"…And it is the decision of this court that Saginomiya Machine is declared bankrupt and all of its remaining assets seized in order to be sold off and pay its tremendous debts. This will include all of the Saginomiyas' private holdings, as agreed to by the late Masahiro Saginomiya, who put all of his worldly possessions up as collateral." The judge pounded his gavel, judgment rendered.
Seated on the defendant's side, Asuka Saginomiya shot out of her chair and pounded on the tabletop with her teenaged fist. "You can't do this! This is an outrage!"
"Sit down," her lawyer, Takaguchi, tugged at her sleeve, but she shrugged off his hand.
The judge pounded his gavel again. "Order in the court. Miss Saginomiya, I have been tolerant of your numerous outbursts due to the recent loss of your father in this very courtroom and the severity of your financial situation, but enough is enough."
"It is not enough!" Asuka screeched. "This is a travesty of justice! It's Kunou Industries which should be on trial here. We had that military contract in the bag until they bribed Councilman Orihara into giving it to them. They're responsible for the stress inflicted on my father that led to this trial and his heart attack. Why aren't they here instead of me?"
"Knock it off or you're going to be hit with a slander suit," Takaguchi hissed.
"Let him try. Everyone knows he's crooked." Asuka turned to the judge. "Your honor, all I need is one more month. SM is on the verge of creating a battle armor that will revolutionize warfare. We'll be back in the black by the end of the year."
The judge shook his head. "I'm sorry, Miss Saginomiya. This court's decision is final. Case adjourned." The judge rose from his seat, ruffled his robes, and exited the courtroom, heading to his chambers.
Lacking a government minion to slake her rage upon, Asuka turned on her lawyer. "You incompetent shyster! A first year law student could have won that case!"
The lawyer turned red as he threw his papers into his open briefcase. "I've had enough out of you, you spoiled bitch. No one could possibly have saved your company. I only took this case because your father was like a brother to me, God rest his soul. If he had died before the trial started, I would never have picked this up. Now, I'm sorry you lost everything, but you shouldn't have any problems getting back on your feet. You're a savant in engineering, second only to Kodachi Kunou—"
"I'm better than Kodachi ever was!" Asuka shouted shrilly. "She doesn't have half of my intelligence, looks, or grace! She couldn't build an erector set without instructions! The only way she managed to steal my International Scientific Community Achievement Award was by sleeping with the judges!"
"I somehow doubt that. There were five of them, and it was a unanimous decision."
"It just proves what a slut she is."
"Three of them were women."
"And that she would go to any lengths to win."
Takaguchi tried to backpedal. "Look, I'm sorry I mentioned your rival's name."
"She is not a rival. A rival is someone who is almost an equal. Kodachi Kunou isn't fit to wash my toilet. Why are you speaking so highly of her?" Asuka's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "She paid you to lose the case, didn't she? It wasn't your incompetence, you deliberately threw it!"
Takaguchi held his hands up in equal parts surrender and disgust. "That's it. I've had enough of your paranoid ramblings. What you need isn't a lawyer, it's therapy." He turned and headed for the door.
Asuka waved her fist at his back. "Traitor! I'll make you pay! You, that crooked politician, and Kunou Industries! I'll make you all pay!"
A bailiff cleared his throat, announcing his presence next to Asuka. Snapped temporarily out of the worst of her blinding rage, she realized that everyone in the room was staring at her, and that the bailiff appeared ready, almost eager, to throw her out. Composing herself, she made a production of sniffing disdainfully to everyone in the room, then turned imperiously upon her heel and exited, dark clouds of vengeance permeating her thoughts.
As the sixteen-year-old left the court building, she stared up at the sky as if seeking divine assistance, not for her financial situation, but for how to make those that had schemed against her pay. She had no assets, monetary or otherwise, and would be tossed out of her ancestral home within days. She had never bothered saving any of her salary, assuming her family's fortune would always be there and she could dip into it. She had spent her personal funds on being a high profile debutante and financing expensive private science projects which, while emotionally satisfying, were money pits. Now she was left with nothing, not even a chauffeur to drive her home. What was she to do?
Asuka had barely made it a hundred meters along the sidewalk before an expensive stretch limousine pulled up beside her. The window in the back rolled down and a plain-looking gentleman, dressed in a ten-thousand-dollar suit, stuck his head out the window. "Miss Saginomiya? My name is Roquat."
Asuka looked the curious, nondescript, man over. While she had known many people who rode in such vehicles, this wasn't one of them. "Funny, you don't look like a Nome King."
Roquat shrugged. "It is the name given to me by my employer. It amuses her to make it seem as though kings and queens are at her beck and call, though the reality is very close to the illusion."
Already tiring of his presence, she snapped, "What do you want?"
"My employer heard you have fallen on hard times. I have been entrusted to offer you two things."
"What are they?" Asuka asked suspiciously.
"The first is condolences on your father's death. My employer also lost her father at an early age and knows what it is like."
"I hope the second thing you offer has some actual value," Asuka spat acidly.
"It does. My employer is aware of your advances in armor technology. She wishes to offer you a lucrative contract if you're willing to continue developing the SL-000 series battle armor."
Lucrative meant money. Lots of money. That perked her ears up. "How much?"
"Ten million dollars American for the project. An additional five if it's completed to satisfaction."
Asuka felt like laughing. No one tossed around money like that. It was probably a prank concocted by Kodachi Kunou to rub Asuka's nose in her abject misery. "And who would I be working for?"
Roquat told her.
That changed everything. The laughter inside died, replaced by hope. "Okay, you are legitimate. Very well, I agree to your terms. It's not as if I have anything else to do." And fifteen million dollars was certainly enough seed money to hatch her plans for righteous vengeance. Perhaps things were going to turn out for the best after all.
She entered the limousine, the dark cloud surrounding her made brighter by blood-tinged fantasies of the deaths of all who had wronged her.
A Ranma ½ / Avengers (the superhero group) fusion
by DB Sommer
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ owned by Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. The Avengers are owned by Marvel Comics. Yes, the superheroes, not the British TV Series.
Any and all C+C is appreciated. You can contact me at [email@example.com]
Act II, Scene 5: Steel Lilies in the Field
From her position nearly thirty feet away, Kodachi Kunou nodded at the technician standing at the control panel to signal the start of the test. It wasn't as though she were incapable of operating the controls, but it would be perceived as unseemly for one of her stature in Kunou Industries to personally operate things when she could employ someone else to do it, and appearance was everything to the members of the government's defense committee who stood by her side. They were the ones who decided which businesses received the fat defense contracts they had to offer, and Kodachi intended for them to look no further than Kunou Industries.
In a way, the whole decision process was absurd since it was obvious anything Kunou Industries — and Kodachi personally — designed would far outstrip anything some minor manufacturing company could create. As though anyone at Saginomiya Machine, which had finally gone under a few weeks ago, could compare to her genius. It was true they actually had snared a contract away from KI once; Kodachi remembered how her father had raged over that one since the weapon system the government had purchased was far inferior to KI's. She had taken the offense personally since it was the first weapon system she had developed. She had improved a great deal after that, so much so that KI hadn't lost out on a government contract since.
Now Kodachi stood in the place her father used to, next to the five members of the committee. She would have preferred to conduct the test outdoors, but the energy cannon they had developed was still top secret, and there was no telling what sort of eavesdropping equipment might be trained on KI's exterior by rival companies. No, it was best to keep the cannon under wraps. The warehouse-sized testing facility would serve its intended purpose and the committee would be impressed by the results. She guaranteed it. After her demonstration, it would take a couple of weeks at the most before they gave the contract to KI.
At her signal two powerful robotic arms maneuvered a ten ton piece of impra-crete, which was five times more durable than regular concrete, into position. Despite the size of the slab, the arms were powerful enough to move it efficiently, and once the giant block was in the right spot, the multi-faceted crystal at the end of the cannon's barrel began to power up. A rainbow glow, almost hypnotic, formed at the tip. Kodachi signaled to the technician once again, and he touched a button. A second later the rainbow glow coalesced into a twenty-centimeter wide beam of white energy. It punched through the slab with ease, sending small pieces of shrapnel everywhere. Rather than continuing on, it dissipated one meter on the other side of the rock. The beam disappeared, leaving behind a twenty-centimeter wide hole as the only evidence it had ever existed.
Kodachi turned to the men. "As you can see, the XE-74, or 'Safecracker' as we like to call it, can blast its way through impra-crete like it was papier-mâché. Enemy in a bunker? Hiding in a fog bank would provide more protection. The same can be said for titanium, osmium, or any alloy."
"What about adamantium?" one of the men asked.
"Nothing can cut through adamantium. If anything could, we would hardly call it 'indestructible', now could we?" All the men laughed at that. "It can cut through adamantium alloy, though it would take time and a sufficient power supply to sustain the beam," Kodachi informed them.
"That beam fizzled pretty quickly once it got through the impra-crete," one of the men pointed out.
"That's because it was set to do so," Kodachi said with a delighted smile since the question proved a perfect segue. "One of the safety features of the Safecracker is that it has a precise range, mitigating collateral damage. If you're trying to hit a target that moves out of the path of the beam, you don't have to worry about it following through and hitting something you don't want destroyed."
That met with a murmur of agreement from the members.
Kodachi continued, "While the Safecracker is too big to be carried around by hand, it can be mounted on a large armored vehicle or plane, or numerous cannons can be put on a ship. The only small disadvantage is its rate of fire is slow, but that's because it's intended to attack heavy, reinforced targets, rather than small ones with few defenses."
The others nodded again. The one nearest to Kodachi, Councilman Orihara, said, "I think we've seen all we need to. It is an impressive piece of work, Miss Kunou. By all means, send us the specs on the cannon and we'll look them over."
Kodachi bowed. "Thank you for your interest. Let me assure you despite KI being under new management, we will not only continue to perform admirably for our government, but exceed our previous performance."
The members nodded and headed out of the testing facility. As they moved away, Orihara stopped and turned, walking back to Kodachi. "Could I have a private word with you, Miss Kunou?"
"Certainly." Kodachi prepared herself to answer any questions the councilman might have. He was the head of the committee and, from what her father had always said, was the one truly responsible for the decisions. The others were little more than window dressing to appease the bureaucracy. Whatever way Orihara went, the others were sure to follow.
Orihara said, "I'm overjoyed at seeing you take over the reins here. What happened to your father and brother was a tragedy, especially since you were believed dead as well."
Kodachi idly scratched at her concealed chest plate in remembrance of the piece of shrapnel located so close to her heart. "I still cling to the hope they will be found."
"As do I," Orihara seconded. "But in the meantime, it falls to you to run the company. KI employs thousands of people all across Japan. If something unpleasant were to happen to your company, like your military contracts drying up, bad things might happen. At the very least there would be massive layoffs, and perhaps your company would go under, like Saginomiya just did."
"We are the pinnacle of technology in all of Japan, if not the world. Saginomiya had all the cutting edge expertise of a high school science club, and you know it, which is why you come to us when you want the best weapons in the world."
Orihara rubbed his chin in contemplation. "Well, there was that one time we went with SM and that sonic-based weapon."
"Pure lunacy on your part which confounds me to this day," Kodachi informed him. "Our amplisonic shatterguns were far more effective than their ridiculous wave motion rifle."
"That's a matter of opinion," Orihara insisted. "There are so many intangibles to consider, which is why landing these lucrative contracts is so cutthroat."
"Is there a point to this conversation?" Kodachi asked, temper rising.
"Yes, your father and I had something of an… arrangement."
"I have no idea of what you are talking about." Though Kodachi insisted she didn't, the tone in her voice indicated she had an idea of what the councilman was implying.
"I thought as much. It's not the sort of thing one casually mentions." Orihara seemed to consider something, then shrugged his shoulders, as though he had come to a decision. "There is an organization I am rather fond of that your father donated heavily to on certain occasions, usually right after we met in circumstances similar to the one you and I are in right now."
Kodachi was tired of the vague innuendos. "Are you implying that he bribed you for our contracts?"
"No, no, no," Orihara said quickly. "Not bribes. These were contributions to the Hokkaido Reclamation Project. I'm sure he kept records of the donations. Look into it and you'll see." Orihara started to walk away, then turned back around. "I'd hurry and look it up, though. We're scheduled to check out Fujikawa-Stane's new missile that does many of the same things your cannon does, and has the advantage of being more portable and having a greater range. It makes things very neck-and-neck between you. I'd hate to see you lose out to someone that's more interested in securing these sorts of contracts."
He laughed and departed, leaving Kodachi uncertain of what to do. What she did feel was an insecurity that had been absent a moment ago. It was time to look into her father's private files and see what he had to say about the matter.
"And I want that Blaze Cannon hooked up to the forearm and power pack. It's taken a week to get it to work right, and now that it is, I want it where it belongs." Asuka Saginomiya let out an exasperated sigh at the engineers and technicians that were almost more hindrance than help. Tragically, they were supposedly among the best in the world. Incompetents, every last one of them. Asuka had come to the realization that Hell was being brilliant in a world full of stupid people.
Despite the ineptitude of the fools Asuka had been saddled with, she had guided them to nearly completing the SL-000. Every centimeter of its white and red armor was as magnificent as she had predicted, if not more so. She basked in the glow of her masterpiece. It was large, with bulky arms and legs (one of her idiot subordinates had the audacity to compare it to the original armor the 'Scrap Iron' Rose used). There was a large square unit, which looked almost like a backpack, attached to the back where the additional power supply and her most powerful weapon were housed. The forearms were a bit larger than originally planned to compensate for the newer weapons she had mounted. The 'boots' of the armor were also larger in order to house the additional engines for the flight system she had just installed. Now the armor could generate the airspeed of a ground-to-air missile, though at that velocity it wasn't very maneuverable. Still, it was faster than any mere jet fighter. And then there were technicians who were in the process of adding the Blaze Cannon to the forearm. It appeared to be little more than a box with an opening on one end and wires leading from it along the length of the arm and into the back power unit, a deception if ever there was one given the E-Beam's power. In the center of the chest was a triangle that housed a laser, as well as her secret weapon. A single cyclopean slit in the helmet was the only apparent form of external sight, but in reality there were a variety of internal sensor systems that overcame the seeming weakness.
Asuka satisfaction lasted all of ten seconds, then she spotted Minoru Mochizuki, the 'Simpering Accountant from Whine Country', approaching. As bad as her technicians were, Minoru was worse than all of them put together. In the good old days, when she was allowed free rein in her company, she could have ordered him silent or, preferably, had him fired. Now she was perpetually harassed by his nasal voice as he rambled on about 'cost overruns' and 'efficiency reports', as though such things mattered when building a work of art. She briefly considered pretending not to notice him and making a run for the nearest exit, but forced herself to remain where she was. The only concession she made to herself was forcing him to come to her, which he quickly did.
"Miss Saginomiya, I need a word with you." The look on his face said it all.
She sighed dramatically, but maintained her cool. "Yes?"
"I've just been going over some figures." He held out a stack of folders in her direction. "Frankly, this whole project has exceeded cost projections significantly in nearly every aspect."
Asuka rolled her eyes at the imbecile. "Yes, well, by definition a 'projection' is a guess, and I don't see how you can hold me responsible because a few know-nothing bean counters, like yourself, can't figure out how much a sack of rice will cost next week."
The insult didn't seem to register. "You've gone more than one billion yen over budget on this suit alone so far. There's no sense in us mass producing the unit if it's so expensive no one can afford to buy it."
Asuka felt like strangling the little weasel. "Look, it's a groundbreaking prototype. We're working on a new technology, and there are bound to be a few bugs and other unexpected problems that crop up which result in a higher than expected initial cost. But I wouldn't expect someone with a mere accounting degree to understand such technical matters."
She had hoped that would end the discussion, but Minoru pressed on. "Prof. Kuroki informs me that everything was going fine until you started incorporating the weapons and flight systems from the M.A.U.L.E.R battle armor we got from Cordco into your design. According to Prof. Kuroki, the systems aren't really that compatible and it's taking a huge amount of time and money to make them so, which are where the cost overruns are occurring."
Asuka would have words with that traitorous Kuroki, once she rid herself of Minoru's presence. "Which proves what I was saying about a high initial cost that won't be reflected in later units. And I need those things. The incorporation of the M.A.U.L.E.R.'s weapon systems will give the SL-000 the firepower of a small army. It'll be invincible."
"We don't want to market the SL-000 as a stand-alone weapon system. We are going to sell it as a standard unit with optional augmentation packages. Certainly your current design would be ideal for taking on a tank battalion, but what if it's needed for reconnaissance, or rescue operations, or hostage removal? Everything you're adding would lessen the unit's effectiveness for those sorts of operations."
"Don't play games with me," Asuka snorted in derision. "I know your primary concern is marketing this as military hardware. That's where the real money's made."
Minoru shot her a level glare. "The SL-000 is intended to be a multi-purpose power armor. However, in the case of its military applications, it's been decided that it would be more effective to market it with the intention of it operating in three man teams. It would be similar to Cordco's Raider armor, but with the base unit being more powerful and more versatile with various weapon packages, rather than in-built ones like the Raiders had."
"How businesslike, and if you can't see that, it's no wonder your company went bankrupt."
Asuka simmered in rage, but rather than continue her diatribe, she took a deep breath and calmed herself. "I'm convinced what I have is superior to your intentions, and in any case it's irrelevant. I managed to incorporate the Blaze Cannon into the SL today. I need to put some finishing touches on it, but expect the armor to be completed in the next three days. I can work up a demonstration for you. If the higher-ups don't like the additional weapon systems, I can reduce it back to the base unit in under a week, and I'll subtract the costs from my salary."
The revelation of the armor's completion and Asuka's voluntary financing of any additional problems soothed Minoru's concerns. "Very well, but see to it the armor is ready when you say."
"Very well," Asuka said. "There's just one other favor I'd like to ask. I want to pilot the armor. I know it better than anyone, and am the obvious choice to put it through its paces."
Minoru shot her a look as though she had asked him if she could scrap the project. "Don't be ridiculous. We have professional pilots who are specialized in the use of battle armor. They will be demonstrating it in the trial runs. You stick to doing what you know, making armor, and leave the flying to the professionals."
Asuka shrugged her shoulders, dismissing the matter. "Very well. I was simply overeager in showing off my baby, and personally ushering in a new age in high-tech warfare, but I understand. The pilots probably would do a better job. In any event I can have a report on the final test results on your desk by Wednesday."
That mollified Minoru. "Very well. It's good to know this project will finally be completed, and that there are measures in place if it continues on any longer."
"There certainly are. Now, if you're finished?"
"I am." Far happier than when he had entered the room, Minoru headed for the door.
Asuka smiled sweetly at him as he left. Once the lab door slid shut behind him, she picked up a phone and dialed a number. "Arisugawa, this is Saginomiya. Send up the material I requested, would you?"
Asuka hung up the phone, sat back in a chair and waited. It only took a handful of minutes for the door to the lab to open, and a deliveryman to roll in a cart that bore a number air tanks and a gas mask. He had Asuka sign for the material, then departed.
Several of the workers watched as the material was wheeled in. One of them looked at it in bewilderment. "What is that?"
"Somna Gas," Asuka said as she examined the tops to the tanks.
"What for? There's no room on the SL for gas."
"Steel Lily," Asuka said.
"Steel Lily. The SL in the project name means 'Steel Lily'."
One of the technicians asked, "Isn't that your nickname from MIT?"
"Yes, and it's about time the world knew that, since it will shortly make Kodachi Kunou's Iron Rose obsolete." She continued playing with the controls.
One of the other technicians said, "That still doesn't explain how we're going to put that gas in the armor."
"The gas isn't for the armor, it's for you." And with that she slipped the gas mask over her face and opened a valve to disperse the gas in the room. It acted quickly, dropping nearly everyone in their tracks the instant they inhaled. Some people tried to hold their breath and make it toward the door to escape, but they found it locked and the exit code failed to work. No one had time to take a truly deep breath, and soon they were lying unconscious on the floor.
While everyone succumbed to the gas, Asuka quickly walked over to the armor and opened it up. With the interior exposed, she stepped inside, slipping her arms and legs into the proper spots. Once settled in, the armor closed up, making it airtight and expelling the gas that had been trapped inside. There was a bit of shifting as the insides molded to fit perfectly, just as she had designed it to. She booted up the armor, and all its capabilities, for the first time. She had lied to her little number cruncher. The armor was ready now that the Blaze Cannon had been hooked up. She had given Minoru a chance for the easy way out by allowing her to use her armor, but he had refused, leaving her no choice but to hijack it. She couldn't wait until she had revenge on all those that had wronged her; she needed it now, and the Steel Lily was the perfect tool for the job.
Asuka smiled blissfully as the diagnostics showed everything was in working order. She had to move quickly, before her employer brought some of her numerous resources against Asuka and ended her quest for vengeance before she took a second step toward it. But first there were some measures she had to take before leaving. She walked over to a terminal and loaded a program in that would erase all the work on the armor. This was her child, and she was damned if anyone else would be taking it from her. She wasn't concerned about any of the other morons on the project being able to duplicate her work, she had been too secretive about it. Oh, they could replicate some of the motor controls and advanced systems, but she had kept all the truly inspired innovations to herself. They could produce an armor that was slightly superior to the Raider suits, but that was about it. The most advanced battle armor in the world belonged exclusively to Asuka Saginomiya, and it was going to stay that way.
The Steel Lily was going to set the world on fire, but first, vengeance waited.
Roquat bowed before his mistress as she sat in the massive command center of her company. "I am afraid I bear grim tidings, Mistress. Miss Saginomiya ran off with the prototype she was developing and destroyed all the information on its manufacture. It is unlikely we will be able to duplicate it."
The woman considered the information. "Saginomiya has an almost pathological hatred of Kunou Industries, does she not?"
Roquat nodded. "Her psychiatric evaluation turned that up, among her various other mental issues, yes. She bears a particular malice toward Kodachi Kunou."
The woman smiled. "I do believe this fiasco might turn toward our advantage. This was an off-the-books project anyway, but make certain all traces of Miss Saginomiya's employment and that the armor was manufactured here cease to exist, and that everyone involved in the project knows to keep quiet about it. That way we'll have plausible deniability for whatever might happen to poor Kodachi Kunou and her company. If we're lucky, KI will be ours by the end of the week and Saginomiya will be wanted for murder. And if she fails, then we'll know that SL-000 armor wasn't all that we thought it would be."
Roquat bowed. "I am humbled by your brilliance, as ever."
"As well you should be, Roquat. As well you should be."
Kodachi Kunou looked over the computer screen displaying her father's private files for the third time, not wanting to believe what she saw. The truth was always the hardest thing to swallow, she was learning. That bastard, Orihara, had given her a most bitter pill to choke down. In the last five years, every time a military contract with him as head of the panel came up, her father had donated large sums of money to the Hokkaido Reclamation Project. On the surface it appeared to be a small outfit trying to reclaim land from the ocean, but a little investigating proved that either they were incredibly inefficient, or someone was siphoning off large amounts of cash from it under the table. Since the director of the HRP was an old school friend of Orihara's, it didn't take a genius to figure out how the pie was being split over there.
It irritated Kodachi to no end that that pig was extorting money, made worse because Kunou Industries clearly should have won all the contracts without the bribes. Apparently her father had not paid Orihara off once, which was how Saginomiya Machine won that single time. Since then her father had caved in to Orihara, and everything that should have been theirs in the first place was, just with a little off the top.
There was also some other interesting information about Orihara and some of KI's rivals, but at the moment it was of no use. Kodachi had a decision to make. It was obvious her father had not come by this information by legal means. Worse, KI had already paid Orihara a number of bribes. Blowing the whistle on him at this point would still leave KI's reputation in shambles, even if it was her late father who had done the bribing. It was also painfully obvious Orihara would make good on his threat and give the contract to someone else if Kodachi failed to pay. Threatening him in her guise as Iron Rose would probably be a bad idea as well. While there was a chance he would cave in, he might claim that Kodachi was threatening a government official for the contract, rather than it being in retaliation for the bribe. Other government officials might feel endangered by Kodachi's actions in any case, and if they felt threatened, they might threaten back, and the government of Japan had a lot more power than Kodachi Kunou. The same would apply if she asked for any of her Avenger allies to do it, and she wasn't comfortable with them knowing of her father's actions. She was at an impasse.
Pride, responsibility, and honor weighed heavily on her soul as she sat silently in her office and pondered her options.
Councilman Orihara sat at his dining room table, alone as he savored the remains of his dinner, a gourmet meal prepared by his personal chef. All was in place for tonight. Recent death threats had necessitated the presence of a highly trained bodyguard that remained outside his room, but it was hardly a distraction. This was his palace, in a manner of speaking, and quite impregnable. On the outside it appeared to be a traditional home, one that had been in his family for generations, but the huge lot it resided on was worth hundreds of millions of yen and reflected his true wealth. He had his own private gardens, reflecting pool, and numerous other displays of affluence across his property, all of it guarded by one of the best security systems money could buy. He had no fears, not here, in the center of his power.
Orihara mulled over the idea of having his favorite mistress come over for a little bit of fun when there was a knock on the door. Somewhat irritated at the interruption of his thoughts, he ordered it opened, and his manservant appeared with a phone in hand, informing Orihara that a call had come on his private line. If it was on that line, it was of utmost importance. Only people of consequence knew the number. He accepted the phone and dismissed the servant. Prying eyes and overheard statements had spilled more than one secret throughout history, especially by underlings who all too often went unnoticed, despite them being underfoot.
Orihara spoke into the receiver. "Hello… Oh, it's you, Miss Kunou. I'm very glad to hear from you, and so soon. I hope you've given the matter some thought…. You have? Excellent! And what's your answer?"
A loud whine came from outside the room, momentarily distracting the councilman. "Hold on. I just heard something odd." He placed the phone down on the table, next to the mostly devoured body of a Peking duck, and walked toward the door, intent on reaming out the bodyguard for distracting him during an important conversation.
Orihara threw open the door and saw the remains of something that at one time might have been human, but was now just a charred hunk of meat, not all that different from what lay on his dinner plate. Before the councilman could complete his thoughts, a loud thump caught his attention. He looked down the hall in the direction of the noise and saw a large white-and-red armored figure approach. He had been around military hardware long enough to recognize a battle suit, even if he didn't recognize what type it was.
Everything fell into place. Backing away, Orihara pleaded. "I have money. I can give you twice, no, ten times whatever it is you're being paid."
The armored figure raised its right arm, the one with the Blaze Cannon attached to it. "I'm being paid a pound of flesh, and let me assure you you'll be paying far more then ten times that."
Kodachi Kunou heard a loud noise, and then the phone went dead. She looked at it and shrugged. Perhaps the weasel had had second thoughts about taking bribes. So be it. It suited her just as well. It would be up to him to contact her if he wished to try and shake her down for money a second time, because she wasn't about to approach him and ask about the matter.
She hung up the phone, relieved at being able to sleep peacefully, at least for tonight.
"—And early this morning, Councilman Takao Orihara was found dead, along with his entire household staff and several bodyguards, in what has been theorized as a professional hit by some sort of criminal organization. Councilman Orihara had made many enemies over time due to his power and influence in politics, and there were rumors that he had been engaged in illegal activities himself. Also in the news—"
"Good riddance to crooked politicians." Sanso Takaguchi turned off the radio in his car and gazed briefly at the ocean as it passed by. He always enjoyed the view of ocean from the coastal highway. He took a moment to enjoy the briny air, then switched his attention to the upcoming meetings today. He had a conference to overview some details about a recent case with a client. That should take about forty minutes. Then he could have his secretary put in that new client. That would take an hour fifteen if he stretched it out and explained things very slowly. Then he had a business luncheon at a nearby café. Ten minutes to get there, and a little over an hour for the meal. With any luck he could charge for five hours work in less than three and a half and get to write off the lunch as a tax deduction. Thank god for that little phrase 'and a portion thereof'. It made life so much easier.
Takaguchi was mentally adding up the hours when there was a loud thump on the roof and he felt the car bounce on its shocks, as though something had landed on the vehicle. Panicked, he hit the brakes, but for some odd reason he kept going at the exact same speed. At first he thought the brakes had gone out, but then realized the car was starting to move not only faster, but higher. His hands clenched his steering wheel so tightly the knuckles turned white. Somewhere in the back of his mind, a rational part said he should try to call for help on his cell phone, but all the other parts preferred remaining paralyzed until something shocked them out of it. Soon he was above the highway, then he ran out of highway and was driving above the ocean with a far more breathtaking view than he had ever experienced. He could feel himself leaning backward as the car rose up in the sky, like a jet that had just taken off.
Watching the ocean traveling beneath his tires was the shock that started everything going. "What's going on?!" he screamed at the top of his lungs.
The sound of Asuka Saginomiya's electronically filtered voice came over a loudspeaker from above the car. "Revenge for your betrayal, Judas, and justice for your blatant overbilling." The Steel Lily cut the magnetic hold she had on the car, dropping it into the ocean with Takaguchi inside. At the height he plummeted from and the speed with which he would hit, it might as well have been concrete.
Asuka used a device on the armor to record the moment for posterity.
Kodachi Kunou watched as one of her newest inventions rumbled out of the storage complex and onto the concrete, heading toward the new construction site situated on Kunou Industries property. It was great timing that she should complete it just as they started to tear down the biolabs that used to house the pineapple genetics laboratory. An obsession with pineapples was her father's preoccupation, not hers, and it was time Kunou Industries stuck with mechanical engineering, and not waste money on building the better tropical fruit.
Outwardly the vehicle appeared to be a cross between an octopus and a construction site, which was a fairly accurate comparison. The new vehicle was intended to be multipurpose. It was like a steam roller, crane, forklift, scoop shovel and wrecking crew all in one. While it was so monstrously gigantic it could only be used on large scale construction sites, it was less than half the price of buying all the pieces of equipment individually, and could be operated by half as many people. The advertising branch was a bit leery as test markets had indicated many construction workers were turned off by the vehicle's mish-mash appearance, but Kodachi was convinced it would catch on. The fact that its shakedown run would also be used to save money as she knocked down and rebuilt one of her labs was a bonus and good omen, as far as she was concerned.
Kodachi's cell phone beeped. The display indicated the number was from the security branch of KI. Concerned, she asked, "What is it?"
The head of security said, "Ma'am, radar just picked up an unidentified object moving at a high velocity toward—"
The rest was cut off as a wide beam of ruby energy lanced down from the sky and blew up the prototype construction vehicle.
Kodachi watched as a white and red armored figure landed next to the twisted pieces of metal that had once been her creation. "I think I can identify it." She hung up the phone and dived into the nearest empty office. Luckily she had her attaché case with her, and this newcomer had drawn everyone's attention. That was all the privacy she needed. Within seconds she would don her streamlined Iron Rose armor, and then there would be hell to pay.
Outside the building, Steel Lily stared down at the ruins of the ugly monstrosity that she had blown apart. She watched in amusement as people began running away from her in terror.
Activating her loudspeaker, she shouted, "If you thought something like that would be marketable, I'm doing you a favor in blowing it to pieces." She looked around and, realizing she was in the heart of her only remaining enemy's stronghold, decided to have some fun. She started to field test her weapons on every vehicle and smaller target around. Equipment, parts, cars, and even dumpsters were destroyed with her various weapons. While she didn't deliberately target any human beings, she didn't go out of her way to make certain everyone was in the clear when she opened fire either.
After gleefully blowing apart every vehicle in sight, an amusing idea occurred to Steel Lily. She reactivated her loudspeaker and said, "Lowly worker ants of Kunou Industries, hear me now. I demand you hand your employer, Kodachi Kunou, over to me. If you fail to provide me with the person I wish to kill, I will satisfy myself by killing all of you instead. You have five minutes to comply."
"Five seconds is all it will take to finish you off!"
Steel Lily turned in the direction of the voice and got hit with twin repulsor rays for her trouble. Gyroscopes in her armor tried keeping her upright, but the force was too great and she was hurled to the ground. She looked up to see that accursed bodyguard of Kodachi's, the infernal copycat, Iron Rose, flying around.
Reflexively, Steel Lily brought up her Blaze Cannon. The beam of energy hit Iron Rose squarely in the body and sent her hurtling to the ground, her armor smoldering from the intensity of the blast.
Asuka rose to her feet. "I am Steel Lily, you worthless piece of KI crap. Today is the day I prove to the world the greatness of my genius, and the inferiority of that overrated moron, Kodachi Kunou, by peeling that armor off you like a banana."
Iron Rose returned to her feet. "So says someone dressed in a knockoff of my old armor."
"It is not a knockoff!" Steel Lily raged as she fired her Blaze Cannon once again. Iron Rose flew up, avoiding the blast, but Steel Lily had been expecting that. She put full power into her jets and shot up at top speed, a human missile. The speed was so great Iron Rose could do nothing as her foe slammed into her with an airborne tackle that carried them both through the air. A cry of pain escaped Iron Rose's lips as they collided with the very labs that had been slated for destruction.
They landed in the third floor before skidding to a halt. Steel Lily released her hold, a bit disoriented by the experience, and started to rise when a savage fist met her head, knocking her backward. Another blow landed in her stomach, where the armor was thicker, though some damage warnings flashed across her diagnostics display.
Overestimating how much damage the second blow had inflicted, Iron Rose moved too slowly as her opponent grabbed her by the helmet with an oversized hand. The smirk under Steel Lily's visor could be felt as she said, "Let's see how you like electricity."
Tens of thousands of volts poured into the black and grey armor. Steel Lily amused herself by guessing how much voltage she'd have to send into the dilapidated piece of useless machinery before it, and the woman inside, succumbed to the amperage.
Her estimate of two hundred thousand was proven wrong as a blow far mightier than any of the others knocked Steel Lily through five rather thick walls and clean out of the building. She flew through the air nearly as fast as she had entering the structure. The ground arrested her flight, leaving a crater in the pavement with the armored warrior in the center.
Iron Rose flew out of the hole Steel Lily had created. She landed next to the crater, hands on her hips, flaunting her superiority. "Ohhohoho! I enjoyed it very much, since I can absorb it and make my armor even more powerful. Let's see if you can say the same." She pointed her own armored gauntlet at the fallen girl. Numerous ribbon-like wires shot out from concealed holes in the forearm and wrapped themselves around the armor. Seconds later, voltage shot down their length.
Unfazed by the electricity, Steel Lily rose to her feet.
Iron Rose cut the power and retracted her ribbons. "I see you can deal with it, not that it takes much intellect to devise armor which can harness electricity."
Tired of this upstart's continued survival, Steel Lily shouted out, "Die!" and opened up with her Blaze Cannon. Again Iron Rose lifted up to the skies. Inside her armor, Asuka smirked at the fool's ineptness in attempting the same evasion twice. She shot up in the air, intent on drilling her foe so hard that there would be nothing left but a splotch of pulped flesh inside her armor.
This time Iron Rose was prepared, her lighter armor far more agile than Steel Lily suspected. The smaller armored figure barely managed an aerial twist which avoided the ram by mere centimeters. Realizing she had missed her target, Steel Lily tried arcing back to hit her on a second pass. However, the massive armor was not built for maneuverability, and the turn arc was large and ponderous. Repulsor beams hit her in the left calf, right where her external engines were located. The beams hit with such force they knocked out the jets on that leg. Unable to compensate for thrust coming from only one side, Steel Lily went out of control, landing headfirst into the ground and leaving a second smaller, but still significant, impact crater behind.
She rose up from the cracked and broken pavement, seething in fury like a pent up volcano. Screaming incoherently she unleashed dozens of blasts from her Blaze Cannon, lighting up the sky with a ruby display. The barrage forced Iron Rose to put everything she had into evading the aerial assault. Her old armor would have been struck a dozen times, but with her Mark II, only a trio of blasts barely nicked her suit.
Steel Lily poured on the bombardment until her weapon suddenly ceased firing. It took several seconds for the lack of fire to register. A quick check showed the Blaze Cannon had overheated and some of the wires leading to the power pack on the back had melted, rendering the weapon non-operational.
Iron Rose used the opportunity to return fire. Twin repulsor beams struck, driving Steel Lily further into the crater she had created. Signs of external damage could finally be seen in the form of some cracks appearing where the beams had impacted.
The flying girl taunted, "It appears your pitiful weapon is broken. I guess you'll have to go back to your basement to create another one."
In response Steel Lily raised her left arm, pointing her fist at her foe. A pill-shaped bolt of energy leapt from it, striking the posturing Iron Rose and sending her spiraling to the ground. Slowly the dark armored hero rose to her feet and the two squared off again.
"Pulse bolt. The farther away you are, the more powerful it gets," Steel Lily explained.
"It just means it'll take longer to defeat you, but I will. Your inexperience and inferior gear is showing."
"The only thing your piece of scrap has going for it is maneuverability. Stand still and you'll be history," Steel Lily shot back.
"That maneuverability is exactly why I switched to a lighter armor. All the firepower in the world means nothing if you can't hit your target," Iron Rose boasted.
"Point taken. Let's see if I can convince you to remain stationary." She pointed over Iron Rose's shoulder and shouted, "Look, innocent bystanders!"
Iron Rose suddenly became aware of the fact their battle had taken them near the main gates of Kunou Industries where people were fleeing in massive numbers, some of them on foot, others in vehicles. There was no way she could protect everyone from Steel Lily, not with the distance between them.
"You can't do it!" Iron Rose shouted.
"Just watch." From the triangle in the center of Steel Lily's chest, a laser shot out toward a passenger shuttle full of people that had been trying to escape. Rather than striking the vehicle, the laser cut through the tires, immobilizing it.
Steel Lily taunted in a teasing voice, "And for my next trick." She aimed the laser much higher this time, cutting through the support of a huge antenna that served as the primary communications for the headquarters. It began toppling toward the stationary bus even as people tried to flee out of it in a mad panic.
Seeing virtually no one would get out in time, Iron Rose rocketed at top speed, catching the teetering antenna before it had descended halfway. It was heavy enough that with the damage her armor had taken, in combination with the power she had used up, she was fighting a losing battle with the structure's weight.
Rather than attacking immediately, Steel Lily rose up in the air, hovering on her jets, despite the damage to one of her legs. From the square shape on her back, several long sheets of thin metal extended, widening and curling forward, almost like the petals of a flower. A golden spark of energy jumped between two of the sheets. A second later several others followed between different petals. Soon a steady steam of sparks jumped between them, flecks of white interspersed in the flow of energy. Within moments there was a solid field of energy leaping between the petals and a nimbus of orange surrounded the white and red armor.
"Suffer the wrath of Steel Lily's most lethal attack: Deathblossom!" A beam of golden energy several times the thickness of the laser burst from her armor's chest.
The last of the shuttle passengers had fled to safety when the Deathblossom beam hit Iron Rose fully in the back. The impact blew her clean through the antenna, cutting it in two, where it crashed to the ground harming no one. Iron Rose herself soared through the air in what was obviously an uncontrolled flight, and landed out of sight.
Steel Lily floated back to the ground, her power supply dangerously low. Deathblossom was by far her most formidable weapon, but also her most draining, and her power level hadn't been that high to begin with. It had actually released more energy than the simulations had shown, and had ruined the circuitry in her chest weaponry, preventing any chance of using the weapon a second time. Even the chest laser was ruined. It would take several minutes for her armor to recharge enough to be considered battleworthy, but Iron Rose would be lucky if she were still alive after taking a direct hit from Deathblossom. Still, it didn't pay to take chances.
Judging by the point of impact and Iron Rose's arc, Steel Lily estimated the body had probably fallen near the edge of Kunou Industries grounds. She made certain she walked slowly before arriving near the location where she guessed her foe had landed. To her surprise, while there was a furrow through the concrete that indicated where Kunou's bodyguard had landed, there was no body. Looking around, Steel Lily spotted several bits of black metal lying near an open warehouse-like structure. So she had been damaged, but not mortally, at least, not yet. But that could easily be rectified.
With her armor recharged to thirty percent, Steel Lily was willing to put that up against whatever remained of Kodachi's pathetic little brainchild. Steel Lily entered the warehouse, her sensors extended at maximum, though they operated at less than half their normal efficiency. It turned out she didn't need the armor's systems to locate her foe amongst the machines in what was some sort of indoor testing facility. Steel Lily's eyes were more than sufficient to see Iron Rose crawling like a pathetic maggot, trying to lift herself up by grabbing onto some control panel, her armor in shambles. The metal was mostly missing from the back where Deathblossom had struck, and cracks ran throughout the whole thing. It was almost certainly inoperable. As wrecked as it was, a band of common street thugs could probably finish off the much overrated bodyguard. One more blast from a pulse bolt was all it would take.
As Steel Lily moved in for the kill, walking slowly so as to savor the moment, Iron Rose turned and held up her hand. Reflexively Steel Lily tensed, expecting another repulsor ray to strike her. Instead the bodyguard cried out, "Wait! Tell me why you're doing this."
For a moment Steel Lily pondered firing anyway, then reconsidered. Her other enemies hadn't truly known why they were going to die. She had been so eager to kill Orihara she had shot him on sight, and Takaguchi hadn't had time to appreciate what had happened to him. Anyone could kill an enemy, making them suffer was the province of the truly talented.
Steel Lily snarled out, "Vengeance! The Kunous cheated me out of my business, my family, and my life, so I'm going to take theirs. I'm going to kill you, your employer, level this entire facility, and then I'm going to have lunch!"
"Killing doesn't solve anything," Iron Rose gasped out.
"Actually, I've found killing my enemies has made everything better." She raised her hands up. "Especially when they underestimate me by thinking…."
She spun, firing pulse bolts into the robotic arms that had been moving the ten-ton piece of rock toward her. The blasts sheared the arms off, sending the masonry to the floor, landing a mere two meters in front of her. She stared at the slab, smiling under her helmet. "…that they can distract me with their inane babble while they try something pathetic like this to stop me."
Behind her, Iron Rose said, "Actually, my talk wasn't the distraction. That thing was."
Steel Lily spun around and found a cannon with a glowing multi-faceted crystal pointing right at her. She brought her arms up again, but it was too late as the beam of energy hit solidly in the chest at near point blank range. The blast lifted her off her feet and embedded her two feet deep into the concrete slab. Her armored form remained there, unmoving, almost like a fossilized piece of technology.
"My armor can still kick your armor's ass," Iron Rose said, then slumped against the control panel.
"Visitor for you, Tinfoil Lily."
Asuka turned a contemptuous eye at the prison guard. She mentally marked the woman as being one of the first to fall when she managed to break out of here. Many of the guards and inmates needed to pay for making her time in prison hell. She'd just level the whole goddamn place, once she figured out how to escape and build a new armor. After that, she'd hunt down and kill Kodachi's armored thug, and then the girl herself. Kunou hadn't escaped vengeance; she'd simply prolonged her life for a little while longer. Already Asuka's mind was awhirl with new innovations for her Steel Lily armor. She'd take out that oversized toaster in less than five minutes.
But vengeance was for later. She allowed herself to be led by the guard to the visitors' room. Asuka wondered who had come to visit her. She had kept quiet about her connection to her temporary employer, who hadn't lodged any protests about her actions. Hadn't mentioned anything at all about her being hired there, for that matter. Apparently they were content to keep things quiet, and Asuka was perfectly happy to do the same. There was no one else who would visit her that she was aware of. Certainly no one had since she had arrived.
The guard sat Asuka down in the little cubicle with the transparent glass across from her. To her right was a phone that could be used to communicate with the visitor. Upon identifying who the person on the other side of the glass was, it took everything Asuka had to not try to leap through it, and that was only because she didn't want to injure herself by bouncing off the shatterproof material.
"What do you want, you overrated car mechanic?" Asuka spat into the phone at Kodachi, wishing her words could kill.
Kodachi stared at her through the glass, her gaze placid, as though the knowledge that the person across from her wanted her dead more than anything in the world meant nothing. "I asked around to find out why you wanted to kill me. I thought you might have been behind the disappearance of my father and brother, but there's no way you could have done it. You didn't have any real motive until your company went under, which was long after they left."
"If they pop back up, I promise to kill them right after I finish you and that bitch bodyguard of yours," Asuka swore.
Kodachi smiled slightly. "You don't like me because you think my company stole what would have been your military contracts when we bribed Orihara, yes?"
"Of course!" Asuka spat. "The one time you didn't bribe him, Saginomiya Machine won the contract. That's why you started bribing him, because you couldn't compete with us."
Kodachi shook her head. "Actually, when he first shook down Kunou Industries for money, my father refused to pay him. After losing out on the contract, my father investigated the situation. He discovered all of the secret accounts and where Orihara's money came from. Many interesting places, as it turned out. Very many interesting places, including one from Saginomiya Machine. That's why you won the contract. After that one loss, my father simply out-bribed yours. That was why we kept winning contract after contract. It wasn't because you stood on some moral high ground; my father was simply a better cheater than yours was. Well, that and KI makes better things than SM ever did. I just thought you should know you threw away your life based on a lie."
The look of shock on Asuka's face was worth all the broken ribs, sprained muscles, and bruises Kodachi had suffered from the assault at her hands. Kodachi rose from her chair and had turned her back when she heard Asuka bodily hurling herself against the glass, sending a round of vitriolic expletives in her direction. Kodachi privately admitted she probably could have dealt with the situation better, but it had been cathartic. After the beating she had suffered, and the damage inflicted on Kunou Industries, it was the least Asuka deserved.
Perhaps she should have cut Asuka a break. After all, the self-proclaimed Steel Lily had done Kodachi a favor in killing Orihara. The new head of the committee appeared honest, or at least he wasn't trying to extort money from Kunou Industries, allowing the contract to be won on merit, and no one was better than KI.
That meant Asuka had saved Kodachi the money it would have taken to bribe Orihara into not holding out on the contracts. She hadn't liked the idea of bribing him, but crooked or not, that was the way the game was played under Orihara's rules, with the contract going to she who bribed the best. At least the corrupt politician had inadvertently done his job by choosing the best weapons, even if it wasn't for the right reasons. Kodachi would have been reluctantly willing to do the same things her father had when it came to Orihara. She would have been damned if she'd allow Kunou Industries to go the way Saginomiya Machine had for her pride. But it hadn't happened, so what difference did it really make?
It was with a clean conscience she left Asuka and the prison behind, ready to enjoy yet another day of her wonderful life.
To be continued.
Author's notes: Asuka's armor design is an amalgamation of Iron Man's old foes, Mauler (which stood for Mobile Armed Utility Laser: E-Beam Revised) and the oneshot Steel Samurai.
|Act 2, Scene 6|
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