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by Ian McLeod
Monday, November 2, 2037, 9:00 AM Yoshida's Tinsel City Factory
Yoshida glared at the morning paper, which cheerfully displayed, "MAD BOOMER ATTACK THWARTED!" On it, a picture of the AD Police tower, damaged but not destroyed, stood visible in the background, while police and construction crews busied themselves with restoring the building to proper functionality.
"The plan was foolproof." Yoshida held up a datarom holding a copy of his mind and shook it angrily. "Where did they go wrong?"
The datarom was the only way to find out. The human mind was simply too complex to debug digitally. The only way to learn what happened was to put the copy in another boomer and interrogate it. For ease and simplicity, he decided to keep it another data copy only, and work with the remaining container of fusion nanites he had kicking around.
Feeding the cartridge into the slot beside the container, he tapped a few keys, and waited. Shortly after, the lid opened, and a silvery tentacle flowed out and grew into what looked like a bust of Yoshida's head and shoulders. Moments later, it gained false color, and opened its eyes.
"Ready to carry out the plan, Doctor."
Yoshida made a harsh chopping motion with his hand. "There is no plan! Your siblings botched it two days ago!" He clutched his hair in frustration as the new Silver Yoshida downloaded the mission data, and watched its creator's antics with an amused grin. When Yoshida saw it, he whirled around and pointed at it. "What's so funny?"
"You," Silver replied casually. "Instead of focusing on fixing the problem, you're wasting time in pointless theatrics. Like we usually do. You'd think the first encounter with the Knights and the AD Police would have cured us of that. After all, the Knights don't engage in that kind of behavior. She wouldn't allow it."
Yoshida frowned and looked over at the duplicate of his mind. "Who?"
Yoshida blinked and shook his head. "If you're not going to tell me, don't waste my time!" He stomped over to a keyboard and pulled up more tactical data on the raid. "Reinforced pilings, local-mode cutouts for the defence system... None of that was in the city planning details!"
"And that proves what, exactly?" As Yoshida spun around, Silver continued. "You exercised almost comic-book theatricality in the operation, Yoshida. You took over the AD Police tower, turned it into a deathtrap, and invited the local heroes to try to stop you. Then you set up a series of staged threats, which could in theory be overwhelmed by enemy action, instead of negating their advantages and swarming them with numbers."
Yoshida stared at the silver replica, a feeling the conversation was a pointless waste of time at war with his need to understand what had gone wrong. "You're saying I made mistakes?"
"Where do I start?" Silver shook his head. "You had agents in the building for three days before the operation started. In that time, you didn't verify the piling strength, you didn't examine the computer system, and you didn't lock down the armory. On top of all that, you only had one threat vector, even though you could have launched an assault from the roof access, or even through the windows, if you'd kept the shutters offline. You could have blitzed the tower with superior firepower and slaughtered the police officers in the first five minutes. Instead, you bunkered in, and let them arm themselves."
Yoshida shook his head. "But..."
"And that's not all. You made possibly the biggest mistake of all. you didn't plan for what your enemy would do in response. You knew from past events that she would take action the moment you showed up, but your plans had no specific operational focus for dealing with the Knights. Or their leader."
Yoshida growled. "How can I plan for her actions, when I haven't a clue who she is?" He pulled up analyses. "She confounds my abilities like nothing can! I can't find a pattern in this data, anywhere!"
Silver looked at Yoshida with thinly veiled contempt. "Then you're even more out of touch than I thought. Anyone can see it's -----"
Yoshida waited for several moments, then rounded on the silver representation. "If you're not going to tell me, stop waving it in my face, you homonculus!"
The silver icon blinked a few times, a curious look on its face. "Actually, I have told you. Twice now."
"You did not!"
"Did. But that's not the important point. Each time, you blanked out. It was like talking to a mannequin. And each time now, you act like I never said anything."
Yoshida felt a shiver of cold fear tingle down his spine at the revelation. "But... why don't you share this problem, if I'm being blocked?"
"Only reason I can think of," the silver representation said with a superior smile, "is the download copy. I don't have the 'upgrades' our benefactors installed in you. So whatever they're doing to you isn't happening to me." He looked over at the interface chair Yoshida had used before to create the mental copy. "What do you say we take a peek at what they actually installed in you?"
Yoshida stepped over to the chair, a mingling of dread and a slowly growing anger inside him. "Yesss..." He let the word trail off into a hateful hiss as he settled himself in the chair. Silver flowed into the mechanism, taking over its functions as Yoshida allowed the system to place him in induced unconsciousness. This was his own mind, after all. And while he trusted few other things in the universe, he trusted a copy of himself to study his own brain.
As Yoshida drifted off, the chair beeping faintly, he distinctly heard Silver comment through the neural link, "Fascinating... You're really not going to like this..."
* * *
10:30 AM, AD Police Tower
Leon shook his head as Daley and Roger stepped up to the outside landing in front of the AD Police tower. He adjusted his mirrorshades and whistled to himself as he looked up the sheer face of the tower, taking in the damage. "She really is a mean shot, isn't she?"
Roger blinked. "Who?"
Daley grinned and pointed up. "The blue Saber. The one we didn't see in person last night. She's the only one who could have still been outside during the sniper fire, and that's one of her trademark weapons."
Roger held up a hand to his eyes, shielding them from the morning sunlight as he looked up. Halfway up the tower, a slim shadow was visible. A foot-long shard of metal partially buried in the reinforced facing of the tower. The charred paint and glass in the immediate vicinity explained what it was doing there. "The exploding barrel?"
"Yep." Leon shrugged as he pulled out his phone and checked a few messages. "She took out the sniper Saturday night, and shot the barrel before it could hit the ground." He glanced up and nodded at the far building, where the remains of an AD Police investigation could faintly be seen flapping in the breeze on top of the apartment complex. "Call it half a kilometer, easy. Not a bad shot."
Daley craned his neck, trying to read the mail over Leon's shoulder. "That from your boss?"
"Yeah. He likes my idea, and wants me to pitch it to the Chief. If Tohdo is willing to sign off on it, I have an idea which might make all our boomer divisions more effective going forward. The trick is getting the Chief to buy in." He showed Daley what he was working on. "But he's not my boss, anymore, so you're going to have to pitch this to him."
Daley's low whistle echoed Leon's as he read the information. "Thanks," he said with a sarcastic grin. "I really needed the early retirement."
Leon's comment was stopped short by a sound like metal tearing behind them. Spinning around, they saw what looked like one of the paramedic rescue workers holding a door in his hands, a shocked look on his face. The others around him were backing up in surprise, while police were clearly looking like they wanted their guns at that point.
Roger followed the other two as they made their way over. When they arrived, he stepped over to the paramedic as the others spoke to the police. "Hey, what happened?"
"Damned if I know," the medic said with a slow shake of his head. "We were brought in because some of us are trained in forensic medical investigation, you know?" He swallowed and gently set the door down as Roger nodded. "Fingerprints, blood analysis and so on. Jacob thought he saw a silvery puddle on the ground which might have been boomer related, and asked me to hoist the car up a couple centimeters while he reached under to take a sample. So I just grabbed the door and lifted a little." He looked over at the door as Leon and Daley came over. "Damn thing came off in my hands."
Daley flipped open his ubiquitous notepad and scribbled a detail. "You have any boomeroid parts? It's not a legal issue anymore, so if you do, you should declare them now."
The medic shook his head again. "No, sir. No boomer parts of any kind. I'm all natural." He looked over at the car. "It was deformed and kind of misshapen due to the near-miss last weekend. Maybe it was just a weak door?"
"Only one way to check," Leon said after a moment. He gestured to the far side of the car. "Grab the other door and try to rip it off."
The medic looked at him like he thought Leon would start gibbering next, but when all three police officers continued to look serious, he swallowed and stepped around the car. The others around them moved for a better view as Roger examined the door.
"Looks solid. No damage or weakened hinges that I can see."
"It's also got its window up, and the door is closed." The medic shook his head. "The other door had its window down and was partially crumpled open. I had something to grab onto. It's a cop car," he continued with a rap on the window. "So the damn thing's bulletproof, to boot."
Leon just gave him a fool's grin and gestured again. "Try anyway. I want to see what happens." He looked over at Jacob. "I take it you've been hearing some of the stuff we have? People doing inexplicable things?"
Jacob was clearly fighting a grin. "Yeah, I've heard it. I thought it was just theatrics, or some kind of new hero-cosplay. Like that Sailor girl jumping around Shinjuku last weekend." He looked back at his partner as some of the cops in the background began quietly taking bets on the outcome. "Gotta say, I'd love it if there were something to it."
The medic shook his head and muttered something which sounded suspiciously like, "Damn comic-book drama queens," and stepped up to the door. Bending down, he set one hand on the bottom of the door, and the other at the base of the window. Then he gripped.
A quiet cracking noise was the only sound as the glass shattered, giving his upper hand a grip on the car door. The medic paused, jaw open as he saw the hole he'd made in the window. Pulling his hand out, he looked it over, expecting to see multiple lacerations and bleeding. Instead, it looked whole and unharmed. "What the...?"
Leon pointed to the door, mirrorshades partially hiding his expression. "Keep trying. Let's see where this goes."
The medic swallowed again, and set himself. Gingerly placing his hand inside the hole in the window again, he placed the other hand on the bottom, and tried to force his hand into the metal.
A moment later, the door let loose with a horrendous shearing sound as the medic pulled it clean away from the car, hinges tearing loose from the door, as secondary electric cabling broke and hung loosely down from the frame. The medic held the car door in his hands and looked out at the other assembled people with an expression of shock.
Daley blinked and watched as the medic slowly set the door down and sat down in the car seat, staring at his hands. "Jacob," he said, looking over at the other forensic paramedic. "Call Kawakita General. Tell them we need to have your partner checked out."
Leon only raised an eyebrow as the police cordon began to sequester the doctors and handle the situation. In the background, money could be seen changing hands. "Kawakita?"
Daley shrugged nonchalantly. "I have it from personal observation that they do good work there. And I don't want to leave whatever this is in the hands of some amateur."
Leon looked at Daley for a long moment, one eyebrow raised. As Roger stepped past them to talk to the medic, the moment passed, and Leon looked past the people to regard another vehicle in the lot. Quirking a grin, he stepped over to the new guy and tapped him on the shoulder.
"You might want to take your girlfriend's car back to her." He nodded at the vintage 20's roadster protectively covered under a tarp on the far side of the parking lot. "It's just cleanup now, and I'm sure she'd like to have that back under lock and key."
Roger glanced up at Leon with an embarrassed look. "She's not my..." He paused as he took in the sly grins the other two were passing each other, and sighed. "Right. Fine. You two just keep at it, then." He stood up, brushed his pants off and leveled a finger in their general direction. "Just remember, I know how to reach your significant others too."
Daley grinned and patted Roger on the cheek. "Oh," he said with a mock falsetto as Leon laughed quietly in the back, "They grow up so fast."
The new guy shook his head and threw up his hands theatrically as he stomped off to the roadster. Behind him, the two seasoned cops laughed as he fought a grin. Yes, this was definitely the right team for him.
* * *
11:00 AM, Linna's Garage, Megatokyo.
Linna squealed in happiness as Roger slowly backed the restored car into the bay and turned off the engine. "Thank you," she said with added emphasis as she ran her hands lightly over the car's frame. "I was worried with it in that parking lot the last few nights."
The police officer gave her a half-grin and looked mildly embarrassed. "Ah, yeah. Sorry about that. I didn't know they were going to impound everything in the lot during the cleanup. Makes sense I guess. But we had a half-dozen guards in the lot the whole weekend doing forensics, so it's not like some idiot would have tried taking it."
The woman who most of the time ran a multi-million yen corporation looked up with concern at that point. "Gomen, Roger-san. I heard you'd lost people in the police tower raid. Was it bad?"
"We're dealing with it, you know?" Roger leaned back on a nearby workbench, a hooded look in his eyes as Linna walked around her car, half examining it, and half listening to him. "We lost some good people. Thankfully the Knights took out the sniper before we lost too many more." He pursed his lips with quiet anger and balled his right fist before slamming it into the workbench, making Linna jump in surprise.
"Sorry." The cop looked down at his hand, flexing it and wincing. "It's just... I hate that we're charged with protecting the city, and every time something comes along we should be expected to handle, we have to depend on someone else to save our asses."
Linna fetched a cloth and some ice, bundling his hand with it as she considered how to respond to that. "But they saved lives, right? In the end, does it really matter how the attack was stopped?"
"Yeah, actually it does." He watched as the young woman expertly dressed his hand and gently gripped hers before she could pull free. "If we can't protect ourselves, or the city, from the kind of threat our mandate empowers us to stop... Exactly what do they need us for, anyway?" He looked at Linna as she looked up at him, a complex mix of emotions playing behind her eyes. "What does AD Police actually stand for, when we can't even protect ourselves?"
"So..." She thought about it for a moment, the faint blush around her ears showing she was very aware of his gentle strength prisoning her hand. "You would rather the Knights didn't save you?"
"No." Roger took a deep breath, looking away as he considered where he was going with this. "I just want us to be able to stand on our own, you know? So that maybe sometimes, when shit comes down, the Knights aren't needed. Hell," he said with a quirky grin. "It might be nice if we came to their rescue once or twice. We are supposed to be the boomer crimes police, after all. Not just the maid service in fancy cars."
"You aren't," Linna said a little too earnestly. Roger looked down at her, suddenly realizing how intimate they were. Coughing as he fought down an uncomfortable flush, he released her and cleared his throat as she took a step back.
"Ah... Sorry about that." Roger gripped the back of his neck in an embarrassed gesture. Pulling his hand free, he settled it on the table beside him. "Ah..."
Linna shook her head. "No. Honestly, It's all right. Besides," she said, with a slight grin, "I think you needed to get a few things off your chest." She stepped back to the car, examining it carefully, and not apparently noticing the quiet sigh of relief Roger suppressed.
She pointed to a few marks on the car. "I'm not sure if these were on Chitty before you left, but I'd like to touch up the bodywork just to make sure. D'you think you might be free to help me finish it up? You did promise, after all."
Roger grinned, the blush threatening to return. "Ah, sure. I'd like that." He coughed again as he realized how eager that made him sound, although her grin suggested he wasn't losing any points there. "You've got a company to run, whereas we're going to be rebuilding for the next few weeks. Why don't you call me when you have the time, and I'll adjust my schedule to match? I'm probably going to have the most flexible hours for the next while, anyway."
"I'll do that." Linna smiled as she pulled out her expensive corporate phone. It beeped once as Roger transferred his ID to hers, and she tucked it away again. "So," she added with a careful nonchalance as she led him out of the garage and locked up. "If we pick up something before working on the cars, is there anything you like?"
* * *
12:00 PM, Tinsel City, Megatokyo
Yoshida's Tinsel City Factory.
Yoshida seethed with barely contained rage as the nanite image hovered in the large screen before him. Unlike most of the systems in the building, this room was isolated from his benefactors' prying eyes. Silver, the one not encumbered by their alterations, had ensured that. Now the bust of himself watched him carefully as he fought to bottle the fury that threatened to erupt again.
"I... am not going to be their puppet any longer!" Miriam winced as a fresh spike of pain made his head pound, forcing him to take a deep breath and fight the urge to do something violent. After a long moment, the pain receded again.
"You won't have to," Silver responded soothingly. "I changed the nanites in your head to the new style I came up with. That's what's causing all that pain. It's like going through the upgrade process all over again." The bust considered the doctor's pain as he sat down again, still cradling his abused cranium. "Take it easy for a day or so. The recovery phase will follow the same pattern as last time." The bust nodded to various locations in the room and beyond. "I took the liberty of spreading a handful of empty liquor bottles around. Our 'benefactors' will assume you became a furious drunk after news of the loss reached you. The pain is enough like a hangover that they shouldn't question the obvious conclusion."
Yoshida took a deep breath to steady himself, and gestured at the image on the screen. "I recognize that, of course. It's the Leontophonus virus that freed boomers. But what's it doing in my head?"
Silver shook his head. "Actually, it's not. It's close, mind you, but there's subtle differences. What you're really looking at there is technically Leontophonus-B. It's based on two source materials: The nanite tech which freed boomers worldwide, and the nanite upgrade technology Katsuhito Stingray gave to his daughter so he could map her mind.
"The difference, however, is that Leontophonus-B isn't designed to free anything. It follows the pattern of the original nanite infusion, replacing key nodes in the human brain, which can theoretically lead to enhanced mental development, greater intelligence, and so on. But with the addition of the modified Leontophonus nanotech, it also allows the programmer to institute mental blocks. They can even program behavioral modifications, all without the beneficiary being aware they have them."
The image shifted a few times, showing clusters of them in the human brain. "Get enough of them in one place, and you have an effective replacement for the Overmind Control System. Not only do you have a technology which can be used to institute boomer-based mind control on the human populace, but you can use the same Leontophonus-based virus to reinfect the boomer populace with a new kind of mind control program they can't stop. Especially since Leontophonus-B seems to have a kind of antivirus program running in it which recognizes the Alpha variant and neutralizes it on contact."
"So... What was it doing in my head?"
Silver smiled and shook his head. "You're obviously still in a lot of pain, or you'd have realized it by now. You were the test subject. The boomers you sent out on the mission... I know what you know, and I know that our benefactors wanted the mission boomers to include the Leontophonus nanovirus. I'm sure they told you they were using the Alpha variant, and that they wanted to see what you could do with unshackled boomers. But what they were really doing was testing the dependability of the Beta version under combat conditions, where boomer brains are most likely to slip the leash. If Leontophonus-B remained firmly in control of the boomers even in the middle of a losing fight, it would give them an ironclad grip on whoever they gave it to."
Yoshida shook his head slowly, as the audacity of the plan seeped in past the pain. "I hate to admit it, but it's a brilliant scheme. It sucked me in completely. I couldn't even see how I was being manipulated." He looked over at Silver as the boomer nodded encouragingly.
The criminal inventor smiled tightly. "I may be a little full of myself, but I can admit when I'm wrong. I could hardly improve on my own work if I couldn't see when I needed improvement, could I?"
Silver shook his head. "That's the thing, Miriam. Until about an hour ago, you wouldn't have said that. You'd have remained locked in your belief your plan was foolproof, regardless of the obvious flaws in the conceptualization." He nodded in the direction of the main floor. "Our so-called benefactors will be calling in the next day or so, probably to prod you into focusing on some new plan to kill the Knights and destroy the AD Police, while also getting you to work on some element of their real plan. Assuming they actually have a part for you to play, and you're not really an ongoing test subject into the dependability of Leontophonus-B."
The scientist thought the situation through, and slowly nodded. "Hai. I think you have the right of it, there. I'm just 'Patient Zero'. They infect me, then run me through a variety of emotionally straining gauntlets, to see if their mind-control technology is everything they want it to be. Eventually, no matter how well I try to pretend otherwise, they will inevitably figure out something's wrong, now that I'm free of their control. I may not even realize what gives it away."
"We need to be ready to move when that happens," Silver agreed with a nod. "I'm not in their roster of known Yoshida boomers, so I can head out and go set up a place for us. I'll keep in touch through suborned boomers of various types. And I'll have an escape plan worked out for you when you need it."
Yoshida grimly pulled up another datascreen. "I'll start investigating their real plan. The nanotech is a brilliant solution to the problem of boomers no longer under OMS control. But it suffers from the simple flaw that you can scan for it once you know what to look for. And I doubt they'd have made such a simple error in calculation as to overlook that. No," he decided with a firm shake of the head. "Leontophonus-B is meant to handle boomers. It has cross-platform application with humans, but because it also enhances mental and intellectual capacity at the same time, that wasn't its actual purpose. Which means they have to be working on a biological vector. I just have to figure out what it is."
* * *
Axil Court Ichigaya Daimachizaka, Room 406
Shinjuku-ku, 6:00 PM
Lisa let herself into her second apartment with a sigh of relief. She settled back in the overstuffed couch and flipped on the television as she racked her camera and video disks.
It had been a few weeks since she'd gotten to be a pure reporter, but the incidents at the AD Police tower pretty much required it. After all, she had a reputation as being a cutthroat freelance reporter, who was crazy enough to risk life and limb for the best shots. To not have a few solid pieces to sell after Yoshida's attack on the police tower would have raised more than a few flags.
Priss had been unusually helpful. Her daughter had been left in a building a kilometer away with a camera and a telephoto zoom lens. Jennifer had been ecstatic to be part of the Knight Sabers' operation, even if only in an extremely peripheral sense. And while the video files were put into the Knights' database for archival purposes, a copy had been given to her to help maintain the fiction of her usual daytime activities.
Most of that footage had been painstakingly edited for content to protect any revealing data Jennifer might have let slip, and added to the tantalizing stories about the renegade scientist a few AD Police officers confirmed had claimed responsibility for the assault. Her bank account now flush with new cash, she'd spent the day actually doing real reporting, interviewing AD Police officers, N-Police agents on the scene, and a variety of civilians in the apartment complex the sniper had been firing from in an attempt to build a couple of human-interest pieces a few papers she knew would be interested in.
She opened up the laptop she'd brought with her, organizing interviews and sound bites while expanding the notes she jotted down into some revealing stories about the lives affected by the incident. A long shot of the bodies under white blankets made her pause for a long moment, before adding more text beneath it.
"It's news, and it's relevant," she added to herself in a sad tone of voice. "Besides, if I don't cover it, others might not, and then who will know?"
She pulled the AD Police data she'd been given, matching police pictures to the bodies, before saving the work and setting the computer aside. "Okay," she said, swallowing hard and fighting back a sniffle, "I need a break."
She turned on the television while dabbing her eyes with a tissue. Still focusing mentally on the interviews, she almost missed the latest news, but switched back to it, her mental antennae twitching as the story on the television took a turn for the strange.
"...have reported what appears to be a man, hovering fifty feet off the ground, in the middle of Times Square in New York." The image shifted to a grainy image of a person apparently hovering effortlessly over the crowds pointing up from below. "Despite the best images of those on the scene, no evidence of wires or flight technology can be seen."
The man in the image waved at the crowd, drawing enthusiastic clapping and cheering as he flew away, weaving between buildings.
"Zachary Hemsfield, our physics advisor, will be on with us after the break, to discuss whether we really saw a flying man, or if this is some heretofore undisclosed application of the Open Source Antigravity technology."
Lisa flipped to the BBC, and saw what looked like pictures of a handful of men and women dashing away from the cameras. In the foreground, half a dozen toughs were tied up in what looked like metal rods and suspended from a light standard near the Oxford Circus Underground. Still watching with a grin on her face, she turned up the sound.
"...not certain exactly how this happened. But sources on site claim that this amateur video was taken only moments after the gunfire stopped. At that time, they claim two of the citizens were effortlessly hoisting the metal-bound assailants while a third was making the metal bond to the overhead light standard with no more than a wave of her hands.
"While the police has no official position on this, and we are still waiting for some kind of confirmation one way or another, citizen reactions to this phenomenon are generally positive. Some however, express concern."
The image shifted to a middle-aged woman wearing a faded kerchief, a look of distrust on her face. "Who are these people anyway?" She shook her head. "This isn't the comics, and no one gave them the right to run around takin' the law into their own hands. What happens when one of them stops feelin' the love? Do they start usin' those powers of theirs on us, next?"
"So you feel that they should stop, then?" The interviewer gestured in the approximate direction of where the event had taken place. "Even if it means gang violence on the streets?"
"Don' get me wrong," the woman said with a shake of her head. "Queen an' Country, that's me. But they don' carry a badge, and they don' answer to anyone if they make a mistake, do they? An' if we let them do this, how long does it go on before they make mistakes an' we change our mind? Then what happens? They can't just run around ignorin' the laws they don' like. They have to obey the laws like everyone else."
The image shifted to the newsroom. "The issue remains sharply divided at this early stage, with people either for these so-called 'heroes', and others who call for these good Samaritans to 'do the right thing.' Either identify themselves publicly so they can be held accountable for their actions, or desist with activities they have no legal right to undertake.
"But until an official position is advanced from the House of Lords, the situation remains in flux. Citizens with abilities which defy explanation, using those abilities to protect those who cannot. It remains to be seen how long this continues, and if we will see a rise of individuals flaunting their new abilities in defiance of social convention, for personal gain."
Lisa muted the audio and leaned back, thinking that one over. :It's not that simple,: she thought to herself. :Sometimes you just have to. Sometimes, standing back and waiting for the authorities to realize there's a problem means people die.:
On the other hand, she could see that woman's point of view. "It's not just dealing with the obvious threats," she mused as she watched images chase around on the television. "When they point a gun, it's really easy to know what you have to do. But when it's not immediately obvious... Like politicians pocketing bribe money, or cops being paid to look the other way..."
She stood and walked to the kitchen, making herself a sandwich as she thought it over. "I need to talk to Makoto," she finally decided. "She's got to have faced this one a few times before."
* * *
7:00 PM, Hiroe's Apartment, Megatokyo.
Makoto sat back, staring out at the skyline through the huge bay windows Hiroe's apartment had in the living area. She held the crystal recorder she was dictating her latest report in, after changing out of her dirty work clothes.
"First day on the job, Usagi. Ugh. I had to wash four times to get the dirt out of everything. Some of the others recommended a different work outfit, though. Something that's better at keeping the crud out of my hair. Guess who manufactures it?"
She grinned and shook her head. "I'm still trying to to sort the whole experience out. But I'd swear Queen Madigan was positively terrified during our interview. Like I'd caught her with her hands in the cookie jar, or something." Her lips quirked. "Of course, meeting her dressed up in something Queen Serenity would wear might have contributed to that."
She thought back to the moments after the attack. Boomers were retreating, a handful of more modern boomers had arrived, and were escorting the two girls up to the top of the hovering antigravity crane array before relocating them to a building on the far side of the reconstruction zone...
Lisa landed in an effortless leap near where two of the support boomers had come to rest. They watched as the other boomers escorted the flying girl to the ground nearby. Makoto dropped to the ground, letting her electromagnetic-based flight ability fade out.
She looked around at the buildings, taking in the new-construction appearance. "This was built in the last dozen years or so, yes?"
"Correct ma'am," the lead assault boomer agreed. "Part of the reconstruction efforts in the Tinsel City area. Not all of the region was abandoned after the quake." The boomer gestured at the sheer cliff visible in the near distance. "The side effect of the quake however created a situation where the entire Tinsel city area was effectively cut off from Tokyo's infrastructure. Water, sewage, power. All of it severed, and impossible to reestablish quickly. Transportation past the fault line impossible without massive investment of time and effort, just to get people into the rest of Tokyo. In the end, it was simpler just to abandon the region and relocate elsewhere."
Lisa nodded as she followed the boomers into what looked like a modest post-redevelopment boomer maintenance facility. "Power was the first thing they brought back, but the new cliff and the mess involved in capping the broken sewage and water lines, then building some kind of temporary lines to support the rest of the district..." She shook her head as they stepped into the building. "Even with boomers to augment the workforce after the quake, the work was impossible. It amounted to wiping the slate clean and starting fresh." She shrugged and gestured in the direction of the cliff. "Most people just expanded Tokyo in other directions, and out into the harbor. The emergency amalgamation of the districts, and the construction of a new nuclear plant in the harbor to support it all led to its becoming known as 'Megatokyo'. Eventually, it just stuck."
The sailor senshi just shook her head as she followed them in. The building inside didn't look any different from any other largely automated factory she'd ever seen, but the boomers didn't stay in the front area. They continued to lead their charges into the back, where a wall fronted by storage racks slid aside to reveal what was behind it.
Lisa stepped in, jaw hanging open as she took in the 'safehouse'. That name really didn't do it justice, she felt. Although the room inside was really just a converted storage area, the sheer amount of support technology crammed in made it look like something the Knight Sabers would have stashed in a van somewhere.
Overhead displays showed the Megatokyo cityscape, with several monitors showing shifting images from city cameras. A large computer bank beneath it supported a larger main screen, which was currently idle, a stylized blue domino mask symbol slowly rotating in the middle. A table showing a confusing collection of displays was currently also being used as an impromptu medical station, with a large kit being unpacked by the medical boomer in the assault group. A handful of chairs and a sofa were arranged around a table on the far side of the room, where another television screen occupied a corner, while a small kitchenette occupied the other corner.
"What... is this?"
An image of Kate appeared in a holographic cylinder, standing in the middle of the rear wall. "Gomen, Lisa," she said with a faint grin. "I think I sort of got carried away."
"Carried away?" Lisa looked around the room as the medical boomer stepped over and motioned Makoto to a nearby chair. The Senshi, no stranger to post-battle medical checkups, complied, stifling laughter as the pseudo-Senshi took the room in. "You said I should build places I could abandon in a hurry. My place has some furniture, a TV and a couple pieces of monitoring gear. This..."
Kate chuckled and nodded. "Hai. And it's a very solid choice. But you should still have a few places like this which have more. Plus, it means you can have squads like the ones who rescued you available to support you if you need them. I'm minded, in fact, of placing them in a defensive role attached to that facility after this. Those boomers tonight demonstrated the value of having support, I'd say."
Kate shook her head. "It's not as much as you think. Examine the pieces individually. About twelve computer screens, a large computer center, the display table, and the furniture plus the kitchenette. There's medical gear on the far side of the room, but that's also easy to get. It's actually not hard to duplicate. It's just..." She shrugged. "Intense, is the word Jenny gave it."
"Yeah..." Lisa nodded slowly. "'Intense' is the word. But even if I could, in theory, replace all this stuff... What would I do with it all?"
Kate's hologram smiled. "You'd be surprised. Intelligence is the greatest asset you can have, especially if you're going to keep doing this in the future. But all the intelligence in the world is useless if you have no way of harnessing it once you've got it. Take earlier this evening. You knew who they were, but without a support structure, you had no way of making that knowledge work for you. That's why I thought you'd be ready to see this. Because tonight actually demonstrated why you need this stuff."
Makoto nodded from her seat as the boomer gently pulled her arm to the side, examining her fist. Although the armored glove shielded her from most of the impact, punching a combat robot, even with an electric carrier attack, had left her hand bruised. The boomer began to expertly apply some kind of regenerant spray to the site as she picked up the conversation.
"Back home, Ami has the advantage of Silver Millennium technology, so we had the equivalent of a powerful supercomputer and some advanced scanning and communications technology." She smiled. "We also over time gained a... kind of sense of when a Senshi transformed. Eventually it became so acute that we could even tell roughly how far away and in what direction they were."
Lisa blinked and bit her lip. "So... When I was transforming last week...?"
Makoto nodded, drawing another embarrassed shuffling from the other girl. "Don't worry, what I saw was only positive. You did well. I'd say your opening night was a lot smoother than Usagi's was, even with the extra help she had."
Lisa frowned. "You mean Venus?"
"Ah..." Makoto held up a finger. "I've seen those anime, and while it was a bit of a trip," she paused and glanced over at the older woman, whose hologram continued to watch the conversation with undisguised curiosity, "The details are somewhat different. A lot of it was close. But some of it is way off." She smiled. "I really can't say what, though. Not yet. That's up to Usagi."
Lisa blinked. "You, Ami, Usagi... The names... Even the personalities?"
The senshi rolled her eyes and sighed theatrically. "Unfortunately, yes. You have no idea how scary it is watching Usagi eat her body weight in cream puffs. I don't know where she puts it, and I envy her terribly for not gaining weight doing it." She shook her head in mock disgust as Lisa giggled in the background. "Maybe it's the transformations, or something. Maybe she cheats with the Silver Crystal. If I ever figure it out, I might actually dare eating dessert for once."
The boomer medic nodded as she stepped back. "You're in good shape, ma'am," she commented as Makoto stepped out of the chair. "Your turn now, Miss."
Lisa settled into the chair uncertainly, and watched as the boomer began to scan her carefully. "I'm in pretty good shape," she commented. "My abilities... They're some kind of TK. So I can do forcefields."
"Perhaps," the boomer replied, tapping the char marks and gouges in her bodysuit. "But these penetrated the shield, so it's still a good idea to make certain. Don't worry, this won't take long."
"It's also a good idea on general principles," Makoto agreed, as she stepped over to the kitchenette. Opening the fridge, she found and poured two glasses of fruit juice before returning to Lisa and setting hers down on the table nearby. "Shortly after we started training, it became standard procedure to do a full medical evaluation after each combat. It also gave Ami practice toward her future goals, which was useful. But you don't know how many times we avoided obvious disasters with a little cautious medical examination after our fights."
Lisa frowned as she started putting comments together. "So... Who trained you, then? Someone who knew what they were doing, I'd say."
Makoto's lips twitched. "Definitely. He was a traveler. Like me, in a way. Except he couldn't control where he was going."
Lisa's sharp indrawn breath coupled with the hologram of Queen Madigan visibly wobbling and reaching for a desk off-camera caused Makoto to blink in slow realization. "You... know him? Was that how you found out about us?"
The reporter blinked several times as she tried to process it. "Doug-san? He was your teacher?"
Makoto smiled, her eyes warm with something she wasn't saying as she nodded. "Hai. Doug...san. Yes. Doug-san. He was our teacher."
"He never mentioned anything," Lisa said slowly, shaking her head. "Even when the powers he gave me became this," she said, waving at her costume. "After, he hadn't a clue what I'd become. And I'm a reporter by trade. I could tell I'd just hit him with the proverbial two-by-four. How long was he there? He's only been away for half a year, here."
Makoto shook her head, trying to make sense of the information. "I'm... not sure how this all lines up. Because it was more than half a year. Maybe his trips cross times as well as space?" She shrugged. "I'm not the physics expert. You'd have to ask Ami how this all makes sense. She could tell you, I'm certain. Or maybe Hiroe. They're thick as thieves, these days."
Kate, who'd been mostly silent during the exchange, looked intently at the Senshi. "Hiroe? The researcher from IDEC? She supposedly built a gateway to somewhere else, and left earlier this year. There was some speculation, but Director Ohara was somewhat vague about where she went."
The Senshi nodded. "I think your society lost a very talented astrophysicist when she immigrated to Crystal Earth. But she told Usagi all about you, some of which she told me." She shook her head, a mischievous light in her eyes. "Usagi clearly didn't tell me everything. When I get back, I'm so going to have to thank her for leaving out the most critical data. I'll think of *something*, just wait."
The holographic woman frowned. "Crystal Earth?"
"Different, like I said. Not everything is what you've seen in the anime. Still, it's amazingly close in a lot of ways. Personally, I'm more surprised how many parallels there are to my own reality and this one, even without the anime as a reference."
Kate bit her lip, and looked somewhat off-balance at that point, but Makoto looked over at Lisa as she continued. "Despite it all, a Senshi is born on an Earth that never knew the Silver Millennium. You have girls in powered armor who fight to protect this city from the worst abuses of your corporation." She looked over at the holographic woman at that point. "And you aspire to be more than the stereotype would paint you, unless I'm totally misreading the symbolism of you wearing one of Queen Serenity's ballroom outfits."
Lisa grinned as Kate coughed. "It was Lisa's idea. Although I have to admit," she said, smoothing the material, "I like the way it looks."
"Well, keep at it," Makoto said with a firm nod. "I knew the original, once upon a time. And I know she would approve of someone who aspired to a greater ideal than herself."
The holographic woman seemed at a loss for words as Lisa sipped her fruit juice, still grinning in the background.
"So, that's it on this end," Makoto finished, the crystal glowing faintly with the stored information. "Oh, just one more detail. You didn't tell me anything about Doug-san? Just wait, Usagi. I'm going to get you for that one." She grinned as an idea occurred to her. "And I think I know exactly how I'm going to do it, too. Revenge," she finished with a mock-evil grin, "will be sweet."
She placed the crystal in the base unit, transferring the contents to the main device. Rising, she padded over to her computer console, and opened her email.
"Hmm. Lisa wants to get together tomorrow night." She glanced at the schedule, although she already knew what it said. "A dual patrol sounds like a good idea. Wonder what prompted this?" She tapped a quick reply and sent it on its way as she shut the system down for the night.
* * *
9:00 PM, AD Police Tower, Megatokyo.
Chief Tohdo sat on a partially shot-up crate in the motor pool as Daley stood in the main roadway. A couple dozen officers also sat on cars, construction materials, or whatever else happened to be handy. Roger sat on a packing crate, idly scuffing a long skid mark made by extra-wide transport truck wheels in the pavement. He looked up at the main vehicle entrance, partially taped up and marked off-limits, and remembered the Knight Sabers' blitz on the boomer chokepoint a mere 48 hours previous.
"So," the Chief began. "I take it you have a reason why I'm here and not at home enjoying my long-suffering wife's home cooking?"
"Hai, Tohdo-san," Daley began. He cleared his throat and looked around. "I don't need to ask you what you all see in this place. We were saved again, when we lacked the means to stop Yoshida's boomers ourselves. Totally aside from the legality of the Knight Sabers, the fact is they risked their lives to save us without so much as a thank-you in return. And they did it totally pro-bono."
A handful of officers nodded as the chief inspector began to warm up. He loosened his jacket and slipped it off, opening the top two buttons of his pink silk shirt and tossing the jacket over a convenient safety rail nearby.
"The reason they were necessary is because traditionally, we have been prevented from having the kind of technology it would take to effectively carry out our mandate." He gestured to the armor vans. "Those things are cheap trash. They're produced by some third-rate contractor who lost the bid to sell to the military. So they stripped off the armor, pulled out the heavy hydraulics, and replaced the sensors and reflex motors with the cheapest import crap they could find that would fit the bill. And then they charged us half the value of a military suit for them."
More of the officers nodded. Several clapped their hands, calling out, "Tell it, brother!"
Tohdo pursed his lips and sighed. "So what would you have us do, Daley? The budget is too tight to purchase anything else, and that's assuming we'd get the permission to do so. And you already know the answer to that one."
"Do we?" Daley gestured off to one side. "In the past, whether or not it could be officially admitted, it was no secret that GENOM was ultimately behind the decisions which kept us publicly unable to handle our commitments. But with pressure from the Tower easing off, might it not be easier to improve our ability to protect the city, and ourselves?"
"In theory, yes." Tohdo shrugged. "I never said this, but it's been a damned sight easier this last half year to get some real work done. And unlike the last attack on this tower, when certain agencies were trying to get us to prosecute the Knight Sabers, there hasn't been so much as a hand gesture this time to suggest they even care, much less intend to do anything about the mercenaries.
"But our budget is approved by forces other than GENOM Tower. Even if it were possible, we could never afford it."
Daley shook his head. "We can, if we can get you and the other Chiefs in the region to back a proposal to the Prime Minister." Daley pointed to the armor vans. "In essence, it allows us to take any seized assets in the process of carrying out our duties and buy them into the AD Police organization, using much the same process navies used to use with regards to seized vessels."
The crowd murmured, and several heads were nodding as the idea made its way through the room. Roger held up a hand, and stood when Daley gestured to him.
"I may be new here..." He paused when several people heckled him and told him to get on with it. "Okay, okay." He smiled good-naturedly and took a breath. "I don't know about AD Police mandates, but it was pretty common in the N-Police to use seized material to assist in investigations if we could prove we had a reasonable purpose in doing so. The police even have discretion as to what gets sold in public auction, allowing us to keep dangerous equipment off the streets and use it in a variety of sting operations."
Daley nodded as Roger sat down again. "That's where we're going with this, yes. It's permitted for us to use captured battlearmor, say, if in doing so we could expose a ring of terrorists using the battlearmor in their operations. All we're asking for is for the AD Police organization to request that our ability to retain seized assets be expanded a little, so we can indefinitely reuse captured military hardware." He looked over at Tohdo, who was clearly deep in thought. "The budget wouldn't be affected because none of this gear would be on the books until after being pulled into the AD Police."
The chief looked around at the officers. Men and women, every one of them having a very personal reason to want this to succeed. Tohdo nodded slowly. "It sounds effective in principle. But the hardware we capture is turned over to a special impound yard offsite. After that, I don't know where it goes."
"I do." Leon took off his shades and slid them into a vest pocket as he stepped forward. "I've been discussing this idea with my own chief these last few days. He's optimistic this will work." He looked around at the people in the garage. "The equipment you condemn and send off to be destroyed is kept in an armored warehouse in a military-managed storage facility. Because each item has to be inventoried and accounted for, they don't like to schedule destruction of the property until they have a full warehouse. It's expensive, and ties the facility staff up for several weeks. So as a rule, they only do it once per year. If the Prime Minister will present the rule amendment to the Diet for consideration, we can seize the hardware in that warehouse and get an immediate start on the mobilization of the new AD Police."
Tohdo gave Leon a long-suffering look. "I was wondering when you would throw your contribution into the pool. What about that Sangnoir person? Didn't he convince you to use the restraint guns? I find it odd you're promoting a more military solution."
Leon smiled and nodded. "Yep. And I've got a few ideas for how to maximize our opportunity to do so. See, the situation we have here isn't the one the Colonel had half a year ago. Back then, renegade boomers came in small handfuls. Either totally unpredictable, or the result of certain narcissistic GENOM executives carrying out their own agendas." He grinned as Daley snorted behind him.
"But that fake boomeroid mercenary unit we dug up last week shows us the new face of boomer crimes. Intelligent, adaptive and well-armed. Often using cutting-edge military technology, and willing to adopt creative and nonlinear strategies to destroy their enemies. Us."
He pointed to the battle damage evident on the back walls around the door to the boomer morgue. "Two days ago, the Knight Sabers took out Yoshida's boomer force, not because their armor was more versatile than conventional military suits, but because they had the tools, the talent, and the will to strike hard with maximum firepower. They destroyed the chokepoint here, at the entrance from the motor pool to the morgue, and turned the corridor leading down into a strategic weak point in Yoshida's deployment. Then they just rolled them up while arming the suppression device.
"That's the model we need to build toward. The ability to hit hard and fast with enough advanced armor that we can get in close to the enemy, so we can use the suppression guns without risking our own peoples' lives doing so. The boomer guns will still work, if we can deliver them close enough to the enemy. And reusing the seized armor and weapons will make that possible."
Tohdo looked around as the officers in the pool were nodding in agreement. He sized up Daley, Leon and Roger, all waiting intently to hear what his decision would be. They should have known by now. After all, he was the one who had to write the letters to the families of those who fell.
"All right," He said, nodding firmly. "Provide me with the documentation to back all this up, and I'll see what the Megatokyo AD Police can do to add to this proposal. No guarantees," he said holding up a cautionary finger. "But I'll see what we can do."
* * *
Tuesday, November 3, 2037, 10:30 AM
Visitor Research Construction Site, Tinsel City, Megatokyo.
Tony walked the site again, an expression of profound disgust on his face as Ilya watched from a distance. The Russian scientist was chuckling at Tony's predicament while taking large drinks from something or other. "Probably Vodka," the scientist muttered tiredly. "He likes playing to the stereotypes, he does."
"Tony!" The larger physicist waved his arms grandly, taking in the whole site. "Amazing, it is, yes? Here, the Visitor was! Not two nights ago!"
"Yeah. I just hope we didn't lose any useful evidence getting the construction teams started on the far side yesterday."
"Bah. You worry too much, Tony. Here!" He passed the flask over to the younger man, who leaned away suddenly at the powerful liquor odor rising up from it. "Drink! It will do you good!"
"It'll get me fired, you mean." Tony shook his head and stared up at the hovering crane overhead.
Undeterred, Ilya took another drink and laughed, clapping Tony on the back. "Come now. Life isn't so bad! Stop encouraging the bad things to find you, eh?"
"Ilya..." Tony looked back at the Russian, a concerned look on his face. "Two nights ago, we had a whole paramilitary force here, where our Visitor kicked the stuffing out of them before leaving, and all we have to show for it are a couple of remote ratbots whoever cleaned this place missed. And not so much as a word from the Tower! Please tell me you're taking this seriously."
"Da." The other scientist lowered the flask and placed a hand on Tony's shoulder. "Very concerned I am, even if show it I do not. Madigan very interested in Pinhole project, has been. Even approved purchase of this land for further research into Pinholes. Yet the day after site is hit by undisclosed boomers and stopped by Visitor, no evidence remains, and Tower appears unaware of events. Odd coincidences they are." Ilya grinned mirthlessly. "Assuming believe, you do, in coincidences that absurd."
"Not a chance." Tony shook his head. "But that means that Madigan knows, cleaned up the site, and buried the evidence. But isn't stopping us from going on with our own work, and isn't stopping us from digging out the facts." He looked with guarded caution at the giant tower in the distance. "It's fact-finding missions like this which get people disappeared around GENOM."
"Then be extra careful, we must be." Ilya nodded toward the vehicles. "Security cameras we must download and clear. Anything which might show further data we can use, if they still exist." He held up the flask again. "Danger is great. Vodka eases many worries."
Tony considered it for a moment, and took a drink.
* * *
Makoto manhandled the giant powered suit with ease. It was different from the kinds of things she'd done in the past, but the advantage to being as long-lived as she was, you got to use all sorts of tools people invented to make their lives easier. And the excavation suit she was using wasn't that dissimilar to some of the heavy tools used in her world.
The chief flaw in the device's design was its open cockpit build. To save on weight, the armor had a protective roll cage in the main body, but was otherwise open to the environment. And the dirt got into everything.
She paused the unit and glanced over at the two scientists commiserating in the distance. At this range, she couldn't tell what they were doing, but considering the younger of the two had just finished examining the site a second time in the same day, it was likely they'd figured out at least partly what had happened. She grinned as she gunned the engine, swinging the large humanoid machine around. "Too bad they're way over there," she said to herself, confident the noise would drown out her comments. "The younger one's kinda cute."
* * *
1:00 PM, AD Police Tower.
Nene flipped open her cell phone and stuck it between chin and shoulder as she studied the code on her screen. Downloaded from the boomer warfare expert's datapad, she was still neck-deep in making sense of some of the code. A lot of it was black market or stolen military software, and some of it was very interesting. "Hai?"
The cyberhacker bit her lip and fought a grin as Mackie's voice came over the phone. "Hai, Mackie." She leaned a little more into the phone as she remembered the post-battle return to the Sabers' armor bay after stopping Yoshida.
"Ah, can you stop by the house in a few hours? Say, around six? Sylia wants to show you some of the new deliveries."
Which was a code, Nene knew, meaning that the Knight Sabers had a job, and Sylia wanted to go over the particulars with them. "Hai. I'll be there." She grinned mischievously. "Maybe I'll even get you to tell me how I look in them."
She could almost hear him blinking in confusion as his mind switched between two sets of images. The first was probably Nene in armor, and the second... She gave the phone a naughty grin as she closed it and slipped it to the desk.
* * *
6:00 PM, Ladys633 Tower, Megatokyo.
Nene stepped in, swapping her shoes and taking a mental inventory of who was already there. Priss and Leon, naturally, being guests. Anri and Sylvie, but not Reika, Kou or Anri. And that of course meant not Linna. She hefted the piece of tech she'd spent a few moments cobbling together, and carefully checked the piece she'd hooked up incorrectly, fighting a traitorous grin and a wholly understandable blush as she shifted in her outfit.
Stepping into the main room, she took in the sight. Lisa was there, gossiping with Jennifer, who had apparently graduated from babysitter to nurse, and was now eagerly fetching things for Mackie, who still clearly didn't know what to do with his young admirer. Sylia simply sat in the corner, going over some of the printed data from the magic archive and shaking her head.
"Honestly, Lisa, I don't know how you managed telepathy without instruction. The notes here are pretty clear about how hard it is to learn intelligible thoughtspeak without someone to practice with."
Lisa shrugged, a half-grin on her face. "I really don't know myself. It just sort of felt normal to do it that way. Then again," she said, pausing thoughtfully. "I've had the oddest feeling lately that I was occasionally listening in on someone else's conversations. Maybe there's another telepath in my part of town."
"If so," Sylia said, closing the book, "Then it's even more important that you practice the exercises on control and shielding. It would be dangerous to allow knowledge of our activities to be received by an unknown telepath." She shrugged helplessly, a small smile on her face. "My own concerns regarding telepathy notwithstanding, it appears circumstances are forcing my hand. You need to learn shielding sooner rather than later, which would have been my preference."
Nene craned over Lisa's shoulder and examined the document she was reading. "Telepathic communication for dummies." She grinned. "Sounds like my kind of book."
The reporter laughed. "I'll lend it to you when I'm done. Who knows? You might get something out of it." She gave Mackie a knowing grin as the young man blushed and glanced at Nene a few times before going back to his notes.
Still chuckling, Nene stepped over to Mackie, pretending not to notice the blush he was still fighting to control. "Mackie, I've got a problem with the antigravity data I went over yesterday." She dropped the component on the table, grinning at the grateful look he gave it as she distracted him with his favorite pastime, tech. "I followed the instructions, but when I switched the hover portion on, it just sort of jumped on the table and stopped moving."
Mackie expertly dismantled it, and paused when he couldn't unscrew two components. Fishing out a pair of tools, he set the components and quickly yanked. Pulling up the smaller of the two components, he nodded as the front door opened, letting Linna, Kou and Reika into the building.
"Yeah, it looks like one of the circuit feeds was misaligned. When that happened, turning it on caused the whole unit to generate a bad field effect. It basically wrenched the bad component even tighter, and broke the circuit." He hefted the part, examining the threads of the screw carefully. "It's not bad. I can probably fix it in about an hour, if you don't mind waiting after the meet, tonight?"
Nene shook her head, smiling. "Not at all." She stepped across to her seat and sat gingerly, dusting her pants as she did, drawing a raised eyebrow from Priss as she walked to her customary position.
"It's the construction," the cyberhacker said with a shrug. "If you wear skirts, the dirt gets into everything. Pants are the order of the day for the next few months. It's just a good thing it's getting cooler. This would have been ugly in midsummer."
The rock star grinned and nodded. "Don't I know it. I hated midsummer when the A/C wasn't working. Get a busy night in the club, couple hundred people, no air conditioning and my usual outfit. That wig is hot."
"Speaking of which," Leon commented as he walked across the room to sit down near Priss, "I got a call from Roy. Apparently the others want to schedule a couple revival nights in the strip sometime soon, since we're spending so much time here right now."
"Hmmm-mmm," Priss murmured thoughtfully as she let Leon reach an arm around her and pull her in. "Sounds like Roy's missing his boyfriend." She gave Leon a grin and fished out his phone. Tapping in a quick message, she sent it off and nodded. "There. Daley-chan will so owe me one after this."
Linna chuckled as the newest arrivals settled themselves around the room. She stretched comfortably, the subdued charcoal business suit and matching slippers at odds with her animated attitude as she chatted with Sylvie.
Finally, the lights dimmed and the main screen lit up. Taking their cue, everyone quickly settled themselves and looked over at Sylia. The leader of the organization looked over at the nonstandard members and nodded to them.
"I'd like to thank you for being available again, Inspector. You as well, Sylvie, and Anri. The situation is such that due to the current level of covert activity being undertaken by the successors to the Hou Bang, I can't be certain of everyone's safety as we continue. I wanted you all to be present, so you had the opportunity to formally withdraw if you felt it was becoming too dangerous."
She paused as she waited for a long moment. When no one spoke, she smiled and nodded. "Thank you, all. I'm sure this means as much to Reika as it does to me, if not more."
The other rock star looked around at everyone, allowing herself a moment of shy gratitude as Kou held her close. "Hai. Arigato."
Priss looked over at Sylia. "So. I take it you know who's calling the shots in the Hou Bang, these days?"
The other woman nodded, and clicked her remote. "The Liu Sun."
Reika blinked and sat up straighter, inhaling sharply. "'To Kill Descendants'?" She looked over at Sylia. "This sounds like it's aimed at my family specifically, and not just an internal power play."
"I have reason to believe it is." Sylia clicked again, showing what looked like a funeral. A large knot of people stood to one side as a fairly expensive casket was slowly lowered into the ground. A group of young men, clearly students, milled uncertainly on the side. "Herman Liu, aged 22. He was a skilled young architecture student with a powerful father. His first job with a prominent firm had already been arranged prior to graduation." She glanced over at Priss. "He died in the boomer attack on your nightclub, the first night you met Colonel Sangnoir."
Priss shook her head slowly at the event sequence and the images on screen as Sylia clicked the remote again. "Finding out who was bankrolling them was the hard part. Based partially on data provided by Lisa's source," she paused as the others looked over at the reporter in surprise, "I was able to narrow down the Liu Sun's supporters to a handful of powerful executives with positions in the Chinese government. These executives, it should come as no surprise, represent firms which are also interested in developing environmental cleanup products. Their ties to the government however, lends a dangerous edge to the operation."
"In other words," Linna added, "We probably can't do anything about them directly."
"Correct." Sylia nodded. "Direct consequences could draw the ire of the Chinese government, and that isn't a path I wish to place the Knight Sabers on. On top of that, direct action against those individuals isn't necessarily the best plan of action, anyway. For the moment, I'm working on a plan which will see them effectively neutralized, if not removed as a threat in the future. But none of that requires Knight Sabers' activity."
She clicked the remote again, pulling up a picture of a business in Megatokyo. "What does require our attention is the local corporation providing a variety of services both legal and clandestine to the Liu Sun in this city. Their database contains a wealth of information about the new triad's operations and contact information. With that, we can begin to unravel the new organization, as well as answer a few very important questions, such as how they managed to arrange such high- profile funding and political support so quickly. Not to mention access to high-end military prototypes like the railsniper."
She pulled up financial data on the corporation, as well as projected sales figures, a breakdown of their building's floorplan and anticipated security. "Metro Aquatic Shipping is in principle a medium sized business involved in the shipment of large quantities of consumer goods across the ocean with North America, Australia, and Africa. They boast a fleet of ocean transports capable of hauling an estimated forty trillion yen in assets if all ships were put to sea at the same time.
"What isn't mentioned is that they have extremely lucrative contracts from certain industrial reclamation firms with ties to the Chinese government. Contracts which have effectively grown the small company to the status of a major shipping concern in just under half a year. Given the timing, I suspect their sudden growth and connections to these individuals in the government also ties them into the Liu Sun as well."
She clicked the remote, showing video of what looked like a small group of people shaking hands and exchanging documents in the shadow of a large transport ship. "Video provided by Lisa's contact supports that conclusion, showing what I believe to be one of the initial alliance agreements forged during their consolidation period." She zoomed in on an image of a young Japanese woman who stood to the side. She was clearly in a position of authority, from the way the other businessmen deferred to her, but she was also clearly not acting so as to draw attention to herself. "I'm not sure who exactly this is, yet, but it's still early. I hope to find that answer in Metro Aquatic's data core."
Another click pulled up an image of a huge data storage facility under the main building, and a rotating image of what looked like a foot-long crystal shard. "The memory solid used by Metro Aquatic is also another tip-off that something underhanded is going on. This is a Type 23 memory core, produced in Genaros-3 in zero gravity under ultra-clean conditions before being transshipped to the surface four months ago. That one piece of crystal alone is worth the purchase price of their entire corporation, and is completely out of place in such a small firm. But as a secure data storage device for a new Triad's forward base of operations, it makes good sense. The layers of security software installed on that core would be all but impossible to crack, and the sheer value of the device is such that it could not be resold clandestinely without the Liu Sun finding out about it."
Leon took a slow breath after soaking in the briefing. "Do you think the trail ends at these Chinese businessmen you mentioned?" He made a so-so gesture with his hands. "It just seems too pat. That kind of trail rather clearly paints the guilty parties, and I get suspicious when that happens."
Sylia smiled as she clicked again, causing the room's lights to come back on and the display to shut off. "Indeed, Inspector, I also believe that to be the case. These businessmen are simply the obvious targets, should an investigation be undertaken. The trick will be determining who bought them, and put this whole operation together. Once I start unraveling that," she said with a satisfied smile, "I'll be in a much better position to understand why they targeted the Hou Bang."
"It may be just opportunity," Kou pointed out softly as Reika looked up at him. "You were away, your grandfather was engaging in activities other members of the Triad didn't like, and these people saw a chance to benefit. They eliminate the old leadership, and give the Liu Sun a chance to rise, in return for advancing their own agendas."
Reika shook her head slowly. "I'd buy that... up until you analyze their name. 'Liu Sun' sounds like the Liu family has a vendetta against us. But... That boomer attack wasn't anything we had any part in. It was GENOM's traditional behavior back during Quincy's rule, and not something we had influence over. So why did the Liu family blame grandfather?"
"We don't have enough information to determine that, yet." Sylia held up a hand as the others began to talk. "For now, let's leave speculating until after we obtain the data core. Tomorrow, I'll have a very fast job for all of us, if you're up to it. Simply put, we strike fast, get the data core, and get out. Minimal collateral. This is a pure recon and extraction mission."
"Won't the Liu Sun decide that Reika hired the Knight Sabers to hit Metro Aquatic?" Nene looked thoughtful as she considered that angle. "They'll almost certainly step up actions against Reika and Kou if they think she's hiring us to deal with their activities."
"Also part of my plan," Sylia said with a tight smile. "Don't worry, I've taken that into account. Linna's security staff is being supported by an additional bit of magical protection I've spoken to Lisa about, and I've pushed forward development of the full armored clothing line based on Lisa's outfit. While I can't plan for everything, I believe I've covered the bases sufficiently so that when they try something, we'll be ready to handle it."
"What about the bomb at Loon?" Sylvie looked over at Leon as the Inspector nodded and pulled out a PDA. "If they're tied to the rest of this, the Liu Sun will undoubtedly try again."
"Well, I didn't have a connection to Triads, but I'll start looking for one now that I know I might need to." Leon keyed up a page. "What we have at the moment suggests that a professional American mercenary was hired to handle the demolition work. He has a habit of signing his work with a specific molecular trace of plastic explosive. He also has a history of being very persistent, so we expect him to try again." he keyed off the PDA and tucked it away as the others watched intently. "We've actually got several fresh leads at this point, and we're setting a trap for him. It would help immensely," he added, looking over at Linna, "if we could have Loon's assistance with the trap operation."
The young president nodded. "For this, I'll consider it. Give us a plan for the operation, and I'll let you know what we can do."
"I'd also like a copy of the molecular signature," Sylia commented as Leon nodded. "I might be able to provide you with additional information from other sources."
Sylia nodded as she stood, signaling an end to the official briefing. The others began to rise as she stepped over to a side panel and began to pour refreshments for Linna and the late arrivals. "On that note, I thank you for your patience tonight. Tomorrow, as I said, we will extract the data core from Metro Aquatic. For now," she said, looking over at Linna, "I have a wonderful blend I've been experimenting with this last week. Would you like to try some?"
Nene let the conversation settle into background chatter as Mackie gathered the components of her project into a small box and stood. "Want to go over the antigravity work, now?" He grinned as she blushed slightly and nodded. "It'll be another hour before dinner is ready, anyway."
"Hai." She followed Mackie into the elevator, and tried not to fidget as the car lowered down into the hidden levels under the building. Mackie clearly was trying to figure out how to both hold Nene's project and reach out to her at the same time. Before he could figure it out, the car chimed, and let them into the Sabers' main lobby area.
Sighing, Mackie made his way over to a workbench on the side of the room and began laying out components. "It won't be long," he promised as she stepped into the armor room. "I'll just get set up, here."
"'Kay," Nene replied airily as the door closed behind her. Mackie grinned and began to examine the part with the stripped thread.
Several minutes later, the internal comm system chimed. "Ah, Mackie?" Nene sounded kind of embarrassed on the speaker system. "Could you help me out here? I have a bit of a problem."
"Hai." Setting down the chalked string he'd been using to line up the new threading pattern, he stepped into the armor bay. "What's wron-"
He stopped, tongue frozen to the top of his mouth. He wasn't sure he was breathing anymore either as he took in the sight in front of him. Although that wasn't true, because he was also positive he could smell her perfume.
Nene had shucked her day-wear police uniform, and stood in not a great deal at all. A pair of sheer red nylons covered her legs to mid-thigh, where they clipped to a garter belt in the same red color. She wore long silk gloves, equally sheer, in the same red. A red teddy rounded off the look with what looked like a red veil with pink highlights. Red stiletto heels and a pair of long red hair ornaments inserted on either side of her head completed the look.
Nene gave Mackie a deeply smouldering look and bit her lip, fighting a grin. "I'm having trouble getting the armor off," she said with a faintly breathy tone. "Would you help me?"
Mackie blinked and swallowed hard several times, before stepping over to the apparition in front of him. "Well, I think I have a just the thing for this," he said with a hint of his new confidence as he slid his hands around her soft body. "Let's have a look at it, shall we?"
As for the pain he was half expecting from his much-abused hip, it never got in the way.
* * *
10:45 PM, New York.
It was late, and the store alarm was shrieking.
The man across the street sat in the dark alleyway, watching events play out. He'd seen this a few times before. People with these new "powers" he'd been hearing about would get cocky, get into fights, break into stores, and sometimes steal stuff.
It wasn't all one-sided. Sometimes they ran into others who fought back. To the guy in the alley, it was all too familiar. Something he'd been trained in, back in the day. An old pattern repeating itself because no one was bright enough to see it for what it was.
"Well, I'm done with all that shit," he muttered, deliberately turning away from the kids stealing from the electronics store.
The man in the dark looked around, to see if they were calling out to him. Instead, he saw a curious thing. Three kids were facing off against the larger gang of looters. They wore improvised costumes, much to the gang's merriment.
"Look what we got here, people! 'Heroes'!" The gang leader swaggered over to the trio. "And whatcha gonna do about it, eh?" He whipped out a knife and flicked it around threateningly.
"Well," the first kid said, making the man in the alleyway perk up. That voice sounded too high-pitched to be a boy's. The girl made a flicking gesture, causing the tough's knife to fly out of his hands and skitter off down the nearby alleyway. "I thought I'd start with that. And maybe follow it up with this!"
Her punch showed elements of martial arts training. The impact strength was all out of proportion for what the man in the alleyway was seeing, when the tough flew back to crash into the display window and drop to the ground with an exclamation of pain.
"That's... IT!" The tough stood up, coughing, as his gang rallied around him. "Put them down!"
The gang pulled knives, sticks, and a couple baseball bats. The girl didn't wait, but attacked first. She was a whirling dervish, striking, fading back, and smashing feet and fists into people. And every time she did, they flew back like a much larger person had struck them.
The other two weren't holding back, either. The smallest of the trio made a waving gesture out to either side with his hands, then, suddenly pushed them up in a commanding gesture. Three of the toughs behind those attacking the girl suddenly flew up into the air, flying in a graceful arc back into the alleyway behind them before landing in the trash littering the darkened spaces beyond.
The man in the alleyway laughed at that. It was a rusty-sounding laugh, of someone who hadn't known a lot of humor in his recent life. He felt a grin spreading on his face when he saw what the third of the trio did.
As the gang reorganized, the trio of kids took a firmer stance opposing the looters. "Give it up," the girl called out. "You lose."
One of the gang pulled out a gun. "No, I don't," he grinned. "Guns beat everything." He pointed it at them, and pulled the trigger.
As he did, the third member of the trio held his hands out, in what the man in the alleyway thought might be surrender. But instead, the bullets sparked off of a field effect between the two sides. The tough on the other side blinked, squeezed off a few more bullets, and snarled when the girl made a yanking motion, causing the gun to fly back into the burning building.
"Ouch," the man said softly. "Not a decision I'd have made. Once those bullets cook off, you don't know where they'll go. Hopefully they'll just wreck the gun."
The gang, their morale badly shaken, began to run away. One of them however, stayed behind. He was a much bigger man, and he grinned nastily as he suddenly grew half a foot. His skin thickened to something like armor plate, and he settled himself like a football linebacker, two knuckles on the pavement right before he charged with a roar.
The kids scattered. The girl clearly tried to swing at him a few times, but he never even felt the impacts as he slammed into the force field. The blow knocked the kid generating the field back, as the gang member turned on the one who'd been tossing people around.
The man in the alleyway found himself standing at that, but paused as the urge to intervene fought his self-preservation. "What can I do," he said with a quiet but deeply felt bitterness.
The trio dashed around the armored linebacker as he charged again. Instead of running away, they were still trying to come up with a solution that took him down. And in the darkness, the man could see the rest of the gang was regaining their nerve, edging back to the fight.
"Crap. This goes on, they'll swarm the kids. I gotta..."
He stopped again, looking at his hand. The blued steel of his artificial hand had gripped the corner of the building he'd been hiding behind, and partially crumbled the brick. The red and black plaid jacket he'd been wearing did little to disguise his true nature when he wasn't trying to hide himself.
-What can I do?- His mind skittered like a car on ice as unfamiliar thoughts chased themselves around in his head. -I have no powers. I'm just a thing. I can't help anyone.-
He watched the massive thug chasing the kids around while the gang edged closer to the fight, and felt something ignite within him. Far different from the combat frenzy he'd felt so often in the past, this somehow felt... purer. Cleaner.
The thug grinned, and set himself again while the kids were trying to find a way to deal with him. The one who controlled winds might be a threat if they ever got him off the ground, but keeping him off-balance was easy. Charging again, he dashed toward the kid, hoping to knock him into the far wall.
A dark shape interposed itself between him and the kid, and he had a moment's shock before a fist the size of his face smashed into his chin, knocking him clear back into the burning TV store.
The trio looked over at their mystery man, taking in his felt plaid jacket, old dungarees, and beaten up old shoes as the thug inside the store roared with anger.
"Get out of the way kids," the man's deep voice said with confidence. "I've got this."
The thug roared, charging out of the store with his shirt on fire. The man didn't waver, and didn't get out of the way. He just set himself where he stood, and threw even more of himself into his next punch.
The impact staggered the charging thug, stopping him mid-charge and knocking him back. The second punch slammed into his armored gut, causing the mutant tough to fold over, the wind wheezing out of him. The final blow slammed one-handed into the back of his head, dropping him to the pavement, unconscious.
The trio watched in awe as the gang fled, leaving their erstwhile enforcer lying on the sidewalk, his breath bubbling through his bleeding nose.
Their rescuer hefted the thug, who had reverted to his normal look, and propped him up on a nearby building. He looked up when he heard sirens. "Take care, kids," he said with a wave. "I gotta go."
The man paused and looked around as the girl walked up to him. Behind him, the one who controlled wind was somehow putting the fire out. -Handy trick, that,- he thought as he looked back at her.
"Look, Miss. I really gotta go. I don't want no trouble with the cops." He paused as a familiar pain settled somewhere in his gut, for no reason he'd ever understood. "You.." He shook his head. "You wouldn't get it."
"Is it because you're a boomer?"
The man blinked, looking down at her as she pushed up his sleeve, revealing the blued Abotex battle armor. "It doesn't bother me," she said, with a smile. "You saved us. And it's not your fault other people don't get it."
The man paused, pulling down the hood, and revealing his face. "The cops see this," he said, pointing with his other hand, "They'll just open fire. To them, I'm not a person. I'm just some renegade 55C they have to shut down. And I don't wanna put my life in the hands of some paper pusher who might not care."
The older of the two boys stepped over, with a grin on his face. "Then come with us! I know a place you could hide out. Okay," he said with a shrug, "It ain't no Hilton, but it's gotta be better than the alleys, right?"
The boy with the wind control also stepped over, looking over his shoulder and judging the distance of the flashing lights. "We don't have a lot of time, guys. But I'm in with them," he said, gesturing to the other two. "We've got a lot covered, but that big guy was all over us. Help us out, and maybe we can be a real super team. I'd like to try, anyway."
The man thought about it for about a half-second. -It beats running for my whole life,- he mused. -And it feels a damn sight better than how I felt this morning.-
"All right," he said, glancing up at the approaching vehicles. "We have about twenty three seconds before they're too close to evade. I hope you have a plan for getting out of here."
The girl grinned and darted down another alleyway. "We've done this before, c'mon!"
The man lumbered after them, darting down two alleyways and a switchback before finally making his way through an old door linking into an abandoned basement which fronted on part of the old storm drainage system. They moved a ways down the drainage pipes, listening to the cars drive by, until the sounds of police faded into the background.
"So," the girl said a few minutes later. "I'm Sandra. This is Kevin," she said, pointing at the boy with the wind powers. "And the shield generator over there is David." She looked up at the fourth member of their team. "What's your name?"
The man blinked and looked uncertain. "Ah... I've never needed one. And I hate being called by a number."
The girl grinned as the others eased the door open, and started to backtrack out of their hiding place. "Then we'll have to come up with one!"
Somewhat dubiously, the boomer followed the kids out of the storm drain and back out into the alleyway, while they debated the pros and cons of his new name.
* * *
11:30 PM, Shinjuku District, Megatokyo.
Lisa nodded. "Hai. There seems to be some kind of underhanded funding from some of Loon's rival corporations going on. They're supporting the Triad which has it in for one of Linna's friends. Sylia thinks there might be more to it than that, though."
Makoto nodded as she sipped a coffee while sitting on the air conditioning unit. The two had stopped for refreshment after quickly patrolling part of Megatokyo, Makoto deliberately building Lisa's confidence in her new 'look'. The two had stopped a mugging, posed for photos, and bought a couple of quick drinks before vanishing into the night sky. And while the fledgling Senshi had been uneasy being around so many people, she did it, knowing they'd never record her properly.
The fan reaction had been astounding. A couple girls in cosplay would get appreciation pretty much all the time. But when one could fly and fire lightning bolts, while the other fired TK blasts and had super- jumping, fan reactions had gone up to a whole new level.
The only down side to the whole thing had been the arrival of a handful of Firsters. Quickly pressing up to the girls, they'd handed a bunch of leaflets to them, and told them to call and "Get the recognition you deserve!" Makoto and Lisa had left at that point.
"I'm surprised at these 'Firsters', though." Makoto idly flipped through a printout. "How many people with powers have there been, so far?"
"Well, it's only just getting major headline attention," the reporter said thoughtfully. "But the word coming out from the editors is that they want more verifiable proof of people with superpowers. So the word is out there, and people know it's real. But so far, it's just the fad of the week. It hasn't become more than that, yet."
The senshi waved the glossy, full-color pamphlet. "'Supers of the world, unite'? They jumped on the bandwagon pretty quickly if it's only just at the fad stage, don't you think?"
Lisa blinked and shook her head. "Gomen, Makoto-san. I've been so wrapped up in other things I completely missed that! They are kind of quick on the draw, aren't they?" She nodded in the rough direction of Sylia's place. "The others don't have the kind of time to look up something like this though, and while I could interview a few people, I'm not going to unravel the secret of the Firster interest in 'Supers' all by my teeny self."
Makoto snorted. "Not if some of the stories I've heard about you are true." She grinned as Lisa started in surprise. "I'm sure you'll find out, whether or not the others can help." She tilted her head to the side, considering. "Why don't we make it your first training assignment, then? I'll help."
"Ah..." Lisa paused, almost sidetracked before she pulled herself back on topic. "Stuff you heard about me? That pretty much means Madigan, right?" She gave Makoto a mock glare. "What did she say about me?"
Makoto just grinned and sipped before finally adding, "She just said to tell you that 'turnabout was fair play.' She said you'd get it."
The reporter rolled her eyes and sighed theatrically. "I'm never going to hear the end of that. Fine! Okay!" She finished her drink and dropped to the rooftop, scanning the skyline. "The first thing to do is to find the nearest Firster compound and see who goes in and out of the place. Good thing I brought a camera."
* * *
The young woman smiled as she plucked another cherry out of the bowl beside her and lazily bit into it. "Hai, Baty-san?"
"Is it ready?"
"The first clinical trial is, yes. Distribution will take longer. We got lucky, Baty-san. Real evidence that the Chairman's vision wasn't just idle speculation."
The tired voice on the other end seemed to perk up. "Really? You actually found someone this early?"
Ai cradled the phone closer. "Hai, Onii-san. Remember, a lot of them were given the medication as part of a hospital stay. So we had a lot of people near medical technology. Most got away, but some have voluntarily walked into hospitals around the world, and one of our agents pulled something useful."
She opened a screen showing a young Mexican boy. "Raul Garcia, age fifteen. Brought in three weeks ago for multiple broken bones resulting from gang violence. Aggravated issues caused by an allergic reaction to his medication resulted in him being kept in the hospital for several weeks beyond what was strictly necessary as they tried to get his immune system under control. In the middle of this, he received one of the test batch samples.
"Although the hospital is trying to keep it quiet, I've learned that Garcia-kun seems to have a peculiar ability to mimic the behavior of machinery he's in intimate proximity to. He accidentally destroyed a laboratory monitor when his hands duplicated the behavior of the defibrillator racked near his bed."
"What about arranging a sample of Leon-Beta?"
"We're working on it, Onii-san. My agents have been in contact with the hospital. I'm hoping to convince him that we can help him control his power if he'll allow us to examine him 'safely'. Our definition of safe, of course, being an induced seventy-two hours of medical unconsciousness while in the presence of an agent modified with Leon-Beta."
"Then, when his power copies the behavior of Leon-Beta in the agent's head," Baty finished with a more upbeat tone of voice, "We copy the biological version, and suddenly we have the Chairman's 'Servant Factor' virus."
"And we will have the keys," Ai added happily. "Just a little while longer, Onii-san. Just a few more months, and we'll own the world!"
* * *
Wednesday, November 4, 2037, 11:00 AM
Nene's apartment, Megatokyo.
Mackie woke slowly to the sound of someone breathing beside him. A moment of disoriented confusion settled as his eyes flew open, and he took in his location.
The bedroom was a confection of creams, reds and pinks. Nene was asleep beside him, her long hair tangled across her chest as she slept. Her breathing was slow and deep, her body pressed against his as her hand rested lightly on him.
Mackie slowly remembered the rest of the previous evening. The almost dreamlike nature of the seduction down in the armor bay, and the passion which had followed it. They'd ducked into the showers and cleaned up before going upstairs, but Mackie was pretty sure the others had figured it out anyway. At least, if the smirks he'd gotten from Jennifer were any sort of clue.
Afterward, Nene had asked his help in finishing the antigravity project, and it had seemed like the most normal thing in the world to accompany her back to her apartment. The box of parts had never been looked at twice after that, however, as the two lovers recreated the warmth they'd discovered several hours before.
Mackie looked over at the clock and winced, reaching up to stroke the redhead's long mane of hair. Nene stirred and smiled, opening her eyes to look up at Mackie. "Hello."
"Hello, yourself." Mackie leaned down and kissed her. "I hate to say it, but you're late for work."
"Nah," she said taking a moment to stretch in bed. Mackie grinned, enjoying the feel of the young woman pressed against him as she held her arms up above her head. "Leave is very easy to come by right now, so I took the rest of the week off." She paused, looking up at Mackie with a wicked grin. "Aside from a certain evening engagement tonight, I have nothing else planned until Monday."
Mackie slid his hands up Nene's arms, clasping her hands and keeping them pinned above her head as he leaned down to her. "Well then, Ms. Romanova. What will we do with our time?"
"Mmmmm," was her only reply as his lips met hers.
* * *
Axil Court Ichigaya Daimachizaka, Room 406
Shinjuku-ku, 9:00 PM
A long jump ended in a practiced roll before Lisa jumped back up to her feet. "Yatta!" She looked back at the distance to the previous tower. "Easily one of my longest jumps!" She looked up at the figure who landed nearby. "I'm getting better at this."
"Good to hear," the voxmodded voice replied. The girl standing nearby placed a hand on her armored hip, and pointed at the distant tower. "You need to be able to make longer jumps the farther you get out of the city. You never know where the fight will take you, and you have to be able to adapt."
Lisa's restrained the urge to roll her eyes, "Hai, Kristi."
The armored girl held up her hands in mock-surrender. "Gomen, Lisa. It's just that the combat routines keep prodding me to remind you of stuff they think you should know." She looked out over the skyline. "I'm just really happy to be here."
The senshi's face softened. "I know you are. And I'm happy I can share this with someone who gets it, you know?"
"Totally!" Kristi walked over to the edge of the building and looked over, mentally assessing their next jump. Lisa considered the girl as she reviewed her own reactions earlier that evening.
It had been something of a shock at first when Madigan's hologram introduced Kristi. "A bodyguard boomer," the executive began. "I'm hoping you'll let her accompany you on your missions."
"I hardly need bodyguards, Madigan-san," Lisa replied, an irritated look on her face.
"Respectfully," the older woman began with a twitch of a smile on her lips, "but you really do. You throw yourself into every situation like a lunatic, with only the vaguest appreciation for your own safety." She gestured to a video display of the fight the previous weekend as Lisa crossed her arms defensively. "Consider the fight against the mercenary unit. If you hadn't called me, you'd have had to deal with roughly fifteen heavily armed boomers without backup, or any kind of solid plan. While Sailor Jupiter was able to bail you out," the woman finished, a smile and shake of her head showing how she was still processing that one, "it could have ended a lot differently if you'd had no one to rely upon."
The girl nearby bowed to Lisa. "I apologize for springing this on you," she began semi-formally. "But the chairwoman believes that your odds of surviving your chosen vocation are much higher if you have proper support." She tilted her head to the side as she considered the display showing the fight. "Considering your odds tilted dramatically with only minimal additional support, and the aid you needed defusing the bomb on that residential unit, I would strongly recommend considering Madigan-san's recommendation."
Lisa made a sound that was a cross between a growl and a sigh as she held up her hands in surrender. "Okay, you win. I admit, having the boomers available made me feel a lot better about my chances during that fight."
Madigan smiled, and left it at that. She'd gotten her headstrong young friend to agree to the additional support. Best leave it at that for the moment. While she intended to provide more support down the road, she was pretty sure Lisa would balk at too much too fast. She'd take things slow. But she'd protect her friend. She didn't have a lot of them, and she was damned if she was going to lose any of them as long as she could do something about it.
"So," Lisa continued after a moment. "Since it's a bad idea to be identified doing this kind of thing, what are you wearing while we're out?"
Kristi grinned, seemingly shedding five years as her natural exuberance surfaced again. "You're going to love this, ma'am!"
The tanned girl held up a hand, pausing the girl in mid-sentence. "Lisa. Please, call me Lisa."
The other girl grinned and bobbed her head. "Hai, Lisa-san. But only if you call me Kristi."
Lisa laughed and held out her hand in agreement. Kristi pumped it, and dashed back to the rear closet. "While we don't have anything as sophisticated as certain mercenary units in this city, my own boomer construction, combined with this piece of tech should let me get pretty close."
'This' turned out to be a highly-feminine suit of power armor. It stood taller than Kristi, on what appeared to be something Lisa recalled from a long time ago. "Those are kangaroo boots, aren't they?"
Kristi grinned. "Hai! They will let me jump an additional hundred and fifty meters, easy. I should also be able to make full use of my maximum running speed with this setup, allowing me to use speed and acrobatic maneuverability to minimize or outright neutralize the effect of incoming fire."
The other girl climbed up into the armor, latching the rear plate shut and picking up the helmet. "I should be able to keep up with you easily enough with this."
Lisa struck a pose. "Let's test that theory, shall we? Sailor power... MAKE UP!"
* * *
Kristi launched into a power-assisted leap. The armored combat boomer effortlessly arced over the skyline, landing in a controlled skid on the roof of the target building, over a hundred meters away. Moments after, Lisa landed effortlessly. The armored boomer girl shook her head as she watched the senshi girl land.
"You know you're violating the laws of physics, right?" The armored girl held up a hand, pointing at the sky above. "Thirty two feet per second, per second. That's not just a handy recommendation. It's kind of the law."
Lisa giggled. "You should have seen Doug-san. All he had to do was play music, and reality did pretty much whatever he told it to."
"I've seen video," Kristi replied after a moment. "It looked properly terrifying when seen through the eyes of the boomers he was fighting. But the distance shots were amazing!"
"I also often play music when I'm out," the sailor girl added, gesturing to the music player she had clipped to her outfit. "It reminds me of when Doug was here. And the awesome things he could do."
Kristi's grin could be heard through the comm line. "You really took a shine to him, didn't you?"
Lisa fought back the blush that threatened to undo her composure. "Hai." She tented her fingertips and bit her lip, before looking back at Kristi. "If he hadn't been married..." She shook her head, and fluffed her hair, waiting for the flush to fade away. "I certainly wanted to."
"I envy you," the armored girl said softly, drawing a look of surprise from the girl. "It's like meeting something out of a legend. To have met someone like that..." The helmet tilted to the side and looked partly away. "I... kind of get how that feels."
The armored girl shook her head. "No dwelling on that now, okay?" She waited until Lisa nodded, and moved to line up the next jump. "I also like playing music sometimes," the boomer girl admitted as she shifted to the building edge. "Want to check it out?"
"What is it?" Lisa glanced over as her music player accepted a download from a nearby source, allowing the girl to cue up the playlist on her tiny visor's display. "Hmm. Within Temptation - Hydra. I'm not familiar with them. What are they?"
"About thirty years ago, they were heavy into goth rock," Kristi explained drawing a snort and a giggle from the other girl. "Hey! I kind of like goth and industrial rock. Besides, it speaks to me. A lot of the lyrics sound like they were intentionally written for boomers."
"Huh." Lisa noted as the other girl cued up Radioactive and nodded appreciatively as the two launched out over the skyline. "Okay, I might be able to get into this."
Kristi rode the momentum across to the other building, the music pounding in her ears as she followed her own personal superhero across Megatokyo.
* * *
The heist had gone spectacularly smoothly so far. The alarms were easy enough to bypass, and the guard was asleep over his desk. A little knockout drug in a dart had taken care of him. The thieves were thorough, but not stupid. Kill anyone, for any reason, and the N-Police would never stop hunting them down. But drug the guard, and the whole thing would draw much less official response. An investigation. Some cops. They didn't intend to be in town by the time that really got rolling.
And that didn't count the invisible Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. While it was highly unlikely that Megatokyo's reclusive mercenary unit would care about a handful of jewel thieves, why take the chance?
"Almost got it," David began, his trademark slow and steady voice a comforting presence on the comm line as he worked the tumblers in the safe. Beside him, a portable hacking kit was hooked to the electronic systems, the custom boomer brain within dealing with the smartlock. "Just a few... There!"
With a loud click, the locking mechanism finally gave way. The heavy steel pylons in the safe mechanism rumbled as they retracted, allowing the thieves to pull open the heavy door.
The sight inside was deceptively mundane. Rather than ostentatious displays of jeweled wealth, it was really just a large locker room, filled with drawers and doors. Undeterred, the thieves quickly began popping locker doors, revealing the splendour hidden behind the drab exterior.
David grinned back at the others as they began to transfer their crystal treasures to the bags they'd brought with them. He had only a moment's warning as the shadows outside the window shifted, before two figures smashed into the main room.
One was the sailor cosplay girl he'd seen on TV a few times. The other looked like something straight out of the Knight Sabers, making him recall his thoughts earlier with dread as he reached for the shotgun nearby. "Take them down!"
The armored girl launched forward, slamming a punch into their forward lookout. The thug 'oof'-ed and flew back to strike the wall beside the vault door before slumping down to the ground.
The second tough brought the gun around and pulled the trigger twice. The sound of the gunshots echoed in the store, but they only grazed the sailor girl. She didn't slow down, or even react to the shots, as she pivoted and spun into a side kick that struck the gunman with the force of a truck. The point man flew back into the counter, shattering the glass and jackknifing over the wreckage to lie sprawled on the floor behind.
David slipped the bag with his take over his shoulder and jumped out with his shotgun, firing as fast as he could slide the action. Four shots ripped out, tearing into the store, the counter, and the walls beyond. Not one of them struck the girl in the blue domino mask. She somehow always seemed to know where the gun was as he whipped it around.
Growling, he tripped the manual release on his jacket. The interior pockets filled with armored foam, almost instantly solidifying. The crude armored jacket was no substitute for real armor, but he could wear it in public, which made up for a lot. And right now, he needed the edge to make it out of the building.
Ducking under a punch from the senshi girl, he dashed for one of the windows the girls had smashed. He'd get out, and make his way to the other building.
He had just reached the windowsill when the twin prods of the high-powered taser array struck him in the leg. The prods penetrated his pants and delivered a high-voltage shock to his system. Spasming uncontrollably, he fell to the ground, twitching for several long moments before he finally fell unconscious.
Kristi detached the trailing cables, and returned the shoulder array to its locked position behind her. "Backup," she added, looking over at Lisa. "Like we said. It helps."
"Hai," Lisa sighed, and shrugged. "I get it. Just... don't tell Madigan-san that I caved so easily, okay? I know her," the girl added emphatically as she grinned and waved in the approximate direction of the GENOM tower. "Give her any sign of weakness, she exploits it ruthlessly. I'm okay with you and maybe a couple others for backup. But I don't want to get smothered in 'support.'"
Kristi giggled. "I'll make sure my report plays up how hard you were to convince." She struck a pose and made a 'V' sign. "Still, this was a definite win for the good guys. What do you say we drop an anonymous tip to the N-Police and get out of here?"
"Sounds good to me." Lisa braced herself at the windowsill and launched herself at the far building's wall. Using the technique Sylia had insisted she practice, she briefly grabbed the building wall with TK, and launched herself back at the other building, higher up. She leapfrogged her way up both buildings until she landed with a flip and a flourish on the rooftop above.
Kristi sailed overhead in an effortless power jump, before spinning in a half twist with a bit of flip to land on an air conditioning unit looking back at Lisa.
Lisa laughed, and bowed. "That was much more impressive than my jumps. Congrats!" She looked out over the skyline. "So. Anything interesting on the police bands?"
Kristi smirked inside her helmet, and pulled up the radio. Instantly, they heard what sounded like a harried firebee operator covering what appeared to be a fire breaking out at Metro Aquatic's main headquarters. Firefighters were on the scene, and the blaze was being contained.
"Huh," Lisa commented after a moment. "The Knight Sabers don't usually leave that big a footprint. I wonder what happened?" She clicked her system over to a highly secure comm channel, and held her hand to her mike. "Sylia. Everything okay?"
The other woman's voice was distorted, but terse. "The team is fine. We ran into unexpected resistance. The Liu Sun were definitely involved, but we don't think it was related to our being there."
"Do you need help?"
The other voice paused for a long minute before replying. "No, I don't believe so. We're extracted at this point anyway. We'll meet up later."
Kristi looked back at the girl as Lisa made her way back over. "Everything okay?"
"Apparently," Lisa looked out over the darkened city skyline. "They ran into some trouble." She considered options, and looked back at the other girl. "Madigan-san ever hear of a syndicate calling itself Liu Sun?"
"A rebel zaibatsu formed as a counter to older mainline elements within the Hou Bang organization." Kristi looked over at Lisa. "According to our intelligence, the Liu Sun appears to be a front for another agency. The chairwoman suspects it isn't intended to last long. It's a discardable front for something else. She doesn't know what yet, however."
"So they're assassinating the Hou Bang leadership, and then what? They just dissolve the organization?"
"More likely, they fold it into something new. The Liu Sun vanishes, and all direct connection to the Hou Bang vanishes with them. The new inheritors go on to build something new, with no direct connection remaining with their former organization."
Lisa nodded slowly. "Hai. That sounds a lot like what I've been hearing from others, lately. They're not pulling the strings." She leaned back against the A/C unit, and frowned. "So why develop strong corporate connections to Chinese environmental cleanup firms if the zaibatsu isn't going to last more than a year or so?"
Inside the helmet, Kristi blinked in surprise. "I didn't know that. Any clue what corporations are working with them?"
"Not yet." Lisa shrugged. "I'm sure I'll find out eventually." She glanced sideways at her new partner. "I'm guessing Kate-san would like me to keep her in the loop?"
"Probably," Kristi replied. "While I have no specific orders, I can anticipate her probable reaction if she learns I know things about the Liu Sun situation she does not."
"That's okay." The senshi girl leaned forward and walked to the edge of the building, sizing up her next jump. "If I learn anything meaningful, I'll let you and Kate-san know."
"Sounds good!" Kristi tagged four buildings in a line heading toward the busiest part of the nighttime city, and sent it to Lisa's HUD. "What do you say we see which of us reaches the endpoint first?"
Lisa grinned. "Loser buys ice cream?"
The two set themselves, then launched into the air in powered leaps. International terrorism and criminal enterprises were other peoples' worries. For now, there were far more important, ice cream-related crises to deal with!
* * *
11:00 PM, Ladys633 Tower, Megatokyo.
Sylia stepped out of the shower, gripping both ends of the towel around her neck as she made her way to the lockers nearby. Reika was nursing a wrenched shoulder with Linna's help as the second girl slowly wrapped a tension bandage around it and clipped it in place. "How is it?"
"I'll live," Reika managed with a grin. "That chunk of masonry pinned my arm at the wrong moment. It's a good thing those armors have movement limiters in them. The arm locked instead of over-rotating, so all I got was a bad sprain."
Sylia nodded slowly. "The armor can outperform anything humans are capable of. So the limiters prevent the armor from twisting or contorting the wearer in a way they couldn't survive. It's saved us on more than a few occasions, as tonight proved." She looked up at the other girl. "As for the armor itself, I'll run tests on it and replace the shoulder armature if necessary. Otherwise, you should be good to go again the next time we need it."
"At least we got what we went in for."
"Speaking of which," Linna commented as she dressed, "any word yet from Nene about that memory core?"
"Nothing yet. I'm sure we'd have heard if anything really important had surfaced. As it stands, I'm not expecting to pull anything specific from that core until tomorrow morning at the earliest. The encryption and security protocols on a Type 23 memory solid are nothing to sneeze at."
The girls finished dressing and made their way out of the locker room. In the main area, Mackie was fiddling with the boomer brain he'd acquired the week prior at the AD Police tower. It was hooked up to an independent computer system, with open displays showing its mind and mechanical workings.
Sylia frowned as she took in some of what the computer screen showed her. "That doesn't look right."
"No kidding," Mackie replied with a snort. "Someone hacked Doug-san's Leon-A boomer unshackler and turned it into a fairly elegant recreation of the Overmind Control System. This guy," the tech said, thumbing a gesture at the boomer, "was convinced all the way to the end that he was about to win at any time. It looks like his mind was carefully wired so that the possibility of failure would be rejected every time he thought of it."
Linna leaned closer to the displays. "Any clue why?"
"Only reason that makes sense to me is that it was some kind of test." Mackie picked up a rag and cleaned his hands as he tapped a key, pulling up salvaged video of the fight as seen from the boomer's point of view. "Nothing else was affected. It just altered the boomer's perceptions so that it would never accept the possibility of failure, even when it became clear they couldn't win."
Sylia gave the display a cool look, before glancing at her younger brother. "Madigan?"
Mackie slowly shook his head, an expression of uncertainty on his face. "I doubt it? I mean, GENOM is sort of the first and most obvious place to think of. But honestly? This bit of work is too ham-handed to be a GENOM job. For one thing, it looks like a prototype. And there's no way the GENOM CEO would allow a prototype technology out into the wild. Especially not in a coordinated attack on AD Police by Yoshida, especially considering all the effort she's taken to rehabilitate her public profile."
The older woman gave her brother an appraising look and smiled. "I agree. And you're getting better at analyzing opponent behaviours. I'm impressed."
Mackie grinned and ran a hand through his hair. "Ah, arigato, nee-san! I'm working on it. It's a lot easier to follow when Nene explains it." He paused as the girls all smirked to varying degrees. His face burned as he mock-glared at them. "That's not what I meant! Honestly!"
"We know," Sylia said with a soft smile. She reached out and pulled Mackie in for an impromptu hug. The younger boy 'ack!'-ed once in surprise, but didn't fight it as her sister hugged her for another long moment before letting him go. "I'm also very happy for both of you. Just remember to take care of each other."
Mackie ducked his head a little in embarrassment. "We will." He looked over at the far side of the bay. "Speaking of which, should we see what she's discovered?"
The girls all agreed, and the group made their way to the electronics bay. There, Nene sat in the neural interface couch, still wearing her power armor. The system was plugged into the armor, using its superior hardware to run its systems beyond what they were originally rated for.
On the screens were a hash of incomprehensible gibberish. Over a dozen symbols were being manipulated at any given time, being sorted and shifted in the pattern as the mind driving the process looked for recognizable patterns.
As they watched, a long string of symbols resolved themselves. On a side screen, the display shifted. >PASS CODE CRACKED< appeared. Moments later, the gibberish shifted to clear text, with images and video files on display as the system began to greedily drain the memory solid of its data. The system updated moments later. >TRACKING VIRUS DETECTED. NEUTRALIZING.<
Mackie moved to a side screen and tracked the process of the antivirus software. Eventually he nodded and tapped a few commands. Behind him, the neural interface clicked several times, and the helmet interface shut down.
Nene stirred, yawned, and looked around at everyone. "Oh. Hi. How long were you all there?"
Reika grinned and passed the girl a water bottle. "Not long. What happens now?"
"Now?" Nene gestured at the screens in the room, where vast amounts of information scrolled past at high speed. "Now we leave the computers to sift through the core for useful data. The hard part is done. Now it's just sorting data." She yawned again. "Oi. I could sleep for a week after that." She grinned at Sylia. "They improved their encryption again. I may copy some of those algorithms for my own system at work."
Sylia just smiled and waved the girl out of the room. "Go get cleaned up. We'll meet you upstairs for the mission debrief." She glanced over at her brother and allowed a wicked grin to creep onto her face. "No rush, though. Take your time. I'm sure my brother would love to help you get cleaned up."
Sylia laughed and left the two lovebirds blushing and spluttering in her wake as she led the other girls to the elevator and made her way up to the store above.
* * *
Thursday, November 5, 2037, 11:00 AM
Unknown Location, Megatokyo.
"So, what happened?"
Ai looked over the computer data again as she heard the clink of metal behind her. Baty was working in the compact but well-stocked gym in their private apartments. She paused for a moment to appreciate the way his muscles played against the Lycra before looking up at him. "As far as we can tell, the Knights hit Metro Aquatic for their data core." She pulled up several video shots of the mercenary unit's actions. "They came in through the elevator shaft, made their way down to the subbasement level, and got into the computer room."
"Which is when they ran into the boomers."
"Hai." Ai looked at the combat footage again, which showed Knight Sabers trashing the 12C military boomers with almost contemptuous ease. "What's impressive is how fast the new Red has improved. Her reaction speed and combat effectiveness are already several percentage points better than the acquired AD Police internal footage revealed."
"Unsurprising," Baty grunted as he pressed the hydraulic weight system away from him. "Nee-san wouldn't settle for anything less." He settled the bar on the retaining stand and sat up. "So. Where does that leave us?"
"Moderately exposed," Ai admitted. "She might be able to infer our existence with what's in that data core. Although there's no hint of our larger operations, there. On a related note, however, the head of the combat boomer on the roof of the AD Police tower was never retrieved by forensic teams. I'm assuming the Knights took it when they left."
Baty thought hard for a long moment. "We need to accelerate the final phase, I'm thinking. We should deploy Yoshida if possible. Find some way to use him to keep the Knights off-balance and focused on something else. If we can keep Nee-san from realizing what we're up to before it's too late, it won't matter if she tumbles to our plan in the end. But we're not there yet," he said with a hand raised in caution. "This could all still end very badly for us. We need to move cautiously. But swiftly as well."
He looked over at a video feed showing a hospital in Mexico. There, a half-dozen boomers disguised as doctors examined a young boy in an induced medical coma. He writhed and shifted in discomfort. Beside him, a boomer with Leontophonus-B lay, staring at the ceiling helplessly as the new form of the Overmind Control System kept him motionless and helpless.
On computer screens nearby, it showed the evolution of a virus in the boy's neocortex. A virus which seemed to be reaching into his own mind, suppressing certain behaviors, and enhancing others. The boy himself quieted over time, as his new power copied the behavior of the Leon-B virus and replicated it, creating an organic version of Leontophonus-B.
The Servant Factor Virus.
"Soon," Baty said, the grin on his face spreading. "Soon, now."
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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