sweat.

"N-Nothin'! Nothing at all! Who do you take me for, Harlaown?" she laughed animatedly.

Playing hard to get are we? Well, I did not expect any less from her...khe! On second, I had better hurry this up.

"You read the dossier on your own, did you not?"

"Ah..." the blonde-haired lioness blanched wide-eyed at my accusation.

"Congratulations, that makes you our fearless leader," I nodded amiably, though in the inside, well, you can imagine my sudden stroke of worry. Like it or not, I was used to having responsibility thrown on my shoulders, to lead because circumstances demanded so. But now, was I to be the one to follow?

The notion, oddly, made me feel ill. Still, it would be a good experience for Ryuune, and with myself by her side, I can act at the least as a "safety net" and a good dose of reality.

"Cadet First-class Chrono Harlaown at your disposal, ma'am. Your orders?"

The gesture, luckily, had its intended effect.

"Th-Thanks, chief," she beamed with a hint of red, thumbing a finger to her cheek. "Uh...well...I don't really have any plans right now, so..."

Some may believe this to be a concession of egos, but to me, who was always the victim of circumstances, guided forth by the unseen hand, I had no such thing. I do not believe I am worthy of any accolades or praise, and yet, the girl of fair hair and eyes of the clear sky across from me, contrary to her self-confident appearance, held me high perched upon a pedestal. To acknowledge her as such of being in the "captain's chair" was a necessary and proper course of action. Failure to do so would only produce disaster in the long run from the unspeakable trauma.

"How about we chow down and I'll fill you in on what we gotta do, then, I guess, we'll play it by ear from there, right?"

Yes, that will do for now.


Our first rendezvous point, by a stroke of luck, was only twenty klicks from our present position. Most initial recruits, at least by Galactic Marine Corps standards, can run five klicks in under twenty-seven minutes, whereas a full four hours and thirty minutes is usually alloted to a 15k hike in full gear. Therefore, in theory, we could cover that distance on foot in roughly two hours, provided we had no gear to carry, the appropriate attire, and proper road conditions.

The reality, of course, was far from the ideal. My own unique philosophy managed to save us some trouble, namely what to do with our supplies. Other more conventional groups would be forced to carry them, but for myself I have an interest in spatial manipulation. Most pursue the field in the hopes of more lofty goals, I learned the art solely for the purposes of bending, breaking, and binding "space" to my will. Thanks to that desire, I have gained access to the spell series "Vector Space", essentially a domain of holding exclusive to myself under normal circumstances.

At that time, I was still a novice, so my capacity was not much more than an impressively big closet, but convenient all the same for our purposes. In went our stock, safely stored at room temperature, out of sight and out of mind from potential opportunists and the mercy of the elements. The only problem was that our storage space could only be accessed by myself; I had yet to grasp the ability to create "domain keys" that would allow others access as well.

Chow and water was quick and only painful for myself, though I asked that we ought to wait at least thirty minutes to let it all settle down before heading out. I was amazed with what gusto Ryuune ravaged her MRE as if it were a feast, and with our extra brief break, declared she was going to take a cat nap. Enthusiasm so it appeared apparently helped to brighten an otherwise bleak situation.

For a lack of a better term, the assignment handed to us was a "Sneaking Mission". We were operators from the outside; soldiers that did not exist from an undisclosed sovereignty sent here to observe the war for the next fourteen days and fourteen nights. The mission objective was to gather critical military intelligence on the tactics and capabilities of the two armies, Red and Blue, vying for control of the region, using a combination of live field data and secret reports from informants. Survive, and on the fourteenth day, we will be extracted at the final rendezvous point in the Valley of End.

Our immediate objective was to arrive at the first rendezvous by 1905 today, sharp. Should we be unable to do so, our incompetence will result in an automatic mission failure, as we would be unable to make contact with our first informant, whom shall supply us with mission critical equipment and some basic necessities. Everything else, we would have to make do on our own.

It was at noon when we set out. We did not arrive until dusk at 1830. Our march had suffered a particularly crippling delay in the form of snow that sank us all the way down to our hips. For grown adults, it would not have been as challenging to traverse, but they would have to face a different challenge altogether. The drumbeats and festival of War was everywhere in the hilly white tundra, populated with sparse vegetation and the odd tree. Big black plumes of smoke from burning wreckage and sporadic yelp of blasterfire shadowed us with every step, punctuated on occasion by near earth shaking detonations from much heavier ordinance.

We were sitting ducks out in the open. What, with our dark blue uniforms, the trail we left behind more than easy to spot from a prominent vantage, made the looming threat of ambush all too real. I had confidence that between Ryuune and myself, we had plenty of combat experience to go around, at least not to get caught like deer in the headlights, none of which would matter if a sniper or a grenade were to find us first. Of course, we had our devices, but the success of our mission was reliant entirely on our ability to keep a low profile.

An army of two against armies of a thousand-plus was not sensible odds in the slightest. Once each of the respective headquarters was able to reassert their command and control over their forces, heavens forbid we anger them enough to send a full company, two-hundred men strong, after us. No matter where we run, it would not be far or fast enough to escape them.

The journey had been difficult, but now that we had arrived at long last to the town of Cyril, I believed Ryuune's decision to be the correct one. Yes, it was her idea, in fact, to stay the course and hoof it out here on the heel-and-toe express. I, myself, had second thoughts and had been willing to trade for the risks, so we could arrive sooner.

"Talk about a ghost town," my fearless leader murmured from beside me, half burrowed into the snow.

Like a pair of badgers, we had "crept" up to the crest of a nearby hill, sizeable enough to provide us with an adequate survey of the town, and careful not to skyline ourselves either by staying low as possible.

Cyril, a former trading post, had seen better days. The borough was neither too big or too small and had a simple fortified fence of timber to mark its boundaries, which had long since fallen into a dilapidated condition from lack of maintenance, much like the town itself. Two major roads lead to a red-hued courthouse at the center of town, the only building that seemed to retain its original color, despite the elements, which effectively divided the borough into two halves of a pie. The still standing buildings appeared to be made mainly from timber, usually shored up with brick and mortar, though a few prefabricated structures made of metal and fiber glass peppered the neighborhoods too.

"Permission to speak frankly, ma'am?" I piped up somewhat cheerfully, as a different kind of chill settled into the pit of my gut. What I would do for a pair of electrobinoculars, even old-fashioned, low-tech macrobinoculars would do.

"Shoot, Harlaown," she gazed on with a smile.

It was strange, but ever since we have got here, I swear, Ryuune has been smiling the entire time. In fact, on our hike to Cyril, the Corellian even commented jovially that the explosions and sounds of combat were liken to a lullaby of rolling thunder.

"I have a bad feeling about this."

Methinks, perhaps, she had more of "The Right Stuff" than I did myself.

"Ah-ha ha, when is it ever not a bad feeling with you, chief?"

She was enjoying our potentially deadly experience, quite so.

"Towns are meant to be lived in. The lack of any signs of life at all is a clear sign of danger."

It was indeed an oppressive sight: the dark timbers and rotting plywood walls combined with the fast approaching hour of twilight, bathing the war torn landscape in shadows, only added to the heavy atmosphere.

"I love your paranoia, y'know that?"

Every broken window, foreboding corner, and creaking doorway spoke of an unseen assailant lurking just beyond my sight. Surely, there were eyes and ears in the hollow darkness, waiting for the unsuspecting patrol to pass by - and stop. A death trap, and we were about to walk right into its jaws and spring the iron maw close.

"I believe it to be a healthy dose of realism."

Her smile blossomed into a feral grin.

"Don't sweat it too much. C'mon, let's go back down a bit and slap that poncho liner over us. Don't wanna take any chances of anyone spotting the flash of us equipping, right?"

Ho boy, here we go.


As a rule of thumb, "Equipping" (or Transformation) is part aesthetics, part irrefutable science, and part practical need. It is possible, in fact, to create a transformation process that is silent and not flashy at all; however, when a mage activates his or her devices, or even usessorcery, there are natural consequences that cannot be avoided. See, the use of sorcery automatically triggers an increase in body temperature that can be used to track and identify individuals by their thermal signature. Equipping uses a considerable amount of mana, depending on the complexity of the device being activated and the Barrier Jacket being materialized for the magus, which results in an abnormally larger than normal thermal bloom that will last for a time.

Also, there can be a significant drop in the available free mana in area depending on a number of factors, for example how dependent is the magi on natural mana. Mana in nature will replenish itself automatically from the leylines of the planet, much in the same manner Odo is produced by our own Linker Cores. Obviously, drawing on this natural resource will cause disruptions in the ecosystem's output flow, sometimes obvious and sometimes more subtle, which can be used to "sniff out" a mage's presence as well.

Hence, why Ryuune and myself did not use our devices, until now… If there was any time, we were to be attacked now would be the time, as we were fresh from our transformations, sprinting across the dulling white expanse towards the town. Both our devices, of course, featured radiators that were also incorporated into our Barrier Jackets, but they were not designed with "stealth" in mind. Anyone looking in the dark with thermal goggles could see us clear as, no, brighter than day: an inherent weakness of all mages, which helped to make guided weapons practical against us.

With the aid of modern snow shoes fitted to my new armored boots, which could also collapse should I find purchase on normal terrain, crossing the expanse of fifty yards was a brisk exercise compared to the grueling hike. Of course, I was not taking point; that honor would go to Ryuune Zoldark. Assisted by the inexplicable technosorcery of EOTI, she made my own movements seem ungainly and amateurish, for she moved as if "walking on water", her footfalls not even disturbing the packed snow that betrayed my every step treacherously. Each of my own crushing crackling and squeals beneath my feet made me wince in frustration and snarl inwardly with envy, as she ran effortlessly ahead through the moaning wind.

What an armored "beauty" she had become, like a warrior princess come to life from the old pages of myth, minus the bow and arrow. Instead, Ryuune cradled what appeared to be the latest iteration of a weapon, now featuring a casing to protect and mask the glowing blue energy coils underneath, I have not seen in over a cycle: the ASMD Shock Rifle, an exotic energy weapon developed by EOTI. Unlike myself, the Corellian had very few spells, relying on Ex-Quipping (or Exchange and Equip) various "data weapons" stored in her device, and her device's high-tech Barrier Jacket to see her through a battle.

Thus, in essence, combat to her came down to finding instinctive practical solutions versus pre-meditated technical solutions to "problems". I compensate for the latter, for I could not come close to matching her for "brute force"; the difference in "machine potential" was to great, and physically, she was my superior, too. As such, we made quite the pair, though it was far from an ideal arrangement. See, to behold our true strength would require Nagi and Nina as well.

We stacked up against the backside of a shed, pausing a moment to catch our breath and listen to our surroundings. I should not have allowed myself to wander so much, yet even now, I could not help but compare myself to her.

My own Barrier Jacket was a reproduction of the Phase II clone trooper armor, minus the utility belt, color scheme preset for winter camouflage, and a brand new helmet. With my busy schedule, I was unable to replicate all the functions of the real helmet, nor could I acquire the funds to purchase schematics that would give me the same functionality. Instead, I wore a lightweight modular "crash helmet" brought up to milspec, with helmet mounted lights, and a retractable transparent faceshield that could display infrared and night vision from the optics mounted in my helmet too.

I carried no visible weapon, save for my element, what appeared to be a black "ceremonial mace" stowed away in a holster at my hip, its cylindrical head adorned with a halo-like ring and an offset wing. Originally, it had been as large as a quarterstaff, but time and experience had made me the wiser, reducing S2U's "staff" to its present size. Casting larger, more demanding spells became more problematic and overheating was a concern, but by adapting my fighting style, such drawbacks became superfluous. After all, I still had no "artillery" in the neighborhood equal to an area bombardment spell or a siege-level offensive spell in the first place, with my heaviest attack being "Power Buster", an anti-tank level, particle beam-based offensive spell.

The greater mobility, the ease of use afforded, and S2U's mace form's more humble sipping of prana was much more practical-

Thk-thk!

Judging by that deeply cross glare she was shooting me, Ryuune Zoldark was not amused to see me zoning, for which I would likely get an earful for later. The only reason she was not chewing me out not now over a telepathic link was due to time constraints and the security risk of someone listening in on our conversation. Therefore, we were relying completely on hand signals.

My attention fixed; we moved, stalking through the chilling moans of the back streets. Alas, there was no time to methodically and meticulously pie off every door and window, which would have helped to soothe my growing dread of impending doom. My overactive imagination was already putting a face to the mirthless eyes observing us unseen, waiting with bloodthirsty anticipation for the moment where the trap could be sprung at last.

Personally, I had no idea where we were going, but Ryuune seemed to be following some invisible navigation marker that brought an easy confidence to her gait. Every obstacle she attacked with clockwork precision, rifle first, moving as if in a choreographed dance. Move, halt, rifle, observe, all clear, move, halt, crossing, kneel at corner, rifle turkey peek, all clear, I'll cover - you go first, etc., so it all went as darkness descended upon us.

We vaulted over another high wall, after checking for booby traps and being sure there was no unpleasant surprises waiting on the other side. Had we been grown adults a buddy assisted boost jump would not have been necessary, with myself then leaning back over to haul her up. It would be a foolish mistake to dismiss the importance of teamwork across all ages and genders. "ME's" do not win wars; "WE's" do, and soon enough, we had arrived at our destination, a lonesome alleyway not so unlike where Ryuune Zoldark and I first met some three cycles ago.

"Brings back memories, doesn't it, girl?" I heard a certain someone murmur under her breath, breaking our silence.

It was a difficult choice, but I decided to act as if I did not hear. Likely, she was only talking aloud to herself, a coping mechanism, and to prove my suspicions correct, the Corellian lioness signaled me over to stack up by an intact door along the brick wall. Curious, it had a door knob...

Knock, knock, knock, knock...

Methinks, your imaginations can tell quite well how my jaw dropped and my bowels started doing somersault flips! Outrageous. Insanity! I could not believe what I seeing. What on Mid-Childa was Ryuune Zoldark thinking? Had she gone bonkers?! Yes, sound traveled slower in cold weather, but factor in wind shear, and it sounds much more audible downwind!

No, calm down. Yes, calm down. Ryuune knew a lot more about the details of the mission than I did. Perhaps, it was morse code to let whoever was on the other side know we were allies, yes? There was no way she would purposefully...

"Oh, frak, this!" the girl slurred angrily and pounced off the wall, assuming a basic warrior stance, "HOOAH!"

Oh. My. Mystra. That knucklehead just kicked open the door (using a reverse side kick to be exact), sundering it messily, and more importantly, noisily with seemingly ear-splitting bang, clean off its hinges-

"AGGHHH!" a voice cried shrilly from within as the freshly dented door (metal, in fact) must have landed on them.

Well...I guess that must be our informant.

"After you, chief," Ryuune beamed at me, completely and utterly unrepentent.

I suppose, some quirks about people take longer than expected to change.


"YOU BRATS!"

So seethed one Mister Nine furiously, as he tended to himself with a salve of bacta. Atypical, perhaps, of individuals in his line of work, the human man was an unremarkable individual of forty-something cycles, plain-faced and putting on weight. Other than the fresh stinging bruise, now covered with the salve, he was about what I would expect for a civilian living in the area, dressed for the weather too, except his accent was not close to matching that of a native.

He sounded more Amerian than Yuke.

"Awww, is the big booboo hurtin' that bad, old man?" Ryuune antagonized the fuming gentleman with a toothy leer.

We were now in a hidden room located in the basement of the long disused general store we had just - "assaulted", and whose side door I had to fix "shoddily" back in place. Under the electric luminescence, her new shade of long red hair, reaching well past her hips, and green eyes became alight with an inner fire. Combined with the flashy feminine vanity of her Barrier Jacket, she had transformed into an different person, effectively so.

"B-Brat, don't you know how to follow orders?" retorted Mister Nine.

Indeed, in her full glory, she was every bit the warrior princess. What, with her golden horned tiara and armor sporting a primary white base, a gold secondary, and a tertiary green matching the four "control jewels": one in the collar, both shoulders, and the last in the tiara. To think, the Barrier Jacket was not even finished yet, as I heard she had plans to add wings and an extra set of "Binder" pauldrons for added aerial maneuvering surfaces and protection.

"Hey, we had less than fifteen microns left. You're the mir'osik, who was playing games, with us, old man."

In comparison, I was but her loyal generic footman. Stealth, obviously, had not marked up high on Ryuune's list, when making improvements to Valsione. However, I could understand the reason behind such "madness". We all tend to show up rather "hot" on infrared, which made camouflage worthless in most situations. But there was a purpose to madness, too, for by being the most flashy, enemies would focus on her first, giving myself or her allies time to act; she had quite flamboyantly marked herself as the "big cheese" in charge, after all.

"HumanInt wet work's serious business, brat. It pays to be on time."

"Oh, but we were on time! See? Or else, I don't think we'd get a chance to shoot the piss like this now, would we?"

The Corellian lioness had a point there. Yes, she had breached protocol (grossly), but in the end, we still made contact.

"Urghhh, hey, you! Yeah, you, the clone kid!"

Me? A Clone Trooper? I am nowhere near close to the legendary Jango Fett.

"I doubt every mission is going to need that special touch of delicacy, Mister Nine," I spoke up, a touch incensed. My voice altered and amplified by the comlink built-in to my helmet to a cold, mechanical growl, much deeper and fuller than what a child could manage. It was a function inspired totally by Nina Wang, I admit. "Sometimes, people only understand might-makes-right. And in the end, have we not met up with you? Fulfill your end of the contract and everything will continue as planned."

My words had not been intended to soothe nor wound. I only wished to make it clear that precious time was wasting away, and a man of his professional stature should not be idling at such a critical juncture. What I did not expect was for a look of enlightened wonder to blossom on Mister Nina's face.

"Oh? Well, I'll be damned," the man grinned, suddenly sanguine. "That's a surprise. Hmmm. Cool, cool. Alright then, crowd around the work table, kids."

What Ryuune thought of his change of heart, she did not say, though I could see her misgivings clear on her face by the faintly disgusted curl of her cheek.

On the work table was a sizeable attaché case, which unlocked promptly with a satisfying click from a brief biometrics scan to reveal its contents. It was a small cache of essentially supplies: a pair of DC-15S blaster carbines with the "ascension gun" module, ascension harness, and rifle slings for the weapons. We also received one golden plated data wafer (clearly a high security item), a green-coded translucent SD chip, solar rechargers for our PDAs, and a milspec digital camera with an assortment of "flash" drives, zoom lens, and flash hider. Overall, it was a sight welcomed for sore eyes.

"You all can figure out this stuff, but a little hint, the data-stuff is one time use only, so be careful who's going to use what," he turned pointing towards a nearby storage closet. "There's some spare clothes in there. Might help you all pass for plain ol' kids. We do got some kiddies helpin' out with the operation in some of the towns. Could also help you pass through unmolested too, but good luck trying to sweet talk the army kids, if they find you out in the open. Oh, don't forget the daypack, two man tent, and one sleeping bag-"

Predictably, mayhap, Ryuune interjected with a spit take, turning beet red but a moment later.

"Wait. Wait! What!? Only one sleeping bag?"

Mister Nine went right on talking, though I could not help but notice the wry, meaningful wriggle of his brows he sent my way. Clearly, he had his petty revenge, but whatever deeper meaning that was held in the gesture was lost to me, while my Corellian colleague could only fuss and fluster unintelligibly.

"And my favorite, two boxes of baby wipes, a portable incinerator, a box of toilet paper, and a fresh case with twelve meals-refusing-to-exit. Enjoy your brown river, bra-"

A sudden earth shaking shudder interjected, most certainly not on Mother Nature's behalf to protect the sanctity of our ears. Furniture rattled and the lights above us flickered, as faint slivers of dust rained down through the floorboards above. Ryuune and myself were curious, naturally, in the military manner, going to the alert, but such a display was overshadowed by the keen whistle Mister Nine let loose as he shuffled towards a nearby door marked "Water Closet."

He called back over his shoulder at us, before disappearing within, "Damn, would love to stay and chit-chat, but that's my cue to get the hell out of Dodge."

(Hnn? An Amerian expression? I suppose that confirms his-)

The crisp, noisy flush of a sit-down toilet soon followed.

"What. The?" my fearless leader shook her head in spellbound disbelief.

Already anticipating her desires, I sauntered over and opened the door with a little theatrical kick, unnecessary but it helped me to cope with my own confounded thoughts. Sure enough, it was empty with naught a hide or hair of the grouchy forty-something man in sight. I suspected there was some manner of teleportation protocol involved as people do not disappear into thin air normally, after all, but we had much bigger fish to fry at the moment, helpfully reminded by a second tremor.

"Alright, grab the trash and pile it in to your fancy hammerspace, Harlaown. I'll upload the goods into Val-chan and my PDA. Take a DeeCee; you're gonna need it, buster! MOVE."

We had company to attend to...


Ever hear the expression, "I smell trouble"? Trust me, it works.

The first thing that hit my senses, long before we opened the door to the general store proper, first floor, was the smell. It pointed out two things to me, namely I had failed to create a truly sealed environment in my Barrier Jacket, an oversight on my part, but on the other hand, it told be quite a bit about the fierce gun battle happening just two blocks away. Something was burning, a walker, judging by the peculiar "chunky" stench left behind by its combustible fuel slug, clinging heavily to the air. The rest was about what you would expect from what combat: a grand symphony of noise and fury.

"C'mon, upstairs!" Ryuune bade me follow with a hiss.

Now, I will profess OSI does not employ individuals anywhere close to conventional special forces, with their fancy camou face paint, indigenous clothing, and love for the suck. What we are, is unconventional special forces in plain clothes or whatever fashion demanded was suitable for our task at hand. Our training regimen is quite eclectic; therefore, even a sensitive special operations mission that myself and Ryuune had been assigned at the time was not beyond our abilities. Adapt, survive, break it, fix it: we will find a way to persevere and make the Op turn out, more or less, "just as planned".

"Phwoar, looks like a bonfire party from over here," the Corellian lioness remarked with a wry smile. She seemed to have effectively censored out the rather desperate shouting and invective populating our "soundtrack".

Though our line of sight was blocked by assortment of buildings down our street, we could see from the vantage of the overhang balcony, the orange-red emission of the blaze and hornet's nest worth of blaster bolts, barking and yelping. Red and blue sizzled the air in a constant tempo, and if I was not mistaken, I could see shiny metal forms pressing forwards haphazardly into the raging storm. Whoever they were, they must have been pouring in the fire quite hard to be able to suppress their opponents from being unable to respond with heavier ordinance.

"That's easy street right in that direction. C'mon, let's slip through the back alleys, and see we can get a better vantage. Stay low. Stay quiet."

Normally, I would have protested, but considering what our mission entailed, "passive-aggressive" reconnaissance, I had no choice to go along.

"And if the worst comes, dead men tell no tales, chief."

I could only hope the reality would be as easy as her optimism. Of course, Ryuune Zoldark being Ryuune Zoldark, she did not bother to even use the stars, vaulting right over the balcony and landing into a rolling crouch. I fixed her with a somewhat reproachful look as she gazed up at me with another incorrigible beaming smile, beckoning me to join her. It took quite a bit of effort not to try and out do her simple feat, but as I understood the limitations of my own Barrier Jacket quite intimately, I knew better than to try anything foolish.

"Took ya long enough," she greeted me after I landed from my dead hang. "Come, this way!"

Following the unseen navigation markers once more, privy only to my fearless leader, she lead us through the dark, moody warren of the back alleys ever closer to the rising din of combat. Soon, we passed through a torn up chain fence, long rusted ago, and came to an alley, the mouth of which was nearly blocked off by a disused blaster. The light and noise was near deafening, emanating from the main road. We crept up into the shadow of the dumpster for a closer look, peeking through the cracks, and were not disappointed by the carnage.

Half way up the road from us, towards the direction of the red court house, was the blazing pyre of an AT-OT, a near 6 meter tall by 14.3 meters long open-top walker designed for carrying infantry. It seemed even with our weaponry handicapped, taking down vehicles was still more than possible. The big durasteel caterpillar, armed with four laser cannons (two bow; two aft) was toppled over on its side, having crashed through the front of a building, and demolishing the structure more or less. At least thirty-four troops could have been carried aboard when the walker had been operational. Now, it was little more than ample cover and an impromptu bonfire.

Bringing up the rear of the mechanized column was a quartet of landspeeders: Arrow-23's with concussion grenade launchers and V-19's, AKA Gian Speeders, opening up with their light repeating blasters in the advancing column of the droid ambush. An odd assortment of armored figures of various heights and competence were littering our front all over, though they all shared the common blue armor, which appeared to identify them as part of the same force.

I estimated some fifty combatants, plus or minus a few for the KIA already lying paralyzed in the snow, and the rest moving through the buildings to flank, or provide support fire from the elevated balconies and rooftops. The droids themselves were the usual trend of mass B1 battle droids marshaled by their bigger, badder brethren the B2 super battle droids, complemented by the deadly Droiddekas. Clearly, they had the numerical advantage, and more B1 battle droids were pouring out steadily from the red court house to their rear in total disregard for their mounting losses piling up in the street. To make matters worse, a hulking giant of a battle droid, the SD-6 Hulk infantry droid, which towered over all with its twin blaster cannons and shoulder-mounted ion cannons was adding its considerable weight to the battle.

The cadets fighting by the walker's wreckage, trying to hold the line, with just their blaster rifles and grenade-like offensive spells (obvious by the telltale Mid-Childan magic circles), were in clear and present danger of being overwhelmed at any moment. It was a miracle the big brute in the rear of the droid army, a rogue unexpected threat so it appeared, had yet to score a hit on the escort vehicles. A single hit from the ion cannons or an extended salvo from the blaster cannons would have been enough to rip apart the landspeeders easy, who would could only jockey from side to size in the road, just wide enough for two AT-TEs to fit through.

No one dared to stand out by opening up with a major shooting spell in the storm of the constant fusillade of blue and red being exchanged by both engaged companies. Stray blaster bolts impacting the snow combusted in tiny fireballs, while others splintered and set fire to old damp wood, or disintegrated barely intact masonry. It was a war of attrition that the droids would win inevitably for the grenadiers would tire and the Arrow's would run out of their critical ordinance.

Every loss was hard felt at the thin blue line. A lucky blaster bolt caught a fellow in the face, accompanied by a flash of a miniature detonation from his or her Barrier Jacket simultaneously. Tumbling back head over heels, he or she laid frighteningly still in the snow, like a doll cut from its strings, forcing a comrade to drag their "corpse" out of the way. Even though it was a training exercise, the deaths felt real and final.

"Why aren't the metalheads pushing in?" Ryuune murmured, continuing to film the action right through her own eyes even as a blaster singed the air above our hidden vantage showering us with debris. "There's no need to drag this out. They're machines. Logical little clockwork toys. They haven't even lost any of their Bee-Twos or Dekas yet. So, why?"

Transfixed I was on her keen expression in the dazzling firelight, a moment of idleness I am afraid that I did not see, only feel the titanic tremor of the coming aftershock. The flash was but an instant yet as well I had pulled her away from the crevice, trying to bodily shield the auburn-haired princess myself. Whipping wind and a wild scatter pattern of blaster fire howled just as suddenly onto our position, spraying more detritus on top of us, and amazingly, I felt a sharp jab to the back of where my kidneys ought to be... Painful. My sight doubled, as the crackle of foul ozone assaulted my nose.

There was an explosion, a keening death knell, and all at once a barbaric fury sounded in the air.

"Frak, Chrono, you alright?" I was aware of Ryuune looking over me, big green eyes filled with worry. "No way. Mandalore damned lucky ricochet burned right through the dumpster! Big angry, red hole there. Phew, looks like your Barrier Jacket held, partner."

I could hear the escort landspeeders revving up their engines, a multitude of stampeding feet and shouts, as if...

"What is going on the other side?"

"It's a counter attack, all out!" she explained to me excitedly, glancing back over her shoulder. "Bunch of idiots finally flanked into a building, directly to the left, up the street, and they took out the Hulk! Droids are kinda messed up from the concussion of the blast. Speeders look like they're gonna bum rush right through 'em and crash the courthouse!"

"Good, then we're..."

Damn, it feels like a phantom bruise there... Had the output of those blasters been limited, truly?

"Uh, oh y-yeah, let's-"

WHACK!

At that moment, it appeared Tumourah had enough with Her free lip service and decided our good luck was to run out. A side door we had missed swung wide open with a mighty kick. Cold dread seized me by the spine, focusing my vision for an instant, as that old, familiar fight-or-flight instinct unsheathed itself likened to a trusted bootknife. Like slow motion, I knew two individuals would come assaulting through any moment now, as tight and quickly as possible, following the same professional tactics we all shared commonly, and peel off to cover both "paths" of the alleyway. The seemingly thundering sound of boot clad feet against wooden floor boards gave their imminent appearance away in advance, but if there was a time to regret, it had long since...

They came, blurring blue shadows with their weapons swinging outboard, but before even I could think to pull the trigger, having already sighted in on force of habit, an iridescent ball of lavender, white hot plasma, bigger than a regulation size basketball slammed into the "gun" pointing at us. The unstable energy sphere splattered, dissipating into the invisible crackling barrier field exuded from the individual's Barrier Jacket, but momentum still had to go somewhere, and he, judging by his choked cry, was lifted to his tip toes, off-balance. He did not have a chance to retaliate because by the time his battle buddy realized what has happening a second unstable energy sphere partially penetrated the already weakened barrier, throwing the former bodily against the latter.

"DIE, DIE, DIE!"

Surprisingly, through the stinging smoke, I already found myself rushing towards the open door by best guess, my hand drawing out S2U's element, a spell coming to mind. Having fought together for so long, I anticipated her order well in advance, stacking up by the doorway. A quick listen of the bewildered shouts from inside only affirmed that I was making the necessary and proper choice, while she went ahead to end unfinished business, the rush of savagery evident on her still pretty, feral smirking face.

Poking just my "mace" through the doorway, I cried out in equally barbaric tones:

"ZIPPO BREATH!"

Yes, I have a manportable flame projector in my magical arsenal, with none of the usual, fatally combustible drawbacks to the user, and virtually unlimited fuel. No and no: it was not a napalm derived concept, though I have aspirations to expand to ghastly promethium or straight plasma, eventually, just to have the capability, and I would never dare use it in a situation where friendlies could get splashed. Oh, and yes, I named the spell after a popular lighter as a friendly reminder of its other useful functions, lighting camp fires, burning IPs off, a backup torch, and a source of warmth.

Now, judging by the way that the shouts inside, abruptly, took a change of tone to terrified, shrill cries, its weaponized effect was quite effective. In the heat of the moment, pardon the pun, I lost track of time just standing there, almost clinically detached, waving a roaring stick of "wyrm's breath" back and forth into the door way, yet it could not have been more than a few seconds, probably. For those inside, it must have been inexplicable terror for a handspan's length of time. A barrier field designed to defeat energy projectiles and / or soften physical strikes was not going to just adapt on the fly to a new threat unless that capability was planned for and implemented in advance, which I assure you is quite a difficult technical feat to achieve.

On the other hand, a "wall" formation of Round Shields might be able to...

The sharp double-tap slap on my shoulder let me know it was go time. Cutting off the jet plume of flame, I followed after Ryuune Zoldark, leaving behind the burning building that would shortly come down on the poor fools still inside the inferno of the first floor. Hopefully, they would escape in time, and if they did not...well, we all did sign a "Death Waiver" in advance.

The harsh beat of my heart reverberating in my ear, we were approaching rapidly an intersection, as the back alley street widened. I imagine our heading to be simply the most express exfil route straight out of the town's perimeter, making the best of the confusion in the mayhem, to which we had added our mark, with two confirmed "kills". Up ahead was a junction where two more blue figures jogged into view, turned, and had the misfortune of seeing us, weapons at the ready.

"Halt! Who goes-" one of them cried out, an older boy judging by his deeper, full voice.

There was but a moment's hesitation, a critical mistake, during which Ryuune shortened her stride, allowing me to overtake her, as I leaned back and slid forwards in the snow laden street into a crouch. A bright blue Round Shield bubbled into existence before my outstretched, while my fearless leader emulated my own slide to complete the choreographed maneuver, now instinctive, thanks to our many shared experiences.

"You frakking idiot, shoot them!" the other barked, in fact a girl underneath the anonymity granted by her utilitarian and helmet clad Barrier Jacket.

(Ironically, the gentleman was not a complete idiot. He must have had reasonable doubt to think we were friendlies. Better to try then to leave yourself feeling miserable afterwards knowing you just fragged your own comrades, without even giving them a chance to prove their identities.)

Blue bolts of blaster plasma splattered up against the circular inscribed wall of blue in frustrated fury, unable to reach neither of us beneath the protective "umbrella" of the Round Shield. In a split second decision, the female half of the duo made to flank, but the Corellian lioness already anticipated the flow of the hunt. Exposing only the shock rifle's barrel at a cant, another brilliant ball of volatile plasma was expelled into the air, missing horribly wide, so it appeared, just above and between the two cadets. Such presence of mind not to fear in the face of counter fire could be lauded as bravery or stupidity, alas for them it was only the former.

See, the ASMD shock rifle fires in two modes, and has one particularly nasty trick up its sleeve. Triggering the primary fire, an instant roaring lavender beam of photons lanced through the air like lightning and struck the airborne "shock core". An explosive chain reaction followed in an ear-splitting devastating shockwave of energy from the anti-photons in the plasma's electromagnetic containment field set loose. Suffice to say, the two cadets caught directly in the blast did not stand a chance, their Barrier Jackets detonating, shrouding their disappearance into flash and smoke. When the dust settled, there were two neat, separate broken entry holes in the nearby buildings where the two cadets had likely be deposited forcibly by the explosion, as a brief negative vortex churned the air, shredding stray debris, before dissipating itself.

"Huurrah! Double Kill: SHOCK COMBO - Ryuu-chan's on FIRE, ze!"

All that she cheered with a might fist pump; sometimes, I wish I had the same childish enthusiasm for the dirty "wet work" we do. With our latest challenge concurred and basking fresh in victory, my fearless leader beckoned me to follow once more. The worst seemed to be behind us, the hellish fighting intensifying in the background, which appeared to ensure our speedy escape, following the route that only Ryuune could see. Snow-white backstreets widened even more now as we approached what appeared to be more of a residential neighborhood, and our pressing exit beyond the borough's perimeter, almost in sight.

However, we were about to learn that when Lady Luck deals you a bad hand, it does not end with just one catastrophe.

"Stick to the pace, chief! Don't get excited on me now," O' Fearless Zoldark called back merrily.

I had to wonder if she thought our dark hour was nothing more than another sunny day on the drill field with Lord Mirdalan hovering over us "paternally", as we dug our faces into the mud for more motivating Galactic Marine Corps push-ups along side Sergeant Major Vau. Myself, I was lagging a little more than ten to fifteen paces behind her so that some lucky sha'buir with a heavy weapon would not be able to pick both of us off in one go. It was not because I was tired in the slightest! Pinky promise.

"If you got breath, hah, to run your mouth, Ma'am, then you really, hah, should be keeping an eye out for-"

Bad hands come in pairs.

Shhhhh-FHWOOHM!

Abruptly, the world before him blurred and exploded in an ear piercing blast of white, as the ground beneath my armored feet seemed to flex and rebound akin to a trampoline of all the daft things. I was cannoned into the air, in reverse, head over heels, performing almost a neat faceplant into the had not my flailing hands haphazardly cushioned my fall. Instead, it was a half-plant and my neck was screaming bloody murder from the jarring whiplash.

Being already in near constant pain, dulled only by my regular intake of painkillers, any spike above the norm, as already demonstrated prior, could cause debilitating effects to me. Here was such a response: my body seized at the stimuli, turning rigid and numb, a natural self-preservation mechanism that any sane creature at the behest of would have followed. I had long since meandered away from such ordinary definitions.

"C-C..ase...Dee," was the verbal command I had devised for such an inevitability, forcing the muscles in my jaw to work against the onset of muscular richtus. A pneumatic hiss followed on command, the wonders of artificially synthesized epinephrine and norepinephrine countering the bodies self-defense mechanism and restoring command to me once more.

In a heady adrenaline rush, I pounced neatly back up to my feat, a ghastly snarl on my face, feeling far more alive than I did but moments ago, and dangerously furious. Everything came rushing back to me through the white haze: the fog of war giving way to cool clarity, and what struck me immediately was the sound. That "song"...maybe it was a credible sign that I had finally gone insane...but I could hear it, the call of cicadas, and when they cried, it was said to herald the glory of summer.

An enraged bovine shriek blasted me in the next second upon comprehension, ending my curious thoughts. Such was the outrageous volume that I was forced to stagger back, the startling effect only compounded further by a blinding flash of light - no - lights. I brought a hand reflexively to shield my face, the shadows growing longer. That luminescence it was like staring into a pair of searchlights! My breath quickened. Yes, yes, yes, of course it was making perfect sense: the methodical whir of machinery, hydraulics hissing, as a trio of ribbon thin beams of red, made visible through the motes of dispersed crystallized vapor in the air, tracked and painted themselves on my chest.

A laser gunsight!

"See you in hell, commie-bastard!"

Fierfek.


To be continued...


Author's Notes:

Well, there you have it. Entry 1.27 in all of its glory. Thoughts, feelings, questions: hey, fire away, fellas. Not much to say other than "Oh my god, I can't believe it's Tactical Espionage Action!" There is a lot going on here and I can't even begin to comment on everything, so I'm going to leave it to you folks to bring up what interests you, and I'll fire back a reply as always. Promise we'll pick up with more action, some "fun" life in the field segments, and right back into the breach. And yeah, there was a bunch of allusions and homages as per usual; kudos if you spot 'em.

Oh yeah, time for a small advertising service announcement thingie here: if y'all get bored in between waiting for new episodes, be it anime, manga, or fanfiction and whatnot, but you're dying for a fresh/unique AU fic go read Kara no Kyokai: The Borderline to Emptiness by Tempest Dynasty in the Naruto section. I guarantee, he is the only fella who has the guts to fuse Magical Lyrical Nanoha with Naruto and the infamous Warhammer 40K gothic-scifi military tabletop game series. Give it a shot; you won't regret it.

Thank you all for tuning in and remember, I always encourage each and everyone of you to feel free to comment, review, and/or discuss the story. Your comments can really make a difference, I assure you, and if you're up to it, feel free to ring me up on AIM, or even send me an e-mail (although you really don't need to boost my ego too often). You know how to get in touch with the maestro here.

Tsudzuku!