A Ranma ½ / Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon crossover story
by Josh Temple
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon belongs to Takeuchi Naoko, Koudansha, TV Asahi, and Toei Douga, and DIC.
Chapter 2: Reassignments and Revisions
Kasumi was on her bed in front of her laptop. Sitting with her legs crossed, she typed quickly and efficiently, watching the characters appear on the screen. Command agreed that the actions she took were appropriate for the situation. While writing the formal report, she reminded them that it was Gabriel who noticed the pattern anomaly, and thus prevented her strike team from making a rather bad mistake.
The fact that this entire incident seemed to be a "test" orchestrated by Murdock was also mentioned. She then made the inquiry as to exactly what Murdock's role was in the Company organization. Granted, his reports seemed to be accurate and useful, but the man's agenda was a mystery. After revising the report, she encrypted it and sent it out to Command.
Opening another session, she started examining the reports from Forensic Pathology Section. Sighing, she scrolled through the gruesome images and the meticulously detailed reports. Midway through the second report, she heard knocking at the door.
"Who is it?" she asked, reflexively drawing her right hand to her left side.
"Ranma," the slightly bored voice from the hallway said.
"Enter," she said moving her hand back to the keyboard.
Ranma opened the door to see the young woman seated on her bed, laptop in front of her. She was wearing a light tank top and a pair of shorts. He could see two pairs of boots lined up next to the bed.
"Come in and close the door," she said, not taking her eyes off the screen. "What do you want?" she asked after the door clicked shut.
"I was looking for some sheets for the guest bed and your father told me to ask you."
"Even though just I arrived today," she observed, sighing.
"I thought it was some attempt to get us together," Ranma agreed.
"So why did you take the engagement?" Ranma asked, walking to the foot of the bed.
Kasumi looked up from the machine. "I told you, it was the easiest way to get it out of the way."
"Really? Neither of your sisters has a job like you do," Ranma replied to the woman, who appeared to still be wearing a sidearm.
"True, but since neither of us has any intention of taking this engagement further, we can handle it like professionals."
"I guess it's a relief that you're not interested in me."
"Yes, considering what I was planning to do to you in the car earlier."
"About that; if you and you friends managed to kill me, how in the hell would you explain the body to the cops? I mean, what the hell? Just because your pager tells you to doesn't mean you should kill someone."
"You think we were the only operatives present?" Kasumi sighed. "Granted, the operation was rushed, but by no means was it handled poorly. If you managed to get past us, which according to Gabriel you easily could have, there were three armored strike teams with full aerial support. If you got past that, Command had authorized the use of more drastic weapons."
Ranma looked at the young woman, unsure of how to proceed. He was not prepared for situations like this. A calm explanation of an attempted assassination was not something one expected in a fiancée.
"And how long did it take to plan this?"
"Time from my first call to the ambush was thirty-two minutes," Kasumi said, still working at her machine.
"This doesn't make sense. Even if you killed me, how would you explain my corpse and the bullet-ridden car? What about your family? Hell — what about the police?"
Kasumi slowly turned her gaze to her fiancé. She allowed a small smile to grow on her face. "Minutes away from the ambush site were medical and forensic crews ready to come in once the situation was controlled. Our wounded would be evacuated. Whatever was left of your body would be bagged and put into containment. My car and any other damaged vehicles would be taken away on flatbed trucks. Forensics would stay at the site until everything was cataloged and cleaned up. We also had a road crew on call in case the roadbed got damaged."
Ranma looked at the girl strangely. How large was this organization that she was working for?
"Now, as for explaining your disappearance, that would be done rather simply. On our way home, a drunk driver ran through a red light slamming into the passenger side of my car. Actually, an exact duplicate of it taken from the Company's motor-pool would be used in the 'accident'. It wouldn't do to use a bullet-riddled car. You died instantly and had to be identified by your wallet and whatever dental records could be found. I would be hospitalized, and after a week in intensive care, I would be sent to a rehabilitation clinic in Vancouver which specializes in injuries like mine. Your father would be put under observation. Any suspicious activities would lead to his immediate detention."
"And if you happened to die in the attempt to take me down, well, the accident could be set up so that we both died," Ranma said, trying to digest the information. For Kasumi and her associates to pull off an operation of this size and complexity, they had to have immense organization and power.
"Exactly," Kasumi said, again typing while thinking, Good, it looks like he has some intelligence. Then aloud, "Now, when it became apparent that you were a Pattern Silver, the entire mission was called off. If Murdock had given us a full brief, we could have avoided all this unpleasantness."
"So Murdock knew how you would react to seeing me?"
"Yeah. It was most likely a test of his."
"To see if the Company can figure out the truth without getting into an unnecessary firefight. To test out the mentality of the Silvers' new recruit"
"So you think I'm one of them," he noted sourly.
"Oh yes. The possession is quite strong. How Pattern D and Silver can commingle like that is unknown, but perhaps with time," Kasumi said, terminating her connection.
"Why are you telling me all this? What the hell does this 'Company' have to do with anything? Why did you take the engagement?"
Kasumi closed her laptop and then swiveled her body to face him. It really is a shame, she thought looking at him, He's just a kid. He didn't ask to be a part of this. The only reason he's in this mess it because he was tricked into more than he bargained for. Kasumi's empathy was mitigated by the realities of the situation. This was war; sacrifices were going to be made. Besides, WIC always recruited young. When she was Ranma's age, she was already on field assignment. "Command ordered me to answer all of your inquiries," she said simply.
"The same people that told you to kill me."
"When a Class 7 demon appears in the house of a Company operative, hostile intent is assumed. I was quite surprised when you didn't try to rip out my throat."
"It's all Pluto's fault," Ranma said rather defensively.
Kasumi nodded slightly.
"Okay, you thought I was a demon, so tried to get me away from your family before I could hurt them."
Kasumi nodded, thinking, Good, he's walking through this rationally. This will make tomorrow's business all the easier.
"And after you found out that I associated with those magical twits, you called command, scrubbing the mission."
Kasumi noted his choice of words.
"And then you took me grocery shopping. It was the produce aisle where you suggested that the engagement should be held between us. That's what doesn't make any damn sense! Instead of a simply apology, something like 'Hey, sorry about how me and my friends jabbed guns in your face. I know how that can be a real drag. Oh, and by the way, thanks for not justly defending yourself by ripping us apart.'
"No, I get something nice and crazy like 'Well, it turns out we're not supposed to kill you, and you'd kick our ass if we tried. Wanna get engaged? I'm a better choice than Akane!'" Ranma finished.
"With all due respect, Akane is rather violent, has anger management issues, and is ever so slightly unstable."
Ranma looked on as the young woman, still wearing her sidearm, gave a flat assessment of her sister's mental health. Ranma considered saying something like "Pot to kettle?", but the sick part was that Kasumi wasn't angry, just violent. Throughout the entire ambush, she and her team had maintained their cool, levelly staring down certain doom. Instead Ranma found himself saying, "Let me guess: your Company told you to take the engagement?"
"I'm sorry, that information is classified," Kasumi stated flatly.
"Sorry, just joking," Kasumi said in the same voice. "I did it because you'll attract a lot of attention to whoever you got engaged to. It's not just DarkStar; your file speaks for itself. Neither of my sisters should be put at risk by the engagement. I'm the one with the training. I should take up the responsibility."
"You don't actually plan to go through with this?"
"You think that because I was prepared to kill you that I'd be willing to marry you?" Kasumi laughed. "As I've stated before, I did this to just get the engagement out of the way."
"So you can do your job unencumbered."
"That is a part of the story," Kasumi admitted.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Ranma asked indignantly.
Kasumi looked at Ranma and sighed. He deserved more information, but orders were orders, and the wait would only be several more hours. "The linen closet is across the hall, two doors to the left," she said, reopening her laptop.
"So that's it," Ranma said, shaking his head as he turned the door knob.
"For now," Kasumi muttered once he had left the room and the door had clicked shut.
Setsuna gave a sigh of relief as she keyed into apartment 1029. She could sense that her apartment was completely empty. That meant no Murdock. She assumed that Murdock could defeat any security system, magical or technological, but he never bothered to hide his presence. She believed that this was another way Murdock subtly expressed his control of the situation.
She turned around, her neutral face scanning the five girls. Their presence also reaffirmed Murdock's control. No, she thought. The Senshi would have been needed here even without Murdock's interference. Her reconnaissance had shown that much. All Murdock did was bring the situation to her attention early on, before it became critical.
It was another frustration the Time Senshi had with that rogue Rune-Mage. All of Murdock's actions to date seemed to be centered on the recall of Sailor DarkStar. That he had even known of the original DarkStar, a one-time fluke in over a thousand years of Silver Millennium history, was quite worrisome. As to what his future plans were, Setsuna had no idea, something that irritated her to no end.
"So why are we here?" Usagi asked, following the older woman into the apartment.
"There's probably some other group that wants to enslave mankind, but this time they moved their operations to Canada," Rei replied.
"That's part of it," Setsuna said, turning on the apartment's overhead lights. She turned and waited for the five girls to enter so she could close the door. Unsurprisingly, they all had some degree of sluggishness and disorientation. Crossing fourteen time-zones and the International Date Line will have that effect on the human body. Although the time-mage's knowledge of this was purely academic.
After she had stored the girl's luggage in her spare bedroom and gotten them settled down in her living room with some food, Meiou went into her hall closet to get her equipment. The girls were undoubtedly tired, but they had to be briefed now.
Makoto sipped her soda, still relieved to be on the ground and proud to have handled herself as well as she did during the flight. Having lost both her parents in a plane crash, she could sympathize with Usagi. It was only now that the reality of the situation had hit. They were far away from home, in a foreign land, getting ready to once again fight indescribable horrors. Hopefully this time no one would get killed or possessed.
She hoped that her English was good enough. She had done fairly well in class. Well, at least they had Ami, Minako, and Rei in addition to Setsuna. Minako had lived in England during that whole Sailor-V thing. Rei was taught by Jesuits at T*A Private Girls' School. It still amused her, despite the frequency and normality of it, that a Shinto shrine maiden went to a Catholic school. Then there was Ami who was not only fluent in English, but also German, and was recently trying to pick up Welsh for some reason.
"What's with the projector?" Minako asked, looking at the slide projector the green-haired woman had brought into the room.
"It's to get you up to speed," Setsuna said as she placed the projector on an end table. She then walked over to the living room's floor-to-ceiling windows. In the center was a sliding door that connected to her balcony. After giving a brief glance at the inky blackness of the smallest of Great Lakes, she pulled the blinds shut. She turned around, looked the girls over, stopping at the twin-ponytailed blonde.
"I should start at the beginning," she said, plugging in the projector and loading the slide carousel. Holding the projector's corded remote, she began. "It started with JAL flight 5827," she said as she pressed the forward button on the control.
The first slide was that of a Boeing 747-400 in mid-flight. It had the white body, grey wing and fuselage strips, and red tail crane of Japan Airlines. The only visible change it had from earlier models of the four-engine, two-level plane were the vertical winglets on the tips of the wings.
Usagi looked at the image projected on the apartment wall. She knew that was the plane he had been on. She remembered waking up an hour before the alarm went off and just knowing what had happened.
Setsuna continued with her presentation. She mentioned that while JAL, Boeing, and the NTSB had yet to figure out the exact reason for the crash, they believed it to be some sort of electrical and computer sabotage. It is of note that shortly after takeoff, two mechanics and one technician working for JAL at Tokyo International went missing.
"According to the fight data recorders and the cockpit voice recorders, the flight crew lost all control of the plane. The plane simply nosed down nine degrees below the horizontal and increased its velocity ever so slightly above cruising speed. Unfortunately, with that velocity and angle of descent, the plane was falling two hundred and fifty feet every second," Setsuna stated with clinical detachment, switching to a slide that illustrated the plane's velocity and rate of descent as if it were a basic physics problem.
Pointing to the portion of the graph where the plane finally leveled off, the emerald-haired woman went on. "The only reason the plane didn't slam into the North Pacific at over six hundred miles per hour was the flight crew's disabling of the rogue systems. It took them two frantic minutes switching to different backup and subsystems to regain control of the plane. In that time the plane had descended from its cruising altitude of thirty-five thousand feet to a mere five thousand feet."
She then described what happened next. Yes, the pilot had had control of the flight surfaces, but then they had lost power to the engines. They were then flying a four-hundred-forty ton glider. There was no choice; it had to be a water landing. There was no chance of reaching land, not flying barely five thousand feet above the water with no propulsion.
"However, it was at this point when things started looking up for JAL flight 5827. For once, the North Pacific seas were calm, the air temperature was hovering at sixty degrees Fahrenheit, and there was a ship nearby to pick up any survivors," Setsuna said as she clicked the control forward.
The third slide contained a large red and grey fishing trawler. The name written on its bow was "Arctic Keinsmith". The hundred or so crab pots stacked on the stern deck of the ruggedly reinforced ship seemed ominous somehow.
"It was a textbook water landing. The plane slowed gently, making contact with the water without rolling or flipping over. The crew was well organized on getting all the passengers out before the plane could sink. It was only after boarding the Keinsmith that he was killed. His body was found in a bathroom near the center hold. It looked like he slipped on some wet tiles just as the ship lurched forward. The autopsy revealed that the gouge in his left temple exactly matched the corner of the sink."
"That's how he died?" Usagi asked incredulously. First of all, her boyfriend was not supposed to die, what with how the future was going to unfold, but if he was, it should have been in battle, or saving lives, or at the very least in some horrible disaster he had no control over. But to die in a simple one-in-a-million home accident was somehow even worse.
"Well, yes. You knew he survived the crash only to die in what appears to be a freakish accident."
"And he can't be brought back?"
"No. I didn't get to him in time, and even if I did, I'm not sure it would have worked. There are other factors at work here, ones that should not be taken lightly."
"You're saying Mamoru's death was a deliberate act. Why?" Makoto asked. She kept the rest to herself. Why not try to kill someone more powerful or important? Why him?
"It doesn't make sense. Why go through all the trouble and expense of sabotaging a plane, if you're just going to kill the person in a bathroom?" Ami asked.
"Maybe what happened on that ship was a backup plan. You know, in case they somehow managed to land the plane safely," Rei proposed.
Meanwhile, Meiou had stepped of to the side with a glass of water, watching where this little brainstorm went.
"That makes even less sense. Plan A is a spectacular plane crash at more than six hundred miles per hour, and Plan B is a bathroom slip-up job," Makoto responded.
"How could they have even done this plan B? Unless they had someone on the plane, willing to die if A went off," Rei said, adding her two cents.
"They could have had someone on that ship," Ami said pointing to the projection.
"But why go through such a convoluted plan? There were so many ways it could have failed. I mean, the plane didn't even crash. They had to resort to that insane backup plan."
"Unless there was no backup plan," Ami mused.
"What, the plan was to have them regain control of the plane only to have to ditch it into the ocean? That's even more convoluted," Rei replied.
"It doesn't make any sense. Why kill him in such a manner?"
"To allow his power to pass on to his heir," Usagi replied.
"That's exactly right," Setsuna said. "The power he wields was designed to be passed down to the designated male heir when its original owner died."
"But he didn't have anyone to pass the power to."
"Yes. This has happened before, and there is a procedure to let someone else take up his powers."
"You mean replace him?"
"So when are you planning on doing this? Do you have a list of candidates?"
"Oh, I did the transfer a couple of months ago."
"What?" Usagi demanded. "Why did you do that?" the blonde asked narrowing her eyes.
"It had to be done," Setsuna replied flatly.
"You should have told me about this before you went ahead and changed someone. How long would it have taken to give a simple call? Damn it, Meiou, you've got powers over time. Why didn't you tell me about this until now?"
"The selection and transfer process had to go off a certain way, or else things could go very wrong — much worse than they currently are."
"This has happened before?" Rei asked
"Oh yes. Let's see, twice the process had to be used due to assassination. In one case, several explosive devices were smuggled into an Earth Palace during a state dinner. The other series of assassinations was a particularly nasty variable time delay bio-agent. Over twenty-six hundred died before a stable quarantine was established. The other three cases were more of a lack of heirs due to a few generations of inbreeding," Setsuna said in the manner of a contained yet contented historian.
"The process itself is fairly intricate, needing the proper series of glyphs," Setsuna said, clicking the projector forward twice. Projected onto the wall was the inside of a cavernous, rundown warehouse. Drawn on the floor was an immense mural of runes, geometric shapes, and other assorted symbols. Despite the chaotic, frantic look of the immense scrawling, there seemed to be an overall pattern and geometric coherence to the design.
In the center of the figure was a largish null area devoid of the monochromatic lines and dots. It bore some resemblance to the union of two parallel but opposite ellipses with three scalene triangles running across the ovals.
"I had the candidate in position and at the right time." Setsuna said clicking the projector back one. This one was of a black-haired teen standing on a pier, his back to grey water. He was average height, well-built, and had a small braided pigtail. His blue eyes were precise yet slightly muted.
"Handsome," Minako observed.
"His name is Ranma Saotome. He's an exceedingly skilled martial artist. He's also a quite honorable and just person, one that would take well to that power. I asked him if he would be willing to volunteer for the procedure. He agreed."
"So this is the man that we'll be working with?" Rei asked. It was a shame that Usagi would end up with him, what with that whole Earth-Moon thing.
"Not exactly," Pluto said slowly.
"What, did he get killed too?" Makoto asked sarcastically.
"Well, during the transfer, there was some unpleasantness," Setsuna said clicking the projector forward twice. Her eyes narrowed at the image of a cute little redhead. The young woman looked annoyed and amused at the same time. "While training in China, Ranma picked up a water-based curse that turns him into a girl. This curse activated when an overhead pipe broke during the procedure."
"So we now have a redhead on the team?" Minako asked.
"I hope you can swing that way," Rei teased Usagi.
"I hope he doesn't mind the fuku," Makoto observed.
"Oh, come on. I don't think this procedure would be so harebrained that some curse activating could turn some guy into a magical girl," Ami stated. "Right, Pluto?"
"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" Meiou observed. "The problem is that only men are supposed to have the power that Endymion had. During the entire Silver Millennium, there was only one instance of a woman wielding that power, and she — well, was not exactly human, and the transfer used her as a template to use on Ranma."
"What happened?" Usagi demanded, her voice cold and even.
"This," Setsuna said, clicking to the next slide. On it was a rather voluptuous redheaded woman. She was wearing something that almost looked like a Senshi uniform. Her black leather knee-high boots were not terribly unusual, given the group's esoteric mix of high heels, knee-highs, sandals, Mary-Janes, and what could have almost passed for ballet slippers. While having a rather high heel on them — almost five inches — these were not simple shoes, but actual, to use an expression, shit-kickers.
The red-trimmed black leather skirt was about right, although it was even shorter than usual. The top was something else entirely. Resembling a bikini, it used purple and red ribbons to keep it in place. She also had the standard jewelry, although the stones in her earrings and tiara were pure obsidian orbs. Her hair, reaching to mid-back, was a dark, almost blood color with intermittent purple highlights. Her makeup was slightly more elaborate than the normal for a Senshi, and meshed very well with her violet eyes.
However, the girls present did not focus on these details, for the woman on the screen had other, more unusual, features. The pale skin and particularly long and pointy canines could be overlooked. The little black horns, purple-barbed red tail and large dark purple and red wings could not be discounted quite so easily.
Usagi was the first to speak. "Pluto, one question: during your selection process for a replacement for Mamoru, something which you're only telling me of now, did it not occur to you to choose a person who might not end up being turned into a powerful demon just because they got a little bit wet at the wrong moment?"
"There are few who match the exacting requirements needed for the procedure, and fewer still willing to put themselves through it. This happened " Meiou said, pointing to the demon-girl. " because during the Silver Millennium, a demon by the name of DarkStar defected to the Kingdom of Earth. She was debriefed by the nephew of the current king, Walter the Red, and eventually was released to his care. A decade later, Terran separatists released that bio-agent I mentioned earlier. Walter was the last member of the royal family to succumb to the virus.
"It was his wish that DarkStar inherit the power Walter himself had so recently received. When the virus was first released, everyone in the royal court was tested for their immunity to the plague and their compatibility with the procedure. Surprisingly, DarkStar was a match. It was surmised that her demonic biology would spare her the disease, but that she could carry out the procedure was another issue.
"Over the years, Walter had grown to rely on DarkStar. It was not easy for the young demon, forced to fight in a war she didn't understand. Her species of demon thought of humans akin to dairy cows: pleasant if not dumb animals that could be milked easily enough without the need for permanent harm. She could never understand why humans wanted to exterminate them all.
"She was loathed by humans and thought of as a traitor by her own kind. You can see what happened when the Senshi found out about the transfer. The Queen's reaction was particularly colorful," Pluto said remembering the event. No one ever thought a demon would be allowed in the Lunar Palace, much less as the ranking emissary from Earth. Oh yes, those were interesting times. A gutted leadership on Earth with a demon on the throne. DarkStar quickly abdicated, leaving the chancellor in charge of Earth. The powers she absorbed could not have been passed so easily.
"The resemblance between DarkStar and Ranma's cursed form caused this problem to happen, and now Sailor DarkStar is back."
"Sailor? I thought she used the power of Earth," Ami asked.
"Well, technically she isn't a Senshi, but she has the fuku and the powers, so close enough," Pluto said.
"Poor Ranma, he must have been so confused after the procedure. To turn into a girl is one thing, but to be turned into that " Usagi said looking at the projection.
"Yeah. Where is she, or he?" Rei asked.
"There was some more unpleasantness after he got turned into DarkStar. I had told him that not only would he help save the world and fight evil, but that he would cured of his curse if he took up this power."
"And instead, you turned him into a demon that practically oozes sex," Makoto observed.
"That, and he was stuck as a female for the first month afterwards," Setsuna stated, clicking to yet another slide. This one centered on a fairly tall redhead wearing a black leather dress that looked as if she had to be poured into it. Her hair was long mass of crimson locks. Her alabaster skin contrasted interestingly with her eyes, blue with violet flecks.
"I'm surprised this Ranma's not out to kill you," Minako observed.
"Who's to say that she isn't?" Setsuna noted sourly.
"Pluto, if it wasn't for your years of faithful service, the fact that you somehow managed to save my daughter even though her father's dead, and that I honestly believe you used your best judgment during this whole Ranma incident, I would have severe questions as to your competence," Usagi stated levelly.
"Yes, your highness," Pluto replied. "Although I would like to point out that it was not random chance that Ranma's curse activated during the procedure. The event was engineered to happen, much like the assassination of your boyfriend."
"Do you know who's behind this?" Usagi asked, her eyes narrowing.
Setsuna simply clinked the projector to the next slide, which projected an image of a man holding a can of wild mushroom soup. He looked surprisingly amused with his possession. Slightly under average in height for a Caucasian, his exact ethnicity was rather hard to pin down. Despite the amused watery-grey eyes and the reserved grin, his was a face that seemed to slip from one's memory. He somehow looked — well, harmless. He gave the feel of a slightly weird uncle you could always count on to help you clean your gutters. The only unsettling thing with the image was how his gaze appeared to switch between the can and the camera.
"He goes by the name Murdock. He used to be a kind of ambassador for the Runic Order. Currently, he seems to be more of a free agent. I do not know who he is working for or what his plan is, but I am sure that he is behind this."
"How do you know this?" Usagi asked.
"For one thing, he has met me on several occasions," Setsuna said, glaring at the projected image.
"Yes. He keeps asking me to cooperate with him. He says that things will go easier this way," Setsuna stated.
"So he killed Mamoru because you failed to work with him?" Usagi asked.
"No, Mamoru was killed so DarkStar could take his place. Although whether this is part of Murdock's core plan or just him amusing himself, I do not know."
"Wait, this person would sabotage an airliner, nearly kill hundreds, ruins someone else's life, all just for fun?" Ami asked.
"It would seem that way. Murdock is rather unbalanced."
"Why hasn't anything been done about him?"
"I tried dealing with him personally when he started with his fiddling. He somehow managed to survive. After the plane crash, I had the outers go after him when he showed up next," Pluto said.
"And he's still alive?"
"Yes. He is very good at deflecting, avoiding, or simply absorbing our attacks. Extreme care must be taken if you see him. His offensive capabilities are unknown, but he is an expert at manipulating events."
"So he's like you," Rei remarked.
"And how dangerous can I be?" Setsuna inquired.
"Wait, the only thing Murdock's done so far is conspire to get this DarkStar back. What else has he done? Why are we here?" Ami asked.
"It is true that Murdock wanted us in Toronto, but there are other reasons for us to be here," Setsuna said, clicking three slides forward, stopping at a particularly gruesome image. "The remains, about sixty percent of a human corpse, were found in the woods outside Bradford, a town thirty-two miles north of here. The coroner estimates that only half of the lacerations, broken bones, and torn limbs were administered after death."
Clicking to the next slide, this one centered on a pleasant Victorian-style house facing a sparkling tree-lined lake, Setsuna continued, "This house in Orchard Beach was found ransacked, with the residents, a family of six, stuffed under the floorboards. Time of death cannot be accurately be established, due to irregularities in the bodies' decomposition."
Setsuna pushed the button forward. "As can be seen by close-up of the youngest daughter's chest, there are several discolored puncture wounds. Examinations of organic material found within still remain inconclusive."
Setsuna went to the next one, "I apologize for the angle, but you all should still be able to see the markings on that wall. That is a summoning and binding rite that dates to before the Silver Millennium, and was a favorite of Beryl's. The things behind this series of murders want us to know it."
"So why did Murdock tell us to come here if we would have anyway?"
"I don't know. I don't even know if Murdock is working for whoever's been killing these people. He might just be playing both sides against the middle."
"So we have monsters that have been killing people in Canada, Murdock who's doing God knows what, although none of it seems to be good, and us in Toronto," Rei surmised.
"With the outers and my daughter back in Tokyo, in case anything happens there," Usagi appended.
"There is one other group involved," Setsuna said clicking the remote back to one of the slides she skipped. It centered on a group of what looked to be an armed squad of counter-terrorism troopers standing in front of a large greenish-black helicopter. Their heights and genders were apparent — if nothing else, for they were dressed in patterned black and dark grey body armor, combat boots, what looked to be very close fitting gloves, balaclavas, helmets, and tinted red goggles. There were four men and two women in the group. One of the women stood slightly apart from the others, apparently the group's leader.
"The Canadian government contracted Willard International Consulting to find and eliminate what's behind these murders."
"More of a paramilitary organization covered as a corporation than anything else."
"Magical?" Ami asked. It might have just been the projection, but there was something hostile, something wrong about these people.
"No, they are quite mundane, but they compensate by using the best equipment, training, and intelligence. They have several devices, most of them munitions, that can weaken or destroy various magical fields. They have the experience, teamwork, and weapons to take out creatures much more powerful than they are. They are not to be underestimated," Setsuna said.
"But they're good guys, right? I mean, they fight evil and all that?" Usagi inquired.
"Oh, their intentions are good. It's just their application can be quite ruthless. Like us, they are soldiers," Setsuna said simply.
"So they won't attack us," Rei asked.
"I doubt it. I believe Murdock has been giving WIC information, but I know that they have been covertly gathering data on us for at least a year. So they should have some idea as to what we're about."
"They've been spying on us?"
"They've managed to record only a handful of our battles, but yes. They have a base in Hokkaido, and keep a routine watch on events in Tokyo."
"So why haven't they helped us there?"
"Because the Japanese government asked them to not interfere."
"Why would they do that?"
"Because I told them to not let WIC in."
"You know, there were some times that we really could have used some help," Usagi stated, recalling the times her friends had died.
Pluto nodded. "I'm sorry, but the future said that—"
"Don't give me that 'future' bullshit!" Usagi shouted. "Everything that's happened recently has gone right in the face of destiny and what 'should be'," Usagi said in a calmer voice. "I don't think even you can tell what's going to happen."
Setsuna looked down. "No. We are in a period of great destabilization. Events of a magnitude well below my normal scope are having dramatic effects on the timeline — if one could use such a word for the time stream's current state. It's like a vast trainyard that's run by a madman randomly switching tracks and reversing trains. This is why I'm being so forthright with you. I've lost all reliable contact with anyone from the future."
"So what do we do now?" Usagi asked.
"You guys eat what you want, then get to bed. I've got some pills that will let you sleep and should cut down on your jet lag. Then in the morning, I'll get you settled in with where you'll all live. After that, I'll take you to the school and get that all squared away."
"The old exchange program, eh?" Rei said.
"Talking like a native, I see," Makoto commented, receiving a glare for her efforts.
"Well, the school you'll be attending is a private school that caters to international students, so getting you in was quite easy."
"Tell me you're not posing as a guidance counselor again," Rei remarked.
"What about DarkStar — er, Ranma?"
"We should have time to meet him tomorrow."
Ranma woke up to someone calling him to breakfast. It took him a moment to realize who it was. Before he could fully wake up, the door opened and she walked in.
"A little privacy?" Ranma asked.
"What? You act like we're not going to get married," Kasumi commented, grinning slightly.
The martial artist looked up to see that his fiancée wearing an apron over her blouse and slacks. He noted that she was still wearing boots, and while he could not see her gun, he knew she was carrying one somewhere. "Okay. Gimme a couple minutes to get dressed."
"I'll try to save you some waffles, then," she smiled before leaving.
Ranma blinked at this. This was the same woman that had a gun trained on him last night. How can someone's attitude change from merciless executioner to, if not affection, then professional courtesy, overnight?
Ranma followed his thoughts as he got out of bed and made his way to his bag to get his toiletries. The Company Kasumi worked for was in the business of killing certain life-forms. They also had recent dealings with Murdock and knowledge of the Senshi.
He was brushing his teeth when his line of thinking turned to himself. What did the Company want with him? They seemed very reluctant to kill him, now that it was known he was a Pattern Silver. But what of the other Pattern Silvers? That bitch Pluto made it seem that her cohorts wanted him on board — as that chick DarkStar, though. Ranma was back in his bedroom, changing into a new set of clothes. He had yet to figure anything out. He had a definite sense of being someone else's pawn. The question that needled his mind was why and for whom? Setsuna? Murdock? This Company?
"You sure picked a winner," Genma said to his son in between bites of his breakfast. Ranma scanned the kitchen, noting the amount of food prepared. There were two kinds of bacon, hash-browns, eggs — both scrambled and sunny-side up — grapefruit, and a pile of waffles. Ranma recognized most of the food from the shopping trip last night. He also noted how the room had already been cleared of the pans used to cook it all in.
"Sit here," Kasumi said, pulling out a chair. "I asked your father what you liked, but it was the devil's work to try and keep him from eating it, though," she said, amused with herself.
"Um thanks," Ranma said, sitting down. He looked to his left to see Kasumi taking the seat next to him. On his other side sat Akane, who appeared to be slightly annoyed. Across the table was the middle daughter, Nabiki, his father, and her father.
Ranma noted that both Akane and Nabiki were wearing school uniforms. That they were of a fuku style unnerved him. Fortunately, these looked to be normal uniforms, not the embellished and abbreviated one that he was forced into. Ranma was glad that Kasumi was perfectly willing to keep his secret, provided he returned the favor.
"So, your fiancée going to drive you to school?" Nabiki asked, taking a sip of her coffee after adding two spoonfuls of sugar.
"Actually, I have a meeting in twenty minutes," Kasumi said, sipping from a black mug with the Company logo. Mostly grey, it consisted of a globe with gothic typeset letters W, I, and C spaced equidistant from each other around the circumference. The W was in the upper left space, with the I to the right and the C in the lower center. Also on the circumference, in between the W and the C was a slightly twisted five-point star. In the center of the star was a cross between an eye and a pillar of flame. In between the C and the I was a strange grouping of crossed lines contained within a circle. In between the W and the I in the very top of the image was a branch-like collection of lines fanning off a central spar.
"So I'm going to have to drive him today?" Nabiki asked.
"Yes, and I'd prefer you didn't bill him for it," Kasumi said.
Nabiki paused, then agreed.
Kasumi smiled, took a large drink from her cup, and checked her watch. "I've gotta go," she said to her family, then at Ranma, as she took off her apron, "Try not to get in trouble today. I'll be seeing you after school."
"I have school today?" Ranma asked, watching Kasumi leave the room and hearing the front door open and close. At least the food was good.
"You think you don't need school?" Akane asked.
"Well, no — but I just got here yesterday," Ranma said, still eating.
"Your education is very important, that's why I was able to arrange for you to go to the same school Soun sends his daughters," Genma boasted.
"And getting an insider's deal due to a personal relationship with administration had nothing to do with it either," Nabiki noted, savoring her coffee. Kasumi's brew was little strong on the caffeine, but it was still some of the best she had had.
"Well, yes, there's that too," Soun said while reading the newspaper.
Ranma leaned back onto his headrest. Nabiki's car was a ten-year-old little green Ford. It was very clean and was in excellent running condition. Bored, Ranma watched the route the car took. Nabiki took her car down to Markham Road and then west on Highway 407. Entering the suburb of North York, Nabiki took the offramp to Bathurst Street. This she took North until she reached the intersection with Rutherford Road, which she turned onto. Shortly after that, she pulled into the parking lot of a largish private school.
Ranma got out of the car and followed the Tendo girls out of the parking lot. He looked up at the name of the school. "Furinkan High School? What the—" Ranma muttered to himself.
"It was established twenty years ago as a Japanese-style private school. They said it was supposed to cater to the increasing number of Asian families moving into the greater Toronto area, although that wasn't exactly what happened," Akane said, slightly more annoyed than she had been at breakfast.
"Well what to you expect? It's not like this place was founded to make money, help the community, or anything sane like that. No, it was set up as a toy for the founder."
"What?" Ranma was confused.
"You'll see," Nabiki said as they passed through the gate and onto official school grounds.
"And who is this that associates so freely with the Tendo sisters?" a slighter older teenager asked them, leaning on a nearby tree. His eyes, while calculating, were slightly deranged.
"Ranma, meet Tatewaki Kuno," Nabiki said, curious as to how this would unfold.
"I'm Ranma Saotome," he said simply.
"I see, and which of the Tendo sisters did you chose to be your bride?" Kuno asked, walking towards them.
"Um, Kasumi," Ranma said.
"Ah, excellent! Then there will be no problem. You see, I am engaged to Akane. Soon, our three houses will be bound together," Kuno proclaimed.
"We're not engaged!" Akane seethed.
"But you also denied an engagement between the Tendo house and the Saotome, but there is one," Kuno said confidently.
"How'd you know?" Ranma asked.
"My father is a long-time associate of your and your fiancée’s fathers."
"I see," Ranma nodded. "So, where's the principal's office?" he asked to no one in particular as he looked over the school. To Ranma, the building looked rather handsome, if a little blocky, in dark brick and wide windows. It was in the shape of an "H", with three stories in each of the sides and five in the central spar.
"Why do you wish to speak to that madman?" Kuno asked.
"Mr. Tendo told me to go straight to his office to get registered."
"I see," Kuno said narrowing his eyes. "His office is on the fifth floor at that right end," he said pointing to one upper corner of the building's center wing. "Just take the elevator up to the top. I'm sure you won't miss it," Kuno said, his voice becoming cold.
"Okay, then. Thanks," Ranma replied.
"I've got class," Akane said as she walked off, angling towards the rear of the building. She was followed by Kuno, who was still trying to convince her that they were engaged.
"What was that about?" Ranma asked as he followed Nabiki towards the front entrance.
"His father is the principal," she said, opening the doors. Once inside she turned around. "Let me give you some free advice. Watch yourself around him. He's more dangerous than he looks."
"Right," Ranma stated as he made his way to the elevator.
The Kuno son was right. The office was quite easy to find. At one end of the fifth floor corridor was a blank wall. On the other was a glass-walled enclosure. Entering, it he found a secretarial anteroom. After Ranma gave his name, the receptionist directed him to a door with a pair of crossed hockey sticks mounted on it.
Opening the door, the first thing he noticed was the large Canadian flag that dominated the wall behind the desk. To the left side of desk was a tabletop hockey game. The little plastic players mounted to move in their tracks unsettled Ranma in some way. The orange and grey goalie was especially creepy. On the right wall was a collection of photographs. Some focused on the construction of this school and other buildings, some of them residential, others commercial. The rest centered on the man's friends and family. During his quick glance, Ranma was able to recognize younger versions of his father and Mr. Tendo in several of the pictures.
It was only then that Ranma noticed the man behind the desk. He was a large man wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey jersey. His hair was unkempt and seemed longer in the back that it was on the sides and the top. He seemed to have a faraway amused look on his face, as if he was privy to the secrets of the universe and that they turned out to involve trout and trousers. The nameplate on his desk said, "Drake Kuno, Principal".
"Hello, Ranma. I've been expecting you," the Drake said as he stood up. He pointed to one of the chairs in front of his desk. "Come sit," he indicated with a meaty hand.
Ranma sat down and continued to examine the office. It felt more like a basement recreation room than an administrator's office.
The Drake pulled out several immense files and started flipping through them. He looked across the desk at Ranma. "As you can see, your record is quite extensive. When your father told me he was planning on sending you here, I asked him what other schools you had attended. It wasn't until I started got the first half-dozen packages that I began to believe him.
"You seem to be a bright boy. Despite your horrid attendance, amazing number of transfers, and inability to remain conscious in class, you've still managed to pass almost every single class you've taken, especially your English classes. A language which you are quite fluent in." The Drake then closed the files. "Your disciplinary records, on the other hand, are another matter entirely."
"Hey, most of those fights weren't my fault. It's just that Well, I seem to—"
The Drake cut him off. "I know. You seem to attract challenges and rivals. It's not your fault, exactly. There just seems to be something about your face, or is it your personality, that makes some people want to beat you and leave you for dead in a drainage ditch," he said pleasantly.
"So you're saying I'm a troublemaker."
"Yup. There's also this curse that your father's told me about," the Drake said pulling a plastic bottle out from under his desk. It was only one third full and the remaining water sloshed merrily.
"You want to see it?" Ranma asked, sighing.
"If you don't mind."
Ranma took the bottle and upended it over himself, transforming into a gorgeous redhead in a leather dress. She then put the bottle back onto the desk.
"Yes, I think this could work," the Drake muttered.
"What are you suggesting?" Ranma asked, eyeing the nearly empty bottle.
"That Ranma Saotome not attend my school. Instead, we will have his sister register in his place."
"No fucking way," Ranma replied, narrowing her eyes, which, the Drake noticed, were subtly different than before.
"This problem of yours is not something you want to become common knowledge, is it? It would be easier to hide your curse as a girl. Cold water is much more common than hot."
"I don't have to take this," Ranma stated simply.
"Call your father if you want," the Drake said as he slid his phone across the desk. "He was quite insistent that you not cause too much disruption. I asked him if you attending as a girl might ameliorate the situation, and if that would be an acceptable solution. He agreed."
Ranma glared at the man behind the desk. She picked up the phone, and after being told to press 9 to get an outside line, dialed the number for the Tendo residence. Soun answered the phone and was quick to hand it over to Genma.
"Did you tell the principal that I should attend school as a girl?" Ranma asked, in a calm collected voice.
Genma had had only one small drink in celebration of the engagement. It was still early in the morning. He also had the comfort of distance and impersonality that a phone brought. If he had been able to see Ranma's cool, determined eyes, especially those that the boy possessed when he was a girl, the ones that seemed to almost glow with fury, Genma would have buckled instantly and insisted that Ranma attend school as a male.
Instead, he confirmed his harebrained plan. "Now, son, we both know that you've had your share of problems. You're engaged now. We can't have you leading around all those girls that would get crushes on you. You know it's going to happen. Maybe if Kasumi still went to school, her presence could stop that. If you told them that you were engaged, but never seen with a fiancée, no one would believe you."
"So you suggest going from girls chasing after me to guys?" Ranma stated in that same cold voice of hers.
"Are you saying you can't handle having a few guys lusting after you? That you might find yourself enjoying it? I'm sorry, son, but I have confidence in your character and abilities. I think this is what's best for you," Genma said, while thinking, Excellent. If he attends school as a girl, the only romantic outlet he could ever have is Kasumi. They'll be married in no time.
"You will pay for this," Ranma said with eerie calm.
"We shall see," Genma said before hanging up.
The Drake watched Ranma cradle the phone without breaking or even slamming it. He admired her control. "I trust that went well," he said, watching Ranma's reaction.
"What is your plan?" Ranma stated. Her voice still had that cold edge, but it was tempered with resignation.
"Some of your records will be altered to reflect your new identity. The cover story is quite simple. Genma helped me cook it up a week ago," the Drake said as he handed a slim folder over to Ranma.
"You must be joking," Ranma said after reading the first three words.
"At first I thought this was one of Genma's jokes," the Drake said as he ran his hand over the bottle. "So I treated it as such. I did have to choose a name. Unfortunately, by the time he convinced me it was true, it was too late to change much of anything."
"That's just great," Ranma muttered as she continued reading the document
"Now that that's over with, we need to get you into a proper uniform and off to class," the Drake said, getting up.
'That might not be possible. My curse seems to choose my clothing for me," Ranma said, putting the folder back down on the desk. The Drake was right. It was a fairly simple and easy-to-remember cover story.
"Yes, you weren't wearing that when you came, in were you?" the Drake noted, amused. "Well, I'm sure we can work something out."
A young woman stood in front of the classroom. While she appeared calm, a seething pool of annoyance, exasperation, and anger brewed behind her violet-flecked blue eyes. She was dressed in a uniform similar to that of the other girls. It was of a fuku style, with a pleated purple skirt darker and shorter than normal, and a tight black blouse as opposed to the customary white. Her feminine ribbon tie was crimson instead of blue. Her jacket was a much darker blue than normal. She also wore calf-high leather boots and fishnet stockings.
Her crimson hair, except for two pairs of long strands that hung in front, was pulled back and twisted into a tight bun that served as the source of a fan-like pony-tail that cascaded from the back of her head. She also wore a black, purple-trimmed military-style beret in place of the more artistic blue beret that served as the girls' mandatory head-covering. She had a silver necklace with a hanging black stone that sat over her tie, and black stud earrings. A blackish-violet, red-trimmed backpack was slung over one shoulder.
"We have a new student today," the teacher said as she walked to the redhead, while thinking, I wish I looked like that when I was her age. She is a bit pale, though.
I can't believe I'm going to have to do this. At least Akane isn't in this class, the redhead thought with resignation. She breathed inward.
"Hi. My name is Sunshine Saotome," the redhead said, trying not to grit her teeth while simultaneously hoping that she did not sound too cutesy. "I'm a martial artist. I just transferred here. I would prefer it if I could be left alone."
"Don't worry, Sunshine," the teacher said, earning a glare from the redhead. "I'm sure once you get used to Furinkan, you'll make lots of friends. Now go sit down in that open seat in the third row."
Sunshine walked to her seat, her boots resonating on the tile. After putting her bag on the desk, she sat down and crossed her legs, a reflex picked up from wearing her leather dress.
"I like your uniform. You make the alterations yourself?" a brunette behind her asked.
"Yeah, I guess I did," Sunshine said, pulling out a purple notebook and a red pen.
"That's a very cute name," a blonde to her left remarked.
"I hate it," Sunshine replied.
"I love your hair," a fellow redhead cooed. "How'd you get it to fall like that?"
"I kinda just pull it back, twist it, and feed it through," Sunshine explained.
"You have a boyfriend?" a male on a forward diagonal asked.
"Stop it, Ken!" the blonde hissed. "Don't mind him, he'll date anything that moves. I'm Samantha," that blonde introduced herself, extending her arm.
"And you know my name," Sunshine said shaking the offered hand.
"So why do you hate it so much?"
"Because I'm not a cheerful, silly, cute girl. My name's a cruel joke," she commented, being thoroughly honest.
"No, you strike me as more of the darkly beautiful brooding type," Samantha laughed.
"You have no idea."
"Now, Sunshine, as happy as I am that you seem to be making friends, class has to begin," the teacher reminded her newest student.
Kasumi had arrived at auxiliary parking garage of the Canada Trust Tower. Originally serving as a storage bay for snow plows and salt trucks, it had been converted to a Company motor-pool. After passing through three security checkpoints, she was able to walk into the District Support class facility, WIC Toronto-A.
When the Canada Trust Tower was built in 1990, its foundation was of an unusual depth and size. The plan had been to use the vast expanse of sublevels to store the new service node for Toronto's phone system. Unfortunately, AT&T Canada had a management restructuring at the time. The new crop of executives decided to pass on the offer to move operations to the sublevels.
The sublevels were converted into storage rooms, maintenance rooms, furnace rooms, and the communications switching for the entire building (a far cry from the entire city and region). As part of their contract with the Canadian government, Willard International Consulting was given these sublevels to do with as they pleased.
Kasumi was pleased with the progress that Construction Section had made. In only a matter of weeks, they had converted what was essentially an old basement into a secure Company facility capable of running several operations simultaneously. It was nowhere near the size of the First Operations Centre, the sprawling Company facility outside Topeka, Kansas, or even the Fourteenth Training and Development Grounds, fifty miles west of Richmond, Virginia. She made her way to the main conference room. Last night's operation was to be evaluated and plans were to be made as for this DarkStar situation.
Ranma sighed as she looked up at the clock. Third period was just about to end. She looked down at her notebook. She had spent all of first period and half of second planning on ways to hurt her idiotic father and that lunatic of a principal, a man who insisted being called by his first name preceded by the definite article. It was their fault that she had to go to school as a girl and that everyone called her Sunshine.
She could only spend so much time on her fantasies of revenge. Eventually, she grew bored of it and tried to occupy her mind in other ways. So she transcribed her notes using the red and purple pens that she picked up at the school store, along with other supplies along similar chromatic themes. Just like my uniform, she thought.
In one of the dressing rooms in the back of the school store, she slipped out of her leather dress and tried to put on the normal girl's uniform. She fully expected it to morph into another copy of that damnable dress, just like anything else she tried to wear when she was a girl. The uniform did change, but only in it's coloration, and how is showed off her body. It made Sunshine look quite sexy.
It annoyed her to no end that a school-girl uniform could be the lesser of two evils. That thing she wore as DarkStar was not even worth mentioning. She watched the teacher get up as the bell rung. He had short hair cut into a flattop and wore a simple suit with a thin black tie.
"Now remember, I want you to do all the primes in section 7-5. Sunshine, you can do those problems for extra credit if you want, but I insist you do the review problems on that sheet I gave you first," he said as he exited the room.
Ranma nodded, before slumping her head on the desk. She had a few minutes of quiet before the next teacher came in. For her grade, the morning classes were primarily lectures, with the teachers rotating between the rooms while the students stayed in the same place. After lunch, classes such as gym, labs, home economics, music, wood and metal shop, computing, and anything else that required special rooms were held.
She sighed again, pulled her head off her desk, and stood up. She closed her math notebook, put it in her backpack, and then took out a small red purse. Normally she would have left it there, but she had the suspicion that some of her classmates would search through her bag to try to find out more about Sunshine. Slinging it over her shoulder, she made her way to the door.
"Where're you going?" asked Naoko, the brunette that sat behind her.
"The bathroom," Ranma said, looking back at her.
"Good idea," Naoko said, getting up.
"I'll come too," Samantha said as she followed them.
Some guy near one of the windows made a snide comment about them always going in groups. As Ranma left the room, she kinda wanted to hurt him. She did have several options open to her, but no — zapping or beating someone just because they were trying to be funny was an entirely wrong thing to do.
"Your father a businessman too?" Samantha asked.
"What?" Ranma asked as she followed them down the hall. "At least these boots had less heel than my other ones," she thought neutrally.
"You've still got a bit of an accent," Naoko said, "My father works for Nippon Electric. He got transferred to their Toronto office fifteen months ago."
"I see. No, my father's a martial artist. He came here to meet an old friend and to get my brother engaged to his friend's oldest daughter," Ranma explained.
"You got a photo of him?" Samantha asked.
"Nope," Ranma replied, then looking at the blonde's expression, changed her mind. "I might. Let me look," she said as she went through her purse. She passed over some US currency, some Canadian, an HSBC bank card she picked up about a year ago, a new school identification card for a Sunshine Saotome, and below it all were two pictures. One was of her father, the other was of her male-form. She was not the type of person to carry photographs, but they were in the Sunshine file and the Drake insisted she keep them. She handed the photo over to Samantha, while Naoko grabbed her school ID.
"I'm so jealous. You even take a good ID picture," Naoko said.
"That's nothing, look at her brother," Samantha said as she angled the picture so her friend could see it.
"Are you sure he's engaged?" Naoko said to Sunshine.
"Yeah, Ranma's fiancée is the eldest Tendo sister," the redhead admitted, taking the ID and picture and putting them back into her purse.
"It's not Kasumi Tendo, is it?" Samantha asked, concern on her face.
"Well, yes," Sunshine stated.
"I'd tell your brother to look out for her. She might need some special help," Samantha said.
"Why?" Sunshine inquired, wondering what information she could gain about Kasumi.
"Well, my older brother was in her grade. After school one day, there was this explosion. I think something like four people died. Kasumi left school after that. According to her sisters, some company decided to take her in."
"Yeah, Ranma told me the same thing," Sunshine allowed. She had wondered how the Company managed to recruit Kasumi. Sunshine turned her head to see that they had arrived at the girls' bathroom. She followed the other girls without hesitation.
Sunshine walked into the bathroom and selected a stall. As she readjusted her skirt and underwear, an amused thought hit her. Pattern D Class 7s need to use the bathroom. She idly wondered it the Company had information on the urination habits of demons. The idea was significantly absurd, yet hideously plausible. She started to laugh.
"What's so funny?" Samantha asked from the next stall over.
"Nothing, just something Ranma told me about Kasumi," Sunshine stated.
"What?" Naoko inquired.
Sunshine paused. What to say? Kasumi always wore a sidearm. Kasumi had this funny habit of killing supernatural beings. Kasumi always wore boots. No, none of those would work. "Never mind, it's really stupid."
"Oh, okay," Samantha said.
Sunshine finished and flushed. She was glad to be done with that. Despite having the curse in one form or another for a significant fraction of a year, female plumbing still unnerved her. It did not help that she was now a different species as well as female.
Exiting the stall, Sunshine looked to see Naoko dry her hands and begin touching-up her makeup. Sunshine simply washed her hands while looking at her reflection. As usual, she looked like a darkly beautiful "Bad Girl".
"Still going strong, I see," Naoko said, reapplying her lipstick.
"Yeah," Sunshine agreed. Her makeup had yet to smudge or run, not that she ever put any on. It just showed up on its own. It probably had to do with her being a demon or a Pattern Silver or something.
"So everyone in your family's a martial artist?" Samantha asked as she washed her hands.
"Yup," Sunshine said, looking out the window. "Myself, Ranma, our dad."
"What about your mother?"
Sunshine turned back to face them. "I don't really know. Dad never really talked much about her."
"Wow, you were raised without any girls around?" Naoko said, opening the door.
"Yeah," Ranma allowed, following the two other girls out of the bathroom.
"That explains a lot," Samantha said as they walked back to their classroom.
"What?" Ranma asked.
"Well, you act all dark in rebellion to your name. You're then raised with two guys so you talk like one, but you also want to affirm to the world you're a woman, so you dress like you do."
Ranma forced herself to smile, "Exactly."
Akane had left to go to the bathroom. Unfortunately, the one nearest her classroom was being renovated by maintenance. Instead of going down or up a floor, she simply walked down the corridor to the bathroom at the other end. Before she could get there, she saw a fairly tall redhead talking with a blonde and a brunette. The blonde she knew in passing, Samantha, with a last name that began with a "K". The brunette she had only seen in the halls before. The redhead, however, she had only just met. Her hair was different and she was wearing a girl's uniform, albeit of a slightly different coloration, but the face was the same.
"What are you doing here?" Akane demanded of the redhead.
Ranma looked at the youngest Tendo, then at her classmates. "Can you excuse me? This is Kasumi's sister Akane."
"We've met," Samantha said before she and Naoko continued on to their classroom.
"Answer me! Why are you at school like this? It's not something perverse, is it?"
Ranma sighed and considered saying something sarcastic, like, Yes, Akane, I'm going to school as a girl just to get inside the girls' locker room. Never mind that I have access to a girl's body whenever I feel like it. Never mind that my classmates would be thoroughly unsettled by a girl staring at them. But she decided that that would only make things worse.
She decided to tell the truth. "It was my father's idea. He thinks I'll stay out of trouble if I go like this. You think I wanted this?"
"That's idiotic!" Akane exclaimed.
"You've met my father," Ranma said, looking at her black-and-red watch.
"Yeah, but to his own son?"
"No, I'm Sunshine Saotome, Ranma's sister," the redhead said, giving a sour smile.
"How did you end up with that name?" Akane asked coldly.
"The principal enjoys his jokes," Sunshine said as she started walking back to her room.
"I'm still not convinced. You could be up to something," Akane shouted, but it was ignored by the redhead.
"Our conclusion is that neither Kasumi nor any member of the strike team was deficit in their actions. Indeed, they operated excellently, adhering to the mission guidelines. When it became apparent that the target was a Pattern Silver, they handled the transition quite well," Jacob stated. Kasumi was surprised that her old recruiter was assigned to be the executive officer of WIC Toronto.
He continued, "Indeed, the problem is not Operations Section's. The mission was carried out properly. No, the problem was Command's. When Kasumi called in a suspected Pattern D, the situation was analyzed and a mission was designed.
"I must say that the analysis was grossly incomplete. Granted, we were working in a limited timeframe, but that is no excuse for the errors that were made," Jacob said, his voice growing stern. "A Company agent has been running a search for a Ranma and Genma Saotome for several years. That this search was assumed to be a mundane missing persons case is irrelevant. The limited information on that file may have been useful to the operation. Knowing that Ranma had been in contact with N, Q, C, and H-Type locations could have been taken as evidence of a contamination, or it might have been taken as something to fool our sensors. Need I remind you that they are not perfect.
"The blame falls upon Murdock, but more importantly, upon those of us that take his 'advice' as holy writ. Murdock is not a member of our organization. Yes, he does have critical information, but his motives are unknown. It is obvious that Murdock was instrumental in creating this DarkStar, yet he did not inform us about it in the slightest. I believe Operations Agent Tendo said it best. 'Murdock was testing us'."
Jacob looked around the table. The Company agents, including Kasumi's strike team, stared back at him. "I know that you do not deserve this. None of you have actually had contact with Murdock. The likelihood of you meeting him in the future, however, is quite high." Jacob sighed as he stood up.
"That operation is over. We have to deal with what we've learned from it," he said, turning on a display on the far wall. On it were three images, one of male Ranma, one of female Ranma, and one of DarkStar. "This is Ranma Saotome. What we have here is a pattern Silver that is not part of the Senshi organization.
"Indeed, he has had quite the falling out with them. This is due to him becoming DarkStar as opposed to what he expected. That there is a high probability of interference on Murdock's part should be noted. How can we exploit this situation?"
"Our original plan was to contact the Silvers, by either finding their civilian identities or meeting them during an operation," Aram said, recalling the plan. "Integrating them into our command structure seemed to be too far-fetched of a goal. Instead, we hoped on being able to provide tactical, if not strategic, assistance to them."
"And how does this development change things?" Jacob asked.
"Potentially, it has no effect," Kasumi stated.
"Explain," Jacob ordered.
"I could simply tell Ranma that DarkStar is Senshi business, and tell him to wait for them to show up. We would then proceed as planned."
"Obviously, that is not our best option," Sophie stated.
"Yes, we should use this opportunity," Jacob said. "Kasumi, how did Ranma react to your explanation of the operation?"
"He still has strong reservations against us, but he seems to understand why we did what we did."
"Good. Don't want him to take last night's events too personally."
"Sir, a question?" Kasumi asked.
"Ranma has started attending school today. How are our assets inside Furinkan?"
"We have patched into their security systems, and are setting up supplementary observation means. A strike team is on standby in the North York sector. Human assets are about to be placed within the school."
"As students or faculty?" Kasumi asked. The Company had operatives in both age brackets.
"Both," Jacob said.
"That's a lot for just one Silver," Gabriel noted.
"Yes, it is. We are expecting more Silvers shortly. The school's principal is a long time affiliate of the Company who has been particularly useful in the past. He has given us records of planned transfers to his school," Jacob said switching the display to a collection of pictures. "As you can see, most of the transfers are female and from Japan. The chances of most of them being Silver is quite high."
Kasumi looked over the nine pictures. Only two of them were male. Neither was Ranma. She then noticed a certain redhead in the upper left. "Sunshine Saotome," she said, reading the information next to the picture. "I see that the Drake still has his sense of humor."
"Quite so," Jacob nodded. "Your opinion on the effect this will have on him?"
"How has Sunshine's day gone so far?"
Jacob typed for a few seconds, changing the display to a collection of images captured from observational means. He then summarized how her day had gone so far.
"I see. This will no doubt irritate him greatly. It will add on to the list of crap that has been put on him. If he has been experiencing identity issues, this will make the situation worse."
"We can be the ones to respect his identity. We can be the ones to offer him a cure. If we could be the ones that help him instead of trying to use him, things might just work out," Jacob said, smiling.
"Genma said that the original curse was picked up in Jusenkyou, somewhere in the Qinghai province of China."
"Specifically, near Mt. Quanjing, in the Bayankala mountain range. The Company surveyed the area in 1975, roughly a year after Nixon 'opened' China," Jacob said, amused.
"Is there a cure?"
"Yes, we have several samples in the Company archives. One could easily be shipped to him."
"It most likely won't work," Gabriel said flipping through his notes. "I did some research today on the data the Company had on these curses. Granted, it's three decades old. But "
"Yes?" Jacob said.
"Well, given the scans I've taken of all three of his forms, and the transfer process he described, it's not likely work. The possession, for lack of a better word, is very strong."
"So if we tell him we have a cure and it does nothing, he will doubt the sincerity of our motives."
"He could think that it was just tap water," Kasumi said.
"And even if we tested it on someone else before using it on him, that won't prove anything. The survey mentions several products that can simulate curses and cures," Gabriel said.
"If he has any doubt as to the sincerity of the gesture, he will suspect us just like he does the others," Sophie said.
"But if it fails, he will always doubt it."
"What if we take him right to the source? Then he will know that it was the correct water to cure him. If it doesn't work then, he will know that it is Pluto's fault and not ours," Gabriel proposed.
"There is the matter of flying him out to such a remote location," Jacob stated, then nodded. "I shall take this up with Command. This might just be the plan that we need."
"What happens if this really does cure him?" Sophie asked.
"Then we don't have DarkStar. Instead we'll have a young man who may or may not be a pattern Silver. I doubt very much that Murdock and Pluto would be so sloppy, but more importantly, I don't think the poor kid is going to be that lucky. No, we will try our best to cure him, but I don't think any of it'll actually work."
Ranma ate alone. She had had no less than a dozen offers to eat with one group or another. The only one that she considered was Samantha's and Naoko's, but the prospect of spending an entire lunch enduring girlish small talk while playing Sunshine was too much for her. She told them that she wanted some time to collect her thoughts.
She sighed, eating her food. Ranma feared that such excuses would last for only so long. At least the lunches in the cafeteria were fairly good, she thought as she ate her spaghetti. The Italian sausage was especially good.
"Good morning, Sunshine!" a nauseatingly happy voice said.
"It's twelve o' five," Ranma said before looking up. When she did, she saw the smirking face of Nabiki.
"I told you not to piss off the principal," she said as she sat down.
"I didn't. This was planned in advance."
"Really? For such a pig of a man, you father sure doesn't mind your curse."
"He's punishing me with it," Ranma said simply.
"Now, now, Sunshine. You'll never get a guy with an attitude like that," Nabiki said, laughing.
"Why are you here?"
"To give you some fashion advice," Nabiki laughed. "This dark look won't do. Sure, you make nice eye candy for all the guys. But you should try to get a wholesome relationship with a nice guy. No, I say you should use cheery pastels, and curl your hair. Maybe put some yellow ribbons in it."
"Leave. Now," Ranma said before she resumed eating.
"I won't let you have fun at my expense, too."
Nabiki's eyes narrowed. "You're making a big mistake. Now I'm really going to have some fun."
"Whatever," Ranma said, ignoring her.
Nabiki frowned slightly before resuming her little smile. "If that's the way you want it," she said as she got up. As she walked away, she started singing. "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy, when skies are gray. You'll never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don't take my sunshine away."
Ranma simply shook her head. With people like Murdock, Pluto, and the Company after him, what did this one girl hope to accomplish?
Jacob was walking down a corridor of WIC Toronto-A when he was about to pass Kasumi. "Agent Tendo," he said, causing the woman to stop.
"Sir," she said in reply.
"Command has approved of the operation. Have two members of your team bring Ranma in after school."
"Hard or soft?"
"Very soft. If he doesn't want to come, let him leave, but have your men tell him what we're offering if it will bring him in."
"He will be suspicious."
"Yes, but as always, we have a limited timetable," Jacob said.
Ranma sighed as home economics neared the halfway point. The Drake had enrolled her in this class as an elective. By saying that such a class was nothing more than institutionalized bridal training, her teacher, Ms. Polanski, decided that her new student needed to get in touch with her feminine side and would deserve special attention.
The door flew open, startling the entirely female class. Ranma turned her head to see Kuno standing in the doorway. She raised an eyebrow in puzzlement.
"Oh my glorious Sunshine, I accept your yearning feelings for me," he said triumphantly. "Do not despair. I shall love you like the beautiful light of your namesake."
Ranma began to growl and gave serious consideration on canceling her plan to not blast anyone today.
"Sunshine, you're excused to go outside and talk things out with your friend," Ms. Polanski said delicately.
Ranma looked at her teacher, then at the overly-enthused man at the doorway. "Fine," she said, standing up. She left the room, closing the door behind her.
"Come, let us celebrate our engagement!" Kuno said, reaching out to the girl he knew of as Sunshine.
Ranma stepped back. "Who gave you the idea that we are engaged?"
"You need not hide your feelings," Kuno said happily.
"Who Told You?" Sunshine asked, her voice gaining a considerable edge.
"I know what can bring you out of your gloomy shell! Your favorite song," Kuno said, then began to sing.
It was then that Sunshine was able to figure out who told him this. Kuno was on the line "Please don't take my Sunshine away", when she reached out and forced his mouth shut. "Listen up. I do not like you. I do not yearn for you. The person who told you this is lying to you. She is making you look foolish. She might even be trying to distract you from your true love," Sunshine suggested coldly, releasing her hand.
Kuno looked down. "It is true that Nabiki Tendo is a known liar, but when she showed me the pictures and told me who you are, I could not resist."
"Pictures? Show me." Sunshine said, holding out her hand.
"You are quite photogenic," Kuno said, handing over three Polaroids of her that were taken when Sunshine was walking in the hallway.
"Idiot," Sunshine muttered as she put the photographs in her purse.
"I see now that I have been manipulated. It is obvious to me that my lovelife is being sabotaged. It is clear to me, that someone is planning to take from me the glory of uniting the three houses."
"Um, right," Sunshine said, hoping that the fool was talking about Nabiki.
"The jealousy of your brother is contemptuous. Is it not enough that his impending marriage helps unite our families? No, he must also make sure that no one else does. No doubt he is plotting as to how he can woo my sister as well."
"Hey, you're the one trying to get multiple engagements here. Not um Ranma," Sunshine said.
"I expect you to defend your kin. No problem. I am sure that I can make your bother see the error of his ways," Kuno said confidently. "He seemed to be of honorable enough stock. After all, he is your brother. Do not worry, my Ray of Sunshine. I shall find your bother and convince him to allow us to be engaged. You have my word on it," Kuno said confidently. He then turned around and began walking down the corridor.
Sunshine shook her head. "Was this supposed to punish me in some way?" she asked herself as she opened the door to her classroom.
"I never thought we'd be doing this," Gabriel said from the passenger seat of a Company sedan.
"What, trying to recruit a magical girl that's really a guy?" Sophie asked as she turned the car into a parking lot.
"No, going back to high school."
"You get recruited the same way as Lieutenant Tendo of Operations Section?" Sophie asked, stopping the car in front of the parking lot entrance.
"You know I was recruited after saving my sister from a Pattern V."
"Axe to the back of the head, followed by a 12-gauge slug to the heart. Nicely done," Sophie surmised.
"Yeah. Good think I watched all those horror movies when I was a kid. Sometimes I think the Company consults Hollywood on how to kill these things."
"Yeah, I can see them doing that," Sophie laughed.
"I know we did that in the twenties with Howard Phil—"
Sophie cut him off, "There she is. Two o'clock."
Gabriel turned his head, "I see her. Damn, she's got legs. Not to forget the rest of her."
"Get out and talk to her," Sophie said.
Ranma had gotten through the day. Aside from the Sunshine business, things were going well. Although anything would be good if you ignored everything about it that made it bad. She was still unsure about how to handle Nabiki. It was slightly rude to tell Nabiki to buzz off, but it was also slightly annoying to have to deal with Kuno. She feared that Kuno would become more obsessive and annoying with time. Ranma shrugged and decided to deal with Nabiki as it happened.
She was still being hit on by guys. Sadly, it was something she was used to. At least this uniform showed off less than her leather dress. Fortunately, most guys took the hint when she gave them the brush off. Only three needed to have special encouragement to leave her alone.
Walking out onto the school's parking lot, she noticed a familiar vehicle. The silver sedan was an exact match for Kasumi's. It might have even been the same car, provided that the license plates were changed. Kasumi's had two nines in it, this one had none.
Ranma was able to recognize the man leaning on the hood. In his early twenties, short black hair, thin yet in very good shape, he was one of Kasumi's flunkies, and sitting in the driver's seat was the female one.
"What do you want?" she asked. She was fairly sure that they would not attack. She could tell that he was armed, but that meant nothing with these people. They seemed to always be carrying.
"Ms. Saotome, Kasumi would like you to come with us," Gabriel said as he removed his sunglasses.
"Why should I?"
Gabriel motioned for her to come closer. When Ranma was a foot away he spoke. "She has a way to give you a cure."
"We are willing to take you to the source of your troubles," Gabriel allowed, giving a slight smile. Damn, did he love this spy shit!
"Really," Ranma said. This had to be some kind of trick.
"Well, if it isn't my sister's dorky coworker." Nabiki said, walking up from behind Ranma. "Hi, Sunshine. Akane's going to be a few minutes. It seems that Kuno managed to find her."
Ranma glared at Nabiki and then looked at Gabriel. Gone were the cold, hard eyes of last night. Instead, he looked geeky and awkward.
"Yeah, well, Kas sent us up here to pick up Ms. Saotome."
"I see," Nabiki said trying to hide her distaste for the office drone. He was like Kasumi; efficient, competent, and he had no life outside of the Company — or if he did, it consisted of memorizing Klingon, watching old episodes of Dr. Who and pointing out every continuity error. She then turned to the redhead, who in heels was the same height as her. "I guess you've got your ride, Sunshine."
Ranma looked at Nabiki, then at Gabriel. There were only two of them. She could always turn into DarkStar if things went sour. However, it did not seem terribly likely that they would try to kill her again. "Looks like I do," she said.
"Okay," Gabriel said, opening the back door for her.
"Bye!" Nabiki said as Sunshine tossed her backpack in and stepped into the car.
Ranma buckled her seatbelt and watched Gabriel get in. "Sorry about last night," Gabriel said as Sophie pulled the car out of the parking lot.
"Yeah, that was a big cluster fuck last night. Sorry," Sophie said.
"It seems that a Pattern D is bad news?" Ranma stated flatly. Nothing like knowing that you are a monster.
"So, what's this about a cure?"
"How would you like to be flown to Jusenkyou?
To be continued.
Author's notes: Usual thanks to prereaders Gerald Jordan, Joseph Fenton, Wray, and, of course, Larry F for hosting my fics. Thanks to Black Dragon for "the simple apology" and the "something nice and crazy" lines.
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