Uhm? A bunch of plot elements move forward? People make plans and stuff happens.
by Jared Ornstead
Cops don't forgive easily.
Oh, no. In fact, they have whole rooms to store in minute detail every fact that can be rendered out of copious searches and lab reports on the minutest fragments of wreckage. Oh, for two-bit thieves or government sponsored syndicates they can be remarkably blind, but get their attention without that protection and they could get pretty obsessive about finding you.
That obsession could take two forms: the department or the individual crusade. Now departments typically get so involved only when truly motivated, like for example a rash of really offensive crimes or pressure from above in uncomfortable quantities. But an individual cop usually had a pet peeve or two. Stroke one in just the wrong light and you had a bitter enemy.
And cops do not forgive easily. They consider it an occupational hazard.
Motorcycles crimes in a gang-tough city like MegaTokyo were bound to be a rough spot for some officers just out of association with the numbers of bikers and their assorted gang raids. But posers were another rough spot with some cops. You could get a perp on iron-clad evidence except for one thing - half the time some lousy attorney would get all the charges dropped and the other half some nitwit jury couldn't help but get all confused over how they were supposed to tell this Humphrey Bogart from some other Humphrey Bogart who dressed the same and spoke with that same outdated accent and lived in much the same area.
Some cops just can't stand to lose.
So when the case of one 'Midnight Exploder' crossed the desk of one harried cop, he knew right from the start what a pill he'd been handed. Fortunately, he'd the experience to appreciate that right off the bat. Watching the news feeds' recordings of the chase scene did not make it any better, and the officers' reports and lab findings confirmed that.
Not one shred of usable evidence on a high-profile escape from a heavy weapons violation. Here was some perp determined that the laws of MegaTokyo did not apply to him, and he had to do his getaway over live national feed, no less. The press and the boys up in city hall would be after this like sharks during a feeding frenzy. An officer unable to land results could get cashiered over such a case. About the only mitigating factor was this was not his job alone, as a half dozen people from various departments were being hauled in to look at this from different angles, consulting dealerships where that brand of bike was sold, tracing serial numbers (if those could be reconstructed from the bits), and so on.
Grabbing his coat, the police detective went out his door toward the chief's office. If he got lucky, this cycle wizard with the full-auto pop-gun was a boastful sort and wouldn't be able to restrain the urge to claim credit for his deeds among his seedy friends. Or maybe this could've been some bizarre initiation ritual gone extreme, too. Either way meant sniffing streets and finding out what the local underworld knew, and that meant undercover time.
~Lucky they paid hazard pay for that duty,~ the cop sighed, resigned. Ever since the Quake the gangs owned the streets by right of conquest.
"It feels weird to be singing in front of people." Sylvie fought to put her costume on the right way up. With these outfits it was sometimes hard to tell.
"You mean, knowing we're to be singing in front of people." Nam put in edgewise as she tried to discover which direction the spangles went on her own costume.
"It's not so bad." Lou stepped over and guided them both into the rock star outfits she'd designed. "I mean, it's better than the job Jay-chan saved us from."
"True." echoed the word from every corner of the ladies dressing room.
"No," Meg changed the subject, staring at the profusion of tight bits she was to slip into, along with the wig. "I am NOT wearing that!"
"Then I guess you'll be alot more popular with the fans." Anri giggled.
"No, I mean, look at us! We're dressing up as some eighties rocker trash! I don't want that. Think! These wigs and tight outfits that barely qualify as decent aren't me! They aren't any of us! Our fans have seen us up until now as we are, in the ways we wanted to dress. Why should we make a big production out of that and change it now?"
"You didn't appear on a major album cover in your pajamas, which was what I'd been wearing when we shot that lead song." Lou's reply was terse.
"Most women don't look so good in their pajamas." Nam teased.
"Yah, a major clothing retailer came out with street pajamas based on that shot. You set a whole new business fashion all by yourself." Anri interjected.
Nam looked over at Meg, took off her own wig and tossed it down on the cluttered makeup table. "Okay, if Lou doesn't want the sleepy-sexy look then I am definitely not going in for the slutty-sexy look. That's just way too close to what Jay-chan saved us from."
Dressing stopped in the dressing room.
"Thank God!" Sylvie slipped out of her clingy-tight outfit. Off was so much easier than on, which was how it was supposed to look, she supposed. "I'm glad somebody has some sense around here."
"Well, if not these, then what?" Anri questioned her sisters. "We go on stage in less than an hour."
"Yes, but you can't dance in these unless you want your panties visible from the moon." Meg outlined her concerns. "And you can't wear a bra without the straps hanging out all over, so that means bouncing, and that means we just might, conceivably, bounce our way straight out of our costumes."
General reaction to that was quite bad. Even Lou picked up her rock star outfit and threw it from her in distaste at that concept.
"I'm not going back to that job Jay-chan saved us from. Not to mention how horrible it was, can you consider the ingratitude? Here, he's gone to great personal risk to pull us out of that profession and we go waltzing right back in? It ain't gunna happen." Sylvie put her foot down.
Lou signed that she admitted defeat.
"So what do we wear?" Anri repeated.
"We'll have to think of a theme." Lou sighed, sitting with her arms on her knees. "And I don't know where we're going to get anything special on such short notice."
"Not really." Nam corrected. "Think of the Village People. Each one had their own separate costume. We could do that."
"Or, better yet, think of those dance costumes we were getting ready for our play. I could wear those on stage and not feel a bit out of place." Sylvie offered. "They're fancy and pretty, yet loose enough to move in and preserve modesty. And if nudity is required to be a music star then I, for one, am not going to be one!"
"Agreed," several of the girls chirped in, with Lou hanging back only a moment before she contributed her assent as well. She'd just been trying to do what she felt the job expected. But on consideration, found she agreed with her sisters.
"So how do we tell Jared about that change?" Nam asked.
There came a rapping on the door. "Uh, girls? I don't think there's any way that I can convince myself to don that costume you set out for me. Is it alright if I just throw on the one we had planned for the musical play instead?"
Immediately the five girls burst out into giggles.
Poindexter wore a bunny suit to the concert. Not the fuzzy one with ears, the plastic clothing worn by clean room professionals to avoid getting lint or dust from their apparel into sensitive microcircuitry or experiments. Apparently, he hadn't liked his rock star outfit either.
Paradoxically, he was an instant hit.
Caroline had booked a very small appointment for their first public appearance. That way they could afford to get used to an audience in small stages and not have so great a shock. Plus, there was the very small matter that any mistakes could not be so terrible they couldn't be ironed out in a more informal arrangement. A mix up in front of a Hot Legs sized crowd wasn't nearly as serious an embarrassment as it would be in front of fifty thousand screaming fans.
Interestingly enough, Caroline held a lottery as to who got invitations to this little get together, and, just as interestingly, some of the scalping that went on got dangerous. But one of the rabid fans who'd shelled out a million yen for a scalped ticket came in dressed quite fashionably, her wealth and style apparent in every graceful gesture, and about the only other thing that stood out about her was she was the daughter of a Doctor Katsuhito Stingray and owned a very upscale lingerie store.
But what could she say? She liked their music, and it was important to get out once in a while, especially at her age. So Sylia went, only slightly regretting that she did not have a date.
Jared was out wandering the crowds before the act and got the shock of his life when he saw the proto-Knight Saber out in the audience. Suddenly getting an awful, evil, wicked idea that so often got him into trouble in amusing ways, he plastered a wonderfully playful grin upon his face and scooted over to the elegant lady's lonely table, announcing at the top of his voice. "Sylia Stingray! Congratulations! You've won our door prize!" At this point it was generally realized that he was THAT Skysaber, and actually a member of the band instead of some random poser, of which there were several in attendance. Picking the off-balance genius by the hand he directed her to rise. "Come on down to the stage. You get to sing with the band!"
"No, really..." it was amusing what colors she blushed, really. But Jared wasn't taking 'No' for an answer, and with the help of rabidly enthusiastic (and envious) fans, the mecha and hardsuit genius in fashionable and elegant attire was escorted up front to be a part of the show.
Jared was struggling hard not to laugh outside. He was chortling fit to break ribs on the inside. Sylia was trying to take it all in stride and not doing very well to hide how much she had become flustered. "I don't know how to sing!" She whispered to the superspy once they twain were on the raised dias that served this private club as stage.
"Didn't think you did." He returned happily, amusement creeping out all over his voice.
"So I just get to embarrass myself?" Was Sylia's answer.
"No, of course not. You get to learn, and very quickly."
"And you are going to teach me? This is amusing, but for me to not be humiliated would take weeks of training, and to be of your caliber would require months or even years to learn. Or is there something else planned?" Jared handed her a business card out of the Standard Light Urban Survival Pack. She read, "Jared Saotome, superspy adventurer - Able to teach sixteen year old mecha design and hardsuit geniuses how to sing."
Instantly her gaze snapped up to him and she paled visibly.
The interdimensional adventurer had been playing around with those concepts and limitations inherent in the skill programming they'd devised for the sexaroids. Bending close to look behind her flustered ear he discovered the expected interface socket. This was still the twenties, when these things were popular, before the explosion of killer programs out on the net caused the practice of interfacing directly with one's computer to be abandoned generally. However, for the moment, interface plugs were the almost universal mark of the techno-conscious. And, being in on all sorts of things, naturally Sylia had a socket, and a rack. Good.
He palmed a chip from his pouch and showed it to her. "I've been working on these. It's a Tutorial Chip, basically an instructor in your brain. Rather than override your own skills and grant you whatever is on the chip, this floats calmly in the background advising you. The process does not have the same limitations and whatever skill you get out of it becomes your own, over time." He slid it into her chip rack and snapped it in place.
Sylia was quivering with fear, an unaccustomed emotion for her. Had she been older and more experienced she probably would have shoved him away and stalked off stage before he'd implanted the instruction software. But teenagers are more vulnerable to the opinions of others than they like to think, and the eyes of nearly a hundred fans held her hostage as he inserted the optical chip, then began pulling cables from out of his pouch.
"These," he showed the springy blue high-end interface cables. "Are to show you what the chip can't." He slid one end into his own interface plug and began sorting out the opposing ends. "Since this will be your very first time and we can't have you embarrassing yourself, I'll just plug you in and you can ride piggyback on my own skills."
The other end was inserted before the stunned lady could do much to reply. He was very good at taking advantage of moments like that. Happosai had taught him.
Suddenly, between the chip and the flow of information from her unaccustomed linkage, Miss Stingray realized that she not only knew the music, dance steps, and whole production from the point of view of a performer, but there was this tiny voice at the back of her head whispering how to do each step as she thought about it. How to hold a leg or her body, the way to hold her throat, everything.
It wasn't what it could be with a little conditioning, but she was, she realized, actually capable of putting forth a competent attempt at this. With Jared, she gave a bow to the audience, and they twain began a short musical number, prelude to the main event.
That was when Miss Stingray discovered something - However much fun it could be to listen to music, and it could be quite enjoyable, it was always better to participate. That simple fact astonished her. Yet it just got truer and truer as the pair did their warm-up to the main act.
Jared and Miss Stingray opened with great success. The Sexaroids followed with a smash performance.
They celebrated having survived the experience of their first live performance (that Caroline had naturally recorded and would soon be available for distribution) by going out to an amusement park.
Since there were none left in Japan (the destruction of the Quake having still been so recent) they went overseas to do so. Disneyland was just as Jared remembered it (which, seeing as how that was 50+ years ago for this timeline that was pretty sad). But he still got some fun out of the others and nostalgia out of that one, while the girls enjoyed everything.
The shocking thing, to him, was memories about old friends not seen in, oh, very long indeed, evoked by the power of that old familiar site. He'd not thought of some of those people in years, which brought him up with a start, as the interdimensional superspy realized that he no longer had any idea how old he was. Time travel and dimension hops between them had erased any meaningful sense of chronological age, and his physical age was whatever the Agency set for each appearance.
It was both shocking and humbling to realize that one of the principle methods for self measuring among humans now no longer seemed to apply to him. It was as if he'd lost one of the major underpinnings of life in an instant. He didn't know how old he was, and he might never learn again - and if he did it might not mean anything.
Luckily, the girls and the trip both managed to cheer him up almost immediately and they had a very good time together, the six of them.
Caroline was in corporate heaven.
She had the hottest act on the hemisphere... in the world! And the money was pouring in. Green Corp was a food company, but this was steadily eclipsing even that tremendous income.
Hey, the world was a dreary place. Folks didn't need reminding of that. Bleak, dark music had been in for decades and gradually displaced everything else to the fringes, but now the world was darker than the music and people were ready to lighten up. Being on the forefront of that gave her group a share of the pie they never could have dreamed of as latecomers.
Also, they were very, very good.
Sylia was dealing with something fairly foreign to her: fame.
Sure, she was the daughter of a genius, but that did not, in itself, grant glory (only money). Yes, she was beautiful and sophisticated, but so were many other women in MegaTokyo. Her intelligence she hid deeply, and there were quite a few private store owners. No, none of that gave her any attention whatsoever.
But she had been a star.
What was better was that she'd lived out every fans' most excellent dream. She'd become a performer in her own favorite band. True, it was only for a night, and only doing a warmup act at that, but somehow that even made it better. That didn't change her forever.
She was still a fan.
What this meant to all of the other fans was simply outrageous in significance. Posers and groupies worshiped the bands they followed, acquiring the attitudes and sometimes faces. Their one true love was being their heroes, either by listening to them perform or by surgical methods. But all that got pretty hollow compared to being up on stage with them, live, during a real performance.
Sylia found herself enormously popular because she'd done what half their fan base now wished they could do. That popularity would fade over time as others got that same experience, but for right now she was it.
She found herself sitting in her study contemplating her new-found popularity. In her hands she toyed with the optical chip he'd forgotten after the dance.
As much as he loved his girls (and they were all as close as kid sisters to him) they had some real differences. Lou was the smartest. Meg was the best with tools. Sylvie had the others beat with reflexes and combat technique. Nam was the most stable, and Anri fell to second place on both brains and technical know-how. Lou and Sylvie tied on who could pour on the charm, and could positively melt your socks off when they tried (though none of the girls were slackers in that department).
However, increasingly he discovered there were uniting factors. For example, they all liked to shop, and having the income of musical sensations they were now able to do that to a downright astonishing degree.
On one of their binges, Jared slipped away to go check on their seamount. The girls unexpectedly followed, turning the whole into a family vacation.
Rough cutting of the secret base in the undersea mountaintop had been completed soon after the team finished beauty school and Jared's hairy ride. Finishing operations had begun immediately after, including the creation of watertight seals so those spaces could eventually be drained and filled with air.
This time they visited with new instructions for the autonomous equipment as well as replacement parts for the gear that needed it, and moved the stolen shuttles out from under camouflage netting on the sea floor into the newly created docks. Work on the submersible hangars wasn't completed, but having been a construction priority they were close enough that all remaining work could be done around their bulk, and it got the shuttles under more effective cover that would get better still once they'd mounted the special doors intended to blend into the virgin outer surface of the seamount, instead of merely hanging camo nets over those openings.
No, it was far from perfect, but it was coming along.
They held off on moving certain materials inside until more of the base was finished. The space was shaping up nicely, and with the Brum Bar having a nuclear plant, once they no longer needed it for rough cutting they were able to park it and hook up a nanofactory to that plant as a source of power.
But nanofactories are power-hungry in a way that was difficult to describe. A nuclear reactor built for enough output to operate robust systems able to grind through solid rock in boring operations had barely sufficient power to bring the nanofactory to the most sluggish level of barely-active, coaxing just enough energy into its systems to get it running, but not able to create anything.
Running cables out to the hangars and linking together the generator capacity of the three shuttles on top of the output of the Brum Bar's power plant put the factory over a threshold to where it was possible to begin to have it make things, albeit at a sluggish and not very satisfying rate.
They now had a running nanofactory. Slowly and at minimal capacity, but running.
It wasn't enough, not nearly enough for even the most critical things they needed, but by having it focus its entire slow production efforts on creating the most critical and difficult to obtain parts for getting the station-quality fusion plant running, they had hopes for the future.
So they immediately set boomer work teams on fabricating the remaining parts for finishing the station-quality fusion reactor, the stuff like hull plating, control handles and the bulk of the system that didn't have to be created to insanely high tolerances of have the most demanding electronic standards. Construction on the rest of the base would only continue because of the fact that they had more boomers than could do useful work on the fusion plant.
If Jared and his friends had stayed down here, they would have put priority on basic living arrangements and been able to move in before now. However, the core facilities of their secret headquarters were actually closer to completion this way. And, for now, it was better that they focus on getting the fusion plant running.
Having diverted most of the available power to this effort, their underground hidey-hole would be dark and dank, without lights or power for anything. Work would continue out of the efforts of largely self-contained boomers, recharging off of portable generators the team brought back with them. But eventually the plant would get done and they'd have all the electricity they'd need, and to spare.
It was a very big capacity fusion generator, after all.
Beyond the ultimate priority of getting that functioning, and the secondary goals of creating a set of well-disguised hangar doors and draining the place of water, there remained a great deal still to do. They'd planned for a very ambitious project down here, and the vast scope of the construction should eventually result in an equally vast resource once they got everything functioning.
The Brum Bar had bored tunnels for them, but mostly those were still rough and littered with bits of natural rock. Clearing them was not much of a problem, but smoothing them down to get nice, level floors and walls instead of irregularly gouged holes was.
Also, they'd want precision machined mountings for permanent emplacements of the supercomputers and fusion plant. Right now the nanofactory was just sitting out on the bare floor of a drained yet unfinished chamber, and that wouldn't do long term.
Since the power lathes and other tools for fast construction work were beyond their present energy capacity, they'd purchased portable hydraulic machinery with their own fuel cells for smoothing off rooms and corridors.
So, from rough cutting, they moved on to fine shaping, with a fusion plant being built as a background task separate from most of their boomer labor force. That was going so slow as to be largely ignorable on a daily basis, only needing a few parts moved now and then as they were completed, an occasional restock of raw material in the nanobath, and a place to stock the finished pieces until they required assembly, while most of their boomers went about carving their hole into something more livable.
Finishing off the bulk of their future base that way wasn't the most important task, but it was one of those things that ought to be done before the important installation work to follow. Multi-ton equipment moved on wheels and those required a flat surface for best operation, not a rough and tumble mine floor. More importantly, they had to put nice, clean edges around all of the entrances or exits if they ever hoped to put watertight sealed doors on them so they could seal off and drain more areas.
Besides, they wanted the bulk of their boomer work force to keep busy while the nanofactory churned. It was a waste of resources otherwise. Their labor to make a finished housing for all of the equipment soon to be installed would serve to make the rest of the process go swiftly once they had power.
Right now the process they'd planned on was to use less precise but low power machines to transform the rough cut mining tunnel ambience the Brum Bar had left of things into a much closer semblance of what they'd want to end up with. Then, once the parts were done fabricating for the fusion plant, turn off the nanofactory long enough to run energy drills and other high precision tools to go over all of the mounting surfaces a third and final time, finishing them off to the tightest tolerances so they'd avoid future maintenance problems for the equipment they installed there.
Then the fusion plant could be mounted and assembled, and they could do that for the rest of their underground headquarters using power that it provided. Still, it could be ages before this makeshift arrangement produced a functioning core for a base. But once it did, they'd have a polished jewel.
Putting all that in motion, the sexaroids then returned to find Poindexter had been crossing his fingers with that oath not to pull enlistment tricks anymore.
His name was Pavel, and he was an instructor for Soviet Special Operations Forces, the Spetsnaz. And Poindexter had somehow diverted enough of Green Corp's funds without Caroline being aware of it to start his own special forces training base in the Urals, where the sexaroids were immediately whisked after debarking the island plane.
Standing fresh from the South Seas in the freezing Ural mountains, they stood in a ragged line before the eighty-some year old instructor (who looked closer to forty) while he exclaimed. "I am Pavel. I have trained Soviet commandos to DO THE SPLITS IN THREE TO SIX MONTHS - whether they liked it, or not."
Nam's light purple hair had sprayed straight back as the man shouted in her face, now it settled, but her equally purple eyes were wide.
Pavel stalked on, smirking as he looked over them. "Soviet Spetsnaz were combat ready 24 hours a day and did not have the luxury of a warm up and stretch before going into action. I have trained my men to DISPLAY MAXIMAL FLEXIBILITY COLD."
Now it was Sylvie's turn for brown hair to settle while the Russian spun on his heel executing a high kick that made the girls wince, then held it an impossibly long time before he relaxed, using that to punctuate his following statement. "The storm troopers of the Evil Empire knew a muscle that can easily relax into an extreme stretch is a muscle that can do things: Hit hard and fast, lift heavy, never quit, never hurt, blast into action without a warm-up, and recover from it overnight. Deprived of food and sleep, exhausted from every exertion known to man and bloodied in full contact hand-to-hand combat, we still did things like one arm chins and ten foot standing broad jumps all in a day's work."
His grin was nasty. "And you will too."
Stalking around, he was he only eighty-year old man the girls had ever felt frightened of. Jared had experienced Happosai and Cologne, so had a more polished perspective of ancient geezers who got more dangerous over time.
Pavel's polished back was to them, but still they had no difficulty hearing his strong voice. "The commies were not motivated by vitamin sales. They wanted one thing: Athletic supremacy. If a method did not work - it was discarded, no matter how attractive it sounded. We will be using a straightforward formula for strength that has been distilled from a mix of sophisticated research, plain trial and error, and unscrupulous espionage. Machine's are the wusses' way out. Modern neuroscience offers us a host of very simple techniques that make an immediate, positive impact on your strength performance. Today's soldier has to carry as much gear as an ancient Roman, or more. How you hit in close combat and the gear you carry for ranged is determined by strength. Sending you into combat without either advantage is worthless."
The Evil Russian (as he liked to be called) whirled to face them. "Don't judge a book by its cover. Don't judge a man's strength by the size of his biceps. Things are often not what they appear to be. When it is said that a muscle's strength is proportional to its cross-section, that statement must be qualified: everything else being equal. 'Everything Else' is largely the level of activation of the muscles by the nervous system. It is estimated that an average person can contract only 20-30% of his muscles when trying his hardest. Your muscles are already capable of lifting a car. They just do not know it yet. Desperate grandmothers wrestling leopards and mothers lifting cars to save their progeny have done something to keep the natural feedback loop inhibitors from kicking in. Insane people bend metal bars in the windows of their cells because their neural circuitry is goofed up." Pointing a commanding finger at their noses, the Russian smirked. "And those superhuman feats do not injure the ones doing them in most cases." He dropped the point and stood up straighter, clicking his heels together arrogantly. "So of course the KGB trained fashion models to have the power of burly strongmen."
The man stalked on, suddenly turning to smile at them. "Now that I have turned into a capitalist running dog, I will teach you too. You will also learn Plyometric Flexibility Training - just the opposite of what you do." He poked Jared in the chest. Pavel stalked on, telling them what they'd learn and how much it would hurt to learn it, finishing with a thin grin and pointing at them. "When I am done with you, you'll have the flexibility of a mutant and lift 40 to 50 tons every workout. Or else."
And what was worse, he was right on all counts.
Caroline was of a mind to shut down that institute the moment she got her band back from it, but the Sexaroids insisted that Poindexter, who had spent so much time setting this up, ought to enjoy it himself. So the prankster was sent off packaged with instructions not to come back until he could jump to kick with one leg straight up while reaching an arm behind his head over his back to touch the toes of his other leg while still midair.
It was only fair. They all could now.
Nam especially wanted him to learn how to stand with his knees locked and bend forward until his head touched his shins. She'd hated learning that one. Sylvie insisted that Poindexter not be allowed to breed, but that he also must learn the suspended Chinese splits - her own favorite nightmare of a training experience. Anri went purple and had fits about never letting him off that mountain until he could lift it - she had particularly hated all that strength training, especially Pavel's parting shot that first day, "And ladies, strength training does not mean having a figure like Charles Atlas. You can pack a lot of muscle fibers, dense and strong ones, under those sweet feminine curves."
She despised having her curves mocked. She was fond of them.
Lou kept her mouth shut. She hadn't exactly enjoyed training, but liked being able to do all of those stunts.
After they'd sent the prankster off to become a flexibility mutant, Jared had a look at the books and told Caroline the bad news. Poindexter had, in ignorance or deliberately, set up the training camp as a more or less permanent operation. It would actually be cheaper to operate the camp than to shut it down.
After some wrangling over possibilities, Anri arranged to implement the consensus opinion, which was that Green Corp should switch from contracting out its private security to training and operating its own security force. Which, after discounting all that Poindexter had embezzled for his prank and already lost, was actually the cheaper option, especially in the long run.
It was Jared who came up with the bright idea to extend this security training as a corporate option to their blue collar workers and mid level management; partly as a perk, some part of that to make use of their now extensive training holdings, but also offering a slight pay raise to any employee to take that course. Duties of security types are by and large very boring until some emergency should arise, then they are frantic and nerves dulled by boredom often don't deal so well with them.
This option actually came in very handy. The regular work force, or some portion of it, was armed at their desks. Should some emergency arise there was a small army on hand to deal with it. A couple at each site rotating out as guards (something that both gave them a break from regular routines, a chance to relax, but also stay far more alert than regular guards as this was an occasional thing rather than an interminable duty) to stay on watch and warn the rest if there developed any trouble, and somehow things just worked much better.
Guard duty soon came to be viewed as an in-office vacation.
That meant that the optional training became very popular, even more than the pay raise could alone warrant. Very quickly they had offices where even upper management was seeking this training and guard duty was treated almost as a perk.
It was also rediscovered something known in the American Old West but forgotten by most movies - an armed society is a polite society. One guy with a gun was a bully. All of them having guns became gentlemen, very careful and courteous. It was too dangerous not to be, and flaring tempers were dreaded by all. So casual insults and slights almost disappeared overnight, making everybody happier.
Even other corporate representatives treaded softly in negotiations. And as their rep for security grew, gangs learned to trouble other targets when they wanted a shake down or squeeze. After very few years, Green Corp's entire employee base had been through this training and had the licenses and permits to carry arms wherever they went. Then, after being picked on in ones or twos by gangs after their guns, the employees went in groups practically everywhere, lived in close proximity, and commuted together.
Employee morale had never been so high, nor retention so easy. Site insurance costs also plummeted. But Caroline didn't want a rep as a 'Muscle Corp' so she tried to sell the training bases, but of course Jared stopped her. A good thing, as her own corp almost rebelled over the concept of losing their special trait and uniqueness.
The boomer rampage on board Genaros 3 did horrific things, enough to make the papers planetside, which brought up the now weeks old story told by a station controller's report of a similar rampage on Genaros 5. Between the pair of them, the costs of damages and the loss of Genaros 5 as a useful commercial and industrial entity (which was blamed largely on that rampage) and some shuttle losses (which had drawn considerable attention on their own) investors of all sorts were beginning to think of space as far more high a risk than advertised. Consequently, they began pulling their money out to put in safer ventures and the space race began to peter out for lack of funds to fuel it.
So for that part, Mason's idea to use another boomer rampage to clear enough construction space for labs on Genaros 3 was poorly chosen indeed. Quincy wasn't the only stockholder in Genom, and when the shareholders began to insist he take action to reduce their risky space ventures he had to at least pretend to go along.
And it was costly. Each of the five Genaros stations cost as much to build, and more to maintain, than the great Genom tower itself (still in the earliest phases of construction this close to the Quake that made it's foundation possible), and they were similar in size.
As always, Quincy plotted to use this apparent downturn to his own benefit. With proper planning he could get other competitors to reduce their space holdings and sell their assets there, buying them all up himself once their price had dropped sufficiently low. That would give Genom a virtual monopoly in lunar orbit, much as they had with boomers.
Except for one thing.
"Where are you going?" Caroline came up, looking urgent.
"Out to scout the streets." Jared replied, pausing in the act of putting on his cycle helmet in the corporate lobby on his way out. He still had to complete the upgrade of those maps to current before he could progress on another project - assuming Poindexter didn't ship them all off to Africa or something before then.
"Oh, no you're not!" Caroline replied, taking his hand and leading him back into the Green Corp Headquarters building. "Tina has just returned from orbit with some interesting news, which you are going to hear, and then we have some planning to do!"
She'd only just broken the news they were a recording hit sensation, and it seemed a bit early to spring any new surprises. Were they models as well? What? For all he knew they were a political party partway through a campaign. That she grabbed the sexaroids from a waiting room, where they'd been waiting for him, only heightened the anxiety.
But then they learned how and why Caroline became so anxious. Tina was waiting for them in a briefing room, one without windows, which meant it was secure, soundproofed, and probably swept for bugs several times daily.
He was glad Caroline had told him who they were seeing in there.
Tina was sitting there in a style of dress that made her look like a teenager. Her usual style before (when she'd been wearing ANYTHING! Brrr!) was a corporate cut that made her look mid-thirties at least, with a severe hairstyle that guaranteed no one would ever date her. Non-prescription eyeglasses had once completed the librarian look, but no more.
Instead, the lady appeared for all the world like a teen. Her long hair bounced free in a fluffy style filled with ringlets, make up had appeared, and the whole corporate image had washed away in a flood of renewed vigor.
She'd also gone in for a minor exotic bio-sculpt, a playbeing deal, and become a bunny girl; including some minor facial surgery for bunny ears, optional button nose and whiskers, and a fluffy bunny tail. It wasn't as extreme a job as Dog-Faced Doug had gone through, that was still her face behind all of the adorable extras, but if he didn't already know it was her he would never have recognized her. All of that put together plus she was at least a thousand times as cute as before (although whether she owed that more to the wardrobe and makeup change or discrete plastic surgery he'd never know).
"Kate's been trying to get her to change her look for years." Caroline explained before she could be flooded under by questions, walking behind the woman to put her hands on the back of Tina's chair. "I only just now learned they'd been friends."
Tina herself was acting apologetic, and began to confess her life story.
"Okay, I'm a computer hacker. Not the best, but I know some of those who are, and during my mid teens I was getting really hard up for money and a place to hide, so some of my friends whipped up an identity over ten years older than I really am with credentials to get me a security slot safely off-planet while the heat died down. Originally, I was going to spend a year or two playing my own made-up aunt just to excuse any genetic similarities we couldn't cover up. As part of security division myself it was easy to squash any leads they found, and so I cleared up both my old record and safeguarded my new one at the same time. I could have returned to my old ID two years ago, after only a few months on this job, but strangely I turned out to be pretty good at the work and kept on at it. Seeing Genom's little secrets had a strange thrill to it, almost worth the price of dressing like a frump with old maid makeup and hairstyles. But that's all behind me. Now I don't have to wear those fussy clothes trying to look older anymore."
The former Lady Erics stood up and bobbed a curtsy. "My aunt is dead. I am my estranged niece, Erica Leporidae, and I've left everything to me. Or rather I should say the dear old bird did. Since she and I weren't on good terms I couldn't possibly know any of those secrets she was privy to, and so Genom has no reason to have an interest in killing me. Meanwhile, Miss Leporidae has been living a pristine life without getting into trouble for years - and that's only if someone has access to very old hardcopy records about those juvenile computer crimes she committed so very long ago."
"You do realize that your last name is the scientific classification for a rabbit or hare?" Jared asked with a smirk.
Erica, formerly known as Tina, flounced prettily. "Thus the sculpt. I'm on the run from Genom. I faked my death and adopted this disguise. Now I'm wondering what to do with myself. You got any ideas?" The way she asked it was a request brimming with hope.
Whatever request for further info was partway out of Jared's mouth stilled when Caroline's executive assistant opened the door and leaned in. "Caroline, Amarok is on the line about an acquisition deal. They want 30% of our stock and in exchange they're offering..." she noticed how Jared was looking at her and trailed off.
The redhaired superspy had risen from his seat, staring at the purple haired woman leaning in the door. Softly, he asked. "Caroline, what is this woman doing in this company?"
Caroline looked back and forth between the interdimensional agent and her best friend. "Kate's been with me forever, Jared. Why?"
"Kate Madigan," he recited, woodenly. "As of mid-2033 was Genom's executive officer in charge of information and security. After the death of Brian J. Mason she became the Chairman's right hand. A powerful, intelligent but short lived villain."
Kate quirked her lips. "Okaaaay, I'll admit I'd had the offer to join their internal security department. But I won't take it. Caroline's my best friend, I'd never leave her."
Green Corp's CEO fell into her chair like a marionette with the strings cut, looking strangely between her best friend and Jared. "But if I were to die next year like he said..."
Nam's eyes locked with those of the other purple haired lady in the room. "Then she could accept and have six years to climb Genom's corporate ladder. She's very talented, it would work. The death of her best friend could certainly embitter her."
"I'm never getting cyberware again." Caroline declared firmly. "And if that man who got promoted over me comes back or proposes, I'll sic security on him!"
Lou got a smug smirk. "You know, we're got three women in this room able to be chief executives of powerful corporations. It's a pity we've only got one slot for them." She smiled at her budding friend Caroline.
Naturally, butter wouldn't melt in her mouth.
"Actually," broke in the former station security officer. "After I'd asked you all to stop calling me Tina, and switch to my real name: Erica, that's part of what I wanted to discuss." She leaned across the table, welcoming the fact that Kate Madigan stepped into the room, closing the door behind her. "The space development corp is losing funding fast. Closing station 5 hurt them, and now with problems on 3 people are reminded of those two shuttle 'crashes', so public confidence is gone. Spacecorp may even begin offering Genaros 5 or 3, or both, for sale on the public market."
"Why should we care?" Anri quipped. "I don't ever want to go back there."
"Not even to get a functioning fusion plant?" Sylvie grinned as she saw where this was going.
"Right." The former Tina, now bunny-girl, nodded eagerly, long ears bouncing as she did so. "As their most recent security chief I have maps and all of the security information the director is cleared for."
"So that's all of it, right?" Meg chirped smugly.
"No, there's data not even the station director is cleared for," she corrected. "Most of that is self-destruct codes, special secrets all companies try with their facilities, and of course major stuff like Genom's top-of-the-line secret production labs."
"What was that my ears did hear?" Jared asked sweetly.
Erica pretended innocence, absently fluffing her tail. "Oh, well, nothing special, just that Genom was moving most of their prototyping off planet into space, building super-secret labs on Genaros 5 and now duplicating those labs on Genaros 3. You ought to know, you stole the primary data modules and all of the computer gear that was going to be the heart of the Genaros 5 labs. In fact, the computers you stole twice: the originals, then the replacements they sent for those."
"We haven't unpacked those shuttles yet," he reminded, with a predatory grin. "All a concern over where to unpack them without destroying their contents or blowing secrets, you see. We're only one or two problems away from having a usable place, though."
"I know," she sang sweetly.
"You mean we could raid one of those stations and get the medical facilities we've been needing?" Nam pressed forward interestedly, leaning over the table.
"More than that," Meg speculated, leaning back in her chair and crossing her arms under both breasts. "I think she's saying that if we conduct more operations against Genaros 3 then spacecorp could lose more investors and begin selling off those stations. Maybe we could even acquire one and make use of those secret labs ourselves."
"That's what I'm saying," Erica confirmed with a sly grin, which looked decidedly out of place on her cute, bunny face.
"I think we have an operation to plan," Sylvie bubbled happily.
"Green Corp doesn't have the funds." Caroline sorrowed, shaking her head. "Even if they offered those stations at cost or somewhat below, we'd have to sell assets on the ground that we couldn't afford to lose."
Kate nodded. "Yes, we've got stockbrokers yapping at our heels right now after all the funds we've sunk into expanding our South Seas fish farms. If the market for seafood holds steady we can rake in a profit in four years, but..."
"Genom's been trying to drive the prices down so they can carve us out of a great big chunk of the market with their processed algae products." The CEO shrugged. Such was the state of the world.
"Kibble, named both for its taste and its resemblance to the pet food of the same name." Nam made a face.
"Even if we can't buy the stations, we could make great use of some equipment stored there." Jared reminded. "All we have to do is steal it. And if space shuts down some operations, that's less profit flowing into Genom's coffers. That weakens them a bit, and every little bit helps."
"Genom doesn't own everything in space. More like 60%." Caroline informed him. "Gulf and Bradley owns Genaros 4 and do most of their medical and biotechnological experiments there, as well as regulating some traffic to the moon. Which means, as the regulators, they can squeeze out all competition for the drug markets among the workers moving in there. There's also talk of the energy transmission possibilities, but for right now they don't want to infringe on their own petrochem market."
"So that's 3, 4 and 5," Anri observed, sitting pertly. "Who owns 1 and 2?"
"Genom owns 1," Kate offered. "Though they disguise their trail through puppet companies. 2 is the only one without direct line of sight to Earth, it's on the dark side of the moon. That reduces its value considerably, as you have to pay to relay communications and shipping there takes longer and is more expensive. Genom wouldn't touch it, which left it to some private consortium." She looked to Caroline for confirmation. "I don't think it has one owner, just lots of little ones contributing."
Caroline nodded. "That's true, only I think the Russians are now major shareholders."
Jared was tapping his fingertips together concentration. "So Genom owns the odd numbers of the five, but two of those are in dire straights right now. I think this screams of opportunity, don't you?"
He was met with startled stares.
The boy explained. "We strike now when investors are already shaky and we can undermine their confidence in the remaining ventures. We might even go so far as to cause Genom to close Genaros 3 as they did 5, leaving them with a grand total of one station operational and reducing their functional space holdings to one-third."
"You don't like them much, do you?" Caroline asked, wonderingly.
"Left undisturbed they lead to the end of all human life in this timeline. What do you think I should be doing?" The redhaired spy asked in return. "My mission, or partying?"
"Partying," Lou answered quickly, tossing a glance to the executive. "After all, it makes her money."
Caroline winced. "Will you ever forgive me for popularizing your band?"
"Sure," Sylvie quipped, doing her nails. "But it's a lot tougher forgiving you for not telling us about it until the news crews were descending upon us."
"Point," Erica agreed for their behalf, her whiskers twitching. "But think on this: If you continue on in the music business you might be able to buy a space station."
"Not until we're old and dreary," Sylvie complained. "Even as big as we are, those stations are huge. The whole entertainment industry hardly compares."
She got some nods.
"So what do we do?" Nam asked.
"Could our profits and Green Corp combined..?" Meg ventured.
"No." Kate corrected herself, "well, it would take five years."
"So we've got to either reduce their cost, increase our funds, both by a vast amount, or find some way to do this that doesn't involve money." Jared pondered. "All three can be done. What troubles me is how much competition we're going to face in the acquisition. I'd like to have those stations. There's stuff I can do with them that could help us greatly. But I don't see us in a bidding war with the entire planet. It can't be won."
Genom was the only outfit big enough to measure their profits meaningfully in terms of percentage of the Gross Planetary Product, even at this early stage. They'd be bigger, tougher and meaner in each passing year. Their present so soon after the quake that made them virtually own Japan was just a tiny, but very ugly, baby compared the conglomerate's far more gigantic (and ugly) future.
Jared sat up taller in his seat. "How big is Spacecorp?"
"Big," Anri answered.
"Hard to say how big they will become, the present crisis drains them badly." Erica was speculative, playfully batting at one of her bunny ears. "They're vulnerable, if that's what you're asking."
Jared's smirk had turned confident and wry. "So this is what you do if you're a superspy: imagine a different way in. In this case you take a look at what owns your target, if it's a company too difficult to hit directly, and see if there are any weaknesses there. How much Spacecorp stock is on the market?"
"For sale right now? Hard to say, but it's impressive. Like I said, investor confidence is badly shaken." Madigan was back in her element.
"Then, say, if they were hit another couple of times?" He asked with a growing smile.
"It would be worse," Caroline offered.
"The more sellers, the lower their stock price. It's a good direction, but incomplete." He thought aloud. "What we need is a great big load of cash. Then we can offer to shore up their stock value by buying a great chunk of it, in return taking control of non-paying assets, like, for example, Genaros 5."
"That's a load of dough." Lou whistled along with her friends, the other sexaroids.
"Stock trades wouldn't cut it. Green Corp is not big enough," Caroline cautioned.
"No, better if we can keep Green Corp out of it entirely," Jared mused. Rising, he snatched up his helmet and began to head for the door. "Hang on, I've got to think. There's tons of places to get the money, but they're all difficult targets. I need to ruminate for a while on this one."
"Don't forget development." Kate Madigan warned him. "Acquisition isn't enough, you've got to make it profitable, and that means money after control is acquired. Spacecorp already owns them and is struggling to keep their doors open."
"Agreed. I'm going to drive around while I think about it." Jared pulled on his helmet, intending to head out for his new bike, one with a custom-built engine to it.
"Jared," Caroline whispered. "We may not be able to buy either space station right now, but we still gain if we can force Genom to close them."
"Again, agreed. The way I think we're going is in Smoky and the Bandit style. One obvious mission as our smoke to draw pursuit and attention to itself, while our bandit side goes off to perform a quick snatch and grab under cover of the confusion. Because, even if we could pull the whole thing off sneakily we wouldn't want to. Maximum disruption is part of why we are doing this. We want that stock devalued, and Genom out of space as much as possible."
He went roaring out of the Green Corp garage moments later.
Detective Mark Petrovich was a weary Russian, but deceit was in his blood. He had no accent, no identifying features, being average height, average weight, and unremarkable in practically every aspect. When he put on Goth attire, you believed he was a Goth. If it was a leather clad biker a job required he could be that too.
Practically anything he wanted to be, he was. And he maintained several street IDs for nosing around in. He wasn't exactly easy to find as any of them, but he cropped up from time to time, as did many people.
For ferreting out information on the street the MegaTokyo police had few better, and most of them were street creatures in actual fact. So when he turned up nothing, that was because there was nothing to find, or at least those who knew weren't talking.
Submitting his report, the detective had the misfortune to be turning in his total lack of findings just as the news copters got to their man first.
Lights flashed along the roadway, streetlights racing by and houselights flicking. It had been close to four hours he'd been riding, chewing on this issue. The closer he looked at it, the more complicated that made it. Spacecorp was not going to be an easy pushover. Still, every problem that came up he had developed answers for.
They had a good plan. Disrupt the enemy operations, noisily if possible. Trouble was, disruption meant opposition, and opposition from Genom meant casualties and death, if it was at all possible for Genom to arrange them.
Sigh. Time to build some hardsuits.
Okay, this was a Bubblegum Crisis universe. It should have been obvious before this that some hardsuits could be a very good idea. It's just he'd resisted implementing the course of action without access to Sylia's database inherited from her father. Hers were the best designs, based on the best science, and he'd wanted that for his team. There were a number of ways he could pursue to get it from her, but some innate sense warned him off. He didn't know why, but he trusted it.
So that meant non-Stingray hardsuit designs.
Suddenly realizing he felt weak, and recalling that he hadn't eaten anything in three days, the superspy nudged his vehicle toward a nearby diner where he could hopefully find something bland and preferably satisfying.
Unfortunately, he happened to be wearing the same driving suit and helmet as he had the other day when he'd been blowing apart goons who'd tried to mug him. That suit was distinctive in a town as grungy as MegaTokyo, bright colors standing out so it was a wonder that he wasn't accosted before now.
Now would suffice.
The superspy had gotten his bag full of burgers (five, for those who were interested he did eat them cold as having them around made him that much less likely to forget to eat next time) when he noticed a number of toughs had circled in around his motorcycle.
"Ya got yerself some fancy new wheels, don'cha maggot?"
~Hmm,~ he sighed, shifting his burgers to be out of the way of this fight. ~This is bound to get interesting.~
Some people are just out for blood.
Vaulting off the top of a parking structure into the glass side of an office building and racing down the halls of a cube farm amidst a sea of raining glass, Jared reflected that your average thug wasn't this persistent.
Maybe it was something he'd said?
Thirty or so thugs on bikes took the same jump from the parking garage in through the now busted window, scattering papers and office ladies as they made their landings in the corporate cubical village.
Jared slewed his bike to a stop in the open elevator and hit the down key, smiling saucily at the lead biker's outraged face as the doors closed, cutting them off from view.
Considering that the lobby was guaranteed to be full of security guards, the boy adventurer got off on the second floor above ground and raced out a plate glass window, scattering shards of falling, glittering substance over the police cars that had pulled up outside.
His bike landed roughly on the roof of a semi and it was all he could do to adjust the vectors to account for both moving vehicles so he didn't spin off from the side in a crash that could only end if he woke up in a prison ward on an IV tube, already having been sent in for life despite a coma.
More rough gangers with rage in their eyes burst out of the third story windows and began raging down the sides of a sloped hill toward him, the landscaping having afforded them a short fall.
Swallowing his chagrin, the redhead gunned his engine and jumped off the roof of his semi to the top of a nearby ten-wheeler. From there he rode onto the landing of a second floor restaurant, down the steps, through a floor show, and out of the front door, replacing the glass of water he'd snatched and guzzled onto the tray of a waiter on the way out, along with a generous tip.
He was barely out of the door when he was surrounding by speeding forms of hostile bikers in leather and chains, intermixed with police cars pulling up to respond to the alert at the corp building just vacated.
~Didn't we just leave this party?~
Vaulting off the sloped front of a police interceptor, using it as a ramp, he flew over the worst of the barricade and poured on the speed, trying for distance to evade his pursuit. Howling, the angry bikers roared after him, the police only moments behind.
The news chopper pulling overhead made this scene awfully familiar. Fewer cops, more bad guys. Spying an open storm drain the superspy headed toward it, toggling off his lights and going over to sight enhancements, bringing up his official maps of the sewers and undergrounds.
He didn't slow down. They did. He lost 'em.
The superspy's thoughts followed him back into the private vehicle bay of Green Corp HQ, where he turned off the engine and left the bike, pulling off his helmet to walk in for a midnight bath - about the only time he could trust to be alone in the tub was when the girls were all asleep. Cute, but persistent, and he didn't find the 'walking in' joke as funny as he did back when he was watching Ranma 1/2 from outside of the TV screen.
The door to Jared's room in the Green Corp arcology slid open noiselessly in the dead of night while the superspy lay sleeping. Silhouetted in the hall lights was Caroline Evers, Green Corp's president. She stepped inside and the door shut behind her, leaving her in darkness. Only ready lights from a half dozen appliances provided any illumination.
In darkness and silence, the corporate officer stepped carefully down the rooms until she came to the superspy's bedchamber, where the door opened once again to her silent override. She stepped in once again, this time leaving the door open behind her for a quick escape. At this point she could hardly claim to have gotten up for a glass of water and gotten lost.
Actually, this had been the bunnygirl's idea. But both were agreed Caroline was the better choice to do it. Standing just inside of the door, the woman whispered. "Registered Ally, Caroline Evers, requesting access to training modules for superspy Jared Saotome."
On the table he used as a nightstand, the face of Jared's One True Watch blinked once in acknowledgement. Caroline crossed over to it and began typing on the small key panel. Jared stirred once, cuddling more deeply into his mound of pillows, and she flinched. But the redhead soon quieted and the corporate president resumed entering her request into the catalog. Soon the appropriate option came up, dredged from deepest archives.
Tongue slipping out between tight lips in her uneasy nervousness, Caroline queued the program and slipped a finely formed hand into the open Standard Light Urban Survival Pack also on the same side table. Her slender fingers came out of the zippered pouch with a jeweled headband that was familiar to any fan of his series.
A deep breath to steady herself, and Caroline fitted the headband of the Synoptic Teacher over the recumbent Saotome's head, and with reactions true to his brother Ranma, the superspy just went on sleeping.
Practically dying with relief and anticipation both mingled up together as one, the lady touched the face of the watch, triggering the program to begin. Then she quickly queued up another program to follow, she didn't care which one, so long as the skill now being taught to the sleeping agent wasn't the last one on the list once he woke up. That did nothing to erase the record of this training from the catalog, but it was both Caroline and Erica's hopes that he wouldn't think to look.
Caroline settled herself into a soft, thick, plush chair in the darkness to wait. Two hours for them to finish, then she'd remove the headband and replace it in the pouch before she left again the way she came.
Pavel Tsatsouline is a real person, former spetsnaz, and most of his dialog was taken as quotes directly from his exercise books.
Several passages that were unclear have been rewritten, large portions of text have been adjusted or replaced in order for the story to flow better, as I wasn't doing too well around the first time I posted this.