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.


As the air in the room filled with wall fragments and plaster dust from the bullets hammering into the back wall, adding a fresh gray patina to two girls' already oil-soaked hair and uniforms, they crawled to adjacent windows and lifted newly-summoned ki-shields. Ignoring the bullets now ricocheting from those shields, they stared through them as the first arachnid-like Tarantulas came scuttling out of old-Mercury's mist, firing as they came. The robots were burning through their ammunition at an incredible rate, but the suppressing fire they were laying down was effective. Ice, lightning, and golden chains were already returning fire from other windows, throwing pieces of the Tarantulas back along their advance as the Senshi blew holes in the oncoming horde, but the holes were filled by new eight-legged, human-sized scuttling combat units as fast as they were formed. And the ones advancing through Vanguard and Aegis's zone of responsibility were getting a free pass, the girls unable to fire their own rifles while maintaining their shields and the men with them unable to return fire without risking almost certain injury or death. So let's change that, Vanguard thought grimly, before we're overrun.

Her instincts were screaming at her to close the distance, charge into them behind her shield the same way she had with the Hoplites in the now-tree-filled square, but her counterpart had taken her aside afterward and privately explained to her why that was a Bad Idea when almost all their heavy hitter worked best at range, however well it had worked out that time. Still, there were alternatives and her mind was flashing through them as she shifted into combat computer-mode. She shouted out over the din of gunfire, "Akane, watch what I do, then move down two windows and follow my lead!"

Aegis glanced at her and nodded, and Vanguard created a shield on each arm and lifted them to cover the windows she was crouched between. With her back to the outer wall she glanced to each side and grimaced — the shields were in their usual triangular shape, from her training under Doug-sensei. They would provide some cover for the men, but she could do better than that! She stared at one of her shields, frowning in concentration, and the shimmering, translucent energy stretched to fill the whole window. A moment later two small half-circle openings appeared along the bottom against the window sill for gun ports. She called out, "There you go, guys, fire away to your hearts' content!" As two manically grinning men rose from their hiding place beneath the window and stuck the barrels of their guns through the openings to return fire, Vanguard shifted her attention to her other shield and repeated the process.

Aegis had been watching intently, and now she nodded, leaned forward to peck her lover on the lips, and scuttled along the wall, keeping low and circling the men crouched under the windows, and quickly replicated Vanguard's actions. But Vanguard wasn't watching, she'd closed her eyes and her lips pulled back in a snarl as the pressure of maintaining the shields under the constant hail of bullets grew heavier and heavier — she'd maintained shield and sword for extended periods of time before, and that same day her shield had held through impacts much heavier than the gunfire she was blocking now, but she'd never tried to maintain two shields at once under such constant pressure and sweat was beading on her face as she fought to protect the men fighting to hold back the Tarantulas.

Vanguard instantly recognized one major flaw in her idea — she couldn't see what was going on! And with the world-shaking chaos of the assault and the strain of maintaining two large shields being constantly hammered on, she dare try to use her newly-discovered personal radar. She was having to strain to maintain her center as it was. She shouted to one of the men next to her, "How we doin'?"

He didn't turn to look at her, keeping his eyes fixed out the window through her shield, but she could see a scarred cheek distorted by half of a fierce grin as he continued firing. "We're doing just fine, as long as the ammo holds out. They're having to climb over their own dead ... well, as dead as a robot gets. And once the ammo runs low it'll be up to you and the rest of — everybody down!" He followed his own shout, yanking his rifle clear as he dropped to the floor just ahead of the rest of the men, curling into a ball against the wall.

Vanguard waited just long enough for the four men at her windows to drop before banishing the shields and following suit, Aegis right behind her. She hadn't quite hit the floor when the first missiles slammed into the building right above the windows where the ceiling and wall joined. The world seemed to vanish in thunder and flame, the force of the explosion hammering her into the floor. She barely felt the bits of metal and stone peppering her back and legs as her breath was knocked out of her.

Forcing herself to roll to a sitting position, she desperately sucked in air and began coughing, the air filled with smoke and plaster dust. At least the ki-visor she'd come up with after getting splashed across the face with acidic blood was keeping the smoke and dust out of her eyes. (She was distantly surprised that she'd managed to keep her center and maintain it through that, she really was getting good ... too bad she couldn't filter the air yet, something else to consider.) She strained to see where Aegis had been to find her on her hands and knees with a hacking couch as she tried to clear her own lungs. She was a bit bloodied from the shrapnel, but Vanguard had to fight not to sag with relief as she realized her lover was all right. She shouted "Check the men!" and barely waited long enough for Aegis's shaky nod of acknowledgement before whirling back to peek over the window sill.

A clear ice wall stretched across the road in front of the building just in front of the edge of older-Mercury's mist, cutting off the dimly visible Tarantulas. Vanguard frowned for a moment, wondering why Mercury ... whichever Mercury, but probably the younger, she couldn't imagine the older one could handle both the mist and a wall at the same time ... hadn't created it before. Then she noticed that the wall was already fracturing under the Tarantulas' fire. Right, it's not gonna hold long enough ta make the effort worth it, unless there's nothin' else for it. She summoned her own assault rifle from her stuff-space and braced it on the window sill, ready to fire as soon as the Tarantulas broke through.

Behind the robots visible through the ice, dim flashes lit up the mist and fresh Hoplite-launched rockets roared out to slam into the second story, again shaking the building ... higher and slightly to the side of the first strike, though, no threat to Vanguard's piece of the action.

Aegis settled at the window next to her, and Vanguard asked, "The men?"

"One dead, a couple badly hit, the rest walking wounded getting them back to the medics. They'll be back in a few minutes."

"We may not have a few minutes," Vanguard said, wincing as the first bullets from the Tarantulas punched through the ice and a hole opened up. "The two of us alone aren't gonna be enough ta hold them back with just our rifles. Besides, there's those missiles. We're gonna need ta take it to 'em again."

Aegis sighed. "You're counterpart isn't going to be happy. At least let him know first."

"Yeah, I was gonna do that," Vanguard replied, ignoring her lover's doubtful look. She put down her rifle as Aegis fired a three-round burst to take down the first Tarantula through the new hole, and was reaching for her communicator when she felt it vibrating. She yanked it out and hit the 'accept' key.

Old-Ranma's face appeared in the device's tiny screen. "We're going to be taking the fight to them," he said without preamble. "You and Aegis will be focusing on keeping the Tarantulas away from the building while I and a few others will be breaking through to the Hoplites, take them down before their missiles bring down the building. Understand?"

"Understood, when?" Vanguard asked.

"Now." The screen went blank.

Vanguard looked over at Aegis to find she'd sent her rifle back to stuff-space and had formed a ki-shield and sword. Vanguard formed her own shield and sword and, grinning fiercely, leaped through the window and landed on back of the first Tarantula to make it through the widening hole in the ice wall. She crouched behind her shield, blocking a fresh hail of bullets, and casually reversed her sword and slammed it down, through where she'd learned during the (too) long briefing in Crystal Tokyo that the Tarantulas' CPU was located.

As the robot collapsed under her she rode it to the ground even as the ice wall in front of her collapsed and a fresh surge of Tarantulas scuttled forward, and Aegis bounded past her to meet the charge.

"Hey, wait for me!" Vanguard yelled, and sprang after her lover.

As the pair slashed into the wave of attackers, Wraiths roared in overhead to hover over the building.

/oOo\

Ranma paused for a moment, the redhead (thanks to the rain) letting Venus take the point with her scythe-tipped chains, Jupiter just behind her. The two Senshi continued to carve their way through the ranks of the robots in front of the Hoplites, lashing out with her chains to imbed the scythe blades into the robots, then tossing the chains to Jupiter (the younger one — Ranma had trouble telling them apart, but the older one was down after creating the forest around their fort) to electrify while Morisato Daichi's force wall covered one flank and her Mars dealt with the robots on the other flank with flaming wall and arrows hot enough to vaporize bullets and armor.

Deciding she was safe enough for a few moments, she looked up toward the Wraiths that had just come to a hover over their makeshift fort, and winced when she saw the open back bay ramp of a Wraith dropping toward the roof. She only caught a split-second glimpse before the changing angle cut off her view, but it was enough to tell her what was happening — the flatscans were assaulting down through the roof as well as the ground floor.

For a moment she considered turning back and leaving the Hoplites to the rest of her slapdash team, but a misty flash of light out of the corner of one eye caught her attention, and she turned and fired off a dark blood-red Moko Takabisha. The Hoplite-launched missile she'd just destroyed short of its target — her team — peppered them with shrapnel, but nothing her and the Senshi's healing factors couldn't handle and Jupiter had shielded Daichi with her own body.

And the explosion distracted Venus for just a second, and she was flung back as bursts of gunfire stitched across her stomach and chest.

Ranma leaped forward to land beside Venus, pouring ki into her legs and hips to casually kick aside a Tarantula lining up for another shot, then glanced down as the Senshi forced herself to her knees, clutching at her chest and hacking up blood. "I'll be all right!" Venus shouted over the racket as she imbedded fresh chains in the Tarantulas in front of her and tossed the ends to Jupiter. "They didn't penetrate my uniform, and the hit on my arm missed the bone, clean through. The Wraiths?" she yelled louder, to be heard over the racket of fresh electricity flowing down the chains and cooking off the robots' internally-stored ammunition. They were too close for the long chains now, and Ranma charged the robots directly behind the ones just destroyed, the blood-red ki of her aching hate flaming around her hands. Venus was right behind him, only pausing long enough to manifest chains around her fists.

As Ranma ripped a Tarantula's leg off and buried her fist in the opening before firing off a mini-Moko Takabisha straight into its innards, she shouted, "They'll have to deal with them themselves, keeping the flatscans from coming through the roof won't help if the Hoplites bring down the building!" Or at least, the middle of the building — the way the Hoplites were firing down a street at a building stretching across the top of a T-intersection meant the robots had limited targeting options. But even that would be a disaster, killing many of the defenders and separating the survivors into two groups unable to support each other that could each be taken down separately.

Venus nodded as she created short chains in each hand to spin in circles in front of her, sending a barrage of bullets ricocheting back at their firers, then wiped at the blood still oozing from her mouth. "Hope everyone's still there when we get back."

Ranma nodded, then fired off another Moko Takabisha as a fresh rocket volley roared past overhead, destroying the only missile that had targeted his team. She whipped around just long enough to see fresh explosions track across their building, then turned back and leaped over the last rank of Tarantulas and raced towards the giant humanoid robots now visible though the mist. Her team could keep the Tarantulas from shooting her in the back, and she could take down the big boys so they all could get back while they still had friends and comrades to get back to.

/oOo\

Vanguard snarled as she felt her communicator begin vibrating halfway through her roll across the rain-puddled broken asphalt of the street to smother the oil smearing her uniform that had caught fire somehow in spite of the light rain. Fire out, she rolled up to her feet and snatched the communicator from her pocket as she crouched and thrust her lifesword straight forward between a Tarantula's front optical sensors. "Now is not the time!" she shouted into the com, glancing over her shoulder for a split-second as a fusillade erupted behind her, then forward again when she saw Aegis was dealing with the Tarantulas that had slipped around their flanks.

"Make time!" a visibly pale, sweating Mercury snarled. "The Wraiths overhead are dropping Tarantulas on the roof! Your Mercury's going to make a fresh ice wall, fall back and clear out any robots on our side when she does, then provide cover for Masazumi when he joins you so he can blow the Wraiths away."

"You got it." Vanguard missed Mercury's reply when she had to form a shield on the same arm as the hand holding the com and block a fresh burst of gunfire, and when she'd shifted so she could both block and see the com's tiny screen it was blank. Right, fight now, apologize later. "Akane," she shouted, "we're fallin' back!"

Aegis waved her own com at Vanguard to show she'd gotten the message as her lifesword cut off the front-right legs the last Tarantula close to her, then sliced through its mounted gun as it fell. Fresh gunfire from the windows behind them took down Tarantulas well to each side of the pair, and Aegis turned to face Vanguard as she carefully backed up toward the building.

Vanguard leaped toward her, and something seemed to explode in her mind — DANGER! She found herself twisting in mid-jump, her shield shifting as her mind shrieked what was that!? ... and gunfire from a Tarantula that had levered itself up on the 'corpse' of another robot to make the angle stitched across her. Sparkles erupted across the shield from ricocheting bullets, pain lanced through an upper leg, her head snapped around and her vision went white as a bullet ricocheted off the edge of her ki-visor, and she spun through the air to slam down onto the broken sidewalk and wet overgrown grass of what had been a strip of lawn — and the scattered rubble from the missile strikes.

/\

Aegis had just slipped her com back in its pocket and was watching Vanguard leap toward her out of the corner of one eye with the rest of her attention on the new ice wall sweeping toward them (and over any Tarantulas that weren't able to scuttle forward or back out of the way in time), when the burst of bullets caught her lover in mid-jump and the redhead lost control of her leap and crash landed to lie limp on the ground.

"RANMA!"

Aegis's shield and lifesword vanished, gone with her hold on her center washed away by a wave of terror. She dropped to her knees next to the limp redhead, and almost sobbed with relief as Vanguard's eyes fluttered open. "Hey Tomboy, watch the name ... when in uniform..."

"Like you're one to talk, you've been calling me 'Akane' all day," Aegis replied with a voice made husky by her scream.

Vanguard smiled faintly. "Haven't been in uniform th' whole day. Gonna trance now." Her eyes sagged closed again.

"How is she?"

Aegis glanced up at the man swinging himself out of a window — Masazumi, she assumed. As he dropped to the overgrown lawn and strode toward her, she returned to her examination of her unconscious lover. Ranma had told her of how she had used her ki to check emergency room patients' condition and by now she had weeks' worth of experience with infusing her ki into her lover's body, though that had been to pass along her own feelings of love (and lust often enough). Now, she forced herself to again let go of her lingering fear and find her center to infuse Vanguard's body with her emotion-cleansed ki, and sagged as the last of her tension left her. "She'll be all right," she reported. "She has a gunshot wound to the leg, plus some cracked ribs and a serious concussion from falling on the rubble, I think, but nothing she can't handle with the healing trance she's in."

"Great, however much we appreciate the help, I'd hate for one of your group to get seriously hurt in a fight that's not really yours. Cover me while I take care of the Wraiths, and we can get her inside."

Aegis looked up at what she could see of the manta ray-shaped aircraft past the edge of the roof. There would be no place in the building safe for a trance-helpless Vanguard if they and the robots they were dropping weren't dealt with. "Right." She reformed her lifesword and shield and rose to her feet, and stepped past Masazumi, focusing on her Mercury's ice wall. Cracks from the hail of bullets hammering at it were already spreading. It wouldn't last long. And this was the second wall Mercury had made, she was probably wiped out. Definitely not cost-effective.

She ignored the earthshaking roar behind her, the wind trying to pull her back toward Masazumi, as mostly spent rounds tapped at her shield as the first bullets punched through the wall in an explosion of icy shards. She hastily glanced along the wall in both directions and saw other defenders waiting: some she knew, Mars and Venus (though native or hers she couldn't tell), mostly strangers. Then the feel of the staccato impacts on her shield strengthened, and she refocused on the piece of the wall in front of her. Any time now ...

Her piece of the wall collapsed, and she charged forward to meet the Tarantulas scuttling forward over its remains, firing as they came, as behind her twin roars like oncoming freight trains erupted.