““Dealing with gods, spirits, kami, whatever you want to call them is always fraught with caution. You may get what you think you want.”
— Lt. Gen. Patton V, March 2015.
Author's Notes: As always, unless specified otherwise, Japanese naming convention will be used, and in multilingual scenes, Japanese will be denoted with : <””> If an entire scene is in Japanese, it’ll be noted to be translated. Previous author’s notes still apply
Jan 25th 2016, Undisclosed Location, Japan
The hooded figure gazed out over the people in the gloom of the cave that he chose to hold this meeting. The cave where Amaterasu had scored a priceless victory for her children and those she and her siblings protected. Behind him was a sealed hokora, or miniature Shinto shrine, with various sealing strips and other seals layered over it. All bound by the power of the Sun.
He snarled. Damn that Uzume for drawing her out! His Lord had almost corrupted even the greatest of the children of the Creator. He was not pleased.
He burned his gaze into the crowd. He wanted them to feel his hate, feel his displeasure.
“Fuhai has failed me.”
He could feel the ripple of fear from his followers. He would need that fear, especially now that he was so close. It was time to amplify that fear. He took a step forward, and raised his voice to the crowd.
“Fuhai has failed me!” He snarled. “He could have sent the Sun Bitch back to her own plane! Her blood could have freed our Lord and Master!” He growled. “He is Enma’s plaything now, the lowest of toys for the dead. Let Enma have his fun.”
Those closest to him shuddered. None would dare speak, but he could taste the utter terror they held. The pressure was at its peak. It was time to point it in the right direction.
“Clearly, butchering the Sun Bitch is not the way.” He strode toward them. “She was nearly corrupted in these caves, so long ago.” A malicious smile crept up his face. “Bring her here. Let her feel our Lord and Master’s presence once more!” He walked to them, close enough to put his hands on the shoulders of two of his acolytes. “The Sun Bitch is not meant to die. She is meant to come here, to be one of us, to be one with us – and to free our Lord and Master from his prison!”
He pondered for a moment, before coming to a conclusion. “Kokushibyo! Ten’nento! Ujimushi! Kabi!”
Four hooded figures stepped forward, then bowed in front of him. He turned toward each of them. “Go to this land of fools. Bring her here. And if you fail…” He let the words hang for a moment letting their own fears fuel them. “If you fail, then Fuhai’s end will seem like a blessing to you.” He grit his teeth. “Go! Leave! You are unworthy of the Lord’s presence!”
The followers all scampered out of the cave, leaving him alone. Only then, after all of them were gone, did he allow himself to smile. Soon, very soon, the Sun Bitch would grace his Lord’s presence once more. This time, there would be no escape -- there would be no dawn to coax the Sun Bitch from this cave. And all the world would know the power of Amatsu-Mikaboshi.
Morning, Jan 25th, Office of SOCOM-PMA/Admin, B-Ring, Pentagon, Arlington, Virginia.
“Sir, The Princess is here.” Gen. Patton’s aide stated over the speaker. Patton sighed.
“Send her in.” The General stood, brushing off his uniform of nonexistent lint. He watched and strode forward and bent over the Princess’ hand, as to kiss it. Straightening up, he noticed the smile in the young woman’s eye. “Madam, it is a pleasure to see you this fine day.”
Princess Kako’s smile was genuine, as she let herself be led to a waiting chair. “Oh, I don’t think it is, General.”
Patton returned to his chair, after getting a shake of the head for an offer of tea or coffee. Settling, he eyed the princess. “Oh?”
“Yes.” Kako’s smile faded. “I’m afraid that I’m here to request that you personally allow me to see my cousin. Your... assistants have been admirable in their efforts to generate more paperwork in the last month than some of my grandfather’s subjects who work in the government do in a year. I am so hoping that with your able assistance, I can finally report to my government that we have talked to Amaterasu’s avatar, finally, and relieve the tension they so undoubtedly feel at such an august historical and spiritual being unable to communicate her desires to her people. As well as carrying out my legal duties as next of kin, or her agent.”
“Well then it is fortunate that circumstances bring you here at this time then. While I am more than happy to assist, there was another name listed as Daniel Moate’s next of Kin, by his own hand, not mine.” Patton smiled tightly, knowing just how obnoxious this game could get. “Your claim will have to be verified by Colonel Moate before I am allowed to release anything to you. Fortunately the Colonel is about stable enough to receive guests, so that won’t actually be delayed much longer. Nor is there any more paperwork to be filed.”
Kako’s head tilted slightly. “And you’ve assured yourself of the basic stability of my cousin? As well as that the possibility of her leaking secrets to us is a… trivial matter?” She smiled innocently at the General, making him understand that she at least was quite aware of some of the issues. “Though I would question your, no doubt able, personnel to… ah, properly evaluate the former? Nor would anyone in Japan question the ability of her former unit to do anything they wished, our own Tokushusakusengun has a better idea of what possibilities, both against and within my cousin would be an… issue.”
Patton shrugged. “Naturally what is and is not done for our security will have to be taken up with other sources. I am not at liberty to discuss that.” He looked her dead in the eye. “All posturing aside, Moate’s our family, the Colonel’s taken care of us, his men, his country. This isn’t about us doing what we want. This is about us making sure that our family member is in no state of mind to be guided, coerced or used against her will by even the most well-meaning of people.”
He looked at Kako with steel in his eye. “You are, of course exempted from this, but any staff you intend to bring within half a kilometer of Colonel Moate will be vetted and checked fully. I’ve already had one near miss on the Colonel’s life, and another intercepted before the bastard could get past our watchdog. This is not intended as insult or accusation, but the Imperial family casts long shadows. I wish to insure that nothing has decided to try and hide in yours.”
Kako’s smile was a bit strained, but she nodded. “Of course.” Pausing a moment, she thought quickly. “I do have a… request that you might be interested in hearing first, from my government.” Looking at the General, she smiled a bit cooly. “It appears that those who sought and seek to disturb both internal and external harmony weren’t as… removed as we all thought. We would be ill mannered, given their previous actions and their ambitions and what it caused, not to invite you and yours, no? Not to mention that my cousin is … well, I will not say needed, in my home, but we are more suited for the other elements of her new role, no?”
Patton nodded, then walked over to a phone and quickly dialed. “Lieutenant, green light, non-invasive. Make sure that none of our special friends’ slipped in. This is a safety check, not an interrogation, understood?”
“Understood, sir,” came the young woman’s voice from the speaker. “We’ll have full brief in 10.”
Patton didn’t say anything further as he ended the call.
Kako’s phone beeped, and Patton’s eyebrow raised as she tilted her head, and in Japanese spoke softly. Patton knew the language, which he had kept quietly hidden. It wasn’t that the US military distrusted Japan, it was he felt slightly embarrassed by being one of the biggest fans of Kurosawa movies in America, going so far as to write a historical piece and analysis of the films in a sociological journal, under an assumed name. <”Understood, and let them continue it.”> Kako’s eyebrow matched Patton’s, clearly questioning the need.
Patton checked his watch, then one second later, the phone rang. He hit the button, and the Lieutenant’s voice came through. “They’re clean, no surprises there, but we found one in the bushes, literally. A passing Jarhead volunteered to make sure the fall down the stairs wasn’t fatal. They seem to be getting a bit frantic.”
“You know the drill. Make it happen.” He looked up at Kako. “I want to know how they found where she is.”
Kako’s eyes narrowed. “General? Exactly what is going on?”
“Since your safety is now involved flag your guards to go active, have their lead pass my Lieutenant the word “Forget-me-Not” and she will allow them to their duties, please ask them to coordinate. The people who keep trying to get at Moate are a bit beyond all help, and I’m not going to let them realize that you’re here too.”
Kako nodded and did so. Finishing, she turned to the General. “Beyond help? I’m not quite sure I understand what you mean, General. Though I’m… interested in how they got here. I was informed that the heirs of the Dragon Society were small and unskilled. The only reason why we were going to have you help hunt them, was for international relations, really.”
“These aren’t Dragon Society, not as the press releases know them. Whether you have been briefed or not, the assassins sent are all class-X damaged, and worshippers of Mikaboshi. Fortunately, the Lieutenant can flush them out now that she has their scent.” Patton nodded to her. “May I offer you a seat? I’m afraid I must insist that you remain secure until the incident is past.” He looked up as two TSG operators unceremoniously entered and posted within the door on either side while two Green Berets posted themselves outside.
Kako leaned back in her chair and shook her head. “I… did not know. I will be most… curious to know if our government knew.” Turning to one of the Japanese operators, she received a shake of the head. “This… explains too much. My great grandfather’s notes were quite puzzling in the tone and shift of the population so quickly after the First world war, and of course, the depression. Well. I think I will enjoy your coffee now.”
“Of course. Much as I love playing games, I think once the Marines get done explaining the ‘no trespassing’ policy here, we will have your entourage prepare to move. Your location and status on base are now classified.” He poured her a cup and noted, gratifyingly, that the princess was not inexorably drawn to the window to have a look as he passed her the cup, and a tray with the cream and sugar.
“I understand.” She finished preparing her coffee and sipped. Looking at the General she smiled a bit wistfully. “It’s always been interesting how death and destruction seem to be the things people gravitate to if they feel society isn’t to their liking.”
“Indeed.” He leaned over his desk and picked up a cell phone, flipping it open, and hitting a speed dial number. “Chicken? Clone. Tell Samurai she has a guest that should be greeted with her best please. I expect to be delayed no longer than an hour than my previous ETA.”
Morning, Jan 25th, Paranormal Situations Wing, Womack Army Medical Center, Ft. Bragg, North Carolina
Daniel pushed himself… no, herself up, as the orderly brought in the tray. “Thank you, Specialist.” She thanked the Orderly, who placed the new remote to the TV on the table, replacing the one that Daniel had thrown by accident. Sighing frustrated at her sudden clumsiness, she sent again mentally *Are you there?*
*Yess?* the amused female voice answered in a relaxed and drawn out manner.
*There you are,* Daniel replied a bit irritated as she flipped through the TV channels. *Where have you been? Don’t spirits pretty much live in their Avatars?*
Daniel got the sense of a pause, then a slight shrug. *Ah… well, some do. It would not be a wise choice, for me to spend all my time in here, considering our previous conversation.* A slight smugness rang, then her mental voice continued. *In a lot of ways, even with the alterations I made to you for handling my power, I am still too powerful to be hosted fully by any one Avatar, even you, daughter. So, I’m not. And on occasion will be elsewhere. I have other things, and other people, you know, my… channelers, I believe the term was… though that term isn’t correct, all things considered, as I explained earlier.*
*Oh… so, some of the time, I’ll have just a Mini-Amaterasu in me?* Daniel mentally snarked.
*… Mini-me?* The voice was puzzled for a second until she received a mental image. *I see. And apt, yes.*
Daniel picked up the metal silverware, carefully started to cut the food, and cursed mentally as her attempt to cut the ham slice had the knife sliding out of her hand and landing on the floor. *What the hell is going on, Lady? This is the second time I overreacted with reflexes in the last half hour alone!*
*Ah…* A sense of amusement rang though Amaterasu’s next words. *Well, while you were sleeping, I removed the limiters I put in place to handle that and other issues. You cannot rely on me to guide your new body correctly all the time, no? I will certainly guide you, but do everything? I’m sure you would not enjoy being treated as a baby.*
*…True. Warning would have been nice. Exactly what did you do… and what limiters did you place in?* Daniel asked, dreading the answer. She carefully picked up the coffee, sipped, and gently, ever so gently, put it down.
*Bleah! Bad taste, that. How do you stand it?* The goddess was actually interested. *What’s wrong with a proper tea? Your ancestors enjoyed tea for generations!*
Daniel paused and shook his head. *I like coffee in the morning. Like OTHERS of my ancestors did for generations. Not just Japanese, Amaterasu. Anyways, tea is for afternoon. It’s the Army thing, though I’ll admit this is some bad coffee. Hospitals. Bleah.*
*Possible. Or it could be changes to your taste.* Amaterasu sounded smug. *Tea is good for you, child. Also doesn’t stain your teeth.*
*…I thought black teeth was the classical definition?* Daniel asked idly as he flipped through the stations, stopping once at a poke from Amaterasu, only to blanch at the fashion show then pointedly continue on.
*That one I’m afraid I don’t understand either.* Amaterasu’s verbal shrug indicated amusement. *Susano’o claims it’s from my blinding white teeth, so…*
*… Susano’o sounds like a dick.* Daniel finally finished the breakfast after she cleaned her knife. Sadly, the plate didn’t have enough food to really satisfy. Daniel eyed the plate and sighed. *I’m going to have to really learn about this appetite thing going on.*
*Yes,* Amaterasu replied. *And yes, Susano’o has his moments. Brrr, horse corpses, brr, collecting the corpses of innocent ladies in waiting, brr… taking on true Dragons for fun. He is an arrogant ass. During the war, I thought the Black Dragons was his cult, until he went ‘Naw, I like the Americans, why in hell would I have ‘em against our kids, Ama-chan’?*
*I… see. That’s why you didn’t aid the Imperial forces past 39 or so?* Daniel finally got to ask a question that had troubled those more aware of the paranormal.
*Exactly. In fact, Susano’o associated with the 442nd, I believe. I generally stayed away, and only helped the miko who were in the rural areas. Then we both basically ‘withdrew’ for a long time.* Amaterasu sighed. *Then in the eighties… well. Taking a thirty year vacation wasn’t the smartest thing.*
*I… see, I think.* Daniel stopped and watched the door open. *Visitors.*
“Yo. Boss…” Tyson stopped and eyed the shattered remote. “That’s new.”
Daniel rolled her eyes. “Yes, yes. I just found out that the BIT includes higher than expected reflexes, and I accidently released the remote at the wrong time.. Powers testing today, I hope?” She eyed what she was wearing. “And clothing. Got to get clothing.”
“Tired of scrubs?” Tyson quirked an eyebrow at the young woman, seeking a response and getting one from the sharp nod she gave him. “Not a problem. Got a pair of sweats, and we’ll go, after you get ready. Say twenty? We really need to get you ready pretty fast. Got a guest you need to be nice to, coming.”
“Yeah, twenty it is.” Daniel ran a hand through her hair and sighed. “Better make it thirty. This blasted mane of hair.” Pasuing. “Exactly who’s the guest?”
“Eh, wasn’t told specifically, though I’m pretty sure it’s one of the Japanese government, think? I’ll go get a decent cup while waiting.” Tyson dumped a bag on a chair snickering about something as he walked out.
Daniel waited until Tyson left, then removed the hospital robe, and moved into the bathroom, removing the gown. Carefully not looking into the mirror, Dan sighed and carefully gathered the soap and shampoo.
Daniel gingerly opened the door to the shower. She’d been purposely avoiding this. She didn’t even pay much attention as she lathered up and showered – a fact that had led to an embarrassing moment as she cleaned her bits. The change had meant some surprisingly different reactions from her new body than what she expected. She had been careful from that point on, but still didn’t examine what she’d become.
Toweling herself off had not helped matters. She’d noticed but never understood why Aiko pat-dried whenever she dried herself off. Her skin was more sensitive and rubbing terry cloth across some parts of her body just did not work. It took only a couple of brushes across her skin before she’d adopted the pat-dry method.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t run anymore. It was time to face what she’d become. She could wish that Amaterasu had left the blocks in place for this, since a sneaking suspicion of hers was that Amaterasu also included emotional blocks.
The girl who stared back from the mirror would not have looked out of place on Tokyo’s streets – well, after some cleaning up, anyway. Not to mention some clothing, otherwise all the attention she’d get would be police or if in certain districts, well... Long, lustrous black hair cascaded down her head and shoulders, covering the areola of her nipples. What she could see of her breasts both impressed and disappointed: they weren’t large enough to get in the way, which she was happy about, but they didn’t look particularly impressive, either.
A strange thought lanced through her mind. Was it odd that she was both elated and disappointed at a small chest size?
*Many a woman has been conflicted about her breasts over the centuries,* Amaterasu’s voice interrupted. *You are not the first, and certainly will not be the last.* Dan could hear her mental sigh. *I sought a size that would not interfere with your appointed duties while still being sufficient enough for a woman your age. They will grow slightly over the next couple of years as you mature and reach your childbearing years.*
Dan’s eyes narrowed. “Not. Funny. Ama.” The comment, unfortunately, drew Dan’s attention to more important areas with regard to childbearing. A delicate hand began to trace down from her navel; she swallowed as she looked at the sparse hair below. “But it is a possibility, isn’t it?”
*More than a possibility,* Ama supplied. *While men are unaccustomed to such things, you might wish to put red beans and rice on your grocery list in roughly three weeks’ time.*
“And Midol,” Dan supplied. He groaned. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”
*Only if I could have done it to Susano’o as well!* Amaterasu snarked. *Many a time I have tried to talk him into living a decade or two from a woman’s perspective; I think it would settle down some of his wilder tendencies.* Her venom faded. *My child, I have watched your family serve me faithfully for centuries. To watch one of your line fulfill their charge and become my Avatar and daughter fills me with joy. Moreover, it has been a very long time since I have guided a daughter or handmaiden as she discovered the mysteries of life.* Her voice turned playful. *Forgive me my indulgences, my exuberance. Oh, you have so much to discover…!*
“Some things I’d rather not discover, thanks,” Dan deadpanned as her gaze turned to her face. Her eyes stared back, wide and slightly tilted, framed by thick lashes, under slim and elegant eyebrows. Daniel trailed down the pert and slim nose, to study the thin lines of her pressed together lips, which were not particularly plump, but were well-shaped and could easily smile; unconsciously, she found herself doing exactly that, until she caught herself. Pulling the gaze out a bit, she studied the heart shaped face in total before sighing.
“You had to make me just about ideal, didn’t you?” Daniel muttered quietly into the mirror, face shifting into a pout instead of the usual grumpy expression that she expected.
*You are my Avatar, my representative on this plane* her resident deity and second mother replied. *Do you honestly think I would do any less? You look like I did when I was young!*
*Now, you really should get ready. After all, you wouldn’t want to keep Mr. Tyson waiting, would you?*
Jan 25th, Mrs. Carson’s Office, Whateley Academy, Dunwich, New Hampshire.
“Perhaps you can tell me why you are here and save some time? Mrs. Carson is a very busy woman, and I can only hope that you are,” Amelia Hartford asked the Brigadier general in front of her. The attractive blonde raised an eyebrow and added, “If I could handle the … issue that brings you here…”
The Brigadier general smiled softly. “Ma’am, I have orders to discuss this with Mrs. Carson and Mrs. Carson only.” He tapped the armrest of his chair. “Further, she assured General Smith that she would have time in about, oh…” He made a process of looking at his watch. “Five minutes. I can wait.”
“Surely you understand that…” Amelia was cut off by a hand being raised.
The officer in front of Mrs. Hartford smiled and spoke. “Ma’am. I have very explicit, very detailed, and very clear orders. Full code words, limited need to know, and national security issues apply, Ma’am. I’m sure Mrs. Carson will share what she thinks you need to know as soon as it becomes possible. I would rather not end my career in Ft. Leavenworth, you understand, which the nicest possibility is if I did discuss this with you. I’m sure you rather not as well, no?”
“Ah, Truth, Justice and the American Way under attack. Again.” the dry female voice shortcutted Amelia’s response. The click of high heels echoed on the floor as Mrs. Carson walked in the office. She raised a sculpted eyebrow as she studied the arguing pair. “It’s okay, Amelia.” She looked over at the general. “General Oginski. We met at the change of command for 13th Special Forces Group at Pease Joint Forces Base, I believe?”
“Yes, Lady Astarte. My daughter loved that you signed that poster, even after you found out why Pease had a full Special Forces Group assigned to it.” The officer looked a bit embarrassed.
“I see, Lewis.” She paused and waved at her office door again. “That’s not your fault or your old command’s fault, General; it’s a simple safety precaution, both for the students and others. I understand you think she might attend?” Mrs. Carson smiled at the man’s nod. “Well, General Oginski, what can Whateley do for you?”
General Oginski waited until the door was closed, and extracted a ball. “This one works, ma’am.” He turned it on and settled into the seat she waved at. Taking a moment to gather his thoughts, Oginski nodded. “Ma’am? All this is code word, not to be disseminated to anyone but Admiral Everhart, and your security chief only.” He waited for her nod.
“A bit mysterious, but I understand and accept.” Mrs. Carson tilted her head in understanding and waited for the general to continue.
“Right.” The man thought about what he was going to say for a minute, then shrugged. “I have no doubt you remember what happened to Hijacker I.” Carson’s eyes narrowed at that reminder, but before she could respond, the General continued on. “It’s not the first ah… student you had of that nature, nor the last, though I will admit in her case, it was a knee jerk reaction.” The General shot a mild look at the Headmistress who impassively gazed back. “But, it was understandable and well, it ended well.”
“And the less said the better on the topic.” Carson eyed the man up and down. “But I’m sure you’ve not come to discuss the disposition of the loudest teacher the campus has ever seen.”
“Actually, in a way, I have.” The General studied Mrs. Carson. “Hijacker was a bit of a shock, but
we received a new one.” The General’s expression was a bit bemused. “Let’s just say, those who hunt dragons, and are Dogs, seem to have Slayer’s luck on occasion. Are you curious for more?”
“Amelia hold my calls,” Carson sent the message to the woman outside. “And now I see the Laws of Similarity are in full swing. Tell me.”
The officer nodded once. “This is not only code word to Delta, but to the Imperial Household Agency.” He looked at her. “I understand you and yours have excellent relations with them, as well as their subordinate department, Department of Paranormal Affairs?”
“They really should have done like Australia and picked a different name than the American agency, but yes, thus far we have maintained good relations with them.” Carson was now mildly curious, a rarity when military personnel started talking.
“This is an off the record heads up, from both Delta and them.” The General quirked an eyebrow. “I’m surprised you haven’t heard, I understand it was quite visible in Japan, and known publically within hours.”
“General allow me to be frank, I hear a lot of things. Some are relevant to my interests, some to the school. Given my contacts amongst the paranormal, metahuman and Mutant communities, I sift through more interesting things in a day than some intelligence enlisted see in four years. I will need a frame of reference to which particular incident you are referring.”
“Huh, I thought you’d be interested in the Japanese finally getting a Paladin of Amaterasu. Didn’t you deal with the Japanese in World War 2?” The General’s eyebrow quirked.
“I mostly operated on the berlin side of the war. Champion did more on the pacific side. He thought it would be far too dangerous for me at the time.” She was thoughtful, then thought for a minute. “The History teacher at Tulane, and the subsequent shootout with the MCO team?”
The General smiled slightly. “Yes. You had tried to hire him at least once or twice, I do believe.”
He leaned forward slightly. “Eldritch would understand what happened, in great detail, though from what I understand her changes were even more severe, and here is a preliminary medical report from New Orleans VA, before the Colonel was transferred to Wozniak.” He passed over a thin folder.
“You do realize that if anyone so much as mentions this to her, she’s going to go on a ranting fit.” Carson perused the file. “She’s been trying to get two of your operators for the past three years. Samurai was one of them. Oh my, this is going to be a bit of an adjustment. So what, pray tell does this mean to the school? You wouldn’t be here, in my office, if you just needed Eldritch to play life-coach for not going postal. In fact I could recommend a few who would be better at it.”
The General nodded. “We had no disagreement with the school hiring two of Delta’s best, though considering the amount of problems you gave us over Hijacker, we were surprised you signed off on people who you accused of putting down more than one of your former students. However, I do want you to pay attention to the Neurologist's report. While I cannot give you the full details at this time, the damage wasn’t just in areas that would be expected in such a massive shift.”
“There are a few other details, such as we take care of our own, and while we were not the… best, I would admit at that, there are issues with Japan’s and other’s consideration, for the new paladin. Last but not least, let’s be honest. Japan only has one real place in country to send non gadgeteers, who have more than just….” He stopped, gathering the correct words, rather than the operator slang he was used to. “Simple Exemplar abilities. And I do believe you know that school.” Eying her. “When ARE your students going to get payback?”
“Loosing the Outcasts on them for a school competition wasn’t?” Carson asked mildly. “Burnout… always burnout. Did you know that late manifestations of Mahren’s age have a thirty percent chance of survival? Colonel Moate being alive is almost miraculous, right alongside the one or two others I’ve seen.” She kept reading. “And as far as Hijacker went, the only real information I had on his unit was batches of half-news, troubling publicity, unreliable witnesses and the claims of Humanity First! It wasn’t until I met the man and saw what that life had done to him that I really got what had happened.”
“Helps that at least one of your former students personally served with and under the two in question, isn’t it? And you know that.” The Officer smiled slightly. “Back to the point. For all of Japan’s ability to train their own paranormals, while not up to your standards is still damned good.”
Mrs. Carson nodded. “But isn’t perfect, nor able to handle several cases.”
“Ayep. Several off the record requests have wandered our way about you accepting a student. Both from Delta and of course, from His Highness’ government.” The General looked at her.
“No promises, on all counts, General. If they request, I will investigate and evaluate your candidate. But if the school doesn’t have anything meaningful we can teach her beyond basic skills that might have gone away in a burnout wipe this would be a waste of everyone’s time. Arithmetic, language, history, even social grace can be imparted by tutors the world over.” She got a moderately exasperated look. “We will ignore the fact that Adults forced to conform to teenage norms tend to be… volatile.”
The General nodded. Smiling crookedly, he passed over a second folder. “Consider this official then. While not ‘official’, you know exactly how we and Japan do business, in certain cases, and you may consider this one of those. Further, again. There is some information that isn’t in her medical file that I passed you. Including where some damage is. Last but not least… there is no psychological or background report.” He looked at the headmistress seriously. “Putting aside what’s in that folder I just handed you, you did come recommended by a certain Soke, who is waiting to see what color is attempted on his school, and wishes to remind you, Pink is so not your color, or your school’s.”
“Huh. Is that right? Looks like I’ll be using Jericho and Phase’s “Plan Plaid” after all.” Carson smirked mildly. “But for now, I do have work to get done, sir. If you’ll see yourself out, I will arrange to meet this girl and see if she is a good candidate for Whateley. Regardless, if I do this, I expect you to do me a favor. I want Tyson in attendance, and not finding convenient fishing holes with nothing in them to get distracted by so he can be evaluated for a job as well. That’s my price for all of this.”
The General stood up. “As for Tyson, I’m sure he’d consider seriously an offer now… though you will have competition, of course, an arrangement might be made, similar to the one you have with Kansai Tetsuko, I believe. Japan is very much aware of the bonds of service. A good day to you, Headmistress.” The General snapped to attention, then marched out nodding at Mrs. Hartford.
“Good day indeed.” She looked over, then shook her head. It was half-tempting just to make this a formality and deny the girl entry just based on the logistical, social and political nightmare that would inevitably follow. She tried very hard not to think about the IHA’s potential reaction to some of her more colorful staff, like the Imp, or those more intractable and uncooperative with outside influences, like Eldritch.
“One chance, Moate. You only get one chance.”
Jan 25th, South Post Exchange, Ft. Bragg, North Carolina
Tyson pointed at the Humvee. “Passenger side, boss.” Daniel rolled her eyes, opened the door and climbed in.
“I really don’t remember the ‘Vees being this big,” Daniel grumbled.
“Well, you did lose about 8 inches in height, didn’t you?” Tyson snarked at his old friend.
“Ha, ha, it is to laugh.” Daniel sighed. “I really should thank the Nurse who handed me these measurements. Must have gotten them when I was out like a light.”
“Pretty much, yeah. General ordered it done so we could have uniforms ready. He placed a rush yesterday so we go pick them up.”
Daniel nodded. “At least that headache’s done. Got my wallet?” Daniel held out a hand and the wallet was dropped into it.
“Yeah, it’s all there. I checked it.” Tyson shrugged as Daniel flipped through and saw a folded up piece of paper next to her debit card. “General took care of that stuff, and getting new ID and license will have to wait til you pick a name.”
Daniel sighed. “Yeah.” She tilted her head. “Who’s paying for the uniforms and new issue?”
Tyson snickered. “Boss, for a man with money and nothing else to spend it on, you were always a stingy bastard on anything but feeding your people. Anyways, General’s got it covered. As long as you don’t go overboard.” Paused. “Eh, Boss?”
“Yeah?” Daniel looked up from her fruitless search for a pocket.
“Was there anything important on the laptop in your house?” Tyson’s tone had become shifty.
“… no, why?” Dan’s tone had grown suspicious.
“Eh, well, part of the deal is a new laptop. We did manage to put your old one’s hard drive into an external bay, and nothing’s wrong with your desktop.” Tyson smiled.
“… Joy. Uniforms first?” Daniel rubbed her forehead in irritation. She had finally gotten the keys broken in right.
“Yup. After that? Got the itinerary?” Tyson took a turn to a thump to his right.
“Ow! Dammit! Tyson! Stop taking turns that fast!” Daniel screeched at Tyson then in a calmer tone added, “Did you ever pay off all those traffic tickets from Benning?” Shaking her head, she continued. “Never mind that. Yes, the nurse before breakfast was very helpful, though I don’t get her eye-rolling at the lack of putting underwear on the list. Kinda obvious I’d need some.”
Tyson snickered. “No, and yeah on the last, boss.” He paused. “So, besides the new laptop, you have a list of what you’ll need besides the issue?”
"Yeah, Nurse Myers took the one I was making and made a new one. Muttered something about men having no clue about fashion." Daniel winced as yet another curve became victim to Tyson’s tendency to ignore little things like a hummer’s safe speed being far less than his preferred cars’.
“Okay, what’s on the list?” Tyson was curious.
Daniel flipped it open and blinked. “Not counting standard issue, which she noted… I’m somehow not surprised at this list.”
“Yeah. At least a half dozen pairs, in different colors of three types of socks: ankle, knee and mid-calf. Stockings in at least 3 colors. Assuming I’m not issued any, that is…” Daniel stared at the list. “Sweet kami, that many pairs of panties? And bras?” Shaking her head, she continued onwards. “I thought issue included PT gear. Why more spandex for this?”
“Eh, women. Plus some women don’t like the Army issue. She might have wanted to give you the option. It’s not like the fund to cover this little spree is small.” Tyson shrugged again.
“… Wow, a lot of stuff. Will we have time to do inproc?” Daniel rubbed her forehead. “Silly me. Here I thought I could get away lightly.” Shaking her head, her rueful tone conveyed her thoughts. “And she looked so nice and innocent. Now I wonder. She said she’d have her friend come by with her Avon kit. Should I be terrified?”
Tyson blanched as he gripped the steering wheel. “Weeeelll… From what I remember when Jantele was selling that stuff, they had some great oils and creams to help. Hell, I still order one to help with my hands after a long day fishing… but, honestly? Yes, be terrified.”
“… Great.” Daniel just put her face into her hands. Her following words were muffled. “Jussst greaaaaaaaaaaat.”
“Reminds me - you also need a new name so the general can get that ball rolling, plus inproc is a breeze when CINCFORCE says it will be. Not sure when the Japanese delegation will get here.” Tyson shrugged. “General isn’t really thrilled with the situation, but…”
“Yeah, it’s best to be quick about this, and well. I’m pretty sure it’s one of the Princesses.” Daniel shook her head. “Got to get used to this. Not what I thought, but…”
“Life’s a bitch, and if you’re unlucky, you find out how much. Fact. As well as the Avon girl. I’ll call the nurse from South Post, and get her here before the Princess does, if it is here.” Tyson skidded to a stop next to the uniform shop.
“… Lovely.” Daniel unbuckled and mentally sent, *Thank you ever so much for regeneration. I forgot how he drove hummers.*
*… I thought Susano’o was insane on motorized transportation. I see he has infected more than just the bosozoku,* Amaterasu commented. *Oh, we have to do something nice for that nurse. She made a list of just about everything! Well, not everything, but I’m sure we’ll see what’s missing from the list as we shop!*
Daniel leaned against the Hummer, her head thumping the window. “Facepalming… feels so appropriate in this situation.”
"Be grateful. It could have been a lot worse." Tyson eyed the young woman.
Daniel didn’t lift her head off the glass and replied, "How so?"
Tyson’s evil smile wasn’t seen by the girl. "There isn't a Victoria's Secret around here."
"... The fact that Victoria's Secret is even under consideration is bad enough, Sergeant Major.” Daniel’s tone conveyed disgust.
A puzzled female voice piped into Daniel’s head. *What is Victoria’s secret, and why would it be bad?*
*… haven’t you been around?* Daniel’s thoughts asked incredulously.
*Well, not shopping in the last thirty or so years, and not in America… so, what is Victoria’s secret?* Amaterasu asked curiously as Tyson watched on, a bit bemused by Daniel’s expression.
“She asking a question that you don’t believe?”
“Yes. What is Victoria’s secret.” Daniel rolled his eyes.
“… Right. We’ll have to hit up the one that just opened in Fayetteville after all this shopping.” Tyson’s smirk was downright evil.
“… I am going to be writing your reviews, aren’t I?” Daniel shot back
“Don’t care. Already got my time and some,” Tyson replied in the tone of the serene.
*He’s such a nice bushi, isn’t he? We will take him up on his offer.* Amaterasu’s voice made it clear that the situation was settled.
“And think of it this way, we can make the General blanch at explaining this to the bean counters!” Tyson grinned as he opened the door to the uniform shop.
Daniel cocked his head and suddenly smirked. “You know, I always did hate them…”
“That’s the spirit, Boss!” Tyson walked in after Daniel, and closed the door behind the two of them.
Afternoon, Jan 25th, Paranormal Situations Wing, Womack Army Medical Center, Ft. Bragg, North Carolina
Daniel finished drying her hair, and sighed. Part of her newest problem, after deciding that accepting Amaterasu’s offer was a good idea, was regulations. Sure, she knew them, it wasn’t difficult to know uniform and hair regulations for both genders, but the problem was in how to apply them. After all, males only had to basically keep their hair clean-looking. The general style, at least in barracks, made styling it moot. Women, especially those who kept their hair long, had more challenges to meet regulations. From last night, Amaterasu was clear about cutting the mane that she gave as part of the BIT. ‘Not Happening’ was the meaning of her pointed comments about that in between the debate about a new name with Tyson.
She stared in the mirror, at the body she'd inherited, and sighed. Her developing breasts were concealed beneath the towel; Amaterasu had expressed on her the importance of wrapping her breasts. She picked up the brush in front of her, looked at the mane of hair she was supposed to brush, and sighed. *Exactly why can't I cut it?*
*Besides the fact it’ll grow back in under a month?* Amaterasu was amused.
*More like, why do I have it in the first place? I was only out for a month!* Daniel complained at her. *You controlled the BIT, you could have at least not forced hair growth! At least not this long, dammit!*
*It is a sign of your rank and position.* Amaterasu smiled. *And civilization and wealth.* A long pause during which she felt Daniel’s fuming grow. *You are my avatar, and I most certainly know you will be required to be both presented and publically act as such. Short hair, even as attractively presented as I will concede some styles can be, is still mannish and untraditional. I do think you understand this, do you not?*
*…* Daniel cast around for some excuse, then hit upon one. *Time! I really don’t have time, nor will I most likely, to care for long hair.*
*Get a servant.* The flat tone answered that excuse.
*How in the name of Yomi am I supposed to get a servant?* Daniel shot back, then replied to the silence. *… I’m not getting out of this, am I?* Daniel finally gave into Amaterasu’s words.
*I knew you were able to realize the obvious.* Amaterasu sounded smug. *Now, what are you going to wear?*
*… ACUs?* Daniel was totally confused at the question given that regulations stated he was to wear the Army uniform, then she felt a bit of rummaging among her memories.
Amaterasu sniffed. *To meet your cousin? Please. Class A’s, I believe. With those lovely silk garments that have been acquired.*
*… why?* Daniel was honestly puzzled. *We bought them to torture the accountants.*
*Confidence in one’s look is a devastating weapon to wield. Not all battles are fought with blade, spell or raw power, after all, my daughter.* Amaterasu gave off a sense of satisfaction. *Having confidence in your looks and appearance, even if others cannot see what gives you this, is an important weapon for any lady to have. Wearing clothing that enhances your appearance or will impress others, is a part of that. I do believe that practice makes perfect, and the earlier you begin, the better you will be at it.*
A long moment happened as Dan closed her eyes, and slowly breathed in and out, attempting to keep from saying something. Finally, opening her eyes, she looked into the mirror. *Not today. Not tomorrow either. I do understand your logic, but that is a step too far.”
The Sun Goddess withdrew from her initial fire; Daniel could hear her gathering her thoughts. She finally replied with an odd tone that Daniel had heard before on rare occasions, overheard conversation between mothers and daughters. *As you wish.*
Daniel finished brushing the hair, then laid out several hair clips. She gathered the hair tightly, folded it twice over, then used the hairclips to lock the mass into place. She eyed the hairstyle critically, shook her head to test the stability of the clips, and finally nodded in satisfaction. "That'll work." She turned and walked out of the bathroom, gathering up the toiletries on her way out.
Carefully not paying more than the minimum attention needed, she quickly got dressed and stared at the boots waiting to be slipped on. Groaning, she pulled them on, and tied them as tight as she could, and finished blousing her trousers. Standing up, she looked into the amused eyes of Tyson. “New boots suck, Top.”
Tyson’s eyes swept the room, noting the hanging blues on a peg, as well as the bags of other things. “That they do, boss. That they do. Finish packing up, and let’s go. We’ll leave the gear in the ‘Vee, and then hit Pope.” Watching as his old commander, in a new body finished collecting everything, and a slight raise of his eyebrow was his only reaction to the weak looking young teenager easily carrying everything but the class A uniform. “Got it, boss.” Putting actions to words, Tyson grabbed the hanging uniform and they proceeded out.
Tyson smiled cheerfully at Dr. Reinhardt waiting at the ward’s exit door. “See you, Major.” He enjoyed the expression on said doctor’s face, as she turned away from the pair.
He turned to look at the young woman at his side, who had an elegant eyebrow quirked in amusement.
“Oh, she’s fuming over being overrode by her boss, by CINCFORCE too.” Tyson explained cheerfully.
“You better hope she doesn’t get revenge, or you end up in here yourself, Tyson.” Daniel shot back as they wove their way through the hospital.
“Oh, I’m not that worried about it, Boss, you know me.” He smirked down.
“Oh, yes. And Coffee before Pope?” she finished on an hopeful tone.
“Ayup and I know just the place, Boss.” Tyson responded cheerfully.
“Good. Today’s going to suck enough.” Daniel commented.
“Greeting VIP’s isn’t fun, no. Oh, decided on a name? I know you were tossing around two or three choices when I left last night?” Tyson finished helping Daniel put stuff away in the back of the Humvee, while watching her grab the laptop bag.
“Yeah. Hikaru. Kanji, ‘radiance’.” Daniel sat in the passenger seat, and put her leg on the dash, staring off into space. “Feel like I gave in too easy on that.”
Tyson started the ‘Vee, and looked over. “Seatbelt, Boss.”
Daniel pretended not to hear, and looked out the window.
Tyson winced. Boss was in a bad mood. “Bragg’s MP’s are not amused by your usual piss off and die ‘tude when pissed, Boss.”
“I’ll pay the ticket if we get one. It’s not like I can’t afford it.” Daniel answered a bit coldly, as she still stared out the window.
“If you say so, Boss.” Tyson concentrated on driving, then as they pulled up to a coffee shack, broached a question. “What’s up with the hair? It’s reg, but not professional. Makes you look like a geek.”
“And that’s supposed to be a bad thing?” Daniel shot back incredulous. “It works. Right now? That’s all I frankly care about.” Turning back to the window, Daniel added. “Better get used to calling me Hikaru.”
“Got that, Boss.” Tyson looked up, apparently praying for patience. Boss was very much in a bad mood. Turning to place their order, from long memory, he returned to the thread of the conversation as they pulled forward. “Look. You’re not intel. You’re not a geek branch. You have to look professional and operator. You know this, Boss. Why take it out on the poor working stiffs?”
Daniel accepted the coffee with a muttered thank you, reaching for her wallet, only to be cut off by Tyson. Nodding, she sipped at the coffee, as the two drove off. “It’s not you.” Sipping again, to gather her thoughts, she continued finally and looked at one of her few remaining friends and confidants. “Amaterasu tried to push for the stuff we got off post last night.”
“Ah…” Tyson nodded. “I see.” Privately he did. He had been wondering how long it’d take for Amaterasu to push Daniel to denying her something, this level of passivity wasn’t quite his old friend and commander. He understood why Daniel… no, Hikaru, it was time to get used to it, was being passive, but, “That and you don’t know how to do fancy hairstyles, I bet.” He smirked, and then snickered. “Reminds me. Need to collect the Jackson Major Reinhart owes me. She bet you would wear them.”
Daniel simply looked at the snickering Sgt. Major. “I am so glad I am able to increase your retirement fund, Tyson. As for the hair… yeah.”
Tyson didn’t try to restrain his snickers as he responded. “I know, I know. You never did like admitting you didn’t know something that seemed simple. And sure as hell you’d not ask Major Reinhart.”
“Damm straight that. I could feel her. She was very, very angry, and very disappointed as we left.” Daniel, no, Hikaru looked up at the roof of the Humvee. “She really wanted me as a pet lab rat, didn’t she?”
“Ayup.” Tyson pulled into the reception area for VIP’s at Pope AFB, and looked around. “Got a bit of time. Might want to put on blues.” Hikaru rolled her eyes at his statement, but nodded.
“This isn’t the most fun day. Didn’t really realize we’d be meeting the Princess today, thought we’d be doing inproc.” Hikaru blew out a breath. “Might as well do it.”
“Brought a book, boss, brought a book.” Tyson shrugged, checking the area and seeing nothing out of place.
Both operators were stopped by the commanding officer of all forces in America, one General Smith. “Chicken… Okami.” His eyes locked onto the smaller of the two. “Have a new name picked out yet?”
Hikaru nodded. “Myoujin Hikaru. And… Okami?” She suppressed a growl. Her call was Samurai, dammit. She made it hers. Tyson next to her, put a hand on her shoulder.
The general nodded, tossing a nametag for blues over. “Guessed right on the Myoujin, at least.” He smiled. “Remember that Capcom game? We needed a new call since we ‘killed’ Samurai in New Orleans.”
Before Hikaru could respond to that, she felt a push from her spirit, and let the goddess find the memory that it triggered. *... is he calling you a wolf?*
Hikaru derailed by the incredulous tone in the goddess’ voice, responded. *Yes.*
*A flea bitten, uncivilized, loner wolf? And we will have words with this… Capcom.* Amaterasu’s voice rose, causing Hikaru to wince. *Change that.*
*You don’t pick your call signs.* Hikaru thought on how to explain the world of operators to a goddess who symbolized samurai, not shinobi, which is what operators had much more in common with. Sighing mentally, she added *I got Samurai because I was a stuck up prick who’d charge enemy machine guns, or so they thought. Okami is likely aimed at both of us. To remind us that we’re not a lone wolf.* Hikaru shrugged mentally. *Could be worse*
*How?* the seething tone in the goddess’ voice indicated she didn’t like having her avatar/daughter called a wolf.
*Maho Shojo, though a bit long.* Hikaru deadpanned back.
*That would be more acceptable than… Okami.* The goddess cleary was fuming.
Turning back to look at the General, the avatar shot him a look. “She’s not really pleased. Not at all.”
“Tough. I got to indulge in my love of puns. And you know the rule.” The General looked amused.
“Eh…. exactly why?” The general got the unasked question that was delivered in a cold tone.
“Daniel Moate died. Japan doesn’t want several things coming to light, we don’t want it known publicly ethier. Too many secrets or facts that haven’t come to light… and shouldn’t. Daniel Moate was Samurai, Myoujin Hikaru shouldn’t be directly associated with him.” The General shot her a cold look. “This is an order. Which I have written. And it’s from NCA.” This stopped both Deltas cold. “Good.”
Tyson debated bringing up several things, but from the expression on the General’s and Hikaru’s face, he figured it wasn’t worth the battle. “Right. You said that the Princess would be here in about 2 hours, why did you want us early?”
“Waaah, waaah. The great Samurai whining.” the voice behind Hikaru spoke, and she spun around to see, leaping back a bit.
“Legion?” Hikaru asked confused looking at the fairly small master sergeant in front of her.. “Didn’t you retire to somewhere in Colorado?”
Legion smirked. "You could have asked. If you were man enough, that is."
“Master Sergeant Becerra.” Tyson growled.
“What?” Becerra shot back. “Little lady’s got to learn to put up with it.” He smirked as he stared down at the officer referenced who had lost the calmness that had finally settled onto her. "Look at her, playing soldier! Where'd they get boots those size - the kiddie store?" His grin widened. "So cute! Makes me want to get her a dolly!"
“Legion.” She ground out, staring up at him. “Shut. The. Fuck. Up.”
Tyson cleared his throat, as he eyed the two, especially his old now female friend who was beginning to glow. “Ed, you’re a regenerator, aren’t you?”
“Well, yeah, it’s in my file, Top.” He grinned. "She looks like an idol singer!" His voice shifted to falsetto. "Watashi no kare wa... Pi-ilot-to*urk!*"
As she withdrew her foot and watched as Ed crumpled to the ground, a voice made itself heard inside her. *Thank you.*
*Why?* Hikaru paused. *So, talking to me again?*
*I didn’t stop, though silence is its own words. And we will discuss that call sign. As for that… man, he was quite rude and quite insulting.* Amaterasu sniffed a bit. *Coyote really does need to choose his preferred paladins better.*
Hikaru was about to respond, then was interrupted by Tyson, who was eying the scrabbling Ed. “Boss. I know he had it coming, but really. The nuts? You’re not a squirrel.”
“Actually, I think I owe Ed an apology.” General Smith interrupted the pair. “I told him to stress test.”
Both juniors turned to the general, ignoring the groaning man. “Sir?” Tyson asked.
“Had to see if you’d react as we need, instead of just taking it.” The general rubbed his forehead, then put out a hand to the finally recovering sergeant on the ground. “Sorry about that, Legion.”
Legion, Ed to those he pissed off on a regular basis was helped up and took several deep breaths. “Wow. If I wasn’t a regenerator, that’d ruin my chances of having children.” He turned to the general after another few breaths. “You didn’t tell me she was a damned Exemplar! Though the glow’s new.”
General Smith looked at the NCO. “Didn’t know.”
Ed turned to the two slightly annoyed again people between him and the aircraft. “Well, if she wants to make it better…”
Tyson snorted. “Legion, she’s already nutted you once. From what I know, Amaterasu doesn’t like your old Coyote one bit. I’m sure she’d be gleeful in helping the Boss remind you of that fact.”
*He’s not wrong, Hikaru. We’ll talk in a moment. I think you’ll have a bit to deal with in a second.* Amaterasu withdrew but remained present.
“Aww, the Boss is a lady, she’d never actually remove my capability to reproduce!” Ed smirked again. “That’s just not the style.”
Hikaru looked up at the smirking swarthy NCO, and just shook her head. “You’re a glutton for punishment, Legion. Drop it.”
“Why?” The NCO looked at both and then turned to the general who was being suspiciously quiet, then turned to smile. “It’s not like she’s not going to have to put up with it! Or maybe she wants to take” Before he finished, he dodged and a second Legion popped up, a few feet behind him, catching the stumbling female who had tried to jump kick him. She sat down, and grabbed her leg, tears appearing in her eyes.
Tyson started over there, but was stopped by the actual Ed heading over after the punch removed the clone of the NCO. “Damm, Samuraiko. You really don’t know your powers. How in hell did you pull your tendon out?” Legion felt the leg, and shook his head. “You’re a bloody Exemplar. You shouldn’t have pulled… ah, it’s reknitting a bit already.” He leaned back and sighed. “Sorry about that, but…”
“My responsibility, Sergeant.” General Smith sighed. “I had to know, Colonel. And now I see my initial idea’s going to need some work.”
“Know what?” Hikaru ground out, accepting Tyson’s hand, and hopping on one leg towards the plane, as Ed gathered the dropped bags.
“If you could act as a teenaged girl, or react as one.” General Smith eyed her. “I was hoping instincts were programmed into you.”
*… that would be an intentional breech of my promise.* Amaterasu growled slightly. *I would never do such a thing!*
Hikaru blinked. “Oh…” She turned back to Ed. “Samurai-ko?” Internally she sighed. *We need to talk, but on the plane, Amaterasu.*
“Well... you need a new call.” Ed shrugged slightly. “Samurai won’t work. So…”
She shook her head, but before she could respond, General Smith broke in. “Call is the same one I just gave her. Okami.” He smiled.
Legion smirked. “So the base really has gone to the dogs!”
Hikaru blinked and then groaned, accompanied by a mental heard groan. *Flea bitten and cursed mutts… and again. Change. It. Now.* The last words were delivered in a tone that made Hikaru wince.
Hikaru sighed, and got a look that Ed recognized from his own mirror, and the paladin held up a hand. *I can’t. Calls are given, not chosen.*
*That is… wrong.* Amaterasu’s voice was smug. *I know that in Japan, yokai can pick their own ‘code-names’ I believe they’re called?*
*Operators don’t pick, we get them delivered. Different rules.* Hikaru tried to convince her inner voice. *I don’t like it at all, at least they’re still treating me like an operator, though.*
Amaterasu’s puzzlement was clear. *So. Insults is… are you sure they aren’t bushi from the mountains?*
*If you mean the shadow clans… I won’t say yes, but I would argue that they’re similar.* Hikaru sighed.
*Humph. We’ll see.* Amaterasu’s voice was annoyed.
*Ah…* Hikaru closed her eyes, to Ed’s and the General’s narrowed expression, but didn’t notice. Hikaru finally responded *Not Happening.* Her mental tone was flat and cold. *I’ve lost my height, I’ve lost my gender, I’ve lost my wife and unborn child, I’ve even lost my call sign. I’m not losing being an operator.* The avatar’s mental voice was cold and tired.
*... We will discuss this later* Amaterasu withdrew a bit, allowing Hikaru to focus on the General.
General Smith looked at the young looking woman and then turned to Legion, “The weapon draw, Legion?”
Ed stopped and eyed the three of them. “Sir… Are you sure?” He left unsaid, that neither Tyson nor Hikaru had requalified officially, nor was Okami on the rolls.
“Yes. Hand them over.” General Smith turned to the two others with him. “We can’t detail a Delta or Echo squadron team at all times, and expecting TSG to detail a team is a bit much as well. So! We’re issuing weapons. As Tyson well knows, the survivors of the Genoysha are out and about and want your pretty little head.”
Both nodded, with Hikaru turning to Tyson. “I’ll have to lean on you to sign for them.”
Tyson nodded, but was interrupted by the General again. “No, neither of you will be signing for these. I DRMO’ed them, and all the paperwork says so.” He looked a bit sharply at both. “I do not need to tell you to be dammed careful, do I?”
The sergeant often called flea bitten mutt, the joker, too dammed like his spirit, and Legion turned on the General. “DRMO? Are you insane Sir? These are fresh from my fabs!” Tyson’s smile indicated he got the pictures of a NCO going apeshit at a 4 star General. Apparently the Paladin of Coyote wasn’t completely done screaming. “AND I HAVE NOT EVER FUCKED UP A KIT IN MY LIFE! SIR!”
The General shot an look at the NCO, that both operators enjoyed. “Warrant Officer. I was the armorer.” Pausing. “You really think I’d put down your name as the screwup? As for why we’re losing the kits, Hikaru, James, neither of you are going to be remaining officially on the rolls as active. Given everything, it’s easier just to misfile the kits, then have to explain why you have them. Rather you kill culties, than have to explain to Japan why you’re dead, disagree?” Receiving two nods, he turned back to the armorer with a look.
Legion blinked. “Oh. Right. Okay. As long as it’s not me who’s the armorer.” Turning back to the two that were watching with amused expressions, he returned to what he was doing. “As I was saying, I have kits for you.”
Both nodded, and held their hands out for the two large boxes Ed produced from somewhere around him. For all of Legion’s fame as a good regenerator and manifestor, the real reason the Army kept him, even after some questionable activities, was the fact he was a focused gunsmith, producing some of the finest weapons and fixing flaws in others. A Becerra special was the ideal weapon for the person he crafted it for, not needing zeroing, or any alteration once he handed it to you. All five Delta squadrons constantly kept him busy, and he loved his work.
“Right.” Ed looked in one box. “For the Lady.” He ignored the flat look Hikaru gave him, and continued on. “One XM2011, aka the M1911, updated, and electrothermal. Grip set for her palm, and need to thank the nurse who got me a print to work with. Oh, reminds me. When IS the Army going to finally approve the weapon, Sir?”
Smith sighed. “When they do, Legion, get on with it.”
Legion sighed. “Right, right. Standard nightsights, capable of loading hotter rounds, carbine class, not standard, threaded extended barrel, though that’s kinda moot for a electrothermal round, it leaves hypersonic. And, just because, a low frequency IR targeting laser good out to 50 meters. All in a gun that weighs less than the standard M1911, and actually has less recoil. I outdid myself I have to say.” Legion got several unimpressed looks. “Tough audience. I couldn’t give it the gold and rose finish I really wanted to, a certain CINCFORCE didn’t like it.” Ignoring the slapping of palms to faces, he went on with a grin. “One XM-35, a new toy I came up with recently.” Seeing all three look at him, he nodded. “I’ve always felt that the M4’s lacked something, and with the recent increase of armor as a regular basis, we need something to replace it with. So, voila. It’s in testing, but it’s effectively, a MP5 SOD base design, modified heavily, in some regards. Electrothermal, slightly better balance layout, more rails for accessories and grips. Big difference is it fires .45 Carbine default, same as the M2011 can take, giving it nearly 150 meter effective range, but a punch over that equaling the old M-14, instead of the M-16. Much nastier. But, it can also fire good old .45ACP/ET”
General Smith’s eyebrows rose a bit. “I… see. How much testing has been done?”
“It’s been in Delta’s hands for about 2 months.”
“I see.” General Smith thought about it, then shrugged. “Carry on.”
Legion grinned. “And fresh from the fabs and my fevered mind. The M-125, A2 version. I know, I know, bow before my awesome.” He got the expected groan from Chicken and just a shake of the head from Okami.
“No humor today.” Shrugging, he went on. “Yes, it’s the same old APR-25, but militarized heavily, and the issue weapon for SOCOM, Combat Frames, and anti paranormal work. Big change from the APR’s you both are used to, is that it’s fully railed, and bullpuped, instead of the long rifle design. Same general weight, though, Chicken, so don’t grouse. Fires the same 25mmx107mm Electrothermal round as usual. Better recoil, but as usual, I locked out the automatic fire.” Getting two nods, he carried on. “Underbarrel rail is standard, grip rail is standard, got a copy of what Okami preferred for her grips, and modified them.” Getting a small smile from the woman, he grinned back. “Scope is a Skyeye special, giving up to 40x mag, IR, UV, the usual. Has camera transmit, and is fully digital, with an optical switch mode for clever nasty little Devisors who think a digital jamming field keeps them out of our sights.”
Hikaru nodded. Those were annoying bastards. Before she could thank the armorer, he went on. “The underbarrel unit, is something I finally got working. The XM400.”
Tyson sighed. “This again? Legion, I told you once…”
“Hold on. Sometimes you need the burst charge of a 40mm, with it’s nice 2+ km range, that has been enhanced to hit 3 to 4 KM, depending on how accurate you really want to be, but sometimes you need a 12 gauge. I finally got it to work right, Chicken.”
Hikaru turned to Tyson and mouthed. “... I don’t remember this…”
Tyson waved his hand. “Later, wolf, let’s deal with the maniac.” Turning back to Legion, he glared. “Okay, smart guy, how?”
“If we can’t maintain it in the field, it’s…” He was cut off.
“I know, I know!” Legion sighed. “But I remembered how we designed some specialty rounds for the 40mm, and went: “Hey! If I strengthen the barrel, and use electrothermal, 40mm shotgun shells or slugs, or even burger’ing rounds.”
Tyson paused. “Huh, that … would work, though a pure 40mm slug… heavy recoil, Ed.”
“Yeah, that was the problem, until I realized make it a rocket propelled round after launch, low KE to start, then semi gyrojet it.” Ed grinned at Tyson’s expression. “Got to pity those who think…”
Hikaru sighed. “Fine, good, dandy. Nice idea. It’s still a heavy weapon, and ammo’s going to be a pain.” She got a shrug.
“This isn’t for baseline nakeds, Okami. This is for enhanced or ‘canned. You’re enhanced, or enough to carry it.” Legion was serious for a moment. “And more is always better, as you well know. Or was meeting those Outcasts and getting some newbies killed ‘cause you all didn’t have enough extra firepower fun?”
Hikaru stared blankly at Legion. “Excuse me. What are you talking about?”
Legion turned to look at Tyson and then the General to receive two nods. “Well… fuck, you need to reread your reports, Okami.”
Hikaru winced, seeing yet another hole in her memory. “I… know, but getting them…”
“Yeah, yeah.” Legion sighed, then shrugged. “Right, that’s the last of the actual kit from me, offensive wise, well, except the usual grenades you favor, a few flashbangs, some HE, Money shots, psi fries, and of course EMP just to fuck with the gags who don’t think. In the box, with it’s attached AG lifter, is a pile of rounds, the specs for your stuff.” Receiving a nod from Okami, he went on.
“Right, they looted your house, and pulled your collection of blades, they’re in the box, though I made dammed sure they didn’t touch your Katana, without a 10 foot pole.” He pointed at a space in the box, which Hikaru went to and pulled out her blade.
*Is that Hametsu’Yomi?* Receiving a mental nod from her avatar, Amaterasu pushed out a small thread of power, to Ed’s narrowed eyes, but not to her avatar’s reaction. *Odd…* Hikaru’s eyes narrowed at that, but Amaterasu didn’t comment further, and she was distracted by Ed.
“Defense, now. Which wins championships.” Groans from the people around him, made him snicker. “Improved version of under-armor bodysuits. Should be good enough to shrug off anything short of a true battle rifle or very heavy pistol, girl. Well, okay, keep from penetrating, you don’t have the weight or size to take the hit, not really. Spaces to add plates, etc, etc. Pretty standard, just improved. If you can get around to it, get them enchanted, so they’ll be tougher and anti magical, but didn’t feel it was a high priority.”
Both operators nodded at that.
“As for you, Old, old, old man…” Receiving a shrug in return. “Same basic kit, but with two additons. One’s a EC-CAW, the latest variant of the HK-CAW from me, same capabiilties, etc, etc, just electrothermal, so you don’t have to lug around the 125, when you want a bit of slaughter. Slugs will go though at close enough range for MCO ‘cans, so you’re good there. Last but not least.” He pulled out a 8 foot container. “New Combat Frame. Armor’s good to shrug off up to Russian HMG, plus some field effects, though be careful on that, it’ll exhaust the battery life something fierce, that’ll make HEAT weapons cry. Book’s in the coffin, so you’re good there. And before you ask, no, Wolfie doesn’t get one, you’ve got to be ‘ited, to use these. And I can’t and will not lose a standard PA or Combat frame, General, before you ask. She wants one, she can buy one. All nice and legal. Even losing this one is pushing it, badly, General, and you know it.”
Smith nodded. “Agreed, since we haven’t even issued them, we can finagle around, but yes, I agree.” Looking around carefully, he asked. “That all?”
“Yes, Sir.” Legion nodded. “Time to fade?”
With a sharp salute, Legion turned on a heel and left. Though a parting shot from the armorer made Hikaru’s spirit fume. “Coyote sends his regards, and wonders if you’ve figured out panstu yet…”
*Impudent…* The goddess’ voice trailed off to mutter words that her host didn’t quite pick up, and the General distracted the young appearing woman from replying.
“Right, go get changed, Okami. Tyson, you too. Blues.” He shot both a glare. “You can play with your toys later.”
Both Operators saluted, and departed to the correct bathrooms.
Jan 25th 2016, early afternoon, Pope Air Force Base Reception Waiting Area.
Having spent last night studying videos and how to for female appearances, plus practicing, Hikaru felt assured that she could pull off at least a ‘professional’ military look. Still. Something was missing. Sure, the collection of qualifications and other badges would mark her as different, but it was the face that was bugging her.
Tilting her head left and right, studying her eyebrows, she returned to pondering. Amaterasu was being quiet for now, and really, she would be the first to admit, modern military fashion wasn’t something she was up-to-date in. Pulling out the regs again, she scanned, mentally checking everything off. Finally hitting the section on jewelry, she paused, slowly letting her head touch the mirror, sighing.
*What, Child?* Amaterasu’s voice sounded puzzled. *From what I can tell, you’re perfect, at least according to those insane regulations.*
Hikaru, aware that no one was around, sighed again. “It’s not that. No earrings. Didn’t get any piercings, and didn’t buy studs.”
*… Earrings? Piercings? Piercings through the body?* Amaterasu’s voice grew incredulous on the last sentence, and she then continued. *People still do that barbaric custom?*
“Barbaric?” Hikaru tilted her head confusedly. “… Oh. Oh.“ Hikaru shook her head, and sent a collage of mental images as the pair had practiced overnight.
Amaterasu hummed. *… Really. That’s what’s considered civilized now?* A mental shrug and a slight sheepishness entered her tone. *Then I owe some women I met in Japan, last time I was there, apologies. I was… most displeased with ladies of Nippon following a Joman era tradition. I’ll admit some are… quite elegant and beautiful. Shame that we are limited at this time to just those… studs. Gold, assuredly?*
Hikaru couldn’t help it, and giggled. Stopping for a moment, then shrugging after mentally accepting it, she added to her goddess. “Well, now you know. Yes on the gold. Not going to fight you on that. Um. That does raise a question.”
*I’ll make sure the piercings on the ears don’t completely heal over. No more than two. And we get hairsticks. Good ones.* Amaterasu’s tone brooked no disobedience, as she added. *And I pick the earrings you can wear while off base.*
Hikaru paused. “You realize the spending spree ended yesterday?”
*… Don’t you have some wealth of your own? I am sure that your cousins made sure of that… * Amaterasu sounded completely perplexed.
“They did. Good jewelry is expensive, of course.” Hikaru rolled her eyes and just shook her head.
*Then there you go. It is not like we do not have more to acquire, is it?* Amaterasu sounded smug as her human collected the items they’d need for the day.
“Lovely. No one warned me you were a shopaholic.” Hikaru muttered.
*Seeing new items, having the best of the merchant’s items displayed for our enjoyment is one of the pleasures of being a woman, daughter. One you will learn.* Amaterasu sounded totally self-assured.
Hikaru rolled her eyes, but decided arguing with the spirit is pointless. Time to go wait for a Princess she vaguely recalled meeting… at a funeral.
Afternoon, Jan 25th, en route to Pope AFB, North Carolina
Akemi noted the Princess removing a sphere and clicking it, and one of the watchful TSG agents flinching. <”Your Highness?”>
<“A psi blocker.”> The Princess looked at the young woman up front in American uniform and smiled. <”I rather not have her listen in, I think.”> Her smile grew impish. <”Plus it’s always a bit amusing to have a telepath bitch about being unable to read minds.”>
The older woman of the pair lowered her voice slightly. <”And what would you have the Americans not know? Though I didn’t know we had… such ability.”> She couldn’t disagree with the jamming of the telepath, after all.
Kako smiled a bit. <”Devisors make some… interesting toys, I would admit.”> Pausing for a moment, she nodded once. <”I severely doubt you do not have questions, the same ones that were quietly raised by the Americans, after all. It is an easy to wonder subject.”>
<”Your Highness?”> Akemi could think of several things that she had wanted to ask, that the Americans had also indireclty or directly raised issues about. Not the least of was how the Imperial Family missed a Class X cult, before, during and after the war.
Kako looked slightly pensive. <”Why we did not do more for the Myoujin. The Americans have made it quite clear they are wondering exactly that, and feel that if we have a claim, we should have done more. They do have a point.”>
<”I would have thought that was… well, okay, not obvious but with a bit of thought… “> Akemi traied off.
<”Oh, keeping them from being noticed, was one aspect, yes, though we, as in the family, have taken actions for them, over the years. I would not think that was a major aspect.”> The Princess sighed. <”We did not know our kin were being hunted, after all.”>
<”Oh.”> The Imperial Household member tilted her head. <”Then… “>
<”Why didn’t we do more?”> Kako grinned suddenly. <”The Americans have a saying, you can lead a mule….”> She trailed off and saw the facepalm happen, and smiled slighlty. <”I would never accuse my kin of being stubborn, oh, I would not… but proud they were, are and will be, and part of that pride, is they supported us, not the throne, them. Even those members of the extended Myoujin, such as my mother, are a bit…”>
Akemi wanted to facepalm, at the same time, she understood the American saying about the pot and the kettle oh, so well now. <”I would never insuate that your… mother is at times stubborn.”> Unsaid was ‘or you.’
<”Polite of you.”> Kako’s eyes sparkled slightly. <”No matter. As my grandfather informed you, the Myoujin is a bit stubborn… and now over her head.”> A quiet pause. <”And she cannot deny us now from aiding her.”> An very impish smile crossed her face. <”After all, that was the deal, when they were finally called on, we would aid them.”>
Akemi wanted to facepalm at the sense of satisfaction radiating off the Princess. But she restrained it. <”As you say.”> Pausing for a moment, she finally asked. <”And if she proves a typical Myoujin, and doesn’t quite realize the situation has changed?”>
<”While it is often theorized that avatars and those who are grouped under that power classification have to have strong wills, Akemi-chan… It is also a fact that if she will be stubborn, so will I. She will accept our help. Even if we have to be ah… discreet about it. Oh, she will. Even if, oh, how do the Americans say… Oh, yes, ‘Two by Fours are used.’ I believe.”> Kako’s assured tone brooked no alternatives.
Akemi didn’t quite know what to say, except a irrational moment of wanting to get some pocky, a drink, and a far away chair to watch the upcoming clash. She had a feeling that unless Hikaru was far more compliant than she thought, Kako would be in for a serious surprise, and serious work on convincing the avatar to lean on the princess.
Jan 26, Evolution Rocks Semi-annual Director's Conference, San Diego, California.
"Honestly, I don't know why I even bother coming to these anymore," the man in the plain grey business suit grumbled, walking from the meeting hall to the foyer. In his hands, as always, was what appeared to be a white Angora cat, and with bald head and a vicious scar over his right ear down to his cheek, he was only a monocle away from being a Bond villain. And sometimes, he wore that very affectation when he wanted to intimidate people.
"Because, Herr Major," the man walking stiffly beside him, almost marching with military precision, said in a thick German voice, "like I, you hope that these verdammen idioten will come to their senses before it is too late."
Major Smythe-Barnes snorted derisively. "As if that would ever happen. Two boring days of listening to the sheep bleat about how media outlets won't carry their propaganda that mutants are people, too, or that the MCO is trampling on the civil rights of American citizens. Financial reports that show nothing more than donations funneled right back to the executive officers who run the money machine." Shorter than six feet in height, with a slightly portly build, it was hard to imagine the man as having once belonged to Great Britain's fabled SAS, but then again, age had a way of softening everyone, and it had been just under forty years since Smythe-Barnes had been commissioned in Her Majesty's Army. And twelve years since he'd been 'asked' to submit his resignation, his brain silently added, causing him to frown deeply.
Almost everyone, he corrected himself. The man walking with him, Erich Müller, looked every bit the Teutonic warrior that he had once been, even though he was six years older than Smythe-Barnes. Blonde-hair that was kept in a militarily-precise short-cropped style, ice-blue eyes, Müller had a powerful physique that couldn't be even slightly disguised by a suit.
"Let's go get a beer," Müller suggested in a way that sounded more like he was used to ordering people around. "As long as you don't insist on drinking it warm."
Smythe-Barnes was not one of those people; his somewhat villainous appearance and bearing had the exact same air. A careful observer would have noticed that it was a meeting of equals. "I'll pass on the ale, Erich," he said a little more genially. "American beer is like ... like making love in a canoe."
"It's fucking near water," Müller chuckled punch line. "Ja, I know. But there's a little brewpub that makes a very good dunkles, and I'm told they have a very good India Pale Ale. Did you drive?"
"No," Smythe-Barnes replied with a smile. "It's too much trouble to hire a car, especially when cab fares are paid by my sponsor."
Twenty minutes later, the two men walked into a small pub that had a nice homey feel. The barkeep looked up at the men, and his eyes narrowed on the creature in Smythe-Barnes' arms. "Hey, no pets!" he warned in a surly, gruff tone.
"Bella," Smythe-Barnes replied coolly, "is my service animal." He reached for the white cat's neck and displayed a labeled collar. Without pausing to get a reply, he marched to a corner booth that faced the street entrance and sat down, with Herr Müller nodding approvingly as he joined the Brit.
"Rogers doesn't have a clue," Müller grumbled. Sensing something, he looked up at the barmaid. "Ein dunkles, bitte," he ordered sharply. When she didn't reply, he looked up to see the confused look on her face. "A dark lager, bitte. One of the house brews."
"Ah, okay. And you?" she turned to the Brit.
"I'm told you have a house-brew India Pale Ale." The waitress nodded, and then scurried off with the drink orders.
"Rogers is an idiot," Smythe-Barnes agreed. "Ignoring all the lives saved by mutants with powers after the San Bernardino earthquake."
"We shouldn't take advantage of human tragedy!" Müller mockingly aped the response of the Evolution Rocks PR department.
"We all catch the blame for Fullerton, and Night Death. People talk about the Madrid rager and ignore that seventeen mutants fell stopping her, and because of that, only two baselines were killed," Smythe-Barnes added bitterly.
Müller looked at his drinking companion, studying the man's face while the barmaid delivered their drinks. "What would you do?" he asked with a wry, knowing smile.
"I'd damned sure take advantage of every opportunity to highlight the positive things mutants have done. Devisors and Gadgeteers have made stunning medical breakthroughs. We're on the cusp of massive amounts of cheap, non-polluting power, all because of gadgeteer mutants. The bioengineered anti-cancer treatments!" Smythe-Barnes trembled with rage as he thought of all the missed opportunities. "Hard-light holograms, neural interfaces, cloned organs, all the eco-cleaning tech! Supercruise airliners. Household service-bots. Household-scale biomass converters!" He shook his head. "So many things. There is huge potential in reminding the public of how much their current lifestyle has been improved because of mutants!"
"True," the German said sadly. "Unfortunately, none of the board are PR-savvy, and after Fullerton, the LA peace-march debacle, and Dr. Death's attack on Miami, no PR firm will touch Evolution Rocks."
Smythe-Barnes took another sip of his ale. "Quite good, actually," he said, approving of the drink. "The solution is multi-faceted."
"Oh?" Müller asked quizzically. "Explain."
"Mutant rights laws depend on having political muscle," Smythe-Barnes noted, "which requires money. Advertising requires money." He shook his head. "Sadly, there are far too few mutants to really matter as a base of customers or protesters. And the mutant population is too small to matter as a market, so it is difficult to get donations."
"Which is why you're working with Dr. Stauffer, nicht wahr?" Müller asked with a knowing smile.
The Brit's eyes narrowed considerably, his gaze focused tightly on the German. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Müller's smile broadened incrementally. "Come now, Major," he clucked. "We have been observing you for some time now."
"This is neither the time nor the place to discuss these ... sensitive matters," Müller said. "Come. There are some people I'd like you to meet." He put a large bill on the table to cover the drinks, and stood.
Not quite sure what to do, Smythe-Barnes followed him out the door. "Where are we going?" he asked as he worked to keep up with the German. For a couple of blocks, Müller was totally silent, and the Brit realized that he was going to get no further answers. The pair turned down an alley, and Smythe-Barnes stiffened - it looked less-than-welcoming. But the German marched on, oblivious of any sense of potential danger.
Danger came. "Don't move!" a shadowy figure with his face covered by a ski mask stepped in front of the two men, a large-caliber pistol held in his hand menacingly. "Just give me your valuables, and ...." The mugger's eyes, practically the only part of his face visible through the mask, narrowed. "What the fuck is that thing?"
The Brit looked to where the mugger stared, at his monk-cat. "Oh, Bella? She's my cat."
"I'll just take its collar too," the mugger leered, having seen what appeared to be diamonds on the monk-cat's collar. "Now hand it over!"
Smythe-Barnes had a wicked gleam in his eye as he slowly extended his hands with the cat toward the mugger. The would-be assailant grabbed the pet. Or more precisely, he tried to grab the pet. Bella lunged at the mugger, sinking her suddenly-evident fangs into the man's hand as the monk-cat climbed with monkey-like agility to the other arm, hitting hard enough to knock the gun's point of aim away from its master while the fangs sank into the arm holding the gun. With a combination of cat-claws and monkey-agility, it scrambled up the man's face, tearing at exposed flesh and biting again.
The mugger screamed in pain when the monk-cat first bit him as the fast-acting toxin attacked his nerves, causing excruciating pain as well as paralysis. The second and third bites were totally unnecessary; the would-be mugger was as good as dead before his body could fall as every bit of muscle control faded due to the poison his heart was spreading through his system.
"Interesting pet," Müller said as Bella scrambled back up into Smythe-Barnes' waiting arms. The two stepped over the dying mugger as if it was mere street-trash. "One of Doctor Stauffer's little inventions, I presume?"
"Yes," the Brit replied as he lovingly stroked the fur of his pet, who had settled back into its master's arms. "A hybrid of a capuchin monkey and an Angora cat."
"The fangs and venom?"
"Adapted from a cobra, but a little more lethal. Bella can spit venom accurately about fifteen feet if necessary. Pain is nearly instantaneous. I'm told it's the same level of pain as being burned, but the sensation affects every nerve the toxin comes in contact with. Incapacitating in a second or two, fatal within two minutes."
"Very ingenious." Müller stopped at a section of wall, which confused the Brit, and looked at the brickwork. Choosing a seemingly random brick, the German touched a small unobtrusive ring to it. "Come," he said simply, stepping forward and vanishing into the wall. With nothing else for it, Smythe-Barnes followed.
The pair emerged into a rather nicely-appointed foyer that opened into a fancy lounge area, complete with leather furniture and a bar where several other people were already gathered.
Smythe-Barnes' eyes narrowed as he scanned the group, and he turned to the German, questions writ in his expression.
"Major," Müller grinned, "welcome to Vanguard."
"That is what we are calling ourselves. We are forming a group of like-minded individuals who know that Evolution Rocks is an inept, hapless organization of bumbling fools. Still, they are very good cover for our goals."
"Which are?" The Brit looked around, recognizing a few faces.
"Herr Butler is our finance chairman," Müller introduced a portly, somewhat older man in a smart navy-blue business suit. "His task is to accumulate money through whatever means necessary."
"Legal, and not traceable to Ev Rocks," Butler added with a little pride.
"Which can then be used to finance mutant-friendly politicians, to 'influence' advertising and news."
The Brit's eyes narrowed. "That's hideously expensive."
"Yes," Hugo Butler said easily, "but when you can capitalize on the tiny fractions of a percent on significant numbers of stock trades every hour of every day, the money adds up quickly."
Müller smiled. "What is our current funding level?"
Butler didn't even think. "Five billion, four hundred eighty two million plus change."
"Five Billion?" Smythe-Barnes asked in open-mouthed astonishment. "With a 'B'?"
"Yes, well a good fraction of our initial working capital came from my own investment firm," Butler explained, "and with some ... help ... we've been able to grow our money some."
"Last year's return on capital was fifty-nine percent, plus new investment. With a few ... liberties, our working capital comes from Evolution Rocks," Müller added.
"Which is why we can be patient with those fools," a tall, tanned, chunk of muscle with scars and a shaven head practically spat.
"Allow me to introduce Colin Reineke," the German said. "Our head of defensive operations."
"And offensive operations when we reach that stage," Reineke added with a bit of an anticipatory grin.
"Herr Reineke is a former Navy Seal. Very competent, very well connected. Under his direction, we are making provisions for self-defense of our mutant communities."
Colin nodded. "We're building training centers, building emergency communications systems, and acquiring and storing necessary materials in a way that will prevent the situation that minorities have encountered in the past." He gestured to a man at his left. "This is my assistant, Ronald Lincoln." Mr. Lincoln was a tall man with grayish, almost stone-like skin and a thoroughly gargoyle appearance from severe GSD.
"I'm sick of the establishment bullshit paranoia about mutants," Mr. Lincoln snarled angrily. "And Ev Rocks don't do shit about it! Ain't nobody deserve t' be treated like we are! Well, we gonna make our voices heard."
"The more the MCO cracks down," Colin agreed with a wicked grin, "the more we get those who are willing to listen to us that the MCO is a bunch of jack-booted, oppressive thugs."
"And soft power through money will buy the politicians and tools of public opinion to change all that," Hugo Butler chimed in, no doubt alarmed at the extreme tones taken by his two 'colleagues'.
"And that brings us to the third facet of our operation," Müller said. "Which is where you come in."
"Go on." Smythe-Barnes' interest was definitely piqued.
"There are too few mutants," Müller said simply. "Over a fourth of the population carry part or all of the Meta-Gene Complex, and yet they haven't manifested."
"Frau Stauffer!" Smythe-Barnes suddenly connected the dots. "Her research ...."
Müller nodded. "If she can unlock the secret of why some manifest when so many others don't, then instead of one in," he shrugged, "say fifty-thousand, it'd be more like one in ten. Those numbers the governments of the world can't ignore."
"So you want me to ... what? To supervise her research? To take over?"
"No," the German said in reply. "We need a liaison between our group and hers. Someone to sound her out, to steer her projects. We can, of course, provide funding that she needs ...."
The Brit shook his head. "She'll need more funding."
"Which we can provide. We have a generous ... sponsor, who like all of us, carries the active meta-gene complex. He goes only by Herr Rolf and is only seen and heard through serious appearance and noise filtering, although we've more than done our due diligence on him."
"Sounds ... risky."
"In the past, he has worked with Green Cross - for a short while." His gaze drifted high up a wall, and he began muttering to himself. "He has none of their master-race or Fourth Reich fantasies and delusions, although he does have some ties to some ... old organizations that should have been forgotten ... seventy years ago." He sighed wistfully, as if there were memories or regrets that he harbored. "Well, be that as it may, we'd like you to join our little ... cabal."
Smythe-Barnes considered the people around him in what was only-too-obviously a rented Syndicate safe house. Butler - he was not a threat. Müller? He was an unknown. Reineke - he was the biggest threat - he had the look in his eyes of a predator, a dangerous, skilled killer with no conscience. Lincoln was muscle, he figured. His assessment of his chances was reasonable - provided he could take out Reineke first. And Bella would be good for that.
Assuming he wanted to. This group was talking about the very things that Ev Rocks was so awful at and which rankled with him. They were doers, looking to confront the problems and solve them rather than waste time in endless conferences and meetings talking, and talking more, offering feeble protests but no action and no solutions.
Frau Stauffer - Smythe-Barnes suppressed a smile. Hilde was pleasant to work with. If she could be brought on board, she'd have access to more funding and other ... resources ... which she needed to further her research. And as liaison, he'd have more opportunities to meet with her for ... um, discussions.
The wild card was Herr Rolf. The man was a huge unknown. Perhaps, since Müller seemed to know of him, he was already in Vanguard. Perhaps he wasn't, but Smythe-Barnes was ....
"We want you to further sound out Herr Rolf," Müller seemed to read his thoughts, "and find out if he'd be a worthwhile asset on the subject of increasing mutancy. We know Frau Doktor Stauffer would be."
Smythe-Barnes didn't have to think long or hard. His family and the SAS had cemented his feelings; having been ostracized from family because he was a suspected mutant, plus having zero inheritance due to some quirks in the family beliefs about primogeniture and inheriting the family titles and estate, he bore no loyalty to them. And having been ousted in a post-Cold-War downsizing - being a mutant and having a reputation for ignoring the rules when necessary - he had no loyalty to the Crown or the British Army. Though the Syndicate had given him a job and a purpose in life, he'd left a few years earlier in a calculated political move, though he kept his ties - just in case. "Where do I sign?" he asked with a grin.
"From our ... investigations, we know that Doktor Stauffer has two significant projects she's working on - Aufstiegen is the mutant-inducing program. We understand she has another one, Rhein Mädchen. We will of course need to know what the projects are and have periodic reports," the German noted.
"And any other projects that she's cooking up. We don't want any ... unpleasant ... surprises."
"I completely agree."