DANCE OF ARMOR

by Innpchan

Book 3


The Knightwing hovered inches above the wide green expanse surrounding Genom's largely automated Oceanside Silicon Production Facility a few miles north of MegaTokyo proper. The silicon "farm" was fairly remote but its output remained invaluable to Genom's various product lines. Doc Raven, sitting at Nene's usual Combat Intelligence Center post, nodded toward the two armored figures at the side hatch.

Priss and Nene dropped out of the craft, each carrying two delayed-action magnetic mines. The shaped charges were designed to punch a white-hot jet of plasma through the toughest ceramic or metallic plating and fry anything inside. Placing these about the facility and setting them off just before Seito's upcoming meeting would, in theory, tie up the greater part of Genom's security apparatus. Priss and Nene would then remain nearby and add to the chaos with a half-dozen R4M "Shotgun" sub-munition missiles mounted on their hardsuits for the occasion.

As the Knightwing dipped its nose and began its swing out over the Pacific back toward MegaTokyo and the Nishizawa Shipyards, the two armored figures made their way toward the building in low, ten-meter leaps.

"Nothing but a couple security guards showing up on my scans," Nene reported.

"Let's hope it stays that way," Priss replied.

As they neared the structure, however, Nene detected a hydraulic pulse in the ground beneath them. Suddenly, a tiny black turret popped up from the grass less than two meters away. Nene blasted it with her arm cannon and shouted "Look out, Priss! It's a trap!"

Priss spotted a dozen more of the turrets rising WAY too close for any kind of organized engagement. She was about to hit her boosters when she recognized them. She jerked Nene's arm up just as another turret was vaporized.

"Knock it off, you ditz!" Priss said disgustedly, then blinked up the guard comm channel. "Sylia? Sorry, but your diversion came a little early! Miss 'Amazing Brain' just blasted the lawn sprinklers!"

"Omigod! Priss, Sylia, I'm SO SORRY--"

"Shut up and get under cover! Those guards won't take long to report a couple cannon shots on the putting green!" Priss grabbed her and headed for a retaining wall near the shore. "Sylia, I don't think we're gonna be able to place those mines. We'll try to stay undetected and then wait 'til just before you pick us up to take out whatever security units they send, okay?"

"I suppose it's the best that can be done under the circumstances. We'll follow your plan, Priss. Nene? Might I suggest you take no further actions this evening without Priss' approval?"

"Yes, Sylia. I'm just so--"

"We'll discuss it later, Nene."

"Yes ma'am," Nene was scared already, and Sylia's calm promise of a "discussion" dropped a stone of dread into the pit of her stomach.

Less than five minutes later, a Genom security copter buzzed along the shore perimeter of the plant. Nene had spotted it quite a way out, and her idea of moving inland along the near fenceline would have worked if the pilot hadn't suddenly shifted direction and caught them both in a random sweep of his spotlight.

"Ah, hell!" Priss said as they split up and a line of shells from the chopper's minigun chewed up the turf around her.

* * *

Linna had lain awake monitoring the other Sabers' difficulties. She sighed. The premature discovery of Priss and Nene was forcing her to take the precautionary actions she'd hoped to avoid.

"Moto Three," she said aloud, with as much volume as she could manage. The clunking vibrations that came through the floor told her the big mech had heard and was on its way. Now came the hard part.

As gently as she could, she bent her head down and stretched her neck toward her left arm. She nipped at the adhesive tape holding the IV until she caught one corner in her teeth. Carefully, she pulled the tape back until it cleared the needle, then clamped her teeth on the IV tube and, steeling herself, jerked her head to one side.

The needle came out, and Linna heavily exhaled her pain as she nudged the tape back over the wound with her chin. She looked over at her right arm. Wrapped in its gel-packed bandage and with a generous helping of the latest topical anesthetic applied, it seemed like a heavy piece of clothing draped over her shoulder. She could feel its weight, but nothing else.

She straightened her left arm, hoping she'd squeezed the elbow joint long enough to stop most of the bleeding. While Doc had seen fit to apply the powerful topicals to her arm, he hadn't wanted to strain her system by applying them to her legs as well. She picked up the three remaining pain pills and swallowed them with the last of the water as her motoroid entered the room. Hopefully they would stop the incessant throbbing long enough for her to do what she had to.

"Lift me up," she commanded the mech. It was surprisingly smooth and gentle as it carried her out of the room (Bless Mackie and his love of fine tolerances!), although the weight of the heavier cast on her right leg caused her more discomfort than she'd expected. Thinking of Mackie made her smile a little as she noticed the gauzy tee she was wearing had gathered up around her waist. Bad luck, kid. You'd have really enjoyed this.

As they entered a large storage and maintenance area, Linna glanced over at her tarpaulin-draped goal. She directed the mech to deposit her at a nearby computer console, then pursed her lips and sighed heavily. Sylia was gonna be pissed.

"Pull off the tarps." The motoroid complied, and the low, cat-like shape of the D.D. was revealed. "Open the front hatch."

Once the hatch was open, she directed the mech to place her inside. She cried out once when an unexpected slip down into the last few inches of the cockpit sent a nasty shock through her legs. Gritting her teeth, she initiated the battlemover's startup routine.

Sylia had reported the D.D. as "destroyed" after their tragic battle in the territories, thus fulfilling the terms of the contract with Kaufman. Of course, she'd realized it held WAY too many of Genom's latest innovations to be scrapped without a thorough review. Once Mackie had finished going through it, she planned to strip it for parts. True fulfillment of the contract would therefore only be "delayed."

But, Mackie being Mackie, he just hadn't been able to let the D.D. sit in a less than fully-operable condition. He had repaired the damaged arm and cable grappler systems, and replaced the original shoulder-mounted gatling cannon with a GAU-8B Avenger II he'd picked out of God-only-knew what boneyard. He'd also removed the micro-neutron warhead from the D.D.'s back, but kept the J-1 installed.

The J-1 was Linna's ace-in-the-hole. She figured all she needed to do was get the D.D. near the action, mark Priss & Nene as friendlies, and turn the automated combat system loose.

The gathering lights and the hum of the various electronics filled her senses as she gave her motoroid its last order. "Open the garage and close it again once the D.D. is out."

Linna hit the hatch close control, and slowly advanced the D.D.'s throttle. The whine of its engines had just reached a bone-rattling level when the hatch closed and cut off most of the sound. The battlemover left the ground and moved to the doorway, still in its more compact "cat" mode. Once outside, Linna brought the D.D. to its full height and engaged the main thrusters.

The D.D. gained altitude fast, quickly putting Raven's far behind. The hard g-forces of acceleration were, however, having an unexpected effect on Linna in her weakened state. Her stomach seemed to drop away as the battlemover rocketed skyward. She had to gasp for air and put her hand to her mouth in order to stop the water and pain pills from coming up.

"Oh, God," she moaned once the worst of the spell had passed. This wasn't good. If she felt this way now, how bad would it be when the J-1 started executing the sharp maneuvers necessary for combat? She hoped the pills would help.

* * *

Nene had just gotten over her relief at being out of the spotlight when she heard the minigun open up. She turned to see Priss taking wild evasive measures to avoid the stream of fire, but the numerous sparks dancing away from her armor made it clear she was meeting with only limited success.

Nene quickly illuminated the Genom chopper and lit off one the R4Ms on her back. There was barely time for the missile's package of bomblets to deploy before the expanding swarm of projectiles slammed into the little craft, wiping it from the sky in a series of winking flashes.

Nene's visor alerted to more craft inbound. "Priss! There's more coming!"

"Trying to hide probably won't do any good this time. Let's get dug in on the other side of that retaining wall and take 'em as they come in!" Priss ordered. "Sylia? How're things at your end?"

Mackie's voice came over the channel. "I just dropped her and Seito off, Priss. I'm monitoring, but they haven't made any contact yet," Mackie turned his eyes questioningly toward Doc at the C&C console.

Doc's eyes were hard as he replied to the unspoken question. "You know the client's safety comes first, Mackie. They'll have to hold out on their own for a while."

A third, unexpected voice interjected over the guard channel. "You just stay put and cover them, Mackie! I'll help Priss & Nene. I'm inbound, Priss, ETA seven minutes!"

"Linna!"

"Keep Seito safe, Mackie. I'll handle the rest."

* * *

Seito walked past the rows of dilapidated and mostly rotting docks until he reached number 4 at the far end. Like all the others in this yard it had been abandoned after the quake had shoved a massive chunk of granite upward a few hundred meters to the east, effectively cutting off the Nishizawa property's access to the rest of the bay.

Sylia had left him just after they disembarked from the Knightwing. She said she'd be monitoring him from a distance, but near enough to intervene easily if any trouble started. For the second time in as many days Seito was putting his life in the hands of someone he couldn't see. His lack of apprehension came as a pleasant surprise. After all, he thought to himself, he'd lived through it the first time.

The scattered clouds overhead let intermittent moonlight play over the abandoned junkpiles and skeletal buildings to his left. He was surprised at the lack of squatters in the area. Perhaps the old shipyards were a popular site for this sort of business, and the homeless wretches had quickly learned it was best not to be around.

Footsteps. A solitary figure stepped from a guard shack a few meters away. "Mystery man?" the familiar, if slightly nervous voice inquired.

"That's right," Seito replied.

The figure came forward, reaching into a pocket for an optical disk.

"Here's the data. Where's the money?" His hands were shaking.

Seito brought out the credit chip. The blue and silver logo of the Tinsel City Bank winked in the moonlight.

The figure visibly relaxed and held out the disk. "Take it. I've had it long enough."

The tiny valuables were neatly exchanged, and Seito stepped back.

The figure looked down at the chip. "You don't know what a relief this is."

Seito ignored him and turned around. The deal was no talking, and he wasn't going to let this guy keep him around any longer than he had to stay. He'd barely taken four steps when he heard a muffled gurgle in the shadows to his right.

"John?" he heard his business acquaintance ask. Looking toward the sound, Seito saw the gleaming blue 55-Series boomer step from the shadows holding a limp, rag doll shape by the throat.

"NO-O-OO!!!" his opposite number cried as the boomer calmly raised his free arm and let off a single beamshot. The man's headless body collapsed almost noiselessly to the ground.

Seito turned and started to run but found his way blocked by another 55-Series and a third figure. This one was much slimmer but nearly as tall, with long gray hair and an unmistakable aura of authority.

"Thank you, Mr. Sakai. You've proven yourself very capable tonight," said Chairman Quincy in a calm, deep voice. "I've been trying to flush this particular bird for a very long time. And now I only require..." he put out his hand, palm up, "...the disk, if you please."

* * *

"Just hang on, you two!" Linna was picking up two craft with Genom transponder signals three klicks north of her. She reached over to nudge the directional control, normally operated with the right hand, toward them. Getting a lock now, and closing to 1.5, she activated the homing mine system mounted over her left shoulder. Four of the self-propelled charges leapt from their housing in rapid succession and spiraled toward the first of the heavy attack helicopters.

The pilot was good. The big copter twirled down onto its nose and dropped nearly out of harm's way. As it was, only one charge connected, neatly severing the tail boom. As the craft auto-rotated toward the surf, the D.D. streaked past its companion. A long, sweeping turn was all Linna's one-handed control could manage. By the time she finally came around on the second chopper she was just able to make out the departing booster flare as its pilot, apparently having decided discretion was the better part, literally headed for the hills-- away from both Linna and the silicon farm.

"Yaa-hoo! Way to go Linna!" Nene shouted as both incoming hostiles left her visor. She now had a good lock on Linna and was trying to extend her ECM to cover the D.D., as well.

"Looks like this might work out after all--" Priss began before being nearly knocked down by the prop wash of a tilt-rotor transport sweeping by barely a meter over her head at well over 500 kph. She recovered in time to see it pitch up for three seconds before nosing back down and heading inland. An instinct told her to trigger the secondary imaging system and Nene's video feed allowed a glimpse of a bulky dark shape dropping toward the water before disappearing in a cyclone of spray.

"Stealth boomers on the ground! Can't tell how many!" Priss warned.

She heard Nene answer "Still nothing on my scans!" while she tracked the spray sent up by what had to be one of the boomers. Deciding that this was likely to be the best shot she'd have, Priss triggered all six of her R4Ms in a spread to hit the shoreline just a bit ahead of the incoming cyclone of water.

The sub-munitions broke free in a lethal cloud covering 90 meters of shoreline. The tiny flashes of the projectiles hitting the sand intensified at one point into a glittering burst and then a tumbling fireball. One boomer down.

"Keep your eyes open, Nene! No telling how many are left!"

* * *

"Unit Three down, Ma'am!" Madigan's pilot said as he settled the tilt-rotor TCC (Transport/Command and Control) ship on the lawn near the Silicon Production Facility.

"Confirmed, thank you," Madigan replied calmly from her seat in the rear of the craft. The telemetry from the third BU12C-2(St) Combat Boomer (Heavy) had blanked out just as her pilot had passed on his visual.

Two of the other units were converging on the "pink saber," who gave no sign of spotting them, while the last was about to drop on the "blue saber" from above. Madigan frowned. Only two of them?

Madigan diverted her attention for a moment to the condition of her escort helos. They were to wait and cut off any sabers who tried to escape seaward. But now one was out of communication and the other was leaving the area.

"Chaser Two! Report!"

"b-BIG mech, Sir!" the obviously shaken pilot answered. "Faster 'n hell! Took out One, and--"

"Get your ass back on CAP and do your job!" Madigan ordered. She saw the chopper slow and sweep back toward its designated Combat Air Patrol area. "Roger," the pilot complied sheepishly.

Now, where was the "big mech" he mentioned? Nothing on her screens but-- there! What she'd dismissed earlier as a flock of gulls was solidifying into something much meaner as it closed at a speed only a rare gull could match.

* * *

The D.D. fired retros in order to engage the boomers Priss said were in the area. So far, Linna hadn't picked up anything. At least she wasn't getting sick again.

"Priss, I've got you two marked, but my displays don't show any boomers."

"They're stealth boomers like the one that nailed you the other night! I'm getting intermittent signals on a direct video overlay-- One to your left, Nene! --Try that."

Direct video overlay? Did this thing even HAVE a video display capability? Linna was having enough trouble just flying it! Even worse, if her displays weren't picking up the boomers...

She lifted the red cover and flipped the J-1 master switch to "Enable." It didn't take long for her fears to be confirmed on the center MFD.

"NO HOSTILES IN DIRECT ENGAGEMENT PERIMETER"

Damn! The J-1 couldn't even SEE the boomers! She was going to have to engage them herself, but how?

No time to reconfigure the displays, even if she knew how. There was only one way to spot them. Steeling herself, she reached for the canopy release control mounted top center above the MFDs. The wind was harsher and colder than she thought it would be. Her teeth began to chatter almost immediately, but at least now she could...

"Priss! Above you!"

A combat boomer was dropping toward Priss, who had been trying to track the boomer she'd seen near Nene. She leapt to the side just in time to avoid the BU-12's crushing bulk. It was fast. Before Priss could fire a burst from her needle gun, it snapped off a cannon shot that forced her into further evasives.

Nene had avoided the boomer Priss had warned of with a high backward leap. This had put enough distance between them for Linna to try the only method of engagement she could think of.

Keeping the D.D. on a straight track over the area between Nene and the boomer, she activated the GAU-8B and slaved it to the "hat" switch under her left thumb. The muzzle flash and roar of the gatling cannon were incredible without the insulating canopy closed, even moreso because the weapon was less than a meter above her head. The first 30mm DU rounds to hit the ground were about four meters short of the boomer. She pressed the hat switch forward and was rewarded by a line of depleted uranium slugs walking their way into and through the bulky machine. Parts of the boomer were flying about the area as Linna swept by and began turning for another pass.

Meanwhile, Nene had leapt out of the frying pan and into the fire. The shattered boomer's partner had rammed into her back and sent her tumbling across the grass. Half her displays went dead with the impact and, as she began struggling to stand, she could taste a fair amount of blood flowing from a bitten lip.

Before she could get her bearings the slam of an autocannon shell half-buried her in the turf. She groaned and hacked a painful cough. That had hurt. A high-pitched whistle seemed to fill her head. "Priss..." she transmitted, but wasn't sure what else to say.

* * *

Seito was frozen. Quincy. Standing right in front of him. The man had killed his parents, taken his life, his legs. Even so, the aura of command inherent in his request had almost caused Seito to hold out the disk when a beam cannon shot went off over his head. Quincy and the boomer looked in the direction of the first 55-Type, now shivering and sparking on the ground.

The sound of torn metal brought Seito's attention back toward Quincy in time to see the other boomer fall. Sylia stood in her hardsuit with a long glowing blade extended from the right arm.

Quincy contemplated her for a moment, unmoving. Then he turned back toward Seito and said, "It seems your resourcefulness knows no bounds, Mr. Sakai. I look forward to having you on the tea-"

His words were cut off by a crisp "k-CHAK!" sound as a cannon barrel deployed from the palm of Sylia's other arm. She turned it toward Quincy and fired directly into his chest. Seito watched him fall, long electric arcs playing about the hole where his heart should have been.

"That particular trick is getting rather tiresome," Sylia's electronically altered voice said from under the deadpan of the suit's helmet. Seito was still gaping as she pushed him toward the descending Knightwing.

* * *

Madigan pounded her console but managed not to vocalize her frustration. Half her force gone and only one Saber down! One thing was clear: That mech had to go. She brought up the image from a tracking camera and magnified it. Someone was flying it with the canopy open but she couldn't quite see... HER?!?!? Madigan recognized the face, frenzied and fierce as it was, as that of the girl who'd saved Sakai. Coming to the rescue of her chicks like this, and piloting what the onboard CIC was now identifying as the missing D.D. Battlemover prototype, there could be no doubt. This girl HAD to be the leader of the Knight Sabers!

She stared hatefully at the screen, wishing they could meet face-to-face. THEN they'd see who was the better! As she ordered both remaining stealth boomers to concentrate their fire on the big mech, it almost seemed as though the girl had heard her impassioned, angry thoughts, and stared directly into the camera with a fury to match her own.

Then Madigan realized what that meant.

"Run for it! Get out NOW!" She cried as she leapt for the tilt-rotor's rear hatch. She hit the ground running and the thudding impact of the first shells made her stumble. Just as she rose to her feet, the warheads crumpled the tilt-rotor's fuselage and the main tanks erupted in a rushing cloud of fire. The shock wave threw Madigan head over heels into the side of a nearby hillock. She didn't get up.

* * *

Priss and the other boomer remained in close contact. Every move she made was met by an incredibly speedy counter-thrust for the bulky 12C model. The lighter armor made them more vulnerable, sure, but Priss was now discovering the flipside to that equation: They were MUCH harder to hit. Priss heard Nene's call but could do nothing until the boomer suddenly stopped and turned away. Before she could fire any of her weapons the boomer cut loose with everything it had. As Priss put a burst of needles into the base of its skull, she saw what the boomer had targeted.

"Linna! You've got incoming!" Priss saw another spread of weapons converging on the D.D. from her right. "Bail out, Linna! There's too much!"

She was about to launch toward the D.D. when she felt a crushing grip on her thigh. The boomer jerked her to the ground where it had fallen, and as she looked into its turtle-like eye, Priss could swear it winked just before its self-destruct mechanism made the world disappear in a flash of white.

* * *

Linna had seen Nene take the autocannon shell and banked the D.D. away from the smoking hulk of the tilt rotor. Come on, Priss. Give me some help here so we can go home and get some sleep! Seito. Mmmm.

The threat indicators across the panel below her flashed urgently. Multiple warheads incoming from two directions. Then she felt the impact of a half-dozen cannon hits on the mech. Before she could take any evasive action, the battlemover jerked up into an Immelman. After a moment, Linna realized the J-1 was still active. It might not see the boomers, but it could sure as hell see incoming fire! Just as well. She was feeling very tired...

But how much damage had the mech taken? The D.D. seemed to be stalling out as it reached the top of its climb. Darn. Distantly, Linna seemed to hear Priss' voice telling her to bail out. Why did she sound so far away? Of course! The noise of the D.D.'s engines and the roar of the gatling cannon had deafened her!

Finally forcing herself awake, Linna frantically released the safety harness and tried to wiggle out of the mech's cockpit. She couldn't get enough leverage to free her legs from the tight confines. She could see the missiles now. There was no time.

The first warhead struck the D.D.'s back, destroying the thrusters, crashing the onboard systems, and tossing Linna free. The thin nightshirt fluttered around her as she tumbled like a crippled moth into the night sky.

* * *

Nene opened her eyes to see the boomer standing above her, but it was looking somewhere else. She realized the opportunity in front of her. One of the mines intended for Genom's silicon farm remained on her hardsuit. She fed in a four second delay and hurled it at the boomer before she engaged her battered suit's main thrusters and rocketed out of the earth in a shower of dirt and sod.

She didn't see the mine bounce off the boomer's stealthy skin, which among other things defeated magnetic detection. As it was, the subsequent plasma blast only tore off one arm and the corresponding shoulder assembly. The crippled boomer fired its thrusters to pursue the escaping Saber.

* * *

Priss opened her eyes. As she tried to sit up she felt a cold breeze. Her armor was cracked and fallen away in a number of places across her midsection. The servo-musculature in her left arm wasn't responding and the shoulder joint was locked. How long had she been out? Linna!

She looked around for the D.D. but didn't see it. Then an explosion to her right caught her attention. She saw Nene leaping toward a falling white shape with a boomer close behind her.

She got to her feet and hit her boosters to help, but what should have been an upward leap was instead a skidding lurch to her left. Thrusters were screwed! She called a warning, but the dead sound of her voice within the helmet told her the comlink was out as well. In frustratingly short hops, she made her way toward Nene.

* * *

Nene was busily blinking her suit's systems back on-line when the D.D. exploded above her. She looked up to see Linna falling away from the fiery remains of the mech.

As Nene angled her thrusters to intercept her friend, she was panicked. Just how DOES one catch an injured, nearly naked human being a hundred feet off the ground when one is wearing a decidedly un-soft duraluminum and ceramic ensemble moving at nearly 80 kph? Just catching Linna across the hardsuit's body would be the equivalent of hitting her with a compact car. The only part of the hardsuit that wasn't, well, "hard" was her left hand, so...

Nene slowed as much as she could as she neared Linna, then felt a jerk as she grabbed her left arm. She gathered Linna up and heard her swearing as she held her with both arms.

"Linna?" Nene asked.

"I'm OK. Thanks," she answered, shivering through clenched teeth.

Nene saw they were over the water and paled. Staying up even this long was rapidly draining what little fuel was left in the thrusters. She began to turn back toward shore when Mackie's voice came over the channel: "Nene! Drop down NOW!!"

Nene responded to the break call just as she'd been trained, instantly pitching over toward the surf. The pursuing boomer's hand glanced off her right foot as the mech passed by, flying straight into the two optically guided missiles Doc had guided in from the Knightwing. As he skillfully kept the screen reticle centered on the largest remaining piece of the burning war machine, he allowed himself to crow a little. "Old, but reliable!"

The jet spray from the hovering Knightwing soaked Nene and Linna even more than their splash into the meter-deep surf. Priss arrived under what little power she had left, and once they were all on board the craft dipped its nose and headed out to sea.

* * *

On board Chaser Two, the pilot was faced with a dilemma. He'd called for reinforcements as soon as he'd lost contact with Madigan's TCC. Talking directly to the security guards at the silicon farm only revealed that, hey, there's somebody FIGHTING out here! No shit.

Now he was getting a weak track on a large craft close to the water and moving in his direction. No, now it was changing course toward the north-- away from him. Reinforcements were still three minutes out. Should he pursue?

He snorted. No way was Genom paying him THAT much. Besides, Madigan's last orders were to stay on his CAP station, right? He smiled. His ass was covered right here. He called in the location of the bogey just as it left his screen.

* * *

Nene had gotten out of her damaged hardsuit and taken her normal position in the Knightwing. She was holding a towel to her still-bleeding lower lip. "That Genom chopper's not pursuing and they haven't sent out anything fast enough to catch us." She looked toward the front of the craft with a smile. "I think we're getting away clean, Mackie."

"Right, thanks," he smiled back. "I'm gonna take us home the long way, Sis. Too much activity down south."

"Very good, Mackie. Keep me informed if there's any trouble." Sylia replied from the back of the craft. She was standing next to Priss, who was still trying to get the shoulder joint of her suit unlocked. She'd managed to strip off the sections below chest level. Both of them were watching Doc fuss over Linna.

Her shoulder, dislocated when Nene had caught her, had been "popped" back into place, but the black and blue patch on what had been her only uninjured limb was rapidly approaching her elbow. Seito was stroking her cheek, as her head seemed to be the only part Doc wasn't working on.

"Damn foolishness. I'll have to redo both casts. God only knows what you did to your arm. I'll hardly have time before you leave, and then you'll be someone else's problem," Doc groused as he unwound the soaking bandages on her burned arm. He shuddered at the thought of all that saltwater in the burn. Thank God for the topicals.

Linna paid him no mind. Her eyes were on Seito as her teeth chattered. Mackie's jacket had replaced the sodden nightshirt but it wasn't doing much of a job in keeping her warm. She managed to stop her shivering long enough to ask "Seito? Did you get it? Can you prove what they did?"

Seito looked away. This was going to get uncomfortable. "I haven't reviewed the data yet."

"But it's got to be what you needed. You can tell the world and show everyone what... MONSTERS they are! Right?"

"It's not that simple, Linna..." he replied. Damn.

"What do you mean, Seito?" she asked, even this small exchange was exhausting her.

"What he means, Linna," Sylia interjected, "is that his employers may not be planning to use the data in that way."

Linna looked from Sylia to Seito. "What... way?"

"Lippischwerke is currently engaged in negotiations with Genom. Genom will be buying them out at a price yet to be determined. The inclusion of the information Seito has put together regarding Genom's part in the earthquake along with the data he obtained this evening should dramatically enhance the per share value Lippischwerke's stockholders will receive, wouldn't you say, Mr. Sakai?"

Seito glared hatefully at Sylia. Linna stared at him. "Seito? Look at me? Please?"

Seito couldn't. His eyes went to the floor.

"Oh, no Seito..." Linna said quietly, then screamed out "BASTARD!! You're just going to sell it back to them! And then... you'll WORK for them?!? Oh, NO Seito, no... They killed our families you bast..." her voice fell away to a racking sob.

"Sylia, stop this!" Doc said. "She's in no shape to hear it."

Priss shoved Seito away from Linna. He stumbled toward the front of the Knightwing's cabin. He saw an ugly, vicious death in Priss' eyes. He wished she could deliver it.

"Linna, Mr. Sakai paid us to help him obtain the information, not for us to interfere in his company's plans," Sylia said flatly.

Linna looked up at her. "Oh God, Sylia," she sobbed. "I didn't do it for the money."

* * *

Seito sat in the small office once again. The datadisc was plugged into the notebook computer in front of him. There was a knock at the door.

"Come in."

Sylia opened the door and stepped inside. "It's almost time to meet your courier. Was the data satisfactory?"

Seito stared at the screen. "Yes. It was what our geologists had hoped for. It's the missing onsite seismic data from the 2025 quake. The spikes here--" he pointed toward a series of sharp points on the displayed graph, "--indicate the initial nuclear blasts. Datum from other sites were inconclusive, but these are absolute proof."

"So you've done your job well."

"I suppose so." Seito took a deep breath and was silent for a moment. "How did you know what I was looking for?"

"I listened in when you told Linna."

In response to the look he gave her, Sylia easily countered "Really, Mr. Sakai, YOU'RE the one who breached your confidentiality. If you had simply remained silent, I might never have known."

Seito considered this for a moment, then asked "But why did you have to tell Linna?"

"I thought she had a right to know. She put her life on the line for you twice, and without pay either time, I might add."

"But you've made her hate me!" His fists clenched as he stood.

"Yes. Now," Sylia replied coolly, her arms folded. "But once I explain the situation to her, I think she may hate you less. After all, it's clear that if you tried to expose Genom, they'd just kill you. Right now you're a potentially valuable asset to them." She paused. "But I am curious. Are you going to work for Genom after the buyout?"

Seito, his rage faded, looked back at the screen. "I don't know. I don't think I can after all this. I guess I just needed to prove to the people at Lippischwerke that I could carry my own weight, that I wasn't --"

"Just the little crippled boy?" Sylia interrupted. Seito stared in surprise.

Sylia nodded. "Yes, I've known that from the start, too. Actually, you owe me one on that score. Once Doc found out you were THAT Seito Sakai he wanted to give you a good teardown and rebuild."

Seito smiled, in spite of himself. He could just see the old man... "Thank you, I guess."

"Well, there is a way you can repay me." Seito looked up quizzically. "Has it occurred to you that Lippischwerke will BE Genom in a matter of days? And that a betrayal of your employer after that time, wouldn't be a betrayal at all?"

Seito considered this. "I'm listening."

"Your information could be most useful to me. If you were to turn a copy over to me with the firm understanding that I would take no action until after Lippischwerke is absorbed... I would be most grateful. It might also help to put you in a better light from Linna's standpoint."

Seito was quiet for a few moments. He could see that she was playing with him and found he was too tired of all this to care. "That's quite a notion."

Sylia nodded. "I thought you'd find it intriguing. Oh, by the way, I found this little item. I think it could be useful to you." She set the object on the desk and walked toward the door. "Please just keep in mind that my organization suffered a lot of equipment loss last night. A sizeable tip might be in order."

Seito picked the object up. One chip. Tinsel City Bank. No tracers, either way.

* * *

Linna awoke to a warm, light touch. Priss was holding her hand, stroking her fingers along the back to her wrist, then starting over again, all the while staring at the blank wall on the other side of the bed.

"Hi," Linna said, flexing her fingers a little and receiving a jolt of pain in return. She winced. Getting used to none of her limbs being fully functional for a while was going to be hard.

Priss jumped as Linna's greeting startled her from her reverie. She actually blushed a little, sheepishly said "Hi," and placed Linna's hand back on the bed. "We've, uh, got to get you to the airport pretty soon. Seito left a while back. I didn't think you'd want to see him, and he didn't ask, so..."

Linna's heart fell as she recalled the events on the Knightwing. "No, I don't suppose he would have." She looked away and gently placed her hand on Priss' again. "You were right all along, Priss. I was just too anxious to give my heart away to someone I didn't even know anymore."

"Actually, I wanted to talk to you about that--"

"I know, I'm sorry I didn't listen to you from the--"

"I think you should give him another chance."

Linna thought she'd heard wrong. "What?"

"I think you're being too hard on Seito."

Linna waited for Priss to explain further. Predictably, she didn't. Linna could barely control her emotions as she said "Priss, he's going to sell information that proves Genom killed our families back to them! So if you think I'm supposed to go running back to him you'd better have a DAMN good reason why! And I thought you hated him from the start!"

Priss looked directly into Linna's eyes. "That's true, but I didn't really know why until a little while ago, when I figured he was gone and you'd never see him again. Realizing that just didn't feel as good as I thought it would." Priss stroked her fingers again. "I started to wonder why I'd disliked him so much, even before I met him. I even wondered if maybe I was..." Priss nervously patted her hand and didn't seem to know where to look. "...jealous, of him, about... you."

"Ah," Linna started, careful not to jerk her hand back. As strong as their friendship was, Linna had never really become fully comfortable with that aspect of Priss' personality.

"But that wasn't it," Priss continued. "I finally realized it was... how happy you were. You were seeing a whole happy life ahead, and he was going to be the center of it. I should have been glad for you, but..." She laughed nervously. "...you know me! Ol' self-centered Priss!"

"So you-" Linna began.

"What I'm trying to say is," Priss cut her off, hurrying to get the words out while she could. "I don't think I'm ever going to be happy again. I don't know if Sylia CAN be happy, and Nene's too damn stupid to know whether she's happy or not! Someone ought to come out of all this with a good life, and you've got the best shot!" She paused for a moment, catching her breath. "You know I've had people... taken from me. I don't think you should push Seito away so fast."

Linna was silent. There was a lot to think about. And to be with Seito again...

She pushed the thought from her mind. "But Priss, he's going to work for THEM!"

Priss reached out to stroke Linna's hair. "Then I guess he'll need you that much more, won't he?"

 

The End

 

EPILOGUE ONE

Madigan's office gave her a sanctuary from the constant noise on the main security floor. She needed it. The infirmary where they'd patched up her numerous bruises and given her crutches so she wouldn't strain the twisted ankle had been loud enough. She'd immediately thrown the crutches away, of course. She looked weak enough without them, and over the next few days she'd need every edge she had.

Quincy hadn't called yet, but she was sure it was coming. Her first try using all the resources she'd need had not gone as well as she hoped. One probable kill, and the other Sabers apparently took the body away. All they found were a few pieces of broken blue armor.

She sighed as she leaned back in her chair. At least the silicon facility hadn't been damaged. That was something, anyway.

Her intercom buzzed. "Yes?" she answered tiredly.

"Boss? It's Ivar.?"

Madigan snorted. "You sure you want to be here?"

The door opened and the big Russian stepped inside. "Rough night, eh boss?"

"Pretty bad," she agreed. Didn't he know that being friendly with her was dangerous right now?

"Well, maybe this'll cheer you up," he laid a file on her desk. She opened the cover to find a very familiar face. It hadn't left her mind's eye since she'd awakened in the air ambulance.

"You work fast," she said, the hint of a smile curling her mouth. Address, employment history, medical records. Everything.

"It gets better."

Madigan raised an eyebrow expectantly.

"My assistant recognized her. Seems she's a rather popular girl among the mid-level types. She's dated quite a few."

Madigan grinned. Perfect. This was all the leverage she'd need. The head of the Knight Sabers, infiltrating those that might seek to take advantage of her weakness. And she had the name.

"Thanks, Ivar. I think this may be a good day to call on..." She held the file toward the window and looked past it. The city was hers again.

"...Miss Linna Yamazaki."

 

EPILOGUE TWO

"Is she gone?" Sylia looked up from the printout on the table in front of her. She had thought she was the only one left in the apartment until she heard Priss' familiar tread coming from the entryway.

"Nene and Mackie are putting 'Jeanne Francaix' on the charter. I thought I'd hang around in case you needed me." She sat on the edge of the table. "Pretty clever. The manifest won't show her getting on till the plane lands in Hanoi on a seperate contract. Who came up with the alias?"

"Mackie set them up quite a while back. I thought it was rather good. Linna can pass for Vietnamese, and a different country of origin is one more hurdle for anyone trying to find her," Sylia answered, tamping out a cigarette burned into the filter. "You're from New York, by the way."

Priss smiled. "Nice. I always wanted to go there. Remind me to thank him."

"I will." She turned the papers facedown and stood. "Priss, I'm going to indulge myself tonight, and I can't think of a better, or more experienced, person to have at my side." She walked to a nearby cabinet. "What do you recommend for being depressed in good company? Bourbon or vodka?"

Priss was shaken to see Sylia and alcohol in the same room, but her instincts told her not to notice anything odd. "Bourbon. Vodka is for when you're depressed and alone."

Sylia brought a bottle and two glasses with ice back to the table. She poured for them both, then downed her first glass in a couple of gulps. She refilled it.

Priss looked over at her. "Gosh, I'd almost think you've done this before."

Sylia took a smaller sip of the brown liquid. "I save it for special occasions, or especially depressing ones."

"That's twice you've said that. What's the problem?"

Sylia took another sip and let out a sigh. "Linna. I always told myself there'd be a... casualty one day, but it's harder than I thought to see it happen."

Priss put a hand on her shoulder. "Hey, she'll probably be okay in a few months. Doc said--"

"Yes, well, I hope so, of course. But if she's not?" She shook her head. "It's all my fault, you know. That's why I sent her to convalesce in Germany. She deserved another chance at happiness, and I damn well owe her one. Maybe, with Seito not far away..." She took a rather large swallow, then looked quizzically at Priss' glass. "I know I'm not very experienced at this, but aren't you supposed to be keeping up with me?"

Priss hurriedly took a swallow to keep up appearances, then asked "So why is it your fault? She wasn't in her suit when she got shot."

"That's true, but it's not that simple. If it weren't for me, she'd have been away from this town a long time ago. You see, Linna was the only one of you I really had to recruit. Nene was looking for 'the challenge.'" Sylia smiled at the recollection. "And you wanted a shot at Genom. I think you'd have done it for free."

Priss grinned. "Hell, I'd have paid you!"

Sylia laughed softly. "If you'd had any money." Her face saddened. "But Linna had to be coaxed, enticed. She had no love for Genom, true, but it was really just the money with her, at least at first. But she'd have had that anyway."

"What do you mean? She'd still be just an aerobics instructor."

Sylia raised an eyebrow. "I'm surprised, Priss. I'd have thought you, at least, would suspect my secret by now. You've seen her perform. She's world-class, all the way."

"Well, I've seen her dance once or twice, but not really 'perform.' "

"Ah, well then, I guess I should tell you." She emptied the glass and lit another cigarette. "She had the part. In that silly musical. I paid off a couple of the judges to choose another girl they thought I was favoring. It made her a star. It would have done the same for Linna, I'm sure."

Sylia took a long drag on her cigarette while she looked down to fill the glass. The smoke rolled from her lips as she spoke. "I needed her more than that play did."

Her eyes rose, with remarkable hesitancy, to meet Priss'.

Priss was silent. She looked over at the dearest friend she had left in the world, and thought about what she'd been capable of doing to the life's dream of the second-dearest. Finally, she took a drink and said "Yeah, that's pretty bad."

"My father always used to tell us ' We need to sacrifice for the greater good.' He used to live by those words. He would say them all the time. Whenever he was away from us, when mother died, other times... He could rationalize just about anything with that phrase. I decided I could too."

Sylia crushed the cigarette. "I took it upon myself to choose Linna's sacrifice, just like him... just like he chose mine. Whenever I would feel bad about what I'd done, I could rationalize it. Just tell myself, 'Sylia, you need her. It's for the greater good.'" She laid a shaking hand on the papers in front of her, "And that's what makes this so much worse."

"What is it?" Priss asked in concern. She'd never seen Sylia like this.

"It's a file Seito gave me just before he left. It's all the information on Genom's part in the quake that he and Lippischwerke had put together. It contains a theory their mining expert came up with on how the nuclear devices were placed deeply and accurately enough to have caused the quake. He believes that autonomous machines were purpose-built, probably around the bombs themselves, to dig to the proper location. He theorizes that they would have needed considerable intelligence in order to avoid the many hazards they would encounter in a subterranean fault zone, and, since Genom was involved, he believes they may have been early examples of boomer AI technology." She took another drink. "I find the theory... very plausible."

"He must have known what they were planning, Priss. An operation like that takes years to put together, and he was intimately involved with every aspect of boomer development. I've been sitting here wondering just how he rationalized it. He always had such big dreams, big ideas..." She shook her head, and gave a choked laugh, "but this is a real whopper, even for him."

"Did he think maybe Genom was the best bet to start humanity toward off-world colonization? That would have met his criteria for 'greater good.' And maybe then he thought... just one city wasn't too big a price to pay?"

Priss felt unsteady. The enormity of what Sylia was saying... "Aw, Jesus."

Sylia shook her head slowly. A tear, the first of many, rolled down her cheek as she answered Priss in a hoarse whisper.

"No. Not hardly."


* Technical Note: The GAU-8B Avenger II was essentially a cut-down version of the famed GAU-8A rotary anti-tank cannon mounted on the USAF A-10 Thunderbolt II and used to such great effect in the Persian Gulf and Balkan wars of the 1990s. It was developed as an improved main battery for the Rutan A-15 Ares ground attack plane and lacked some of the muzzle velocity and cyclic rate of its predecessor. While the A-15 was never adopted by the USAF, the tiny delta-winged craft became very popular among smaller nations and saw a great deal of action with the Nationalist and Taiwanese forces during the Hong Kong War of Independence (2007-09).

* * *

Author's Notes:
Well, that's Linna's story. I hope you all enjoyed it and think it was worth the wait. I have to thank Jeanne Hedge and Kakizake/Jubei for proofreading this monster. I also have to thank Geoclimber (Where ARE you?) for letting me steal the little scene in book one of Priss and Linna in her car from his "Bubblegum Climax: Free Fall." I just saw too much opportunity there for a Sweet Moment to let it pass by. I also have to thank Arcline (Austin Cline) for his German language assistance.

I've been told the ending(s) screams "SEQUEL!!!!" and, yes, I hope to get around to it sometime this year if you all think it would be worthwhile. But first, I have to finish a little idea I had that's more in the vein of my super-deformed fanfic, "Crossover Blues." How would famed voice actress Akiko Hiramatsu react if she awoke one day to find herself in the body of a buxom, red-haired ADPolice dispatcher? Coming soon to an RAAS near you--

Bubblegum Crisis: "Seiyuu Later, Astral Gater"

the pig
East Lansing, MI
1/23/96



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Dance of Armor, Book 3, 3 November 1996