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.


Finally! The Tokyo Zonemind — all the Zoneminds, really — prided themselves on being logical beings, not driven by emotions as were the biologics that had serendipitously created beings superior to themselves. (Though logic could only take one so far, as evidenced by the deep divisions between the Zoneminds on such fundamental issues as how to deal with the environment and the surviving humans.)

Still, even as coldly logical a thing as the Tokyo Zonemind had found itself suffering from growing impatience as, every time its calculations and recalculations were about to push it into sending the gathered reinforcements into the blind zone, another jammer would be destroyed and that blind zone lose another semi-circular chunk. And it would have to recalculate yet again, perhaps order the reinforcements a little closer if the destroyed jammer had been in the right place, and wait yet again to see if any other jammers would be destroyed.

But in the end its patience had been rewarded, as the rate at which jammers were being destroyed (except for a few it required be brought in for examination) until it finally had contact with all of its forces around the trapped biologics and had a full assessment of the situation.

That situation was far from ideal. The new forest that had sprung up on three sides of the single building the biologics were occupying was thick, impenetrable by any combat robots. Scorpions were small enough, of course, but lacked the firepower to be effective. It ordered a number of them into the tangle anyway, of course, to act as scouts and to carry out attacks of opportunity, but the only avenue of attack available on the ground was a frontal assault that was going to be costly however it calculated the odds.

Still, that frontal assault would fix the defenders' attention nicely, and its new plan would capitalize on that.

It downloaded the plan to the Centurions along with decision trees for numerous options going forward (it had long ago learned that even its computing capacity could be overwhelmed by the chaos of the battlefield), then ordered the assault.

/oOo\

A few minutes earlier:

As Akane again felt her lover's 'touch', Ranma's love filling her, she broke off the story she was telling of her and Ranma's rocky early days and whipped around — no Ranma. And this time, that love had been mixed with whimsical humor, the equivalent of a giggling fit.

"What's wrong?" Haruna asked, her eyes scanning the room the pair occupied along the other wounded before focusing in the trees visible through the empty windows.

"Nothing's wrong," Akane hastened to assure her, "Ranma's just feeling frisky."

"Really?" Haruna frowned as she concentrated. "Wow, Ranma, you're really good with the Umisenken, I'm not picking up even a hint that you're here."

"Oh, she isn't here," Akane said. "I left her up front playing around with some new ideas she had about ki recently." Giggling, she added, "Of course, the first thing she does with a new breakthrough is to tease me."

Haruna repeated, "Really?" She stared at the wall toward the front of the building more or less in Ranma's direction. "It's kinda hard to believe it, Grandpa's always been so serious. Dad says he's always been that way, even before the war. I wonder what happened?"

Akane frowned thoughtfully as she thought about it, then turned white as a ghost as she remembered Ranma going toe to toe with the next thing to a god, facing a fiery death to protect her ... and what Pluto had told them had happened when this world's version of her snapped and had to be stopped. She whispered, "I did."

"What?"

Shaking away her sudden melancholy, Akane forced a smile for her lover's kinda-sorta-older-than-her granddaughter. "Nothing. Anyway, since Ranma doesn't seem to be playing anymore, back to the story. There he and I were, spinning around on the ice —"

'They're coming!'

Akane whipped around at what seemed like Ranma's voice shouting in her head, like the earlier touches the 'sound' seeming to come from everywhere and nowhere. "What was — !?" She broke off as she felt her Senshi communicator vibrating. Hastily fumbling it out of its special pocket in her costume's bike shorts, she sucked in a breath at the sight of the blinking red stud that was older-Mercury's signal that her Silver Millennium computer had detected the latest assault rolling in. "The story will have to wait till later, time to go," she said as she put the communicator back in its pocket and grabbed up her assault rifle. "Take care of yourself."

"Don't worry about me, if they actually get this far you'll have a lot more to worry about," Haruna replied. "Just be careful. I'll want to hear the rest of the story, and there's a lot more of us that'll want to hear more. Grandpa, Grandma and Aunt Nabiki don't talk about when they were kids at all."

Akane thought of all the embarrassing stories about Ranma she could give them, and grinned. "You're on," she said.

/\

In the hazy, dim light of her Veil, Jofrithr watched Akane rush from the room. She bit at her lip as she wondered what to do, really wishing she had taken Endymion's words more to heart. Oh, she'd certainly taken seriously his comment about shrapnel not caring about what was in its way, just not his order to head for safety. The result of her decision to stick with the fighters that made up the bait leading the robots into ambush combined with her efforts to keep to cover as she moved was that she'd fallen behind, and been on the wrong side of the square when Endymion had sprung the trap ... and right in the middle of the square when the Wraiths had roared overhead and the Hoplites had fallen out of the sky to assault the Resistance positions in the buildings. She had never been so terrified in all her short life — right up to the moment that the burning Wraith falling out of the sky almost landed on her before blowing up. Then she learned what true terror was.

She'd been curled into a sobbing ball desperately fighting to maintain her Veil and praying none of the Hoplites stepped on her, when two girls not all that much older than her had passed by her as they tore into the robots with a fervor fierce enough that she had been able to borrow some of their courage, enough to uncurl and sneak after them as they carved their way through the robots' ranks. She'd been following them ever since.

Only now it seemed Akane and Ranma were going to be headed back into combat, and even if the thought of following them back into that hell didn't leave her practically paralyzed with fear, Jofrithr's power simply wasn't all that useful with so much random death filling the air. Before she had always regretted that her inheritance wasn't more combat-oriented, in spite of the assurances of Grandmother Belldandy, Aunt Urd and Aunt Skuld that everyone had their part to play. Now, she was inexpressibly grateful.

It seemed that Haruna wasn't inexpressibly grateful, though, not from her conflicted expression.

Come to think of it, she has a wild rep, too. I'll bet she

Just as Jofrithr feared, Haruna's expression firmed and she picked up a makeshift crutch and began to lever herself to her feet. I knew it, she's a Saotome's Saotome. Lunatics, the lot of them, Jofrithr thought with a fourteen-year-old's certainty of opinion inherited from her elders. She instantly released her hold on her Veil with a grin, only to drop as a small ball of glowing blue-white flashed toward her. "Friend! Friend!" she yelled as she landed face down on hands and toes.

Haruna glared down at the young teenager, then looked up at the new scorch mark on the wall across the room. "Jofrithr?" she asked. "Don't startle me like that. So what're you doing here?"

"Uhhhh ..." Jofrithr scrambled for some excuse that would keep the young woman out of harm's way. She couldn't try to physically restrain her, after all, even with Haruna's leg at least temporarily crippled the Saotome would be able to hand her her head. Then she heard the scritch of tree branches that hadn't been there an hour earlier rubbing against the outside wall, and grinned. "I'm keeping an eye on our brand new forest," she replied. "Who knows what the flatlines might sneak through it, and if the fighting gets bad enough any able-bodied guards will get sucked into the fight up front."

Haruna glared at her for a moment, obviously not fooled for a moment, but turned her head to stare through the empty window at the trees that came right up to the wall for a time before finally sighing. "Yeah, you're right," she reluctantly agreed, and painfully lowered herself back down to her pallet on the floor. "But don't think I didn't notice that you didn't exactly answer my question. What are you doing here? I thought Endymion was going to send you back to headquarters."

"Uhhhh..."

The cacophony of gunfire from the approaching horde washed through the building, and Jofrithr happily focused on trying to figure out what was happening from the sound. Not that her parents' and grandparents' opprobrium would be so easy to avoid when their turn came. For a moment Jofrithr wondered how long she could avoid going home by volunteering for outpost duty.

Then the first of the missiles slammed into the building.

/\

Akane ran into the room where she'd left Ranma to find her lover crouched by the window, her arm lifted so that she could stare through her shimmering, translucent shield out at older-Mercury's fog surrounding the building. Ignoring the men that had joined the redhead in the room and were crouching by other windows, Akane crouched down below window-height and scuttled across the floor to join Ranma. She whispered, "Anything yet?"

Ranma murmured, "Listen. Hear anything?"

Closing her eyes, Akane focused on her hearing, straining for any of the grinding, clanking, screeching sounds that had helped fill the world during their first clash with the robots — nothing except the sounds of the human presence in the building. Not even the few birds that she'd heard as she'd moved about the ruined city could be heard, the earlier battle must have scared them all away. "No, nothing," she said, then stiffened as the first clanking rumblings reached her. "Wait."

The sound quickly grew louder, eerily echoing and distorted by the thick fog, and she shivered as fear filling the emotion-charged ki radiating from the others in the room washed over her. She glanced to one side at the nearest rebel, noting the man's grip on his rifle so tight his hand was bleached white. This is bad.

She hissed, "Ranma, let's change back to our costumes."

"What, now!?" Ranma twisted to stare at her.

"Hey, it's a Senshi-type fight, right? We should wear the uniform. Besides, It'll probably be as messy as the last one, and we don't have another change of clothes with us. Our uniforms can't get worse than they already are."

Ranma stared at her, and while Akane couldn't sense her lover's emotions — Ranma was staying centered and so her ki was clear, and they weren't touching — but she could practically feel the redhead's tension as her eyes shifted toward some of the men sharing the room with them. Oh. Oops. Akane leaned forward to lay a hand on Ranma's arm.

"Ranma, none of these men are Happosai," she whispered in her lover's ear, "and even if they were, you could kick all their asses combined. And so can the robots. They know that and they're scared, so how about we give them a little hope to focus on?"

Ranma had stiffened at Happosai's name and she jerked around to stare at Akane for a long moment, eyes wide, as her ki-shield vanished. Finally she shook herself, closed her eyes, and after a moment went still — a relaxed stillness that Akane knew meant she was reaching out to sense the world around her. After a moment her eyes opened and she nodded. "Okay, let's do it," she agreed.

"Right." Akane checked to make sure she was between windows so she couldn't be seen from outside, then stood up and took a deep breath as she tried to ignore the men abruptly focusing on her. This time, don't miss your boot. She spun into Amagurikan speed and a few seconds later whirled to a stop, again dressed in her filthy red, white and blue costume. Glancing around at the appreciative grins the men were suddenly sporting, she growled wordlessly even as she felt her cheeks heat up then grinned as the men's heads snapped back to the windows. She ran her fingers through her oil-soaked, wind-blown hair and sighed. "At least my costume matches my hair again," she murmured, then smiled encouragingly at Ranma as she stepped back. "Your turn."

Ranma glanced around and the men now studiously ignoring the two girls, took a deep breath and nodded. Rising to stand where Akane had been, she spun into her own whirlwind of flashes of skin and clothes and a moment later slowed to a halt, now also dressed in her Senshi-like uniform, to face a grinning Aegis.

Aegis stepped forward to run her fingers through Vanguard's oily hair. "That is always so hot," she whispered. She leaned forward, lips parting for a soft kiss ... and dropped to the floor beside Vanguard as the world exploded into ear-bursting cacophony, bullets slamming into the stone of the outside wall and coming through the windows like horizontal hail.