Usagi wakes to find Rei sitting upright, staring at nothing, her breath hard and fast. `Rei-chan! What's wrong?'
Mamoru stirs on her other side, waking quietly and sitting up, a concerned look on his face.
`Something's wrong,' Rei says, `In Tokyo, corrupting . . . changing places, something malevolent.'
`When did it start?'
`Soon. A day or two, I think.'
`Good,' Usagi wraps Rei's hand in hers, `We'll leave in the morning. OK?'
Rei nods, calmer, and smiles when Usagi pillows her against her breast.
Suika Roberts Presents
A Fifth Part Of Dark Kingdom Rising
`We can't let you into the country with those,' the customs man says, waving at the party's openly carried weapons.
Usagi smiles at him, `We are allies of justice, and have magical nastyness to deal with. You must understand.'
`Let me get the proper forms,' he says, `And try to be less obvious, or you'll have more hassles.'
`Look,' the customs man said, `She said they were allies of justice, who had bad things to deal with, and that I should understand, and I did, so I let them through. You know who it was.'
`Who was it?'
`Queen Serenity of the Dark Kingdom. She could have told me "These are not the droids you are looking for" and I'd have let them through, but she didn't. There's been weirdness, monsters, energy-drainings going on for weeks now, and she'll take care of it.'
The supervisor shakes his head, `Go on back to work.'
`Is this it?' Tuxedo Kamen asks, watching the cardian wreck havoc.
`No,' Sailor Moon says, `It isn't malevolent, nor are those who are controlling it. Just,' she pauses, `Hungry.'
Mercury spins, `There,' she points to the top of a nearby building with her left hand, her right on the butt of her Desert Eagle.
`Right!' Mars leaps, followed by Tuxedo Kamen.
Moon goes to the cardian, her slung M3A2 held to her back with another strap around her middle, naginata in her right hand, Mercury covering her from a safe distance. `Shh,' she says, glowing slightly, and the cardian gets quiet, then smiles, letting Moon gather it into her arms, almost purring.
The left corner of Mercury's mouth twitches up in an almost half-smile, and she keeps watch.
`Moon! Cops!' she calls, at the first hint of sirens, `Mars, Tux, police,' she says into her communicator as Moon and her new friend head for the rooftops.
`It's kinda dumb, ain't it,' Viol, one of the youma who works at the Embassy, says.
`Yeah,' Usagi smiles, `It's cute, though, and I don't think it's actually a creature.'
`What do you mean?' Rei asks, stroking the creature's head, which is pillowed on her lap, `It feels alive, not human-level, but definitely alive.'
`I think it's an aspect,' Usagi shrugs, `Of the people we saw earlier. One or both, I'm not sure, but just a separated part of their whole.'
`That would make sense,' Mamoru says, smiling at Usagi, `Make it easier to transfer energy they steal, too.'
`Yep. And with us sitting here feeding them happy energy, they should be less scared next time we see them.'
`How much energy are we talking?'
`About five gallons per hour more than normal,' Ami says, poking at the display next to the energy crystal.
`Five gallons?' Rei stares at the content cardian in her lap, `Hungry beast, isn't it.'
Usagi rings the bell, naginata gripped lightly in her left hand, subgun on her back, Ami to her right.
Ami has an AKS slung across her back, the strap, like Usagi's, over her right shoulder and under her left arm. Her right hand is on her pistol, a cocked and locked Colt Model 70, the holster's thumb-break unsnapped and her thumb under the safety.
`Hello,' Usagi greets the girl who answers the door, `We ran into your creature, day before yesterday, and brought it home with us. We were wondering if you'd be willing to discuss it with us?'
`Who are you?'
`Tsukino Usagi,' She bows, `Pleased to meet you,' she indicates Ami with her free hand, `And this is Mizuno Ami-chan.'
Ami bows, but doesn't take her hand from her pistol.
`Ginga Natsumi,' the girl answers, `But you aren't who I saw the other day.'
`You wouldn't recognize me if I hadn't told you.'
`Natsumi?' a boy's voice calls, `Who is it?'
`They say they are the girls from the other day, who took the cardian.'
`Oh,' another person joins Natsumi at the door.
`This is Ginga Seijuurou, my brother.'
`Pleased to meet you,' Usagi and Ami chorus, but they bow separately.
The other two look at each other, then step back into their apartment, `Please, come in.'
Ami and Usagi follow them into a very normal Japanese apartment, rather small, but adequate for two.
Once inside Usagi steps around Ami, transferring her naginata back to her left hand as she heads straight for one of the doors inside, then, with a little whimper, opens it, `So cold,' she murmurs, `and so dark. She needs light, and people,' and, glowing softly, steps through into the pocket.
Reaching the great tree that is the focus of the space, she leans the naginata up against her neck and wraps it into a hug, and the tree shifts, a branch coming down to wrap leafy branchlets about the girl.
Ami smiles, and snaps her holster's thumb-break closed.
`They've started,' Rei says, softly, as a Dark Kingdom Militia detail shoos people from the middle of the park.
`Where, and how?' Usagi asks, bringing concerned eyes to her consort, then smiling at the small crowd gathered outside the red-brown clad ring.
`That way,' Rei points north-west, `and I'm not sure how, just that it is dark, malevolent, based on suffering.'
`And not the caster's, I assume,' Ami says.
`Right,' Rei says.
`Thought so,' Ami says grimly, then into her Motorola brick phone, `The site's clear, bring her through.'
With a great flicker of darkness and flash of light, and a faint, deep groan, the huge tree materializes into the center of the clear area. Her leaves turn towards the sun, and a soft glimmer shines around her. The crowd gasps, and presses forward.
`Let them through,' Usagi says, and the Militia unit relaxes from their tense shoulder-to-shoulder resistance. The crowd stops at a slight, respectful, distance, then a few children dash up to touch the tree.
One of the youma shifts form, becoming a ten foot tall skeletal form, with long claws and sharp teeth. The crowd pulls back a bit, but otherwise accepts him as, if not normal, expected.
He picks a boulder out of a truck on the sidewalk, walks it over near the tree, and sets it down, adjusting it for a moment before he decides it's right and reverts to his human form.
An inscription is engraved on a flattened part of the basalt boulder:
A friend of the Dark Kingdom Brought here for the enjoyment of the children of Tokyo
`So, where are they, what do they want, and how are they getting here?' Ami says, watching as the shattered remains of the magical construct fade.
`I don't know the first, or the last, but this is a slow-growth spell,' Rei says, indicating the focus the construct had been guarding, `It's supposed to leach power over a long period of time, and, when triggered, release it into a pattern. There's not enough of the pattern to know exactly what it is, but it's malevolent, and corruptive.'
`So they're going to attack in the future. How long?' Viol asks.
`Years, maybe centuries. If we hadn't arrived when we did, the spell would have blended into the floor, and we'd never have found it,' Rei says.
`Can we leave it?' Usagi asks, `I mean, will we be able to destroy it later, even if it's worked its way into things?'
`Yes, but why?' Rei asks.
`If they know we're on to them, they'll be more cautious.'
`We can leave it, for a while, at least.'
`They're moving,' Ami says, the printer whining. She pulls the hardcopy out, `Here.'
Usagi takes it, `Reinforcements?'
`Already moving,' Ami says, `I emailed them right before I printed the map. They'll start arriving in fifteen minutes.'
`Good,' Rei shrugs out of her submachinegun's sling, sets it down next to her equipment belt, then holds out her henshin pen, `MARS POWER,'
`MOON PRISM POWER,'
`MAKE UP,' all three of them chorus.
Three short-skirted forms slide around the corner, their soles slipping on the asphalt, and continue up the street faster than anything human should manage.
A few minutes later, a squad of combat-form youma follow, faster than the traffic, but much slower than the Sailors, their deep red-brown uniforms fluttering, light machine guns at port arms.
And minutes after that, two JGSDF jeeps, Browning fifty-cal heavy-barrel machineguns manned, with full ammo boxes, lane-split up the middle of the road, only slightly faster than the traffic.
`There's only two,' Mercury briefs the youma squad leader, a hulking felinoid with the six-pointed star of a staff sergeant on the tips of her collar, `One construct and one person, not sure just what kind,'
The squad leader interrupts, `Is it the same person as last time?'
`Yes. The constructs seem to be purpose-built, since the last one was a makeup monster, and this one freezes people.'
`Are we sure they're not just chosen?'
`Yes. They're not alive, and they're expert systems, rather than full A.I.'
`That makes life easier.'
`Yes, it does. We've hostages in the back, semi-frozen, so be careful where you shoot. Provide cover, coordinate with the SDF, and shoot to wound, if you get a chance.'
`Ryoukai,' she says, giving a small, almost token, bow, before turning back to her squad and placing them with quick hand signals.
From inside the ice cream parlor comes the heavy, flat *BLAM* of a shotgun, followed by a rather dull *thud*
Mars and Moon glance at each other, then Moon shatters the plate-glass window with a single punch, her M3 in her left hand, and ducks back behind the brick and concrete pillar by the door, providing cover as Mars dives inside, watching for trouble.
The person is down, being covered by a small girl with a wood-stocked autoloading shotgun. The construct is disintegrating, a pile of ash draping the ice-cream counter.
`Mars!' the small girl says, `I didn't know you were here,' she smiles, keeping her attention on her captive, and the shotgun trained.
`Do I know you,' Mars glances at the collar of the girl's dark grey camouflage uniform, which has a pair of crossed B.A.R.s on the right side, and three crossed lines on the left, `Captain?'
`Not yet,' her smile broadens to a grin for a moment, `Moon's got me covered, you know,' she says.
`So do I,' Mars says.
`I'll safe the gun when someone takes charge of the prisoner,' the captain says.
`Gotcha,' Moon says from outside. A moment later three youma appear, one behind the pillar across the door from Moon, two with LMGs, one RPK and one B.A.R., covering the prisoner from the window ledge.
The little captain safes her shotgun, and slings it across her back. The youma at the door steps inside, kneels next to the downed person, and cuffs her, then starts into evaluate a casualty.
`Who are you,' Moon asks, softly, as the girl pulls her patrol cap off, and pulls her long, pink braid out of her top.
`You should be able to figure that out, if you've guessed who you're fighting,' the girl says, spinning her cap on one finger so the name-tape on the back faces Moon. It, like the one over her right breast pocket, says `Tsukino' in both Kanji and Roman characters. The one over her pocket, however, says it in Hangul as well.
`You're our future daughter, and,'
`"The fit has hit the shan",' CPT Tsukino quotes in English, `All the Sailors are pinned down, but the enemy has been significantly weakened. They're dug in in Crystal Tokyo itself, which means they're protected by our own defenses against shelling, and it'll be costly to try and dig them out. Intel found out that they were after a certain object, so I fashioned an unreasonable facsimile and led them here,' she shrugs.
`I'm most upset with you, small lady,' says a new voice. A Desert Eagle, an SMG, and seven LMGs swing towards the voice, and only relax slightly on seeing her uniform, white top, black skirt, trim, and boots, brownish-red bow on her chest, black webbing pistol-belt with ammo pouches about her waist, and an M3A2 SMG slung then clipped to her back. In her right hand she has a polished metallic staff with an ornate set of decorations.
CPT Tsukino smiles, `If you really were, you'd have taken the key back the last time I did this, Obaa-chan.'
Moon winces, but the new Sailor laughs, `You're one to talk, Peter.'
Mars and Moon share a puzzled look, wondering how they could have named their daughter that. Mercury's face screws up in concentration as she tries to place the reference.
`Peter Pan!' she cries, the Desert Eagle twitching as she almost claps her hands.
Moon still looks puzzled, but Mars asks CPT Tsukino, `So you don't want to grow up?'
`No, it was an accident, really,' CPT Tsukino says.
`How long ago?'
`Only a couple hundred years.'
Moon facefaults, but everyone else controls the urge.
`Chibi-usa,' Ami asks, `If you've been like this for so long, how come you're just a Captain?'
`'Cause I keep doing stupid things like rushing off to the past to help fight enemies I don't understand. I got busted to Third Lieutenant last time.'
`Oh? What were you? And what's a Third Lieutenant?'
`Three stripes and the Five Fingered Hand.'
`Yep. Third Lieutenant is punitive. You forfeit five-thirds of a month's pay every month, all allowances, restriction and extra duty until you get promoted. Most 3LTs resign their commissions and become Privates.'
`How long did it take you to work your way back up?'
Chibi-usa frowns, `A long time. Four or five years. I was getting worried I'd have to tap my retirement accounts.'
Ami faults, just a little.
`Officers, even 3LTs, don't get meal cards,' Chibi-usa smiles, `And I moved out of Mama's house a long time ago, so I have an apartment to keep as well. I could have just moved my stuff to officer's quarters, but they're full. The only way in is for someone to die, and that doesn't happen very often, outside of war.'
Usagi slides back up her consort's naked form, as the other's breath settles. She snuggles into the taller girl, then captures her lips in a long gentle kiss.
Rei smiles when Usagi breaks the kiss and snuggles down against her, `Our daughter?'
`Most likely. I asked Ami-chan to check her genetics, but it's the most likely option. Red-black and blonde seems more likely than blue-black and blonde or blue-black and red-black.'
`You have had Ami-chan's lecture on alleles and hair color, right?'
`"Like eye color, hair color is controlled by several dozen alleles, so it is not uncommon for someone to have blue eyes or hair, even if no one in their family for several generations has had anything but black hair and brown eyes",' Usagi quotes, `So it isn't certain, but she does look a lot like you,'
`And you,' Rei nuzzles the top of Usagi's head, where she has her odango and tails tucked into little bags to reduce tangles.
`I've crufted up a detector for these "Black Moon" people,' Ami says, setting a pile of wiring, circuit boards and crystals on the table.
`Good,' Chibi-usa says, `Then I can give you these,' and reaches under the back of her uniform top to pull out, with a *rip* of velcro, two small devices. She sets each on the table, then reaches back to close the pockets on her LBV.
Ami picks one up, and looks it over, `This is very sophisticated work.'
`You told me, when you gave it to me, that it was identical, other than miniaturization, to the first prototype you made,' Chibi-usa smiles, `And when I asked you when that was, you said "Right after I first met you and Beruche."'
`Oh,' Ami says in a small voice.
`So I'm hoping I won't get busted again,' Chibi-usa smiles.
`How's the prisoner?'
`Still out. CAT scan shows the expected trauma, but nothing too life-threatening. She's been awake, but she's still very weak.'
`A butt-stroke to the head can do that,' Usagi says, `Can I go in?'
`It should be OK,' the doctor looks a little troubled, `Try not to get her excited, if she wakes.'
`I'll try,' Usagi says.
`Hey,' Usagi says, softly. The woman on the bed stirs, her eyelids fluttering.
`Hey,' Usagi repeats, `I'd like to ask you a few questions.'
The woman's eyes fly open, and she tries to throw herself out of the bed.
Usagi catches her, even as she falls back, eyes tightly shut, green about the gills.
`Shh, I'm not going to hurt you.'
`Already did,' the woman mutters, barely audible.
`No, that was a friend of mine. You'll be fine, so long as you rest.'
`I failed, so I doubt that,' the woman settles, limp, back into Usagi's arms.
`Why is that?' Usagi strokes the woman's long white hair, soothingly.
`People who fail Wiseman don't tend to live very long.'
`Prince Demando's new adviser, the one who got him into this little war. Rather creepy, hides his face all the time, always backlit.'
`Doesn't sound good. Does he kill them?'
`Not directly, they just kinda die suddenly after he says that he's disappointed.'
`That's not good.'
`You'd think Demando'd be smart enough to realize that.'
`You'd think,' Usagi hugs the woman, `What does Wiseman want?'
`I don't know, but we're here in this forsaken place to find the Rabbit, who has the Ginzuishou, and to set up some sort of weakening spell at each of the Crystal Points, so we can take Crystal Tokyo.'
`And why are _you_,' she stresses the word just a little, `here?'
`Because my sisters are here. We may not get along all the time, but I love them, and if they got hurt because I wasn't here,' the woman shakes her head, just a little, and wiggles further into Usagi's arms.
`And what's your name?'
`Well, sleep well, Beruche-chan, and get better, OK?'
`OK,' Beruche says in a small voice, and falls right to sleep.
Usagi gently wiggles out from under her, and tucks the sheet up around her neck.
`OK, so they're after the Ginzuishou, and haven't figured out where it is, or really how to find it. They want to -' Usagi's brief is interrupted by a soft murmur, `Sorry guys, just a moment, Mamoru needs to talk to me and Rei, and Megumi says it's urgent.'
Rei gets up and follows Usagi out of the room.
`Mamo-chan?' Usagi replies.
`Is Rei-chan there?'
`Yes, she is.'
`Good,' he pauses, `I,' pauses again, `I've been having nasty dreams.'
Rei's lips quirk, and her eyebrows raise, fighting back a giggle at a perceived innuendo.
`Yes?' Usagi's voice is warm and concerned, and she gives Rei a darkling look.
`It,' pause, `It's visions of horrible things happening if I stay with you,' pause, `Lots of people dying, you getting hurt, just,' pause, `bad things. Recently, there's been voices saying the world will be destroyed and you will suffer a "great calamity".'
`That doesn't sound good. Rei?' Usagi looks up at the other girl.
`I've not seen anything like that. My defences are stronger, so it may be an attack by the enemy,' Rei says.
`You mean, they could know who I am, and be sending me dreams?'
`Exactly,' she pauses a moment, `and, to test the other, we have Captain Tsukino.'
`Your daughter?' Mamoru asks.
Usagi opens the door into the conference room, `Captain Tsukino, could you come out here a moment?'
`Captain Tsukino, reporting as requested,' the girl says, coming to rigid attention, then bowing.
Usagi bows back, then `Relax,' Usagi orders. `Who are your parents?'
`I thought you'd already done a gene-scan to test that,' Chibi-usa looks puzzled.
`Who raised you?'
`Oh, you, Rei-mama, Mamoru-papa, and the rest of your harem.'
`My harem,' Usagi asks.
`Yep. You'll have to give me a moment, if you want me to name them all, or even -'
Usagi cuts her off, `I'll find out eventually,' she smiles, `That will be all, for now.'
Chibi-usa snaps to attention, `Ryoukai,' then bows, executes a perfect about-face, and steps back into the room.
`That girl's done too much D and C,' Rei says.
`Probably a side-effect of having been a third lieutenant,' Usagi says, `Did you hear that, Mamo-chan?'
`I did. So I should just have stronger psych wards placed?'
`Try it, see if that helps.'
`I will,' Mamoru's voice is much less worried than before, and a little sleepy-sounding, `Love you both.'
`You too,' Usagi says.
`Sleep well,' Rei says.
`Out,' Mamoru says, then yawns.
`Out,' Usagi agrees.
Rei locks the door behind her.
`Megumi-chan, is Mamo-chan awake?' Rei asks, leaning back against the latrine wall.
`Yes, do you want to talk to him?'
`Rei-chan? What is it?'
`That harem comment of Chibi-usa's.'
`Is that CPT Tsukino?'
`Yes. Captain Tsukino Usagi, who, she says, was a CGN before her last little time travel incident.'
`Isn't she a little young for that?'
`She says, and Sailor Pluto backed her up on this, that she `did something foolish' and locked herself as a ten year old, about two hundred and seventy years ago.'
`Two hundred and seventy years,' Mamoru's voice is a little disturbed.
`It was a bit of a surprise,' Rei agrees, `And that's why we need to talk about harems.'
`Why? I don't want anyone else,' Mamoru's voice is strong, a little distressed by the thought.
`Usagi's harem,' Rei starts, `Listen. Everyone who's ever met her loves her -'
`What about Metallia?'
`I don't think they ever properly met,' Rei smiles, just a bit, `So, you have billions of people who love her, right?'
`Right . . . ' Mamoru agrees.
`And we're talking hundreds of years, here, so that shoves the number to tens of billions. Of those, some of them have to be attractive to her, and of those, some of them have to be worth keeping, and of those, some have to be willing to be kept.'
`So, then, it's inevitable that she's going to take others, and we should just prepare ourselves?'
`No!' Rei almost shouts, `Of those, _WE_ would approve of, like, be willing to love, a few.'
Silence, for a few long moments.
`So we're,' Mamoru falls silent, `We'd be choosing which ones she gets to keep?'
`Not quite that blunt, I don't think, but she wouldn't keep anyone we don't approve of long-term.'
`Unless she can change our minds,' Mamoru says.
`At which point we'd approve,' Rei almost laughs.
`I suppose,' Mamoru's voice has a doubtful smile.
`And if either of us end up with some admirer they would like to keep, Usagi-chan and the other get to approve, or not.'
`I don't think that'll ever happen, for my part, but we're talking a very long time,' Mamoru sighs, `Agreed.'
Rei smiles, watching Usagi nap from the doorway, her head pillowed on her arms, looking, for once, like a fourteen year old girl, a tiny line of drool puddling on one arm.
Usagi giggles in her sleep, and Rei notices the small hands tickling her consort's belly. She bites her lip as Usagi shifts, twitching irritatedly, then wakes with a groan and a perfect hamster-face. A strangled snort of laughter escapes as Chibi-Usa steps back, wiggling her fingers in the air, `tickle, tickle, tickle.'
`Omae!' Usagi growls, half-smiling, and gives chase as Chibi-Usa runs away, squeaking in mock fear, the shotgun slung across her back bouncing very little with her movements.
Rei follows more slowly.
`You need more women as instructors,' Chibi-Usa was telling Rei's grandfather, `Or else it's just too obvious that the sole point is so that you can watch their titties bounce.'
Grandpa has the grace to look a little embarrassed.
`Not that the women necessarily aren't here for the same reason, but they tend not to leer as boldly, so it's OK,' Chibi-Usa continues, `And you really should be teaching self-defense rather than aerobics. About the same amount of nubile flesh to be seen, but they get something more useful out of it.'
`But how do we get girls to come to a self-defense class? It isn't nearly as feminine-'
`That will change, but it hasn't yet. We simply use signs reminding them of the normal dangers of modern life, and make it fun, so they'll tell their friends.'
`But we'll get all kinds of guys wanting classes, too.'
`So? Have three types of class, mixed, male-only, and female-only. Try to keep the straight girls out of the mixed class, though.'
`'Cause at this period in time, they'll wuss out to make the guys look better, and themselves weaker and cuter,' Chibi-Usa scowls a little, `That'll fade a bit over the next few years, but won't really stop being a problem for a long time.'
`There's something evil around,' Rei says, a frown on her face.
Inside the building someone is whimpering, then there's a thump, as of a soft body hitting a not-so-soft floor.
Chibi-Usa steps inside, and scowls at the sight of a girl crying as another girl picks her up again. `That is not the way to train someone to defend herself! I'm going to have to ask you to leave.'
The crying girl is dropped roughly to the ground, and whimpers, holding her arm, as the other steps towards Chibi-Usa.
`Who's gonna make me, little girl?'
`I am,' Chibi-Usa says, unslinging the shotgun. The velcro makes a *ripp* noise as she pulls the fitted cover from the action, exposing the trigger, `And they'll help,' she twitches her head back towards the door, pointing with her chin to where Sailor Moon and Sailor Mars are standing, weapons in hand.
Several of the other girls scream, cowering, and one rushes over and throws herself in front of the injured girl.
Another steps up, `Tumble, deal with them,' she orders.
`Yes, Cooan-sama,' Tumble says, transforming into a spikey, muscular figure, and charging at Chibi-Usa.
She gets a whole step before *BLAM* Chibi-Usa's shotgun rips a large hole through her middle and out the back wall. Chibi-Usa winces as the droid crumbles to dust, then spins towards Cooan as she charges.
*Crack* Sailor Moon's naginata clips Cooan across the back of the head. *Thump* Cooan's body hits the floor, unconscious.
*Flash* of lightning. *KRA-KOOM* of thunder. *Aiii* of two voices crying out at the same time.
Rei laughs, not meanly, and hugs the two in her arms, smiling at them before looking back out at the rain outside the slight shelter of the busstop they were hiding in.
`A Mongol warrior,' Chibi-Usa says, `Is only allowed to be afraid of two things-'
Chibi-Usa squeaks, and clutches tight er to Usagi, who's clutching back, `Thunder, and ghosts. I,' she says with as much dignity as she can manage, `Am not afraid of ghosts.'
`Really,' Usagi says, `I thought it was just Kommanza.'
`Stirling borrowed that from the real Mongols.'
`This isn't an ordinary storm,' Ami says over the communicator, `Someone's causing it. I'm trying to triangulate them now, but I'm not having much luck.'
Usagi frowns at the communicator, then pulls out a small grey box, and turns it on, `About six hundred meters from here, there's a Black Moon type.'
Chibi-Usa releases her hold on Usagi, kisses her cheek, `Yay! Which way?' she asks, then steps back, unslings her shotgun, *rip* uncovers the action, then sets the butt to the ground as she fixes her bayonet.
Usagi and Rei glance askance at that, but stand as well, Usagi levering herself up with her naginata.
`This way,' Usagi says, and starts off, Chibi-Usa and Rei to her right and left.
`Hold this,' Usagi hands Rei her naginata, `Moon Prism Power, Make UP!'
After a moment she takes back her Naginata, and holds out her hand for Rei's M3.
`So,' Chibi-Usa says, `There's our thunder-monster.'
Sailor Moon nods, `Call for backup, in case this is a trap?'
`Already done,' Megumi's voice tells them.
`Good,' Sailor Mars says, `One human, one droid, anyone else showing up on that scanner of yours?'
`How come Beruche and Cooan don't show up?'
`Shoot the droid?' Usagi asks.
`No, over penetration,' Chibi-Usa answers, `Too many soft targets in ricochet range. I'm damned lucky I didn't hit anyone when I shot the droid at great-grandpa's.'
`Lemme try this,' Chibi-Usa pulls a little box from her pocket, and puts her ear-plugs in, then crouches low and starts towards the duo below.
She gets to within three meters of them before the human turns to look behind her. She startles, and opens her mouth, pointing.
`Shit!' Chibi-Usa calls, and sprints the remaining few meters, reaching the human before she's finished drawing breath, and slams her upside the head with the stock of her gun. The human drops, and Chibi-Usa turns towards the droid.
The droid attacks first, wind gushing from her blow-driers and knocking Chibi-Usa back into a wall.
She hits with a frighteningly firm *Crack!*.
Mars kicks the droid in the head, while Moon rushes towards Chibi-Usa.
The droid falls, and Mars hits it with, `Fire Soul!'
The droid chars a little, but staggers to its feet.
Mars spins, to find the human has gotten up, and grabbed Moon from behind.
The droid charges, and Mars steps aside, taking in a deep breath, `Burning Mandala!'
The droid burns to ash almost instantly, and Mars spins, looking for Moon and her attacker. She relaxes and smiles, for Moon is sitting next to the unconscious woman, rubbing her head and whining softly to herself, `Why did she have to pull my hair? It wasn't, well, I guess it was, but really. She shouldn't have done that.' Usagi forces herself to her feet, draws back one foot, then slams it down onto the concrete and turns away.
Chibi-Usa is kneeling, her hands wrapped around the hilt of her bayonet and the shotgun's barrel, the weapon's butt firmly planted on the ground, looking a little dazed but not much worse for wear.
Frightened faces are peeking out from all around.
Minako smiles at the couples around her, `Even though it's rather dreadfully hot, it's nice to be on leave,' she looks back over her shoulder, `Even if I need a battle-buddy.'
The woman leaning against the bench beside her smiles, `You made that stupid policy.'
`I didn't realize it was so stupid. I'm sorry,' Minako sighs, `Remind me to fix it when I get back.'
`Consider yourself reminded.'
Minako sets her hand over the other woman's, `Not that I mind being with you or anything, Kail' she smiles.
`Good,' Kail draws Minako's hand to her lips, and kisses it.
Minako retrieves her hand, and pats the bench beside her, on the outside, so Kail will be forced to sit close.
Kail does so, and leans over onto Minako, who scowls just a bit before smiling at her.
`What was that face for,' Kail asks.
`It's _soo_ hot.'
`Yes, it's nice, isn't it?'
Minako just smiles and shakes her head.
Makoto rushes up, her battle-buddy, a young man, trailing.
`Why'd he do that? It isn't even like I was trying to pick him up,' the young man rubs his cheek, `I just said that I liked his jacket, and asked where he got it.'
`While stepping up into his space, touching his jacket, and smiling a lot. Not normal Japanese guy behavior.'
`Why not? You lot do it all the time.'
`We're girls, we get over on that kinda stuff.'
`That's not fair,' he says.
`What's not fair?' Minako asks, smiling, as she waves Makoto to the free part of the bench.
`Oh, he was putting the make-'
`I was not!'
`On some punk-looking guy and got slapped.' Makoto finishes as if he hadn't spoken.
`Slapped? Maybe he was interested,' Minako sighs, `I don't understand guys. Heck, no one I know understands guys, not even the ones who are.'
`Yeah,' Makoto's battle-buddy plops himself down cross-legged in front of the bench, `Part of it is that we just haven't had much experience out in the world, but the Chinese guys are just about as clueless as I am.'
`How come just about everyone I've met over the last few months is queer?' Minako asks, `Is it just that I'm out now, so everyone feels safe telling me, or is it that we've more queers in the Dark Kingdom?'
`Ami-chan's looking into it,' Makoto says.
Chibi-usa is also in civilians, for once, black jeans and a black t-shirt, with tanker boots. Her shotgun's butt isn't sticking up by her left ear, and she hasn't got the smooth glide she uses to keep the weapon, which is nearly as long as she is tall, out of trouble.
Instead she's striding along, the tip of her braid brushing the ground with each step, a pair of boys trailing.
`Where are you going with that arrogant walk?' asks the short one, who's just a tiny bit taller than her.
`Yeah, where are you going?' the other asks, nearly a full head taller.
`Don't know, today. Home, in a few weeks. Away from you, now.'
`What was that, pinko?' the short one says.
The tall one walks up close, and Chibi-usa skips back, a little smile on her face, `What, you wanna make something of it, kiddo?'
`I'll make you cry,' he threatens.
`I'll try not to hurt you,' Chibi-usa smiles back.
She turns, and picks the short one up, and throws him up in the air. She catches him, sets him on his feet, and dances back. The short one starts to cry, then runs off.
`What was that?' she asks the tall one, honestly confused.
He smiles nervously, then runs away as well.
Chibi-usa pouts cutely, then smiles and drifts over to Makoto and Minako's bench, `Do you know what that was about? I didn't throw him that high, and I caught him.'
`Maybe you scared him?' Makoto says.
`Can't be. All kids like being thrown up in the air.'
`Yeah, but he doesn't know you, so it was probably a little scary.'
`But he should know I wouldn't hurt a kid.'
`You look like a kid yourself.'
`True. It's like when I first enlisted, I guess. Sigh.'
`When was that?'
`About ten years after I locked myself. PFC to SGT was really rough, but I had a rep after that, and it got easier,' Chibi-usa smiles, `Juggling road wheels in front of the line didn't hurt, either, particularly after I managed to get Maintenance to let me have a couple drive sprockets.'
`Road wheels and drive sprockets for what?'
`Hond III echos.'
`So the drive sprockets got lighter?' the young man asks.
`Nope. Heavier. About twenty-five kilos heavier, Masato.'
The young man looks confused, `Masato?'
`Oh, that's right, he said he was the spitting image of his grandfather, so you would be Moldova?'
`Moldov, actually,' the young man smiles.
`Well, Moldov-kun, what are you doing hanging out with my aunties?'
`Aunties?' Minako and Makoto whine.
Kail laughs, a smile on her face.
`Makoto-sama and I were out guy-watching.'
Chibi-usa makes a quizzical face.
Moldov notices, `Well, Makoto-sama was watching girls, too.'
Chibi-usa looks at Makoto, and smiles.
`What?' Makoto asks.
`You'll find out, eventually.'
`C'mon, tell me,' Makoto pleads.
`Nope, you told me not to.'
`I didn't know what I was talking about.'
`You told me you would say that.'
Makoto pouts cutely, crossing her arms.
`So, do you have anyone you're interested in?'
`Yep,' Chibi-usa smiles, `I met the most wonderful girl, last time I was here.'
Chibi-usa waves her finger back and forth in front of her, `Unk unk uh, can't tell any more than that.'
`Are you teasing them, Captain?' Usagi asks, stopping next to Chibi-usa, then leaning on her naginata, which contrasts nicely with her pale blue sundress.
`Only a little, my liege.'
Usagi shudders, `Don't call me that.'
`Right, right. My lord?' Chibi-usa's lips twitch.
`Megami-sama?' A grin flickers over her face for an instant.
`Rei-chan,' Usagi turns to look at her consort, whines, `Make her stop.'
`Usagi, then,' Chibi-usa says, then laughs.
`You,' Usagi says, and ruffles the other's hair.
`Yes, I'm me.'
Everyone else laughs, finally.
`So, what are we going to do?' Chibi-usa asks. She's walking backwards along the guard rail, hands tucked into her back pockets.
`I thought we'd wander around for a while and pretend we have nothing better to do than goof off,' Usagi says, `Since three points only identifies the plane, not the whole pattern.'
`Trig's getting to you, isn't it?' Minako asks.
`It's so cool, so neat and tidy, all the annoying little weirdness abstracted away. Nothing like tactics, or,' Usagi gives a theatrical shudder, `logistics.'
`Got that right,' Chibi-usa says.
`This looks neat,' Moldov says, stopping to read a sign.
The sign starts out with `Omajinai', thoughtfully romanized omazinai, and continues in less mangled Japanese, `Anata no negai _BATCHIRI_ kanaemasu, omajinai HAUSU.'
Chibi-usa dismounts the guardrail with a flourish, `Sounds fun.'
`They sell rocks and charms,' Makoto says.
Everyone turns to look at her, `They had a commercial on during _Five Star Stories_ last night.'
`Ah,' Chibi-usa says, and smiles, `Want me to tell you how it ends?'
Makoto looks aghast, `Don't you dare.'
`OK, I won't tell you,' Chibi-usa opens the door, `But it was so cute when -'
`Chibi-usa!' Minako says, firmly.
Chibi-usa looks over her shoulder and smiles.
Chibi-usa is slumped back against a large yellow machine labeled, from the top `LOVE' in romaji, then `ikkinomi,' and `omajinai JUUSU.' She's looking up, and muttering quietly, `I know, you whispered it to me this morning, but still. I've been three meters from that thing six times since I bought it. _Six_ times. Every single one, I've ended up wanting it. I mean, really, it's a nice piece of kit, but it gets really annoying having this happen every time. I'm sure it's funny and all, but really,' she trails off, claps her hands once, interlaces her fingers, and presses them out in front of her. She steps away from the machine, pats her right hip through her shirt.
`What was that about?' Rei asks.
`You can feel it, right?'
Rei blinks, `Black Moon.'
`Why didn't anyone catch it?' Minako asks, looking around the shop.
`Because the area's been clogged with fake signals since we captured Karaberas,' Usagi says, `And we stopped kicking in doors after the third false alarm.'
`You were kicking in doors?' Makoto asks, appalled.
`I didn't like it either.'
`It was kinda fun, playing terrorist,' Chibi-usa says, `But I'm glad we don't do it for real.'
`Terrorist?' Minako asks.
`Terrorists and criminals kick peoples doors in, rough them up, then kill 'em or throw them in jail.'
`So you don't think that police should go after dangerous criminals?'
`Bits of the American government kick people's doors in every day, for what?'
`Irrashaimase,' the green-haired shopkeep says, stepping through the curtain from the back, `Is there anything I could help you with? We keep our best pieces in the back,' she gestures.
Rei glances at Chibi-usa, and they share a nod.
`Yes, I think I'm interested in a protective charm,' Usagi says, smiling brightly.
The shopkeep smiles, and gestures for them to precede her through the curtain. Usagi nods, and walks past, Chibi-usa and Rei following, the other four a few paces behind.
Half a step past the shopkeep, Chibi-usa drops, and sweeps the shopkeep's feet from under her.
Rei manages a quick, brutal backfist to the shopkeep's head as she falls, then steps back, reaching for her henshin pen.
The keep growls, rolling away from Chibi-usa, and yells, `Jamanen!'
`Excuse me,' the droid says, flowing down out of the ceiling as a glob of reddish fluid, then takes on a humanoid shape.
Rei poses, mouth agape, henshin pen in hand, for a long moment.
`Get your cute little pink-clad butt _DOWN_!' Usagi yells.
The shopkeep has shifted to a short skirted green outfit that nearly matches her eyes, complete with metal bikini-top, ugly black feather epaulets, and black leggings.
*Bang* *Bang* *Bang* three loud, quick, sharp retorts sound from Chibi-usa's sidearm.
The droid frowns as the bullets rip through her form, then recovers. She twists, and a gush of red fluid reaches to wrap around Chibi-usa's dodging form.
`Mars Power, Make Up!'
*Blam* *Blam* two slightly flatter retorts sound, then Kail dodges, resafing her own sidearm.
Minako and Makoto nod, `Venus Power,'
`Make UP!' they call in unison.
*BlaBlaBlaBlaBlaBlammm* echos through the shop as Moldov fires a short burst into the droid. She's ready this time, and Moldov isn't fast enough. `Ah! Ouch! Oww!' he moans, holding the stump of his left arm, which has mostly stopped bleeding, but is still dripping red blood onto the floor, even as he flees out into the main shop.
`Moon Crystal Power, Make UP!'
`Charms are for fun and entertainment, and a little bit of profit, not for destroying the dreams of the gullible!' Mars starts pontificating.
Kail grabs Venus's attention for a moment, and makes a hand signal. Venus nods, and Kail slips into the outer shop, pulling a field dressing from her messenger bag.
A bolt of black lightning strikes out at Mars, `All of you little girls, going on and on about crushes and love! Who cares about men!'
`Stop trying to hurt my beloved!' Moon shouts, dodging an attack by Jamanen as she charges towards, `Petz!'
The shopkeep pauses, `How do you know my name?'
`Your sisters told me,' Moon says, then hits her across the jaw with the butt of her naginata.
Petz drops, out cold.
Jamanen screaches, `You have my Karaberas-sama?' Quick gouts of red liquid flash out of the floor, reaching to entangle the senshi. Chibi-usa backflips onto the display counter at the back, and stumbles a little as the glass top shatters under her boots.
The four sailors are quickly bound hand and foot, and Jamanen slips up close, tilting Moon's head back, `You will tell me what you did with my Karaberas-sama.'
Jamanen's other hand flows, then shifts into a gleaming blade.
Chibi-usa grabs something out of nowhere, looks at it, looks up at the trapped sailors, then looks like she's going to cry. Something glitters helpfully by her foot, and she grabs it up and throws it, then wipes her hand against her jeans as she watches.
Jamanen cringes when the jewel hits her.
Mars flares brilliantly, burning her free, and Jamanen turns towards her.
Jamanen backs up under the attack, her arms crossed protectively in front of her face.
`Sparkling Wide Pressure!'
`Venus Love Me Chain!'
Jamanen crumples to the ground, curling into an almost fetal position.
`Moon Tiara Stardust!' The glowing disk and attendant shower of sparks cover the droid, who shrinks back into a single rectangle-cut faceted green gem, with a faintly glowing crescent moon inside.
Chibi-usa smiles, and tucks the pink thing in her right hand back into nowhere.
The six warriors are sitting around a table, still in civilains, people in the red-brown uniforms of the Dark Kingdom Militia bustling around with trays in the background.
`So, what happened there?' Moldov asks Chibi-usa. He's holding his coffee cup awkwardly, his left arm still ending above the elbow, but the new bandages haven't bled through. `You're really down for having managed to tip things into your favor.'
`I almost fell off the wagon,' she says, staring into her own cup, her shotgun held loosely between her knees, muzzle down, `If that droid hadn't proved vulnerable to dark power, I woulda, too.'
`Fell off the wagon?' Usagi asks, leaning forward. Rei leans forward too, because she doesn't want to let Usagi slip even that far away from her.
`That's probably more than I should tell you at this point. You'll figure it out, soon enough.'
Usagi pouts, `C'mon.'
`No, time travel is quite enough fun without throwing gratuituous paradoxi into it.'
`Yep. That would be quite too much tailbiting for me, thankyouverymuch.'
`Tailbiting?' Minako asks.
Kail nods, glancing a question at Chibi-usa, continuing to stroke intricate patterns against Minako's shoulder.
`You know Oroborus, right? Snake-monster eating his own tail?'
`Oh,' Makoto says.
Usagi is wiggling, looking back over her shoulder, and frowning a little bit.
`What is it, Usagi-chan?' Rei asks.
`Just thinking about how flexible one would need to be to do that,' she says, then blushes.
Everyone blinks, then Chibi-usa says, `You'd make a good tanker.'
`You're already a perv.'
Everyone blinks again, then Rei giggles a little, then the others follow, Chibi-usa and a blushing Usagi last.
`C'mon, you wusses, we're almost done,' Chibi-usa tells her formation, `Turn it around so we can pick up the stragglers,' and shifts her shoulders, stretching a little under her LBV and slung shotgun, the gas-operated medium machine gun in her hands held loosely at the ready.
`Captain,' someone pants from inside the formation, `I think I'm gonna die.'
`If you're thinking it, you probably won't,' she replies, `Get in front,' she tells Usagi, who whines, but complies.
`Yes,' Makoto, who's running on the other side of the formation, says.
`Good. Take us home, Tsukino,' Chibi-usa says.
`Home? My home, your home, back to HQ?'
`Whine,' Usagi says, and shifts her hands on her M3.
The formation, in LBV, assault packs, PT uniforms, half in running shoes and half, like Chibi-usa, in boots, and all with their individual weapon in hand, continues on its way.
`Anyone else gonna call cadence?' some wag from the formation says.
`Get out here, Mora, and call it,' Chibi-usa orders.
`But,' PVT Mora starts.
`Or are you gonna say you don't have the rank for it?'
`Ryoukai!' PVT Mora says, and falls out of the formation, starts running alongside Chibi-usa, `You know I can't call cadence.'
`Then just call "Left, left, left" until you think of something better.'
`Left,' pause, `left,' pause, `Left,' pause, pause, pause, `I,' pause, `I didn't realize.'
`I didn't realize,' Usagi calls back.
`How many hours I'd be,'
`How many hours I'd be,' this time the whole formation calls it.
`Shining my fucking boots,'
`Shining my fucking boots,' the formation calls back, loudly and enthusiastically.
`Good job, Mora, particularly for making it up as you go along,' Chibi-usa says, as they turn the last corner, `Quick time, March!'
The formation stumbles to a walking march, many with the loose-limbed gracelessness of the exhausted.
She walks them to in front of the building, `Mark time, March!'
The group halts, marching in place. Most of them pick up their cadence, just a bit.
`Slow it down, same pace as a quicktime,' Chibi-usa tells them, `None of this run in place crap.'
A couple people slow down, but most of them seem to think they're right.
*step* *step* The group comes to order arms, hands at their sides, weapon in their dominant hand, subguns slung, rifles butt-down at their feet.
The entire group spins ninety degrees, mostly in time.
`Extend to the left, March!'
The group shuffles out to double-arm intervals, stopping with their arms still held out straight to their sides, dominant arms shaking from the strain of holding their weapons.
`Arms downward, move!'
The group returns to order arms.
Another ninety degree turn.
`Extend to the left, march!' pause while everyone shuffles, `Arms downward, move!' shorter pause, `Right face!' short pause, `From front to rear, count, off!'
The first rank looks over their shoulders, `One!' The second rank does the same, `Two!' `Three!' `Four!' `Five!' Makoto calls from the back.
`Even numbers to the left, uncover!' The second and fourth rank take a step to the left. `Ground your weapons,' Chibi-usa says, flicking the bipod open on her gun, and setting it down. She leaves her shotgun on her back.
Everyone else follows suit.
`Since some of us can't keep time, we're gonna practice a little.'
`Au-uuh,' whines the group.
`Buck up,' she tells them, `Our first cool-down exercise is the Motivator!'
She gets a lot of blank looks, and one brave soul asks, `What's the motivator?'
`Let me show you,' she smiles, and puts her hands on her hips, `feet just comfortably apart, one,' she rises up on her toes and drops back down, `two,' up and down again, `three,' and again, `four,' barely dropping back onto her heels before bouncing into the air, with a faster cadence, `one, two, three, four,' a single count per hop, then `one,' feet out, like she's doing jumping jacks, but her hands still on her hips, and back in, `two,' `three,' one hop per count, `four,' then jumping jacks, with the same count, then reverses the rest of the sequence, a four-count of modified side-straddle hops, then bouncing from her toes, then the calf-raises, `One,' pause, `two,' pause, `three,' she drops back down onto her heels, `And that's one. Any questions?'
`Can we just run another mile?' someone calls.
`I'll only make you do a couple,' Chibi-usa tells them. `Start position, Move!'
Everyone puts their hands on their hips.
`Anyone need any additional stretching?'
No one volunteers.
`Good. Last thing while I've still got you all in extended rectangular formation. Ground your gear. Ammo, water, food, clothing. Leaders, check your subordinates. Subordinates, check your leaders.' She lays her shotgun next to her rifle, then sheds her assault pack and LBV, pulls a knife out of each boot, and lets her sidearm dangle by its lanyard from around her neck.
PVT Mora picks up her LBV, `What've you got in here, rocks?'
`Four hundred-round belts of .30-'06, two frisbee grendades, ten mags for my sidearm, bayonet, assorted crap.'
`Thirty-aught-six? I thought that was a MAG 58,' he says.
`Nope. Em nineteen-ninety-six charlie. Pretty much a MAG 58 in .30-'06 with a right-hand feed assembly.'
Mora holds out his hands, then asks, `May I?'
`Sure, the pible's set.'
`Pible?' Mora asks, picking up the thirteen kilo weapon. He staggers a little, but manages to stand without embarassing himself.
`Hand it to me,' Chibi-usa says, taking it easily. She sets the butt on the ground, folds the bipod, and tucks it. She shows the bottom, `There, below the ejection port cover, that pin,' she touches it, then checks the safety is set, unlocks and pulls it out, `is the positive bolt lock. It makes sure the bolt won't move if something untoward happens.' She tucks the pin into the perpendicular carrying hole.
`Car accident, it gets dropped, someone trips and falls in front of the operator.'
Chibi-usa puts the PBL back and stands up, her hand on the M1996c's handguard. The machine gun is several centimeters longer than she is tall. Someone chokes from the formation.
`Anyone not carrying a good combat load?' she asks loudly.
Several people raise their hands.
`I'll see you here at 1830, right?'
One hand stays up.
`I've got class,' she starts.
`Twenty-two-thirty?' Chibi-usa asks.
`Ryoukai,' the woman says unhappily.
`Everyone secure your gear,' rustling from the formation as everyone gears back up, `Assemble to the right, march!' and rushes to normal intervals, the right front woman holding out her left arm until the next warrior over touches it with her shoulder, then dropping it. The man behind her reaches out and touches her shoulder, finding his own distance, then comes to order arms. In seconds everyone has stopped moving.
`Get to work on time. For most of you that's nine, for the rest, you should know. Fall out!'
Everyone in the formation takes a step back, then turns and heads about their business. Chibi-usa hefts her machine gun again, and drapes it over her shoulders, bagged ammo belt on top, behind her head, one hand on the butt and the other on the handguard.
`You OK?' she asks Usagi, who is walking a bit gingerly.
`I was fine up until the motivators,' Usagi says, `those hurt.'
`You'll get better. You should carry a bigger load, M14 or B.A.R, two, three hundred rounds, some grenades, sidearms, sidearm ammo, SEREA gear-'
`Stupdid acronym from English. Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, Assault. Emergency gear, basicly.'
`Right. How much should I be carrying?'
`Build up to it so you don't set a bad example for people who don't heal as well, but about fifty-six kilos.'
`How much are you carrying?'
`Right now, only forty-eight or so.'
`How much do you weigh?'
`Thirty-four, last I checked.'
`How long did you take to train up?'
`About a week. Took a couple years for it to stop hurting, though.'
`So, what is she?' Usagi asks.
`As Ami-chan said, an expert system,' Megumi says, `However, she's much more complex than the earlier droids.'
`Which is why she was so tough, right?' Minako asks.
`Yes, exactly. She's not quite full AI yet, but if they hadn't put in so many blocks to prevent her from reaching full sentience, she would have been long ago. She has a very strong emotional bond to Karaberas.'
`Can you bring her over? Without changing her too much?' Rei asks, squeezing Usagi's hand.
Usagi gives her a gooey look.
`I should be able to. Do you want me to try?'
`Please do,' Usagi says.
`What's that?' Usagi asks as Ami sets the rifle down on the table in front of her.
It has a pistol grip as well as a stamped and welded side-fold stock, like an AKS-74, but has a full-length barrel with bayonet lug and no sign of an external magazine.
`Present,' Ami says, `M1 Garand, with a new stock. One minute of arc, both iron sights and the red dot spell are zero'd.'
`Red dot spell?' Usagi asks.
`The spell's built into the stock, powered off the firer's waste energy. Pick it up.'
Usagi does, `That's odd,' she says, bringing it up, `Doesn't seem too useful to see the dot when it's behind you.'
`If you can locate your target by sound or you have more eyes,' Ami shrugs, `The spell's too spendy for common use, though. Took me two weeks, and that is my fifth one.'
`Who have the other's gone to?'
`Both my pistols, Kair's M14, Mako's B.A.R.'
`Can any of it be automated or assembly-lined?'
`I've three mages who can do it, and maybe if they batch the work they could manage twelve a month.'
`Special forces only, then.'
`You need to have a lot of waste energy for the spell to work, mage, youma, Sailor, a few of the space aliens perhaps.'
`Can it be shifted between weapons?'
`It needs to be rezero'd each time.'
`Can it remember zero's for different weapons?'
`Spell the person and hav it remember or guess, depending, the zero for each weapon they fire?'
`To repeat what I said this morning, the only reason we can push this hard is because our group is composed solely of Sailors and youma. You can't PT a Sailor to death, and so long as they're eating right a youma won't die from overstrain. They may pass out and be miserable, but they'll recover. Normal humans can push themselves to the point that they'lll just keel over and die. The U.S. military has several people die during or right after PT every year.'
`Why are you up there, then?'
`'Cause I'm used to running 12 miles an hour wearing almost double my own body weight.'
`Can we just bribe you and get out of this?' A young-sounding man, this time.
`You volunteered. No.'
`Whine.' Several people contribute to that.
`Ice cream! I need ice cream,' a male voice says from the middle of the glop of people too tired to leave quickly.
`Sounds good to me,' Chibi-usa says, `Let's go,' and starts walking towards the street, `I'll buy.'
`Thank you,' someone says, and a few other people echo her, then start following.
About three blocks later the dozen Dark Kingdom warriors walk into the parking lot of Juuban Super.
`I like this store best, the fruit's freshest here, and they have a good selection of ice cream,' Chibi-usa says.
`And it's close to headquarters,' Moldov says. His arm is about halfway regrown, his forearm short, with stubby little fingers.
`That too,' Chibi-usa says.
`Something's wrong,' Viol says, shivering, as they approach the door.
`That's an understatement,' Chibi-usa says, the door opening in front of her, `Megumi, get the rest here, now.'
`Understood. They're on their way.'
`I'm going in to recon,' Chibi-usa says, `Moldov, guard the door, with Makarev, Bortis, and Mera. Viol, take your three, and get any noncombatants you can out. The rest of you are with me. Stay low,' and she walks in, pulling the PBL out and slipping it into the carry bore.
Tanis, his twin Tunis, and their sister Kivi fan out behind her, Viol and her consorts following them through the door.
Rot and decay surround them, and confused, bespelled, shoppers wander, spreading it. A shelf crumbles to rust when Kivi prods it with the buttstock of her M14.
`Ick,' she shakes her head.
`Quiet,' Chibi-usa says softly.
At the back is a stand labeled `Dark Fruit,' with a young woman standing behind it, and a red-haired young man in front gloating.
`Rubius,' Chibi-usa says, `We fought him before. He's pretty tough. Firing positions,' She drops the bipod on her M1996c, drops prone, flicks the safety off, and aims it.
`The Sailors are on site,' Megumi says.
`Good,' Chibi-usa says, and puts a seven-round burst into Rubius's chest. He falls down, a surprised look on his face.
The young woman transforms, shifting into something that looks like the chiquita banana girl on a bad acid trip. She goes down under concentrated fire from the four recon members, and starts dissolving.
Rubius gets to his feet, having crawled a few feet away, and throws a single burst of energy as concentrated fire knocks him down again.
Tunis grunts as he's slammed through one of the rotting shelves.
`Stores are for,' Sailor Moon starts pontificating, then another burst from the 1996 hits Rubius in the face, and he clutches it.
`Moon,' she starts her attack instead.
Rubius vanishes in a flicker of shadow.
Moon sags, resting the cutey moon rod on her shoulder, turns towards Sailor Mars, who grabs her and pillows her head on her shoulder.
`Oww,' Moon whines into Mars's shoulder, `I hate that, it just feels bad to stop in the middle of that attack.'
`Nausea? Vomiting?' Chibi-usa says,
`Sharp stabbing pains behind my eyes.'
`Only that attack?'
`Then don't stop. It won't do much collateral damage, and it'll only really fry the intended target. People who just happen to be in the way'll get a little cooked, but not to a life-threatening extent.'
`Gotcha,' Usagi says softly, having detransformed.
`Mako-chan and Minako have it covered, for now,' Chibi-usa says, `And Ami-chan's working on the constitution right now. Don't worry 'bout it for a couple days while Rei does her practice.'
`But,' Usagi says.
`Relax, Rei's fine, too,' Chibi-usa says firmly. She's dressed in staid black bikini bottoms and has her shotgun sitting on the towel beside her camelbak. There's a plastic cover over the gun's muzzle, to keep dirt out.
Usagi is laying on her belly on the next towel, dressed in a brick red bikini, `But,' she protests, putting her hands flat on the towel again.
Ami is sitting under an umbrella a few meters away, in a sleeveless blue dress, typing on her computer, `Sleep a bit,' she says, `Rei will be here in a bit, and I'm sure she's looking forward to keeping you up all night.'
`Ami-chan!' Usagi squeeks.
`Fish?' Chibi-usa says, then adopts a warbling, querulous voice, `Spoiling good fish, scorching it, give me fish now, and keep nasty chips,' she quotes, prodding the grilled meat on her plate, `I'll see you later,' she says, pulls on camel and shotgun, and walks off, taking her plate with her.
`What was that?' Usagi asks, looking at Rei.
Rei blinks back, `Am I that bad of a cook?'
`That was, almost, a quote from Tolkien. I don't remember which book right now, but it's from _Lord of the Rings_ somewhere,' Ami says, `And it's Gollum complaining about cooked food. I think that was what a tantrum looks like when one's three hundred years old.'
`A tantrum? Her?' Rei asks.
`It could be something else, but,' Ami shrugs blue-clad shoulders, `I wouldn't be able to guess what.'
`I,' Chibi-usa says, `Am not fat enough for this.' She's treading water quickly, her lips a little blue, looking towards shore, the straps of her camelbak and shotgun over her shoulders, `This really wasn't one of my better ideas, really. Last time I went swimming I had the gun in a waterproof bag, which really helped counter its weight.'
A shark fin circles between her and the shore.
`Oh great. Eris-sama, I know you love me, you don't have to go through all of this effort for my sake, really,' Chibi-usa says. Suddenly something grey appears beneath her, and she gasps as her toes touch something soft. She looks down, then dives, wrapping her fingers around the root of one of the creature's fins.
The creature surfaces a little ways away, and Chibi-usa blinks seawater out of her eyes, draggled pink hair surrounding her face. She blinks, `Oh wow,' she says, and smiles. She pulls herself out of the water onto the creature's back, unslings her shotgun, and reverses it, watching the pursuing sharks.
After a few minutes two things become apparent: The creature is going as fast as she can, and the sharks are faster. One enterprising shark gets up close, and takes a bite at the creature's fin. Chibi-usa clubs him on the nose, but not before he's got his bite. The shark lets go, and pulls back. Chibi-usa looks at the faint pink blood trail from her rescuer, and back at the following sharks, `I'm sorry,' she tells them, pulling the cover off her shotgun's action. She glances apologeticly at her rescuer, `I'm sorry for the noise,' she says in a strange language, pulls off her muzzle-cover, then points carefully and puts three ounces of double-ought buckshot into one of the sharks. Her rescuer starts, turning her head on her long neck to look at her, and the sharks turn on their wounded comrade, ignoring them as the water froths with excited sharks biting at anything they can get their jaws on.
Chibi-usa sits, watching for trouble, as the pleisiosaur-looking creature swims along the surface.
The creature swims into a cave, and Chibi-usa hops off when her rescuer starts up onto the sand, `So, this is your house? Nice. Let me see your wound?' she says in the same language.
The creature looks at her funny, but doesn't flee when she unslings her camel, and pulls out coagulant powder and a couple spray bottles. She sprays a topical anesthetic, then sprinkles the powder and sprays a bandage on the wound. The creature looks at her fin, flexes it a little, then gives her a lick.
`What are you doing here? You guys aren't supposed to be here for another couple hundred years,' Chibi-usa says, looking around. She spots a few large, weathered, eggshells, and smiles, `Oh, you're younger than I thought! Where's your mom?'
The creature just looks sad.
`I bet the author is getting tired of refering to you as "creature,"' Chibi-usa says, smiling, `And just calling you "Zaibaha" would be impolite, so what's your name?'
The creature makes a warbling trill.
Chibi-usa repeats the trill, `is your name?' she touches Trill's nose.
Trill shakes her head from side to side.
`Good,' Chibi-usa says, `My name's Usagi. Since I got you bit, I'll hang out here until your mama gets back, OK?'
Trill shakes her head from side to side again.
`Megumi?' Chibi-usa asks.
`Let them know I'm baby-sitting for a Zaibaha, OK?' Chibi-usa says in Japanese.
`What's a Zaibaha?'
`Space aliens, look like Pleisiosaurs. Lovely, sweet people, lots of fun, lovely sense of humor. I don't know what they are doing here, though.'
`The seismics of that island are bad,' Megumi tells her.
`Major problems tomorrow and the next day.'
Chibi-usa turns back to Trill, `I hope your mother gets home soon, 'cause we're gonna have to leave tomorrow,' she asks in Japanese, `Evening tomorrow?'
`Yes, about five,' Megumi says.
`Can you send Ami-chan over? If their ship's on this island, I'd like to find it before the island goes up.'
`They'll be over there in an hour, Usagi says, and.'
`Chibi-usa! Are you OK? Who'd you shoot?' Usagi's voice is concerned, but not panicked.
`A shark. He'd bitten,' Chibi-usa says Trill's name, `The baby Zaibaha, and his friends were too close. I feel kinda bad about it, but.'
`Are you OK?'
`Yes, but,' Chibi-usa says Trill's name again, `got bit, so I had to patch her up. She'll be fine, in a little while, though.'
`There's something strange under the floor of the cave,' Mercury says, looking at the floor of the cave through her visor, `but it doesn't look like a ship.'
`Show me?' Chibi-usa asks.
Mercury calls it up on her computer's screen.
`Yep, that's a Zaibaha spaceship. Do we have any scuba gear?'
Chibi-usa rechecks her muzzle-cover, takes another deep breath, glances at her camel laying in the sand, touches the hilt of the knife she's belted about her waist, then dives in, stroking firmly towards the submerged floor of the cave.
Usagi holds Rei's hand tightly, Mercury watches a little worriedly, and Trill dives in after her.
They swim down, then Trill watches worriedly as Chibi-usa digs into the mud, striking metal only a few inches down. Chibi-usa shifts around, coming across the lock controls. She presses her face close to the panel, and with a groan the airlock slides open, stopping after barely more than a meter. Trill squeezes through after Chibi-usa, and the door shuts.
`OK, the ship's a little damaged, the FTL drive is far beyond my repair skill, but the sublights work. A lava flow is running over the the ship from here,' she touches the map she's drawn on the floor, `to here.' she touches the other side. `There's a layer of silt between the rock and ship, but we'd still need to break it up before we can get it out.'
`You can fly it?' Usagi asks.
Chibi-usa taps the back of her head, `Not as well as a Zaibaha could, but well enough to get it out of here once it's been broken loose.'
`How do you propose we do that?'
`I've got almost enough explosives in my ruck, or we could try using magic.'
`I've four kilos of C-4 in mine,' Rei says.
`Good enough,' Chibi-usa looks down, `I hate underwater demolitions work,' she says, then gets to her feet.
Trill watches as Chibi-usa shoves another block of explosive and detonator into the mud, pressing it in until it hits rock.
Chibi-usa shoots back to the surface, breathing deeply, `Six more,' she calls to the girls on the shore.
*BOOM* the water rises, splashing against the roof of the cave, and a few rocks fall down with it.
`Pack up the detonator?' Chibi-usa asks Rei.
Rei nods, and Chibi-usa slips into the water, Trill following after. After a few minutes the irregular shape of the Zaibaha ship rises from the water, and backs jerkily out of the cave, then settles on top of the water.
Chibi-usa climbs out of one of the side hatches, which opens all the way.
`My Lady!' Chibi-usa greets Trill's mother, who swims up as the sun starts to set.
`My dear?' Trill's mother asks.
`Trill rescued me from some sharks, and I got them off our tail, and well, the island's gonna go up again. I thought you'd like your ship back before it does.'
`It's been a while since I've seen it,' Trill's mother says. `The FTL drive's shot, so I'm stuck here, but it's nice to be less stuck than I was.'
`Ami-chan's really smart, maybe she and Megumi can help you fix it?'
`They'd have to do it themselves, since I have no clue how to fix an FTL drive.'
`You could read the manuals for them, and that'd help a lot.'
`I'll do what I can.'
`Cool!' Chibi-usa says, `You can use the dry dock at Port Arthur.'
Ami watches Chibi-usa strip her shotgun, carefully scrubbing verdigris from each round with a green scrubby pad, then washing the gun's parts in hot, soapy water.
`Why did you go swimming with that gun? Isn't salt water bad for it?'
Chibi-usa looks up from scraping at the gas piston, `Yeah, but it's got a teak stock, and it's all parkerized or hard chromed stainless. Not much of a corrosion problem, but I need to oil the stock again.'
`Furniture oil?' Ami asks.
`Dr. Dobbs, I've got a bottle of it in my camel.'
Ami digs for a moment, then takes out the little bottle, and sets to work, rubbing the oil into the wooden parts of the stock and fore end.
She finishes about the time Chibi-usa starts re-oiling her dried metal parts.
`Bored, bored, bored,' Chibi-usa says, laying back on her camel, shotgun on her belly, kicking her feet.
`How did you do all of that, with Bark's ship?' Minako asks from the other couch, leaning back against Kail's lean form, the youma's fingers playing with her hair as she smiles down at the girl.
`I spent three years with the UDTs,' Chibi-usa starts.
`Underwater Demolition Teams. High-speed, covert-ops group, lots of prestige, lots of good training. I hated it.'
`Persona clash, mostly. I couldn't stand my unit commander, and he couldn't stand me. I'da taken care of that, but I couldn't find a good enough excuse.'
`Taken care of?'
Chibi-usa gives her a look, waits for Minako to blink, `I'd just come off six months of being retired, after ten years as Sergeant Major of the Army. He was just horrible, to everyone in his command, but he was barely competent and didn't get anyone killed, so,' Chibi-usa shrugs.
`I was more wondering about how you flew the Zaibaha ship.'
`Oh. I had the rig installed when I was trying to get a fighter pilot commission. The Zaibaha rig is half biological, so it will grow with me, if I ever get unlocked.'
`Cybernetic control interface. The weapons it hooks to won't begin to be available for another hundred and something years, so I didn't bring any.'
`And you got your commission?'
`Too short for a fighter pilot. They let me train up, but wouldn't give me anything but non-combat cargo runs, so I retired after I served my twenty,' Chibi-usa shrugs, `I'll think about it again later, perhaps.'
`How many times did you retire?'
`Oh, I'm collecting on six right now. The most recent three timed out.'
`Timed out?' Kail asks, watching Minako's face as she rubs the girl's nose.
Minako squirms, wrinkling her nose, gives Kail a half-hearted glare.
`Yeah, the bureaucracy finally realized that some of us just aren't gonna die, and twitched things so that one only collects retirement for ten years if one comes back in, but the old ones are grandfathered, so they're still going.'
`That's rude. You earned the money same as anyone else,' Kail says.
`Yeah, but I've been collecting on my first retirement for two hundred and something years, which is about a hundred years more than most people. There's a fair few who're nigh immortal, and more every year. That's just a bit like misuse of the system.'
`Not much, considering you spent what, fifty years in, that first time?'
Chibi-usa goes back to staring at the ceiling, kicking her feet.
`It's been weeks since we fought Rubius, and destroyed the spells they'd left. Nothing's happened since,' Minako frowns at the tactical map, which has the requisite pins in it marking attack sites.
`I think I need to play decoy, and try to draw them out again,' Chibi-usa says, `Have some heavier weapons on hand this time, .50 BMGs, 20mm autocannon, MK-19s. I'd really like an A-10, but without a rig they're not safe enough to use in a city this crowded.'
`Can you fly one? You're rigged,' Ami says, looking at Chibi-usa intently.
`I can perform operator-level maintenence on a ground-attack plane's rig, but I'm not studly enough to build one,' Chibi-usa shakes her head, `I can replace parts with the manual and spares, but that's it.'
`Sigh. We've some towed howitzers and a few Hond IIIs we can stage around,' Usagi says, `Will that be enough?'
`That should do, actually,' Chibi-usa says, `but be sure to evac wherever we're going to do this,'
`Of course. Ami-chan, do you have a tracker we can plant on whoever comes before they run?'
`Yes, I do,' Ami says, `But it's kinda big,' she pulls a lump of crystal, wire, and electronic components, with a four D-cell battery holder duct-taped to one side. The whole mess is about the size of half a loaf of bread.
`Wow,' Kail says, `It's too big for a plugger bag,' she hurries from the room, returning with a large square green bag, `But it might fit in here,' she pulls out the MELIOS, sets it on the table, and holds Ami-chan's tracker up to the emtpy bag, `If we hack a lot of the foam out.'
`Here,' Chibi-usa drops a square grey bag, like a collapsible cooler, on the table.
`That'll do perfectly,' and the device is quickly tucked inside.
`How do we get them to take it?' Usagi asks, glancing around the table.
`We put the ginzuishou in it,' Chibi-usa says, and pulls a crystaline flower from nowhere, the ornate thing glittering with radiant white light. It vanishes as quickly as she produced it, `Or my fake, anyway.'
`That was a fake? It looks better than the real one,' Usagi says, impressed.
`Yep. I did a good job,' Chibi-usa says proudly.
`Are we ready?' Minako asks, glancing around at the JSDF liaison, Kail, Usagi, Chibi-usa, Rei, Ami-chan, the four infantry squad leaders, the helicopter crews, the artillery forward observer, and the crew for the single Hond III on site.
Everyone nods, and an affirmative murmur fills the room.
Chibi-usa lifts off the ground, sparkling lights swirling around the park, a little smile on her face, shotgun in her left hand, grey bag over her left shoulder.
Rubius shows up shortly after, darting towards her. The lights change to a crackling, nearly coherent plasma, and Chibi-usa drops to the ground with a little grunt as the plasma blows through the space Rubius had been in, burning a gouge through the park, into the street, and the building it on the other side. `Missed,' she says, and dives back, bringing her shotgun to her shoulder.
The Hind-D opens up with its chin gun, heavy rounds thundering towards the franticly dodging figure.
Rubius hides behind an old, gnarled tree, and the Hind circles around after him.
`Yume! Yume! Yume!' yells a droid, charging towards the helicopter gunship.
Its pilot takes the better part of valor, and climbs rapidly, even as the chin gun blasts away at the receding form. The droid doesn't risk an attack, but isn't hit as it dodges wildly.
*POP* *POP* *POP* *POP* the loud, slow, oversize automatic popgun noise of the blowback operated 40mm grenade launcher sounds as a JSDF trooper fires at the droid. The high explosive grenades blow up with a loud *BLAM* and a small cloud of smoke, the occasional susurrating whir of a spinning bit of shrapnel. One hits the droid dead in the foot, and it doesn't get up, fading into black mist as the cloud of smoke drifts slowly away.
Rubius dodges towards Chibi-usa, taking advantage of the Dark Kingdom militia's reluctance to endanger the older trees. He takes a faceful of buckshot, and goes down, rolling to one side as Chibi-usa jerks a box magazine from under her uniform top, and slaps it into the bottom of her gun.
She fires at Rubius again, putting a couple balls through his jacket as he dodges, then hits him in the ribs with a slug. He grunts, a pained expression on his face, and stops for a moment, so she hits him in the other side. He drops to his knees, then falls over on his face. He has no exit wounds, Chibi-usa notes as she walks up, keeping him covered. She frees her left hand for a moment, and signals quickly, before resuming her walk.
Rubius groans as she gets close, then looks sideways at her, trying not to move his head. Chibi-usa carefully doesn't smile, taking another couple steps, and poking Rubius with her bayonet, faking shock as Rubius forces himself to his feet with a groan, and grabs the grey bag, jerking it free and vanishing.
Chibi-usa drops the box mag, settles to one knee, and draws the charging handle on her gun, catching the white and gold high-brass round as it ejects. She rides the charging handle forward, draws it back, and drops it, chambering a round of buckshot from the tube magazine under the barrel. She feeds the slug into the box mag, slips it back into her LBV under her top, then feeds her tube mag a couple more rounds of buckshot.
`Well, we drove them off,' Minako starts.
The JSDF liason runs up, interrupting her, `Maejima gunshou's passed out, this black mist from the yo-, kai-, enemy surrounded him, he looked really scared, and now he's having a nightmare, and we can't wake him up.'
Ami and Usagi look at each other, then turn to the lieutenant, `Lead the way.'
The trooper who had been firing the mark nineteen looks much the worse for wear, a sheen of sweat on his face as he writhes, bits of scared, angry nonsense slipping from his lips, `No, Kaoru, please,' and `Rei! Help me!' mixed with `Asuka! No, let her go!'
Mercury has her computer out, and is scanning him.
Moon reaches out, laying a hand on his shaking form, `Do you recognize the names?'
`Those are his friends,' another sergeant says, `They've been together since before he joined, live in the same apartment.'
`Good,' Sailor Moon says, `Possession?' she asks Mercury.
Moon takes a few steps back, pulls the Moon Stick from no where, and calls the attack, `Moon Healing Escalation!'
Bright light surrounds the young man on the ground, driving the darkness back, warming the people around him, and burning up the black mist as it is driven from his pores.
He wakes as the light fades, `No!' he sits up, staring around him, then lays back, `Magical attack?' he asks.
`Yes,' Mercury says.
`Good,' sergeant Maejima rolls over, forces himself to his feet, bows deeply to Moon and Mercury, `Thank you.'
`Thank you,' Minako says, walking up.
`I just shot at it until I got lucky. No big deal,' Maejima puts a hand to the back of his head.
The other sergeant drags him off, `You just have the worst luck, don't you, Shinji? All four of you getting your ID stolen right when you got to Tokyo, then your first apartment was destroyed by that freak earthquake, now this? And you've only been here six months!'
`I'm sure more fun and excitement is planned for me by the author,' sergeant Maejima says, a little smile in his voice.
`What is that about?' Moon asks.
`What is what?' Chibi-usa asks.
`"planned for me by the author",' Moon quotes.
`Oh, he's a 'Ficcer, or just plays with the rituals.'
`What's a 'Ficcer?'
`Someone who believes she is living in a story someone else is writing,' Chibi-usa smiles, `They like to talk about possible plot twists, break the fourth wall, and complain if their life is to predictable, telling the author ways they could improve the story.'
`That's,' Moon pauses, `Not much odder than a lot of things.'
Chibi-usa looks around, trying to figure out where the camera should be, then addresses it, `No, it isn't, really,' and she smiles and winks.
Mercury laughs, and Chibi-usa joins her.
`So, we have a firm fix, and can open a gate to there?'
`Know where they are, yes, can open a gate, no. However, now that we have a fix, we can shell them within thirty seconds of them opening a gate,' Ami smiles, `And that should drive them out.'
`Priority Target Vermillion!' FDC calls down.
`PT Vermillion!' the RTO calls as the echos of `Fire Mission!' fade, continuing with `Fire For Effect, Three rounds, Shell HE, Fuze quick, charge five, Special Instructions Use Gunner's Quadrant!' she takes a breath as the number two cannoneer grabs of the first of the three rounds set aside for Priority Target Vermillion, the last two powder increments already dangling by the string tying them together, case and loose charges in one hand, projectile in the other, `Deflection 3365!'
`Shell HE, Fuze PD, Charge 5, ready to verify!' the number two calls.
`Verified!' the section chief tells the number two, who hands the round to the number one.
`Quadrant 662!' the RTO calls, and the number one shoves the round into the breach with his fist, and the assistant gunner closes it.
Chief checks the bubbles, then sets the gunner's quadrant on the shoes, making one final check. The number one and assistant gunner have already stepped back, knees to the trails, the number one's back to the gunner.
`Fire!' the chief calls.
The gunner pulls the firing handle.
The assistant gunner slaps the breach open, and tosses the cartridge to the side.
`Shell HE, fuze . . . ' the crew makes short work of the remaining two rounds.
Of the eighteen rounds fired by the six guns of the platoon, seventeen drop cleanly into the gate. The other round drops into the hastily cleared impact area, cratering the street, ripping open the apartment building on one side and holing the wall on the other.
`Not a damn thing,' Mercury scowls, `and we dropped another round.'
Moon nods grimly.
*Crack* *Crack* *Crack* *Crack* *Crack* *Crack* *Crack* *Crack* goes the Garand, then *Ping* as the clip ejects.
Rubius's head rocks back, the eighth round hitting him under the chin, then he straightens up and smiles before teleporting out.
`All eight rounds hit him in the head, mushroomed, and dropped. All hit squarely,' Megumi says, `From what I just watched, .50 BMG should do adequately.'
`I can fit M2s with slings and some sort of stock, but -' Ami starts.
`Normals can't carry a hundred and twenty pounds and still fight. Even for a youma it's awkward,' Moon nods, `Barret Light Fifties?'
`Maybe if we 'port there.'
`Tell us when.'
`Tonight, midnight. They should be open there.'
Ami glares at her comp, wanting to put her hands on something . . .
`The Coax!' she smiles as the problem simplifies.
The Hond III coax is a small, light, short-stroke gas operated 12.7x108mm weapon, less than half the weight of the M2 heavy machine gun.
In fifteen minutes she has a dismount kit designed. In half an hour she has CAD/CAM specs on all of the parts.
In an hour, half a shift is back at work on the new parts, called back in at nine in the evening for time and a half again.
Usagi rounds on General Chang, `I'm going in. I'm the biggest gun we can use, and may be the biggest gun we have.'
Chang attempts to rally, `If we lose you,'
`Mars and Endymion will have to take over. They aren't incompetent.'
`But they aren't you.'
`No one is. We've got to go in, the next time they open a portal. We've been shelling them for nearly a week, and they haven't backed down a bit.'
`No,' Rei says, `You're not going in there without me.'
`I'm coming, too,' Ami says.
`And tactical experience never really hurts,' Chibi-usa says.
`That's three, plus a heavy-weapon's team?' Minako asks, `The .50 BMG carbines are finally sampling.'
`I guess,' Moon says, `Youma, I hope?'
`Yes,' Minako nods, `I've had sixteen squads volunteer.'
`Ow. Choose one,' Usagi says.
The ten stand in a circle, staring at the blurry, black and white imagery laid out on the table. We recognize the youma from the squad that backed up the senshi when they first met Chibi-usa.
`This,' Ami says, `Is all we know about what's in there. There appears to be one main room, and thirteen smaller rooms-'
She's interrupted by the sound of Chibi-usa's pencil, `The floor plan is like this, it's a standard Dark Kingdom design. They've modified it a bit, fucked the FTL drive to give it time travel capabilities,' she traces the lines on the imagery on the table with her eraser, `and these crystals are not standard equipment. These three probably provide most of the offensive power for the ship, and this one almost certainly maintains the pocket it's in.'
`So, what do we do?' Usagi asks.
`Don't destroy this crystal, this one, or this one, or we're in trouble. .50 BMG should be enough to injure Rubius, or magical attacks. If we can take the ship intact, we'll be able to bring two company-sized units after Wiseman. He has three more high-level minions like Rubius, according to the sisters. They want a piece of him, and want to come along when we go.'
`No,' Usagi says, `They're too recently freed. Wiseman may have magical traps in them still, so,' she shakes her head, `No.' She smiles, suddenly, `And it's too early to plan that, anyway.'
`There!' Mercury says. She stands up, holding out her hands.
The other nine get up, grabbing her hands, a few blinking and a bit groggy from sleep.
"SAILOR TELEPORT!" everyone yells along with the sailors.
The table in the middle of their ring crumbles under the stress, the floor cracking and lifting free, and the ten vanish in a flash of light, the crumbled bits of floor piling onto the ground.
Rubius and Esmeraud startle as three Sailors, a Dark Kingdom heavy weapon's squad, and CPT Tsukino teleport in.
The ten drop hands, and dive for cover as Rubius starts attacking them. They return fire, .50 BMG shockingly loud in the confined space. Esmeraud looks on in bemusement for a moment, before she drops with a half-inch hole in her belly. She screams, clamping her hand over it, and Rubius takes one to the throat. He falls, blood gushing, and most everyone is crushed to the floor. The feline SSG forces herself to her knees, and shoots him in the head, emptying the last ten rounds from her magazine on full auto. Chibi-usa groans, then the gravity vanishes, Esmeraud shrieking as she floats off the floor.
With a faint hum, the ship emerges into normal space, appearing over Tokyo. Everyone hits the floor as gravity grabs them again. Chibi-usa whimpers, `Megumi, clear me a spot somewhere, the defenses on this thing are tough, and I don't want to find out what'll happen if they win before I can shut it down.'
`Yokota airbase, east hanger twelve, out front,' Megumi replies.
Windows shatter for miles around its path as the ship goes supersonic for almost a minute, then settles gently to the concrete and goes silent, all of its systems shutting down.
Esmeraud whimpers, clutching her belly, where red blood seeps between her fingers.
`I don't like her,' Beruche says, firmly, Cooan standing behind her.
`That's because she likes Petz best,' Karaberas says.
Jamanen, who is curled around her, nods agreement.
`She likes me best because she loves me,' Petz shrugs, her face blank, but her voice wavers a little, `Or at least that's what she's said. I hope she wasn't lying.'
Queen Serenity starts her interrogation with, `Who do you love?'
`Di,' Esmeraud starts, frowns, her knuckles whitening, `D-d-d,' she stutters, unable to force the lie out.
`Petz is alive, and fine,' Queen Serenity says.
`What? How? She vanished, and I,' Esmeraud forces her lips closed, eyes scared.
`You can come in,' Queen Serenity presses a button on the table while she speaks.
`Coming,' Petz's voice says, then the woman rushes into the room, stopping at the edge of the table, on Queen Serenity's side, `Esmeraud?' she asks, holding out one hand.
`Petz?' Esmeraud's eyes widen, then soften with the rest of her face as she collapses into tears.
Petz looks to Queen Serenity for permission, then walks around the table and wraps Esmeraud in her arms.
`Esmeraud confirms what the sisters told us - Wiseman, Dimando, Saffir and many droids remain. Very few or none of the droids even approach Jamanen's power level. Dimando and Saffir are both more powerful than Esmeraud, but Saffir is only a little bit more powerful. Wiseman's power levels are unknown, but he's maintaining the assault on Crystal Tokyo,' Usagi looks around the table, `We'll take all the Sailors and two hundred volunteers. Any strategic questions?'
Everyone shakes their heads, even General Chang, who looks glum, as usual.
`OK, then down to brass tacks, or tactics, anyway,' Usagi's lips twitch up.
Everyone who catches the translated pun smiles, and Chibi-usa laughs.
The ship crackles and shakes, Chibi-usa frowning a little, strapped to a seat near one side of the main room, surrounded by nearly half of their force, the other hundred squished into the other rooms.
With a final *BANG* and a nauseating swirl to the artificial gravity, the ship drops into normal space. Chibi-usa smiles, `Welcome to the Thirtieth Century Gregorian, or 5214, P.O.E.E. I hope you have a pleasant stay in our time, and remember, this mission isn't happening.'
Everyone groans at the reminder of the mission's official non-status.
`I'll have a view of Crystal Tokyo up on the main monitor shortly,' Chibi-usa smiles, `There we go.'
The sun shines down on the gleaming crystal and eldritch angles of the Dark Kingdom's future capitol. Someone chokes, and someone else says `Don't you dare!'
After a moment, the little wisps of smoke and spots of blackened crystal begin to make themselves known, along with the bright flash and white smoke of artillery rounds, off to the left of the picture, north-west of the Imperial Palace, which still sits in the center of Tokyo, a couple kilometers from the steel spire of Tokyo Tower.
Chibi-usa brings the craft to a gentle stop near Tokyo Station, which has expanded drastically, although some of the nicer brick sections remain from the original structure.
Several familiar looking figures step out onto a balcony, and wave.
Chibi-usa unbuckles, `Last stop, Everyone off! Last stop!'
Everyone makes the three-meter jump easily, and look around, taking in the changes and the people waiting.
Sailors Mars, Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, and two they don't recognize are standing next to Queen Serenity and Prince Endymion. All are in LBVs matching their costumes, with a variety of mundane weaponry, Chibi-usa smiles up at the pink-haired Sailor in pink and white, and the black-haired Sailor in white and purple next to her. The pink-haired Sailor smiles, and the dark ruffles her hair.
`They don't look any older,' someone says, and there is a collective nod.
Sailor Mars smiles, `Oh, we are, it just doesn't show on the outside much.'
Queen Serenity nods, `Come on in,' and waves them in.
Her younger self looks at her, then marches up, puts her hands on her shoulders, and looks her right in the eyes
She frowns, `Rei-chan, she's taller than I am, right?'
Both Sailors Mars turn to look, but only the younger measures, `No,' they say in unison.
`That's just not _FAIR_!' Sailor Moon whines loudly, and presses her face to her Mars's shoulder, weeping grandly.
Everyone stares, nervously, until Queen Serenity starts laughing, and the other Sailor Mars starts clapping.
`That's better,' Sailor Moon says, and steps back, smiling, eyes dry.
Everyone else laughs, then.
Inside, the walls are slightly curved, and made of various translucent materials which have the hard click of stone. It's a very pretty effect. After a moment they realize that the decor and design are a little off.
`Hey,' Mercury says.
`Yep,' the older Mercury smiles at the younger.
`What?' Mars asks.
`I asked her for a People's Palace,' Queen Serenity says, `So a lot of this was cribbed off of Grand Central Terminal, with the rest being either inspired by Antonio Gaudi or just straight Mizuno Ami.'
They step onto another balcony, which looks out over the tracks, under a great dome, painted on the inside. Or so they think, for as they watch the starscape shifts, then does an elegant swirl-fade to a picture of a small blue planet, circling very close to a dull brown star.
`Nemesis, and Dark Moon. The population there are the descendents of those who couldn't live in the Dark Kingdom,' Queen Serenity shrugs a little, her hands loose on the rail, `Or wouldn't. We offered to find them someplace, but they wanted to find their own. It's only a little worse than the Pocket the Dark Kingdom used to inhabit, and it won't collapse. They survive with hard work and piracy and humanitarian aid from us. About fifty years ago, give or take, we received word that Prince Dimando had `met someone' on his last trip, and then his whole clan left Dark Moon.'
`Wiseman,' Sailor Moon says.
`Yep. His defenses are too strong for me to crack without risk to my city, my people, and my planet,' Queen Serenity turns around, leaning back against the rail, the saber's drag tapping the organic-seeming upright, her skirted grey uniform outlining her slender form, and looks at Sailor Moon.
`By yourself,' Sailor Moon says, smiling.
`With just my Sailors.'
Chibi-usa smiles up at the two Sailors, and the crowded volunteers, whittled down to only fifteen, from both the past and present.
`Didja have fun in the past, Small Lady?' Uranus asks.
`Yeah. Met Bark, which was a bit of an honor. Hadn't realized she started out bone-ignorant of FTL drives.'
`So you rescued her? You never told me that before, just that someone had,' Neptune says.
`I'll remember that,' Chibi-usa smiles.
The volunteers look confused.
`The others will bring down their force-shields, and then we'll blow the outer door. Don't take your menpos off,' Chibi-usa admonishes the volunteers, `The segmi will make you almost as tough as one of us, but a hit to your bare face will still kill you just dead.'
`We remember,' a sarcastic voice says from the back.
`Mikura-chan,' Chibi-usa says, `You may be as tough as a youma, and your magic is centered around probability, and your own luck, but if you want to have dinner tonight, you need to pay attention.'
`Yes, mother,' the sixteen year old says, scowling at Chibi-usa's appropriation of her catchphrase.
`Your mother loves you, and would like you to call,' one of the youma says, then shakes his head, scowling, `So don't go and die on us, OK?'
Mikura looks a little shaken, but smiles and touches the butt of her .45, `I don't plan on it.'
`Good,' Chibi-usa smiles at them, `Operational start is in five minutes. Places, everyone,' she says, and seats her mask, multi-purpose protective. The MMP seals to her helmet, sharply angled back from the single ridge down the center, the eyepieces flush with the rest of it.
A faint orange glow surrounds Chibi-usa, as the final seconds trickle down.
With a silent *FOOM* the force-shield around the Chrystal Tokyo Hilton fails, glittering into nothingness.
The front door is clear glass, or looks like it. The brilliant orange beam from Chibi-usa bends it in, first a few centimeters, then nearly a meter. It holds, straining back towards her, glowing brighter with every second. *BAWOOMB* it blows, turning into a ball of high-energy plasma that expands, cooling, burning everything burnable in the lobby, and unprotected outside for blocks.
Chibi-usa sags to her knees. Mikura grabs her up, and runs forward with the rest.
`Uranus was 'sposed,' Chibi-usa starts.
`I got there first, and she's a Sailor.'
Chibi-usa is set on her feet, and unslings her shotgun. It has sprouted a lump on its rail, but is otherwise unchanged. Chibi-usa slaps a box magazine into it, then waves Mikura after her, `Come along.'
Mikura draws, and follows.
With a gasp, Mikura jumps back from Saffir's attack. Chibi-usa holes his jacket with the round of buckshot she had in the chamber, and dives between his legs, glancing back as she gets to her feet. Mikura has rushed after her, and grabs his wrist. Chibi-usa runs, followed by the muffled *crunch* of Saffir meeting the wall.
`Wiseman!' Chibi-usa yells. Neptune is down, somehow, gasping and writhing, like she's in the grip of a nightmare.
Uranus is not in much better shape, skeletal fingers wrapped around her throat, the Space Sword buried in Wiseman's belly, black blood dripping down its gleaming length.
Wiseman turns towards her, a dry, raspy laugh coming from his throat, `Oh, it's the rabbit. Did you get tired of running?'
`I found what I was looking for,' Chibi-usa says, smiling, as she slows to a stop, about two paces from him, flicking the selector switch on her gun.
`Oh? What was that?' Wiseman flings Uranus from him, the Sailor groaning as she hit the wall.
`Help,' Chibi-usa says, and almost floats forward, two quick, sliding steps bringing her right into his reach. She presses the muzzle of her shotgun into the darkness of his hood, under his chin, and pulls the trigger.
The first three rounds bruise his jaw, and rock his head back. The fourth crushes his trachea. The fifth breaks the skin. The seventh knocks him unconscious. Eight and nine remove the contents of his skull. Ten through twelve splat against the back wall of the penthouse, deforming and ricochetting around the room, tearing it up a bit more, little flashes of flame jetting from the ports on the top of the barrel with each shot.
Chibi-usa releases the trigger, pulls the gun onto the corpse's center of mass. It falls over. She looks for Neptune, who's calmed, and is forcing herself to her feet. She looks for Uranus, and the room fills with sparkling light, then Sailors.
She drops her gun on the body, and throws her arms around Queen Serenity.
`You were soo cute,' Sailor Saturn says softly to the pink-clad Sailor Moon.
`Don't,' is her reply.
`Damn, but you are so cute when you're confused,' Mizuno Umi whispers to her wife, as she watches the young group tour the Palace.
`Yes, I am, so long as I don't have to live it,' Ami whispers back, remembering the past, `Wait for it, wait, wait, there!'
An older pink-haired woman, who looks maybe thirty, and a dark haired woman of about twenty-five walk in. Both stop, blink, then smile, `My liege,' they greet Queen Serenity.
She draws on them, holding the saber easily, and we notice that her wrists are thicker than her younger self, `Apologize,' she says, `I've told you,'
`Right, sorry Odango-atama,' they chorus happily, smiling.
Queen Serenity huffs, and sheaths her sword with a smile, `You remember what Mikura looked like at sixteen, don't you?' she asks.
The pink-haired woman blinks, looks at Mikura, and blinks again, `It's been a loong time since I looked like that.'
`You were just utterly cute like that,' the black-haired woman says, then walks over and tilts Mikura's chin up, and kisses her.
Mikura sputters, and takes several steps back.
`Don't tease her, Asami,' the older Mikura chides.
Chibi-usa looks at the partly melted ruins of her shotgun sitting in a plastic tub, `I hadn't realized his blood was that corrosive,' she says, adding soapy water.
Ami looks at the rust-colored water, `Is it salvageable?'
`I don't know. It ate my hand when I picked it up,' she holds out one gloved hand, misshapen from bandages.
After three tubs of water, Chibi-usa sets the gun on the table, and strips it.
`I don't think there's a single piece that hasn't been damaged,' Ami says after looking for a few moments.
`Oh, there is,' Chibi-usa says, and picks up one of the plastic three bar sliders, `but I think the gun's a total loss.'
Chibi-usa greets them at the door of the ship, smiling, `All Aboard!'
`Have a nice vacation,' Chibi-usa says to Usagi, Rei, and Mamoru, waving at the crowd around the ship, `While it lasts.'
`There's more trouble coming?' Mamoru says.
`In a little bit,' Chibi-usa says, `But you would have been able to guess.'
`It's always more fun in the Dark Kingdom,' Usagi sighs, and leans into Mamoru, pulling Rei close. The crowd roars approvingly.
since 3168: thoughts/plans/plots
3169/Confusion/70: started. Heh. 170 lines.
3169/Bureaucracy/17: Continued. I missed an update, sometime.
3169/Bureaucracy/18: A bit more.
3169/Bureaucracy/18: edit'd the Rei/Usagi scene a bit.
3169/Bureaucracy/19: Bit more added.
3169/Bureaucracy/21: Bit more
3170/Chaos/66: Yay! Two more eps ^_^
/Chaos/73: Added a bit more, put it up, didn't log it. 3170/Discord/1: edited a little, logged what I did last night. 3170/Discord/1: more! Yay!
3170/Discord/3: Tiny bit more.
3170/Discord/3: Bit more.
3170/Discord/4: Tiny pre-breakfast edit.
3170/Discord/6: A bit of blatent mechaphilia. Sigh.
3170/Discord/7: Not sure of the fielding dates of the M240b, so I went with its more common name.
3170/Discord/10: Tiny bit more, some tiny edits
3170/Bureaucracy/9: tiny edit.
3170/Bureaucracy/26: Tiny edits, a little more.
3170/Bureaucracy/27: more! A fair bit, at that.
3170/Bureaucracy/33: More! End of Sailor Moon R!
3170/Bureaucracy/34: Tiny edits, a little bit better ending.
3170/Bureaucracy/48: Little editting. Sigh.
3170/Aftermath/17: Title Block
3171/Confusion/59: On my way back from Iraq. Just a couple tiny details added.
3172/Confusion/35: A couple new scenes, a couple tiny edits
3185/Discord/38: Spell-checked, edited for posting to ff.n (2019/Apr/21, to give the Gregorian date)(and yes, I started this story 16 years ago)