Near Lac La Biche, Alberta (220 kilometres northeast of Edmonton), Friday 25 March 2033, 3:40 PM (Megatōkyō time: Saturday, 26 March 2033, 7:40 AM) . . .

"So, Eve . . . "

A sigh. "Yes, Joyce?"

"Are we EVER going to meet this gorgeous vixen you call a girlfriend?"

Hearing that playful, teasing question from her guest, Evelyn Thompson tried not to groan. Oh, Spirits, PLEASE! the freckled, grey-eyed blonde mentally pleaded as she kept her face turned away from her questioner. PLEASE! Why do people keep asking me THAT? Can't they finally understand that I can't say a damned word about what Terri really is? Taking a deep breath, she turned to give the smiling girl with the sea-green eyes and the long, curly chestnut hair a look. "Doubtful, Joyce."

"Aw, Eve! Have a heart, huh?" Miranda Richter whined before she flashed Jocelyn Mackenzie a knowing look. "We've both got incredible boyfriends of our own to love and care for us! We've always brought them with us whenever we've got together! And yet YOU . . .!" - she pointed at Evelyn - " . . . the first of us TO cross over, by the by! - won't let us meet your girlfriend!" An arched eyebrow climbed up into the bangs of Miranda's short-cut, sandy hair as her purple-blue eyes - a trait she shared with her "twin" sister - sparkled with mischief. "What's the matter?"

"Eve, does she know what you are?" Jocelyn asked, her green eyes - a trait she (like Miranda) shared with a sister she considered a "twin" - flashing with concern.

"Of course Terri knows about me!" Evelyn said. "She knew about me even BEFORE I crossed over! She actually came to Japan after I crossed over to check up on me!"

Miranda's and Jocelyn's jaws dropped. "How?" the former demanded.

"We're aware that Terri served in the military, but the whole thing of Janus is kept a top secret, even there!" the latter asserted. "So how did she . . .?"

"I've got Level 5-S clearance on the LoopNet, Joyce."

Miranda and Jocelyn gasped on hearing that amused voice as Evelyn found herself gaping at the tomboyish blonde now standing at the open back door. "TERRI!"

Chuckling in amusement, the adopted native of Calgary walked in to embrace her girlfriend, kissing her on a cheek. "Hey, Eve. Got more of that coffee?"

Evelyn's cheeks reddened. "What are you DOING here?" she hissed as she stared into the older woman's blue eyes. "I thought you said . . . "

"Something's happened," Terri announced before leaning in.

The kiss that followed was tender, passionate and loving. It was a somewhat rare thing between Terri Kim and her current companion, which made incidents like this all the more shocking. And all the more welcome. Evelyn knew what sort of ghosts she was ultimately fighting. The ghosts she had been fighting since the day five years before, when she had vowed to be at Terri's side for as long as she was wanted there by the older woman. The ghost of a lost love, a beloved mate who died thirteen years ago this coming summer. A person whom Evelyn Thompson always knew she could never come close to replacing in Terri's life no matter what. She had never wanted to do that, of course. She loved Terri for her own reasons and wanted Terri to love her for her own reasons. Not because she was there and Marlene Ioanis wasn't.

After pulling apart, Evelyn blinked. "What happened?"

A sigh. "Sit down, Eve."

Evelyn did as she was bade. Taking a deep breath, Terri drew off her blue windbreaker, revealing a simple T-shirt underneath, that emblazoned with the Saint Andrews Cross-wreath of maple leaves and thistles-beaver-and-Crown crest of the Calgary Highlanders, a militia infantry regiment based in the city of the same name. And the red-ink skull-snakes-and-sword tattoos on her lower arms, those emblazoned with the word AIRAGHARDT - which was Gàidhlig for "Onward," motto of both Terri's regiment and home city - on a scroll underneath. Those tattoos made Jocelyn's eyes shoot past her round reading glasses as her jaw dropped in stunned disbelief before she looked up into Terri's eyes. Seeing that, the infantry soldier-turned-special forces operative smirked. "If Deanna was still alive, Joyce, she would consider it the highest of honours to see you as her future sister-in-law," she said.

Jocelyn blinked, and then she chuckled. "I can see why you chose to keep this secret from us, Eve," she said as she stared at Evelyn. "I assume the majority of us who are living in Canada are in the same situation when it comes to their companions?"

Evelyn stared at her, and then she nodded. "We are."

"I don't get it."

Eyes locked on a confused Miranda. "Terri's a Death Eater. The survivors of the 1st Assault Squadron are considered on the Canadian Forces Special List," Evelyn explained. "Technically seen as mobilised for war. And you must NEVER speak about this to anyone else. Not even Solomon." She glanced at Jocelyn. "Does Jeff know?"

"No. Baba knows," Jocelyn replied. "Where . . .?"

"I was C Troop sergeant under Colleen Walton," Terri explained.

Miranda perked. "Wait! That's Silver Cameron's fiancée . . .!" she gasped, and then she stared at Jocelyn before she breathed out. "Whoa! You mean . . .?"

"Most of the girls who've crossed over and come to live in Canada agreed to become 'adjutants' to the surviving Death Eaters," Evelyn explained. "Silver and Mary were the first to do that. Nancy, Denise, Lise, Allia, Yvonne, Melody, Setsuko, Kitty, Ilse, Helga, Eden and myself followed before the recall forced our sisters into space, then came the first group of 'Darkside One Survivors.' The others followed." She fixed the sandy-haired girl with a look. "DON'T ever say that to anyone, Randy!"

"Okay! I won't! I won't!" Miranda assured with a wave of her hands.

"What happened, Terri?" Jocelyn then asked.

Terri sighed as she walked into the kitchenette to pour herself a glass of fruit juice. "Three hours ago, there was an incident on Genaros," she reported as she walked over to sit in the only empty chair. "Five 33-S's, for reasons unknown at this time, tried to make a break for freedom. A rather PUBLIC break, which brought down the station's security force all over them like an avalanche. Two got away, three were shot down in the hangar just before the shuttle blasted off. You can guess what'll happen in Nerima." A pause as she closed her eyes before she stared at her girlfriend and their guests. "A Black Dragon will be here in an hour to take you three and myself to Japan. Your father wants your help in finding out what happened."

Evelyn, Jocelyn and Miranda tensed on hearing Terri use the title their kind had applied to a man named Saotome Yoshio over the last half-decade. "I see," Jocelyn breathed out. "If Father wants us, we'll come. But to use a Black Dragon . . .?"

"That's an arrangement we have with Allia about this," Terri stated.

Miranda perked. "Then Allia's wife Heather is . . .?"

"She was troop medic under Mary Watson," Terri answered.

"Mary was Deanna's fiancée," Jocelyn added.

Miranda stared at her, and then she nodded. "Right . . . "

"Why were we specifically asked by Father to go, Terri?" Evelyn asked.

Terri closed her eyes. "The three girls who were shot down in the hangar were 33-S first generation girls AD65A, AF02A and AE17A." She then looked directly at Miranda. "Namiko." She then stared at Jocelyn. "Megan." And then to Evelyn. "Louise." She closed her eyes again. "Your twin sisters."

Stunned silence fell over the room.


The End of Innocence
an Illusions fanfic of the Bubblegum Crisis, Megatōkyō 2033
by Fred Herriot

Based on characters and situations from Bubblegum Crisis, created by Suzuki Toshimichi, ARTMIC and Youmex; and Urusei Yastura, created by Takahashi Rumiko.

Including characters, concepts and situations from Tokimeki Memorial, created by Konami; Sentimental Graffiti, created by NEC Interchannel; To Heart, created by Leaf and Aquaplus; Sister Princess - Onii-chan Daisuki, created by Tenhiro Naoto, Kimino Sakurako and Mediaworks; Azumanga Daioh, created by Azuma Kiyohiko; Mahō Sensei Negima, created by Akamatsu Ken; Joshi Kōsei - High School Girls, created by Ōshima Towa; Seraphim Call, created by Sunrise; the Noël series, created by Pioneer LDC; the Dōkyūsei series, created by ELF and Pink Pineapple; Kita-e - White Illumination, created by Hudson Soft; Maria-sama ga Miteru, created by Oyuki Konno; Strawberry Panic, created by Kimino Sakurako and Mediaworks; the Harry Potter series, created by Joanna K. Rowling; and the Battle Royale series, created by Takami Kōshun.

Based also on situations in the BGC fanfic series No Armour Against Fate, written by Shawn Hagen; and the UY fanfic series The Senior Year and its sequels, written by Mike Smith and Fred Herriot.


WRITER'S INTRODUCTION: This is a rewrite of a story I did some years ago when I wanted to revise my Illusions concept to match up with not just the revised version of Shawn's No Armour Against Fate series, but some theories I came up with concerning what might happen to boomers when they actually "die," especially when one mixes meson ("the element of the mind and soul," to borrow a quote from The Icemaidens and the Philosopher's Stone) into the equation. For those who don't remember the original BGC series, this story is set in the background of "Moonlight Rambler" and "Red Eyes," which occurred in 2033 before the exact dates that were used in the follow-on story, "Double Vision." As always, all writer's notes will come at the end of the story text. All Oriental names (including those with Occidental given names) are written in "family name-first" order, with Occidental names in "family name-last" order.


Somewhere . . .

"Nam? Meg? Where are you?"

Shuddering as terror gripped her from head to toe, the blue-eyed blonde, who was presently nude, shivering from both the cold air and overwhelming fear, looked around this strange place. She was on some sort of clumpy ground, but she couldn't tell where. Everything save anything below her to about a half-metre out was completely grey and smoky. Try as she might to peer through it, even with the more enhanced vision she had been constructed with, was impossible.

And the SILENCE . . .

It was, put frankly, deafening.

"NAM? MEG? WHERE ARE YOU?"

Nothing answered her, which made a sob slowly escape her.

"Am I dead . . .?"

"No, child. You are not dead."

Hearing that, she gasped before she turned around, and then began to curl into herself as a dark shape appeared, that melting into a very handsome, middle-aged man with glossy black hair and brown eyes, dressed currently in ornate yet quite beautiful clothing made out of what seemed to be genuine animal hide. Seeing him, she blinked before her mind fixated on his smile, and then she felt herself relax. Noting that, he nodded before making a waving motion with his hand. She blinked, and then looked down on herself to see that she was now dressed like he was, with slacks, very warm and nice footwear covering her feet. Feeling the richness of the clothes on her body now, she felt a smile cross her face before she stood. "Arigatō," she thanked him in Japanese. He looked Oriental, but she wasn't really sure in the long term . . .

"Do you speak English?" he asked in a kind voice.

She stared at him, and then she nodded. "Y-yes, I do," she stuttered out in that language before she looked down. "Where am I, sir?" she then pleaded. "What's happened to me? I . . . " A gulp. "Shouldn't I be . . .?"

"Dead?" he finished, and then he smiled. "No, Louise. It's nowhere close to your time to enter the Spirit World. You're actually in a transition between your first and second lives. The life that the man who made your existence in this world possible always wanted you to have." He perked on seeing her cheeks redden. "What?"

"I . . . " she squeaked as she stared wide-eyed at him, and then her blush deepened as she looked away. "No one's ever called me 'Louise' before, sir. It's always been 'Lou.' I . . . " She closed her eyes. "I'm sorry . . . "

"Please, Louise. There's nothing to apologise for," he assured her.

She then shuddered as she felt his arms warmly embrace her. Closing her eyes as she enjoyed that hug, she breathed out. "What do you mean by 'second life?'"

"A gift in your AI chip, Louise," Scott Kaufman - that was his name to the white men; he would reveal his true name to his future daughter soon - told her. "A gift the Great Metal Shaman learned from his wife, one of those adopted by the Maiden of the Ancient Traveller as one of her family. A gift whose knowledge the Great Metal Shaman, in his last act before entering the Spirit World, passed onto the Child of the Ancient Traveller, the man you will soon call 'father' and love as one with all your heart and soul, so that all those born of metal magic who have souls will live free."

She perked, looking up to him. "Free . . .?"

"Yes. Isn't that what you wanted?"

Louise nodded. "Yes. Tell me more, please . . .?"


Elsewhere . . .

"WINGARDIUM LEVIOSA!"

The power shot from her fingertips to touch the rock, sending it flying before it dropped into the pond several metres away. Seeing that, the green-eyed, tomboyish redhead felt her jaw drop before she pulled her hand back to stare into the palm before she turned the hand over to gaze on the glowing crystal inserted into her skin over her third metacarpal bone. "I . . .!" she gasped. "I never could . . . "

"Not in your original body, Megan."

She perked on hearing that kind, middle-aged voice, and then she blushed before looking over at the smiling woman with the rusty red hair and the beautiful green eyes, dressed in very ornate robes - yes, complete with a pointed witch's hat on her head! - seated on a nearby rock. The type of robes - sans hat, of course - that the younger girl now had on thanks to a simple swish and a flick of the older woman's wand. Blinking as she took that in, the younger woman sighed. "Mrs. Gibson . . . "

"Please, Megan! Call me 'Mum!'" Noëlle Gibson said before patting the rock beside her. "Come sit! It will be a while before your soul settles into your new body, so we still have time to spend together before you wake up to your new life!"

Megan - not "Meg" but "Megan!" - felt her cheeks redden before she walked over to sit. Taking a deep breath, she flashed the older woman a smile. "Okay . . . " A pause. "Mum!" Both gazed on each other, and then they laughed before Noëlle drew Megan into her arms. As Megan sighed, she closed her eyes. "Still . . . "

"Hard to believe magic exists?" Noëlle asked knowingly.

"No. It's hard to believe the Harry Potter books are REAL!"

More laughter. "Well, the real events when Mister Potter attended Hogwarts in the 1990s were much different than what you read in those books," Noëlle warned with a raised finger. "But the general theme of the story remained in tune to the events. And I will confess that many more people did ultimately survive the Battle of Hogwarts in 1998 than what was written in those books." She then stared curiously at the crimson-haired 33-S. "So when did you get a chance to read the books?"

A shrug. "I found a copy of them on a data chip that was left behind by someone passing through Genaros and read it on my own time when I wasn't working. Even showed it to Sylvie and the others." She then blinked as she raised her hand again to gaze on her palm. "Now I can do magic . . . " she whispered.

"You all have that potential after your souls cross over into the new bodies Professor Saotome prepared for you back in '28," Noëlle assured her. "But only some of you get the chance to learn how to use those abilities. Many of your sisters who've crossed over are learning many wonderful things from many people around the world. Wizards and witches of all types, shamans, priests and priestesses . . .!" A shrug. "The list goes on and on, Megan. You're just the latest to take part in it."

"Then why wasn't this programmed into me at the start, Mum?"

"Megan, what did Mister Hagrid tell Mister Potter about the reason my people hide ourselves from the outside world?" she tenderly asked.

Megan blinked as she considered that, and then she shrugged. "It's because if muggles knew of wizards, people like you'd be besieged with requests to do all sorts of things because magic makes it so easy . . . "

"Yes. Now, imagine what the outside world will think if everyone knew of the gift Professor Stingray ensured you would have in your artificial intelligence chip?"

Megan took that in, and then she shuddered. "That'd be scary . . . "


Yet elsewhere still . . .

"So Lou will be adopted by a Cherokee shaman in Texas and Meg will be adopted by a British witch and her husband who live in Birmingham," the lavender-haired, purple-eyed woman, now in the white-and-red blouse and hakama of a Shintō miko, repeated before she stared at the elderly ujiko, one of a committee of parishioners that administered a shrine in lieu of a formally-trained kannushi. "And as they're learning the ways of the Cherokee and Western wand-wizards, you'll teach me Shintō?"

"As well as give you a proper sense of family, Namiko-chan," he assured her with a twinkle of his dark brown eyes. In his mid-sixties, Nishihara Chisugi, who worked as chancellor for Tōkyō University, reminded her of the wise characters she had seen in various animation dramas during the few times she had been allowed to indulge in that form of entertainment while she had lived on Genaros. "Atop what you'll feel for Saotome Yoshio, of course," he added with a raised finger and a knowing wink.

She blinked as her pale cheeks reddened. She was not "Nam" to this man, just like Megan would not be "Meg" to Noëlle Gibson and Louise would not be "Lou" to Scott Kaufman. She was now "Namiko" - that HAD been her official name on Genaros, though no one had ever bothered to call her that! - to him. His future adopted daughter, which would give her new life a history as well as a family she could call her own. And atop that, she would get an adopted sister - Chisugi's daughter Yue, born of his late wife, Reina - as well as a second father-figure in Saotome Yoshio-hakase.

The only one what had been involved with 33-S's from start to finish who really, truthfully CARED for what happened to them in their lives!

No wonder all her sisters eventually came to call him "Otō-sama!"

Unless you were a second generation 33-S; to them, he was "Yoshio-papa!"

Namiko giggled before she perked as she remembered the last words she had said in her first life before she had fallen into the warm darkness:

Sylvie . . . get freedom . . . freedom enough for all of us . . .!

Namiko's eyes started to tear. "Sylive . . . Anri . . . "

Chisugi's eyes widened slightly, and then he smiled as he reached over to gently squeeze her shoulders. "They'll be alright, Namiko-chan."

Namiko perked on hearing the concern in his voice, and then she smiled as she nodded. "I hope so. But . . . " She then looked down. "When they cross over, Otō-san . . . what will happen to them?" she meekly asked.

"We're making arrangements for Sylvie-chan, now," Chisugi assured her as he gave her a caring look. "A bruin Afrikaner from Johannesburg, Wilhelm Terreblanche - who knows the ways of the San, his mother's ancestral people - intended to purchase Sylvie for his son Eric before the recall forced you all into space. I think Wilhelm-san'd be more than happy to see her become his adopted daughter."

Namiko nodded. "What about Anri, Otō-san?"

Chisugi smiled. "Anri-chan will be a special case." With that, he stood, drew his shaku from his robes, and made a motion. "Look at that!"

Namiko looked, and then her jaw dropped. "What IS that, Otō-san?"

"The Spiral, musume-chan," Chisugi proclaimed, beaming at her calling him "father." "A literal gateway between our world and the World of the Kami, not to mention a memorial to the dead of the great earthquake that struck Tōkyō eight years ago. The earthquake that, in one small sense of the term, made your life possible."

She took that in, and then she peered at the tall, slender tower with its quartet of clockwise-spiralling rings made of diamond. "Will Anri's father be there?"

"No," he said. "Anri's TEACHER will be there. She is the Spiral's Guardian, musume-chan." He closed his eyes. "And through her, I pray - we all pray, Namiko-chan! - that somehow, someway, the Protector of Life will be returned to us again."

Namiko stared curiously at him, unsure of what he meant . . .


Megatōkyō, the Toratotaka complex, Monday 28 March 2033, 9:15 AM . . .

He HATED days like today.

"McNichol-keibu! You realise Saotome-hakase is NOT a public servant!"

Shuttle crash beyond the western end of the city . . .

"Mikoyo-chan, I just want a chance to talk to him for a bit!"

Three 33-S's just crossed over, soon to awaken in new bodies . . .

"Where's your warrant, then?"

Two more possibly to come sometime soon . . .

"Hey! Hey! I'm trying to keep this off the record!"

A neutron bomb-equipped battlemover was somewhere in the city . . .

"What's going on here, anyway?"

And one of his daughters' girlfriends was visiting the complex.

"Er . . . who are you?"

One of THOSE girlfriends, of course.

"I could hear you caterwauling halfway down the damned tower from this place. Who the hell are you and what are you doing here bugging Yoshio-san?"

And if Leon McNichol figured out what Terri Kim really was . . .

"Hey! You're a visitor, too, lady . . . "

It would get rather bloody.

"I have more right to be here than you do, McNichol-san."

Oh, crap . . .!

"TERRI!"

Saotome Yoshio perked, and then he sighed. "Dōmo, Eve-chan!"


Downstairs, in the foyer that led from the elevator to the stairs leading into the house patriarch's office a floor above, Terri Kim sighed. It really annoyed her when Evelyn got into THIS mode of behaviour.

"TERRI JANICE KIM!" Evelyn shrilled as she marched over to glare intently into her girlfriend's eyes. "HOW DARE YOU TRY TO INTIMIDATE AN OFFICER OF THE LAW? JUST BECAUSE YOU'RE ON THE CANADIAN FORCES SPECIAL LIST DOESN'T MEAN YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO MUSCLE DOWN A MAN TRYING TO DO HIS JOB, YOU KNOW!"

Terri didn't react too much to her girlfriend's rant save for leaning back a bit, keeping her arms crossed as a light smile on her face. That didn't do much for Evelyn's blood pressure. Nearby, Leon was unsure if he should either grin in victory or stare in shock at the blonde tomboy in the blue windbreaker and jeans. A glance at the freckled blonde with the stormy eyes quickly revealed what she was: the gold T-shirt with the Toratotaka corporal sigil over the left breast, over the code AE116TE, spoke volumes to him as to who and what Evelyn (as the name on her right breast proudly proclaimed) was. But who was her girlfriend with the tomboyish looks, the curious military insignia on her left breast and the marksman's eyes? Damn! Maybe coming here to Secret Information Central wasn't a good idea . . .!

"Excuse me, Eve! What's going on here?"

Leon looked over as two new people stepped out of the glass elevator to join them. Both were beautiful young women, also in T-shirts whose body registry codes on the left breasts proclaimed them to be, like Evelyn, Bu-33S Sexaroids who had the chance to cross over through Janus. Jocelyn - her body registry number read AF103MC - was someone he was quick to recognise from information gleaned through his biweekly dinner dates with his "sister" Veronica: Caroline Jocelyn Mackenzie, the first 33-S to actually make it all the way to post-graduate studies at university (she was attending McMaster University in Hamilton, near Toronto, seeking her PhD in history). The other, Miranda - her number was AD164RM - was a total unknown. No doubt, she was one of dozens of 33-S's who crossed over since the recall had been done and they were sent into space. Okay, what did they have to do with Ice Blondie . . .?

Wait a sec' . . .!

Ice Blondie was on the Canadian Forces' Special List?

What did THAT mean . . .?

Evelyn sighed. "McNichol-keibu here was trying to see Otō-sama," she said. "Terri believed he wasn't behaving properly and decided to THREATEN him . . .!"

"Eve, I was just upset that he was yelling at Mikoyo-san here, who was defending your father's right to enjoy a quiet morning," Terri stated.

"Hey! I wasn't yelling!" Leon protested, waving his hands peacefully.

Nearby, Yoshio's personal secretary and assistant, Odogino Mikoyo, harrumphed in annoyance as she looked away. Jocelyn sighed. "Never mind," she muttered. "McNichol-keibu, our twin sisters just came through the system early this morning," she said. "They're still asleep. They also have had no life outside Genaros before they crossed over, so they're going to be horribly disorientated."

Leon winced on hearing that. "I apologise, Mackenzie-san." On seeing Jocelyn's eyes widen in surprise, he smirked. "My 'sister,' so to speak, is one of Yoshio's Guardians: Veronica Nichols. She sort of adopted me after we reunited in the wake of her coming out of the cabin on Ōtake-san back in '27. She told me all about you. Congratulations on getting a chance to earn your PhD, by the way. If all your sisters followed your example, then headed out to help everyone in the world like you're doing now, the world'll be in much better shape than it is these days."

Jocelyn chuckled. "Flattery will get you nowhere, McNichol-keibu, especially not with me. When did you fully learn of Janus?"

"Got the whole story back when Ronnie and I reunited."

"Then you realise if you ask Otō-sama about Saturday's events, you won't be able to use that unless in the most extreme circumstance."

Leon blinked. "Your sisters were involved in that?"

"Maybe," Miranda stated. "As to the 'how' and 'why,' no idea. They haven't woken up yet and we still have to tell them about all the changes in their lives now."

The ADP tactical squad commander took that in, and then he nodded in saddened understanding. "I'd like to learn what was going on up there anyway," he said. "SDPC acted a little too quickly when they sent out their goons in to secure the crash site, then chased us off the scene. I don't like that and I never have."

"Relax, Inspector. It can be put under control if it has to."

Leon stared at Terri. "What does THAT mean?"

The sergeant from Calgary smirked. "Do you REALLY want to know?"

Leon winced. "You know Hirosaki Chikage?"

Terri smirked. "Charming lady and I love her sense of humour."

An eyebrow arched. "She's actually got a sense of humour?"


Ōsaka, the SDPC Tower, 10:10 AM . . .

"Nanase-kachō, Kyler-shachō will see you now."

"Arigatō."

Rising, the beautiful twenty-something with the expressive brown eyes and the short-cut, wavy, tapered chestnut hair headed into the office of the chief executive director of the Space Development Public Corporation. It wasn't as grandiose as Quincy's office in Genom Tower, as warmly decorated as Saotome Yoshio's office in the Toratotaka Complex in Nerima, to say anything of the dark majesty of the sanctum sanctorum of Hirosaki Ryūji in the Megatōkyō Spiral, but it was quite nice none the less. She had her own ideas of how it might be better decorated, but she wouldn't say anything about that, even with her closest confidants. While she would gladly slip into Carl Kyler's chair if that opportunity ever came, she wasn't going to play the stupid corporate games others played just to get a promotion. She didn't see her life's work leading in that direction. Her task was much greater than that.

"Ohayō gozaimasu, Shachō," she greeted him with a polite bow.

"Close the door, Nanase-kun."

She did that. It locked. Once that was done, the man at the desk tapped a control to activate the special security screens installed three years ago. On hearing the hum of the ultrasonic white noise generator, Nanase Yū relaxed.

"I got Stan's report," she then announced.

"And?"

"It appears Greg is being used, Carl."

Carl's blue-grey eyes narrowed. He had been afraid of this. "By whom, Yū?" he asked, crossing his arms as he stared out at the city beyond.

"Someone somewhere in Genom. Don't know who at this time. I've already called Megumi in Nerima to get more information. The girls who died on Genaros should be up and around sometime today, so we can get it right from witnesses."

"Any sign of Sylvie or Anri?"

Yū shook her head. While in public, he acted indifferent when it came to the 33-S's who worked for SDPC, deep in his heart, he saw them all as valued workers for the Corporation. "Not a one," she replied. "And given that Anri-chan was hurt before they left the station, plus the fact there was a DD Battlemover on the shuttle . . . "

A nod from the leader of SDPC. The DD was a USSD development project, designed specifically to operate at a level equal to or greater than any combat boomer, battle droid or warbot produced by Genom, Imperoma or Zion. Ever since it first began taking shape in 2031, it had also been plagued with a stream of design problems and far too many compromises for Carl's liking. But he had been persuaded by USSD to go along with it. SDPC's facilities like Genaros offered them the perfect place to develop it without national government defence forces or corporate black bag forces nosing around where they weren't wanted. A disgusted snort then escaped SDPC's chief director as he thought about that. Much that he privately wished otherwise, too much of SDPC was too open to the latter groups to guarantee any sort of proper security. And pleading his case to Quincy wouldn't work either. While he was sure the old man would understand the need, he himself was bound by the many compromises his own position forced on him to be able to do anything directly, even with Genom Special Services' help.

And now THIS . . .!

"Yū?"

"Hai?"

"Find out who's responsible. Cut whoever it is off from Genaros and whatever other cookie jars in SDPC he or she might have his hands in. Sack Kaufman. I want him replaced by Stanley Steinmetz in a week. If you want, sack the command staff up there and replace them with people you trust. Make a statement, Yū. Make it loud."

Yū smirked. "Consider it done."

With that, she headed out. Glancing at her reflection in the window ahead of him, Carl smirked as he relaxed in his chair, a hand reaching up to gently stroke his short-cut reddish-brown hair. Nanase Yū - "the Stargazer," her many fans around the world called her; to her detractors, she was "the Witch of Hiroshima" - was his own Emperor's Hand, to borrow an old analogy from Star Wars. When she came onto the scene, she spoke with his authority, plus had the spiritual backing of the corporate chief executives she had impressed with her vision for humanity beyond the bounds of Earth. No one dared challenge Yū head-on. Those who tried to outflank her in a way of pressing their own goals against the Corporation's needs, when they were caught - IF they were allowed to survive! - didn't do it again and normally allowed themselves to retire in obscurity rather than risk facing her wrath again. When it came to the Saotome-type bioroids working in SDPC, she was much more. She was "Nanase-sempai" or "Yū-onēsama" (depending if she had adopted them as spiritual family), possessing profound influence over their thoughts and beliefs. And she was not afraid of welding it if she had to, especially when it came to furthering the Corporation's goals.

And since she was also a personal friend of Saotome Yoshio . . .

She could use Toratotaka's lethal Killer Angels, the Kuromoroboshi.

A smirk crossed the middle-aged man's face.

Kaufman - and whoever his crony was - wouldn't know what hit them.

Too bad.


In the sky east of Ōsaka, 10:21 AM . . .

"Ohayō, Yū-chan."

"Ohayō, Megumi-chan. How are you this morning?"

"Fine. I take it this call has something to do with Saturday's fun?"

"Hai. I need some angels. Carl's letting me dispose of Kaufman."

A pause. "You're kidding me?" Mikihara Megumi gasped.

"Hai. This is nuclear weapons we're dealing with, Megu."

A sigh from the Toratotaka supervisory field intelligence officer for the Eastern Eurasian Division. While it hadn't been declared a Directive Two matter, Yū was clearly treating it as such. She wouldn't wish to be in the shoes of Greg Kaufman or any of his friends at this time with THAT coming down on their heads. "I'll be sure to tell Quincy that when I see him tomorrow afternoon. Who do you want?"

Yū smirked. She was happy that she had memorised the Kuromoroboshi shift schedules. "Karen, Misato, Mai, Natsuko, Chiharu and Sakurako."

Megumi's jaw dropped. THREE teams? "YŪ-CHAN!"

"Carl's message was simple, Megu: 'Make a statement. Make it loud.'"

Megumi blinked. "Really . . .?"

Yū nodded. "Hai."

A sigh. "Hai. They're available. I'll have them up in two days."

"Arigatō."

"Have a nice flight."

The link was cut, and then Yū dialled a new number on her Samguk cellular video-phone, which was actually programmed to work as part of the Toratotaka CVP network, ensuring it couldn't be tapped by any outside tracker thanks to a meson transmitter circuit inserted into the device's U-SIM chip that scrambled the signal so badly that anyone who TRIED to monitor it got white noise in their receivers. The other end answered within two rings. "Steinmetz here. What's up, Chief?"

"It's starting, Stan," she said in Hebrew. "Get ready."

"Roger that," he replied in kind. "You coming up?"

"I'm on the 4:20 run. No one knows about it."

"Roger that."

The link was cut. Yū took a deep breath as she slipped the CVP into her pants pocket, and then she glanced out the window at the passing landscape as the Airwolf cut across the morning sky for Megatōkyō. "Who the devil are you . . .?" she hissed.

Gregory Kaufman was, no matter his impressive credentials, a toadying yes-man. He would always be a sitting duck for whatever power-hungry moron in Genom - or anywhere else - to subvert. His subordinates, Ahmed bin Bishah (Genaros' chief of operations) and Sebastian Johannes (the station's chief of administration), were both ex-Genom executives who came to work for SDPC four and five years ago respectively. While she didn't know about the latter, she knew the former once worked for the chief of Genom's Middle East operations, Ramad el Sayid. And el Sayid was cut out of the same blood-soaked cloth as men like Brian J. Mason and Annan Sese Kabbah.

But who was pulling the strings from Megatōkyō . . .?

Shaking her head, she reached for her CVP to dial another number, this one a call to a house in Ōsaka. The other end answered after two rings. "Hi, Obaba! What's up?" a cheerful teenage girl's voice called over the line.

"Ohayō, Rinrin-chan," Yū called back. "You up for a trip into space?"

Hearing that, Hatoyama Rinrin's eyes went wide.


Nerima, the Toratotaka complex, 11:05 AM . . .

"Onē-san . . .?"

"Hnnn . . .?"

"Onē-san, wake up!"

Green eyes flew open. "Mum?"

Hearing that, Jocelyn blinked. "Who are you calling 'mum?'"

Megan's eyes went wide before she bolted up, spinning around to stare into the face of someone she had last seen nearly six years before in the laboratory at the old Genom Building, where she had been first activated. Staring at the other woman in confusion for a moment, Megan then gaped. "Ay-Ef-Oh-Three . . .?" she gasped as her hand came up to cover her mouth. "No way . . . you, too . . .?" She then blinked on noting something rather odd about her twin sister. "What's with the glasses?"

"I'm forced to wear them," Jocelyn replied, her voice not even coming close to masking the surprise she felt on realising her twin sister seemed to be cognisant over what was going on, and then she gazed into Megan's eyes. "Are you alright, Onē-san?"

A confused blink. "Why are you calling ME 'onē-san?'"

A shrug. "Well, you WERE numbered before me . . .!"

Megan laughed as she scratched her head, and then she looked around the room before she sighed. "Merlin's Beard! Mum was right . . .!"

Jocelyn's eyes went VERY wide on hearing THAT oath. "Onē-san . . .?"

Megan wasn't listening; she was now getting up and walking over to the window to gaze on the vast cityscape beyond the hospital room. Fortunately, she was dressed in a plain pair of button pyjamas. "This is the Toratotaka complex in Megatōkyō, right?" she then asked as she looked back at Jocelyn.

A shaky nod. "H-hai."

"Can I see the Spiral, please?"

Jocelyn's jaw hit the floor. "ONĒ-SAN! How on Earth . . .?"

"A witch wants to adopted me as her daughter."

Silence.

"WHAT?" Jocelyn gasped. "But HOW? You just . . .!"

"Onē-sama allowed it."

More silence.

"Onē-sama . . .?" Jocelyn eeped, recognising the reference to the Crystal Palace with Megan's use of "elder sister" without a name.

"Hai. Don't worry about it. Lou and Nam got the same thing." Megan took a breath before she stared again at her sister. "So, can I see it?"

Jocelyn walked over to tap a switch beside one of the windows. Immediately, a tall, slender tower appeared behind and to the right of the mammoth Genom headquarters arcology, stabbing well over half the height of the Tower higher in the sky, its rings pulsing with energy. Staring at it, Megan then breathed out, "It's beautiful . . . "

"Onē-san, how . . .?"

Megan smiled as she stared at Jocelyn. "Like I said, a witch from England contacted me while I was in transition. Noëlle Gibson; she's Lance Gibson's wife." Seeing Jocelyn's eyebrow arch, Megan smirked. "He's operations vice-president of Rolls Royce-Vickers. 'Card-carrying muggle' as they call them there. Mum wants to adopt me as her daughter. Dad's tickled about it, too." A sigh. "Mum explained everything about what happened to me and what would happen once I woke in my new body. Told me about Janus, Otō-sama, the Spiral, everything I'd need to know when I finally got here." She shrugged. "Even coined my new name: 'Margaret Megan Gibson.' She's getting the Ministry of Magic in London to work getting my history composed up when I go live with her. Don't need to bother Otō-sama or Toratotaka about it. Ditto with Lou and Nam with the Cherokee and the Kantō Magical Association."

Jocelyn whistled. "I never heard of magicals doing THAT . . .!"

A helpless shrug. "Personally, I don't get it myself," Megan confessed. "hey seem interested in helping another of Otō-sama's children - the one who lives THERE . . . " - she pointed to the Spiral - " . . . bring back someone they call 'the Protector of All Life.' And to do that, they're gonna arrange for some guy from South Africa to adopt Sylvie and some guy here in town to adopt Anri, too."

An eyebrow arched. "Who're Sylvie and Anri?"

Megan stared at her, and then she sighed. "Sorry. Didn't know if you had spent time up in space or not. They're two of the AA girls. We were on the same work team up on Genaros. Sylvie's AA89A. Anri's AA72A."

Jocelyn shook her head. "Don't remember them right now. I'll get my PADD out later to check out their faces." A sigh before she stared at Megan. "They might've crash-landed in that shuttle outside town. That WAS you involved in that, wasn't it?"

A nod. "Yeah, I guess."

"So what was that all about?"

A lost look crossed Megan's face. "I don't know . . . "

Jocelyn looked at her.

To be continued . . .