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 5: Revelations and Rendezvous
Ranma was in the commissary. The large room was empty save for three Company agents softly talking in one corner, and a man behind the counter that connected to a kitchen. The martial artist was silently eating his early lunch, focused on the consumption of food. He was trying to block his memory of the morning's events.
The agent working behind the counter took his order without question. Ranma did not see a cash register or any sort of payment slot and supposed that the Company did not charge its employees to eat in their cafeteria.
The Company might be a disturbing organization of dubious ethics and methods, but they did have good food. Ranma was working on his third bowl of beef stew when he saw his fiancée enter the room. "What do you want?" he asked, an edge on his voice.
Kasumi smiled slightly at this. "Oh, nothing. You did very well out there today," she said as she sat down. She had changed out of her combat clothes, showered, and had dressed in her casual wear of boots, slacks, blouse, and forty-five caliber handgun.
"So that's it? Nice job and a pat on the back," Ranma said critically. "You guys suck! Unlike you, I don't like being turned into a soulless killing machine."
Kasumi sighed. "So you regret what you did. If you had to do it over again, would you have stayed in bed and done nothing?"
"No. I still would have gone in and fought them," Ranma said, looking into the girl's hard brown eyes. I'm not so sure about Kuno though, he admitted to himself. Sure, he's alive, but as a demon-chick. Pluto would find that real amusing. "But you guys knew that. You knew that I would go in there. You didn't know how much I'd cooperate with you, but you knew that I would go in. You took advantage of that."
"It looks that way," Kasumi flatly stated.
"Yeah, you don't care much about that, do you?"
"Nope," Kasumi honestly replied. "Look, Ranma, we're in a war. A war that you agreed to participate in."
"Pluto lied to me!"
"Maybe about the curse," Kasumi allowed. "But she did mention the fighting evil part. The fuku are stupid, but those girls have an impressive record." And an amazing amount of dumb luck from the look of things, she thought.
"So we're all on the same side, eh? One big happy family."
"Why not? Compared to those things that we fight," Kasumi said as her face darkened. "You know what these creatures were planning to do today. They were going to corrupt and brainwash school children and use them as cannon-fodder. These are the type of monsters that we fight. Things that will murder children without a second thought! You can't negotiate with them. You can't rehabilitate them. They must be exterminated, one-by-one if need be, and damn the cost!" Kasumi said as her control slipped the slightest bit.
Ranma looked at the woman with a glimmer of understanding and a bit of fear.
"Like it or not, you're in this war, and the only thing making you fight is your own sense of right and wrong," Kasumi continued.
"So why are you here?"
"Jacob would like to speak with you," Kasumi said simply.
"And what does he want?"
"Ever wonder what happened to your mother?" the operations agent asked.
Usagi sat on the stoop of the apartment building. About fifteen minutes after those two men from the Company left, Setsuna managed to return Usagi's calls. Following the brief conversation, Usagi was told to wait outside. Meiou said she was driving over.
A large dark-green two-door car stopped in front of the apartment. The idling engine sounded powerful. Usagi could almost see air being pulled into the large low-slung intake scoop in the center of the hood. The blonde was not a car person. She had no idea that it was a custom-job 1968 Dodge Charger as opposed to the 1974 Dodge Charger that Setsuna said she was driving over. She walked over to the car.
The heavily tinted driver's side window slid down, revealing a familiar face. It was not a tanned woman with red eyes and long green hair, but a somewhat pale man of indeterminate age with watery grey eyes and short brown hair. It was Murdock. Usagi's eyes flared in anger. Here was the man who had killed her boyfriend. Here was the man who had ruined Ranma's chances at getting a cure. The monster was in front of her. Hell, he might have killed Setsuna and stolen her car.
Usagi had flipped out her transformation compact, and had started her transformation phrase.
"Please don't," Murdock said in a calm, almost depressed voice.
Usagi paused. That was an unexpected tone.
"You can transform and attack me if you want," Murdock admitted. "But I just got this car and I'd prefer it not to be wrecked," he said as he patted the dash.
Usagi hit the panic button on her communicator.
"Sure, call your friends. You'd tell them anyway," Murdock sighed.
"What do you want?" Usagi asked sternly.
"It's not what I want. It's what I have to do," Murdock laughed. It was the rough, unpleasant sound of a man who was desperately trying to stay sane. "Pluto thinks that I'm the mastermind of all this. I guess she can't accept that I'm just another pawn in this tiresome game."
Usagi blinked. Setsuna did admit that Murdock had to be working for someone else, something very powerful. "You still killed him," she said, looking into those strange grey eyes. His corneas almost seemed to be filled with squirming motes.
"It's not like it was the first time he died," the man joked. "I see that Setsuna is still overestimating my impact, and still keeping you in the dark," Murdock stated. He allowed a small smile to form on his face.
"She knows you're up to something," Usagi said defiantly.
"But she doesn’t know what it is." Murdock smiled. "That's pretty funny. After all, she knows the Gate. Hell, she is the Gate. She is the key and guardian of the Gate. Past, present, and future, are all one in her, or at least they used to be."
Usagi blinked. That made sense. Setsuna was deeply connected to the Time Gates and her staff was a giant key.
Murdock continued. "She knows where the Old Ones broke through of old, and where they'll break through again. And yet — she is also of Yuggoth. That is most curious. The Mi-Go were never too fond of old Yogi."
"Yuggoth?" Usagi asked.
"It's another name for the ninth planet," Murdock said dismissively. "I have to ask you something."
"What?" Usagi said, still clutching her transformation device.
"Why is your daughter still alive?"
"If you harm her—"
"That's not a threat," Murdock said. His voice was hard. The man seemed genuinely insulted by that. "Quite the opposite," he then said, this time smiling.
"What are you talking about?"
"Paradoxes. Remember the last time that happened? Neherenia's little curse hit your boy-toy. He was doomed to die, and she started to fade out. But now she's fine and he's dead."
"Pluto saved her."
"If that's what she told you," Murdock said, his grin growing. "Still believe that love and hope will save your daughter and the future?"
Usagi glared at the man in the driver's seat. "What are you insinuating?"
"Certain people have had an interest in her before. Although I can't say that those alterations made her any better. I mean, turning a spoiled brat into an insufferable bitch."
Usagi looked at him questioningly. Murdock knew of the Black Moon Family. Was he connected to them in any way? They had been defeated, but so had the Dark Kingdom. "You're not from the future, are you?" the blonde asked.
"Close," Murdock smiled slightly. "You think of time solely in linear terms, forward or backward. I guess sideways never occurred to you. Think of a mystery train that travels through lands riddled with fallout and demons, past that damn tower where even death dies, and right into the twisting churning nuclear chaos at the heart of everything. Is it all a mystery, a riddle, or a joke?" Murdock stated as his grin twitched.
"What are you talking about?"
"It's rather simple," the man said before he recognized the car that was approaching the parking lot. It was the same make and model of his car, just six years newer. "Oh shit! Gotta go," he said in a panicky apology just before he put his car into reverse, turned it almost completely around, and pulled out of the side entrance to the lot.
Usagi watched the other green Dodge drive up to her. This time when the window slid down she was rewarded with Setsuna's image. "Did he hurt you?" the woman asked as she watched the other Dodge race away.
"No," Usagi said as she looked back at the apartment building. Where were the other girls? She had hit the emergency button. "At least you heard my distress call," the blonde said to the time guardian.
"No, I didn't," Setsuna admitted. "He must have blocked the signal," the emerald-haired woman stated as she slide over and opened the passenger side door. "Get in," she nearly ordered.
Usagi complied. As she buckled her belt, she noticed that Setsuna was not wearing her safety belt.
"What did he say?" Setsuna demanded as she drove her car back onto the road.
Usagi paused before responding. It felt natural, right, to do what Setsuna told her to do. After all, she was older, much older, and had a lot more experience, but recent events had caused the woman's motives to come into question. Setsuna had never been forthright and seemed only to work with them when it suited her goals.
"What did he tell you?" Setsuna repeated. "You can't trust anything he says!" Setsuna stated, paranoia creeping into her voice.
"He didn't tell me anything. He just asked a question," Usagi said simply. She was still digesting the tone of Setsuna's voice. The woman very rarely let her emotions show, let alone reach into her voice.
"And the question was?" Setsuna asked as she stopped at a red light.
"Why is my daughter alive?" Usagi asked.
Setsuna looked into her review mirror. "You know, we never figured out who released Neherenia. You defeated her. You imprisoned her. Then someone woke her up. And that same someone helped her spread those mirror shards."
"Are you suggesting that Murdock woke her up? That's insane! He killed Mamoru. If he was behind Neherenia's return, why didn’t Murdock kill him back then?"
"Why did he crash a 747 into the Bering Strait when he was just going to kill Mamoru in a bathroom? Madness is Murdock's misdirection," Pluto countered.
"You still haven't answered that question," Usagi countered. "All I know is you found some way to keep her from drifting away."
"Yes, I did," Setsuna stated as she changed lanes. "When Neherenia came back and almost caused that paradox, I knew that something was very wrong. There are supposed to be safeguards to prevent such things. That's part of what the Time Gate does."
"What did you do?"
"I set it up so that your daughter will no longer be affected by having Mamoru be dead."
"What did you do?"
"I asked him to give me several samples," Setsuna finally admitted. "It was quite awkward, but now they're all stored in several very safe places."
"My god," Usagi said. "You had him I mean in the cup?"
"I see." It made sense. How else could a dead man father a child?
"I did what I had to do," Setsuna said, not lying, yet not really answering her question.
Usagi nodded. Her concern as to why Murdock had told her to ask that question was minimal. Murdock continuously did things that made little or no sense.
The red-eyed woman was relieved. Usagi was not pushing the issue. Her own mind was trying to understand why Murdock did that. Was he simply sowing discord, or did he have a greater purpose? Kill the father, save the daughter? Setsuna did not like knowing what was going to happen, let alone what had already happened.
Ranma charged into Jacob's office. There was no attempt to stop him. "What's going on here?" he demanded. "First you jerk this cure around on me, then you guilt me into fighting, and finally you use my mother against me. Explain. Now!" Ranma stated in a dangerously calm voice.
Jacob looked up from his report. "Major Saotome, Nodoka, Science and Technology Section. Registration number 34528-88325-42821-90982," Jacob read from the header of his file.
"Right, like she's been working for you clowns," Ranma said with considerable skepticism.
"For over eight years. She heads one of our advanced materials labs," Jacob stated.
"That's way too much of a coincidence. I can't see my dad marrying someone like that."
"According to this, she met your father during her undergraduate days. She then went on to get her doctorate in materials science and engineering from Tokyo University."
"Sure she did. Look, Pops never talked about her. Hell, he told me that I didn't even have a mother. I sure as hell don’t remember ever having one."
"Yes. That's why she came to us, all those years ago. The police couldn't find you or him. So she hired us."
"And she just happened to be a scientist willing to make weapons for you guys. You nimrods are pathetic."
"Well, she mostly designs vehicle and personnel armor, and it was rather convenient," Jacob admitted. "Setsuna, or perhaps Murdock, did specifically select you."
"Prove it. I want to see her."
"Okay," Jacob said simply. "She's at our base in Hokkaido now."
"And this is where you say 'sorry but—'"
"We can have you on a flight in two hours," Jacob stated.
"Really," Ranma said skeptically.
"Simple. You take a Company plane from here to the First Operations Centre in Kansas, and get on one of the regular flights that goes to the Third Operations Centre."
"The Company also has those old samples of Jusenkyou water that you can
try before you go on to
"And how will I explain that to my father?"
"You want to bring him along so he can get cured?"
"No. I haven’t even started to punish him."
"Ah, the Sunshine thing," Jacob observed. "In that case, you're just spending a few days with Kasumi on a Company recruiting workshop."
Ranma blinked. "You guys just love telling lies with the truth, don't you?"
Jacob smiled. "So will you do it?"
"If it will get rid of Sunshine and DarkStar."
Major Saotome sat in her apartment's kitchen. She lived in one of the residential buildings located within Operations Centre 3. Her rank allowed her to have private, but small housing. She lived alone and did not need that much space. It was also cheaper, which allowed her to save more of her income.
She sipped from a glass of water. She would have preferred something stronger, but she was about to go back to work soon. The woman was trying to digest what had been told to her. She had been ordered to Commander Akagi's office.
Nodoka shook her head. Her son was alive and well. He was currently staying with an operations agent. That was all that was written on the message the Commander had handed her. She found the lack of information troubling. She did not even know how they actually found Ranma or what had happened to Genma.
It was unusual for them to split up. According to the reports, Genma kept a fairly close eye on his son. Could something have happened to Genma? Was that why the Company was able to find Ranma? The simple fact that there was not more information meant that someone saw it fit to restrict that information. Something was going on with her son.
"My god," Nabiki said as she turned off the television.
"Good thing that the police got there in time," Akane observed coldly.
This was not something that was supposed to happen here.
"I can't believe it," Nabiki remarked darkly.
"In our school," Akane said as she stared off into space.
Nabiki nodded. Reality had a troubling way of interfering with life.
"We're back," Kasumi said as she opened the front door. Ranma followed her into the house.
"You see the news?" Akane asked rather innocently.
"Yes," Kasumi stated.
"Where's Pops?" Ranma said as he narrowed his eyes.
"Out back with father," Nabiki said as she looked at her older sister. The young woman was her usual controlled self. Nabiki almost expected her to be somewhat unnerved by the day's events. After all, the last time someone had gotten killed at Furinkan, it was at Kasumi's hands.
"Poor Drake," Genma remarked as he looked into the woods from the back porch.
"At least he managed to avoid any student casualties," Soun said from the seat next to him.
"But why his school?"
"Who knows what those dishonorable monsters were after?" Soun stated as he took a sip from his drink.
Genma then turned when he heard the back door open. "You have a good day with Kasumi?" he asked his son.
"Amazing," Ranma flatly stated.
"Excellent," Genma said in a pathetic imitation of an evil mastermind.
"Yeah sure. I'm just telling you that I'll be going away for a few days or so."
"Really? Where?" Genma asked as he put down his cup.
"I'll be taking him on a Company workshop," Kasumi said as she walked onto the porch.
"Good for you," Soun said.
"Yes, a brilliant plan," Genma added.
Ranma shook his head and went back into the house.
Kasumi smiled as she followed her fiancé. That was easy.
Kasumi drove her Company sedan to the Lester B. Pearson International Airport, located to the northwest of the city. After passing through security, she drove her car to the airport's freight terminal. Parked on the tarmac was a mid-sized commercial jet. It was light grey, with a thick black line on the tail. Within that line was the Company logo, the letters, symbols, and globe seeming to float in obsidian fluid. There were also several Company vehicles and agents in the area. She stopped the car, walked out, and handed the keys to another agent.
"So you chartered a plane for me," Ranma said as he exited the car.
"Nope," Kasumi said. "Command sent for a team from S and T to come up and look at that gate in the basement. We'll be taking their plane back."
"I see," Ranma said as he picked up his backpack and walked towards the plane. Wonderful. Going to fly halfway around the world. That's if the water these nitwits have in storage doesn't work. Which it probably won't. At least they'll take me to Jusenkyou, and after this morning they should think twice about trying to mess with me, Ranma thought with a smile. It quickly disappeared when he recognized one of the people standing near the plane.
It was a pale girl with red eyes and black, violet-highlighted hair. A pair of black shorts and a black tanktop clung to her well-formed and human-looking body. The girl noticed Ranma and ran over to her. "Mistress!" she cried as she tried to hug the martial artist.
"Stop it, you freak!"
The girl pulled back and cringed as if slapped. "But but you saved me," she muttered.
"Why is this thing here?"
"You shouldn't be so mean to your minions," Kasumi remarked with a slight smile.
"She's — he's — not my minion."
Kasumi looked at the sniffling girl and chuckled. "Kuno's father wants his son to be human. The curse is a chance to help her."
"But Jacob said that Jusenkyou is ineffective against demons."
"Kuno did change sex during the conversion. That might be due to your curse. So she might be susceptible to the water. It's a slim chance."
"Just like how I'm human right now, and might be able to get cured?"
"Okay, I can understand wanting to get cured," Ranma said before turning back to the Kuno girl. "You can come, but you will not touch me or do anything creepy. Understand?"
The girl simply nodded enthusiastically. "One question if I may?" she asked.
"Why are you in this weak form now? This bag of meat you inhabit is pathetic compared to your true power."
Ranma rubbed his forehead. "What did I do to deserve this?"
"Come on," Kasumi said to the two teenagers. "The plane's leaving soon."
Ranma grumbled as he walked to the plane. He was followed by a demonic minion happily humming to herself. The plane had rows of two seats on either side of a central aisle. The rows alternated between facing forward and backward. Kasumi walked toward the back of the plane and sat down in a forward facing aisle seat. The woman then took out her laptop and started typing into it.
Gabriel looked up from his book. It was a thick volume documenting instances of nonhuman activity from the twenties. The text made for an interesting if dry read. The agent found the afternoon's actives unusual. Normally, after an operation, there would be an extensive debriefing, but now they were going to provide escort duty for a Pattern D — two Pattern D's, Gabriel corrected himself as he looked at the girl who was trying to sit next to Ranma.
To the casual observer, the girl looked human, but Gabriel could tell that there was something off about her. Reading the Doctor's report helped things, too. Gabriel shook his head and went back to the documentation on how several Company agents discovered a group of Pattern L's in Chicago.
Jacob entered the plane. He was carrying a grey metal briefcase. The man looked at Ranma with an almost puzzled expression before taking the seat facing Kasumi. The door to the plane closed and locked into place. The aircraft then taxied into position and waited for takeoff clearance.
Ranma looked out the sixth-story window. The sun had just finished setting and the gently rolling farmland was cast in a dim orange and grey light. The farmland ended over five miles from the building complex he was in. The Company Operations Center stood on an almost rectangular parcel of land that was about eight by twelve miles and totaling over sixty thousand acres in area.
There was a series of fences that marked the edge of the gigantic compound. One pair was at the edge with another pair over half a mile inside it. Periodically there were steel observation towers and small concrete pillbox-like buildings. A couple pairs of Humvees with fifty caliber machineguns and missile launchers patrolled the perimeter.
Ranma could also see a pair of helicopters flying off in the distance. One was landing at the private Company airport to the south of the central building complex, and the other was doing intricate maneuvers to the west. He then turned his attention to the buildings directly below them.
Made of concrete, steel, and glass, the buildings were squat with clean lines. Of differing heights, shapes, and sizes, these buildings made up a central complex. It resembled the bland campus of a technical school. Ranma had only been in part of the underground levels, but he knew that there had to be miles of corridors under the central complex. Like the Toronto facility, it was brightly lit, mostly grey, and vaguely unsettling. Ranma was morbidly curious as to what sort of business was conducted here. The facility seemed far too large for the task of monitoring and controlling what the Company called Pattern Registering Entities Unless the situation with paranormal creatures was far larger than Ranma had originally thought.
"I'm sorry," Jacob said as he walked into the conference room Ranma was in.
"You said it most likely wouldn't work," Ranma observed as he continued looking out the window.
"That water was sitting in a storage room for thirty years. Hell, that stuff was collected before I started working here," Jacob noted.
"Yes, I read the tags on the metal crate," Ranma stated as he turned to face Jacob.
"With our archives, proper labeling is a necessity," the Company Colonel stated. Buried to the east were the warehouse-sized general archives. A smaller and more secure depository housed the more interesting items.
"So what now? You guys try to send me to
"If you want to go. A flight bound for Operations Centre Three departs in an hour," Jacob said as he exited the room again.
Ranma nodded as he returned his gaze out the window. Another cure had failed. That was if he could trust the water. Neither he or Kuno had been affected by the water. Ranma supposed that they could have filled the containers with tap water and then faked the documentation and the readings the scanners gave off.
His eye twitched at the thought of this all being some Company trick. If these morons were that stupid, he would show them. He would show them all. It was a shame he'd have to turn into DarkStar to get his revenge. Jacob seemed to be a tricky bastard, and Ranma wanted to be in a form that was bulletproof if he had to take the older man out.
Rei walked down the darkened forest path. It was late and the only light came from distant ground light reflected off of the overcast sky. This created an orange-tinted greyscale coloration. She could hear Makoto walking behind her. The girl then stopped just short of a small knoll. The brunette walked up to Rei and crouched down next to her.
"Don't you hate walking outside in heels?" Makoto quietly asked as she looked at the just visible dwelling that sat in a clearing on the other side of the knoll.
"I don't know why Pluto insisted that we activate as soon as we got into the woods," Rei said as she rolled her eyes. "We're in position," she then said into her communicator.
"So are we," Mina's voice responded from the wrist-mounted device.
Makoto gave a thumbs up to Rei and readied herself. Rei simply looked at the building with mute horror. She could sense evil and corruption drifting out of the building in lazy wisps. In spite of the nighttime cloud cover, the cabin seemed to be wrapped in more gloom and darkness than the rest of the forest.
"Pluto was right. He's here," Rei incorrectly assumed as she watched the building.
"Quiet," Makoto whispered. From their position they could just make out the cabin's front porch. The door on it was now being opened. The girls could make out a dark shape with softly glowing eyes exiting the building. They could see the shape put a lighter to a cigarette. Smoke began to lazily curl from the smoldering tube.
The shape on the porch shut the door and leaned on it, appearing to enjoy its cigarette. The still air was then punctuated by the sound of someone hitting the ground somewhere in the forest. The entity at the porch dropped its cigarette and pulled a large gun out from within its coat.
Makoto watched the creature raise its shotgun and made her decision. There was a good chance that was Usagi. She readied herself and began the attack. The girl then spun in a circle, summoning hundreds of leaves. With a shout of "Jupiter Oak Evolution," she charged the leaves and fired them at the shape on the porch.
The entity was hit by the magical attack and was blown apart. "Cover me," Sailor Jupiter said as she moved towards the cabin. Rei watched as the front door began to open. She waited until the targets were verified. It was a pair of shadows with glowing eyes. She aimed and fired a single fire arrow at the creature to the left and quickly launched another at its companion. They were destroyed before Jupiter could add to the attack.
As Rei kept her Mars Flame Sniper ready, she moved forward. Jupiter was halfway to the porch. Rei looked over to see the others running in from their position at the other side of the clearing.
Shots came from inside the cabin. Ami shouted a number and pointed with her finger. The blondes then fired into the building. Minako went first. The Crescent Beam lit up the inside of the cabin, produced a flash that illuminated the entire clearing for a second, and killed the one creature unlucky enough to be hit. Usagi then launched a Moon Gorgeous Meditation into the cabin.
Sailor Jupiter was the first inside the building. She found a small living room littered with the sand-like remains of their enemy. The only sounds in the room were strange, somewhat distorted shrieks and explosions.
A television was on in one corner of the room. Playing on it was a space battle between two groups of ships; one side was green and somehow squid-like and the other looked like a cross between a spider and Makoto's worst nightmare.
"Anyone in here?" Sailor Venus asked, surprising the brunette.
"None in this room," Makoto said as she walked to the next room. It was the kitchen. The smell of brine permeated the room. But when Makoto paused, she could smell something under that salty scent. It was a familiar and horrifying stench. It was a mix of blood, bile, urine, and worse. Makoto could see a large, neatly folded tarp sitting next to the wall. It was heavily stained.
"What's going on in here?" Usagi asked.
"Whoever's left went out the back door," Minako stated, the smell of blood and salt filling her nose.
Makoto looked at the open door that lead outside and then at the other two in the room. One was open and went to a small bathroom and the other was secured with a heavy padlock.
"Okay let's go," Usagi said, leading them out of the cabin and back into the house.
Makoto lingered for a second. She had a fair idea as to what was being done in this cabin. She then followed the other Senshi outside.
Several miles to the south, a monitoring device in the Hilton Falls Conservation Area had detected their attacks. The data was transmitted to WIC Toronto-A where it was decided to send out a strike team to investigate the mid-range Pattern Silver discharges.
One of the facility's helicopters was sent to where the signal was detected. The modified UH-60A Black Hawk was followed by an armored strike team that would provide backup.
The helicopter arrived on the scene and began orbiting the area. Its onboard scanners detected several Pattern Silver signatures and some signatures that were too weak to type. The pilot took his craft a bit closer.
His gunner then saw, standing in a clearing, a group of girls in color coded miniskirts saturating the forest with magical attacks. The video feed from his headset was then transmitted to the C3. The pilot then received his orders.
Sailor Mercury scanned the trees. The remaining creatures were somewhere in the forest, but she was no longer picking them up on her scanner.
"Incoming!" Ami shouted as a warning signal appeared on her visor. It was little forewarning. While it was quieter than a normal helicopter of that size, the Company modified machine was still rather loud.
The girls turned to see the hovering machine drop four lines. From the ropes rappelled a quartet of Company agents. They softly landed on the ground and quickly brought their weapons at the ready. Once they were on the ground the helicopter pulled up to a higher altitude.
Usagi looked over the troops. Their camouflaged body armor, boots, and helmets, made them appear to almost melt into the background. A muted reddish-orange, their goggles were the only noticeable part. Even their double barreled weapons were in that mottled pattern. "Why are you here?" she then asked. Back in Tokyo, the authorities never arrived this fast. On the rare cases that they bothered to come, they were always too late.
One of them looked at the girls strangely before speaking "Two days ago a scout troop went missing in the park to the south of here. All we found were some splatters of blood that were tainted with strange chemicals. Our search was interrupted by today's attack," Lieutenant William Paterson quickly explained to the blonde. He looked over to see that his squad had taken covering positions at the edge of the clearing.
"And you just happened to see us," Rei said.
"Our attacks are very flashy," Ami stated.
Makoto simply froze as her mind connected the missing people to the smell from that cabin.
"Are there still enemy targets out here?" Patterson asked.
"Yes," Ami said before telling the agent the last known position of the targets.
"Any friendlies nearby?"
"No, why are you asking this?" Usagi asked.
Patterson simply smiled and called in the air strike. The two 7.62mm Gatling guns on the helicopter opened fire. The tracers from the mini-guns blurred into lances of flame.
Usagi almost shrieked at the intense chainsaw-like noise. Why did their weapons have to be so loud? She then watched as the Company agents fired several grenades from the larger of their gun's barrels. Rei simply watched the attack. It made sense; hit the enemy hard to ensure that it got killed.
Patterson then gave the order for the helicopter to stop firing. He then had his men to approach the target.
Makoto watched as one of the armed agents moved past her. She shrugged and went after him. The rest of the Senshi went with the agents further into the forest. Usagi could see the scarred land where the aerial assault had taken place. The same gritty sand-like substance was scattered all over the area.
"Forward left, incoming!" one of the agents shouted as she started to fire into a humanoid bundle of shadows.
"They're cloaked," Ami shouted as she began to fire at the same spot.
Usagi could see that the attacks had hit something, killed it, and turned it to more of that strange sand. She then noticed a movement ahead of her. She turned and attacked it.
Patterson blinked. He did not just see that. Magically powered teenage girls in bows and miniskirts were one thing, but that blonde did not just use a kaleidoscope as if it were some type of particle beam weapon.
There turned out to be only one other target remaining. It tried to move and was blown apart by three magical attacks and two bursts of automatic weapons fire. "Check the area," Patterson ordered his troops.
The Senshi looked at each other, looked around, and went back to the cabin. Once again Makoto found herself in the kitchen. She looked at the padlocked door. "I'm going in," she said as she ripped off the lock.
"You think someone's still in there?" Usagi asked.
Minako was a waiting outside the back door with Ami and Rei. "They're back," Ami stated as she watched the agents walk back out of the forest.
"Oh god," Patterson said as he walked into the already crowded kitchen. The smell was unmistakable. "Orbital One, tell HQ to send a forensic team." He paused as he listened to the reply. "Really? Well tell them to have another on standby. We'll probably need more," he said into his headset. "Open it," he then ordered one of his men, who then went to the door and scanned it for anything unusual.
"What are you doing?" Usagi asked.
"We may have found those missing kids," Patterson sighed from behind his goggles and balaclava. "You should clear out of the cabin, it might be booby trapped."
"No," Usagi said, reading an attack. Now she understood why Pluto had sent them here. She still did not know how the Time Guardian learned of this place, but at least she knew why she was here.
"Okay," Patterson shrugged. He had very specific orders for how to handle the Pattern Silvers. "Do it."
The agent at the door then swung open the door. It opened to a darkened stairway.
Makoto smirked slightly. Here were two groups of soldiers, one pretty and sailor-suited, and the other in camouflage and body armor. Both were intently watching the stairway. It proved to be rather anticlimactic. The basement was empty of enemies. The dirt-floored cellar was being used as a store room.
Mounted on the rough walls were several shelves that held well over a dozen large jars. The room was lit by only a few bare bulbs, but that was more than enough to make out their contents. The Company agents looked at them with familiar revulsion.
"Dear god," Makoto said looking at the dozens of neatly labeled jars of brine-cured meat, bottles of blood and other fluids, opaque buckets of unknown contents, and a large crate full of stained bones.
"We're too late. Always too damn late," Patterson said as he and the agent with him conducted a preliminary examination of the room.
"Strange echo gradients coming from the containers," the other agent noted as he scanned the jars and bottles.
"There's a tilting autopsy table in right here," Patterson said in a cold emotionless voice. "The drain appears to have clogged. Watch out for the spill," he said with considerable distaste.
Usagi looked at the room and shuddered. She then started regulating her breathing. Previous enemies had been just as vicious and contemptible for human life, but the bastards were not nearly this messy. She felt surrounded by this careful, deliberate barbarism. It was oppressive and claustrophobic, like being smothered by a burning couch.
"I can't get a body count from this. There's at least an eight, most likely more."
"Forensic Pathology can figure out what they did. Let's go back topside," Patterson ordered.
Back at the porch, the girls were trying to make small talk with the agents who were with them. "So what got you working for um the Company?" Minako asked the taller of the two agents.
The man turned to the girl and smiled. That much the blonde could tell. The man's mouth was just about the only visible part of his body. "It was either this or join the Marines, and frankly, the Company has better pay."
"Don't mind Morrison," the other agent stated. "His whole family — grandfather, father, uncle, brother and sister — are in the Corps, and he takes a bit of flack for not being a 'real' solider."
"Shame I can't tell them what I do," Morrison noted as he checked his scanner again. The backup team should be arriving in five minutes.
"We're not in it for the fame," Morrison's partner stated.
"Yeah, we know all about that," Minako remarked.
"It is amazing you've managed to keep your identities secret for so long. Sorry about earlier today," Morrison stated.
"So everyone at the Company knows who we are," Minako observed.
"Only select members of our Toronto personnel." Morrison assured the girls. He neglected to inform her that the command staff, including section chiefs and their alternates, most of Communications Cryptography, and almost all of Operations, made up the "select members". He also neglected to tell them that it was not a terribly hard thing to figure out.
Minako was about to ask another question, but was interrupted by Usagi bursting out of the cabin. "What took you so long?" one blonde asked to another.
"The basement's crammed with human parts," Makoto stated simply.
"Oh," Rei replied. "I guess it's good that you forgot to give a speech this time."
Morrison simply looked at his companion and sighed. They had expected this. It was too large a group, and had been missing for too long.
Minako considered saying what the speech would be. Something like, "Organs and blood are for transplants and transfusions, not for eating. In the name of the moon, I will punish you!" She then decided to not say it. Those two girls had just seen the results of a mass murder.
Suddenly a trio of Humvees and a pair of medium trucks with boxy cargo compartments drove into the clearing. Their approach was masked by the sound of the circling helicopter. The three Humvees quickly took positions around the cabin. Their machine guns were manned and pointed out into the woods. The trucks stopped near the cabin. From the backs of the trucks came two Forensic Pathology teams. As the cabin was still an active site, they were dressed in the same armor as the Operations personnel. In addition to the mandatory weapons, they were also carrying several containers for their scanning devices, cameras, specimen containers, and other equipment.
The Senshi watched as they silently walked past and entered the cabin. A couple remained in the kitchen to analyze what was in there. The rest went down the stairs and into the basement.
Usagi turned to see Lieutenant Patterson talking to his headset. "Forensics has arrived. Yes, sir. The Pattern Silvers are still here. I'll ask, sir." The connection was then terminated. Patterson paused to reflect on the absurdity of it all. "The Commander would like to see you," he said to the magical girls.
Several miles away, Rod Ferris listened as the orbiting helicopter landed for a bit and flew off. He shrugged. Losses were to be expected. He was still alive, and more importantly, the plan was still proceeding on track.
Once again Ranma found himself waking up to the sound of jet engines. He did not bother to pull up the window cover. It would just show water and nothing else. He stretched slightly. At least the chairs were comfortable.
Ranma looked over to see that once again, the demon girl had moved to sit next to him. The martial artist sighed as he quietly disconnected his safety belt. He would rather let the creature sleep than wake it up just to yell at her. Ranma then stood up and walked down the aisle.
"ETA eight hours," Jacob said when Ranma passed him. The man had a laptop out and had a headset plugged into it. "No sir, I was just talking to Ranma. So what is the count according to forensics?"
Ranma nodded before going down the remaining rows and into an open bathroom.
After closing the door, he looked at his reflection and sighed. Eight more hours
of travel and then he'd be back in
He paused, considering this. His mother was supposedly there. Ranma assumed that Jacob was telling the truth. It made no sense to lie about something like that. It would only alienate Ranma further from the Company. It was also easily verifiable. His father was still alive, after all.
Ranma supposed that the person he was about to see might be some sort of replicate of his mother constructed to win him over, but that seemed too unlikely. Not that likelihood meant anything to Ranma. Given that massive secret organizations, demons, and magical girls existed, a deranged plan involving replicates might be perfectly logical, but did the Company have time to do something like this? They had first met him a couple days ago.
Ranma shook his head as he walked back to his seat. He groaned as he looked at the sleeping demon girl. That seemed like the right idea at the time. He did not want to let the idiot die, but now he was stuck with the same obsessive nutcase, just with a different gender and species.
Jacob had offered to kill the girl, but that was not a particularly useful option. Maybe Ranma could convince her to get a job with the Company, far, far away from him. The martial artist smiled as he sat down in a new seat, this one in a new row and on the opposite side of the aisle. That would get Kuno out of the way.
Bored and unable to return to sleep, Ranma found himself asking one of the agents for something to read. One of them shrugged and, after getting approval from Jacob, pulled out a small laptop. He then activated a program and handed it to Ranma.
The martial artist looked at the screen and found an outline with titles such as Interpreting Pattern Recognition Systems, Communications Signals, Properties Index for Pattern Registering Entities, and the ominous Methods of Intelligence Extraction. There was also a feature that allowed the language to switch between English, German, and Japanese.
Ranma tried the signals section first. It was better than nothing and much better than starting a conversation with anyone. He scrolled past pages of radio codes and procedures, until he found something interesting. It was a series of drawings that demonstrated various hand and arm signals and what they meant.
He recognized several of them from the gestures that the Company goons had been making in the school. Ranma shrugged and read that section, and when he finished browsed for another section to read.
Sailor Moon looked around the grey office. It was surprisingly spacious, given that it was located in an underground fortress. There was an area that contained two couches facing each other, and another that had a desk and several chairs. There were also two doors on either side of the room, one of them undoubtedly serving a bathroom.
"Hello, I'm Commander Stillwater," the man behind the desk said as he got up.
"Sailor Moon," the blonde responded.
Stillwater smiled despite himself. He would rather Jacob do this, but he was with the other Pattern Silver. It was one thing to work with another organization, but these skimpily dressed girls were vigilantes. However, Stillwater reminded himself that they were not complete amateurs. They had taken on several threats that, while often absurd looking, were dangerous. The senior agent also reminded himself that they were integral to the plan and that they had plans of their own.
Sailor Mars looked at the man standing behind the desk. His eyes were a dark, almost brown, green and both his hair and goatee were neatly trimmed. As she watched him move, Rei got the impression that he prided himself on control.
"Please sit," Stillwater said as he pointed to the two couches in the room. "I'd like to start by thanking you for finding that cabin. You must have had pretty good scanners to find them. We had been looking for them ." Stillwater trailed off.
"Actually, Pluto told us about the cabin," Sailor Moon admitted as she sat on the couch to the left.
"I see," Stillwater said. From Murdock's reports, Pluto seemed to be a dedicated but aloof and paranoid person.
"Aren't you going to ask how she knew about it?" Sailor Mars asked.
"I'm sure it had something to do with Murdock," Stillwater stated.
"How did you know?" Sailor Moon asked.
"It's always Murdock, isn't it?" Stillwater said flatly.
"What do you know of him?" Sailor Moon asked.
"That he has an interest in all the Pattern Silvers, including Ranma. We also have some evidence of Murdock meeting with various entities and cults associated with Pattern registering entities."
"Was he at the school today?" Sailor Moon asked. At the time, she had a strong feeling that he was there.
"It is possible. You weren't the only ones watching," Stillwater said simply.
"He could have been watching from one of those office buildings that overlooks the school," Sailor Mercury proposed.
"Or maybe he was closer," Sailor Moon said as a sliver of memory hit her. In the crowd outside the security perimeter, one of the other transfer students ran into another one. It was a little thing — a gesture, a wave, a small expression, and then it was gone. At the time it meant nothing, but that was before she had met Murdock.
"What's wrong?" Sailor Mars asked, concerned that the blonde had spaced out.
"Nothing," Sailor Moon said, shaking her head. Rei's interruption had caused Usagi to lose her train of thought.
"Anything else you'd like to ask?" Stillwater offered.
"What's going on with Ranma?" Sailor Jupiter asked.
"Ranma's a young man that turns into a demonic Senshi." Stillwater would have preferred to say Pattern Silver and D Class 10, but the girls would likely not know the terminology. "Due to an incident during his activation, he feels betrayed. Ranma is cautious, but willing to combat evil," Stillwater stated, his voice precise and clear.
"We already knew that," Sailor Moon countered.
Stillwater nodded before speaking. "Then we're on the same page. We have to try and earn Ranma's trust."
"Why do you want him to work with you?" Sailor Mercury asked, meeting the man's disturbingly focused gaze.
"Same reason you want him with you. We're all here for the same reason," the Commander stated. "Unfortunately, Ranma is suspicious of ulterior motives from everyone."
"He blames Pluto when Murdock's the one who did it."
"That is what Ranma thinks." Stillwater's precise tone changed slightly. It sounded almost as if he was disappointed.
"What about our identities?" Sailor Venus asked, speaking for the first time.
Stillwater responded after a slight pause. He had sent two agents to specifically address that issue. "Until today, we only had suspicions as to who you were." He did not say just how certain those suspicions were. "Remember that someone else had figured out who you were before us. We still do not know who those youma were working for, and now there's this group that you just eliminated."
"You're saying we should be on our guard," Sailor Moon observed.
"Our offer for protection still stands," Stillwater stated.
The agent nodded as he pressed a button on his phone. The door opened and an agent stepped into the office. Still in his body armor, the man had taken off his helmet, goggles, and balaclava. "If there's nothing else," Stillwater said to the girls. "Lieutenant Patterson will make arrangements to get you back home."
Stillwater watched them leave the room. He feared that the girls would ask to see footage of DarkStar's combat. Seeing a demon viciously rip apart and burn tens of human-looking creatures might have caused problems. The agent shook his head. There were several calls to be made and a fair bit of video footage to go over.
Operations Center 3 was located on the island of Hokkaido, roughly between the cities of Sapporo and Tonakomai. Situated a few miles outside the small city of Eniwa, the compound was built on a several thousand aces of pastureland. Slightly smaller than the Kansas facility, the complex centered on a cluster of concrete and steel buildings that resembled a particularly ugly school campus.
Ranma sighed as the elevator doors closed and the device began a controlled descent. Large enough to fit a good-sized truck, the freight elevator was empty save for himself, his fiancée, and Jacob.
He was relieved that the demon girl was staying with Kasumi's flunkies. Ranma knew where they were — it was a ground floor lounge in an oval shaped building. However, he had no idea where he was. He had followed Jacob and Kasumi through a maze of corridors and checkpoints.
Ranma looked up at display over the door. It was on SL14. Their destination was sub-level twenty-seven. Ranma turned to his companions. Both were silently looking at the doors.
The elevator then stopped and Ranma expected a harsh buzzer or a computerized female voiced to precede the opening of the doors. Instead, there was a happy pinging noise that came before the two pairs of metal doors slid open.
Ranma stepped out of the elevator to find himself in an intersection of two hallways. The one to the front of him was large enough to drive a truck through and had to be at least a couple hundred yards in length. The one to his right side was a little under a third that length, but it ended into a sturdy armored door. Ranma could see a group of agents talking near the end of that corridor.
The subterranean level followed the same design methodology that would be found elsewhere in the Company. Concrete, steel, and various polymers were the primary materials. It was clear that functionality and security were their primary concerns.
"Come on," Jacob said as he walked past Ranma. He and Kasumi were already walking down the longer corridor. Ranma followed them to a pair of oversized double doors. Labeled next to the door was a sign with the words, "SL27-15 Materials Lab A." Jacob opened the door on the left and motioned for Ranma and Kasumi to wait in the hall.
Major Saotome was at her computer. It was located in a corner of the lab that served as her office. She was sitting with a peripheral view of the door. Two of her subordinates were inspecting armor that had been damaged in the field. Aida was still going over the fire-damaged armor from WIC Germany, while Ayami was working on a set that had just come in from a newly-opened Company facility.
She had a particular interest in that armor. A key scientist in its design, she was interested in how that model survived. Unfortunately, Commander Akagi had told her to expect a meeting from Command today. Not wanting to delay the inspection of the body armor, the major reluctantly decided to allow her subordinate to go over it.
The woman was vaguely nervous. Unexpected visits from Command were rarely pleasant. The major knew that she had nothing to worry about. Her record was clean, but there was some slight anxiety.
There was another factor. The fragmented information about her son was another concern. She feared that the two events were related, that the agent from Command would tell her that they were unable to get to her child in time, that Ranma had been contaminated and had to be put down. The woman sighed as she continued reading the report on rotor blade fatigue. Such thoughts were counterproductive, at least during work hours.
She then heard the door being unlocked. Nodoka automatically moved her hand nearer to her sidearm. She would have been pleased to know that her two assistants had had similar ingrained reactions. The door opened and an older gentleman walked in. The four-lobed silver leaf on his collar gave him a rank of Colonel, and the black trim of his uniform marked him as Operations Section.
"Hello, Colonel," Nodoka said as she saluted.
Jacob returned the salute before speaking. "Major Nodoka Saotome, what you're about to be told is classified level six,"
Nodoka nodded. She then turned to her assistants. "Aida, Ayami, go out and pick up some lunch."
Jacob waited for the two younger agents leave. "Major, this is your son, Ranma," the senior agent said.
The woman paused as she looked at the two people entering the room. One was a reserved and competent-looking woman with the black trim of Operations Section and the silver bars of a lieutenant. More important was the other teen to enter the room. She recognized him immediately.
Ranma looked at the woman. Her relatively short auburn hair was held back behind her head. The woman's face resonated within his memory. Her eyes were strangely evaluative in the second before she stood up, walked over to Ranma, and embraced him.
"My son! At long last. It's been too long," Nodoka mumbled as she continued to hug her son.
Ranma accepted the hug, but it was somewhat uncomfortable. Unsurprisingly, under the lab coat Major Saotome wore over the standard Company uniform was a rather large handgun. As it was currently positioned, it dug slightly into Ranma.
Nodoka broke of the hug and looked at her son. "So how did they find you? Where were you?"
"Pops took us to Canada. Then she saw me," Ranma said as he pointed to Kasumi, who was silently standing near Jacob. "After that, she tried to kill me."
"Really?" Nodoka responded. Why would the Company do something crazy like that?
"Technically that's not correct, ma'am. The operation was called off due to new information becoming apparent," Kasumi said, slightly insulted. She was not the kind of person to merely try something. She did it.
"Who are you?" Nodoka politely asked the younger woman.
"Lieutenant Kasumi Tendo, ma'am. It was my operation."
"Is your father's name Soun?" Nodoka asked. After getting an affirmative response, she continued, "So the bastard did go to him. But Soun was one of the first people the Company interviewed. He said that Genma hardly ever talked to him. He even let the agents make copies of the few postcards that had been sent. I'm guessing you maintained surveillance on him and picked up Ranma when he arrived there."
"Our surveillance was in the form of a mutual acquaintance of yours. Someone who already knew the involved parties," Jacob stated. He found it interesting how certain events kept coming back to that man.
"The Drake," Nodoka stated with a bitter laugh. "You know, he was the one to suggest that I use the Company to find you," the woman said to her son.
"I know him. He's the principal of the school I'm at," Ranma said with distaste.
"Oh, so he finally got that plan off," Nodoka noted.
"Actually, the Drake had yet to inform us to Ranma's impending arrival. We are looking into certain inconsistencies involving his recent actions."
"Oh? Then what did happen?" Nodoka asked.
Kasumi looked at Jacob who nodded. She then began to explain. Kasumi watched the older woman's face as she talked. The major was admirably in control. The only times the researcher gave off even the slightest reaction was during the rambling explanation of Jusenkyou her estranged husband gave.
"So, your father took you to an H-Type location and got you an aquatransexual curse. Then a Pattern Silver asked you join their team to replace someone recently assassinated, most likely by this Murdock person. The transfer then ended up turning you into a demonic magical girl," Nodoka stated, looking at her son. Her voice was even, but her eyes were intensely focused. The situation had just gone from joyous to surreal.
"Yeah," Ranma admitted, a little disturbed by his mother. What did the Company do to its employees?
"May I see it?" Nodoka asked.
"I guess," Ranma stated. He was not too concerned that she might shoot him. The woman was his mother, after all.
Jacob reached into his pocket and pulled out a phone. He then linked with the Command and Control Center for Operations Center 3 (WIC Japan). "This is Colonel Edwards. Please be ready for those two spikes. Yes. We're in SL27, Room 15, Building Epsilon. Good."
Ranma walked past several examination tables filled with equipment that was neatly organized to find a sink near several shelves filled with books and other information storage devices. The far end of the room possessed what looked to be a fair-sized storeroom and a small machine shop. He placed his hand under the faucet and opened the valve.
As Nodoka watched the transformation, her hand immediately went to her sidearm. There was something unnatural about the pale-skinned redhead in the tight leather dress. The voluptuous young woman her son had turned into was indeed a Pattern D.
Ranma sighed as she looked at the agents' reactions. They had all reached for their guns. Kasumi and Jacob were better at hiding it. Ranma could only see the slightest twitches in their hands, but it was there. She shook her head, causing her mass of unbound crimson tresses to cascade around her.
"My god," Nodoka said as she walked over to the young demon. "Why would a Pattern Silver turn you into this?"
Ranma smiled sourly showing off slightly elongated canines. "This isn't what she wanted me for." The redhead decided that she might as well show her the final form.
Nodoka frowned at the girl's expression. She then noticed that her child's eyes had changed. There were now noticeable violet flecks mixed in with the blue of Ranma's eyes. "I suppose that you have another more powerful form. One that no doubt involves ribbons and a miniskirt," Nodoka said with bitter humor.
"You know about the Sailor Senshi?" the redhead asked with some surprise. Ranma thought it was all a secret.
"When the Pattern Silvers became more numerous and active in Tokyo, the Company decided to conduct some surveillance on them. The observers also recovered some items leftover from their fights. It was mostly piles of a gritty, somewhat complex compound that varied from sample to sample and but had a roughly constant Pattern residue. However, sometimes the Forensic Pathology teams recovered a shard of crystal," Nodoka explained in a professional and interested voice "I was the one to examine those objects. Most of them had a fairly quick half-life and disintegrated into their base components before a full analysis could be conducted. Footage of Pattern Silvers was part of my briefing."
"Wait. If you guys knew about the Senshi that long ago, why are you only now trying to talk to those girls?" Ranma asked Jacob.
"The Japanese government forbade us from conducting operations within fifty miles of Tokyo, but they normally ignored us as long as we only observed and did not create an obvious presence," Jacob stated.
"Like having dozens of military vehicles in the streets and armed helicopters flying overhead?" Ranma inquired.
"That would be it. Because we were not allowed to make contact with them, we did not learn of their importance. That is until certain events happened, such as Murdock coming forward to tell us what he knew," Jacob explained.
"And what did Murdock tell you?" Ranma asked as she stared intently at the agent.
"According to him, the same things he told you after you left Seattle," Jacob replied as he maintained eye contact with the tall redhead.
"Sir?" Nodoka interjected. "About my son's other form?"
"Fine," Ranma said as she glared at Jacob. Part of her suspected that the man was telling the truth, and that the Company was as much in the dark as everyone else was, but another part of her feared that WIC knew much more than it let on. One thing she knew for certain; there was no way she could get the information out of Jacob. Not here, at least. If she laid one finger on him, the Company would likely send everything they had to try and stop her. Ranma did not want to consider what kind cataclysmic paranoia-induced response would happen in that event.
Ranma paused to glare at Jacob, and activated the transformation. Bands of violet, crimson, and black energy encased the girl. When they died down, she was wearing an incredibly short black leather miniskirt, a violet bikini top with dark purple and red bows and ribbons, and knee-high, five-inch heeled black leather boots.
Her hair was longer, had even more body, and had dark purple highlights. Her choker was black, as was the stone in her golden tiara and the stones in her earrings. She also had even longer canines, a pair of little black horns, a three foot long spade-shaped tail, and a pair of large dragon-like wings. Her eyes had also turned completely amethyst.
"Well, that's a change in design," Nodoka commented. She took a deep breath and maintained her calm. It took most of her training to do this. The demonic influence of the girl was beyond obvious, yet the young woman was still her son. Thoughts of contamination were pushed aside. NH's working for the Company was rare, but not unheard of, and if she was being escorted by agents from Operations Section, she had to be clean.
In Toronto, a streetcar drove down Dundas Street. It was a fair-sized avenue that was roughly between the Canada National Tower and the University of Toronto and ran parallel to the lake. The tracked mass transit car stopped where the road intersected with Saint Patrick Street. A man in a dark brown trench coat and a wide-brimmed fedora used this opportunity to disembark.
Quickly crossing the street, he made his way to the sidewalk. Once there, he tightened the ties on his coat and flipped up his collar. The rain was coming down quite heavily, and he did not want to get completely soaked. The man looked out from under the brim of his hat to see his destination. It was a small pub a couple hundred feet from his current location.
The arched letters painted on the front window proclaimed it to be the Red Turtle. Painted below the bar's name was a drawing of that crimson reptile. The creature's knowing expression brought a smile to the man's face as he looked into the establishment.
The Red Turtle was paneled in polished hardwood and trimmed with simple but skillfully crafted moldings. The bar gave off warm, sturdy sense of comfort and stability, which was only magnified by the downpour. Powerful gusts of wind had made the precipitation even more unpleasant.
The pub appeared to be a place that had stood for decades, and would continue to stand for decades more, each night providing the same service to the same group of regulars. The man was now using his left hand to hold down his hat, preventing it from blowing away.
The bar itself was a heavy construct of oak and brass and looked to be older than the city itself. Sitting at the end furthest from the window was a tanned woman with vibrant green hair. Her head was down to where it nearly touched the aged wood. The man smiled when he saw that she was there and he quickly made his way inside.
As he took off his coat and hat and gingerly placed them on a coat rack near the door, he started to hum. Few would recognize the tune. It was the theme song to a short-lived cartoon that chronicled the fictionalized adventures of a Rhode Island horror writer. The man walked past the scattered patrons of the pub and over to the woman at the far side of the bar.
She looked up when he was eight feet away. Recognition darkened her face as the woman watched him approach. The man was wearing an expensive suit that would have looked quite good on him, except for one thing; it was rather rumpled. Even his tie's knot was not done quite right, "Hello, Murdock. Come here to gloat? Or maybe you just want to babble incoherent riddles to me?" she asked coldly. Even his tie clasp, a silver bar with strange symbols that were either occult or mathematical etched on it, was crooked.
Murdock looked at the woman and sighed. "You know, I was going to just congratulate you on your girls' performance yesterday, but now I'm just disappointed," the man stated as he sat down. The runic mage then proceeded to order an especially dark German beer.
As if she had just heard something particularly incomprehensible, Setsuna shook her head. Murdock noted this as he took a sip of his drink. The Time Guardian then went back to nursing her Manhattan.
"If it was up to me, I'd leave right now, but I have my orders," Murdock admitted.
"Like when you tormented Usagi?"
"All I did was direct her attention to an important issue. I presume you were forced to tell her the truth."
Setsuna looked at the man, her face neutral.
"They're not going to like you lying to them. They can handle the truth."
"This coming from you?" Setsuna asked, horribly annoyed.
"You don't think you're better than me?" Murdock asked as he straightened his tie clip. "It's really bad when people find a secretive organization with questionable motives is more forthcoming than other members of their own team."
The woman took another sip.
Murdock sighed as he took another drink. "I'm surprise at how much you botched up Sailor DarkStar. You just ran away. What? Were you afraid of being sexually assaulted by a demonic redhead?"
"It surprised me."
"Now, you're just lying. You knew of Ranma's curse. You knew what the original DarkStar looked like. You should have seen it coming."
"Well, you've taken steps against that, haven't you?"
"Because events aren't neatly flowing from one point to another, you're blaming me? You act as if I could simply raise the Reynolds number of the time stream and turn that nice predicable laminar flow into something turbulent."
"Are you done?" Setsuna asked as she ordered another drink.
"I guess," Murdock stated. He then drank his beer in silence. The red-eyed woman then received her drink. They spent the next two hours without talking as they sipped their beverages.
In the end it was Murdock who paid his tab and left first.
"Sunshine Saotome?" Nodoka asked in a very confused voice.
"Damn fucking Drake," Ranma swore as he followed his mother. When they left Nodoka's lab, Jacob wandered off taking Kasumi with him.
According to the signs on the walls, they were in SL-14, corridor 3B, but that was meaningless to Ranma. All he knew was that they were going back to that lounge. From there they would go to the hanger.
"Yes, the Drake does love his jokes. Although now I'm afraid he's gotten in over his head," Nodoka chuckled.
"Yeah, I'm going to shave that bastard's mullet right off."
"That is if the Company doesn't get to him first," the older woman said coldly.
"I thought he worked with them?"
"Yes, and he knew we were looking for you. He told you that Genma contacted him a week before you two arrived in Toronto, and yet he does not tell us who you are? The Company takes missing persons cases rather seriously."
"Didn't he tell Jacob?"
"No. Colonel Edwards found out about the search I had running after that incident with your fiancée. He ran your name and that came up."
"Why am I not surprised?" Ranma muttered as they rounded a corner and entered yet another corridor. "So what'll happen to him?"
"They'll interrogate him, and if they find out that he betrayed the Company Well, that's it," Nodoka said simply.
Ranma remained silent for a few seconds. "What about Pops?" he then asked.
"What he did was criminal. The exact punishment has yet to be determined," Nodoka stated as her pupils contracted and her hand moved to rest on her sidearm.
The martial artist's eyes widened in comprehension. He now knew why his mother was so accepting of what he did as DarkStar. His mother, like almost all Company agents, seemed disturbingly familiar with death.
"Your father is at fault for what happened to you, but some of the blame can go to me. I might have been able to stop him, but I let him take you. It was only when he failed to return that I began to worry. I had no idea what he was doing with you, and only sketchy reports that you were even still alive," the major confessed.
"But no matter how much we regret our past decisions, we can't go back. There's only the present. That's why I work for the Company. I do what I can to pay for my mistakes. My developments have saved the lives of at least two hundred agents," Nodoka stated in a melancholy yet prideful tone.
"At least Lieutenant Tendo seems like a nice Company girl," Nodoka stated in an attempt to redirect the subject at hand. She then smiled. "I wonder if Genma has the slightest clue."
"She pointed a gun at me. There's nothing going on between us," Ranma said flatly.
"You two are somewhat young, but at least you're engaged to a professional," Nodoka stated as they entered and elevator. It was a quick ride up a couple of floors. The corridor that the lift arrived at was rather familiar to Ranma.
"Oh, we're back," Ranma said with some dread. He had wanted to avoid this, but he had no choice.
One metal door in the corridor was open. It lead to a smallish room with a couple couches, a kitchenette, a table, a pair of televisions, and a computer station. From within the room came a black and white blur. A rather pale girl with black violet-highlighted hair and dressed in skimpy black clothes had tried to tackle and embrace Ranma.
"Stop doing that! You damn stupid freak!" Ranma shouted after he dodged the demoness.
"But mistress, I really missed you," the demon said in a voice that might have been seductive, if Ranma did not know who the creature had been before.
Ranma shook his head. "Why couldn't that damn water have worked on you?"
Nodoka looked at the young girl. Her eyes — a strange color of red — and other factors, notably calling her son "mistress", lead the agent to her conclusion. "You spawned?" There was another option, but her son would never do that, not if he wanted to live.
"Actually, DarkStar converted her," Jacob said as he entered the hallway from the lounge. "It was a life or death situation, and I okayed the decision."
"Of course, sir," Nodoka said as she looked at the little NH in understanding. Her son had saved a girl, mortally wounded when those Pattern Y's took over that school. "Now, Ranma, you shouldn't be so mean to her. The girl's just trying to show her appreciation. You should know what it's like to be in her place."
"You have no idea," Ranma grumbled, eyeing the Kuno girl.
"I hate to interrupt, but your flight is ready," Jacob stated.
"Okay," Ranma said before turning to his mother.
"Don’t worry. I'll see you on your way back, and I'll look into getting some leave," the woman said with a strange glint in her eye. Jacob noticed this and reminded himself that he would have to warn the major that vengeance had to be taken through proper channels.
"Um, all right," Ranma stated.
Over the Sea of Japan, Jacob dialed a number into his phone. After his encryption system synchronize with that of his caller, he spoke. "We're on our way to the final base."
Over six and a half thousand miles away, Commander Stillwater responded. "Good. How did the meeting go?"
"Adequately. A petition for transfer may be a result of that meeting," Jacob stated somewhat quietly. Ranma was reading near the front of the plane, and the senior agent was at the opposite end in the back.
"I see. I'll go over her file. When can I expect her request?"
"Shortly," Jacob responded.
"Okay. What about the three stooges?"
"That is a troubling issue," Jacob admitted. "They are all closely tied to our organization, and at least one of them seems to be without blame. A thorough investigation will be needed."
"Agreed, and once that is done penalties can be decided."
"At least with one of them, a family solution can be arranged," Jacob stated.
"Perhaps with the others as well."
"Perhaps. Any information on those Pattern Y’s from the school and the V's from the cabin?"
"Nothing on the V's, but we have found the motel rooms where the Y's were staying. Forensic teams are going over them now."
"Good. Do we have clearance to our final destination?"
"Yes. Command was quite annoyed with that request," Stillwater smirked. "You know what we had to do to get our helicopters into China?
"I'm sure our negotiators explained the recent rise in NH activity in their nation," Jacob stated as he smiled slightly.
"Not to mention the sensitivity of the base you plan to use as a staging area."
"Ranma has already been inside WIC Japan and WIC America."
"And he was never in one of the more sensitive areas," Stillwater cautioned.
"Not nearly as risky as what our plans for the Pattern Silvers are," Jacob replied.
"Just remember to keep him away from the dig site."
"If we could use a different base to stage the mission from I would, but that site is the closest one we have to Jusenkyou. The next nearest one is five hundred miles further out."
"Still, discretion is recommended. If the Pattern Silvers knew what we had found in the Gobi, it might cause problems," Stillwater cautioned.
"It's not what we found. It's what we're planning to do with it," Jacob replied with distaste.
"That issue has already been decided," Stillwater stated, ending the discussion.
Based on the position of Polaris, Ranma knew that he was facing southwest, but the predawn view was the same no matter what direction he was facing. All around the Company Field Command Post was the barren land of southern Mongolia. The nearest city, Dalandzadgad, was just below the northern horizon.
Ranma had no clear idea why the Company had a base here. Jacob had said something about a salvage operation being conducted at the request of the Mongolian government. The nearest WIC facility to Jusenkyou, the base was a small cluster of mobile buildings positioned on a tarmac next to an abandoned airstrip. The actual salvage site was a few miles to the east.
"The helicopters should be ready in under half an hour," Kasumi said once she had walked over to her fiancé.
"Good. Hopefully, I'll be rid of this damn demon," Ranma stated. He knew that Jusenkyou was his best hope at getting cured.
To be continued.
Author's notes: Prereaders for this chapter were Starfire, Joe Fenton, and Wray.
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