Bubblegum Crisis - Berserk

by Corey Smith

Bubblegum Crisis and all related characters and articles copyright AIC, Youmex, Artmic and AnimEigo.

MegaTokyo, Japan 2034 A.D.

It was a typical afternoon in Megalocity Tokyo. The sky was still sunny, although it was beginning to cloud over and would probably rain later. The streets were clogged as it was rush hour, and traffic was backed up even further than usual. A few A.D. Police helicopters flew overhead on patrol; there would be many more out later, after dark. The sunlight reflected off the gleaming solar panels placed on the rooftops of most every building in town, and glistened on the western side of the Genom Tower, the massive cone-shaped structure that towered over every other building in MegaTokyo.

Linna Yamazaki was cruising down the freeway, on her way home from the securities firm where she worked. She'd just gotten paid, and planned to do a little shopping later. Linna was already calculating totals in her head, when suddenly a biker shot out from behind a truck in the oncoming lane, making a high-speed head-on collision seem almost certain.

Linna screamed and wrenched the wheel to the side, she and the biker (who also swerved in surprise) missing each other by centimeters. Linna nearly lost control of her van; as it was she collided with the guardrail, resulting in a fairly impressive fender-bender and shearing the paint off the right side of the vehicle. The motorcycle skidded to the side, slamming up against the opposite rail. Its driver miraculously avoided serious injury, at least of the bodily persuasion.

Linna waited a moment for the air bag that had filled the driver's compartment of the van to deflate, then got out to survey the damage. "My car!!" she shrieked in horror, seeing the dented fender and severely scratched paint job. Her shock quickly turned to fury, and after waiting again for the traffic to clear (which only irritated her further), she strode across the freeway toward the driver of the motorcycle, who was removing her helmet and swearing profusely.

"What the hell do you think you're doing, passing like that?!!" Linna shouted, approaching the biker. "It's a lucky thing we weren't both killed!!! Look at what happened to my car!! I hope your insurance is...Priss??!"

Priscilla S. Asagiri swore loudly, throwing her helmet to the ground. "Shit!! You think you've got it so rough?! Look at my bike, it's totalled!!"

"I should've known it was you!" Linna exclaimed, her anger undiminished. "Nobody else is crazy enough to pull a stunt like that! I bet you don't even have any insurance either, with as many traffic violations as you've got! Well, just because we're friends, don't think I won't sue!"

"Why you..." Priss began, but was interrupted by the arrival of Nene Romanova on her motorscooter.

"Wow, what a wreck! Are you guys okay? You sure are lucky!" she called to them. "Maybe now you'll obey the speed limit, Priss!" Nene grinned, looking infuriatingly smug.

"Shut up and help us, Nene!" Priss hollered at her. "What're A.D. Police there for, anyway!"

"Sorry, but I'm off work!" Nene called, clearly enjoying an opportunity to taunt her friends for a change. "You'll have to wait for the Traffic Cops! See you later!" She drove away.

Priss swore and kicked her trashed motorcycle, causing a few unidentified parts to fall off. "That good-for-nothing little...I'll get her for this!"

"You just want to get out of here, in case Leon shows up." Linna sniffed in disgust.

"Damn right. Let's go." Priss growled, heading for Linna's car.

"Hey, wait a second!" Linna cried. "You can't just leave your bike laying there by the road like that!"

"Watch me!" Priss shouted back, squeezing into the passenger's side as cars whizzed by.

"You've got some nerve...all right, we'll settle this later!" Linna declared angrily as she got behind the wheel.

"Just drive," Priss growled.

"Hey, what about the Traffic Cops?" Linna scolded.

Priss leaned out the window and looked behind them. The streets were as crowded as always, and no cops in sight.

"Ahh, they're all too lazy to come out for a little thing like this. If we wait, we'll be here forever. Besides, we can always get Pops Raven to fix your precious car, and maybe my bike, too. I'll pick it up later, if it's still there."

"Well, okay...but if I get in trouble, it's up to you to get me out!" Linna said, reluctantly driving away.

Later that day, Captain Shiro Yamada stewed in boredom behind his desk at A.D. Police headquarters.

He had been with the A.D. Police almost since the organization was started, which was quite a feat given their high mortality rate, especially since the new Combat Boomers had been coming out. But all that had begun to change in the past two years, because although the Boomers seemed to get stronger and stronger, if the A.D. Police couldn't handle them, the Knight Sabers would.

The Knight Sabers...that mysterious band of mercenaries. Four anonymous women who possessed incredibly powerful combat suits, they could easily destroy any Boomer, no matter how powerful it was. Nobody knew who they were or where they got their equipment, but many of the A.D. Police were grateful for their presence as the Knight Sabers often saved them a lot of work and casualties.

And for that, Yamada despised the Knight Sabers.

About three months ago, a very heavily-armed Combat Boomer was causing massive damage to the city, and Yamada's squad, which had been sent out to stop it, was being decimated. Yamada had acted against orders and taken out a K-12 armored suit to slug it out with the Boomer face-to-face, but by the time he arrived on the scene, the Boomer had been blown to bits. Burned into the ground near its remains was an elaborate signature, produced by precise cutting lasers.


Yamada had been shown up by four women in tin suits!

If the Knight Sabers hadn't interfered, Yamada would've destroyed the Boomer, been crowned a hero, and probably received a promotion. As it happened, instead he was reprimanded for taking out a K-12 without authorization.

As Yamada sat behind his desk in disgruntled reminiscence, an A.D.P. officer suddenly burst into the room.

"Captain Yamada!" he exclaimed, clearly agitated. "Where's Leon?!"

"Inspector McNichol left a while ago," Yamada responded. "He probably went to that bar again, hoping to see his beloved 'Priss and the Replicants' perform. Guess nobody told him that place shut down for repairs."

"Well, we've got a serious problem!" The other man paused to wipe his brow, and took a few breaths before continuing. He'd obviously been running around quite a bit. "Genom was showing their new mobile factory installation to some construction execs, and the thing went nuts! It turns out it's totally run by Boomers, and probably even has an AI of its own! It's been driving through MegaTokyo for about fifteen mintes, and demolished six buildings before it stopped after taking out a raised highway!"

Yamada jumped to his feet and hollered into the intercom. "This is Yamada! My unit, prepare to move out and engage the Genom Mobile Construction Unit! You, tell me more in the car!" He jabbed a finger at the winded A.D.P. officer.

"Uh, yes sir!" the man said as they dashed out of the room.

A short while later, the sun had nearly gone down and it had begun to rain. And three friends were just finishing their supper in an upscale restaurant about four miles from A.D. Police headquarters. Their conversation, which had been subdued in the presence of other patrons, now became more casual.

"I can't believe this! First you wreck my car, and now you want me to pay for all this food, too?!" Linna exclaimed, her eyes flashing as she looked up from their receipt.

"Hey, what do you mean I wrecked your car?!" Priss hollered back, slamming a fist down on the table. "It was just a scratch, and you can't blame everything on me!"

"It did look like you were responsible, Priss." Nene pointed out, sipping her drink. "Especially since you're always speeding..."

Priss sat back in her chair with a scowl. "Shit, you would stick together like that. All right, all right, Linna, I'll pay for your repairs. But you'll have to wait 'till next month, 'cause right now I'm broke."

Linna didn't exactly look satisfied, but finally nodded in agreement.

"There, that's solved! See how things work out when you take responsibility?" Nene said, nodding sagely. Then she broke into a grin. "Now let's celebrate! Gimme the after-dinner menu!"

Linna and Priss's spirits sank simultaneously, remembering past alcohol-assisted "celebrations". A distant rumble of thunder echoed their sentiment as the rain outside became heavier.

"Hey, what's that?" Priss interrupted, pointing to the large TV monitor situated on the opposite side of the room. It had been playing "D.J. Tommy", an annoying electronically-enhanced media host, but the broadcast was suddenly interrupted by a live news report. "Hey, turn it up!" Priss hollered to the bartender.

"--where a newly-developed Genom Mobile Construction Unit, to have been unveiled today to an international group of business executives, seems to be out of control. Conflicting reports indicate that several buildings in the area have been leveled, and the complex has currently come to a stop after destroying a raised highway...an A.D. Police squad is attempting to bring the facility under control, but is having little success due to its armored exterior and heavy demolition equipment. No live footage is available at this time due to extreme on-site hazards, but given the considerable A.D. Police presence, Boomer involvement is considered likely."

The three women looked at each other. "Then that thunder was..." Priss didn't need to finish her sentence.

"Boy, it sounds bad." Nene said, looking worried. "I wonder what...hey, what's that?" she pointed to the screen.

They turned their attention back to the broadcast.

"...Now joining us live is Alan Richfield, Senior Coordinator for GENOM Construction. Mr. Richfield...?"

The shot shifted to what looked more or less like a typical Genom suit.

"Greetings," Richfield said. "On behalf of Genom I must extend my most sincere apologies and regrets for the damage that has taken place thus far tonight, and I can promise that Genom will do whatever it can to aid in repairs and recovery once this situation has been solved. In order to end this embarassing incident, I have been authorized to offer a sum of thirty million for the assistance of the Knight Sabers in recovering our installation before any more regrettable damage is inadvertantly caused to the city."

Nene spewed her drink across the table.

"Thirty--...Thirty million??!" Linna gasped.

Priss raised her eyebrows, but then leaned back in disgust. "Ah, that's just Genom trying to cover its butt. They want that thing stopped fast 'cause they want it back, and they don't want people to see what their machines REALLY do." She sniffed. "Besides, I'd never work for them anyway."

"But Priss," Linna argued, "Then we--"

She was cut off by Richfield's voice.

"If the Mobile Construction Unit is recovered intact, Genom would be willing to add an additional twenty million, for a total of fifty million."

The room echoed briefly with the ringing sound caused by Nene's glass as it clattered to the table. "Fifty..." she whispered in awe.

"Oh, Priss, think of what we could do with money like that!!" Linna exclaimed, her eyes seeming to glow with joy. "I could buy a NEW car! And I could have a house built in Geo City, and then I'd probably just invest the rest of it, and become the richest woman in Japan...! And imagine what you could do, too! You could easily replace your old bike, and add whatever you wanted onto it... and you could probably get some new gear for your band--in fact, you could even start your OWN recording company! And you'd be able to move out of that dirty old trailer, and pay off all your debts, too!"

Priss looked tempted, but remained unconvinced.

"Yes, and I could get that new system I've been wanting...and what man could resist a girl like me, especially with all that money!! And he'd be handsome, and stylish, and we'd...!" Nene sighed dreamily.

Priss and Linna blinked, disoriented by the bizarre turn the conversation had taken.

But then Nene frowned. "But, we couldn't go without Sylia! She's not back from Germany yet. And if Sylia's not around, we can't even get our suits! And without Sylia or our suits, well...we're not the Knight Sabers."

Linna looked profoundly disappointed for a moment, then perked back up. "But, we could get into Sylia's building, and GET our suits! We all know how to operate them, and you could get us inside, right, Nene?"

"Well, yeah, but...I wouldn't want to go out without Sylia. It wouldn't feel ...you know, right. It'd wreck my confidence." Nene murmured, looking downcast.

"Your CONFIDENCE?!!" Linna erupted, nearly coming out of her chair.

"Yeah, and besides, there'd be security guards there, anyway." Priss said, waving her hand dismissively. "A.D. Police will have to do their job for a change, and handle this one themselves."

"But...but Nene, Priss...!" Linna argued, looking desperate.

"This just in..." the newscaster interrupted. "...New reports indicate a school bus was passing over the highway in question at the time that the Genom construction unit arrived in the area, causing the highway's collapse. There is no information on the occupants of the bus or their current condition, assuming any of them survived the collision, but it was believed to be a group of local schoolchildren being transported to their homes. The A.D. Police have been unable to search for survivors as the construction facility's defenses have prevented them from approaching."

Priss leaned forward. "Oh, shit...!" she swore quietly.

"Upon hearing this latest report," the newscaster continued, "Mr. Alan Richfield stated that, for the intervention of the Knight Sabers and the safe retrieval of the Genom construction unit, its contents, and any and all survivors, Genom would double its previous offer, bringing it to a total of one hundred million..."

"A HUNDRED MILLION???!!" the three women shouted, leaping to their feet and almost knocking over their table.

The bartender looked up at them as they stood gaping at the screen. Nene spotted him after a moment.

"Uh, I didn't know Genom could be so generous!" she giggled nervously.

"Priss, pleeeeaase...!!!" Linna begged.

"ALL RIGHT!!" Priss shouted, slamming her fist down on the table (which made Linna and Nene jump in surprise). "We're gonna do it! We're gonna go save those kids, 'cause A.D. Police can't do anything right!!"

"YAY!!" Linna cried, literally jumping with joy. "And we'll get the money, too, right?"

"Hmm...I s'pose." Priss shrugged. "I guess we could use it, even if it IS from Genom."

"But...but, what about Sylia...?" Nene asked, still looking hesitant.

"Sylia ain't here! I'm in charge now!!" Priss exclaimed, clenching her fist. "Besides, she'd want us to do it! That thing could wreck MegaTokyo...but there's no Boomer on Earth that I can't trash!!"

The service Boomer approaching their table to collect the dishes stopped dead in its tracks.

Linna and Nene exchanged a worried glance.

About ten minutes later Linna's van rolled to a stop in an alleyway behind the building which housed, among other things, the residence of Sylia Stingray, her lingerie shop "Silky Doll", and the secret headquarters of the Knight Sabers. Priss, Linna and Nene got out and surveyed the situation.

"Too bad we can't get into the garage," Nene said to Linna. "You'll just have to leave your car out here, and hope nothing happens to it."

"Well, that's reassuring!" Linna said in annoyance.

"Well, I mean, it being such an obviously expensive vehicle..." Nene began, but Priss cut her off.

"Okay then, we'll have to go in the front!" She headed down the alley toward the front of the building.

"Priss, wait!" Nene called. "What about the--"

"What's the matter?" Priss tossed over her shoulder without stopping. "You can get us in, can't you? It's an electronic lock, you know!"

"Of course I know!" Nene said as she and Linna hurried to catch up with Priss. "But what about the security guards?"

"What security guards?" Priss asked as they rounded the corner and came around front.

"Those security guards," Linna said, wincing.

Two uniformed men stood at the front doors. They spotted the three, and approached them.

"Hey, who're you...?" the older of the two guards began.

The three women froze. Thinking fast, Nene pulled out her wallet.

"A.D. Police!" she said as she flashed her badge, making everyone jump in surprise. "We urgently need to get inside this building!"

"Huh?! Uhh, why?" asked the bewildered guard.

"Yeah, why...?" Linna began, but Priss elbowed her.

"Why?! Ummmm, err..." Nene stammered, so nervous that they could almost see her breaking into a sweat beneath her reddish-pink forelocks. "Well, uh, you see, we need to, um, get up to the roof, because...ahh...we need to...to... to set up, er, an observation post! ...So we can get a better view of the area where that incident is taking place, and plan a better deployment strategy! And this IS about the tallest building in the area, you see, so if you could please let us in...?" Nene batted her eyelashes at the confused guards, certain she'd won them over.

"Well...I don't know...this still seems strange, you understand, with just the three of you here..." the older guard said, rubbing his beard. "How do we know you're--"

"Just shut up and let us in!" Priss snarled at the guards, pushing Nene out of the way. "We're not here to rip anything off, she really IS with A.D. Police, and we know the owner, so you don't need to worry about your damn paychecks!" Her eyes narrowed angrily. "Besides, if you don't let us through, a bunch of little kids are gonna get killed, if they're not dead already!!"

The two guards looked dazed.

"Priss...!" Linna whispered, reaching for her shoulder.

The younger guard seemed to snap out of his trance. "What? Priss? Are you THE Priss, of Priss and the Replicants?!"

"Huh?" Priss blinked. "Uhh...yeah."

"WOW!! This is unbelievable! I'm your absolute biggest fan! Can I have your autograph?" the young man cried, shaking Priss's hand vigorously.

"Oh...uh, thanks," Priss muttered, hoping this wasn't going to be like her first encounter with Leon. But then she got an idea.

"Thanks a lot! Hey, listen--" -she glanced at his name tag- "Kyle, right? Tell you what...I'll give you an autograph, PLUS I can get you free tickets to my next gig! How's that sound?"

"REALLY?!" None of them had imagined a human being could smile as broadly as Kyle did; his molars were clearly visible from any angle. "That...that'd be UNBELIEVABLE!! I could never possibly repay you!"

"Well..." Priss sighed, looking sideways at the front doors.

"But...but I..." Kyle whimpered, clearly torn.

"I'll get you a table right next to the stage!" Priss promised with a wink.

After staring for a moment, Kyle sat down with a sigh. "Well...guess I'll just take a break for a couple minutes..."

Dumbfounded, the older guard looked from Kyle to Priss, and back at Kyle again, then sighed in disgust. "Well, since you're from A.D. Police...I guess I'll have to let you in. But all the other exits are locked, so you'll have no choice but to come back through those doors when you're done in there, and if we feel the need to search you when you come back, then that's what we'll do!"

"Why you...!" Priss growled, clenching her fist, but Linna hurried her toward the front door.

"Thank you very much!" she said as the older guard reluctantly unlocked the door for them. "Come on, Priss," she whispered to her, "Don't forget about all those zeroes...!"

"Huh...? Oh, the kids!" Priss exclaimed as she burst into the building.

"Hey you guys, wait for me!" Nene cried indignantly as she ran after them. "You know I can't run as fast as..."

As the sound of their footsteps receded down the hallway and out of earshot, Kyle turned to look at his partner.

"Hey Roger, just what kind of a search were you planning...?"

Within minutes, the three Knight Sabers had reached the room where their 'hardsuits' were kept. Nene hit the computer console, keying in the activation sequence, while Linna got their battle suits out of the lockers. The battle suits were an integral part of the hardsuits; when worn under the armor, special components woven into the battle suits interlocked and interfaced with the armor itself, and helped them to fit into the customized (and very precisely measured) hardsuits. Sylia had told them that they wouldn't be able to operate the armor without wearing the battle suits.

"Yes! I got it!" Nene exclaimed as the large, refrigerator-like units which contained their hardsuits swung open.

"Great, now hurry up and change!" Linna said, tossing Nene her battle suit. Priss was already halfway into hers.

Once they'd all changed, it was time to suit up. As they began the somewhat laborious task of assembling and getting into the hardsuits-- making sure each seal was locked in place, and testing each component as they went; it didn't take more than a few minutes, but it was still that much more time--Nene hesitated.

Linna locked her suit's torso into position, and started working on her 'sleeves'. "The one thing we won't be able to use," she said as she tested her clamps, "is the Knightwing. Sylia's the only one who can fly it. But the incident isn't that far away, so we shouldn't need it."

Nene fidgeted with her armor, halfheartedly prepping it. "Priss," she said without looking up, "Are you sure about this?"

Priss ignored her, totally focused on getting into her suit as fast as she possibly could.

"Priss," Nene repeated. No response. "Priss...Priss. ...Priss! ...Hey, Priscilla!!"

"Whaaaat?!" Priss snapped in annoyance.

"Well, it's just that...we've never gone out before without Sylia, and..."

"Sylia, Sylia, Sylia!" Priss snarled. "That's all I ever hear about! I'm surprised you get out of bed in the morning without Sylia there to tell you what to do!! Hurry up and get into your suit!" Angrily, she test-triggered one of her wrist blades, nearly slashing Linna.

"HEY!! Watch out!" she cried, almost tipping over to avoid Priss.

Nene pouted as she suited up, her feelings clearly bruised.

"So, how do you suppose the A.D. Police are trying to stop the factory?" Linna asked, trying to lighten things up a little. "I'll bet they're trying to get permission to use their K-12 armored suits." She giggled. "Of course, Leon would just take one...I wonder if he's there?"

"Nah, I heard it was some idiot named Yamada," Priss grumbled. "So either he's a yes-man for the bigwigs in charge and won't let his men get anywhere near the action, or he's a hero type, in which case he's probably running low on manpower by now." She snorted in disgust. "What a bunch of morons. That's why we always have to come save the day...sometimes I think all most A.D. Police are trained to do is stop bullets."

"Hey, Priss...that isn't funny." Nene said soberly.

"Whatever." Priss donned her helmet and locked the visor down. "Okay then... LET'S DO IT!!"

Meanwhile, a little over a kilometer away, the situation was, to put it mildly, grim.

"Where are those helos I ordered?!" Shiro Yamada shouted at the A.D.P. officer next to him.

"They can't make it, Captain," the officer grunted, wincing. "It's because of the crane on that thing, see?" He pointed. "They say it's automated, so that would make it impossible to get anywhere near the facility, let alone land on the roof!"

Yamada swore bitterly, turning to survey the situation.

The Genom Mobile Construction Unit--a massive, tread-driven facility that one of the techs had said reminded him of a sandcrawler from those ancient 'Star Wars' movies--had driven freely through MegaTokyo for a short distance, which resulted in a flattened path of utter destruction where it had been. The last structure that had been in its path before it finally stopped was one of the city's many raised, two-level highways. The G.M.C.U. had driven through the bridge-like structure as it had every other obstacle in its path, resulting in an entire section of highway being broken out, and then it had come to a stop directly between the remaining halves of the highway. The now- famous school bus had been unfortunate enough to be travelling on the highway at the time of the collision and had been hurled to the ground below along with the highway itself, and now lay smoking on the far side of the factory. It had not been the only vehicle on the highway at the time of the impact, either, but was the only one the media had concentrated on. Yamada had no way of knowing if there were any survivors...although from the look of things, he personally doubted it.

The A.D. Police squad had the factory boxed in on two sides. They had set up an armored barricade both in front of and behind the installation, and were very well dug in. The main problem was that no one could get closer to the thing than sixty yards away. If anyone tried, the factory turned its external cutting lasers on them. Plus, it would occasionally tear up parts of the street with its boring attachments, throwing up debris as deadly as a rain of bullets. It would do this every few minutes at random intervals, seemingly to keep their heads down. Not only did this make it suicidal to approach the factory, it made it impossible to reach the bus.

Yamada was the kind of man who liked to be as close to the action as he could. In this case, the closest he could get was crouched behind one of the A.D.P. squad cars parked next to the barricade along with Furukawa, his subordinate officer. And here, Yamada could no nothing but scowl in frustration.

"Damn it..." he muttered. "If we don't find a new tactic soon, we may have to simply make a run at that thing, and hope enough of us survive to get inside and shut it down..."

"Sir...uh, I think that might be a little extreme," Furukawa gulped, angling for a better view.

"Well, have you got any better ideas?!" Yamada demanded. "Time is NOT on our side!"

"I know, Captain, but...huh?!" Furukawa's expression changed to one of shock as he surveyed the scene. "Captain Yamada!" he exclaimed. "The factory! It seems to have extended some kind of--arms--from the exterior, and it's using them to pick up the rubble and throw it--"

"THROW it?!"

Yamada's question was answered abruptly as a massive slab of concrete smashed down on a nearby A.D.P. squad car (which was parked BEHIND the barrier), crushing it, and its occupants, like an aluminum can. The car then exploded, throwing several nearby troopers through the air. When the smoke cleared, those who weren't dead were severely injured.

Coughing, Yamada looked out at the factory. "That's it. Now it's just going to pick us off, and we can't do anything about it." He whirled around to face Furukawa, who was staring in horror at the grisly scene nearby. "Shit! The only way we can stop that thing now is to use the particle-beam satellite weapons!!" Yamada shouted, clenching his fist.

Furukawa did a double-take. "Wh-what?! But U.S.S.D. are the only ones who can fire them, and we could never get the military to fire into the middle of MegaTokyo!"

Yamada was about to explode when an A.D.P. officer behind them hollered, "Hey, look! What's that?"

Everyone turned to look where he was pointing. On the remaining upper section of the highway across from them, there was movement and something glinted in the dim light.

"It's hard to see, with this rain," Furukawa said, "But isn't that..."

Yamada grabbed a pair of binoculars to look for himself.

Three glistening figures stood on the highway.

"ALL RIGHT!!" a young A.D.P. officer yelled, throwing his helmet in the air. "It's--"

"The Knight Sabers!!!" Yamada shouted, slamming his fist down on the hood of the car in frustration.

"Hey, there's only three of them!" one of the troopers said, squinting to see through the rain. "Aren't there supposed to be four?"

"Who cares?" His teammate responded. "Three is better than none!"

As the A.D. Police looked on, one of the three, whose deep blue armor reflected the searchlights, stepped forward and, with a dramatic gesture, spoke.

"Knight Sabers...GO!!"

"It sounds better when Sylia says it," Nene muttered, still pouting.

"Well, it looks like the A.D. Police are happy to see us," Linna observed, smirking behind her faceplate. "They're practically dancing in the rain! Ha! What would they do without us?"

"Die, probably." Priss muttered under her breath. "Come on, let's get down there."

"It's been a while since we've fought in the rain, too," Nene murmured, fidgeting. She still didn't feel quite right about this job.

"Think you can handle it, Nene?" Priss said sarcastically.

"Oh, don't worry about me!" Nene said, her pride coming back. "With this powerful suit of mine, I can handle anything! Even Largo, remember? In fact, I bet I could go take care of that factory all by myself! It's no match for my control systems!"

"But let's all go together, just the same," Linna interrupted, anticipating Priss's next remark. She nudged Nene.

Priss shrugged. "Okay then, let's go!!!" she shouted, diving off the highway toward the factory below.

Linna and Nene nodded to each other and followed her.

Priss plunged through the air toward the gigantic machine below her, still irritated by Nene's reluctance. What, doesn't she trust me? she wondered. After all those times I saved her useless butt, too...

Her thoughts were interrupted as the factory sensed her presence and abruptly reacted. The large crane attached to the roof suddenly came to life and swung around toward her as she fell. Firing her suit's back-mounted thrusters, she avoided its swing and turned in anticipation of its next move. That move never came, though, for the other two had followed Priss down and Nene disabled the crane with a shot from her shoulder-mounted beam weapons.

Okay, maybe she's not COMPLETELY useless...

The G.M.C.U. had other defenses, however. As the Knight Sabers landed on the ground near the complex, the automated arms it had been using to throw debris at the A.D. Police shot out at them, their claw- like pincers ready for the kill. Priss spun out of the first one's path, grabbed it from the side, and grappled with it until it broke off. Linna simply diced the second one up with the deadly ribbons attached to her helmet.

"Well, that was easy," Priss sniffed, tossing the remnants of the mechanical arm away. "So now how do we shut this thing down?"

"Just think of it as a really big Boomer, Priss," Nene told her. "Somewhere in there, there's gotta be a brain...!"

"Right!" Priss nodded. "Okay then, first we'll get those kids, then we'll--"

She was cut off in mid-sentence as the factory itself seemed to come alive. The walls opened, and huge, segmented panels extended forth, moved into position, and interlocked with each other, forming a new wall and ceiling.

The factory had effectively enlarged itself, expanding to cover a substantially larger area than it had occupied previously. It had enlarged its interior by a good fifty meters in front, and the school bus, which had been lying a short distance to the side of the complex, was now trapped inside it...as were the Knight Sabers.

"What the hell?!" Furukawa exclaimed as the beleaguered A.D. Police watched the G.M.C.U. expand, swallowing the Knight Sabers and nearly coming up to their defensive perimeter. "The guy from Genom never said it could do anything like that!"

Yamada's eyes narrowed as he surveyed the scene. "Wonder if it's got any other tricks up its sleeve..." he muttered under his breath.

Inside the newly-erected walls of the factory, Priss swore a blue streak. "'Just like a really big Boomer', huh?! Well, I've never seen a Boomer do anything like that!"

"Quit arguing, you two!" Linna said, fed up with the both of them. "All the interior equipment is gonna come after us now!"

She was right; all around them construction equipment of every size, shape and design came to life and moved to attack them. Linna dodged a massive scoop that slammed to the ground behind her, spun around, and severed its cables with her ribbons. To her right, she saw Priss charge headlong into what appeared to be some kind of oversized plow, while Nene rocketed up to an overhead platform and used her control systems to make several pairs of mechanical arms attack each other.

Turning her attention back to her own situation, Linna saw a cluster of high-powered drills screaming toward her just barely in time to flip out of their path. She slashed them as she dodged, and they crashed to the ground in a twisted heap, pointing in every direction.

"Hey, Linna, be careful!" Nene laughed.

Linna turned to respond and saw--

"Nene! Look out!!" she yelled.

"Got 'em!" Nene responded as she blasted a grappling arm as it swung toward her. Honestly, they didn't need to worry about her as much as they did. Sometimes it was like they thought she couldn't do anything. Well, she'd show them...

"BUT--!!!" Linna shouted.

"Huh?" Nene paused; she couldn't see Linna's expression (or her face, for that matter), but something in her voice--

Nene's thoughts were interrupted abruptly as something slammed into her from behind, flinging her through the air. Trying to get her bearings, she figured it must have been one of the automated cranes, and then she smashed into the wall and fell limply to the ground. Dazed, she tried to get up but then felt something powerful grab her.

Shaking her head to clear it, Nene realized she was caught in the grip of a giant clamp, and the only thing keeping her from being crushed to death was her hardsuit. Breathing a sigh of relief, she attempted to assert control of the clamp.

(SYSTEMS DAMAGE) flashed on her helmet's built-in monitor.

Nene's eyes widened. She tried it again.

(SYSTEMS DAMAGE) flashed sporadically.

"Oh nnooo...!" Nene felt the old panic surging up again; she fought to keep it down. When the crane hit her, it must have smashed her computer systems, which were all located on her back...

"Priss...Linna...I'm in trouble...!!!"

Priss disdainfully kicked aside the last piece of the plow that had attacked her and, peering through the billowing smoke from the resulting fire, hollered, "Just a minute, Nene! I found the bus!"


Priss ignored Nene's whining--she could take care of herself this ONE time--and focused on the downed school bus as she ran toward it. It was laying on its side, and as she got close enough to be able to see inside the vehicle, her heart skipped a beat when she saw what looked like charred bodies inside...

...Then she heard the very distinct sound of children crying nearby.

Priss found them huddled by some idle machinery near the bus. There were about ten kids of varying grade-school ages huddled together in a very frightened-looking clump. Glancing over them as she approached, Priss didn't see any serious injuries.

"Hi! It's okay, you don't have to be afraid anymore," she told them, trying to make her voice sound as soothing as possible. "You're safe now. Listen, can you tell me if any of your friends are around here someplace...?"

The children shook their heads somberly.

Priss's spirits sank.

"Wh-who're you...?" one of the younger ones asked.

"We're the Knight Sabers!" Priss declared, striking a pose and trying to sound more confident than she felt. "We're here to help!"

At that, the children's eyes widened and their expressions changed almost unanimously from fear to wonder. "Wow, the Knight Sabers! I heard about them on TV!" they exclaimed.

"Right!" Priss said with a nod. "The A.D. Police are waiting for you outside. I'm gonna blow out this wall, so you can run out there and get back to your families." she explained, pointing. "So you'd better keep your heads down, okay?" She charged up her pulse-cannon.

The kids apparently understood; at any rate, they ducked.

As expected, it only took a few shots to blow a garage door-sized hole in the wall. Priss was about to start herding the kids toward the new exit when suddenly a man staggered out from behind the bus.

He was wearing a slightly burned construction uniform (which read GENOM Construction Group) and was lugging a large tool that resembled a shovel. Must be one of the workers, Priss thought to herself. Richfield forgot to mention them. Typical.

"Hey, you!" she yelled at him. "What're you doing? Get outta here!" She pointed at the hole in the wall, where the kids were now heading.

The man looked at the children as they ran past him, then suddenly raised his tool--

Priss gasped and, acting reflexively, snapped her right needle- cannon into position and fired a two-foot-long blade into the man's chest, pinning him to the bus.

The man looked down at the long piece of metal protruding from his chest in apparent surprise...

...Then reached up and, almost effortlessly, pulled it out.

"Oh shit..." Priss whispered.

Then the man looked up at her, and opened his mouth as if to say something.

And his mouth opened wider...and wider... and wider, until his skin tore...and a familiar-looking beam weapon protruded forth...

Priss threw herself to the side, dodging the laser blast, and opened up with her pulse cannon. After half a dozen shots, all that remained of the 'man' were about a thousand little mechanical bits and pieces, and a few shreds of artificial skin.

Priss would've wiped her brow, but her helmet got in the way. Turning, she saw Linna trying (without much success) to get Nene out of whatever fix she'd managed to get herself into. In the dim recesses of the factory behind them, Priss saw shadowy figures moving...

"Linna!" she shouted. "Boomers!!"

Outside, the A.D. Police looked on as a section of the factory's wall blew out, leaving a large entrance.

"Now what's going on...?" Yamada wondered aloud as he watched.

"It must be the Knight Sabers," Furukawa reasoned. "Maybe they found some survivors and they're trying to get them out. ...Or something like that, anyway," he said, shrugging as Yamada looked at him skeptically.

"Well, get some men over there and find out!" Yamada said. Turning back to the factory, his eyes narrowed as he mulled over his strategy. Somehow, he would be the one to bring this thing down...one way or another...!

"Come on, Linna! Hurry up and get me outta this thing!" Nene whined impatiently.

"All right, all right, I'm trying, okay?!" Linna snapped, trying to figure out how to get Nene out of the clamp. She was frustrated, and Nene's whining was getting to her. There weren't any visible controls anywhere nearby; besides, if the G.M.C.U. really did have its own AI, there was nothing Linna could do about it. The clamp literally had a mind of its own.

"Lin-NA...!" Nene struggled to get free, but she couldn't move more than an inch or so in any direction.

"Be quiet for a second, okay??" Linna admonished. "I can't think with you yelling!"

"Linna! Boomers!!" Priss hollered as she ran toward them from over at the far wall, where she'd been with the kids.

"Huh?! Boomers?!" Linna repeated. "Where--?!"

"Behind you!!" Nene screamed. Linna glanced over her shoulder just in time to dodge the metallic fist that swept through the air where her head had just been. Spinning reflexively, she sliced the attacking Boomer with her ribbons, then jumped away. The Boomer fell to the ground in pieces, its mechanical limbs still twitching eerily.

"Where'd that come from...?" Linna wondered in surprise. As she stood there, several other men emerged from the shadows and approached menacingly.

"Watch out! They're all Boomers!" Priss shouted as she launched a kick in mid-stride, knocking one of them to the ground. It recovered quickly, however, and all of the Boomers ripped out of their artificial skin, revealing themselves for what they truly were.

No matter how many times Sylia explained it to her, Linna would never understand how those huge androids could fit into a human frame. She didn't have time to ponder it, though, because the Boomers quickly rushed them and a furious battle began.

"Hey, those are C-series Combat Boomers!" Nene exclaimed from her position mashed between the two halves of the clamp. "What are they doing here?!"

"Those bastards at Genom set us up!!" Priss fumed as the Boomer she was fighting exploded in a shower of debris. "They must have secretly been using this thing to manufacture these Combat Boomers! That's the real reason why they wanted it back so badly!!"

"There's something different about these Boomers, though!" Linna said as she dodged a flurry of attacks from the one she faced and got in a couple hits of her own. "It's like they learn by watching us...!"

As if to demonstrate her point, the Boomer fighting Linna faked an attack and when she moved to evade, it caught hold of her arm and swung her into a pile of machinery.

Nene watched helplessly as her friends battled on. Suddenly she felt something give slightly, and the clamp seemed to tighten. It was almost imperceptible, but the thing was definitely still active...

"Linna!! Priss!! Get me outta this thing!!!" she squealed. She didn't care what they thought of her bravery at this point; she didn't know how much longer her suit was going to hold!

"What're you doing?! At least TRY to make us think you're being useful!" Priss hollered in exasperation, slicing the clamp apart with her wrist blade. Free of the giant vice, Nene fell to the ground in surprise.

"Ah! Th-thanks, Priss!" she gasped in relief.

"Will you shut up and DO SOMETHING??!" Priss yelled as she dodged a Boomer's swing and slashed it with her blades.

"Okay, then...!" Nene said, taking aim with her wrist-mounted blasters. "I'll--"

She was interrupted as a Boomer's fist connected with the left side of her helmet, denting it, severely damaging one of the antennae, and momentarily blinding her.

"Aagh!" Nene stumbled to the side as her monitor came back on-line. With an effort, she turned her fear and disorientation into anger and determination.

"Why, you--!!" As the Boomer approached, Nene fired right into its face, blowing most of its head off. The torso flailed around and she backed off, then kept firing until she'd taken it completely apart.

"All right, Nene!" Linna called, having just finished off another Boomer herself.

Bursting with pride, Nene thought to herself, There, that'll show those guys...I beat that thing, even without my control systems!

"Yes!!" She raised her fists over her head triumphantly.

It was a movement she'd regret making for the rest of the week.

Priss leapt over a charging Boomer and kicked downward as it passed beneath her, stomping the android's head clear down into its torso somewhere. Then she flipped down and shot it up with her needle- cannons. It made for yet another satisfying explosion.

"Man, who knows how many Boomers there are in this place!" she said. "Once the kids get clear, we're gonna have to find this thing's AI, and fast!" Glancing over toward the exit, Priss saw that most of the kids had gone out, but a few were still inside. She waved at them and pointed to the hole in the wall, signaling them to leave. However, they hesitated.

Maybe they're scared to go out there 'cause of all the hardware A.D. Police has aimed at this thing, she reasoned. She was about to call to them when she was interrupted by a surprised screech.

Turning, she saw a Boomer grab Nene from behind, cathing her outstretched arms in a virtually unbreakable grip and dangling her in the air by them, as a second Boomer approached.

"Nene!!" Priss hollered and began charging toward them, but another Boomer suddenly appeared and, catching Priss off guard, snapped her into a full nelson. Its strength was tremendous and, despite her armor, Priss felt like both her shoulders would pop out of their sockets any second.

Through a haze of pain, she could see one of the kids still standing over near the bus, staring at her...and she saw another Boomer looming up behind him...

...And then, in that instant, Priss suddenly recognized the boy.

Her eyes widened behind her visor. "...Sho??!!" she whispered, her voice a mixture of horror and disbelief. Even from this distance, she could see the glowing red eyes of the Boomer behind him.

"NOOOO--!!!" Priss shouted. Somehow, she managed to reach behind her. In a wild fury, she grabbed the head of the Boomer holding her and, with a burst of adrenaline, tore it right off. Dropping the machine's head, she kicked off from its body and fired her suit's thrusters, launching herself toward Sho.

The Boomer about to attack him looked genuinely surprised when Priss came screaming though the air at it. She struck it head-on at full speed with her wrist blades extended, ripping completely through its body like a blue, streamlined missile. The Boomer did not get up again.

Priss herself was a little stunned from the impact; even she had never done anything like THAT before. Pushing herself up from where she'd landed, she shook her head to clear it, then looked around for Sho. For a horrible second she thought she might've hit him--

Then she saw him getting up from the ground where he landed after diving out of her way. His hair was messed up and his clothes were all dirty, but Priss breathed a sigh of relief.

That is, until he spoke...


"Hey! Come back here!!" Linna yelled as Priss rocketed off to save Sho. First she wrecks my car, then she tries to stick me with the dinner bill, then she pulls that stunt at Sylia's, and now she leaves me to try to save Nene by myself! she thought to herself, starting to get more than a little bit fed up. And all in one day, too!!

As the Boomer she'd been fighting fell to the ground in pieces behind her, Linna called, "Hang on, Nene!" and rushed toward her and the Boomer that was dangling her in front of its companion.

She was sure Nene would've laughed under different circumstances.

Suddenly, a headless Boomer jumped in front of her. Linna jumped back in surprise, then harpooned the machine and ran past it, dicing it up with her ribbons as she went by.

But in the moment she took to do that, the second Boomer had reached Nene. As its fellow construct held her hanging in the air helplessly, the Boomer pulled back its fist--which packed all the power of a jackhammer--and rammed it into Nene's side.

She cried out in what must have been extreme pain.

The sound brought Linna up short--she'd heard Nene scream in fear plenty of times, but never like THAT--and she half-expected the Boomer to come away with Nene's guts in its hand. But, as it pulled back for another blow, Linna saw that her armor had held.

This time.

Linna was going to make sure there wasn't a second time.

With a battle cry, she ran at the two Boomers and leapt into the air, firing a harpoon at the one holding Nene. It struck the android right in the head, and it dropped her. Her momentum carrying her through space, Linna twisted around in mid-air, slicing the Boomer up with her ribbons and finishing it off.

But she'd missed the other one, and it didn't even let her land. The Boomer grabbed Linna's foot as she flew past it and jerked her back toward it.

Realizing her situation, Linna fired her suit's thrusters to escape but the Boomer hung on, and used the added momentum of the hardsuit's rockets to swing Linna around in an arc and slam her into the ground with tremendous force, amidst the wreckage of the drill she destroyed earlier.

The force of the impact actually knocked Linna out for about two seconds, but she came to when she heard Nene scream. Still dazed, she tried to get up, but it felt like her armor was caught on something. She heard Nene cry out again, calling her name, and angrily wrenched herself free. Turning to face the remaining Boomer, Linna was surprised to see that Nene had plugged into it with her interface cables and had fried its circuits.

Nene rushed to Linna's side as she got up. "Linna, are you--?!"

"Yeah, I'm okay," she replied, finding the concern in her friend's voice almost touching. She shook her head, still feeling a little woozy after that hit.

"Are YOU all right, the way that Boomer was beating on you?" Linna asked Nene. "It looked like he hit you pretty hard."

Nene winced behind her visor. "It hurts, but..." she still sounded worried.

"Hey, where'd all the Boomers go...?" Linna asked, looking around.

"Oh! They're all over there, fighting Priss!" Nene exclaimed, as if she'd just realized it herself. "We better go help her!"

They ran (limped) toward the wrecked school bus, where Priss was slugging it out with half a dozen Boomers as a twelve-year-old boy looked on, calling her name.

"Priss--!" as soon as they got there, Linna could tell she was in bad shape. Priss's hardsuit looked severely banged-up from multiple impacts, and she had one of her own needles protruding from her right thigh.

"Priss!!" the boy wailed.

"Get him outta here!" Priss hollered as she hit one of the Boomers with a barrage of needles. It exploded, but another one charged forward and slammed her.

"But--!!!" Nene protested.

"GO!!" Priss shouted, blasting her assailant with her pulse cannon. "I'm gonna show these boys some fireworks!!" She nodded toward the demolition supplies a short distance away.

"You WOULDN'T--come on!!!" Linna grabbed Nene and Sho and ran for the exit.

"Look! Somebody else is coming out!" Furukawa yelled, pointing. "It's two of the Knight Sabers, and that last kid who went back in!"

Yamada grinned triumphantly. "So...it was too much for them!" He turned to the troops. "All right! As soon as they're clear, move in!"

Meanwhile, one of the Boomers had Priss locked into a crushing bearhug. She tried to kick it, but the needle in her leg painfully obstructed her. It opened its mouth to blast her with its laser, and she quickly rammed her wrist blades into its inorganic guts. The Boomer's grip loosened, and she blew its head off with her pulse cannon.

As the android's now-useless body dropped her, Priss fired her thrusters, launching herself backwards toward the demolition supplies. Taking a quick look, she was sure there were more than enough explosives to do the job...which was fortunate, since she couldn't think of any other way to finish this.

The Boomers were in pursuit using their own built-in thrusters, and Priss had just enough time before they reached her to pull the needle out of her leg. The long, razor-sharp blade felt even worse coming out than it did going in, as it tore through skin, muscle and tendon for a second time.

Ripping it out with a curse, Priss tossed the needle aside and dodged the first Boomer to reach her. She sliced the second one right down the middle, its two halves falling to the ground lifelessly behind her, but the third one connected and Priss was tossed backwards by the force of the blow.

She pushed herself to her feet as the Boomers closed in around her. It was now or never.

Bringing her pulse cannon around, Priss took aim at the huge crates filled with live explosives. Yeah, there'd be enough, all right...!

She shouted, "GO TO HELL, YOU BASTARDS!!!" and fired.

"CHARGE!!" Yamada shouted as the A.D. Police surged forward.

"No! WAIT!!" Nene yelled as she and Linna ran with Sho at full tilt away from the factory.

Just as the A.D. Police had cleared the barrier, the Genom Mobile Construction Unit exploded, showering debris everywhere as its massive frame collapsed. The A.D. Police dove back behind the barrier, most of them escaping injury.

As an avalanche of debris swept over the two Knight Sabers, Linna stumbled and Nene, acting instinctively, grabbed Sho and rocketed him to safety behind the A.D.P. barricade.

Bits of dirt, metal, concrete, and other miscellaneous debris fell from the sky for blocks. It took almost a full minute before the dust began to clear.

Nene opened her eyes, and found a dozen A.D. Police officers staring at her. "Uh, here," she said awkwardly, pushing Sho at them (who appeared to be unconscious, but otherwise unharmed). Getting to her feet, Nene took a moment to make sure she was really still alive, then hopped back out from behind the barricade and ran out to see if her friends were too.

"Linna!! Priss!!" At first, there was no sign of them, but then she saw Linna struggle into view. They both opened their visors and looked at each other.

"...Is Priss...?" Linna asked hesitantly, sounding like she wasn't sure she wanted to know the answer.

"Look!!" Nene cried, pointing.

She felt a surge of relief as she saw Priss climbing out of the wreckage a short distance away. Her armor was covered with hundreds of little knicks and scratches from the flying debris, but at least she was alive.

"Shit, that was rough..." Priss swore painfully as she hauled herself out of the wreckage. She didn't exactly share Nene's sentiment.

"Priss!" the others called, waving to her. She could picture them jumping up and down ecstatically the way they normally would after something like this, but like her, they were probably in too much pain. At least they'd gotten Sho to safety. As for the matter of explaining to him what was going on, well...that would come later.

Climbing down toward them, she opened her visor and grinned at them, although even that hurt. "See, I told you we could beat that thing!"

Linna got to her feet, and Nene was saying something in an indignant tone, but Priss didn't catch any of it.

She could only stare in shock and horror...

After everything that had happened that day, Linna had now gotten to the point where she was Really Mad. The others must've realized it, too, for they both fell silent as she got up.

Turning to face Priss, she exploded. "Are you CRAZY?! Are you completely nuts?! You could've killed all of us just now!! And Genom said they wanted that thing back in one piece, remember?! But nooooo, you just had to go and BLOW IT UP!!! Now they probably won't even toss us a single yen! A HUNDRED MILLION, Priss!! And you..." She stopped in mid-gesture, unnnerved by the way the two of them were staring at her. "...What?"

"Liiinnaaaa--!!!" Nene wailed, her voice breaking off in a sob.

Following their gaze, Linna abruptly realized what had happened.

When she'd destroyed the cluster of drills earlier, their momentum had caused them to become embedded in the concrete, and the speed and angle of impact had twisted the drill bits as they suddenly stopped spinning.

When that Boomer had slammed her to the ground while she was trying to help Nene, one of the diamond-tipped drill bits, pointing upward, had punched right through Linna's hardsuit at her midsection almost as if it wasn't there. She hadn't realized it at the time because she was disoriented and numbed by adrenaline.

Linna hadn't seen so much blood since Irene died...

Looking back up at her friends, she whispered, "Priss...!"

...And then collapsed.

Nene screamed.

"LINNA!!!" Priss shouted, pounding down the scrapiron hill toward her friend as she saw her fall.

Cradling Linna in her arms, Priss could tell she was losing blood fast. She swore in frustration.

"Priss...what're we gonna do...?!" Nene wailed, sobbing.

A few blocks away, an A.D. Police squad car tore through the streets, racing toward the site of the incident at top speed.

"Shit, I can't believe nobody called us about this earlier!!" Leon McNichol swore as he yanked the wheel around a corner. "That factory could level the whole city!!"

"Yeah, and with that hothead Yamada in charge, we'll be lucky if there's anybody left to greet us when we get there," Leon's partner, Daley Wong, agreed. "Just try to get us there in one piece, okay?"

Suddenly, there was a concussive blast up ahead of them, and Leon hit the brakes reflexively. A moment later, hundreds of small bits of debris rained down on the roof of the car.

Leon and Daley stared as the last chunk bounced off the hood. "Does that mean what I think it means...?" Daley wondered aloud.

Leon floored the accelerator. Moments later they pulled up behind the A.D.P. barricade.

"Hey, Leon, you missed the show!" one of the troopers called to him as he got out of the car. "The Knight Sabers are here, and they blew up the factory a minute ago!" The man, who was sitting on top of one the the A.D. Police armored vehicles, craned his neck for a better view. "But now...it looks like one of them is down!"

Leon stared at him for a moment without comprehending, then yelled "What?!" and broke into a mad run toward the barrier. The sudden pounding of his heart surprised him even more than his reaction surprised the others...but what if it was...?!

He passed the barrier and saw two of the Knight Sabers kneeling over the third; the fourth one was nowhere to be seen. Seeing the blue- armored one, he breathed a subconscious sigh of relief. But he saw the one in olive-green armor lying there limply, and even from this distance, Leon could tell it was bad.

As she knelt there holding Linna, Priss's world seemed to fall apart. Things had suddenly taken a disastrous turn and, despite her earlier confidence, she found herself desperately wishing Sylia were here.

Because she had absolutely no idea what to do now. All she could think was that they had to get help for Linna, somehow...!

Dimly, she heard footsteps approaching. "Priss, Leon's coming!" Nene warned, regaining her composure enough to close her visor.

Reflexively, Priss snapped her own visor shut, and did the same for Linna (who had passed out, mercifully), even as she focused on Leon and the single ray of hope that he brought with him.

Leon slowed to stop a few feet from them, staring at Linna and the blood seeping out of the hole in her suit, mingling with the rainwater. Priss and Nene didn't move or speak but just sat there looking up at him, their helmets hiding their helpless expressions. Nene sniffed occasionally, her shoulders quivering.

"...What...what happened...?" was all Leon could manage to say.

Priss was about to try to explain when several other A.D. Police officers, including Daley, Furukawa and Yamada, reached them. Like Leon, all Daley could do at first was stare in horror. "Holy shit...!" Furukawa murmured.

"Hmph," Yamada grunted, surveying the scene with his arms folded. Nodding, he said, "That's a hard lesson to learn."

"You jerk!!" Leon exploded, turning to face the older man. "They--"

Yamada ignored him. "You really should have left this incident in the hands of A.D. Police," he continued, addressing the Knight Sabers. "We had the situation well under control."

Nene sobbed, on the verge of coming apart. Priss stared at Yamada, her shocked expression hidden behind her visor.

"Listen, you glory-seeking idiot--!!" Leon yelled, grabbing Yamada by one of the straps securing his bullet-proof vest. "If it wasn't for--"

"YOU SON OF A BITCH!!!" Priss shouted at the top of her lungs as she jumped to her feet and punched Yamada. The impact of her armored glove broke his nose and knocked him out cold. All the A.D. Police present (except Nene, who was still kneeling over Linna in a state of near-hysteria) jumped back in surprise. Leon was just as taken aback as anyone, but when he saw a couple of them reaching for their weapons, he quickly yelled to them, "I was just gonna do that myself!"

"Please, Leon!!" Priss cried desperately as she grabbed him by the shoulders, "You've gotta help us!!"

"Wh-what?!" he stammered, startled by the urgency and emotion in her voice.

"Help us!! Take us to a hospital!" Priss pleaded, her grip on his shoulders tightening. "PLEASE!! I can't let her die!!!"

Nene flinched visibly at the word 'die'.

Leon swallowed. Priss could see beads of sweat breaking out on his forehead as he stared at her, his own reflection on her helmet all he could see. Then he nodded.

"Okay!" he exclaimed. Turning, he barked orders. "Daley! Bring an armored transport back here NOW!"

"Huh?!" Daley did a double-take. "But, Leon--!"

"MOVE IT!!" Leon shouted.

About forty meters away, hidden amidst the wreckage of the factory, a lone Boomer watched as the Knight Sabers and A.D. Police loaded Linna into an A.D.P. armored carrier. Leon and Daley hopped in alongside the driver as Furukawa and a couple of troopers attempted to rouse Yamada. The vehicle then drove off at top speed.

Having monitored their conversation, the Boomer scanned its internal maps of MegaTokyo and projected their destination.

Then it moved back out of sight.

"Hang on, Linna...!" Priss whispered to her as they sped through the streets, riding in the back of the A.D. Police armored carrier.

They had laid Linna, who was still very unconscious (which Priss was desperately hoping would not be permanent) on the long bench on the right side of the spacious rear compartment. A.D. Police troopers rode to Boomer incidents on those same benches, which lent an even greater feeling of morbidity to the scene; at least that was what Priss thought as she held watch over her friend there. Nene sat on the bench across from them, her head down. She was very still, her posture hinting at the anguish she must have been feeling. Priss was surprised at how well she was handling the situation, though. Leon and Daley were with the driver in the cab up front.

Priss clutched Linna's hand tightly, praying to anyone listening that they'd be in time. Behind her, Nene sobbed quietly.

Priss had lost too many other friends like this. Her mind kept flashing back to Sho's mother, and to Sylvie and Anri, each dying in her arms. All because of Genom, or Boomers, or both. If they took Linna, though...she couldn't let that happen. She didn't know if she'd be able to handle it...

After a time, Priss realized Leon was crouching next to her. She turned toward him.

"How'd this happen, anyway?" he asked softly, indicating Linna's injuries.

"There were Boomers inside that thing," she murmured, her voice low. "That's why I had to blow it up. I think one of them nailed her with a drill."

"Boomers...??" Leon's face registered surprise, even with his sunglasses on. "What were Boomers doing in that factory?"

"My guess is Genom was secretly using it to build them," Priss replied. "With the gear inside that thing, they could probably crank out just about any type you could think of."

"Holy..." Leon ran a hand through his hair, his usually cool demeanor showing cracks under the stress of the evening. "Genom was going to build dozens of Mobile Construction Units and deploy them internationally." He turned to Priss and took off his glasses. "They were gonna use them to fill illicit orders for Combat Boomers, which they would use the totally automated factories to mass-produce. Then they'd sell them on the black market to whoever was buying-- international terrorists, arms dealers, Third World countries, the Communists..."

"But now you can nail them for it, right?" Priss said, hoping at least some good would come out of this somehow. "Now that we figured out what they were doing...!"

Leon bowed his head, then shook it. "No evidence. We wouldn't be able to salvage anything concrete from that wreck. Besides, Genom runs the courts, so there's nothing we could do anyway."

Priss swore bitterly, slamming her fist down on the bench in utter frustration.

Daley leaned back in his seat, turning to face them. "We're here," he called.

"What's this?" one of the medics wondered aloud as the A.D. Police armored carrier pulled into the Emergency & Trauma Center. "Late casualties from the factory incident? I thought they'd brought them all in by now."

As the emergency medics, of whom there were several, approached the vehicle, the rear double-doors swung open.

"A.D. Police!" Leon hollered as he jumped out. "Get a stretcher over here, YESTERDAY!! We've got a critically injured patient here!"

"Hey, what gives? I th--Knight Sabers??!" a medic exclaimed as he looked inside.

"Yeah! Hurry up and help us get her inside!" Leon barked as the medics crowded around them.

"Huh?!" The medic did a double-take. "But...we can't...!"

"WHY THE HELL NOT?!" Priss shouted as she tried to load Linna onto the stretcher.

"Well, it's just..." the man stuttered, clearly very uncomfortable, "We don't have any idea who they are! What if--?"

"Listen, you jerk!! If it wasn't for the Knight Sabers, you, me, and everybody else in this town would be nothing but shadows on the wall, get it?!" Leon yelled in the medic's face. He pointed over his shoulder at Linna. "If she dies because you held us up, I'm gonna shoot you myself!! Understand?!"

Swallowing, the medic nodded. He and the others helped Priss and Leon load Linna onto the stretcher (the hardsuits were quite heavy) and they rushed inside.

"What??" Dr. Robert Adams asked, straightening his glasses as he stood up. "Let me get this straight. You want me..."

"--To perform emergency surgery to save the life of one of the Knight Sabers!!" Leon hollered, nearly coming over the man's desk at him. "It's the least you could do, considering all the things they've done for us!" he added impatiently.

"Well, I AM a doctor!" Adams replied, sounding a little insulted. "Quick, bring her in!"

"We already did! In fact, she's waiting on the table!!" Leon snapped in exasperation.

They hurried down the hall from Adams' office to the surgical ward. The nurses were all occupied with other casualties (both real and imagined) related to the factory incident, so Leon had had to hunt down a surgeon himself. They burst into surgery, and Adams stopped short.

"Wh--what the--??" Apparently he was surprised by the sight of Linna lying on the operating table, still in full armor, with Priss and Nene huddled over her. Daley was hanging off to the side, but stepped forward when they entered the room.

"What's going on?! I can't operate like this! Get her out of that armor!! What are you people thinking?!" Adams stammered.

"Daley, what...?" Leon asked, taking him aside.

"We've been trying to get them to take her suit off, but they won't do it," Daley muttered, sounding worried. "They want to save her, but they seem afraid to reveal any of their identities..."

Leon stared at him for a moment in disbelief, then turned to the Knight Sabers. "But, you HAVE to...!" he began.

Priss stood there, tension visible in every inch of her body, even despite her suit. The choice she had to make was one of the toughest of her life. After several agonizing seconds, she finally exclaimed, "All right!!"

She turned toward them. "But," she decreed, motioning with her hand, "Everybody but the doc leaves!" Reluctantly, Leon and Daley filed out of the room, leaving Dr. Adams, Priss, and Nene standing over Linna.

Priss hesitated a moment longer, weighing the potential consequences of her actions that night, both past and future. Finally the scales tipped, and she whispered inaudibly, "Forgive me, Linna...Sylia...!"

Reaching down gingerly, she triggered the necessary seals to open Linna's hardsuit. It unfolded seemingly one component at a time, until the armor lay spread out on the operating table beneath its occupant. Finally, almost painfully, Priss removed the helmet, and as Nene looked on in trepidation, Dr. Robert Adams gazed upon the face of Linna Yamazaki...Knight Saber.

Blood dripped on the floor.

Nene shuddered involuntarily when she saw Linna's wound. Sure she'd seen worse in movies, and certainly heard about far more stomach- turning things from A.D. Police patrol officers. But it was far different to read police reports on strangers than it was to see one of her best friends in such a situation.

"Well, she seems to have lost quite a bit of blood," Dr. Adams observed unnecessarily, "But luckily I think the, er, invasive object missed most of her vital organs in the area of..."

"Can you save her or not?!" Priss snapped impatiently.

Dr. Adams adjusted his glasses in a clinical manner, and smiled slightly. "Not to worry," he said.

Priss and Nene straightened, a sudden ray of hope and relief peering through the dark clouds at them.

"I am one of the best cyber-surgeons at this hospital," Dr. Adams continued. "Leave it to me."

Priss started. "Cyber...??" she repeated.

Oh, no...! Nene thought to herself, afraid she knew what was coming.

Dr. Adams nodded confidently. "Yes. I can replace her damaged tissue and organs in no time; just let me get my things...Now, you may want to--"

He was cut off in mid-sentence as Priss grabbed him by the collar and spun him around.

"NO WAY!! I ain't gonna let you turn her into a damn Boomer!!!" she shouted in his face.

"Wh-wha--?!" the startled doctor sputtered.

"Wait a minute...!" Nene said, trying to intercede.

"You're not gonna replace a damn thing!!" Priss hollered, ignoring her. "You're just gonna heal her where she's hurt! Do whatever you have to, but NO organ replacements!!"

"B-but...but how am I supposed to do that?" Adams stammered.

"How'm I supposed to know?! YOU'RE the doctor!!" Priss exclaimed, her temper flaring brightly.

"Well, to be honest..." Adams mumbled, clearly both afraid and ashamed, "I'm not really that KIND of a doctor. In fact, there aren't that many of them around any more..."

"You gotta be kidding!" Priss blurted. "I was at a hospital less than a year ago and--"

"A lot can change in a year," Adams pointed out. "Most of them have changed fields or retired."

Priss just stood there, staring at him in amazement. The seconds ticked by.

"...It's the only way...!" Nene whispered urgently as she gingerly laid a hand on Priss's arm.

She came back to reality with a jolt.

"NEVER!!!" Priss shouted as she turned and, bringing her pulse cannon to bear, blasted the shelves full of artificial replacement organs to dust.

Nene's mind seemed to shut down for a moment when she fully realized what had just happened. She could only stare at the destruction, weakly mumbling "...How...could..."

Adams gaped in horror at the scene, then turned to Priss, sputtering "Do--do you realize--what you just--"

In response, Priss grabbed the hapless doctor, jerking him toward her and nearly lifting him off the floor.

"Listen to me, you idiot," she growled dangerously, "You're gonna operate on her. Right now. And you're gonna do whatever you possibly can to save her life. If you don't, I'M gonna operate on YOU."

Adams swallowed hard. "Well...I think I know some things I could try...they might work. But I've never done anything like this before...it's going to be a very difficult operation. I'm afraid you'll both have to leave--" --Priss's grip tightened menacingly-- "-- So that my concentration won't be disrupted."

Priss stood there a moment longer, as if she were trying to suck any possible treachery out of Adams' body, then released him and stepped back toward the door.

"You better not try anything..." she warned as she paused at the doorway, then finally stepped out into the hall.

Nene exhaled, afraid the stress of the night was going to cause her to have a nervous breakdown. She followed Priss out the door.

Great, Priss, she thought to herself, that's just great. Just when I thought things couldn't possibly get any worse than they already were...!

"Man, that's unreal," Daley muttered as he and Leon stood around out in the hallway. "Keeping their identities a secret is so important to the Knight Sabers that they'd almost sacrifice one of their lives to preserve that...I wonder why? Who are they, really? Why don't they want anybody to know?"

Leon didn't respond.

He knew, although Daley's question was rhetorical. At least, he knew who one of them was. To tell Daley wouldn't be...right. But he'd seen her, in a fever dream, after they'd smashed the D.D. early last year...just one of the many times that the Knight Sabers had saved MegaTokyo.

When the Knight Sabers spoke to them, something in their helmets scrambled their voices slightly, just enough so that Leon couldn't be absolutely, positively sure that it was her. Not enough to totally eradicate the slightest shreds of doubt that lingered in his mind.

But still, he knew.

"Hey, clear out! Keep out of this area!"

The sound of Daley's voice brought Leon back to the here-and-now. Looking around, he saw several people, probably hospital staff, peering down the hallway at them.

"A.D. Police!" he announced. "We're roping off this wing! While we're here, this entire section of this floor is off limits!"

The onlookers hesitated, then slowly dispersed.

Leon and Daley stood there alone. It was the only thing they could do, now.

"Shit, I hate waiting," Leon muttered.

Further down the hallway, a janitor peered around the corner.

"Uh, Leon," Daley sighed, pointing.

Leon gritted his teeth in anger and frustration. He didn't turn around, but instead simply shouted, "THE NEXT PERSON WHO STICKS THEIR HEAD DOWN THIS HALL IS GONNA GET SHOT!!"

Footsteps echoed down the hallway as the janitor ran for his life.

"What a moron," Leon muttered. As he spoke, there was a series of what sounded like small explosions from the operating room.

"What the--?!" both men exclaimed, simultaneously drawing their weapons.

They stood there for a moment, not knowing what to expect but ready for whatever it was, and then the blue Knight Saber strode out into the hallway, the doors swishing behind her. The red one followed behind her, protesting loudly.

"I can't believe it!! I just cannot believe you did that!! That has got to be one of the single craziest things I've ever seen you do!!! NOW what do you think her chances are??! At least--"

Whirling around to face her, the blue one shouted, "SHUT UP!!!" Despite her indignation, the smaller red one took a reflexive step backwards.

Leon and Daley stood there in bewilderment, watching them awkwardly.

The blue one noticed them after a moment and hollered, "What're you looking at?!"

"Uhhh..." was the only thing that came to Leon's mind.

They stood in tense silence for several seconds. Finally, the red Knight Saber shrugged in resignation. "Well, I guess the only thing we can do now is wait," she sighed, walking over to one of the benches against the wall. Obviously exhausted, she dropped to a seat.

"Oww--!!" she cried, clutching her side in surprised pain.

"Boy, you guys really got beaten up," Daley observed as he sat down next to her, putting his gun away.

Leon looked at the blue 'Saber as she paced in front of them, and realized for the first time how right Daley was. In the hallway's bright light, he could see that her armor was covered with literally hundreds of tiny dents and scratches, and blood dripped from a nasty- looking hole in the right leg. As for the red one, her helmet and the apparatus on her back were smashed up badly, and her armor looked cracked where she was holding her side.

"You should get yourselves treated while we wait for the Doc," he advised them. "This IS a hospital, you know."

"No thanks," the blue one muttered as she paced.

Leon blinked in surprise, then leaned back against the wall where he was sitting. "Well, then, do what you like," he sighed in exasperation. "I'm sure the janitor won't be happy about having to wipe up the blood you're dripping all over the place, but if you think you've got enough, and you're enjoying yourself that much..."

Whirling around angrily, she hollered, "If I wanna stand here and bleed, then damn it, THAT'S what I'm gonna do!!"

They all sat there looking a little dazed, and she stalked off down the hall toward the window at the far end. Leon watched her go, then swore under his breath and followed.

The red Knight Saber stayed where she was, but looked up when she noticed Daley looking at her.

"Wh...What?" she asked, sounding a little hesitant.

"Your voice..." Daley murmured. "...It sounds kinda familiar somehow, but I can't quite place it..."

She clammed up immediately.

Priss leaned against the window as she stared out into the night. The rain had gotten heavier and even though they were on the third floor, she couldn't see that far. Not that there was anything to look at, anyway. MegaTokyo was just as dingy-looking at night as it was during the day.

She couldn't believe how badly she'd screwed everything up so far that night. If she hadn't led them into that factory, if she'd just stayed at the restaurant or gone home, none of this would ever have happened.

Priss truly didn't care if she lived another ten years or died tomorrow. But she couldn't let another friend die...not Linna...

But, what about Sho? she asked herself. What would've happened to him if I hadn't been there...?

She was ashamed of her outburst in surgery, although she didn't regret it. She'd heard about people who had gotten so many artificial organ replacements that they literally became Boomers, and others who had gone insane because of 'side effects'. Either way, from Priss's viewpoint, if you replaced any part of your body, you gave up a little bit of your humanity, became something less than human. And she had a terrible feeling that humanity was becoming a scarce commodity these days.

"So..." she murmured to herself, "...Did I trade Linna's life for Sho's...?"

"Hey, wait up!" she heard Leon saying as he approached. He came over to stand next to her.

"Leave me alone," she muttered without looking at him.

"Come on," he said quietly, "You gotta try to calm down. You're gonna drive yourself nuts pacing around like this. I've seen it happen." He smiled slightly and leaned a little closer. "I'm sure your friend's gonna be okay."

Priss snorted bitterly. "I'm not," she admitted.

Leon stood there quietly for a moment, as if he were trying to think of something to say. Being sensitive probably doesn't come to him naturally, Priss thought to herself. He's gotta work at it.

It didn't really increase her opinion of him any.

"Well, if nothing else, at least come sit down. Even if you don't want to do anything about it, I bet that still hurts," he said, indicating her leg.

She glanced down at her injury. Actually, she'd forgotten about it until he'd noticed it a minute ago. She was definitely still bleeding; not a gusher, but nothing to laugh at, either.

"...I've had worse," she finally replied, turning back to the window.

Leon clenched his fist. A few seconds passed, and then he hissed, "Shit...why don't you trust me, Priss?!"

"Wh...what are you talking about??" she asked, startled by the sound of her name. "I don't--"

"You don't need to pretend right now! I know it's you, and you know it!" he exclaimed. "I've never told anyone...I've kept your secret...but you still act like we're strangers, even now, when we're alone!"

"As far as you're concerned, we are!" she snapped.

Leon gritted his teeth angrily, and said, "I just don't get it. I've saved your life..."

She hated to admit it, but he was right.

"...And you won't even show me your face, even though I know who you are..."

They stood there looking at each other for a long moment. The added height afforded by her hardsuit allowed Priss to look Leon straight in the eye, and as she did so she wondered...

Is this how he really feels, or just another of his lines...?

Leon stared back at her...

...Although the only thing he could see was his own reflection on her helmet.

Then he straightened up, slipped his sunglasses back on, and silently walked back toward the benches where Daley and Nene were seated.

Priss turned back to the window for a moment, then muttered "Damn it..." and followed Leon.

Had she looked out the window, Priss would've seen a man pause on the street as he looked up at her. He smiled slightly, looked around, and then approached the hospital.

Nene sat across from Daley in uncomfortable silence as Leon and Priss returned from the window and sat down, separately, nearby. She tried to take her mind off Linna somehow, because she was afraid she'd start coming apart again if she dwelled on her lying on the table in there, with the surgeon cutting her up...

When all else failed, Nene could always fall back on one thing: self- pity.

This had been one of the worst nights she'd had in recent memory. Their mission had been a total disaster, and she kept wondering if any of her ribs were cracked from when that Boomer had hit her. If they were, she'd have to call in sick at work tomorrow, and then what would she tell them?

"Well, uh, you see, Sir, I ran into this Boomer last night while everybody was over at that factory incident..." That'd sound great--a member of A.D. Police being beaten up by a Boomer (even if she WAS just a dispatcher). No, she'd have to think of something else, but what could she say that wouldn't sound dumb?

She sighed dismally, feeling more depressed than ever. Nene couldn't imagine how things could possibly get any worse...

Unfortunately, Daley chose that moment to try to lighten things up.

"Hey, Leon," he said, "Remember the other day, when Kanzaki brought in that Boomer arm, and made it move around and grab that cup off your desk?"

Leon chuckled. "Yeah, and Nene freaked out and spilled a whole pot of coffee on Naoko's desk...it took 'em the rest of the day to clean it up." They laughed.

Nene stiffened. Her restraint was about to be put to the test in a way it had never been before.

"Yeah, and then there was that other time when Nene fell asleep at her desk, and started snoring while the Chief was briefing us...the look on her face when somebody woke her up...!" Leon laughed long and loud.

Nene sunk into her seat, wishing she could disappear. She could feel Priss's eyes boring into her, telling her not to react. Dieting was easy compared to this!

"Heh, heh..." Daley chuckled, then his expression grew more serious. "Hey, listen, I forgot to tell you earlier, but I saw her staring at you the other day, like she was daydreaming or something...!"

Leon snorted. "Well, too bad. She's not my type." He gestured in the air as he explained. "She whines when things don't go her way, and then there's that weird hair coloring of hers...what does she do, shampoo with strawberry syrup?"

Daley laughed. "Yeah, that's why she hoards all those desserts!"

You jerk, Leon!! Nene wanted to yell; it took all the self-control she had to keep from jumping up and slapping him. The one time you made a pass at me, I turned YOU down--!!

"Ha! Well, she can't be eating it," Leon continued. "Where does she put it?"

That made her feel a LITTLE better.

"Yeah, I dunno...remember when we saw her at that bar that one time? She sure didn't look like she'd been stuffing herself THAT night." Daley grinned mischeviously.

"Man, was she ever drunk." Leon shook his head. "One of her friends practically had to drag her out the door...and then come back for her clothes...!!"

They laughed so hard they nearly fell off the bench.

Leon leaned back against the wall as he wiped the tears from his eyes, then looked over at Nene. "Hey, is something wrong?" he asked.

"...Who...me...? ...Uh...no...n-nothing..." she stammered. You guys were there??!! she thought wildly, utterly mortified. That's it!! I'm never gonna help you out ever again--in fact, I'll never even speak to you again--! she vowed inwardly.

"Hey, wait a second...!" Daley said, staring at her. "Leon, do you...?" He whispered something to him, pointing at Nene.

"Huh?!" Leon blinked in surprise, and they both looked at her.

"Wh...what...?" she asked, shifting nervously. Priss watched them intently from across the room.

"Do you suppose...??" Daley said to Leon. They stared at Nene for a long moment.

Inside her helmet, beads of sweat rolled down her face.

Then, after what seemed like an eternity, Leon burst out laughing. "What! Nene a Knight Saber?! Yeah, right!! Have you ever seen her in the shooting range?? She can't even come close to hitting ANY part of the target!!"

They both laughed. "Yeah, you're right, there's no way...she wouldn't last five seconds against a service Boomer, let alone a combat model. " Daley chuckled in agreement.

Nene was either going to kiss Leon or kill him. She might do both, she thought.

As Leon and Daley continued joking around, Nene heaved a depressed sigh. Now there was ABSOLUTELY no way things could possibly get any worse...

Just then, footsteps echoed in the empty hallway.

"Man, is that bunch deaf, or what?!" Leon growled as he pushed himself to his feet. Turning, they saw a man coming down the hall toward them. He was dressed in the uniform of a security guard.

"What's going on...?" Daley asked, getting up to stand next to Leon.

As Priss watched them, Dr. Adams abruptly emerged from surgery, surprising everyone. His brow glistened with sweat, and his surgical robes were stained with blood. Priss jumped to her feet, and heard Nene do the same behind her.

"Doctor...??" Leon exclaimed, turning to face him.

He approached Priss. "About your friend..." he began, but was cut off by Leon's radio, which beeped suddenly.

He tore it off his belt and spoke into it sharply, keeping his eyes on Adams. "What the hell do you want?!" he demanded. "We're busy!"

"Leon!" the transport driver exclaimed, his voice filled with urgency. "We just found a body down here!! One of the hospital security guards, minus his uniform!"


They all turned to the security guard simultaneously.

Who had already drawn his sidearm, and had it trained on them.

He fired two quick shots, instantly killing Adams where he stood. He then swung his pistol around toward the next target--

But one of Priss's needles tore through his body, ripping into his chest and out his back. He was flung backwards by the impact, landing on his back and skidding to a stop a little ways down the hall, where he lay perfectly still. He was almost certainly dead, especially since about a gallon of his blood was now on the wall.

"Wonder what the hell that was about..." Leon muttered, grimacing at the sight. "Crazy bastard, that's for sure."

"What was the doc trying to tell us?" Daley asked. "I guess we'll never know now."

Fear gripped Priss's spine. Turning to rush into surgery, she exclaimed, "We'd better check on--!!"

"Uh, guys...!" Nene said, examining the wall. "...I don't think...THAT THIS STUFF IS BLOOD--!!!"

Turning, the others could only watch in horror as the man suddenly loomed up behind her, his skin hanging in tattered shreds from his biomechanical frame. Nene shrieked in terror as he grabbed hold of her, and they both smashed through the wall and into the darkened room beyond.

Priss was already charging forward before they hit the wall, rushing past Leon and Daley as they stared in shock. What the hell is this?! she wondered, her mind racing even as she focused on saving Nene. Did it survive the factory blast, and follow us here to get...revenge??

She leapt through the hole in the wall with her needle-cannons at the ready, but saw only Nene slumped in the corner. Priss grabbed her and quickly hauled her to her feet.

"Nene? You okay??"

"Ohh...yeah, I think..." she groaned, shaking her head groggily.

"Where'd the Boomer go?!" Priss demanded, peering around wildly in the darkness. She didn't see any sign of it, but it had to still be here! Where was it--?!

"I dunno..." Nene moaned, holding her head. "It hit me, and I don't know what happened next..."

Hoisting Nene over her shoulder, Priss hurried back into the hallway with her. She had just reached the hole in the wall when suddenly the Boomer appeared behind her, thrusting downward at her with her own needle.

"UGH--!!" The blade caught Priss at a gap in her armor, tearing into her right shoulder. Staggering into the hallway before a horrified Leon and Daley, she dropped Nene and fell against the opposite wall as she struggled to pull the needle out of her arm. It wasn't a serious injury, but it hurt like hell and severely limited her fighting abilities, especially since she was right-handed.

Apparently figuring she was incapacitated (which wasn't far from the truth), the Boomer turned toward Leon and Daley, striding forward and receiving little or no damage from the bullets they were pumping into it.

"Shit--!!!" Leon swore as they backed away.

"NOO!!" Nene yelled, having recovered enough to stand, and firing her interface cables at the Boomer. Turning, it sidestepped the cables and grabbed them as they shot past, then used them to yank Nene toward it.

"WAAAAHH--!!" Nene was jerked through the air and landed firmly in the Boomer's grip. Almost playfully, the huge android picked her up by the helmet, then reached down with its other hand and gripped her injured side.

Nene cried out in agony as the Boomer applied crushing pressure to her already tender ribs. It seemed to enjoy it.

"Nene...!" Priss whispered desperately as she tried to pull the needle out of her shoulder.

"My God...!" Daley said as he and Leon watched in horror. "It's torturing her!! What kind of a Boomer is this?!"

"A DEAD ONE!!!" Priss roared. With a battle cry, she tore the needle out and rushed at the Boomer with it, aiming to slice its arm off. What she hadn't expected was that it would suddenly thrust Nene into her path, forcing Priss to painfully throw herself to the side at the last second to avoid hitting her. She landed at the Boomer's feet, and it tossed Nene aside and picked Priss up.

The Boomer lifted her up to stare straight into its glowing red eyes. As it did so, Priss triggered her left wrist blade and rammed it into the android's chest. It made a surprised mechanical grunting noise, and then grabbed her right leg in a vice-like grip. She gritted her teeth as it ground its metallic thumb into her previous injury, and hung on.

With an almost angry gesture, the Boomer abruptly threw her to the floor, then raised its metallic foot and stomped on her chest. Priss gasped in pain and grabbed at the Boomer's leg in futility. The android bore down on her with its weight, and she could feel her armor cracking as warning lights flashed in her helmet.

"PRISS...!!!" Nene cried helplessly, in too much pain herself to even be able to move.

The Boomer pressed down harder, its strength seeming to increase with every second. Priss saw stars and, in an instant, her entire, wasted life flashed before her eyes...she heard Leon yelling something, and there was a bright flash of light...

And suddenly the Boomer was off her, staggering slightly as bits of its shoulder scattered through the air, the result of a potent laser blast.

Priss, Nene, Leon, Daley, and the Boomer all looked to see who had fired.

There, leaning weakly against the doorway and back in full hardsuit regalia, was Linna. She faced the Boomer, her posture one of determination, although she didn't look like she had more than one shot in her.

Stepping over Priss, the powerful android approached Linna. She fell back against the doorframe, too weak to defend herself.

Suddenly Leon leaped up behind the Boomer.

He had attached a 'power shot' explosive projectile to his pistol, and fired at point-blank range into the back of the android's head. The ensuing explosion obliterated its entire upper torso, scattering bits and pieces of it all over the hallway.

It took almost fifteen seconds for the smoke to clear, and for a while all anyone could do was cough. When they could finally see again, they watched as the Boomer's legs and lower torso took one more step...

...Then wobbled unsteadily, and finally toppled forward lifelessly.

"...Leon...?" Priss called hesitantly, coughing as she looked around for him.

"Whew...I'm glad that's over!"

Priss looked behind her and saw Leon sitting on the floor near the Boomer's legs, grinning and scratching his head. He appeared to have miraculously escaped injury.

"You're okay you're okay you're okay!!!" Nene cried as she hugged Linna.

"For now, anyway...!" Linna laughed weakly. "...Although that might change if you don't stop it!"

Breathing a sigh of profound relief, Priss got up and sifted through the wreckage of the Boomer. After a couple minutes she found one of its eyes, and held the glittering red orb up to the light.

That almost made it all worth it.

"Heh...eat that!"

"Man, that's what I call a rough night," Leon sighed as the Knight Sabers prepared to leave. He looked up at them. "Anything else we can do to help, before you vanish into the night?"

"Yeah," Priss said as she surveyed the scene. She walked over to the window, then turned back to Leon.

"Shoot this window out," she said.

Leon raised his eyebrows, than grinned and slipped on his sunglasses. One of the lenses was cracked, but it didn't matter. He pulled out his gun and obliged.

As the glass shattered, Daley smiled and said, "Boy, that Boomer really caused a lot of damage." "C'mon, you guys, hurry up!" Priss called to Linna and Nene, who was huddled over something on the floor.

"Almost done...there!" she giggled, and they both came over to the window. After pausing to wave good-bye to Leon and Daley, they rocketed out into the night.

Priss paused at the window, and looked over her shoulder.

"Leon..." she said quietly. She reached up to touch her visor, her fingers near the release triggers...

Leon straightened up a little in surprise and anticipation.

A long moment passed.

Their eyes met...even though they couldn't see each other.

Finally, Priss sighed. She smiled, a little wistfully...

...And let her hand drop.

"...Thank you." she said.

Leon's face fell, but he picked himself back up and smiled.

"It IS our job to help people," he replied.

Priss chuckled. Then she jumped out the window and fired her thrusters, vanishing into the darkness.

Leon and Daley stood there for a minute, then turned and headed back to the destruction inside. "Better call the Forensic squad," Daley said. "We got a long night ahead of us yet."

Leon nodded. "Hey, what were they doing over there a minute ago, anyway?" he asked, pointing to the floor.

They went over to examine it, and Leon smiled. "No way any janitor'll ever get rid of THAT," he chuckled.

Burned into the floor by cutting lasers was an elaborate signature. It read:

(with a little help)

The three Knight Sabers traveled through the city, rocketing from rooftop to rooftop, until they reached a roof within sight of the 'Silky Doll' building. Once there, they checked to make sure no one could see them, and then collapsed with a unanimous groan, letting the rain wash over them.

"Priss," Nene moaned, "How'm I gonna explain to the Chief how I got a couple of cracked ribs and a mild concussion...?"

"Nene," Priss grunted, "I've been beaten, choked, stabbed, shot, had bones broken, and gotten driven over by my own bike." She was quiet for a moment, then admitted, "But never all in one night, until now."

"Yeah, and we didn't even get the hundred million, either..." Linna sighed mournfully.

"Linna, are you sure you're okay?" Priss asked her. "The doc came out to tell us something, but then he got blown away."

Linna shrugged. "I don't know anything about that," she confessed, "But I came to when I heard a lot of shooting, and I was all stitched up. Whatever he did, he finished the job."

"Are you sure?" Priss asked, sounding suspicious. "I'd better take a look at it once we get inside..."

"What for??" Linna asked, sounding exasperated. "You don't know a thing about medicine, Priss! I tell you, I'm all right! If any of us would know, it'd be me! Everything's in the right place!" She waved a finger sagely. "I taught an aerobics class, you know!"

"So what?"

"SO I know how all of the..."

As the two of them argued, Nene gazed up at the stars and sighed. "Geez, I wonder what Sylia's gonna say when she gets back...?"



written by:
Corey Smith
Masterwork Productions
December, 1994-February, 1995

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Last Updated: 02:46 6/02/00