<< Previous

Thursday, November 5, 2037, 3:30 PM
Loon Enterprises, Megatokyo.

The man was unremarkable in every way. He wore a faded jean jacket over a light gray sweater. His jeans were old and well-worn. The scuffed and worn work boots identified him as a construction worker, as did the ball cap on his head, and the almost bumbling way he made his way over to the security station.

The receptionist waited until he was most of the way across the room before standing up, raising her service pistol to point at him. "That's far enough. You're under arrest."

The bomber felt a moment's thrill race through his spine, as he hefted the duffel he carried with him. "That depends," he said with a tight grin. "Do you want to see the sunrise tomorrow, or not?" He slowly set the duffel down on the ground, showing the cylinder of a trigger switch in his other hand, thumb on the button. "Do anything and this goes off. Hell, I'll blow it anyway the moment I'm clear." He grinned at her. "The only question you need to ask is if you're going to be in the room when I do it."

He slowly backed away, holding the cylinder up where the undercover cop could see it. "Nice and easy now. No one tries anything, and you even get to walk away. Speaking of which," he nodded to the back doors. "I'd go through those now, if I were you."

He slowly backed out the door as the cop made her way through the rear doors. The moment he was outside, he dashed to the side, and waved at the car waiting down the street. "Sucker!"

The reconditioned boomer had very little in the way of intelligence. It had been programmed for one purpose. To drive the car it was in at maximum speed into the targeted building's foyer. The moment it got the signal it was waiting for, it floored the accelerator, and kept the wheel locked on its intended destination.

The heavy railspike blew through the front window without even slowing down. The shot impaled the boomer, slamming it back into the seat behind, and from there into the passenger section beyond that. The second shot powered through the engine block, effectively nailing it to the pavement as the car skidded to a metal-shredding halt in front of Loon Enterprises.

Around the bomber, the pedestrians suddenly had guns in their hands, all pointed at him. Boomer support units were converging from the roadways. And finally, to add insult to injury, a K-9 unit stood at the far end of the street, the dogs' attention focused on him as they growled menacingly.

The bomber took in the display of manpower, and sighed. Disarming his trigger, he dropped it and held up his hands. "Okay, guys. You got me. You wanna deal for the guy who paid me, let me know."

Roger watched with bemused disbelief as the Interpol agents expertly trussed up the bomber, and frog-marched him to the waiting armored van nearby. "Does he really think he'll get off that easily?"

"If it leads to whoever paid him?" Daley smirked. "Always bet on the money. Also, what you wanna bet someone somewhere tries to strong-arm him into being their pet explosives expert? Skills like that sort of write their own tickets."

His partner gave him a sardonic look. "You're awfully cynical for a guy who just helped bust a major international serial bomber. Why not just accept our good luck for what it is, and enjoy the success?" He pointed at the scene of the crime. "We stopped him from bombing the building again, prevented his car bomb from doing any more damage, and caught a guy with a rap sheet as long as my arm. Any way you look at it, this was a good bust."

"I guess," Daley agreed eventually. "It just..." The expression on his face changed several times as he attempted to express whatever it was that was frustrating him. "It all feels too pat, you know? Like, here's the bomber, all gift-wrapped for us. All we had to do was catch him."

"And if that's true, who gift-wrapped him for us, and what's their next move?"

"Exactly!" Daley looked over at Leon, who finally made his entrance, lugging the heavy railsniper over to the waiting forces in the SWAT truck. Leaving the heavy ordnance with them, the former inspector made his way over to his old partner.

"So. Daley finished explaining why this feels a little too much like a gimme?"

Roger stifled a laugh as he considered the older inspector, taking in Daley's grin as he threw an arm around his old partner. "I guess he's not the only one who's looking for the men in the shadows, then?"

"Nope," Leon waved in the direction of the departed bomber as around them, the Interpol and N-Police agents dismantled the site. "This guy's got a strong professional reputation. Whoever hired him has a lot of money and influence. You'd think they would know when Interpol showed up with a small army in tow. Yet this guy hadn't a clue."

"So his bosses didn't warn him." Roger looked back at the wrecked car as police in light cycle mechasuits levered the wreck off the pavement and into a waiting flatbed. "They wanted him to get caught. But why? What would be the advantage in tipping their hand like that?"

"My guess?" Leon pulled out his glasses and slipped them on. "There's two groups in play here. The first group who hired that guy, definitely want to see Loon shut down. The second group is seizing on the opportunity to discredit the first one.

"Here's the problem." He sat on a nearby bench and gestured around. "An operation of this size carries with it the implied assertion that if it works, it must have been because we did everything right. The idea that we succeeded only because the criminal element let us won't fly with the top brass."

Roger nodded. "So they're automatically predisposed to call this a successful operation and close the case?"

"Right." Leon leaned back and looked up at the sky above. "There will be considerable pressure from the political element above to close the case and be done with it. After all, if this is taken at face value, it looks like we caught a major serial terrorist. Which looks good to the politicians. Having to go to their superiors and admit they were probably sold a bill of goods by those same criminals is a lot harder to take. So there will be a strong push from the top down to close the case and call it a done deal."

Daley cocked an easy smile at Roger as the younger cop tried to process it all. "Which means that if we're going to find whoever's responsible, the first step is to let them think they succeeded. Then, when they let down their guard, we start nosing around and asking questions. Eventually, someone will know something that points us to the real triggermen."

"Assuming they weren't set up as the patsies by whoever's behind them, you mean."

Daley laughed and threw an arm around his new partner as they made their way to their car. "Now you're thinking like a properly paranoid AD Police officer!"

* * *

4:00 PM, Loon Enterprises

Linna closed the computer down for the evening, and stretched. "So," she commented after a moment. "The bomber's been caught, we're getting approval for a limited test next month, and GENOM's distribution network is starting to ramp up for worldwide distribution after we get the green light. Anything I'm missing so far?"

Kou considered the request for a moment, before adding, "We aren't certain the bomber and the sniper are the same person. There's no guarantee one person had the necessary skill sets to carry out both operations."

Linna sobered immediately. "Fair point. How's the defenses looking?"

"They won't be able to do what they did last time again." Kou looked out of the private window overlooking the test area. "The overhead skylight has been reinforced with armored crystoplast, same as used on the Genaros facilities in orbit. On top of that, they have also been reinforced with Ms. Vanette's particular skills. I am considerably less concerned about an assault on your person here than I used to be."

"And the car?"

"An armored model acquired quietly through contacts we still maintain on the outside. It only requires some of Ms. Vanette's enhancements to secure against excessive force."

The chairwoman of Loon Enterprises nodded again. "Very well." Tapping a quick question into her cell, she sent the message on its way, and stood up. Kou swiftly eased her into her jacket, and the two headed out on the end of day phase of Linna's standard activity.

Walking down into the test area, Kou marveled yet again at the impossible plant life on display behind armored crystal walls. The trees were not only thriving, they were doing a remarkable job with the contaminated ground within. In fact, it looked like they would need to replace the terrain inside with ecologically unsafe materials again. The interior was starting to look positively normal under the trees' constant influence. "Do we have a test site chosen, ma'am?"

"We do," Linna replied with a firm nod. "Fukushima Daiichi."

Kou inhaled sharply. The site of a nuclear accident around the turn of the century, the nuclear plant at Fukushima was still a radioactive no-go zone. And would be, presumably, for many, many lifetimes.

Unless of course, this plant was able to deliver on its promise, and filter out the contaminants in a fraction of the time. "And if it works?"

Linna grinned. "Chernobyl, of course. If we can reverse the damage done to historical ecological disaster sites, we'll be on the fast track to making these plants a household name."

Kou nodded slowly as the two of them made their way to the conventional armored car waiting for them in the motor pool. "They are something of a gamble, however."

"Yeah, they are," Linna agreed as she climbed into the car. It pulled away from the company and accelerated onto the road as they talked. "Getting GENOM to speed the approval process is a double-edged sword. They can do it, but only by throwing us into the deep end. We either generate solid results in a highly splashy and spectacular fashion, or we don't. Which is why this test absolutely has to work."

"It will," Kou responded. "I have faith in the extraordinary results you've achieved so far. This will go a long way to restoring our world."

* * *

Axil Court Ichigaya Daimachizaka, Room 406
Shinjuku-ku, 9:00 PM

Lisa stretched several times, testing her flexibility as Kristi finished washing dishes. Since Lisa already had an apartment, and this place had been acquired to give her a home base to operate as 'Sailor Loon,' it had stood unoccupied most of the time. Which made it a no-brainer when Kristi joined her little team. The boomer bodyguard took up residence in the apartment, providing it with the last little bit of 'lived-in' look needed to keep it off of the radar, so to speak.

"Any word on that memory solid?"

Lisa grinned and shook her head. "No. I doubt I'll see it anytime soon. There will come a time when they Knights have no use for it, and I'll try to score it then. I'm pretty sure I'll be able to manage." She shrugged. "I mean, sure it's a useful computer component. But I'd be very surprised if they didn't already have better. So when they're looking to dump it, I'll see if I can pick it up."

Kristi unlocked the large cabinet in the guest room, revealing the prototype power armor. "You sure they won't just sell it? It's probably worth a fair amount of coin."

"Nah, it's too obvious. The Liu Sun will be looking for it. If they dump it on the market, they just paint a target on whoever buys it." Lisa stopped and tapped her lower lip thoughtfully. "On the other hand, I could see them doing that if they wanted the Liu Sun to attack the wrong target. Maybe expose themselves in a prepared trap and take them out." Lisa shrugged, and looked over at Kristi. "We'll see. I'll play that one by ear."

"Where are we going tonight?"

The senshi pulled out a pamphlet with "Metahumans of the world unite!" emblazoned on it in bright letters. "I'm thinking tonight is all about stealth. Makoto-san pointed out that 'Humanity First' seemed awfully fast off the mark with all the pro-metahuman promotion." she tapped the pamphlet for emphasis. "It's almost like they knew in advance that these things would be needed. Kind of raises the question about who they're working for."

Kristi thought it out, and ran the armor through the power-up checklist. As control surfaces shifted and deployed in a systems test, she reached over and pulled the shoulder mounted taser array from the armory locker, and carefully settled it on her right shoulder. On the left, she put what looked like a sensor boom arm. The arm, capable of deploying like a cannon, actually mounted a complex electronic warfare system capable of spoofing cameras, sensors, and computer systems.

Lisa watched as the girl added a pair of military-grade sensor scramblers to mounting points on each hip, and arched an eyebrow. "I've seen footage of the Knight Sabers recently with a setup like that. Kate-san's been busy, I see."

Kristi grinned. "Well, they are the competition. More or less. And the design is pretty elegant when you stop and think about it. Two mounting points just above the shoulder blades allowing a heavy weapon to be deployed over each shoulder. Two more on the waist, and two on the arms. Maximum flexibility, minimum wasted space."

"So," Lisa asked as she leaned against the door frame. "What's going on the arms?"

"These." Kristi held up a pair of slender, armored pauldrons, which clicked into place. "They're basically extra computing power for the active camouflage mode on the armor's exterior."

Lisa blinked. "The what, now?"

Grinning, Kristi toggled something in her helmet's display, and the suit shimmered out of sight. Lisa stared at it for a long moment, before a really evil grin spread across her face. There was some distortion when Kristi moved, as the sensor system had to process faster to take into account motion. But she saw the boomer girl set the chameleon mode to a neutral background color. It stopped shimmering, and became very hard to see, although any movement drew attention to itself.

Kristi pushed up the helmet's visor, revealing her face. "Stealth is totally on the table for this op. So. Meta compound?"

Lisa gathered power in her hand, and thrust it into the air. With an enthusiastic "Sailor Power, MAKE UP!" blue light filled the room.

Kristi watched as the girl transformed into a figure out of fantasy once more, and felt a thrill run through her. Following the sailor senshi out to the concealed roof access, she prepared to follow the superhero on a long superleap-assisted path to the Firster compound in the heart of downtown Megatokyo.

* * *

Humanity First Compound, 9:30 PM

Lisa eased the upper story window open and slipped inside. Behind her, the stealthed form of Kristi's armor made her way in and gently slid the pane shut. The suit was in full-chameleon mode, which meant it had effectively no weapons, and could only move at a walking speed, or it risked overloading the computer systems processing the displacement field. But it gave Kristi an advantage Lisa didn't.

The corridor was decorated in a standard turn of the century art deco format, the carpeting old but serviceable. It was thin, but deep enough to muffle their footsteps as they made their way to the stairwell, and carefully considered their next move.

"No sign of human habitation up here," Kristi commented quietly as she looked around. "Still every bit as empty up close as it looked from the outside. Most of the people are on the ground and second floors. Not sure about the basement."

Lisa carefully studied a nearby door before slowly opening it and taking a quick look around. Closing it again, she made her way back to Kristi. "Standard hotel room setup. Maybe this place just hasn't attracted the number of people they were hoping for?"

"Or they're all out and about," Kristi countered. "Any sign the room was lived in?"

Lisa shook her head. "No. Clean and empty. Guess if they're using this old hotel as a base for their cult, they don't have a lot of followers, yet."

The boomer girl snickered quietly. "Cult? Really? I mean, sure, they're a little intense, but that doesn't necessarily make them a cult."

The other girl started to reply, but stopped and held a finger to her lips as she heard movement below. The two quickly shifted to the far side of the stairwell, Lisa ducking behind a table as the guard climbed the stairs to the top floor. Turning to the left, he began walking down the corridor, approaching the table Lisa was scrunched behind.

-Don't see me. Don't see me.- Lisa tried to make herself invisible against the side of the cabinet as the guard walked past her, as she focused all her concentration on being as close to invisible as she could. -That's it, keep going. You don't see me.-

He walked right past Lisa without stopping, or looking in her direction.

The two girls waited silently until he appeared again, walking from the other end of the corridor. When he returned to the stairs and headed down, Lisa allowed herself a moment of semi-panicky relief. She avoided the temptation to sigh, because honestly. She'd seen those movies. She kept her breathing quiet as the guard made his way back down to the fourth floor and continued on his way.

The shimmer of Kristi's battlesuit edged past Lisa's hiding spot, head swiveling around. "Lisa?" The other girl whispered with concern in her voice as she crept past the senshi. "Where did you go?"

"Umm," Lisa replied with a wave to the startled boomer girl. "Right here." She chuckled. "I guess I'm better at the whole stealth thing than I thought."

Kristi ducked to the side and let the chameleon system fade, giving the suit a few precious moments to cool and reset as she pushed up the faceplate. "Lisa! I'd have sworn you weren't there. How did you do that?"

The senshi girl blinked a couple of times. "do what?" She glanced down the corridor and back at Kristi. "I just made myself as small against this as I could and..." She paused, as the realization hit her. "I was thinking over and over that he couldn't see me. That he really didn't want to see me." She looked herself over, and then back up at Kristi. "You think maybe...?"

The boomer girl checked her sensors of the fourth and fifth floors, and nodded back at Lisa. "We've got a few more moments. Try it and see. Convince me you're not there."

Closing her eyes for a few long moments, Lisa pushed out the craziness of her latest stunt and focused on the task. -She doesn't see me. Kristi has no clue I'm here.- She pulled in a bit of power from the local ley line, and made that concept her focus. -She can't see me. I'm not even here.-

Opening her eyes, she looked over at the boomer girl. Kristi had a look of shocked awe on her face as she slowly looked around. Experimentally, she reached out slowly. When her hand touched Lisa, her eyes instantly refocused, and she jerked back. "Wow. That's really impressive."

Lisa thought hard, remembering what was in the printed documents she'd read. "So I can convince people I'm not here, but only if I don't do anything to contradict the illusion." She smirked, and looked up at her confused partner. "Ever watch Doctor Who? It's a perception filter."

Kristi checked the sensors again reflexively, and then looked back up at her partner and grinned. "But can you do that with a piece of paper on the spur of the moment?"

"Oh my..."

The boomer girl shook her head. "Later. Right now, we've got to learn more about what these people are up to. But that's good to know. You can spoof people if you have to. Just... be careful, huh?" The other girl cued up her chameleon field again, vanishing from sight. "This fools most sensor systems, but I'm betting your trick doesn't fool cameras. So pay attention to security. Especially of the dumb boomer variety."

"Ironic then," Lisa commented with a grin as they made their way back to the stairwell, "that this is probably one of the few places in Megatokyo you can be absolutely certain doesn't have boomers working in it."

Kristi just snickered and made her way down the stairs first, followed by the ever-surprising senshi girl.

Like the floor above, it was a basically rectangular corridor connecting to rooms on both sides. As before, the floor was essentially empty, other than a couple of security guards. The duo evaded them with ease, and made their way down to the next floor.

At this point, they were one floor above the commonly traveled section. A few people occupied rooms, according to Kristi's sensors, but the floor was otherwise deserted.

The boomer girl pulled Lisa into the nearest unoccupied bedroom, and dropped the chameleon field. As the system cooled, she pulled up a small map of the building. "This is what I've seen so far. The next floor down is mostly living quarters again. The ground floor is where it gets interesting." She pointed to a large central area on one side filled with groups of people. "I'm guessing this was a meeting hall or ballroom. They're probably using it as a command center now. If we're going to learn anything about what they're doing here, that will be the place to be."

Lisa considered the room, and settled her gaze on the ventilation system. With Kristi's help, they pried up the grille, and considered the duct inside. "It's big enough," Lisa decided after a moment. "I should be able to sneak through to the ceiling above the meeting hall. If people are there, I should be able to listen in with no one the wiser."

"You sure?" Kristi looked at the duct again, a dubious look on her face. "This doesn't seem like a very safe thing to do."

"Oh, it's not," Lisa replied with an airy wave. She giggled at Kristi's expression, and continued more seriously moments later. "I'm a reporter. A good one. Which means I go where the story is. Don't worry. I've done stuff like this before."

"Somehow," Kristi drawled as she stood up again, "that does not fill me with confidence. Be careful in there. Remember, if they've got metas down there, we have no clue what they can do. If they see you, it'll be hard to rescue you in there."

Lisa tapped her temple. "Assuming they see me. I've got this little trick now, after all. We'll be fine." She looked at the map again. "So what are you doing?"

The armored girl tapped a key, dropping the map another level. "The basement is logically the best place to put all the computer support equipment. I'll sneak down there and see if I can copy their mainframe. If we can duplicate their software, figuring out what they're up to should be easy."

Lisa felt it a moment later. She couldn't have explained it to anyone, but she felt a strange surge of Power coming from outside the building. Not far. Maybe across the street. She grinned and nodded out the window. "We've got backup. If things drop in the pot, we can get help." At her friend's confused expression, she elaborated. "Sailor Jupiter. I just felt her power up across the street. She'll be over there right now, keeping an eye on things. If it looks like it's going south, use our encrypted channel to call for help. She has the frequency."

Outside, a rumble of thunder in the distance announced the onset of an early winter storm. Hail and wet snow began to pour down, as flickers of lightning played across the skyline above. With another grin for her friend, Lisa made her way into the ductwork and vanished from sight.

Kristi placed the grille back without fully securing it, and made her way to the stairwell. At the right timed moment, she swiftly made her way down all three flights to the basement level. As she did, a faint rumble outside caused the lights in the building to flicker, momentarily distracting everyone. The boomer girl shook her head and fought back a grin as she made her way to the lower level door, and slipped inside.

Outside, Sailor Jupiter stood on the rooftop, watching events play out as only someone who could see electromagnetic fields could. Lisa was visible to Makoto only because of the crystal she'd attuned to the girl earlier in the week. Her boomer partner was a different story. Invisible to the naked eye and some sensor tech, maybe. But to Makoto's augmented senses, the electromagnetic stealth screen might as well have been a neon sign to her. Still, that just made it easier to coordinate support for the girl.

She reached up into the heavens. A bolt of lightning arced down into her hands. Makoto held the raw, seething mass of electrical power almost absently, working it idly with both hands as she considered what her next distraction would be.

In the distance, inside the massive cone of the GENOM Tower, Madigan watched events play out on her monitor screen with a studied intensity. Any unseasonable electrical activity detected by the Tower would send an alert to her immediately. While she didn't know exactly why Sailor Jupiter was staking out the Humanity First compound, she did know one thing.

Wherever that girl was these days, Lisa would be too.

* * *

Lisa eased her way down the vertical shaft with a combination of her old skills honed over years of getting her into places she shouldn't be, and TK, until she was on the ground floor ceiling duct. Slowly making her way along, she tapped her audio system. A faint beep answered her. "System. Begin recording. Audio and visual."

The system beeped twice. A small HUD monocle she'd cadged from Mackie lit up as she swung it around and locked it in place. It showed her the feed from the camera, as well as other details like charge level, available memory, and so on. She fiddled with the tiny controls on the side of the device until the picture was as clear as she could make it, and continued on her way to the meeting room grille.

She heard the conversations before she arrived. Easing to the spot in the ducting where light spilled in through the grille, she carefully eased over and used the zoom in the camera to get a better view of what was happening below.

"I see... maybe eight people on the far side working on tables," Lisa narrated quietly. "They appear to be printing and drying posters for their operation. Another group nearby is printing pamphlets. Looks like they keep adjusting the images, because they stop after each print and argue about the layout."

She looked over to a spot near the main doors. "Four guards at the doors. Big guys. Not boomers, I don't think. Doesn't fit the profile, but hey, who knows, right?" She looked off to the right, and froze, eyes wide.

"Jackpot. They've got metas. And boy do they look scary."

In the floor below, a young man in a shredded denim jacket emblazoned with gang signs snapped out a handful of fire. With a frustrated swing, he threw it at a mannequin, which had clearly borne the brunt of his fire for most of the night. Another blackened mark singed the figure as it rocked under the force of the blow. "This is boring." He looked over at a girl nearby who sat on a comfortable looking mat... three feet off the ground. "Please tell me you're not buying all this 'hurry up and wait' crap?"

The girl just smiled. She shook her platinum-blond hair back and gathered it with both hands. Running a hand down the length until she could re-tie the scrunchie holding its waist-length mass out of the way, she shrugged back at the boy. "I don't know, Tim. This is pretty good. They have good food, a warm place to sleep..." She paused and looked down at her hands. They shook for a moment, before she clenched them hard and took a steadying breath. "And they're helping me get clean. More than my old man ever did for me."

Timothy Shaw nodded, as he lit another flare in his hand. "Okay, that's a good reason. But I'm getting bored sitting here throwing fire at the dummy. When do we get to the good stuff?" He looked over at Rina, and immediately let the flare dissipate at her annoyed expression. "Hey, don't get mad. I'm just..."

Rina sighed and leaned back on the mat. Despite nothing holding it off the ground, it only sank back a little as she stretched out. Letting her legs dangle over the side, she looked back at Tim and rolled her eyes as he tried hard not to ogle her. She knew perfectly well what he was looking at. She'd gone to great lengths to get her lanky frame to work for her instead of against her. She wore close-fitting outfits and pants, which emphasized her slender frame, and also showed her off to good effect. As Tim's embarrassed reactions were proving.

She snickered and shook her head. "I'm not mad. I just don't want to throw away a good thing. Dad's always at work, or drinking himself stupid with his buddies at work." She looked over at Tim. "Know what he said the last time I complained about him always showing up home drunk?" At her friend's headshake, she looked up at the ceiling again and sighed. "He said he was playing office politics. That if he didn't go drinking with the boss every night, he'd never get promoted." She growled something unintelligible in the back of her throat. "Stupid lame-ass excuse if I ever heard one."

Her friend snorted and whipped up another fireball. "Want me to maybe scare some sense into him?" He grinned nastily as he held the fire under his face, making his face seem to take on an almost satanic appearance. "I promise he'll never go near another bar again."

Rina giggled. "If I didn't think you'd light up all the booze in his breath, I might let you do it. But no." She sighed and jumped down off of the hovering mat. The moment she touched the floor, it dropped to the ground behind her. "I don't want to give the old man a heart attack or anything. I just want him to stop being such a doormat for his boss."

Tim tilted his head and looked at the others in the room. "So... Whaddaya say we sneak out, go find your dad's boss, and make him hope he never sees a bar again?"

The girl grinned and held out a hand. "I like it. Know how we can get out of here?"

Taking her hand, Tim led her to a side exit. "We'll just say we're going back to our rooms. And we will," he finished with a grin. "We'll just take the long way."

Rina giggled and followed Tim out of the room.

In the ducting above, Lisa pulled back on the zoom function, and pulled away from the grille. She tapped the recorder control again. "Okay, nothing exactly horrible up here. A bunch of people putting up posters and a couple of street kids they've apparently gotten off the street. I'm thinking the ground floor isn't where the answers are."

She looked down the shaft, and began to ease her way along, looking for either a way out, or another shaft going down. "I have a bad feeling about this."

* * *

Kristi made her way as silently as someone in a quarter-ton suit of advanced power armor could be. Keeping an eye on the stealth field generator's temperature gauge, and the world around her, she crept along the basement corridor toward what looked like a heavy double door. The metal door's windows had been taped up on the other side, and several large signs stuck to the door said quite plainly in several languages that people from the upper level weren't supposed to go through them.

-Unfortunately for them,- she thought with a grin, -I never was very good at taking orders. Probably why I wound up in a suit of power armor with Megatokyo's strangest vigilante.-

The boomer made her way to the door, and carefully eased a fiber optic cable under it. Panning it around, and verifying there was no one nearby, she eased the door open, and slid through in one motion. Closing it behind her just as quietly, she made her way to what looked like a metal gantry, and slowly eased her way up the stairs.

What she saw on the upper level threatened to toggle her original combat software. The basement was arranged in a pattern of cells connected to a grid of corridors. Each cell had a glass ceiling, allowing maximum oversight by those above. Each cell contained a cot, a basic toilet and sink, and little else. A well-stocked medical bay could be seen on one side of the large room, with what looked like several sterile metal tables visible through a long window.

Kristi did a slow circuit around the room, making sure to avoid any guards on patrols. Verifying the cells were empty, and did not yet show signs of recent occupancy, she ghosted down to the medical bay, and deployed the sensor boom.

The suit's hacking software came online, and quickly tapped her into a closed-circuit camera feed. A dozen small images appeared inside her helmet, showing every possible avenue of escape from the complex. Several showed secure images from what looked like a room lit with a faint blue light.

-The main computer system,- she thought to herself with a tight grin. Making her way to the doors leading in, she slipped inside, and let the suit's tech do the work. Attaching a high-density cable to the main computer, she cued up the hacking software, and set it to auto-download everything. She'd sort through it all later.

The sound of an argument in progress drew her attention. Sneaking into a corner, she tried her best to remain stationary as two people pushed the doors to the computer room open, still arguing.

The taller of the two sported a neatly trimmed beard and goatee. He looked Japanese/American, and spoke with a faint American accent. "Takumi, listen to reason! We don't need to experiment on these people! They're special! We should be helping them achieve their full potential, not dissecting them!"

Takumi, by contrast, was a Japanese man who stood a bit shorter than average. He was tending to fat in the middle, and had a pinched look on his face as he glared back at his colleague. "We don't know how many of these people there are, Hawthorne. If we only get two or three all year, what are we really accomplishing?" He waved his hand in the direction of the medical bay. "We take samples. We run tests. We do bloodwork. All of this is no more than they'd get in an actual hospital. And yes, if we're also seeing if we can duplicate what makes them special along the way, I don't see the harm in it. Think of what it could do for us!"

"For you, you mean," Hawthorne spat back. "You're just mad because GENGenTech couldn't pay you your retirement when the place went belly up. But that's no reason to weaponize these kids! They're an amazing gift! We shouldn't be trying to make a fast buck on them!"

"They are a gift," Takumi snarled back. He jabbed a finger in Hawthorne's chest. "And we're going to keep on the track I've set for this operation, got it?" His eyes narrowed as he took a half step forward, forcing the other man back against the doors. "I know about your little extracurricular activities, Hawthorne. You do this my way, or I send pictures to your ever-loving wife." His face twisted in an ugly sneer. "Or maybe your daughter. Would you like that, 'man'?"

Hawthorne paled. "Now wait." He held up his hands and backpedaled out the door as Takumi kept jabbing him in the chest. "Let's be reasonable..."

The doors closed, cutting off the rest of the conversation. Kristi swallowed hard and looked at the helmet display. She waited another five minutes until the system beeped, and disconnected from the computer.

Sneaking back the way she came, she checked the sensors to verify no one was at the stairwell corridor. Seeing it clear, she snuck back through the door, and was halfway to the stairs when she felt a hand on her shoulder.

Kristi spun back, pressed up against the corridor wall as she held out her right arm, the underslung pulse cannon deployed. She froze as she saw what was in her sights. White fuku, blue skirt and domino mask. Not nearly as tanned as she usually was. Not in that moment, anyway.

The armored girl let out a ragged sigh of exasperation as she lowered the cannon. "Don't do that to me. I almost shot you!" She took several steadying breaths, and led Lisa back to the stairwell. "Let me know you're coming next time."

"G-gomen, Kristi," Lisa stammered back with panicky fervour. "I didn't think. I'm sooo sorry about that!" She took another couple of breaths and tried to slow her galloping heartbeat. "There's nothing upstairs. Just a couple of metas and a lot of people doing posters and stuff."

"Well, there was plenty to see down here." Kristi held up a hand. "But not here. Let's get out and regroup at base before we discuss this further."


The two made their way up, repeating their original infiltration. As before, the hotel experienced random electrical fluctuations caused by the storm outside as they made their way out. Once they were on the outside roof, getting clear was a lot easier.

On the far building, Makoto watched the duo head away, and rose into the sky on fields of electrical potential. -I wonder what they found?- She zipped off after them. -Only one way to find out.-

Back in the GENOM Tower, Madigan watched three figures leave the Firster compound with no-one apparently the wiser. She sat back in her chair and shook her head slowly, a faint grin on her face. "She's out. And I don't think they ever knew she was there."

"Not bad for an amateur in a magical cosplay outfit," Jenny replied with a teasing grin. Madigan snorted and eased further back in the chair.

"That reminds me. It's been a while since we had a movie night. I think maybe, now that the madness of Hallowe'en is finally moving past us, I should invite her over for another one." She held up the vidroms she'd acquired earlier that day. "Something different." She grinned. "Especially if they bring Ms. Kino with them."

Jenny sighed as she took in the colorful artwork on the casing. "Sailor Moon Crystal." She made her way over to the kitchenette, and began itemizing contents. "I suspect I'll need to order more popcorn." She looked back at Madigan. "All other tasks are done tonight. If you have no further need of me, ma'am, I'll head out, now."

"Of course, Jenny." Madigan smiled and gestured to the exit. "Enjoy your evening."

As the girl left, Madigan looked over at the skyline, pausing only to tap a message out on her cell and send it on its way. "I wonder what they found?"

* * *

Secret Base Alpha, 10:30 PM

By common consent, the trio gathered in the converted boomer maintenance shed in Tinsel City. Kristi uploaded what she'd pulled from the Firster compound's main computer to the base's larger mainframe. Lisa, knowing Sylia would want to examine the raw data herself, made a backup copy onto portable memory, and tucked it in a fanny pack. Then she helped herself to snacks in the fridge.

Makoto gave Lisa a very old-fashioned Look as the girl walked past with a couple of cheese sticks. "You should eat properly. You burn a lot of energy out there every time you do this. Make a sandwich, or something."

Lisa blinked, cheese stick halfway to her mouth. She lowered it and sighed. "Yes, mom." She narrowed her eyes, and defiantly took a bite out of the cheese stick as she made her way back to the fridge. Makoto just sighed.

"I never had these problems with my kids."

The boomer girl looked over at Makoto, sizing her up and raising an eyebrow. "You're a mother?" She grinned impishly and gestured to the girl. "You don't really look like one."

Sailor Jupiter 'hmph'-ed and crossed her arms while Lisa giggled in the background. "The benefits of Silver Millennium technology. And I'm older than I look. So yeah. I've had kids." She looked back across at Lisa. "Which means I've gotten pretty good at knowing when they're trying to sneak sugary snacks from the fridge when no one's looking."

The other senshi sweatdropped, and slowly put the soft drink back in the tray, before reaching across for the fruit juice. "Gomen, Makoto-san." She closed the fridge, a half-dozen sandwich fixings in her arms as she made her way back to the kitchenette. "I gotta say," she added with an irrepressible grin as she settled the ingredients on the counter, "that you're not at all what the anime says you are. Mom."

Makoto took a halfhearted swipe at Lisa, who ducked it with a laugh. "Go on, make a sandwich and go have a look at what you found." She assembled several more sandwiches, expertly putting a tray of healthy snacks together. Putting it on a tray along with a large pitcher of juice and some utensils, she made her way back to the main table as Kristi finished pulling up data from the computer heist.

"So. What did the two of you find?"

The computer table glowed to life. The girls shifted the plates around to expose the main surface area as it showed video screens and data files. "We didn't find a whole lot aboveground," Kristi began as a video window opened and showed the conversation Lisa taped from the vent. "It looks like about two dozen people running a makeshift publication site out of a converted hotel. We also had positive confirmation on two metas."

Makoto reached over and enlarged the video window. The audio came up, and she listened intently as the conversation played out, wincing several times. Finally, she minimized it, and moved it back to the side. "Okay. Her father's a doormat, like she says. I don't approve of them misusing their gifts to frighten strangers, however." She tapped the glass. "Stuff like this ends in tragedy more often than not. Especially when you're dealing with kids who don't understand the full range of their powers yet. I don't suppose we know where they went?"

The boomer girl shook her head. "No. While I could probably send a request through the Tower, I'm pretty sure a data search like the one you're talking normally requires police authorization. While the Tower could probably do it, such a request would get seen by eyes other than Madigan's. They might wonder who needed this search, and what they wanted it for." She looked uncomfortable as she considered the image. "All things being equal, I don't think we want to ever alert the Tower to what Lisa does in her spare time."

"I agree." Makoto nodded firmly and studied the image intently for a long moment. "That means the odds of finding these two before sunrise is much lower, however." She grimaced and took a deep breath. "Unfortunately, I don't have any easy answers. This might be one of those situations where all you can do is hope for the best."

"I'll go out on patrol after this, and see if the police bands say anything about kids starting fires," Lisa offered. "Maybe someone will see Tim threatening that guy and call it in."

"Maybe." Makoto looked unconvinced, but nodded. "But what can we do? Keep an eye on the police band. If something comes up, we can investigate. But I strongly suspect their fates are in their own hands tonight." She returned to the display. "So far, this doesn't look like a big deal." She looked over at Kristi, who was visibly bracing herself. "So. I assume you found something worse in the basement?"

"Hai, Makoto-san." A quick tap pulled up her own suit's video recording. Lisa inhaled sharply as she took in the glass-topped cells, and security cameras. Makoto's eyes narrowed dangerously as she saw the medical bay and autopsy gear on the side. "The lowest level appears to be configured for medical research. The scale approaches what one might find in a secure quarantine facility."

The girl highlighted several items on the cells, rotating the image around to display the catwalks and cameras. "The entire lower level speaks of a degree of security and medical awareness not present at any other level. On the surface, this looks like an amateur grassroots political movement to recognize emergent metahumans. Underground, however, this site reveals its true intentions."

"Biomedical research on metahumans for the exploitation of their powers." Makoto nodded, a sick expression on her face. "I've seen this sort of thing before. Unfortunately," she added with a sad smile, "not every emergent meta back home had a happy story, and not every government was accepting of them. This kind of thing happened several times until Usagi managed to put a stop to it. Any idea what they're doing with this?"

"Possibly." Kristi pulled up suit data of an argument between two people. "'Takumi,' and 'Hawthorne.'" She highlighted each one in turn. "As far as I can tell, Hawthorne is part of the group upstairs. He's got the medical training, I'd bet, but sees the metas as a precious opportunity to be protected and nurtured. Takumi, on the other hand, is clearly the brains behind the experimentation. He intends to study how the metagene works, and if possible, duplicate it. Possibly for weaponization. Hawthorne said he worked for GENGenTech, a bioresearch firm formerly owned by GENOM before it was shut down."

Makoto absently helped herself to a sandwich and sipped a glass of juice. "What did they work on?"

"Although their research was supposedly top secret, and involved cutting edge cancer and antiradiation therapies, GENGenTech had a secret. Quincy, the former chairman before his untimely death last year, had covertly established the firm to research medical technologies which could be used to assert control over human beings, much the same way the Overmind Control System allowed him to hijack control of any boomer built at GENOM." She looked over at Lisa. "Colonel Sangnoir's Leontophonus virus unshackled boomers from OMS last year, so we've largely been operating independently since."

Lisa smiled. "I know. I've been following the reports for some time. Leon-san mentioned a former combat boomer saving their lives on Hallowe'en when their car was hijacked by Yoshida. Someone named Kilroy."

A soft groan drew her attention to the side as Makoto briefly dropped her head into her arms and sighed theatrically. "'Kilroy was here'?" She looked up at the others, and sighed again as Lisa nodded, grinning. "Doug-san mentioned that line a few times. I didn't really understand the reference then. That sounds a lot like something he'd have a hand in."

The computer beeped stridently, drawing their attention. Kristi pulled up a window with emails on them, and read them swiftly, lips thinning as she did. Finally, she put the data on the main screen.

"This worries me." She highlighted the names. "This is clearly a line of communication between Takumi and someone named Yumiko." Kristi pulled up the emails and opened another window, showing a connection between the two. "Yumiko is apparently part of the Boomer Liberation Front. The Liberationists have been extremely vocal about boomer rights for the last half year. There have been some fairly aggressive clashes with the Humanity First group the last six months."

Several more windows appeared, pushing the others into the background. They showed groups of people, some accompanied with civilian grade boomers of all stripe, shouting insults and occasionally throwing rotten fruit at another group of all-humans who were doing the same thing. In a couple of windows, things got more heated, forcing the N-Police to advance on them with water cannons, forcibly separating the crowds.

The image switched back to the emails. "According to these, Takumi's asking Yumiko about the next planned demonstrations of the BLF and probable sizes. Yumiko for her part in several emails is clearly adjusting her expected protest sizes to approximately equal the Firster group in every engagement."

Another email window appeared, showing graphs and calculations. "Takumi provided a breakdown on possible metahuman acquisition calculations based on how many of these riots the two experience this year, as well as probable opportunities for 'examination' and 'retro-engineering.'"

"Not the kind of data you'd be sharing with a rival political faction," Lisa commented as she studied the emails intently. "What's this address?" She pointed to a line of gibberish in the 'CC' section. There's another copy of these emails going somewhere else. Any clue where that is?"

Kristi studied it for a long moment, before shaking her head. "No, I don't. It doesn't make sense. Maybe someone else can make sense of it. There's no routing information here. Just a line of nonsense text. An email program wouldn't know what to make of it."

The reporter whipped out her PDA, and copied the gibberish email address into it. "I'll see what I can dig up. Because it really looks like someone else is getting copies of their mail. Someone who doesn't want to be identified." She grinned and held up her PDA. "This is the first real clue we've had all night that there's a third party involved in all this. Now we just need to figure out who they are."

She glanced up at the clock, and experimentally yawned. Kristi fought back a yawn of her own, and glared at Lisa as the other girl giggled. "Gomen, Kristi-san. But I needed to check how tired I was. I think we need to get more information."

Makoto nodded slowly. "The Boomer Liberation Front. We need to know what they're up to. And if there's any chance they tumbled to your operation tonight, this could be the only chance we get to finding out what they're up to before they have the chance to move stuff around."

"They'll have boomer support, for sure." Kristi pulled up file footage from the demonstrations, and put them up on screen. "It'll be a mess of boomer types. Everything from civilian coffee maid boomers to renegade combat models. This is a very dangerous mission, with no way to predict what we'll be up against." She looked over at Lisa. "This is the kind of mission you might consider asking your friends to help you with."

"Mou." Lisa looked downcast for a moment. "If they get into a fight, that gear isn't cheap to replace. I don't have the kind of financing to pay for it if things go south on them." She looked up at Makoto. "And I really don't want to draw on that favour if I don't have to. I might need it again someday."

The older senshi shook her head with a grin. "Don't fall into that trap. If you keep holding on to the marker and never use it, you'll still be holding it when it could have saved your life. Call on them if you need to. Then do a favour for them later on. And so on. That way, you each can call on each other when you need help. It's better to use the markers when you need them, rather than hoarding them."

Lisa thought hard for a moment, and nodded. Kicking back from the table, she fished out her cell, and left the warehouse for a long moment. As she left, Kristi returned to her armor, and began visually examining it for thermal damage caused by the stealth system. Makoto made her way over to the girl, drawing her attention.

"Kristi, I take it you intend to keep working with her going forward?"

The boomer girl grinned and nodded. "Hai. Why? Is there something you needed?"

"Something like that." Makoto looked off in the direction Lisa had gone. "I won't be here forever, you know. Just long enough really to get a feel for the new girl, and see if she's someone we can work with going forward. We might establish long-term communication with her, and even visit sometimes. But I'll be going home soon. Maybe within the next few months." She looked back at Kristi. "I'd like to know I'm leaving her with the right kind of people when I do."

"I understand, Makoto-san," the other girl replied with a smile and a bob of her head. "I'll keep her out of trouble as much as I can. Assuming of course," she added with a laugh, "that I'm not right there in it with her."

Makoto grinned. "Works for me."

Outside, Lisa leaned against the building wall, one foot propped up on the wall behind her as she talked. "So that's where I'm sitting." She grinned and looked up at the moon, visible behind the late night storm clouds. "I just thought you should know, in case I get banged up or something. I might need someone who knows their way around a medical kit."

Nene's voice was somewhere between exasperation and annoyed as she growled over the line at Lisa. "Don't do anything foolish. By the way, sneaking into a boomer rights compound counts as foolish." She paused for a long moment, and sighed again. "Just be careful. I'll have the medical kit ready if you need it. Just don't do anything that draws my daytime friends down on you, okay?"

"Hai, Nene." Lisa grinned and added, "By the way, could you tell Sylia that I'm sorry I wasn't able to make our appointment today? A hot scoop is a hot scoop, you know?"

"I'll pass it along," the other girl replied. She sounded like she was shaking her head, an image which made Lisa grin. "Just be careful."


Nene snorted. "That'll be the day. Be careful." With that, the line went dead, and Lisa tucked the phone away. Over a normal cell phone connection, that was the closest she could come to asking for help from Nene's friends. Time would tell if any of them showed.

Lisa made her way back inside, to see Kristi climbing into her armor and starting the power-up checklist. Makoto was tucking away the uneaten sandwiches into the fridge. She poured another glass of juice and handed it to Lisa. "Drink up. You're going to need your energy for what's coming next."

"Hai." Lisa drank the juice while watching Kristi sort weaponry on her system. The stealth pauldrons were switched to the waist mounts. The taser replaced with a railspike cannon. A monoribbon whip went on the right arm, while a heat cannon was attached to the left. Finally finishing up, Kristi looked over at Lisa as she walked over, voxmodded voice distorting her natural vocal tones as she sized the reporter up. "You ready, Lisa-chan?"

Lisa struck a pose. "Hai!" Her cell phone beeped, and she blinked a few times, looking down at it. Cueing it up, she read the brief message, and grinned. "Kate-san invited me to another vidrom evening." She looked over at Makoto, who watched with interest. "She also said she'd love to see you too, if you were interested."

"Depends," Makoto replied as she popped a cheese stick into her mouth with a teasing grin. "What's playing?"

The other girl giggled and blinked innocently. "Sailor Moon Crystal. Another interpretation of the original series."

Makoto's eyes narrowed. "That woman is evil."

The reporter laughed and nodded. "Don't we all know it! But we love her anyway." She headed out the door, the other two following. "Monday night, assuming nothing else comes along? Say, seven?"

The senshi nodded with a grin, and gathering electrical potential, vaulted skyward. Lisa watched her go with a sigh of pure envy. "I wish I could fly."

Kristi looked over at her. "You sure you can't? I mean, if you're using telekinesis to move things with your mind, could you move yourself?"

A brief moment of concentration allowed Lisa to lift herself a foot off the ground. "I can do this. But I'm just using TK to lever myself up with the help of the wall, here. That's a far cry from flying across the landscape. I need to hold on to something. That's not flying, I just have an invisible crane I can call upon."

The boomer girl snorted at the imagery. "Well, I think it's all just psychosomatic semantics. The moment you figure out a way in your own mind that allows you to fly, you'll do it." She tapped the reporter's nose lightly with a gauntleted hand. "Think about it." Grinning, she took a few steps, and launched into the sky in an assisted power leap, which took her to the rooftop of a nearby building.

Sighing theatrically, even though there was no one left but her to experience it, she took a few steps of her own, before launching her way over to the building rooftop. -Flight,- she thought to herself with a slight grin. -How would I manage that.-

A stray thought occurred to her. -Waitaminnit! I'm also a mage, right? Is there a spell for flight?-

Still considering possibilities, Lisa followed the other two as they made their way deeper into the heart of Megatokyo, heading for the Boomer rights compound.

* * *

Boomer Liberation Front Compound, 11:30 PM

Lisa landed last, dropping down behind a chunk of ducting on the rooftop. Easing around what looked like a solar array running down into the building, she joined Makoto and Kristi as they studied the building across the street.

This one was very different. While the other building was a converted hotel, this one was an ultramodern convention hall. Lisa frowned and crouched down, leaning on the building edge as she engaged the suit's camera and panned around.

Makoto looked down at her. "What is it?"

"Doesn't it strike you as odd that the Humanity First compound looks like something a bunch of penniless enthusiasts put together, while the boomer rights group looks like they get their funding from GENOM?" Lisa shook her head as Kristi looked over at that. "I don't mean them specifically. But I mean, look at it. The difference between them is night and day."

"I get it," the other senshi replied slowly, as she took in the scene as well. "The humans-first movement looks grassroots because that appeals to the demographic they're selling to. While this," she said with a wave at the compound, "looks more like a car dealership."

"I can't imagine a lot of freed boomers would like being associated with a place like this," Lisa added slowly as she panned around with the camera. "In fact, I'm not seeing a whole lot of anything that looks like freed boomers there. Lots of security, some people active in the back... but not a lot of random boomer activity. It's actually really quiet."

"So walking in the front door and telling people I'm an emancipated boomer won't work then, huh?" Kristi grinned as Lisa gave her a concerned look. "Don't worry. I'm not very fond of that solution either. But it would get me inside the compound."

"And if they're working hand-in-hand with Takumi and his people, you might not get out again." Makoto tapped something on her ear, causing a holographic visor band to appear around her eyes. She tapped it a few times, causing it to shift visual spectra, before settling on something a deep purple. "Kristi. Can you check out ultraviolet radiation? There's a peculiar spike coming from the middle of the building. I don't recognize it."

The hardsuit's sensor boom deployed, and the boomer girl was silent for a few moments, as the computers considered what they saw. Finally, she pushed up the visor and looked at the others. "It's an uplink connection. Ultraviolet laser, extremely directional. It's basically the next thing to impossible to tap into. You'd actually have to intercept the beam to know what they were saying." She looked back at the compound. "The usual down side to a technique like that is that you have to either be motionless, or have one heck of a transceiver tracking system, because if the beam is off by only a degree or two, it won't line up with the receiver on the other end. For a building pinging a satellite, of course, it's not that big a deal."

"As long as the satellite is in range," Lisa countered. She looked over at the compound, and the invisible laser array she couldn't see, and grimaced. "Unless they have a network of the things, of course. Then they just switch to the next one in sequence and stay in connection the whole time." She looked the site over again. "Now I really want to see what's going on in there. I can't think of a way in, though." She pointed to the street around the building. "Open avenues on all four sides, no nearby buildings or large trucks I could hide behind. It's totally open. And with all that glass, they'd see us coming even from above with all the city lighting."

"Not from a high-altitude drop," Kristi countered, considering the angles. "The storm clouds are masking the stars and moon tonight. A drop from straight down would stand the greatest chance of being undetected."

"You don't have flight gear," Lisa replied, still considering options. "Makoto could fly, but we may need her on the outside, running interference the way she did with the Firsters. Which means me, ideally. I could certainly land safely enough with TK." She looked over at Makoto. "Could you get me up there?"

"Yes," the senshi replied firmly. "It's a good plan, as far as it goes. But getting to the roof isn't the problem. It's everything that happens after. You'd be going in without backup of any kind. If something happens, what's your exit strategy?" She nodded toward the building. "Doug-san always insisted whenever we considered something that dangerous that we always have our exit strategy planned in advance, so everyone knew what everyone else would be doing."

Lisa studied the building again. "If I have to leave in a very splashy way, I'll focus on the glass windows. A Heartbreaker in the window will blow it away, even if it's reinforced. Then I'll use TK leaping to get clear." She pointed to several buildings nearby. "Depending on the side of the building I use, I'll head to one of those rooftops."

"Good plan. Simple, and easy to remember. Those are the best kind." Makoto moved behind Lisa, and took a firm hold on the girl. The two rose into the air, and swiftly vanished from sight. As they left, Kristi took up a ready position on the rooftop, sensor boom deployed and chameleon field engaged, ready to act or intercept data as the opportunity dictated.

The flight over the city was incredible. There were no engine noises, no jet thrust sounds, or whirring servomotors. Just the two of them flying over Megatokyo, the storm clouds above and the city lit up like a fantasy painting below. Lisa grinned and looked back at Makoto. "Is it like this for you all the time?"

The older senshi just smiled and nodded to the building beneath them. "You sure you've got this? I'm basically dropping you from a hundred feet up. If you don't think you can make the drop safely, I can drop you off and head out again."

Lisa took a deep breath, and nodded. "I've got this. It's just like TK leaping. I just have to use more of the roof to slow down with."

"Good luck," the other girl whispered. Then she let Lisa go.

The reporter felt a momentary thrill of panicky excitement as she began to drop. Then the thrill of the moment pushed little things like fear to the side. It was what made her such an excellent photojournalist. She positively lived for these moments!

Lining up her approach, she gathered her power, and pulled energy from a local ley line. As usual, she could sense the massive supernova which was the giant node under Megatokyo. She wasn't keen on drawing from it. Even if she could, that was a staggering amount of power. Far more than anyone could handle, she was sure.

Gathering her thoughts, she reached out with her mind, pushing telekinetic force toward the roof, generating thrust to counter her descent. She slowed quickly, and finally dropped to the surface of the roof with no more vertical speed than if she'd just hopped off a ladder.

She landed in a crouch, one hand pressed to the pavement for stability. She blinked, as she realized she'd unconsciously landed in the so-called "hero pose." Stifling a giggle, she eased her way along the roof to a ubiquitous ventilation duct, and eased the grille off. Considering the duct, she then slid inside, and began making her way down the system. Concentrating the whole time on not being perceived by people in the building.

Making her way down the vent system, she heard what sounded like the soft whirring of computer fans. Following the noise, she found her way to a subdued computer room filled with machines and the soft blinking of status lights. Easing the grille off but holding on to it, she lightly dropped to the floor of the room, and quietly replaced the cover. Waiting for a moment to see if anyone noticed her and hearing nothing, she moved around a file server, heading for the main console.

The figure leaning against the console wore a red and pink power suit. She had what looked like a high-density cable connecting her left gauntlet to one of the computer's data ports. She was also clearly expecting Lisa. "Took you long enough," the voxmodded voice commented in what Lisa could tell was a playful tone. "I thought for sure I'd be done here before you even made it into the building."

Lisa let out the breath she was positive she'd been holding for the last minute in shock, with relief. "Nene! For a moment, I thought..." She leaned back against a console, and took several more breaths. "Don't scare me like that, okay?"

The other girl chuckled and returned to the computer. "This system's got a lot of cutouts and security walls. More than I'd have expected for a place like this. There's definitely stuff going on they don't want the local community finding out about. What brought this on, anyway?"

Pulling out the backup she'd made earlier, Lisa passed it over to Nene. "We infiltrated the Firster compound earlier this evening. Turns out that under the harmless surface gloss there's a fairly modern medical research center in the basement, along with quarantine facilities. Also, one of the guys in the Firster movement is in regular contact with someone over here."

Nene made a disgusted sound as she pulled up data. "Well, I don't know yet who's dirty here, but I'm sure we'll find them." She pocketed the data drive, and stopped. On the screens, a large section of the floorplan was clearly blocked out. It also wasn't connected to the network's security system. "What do you know? Another hidden secret. And like the Firsters' it's in the basement."

"I'm on it." Lisa paused and pulled up her PDA. She opened up the data file containing the gibberish email ID and showed it to Nene. "Also. Those two conspirators were sending a copy of everything to whoever this is. It showed up in several emails, so it's not a transcription error. But it's also not an email address." She shrugged. "I was kinda hoping you could tell me what it is."

Nene shoo'ed the girl away. "Get going. I'll fill you in on a private channel." She tapped something on her suit, and Lisa heard her own music player beep in return. "Benefits of coding your music player myself," she finished with a teasing tone in her voice.

The reporter rolled her eyes and switched to the secure line. "Okay. I'm heading out. There might be some electrical disturbances as I'm heading down. Makoto-san's giving me some support from outside."

"Copy that," Nene replied tersely as she focused on her task.

Lisa slipped out, and made her way to the nearest stairwell. Hearing footsteps, she eased herself into a side room, and concentrated hard on not being there. The footsteps faded away as the guard moved on. Sighing softly, she eased her way back out, and down the stairs. Repeating the process twice more, she made her way to the ground floor.

Unlike the other building it had very little human presence. Plenty of seats with power connectors for boomer recharging, but no boomers. "Strange," Lisa commented quietly over their line. "Aside from a few guards and maybe the occasional straggler, this place is almost deserted."

"Not surprising," Nene replied. "Most boomers aren't exactly the trusting type. After a lifetime of being taken advantage of, they're understandably reluctant to side with the BLF. Also, they may be waiting to see if this new group is just GENOM with a new face. Or worse, some agency working for GENOM looking to scoop up the boomer renegades."

The reporter felt a moment of sadness creep in as she considered the point Nene had made. "Trust is the first thing people lose, and the last thing they get back."

"Yep. Doesn't make it fair, but that's just how it is."

"So... Umm..." Lisa took a breath and dove in as she slipped into the basement stairwell. "What about you? I mean, you were pretty angry there for a while. Toward GENOM, certainly, but also boomers in general, and sort of everyone in the bargain."

Nene bit her lip and blushed slightly. "I... may have gotten a little distracted from that recently." She fought back a grin as she typed away. "Besides, things are better now. For all of us." She paused as a small chessboard appeared on the bottom right of her screen. A super-deformed motoroid picked up a chess piece as big as it was, and clumsily carried it across to a position on the board, then jumped off of it, blinking expectantly at Nene. "We're kind of experimenting ourselves with unshackled hardsuits. So far, it's working out fairly well." She moved a pawn two squares, and grinned as the motoroid settled into a 'thinking' pose, an hourglass slowly spinning over its head.

Lisa's lack of response caught the redhead's attention. At the same time, a secondary window reported with what it had gleaned about the gibberish email address. Still considering what was on the screen, Nene glanced around to make sure someone wasn't sneaking up on her with a hammer, then toggled the comm. "Lisa?"

Down in the secret basement level, Lisa crouched on an overhead metal walkway, looking into the main room. "Nene..." The reporter took another breath, and cued up her camera feed. "Are your friends monitoring you? I think we might need more of them."

The girl looked down at what looked like twenty-four heavily armored and lethally armed combat boomers of an unfamiliar type. The room was filled with computer support hardware, additional weapons and ammunition, and partially obscured by the constant steam pooling in the corners from cooling equipment. Every combat boomer had the BLF logo prominently stenciled on their exterior shells.

"If those emails lead where I think they will, someone's using both groups to stage a bloodbath. If those things get out and cut loose in a crowd -"

"It'll set back the whole boomer rights movement by, like, forever." Nene bit her lip and disconnected from the mainframe. "I got what we needed here. If they're not combat active, I say we pull back and consider our next move. If they don't know we're on to them, we'll be able to plan more effectively later."

"Hai, Nene."

The redhead ghosted through the complex with the ease of experience, returning to the window she'd rigged on entering, and slipped out. As she left the compound, she toggled her helmet's secure comm system. "Sylia. Lisa's on to something big. I need to brief you as soon as I get back."

The one-word "Hai," was her only response. Closing the link, Nene jumped several buildings, and landed near Lisa's two friends. One of them, presumably the sailor girl, was focusing all her attention on the building across the street. She was also casually holding what looked to Nene's sensors like half a terawatt, conservatively speaking. The energy crackled and flowed around her arms and hands like a living thing as she absently pulled and shifted it.

The other girl looked like a not-so-subtle attempt by a certain corporate executive to build competition for the Knight Sabers. Nene grinned and toggled her own suit's built-in satellite system, using it to scan the other suit for anything usable. A side screen informed her the other girl was doing the same thing.

The red Saber shook her head in amusement and tossed them a data module. "Here. This is a copy of what I pulled from the BLF compound. Your teammate is almost out, and should be rejoining you shortly." With that, she turned and leaped into the sky, vanishing from sight shortly after.

Makoto released the energy she was holding back into the sky moments later. Shortly after, Lisa landed on the rooftop and made her way over to a duct to sit down. "Wow am I tired."

"I'm not surprised." Makoto sat down beside Lisa and hugged her. "This was your first truly solo infiltration mission. You got in and out, with no one the wiser. Congratulations!" She passed over a data solid. "Your friend stopped by to give us this. Said it's the contents of the BLF computer system."

Lisa stifled a heartfelt yawn, and took the cartridge. "We should get that back to the lab too." She paused as Makoto plucked it from her hands again, and shook her head.

"Not that way. You're too tired. You mess up a TK landing, and you're in the hospital at best, and on the way to the morgue at worst." She placed both hands on the girl's shoulders and looked straight at her. "Learn to recognize when you've hit your limit. You might someday have to push past it, but if that isn't tonight, don't. Learn when you need to stop being super so you can recover from what you've done."

As another yawn threatened to split her jaw, Lisa nodded and sighed. "Hai, hai. I get it. We still need to get this back to the lab, though."

"I'll take it." Kristi plucked the memory solid from Makoto, and tucked it into a storage pocket. "I don't need sleep as much as you do, and the suit could use some actual maintenance time in the armor bay after pushing the chameleon system tonight." She waved at Lisa as she made her way to the other side of the roof. "Call me tomorrow, okay?"

"'Kay!" Lisa grinned tiredly as the armored girl vanished into the skyline in the first of many powered leaps. She let Makoto guide her to the building's roof access, and down to the empty elevator access. A pair of transformations and one elevator ride later, and two tired girls exited the building and took a cab back to Lisa's apartment.

Once the reporter was safely in her apartment, Makoto ducked back out, and stealthily transformed yet again. Flying up to the top of the nearby roof, she studied the Megatokyo skyline, looking back approximately in the direction of the BLF, the Firster compound, and the massacre they were apparently conspiring to cause.

"Usagi," she began, speaking into one of her ubiquitous crystal recorders. "This is far worse than I thought. She's barely discovered what she can do, and she's about to wind up right in the middle of a major firefight. Again. In as many weeks." The girl shook her head. "I can't stay, but she can't just be left in the deep end either. She needs backup. On like, a regular basis."

She paused in thought for a long moment, before a strange idea occurred to her. "Umm. Usagi... What about Usa-chan?"

* * *

Monday, November 9, 2037, 9:00 AM
AD Police Plaza, Megatokyo.

Nene breezed into the main foyer, walking carefully around all the construction. The broken glass and steel had been removed last week, but rebuilding the main hall would take several more. The cyberhacker made her way past the construction crews and headed to the main elevator.

Inside, half the buttons were taped over with red "X" stickers. Others had post-it notes stuck to them in odd places. Checking to see that the main cybernetics level wasn't off-limits, she selected the floor and leaned back.

The AD Police were officially still on the job, but the building itself would be weeks still before it was really open for business. Until then, people were grabbing space wherever they could to do their jobs.

The elevator let the girl out on the cybernetics level without incident. She walked around, noting the sections covered with plastic, or wall panels which had been removed and covered with temporary patches.

The cyber lab was a mess. Partly because of the hole in the floor they hadn't fixed yet, and partly because it was a convenient place to drop all the random junk they hadn't found a place for yet.

Checking the gun locker she'd stashed that datapad in, she discovered the entire locker empty. Unsurprising. A quick check showed all the other lockers emptied as well. With so many construction crews walking the level, all armaments would have been relocated to a more secure holding room. After a moment's thought, she headed down to the main armory level, right above the motor pool.

"Nene!" The armory officer waved to her as she made her way into the cluttered room. "Can I possibly interest you in helping me make some sense of this mess?" Lieutenant Glass looked around, hair more frazzled than usual as he climbed over several crates of ammunition. "I've got just about every weapon in the building in this tiny armory right now, and I've got to make some sense of it."

Nene looked around curiously. "Where's the maintenance and service staff? Or the clerk boomers?"

The armory officer snickered. "Surely you jest. After what just happened, they're going to trust boomers in the armory? As for the rest of my staff..." He looked briefly sick. "Most of them were down here itemizing equipment before end of shift on Hallowe'en. Right now, it's just me."

"Gomen, Glass-san. I didn't know." The girl looked sad for a moment, but managed to perk up a bit. "What do you say I see if I can roust up some support for you? As for me, I came looking for a datapad which was taken from a gun locker on the cybertech floor. It would have been heavily hacked up."

The lieutenant sighed theatrically, and nodded. "Thanks, Nene-chan. I really appreciate any help you can send my way. As for that datapad..." He shifted his way through the piles of gear until he reached a far locker, and opened it. Shifting boxes, he stopped at a smaller container, and opened it. Pulling out the boomer mercenary's hacked datapad, he made his way back to Nene and presented it with a flourish. "One piece of evidence restored to its proper officer." He grinned at her laugh, and mock-bowed. "All part of the daily service of an AD Police armory officer, ma'am."

"Arigato, Glass-san!" Nene caroled her thanks in a sing-song voice, and laughed before waving and making her way up the stairs. As she left, Glass' face shifted, becoming a mix of relief and worry. Nene had been a never-ending source of optimism and upbeat dedication to her profession, despite no less than two attempts on her life by that scumbag Yoshida.

He was only a lowly lieutenant in the armory office, but like many officers in the tower, he'd heard about the assassination attempt against her boyfriend. And like many of them, he had a special locker set aside for when the call inevitably came down to deal with the scumbag who made war on such special people.

* * *

Special Operations Unit "Branch," Undisclosed Location, 11:00 AM

Leon leaned back in the rickety metal chair as he gave the nondescript man handcuffed to the table in front of him a hard look. "So, let me get this straight. You just happen to know who ordered the hit on the CEO of Loon Enterprises, as well as who pulled the trigger on the weapon that almost killed her boss' brother." The cop leaned forward, letting the chair lets hit the ground with a loud bang. "That sounds a little too convenient, wouldn't you say?"

The bomber sighed and shrugged. "Call it anything you want, man. I make it my business to know who I'm working for. And that means knowing anyone they hire that might make my life more difficult. So yeah." He gestured with his limited mobility off to the side. "I know where they are, who they are, and the guy who pulled the trigger." He narrowed his eyes, and glared back at Leon. "But only if it leads to a deal. No deal, no information." He gave the officer a tight grin. "What I know is important to you. I can tell. So the only question I need you to answer is what you're willing to pay for it." He shrugged, and leaned back in his chair. "Everything's for sale. Including the identity of the people that hired me. What have you got?"

Leon studied the bomber for a long second, and leaned forward. His expression was flinty as he focused all his anger at what happened to Mackie Stingray and his girlfriend into his gaze. "I'm guessing your bosses were the Liu Sun."

The bomber jerked back as if he'd been slapped. Leon smiled tightly and nodded. "Thought so. Now, you have even less to bargain with than you had a minute ago. So. You want something from us, you'd better start offering things we don't know, or you're going to find yourself in a hole so deep they'll have to ship you daylight!"

Leon stood up and knocked on the door. As it opened, he stepped out, and looked back at the suddenly much less confident bomber. "Think about it. I'll be back in a quarter hour to hear your decision. Don't make me waste my time." With that, he closed the door.

Daley pantomimed a whistle of appreciation as his old partner joined the rest of the group in the observation room. Roger watched the explosives expert with a professional eye as the man in the room divided his time between glances at the one-way mirror and an almost frantic examination of the table in front of him.

"Think I rattled his cage just a little?"

Roger grinned. "I'd say so. That man in there looks a lot like he's just lost his best bet, and knows it." He gave the inspector a curious look. "Who or what is Liu Sun, anyway?"

Daley leaned back, and listened as Leon pulled out his PDA. "I came across a reference to them in relation to the assassination of top members of the Hou Bang criminal organization recently. Apparently the word out there is that it's some kind of coup, and they're specifically targeting family members of the old triad leadership." Leon shrugged. "They're basically the new, up-and-coming crime syndicate. Anyone wanting to make a name for themselves by doing something high profile like a bombing in broad daylight, it would be a group like that. It was a gamble."

"Well, it certainly paid off," Roger added after a moment, nodding at the man on the other side of the glass. "He certainly looks like you've knocked out his underpinnings. I wonder what else will shake loose, now." He looked back at Leon. "But if this Liu Sun really was behind the assassination attempt, what's their angle? Why would they be after the head of a biotech research company?" He grinned and shrugged. "Aside from the fact she's successful and good looking, that is."

Daley snickered. "And you're totally unbiased on that front, right partner?" He grinned at Roger's goofy smile, and shook his head. "Well, aside from your obvious connection to Ms. Yamazaki, I don't think they had any specific grudge against her. More likely, she was simply the most visible impediment to their goal. Shoot the CEO," he summarized, "and maybe the company shuts down."

"That would imply that Loon's competitors may have hired Liu Sun to do the dirty work," Roger said, nodding slowly. "Makes sense from several angles. If the Liu Sun is a rival faction in the old Hou Bang, they need finances. Doing a quick hit for a grateful biotech firm might give them just the finances they need to continue their gang war."

"But then their assassin screws it up, so they try to bring in an explosives expert." Daley pointed to the man in the other room. "He tries twice and gets arrested on the second try, leading to this moment in time." Daley looked over at Leon. "So where does that leave Liu Sun?"

"In deep with a job unfinished, probably having already taken a large quantity of the client's money, and with nothing to show for it." Leon looked at the bomber in the room and checked his watch. "If he really does know who and where the sniper is, another loss like this one might just push the Liu Sun out into the open, either by us, or by their angry contractor."

"Which brings us back to the mystery third party who wanted the Liu Sun to fail." Daley thought hard about it for a moment. "Assuming there's enough in the sniper's raid and bust to flush out the new triad and either arrest or take them down, what happens after? Another triad? The original group takes control again? Or is it something else?"

Leon's face twitched in a slight smile. "I may actually have a line on that. For now, don't worry about it. We'll focus on this perp's information. If it's good, we'll mobilize against the Liu Sun's sniper, and maybe the Liu Sun itself, depending on the information. Just stay focused on what's in front of us. I'll let you know if I'm right or not later."

Slipping out of the room, and making his way back to the interrogation room, Leon allowed the smile to grow. -The Liu Sun's continued existence threatens the life of someone you care a great deal about, Ms. Stingray. And you did say you intended to take care of this some other way than direct confrontation.-

Leon opened the door, letting the man inside see the almost saturnine smile on his face for a long moment as he closed it behind him and settled in the chair. -You have no idea who set you up,- he thought to himself as he pulled out a notepad and pen, putting them in front of the explosives man. -Consider yourself fortunate. Not many who cross the White Saber walk away in once piece, as your employers are about to discover.-

* * *

AD Police Tower, 1:30 PM

"You're kidding me!"

Nene shook her head, expression unusually flinty. "Not a chance, chief. They're definitely operating from inside that building."

Chief Tohdo looked at the display on the large briefing room computer screen. It showed a modern carport garage. It was one of the upscale garages that had a centralized elevator system for moving and storing automobiles. "And they're occupying several floors in that garage?"

"It works, though," Daley piped up from the back, pointing at the image. "They have almost total anonymity in a populated zone. Who'd think to look for a multi-billion-yen criminal syndicate headquarters in a carpark, of all places?"

"Plus," Roger added, "since it's fully automated, they can easily disguise their activities. Almost no one actually ventures inside the structure other than maintenance personnel. It even makes getting in and out easy for them as well, without drawing attention to themselves."

The chief studied the image for a few more moments, before looking back at Nene. "What do the city plans show for the building?"

The image switched to a wireframe graphic, with important areas highlighted. "Built eight years ago, the carpark is state of the art. An intelligent, boomer-driven system allows the carpark to recognize owners on sight, and prepare their cars for them. As a safety measure, it can also accept retinal and fingerprint scans as biometric locks on access for any carport."

The image shifted to show its position right beside the multi-level freeway. "Access lanes on both levels allow for easy transit both on and off the main freeway ramps." Nene looked over at the chief. "They've got bolt holes on both freeways, plus the main access point at ground level."

"That doesn't even count what they may have underground," Roger commented. "What's in the city plans for the sewage and underground access?"

"Not great," Nene admitted. The schematic dropped to the next lower level under the building's basement level. "According to the city schematic, a major underground maintenance tunnel runs past the parking garage. It was one of the big ones put in after the Kanto quake. It's designed to make it easier for people to travel through them, so that it simplifies the installation and removal of city support equipment."

"They get into that, and make it to an intersection, we'll lose them." Roger marked off sections visible on the city plans. "We'd need covert forces in the underground maintenance tunnels, two assault groups to hit the freeway access points, and a third to hit the main floor. Plus whatever we use to actually, you know, go after these guys." He looked over at Daley. "Do we even have the manpower for a job this hefty? Or should we call in the army?"

Tohdo stared at the image for a long moment, then glanced over at Roger. "We go in, Dalton-san. That's what the AD Police does. We go in. No matter the risk." He looked down at Nene, who watched him with a particularly vulnerable look in her eyes. "Especially when they threaten people we care about."

Nene sniffled and drew her uniform arm across her eyes briefly. "Gomen, Tohdo-san," she whispered softly.

Tohdo waited another half-tick for the seriousness of the moment to fully sink in before looking over at Daley. "Pass the word. As soon as I get confirmation and a warrant, we're hitting that building hard."

"Hai, chief-san!" He paused and looked speculative. "Any word on the hardware we wanted to acquire from impound?"

Tohdo gave them a tight grin. "Funny you should ask. Make sure anyone who can use a welder or hack a computer gathers in the motor pool, would you? There's a large shipment from impound which needs to be examined. Anything we aren't one hundred and fifty percent certain of stays here. Only take the equipment we can be certain is trustworthy."

Daley gave the chief an airy salute. "Hai, chief-san! We're on it!" He tapped Roger on the shoulder, and the two left the room to spread the word.

The cyberhacker sniffled again, and smiled at the chief. "Arigato gozaimasu, Tohdo-san. This... This means a lot to me."

"I know it does," Tohdo replied gruffly. "Now if you want to improve everyone's chances, think you could take a look at some of what they brought in from impound? There's a few things I need want you to either sign off on personally, or cross of the mission." He pulled out his PDA, and keyed up an entry from the impound shipment.

Nene inhaled sharply. The AD Police had a few bad memories of that gear. But it was her experiences with the Knight Sabers which stuck out in her mind. "Chief! This gear... Most of it was wrecked, wasn't it?"

"Yes and no," he answered, tucking the PDA away. "Enough parts were salvaged that the techs think they can put two, maybe three suits together. But they're all highly customized and until a couple hours ago, were very illegal. I want you to be absolutely certain we can trust any of those things they take with them."

The redhead snickered. "Because if he's free for this operation, we both know who's likely to want to put it on."

The chief's grin was mostly lost in his mustache and beard, but it still lit up his face. "Exactly. Get to it, Nene."


* * *

Ladys633 Tower, 3:00 PM,

Sitting comfortably in the neural interface couch, Sylia concentrated on the two data packets Nene and Lisa had retrieved. After scanning the contents with multiple security programs and pronouncing them safe, the system had cued up the two packets, and began sifting through them looking for commonalities.

Plenty had been found. Sylia studied the data the system presented, including a fairly extensive email chain. Experimentally, she cross-referenced that data with the information they'd pulled from the memory solid.

One piece of information appeared on screen: The unintelligible email address.

Sylia's eyes narrowed as she smiled. It wasn't a very nice smile. "Got you," she said with satisfaction. Whoever was behind the planned bloodbath between the BLF and the Humanity First organizations was also behind Metro Aquatic, and their partnership with Liu Sun.

On another screen, a flowchart appeared, as facts and names began to slot themselves in. "Only a matter of time, now," she commented idly.

A beeping sound caught her attention. Checking the message which had come in across her regular cell phone account, she nodded to herself. "The explosives man talked. Good. That simplifies things and ties up a loose end very nicely."

She pulled up building schematics for the BLF compound, and began putting an operational plan together. With the Liu Sun presumably taken out of the equation shortly, all that remained was to put pressure on the BLF. Then it would be a race to see who found out the identity of the mystery email owner. With so many forces closing in on all sides, they would have to make their move, or be stifled into inaction.

After everything she'd seen, Sylia highly doubted they'd choose the latter course.

* * *

Neko Park, 4:30 PM

The parking garage was an otherwise unremarkable affair. A plain, white structure, it sported an animated chibi cat which endlessly waved at passerby and customers. Other than that, it was a parking facility, and thus, utterly invisible.

To those inside, it wasn't nearly as invisible as they wished. Half a dozen men walked endless perimeter patrols around the two levels they occupied, while several rooms filled with computers and sweating technicians occupied most of the operation. In three rooms separate from the techs, twelve people sat.

Of them, eight wore expensive suits. Two of them were clearly BU-55C combat boomers, standing guard for one of the people in the room. That one wore an expensive silk suit, affected a cane with an ivory handle, and a pair of pince-nez glasses with gold rims.

The last man in the room leaned against the windowsill, and watched traffic. The well-dressed man looked over at him and scowled. "You could at least pretend to be concerned with our state of affairs, Hideo."

The sniper leaned back against the window, and gave the older man a cold look. "To what end, Gou-san? I actually made that shot. Yes, the chairwoman was wearing some form of armor. But now that I know what I'm up against, I could have finished it properly. Instead, you hire some American mad bomber, and now he's in Interpol custody."

"Have a care, Hideo," the older man said warningly. "You take liberties you are not entitled to."

The assassin stood up smoothly, causing several of the well-dressed yakuza in the room to visibly flinch back. "Or what, Gou-san?" You need me to finish this mess, and keep faith with your clients." He stood his ground for a long moment, until the older man looked away. "Don't make threats you can't back up, Gou-san."

The assassin made his way out of the room, leaving the old man with his attendants and followers. Pausing at another window, he took a long look outside. What he saw made him tense up.

Maintenance workers had set up a work area across the street from the main approach. Meanwhile, the freeway's digital signs were proclaiming an accident on the ramps, forcing a detour around the affected region.

Hideo sized up the situation, and made a decision. With only a brief backward glance at the old man's private rooms, he swiftly made his way to the lower floor, and the elevator.

A glint of light reflecting off of an object traveling at high speed was his only warning.

Outside, two heavily armored trucks barreled at the upper and lower freeway entrances to the Neko Park parking structure. As they approached, they cued up their sirens, causing red and blue lights to strobe menacingly in the darkening winter evening.

The trucks slammed into the closed doors for the carpark, smashing the flimsy barriers to aluminum splinters as they rocketed in. The trucks heeled over sharply, and came to screeching halts, effectively barricading all travel in and out of the upper levels. More cars and armored trucks followed, further blocking access.

On the ground level, an armored car bearing several large gouges from where it had plowed through the front of the AD Police building a week before roared down on the main entrance, not even slowing down as it blasted through the barricades, and skidded to a stop in the main parking area. Additional trucks and cars followed it in, completely blocking access.

Underground, a deep hissing sound filled the maintenance tunnels, as tactical restraint foam filled up the entire access route in both directions, effectively sealing off the below-ground method of exit.

The yakuza barely had enough time to register how bad things had gotten when shadows over the windows drew their attention.

Three heavy hardsuits hastily painted AD Police colors and fitted with strobing LED lights smashed through the reinforced windows, sending armored crystal splinters in all directions. Gunmen cried out and ducked behind anything available as they attempted to avoid the hailstorm of razor-edged debris. Some weren't so lucky.

The grandfather of the man who had died in the boomer attack so many months ago glared at the three figures in the room. They wore highly customized battle armor of a type he'd seen before. Colonel Lando and his renegade military unit sported those suits, once upon a time. The older man snarled and pulled out a pistol, unloading the weapon at the heavy military hardsuit.

The figure in the suit merely stood his ground for a long ten-count, and then tripped a switch. A taser launcher, crudely mounted to a former weapon port fired a pair of electrodes connected to thin conducting lines. They struck the older man, paralyzing him with thousands of microvolts of electrical potential. Still quivering spasmodically, the old man fell to the floor, twitching as he lay on the shards of broken glass.

Daley and Roger moved around the table in the middle of the room, and brought their own weapons to bear on the hiding yakuza. Facing the invincible might of military power armor in only suits, they swiftly surrendered.

"We've got this," Daley called out. He pointed to the far door. "Go get him."

Leon didn't need encouragement. With a speed he could never have achieved in the police suits, he sprinted for the door. Rather than open it, he just ran through it, and into the room beyond. "The sniper," he roared through the suit's audio amplifier. "Where did he go!"

Several of the scared techs pointed at an elevator. "D-down, to the basement level!" The tech cowered back against the console as the armored figure turned to look at him. "Don't hurt me!"

Leon dashed over to the elevator, and with a roar of pure rage, pulled the doors apart, and launched down the elevator shaft. Floor after floor rushed past him, as sensors revealed him getting ever closer to the elevator car.

The armored power suit slammed into the elevator ceiling and punched clean through, smashing through metal, plastic and glass, to land with a loud impact in the elevator car itself. Gripping the doors, Leon pulled them apart, and launched himself into the corridor.

The railsniper roared once with a sound like a rocket taking off at close quarters. The shot, an intelligent, self-shaping projectile, considered its target in the quarter second of flight time it had. It formed the toughest armor-piercing form it could, and angled its approach to strike the faceplate.

The bullet, much as Sylia Stingray had observed, lacked a solid core. In the presence of the armored frame, it behaved much like the shot against Linna had. It deformed on impact, and deflected, smashing into the wall, and leaving a silvery smear and a deep crease in the faceplate.

The sniper had just enough time for a single, heartfelt "Fuck!" before the power armored figure roared down the passageway toward him on thrust assist. The assassin pulled out a mono-knife, and flicked it on, but the power armored figure wasn't having any of it. The gauntleted hand struck hard, breaking the assassin's wrist and sending the mono-edged knife clattering to the ground. A follow-up strike from the other gauntlet to the assassin's gut sent him flying back against a concrete wall.

The assassin fell to the ground, and rolled to his feet. Cradling his injured hand, he dashed away, down the tunnel. If he could just make it to an intersection...

The foam-filled passageway put an end to his flight. He had just one more moment looking around at the charging powersuit. He roared in anger and frustrated rage as Leon struck the man with enough force to put him down.

Leon paused for a long moment, hand pointed down at the assassin. Finally, growling something incomprehensible, he pulled back, the pulse cannon retracting into its wrist cowling. "Assault control, this is Leon. The assassin's down. In the maintenance tunnels. He'll need an ambulance."

The assault leader confirmed and sent people to scoop up the assassin and the Liu Sun hierarchy. But Leon heard very little of it. He leaned back against the tunnel wall, and watched as other officers handcuffed and dragged off the assassin. Looking at his gauntlet, and the partially concealed pulse cannon another long moment, he took a steadying breath and stood up again, beginning the long walk back to the ground level so he could finally take the armor off.

* * *

AD Police Tower, 6:30 PM

Priss and Jennifer carefully made their way past the construction supplies and into the heart of the AD Police building. After speaking to the officer set up in a desk off to the side of the main hall, they headed down to the motor pool.

There, over a hundred officers, technicians, and clerks were busy checking equipment, cleaning weapons, and recertifying armor. A large pile of equipment beside several large packing crates lay discarded off to one side, cordoned off with a sign marking 'To be sorted later.'

The two girls moved through the crowd, looking for a specific person. At the back of the room, they found him.

Leon leaned against a parked cruiser, hand covering his face as he stood, deliberately distancing himself from the crowd. He was slouching back against the car, breathing slowly and deliberately.

Priss glanced down at Jennifer, who just nodded. The older girl reached up and gently pulled Leon's hand down. Assessing the look in his eyes, she gave him a sad smile of her own. "How close did you get?"

Her husband's voice was rusty. "Too close. I almost..." His voice trailed off as he stared at something only he could see. Priss just pulled him in close and hugged him, waiting for the moment to pass. When he finally put his arms around her, she held the pose for a long extra moment, and pulled back a little.

"It's different when you've got that much power in your hands," she whispered quietly. "It's so tempting. You have to have the strength to pull back a lot more often than you think. Because pulling the trigger should always be your last option." She leaned against Leon again, holding him tighter. "I didn't understand that when I lost my boyfriend. GENOM was the enemy, and all I cared about was making them pay."

She looked down at Jennifer, and pulled her in to the hug. The girl held on to both parents and smiled up at Priss. "But I get it now. It's one thing to fight to protect the people you care about. But don't become them in the process."

Leon's laugh felt pained and a little forced, but he smiled anyway, and looked at his incredible wife with renewed amazement. "You always surprise me, you know?" He looked down at Jennifer, and hugged her closer, before looking back up at Priss. "Thanks. I really needed that."

Priss pulled away, tugging Leon after her. He allowed himself to be cajoled into motion, following her out of the motor pool. "You don't really work here anymore. What do you say we head out of here, get a real dinner, and maybe catch a movie? I think we've earned it."

Jennifer was all smiles as they led Leon back to their car, holding both parents' hands, and chattering a mile a minute about her favorite movies, boy bands, and dinner plans. Priss smiled and nodded at the right moments, occasionally looking up at Leon, her eyes filled with a warmth that made him very glad he'd found a partner in her.

* * *

Madigan's Apartment, GENOM Tower. 7:00 PM

Makoto slid on the green and white slippers with a small smile as she followed the other two into Madigan's apartment. The place had the size one would expect of a senior executive, but despite the cubage, and the expensive -but tasteful- decorations in the place, she was amazed it wasn't larger. It was nestled protectively inside the tower itself. Any windows it had would be false-screen devices, unless they were also armored shutters. She wouldn't put that past what Makoto had seen of the tower so far.

The entire structure spoke of military-level obsessive security. The combat model boomers, most disguised as ordinary human security, dominated every room they were in. Some were openly boomers, clearly placed to show off GENOM's significant market share in fully-autonomous combat machines. The senshi recognized several models as being the same ones she'd blown apart several weeks prior.

Her glasses revealed several interesting things about the chairwoman and her staff, however. While many were boomers, or 'boomeroid' humans with replacement parts, almost without exception they all had the brilliant, rainbow shimmer of a sapient, living being in full control of their own life. A far cry from the flat white glow of nonsapient machinery she often saw around her in the highly mechanized city.

Although she'd removed the glasses only moments after meeting the chairwoman, Makoto had still seen enough to realize that paradoxically, of all the people she'd met, the chairwoman's aura seemed to be the weakest. As if she had been badly damaged psychologically, and perhaps physically, at some point in the past. She had boomer replacement parts, but there was more to it than that. She'd lost something important. Time would tell if she got it back.

Madigan looked back at Lisa, as the younger girl examined the vidroms, a look of unholy glee on her face. "I take it you approve, Lisa?"

"Hai!" The reporter grinned and gave the actual senshi a wicked grin. "You're going to love this." She laughed at Makoto's dubious expression. "I'm rarely wrong, you know," the girl continued with a smirk. "Besides, this version of Usagi is a lot more responsible and caring than the original anime. By the time we're done," she finished, closing her eyes and holding up one finger as if making a prediction, "I foresee you'll want to trade Usagi in for the Crystal version."

Makoto laughed. "I'll believe that when I see it. Any version of Usagi is scary. Especially when you walk past a pastry shop!"

"Really?" Madigan pulled her latest creation out of the oven, and began to arrange portions on the plates nearby. "The anime is that close to reality?"

"Sadly, yes." Makoto sighed theatrically. "I strongly suspect she uses transformation as a cheat against gaining weight. I don't know how she does it, but if I ever figure it out, I may duplicate it." She grinned. "Even if it is probably a cheap thing to do with that kind of power."

"There's nothing cheap about maintaining a good figure," Lisa commented on an ostentatious tone of voice. She held it for another moment, before she and the other senshi broke into giggles. Madigan just rolled her eyes, and finished preparing dinner. She watched as Lisa flounced over to the expensive sofa, and plopped down on it, looking up at Makoto with a big grin on her face.

"So, tell me about that man you saw. What's his name?"

The senshi blushed, and sat down in a nearby chair. "Tony Nakamura. He's one of the project leads for this big science project that's building down in Tinsel City. He kind of reminds me of a guy I knew a while back." She brushed her hair back, fighting to contain a grin. "I kind of think he might be worth dating."

Lisa grinned. "Don't tell me. He's got that 'certain something' an upperclassman you used to have a crush on had?"

Makoto didn't deign to give that comment a reply, but her narrowed eyes spoke volumes, causing the other girl to dissolve in a grinning giggle fit.

Madigan paused in the act of setting the vegetable lasagna dish down on the main table, and looked over at the senshi. "Nakamura-san?" She tilted her head to the side in thought. "I never saw him as the relationship type. He's extremely focused on his work. Almost obsessively so."

"He's certainly intense," Makoto said with a grin. "That kind of makes it more of a challenge, though." She rose and followed Lisa over to the table. "You know him?"

"Only peripherally." The chairwoman finished setting the table, placing a long-stemmed flower in a fluted champagne glass in the middle of the table, to Lisa's evident enjoyment. "He works for a branch of GENOM. We acquired that chunk of land on their recommendation. I suspect they intend to research the dimensional pinhole phenomena that keeps happening there." She paused and considered the man, as if assessing him from multiple angles. "He's thinner than I recall during Colonel Sangnoir's visit. He's definitely lost weight, although I couldn't say why."

Makoto shrugged as they sat down and took a moment to enjoy the sight and scents wafting up from the meal. The vegetable lasagna looked positively decadent, with several blends of cheeses. The bread was artisan-made, and probably baked locally by a business in the Tower arcology. A small selection of tasteful wines and juices made up the other end of the dinner, as did a crisp, fresh country salad with several selections of dressings.

With a communal "Itadakimasu!" and a laugh, the trio tucked into their meals. Lisa sighed with pure bliss as she swallowed the first mouthful of the lasagna. "Kate-san, this is amazing! Where did you find this?"

Madigan grinned, and gestured below her. "The arcology. There's a handful of places I regularly order food from. They're trustworthy, and don't mind putting up with the added security doing business with the senior tower executives requires. They also make an amazing lasagna, as you can tell. Everything is fresh, and prepared earlier today."

"I second Lisa's comment," Makoto said with a smile as she dug into the lasagna. "And as for the research on the emergence point..." She smiled and shrugged again. "it's not like we control a monopoly on interdimensional travel. Just be careful what you do with it." She looked in an apparently random direction upward. "There's stories of things out there, that just wait for naive explorers to open doorways to their worlds for the first time." returning to her meal, she grinned. "I haven't a clue if that's true or not. But there are verifiable stories of interdimensional invaders thwarted by someone, or something, which takes a dim view to hostile dimensional threats. So if you do develop the technology," she finished with a sip of her wine, "be careful how you exploit it."

Madigan paused her meal for a long moment as she considered the warning. "Fair enough. I'll be sure to make a note of that, in case we get much beyond the theoretical stage."

Dinner progressed without further serious comment after that. Eventually the trio loosened up again, and it was with a look of supreme contentment that Lisa eventually sat back on Madigan's expensive couch, curled up with a bowl of green tea ice cream. The other senshi savored the concoction - so hard to get just right, what with confectioners almost always using too much sugar and ruining the flavour, - she watched as Madigan settled herself nearby, and pulled out a small remote.

As she touched the button, the main screen deployed. Instead of an anime, however, it began by showing video of Lisa's infiltration, as well as emails, and a small vidwindow with the enigmatic email address on it. "I thought before we begin we could go over what you found, and how I think it may all tie together?"

The two senshi girls perked up at this, at which point Madigan highlighted the email chain. "Sparing you the tedium of reading through all this, I'll summarize." She pulled up images of Takumi, and a middle-aged Japanese woman in a severe medical outfit. "These two have been engaged in secret communication across the fence line ever since both organizations started. In fact, the tone of their emails suggests they may have been colleagues before the two organizations began, and are very familiar with working together."

The image shifted to the video Lisa's camera took of the boomer vault. "These are an unknown model. Not GENOM manufacture. Definitely designed for maximum damage in a crowded space, however. A basic visual analysis reveals what looks like mounting points for heavy ammunition panniers on the back, along with what looks like three heavy, belt-fed miniguns on each arm. With that kind of firepower, they could inflict extreme damage on a rioting crowd of people, no problem. The shoulder pods appear to be loaded with flash-bangs, presumably to stun and disorient large crowds, so as to maximize the death toll."

Tapping the button, Madigan brought up the video of the Humanity First medical facility. "The data recovered from their emails suggests that the quarantine facilities serve a dual purpose. On one hand, they act as temporary isolation cells for the study and illegal experimentation on metahumans. On the other, they serve as a way to isolate test cases from the general population. Some of their planned experiments include ways to cross-combine desirable metatraits with a single person, as well as techniques to greatly augment the power level of the recipients." She paused the display. "I have no idea if they have moved beyond the theoretical phase, as there is little data on their servers on the subject. This leads me to believe they probably haven't, but you never know."

Makoto held up a hand, briefly interrupting Madigan. "Do we know if the boomer attacks are in any way related to the number or power level of the metahumans in the other group?"

The chairwoman shook her head. "Not directly, no. We can infer a lot from their messages, however. It's clear that they don't want to kick off their massacre until they have enough metahumans to put up a credible defense. That appears to be the point of this operation. On one hand, it sets back - and possibly destroys - the boomer rights movement, forcing them at the very least back into a form of institutionalized slavery, if not the re-imposition of a shackle similar to the Overmind Control System. The second is to present metahuman 'heroes' as the future solution to law enforcement issues which should be embraced by the world community at large. Why they are pushing metahumans as mankind's best hope for world peace, I'm not entirely certain of, yet. I'm fairly certain there's a reason, but it hasn't materialized at the moment."

The screen changed to show projected casualty figures, as well as medical response predictions across Megatokyo. "These charts demonstrate how many people they expect to be injured following the attacks, as well as probable medical support capability for each hospital in Megatokyo. While they certainly have done their homework, I'm not sure why they needed to calculate the probable number of patients each hospital could treat, unless they planned some follow-up activity based on the hospital's capacity."

The images stayed on the screen for another long moment before switching to the mystery email address. "On this front, I have both some forward progress, and a dead end." She smiled at the girls. "I'm familiar with this form of email design. I had to set up similar email systems for certain operations while working for chairman Quincy which required total anonymity. Fortunately, those operations were shut down a long time ago."

The image switched to a flowchart model of the Internet. "Most people rarely consider what happens when they type in an email address. The system does not immediately route the desired connection directly to the source. Instead, what actually happens is that the signal is sent to a local server, whose job is to gather in all access requests from that part of the local city, and process them, before sending them on.

"They accomplish this with something called a router table. It is usually simply a text file, with the names and actual IP addresses of the sites listed, so that the computer knows the internet identifier for any given name provided to the system.

"But even then, it doesn't send directly to the destination. It must then send the identifier to the next closest router, which then repeats the performance. This process continues until the message reaches the target continent, then the target country. The city, district, and finally target address follow after."

She pointed to the gibberish. "This information would be sent to the first router for analysis. If it doesn't match anything on record it gets rejected. Normally, since it doesn't follow any standard path syntax, it would be rejected and ignored. But!" She paused for dramatic effect, and grinned as Lisa made a 'go on' motion. "If someone were to gimmick the router table, by adding a redirect to it with that nonsense address, the router would obediently forward all messages it received to that gibberish address to a real internet address, and no one would be any the wiser."

She sat back, looking annoyed. "The problem is that whoever did this had to have accessed the local internet router and hacked it for their own purposes. For obvious reasons, this access is a closely guarded secret." She gave the other two girls a sardonic grin. "You have no idea how many times chairman Quincy attempted to acquire that kind of control over the internet. But those in the know are wise to GENOM now, so there's little I can do personally that they would allow. While it isn't impossible I could acquire access to the routing table protocols, it would make waves I don't really want to be seen doing."

"Which gives you two options," Lisa replied after a moment. "Either do it secretly, just like Quincy used to, or hand it off to people who might not be as limited in their response options." She grinned impishly. "That about cover it?"

Her anime partner gave her a wry grin. "More or less. Which is why I'm leaving this to you, Lisa. When you decide how you want to proceed, let me know. Otherwise, I'll have to play the waiting game to see what shakes out of that particular tree, if anything." Tapping another button, she cleared the screen, and ejected a data module, which she passed over to Lisa.

Inserting the first anime vidrom into the machine, she sat back and grinned at both girls. "Now, if we're done talking shop, what do you say we get on to the main event?" Lisa grinned in anticipation as Makoto visibly braced herself for yet another onslaught on her senses as Madigan cued up the first episode of Sailor Moon Crystal.

Mentally, Makoto reviewed not only the briefing materials, but also the close bond the two women clearly shared. She'd stayed silent during the briefing, because she wanted to study how the two interacted normally. It had been an illuminating display. -They trust each other. Lisa might not know how rare that is for someone in Madigan's position to trust as much as she does.-

The girl leaned back and focused on the anime, as another thought struck her. -While I don't know what happened, I have a pretty good idea what the chairwoman is trying to recover.- She smiled mysteriously as she watched the antics of the on-screen Usagi. -you only regain your humanity when you fight for it.-

* * *

Ladys633 Tower, 9:00 PM

Nene let herself in with a wave to Sylia. The other woman was paging through displays taken from Lisa's infiltration of the two political groups, and just smiled to her as she entered. "Mackie's upstairs." Her smile grew a little wicked. "Try to keep the noise down, hmm?"

The cyberhacker grinned and blushed, but didn't contradict the older woman as she made her way upstairs to Mackie's rooms. Knocking on the door, she waited for his absent "Hai?" before entering the room.

The room was clean enough. Despite sometimes looking like a hobbyist had dropped a bomb in the room, it never descended to the level of 'man-cave.' She wasn't sure if that was Mackie's doing, or if Sylia had a cleaning service. Considering the random chance any given piece of Sabers' technology could be on display in the rooms, that was unlikely. Which just meant Mackie tended to be a neater bachelor than the average. Which was a plus in Nene's mind.

"Nene!" Mackie blinked in surprise. He was wearing some old T-shirt with a Priss & the Replicants logo on it, a pair of comfortable boxers, and little else. She smirked at his lack of attire, and casually closed the door behind her as she walked over and leaned down. Folding her arms across his back, she leaned in close, and kissed him.

Mackie's surprise gave way to eager passion soon enough. Before things could get any further out of hand -not that she really wanted him to stop, mind,- she pulled back from the kiss and put a fingertip on his lips with a naughty laugh.

The boy groaned softly. "Nene, that's just cruel." He reached up to run his hand through her hair, drawing a soft moan of pleasure from the girl. "Why don't we continue this over there?"

Nene took a steadying breath, and blinked a few times, holding up a finger. "First, some good news." She grinned and gestured to his hip. "The guy that did that? Leon and company caught him. And," she added, holding up another finger, "They also busted the Liu Sun wide open, arresting the guy behind it. As expected," she finished as a look of profound relief washed across his face, "it was the grandfather of the guy that died in that boomer attack at the bar last year."

Mackie's smile grew. "So Reika's in the clear, now? No one else gunning for her and Kou?"

"Not that I know of." The redhead shrugged and made a so-so gesture with her hand. "But I wouldn't be surprised if Sylia and the others kept Reika and Kou underground for a while longer, just to make sure there aren't any active contracts still floating around." She gave the boy a slightly sad smile. "They might have to finally cut all remaining ties with the Hou Bang if they want to go back to their old lives."

"Reika would do it in a heartbeat," her boyfriend replied after a moment, his face taking on a more thoughtful look. "Kou will go wherever she goes. But I think Reika was only supportive of the syndicate because her family was so intimately tied to them. Separate them from the syndicate, and she'll likely try to go her own way." He looked over at a poster on the wall from Vision's last Megatokyo concert, dressed in the highly revealing red Lycra outfit. "I doubt she'll have much difficulty supporting herself without the old group, however."

Nene grinned as she took in the poster. "True. Also, it occurs to me that I might look pretty good in that suit." The grin grew naughtier as she watched the blush rise on Mackie's face, as he pictured his girlfriend in that skimpy and highly revealing outfit. "Maybe," Nene added with a teasing whisper as she leaned in close, "you could help me design it. And that means, of course, that you get to help me put it on. And take it off again." She leaned even closer, and whispered even more quietly, her breath hot in his ear. "Many times."

Mackie swallowed convulsively several times at the images that ran through his mind. Looking over at her, his expression became naughtier as he grinned and leaned close. He reached behind her, slowly making his way for the snaps and zipper of her outfit. "I guess we should start by getting your measurements." He grinned as he undid the first catch, his lips barely brushing hers as they both trembled with anticipation. "We want to get this done right, after all."

"Absolutely," Nene breathed as she let Mackie slide her back to his bed.

Downstairs, Sylia's eyes tracked right to the remote, and stayed there for a long moment. Biting her lip and giggling at the very naughty teenager thought she'd just had, she sighed, gathered her notes, and made her way for the elevator. She'd get more done down in the armor lab. And they deserved some privacy.

* * *

Yoshida's secret lab, Tinsel City. 3:30 AM

Yoshida cackled with evident pleasure as the boomer he'd just created rose up and joined its brethren to the side. After finishing his mystery benefactors' rush order for custom-built boomers, he'd begun working on a new plan. One dedicated to the destruction of the Knight Sabers.

Eight boomers stood to the side, each armed with different weapons, each designed with different equipment and loadouts. Three of them would be instantly recognizable to the Sabers. The first was tall, with spindly arms and legs. Another was heavyset, and covered in heat cannon emitters. The last one was built like a spindly spider, with half a dozen limbs. They had been painstakingly recreated largely from video footage recovered from the AD Police archives. Not a lot of those boomers had survived their encounter. But as Yoshida often ranted during his construction phase, he was a genius for a reason!

The side screen activated itself, showing the icon for his mystery employers. "Yoshida-kun," the girl began. "How close are you to deployment?"

The mad scientist grinned back at them. "The more the merrier! I can begin whenever suits your plans, but every day you give me is another boomer I add to the assault, and another option they bring to the encounter! Just say when!"

The male voice sounded amused. "While we're happy you're enjoying your new upgrades, doctor, be sure to mobilize soon. Within the week, in fact."

"I'll be ready," Yoshida replied, an evil grin on his face.

The screen went dark.

Elsewhere, Ai tapped her chin thoughtfully. "Did that seem... a little more over the top than usual?" She glanced at the display screen showing their flowchart, and the plans for Yoshida. "It almost sounded like he was an actor hamming up his lines or something."

Baty's expression was grim. "I strongly suspect upgrading Yoshida's mind may have been a mistake. He may be slipping the leash. It's the down side of using the prototype Leontophonus virus on him while it was still in its electronic form. Doubtless the Servant Factor Virus would have produced a better leash. As it stands..." He looked up at Ai. "I concur. Yoshida has outlived his usefulness."

The girl turned to another screen, and activated it. The window opened up to reveal a secret data-access connection to the boomers Yoshida had already built. "The three Largo-specials are too useful not to co-opt, if we can," she began absently, as she fed in new instructions. "We'll try to grab the others as well, if we can."

"Hai," Baty replied as he tapped out a code. After a few minutes, a reply appeared on his display. "Contract accepted. Yoshida will no longer be our problem as of tomorrow night." He looked over at Ai. "The boomers he's working on. Is the Leon-B virus present in its uncorrupted form? Or has he implemented some form of defense?"

"Uncertain." Ai blinked a few times in quick succession as the thought caught her off guard. Entering new commands, she waited for the system to process them, and nodded slowly. "He's altered it. The new OMS system will reject commands we send it. I'm restoring it to its original state with a fresh infusion."

"Set it up so that any attempt on his part to verify he's still in control returns a false value. I want him to believe he still owns those boomers before the assault team is in position. In the meantime, use the secure back door to access his plans and schematics. If we lose those boomers, perhaps we can recreate them ourselves. As you say, they are uniquely designed to destroy the Knight Sabers. With a little updating, they may even succeed."

* * *

Wednesday, November 11, 2037, 9:00 AM
AD Police Plaza, Megatokyo.

Linna looked up in surprise as her monitor screen blinked, showing her an image of officer Dalton in the lobby. She bit her lip for a moment, suppressing a grin, and considered the workload she'd sat down to. She'd already been at it for a little over an hour, and the visit was already a welcome one. A quick word with the front desk, and the officer was passed through.

Anri led the detective up to her office, and bowed to Linna, before withdrawing. Kou, ever present, stood in the shadows to the side, keeping an unobtrusive watch on his charge.

For her part, Linna was dressed to kill. The body-hugging charcoal gray business suit was an alluring cross between feminine and professional as she stood in front of her desk, the very picture of the confident professional executive. Roger wasn't sure how she could move in that close-fitting knee-length skirt, but he had to admit it did wonders for her hips and legs.

Realizing he was staring, he quickly blinked a few times and looked up at her. The naughty grin on her face said she knew perfectly well what had attracted his attention. Somehow, he still wasn't losing any points with her. "Ah," he began, and cleared his throat.

The amused smile on her face broadening, the chairwoman walked forward, and motioned to a very formal looking table set to one side. Taking the hint, he made his way to the indicated chair and settled himself as she sat down. Anri appeared, placing tea and a small selection of morning pastries on the table. She served Linna first, then the detective, before retreating to a position near the door.

"Wow," Roger managed to croak out, drawing a laugh from Linna. "Sorry about this. I'm ah... not usually this... umm..."

Stifling another laugh, she leaned forward and put her hand on his wrist. "Don't worry about it. I take it you're here about that big operation the other day?" She nodded to the wallscreen. "I saw it on the news. A new criminal syndicate busted, and an old one apparently on the ropes. Were they responsible for the attack?"

"They were," Roger replied, grateful for the subtle guidance back to the topic at hand. "The explosives man led us to the sniper, who was apparently still in the employ of this renegade splinter group calling itself the Liu Sun." He pulled out his PDA, and keyed it on.

"While the investigation is ongoing, we're certain we've seized the lion's share of their assets, as well as arrested anyone in their active chain of command. That said," he added, looking up at her, "there's always the chance they still have active contracts in the wind." His expression flickered as the professional demeanor changed to something more personal. "You should be careful for a while, still. There's no guarantee there still isn't someone out there with a contract to shoot you. I'd strongly recommend keeping whatever security you have in place, in place until we're sure they don't have anything else running out there."

Linna nodded, and sipped her tea. "Is there any clue who they were operating on behalf of?"

The officer hesitated for a long moment. "Well, yes..."

"But it's an active investigation, and you can't tell me," Linna finished. She sighed and gave him a half-smile. "I get it. It's just frustrating not knowing who was so motivated they decided to hire someone to shoot me." She considered her options, and asked, "If I, perhaps obliquely, suggested it might possibly be a rival environmental biotech firm, would that not possibly be a step in the right direction?"

Roger leaned back, clearly thinking that bit of doublespeak over carefully. Linna smiled and sipped her tea again as he came to a decision. "I certainly would not discount that guess out of hand," he said with a cautious grin. "But I couldn't confirm anything."

Linna set down the teacup. "Thank you, lieutenant. It's nice to have a guess point in what might be the right direction." She grinned at him as he sighed and briefly crossed his eyes, shaking his head at the byplay. "Don't worry, detective. It gets easier the longer you do it."

Warm brown eyes met hers as he sipped his own tea. "I hope that's true of other things. I still have a lot of free time at the moment at work, what with the tower in pieces, and the major investigation in town wrapping up."

"Is that so?" Linna's smile grew as she ran her fingertip around the teacup. "Perhaps I could call after business hours, when we can leave the detective and the CEO in the closet for the evening."

"I'd like that." Roger drained his cup, and with a polite nod to Linna, he rose to his feet and allowed Anri to lead him out. "If we discover anything else pertinent to your case that we can discuss, we'll certainly contact you."

"I appreciate it, detective. Thank you for your time." She watched him leave with a smile, and turned back to her tea.

Several minutes later, setting down the cup, she looked up at Anri as the girl cleared the table settings. "Did you notice his slip at the end?" She gave the girl a lopsided smile. "It feels wrong somehow to take advantage of it. But how can I not?"

"Indeed," the blonde girl commented with a smile as she took the cups and plate to a concealed kitchenette in a side room. "He suggested the investigation was moving beyond AD Police's sphere of responsibility. This means the biotech firm responsible for the attack isn't based in Megatokyo, and has no assets here. They're from out of town."

Linna nodded. "That crosses off quite a few direct competitors. We also know Sylia suspected involvement by one of several Chinese biotech firms with ties to the Chinese government. Some of them would have branch offices in Megatokyo, but not all of them. Would you get the graph we put together, and we'll see what's left? Maybe we can narrow down the list of suspects."

"Hai, Linna-san."

* * *

IDEC Construction Site Alpha, Tinsel City. 3:30 PM

Makoto unbuckled herself from the utility hardsuit, and opened the roll cage as the joints locked. Sparing herself a moment to examine her reflection in the construction unit's rearview mirror, she grimaced at the dusty, dirty mess she looked like.

Tony Nakamura was perhaps twenty feet away, deep in thought as he trudged his way from the makeshift offices of the IDEC research division near the pinhole site, and the parking lot. He paid no attention to those around him, the wind blowing his dark brown locks in a way that just made him look more undeniably irresistible to the sailor senshi.

Risking a moment's use of power, she tapped a crystal, causing her appearance to undergo an instant change. Dust and dirt vanished, her hair went from flat and lackluster to clean and swept back. She closed the roll cage a little more loudly than she had to, causing the doctor to look up at her as he passed by.

"Umm, what? Oh, excuse me," he began absently, then stopped as he took in the sight in front of him. She was either late teens or early twenties. It was hard to tell. She had long, slender legs, deep brown hair gathered up behind in the kind of artfully artless wave that only came with hours of advance preparation, and the deepest green eyes he'd ever seen. Despite wearing a hauler's protective coveralls, they somehow didn't disguise just how attractive she looked.

The brunette laughed and held out a hand. "Koto Makino. Pleased to meet you."

Tony took the hand and smiled as he mentally shelved his work and focused on the girl in front of him. "Doctor Nakamura. Pleased to meet you, Koto-san. You part of the construction group on the project?"

The girl shrugged. "It's the best I could get on short notice. I'm studying out of country in quantum physics, and asked my placement advisor where I could find work to advance my career." She wrinkled her nose as she looked around the construction site. "I'm pretty sure I need a better grade of career counselor. Working construction adjacent to a research installation wasn't what I had in mind."

Tony laughed and began walking back to the parking lot. As he'd hoped, the girl walked with him. "Well, with boomers filling so many jobs in Megatokyo, it's actually harder than most places to get work. But a student studying physics, hmm?" He glanced off the the side, as if concerned who might be listening. "Think it's abuse of authority if I get you transferred to the student pool? We've got a small group of articling students from Tokyo University helping us gather information, prepare samples, and run tests." He grinned and shrugged. "It's not really much better than construction work as far as doing the 'big important stuff' is concerned. But it'll look a lot better on your resume."

The girl bit her lip and grinned, quickly dipping in an enthusiastic bow. "I'd love the opportunity, Nakamura-san." She fought back a blush, and asked, "I'd really like it if you called me Makino, doctor."

"With an invitation like that," Tony replied with a smile, "how can I possibly refuse. Pleased to have you aboard Makino-san. If you like, we can get the paperwork processed and have you transferred into the student pool immediately."

"I'd like that, doctor." Makoto walked along with the handsome doctor, sneaking peaks now and then, admiring the way the sun highlighted his hair and appearance. For his part, he was extremely aware of the pretty girl walking beside him, and had to keep reminding himself that she was a student, and misconduct investigations happened for a lot less.

* * *

Axil Court Ichigaya Daimachizaka, Room 406
Shinjuku-ku, 5:30 PM

Lisa giggled, and leaned closer to the phone. "How did you manage that?"

Makoto laughed. "It wasn't that hard. I'm a lot older than I look, and while I've never been Ami-smart, I've had plenty of time to really round out my education. So I knew enough to correct a few intentionally misprinted equations, quoted a couple of basic theories I read about in school, and they pulled me into the student pool."

"And now you're working near Nakamura-san every day, right?"

The senshi's sigh on the other end was all the confirmation Lisa needed. She leaned back in the couch, grinning like the Cheshire cat as she looked up at Kristi. The other girl just sighed, and shook her head as the reporter finished her call and hung up. "You realize, assuming she's like her anime counterpart, she probably goes through boyfriends the way you go through designer outfits."

Lisa snickered. "Probably. But that's okay. It's good for her to have something to do that isn't following us around everywhere. Oh! That reminds me!" She dug her phone back out and hit redial. After a moment, she added, "Makoto-san? I was thinking about doing an actual patrol tonight." Her voice took a teasing edge. "Think I can tear you away from obsessing over Tony-san to help us out?"

"I am not obsessing!" the other girl's voice objected, loudly enough for Kristi to hear. She grinned as Makoto continued a little more quietly. "Okay, maybe a little?" She sighed, and they could hear her getting up. "Okay, I'm in. I could use the air to clear my head. Where are you?"

"Kristi's apartment."

"Hai," the senshi replied. "Give me half an hour."

Lisa leaned back as the line disconnected again. Thinking hard, she grinned, and held up a hand as Kristi started to speak. Tapping a blanked entry on her phone, she held it up for a long moment, before speaking. "Hi, hi! The girls and I are thinking about going on patrol tonight. Want to join us?" She paused for a moment. "Hai. Kristi, Makoto, and myself." She paused a little longer. "Hai. We'll work it out. So, you in?"

A few moments later, she grinned, and gave him the address. "Half an hour, okay? See you on the roof!" Hanging up, she looked over at Kristi, and stage-whispered, "I'm putting a team together!"

Kristi just rolled her eyes, and went back to the fridge for a drink. "And what was all that about, then?"

"Oh, that. Well..." Lisa tented her fingers together for a moment. "He's kind of associated with a certain other group of people in the city. And he'd really appreciate it if you didn't try scanning his suit the moment he shows up." She looked up. "He agreed to not scan yours as well if you played nice." She sweatdropped and gave Kristi an uneasy grin. "I mean, if that works for everyone?"

The boomer girl snorted. "So, a guy associated with the Knights is going to patrol with us, but only as long as the GENOM representative on the team doesn't try to steal their secrets." She shrugged as she drank, and looked back at Lisa. "Not a problem for me. If he's willing to trust me, I can trust him back, I guess."

Lisa squealed and dashed around the kitchen island to hug Kristi. The other girl held up her glass and protested, while trying to keep from spilling her drink. Lisa just laughed and hugged harder.

* * *

Mackie landed on the rooftop in a graceful, jet-assisted drop. Nearby, a girl in a sailor fuku stood watching him, sizing him up. She was tall, with disproportionately long legs, which given the relatively short skirt, were very much on display. He blushed and swallowed, suddenly grateful he was wearing a hardsuit. "Umm," he began. "You here for the patrol too?"

Makoto smirked and pirouetted, making the skirt flare even higher as she struck a pose. "In the name of flustering cute boys, absolutely!" She walked over to him, and leaned toward the opaque faceplate. "You are cute in there, aren't you? Since you're one of Lisa's friends, that probably means you're cute."

Lisa's laugh caused her to look over at the other senshi girl as she made her way onto the roof, the girl in the hardsuit following. "Makoto-san! He already has a girlfriend!"

The brunette straightened, and grinned unrepentantly at Mackie. "Lucky girl, then. You take care of her."

The grey-suited form nodded. "I will. Always."

The senshi laughed. "Just what I was hoping to hear." She looked over at Lisa. "So, we need coordination. Encrypted channels or telepathic switchboard?"

Lisa blinked a few times. "Nani?"

Makoto took a slow breath. "Right. Self-taught. I keep forgetting. Okay, then." She clapped her hands together. "One of the things a telepath can do is connect to everyone in the group, and allow them to talk to each other via telepathy." She pointed to each person in turn, and then back to Lisa. "The actual telepath is handling the connections, they just have to mentally vocalize whatever they would say out loud."

The boy in the armor shifted nervously. "How much of what's going on inside our head is being shared?" When Makoto smirked at him, he continued in an obviously flustered tone of voice, "Hey, like she said, I have a girlfriend. I can't always help random stray thoughts."

Lisa giggled as the brunette shook her head. "It doesn't work like that. You only hear what the other person intentionally chooses to send. Think of it like your private internal voice. Up until now, only you have ever heard it. Well now, you can let others hear it too. As long as you aren't, say, narrating porn in your head or anything, what else happens in your head is your business." She grinned and held up a finger. "Oh, that's also a great way to keep hostile telepaths out of your head. Most people are prudish enough that once they realize they're experiencing someone else's porn fantasy, they avoid it. So ironically, the more oversexed you are, the better protected your mind is."

The hardsuited figure shook her head in disbelief, but added nothing else, as the boy in the armor mulled it over. "Telepathy would give us a tremendous edge. But... What if we accidentally call each other by our actual names?"

The girl in the power armor made a frustrated noise, and stomped over. Removing her helmet, she set it to the side and put a hand on her waist. "My name's Kristi. I work for chairwoman Madigan, and I'm Lisa's newest friend." She pointed to the others. "I'm also totally committed to supporting these people. My personal favorite superhero walks this earth amongst us, and I'll be damned if I let anything happen to her!" She paused, and glanced nervously at Lisa, who stared at her, mouth open in amazement.

Kristi took a steadying breath, and pointed to the boy in power armor. "You are Mackie Stingray, younger brother of Sylia Stingray, also sometimes known as the White Saber, and the leader of the Knight Sabers mercenary group!" She crossed her arms and glared at him. "That about cover everything?"

Mackie stared at the girl, a shard of ice working down his back as he swallowed hard. "How..."

The other girl rolled her eyes and looked up at the heavens. "How do you think? Chairman Quincy had a huge file on all of you. Sure, it was encrypted, but when he died, everything he owned became the property of the new chair of GENOM, which happens to be my direct superior, Kathryn Madigan. So, yeah. She's known for half a year, and done absolutely nothing about it!" She walked over to the boy in armor, leaned down and pushed up on the helmet cover. Mackie, still stunned by events, didn't stop her as she pushed the plate up.

"The most important thing Mackie, isn't that those of us in this little fraternity know who each other are." She waved off the rooftop. "It's that they don't. And none of us have any interest in allowing that to happen!"

Kristi straightened and spun around stomping over to another part of the rooftop. "Argh! Boys!"

Makoto watched the byplay, trying in vain to smother the broad grin that threatened to take over her face. Waiting for another few moments for tempers to settle, she took a few steps forward, metaphorically taking center stage, and hopped a little, hands clasped behind her back. "So! We ready to do this?"

* * *

The mercenaries moved carefully through the rubble of the abandoned factory complex currently being used by Yoshida to build boomers for his mystery employers. Twelve boomers, augmented by power armor, and converted utility lifters made their way to the target. It seemed overkill to hire an independent assault unit which had gone renegade right in the middle of the Polar War and struck out to make her own fortunes, but the employer had been adamant that the target was building custom combat boomers at the rate of one a day. If they didn't use overwhelming firepower, they'd get hammered.

Janislav looked over at his backup. Like the rest of his unit, they'd taken their names from the former handlers in their units. Some were Russian, some were American. It didn't matter. They worked for themselves, now. He gestured to the two BU-12J boomers in his heavy assault group, and they prepared to start the assault. Too heavy to move with any real stealth, they made up for it with their custom armament.

The junky heat cannon array GENOM had kitbashed onto the 12J's had been removed a year ago, in favour of the new Open Source Antigravity technology. Now, each of the boomers sported a heavy grav cannon, which greatly extended their effective range.

The commander looked over to the other side, where his stealth units hid. Former bodyguard boomers, they wore NATO stealth suits, almost invisible in the night, and almost impossible to track by conventional sensors. If the target managed to evade his heavy firepower, they'd sneak around behind and ambush him. "Basic rule of doctrine," he rasped over the team's tac radio. "Firepower and Maneuver. You hold their noses with one, and kick them in the ass with the other. 12's you start first. We'll try holding them with firepower while the ninjas take them out. If that doesn't work and they get delayed, we reverse tactics. The ninjas hold the target in one place while we get the heavy armament in position."

The unit responded in the affirmative. Janislav looked up at the Frankentruck hovering overhead. Starting out as a Russian amphibious truck, they'd added more antigravity technology to it, turning it into an all-terrain assault vehicle, capable of delivery maximum firepower in any theater they engaged in. If both groups were unable to advance, they'd both pin the target while the Frankentruck moved into position and dropped a bomb on the place.

That would do 'em.

* * *

Mackie followed after the three girls, taking up rear point as he tried to sort through the last five minutes. One thing he did know was protocol, however, which was why, as he followed along behind, he used the secure line in his suit to contact one of the pre-arranged comm beacons hidden in the city. Pointless on the face of it if Kristi and the chairwoman really did know who they were, but the protocols were meant to be always observed. His sister had made sure he knew that.

A click on the other end was the only sign the line was open. "I'm with the other girls," he began. "The GENOM girl in the hardsuit says she knows who we are. And that the chairwoman has known for six months."

Sylia's voice was calm. "Did she prove it?"

"Hai. She called me by name, and you as well. Said that Quincy had figured all this out, and that Madigan had inherited it when she took over."

"I see." The line was silent for a long moment, before she continued. "This isn't entirely unexpected. Mason knew who we were, and Quincy had access to more resources than he did. Others have found out since, as you well know." She seemed thoughtful over the line. "I suspect Inspector Wong knows, although Dalton-san does not. That might change the longer he's in a relationship with Linna, of course."

"What do we do?"

"For now, nothing." Mackie could almost see his sister shrugging her shoulders. "It comes down to, of all things, trust. Do we trust the chairwoman of GENOM with one of our most closely guarded secrets?" She paused and her voice changed. "What do you think? You're actually on patrol with them tonight. Your input matters more in this particular moment than mine. How do you feel about this."

"Umm..." Mackie landed on a rooftop, and launched again, as the others changed direction. "Kristi scares me?" He flushed as he heard Sylia chuckle on the other end of the line. "She reminds me of Priss, Sylvie and maybe Nene, all wrapped up in one package." He shifted the next jump, and considered his response. "But do I trust her?" He paused, remembering that moment on the rooftop, and Lisa's stunned reaction. "Hai. I do. She's totally committed to Lisa and her personal mission. I'm absolutely convinced of that."

"Then don't let it worry you," his sister replied. "As for myself..." She paused and sighed. "Colonel Sangnoir had some pointed advice for me before he left, about the danger of walling myself off from people so much, I lose the ability to have faith in others." She thought about it again, and continued, in a much firmer tone of voice.

"I'm leaving this decision to you, Mackie. As long as you feel we can trust them, it's business as usual. Tell me the moment you feel this changes. Until then, I trust you to see more clearly here than I do."

Mackie stopped on the next rooftop he landed on, holding a hand to the side of his helmet. "Hai... Sylia." He swallowed hard several times, and blinked, trying to process all the feelings this moment stirred in him. He was vaguely aware of the others landing nearby, but focused all his attention on the blank comm signal image. "I won't let you down, Nee-san."

"I know you won't," Sylia replied in a warm tone of voice. "Now, pay attention to your mission. That has to be your focus until you get back." She paused and added, "You good?"

Mackie grinned. "Always."

"Never doubted it." The line disconnected, leaving Mackie standing on the rooftop. Looking around, and briefly checking a sensor sweep, he walked behind a large obstruction and pushed up the faceplate. Joining him, Kristi did the same, a curious look on her face.

"I was terribly rude to you earlier," he began, bowing to Kristi. Then he held out his hand. "Let's start over. Mackie Stingray. Associate of a certain mercenary unit we all know." He winked and grinned. "Pleased to meet you."

Kristi laughed and took his hand. "Charmed, Mackie-san. I hope we can work together going forward. I think we could learn a lot from each other." She grinned a little naughtily and added, "And I don't mean our respective technologies!"

The boy blushed and mock-glared at her as Lisa giggled in the background. Makoto nodded as she took in the social dynamic of the group as it formed around them. "Very nice. Oh, and another thing?" She leaned over and tapped Mackie's faceplate with a teasing grin. "I was right. You are cute."

* * *


Yoshida looked over at the floor cleaning boomer, and suddenly took on a whole new demeanor. "It's time?"

"Hai. There's an assault group already closing on you." The cleaning machine whirred over to a storage locker, and propped the door open. "Get in. I've got the rest."

Yoshida acted without hesitation, climbing into the old, grungy locker. As the door closed, he felt the floor drop beneath him, allowing him to slide down, into the basement, toward whatever escape plan his fusion-boomer avatar had concocted for him.

In the main room, another locker door opened, and a boomer duplicate of Yoshida stepped out, and cackled maniacally. "All my boomer brethren! Activate! Destroy the intruders!"

The boomers' eyes lit up and they turned to face the walls and door of the structure, sensors and weapons already deploying.

Outside, Janislav cursed. "Damnit! The target's made us! Heavies, attack!"

The BU 12J's immediately fired high explosive ammunition. The factory wall was no match for the explosive weaponry, and vanished in a fiery explosion that lit up the entire neighbourhood. From out of that explosion flew four combat boomers, apparently repurposed from the 55C model. These had been custom fitted with heavy combat claws and a shoulder-mounted railgun, which fired at high velocity as they flew out into the open.

One of the 12J's was thrown back by the concentrated firepower, and exploded as the railshot hammered its armor to splinters. Janislav cursed and tapped a button, committing all of his forces. "Take no chances! Destroy everything!" He looked up into the sky. "I want Frankie on fire support. Ground those boomers!"

Side panels opened up on the flying truck, allowing the boomers inside to deploy heavy miniguns. They roared to life, firing hundreds of rounds back at the modified 55C's. Two of them were heavily chewed up by the unexpected aerial counterfire, while the other two cut their jets and dashed into a wrecked building nearby for cover. The Frankentruck pivoted mid-air slewing the cannons around to bear on the two boomers in hiding, attempting to take them down as well. The two badly damaged 55C's slammed hard into the ground, exploding in a pair of brilliant fireballs.

Inside the compound, the three Largo-era boomers activated, and stood motionless. Elsewhere, Ai and Baty stared at the display screen with paired expressions of confusion. The girl pulled up one of the boomers' mental imprints, and slapped the keyboard in frustration. "There's nothing in there!"

Baty looked over in surprised. "Explain."

"Apparently Largo was able to get the performance he did out of those boomers by networking them to his mind. Yoshida apparently intended to do the same thing. But with our OMS cutouts in place, he can't. Without a mind to control them, they're just big targets."

Baty made a snap decision. "Load the BLF boomers' intelligence module into the one with all the heat cannons. It's similar, and can adapt. We'll remote the other two." He looked at the images. I'll take the one with all the arms. You've got the one with the railspike launchers."


In the warehouse, as the last of the conventionally modified boomers activated and flew out into the combat, the heavy frame of the laser-emitter boomer shifted as the intelligence module came online. It realized it had a totally different loadout, and spent a few moments adjusting for all the heat cannons. Then it launched itself in a straight attack at Yoshida.

The scientist had a moment's surprised reaction as the boomer held up both arms, and activated the heat cannons. Half a dozen small cannons activated as one, and a massive blast of heat energy roared toward the doctor.

The blast threw the mad inventor clear across the hangar, to smash into the assembly machinery. As the other two spindly Largo-era boomers activated and walked over to join the other one, a hollow laugh could be heard from the assembly area.

"I am not so easily disposed of as that, my erstwhile employers!" A dark glow emanated from the back of the warehouse, as large sections of the machinery began to move apparently of their own volition.

"This fight has just begun!"

* * *

Lisa's head snapped around to look at the Tinsel City area, as several large fireballs roared into the heavens, accompanied by the sound of heavy explosions. She looked over at Makoto, who tapped her temple. Following the girl's previous instructions, Lisa focused on each one in turn, and then back at the fireballs climbing into the heavens.

::Telepathic switchboard is up,:: she 'pathed. ::Anyone got an idea what we're up against?::

Mackie's mental voice was strangely focused, and a lot more confident-sounding than he'd been earlier. ::A dozen boomers, various kinds. Half a dozen machines of no specific make, apparently adapted from prior models.:: His mental voice seemed to pause for a moment, before he added, ::and a flying Russian amphib armed with miniguns.::

Lisa's eyes narrowed. ::Makoto. You've got the flying car. The guns cannot be allowed to threaten the combat zone any longer.:: She looked around at the mess on the ground. ::Kristi, Mackie, you've got the mercenary heavies and any other strays on the field. I'll go for the high-agility types I see on the far side.:: She looked around at everyone briefly. ::Everyone good?::

When they all responded in the affirmative, she pulled a line from an old video game she'd heard, and launched into the combat zone. ::Break and attack!::

The Frankentruck's gunners noticed the arrivals first. "We've got incoming," one of the doorgunners began. "Looks like two armored types, and... two girls? What the hell?"

Makoto flew across the skyline to the truck, and held up her hand. The skyline lit up with flashes of light before a massive bolt of energy smashed down into her outstretched palm. The energy built up around her, causing her to coruscate with growing brilliance.

The door gunner's response was immediate. "Oh FUCK! Slew us around! I need a clear shot!" The truck started to move around. But although the antigravity device could lift it off the ground, it was still a massive vehicle, and whether it was on the water or in the air, it wallowed like a whale.

It was still coming around, the door gunner trying to bring his minigun to bear as the girl pointed her hand at the truck. "SUPREME... THUNDER... DRAGON!!!!"

The massive bolt of energy flew toward them, reshaping mid-flight into what looked like a dragon made entirely out of electrical power. The magical construct roared at them, right before it engulfed them entirely, both miniguns firing away for all they were worth, to no apparent effect.

The electrical attack ignited everything in the vehicle capable of being ignited. The fuel reserves, the ammunition, and the heavy bombs they'd been planning to use in case the mission went sideways.

The explosion lit up the entire Tinsel City region, as a fireball the size of a city block roared into the night's sky. The blast and accompanying flash of light was so brilliant, it immediately drew attention from the AD Police tower, GENOM, and the Knight Sabers. While Sylia attempted to contact the girls and re-establish contact with her brother, and the police were scrambling firebees and tactical units, they all knew that at their distances, the fight would be long over before they could do anything about it.

In the tower, Madigan ran into her office, wearing only a comfortable dressing gown, four boomer bodyguards with her. She dashed over to her desk and hit a control, causing the main screen to rise, as well as several supporting screens. The giant wallscreen dropped, and began to pull satellite data, as holographic emitters in the room began to display estimated status on Lisa and her friends, based on whatever sources they could draw from. Jenny appeared from the main entrance, and made her way to her console, powering it up, sparing only a tight smile for her employer.

In the fight, Janislav was having a bad day. He threw himself to the side, assault gun chattering away as two forms dove down and launched themselves at him. One was a dark gray suit with red highlights. The figure carried what looked like a glowing monosword in both hands. The other was in a suit of combat armor with built-in kangaroo boots for enhanced jumping and ground speed. She was attacking with a built-in pulse cannon, the energy gun chattering away as she forced him back into a half-demolished building, the two enemies pursuing.

The mercenary commander was forcefully grabbed by two of his support boomers, and thrown clear of the building, as they turned to engage the hostiles. Cursing, he dashed away, and pulled up his command software again, considering options. The Frankentruck had just exploded. That made whoever had that kind of firepower the most dangerous threat. He looked up at the flying girl in the sailor fuku, and ran toward another building, in a zig-zag pattern, dodging lightning bolts along the way.

Throwing himself inside the building, he grabbed the heavy ordnance they'd stashed there. Smashing a fresh hole in a wrecked wall, he aimed the rocket up at the flying girl, and pulled the trigger.

Makoto had about two seconds to recognize the incoming shot for what it was. She crossed her arms and concentrated, as the electromagnetic forcefield spun up around her. She focused her power on that one moment as the rocket hit.

The ball of force protecting Makoto was blasted out of the sky with tremendous force, slamming into the back of the factory, taking the girl out of sight. Janislav ducked back to the bag, and pulled out a second rocket. "That's what I'm talking about! Can't duck a fucking bomb, now can you?"

He snapped the weapon around another wall section, looking for a target to use it on. What he saw was the suited girl with an extended railspike cannon pointed right back at him. He had just long enough to realize what was about to happen next, when they both pulled the trigger.

The rocket's engines ignited. Sufficient force to propel the ordnance at several hundred feet per second began to push it out of the launch chamber.

The railspike used electromagnetic forces to propel a razor-thin shard of armored metal at speeds in excess of twelve hundred meters per second.

The railspike struck the warhead before it cleared the launcher, causing Janislav, the section of building he was in, and the spare ordnance to detonate in a massive multiple fireball. Additional ammunition cooked off, spreading the explosive damage across more of the wrecked building, and lighting up the night with random flashes of light.

Mackie landed nearby, several of the boomers behind him exploding as their severed bodies overloaded and detonated. He switched off the monosword for a moment to conserve its battery, and looked over at Kristi. ::That.... was an awesome shot!::

Kristi grinned. ::Thanks! What about the others?::

Lisa's mental voice was strained. ::Kinda... busy here...:: The girl dodged to the side as one of the two tactical stealth boomers fired what looked on the surface like a large shotgun modified to behave like a high-speed automatic pistol. Each large shot exploded on impact, however, making them far more dangerous than they were individually, as the explosions threatened to keep tossing Lisa around. Her ability to predict the safest place to be, she'd discovered, didn't take into account weapons with secondary explosive heads, and her shields had borne the brunt of it.

She ducked into a side room, as the two tactical units dove toward a window. Allowing herself a tight grin, she put a telekinetic plane of force in its path, causing both to hit the invisible wall, and pancake, before falling to the ground. In that moment, she tried something a little reckless.

Reaching out to the ground under the boomers, she connected it to the massive seething mass of roaring power which was the node under Megatokyo.

The moment she did it, she had a panicked instant where she realized she might have bitten off more than she could chew. Unlike the ley lines, which were streams of power flowing in one direction, the node was a deep, roiling maelstrom of competing energies. It was like tapping into the Eye of Jupiter for power.

Blinking at the thought, she called out, ::Makoto! Help!::

The other girl's reply was immediate. ::Where are you? What do you need?:: Jupiter leaned against a side wall as she shook her head, trying to get the ringing out of her ears.

::How do I channel from the node?::

::The node?:: Makoto's mind voice was disbelieving. ::Sweet Serenity... You had to do that NOW??::


::Focus,:: Makoto sent back. ::It feels like chaos, but it really isn't. In the middle of all that random chaotic energy is a pattern. An order. Find it. And when you do, channel it!::

Lisa reached deeper into the blazing whiteness she could see with her magesight. All this, taking only moments, were moments the boomers didn't have. For as they began to roll to her feet, she found something in the maelstrom to grab on to. She couldn't have put a name to it, but it was solid, and she could pull it out. She concentrated on connecting that force to the ground under their feet, and pulled.

The ground under the boomers glowed red, then yellow, and finally, as they tried to fly away, the ground became liquid. One of them fouled its jets in the magma pocket and fell in. The other, about to fly away, was struck by the gray armored figure in a pinpoint jump attack. Thrown back into the magma, they both floundered in the instant hotspot, until they were thoroughly mired in. While they attempted to deal with their predicament, Kristi's railspike cannon put them both down in twin explosions.

Lisa made her way over to the others as Makoto walked unsteadily toward them, still shaking her head and trying to clear the ringing in her ears. "You guys okay?" she asked as she sat down on a chunk of rubble.

"We're good," Kristi replied. She popped open a side pouch, and pulled out a high-energy bar. "You should eat this. You're probably going to need it."

Lisa sighed and opened it. After the first bite, she realized how ravenous she was, and quickly finished it. Reaching out, she tapped a ley line, and began to draw in power, wincing at the reaction it caused.

"Yeah," Makoto commented, looking around more intently. "I could have told you that would happen. Try to avoid overusing your power. If you have to, try not to channel exterior sources if you can avoid it. You've lightly fried your channels. It'll take a couple days for that to heal."

"Gomen, Makoto-san," Lisa replied contritely. "They were just too agile. I had to find some way to slow them down."

"We'll work on tapping nodes later. For now, avoid it tonight. Stick to personal and local power."


The sounds of a heavy firefight inside the factory made its way out, causing Mackie to look over at the building. "Looks like that's not all of them." He turned to look at the other girls. "We good for this?"

Lisa looked around at her team, and nodded slowly. They all looked like they'd been through a lot, but determination crowded out fatigue, and they all turned to regard the warehouse. "Looks like we're going in." She concentrated for a moment. ::Switchboard is back up.:: She looked across at Mackie and Kristi. ::You two have the best sensors. What's going on in there?::

Kristi deployed the boom arm on her sensor pod. Mackie walked over to a wrecked boomer corpse, and held out his hand. Equipment ripped away from the unit, pulled apart into its smallest components, and reassembled themselves. When the parts finished flashing across the distance to a point under Mackie's hand, a completed sensor platform with a medium-strength antenna stood there.

Kristi stared, jaw hanging slack. ::That's... Damn!::

Mackie grinned inside the helmet and powered up the unit. Moments later, the screen lit up, showing the fight inside. The moment the boomers appeared, he froze.

::That's not... HOW???::

Mackie whirled around to look at the girls. ::This is bad. Those three weird boomers were created by Largo. They were specifically designed solely to kill the Knight Sabers. We're in WAY over our heads!::

Kristi's attention sharpened as she took in the sensor data. To one side, Makoto put a hand on Mackie's shoulder and shook him gently. ::Focus! What are their strengths? Their weaknesses? How were they beaten last time?::

::I know,:: Lisa added. ::I've had the chance to study a lot of AD Police footage, and the assault on the power plant was among that.:: She glanced across and grinned at Kristi. ::Plus certain other sources who let me study their combat footage.::

The boomer girl made a circular motion with her hand. ::Get on with it!::

::Gomen! Right!:: She looked at the images on the screen. ::The heavy one attacked the original Red saber. It has lots of beam cannons mounted on its body. Red hacked the boomer and made its armored shutters close right before it fired, causing all that energy to burn it out from the inside.::

She looked at the next one. ::The one with all the limbs tried to engage the Green saber with monowhips, like her own. But it lacked familiarity with the weapons. It's larger, and can physically hit harder. But when it came to actually using the weapons it was armed with, the lack of experience worked against it.::

Tapping the last one with the large head ornamentation, she continued. ::That one was meant to take on the Blue saber. Its head is armed with six railspike launchers. That's what the weird configuration is about. It can fire six at once, and presumably has the same five or six shot clip that Kristi has, per launcher. As far as I know, the Blue saber just plain outfought it, and impaled it with a railspike.::

Mackie grinned. ::Makoto and I can take the railspike boomer.::

Makoto looked over with concern on her face. ::You sure?::

::Sure,:: he added with a cocky-sounding tone of mental 'voice.' ::It'll be fun.::

Lisa nodded. ::I've got the beam boomer. I can deal with it.:: She looked over at Kristi. ::Think you can handle the monowhip boomer?::

Kristi hefted the monowhip module on her right arm. ::Been looking for a chance to use this in the fight. This is as good a time as any.::

Lisa began to run toward the factory. ::Let's do this!::

Inside, Ai dodged an attack as the Yoshida fusion boomer launched a chunk of the assembly area at her. She rolled to the side, firing a railspike at the fusion unit. It had no effect, but mentally she crossed another section off the list. The central core was in there somewhere. If she could hit it in the right place, that would end the threat of the fusion boomer.

Clearly Yoshida had anticipated their move, and prepared a boomer trap to deal with them. He'd even gone so far as to replace himself with a fusion boomer programmed to take over the factory and turn the entire structure against them. If they weren't so busy trying to kill him, Ai might have taken a moment to admire their handiwork. Clearly his mental augmentation had taken him to a level of capability he'd never had before.

If only that didn't make it so damned hard to kill him.

A section of the exterior window, what little there still was, shattered inward as four figures ran toward them at high speed. Ai swung around as the male power armored figure she'd heard about in the news a few times ran toward her. With him was a cosplay girl in a sailor fuku.

The boomer moved. Designed to fight the Blue saber, it had armor, speed, maneuverability, and could hit like a ramming truck. So the moment she had a target more important than Yoshida's farewell gift, she launched it forward at high speed.

The boomer's arms jackhammered out and struck the sailor girl, in an attempt to kill her fast and reduce the fight to one person. They struck an invisible field of pure energetic force, however, causing the boomer to miss and throw itself in a flat dive to avoid the girl's counterattack.

Eight cannons on the man's right arm extended and began to rotate at high speed, firing energy blasts at her. She dodged and skittered across the cement floor, staying away from the firepower, as the girl gathered electrical power in her hands, and fired a lightning bolt back at her!

The bolt struck the floor beside her as the boomer dodged the shot. Ai fired a railspike back at the girl, but as before that EM forcefield deflected it harmlessly. As she tried to get around and deal with the man instead, he drew a monosword and activated it, trying to cut off an arm or a leg, forcing her back on the defensive.

Across the room Baty launched the monowhip attack a third time, to no effect. The powersuited girl's digitigrade-equipped powersuit allowed her to make these crazy-ass acrobatic stunts, launching herself off of walls, the ceiling, the floor, and using jet assist, was impossible to pin down. Periodically, she struck out with a monowhip of her own, attempting to cut off an arm, or foul his own whips. The two units kept dodging and dashing across the room, the flickering glimmers of light as their whips crossed the distance between them the only sign of the lethality of their engagement.

The heavy boomer charged its cannons, and prepared to deal with the other girl in front if it. This one, the combat unit had engagement files about. White fuku, blue bows. Heightened agility, and the ability to fire rail-shot without the need for a railgun. None of that mattered the moment as the unit's firing ports opened, and all the heat cannons on its body glowed brilliant ruby.

Lisa just grinned, and made a thrusting motion forward with her outspread hands, before drawing them to both sides.

The rippling of energy in the air right in front of the boomer was the only hint something was wrong. But it was too late. When it triggered the heat cannons, they fired into the forcefield placed directly against its own frame. The entire unit glowed a brilliant red for a long moment, before the eyes blew out, the lenses exploded, and the unit fell back and detonated with tremendous force.

Across the room, Makoto laughed at their boomer. "Is that all you've got?" She dodged another swipe, and rolled to the back of the room. "I've seen coffee boomers with more fight than this!"

Ai snarled as the boomer dodged another strike from the gray suited form. On the far side of the room, the girl in the green fuku seemed to have a moment of bad luck. She stumbled on a chunk of rock, and it threw her off-balance.

Seizing the moment, Ai fired all six railspike launchers at the girl.

Makoto grinned.

The metal spears all deflected at the last minute, embedding themselves in the wall around her. She held up her hand as to the side, Mackie made a gripping motion, and pointed at the boomer.

With a peal of thunder, a massive bolt of lightning slammed down from the heavens and into Makoto's outstretched hand. As the room filled with the actinic flare of electrical power, thin cables unspooled from the railspikes, flying across the intervening space to connect and merge with the boomer. Ai had a moment's shocked understanding -and grudging appreciation- for their plan, as the girl with the green fuku pointed her hands at the railspikes embedded in the wall around her.

The energy instantly traveled across the intervening distance into her boomer. The machine staggered as a terawatt of energy, enough to power all of Megatokyo for an entire week poured into the machine in an endless torrent of destructive power. The boomer staggered back several steps, and exploded with titanic force, blasting out the entire side of the building.

On the far side of the room, Baty's boomer suddenly found itself held as one foot refused to move. Lisa grinned from across the room, where she stood with one hand outstretched. Kristi, seizing the opportunity, attacked. The monowhip slashed in several long strikes, severing the arms, the legs, and finally slicing the body in half, before the whole unit exploded in a massive blast.

Lisa looked around as Kristi, Makoto, and Mackie all landed around her. She looked across the bay at the partially-complete fusion boomer, and made a gripping motion with both hands. Focusing her remaining power, she pulled them apart. With the sound of screeching metal, the wall tore apart, revealing a skeletal boomer head. One shot from Kristi's railspike cannon was all it took to end the threat of the Yoshida fusion boomer.

The team spent a long moment in the wrecked building, as random bits of boomer fell to the ground both inside and out as they took in the devastation. ""Heh," Kristi commented tiredly. "I'm not cleaning this up."

Makoto looked out across the Megatokyo skyline, now very visible with most of the building in ruins. She pointed at the glowing lights in the sky. "AD Police is on the way. We shouldn't be here when they get here."

Kristi looked over at the other two girls. "Do you have the energy to make it back to the apartment?" She pointed off to the side. "We could use the other base. It's a lot closer."

"Good call," Lisa said with a grin. "Let's go there. Maybe we can get Kate-san to spring for a ride back into the city."

The boomer girl snorted as they headed out. "I'm sure she can arrange that."

Elsewhere, Ai pulled back from the interface system, a look of shock on her face. On the far side of the room. Baty looked similarly poleaxed as he looked back at her. "What. The fucking HELL, was THAT?"

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.

<< Previous

This page was created on April 4, 2019.
Last modified April 05, 2019.