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 3: Responsibility and Resolve
Ranma leaned back as the Company sedan drove into the city. Twice during the drive Gabriel had used a medium black and grey cell phone. Ranma presumed that he was phoning the people he and his partner worked for.
"Traffic's fairly light," Sophie muttered as she drove the car.
"That's because rush hour is headed out of the city now," Gabriel said.
"At least we have a straight route. We'll only have to change roads at the very end," Sophie commented.
"Where are you taking me?" Ranma asked, still in her school uniform. She had considered changing out of it, but the sad truth was that the fuku was better than her leather dress.
"WIC Toronto-A," Gabriel stated. Ranma nodded. Kasumi had told her the name of the Company. Willard International Consulting. It was a nice meaningless name. There was one part that she did not understand. "A?" she asked.
Gabriel snickered. It did sound like the redhead had just gone "Eh?"
"Be careful." Sophie warned. "If Agent Tendo were to find out you'd been making Canada jokes—"
"She would blink and order me to the range for more practice. Well, she might just quiz me on Pattern recognition," Gabriel said.
"Right. You see, Ms. Saotome--"
"Call me Ranma."
"Okay," Sophie said, somewhat amused. "The facility we're taking you to is only the primary one we have in the area. There are a handful of others, mostly for training, testing, helicopter maintenance and storage, and general redundancy."
Ranma nodded slowly. Again she was confronted with the apparent size of this organization. Although as of yet, she had only seen five personnel, one van, and two sedans.
"Now don't get us lost," Gabriel said as they drove into the heart of the city.
Sophie simply glared. Gabriel was a good agent. Like herself, he was a veteran of the Company's Operations Section. In his work he had to be determined, skilled, and professional. Sometimes, however, his joking became tiring. At least it was better than their superior, who often did not seem entirely human.
Turning off the road, she made her way to the underground parking lot that served as the Company motor-pool. She was relieved to see that the barricades were sealed. It was only after showing her and Gabriel's identification and waiting for a scan that the tire spikes and the fence retracted. She then drove the car into a large alcove with a large metal door in the back of it. This door then rolled open.
She then drove the car into the large airlock. The outer barricade, a thick slab of steel specially reinforced with exotic polymers, locked back into place. A deeper Pattern scan then commenced. With a hollow click the inner barricade unlocked and slid away.
Gabriel sighed as the sedan drove out of the airlock and down a small concrete and steel tunnel. He held his breath as the sedan drove up to the next set of barricades. While the gates were necessary, as the attack on WIC Singapore ten years ago illustrated, he did not have to like them.
The car passed the final lock and entered a large, brightly-lit underground room. A few dozen vehicles sat in neat rows. Ranma could see several sedans of the type she was in, large vans in mostly dark colors, and a variety of heavy and light military trucks. The machine shop, hydraulic lifts, large tool sets, and another pair of large, reinforced doors illustrated that this room did more than just hold vehicles. She noted the people dressed in black and grey jumpsuits working on the vehicles and machines.
Sophie parked the car and turned it off. As Ranma got out she realized that one of her questions had been answered. The Company was more than just a half a dozen people. That gate system alone must have cost a fortune to build and install. Gabriel pointed her to a human-sized door mounted in one of the far walls.
Grabbing her backpack, she started walking, barely noticing the odd, almost musical, resonance her heels made within the concrete garage. Her attention was more on the other people in the room. Sophie and Gabriel were flanking her on either side. Their eyes scanned the room while the other Company personnel watched the procession with some interest.
When they reached the door, Gabriel placed his palm on a black tablet next to the doorframe. "Authorization granted," a pleasant female voice said as the heavy doors opened.
"Who do they think it is?" Gabriel asked, shaking his head as he stepped into the elevator.
"We are escorting a Pattern D," Sophie said, then turning to Ranma, "Not that we'd do anything to you um, now."
"Yeah, usually we have our interrogations off base. Much easier cleanup."
Ranma's face paled ever so slightly as she followed them into the small chamber.
Sophie gave Gabriel a very hard look but remained silent as the elevator began its descent.
The door opened into a room that reminded Ranma of a lobby. It was vaguely semi-circular with elevator bays at the arc and a series of heavy doors on the inside wall. The two Company agents and one demon stepped into the sparse room. The elevator behind them closed with a heavy click.
"This is the Company," Gabriel said as one of the reinforced doors opposite them slid open. Sophie shook her head and sighed.
Ranma looked around the office. Like the rest of the subterranean facility, it was minimally decorated, using large quantities of brushed steel and high strength plastic polymers. She leaned back in her chair. It was surprisingly comfortable, especially given the grey room. She then looked over at the man behind the desk.
Somewhere in the late part of middle age, the man was wearing a grey Company uniform. Thin with graying dark brown hair and dull green eyes, he looked reserved, contemplative, and, like nearly everyone else here, oddly calm and cool.
He seemed the exact opposite of the Drake, whose office she was in earlier today. During that meeting, it was decided that she would attend school as a girl under the nauseating alias of Sunshine. The redhead wondered what would happen to her after this meeting. The nameplate on this man's desk read "Colonel Jacob Edwards: Special Agent, Operations Section."
Jacob glanced over at his monitor. On it were the status bars for the Company facilities under his and his immediate superior's control. Toronto-B had just checked in with condition green. Toronto-C was still being constructed and was listed as grey. According to Command, each Operations Centre was secure as well as all subsequent bases and facilities.
There were a total of twenty-six hot operations being executed at this moment. Only seven were classified beyond his compartment and rank. Sighing, he turned from the display to the young woman. Jacob assessed the girl. He had been a front-line agent before the advent of man-portable pattern recognition devices. He remembered having to radio back to a technical team looking at oscilloscopes and television screens in the back of a van.
Now Company agents expected to get definitive pattern classification in seconds -- it was a troubling crutch. Jacob relented as he looked over the girl. If he were a young agent in charge of the strike team, he would have shot the redheaded demon, and likely died for his efforts. Jacob further calmed himself by remembering that the Company had been hunting these creatures well before electronics or modern weapons. It was only now that technology was becoming comparable to the natural advantages the opposition enjoyed.
"Colonel Edwards?" Ranma asked. The man behind the desk seemed to be looking past her, his hands folded on his metal framed and wood paneled desk.
"Sorry, I was reminiscing," Jacob said as he tugged on his cuffs. "And please call me Jacob."
"It's part of a long, old story. I'm sure you want to change back," he said, taking a water-filled pot off a hot plate and handing it to her.
Ranma looked down at her school uniform. She thought that it would likely revert back to what she was wearing when she was a guy. Putting a finger in the pot she was surprised to find that it was hot enough to cause the change without being boiling. Ranma then dumped a small portion on herself. Ranma stretched, relieved to be male and back in normal clothes.
"We could help cure you of this," Jacob proposed.
"Yeah, by flying me to Jusenkyou," Ranma said with suspicion.
"You don't trust us. Understandable. It is of note, however, that you were willing to have this meeting here as opposed to some place more public."
"I didn't think you guys would go through the trouble of bringing me here, when you could have just killed me last night."
Jacob leaned back. "And I'm sure you thought you could get out. You are a highly trained Pattern D and Pattern Silver of Class 10. On the other hand, this is an extensive complex filled with Company Agents, and even if you did get to the surface you would have to deal with whatever higher weapons Command saw fit to level against you. If combat were to have broken out last night, it would have been interesting. Here it would be a disaster."
"Er, right. So about this cure. Why take me there? Isn't that inconvenient for you?"
"Yes, it is," Jacob admitted. "The Company could just ship you a few gallons of Nannichuan which is supposed to cure Nyanniichuan, what you fell into. However, it's not that simple, is it?"
"DarkStar," Ranma stated.
"Pluto's meddling has complicated things. Not just the Pattern Silver, but the Pattern D as well. Patterns D, I, L, V, and Z have varying levels of resistance to Jusenkyou. One question, is your female form now the same as before Pluto turned you?"
"No, it isn't. It's close, but I'm taller, my hair is a darker red, my skin is paler, and my proportions are well, better," Ranma said with some annoyance.
"I suspected as much," Jacob sighed. "No, if this would work, we've got to take you to the source where it's strongest, and even then it might not work."
"Because Pluto used my curse to try to convert me into a Senshi," Ranma said, narrowing his eyes.
"It looks that way," Jacob allowed. "Although even if Nannichuan right from the source does not work, the caretaker of Jusenkyou might be able to tell you of another cure. If anyone knows, it would be him."
"What'll I owe you for doing this for me?" Ranma asked, quite wary of such deals.
"Nothing. This is us repaying you for that incident last night. The Company made a mistake. We thought you were working for the enemy. Helping you find a cure is the least we can do."
"I'll think about it," Ranma said after a slight pause.
"That's all I ask," Jacob said, standing. "If you want to contact me, just ask Agent Tendo," he said, opening the door to his office.
Ranma looked out the open door and was unsurprised to see one of Kasumi's men snap to attention. This one was male with brown hair cut down to a quarter inch in height.
"Agent Kowalski, show Ranma the commissary. Kasumi will be ready to drive you back home in a few minutes," Jacob said, returning to his desk. Before his door closed fully, he watched as Aram lead Ranma down the corridor. Shortly after that, there was a knock on his door.
"Well, what do you think?" Jacob asked the woman that entered his office.
"From the tape he seemed more receptive than anticipated. Although suspicious of our motives, he is willing to entertain the possibility that we want to make amends," Kasumi reported.
"It would seem that the assassination attempt will be less damaging than suspected," Jacob observed. "It is a strong point in favor of his character that he has yet to snap -- given what has happened to him."
"As you say," Kasumi said, maintaining an even expression at the comment. "One point of advice, if I may?"
"Placing all the blame on Pluto may be unwise. The creation of DarkStar would seem to be Murdock's doing. Alienating him from Pluto and thus the other Silvers serves our short-term interests by potentially bringing him closer to us. But our goal is to eventually work with all the Silvers."
"I noticed his reaction, too. I agree. We cannot afford internal fighting among the Silvers."
"There might be a way we can isolate Pluto from the other Silvers. Recent events seem to be raising questions as to her competence, given that she is supposed to maintain 'temporal integrity'. If we can get the other members of their team to distance themselves from Pluto, then Ranma might be able to work with the Silvers, if not her," Kasumi stated as she replayed the conversation in her mind.
"Perhaps. Although, we do not know enough about how they interact with each other, nor do we know the civilian identities of the other Silvers."
"Given the odds on who those new students might be should help us," Kasumi said, referring to the nine students newly enrolled in Furinkan. It was likely that at least some of them were Pattern Silvers.
"I'm going to brief our Chief of Forensic Pathology on the information we have on DarkStar," Jacob said as he sat back down behind his desk.
"Including the data you've just gathered now," Kasumi noted. She was certain that Jacob had some scanners either hidden in this room, or placed in the adjacent ones.
"Yes. You've worked with him. Is he as good as Command says?"
"Yes, in the Oak Ridge Operations. He is quite competent," Kasumi allowed. "He handles research and field work equally well. His knowledge of opposition anatomy is impressive. He is also a competent rifleman." She looked at her commanding officer evenly. Doubtless, he was aware of the relationship they attempted after that Operation. Their personalities clashed too much. Like any other Company agent, he was in control on duty, but during intimate moments he would break down and become too emotional, something that Kasumi found repulsive.
Aram watched as Ranma ate from the tray that he had filled. The teen could put away an impressive amount of food. The Company agent wondered if this was due to the teen's natural metabolism or if this was something brought upon due to the influence of DarkStar.
From his seat across from Aram, Ranma looked around the commissary. The room was fairly large. It could comfortably seat about fifty people. Unlike other rooms in the complex, this one actually had some decorations on the walls. It was an eclectic mix of framed photographs. Some were aerial view of majestic landscapes. Others were of old military uniforms, weapons, machines, and vehicles, ranging from the American Civil War to World War Two. More images were of buildings, most of which were simple, sturdy buildings, made of stone, brick and in the newer ones concrete.
"Agent Kowalski?" a familiar voice said from behind Aram.
"Yeah, Doc?" Aram asked.
"How did last night's operation go?" the man asked. Asian, he was fairly tall, average framed, had short dark brown hair, and slim brass-framed glasses.
"Can't tell you, Doc," Aram said, shaking his head.
"Really? They compartmentalized that one?" The man raised an eyebrow. Hot operations usually produced bodies, or at the very least some sort of organic material that needed to be analyzed. For the section he headed to have not been required made the outcome of last night's operation rather interesting. "Must have been an important one."
"What? Angry that you don't have any corpses to dice up?" Aram joked. That much he was allowed to say.
"You know I don't enjoy my job Although it does have its moments."
Ranma looked up. A doctor who cut up the dead. That meant he was a coroner. If last night had gone differently it was likely that this man would be the one dissecting a red-headed corpse.
"Well, I'm sure Command will brief you."
"If they decide to," the doctor allowed as he looked at the young man across from Aram. He was unfamiliar to him, but he assumed it was just another cadet. Although the presence of a cadet at this facility was a bit odd. He noticed that the teen had resumed his accelerated eating, doubtless he had just returned from some particularly draining training. The doctor smiled slightly remembering his own training. After a particularly interesting autopsy in medical school, he had decided to change careers a bit.
"That's above my pay-grade," Aram remarked as he peeled an orange.
"But not quite above Kasumi's," the doctor responded.
"Command does seem to be grooming her for something," Aram allowed.
"She is pretty good," the doctor added. In the Company, "pretty good" meant that she was one of their best.
"Not that she'd want to get too far from the action."
"True, combat does seem to be her one passion," the doctor said with bitter humor. He had been with her before, but for him it was how he imagined a quiet prostitute would be like -- very little emotion, just business. He was sure she enjoyed it. She had told him so. Besides, what other reason was there for her to be with him? Unless the Company ordered her to do it. The doctor shook his head. That was too much, even for the Company.
Ranma thought about what the doctor had said. Was Kasumi like that last night? Upon reflection Ranma decided that she did seem a bit more animated last night. She was not quite as distant. There was something dreadfully wrong with a person who acts the most normal when they are about to kill, Ranma thought.
It was a nondescript housing complex in a suburb of San Francisco. A meeting had just concluded in an apartment on the sixth floor. The resident of the apartment and his second remained to discuss the event.
"We've been activated," the subordinate one observed.
"I had wondered how long it would take," the resident responded.
"Especially given our queen's defeat."
The resident glared at his assistant. Capable and loyal, his cool-headedness was part of the reason their sleeper cell had lasted so long. Longer than the queen they had sworn to serve. "You heard the Regent. We have a chance to get our vengeance."
The younger of the two looked at his superior. "Please do not doubt my willingness for the cause. I merely suggest caution. Every one of us, each and every one, that has gone up against them and stood their ground has died. We have only survived by running, teleporting, and hiding. Yes, I wish to avenge our fallen comrades, but getting ourselves killed pointlessly serves nothing. Especially given how few of us are left."
The resident nodded. His team was selected for their discretion. They were able to slip in unnoticed and quietly gather energy. It was a point of pride to the resident that not a single one of his plans had ever been discovered. The queen had decided to create a series of sleeper cells and seed them in cities around the world. The resident was never told what the ultimate plan of his troops was to be. He assumed that he would be briefed when the time was right.
It took some time for the resident to realize that the dispatches from home, always infrequent, had stopped. He was not to learn of the fall of their kingdom until the Regent gave what until today had been his final message. Now, after nearly two years of waiting, they had a mission.
"It's a good thing that we've still been collecting all this time. We should have enough energy to pull this thing off," the subordinate stated, interrupting the thoughts of other entity in the room.
"But will we make it?"
"If you can trust the planning of the Regent's assistant," he said bitterly.
"You distrust that lackey." It was not a question.
"Dave, the stench of ambition is on him," he said, using the name the resident has assumed upon his arrival in this place.
"Well, Frank, it's not like there's anywhere for him to be promoted to," the resident stated, using his visitor's alias.
"Not if the mission fails," he warned.
"It won't," the resident assured.
Kasumi stopped her car in the driveway. "We're home," she said, opening her door.
"Right," Ranma said as he got out after opening his own door.
"Given any thought about the cure?" Kasumi asked as she locked the car.
"I'm still very skeptical about your motives," Ranma stated as he walked around the front of the car.
"A prudent choice," Kasumi smiled. Her face then darkened. "Especially, given the circumstances. No one should have to go through this."
Ranma looked at the young woman. Her face seemed to soften. She then made eye contact. For the first time Ranma did not see the cold, distant, uncaring killer. Instead he saw a girl, hardly older than he was, scarred by experience, hardened by loss, and disciplined by courage. Last night she had told him what she did, what the Company fought, but Ranma was unable to make the connection at a more than an intellectual level.
That night he was the enemy. They thought he was a dangerous animal that had to be killed. Ranma questioned their competence, but at least they had some sort of reason for being overzealous shock troops. He still did not like them, trust them, or even care about them.
Today he was -- what? Ranma looked at Kasumi. He was not being treated like a civilian. If he was not an enemy or a neutral, then he must be an ally, but he refused to work with the Senshi. Then it hit him.
Ranma looked back at Kasumi, who by now had slight concern on her face. He had stopped walking and began to stare off into space. She was looking at him like he was family -- or a fellow agent.
"I can't believe you guys!" he exclaimed. "You try to kill me one day. Then you find out what powers I have, and the very next day you start trying to recruit me!"
Kasumi blinked. She decided to go with the truth. "Yes. We would like the Pattern Silvers, including you, to be working with us--"
Ranma's eyes narrowed.
"--but that does not change the offer made to you today. We will take you to Jusenkyou, regardless."
"In reparations for last night," Ranma observed with skepticism.
Kasumi nodded. Jacob had an inkling that he might figure out their motives.
"But if I get cured, there won't be any DarkStar to recruit, will there?"
Kasumi tilted her head at this. He should know better.
"Wait no," Ranma recalled looking at the stone walkway. "The guy I replaced was a guy. I would have been like him, but someone activated the curse at the wrong moment."
"Unlike other parties, we do not require you to wear a fuku," Kasumi stated, regaining most of her composure.
"Still trying," Ranma said with bitter humor.
"I do what I must," Kasumi said, smiling slightly.
Kasumi filled her mug and returned the pot to the coffee machine. Sipping the hot liquid, she made her way through the house to the breezeway that connected the house to the dojo. Her father still took on the occasional student, and her sister Akane still used the building, but right now it was serving a slightly different purpose.
Holding the mug emblazoned with the Company logo, she started to walk away from the dojo. Her eyes occasionally returning to the treeline at the end of the back yard. She listened in on the sounds within the dojo. The discussion, for lack of a better word, was over.
She had only seen a part of it. The martial artist had turned around to find her watching from the open doorway, and the dark look Ranma gave her was quite unsettling. Kasumi had decided to give Ranma some privacy, for about the time it took for her coffee to brew.
Of greater note was Genma's expression. Ranma's father did not seem quite right. Kasumi remembered how he described their curses. How he kept shifting his eyes. It was as if he was afraid of his child. Kasumi herself did get a red flag when she first met Ranma too.
She sipped her drink. She grinned ever so slightly, savoring the bitter taste. That was something the Company missed. They needed more information about the father. The contents of that Company search were a good start, but they needed more information about the time surrounding the activation of DarkStar. What was he doing then? How did he react to Ranma's new cursed form?
Genma seemed to be pretending to ignore it. Again, there was that fear. Last night, Ranma had inferred that he had seen Pluto again and the results were not terribly pretty. Had another incident happened with his father? It was something to look into.
What of the mother? Where was she? Dead? Back in Japan? Who had already had a Company search running? That was a file she had to get. She terminated her thoughts, changing her focus to the sounds emanating from the dojo.
Ranma's control was impressive. She had yet to hear a bone break or any other sort of serious damage. She had heard several contact events, though. Kasumi estimated that while Genma would not need an ambulance tonight, he would be quite "roughed up".
To Kasumi it did not sound like a simple beating. Ranma was moving around too much, as was Genma. The older man simply seemed unable to effectively defend himself. Perhaps it had started as sparring and then progressed into something else. Perhaps Ranma simply commenced beating his father. Kasumi did not know. The mix of control and rage did intrigue her, both professionally and personally.
Kasumi continued to listen, cataloging their conversation and the other noises. She then heard the back door slide open followed by a familiar voice. "I was wondering where you went," Nabiki said, closing the door behind her.
"It's a clear night," Kasumi said, looking at the sky. She knew a fair number of the stars. Stellar navigation was part of her training.
"Noise not distracting you?" Nabiki asked as she looked over to the dojo. Ranma seemed to have landed a particularly meaty blow, causing Genma to gasp. She winced at what Ranma was doing, but the old buffoon did piss him off.
"Not particularly," Kasumi shrugged, wondering if Nabiki realized the trouble she was in. This was just a prelude to Genma's punishment. The Company agent thought Ranma was near his breaking point. She also knew that retribution was an excellent release valve.
Nabiki nodded. When she wanted to, her sister was capable of entering her own little world. She was much better now. Nabiki wanted to talk to her, but she found herself hesitating. She looked at the older girl's face. After their mother died, Kasumi took up much of the slack. At first she was happy and sweet, almost a caricature of the helpful housewife. Then came Kasumi's incident, and her recruitment to intern for that company.
When Kasumi returned, she was still like a mother, but in a different way. Sometimes when Nabiki looked into her sister's eyes, she saw the cold eyes of a mother wolf protecting her pups.
"What do you think about Ranma?" Nabiki finally asked.
"He is very interesting," Kasumi stated.
"Holding your cards tight, I see," Nabiki laughed.
Kasumi gave a little salute with her mug.
Nabiki eyed the little gray logo. It always seemed to make her eyes hurt. She shrugged as she made her next statement. "I don't think Ranma likes me."
Kasumi almost blinked at this. That was obvious after the stunt she had pulled today, but more importantly why would her sister care? Kasumi knew all about Nabiki's ice-queen businesswoman persona. It seemed to be mostly an act. Something for Nabiki to keep herself entertained. Was Nabiki afraid for her safety? That might actually be a legitimate concern for the girl.
"It might not have been terribly wise to make fun of his curse," Kasumi said, after taking a small sip.
Nabiki looked at the shorter-haired girl. "He seemed fairly okay with it last night. Besides, that Sunshine thing was too delicious to pass up. It's the Drake that he should be mad at."
Kasumi looked up at the stars again. The sounds from the dojo seemed to be dying off. "I'm sure he will be. Why are you so concerned about what he thinks? Is my little sister showing some emotion? Regret perhaps?" Kasumi joked. Both knew who was better at concealing their emotions.
Nabiki smiled. "No, Ranma just seems -- how do I say it? He's different when he's a she."
"Really now?" Kasumi remarked with a slight trace of sarcasm. "You have only just met him."
"He seems to be more uptight and cold when he's that girl."
"Can you blame him?"
Kasumi looked at the younger girl. "Try to go easy on him? He doesn't need this kind of crap."
"How's Akane handling this? She always had problems with the unusual. Remember the fish?"
Nabiki laughed, remembering that ill-fated fishing trip their father had taken them on. Back when Kasumi was in middle school, the Drake invited the Tendo family up to the Kuno's summer house near Orchard Beach. Soun and the Drake were gutting the day's catch on the patio when Akane came in. Seeing a pile of gasping, decapitated fish heads, Akane ran off and hid under the couch, refusing to come out. That the Drake's son had decided to start tossing them at her had not helped. "Well, it was pretty freaky."
"And a guy turning into a redhead isn't?" Kasumi said. She was thankful that the knowledge of the curse was, at the very least, restricted to her immediate family. It was rather convenient of Genma to make such a proposal. Yet another reason to investigate the man.
"I know," Nabiki admitted. "Sis doesn't know what to do about Ranma. He's not obsessing over her, he isn't making fun of her, but he isn't being nice to her either. She doesn't like this Sunshine business, but then neither does Ranma."
"And indecision does not suit her," Kasumi said, looking at Nabiki. She looked like she had one last thing to ask. Kasumi hoped that it did not pertain to her job. She did not enjoy lying to her family.
"Yeah," Nabiki said. She paused, then turned around heading back into the house.
Kasumi smiled. She was able to turn her full attention to the matter at hand.
Ami rolled over and turned her alarm clock off. She blinked a few times, her brain regaining full consciousness. She looked out the second-story window to see a bright morning sky. Getting out of bed, she stretched, relieved that her jet lag was essentially gone. She still felt a bit out of sync, but it was nowhere near as bad as yesterday; the night before that was not worth mentioning.
"School today," the blue-haired girl muttered as she put on her robe. She exited her room, then made her way to the bathroom. The apartment Setsuna had set them up with was large enough. The main entrance lead to a good sized kitchen that flowed to the living room. On either side of this central space was a small hallway. Each had a door that went to a bathroom and two that went to the bedrooms. Due to a bend in the building, one of the bedrooms was nearly twice the size of the other three.
Setsuna remained at her downtown, tenth-floor apartment. The five girls got the four rooms. They used matchsticks to find out which two would have to share the big bedroom. Makoto and Minako pulled the two burnt ones.
After using the bathroom she shared with Usagi, Ami walked into the main room. She blinked to see Rei dressed in their new school uniform, watching the news. "You're already up?" she asked, yawning.
Rei turned to see the girl standing behind the couch. "Woke up, couldn't get back to sleep."
"Ah," Ami stated. "What're you watching?"
"Canadian news. It's odd there isn't anything about those deaths Setsuna told us about."
"Maybe the government is covering it up," Ami proposed as she rummaged in the cabinets. After showing them the apartment, Setsuna had driven them around to familiarize them with the area. One of the places they had stopped was a supermarket.
"They did hire that company," Rei said as she changed to a different news channel.
"It would be nice to have some help," Ami said. She had moved on to the refrigerator.
"Not nice people," Rei stated, summarizing what Setsuna had said about WIC.
"Setsuna didn't seem sure if they would be on the same side as us." Ami stated simply. That Setsuna did not know something was a considerable shock. They were used to her saying that she knew, but for the sake of the timeline she had to remain silent. Often, Ami suspected that the Senshi of Time was pretending to know more than she did. Nonetheless, she was effective at covering up her lack of knowledge, if she even had any.
But now, there was this Murdock. Setsuna was sure of his role in the creation of DarkStar. Aside from that, Setsuna was frustratingly in the dark.
Rei turned off the television. "I guess we should wake up the others. More school," she noted sourly.
"We're Magical Girls. We spend all night fighting monsters and all day at school," Ami stated.
"Makoto thinks she saw Ranma yesterday."
"Really? Why didn't she say anything earlier?"
"She didn't recognize him until she thought about it. She told me last night in the bathroom when we were getting ready for bed. Remember how yesterday, after Setsuna registered us for classes, we wandered around the school for a bit?" She continued after Ami nodded. "Mako-chan was on the second floor near the end of a hall. She looked out the window to see a redheaded woman in the parking lot, talking to another student and a slightly older guy in casual business wear, near a gray car. She remembered it because the girl's uniform was not the normal one."
"The redhead got in the car. They then drove off, leaving the other student to walk to her own car. Makoto didn't think much of it at first because Ranma's a guy. Why would he go to school as a girl?"
"I wish she'd tell us more about Ranma," Ami said, referring to Setsuna.
"Yeah, she told us all about DarkStar, but nearly nothing about Ranma."
"It's like she's afraid to research about him. It's almost as if she's afraid of him."
"That may be it," Rei observed. "Ranma is a guy, but now he's one of us."
"Technically she's not a Senshi."
"Ami, Ranma's got the powers, the reincarnation from the Silver Millennium, and the miniskirt. It's damn close enough."
"And he thought he would be cured, not made into a Magical Girl. Yeah, he's pissed."
"I'm surprised DarkStar didn't attack her," Ami said.
"Maybe she did."
"We should try to talk to Ranma at school today."
"Why do you think he's attending as a girl?" Rei asked.
"I have no idea."
"When will the cats be out of quarantine?" Rei muttered. When live animals are transported internationally, they are usually required to spend around a dozen days under government observation. This is done to make sure that disease is not spread to livestock and other animals.
Ami blinked, the change in topic was rather strange. "Um, I think Usagi said they have three more days."
"I wonder what they have to say about this situation."
"Even if they were alive when DarkStar was around, I doubt they would remember much."
"I was referring to Setsuna's actions."
Ranma dried himself off from his morning shower. He was reluctant to leave the stream of hot liquid, but he had to get ready for school. He used a towel to dry himself. He looked at his reflection. He thrust his arm under the running faucet. Wearing no clothes as a male, his cursed form was also naked. Ranma sighed as she looked at her reflection. There were two outfits her curse would let her wear, not counting DarkStar's getup. Shaking her head she shifted into the marginally better of the two.
It was a fuku. While it was not the overly skimpy parody that the Senshi preferred, it was still very form-fitting and revealing. It was similar to the Furinkan girl's uniform of purple pleated skirt, white blouse, blue woman's tie, blue jacket and beret, but with a few key differences. Her version was tighter on her frame than normal, was darker in the skirt and jacket, and had a black blouse, black military beret, and red tie. She also wore calf-high leather boots and fishnet stockings.
She had an obsidian pendant hanging on a fine silver chain that sat over her tie, and black stud earrings. Annoyed, Ranma pulled back the two long strands of hair that framed her face. The rest of her hair 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 looked at the makeup on her face with resentment.
She sighed again as she left the room. There was not much she could do. She would have to go to school as Sunshine. A part of her mind told her to refuse, to rebel. She could transform all the way, spread her wings, and fly away from this mess. Another part told her to change back to a man, tell her father to fuck off and walk out. Yet another part of her mind was seriously considering the Company's offer. Those clowns certainly had the resources to take her to China, and that was the best chance she had of finding a cure. Finally, she decided to simply go to school.
She hoped that she would make it through the day without causing any serious problems.
Deep in the sub-basements of the Canada Trust Tower, in the heart of WIC Toronto-A, a meeting was taking place.
"Wow, Marv. I can't believe you're actually going to shave that thing," Jacob said as he poured himself a glass of water.
Commander Marvin Stillwater, head of WIC operations in Toronto and vicinity, turned from his shaving to glare at his executive officer. He was in the middle of reducing his beard. On the left side it was trimmed down to match with the corner of his mouth, and on the right it still connected up to the hair on his head.
His upper lip was already shaved. He had never been able to grow an even mustache, so for the last twenty years he had opted to simply have a mustache-less beard. Now he was trimming the beard down to a goatee.
"Come on now Jacob, I was not that attached to it."
"Yes sir, you were," Jacob replied, smiling as he said "sir". In the decades that they had known each other, the two men had alternated between being each other's superior as they both climbed the Company ladder. "I remember you started growing it after you were promoted beyond regular field work."
Stillwater grunted at that as he shaved the hair on the right side of his face. He and Jacob had met as fresh agents just out of training. They had both moved up the chain of command, Stillwater moving further up the Operations Section into Command itself. Jacob had been transferred to Recruitment and Training Section.
"Don't tell me that the great Stillwater is showing some vanity?" Jacob said, slightly amused.
"Despite the training and our years of experience, we are still human."
"It is because of our training and experience that we are still human," Jacob countered.
"It would seem that way," Stillwater said as he finished reshaping his beard.
"I'm pleased to report that the DarkStar situation may be salvageable. We have also gotten the background checks to the other new Furinkan students. Some of them are rather -- interesting. They are in the file on your desk."
"It would be quite the coincidence to have all the Silvers in one place," Stillwater said as he washed his face.
"It would seem that this operation is replete with coincidences."
"Murdock," Stillwater stated.
"Yes. He was most useful in telling us about the Silvers. He did neglect to inform us as to their civilian identities. Something that our own limited surveillance of the Silvers has failed to yield."
"You know that the Japanese government has restricted our activities in Tokyo," Stillwater said with frustration. They let the Company built an Operations Centre in Hokkaido and gave WIC a free hand to operate throughout their nation, except for a circle fifty miles in radius centered on their capital. The Japanese government created the exclusion zone "to prevent conflicts of interest between governmental police agencies, both civilian and military, and various consulting firms." Command was puzzled by this action, but there was little they could do.
"I wonder if the Silvers were the reason for that. How much do they know about us?" Jacob shook his head before returning to the original subject. "Murdock also said nothing of DarkStar."
"He would probably smile and tell us that she's not technically a Senshi."
"Semantics. She is a Pattern Silver. That is what counts," Stillwater bitterly said.
"Agent Tendo has performed admirably, although one wonders if she is the right person to interact with Ranma."
"Once again, circumstances have given us this situation. You read her transcript from last night's events."
"Yes. His mental state is quite precarious."
"That's why I say we give him a very soft touch, no manipulations, no bullshit, no head-games, no obligations."
"And what if he turns his back on us and walks away?" Stillwater asked, sitting down at his desk.
"Do you think we could control a being such as DarkStar? With proper preparation we could kill her," Jacob allowed as he sat in one of the chairs in front of Stillwater.
"Why do you think Ranma will work with us, then?"
"I think he would help us because to ignore the threat we fight would be unacceptable to him."
"You would challenge his morality," Stillwater said as he leaned back, smiling.
Ranma looked up from her desk to see two new students. One was a good looking brunette with a long, curved ponytail. The girl was tall, about even with Ranma's current height. The redhead felt a tinge of familiarity when she looked at the girl. She seemed happy yet reserved. She seemed to be waiting for something to happen, something decidedly unpleasant.
The other was a tallish guy, who was most likely fairly thin. His shirt seemed to hang off his frame and was poorly tucked into his pants. Oddly, his tie was knotted expertly, but in a style unfamiliar to Ranma. He was fairly pale, though in a sickly way, as opposed to Ranma's -- now Sunshine's -- more alabaster skin tone. The twerp set off warning bells deep within Sunshine's mind. He looked nervous. His squinting eyes were downcast when they were not darting around the room.
But there was something more. It was only noticeable if you managed to make eye contact during his seemingly pointless scans of the room. Sunshine had looked directly into the teen's eyes and saw a controlled and confident mind. His actions, whatever they might be, would be ones with purpose. These were not the eyes of some shy, bullied geek.
Sunshine watched the two, memorizing their faces and voices. There was something to these two people. She supposed that her classmates would find this influx of new students odd, but they gave no indication of it. She planned to keep tabs on her fellow new students, unaware that there were more newcomers in other classrooms.
In one, three people were being introduced. Ami and Minako stood in front of a similar room. Next to them, also being introduced, was a girl with short, dark auburn hair. Her name was Janet Fraiser. She was newly moved in from the States. Her uniform was immaculate, with perfectly ironed creases. She stood with her feet shoulder length apart and her hands clasped behind her back. The other two girls felt that this smiling girl was hiding something.
In a third room, Rei and Usagi looked questioningly at the teen who stood between them. He called himself Rod Ferris. Tall, with broad shoulders and dusky complexion, he appeared to have both Scottish and Native American blood in him. His tie was loosened, looking like a noose cut before the trapdoor could open. His smile was predatory, in a vague, amused way.
"If you hate your name so much, why don't you have everyone use a nickname instead?" Samantha asked the redhead that sat across from her.
Ranma blinked. Today she was unable to avoid eating with anyone. Fortunately, it was just Naoko and Samantha, two girls whose company she could stand.
"Wouldn't work," Naoko said before Ranma had a chance to respond.
"What? She just picks a name and tells everyone to use that instead of the one her hippy parents gave her."
"Don't you know anything about how nicknames work? You never get to choose your own. It's always given to you. The best you can hope for is something completely random or something from a memorable event in your past. Both are out. Sunshine's new here, and I doubt a name like ‘Tire Iron' or ‘Rutabaga' would fit her. No, that leaves something based on her physical characteristics or a bastardization of her name."
"Ouch," Samantha said as she tried to think of a nickname that was worse than Sunshine. She could not come up with one, but she did not doubt that several existed.
"Best not to even try," Naoko warned.
"Yeah. Sunshine's bad enough as it is," Ranma said as she glanced at another table halfway across the room. The other new girl, Kino Makoto, was sitting there with four other girls. They seemed to be in a hushed conversation, and they would occasionally look over at Ranma's table. At another table in the corner of the room, sat the other new kid. Named Gosunkugi Hikaru, he had some sort of thick, old-looking hardcover book out next to his lunch. He appeared to be softly talking into a tape recorder as he looked over the yellowed pages.
"Apparently there's been a rash of transfers these last two days," Samantha said, following Ranma's gaze.
"Yeah, see all those girls that Makoto's talking to, Sunshine?"
"They're all new too?"
"Interesting," Ranma remarked, taking a sip of her soda. Five girls from Japan arrive three days after she had arrived in Toronto. One of them is oddly familiar. Oh, not in how she looked. Having a familiar smell was the closest human sense to which she could equate it. The redhead imagined that if she got close to the other four girls she would pick up the same "scent".
Ranma resumed eating. After a couple of minutes, she looked up to see the quintet approach. As they got closer Ranma felt the slight twinge that they all gave off. She assumed that some demonic sense organ of hers was picking up on something that the girls gave off.
The girl at the head of the group was a bubbly blonde with a nauseatingly cutesy hairstyle. Ranma shook her head. Why in God's name would someone place their ponytails there? And why let them get that long? The girl could trip on them if she was the slightest bit klutzy.
Usagi looked at the sinfully beautiful girl in front of her. She thought Ranma was a boy. Sure, he had that curse, but to go to school as a girl, especially with the name Sunshine, was very odd. Her own name was not much better, but at least she was born a girl. The blonde was starting to suspect that the transformation had eaten his brain although it might be for the best. Usagi could not imagine what kind of hell being a Senshi would be for a guy.
"Hi, Sunshine. I'm in your class," Makoto said, trying to break the ice.
"Yeah? So?" the girl known as Sunshine responded.
"There's something we want to talk about," one of the girls with black hair said as she looked at Naoko and Samantha.
Ranma glanced at her two companions. "Let me guess. This is something that you only want me to hear? Never mind that this is a high school cafeteria that's monitored by cameras." She had noticed the cameras yesterday, but only today was she paranoid enough to think that they were being used to monitor her movements.
The blonde with her hair unbound swiveled her head around taking note of the black security camera hemispheres in the ceiling. "Well. Would you two still mind leaving us for a bit?"
Ranma looked at Naoko and Samantha. "Would you two mind?"
Samantha shrugged as she got up and left. She was followed by Naoko.
Ranma watched the five girls sit down across from her. "You made me shoo away two people that I can actually stand. Make this good," Ranma said coldly.
Usagi cleared her throat. "Um, we have a mutual acquaintance. A Meiou Setsuna."
"Ah, the Time Bitch. So, you're the cheerleaders. Now I've got shadow organizations and magical girls after me. What next? The Free Masons? Elvis? Maybe the Canadian Dental Association?" Ranma laughed.
"This is serious."
"I'm sure it is. You guys do get a point for not trying to kill me. However, the fuku is a big mark against you," the demon-girl smirked.
"You know why we're here?" Ami asked.
"Oh, yeah. Ancient evil is loose or something. I do have one question. Assuming that the Time Bitch told you about my curse, would you guys be willing to help me cure it?"
"You're setting terms to work for us?" Rei said skeptically. "Didn't you make a deal with Pluto?"
"Yes. And she lied. She knew I would never agree to be a magical girl, so she told me it would cure me instead. And now the Company's using the same carrot. But what are those goons going to do to me? Try to make me into one of their tin soldiers? I don't think they're dumb enough to try to kill and dissect me." She paused. "Again."
As Usagi watched the redhead quietly rant she lost interest in what the girl was saying and instead concentrated on how her body was moving. Her eyes glazed over slightly and she smashed her head into the table. She moaned and impacted it a second time.
"Meatball-head? You okay?" Rei asked.
"Make the bad thoughts go away," Usagi whimpered silently. "No. I'm fine," she said as she raised her head. For a brief moment her eyes locked with Ranma's then turned away.
"Ditz," Rei muttered.
Man, she can't handle one lesbian daydream, Ranma thought to herself, correctly guessing the nature of the blonde's trouble.
"So you feel betrayed," Usagi said.
"Exactly. Now, would you guys be willing to help me find a cure to this?" Ranma asked.
"I could use the Ginzuishou on you," Usagi suggested.
"I'm guessing that's some kind of magic trinket. What's it do?"
"It heals and purifies."
"Oh," Ranma said. She did not like that word "purify". It could mean something as harmless as removing her curse and the demon DarkStar. It could also mean a purification of personality. A little magical head-cleaning that would make her into an obedient little Sailor Senshi. "I'm not so sure about that."
"What, you don't trust us?" Rei demanded.
"Hell, no! I don't know you, and considering the actions of your teammates "
"Pluto acted without authorization," Usagi coldly said as she narrowed her eyes.
"Well, Princess, I suggest you keep better tabs on your troops, because she royally fucked up," Ranma said, meeting her gaze while causing several unintentional puns.
"She is being dealt with."
"If you say so," Ranma dismissively said. "She was the one to send you here, and I'm guessing she was the one to tell you about me."
"Yes, there's been a rash of missing persons and a series of bizarre murders," Usagi said as she remembered the condition of the corpses.
"And she did tell us about you," Makoto added.
"Although she only told us about Ranma. Sunshine never came up," Rei said, emphasizing that name.
Ranma's violet flecked, blue irises contracted. "First of all, my status at school is caused by my idiot father who happens to be friends with the principal. That name was chosen as a cruel joke, and like many other things in my life, I seem to be stuck with it."
The redhead sighed, took a drink, and continued. "As for the Time Bitch, I guess it was good of her to tell you about me. She could have just sat on that information and let you nimrods attack me because I'm a demon."
Usagi paused at that. Setsuna did have a habit of withholding critical information.
"I don't see why you blame Pluto for all this. After all, it was Murdock who killed your predecessor and sabotaged the transfer. Pluto wanted you to be cured. Having you be DarkStar messes up the future," Ami stated.
Ranma smirked as she put down her soda. "And she told you all of this?"
"And have you met Murdock?"
"I have. He's a fairly competent mage specializing in transformations. Apparently, he knows a fair bit about you guys. He knew enough to help me after Pluto's little trick. Look, he is weird. His sense of humor is incomprehensibly dry, but he doesn't care about your precious future. He's too apathetic to do that much scheming."
"Setsuna told us that WIC has been using him as a source of information."
"So? I already told you he knows about you guys. It's not like your activities are very secretive what with the skimpy uniforms, bright magical lights, and explosions. The Company found him and pumped him for information."
"You can't take him for a bystander. He is an unbalanced saboteur who will stop at nothing to fulfill his plans whatever they are."
"I won't deny that he's strange and has caused problems. He did neglect to tell the Company about my situation, but he's not the boogeyman the Time Bitch makes him out to be."
"You don't know what he's capable of."
"Neither do you. He's a scapegoat to cover the Time Bitch's incompetent scheming," Ranma said, her eyes looking past the girls at the entrance at the far side of the room. She groaned as she recognized the person entering the room.
"My glorious Sunshine, how I have missed you," Kuno declared as he strode over to Ranma's table.
Ranma closed her eyes as tightly controlled rage welled within her. "Leave now, or I will kill you," she said in a disturbingly casual voice.
Kuno's resolve paused for a second. He was confused. It was obvious that he was meant to be with this beautiful woman, but a part of him told him to run like a frightened field mouse and hide somewhere for a few hours. Steeling himself, Kuno held his ground. "Your hair is like the setting sun, crimson locks burning brightly."
Ranma put her hand to her forehead. "If you don't leave right now. I will tear open your stomach, hog tie you with your own intestines, and let you bleed to death."
Usagi's face twisted with revulsion and another emotion. She could clearly see Sunshine doing this, but for some reason her mind pictured the redhead naked as she eviscerated the unfortunate boy.
Rei blinked. The only emotion the redhead possessed was exasperation. She seemed fully capable of carrying out her ultimatum, regardless of the consequences.
Kuno opened his mouth. He then slowly closed it. Repeating these two actions several times, he started to resemble the fish heads he had terrorized the youngest Tendo with years ago.
"Go on, get," Ranma said in a voice eerily similar to a heavily armed hermit talking to a trespasser.
Closing his mouth with such speed that his teeth clacked together, Kuno turned around and wandered out of the room. A couple of times he drifted into a lunch table causing some of the room to take notice of his passing although a woman getting fed up enough to threaten to kill Tatewaki was a relatively common occurrence.
Ranma felt her rage drain as Kuno left the room. She was quite relieved that he had actually left. Very few people are stupid enough to die for something that insignificant. Fortunately, Kuno was not one of them.
"Maybe we should get going," Usagi said as she stood up. She felt the need to get some distance from this redhead. She had trouble blocking the bloody and naked mental images.
"Okay, then," Ranma said as she resumed eating her lunch. The Senshi seemed to be about what she expected them to be: a group of girls being lead around by the Time Bitch. She did wonder what they were like in combat.
Usagi shook her head as she returned to her original table. Her four friends followed her. "So what do you think of our newest member?" she asked.
"Scary," Minako said.
"Look at it from his perspective. Ranma is a guy who turns into a demonic magical girl," Makoto stated.
"She was about to lose it back there," Rei observed.
"But he didn't." Makoto stated.
"Only because that buffoon backed down."
In Etobicoke, a suburb of Toronto to the northwest of the city, there is a series of motels that stand on highway 427, opposite the Lester B. Person International Airport. In one of these motels, a large contingent of rooms has been reserved for a handful of days.
The occupant of this particular room stood over the table. On it was a series of blueprints and maps. His second-in-command stood off to the side. He gave one final glance to the pen-marked building schematics before addressing his guests.
"You have just heard the reconnaissance accounts of our operatives. The facility is easy to observe and its structural information is a matter of public record. Pretending to be package deliverymen, we have been able to get our people inside the building. This has given us a more personal description of what the building is like. You have been briefed as to our plan. Any questions? I will not take any legitimate question as insubordination. This plan has to be perfect," he assured his subordinates.
"Are we sure of the enemy's presence in the building?" asked the head of Cell 3. She appeared to be a very attractive young woman, a trait that was very helpful in past energy collection missions.
"Within a fair degree of accuracy," the resident nodded. "The men that we had inside detected some trace energy signatures. These match what little information our superiors had collected on the enemy, before the fall of home base," he added sourly.
"So we know that something magical has been there, and that it is likely to be the enemy?"
"Yes. In the event that the enemy does not show, we will have plenty of hostages ready to convince them to come, and the Regent has assured us that a significant number of the enemy are in this city," the second stated.
"And our hostages will be quite useful," the head of procurement and supply, Cell 5, stated. "Conversion will not be an issue. We have ample energy stores for even a very fast change."
"Good. Our patience and continued collection has paid off," the resident said.
"The cameras do concern me," the second stated. "The operation is at its weakest in the early stages. If the enemy comes before we are fully set up, we will not have enough weapons or forces to defeat them."
"That is why our first stage is to remove the surveillance system entirely. Not only will it prevent prying eyes from observing us, it will also give the first group access to the heart of their security system," the resident smiled. "After all, it is the security company who is called in when the cameras break."
The resident's second then interjected, "Remember, during this operation we will be using our human names." He turned to his superior. "Isn't that right, Dave?"
"Indeed, Frank. We have all lived under these names for several years, so we will respond to them. As you know, our true names have a theme that may enable those girls to realize our true nature prematurely."
"It is only by eliminating unnecessary risks that we will succeed," the entity known as Frank said.
"Once the first team is inside and in control, they will activate the gate and bring the rest of our personnel and material in. Heavy weapons will be placed at these points and hostages will be contained to these rooms," Dave said as he pointed to several spots on the blueprints. "Brief your teams again. Make sure they understand how the mission will go off. This is our last, best chance. We will succeed where all of our comrades have failed. They underestimated the enemy. They had the raw power to find them and kill them, but they insisted on treating the enemy as little girls. Tomorrow we will kill as many of them as possible and escape to strike again."
Ranma was right. The cameras in the school were being used to keep tabs on her. Given the special relationship the Company had with the principal, obtaining access to the school's security system was a simple matter. No one was presently monitoring the cameras. It was 3:15 AM, and the school was empty.
WIC Toronto-A was not. The Company facility was in full operation. Its staff was currently observing a group of search parties looking for a missing scout troop last seen in the Hilton Falls Conservation Area, twenty-five miles southwest of the city.
A Company technician was alerted to a signal drop. Checking the source, the young agent was puzzled to find that the observation signals from Furinkan High School had been dropped. Following orders, he lifted his phone and called the base commander.
Jacob rose from the bunk in his office. Almost instantly regaining full consciousness, he answered the phone. "I'll be in momentarily," he said after the situation was explained to him. He stood up and walked out of his office down the short hallway to "C3", the Command and Control Center. "Why did we lose our signal?" Jacob asked as he entered the large, monitor filled room.
"The system was installed and is monitored by Keystone Security. We have been monitoring Keystone as well. They have also lost their linkup to Furinkan. Their computer has logged it as a Type 12 Maintenance Fault of unknown origin. A repair team has been slotted to arrive at six hundred hours," a communications agent responded as he organized the data in front of him.
"Damn Drake and his bargain hunting," Jacob stated as he shook his head. "Do we have any evidence of infiltration before this system failed?"
"No, but we have a team analyzing the data from just before the signal was lost."
Jacob considered the situation. Keystone and the Company got their signal from two different places in the security system. Keystone had a landline directly into the control system so that an emergency, fire, medical, police, or other services could be quickly reported to the authorities. Unlike the connection the Company used, it was not a broadcast of everything all the cameras saw. To have both fail meant that the mechanical fault was deep within the core of the system, or that it was a planned sabotage of the system. "Send the strike team on North York rotation in," Jacob ordered. "Have them observe the grounds for intrusion."
Jacob sighed as he sat down at his chair in the C3 room. It could be a simple breakdown in a cheaply installed security system with a history of failing. The cameras had malfunctioned in one level or another over thirty times in three years of service, Jacob found out as he read Keystone's database on the Furinkan system. It could also be a way for the opposition to set up a trap without being observed.
By a quarter of four, the situation had become more complete, but still rather unclear. Digital analysts confirmed that the cameras in the school did not detect anything unusual. The team sent in to observe the school was unable to detect any Pattern classifiable energies. After getting approval from Jacob, the team entered the grounds of the school. They were unable to find any obvious signs of break in.
Entering the building, the team found the electrical system in disarray. Half of the building's circuit breakers had been tripped, some of them going as far as to be broken by the apparent surge. The ones supplying power to the security system and to the lighting on the forth floor had failed to block the surge causing damage to the electronics they serviced. This surge was why the security system cut out.
Further investigation lead to a nearby electrical substation. The North York team found a repair team from Ontario Power Generation already at the scene. It would seem that the station had fluctuated in its power supply, damaging the buildings it serviced, including Furinkan.
Jacob continued the alert. It seemed like a simple equipment fault, but that was exactly the cover that a well-designed operation would use. The previous day's surveillance had shown Ranma talking with five girls newly arrived from Japan. They matched the limited physical descriptions that the Company had gathered on the Pattern Silvers. It was not definite, but the probability did point to them. This was something that the opposition could also have figured out.
"I can't believe they get away with those fuku," Sophie said as she sipped her coffee. She was in the Company commissary with Aram and Gabriel. Their team was about to go on duty at 06:30 hours and they were getting a few minutes of relaxation in before they had to get to start work
"The Pattern Silver ones or the Furinkan ones?" Aram asked as he drank his orange juice.
"Well, as amazed as I am that high school students would be willing to wear those things -- God, some of those girls are eighteen!" Sophie exclaimed. She was that age two years ago.
"It's a private school. The owner can choose what uniform he wants for the students," Aram stated.
"Anyway. I was really talking about the Silver uniforms. How can they stand to fight in those things?"
"They're magical girls. It's standard procedure."
"Aram this isn't some anime," Sophie explained.
"Said the secret agent of an elite paramilitary organization that fights eldritch horrors," Gabriel said. Sophie glared at him. "What? That's what we do."
"It's not like they chose to dress like that. Look at DarkStar," Aram said.
"What do you guys think? Another day of watching Ranma?"
"Maybe we'll follow those five girls Sunshine had lunch with."
"Agent Tendo told us that those girls have a rather interesting record," Gabriel said.
"Really? She tell you the particulars?" Sophie asked.
"Nope. Where is the lieutenant anyway?"
"Still at her house. She's there in case Ranma wants to talk to her."
Samuel Chase entered his new place of employment. He was called upon to be the new substitute teacher. He had met with the principal yesterday to finalize his job placement. The Drake was an odd fellow, but Chase had worked for stranger in the past.
As Chase opened the front door he gave a nod to the maintenance man cleaning the windows to the left of the entrance. The man gave a slight nod and continued his work. Until he reached the faculty lounge, Chase saw no one else. It was still an hour and a half before homeroom would start.
Opening the door, Chase found about half a dozen teachers, most of them drinking coffee and killing time until they had to get to their rooms. "Hey, Sam! Who're you covering today?" Peter Gibbons, a history teacher, asked. About the same age as Chase, Gibbons had befriended the new substitute. The other teachers were polite to Chase, but they had no real concern for a new teacher who did not even warrant his own class. Chase cared little for what others thought. His was a job that while dull and often unpleasant, was necessary, and that was it.
"I'm still covering for Sasha Ulster," Chase said as he pulled his mug out of his briefcase.
"The Sophomore English teacher?"
Chase nodded and filled his mug from the coffee machine. Sitting down across from Gibbons, he proceeded to talk sports. Interestingly the man was a fan of rugby, a sport that Chase had played back in high school.
After a few minutes, Chase had finished his second cup. He turned to see the "out of order" sign still on the sink. "Dang," he said holding, the stained mug.
"The Drake will hire a team to fix the security cameras the second they break, but will he hire a plumber? That girls' bathroom on the other side of the wall is still broken. Bureaucratic nut-job," Gibbons said, cynically.
"Guess I'll have to use the bathroom again," Chase muttered sourly.
"You don't have to wash it after every usage."
"It's important to me."
"Why? It's just a plain black mug. There's nothing on it."
"Let's put it this way. It was one of the few things I was allowed to keep after the separation."
Gibbons gave a bitter little smile. "So your ex kept everything else?"
"It happens," Chase said, giving the impression that he answered his coworker's question. Chase then left the room. After walking down the hall a bit, he entered a boy's bathroom. He washed his mug in one of the sinks, dried it with some paper towels, and returned it to his briefcase. The man paused. After shutting the faucet off he had heard a couple of people running heavily in the hallway. Now, the sound of a door being slammed open drifted into the room. It was followed by a series of harsh words and a shout that quickly ceased.
Chase calmly pulled his cell phone out of his jacket pocket. He turned it on and pressed a series of buttons. After listening to make sure that it connected properly, he returned it to his pocket. Chase then picked up his briefcase with his left hand, put his right hand inside his jacket until it touched a familiar device, and went into the hallway.
Outside of the bathroom, Chase found the door to the teacher's lounge open. He walked slowly, silently, until he got a full view of the room. Part of him had hoped that this was just a pair of irate teachers kicking open a door and ranting about their crappy jobs, but another part told him how he should do this, how things must be done.
Slowly looking into the room, Chase was thankful of his precautions. The seven teachers were huddled in one corner of the room, their faces a mixture of confusion and shock. Corralling them were two men in beige jumpsuits that announced them as employees of Keystone Security. Each was holding an Avtomat Kalashnikov. Chase could not tell the exact model, but that hardly mattered at this point. He had been briefed as to the situation with the surveillance system and Keystone's appointment.
He did not know who these men were, or even if they were human, but he had a fair idea of why they were here. He frowned slightly as one of them turned to the door and caught a glimpse of him. His right hand gripped his sidearm and drew the weapon. In one smooth motion he brought the handgun around, thumbed back the hammer and extended his arm so that it was sighted over the closer of the two targets. His only thought was the relief that the current trajectories would be clear of bystanders.
The youma's face betrayed his surprise as he dumbly raised his weapon. How could anyone know they were here? Their leader has assured them of their secrecy. These thoughts ended as a pair of silver-jacketed forty-five caliber hollow-points blew apart the back half of his skull.
Immediately after his first two shots, Chase swiveled his arm and dispatched the remaining target in an identical manner. He walked up to the corpses which had started to slowly dissolve. He fired a single shot into the heart of each. Still holding his gun at the ready he pulled out his phone. Talking in a clear crisp voice, he assessed the situation, "I have just dispatched two targets in the second floor lounge. Despite being armed with automatic weapons, they are NH, I repeat NH. Accelerated decomposition of the bodies is indicative of this."
"Sam, what's going on?" Gibbons asked, apparently not noticing the splatters of blood.
"We have a situation," Chase said to him and headquarters. He then turned back to the doorway and received his orders, each sentence accompanied by an abrupt pause. "Yes sir, very high likelihood of more targets. Recommend immediate quarantine. Agreed. We do not want more bystanders in here. Reconnaissance? It may be possible. It depends on if others heard the gunfire. What about the others? Yes sir, I understand. I will keep the channel open."
Chase put his phone back. His piercing eyes met the others in the room. "Who here knows how to use these?" he asked pointing to the rifles being held by the corpses.
"I like to hunt," a physical education teacher said, stepping forward.
"My brother's a gun collector," Gibbons said, wiping some of the blood off his forehead. "Why here, Sam? What would terrorists want with us?"
"This is a school," Chase said simply. "Frank, Earl, I want you two to pick up those guns, ready them, and watch the door," he said, looking at the two men.
Gibbons blinked, and then pulled the Kalashnikov out from under a partially dissolved arm. He checked the magazine, replaced it and chambered a round in the Russian-made firearm. The gym teacher had done the same with the other weapon. "What're you going to do?"
"My job," Chase said as he prepared to leave the room. He would not go far. Reinforcements were on their way.
"The pair Cell 2 has sent to the teacher's lounge has failed to report in," Frank reported to his superior.
The youma leader sighed. They were in the control room for the security system. Gaining entrance was incredibly easy. A team from Keystone was expected, and intercepting the truck and disposing of the real team was a simple task. Then came the assembly and activation of the gate. Fortunately, there was a storage room next to the control room that was of suitable size for the men and material that they needed to teleport.
Once the rest of his men were in place, they could secure the rest of the building and set up their equipment. They did repair the security system. Once the Senshi arrived, it should come in handy.
"I told them to subdue them and prep the hostages for conversion. We do not have time to play with the humans," Dave stated assuming that the delay was simply his troops indulging themselves a bit.
"I'll send another team up there to reprimand them," Frank suggested.
"Only slightly," the resident ordered. "Then bring them to me."
Frank nodded and left the room.
Dave shook his head. They were too close to have it fail due to petty incompetence. He was unaware of the true magnitude of that pair's failure.
"I want everything we have on Furinkan pulled up and ready when needed. There's a reason we got all that crap," Jacob ordered as he entered an elevator in the Company facility. "Do we have the information from the North York team?" he asked a Major in the elevator.
"The full scans are waiting for you in the command truck," the agent said as he handed Jacob a few papers. "Sir, they detected slight inter-dim signals," the operations section officer stated as the doors closed.
"So we need jammers." Jacob read the report as the elevator rose. "We'll have the Black, Red, and Gold detachments brought in on this. Alert the local police. They should be adequate crowd control. Agents will be placed with them to make sure no one gets in. We cannot have students getting into the building. I want the local transmitter cells disabled before we leave."
The elevator stopped, and before the doors could fully open Jacob stepped out briskly, walking to some of the vehicles in the motor-pool. He was stopped by Stillwater, who had just arrived.
"Commander," Jacob said.
Stillwater looked over at the Company agents in their armor and helmets assembling and checking their weapons. He then turned to Jacob, who was also wearing combat gear and a pair of Colt 1911's low slung on his hips. "I've been briefed. Your proposal is risky, but it may be our best shot. Have her ask him if he wants to help," Stillwater said to his old friend. "Happy hunting."
Jacob saluted. Stillwater returned it. The two men went on their ways, Jacob to the vehicles to command from just outside the building, and Stillwater to the C3 to watch from a distance.
Ranma was woken up by a gentle shaking. He opened his eyes to see Kasumi standing over him. She waited for his eyes to open fully. "We have a problem."
Ranma looked at the girl. He could tell that it was early, but not how much. "What's going on?"
Talking in a low clear voice Kasumi briefed her fiancé. "The high school has been taken over by an unknown number of entities, most likely Pattern Y."
"It's likely they were the intended target. You might be one too," Kasumi said.
"It's early," Ranma observed rising out of his bed. Having Kasumi standing above him made the martial artist uncomfortable.
"We were alerted before they could finish setting up. As it is, they only got twenty people. They could have had the whole school."
"Hostages," Ranma said bitterly as he walked over to his dresser.
"No, batteries. Maybe cannonfodder too," Kasumi said with distaste.
Ranma closed his eyes. Murdock had warned him. He told Ranma of the things that these things were capable of. "I know why you woke me up," he stated flatly.
"Good," Kasumi replied.
"You want me to go with you and kill some monsters," Ranma said as a statement.
"Are you coming?" Kasumi asked, looking Ranma in the eye.
"What happens if I say ‘Fuck Off, Bitch?'" Ranma asked, looking at his bed.
"I leave. You go back to sleep." Kasumi shrugged.
"And this will have no effect on you taking me to China. This nice approach is really starting to annoy me. What kind of secret organization doesn't threaten, bully, or blackmail the people it wants to recruit?"
"One that wants loyal, competent people?" Kasumi said as she turned to leave the room. "I have to leave now," she said, exiting the room.
Ranma blinked, then blinked again. He looked at his bed then at his dresser. He weighed his options. He could go back to sleep, or he could go with Kasumi and fight whatever had taken the school. The choice was his. He was under no obligation to go. But then he would be turning his back on innocent people just because he had a bone to pick with WIC. It did not matter how good his reasons to dislike the Company were; he had the power, as distasteful as it was, to make a difference. Ranma knew that his character dictated the choice he had to make. A martial artist is supposed to protect the weak.
"Fucking bastards," Ranma muttered as he quickly got dressed. He left his room, went down the stairs, and opened the front door. The house was quiet. It seemed that he and Kasumi were the only ones awake. He found his fiancée sitting in her car. The engine was on and it was halfway down the driveway.
He opened the front passenger door and got in. "If this is a lie, you realize the consequences," he said after he buckled his seatbelt.
Kasumi nodded slowly and drove her car out of the driveway and onto the street.
It is amazing the difference a few well-placed phone calls will make. At this time of day, Furinkan would normally be swarming with activity: cars and busses in the parking lots, and students and faculty walking in and around the buildings.
Now the well-maintained grounds were empty and still. This quiet area consisted of the building itself, the grounds it sat on, the parts of Bathurst Street and Rutherford Road that the school was near, and some of the buildings and lots on the opposite side of those roads. Outside of this zone was a shifting group of people -- confused students, the morbidly curious, and surprisingly few representatives of the media who had a different type of curiosity.
In between these two zones were two perimeters. On the outside it was made up of Toronto's police department. There were a number of cruisers and officers maintaining the barricades and security. Among the policemen were a few dark green Humvees, their occupants watching the people milling about.
The inner perimeter was much closer to the school, and was composed of even more Humvees and several larger vehicles, including a few strangely sleek medium armored trucks, a couple larger flatbed trucks that were equally reinforced, and a large tractor-trailer. Some of the Humvees had formed a perimeter around the building. The fifty caliber machineguns mounted on their roofs were manned and trained on the building.
In a parking lot across the street, but still inside the perimeter, were half of the remaining vehicles. The other half was positioned in at the edge of a small forest at the northern edge of the property. The athletics fields had been torn up by the heavy treads of the vehicles.
After passing through the outer perimeter, Kasumi's car met up with the cluster in the parking lot. Her sedan was dwarfed by the large vehicles around her. "We're here," she said as she killed the engine. She then stepped out of the car, opened her trunk, removed a large duffel bag from within, and quickly ran to the large semi.
Ranma opened his door and ran after her. It was a strange experience. Only sixteen hours ago, as Sunshine, he was able to walk freely on these grounds. Now they were being watched by hard-eyed men and women wearing military body armor and holding weapons on the school.
Ranma quickly climbed up the steps, the trailer's armored door closing behind him. It was a small airlock chamber. After passing through another heavy door, he entered a large room that was slightly wider than it was long. It was a miniature laboratory of some kind, and it had several incomprehensible pieces of equipment on the walls. Ranma followed Kasumi through another thick metal door. This one lead to more rooms that made up the inside of the trailer.
Near him were several storage closets and secured containers. After that was a collection of manned computer terminals followed by a small briefing room. In the very front, Ranma could see some bunks opposite a door marked "Bathroom/Shower" and a small kitchenette, and between them at the very front was a heavy door that presumably lead to the cab of the truck.
Sitting at the head of the table and facing Ranma was Jacob. "So good of you to come," he said, looking up from the display at the center of the table. Projected above the surface in an impressive if slightly phantasmal hologram of the high school in schematic format.
"You think you need my help?" Ranma asked, walking forward. He passed Kasumi, who was removing her clothing in the storage section.
"Probably not," Jacob admitted as he looked at some of the symbols floating within the wire-frame building model. "Our scans indicate their probable numbers and their likely power levels. Our jamming equipment has made teleportation exceedingly difficult. We have faced worse with less."
"I noticed the qualifiers in your statement," Ranma said flatly. He was now standing near Kasumi, who was down to her bra and underwear.
"We don't know exactly what's in there," Jacob said.
Ranma nodded and looked over at Kasumi. She was putting on a set of grey and dark green fatigues. As he looked at her right forearm Ranma noticed several thin lines of scars. They appeared at least several years old. On her torso he caught a glimpse of what looked to be a larger puncture wound of some kind. Before Ranma could get a better look at it, the scar was covered by Kasumi's clothing. He also noticed that she wore a necklace. It was a simple gold cross that was quickly tucked under her fatigues. Ranma turned back to Jacob who appeared to have not noticed the pause.
"What do you want me to do?" Ranma asked.
"That's up to you. We can have someone drive you back home. You can stay here and observe. Or you can fight," Jacob said simply. "Oh, if you have your own plan, you can try that too."
"Being very accommodating," Ranma said skeptically.
Jacob shrugged. "It's not like we can control you. All the Company can do is show you what's happening and let you decide."
Ranma turned back to look at Kasumi. The girl had finished dressing. Over her fatigues were several sections of camouflaged body armor. There was a back-and-chest piece, pieces that went over her legs, overlapping a pair of tightly laced combat boots, and pieces from her upper arms hinged at her forearms and had a little section that went over the back of her hand. She was wearing a pair of very tightly fitting gloves. The black and grey material fitted like skin, especially on the pads of her fingers.
Her hair, chin, neck, and forehead were concealed by a balaclava that was tucked into her armor. She had a headset clipped behind her ear with a microphone that went to her mouth. She had a webgear harness on over her armor. Secured to it were several pouches and items that Ranma could not easily discern. He assumed that they contained ammunition, medical supplies, tools, radios, and other such equipment. After securing her helmet, Kasumi moved to her weapons to load up.
Ranma considered his options. He could do whatever he wanted. It was good that these nimrods knew they could not control him. Hell, they did not seem terribly certain that they could even kill him. The decision was his. He could help or he could do nothing. It was refreshing to have someone ask Ranma what he wanted, but it was also infuriating. It was his choice, his decision, his responsibility.
He had to fight. To turn his back when he could have made a difference would be unacceptable. The Company's desires were irrelevant. They would fight with or without him. Ranma knew his character. He knew that he would be putting his life on the line, but if he turned his back, if he left, if he hid, he would not be able to live with himself.
Ranma shook his head and walked over to the table. He sat down opposite Jacob. "So, what've you got planned?" Ranma asked. He had to fight, but he did not have to fight with the Company. However, it would be shear stupidity to rush into battle without knowing their plan.
Jacob paused the slightest bit before responding. His face was carefully neutral.
To be continued.
Author's notes: Attention all those who want to flame me for insinuating that Kasumi is like a whore, I did no such thing. I only had a character insinuate that she was a whore in bed. ^_^
Prereaders for this chapter are Joe Fenton, Gerald Starfire, Wray, The Jak, and Jakub. They read my typos and mistakes so you don't have to.
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