[XCOM][DC][Ranma] Reflections Lost

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  1. Cap'n Chryssalid the armor piercing wang

    [XCOM][DC][Ranma] Reflections Lost on a Dark Road

    Special A/N for Spacebattles readers. As always, you get first look at what's new from me.
    NOTE: These chapters are not yet up on FFN. They will be soon. You guys just get first look.

    Now. Our actual Author Notes don't have a bunch of exposition, but I'll throw in some extra for the folks here who check this out. Yes: this is a DC/Ranma/XCOM crossover.
    This is just for the spacebattles thread people. This is based primarily on the DCAU and the TT cartoon. Obscure comic stuff is secondary, though there are plenty of comic references, they're not the foundation of the characters.

    To be specific, it is a crossover between
    "The Road to Cydonia" [XCOM][Ranma 1/2]
    and
    "Teen Titans and the Lost Boy" / "Dark Titans" [DC][Ranma 1/2] by Lathis
    (who some of you may know)


    This is the "special project" that's caused not only the stop on TRTC chapters, but also all my other stuff for... a year or so? It's been keeping both of us busy. If you're read my stuff, or Lathis', you'll know we don't tend to write small fics. This crossover is a rather massive production. Only now have we decided to start releasing chapters.

    Special thanks to Claymade for his C&C and proofing.

    Well then.
    Let's start with the posting and the chapters, eh? They're individually too large for single posts, so I'll put parts of them up piecemeal.

    -----
    -----

    Author notes. Eh. Pretty sure the "don't sue us" disclaimers aren't legally binding anyway. So let's just get to the ol' meat and potatoes, shall we? The ol' brass tacks!

    Wait. This is just for the spacebattles thread people. This is based primarily on the DCAU and the TT cartoon. Obscure comic stuff is secondary, though there are plenty of comic references, they're not the foundation of the characters.

    Pre-crossover Chapters:
    Pre-crossover chapters of Lathis' "Teen Titans and the Lost Boy" and the sequel "Dark Titans" can be found on his FFN author site. Cap'n Chryssalid's "The Road to Cydonia" can be found, likewise, on his FFN site or his TRTC Ufopedia archive.

    http://www.fanfiction.net/u/992366/Lathis
    http://www.fanfiction.net/u/235984/Capn_Chryssalid

    Crossover Chapters:
    Chapters of this specific fanfic are to be hosted on Cap'n Chryssalid's archive and on FFN

    http://www.fanfiction.net/u/2754251/

    Author Notes

    Author notes. Eh. Pretty sure the "don't sue us" disclaimers aren't legally binding anyway. So let's just get to the ol' meat and potatoes, shall we? The ol' brass tacks!

    Pre-crossover Chapters:
    Pre-crossover chapters of Lathis' "Teen Titans and the Lost Boy" and the sequel "Dark Titans" can be found on his FFN author site. Cap'n Chryssalid's "The Road to Cydonia" can be found, likewise, on his FFN site or his TRTC Ufopedia archive.

    http://www.fanfiction.net/u/992366/Lathis
    http://www.fanfiction.net/u/235984/Capn_Chryssalid

    Crossover Chapters:
    Chapters of this specific fanfic are to be hosted on Cap'n Chryssalid's archive and on FFN


    http://www.fanfiction.net/u/2754251/

    - - -
    - - -

    Nigh on two months have passed since Ryouga freed Terra from her stone prison, restoring the Titans to their full number after long last. The reunion has been anything but quiet, though, with deception and disaster tearing the team apart just as quickly as it came back together. With Robin and the original Titans drawn to Tamaran for Starfire’s ’wedding’, it fell to Ryouga, Terra - as well as some unexpected help from unexpected friends - to avert disaster in the underwater city of Atlantis. Everyone is back together again, now, and taking a well deserved breather from their adventures. But as unseen forces manipulate from the shadows, and disaster looms from both without and within, their tenuous peace is doomed to be shattered… and sooner than they expect.

    It has been five months since the inclusion of the Nerima Crew into UNETCO as the war between X-Com and the alien visitors enters its seventh year. Despite the destruction of Earth's last alien refuge and the annihilation of the conspiratorial Sirius Group, the organization has been hit hard by Cydonian reprisals, and stretched thin by increasing commitments in the Far East to counter abductions of martial artists and the psionically gifted. Even as the buildup culminates for the last great push against Mars itself, distractions and complications continue to arise within the ever present specter of alien terror.

    - - -


    Reflections Lost on a Dark Road
    First Contact
    Chapter I


    - - -

    Cap'n Chryssalid
    Lathis - "Enjoy if you will, Tolerate if you won't."

    - - -


    With an irritated tap of his finger, the police report minimized to the corner of the screen, revealing another similar report beneath it. It only took Robin a second’s glance to agree with its conclusion: Someone other than the Titans was playing vigilante in Jump City, and they weren’t pulling their punches.

    Unfortunately, Robin had a pretty good idea just who was responsible, but wasn’t certain how to deal with the matter. Pinching the bridge of his nose, the masked teen leaned back in his chair and spun around. As he rotated, the main room of the tower came into sight, and the comforting sight of his friends at rest eased his mind a bit.

    It was a pleasantly cool night outside and Cyborg had opened one of the large windows to let the refreshing breeze blow in. The metallic Titan himself was leaning against the frame, gazing appreciatively at the view of the bay as it glittered in the moonlight. It was an uncharacteristically serene moment for the usually hyper active mechanical genius, and it was good to see him taking a moment to slow down.

    Around the rest of the room, the other Titans were scattered about. On the far end of the couch, Beast Boy and Terra were fighting over the remote control. Despite his ability produce as many limbs as needed to keep said remote out of her hands, the green teen was losing the battle for dominance quite badly, not seeming to mind the headlock that the slim blonde girl had him trapped in.

    Behind the couch, Raven and Kasumi had set up a small card table and were actually playing a game of chess. It hadn’t been too long since they had returned from their… trip… that the Tendo woman had shown an interest in learning chess, and Raven had been strangely eager to school her in the game. Currently, Raven had the tip of her finger resting on the tip of a bishop, absently tipping the dark piece back and forth as she debated whether to complete her move or not.

    Robin was no expert, but it looked like Raven would have Kasumi mated in seven moves.

    And, finally, perched contentedly at the center of the long, semi circular couch, Starfire and Ryouga were conspiring to read a rather thick comic book. The black and white publication hung between the pair of foreign teens and Ryouga seemed to be eagerly pointing things out and explaining something to the Tamaranian.

    "-There - there - did you see that? Even with every bone in his body broken, Guts takes on a Dragon, one on one!"

    Starfire rolled her eyes, "Only due to the assistance of the mystical armor which he wears. This feat is no more impressive than Claire’s defeat of the Silver King."

    "Are you joking? Claire has a demon thing stuck in her, so it isn’t even like it’s her own power she’s using to fight. Face it, Claymore is like Berserk-lite, and ‘Awakened Beings’ are just watered down versions of ‘Acolytes’," Ryouga countered smugly.

    "At least Claire’s transformation provides a believable reason for her ability to battle supernatural beings on an even basis. Guts is illogically powerful for a baseline human, given genetic statistics from that time period. And further, I do not understand the concept as to how his weapon can even harm these Acolytes, when it is stated, repeatedly, that non magical weapons have no effect."

    Ryouga glared and pulled the comic towards himself. "It’s because he killed so many demons with it that it became magical!"

    The Tamaranian pinned him with a dead-pan stare. "And you do not see the paradox in your logic? Besides, I find the entire Berserk world to be horrendously misogynistic. Women are treated so terribly by the author that I can barely stand to look at it."

    "Misogynistic?" Ryouga fired back, "Misogynistic? Yeah, well . . . well Claymore is anti-misogynistic! I mean, come on, Men are genetically predisposed to becoming evil in that world. Every guy in that book is either an evil monster, or part of an evil organization that uses women as tools. You couldn’t make a more ‘Girl Power’ comic if you tried.”

    Robin could only stare at the duo blankly for a long moment, having absolutely no idea what they were talking about. They were both staunchly entrenched in their opinion, though, and it seemed that combat was more likely than compromise at this point. Shaking his sadly at just how much like siblings Ryouga and Starfire had become, Robin loudly cleared his throat. "Ryouga!"

    Instantly, the Martial Artist and the Tamaranian ceased their argument to turn their attention his way.

    "Um… Do you need something, Robin? I’m sort of in the middle of explaining to Star that she’s way off on this stuff."

    The alien in question crossed her arms over her chest and gave a loud ‘humph’. "If you did not wish to have me point out the fallibility off your opinion, then you should not have introduced me to these ‘manga’, as you call them."

    Ryouga looked about ready to dive right back into the argument, so Robin barked his name again quickly to retain his attention.

    "Ryouga! I need to talk to you about Jinx..."

    All around the room, the mention of the ex H.I.V.E. sorceress brought things to a grinding halt. Raven immediately lost focus on her game and looked up, a tight frown creasing her lips. Ryouga, on the other hand, looked up with a ’deer in the headlights’ look before quickly quashing it.

    "I... I - um, I mean, uh…. What do you need to talk about Jinx... about?"

    The masked Titan stared at Ryouga strangely for a moment before shrugging. "Look, I know I shouldn’t complain, considering she appears to be going straight -"

    He bravely ignored the amused chortle from Beast Boy and continued.

    "- But isn't there any way for you to get Jinx to, I don’t know, ease up a bit when she’s dealing with the common criminals?"

    "Oh, is that all?" The martial artist let out a strangely relieved breath, only to throw his hands up helplessly a second later. "Well, I hate to say it, but you’re the guys that said there was absolutely no way that she would be allowed to live here with the rest of us, so I really don’t think any of us have any right to tell Jinx how to behave."

    Terra nodded indignantly. "Yeah, I still can’t believe you gave her the boot! I mean, Jinx might be a pain, but at least she’s trying to do the right thing here."

    A rather unlady-like snort emanated from the cloaked Titan behind the couch. Raven offered a withering stare as she replied, "How could you possibly expect us to trust her so easily? Perhaps if she didn’t send half of her victims to the hospital, it would be easier to overlook her past indiscretions, but as is, someone needs to inform her that her current behavior is unacceptable, and soon."

    Ryouga snorted loudly. "Don’t look at me. There’s no way I’m going to order that girl to ‘behave herself‘ - Not after the last time I brought it up, anyway. Besides, it isn’t like I see her any more often than anyone else here, anyway."

    Kasumi nodded quite helpfully at that. "Oh my, yes. It certainly isn’t like Ryouga would sneak out at night just to meet Jinx. …Oh, by the way, rook to queen six."

    Everyone present stared at the serene Tendo, but the woman’s perfectly straight face and her obvious intent on her game of chess made it impossible to take her word at anything besides face value.

    A few seconds later, Cyborg shook his head a few times before cutting in. "Man, cut the girl some slack, Rae. Jinx totally helped us out when Dr. Light popped up a few nights ago."

    Robin frowned at that thought. It hadn’t been the first time that Jinx had shown up to intervene in one of their battles lately; she seemed to have an uncanny knack for locating them, really. Still, if Ryouga wasn’t willing to talk to her on their behalf, then there wasn’t anyone else the ex villainess would likely listen to. And frankly having her as a tenuous ally was still preferable to having her as a vindictive enemy.

    "Fine, fine, we’ll leave it alone for now and see if things improve on their own." With a sigh, the caped hero spun back to face the computer. "It isn’t like her help is a complete hindrance, anyway. Our pleasant lull from Ryouga, Ranma and Starfire destroying Brother Blood’s headquarters seems to be over."

    He gestured to the numerous police reports littering the small screen. "Control Freak, Adonis, and Dr. Light all coming out to wreak havoc within weeks of each other is bad enough. But it looks like this influx of costumed villains is emboldening the regular criminals, too. More small timers think they can slip under our radar with all of these big bads on the scene."

    Terra let out a long sigh at that. "Well at least people aren’t confusing you guys as still being one of the big bads. For every person that says ‘Hey, thanks for stopping that building for falling on me.’, there are two more that throw their wallets at me and run away screaming."

    The emerald changeling at her side dropped a companionable hand on her shoulder. "Well, on the bright side . . . at least we got free ice cream out of the deal that time."

    Beast Boy quickly shifted into a mouse and dove behind Terra’s back to hide from the heated glares fired his way.

    Robin gave a frustrated growl as he stared at the monitor again, randomly clicking on a few more of the police and news reports. "Havoc in Metropolis, the Hive Five plaguing Steel City, attacks on Atlantis, and look at this-" he pointed fiercely to one of the news heading in particular. "-just look at this. Johnny Rancid - Johnny Rancid was let out of prison early for good behavior . . . Honestly, what is this world coming to?"

    At his intense question, the Starfire suddenly began to tap her chin, giving a pointed look to the manga in her hand, then to the bandanna clad boy beside her before she responded.

    "Obviously, there are too many men -"

    Ryouga glared back, indignant expression on his face. "Too many people. Thank you very much."

    Behind them, Raven nodded in a sagely manner, casually adding, "Making too many problems."

    "And there’s not much love to go around," Cyborg lamented in a melancholy tone, shaking his head.

    Ever so slowly, Robin turned to stare at his friends. As he did that, Beast Boy shrugged in helpless amusement.

    "Dude, can’t you see this is a land of confusion?"

    It took the masked Titan several long seconds to process things, painfully flat expression on his face, and he lifted a finger menacingly. "You guys did not just-"

    Only to be cut off when the tower alarm suddenly blared to life. Robin held his glare on his innocently whistling companions for another second, then spun around and brought up the emergency channel on the computer. Immediately, the small monitor went black and the large view screen hanging behind it flared to life, a large map of the city depicted clearly.

    At the center of the map, a single building was blinking a bright red, standing out keenly from the dull green which represented the rest of the city. Robin let out a pained sigh as the building was easily recognizable.

    "...S.T.A.R. labs is having an emergency..." he muttered quietly.

    Raven rolled her eyes. "Oh my, it must be Tuesday."

    Kasumi took a moment to stare at the hooded Titan, only to burst into a fit of giggles.

    Reading the rest of the information provided by the alert, Robin nodded to himself. "It appears to be some form of breach in the High Energy-Physics Annex . . ."

    Pausing for a moment, Robin turned to glance at Terra out of the corner of his eye. The concepts of ’underground laboratory’, ’high energy physics’ and ’incredibly powerful geokinetic’ did not mesh well in his mind, not at all. He couldn’t be certain what the emergency was at this time, but, if any digging was involved, he was sure that Raven could handle it with less risk involved.

    It wasn’t like they didn’t have an abundance of Titans, anyway.

    "Beast Boy, Terra, I want you two to stay here-"

    "What?"

    "What?"

    Robin gave them a serious look. "We don’t have any information on the nature of the emergency. It could be something as simple as someone dropping the wrong beaker when it comes to the high-security labs in there; so I want the two of you to hang back as back up, in case any other problems pop up around the city. Do you two think you’re up to watching the entire city while we’re out?"

    Terra and Beast Boy seemed to waver back and forth for a moment, not appearing to be able to tell if he was tricking them or not. Finally, though, the duo let out an amusingly coordinated set of annoyed grunts and plopped back down on the couch.

    "Fine," muttered the emerald shape shifter.

    "But you better call us in right away if it’s something big, alright?" Terra added vehemently.

    The masked Titan gave a firm nod, and then gestured to everyone else. "Alright, everyone else, move out."

    In a flurry of motion, the remaining Titans floated, leapt, levitated, or ran for the nearest exits. A moment later, Robin joined them, making his way down to the garage at top speed . . .

    …Which, when all was said and done, left the lone trio of Beast Boy, Terra and Kasumi all staring at each other expectantly in the eerie silence hanging over the room. The moment was quickly broken, when Terra pounded a tiny fist to the couch in frustration.

    "They totally ditched me because me because they’re going to fight in an underground lab, didn’t they?"

    Kasumi and Beast Boy shared a quick look . . . then nodded in unison.

    "It certainly seems that way."

    "Oh, yeah, they totally did."

    With that double confirmation, Terra pouted with all her might.

    "Oh, just gimme the remote already."

    - - -

    Ryouga gave a low whistle at the sight before them.

    Even by his standards, the massive cerulean force dome which currently sequestered the entirety of the S.T.A.R. labs facility was pretty impressive. The building itself was clearly visible behind the translucent shield, and looked just as he remembered it... good memories and all that. Even the large ring of police cars surrounding the building at a safe distance was familiar, but thankfully Robin had already spoken with the officer in charge and she’d agreed to leave them to their own devices for now.

    Absently, the martial artist gave the force field a rap with his knuckle. The dull, reverberating sound it made was quite unusual, but it felt as solid as any steel.

    "Wow, they didn’t have this here when Billy Numerous and I broke in here."

    Behind him, Robin grimaced. "Yeah, thank you kindly for that memory. Still, this does present a problem. Cyborg?"

    The bulky teen in question looked up from the scanner on his forearm and offered him a clueless look. "I haven’t even seen anything like this before. This shield makes Gizmo’s force fields look like tissue paper. Some kind of highly charged plasma field shaped into a static matrix... possibly using a magnetic bottle? ...Electromagnetic field? ...It’s hard to say, really, it’s putting out a lot of interference, possibly intentionally."

    To the side, Starfire ran her hand over the force field as well, giggling lightly. "The charged particles tickle!"

    Dark tendrils of dark energy rose up around Raven as the cloaked Titan studied the dome. With a roll of her wrist, the constructs began to flow over the wall of force. It only lasted for a moment, though, before the black streams of telekinesis evaporated and a frown creased the girl’s face. "It does seem ... comprehensive in its protection. I don’t think I’ll be able to teleport us through."

    Though it probably wasn’t appropriate, Ryouga found himself chuckling. "Well, looks like that’s the end of this mission. Too bad Beast Boy isn’t here, I’m sure he’d do something wacky like suggest I try to Bakusai Tenketsu the thing."

    "..."

    The fanged fighter found himself shrinking under the scrutinizing looks of his companions.

    "...Well, can you?" Cyborg finally asked.

    "What are you, kidding? I’m still fine tuning it to work on metal. I think using it on exotic energy constructs is a little down the road," Ryouga replied, a little put out.

    "Well, have you numbskulls even considered contacting the people inside, yet?"

    "Hey, that’s not bad ide-" Ryouga stopped mid-response. That hadn’t been any of the Titan’s voices. The martial artist spun around, broad smile growing on his face as he did, though he did his best to try to hide it.

    The sight of Jinx walking up to join them, swagger in her hips and smirk on her lips, sent a whole host of conflicting emotions running through him - in no small part because Raven was standing only a few yards to his side. The sorceress looked just as she had the last time he’d seen her; her hair turned upwards in her usual, exotic style, and her new uniform - a near copy of her old outfit, though now the hemline ran straight across her chest, leaving her shoulders bare. The Lost Boy shuffled nervously as her eyes settled on him for a rather long moment before she turned her attention back to the rest of the Titans.

    Unlike Ryouga, though, no one else seemed to be at all conflicted in their feelings for the pink haired ex villainess.

    "What are you doing here, Jinx?" Raven asked sharply.

    Jinx rolled her eyes, subtly adjusting her path to take her closer to Ryouga. "Well, I might not have a fancy Bat Computer to tell me what to do, but even I can see a giant four story force field in the middle of the night, Rae."

    Everyone took a step out from between the two girls as Raven began to glower darkly at the impudent witch.

    Just before the sparks could literally begin to fly, Robin bravely took a step forward and held up his hands in a meager warding gesture. "Alright, that’s enough of that." The masked hero turned to Jinx. "If you’re here to assist us, Jinx, that’s fine, but I’d appreciate it if you could be civil, understand?"

    Jinx tilted her head to the side, making a show out of considering his request, before shrugging. The sorceress then took a few more steps until she was standing less than an arm’s length from Ryouga.

    "Fine. Whatever, Bird-boy. Just remember that it isn’t you that I’m here to help." She made sure to send a telling look in the Lost Boy’s direction with her last statement.

    Robin glared at her for a moment, before nodding. "As long as we understand each other. Just don’t get in our way." With that, he turned to Cyborg. "Cyborg, can you-"

    "Ah, yeah, I already started trying to make contact as soon as Jinx mentioned it," replied the Titanium Titan a bit sheepishly. "If they have any internet access in there at all, that means they likely have a landline going in there underground. As long as the shield hasn’t severed all connections to the outside world, I might be able to route to a nearby server, get a message in there . . . aaannnddd-"

    A crackle of static sounded from the cyborg’s arm and the tiny screen flashed to life. For a moment, the screen was empty, simply showing the interior of a lab of some type. A few moments later, though, an unfamiliar face filled the tiny picture. It was an older man, with wild grey hair, though at this point, there was far more sticking out from the sides of his scalp than covering the top of it. Most of the scientist’s face was covered by an overly large pair of square framed glasses, perched precariously on a hooked nose.

    "H-hello? Who is this? How are you contacting us?" the small man asked nervously.

    Robin quickly moved forward and took a hold of Cyborg’s arm. "I’m Robin, of the Teen Titans. We’re here responding to the emergency. Can you drop the force field so we can enter?"

    The mousy scientist quickly shook his head. "Oh my, no. The entire facility is on lock-down, you see? We’ve had a... containment breach, and there’s no way to lower the defense screen until it’s been dealt with."

    Peering over the shorter teen’s shoulder, Starfire glanced inquisitively at the small screen. "If you are unable to lower your defensive field, then I am not certain how we can gain entry to render our assistance."

    The spectacle wearing researcher seemed to consider that quandary for a moment. "Hmm... I may not be able to lower the screen, but perhaps there is something else I can do. Wait where you are, I will come up to meet you."

    And with that, Cyborg’s small arm computer went black.

    "Huh. That was weird," commented the cybernetic teen, "Now I’m really confused about what’s going on in there. This is one serious lock down, but buddy there wasn’t exactly freakin’ out on us."

    Ryouga found himself nodding in agreement, but didn’t have any theories, so he kept quiet. No one else seemed to have any ideas, either, which unfortunately left them all to stand around in uncomfortable silence.

    The Lost Boy alternated glancing between the violet haired Titan to his one side and the pink haired vigilante to his other. He really felt he should be saying something to someone, but at the same time, he didn’t want to cause any problems. He’d seen Ranma screw up in this exact kind of situation way too often.

    What was a Hibiki to do?

    The time seemed to crawl by like a wounded animal as everyone shifted about impatiently, but finally the distant front door of the building slid open and the small scientist, complete with white lab coat, came scurrying out to meet them. The small man, barely even breaking five foot five, was carrying a small box under one arm and - and what looked to be a sizeable energy cannon strapped to his back. Within a minute, he was standing on the opposite side of the force field and waved at them politely.

    "Hello there, Titans! Can you hear me?!" he shouted at the top of a surprisingly large set of lungs.

    Ryouga winced before calling back. "We can hear you fine, um... mister. There’s no need to yell."

    "Oh – ahem. Yes, so I see. Well then, let us get to work," replied the scientist brusquely. He then pulled the metallic box from beneath his arm and gently placed it on the ground before the force field.

    The Titans looked at each other blankly for a moment, before Robin took a step forward. "What exactly is it you’re doing, Dr… ahh, Dr.?"

    The researcher looked up, startled for a moment. "Ah, yes, sorry about that. I’m Dr. Xenophon Quincy. I’m the Assistant Director of this facility. As to what I’m doing, this is a specialized frequency scanner. It’s designed to bypass the scattering field this force screen emits so that I can determine its specific frequency at the moment. It randomly alters its frequency ever thirty seconds, you see, in an attempt to avoid just such breaching attempts."

    Cyborg slapped a fist into his palm with an excited clank. "Alright! If we can’t shut down the whole thing, then this is the next best thing. With the frequency I should be able to tune my sonic cannon so I can punch a small hole through the shield."

    Dr. Quincy’s eyes widened in surprise. "You have access to sonic based weaponry? Quite fascinating, I was just going to use my Naser-" He gestured to the massive cannon on his back. "- But it would likely be easier for you to do so, as this is a prototype and it’s really not designed with such alterations in mind."

    Something about that statement brought Ryouga up short. "Umm, Naser? Don’t you mean ‘laser’?"

    He quickly received a swift jab to the side and turned to see Jinx wink at him before whispering. "Heh, the geek probably has a speech impediment."

    The small Doctor shook his head, "Oh, no. You see, a Naser is-"

    "It is an acronym for the earth terms ‘Neutrino Amplification by Simulated Emission of Radiation’"

    Silence hung in the air for a moment, before everyone present turned to stare at Starfire. Even Doctor Quincy gazed at her with slack jaw. "B-b-but I just invented it. How could you possibly know that?"

    The Tamaranian shrugged her shoulders. "I had a similar device when I was a child, though, of course, we used a different term for it. ...It was one of my fondest toys."

    The crestfallen expression on the scientist’s face was priceless, and the Tamaranian’s expression fell to match in an instant. "I - I am sorry. I did not mean to bring attention to the fact that Earthly sciences are archaic by galactic standards."

    "Star!" Cyborg barked incredulously, "Seriously. Archaic? That - that just hurts!"

    "Oh no, my friend, I did not-"

    "Enough." Raven’s command was given with a tone of finality that was impossible to ignore. "Dr. Quincy, please do what it is that needs to be done to allow us entry so that we can assist you with . . . whatever your emergency is."

    "Y-yes, quite right, young lady." Immediately, the bespectacled researcher leaned forward and began to type away at the small interface on the box’s surface. A small red light blinked on the side of the box for several seconds before suddenly flicking over to a green light. "Ah, there we go."

    Cyborg listened intently as Dr. Quincy read off the frequency and quickly entered it into his arm. "Alright, everyone get ready. We’re going to have less than ten seconds to get through before the shield cycles. It’s gonna take me a few seconds to change the frequency on my cannon."

    Ryouga nodded and moved to stand before the shield, Jinx hanging close to his side, and making certain to leave a big enough gap for Cyborg’s imminent blast between himself and Robin, Raven and Starfire.

    As promised, within a matter of seconds, the large Titan was ready, his cybernetic hand shifted noisily into its Sonic Cannon configuration with a series of whirrs and clicks. He then held his arm out, aiming the ominously glowing weapon at the shield between them.

    "Everyone ready?"

    Robin nodded quickly. "Do it."

    A blast of concentrated sound in the form of a tremendous beam of bluish energy crashed into the force field with battering ram force. The force field seemed to shift beneath the barrage of sonic waves, its color growing lighter and less cohesive. Cyborg circled the sonic assault around for a second, spreading out the area affected for a few long seconds, then cut off his attack abruptly. Without even waiting a second, the cybernetic teen then charged forward into the wavering, almost ghostly section of the wall he’d just blasted.

    Ryouga winced at the thought of Cyborg slamming face first into an invincible barrier . . . but let out a sigh of relief when his friend passed through the wall without even slowing. An instant later, Ryouga grabbed Jinx’s hand and pulled her through as well, even as Robin, Star and Raven dove through the aperture themselves.

    Not a moment too soon, either, as a few seconds after they passed through, the compromised section of the wall shimmered and returned to its former state.

    Once he was certain that everyone was through, Robin nodded and turned to the Doctor. "Okay, Dr. Quincy, now that we’re in, can you inform us exactly what the emergency is?"

    The Doctor nodded agreeably, quickly picking up the box on the ground. He then began to walk back towards the facility, gesturing for them to follow. "Yes, yes, of course. I’ll explain on the way."

    As the group followed him, Dr. Quincy un-holstered his naser cannon. "The problem is still contained in the lower reaches of the facility, but I’m not sure how long that will last. It’s good that you arrived when you did."

    Swiping his security card through a scanner by the door, he then led them into the building. "You’ll have to excuse all of the security. We had a serious break in not too long ago. Some sensitive psionics research was stolen and there was massive damage to the main entrance, so we were forced to institute more serious security measures."

    Ryouga shuffled anxiously even as Jinx beamed a shameless smile. Cyborg and Starfire had the good graces to look a abashed as well, which explained a few things, since Ryouga was pretty sure that he hadn’t been involved in any destruction on the entrance level.

    "Ah, yes. We... heard about that situation," Robin replied quietly.

    "Regardless, that has nothing to do with the current situation. You see, we’ve had a, well, something of a break out in the High Energy-Physics Annex, if you will."

    That brought everyone up short. Ryouga stared at the doctor uncertainly. "Um, what do you mean by ‘break out’? I wasn’t aware that you had, what - prisoners - here?"

    Looking suspicious Raven leaned in as well. "That is a good question. Who, or what do you have down there that would warrant such a lock down?"

    A look of excitement bloomed on the researcher’s face and he quickly led them to the security desk which sat several yards away from the main entrance. As soon as he reached the station, he began to flip through the various security channels.

    "It will be easier to just show you, rather than try to explain. Just let me see if I can locate it, and-"

    "SKREE-REEE-REEEE-REEE!"

    The unearthly, oscillating, reverberating screech pierced Ryouga to the very soul and he slapped his hands to cover his ears. At the same instant, the monitor flashed to life, showing the picture of a - just a bizarre creature.

    "What the heck is that thing!?" Cyborg cried in shock, echoing all of their sentiments exactly.

    "We call it a Twenty-Six Dimensional Hypergriffin."

    ...And …and the name actually seemed to fit, in the loosest manner possible. Ryouga vaguely remembered seeing a picture of the fanciful creature in question amongst the rather extensive collection of Jinx’s unicorn sketches. Except this creature was nightmarish even by Ryouga’s very experienced definition. While the leonine body was present, he counted no less than nine eagle heads, though that number was by no means a constant, the numerous phantasmal heads seeming to meld together, divide apart, or just outright phase through each other as it flew around the lab in which it was contained.

    Though, Ryouga had no idea how the thing was actually flying, considering it had twice as many wings as it had heads, and each set of wings were flapping independently of one another.

    "A… a Twenty-Six Dimensional Hypergriffin?" Robin asked with understandable disbelief.

    Dr. Quincy nodded understandably. "Indeed. You see, we were doing research into the concept of meta-reality-shifting through under-space using implicate field inversions-"

    Starfire nodded knowingly. "Ah, yes, I learned of that theory from my..." Twin glares from the doctor and Cyborg all but impaled the young Tamaranian. "’ahem’ I mean, please continue, Dr. Quincy."

    The doctor continued to stare at her for a moment longer, before clearing his throat and nodding. "Anyway, this jaunty critter hitched a ride on one of our experimental probes, which had the unfortunate side effect of trapping it in three dimensional space with us. As you can imagine it is less than pleased with the situation, and quite deadly as well."

    Jinx, who had been staring at the Hypergriffin intently for some time, finally looked up. "Well, what’s the big deal, Doc? You got your super naser, or whatever it is. Why not just blast it to bits on your own? What do you need us for?"

    Quincy turned to look at the sorceress, adjusting his glasses a bit. "Oh my, no, I’m afraid that wouldn’t work. A simple naser couldn’t kill something as powerful as a Twenty-Six Dimensional Hypergriffin. You see, the beam only fires in Threespace."

    The researcher ignored the look of incomprehension that bloomed on, well, pretty much everyone present, and continued on. "What I need help with, is getting the Twenty-Six Dimensional Hypergriffin back into containment. It is only a matter of time before it breaches the lower levels entirely, and I can’t be certain how our defensive screen would interact with a twenty-six dimensional entity, even as limited as it is."

    The Titans shared an uncertain look for a moment, before Robin finally took charge, rallying everyone by force of will alone. "Alright Titans. You heard the Doctor, let’s move out."

    As one, the team hurried to the main elevator which led to the depths of the facility. Soon enough, the doors opened and everyone began to shuffle into the car. Waiting patiently for everyone else to get in first, Ryouga was about to step in - when he suddenly felt an arm pull him back.

    Without him in the way to trip the sensors, the doors began to slide closed and Jinx, still holding Ryouga’s arm, smiled and waved to everyone else. "Dear, dear, it looks packed in there. We’ll take the next car."

    "Jinx, what are you d-"

    Raven’s inquiry was cut off by the shutting of the doors and, in a second, the floor number above the elevator began to shoot down at a surprising rate. Ryouga didn’t even have a chance to comment, though, as he was immediately spun around and pushed against the cool metal of the doors.

    A moment later, Jinx was less than an inch away from him, staring up at him expectantly.

    "So what’s with you? Not even so much as a ‘hey, how’s it going you sexy-sexy sorceress?’ You aren’t mad about that numbskull crack, are you? Cuz you know I hardly consider you one of those at all."

    Taking a brief glance around, Ryouga let out a small sigh and dropped his hands on the girl’s shoulders.

    "What are you doing, Jinx? We’re on a mission here; you’re going to get us in trouble."

    "Feh!" Jinx replied indignantly. "What are they gonna do? Kick me out of their stupid tower? Arrest me for wanting to take the stairs in case of an emergency? It’s a giant bird, Hibiki, I’m sure your buddies down there can survive for, like, five minutes without us."

    "...Yeah, I suppose you’re right about that," Ryouga conceded amiably, "And, no, I’m not mad at you. It’s just that you’re on thin ice with everyone else as it is, I didn’t want to start a needless fight."

    The ex villain scoffed loudly at that. "On thin ice with Raven, you mean. And, you know, none of this would be an issue if you’d just grow a set and form your own team away from the Titans."

    Ryouga let out a weary groan. "Not this again, Jinx. I’m as fit to be a leader as you are to be a fully contributing member of society."

    She replied with a wide, slightly unhinged Cheshire grin that spoke volumes. "Oh, come on, Hibiki. You’re the only one that people actually trust enough to follow - as horrendously ironic as that sounds-"

    "Oh, har dee har har."

    "I know that Kasumi is on board, for obvious reasons. And I’m pretty sure that Terra would jump at the chance, too. After all we went through, it just makes sense!"

    The fanged fighter locked stares with the sultry sorceress for a long moment before finally breaking down and looking away. "Look, I’ll think about it, alright? I’m not making any guarantees, though. Now, is that all you wanted to talk about?"

    He immediately regretted his words, as a familiar glimpse of longing flashed through her pink, cat-like eyes. A moment later, she spun around and pressed her back up against his chest and reached up to wrap an arm around his neck.

    "Not all. I mean, I haven’t seen you in three nights. Haven’t you... missed me at all?"

    Heat began to rise in Ryouga’s face dangerously fast as a whole array of pleasant sensations assaulted him. Immediately, his hand shot up to pinch his nose and he began to desperately attempt to control his breathing. Jinx wasn’t making it easier, either, running her fingers through his hair.

    "Y-y-you know I have. I just – it’s been hard to ‘get lost’ on patrols."

    "I find that hard to believe," Jinx interrupted with a smirk.

    Ryouga’s glare was lost on the back of the girl’s head. "You do recall that I can crush you like an empty soda can, right? And I’ve been patrolling with Beast Boy the past few nights; he’s super paranoid when it comes to keeping me in sight."

    Tilting her head back, Jinx graced him with an adorable pout. "Can’t you just, I dunno, give the green brat a friendly maiming, or something?" She quickly followed it up by mumbling something that sounded a bit like "Still haven’t forgiven that punk for the ‘monkey on your back’ schtick."

    He couldn’t help but chuckle at the idea. "I doubt Terra would ever forgive me for that one." Finally loosening up a bit, Ryouga began to slip his arms around the girl’s slim waist-

    Which was pretty much the exact moment that he noticed the pool of darkness form on the floor before them. In a flash, the pair leapt apart and Jinx spun on him, eyes flashing dangerously.

    "Who do you think you’re talking to, Lost Boy? I do things my way, so like it, or lump it!"

    A droll expression rested on Raven’s face as she rose up from the dark portal. "I see trying to talk sense to her is working as well as expected."

    Ryouga stared at Jinx uncertainly for a moment, before nodding. "About as well as the first time I brought it up."

    Jinx just stuck out her tongue.

    The violet haired Titan rolled her eyes. "Well, if you two think you can get along long enough to help us, there is a Twenty-Six Dimensional Hypergriffin in the basement that we could use your help dealing with." She then held out her hands. "Come closer, I’ll teleport us down."

    The pink haired ‘hero’ stared at the offered hand for a moment, before snorting loudly. Jinx then spun and waved her hand at the elevator. A flash of pink energy arced from her fingers and an instant later, the doors slid open of their own volition, revealing the empty shaft.

    "Um, yeah, thanks, but no thanks. I’ll just take the elevator."

    And with a little hop, the young woman vanished down the hole without a second’s hesitation.

    For a moment, Ryouga and Raven just stared at the empty shaft before the latter shook her head sadly. "I want to thank you for trying, at least. I imagine it can’t be easy for you to confront her like that."

    Doing his best to quash his guilt as his stare lingered on the elevator shaft, he nodded slowly. "You don’t know the half of it. It’s hard to hear some of the things she has to say, sometimes."

    Raven nodded sympathetically as she rested a hand on his shoulder. "It’s alright; that you try is all we can ask."

    Ryouga considered her words for a moment, before offering her a weak smile. “...Yeah, all I can do is try."

    To avoid hurting any of my friends. Damnit, this has to be Ranmas fault somehow.’

    "Alright then, let’s go. Robin is already planning on how to attack the - the
    hypergriffin." The distaste in her voice at the last word was obvious, and it brought a smirk to Ryouga’s lips.

    A moment later, they were sinking into the ground, and everything dissolved into a black, blacker than any pitch, as they traversed through... whatever dimension it was that she traversed through for her teleportation. Though the actual time of the travel was near instantaneous, the eerie darkness seemed to cling to him, trying to latch onto him and trap him in the void-

    And then they were back in the material world. There was a moment of chilling disorientation, which the martial artist shook off quickly before he took in his surroundings. They were in an unfamiliar room; a small room filled with computers banks. A large window took up one of the walls, revealing what looked to be a much larger chamber beyond it. All in all, it looked to be a fairly mundane lab -

    "SKREEEEE!"

    A massive blur slammed into the window, slashing claws and tearing beaks smashing away at the casement with wild abandon. Deep cracks spread across the entire surface and several flecks of the ridiculously thick, translucent material peppered everyone present, prompting them to cover their faces. A second later, the hyper griffin vanished from sight as quickly as it appeared.

    "Holy crap, dawg! Did you see that?" barked Cyborg.

    Robin nodded cautiously. "Yes. The lab isn’t going to hold that thing for long, it’s definitely more powerful than it looks."

    "And the creature does not exactly look like . . . What is the term? A ‘push over’?" Starfire added, sounding slightly worried.

    Raven nodded in agreement. "I’m somewhat worried about whether or not we’ll be able to harm it or not. What Dr. Quincy said about only being able to affect it in Threespace left me . . . dubious about this venture."

    "Well, we’ll never know until we try. Not that it matters; we‘re here to capture it, not destroy it. As long as we can at least corral it where we need it to go, then we‘re in business." The masked Titan took a moment to look around. "Speaking of getting things where we need them to go, where on earth is Jinx?"

    "She’ll be along anytime now," Ryouga supplied quickly. "She, um, she decided to take the elevator."

    Robin looked at him oddly for a moment, then to the elevator behind him, which clearly showed the car resting on the same floor they were on, then shrugged. "Whatever. We’ll begin without her. We can’t afford to wait for her, not with that thing tearing up the building."

    Their small leader then took a moment to study everyone present. "Alright, Starfire, Ryouga, you go in first and try to knock it out of the air. Cyborg, you’ll need to repair and set up the Dimensional Quarantine, just like Dr. Quincy explained."

    "Remember," supplied the Doctor in question, "You’ll need to get it within three meters of the Projector to be effective when you activate it."

    Cyborg nodded confidently. "You know it, Dr. Q. Your schematics are just what the doctor ordered; I got it under control."

    "Raven, you and I will cover Cyborg and the projector while Starfire and Ryouga try to corner the . . . Entity."

    The dark Titan nodded smartly. "I understand."

    "What, no role for me, oh illustrious leader?"

    Again, everyone looked over to see Jinx approaching them. The elevator doors stood open behind her and the young woman ran a hand through her stylized hair absently as she regarded them.

    Robin shook his head in annoyance before muttering. "Jinx . . . You help Ryouga and Star deal with bringing it down."

    "Yeah, fine, I can do that," replied the sorceress in a catty tone.

    "Alright then," Robin stated confidently.

    "Let’s go in!"

    - - -

    "Fall back! Starfire, fall back!"

    Robin’s frantic cry came too late as a wicked set of claws slammed into the Tamaranian’s back, knocking her bodily out of the air. Only a black tendril of telekinesis, shooting up from the floor to catch the flame haired girl, saved her from slamming into the floor with bone crushing force.

    A second later, flashes of pink energy peppered the side of the Hypergriffen, sending it careening off to the side before it could regain its balance and swoop back up towards the ceiling. Trailing only a few yards behind the great beast, bouncing madly off the walls in an attempt to catch up, Ryouga zipped though the air, pale blue umbrella trailing in his wake.

    Pulling an electric disc from his utility belt, Robin hurled the projectile into the monster’s path, hoping to let the fanged martial artist catch up. The small disc whizzed through the air, detonating right in front of the griffin’s, well, one of the griffin’s many beaks, but the creature didn’t even flinch at the burst of electrical energy, soaring right through the explosion without effect.

    "Cyborg, are you ready yet?"

    The cybernetic teen looked up from the device he was working on, sparks flying every which way from the arc torch popping out of his finger. "I’m gonna need another minute. I’m almost done repairing the casing, then I can start it up."

    Letting out a minor curse, Robin nodded and reached back into his belt, looking for something else to use. To his side, Raven continued stand guard before Cyborg, a low wall of black power surrounding the entire quarantine platform, shooting upwards at any given moment to knock away any stray pieces of shrapnel that came their way.

    In the air above them, Starfire was already back up, hurling a flurry of star bolts at the swooping griffin. The beast wasn’t even paying any attention to the flying girl, having zeroed in on the ground borne Jinx. Even as green bursts of plasma slammed into its side to no visible effect, the griffin tucked its countless wings to its sides and dropped into a dive, snapping beaks and razor claws leading the way.

    Instantly, Jinx gave a small shriek and turned tail before sprinting full speed in the other direction. As fast as she was, the young detective could already see she wouldn’t be fast enough to escape. Urgently, Robin prepared an entire fan of explosive birdarangs to throw -

    He needn’t have bothered, though, as a familiar green and yellow blur cut through the air, slamming into the griffin’s side with a thunderous crunch. A second later, Ryouga followed up his shoulder tackle with a swing of his transuranic umbrella, slamming the beast out of the air completely.

    Seven distinct screeches of pain pierced the air as the griffin bounced off the floor, but less than a handful of seconds later, the monster was already back on its feet. Ryouga, Starfire and Jinx all rushed in simultaneously, but none were fast enough as a flurry of flapping wings launched the multi-dimensional raptor back into the air again.

    "Cyborg!" Robin cried out.

    "Just another second!"

    Abruptly, the masked Titan was forced to leap to the side, Ryouga’s body rag-dolling through the space he’d occupied a second earlier. The martial artist bounced a few times before slamming bodily into the onyx wall of energy surrounding the projector.

    In a moment, Robin was by his team mate’s side, helping him to his feet.

    "I hope you guys are almost done over here," Ryouga barked hoarsely, "This thing is more frustrating to put down than Kunou. It’s starting to get embarrassing!"

    Robin nodded, smirking. "Cyborg should be done soon. We’re going to need you guys to get it to the platform, though." Quickly reaching behind his back, Robin pulled out one of his grapnel launchers and handed it to the bandanna clad warrior. "Use this to tie it up if you can."

    Ryouga took the item and nodded fiercely, tucking it in his belt. A moment later, Robin was alone as his companion sped back out into the fight.

    "Okay, Robin, I got it ready to go. I just need to set the remote and clear the area. Gimme another minute!" Cyborg yelled out from his position.

    "Alright!" Robin immediately rushed forward to stand in front of Raven. A quick scan above them showed, the Hypergriffin hovering near the ceiling. Starfire floated to the right of it, trying to corral it with her eye lasers. Ryouga hovered behind it, umbrella-copter in his right hand and a spinning bandanna in his left. On the ground directly beneath it, Jinx stared up impotently as her hands burned with pink flame.

    Hoping to distract it long enough to let the trio drop the beast, Robin whipped off a handful of birdarangs. The spinning blades cut through the air with uncanny accuracy, and each one slamming into a separate beak.

    To his mild surprise, the griffin actually noticed this attack... Unfortunately, to his great surprise, the attack seemed to infuriate the monster no end. Overlapping, oscillating screeches filled the air as the griffin suddenly dropped into another dive, straight toward the bird themed hero.

    "That’s not good. Star, Ryouga, stop that thing!"

    In a valiant effort, the Tamaranian and the martial artist surged forward, both actually managing to clamp a hand down on a wing and the tail respectively. Even with both Starfire pulling back and Ryouga’s umbrella-copter running at full throttle in the opposite direction, the griffin barely slowed in its dive. On the ground, Jinx sprinted forward before ducking down into a crouch and launching herself up at the diving creature.

    She didn’t even make it halfway before she was sent flying wildly through the air by a buffet of its wings. Robin’s eyes widened as he watched her body rag doll through the air; there was no way the girl would regain her balance before she crashed to the ground. Moving as fast as he ever had, he dove right beneath the swiping claws of the griffin and charged forward, managing to slide across the ground just in time to break her fall before she broke her neck. Panting at the sudden, exertion, Robin took a second to make sure that Jinx wasn’t hurt-

    The Hypergriffin slammed into the ebony wall of Raven’s power at full speed; the sudden whiplash was enough to send Starfire, still clamped to one of its wings, slamming face first into the wall as well. Rather than bounce off the black construct of energy as the Tamaranian did, though, the wall directly beneath the griffin began to warp and buckle in a disturbing manner.

    Abruptly, Raven collapsed to her knees and clutched her temples, a pained scream tearing itself from her throat. All around her, her power began to fluctuate wildly; black tendrils of the stuff writhing and flailing as if alive. The griffin howled in pain as it clawed wildly at the dark energy which began to constrict it. A random thrashing of its tail sent Ryouga flying forward over the vanishing wall of black telekinesis . . .

    "Nonononono-" Cyborg’s panicked shout was cut off abruptly by the sound of Hibiki slamming into titanium. A grim feeling rose up in Robin’s chest at the familiar sound. It was quickly justified when an unearthly whine began to emanate from the center of the room. It was quickly followed by a coruscating sphere of rainbow lights flaring to life less than a yard away from Raven’s collapsed form.

    "Ryouga!" Jinx struggled out of Robin’s grasp. Reaching forward, Robin quickly grabbed her wrist and pulled her back.

    "Wait, we don’t know what’s going to happen!"

    "I don’t care!"

    Both of them stopped dead, though, as both Raven’s and the Hypergriffin’s screams rose exponentially in unison. Raven’s power was now wrapped around both in a nightmarish Gordian knot; however a long chord was now collapsing into the rainbow sphere, being drawn into the orb as if it were a iridescent black hole. Even as Cyborg frantically scanned the anomaly, Ryouga struggled past the uncontrolled energy, savagely slashing at the black constructs with his umbrella in a desperate bit to reach Raven’s side.

    Barely visible on the far side of the chaos, Robin could just see Starfire pushing herself up to her feet, one hand clutched to her skull and an obvious grimace on her face. The grimace disappeared in an instant, though, all concern for herself evaporating when the Tamaranian saw what was transpiring about her friends.

    "Raven!"

    Amazingly, Ryouga managed to make it to dark Titan’s side, tearing away at the cocoon of power and clutching Raven to his chest. Rather than make things better, the howls of Raven, the griffin and the swelling sphere of chaotic energy all reached a horrific, soul piercing crescendo. In that very instant, Robin’s entire perception of reality seemed to invert on itself. Up became down, black became white and it felt agonizingly like he was a second away from inside being out.

    A crack of thunder blasted the Titan straight off his feet a second later. By the time he regained enough of his senses to sit up, the griffin, the sphere, and half of his friends were gone...

    In their place, a massive swirling vortex of abyssal energy rotated ominously in the air. The black void seemed content to merely exist for a fraction of a second. Then an ominous howl filled the room as it began to suck in everything around it, like the very maw of hell itself. Cyborg and Starfire were the only ones remaining near the epicenter, and both were sprawled across the floor, utterly unconscious.

    "Star! Starfire, wake up!" Robin cried out.

    The draw of the vortex doubled within a second, then doubled again. Within a matter of moments, even Cyborg‘s bulky frame began to skid noisily across the floor. Robin took a hasty step forward, preparing to charge in and grab the Tamaranian, but as soon as he did, his feet nearly left the floor all together. Even with both feet firmly planted on the ground, his steel capped boots began to squeal in protest as he began to slide inexorably towards the hellish maw.

    Thinking quickly, he aimed a grapnel launcher at the wall behind him and fired. The small titanium projectile dug into the wall not an instant too late as the tether snapped tight a second later. The masked hero then noticed a blur of motion to his side and reacted without even thinking. He managed to grasp Jinx’s sleeve just before she flew past him.

    In a matter of moments, the pair of them were floating parallel to the floor, the only thing saving them from the impossible pull of the spinning portal - a narrow chord of spider silk. With one hand clutching onto his grapnel launcher for dear life, and the other holding the ex villainess’ sleeve, Robin could do nothing but watch as Cyborg and Starfire continued to slide away from him.

    "Starfire!!"

    Miraculously, the Tamaranian’s jade green eyes fluttered open just as her body began to lift from the ground.

    "R-Robin?" the girl asked uncertainly. It didn’t take her long to realize something was wrong, as she began to fly backwards against her own volition. Instantly, her backwards momentum stopped, and Starfire began to move forward incrementally. The strain from fighting the pull of the portal was obvious within seconds, though.

    "Starfire! Grab Jinx’s hand!" Robin shouted, his voice cracking.

    "What!?"

    Slowly, Starfire reached out her hand. "I - I -"

    And then the familiar sound of scraping metal made itself known in the cacophony of the black hole. Instantly, Starfire turned to see Cyborg sliding past her, completely helpless. Even with his massive weight, his limbs were already beginning to lift into the air.

    Robin’s eyes widened to saucers as he watched the Tamaranian. Starfire stared back at him longingly, then looked to their unconscious companion quickly sliding beyond her reach.

    It was all too obvious what would happen next, and even as Robin wanted to cry out, he felt his heart swell with pride. Starfire graced him with one last gaze, filled with more emotions than he even knew existed... Then she spun away from him and flew directly into the heart of the maelstrom without even a second’s hesitation. Just as she had been reaching out to him a second earlier, she reached out again, stretching out her arm to catch the now flying Cyborg.

    "Starfire!"

    A second later, they were both gone.

    The masked hero didn’t have time to register the moisture building in the corners of his eyes, though, as the sound of tearing cloth reached his ears over the deafening howl of the portal. He quickly looked down at Jinx, noting the panicked look in her eyes as she stared back at him helplessly.

    An odd moment passed between the young detective and the sorceress as they matched gazes in that one, impossibly long instant. In that moment, he could have sworn he saw a tiny glimpse at the true Jinx, the look of raw terror as she watched his grip slipping, the expression of indignant fury as she stared at the cloth of her dress tear away, thread by thread.

    And, most notably, in what she yelled out when his tenuous grasp eventually failed and she went soaring backwards into the black vortex before vanishing from sight-

    "You suuuuuuck-"

    Robin stared in anguish as he gazed into the abyss which had just taken his friends. For a moment, just a moment, the thought of simply letting go flitted across his mind. The lapse in judgment passed an instant later, though, and he quickly latched onto the grapnel launcher with both hands. No matter what may come, he had been trained to never give up, no matter what, and his stubborn determination wouldn’t let him fail now.

    As such, all that he could do was watch powerlessly as the vortex began to slowly collapse in on itself. Within a matter of minutes, it was gone and Robin was left kneeling in center of an empty room, shrouded in a deafening silence.

    In that moment, only one thought filled the Titan’s mind.

    "STARFIIIIRE!"

    - - -

    Operation: Silver Ice

    Tokyo, Japan
    Higurashi Shrine: (date) 14:00 hours

    - - -

    Commander Yasuda had called it "growing field experience."

    For Nabiki Tendo, it was just the sort of chaos she had hoped to avoid after finally coming back to the city of her birth. For months now, she had been cooped up in an underground base, deep in the mountains; a chance for some field work, back in Tokyo, had seemed like a great deal. She'd spend a few days snooping around, maybe supervise one or two semi-serious ops, capture whatever rogue psionic or martial artist was running amuck, and then grab a couple precious hours of leisure time.

    It was the next best thing to an unsupervised leave.

    Naturally, things didn't turn out that way at all.

    The Higurashi Shrine was the sort of archetypical shinto establishment her father had always told her to take a historic and cultural interest in, and which she had quickly grown bored with. She had seen her share of spirits and demons and other really, really odd things - doubly so over the last half year since joining UNETCO - but none of that had made her feel particularly religious. Seeing this particular shrine for the first time, her initial impression was that the land it was on had to be worth a small fortune.

    Then she saw the first of the twisting serpentine monsters rise up from beyond cusp of the hill the shrine stood upon. Twisted maws snapped and hissed, and inhuman eyes dilated as the mass of... things... churned like an insane ocean. Nabiki sighed.

    This was exactly why - exactly why! - property values in Tokyo were so damn erratic.

    - - -
  2. Cap'n Chryssalid the armor piercing wang

    - - -

    Twenty One hours earlier

    Tokyo, Japan
    Higurashi Shrine: February, 17th; 17:00 hours

    - - -

    The sun shone down on a beautiful and cloudless Tokyo afternoon.

    Nabiki sucked in a deep breath, enjoying the air. Yes, that was car exhaust she was forcing into her lungs - and it was a welcome relief. It was the smell and taste of the big city! Across the street, a dango cart was selling its wares, a pair of tourists were inexplicably lost trying to find the subway, and all was right with the world. This was her city; oh how she had missed it!

    True, Nerima Ward was some distance from here, but she loved Tokyo all the same. It was vibrant and exciting and full of opportunity! A stark environmental contrast to where she had been spending her days and nights for the last half dozen months. Seiran Mountain was an enclosed facility, with recycled air, recycled waste, recycled everything. Contact outside was limited. The only fresh air to be had was outside, and even for those given special dispensation to leave the mountain daily, it was more a tease than anything. The secret base was, to be frank, stifling.

    It was just too bad she was technically here on business.

    "Target is heading north with companions. ETA fifteen minutes."

    "Fifteen Minutes," Mousse repeated, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "We're in position."

    "We've been in position for an hour," Nabiki felt the need to add, but didn't bother to activate her hidden microphone. There was no need for the complaint to reach more ears than were already present. In the back of the black unmarked van, Ryouga huffed in agreement.

    So far, the mission had been rather dull.

    Sitting in the front passenger seat, Nabiki stretched her arms with a sigh before straightening out her black jacket and fixing her shirt collar. The three of them were stuck in civilian guises as agents of the Public Security Intelligence Agency, "Special Internal Affairs Department." It meant the usual Men in Black look, as everyone called it (or Woman in Black in her case). Even as popularized as it had become in the public perception and media, the look continued to be ubiquitous and intimidating enough that UNETCO didn't bother trying to be original.

    At the moment, she was "Makino Katsumi."

    The nearly blind hidden weapons master sitting next to her (and currently cleaning his nails with a very sharp looking throwing knife) was one "Jason Chen" - Chinese-Japanese-American or something like that. Mousse always did get stuck with the stupider background stories.

    The doofus in the back of the van enjoying a little power nap was "Amano Seiji."

    It was their second stake out in the last half week.

    Seiran had shipped them out to check up on some unusual activity around the country. Juliet was also on assignment, having just shipped out to run some Ops in Korea and the greater Pacific. UNETCO was still intent on keeping other "special" martial artist types out of alien hands, and when something odd cropped up that local intermediaries couldn't handle, Commander Yasuda didn't hesitate to use either of the two martial arts squads based at Seiran Mountain. Since they could operate effectively without extensive alien-derived hardware, skirting the UNETCO charter's Section Seven restrictions, it was considered an ideal assignment for them.

    It was fairly light work compared to what India and Juliet Squads has been involved in lately. The terror sites from a while back were still fresh on everyone's mind, as was the fighting before that around the world. The aliens had hit suddenly and hit hard, and now they were in a small lull between storms. Under normal conditions, with no missions to undertake, the squads would be training like the lunatics they all were, but on light mission duty like this, they had to be content with trying to relax a bit.

    But not too much.

    No one expected they'd have to bring in another Hibiki Tatsuya or Happosai or other powerhouse, but there was always the possibility, and even a class A psychic could be a real handful, much less a double-A. For herself, Nabiki wasn't terribly worried. Their earlier stake out had been just another "Dojo Destroyer" with a few minor tricks. They'd tailed the guy for a while, confirming that he didn't have any really outstanding abilities (by Nerimite standards), and then Mousse had jumped in and made short work of him to be sure. After the so called "martial arts duel" - if you could even call it that - they'd decided to just let the guy go.

    He didn't have a trace of alien influence on him, and the threat of his abduction was minimal. Basically it was just a false alarm. The second incident hadn't panned out either, after just a little investigation. The source of the problem was ultimately Nerima itself. With most of the martial artists there either working for UNETCO, or shipped off to a Sanctuary Community, there was some spill over from aspiring martial artists and the like who wanted to challenge one of the former Nerima Crew.

    So basically one martial artist strays into Juuban, kicks down a tree or something, and everyone panics. It was kind of sad, actually. In Nerima, it was unusual when a martial artist didn't go around kicking over trees or knocking down concrete telephone poles. Everyone there had kind of gotten used to it. It had gotten to the point where people would put up signs like "please to not hug" on a pillar or "please do not punch" on a concrete wall, all in a desperate attempt to keep martial artists from causing property destruction. In fact, two of the worst offenders were sitting within arm's reach of her, no doubt waiting for an opportunity to rearrange the landscape.

    She remembered feeling particularly bad for the giant Buddha statue someone had put a "please do not destroy" note on... which Ryu had promptly destroyed twice in his duel with Ranma. If anything, the signs and notes just made things into better targets for the universe's cruel sense of irony. Regardless, here they were, investigating a handful of haunts that were probably nothing serious at all.

    Next to her, Mousse sucked on his lip as he cleaned out his thumbnail with the knife. In the back, Ryouga yawned contentedly. He had a half finished book in his right hand, his middle finger taking the place of a proper bookmark or dog-ear.

    "Hey," she called over her shoulder. "I want some of that dango across the street."

    The lost boy blinked and glanced in her direction. The back of the van was roomy enough for several men, and Ryouga had it all to himself. Well, aside from certain tools and tricks of the trade they hadn't yet needed to use. He looked at her with an expression that seemed to ask, without asking, 'Now? Really?'

    "We'll hop over, get some, and come back. It'll be a quick snack before we head into the scary haunted shrine, oooo," she said, wiggling her fingers. Ryouga leisurely scratched behind his ear, thinking it over.

    "Mousse, you want anything?" he asked, finally deciding to just do what she wanted. Nabiki smiled at that; he'd probably guessed that she also wanted to talk to him about something.

    The Chinese martial artist shrugged.

    "If they have it, one of those little green tea cans," he replied, and then added, "Or a Red Bull. I'm not a big dango fan."

    Ryouga nodded, and opened the doors to the back of the van. Nabiki quickly opened her side door and met him outside. He waited for her and followed in step as they crossed the street. Shirokuro (the uncanny Hibiki family guide dog) wasn't here, so the threat of him getting lost was always on everyone's mind.

    Nabiki knew it was one of the reasons she was here; hell, it was one of the reasons why she had been assigned to work with India Squad in the first place. At the time, she had been the only one to figure out a way to get the then-special-lieutenant back on track in the face of a disorienting enemy attack. Ryouga had gone on to salvage the mission from the jaws of disaster, though just barely, and the event had spearheaded Nabiki's own promotion as well.

    As they crossed the street, Ryouga slipped his hands comfortably into his pants pockets. He kept his eyes on her - to make sure he didn't get lost, of course - but also seemed to take a little time and attention to enjoy the weather. It was still a bit chilly, but not nearly so cold as it was outside Seiran, up in the mountains. The two of them had enjoyed a few quiet times out there, since Ryouga took Shirokuro out for a brief walk every day. She hadn't said as much yet, but she hoped they'd have some time either between missions or after then but before heading back to base to spend some time in the city.

    It wasn't a vacation, of course, but they had some free time and some leeway...

    Not that she had expected, months ago, that she would ever be thinking as much about the directionally damaged idiot. He hadn't even dropped by the Dojo that often, not since before the whole Saffron thing, so he was less a fixture in Nerima and more a casual visitor. Nabiki knew that was Akari's doing. Ryouga had all but moved in with her by the time... by the time 'incidents' occurred that brought UNETCO and XCOM into their lives.

    She could still remember, in terrible detail, that night when the family had been abducted. Ranma and Ryouga had ended up saving the day, killing the aliens but leaving them stranded in a UFO in orbit around the planet. At the time, she'd been thankful to him for coming to save them. She'd seen enough TV to guess at what the aliens would do to her, to them, if not for the rescue. The things she had seen on the ship later only reinforced that those nightmare scenarios were just the tip of the iceberg.

    Then he'd almost died correcting the course of the ship, so it wouldn't hit the Ocean. In retrospect, it was possible he was just doing it as one last act of suicidal self-sacrifice, but he did survive, and at the time she had been impressed by the fool's determination and drive. It was really only when they joined with UNETCO, and she realized he could also be a means to her own advancement in the organization, that their alliance-of-convenience became friendship. It helped that he'd managed to mellow out a bit over the months... and that he had as many skeletons in his closet as she did.

    At this point, either of them had to have enough blackmail material on the other to ruin them three or four times over. It actually felt sort of good, in a weird way, because Nabiki also knew he'd never actually use what he knew and what she'd confided in him against her. And because Ryouga had that, she didn't have any temptation to use what she'd learned either. Well... there was always a little bit of temptation, but it could be satisfied easily enough.

    "Two goma style, please!" Nabiki happily picked out a few skewers of the tasty treat from the cart's menu. "And two bocchan!"

    They all looked so good!

    The cook was a friendly looking middle aged man with an over-large apron, and he smiled at the pair in a knowing way. Already, the smell of red bean paste and soy was starting to make her hungry. Seiran had its own cooking staff, of course, but they didn't make Japanese food very often, despite the base being in Japan. It was usually American style, or European dishes.

    "I guess I'll be paying," Ryouga grumbled. The cook didn't look surprised by the statement, either.

    "Of course you will, Seiji-chan," Nabiki cooed, purposefully using his cover name. As expected, he blushed a near beet red in embarrassment and confusion before crossing his arms with a huff. The chef chuckled at the young man's discomfort.

    "Will that be all?" he asked, already getting a wax paper wrap and syrofoam platter ready for the food while it finished heating up.

    "I guess I'll have... three of the kinako style," the lost one relented. "And three cans of green tea."

    "You got it!" the chef happily complied, adding more to the grill.

    "Hey, Seiji-chan," Nabiki said, smiling at how the endearment attached to the fake name annoyed the lost boy. "Do you remember the name of that guy who fought Ukyou before? The guy who had some takoyaki themed martial art?"

    "I'd heard about that, but a name...?" Ryouga cupped his chin as he thought. "Nah, I can't remember. There was that Crepe Guy Ukyou fought before, but Takoyaki...?"

    "That was Crepe Joe, I think? He was good!" Nabiki shook her head. "Too bad he left town after that duel. Between Ukyou and Shampoo, I swear they've scared off most of the good cooks in the area."

    "The good cooks who also happen to be martial artists anyway."

    "Which is almost all of them, back home."

    "There aren't any good restaurants left?" Ryouga asked, surprised. "They were all martial artists?"

    "Maybe half of them. The best were still the wandering chefs, and none of them lasted more than a week and a half."

    "You know," Ryouga replied, reminiscing a bit. "I ran into a guy about a year ago who could kill a man with a piece of shrimp."

    "A tasty piece of shrimp, I assume?"

    "It was incredibly delicious, yes. But also deadly." He smiled a bit, an often rare thing, always the most comfortable when it came to martial arts related topics. "I guess it was... dangerously delicious."

    It had taken a long time before the two of them could converse so easily, Nabiki remembered. From little more than talk about revenge, about fighting the enemy, about what had to be done... gradually to what the day was like, to what they wanted to accomplish and how... and now, to a sort of casual comfort she knew he didn't have with anyone else. Even his teammates, who he had grown to be thick as thieves with. It was sort of amazing to think about how he had come out of his self imposed shell after her death.

    "There you go, enjoy!" The vendor handed the two their platters and wrapped dango. Ryouga, rather less unhappy than before about having to pay for food and drinks, tucked his wallet back into his back pants pocket and accepted one of the Styrofoam trays with his free hand. Nabiki took hers and two of the drinks, letting Ryouga eventually retrieve his own.

    They were about to walk off, when the street vendor coughed and spoke up.

    "That man you mentioned," he said, a hint of admiration in his voice. "I believe it was Myojin Hayato you were referring to. Both he and the heiress to the Kuonji style are quite well known."

    Nabiki and Ryouga exchanged surprised looks.

    "If you two know Kuonji-san," he elaborated. "Please extend the community's best wishes for the revival of her restaurant."

    "I do believe we know a celebrity," Nabiki half-joked, but answered the man seriously. "If we see her again, we'll pass that on."

    He nodded once, and the two supposedly undercover agents headed back to the van. Nabiki immediately set into her first skewer of dango, cheerfully munching away. The food tasted doubly good to her since - as usual - she hadn't paid for it. For one Tendo sister at least, free food had a special spice all its own!

    "So what did you want to talk about?" Ryouga asked as they waited to cross the street. "I'm guessing it isn't just martial arts and food?"

    "The world is ending," Nabiki stated, seriously. "You're getting perceptive."

    "Ha ha."

    She grinned at his attempt at being deadpan; Mousse pulled it off better. "You want to do something after we check out this oh-so-haunted demon shrine and find some kid with a blanket over his head?"

    He shrugged, genuinely relaxed at the suggestion.

    "You have somewhere in mind?" he asked, and held out one hand to relieve her of Mousse's drink so it would be easier to hold her plate.

    "Well, first we could go eat somewhere without a certain four-eyed third wheel."

    "What?" he asked, thrown a bit by the vernacular. "You mean M..." he leaned in a bit closer to whisper. "You mean Mousse? What's wrong with Mousse?"

    Nabiki had to resist the urge to hang her head.

    "Ryo-baby, we've been off base for nearly a business week now, and haven't done anything without him being nearby. Don't you want to spend some time with just me?" She narrowed his eyes at him. "And before you answer that, the correct response is: yes. Yes you do."

    Ryouga leaned back a bit, and the two realized they'd missed the walk-signal to cross the street. It was red again.

    "I, uh...well..." he started struggling with words. He almost always did when this sort of thing came up. It wasn't so much that he had no experience with girls; it was mostly that he didn't really have the kind of mentality or upbringing that gave him an idea of what to do under certain situations. He didn't know what to say or do, and so he waffled. "How about we, ah, just walk around a bit? I'm sure there's something to do nearby?"

    But he tried, at least.

    "Oh, I'm sure I can find something for you - or your wallet - to do," she replied with a wink.

    "Why am I not surprised?"

    Soon enough, the green-walk light turned, and they made their way back to Mousse and the van. They had the members of the shrine under observation by UNETCO proxies and actual members of the PSIA. Ryouga and Mousse were here for emergency muscle in case worst came to worst. Chances were they wouldn't even have to leave the van except to give the shrine a once-or-twice-over.

    Regardless, they were set to move in once this Kagome girl got back from school.

    She was a notorious truant, who apparently kept missing entire school days due to strange diseases that didn't exist. It wasn't just like Ranma claiming he had to sleep in on Monday due to "foot in mouth disease." This otherwise apparently normal girl's family went through the trouble of stating that she suffered from enough illnesses to cripple a small village. Smallpox? A 'disturbance in the humors?' The bite of the tsetse fly?

    It read like a bad joke.

    So she was a truant and a delinquent. Nabiki wasn't really one to judge; not by a long shot. It would have been unremarkable aside from the creativity of the excuses if not for the odd property destruction caused here and there. Some of the things reported were suspicious, and some of the pictures taken of property damage done weren't forgeries or photoshops.

    The mostly likely explanation, at least her opinion, was that the girl was running around with some similarly delinquent martial artist boyfriend. If that was the case, they'd just have to use her to ID the guy. Ryouga and Mousse would then be able to check it out first hand. That was, if it was even something worth looking into, which Nabiki rather doubted. Yes, Tokyo did tend to attract the nut jobs (it was part of the city's charm) but most of the time they were still generally harmless.

    Not everyone was a Pantyhose Taro or Herb level threat.

    "Hey," Mousse greeted the returning pair. Ryouga tossed the other martial artist his drink. "You two took your time."

    "We're good," the lost one replied. "We'll go in, have tea, talk a bit, make a few quick scans, and take a look around. One hour tops."

    "Maybe," the near sighted fighter speculated. "Maybe not. We'll see."

    A few minutes later, across the street, Kagome Higurashi waved goodbye to a small group of other girls from her school and returned home with a spring in her step. For once, she'd managed to have a productive day at school and catch up with her friends to boot! For her, this bright Tokyo day had been a good one.

    She didn't even notice the black van parked near the entrance of the family shrine.

    - - -

    There was something... off about the place.

    Ryouga could feel it, like a tingle that rose the faint hairs on the back of his neck. Over his roughly nineteen short years on Earth, he had had the fortune to visit a great many shrines and temples across the length of Japan, from popular ones in cities to isolated ones in the mountains to forgotten and abandoned husks slowly being reclaimed by nature. The Higurashi shrine looked like the former - like one of those lovely big city shrines that the tourists loved to visit and photograph - but in his gut, it felt like one of the old relics, burned down more than a hundred years ago and forgotten.

    He felt it the moment he passed through the front gate and down the sandō.

    Next to him, Nabiki seemed outwardly oblivious as she meticulously took notes. The black pen held alternatingly between her fingers or between her teeth did more than record on paper, it was also a hidden camera, and one of several surveillance devices they had on their person. Most were also designed to be "carelessly" left behind for later clandestine information gathering.

    It wasn't usually that necessary; MiBs and actual agents were always first on the scene in these sorts of situations, and the Higurashi family had been under scrutiny for a while. Their phones had been tapped, their mail read via some sort of electronic remote-reader technology, and several recording devices were already in position. So far, they hadn't turned up anything too concrete.

    What they knew for sure was this:

    The family consisted of an elderly grandfather, who actually tended the shrine, a single mother - a homemaker - who never seemed to leave, and a pair of siblings. One was a boy named Sota, the younger of the two, and the other was the recently arrived Kagome. Both seemed normal enough. There were some black marks on Kagome's recent academic record, but it wasn't anything significant in and of itself.

    Not like Ryouga himself hadn't missed school more than he attended it.

    However, the spate of unusual activity in the area was definitely centered around either this shrine or, very likely, this family. Records indicated inexplicable fires, strange sightings, damage to property, and even a few fatalities. All these were centered around the area of the shrine, and more than a few witnesses had identified Kagome and a mysterious man (or boy) as being involved. Thus far, there was no solid footage of this second individual.

    They hadn't called ahead; the grandfather was the first to greet them, initially taking them for visitors. It took a moment for the clothes, the bearing, and the look to correct his initial conclusion. The old man's eyes widened briefly in surprise, followed by a brief slash of confusion, and then they narrowed as something important crossed his mind. Ryouga didn't miss it.

    'He thinks he knows why we're here,' he guessed, and glanced at Nabiki for confirmation. She nodded almost imperceptibly.

    "Higurashi Masaharo?" he asked, quickly displaying his badge. The man seemed to stiffen on the spot.

    "Y-yes?" the elderly man cupped his hands together as he spoke - a nervous placating gesture. "How may I help you?"

    "My name is Amano Seiji," Ryouga introduced himself, and inclined his head to his partner in the illusion. "This is Makino Katsumi. We're here to investigate some unusual activity in the area. May we come in? We have some questions for you and your family."

    "Unusual activity?" the Higurashi grandfather stammered. "I-I can't imagine what that could be, but of course we'd be happy to cooperate... please, come in, come in!"

    Higurashi Masaharo.
    Age: 68.
    Shinto Priest. No living brothers or sisters. Wife deceased. Son-in-law, deceased. Daughter, granddaughter, grandson, still living. Second cousins living in Kimitsu and Koga. Little contact between branches of the family.

    Nabiki aligned the computer case that hung by her side and tagged the man as they walked. Neither of them had proper Mind Probes on their person - they had not yet been miniaturized enough to be concealed as anything - but XCOM had managed to create a low grade version that could be used under Section Seven (which nominally prohibited the use of alien tech against terrestrial targets). It was sufficient to obtain minimal information, and it tagged a target for later long range scans by larger Probes as necessary.

    It was one of the reasons why Mousse was back in the van with the bigger toys.

    She tapped her earpiece and held up two fingers, her middle and index fingers pushed together. Ryouga sighed. That meant that the target wasn't psionically "clean." The probe had detected some sort of tampering, though it couldn't pick up details. It was a red light, though.

    He noticed, for the first time up close, the large tree that was part of the shrine. It was near the kagura-den, in a place of importance and prominence. According to records, the tree was supposed to contain the spirit of a demon. Ryouga was a man who had seen supernatural entities come out of boxes and mirrors and - though he had thankfully only heard this one - a woman's undergarments. He wouldn't have been too surprised to find something funky floating around or within that old tree.

    But...

    The old man glanced back, seemingly taking note of the PSIA agent's curiosity.

    "Our sacred tree," he explained with a chuckle. "You know of it?"

    "I've read a report," Ryouga answered.

    "And do you believe the stories about it? And about the shikon no tama?"

    "I believe what I can see and touch and fight," the lost one replied. He didn't elaborate on all that that list included.

    "Mmm," the old shrine keeper mused. "And you, Makino-san? What do you think?"

    Nabiki shrugged. "I've seen some strange things, but that doesn't mean I always believe what I hear."

    The Higurashi grandfather nodded to himself as they headed for the family's home at the rear of the shrine complex. Some of the tension eased out of him, no doubt as he assumed the two agents would give up once they found nothing terribly unusual. Instead, his polite inquiry and posture had the opposite effect. Ryouga and Nabiki had come looking for the unusual, and the old man had all but confirmed that they could find it if they looked.

    "May I ask what concerns, exactly, were brought to your attention?" he asked after a moment.

    "I'd rather ask once we're indoors," Nabiki explained, and her tone turned disarming. "This is all pretty routine, and we'd like to talk to everyone both together and individually."

    "I see," the old man replied, once again with a bit of worry.

    Heading inside, Ryouga took note of the shed in the back. Intel had identified it as a storage shed with an old dried up well inside. It would have been noteworthy save for the unusual amount of traffic it saw. Kagome had been recorded to go in there for very long lengths of time. What would a young girl be doing in there?

    The lost boy rolled his eyes.

    Besides the obvious, that was.

    It was time to dig a little deeper.

    - - -

    Kagome was nervous, that much was obvious from the moment Nabiki met her.

    It made things both easier and harder. A nervous mark was much more likely to slip up, but conversely, she was also more likely to shut up once she realized how in-deep she was. Nabiki knew from experience that verbal manipulation was a fine line of carrot and stick. From the get go, she would need to put forward three simple impressions: that "Makino Katsumi" knew more than she was letting on, that she was looking out for her mark, and that she was in charge of what was going to happen after the facts came to light.

    It helped that Kagome was, basically, a very nice young girl. In looks, she reminded the Tendo sister of Akari (a fact Ryouga had said nothing about, but which she knew he had to have noticed himself), and her temperament was similarly mild. Not quite the inhuman Kasumi level of mildness, but she was clearly the sort it took some effort to rile up. Nabiki knew the type, and that she was the kind of proper Japanese girl who bent to authority much more easily than certain nameless tsundere peers. Dealing with her wouldn't be too hard.

    "Just relax, Miss Higurashi. I'm not here to get you in trouble," she began, after the two girls took the conversation to Kagome's room. Nabiki took a discrete few seconds to look around before taking a chair and getting down to brass tacks.

    "I just want to ask you some questions," Nabiki assured the younger girl.

    Kagome sat shyly on the edge of her bed, protectively holding her book bag between them.

    "Um, I'll - I'll be happy to help any way I can..."

    "I know. Kagome - can I call you Kagome?"

    "Yes, that's fine."

    "Let's start at five months ago," Nabiki said, propping up her clipboard to start jotting down notes. "Prior to this time, you had a perfect attendance record. Since then, you've contracted a number of conditions, missing a total of two and a half months of school, typically in one or two week increments. I'd like to review what I have here just to make sure it's all accurate..."

    In fact, these notes were only on the margins of the paper, the rest having been committed to memory. Every missed day of class, naturally, was recorded by the school, as were copies of the excuses used to explain them. Nabiki began there.

    It was pretty obvious Kagome didn't have "Reye's syndrome" or "chronic arthritis" or half of the other nonsensical (in some cases made-up) diseases she'd been excused for. Nabiki made sure Kagome knew that she knew this, making the younger girl go over what she'd had, and when, and what treatments she had received if any. Doctor referrals came next, written up by a "family doctor" who wasn't actually medically licensed. She finished by outlining that there were no records of supposed trips to the Netherlands or Taiwan or Okinawa for one or two week furloughs with "specialists."

    As the junior high student reached the point of realization regarding self-incrimination, Nabiki saw a few obvious tells. They were usual ones in girls her age: fidgeting, biting the lower lip, refusing to make even fleeting eye contact. Taking a few more notes, Nabiki steered the conversation - or allowed the conversation to veer - off to less stressful topics. Once the mark relaxed a bit, she'd go back in and use the established trust as leverage.

    "You know, I used to sneak out of class too, when I was your age. Which wasn't that long ago, actually," Nabiki quickly added. She had maybe half a decade on the younger girl; not that much in the long run. "Daddy never came up with written excuses for me, though. Most of these are old folks diseases and stuff off the internet. You know that, right?"

    "Yeah. Grandpa... he..." Kagome seemed to struggle to find how to continue that line of thought. "He and Sota write most of them."

    Nabiki nodded, understanding Kagome's mixture of appreciation and apprehension: she didn't want to drag them into the trouble she felt she was in.

    "You're still doing alright in school, though. I know if I missed a month of school, I'd have to work my butt off to keep up!"

    "I keep my books with me when..." Kagome caught herself, and shuffled her feet. "I try to keep up while I'm in bed. Or away."

    "That's a good fall back option. I'd say you're a very bright girl... but how much better would you be doing if you didn't have to cram every week or two?" Nabiki asked, trying to amp up the 'older sister' vibe. "Let me guess what's at the root of this. A boyfriend? Someone who lives far away?"

    "N-No!" Kagome blurted, cheeks burning at the accusation. "He's not...! I mean. He. Um. There isn't..."

    "So, a 'he' ... what else isn't 'he'?"

    "He isn't the reason," the younger girl insisted. Her eyes darted over to the dresser, and Nabiki pretended not to notice. Instead, she made a mental note to check there a little later. "Besides," Kagome continued. "I don't see what any of this has to do with, um... the property damage Amano-san mentioned."

    "I'd simply like to ascertain whether your trips, coming or going, coincide with the appearance of a certain man who we've identified."

    This was a mixture of truth and lies. There was a young man involved in Kagome's strange disappearances, and another loosely implicated in the events in question. There was only circumstance to imply both men were the same, but Nabiki didn't mention that.

    "You... you've identified...?"

    "Oh yes," Nabiki cut her off. "You'd be surprised what we know." She smiled inwardly as Kagome's long silence following that. "Now, let's start with the incident last October..."

    - - -

    There was definitely something strange going on at the Higurashi Shrine. Ryouga wasn't really the best judge of character when it came to people, and he didn't have a gift for talking or tricking people, like his current partner. What he had instead were senses honed by years of martial arts, and expanded by extensive training at Seiran Mountain.

    He was sure old man Higurashi was hiding stuff, but couldn't quite guess what, and the mother of the house was as unreadable as Kasumi. All 'oh dears' and 'oh mys' and honest platitudes about hoping no one was hurt, combined with shock that anyone she knew could in any way be involved. Kasumi pulled the same routine, even when she knew damn well who had destroyed all the giant bells at a nearby shrine or who had torn up that parking lot or knocked down the telephone poles down the street. It was suspicious, and not something he was willing to overlook or excuse as simple politeness.

    On the other hand, she made a mean cup of tea.

    Unfortunately, Ryouga Hibiki wouldn't be getting anything concrete out of the older man and woman, not with words. Luckily, charm and chatting wasn't what he was relying on; that was where a certain Tendo sister came in. No. His half of the team covered other, more esoteric, bases.

    After dropping clandestine bugs on a few locations around the shrine, he took a guided tour with Masaharo and Souta. The latter in particular seemed to be keeping a watchful eye on the shrine's government sponsored guest. One ear open to the old man's lectures, Ryouga expanded his senses to search for psionic anomalies.

    Finding a telekinetic trace was within his training, though he hadn't gotten to the point where he could track it to source. Trained psimaths and psychometrics were few and far between, and none among the two squads could operate on that level. Instead, they had to feel for disturbances and make educated guesses as to the cause. It sounded complicated, but in practice, it was as raw as sakkijutsu - putting faith in intuition and subconscious experience with the unusual and unexpected.

    The more he focused on it, the more he got the sense that something was odd.

    None of that sensation came from the usual suspects: the shrines themselves, the tree, the house, they were all pretty clean. Yet, the nagging sense remained close by and indistinct. Like footsteps in the snow, the impression was there, but muted. The place was definitely... holding secrets. There was something here that his mind, on an animal level, knew to either avoid or confront.

    Good.

    "What about that building over there?" He pointed at the storage shed out back.

    "Oh, that old thing? There's nothing in there," Masaharo immediately dismissed the very notion. "Just some old trinkets and maintenance equipment."

    "Is that so?" Ryouga asked, and nodded. "I guess that's everything then."

    "Feel free to look around for yourself," the old shrine keeper added, with enough treble that even Ryouga could guess the man hoped his family's unwanted guests would up and leave. "The Higurashi Shrine doesn't have anything to hide. We're a pillar of this community."

    "I never meant to imply otherwise," the lost one replied, nonchalant. Not like he'd go wandering around by himself, what with his... condition. "I'll contact my superiors with what I've seen. Now, why don't we head back?"

    "Of course. This way."

    As the two men headed back to the main building, Ryouga again noticed the boy, Souta, watching him closely. It was a shame he didn't have a psi-amp for this operation or it'd just be a matter of conducting a read on everyone involved. As it was, they'd have to apply for warrants to use remote mind probes on the household later. Someone around here wasn't just psychic, they were an 'actively manifesting' psionic. That would be all he needed to report to get the ball rolling. Ideally, the results would come back as a class-B or less, and all they'd have to do is drop a scanner to watch out for alien abduction attempts.

    "Souta, right?" Ryouga asked, still walking and keeping pace with the grandfather.

    It took a second for the kid to realize he was being addressed.

    "Sir?" he asked. Polite. Seemed like a good kid. Just... overly interested at the moment.

    "I haven't heard much from you yet," Ryouga said, inclining his head to the boy. "You see anything unusual over the last few months?"

    The answer was immediate. Practiced. "No sir. Nothing."

    "You sure about that? Think hard. Nothing at all?"

    "No sir. I haven't seen anything unusual."

    "You haven't seen your sister coming and going anywhere, with anyone?"

    Souta fell back a step, but shook his head. "No, sir. Kagome-neechan's been sick a lot, but no one comes to see her except her friends."

    "Really?" Ryouga shrugged, and kept his eyes on the boy's grandfather.

    By now, he knew Nabiki would have talked Kagome into admitting the 'bedridden' excuse was just that: a thinly veiled attempt to explain the days she literally disappeared off the face of the Earth. He also knew, from pre-existing reports that Kagome's friends had no idea where she went or that they visited anymore when she was gone. Souta was parroting a line that lead to a dead end. His thoughts were also surprisingly well guarded. It was that way for the entire family.

    "What was Kagome's boyfriend's name again?" he asked, knowing the question should have immediately brought up a name on the surface thoughts of both Higurashi males. He had been fishing for information like this since he got here.

    "Kagome doesn't have a boyfriend as far as we know," Masaharo said over his shoulder. "Certainly not the delinquent you're looking for."

    "That's right!" Souta chimed in.

    Nothing. No names. Not even an attempt at trying not to think of a name. It was just... nothing. Silence. It was almost as if he was being blocked out.

    'Maybe I should try something else. Something non-standard.' Ryouga thought, deciding to wing it a bit.

    "Hold up a second," he said, stopping. The grandfather and grandson also paused, watching him warily. There was an aspect of this that he hadn't considered.

    "I'm not saying whoever did these things is a delinquent. Or that they're in trouble. We're here to help, not to assign blame or punish people," Ryouga explained, and turned first to Souta. "I know you've probably seen some unusual things. Maybe you're scared to admit it. Maybe you don't want to admit it. Believe me, I can understand. There are strange things in the world, and they're why I'm here."

    The Higurashis exchanged a look, both curious and wary.

    "What do you mean?" Masaharo asked first.

    "Let me show you a trick." Ryouga bent over and picked up a small good sized rock. Not bothering to cover it with his other hand or his fingers or conceal it in any way, he instead searched out for breaking points, created ones where need be, and then activated them. The rock turned instantly to dust.

    "I can do Street Fighter like stuff, too, but you get the idea. Now," he pressed, hopeful that he got through at least to the impressionable young boy of the pair. "Have either of you seen anything unusual that I should know about? As I said, my partner and I don't want to punish anyone. We just want to talk."

    Notably, Souta seemed to be thinking about it.

    The grandfather just shook his head.

    Ryouga sighed.

    - - -

    As he and Nabiki left, the lost one tucked his hands into his pockets. It looked like his partner had managed to get some interesting information. She'd also finished bugging the relevant spots upstairs. Mousse was already recording the Higurashi's conversation in the living room. Merely coming and going had unlocked some interesting talk in the family. By the time they reached the van, Nabiki already had a plan.

    - - -

    "Would you hurry up already, bitch?"

    "And I told you I can't go back right now!" Kagome peeked through the slits of her window blinds. "Look!" she pointed at a car as it drove down the road. "That's the third time I've seen that car! They're watching the house!"

    "Who cares that they do, whoever they are?" Inuyasha didn't even bother to look; his nose twitched as he smelt the woman Kagome had mentioned. "Unless you've forgotten, we have about a hundred more jewel shards to hunt down. So pack up whatever you need and let's get going already!"

    "You're not listening!" Kagome glared at the half demon. "If I leave tonight and those guys show up, how will my family explain it? Souta and Grandpa both saw one of them use some kind of magic. I'm pretty sure sneaking out is the last thing I should be doing!"

    "Five days." Inuyasha said, crossing his arms in clear vexation. "Five days you've been here. You were going to leave today."

    "I couldn't exactly manage that with PSIA..." Kagome bit back the first impolite word that came to mind, that being 'goons.' "People... everywhere!" She fell back onto her bed with a groan. "I can just tell I'm going to get a big, red 'subversive' put on my permanent record."

    Inuyasha gave an 'eeeh' sound that demonstrated his lack of concern or interest.

    "Are you coming back or not?" he finally asked; not that he had any idea what to say about Kagome's ridiculous present-world problems. He hadn't understood them before and these newest ones were even more confusing.

    "I... I don't know," Kagome admitted, and seeing he was about to groan, added. "Let me think about it. Just let me think about it."

    "Think quickly."

    - - -

    "What car do you think she's talking about?" Mousse asked, lazily chewing a French fry.

    Ryouga was in the passenger side at the front, eyes closed. "It isn't one of ours."

    "She's just imagining things," Nabiki replied, sitting back to back with the Chinese martial artist. She had a pair of headphones half on, allowing her to listen in with one ear. "Look at the thermals. I told you. Just like 24-EE-616."

    "I still don't believe you memorized case files like that," Mousse grumbled.

    "Its easy, Mister Criticism. Just turn it into a little melody. Two Four E, E-six-one-six," Nabiki sing-songed. "So we've got another 'phantom boyfriend.' Looks like these two won't be getting caught at the altar like the last pair."

    The hidden weapons master scoffed. "That must've been one surprised priest."

    "In her defense, 24EE616 created a very convincing mass hallucination."

    'Very convincing' was an understatement. That particular case involved a young woman creating a second, male, personality and projecting it as a solid psionic-telekinetic illusion. Supposedly the woman's friends met the man and even had double dates with the couple. Cracks in the illusion only started to manifest when the couple tried to get married. The man didn't exist in anything other than her mind and the minds she projected him into.

    Amazingly, paperwork and bureaucracy had prevailed where human intuition failed.

    "At least it isn't another magic mirror, or compact, or whatever it was that gave us Real Girl Ranma."

    "She didn't try to make out with you, Mousse," Ryouga grumbled. "You don't get to complain. Nabiki? Confirmation on the rest of the household?"

    "Work, work, work," she grumbled, but quickly cycled through the bugs in the house with one free hand. "We've got positive responses from everyone in the household. Even the cat."

    "Hmm."

    "So what now, Hibiki?" she asked, leaning back in her chair. "Go in guns and hands blazing?"

    Ryouga leaned forward a bit, tapping his thumbnail to his chin.

    "No. I'm sure it'll go wrong somehow, but let's try and do this quietly."

    - - -
  3. blackmamuth Lazy Lurker

    Very interesting.

    I'm not really fond of inuyasha, and too many crossovers tend to supply too many characters running around to do justice to them all...

    I'm guessing that the "black hole" that ate the titans are going to get them to Xcom earth, and that Ryouga is going to have a doppleganger. Dunno about the rest. Imagine the reaction when they find that Robin isn't a martial artist at all, for example.

    Nonetheless, knowledge of technologically advanced planets apart from earth? Wonder about the reaction of Xcom "kill the alien" to superman!
  4. So is DC fictional in the Xcom universe? Thats usually interesting but hard to do well.

    Loved the part where it was implied that Inuyasha is imaginary.
  5. Cap'n Chryssalid the armor piercing wang

    Chapter 1 (final part)

    -- AN --
    Don't worry too much about the IY in here. It is primarily there to build a theme and premise, and to be part of an introductory "encapsulated" story. The primary setting will be XCOM Earth plus the Ranma elements established in TRTC.

    "Is DC fictional in the XCOM verse?" Ha. We played with several approaches to this back when we started the crossover. You'll see in time. You can see right off the bat there are a lot of literary elements (like the manga Starfire and Ryouga are discussing) in common. What written works wouldn't there be in DC, though? and why?


    Lathis and I plan to release one (60 page) chapter per week, roughly, for the next six or so months. Yes. It is that long. As I said, we've been working on this for some time now.

    -- /AN --
    - - -
    "I can't believe I'm doing this."

    "Quit griping and go already," Inuyasha huffed, holding back a grin.

    Descending into the Bone Eater's Well, Kagome silently hoped her family's new excuse held water if the PSIA came snooping around again. They could have it appear as if she was running off, but if they found out the truth - or confirmed it, since that female agent had managed to get her hands on a lot of information - then Kagome was sure they'd block up the well with concrete or something.

    She was no fool. No government would want people messing around in the past, even if it was a strange fantasy version of the past that didn't really fit with what she had been taught in school. The undeniable fact was that she had a responsibility here, to her friends, and to clean up the mess she had caused by breaking the shikon jewel. She couldn't let it all just... get taken out of her hands. It was fleetingly tempting to try and pass the whole thing on to someone else, but Kagome knew it wasn't what she wanted. She had to see things here through to the end. It was the right thing to do.

    There had to be a way to keep going back but not get in trouble.

    An idea had started to form in her mind of how: if she was supposed to be here, in the past, and if she was doing what had to be done... and if it was a job no one else could do...! Well, then, she couldn't be faulted for doing it, could she? That vein of thought had literally opened up possibilities as well.

    If she found a way to present a good argument on her behalf, then she could get special dispensation to miss school as necessary or take tests at a pace that fit her medieval excursions. She could even possibly get help in what she brought back. A new bike would be a nice start. She'd already been careful about bringing back things like plastic and Styrofoam, and always cleaned up after herself. But what if she brought back some modern influenza or something? There were a lot of variables she had no control over, and 'don't mess around in the past' was something even a nine year old understood. What did they call it? The 'butterfly effect'?

    She knew she also couldn't just keep ducking out all the time anymore. Either she came to some kind of arrangement or she completely threw the authorities off her trail, and that latter option seemed increasingly unlikely. That was why she was really going back now. To help clear her mind and think.

    "Kagome!" Shippo was, as always, the first to greet her after the climb out of the well. His excited exclamation could probably have been heard halfway to the village. Catching the little fox demon in her hands, he immediately noticed that she was here without her bag.

    "You didn't bring anything from the future?" he asked, dejected. There had been promises of pocky, after all.

    "Next time, I was in a bit of a last minute hurry thanks to someone."

    "Hmf," Inuyasha snorted dismissively. He was already headed back to the village.

    "Ne, Shippo, are Miroku and Sango close by?"

    "I was just about to tell you!" Shippo declared, and jumped back down to the grassy field near her parked bike. "Kirara left to go get them, so we can head out right away."

    "Good," Inuyasha remarked. "We've wasted enough time already."

    "Wait, I was hoping we'd have some time to talk things through. I may have to go back..."

    "Kagome, really?" the half-demon growled. "We didn't come here just to go back again. I can practically smell Naraku's stink out there. We're getting closer."

    "But..." bit by bit, she relented. Taking her bike by the handlebars, she got ready to hop on. "Fine, we..."

    "Hey. Wait a second."

    The three spun around at that. Kagome's breath sucked in as she recognized the voice: it was that PSIA agent Souta and Grandpa had warned her about! A second later, the man jumped up out of the well, just like Inuyasha himself often did. Black shoes alighted on the lip of the well as the man adjusted his tie, loosening it while looking around.

    He whistled appreciatively.

    "Wow. Look at this place. Reminds me of less creepy Aokigahara..." He scratched his head, momentarily lost. "Or was that Hakusan? No, pretty sure it was Aokigahara. Anyway." He hopped down from the well, eyes moving from Kagome to the young demon to the halfbreed. "So this is where you go, Miss Higurashi?"

    "Amano-san. What - what are you...?" Kagome shook her head in open disbelief. "How did you come here?"

    "I followed you," he explained as he walked towards the girl. "We were watching and listening, just like you thought. I wanted to see where you went, so I had my team wait until after you jumped down the well. The rest of them are back there." He pointed over his shoulder at the well. "I came in to bring you back."

    "But... no one else?" Kagome shook her head again, this time to clear the confusion. "How did you come through the well? Only Inuyasha or myself can... it just doesn't make sense!"

    "Yeah. I can sympathize. These things are usually pretty confusing." He glanced up at the flaming demon cat and its two passengers without apparent surprise. He held out his hand. "Why don't you come back, and we'll talk all this through?"

    She hesitated, looking to Shippo, who was in turn staring up at her, and then to Inuyasha and her approaching friends. Kneading the hem of her skirt, she dithered, trying to buy time. This was all too soon. She'd hoped to have more time to think about how to deal with this!

    "Kagome," he said her name this time. "Come on. Let's go back home. You aren't in trouble. I promise."

    Ryouga smiled, and saw again the effect the uniform had on the girl. He didn't personally enjoy playing the authority card, but it was a fact of life that Japan was a rather conformist society. Confidence and a uniform made it much easier to get what you wanted than foreign or unprofessional attire. It was why he put up with wearing the suit and shoes on these Ops. Kagome silently acceded, nodding her head and starting back towards him.

    Everything was working out nicely and quietly.

    Or, it was, except for the five feet of quasi-steel that interposed itself between them.

    "Kagome isn't going anywhere," Inuyasha snarled, and used the flat of the blade to nudge Ryouga back and away. "I don't care who you are, but she's got jewel shards to find. She'll go home when she wants to."

    "Well... I guess that second statement is true." Ryouga took a step back and sighed. He looked over at the girl who ultimately decided which way this would go. "Miss Higurashi, this probably isn't what you want to hear, but none of this is what you think it is."

    At this, Inuyasha's lips curled into another snarl. "Watch it...!" he warned.

    "What are you saying?" Kagome demanded, already seeing where this was potentially leading.

    She was a smart girl, despite what some of her recent test scores indicated. She'd thought it herself before, but... but time and experience had...

    "Don't tell me: 'Kagome, this isn't real.' Because it is!" She insisted, and motioned towards where Sango and Miroku were dismounting from Kirara and walking over, concern written on their faces. "The things I've seen, they're... they're too much to not be real!"

    "I shouldn't say 'they aren't real.'" Ryouga tried to be diplomatic. He was trained for this. He didn't enjoy it. It wasn't his preference, but he had the training and the job. "They're very real to you. Very important to you. But you can't shut yourself away in your world at the expense of the one your family and friends live in. So: why don't you come back with me? We'll talk this over like --"

    He jumped back, neatly avoiding the sword swing.

    "Not like that," he added, avoiding another slash. "I was going to say: 'like adults.' Could you stop him, please?"

    "Inuyasha!" Kagome snapped out of her daze. "SIT!"

    "But--!" Dutifully, the seal kicked in, and the hanyou slammed to the ground.

    Ryouga nodded, glad she had re-asserted control over her demesne. Things would start going rapidly downhill if she proved to have less influence over it than the initial profiling had indicated. He also, as a rule, didn't enjoy having oversized weapons flying around in his face, be they swords or spatulas.

    "What did you mean?" Kagome asked, taking clear comfort from having her newly arrived companions close by. "What you said before: what did you mean?"

    "This place," Ryouga began, and took a quick look at the faceplanted Inuyasha - why did that suddenly look like such a familiar sight? - then back to Kagome. "And these people are creations. Your creations. What happens to you when you come here, to what we call a 'psionic demesne,' is for all intents and purposes real to you. But it has no effect on anyone else. I see you brought a bike. What do you think would happen if you left it here for someone to find?"

    "It... it would interfere with the timeline?"

    "No," he shook his head sympathetically. "Because it isn't here. Right now, your body, that bike, and who knows how much spoiled food, is at the bottom of the well."

    She smiled at that, an incredulous, skittish smile.

    "No. That... that can't be." She paused, and shook her head fiercely. "No, no. That isn't right. I'd know if... I'd notice something like that!"

    "Kagome-chan," Sango said, comforting her friend and supporting her shoulders as she shook.

    "What you're suggesting isn't possible," Miroku spoke up, planting his Shakujou staff in the soft ground. "You expect us to believe this world isn't real? That our lives aren't real?"

    "The only one I technically need to convince is her," Ryouga said, and inclined his head to Kagome and Sango, obviously referring to the former.

    "How can you argue I don't exist?" Miroku asked. "By that logic, what proof do you have that you exist?"

    "Oh, great. Solipsism." Ryouga sighed again; he only knew that word because this kind of argument was inevitable when it came to this kind of work. Psionics were a pain sometimes. "My partner could ramble on for hours, but I'm not really big on subtitles or debate. Kagome, deep down, you know there's something wrong with this place. You know it isn't real. Can we stop beating around the bush?"

    "That's just avoiding the question!" the monk insisted, and pointing accusingly at the stranger. "Why don't you show us some proof of what you claim?"

    "You want proof?" Ryouga asked. "Go through the well without Kagome being on the other side."

    Miroku tried to argue that, too, but paused, considering it.

    "That..." He held his hand, wrapped in prayer beads. Finally he looked back up, his mind made. "That doesn't prove anything... there could be any number of reasons why..."

    "Why no one can go to the other side without her?" Ryouga shrugged. He was running low in prepared material, and making stuff up on the fly was more Ranma's thing than his. "Look, if you don't need Kagome to exist, then you won't mind if I take her back home for a couple hours?"

    "Even if... even if some of what you say is true," Kagome sounded so close to being convinced, he wished she would just take that last step. Things were a hairsbreadth from working themselves out peacefully.

    "Even if," Kagome repeated. "Why is it anyone's business but my own what I do?" She nodded, convincing herself by giving voice to her impromptu arguments. "Just... just go back home by yourself! I'll go home when I want to! It's my life and my decision!"

    "Now, let's not -- and here comes the giant sword again." Ryouga groaned and pivoted out of the way of Inuyasha's renewed assault. If only he'd been able to bring Nabiki here. She was always good at talking and convincing people. Especially girls.

    He was terrible with girls.

    "If you won't go back, I'll send you back!" the hanyou roared, carving another impressive cleft in the ground.

    "Funny. I was kind of thinking the same." Ryouga stepped in while dodging the next strike. As if he'd let a giant meat cleaver like this thing waved around connect with him on any plane of existence. Hands finding the base of the sword, he used one hand to grab the blunt curve and the other to crush the knuckles against the hilt. Giant weapons were always trouble in these sorts of situations. It was really best to separate it from its user and keep it that way.

    Inuyasha snarled, but reflexively lost his grip. He should have lost his fingers, but with Mint-like Musk ears like he had, there was obviously something unusual about the psionic figment. Flipping the giant blade around - it was still lighter than his old training umbrella had been - the uniformed Hibiki blocked a flurry of red crescents.

    Great. Magic claws, too.

    "No mere human can use Tetsaiga!" The dog-boy roared, slashing with uncomfortably long nails, hands flashing in indistinct arcs as he edged closer to a berserker fury. "I knew I smelled something wrong with him!"

    "You know, you're only smelling what..."

    "Shut up and fight!"

    "I am fighting." Ryouga snapped back, growing a bit angry. He hadn't come here looking for a fight. "Why's this sword so big, anyway?"

    "Kagome," Sango whispered, as Miroku weighed whether to step in or not. The most cerebral of the group, he was carefully considering everything he'd heard. Inuyasha and Ryouga continued back and forth until the latter whipped the Tetsaiga around, and clearly not knowing the power of the fang turned sword, jammed it into the ground and out of the way. Hands free, he opened Inuyasha's guard and slammed a fist into the vulnerable bottom of the ribcage. Ducking under the hanyou's right arm, he brought up and around the heel of his shoe in an arcing axe kick, hitting his opponent precisely on the medulla.

    Inuyasha was halfway to the ground when the same foot hit the ground with an explosion, came back up, and intercepted him, finding his throat. The vicious blow whipped half the hanyou's body back around, twisting at the back before hitting the ground, mercifully, voice unable to get from lungs to lips.

    In retrospect, it was probably the least diplomatic approach Ryouga could have taken.

    Sensing their comrade wasn't just in a fight, but in actual danger, one of the two newcomers broke out of their stupor and acted like he should have guessed they would. It was the girl, the one who reminded him of Ukyou, and not simply because of the oversized weapon. It came in, spinning like a man sized boomerang, which was fine. A large weapon was easier to read and avoid than a small one. Sidestepping and striking with a rapid backhand, he avoided the giant weapon and knocked it off course, preventing it from coming back around to its owner.

    Its wielder didn't hesitate to move in, even without her weapon. Blocking a kick and stepping back, he pivoted to intercept a rising knee and an elbow. Pushing it back, Ryouga cocked his head as a blade snapped out of a hidden sheath.

    'Maybe make that more Konatsu than Ukyou...' he revised.

    Stomping down on her foot, just hard enough to do the job, he used their contact to put pressure on her joints, spinning her around so her back was to his front and lowering one arm to lock her right arm behind her back. She gave a soft grunt of pain and surprise before his knee found her hamstring, and her shoulder slammed into the ground. He was aware the pressure being put on her elbow and knee had to hurt, and let go a second later.

    "Now, look -" he began, only to get cut off by the white haired boy again. Who should've been convulsing on the ground, unable to breathe.

    Blocking another claw swipe, the lost one slammed his elbow into the hanyou's face, crushing his nose at the bridge. As Inuyasha staggered back, a roundhouse hit the same spot, spinning him around. Rather than fall, however, the tenacious figment stayed on his feet, and staggered over to his planted sword. This was going to get potentially rather messy if it dragged on.

    Looking upwards, Ryouga also noticed the sky darkening.

    'Great.'

    "Miss Higurashi. Kagome," he said, keeping his eyes on Inuyasha. "Isn't it about time you put a stop to this?"

    "Why?" she asked, sounding a bit vindictive.

    'Great,' he realized. 'A part of her wanted this. Of course, it would have, since this entire place is a reflection of part of her subconscious... ugh'

    "Because as amusing as it may be, and I can't believe I'm the one saying this, but fighting won't solve anything." He kept his eyes on the hanyou, and on the rising Ukyou-like girl, but lowered his hands to appear less threatening. "If you don't willingly come with me... I'll physically remove you from the well. You don't want me to do that."

    "Kagome!" Inuyasha managed to say, throat still partly compacted.

    "You don't have to...." Sango also started to argue.

    The schoolgirl crushed her eyes shut, trying to avoid the inevitable; weighing the man's bluff. If it was a bluff. What Souta and her grandfather had said before, what the PSIA people had said before, it all warred with her desire to be here. To be where she was needed. To be where she secretly looked forward to being, even with the heartaches and the danger. It was all... it was all...

    It was all what she wanted.

    "I have to go back," she said, barely a whisper. Louder, she repeated it, "I have to go back. I know."

    "Kagome!" Shippo cried, finally interposing himself by running in front of her. "Don't go! Please don't! What if you never come back?"

    "I will come back. I swear I will." she kneeled and quickly hugged the kitsune. "And I'll bring back candy next time, too."

    He looked up at her, afraid to let go. "You promise?"

    "Cross my heart." She put him back down, and instead faced a growling Inuyasha.

    "I can't believe you're giving up," he said, still clutching his throat.

    "I'm not giving up," Kagome argued, walking over to where Ryouga was standing. She briefly looked the hanyou in the eyes, and then focused on the PSIA agent.

    Inuyasha's grip tightened on the Tetsaiga.

    "Inuyasha," she admonished, sensing his tension. "I'll be right back. But I belong on the other side of the well, too. I can't just ignore what's going on there."

    "But....!"

    "I agree," Miroku said, cutting Inuyasha off. The half demon glared at the monk, and at the blunt end of the Shakujou that was currently covering his hand and warding the Tetsaiga down. "Let Kagome-sama deal with this."

    It seemed to take a serious force of will, but Inuyasha snarled and sheathed the sword, turning his back on the spectacle. Shoulders shaking, he craned his neck with an audible pop.

    "Don't keep us waiting, bitch."

    'Classy guy,' Ryouga thought to himself, but shrugged internally. Not that it mattered how this girl's ideal boyfriend talked to her. Even Akari would've given him the taste of her hand if he said something like that, and she was the most gentle girl he knew.

    Well, tied with Kasumi.

    "Let's go," he said, holding out his hand to Kagome. "I'm getting tired of this pose."

    "What pose?" she asked, taking his hand, expecting they'd be heading back to the well.

    A second later, she gasped as her face breached a liquid-like barrier. A strange smell, a stink really, assailed her nostrils almost to the point of gagging. Eyes blinked, trying to adjust to a bright white light, but a vice-like grip on her hand pulled her ever upward. She saw a face, a tunnel, and looking down at her feet, she saw a strange... aperture... a ragged, warped surface, and hazy shapes beyond.

    "Up and at 'em, Miss Higurashi," the voice of Agent Amano - she sort of doubted that was his real name, after having seen all he'd done - came in clearly, and she fell forward against what she assumed to be his body. Her feet splashed for a moment against the aperture and the... the thing below... and then it was solid again. The grip on her hand released.

    "What's - what's going on?" She saw the young government agent, and eeped as he suddenly jumped them both clear out of the well. Her view became a rush, but then she was on the ground again, and the next thing she knew her mother had her in her arms.

    "Oh, Kagome... don't worry! We'll get you a good lawyer!"

    "Mama?"

    "Great, lawyers. I prefer the crazy demon boy," Ryouga groaned. He tapped a microphone in his ear to make sure it was firmly in place after all that. "Amano here. Silver Ice, repeat, Silver Ice. I've got it contained..."

    "That was easy." A taller man in another black suit and tie remarked, leaning in the doorway.

    "Easy for you, maybe," the lost one replied, and rolled the sleeve of his right arm up briefly to check the status of his psi-amp. Green. All good. No boundary contamination.

    "What now?" Kagome asked, together with the rest of her family. Her mother was still hugging her protectively, but Souta and the old man looked threatened and worried, respectively. They probably assumed the government would be breaking them up or sending Kagome to a mental institution.

    The sad truth was that, really, they were kind of right to think that. XCOM - and the organizations funding nations - didn't like to let rogue psychics run free.

    "Now, we're done here..." Ryouga began to say, but scratched the back of his neck under the collar of his shirt. "Well, I'd like to say that. But we're not so lucky. I noticed something while I was in Kagome's world."

    The agent's eyes fell on one of the Higurashi family in particular.

    "That fighting intent. It wasn't all hers. Kagome isn't the one manifesting her illusions in the real world. Isn't that right?" He asked. "Mrs. Higurashi?"

    "What?" Masaharo was the first to respond. "You can't be...?"

    Souta just shook his head and turned to his sister and mother.

    "At first, I wasn't sure why this Inuyasha character was the only one who could come through the well. We had recordings of every single one of you interacting with him. At first I thought that maybe Kagome didn't want anyone else from 'her world' to come into this one...? I had to go there myself to be sure that wasn't it."

    "Then I thought: maybe this Inuyasha guy can manifest himself here because there's another psychic, a stronger psychic, in the house who wants him to. Someone who had probably been either tapping into... or helping to create... the fantasy from the very beginning. During the fight in Kagome's shadow world, I confirmed it. The intent mixed in with Kagome's wasn't Souta's, or Masaharo's, both of which I had experienced before. Since it had to be someone in the household, that leaves you."

    "Higurashi Nodoka..." Ryouga continued. "Even in this room full of tension, I still can't read you at all. Could you please explain why?"

    "Mama, what is he...?" Kagome began to ask, but her mother's arms tightened around her daughter. The girl stiffened and then went lax.

    "I suppose blocking you outright was a novice mistake," Nodoka said, voice full of motherly calm.

    "Well, it was obvious, so..." Ryouga replied, leaving the point hanging. "I know someone just like you. She puts on the same act. But even if you conceal your emotions, you still have them. It's just human nature."

    "I don't understand," Souta spoke up, edging towards panicked. "What's going on? What's he talking about?"

    "Nothing dear. Why don't you and your grandfather go to sleep?" She asked with a serene smile. Both males seemed about to object before their eyes closed and they slowly fell to the floor, like puppets whose strings have been cut. Kagome's eyes widened, and she tensed to rush over, but her mother held her firm and she went limp again.

    "They're fine, dear. Don't worry," Mrs Higurashi said, partly to her daughter, partly to the two still-conscious federal agents. "You two should just leave. We're a peaceful family. We've never hurt anyone."

    "That's true," Mousse said, still leaning against the door.

    "It is," Ryouga also admitted. "As far as renegade psionics go, you've been very careful. You only let your powers, and your imaginations, run wild in that other world. On this side, you've kept pretty much under the radar. I can't just walk away from this, though."

    "And why not?" Nodoka asked, her tone growing a bit more sharp. "We were perfectly fine-"

    "You weren't 'perfectly fine.'" He cut her off, brows falling into a frown. "The moment you started warping the world we live in, you crossed the line. And look at your daughter. Do you think her spending half her life in a coma is a healthy way of dealing with things?"

    "You probably came here to help deal with your abilities," Mousse guessed, adjusting his glasses with a middle finger. "If strange things happened, then it was just spirits, or something like that, and no one would bat an eye. But things got worse as Kagome there got older, and you realized she was the same as you."

    "It isn't like I planned this. It just... happened." Nodoka shook her head, refusing to give up. "I know what you two want to do with us. You'll lock us both up. We're no threat to you, but you don't care, do you? Well."

    Her serene expression never changed, but suddenly the room became blanketed in psionic power.

    "I won't let that happen."

    Mousse pushed off the wall, a glowing light pulsing through the sleeve of his suit.

    "And so things turn messy." Ryouga took a step forward. "As usual."

    - - -

    Operation: Silver Ice

    Tokyo, Japan
    Higurashi Shrine: February, 17th; 14:00 hours

    - - -

    Commander Yasuda had called it "growing field experience."

    For Nabiki Tendo, it was just the sort of chaos she had hoped to avoid after finally coming back to the city of her birth. For months now, she had been cooped up in an underground base, deep in the mountains; a chance for some field work, back in Tokyo, had seemed like a great deal. She'd spend a few days snooping around, maybe supervise one or two semi-serious ops, capture whatever rogue psionic or martial artist was running amuck, and then grab a couple precious hours of leisure time.

    It was the next best thing to an unsupervised leave.

    Naturally, things didn't turn out that way at all.

    The Higurashi Shrine was the sort of archetypical shinto establishment her father had always told her to take a historic and cultural interest in, and which she had quickly grown bored with. She had seen her share of spirits and demons and other really, really odd things - doubly so over the last half year since joining UNETCO - but none of that had made her feel particularly religious. Seeing this particular shrine for the first time, her initial impression was that the land it was on had to be worth a small fortune.

    Then she saw the first of the twisting serpentine monsters rise up from beyond cusp of the hill the shrine stood upon. Twisted maws snapped and hissed, and inhuman eyes dilated as the mass of... things... churned like an insane ocean. Nabiki sighed.

    This was why - exactly why! - property values in Tokyo were so damn erratic.

    Among the ten police they'd brought as back up, an almost visible wave of trepidation rippled among the men and women. One of the men inched closer to the black suited woman, torn between the urge to run in and save the neighborhood and the urge to get back in the car and pretend the last few minutes were the result of some really bad cream in the coffee.

    "Um, ma'am, should we... do anything?"

    "Nah. Don't worry about it." The surprisingly young agent just smirked, the green light engulfing the top of the shrine shining in her polarized glasses. Nabiki shook her head in the negative. "We've got this."

    - - -

    The giant eye splattered, along with the rest of the creature's face, thick meat slurry exploding from the former cranium. Fists found limbs and gaping toothy maws, leaving broken and misshapen masses of flesh behind. High speed steel shredded without mercy or warning, darkening the sky with a rain of red and black blood.

    It was a nice workout.

    Mousse ran one of the dozen blades hidden on his person across the length of the creature's body. There were no clean cuts, despite the skill of the combatant. Flesh peeled away as the pressure inside found a release, venting the inside of the demon simulacrum with a blast of gas and blood. A flick of the wrist bright the edge back around, opening up the neck just enough to make the cut quick and efficient, minimizing the risk of metal getting stuck in bone.

    Another step forward, another corpse fell to the wayside.

    "Alive, Mister 'Chen'. I want them alive. Don't forget that."

    "I know," The Amazon's arm blurred, and a hissing serpentine creature lost the top half of its head. "I'm nearsighted, not an idiot."

    Fingers plunged into snapping faces, breaking teeth and gouging eyes. Turning to fists, they crushed the offensive mockeries, leaving broken remains and twitching tongues to wag on the floor. Elbows and fingers were hammers and blades in all but name, crushing and destroying as fast as targets presented themselves. Black dress shoes advanced over twisted, screaming remains, crushing them underfoot.

    "You know, this would be easier if you'd let me use some high explosives."

    "No need." Ryouga slammed the face of a giant ogre like creature into his knee, crushing its skull like a melon. "We're getting a reputation for property destruction."

    "Really?" Mousse removed a spiked mace from the crotch of one creature, whipping it around to behead another charging would-be demon. "I wonder why?"

    "You laugh, but I'm the one the Commander yells at."

    "She yells at you?"

    "Not yells, so much. But she uses that voice. The scary one."

    "Don't act like I know what you mean. She's never been mad at me." Mousse jumped over the legless demon, already carving into the one behind it. "I'm a good boy."

    "That's because you suck up to women." Ryouga's foot, blazing green, nearly punched a hole in another creature, the force of the blow forcing its body to crunch up like a dead spider.

    "I do not!"

    "You so do. You're even nice to Khu Lon these days."

    "I've always been nice to the old monkey mummy."

    As the duo approached their targets, the swarm of psionic constructs began to mass together by simple press of bodies. They were swirling up and away from the pair and the well off to the right, having destroyed the shack and everything nearby. Many had little time to even form together before running into the backs of their predecessors. A few were crushed outright or trampled underfoot.

    "They're getting marginally tougher," Mousse noted, leaving a sickle-like blade buried in the wrecked remains of one of the creatures. "Remind me again why we're playing around?"

    "This isn't just our fight," Ryouga replied, providing little to nothing in the way of explanation.

    "You're getting soft lately, you know."

    "No! You're getting soft."

    "That's a shitty comeback!"

    "Hey. No it isn't."

    "Actually it is. Oh ho, I see we're getting human-ish ones now." Mousse buried two long knives into the juncture of shoulder and neck of an half formed creature with an annoyingly Ranma-like pigtail. It seemed on the verge of doing or saying something when its lungs and internals became a kabob. It was quite a bit harder to kill, too, thrashing and reaching for a staff it had lost. Mousse wondered briefly what it did.

    Stamping down the creature's calves and sending it to its knees, Mousse scissored the two blades free with predictably nasty results. Unlike before, these was little or no spray of blood, despite the dismemberment. Instead, the body discorporated into a sort of ethereal ash.

    "She's losing control," Mousse guessed, casually imbedding three knives into the throat and eyes of a surprised humanoid demon. "We should use our amps again."

    "Wait for it," Ryouga ordered, dislocating the arm of another humanoid with sickle claws. He jammed those same blades into the creature's lower back, severing the spinal cord. For good measure, he also used his free hand to grab it by the hair and twist, snapping the neck hard enough for bone to tear out from under skin and muscle.

    It too, turned to ash.

    "It isn't that she's losing control." The lost one speculated, as the two martial artists maintained a constant distance from the mother and daughter psionics. Nodoka was shaking, not with fury, but concentration, her arms still wrapped protectively around her daughter. Kagome, up until that moment, had been still in her mother's arms.

    Now, she was starting to stir.

    "Then we should definitely use our amps again," the male Amazon argued. "Unless you want to get overwhelmed by demons and miss your date."

    "This is neither the time nor the place, Mo- Mister Chen. Just wait. Hold up." Ryouga held out his hand, bloody as it was, and even took a step back. "I think this is it."

    "And if it isn't?" Mousse asked, but did as asked, pausing in his whirling dervish of carnage. "I don't want to get killed so you can indulge another hardcase psychic."

    As the tide of fodder ebbed, Nodoka clearly spent time trying to draw out something big. A pair of forms started to coagulate, but with obvious difficulty. One, tall and stately, with more long while hair - Ryouga have that a half lidded look; what was this? An Amazon thing? - turned back to look at its creators. The other did likewise, though it had dark hair and a strange animal coat thing going on. Both took in the sight of the two women, wavered, and broke into ash.

    "I can't... why won't...?" Nodoka asked, exhausted. "Why won't they do what I say?"

    "Mama," Kagome finally spoke up, looking over her shoulder at her mother. "You have to stop."

    "No," she insisted, looking down at her, and then back at the two federal agents. "I'll... I can... bring Kouga and... Kikyo, or... your friends, and..."

    "They won't," Kagome said, simply. "Because they don't want to."

    "They'll do what we want them to do."

    "They won't," the younger woman sounded completely sure of the fact. "Because to me, they're real people, with free will. It won't work."

    "More miasma then! If I can just..."

    Kagome just shook her head. "Mama. No. Enough."

    Four more shapes began to form: ones familiar to Ryouga. They were hazy, incomplete constructions, like the two before. He recognized the staff, the boomerang, and the giant curved sword. At that, he allowed himself a weary smile. Mousse tensed to intervene with his psi-amp, disrupting the constructs directly at the potential risk of harming the psionic creating them. Again , Ryouga held up his hand and motioned to let things play out.

    "But - but they'll take you away." Nodoka protested, looking down at her daughter with tears in her eyes. "I - I promised your father they wouldn't break up our family. He was... he was... like us..."

    The three shapes turned to follow Kagome, as she turned and hugged her mother back.

    "Huh." Mousse huffed, still ready to use his amp. "I told you you're getting soft."

    Ryouga spared his comrade a knowing look. "If you don't like how I do things you could ask to transfer to Juliet squad."

    The hidden weapons master's glasses glinted, not dignifying such an absolutely insane suggestion with an answer. Ranma's squad? Honestly? As if that was even an option.

    The three forms seemed to give passing looks to the two bloody martial artists as they walked by. Only as they retreated did a fourth form become clear, one no taller than either man's knees.

    It lingered longer, afraid to go.

    "Katsumi. Call it in and get some shadows up here. Chen. Suppressors on both of them," Ryouga ordered, tossing Mousse one of the metal strips. "I'll clean up this mess."

    Turning around, the lost one's psi-amp flared, burning away the piles of twitching psychic remains with a purifying psionic inferno. Within minutes, black helicopters descended and yellow police tape enveloped the city shrine. Biohazard stickers and armed police warded off the curious as a column of psychic ash rose above the summit, smearing and staining the midday sky.

    - - -

    The only good thing, Nabiki assumed, about dealing with pure psionic constructs was that it was a lot easier to clean up after. Blood, guts and flesh, transformed and disguised matter, all quickly reverted back to baseline with or without the right psionic prodding. This was a routine they had some experience with.

    Tossing India Squad's officer a towel, Nabiki took off her mirrored sunglasses and tucked them into the collar of her shirt. Cleanup crews had already disembarked and were quickly moving to secure the Higurashi Shrine. Men and women in white hazmat suits hosed down the site, both to contain any contaminants and to further obscure what had actually occurred minutes before.

    "You look like a wet rat," Nabiki observed, walking past the lost lieutenant. "And you smell like one, too."

    "Like you'd know what a wet rat smells like. ...Are we on schedule?" he asked, wrapping the towel around his right hand. Together with his psi-amp, he started to wipe off the simulcra. The latter reverted deep crimson blood to a colorless amorphous psychic slime, ninety five percent pure water, while the former soaked it up. With his arms cleaned first, he took off his black suit jacket and tossed it away to land on a nearby fence post.

    "We're good," she replied, stepping mindfully around the mess he and Mousse had left in their wake. "I'll take care of things from here."

    He nodded, letting her have her way now that the fighting was over with.

    Draping the towel over one shoulder, he instead wandered over to where Mousse was watchfully minding the two captives. These were India's first Class-A captures in months. The mother in particular was either the more powerful of the two or the more experienced. Ryouga wouldn't be surprised if they managed to track her own experiences down to an abduction event a couple decades ago. The sheer mass of constructs she had manifested and their interactivity were rather impressive.

    Tapping into her daughter like that must've boosted the output, too. If they were like that pair of twins in US containment then they'd be classified both separately, as A, and together as rare double-A. The eggheads working on gestalt psionics would probably want to get their hands on them, too, despite that near-disaster at Luna. Not that a lowly Lieutenant should be criticizing the research priorities of high command, but being called in to clean up after things went wrong was... de-motivating.

    Speaking of de-motivating -

    "Agent 'Chen'?" Ryouga asked, approaching the hidden weapons master. "Is that really necessary?"

    "She was getting all weepy," the Chinese fighter explained, referring to the elder Higurashi female, currently fast asleep on a blue tarp thanks to a contact sedative. "Plus, she did try to drown us in eldrich horrors. I'd say she got off easy."

    Kagome, still awake, sat with her legs tucked under her, restraints on her wrists. She was quiet and still, but Ryouga could see the suppressor band firmly in place across her forehead and only partly concealed by her long, dark hair. A single green strip on the alien alloy indicated it was functional and inhibiting non-essential mental pathways. Unlike the ubiquitous alien 'examination table' it didn't actively paralyze the victim; she should still be able to physically move and act.

    Precautions.

    Nodding, he was about to turn elsewhere to help oversee clean up, when a voice spoke.

    "You lied."

    Facing Kagome, he sighed. It was true. He had lied. He had said what was needed to try and resolve the situation without people getting hurt. He couldn't, wouldn't, blame her for the anger she had to feel towards him.

    "You lied to me," Kagome repeated, accusing, hurt, and angry. "You said we wouldn't be punished. You said you only wanted to talk. Are you going to tear apart our family now? Or experiment on us?"

    The sound of a can opening came from the nonchalant Mousse, who had pulled out a small mocha-coffee can from somewhere on his person. He proceeded to drink down the caffeine without an apparent care in the world. The captive young woman took a moment to glare at the Chinese martial artist's callousness.

    Resting on one knee, Ryouga waited for her to turn her anger back at him where it belonged. He was in command. He made the calls. The ugly side of authority was responsibility. When things went right or wrong, it ultimately fell on his shoulders, and his alone.

    "I did lie," he admitted, looking down briefly, but then back up to accept her gaze. "And... it may be some time before your family is whole again. Both you and your mother need to be taught to deal with what you can do. That's where they'll take you. I'm not trained for that. The only thing I can do is fight."

    "What are they going to do to us?" she asked again, straining a bit against the bands on her wrists. "I still don't know why we're being treated like this... why us?"

    "It isn't your fault," he tried to explain. "The ones who did this to your mother, to you through her... they're our enemies. People like you are caught between us and them. I can promise you that you won't be hurt. Or experimented on. Things like this..." he gestured to the now foam-smothered chaos Mrs Higurashi had summoned up. "It... scares people."

    Kagome blinked, and a bit of her anger faded, replaced by resignation. In truth, she understood all too well. It scared her, too. Though recent revelations had put things in a strange new context, she understood the fear people watching this sort of thing would have. She had felt the same, known the same, back in the feudal era of her other world, teeming as it was with demons and otherworldly dangers. Even if it wasn't "real" no one wanted people projecting those kinds of things into other people's minds... or into other people's lives.

    "I see," she said.

    "You aren't the only one," Ryouga said then, and she looked back up at him. "Agent Chen and I are like you...just weaker. And there are lots of others, too. We aren't locking you up. We're just making a world where, one day, people like your mother don't have to try and hide what they can do and where they don't have to worry about losing control."

    It was a few pregnant seconds before Kagome spoke again.

    "And Grandpa? And Souta? What about them?"

    Ryouga let out a deep breath and stood back up.

    "Altered memories," he said. "Probably, we'll make it so they think you're at prep school. And that your mother has an overseas job. We've become rather adept at making people disappear."

    "That's... not really the most encouraging thing to say to someone in my position," Kagome remarked, holding up her cuffed hands. "But I believe you."

    He offered her a small, weak smile, but a genuinely sympathetic one.

    It wasn't a sympathy extended to the source of humanity's psionic troubles. To those beings, his smile, and his hands, presaged only death or capture. No alien asked for mercy or compassion, nor would any receive it. That category included those who willingly aided and abetted the enemy. All those would be hunted, from the surface of the Earth to depths of Mars, and exterminated.

    Kagome slowly stood up, turning to face one of the landed black helicopters and a group of approaching HAZMAT suited men and women. The resignation she had felt before was now replaced by a small, wary, cautious optimism. The leader of the group saluted, and presented a clipboard for the jacket-less government agent to sign.

    "Ne, what was your real name?" Kagome asked, realizing she was being handed over. "Amano Seiji-san?"

    Ryouga signed his name to the transfer form and sealed it with the date and time.

    "Hibiki," he replied. "Ryouga."

    Kagome managed a smile at that as the men took her away.

    "We'll hold you to your word," she said as she walked away. "Hibiki-san."

    As the group left, and the second one came for the still sleeping Nodoka Higurashi, Mousse strolled over, his chilled coffee can empty. Balancing it between his fingers, the Chinese weapons master chuckled.

    "That sounded almost like a threat, lieutenant," he remarked, grinning. "Think you've just made a new friend or a new enemy?"

    Ryouga just shrugged, staring silently up at the ash tainted sky. As a Hibiki, born, bred, and lost, he understood all too well that literally anything could wait right around the next corner. The one and only constant was that there would be an enemy to fight and obstacles to overcome. As for tomorrow... there was nothing to do but wait and see what reared its head.

    And then crush it.

    - - -

    Screaming winds pummeled the Tamaranian as she soared through the primordial darkness. Tears stung her eyes, threatening to blur her vision, and that she could not afford. The unconscious form of her cybernetic friend, the only thing she could see in the violently chaotic nothing, remained just out of her reach. But no matter how fast she pushed herself, how she reached out, Cyborg’s metallic skin hung tantalizingly beyond her curling fingertips ...

    And then he was gone - there was no flash of light, no spectral effect, simply there one second, and then gone the next.

    Starfire did not have a chance to contemplate this dark turn, as a fraction of a second later, blinding light stabbed into her eyes. The Tamaranian cried out in shock at the sudden and abject shift from pitch darkness to noonday sun, her flight instantly dissolving into a wild tailspin.

    Several precious seconds passed, the girl blinking her eyes furiously, before her sight began to return to her. Bright blue sky alternated with indistinct land in a kaleidoscope of color as she spun madly through the air. Gone was the aching chill of the void, replaced with a warm gust which washed over her skin. It would have been almost pleasant -

    Another pained blink brought the world back into sharp focus ... revealing the fact that she was arrowing sharply down over a human city. Buildings zipped below her in a blur; the alien girl tried vainly to regain control, but she had been fired out of the portal far more energetically than could be expected -

    The tall clock tower sprang up before her like an earthly weed. Starfire could do nothing but raise her hands in front of her face, jade energy flaring to life around them, before she collided, head first with the structure. Brick and mortar was pulverized to dust by the intense plasma sheath which surrounded her, and she exploded through the other side of the tower a second later in a shower of debris.

    Slowed somewhat by her impact, the Tamaranian was finally able to regain enough control of her flight so that, rather than drill straight into the ground at ridiculous speeds, she only crashed into the pavement with enough force to tear up a furrow of demolished infrastructure roughly ten meters long ...

    Several long moments passed before Starfire could finally sit up, her body protesting violently at every small movement she forced it to make. It was times like this that she was especially grateful for her inherent durability. Though she was wracked with pain, she could tell most of her injuries were of the superficial variety, and expected her natural solar regeneration would heal them in short order.

    It was about that point, that Starfire heard the first scream of terror. Immediately, she prepared to assuage the fears of whoever she had frightened with her unruly entry - Only to realize quite quickly that it was not her that was causing the screaming.

    An ominous groan of failing structural integrity filled the air as the top half of the clock tower, now sporting a massive hole through its heart, began to list inexorably to the side. The red bricks and heavy granite slabs in the side of the tower began to shatter messily as the unbalanced structure appeared to be attempting to take a bow. The numerous people on the street began to run in a blind panic, but the equally numerous vehicles, now trapped in a traffic jam by her very own destruction of the street, had nowhere to go as the large tower continued to topple over.

    All of the pain in her body seemed to vanish in a blink as a look of grim determination set itself firmly on her features. Not even bothering to stand, Starfire simply rolled forward and pushed off with all of the strength in her alien legs, launching herself through the air at ballistic speeds.

    Streamers of green light trailing her in her rushed flight, the flame haired alien flew directly beneath the severed section of the tower, over fifteen meters long and nearly half that wide, not counting the lengthy lightning rod which topped the leaning tower. Several well placed optical plasma blasts scattered large pieces of stone that broke away from the base of the tower and had been hurtling towards the people on the street below...

    Then the shadow of the tower encompassed her and the Tamaranian raised her arms quickly and pressed her palms to the now horizontal wall just below the large clock face. Instantly, she began to drop through the air, the momentum of the monumental time piece and the sheer mass involved improbable to resist.

    Improbable was not the same as impossible, though. Gritting her teeth, Starfire pushed back with everything she had, and after a quick glance down at the people below, she then doubled her efforts. Sweat drencher her brow and veins began to bulge worrying along the tightly corded muscles of her arms as she battle gravity by virtue of pure, boundless confidence. More troublingly, the wall and supports she was pushing into threatened to break. It wouldn't be long before she just blasted through the structure, the rest continuing its fall.

    Against all logic of those watching, the descent of the sheared off tower began to slow and tilt to the side. People actually began to slow in their panicked runs and stare up in awe at the display - unfortunately, many of those people would still be in range if the tower were to crash to the street.

    "Please do not cease your evacuation!"

    Oddly, not a single person heeded her advice. Starfire prepared to yell her command again ... when she noticed the strangely high concentration of Asian people on the streets below and the near complete presence of Chinese writing on all of the signage and advertisements which lined the street as far as the eye could see.

    Had she been transported to the alleged ‘Chinatown’ subsection of the city?

    Her distraction cost her, as the weight of the falling tower began to push her down again, Starfire gave a very unladylike grunt as she renewed her struggle to slow the collapse. All around her hands, and throughout the entire building section, cracks began to form as the numerous strains on the tower began to eat away at its structural integrity. All too soon, the task of deflecting the falling tower would be the least of her worries is shearing forces turned one falling body into a half dozen.

    "Escape to a safe distance!" This time she shouted her warning in the dialect of Chinese which matched the written language present, and though when people actually listened this time, she suspected it had nothing to do with her words, and everything to do with the various bricks and jagged metal fragments which began to break away from the structure and drop to the ground in a destructive rain.

    With one last surge of strength, torrents of righteous fury supplementing her flagging confidence, the Tamaranian hero briefly managed to stop the massive structure’s fall completely. The strain was unbelievable, impossible for her to even describe, but she forced herself to maintain until the very last of the human’s had escaped their vehicles and fled to safety... Viridian eyes searched frantically for an open area to let the structure collapse onto.

    And then, just as the tower above her, her resolve disintegrated into a heap of rubble. Starfire crashed to the ground mere fractions of a second before being buried under the tons of stone and mortar that had once been a majestic clock tower. The scene surrounding the sprawling mountain of debris grew oddly still in the moments that followed. Nothing moved aside from settling of the massive cloud of dust kicked up from the impact. Tentatively at first, spectators of the near disaster began to move in closer to the disaster site, curiosity over the bizarre happenstance overcoming their fear.

    Only to run screaming again seconds later as twin pillars of jade energy tore up through the pile of bricks and steel, blasting the rubble aside in a second. Moments later, the strange, orange skinned girl floated up from the wreckage. Starfire groaned weakly in pain, noting the quantity of bruises and scratches that were already making themselves known to her. The physical pain was less hurtful than the what she felt when she saw the people on the street fleeing in fear from the very sight of her.

    It had been some time since she had been subjected to the fear of those she attempted to save, and now she realized it had not been nearly long enough between occurrences. She had thought that the citizens of her city had long become accustomed to her unusual nature? Letting out a forlorn sigh, the alien girl began to float away from the site of her... admittedly rough entrance.

    Perhaps, once she had some time to clear her head, she could sort out exactly what had happened to her.

    - - -

    The first pictures were on the internet within four minutes of the incident.

    Accompanying them were copious streams of dialogue, both spoken and written, regarding the incident. These passed from phone to phone, phone to website, website to website, website to email. The flow of electronic traffic increased very nearly exponentially. Or it would have.

    Two minutes and twenty four seconds after Information Exposure, the UNETCO Echelon system flagged multiple corroborating accounts of unusual activity originating from a region in southern China. The PRC was a staunch supporter of the UNETCO accords and fully compliant with the sections relating to "information management." Whether this was out of practicality or an ongoing national priority regarding control over the internet and other information outlets within the borders of the one-party state was debatable.

    Echelon's automated monitoring systems quickly identified the disturbance, and within thirty four seconds, upgraded their status from orange to red. Notification was forwarded to Chinese authorities about the upcoming Information Whiteout. Data analysts at the UNETCO "Ocean City" Facility approved the measure, and choreographed counter-information attacks were waged to control the flow of data. Photographs were automatically doctored and edited, and then redistributed in place of the originals. Sophisticated programs provided corrupted text messages and altered first hand accounts. InfWar Bots automatically searched for and intervened in relevant threads across social networks.

    The truth was quickly lost amid the static and white noise.

    UNETCO had, over the years, become quite adept as countering and controlling the flow of rumor and heresay. The Chinese government acted in a more typical fashion to contain the disruption, which only furthered the cover-up by adding credibility to the fact that it was a viral hoax. It would never be possible to completely cover up the incident, but it would be easy to discredit it and contain it. Ten minutes after the incident was first flagged, it was given a official name for record keeping.

    China-56-890

    Despite the quick response, most of it automated, other problems remained. These would have to be handled by UNETCO Echelon's human resources and intelligence personnel. The first matter was to investigate the incident itself "on the ground." First responders, local police and firefighters were already heading towards the scene - they would be contacted and used to gather on the spot intelligence. They would also help in containing the spread of potentially troublesome information regarding China-56-890.

    The second matter was an ongoing concern.

    China-56-890 was moving. Echelon detected, less than a minute after containing the first phase of the incident, corroborating cell phone recordings of an unidentified object flying over a populated area. Image recognition and enhancement confirmed that the object was, in fact, humanoid. Colors were low quality, but definitely identified as a shade of orange. It was also flying unassisted through the air. More red flags accentuated the case file, bumping it up to Alpha level priority. A satellite was quickly pinged for reorientation and acquisition of the incidental area.

    HumInt added only this to the heading:

    Case: China-56-890
    Possible Ethereal Sighting Downtown Area
    Immediate Response Recommended




    ---
    Chapter 1, end
    ---



    Abstract --
    Ryouga Hibiki
    Rank: Lieutenant

    Tokyo native, only child of Tetsuya and Mitsuko Hibiki. Practices the Informal 'Hibiki Family Survivalist Style' of martial arts. Psionic Class-B. Former wandering martial artist and member of the 'Nerima Wrecking Crew' Lieutenant Hibiki was involved in the two year spree of incidents (see: Nerima Records) much of which involved his rivalry with Lieutenant Saotome. Records sealed and reports classified per standard.

    Several months after the First Incident at Jusendo (see R. Saotome), Hibiki was involved in at least two Abduction Events (L-B45-671), (second event unrecorded). L-B45-671 resulted in two confirmed civilian fatalities: A. Unryu (Japanese, female, age 17 - assumed harvested); S. Unryu (not abducted; died: heart attack). Hibiki tracked to Nerima ward and additional abduction events recorded (see: Nerima Abduction Event). Saotome and Hibiki able to assault Abduction craft before escaping orbit, killing aliens onboard. Civilian casualties estimated to be twelve (12), eight (8) on craft and four (4) on ground. Khu Lon and O. Tofu captured via separate vessel.

    After reorienting the captured UFO to crash in South America, vessel and survivors were recovered by UNETCO operatives. Decision made to create experimental field operations teams ('martial arts squads') to circumvent Section Seven restrictions in charter and combat Sirius Group. Program accepted under the direction of N. Yasuda Cmndr, Far East Branch. Due to deaths of A. Unryu, Hibiki demonstrated significant commitment. Psionic imprinting undertaken (see: psi-gym usage) to expected effect.

    Hibiki was picked to organize and lead Squad: India (Hibiki, Kumon, Tzu, Kuno) out of Seiran, under supervision of Cptn Ben-Solomon. Assigned rank Special Lieutenant. Demonstrated acceptable to excellent performance in last two months of 2006. Promotion to Lieutenant. Participated in AB17 Alpine Echo Seven (December, 2006). Fiftieth Kill recorded (January, 2007). Temp assignment to Luna (2007). (see: Service Record, attached) (see: Psionic Profile, attached). N. Tendo added as replacement Operator (2006).

    PsyOps has observed a decrease in aggression over the last three month period, possibly related to relationship with Operator Tendo, however the lieutenant continues to have an excellent engagement ratio. India is a solid light assault team. S7 Ops against conspirator cells, rogue psychics, and Trenchards have proven to be another specialty. Hibiki is driven, determined, and due to his background, he can be counted on to show initiative within the confines of his orders. Given that we can expect Trenchards to be present on Mars, India squad is a logical candidate for inclusion in CLEANSLATE.

    [signature redacted]


    ---



    ##
    BROTHER EYE PROTOCOLS
    TOP CLEARANCE REQUIRED

    SUBJECT: 5231
    CODENAME: Starfire
    REAL NAME: Koriand’r

    SPECIES: Tamaranian
    HEIGHT: 5’11”
    WEIGHT: 120lbs
    HAIR COLOR: Red
    EYE COLOR: Green

    KNOWN ABILITIES: Shares physiological traits in common with rest of her species. Superhuman strength, durability, endurance, flight. High resistance to most forms of harmful radiation. Ability to survive prolonged exposure to extra-atmospheric conditions. Subject 5231 also possess abilities unique to herself, and to Subject 7245: Codename: Blackfire. Ability to generate energy of varying intensity, commonly referred to as ‘Starbolts’. Has demonstrated the ability to direct energy blasts from both hands and eyes. Resistance to energy is also far above other members of species – likely in correlation to former ability.

    EXPLOITABLE WEAKNESSES: Physical Weaknesses: Research still in progress. Psychological Weaknesses: Subject has demonstrated intense connections with current team mates, notably Subject 203: Codename: Robin. Highest probability of incapacitating subject is a psychological attack capitalizing on this bond.

    KNOWN HISTORY: Very little is known of the Subject before her arrival on Earth. Arrival occurred in Jump City and was closely followed by a small scale invasion by a Gordanian Battlecruiser. Citywide destruction was narrowly averted when the Subject was found by Subject: 203: Codename: Robin, Subject: 790: Codename: BeastBoy, Subject: 3845: Codename: Cyborg and Subject: 6138: Codename: Raven. Shortly afterwards, aforementioned Subjects formed the team designated: Teen Titans.

    As part of the Teen Titans, Subject has demonstrated above average combat abilities, both in close quarters and at range. Notable incidents include encounters with villains: Subject 2101: Codename: Deathstroke The Terminator, Subject: 8839: Codename: Terra, and Subject: 1978: Codename: Brother Blood. Subject has yet to show any signs of instability, or lapses in morality.

    CURRENT THREAT LEVEL: E

    PERSONAL NOTE:
    The girl has grown close to Dick over the years. Perhaps too close?
    I fear that she might make it difficult for him to keep his head in battle. Men like us aren’t meant get entangled in that way. I had hoped that the rumors of her impending marriage on the planet Tamaran had been true... but according to Dick, it had simply been a ruse by her sister. Perhaps the addition of their newest team member will divert her attention? Dick has been expressing some small frustration over the past several weeks – perhaps it’s related? Will continue to observe situation.

    ##
  6. I had never actually made it all the way through your cydonia story before. I know a lot more about XCOM then the last time I tried so I am trying again.
  7. blackmamuth Lazy Lurker

    awesome. I've followed both histories a long time, Imagine my pleasant surprise on seeing this fic. People probably doesn't say that much, but thank you for sharing.

    There is going to be a very confused tamaranian pretty soon. Wonde how does she navigate? Goes up in the athmosphere to orient herself? or uses a Gps like Ryouga?

    So Robin real identity is Dick Grayson? Not Tim? huh, so maybe there is a circus performer somewhere in the Xcom world.

    Nasty reentry. Cyborg and Ryouga2 would be able to survive it, but Raven and beastboy? are they that durable?

    Would you adress the possibility of there being other planets in the Xcom universe? IE: Tamarania, or even better/worse Krypton. Wonder also if the Aliens would find an easier target than earth if that is the case...

    At least Xcom ships aren't able to go check if they exist at all...

    Do you have decided in a way to diferentiate the two Ryouga's? I guess the "visitor Ryouga" is going to use his nickname, instead?

    Edit: by the way, I can't add the RSS feed from the FF.net author page you supplied. I hope it's because you haven't posted there yet.
  8. Cap'n Chryssalid the armor piercing wang

    'The Road to Cydonia' is a rather long fanfic in and of itself, ender. Reading it will give you an idea look into this crossover (you'll catch all the little references and stuff), but Lathis and I are writing it with - hopefully - enough exposition and narrative that even new readers should be able to catch up on what's happened in the two pre-crossover fanfics.

    We're trying to balance making it accommodating to new readers against making the story too unwieldy in explaining what came before.



    Happy to. Hopefully fans of our respective fics will enjoy the crossover. We've tried to keep it a surprise.

    You won't have to wait long to see. Star's front and center next chapter.

    Lathis's fanfics use the Teen Titans cartoon as primary, comics as secondary. That Robin is Robin #1 aka Nightwing.

    As for is there an XCOM verse Dick Grayson? Keep in mind there are a tremendous number of structural differences between the worlds, which will be touched directly on a bit later. There's no Gotham city, for one, and no Harvey Dent. Clearly there's no Two Face. The Graysons aren't necessarily even in the States. Etc.

    Note also that none of the TT know Robin's identity as yet.


    Yes.
    Yes.
    It'll be covered as part of Starfire's introductory story.



    They're both Ryouga Hibiki.

    No one will be using another name. Practically, they'll be distinguished by the fact that one has a rank in UNETCO and the other does not. You'll see. I think we've done very well for two near identical characters.


    re: FFN page
    Lathis and I haven't uploaded to FFN yet.

    We'll do so over the weekend. In the future, I'll time my updates here to the release of full chapters on FFN. For now, you guys get a look before general release.

    Hopefully he'll also load up the joint author profile junk soon, too.
  9. I like the fact that the story has over 1,200,000 words of backstory. I will probably read everything over again.
  10. Raneko Defender of the newbies

    ahhh dang... I was hoping to have dogboy taken down a peg by X-Com Troopers in power armor... this Matrix crap? So not fun. Oh well let's see X-Com try to write off a extra dimensional Incursion as a Psychic Hallucination.
  11. Cap'n Chryssalid the armor piercing wang

    There's plenty of more conventional combat to come, in and out of powered armor. However, I didn't write the 'inuyasha' section as-is for no reason. I've always had to toe a line in TRTC between having too much of the fantasy and magic elements, inherited from Ranma 1/2. I felt it important that even the strangest occurrences were, inherently, explainable and rational events. It also further established (for the story) the degree to which strange psionic activity is allowed to occur in-verse (aka, if Kagome and her mother could do that, then it makes someone like Raven and her powers seem less of out context).

    It was a 'boundary setting' scene, in other words. The same as if, in a movie early on, you see the character pull off some impossible gun trick or martial arts move, thus making future moves by other characters seem more plausible in-story.
  12. Cap'n Chryssalid the armor piercing wang

    Quick update.

    The FFN site for this fic is now up and running. Note that it is separate from anyone (mine or Lathis') author pages, so you'll need seperate author/story alerts to get notification of the updates.

    I expect we'll be using Friday as our update day instead of Monday. Look for Chapter 2 on the 25th. Naturally, I'll put up the chapters here just before we upload to FFN.
  13. Funny coincidence, just finished reading The Road to Cydonia a minute ago. It was great!
  14. Cap'n Chryssalid the armor piercing wang

    Chapter 2 coming out today in parses.

    - - -

    - - -
    - - -

    Nigh on two months have passed since Ryouga freed Terra from her stone prison, restoring the Titans to their full number after long last. The reunion has been anything but quiet, though, with deception and disaster tearing the team apart just as quickly as it came back together. With Robin and the original Titans drawn to Tamaran for Starfire’s ’wedding’, it fell to Ryouga, Terra - as well as some unexpected help from unexpected friends - to avert disaster in the underwater city of Atlantis. Everyone is back together again, now, and taking a well deserved breather from their adventures. But as unseen forces manipulate from the shadows, and disaster looms from both without and within, their tenuous peace is doomed to be shattered… and sooner than they expect.

    It has been five months since the inclusion of the Nerima Crew into UNETCO as the war between X-Com and the alien visitors enters its seventh year. Despite the destruction of Earth's last alien refuge and the annihilation of the conspiratorial Sirius Group, the organization has been hit hard by Cydonian reprisals, and stretched thin by increasing commitments in the Far East to counter abductions of martial artists and the psionically gifted. Even as the buildup culminates for the last great push against Mars itself, distractions and complications continue to arise within the ever present specter of alien terror.

    - - -


    Reflections Lost on a Dark Road
    First Contact
    Chapter II


    - - -

    Cap'n Chryssalid
    Lathis - "Enjoy if you will, Tolerate if you won't."

    - - -

    > > Initiating System Check
    > Please Wait…

    > Power Systems: Nominal
    > Computer Systems: Nominal
    > Life Support Systems: Nominal
    > Combat Systems: Nominal
    > Mechanical Support: Nominal

    > System Check Complete: No Errors Found

    > > Initiating System Reboot
    > Please Wait…

    > > SysOp Reboot… 10%…40%… 60%… 80%… Done

    Cyborg’s eyes shot open and the large teen sat up with a start. For a moment he was deluged by a cascade of minor systems checks, and his body jerked about annoyingly as his motor control systems cycled … but other than that, he seemed to be okay.

    ‘Oh Lord. Did anyone get the license plate of that alien dreadnaught?’

    Clutching his head, he slowly staggered to his feet. What the heck had happened? It felt like Robin had booted him in the head a few dozen times too many.

    ‘Last thing I remember was setting up the Dimensional Containment Device …and then Ryo came flyin’ outta nowhere and body slammed me.’ The cybernetic teen slammed fist to palm with a metallic clank. ‘And then we hit the DCD and it starting going haywire! It started to react to Raven’s power somehow and then …’

    And then nothing.

    "Well, that can’t be good." A combination of DCD, Raven’s bad mojo and Ryouga’s worse luck? He was lucky had made it here in one piece… Speaking of which, just where the heck was he, anyway?

    He took a quick moment to scan his surroundings.

    "Oh. Har de har har."

    The City Dump.

    He swore, if those jokers had let him get tossed out with the trash again, there’d be hell to … pay? Hmm, something told him that he didn’t exactly arrive here via garbage truck, like last time. That ‘something’ being the fifty foot long trench his body had apparently carved into the ground. He was pretty sure it was his; anyway, what with the crater he was standing in and all. He let out a low whistle at the rough trajectory.

    "Rough landing… bet I’ll be feeling that in the morning."

    Something didn’t quite add up, though. Had he been thrown this entire distance? He was pretty sure the lab was a few kilometers away from the dump. Not to mention they’d been fighting in a crazy underground lab. Any explosion intense enough to not only unearth the lab, but to send him flying this distance? There’s no way he would have survived that, let alone unscathed.

    Heck, he’d still be seeing the mushroom cloud on the skyline.

    So, it was a mystery then. More important than what happened to him, though, was what had happened to everyone else. Ryo and Raven had been right at the epicenter, last he’d seen, and everyone else had been out of sight completely.

    Lifting an arm, he hit a button and the small view screen embedded in his forearm flashed to life; immediately, he punched up Robin’s line. "Yo, Robbie! Where are you? You alright?"

    Nothing. Not even a picture of the little guy popped up.

    ‘Hmm, that’s weird.’

    He quickly cycled through the rest of his friends, but the results were the same.

    "What the heck is up with this?" he growled, growing a bit concerned.

    A quick diagnostic confirmed that his systems were working fine; he just wasn’t getting a … signal? He began typing away madly at his arm, bringing up the desired diagram. On the bottom of the screen was a tiny depiction of himself. On the top was a little picture of a satellite with a ‘T’ on it. Between the two were a series of arcs, growing wider as they went up from MiniCy to the satellite. Currently, there was a big red X flashing over the signal bars, and the outline of the satellite had become a flashing, dotted line, indicating that his system not only wasn’t receiving a signal from the satellite, but that it couldn’t locate the darn thing at all.

    "Ohhh man, please tell me this is just a glitch," he muttered. "It cost a fortune to put all those satellites up there! If they’re all broken, Robin's gonna recycle me!"

    Unfortunately, he didn’t bring the T-elescope with him, so he couldn’t actually confirm whether the nearest satellite was still where it was supposed to be, and not currently a flaming wreck sitting in some guy’s living room.

    Not a pleasant thought, that.

    Without the satellite network, communications would be cut down to fifty kilometers, and the GPS system would be non-existent. He wouldn’t be able to find out where he was with just a push of the button, nor could he get a hold of a single Titan.

    Wait a minute! Even without the network up and running, he should still be more than close enough to reach anyone everyone else via communicator. How the heck could everyone be out of range? Even if the communicators of everyone at the lab had been damaged, BB back at the tower would still be well within range.

    Something odd was afoot, that much was for sure.

    Still, it was a beautiful, clear night, and GPS wasn’t the only way to figure out where he was. Astronavigation wasn’t limited to Voyager, after all. All he had to do was retrieve the most recent memories he had of the night sky and compare it to the current sky above him. Using a few embarrassingly outdated techniques, he could then narrow it down to a rough latitude and longitude at the very least.

    It didn’t take him long to bring up the proper application - ‘Lost somewhere in the world, with nothing but a compass and map of the stars? Cyborg has an App for that!’-and start it running. Looking upwards, he turned his head slowly, making sure to get a complete a scan as possible for a better comparison. It took a few minutes (sooo much less efficient than just using the GPS) but finally he finished the scan and his arm began to calculate the necessary variables.

    ‘Hello, what have we here?’

    A display on his other arm was blinking now. Turning his attention to the blinking light, his eyes widened the second he read it.

    Current Date: 02/18/2007

    … What?

    He double checked the chronometer. It was working fine, too… So why the heck was - ‘Oh’, that explained it. According to the current stars, compared to the ones he’d seen last night, there was over a years worth of drift… The realization hit him a second later like Raven with a fridge.

    "Great Caesar’s Ghost! I’ve been thrown through time!" Clutching his skull, the metallic Titan began to panic at the implications. "Oh man, oh man, oh man! First Star, now me? This is getting way too common for comfort!"

    Now, what the heck did he remember about time travel? Oh, right!

    "Don’t do anything, don’t touch anything! Scifi rule number One: You start messin’ with the past, you end up with monkeys ruling the future." Spinning around, paranoid about stepping on anything that might destroy the timeline, he -

    …wait just another second.

    He double checked the clock. "Hold on just a minute! I’m not in the past, I’m in the future!"

    In an instant, he went from tiptoeing through the trash cans, to wringing his hand, cackling evilly. "Oh yeah, baby. That means all bets are off! Time to find me some badass future technology to take home-"

    He paused, looking at the date again.

    "… Crap! I’m only one year in the future? That’s barely far enough ahead to pick up the next Game Station! Oh, man, this is, like, the worst time traveling trip, ever!" Another thought occurred to him. "And, seriously, none of that Rekmas stuff had better be goin’ on! If I find out that it took everyone else less than a year to completely fall apart without me, I’m gonna be so ticked off!"

    Well, sure, they probably wouldn’t be able to get along without him for very long … but one year? Come on!

    Looking back to his other arm, he finally got a set of coordinates. Bringing up a static map of the States, he overlaid the latitude and longitude. Considering he was using freakin’ Astrogation, he was working with gross generalizations, but he was fairly certain he could at least narrow it down a bit. And - and, it looked like he was… on the east coast? Damn, he was closer to Metropolis and Gotham than he was to Jump City! He’d been thrown clear across the entire dang country! Well, that’d certainly explain why he couldn’t contact anyone. Without the satellite network, there was no way he was in range of anyone else.

    So, lost in time and possibly lost on Batman’s turf? He didn’t know which was worst, honestly. Still, on the bright side, scary or not, if he could find Batman, or any other Justice Leaguer, then they’d probably be able to help him out with this whole chorological conundrum. Heck, those guys traveled through time like it was a revolving door. Or worse, like it was like Arkham.

    Still, stranger in a strange land and all that, there no need to draw any attention to himself if he could avoid it. There might be a reason his satellite network was down, after all. Maybe the Titans had made some serious enemies while he’d been gone? He chuckled to himself; when he got back, he’d totally have to tell BB that he was starting to lose his hair, even only a year in the future.

    It didn’t take him too long to scrounge up some tossed clothing. Sure, they smelt about as good as they looked, but the sweater had a hood, so he could cover up most of his cybernetics pretty easily. As long as nobody got right in his face, he should be able to get by without too much trouble.

    That in mind, he made his way out into the city.

    He needed some information, badly.

    - - -

    Starfire stared pensively out of the alley for the third time in as many minutes. Once she was satisfied that no uniformed police officers were in her vicinity, she ducked back into the alley and took out her communicator again. It had been several hours since her arrival, and it still refused to return to functionality.

    She had garnered no luck in acquiring information from the local citizenry. The few people she had attempted to converse with in her aimless floating had either stuttered madly with fear, fled in the other direction, or used their cameras to take pictures... before running away anyway. And not long after that, rescue teams had begun to arrive on the scene, which while understandable, had confused her with the staggering number of armed police which accompanied the paramedics and firefighters.

    The Tamaranian was growing more confused with the situation. Certainly, her ... minor… act of property destruction was not one of her finer moments, but she had made quite sure that no one had been injured in the incident. And yet, even as the rescue teams continued to comb through the wreckage, the police had made it blatantly obvious that they were systematically searching the area for the one responsible. The skill and organization with which they performed their search gave the Okaaran trained warrior no doubt that this was a seasoned and professional law enforcement group.

    One would imagine that people would be used to alien encounters and random occurrences in this day and age. Considering the unusual reactions of the civilians to her presence, she did not wish to see the reaction of people currently carrying firearms.

    Other things had only served to compound her confusion. Even after studying the situation for some time, she had yet to find more than a sprinkling of English on any signs in sight. The uniforms of the patrolmen, though recognizable as police uniforms, were notably different from those of the lawmen from Jump City. She had already begun to doubt that she had appeared anywhere close to where she had thought, however, with the GPS function of her communicator out of order and her inability to ask anyone for information, she could not be certain where she was.

    Which brought her to where she now was: standing in a dank alley, staring intently at the newspaper stand across the street from her. It did raise a moral quandary in the young alien. She possessed no currency at all, let alone whatever currency might be proper for her current locale. Did her need to learn more about her situation necessitate her to steal from an innocent vender? Dare she risk exposing herself long enough to cross the street?

    The Tamaranian chewed on her lower lip uncertainly for several long seconds as she stared at the news stand. Finally, she let out a determined huff and nodded to herself. Once she rejoined her team mates, she would be able to repay the proprietor for the paper. Ducking down, she took another quick peek around the corner, then floated out rapidly, skimming just above the street which she crossed in a matter of seconds.

    The instant she made her presence known, shocked shouts sprang up from all around, but Starfire managed to snag a newspaper and flew up and over a building before anyone so much as had a chance to do anything else. She landed a few moments later, and quickly unfurled the paper and began to scan the top of the front page.

    Briefly, as she read, she gave silent thanks to the Joketsuzoku Elder, Perfume for teaching her the Chinese languages, and many others, so ... fluently.

    Her eyes widened in shock at what she discovered.

    Hong Kong Commercial Daily?!

    Granted, her grasp of Earth geography was not one of her strong suits, but even she knew that, if this news paper was correct, she was far more displaced than she had thought. She had been sent to the far side of the planet in a matter of seconds?

    Anxiously, the Tamaranian began to float back and forth in the alley. Another, disturbing thought occurred to her. What of her companions? If she had been transported across the globe, what of everyone else ... For that matter, who else had been sucked into the portal? She knew that Cyborg had, but the last she had seen, Robin and Jinx had appeared safe. She did not even have any recollection of seeing where Raven and Ryouga had been after she had awoken.

    Had anyone else aside from her and Cyborg been transported away by the void?

    Although it would be relatively little trouble for her to return to Jump City ... what if Cyborg had been transported in relative proximity to herself? She had only been a scant few seconds behind him in that black expanse, so if it had deposited her here, it seemed likely he could not be too far. Though it could potentially be dangerous for her, she needed to search for her friend first. Whether Cyborg was in the vicinity or not, she had to make certain first before returning Home.

    Satisfied with her decision, Starfire squared her shoulders and began to fold up the newspaper -

    "Stand where you are and place your hands above your head!"

    Starfire looked up, surprised by the sudden command. Standing at the mouth of the alley was a uniformed woman, a simple looking revolver held tightly in her grip and trained on the Tamaranian quite expertly. The emerald eyed alien stared at the human’s gun, then down to the news paper in her hand, then back up again, before quickly holding out the news paper.

    "I apologize! I intend to pay for the news paper, truly I do!"

    The police woman stared at her incredulously. "I repeat, drop the news paper and place your hands above your head!"

    Moving quickly, Starfire complied with the command, dropping the paper and lifting her hands up. She had no idea that the police were so strict in the part of the world! Still, at least this particular police woman appeared to be level headed.

    Proving the flame haired girl correct, the police woman nodded sharply as soon as she raised her hands, and reached behind her back to pull out a pair of hand cuffs. Then, moving slowly, the officer began to approach, gun trained on Starfire with one hand cautiously -

    "Look, look! They found the alien!"

    Instantly, a mob of excited citizens began to crowd into the alley, obviously emboldened by the sight of a firearm; too emboldened, in fact, as they crushed into the alley frantically to see the arrest of the alien.

    "No! Everyone! Stay back!" The policewoman cried out sharply, doing her best to gesture the crowd back with one hand and keep her gun aimed with the other. But her cries went unheeded as the small mob was unable to stop their own movement, being pushed in by people further outside the alley trying to force their way in.

    Starfire saw the danger immediately, and began to duck to the side -

    And then one of the people was knocked forward and slammed into the officer’s back. A crack of thunder split the alley. Starfire barked in pain as she felt the bullet slam into her shoulder. The small caliber projectile hit home with enough force to give the Tamaranian a nasty welt and she reacted on pure instinct, partly reducing the police woman’s firearm to molten metal with a burst of her optic blasts.

    The second that the unfortunate woman let out a pained scream at the melting metal dropping over her hands, Starfire realized that she had made a grievous error. The smell of burned flesh filled the alley and the policewoman fell to her knees, clutching her hand. Guilt wracked the alien girl, and she was momentarily torn between offering aid and turning to flee...

    "Did you see that?!" "The alien is attacking!" "Someone do something!" "Get it! Stop it!"

    Her decision was made for her quickly, then. In a blur, Starfire spun and flew out the back of the alley as fast as possible. She had seen enough of Beast Boy’s movies to know how quickly a misunderstanding like this could spin out of control when an angry mob was involved. She needed to get away before her very presence endangered the very people she had so recently been trying to protect.

    - - -

    Agent Tong scratched the nails of his thumb and index finger together - a simple nervous tick that helped him focus - while he watched the situation unfold. As the UNETCO liaison for the situation (now officially the "China-56-890 incident") by virtue of being the closest man with experience in the area, he had quickly integrated himself into the Hong Kong Crisis Response Center. It was a solid operation, and just the sort of counter terrorism commitment one would expect from a major city in the twenty first century.

    Data streamed into the CRC from ongoing operations in real time, and analysts worked at a feverish pace to meet the sudden and dramatic demands of the situation. No one here knew the truth like he did: that there was a god damned alien loose in the city. To the officers and analysts here, it was a potential terrorist attack that everyone was working hard to contain. The subject's unusual abilities were due to stolen military hardware... he had the clearance and "documentation" from the PRC to prove it.

    It was a tough spot to be in.

    There had been very little time to commit his new cover completely to memory. Luckily, he could lean on the Assistant Commissioner present for compliance. Unfortunately, the boots on the ground weren't trained UNETCO personnel. They were just jumpy civilians who couldn't even imagine the sort of horrors that forced themselves on Earth almost every day. It was better that way, for now, but it also made the situation on the ground less reliable.

    This injured officer was just an example.

    They had standing orders not to engage the subject. They were supposed to wait until "trained professionals" arrived to deal with it. Now they had lost China-56-890 again, and the alien had gone right back to ground. On large screens set up against the wall overlooking the Response Center, Agent Tong could see ongoing ops across the city, from the initial site to the latest dust up. Hong Kong's CRC (unlike UNETCO itself) didn't have UAVs in the air or real time satellite imaging, so they had to make do with digital overlays and real time traffic maps.

    Luckily, their facial recognition software and citywide surveillance was up to par.

    "We've got something," one of the analysts declared, and brought up a quick snap shot on one of the screens. It was a series of blurry pictures, but it was definitely China-56-890. She - it - had come out of hiding to fly up along the shaded side of a building.

    Tong patiently listened as the CRC director ordered helicopters rerouted to cover the new position. He already knew they'd be too late. China-56-890 was moving quickly now, popping up only briefly before going back into cover near ground level. They already had the entire force on the move combing the city, but China-56-890 was not limited to running. If at risk of confrontation, she - it, he reminded himself, the alien was an 'it' - would vault or fly over some obstacle and get lost in the tangle of buildings and backstreets.

    "She isn't really trying to hide," he reasoned. If China-56-890 was attempting an infiltration, it was one of the most sloppily executed on UNETCO record. Even after a crash landing, a real infiltrator would have kept out of sight. This one kept sticking her head out of the water to peek around.

    Maybe that was it.

    She - it - wasn't infiltrating the city. Maybe this was an abduction or assassination? Maybe it was looking for something, but couldn't find it. A botched entry could have thrown it off, or perhaps whatever it was after was likely to move or hide if something like the initial incident occurred. The fact that China-56-890 also kept appearing, even briefly, indicated it was in a rush. It felt like it didn't have much time, so it kept taking risks, even after that run-in with the police officer.

    "You're looking for something," he mused, and retreated back to confer with the CRC director.

    Yes: Agent Tong was certain of it. China-56-890 was in Hong Kong to find something... or someone. That left them with some possibilities. First: he would need to have Operations & Support draw up lists of all the sensitive people and objects on record as being within the city limits. Second: he could cross reference that with UNETCO lists of materials flagged as being likely targets for alien intervention. Third: if China-56-890 was looking for something, there had to be a pattern to its movements. A chronological map of appearances should be fairly easy to draw up.

    Approaching the busy CRC director with his suggestions, agent Tong paused. If he was right, what then?

    Seiran wanted the situation "contained" but they didn't want the alien subject "actively engaged" unless absolutely necessary. However, at the rate things were going, and at the rate China-56-890 was moving, something drastic would have to be done and quickly. There were already pockets of panicked people (some would call them mobs) that were posing a danger to operations and to secrecy. What to do then?

    China-56-890 had to either be lured out of the city or they would have to do something quickly to tie her down. Neither option gave the impression of being easy. They had choppers out constantly trying to track China-56-890. Tong was less than confident that some bright lights and loud noises would be enough to corral this beast.

    It wasn't ideal, but there were two possibilities that presented themselves.

    The first was to use a ruse to draw China-56-890 out of the city. If she was after someone or something, and if she ("it" he reminded himself again) suspected there was a limited time frame in which to find it... then perhaps a visible show of force in a different direction could draw China-56-890 out. Ordering the helicopters withdrawn en masse over the city where it could see them, perhaps China-56-890 could be convinced that what it wanted was somewhere outside the city... or at least in a more isolated area.

    There were some more isolation-friendly areas on Tsing-Yi Island, for example. It was also quite close by to where China-56-890 was searching, but far enough away that she - it - wouldn't have been able to investigate already. Ngong Shuen Chau Naval Base was also quite close by, and it would be easy enough to call in for additional manpower and resources from the garrison if needed. A plan began to form in Agent Tong's mind, even as he resumed his pace towards the CRC director.

    There would need to be a fall back option, too.

    If China-56-890 didn't take the bait, they'd lose their air cover, but the local police could still put men in position. If there was a pattern to China-56-890's movements, and Tong was certain now that there was, then he could have the Special Duties Unit (SDU) and some supporting forces lay an ambush. At this point, China-56-890 could not be allowed to run helter-skelter all over Hong Kong. She - it! - needed to be isolated or clamped down. They would find a good-enough spot in the city proper (a harbor for example), set up some snipers, and force China-56-890 to a defensive footing.

    It could work, at least until UNETCO special operations arrived on the scene. It was probably the best they could realistically make of the situation; the alternative was a drawn out battle over or in a highly populated area. China-56-890 would just have to be nipped in the bud.

    One way or another.

    - - -

    Cyborg couldn't help but stare as he wandered downtown.

    He'd known Gotham was a bigger city than his hometown, but he never imagined it would be so bright and crowded. Flashing lights, flashing signs, flashing screens, people flashing him the bird when he bumped into them. It was all pretty dazzling. Made him wonder how it got a reputation for being such a dreary gothic city. He was kind of curious what this "I Heart NYC" thing was that he saw everywhere, too, but it wasn't exactly a priority.

    Speaking of priorities, he wasn't even sure where to begin now that he was wrapped up in civvies and apparently blending in (the effort brought back some memories of his pre -Titans days even). Nonetheless, the question was: what to do first? Try to find Batman or some other convenient hero? Sneak a peek at the current tech? At the very least he might be able to come back with a few new games that wouldn't see the light of day for another year or so. Or, did he try to find that telescope and check on his satellites?

    Oh ho! That's what he needed to do!

    He totally needed to find one of those Sports Almanacs! Or at least a listing of winning lottery numbers. Sultan Cyborg had a nice ring to it, and it had worked out reasonably well for Biff. He already had one foot in the nearest bookstore before he managed to stop himself.

    "No, Cyborg. No abusing time travel for fun and profit..."

    Besides, it wasn't like Robin would let him use it, anyway.

    Cursing his fine moral fiber, he stepped back onto the sidewalk and began to wander aimlessly again. Without temporal fraud to keep him occupied, his options were starting to dwindle. He had no idea how to contact the League people in the future, and although starting a bank robbery seemed like a good idea, he had the feeling it would cause more problems than it solved.

    Then again, since he couldn't think of any great 'get home straight away' plans off the top of his head, there really wasn't a reason that he couldn't indulge himself a bit. After all, just a quick sneak peek into the secrets of tomorrow couldn't hurt too much, now could it?

    It didn't take him too long to find an electronics store in the bustling city. Cyborg wrung his hands in anticipation as he entered the building. Just as he'd hoped, the place was loaded with computers and computer accessories. Cables, adaptors, fans, power sources, monitors, all hung from the walls forming Cyborg's favorite kind of jungle. It seemed to be geared less towards selling stuff and more towards computer repair and self-assembly types.

    With practiced ease, he moved from bin to bin, display to display. Excitement glowed on his face as he looked at every component ... only to dissolve into confusion as he looked at some of the parts and unusual adaptors - USB? What on Earth was "USB 4.0"?

    It must have been a pretty recent development…

    Then his confusion transformed into disappointment when he checked the specs on the computers. Turning to the man behind the desk, he gestured towards the computers. "Hey, dude, where's your top of the line gear? Did I walk into a computer museum, or something?"

    The guy, not really much older than Cyborg himself, looked up from his magazine to give him the evil eye. "That stuff is pretty top of the line. I deal pretty much exclusively with the type of people that assemble their own machines. I'd be outta business if I didn't have the stuff anyone can order on the internet."

    "Are you joking me?" Cyborg stepped over and dropped a hand on one of the displays. "Gigabytes of RAM? This thing barely has enough processing power to run my waffle maker." He then pointed to one of the narrow slots on the front. "And what's with these 'USB' interfaces? Why would you try to introduce a new concept like that when most everyone has already standardized to the WTI?"

    "WTI?" the shop keep repeated incredulously. "I don't even know what you're talking about. And basically everyone uses USB. Or Firewire, I guess. It's been around for years." Leaning forward, the guy looked at him with narrowed eyes. "Look, buddy, are you just trying to mess with me? Cuz unless you magically traveled here from the future, or you’re rich enough to wipe your ass with Benjamins, this is as good as you'll get."

    Okay, that cinched it.

    Now Cyborg knew that something was seriously wrong here. This wasn't Star Wars; technology shouldn't get worse as time progressed. And if this USB thing had been around for years, then he sure as heck would have known about it. Even when it was the street-tech plebs used, this much difference in technology, and having such unusual differences supposedly stretching back to before he'd left... a sneaking suspicion was growing in the back of Cyborg's mind.

    "Alright then," he replied easily. "You got me, I was just playin, dude." Looking around, he grabbed a few technical manuals and some magazines, not to mention a few of the USB adaptors, just out of curiosity. As he offered the items to get rung up, he absently leaned forward to ask, "By the way, you ever hear of the Justice League?"

    "Justice League? What's that? A new movie?"

    "Ah, no ... just a new game over in Japan. For the, uh, 'x-box.' Yeah, was just wondering if you knew when it was coming over."

    The guy looked at him oddly again, before shrugging and ringing up the items. "Whatever, man, I don't keep up too much on what's goin' on overseas. Check out a Gamestop for that kind of stuff. If it's here, it's here, if it ain't, I'm not gonna worry about it. That'll be $41.50, by the way."

    A little nervously, Cyborg reached into his wallet and handed the man two twenties and a ten. There was a very good chance his money wouldn't even work ... but, he needn't have even worried. The guy barely even looked at the bills before tossing them in the register and handing him his change.

    "Alright, have a good night, man. Heh, that was a pretty good one, though. Using an AMD 940 to operate a waffle maker. What, would it butter them and serve up a glass of juice at the same time? Maybe while it read your paper to you and booted up Call of Duty?"

    Cyborg chuckled to himself, a bit self-consciously. "Heh, heh ... yeah, something like that! Maybe shoot 'em through the air to land on a plate all neatly stacked to boot..."

    Not waiting for a response, he quickly made his exit, leaving the shop with his bagged purchases. As soon as he was out the door, he quickly found the next closest alley and ducked in, finding a convenient shadow to hide in. Looking around a few times to make sure no one was paying attention, he pulled out the handful of change he'd just received.

    "Okay, something weird is going on here, and I got a sinking feeling what it might be."

    Pulling up the left sleeve of his newly acquired sweater, he brought up the display embedded in his forearm and cycled through the systems quickly. It only took him a few moments to find the rarely used application, and he started it up with a touch of a button. A small beam of light shot out of his wrist; a moment later it spread into a wide line which crossed over the coins several times before finally dying out.

    He waited several incredibly long seconds as the processors housed in his left arm, more powerful than pretty much all the computers in that entire store combined, analyzed the data. A loud 'ping' finally signaled when it was finished.

    > > SCAN COMPLETE: DIMENSIONAL VARIANCE DETECTED - FREQUENCY ??-0.1021
    > WARNING I/O ERRORS DETECTED

    The cybernetic teen grunted in frustration. Dimensional variance?

    That could only mean one thing. He'd been thrown through a lot more than just time by whatever had happened down in the lab. No Justice League, no Wayne Tech, and computers a decade obsolete...? Even if it was just the commercial stuff for regular peeps? What else was different about this world, and how many of his friends were trapped here with him?

    First thing first, he needed to learn more about this world so he could blend in more easily. That in mind, he stepped back out into the street and approached the first person he saw. Making sure not to get to close to the lady, he ducked his head and gestured to her.

    "Hey, Miss. Do you know where the nearest library is?"

    - - -

    Starfire’s breath came in ragged gasps as she swung around another building and dropped down to the pavement yet again. It was not even that the alien girl was exhausted, as it was the constant tension
    wearing at her nerves. Being pursued by the police had been one thing, but the numerous helicopters now sharing her sky were making evasion more difficult.

    She could feel the desperation begin to creep in; her search for her companions had been fruitless thus far, and the longer she continued her investigation, the more danger she placed herself in. Her training with the Warlords of Okaara had prepared her for the rigors of guerilla warfare, albeit with an emphasis on the jungle fighting of that world, but she was only one here and they were an entire city. She had done her best to avoid any form of pattern in her search, but it was only a matter of time before the humans’ net closed in around her.

    Unfortunately, by not following a set search pattern, it made it all the less likely that she would stumble upon Cyborg as well, providing he was in the city ...

    Hovering in the shadow of a taller building, she watched a squadron of uniformed officers march past her even as another helicopter flew overhead. Once she was certain she had not been spotted, the Tamaranian floated to the top of the building and peeked over the ledge.

    Numerous aircraft flitted through the air, she easily spotted five just in sight of her position, and could only guess how many others might be hiding behind some of the taller buildings in the distance. How much longer did she have before they were able to concentrate their search enough to pin her down? She began to plot a course to travel which would allow her to avoid as many of the vehicles’ flight paths as possible-

    When, suddenly and in unison, the entire fleet of helicopters spun about and began to fly to the south east at top speed. Starfire’s eyes widened at the sudden departure of the vehicles, her curiosity instantly aroused. What ... what was happening? Had the police suddenly lost interest in her? Considering how fervently they had been chasing her, she doubted it, which meant ... which meant that they had ... they had found something of more interest to them than her?

    The Tamaranian let out a gasp of understanding. There was only one thing in this city which could draw their attention away from her. Was it possible that they had located Cyborg before her, and were now moving to capture him? If that was the case, she had to assist him. Her friend, while powerful, was not nearly as mobile as herself, and would not be able to escape without causing more damage than either of them would be willing to.

    Just as she was about to shoot out from her hiding spot, though, a sudden thought stopped her in her tracks: What if this was a ruse? She had made little effort to hide the fact that she was searching for her
    comrade. Had they caught on to the nature of her movements, and were trying to draw her out?

    It only took Starfire a second of thought before she came to her conclusion. Trap or not, it did not matter. If there was even a chance that her friend was in peril, she had to investigate. Steeling her resolve, the alien super hero nodded to herself confidently and floated forward quickly, sticking tightly to rooftops and building faces to avoid detection as she began to tail the airborne vehicles. Though she was compelled to investigate the unusual actions of the helicopters, it did not mean she needed to take undue risks.

    - - -

    Patting his belly, Cyborg let out a satisfied belch. Leaning back into the booth seat, he had to commend these New Yorkers; Lord Almighty! They sure knew how to make a pizza! He'd needed it, too. After a whole morning in the library, comparing parallel dimensional histories, it was just what the doctor (or engineer) had ordered.

    It had been doubly delicious, since he hadn't actually eaten since before they had all left to answer the call at S.T.A.R. labs. He'd been too late to hit the library the night before, and then too busy looking for a motel cheap enough to stay at to bother getting a bite to eat. About the only saving grace of the entire night was finding out that the electricity here was still electricity, and not some crazy anti-backward Qwardian energy. He'd just straight up plugged himself into the wall socket of his room. It had only put his battery up a few percent over the entire night, but as long as he didn't overdo it, he'd be back to full in a few days time.

    So at least that was one worry of his put to rest.

    He wouldn't run out of juice and turn into Tin Man 2.0 ... though he sure didn't want to see the motel's electricity bill at the end of the month. As it was, he was still trying to digest all of the information he'd skimmed through that morning. Well, that and his pizza.

    Different presidents, different companies, outdated technology that seemed to have diverged around World War Two, no alien contacts, and, of course, the most notable difference of all:

    No super heroes.

    Beyond just that, no metahumans at all!

    At least there were no reported metahumans, anyway. Heck, they didn't even seem to have any super genius types at all. Anyone considered truly brilliant here was pretty much limited to theoretical sciences, at least in terms of physics people. Of course, no one handed out Nobels to the crime fighting super geniuses back home ...for political reasons... but it was still a good gauge for where things were in the world. The pronounced lack of super scientists actually kind of left Cyborg in a bit of a lurch.

    He doubted there was a person on the planet that was beyond a 6th level intellect. That meant even if he did go look for help on how to get home, all he would get would be theories. There didn't seem to be any publicly renowned think tanks, like Star labs, that he could go to that would help him manufacture and assemble the hardware for a functioning dimensional portal.

    So, it looked like he was stuck doing all the grunt work himself. He smirked at the thought of it. It'd be just like that Stargate episode, where that ascended guy made a stargate out of a microwave in the basement (an episode oddly mirrored in the same SG1 program they had on this Earth, but a season ahead of his own, going by this handy 'wikipedia' thing he had discovered).

    He'd just have to salvage enough existing tech, and hope there was enough moderately advanced stuff for him to cobble something together. Thankfully, he'd already had a bit of experience with parallel dimensions, but that had been his parents' work, not his own, so he had little more than a few dated copies of their research notes. That, and a world of bad memories…

    No point in getting ahead of himself, though.

    He was confident that at the very least, Ryo and Rae were here too, just not within fifty klicks of him. He really needed a way to find them. Unfortunately, he was again coming up blank. He could try to scan for Raven's energy signature, but without the satellites, his scanner wouldn't reach any further than his communicator.

    He supposed he could try to hijack someone else's satellite to boost the signal, but compatibility problems aside, that seemed pretty likely to draw some pretty negative attention. He'd leave the option on the table, but only once he'd had more of a chance to study this world's tech. It was undoubtedly kinda primitive, but there were enough subtle differences in application to make it tricky to reverse engineer. He held up the severed cord, tipped with the USB adaptor. It was certainly cute, but it definitely wasn't familiar.

    Hmmm ... familiar.

    'Now, if I were lost in a strange world, what would be the first thing I'd do?' he asked himself.

    "Look for something familiar. Or somewhere, or someone."

    It was, after all, what he was doing here in the first place: hoping to find some Justice League types to help him out. Of course, now he knew that this world was far more different than his own than he'd anticipated. Entire cities were gone, replaced with - admittedly glitzier – completely different ones. A lot of the places he grew up with weren't just gone, they'd never been in the first place. But what about Raven and Ryouga? Did they have any places they might go? Depending on where in the world they ended up, anyway.

    Ducking his arm under the table, he brought up the display screen and brought up his address book. Right at the top of the list was Titan Tower. Not there. Pizzeria ... Arcade ... Mall ... He quickly scrolled through all of the Jump City locations that they frequented. Their emergency meeting sites were equally meaningless, as he was already in Gotham, but Gotham wasn't there. Metropolis was out as well. Most of their emergency meeting places had tended to be in cities with strong League presence, in case they were ever that badly in need of back up. Too bad those back up plans didn't make the transition to different realities.

    He was about to put his arm away ... when he reached the end of his address book, and read the last, and latest entry.

    The Tendo Dojo.

    '...Nawww, what would be the odds?'

    Still, as far as he knew, Tokyo was present in both worlds. There was a slight chance, and even if he just left a tiny sign post, someone might stumble across it and start to follow it back to him. He could probably do that elsewhere as well; try to figure out some kind of message that could be sent out that his friends would understand. He wasn't exactly too mobile at the moment, so he couldn't fly around the world to find them, so maybe he could bring them to him?

    First thing was first, though, before going through the arduous process of tinkering together a message and a delivery system, he had a phone number right here. With his first actual plan of the night, he rose up from his seat, paid for his meal and left the pizzeria. It didn't take him long to find a phone booth ... though the thing had certainly seen its better days. It was pretty much painted solid with graffiti, but it still gave a signal. It would serve his purpose.

    Not exactly holding onto a mountain of change, Cyborg was forced to - feeling really terrible about it, too - crack open the case and start rooting through the wires. At the very least, this outdated mode of communication was pretty much identical between both worlds, and unchanged over the decades. It was a simple matter for him to find the necessary wires to bypass the phone itself, and hook right into the network. Removing a small transceiver from his skull, he then hooked it up to the wires and closed the case back up, applying a bit of heat with his cutting torch to melt it back closed. The last thing he needed to do was stand around in a phone booth for god knew how long.

    He then left the abused phone booth and found another convenient alleyway to hide in while he got underway. Once he was sure he was out of sight again, he sent a signal via the transmitter, and initiated the call. Without the phone, he couldn't input the number himself, but he had enough control to get the operator.

    Said operator answered moments later, sounding very much like an automated system.

    Even better, really.

    "How may I direct your call?"

    Smiling, Cyborg spoke directly to the air before him.

    "Could you connect me to the Tendo residence, please? It's in Tokyo, Japan, the Nerima ward ..."

    - - -
  15. Guile The Blind and Buttonless

    I don't know anything about XCom, but I'm certainly enjoying this. The Higurashi shrine bit was wonderfully warped, and being inside Cyborg's head is pretty hilarious. It's very... him in there.
  16. Cap'n Chryssalid the armor piercing wang

    What I did with the "inuyasha" bit seems to have really divided people. Some enjoyed it, some were annoyed or even hated it. lol. I had reasons for doing it like I did, but its also a very very small section of a tiny introductory chapter. I'm hoping those who didn't like it can just breeze through.

    Lathis does most of the Cyborg stuff, of course. In fact, of all the characters, Cy's scenes tend to have the most minor revisions and adjustments. For various reasons.

    -----
    BACK to the chapter updates!
    -----

    Seiran

    It wasn’t often that one got a routed call to an operative on-base. Most were permanently out of touch, and rightly so. However, there were certain protocols for switching lines from on base to off base. The ongoing hunt to register and safeguard wandering martial artists was part of this program.

    As a result, when Kasumi Tendo heard that she was getting a call ‘from the outside’ she knew exactly what it meant and what she had to do. Someone with an unidentified voice print was contacting the dojo and had followed up by receiving and dialing her automated extension. The last time a call of this sort had gotten through security thanks to the words ‘Ranma’ and ‘that damned Saotome’ being uttered, it had been an obscure martial artist calling to schedule a challenge and built up his reputation as a ‘dojo destroyer.’ He had quickly been traced, identified and detained.

    Kasumi had been in the middle of checking in on some growing skin graft scaffolds – tissue burns being the most common survivable injury encountered by field ops – when she got the news via the medical wing comm system. Finishing her review of one of the samples and putting the rest back into incubation, the eldest Tendo sister quickly removed her nitrile medical gloves and passed out through the lab sanitation filter. A flash of light sterilized anyone passing in or out, and she blinked a few times as she made her way to one of the restricted line phones.

    "Miss Tendo," a male voice spoke, a second after she picked up. "We have a Six-Seven from the outside line. Intel does not have voice match, and we are intercepting via landline and Echelon. Your conversation will be monitored at all times."

    "Yes, I know. Thank you."

    "Connecting now."

    There was an audible click, and Kasumi spoke up again, this time in Japanese. "Moshi moshi?"

    "Um, ah, hello there?" came the somewhat tentative response, unexpectedly in English. "This is Kasumi Tendo, right?"

    "Oh, yes, this is Kasumi," she also switched, easily, to English. "May I ask who is calling?"

    "Ah, right! This is ... um - Dan Hibiki! That's it. I'm Dan Hibiki. I've heard through the rumor mill that you know my long lost cousin, Ryouga? Is that right? I'm kind of looking for him, and I was wondering if he's stopped by the dojo lately?"

    "Dan Hibiki?" Kasumi asked, her mouth making a small ‘o.’ That couldn’t be right. As far as she knew, Tetsuya was an only son; Ryouga had no surviving uncles on his father’s side of the family, and none on Mitsuko's. Then again, there were supposedly more distant branches of the family… still, this didn’t seem to be one of them.

    Her mind raced: should she confront this man with that fact or play along?

    "Ryouga is a friend of mine, yes," she smoothly continued. "I believe he is out at the moment playing with his friends. May I ask what this is about? Is there some sort of family emergency?"

    "Well, it might be. So, you have seen him then, right? Umm ... can you tell me, if you've seen him recently, has he been acting ... odd in anyway? Y'know, confused, or maybe hanging out with strange girls?"

    Now that was an interesting question.

    "I’m afraid he runs into many strange people during his little trips, and he often appears a bit lost. Could you please be more specific?" she asked, politely. "What would these strange girls look like?"

    The mysterious speaker paused for a moment. "Well, one of them would be ... pale. Or maybe a redhead? Possibly even a... hmm, a rave party girl? I dunno if he's actually with any of them or not, just that he might be ... so, um ... have you?"

    "I’m sorry, none of those sounds like the kind of girls he and his friends spend time with," Kasumi replied. Of course, the ‘kind of girl’ Ryouga and the other boys spent most of their time with were best described by: ‘exuberant Chinese Amazon’ and ‘cross dressing warrior chef.’ The very idea of any of them spending time with a ‘rave party girl’ was well worth the price of admission.

    "Perhaps," she suggested. "You could contact his parents, Gendo and Yui?"

    "Um, y'know ..." Suddenly, the caller paused again. "Gendo and Yui, you say? I - ah - actually, I'm sorry for bothering you. I must have the wrong number." The deep voiced speaker laughed nervously. "Heh, what a crazy coincidence, eh? What are the odds of my cousin having the same name as your friend!"

    "A very strange coincidence," Kasumi cheerfully agreed, but inwardly cringed. She really should have picked a more obscure anime to get a couple’s names from! This was all because of that new Eva Rebuild! How many more good conversations would it ruin? How many?!

    "Please take care," she added, sensing he was about to hang up. "I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help."

    "Yeah, I'm sorry for wasting your time, too. I really need to be going now ... Actually, before I go, could I ask you a quick question? I was just wondering, off the top of my head, do you happen to like long, moonlit walks along the beach, and other cliché junk like that? Y'know... just out of curiosity?"

    "Actually…" On a lark, she answered the strange question. "I’ve sort of always wanted to go to one of those eighties night clubs."

    Bizarrely, she could have sworn she heard someone writing something down. "Eighties night clubs, eh? So, you like the not quite classic rock? That's pretty awesome, I wouldn't have thought of that. You like dancin' too?"

    "With the right man, maybe... Mister Hibiki."

    "Oh, oh! I, ah, I'm not talking about me! I'm ... um ... asking for a friend?" The strange ‘Mr. Hibiki' began to chuckle nervously again. "I mean, I'm a Hibiki after all, so I could be in, oh, Australia or something. Lord knows I'd never make it to Tokyo!"

    "Or you could be in Tokyo right now and not even know it!"

    "Heh heh heh, that's right! I could be bashing through some poor guy's wall even as we speak! ... Well, obviously I'm not, since you'd probably hear that, but still, you know us Hibikis!" Another pause. "Umm, quick, before I go, though, any other likes slash dislikes that any other prospective guys might want to know about if, hypothetically, they were to meet you?"

    "One would be that I prefer to meet people face to face." Only Kasumi’s ever-warm tone kept the phrase from being frosty, as it would coming from most any other woman’s mouth. As it was, it ended up sounding just a bit reprimanding. "I’ll let Ryouga know that his cousin Dan called. I’m sure you’ll run into each other sooner than you think."

    'Mr. Hibiki' chuckled to himself. "Can't blame a guy for tryin! Pleasure talkin' to ya, Kasumi. Have a good one."

    And with that, he hung up and the call was ended.

    Immediately, the line switched back to GenIntel’s HUMInt division. "Thank you Miss Tendo. I take it this man seemed suspicious to you?"

    "I’m afraid so. Ryouga may know something… but if not," she said with a sad sigh. "When you find him, please don’t be too rough."

    "We’ll be in contact."

    The call disconnected completely this time.

    Kasumi shook her head. Hopefully this man pretending to be ‘Dan Hibiki’ wasn’t a bad person. It could be nice to meet him some day and find out what all those strange questions were really about.

    - - -


    Canines.

    Why was it mandatory for Earthers to employ such vicious canines?

    Overhead, more helicopters circled, like vultures. More worrisome still were a pair of high flying military aircraft. It had been a sobering revelation when she had witnessed the arrival of the first military helicopter ... Before, she had been dealing with police, with law enforcement officers, good men and women charged with protecting the same citizens which she did.

    Soldiers, though ... soldiers were different. She knew soldiers; she had been raised as a warrior herself. Soldiers were not charged with the capture of enemies, they were trained to kill. Trained to destroy. She knew what Vegan soldiers did with their prisoners back home ... if they bothered to take prisoners at all.

    Her time with the Gordanians had not been forgotten, would never be forgotten. In her mind, the seriousness of the situation had sky rocketed. No longer was it a game of evasion with officers of the law, it was now a battle between warriors and with the life of Cyborg possibly hanging in the balance.

    Oh, how she wished Robin was present. He would know how to deal with this situation. Even if he didn’t, his very presence would provide her with limitless comfort. As it was, with all of the aerial activity, Starfire was understandably reluctant to leave the tree line. The further the aircraft had pulled back to the edge of a warehouse district by the sea, it had become increasingly difficult to stay out of sight.

    The loud barking of one of the Earth canines made her freeze as she considered her next move. Starfire was certain she hadn't been seen, but her comrade, Beast Boy had demonstrated how easily they could track by scent alone. It was likely she stood out simply by virtue of not being a native to the planet. If the attack dogs were close, though, it meant that ground troops were likely closing in as well. She had no desire to enter battle with the soldiers, she did not want to contemplate what would be required of her if she was forced to fight people intent on her death.

    The whole situation was... terribly worrying.

    It seemed likely that she was in China ... but that country possessed its share metahumans, as well. Earth politics was not something she was particularly fluent in, but Starfire had never heard of China cracking down on metas (or humanoid aliens in her case). She knew that her unintended property destruction had been ... embarrassing… but there was no reason for them to be pursuing her like this. Property destruction happened all the time! And if the officer had not fired upon her, causing her to react hastily and flee, this likely could have been settled peaceably. This escalation of force was beyond all reason.

    It left her painfully confused ... Why were they after her like this? Did they have Cyborg, and if so, why all of this security? Just what, in X'hal's name was going on here?

    The barking died down as the unseen canine that had gotten her scent paused in its pursuit. Starfire flew up along the underside of one of the warehouse railings, trying to blend in with the shadows and stitched iron latticework. The animals would not be able to track her like this, up here, and it would hopefully confuse them to an extent. Long enough for her to get a better grasp on what she was heading into.

    Peeking over the railing, she could see where the helicopters had headed before: it was another nondescript warehouse, or rather, just outside it. The humans here had set up some kind of barricade with parked vehicles. A very large truck was also parked nearby, and a similarly large helicopter - a transport version of the smaller ones, Star could guess - was idling on an open area near the pier. She could also see two more military-looking vehicles with weapons attached to their tops, and one heavily armored machine that reminded her of something she had seen some "swat" policemen use once.

    This latest revelation was the final nail in the burial container for the Tamaranian warrior. The military helicopters had been threatening, but distant. A danger removed by distance, and one that she felt comfortable dealing with, the air being her domain. The sight of a significant military force such as this, carrying such overtly lethal weapons filled her with apprehension, but ... but also with a nigh forgotten tingle of excitement. She had been trained as a warrior, but had rarely had to fall back on the darker aspects of her training while in the presence of her powerful friends.

    Her friends had never, to her knowledge, seen a real battlefield, and she hoped that they never would. She had, since her arrival, derived that there were differences in the codes of conduct concerning the combat of criminals than there was in fighting on the battlefield. It was just one of Earth's many peculiarities.

    The Tamaranian shook her head fiercely. She was getting too far ahead of herself; the possibility for combat was still not a certainty. Still, if they did have Cyborg here - and they were treating him like they seemed inclined to treat her - then he was in trouble. The level of security present would be problematic, though. Deciding to be a little conservative, Starfire remained hidden. It looked like the humans were going to be moving whatever they had into either the truck or the big helicopter. If she waited until the moment they made the move, she could make a more informed decision as to whether to get involved or not.

    So she waited.

    Time, of course, passed slowly when you wanted it to move quickly. What had Kasumi said before? "Constant observation of heated water prevents the phase transition from liquid to gas state?" Earther sayings were always so vexing to remember right; their languages seemed to be designed to confuse. Why did they have words with multiple meanings? It was frustrating. A klorbag was a klorbag, no matter the context. So why was a "chick" sometimes a young chicken and sometimes a person? There were too many meanings and double-meanings and puns and "plays regarding words" and other nonsense. It was the same with their written languages, too.

    It just was not very alien-friendly; she could pick up the languages easy enough, but the nuances still caused some problems. And waiting in the shadows while nothing happened only heightened the tension she felt. How long was that helicopter going to just stay there, wasting aviation fuel? How long were they going to keep that truck parked there with its engine running? Why was no one doing anything except standing around or walking back and forth pointlessly?

    Maybe they were...

    Was it possible they were waiting for someone? Her? Or was Cyborg hurt? Were they afraid to move him? Maybe they were waiting for a doctor or someone? The waiting, and the questions and scenarios her fertile imagination began to conjure up, were all quickly getting to her. Still, she held back, putting aide her initial anxiety. She watched the helicopters overhead very carefully, counting down their movements as they came and went.

    She could zip in, take a look, and zip out.

    She would have to; she could not afford to delay indefinitely.

    Finally decided on the course of action, Starfire focused her emotions, made sure of her timing, and bolted out of cover. The men guarding the center area immediately pointed at her and started yelling. Unhappy with her lack of alternatives, Starfire shot a few harmless bolts at the ground to kick up dust and encourage them to find cover. She heard cursing and yelling as a cloud of dust rose up. The men would be unable to see her well, but her target was a static enclosure. She could carefully zip in even with her own vision obscured.

    Rushing past the stunned men, Starfire landed to the side of one of the four parked vehicles. Pushing aside the heavy plastic that closed off the back of the large parked truck in the middle of the police cars she half expected - after all this - to see Cyborg strapped to a table or something. Instead, she came face to face with a dozen more of the armed humans in mottled blue uniforms. Surprised, and yet somehow not, she hesitated.

    "Don't move," one of them spoke, then repeated it in English, "Do not move."

    Hearing English spoken, finally, and for the first time, she twitched.

    But she did not move.

    One of the men inside was dressed differently and not armed. He wore the sort of black professional uniform she had seen older human men wearing back home. She had dealt with federal agents on several occasions, and this man, with his well serious, professional look seemed to fit that bill more so than the rest did.

    "You can understand me, can't you?" the black suited man asked, holding out his empty hands from where he stood among the armed soldiers. "I order you to surrender. You are now our prisoner."

    "Prisoner?" she asked, green eyes narrowing.

    Instinctively, light flared up around her hands.

    It was not like she had even thought about firing at the man. It had simply been an emotional response to a particularly charged word. Prisoner. Starfire had sworn years ago that she would never be taken prisoner again. The atrocities she had suffered at the hands of the Gordanians: submission - Capture - just the idea of it was abhorrent. So her emotions flared up, and the light around her hands followed a heartbeat later, blazing a vivid green.

    It was then that one of the armed men panicked, seeing what he no doubt thought to be an attack, especially given what had happened outside. Starfire felt it really, before the sound even sunk in.

    They were shooting at her.

    The first few rounds hit in her torso, and they stung fiercely. Aside from the police woman earlier, she had never been subjected to a human projectile weapon fire before, and that had been a notably smaller and weaker firearm. Usually her enemies used energy, or beam weapons of some sort or another, as most advanced races tended to. Who used chemicals to propel bits of hurtful metal at other sentient beings? It was cruel and barbaric! Why not just mutilate your enemies, too, while you were at it?

    Her Tamaranian physiology saved her life for the second time that day. Like all of her race, she was blessed with strength and durability far beyond that of humans, the power to survive even the harsh conditions of space itself. The tensile strength of her bones, the high density of her musculature, and the toughness of her skin were enough to protect her ... for the most part. The bullets that hit her chest didn't penetrate, mushrooming and flattening against the exotic material of her top in a painful manner.

    Without thinking, Starfire covered her face and chest and stumbled back a step. The man from before shouted something, but a second later - seeing her still standing despite taking three rounds to her center of mass - the nerves of the other men snapped and they opened fire as well.

    Incensed by the unprovoked attack, she gritted her teeth. A second later, the emerald light around her fists swelled several times in size, growing into beach ball sized spheres of roiling meta-plasma. The sound of gunfire continued, nearly deafening at this range, but the sharp pain of the projectiles slamming into her dropped markedly. Though she had hoped to hear the distinctive ‘pfft!’ of bullets being melted, unexpectedly it was the concussive force of her signature attacks that provided most of the protection, slowing or deflecting most of the projectiles enough so that they were no longer a serious threat when they hit home.

    Her thighs, woefully less protected than her upper body, still suffered as stray rounds continued to crash into them. Unfortunately, tough as it was, her skin was still as sensitive as any human's. She felt the bullets as they broke on her legs, some even managing to pierce her skin enough to draw out rivulets of green blood.

    'Why?!'

    Why were they shooting her? She was a Teen Titan! She was a hero! The government was not supposed to attack heroes, not like this! The occasional mistaken-identity melee or use of stun blasters aside, this did not happen! Robin had promised that her days on battlefields were over!

    "Enough! Cease your attack!" Starfire yelled, releasing her pent-up fury and confusion in a blast of green energy. The back of the truck blew apart from the force unleashed, and the half dozen armed men who had ambushed her inside it were all blown back. Bullets continued to fly, and soon one or two pained cries merged with her own.

    Instinctively, she flew up to get away.

    On Earth, her enemies were land bound more often than not. Flying was something her mind had come to correlate with safety. But one or two of them were still shooting at her. Again, starbolts began to emit from her fists and she did her best to block the incoming projectiles, unfortunately, a bullet bounced clean off her temple, dazing her vision for a moment. It felt like Slade had elbowed her in between the eyes. She was bleeding and hurt and ... and they were still firing at her!

    Fury, fury the likes of which she had not felt since her arrival on Earth bubbled up from a very dark place within her.

    "Hnh ... hnh ... Zengtha ru maka! Kek zengtha ror!"

    A dozen bolts of green rained down. One of the armed men took a hit and was blasted backwards through the air. A few others crashed into a nearby parked jeep, shearing off a door, blowing off a wheel and flipping the vehicle over. She did not want to hurt anyone, but... but she would not abide this! It was -

    A loud thunk-thunk sound cut off her thoughts as something exploded in the air nearby. Some kind of explosive shell, fired by one of the more heavily armored human vehicles. She resisted the urge to batter away at it with Starbolts, trying to balance her fury with her compassion. She did not wish to risk killing those in the back of the vehicle with unrestrained violence, but nor did she wish to ignore such a dangerous threat.

    Intense power built up in her eyes -

    Seconds later, two large, molten holes were burned through the nose of the APC, where she imagined the combustion engine might be located. Unfortunately, killing the vehicle's engine still left the turret functional. Not wanting to engage the helicopters above, she quickly dove down. The turret of the crippled vehicle tried to track her, and a man on one of the armed jeeps opened fire with a larger caliber projectile weapon. It was firing incredibly quickly, and Star only avoided getting tagged by sweeping around another parked jeep. Then she was beneath the arc of the APC's turret.

    Flying into the side of the personnel carrier, she slammed her hands into the heavy armor of the underbelly - the metal sheets twisting mercilessly under her grasp - and began to lift. The APC rose into the air, the alien warrior lifting it above her head. Glancing in the direction of the jeep, she prepared to use the armored vehicle as a shield...

    When two more APCs rolled out of the warehouse.

    Starfire‘s eyes narrowed as she regarded the incoming vehicles. Fury starting to get the better of caution, she hurled her captured APC, but aimed down at the docks. The bulky vehicle bounced once before rolling over several times, tearing up much of the metal framing, but doing little apparent damage to the main structure. The shooting and the advancing APCs and jeeps stopped, and some tried to quickly reverse. One flipped over onto its side as it tried to execute too sharp a turn.

    A moment later, something fast - too fast - exploded nearby. More metal, this time burning hot, nicked off her skin. It was like a dozen burning cuts, and she hissed even as the force of it tossed her to the ground. Another bullet, or something, bigger, faster, hit hard enough to knock the wind from her lungs.

    "Mesnef!" Starfire swore loudly.

    Glaring upwards at the airborne vehicle which had just tried to destroy her, her rage boiled over again. Even as the pair of military helicopters began to reorient on her new position, she launched herself into the air again, straight up and so fast that the missiles and projectiles they fired did little more than disrupt the emerald trail of light following in her wake.

    She managed to regain control of herself as she rose up level with the helicopters and restrained from simply blasting away at them. Rather, she zipped around behind the closest aircraft, moving far too fast for it to maneuver with her, and grabbed onto the tail of the helicopter. Plasma flared up around her hands, and a second later, the rear rotor ceased spinning from the damage she caused to the mechanism within.

    Even as the vehicle began to spin around - the pilot would be forced to land quickly - she took off in a straight line away from it, using its listing bulk to block the aim of the second helicopter long enough to get out of its range. Then, once she was clear, she poured on the speed. Green light trailed her like a glorious comet tail as she soared through the sky. There was no way that any of the helicopters would be able to keep pace with her, not with the speeds and heights she could attain ...

    Oddly, that was not nearly as comforting a thought as it should have been, though. She had escaped the military here ... but in doing so, she had possibly abandoned her dear friend in the clutches of those ... of those barbarians.

    The Tamaranian shook her head slowly as she soared aimlessly; one phrase summed up all of her feelings at the moment, and Starfire muttered sadly:

    "Heska vo ..."

    - - -

    "Damn it."

    Beast Boy winced at the outburst. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Robin standing at the center of the lab, very nearly on top of the epicenter of the… incident. The metal plating of the floor was warped and twisted in an oddly familiar pattern, like crested waves of water radiating out from a central point in a series of rings. Directly at the center was a perfectly circular depression, kind of like the one that happened when those Terminator guys traveled through time in those movies… whatever they were called. The rest of the lab was pretty much trashed as well, but in the more mundane ‘epic battle with insane monsters’ kind of way, then with the accident itself.

    A number of lab coat wearing types populating the chamber also noticed the outburst, and started giving the masked hero a slightly wider berth. One of the investigators from the Police Force looked ready to say something, but the ranking officer on the scene, Lieutenant Santiago if Beast Boy remembered her name correctly, gave the man a quick shake of her head and he went back to his work. In turn, Beast Boy shot her a thankful nod and received a quick one in return.

    It was hard for Beast Boy to see their leader so out of sorts. Sure, he’d seen Robin angry before: whenever he lost a card game, whenever Beast Boy tried to borrow his crime fighting gear, pretty much anything even tangentially related to Slade… But this was something else.

    This wasn’t just anger; there was desperation, recrimination, and a half a dozen other negative emotions that the changeling couldn’t quickly identify. It was also causing problems. The cops were usually good enough to let them help out with investigations like this but they were by no means obligated to. It was a matter of mutual good will that let them work in this way, and if the Lieutenant started to get worried they were too close to this problem to stay objective, she might ask them to leave.

    Waving down the Boy Wonder, Beast Boy called out. "Yo, Robin, ya gotta chill out, man."

    He then gestured to Kasumi. The eldest member of their team – not exactly a ‘field’ operative, to say the least – was examining a large machine that looked like a cross between a pinball machine and a pizza oven to the inexperienced shape shifter; she was still wearing the same blouse and skirt combination that she had been wearing in the tower – though they’d managed to remind her to take off her apron – and looked excruciatingly out of place in the middle of a disaster investigation. As soon as she heard him, she turned to see what he wanted.

    He quickly waved her over. As soon as she was close enough, he leaned in and whispered to her, "Can you keep an eye on Robin, please? I know this isn’t easy for any of us to deal with, but we gotta keep our heads, ya’know?"

    Kasumi didn’t respond immediately, instead, she appeared to study him for a moment, as if appraising him in some way. The tall brunette then nodded, offering him a brilliant smile. "Of course, Garfield. You are absolutely right."

    Then, unexpectedly, she leaned forward and dropped a hand on his shoulder, giving it a supportive squeeze. Whispering conspiratorially, she added, "Also, you’re doing an excellent job."

    Immediately, his cheeks began to burn, and he did his best to hide his embarrassment as the graceful woman turned and glided away. He hadn’t even had time to insert a standard indignant huff to her using his real name on a mission! It was, of course, utterly impossible to stay mad at Kasumi, though, so he just watched her go, and waited until she stopped at their Leader’s side and started speaking to him in hushed tones.

    Letting out a low sigh of relief, he then turned back to the other issue at hand. Behind him, Terra – goddess in human form that she was – was talking to some nerd wearing giant glasses that took up most of his face. Dr. Xenophon Quincy, if Beast Boy recalled. It was a remarkably difficult name to forget, in retrospect. The blonde Titan, wearing her standard black and yellow attire, was standing in front of a table, one littered with numerous labeled and tagged objects of various descriptions.

    "So, is there anything else you can tell us about the accident, Doctor?" Terra asked, her brow scrunching up adorably as she examined all of the pieces of ‘evidence’ that had been collected from around the lab in the aftermath. The researchers had not only picked up the twisted remains of the ‘DQD,' as they’d called it, they’d also collected every piece of material that was related to the experiments involving the ‘Hyper Griffin’.

    For a brief moment, Beast Boy let his imagination run wild. He knew he could change into alien animals now, after his stint at Starfire’s ‘wedding’, so did that mean he could turn into transdimensional beasties as well? How awesome would that be? Of course, any actual notion of trying to make such a change had been nipped in the bud the second he’d been shown video of the ‘creature’ in question. The sight of that monstrosity had been enough to set even his stomach into knots.

    "I’m afraid not, my dear," Dr Quincy replied, sounding somewhat embarrassed, "It’s only been a scant few hours since the accident. We haven’t even had time to clean up the mess properly, let alone start going through all of the data. You have no idea just the kind of computations are involved in transdimensional events such as this. Not to mention that we have an entire set of unknowns in the form of your one companion’s… unusual… powers."

    "Oh, you must mean Raven, right?" Terra asked inquisitively.

    The doctor nodded, turning back to pick up a scorched and twisted piece of metal from the table, looking it over with an analytical eye. "Quite so. If I weren’t watching it unfold with my own eyes, I scarcely would have believed it. The interaction between her powers, the Dimensional Quarantine Device and the entity itself, were completely unprecedented. We don’t have enough data to even begin to postulate as to what occurred."

    Beast Boy stepped in at that, trying hard to hide the trepidation in his voice. "Do… do you at least know if they’re… alright, or not? I mean… do you know anything?"

    Dr. Quincy turned to regard him, carefully controlling his expression. Despite that, the mousy scientist still wore a grave expression. "We are… hopeful," he finally stated.

    Pointing to the event epicenter, he gestured around with his hand. "While we do not know what did happen, our preliminary investigation has found no… no organic traces anywhere around ground zero. At the very least we believe that excludes the scenario of… violent exothermic reactions being involved."

    "Uhhhh…" Beast Boy lifted a finger, his jaw going slack.

    "Um, I think it means that he’s pretty sure they didn’t explode," Terra offered helpfully.

    "Oh – oh, well, that’s good news then! Umm… but what does it mean, then?"

    At that, the good doctor paused. "Well… we’re not exactly certain. Personally, I theorize that the event that occurred was a dimensional anomaly. In the best case scenario, it is possible that they were simply thrown through the dimensional barrier."

    Beast Boy stared at the man weakly. "And the worst case scenario?"

    "You, uh, likely don’t want to know the worst case scenario."

    The changeling’s face fell at that. "So, there’s nothing you can do, then?"

    "Oh my, no," Xenophon replied, suddenly quite upbeat. "This is one of the most advanced facilities on the planet. While we have no knowledge of what has happened yet, I am very confident that we will be able to unravel this mystery and determine the ultimate fate of your friends. We just need time to go over all of our data, both from prior experiments on the entity, and the information garnered from the combat between your friends and the entity."

    That seemed to garner Terra’s interest, the slim blonde was currently holding a large metal cylinder. Tilting it from side to side, a sloshing sound could be heard from inside it. "What kind of experiments did you do to that – that whatever it was?"

    "Oh, nothing out of the ordinary," Dr Quincy replied, off handedly. Reaching over, he picked up another cylinder similar to, but smaller than, the one Terra held. "We began by taking numerous tissue samples. The entity possessed a most incredible physical make up, being a transdimensional being. Did you know that the material of its feathers-" He held up the container in his hand for emphasis- "Is not functionally any different than samples taken from its brain?"

    He nodded to the container in her hands, quite pointedly.

    It took Terra a long second before realization finally set it. As soon as it did, she let out a startled gasp and nearly dropped the cylinder. Only a quick dive from Beast Boy caught it and returned it to the table safely. Still, he did not like what he had heard. Turning to glare at the doctor, he growled in a low voice.

    "You were dissecting it? While it was still alive!?"

    "What? Well, yes, but – you see – it is not really alive, not in any way that we can understand it, at any rate. But, still, isn’t that for the best? If your friends are still alive, the data we can extract from these samples may well hold the key to eventually saving them."

    That gave Beast Boy pause. ‘If they are still alive?’ Instantly, his outrage was mollified. He hated to admit it, but in this case, he found it hard to place the welfare of an extradimensional space monster above that of his friends-

    Wait, no, actually it wasn’t that hard at all.

    Swallowing his disgust with the researcher, he nodded. "They’re definitely alive, don’t you doubt it," he stated confidently. "You just make sure that you do everything you can to find them!"

    "Of course, of course," the doctor replied quickly. "In fact, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do this very minute."

    Beast Boy just watched as the diminutive scientist scurried off to busy himself with something far across the ruined lab. Frowning as he watched the man leave, he was caught by surprise when he felt a pair of arms wrap around his neck. Looking down in surprise, he saw Terra looking up at him. Her eyes were shimmering, and she pressed her head to his chest.

    "You – you’re sure that they’re all okay?" she asked tentatively.

    "You know it," he replied more firmly than he actually felt.

    "They’re all alright."

    Looking up, both young heroes started when they noticed that Robin and Kasumi were standing right beside them. The Boy Wonder’s face was tight, but he still gave the changeling a sharp nod of recognition. Words weren’t even necessary for the shape changer to feel a swell of pride in his chest.

    "They’re alright," Robin reiterated. "And they will be found, no matter how long it takes."

    Kasumi nodded brightly. "Of course they will. Ryouga and the others are far too tenacious to let something like being shifted into an alternate dimension keep them down for long."

    "Yeah!" Terra cheered, pumping her fist into the air. "I bet Cyborg will figure out how to get them home before any of these eggheads even get the chance to."

    Robin nodded, though his face remained grim. "Wherever they are, our friends will be alright. We, however, have a serious matter of our own to deal with, now."

    "Huh? What’s that?" Beast Boy asked, confused.

    "We just lost the majority of our team, and we have no idea how long it will take to get them back. Even staying optimistic, that is a major problem for us. If word gets out that the Teen Titans have been reduced from eight fighters to three in the blink of an eye, I have no doubt that that will garner us all of the wrong kinds of attention."

    Terra’s eyes grew wide as she considered the implications of that. "Oh… man."

    Robin nodded again. "We’ll let Dr Quincy and his team get to work here. We need to get back to the tower and start making our own preparations. First thing first, is going to be trying to keep this under wraps as long as possible. We’ll figure things out as we go from there."

    With that, their leader ushered them out of the laboratory and to the elevator that led back to the surface. Letting the ladies go on ahead, the Boy Wonder and Beast Boy followed a few steps behind. Before they stepped into the elevator, the two boys shared one last look. Despite all of their brave talk, and all of their assurances to Kasumi and Terra, one unspoken phrase continued to echo through their minds.

    If they still are alive…

    No, they definitely had to be. Beast Boy wasn’t sure he’d be able to live with himself if he actually let himself believe otherwise. And if Robin was even half right – and when was he ever less than 90% right? – then they were going to need all of their wits about them when word of this disaster got out.

    Damnit, Cy, you better use that stupidly big brain of yours to get everyone back here soon. I don’t want to know how bad things could get here without you guys…’

    Sighing sadly, the changeling wrapped an arm around Terra’s shoulder and pulled her close to him. Taking one last look at the interior of the ruined laboratory, he silently wished his missing friends luck.

    “You guys are on your own now… wherever you are. Take care of yourselves.”

    And then the elevator doors slid closed.

    - - -

    It was the strangest thing.

    Not just the battered phone – though seeing what looked like finger gouges in the case was odd – but that downtown wanted them to stay in the area and keep on the lookout for any suspicious activity. After 9/11, the city had upped its alertness when it came to unusual activity in public places, but it didn’t seem like this was a bomb scare.

    Officer Fielding reflected on that, while his partner finished herding people away form the area. If this had been a bomb threat, then there were dedicated units to handle it. Why send just two officers to clear the area and a city electrician to examine the suspicious phone booth? It seemed either to be a gross underestimation of the danger, or an overestimation of a malfunctioning machine. He could understand the desire not to cause a panic… the idea of some wacko packing phone booths with C4 or something was pretty nasty… but even if it was a false alarm, it seemed best to err on the side of caution.

    With the area secured, his partner meandered over, glancing over at the booth.

    "Vicky," Fielding called, waving her over. "What do’ya think? If this is what I think it may be… we’d have been better off clearing the whole street."

    Officer Christianson, despite being a petite five foot five, was an intelligent and highly regarded addition to the precinct, though a bit wet behind the ears. Her size and short, dirty blonde hair belied a surprising athleticism; few on the force dared to take up her offer of competitive racquetball for fear of being mercilessly trounced. Fielding himself was an older man in his forties, with more than ten years on the force after leaving the fire department.

    "It may not be an explosive, really," Christianson mused, as the two watched the electrician go to work. They’d both seen the obvious and unusual tampering (and on site welding) done to the phone.

    "Howso?"

    "Could be some cyber-terrorism thing," she speculated. "Maybe someone put a listening device in the phone or something that can flood the phone lines with static?"

    Fielding hadn’t thought of that – there were plenty of devious ways to cause confusion and panic, after all. It didn’t have to be a bomb. Some bastard could bug the phones to steal personal information for blackmail, or tap directly into the city landlines. If it really was something more covert than overt, then there was a definite benefit to not making a huge scene. For better or worse, he and Christianson had been put on this case, by ‘special order.’ If it turned out something was amiss, it wouldn’t be long before the Feds stuck their noses in, too.

    Maybe they already had.

    The New Yorkers seemed to take the disturbance in stride. A busy subway entrance nearby bustled with people coming and going, and two food carts jockeyed for customers down the street. Few paid much more than passing attention to the yellow tape and phone booth, clearly being fixed or replaced, except possibly to mutter (or curse) about the inconvenience of closing one lane of traffic. This was New York. Inconvenient construction and maintenance was part of life and hardly worth worrying about or thinking too deeply over.

    After a while, the city electrician walked over, one hand buried in a pocket, the other hanging onto a bag of tools.

    "What’cha got, Frank?" Fielding asked, facing the civil servant. The man looked to be in his thirties, and his face was lit up by the prospect of finding something exciting, for once.

    "Looks like a bug," the electrician replied, tilting his head as a few pedestrians walked by, outside the marked yellow tape border. "Someone did a quick job, rewiring the phone so he could tap into the line remotely."

    "Listening device?" Christianson asked.

    "Don’t think so." Frank shook his head. "Purely send/receive."

    "What about the casing?"

    "Got tore up pretty bad. Ripped it right open. Must’ve used a jaws of life or something exotic to do the job. The weld was sloppy, too. Guy must’ve been in a rush to do it without being seen."

    The two police nodded.

    "So," Frank asked, "Should I remove it? Or what?"

    "Probably not," Officer Fielding answered, though not before he and Christianson gave it some thought. "Let’s call it in and bring in some other professionals. See if we can trace it back to this guy."

    "I don’t have the equipment with me for anything like that," Frank admitted. "He’s gotta be tapping into it remotely, though, and there’s no big transmitter or nothin’. If he’s using it, I'd say he’s probably close by…"

    - - -

    Cyborg sat on the bed, staring at the pile of junk he'd managed to scrounge up from scrap yards and dumpsters behind computer shops and so on, over the course of the past few hours. He'd decided to use the motel for his base of operations for as long as he could afford it, in hopes of getting a hold of any other Titans that were likely dragged here with him.

    Unfortunately, this 'jury rigging junk into advanced tech' scenario wasn't panning out nearly as easily as the Coneheads had led him to believe. It wasn't like he was trying to do anything complicated; just cobble together a transmitter powerful enough to let him hitchhike onto an existing satellite network so that he could extend the range of his communicator from local to Global.

    However, this relatively simple plan was running into a laundry list of problems.

    Most notable of which was the fact that a lot of the components he'd managed to find were either damaged, or unusually dedicated to a single purpose. Sure, the capacitors and the power sources and the like worked fine, but he was starting to wonder if he was going to have to start cannibalizing his own systems to actually rig up something to actually send the signal itself.

    Of course, he wasn't a huge fan of that idea, since he was kind of fond of his own systems and all that. Still, he could afford to look for alternatives for a few more days, at least, before he'd have to look for other housing. He was pretty sure he could get it to work… eventually. He might just need to get more selective on the scrap he scrounged up. In fact, scrounging might not work at all; he might be forced to find existing transmitters and hijack them as well...

    It seemed that he was on the fast track to making himself really unpopular on this world. He'd already ticked off Kasumi, and now he was considering breaking into private, or possibly government facilities. He wasn't sure he could stomach all of this 'shadowy morality.'

    The sudden growling of his stomach reminded him of something else he couldn't stomach. Having an empty stomach. Sure, he was plugged into the wall socket, bringing his battery back up nicely, but that didn't help him at all from more conventional tastes. Well, that was what he had free phone service for! Thank goodness for complimentary phonebooks in these places. Pulling it out, he began to flip through the pages.

    "Now," he wondered, smiling at all the choices. "...what's a good pizza joint around here?"

    - - -

    "We’ve got something!"

    The excited exclamation woke Officer Fielding from his half asleep state. Rather than a room at headquarters, he awoke to see the inside of the special electronic counter-terrorism and surveillance van. Being pulled to babysit techs for a double shift was starting to look less and less attractive. God only knew what most of the stuff in the van actually did.

    Luckily, Officer Christianson was up and about, and far more comfortable with waiting around surrounded by screens and controls and other junk. They’d brought in the van about an hour after confirming the presence of third party hardware in the public phone, and a small group of EW types had quickly taken the phone and tapped into it with their own machines. Whatever it had entailed, Officer Fielding couldn’t say for sure, but they’d then spend the rest of the day waiting for someone to make a call.

    "Hello, Corner Street Pizza. May I take your order?"

    "Hmm, yeah, can I get a large meat lovers, double pepperoni? A bottle of soda, and some bread sticks? Send it to Castle Motel, room 108?"

    "We have an address?" Fielding asked, surprised by the gimme.

    "Maybe," Christianson said. "HQ will want this guy tailed and ID’d before we make a move."

    "We don’t have a lot on him besides the damage to the phone and the illegal tap."

    "The orders came from up top, remember?" Officer Christianson asked, on the ball as always. "Get a positive ID and observe from a distance. They must think he’s involved in something bigger than just this."

    "He sounds like some kid," fielding observed, though ‘kid’ was a relative term in his case. "What if all this is just some egghead’s practical joke?"

    His partner shrugged, reaching for the phone to HQ.

    "We’ll find out soon enough."

    - - -
  17. Cap'n Chryssalid the armor piercing wang

    - - -

    The knock at the door caught Cyborg's attention quickly. Excited, he jumped up and moved to the door. As expected, it was the pizza dude, heavenly smelling offering all prepared for Cyborg to enjoy. Taking the grub and the drink, he eagerly forked over the money.

    He prepared to close the door as the delivery man turned to walk away ... but something caught his attention. It wasn't anything major, probably totally inconsequential, but his sensors picked up a man sitting in a parked car, just across the road. There easily could have been a hundred reasons that a person would be sitting in their car: waiting for a friend, stopping for a snack, whatever. Slowly, Cyborg closed the door and moved to put the pizza on a nightstand. Moving back behind the door, he lifted his arm before him and brought up the sonic controls.

    Back before it had become his primary weapon, the Sonic Cannon had merely been a sonic scanner, and it could still serve that purpose. He was probably being paranoid, but he just wanted to make sure. It didn't take him long to set up the volume gain and focus it in on the vehicle across the way...

    "-ubject just paid for the pizza. Didn't get a good look, though. He's wearing a hooded sweater, looks to be a big guy, though, over six feet."

    Cyborg cut the feed immediately.

    "Well ... Crap."

    For a moment, Cyborg felt a flash of panic. The cops were on to him already? How the heck had they tracked him here so quickly?! …Wait a second - why had they tracked him here, like, at all? What the heck had he done to get their attention? He wasn't even sure he'd done anything to break the law yet.

    Heck, if it hadn't been for his own paranoia and love of cop movies, he wouldn't have even considered the possibility of a stake out. So, what the heck did they want? Frankly, he didn't really want to find out. What to do, though? Blast a back door? No, that was stupid, not to mention noisy. Make a hole into the basement? No, that was even worse, not to mention he didn't know if they had a basement here.

    Hmm, or maybe, he didn't need to do anything too crazy at all.

    'I'll take this pizza... and I'll EAT it.'

    Moving calmly, he picked up the pizza and made his way to the bed. Sitting down, easily in sight of the window, he opened up the box and grabbed a slice. He ate his fill fairly quickly, but made sure not to look like he was rushing, washing it down with as much of the soda as he could drink, straight from the bottle.

    Next, he leaned forward and went through his pile of scrap parts. It didn't take him too long to sort out all of the components that he thought might actually be useful, such as a few of the better power sources, and tucked them into the pouch on his sweater. He then tinkered around for another few minutes, before standing up and stretching lazily. Doing his best to remain calm, and his breathing even, he then, brazenly, walked right out of his motel room - leaving the light on - closed the door behind him, locked it, and proceeded to walk down the sidewalk, not even once looking at the parked car.

    It would be a long wait for his return.

    - - -

    Colonel Butler was the regional UNETCO commanding officer for China and most of Southeast Asia, based out of the secluded Chengdu Facility. A New Zealander by birth, he had served in special forces before being advanced to XCOM service in 2001. One of the most powerful psionics on the planet, he had trained for three months in the elite Fry Canyon Psi-Gym and saw service in three terror sites before being promoted to lead a squad in Asia. That had been almost half a decade ago. When his former CO died of a brain aneurism in a psionic duel with an Ethereal Commander, Butler's power and excellent combat record had merited an ascension to regional command and the rank of Colonel.

    Now, he was answerable only to Commander Yasuda at Seiran and Senior Commander Dennis at Supreme Command. Butler was a soldier with a soldier's subtlety, and a fairly typical XCOM Colonel's mentality. While Commanders had to deal with a wide range of regional issues, Colonels were in charge of smaller bases with much more narrow agendas. Chengdu - like Irkutsk or White Hill or Duiwelskloof - was a military base with very limited research and manufacturing facilities. It existed first and foremost to extend the UNETCO Global Surveillance Network and to provide rapid response combat units.

    The base was basically built around a hanger, a mind shield, and a hyperwave decoder.

    Practically speaking, this meant that Colonel Butler rarely had to deal with infiltration or Section Seven-sensitive matters. Seiran told Chengdu to intercept UFOs and contribute manpower. It was like that for all the smaller Colonel-run bases, and it was one of the reasons why Colonels were expected to be much more combat capable than Commanders. The latter rarely left the desk or the Pit that was their CIC (command information center). Instead, more often than not, Colonels were in the field with their men, putting boots on the ground and contributing psionic firepower to the mission.

    Today was one of the rare days when the call came for an "investigative response action" instead of a simply assault. Normally Seiran and Commander Yasuda handled these sorts of things, regardless of where they occurred in the greater Far East Theater. This was a unique case: there was something unusual - already flagged as a likely alien or hybrid - either attempting a sloppy infiltration in southeast Asia or just wreaking havoc. Given their proximity and the ever increasing difficulty of containing the incident, Chengdu had gotten the call.

    "Investigative Response Action."

    Everyone knew what that meant. IRA was code for "bag it; tag it; and try not to make a mess for once." It was that last directive that caused problems. Subduing aliens and alien infiltrators was often quite messy. Regional bases had squads set up for just such an action. Seiran had Juliet and India squads, and not coincidentally, Chengdu had begun cultivating Romeo based on the success of Juliet and India over in Japan. Technically, they had a squad that was ideal for an IRA... the problem was that Romeo Squad was a bit...

    Lacking in subtlety.

    'Yasuda will expect me to send them,' Butler mused, filing away the report on his desk. It was only a page long, and forwarded from the Commander herself. He could guess that she wanted Romeo to cut its teeth on this to see if they could reign themselves in when out in the field and not given a green light to act without restraint.

    Scratching underside of his chin, the middle aged Kiwi keyed up the information on China-56-890 on his desk's computer screen. Recent Intel had confirmed some interesting new information. Aerial recon and satellite imaging of China-56-890 had been spotty at best while it had remained in the city, but captured eyewitness testimony and other reports were indicating that it was likely not an Ethereal in the typical sense, but that it still possessed some rather unusual abilities. High speed sustained flight being just the most immediately obvious.

    It had already covered a great deal of ground, or air as it were, since it had escaped their ambush in Hong Kong. Though ‘escaped’ hardly did it justice. This alien girl hadn’t just evaded them, it had single handedly battled a platoon and won. It had demonstrated powers unlike any other alien they had seen before.

    So: a hybrid then.

    Either way, it would have to be taken care of, and Romeo was well suited to the task. If worst came to worst, though, he'd probably have to detail one of his Interceptors or Firestorms to conduct air-to-ground operations. That would be an absolute last resort however. It'd be a shame to have to burn good Elerium-115 just to take out a single alien, no matter how much trouble it was causing. He had a budget to operate under, after all.

    "Shame about that famous clock tower, though..."

    Tapping a key, he approved the use of the base's MkII Skyranger; there was no need to send an Avenger on something like this.

    Romeo would intercept China-56-890 in forty minutes.

    - - -

    Starfire dashed the tears from her eyes, finally slowing to a stop in midair. The Tamaranian warrior despised herself: her failure to control herself, her failure to locate Cyborg and ... worst of all, her failure to live up to the teachings of her dearest friend, Robin. As all of these failings weighed heavily upon her spirit, it was a wonder that the alien girl could remain aloft at all.

    She had been too weak, too naïve, too foolish to deal with this situation on her own. She had blundered directly into an ambush, had doubtlessly injured humans, innocent or not, and had failed to even discern if Cyborg had even been present at all. Taking a deep breath, Starfire focused on that last point, pushing aside the others. It was possible that Cyborg was in the custody of those terribly violent soldiers, at the whim of whatever terrifying experiments they could imagine!

    As much as she wished she could, Starfire could not simply flee and leave her friend in the clutches of those humans. Unfortunately, she had already proven that she was woefully unable to deal with the human military on her own. She lacked the stealth and detective skills of Robin, there was no way that she would be able to infiltrate the city once more without bringing the full weight of the government down on her once more.

    Not alone, at any rate.

    The thought struck Starfire as frustrating. She was floating, aimless, in the heart of the People's Republic of China, half a world away from her home. Her communicator was malfunctioning, she had no idea how many of her other friends had been similarly displaced and it felt like she didn’t have a single friend within a thousand ... miles ...

    The Tamaranian warrior gasped loudly, inspiration striking like lightning. She did have friends nearby! Friends that she did not have to fly half a world to find, friends that would doubtlessly be able to assist her in locating and rescuing Cyborg.

    Dear friends whom she had not seen in far too long.

    Starfire nearly slapped a hand to her head, unable to comprehend how she had not considered it before. The Amazon village was located near the Bayankala mountain range, and she had spent no small amount of time flying over the village during her precious time there, familiarizing herself with the region. Pulling out her communicator quickly, the alien girl flipped it open and quickly began to check the functions she required. As she suspected, the GPS function was still inoperable, but she was able to access the map database which the system used. The compass function of the device was also operating fully.

    Taking into account that her point of origin was the city of Hong Kong, and that she had been traveling in a Northern direction at high speeds for a relatively short amount of time, it did not take Starfire long to determine the general direction that she needed to travel in to reach the village. It was a best guess, based on numerous assumptions, but it was the only real option that she had. Taking heart in the idea that the situation would quickly begin to improve, the Tamaranian chose her direction and took off at top speed, the air cracking in her wake.

    As the wind whipped past her, time flowed by in a blur. Distant memories of the rustic village filled her mind, the pleasant thoughts making her flight all the quicker. The most cathartic training of Ryouga, her many long hours of conversation with the Elder Perfume... that most anomalous morning which had found Robin in her bed with her...

    For a moment, her cheeks began to flush, then, an instant later, the weight of the situation struck her again and she pushed the ignoble thought from her mind.

    She had to stay focused, there was too much at stake for her to be distracted. Cyborg might very well be relying on her for his very survival. As pleasant as her past memories were, the only thing she could allow herself to think on now was how Perfume could assist her in locating her friend and recovering him. Starfire lost track of how long she flew through the continually darkening night sky, doubt beginning to creep into her mind whether she was actually in China at all -

    The sight of a distant village renewed her determination in an instant. As the alien hero closed in on the village, she quickly realized it was not the Amazon village itself, though the style of the architecture was strongly reminiscent of it. That, in and of itself, was quite heartening. Perfume had explained that their village rested at the center of numerous other villages, offering protection and aid to them in exchange for goods and services rendered.

    If this was one of those outlying villages, than it meant that Starfire was on the right track.

    Within minutes, flying excitedly onward, the Tamaranian began to take note of familiar landmarks, most notably of all, the majestic mountain range rising up on the horizon. She could scarcely contain herself as she flew past village after village, each one growing more familiar than the last. A unique mountain peak in the distance became an arrow, a twisting dirt road, a line leading the way. Starfire was almost certain that, were she to fly straight north from here, she would cross over the dreaded valley of Jyusenkyou itself.

    Of course, not wanting to do that, she quickly turned and followed the very same trail that she and her friends had walked so many months ago.

    And there it was! In the darkness of the night, she could just make out the structures of the Amazon village. With a last burst of speed, Starfire cut through the air and arced down to land in the center of the very training circle that she and Ryouga had performed their most visual demonstration of the Hiryu Shoten Ha for the entire village.

    Arms held out wide, Starfire spun about, bursting with joy, preparing to call out to her dear friends, heedless of the time of night...

    Excitement gave way to confusion as disparate facts made themselves known to her. Though her memories of the village were still vivid, the beautiful architecture, rich with culture and the passion of those that built them. Reality, however, offered a very different vision of the village.

    What Starfire saw now was... was a war zone, left to the elements. Devastation stretched out around her in every direction. Buildings were in ruins, many of them looking as if they had been kicked over by an angry Kryptonian. Craters littered the terrain and the signs of battle were evident everywhere she looked.

    What had happened here?

    Slowly, taking uncertain steps, Starfire began to walk towards the closest building. The entire second story of the home was gone, shorn off as if by a swipe of a capricious Tornbral. Black scorch marks covered the remaining wooden planks still standing, and even the stone foundation looked to have been melted by whatever tremendous heat had wracked this poor structure. Starfire ran her hand along a blackened beam, dark carbon clinging to her fingers when she pulled them away.

    The destruction was so complete, so vicious...

    And old.

    Dust and tiny weeds had collected in the interior of the shattered building, and if the Tamaranian had to put forward guess, she would wager it must have been weeks, if not months since this... this disaster occurred. But that did not make any sense. She had personally been in contact with the village several times over the past several months. Ever since she had proclaimed the Amazon village an ally of Tamaran, she had numerous debates with the Tamaranian diplomats and ambassadors on her friends' behalf. Apparently she had somewhat overstepped her authority in making such a broad sweeping declaration, but once she had explained the situation, her people had quickly come around to her point of view.

    A painfully disturbing scenario began to form in Starfire’s mind. The inexplicable and forceful attack on her by the Chinese military. The fear and resentment of the general populace at her very presence, and now this, the utter annihilation of a village of martial artists of super human ability?

    Lost in thought, Starfire began to wander aimlessly around the remains of the village.

    For the common populace to be so shocked by the appearance of a meta-human, for the military to be so rapid and practiced in their response to any such appearances ... For the devastation to have reached so far, even to the most remote corners of the globe such as this village? Had she been displaced in more than just space, but in time as well? How long had she been gone? What could have possibly happened to result in - in all this? Even more terrifying, what did this mean for all of her friends? Everyone she knew and cared about, both those sent here with her, and those left behind?

    Where was Robin in all of this?

    This was not the first time she had been flung through time, but even that dystopian future, that dark nightmare time, paled in comparison to the soul numbing horror that was only now beginning to wash over the Tamaranian. To imagine that such a bright, seemingly normal world could be built on top of graveyards such as this one, mausoleums filled exclusively with those that she had considered the dearest of friends and comrades...?

    It was obscene in a way that the Tamaranian’s mind could scarcely comprehend.

    Mindless wonder dazed Starfire for a moment, leaving her wavering for a moment, until the weight of all of the implications finally settled down on her narrow shoulders. Even her alien might was not enough, her legs failed her, dropping her onto her knees in the dirt.

    She prayed to X’hal that she would just wake up. There was no way that this nightmare could possibly be the future, her future. She was still unconscious on the floor of the underground laboratory, Robin already holding her sleeping form and urging her to wake up. That was what it had to be -

    A prickly, warning sensation warmed the back of her mind.

    It was a feeling almost like...

    Starfire turned to look over her shoulder, half expecting to see Perfume or Cologne emerging from behind the ruins and the rubble. That feeling of a confident and powerful presence was one she had experienced before in this same village. It was a light almost like her own, powered as it was by the intensity of her emotions. In turmoil as she was, she could still faintly feel that alien - human, Earther - presence nearby.

    It wasn't Perfume.

    Or Cologne.

    A man sat on an upturned slab of stone before one of the half destroyed buildings. Starfire assumed it was a man anyway; unlike the soldiers and agents she had seen and encountered before, this one wore a sort of black and white tinted armor. Metal over some sort of body glove, and some larger plates over the chest, arms and legs, covered enough of the suit that Starfire could guess it wasn't casual attire. This was undoubtedly another soldier, but one more well equipped.

    A helmet covered the man's (or woman's) face: a dark blue visor set into more tinted metal and plastic from the crown of the head to the tip of the chin. Seemingly out of place, the armor had a few embellishments around the shoulders and arms in the form of what looked almost like green scales. The man continued to sit, one leg crossed over the other, and one arm propped casually over the right knee.

    He watched her for a moment, as if sensing that she was about to pounce.

    "I'm... surprised. I hadn't expected to see those sorts of emotions coming from one of your kind," he spoke in a haughty, unworried tone. The English was plain, but slightly accented and definitely male. "We all thought you'd be heading to the cursed springs. What did you hope to find here, in this place?"

    Starfire shot to her feet in an instant, green fire springing up from her fists and eyes.

    "What would one such as you know of emotions?"

    The alien warrior’s fists curled more tightly as the implications of what the man had said became clear. If this soldier knew of the springs, knew the region well enough to have anticipated her travels, it was doubtless that he had already been here before. The arrogant tone in his voice as he spoke down to her, even as he sat, perched upon the scorched remains of her friend’s homes, very much like a royalty, only infuriated her further.

    Righteous fury built up in the Tamaranian’s heart as she glared heatedly at the seated warrior.

    "I would have questioned how you were capable of locating me so quickly, but your familiarity - and your disdain for the tragedy which has occurred here is all too obvious."

    "Tragedy?" the man replied, tilting his head slightly in visible amusement. "That's amusing, coming from you. I've been watching you for a little while now. Who were you expecting to find here? Was it your Master, Cologne?"

    Starfire bristled at the bemusement in the villain's voice. "You know of Elder Cologne? So you were involved in the massacre! The Elder was a beloved comrade to me, and I swear that if you have harmed her-" The Tamaranian lifted her fist, intensifying the jade energy around it until the air began to ripple menacingly. "- Then I will never forgive you!"

    The man uncrossed his legs and stared at her for a moment.

    "So, you are one of Cologne's little pets?" he asked, but only rhetorically. "But..."

    A disdainful snort translated through the helmet's speakers.

    "Hm. Another experiment of some sort, I suppose. A perversion of the Art. And that glow - is that supposed to be some alien version of the lion's roar shot? Well... you won't find your master here. I was told to bring you in alive if possible but I'm guessing you'll prefer to be subdued, won't you?"

    Starfire’s glare faltered for a moment at the stranger’s bizarre words, but only for a second. Then, a moment later, as the man’s words truly sunk in, the fury in her chest boiled over to new heights. If this person knew of the Lion Roar Shot ... She had not seen Ryouga transported through the void with her and Cyborg. Had he been left behind on this world - left to fall at the hands of this monster?

    The alien warrior floated several inches off the ground, her burning glare returning in full force.

    "Face me at your own risk, villain. Greater warriors than you have attempted to subdue me, and your treacherous actions do not incline me to mercy. Attack me now, and I will make you pay for those you have harmed!"

    The seated man tapped the side of his helmet at the display.

    "My, my, you sound like that swordsman in India Squad," he mused. "Shall we see what else Cologne jammed into that alien brain of yours?"

    Starfire spun as something loomed behind her, reflexively unleashing a wave of green energy that had built up to uncomfortable levels. Another man, larger than the one before but wearing similar matte black and white armor, ended up pushed back by the blast. A trio of orange tiger stripes decorated the segmented metal plates over his shoulders. He hit the ground with a crash, feet digging into the dirt as the star bolt washed over and past him. Smoke rose from the roasted armor, but the man within hardly seemed to mind the discomfort - if anything, he seemed overjoyed.

    "Hah!" the large man barked happily. "It doesn't feel quite like the real version of the technique! Not as heavy, but pretty damn hot!"

    "She's using more anger than depression," the seated man explained, but made no move to help or interfere. "You have permission to break her arms if it'll make subduing her easier. We can always fix them back at the base."

    Starfire spun to stare at the arrogant fool behind her. "You think it will be so easy? I will show you the error of underestimating a Tamaranian warrior!"

    Did these people think they could just speak back and forth about her as if she were not even there? To drive her lesson in manners home before turning back to the massive soldier behind her, she flung a heated Starbolt at the overconfident villain.

    -

    'A Tamaranian warrior, eh? What a strange thing to say.'

    Herb blurred out of the way of the strange green attack to another vantage point. It seemed the alien wouldn't just let him sit and watch. He approved. The girl - or the thing that looked like a girl - had some pride. That was interesting. This thing was not acting like a normal alien infiltrator or one of Cologne's alien-human Trenchard experiments. She had also called herself a "Tamaranian." That wasn't an English word.

    Or was it?

    "Command," he spoke softly, not bothering to swap audio settings for the armor's HUD. "Contextual check on the word 'Tamaranian' and its derivatives. It isn't one I've heard before."

    "Running it now," a female voice replied from the other end. "Sir, are you going to just sit and watch while that thing fights Lime?"

    "I was," Herb replied, and glanced down at the stone where had just been - it was too charred to be worth using now. "I suppose I'll just have to stand instead. Contact me if you find anything interesting."

    Herb alighted on the tip of a broken house support, turning his attention back to the goings-on below. It was important to understand this creature, not just capture it, and especially not kill it. It was a unique being, possibly once human, and UNETCO did not want a corpse unless absolutely necessary. Initially, Herb had seen the mission as nothing terribly unusual; they weren't called in often to deal with rogues or strange occurrences, just regular missions. Herb had assumed it would be no different than hunting down that bratty Pantyhose fool.

    This girl, though...

    Why had she come to the ruins of the village here? If she was one of Cologne's, she had to know her master wouldn't be here anymore. Was she an abandoned experiment of some sort, unaware of what had happened over the last few months? Why had she glowed with palpable grief and a literal cocktail of emotions foreign to the alien menace. She should have identified that the village was a dead end and efficiently moved on.

    A failed experiment, then? Too emotional?

    It was a possibility.

    Her unusual actions had piqued his curiosity, and her response to him had also been unexpected and unusual. There was something different about this creature in the guise of a girl. Herb's honed martial arts senses could feel it, and his instinct was all but screaming that this alien wasn't like Cologne. She was too... confused, too hurt, too afraid. Aliens knew fear, and Herb had shown it to them personally several times, but it wasn't a basic animal survival-fear. This was a fear for oneself, but also for others.

    Even if this creature was a discarded experiment - too human for Cologne to keep, perhaps - she would have to be contained and brought in. The PRC was up in arms over that business in Hong Kong and treating it like it was a prelude to a terror site. Seiran wanted the situation "handled." In the meantime, he, Herb, would watch and observe.

    -

    Starfire felt Lime's first solid blow connect.

    She'd sparred with Ryouga and Cyborg many times, not to mention her off world training and her fellow Tamaranians back home, and she knew what it was like to take a punch. That didn't mean it didn't hurt. X'hal, it hurt. Especially since, unlike most super powered bruisers, this man had the skill to make every blow count. What form of person was this? He was very nearly as strong as Cyborg; perhaps the government of this planet had kept a select number of dull, obedient metahumans alive as slaves?

    Starfire felt the jagged cut in the inside of her mouth with her tongue, even as she jinked out of the way of another of the armored man's blows. He was large, but still quite quick, and when she started to try and fly upwards he always made for a grapple. That was the problem with flight - when toe to toe with another warrior on the ground, areas of attack and defense were defined by reach. When trying to take off vertically, more of her lower body was exposed to her opponent's upper body, and she was not terribly keen on letting him get a good grip on her.

    She needed space to maneuver.

    Zipping back and away as the other warrior swiped at her with his palm, Starfire held out her hands and unleashed a quick flurry of starbolts. She was already furious enough at the situation that the heat of them came easily to her, plus since that armor seemed unusually resilient, she didn't feel much need to hold back. The bolts saturated the area, and Starfire tried to take the opportunity to get airborne. Her flight was cut short as she leaned back, allowing a large chunk of masonry to pass overhead, just inches from her nose.

    "Got you!" a voice called, and a vice like grip found her ankle.

    Starfire tried to angle a quick shot down while pushing her flight up, but her body was already in motion and the brute had somehow rooted himself in place. She flew off to the side, a green blast going wild and missing, a moment before she met a wall face first. The brick shattered like a house of cards as she swung through it, around in the air at a blurry dizzy pace, and then back down. Her brief but brutal trip ended with a thunderous crash as her back met paved stone, smashing a crater into the former floor of someone's doorstep. A spider web of cracks shot out from the impact point.

    There was no time to hesitate.

    She rolled to the side as the other warrior's boot came down, first to the left, avoiding a stomp that could well have broken a bone, and then to the right. Each footfall shook the ground beneath her. A third blow nearly connected when inspiration struck: grabbing onto the massive leg, she pushed herself up with her abs and nailed the brutish soldier in the face with both feet. The blow barely fazed him, but it gave her the chance to try something new.

    Kicking him one more time for good measure, Starfire locked her ankles behind the larger warrior's neck and pulled herself up. One of the brute's hands tried to pry her off, but he had little in the way of leverage, and she had her entire body coiled up against it. Forcefully pushing one of his arms out of the way, and locking the other to her side with her left arm, Starfire landed a telling blow to the man's helmet. First one, then another, then another.

    Whatever it was made of, though, it was tough.

    Her fists couldn't dent it, but the man beneath was starting to feel the blows. One of his arms finally snaked through, and the inside of his forearm pressed against her midsection, trying to force her away. Starfire responded by grabbing onto the helmet itself to find a switch or latch that would unlock it. It was made of tough stuff, to be sure, but beneath the metal was softer: plastic or rubber maybe. Heating up her hands as if to fire a starbolt, she began to worm her fingers deeper into it.

    "Ra-ha-ha!" The man beneath the armor suddenly laughed, and threw himself forward. "You're not bad!"

    The two of them crashed into the ground with a bone jarring crunch. Now she was on her back again, and he was right above her. The psychotic warrior then slammed his face right into her torso, and still chuckling, aimed higher and hit her lower lip with the rim of his helmet.

    Still, he had neglected to brace himself.

    Pushing up with her own formidable strength, she quickly reversed their position. His head was still caught in the vice of her legs, and this time, finally having him on his back, she took no chances. Her right hand reared back and glowed like a green star before coming down. The ground shuddered, and a shockwave of green force savaged the earth. Paved stonework shot straight up into the air, hung for a half second like multi-colored rain, and then fell back down.

    Starfire studied the downed man below her for several precious seconds. The behemoth’s head lolled around for a bit, though the tinted visor made it impossible to see his face, she was certain that she had dazed him with her last attack. Satisfied with that, she turned to glare over her shoulder at the man standing on the building behind her. He was the one giving orders, the one most responsible for whatever terrors may have been inflicted upon her friends.

    As far as she could tell, this big lug could not fly, either, so he was not so much of a worry to her once airborne. That in mind, she instantly abandoned her perch on the soldier’s chest and launched herself at the haughty commander with full speed. The wind cracked at her passage, and a furrow of dirt was lifted into the air in her wake as she sped towards her opponent, powerful Starbolts building up around her fists as she flew -

    She barely even registered the blur of motion moving parallel to her until it was too late!

    The vague figure resolved itself into the shape of a smaller person, wearing similar armor to the other two, though with different embellishments, yet again. Somehow, though she was flying as fast as she dared this close to the ground, this person was keeping pace with her. Not that she had not met speedsters before, but she had never heard of one that wore personal armor.

    With a flash, the smaller soldier’s arm flashed out at her - only the glint of light from her Starbolts gave any warning that something had left his hand, and she raised her arm to block whatever the projectile was. Her forearm swept into the narrow, weighted wire which he had thrown, and it wrapped tightly around her armored glove.

    For just a fraction of a second, the Tamaranian and the Soldier stared at each other, though the alien could not see the warrior’s eyes in return. Then, with an impressive tug, the smaller man pulled away from her, wrenching on the wire with his entire upper body ...

    It was a sound plan, and had she been anyone else, it likely would have worked, but this smaller warrior possessed not even a fraction of his larger companion’s strength. The wire pulled taut nearly instantly, but Starfire’s trajectory swung the opposite direction that her enemy had intended, and she pulled back with all of her own great strength.

    A wicked smirk cracked her lip as the diminutive figure was torn from his feet and sent flying away from her. To her amazement, the wire did not snap at the sudden and intense forces it was subjected to, but the flailing warrior was forced to release his hold on it as he skillfully oriented himself in midair before crashing to the ground. Hovering to a stop, Starfire regarded this new opponent as she untangled the strange wire from her wrist.

    The nimble figure landed gracefully on his feet, not pausing for an instant before pulling out an unusual pair of batons from behind his back. Though not familiar with the exact model, Starfire knew a stun weapon when she saw one. An unusual choice, considering the lethal accoutrements that everyone else in league with them had used so far.

    Giving the weapons an expert twirl, the warrior then crouched down, obviously preparing to charge her with his impressive speed. Starfire quickly considered her options. She could likely get up and out of his range before he closed in, but there was no guarantee, and even a glancing blow to her foot could be enough to daze her. Smiling confidently, Starfire set herself back into a most fitting combat stance, considering the hallowed ground upon which she stood. Perfume herself, youngest Elder of the Amazon Council, had taught her the basics of this style personally, and the Tamaranian had done her best to honor her mentor’s training.

    Holding out her hand, she quickly flipped her palm up and gestured for the armored figure to come at her with a flick of her fingers. The small warrior’s head tilted curiously for a moment as he regarded her, but he eagerly obliged less than a second later. Moving forward with startling linear motion, her opponent was threatening to overwhelm her with pure speed -

    He was not prepared when, unpredictably, Starfire suddenly leaned forward and fired off a small Starbolt directly into the path of her rapidly charging opponent. A spray of dirt and sod flew up into the air, and the warrior was forced to quickly readjust his course as his footing suddenly failed him.

    At the same time, Starfire launched herself forward as well. She lashed out with a powerful snap kick, but the nimble figure quickly dodged to the side. A fraction of a second later, she pulled her leg back as a baton shot out at blinding speed, just missing her knee by a fraction of an inch. Starfire’s eyes widened then, when the soldier’s arms nearly vanished into a blur of slashes and jabs. Her own arms began to windmill as she desperately tried to deflect as many of the attacks as she could. She called upon every ounce of skill she had gleaned from her training with Perfume, with Ryouga, with Robin, but still, the combined speed and skill of her opponent was beyond anything she had trained against before.

    A tingle ran up her forearm as a stun baton glanced across her glove. Another sent a minor jolt down her leg, then another grazed her exposed mid-riff as she was steadily forced back. Only her own resilience to energy prevented her from dropping to the ground in convulsions -

    A sudden thought struck the Tamaranian, and it was all she could do to hide her smile. In a blur of raw velocity, the small warrior stabbed one of the batons directly at her chest ... and Starfire took the hit fully. Energy arced through her body, and like a sack of potatoes, she collapsed dead onto her back, small twitches running down her limbs. Less than a second later, her gratifyingly thorough enemy was on top of her, both stun batons crossed over her neck, crackling electricity tingling the skin of her throat with its proximity.

    "Lord Herb! Lord Herb!" the warrior yelled excitedly. "I got her! Look at this! I did it!"

    The second the warrior looked away, Starfire’s convulsions stopped and a vicious smile spread across her lips.

    "You should be more attentive in battle, little one."

    She could just imagine the shocked look on his face through his visor as he turned back to stare at her. Not even the super human speed of his hands was enough to react in time as her eyes lit up with emerald fury. The sound of crackling plasma filled the air as twin pillars of raw power slammed directly into the small warrior’s chest. Within a second, he was already a dozen feet into the air, then two, then three as the punishing emerald lances lifted him ever higher with freight train force.

    Several agonizingly long seconds, as Starfire rose to her knees, the small soldier finally crashed to the ground. Then she heard a rumble as the large fighter from before angrily advanced from her side and turned to face the superhumanly strong soldier a second time. His formerly playful (viciously playful may have been more accurate) demeanor seemed to have given way to an indignant anger. Smoke rolled off the large fighter's body as he stalked closer, fists clenched.

    With a swish, she saw a fourth solider appear, this time on her other side.

    This one was, unlike the others, armed with both ranged and melee weapons. It was difficult to tell for sure with the armor, but this soldier also appeared to be a woman judging by her posture and build. She - Starfire guessed at the gender - had some sort of staff behind her back, another of those stun rods strapped to her thigh, and a strange looking rifle of some sort in her hands. She also seemed to be inching less towards Starfire's flank and more towards where the speedy soldier from before had fallen.

    Starfire glanced from one side to the next, charging another volley of bolts in her hands.

    "Now, now, that's enough," their leader announced, motioning with his hand. "Both of you attend to Mint."

    "But Lord Herb!" the strongman growled openly. "She--!"

    "Lime." The man's cold tone brooked no argument.

    Starfire dared to turn her back on the other two soldiers to face the source of all this trouble. The group's leader hadn't moved from his post overlooking the battlefield, perched up there like a bird. He didn't seem to be armed with any weapons at all, but that prickly feeling from before was as strong as ever. Starfire's fighting instincts were all telling her that this man, their leader, was more powerful than either of his subordinates. Probably by a good degree. Her blood was already pumping hard through her veins, and at that moment, the prospect of a no-holds-barred fight with this villain was about the most appealing thing she could imagine.

    "Are you very much finished hiding behind your minions, coward?" she floated towards him, toes gliding over crushed rocks and upended masonry.

    "For one of Cologne's little lab rats, your killing intent and battle aura are weak... and easy to read," the man stated, helmet leaning forward slightly. "I knew from the start that neither of my men were in danger, even if they got careless and lost."

    "I am no person's rodent, regardless of the setting! And unlike you, I have no desire to kill my opponents needlessly!"

    "And yet you came here seeking Cologne?"

    Starfire's eyes narrowed at the pointed question. "My goals are no concern of yours, soldier. If you consider yourself wise, leave me be!"

    The leader drifted off his perch, floating down at a leisurely pace.

    "That's impossible," he declared. "No matter what your so called goals are, and no matter your lack of killer intent, you are not to be allowed to roam free doing as you please. I have been told to bring you in. So: you will be brought in."

    Starfire watched warily as the man absently defied gravity in a manner not so different from herself. Her own feet left the ground and she rose to meet him in the air.

    "I have done nothing to warrant the blatant hostility which you and your vicious comrades have leveled against me! You have done nothing but attack me ever since my arrival in this country with ever escalating force! I warn you now, my patience is at an end and if you do not stand aside, I will not show the same mercy that I showed on your minions. I will never again be a prisoner to anyone!"

    "That's where you are wrong. Your existence on this planet, and the atrocities your kind have committed, will not go unpunished. I, Herb, have sworn it." He paused for only a moment add, "Prepare yourself."

    He moved with less speed than the smaller fighter, but Starfire still felt sluggish. The prickling along her skin was stronger now, and as he began to move, it spiked to an almost painful degree. It took a second to finally place it. It was like Ryouga's battle aura, but... that meant she had been in it even when fighting the other two soldiers. Could it be? Had she been within this man's aura - like Ryouga's - but not even noticed it?

    She blocked his left arm with her right, but instead of pulling back, their bodies seemed to stick. It was like some kind of static charge momentarily locked them together. His fingers swept around, almost in slow motion, and his entire arm made a half circle movement. Then his hand found the inside of her arm, clenched, and twisted. Starfire spun in midair, her entire body spinning like a top before crashing to the ground.

    She quickly replayed the moment in her mind: 'How had he -- ?!'

    Nearly transparent energy coiled around Herb's left arm, flexing and flaring briefly before receding. He swept down on her without another moments delay, but veered off at the last second. Starfire was back on her feet when the blows came, seemingly out of nowhere. The throat, the lumbar vertebra, the solar plexus, the back of the head: it felt like hammer blows to each one. The combined effect was nearly as powerful as one of the tiger striped soldier's blows, but hitting from every conceivable angle. She could barely even stagger under the assault.

    Much to her distress, Starfire tasted blood in her mouth.

    "I see you are unfamiliar with Xing Yi Quan," Herb said, landing to her side. "A properly placed blow to the spine of a human being can instantly paralyze or kill, but you're not human are you, alien? Perhaps I should have used more force."

    The Tamaranian warrior managed to swing her arm enough to launch a starbolt at the arrogant human. He drifted to the right and right into the arc of her arm, avoiding the blast entirely. Her body was still only starting to recover when he pressed the palm of his hand against the flat of her back. A sudden force erupted from the gentle touch, sending her flying across the ground, bouncing twice, before slamming into an abandoned shop. Starfire's violent entrance finished the work started by time and neglect, causing it to collapse in on her.

    "Is hand to hand combat all you're capable of? Where are your psionics? Where are the stolen techniques Cologne gave you?" Herb walked towards the rubble. "Where's that righteous fury I felt before?"

    "It..." Starfire rose to her feet, overturning a collapsed side of mortar and stone. "Is..."

    Her eyes glowed a viridian green with escaping energy.

    "HERE!" Plasma fire escaped her hands as a beam rather than a bolt, bathing the area where the human had been moments before. The cobblestone street tore apart completely, most of the force being angled downward, but enough propagated across the street to level another empty home. Wooden planks and supports burned and flew through the air like matchsticks.

    "I... missed?" Starfire knew it, felt it, and floated backwards, eyes searching for her opponent.

    The prickling she had been feeling spiked again, but it was deeper this time. Something bore down on her from within, causing a chill to run down her spine. She remembered Ryouga, and his perfect shishi hokoudan, and she realized this other man had to be concentrating his aura on her. It wasn't heavy, like Ryouga's had been, but it was oppressive: cold and merciless and dripping in blood without uttering a single word. She bathed herself in her fury, a faint green hue engulfing her and shielding the worst of the aura.

    "You have a lot of power, and some skill. But..."

    Starfire spun, launching another starbolt at the source of the voice.

    A loud clap filled the air as it found its target. Herb stood, one hand in front of him, the last flickering visages of the ball of green fire writhing and flaking away. Then the light of the starbolt died, leaving only a smattering of ash to drift in the wind. She glared at the human, stunned. Had he just... caught her starbolt?

    "An unusual ki technique," Herb stated, glancing down at his palm. "Your emotions are easy to read, as is the fact that they are the source of your power. It was simple enough to negate the force and heat, but... still, this is... strange."

    Starfire felt a tingle of apprehension, but pushed it back and out of her mind. This human, he was like Ranma or Ryouga or Perfume. He knew some of their moves, too, and as strange as it was... he was a bit scary. Ranma and Ryouga were strong, but they still seemed very human. This arrogant man standing opposite her felt... inhuman. He was too cold inside. For a moment, she saw Slade standing there, face hidden behind a mask, making them all dance in the palm of his hand.

    Green fire engulfed her hands.

    Herb held out his arms and nearly transparent ki warped and solidified into flat blades that ran up and along his forearms. He spread his arms wide and blocks of stone and wood a dozen feet away were neatly bisected, snipped off as easily as one would remove the head of a flower. He started to move, and the instant he did, Starfire dove wildly to the side.

    Something hard hit her arm and chest and the back of her left leg, but nowhere too soft or vulnerable. It was that technique. The one he had used before to hit her despite not being near her. Whatever it was, she had managed to avoid the worst of it by moving just when he did. She would just have to never stand still. Herb drifted off to the side and Starfire flew up and to the side before twisting savagely to the left.

    Again the invisible blows came, but this time only two of them nicked her.

    "Clever!" Herb congratulated, this time sweeping in personally. The ki blades on his arm narrowed and extended as he swept his hands, and Starfire pulsed bright green bolts in his path as she dove to the side, rolled, and jumped. A chunk of earth beneath her uprooted, like an invisible shovel had slammed into it and dug it right up. It then broke into three neat pieces.

    She knew, then, that she couldn't let herself be hit by that.

    Herb's other hand made a motion, and a barely visible whip of transparent energy rose into the air. Longer and longer, until it was nearly a dozen body lengths. Starfire flew in a wildly evasive pattern as she dodged the whip and the invisible blows. One caught her in the back of the head unexpectedly and for a moment, the world turned dark. She hit the ground and dove for cover, and turning back the way she came, saw that a wide trench has been cut into the ground, right through a reinforced concrete wall. The material had simply been erased, leaving a groove in the ground wide enough for Beast Boy to skateboard in.

    "That was close," Herb noted, drifting down to the ground. "You almost died."

    Starfire clenched her teeth, not at what he said, but at how he said it.

    He was calm, methodical, self assured, and utterly in control. For the second time, she saw Slade reflected in that featureless helmet visor.

    Roaring, Starfire charged right at him. As she'd hoped, it was the last thing he expected her to do. She poured on the speed, jinked to the side as he trust one palm forward, felt something cut just over the base of her shoulder, and kept going. Before she got too close, she unleashed a blast from her eyes, drowning him in emerald fire. He emerged through the flame, semi-transparent ki constructs rippling around his arms and helmet.

    Star twisted at the last second before impact, blocking her side against one of the invisible blows with her arm, and instead kneeing up. The blow had all the power of her flight in it, plus her momentum from before, but it slammed into a wall as one of his arms lowered and intercepted the strike before it could find purchase in his midriff. An audible 'foom' of displaced air blew away the cloud of dust kicked up by his techniques.

    Even the air seemed to have gotten hotter.

    As expected, he made another sweeping strike with his forearm. The ki construct around it - she could see it just a little more clearly now - twisted and spiked up. Blocking it would be like nailing her hands and arm to a wall with railroad spikes. Ducking under the attack, taking advantage of her more nimble and slender frame, she leapt up in the opening created by his miss. His other hand moved with practiced ease to block her uppercut, but Starfire followed up instantly with a rising snap kick that split her legs almost one hundred and eighty degrees.

    Elder Perfume would have been proud of the attempt.

    But that blow, too, was blocked, this time by Herb's rising elbow. Starfire, not totally bound by gravity, grabbed hold of her opponent and brought her knee up to try and drive it into the man's groin, but it too became intercepted, this time by his leg rising to preemptively prevent the strike. Something hard slammed into her stomach, and she briefly saw stars. A merciless blow to the face finished the job, sending her to the ground with green blood streaming from a nearly broken nose.

    "That was the Earth Seeking Moon style," Herb stated. "You used your flight to cheat a bit, but I recognize it. Why did Cologne teach you that move? She prefers her version of Ba Gua Zhang."

    "Your assumption is erroneous, villain," Starfire hissed, wiping the blood from her lips. "It was Elder Perfume who saw fit to teach me the Earth Seeking Moon Style. Elder Cologne taught me ... something else entirely."

    Doing her best to ignore the pain, Starfire lifted into the air, straightening her back admirably and staring down her opponent.

    "For all of your boasts, Barbarian, you could not have been the one to fell such an honorable warrior as her ... at least not face to face. Though, considering your cowardly and indirect attacks, that is hardly a surprise," she spat out with a grim smirk on her lips.

    "Elder Perfume...?" The man inclined his head slightly, stressing that first word with surprise. Then her other comments sunk in. "That's impossible. Are you making some kind of joke?" Herb scowled behind his helmet.

    "Surrender now," he hissed. "Before I beat you like the dog you are, alien."

    Through the pain, Starfire tilted her head to the side and graced this 'Lord Herb' with a haughty smirk of her own. "Indeed, you seem like the type of man whom enjoys inflicting pain on those that cannot defend themselves. Tell me, were there any men and children here as well when you laid waste to this beautiful village? What forms of torture did you devise for your prisoners? Did you take any prisoners at all?"

    Her opponent's defense was all but perfect. No. It was not unlike fighting Slade... if Slade had been trained by Cologne herself for his entire life. His attacks were deadly, his ki-shields flawless...

    Almost flawless.

    She had noticed the strange discomfort that her Starbolts had had on him when he had attempted to so casually dissipate them. Still, he was far too clever for her to fool easily. Luckily, in her weeks of training with Ryouga and Cologne, she had learned much more than simple combat.

    "Well, then? Unless you wish to have your minions attack in your place once more, what is it that you are delaying for?"

    "Delusional girl," Herb casually reached for her, apparently unconcerned by anything she could do to him at this point. She was haggard and beaten and seemed hardly able to stand, or float for that matter. "If you want to be treated roughly, then I will oblige you."

    Starfire frowned at his lackadaisical response, glancing around herself quickly. She quickly spotted what she needed behind her and zipped backwards rapidly away from the floating warrior. Several seconds later she passed between two large, scorched stone pillars which had once been part of a larger, now destroyed structure.

    "I have no doubt you would enjoy inflicting harm upon me." She continued her retreat, calling out loudly as she vanished into the labyrinth of collapsed masonry. "Tell me, do you enjoy damaging females especially, as our weak, unfortunate gender is all that you can handle? Or does your sadism know no bounds?"

    Herb didn't immediately reply as he calmly walked after her.

    "Are you trying to goad me into letting down my guard? Or do you simply wish me to kill you? You were strong enough to match Lime and Mint, men trained to kill even an Amazon Elder. This running away of yours is unseemly." He ducked under a piece of broken woodwork, searching for her still significant ki amid the ruins. "Show yourself, alien! My patience for you is not endless!"

    Starfire quickly made her way through the wreckage of the building, finding a sturdy looking hallway to suit her purpose. Within seconds, she flew to the end, effectively trapping herself completely. There, the Tamaranian frowned, noting the gamble she was taking, but took heart at the sound of her pursuer's voice closing in inevitably. Once she had taken her place, she slowly turned around and took a deep breath, slowing her breathing and trying to recover a small measure of her power.

    A moment later, Herb rounded the corner and found her. Starfire took a moment to look around her frantically, a look of panic etched on her face as she apparently noticed the lack of exits in the narrow hallway.

    Watching her, the armored man held something in his hands. Up until now, he had fought bare handed. That he had something unusual now, something she hadn't seen before, was not a good sign.

    "I never expected you'd scurry into a corner, girl," he dryly observed. "Is this where you want to make your last stand?"

    Starfire glared at the arrogant warrior as he began to walk towards her in a sedate manner, unusual spherical object held carelessly in his hand. She could not be certain, but it appeared to be an explosive device of some sort.

    All the better, the Tamaranian thought grimly to herself.

    She waited for her predator to take several more steps before sneering. "My 'last stand'? You misunderstand my intent. I did not come here to die, rather, I simply wished to alter the battle field. After all, considering our current condition, it makes it very unlikely for you to evade - this!"

    In a flash, Starfire lifted her hands and clasped her fists tightly together, emerald energy springing to life around her clenched hands like a bonfire.

    A second after that - just as the physical limitations of the narrow corridor they were housed in became apparent to her overconfident foe - a stream of over a dozen fierce Starbolts tore down the hallway in the stretch of a second. The next second saw even more of the energetic blobs of emerald fire fill the air, a literal machinegun spray of Starbolts which filled the entire hallway and pelting the martial artist from head to toe.

    Wood exploded, stone shattered and great gouts of dust shot out from every direction as the hail of star bolts tore into the roof, walls, floor and martial artist with merciless abandon. One of the stray bolts even hit the sphere in his hand, and it burst open in a spray of noxious looking gas. A second later, a strange wave of nausea overcame Starfire, but thanks to her distance she was able to shrug it off and continued her rapid fire bombardment for another several seconds.

    At the center of the conflagration, Herb snarled in undisguised rage as the psionic disruption from the alien stun bomb played havoc with his carefully maintained ki shields. Initially, the unexpected, and unexpectedly furious assault did little more than sting annoyingly through his protective barrier - but when the bomb went off, his ki constructs collapsed in an instant. In the blink of an eye, the irritating attack became an agonizing pummeling as the green blasts slammed into him with full force, knocking him backwards, very nearly driving him to his knees! The only thing that had saved him from being blasted into complete unconsciousness was the highly resistant and environmentally sealed personal armor he wore.

    The unexpected pain, as unpleasant as it was, was not the worst of the alien’s transgression. Maintaining ki constructs was an ability unique to the royal dragon family of the Musk, who had an innate mastery of their internal energies. Losing control, losing focus, was unforgivable. Having a meager flare of white noise scramble that control - it was disorienting ... infuriating. He cursed even bringing the stun bomb out before his opponent had been properly beaten into the ground.

    If it had not been for his armor NBC filters...

    That thought brought his boiling fury to new heights. To even infer that he needed any form of advantage over such a pathetic, unskilled female! To even imagine that she had the ability to harm his person? Needless to say, the Lord of the Musk was not amused.

    His voice barely rose in volume from a whispered hiss, but rippling shapes of ki solidified around him, pulsing and breaking apart and reforming. The ki blades on his arms widened and shrunk as his aura raged in response to his anger and the lingering effects of the stun bomb. With a focused effort, he blew the obscuring cloud of purple gas away, smashing part of a nearby wall in the process.

    Only to stare incredulously to the end of the hallway.

    The vacant hallway. The only evidence that the alien had been present at all was the shattered hole in the roof of at the end of the corridor. After all of that, the pain and humiliation she had inflicted on him...

    She thought he would simply let her escape?


    -

    Already above the building and quickly rising over the village itself, Starfire laughed joyously and waved down at the impotently shouting humans on the ground. The large man and the small warrior shook their fists furiously, but there was nothing they could do to her as she soared into the night sky. The woman was more troubling, as she was clearing lining up her weapon, but the alien girl didn't plan to leave herself an easy target.

    Turning quickly, Starfire then began to fly away from the remains of the once glorious Amazon village... Unfortunately, her last, desperate attack had left her drained. It was difficult to build up any real speed in her flight. And, even worse, she still had no idea what her next course of action should be.

    About to make her escape, Starfire abruptly came up short, as something faint passed right by her side, intercepting her flight path. Turning, she saw the villain rising higher and higher into the air, transparent ki blade retracting back to meet with his body.

    A red hot pulse of ki washed over her, even as far away as she was, and beneath the man, the wooden remains of the building instantly lit up like a dry timber box finding a match. There was no roar of outrage or indignant howl. She couldn't even see the man's face, but she could feel his palpable anger saturating the air.

    "Well now ... it appears I may have aggravated him," she muttered to herself.

    Were she in top form, she had no doubt that she could escape, but after the extended combat, turning her back on her enraged opponent would be a foolish mistake. So, rather than flee, she held her ground (though not literally in this case) and calmly awaited his approach. The intense heat in the air began to play havoc on the natural climate, setting the Tamaranian’s long, flame-colored hair blowing in the wind.

    As she floated, an instant of serenity cascaded over Starfire; the sweet sensation of the breeze on her aching skin, the picturesque panorama of Earth’s natural splendor spread out below her ... marred only by the black taint which rose to meet her. For just a moment, she was able to forget all of the fear, the frustration, the guilt over her friend, Cyborg.

    At that thought, Starfire’s jade eyes narrowed and she studied the approaching warrior with new eyes. She had not given it much thought earlier, but now that she watched him glide through the air, she realized just how unwieldy his flight was. While quick enough in close combat, his flight was sluggish by Tamaranian standards. Though to human eyes, his flight was likely majestic, to her, his movements were cumbersome, graceless. He had obviously not been born to flight as she had been.

    For the first time since her arrival in this dark time, Starfire felt the familiar tingle of unbridled joy rising up within her, renewing her powers of flight in a way that her fury never could. Smiling pleasantly now, the Tamaranian began to glide gracefully to the side, not making any sudden moves that would indicate escape. Within moments, her opponent closed the distance, floating to a stop several dozen yards away from her. She then made an obvious show of looking down to the ground so far below them.

    "Perhaps you are not the coward I thought you to be. We are, after all, quite far removed from the planet’s surface."

    Herb gave a derisive snort. "All that you have done by fleeing to this height is to force upon me the distasteful task of catching your body when you fall."

    Rolling her eyes, Starfire shook her head in amusement. "I also grow tired of your constant stream of idle threats." She could hardly believe what she was saying herself, considering the pain she was in, but continued regardless. "For all of your vaunted skills, you have yet to prove more capable than your subordinates. Are you... certain that you should be on the battlefield? Many generals serve honorably removed from combat." She paused to offer him a teasing wink. "Far, far removed in some cases."

    He didn't move a muscle, but in an instant, the air around her heated up to levels uncomfortable even for her, she could actually see the air shimmer around her opponent’s angrily writhing ki blades. She was actually thankful for the helmet he wore, as she could scarcely imagine the murderous scowl that was adorning his face at that precise moment.

    Herb surged forward like a bullet, air rippling in his wake as his ki propelled him towards her. Rearing back an arm, the deadly master swung forward savagely, the bladed construct above his wrist extending to several times its length -

    To his shock, the alien dipped below the attack, diving into a tight spiral evasion which carried her behind him. With lightning speed, he spun about, extending both arms and forming a near literal windmill of ki blades.

    He then watched, nearly mesmerized, as his quarry wove between his swings as gracefully as a dolphin at sea. The impertinent alien even had the audacity to hurl a salvo of energy blasts in his direction. He didn’t bother to dodge, simply negated the force and heat of each one with his ki shields and shrugging off the mild discomfort that came like an unpleasant aftertaste. Oddly enough, these latest attacks lacked most of the heat of her earlier shots.

    And then she was flying away again, at startling speed. Frustration rising to heights he hadn’t felt since dealing with Saotome, Herb took off after her at full speed ... only to find himself steadily falling behind. Thinking quickly, he slashed forward several times, crescent blades of shaped ki arcing through the air to intercept the girl’s flight path. At this rate, it would be difficult to capture the girl intact, and he found himself mentally weighting the options of just going for a killing stroke. Both the PRC and the higher ups would be enraged if she escaped again whereas only his CO would be enraged if the alien girl were killed. It was a matter of which option would anger the least people.

    To his frustration, the alien banked sharply, neatly avoiding the blades. It did allow him to close some of the distance between, them, though. His hands twitched, unwilling to admit failure by allowing either option. He was Herb. He had brought his clan willingly into UNETCO, and he would not fail a mission given to him!

    Starfire glanced back over her shoulder at the approaching warrior. As she had suspected, his deadly ranged abilities would make escape dangerous, at best. It was beginning to appear that it was going to come down to who grew exhausted first. She did not appear to possess any ability powerful enough to harm him through his impressive set of armor, yet, here, in her element, she could literally fly ... circles ... around him?

    A wide smile suddenly bloomed on the Tamaranian’s lips.

    It was time to demonstrate to this earthling what true flight entailed. Spinning on a fractional denomination of earth currency, Star tore through the air at full speed - straight back at Herb. The darkly clad warrior actually appeared to balk for a moment, before attempting to lash out once more.

    Several near invisible bolts of ki fired out at her, with a sweep of her arm she fired out a series of star bolts to intercept them. Most missed, and she was forced to dodge the rest, but to her dismay, the sharp bolts lanced straight through those plasma blasts that did connect - only to destabilize and dissipate harmlessly seconds later. Then Starfire was past him, flying so fast that only the green contrail of energy following in her wake remained.

    Herb spun about as quickly as he could, but the alien’s maneuverability at this altitude was problematic. He almost considered contacting the fourth member of Romeo Squad, but if this creature was giving him such trouble, he doubted she would be able to fare that well, especially without the full protection of her armor.

    There was nothing else for it, so he gave chase. He was fairly certain he could prevent her from escaping by strategically blocking her flight path, however there were limits even to his great power, and he had no way of knowing whether the same was true for the alien or not.

    Rearing back his arm, he prepared to launch another -

    Suddenly the alien veered to the side, nearly a ninety degree turn without any effort at all. The Dragon Prince was forced to take a longer, arcing course to continue his pursuit. Then, as if to insult him, the self dubbed ‘Tamaranian’ (why had he not heard back from command about that yet?) spun about and began to fly backwards, casually hurling more of those odd energy blasts of hers at him.

    It was a small effort for him to defeat her attacks as before, the projectiles little more than concussive bursts at this point, lacking all of their former heat, but doing so while pushing the speed of his flight further than he had ever been forced to before was becoming ... troublesome.

    Herb finally found an opening to attack, and prepared to fire again - and again, the alien suddenly veered to the side. Not so sharply, this time, rather a shallow arc that he was more easily able to follow. A vicious smirk crossed his lips as he did, though, as it seemed that her pride would soon cost her. Flying backwards, as she was, his enemy had lost a good portion of her speed, and he was gradually beginning to catch up once more.

    Soon enough, he would be close enough that there would be no way for her to evade, and then she would pay for her disrespect. What was her plan, anyway? Did she actually think her half hearted bombardment would defeat him? Was she hoping that he would exhaust himself, chasing her round and round ... like ... this ...

    Instantly, realization crystallized in his mind. As impossible as it was, as utterly inconceivable, it all made perfect sense. And this was one of Cologne's little creations.

    In a burst of speed that would have made her Amazonian mentor proud, Starfire pirouetted midair, utterly incapable of hiding the broad smile that covered half her face. Even as ‘Lord Herb’, apparently shocked at her sudden reversal, attempted to pull back, she swung upwards in a massive uppercut, the wild swing coming not even close to the armored warrior.

    In an instant, all of the hot energy saturating the environment, provided so generously by her furious enemy, and stirred so liberally by her own comparatively cool power, was drawn in down to a single point, the shimmering bluish sphere limning her fist. A familiar roar began to fill the air as the air began to collapse in around her, the winds beginning to twist violently -

    "Flying Dragon Ascends to the Heavens B - ooaaaahhhhhh!!"

    A flash of arctic cold was all the warning she received before, against all reason, she was being sucked up into the very tornado which she had created! Starfire managed a brief glance down as she was dragged helplessly upwards, tumbling madly through the air. Floating in the eye of the cyclone, of her cyclone, was the armor clad soldier, his fist raised upwards in an uppercut of his own.

    How - how had he known how to do that?! Even as the winds pummeled her, and the familiar sickening sensation of the funnel feeding upon her power descended on her, all she could focus on was how he could have possibly turned her attack back on her in such away. Cologne had never mentioned this! This was inconceivable! This was ... this was hauntingly familiar!

    This was exactly like the tale Ranma had told of his own prior exploits with the technique!

    The Tamaranian warrior’s memory kicked into overdrive as she called up her discussions with the pigtailed martial artist with desperate clarity. It had not been long after they had combined their powers to save Jump City from Ryouga’s self destructive rage, in the days they had spent in recovery before the Lost Boy finally awoke. The Saotome heir had drilled her endlessly on her knowledge of the technique, and had explained, in excruciating detail, his numerous 'awe inspiring victories' with the Hiryu Shoten Ha.

    Starfire knew exactly what to do! Regaining control of her wild flight, the alien girl smiled, then flew up, straight into the heart of the storm itself.

    Herb stared up into his commandeered tornado triumphantly. It appeared that Cologne had indeed taught this amazing creature - taught her more than he had imagined the treacherous Amazon would pass on to a discarded experiment. He had been so utterly surprised that such an unlikely enemy would use such a powerful technique, that he almost hadn’t had the time to alter his aura from boiling hot to freezing cold. As it was, the systems in his armor were screaming in protest at the sudden shock, but he didn’t need them anymore, anyway.

    It was only a matter of seconds now, and the battle would be over. He also noticed, then, that it was getting bright out. Yet it couldn't be sunrise already? And ... since when had sunlight been tinted green?

    Herb’s eyes widened into saucers as he looked up, staring in complete incomprehension at the massive emerald sphere that was descending down on him, blasting the winds of the cyclone apart with its passage. For a moment, his mind flashed back to another sphere of burning ki, unleashed upon his person under nearly identical circumstances. He had never expected, not here certainly, to face this attack again, but there was no doubt.

    This was the Hiryu Korin Dan!

    This was Saotome's damned counter-technique!

    It was insane. It was impossible. Simply impossible. There was no way Ranma would have shared this technique with the enemy. There was no way they could have deduced the intricacies of it outside of his experience. Even Cologne, cursed master that she was, couldn't duplicate it. In his own fight with her, Ranma had confirmed that fact when the formerly ancient Amazon had countered the move and others like it in different ways. How the HELL was this girl pulling off a move only Saotome himself - a man who had surpassed anyone before him in the use of the Hiryu Shoten Ha - could do?

    "Damnit," Herb cursed.

    He didn't do so lightly, either. The Prince of the Musk spread his arms, let out a soft breath, and raised his hands. He'd been crushed by the Korin Dan before, surprised by the counter to his own counterattack.

    That one oversight, that one loss, was something Saotome hadn't neglected to bring up in every bit of correspondence or interaction between the two ever since. The Japanese martial artist no doubt expected Herb to be in possession of a counter move, and Herb fully expected Ranma to be working on a counter-counter. It also served keep both men one step ahead of Cologne, their mutual enemy and another master of the Hiryu Shoten Ha.

    Feeling the Korin Dan's outer shell envelop his fingers, Herb nodded to himself.

    Starfire descended from above, maintaining enough speed to plow into her target and enough maneuverability to ensure a hit. The burning angry ki in her hands seethed and roiled, commingling with her own energy under protest. She could feel the emotions within it: the anger, the humiliation, the indignation, the lust for revenge. It was a different fire than her own righteous fury: dirtier and meaner and completely at ease with that fact. There was nothing righteous about it, and it was still angry at her specifically.

    The human seemed resigned to the attack, and made no move to dodge. In fact, as he reached up to take the blow, he accelerated briefly upwards. Starfire refused to allow herself to hesitate at the gesture; it was too late anyway. The burning energy bomb made contact with and engulfed its victim. Her view of the man disappeared entirely within it. Starfire had a moment to wonder about that. Ranma had said that this move flattened its opponent --

    Then, her fingers slipped, as the ball of energy slipped and pinched in.

    "W-what...!?"

    What was a perfect sphere dimpled and started to suck her in.

    'You clearly understand the principles behind the dragon wave,' Herb thought, on his end of the attack. It was impossible to see what was going on, on the other side, but he could guess. 'The fact that you could mimic Saotome's move is proof of that. But you've overlooked the weakness of spiral based techniques.'

    The Korin Dan was formed from the use of a smaller vortex of cold energy forcefully drawing in the nearby hot energy. It then trapped and shaped that energy into a ball and hit the enemy with it. However, it still required a spiral motion to maintain form. The crater Herb had found himself in before had been a twisted spiral itself, and such spiraling techniques were Chinese in origin.

    By introducing a counter rotation, one could negate the trapping spiral, through the creation of a countercurrent of opposite orientation and similar amplitude and angular velocity. However...

    One could also match the spiral and introduce an identical rotation. This had the potential of amplifying the initial attack, but properly offset and oriented, the moving, interlaced spirals produced a three dimensional scroll compressor, or vacuum pump. Using one hand now, with the orb stalled between users, Herb continued the orientation rotation, moving his hand in a quick circle. Right now, the vacuum would be forming on the other side of the ball, warping it into a long, deep crater, more like a funnel, to suck its victim in.

    This was his:

    "Hiryu Mouko Wasa."
    (Rising Dragon Fierce Tiger Trap)

    Herb's palm became a fist, and the spirals aligned.

    The Korin Dan hadn't been quite as massive as Saotome's, but it imploded with a personally satisfying crack of thunder. A toroidal pulse of heat and charged air expanded from the impact event as crackles of lightning from charged bits of debris lit up the air with acetic fire. The Dragon of the Musk half expected to see a blackened, shredded body fall from the dispersing cloud of burning ki.

    He was pleased to see the alien girl intact, though pulverized.

    The two hung briefly in midair, and then Herb pulled up. A black glove shot out to try and catch the falling alien, just barely seizing hold of a ruined, shredded shirt. There was no escape now. One hand drew back to deliver a merciless coup de gras.

    Only for the Musk Prince to stutter, momentarily losing control of his ki entirely and falling like a clipped brick.

    'B-B-breasts! ...Damnit!'

    Blinking and trying to clear her own head, Starfire tumbled instead of falling cleanly, the world becoming a dizzying and rapidly descending cacophony of images and rushing air. As the ruins of the Amazon village resolved, her tumble becoming a spin, there was an onrushing flash of white. Against reason, a dozen feathers seemed to be scattered across her front, somehow slowing her fall.

    The last conscious thought she had was just what in X'hal's name a Thanagarian was going here. Then Kiima's matte black elbow crashed into the side of her skull and everything went black again. A gloveless hand, clawed like a bird's instead of bearing normal fingers, reached out and seized her by the fabric around her collar and left shoulder.

    The Phoenix woman still held onto her, as Starfire finally, mercifully, went limp.

    "Honestly, Lord Herb, you still have that problem?"

    "... t-they were orange. I was unprepared."

    - - -

    The disturbance had first been felt in the depths of T'leth.

    Four kilometers beneath the surface of the Ocean, half buried in the great rift on the sea floor known as the Sigsbee Deep, an alien metropolis slept. No light from above reached this place, where blind fish and eyeless crabs hunted among oblique curves and alien geometry unknown to man. It snowed here year around: detritus from the light-fed world above slowly drifting down over the course of months to reach the very bottom of the world.

    No light, man made or otherwise, broke the endless night here. The spires and concave domes were silent. The ones who maintained the place at any one time could be counted on two hands. They were pale things, moving purposefully within the darkness, following paths in the decaying snow. They slipped down corridors that had not seen even the briefest radiance in millennia - following routes burned into their minds, duties carved into their very being.

    Further down, past the broken and forgotten surface levels, lay T'leth proper. Here, alien colors remained unfaded on walls and floors, despite the eons underwater, eternally hidden by the darkness and the sea. Within one great chamber, large enough to accommodate a stadium, a hundred thousand creatures slept in dimly lit tubes, recessed in the walls. They waited, dreaming, for their time to come. For their long promised time.

    Deeper still, within the heart of T'leth, their dreams took physical form.

    It was known as The Dreamer.

    Its cousin, on Cydonia, knew it as the T'leth Mind.

    Yet within that sightless tomb, confined within a dead ship, left only to dwell in dream, it had become so much more. The Cydonia Mind had found it long ago, re-enabled many otherwise un-repairable functions, but soon became wary. It did not want those who dwelled and dreamed to be a part of it. The Dreamer knew it feared what its ancient predecessor had become: a race, a Mind, collectively gone mad. The Dreamer had feared, once, but dark and deathless ages had given it time to fully appreciate the situation. In time, it would have an entire world to mould in its image.

    The Promise.

    The Promise would soon be fulfilled.

    The Dreamer slept, half alive, half dead; half consciousness, half nightmare.

    Thus, it was first felt - they were first felt - in T'leth.

    The Dreamer felt it come into being - INVADER DISRUPTION POISON - far above, on an island far away. The molecular control network was incomplete, but it extended The Dreamer's senses far and wide, across the world's seas and lands. In time, it would make The Dream real. This new interruption was... not right - SAMPLE UNKNOWN DEVOUR SENSES - tasted wrong. They did not belong here; coming in an ugly twist - TRAVEL ARRIVAL ESCAPE EXPAND - of space and time.

    A TRAVELER HAS COME

    Yes. Not from beyond the stars, but from beyond the beyond. They came from that warped realm of the Faster Than Light. It tasted of one but smelt of many. The Dreamer knew of this sort, from ancient times, back when it had first taken flight among the solar winds. In that time, it had been a colony ship, send to a bright, young new world. The Cydonia Mind would know more. It had come here more recently, and knew far more about the beyond that was beyond.

    The Dreamer felt out its kin. The Mind would not detect it for some time yet by itself, but it accepted The Dreamer's conclusions. Visitors have come. Beasts from beyond the beyond. This was a rare opportunity. Certain barriers that could not otherwise be crossed were now vulnerable. A strand of the spiderweb had been found, and plucked.

    The Dreamer hungered - CONSUME RAPE ABSORB BECOME - to bring the Dream into the light and, now, to have the beyond bend to it as well. The Martian Mind cared only for its mission and for that which could serve. It did not Dream, but it was Curious. TAKE FLESH REND THOUGHT - The Dreamer knew there was much to gain. So long as the Promise was not forgotten in pursuit of some new goal. With the beyond in its maw, The Dream could become even more... vivid.

    The Mind accepted the information. It had protocols of its own in this situation.

    The Dreamer closed its blind eyes.

    And Dreamed of a world - a perfect nightmare world, like a million shards of broken glass.

    - - -

    Consensus.

    The Mind had chosen one to carry out its will. Within The Mind, this Ethereal accepted the charge. Given the data from the Molecular Control Network, it was closest to the anomaly, with the most mobile and expendable assets. It was already conducting Earth-based research. The humans would soon be alerted. Speed was necessary, but not entirely at the expense of caution. It was imperative.

    They would need to be found.

    And Harvested.

    - - - - -
    - - - - -

    Abstract --
    Nabiki Tendo
    Rank: Operator

    One of three daughters of S. Tendo (profile available), inc K. Tendo (Seiran Medical div.); A. Tendo (Seiran: CT Golf). Minimal psionic potential. Practices some of family martial arts style. Graduated within top five percent of outgoing class, Furinkan, Nerima. Multiple unofficial disciplinary and ethics violations; none pursued. Unusual circumstances at school (see: R. Saotome, Furinkan). Enrolled in Meiji University at time of abduction (see: Nerima Abduction Event) (see: university records).

    Brought in after the UFO crash in South America, she was stated to be instrumental in reorienting the ship and allowing for its descent. Transferred to Far East Branch. Originally applied and accepted to internship in Revenue and Logistics Division. Brought in during Operation Trojan to coordinate for India Squad. Transfer approved to Operations CIC pending psionic training and evaluation. Permanent Operator Status approved (Dec, 2006). Monthly evaluations show acceptable and developing skills in multi-tasking, information retrieval, non-linear thinking. Emotional attachment to team rated as: HIGH(4E).

    Operator Tendo has performed her job to expectations as of the time of this correspondence. IntSec has catalogued a dozen minor behavioral infractions, mostly related to the selling of goods and services on-base, and to participation in sanctioned gambling events among combat personnel. No disciplinary action deemed necessary. Personal morale is high and key to maintaining her productivity. As of Jan, 2006, no efforts have been made to replace her with a Senior Operator.

    Commitment is considered high due to first hand exposure to alien activities. Minimal psionic imprinting undertaken (see: psi-gym usage). PsyOps profile attached. High aversion to failure; noted as hard working when properly motivated. Known relationship with Lt. R. Hibiki (Seiran: CT India) has not interfered with performance as of previous reviews (see: Service Record, attached) (see: Psionic Profile, attached). Tendo is currently being evaluated in-field to demonstrate possible candidacy for inclusion in CLEANSLATE. Exclusion of Tendo can be expected to negatively affect efficiency of India; push her hard to make sure she's ready.

    [signature redacted]



    ##
    BROTHER EYE PROTOCOLS
    TOP CLEARANCE REQUIRED

    SUBJECT: 3845
    CODENAME: Cyborg
    REAL NAME: Victor Stone

    SPECIES: Human
    HEIGHT: 6’3”
    WEIGHT: 420lbs
    HAIR COLOR: N/A
    EYE COLOR: Brown

    KNOWN ABILITIES: Subject has undergone extensive cybernetic replacement and enhancement as a result of an accident. Cybernetic augmentation has given the subject superhuman strength (Full limits not yet determined). Subject is highly armed and armoured. Main weapon system is a sonic device, while secondary weapons include micro missile launchers. The bulk of the subject’s cybernetic frame is composed of a titanium-promethium alloy, granting extremely high resistance to most forms of damage, and internal systems are heavily shielded against remote access, and EMP bursts. Subject also possesses super human intelligence, rumoured to be part of a human augmentation experiment conducted by the subject’s parents. Subject is highly skilled in numerous technical and medical fields, ranging from machine design, security setups and computer hacking.

    EXPLOITABLE WEAKNESSES: Subject’s main weakness is reliance on external energy sources to maintain power levels. Highest probability of incapacitating subject is to place him in a scenario where he is unable to recharge – Please Note: This strategy could result in subject’s death if precautions are not taken.

    KNOWN HISTORY: Son of noted S.T.A.R. Lab scientists: Silas and Elinore Stone. Most of the subject’s childhood is recorded (files taken from S.T.A.R. Lab dataframe) but not relevant. Cybernetic augmentation of subject occurred shortly after the death of Elinore Stone. The incident involved an experimental dimensional portal developed by Silas Stone, in which an unidentified life form invaded the laboratory, killing Elinore and mortally wounding the Subject. Subject’s father applied cybernetics to save the Subject’s life. Unknown at the time, Silas Stone suffered from radiation poisoning in conjunction with the incident.

    Several months later, Subject assisted in the formation of the team designate: Teen Titans. After defeating the Gordanian invasion resulting from the arrival of Subject: 5231: Codename: Starfire, Subject’s father constructed structure designated: Titan Tower. Shortly after, Subject’s father succumbed to radiation poisoning. Since that time, Subject has performed as the Titan’s second in command.

    CURRENT THREAT LEVEL: D

    PERSONAL NOTE: It’s easy to see why Dick wants Cyborg on his team. Not only is he highly capable, bringing a wide range of skills to the table, it is also impossible to miss the thread of loss which is shared not just between them, but through all of the Titans. It appears that Dick isn’t just forming a team of disparate heroes, forced together by circumstance, but a surrogate family which actually shares bonds of understanding and sympathy with one another. My only hope that these bonds don’t weaken Dick. It’s much easier to give orders to comrades than it is to family.

    ##
  18. Really like it, So will Starfire have heard of any of the aliens that XCOM fights? I would guess snakemen are most likely. Weren't they stated as being more set apart from the others?
  19. Cpl_Facehugger Evolution Complete

    I was rather dubious as to the introduction of DC/Teen Titans into the TRTC setting, but it's shaping up to be pretty interesting.
  20. blackmamuth Lazy Lurker

    Ohh, Wonder how cooperative starfire would be on alien contaiment. On the other hand, the usage of Ranma move is going to attract Ranma attention pretty soon... After all, Aliens knowing moves that Cologne didn't know herself? worrying predicament that!!

    Also, how long it would take for Cyborg to realize that calling the Tendo dojo is what tipped them? he can't be that dense right?

    I'd liked the fight with Herb. Wonder also why Xcom hasn't eaponized Jusenkyo. After all, if you have to contain a live nasty alien, cursing it to have a turtle form would solve a lot of problems...

    Also,how rabidly xenophobic is XCOM? if they learn of Tamarania, or other alien planets with life (Krypton)... oops...

    So, terror from the deep? at the same time? Poor poor XCOM!

    By the way, how susceptible are Kryptonians/tamaranians to psionics?
  21. Cap'n Chryssalid the armor piercing wang

    ender brings up some very interesting questions, and yes, ones we do address in upcoming scenes. I'll just say for now, that Lathis and I had some options in how to address the issue.

    Per TRTC, yes, the Snakemen aren't like the Sectoids or Ethereals. They were an... I guess you can call it "uplifted" race, meaning they were basically enslaved and 98% of their "waste population" got weeded out. Basically the same thing the aliens eventually intend to do to humans. That's no guarantee that they have a direct DC analogue... or one that Starfire would be aware of... or that first impressions won't get facerolled much later in the story.

    -

    Cpl, I know exactly what you mean. I suspect I've already turned off a few readers by crossing over into this sort of territory. I don't really blame them, or you, for being skeptical. DC and comics crap opens up a real can of worms. I've tried hard to keep everything on the level, though, and to use the elements it provides instead of being trapped by them.

    -

    Starfire will be overjoyed to be in alien containment, clearly. lol
    You'll see. But you've probably already got a fairly accurate idea of how some things are going to play out, in time.

    As for Jyusenkyou... haha. BWAHAHA! This is X-Com. 'nuff said (aka, give it a month or two).

    XCOM is pretty xenophobic. Between the sort of crap the Cydonian aliens pull, and now years of fighting human sympathizers and conspirators on Earth, plus years of accumulated casualties... no quarter is asked and none given. So long as there's a demonstrable threat, that is. The problem isn't that there's aliens really (hell, there are a lot of people with alien genes in them, thanks to the Sectoids, but XCOM has no gripe with them), its that Earth has been a plaything for this group of aliens that seems to dominate the entire region of space and has done so for milenna. So there is no thought to there being aliens that don't deserve a blast of high explosive plasma to their gray, beady black eyed faces.


    Per TRTC, the T'leth Mind is semi-active during AW1 (Alien War 1). However, it is also being actively locked down by the Mind on Mars. Zraz's perspective in the story shows that the Cydonian aliens generally put the welfare and interests of the crashed alien colonists and their insane group mind on the backburner. Yes, they'll get around to raising T'leth and alien-a-forming the planet... eventually.

    Things there will play out basically as XCOMmies know. After Cydonia or Bust (which we all know will be TRTC's final chapters), the signal well be sent down to release the ball and chain on T'leth, as a final 'FFFUUUUU' from the Cydonia Mind. But they won't play an active role in AW1.

    People's psi strength will be revealed... once they've had some time to visit the psi-gym. All in good time.
  22. blackmamuth Lazy Lurker

    Well, In order to weaponize springs, there is one that comes to mind, the "drowned ashura" Rouge fell into, but there seems to be a side effect of mental alterations (Increased agressiveness?)

    Making use of it probably would force XCOM to build custom suits for "ashura cursed" troops... And probably relearn their fighting style?

    There is also the "nearly drowned akane" spring. So borrowing from that, there is the possibility of creating the "spring of nearly drowned Tamaranian" (Assuming Starfire agrees...) (Wonder if such cursed individuals wearing XCOM armour would run out of juice due to the armour blocking direct contact with sunlight)

    Then there may be the possibility of drowning other captured aliens in there?

    there is also the possibility of using it offensively, or in prisoners to make them harmless. (Drowned turtle Spring?)
  23. Well in the DC part the curse part is definitely stressed and all attempts too weaponize it backfire badly. I think that was mentioned in the XCOM part as well but I can't recall for sure.
  24. Same question I have, during the original X-com game.

    If they have alien cloning tech and memory transfer, why don't they simply mass produce their soldiers?

    Within this story universe that'll be :
    A hundred Herbs or a hundred Ranma?

    Of course then the aliens would then clone a thousand cologne..
  25. Cap'n Chryssalid the armor piercing wang

    Weaponizing Jyusenkyou is definitely possible. However, you also want it to be safe and reliable before you approve anything for use in the field. X-COM is extremely quick when it comes to R&D and then battlefield use, but it takes time. I won't say too much more, because reading my last two responses, its obvious that there's _something_ "in the pipe" but that I don't want to say exactly what.

    A few answers, tho:


    The drowned Asura spring is powerful, but yes, problematic. In TRTC, the aliens got around this by using one of Cologne's techniques to directly control Rouge herself (in cursed form). It isn't a practical method if you've got a thousand of them, but it is a "hotfix" ... and after Rouge's recapture in 'Death Under the Mountain' it doesn't matter.

    The aliens have something better. You'll see what later.

    X-COM is studying Rouge (and Saffron), but its primarily for containment. The Asura curse is mentally unbalancing and they don't have a fix for it, and while Jyusenkyou can be used to 'nearly drown' things and then copy them, there are downsides there, too. As Zraz showed, all aliens are connected to the Cydonian Mind (in his case, he loses this while hiding in human form). Anyone cursed into alien form would immediately become either insane or a part of the Mind.

    Copying the martial artists and the abilities has been something both X-COM and the aliens have been researching. The former had gone about this from a more traditional standpoint:
    Research into 'telekinetic self augmentation' (Pearson's research)
    Study and replication of battle auras
    Tissue structure, genetics, etc
    Plus research on the part of the MA's themselves (Ryouga's Project Kataphract was intended to do just this)

    The aliens have been using Cologne, Tofu, and a select group of Ethereals (primarily the alien 'Hollow Eyes')
    They're the ones doing the more reckless sorts of research, like using Jyusenkyou to copy people, direct cloning (like Ryouga's Doppleganger), implanting memories into soldiers and testing them in the field (Floaters initially), etc. Likewise, Colgone herself boasts that they'll be thousands of her becoming part of the New uplifted Humanity.

    Problem is that there's a really high failure rate, so far, because martial arts stresses the "love of the art" part, which is much harder to replicate. They also aren't fully uplifted yet (if they die, they won't upload back into the Mind and into a cloned body like a Sectoid or Ethereal). The aliens can be pretty wasteful with the lives of their grunts, but they figure they have the time and expertise to at least improve the process before "approving it." Because once the Trenchards are perfect and fully uplifted, then the Mind will give the green light for T'leth and the colonization program (the 'losing ending' in UFO Defense).

    basically:
    it isn't as easy as it sounds, because martial arts is very esoteric. As Cologne herself alludes to, if you genetically copied a Rembrandt and gave it copies of memories, but no love of art, would it still be a great artist? As with everything, it takes time to work out the kinks. X-COM already uses pedagogical programming (psi-training) to imprint combat data and the like, but it also relies very heavily on real world training to augment it. Progress is incremental, even in X-COM.

    Also, direct cloning and (human) mass production can be assumed to be outside the UNETCO charter. And X-COM sticks to its Charter. Granted, it bends it from time to time (the work done in getting around Section Seven in particular), but it is also an act of good faith towards all the governments that have given UNETCO vast powers and leeway. A few physiological tweaks and improvements to soldiers are one thing, but cloning people on secondment from other countries and cursing them into monstrous three headed demons will probably not go over all that well with the Funding Nations.
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