I claim no ownership rights to any of the works of Rumiko Takahashi, Naoko Takeuchi, or anything in the GURPS Ogre, GURPS Reign of Steel, and GURPS Tales of the Solar Patrol settings published by Steve Jackson Games. Everything else is mine.
If the Tokyo Zonemind had been one of the biological evolutionary dead ends that the machine intelligences had replaced as the dominant species on the planet, it would have described its current mindset as confused, even bewildered. It hadn't been hard to calculate what was going on, when there had been a series of attacks around its central perimeter followed by two of the most powerful of the still-resisting biologics beginning to attack targets some distance from the central core of storage sites and manufactories — it was a feint, designed to spread out the sentient computer's combat resources then to suck away its reserves. Like all good feints Water and Sword's targets were important so the rising losses were painful, but not so much so as to be worth the risk to the Resistance of losing two of its most powerful fighters. Their purpose was clearly to distract Japan's ruling Zonemind from the true target, even suck away resources tasked with the true target's defense.
Still, it estimated that the biologics still putting up a hopeless resistance had miscalculated, thanks to the Zonemind's decision to hold back a portion of the combat resources it had manufactured for just this reason. So it had sent sufficient combat robots to swamp those two pests without any weakening of the central defenses the resistance could be aware of.
Then, before those additional combat robots could reach their positions for ambushing their assigned targets, two new signals had popped up on the sensors that had been scattered throughout Tokyo, in the same location as Water and Sword — two signals that, while similar to the other eight that had intermittently registered during Resistance assaults, were identical to each other. Then all four signals had vanished after annihilating the robots they were fighting, leaving the Zonemind to ponder a very important question: Were there actually two of all of the fighters it had been able to detect? Or more than two? Had they been using the same tactic that the Zonemind had, concealing their strength until it could be decisively used? Had it underestimated the strength of the Resistance?
As a result of its question it had instructed the reinforcements it had sent to slow their pace as it waited for more answers, or at least more developments.
And then it got them.
Hotaru wiped again at the sweat runneling down her face, trying very hard not to pant from the long hours of jog-walking to their first target (a speed made possible only by older-Setsuna's ability to scout out the trail ahead of them). A hint of motion out of the corner of her eye caught her attention and she glanced away from the building across the street from their current hiding place, focusing on her best friend to find her also wiping at her face. If Usa's appearance was anything to go by, all Hotaru was doing was smearing around the dust the sweat had been cutting through. A breeze from off the ocean they were now near would have been nice, but the air was still and muggy from the occasional rains.
She shrugged and returned her attention to the other building before sitting down to lean against what was left of the outside wall — a warehouse, she thought. There wouldn't be any danger lurking around, not with how thoroughly Setsuna-mama's counterpart must have checked it out with the Time Gates, and it wasn't like that building had any windows, anyway. But the young raven-haired Senshi found it hard to stop watching — with the warnings they'd been given and the devastated cityscape, the way that even back at the headquarters everyone had walked and spoken quietly, this entire world felt like one massive deathtrap. The way older-Setsuna had looked more and more worn every time she took a split-second jaunt to the Time Gates to check their path going forward hadn't helped. Hotaru had finally really understood Setsuna-mama's explanation about how those Gates worked, that their guardian could spend as long as she needed there and literally no time at all would pass outside of the pocket dimension, but apparently this Setsuna had forgotten ... or was simply too keyed up to be able to force herself to take the time to get fully rested.
Hotaru wasn't the only one to pick up on Setsuna's worn-out state. Older-Haruka glanced at her out of the corner of her eye, then looked around at the rest collapsed against various walls where they'd be out of sight from the street through the empty windows. In a low voice, she said, "Okay, we're only a few blocks from the docks we're going to annihilate." She paused, steeled herself, and turned to her fellow Outer. "Setsuna, we'll all be joining you this time while you check the docks' defense and especially if they are empty at the moment. Once you've verified we're clear and we're all rested, we can strike." Hotaru was pleased — older-Haruka had managed to keep her voice even, if somewhat flat. Whatever issues she still had with her teammate, she was keeping them under control.
Setsuna nodded wearily and climbed to her feet. She was no longer the only native of this dimension that Hotaru had seen to be actually clean. The emerald-haired woman, if lacking the ground-in dirt of her fellow Outers, was now as dusty and sweat-soaked as the newcomers. She seemed to flicker for a moment, and nodded. "We're clear," she said, and the now-familiar gray oval floating in the air appeared for everyone to file through.
They were in luck, Setsuna had foreseen a weather front moving in and no freighters from other Zoneminds approaching the port (they didn't want the other Zoneminds to have even a hint that the Senshi existed, not yet), and so they had delayed their attack for a few hours until the rain came down. It meant they would have less daylight for evading any pursuit, but it also meant they were going in under the best possible circumstances — the robots with their sensors ruled the night, but the Mark I eyeball still ruled the rain.
Which meant that Hotaru was crouched beside her best friend among the rubble of a destroyed building, ignoring the rain hammering down on her as she watched for the occasional glimpse of the older Outers creeping forward through the ruins toward the electrified perimeter fence surrounding the square complex of roads and warehouses that made up the port to their jump-off point for the assault. (Hotaru had been surprised that the Zoneminds had ports, but didn't know why once she thought about it — the world might be divided between machine intelligences, but unequal distribution of resources still meant trade, however little. That hadn't stopped her from asking about it while they were resting at the Time Gates, though, when the silence had gotten too oppressive. Older-Setsuna's detailed discourse had glazed over everyone else's eyes but filled the silence.)
Only this world's Outers were making the attack. They'd decided that keeping the Tokyo Zonemind wondering was worth the risk — especially when it came to how destructive Saturn could be — so Hotaru had company as she waited: Usa, Haruka-mama and Michiru-mama, all unhappy with being sidelined. Though not, Hotaru thought, as much as she was. How was she supposed to keep her mothers' counterparts alive if they wouldn't let her fight?
Stop that! she scolded herself. They were right ... the Tokyo Zonemind doesn't know you exist yet, much less how powerful you are, we need to keep it that way.
But it was hard.
Then older-Haruka's voice sounded in Hotaru's earbug: "H-One, we're in position. Five seconds and go."
Her Haruka-papa's voice responded: "H-Two, five seconds and go." Hotaru glanced over at her mother. The platinum blonde was holding a communicator in a hand, lips moving as she counted, then her thumb hit a button. To outward appearances nothing happened, but if the devices older-Ami had put together and they had planted on their way to the target worked as advertised, then all wireless communications between the Tokyo Zonemind's central location and three different locations should have been cut off. The Zonemind would know that something was going on, but assuming none of the sites had landlines wouldn't know what or exactly where ... and the port wasn't the most valuable or easiest target of the three. And as an added bonus, it had also cut off every remote sensor planted around the outside perimeter and every mobile robot from the supervisory units. The port's defenders were half blind, isolated, and mostly dumb.
Even as Haruka-papa's thumb had hit the button, the three older Outers exploded out of their hiding place, already in their Senshi forms as they charged the perimeter fence (another handy advantage of having Setsuna back, the three had been able to duck through a small portal to the Time Gates to change, and back in a split-second). A square wall of water twelve feet on a side formed directly in front of the three as the first glowing purple dead scream flashed out an up to smash into one of the watch towers off to one side and a glowing ball of crackling energy plowed up the ground as it blasted through the supports of the watchtower on the other side, bringing it crashing down. Then the wall of water rushed toward the fence with the three Outers right behind it, absorbing the first return fire as it passed straight through the fence, Uranus's sword slashed down and Hotaru's eyes widened as a yellow curve of light flashed out to carve through the fence, and the three Outers ignored the sparking edges of the fence as they raced through and vanished into the rain. Only the staccato barks of rapid-fire, whine of ricochets and flashes and thunder of explosions marked their path into the port.
Hotaru felt herself tensing up again. She turned to look toward her mothers. "Can't I go in now?" she demanded, wincing at the hint of a whine in her voice. Womanfully ignoring Usa's quiet giggles, she carried on: "They're far enough in with all the robots concentrating on them, I won't be noticed! And Ami's jammers will keep my energy signature from being recorded."
Haruka-papa just shook her head and chuckled, but Michiru-mama frowned repressively. "We already discussed why you couldn't go in with them, and going in behind them when they don't know you're there is even worse. Besides, with them being attacked from multiple sides your Wall wouldn't be much help, and while your energy signature might not be recorded the Zonemind would have a hard time missing a crater where its port used to be. You're staying right here, little lady."
"I'm not a little girl!"
"Then don't whine like one, and follow the plan."
Hotaru turned back to stare toward the fight in the port, haughtily (as haughtily as she could, at least, her 'cute waif' appearance made it difficult) ignoring the way Usa's giggles had turned into smothered laughter and her Haruka-papa was biting her lower lip to suppress her guffaws. She would properly repay them for their amusement later, when they were all safe.
Uranus leaped through the rip in the fence she'd opened up, her lover on her right and Pluto right behind them. (They'd agreed that Pluto would act as emergency medic — she couldn't get them away from the battle, not with how any portals she opened up had to be reopened at the same location, but they could use the timeless instant at the Gates to heal.)
The platinum blonde Senshi was in the groove, ignoring the rain pounding down as her eyes scanned the battlefield on her side of the Deeps Wall rushing forward toward the closest gap between concrete block warehouses. She wasn't worried about any machines on the other side of that wall of water, their sensors — visual or otherwise — would no more be able to reach through that wall than the bullets stopped cold by the water's incredible pressure, the bullets she could see like little dots stuck in the wall and slowly drifting down under gravity's pull even as more bullets pocked in to replace them.
She had already destroyed the rest of the watchtowers on her half of the side of the fence they'd come through before they could swivel their guns around to face into the port, turning to run backwards for a few moments as she'd sent Earth-Shaking blasts spinning along the ground toward them (not at the full strength or range she was capable of, but quicker to fire off and less tiring).
Then they were across the road between the fence and between warehouses, and Uranus kept an eye behind them on the doors as they'd passed — she didn't expect any armed robots inside the perimeter fence, not until some could shift from the sides of the perimeter the Senshi hadn't already denuded of defenders, but if there were any they would hide inside the warehouses where the mobile Deeping Wall wouldn't sweep them up, and come out behind their attackers.
But none did, and the racing Senshi hit the T-intersection. Another watchtower came into view in the perimeter fence visible down the street on Uranus's left, and she slowed long enough to fire off another low-powered Ground Shaking. As Pluto came up even with the other two Outers on Neptune's side, Uranus faced forward again just in time to see the water of Neptune's Deeping Wall splash apart as a pre-war forklift smashed through it.
The humanoid Myrmidon driving the forklift had been knocked out of its seat to sprawl on the road by the force of the water's impact, and Uranus absentmindedly lopped off its head and an arm and leg with her resummoned sword, her attention on the view revealed now that the Deeps Wall was gone. The warehouse that formed the T-intersection was only a few yards away, a few armed robots coming around the sides of the warehouse from the opposite perimeter fence. They quickly blew apart as Dead Screams and low-powered Water Drills hammered into them. The Senshi had cleared the path behind them as they'd come in, and ... Uranus glanced to her right past Neptune and Pluto to see that she'd been right, the street that way ended in the dock on open water, and the massive cranes used to offload the freighters. Perfect! She shouted, "Neptune, angled Wall, my side, completely across the street! Pluto, switch places!"
Neptune instantly turned around and brought up a new Deeps Wall from the opposite warehouse wall across the street to a warehouse they'd passed on their way in, angled to cut across the path they'd swept clean on their way in, leaving the three Senshi inside a protective 'V' open on Pluto's side.
Even as Neptune brought up the wall, Pluto whipped around the Senshi of the Deeps to Uranus' side of their line while Uranus leaped up to flip over her lover. She landed where Pluto had been a moment before, feet slipping for a moment on the wet and cracked concrete before catching herself before she fell. She spread her hands, gritted her teeth as she summoned the largest World Shaking she could, and screamed as she sent the coruscating golden ball tearing along the concrete pavement towards the cranes before dropping to her knees, panting.
The massive World Shaking dug a massive trench through the pavement along its path; then tore apart the dock, seawater along with chunks of concrete and steel splashing away on both sides ... and then the ball of energy blasted directly through the first crane, dug a huge chunk out of the side of the second, and clipped the third. Uranus rose to her feet, grinning viciously as the first crane dropped into seawater like a dynamited tree, the second crashed over onto its side into the water where the dock had been, and the third tilted ... at first slowly but with growing speed ... until it, too, crashed through the shattered dock into the bay. Even if one of the three cranes had been only damaged instead of destroyed, it was going to be a long time before any cargo was unloaded at this little port.
Then something blasted its way through Neptune's Deeps Wall behind her. Uranus whirled around just in time to see Pluto's Dead Scream smash into the side of ... a fuel tanker. Oh, shit! Uranus had a split-second to lift her arms over her closed eyes and begin lifting legs to curl into a ball, before the world vanished in noise and heat and ripping shrapnel as the blast wave picked her up and smashed her through the warehouse wall.
The next thing Uranus was aware of was all-encompassing pain, more along the arms holding her and flaring with every shift of her body. Then she was being eased down on a surface that shaped itself to her, to a point. Not again, she thought as she forced her eyes open. Yup, again ... as she'd thought, she was on the cot by the Time Gates, Neptune crouching down by her side. The Senshi of the Deeps looked awful, her sea-green hair turned grayish with concrete dust and plastered down by water, rivulets still cutting channels through more concrete dust that coated all of her that Uranus could see. Her lover must have had time to put herself in the middle of a Deeps Ball to ride out the explosion — barely. The dust would have come from digging Uranus out of the rubble.
Uranus sucked in a breath, ignoring the familiar sharp pain of broken ribs, and in a thready voice whispered, "You're a mess."
Neptune managed a shaky laugh. "Not as much as you, love. I didn't have time to grab you, too, I'm sorry."
"Hey, as long as the bad guys are gone and someone's left to dig me out, we're good." Uranus lifted one heavy, shaking hand to cup Neptune's cheek before letting it drop with a gasp of pain. "Thanks for being there to dig me out."
"Pluto helped, but you're very welcome. Just please stop trying to die on me."
"Yeah, that's a bad habit I'll have to break. What's the port like?"
Pluto's voice came from past her head, by the Gates themselves. "Devastated, that explosion has at least doubled the amount of time it will take the Zonemind to repair all the damage. Not to mention the loss of supplies."
Pluto's voice had been getting closer, and now the emerald-haired Senshi stepped into Uranus's view. She looked a lot better than Neptune, but apparently she hadn't gotten thoroughly soaked before diving into an expanding cloud of concrete dust onto rubble, either. She added, "It isn't at Saturn level, but it's in the same ballpark. Apparently, the Tokyo Zonemind has decided that killing us is worth any amount of property damage, and instructed its minions accordingly. Once you're healed up and we can rejoin the other Outers I'll pass the word to everyone else so they can take that into account for their own upcoming fights."
Uranus had stiffened at the sight of Pluto — she was finding letting go of decades of hate rather difficult — but forced herself to relax. She asked, "How long ... to heal?"
"As long as it takes, love," Neptune replied for Pluto. "I thought ... you ... you were ..." She broke off as her voice started to shake, and she took a deep breath and forced her voice to steady. "Time will pass faster if you sleep." She leaned over to softly kiss Uranus on the lips, then began to sing a lullaby.
Uranus smiled (even that hurt — hurt more, rather) and closed her eyes, and allowed the soft voice she loved to fill her world and sweep her away.