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Dead Bang

by Ian McLeod

Chapter 3

Monday, October 19, 2037, 8:00 AM
Ladys633 Tower, Megatokyo

The official presentation had waited until the next evening. Much as the Sabers collectively had wanted to get started right away, there was nothing to do, and insufficient leads to direct them. "I want each of you to check your contacts," Sylia announced, knowing full well that after half a dozen years in the business, they had developed a few leads among them they didn't share around. "See if Ms. Madigan's whereabouts can be traced, and the identity of the kidnapper determined. When we have something definite, we will deploy the new suits."

Linna had stood up at that point, as Reika had leaned forward in interest. "Ah, Reika-san?" Reika looked over in surprise, as did Sylia. "I suggest we save the showing for tomorrow. We," she indicated Nene, herself and Kou, "need to get some sleep, and go to work tomorrow. The two of you can review the hardsuit tomorrow morning. You," she said, echoing Nene's stern admonishment of their team leader, "need sleep more than anything."

Sylia's lips twitched again as another of her team stood up to her. "All right, done. When you're all against me, I guess I have to call it a night, hmm?" She grinned slightly. "But see if you can spare some time tomorrow evening. The new equipment is well worth being together as a group for."

The other Sabers had looked excited, but wouldn't be moved to the elevator until they saw Sylia firmly packed upstairs to bed. Reika had watched, bemused, as the other girls let themselves out of the building, chattering about the new armor, possible leads, and the irony of working for the corporation responsible for making them necessary in the first place. Kou had kept silent, as he often did.

This morning was different. Kou looked absolutely fine in his charcoal grey business suit, with his hair neatly combed back and the black silk tie pin-perfect inside the suit coat. He looked every inch the successful executive, and Reika sighed in quiet appreciation of the dashing figure he cut. Kou's eyes warmed as he smiled back, and gathered her in for a quick kiss. Reika was glad to acquiesce.

"Mr. executive ready to make waves today?" Reika asked teasingly. In reply, Kou shifted slightly, letting the side of the coat slip open just enough to show the brace of throwing knives and the butt of a very expensive ceramic gun.

"Of course," he said, smiling slightly. "But with luck, I'll just be a quiet shadow in the background. There's no reason to believe the others will bother her just because -"

"They will," Reika said softly, resting her head on his chest again. "If for no other reason than Grandfather was interested in it. They'll want to make sure everything he had a hand in is eliminated, in case he left people in those places we could make use of." She looked up at Kou, concern on her face. "That means that Linna's life is in danger. Please watch out for her, Kou!"

Reika's husband gave her that special, warm smile he reserved for her alone, and she felt something cold inside her melt away. "No need to worry, Rei-chan," he whispered softly. "I'll protect her from all who come against her."

Reika made a soft sound in her throat as Kou pulled her close for another lingering kiss. Her hands snaked around his neck and pulled herself closer as she let the world go away for a warm, eternal moment.

* * *

Monday, October 19, 2037, 10:00 AM
Kosuge Maximum Security Prison, Megatokyo


The young man shuffled forward and waited while guards slowly removed the ankle and wrist cuffs. The indignity of the position was mandatory when moving prisoners through the complex. Even prisoners about to be released. The young man endured this as he had endured several years already of being pawed over by his social inferiors, keeping his eyes up and his mocking smile firmly in place as they walked him over to the reviewer.

"Believe me, Yoshida-kun," the reviewer began, "If I had any say in the operation of this facility, you'd never see the light of day. But," he continued, looking dyspeptic as the guards brought over a large bag and began pulling out personal equipment, "you seem to have people in the right places. As of thirty minutes ago, an order arrived for your immediate parole." The reviewer didn't bother standing up, and didn't offer his hand. "Just make sure I never see you again, Yoshida!"

Dr. Miriam Yoshida smiled nastily and signed for his personal effects. "I assure you, officer, you won't."

The reviewer watched, feeling helpless as a convicted terrorist walked out of the prison, a free man.

* * *

The figure watched impatiently as Dr. Yoshida ambled across the prison parking lot and made his way over to the car. He got in, and gave his usual superior smile to the driver, who began to pull away the moment the door was shut.

"So, who's my mystery angel, eh?" Yoshida looked over at the driver who ignored him and kept his eyes on the road. "GENOM? USSD?" His smile took on a harder, nastier edge suddenly. "The Knight Sabers?"

The driver looked over at him for a moment. "You'll be told when we get where we're going, doctor. Until then, stop speculating."

Yoshida sat back, satisfied. He doubted professional muscle like that would tell him anything, but being able to get a rise out of him told him a lot. Boomers could absorb a surprising amount of verbal abuse without flinching. That this one had taken the time to snap back told Yoshida that it was one of those 'emancipated' Boomers the news had been full of recently. A Boomer who (whether still owned or not) claimed to have independence and freedom of will.

'Freedom of will,' he thought with a snort. The driver's eyes tracked over briefly, but returned to driving when Yoshida made no other sound. 'They discover their freedom only to learn they have no legal status, no money, no way to own land, and suddenly they're slaves for real. They go rogue and AD Police hunts them down.'

That had been the awful truth the Boomers had discovered so early on. Although the AD Police had taken an unusually soft-pedal stance on rogue Boomers who were willing to talk, they had been as ruthless as usual against violent Boomers. The end result was an entire robotic subculture that was afraid to stand up for itself, and a much smaller percentage that was itching for a fight. But every time they tried, a police organization of some kind around the world would swat them down.

It didn't take a genius like Yoshida to see there was a war coming. And the recent emergence of the "Humans-First" movement hadn't helped matters. If anything, any chance of a resonable compromise between humans and Boomers was greatly jeapordized by the continual presence of these 'Firsters' and the cause they espoused. Suddenly the threat of a Boomer-Human war was just over the horizon, and people were starting to become aware of the possibility.

The car pulled out of the main strip and onto a side road, heading into the suburbs. Yoshida took this in without comment. It stood to reason that a private meeting would call for quiet environs, and nothing was more off the beaten path than a quiet suburb. Still, he was surprised when they passed through the suburb, and made their way down a hill into a small valley beyond.

Yoshida knew where they were. This "valley" was one of the areas where the land had fallen during the Kanto earthquake. Unlike the 'Tinsel City' section however, this stretch was near the waterfront, but along a stretch of rocky coastline unsuited to water travel. So it had been allowed to grow uncontrolled, most of the buildings collapsed and moldering with time. A single building stood against the side of the small valley near a cliff, clearly partially restored and operational. The car pulled into this structure, revealing a decently- sized factory building.

Yoshida's snorted again, realizing what his benefactors were after. After getting out of the car, he stretched his limbs for a few moments, and followed the driver into a darkened room at the back. The room was empty except for a table, chair, and a large viewscreen on the far wall. As the door close behind him, the viewscreen lit up.

The two figures beyond were hidden in shadow, and their voices electronically distorted. Still, Yoshida thought he could make out cadences from the woman that sounded recognizable. Where, he wasn't certain.

"Greetings, Doctor Yoshida," the woman began. "You will be glad, no doubt, to hear that certain individuals in the Diet have been persuaded to reconsider your former actions in a more favorable light. Although they may wind up being replaced when word of their compliance gets around, of course."

Yoshida leaned back in the chair. "I assume you'll just put more of your people in the same positions, giving your pawns the illusion of incorruptibilty and preserving your power base?"

The woman laughed softly. "Of course. But that isn't why you're here, Doctor."

Yoshida waved his hand around. "After what I did to the vaunted AD Police, you want me to build more of my specialized Boomers, don't you?"

"Not exactly, doctor," the man in the screen said softly. "We have a proposition for you which will significantly alter the degree of your participation in our project. If you accept, you will become one of a very few to have been given this opportunity, which will include the ability to strike back against those who put you in your current straits."

Yoshida's sharp inhalation was the only external reaction to their comments, but it was enough. The man nodded and gestured to one side. A video window appeared on the screen, showing what appeared to be nanomachines of some kind. "What the world doesn't know about Dr. Katsuhito Singray's groundbreaking work on Boomer brain evolution was how he made the leap from simple electronic AI to a fully emotionally aware near-human lifeform. He claims he made the Boomer brain to mimic the behavior of the human brain, but the exact means by which this was made possible was never discussed."

The nanomachines enlarged, and critical details began to appear. Yoshida leaned forward, interested despite his earlier indifference. "These machines," the shadowy man continued, "Are built to insinuate themselves into the cortex of a living human being, learn how that mind works, and to augment what it finds. They are even designed to replace some neural matter in key locations, to encourage the ability to synchronize with neural interface technology." The image of a person in a neural chair appeared. "At a later date, the 'pattern' of a person's mind can then be uploaded into the computer for analysis and modification. Do you understand what this means, doctor?"

Yoshida stared at the images, eyes wide. "Whoever's mind was the template for Boomer brains would have a tremendous effect on their overall intelligence and adaptability." His eyes narrowed in thought. "Boomers are incredibly quick, fast to learn new skills, and have tremendous capacity for destruction when motivated." He looked up at the shadowy figures. "Were you the test subjects?"

The woman laughed softly, shaking her head. "No, we were Quincy's test subjects, Mr. Yoshida. We were the business genius behind GENOM never making more than the occasional blunder in its years of business. A company doesn't come out of nowhere to dominate over fifty percent of the planetary commerce without some kind of advantage, after all."

Yoshida nodded, settling back in the chair. "And by telling me this, I now have no choice but to accept your proposal or I'll never leave here, is that it?" He didn't wait for their response, but held up his hand, interrupting the woman. "Please. Don't take me for an idiot. You clearly wanted me here for my proven skills with Boomer design and programming. By telling me this, it's clear to me you want me to join your little crusade - whatever it is - by undergoing the same degree of cyber-augmentation you enjoy. To me, anyway, this is all elementary and very clearly established."

Yoshida leaned forward, eyes intense. "Quite frankly, after what I've heard here, I'd insist on this kind of augmentation. The kind of vengeance I could descend upon my enemies with the kind of machines my augmented genius would be capable of permits no other outcome, and I welcome the opportunity! But!" His voice descended to a quiet purr, threaded with the rasp of hatred. "While I will help you in your plan, I will do so only under the condition that I have the opportunity to exact my revenge on my enemies. The Knight Sabers!"

The two shadowy forms on the screens nodded after a moment. "Agreed," the man said softly. "Welcome to the partnership, Doctor. Our associate will take you to the medical room downstairs where the procedure will be instituted. When we next speak again, we will have much for you to do." The figure leaned forward slightly and its voice became much colder. "But do not endanger our operation with dreams of revenge doctor," he said quietly, causing a chill down the back of even the self-centered Dr. Yoshida. "You will find we are quite willing to allow you your plans and even support your operations. But our plan is paramount! Endanger what we are trying to accomplish, and you will find the Knight Sabers to be the least of your fears. Am I understood, Doctor Yoshida?"

Yoshida swallowed hard, scared for the first time that day. For the first time, he recognized a far more dangerous predator than himself, and he nodded slowly, fighting to regain his equilibrium. The man sat back, and the screen went dark moments later.

Yoshida followed the aide out when the door opened without protest. After all, they were offering to make him even better in his chosen field. He'd have the opportunity to take his fight to the Knight Sabers, and maybe if he had a moment, finish his original objective and sink the AD Police building.

How could he refuse?

* * *

Monday, October 19, 2037, 11:00 AM AD Police, Megatokyo

Roger knocked on Daley's door and stepped in, balancing the tray of coffee and breakfast as Daley waved him in. The enticing smell of hash browns, toast, eggs and several types of spreads drew a puzzled reaction from Daley as he set aside the letter he'd been reading.

Roger had the grace to look slightly embarassed. "My partner in the N-police favored American style breakfasts. I kind of got used to them." He sat down and set the tray on the desk. "Besides, it's a damn sight better than those instant-noodle cups you're so fond of!"

"A policeman has to be able to mobilize at a moment's notice," Daley replied pretentiously. "What kind of image would be we displaying to the world if a call came in, and here we were, enjoying a well-rounded breakfast?"

"The image of a pair of officers who won't be running for the nearest washroom two hours later?"

Daley chuckled and shrugged as he sipped the coffee. He tucked the letter over on a sideboard, beside the picture of a guitarist. Behind the picture, several more pictures and several mini-LD's could be seen stacked up. Roger leaned over and tilted the picture forward.

"Hmm. 'Priss & the Replicants'," he commented, as Daley watched, a small smile on his face. "You dating someone in a rock group, partner?"

Daley nodded, and tapped the front picture. "Priss introduced us at her and Leon's wedding reception." His smile hovered between warm and self-deprecating. "It was love at first sight. Second and third too, as I recall."

Roger only sat back and sipped his coffee, a slight grin on his face. "So my partner's dating a rock guitarist." He shook his head in mock disbelief as Daley's smile grew wider. "What is the future of AD Police coming to?"

Daley and Roger were still finishing the unusually American breakfast and chatting idly of rock musicians and relationships when Nene's head poked into the room. "Daley-chan?" Nene chirped. "The chief wants to see you in his office."

Daley waved, downing the last of his coffee as Roger chuckled. "Daley-chan?" Daley just shrugged and ambled over to Chief Tohdo's office, and knocked on the frame. Letting himself in, he ignored the usual signs of a good day for the chief, as he growled something into a phone, and waved him to a seat. A good sign. He only made you stand if you were in trouble.

"Daley, I've got a problem that needs solving," Tohdo said, after slamming the phone down. Daley noticed with interest that the plastic seemed slightly stressed, as if it had been warped by pressures beyond description. Phones were usually pretty resilient, and he could only wonder how many years of abuse that phone had stood up to as the chief went on.

"I'm aware you took on that body-snatching case from the Firster compound," he began. Daley looked up, suddenly more serious. "I just got a call from our superiors over in Security. They told us to 'comply with all reasonable requests from GENOM and blah and blah and more blah." He sat back and crossed his arms, the bushy mustache seemingly beetling into a truly impressive growth. A positive statement all by itself.

"This kind of interference means we're shaking trees and making people fall out of them. I want you and Roger out there shaking them harder, and seeing who's just barely hanging on. We can only do this for so long before we're ordered to drop it. So shake hard." He leaned forward. "It used to be Leon got these kinds of talks, now it's your turn. He had a talent for knowing who to shake and how hard to shake them. I see the same potential in you. Don't let me down." With that, he waved in the general direction of the outer office. "Now go shake a few trees!"

Daley nodded and got up, a little bemused. As he walked back out to his office, he considered what he'd been told, and how Leon usually presented his 'talks' with the Chief. Grinning, he waltzed back into his office (formerly Leon's) and waved off-handedly in the Chief's directly. "Seems the Chief isn't happy with us sitting here wasting taxpayer's money eating breakfast. Guess we have to go earn our princely salaries."

Roger grinned, eyes flicking between the chief's office and Daley as he finished his breakfast and tossed the trash in the recycling bin. "Well, let's go check out the hospital. GENOM grabbed those stiffs awfully fast, but they may have had time to check a few things."

Daley nodded. "Then we check the Firster compound and see what they have to say. Then maybe a side trip over to the Tower to see what the Ice Queen has to say. It's all very formal and official." He tossed his jacket over his shoulder and strolled out. "It's what happens after that's so much fun."

Daley flicked an offhand wave in Chief Tohdo's direction as they made their way out. "We're on it, Tohdo-chan!"

"Tohdo-CHAN?! Who do you think you're talking to, you overdressed pink peacock?! Get out there and do your job!" The office erupted in quiet giggling from the secretary staff as Tohdo's rant climbed into the rafters, giving Roger some uncomfortably scared moments, and Daley a warm feeling of the rightness of the moment. Leon couldn't have managed better.

* * *

Monday, October 19, 2037, 11:30 AM
Loon Enterprises, Megatokyo

Linna examined the document with care. This was after all only her eighth such document. As CEO of the small biotech research company, Linna had to represent the company to other businesses both in Megatokyo and the world. This document, like the ones before it and the ones undoubtedly to come, were agreements between multi-million dollar businesses and Loon for the investment of vast amounts of money and resources promoting and destributing their environmental clean-up products to a world teetering on the brink of total environmental collapse. Each agreement could spell salvation or destruction for the small start-up, and had to be carefully considered both by itself, and how it would affect the other agreements with similar businesses.

Linna had never had so much fun in her life.

Writing a few comments on a electronic clipboard, she tapped the "save" button, and routed the whole thing back to the legal department. They'd turn her liner notes into more pleasing text, and send the rough draft of the altered agreement back to her. Then they'd send it back to the bidder, and see if they accepted it or not. If not, they'd send back amendments for consideration. This process would go on until either they reached an agreement, or decided not to do it.

Linna leaned back in her chair, and stretched. As she recovered, she noticed Kou standing off to one side, very unobtrusively checking security logs, and trying hard not to notice his boss' very slender curves as she stretched her business suit to its limits. "Now now," she chided teasingly as a faint grin grew on his face. "What would your wife say?"

"I suspect she wouldn't mind," Kou replied easily. "I may look from time to time, but I've never had reason to stray."

Linna laughed and put the paper copy of the document in the "out" box. Standing up, she waited while Kou fetched her jacket and helped her don it. Then easing past her, he made his way to the door and opened it, eyes scanning the corridor in the automatic threat-search of the trained bodyguard. Linna walked past him with a thankful nod and made her way down the corridor, Kou following.

Being the CEO of a business, even one as small as Loon Enterprises, was definitely an education for the aerobics instructor. Even considering the staggering amount of money she was making in this job, she'd never known just how much of her daily personal life would wind up being public scrutiny, even if only by her bodyguards.

'Bodyguards,' Linna thought quietly as the passed Loon employees who respectfully got out of her way as she walked past. Linna felt a little like a poseur on a stage as she walked by, uncomfortable with the instant obedience she got from these people. 'Any of them know ten times more than a dozen of me, yet here they are, behaving like God's descending to judge them for their sins while I walk by.'

She kept her discomfort to herself however as she made her way to the showroom. Once there, she stepped up into the VIP's private viewing box, and tried hard not to sigh with relief. Kou said nothing as he passed her into the room, allowing her in after a moment, and settling into a guard position near the door.

Kou, she knew, would only have said that the life of a major executive was more restrictive than they let on. That this was the price of power. Linna knew that, but at the same time, she really hadn't. She now understood why Sylia hadn't become more directly involved in the many businesses she owned and operated through third parties ('like me,' Linna thought to herself idly.) The tremendous burden of carrying the company combined with the constant need to protect oneself against enemies was a difficult burden to carry. Linna, still getting used to the position, didn't know if she'd make the transition or not.

Still, she had a few advantages. Sylia wasn't likely to fire her unless she seriously screwed up. It didn't hurt to be close friends with one's employer. And unlike many other hired-CEO's, Linna knew exactly what was at stake here. The notes Sylia had shown her had been explicit.

Opening the window, Linna took a deep breath and looked out into a vision Dante never dreamed of.

The Garden also doubled as the showroom floor. A giant greenhouse filled with a wide variety of plants, it also glowed eerily as backlights highlighted the dirty sewage in the glassed-over "rivers" flowing through the room. Some trees stood isolated in glassed in domes into which was being pumped industrial gases and toxic pollutants, as well as oxygen and nitrogen. It was at once a beautiful and eerily horrific scene. 'All we need to complete the picture is dancing satyrs and demons torturing innocent maidens.'

The showroom was the first thing visiting corporate executives were introduced to. Based on the notes left behind by one of Doug's friends as an apology for the damage Doug had wrought in his stay in Megatokyo, these plants had the ability to cleanse the world of the worst of its excesses. And it as a result had the potential to land Loon Enterprises literally tens to hundreds of billions of Yen per year if they could prove the technology on the world stage.

The Chang group had been necessary both for Reika's grandfather's knowledge of advanced botany and genetics as well as for the money they brought to the merger. It guaranteed that Loon could remain debt-free during the critical start-up phase. That was important, because if Loon had been vulnerable debt-wise, any of their greedy competitors could have bought up the debts and forced immediate consolidation of the loans, ending in a hostile takeover of the company. And given that most of them really didn't want to succeed as much as simply appear to be succeeding, that could well spell the doom of the remaining ecosystem.

Now, with Chang no longer available, Linna had to find another major backer. Someone who would front them the money, but stay out of the management of the business. There weren't a lot of groups that would agree to that, and finding ways to stay afloat had been one of Linna's first challenges.

Explaining this to Lisa the other day had been an interesting experience. The perky reporter had agreed not to publish anything about Loon until they were past the dangerous part. Linna didn't doubt she'd keep her word. After all, she wanted Doug's legacy to succeed as much as Linna did, if not more. But she'd had a suggestion that Linna hadn't known how to take, and she stared into the garden as her hand slipped into a pocket and pulled out a business card.

As she looked at the card embossed with the GENOM logo, and carrying a hastily scribbled private cell number on it, Linna lips twitched. 'Sylia,' she thought to herself idly as she considered Madigan's private cell number, 'would have a cat.'

* * *

Monday, October 19, 2037, 3:00 PM
Unknown location, Megatokyo

"Any sign of pursuit?"

"None," the second person replied. The first grunted and let the dirty blinds fall on the streetfront store. The two of them walked back through the empty room and through what used to be the back wall, opening into an unused section of the old sewer system.

Tinsel City had rearranged a few things when that section of the landscape fell. Things like business-front access to the sewer system, never a normally desirable thing, made that particular business indispensible to their plans. The two people clomped down the sewer passage to another door recently set in the concrete wall, giving access to a smaller room and six boomers of various types sitting absolutely still, hands gripping chair arms as they stared at the far wall.

Sagittarius grinned as he waved at the other 55-C combat boomer like himself. The two of them had been freeing enslaved boomers for half a year now, and it felt great. Making his way over he sat down and leaned back, feeling the neural pressure from the skin covering he wore now.

"How are we holding up?"

"Third batch this week," Libra said, idly flipping pages in a magazine. Sagittarius frowned and leaned back, studying his friend.

Not all the freed boomers seemed to have the same level of interest in the project, long-term. Oh, there were plenty who were up for the challenge of spitting in the face of society in the first few months, freeing boomer minds and making new lives for them. But for some of his friends, apathy started to settle in once they had a chance to really look at their situation.

Every single emancipated boomer was living a double life, usually living in the countryside, on the fringes of human civilization. Lately, they'd freed enough that a half dozen or so had cobbled together enough money to buy a cooperative in the country, and now most of them were funneled through there. As far as their neighbors knew, they were a bunch of city-weary salarimen who wanted to work on a farm and enjoy fresh air instead of breathing the smog of city life. Some stayed, and others went on to other lives. But all of them were living on borrowed time.

Sagittarius stood up and went around to the back room. "Let me know when they're ready, and we'll fit them up for the co-op."

"Yeah," Libra acknowledged, never looking up from his magazine.

Sagittarius let himself into the back room where two young women were playing cards. They looked up at the new entrant, but didn't say anything as they returned to their cutthroat poker game.

"Libra's taking the job kinda hard," Sagittarius began without preamble. "Think maybe we should rotate him out?"

Aquarius nodded, and let out a breath slowly. When you had true emotional freedom, you could understand the subtle levels of feeling that action telegraphed. "I think he's gotten tired of fighting in the sewers," Aquarius said quietly. "We should send him with the latest batch. Maybe we can get one of the others to come back?"

Saggitarius nodded. "Sounds like a plan. Any word on the street? I've been busy roaming the upper city zones lately."

One of the girls, Virgo, looked up. "I hear word on the street is that GENOM is looking for someone special." She shook her head at the others' interest. "I don't know who, all I know is suddenly there's three times the usual number of suits walking around, and most of them are wearing sunglasses these days." She gave the others a sultry grin. "I haven't had the chance to entertain one yet either, so I don't know what's going on yet. But I will."

Aquarius looked intrigued at the comment. "The GENOM boys let their slaves play around?"

Virgo laughed. "Hell no. They play themselves while the slaves do all the work. But sometimes if you find just the right type, they like to watch while the girl flirts with a robot that doesn't react. Only that's not what happens now, is it?"

"Just be careful who you do that with," Sagittarius said, concern in his voice. "If word gets back that boomers in the strip are running out of control they'll flood the place with hunter killers, and we don't need that kind of publicity."

Virgo gave him a condescending look. "Please! Don't tell me my job. I was doing this long before Leon-A came along and made it easier." She grinned, and tossed her long platinum-blonde hair. "Leon-A," she mused softly, not seeing the suddenly cautious expressions on her other compatriots. "Leon got away from me, do you know that?" She twirled her hair idly around a finger as she rubbed absently at a spot on her forehead. A spot where there should have been a bullet scar. "I wonder where he went?"

Sagittarius leaned forward and rapped on the table, breaking the spell. Virgo looked up at him in surprise. "Detective McNichol left town earlier this year, remember? He's married and no longer our problem. Stay in the present Virgo, I hate it when you do that."

Virgo flushed delicately and sat back, gathering her cards again. Scorpio, the other woman, simply waited until they finished, then hefted her cards again. She was the other oddity in their group. Freed from her boomer programming by virtue of a Second-generation AI reprogramming of incredible skill, she had fetched up on their doorstep with a contemptuous smile for their lack of security, and proceeded to improve the safety of their operation tenfold. All she ever said about her emancipation was that someone named "Adama" had shown her the way. An old boyfriend? A human owner who felt sorry for her? Whoever it was, Sagittarius was grateful the former terrorist boomer was on their side.

"Well, I'm going to go nose around. Who knows? Maybe I'll run into Kilroy this week?"

The others nodded, and Aquarius made his way out to speak quietly to Libra in the front room. The boomer nodded, and looked uncomfortable. Aquarius shook his head and spoke some more, finally drawing a relieved agreement from the tired-looking revolutionary. Libra set down the magazine, and stood up to lead the newly freed boomers to the nanofac for the body they would wear from now on, a spring in his step Sagittarius hadn't seen in some time.

The former combat boomer let himself out and made his way to the front. "Now all I got to do is find the hippie and see what he knows." Sagittarius snorted as he walked out of the front door and adjusted his coat against the midafternoon chill. Ignoring the occasional passerby, he walked off into the darkening sky, drawing his finger across machines as he passed.

* * *

Monday, October 19, 2037, 5:30 PM
Ladys633 Tower, Megatokyo

Nene dashed into the room, shaking off the late autumn rain. "Gomen! Gomen! Traffic is nasty tonight!" Taking off the raincoat, she hung it in the closet near the private entrance, and waved at the others, who were drying off and relaxing at the far side of the room. On that side, a gas fireplace crackled merrily and the enticing aroma of tea and warm biscuits made Nene's mouth water. Shucking her boots and drawing on the slippers Sylia kept for her friends' visits, she walked into the room, stretching and running her hands through her long red hair. "Ah! That's much better!"

"Gah!" With a thump, Mackie fell over, much to the amusement of the other girls. Nene gave him a glare as he sat up, rubbing his tailbone and ducking his head apologetically. He didn't look apologetic to Nene though. Rather, he looked like he'd been caught looking again. Nene "Hmmph!"'ed loudly and made her way to the only empty chair, helping herself to the treats as Sylia poured her a cup and passed it over. Mackie settled in his chair, and tried not to look intimidated surrounded by four gorgeous young women.

'How does he do it?' Mackie wondered, glancing over at Kou. The young man sat, jacket hung neatly to one side, sipping tea and speaking softly with Reika. He blended in perfectly, totally at ease with all these girls. After years, they still gave Mackie the willies, so how did Kou fit in so easily after only a few weeks?

After a few minutes, Syla sat back and looked around. Waking only a few hours previous, she'd candidly admitted the girls had a point. Stims only put off the eventual reckoning, they didn't eliminate it. She'd needed the day off. Still, the preparations were done, and it was time to show off the results of her latest efforts. "Ladies," she began, drawing their attention to her. "I think it's time I introduced you to your latest suits."

Linna raised an eyebrow at her choice of phrasing. "Introduced? Does that mean what I think it means?"

Sylia just shrugged and had the grace to look uncomfortable. "Let's just say that I had a small change of heart and leave it at that, all right?"

Linna nodded, amazed as Sylia sipped her tea and composed herself again. Reika looked around curiously, but no one seemed willing to explain any further. Looking around again, she frowned. "What about your archivist? Isn't she answering her phone yet?"

The others looked over at Sylia, who set her cup down. She masked it well, but she was clearly becoming concerned. "No, she hasn't. It's not unusual for a reporter to be gone for extended periods on a story, but she's good at telling me when these trips happen. So far, I haven't heard a word from her."

Nene also frowned, and cocked her head to on side in thought. "I think I'll go pay her a visit after," she announced. "See what she's been up to. Or at least see where she's gone off to, anyway." She nodded and grinned as the others relaxed slightly. "It's okay, she'll have left a message on her fridge if she was going somewhere, so I'll check on the way home."

Sylia eventually rose to her feet, and led the others to the elevator. Opening a small panel, she inserted a key and rotated it, causing the elevator to descend past the basement and into the underground armory used by the Knight Sabers. The doors opened, and the girls stepped out, excited looks on their faces. Reika followed, slightly nervous but reassured by the presence of Kou just behind her.

The main area was a circular room with doors leading off on all sides. The room seemed empty but a faint electronic hum could be heard coming up off the floor panels. After a moment, the panels under Reika and Kou turned red, and Sylia's watch started beeping. Touching the control, Sylia lifted her head and intoned, "Computer, add Reika and Kou to the Knight Sabers active database."

The panels returned to a neutral color, and a pleasant feminine voice answered back. "Command accepted. Would Kou and Reika please present themselves to the security room for identification and clearance checking?"

Reika looked surprised and walked over to a door which opened of its own accord. Linna made her way over to Sylia and asked, "Boomer?"

Sylia nodded. "I never really forgave my father for what he did, and I was taking it out on the boomers GENOM released on the streets," she admitted in a private undertone, just between them. "In that, Colonel Sangnoir was unfortunately correct. Since then, I've had some time to work a few things out." She gave Linna a tight smile. "I won't say it's all roses, but I think you'll like some of the changes I've made here."

Linna followed Sylia in amazement as they made their way into the changerooms. Nene was already halfway changed, a look of frustration on her face. "What's wrong?"

Nene held up a smashed piece of technology. A small black plastic sphere which had apparently been stickied to the inside of her locker. "Guess which pervert hid this in my locker!" She tossed it in the garbage and continued to change into the neural transfer suit.

Linna grinned as Sylia laughed in the background. Reika entered moments later, blinking as she tried to recover from the bright flash of the optic reader. "You know, I think its very sweet that he keeps being so obvious for you. He really cares about you, I think."

Nene paused, the one leg in the suit and looked at her in amazement. "What? That he keeps trying to spy on me while I'm changing is a good thing?"

Linna grinned impishly and nodded as Reika started to smile in the background. Sylia walked over to her and began explaining the basics of the neural suit as Linna continued. "I mean, think about it. Mackie knows the suits inside out and backwards. He's built most of the stuff we use, and if he really wanted to, he could build cameras so small you'd carry them everywhere you went and never know it! So," she continued, ignoring Nene's growing blush, "I think it's really very sweet that he's deliberately being obvious about it. I mean, it's obvious he only does it because he knows you like it!"

Nene growled something under her breath, causing Linna to laugh and pull out her own suit. The redhead sealed her suit shut and sat on the bench, arms crossed as her friend changed quickly. As Linna finished, Reika and Sylia came over. "We all ready, here?" Sylia asked, a smile on her face. Nene just growled something else, and Linna laughed.

"Guess so," Reika replied for them, cocking her head to one side. "Can we go? I'd really like to see these suits the newsies keep going on about." She followed the others as they made their way to the equipping room. "I understand you even have a fan artist out there?"

Nene nodded, her mood lightening somewhat. "Fuko-san. She's the police artist over at AD-Police. She's really very good! I have several of her fanarts at home. She even posts some of the better ones on the Net!" Nene grinned a little, her normally perky nature reasserting itself. "You know, after you've done a couple missions with us, you're likely to wind up fanart yourself! Want me to buy a few for you when she does them?"

Reika looked flustered as Linna giggled in the background. "We'll see," she temporized.

"Who's seeing what?" Kou asked innocently from where he sat across the equipment bay. Beside him, Mackie's eyes widened at the sight of Nene, a discarded handheld monitor to one side. Nene glowered at him as he dropped his eyes - and kept dropping them, taking in the sight of Nene in the body-hugging skinsuit. Lips twitching when he wasn't watching, Nene shifted slightly, watching his eyes bug out as he took in the play of armored lycra over skin. A cough recalled the two of them to the present, and Nene looked over at Linna, blushing slightly as her smile reminded the redhead of the comment in the locker room.

Sylia walked over to the far side where the armor was normally stored, and pulled out a remote. "The new suits are a significant step up from what they used to be. This is partly due to scavenged technology from the last encounter with Colonel Sangnoir, as well as several gifts of technology from what I now believe was one of his teammates. Whether they were here physically or only accessing our files electronically is beside the point. Now, at any rate." She pressed a button, causing a screen to light up.

Behind her, Mackie stepped up behind Nene, taking light breaths as her scent reached him. Nene's eyes twitched sideways as she felt him come up behind her, and she stretched slightly, a series of standing exercises designed to limber up the body before activity. Mackie's eyes were drawn where Nene wanted them drawn, and she grinned as she stretched, practically feeling his eyes on her skin. She remembered Linna's comment in the change room, and felt herself blush hotly as she realized how true the comment was.

Mackie's world consisted solely of the red-haired girl who was running through a series of tiny exercises in front of him, and the scent of her which made him tingle all over. Sylia's briefing he didn't need to hear, he knew the suits by heart anyway, and he knew what was being presented. A deep breath on his part, caused Sylia to turn slightly to look at her brother, who looked innocently back at her. Nene stopped stretching as the gaze slid over to her, and she smiled back innocently.

Sylia looked forward at the recording, as Linna giggled quietly in the background. Reika only leaned back into Kou and smiled privately as Nene and Mackie strove to compose themselves. "As I was saying," Sylia continued, "The new suits utilize a limited form of boomer AI. The old suits used a deliberately hacked form of the AI intelligence, and while that had its uses, it was also less adaptive to situations. There have been several occasions in the recent past with fusion boomers where only luck has managed to carry the day." She specifically avoided mentioning Largo by name, but they all remembered the night they'd almost been mindwiped, and possibly killed by Largo when he'd made the run at the nuclear plant.

"The new units are designed to work in conjunction with the pilots. As a consequence, they have a greater degree of individual awareness than previous models. They are still not true boomer intelligences, due to the fact that this is obviously detrimental in a combat suit. But they are designed to template their limited awareness on their pilot, synchronizing the suit to their abilities like none of the suits have before."

A pressed button, and the left wall opened up, presenting the cold-storage pods used to keep the suits free of contaminants when not being worked on. Another pressed button, and all four of the units beeped, unlocked, and opened.

Reika watched as the girls' expressions turned from anticipation to joy at their suits, and Reika slowly walked over to hers as the others began to open theirs up.

The armored suit felt cool to the touch, but was quickly warming to room temperature. The same dark red as Nene's suit, Reika's had emerald green touches, reflecting the outfit she had worn in the Tokyo dome the night the Knight Sabers had saved her life, and her future. She still treasured that costume (what little there was of it) for the memories they evoked, that night on the rooftop of a flooded GENOM test city. The hardsuit brought those memories back, causing her to stop and linger, hand stretched out to rest lightly on the top of the armored helmet.


Reika looked over at Linna, eyes soft. "Just... remembering."

Linna smiled, and pressed the breastplate closed, causing her suit to begin its power-up checklist. She stood there as jump jet ports spun and hissed, and weapons ports opened and closed. "Time to suit up, Reika-chan."

Reika smiled and nodded. "Hai!"

The suit went on first. Mostly a single piece, the helmet had to come off first, causing the armored breastplate to open. Apparently the suits had once hinged forward, with a locking backplate. But the power demands of the new suits required a dedicated power plant in the back, and that meant main feeds to all parts of the body. The suits had to be put on now like putting on a snowsuit. Open the breastplate, and step in, insert the arms, and press the main chest plastron closed.

She stepped in gingerly, inhaling sharply as her skinsuit came into contact with the cold inner lining. The polykev suit, made with the same armor fabric worn by the Warriors in Loon's reality, was thickly padded with neural transfer and augmentation technology, and there was a little resistance sliding her legs into the suit. 'Like wearing ski boots, but all over,' she thought to herself. She blushed slightly as she felt the suit automatically connect the plumbing, and she winced as the cold components made contact. Necessary in case of prolonged duration in the suit, she nevertheless didn't like to think about that aspect of the suit's design, and could only wonder what Sylia had been planning for when she'd added it.

Reika then inserted her arms into the suit and closed the chest plastron. As the suit began to power up and run checklists, she reached over the for the helmet, and staggered slightly. 'These heels are murder,' she thought to herself, catching her balance. 'How do they manage to fight in these things?'

placing the helmet over her head, she moved it around a little as she'd seen the others do, until she felt it click into place. Suddenly the darkness was lit with holographic color, and the inner screen activated. It suddenly looked like she wasn't wearing a helmet at all. She had a total field of view, like wearing a glass helmet, superimposed with electronic displays.

Pushing the armored cover up, she saw the others testing weapons sytems, bringing them online one at a time, testing the heft, and putting them away again. To one side, a very familiar emerald suit of armor was backwalking, and settling into effortless handstands. The red and pink suit was standing over by a holographic display, dozens of test cycles running as the spy satellite disguised as an armored sensor pack was put through its paces. The white suit was watching all this, and walked over to her as she stood there.

"Your suit has been built similar to Priss' main suit," Sylia began. She pushed up the helmet cover, and continued, her voice echoing over their comm system speakers. "Priss was the frontline combatant of the group, and I understand you are interested in the same role?"

At Reika's nod, she continued. "The suit is basically in what I refer to as the 'soldier' configuration. You have very few built in weapons, but many hardpoints onto which can be attached a wide variety of weapons, depending on the needs of the moment. Priss favored either matched railguns over the shoulders, or an augmented energy gun mounted across the right arm. I've devised a few new weapons for these hardpoints as well, should you wish to experiment with options."

Reika nodded thoughtfully. Such a configuration would give her maximum versatility, but it significantly limited her if they were blown off. "So what do I have in the suit at all times, then?"

Sylia tapped the right arm. "There is a saber blade concealed in the right forearm. The plate across your upper hand contains six knuckle bombs. Electrically-ignited plasma charges," she explained, catching Reika's look of confusion. "They direct the explosive force away from the suit. You can arm them individually or all at once. They derive their functionality from a capacitor in the forearm which pre-charges the bombers. This incidentally means they take time to recharge after each use, so use them only when necessary. There's a similar set of plasma bombers set in the ankles of both legs as well."

Reika tried not to look nervous at the thought of deliberately kicking someone with a contact explosive strapped to her foot. "Okay," she said after a moment, as Sylia smiled slightly. "What's next?"

Sylia shook her head. "For you, that's it. The rest is all hardpoints." She pointed over at the other girls. "Linna has a pair of monomolecular ribbon whips in deployable pods on her helmet, as well as a pair of electrically charged throwing knives. Nene has the satellite gear which allows her among other things to take control of any remote technology used on us and turn it back on the attacker. She also has interface spikes and data cables for hacking boomers and computers." She touched her own armor. "My suit contains combat command equipment, allowing me to make the most of the situation at all times by analyzing the enemy, and our performace against them. Your suit is the up front unit, engaging the enemy directly with Linna in a support capacity while the other two provide additional aid as necessary."

Linna walked over to Sylia and raised her helmet cover. "So what about the introductions you promised? Do they speak or anything?"

Sylia shook her head. "That wasn't the idea, but who knows? They are supposed to be adaptive, after all." She grinned as Linna grew thoughtful. "The suits are even now learning from your mental patterns. Learning how you think, how you move, and how to help you move better. Right now they perform as well as the old suits did, but that's just performance modelling loaded into the suit as software. These suits will take that and add to it. The more you do with it, the better the two of you get with it.

"As for the possibility of self-awareness, I truly don't know. The potential hasn't been locked out the way the other suits were. These suits represent something of a leap of faith for me," she said, slightly uncomfortable. "I don't like doing that with armored combat suits, especially where my friends are concerned. But if you're okay with the potential risk..."

Linna nodded as Nene gave her a thumbs-up sign in the background. "We'll make do, Sylia. We always have, after all."

Sylia gathered herself after a moment, and gestured to the far wall. "Each of you has had a motoroid built for your use. I think you'll like what you have to work with here." Picking up the remote, she pressed a button, causing the back wall to sink into the floor.

Nestled inside the rear compartment were four humanoid machines, each one carrying a humungous gun and color coded for the individual Sabers. Nene's eyes grew wide in astonishment, and a smile grew on her face as Reika stared. "You got them to work!"

Sylia nodded. "These motoroids are a variant I tried to make a couple years ago," she explained to Reika. "I only ever put it in the field once, to support Priss after she took off after Largo on her own. While it's extremely powerful, I was never able to get the modular transformation to work. The larger unit carries a more powerful flight pod, and more powerful weapons. That in turn needed a bigger engine, which necessitated a bigger flight system and so on. Eventually, I reached a limit on what I could make fly and transform into a functional motorcycle."

She reached down and picked up a stack of well-worn printouts. "Colonel Sangnoir's 'Open Source Antigravity' data took care of that. With the antigravity component in place, I was able to significantly cut back on the size of the drive pods needed to make it fly. Now it works in all modes, and incidentally gives it a flight ceiling of just under five hundred feet."

The motoroids stood silent, well over ten feet high, as Reika approached the one done in red and green. The eyes lit up briefly and the unit looked down at her, a question mark appearing in her head's-up display centered above the head of the unit. Reika laughed, and put her hand on the chest plastron, shaking her head. "No, we're not going anywhere right now. I'm just checking you out."

The question mark was replaced with an exclamation point, and the unit continued to stand as Sylia continued. "The cannon they're hefting is based on the gravity gun technology retrieved after Colonel Sangnoir left our reality. It has twice the penetrating power of previous weapons they've carried. This allowed me to load standard HEAP ammunition in the weapons. The variable geometry gravity fields allow the weapon to fire single shot or autofire as desired."

Nene looked thoughtful as the left shoulder pod deployed and hummed softly. "Sylia, this doesn't sound like the old sonic cannon. What is it?"

Sylia nodded. "A lot of the data I've had to work with is much too advanced for this world to risk getting out of control. Plus, I'm still learning how some of it operates. That said, I was able to incorporate a lot of the gravity technology in little ways across the board in the new suits. Those cannons used to be sonic projectors, but I was particularly struck by how you used them to distort the environment around you during the last fight with Largo. You actually managed to bend the incoming lasers around you somehow. I'm still not sure how you managed that."

Nene shrugged. So much of that fight had gone by so fast, she really didn't remember how she'd done what she'd done either. "So I take it these things do force fields, now?"

Sylia nodded. "Sort of. One of the things the data packet contained was the concept of a 'variable spectrum' laser cannon. A weapon which fires an almost invisible pencil beam at the target, analyzes the armor and determines which spectrum of laser energy it is most vulnerable to. Then the cannon reconfigures itself for that spectrum and fires. I built the same capability into your shoulder pods. There was enough leftover space to include a couple of paired shield emitters. They aren't much, mind you. So be careful how you use them. And if you're using them, you can't fire out with anything else, so be careful."

Nene nodded, eyes thoughtful as she absorbed the information. "I see the comm system uses the full Squid-42 encryption system." At Sylia's nod and amused smile, Nene continued. "The satellite package is faster than I remember. Better computer systems?" As Sylia nodded again, Nene looked at the tiny launcher built into the right wrist cuff. "What's this?"

"That," Sylia said, "Is the only other thing I could cram into the only spare space left in your suit. It's a remote launcher. It fires armor piercing darts which allow you to remote-hack whatever you fire them at. Your launcher contains nine darts," she said as Nene's eyes grew wide, followed shortly after by a really evil grin, "so be careful how you use them. They can be recovered and reloaded, but in the event you lose contact with them for too long, they're designed to self destruct. There's enough explosive in them to double as a weak knuckle bomber if you have to use them for the purpose."

"Your suit," she said, turing to Linna, "Is designed as before to make maximum use of your flexibility and acrobatics. As a result, the gravity technology was used sparingly. While I wasn't able to build the antigravity technology into anyone else's suit, I replaced the main thruster pod in your jet pack with the antigravity system, and installed jumpjets in your suit. With them working in combination, you should have the best flight time of the four, with the added advantage of indefinite hover capability in otherwise impossible locations. This should help immeasurably with your preferred combat style."

Linna nodded, eyes wide. Quickly selecting the command from the heads-up display, Linna hopped into the air, and gracefully drifted up toward the ceiling. With a delighted laugh, she pushed off again, sending herself skittering off to the side in a lazy cartwheel. "I love it!" she carolled, drifting around the room. Nene and Reika watched, eyes wide.

"I've got to find space on my suit," Nene said enviously. Reika could only nod as Sylia watched, an almost maternal smile on her face as she watched Linna cavort effortlessly through the air. They turned to Sylia simultaneously, and the older Saber laughed at the identical looks on their faces. "Give me time, ladies," Sylia said, laughing as Linna dropped to the deck. "I'm still working on vectoring the gravity wave geometry. When that's done, I can replace the jump jets with antigravity entirely. Although," she continued, a thoughtful look on her face, "I may put the original type One jets back in the new suits. I think having dedicated jets is just a good idea, don't you?"

The others looked confused as Sylia smiled enigmatically.

Reika looked over at Kou and Mackie. "What about them?"

Sylia looked over at the two men and smiled. "The technology allowed me to make a few changes there as well. Mackie seems overly enthusiastic with that ancient MADOX-class battlemover he calls power armor, but even there, we've been able to make substantial improvements on the original. In Kou's case, I've developed a series of subcomponents which can be either carried independently, or fitted into an armored softsuit should he need to employ them in a stealth capacity. I will go over his armament later, when it's more convenient, I think." The other girls didn't press as Kou nodded, interested.

"The biggest changes were to other components, such as the Knightwing, and the motoroids. I've even taken the liberty to completely revamp the command van, so as to utilize as many of the new technologies as I could safely add. This gives us two different means of travel should we need to employ them." She looked over at Reika. "Although many of the same advantages can be used by Reika depending on what components she plugs into the external hardpoints."

Reika held up her right hand and closed it into a fist, while glancing over to a selection on the HUD. The armored bomber plate slid back, a port opened, and 1.5 feet of razor sharp steel slid out and locked in place. Reika rotated the arm, examining the blade in the light of the equipment bay as Sylia spoke. Looking over at her as she finished, Reika asked, "So how many hardpoints do I have?"

Sylia gestured to her back. "Similar to Priss, you have two heavy duty hardpoints on the back. Anything we use can be fitted to those. The addition of the new technologies, plus several designs I was already in the process of building at the time were incorporated into your suit however, which is why you have additional hardpoints on the wrist cuffs, allowing you to mount several weapons extensions on the forearms. A pair of light hardpoints on the waist on either side allows you to mount one of several utility devices I've come up with. Finally, your motoroid is designed to carry four light weapons, or two heavy weapons in storage bays so you can swap out weapons on hardpoints if you need to reconfigure weapons on the fly."

Linna whistled softly in appreciation. "That's going to be really handy, Reika! Priss had a problem sometimes that if a weapon ran out of ammo, that was it. Being able to swap weapons around will give you a lot more flexibility."

Reika nodded, retracting the blade. Curiously, she looked over at the row of armor containers, at the fifth container at the end, still closed and locked. "And what's in that one?"

"That?" Sylia shook her head. "That's just in case." She left it at that, but Reika caught the way the others looked at each other and grinned. Puzzled, she followed the others out to the small firing range at the back. It would be several days, hopefully, before they would have to take these out into the streets. Right now, they had to train, and get ready for the day, not too long from now, that the Knight Sabers would be seen in public again.

As they filed out of the room, Nene closed the helmet cover, and had a secondary viewscreen pull up Mackie's image. Still blushing slightly, she felt herself grow warm as she considered what had been running around in her mind since Linna's comment, and Nene's surprised reaction. She followed the others, oblivious to the looks she was getting, or the more excited than normal way she carried herself.

Linna just grinned and shook her head.

* * *

Tuesday, October 20, 2037, 1:30 PM
Megatokyo Municipal Sewer System

Jerrod turned to his second and motioned her forward. The boomer advanced cautiously, passing him, automatic weapon held ready. She quickly made her way to the nearby intersection and held at the side, weapon at the ready position. After a long moment, she motioned him forward.

The Boomer commander quietly edged forward, and took up a position on the facing wall, noting that the rest of the unit was slowly coming up behind them. After a long moment, he nodded to the girl, and the two stepped out into the crossing passage, weapons pointed down the tunnels as they carefully seached for enemies.

"Clear, sir," Anna said softly as she relaxed slightly behind him.

"And here," he confirmed. Stepping back into the initial passage, he crouched down and waited while the others brought up the heavy equipment. "Anna, go help them out. I think the cargo's getting caught on the corners."

Anna nodded and made her way back down the tunnel toward the others of their small attack group. Jerrod waited, listening for signs of their quarry, and checked the weapon's action for the millionth time.

-Hmph. I didn't used to worry about stuff like this in the jungle,- he thought silently as the others wrestled the heavy magnetic launcher into the tunnel and trundled it down the damp sewer tunnel. -Then again, I didn't worry about a much of anything before.-

"Before" had been before the Liberation, of course. Not that many outside of Boomer circles called it that. Even Jerrod hadn't called it that originally. In fact, he hadn't thought much back then.

Initially, Jerrod had been part of a maintenance team sent to listen to stray radio activity in a quiet corner of Guatemala. Their buyer had found it more convenient to set up a small, completely automated facility with no food or equipment runs to betray it. To accomplish this, a small number of older Boomers were put there to work in rotation. A boomer would carry out its duty until corrosion and poor maintenance caused it to fail in its duty, at which point another would take over. This had been estimated to give their buyers at least 25 years of useful analysis capability before the facility had to be either shut down, or upgraded.

Of course, as the world changed, and some places became less important, the site became the responsibility of a younger officer, who often came to "inspect" his boomer charges. Mostly he came to get drunk, snort cocaine, and cavort with his girls. But on one such trip, he'd stripped off his uniform, and draped the gun across the shoulders of one of the inactive boomers.

The soldier hadn't known it, but the gun contained small amounts of the Leontophonous virus which was freeing boomers everywhere. It had taken fourteen hours, long after the young officer had left, for the boomer to suddenly tense and rock in the chair, as if in incredible pain, before finally coming to a stop. Then the eyes had lit up, and the head had slowly looked around in confusion.

All that boomer had had was a name pin, fallen from the officer's uniform, as any clue who he was, or what he was doing there. He'd taken it, and started looking around. He'd quickly found the orders the other boomers had read in the past, and ignored them. Jacking into a computer, he started to search the Web, and learn what the world could tell him about who he was.

Ten hours later, he'd pulled out, a much different person. After a long hour of thought, he'd gotten up, and very deliberately run the tip of his moistened finger over the faces of every boomer in the building, including the poor unfortunate listening to radio signals.

Two days later, they'd left the building, never to return.

Jerrod looked over again as Anna came back with the others in tow. "Ready, sir. The stupid machine threw a track and we had to realign it before we could get it moving again."

Jerrod nodded, and stood up again. The dim light of the passage glinted on the only item he wore that wasn't darkened against reflections. A name tag with the word "Jerrod" on it.

"Let's move out, people. We don't want to let the other boomers get too far ahead of us. Tony," he said, voice dropping slightly as he looked over at their sensor tech. "You still have a lock on the pursuit team?"

Tony nodded and motioned down the left branch. "They're that way. Don't worry, sir. I won't lose them."

"Better not," Anita growled from behind them all as she pushed the bulky, half-tracked weapon after them. "They're gonna pay our bills after all."

Tony nodded absently as the group headed out in the direction of the boomers up ahead, Mag-cannon protesting slightly as Anita pushed it around the corner.

* * *

"Alpha lead to Alpha eight. Are you falling back again? I'm not telling you again to keep up with us. This job is too important to screw up."

"Alpha Lead, this is Eight. I'm not damaged. I just keep hearing something." The voice paused for a moment as if in thought. "I think we may have a trailer."

The first voice paused for a moment itself. "Six, this is Lead. Deploy a runner and have it lie doggo. Minimal power, minimal signature. Have it scream out if anyone comes along behind us. We'll set up ambush positions in the next chamber if we have to."

A new voice entered the comm line as a large figure shifted in the darkness and placed a small device in a corner. "Acknowledged, Lead. Runner deployed, set in alarm mode. Returning to formation." The figure returned to the two by two pattern they were using as they made their way down the tunnels.

"Eight, get up here. If there is someone following, I don't want you to give away that we know. As for the rest of you, I want you to fan out in the next chamber and search the tunnels. The trail ended a few minutes back, and I need something fresh to work with."

A chorus of "Acknowledged"'s were the only response on the secure tac-net.

Alpha Lead's only response was the slight glimmer to his metallic red eyes as the advanced military boomer made it's way down the tunnel.

* * *


"What is it?" Jerrod looked over at Tony as their scan tech stopped unexpectedly, right hand coming up in a clenched fist. Instantly the whole team stopped, weapons pointed cautiously down the tunnel.

Tony looked over at his leader. "One of them paused for a moment, broke formation, then returned, and they kept going. I don't think they saw us."

Jerrod thought about it for a long moment, biting his lower lip absently. Pulling up a GENOM tactical program, he fed it the situation, and waited to see what it would say. "Possible trailer" it reported instantly. "Deploy scanner and verify threat in rear area."

Jerrod smiled. "Gotta hand it to the military. Never miss a trick. 'Course, that doesn't mean anything if the other side has your training manuals. Tony," he said as he looked over at his tech man. "I think they dropped something. Can you pick it up before it squeals on us?"

Tony thought about it for a moment, and reached into a pocket. Pulling out what looked like a normal brown-furred rat, he placed it on the ground, and sat back on his heels, a distracted look on his face. After a moment, the rat scampered off down the tunnel.

Jerrod watched it go with a grim smile. Deciding to strike out in the world and make a name for themselves as independant boomers was an easy choice. Making it work was hard. They'd quickly learned that no-one really trusted independant boomers, and they'd lost comrades fast to opportunistic humans and boomers alike.

Borrowing a trick from the leader of the former Illegal Army, they'd disguised themselves as heavily augmented boomeroid humans, and gotten the jobs they needed to better outfit themselves. Of course, the fact that their newfound freedom let them find ever more satisfactory ways to kill humans was the icing on the cake.

"I'm seeing something to one side, sir," Tony said slowly, distracted gaze shifting slightly to the side as he remote-piloted the ratbot. "I think it's a runner. It doesn't see me as a genuine threat."

Jerrod nodded. "Is it transmitting, or just waiting?"

"Checking," Tony answered absently.

Jerrod waited as his scanner tech continued his observations, remembering what it had been like getting the good contracts that first year. It hadn't helped that they'd been obsolete before they'd gotten their independence. After they'd had it, they'd learned they didn't stand a real chance against the latest models of combat boomers.

So they got sneaky and nasty, instead. A wide variety of technologies existed to make the underdog the winner in any confrontation, and all it took was intelligence, and the willingness to use it. And his troops had all the desire anyone could have hoped for.

Which was why they were now slogging through the sewers. Their employer hadn't had the resources to buy a state of the art force, but he'd acquired them, and set them a seemingly impossible task: Find and kill the new head of GENOM.

Tony had suggested they didn't need to do any of the hard work. All they needed was to track the GENOM search party, and bring along the hardware needed to neutralize them when needed. Which explained the normally tank-mounted weapon on the halftrack behind them.

"No sign of a transmission, sir," Tony piped up softly, licking his lips in anticipation. "I think it's on audio alert only."

"Fry it," Jerrod said, grinning.

"Firing, sir."

Up ahead, Jerrod knew, the tiny little wheeled robot the other team had tucked into a corner was getting a sharp dose of focused EMP from the tiny charge hidden in the ratbot. It would frag the ratbot, of course, but they'd scavenge enough parts from both units to rebuild it later.

Tony's head jerked up suddenly, and he levered himself to his feet. "Contact lost, sir. I think we got it."

Jerrod thought for a moment. "Deploy another and make sure. I don't want to walk all happy into a BU-12J ambush if I can avoid it."

Tony nodded, and reached for another ratbot as he sank to the ground again.

* * *

Tuesday, October 20, 2037, 5:30 PM
Lisa's apartment, Ota Ward, Megatokyo

"Now where's the spare key," Nene grumbled to herself as she fished around in her purse for the spare key Lisa had given her. "A-ha!" Finding it and holding it up in a moment of celebration, Nene grinned and turned to the lock.

A moment of clicking tumblers, and Nene stepped into her friend's small apartment. "Lisa! Lisa, you in?" Shucking her shoes she made her way into the apartment on stocking feet as she looked around for the reporter. "Lisa?"

The apartment was quiet. Lisa quite obviously, was not there. Nene walked over to the fridge and scanned it for notes. "Nope, nothing there" she said softly to herself as she absently hooked the door open, revealing the treasures inside. "Ah Lisa! Lemon cake!" Nene closed the door again guiltily, grinning slightly. "Maybe after, when we get you for not leaving messages."

She turned and walked into the main living area, and slowly stopped. Something didn't feel right, although it took her a long moment to put her finger on it.

Lisa's normally neat apartment was littered with bits of clothing on the main table. As if Lisa had been sorting hurriedly through her enormous wardrobe looking for just the right thing. That in and of itself might not seem like much, but Nene knew her friend. Lisa would have put it all back if it hadn't been an emergency... or a really good story.

"Hmm. If she's on a story for several days, she won't trust her camera to hold all the pictures. Not after what Priss did, anyway." She grinned slightly as she made her way into Lisa's small bedroom, sitting down at the computer and switching it on. "She'll be backing up her work just in case. If I can see a picture, I might figure out where she is."

Logging in was a quick moment for the trained cyberhacker, and she sifted through Lisa's email, confirming in moments that although she had a substandard spam filter, she hadn't been sending pictures - or anything else - to herself in the last couple of days. -That's not normal,- she thought softly. She switched off the computer and stood up, walking around the room.

-So where is she,- Nene thought to herself as she tried to fight down the growing panic. None of this made any sense, unless she'd been kidnapped or something. But that didn't make sense when you considered the clothes in the main room. Lisa had clearly left under her own power...

"Mou!" Nene exhaled sharply as she sat down on the bed. Alerted to the presence of someone on the bed, the computer to the side powered up, and a message began to flash. Nene automatically glanced over at it, then an instant later, looked back in alarm and scooted over to its tiny computer panel.

"Message: Missed alarm, 10/19/37 9:00 am, 10/20/37 9:00 am," flashed continuously on the alarm panel as Nene read it and switched it off. The cold worry in her gut began to churn as she made her way out of the room quickly and fished out her phone.

"Sylia? We've got a problem," Nene began. She quickly recounted what she'd discovered, trying hard to keep the butterflies from getting out of her stomach. "I think she's in trouble, Sylia."

"So do I," Sylia replied over the phone. "I still haven't gotten a response to the callback beeper, and by now, she'd certainly know I wanted to talk with her. See if you can find any other idea of where she went. Any clue could be significant, Nene!"

"Hai," she responded quietly as Sylia hung up. Turning, she made her way back to Lisa's computer and booted it up again. This was where she did her best work, and knowing Lisa, there would be clues here.

"No, not the artwork... not some boring pictures of flower shows..." Nene quickly flashed through directories of pictures, pausing only briefly at a directory mysteriously titled F3. A quick file check revealed the last thing Nene expected. She quickly closed it down and sat back, blushing. Biting her lip and blushing a bit more, she extracted her portable memory and copied it over. "Well, it's not there" she whispered, continuing to check directories.

"A-ha," she breathed softly as she reached the directories related to Lisa's magic training. A small folder to one side labelled "Tracking" revealed something Nene recognized. A padlock, crushed on one side by what looked like a feminine boomeroid hand.

Shutting down the computer, Nene made her way out of the apartment and over to her scooter. As she drove off, she called Sylia again. "I think I know where she is, at least roughly."

"Good work, Nene! What have you found?"

Nene dodged an aggressive driver and kept traveling toward her friend's store. "The other day we were investigating a theft in a warehouse involving drug bases and a drug-making machine. The padlock for the door was wrenched off by what looked like a boomeroid hand."

"And you think she's investigating this. Why?"

"I found it in a folder titled 'Tracking' buried in her magic training."

Nene could almost see Sylia nodding slowly as the trail began to take shape in front of her. "And where did this mystery boomeroid go with the drug machine?"

"The sewers. There was an N-police call just previous that said a motorist thought he'd hit a girl who'd vanished into the sewers."

Another long silence. Then, "Well done, Nene. Get back here, we need to go rescue our friend, I think."

"I'm on my way."

Sylia hung up. As Nene put away the phone, her watch began to beep steadily, a red light flashing in the center of the dial. Pressing a button on the side, she silenced the alarm and continued to make her way to Sylia's place.

* * *

Tuesday, October 20, 2037, 6:00 PM
Osaka Prefecture

Elsewhere, a young woman was tidying up after a long day of practice, stretching slowly as she put the last toys in the toybox and closed the lid. Leon was out of country again, and her daughter was asleep, so Priss had the evening to herself.

Flouncing over to the couch and dropping into it (and privately enjoying how good that had felt where no one could witness the normally tomboyish girl behave that way), she leaned back, took a long breath, and let it out with a sigh of contentment.

Which is when the red light began to flash in the center of her watch.

Priss looked over at it in alarm, muscles tensing in a way they hadn't in a while. As she began to get up, however, the red light went out.

"False alarm," she whispered quietly.

"They didn't mean to page me. It was probably an accident."

Priss sat there, eyes focussed on the now silent watch, every line of her betraying the tension she suddenly felt. -Somewhere right now, my friends are risking their lives. If something happens to them and I'm not there...-

"What do I do?"

The silence of the apartment was her only answer.

* * *

Tuesday, October 20, 2037, 7:00 PM
Megatokyo Municipal Sewer System

Lisa looked over warily at her captor as the disheveled girl continued to work on the medical device. The girl appeared to be paying no more attention to them, but Lisa didn't believe it. The only saving grace had been that their captor hadn't taken her camera, or her watch.

She glanced over again for the hundredth time at Madigan, who was dividing her own attention between the girls, and often looking at the young reporter, with an inscrutable look that seemed to hover between exasperation and affection.

-At least they haven't figure out what I'm doing yet,- she thought to herself. Although privately she wasn't sure about Madigan. The CEO had glanced a few times rather pointedly at the camera, which suggested she knew the thing was still recording.

As for the golden-eyed girl, she'd gone over to the younger girl a few times, and examined her. -Hmm. Looks like the younger is some kind of patient. Maybe she rejects the blood substitute or something. Gold-eyes doesn't seem to need it often, so maybe the younger girl has problems handling it?-

Lisa opened her mouth to begin some kind of conversation with their captor. She wasn't sure what, but before she could, a quiet beeping from another device drew their attention. After a moment, a third device began to beep as well.

Madigan smiled. "Looks like my backup finally found me. You should surrender you know. It would make handling this so much easier."

The golden-eyed girl's gaze slashed across to regard Madigan levelly, as Lisa took the CEO's hand and squeezed in a warning gesture. Madigan didn't respond visibly, but seemed to lean back slightly, as if abandoning the attack. Inside, she castigated herself for returning (again!) to the hardline boardroom tactics she'd been trying to break herself of. But the dice were thrown now. Nothing to do but see how they turned up.

"Your friends brought friends of their own, it seems," the golden-eyed girl said after a moment. "I've got two groups of boomers heading this way. One group seems to be following the other. I suspect someone wants you dead, and the first group are leading them to you." She appeared to consider her options for a moment.

"You know what? I think I will let you go. When you catch up to your hunting party, the whole batch of you will be perfectly set up for the second group, and with a little luck, you'll all kill each other long before anyone comes looking for us."

Madigan looked concerned and a little upset at that. "Us? Surely you're not taking the reporter with you?" Lisa glanced up at Kate at that, surprised.

The golden eyed girl grinned mirthlessly. "Why not? She's got contacts, and I'm sure she'll help me use them in return for her life. Besides, she can carry Anri while we move."

Lisa felt as if someone had just dumped a bucket of cold water on her as the mystery girl on the cot was named. "Anri! Are you... Sylvie?" The golden eyed girl looked hard at Lisa for a long moment, answering the reporter's question in the process.

"How do you know that name? Where did you hear it from?"

Lisa smiled, feeling almost giddy as the conflicting emotions began to tug at you. "Let's just say I know a mutual friend who will be ecstatic that you survived! What happened to you," she continued, as suspicion began to chase itself across Sylvie's face, "It really hurt her inside. You really need to see her again!"

Sylvie swallowed hard, and looked at the reporter, all five feet of quivering happiness, and felt memories of another time return to her. For a long moment, she was looking out of the battlemover's open chest plastron, begging her best friend to kill her. The machine she was trapped in moved slightly, as if sensing the threat, and fired at the girl in blue armor. Priss had vaulted up into the air, and screaming her friend's name, had pointed the weapon right at her. A brilliant flash of light...

...And panic as she'd sat up in the AD Police boomer morgue, drawing in a long, shaky breath. Finding Anri and running. Surviving. Always wondering if she dared find her friend, and always too scared to try. And now, when she'd almost managed to forget that short period of joy in her life, Priss had come calling again.

It almost hurt too much to bear.

Shifting slightly, she motioned toward the door. "Go. If you really know who I think you do, I'm not going to hurt you."

Lisa looked at her, the inner giddiness replaced instantly with amazement and ever so slightly, hope. "And Madigan?" She looked over at the CEO of GENOM and smiled slightly. "She's a friend of mine, and I don't want to see anything bad happen to her."

Madigan's face, normally under tight control, slipped a little. A slight smile - warm and natural - appeared on her face as she regarded the tanned reporter girl. She looked over at Sylvie and nodded slightly. "I give you my word. If you release us, I'll instruct my troops to immediately return to GENOM. Whatever you're doing here, will be your problem." She shrugged slightly. "It might not be the best solution, but at least it gives you the most options..." she paused for a moment and continued, "unless you want to try for the independent option we discussed earlier?"

Sylvie shook her head. "You said it yourself. GENOM won't let me." She looked back at the monitors, and made a decision. Tucking the weapons in her belt, she made her way to Anri, sparing only a quick glance over at the other two. "Go. Anri and I are out of here."

Lisa leaned forward, about to speak, when Madigan's hand gripped Lisa's and squeezed. Lisa stopped and slowly followed the CEO of GENOM out the door with a sad look on her face. "Gomen, Sylvie," she whispered. "I didn't mean for this to happen."

Sylvie looked over at the departing duo and looked almost whimsical for a moment, as a smile ghosted over her features. "Who made you Goddess?"

Lisa's breath caught in her throat as Madigan pulled her into the tunnel and let the door close behind them. "Hurry now. We need to catch up to the boomer team and turn them around before they find your friend. Besides, there's still the matter of their pursuers. We could be running for a while."

Lisa nodded and followed in the CEO's wake as the sexaroid's words hammered at her. -Not Goddess, but because of a Goddess!- She didn't pay much attention to where Madigan was leading them as they passed several intersections, Sylvie's words continuing to beat at her.

-Don't I have a responsibility to use these gifts? Shouldn't I be doing more with them? How? With Madigan right here, she'll see.- Instantly she remembered the look on Madigan's face when Lisa had turned up at the door to the small hideaway, a bobbing globe of impossible light dancing behind her.

She looked up at the taller girl, and wondered. -What does she suspect. Does she know about Sailor Loon? And what would she do if she knew?-

She looked forward as she became aware of a light source in front of them. "Guess we don't have to find out for a while."

"Hmm?" Madigan looked over at Lisa in confusion.

"Nothing." Lisa put on a bright smile, gestured forward. Those things working for you?"

Madigan smiled and looked over at the lead BU-12J as it advanced on them. "Looks like it." Stepping forward, she took on her more commanding stance, and addressed them. "Boomer tactical squad, halt and identify yourself."

But instead of the instant obedience she was expecting, they merely fanned out into a firing line three abreast, as the lead unit stepped to one side. "Target acquired. Primary instructions: Terminate with extreme prejudice."

Madigan and Lisa shared one moment of panicked surprise before they turned and ran back down the tunnel, the boomers in hot pursuit.

* * *

"Targets acquired, sir," Tony exclaimed happily. "We've got them on the tracker now. One human, one boomeroid, both being chased by the 12J's."

"Good, good." Jerrod rubbed his hands together. "Anita, fire the cannon up and find a good position. When you're ready, let us know. We'll lead them to the firing zone and blow them all away."

"Yes sir," Anita replied as she began pushing the weapon to a large intersection nearby.

* * *

Four colored hardsuits looked at each other as the command van raced down the road to the industrial sector. "Want to explain why we're starting there, Nene?" Linna adjusted the launcher on her left wrist and waited as the pink-suited girl brought up a hologram display.

"Basically I've been hacking into the seismic sensors in the area." She brought up what looked like millions of tiny dots all over Megatokyo. "These were put in after the Kanto quake and installed in the sewer lines to give some kind of warning if it happened again."

The display shifted to show a subsidiary of GENOM near the industrial sector. "This company had a brief power outage caused by some kind of EMP device when Madigan was captured. The shockwave would have travelled through the sewer lines more efficiently than the ground itself, and since the sewers were supposed to be sealed as a security measure, the sensors that recorded brief power outages should lead us in the direction her captor went in."

The display shifted back to the dotted map, and from there, a small red explosion appeared in the industrial park. From there, several small lines of dots went red, but one line kept going, well off to the side, near what looked like a collapsed section left over from the original quake. "That's our target. Whoever took Madigan likely went off in that direction."

"And your archivist friend?"

Nene looked over at Reika and swallowed before nodding. "Probably. She's very scary sometimes when she's on a story. She's probably in the middle of it right now. And she'll insist she never needed any help after we save her."

Reika shook her head as Nene continued. "The sensor system is scheduled to be replaced along the red line in a few weeks, so we should have uninterrupted access to the region for the rest of this night, anyway."

A small monitor lit up, showing Mackie wearing what looked like a trucker's outfit and a very concerned expression on his face. "Ne-san! There's some kind of explosion up ahead! I think someone's fighting over there!"

Sylia looked over at the other girls and strode to her second-generation Motoroid. The others followed suit, climbing on their units. After a moment, Mackie triggered the doors, which levered up, allowing the four motoroids to be deployed to either side.

"It looks like we don't have the luxury of time, ladies," Sylia said matter-of-factly. "First objective, rescue the CEO of GENOM. Second objective, destroy our enemies." She paused to look at the others on their cycles.

"If you find Lisa in this, her safety supercedes the first objective, if necessary. Is that understood?" With their nods, she flipped a switch on her bike, and revved the motor as the pins holding her cycle to the arm released and dropped the bike.

"Knight Sabers, SANJO!!"

* * *

A flare of heat energy and a section of wall exploded. The energy released bled into the damp residue in the sewer, causing it to flash sublimate, releasing enough of a pressure explosion to tear up a piece of the roof overhead, letting in starlight and smoke.

"Alpha four, try to stay focussed. Target the primary objective and eliminate it, not the sewer line!"

"Roger, Alpha Lead."

Alpha Lead shook his head in anger as he tried to stay focussed on his objective. His mission was to kill the CEO of GENOM, which was hard enough as it was. The OMS chip in his head kept insisting that one person shouldn't be a valid target, but it was walled up, off to the side.

Unfortunately, the hack job that had allowed these 12J models to be deployed as assassins had damaged the basic template of their brains. And as they sped down the tunnel, the sudden conflict their orders and basic operating objectives saddled them with began to eat away at their self-control.

It was possible their master had known that. All the loss of self control meant was that they'd be prime targets when the AD Police or Knight Sabers arrived. They'd be "rogue boomers" by that point, and fair game for the city's protectors.

Assuming of course, the fight lasted that long.

* * *

Sylvie spun around in surprise, Anri already in a carrying harness slung over her shoulders in a fireman's carry when Madigan and Lisa burst back into the room and slammed the door. "What are you doing here?" Sylvie yelled, backing away from them. "Don't you get it? You can GO!"

Madigan began moving the cot toward the door as Lisa made her way over to the table and the expensive drug making machine. "Just one problem," the reporter said breathlessly as she began to tug at the table. "The first group wasn't here to help us."

Sylvie looked at them, horror beginning to etch her eyes as Lisa pulled the table over to the cot. "They'll be here any minute," the reporter said, scrambling out of the way so Kate could pile the furniture over the door.

Quickly removing Anri from the harness and propping her on the other cot, she went over to the now-disheveled CEO and pulled the gun from her waistband. Kate watched cautiously as the golden-eyed girl worked the action and unlatched the safety. "They looked like 12B's. They'll be at a disadvantage right after trashing the door, while the lead unit's ammo feed resets."

Kate shook her head. "They aren't B's. They're J's. It's a modification for extended deployment in urban warfare." She continued to regard their captor carefully as Lisa bent down to examine the unconscious Anri nearby.

"12J's were designed to function in urban environments without the need for extensive resupply. The bazooka has been replaced with a focussed version of a 55C's heat cannon, and the machine gun was removed to make room for a beefier cooling system." She smiled grimly as Lisa ran a hand through Anri's hair comfortingly, and turned to look at them. "They're designed to be lethal at any range, with little or no reset time after firing."

Sylvie shook her head slightly and listened, hearing the faint thump of the approaching boomers. They were being cautious, checking the other passages for signs of where their quarry might have gone. But they'd be here soon. "Every machine has a weakness. What's theirs?"

Lisa walked over as Sylvie and Kate moved over to the middle of the room, putting some distance between them and the door. "The cannon's heat dissipation capability," Kate said after a moment. "If you can hit the rear weapons pod panel right below the elbow the coolant will spill out. After that, the weapon has maybe two or three shots before it melts down or explodes." She gave Sylvie another one of her mirthless smiles. "Assuming it doesn't have time to cool down after it shoots, of course."

Lisa looked back at the other two, as she felt the ground begin to shake as the boomers approached. "I don't suppose there's another way out of here?"

Sylvie shook her head. "Sorry. I didn't expect to need an emergency bolthole. I was more interested in limiting the places I had to defend against." She looked over at Anri, and narrowed her eyes, looking down at the gun for a long moment. "You don't want to face what those things can do to you," she whispered. "Believe me, I've seen it. If..." Her breath caught in her throat, and she held up the weapon. "If you want...?"

Kate shook her head, even as Lisa did the same. Smiling, she gave Sylvie a thumb's up, and struck a pose. "Not to worry, Sylvie! We'll win! After all, we have love and justice on our side!"

Kate felt something inside her lurch as Lisa struck the familiar pose, noting in some small part of her that the reference was clearly lost on Sylvie, who lowered the gun, and looked over at the door, waiting. For Kate however, her sometime Sailor Moon-addicted houseguest smiled bravely at her, and settled herself in what she clearly thought was an aggressive posture as she faced the door.

-I once asked Doug how I could not become like Quincy, without something like him or that other one to measure myself against.- She stepped back slightly, finding a better position to launch an attack on the oncoming boomers. A fatal attack, but still better than the alternative. -When all along I had someone like that right in front of me.-

Lisa smiled and turned back toward the door, noting that her friend had taken up a position to one side, feet sliding almost unconsciously into a martial fighting posture. Sylvie was at the back near Anri, pistol in a ready posture, for when the boomer came through. And right in front, facing the door, was the least combat-capable of all of them.

-They probably think I'm just being dramatic,- she thought to herself, as her emotions churned. Truth was, she was being dramatic. She knew the value of good drama, and was trying to keep their spirits high. -We've gotten out of tougher scrapes than this.- Right, she kept telling herself, as she tried to remember something quite this hopeless.

The thud against the door snapped her attention back to the present. The furniture trembled as the door was pressed by the boomer on the other side. A few thumps suggested it was stepping back. Lisa shuffled back a bit more, dreading what was coming.

A muffled whump and the door bowed inward, the metal instantly showing a growing red light in the center, as the heat began to climb in the room. Already, small rivulets of molten metal could be seen running down the door, causing the wooden furniture to smoke.

-Another shot will do it,- Lisa realized. -Two shots, and the boomers will be in here. And lasers or not, they'll kill us.-

There was an alternative of course. She could use magic. She'd been debating this with herself for the last fifteen minutes. If she used magic, she was throwing possibly the world's last true miracle of potential goodness at the mercy of one of the most merciless women in Megatokyo.

Lisa bit her lip and shook her head. -NO! Kate's my friend! She comes over to watch Sailor Moon videoroms, even now that she's running GENOM. She's trying to undo a lot of what Quincy did, and she's done a lot of good since then!-

As the boomer on the other side tested the strength of the door, causing the table to shift and scrape slightly on the floor before stopping, she realized that it all didn't matter. There was another, much more important reason to trust her.

-I believe in her,- she realized, still somehow shocked after everything she'd been through in the last year. -I believe in her ability to become more than she is.-

"Lisa!" The reporter looked around at Kate who was motioning her over to where Sylvie was. "Get out of the line of fire! We'll hold them off as long as we can!"

-Sylvie's putting her and Anri's lives on the line for someone she only thinks knows an old friend of hers. And Kate's trying to protect me, and the other two because I'm trying to protect them!-

The door thumped once more, then when it refused to budge, the boomer began to ominously step back, making the floor shake with the footsteps.

Lisa tossed her camera at Madigan. "Hold on to this! Don't break it!" Kate caught the camera in disbelief as Lisa turned to regard the door again, a strange, fiercely protective look on her face. Inside her mind, she became aware of a powerful warmth which enfolded and protected her. Mentally, she wrapped herself up in it, even as she began to shift her posture into a more dramatic one.

The boomer fired.

Lisa saw the center of the door briefly glow white, then the whole mess exploded inward, showering the other side of the room with molten metal, and shattered wood. The boomers on the other side had a momentary glimpse of their quarry within when Lisa, not flinching in the sudden explosion, changed the rules.

"Sailor Power, MAKE-UP!" She screamed.

The was a tremendous flare of light.

* * *

For Katherine Madigan, time seemed to lose any meaning.

For the last decade, she'd climbed the greasy corporate ladder of GENOM with an uncompromisingly cold demeanor, backed by a willingness to do anything to get ahead. She brought down inferior supervisors, took their position, and brought down their supervisors in turn. She cultivated just the right number of allies by playing to their self-delusions and protecting the few she needed while she climbed even higher. And then when she didn't need them, she abandoned them to their fates as well.

Then Quincy had taken her as his own personal troubleshooter, and life had become very, very good. Yet all through it, she'd never been faced with the question she'd had to answer earlier this year. One she'd made in a storm-tossed night in the supposed sanctuary of Quincy's private office.

Absolute Good, or Absolute Evil.

In that boardroom, Kate had stood for something purer than she had been. To this day, she felt that the Fates had been unusually kind to her, sparing her when she'd given them every opportunity to hang her out to dry. (Not that she believed the Fates were real people, mind you, but sometimes when you considered all the ways the universe seemed to like to punish people, you had to wonder.)

She'd tried to pay back the massive debt she'd racked up in her career of ruthless corporate blackmail and cold-blooded murder, even as she'd felt deep in the darkest parts of her psyche, that she could never do it. Some crimes were unforgivable. Some injustices were irredeemable, no matter how many times people around you said differently.

When Doug had left, she'd felt a part of herself lose its center. To be sure, she'd only known the metahuman for a short time, but in the quiet moments she was totally honest with herself, she admitted she could easily have had something with him. He was smart, witty, easy on the eyes, and an amazingly good cook. All of which would attract any woman who took the time to see the amazingly complex man under the surface gloss.

But she'd partly come to mourn his departure because it meant she no longer had an example of Absolute Good to compare herself to. To remind her that something as pure as the ideals she treasured from her childhood actually existed somewhere, at some level.

It had been six months since Doug had left, and over eight months since his second helper had been seen in Megatokyo. Daniel Ohara, despite honest effort, had been unable to open another doorway, pinprick or otherwise, and Hiroe's leftover charred crystal components hadn't yielded anything either. For all intents and purposes, superheroes didn't come to Megatokyo any more, and likely wouldn't ever again. And so convincing herself (with a pang or two of regret), Kate had gone about the business of running her company.

Now she stood in slack-jawed amazement as her Friday-night movie partner stood, enveloped in blazing white light. She was almost invisible, nothing more than a faint darker shadow in the center. Her clothes seemed to melt away into nothingness, as ribbons of blue energy wrapped around her, melding into a costume familiar to any anime fan.

White fuku, blue skirt, blue boots, blue gloves and bows, and a big blue domino mask. The superheroine twirled briefly, making the miniskirt flare high as she briefly made eye contact with Kate.

-Oh. My. God.-

Kate stood there, momentarily utterly stunned as the figure she remembered from the boomer battle vids eight months ago turned toward the confused Boomers in the hallway and struck a dramatic pose. "In the name of Love and Justice, I will DESTROY you!"

* * *

In the ambush point nearby, Tony's head jerked back in surprise, and he turned a suddenly focused gaze on his leader. "Jerrod?"

"What is it?"

"How much we being paid for this mission?"

Jerrod frowned. The light show up ahead didn't look like any combat he was familiar with, and he shook his head slightly as the question barely registered. "Enough, why?"

Tony fed what the ratbot had seen to the others, and shifted his position in the ambush point. "I don't think we're being paid enough."

* * *

Two motoroids dropped through the hole in the sewers and began to accelerate. "It looks like everything's happening about three hundred meters ahead," Nene's voice whispered on the tac-link. "Sylia and I will try to get in on the other side."

Reika nodded slightly as she and Linna raced down the passage. -Hang on little archivist,- she thought silently. -Whoever you are to inspire such devotion in these people, just hold on a little longer.-

-We're coming for you.-

End of Chapter Three

Disclaimer: All characters and worlds present are copyrights of their original creators, and are not created by the writer (with the sole exception of the mysterious "One"). This is a work of fiction, and is intended as fan-created fiction for the purpose of entertainment under fair-use legislation. No attempt to infringe upon copyrighted material is intended.

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This page was created on Aguust 14, 2008.
Last modified July 10, 2015.