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Dead Bang

by Ian McLeod

Chapter 4

Tuesday, October 20, 2037, 7:10 PM
Megatokyo Municipal Sewer System

The boomer fired.

In one corner of her still-functioning mind, Kate had to give the machine credit. Even in the face of something as utterly improbable as a girl transforming into a figure out of a 40 year old anime, it was still perfectly willing to burn her down. The rest of her mind of course, instantly cried out in horror and outrage at the event. which is pretty much what she did the moment the BU-12J's amplified heat cannon filled the doorway with focused red light.

The beam splashed across something between Lisa and the boomer however, focused heat energy deflecting away and blowing large chunks out of the ceiling. Lisa dodged back a little at that, unwilling to stand under the ceiling as it fell down around her.

The 12J seemed to analyze that and stepped forward, clawed hand coming up to grab and throw a chunk of masonry. As she dodged, Lisa could hear the other two girls shifting behind her. -Sylvie's probably trying to find a safe way to shoot past me, and Kate...- She shook her head slightly. -I have no idea what Kate's doing...-

The deep-throated roar of a pair of powerful motorcycle turbines echoing down the passage changed the Mexican standoff in an instant. Three of the 12J's spun around and launched themselves back the way they came, while three of the remaining five took up flanking positions behind the lead pair. The frontmost one knelt down and pointed the heat cannon at Lisa as the one immediately behind it pointed over it's head at the girl, who was by this point very worried as the cannons began to glow with red light.

"Lisa!" Kate scrambled over to the side, holding a cylinder in her hands. The CEO looked a little wild-eyed, but she still hefted the strange device and quickly added, "It only works in contact with their artificial enzymes!"

Lisa nodded quickly, swallowed hard, and set herself in a more defensive stance. She had an idea gleaned from countless hours studying the Sabers' combat roms, but didn't know if it would work. -Each time heat cannons fire, there's a brief flare of light before the lenses focus the energy. And if these things are based on a 55C's heat emitters...-

There was a flare of light from both guns as they brought the lenses to bear.

Waving her hands in a sudden gripping motion, she brought them from above and below in a diagonal cross to her midsection. In the corridor, the two boomers' expressions changed very briefly to surprised shock as their cannons moved apparently on their own to point down each other's barrels.

The explosion was like being kicked by a horse. The concussion pitched Lisa back into the ruined shelter, to crash into the wrecked remnants of the door blown open only moments earlier. As the dust settled, a determined young woman shifted junk out of the way to reveal the rattled Senshi.

"You okay?" Sylvie held out her hand and hauled her unsteady former captive to her feet.

"Y-yeah," Lisa answered unsteadily. In the background, she heard what sounded for all the world like what you'd get if you tossed a hundred Alka-seltzers in a giant bucket of water. "Could you please tell the world to stop spinning? I wanna get off."

Sylvie just grinned and led her back to the door. In the corridor beyond, a thick, hardening foam blocked immediate access to the rest of the corridor, almost completely submerging the boomers inside. "Tactical restraint foam," Kate explained, almost a little too calmly, considering the situation. "Two of the primary components were in that bottle and the boomer's circulatory systems." She looked over at Lisa, and her artificial control wobbled visibly. Taking a steadying breath, she added, "It's not as good as the real thing, but it'll buy us a little time."

Sylvie went back to Anri and lifted her up. "I don't suppose you remember how to make explosives or something?" She gestured with her chin to the foam-blocked entrance. "Unless your friend can walk through walls that was our only way out of here."

Lisa stepped back into the room, a determined look on her face. "No it's not. Stand back." Looking up at the ceiling, she concentrated, bringing her hands together. Kate's eyes widened, and with a quick dash to Sylvie, moved the two confused sexaroids out of harm's way.

Off to her right, Lisa could hear the crunching sounds of the 12J's ripping through the impromptu defense. -Gotta get the others out. Once they're clear, I can deal with the boomers.- She remembered Doug that night at Eriko's, where her power had first bloomed into reality. -Doug made sure I was safe before dealing with the boomers.- She glanced at the other girls, now totally confused and slightly shocky.

-I can't do any less.-

Lisa concentrated, and felt energies rush into existence in the space between her hands. The energies compacted, and crushed down into a tiny sliver of power. Lisa poured her rage at the stupid machines, her fear, and her hatred of a world that let things like this happen so often, and concentrated it on a bolt of power aimed at the roof right over her head.

"HEARTBREAKER!!"

* * *

Sylia and Nene raced across the uneven remains of a collapsed building, heading for the far side of the sewer line, a spot that existed in their vision as a phosphorescent dot set in place by Nene's sensor systems. Sylia automatically raised herself in her seat slightly as the bike drove over a chunk of masonry. Although not a horse, the cycle seemed to buck slightly as it went over the chunk, taking to the air for a few short metres before slamming down on the pavement.

Sylia's eyes widened at the experience, as she continued to race toward the spot on the HUD. To one side, Nene raced along, oblivious to what had just happened. -Lightning would have recognized the cue to jump,- she thought, eyes still slightly wide.

-But I never taught that signal to a motorcycle! Let alone this motorcycle!-

"Sylia," Nene's voice came over the private channel.

"What is it," the leader of the Knight Sabers responded, grateful for the interruption.

"We're coming up on the spot we should drop through. It looks like it's to one side of the sewer system, in a secondary tunnel."

"Convert, and dismount. There won't be room down there to ride them anyway."

"Hai!"

Nene leaped off her motoroid, as it seemed to launch itself into an impossible wheelie behind her. The front wheel split and rotated around the emerging shoulders as the head deployed from a position inside and below the main display panel. The jets flared to life as the antigrav system helped propel it up three feet so the lower body could deploy, the rear wheel locking into place behind the unit. Nene landed to one side, and carefully paced out the location marked on her HUD. "Right here, I—"

A tremendous explosion off to the side caused both girls (and their machines) to leap off to one side. The girls landed facing the explosion, weapons deployed, while their support machines landed to the outer sides, massive guns pointed in the same direction.

Sylia had another moment of confusion, as what looked like several figures began to struggle out of the dust cloud. Then realization dawned, and she ran forward, Nene right behind her.

Reaching the hole in the ground, she extended her hand to a figure in the dust, and pulled her forward. "Lisa, I-" the Knight Saber's voxmodded voice trailed off as the figure she pulled forward raised an eyebrow and smiled slightly, golden eyes meeting a familiar opaque faceplate.

"Fancy meeting you here," Sylvie said wryly before turning to help hoist a limp figure out of the hole.

"Sylvie?" Nene's voice echoed softly from her own suit. The golden-eyed girl turned briefly to look at the Red Saber, and grinned again as she pulled the unconscious Anri out.

"I don't suppose you people know why Anri keeps rejecting the blood supplements, do you?" Sylvie spared a moment in the utter confusion to look up at the White Saber. "All I ever wanted was for her to have a normal life." She looked down into the hole, where a pair of wrecked 12J boomers were being methodically carved away by the rest of their unit. Sylvie's voice was a tiny whisper. "Can't we ever have peace?"

"Lightning," Sylia called out. The sexaroid looked confused for a moment until a massive combat boomer stomped over. Instantly, she took a defensive position, protecting Anri.

"Relax," Sylia said comfortingly, putting a hand on the golden-eyed girl's shoulder. "Lightning here will get her to safety. Won't you?" she asked the motoroid confidently.

In response, the central chest plastron opened, as did protective panels in the upper arms and legs. As understanding dawned, Sylvie placed the unconscious girl in the control module, and tried to suppress a shudder as the panels closed around her. Swallowing hard, she looked past the White Saber and addressed the other figure stepping out of the smoke. "So do I really need to guess where your friend is?"

Kate Madigan bit her lip and shook her head as she stumbled clear, leaning gratefully on the Red Saber. That Saber's unnamed motoroid stepped up, and repeating the behavior of the former unit, the Saber was able to get her ensconced inside the motoroid, safe behind protective armor plate.

"Don't get any funny ideas, Miss Madigan," the voxmodded voice of the Red Saber echoed in the control compartment. "I'm only putting you in there because GENOM paid a fortune to get you back alive. Otherwise," she finished, voice flinty, "I'd make you run back on your own."

Kate looked shocked in the direction of the Red Saber, and cleared her throat. "Under the circumstances, I think I shall be merely grateful for the rescue, and overlook the inconsistencies of my rescuers tonight. A consideration we will all be grateful for in the morning, I'm sure."

The Red Saber growled something unintelligible in reply and turned away, deploying the sensor gear. The White Saber had already long since vanished inside. Kate was startled to realize not only was she hearing explosions from inside, she'd been hearing them for some time, now. -Probably the other two,- she thought to herself as the machine began to walk on its own. -Probably taking out the second assassin squad.-

"Under any other circumstances, I'd be overjoyed at being this close to Knight Sabers' technology," she said quietly as the machine launched into the air. Moving almost soundlessly, it began to fly back to a vehicle in the distance. Some kind of large, unlabeled semi. "But..."

Lisa.

She finally had to face it. For the last twenty minutes, she'd been going entirely on an almost zen state, where she simply refused to recognize what she'd been seeing in front of her face all along. She just accepted it, and ran with it, until she could get clear and allow herself to deal with it. It had been the technique that allowed her to get as far as she had, without appearing to care about the consequences of her actions. The Ice Queen, they called her, never knowing the quiet moments stolen away from the public eye, where she had only herself and her newly rediscovered conscience to keep her company.

She was still deep in contemplation when the ground exploded underneath the motoroid, and sent it spinning into heart of the condemned neighborhood.

* * *

Reika roared down the passage, the motorbike's turbine howling as she accelerated. Linna kept up behind her, as they prepared to deal with the combat boomers up ahead. "Get ready," she said tightly.

"Always," was the reply. "They look like BU-12's. Any idea what model?"

"No, I-" A flash of light off to her left as she drove into a large intersection was her only warning. "DOWN!"

Reika yanked the motorbike hard over, sliding it on the floor towards the far wall as the mag cannon fired, blowing out a section of the sewer line on the far side of the corridor, letting in starlight and spraying water everywhere. Reika was thrown clear of the bike when she pulled her stunt, and the machine spun into a side passage, to impact a far wall in the darkness.

Reika found herself in those few seconds racing toward the far wall of the intersection with incredible speed. A maneuver she couldn't possibly pull off but would probably save her occurred to her. -Too bad I'm not really trained with this stuff yet,- she mourned. -This is gonna hurt.-

As Linna roared into the intersection, Reika's foot seemed to catch on a section of concrete flooring. At the speed she was moving, momentum caused her to flip up and over, flying headfirst at the wall. Reika felt the her stomach do somersaults as she continued to flip even as she heard her friend's panicked, "REIKA!" in her helmet speakers.

Reika wasn't sure who was more shocked when she landed on her feet on the far wall. Linna, the boomers in the intersection, or Reika herself. After a long moment, gravity seemed to want to pull her back down to the floor, and with a grin, she launched herself into a flat dive, aiming the pulse cannon she'd clamped to the left arm at the boomers.

Gunfire filled the passageway as the boomers tried to shoot back, but the Red combat Saber was impossibly fast. Dodging and jumping, she made her way back to a section of collapsed masonry and ducked behind it. Meanwhile, the Green Saber had launched herself off her bike, and flew with impressive distance in a long dive across the room. Reaching her target, she twisted midair in an impossible stunt, her jets setting her into a quick spin. Right leg extended, the plasma charge flared to life as she kicked one of the mercenary boomers as hard as she could in the head.

The mercenaries ducked back into the relative cover of their mag cannon as the Green Saber's target fell over, headless. As the mercenaries jumped out of cover to fire at the isolated Saber, they watched in frustrated astonishment as the girl ran up the wall, and back toward her partner, seemingly in defiance of gravity.

Reika made room behind the rubble as Linna dove into the relative safety. "Nice moves," she complimented her friend, grinning in amazement.

Linna gave her a thumbs-up. "You didn't do so badly yourself. That was some move back there, flipping over and landing on the wall!" She gave the vid-windowed image of her friend a look of mock jealousy. "I think I'm being upstaged by an amateur, I do!"

Reika shook her head, a grin on her face, as she took in the situation. A hail of gunfire caused her to duck back behind the rocks. "They're arming that howitzer of theirs again. If we don't move, they're gonna blast us."

Linna shook her head. "Never happen."

Reika looked confused. "Why not?"

The Green Saber's grin became fierce, and she vaulted out to the side, catching Reika by surprise. The mercenaries shifted to fire at her as she ran for cover, incidentally exposing themselves to the massive cannon round which went in the far side of the mercenaries' cover. The shell wasn't explosive, but was instead meant for punching through the thick armor of tanks. Two of the boomers it struck were thrown back like rag dolls, slamming into a back wall as several limbs flew wide. The remaining mercenaries faded back into the tunnels, leaving the mag cannon for the moment.

The Red combat Saber looked in surprise as the dark green motoroid stepped into the intersection, its gravity-based HEAP cannon at the ready position. Suddenly understanding, she mentally chastised herself even as she dodged to a safer position than in the mag cannon's line of fire, as her gaze flicked over to a selection on her HUD. After a moment, she quietly asked, "Are you okay?"

On her display, a super-deformed image of a large motoroid cycle shifted to mech form, and staggered around, a circle of stars orbiting above its head. Reika giggled in surprise as the image swatted the stars away, and drew a gun five times bigger than it, settling into a deliberately fierce posture. "Did Sylia teach you how to do all this?"

The mech seemed to consider her question as an instruction, and after a moment images flashed on her HUD. Several older motoroids, scavenged for parts, which had seen action with the Sabers. The new motoroids, needing to know how to best protect their charges, had acted as one, and downloaded copies of the other units' memory files.

The rock star swallowed as she watched Linna slap her motoroid fondly on the arm as she darted into a side corridor. -They evolved themselves because they wanted to help us.- She ran across the room to rejoin her friend as the motoroids took up defensive positions pointing back toward the mercenaries' last known location. -They're as much Knight Sabers as we are!-

A blaze of red light caught Reika up short. Linna quickly jumped back into the intersection and spun around to the nearest side wall, letting the red bolts fly across the open space to impact the sewer wall several dozen yards away. More damp stone exploded, revealing more of the sky above. Reika quickly rushed over to her friend, and examined her. "You okay?"

Linna nodded. "They caught me by surprise, but their cannons have this little focusing problem at short range. I've seen it before with 55C's, so that's probably where they took the lasers from." She glanced briefly back down the tunnel, causing another barrage of laser fire. "They've got a fast recharge rate though, I've gotta give them that."

Reika stepped away from Linna, leaving her where she was, ready to dart back around the corner at the first opportunity, and made her way to her motoroid. "Time to check out what this suit can really do, I think."

In answer, the Motoroid went down on one knee, and the twin pods mounted across its back opened and deployed, revealing mounting racks for additional weapons.

Reika quickly grabbed the heavy cannons mounted to the weapons rack, and plugged them in one at a time. After she was finished, the racks folded back up in the pods, and the combat machine stood up again. Reika reached back and pulled the control yokes forward, causing the guns to ratchet up over her shoulder and lock into place, facing forward.

Making her way back to Linna carefully (these things were heavy, and unbalanced her if she wasn't careful!), she looked at her friend as she tried to find the right opportunity to launch a dagger, only to get more laserfire in her direction. "We need a distraction," she grumbled, annoyed. Then she turned to look at Reika, and her eyes widened.

"One class A distraction coming right up," Reika said, as she triggered the first stage on the guns. The weapons split apart, and angled a pair of waveguides forward, locking in place. Built on the same concept as the guns on the Knightwing, they allowed Reika to fire a really powerful heat blast downrange.

Linna shook her head in frustration. "Those things take time to power up, and you're practically defenseless. You can barely move with that much weight holding you down!"

"All good points," Reika agreed as another barrage of laserfire got their attention. That blast hadn't been aimed at them. It had been fired in another direction. "All we need is what I think we just got. A bit of a distraction from our friends!"

Linna risked a quick look around the corner, and nodded. "Do it now!"

Reika stepped around the corner and set herself, as the cannons began to glow with energy. Down the corridor, she saw what looked like a frenzy of combat. A figure in white with blue highlights was kicking the crap out of several of the boomers. In the dim light, it was hard to make out details. -Only one person that can be though. Sylia's the only one of us with a white suit.-

The red glow bathed the walls with reflected energy as the capacitors announced they had a full charge. "Sylia! Get clear!"

The figure in white looked over, seemed to recognize what was going on, and dove into the far room. The remaining combat boomers tried to bring their guns around to face the suddenly more dangerous threat as Reika fired the twin cannons.

A powerful roar of released energy blasted down the corridor, striking the two lead boomers in the chest. The heat cannons released all their energy on their targets, causing the two boomers to briefly glow with absorbed heat energy as their armor melted away, followed by their internals, and finally, their main cores. A brief moment of the two bots silhouetted against the red light was all that was left between the combat boomers, and a pair of huge explosions which shook what was left of the sewers, and blew the roof out for a several dozen feet in all directions.

Reika staggered back as the explosion threatened to knock her over. A moment of panic as she realized she couldn't stop was halted when her motoroid caught and steadied her. "Thanks," she said gratefully as the large red combat machine began to gently remove the energy guns from her shoulder mounts.

Linna staggered over to Reika, shaking her head as the motoroids removed the heavy weaponry and stored them back in the cargo pods. "That was amazing!" She shook her head again. "My ears are still ringing from the blast, I think."

The Red combat Saber grinned at the image of her friend on the vidscreen. "Thanks! Although I think we need to do something about the maneuverability before I use those again. It was harder than I thought to move in that."

"Told you," Linna said teasingly, causing Reika to stick her tongue out at her in reply. "Let's catch up to the others!"

Reika nodded, and followed her friend down the smoky, flame-lit corridor.

* * *

Lisa waited until Kate was safely over the top of the wall, and in the Sabers' custody. -She'll be fine with them. They may not like her a lot, but they won't hurt her.-

Thus reassured, she turned to face the two combat boomers, who had finished clearing out the remains of the first two, whose armor had slagged and melted together, forming a large and inert obstruction in the corridor. Not enough of an obstruction by themselves however to prevent them from bringing their cannons to bear.

"NOT happening this time, buster!" she shouted in their direction. She ducked to the side instinctively as a red bolt flashed over her head and blew out a section of the wall behind her. She barely felt its passage and the heat of the explosion seemed to be a distant thing as well, as she began to charge the boomers. "This time we do this MY way!"

The second boomer fired, the energy blast splashing harmlessly off her defensive screen. Lisa suddenly felt tired, like she'd just tried running a really long race, and her eyes narrowed as she dashed into the corridor. -Guess I can't afford to be hit too often by those things.-

-So I won't get hit anymore. Simple.-

The combat boomers had barely shifted to a combat stance, when the tiny powerhouse slammed into them. The TK forcefield she was generating had enough size to push the boomer immediately in front of her back and to the side. As she ran by, her right hand closed as if she was holding something, and she swung it across the boomers' right elbow.

With a shriek of tortured metal, the Abotex armored elbow shattered, and coolant fluids spilled into the passage as the massive energy gun slammed to the ground behind the sailor girl. The boomer staggered back, and crashed into the defunct bots, its center of balance momentarily upset.

The second boomer meanwhile slashed at the blue-masked girl, and although its hand didn't penetrate the shield, it still had sufficient force to knock her back into the corridor wall with enough force to crater the wall.

Lisa had reflexively pulled her arms and legs in just before she hit, and she shook her head briefly, before jumping low and rolling across to the far corridor wall as a beam of red energy smashed into the cratered surface, punching through and into the service way beyond.

-Gotta keep moving,- Lisa thought to herself as she launched herself to her feet again. -Gotta keep it defensive. It doesn't have to hit often for it to hurt.-

Dodging around the side, she launched into a series of fast kicks and punches, always dodging under its massive swings and vicious claw. The machine managed to tag her a few times, and she found herself being very grateful her mystery outfit was the next best thing to indestructible. Once, the claw penetrated the field, and slashed across the uniform, but failed to penetrate.

Lisa backflipped and jumped to the side to avoid another cannon blast, hair a tangled mess as it whipped around her. Her breathing was hard and ragged now. -I feel so gross,- the thought ghosted through her mind. -This is a sewer! And I'm rolling in it!-

The thought of what the combat was doing to her normally perfect manicure drew a flash of anger and seemed to revitalize her. "You're going to pay for this, you stupid machine," she growled. "It's going to take days to get the stink out of my hair!"

The machine, unimpressed, launched forward, energy cannon firing.

Lisa, acting purely on instinct, made a grabbing motion even as she backpedaled. The energy blast struck her hand and gathered in what looked like a ball of red energy. The boomer paused, and fired again, seemingly adding to the energy. It set itself again, the tactical program that drove it unable to process what it was witnessing. It twitched a few times as it reset its tactics package, trying to understand what to do next.

Lisa was concentrating hard, sweat running down her forehead as she gathered the energy between her hands, and compressed it down into a glowing ball of focused power. With a scream, she launched it forward, to strike the boomer with all its compressed power. "COMET STRIKE!"

The ball of energy seemed to gather itself for a quarter second, drawing light in around it until it was the only brightly glittering thing in the corridor. Then time resumed its flow as the ball of red energy streaked down the passage, a brilliant red-orange contrail streaming behind it as it struck the boomer in the chest plate.

Abotex melted and ran like wax as the ball of energy blasted itself deep into the inner structure of the war machine. There was a moment as streamers of energy seemed to radiate from inside the machine, and then a brilliant explosion signalled the destruction of the combat boomer.

* * *

Alpha Three took in the matched fight between the little girl and Four with a growing sense of impatience and fury. "The Target's gone surface! Everyone go topside and take her out!"

Three received limited response, which shook it badly. The little girl with the strange powers was bad enough, but that couldn't stop it from achieving its mission! It reached down and picked up its cannon arm as the girl dodged and spun around Alpha Four, as the other combat boomers reported Knight Saber engagement behind them.

"Great. Just fucking great! Well, I'm not blowing our orders just because the high-heeled squad has shown up! Everyone that can, fight a defensive formation and get to the surface! Find and kill the Chairwoman!"

The answers were almost feral. Gone was any hesitation about fulfilling their orders. Three set the energy gun on the floor and quickly made a few alterations to it as he watched Four and the girl in the blue dress fight it out.

By the time the red ball of light had penetrated Four and blown it away, Three was ready. It stepped back into the room and triggered its jets, vaulting up into the night sky. "There you are," it growled.

The other Knight Sabers nearby were clearly caught unprepared (it had even passed the White Saber in the act of jumping down into the room), and the boomer felt a moment of satisfaction as it hurled the cannon arm in the direction of a departing support mech. The only one fleeing combat.

The cannon struck the ground and exploded, all the energy it had stored within liberated in a single explosion of titanic force. The blast shattered more of the sewer line, and sent the enemy combat machine spinning into the ruined buildings nearby.

The boomer landed on the surface, and immediately launched itself into a low jump-assisted flight, pushing the jets to the breaking point. -Gotta get away from the Sabers if I'm going to fulfill my mission,- it thought as both the Red Saber, and the returning White tried to take it down. Energy blasts and electronic signals warfare briefly assaulted it as it made its way into the ruined building, and began to track the path of destruction left by the other combat machine.

-Not long now,- it thought with satisfaction as it began to hunt.

* * *

Mackie watched in horror as a combat boomer flung what looked like a jury-rigged energy bazooka in the direction of Nene's motoroid. The gun exploded on impact (fortunately with the ground and not the mech), knocking the machine uncontrollably into the nearby condemned buildings. The combat boomer accelerated into the buildings as fast as it could, leaving the other Sabers to race after it on foot, as Sylia's motoroid made its way back to the command van.

"Damnit! I can't just sit here!"

Racing into the back of the van he went over to what looked like a deceptively ordinary looking metal crate. Opening a side panel, he typed in a complex code, and pressed the initiate button.

The crate powered up, and began to open in strange ways. Steam vented out exhaust ports, and the van rocked slightly as the crate unfolded into its true form. A suit of original-production MADOX power armor.

Mackie grinned as the armored backplate ratcheted up and he quickly stepped in. The plate closed itself behind him as the systems began to power up. He quickly went over displays and brought up combat options as the viewplate went one-way opaque, to hide him from casual display.

This wasn't just any MADOX unit. This was the original, pirated unit which had been taken back to the labs after its abortive first mission in downtown Tokyo. He'd acquired it from an old collector after months of careful searching, and had since rebuilt it with modern technology. Adding in the latest inventions had only made it even more frightening. -Sylia may not understand why I like this, but I think she'll find out tonight!-

The right side of the command van opened up again, as Mackie brought the unit around to face the exit. "MADOX," he commanded. "Scramble Mode!"

The visor displayed "Scramble Mode" in red, and the unit shifted slightly, engines spooling up to full power. Mackie's grin became almost feral as he launched himself out of the command van, engines flaring to life and propelling him at excessive speed toward the ruined buildings.

"Hang in there! I'm coming!"

The unit didn't even flinch as it smashed through the side of a building at speeds over eighty kph.

* * *

Nene watched, stupefied as a giant chunk of armored battleship plate loosely calling itself a power suit rammed the side of a building and vanished inside. "What is he doing! He's going to get himself killed!"

"Nene, go after him and keep him safe," Sylia ordered her as she turned toward the sewer system. "The rest of this fight looks fairly straightforward, and they'll need your ability to find the combat machine in the buildings."

"Hai," Nene responded, cutting her jets and jump-ran toward the buildings, taking low, shallow jumps that made her look more like she was sprinting with impossible speed than jumping. Her sensors locked away for protection, she made her way inside the building structure, secondary sensors in her helmet deployed and scanning for all they were worth.

Sylia turned toward the sewer system, and raced toward the most recent hole, even as she saw a figure in white and blue throw herself to the side of the room in a clearly defensive move.

Sylia didn't hesitate. She triggered her jets and accelerated down into the room, landing beside Lisa and pulling her close, cradling her under the protective strength of her armor.

The blast shook the room, and blew what was left of the ceiling away. For a long moment, the only thing the two girls could hear was the roar of the blast, and then shortly afterward, the sizzling of flame as it guttered in the night air.

Sylia sat back, pulling Lisa up with a resigned sigh. "Why am I not terribly surprised to see you in that outfit again?"

Lisa grinned impishly, and made a small victory sign. Sylia just shook her head and stood up again, pulling the reporter turned Senshi up to her feet. "You realize you've taken a terrible risk letting Madigan know what you can do. Plus, you may well have endangered all of us as well."

Lisa shook her head. "No way. I mean, let's face it. We're none of us terribly stealthy about the fact that we know each other. And we know Quincy knew who the Knight Sabers were for some time. I'm sure she already knew."

Sylia shrugged slightly, the most her armor would allow in that direction. "Perhaps. I just hope your faith is rewarded, Lisa."

Lisa stepped back, an uncertain look on her face. "You're not... angry at me?"

Sylia pushed up the cover on her helmet, revealing a woman with a very focused and calculating intensity. "We'll discuss this later, when we have the time to go over the potential implications of your actions in greater detail."

Lisa nodded, mouth suddenly dry.

"For now, it's enough that you saved people we care about, and helped us rescue our objective. The rest we'll go over later."

Privately, Sylia tried to balance her feelings as the overwhelmed sailor reporter girl ducked away from Sylia and went over to her friends. -I'm taking a lot on faith here tonight,- she thought to herself as the other girls helped Lisa out of the pit.

-I hope I don't regret this.-

Sylia lowered the faceplate and climbed out of the pit herself, and the four girls began to run toward the buildings where the sounds of fighting were beginning to echo in the neighborhood.

Their HUD's squealed with a warning alarm as a laser designator painted them, and they scattered in all directions as the mercenaries triggered another shot from the mag cannon. Getting it outside had been a pain, but the sight of a large number of Knight Sabers gathered together had been irresistible.

Jerrod growled something between fury and frustration as the Sabers landed in a neat semicircle facing the mercenaries. The Sabers had landed on chunks of rubble, and the silly little sailor girl had somehow landed on an elevated I-beam projecting a good thirty feet off the ground. Despite the precarious perch, she stood it as if it were level ground, glaring down at them.

"They got speed and firepower, but that's never been our strong suit anyway," Jerrod commented as Anita powered up the mag cannon again. "Keep them off balance, and use the rubble to advantage." He prepped his assault rifle with armor-piercing rounds as he ducked behind cover of his own.

"And this thing?" Anita crouched behind the mag cannon, hefting a sniper rifle at the ready position.

"Abandon the tank gun if you must. We can always come back to it later if we have the chance to."

The other mercs acknowledged him, as he spun around and fired a three-round burst in the direction of the Sabers. "Everyone, let them have it!"

* * *

Mackie drove the MADOX unit to the side, narrowly avoiding a metal spear thrown in his direction. -The boomer may not have its gun anymore,- he thought with alarm as the chunk of metal slammed into the far wall, -but it makes up for it with all the crap lying around.-

The boomer had been locked in combat with Mackie since he'd plowed through to what had probably been a living room and smashed the newer combat machine into a far apartment block. The boomer had almost managed to catch up to the still-motionless red combat machine, and Mackie hadn't tried finesse. He'd just taken MADOX to its maximum thrust and plowed into the enemy mech.

The boomer had retaliated by grabbing the large power suit and throwing it through a far wall, then chased after him, a large I-beam in its hand.

Mackie swung the right arm around, chain gun chattering as he launched the armored suit into a flat jump. Jets flared as the ground effect antigrav boosted the suit over the rubble, and the boomer flinched back as armor-piercing bullets tried to punch into its skeleton from its damaged right side.

The boomer dove through a damaged section of wall, causing part of the roof to collapse in dust and steel-reinforced concrete, briefly separating Mackie from the combat machine.

"Where did you go, chicken!" Mackie stormed around to the far side of the room, relying on the jet-assisted flight core to get him over the worst of the rubble. A small visual scanner deployed inside the helmet, covering his right eye, showing him a false-color image of the boomer in the next room.

"There you are!"

Alpha Three looked up in anger as the giant chunk of armored plate plowed through a weak doorway and charged him, jets flaring. The boomer launched itself into another flat dive, dropping to the side, and out of the way of the flying tank as it spun around and crashed into another wall, causing yet more concrete dust to fill the limited space in the room.

-Great,- it thought to itself. -Just fucking great! I've lost the Chairwoman again, and now I'm getting my ass kicked by a fucking antique!"

The boomer grabbed a chunk of steel reinforcement from the shredded concrete nearby and crushed it down into an impromptu polearm. -This should help-.

The giant battlesuit raced forward again, but this time Three was ready. The old power suit had a few limitations. Most especially, it wasn't really very nimble. Once it started moving, stopping it was very hard.

As the power suit raced toward him, Three suddenly raised the metal spear and set it on the ground behind him, aimed dead center at the power suit.

Mackie had a moment of shocked panic as his suit raced toward the enemy boomer.

"No!"

There was a titanic impact sound, and concrete dust flew everywhere...

* * *

Mackie felt pain in his side. He shook his head slightly, tasting salt. Taking a few short breaths in the stale air, he opened his eyes in the combat compartment, and looked off to the side, expecting the worst.

The displays were half static, the other half showing minimal power. Oddly enough, the combat boomer was on the far side of the room, and the metal spear was buried in the wall.

Which was when he found himself visor to helmet with the pink and red saber.

"MACKIE!" Nene's voice echoed in their speaker systems. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?!?"

Behind her the boomer shifted its position, and began to reach for another chunk of metal. Mackie attempted to shift around to bring a weapon to bear, and stopped as he realized the suit was having trouble moving to the side.

"What..."

Nene grabbed the large helmet portion, and pulled the armored suit over to her. "Mackie! What. Are. You. Doing?"

Mackie found himself mesmerized by the sight of the Red Saber. In his mind, he pictured the girl inside, holding him. "I..."

"I, what?"

"I..." Mackie swallowed slightly, and ducked his head, the blush reddening his features. "I wanted to help. I couldn't just sit in that van and do nothing!" Mackie looked down at the red powerhouse in front of her. "I couldn't sit back and watch you risk your life. I'm not built that way, Nene!"

Inside the armor, Nene's expression changed from frightened rage to something softer. "Mackie..."

The shifting concrete brought them back to the present as the larger power suit pushed the Red Saber out of the way. "Nene! Watch out!"

Three snarled and began to whip its arm forward, the large chunk of masonry in its grip promising to bring at the very least, a whole lot of pain to the pair on the other side.

Which is why the sudden sound of gunfire, and the exploding arm surprised them all. The concrete chunk flew wide, smashing into the far wall, blowing out a section of outer wall and letting in the starlight.

-It's not fair,- the boomer silently raged as a large cannon was pointed at its head. -It's not fucking—

The sharp roar of the cannon silenced Three's mental objections completely.

Mackie watched in surprised shock as the motoroid stepped away from the destroyed boomer. The mech settled into a more neutral posture, starlight glinting off of the red and pink highlights.

"Sorry I wasn't here sooner, but your machine seems to have picked up a slight limp." Madigan's voice echoed across their speaker system as she hefted the cannon and selected another round. "The flight system's destroyed as well, but the gun still works, as you can see."

Nene watched, in a state of mental overload as the red armor limped over to the hole in the wall. "There's still people fighting over there, and it's probably fair to say I'm safer with a group than on my own. So," she hefted the cannon and looked at the grey windows symbolizing the locked-out images of the other Sabers. "Shall we go help your friends?"

* * *

"Six, I'm in position. So far, they seem to have forgotten about us. Have you heard from Alpha yet?"

"No dice, Five. I just lost telemetry from Alpha. Looks like the Knights got him. That makes you Alpha now."

"Oh. Wonderful."

"What now? Engage the Sabers?"

"What, and deal with the idiots running around with mag cannon ALSO? Are you nuts?"

"So what do we do?"

"We wait. Stay in minimal power mode. When the fight's finished, the Knights will probably look around for more enemies, and when none show, they'll relax a little. THAT's when we hit them!"

"Gotcha."

* * *

Lisa jumped up and somersaulted as the hail of gunfire passed beneath her. Landing on another chunk of upright masonry, she launched herself toward a section of fallen building nearby. While flying across, she made a little grabbing motion with her right hand and 'threw' the targeted soldier away. The boomeroid was suddenly wrenched off his feet and thrown down into the sewers by an invisible force as Lisa landed on the collapsed roof, and jumped down to the ground at high speed, avoiding yet more gunfire.

It was incredibly easy.

She didn't understand how she knew, but she always knew when someone was about to target her. She could feel their hostility across the combat zone focus down to a point, and she could tell when that intent flashed across into action. Then she simply dodged away from that point, and the bullets zipped past her to impact the rubble behind her.

It was like dancing a ballet to a music no one else could hear.

It was absolutely intoxicating.

Lisa was peripherally aware of the other Knight Sabers dodging and leaping, attacking boomers and firing explosive ammunition into barriers. Lisa however, did none of that. She dodged and spun, leaping effortlessly on high trajectories that took her over the enemy, and firing TK blasts down into their hidey-holes.

Landing on a tilted light pole, she felt the enemy focus drill down to that moment of commitment, from three separate angles. Leaping into the air, she heard the crack of gunfire beneath her.

This time, the commitment occurred again, as she began her arc down to the ground. Grinning, she 'grabbed' the side of a building overhead and pulled, causing the gunfire to miss yet again.

This was absolutely incredible!

* * *

Tony snarled in frustrated anger as his target avoided him again. "C'mon Jerrod, we gotta abort! This is going south way too damn fast!"

"No deal, Tony! We lost a lot of good people tonight!"

Tony gestured, furious as the white and blue skirted human landed on the far side of the combat zone. "Did you see what she just DID? That's not even physically possible!" He ducked back as the Red combat saber fired another pulse blast in his direction, causing more masonry to explode in dust and debris. "They've got some kind of edge we can't beat. Until we figure it out, they're just gonna keep chewing us down!"

Jerrod growled something under his nonexistent breath, and hit the all-call. "All remaining units, abort! I say again. Abort! Abort! Abort!"

"About damned time!"

"Tony, get us an exit vector. We're out of here!"

Tony pulled out a datapad and pulled up the exit routes he'd prepared ahead of time. "My pleasure!" He fed the details to the other units in the group, and began to fall back, firing in controlled bursts as they began to make their way to safer territory.

A large shadow came up behind him, and Tony spun around in surprise, "Jerrod, get down!"

The form he saw was not Jerrod, and he didn't have time to do more than stare in shock as the energy bazooka punched into his head, shoving it down to the ground as the boomer punched clean through the tech's skull.

The boomer pulled the gun free, and made its way toward the mag cannon. The weapon was angled facing him, across the combat zone. -But the Knights are all facing the wrong way,- it thought gleefully as it ran toward the abandoned machine. -Which is why I'll have a clean shot at the Sabers. I just need one!-

Sylia's combat computer began to show strobing red alerts as the White Saber spun around to regard the new threat. The boomeroids had just started pulling out when a couple of stray 12J's had shown up, one holding the Sabers' fire while the second ran across the combat area to the abandoned mag cannon. Sylia launched herself in the direction of the boomer even as bursts of heat energy from the other unit began to chew up the ground around her.

"We have to keep it from getting to the cannon! If it's fusion equipped, we might have a much bigger problem on our hands!"

Linna growled something under her breath as she ran off in support of Sylia, leaving Reika and her combat unit to hold the other boomer. The boomeroids meanwhile, finished disengaging and ducked back into the sewer, to make their escape.

Five raced toward the cannon, the White Saber in pursuit. "Not good enough, White," he gloated as he approached the abandoned unit. "You're a good fifty feet away and I'm already here! I-" The boomer stopped as he registered something different about the mag cannon. Something that was really out of place.

A dart on the control surface, with a tiny blinking red light.

The mag cannon fired, launching an armor-piercing high explosive slug at the 12J boomer from point-blank range. The slug punched into the boomer, knocking it back a good twenty feet before it slammed into the ground and began to spin uncontrollably for another hundred or so feet, shedding armor, weapons, and limbs. What was left of the unit slammed into an abandoned storefront across from the combat zone, and exploded with sufficient force to light up the night and set part of the gutted building on fire.

Sylia came up short as Nene and Mackie came into view, the larger battlemover helping the damaged motoroid. Nene gave Sylia a thumb's-up and turned to look at the last 12J hunkered down behind a chunk of masonry as Reika and Lisa moved in to finish it off. "I think we're about done here, Sylia."

After a long pause, the White Saber nodded. "Agreed. Reika."

"Hai!"

"Finish off that boomer and regroup at the command van. Mission accomplished."

Reika grinned at the confidence in the White Saber's voice. "Would love to, but the thing's got too good a fire time on that weapon." A white blur landed beside her and Reika turned to look at the improbable Sailor Senshi standing to one side.

"Umm... Is this one of ours?"

Lisa grinned and held out her hand. "Sailor Loon, champion of Love and Justice!"

The 12J blew out another chunk of their barricade as Reika shook her head in bafflement. "We need to do something about that energy gun," she explained, shifting back to the boomer, and firing a couple shots at it with the pulse cannon.

Sailor Loon's eyes narrowed. "Done. I'll take out the gun's cooling, you put it away."

The Red combat Saber considered her strange ally. "Do it," she decided.

With an impossibly acrobatic leap, Sailor Loon vaulted into the air. As she slowly arced over the boomer's position, she brought her hands together, causing blue energies to spiral in out of nowhere to focus down on a tiny sliver of glowing energy. The boomer beneath her tried to re-orient itself as the Senshi focused her attention at a particular point on the bazooka. A port right beneath the elbow.

"Heartbreaker!!"

The bolt of blue energy sliced down, smashing through the Abotex and punching through the armored metal beneath. The boomer staggered back, gun slamming back into the ground as coolant fluid sprayed out in all directions.

The boomer roared in anger, and brought up the now-overheating bazooka as Reika dashed out of hiding, and clenched her fist. The armored plate swung forward, and the arm vibrated slightly as the plasma generators spooled up. Electricity flashed into brilliant golden flame as the plasma charge ignited, and Reika swung the punch at the distracted boomer's head with all the force and fury of a jump-assisted power suit.

The explosion lit up the section of the ruined city block, and the concussion knocked Reika back a few steps. The boomer staggered a couple of steps and crashed into the ground, headless.

Reika looked over at her improbable ally as the Senshi gave her a victory sign and bounced back to the Sabers, taking thirty foot leaps each time.

"This," Reika said to herself as she made her way back to the command van where the other Sabers were gathering, "should be interesting."

* * *

Tuesday, October 20, 2037, 10:30 PM
Ladys633 Tower, Megatokyo

Mackie shook his head as he regarded the foot-shaped indentation in the side of his power suit. "Nene, surely you could have done something other than kick me out of the way!"

The two of them were in the vehicle maintenance hanger off to the side of the main storage area. The rest of the Sabers were elsewhere, probably going over the combat footage. Mackie had come back to regard his pride and joy while the girls removed and stored their armor. His mind flashed back to that fight, and how he'd been effortlessly kicked to the side by Nene when he'd charged that combat boomer. His offhand remark however, didn't have the effect he'd expected.

The redhead put her hands on her hips and glared daggers at the young cyberneticist. "I didn't exactly have time to think about it! In case you've forgotten, you were about to be impaled by that boomer!"

The young boy winced, and ran another hand over the centimetre-deep mark of where Nene's foot had slammed into his battlemover right before he'd have hit the spear. "Sorry about that, but-"

"Sorry? SORRY??" Nene's voice climbed up an octave as the young boy squirmed. "Where did you get off thinking 'Sorry' is good enough? Do you have any idea how much danger you were in!" The redhead continued to rant as Mackie's hands slowly knotted into fists and his eyes narrowed in an unusually angry way. "Didn't you even think before you jumped in? No, I'm betting you didn't! WHY would you even—"

"Because I CARE what HAPPENS to you, OKAY??"

Nene stared, mouth open in shock as Mackie's temper boiled over. "You think I can just watch while you take my SISTER into these fights and just do NOTHING? While you risk YOUR life every single time and I'm just supposed to LIKE it?" Mackie stepped forward, fists balled so hard the fingers were white, as he glared down into the stunned redhead's face. "Well I DON'T! Okay? I CARE for you Nene! A LOT! And I'm NOT watching you risk your LIFE from the sidelines ever again!"

Nene's lip quivered with an emotion she couldn't name as she stared up at Mackie. The taller boy shook with a fury he was only now beginning to let out, and the sheer amount of fear and frustration he'd felt over the years was just beginning to penetrate Nene's awareness as he slowly unclenched his right hand, and brought it up, ever so gently, to cup her chin.

"If you go out again Nene, I'm going with you. It's that simple." His eyes narrowed to something fierce as the slow blush climbed her face. "I'm not risking losing you. Not again."

Nene swallowed several times, unable to find anything else to say against the sudden confusion she felt. In the middle of the chaos, a strange surge of exultation, which only made it even harder to concentrate. "I..."

"And another thing," Mackie went on relentlessly. "You say I don't know what I'm doing. Well I'm sure you remember Sylia training all of you to be the best mercenaries on Earth, right?" He barely waited for Nene's wide-eyed nod before continuing. "Who do you think she practiced all that with, huh? Me! That's who. She couldn't afford to train with too many other people without people finding out what she could do, so I was the one she trained against! Me! Little pathetic tech-boy Mackie! I'm at least as good as she is, or I would be if I got even half the combat time she's been getting!"

Nene watched, strangely helpless, having somehow lost control of the argument as Mackie threw his hands up in frustration and stomped across the vehicle bay. Unnoticed by both of them, the heads of the various motoroids shifted to follow them both as the argument continued.

"Mackie..." Nene stopped as the older boy came to a halt and slowly turned around, a look of hurt frustration on his face. Her words slithered to a stop as she realized she didn't know what to say.

The young man looked across the vehicle bay at the girl, clad only in the body-hugging skinsuit, and felt a totally out of place surge of desire. He walked back to her slowly, trying to find a way to express all the strange and powerful things that had been eating him for ages. Things he'd only tonight had the courage - or maybe the anger - to admit to openly. "Nene, I..."

Nene put her tiny hand on Mackie's mouth and shook her head. "Look, I was a jerk earlier, okay?" She ducked her head, blushing a bit more. "I... I get worried when you do something stupid, okay? Is that so wrong?"

Mackie found himself trying very hard to keep looking angry when a grin kept trying to fight itself onto his face. "Nene," he said softly, as the redhead leaned into his chest, arms circling his neck. She just shook her head again, and he held her protectively as she leaned against him, eyes closed.

-Did I just win, or lose?-

* * *

Sylia turned off the monitor as Linna and Lisa giggled in the background. "We'll give them some privacy, I think," she said, looking perfectly composed. Inside, she felt some of the tension she'd felt whenever she thought of the young redhead loosen. -She's been so very different since Colonel Sangnoir. Mackie will be very good for her.-

Lisa tapped a nearby table, returning Sylia to the present. "Umm, is that power cutter available, Sylia?"

Reika watched with amusement as the leader of their organization turned to regard what she now knew was the archivist of the Knight Sabers. "I think we should look at alternative methods, Lisa."

"What... kind of alternatives?"

The older woman paced around the conference table as Lisa began to fidget. "There will inevitably come a time when you're not going to have a machine shop like mine conveniently available. When you'll need to shift back to what you were wearing originally because you have no other changes of clothing. You need to learn how to master this talent of yours, or you'll never be able to take control of this highly preposterous combat ability."

"But how do I do that?"

Sylia held up the domino mask thoughtfully. "When you created this the first time, you didn't have any more than a partial image of what you wanted. You certainly didn't envision the clothing as invulnerable. In fact, you just considered it mere cloth. It became invulnerable apparently on its own initiative. And it's been so every time you've created it since."

Lisa nodded, as looks of interest began to replace the amusement on the other Sabers. "So you're saying I'm using someone else's model?"

Sylia nodded with satisfaction. "That's it exactly." She began to tick points off on her fingers. "We know from experience now that there are realities that intersect with ours, and that it is possible for these realities to cross to each other with sufficient energy. We know that Colonel Sangnoir came from a reality where people we would consider superheroes actually exist and function in a world as fully realized as our own. And we know that GENOM had a facility set up for the express purpose of opening gateways to other realities for the purposes of exploitation."

Linna held up her hand briefly. "Sylia. On that point, do we know if they've had any more success opening doorways?"

Sylia smiled slightly. "From what my ongoing investigations have revealed, it appears as though Ohara-san is having difficulty establishing one of his 'pinhole' doorways. He claims the presence of Colonel Sangnoir had weakened the boundaries between realities with his simple presence, and that his disappearance has made it impossible to proceed with his research." Sylia shook her head. "I suspect he's lying, and that he simply does not want to pursue the pinhole projector research any farther. For the moment. Ms. Madigan seems content to leave it at that. If it changes," she added, "I will know about it soon after."

Lisa picked up one of the gloves and tugged it experimentally. "Umm, about what we were talking about earlier?"

Sylia looked back at the reporter, still smiling slightly. "I suspect if the underlying theory is correct, Colonel Sangnoir's power allowed you to briefly use his highly chaotic ability to bend reality and tap wherever it is the original model for that uniform was created. You then copied it, and made it real. Since that's the model you used at the time," she continued, as Lisa's eyes widened in speculation, "that's the model you continue to use."

"Sylia," Lisa whispered, awestruck, her mouth suddenly dry. "Are you saying what I think you're saying?"

The Knight Sabers' leader gave her a mildly uncomfortable look. "I'm actually trying to avoid mentioning the possibility, because it sounds too much like fantasy to me. However, after everything Colonel Sangnoir did while visiting Megatokyo, not to mention his impromptu hero-team fight last year with us, I have to consider the suggestion as a very real possibility. Not that I expect you to ever be able to confirm that," Sylia added as an incredulous grin slowly spread across the reporter's face. "But it bears thinking on, at any rate."

Reika picked up another glove and idly twisted it. "What's this stuff made of, anyway?"

Their leader looked uncomfortable as she crossed the room to pick up a discarded clipboard. "It's an artificial fiber bundle that looks like the result of several dozen years of genius research into armored cloth. It has many of the same properties of Kevlar and Abotex, with features which appear to be similar in performance to the behavior of Colonel Sangnoir's 'Polykev'."

"The stuff in the suit?"

Sylia shook her head. "Not exactly. While I call the suit's inner lining 'Polykev', the truth is it requires additional magic to make truly functional." Her lips twisted as she forced herself to speak the nonscientific word. "It's really no more protective than what I had before, but I added it in the hopes that Lisa could come up with a method to help me convert it into the genuine article."

She picked up the domino mask again. "However," she sighed, "The behavior of the armored suit Lisa currently wears seems to have the same properties of Polykev and further appears to have been created out of entirely reasonable materials. If I can replicate it, I should be able to produce clothing out of this armored fiber. Perhaps even entire product lines."

Linna leaned back and tossed the glove on the table. "So why haven't you?"

Their leader had the grace to look uncomfortable. "I didn't want to believe a girl chanting a phrase from a forty-year old anime could somehow create an armored fiber better than any seen on Earth so far."

Lisa looked down at the table, and fought hard to keep the grin from showing on her face. It didn't do to annoy one's employer after all. Especially after the night Sylia had had.

"However," Sylia continued, dragging the reporter back to the conversation, "We still are presented with the current situation. You," she said turning to point the domino mask at Lisa, "need to learn how to reverse the transformation." She gestured to a side room. "Take the second testing bay and practice. You have all night." She smiled slightly as Lisa groaned and padded across the room to the amused laughter of her teammates. "If you can't get out of it by the time you go to work tomorrow, you'll just have to make do and try again tomorrow night."

Lisa chewed her lower lip and entered the test bay, trying to fight down the surge of panic as their leader's words hit home. -Not cut it off tomorrow morning? The skirt's part of the fuku! How do I hide that in a dress?-

Sylia watched the worred archivist enter the battle testing room and sat down, placing the domino mask on the table before her. Reika looked over at her in concern.

"You're not really going to make her go out in public looking like that, are you?"

Sylia smiled and shook her head. "However, she doesn't know that." Her smile grew wider as Linna began to chuckle. "This will give her tremendous incentive to find the solution to her dilemma."

Reika's face just started to show a smile, when the door to the vehicle bay opened, and the other two errant members of their organization entered. The moved as if separate, but sat close to each other, Nene not seeming to notice the almost protective way Mackie sat in relation to her.

Sylia regarded her brother thoughtfully. "So."

Mackie didn't rise to the bait, and instead looked her straight in the eyes. Curiously, Nene's body language showed support for the young man, even while she watched the byplay nervously.

After a moment, Sylia shook her head gestured to one side. "If you're planning on being more than a driver in our organization, Mackie, you need to stop relying on that oversized robot. The Knight Sabers are all about speed and agility. The MADOX unit may have history, but it's no contest against modern technology."

Mackie shook his head, frustrated. "I can make the armor work! I already have. It's just that it's so -"

"Massive?" Sylia shook her head and broke eye contact. "That's precisely the point I'm trying to make, Mackie. One of the advantages we've always had over our adversaries is that their boomers and power armor have always been heavier and slower than our own. Even if you modernize a tank, it's still a tank. it's slow, ponderous, and easily overcome by our more sophisticated armor."

Her younger brother took a deep breath and took the plunge. "So let me at the Archive! Let me find something in there that's everything I want it to be while keeping the edge you want in the Sabers!"

The other girls held their breath as Sylia considered it. After a long moment, she looked up at Mackie again. "If I do, you have to promise me that you won't build anything you don't totally understand!"

"Absolutely-"

"I'm not finished Mackie!" Sylia wrapped her arms around herself and looked at something only she could see. "Some of that technology is thousands of years more advanced than anything we can imagine. We don't dare unleash that on a world not yet ready for it. If we lost control of it, the results could be disastrous." She shifted her gaze to look at her younger brother, and saw for a brief instant, the pain-filled eyes of a little boy who didn't understand what had just happened when the police came to the door of their house.

"We've already seen what happens when technology we're not ready for is grabbed by the most powerful player on the field. I don't want to see that happen again."

Mackie swallowed, briefly seeing the same thing. "Promise, sis. I'll be careful."

Sylia nodded and let the matter drop. "Well, if that concludes our evening, I think we should call it a night." She looked up and smiled at the assembled people. "We've had a long night but it was a total success. Both for the mission and the new suits. I'll start post-battle analysis tomorrow, and I'll have mission results for you all in a few days. Thank you all."

Linna stood up, and padded to the changing rooms, noting as she left that while Reika and Sylia followed her, Nene and Mackie seemed to be too deep in close conversation to follow. As she stepped into the changeroom, she could have sworn she saw Mackie dart in and dare a kiss on the younger girl's lips.

-Well, it's about time,- she thought with satisfaction.

* * *

Tuesday, October 20, 2037, 1:30 AM
GENOM Tower, Megatokyo

Madigan stepped into a room shrouded in darkness, the skyline barely visible in the cloud-filled night beyond. The door to the Chairwoman's office closed behind her as she softly walked across the large, empty room to the giant desk at the far side.

After rescuing her, the Knight Sabers had dropped her off at a predetermined pickup point. The situation had struck her as vaguely humorous, probably the only time the Sabers had been protected by a small army of GENOM boomers while she'd been escorted into a waiting convoy of armored cars. At that point, some unmarked documents and cards had changed hands, and the Knight Sabers' command van had roared off into the darkness, leaving Madigan alone with well over two dozen combat boomers.

All of which led her to where she was now, as she eased herself into the expensive leather chair and leaned back slowly.

A tentative knock on the far door brought Madigan back to the present. Only one person would knock on the door at this hour, and a quick glance at the exterior service camera confirmed it. "Come in, Jenny."

The Leon-A-freed boomer walked into the room and bowed to Madigan. "My apologies, Madigan-sama, but under the circumstances I did not know what else to do. If you feel contracting the mercenaries was out of line -"

"On the contrary," Kate interrupted gently, smiling at the nervous secretary. "You did exactly the right thing." She tilted her head to one side as she considered her advisor as the repatriated boomer resettled herself. "So how much did you pull out of the private funds?"

Jenny looked embarrassed. "I had to make sure they took the job, so I offered them twice over the most I've heard them work for. One hundred million Yen."

Kate nodded and leaned back in the chair, waving Jenny to another chair nearby. "That's fine. It was well earned in any rate. There were two assault squads after me tonight, and I suspect only the Knight Sabers' arrival kept me alive at all."

"Two units, Ma'am?"

Kate nodded, thinking hard. "One was almost certainly sent by a Tower employee, probably one of the vice presidents. They used eight 12J's, so finding whoever authorized that little stunt should not be too hard. It's the other one that worries me. They behaved like boomeroid mercenaries, but I got a good look at them through some pretty sophisticated sensor hardware, and they were boomers. Older models, all of them."

"I'll look into it, Ma'am. Please don't worry yourself any more about it. You've been through enough for one night."

Kate smiled over at Jenny as the secretary stood again. "Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere else tonight. I think I'll just stay up here tonight for a while longer. That's all for now."

Jenny bowed and let herself out of the office. Kate could briefly see the increased security at the door as it closed behind her.

Tapping on the keyboard in front of her, she watched as a giant viewscreen descended from the ceiling and settled into a good viewing position in front of her. She rarely used it, but it offered possibly the best theatre style view in the Tower. Tapping another code, she pulled a copy of a datafile from her apartment's vidrom collection, and pulled up a list on her display screen.

-I don't think anyone's ever used the Chairwoman's office for quite this activity since they built the building,- she mused, a faint grin on her face. -I'll sort the rest out later. For now, I just want to relax.-

Kate keyed up her selection, and watched as the introductory strains of her favorite anime played upon the main screen. Thirty seconds in however, she hit the pause button and leaned forward, head buried in her hands.

Lisa.

-No matter how many times I try to put it out of my mind, she keeps coming back in.- Kate took a deep breath and leaned back, staring at the bright anime colors on the screen above her. In her mind's eye, she still saw the brilliant flash of white, the blue energies.

The domino mask, and the look of concentration on her face as a figure out of fantasy effortlessly destroyed a pair of 12J combat boomers without so much as laying a finger on them as she brought their cannons to bear on each other by sheer willpower.

The blast that threw Lisa back across the room should have at least knocked her out. She realistically should have had several broken bones. Not to mention that the metal door had just previously been flash melted by the boomer's heat cannon, and the mess she'd been thrown into was full of half-melted steel and metal shards. Yet she'd emerged without a scratch or burn. And then she'd continued to take the boomers apart.

Kate had missed most of the fight after that, but had still seen the final acrobatic jump where Lisa had seemingly effortlessly smashed whatever that was she'd fired through the boomer's coolant plant, overloading its capacitors and forcing a reset, giving a second Red Saber the time she'd needed to close the gap and destroy it with their trademark pinpoint plasma charges.

Not to mention the few minutes before that. Lisa hadn't seemed to be fighting then. More like dancing. She'd spun and pirouetted, leaped and flipped, making the boomers trying desperately to hit her look like incompetents. And she'd tossed them around like rag dolls in the process.

-She's real,- Kate's rebellious mind insisted, even as she tried to put it in perspective. -My friday night movie partner is a Sailor Senshi.-

-Ohara would be ecstatic,- she mused, and was briefly surprised at the almost feral anger that woke within her. -No,- she decided firmly. -I'm not letting anyone have her. Not even GENOM.-

She grinned slightly at the apparently chaotic nature of that last line of thought. Still fighting her way past the dazed and shocky feeling that made her hands tingle as the rush of the night's activities finally began to take their toll, she dialed a number on her cell phone, and waited for the answering machine to pick up.

"Lisa-chan? It's Kate. Call me? I'd really like to talk."

Kate set the phone down and leaned back, ignoring the bright colors of the show on display in front of her. Her hand reached slowly over to the viewscreen controls and she toggled the play button, letting the sound and light wash over her as she waited for the attack of nerves to fade away.

-I still choose Absolute Good,- she thought to herself quietly as the stars twinkled away in the night sky beyond.

* * *

"Ai?"

"Hai, Onii-chan!"

The masculine voice took on an annoyed tone. "Ai, please stop that, You know I think it makes you sound fourteen."

The feminine voice laughed, and held the phone closer. "But Oniiii-chan!!"

The masculine voice growled something to more feminine laughter and waited until the girl was finished laughing. "Are you ready to proceed?"

"Hai, Baty-chan. The samples are ready, and we can perform the injections as soon as I arrange shipment. They're deliberately mislabeled so they look like standard antibiotic shots, and are likely to receive maximum distribution in the process."

The masculine voice seemed to be nodding to itself. "Excellent. When the samples are used in the hospitals and clinics, it will take several days for the epidemic to run its course. Then we step up the pressure betwen Firsters and Liberationists."

"Mmm-hmm," the feminine voice agreed.

"Oh, and Ai-chan?"

"Hai?"

"Baty-CHAN?"

The feminine voice laughed again and hung up.

* * *

Wednesday, October 21, 2037, 10:15 AM
Waterfront Industrial Park, Megatokyo

Roger watched mutely as a crane slowly pulled the shattered and partially melted husks of a pair of 12J boomers out of what used to be the sewer system, and swing them over to rest on a flatbed nearby. He glanced to one side as Daley drove up and got out of the police cruiser to amble over to his partner. "So. What's the deal?"

Roger pointed to the boomers. "Looks like someone got into a major fight with boomers of the GENOM Polar War variety. They were outfitted with heat cannons and from the looks of the wreckage, we think there were maybe a half dozen of them. We're not sure."

Daley whistled appreciatively. "They really put the hurt on those boomers, didn't they?"

"Who?"

"Who do you think?" Daley retrieved a cup of coffee from his car, and after a moment, passed another to his partner. "Rumor has it the Ice Queen was missing, and if this war zone is any indication, they must have found her."

Roger nodded absently. The condemned housing project was little more than bits of masonry at this point. A large crater off to one side marked an entry (or exit?) into the sewer system, with a large chunk of the sewer system exposed for fifty feet around. A large crossway nearby had been apparently deliberately pulled in to allow a large armored weapon to be winched to the surface. Which was the odd part, of course. They'd recovered the weapon, but not the winch.

Boomers. More of them.

"Anything else we can use?"

Roger nodded again. "Sort of. We found some metal wreckage in one of the craters which seems to be medical equipment. We ran the serial numbers we got off the wreckage and it came up a match for the stolen equipment from that warehouse last week. Still no idea who it was, but if they did have the Ice Queen in there, it's a fair bet what they needed the drug machine for."

His partner nodded as he walked around the pit, as police and construction boomers worked in the exposed sewer tunnels below. "What happened here," he said, pointing to a large, partially melted section.

"Remember I said we weren't sure how many boomers were in the attack?" At Daley's nod, he gestured to the blast zone. "That's why. We're finding Abotex traces several feet into the blast zone wall, suggesting one, possibly two boomers detonated at that point. Apparently with sufficient force to do most of this damage. We're still trying to find enough pieces to verify this."

"Fatalities?"

Roger shook his head again. "None. Apparently this part of the industrial park is completely abandoned. It's mostly old housing complexes that haven't been bulldozed down yet. Apparently the sewer system around here is so badly damaged that if anyone wanted to build here, they'd have to have the whole sewer and water treatment system replaced. I guess the city puts pressure on anyone who thinks of it so they don't have to do it."

The senior investigator snorted in contempt as he sat back on a chunk of convenient masonry. "So we've got a wrecked leftover from the Kanto quake on a corner of the industrial park, where our putative drug dealer set up shop after stealing a couple hundred thousand Yen's worth of chemicals that don't have any narcotic use." He looked over at Roger. "Do they have any use a kidnapper would want?"

Roger pulled out a handwritten list, and passed it over. "Already checked that. It seems like some of the forensic people have found some tactical restraint foam. You know, the stuff they use in cars these days." At Daley's nod, he continued. "It wasn't a good mix though. Just two of the primary chemicals. They said that one of those chemicals came from a boomer, by the way, probably one of the two they loaded up back there."

His partner shook his head. "That makes no sense. I can see improvising a restraint on an emergency basis, but our thief wouldn't have known they would need that when they stole it. Does it have any other uses?"

"Only if the subject is a boomeroid," Roger offered, shrugging. "Most of the chemicals have one purpose only. They're meant to be used in creating artificial blood plasma. That's useful in and of itself," he continued, pretending not to notice Daley's sharp look, "But the rest of the chemicals would only make sense if they were used in conjunction with the artificial plasma, and that suggests boomeroids."

"Didn't you say we got some boomeroid corpses here today?"

Daley's partner shook his head in negation. "Looked like it until forensics took a closer look. They're boomers, through and through. Looks like a very clever mockup job to make them look partially human. Based on some preliminary work, they're calling them Tactical B, probably Liberationists. Who they're working for, we're not sure."

"Well, 'Liberationists' or not, their memories are still legal evidence. Pull what you can, and we'll see what we're dealing with.

"We'll do what we can," Roger agreed, looking across the war zone. "We may have some difficulty though. GENOM's sent in their own cleanup squad. Claims they have a right to perform forensic examinations on 'rogue boomers'."

"Like hell they do! Tell them to wait in line after we're finished examining the boomers for evidence!" Roger watched with bemusement as Daley stomped off after the GENOM functionaries, who clearly watched the Inspector storm over to them with all the cheer of a surprise company inspection. "I'll set these idiots straight!"

Roger just chuckled, finished his coffee, and ambled over to the 'boomeroid'.

It was one of the more intact units. Head gone, but there wasn't anything to be done about that. As he squatted down to examine it, he noticed a data pad lying half-concealed under a chunk of masonry to one side. Pulling it out, he thumbed through displays, a grin slowly spreading across his face.

"Oh yeah, you just made our day, mister."

* * *

Wednesday, October 21, 2037, 3:00 PM
AD Police Tower, Megatokyo

"So what do we have?"

The Chief leaned closer to the screen as Ms. Romanova fiddled with the computer system on one side. "Based on our analysis of the captured boomer wrecks, it looks like an unnamed person in the Tower was trying to kill Ms. Madigan." She pulled up datafiles of the sewer system and the line connecting it to the minor GENOM subsidiary the Chairwoman had been kidnapped from as Chief Tohdo grunted noncommittally. "They managed to backtrack the captor through the sewer system, by using the penetrated sewer security barriers and a chemical trail system Ms. Madigan apparently had built into her shoes. Every time she took a step, it left an imprint."

Daley's eyebrows shot up at that as he watched to one side in the darkened briefing room. "That sounds risky. I'm betting a tracking system like that doesn't last for too long."

Nene nodded briefly as she brought up another display and overlaid it on the map. "A couple days at most. As you can see, the boomers' memories we recovered clearly show the trail was faint at best. Still, they were able to recover enough of it to track Ms. Madigan to her captors here in the industrial park." An arrow appeared, pointing to the condemned portion on the corner of the park.

"And we don't know who was responsible for the assault squad?"

"No," Nene confirmed. "The data is really incomplete when it gets to identities. My guess is the person responsible was trying to cover up their trail as much as they could."

"Won't help them," Roger said quietly. "a half dozen 12J's go on a well-coordinated rampage in downtown Megatokyo? Not likely. It's really hard to cover up, and I'm sure the N-Police will get a call from the Ice Queen in a day or two, telling them they have some gibbering former executive they want to put away."

"Assuming they bother to call anyone," Chief Tohdo grumbled quietly.

Roger shook his head in disagreement. "Actually, they do that pretty often. You don't see it much in the AD Police, but we got calls from the Tower pretty often involving people they wanted to charge for this crime or that crime." He grinned sardonically at Daley who rolled his eyes. "Sure enough, they never spoke to us, and only talked through expensive mouthpieces, but if there was someone GENOM was on the outs with, that person usually wound up in our jails."

"Tying up the system with meaningless paperwork, and letting more of their corporate graft escape unnoticed, I presume," Daley added dryly.

"Probably."

"So," Tohdo interrupted, as Nene began to fidget. "What else have we learned from these boomers?"

The redheaded cyberneticist brought up images of the Knight Sabers on the screens. "Well, from what we've gathered, the Knight Sabers seem to have rescued the Chairwoman, destroyed the 12J's, and routed the fake boomeroid mercenaries. The images are distorted and fuzzy, and there isn't much of it. As usual with the Sabers, a lot of their boomers wound up in too many pieces to get data from."

Chief Tohdo nodded intently, studying the screen as Daley watched with a faint smile. -They really did a number on those boomers,- he thought to himself. -You'd never know she was such a dangerous mercenary just by looking at her. Just like the others.- His lips twisted in amusement. -Except maybe White.-

"Hey wait a minute," Roger interrupted his reverie. "Aren't there two red Sabers in that shot?"

Nene brought up the image and froze it. Despite jagged lines of lost data in the image, it was clear there were two red-suited Sabers in that image. "One's wearing the sensor gear and has the pink highlights," Roger said slowly, going over the details. "But the green-highlighted one is new, isn't she?

Nene bit her lip. "Umm... I've never seen that color scheme before, no."

"Think maybe we should bring Fuko-san in on this?" Daley looked over at Nene with a grin. "She'd love to start doing artwork on a new Knight Saber."

Nene grinned absently and zoomed the image in on the green-highlighted unit. Daley leaned forward.

"You know, I haven't seen the blue one anywhere. On top of that, this new red one looks like it's got the same style as the blue one."

"A replacement for the other combat type?" Tohdo leaned closer to the screen, looking like he was about to topple off his chair, mustache bristling with energy as he focused his attention on the screen.

"Maybe they're rotating in a new frontline type," Daley commented thoughtfully. "We'll have to keep an eye out for this one." He looked over at Nene who looked back at him in confusion. "We just figured out how the original four behave, now we have to adapt to a new fourth. That's a lot of work!"

Chief Tohdo glanced over at him. "No vacations. Especially not right now. We're too close to getting results on this case. Roger, I understand you pulled some useful data from the scene?"

Roger nodded and passed a chip to Nene, who quickly loaded and projected it on screen. "What I discovered is that the mercenary 'boomeroids' are in fact full boomers left over from an old cold war a decade ago. The guy I got the datapad from was their electronics expert, and he had a habit of committing a lot of stuff to datapad, probably so he could cue it up on the spur of the moment." The image shifted to show a handful of programs in the pad listing. "We actually picked up some really fine custom intrusion and espionage software I'd like Nene to examine later. If we can use any of it, we could really improve our own operations."

Tohdo made a 'continue' gesture as Nene brightened and gave Roger a thumb's up with a wink. "Go on."

"Well the data gets spotty once they're near their destination. Apparently they got where they did by using a lot of dirty tricks and clever technology to overcome the fact that they're obsolete. But the closer they got to the mission zone, the less time this guy had to do anything from an intel standpoint, so there's less in the datapad.

"However," he continued as he cued up another image on the screen, "It appears that their plan involved tailing the GENOM hit squad, and taking out the boomers after they'd done all the hard work. That's what the heavy weapon was for. They were planning on firing the weapon down a corridor and smashing most, if not all the boomers with one shot. It didn't work out that way though, largely because the Knight Sabers showed up before the machine was in position. After that, their plan basically fell apart."

Tohdo nodded, settling back in his chair. "So the Knight Sabers disrupted their plans, and destroyed the combat boomers, is that it?"

Roger shook his head slowly and cued up another video. "Not...exactly. Apparently this guy, being their intel guy, left a couple of ratbot boomers scattered around, feeding combat data into the datapad for analysis after the battle. I'm still trying to understand this, but I think this is something you might be more familiar with anyway."

On the video, the corridor loomed huge and distorted, as seen from the eyes of a creature so low to the ground. Half a dozen 12J boomers were between the ratbot and the figure in the room, and the sound was too tinny and distorted to make out much. "The audio's rotten because the boomer they used had monaural sound reception capability. They picked it up for its visual ability, and its hearing ability was limited to audio cues for sentry duty and that kind of thing."

Daley watched as an obscured figure in the room beyond almost became visible as the door was shot open. A sensible pair of boots, meant for walking in mucky terrain, like the depths of a sewer. "Not a lot to go on there. Just a pair of boots, really."

Roger nodded as the figure suddenly exploded into light. Several shocked intakes of breath could be heard in the room as the light resolved itself into a pair of bright cobalt-blue boots.

Tohdo leaned forward in the chair again, eyes intent as he watched a figure barely visible in the darkness gesture with empty hands, causing the pair of 12J's in front of her to apparently of their own will point their guns at each other. There was a massive explosion, and the video cut out.

"That's where it ends. My guess is the ratbot was destroyed by the blast that destroyed both boomers."

There was silence in the room as the Chief slowly sat back in his chair. "Nene-san. Please play that segment again."

"Hai."

The officers gathered in the room watched the segment again, and yet a third time after that. Finally the Chief looked around. "Opinions?"

"Sangnoir," Daley said succinctly. "This is the kind of thing he was capable of when he was here."

"'When he was here'," Roger echoed pointedly. "He's been gone half a year now and hasn't been seen since."

The lead Inspector pulled his nose in a gesture of frustration, then waved his hands. "Fine, so it wasn't Colonel Sangnoir. What's to say it isn't one of his friends? We know he has them. So what if one of them has come to Megatokyo looking for their errant companion?"

"Where do we go to investigate such an unusual line of research, Inspector Daley?" Chief Tohdo looked over at his star Inspector and waited for the answer.

"IDEC."

* * *

Thursday, October 22, 2037, 9:25 AM
IDEC Research Lab, Megatokyo

Daniel Ohara leaned forward and pressed the answer button on his desk intercom as it buzzed authoritatively. "Ohara here, what is it?"

"Ohara-san, you have a pair of visitors from the AD Police. Shall I send them in?"

Ohara allowed himself a moment of panic and thought briefly over all the things he'd been doing lately, then calmed down. -It's okay. I'm not doing anything illegal anymore, and the pinhole projector's been having 'problems' for months now.- "Fine, send them right in."

"Hai, Ohara-san."

Ohara allowed himself to feel comfortable as the two inspectors were shown into his office. In the last six months, he hadn't made any real progress on increasing the department's ability to create controllable doorways into other realities, but for some reason, his total lack of success was met with "Satisfactory Result" assessments from the Tower, and renewed funding. It was as if Madigan not only no longer cared about opening doorways to other realities, she was perfectly happy with Ohara's apparent inability to fix the issue.

Which, Ohara figured, was exactly the case.

Whatever had happened in the GENOM tower the night the Chairman died, it had miraculously spared Kathryn Madigan. Ice Queen she might be to most people, but a LOT of the higher-ups in GENOM were terrified of her seemingly unbreakable lucky streak. The Largo incident had killed everyone in the room except her. The Visitor's vengeance-fueled encounter with the Chairman had killed everyone except her, and now an apparent assassination attempt by not one but two boomer squads had been foiled without her getting so much as a scratch!

So yes, the upper management of GENOM was justifiably terrified of Ms. Madigan, for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the Chairwoman's reputation for icy resolve.

But none of that ice had so far been directed his way, and gradually Daniel Ohara had come to understand that Madigan didn't want any more doorways opened. She was perfectly happy to let him putter around doing his research, and as long as there was no more damage done, things would probably stay that way indefinitely.

He closed the file he was working on and looked over at the inspectors. "I apologize for not greeting you earlier, but I had important affairs to take care of. What can I do for you?"

The redheaded inspector held out a data disk. "Inspector Daley Wong, Ohara-san. We pulled this data from a boomer incident in the industrial park late Tuesday night, and I was wondering if you could comment on the anomalies we discovered."

Ohara took the disk, feeling a slight queasiness inside. -Anomalies? What's he talking about? The pinhole detector's been quiet for months. We haven't had a Visitation since the Other was here.- So thinking, Ohara inserted the disk and pulled up the display.

Daley watched closely as Ohara's face went from nervous to dead white as the recording played back. When the images faded, the inspector stood up, walked over to the desk and leaned against it. So, Ohara-san. Do you recognize any of this imagery?"

* * *

"He did a rotten job lying about what he saw on that disk," Roger commented as they made their way out to the cruiser. "I mean, it was written all over his face. He's seen the girl before, and he knows who she is."

"Yep," Daley agreed, a satisfied smirk on his face.

"So why didn't you use his reactions as a wedge to get more information out of him?"

The inspector shook his head as he drove away. "First, we got the information first-hand so I doubt he has any more information than we do. Second, while he knows who she is, it was pretty obvious when we walked in that he hadn't heard she was back. This tells me the video is as much news to him as it is to us. Best thing we can do right now is give him time to find the answers. When the time's right, then we get the truth out of him."

"Ah..."

* * *

Thursday, October 22, 2037, 12:00 PM
Ladys633 Tower, Megatokyo

Linna adjusted the expensive suit jacket one more time, and shifted her shoulders slightly. "I still think it's tight across the back." She shifted from side to side, suit gathering and rippling across her athletic frame. "Mackie? What do you think?"

"Ah..."

Linna giggled as the blushing young man quickly looked away. "It's okay, Mackie, I won't tell Nene."

The cybernetics researcher and sometime power armor specialist looked back, an apologetic grin on his face. "Promise? I don't want to do anything to damage what we've got right now."

The new business CEO nodded and looked thoughtful as Mackie stepped up behind her and expertly tested the fabric as it stretched across her slender frame. "You really do care about how things turn out with Nene, don't you?"

Mackie smiled slightly, the blush only adding to his charm as he resettled the coat on Linna's shoulders. "Yes, I do." He shook his head in remembered amazement at that night in the vehicle bay. "I'm just shocked I actually came out and said it! I mean, what if she'd just slapped me or something?"

"Not a chance," Linna affirmed as Kou in the background smiled and looked out a window. "The two of you look good together, you know? And I know she's attracted to you. Take it as an insider tip," she said with a teasing grin. "She's not likely to say no, pretty much no matter what you ask her."

Mackie's blush returned in full at that statement, and Linna chuckled evilly as she turned back to the mirror. "So this stuff is supposed to be impenetrable, is it?"

"Not exactly impenetrable," Sylia commented, stepping into the room. "It's only my first run with the new fibers, but so far it appears to be working out pretty much as I'd hoped it would. It's superior to the false-polykev mesh I was using before, and seems to have a lot in common with Lisa's sailor fuku. I expect the next several versions to have better armor value and kinetic dissipation capability in the near future." Sylia looked up from the clipboard she'd brought with her.

"But for now, this armor cloth will give you added protection should you need it. As has been graphically demonstrated this week, I don't want to leave anything to chance where my friends' protection is concerned."

Linna nodded with a smile as Mackie disappeared, returning moments later with half a dozen test monitors. "I'll be examining the boomer task force maintaining the Garden today," he began, as Linna nodded. "I'll also be examining the security systems and making sure as many of our hidden surprises work the way they're supposed to. The Hou Bang have left us alone so far, but they won't do it for much longer, I'm sure."

Linna nodded again as Mackie left the room, leaving her with Sylia. The older girl leaned back against the fitting room dresser and crossed her arms. "Linna... about your proposal..."

"I know it's risky," Linna began quickly, "but we need the investment! We're hemorrhaging money faster than ever, and we can't afford to pool the Knights resources into this or it'll lead back to us and Loon will suffer! We just have to have that kind of money, and she's the only one who can give it to us!"

Sylia nodded as each of the points were addressed. "I agree. In fact, although it pains me to admit it, you're probably right about the proposal as well."

"I... I am?"

Lips twitching in a slight smile, Sylia continued. "Yes, you are. But before you start making agreements with GENOM, remember that Kathryn Madigan is just one woman. No matter how well intentioned you and Lisa seem to be convinced she may be, if she is replaced, the equation could change to something not in our favor. Keep that in mind when you speak with her."

Linna nodded, eyes focussed. "Okay, I'll remember that. Anything else?"

"No. Just keep in mind that agreements made today can be twisted out of control later. Don't offer away any say in the company, and don't leave avenues future Chairmen might exploit."

Linna laughed softly. "In other words, take her money and run."

"Basically, yes." Sylia nodded, smiling as Linna left the room with a cheery wave, Kou a dark shadow behind her.

* * *

Thursday, October 22, 2037, 2:00 PM
Loon Enterprises, Megatokyo

Mackie adjusted another device as he heard Linna talking to who he believed was Kate Madigan on her cell phone. It was just the two of them in the Garden, a necessary precaution when the CEO stepped down to have a look at the showroom floor.

Well, the two of them and Kou of course, but he didn't count.

Linna looked every inch the corporate tycoon that morning, in a dark charcoal grey business suit with knee-length matching skirt. The dark tinted hose accented her legs and led the eye down to the expensive leather shoes which finished the image. The fact that it was all either made, or laced with the new fiber was incidental, of course.

Linna's voice remained quiet and firm, never rising in pitch and never picking up pace. -That's really impressive,- he admitted to himself as he moved to a tree-watering boomer as it stepped up to the access port. -She never gives herself away in conversation with these people. I wish I had as much luck with Nene.-

Despite the moment of open honesty in the vehicle bay - or perhaps because of it - they hadn't managed to find the time to see each other in the last two days. Glumly, Mackie couldn't help but wonder if maybe he'd overplayed his hand, Linna's assertion notwithstanding. -I hope I didn't bugger it all up. I really really like her.-

Mackie bit his lip and kept working. He was trying hard not to say what he thought, even in his own mind. To say it would mean admitting how much he cared about her, and he didn't want to jinx it. It had been too hard getting to this point for anything to come along and wreck it.

A faint discoloration caught his eye, and he pulled out a rag to wipe it away. Except that when he reached out to it, the discoloration was suddenly on the rag, then his hand.

Eyes widening in shocked understanding, he whirled around and dashed toward the new CEO. "Linna!!"

The young woman looked up even as the shot smashed in through the window. The bullet, unusually large for its type, moved with supersonic force to strike its intended target. That target however, was wearing body armor of a type never conceived of by the assassin, and the armored fibers suddenly interlocked, becoming the equivalent of five centimetres of armored steel. The bullet bounced off, and smashed through a protected glass port over a sewage line. But not before it passed through something else along the way.

Mackie felt something punch him backward, and felt a moment's confusion as the world tilted strangely. Then he hit the floor, and the pain exploded into his forebrain as his right side suddenly screamed in agony.

-No, that's me screaming,- a part of him noticed in surprise as the world began to take on pastel hues. -I'm amazed it doesn't hurt as much as it should.-

The disassociated part of his mind had time for -I hope Nene's not going to be mad at me,- before he mercifully passed out.

Linna was knocked backward by the force of the impact, but Kou reacted with trained speed. Reaching over to a control on his wrist, he pressed a button, causing all the armored shutters on all the windows and access ports to slam shut. At the same time, alarms went off in the complex, and security alerts screamed everywhere. Racing over to Linna, he quickly confirmed she was unharmed, then dashed over to Mackie, who lay sprawled over one of the glass domes, a confused look on his face before passing out.

-Hip shot,- Kou noted calmly as he applied pressure to the wound. -Looks like it passed clean through, no excessive bleeding, looks like it avoided any major arteries.- He examined Mackie the same way he'd have examined any of his men while on that suicidal assignment with Ms. Reika half a dozen years ago.

-Shock, minor blood loss, no major arteries, I've applied pressure to the wound. Prognosis, survival with three to four weeks recovery afterward.- Kou kept the pressure up as a side door opened. Without letting up on Mackie, and keeping Linna's location in his mind, he whipped the gun out of its holster and unlocked the safety as it came to bear on the people coming through the door.

"It's just us, sir! Just us!"

Kou lowered the gun as the facility's medical people raced in, followed by a handful of security staff. Relinquishing the boy to the medical professionals, he headed back to Linna, who was sitting up and rubbing her chest in pain. "How's Mackie?"

Kou knelt down beside her. "He took the bullet meant for you, but it looks like it passed through the hip off to one side. It looks like it missed the femoral artery, so it's probably just going to be painful and involve a lot of hospital time before he's better."

Linna rubbed her chest again, and swallowed a few times. The shakes were just beginning to hit, and Kou supported her as best he could while she fought her way through them. "We have to find out who these people were," Linna whispered, as the shocky feeling left her shivering against her bodyguard helplessly.

"Hai. We will find them. We've been distracted by recent events. Now however, they've made their one and only mistake."

"What's that?"

Her bodyguard smiled grimly. "They attacked one of Sylia Stingray's best friends."

Linna laughed weakly, which turned into a barely suppressed sob as the ambulance personnel arrived, wheeling a stretcher over to Mackie, who lay prone like a discarded mannequin. A few moments, and the cyberneticist was in the gurney, being wheeled out by the attendants. "I should-"

"No," Kou disagreed, gently holding her back. "I know you want to, but you are the target, and that means they'll ignore Mackie. We have to get a security detail in place before we can move you out of the building." Kou looked at her and smiled. "Don't worry, we'll get you through this."

Linna bit her lip and nodded as Mackie was passed out of the security guard-filled room and into the corridor beyond.

* * *

Thursday, October 22, 2037, 5:00 PM
IDEC Research Laboratories, Megatokyo

Tony Nakamura waited until Ilya settled his larger frame into one of the conference room chairs. "So what is this thing, where you roust me away from a good dinner, and better companionship. What is problem, Daniel?"

Tony snorted. "Come on, Ohara, spill! You drag us back in at the end of our day to watch you lose it in a conference room again. Frankly," he said as Ohara continued to pace the far side nervously, "I haven't seen you this worked up since the Visitor."

Ohara's eyes snapped up to look steadily at Tony, and the younger scientist felt something inside drop away into a dark abyss he'd hoped never to revisit. "Oh no... You're not serious!"

"A couple nights ago, there was a small war over in the industrial park," Ohara began, as he walked over to the control panel. Beside Tony, Ilya nodded agreement.

"Da, Saw the papers. Your friends in high heels, they do good work, yes? Very professional."

"That's not all that happened," Ohara continued, tapping a quick command. As the lights darkened, Ohara's voice echoed in the room.

"This was taken by one of the boomer assassin team's spybots. We have it courtesy of a police investigation that came to my office today, asking if we knew anything about this!"

Tony and Ilya were silent through the short, badly distorted video, which nevertheless showed their mysterious sailor girl effortlessly trashing a pair of modern combat boomers, apparently without laying a finger on them.

The lights came up and the video screen retracted as they tried to make sense of the imagery.

"The pinhole detector," Tony began halfheartedly.

"Nothing," Ohara stated flatly. "There's been no Visitations since our other guest left, and no penetrations recorded since Hiroe's disappearance."

"Only one other possibility, there is," Ilya's voice rumbled in the quiet room. "Never left, this sailor girl did not. Living here, she has been, all this time." The Russian scientist settled back in his chair and looked alternately at the other two. "So why returned is she to active boomer fighting? Effective, yes?"

"Oh, very effective," Ohara agreed bitterly. "So effective I've got police investigating the crap out of IDEC again! The Chairwoman is not going to like this, I'm betting."

Tony laughed without humor. "What, you haven't told anyone yet? Ambitious, isn't it?"

Ohara made a nervous chopping motion with his hand. "I'll take the heat with Madigan. You two just concentrate on whatever we can get from memory and sensor readings. The police probably took a lot of the best stuff, but I've still got a lot of the contacts and access points from the Visitor days, so I'm going to start using them. By this time tomorrow, we're going to have everything the boomers recorded about our mystery girl. Which means we have until probably the end of the week to come up with some kind of report we can give Madigan."

Ilya looked at Ohara thoughtfully. "Is not just Ice Bitch you worry about, yes? Is also Hiroe you are thinking of?"

Ohara nodded as Tony's eyes widened. "Yes, that's it exactly. If one of them stayed behind to keep an eye on us, that means Hiroe must have some way of communicating with her. And if that's true," Ohara said, a look of determination on his face, "Then I want to know what it is.

"We have some unfinished business, Hiroe and I."

Tony and Ilya looked thoughtful as Ohara stared at the grainy image of the blue-garbed Senshi, a strange light in his eyes.

End of Chapter Four


Disclaimer: All characters and worlds present are copyrights of their original creators, and are not created by the writer (with the sole exception of the mysterious "One"). This is a work of fiction, and is intended as fan-created fiction for the purpose of entertainment under fair-use legislation. No attempt to infringe upon copyrighted material is intended.

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This page was created on August 14, 2008.
Last modified February 23, 2018.