Bubblegum Cross

By Andy Skuse ~ askuse7@hotmail.com

A Bubblegum Crisis Fanfiction (C) 1995-2000
Based on characters copyrighted by Youmex, AIC, Artmic

Chapter 8. Avatar

Priss let her arm fall from in front of her visor as her eyes adjusted to the rapidly fading glow. Standing in the center of the room where the four human hostage-takers had stood moments ago, were four, darkly shaded boomers. Looking somewhat sleeker when compared to their predecessors that Priss was used to fighting, the smooth, muscular figures stood ram-rod straight, their broad shoulders thrown back proudly, as if at attention. While two of the boomers had displayed obvious feminine physical attributes in their earlier guise, they were nowhere to be seen now. From her vantage point all four boomers appeared identical. Emotionless, unflinching faces were wrought with a steely glare, locked onto their human opponents before them.

Their most prominent feature were the glowing eyes that pierced the gloom of the dark hall. Each of the four pairs emitted parallel beams of energy, that if observed from overhead, sectioned the room in a cross-like pattern, converging at the center of the room. Priss sighted down the ray's length, to find her opponent's gaze trained just below her chin. Suddenly she was very aware of the lack of protection around her neck.

She began to raise her arm to re-establish a target lock when Sylia's voice crackled through the intercom and then burst into clarity.

"Priss- stop. I need to know why-"

"Bullshit! They lose it now!"

"Priss- don't."

"Syl- !!"

Priss heard a faint click in her ear as Sylia cut her off.

"Now," Sylia's calm voice echoed hauntingly in the massive hall, "Why do you *really* want us here?"

The boomer that had pointed earlier to the exit, emitted a short, high pitched whistling sound that was instantly echoed by the other three central figures.

Nene and Linna shifted uncomfortably where they stood, wondering what Sylia could be thinking, and what the boomers may have just said. Each Knight Saber soon noticed their opponent's laser-like eye-beams following their minute movements. Nene gulped hard, thinking that her mouth had been relatively moist before, compared to the dryness that was making her tongue stick to the roof of her mouth now.

Linna carefully scanned the room for exits and found only two. One led out to the front entrance of the building while the other was obscured by a door boldly labelled "OFFICES". As her own eyes completed their re-adjustment to the night-vision's shimmering view, a circular shadow in the corner of the room came into focus. The grisly remains of the thirty-second hostage lay in a heap, its detached head a few feet away. Linna turned away quickly and focused on Sylia's silhouette across the room, pushing out the grim image that fought to remain in her mind's eye. Sylia's name came to the tip of her tongue, but would travel no further.

As Linna watched through the darkness in growing apprehension, Sylia's outline staggered suddenly and then steadied. Distorted by the room's cavernous echoes, her leader's voice began to spit out in broken whispers, the words unintelligible to her ears. The boomer in front of Sylia leaned forward slowly, its movements reminding Linna of a snake about to strike. Its bright eye-beams shifted upwards, now focused on Sylia's visor instead of her neck.

Abruptly the Knight Saber's leader's voice rose to an argumentative pitch and then fell back to silence, her shadowy figure now swaying slightly. Nene tried frantically to hail Sylia on the intercom, unsuccessfully. Linna watched helplessly, wishing she could help her friend but afraid of the consequences. Sylia appeared to be under some kind of mind control, and if she attempted to break it, the results could be devastating. Something about the way she had commanded Priss to back down reassured her, that maybe her boss knew what she was doing. At this point though, it certainly didn't look that way.

Priss cursed silently to herself for obeying Sylia's ridiculous command. What was she thinking? Who knew what the hell that boomer was doing to her? She edged a few inches closer to her own opponent, testing its reactions.

Priss blinked. The boomer had reacted instantaneously, meeting her advance by an equal amount, but its movement had been little more than a blur, almost as if it hadn't moved at all. Priss halted and stared at her opponents glowing eyes. The parallel beams were still targeting her neck. It might be a good idea to wait a little longer after all.

All eyes suddenly turned to Sylia as the boomer in front of her snapped back to attention, its eye-beams locking once more onto its opponents neck. Dazed, she took a short step back from the ominous metallic figure before her, and then steadied herself.

Slowly, Sylia felt her head recovering from the dizziness she had endured a moment ago. After asking her question, the sensation had begun innocently as a weak presence in her mind, whispering her name. Then it ruthlessly invaded her, becoming a seemingly endless torrent of cold, emotionless information that almost overwhelmed her ability to interpret any of it. Most of what she could interpret were flashing images of her father and herself when she was young, as well as fragments of images that she recognized from her data unit. But another image kept recurring in the intense, looping, sequence of information. An image she did not recognize, of a room lit in a crimson aura.

At the room's center, a young boy lay sleeping on an operating table with dozens of hoses and cables hooked up to various input connectors located on his head, torso and limbs. Her mind had grasped at the view, fighting to hold it in her consciousness for a moment longer to study the sleeping boy's face, and then the image vanished along with the dizziness and the weak, whispering presence. But the battle was not lost. She had seen enough.

A quick check revealed that her metallic opponent was still standing motionless before her. Who was the boy she had seen? Where had these images come from? Had this 'boomer' transmitted the information somehow? For what purpose?

The sensation she had just encountered was not entirely new. She had suffered this kind of "mental itching" for years now, ever since she had viewed the contents of the data cartridge she had received after her father's death. But it had never been this intense, this overwhelming. She could only recall a few times when she had felt it as more than an annoying itch she could not scratch. It was always the same- someone calling her name with maliciousness in its utterance. Ever since that day, almost five years ago, that the Knight Sabers had destroyed the super-boomer that Priss referred to as "Largo", the itch had almost faded away to nothing more than a whisper . . .

Sylia quickly pushed aside the nagging questions, her instincts suddenly telling her that the information she had received and the images she had seen were a test- and that she had failed. Now the Knight Sabers were in real danger.

Priss started a bit as Sylia's noticeably anxious voice filled her helmet's earphones. "Linna- Nene-on my signal, each of you take a step towards each other. Priss when they start moving open fire. Got it?"

Three relieved, affirmative responses came back to Sylia as she thought quickly about her own first strike.

After a final glance at the arrogant, statuesque stance of the ebony cyborgs that waited patiently for any provoking movement, Sylia tightened her jaw muscles involuntarily, and drew her trembling fingers into a fist.


The sound of high-powered weapons fire echoed from the open skylight and open front entrance of the Matsumi Military Base. Soldiers and AD Police officers scrambled to crouch down behind their vehicles, scanning the building for any signs of the firefight spilling outside. General Reeves' smile quickly vanished.

"Sis! Sis! Can you hear me?!"

Mackie stared at the static filled monitors and then tore off the intercom headset in disgust. "Leon- We've got to do something! I lost the video feed and now I've got no intercom signal! They're cut off in there!"

Leon stood up from his seat with a grim look in his eyes, and moved quickly to the rear of the van. "Kid, keep working on the intercom and the video feed. I'll see what I can do out there."

Mackie watched as Leon peeked out of the van's back door and then jumped out, lowering his dark sunglasses over his eyes and sliding the door shut quickly behind him.

He turned back to the video controls and stared blankly at them for a moment, his mind working feverishly to trouble-shoot the lost satellite link. He ran his finger down a list of other geo-synchronous satellites, their co-ordinates displayed on a computer screen in front of him. Mackie traced the video link in his mind from the source at the military base, to the satellite above, to the dish atop the van he now sat in. It was a simple surveillance channel, but it was probably being fed to an external military receiver as a precaution. The nearest military site to Matsumi was the air base near the bay mouth. Maybe they were still getting the feed somehow.

Mackie scratched his head in frustration, wondering how he could check if the air base was getting the precious video signal when the question hit him- 'Who was blocking the signal and how?'

While the answer remained illusive, an idea began to take shape. Maybe it was time to start thinking offensively. Mackie found himself cursing his fingers that seemed to drag across the keyboard slower than his brain could command them. After five agonizing minutes, his shoulders suddenly drooped, as his first attempt failed, leaving him even more perplexed than before. He returned to the starting point of his tedious task, muttering under his breath, and wishing Nene was with him now, and not inside the base.

The hall that once resembled a dark murky cavern had now evolved into an ornately decorated square room, illuminated by the stroboscopic flashes of light from the Knight Saber's weapon's energy. Eight figures moved in and out of the center of the hall as the boomers shifted their positions constantly, never letting their opponents get a clear shot. And their speed! Sylia had barely avoided being slammed into the wall when the first shot had been fired. One moment her opponent was in front of her, the next it was behind her, pulling its gleaming metallic arm from the wall. She wondered how Nene and Priss were doing with all this running around.

"Stand still you bastard!" Priss leveled her right arm to fire a rail-gun spike but her opponent had already moved out of her sights. She followed its erratic track, firing when it finally came to a wall. The spike went sailing past and tore through the wall into the offices beyond. Her opponent stood staring at her, almost quizzically, its head still tilted away from the railgun spike's previous path. Priss fired again with the same result. She checked her ammo count and swore. Time for a different tactic.

Priss leapt forward, attempting to jam her fist into the boomer's throat but found her own throat being clenched in a metallic grip instead. The boomer cocked its free arm back and quickly followed through with a hard punch to Priss' left forearm. Priss screamed out in pain, and struggled to break free. The boomer tilted back for a moment to watch her, as if enjoying her suffering, like a cat with an injured mouse.

In a fit of blind rage, Priss pushed the thought of a possibly broken arm out of her head and shoved her right fist into the boomer's face. Three spikes exploded from point blank range, momentarily dazing the cyborg and releasing Priss' neck from its grasp. It took two steps backwards and then straightened up, searching the room for its opponent with only one glowing eye. Priss smiled. 'So you're not invincible eh?' she thought to herself as she checked her arm. Testing her left arm by flexing the fingers, she felt a twinge of pain in the fore-arm muscle but nothing that would indicate she'd have more than a bruise to deal with later. Checking her ammo count again revealed that finishing this boomer would be no simple matter. Setting her jaw firmly, she resumed her attack.

Nene was doing her best to stay out of the way of her opponent's unarmed attacks, but was having little success. Her left arm was already aching from the hit she had taken when the fight began. As she and Linna had moved a step towards each other in an attempt to negate the cross-fire danger, her boomer had bolted from its statue-like pose and pinned her to the wall with a thrusting metallic fist to the shoulder. The attack was so swift she hadn't seen the boomer move, but she had felt the force of its punch very clearly. Now it was becoming obvious to her that it would be a battle on her opponent's terms. A battle of wits and alertness; something Nene was not entirely unfamiliar with. But her body did not want to cooperate.

She continued to dodge the next flurry of attacks until her opponent disappeared before her eyes in a bright flash of light. She checked her visor display for the boomer's location and stared in disbelief at the seven blips on her screen when she suddenly felt an arm close around her neck. As the black metallic arm tightened its grip, Nene fired her jump jet thrusters, sending the boomer backwards with a piercing whistle of surprise. She turned to face the boomer, expecting to find it sprawled on the floor and was taken aback by its quick recovery. This was one of those few times that she thought that it would be okay to swear.

Linna was doing a little better than the others, her martial arts and dance training proving to be an important defense from these extremely agile machines. But like the others, her offensive strikes were simply wasting ammo and energy. She tried to get behind her opponent by vaulting off the boomer's shoulders but the thing was waiting for her when she landed. A metallic hand suddenly spread open and pushed forward in Linna's direction. Linna felt the air rush out from her lungs as an unseen force hurtled her body backwards into a wall.

As she struggled to rise her opponent was there, grabbing her arm and flinging her towards another wall. Linna held her hand out to stop her flight but quickly retracted it when she realized her speed. The wall shuddered and crumbled as Linna's back impacted on the flat surface. Slumping a bit, she checked her knuckle-bomb's charge on her visor's display and waited for her opponent to pick her up again. This time a loud sub-sonic thump shook the wall next to her as the boomer recoiled from the surprise attack. She withdrew her fist from the boomer's shoulder area and stared in surprise as the boomer resumed its stance and came at her again, unharmed by her attack.

Sylia paused for a moment to gulp a few breaths of air. She had just wriggled free of her opponent's clamping grip, narrowly avoiding a steel fist that had managed to graze the surface of her visor. Now she stood waiting, as the black, metallic, cybernetic being reset for its next attack, pushing Sylia to try to counter at a grueling pace. She was finding it more and more difficult to get her breath back between 'rounds', while her opponent did not appear to be tiring at all.

As she dodged yet another leaping attack, her suit's power-scale readout began to beep a preliminary warning. Eyeing the red warning halo momentarily, she was caught off guard by the boomer's next assault. The last thing she saw, before sailing backwards in a smooth, shallow arc, was a gleaming, ebony hand, outstretched in her direction. Her flailing body was deposited unceremoniously in a heap on the floor, some fifteen feet away from where she had originally stood.

A feeble attempt to regain her feet was interrupted by a powerful kick to her shoulder, flipping her over onto her back to land another ten feet further from her original starting point. Sylia's opponent stood towering over her prone form to stare down at its prey, its twin eye-beams locked onto her neck. Raising its right leg, so that its foot hovered just over her neck, the boomer's eye beams flared red for a moment, its artificial instinct signalling its victim's defeat.

The boomer's plunging foot was halted inches away from Sylia's unprotected neck by a long, thin, silvery blade, projecting from a sheath in her suit's right arm covering. Using all her remaining strength, Sylia swept her arm to the side, blocking the crushing attack with the flat of the blade.

Staggering to her feet, she watched the boomer quickly recover its lost balance, and turn to face her. Through her visor, the boomer's eyes always appeared green in the night-vision filter, but outside her helmet, the blue glare had now turned a shade of deep red. A high, ear-piercing scream emanated from within the cybernetic being, its rage only now beginning to surface.

Sylia detected the creature's sudden anger in its new, more cautious stance. The two combatants circled each other slowly, oblivious to the other six beings that fought within the hall. Her visor's display screen showed a dangerously low power-level. Dim flickers of light from nearby weapons energy bursts illuminated half of her opponent's face, briefly transforming the creature's emotionless features into a grim mask of focused, deadly intent. A faint crackle in her headset intercom reduced the anxious moment to a wary pause.

"Sylia!" It was Nene's voice, tired and edged with fear.

"Nene- are you alright?" Sylia responded anxiously, suddenly remembering that she was not alone.

"No! I've run out of ammo and my main power is just about depleted. I've still got backup power, but it won't be enough to do any good at this rate!"

Sylia sighed, feeling for the first time that maybe they were in over their heads. "Nene, hold on! You can't beat these *things* with our usual medium-range tactics. You have to-"

"No shit!" Priss' intercom signal interjected, "Linna and I- (umph!)- are getting our butts kicked royally! My weapons are useless unless I get close enough . . . to dance with these bastards!"

Linna's frustration-filled voice echoed her companion's observations.

"Sylia, I can keep out of their way for a little while longer but we've got to think of some way to knock them down a rung or two or we're done."

"Linna- " Sylia started, with a touch of angry defense in her voice, "Don't start thinking that way or we will be done. Understand?"

Linna's reply came back after a noticeable pause, "Yeah. I'm sorry. You're right! So what- (unh!)- can we do?"

Sylia glanced back to regard her still circling opponent, and the decreasing distance between them. "We have one last chance before we head for the exits; move to the center of the room. So far they've hurt us by splitting us up; maybe we can slow them down by taking their 'divide and conquer' strategy away from them."

Three fatigue-filled, but hopeful voices responded positively, as the Knight Sabers began to draw their opponents into a tighter battle.

Five miles away, along the MegaTokyo Bay parkway, a black motorcycle screamed past a handful of scattered, commuter-filled cars, making their way out of the city's downtown core. The rider was concealed by a dull, black, layer of plastic armor plating and a black helmet, the visor tinted a dark grey. Swinging idly at his hip, was a scratched, metallic cylinder, a thin strip of polished steel extending from the free end. The rider shifted gears smoothly, and applied the throttle, propelling the gleaming bike past a knot of slower cars ahead of him with a sudden burst of speed.

The motorbike's shadow flickered on the road beneath its wheels as it passed under the unending row of amber streetlights that extended out over the parkway's width. Almost straight ahead in the distance, the dark outline of the Matsumi Military Research building loomed against the deepening, violet skyline.

Leon crouched down, and sighed with relief as he leaned back against the comforting stability of his AD Police car. Above him, two news-media helicopters slashed the cool night air, their searchlights playing over the parking lot in random sweeping patterns. The noise and fluctuating light only succeeded in increasing his tension. He nervously checked his supply of magazines for his pistol, and then caught himself as he paused for a moment to think about Linna. 'No!' he angrily told himself. 'Push her out of your head McNichol or you're gonna screw up! She knows what she's doing and the job comes first. That much you agreed on.'

But they had made their agreement two years ago when they first started dating; a time when boomers were a thing of the recent past. Their agreement had meant a very strong relationship- at least symbolically. Now their pact was being put to a real test. A test that was similar to the one which had torn him away from someone else he had once cared very deeply about.

Shaking his head as if to scatter the disconcerting thoughts to the four winds, he breathed out noisily and tightened his grip on his gun.

Poking his head up over the car's hood, he could see the occasional flashes of light coming from just inside the hallway of the main entrance of the military building. Halfway between his position and the building, he saw General Reeves hunkered down behind a black and green all-terrain military vehicle, with two soldiers to his sides. Sitting back once more against the car door, he focused his thoughts and then leapt up from his hiding place.


General Reeves turned to look behind him and saw the officer that had been called in as the 'boomer expert'. "Looks like they were boomers after all Officer McNichol, or they're human and they had some serious fire-power hidden up their-"

"General," Leon interrupted anxiously, "Is there anything your troops can do to help the Knight Sabers in there?"

The expression on the general's face did not offer much hope. "Officer, we tried to reason with them earlier. Then we tried a rooftop assault with a projected loss of life of around ten percent. We couldn't even get inside. No-one was killed but we just could not get in. I'm still baffled as to how the Knight Sabers succeeded. But it's their ballgame now. I lost thirteen security personnel when this all started and I don't intend to lose anymore."

Leon holstered his gun hesitantly, and looked around him at the one hundred or so troopers that had now relaxed somewhat, as the fire-fight seemed contained to the building itself. Some were engaged in what looked like idle chit-chat while others were sitting against the wheels of their vehicles to rest or enjoy a cigarette. Anger mixed with worry pushed Leon toward the limit of his patience. For all he knew, Linna and the others could be in serious trouble.

As Leon stared in frustration at the general's face, the mask of hopelessness disappeared, to be replaced by a look of unconcern. Slowly, the reason for the general's reluctance to assist the Knight Sabers began to unfold in Leon's mind. The hostages were freed and now the general just had to wait. No sense wasting any more good men for four women in hard-suits who had made a deal. A deal that didn't require the general to help them if they got in over their heads.

Leon grabbed the general's jacket-front with both hands and exploded.

"You son-of-a-bitch! It's the money isn't it? If the Knight Sabers go down then you're off the hook! Well, that might save you twenty million in the short term but if they die then you'll have to deal with those 'boomers' yourself! And from what you've told me, you're going to end up burying more than thirteen security personnel before this is over! "

The general looked at Leon's hands still clenched tightly around his jacket's lapels with a feigned disinterest. "Officer, are you finished? If you don't mind, I've got a situation to deal with here. Your assistance is no longer necessary."

Leon stared at the general, stunned for a moment at the cold truth in his words. This wasn't his headache and he had no jurisdiction here. He was just an expert advisor and nothing more. Suddenly Leon realized that after five years of inactivity, the Knight Sabers were not only expendable in the general's eyes, but they had become a forgotten urban myth in a city that had moved on with the problems of a new, more peaceful era.

"Damn! Stupid computer!" Mackie reset his satellite transceiver's co-ordinates for the fifteenth time, and then initiated the white-noise 'follower' signal for output. His fingers tapped nervously on the edge of the control console, as he waited for a confirmation of a lock from his end of the chain.

Like Leon, his thoughts drifted to the welfare of someone he cared about who might be in serious trouble. But there was nothing else he could do about it. The motoroids were too big to get inside the military base to help. Sure they could take out a wall or two, but that was something he couldn't do unless Sylia ordered it. He had to put these thoughts out of his head, and focus on his own "attack" plan.

As questions of when he should disobey his sister's orders continued to bounce around his head, a thin, green, bar of light suddenly began to crawl steadily across a map of the heavens, dotted with tiny red triangles and their co-ordinate identifiers. His face lit up as the bar reflected off of a second red triangle and made its way off his screen to the unknown target of his signal. Mackie smiled at his success. "An eye for an eye, scumbag."

Leon stood frozen to the spot, seething with a burgeoning anger. As he entertained the crazed notion of driving an all-terrain vehicle through the front doors and right down the boomers throats, the muffled drone of a motorcycle engine briefly overcame the noise coming from the military building. He turned to where he thought he'd heard the sound and saw a figure in black armor sprinting across the floodlit lawn of the base. AD Police officers and soldiers alike rose lazily to their feet to see what some of their fellow troopers and officers were pointing at. Leon watched the swift figure, comparing its appearance to the boomers he'd seen on the videotape.

Before he could warn the general of his suspicions, the armored figure had vanished over a wall and then leapt onto the roof.

"Sylia, I'm losing my main power!"

Sylia turned to look at Nene who was now only a few feet away to her left. "Don't panic Nene. You should have backup power by now."

Nene checked her reserve power scale on her display screen, and sighed with relief, as the scale suddenly rose from zero to one hundred. "Yes! It's online now."

Their migration to the center of the room had been slow and arduous, but now the four Knight Sabers stood in a rough-square, defensive formation. At first it appeared to confuse the four boomers, their attacks being reduced to probing slashes and kicks, which prompted Priss to unleash a few more precious rail-gun spikes. Like the rail-gun, her laser weapons had proven just as ineffective, putting more holes in the walls than in her opponent. In fact she had not yet succeeded in actually hitting her opponent with her range weapons, other than a few lucky point-blank attacks, which had done little to slow her opponent's attacks.

Linna found it harder and harder as the seconds ticked by, to deal with the impending sense of defeat that ate at her now. Although Sylia had reminded her about thinking negatively, she could not help it anymore. She wondered why her boss did not see this as the time to fall back and regroup. The boomers were no longer testing the Knight Saber's new defense tactic. They were using it to close a four-sided noose around them. It was as if they were playing some giant chess game and their opponents had foreseen their every move. As the boomer in front of her edged forward menacingly, Linna thought of Leon for a brief moment, and then froze, her eye caught on something falling overhead.

Descending from the ceiling directly above, a shard of glass tumbled end over end, dislodged from its tenuous perch in the frame of the shattered skylight by something. For a moment, it looked to her like a single, gleaming emerald in her green, night-vision display.

With only a sharp whistling sound as a warning, all four boomers lunged forward to grapple with their prospective victims. Sylia, Nene, Priss and Linna fought to break the vice-like grip that had suddenly encircled each of their necks, threatening to crush their windpipes.

"Yes Sir. As you can see for yourself, we are about to complete the final phase of the field test as you predicted. Power expenditures were well below the-"

"What was that?"

Leomund's confident tone quickly faded into a nervous mumble over the vidphone, as he waited for the anonymous investor to elaborate on his query.

"Sir? What was what?"

"Leomund . . . what was that 'shadow' that just passed in front of- there it is again."

On the huge multi-vision screens in the main control room of the mountain laboratory, a shadowy blob had briefly obscured the second camera view of the military base's hall, where the four cybernetic beings stood poised to claim their victory over the Knight Sabers. Leomund slowly put down the vidphone handset, and stared hard at each of the four screens in turn, scanning every dark corner for any sign of movement. Suddenly a static-lined, knife-shaped glow erupted from a point just behind the cybernetic being closest to the second camera view.

Mackie sat nervously on the edge of his seat, as the co-ordinates on his computer screen continued to climb. After another five seconds, the number halted its ascent, and an audible 'click' was heard from the satellite dish on top of the Knight Sabers utility van. On his screen, two words in bold capitals, began blinking at a steady, pulse-like rate; "TRANSMISSION COMMENCING"

A tiny bead of sweat drizzled lazily over the crease-lines that furrowed Leomund Sholtan's forehead. His eyes were glued to the dark figure that refused to co-operate by standing at the edge of the security camera's range. Just when Leomund thought he might scream in frustration at the massive video screen, the mysterious figure stepped into the middle of the dim view.

The figure appeared to be wearing a suit of armor, making it difficult to distinguish from the four 'test' subjects', except that it carried a weapon of some kind that emitted a thin ribbon of laser light, and that its outline distinguished it as a male. The figure took another slow step towards the camera, revealing a little more detail, and then . . . a roar of white-noise from the multi-vision's speakers filled the mountain laboratory's control room, as the view on all four screens was suddenly engulfed by rapidly moving pixels of grey, white and black.

From behind her cybernetic opponent, a strange, laser-like glow rose out of the darkness and came straight towards Linna's face. A blinding slash of green light separated her from her opponent for a split-second, and then suddenly, she was free.

Upon the release of her neck, she began to gasp hungrily for air, while trying to understand what had just happened. She recalled hearing what sounded like a painful squeal, and then her opponent had seemingly disappeared. She checked her backup power-readout and then turned her head quickly from side to side, searching for the boomer that had come so close to taking her life.

Approximately fifteen feet away and to the left, Linna's eyes came to rest on a shadowy figure, wearing what looked like a dark colored hard-suit. The shape and size of the suit's outline distinguished the wearer as a male, although a long tress of dark hair hung out from the back of the figure's helmet, drawn loosely into what looked like a pony-tail. The figure was battling hand-to-hand with what had previously been her attacker, unleashing high, head-centered kicks, and punctuated, fisted thrusts at a rate that defied Linna's ability to follow them all. The boomer was defending itself from the short-range attack with some difficulty, but was not showing any visible signs of damage or crippling pain. Swinging from the waist of the armored figure was what looked to Linna like a broken sword of some kind.

Linna's appraisal of the unexpected re-enforcement was cut short by a hard, jolting impact to her left shoulder blade. Spinning around to confront the source of the painful blow, she came face-to-face with one of the three remaining boomers. Over its shoulder she could see Priss wrestling with the third boomer, while Nene and Sylia had ganged up on the fourth. A quick estimate of her companion's attacks revealed that they were fighting with a new energy and verve. Once again, her observation of the battle around her was interrupted, this time by a steely fist into her torso.

At such short range, Linna's instinct took charge, and guided her fists and legs in a flurry of powerful jabs and deft kicks that caught the boomer off guard. Her opponent taken aback for a moment, Linna initiated a charge for a knuckle-bomb, probably the last that she would get to use, considering her rapidly decreasing backup power supply. The boomer recovered its wits and leapt at the green hard-suit, with an angry flare of crimson in its eyes. Its trip through the air was abruptly halted by a green-armored fist to the chest, followed immediately by a deafening detonation.

Linna stared down searchingly, through the thin haze of dissipating smoke at where she thought her opponent should be. Rising suddenly through the vapors to reset for its attack, her enraged opponent now sported a visible scar from Linna's explosive strike. The once gleaming ebony surface on the boomer's chest had turned a mottled silvery blue, the result of intense heat applied at close range. But the structure of the epidermal layer remained intact, snatching away the brief feeling of victory that Linna had suddenly felt. The tide of the battle had been turned by the shadowy figure's arrival, but as Linna checked her backup power supply again, she began to wonder, 'for who'?

"Leomund . . . call them back to the lab."

The cold but firm voice on the other end of the line shook Leomund from his stupor. "Call them back sir? But we're just about to-"

The anonymous investor increased the amount of resolve in his tone by a notch, "Leomund remember- this was just a test. The destruction of the Knight Sabers would have been an added bonus, but as you can see, there is a new factor to the outcome. Without visual contact with the test site, our experiment is of limited value. And this *intruder* has tainted the test results. Call them back immediately, and make sure no-one sees them go."

"Yes sir. Right away sir."

"Oh, and one more thing Leomund-"


There was a noticeable pause before the faceless voice continued. "I think it's about time I paid a visit to the laboratory to see how my money is being spent. I'd like to see first-hand how the project is proceeding."

Leomund felt the blood in his veins turn to ice."Are you certain sir? There's so much that still needs to-"

"Nonsense Leo. This test has been a success! Not only does this prove the capabilities of our offspring, but it solidifies the trust that you and I have shared so far. I think a personal visit would take this trust to the next level. Don't you?"

Leomund hesitated with his answer, his eyes glued to the crippling static that still rolled across the four multi-vision screens. "Yes . . . yes sir. That it would sir. I look forward to meeting you here- sir."

"Good! I'm pleased to hear that Leo. You can expect me some time tomorrow afternoon. Good-bye Dr. Sholtan."

Leomund's hand gripped the vidphone handset a little tighter as the line went dead. "Good-bye sir."

Priss balked with her next attack to look over at her companions. She was still puzzling over why the boomers had suddenly released their locking grip on them. On her neck, she could feel the tingling irritation of a chafing burn, caused by two metallic hands that had nearly choked her to death. She had been struggling vainly to pry the boomers steel digits away when a sudden flash of light beside her had momentarily fogged her display. When her visor had cleared her throat had been let go, and her opponent reappeared, standing a few feet in front of her looking dazed from the light itself. It occurred to her now, that this was probably the closest she had come to dying while in the line of duty. Even a super-boomer and its three hyper-boomer henchmen, hadn't come this close.

Relinquishing the morbid thought, it took only a quick body count to realize that there was one extra hard-suited figure engaged in the fight. The dark, probably male, armored figure was fighting its opponent toe-to-toe, not backing off for a second. The boomer was actually backing up an inch or so after every punch and parry. Then to her surprise, the boomer took two quick steps back and then clasped its hands in front of it. The armored man took one step forward to continue his assault, when he suddenly went flying backwards, landing hard and flat against a wall. The figure slumped to the floor, but quickly began its struggle to get back up.

A bright flash of light brought Priss' attention back to where she had left her own opponent- but the boomer was gone. In fact, after another quick survey of the entire room, she realized that all four boomers had suddenly vanished. She was about to question her leader when Sylia's voice ejected an anxious command to Nene. "Nene! Track them! They may still be in the room."

Priss became wary again, her knees bending reflexively to await any surprise attack. But the attack did not come. Several seconds drifted by before Nene replied with her results.

"Sylia, I'm not picking up anything in the room. It's like they've just vanished into thin air!"

"Keep trying Nene, they may have some other trick up their sleeve that we haven't seen yet."


Sylia let her body relax for the first time in what felt like several hours. Her approximation wasn't that far from the truth. But ever cautious, she called out to each Knight Saber in turn, and received three tired replies. That was when she noticed the *fifth* Knight Saber. She hadn't really taken the time to inspect their unrequested assistance, but now she turned to observe the temporary recruit more closely.

From the overall shape of the armor, the wearer was a male. Not overly tall or bulky, but clearly in good shape, the figure wore a hard-suit that was a patch-work affair of dark plating with a rough overlay. Various, oval-shaped ports, and a bulky, square device on the suit's back, marked the otherwise human shaped outline. The helmet looked to be a modified motorcycle helmet, that sloped away slightly to the back, giving it an aerodynamic appearance. Strands of wire and a small connector protruded from the lower left edge of the helmet, then snaked under the left shoulder's armor plating, obviously the link between the suit's sensors and the helmet's display- if it had one.

The most noticeable difference between this hard-suit and her own design was something that was not a part of the suit at all, but a dull, silvery colored cylinder, vaguely resembling a sword handle, that swung from a leather loop at the figure's side. Extending from one end of the cylinder was something she recognized after a slight confusion. It was the folded over blade of a katana, modified with a strange indentation along the entire cutting edge. Aside from the martial weapon, the suit reminded her strongly of the early prototype designs that she and Mackie had worked on, before the Knight Sabers had been assembled. Her suspicions suddenly aroused, she approached the unknown figure, cautiously.

Outside the now silent Matsumi Military base, Leon was still arguing with the general about the mysterious armored figure when four distraught looking hostages suddenly emerged from the front entrance. Two of them were supporting a limping female colleague, while Leon noted that the fourth was holding its left hand in a blood-soaked wrapping of torn cloth. All were dressed in the uniforms of military administrations personnel, identical to the garb of the hostages that had been released earlier. Leon rushed forward to help them to safety, a few of the soldiers and officers following behind to assist.

"Oh god, please get us away from here! We thought they were going to kill us when they found us in the office!"

Leon's face showed grim concern as he helped the frantic group to a nearby ambulance. He turned to stare at the general who's mask of indifference had finally faded into a downcast glare.

"Take them to Ikegaki General," he instructed the ambulance driver after the injured hostages had been seated inside, "I'll be there shortly to question them."

The driver nodded and leapt into the white and red-striped van, and sped off up the military base's driveway, its spinning red lights casting surreal shadows against the nearby buildings. Leon watched the van disappear, until he could only hear its high-pitched siren in the distance.

"Thank-you for your help," Sylia offered the black hard-suited individual. "Your assistance is greatly appreciated by all of us."

Priss, Linna and Nene watched as the black hard-suit shifted its stance as if to reply, but Sylia had already turned to walk away. "Uh, well- you're welcome, but I really- "

Sylia abruptly turned back to the figure, raising a gloved hand to interrupt him gently. "I'm sorry if you've come a long way, but we are not hiring."

The black hard suit stood still for a moment, as if considering her reply, while Sylia turned away once more to ask Nene over the private intercom channel about the progress of her scans for the boomers.

"I'm sorry Sylia, I'm still not picking up any sign of the boomers. There was a brief energy pulse just after they disappeared, but no trace of them on my sensors now. And I still can't raise Mackie on the intercom."

Mackie. Sylia had forgotten about him after several attempts to reach him when the battle had begun. She tried again to reach him, this time her attempt was successful. "Sis! Are you alright? I tried to reach you but something was jamming the intercom and the video link we were getting from the surveillance cameras!"

Sylia looked up into each corner of the hall and spotted the four video cameras, a red light glowing on top of each one.

"Mackie, have you got video now?"

After a brief pause, Mackie replied affirmatively.

"Have all the hostages been transported away from the base yet?" Sylia queried her brother, with a growing unease in her voice.

"They have now- four more hostages just came out of-"

Sylia didn't wait to hear the rest of Mackie's reply. She bolted out the front exit way with the other three Knight Sabers close behind. Suddenly the black hard-suited figure was standing alone in the dark hall.

As he began to move towards the hallway where the others had gone, his sharp eye noticed a small pool of dark liquid among the shards of glass in the middle of the floor. Crouching down to investigate, his gloved hand plucked a four inch long, black metallic finger from a puddle of blood. The finger had been severed just below the hand-knuckle by a smooth, straight cut. The exposed bone and tissue had been partially cauterized by what looked like a laser scalpel stroke. The black hard-suited figure wrapped the severed finger in his left fist and stood up. His right hand went instinctively to the silver cylinder at his hip, as he broke into a jog to catch up with the Knight Sabers outside.

Leon's overwhelming feelings of relief at Linna's appearance in the front entrance of the military base, were short-lived, as he listened to Sylia and the general exchange angry words. He had initially been a little suspicious of the four humans that had come out of the base a few minutes ago. But their injuries and distressed appearance, as well as their frantic pleas for help, had squashed any doubts that he may have had about their identities, despite original reports of only thirty-two full-time base employees. Now, from what he could overhear of Sylia's assertions to the general, it looked like his initial suspicions were correct. The boomers had escaped right under their noses. He took one last glance at Linna as she stood listening to the argument, and then headed for his car.

All eyes in the parking lot suddenly turned towards the sound of screeching tires, only to catch a glimpse of an AD Police car speeding up the driveway of the military base. Two of those eyes, hidden behind a dark, plastic visor, remained locked on the disappearing car, wishing the driver had not left so suddenly.

Sylia finally disengaged from the general in disgust, then spun back on her heels to make a final point. "General, you will be contacted shortly by someone, to collect our fee as we agreed."

After a thoughtful pause, the general nodded affirmatively.

As the media swooped in on the general and the police, the black hard-suited figure, unnoticed by nearly everyone, followed the Knight Sabers to their van as they prepared to chase after the ambulance with its cybernetic cargo. The figure spoke up, momentarily bringing Sylia's discussion of their next move to a halt. "Uh, I know you're not hiring any-"

Before anyone else could blink, Sylia reached out and grabbed the black hard-suit by its arms and swung it around to slam hard up against the back of the utility van. Its left hand was balled into a fist, but the figure did not attempt to defend itself. Sylia held the figure's arms flat against the metal panel and spoke in a low, calm voice. "No. We are not hiring any new members. But that's not why you're really here, is it?"

Linna, Nene and Priss exchanged visor-hidden glances as they watched their leader interrogate the newcomer.

"No. It's not," the figure divulged. "I'm looking for Sylia Stingray."

Sylia's grip on the figure's armored forearms tightened. "Who's Sylia Stingray?" she asked calmly, skillfully concealing her alarm.

The black hard-suit shrugged, "I don't really know. I've never met her before."

The obtuse answer was almost more than Sylia could take. Why was this person--who's voice sounded like a kid's--looking for her? And how had he connected her name with the Knight Sabers?

By this time, Mackie had poked his head out the rear door to see what was holding up their departure. Just in front of him he saw Priss, Linna and Nene standing in a semi-circle, apparently watching something. He followed their mutual gaze to just beside the rear door, where his sister was holding a figure in a black hard-suit up against the van's rear panel. He glanced at the black suit of armor, admiring its economical use of plating, while maintaining a good overall amount of protection. It looked very similar to something he might build, if he was strapped for funds. His brief evaluation of the stranger's armor suddenly took a back seat, as his sister's voice rose into a range of pitch that he had not heard many times in his life.

"Why do you want to talk to her?! Tell me, and I'll see that she gets the message!" Sylia spat.

The stranger simply replied that he couldn't do that. He had to speak with her face to face.

Mackie jumped back away from the door as Sylia suddenly hurled the black hard-suit into the back of the van. She climbed in after her questioner, and slammed the door shut.

Mackie slid into the driver's seat of the van, but cocked an ear to the back area, where the figure sprawled on the floor was now clambering to his knees.

Sylia was livid. Severely fatigued by a battle that had nearly seen them all killed, angered by the boomers clever escape; and now this unnerving 'Kid Hero' character wanted to talk to Sylia Stingray. She sat down on the narrow bench beside the computer console with a sigh of frustration. Her instinct was telling her that whatever this person knew about her, she could not reveal her identity to him. She had to find out who he was first.

"Tell me who you are first, and then maybe I can arrange a meeting," Sylia entreated, her voice now returning to a calmer tone.

The black hard-suit remained kneeling on the floor, his helmet turning to look at Sylia and then back down at the floor. His hands reached up, one of them still in a fist, to the edges of his helmet, as Mackie leaned out of his seat to get a better look.

Sylia gasped as she recognized the face. Mackie felt a shiver run over him, feeling as if he were looking into a mirror five years from now.

The figure sat up and spoke proudly, "I'm Blackie Stingray. I'm looking for my half-sister. And I *know* that you know where she is."

Sylia's eyes narrowed sharply behind the dark visor of her helmet. The face of the man sitting across from her, was the grown-up visage of the cyborg-child she had seen in her failed 'vision-test'.

Leon turned the steering wheel of his cruiser sharply to the left and slammed on the brakes, narrowly avoiding a collision with the rear-end of an ambulance that lay on its side in the middle of the road. The rear doors were wide open and flames were visible coming out of the engine compartment. There wasn't much time.

Leon swung open the police car's door, and then slid out of the seat. He held his revolver in front of him against his chest, and looked to each side of the road, ready for an ambush. He approached the rear doors of the red and white van and stood cautiously to one side, while peeking in through the window of one of the open doors. Empty. Moving stealthily to the front of the vehicle he brought the gun down to gut level and aimed it straight out in front of him. After a quick breath, he stepped quickly in front of the vehicle's windshield, and sighted down the gun's barrel at the driver's seat.

Through the cracked windshield, Leon saw the ambulance driver and his assistant laying in a heap on the driver's side, both of their heads tilted at an extreme angle that would not be physically possible if they were still alive. Peering closer he could see bright red hand-prints on their necks where the boomers had grasped their now broken necks. Smelling leaking gasoline, he relaxed his rigid stance and walked quickly back to his car. As he slumped sideways into the seat of the cruiser, the van exploded, sending a hot breeze to wash over his face.

"AD Central- this is Detective McNichol. I'm just off Bay Road number One and Harumi. I've got an ambulance down and two dead attendants. Please send a fire unit- and tell the coroners to bring their dental I.D. kits."

Leon fought back an exasperated grin. So much for the new, more peaceful era.

Far to the west of Bay Road number One, the anonymous investor peered out of his penthouse window at the mass of light in the distance that marked MegaTokyo's downtown proper. Night had swallowed the lingering purple hues of the dying sunset, and descended on the city like a thick blanket of sable. He stood for a long moment, considering the height at which he now stood; a height which he had thought he would never descend from. But now his ambition demanded it.

The field test had been a success as far as he was concerned. Although his intended test subject had failed, leaving him with serious doubts about the future of the project, the evening had not been without surprises. The fifth Knight Saber had been entirely unexpected. All of his research over the past five years had concluded that the Knight Saber's leader had not recruited any new members. And that she never would. So who was this new member who had arrived just before the annoying video loss? Could this be the one he had been seeking all along? It was certainly not out of the realm of possibility, as the image on his data unit portrayed a male and not a female. He had clung to the hope that the gender discrepancy between the image on the master data unit and that of the test subject were due to a very clever disguise, but tonight's test had dispelled that notion. Now he was beginning to wonder if the five years of boomer-free existence had given this new Knight Saber a sense of confidence that he lacked in the past. The anonymous investor began to grin. Had his field test accidentally flushed out his prey?

It was decided. Tomorrow they would begin the next phase of the project, and he would personally oversee its initiation. Sholtan would have to be dealt with sooner or later, but he still had a very important task for him to complete. A task that would insure the project's success.

The anonymous investor walked towards his desk across a large, faded rug that depicted an ancient Japanese setting; two rival armies stood at either end, frozen forever in the moment before their glory. He fell lazily into a black, high-back, leather chair and stared at the reflective surface of his massive desk. A smooth piece of smoked glass covered the desk from corner to corner. Just below the glass were hundreds of glowing indicator panels, each accessible by a thermo-sensitive membrane sandwiched between the layers of polished silicon. The investor placed his palm down flat on the glass over an illuminated square section. A few seconds later, a clicking sound came from across the room.

Rising from his chair, the investor crossed the room again, to confront an inconspicuous looking power outlet panel. The grey four-inch square panel door was slightly ajar. He stooped down and flipped the door wide open, and reached inside.

Withdrawing his hand, he held in his palm an ornately carved wooden box. Inside the wooden box was a metallic object that vaguely resembled a silver cigarette case, its shine slightly tarnished due to frequent handling over the years. On top of the metal case, etched in a delicate script, were the letters "O.M.S".

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