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Dead Bang

by Ian McLeod

Chapter 7

Thursday, October 29, 2037, 8:30 PM
Somewhere in Shinjuku, Megatokyo.

Lisa landed on a light standard and grinned with the sheer pleasure of the moment. After the redneck boomer, she'd stopped a mugging, stopped a kid from being run over by a motorcyclist, and then given the driver a piece of her mind, all the while ignoring the people with cellphone cameras behind her. Then she'd vaulted over the rooftops and vanished.

It was barely half an hour since she'd first launched into the night, and the earpiece was spooling out the latest selection as the police scanner squawked again.

"All officers, possible wild boomer advisory in the Shinjuku area. Subject is described as wearing a Sailor fuku and impersonating an anime character. Approach and apprehend with caution. Boomer may be armed."

Lisa rolled her eyes and snorted. I doubt there's a law on the books anywhere about impersonating an anime character, she thought to herself, the grin tugging itself back onto her face. She looked off to the east where she could see the lights of several Firebees heading in her direction.

"Oh well, I had a feeling this would happen eventually." She shrugged and leapt up onto a nearby rooftop. "Okay. Gotta escape and evade, just like Kate-san said."

Suiting actions to words, she ran toward the roof edge, and launched herself in a flat arc toward the nearest building. Landing just long enough to aim at another roof, she repeated the performance, flying away from the Firebees. As she did, she kept looking ahead for the next item on the list.

Three buildings along she found it. A rooftop access over a small shopping mall. The strip was closed for the night, but it was still a public place. Ducking into the service access, she concentrated and ran the little ditty in her mind that reverted her to herself. A soft glow of blue light filled the stairwell.

Moments later, an ordinary looking girl with deeply tanned skin stepped out of the stairwell at ground level, sticking her hands in her pockets and whistling to herself as she walked down the road to the bus stop.

* * *

Makoto watched the girl walk off with a little smile of appreciation on her face. "Really knows how to pull off the disappearing trick," she thought idly. She heard the Firebees passing by overhead, and ducked into a convenient overhang by the air conditioning system.

The Firebee looped back around, the pilot clearly thinking he'd seen something. Makoto sighed and held up her hand, concentrating. Faint glimmers of a more colorful outfit briefly glowed around her and faded as she pulled a little more power than her original form had been capable of, then let it go. She smiled in satisfaction as the Firebee flew around uncertainly, his sensors blinded by the weak charge she'd put into the atmosphere.

She watched as the helicopter finally gave up, flying off toward the other helicopters, allowing the girl to step into the same stairwell. Shortly after, a tall Japanese girl stepped out of the exit and walked in the same direction the reporter girl had gone several minutes before.

* * *

Axil Court Ichigaya Daimachizaka, Room 406
Shinjuku-ku, 10:00 PM

Lisa sighed and flopped down in the overstuffed easy chair she'd picked up cheap from a flea market filled with overseas furniture. There was just something so decadent about surrounding herself with so much fluffy furniture, she thought as she leaned back, picked up the remote, and switched on the television. Quick flipping eventually pulled up an evening news channel, and she leaned forward as she watched the display.

The platinum-blonde the cell cameras showed stood closer to six feet than five, and had a sleekly muscular look. She sighed in envy, even though it was showing her as the machines recorded her. "If only I looked that good in real life," she mumbled, grinning. She tapped up the audio as the reporter switched to show a map of the Shinjuki area.

"... unconfirmed reports of similar incidents around Shinjuku, involving a rogue Boomer and a traffic disturbance. AD Police refused to comment, saying only that they would investigate all allegations with equal dedication."

The image switched to show a tired-looking Roger Dalton as he tried to fend off the cameramen. In the background, Chief Inspector Wong looked like he was enjoying throwing Roger to the cameras, and watched the new lieutenant handle himself.

Dalton didn't do that bad a job, actually. The only time he hinted he might know what was going on was when he'd been asked about similar incidents the year before. "I'm not sure exactly what you're referring to," he said, looking slightly harried. "The incidents you're describing sound like a totally different combat style."

The reporters had blinked a few times, sensing a weakness they could pounce on. But then a Firebee had painted them all with extremely bright light, apologized and moved on. After that, Daley had pulled Roger back into the investigation.

Lisa switched off the television and thought about it. "Different combat styles. I could do that, couldn't I?"

Standing and stretching, she walked toward the shower. She'd get cleaned up, change clothes and head back to her apartment. Plenty of work to do tomorrow enchanting Loon Enterprises' front lobby.

Elsewhere, Makoto let herself back into Hiroe's apartment with a grin. "I definitely need to keep tabs on this one. She's got plenty of potential, Usagi." She placed the crystal she'd been dictating notes into in the crystal display, and tapped a hidden button, starting the process where it would all be downloaded and encrypted for long term storage.

She looked over at the ream of user manuals and study guides for the local technology, especially the heavy power loaders she was claiming she knew the use of, and sighed. "Guess I have only myself to blame. I need to start reading this stuff." Picking up the first reprogrammable manual, she sat down and started studying the operating guide for the construction equipment.

Across the city, an elegant woman stood at a heavily armored window showing the Megatokyo skyline. The huge theater-quality screen filled the main office area as Jenny continued to work quietly off to the side, sparing only the occasional glance at her boss. The display was full of images relating to the mysterious girl in the sailor fuku who'd taken the Shinjuku area by storm. The tagline, "Human or Boomer?" could be seen across the bottom of the screen, which was filled with a grainy security camera video of a girl landing on a boomer, firing some kind of kinetic weapon into the rogue machine, and vaulting over the skyline.

Katherine Madigan watched the moonlight play across the cityscape and the waterline with a small smile on her face. "And so it begins," she whispered softly, turning away to vanish deep into the shadows.

* * *

Friday, October 30, 2037, 09:30 AM
AD Police tower, Megatokyo.

"So, any leads yet?"

"No," Roger replied, rubbing his eyes tiredly. And no wonder. He'd spent most of the night going over the field reports and scattered video captures of the mystery girl, trying to put together some kind of idea what they were dealing with. Nene was pretty sure the uniform hadn't been changed since yesterday, and the flattened mop of hair on his head suggested where he'd been sleeping the night before.

The cyberhacker leaned back in the comfortable chair off to the side and sipped her tea, a small smile of appreciation on her face. Lisa hadn't been out for more than about half an hour the previous night, but already the city was buzzing about their "mystery senshi". News agencies were desperately trying to find just one more snippet of material no one else had found and published in an attempt to gather more ratings for themselves.

Unlike the Quincy days, the Tower had stayed curiously silent about the whole thing. Then again, it wasn't the Knight Sabers making their lives difficult, it was a mystery girl fighting crime. Not really their deal.

The chief looked over at her. "Nene! Quit wasting time and show us what you've found!"

She smiled and set the cup down to one side. "Hai!" Quickly tapping in commands, she pulled up a map of Shinjuku, with several points highlighted in red. Lines appeared connecting them, with probable times between them. "These are the known sightings of our mystery girl. Most of them are recorded by security cameras, cell phones and so on. They all seem to suggest whoever she is has enhanced physical capability. She usually shows up by dropping from nearby rooftops."

Roger snorted from where he sat slumped in his chair. "Cheap theatrics. They should leave catching criminals to the cops."

Nene raised an eyebrow and looked over at him. "And that rogue boomer in the street? It was shooting random passerby with a heat cannon. An N- Police officer would be just be another target to something like that. And none of us were as close as she was."

Daley leaned closer to the screen, tracing the lines between the points and examining the times closely. "Are these right, Nene-chan? She has some kind of enhanced movement?"

"Hai, Daley-chan. The girl was clearly moving with unusual speed, definitely more than human. The times between arrivals in a few cases was too quick to be a vehicle, over extremely uneven terrain."

"Boomer, then." The chief leaned back and crossed his arms. "Any idea what class?"

Nene shook her head. "I don't think so, chief. Every time she dropped from the rooftops she left no imprint in the ground. And you know that any combat model capable of the kind of performance we're talking about here would crater the ground after a high-altitude drop. Whoever this is would have to be light. Certainly far lighter than any boomer would be in a similar situation."

The chief looked unconvinced. "What about that antigravity data that's been released to the world?"

Nene shook her head. "Again, impractical. Without several more generations' worth of research, it requires more space than you could fit in an undercover boomer model. Even one of the 55C's with adaptive skin surfacing. And a purely bodyguard model wouldn't be able to manage the weapons fire we have on record without augmentation."

She tapped a few controls, and pulled up a first-person video. "We salvaged this from the memory of the boomer that was disabled in the intersection. Look at this." The image showed the boomer shooting cars, aiming not for killing blasts, but just for 'harmless' hits. Doors were favorite targets.

Suddenly there was a blur of white and blue, the boomer's vision shifted drastically and jarred violently as the combat machine was shoved into the pavement. The platinum blonde standing on the boomer brought her hands together for a quick moment, and clearly called out, "Heartbreaker!" There was a sharp crack of blue light, and the Boomer's vision went dark.

"Back it up to just before she fired," the chief said absently. Nene nodded and reversed the video to that moment, holding it there. She watched as the chief leaned forward, clearly trying to make sense of what he was seeing. She tried hard to suppress the smirk. He was looking right at his own niece and he couldn't seem to figure it out.

Of course, the tall girl with the platinum hair didn't look a lot like her, but the insider knowledge was priceless to the cyberhacker as she watched the chief consider the image. The girl crouched on the Boomer's chest, aiming for a point below the sternum. A blue glow had just started to form around her hands, centering on a needle-like sliver of pure force which seemed to be appearing out of nowhere.

The chief looked over at her, but Nene shook her head at the unasked question. "Railguns can do much the same thing, but you have to enclose the shot in the charging coils. On top of that, while the damage was consistent with a physical armor-piercing shot, no physical bullet or railgun shot was found. A heat cannon can also approximate the effect, but the boomer was equipped with infrared, and there was no corroborating heat bloom from her arms. Whatever lets her do that, there's no matching technology known to boomer science."

The silence which followed that proclamation in the room continued for several minutes. Finally the chief grunted and stood up. "So we really are looking for another of Sangnoir's friends?"

"Possibly," Daley said slowly. "All we know is that IDEC has reason to believe that there's been a new arrival, and that this person may be of the same power level. I'm hoping a little trip to their offices later today may help shed some light on this. Especially considering it really does look a lot like the case earlier this year."

Roger sighed, looking over at Daley. "Sorry about that, partner. It just kinda slipped out."

Daley shook his head and also stood up, waving at Nene as they started to head out. "No worries, Roger-san. I've got your back, remember? That Firebee was very helpful when I asked him to distract the reporters." He laughed as the men made their way out of Nene's office.

Nene waited until the others had left, then pulled up an innocuous little icon on her screen. The image changed to show a live feed from a concealed camera in Mackie's workroom. This wasn't the underground Sabers labs, that would be reckless and dangerous. No, this was the sunny, open-air workroom he had on the top floor of his sister's home where he did his design work, and collaborated on the second-generation AI research with people around the world.

She opened a file and began to type, occasionally glancing over at Mackie as he worked on an engineer's drafting table, absorbed in some kind of research. She was completely oblivious to the thin line of quicksilver which exited the vent above her head, traveled across the ceiling, and entered another vent on the other side before vanishing from sight.

* * *

11:00 AM IDEC Headquarters, Megatokyo.

Daniel Ohara leaned back in his chair and rubbed the bridge of his nose while thinking what to do next. Across from him were three AD Police officers: Two who'd been there before, and a third he'd been hoping he'd never see again. "It's like I told you before, officers," he said lowering his hand and leaning forward. "We do theoretical research here. You're asking us to speculate about —"

"Drop the canned speech," Leon growled. Ohara's voice froze and something clutched his throat as he took in the quiet fury in the man's voice. "We know you know what's really going on." Leon dropped a printout showing scrapped boomers and serial numbers. Numbers Ohara knew very well. His eyes widened slightly and he felt sweat prickle his forehead all of a sudden.

"We've got you for the attack on the restaurant earlier this year. Not to mention half a dozen boomer attacks during Colonel Sangnoir's stay in Megatokyo this last summer." Leon leaned forward, pocketing the printout. "Now unless you really want me to take this to my boss and start action against you people today, you're going to start coming clean with us. No games, no holding back." Leon sat back, eyes locking with Ohara's and not budging. "What's it going to be?"

Ohara swallowed several times, trying hard to look innocent, but desperately convinced he wasn't pulling it off. He really wanted to wipe the sweat off his forehead, but was afraid it would make him look even more guilty. Finally he took a breath, and tapped a concealed button. The blinds in the room closed, and a desktop ornament began to flash rhythmically with a green light.

"All right," Ohara rasped. "I'll tell you. But you can't tell anyone any of this!" He sat back, thinking furiously as Roger watched the two veteran police officers sweat the corporate shirt with almost contemptuous ease. As the lieutenant took mental notes on behavior, Daley put a restaining hand on Leon's arm.

"Director Ohara, understand that we're not here to make your life any more difficult than it already is. We're pretty sure those boomers were dispatched on Tower orders. Orders you couldn't have refused at the time. But try to understand the situation." Daley's face hardened slightly. "Those machines tore into a restaurant, injuring and endangering a lot of innocent people. And while the followup attacks tried to take Sangnoir in unpopulated locations, the fact remains that you at the very least said nothing while in full possesion of the truth involving multiple boomer crimes perpetrated by others."

He looked over at Leon, who was still watching Ohara with an unforgiving stare. "I can restrain my partner only if you're very forthcoming. He wants to get to the bottom of this, as do I. But your guilt or innocence in what happened won't mean much to him if he thinks he's being stonewalled."

Ohara nodded, taking a tissue and mopping his face absently. "We didn't have any say in what happened," he said, fighting a dry feeling in his mouth. "The whole thing was on the orders of..." he paused, suddenly even more terrified to say the name. "... people who are no longer with us," he prevaricated, swallowing again and looking over at Daley to see that he understood. The inspector nodded encouragingly.

"That's good news, Ohara-san. Now tell us about the girl they fought at the restaurant. Who was she? And is she the same one we've been hearing on the news last night?"

Ohara tapped a remote, causing a wall screen to descend and lock. After a moment, it cleared, showing the boomer footage from the encounter earlier that year.

"The footage isn't very reliable," he began, regaining some of his confidence as he slipped into lecture mode. "The girl fired at least one example of the blue bolt the reporters recorded last night." The image showed the girl putting her hands together, and firing a sliver of blue light similar to images they'd seen before.

Leon nodded slowly, a study in glacial composure. "And the combat differences?"

Ohara advanced the recording to an image taken from a partially functioning machine. "This was recorded from boomer three, which had already been rendered useless in combat, but had enough capacity to record her activity afterward." The image showed the girl bringing her hands together in a gripping motion and yanking them apart. The boomer in front of her shivered, then suddenly ripped into two uneven pieces, spraying artificial fluids and debris in all directions as she threw them apart.

The screen cleared, and Ohara turned back to the police. "When the Visitor left us earlier this year, it was assumed the other guest had left as well. There had been no further activity from the second Visitor the entire time after that one encounter. Not until earlier this week."

Daley nodded and checked his notes. "That would be the action with the Knight Sabers, would it not?"

Ohara nodded, looking uncomfortable. Leon merely locked eyes with him again, and the scientist flinched, looking over at Daley. The inspector shrugged and smiled, making a 'come on' gesture.

Ohara sighed. "All right," he said as he pulled up another video. "This is all technical data, you understand. There's nothing relating to any combat here." The screen showed several layers of information, and a blinking light in the Tinsel City district."

"What's that?" Daley leaned forward, interested.

"That's what we believe to be a second Visitor incursion. We believe the original girl never actually left. And that the event we recorded earlier this week is an unrelated second newcomer."

Leon raised an eyebrow and looked over at the scientist. "Yet when we asked about mysterious sailor girls, you looked very much like a man with a guilty secret." He smiled slightly as Ohara started, and leaned back. He seemed to be less angry than before, giving the IDEC administrator the chance to recover and mop his face again.

"Well," Ohara began slowly. "The pinhole detector isn't exactly refined science yet, but we can detect similarities. And I can say with reasonable certainty that the Visitor and our newest arrival have nothing in common with each other. Wherever the new Visitor is from, it's not the same place."

"And you think it's another Sailor girl?"

"Occam's Razor, Inspector." Ohara took a breath and looked over at Leon. "The first sailor girl stayed out of events, even when things were coming apart earlier this year. She only becomes active again when we have another arrival, from an unknown location. The only realistic conclusion is that we've got a Visitor from the same location. Hopefully another Senshi."

Daley raised an eyebrow. "Hopefully?"

Ohara pulled up a montage of boss monster fights from Sailor Moon and played them on the monitor. "If the anime is any indication, inspector, the average threat requires an entire team of magically enhanced girls to deal with, and the leader is usually only dealt with at great personal sacrifice. And every single time, the future of the whole human race is on the line.

"For all our sakes, Inspectors, I sincerely hope we've got another Senshi with us today. And so should you."

Roger inhaled slowly as he processed that fact. The other two were similarly quiet for a moment. Then Leon rose to his feet, the other two following suit.

"We won't be keeping you any further, director. But if we have further questions, we'll be back." Leon walked out of the room, leading the other two. He was silent all the way back to the car, hands in his pockets.

When he reached the car, he pulled out the report and tossed it to Daley. "Thank Nene for me, would you? That really came in handy."

Roger tried not to look to much like he was rubbernecking as he tried to see what was on the paper. "Did you really link him to the boomer activity in that restaurant?"

Daley grinned as the three of them got in the cruiser. "Not exactly," Leon admitted as they closed the doors and Daley started the engine. "I was pretty sure they were either behind it, or at least gathering the data the boomers collected. All I had Nene do was put together a report of the serial numbers of the boomers involved. That way if he knew what those numbers were, his own conscience would do the rest."

Roger shook his head and grinned at the moxie Leon had demonstrated. "Nice. What if he'd called your bluff?"

Daley shook his head as they eased onto the highway. "Not a chance. We started by mentioning the attack on the restaurant. Did you notice how he started sweating at that point? Even if he didn't know anything about the boomers, he was involved in some way. And the last thing he wanted was to be dragged back into something he thought he wasn't part of anymore." He held up a finger and smiled virtuously as Leon snorted in amusement. "Always bet on the guilty conscience, Lieutenant."

* * *

12:00 PM Loon Enterprises, Megatokyo.

Lisa sat back in the folding chair, mopping her face with a towel, as she inspected the results of her efforts.

To the naked eye, the foyer looked unchanged. The blinds had been drawn and the room evacuated, supposedly as part of the ongoing security crackdown after the attempted assasination the previous week. "In a way," she murmured, "That's even true."

"Nani?"

Lisa looked over at Anri and gave her a tired smile. "Gomen, Anri-san. I'm just talking to myself."

The bodyguard looked the greeting area over professionally. "And you're sure it's all set up the way you said?"

"Absolutely! And this time, I can prove it!"

Anri cracked a nervous grin and held up her hands. "No, not this time, Lisa-chan. We're still getting that gunk out of our work suits from the last time we tested your work."

Lisa grinned and passed her a pair of dark sunglasses. They looked identical to the set Anri usually wore at work, except they had a sliver of blue stone worked between the lenses. "Try these."

Lisa watched with a little grin on her face as Anri dubiously took the glasses and gingerly put them on. The sexaroid suddenly started in surprise, and looked around. "What am I seeing?"

Lisa stood and stretched nonchalantly. "Oh, just something I whipped up last night." She oof-ed as the bodyguard elbowed her and gave her the slime eye as she took off the glasses. "Hehhh," she grinned, waving apologetically. "Okay, okay. I had some very specific directions in that document I've been referring to. About how to duplicate basic magesight, and stuff like that."

Anri put the glasses back on and looked around again. "For Sylia?"

"Partly. We had a problem at first where there was really no way for her to evaluate my work. Even with the instructions, there was a lot of trial and error.

"Once I learned simple management of basic flows, I could try some of the stuff in the support books." She walked around the room, running her hand through the air, and sampling the tingling sensations she felt with her power.

"The first thing we did was simple detection items. Nothing really sophisticated. Kind of like the magical version of 'run away now' alarms." She giggled. "She always had one in the room when we were practicing until just recently." She pointed at the glasses. "When I got good enough to do those, she had me make a couple pair for her. They basically let you see magical energy. But until you know what it all means, it's just planes of force and energy flows. Like looking through a power meter or EM sensor system."

Anri walked through the room slowly, stopping at one of Loon's weird plants. This was a tree with lavender leaves inside a transparent armored shell. "They all connect here. Why the tree?"

Lisa shrugged. "I don't know if it was intentional, but some of the tree RNA codes we were given seem to create plants that can regulate and manage mana flows. I haven't read any of the books on it, so I don't really know for sure, but I guess it makes sense." She grinned as Anri mock-glared at her for the non-explanation.

"Magic is created and influenced by living things. So the more we mess up the planet, the worse the mana flows get. Cleaning up the ecology is only half the battle. We also have to clean up the mana flows or the ecosystem will seem to resist attempts to put it right. Even if no one understands why."

Anri pocketed the modified glasses. "But the average client won't understand all that."

The reporter nodded. "They don't have to. It's enough that we factored that in. With the world's mana being cleansed while the plants clean the ecosystem at the same time, anywhere you put these things will seem to have almost miraculous, overnight effects."

Anri pulled out her pocket comm and tapped a button. After a moment, she spoke to the figure on the screen. "Hai, madame chairwoman. We're done here." She paused for a long moment. "Hai, I've been given the glasses. I see details with them which could be the results, but they still need to be tested." She grinned a bit more and looked sidelong over at Lisa, who was casually walking around the foyer, hands clasped behind her head. "Hai, madame chairwoman."

Putting away the phone, she walked over to Lisa. "So, Lisa-chan. Are you totally comfortable with the reliability of what you've enchanted here?"

Lisa sighed and rolled her eyes. "You're not going to try another run at me, are you?"

Anri shook her head, eyes dancing. "Not us. Kou."

Lisa bit her lip and looked uncertain.

* * *

Ai grinned as the screen activated, displaying the usual static. "Moshi moshi?"

An irritated growl was his only response. Ai rolled her eyes and shook her head "You have to take things more lightly, Nii-san. Or you'll go grey, and then where will we be?"

Baty's voice sounded tired as he began. "Keeping track of the Boomer uprising is more trouble than it's worth. Humans at least are more predictable. But the new, 'emancipated' Boomer intellects are unpredictable and tend to hare off on totally unrelated issues if you don't step firmly on them." His voice paused, and her brother sighed. "I'm managing. I just wish they wouldn't keep changing on me every other week."

"Just wait, Nii-san," Ai said affectionately. "We'll perfect the mind virus we tested on Yoshida, and before you know it, we'll have control of the whole world." She giggled. "We'll make OMS look like a high school science project!"

"Assuming we can keep things on track. How're our hooks in the ongoing Chang saga?"

"Doing well enough," Ai said with a shrug. "The new Triad is forming up nicely. It doesn't hurt they've got strong backing, but that just means they'll fight harder and for longer than they might otherwise. Their end is still predictable."

"To five decimals," Baty agreed. "But keep them pointed in the right direction. The tool serves a necessary purpose. I don't want that going off the rails."

"No chance of that, Nii-san," Ai said, buffing her fingernails. "I predicted our black sheep sister's behavior perfectly. And her personal attack dogs. I've got it covered."

"Good." The voice sounded more relieved. "Yoshida's test this weekend will prove whether or not the control program works as advertised. A handful of enhanced Boomers, in direct combat with the Knights. If they lose, we'll know we succeeded."

Ai looked intrigued. "And if they win?"

Baty snorted. "My money's on Nee-san. There's a reason I cooked up another crisis for her to deal with."

* * *

2:00 PM Loon Enterprises, Megatokyo.

Lisa tried hard not to look like the cat with the proverbial canary. Kou was cleaning up off to the side, and sparing her the occasional dirty look, leaving the young mage in fits of sporadic giggles. She ducked her head in a mute apology as Linna made her way over.

"That was just as impressive as the test the other day," the young chairwoman said as she passed over a credit chit. "As promised, with the bonus for proven completion." She grinned as Lisa visibly perked up and slipped it into a pocket with a flourish. "When can you work on the next portion?"

"Ah... Not today." Lisa took a breath and let it out slowly, assessing her capacity. "I'm really tired, actually. That's probably the most weaving I've done so far. Your office was easier, because it was smaller and involved less cubage. But factoring in all the conditions you had for the entrance hall..." She shook her head, looking around the room.

The entrance to Loon Enterprises was a cross between the usual understated corporate elegance, and a quick preview of the kind of services it would be offering. The highlight was in the center of the lobby, where a lavender-leafed tree stood enclosed in an armored environmental bubble. The tree was clearly planted on contaminated ground, and a small sprinker inside was spraying a toxic-looking yellow fluid on the base. A sign listed all the industrial contaminants present in the demonstration model, and showed growth charts for the tree.

Aside from that, a handful of standing displays, several corners with expensive chairs and couches, and the main desk. Plenty of places for things to go wrong, and a lot of things to take into consideration if it did. Lisa mentally went over Linna's list of conditions again, mentally checking them off as her eyes roamed around the room.

Finally she looked back at the chairwoman as Linna waited, a small smile on her face. "It's good," Lisa concluded. "It'll all work like you said. And if it goes off, the tree will put it back up again after. That's the advantage of tying it to the tree. Of course," she said, thoughtfully, "If something happens to the tree, I'll have to set it all onto a new one."

"Hopefully," Linna said with crossed fingers and a grin, "if something like that happens, replacing the tree will be our worst problem."

Lisa stepped back, bowed (earning her a snort from Linna and a grin from Anri,) and made her way to the doors. She stopped just inside, her hand on the exit bar. "Do you have any plans for this weekend?"

"Ah, actually, yes." Linna nodded off in the rough direction of Sylia's place. "Hallowe'en is when the crazies come out. It pays to be ready."

"Mou..." Lisa pushed the door open and blinked several times as the sun was let in past the tinted windows. "Well, let me know if you get off early, okay?"

"Hai!"

Lisa laughed and stepped out of the building, considering the payment she'd just made. Pull some off for the apartment, some for the base, and I might just have enough to afford a decent bike!

Still in high spirits, the reporter skipped down the street, oblivious to the man in the old four-door down the block. The man pulled out a pair of binoculars, and studied the skipping girl for a moment. Pulling away from the attractive flash of dark skin as her skirt flared, he returned to his study of Loon Enterprises. As he did, his phone rang.

"Yeah?" The man listened for several long moments, nodding absently as he kept watch. "Yeah. No problem. No boomer guards, nothing more advanced than cameras. No problem." He paused for a moment, and looked away from the building, focusing more on his phone. "Fifteen million American. I'm standing firm on that. You want it done right, you pay me what I'm worth. Otherwise, you go get some zaibatsu street gang and risk blowing it all on a bad deal."

He waited another moment, and finally nodded. "Good. When I see the money, I'll make it happen." He paused and nodded some more. "Tomorrow. Morning. Right."

At that, he hung up the phone and put the binoculars down. Looking at the building for another long moment, he started the car, and drove away.

* * *

3:00 PM Tinsel City Alleyway, Megatokyo.

Tony nodded as he examined the marks in the ground. Carefully air-blasting the sand and debris away had revealed several long scratches in the pavement, as well as a faint discoloration in the hardtop, which might suggest where the Emergence point was located. He hefted a prototype portable Pinhole detector, and switched it on.

The device had no fancy readouts. It was mostly a backpack unit with lots of expensive quasi-military hardware. And all of it connected to a portable hand unit with a single green light on the main face. Experimentally, he passed it over the space defined by the discoloration.

The light flickered.

Tony nodded, and looked over at the construction crew, whose foreman was very professionally not paying attention to things his employer wasn't telling him. This was Megatokyo, after all. The city's biggest employer paid well for discretion. And the successful construction companies were very discreet.

"Hideo-san?"

The foreman looked around. "Hai, Nakamura-san?"

Tony waved around the block. "Check the GPS with the city's planning office. Mark out the area, and start clearing. But not this alleyway, within fifty feet in all directions. Leave this section alone."

The foreman nodded, and began issuing orders. Internally, he was a little more concerned than he'd been before. That sounded a lot like they were containing hazardous materials. Still, he considered the ridiculous amount of money on the GENOM corporate cheque he'd been handed, and kept it to himself.

Discretion. It was the key to success in Megatokyo, after all.

* * *

6:30 P.M. Ladys633 Tower, Megatokyo.

Sylvie vaulted back, landing on her hands before continuing in a series of backwalks which ended with her sliding under the projected holographic image and striking up with an extended hand. The simulation paused when she struck one of several red dots on the combat model, and the system obediently recorded the victory and shut down.

The sexaroid stood up and walked over to the nearby bench, picking up the towel and running it over her face and hair for a long moment. Leaving it around her neck for the moment, she stepped into the control cabin nearby. "So, how did I do?"

Sylia looked over with a faint smile. "Better than the last time. Your reaction times aren't as good as Priss', but you're definitely in Linna's weight class at this point. A few more days, maybe." She shut down the simulator and leaned back on the console as the other girl pulled a comb through her damp hair. "What I'd like to know is why you feel the need to be that ready, again. You don't have anyone left to fight, you realize. And if you're concerned about discovery in Megatokyo, I can easily arrange for a quieter life out in the country."

Sylvie thought about it for a long moment, still combing her hair. "I don't want to feel powerless anymore," she finally said softly. Her eyes were deep pools of shadowed memory as the last few years played out in front of her. "I don't want to feel like I'm not in control. I need to be in control of my life." She tied her hair back in a simple ponytail and looked up at Sylia. "I've been running or letting other people make all the decisions all my life. I want to make a few of my own. And stop running."

The other woman studied Sylvie for a long moment, finger idly tapping the console, before she nodded. "Very well. I can certainly appreciate the need to take control of your life. But what will you do with this newfound determination? What goal will you focus it on?" She paused as the uncertainty of not having thought it through chased itself across Sylvie's features.

"I'm... not sure."

Sylia nodded, as she stepped away from the controls, and opened the door to the Sabers' main room. "When you figure it out, let me know. I'll be waiting." With that cryptic comment, she stepped out, leaving the sexaroid alone in the control room.

Sylvie folded the towel slowly, before following the other woman out of the control bay. By the time she did, Sylia was apparently gone, doing whatever she did when she wasn't running a mercenary army. Still deep in thought, Sylvie walked into the change rooms and tossed the damp towel in a hamper before stripping the practice suit off and stepping into the shower.

Hot water sluiced down over her, bringing a soft sigh of pleasure as she leaned into the flow. Idly reaching for the shampoo, she began to lather her hair as Sylvie's comments played back in her mind.

What do I want to do with all this training?

Once, she had been trained to be the DD's pilot. It was no coincidence that a sexaroid, created for pleasure, had known how to pilot a multibillion yen combat robot. But now? With those days long gone, and a new identity created out of the seemingly bottomless resources of Sylia Stingray, what did she have to campaign against?

Images of the other three girls shimmered before her in the steam. Meg. Lou. Nam. The three who hadn't made it out. Who'd died believing in the dream of freedom. The same dream held by countless humans the world over. The dream denied them by a corporation which saw humans as resources, and boomers as mere tools.

Quincy was dead. And with him, was most of the evil the corporation had been responsible for. But GENOM, despite appearances, didn't hold the monopoly on evil. With Madigan in charge, the corporation might become a little less monstrous... But others would take their place soon enough.

Like the people attacking Reika Chang. The Hou Bang were a memory, now. The remnants of the organization were staging a coup under a new name, whatever that was. And the reason? Money. The money their financial backers were losing thanks to people like Linna. Whose only crime was that she wanted to save the world.

Sylvie rinsed her hair, and began to scrub with a loufa, not really paying attention as she worked through her ambitions. GENOM might not be the source of all evil any more, but that just meant evil had a new face. It still needed to be fought. Somehow.

Finishing up, she stood under the shower again, and just let the hot water pour down. Her voice was a pained whisper. "How do I fight that? How does anyone strike back against something that just keeps sprouting up somewhere else?"

Turning off the water, she stepped over to the lockers, and began to towel herself dry as she considered her options. Finally, as she dressed in her usual biker chic outfit, she walked out into the main room, to see Sylia sitting casually at one of the display chairs.

"I don't want to just fight back for no reason," Sylvie began slowly. "I want to fight for the things my friends and I died believing in. The things your friend Lisa believes in."

"And to do that?"

Sylvie took a deep breath. "Do the Knight Sabers absolutely have to be only four girls?"

Sylia grinned slightly and shook her head. "No. But consider the long term. When the situation with Reika runs its course, I suspect she will wish to continue her career as Priss did. When that happens, we will be down to three regular members. At that point, I would be actively looking for a fourth."

Sylvie blinked, and glanced back at the combat training room. "You... let me down here because you always intended to ask me that?"

"Partly," the other woman agreed with a nod. "But also because you're Priss' friend, and deserved to find whatever happiness you can in your life. Heaven knows you've earned it. But if you were approachable on the subject of the Knight Sabers, then yes. I intended to ask you. This conversation is just happening sooner than I expected."

Sylvie sat down on another chair, a poleaxed look on her face. She shook that away after a moment, and considered the offer. A place in the Knights. A way to strike back at people who considered boomers as mere toys. But not random, meaningless violence. The ability to strike with precision, where the evil was strongest.

She looked up at Sylia and nodded. "I'd like that very much."

* * *

Axil Court Ichigaya Daimachizaka, Room 406
Shinjuku-ku, 8:00 PM

Lisa thumbed her way through the police scanner channels with mixed feelings. On one hand, the quiet night probably had something to do with her, and that metacreative projection Mackie had sent on a tear across Megatokyo. But it also meant there wasn't any real opportunity to do anything tonight. And tomorrow she'd probably be on standby in case the others had to go put down some Hallowe'en boomer apocalypse.

She sighed as she turned to the television and flipped through a few channels. Mostly dull news, a few articles about the humans-first movement in Megatokyo, and boomer smuggling.

Lisa blinked and backed up to the story on boomer smuggling. "...witnesses to the scene say the old van had been just driving along, not doing anything to stand out." The woman on the screen stood in the foreground, as AD Police officers stood near a half-dozen boomers of various types, who sat with hands on their heads as the officers held the previously-ineffective boomer stun weapons with uncertainty.

"According to bystanders, the car beside them suddenly swerved, striking the van and causing it to hit the concrete just as it went through the underpass. The van rolled and came to a stop forty feet down the road. The driver of the other car was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital."

The image zoomed in on the boomers, a few of which were watching the cameras. "Police aren't certain what to do with the situation. A few of the boomers were reported missing by their owners earlier this week, while a few others were listed as scrapped and sent to recycling. All of them insist they have free will, and deserve to be allowed to leave the city peacefully. AD Police sergeant Shin Takagi had this to say."

The image switched to a picture of a young man who looked like he'd spent too many hours awake, before being handed this crisis. "This matter is still under investigation," the sergeant began. "We aren't certain yet where the boundary line is between sentience and mere machines. They certainly act like anyone we've ever picked up, and they've offered no resistance. Frankly, if they were teenagers in boomer suits, they'd be behaving exactly the same way."

"So you're saying these are being treated as people, inspector? What about the ones listed as missing by their owners?"

Takagi ran his hand through his already messy hair with a grimace. "This isn't going to be an easy thing to resolve, Miss. For now, all I can say is, let us do our jobs, and we'll try to find a solution to this problem as soon as we can."

The image switched back to the newswoman. "Sources in the boomer-rights league are calling for the immediate release of these boomers, saying that by imprisoning them, when their only desire is to leave the city and make new lives elsewhere, Humanity is continuing a long practice, begun with the enslavement of our own kind in the distant past, and reinforced by our treatment of boomers in the modern day. The Humans-First movement however, denounces the statements, claiming that a coffee robot, no matter how well its programmers made it to act like a person, is still just a coffee robot, and is no more entitled to self determination than a dishwasher.

"As always, we will keep you apprised as the situation develops..."

Lisa switched off the television, and shook her head, sadly. "You'd be so disappointed in what we're doing with your gift, Doug-san." She slouched down in the chair for a moment, before switching on the music player.

She closed her eyes and sighed as the player began to play "It's my life" by Bon Jovi. "Hai," she whispered, a faint grin tugging on her lips as she stood up. "I get it, already."

Opening the door, she made her way out to the roof and called on the Power.

* * *

Jerrod looked at the evolving holographic schematic as Tony, their electronics-warfare expert, walked into the room with a scowl. He shifted his shoulders around and shook his head. "This body's scrap, Jerr. Was this the best you could find?"

"Best on short notice. Be glad we could find something new enough to run your software, or you'd still be stuck in backup memory."

"Yeah." Tony shook his head as he once more prodded the stubborn memory. He'd made a backup just before going on the mission with the others, which was standard procedure for them all. But what that meant was that he didn't have any memories of what happened after. Just a brief click, and suddenly he was sitting in a different body than the one he'd worn only minutes before. That, and the internal clock said it was two days later.

Tony didn't worry about such metaphysical concepts as whether or not he was the original in a new body, or a copy who'd just been born. He was Tony, and that was enough. Thinking any harder about this would drive a guy nuts. And that wasn't a good idea when the body he was in was clearly missing a few to begin with.

"You'll have to rebuild your pad," Jerrod said absently as they examined the plans they had for the construction site. It was new, just started by GENOM. It had a large number of heavy machines on site, and it was still full of half-destroyed structures and alleys. Perfect for a bit of urban warfare.

"Yeah," Tony grumbled as he went off, searching for a new deck. "Some of that stuff was custom, you know. Reprogramming that shit will take me all day."

"Take your time. We're not drawing that bitch and her support in until tomorrow night. You've got until then to get up to speed."

* * *

Saturday, October 31, 2037, 8:00 AM
Ladys633 Tower, Megatokyo.

Sylia looked up as Mackie slowly made his way into the kitchen with the help of his cane. She half stood, but paused as he waved her back. "Mackie! I would have—"

"Not the point," he interrupted with a mock glare as his sister sat back down, a grin teasing her lips as he eased down into the chair. "I'm tired of sitting still. I can walk reasonably well, so I figure I'll go out today. It'll do me good."

"Mmm," Sylia said noncommittally. Privately, she was pleased. She'd enjoyed cossetting him more than she really wanted to admit, but it had another purpose. Covering him in constant sisterly attention would actually drive him out of the house faster, speeding his rehabilitation. She spread strawberry preserves on her toast and took a bite, giving him time to settle himself before asking, "So, where do you want to go today?"

"I thought I'd go to the AD Police building," Mackie began slowly, his expression daring his sister to comment. Sylia said nothing, so he took another breath, and continued in an almost offhand way, "Nene says that the police grabbed a datapad full of black market electronic warfare software. I was thinking if I could look some of it over, it might give me ideas we could apply to our own code."

"Makes sense," Sylia agreed, in the same disinterested tone. Mackie quickly shot her a searching look, but she seemed to be more interested in breakfast than him, so he returned to his own, not noticing the faint grin as she glanced at him moments later. She was about to comment again, when her cell phone rang. Excusing herself, she stepped over to the counter and flipped it open. "Hai?"

Mackie concentrated on the food before him, quickly putting together the continental breakfast he'd gotten used to while in Germany with the 2nd Gen Foundation he'd been part of last year. He paused as that made him think, as it usually did, of Adama. A robot which was the first of its kind. A boomer with a purely electronic brain which demonstrated the same level of sentient capacity as any biomechanical boomer. He paused, feeling the familiar ache inside as the memory played out. In a way Adama had been a child he'd helped bring into the world, only to lose him to the atrocities of others. His own fight, since then, had been to prevent that from happening ever again.

He suddenly focused on his sister as he heard her tone change. It went from her daily cheer to a more focused intensity. "Hai. I'll be there."

He looked up as she stepped back over. "Looks like I'm heading out today as well. Fargo has some information on the people who took a shot at you."

Mackie inhaled sharply as the emotions suddenly chased themselves around, some of them much darker than he was used to. He got himself under control as he took that in. "I take it you want corroboration on the cartridge Madigan gave you?"

"Yes," Sylia said with a nod. "She may be sincere, but experience has taught me not to take anything anyone tells me on pure faith. Even if I trust them, I'll still look for as many sources of information as I can. Because there's no telling what they might have missed."

Mackie watched as she finished breakfast more quickly, and tidied up the kitchen. "Do you need me to drive you in to the AD Police building?"

Her brother shrugged. "Sure. I could take a cab if you need to be elsewhere, though."

"I'm never too busy to help you out, Mackie." Sylia rested a hand on his arm for a moment, her eyes intense. "No one hurts you again. Not while I'm around to do something about it."

Mackie tried to suppress a shiver of fear the expression on his sister's face brought out. Sylia didn't notice, and left to prepare the car. As the sometime AI researcher finished breakfast, an uncharacteristic look of concern grew on his face as he considered his sister.

* * *

10:00 AM Loon Enterprises, Megatokyo.

Linna looked up from her desk displays, and out the window. She couldn't see it unless she wore the new glasses, but the office was now a maze of magical defences, which would activate if she ever came under attack.

The front entryway was warded, as were several of the corridors leading to the chairwoman's office, and the main elevator shaft. Much more of the company needed to be warded yet, but it was looking good. She allowed herself a half-grin as she considered the kind of defence the building now boasted. It would take a battlearmor unit to punch into Loon Enterprises, now.

Normally she'd be at home, or with the others at Sylia's. Maybe hanging out with Nene, or talking with Priss on the phone and making faces at Jennifer. But not today.

Madigan had come through on her handshake agreement to speed up the approval phase of the new biologicals, and now Loon Enterprises had been given a fast-track opportunity to prove the safety and productivity of their ecological product. That meant the building was working overtime, with very few days off until the proposals were all submitted for review.

An object briefly darkened the sky overhead, causing her to look up. A large construction crane on a metallic disk was slowly drifting across the skyline, bound for somewhere in Tinsel City. She grinned, remembering her own first experiment with the antigravity technology. It was still early, but some places were adopting it faster than others. She could see Firebees keeping pace with the heavy crane as the whole kiloton machine drifted serenely toward the area still most heavily wrecked by the Kanto quake, all those years ago.

"That reminds me," she said with a wistful grin. "I need to finish getting my pilot's license."

"A reasonable precaution, Madame Chairwoman," Kou agreed with a faint grin. "After all, one never knows when you might be chased by a middle European pirate intent on stealing the flying car."

Linna stuck her tongue out at her bodyguard and returned to her work, as Kou just shook his head.

Downstairs, the receptionist glanced up briefly as another government man stepped in. He looked around, and made his way over to her, setting his valise down on the ground, and extending a business card. "I'm from the department of agriculture's toxic substances division," he began with a half-grin. "I've been asked to examine these organics with an eye to whether or not their ability to grow in toxic environments might lend themselves to the spread of secondary plantlife, such as molds and funguses."

The receptionist considered that one for a moment, and nodded. "Hai... Sosuke-san," she said after a brief glance at his credentials. "The design staff are currently meeting with another department of the government at this time. Would you be able to wait for them to finish?"

"Of course," the man who called himself Sosuke agreed. Picking up his valise, he made his way over to the armored glass display showing the strange tree growing in the toxic soil.

Damn if they might not actually be able to pull it off, the assassin thought to himself with a regretful shake of his head. It's just too damn bad.

After a few moments, he glanced down at his watch and looked worried. "I need to check the meter," he said, with quick nod at the receptionist. "I'll return momentarily."

The woman, busy with a million other things, nodded absently as the government functionary left the entrance hall. She looked around out of habit, taking in the half-dozen corporate and government representatives waiting in the hall, the tree, and the government man's valise, which he'd left propped against the armored shell.

She had just enough time to frown and page security before the bomb exploded.

* * *

11:00 AM Loon Enterprises, Megatokyo.

Roger stepped through the entrance lobby of Loon Enterprises, and whistled softly. "This place is really wrecked. What did they use?"

"Best guess," Daley said, standing over by the weird tree, "I'm calling it about two pounds of plastique. Certainly enough to relocate the front of this building."

Roger looked around. The glass was shattered, the display stands were shredded, and the furniture pockmarked with debris. The receptionist's desk was heavily damaged with impact debris. For all that however, not a single person in the room had been injured by the blast. A freak of incredible luck had let everyone in the room walk out without so much as a bruise to show for it.

And the tree was thriving. Roger inhaled deeply, smelling only chlorophyll and clean air. No carbon, cordite, or burning plastics. Just the clean smell of an open field in the summer. He shook his head. "I know it happens every now and then, I'm just glad I got to see it myself." He grinned and looked around. "A bombing everyone lived through."

Daley nodded, an absent look on his face. "Yeah. I guess."

His partner looked over at him as he finally registered the inspector's distracted look. "What is it?"

Daley pointed out the char patterns on the ground. "Notice anything odd about the way the blast spread out?" He watched as Roger crouched down and began reconstructing the blast in his head. "The valise was up against the tree. It shattered the armored glass, and sent most of its explosive force either against the tree, or out to the sides, where the guests were."

Roger frog-walked over to the right-side visitor's lounge area, pacing the explosion. "It blew out to about here," he said quietly as he followed the blast mark. "Then it stopped." He looked around. "The pattern says it struck a solid object. The blast mark on the ground is consistent with a wall, or something in the way. Most of the blast was deflected out the front of the building, instead of hitting the guests."

"Exactly." Daley stood up and brushed himself off as he nodded across the hall. "The other side shows the same story. The blast marks end about a quarter foot from the lounge, and the blast blows out the glass in front of the lobby. Not to mention the tree, which lost some of the armor, but is still standing, despite being ground zero for the blast." He looked over at Roger at that point, and gave him an arch look. "But if that's the case, where's the panels?"

Dalton nodded slowly, looking more intensely at the floor. "Okay, I get it. But since no one was hurt, it's pretty likely we'll have to hand this one off to the N-police. No boomers were involved, and no one was hurt." He stood slowly, still pacing the clear demarkation between blast and safe zone. "So it's not even a homicide investigation. Just a failed case of industrial terrorism."

Daley snorted. "The brother of the firm's owner is shot last week, the front lobby destroyed by an attempted bombing... Not one fatality. Yet. Whoever's behind this will undoubtedly start feeling the heat at this point. They'll probably try something more overt next time, and it might not matter which police department gets responsibility for this when it happens."

"I get it." Roger nodded as he saw the N-police cars pull up. "I'll go have a few words with my former partners, and see if we can get a little interdepartmental cooperation going." He began to head off, waving to catch their attention. "So when it happens again, we'll be in position to pound the responsible bastards hard."

"Works for me."

"I'd appreciate it if you could find those responsible before it happens again, Daley-chan." Chairwoman Yamazaki's cool voice cut through the murmurs in the lobby, as people became aware of her presence, along with her security staff, which was in abundant presence. "Contrary to what seems to be the popular belief, we do not appreciate being used for target practice."

"Ah, I'm sure we'll be able to stop it before it happens again, Yamazaki-san." He gestured at the fragments the bomb squad were working over. "The bombing was surprisingly ineffective, and as a result, the bomb components were easier to locate than I'm betting the perpetrator expected them to be. Between molecular tags on the residue and a few electronic components we've found, I'm sure we'll be able to find the person responsible for the attack fairly quickly. With a little more work, those who hired them will be revealed as well."

Linna nodded coolly as she looked over Daley's shoulder. A large semi was backing into the partially-empty parking lot, and people were beginning to open up the back, revealing replacement glass windows. "I'd appreciate it if your people finished as soon as possible, inspector. I would like to repair the damage and reopen as soon as possible." She smiled in a way that made the inspector think of Madigan, or Sylia Stingray. "I intend to show those responsible that not only were we not intimidated, we were completely unaffected by their pointless attack."

Daley blinked at the arrival of the reconstruction crew, and nodded absently to her, moving out to speak with the N-police crew and the bomb squad. As he did, he noticed the Chief's niece racing up to the site and pull out her camera, taking pictures, and trying to get closer to Linna. Apparently more successful than he'd been, she managed to somehow convince Linna to pull the reporter into a private room.

Inside the building, Lisa panted for breath as Linna watched, a smile on her face. When the younger girl had recovered, she stepped forward and pulled Lisa into a strong hug. The reporter girl blinked for a moment, frozen with shock, until Linna stepped back.

"Ahh... What was that?"

Linna grinned widely. "What was that? Your spells saved a dozen lives, and probably Loon Enterprises! Someone took a poke at us with a bomb, is what happened. And your spells managed to deflect the blast so that no one was hurt. We lost a lot of glass, and some of the metalwork was wrecked, and that's it. There's a lot of scared government employees out there, but not a single fatality."

She made a downward gesture with her hands. "We're downplaying the severity of the attack, of course. It was clearly meant to scare us into closing our doors, but not actually meant to kill anyone, because if it had, everyone would be dead. So instead of an attempt to kill everyone, it was just intended to scare and send a message."

Lisa raised an eyebrow as she took a few notes. "And people are buying that?"

"Sure. Why wouldn't they? The blast didn't kill anyone, and no one would believe they were saved by magical forcefields. So the easiest answer is that it wasn't really meant to kill. It's a power play by a corporate rival using the criminal underground to scare us out of business. Or at least, that's what the police believe it is, anyway." She glanced at the door. "Daley-chan and Dalton-san seem to know a bit more than the others, and I think they may have actually guessed how big the bomb was, but that's inevitable. The armored glass was shattered, and that suggests a bomb of a certain strength. Hopefully the others won't notice that.

"But the important thing for you," she said, tapping Lisa on the nose and making the other girl sneeze, "is that your spellcasting has proven itself dramatically. I'm definitely interested in more protective magic for this building, now."

Kou shifted uneasily behind them, drawing Linna's attention. When she gestured at him, he spoke slowly. "Does it not seem... peculiar... that each threat to our safety in the last few weeks has been stopped, largely by Lisa-san, and mostly the day before the attack occurs? The prototype armor fabric saves your life, and now the magical enchanting saves Loon Enterprises. Even Madigan-san's life was spared when you happened to find her just before what would otherwise have been her painful death."

"Ah... I'm not causing these things, if that's where you're going with this."

"No, I wasn't suggesting such a thing. But... Do your magical texts include any information on predicting the future? Are you perhaps reacting to events which haven't happened yet?"

The reporter paused, blinking as she thought that over. "When I'm in combat, I can sort of... feel where attacks are coming from. Remember when you and Anri attacked me as part of the demonstration last week?" When Kou nodded, she continued. "It's that moment of decision. When you commit to the attack. When you do, I know where the attack is coming from, and where I need to be to avoid it.

"The same thing happened in the fight against all those boomers last week. I knew before they shot where they were going to fire, and I also knew the safest place dodge to when they decided to attack. As long as I didn't try to fight the knowledge, I had a clear feel for the entire fight, as it played out." She shrugged. "I thought it was just some kind of telepathy thing. Like I was reading minds."

"And if a clearly nonsentient object were to target you and attack?" Kou pulled a small device out of his coat and set it on the table. "This allows me to set targets for defensive fire. It's capable of firing twelve sleeping darts very rapidly. But if I take out the cartridge, it becomes harmless."

Suiting actions to words, he pulled out the tranquilizer darts, and set the clever device on active mode. The tiny machine moved side to side on a small gimbal mount. Taking a laser pointer out of his pocket, he pointed it at Lisa, and thumbed the trip.

Lisa looked down at the light on her chest as the tiny unit made click-ing sounds. "Sorry, no go. I guess it's only living people."

"Or only genuine threats." Kou stopped the device, pulled out a single dart, and inserted it into the machine. Then he placed it in front of him and Linna, and clicked a setting. "This causes it to fire on any living beings in front of the device. If it hits, you will be knocked unconscious for about half an hour. Shall I continue?"

Lisa gave Linna wry look. "He just wants to get even for last week."

"Probably," Linna agreed with a grin. "But it's a good test. And if you really can't sense nonliving weapons, you need to know."

The mage bit her lip and set her camera down on a chair nearby. Standing on the far side of the room, she nodded. "Okay, try it."

Kou touched the control. The machine switched on, identified a target, primed the pressurized cylinder and made to fire the dart.

Lisa felt the familiar moment, when she knew where she needed to be, and stepped to the side. The dart chuff-ed in an arc which ended when it struck the far wall and clattered to the ground. She nodded as Kou turned off the device and set the cartridge down beside it. "I felt it," she said softly as she went for her camera. "I could tell I was in trouble."

"I'm not surprised," Kou commented as he swiftly recombined the components and made them vanish under his jacket again. "In all the fights so far, even the first one you had with Colonel Sangnoir, you should have been significantly outmatched by your opponents. Raw courage only goes so far. Especially since the Boomers were all programmed with combat skills capable of being used effectively against enemy soldiers in the Polar War. Yet you managed each time to avoid significant damage to yourself while maximizing your ability to return damage to your enemy. And unlike the Colonel, you've had no prior combat training to teach you the correct moves."

"So I'm reading the future?"

"Perhaps it would be more correct to say you are divining general intent. And because your friends are important to you, you are capable of acting in their interests as well." He thought the scenario through for a moment, and added, "Your decision to offer us magical defences. What prompted it?"

"Well..." Lisa scuffed her shoe on the carpet for a moment, before Linna's smirk drew her out. "All right, if you have to know, I've been putting together a little place for myself independent of my apartment. So I can do a little moonlighting of my own."

"Ah," Linna said, with a huge grin. "So the stories in the news about a Senshi girl stopping rogue boomers and saving lives isn't this new Visitor Sylia found out about, it's you?"

"Ehhh... Well... Yes, actually." Lisa shrugged and gave the others a half-grin. "I'm doing some good with the gifts I've got. I can't just sit at home and not use them, you know?"

"Considering who you're talking to," Linna said as she gathered her things, "Yes, I do know. Just remember you can call on us if you need it. You don't have to be totally solo all the time."

"Hai."

Linna shook her head at Lisa's put-upon sounding agreement. "Now, let's get out there. By now, the police should be about done investigating, and I can get the crews to work rebuilding the front lobby. As for what may have prompted you to offer us magical defences, I'm not complaining. But you might want to study the phenomenon a little more closely. We got lucky here and with Mackie, because your insights and opportunities matched up. But if you can't tell when it comes knocking, or if you can't take advantage of it when you need to, you might not be able to save whoever it is next time."

"Good point," Lisa said with a smile. "I'll see what the handbooks have to say about precognition after Hallowe'en, tonight. So," she said as they moved to the door. "Any clue who you're dressing as this Hallowe'en?"

"Not sure, yet," Linna said, eyes full of devilish glee. "Maybe I'll see if they sell hardsuits in the costume store. I'm sure someone's done knockoff Knight Saber suits." She grinned as Lisa giggled, and Kou shook his head. "Knowing our luck, of course, they'll probably be produced by some minor costuming business Sylia owns."

The chairwoman assumed a more serious mask as the door opened and the three stepped out into the lobby. The police were still questioning people, and taking a few pictures, but the construction people were already examining which frames had to be replaced and which could be reused as several janitors swept up the glass and Loon engineers made arrangements to remove the damaged tree dome and replace it.

Lisa nodded to Linna at that point, and moved away, stepping past the AD Police officers with a cheery wave. They waved back as she cleared the police cordon and walked off to her next story.

* * *

12:00 PM AD Police Tower, Megatokyo.

Mackie shook his head as his sister's face on the viewscreen stared with focused intensity. "No, nee-san. No one was hurt. The N-police are calling it a scare tactic. It just broke a lot of glass and messed up the lobby a bit. No one was injured. It's not even getting a lot of press right now, because it was such a small event."

Sylia didn't press for details. This was a public videophone in the AD Police lobby, after all. Certain things were not discussed, even obliquely, over such a telephone connection. "Well, I'm glad to hear no one was hurt. Do they have any leads?"

"Hai. The bomb was too small apparently to do any real damage, so they recovered most of the pieces. They also pulled a molecular tag from the residue, so they say they can track who the explosive was sold to. The N-Police are pretty sure they can track it back in a few days. In the meantime, Loon's partner is offering to provide additional automated security if they need it."

His sister's expression became amused. "And Linna's reaction?"

"She thanked her business partner, but said that adding the mechanized reinforcement would suggest they were intimidated by the blast or concerned about repeat events, when they were in fact neither. That said, I think Linna-san plans to make a few improvements to the building's security, anyway."

Sylia nodded. "A few improvements" in this context meant more magical defences, courtesy of a certain mage girl they all knew. "Well, call me if they learn anything new. I'm going to be at home today. I've got some work to do in the store."

"Hai, nee-san."

The screen went dark, and Mackie stood up stiffly. Gripping the cane, he slowly made his way over to the main elevator, stepped in and selected the floor Nene worked on.

Upon arriving, some questions directed him not to the dispatch area where she usually worked, but to the cybertechnology research labs on the other side of the tower. In a room festooned with random bits of technological debris from the last fifteen years, Nene was concentrating on the data pad recovered from the trashed boomer by the AD Police, which was connected up to a large computer system by several cables.

He looked over her shoulder at the readouts. "Y'know, you'd probably have better luck if you increased cable two by plus two volts."

Nene jumped, gripping the tool she'd been using as it threatened to fly out of her hand, and spun around to glare at Mackie. He just grinned and waved nonthreateningly as she glowered at him. "Baka! Don't sneak up on people like that!"

"Gomen, Nene. Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?" He clasped his hands together, and looked at her with wide, innocent eyes. A growl from Nene mutated into a laugh halfway through, and she took a halfhearted swipe at him, which he dodged easily enough.

"Baka," she said again, turning back to her work. She did however, increase cable two by +2 volts, activating another layer of control code without triggering the security software. "I'm trying to get past the security on this data pad. It's really heavily customized, and it's slow going."

"I heard." Mackie eased himself down on the bench beside her and looked over at her work. "I was wondering if maybe you might want some help. You know, get a second pair of eyes on the problem, and see what the code looks like?"

Nene gave him a sidelong look and a half smile as she tapped away at the datapad. "And? How's the code looking so far?"

"Looks pretty good to me," he said with a grin. He scooted a little closer, forcing him to put an arm around Nene to balance himself. She didn't seem to mind.

Ten minutes later, Daley poked his head in the cybertech wing and grinned, shaking his head. The two were head down in the data pad, like two kids sharing a naughty secret, as they dissected the boomer's computer system. "Strange kids," he murmured to himself as he walked off, whistling.

* * *

1:00 PM, Loon Enterprises, Megatokyo.

The tall brunette stood in the lobby of the reconstructed biotech firm and looked impressed. The floor still had some remaining signs of the blast pattern, mostly buffed away by the simple maintenance robots. A couple janitors were cleaning the brass and other brightwork fittings in the lobby, while another team were replacing the receptionist's desk. The glass had been fitted, and any exterior metalwork which had to be replaced smelled of fresh paint. In a few more hours, it would be impossible to tell a bomb had gone off in this room not two hours before.

To Makoto, it said something more that the kind of support structure existed in this city that you actually could completely rebuild a structure damaged by terrorist activity in under two hours. Not to mention the kind of criminal behavior the city was apparently either willing to put up with, or was forced to. As she walked the front room, she found herself wondering how many more Boomer attacks she'd discover if she went back to the console at home and tried searching for them.

It wasn't hard to deduce what had happened here, of course. The glasses she was wearing were designed to let her see mage weaves. So naturally, the entire layout of the security system was plain to see to her augmented vision. She spoke quietly into the phone she carried, which was actually a hollow shell with one of her crystal recorders inside.

"Defensive forcefields, mana boosters tied into the tree in the lobby, which appears to be a natural micro-node. It at least appears to be gathering local mana, and encouraging the development of a minor ley line underneath it. And there's mana pooling around the root system, so it's either a small node, or a reservoir for some purpose. The tree is clearly tied into the system, so the defences are still up and functional."

She walked around the room, examining the flows. "Simple, straightforward work. Journeyman rank, maybe, if I remember what I was taught about the magic ranks correctly. Might be Blue, or someone else. Not sure yet."

She folded the phone and packed it away. Stepping over to the unfinished receptionist desk, she leaned over the ledge and waved to get their attention. "Ah, do you have any printed material on what you do here?"

The receptionist pulled several documents from a hopper on the floor and passed them over. "Here you go. I apologize for the mess, but we're in the middle of unplanned renovations right now. We'll be fully operational by the end of the day."

Makoto nodded and stepped away, reading the material. Pictures of strange colored sponges and trees living in totally inhospitable terrain were divided by paragraphs of text explaining what Loon Enterprises was doing. She stepped outside, and fished out her phone, taking pictures of the literature before talking into it again.

"Looks like they're doing some kind of ecological restoration. Thing is, I've seen stuff like this before. They have the same kind of effect you do, Usagi, when you unleash the full healing power on the land. It takes longer, of course, but it's the same thing. And if the rest of this stuff can manipulate mana flows the way that tree in the lobby can, they're even tying their restoration efforts into the planetary mana wells.

"I can see where people would be trying to stop them. Any Yoma on this planet would see them as a genuine threat. Tying into the mana wells was how we created Crystal Tokyo, after all. And the Dark Kingdom would be in serious risk of being overrun if this stuff got loose there. Even if there's no Yoma behind the attacks, I'm betting other corporations are feeling the heat as they get closer to release date.

"It's peculiar, Usagi, but the more I see about this place, the more I think Hiroe left when things were just starting to get good. Give this place another fifty years, and if outfits like this Loon Enterprises get off the ground, we could have another candidate for a crystal city. They certainly have the mana font to support one. The trick would be finding someone with your unrelenting belief in others to run it. After all, we did it, and Earth in our time had less to work with. But Crystal Earth, here? It's well within their reach."

She pocketed the phone again, and looked out over the skyline. In the distance — near the Emergence point actually — a large crane was being lowered on some kind of antigravity platform. She grinned. "Looks like they've found the door. Guess I should head over there. My job interview's soon."

* * *

Leon stood behind Roger and Daley as the newbie manipulated the computer system like an old pro. "You don't get to be as good as I was in the N-Police by dragging your ass," he said with mock humility. Leon snorted and leaned over the other man.

"I don't suppose you'd consider letting me in on your brilliance?"

"But of course, Inspector." Roger grinned as he pulled up the N-Police report. "Thanks to some friendly cooperation, I've been given access to the files for this investigation. And the first place we need to go is... this!"

A data file opened, revealing a complex molecular code. Leon frowned. "What is that?"

"Every explosive compound is tagged molecularly when its created. This goes back to the end of the last century, actually, so it's pretty old technology by now. The idea is that if anything is ever used in a criminal operation, you can backtrack who manufactured the compound, who they sold it to, and so on."

Leon shook his head at that one. "There's a problem here. Criminals don't obey gun laws. So I doubt they registered the sale."

"No, they probably didn't," Roger agreed. "Which is why we have to take it to the road once we get the last place this particular molecular sample was legitimately sold to. Also, we can connect to the INTERPOL counterterrorism division, and run the molecular trace to see if any particular group or individual has been listed as using this particular tag in their work in the past."

He paused as the INTERPOL login screen appeared. Concentrating, he entered a long pair of codes, and smiled as it let him in. "Good, they don't usually reject N-Police access codes until they're told that person has actually quit. I transferred, so there was a chance they hadn't gotten around to locking me out."

Daley gave his partner an appraising look as Roger pulled up the sample cross-reference list, and sent the molecular trace pattern. "You're full of surprises, aren't you?"

Roger grinned and glanced over at Daley. "Go back to your letter, partner. This will take a few minutes." He leaned back as Daley chuckled and tapped a few more lines in a long email to his boyfriend. Clicking <SEND>, he looked over at the others as the screen popped up with a result.

"All right. Now we're talking!" Roger laced his fingers together and stretched, before opening a few more pages. "According to this, a known American incendiary expert for hire uses that particular tagged explosive in a lot of his work. It's risky, because if he ever gets caught, we can link him to a lot of bombings around the world. But it also lets him sign his work in a way his employers have to respect."

Roger paused, as he read the datasheet, and frowned. Leon tapped him on the shoulder. "What is it?"

"Well... This guy's rap sheet is the resume of a professional mercenary terrorist for hire. This isn't the kind of guy you hire to drop a minor league scare bomb in someone's lobby. This is the guy you hire when you're trying to renovate the neighborhood and don't want to bother with pesky things like permits."

The other two nodded at this. "Well, we already figured there was something going on in Loon that they weren't telling us," Daley began thoughtfully. "They had some kind of blast shielding in the room they didn't tell anyone about. Strange though, that no one in the room remembers it being used."

Leon waved it off. "A big explosion in the office building goes off, and you're screaming and grabbing floor. Even if they do have some kind of concealed blast screens in the lobby, I doubt anyone would remember them. And as long as no one got killed, I really don't care, either. We stop the bomber, their lobby just gets filed under 'paranoid security'."

He looked over at his computer, and pulled up the AD Police's abbreviated report, from before the N-Police took over. After a moment, he grinned and pulled up a sketch of a man drawn by Fuko. "This is what Fuko-san put together. Do we have a photo of this guy?" Daley tapped the data sheet. "If we can link him with airport photo ID's, maybe we can see if he's in the country right now."

"Good idea." Roger entered a series of commands, and a nondescript looking American man appeared on screen. Roger pulled that, and opened a fresh window, accessing the Japanese counterinsurgency datanet, and using the man's picture in a query.

As he did, Daley copied it into his own window and held it up to the sketch. He nodded slowly. "It's a good match. Hair's the wrong color, and the sketch looks older, but the nose and mouth are a good fit, and the shape of the head is about right." He looked over at the others. "Looks like our man."

As the computer worked on the request, Roger closed the INTERPOL connection down, and saved the data he'd copied locally. "So we've got an international bomber who sets either a really wimpy bomb, or a really good one which just runs afoul of the company's defensive security. What will he do when he learns the company isn't shutting down?"

Leon gave him a tight grin. "He tries again, of course. It won't be the same thing, though. Most likely, he'll rig a boomer to drive at the building with a car full of explosives." He nodded at the display screen. "How much longer do you figure that will take?"

Roger shrugged. "Depends how long he's been here. The system has to match a single face against every face in all the major airports, going back about a year or so. Call it a couple hours." He tapped in a few commands, and locked his computer. "There. It'll send a message to my cell when it gets something. Where do you want to go?"

Daley grinned and reached for his coat. "The other lead we can chase up today. The boomer chop-shops. Anyone who sold a boomer to that American will be able to get us that much closer to the answer. And Leon has a... real talent for making these people talk. I get positively nostalgic when I see him work those pigs over."

Roger grinned as Leon just sauntered out with a wave at the office staff.

* * *

3:00 PM, Unregistered Warehouse, Tinsel City

Yoshida sat back, an expression of saturnine benevolence on his face. "My children have been carrying out my plan now for three days. One will have infiltrated the AD Police tower. The other, will be ready to take over the main computer. And the third..." He grinned as he considered what was about to happen. "The third will be my avatar of vengeance on the AD Police and the Knight Sabers!"

The faceless voice in the static didn't sound impressed. "We're just interested in the results, Yoshida. Your machines use a totally new imprint, so the OMS system is totally useless. None of us will be able to bring them to heel if they go out of control. Your program mod had better be up to snuff. We can't allow them to reveal any of our presences to the AD Police or the Knight Sabers."

Yoshida sneered at the static screen. "You consistently have such low faith in my work. But never fear, my faceless benefactors! You will see the results yourself! Regardless of the potential outcome, my creations will not fail! Even if they ultimately lose — an outcome I do not admit will happen in any case, they will not reveal anything. The nanotech program is my magnum opus! With that, no boomer I send, on any mission, will reveal any damning details linking back to me, even if their captors suspect it. They'll self-destruct first."

"We'll see, Doctor."

* * *

4:00 PM, AD Police Tower, Megatokyo
Boomer Morgue

Hideoshi Nagami sighed with annoyance as the last pallet was deposited in the morgue. "What am I supposed to do with all these things, anyway?"

"Don't know, Nagami-san," the driver said with a shrug, holding up his printout. "The orders came in earlier this morning. Security sweep and decontam of the Branch morgue, so we have to move Branch's defunct boomers here for the moment. Takashi-san's authorization is attached to the order, so this is what I've got to do. It's just for a few days, I'm sure," he finished as he swung up into the truck cab and began to drive up the ramp out of the underground garage. "Enjoy!"

Nagami's stream of invective was lost in the roar of the semi's engine noise as the truck drove out of the garage. The boomer morgue technician looked at the pallets of boomers stacked in the garage and sighed. "Guess I have to go get more hazard tags."

As he turned and left, he didn't notice the tendril of silvery metal which snaked out and into the boomer corpses. These boomers, some of the most dangerous and heavily armed boomers to cross AD Police's path, had been sent to the division known only as "Branch". A department which handled boomer crimes either so politically charged or militarily dangerous that even AD Police couldn't be involved with it.

And now they were being stored in the AD Police's basement. Nagami walked into the elevator and tabbed the button for the storage level, sighing again in frustration as he considered how many hours it would take to tag and inventory all those chunks of inert metal.

He shouldn't have worried. Or perhaps he should have worried about something else. Because as the nanotech boomer with Yoshida's mental imprint began to reactivate the boomers, they didn't stay inert for long.

* * *

Nene looked up from the guts of the datapad they were working on when a page came through on her cell. She and Mackie had partially disassembled the unit, and a medusa's worth of cables now connected to just about every place you could feed signal in or pull it out. She looked around, noted the time, and sighed. Mackie just grinned and kept working as she fished out her phone and opened it. "Hai?"

"Nene-san?" Nagami's voice sounded irritated and tired. "I can't get the elevator to access the morgue level. The computer says there's file corruption in the decontamination management programs, and it's not safe for humans. Can you do something about that?"

"Ah... Hai. Just a moment." She looked over at Mackie. "Is it okay if I leave this part to you? I gotta go fix a computer."

Mackie mumbled something around the screwdriver in his mouth and waved. Nene grinned and left, taking it as a sign of assent. "On my way. It'll just be a moment. Any idea what triggered it?"

"Sadly, yes. Branch has some kind of security decontam scheduled, and they shipped all their scrap here for storage. Something may have tripped a relay in the morgue garage, and now the system won't let me down there. I gotta tag them before I go home."

Nene looked at the clock, and winced. "Your daughter's never going to forgive you if you don't see her in her new costume, you know."

Nagami sounded pained. "Hai, I know. I'd give it to one of the inventory boomers, but they all seem to be shut down, right now."

Nene dashed around the office, asking questions of staff currently packing up. "Hold on, I think there's a couple up here filing paperwork in the back." There was a muffled running sound on Nagami's receiver, then Nene's voice from a bit of distance telling a pair of someones to head downstairs to support Nagami. "There," the redhead said as she came back on the phone. "Found two. They're on their way down. Just pop the task card in and let them handle it."

Nagami's voice was relieved. "Nene-san, you're a lifesaver!"

"Ain't I just?" She grinned and closed the phone, waving at the departing office staff as she walked back into the cyber research department.

Downstairs, Nagami waited until the office support boomers walked into the room. "Oh, there you are." He pointed to a pair of large containers. "I need you two to tag and inventory a large pile of boomers we've had delivered from Branch. It's not hard, just time consuming, and it got dropped on us at the last minute." He fished through his coat, and pulled out a data card. Stepping over to one, he slid it into a slot in the boomer's chest for a moment, then pulled it out.

The eyes flickered for a moment, then steadied. "Of course, sir," it replied in an androgynous voice. It looked over at the other boomer, and transmitted the same data. The two boomers picked up containers, and made their way into the elevator. The car, not detecting human life signs, let them in, and let the elevator descend to the boomer morgue.

"That'll have to do until they can get at the computer tomorrow," Nagami said with a shrug. Stretching, he headed up to the main level.

In the boomer morgue, the two support boomers were quickly reprocessed, and put to work. Another pair of hands would be very useful, as several of the badly damaged military grade boomers were quickly stripped of useful parts, to upgrade and modernize the most advanced boomers available in the pallets.

The silvery version of Yoshida watched events play out with satisfaction. "Finally, the waiting is over. Soon, the killing can begin."

* * *

5:00 PM, Visitor Emergence Point Construction Site, Tinsel City.

Ilya stepped out of the truck he'd driven up in and stretched. "Is good to get out of truck. Long drive from IDEC. Tony! Time to go home! Eat, drink, and take many pictures of cute children in costumes!" He laughed and waved at the approaching researcher.

"Sounds like a plan to me. I just finished interviewing about a hundred people. What do I know about heavy cargo harnesses, anyway?" He shook his head as he got in the other side. "Everything's ready to shut down tonight."

"Da, Tomorrow, we dig. But tonight, we party!" His laughter boomed as he got back in the truck and drove them away, pausing only long enough for Tony to enter in the code which locked down the new construction site and engaged the security system. He never noticed the brown rat perched on the roof of the guard house.

As their tail lights vanished in the increasing darkness, Jerrod stepped out, followed by his electronic warfare specialist. His Tony pulled out a new datapad, replayed the sequence of codes the ratbot had witnessed, and entered them into the security pad. With a beep, the status lights changed to green.

"Done. We're in."

Jerrod grinned tightly, and motioned to the area around him. His group materialized out of the gloom and entered the construction yard. They had an hour to get it ready.

* * *

6:00 PM, AD Police Tower, Megatokyo.

Mackie and Nene looked up a the same time as the datapad finally cracked, unspooling half a dozen highly sophisticated black market EW programs. Nene cheered and hugged Mackie, before blushing and self-consciously pulling back.

Mackie wasn't having any of it. Grinning, he reached up to touch her cheek. "This was your victory too, Nene. Enjoy the rewards." Still grinning, he leaned forward and kissed her, drawing a soft moan from her as she leaned into it, eyes closed. He felt her hands slowly snaking around him as he pulled her in, his other hand caressing her hair as his world focused down on the incredible perfection of this moment.

Which was, of course, when someone turned off the lights.

The two separated with a start, looking around in the near-dark. The room was only lit by the glow of the hacked datapad and a half-dozen computer status lights. The cyberhacker growled under her breath. "I'm gonna find out whose idea this was, and put them on the graveyard shift!"

"Oh, I don't know," Mackie laughed beside her. "This has opportunities. I mean, all alone... just the two of us..."

"In a police station," Nene countered, eyebrow raised. "Unless it's handcuffs you want?" She grinned, biting her lower lip slightly as she fought the blush. "I'm sure there's a couple pair around here somewhere..."

A faint shudder went through the building, drawing their attention. Mackie up in surprise. "What was that?"

"Feels like an explosion," the red haired girl replied. Suddenly concerned, she stood and expertly threaded the junk-filled room until she found the emergency switches. Throwing them lit the backup lights in the lab, and sent power to one of the nearby computers. Dashing over, she fed in her access codes, and began pulling up security feeds as Mackie limped over.

"Armory... no. Motor pool... no. Where would something explode?" Nene flipped past camera feeds, quickly paging past the images of confused people in the various administrative levels before stopping on the roof level. "And not the helipad. There's nothing up there right now, either, so no exploding Firebees."

Another shudder shook the tower. This time, it set off alarms. Red lights dropped from concealed ports in the ceiling and began to flash, as alert klaxons sounded throughout the compound. Distantly, they could hear people heading for emergency exits.

"Nene?" Mackie looked over at the window. "We're pretty high up. Shouldn't we be getting out of here? If there's explosions, it might not be safe to be up here."

Nene shook her head. "After Yoshida tried to destroy the tower two years ago, we put in a lot of extra reinforcements that aren't on the original building plans. It'll take a lot more than what he used last time to damage the tower." She paused as a thought crossed her mind. "No... It couldn't be."

The AI researcher looked over in confusion as Nene quickly pulled up a camera feed of the boomer morgue, and paused in shock. He darted forward, ignoring the pained protest in his hip, and braced himself on the desk as he leaned closer to the monitor. "Those boomers are trying to destroy the tower!"

"Yeah," Nene agreed tightly. "They're shooting the pillars holding the main tower up. Reinforced or not, if they're given all night to work on those, they'll eventually succeed." She quickly pulled up an access window, and typed in a command. The system considered it for a long moment, then rejected it. Moments later, as Nene tried sending the command to activate the boomer suppression field generator built into the boomer morgue, the screens were suddenly replaced by the face of someone they both knew very well.

"Greetings, AD Police." The face of Miriam Yoshida grinned with gleeful malevolence. "You stopped me once, and made it personal. You humiliated me and took away my greatest moment of triumph! So now I'm back to return the favor! Tonight, AD Police becomes a bloody footnote in history. A footnote writ across the city in a brush dipped in your own blood!" The image pulled back to show him gesturing dramatically.

"Let the games... BEGIN!"

The screens went dark, and Nene yelped as her console shut down. "That... He's cut us out of the computer. Again!" She growled and pulled out her cell phone. "Trapped in the AD Police building without my suit while Yoshida tries to kill everyone inside." She stood up and dashed to the window to try to see what else was going on.

"How does the same shit happen to the same girl twice?"

* * *

6:10 PM, Various locations across Megatokyo.

Officer Jean Henri cruised down the main highway with a contented smile on his face. While the city never really shut down, it was much quieter tonight. Most families were with their kids, as the Western phenomenon of Trick or Treat continued its decades-long assault into conventional Japanese society. Mostly it was an opportunity for children to party, which was why he was on the highway tonight. Older kids tended to party pretty hard, and you never knew...

His car suddenly shifted to pursuit mode and began to pick up speed. Alarmed, Jean mashed the controls to drop it down to a normal speed, but the car didn't respond. Desperate, he tried to switch off the engine, but while the keys came out of the ignition, the car didn't stop.

The wheel wrenched over, moving him into the fast lane as the accelerator pushed down to the floor. Jean reached for the radio, and clicked the transmit button. "AD Dispatch! This is Officer Henri, on the northbound overpass, near Shinjuku! I'm out of control! Do you hear me? My car is accelerating and I can't control it!"

The only response was static and distortion over the line as the car suddenly wrenched hard right. Other cars around him honked horns and screeched out of the way as the police cruiser roared across the highway to the other side. He barely had a moment to scream as the car punched through the guard rail, and soared out over the city below. He screamed again as the car, still following its programmed commands, plunged into the department store roof and slammed down into the concourse below with a massive explosion.

In the skies above, a Firebee pilot looked over as the explosion caught his eye. "What the... Dispatch, I've got an explosion in the Shinjuki district. Long range shows... My God, I can see a broken guard rail on the overpass. I think something drove off the— HEY!"

The Firebee suddenly dove to the side, as he fought the controls. The chopper's control mechanism wasn't as robust as the cruiser, and the pilot was able to overpower the tiny modifications made to the hardware, but the helicopter was fighting back. The Firebee dropped altitude as it whipsawed from one side to the other.

People began to scream as it dropped toward the ground. The pilot looked over at the people and tried to wrench the flying machine away. The gun, slaved to point at whatever the pilot was looking at, suddenly activated. The rotary cannon spat dozens of rounds of ammunition toward the crowds, sending people screaming as the shots punched into the onlookers.

"NO!" The pilot fought the controls, trying to keep himself from looking at anyone directly. Finally, he made a decision, and wrenched the controls over as hard as he could.

The Firebee overbalanced, flipped, and suddenly lost all flight capability. As people ran or tried to help the bodies sprawled on the pavement, the critically damaged Firebee slammed into a small public park, sending metal and shredded wood flying in all directions.

In the building above, people watched with horror at the bodies sprawled in the street, the groups of children being rushed toward the closest safe-looking houses, and the sounds of rescue vehicles in the distance.

Across the city, more explosions bloomed — three in the residential districts, and two more near department stores. At the base of the GENOM arcology, three heavily-armed gunships lay in flaming wreckage where they'd crashed after firing on the parking lots and entrance lobby of the massive building. Boomers patrolled the approaches while rescue vehicles sent from the Tower tried to help the injured.

Inside the Tower, Madigan tried to keep her guests calm. As part of the yearly Hallowe'en festivities, she had thrown a costume ball for the rich and famous. This year, the Ice Queen had taken everyone by surprise with her choice of costume. A reaction she had clearly very much enjoyed.

But when AD Police gunships began firing on the Tower, and were blown away by the boomer defenses, she quickly moved to forestall a mass panic. Handing her moon scepter to Jenny, she stepped over to the stage and tapped the microphone.

"Ladies. Gentlemen. If you will direct your attention here?" She waited briefly while they focused their attention on her. "There is clearly something wrong in the city at the moment. Do not be alarmed however. The Tower is more than secure. Please do not panic, and for your own protection, remain on the premises until the crisis is past. You will be informed when more data is available."

She stepped away from the microphone, and over to Jenny. "I need to get to my office. And call Lisa."

* * *

6:30 PM, Hiroe's Apartment, Megatokyo.

Makoto stepped to the large bay windows looking out over the skyline, and felt a familiar surge of Power in the distance as she gazed at the fires in the city. A dozen columns of smoke rose into the skies, all from out-of-control police vehicles, according to the news reports. And from the feel of it, Sailor Blue was getting involved.

"As well she should," Makoto commented to herself with an approving nod. "I think I'll back her up tonight. She's going to need it."

Tapping the interference crystal, she drew on her connection to Jupiter. "Jupiter Power, Make-UP!"

Quickly making her way to the rooftop, she cued the crystal which let her home in on the other Senshi girl. Taking note of where she was, she slipped yet another crystal on her belt, which allowed her fade out of normal visibility. Finally, she concentrated.

A faint electrical aura began to cascade down her legs as her feet slowly lifted off the rooftop. Gaining altitude. she hovered over the city, held up on the crackling discharge of the electromagnetic field she was using to interact with Earth's own natural field. Holding position for a moment as she adjusted her goggles, she decided on a direction, and shot off, staying out of bright light sources as she flew.

In the distance, she could see Blue jumping from rooftop to rooftop. Each leap took her well over a hundred yards, suggesting the super-leaping she'd seen before. But when the girl was still only just able to make out the AD Police building, surrounded with red lights in the growing dark, a bolt of blue light briefly shot up to intersect her.

The shot splashed off of a force field of some kind protecting Blue, who immediately launched off to the side as if possessed of a flight power of her own. Makoto suspected it was a TK-based pull as the girl landed on a rooftop. Touching down on another roof nearby, she watched, as four boomers landed around the other girl.

* * *

Lisa stood on a tall air conditioning unit, breathing hard as the shock of dissipating the heat cannon pulse still raced through her. Like that time in the sewers, she felt tired, but unlike last week, she had a moment to do something about it. As the other boomers landed around her, she briefly reached out to the nearest ley line, and drew energy into herself.

The wave of energy revitalized her, strengthening her shields as she watched the boomers approach. "I know you guys," she said, voice low and dangerous. "You're the ones who tried to kill the GENOM Chairwoman!"

One of them held up a device. "And we're the ones who've also mined that apartment block over there." He gestured at a nearby eight-story building. "You're going to do as we say, or we'll blow them sky high."

Lisa tensed, eyes narrow. "And what would that be?"

"You're coming with us," the boomer said with a nasty grin. "There's a construction site in Tinsel City. You can't miss it. There's a crane flying over it on a hover platform. Meet us there in thirty minutes or we blow the building. Come alone, and don't try anything." He shook the unit in his hand. "This isn't the only detonator. And you aren't seeing all of us."

The boomers stepped back off the rooftop, and moments later, could be seen flying off to the other side of the block. They landed on a nearby building, and watched her.

Lisa bit her lip and looked over at the AD Police tower. "Sorry, Nene," she said softly. "I have to do this."

Looking once more at the boomers, she turned and began to leap across the city toward the construction site. The boomers kept pace about three blocks back.

As she jumped toward the almost-certain ambush, Lisa found herself reciting the lessons Sylia had been drumming into her all month. "Ground and center," she murmured. "Feel the line. Draw the power. Tie it into the spells, and meter the flow."

As she landed on a consumer electronics store which advertised the latest GENOM butler boomer, Lisa spared a quick glance at the silhouette of the Tower in the distance, and allowed herself a tight grin. They're undoubtedly looking for electronic signals. But they can't see every method I have available.

As she landed, she concentrated on something she'd been practicing on her own. Something she knew Sylia had been unwilling to teach her. Something the books had thankfully had enough information on to figure out the basics of. As she landed on another rooftop, she pulled a small amount of power, concentrated on a face, and sent out her thoughts.

In the Tower, Madigan stepped into her office and quickly made her way to her desk. Tapping codes for the screen and telescopes on the roof, she quickly panned across the city. Over a dozen explosions. AD Police cruisers, helicopters and gunships, all destroyed in a bold act of coordinated terrorism. But by who? And why?

::Kate-san?::

Madigan spun around, half expecting to see Lisa standing behind her. Instead, all she saw was the window showing the Megatokyo skyline. "Lisa? Are you... here?"

::Telepathy, Kate-san. I'm in trouble. Can you help?::

Madigan inhaled sharply, pressing a hand to her temple as her eyes widened. "Telepathy? You can do that?"

The mental 'voice' seemed to fade in and out, like it had a bad connection. ::Sorta. I had to learn this one myself. Sylia doesn't want to teach it to me.::

Madigan snorted and shook her head. "We've got to have a talk with your trainer one of these days. Her sense of priorities is a little skewed. And that's saying something, coming from me." She grinned, and tapped the console, bringing up an executive command screen. "What do you need?"

Quickly, Lisa laid out the situation. The mercenary boomers who'd tried killing Madigan earlier that week, the boobytrapped apartment building, and the fight in a construction site in Tinsel City. ::It's going to be a horrible trap, Kate-san,:: Lisa's mental voice sent. She sounded higher-pitched than she'd started, as if the sudden realization of how much trouble she was in was just starting to penetrate. ::I don't know how many there are, where they are, or—::

"Stop." Madigan cued up a satellite image of the site. It wasn't hard. It was, after all, her latest research acquisition. "I'm zooming in on the location now. I'll keep you up to date on the enemy forces as I see them." She looked over at Jenny. "See if you can get a few of our boys with demolition programming to do something about the doomsday weapon, would you?"

"Hai, Madigan-san."

::Thanks!::

Madigan shook her head, smiling slightly, despite the seriousness of the situation. "I told you I wanted in. I meant that. I'm going to help you however I can, even if it's just sitting here across the city." She pulled up another screen. "I can have an assault team inbound in minutes if you want it?"

The mental presence thought it over for a minute. ::No, Kate-san. Tonight, with all the explosions, a boomer force will just be assumed to be responsible. You don't want that.::

The chairwoman bit her lip and didn't respond. Still considering, she tapped in a few instructions, and sent them, nodding as a selection of combat boomers was picked, based on the mission profile, and dispatched. "All right, Lisa."

::You did it anyway, didn't you?::

She grinned. "What gave it away?"

::You never give in that easily.::

Madigan sighed as the tightly packed mass of blue arrows began to move away from GENOM Tower. "Curses," she said with a small grin. "Foiled again." She pulled up the list. "It's a broad-spectrum group, so you can call on them for escape and evac if you have to. Code is Luna Five."

::I'm almost here. Gotta go. And Kate-san...? Thanks.::

Madigan didn't trust herself to speak as her overhead view picked up an irregular movement pattern, and a handful of boomers moving into the combat zone.

At the construction site, Lisa landed on an exposed chunk of masonry with a commanding view of the site. Most of it was cordoned off, although a large crane was hovering over the far side of the compound, held up by a large metal disk clearly enhanced with Doug's antigravity schematics.

A quick look around showed glints of metal shining in odd locations all over this place. "Oh, this really isn't a good place to be," she singsonged quietly to herself. "How do I get talked into things like this?"

The boomers who'd been keeping pace with her landed fifty feet away. Two of them held up control boxes. "Very nice, little girl," one of them — probably the leader — snarled. "Now just stand there or the apartment building gets it!" He grinned as his troops began to pull weapons.

Lisa had been waiting for something like this. Reaching out, she made gripping motions with both hands, then suddenly opened them wide. The two control boxes spontaneously blew out, spraying components all over the attack group. "I don't think so," Lisa called out, sounding more confident than she really felt. "Your detonators are toast. Which means if you want to live, you'll surrender now!"

Jerrod growled something unintelligible and swung his assault rifle up. "Everyone, open fire!"

In the skies above, Makoto's eyes hardened, and she dove for the deck, accelerating as the fight began. She noted with appreciation how Blue managed to dodge the initial alpha strike, through a combination of her seemingly prescient combat sense, and some judicious TK. The other girl darted into a partially destroyed building, as boomers charged in after her.

"Good girl," Makoto breathed as she changed her flight vector. "Separate them. Divide and conquer. While you're doing that, I'll handle their backup."

Makoto flew down into a housing complex which had been partially demolished. It had no roof, and most of the main floor had been removed. It still had an exposed basement, and part of the far wall. In it, three of their heavier assault boomers were waiting.

The first boomer looked up in surprise as the lighting changed. "What the Hel—"

The Senshi plowed into him, her body surrounded in an electrical damage field. The electricity burned into his circuit pathways and shorted out main power systems as the force of the impact itself drove it down into the basement, cratering the floor. Makoto didn't waste any time, launching herself into a flight-assisted backflip as the other two boomers began to fire with armor-piercing assault ammo.

Bullets chewed into the already destroyed walls as the Senshi evaded the attacks. Drawing her power into her right hand, she roared as she launched herself into another flight-assisted attack at the second boomer, fist crackling with electrical power. "THUNDER PUNCH!"

The impact struck the second boomer in the chest, driving it back into the second floor wall. It smashed through the wall, falling into the remains of the street beyond, where it crashed to the ground, shedding armor and spraying yellowish internal fluids as the electrical discharges kept tossing it around in random convulsions. Finally, it rolled to a stop, lifeless.

The third boomer switched to grenades, and began firing them at the dodging Senshi. "You're dangerous, all right, little girl," it growled, "But I'm armored, and I'm betting these will hurt you more than me!" The boomer launched into the air, hovering on thrusters as it peppered the rapidly disintegrating house with fragmentary and incendiary explosives. The explosions quickly filled the remains of the structure with black smoke and the staccato sound of exploding munitions.

The assault boomer landed on a nearby building, waiting for the smoke to clear. "No way you survived that, girlie!" The boomer chuckled as it switched back to the assault weapon. A glint of light caught its eye, and it looked over.

"No. Fucking. WAY!"

Makoto hovered mid-air, surrounded in a crackling forcefield of electrical power. Her costume glowed and shifted, adding earrings, secondary coloration, and larger bows. "Way." Eternal Sailor Jupiter gave the boomer a level look as her eyes began to glow and crackle with electrical power. She raised her hand to point to the skies above. "And now it's your turn!"

The boomer launched itself in a flat arc, rifle chattering as the Sailor Senshi gathered her power. A bolt of lightning smashed down from the skies above, striking her upraised hand. The energy seemed to gather around her body, as she pointed her outstretched arm at the charging boomer.

"For what you've tried to do, and what you were willing to do, you deserve no mercy! SUPREME THUNDER... DRAGON!"

The bolt of energy roared forward, reshaping midflight into a dragon form of pure electrical power. The boomer screamed and fired, the shots vanishing uselessly into the mystical attack. The dragon roared, and engulfed the heavy assault boomer, before the combat machine detonated in a massive explosion.

Makoto watched the remnants burn for a long moment, then turned to look at the far side of the construction site. The explosions and gunfire said Blue still had her hands full. "She still needs help," Makoto decided, launching herself toward the building. "There's observation and then there's just being mean. And that's just not me." The outfit shifted back to the more sedate one she'd started with, and the glow faded from her eyes as she raced across the construction site toward the far building.

In the GENOM Tower, Madigan sat, wide-eyed as she watched a second Senshi form dash across the rubble toward Lisa's location.

The entire fight had been unmistakable from orbit, since the building had no roof. And the blasts of light had been very visible. Not to mention the bolt of lightning. Or the dragon it had been shaped into.

"The second Visitor..." she whispered to herself, as she shook with conflicted emotions. "Makoto... Kino..."

* * *

6:15 PM, Augur's Used Boomers, Megatokyo.
Half an hour ago...

"...swear that's the truth, officers!" Augur looked like he'd spent the last week baking under hot lamps, the combination of the splash apron he usually wore to keep the boomer fluids off and the sweat dripping off his bulbous nose as McNichol grilled him making for a very unappetizing combination. And while he'd heard McNichol had moved to another city at some point, the inspector was right there, with two others pretending not to notice.

"If it's not, I'll make a special point of coming back to Megatokyo, just to look you up!" Leon gave the shaking grey market dealer another long look, before finally walking back to the others. Daley was visibly polishing his watch face with a handkerchief, and Dalton was trying very hard not to laugh as he waved at them. "Okay, guys. Time to head back."

They piled into the cruiser and began to drive away. "So," Daley began with a grin. "What did you get?"

"Bits and pieces, really," Leon admitted. "But it sounds like our guess is right. An American who matches our photo stopped by today to pick up an off the rack 'recustomized' boomer. Minimal intelligence, driving ability, not a lot of personality. Just right for someone with the minimum of skill to jury rig into a suicide driver."

Dalton nodded. "So we're on the right track. He'll try again."

"Yep." Leon leaned back as Daley frowned and accelerated. "We have a pretty good idea about 'what', now we just need 'when'... Daley, you're going a bit fast."

"I know," his former partner gritted. "I can't slow down." He stomped the brakes a few times as the others looked alarmed. "And steering's getting hard to control, too!"

The wheel spun under his hands, causing the car to pull an accelerated skid around an intersection and roar down the street toward a residential sector. Leon's eyes narrowed as he took the actions of the car in, and made a decision.

Roger saw him pull out a non-regulation pistol. It had only three chambers in a revolver-style build. As Leon pointed it at the central computer column, he briefly glanced at the others. "Cover your eyes."

Roger held up his arm as Leon fired. The Earthshaker round, meant to be used in anti-boomer operations, punched through the unarmored computer column, and deep into the car's onboard mainframe. Instantly the dashboard went dark, and the internal lights died. But at that moment, the car also jerked around a few times as Daley fought the wheel.

"I've... almost..." He tried to straighten the car as it slid out of control and almost clipped a building. Daley managed to wrench the wheel around, but instead of spinning the car out, as he'd hoped, the wheels gripped the road well enough to launch into an almost ninety degree turn, and drove toward the wall of the building at high speed. He slammed on the brakes at the car's fickle behavior. "BAKA!"

A dark form dropped out of the skies and onto the car hood, crushing the engine block, shattering the axle and driving the front of the police car into the pavement. The wreck tore up the asphalt as the three were thrown forward into airbags, just before the car struck the building wall.

Leon blinked for a few moments after the horrendous impact sounds went away. He groaned and sat back as he felt more than saw a form step over to the passenger's side door. "I hope you're just being neighborly," he groaned.

The dark form grinned. "It's been a while since I tried something that aggressive," the man's voice spoke. "I'm glad I've still got it in me when it counts." He casually forced the door open, and held out a hand to the inspector as Leon began to extricate himself from the wrecked car. "Name's Kilroy."

Leon blinked as he took the other man's hand, and pulled himself out of the car. "I think I've heard of you. Something the boomers we sometimes pick up say in passing. I think..." He shook his head. "I'm not sure right now, actually. Everything's still kind of spinning."

"I'm not surprised," the first Leon-A freed boomer said conversationally. He glanced back over at the front of the car. "If I hadn't stopped you, your idiot driver would have hit the wall at highway speeds. What was his problem?"

"Blame the car," Daley said with a groan as he pulled himself out of the driver's side. "Stupid piece of crap suddenly stopped working. It's like there's a bug in the computer, or something."

"It did more than just stop working," Leon disagreed with a shake of his head. He watched as Kilroy effortlessly wrenched the passenger side seat out of the car and helped Roger out of the wreck. "It actually took over driving for a bit. And it was trying to kill us."

"Well, what do you expect?" Kilroy grinned, his artificial human covering damaged from the impact he'd partially prevented, showing blued boomer armor underneath. "Don't buy GENOM. That stuff will kill you. I should know."

Daley pulled out his phone and called Dispatch. After a few moments, he frowned and looked over at the others. "Do either of you have a working phone? I think mine got banged up, or something. All I get when I call Dispatch is a disconnect signal."

Roger tried his phone, looking concerned when he got the same result. >From Leon's behavior, he was having no luck either. The rookie ADP officer looked around at everyone. "This isn't good, is it?"

"No shit," Leon agreed. Stepping around to the back of the car, he opened the trunk, and pulled out the weapons stored inside. "We can't just leave this stuff lying around, and we have to abandon the car." He passed the gear around to the others, and looked questioningly over at Kilroy.

The boomer shook his head. "Sorry, man, I don't do guns, anymore. But I'll help you get a cab if you need it."

"Sounds like a step forward," Leon said with a nod, strapping the extra gear around his back, and closing the trunk. He paused suddenly as a crump-ing sound could be heard in the distance. Turning, the three officers and boomer dashed across the street to a nearby building. Racing up the service stairs, the three got up to the roof and looked across the city.

"Three, no, there's two more over there..." Daley shook his head as Roger's eyes narrowed, an ugly suspicion forming.

Leon nodded as he glanced at the others. "Yeah. Our car suddenly drives itself until I blow out the miniframe? I get the feeling we weren't the only ones hit with whatever that virus was tonight." The expression on his face hardened. "We've got to get back to AD Police. The sooner, the better."

Roger looked around, taking in the neighborhood. Blinking, he paused as he recognized a building nearby. Pulling out his phone, he looked over at the others. "Daley, what's Linna's number?"

Leon raised an eyebrow at his former partner as Daley frowned. "Now's not the time to hit up your maybe-girlfriend for a lift. I doubt she's home."

Roger shook his head, too focused on his idea to notice the look Leon gave Daley. "No, it's her storage garage. It's just down the block. You know, the one with the car?"

Daley blinked a few times, and slowly grinned. He tossed his phone over to Roger. "Use mine, it's already coded. Side effect of investigating her recent almost-assassination," he added, looking over at Leon.

Roger didn't hear the rest of the conversation. After a couple rings, he heard Linna's voice? "Daley-san? What do you want?"

Curiously, her voice sounded kind of muffled, like she was talking in an enclosed space. Dismissing it from his mind, he focused on the problem. "Our car was hijacked by the computer," he began. "We crashed it, and now we need some way to get to AD Police. Your storage garage is right around the corner, and..."

"And you want to use Chitty to get to police headquarters, right?" She sighed, and he could just imagine her assessing him as she made up her mind. "All right. But if you damage or wreck it, you're paying for the replacement parts! And you're helping me fix it!"

"Doesn't sound so bad, actually," Roger muttered distractedly.

"What was that?"

"Ah, nothing! Ah, rather, thank you! We'll take very good care of it!"

"You'd better," her voice said, with a hint of playfulness to it. A six digit code appeared on Daley's phone pad. "That'll get you in. Try not to break anything..."

He grinned as the line disconnected. "Okay, I've got us a ride. We just need to get over there." He pointed at the building in the distance. "It stores cars, mostly. She's got a car that can get us there quickly."

The four made their way down to street level, and swiftly dashed across to the building. Leon squinted as he made his way down the alley toward the side access door. "Do I know this building?"

Daley nodded soberly. "Hai. The Griffon."

Roger paused, entering the numbers into the keypad as Daley's old partner said nothing, just watching the shutter as it ratcheted up. In his mind, he recalled the post-crisis investigation. The old garage strewn with automotive and boomer parts. Six months of a man's life dedicated solely to exacting a revenge which almost claimed his and his girlfriend's lives.

Behind them all, Kilroy's voice was awed when the interior lights came up, bathing the 1920's roadster in subdued yellow light. "Oh, man... This is beautiful!"

Leon stepped into the garage, taking a moment to appreciate the brass fittings, antique-looking wood paneling and leather interior, before easing himself into the driver's seat. "I hope this is insured. Just in case," he said with a grin, looking over at Roger. "You never know, you know."

The rookie sighed and gingerly eased himself into the back seat as Kilroy stood at the entrance. "You coming?"

"Heh. It's a pretty car, but I weigh too much for it. I'd break something. Besides, I can stay here and close up for you."

Leon started the car, momentarily taken aback by the peculiar sounds it made. Easing it into gear, he drove up to Kilroy and held out his hand. "Thanks for helping us," the ADP officer said sincerely. "You really saved our bacon back there."

"Anytime," Kilroy said with a grin. "Just, you know, keep the faith, and all that."

The boomer watched as the roadster drove out of the garage, and partway down the alley. As it did, it extended red and yellow wings, deployed the slowest helicopter blades he'd ever seen, and gracefully climbed into the sky.

Kilroy chuckled as he switched the lights off and closed up the garage. "Man, I've gotta get me one of those!"

* * *

6:30 PM, AD Police Tower, Megatokyo.
15 minutes ago...

Nene dashed over to a secure locker on one side, and slid in her access card. The locker, run off its own battery in emergency situations, unlocked with a beep, revealing the contents. Nene pulled out the harness and slipped it on, tucking the four spare clips in place before pulling out the automatic pistol and loading the fifth. With the ease of long practice, she chambered the first round, set the safety and tucked it into the holster.

Mackie stood in the middle of the room, both hands on the cane as he leaned slightly forward. "Don't suppose you've got one of those for me, do you?"

Nene shrugged and slipped her card into the secure locker beside it. "Sure." She tossed the harness over to Mackie and pulled out the rest as he slid it on. "Technically they'll want to know why I opened two lockers after this, but if we've got the problem it looks like we've got, I don't think they'll care one way or the other."

"Yoshida attacking the Tower a second time in as many years," Mackie began with a roll of his eyes. "Yeah, it pretty much looks that bad from here." He looked around. "The office area out there is pretty exposed. We might be best right here. At least until the others arrive."

Nene nodded as the security lockdown protocols engaged. Armored shutters locked across all the windows, shutting out all view of the outside world. As they did, Nene stepped over to a control panel in the room, slid her card in, and tapped a code.

"Lockout confirmed," a pleasant voice spoke, and Mackie could hear faint clicking sounds in the walls and ceiling. He looked over at Nene with a raised eyebrow.

"You know how they say the military is always ready to fight their last war?" Nene held up her card. "After Yoshida's first attack, we made a few changes to the security system. Any of us who can verify ourselves to the security grid can shut down local defences. So no using the concealed machine guns or nerve gas on us like he tried last time."

"What if he corrupts the security files?"

Nene shook her head. "Can't happen. They're updated frequently, but the moment the building goes into alert status, the local computers refuse all attempts to override them from the central mainframe unless you know the passcode of the day. And while he might know it, he first has to know he needs to know it. If he didn't, he's probably cursing right now from wherever he's trying to do this."

A muffled explosion from below shook the building. Nene paused and listened to the faint sound of gunfire. "That's probably his reply, right there. He can't use the internal defenses to wipe us out, so he's using those boomers he grabbed from Branch." She glanced to the armored shutters and fidgeted. "Come on, people... Any time, now..."

The door to the cyber research room thumped alarmingly. Startled, the two of them darted behind the desk and pulled their guns, safeties off. With a start, Mackie reached up and grabbed the datapad, pulling it behind the desk, and out of the line of fire. "We put so much time into it," he said with a little half-grin at Nene. "Don't want to lose all that work."

The door thumped again, and finally, it tore open, slaming into the far wall. Nene grabbed a piece of reflective metal from the junk around her, and stuck it out to the side of the desk, to see what it was.

A partially shot-up non-transformable combat model was standing in the doorway, dimly looking around the room. "35C," she whispered quietly. "No heat cannon, no built-in weapons. Partial damage to external armor on the left side, left arm looks skeletal, but probably functional. Rest of body intact. It's got an assault rifle, and what looks like four clips." She glanced across at Mackie. "I've got the damaged arm. Go for the head."

"Hai."

Nene flicked the metal shard across the room. It clattered against a server stand, drawing the boomer's attention.

"Now!"

The boomer staggered back as the two humans popped up across the far side of a desk, and fired. The shots peppered the boomer's head and exposed arm. The 35C was a functional combat model, and normally quite able to stand up to small arms fire. But this one didn't have a very powerful processor to begin with, and the partially rebuilt arm was exposed and very vulnerable. So it staggered back without taking any immediate action to protect itself or get to cover as the two humans emptied their clips into it.

The girl's gun hammered away at the elbow joint, causing sparks to fly, and myomer interface cabling to shatter and fray. Finally, the joint itself, overstressed by all the impact damage, tore away from the arm. The assault rifle fell to the ground, torn out of the boomer's left hand by the added weight of the unresponsive right forearm. As it tried to adjust for the missing hand, the young man's shots slammed into the face.

Out of over twelve shots, three penetrated the eye sockets. One of them managed to punch through the back and into the primitive boomer brain behind it. The unit staggered back and collapsed to the ground, inert, as the two humans' guns clicked empty.

Nene dashed over to another desk as she reloaded, then crouched near the door. Quickly panning both sides of the other room with her gun, she nodded, set the safety and pulled the boomer toward her. Mackie watched as he reloaded the gun, while the cyberneticist expertly stripped the boomer of its weapons, then dashed back to Mackie.

"That was a bit of luck, there," she said with a tight grin. She checked the action on the assault rifle, verified the ammo count in the magazines, and tucked them into a pocket. "This really evens up the odds for us, now."

Mackie touched the floor suddenly, a thoughtful frown on his face. "Do... you hear that? It sounds like—"

The floor heaved suddenly, sending them both flying to the far side, sliding into the armored window shutters with a heavy crash.

"Nene!" Mackie dashed over to his girlfriend, ignoring the stabbing pain in his side as he checked her vitals. She was still breathing, but unconscious. He glared back at the boomer as it pulled itself up through the floor. "Where's the rifle? C'mon, where is it?" He quickly glanced around, but couldn't find it. Just computer parts, random bits of tech, and while his eyes briefly settled on what looked like a rotary cannon, it was just half of a Firebee's main armament. No help to him, now.

Briefly, the design of his latest powersuit flickered into his mind as he set himself in front of Nene. A quick check at his holster showed the gun was gone, probably lost in the attack, leaving him armed only with a cane.

The boomer, a heavy civilian bar-bouncer type, laughed and slammed a massive fist in its other hand. "Come on, little boy. I'll make it quick. One hit. You'll never even feel it." He glanced over at the pretty police officer unconscious behind the human. "Betcha she will, though."

"You're not laying a finger on Nene," Mackie growled. A deep anger began to burn inside him, at the thought of what the boomers would do to her. "You'll never get anywhere near her!"

"Heh," the boomer laughed as it slowly began to walk over. "And what are you gonna do about it, boy?" The boomer paused, and struck an aggressive weightlifter's pose. "COME ON, boy," the boomer roared. "Whatcha got? Step UP, or step OUT!"

Mackie roared back in anger, right hand outstretched. As he did, parts flew across the room, tore themselves apart, rebuilt into new shapes, and connected themselves into a new form around his right arm. "What can I do?" Mackie roared as the eight barrels extended and began to spin around his arm. "I can do THIS!"

The cannons opened fire, hammering into the boomer with high-energy shot. The bouncer boomer staggered back as parts flew around the room, turning it into a cybernetic whirlwind. He grabbed the desk and hauled it around by brute force, putting it between him and the attack. Moments later, the cannonfire quieted, and the boomer threw the desk toward his attacker.

The desk stopped halfway to the armored shutters with a heavy impact sound. Moments after that, it flew to the side to crash into a storage closet.

The figure which stood there was far different from the little boy he'd been tormenting earlier. Gunmetal grey armor, with red highlights, and a pair of vicious looking daggers sheathed at each hip. The boomer struck another pose and roared again, its body badly ripped up by the cannonfire.

In response, the grey figure drew one of the daggers and pressed a button. The monomolecular sword extended to full length, glowing softly in the dim light. "You picked the wrong person to piss off, asshole," the voxmodded voice said grimly. "Now you go back to the morgue and stay there!"

The boomer roared again and charged the grey armor. It waited for a quarter second, then launched itself forward, sword slashing just once.

Nene, who had woken up at some point in the last few minutes, scrambled back in shock as the boomer fell to the ground at her feet, sliced in half from right shoulder to left waist. She looked up at the grey armor, wide-eyed. "Mackie?"

The form switched the sword off and raised the opaque visor. "It's me, Nene." Mackie looked around inside the transparent inner head's up display with a look that really only translated to 'meh?' "At least we know it works, right?"

He ducked the metal fragment she pitched at him with a chuckle. Then he helped her up and looked around for the missing assault rifle. Finding it, he passed it over to her as she checked herself out, and then rechecked the action on the rifle. Only then did she look up at Mackie again.

"So... You've been holding out on us?"

Mackie shook his head. "NO! I swear, I don't know how I did this. I just got so... mad. Suddenly, it was like I just knew how to do all this. Even the fight," he said, as he looked down at his hands. "I just felt so confident. It was..."

Nene stepped over to him as he shook his head in confusion. "I think I get it," she said finally, one hand on the transparent bubble. "There's a whole side to you we never see, isn't there, Mackie?" She grinned. "Except I think maybe I've been seeing more of it lately."

"I guess..." Mackie shrugged. "I guess I'm just tired of being the one that's always being protected. I want to be doing the protecting for once. You know?"

The redhead grinned. "Sylia will have a cat. But between you and me?"

"Hai?"

She leaned forward and kissed the bubble. "I like it."

The armored shutters at the far end of the room blew in, as three armored forms and a large motoroid landed in the badly wrecked research lab. Nene stepped away from Mackie with a grin and walked over to the desk area, pulling the datapad out of the rubble with a squeal of success.

"It still works! I'll put it in one of the gun lockers for later." She glanced over at the others as they stepped into the room, sizing up Mackie's new look. "Hi Sylia! Did you bring my armor?"

Sylia pushed up the opaque cover with a sardonic smile, and thumbed back over her shoulder. Nene's motoroid held out a small package it was carrying after she tucked the pad in the locker. She grinned as she shook out the neural transfer suit, and glanced over at Mackie. "Ah..." Grinning, she shrugged. "Never mind." As her grin got naughtier, she began to unbutton her shirt.

"Gah!" Mackie stumbled out of the room, bouncing off the doorframe with enough force to crumple it. Linna giggled as Sylia walked out, taking her klutz of a brother in hand for a quiet talk.

"So," Linna began with a grin as Reika's motoroid could be seen dropping for the lower levels outside, "What's up with Mackie's new suit? I didn't know it was ready."

"Neither did he," Nene replied with a grin as she finished stripping out of her clothes. Quickly pulling on the suit, she tightened a few straps, and stepped over to her partner. The motoroid opened up, revealing her suit. Quickly, she slipped into it, and settled the helmet into place, beginning the power-up cycle as she pushed up the armored cover. "Way he explained it, it just sort of happened." She shrugged again. "What did that chapter heading call it? Metacreative telekinesis? Well I think I know what that means, now."

Linna pointed into the other room. "He did that in a few moments with his mind?" She shook her head as Nene nodded. "Remind me to look him up next time I need an upgrade for my car."

Nene chuckled as she made her way out into the main room. "Sylia, it's Yoshida. He's trying the same stunt as last time."

"I gathered that from the AD Police troopers we rescued before coming up here." She looked around. "I can't get a feel for this one, though. There's no coordination signal that I can pick up. I'd like you to try to pin down where he's controlling this from, and see if you can hack it."

"Hai."

She looked over at Linna. "You and Reika will start at the armory level. Use the Motoroids to pacify anything holding that level. Try not to destroy the guns, we may need AD Police help with this one. But don't take risks you don't have to." She looked over at Mackie. "I will be floating between them as the need requires, until I have a better handle on this. I want you to check the helipad on the roof. That's where he was last time, and he might be there again. If so, expect boomer resistance." She sized his armor carefully. "You sure it can take this?"

Mackie nodded confidently. "It can. I built it to meet or exceed all your qualifications."

"On paper. But this armor..." She sighed and looked around. "We don't have time. So we'll try it and see. But at the first sign this scratch-built suit can't handle it, I want you to pull back into a support role with the Motoroids. Clear?"

When he nodded, Sylia pushed the armored cover back down and looked around. "You all have your missions. Knight Sabers! Sanjo!"

* * *

Chief Tohdo stood in the parking lot with about fifty AD Police officers in various stages of suiting up.

One of the benefits of having a secondary unit like Branch was that there was a ready source of assault gear handy if necessary. And while he'd confirmed that the orders from Takahashi were forged, only the boomers had been transferred.

With the arrival of the Branch forces and their spare gear, the AD Police were suiting up for action. They were driving their own cars for this one, the police vehicles not considered trustworthy at this point. Tohdo walked around, checking readiness levels as people loaded their guns.

"Are we ready?" He looked at the main entrance. "You know the drill! Who's got the car?"

Lieutenant "Buzz" Nikvest waved from the driver's seat of the armored car. Unlike modern AD Police gear, the car he drove was a cheap throwback to a previous generation. But it was still more than enough to drive through the main entrance of the police tower.

Tohdo took a breath, and paused, as something in the sky caught his eye. "What the hell is that?"

'That' turned out to be a flying car, looking like a gorgeous recreation of an old children's classic. Several officers clapped appreciatively as Leon McNichol landed the pixie-dust vehicle in the back of the lot and parked it, folding the wings and preposterous looking helicopter blades away.

"Chief!" Leon grinned as he and the other two inspectors climbed out of the relic and ambled over. "Glad to see you're outside." He looked up at the red-lit tower. "What's the situation?"

"It's Yoshida," Tohdo began, putting the flying car out of his mind. He'd find out where Leon had found such an outre method of transportation later, he was sure. "He's repeating his stunt. Only this time, we're going in and taking the building back!"

Leon nodded as someone passed him assault gear. "What about the Knight Sabers? I think I saw them going in on an upper level during our flyby."

Tohdo nodded. "They're in there. If they're keeping Yoshida busy, more power to them. But our first goal is to secure the people still in the tower, and get them out. Second goal is to secure any weapons and deny as many as we can't secure from Yoshida's forces. Helping the mercenaries is strictly tertiary as far as policy is concerned. They didn't have to be here, so they're on their own."

A sharp crack cut through the night air, and one of the officers suddenly jerked back and fell to the ground.

Roger ducked behind a car. "SNIPER!" Instantly the officers scrambled behind cars and trucks as the high-powered sound of the sniper rifle cut through the night several more times.

Tohdo glared at at the buildings around them. "Any clue where it's coming from?"

"Not sure," Daley said grimly. Experimentally, he took off his bandanna, put it on a wadded up jacket, and slowly eased it above the car.

A rifle shot punched through the night and violently smashed the makeshift head out of Daley's hands and across the lot. "Whoever he is, anyone pokes their head up for a look, they're gonna lose it."

"Boomer," Leon said with a snarl. "With that kind of night-sight, and what's happening inside, it has to be."

"More of Yoshida's work?"

Leon nodded as the rifle shot a few more times. "Almost certainly. They're keeping us pinned down. Preventing us from helping."

"And in a parking lot," Roger said from behind a nearby truck, "we have no cover around the edges. We can't relocate without drawing lethal fire."

Leon's phone rang. He blinked, then pulled it out and flipped it open. "Priss-chan!" He grinned and shrugged when she asked a question of some kind. "Oh, you know how it is. Busy day at work. Yoshida's goons in the AD Police tower, just like last time, the Knight Sabers fighting him inside like before, and one of Yoshida's goons sniping on us from somewhere around here." He paused, giving Daley a half-grin. "Hai. I'll remember to pick up a movie for Jennifer on the way home."

He folded the phone down and pocketed it as Tohdo shook his head in disbelief. "Hey, what do you expect?" Leon grinned as another rifle shot echoed across the parking lot. "This is Megatokyo."

Daley leaned back against the car door, trying very hard to listen for sounds in the distance. That airy conversation had all the hallmarks of a detailed sitrep. If he was right, and Leon's wife was really where Daley thought she was...

* * *

The Yoshida boomer which had been on overwatch duty during the preparation phase reloaded the .30 Browning sniper rifle with a snort of disgust. "Only thirty caliber. You'd think they could have given me a fifty. I could be shooting through the cars with a fifty!"

But she knew that wasn't the plan. If she'd had a fifty caliber rifle, the officers would have had no reason to hide behind the cars. Some would get shot, but the rest would scatter into the buildings and become impossible to hit. But as long as the rifle shots didn't punch through the cars, the police had no reason to take suicidal risks. And since the sniper started shooting after the Knights had entered the building, they'd stay put, and thus give the other boomers a chance to fulfill their plans.

She sighted on another stretch of cars, putting a round into a hubcap. The tin plate was blown off the car, and the tire sagged, giving the humans behind it who looked like they'd been about to try making a run for it something better to do with their time.

A shift in the light was her only warning, but it was enough. She launched herself to the side as the dark form slammed down where she had been only moments before. It smashed the gun, and instantly launched to the side as she opened her mouth, extended the cannon, and fired.

A red beam of heat speared out into the night sky, but missed the dodging figure. She had a momentary glimpse of light on dark blue armor before a silvery fist wreathed in electrically-ignited plasma drove into her face and shut the world down for good.

In the parking lot, Leon heard a distant explosion, and risked a quick look. Grinning, he pulled someone's binoculars up and took a closer look.

In the distance, a headless boomer was staked to the side of a highrise building, the static discharge from the railspike holding the boomer in place still dancing around the inert form. "Looks like the fun's over, everyone." He nodded toward the building. "Looks like one of the Knight Sabers got our sniper."

Tohdo stood up cautiously, and when no shots came out of the dark, he whistled loudly. "We're picking up where we were ten minutes ago!" He looked over at the Branch officer, who had darted back into the car and started the engine. "GO!"

Buzz grinned and floored the accelerator.

* * *

6:45 PM, Visitor Emergence Construction Site.
Tinsel City, Megatokyo.

Lisa felt their intent sharpen down to a point in space, as before. Luckily, they were so focused on overwhelming her with sheer firepower, and the sudden loss of their threat made them jumpy, they acted more on instinct than planning. She mentally reached out for a building nearby, and pulled.

Without even shifting position to hint the direction she was going, she suddenly accelerated away from the landing point. Their shots shredded the cracked cement wall behind where she'd been, and while they tried to track her course of travel, they couldn't seem to land a hit. She leaped into the damaged multistory business complex, and vanished.

Jerrod growled. "Get after her!"

Tony looked over at Jerrod. "What about we just blow the building?"

"And risk she gets out? I want to be certain! Whatever that thing is, she's doing things no human can do. That means boomer. And whatever technology makes her do those things, I want it!"

Tony nodded and hefted a rifle, running after the other boomers. When he got to the building, he pulled out a couple ratbots, and sent them in, as he crouched down beside the structure with his new datapad. Jerrod stepped over to the door nearby, and glanced back at Tony. "Way I figure it, this is something like what's keeping the crane over there off the ground. Someone's miniaturized it, and put it in a boomer. We get it, we can write our own tickets."

Tony said nothing as Jerrod walked inside. Only after that, he eased back from the building to step down into a nearby sewer pipe, still watching ratbot feeds. "Yeah," he muttered to himself. "And if you're wrong about whatever the hell she is, she punches your ticket. Me? I've been dead once this week. I'd rather live through tonight."

A flash of light caught his attention. Popping out of the sewer a little, he used the substandard zoom function the replacement body had to work with, and watched while another Sailor girl effortlessly tore through the three-person assault boomer squad, before launching herself in a low altitude flight toward the building.

"Okay, that's it. I want to live, thank you." Tony pulled the sewer hatch over and lowered it in place, before climbing down the ladder and into the dark. "Damn good thing I'm the go-to guy when they forget their bank codes."

* * *

Lisa dodged another salvo of assault fire and vaulted up to the next floor. These boomers all seemed to be older models, like the ones that attacked the Sabers earlier that week. It meant they probably didn't have mouth cannons or fusion technology. But there were still a lot of them. And she could only dodge them for so long.

She ducked back into a corridor, checked her escape vector, and brought her hands together as a boomer jumped up into the same room. "Heartbreaker!"

The boomer's head snapped back as the shot punched into the brain and dropped the combat model back down the hole and into the floor below. Lisa didn't wait to watch. As soon as she shot, she was dodging out of the room through her escape path, and heading up to the next floor.

Sylia's training had been very clear. As she raced up the stairs, she could almost hear the White Saber's lessons echoing in her mind. "When faced with overwhelming odds without backup, don't get attached to places. No matter how perfect the ambush position looks, you can only use it once. After that, move! Your greatest asset is that they can't know what you'll do next. Become predictable, and you'll get shot."

As she jumped up to the next level, she heard a crackling sound outside, and an impact which shook the building. Risking detection, she switched on her radio. "Luna Five. That you?"

The response was immediate. "Negative, ma'am. There appears to be another unknown assaulting the boomer task force. Designation from the Tower is Visitor Two. We're two minutes out and inbound, tracking through the orbital feed."

The floor under her heaved as a boomer tried to punch through it. Lisa eep-ed and dashed around another corner. "This comm line isn't secure, they're tracking me!"

"Understood, ma'am. Inbound, ninety seconds."

The line went dead, and Lisa shut off the transmitter. "Visitor Two?" She panted for breath as she dashed up another flight of stairs, and regretted the time she'd been taking out of her physical workout, lately. "I wonder who it is?" Another thought struck her at that point. "Oh, I hope we don't wind up fighting each other by accident. That's just so last century!"

The wall beside her exploded violently as a heat beam blasted it to splinters. Lisa was knocked into the next room, rolling with it as best she could when she hit the back wall. She gasped for breath.

Get up, she cried out mentally. Stay down and you're dead!

Lisa pushed herself to her knees with a groan, taking a moment to focus on her shield. Then she looked over as the 35C boomer stepped into the room.

This was one of the ones with the transmitter, earlier. The nametag on its chest said "Jerrod", and it carried a weapon Lisa had seen only once before. Leon carried it occasionally. Known somewhat informally as the "Stomach" railgun, it could take down a 55C with one shot. The railgun, normally a single-shot weapon because of its weight, had been modified with a stubby magazine underneath.

"You don't get away this time, little boomer." He grinned and for pure appearance's sake, took the time to trip the laser pointer on the front of the unit. "Whatever you're using is my toy, now."

Lightning flashed outside, and the building shook with the electrical impact. Jerrod staggered to the side, his systems twitchy with the disruption. Lisa launched herself to the side of the room, out of the line of fire, in case the weapon fired anyway. What happened next however, was totally unexpected.

"SUPREME THUNDER!"

A bolt of lightning smashed into Jerrod from the corridor behind him, throwing him through the window, and out of the building at the six story level. The boomer screamed with anger and frustration just before three bolts of heat energy intersected his position, blowing Jerrod away in a titanic fireball of released energies.

Lisa shielded herself from the blast, blinking as she tried clear her eyesight. As the glare faded, three BU-12J boomers landed in a nearby room, and looked over at her.

"Luna Five!" Lisa waved at them. "That is, if Madigan-san sent you to help me."

They nodded, lowering the cannons. "That she did, ma'am," one of them replied. "We have an evac position prepared on the hover platform above. There were two snipers up there, but they've been dealt with. Sensors show four other boomers of an older type trying to evade through the northeastern perimeter. Likelihood is high the threat forces wish to disengage at this point."

"Let them go," Lisa said with a tired sigh. "I don't think they'll try this again."

"They'd better not," a girl's voice cut in from out in the corridor. "You'd think they'd learn the lesson."

Lisa looked over and caught her breath as the other girl stepped into the room. Low-cut emerald green boots, green skirt, leotard, green and white gloves, and a tiara with a green stone inset on it. She also looked taller than the anime suggested, and actually stood taller than Lisa herself. The reporter girl blinked as she tried to compare the anime image with the confident near-adult standing in front of her.

Makoto waited a long second while Blue clearly fought past shock to regain her composure. "So," she drawled with a grin, "I take it you are the girl Ami picked up copying our design?"

"Rehh....." Lisa coughed and cleared her throat. "Ah... Hai?"

The Senshi chuckled and held out her hand. "Kino Makoto, Sailor Jupiter. And we need to talk."

* * *

7:00 PM, AD Police Tower, Megatokyo

Reika dodged the boomer's attacks, launching into a jet-assisted vault for the double-height ceiling. Orienting herself to land upside down, she let momentum press her against the ceiling as she squeezed the trigger grip on the railspike cannon. The weapon pulsed twice, punching foot-long armor piercing needles into the boomer.

The unit twitched a few times as Reika landed behind it, and kept walking down the stairs toward the motor pool. She paused and looked back as the boomer exploded, showering debris all over the stairwell.

"Armory level secure," she called over the tac channel. "Heading to motor pool."

"Hai," Sylia replied. "Brace yourself. The AD Police are charging the door."

"Huh?" She staggered to the side as the building heaved. More alarms went off and she heard what sounded like a large truck smashing into the main lobby, and roaring across to strike the service desk with the sound of heavy impact.

"AD Police," Reika commented with a sigh and a shake of the head. "Never doing anything by halves."

She ignored the rush of people above racing into the armory and finding dismembered boomers, although she did pay somewhat more attention to what they did with the guns and other assorted weapons they were picking up. It wouldn't help to be mistaken for a boomer by an overzealous cop, or attacked by someone who wanted to make a career for themselves by bagging one of the Knight Sabers.

As it turned out, she needn't have worried. Leon McNichol, Daley Wong, and Roger Dalton quickly made their way down the stairs to where she was. The seasoned ADP veterans merely nodded to her and took up positions on the far side of the door. Roger swallowed and took a position closer to the enigmatic Red Saber.

"Take it easy, soldier," the unfamiliar, electronically distorted voice of the Saber commented with a definite hint of humor as she reached past Roger. "I don't bite."

She paused as a quick tap on the console opened the door, and she gathered herself to begin the attack. "Well," she temporized, "Not much."

Roger blinked as the Saber launched herself into the room, jump jets giving her a faster than expected flight speed. As she did, the two devices clipped to her waist hardpoints activated.

Boomers positioned around the cars suddenly staggered back, unable to target cleanly. Sensors were blinded by false images, while electromagnetic sensors lost the Saber in the general background pulses being put out by the sensor scrambler. Lacking any sense of where she was in the room, they fired blindly.

The jammers were designed to do two things. First, one of them generated EM pulses at irregular intervals, which made it impossible for their sensors to get a clean lock on her position. They also occasionally rotated their signature, so it would generate false readings of her current position.

The second one targeted their visual cortexes, creating false sensor returns, so that they saw identical images of the Red Saber all over the room. Their perception was entirely digital, and dependent on electromagnetic perception. Scramble that, and they couldn't see a thing.

Roger, Daley and Leon darted forward to another car, and began sniping boomers. As they did, a growing roar caught their attention, just before the main door outside smashed open.

The unmarked grey and blue semi drove into the garage at high speed, the heavy impact grille across its front pockmarked from the ramming damage. Roger watched in surprise as the van pulled a sharp turn, and opened the side away from the boomer defenders.

Four large motoroids dropped out as the hatch closed behind them. The Red Saber landed on top of the van, and cut off the jammers, as the combat robots stepped out around the van and opened fire, using her targeting data to gain the immediate upper hand.

Grav guns on autofire roared in the enclosed space, as HEAP rounds slammed into the boomers, shredding and smashing them across the bay. The Motoroids took limited return fire, but the combination of the explosive AP rounds, Reika's spotting and the grav gun's high rate of fire made them an irresistible force. The blast of cannonfire tore through the boomers in seconds, then stopped.

Roger cautiously looked over the car he had ducked behind. To the side, he could see the Motoroids stepping back inside the Knight Sabers' van, then saw the van turn around in the motor pool and drive back out the way it had come in, vanishing into the night. He stepped out from behind the car and into the motor pool as the Red Saber landed near the stairwell entrance to the boomer morgue.

He looked out at the shredded and wrecked remnants of the enemy boomer force, and shook his head slowly. "These girls are mercenaries?" He looked back the way he came, then at the smashed garage entrance, and finally at the morgue door, which now stood open, the Saber having already gone down. "I've seen military with less precision."

Daley nodded as Leon checked one of the nearby armored vans, and grinned as he found what he'd been looking for. He stepped inside as Daley sighed. "If we had even half of their budget, we'd probably be as good. But that's what it means to be publicly funded." He grinned. "They get to own the good stuff. AD Police on the other hand..." He rolled his eyes and shrugged as he heard a heavy machine stomping out onto the loading dock. "We get those."

Roger looked over as Leon emerged, wearing what looked like a stripped down version of a military battlesuit. He nodded slowly. "They're based on the MADOX design. Big and heavy, but not very maneuverable."

"They're worse than that," Daley said as Leon snorted and started down the wide stairwell to the morgue in the powersuit. "At least the old MADOX suit had military grade armor and weaponry. The 12P's aren't allowed to be military spec, so we get stuff only a fool would use in combat." He grinned and pointed at the stairs. "Or Leon."

"I heard that," Leon's voice echoed up the stairs.

Daley ducked into one of the vans and pulled out an Earthshaker. Passing it over to Roger, he handed him an ammo pack. "Here. This looks like more your thing. Me, I prefer precision." He grinned as he picked up a sniper rifle, and loaded it with AP shot before following Leon down the stairs.

* * *

The silver Yoshida growled something under his breath as the boomers were trashed in job lots.

This wasn't turning out even remotely like he'd planned. The first setback had been when he'd discovered that an alert segmented the internal defences into local mode access only, and without a master day code, he couldn't use them against the ADP officers. If that hadn't been bad enough, a casual inspection of the support pillars for the tower had shown them to be at least 30% beefier than the city's plans for the tower showed. And they'd been layered with several walls of armored ceramacrete for added insult.

He'd managed to get the shutters closed, and isolate the Tower from the outside world, but with the people inside the tower still free to arm themselves and fight back, his boomers were having a much harder time of it this time around. Instead of an almost casual slaughter of the ADP sheep, his boomers were running into a prepared meat grinder designed specifically to stop this kind of assault from succeeding!

The silver boomer tried to send forces after the Red Saber, but that unit was everywhere! He'd at first tried to load in the attack software for the old Blue Saber, on the assumption that since it had the same basic construction, it might just be the same girl with a new color, but that had been at total disaster. This was a totally new girl, and her jamming hardware was making it maddeningly difficult to achieve target lock on her.

On top of that, someone had activated one of those cheap ADP battlesuits. Normally that wasn't a threat, but with his sensors badly messed up, he couldn't effectively manage his forces to fight back. And the 12P suit was so low-tech, even bad sensors wouldn't stop it from mashing his boomers.

A beep distracted Silver Yoshida. "What is it?"

Heavy Yoshida answered. "I've got movement on the roof. I think we're about to be engaged up here. If you want to evac, you're running out of time."

Silver thought about it, and shook its pointed snake-head dismissively. "No, escape is pointless. You know that."

Heavy Yoshida, the one which had been using tanks of nanite tech to put overcontrol hardware in the ADP cars, thought about that one for a moment. It seemed to make sense that the situation, very much out of control now, dictated a retreat. But...

"Hai," Heavy answered after a moment. "Retreat is a bad idea. I'll hold the roof. Let me know when you've succeeded in your objective."

* * *

Mackie waited just enough down the stairwell that he wouldn't get hit if they strafed the stairwell door. "Nee-san? I just overheard one of the boomers up here. It sounds strange. For a moment, it was talking like it wanted to leave, but suddenly it changed its mind. Now it's expecting to win."

Sylia paused from where she was directing operations. She had a commanding view of the Tower's internal systems from the operations room, but she stepped out as she heard ADP officers heading into the level. Making her way to an alternate stairwell, she stepped into the space between the stairs, and engaged her jets.

"The AD Police is starting to retake the tower," Sylia called out. "It's only a matter of time before someone encouters us and does something about it. We should leave. Mackie, disable the boomer on the roof, but if possible, retrieve the head. I wish to examine it in greater detail later. Nene, have you primed the emitters?"

Nene's voice was distracted. "Hai, Sylia. The pulse generator in the boomer morgue is ready. I'm just hiding one of my control spikes inside so we can trigger it remotely. It'll affect our suits if we use it while we're here." She paused and nodded to herself. "Done. We can leave anytime."

"Reika, Nene, head out through the Morgue loading bay doors. The van will pick you up there. Send two of the Motoroids up to retrieve Mackie and I from the roof."

"Hai, Sylia."

Roger looked around as the Red Saber was suddenly joined by another Red Saber. They both suddenly broke away from the boomer attack and headed up to the loading dock entrance. "Hey! Where are you going?" He ducked behind a makeshift barricade as the boomers on the other side — the least effective remaining combat capable units, rushed the line and began to push him back. "We need you down here."

"Not really," the voxmodded voice of the red and green saber called down. With that, the other Saber overrode the garage door, opened it, and the two girls left the building.

Leon snorted and stepped toward the remaining boomers with a grin on his face. "Like I said earlier. Mercenaries." he smashed the 12P's hands together with a sound that made the room echo. "This is my kind of fight!"

On the roof, Heavy Yoshida looked up as the roof of the stairwell blew away, and a grey form vaulted up into the sky. Miniature heat cannon shots hammered into him from a rotating cannon on its right arm, shredding armor and punching into the unit's legs. With a roar, the heavy unit grabbed a refueling drum and pitched it at the grey form, which nimbly stepped aside.

The drum flew out over the tower, and plummeted to the ground below. Before it could get there, it exploded, lighting up the night sky with fiery brilliance, and raining burning shrapnel down on the wrecked entrance lobby.

As it reached for another drum however, the grey form launched forward. The mono-sword extended, it sliced out, cutting the heavy unit's arm at the elbow. Abotex cut like butter as the arm fell, trailing sparks and sheared cabling. The unit staggered back, roaring in confused frustration as another form flew out of the stairwell, and onto the roof.

The boomer had only another few moments of confused shock as it tried to process the fact that it was losing, before the mono-sword took the unit's head off its body. It wouldn't have changed the outcome had it not happened, because as the grey armored form grabbed the head and jumped clear, the White Saber stabbed forward with the extended pulse cannon, and fired a shot deep into the heavy boomer's innards.

The boomer fell onto the ground, smoke rising from it. Mackie held up the head in triumph as the two Motoroids sent to retrieve them landed on the helipad. Sylia stepped into hers as Mackie gingerly stepped up into Nene's. Despite his concerns however, the suit managed to fit easily enough, and the two units flew away from the ADP tower, as their sensors showed the command van carrying the rest of the Sabers away as well. As they did, Nene pressed a button.

Behind them, the boomer suppression device in the basement triggered, sending out a powerful wave of energy designed to shut down all boomers and boomer-related devices. Silver Yoshida's mind vanished in a flash as the pulse wiped it clean, dropping the snake-shaped boomer to the ground. The attack boomers it had been commanding also dropped at that point, technically free of control, but also overwhelmed and shut down by the suppression field.

And the 12P hardsuit Leon was piloting, although only dimly related to boomer technology, was similar enough that the pulse shut it down too. Leon looked around in anger, and tried yanking the controls to move the suit. When it didn't move, he yelled out in frustration, and began to unbuckle himself from the harness, to Daley's amusement.

* * *

November 1, 2037.
9:00 AM, Ladys633 Tower, Megatokyo

Sylia looked over at Nene as she stepped into the room. "I take it you're off for the day?"

"Hai." She shrugged as she waved at the others present, and sat down in a nearby chair. "With the reconstruction going on, it doesn't look like they'll be needing me soon. At least, not until they've got the new network up and running."

Mackie looked over from the boomer head he was tinkering with. "New network?"

"Hai. Like I said last night, always ready to fight the last war. The newest security feature ties a secondary network into the suppression generator, which automatically triggers if an event occurs isolating humans from the boomer morgue during a security alert." She looked over at Priss as the singer carried Jennifer into the room, handing her over to Mackie, much to Jennifer's delight. Mackie's response was somewhat less enthusiastic, which prompted giggles from Nene.

The door opened again, letting in Linna and Reika, with Kou trailing behind them in his subdued black business suit. Linna shook herself out of her jacket with Kou's help, and changed into the provided slippers with a sigh of pleasure as she stepped across the room to her favorite spot.

Shortly after, Lisa made her way in, and cautiously assessed the situation. Confused, Nene looked over at her. "Something wrong?"

"Well... I was worried you might be angry that I wasn't at the AD Police tower yesterday, or something."

"To be honest, I was curious," Sylia began. "But given the severity of the crisis, and the extremely fluid nature of the situation with the AD Police taking a more active role this time, I consider it to be a good thing you weren't there." She sipped her tea, and considered Lisa's demeanor. "I take it you had another reason for not being involved?"

"Kind of." She sat down in a nearby chair and sighed. "I was attacked by those mercenary boomers that got away from last week's rescue."

Sylia's attention sharpened, and the others leaned forward in surprise. Nene's voice was the first to interject. "Lisa! Why didn't you call for help? How many were there?"

"How many? I'm not really sure. Maybe a dozen or so. Maybe a couple more. As for why I didn't call..." She shook her head. "They claimed to have wired an apartment complex to blow if I didn't go with them, and would set it off if I called for help. I couldn't risk calling you guys. It was just too dangerous if they really did have bombs set."

"Yet you clearly survived the night, and with no major injuries that I can see," Sylia commented, sipping her tea. "So I take it they were unable to live up to their threat value?"

"Well, yes and no. I mean, they were very well organized. But I had a couple advantages. First, I was able to contact Kate-san, and she sent some support." She held up her hands as Sylia raised an eyebrow. "I didn't ask for it, and in fact specifically asked her not to." She half-grinned and shrugged. "She did it anyway.

"As for the other advantage, well... the second Visitor showed up last night and helped me out. She wrecked their assault force and helped me out of a tight spot, which is really why I'm not worse off today than I look."

The others looked confused, but Sylia just nodded sagely. "Reaction headache?"

"Oooh, yeah," Lisa replied with feeling. "It comes and goes, but it's really starting to come on again."

Kou fetched a few painkillers, and handed them to Lisa along with a glass of fruit juice, which she accepted with a smile. After downing the medicine, she sat back, sipping the juice. "Anyway, after dealing with the threat, Kate-san's boomer force evacuated us to a safehouse on the other side of the Tinsel City area, where we talked for a few hours. By the time we finished the fight, you guys were pretty much done at the AD Police tower, so there was nothing for me to contribute."

"So... Who is it?" Linna leaned forward. "Where's she from?"

Lisa grinned and shook her head. "You won't believe it. I'm not sure I believe it, and I was there."

Nene held up a half-eaten sandwich. "Don't make come over there, girl! Who was it?"

Lisa giggled, and sipped her fruit juice, as she savored the moment. "If I told you that Sailor Jupiter is a real girl, and I spent last night talking with her after she saved my life, would you believe me?"

Sylia's expression was one of resigned acceptance, that the universe kept tossing such improbable things as fictional alternate universe characters with magical powers at her. Priss was just sitting there blinking, trying to process it. Nene just stared, and Jennifer was squee-ing in happiness at the revelation that one of her favorite anime characters was in fact a real person.

Mackie... Mackie just flexed his right hand, staring at it for a few seconds, before nodding slowly. "Makes sense. I mean, hey. I've got superpowers. You're a mage. Colonel Sangnoir could break the laws of physics. The universe is just a more complex place than we ever thought." He reached over and took Nene's hand, ignoring the smiles from the other girls in the room. "I don't care how complex it gets. I can take it."


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 30, 2011.
Last modified January 16, 2013.