Journeys through tarnished dreams

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(Written by Cobalt Greywalker, with assistance from Rob Kelk; posted July 1 to December 3, 2007)

Warning: Adult Themes Discussed

Currently unnamed Boskonian cargo transport, en route to Mars, 5 hours from Phobos, about 1 day from Stellvia (give or take anyway)

Saturday, April 13th 2013, 09:17 GMT

Finding Kasumi wasn't much of a problem for A.C. Even without her enhanced senses, all A.C. would have had to do was follow the gleaming corridors and the cheerful humming as she got closer.

It bothered A.C. sometimes that Kasumi was such a neat freak; but seriously, did they NEED the ceilings clean enough to commence surgery on?

Turning a corner found A.C. watching Kasumi happily Gainax bounce up and rapidly scrub the ceiling before the artificial gravity caught her. While admiring the bouncing and scantily clad view, A.C. wondered why she didn't try to market the dirt-eating cleaning tools she'd 'waved up after Kasumi's 'Puppy Dog Eyes' attack. They'd no doubt be extremely popular, but that would be a vindication of Kasumi's beliefs in a tidy universe and A.C. was nothing if not stubborn.

Then again, stubbornness seemed to be a defining trait in fen.

"You know, if this is some sort of overcompensation for not doing this earlier, DO try and remember that we're claiming this as a prize of war. You'll have plenty of time to clean it up."

Kasumi stopped and pouted at A.C.'s voice.

"But...but... It's so DIRTY!"

"And it's not going to get any worse." A.C. sighed. "Anyway, we're five hours from Phobos and we still haven't picked a name."

"Oh my! I forgot the prisoners' meals!" Kasumi put a hand to her mouth in shock.

"Where did you think I just came from?" A.C. told her, then cut off her retort. "And you know damn well I can cook, given I learnt from you. And yes, I did use the Colonel's Secret Recipe of eleven herbs and spices as provided by Greenpeace to keep them calm. For Independence's sake, I CAN manage most things you know."

"You're looking a bit flushed there." Kasumi noted critically. "Honestly A.C. you KNOW better." Looking forlornly at the brush in her hand, she sighed. "Well, we better get that sorted out. Oh my, I do hope we have enough time to clean up afterwards."

A.C. drew herself up to complain, but slumped in realization.

"Fine, fine. Meet you back in my quarters."

Kasumi watched critically as A.C. swished back down the passageway (taking the time to observe the (un-)subtle interplay of muscle and 'waved leather of the pressure suit), worked out rough timings and went to put her cleaning tools away.

14:31 GMT

A.C. watched as Kasumi checked the boards before nodding to her. Dialling up the ATC frequency, A.C. went to work.

"Port Phobos ATC, this is ACP-002 Pending. Requesting secure SS dock for prisoner transfer. Sending details now." With the touch of a control, the basic dimensions of the ship were transferred. A.C. knew the ATC of Port Phobos was very good, which was why she wasn't surprised when they came back in less than a minute.

"Roger that ACP-002 Pending. Permission granted at lock 206. Been busy there?"

"Definitely Control, most definitely. Thanks."

"Well that was easy." Kasumi noted as A.C. started piloting the ship and towed Zwilnik craft to the provided docking port.

"It probably would be. Most of the hunter organisations are based out of here." A.C. replied, guiding the ship and its companion down the docking route with the skill one only has if they're an AI or a full conversion 'wave-borg. "Nowhere further out is developed enough. It's also far easier to find."

Finally approaching the dock, A.C. shut up and concentrated on putting the ship to the airlock. With a slight jolt, the ship engaged the docking clamps and the airlock sealed. A.C. locked down the controls and made a mental note to see if anyone knew of the fen (and it had to be a fen A.C. had decided. No Boskonian had enough talent to make a nice ship like this) who made the ship. Sure they might be apolitical, but they were good. And probably naval, given the layout.

"OK, time to meet the welcome wagon." A.C. sighed, getting out of the pilot's seat. "You OK finishing up Kasumi?"

"Oh my, you're being cautious today." Kasumi smiled. "Go, I'll be thirty seconds behind you. And don't forget the coat."

A.C. shot the kunoichi a look, but grabbed the full-length red leather trench coat and put it on as she moved to the lock. She WAS being public today after all, and what said Attim M-Zak more than her trademark red leather trench coat? Stellvia was where she needed to be careful after all.

Checking the seal she opened the ships outer lock, then with a toe-push covered the three meters of zero-g airlock tube (noting they must have redone the 'waved polyurethane of the skin recently, as it was still fairly clear) in a second. Taking a breath, she opened the stations lock.

The Senshi sergeant and the Station security officer blinked at her, but for different reasons. After all, the security officer wasn't expecting an extremely beautiful woman in skin-tight and barely there bustier and hot pants, and thigh-high spike heeled boots all in gleaming black leather under a full length red leather trench coat. The Senshi was more used to beautiful and scantily clad women, but THIS one? Fortunately the sergeant caught the look on A.C.'s face and didn't blurt out the name that came to mind. She did however pull the most perfect salute she could and barked out a surprised "MA'AM!", quickly followed by the squad she'd been leading.

A.C. knew it would only encourage them, but was polite enough to return the salute in the spirit it was given. "Sergeant, Officer." She took a breath (noting as she did so the officer's partner and two of the senshi drop their gaze). "Permission to come aboard?"

"Granted Ma'am." The senior officer recovered his aplomb. "What do you have for us?"

"One prisoner, a Zwilnik shuttle I'd like to sell, and a new ship to claim." A.C. handed over the manifest and a bright pink DVD. The senior officer handed the disc to his partner and looked at the manifest.

"It says here you have three prisoners. Who are the other two-" and started as he realized someone was standing behind A.C.

"Intelligence assets for OGJ HQ, along with the supporting documentation." A.C. stood aside to see the masked ninja in full suit (in what the senshi though was a fetching dusk pink). "If you'll follow my companion here, we can get the prisoner secured." The sergeant nodded and the four person squad followed Kasumi in. The returning party had a scowling Boskonian ex-fixer.

"I'll sue you for this bitch." The ex-fixer growled at A.C. "I'll have you locked up for violating my rights."

"I don't think so. Besides," A.C. leaned toward the Boskonian, smiled an arch little smile, and purred in a darkly seductive voice, "I don't remember you complaining at the time." Leaning back, she tossed her hair with obvious disdain. "After all, you got off FAR more lightly than compared to the one who actually SHOT Greenpeace."

The retort died on the Boskonian's lips as he saw the ever-darkening countenances of the others. Scowling, the sergeant nodded at the senior security officer and A.C., and led the prisoner away with the junior officer following.

"You wouldn't need a secure DVD if there was only three captures." The senior officer noted.

"I got nine." A.C. admitted grimly. "Of the nine captures, two had Thionite addictions. One of them I have the ability to treat, and wasn't a threat. The other died during an escape attempt." The security officer smiled sympathetically. "A third got loose and tried to OD on Thionite. We managed to keep the Thionite from killing him, but the system shock led him to die a few days later. Two were fairly extreme psych mods. One was a full anthro-fox morph, a TG from what I could tell, and seemed to be sexually locked to the other, who was a semi-anthro-fox. The first called herself Mimi, and was VERY hot for the second who called himself Robin."

"Fairly extreme? Given what can happen that sounds ominous." The security officer noted.

"Persona wipe, AND memory re-write. And no, I hated it as well. And By the Dark Knight were they noisy. Greenpeace liked them though. That didn't help when she asked them to help transfer the Zwilnik from the first capture." A.C. slumped in sadness. "He freaked, and tried to escape as he was being transferred to the ship. He blew the dock trying to get out. Killed all three of them. Greenpeace didn't take it well."

16:42 GMT

A.C. sat patiently in the interview room with the guard standing by the door, waiting for the official investigator to come back with the hardcopy of her statement to sign.

Detective Malcolm came back into the room wearing a guarded expression. Handing her the printout, he sat down across from her. A.C. noted as she read the statement through that his posture just screamed frustration. Finding everything in order, she signed it and passed it back to the detective who signed as witness and handed her a copy.

"Well then Miss Peters, while you are officially free to go I want to tell you something. Operation: Great Justice was a mistake. The emergency Con gave those of you working for it too much power. While security considerations and the requirements for safe prisoner transport allowed you to detain and question them, you can bet that we're watching you from now on. This is what happens when the law enforcement establishment is not consulted, and is outright ignored. WE should be the ones dealing with the Zwilniks and Boskonians, not amateurs like yourself. Now get the hell out of here."

A.C. stood languidly, removed her coat from the back of the door, and put it on before replying simply "Good day Detective.", and walking out the door.

Leaving the station, A.C. couldn't say she was surprised. OGJ seemed to be dragging on from the simple clean up exercise it was envisioned to be, to something similar to the War on Drugs back on Earth. The boards, blogs, and newsgroups were starting to feel a little depressed and antsy at how slow it was turning out to be.

Hopefully what she had back at the ship would at least help explain why they were having such trouble, and perhaps help shorten it.

Which meant that she'd better get to the prize and salvage claims panel.

"Well, if it isn't the lovely Scarlet Angel! Nice to see you Attim!"

A.C. recognized the booming voice easily, and smiling resignedly (instead of cringing like she wanted to) turned to see exactly who she'd suspected. Given how effective she suspected the Senshi gossip network was, being announced like that just added fuel to the fire.

"Jaxx, you big dolt! I don't think the far end of the station heard you."

While A.C. wasn't a small woman by any means, standing 5'10"/178cm flat footed and in her current heels easily breaching six feet, Jaxx was a mountainous 6'8"/204cm of muscle and chrome. His bright white smile split his dark skinned face strikingly.

"What? No kiss, no handshake?"

"If I did that, you'd try and drag me away over your shoulder." A.C. pointed out. "Where's the missus?"

Jaxx shrugged his shoulders, the two gleaming metal arms glinting.

"She had to go talk to the old man again about finders fees. You looked particularly focused there. Another run in with the bad guys?"

"Yeah. I bought them a prisoner this time, given the way they complained about killing them all, and then I get it even worse. Are they never happy?"

"Not really." Jaxx replied somberly. "Operation: Great Justice is turning out to be far harder that it was believed. And with everyone and their car out hunting these days, it gets kinda rough."

"I've got to get to the salvage panel. You good to come?"

"I'm meeting Morrigan down at the beginning of the main concourse, so I'm good that far." The two of them started walking. "I take it that it was bad out there?"

"It was nasty, I make no bones about it. Dealing with the Thionite addicts was very bad, Great Maker."

"It is getting very bad out there." Jaxx agreed. "One of our teams came across a full 'borg Lin Kuei."

"By the Matrix, that's all we need. Things like this make it seem that this will never end. Everyone hopes for the best, but forget the last bit to prepare for the worst."

Jaxx changed from the depressing topic.

"So, you've got a ship now?"

"What's this about a ship?" A female voice asked.

A.C. glanced to see Morrigan walk slash slink up.

"Attim Darling." Morrigan purred, stepping up to the pair. "Did my husband here properly greet you?"

"If by 'properly greet' you mean 'crush me to his body, grope me, and try to tickle my tonsils with his tongue'," A.C. replied dryly, "Then no, he didn't."

"Husband I'm shocked!" Morrigan gasped.

"Our Angel in Red didn't let me near her. She wasn't in a good mood."

"And 'She' is short on time, so you can't try your traditional attempt to seduce me by 'horny lez hug'. And don't try pouting, I'm immune thanks to Greenpeace."

Morrigan stopped pouting and straightened, showing she was indeed braless under the single (and LOW) buttoned men's dress shirt. Given how low and tight the figure hugging burgundy leather trousers were, she may have been going commando. It wouldn't have surprised A.C. if she was. Morrigan being both a Super and a Heinleinian (and a suspected Dark Senshi, although A.C. dismissed the last, as none of the Senshi she'd encountered for prolonged periods were ravenously bisexual) had a fascination with finding a good woman to share with her husband. Jaxx, being a red-blooded male as well as a Super and a Cyber, was more than willing to go along with it.

A.C. was relatively sure she'd dropped off the short list due to lack of availability to be seduced, and was merely a target of opportunity.

"So what's this about a ship?" Morrigan asked as she clung to the side of her husband (after an unsuccessful attempt to get in between Jaxx and A.C.).

"I managed to capture a Boskonian ship, so I put in a prize claim. The panel to decide if I get to keep her after dropping off her intelligence resources at OGJ HQ starts in ten minutes."

"You'll keep her." Morrigan stated authoritatively. "Nearly all Boskonian hulls are going to scrap merchants anyway. No one buys the good ones at auction. Those that don't get there are scrap anyway."

"This one might have, given I suspect a fen constructed her."

"I shouldn't be surprised, but I am." Jaxx noted. "You wouldn't go for this unless she's very good."

"She's been put together hardtech, then 'waved. There's definitely a Wet Naval connection involved given her layout. I'd suspect a BNF, but someone this good would be quiet. They'd still be known though. Pass the word onto Jet would you? That'll be quieter than OGJ, although I'll ask them as well. Speaking of the old Black Dog, his arm still giving him trouble?"

"Complains the servos grind, but it's a Winry arm and she's good enough to know it's not any mechanical fault." Jaxx told her. "Since he replaced it last year, he's been grumpy."

"When has he not?" A.C. noted the time. "I've got to be going. See you around."

Watching A.C. leave, Morrigan sighed.

"I wish she'd be more social."

"If she gets the ship, she'll be more mobile." Jaxx noted. "She likes her privacy, but she wants some heavy gear. Of course she won't be public..."

"Maybe." Morrigan said. "But I doubt it."

19:06 GMT

"Well then Miss Peters, I think it's safe to say the ship is yours." The panel chairperson declared. Which was good, because after four hours A.C. was getting annoyed. Wasn't Fenspace supposed to have GOT AWAY from these sorts of things? Oh, the reasons were good, but creeping bureaucracy was a pain. Even in the twenty four-seven society of Fenspace, loosing time was not something people wanted to do.

As the chairperson, a biomodded fen who looked like a cross between a Catboy and a Bullhound (and if that didn't remind A.C. that 'Wavium could be VERY weird then by Asimov nothing would) got up and left, A.C. took a moment to think. At least they'd taken the shuttle off her hands, so she now had some fresh credit in her accounts. And they'd register her new ship under the name White Stallion.

Now, all she had to do was pay the fees and get back to the dock before Kasumi finished cleaning. Given her expression when A.C. had left, it wasn't likely. And glancing out the door reminded her of the other thing she had to do.

Avoid the Fans.

Taking a deep breath she made for the door. Cargo elevator 12 was around here. She could double back through the service corridors if she could get off the main concourse.

Yeah, and maybe she could talk the Collective into buying self-improvement tapes. It'd be about as easy.

Actually, wasn't there a store run by a Nekomi Tech S&M club member about two hundred metres (234.7 actually she recalled) to the left?

~ Channeling Darkeyes may not be a good thing. ~ A.C. mused as she exited.

The seductive clinking of chains caused the proprietor of 'Chained Love' to look up...

And near instantly want to kiss the boots of the woman who came in.

He watched as the goddess looked around, raising exquisite eyebrows at some of the wares before moving towards the whips. So intent on this vision of leather-clad power that he didn't notice the sounds of confrontation until the door was kicked open by two robed men.

"HOLD! We of the Order of Sephiroth will purge the temptati-urk!" The first man in was cut off as a leather whip wrapped around his neck and yanked him flying into the shop. The second blinked, then fell violently backwards as the second whip wrapped around his legs was also pulled.

Unimpeded, the door closed with an unhurried clinking of the chains hung above it.

"Well, what do we have here?" The Siren in red and black asked in silken tones full of portent. She was holding the ends of BOTH whips. "Two little boys who forget their place I see." With an idle flick of her wrists, the whips uncoiled from their targets to retract and re-coil in her hands. Where upon she re-hung them on the racks they came from. "I see a reminder of the Freedom of Choice is needed." She turned to the proprietor. "My dear fellow, I believe some rope is in order. I need to practice my Shibari."

The two of them smiled rather darkly amused smiles.

The Senshi milled about in front of the door, feeling just a bit worried about how Mars-sama was taking their obvious shadowing and the two idiots who'd thought they'd been looking at the store for its wares.

Given the way they'd vanished from the doorway, probably not well.

When the door finally opened, the nervous tension in the Senshi was such that several small shrieks of fright could be heard down the concourse.

A.C. still had the darkly amused smile on her lips as she lifted the two Sephiroti out of the store onto the street of the concourse. To the watching Senshi it seemed they were praying.

"Several hours of penance should do you some good." The smile widened. "It will take that long to undo the knot. Have fun."

A.C. turned and walked away, letting the waiting Senshi see the bag over her shoulder and the whip that now hung at her hip. One of the curious senshi walked towards the two apparently praying figures and found that they WERE, in fact, tied up in a praying position. The knot mentioned was at the small of their back, and damn did it look complicated. And how she had gagged them as well with the rope...

A few (un-nerved, although they'd deny it) Senshi stayed behind to talk to the approaching security officers, the rest started after A.C. with rather more care and distance.

21:49 GMT

The far more cautious Senshi were easier to loose, and A.C. managed to make her way back to the newly christened White Stallion without being spotted. Stepping into the ship, A.C. winced at the gleaming passageway.

Kasumi had been waiting with a beaming smile, but that faded on seeing A.C.'s face.

"Oh my. Did you have a stressful day?" Then she noticed the whip and bag. "Oh my!" She added in a slightly more worried tone. "New toys?"

A.C. shot her a dark look.

"I'm going to put these away. Start warming her up and I'll ask for departure clearance when I get up there." A.C. turned and stalked away.

"Oh my." Kasumi sighed to herself. "We're going to make SUCH a MESS. And I got the room perfect too."

She suppressed a shudder as she walked to the control room, and thought to herself:

~ Oh my, am I glad to be an android. ~

SS White Stallion, en route between Phobos and Earth L5, roughly 30 hours from Stellvia

Sunday, April 14th 2013, 05:18 GMT

Kasumi sat gingerly down in the co-pilots seat, still feeling a bit sore after the long cool down session she and A.C. had engaged in. Leaving A.C. to sleep seemed like a good thing at the moment, but it had been difficult to get away without waking her.

With a sigh, Kasumi turned to the comms panel and dialed up the base. The face of Adonis popped up on screen. Being an android had its perks, and not needing sleep was one of them. That's not to say they didn't want to sleep at times. And Kasumi was never quite sure how Greenpeace managed.

"Lass! Good ta hear from ya finally. Hang Oon, I'll fetch the little fairy, she's been worried, you ken?"

About a minute later, Adonis returned and the screen split vertically to show a smiling green elvish face. Subtitles appeared to the faint sound of keys clicking.

<Hi! We were wondering when you'd call.>

"Aye, the lass was positively frantic."

Greenpeace pouted. <HEY!>

Kasumi chuckled, then winced as she moved. Adonis caught it.

"That bad eh, lass?"

"Oh My, Yes." Kasumi groaned. "Although from what I gather, it wasn't so much the Senshi following her around as the four hour review panel and a run in with the Order of Sephiroth. She came in with a new whip and toys."

Adonis and Greenpeace both winced.

"She's sleeping now, but Oh My am I glad I'm an android. So Greenpeace, how's our patient doing?"

<Well, he's responding to the weaning process much better now. By the time you get back he'll be ready for physiotherapy. It'll be about three weeks until he's fit to leave.>

"The lass here is trying to set A.C. up on a date." Adonis 'accidentally' let out, causing Greenpeace to scowl at him across the room they were in, and the sound of a heel being stomped on the floor came through the speakers.

"Oh my. Greenpeace, you know better. A.C. is very cautious about things like that."

Greenpeace turned back to the camera.

<Moo... I thought they'd be good for each other. And she's not getting any younger you know. Her biological clock is ticking away.>

"You know why she's careful. Besides, we don't know if she IS aging yet."

<If she's worried about biomodding someone through a 'cool down', then unless she gets rough, if they're fuchsia or better she's fine. Heck, a single go with a blue would be fine.>

"And ye know this...HOW lassie?" Adonis asked warily.

<Well, I was looking at different fertilizers...>

"Whoa, hold it there lassie. We get the idea."

<It's not like you guys let me help out other ways. I have all the parts you know, and they work.>

"Dear, that's not why you were built." Kasumi pointed out once again to the green-skinned fairy.

Greenpeace's image slumped.

<I know, I know. Still, a girl can dream. So, Andy. Care to show a girl a good time?>

"Next time we're out lass, dinner and a movie."

"You're not getting him in a Tux that easily." Kasumi laughed. "Oh my! You are getting tricky my dear. I may have to spank you, because you'd enjoy A.C. doing it too much."

Greenpeace swooned dramatically on screen. The subtitles came a bit slower.

<Alas! To be cruelly denied at the last!> Then she stuck her tongue out.

Kasumi managed to giggle without pulling something, meaning her self-repair systems had managed to sort things out.

Once the laughter subsided, Adonis got an eager expression.

"Now that the gossip is done lass, why don't ye tell us what her name is."

Kasumi drew herself up.

"The ships name..."

<Yes?> "Yes?"

"After much deliberation..."

"Get on with it lass." Adonis complained.

"Is the White Stallion."

<The White Stallion?!?> Greenpeace complained. <Why, by Mother Gaia, that?>

"A.C. didn't explain, but I suspect it was because it was completely un-associated with us and to say that this is no longer a Boskonian ship."

"Which means she might be wanting to spend time away from base." Adonis noted.

<YES!> Greenpeace jumped up and danced in celebration. It took a minute for her to calm down. <It's about time!> she typed. <No more week long trips in the cramped car!>

"Now lass, it's just speculation on my part, you ken?" Adonis warned.

"I'll ask, after she's up and had a good meal." Kasumi agreed. "She needs her sleep."

It would have surprised Kasumi that A.C. wasn't actually sleeping at the moment. About a minute after Kasumi had left, A.C. had got up and headed for her laptop.

<Personal Journal, entry 327.

I'm not sure if I hate the Sephiroiti for what they did, or thank them.

Dear Lord, what have I become?

I've known, since The Accident, that my head was wired differently. It wasn't until the incident in 'Chained Love' that I realized HOW differently.

I want to BREAK them. Break their wills, break their spirits, break their minds, and re-forge them as I wanted. To use them as I willed, to my pleasure. Sure, most of it was Darkeyes, but some of it was me. I only just managed to keep it to humiliating them.

It's been evident, since the first time Darkeyes manifested, that my mind hadn't fully coped with the after-effects of The Accident. Prior to that, I felt that it was just my hormones directing me. Since then, I felt that my three personalities represented divisions of how I saw the world. Me, as the main personality, dealt with life in general. That which was ordinary in the world in which I reside. Attim dealt with survival. The hunting instinct, the Killing instinct, watchful for that which could kill me. And she's smart, as in Fenspace you're either smart or dead. And no-one wants to be dead. Darkeyes dealt with those urges that a normal person denies. The dark urges that reside in everyone of us that we dislike.

Today it was made obvious that which I should have seen all along. That myself, Attim, and Darkeyes are not the distinct personalities that I believed. They are different facets of the same whole. And they've been bleeding together.

More than any other entity I know of, I AM the Wave. All I was before is still here, but the overwhelming majority of me is the Wave. But the distinctive attribute of the Wave is that it is influenced by minds.

And my mind, semi-unconsciously, has been screaming that a divided mind is not right. It's also been moving between points of view that are influenced by how I saw myself in different modes, and knowledge of how the differences could be.

Take Attim for example. My survival instincts. Yet also I know the character that the persona is based on. A flirt, and engineered/enhanced killer. An investigator, and somewhat bloodthirsty warrior. Someone who wanted to be beautiful, who wanted to show she was beautiful, and enjoyed immensely being beautiful. Someone who was vicious enough when needed to make hard-core terrorists soil themselves.

And that's who she became. And that's who I became.

In Darkeyes' case it is worse. She is me, unrestrained. Conscience mattered only if didn't interfere. Wants were things to be fulfilled, unless they caused me trouble. I'd call her my id, but she's more than just desires and that which I suppress. She's also, at least partially, that which regulates them. And that which enables the acquisition of them.

It's not perfect, given the large degree of overlap in the function of my personas.

But these are my views. And the Wave is also influenced by the views of those outside. I've isolated myself more since The Accident, and the views of hermits become distorted. My closest confidences are three Wave created beings, who see me in one way and don't see the differences as I slightly change. This reinforcement causes me to move deeper into the divisions that I have, and cause my mind to unconsciously scream louder that the divisions are wrong.

It's the OTHER external influence that leads me to believe I have a way out.

For a while now, it seems as though a fourth personality has been developing. That of a certain figure of Senshi lore of whom their title has been unwillingly (on my part) placed upon me. The collective belief of Senshi that I am this figure has been influencing who I am, in a far more direct way than belief has influenced others before me. Why I didn't see that this applied to the other parts of me? Why did it have to be one simple little encounter with some close-minded morons that showed me how far I've strayed? With how I turned out, I have Attim's advantages of Hyper-Intelligence (even if I don't feel like it most days), cunning, and inquisitiveness. So I should have seen it before.

But that principle gives me a way back to where I want to be. I can see now how I went over the line this time due to my anger at Greenpeace being shot, but at least I still have a grip on the other side.

I need to get out into the system. Drag myself kicking and screaming back into the churning masses and BE who I thought myself to be. Show the universe 'THIS is who I am', and the universe will tell me 'This is who you are'. That perception, and my desire to live up to that perception, should help me get back on the other side of the line permanently. It's a far more powerful version of social reinforcement, only in this case I can't help but listen and take in the feedback.

I won't pretend that this will not be hard, on multiple levels. I thought I'd accepted the way I was. To find out HOW wrong I was in this way is a burden I'll have to carry for the rest of my life, however long that may be given my mostly artificial status now. No one else can carry it.>

A.C. paused in her typing. What she'd put down was a damning indictment of herself, and she'd never felt good after those even when she'd been still a he. She could feel the tears start forming in her eyes.

<I have many things to do and plan for. Apologizing to Kasumi for tonight is the first thing to do. I should never have taken out those frustrations on her. But that will have to wait until tomorrow, so as not to worry her. I need to get what sleep I can.>

A.C. saved the file, encrypting and pass-locking it as usual, before closing down the laptop and putting it back away. Wiping her eyes, she looked at the bed. It was messy, cold, and alone. It wasn't what she wanted, but it's what she had.

It would do. It was going to be a long night.

Tomorrow would be different, the start of something she shouldn't have had to do but would.

The start of trying to save herself.

SS White Stallion, en route between Phobos and Earth L5, 4 hours from Stellvia

Monday, April 15th, 07:19 GMT

A.C. sat down in the galley to the breakfast Kasumi had prepared.

"I could do better if we upgraded the kitchenette." Kasumi complained, sitting down across from A.C. at the small table.

"I'm thinking about it." A.C. admitted. She was smart enough to know that Kasumi, Andy, and Greenpeace must have talked sometime while she was trying to get some sleep yesterday (the lack of bags under her eyes reminded A.C. that sometimes, being a 'wave-borg was a good thing). "I'm sorry about Saturday night."

"I know you were upset-"

"And I shouldn't have taken it out on you." A.C. cut her off. "I should have been better than that."

"Everyone needs to let off steam." Kasumi pointed out reasonably, which got on A.C.'s nerves. But before she could break in Kasumi continued. "If anything, you were especially...vigorous...that night." Kasumi smirked. "Oh my, yes."

A.C. scowled at her across the table, and turned to her breakfast. If it hadn't been for the fact she needed to adjust her body clock for Earth-normal timeframes, she would have had more time to make up. It wasn't as if she'd been getting regular sleep lately. Even four years after her Accident, she didn't know whether or not she NEEDED sleep. Her sleeping habits hadn't changed since he had been about 15, but there had been times when she'd gone over a week without sleep that hadn't affected her. A.C. had one recipe for cheesecake that Kasumi didn't know that A.C. knew the kunoichi liked, and the ingredients were onboard so she'd thought she'd use that as a make-up gift. She was saving Greenpeace's Chocolate Armageddon cheesecake for after the briefing. Well, at least she was trying to, because no doubt she'd need it.

The sound of clinking plates and cutlery was all that was heard in the galley for a few minutes before Kasumi spoke up.

"Why aren't you dressed yet?" Kasumi asked, bringing her attention to the tiny silk robe A.C. was (almost not) wearing.

"One, I've got to get my disguise ready." A.C. replied. "That means doing my hair. I was going to go with the rich chocolate colour, and put it in that thick braid. The lighter brown contacts would go with it. That leads to point two."

"Which is?" Kasumi prompted.

"What to wear. Given that this'll be Stellvia, I figured something sophisticated would be best." A.C. changed her hair and eye colour. "What do you think? The blue sleeved mini-dress, the new-Sylia one with the cross at the bust holding it together, the white latex party dress and opera gloves, or the burgundy leather skirt and low neck jacket?"

"Oh My. Why not the pantaloons and halter tank top?" Kasumi asked. "That's what you originally planned on wearing."

"Because I don't want to look like Rune Venus. Or Disney's Princess Jasmine. Which is a pity, 'cause it would work." A.C. paused. "There was a time where I wouldn't even conceive of saying that." She observed in disgust.

"The Burgundy suit. That one makes people wonder if you are wearing a bra, the others show you're not." Kasumi said, completely ignoring A.C.'s mutterings.

"And then we have you, Noah has his issues with Ninja."

"Oh my. But I brought the maid outfit." Kasumi told A.C. in a puzzled tone.

"Which one?" A.C. asked suspiciously.

"The Konoe one." Kasumi shrugged. "I wanted to carry my sword around."

"I'm surprised you didn't go for the Iroha one."

"No. That's for when we get home and Adonis and I can PROPERLY see to your needs."

As much as A.C. hated it, the flush of pleasure at the prospect was easily noticeable on her body. To cover it, A.C. wolfed down the remains of her breakfast. Finishing quickly, she put her plate and cutlery in the sink.

"Well, I'd better get started dying my hair." She said before making as dignified an exit as possible.

09:44 GMT Stellvia Control

"Ma'am? Could you come to screen three please? I need an assist."

Yoriko sighed as she got up from the desk. Being watch officer in the morning was a pain. At least the staff didn't call on her unless they DID have a problem, or something weird (which could be a problem in itself). Passing the Duty Officer's desk she found him and the ATC Officer for the watch looking at the radar screen.

"What's the problem, Mr. Hansen, Ms. O'Neill?"

"Well," ATC Officer O'Neill started. "We have an SS class ship on approach claiming to be the White Stallion, but its transponder claims it's the Space Shuttle Atlanta."

"Eh?" Yoriko wasn't getting the problem. A fen ship claiming to be a non-existent shuttle was par for the course some days. Fortunately the ATC Officer continued.

"The White Stallion was registered two days ago at Port Phobos to an Alexis Petermann, and two things stick out. One, she's a former Boskonian hull, and two her listed quirks include problems with her transponder randomly changing."

"Normally I'd clear her for docking," added Duty Officer Hansen. "But it seems a little too convenient for an 'ex-Boskonian' with a transponder problem to show up after registering at Phobos. Captain Petermann is also claiming she's here to drop off intel resources to OGJ HQ. Given how tricky they've become, I thought you'd better take a look."

Put that way Yoriko could see the point, but something was nagging at her.

"Just give me a second." Yoriko told them and disappeared into the Commander's office for a few moments before coming back with a post-it note. "OK, put me on."

O'Neill looked puzzled but did so.

"SS White Stallion, this is Stellvia Control. You've got us curious. Can you confirm your identity?"

A female chuckle sounded over the speaker.

"What would you like Stellvia Control? Two forms of ID, or twenty questions?" A German accented voice asked.

Yoriko was sure she knew the voice, but continued.

"What's the average airspeed of an unladen swallow?"

"African or European?" Was the instant response.

"Oh, you're good."

"Hey, there's me, and then there's Super Dave."

"Grant them permission to dock at Docking Tube #2." Yoriko told the two waiting officers. "I'll tell the Commander his guest has arrived then go meet her. Please ask Engineer Hasegawa to meet us there."

Sora wondered what was going on as she pulled the trolley with her portable tool kit around the corner to Docking Tube #2. It didn't seem like an urgent job, but why would Yoriko ask for her? Especially for a shipboard repair.

"There you are, Sora." Yoriko said as her fellow android approached. "I'm sorry if I took you away from anything."

"What's wrong? It didn't sound too urgent."

"The ship that's docking has some sort of problem with her transponder. Noah seemed like he was waiting for her to come in, so I figured we could do them a favor and fix it while the captain is in the briefing she asked for."

Sora nodded as the airlock safety light turned green. A surprisingly short time later, the airlock door opened and the two of them got a good look at Captain Alexis Petermann. She was a beautiful woman (even if their tastes didn't run that way, they were perfectly capable of appreciating beauty in the female form) with brown hair and eyes, dressed in a semi-formal burgundy business suit. At least, that would be the first impression. A few moments notice would show that the suit was made of skin-tight leather, the skirt was mid thigh length, the jacket was cut low enough to show an abundance of cleavage and with its fitting suggest the wearer might not have a bra on underneath, and she was wearing 10cm heeled ankle boots (also in the same shade of burgundy).

"Permission to come aboard?" Captain Petermann asked, her German-accented voice causing the two androids to wonder if they'd met her before.

"Granted." Yoriko told her. "Excuse me, but your voice seems familiar. Have we met?"

Captain Petermann allowed herself a small smirk, which puzzled the two androids before replying.

"People say I have that sort of accent." She said with no accent at all, which caused her companions eyes to widen. "Personally," she continued, German accent back in place, "I don't see why."

"A.C.?" Yoriko asked in surprise.

"Gosh. You've ... changed." Sora added.

A.C.'s smirk was larger now.

"Ladies, nice to see you again." A.C. greeted them, seeming to put Captain Petermann away. "Not that I'm not glad to be in the presence of beautiful women," Here Yoriko and Sora blushed, "I was only expecting Yoriko. With Security possibly. What's up?"

"Well," Sora spoke up. "Yoriko said your ship is having transponder problems. We though maybe we could fix it."

"Unless it's a dummy quirk you put into the ship's registration like her owner?" Yoriko asked.

"No, by the Lords of Kobol." A.C. sighed. "It's a real quirk. I've tried everything short of ripping it out and installing a new one, and that was because I didn't have the parts." She flicked her head in irritation, causing the fat braid her hair was in to whip violently. "Sora would probably have better luck."

"Why were you expecting me to be here with the rest of Security?" Yoriko asked, causing A.C. to raise an eyebrow in curiosity.

"Noah's playing this close to his chest I see. You'll find out after the briefing I expect. Don't worry, everything's secured. Kasumi is keeping watch, and you won't need to go near that area to look at the transponder Sora." A.C. leaned over to kiss Sora's forehead. "Have fun. Yoriko, we have a briefing to go to. Care to lead the way, fair lady?" She hooked her arm for Yoriko to take.

"Th-this way." Yoriko stuttered, blushing badly, and moved off without taking A.C.'s arm. A.C. chuckled and followed, leaving an even brighter blushing Sora to make her way into the ship.

Walking into the room showed that Noah was looking slightly preoccupied. Of the rest, she had to assume they were the OGJ intel group. Natalie Baker seemed to be taking notes, and was probably the minutes taker, even if the meeting was going to be recorded. Which meant she probably knew what was going on better than most, but unfortunately A.C. didn't personally know her (even if s/he had wanted to back then and now). She didn't recognise the representatives of the Trekkies, Warsies, and Senshi (not that it mattered given the size of those factions), but she did recognise Susan Cole (some people had no imagination in A.C.'s opinion. In Susan's case, it was names she had problems with) from the Rangers scowling unconvincingly in the corner. No Wizards or Browncoats, which was odd. No Blue Blazers either, which was worse. At least she could pass it on through Fred when she talked to him. Of course the conspicuously normally dressed guy at the other side of the room was the Ninja.

He could have been the SOS-dan member, but they were sat at the head of the table with a nice helpful sign in front of them. The light smile on Mr Itsuki Koizumi's face made her itch to punch it.

~ Well, THIS'LL be fun. ~ A.C. mused to herself.

A.C.'s entrance to the room signalled the start apparently, as the muttering died down and everyone got their seats. Yoriko sat beside Noah and started taking another set of notes for him when he cleared his throat.

"Thank you for waiting, everyone. Unfortunately, we're it - I wanted a few other representatives here, but they're otherwise engaged. Let's get started - our guest has some disturbing information to share."

Susan muttered something rather rude under her breath which caused A.C. to smile.

"Nice to see you haven't lost your touch Susan." A.C. remarked, causing the Ranger and the Senshi to sit upright in surprise.

"As some of you have guessed," Noah continued, "This is A.C. Peters."

"Miss Peters, I've heard of you." Mr Koizumi observed.

"A lot of people have." A.C. shrugged. "Hence my changed appearance." She glanced at Noah.

"It's your show."

A.C. nodded.

"Just over a month ago, I was returning from a trade when a Boskonian shuttle jumped me. That wasn't much of a problem, but in fighting them off one idiot had to go and shoot Greenpeace."

Mr Koizumi looked around the table in puzzlement at the dark frowns on the other representatives.

"She's fine now, but needless to say that Darwin award winner is no longer with us. It also got me mad enough to take prisoners. That turned into a nightmare, but the important thing is while I was questioning them as to why they were so far off the beaten track I learned they were scouting a route for a transport. So I went out with Kasumi and intercepted it. What I found suggests the Boskonian and Zwilnik threat is far bigger than we thought." A.C. started ticking off points. "One, the ship they were using, which I've now claimed and is currently docked here, is definitely a fen built custom job. Her structure is recognizably Boskonian fashioned, with reinforcing everywhere. It looks from her layout she was put together by wet naval shipwrights. And she has a low quirk rate." A.C. looked around. "It's been no secret that the other side has better production capacity but we had the tech level advantage. If we've lost that advantage... Well, I hope no-one here has to have THAT spelled out to them." She moved on to the next point. "Two, she had two metric tonnes of Thionite aboard."

That brought a round of startled oaths surmounted by Natalie's explosive "What the FUCK?!?"

Noah's face looked grim - he'd had the same reaction when he'd initially read A.C.'s email. Mr Koizumi looked rather wild-eyed. The others had expressions of terrified shock on their faces.

Waiting for the initial outburst to clear, A.C. continued before they could interrupt.

"I have it all here if you'd like to see it. Adonis took samples, and it appears that all of it is from the same manufacturing batch."

"Holy Serenity, one batch?" The Senshi, a Captain by her insignia, gasped.

"Like I said, it's all here if you want to see. Anyway, cracking the records showed that this was listed as a Class B shipment, with the scale going to a possible Class A+."

There were no outbursts this time, but the looks on everyone bar Noah's faces had settled into one of numb horror.

"Three, while trying to find out where it came from, the head Boskonian implied that the loss of this shipment WOULD NOT MATTER. I don't know about you, but any organization that can shrug off the loss of two tonnes of Thionite, a high quality ship, and all the resources that had to have gone into them scares the hell out of me."

"Likewise." Noah agreed deadpan, grim look still on his face.

"Admittedly he may be lying, but... Four, there are notes in the computer records about the Crystal Osaka crash. They apparently found it very useful. Most ominously, 'It was a good job too.' is quoted in the notes. What that means..." A.C. shrugged. "Anyway, I have the ship's head Boskonian, the ship's engineer, and the Thionite aboard for you to work with. So they're yours, along with the dumps of the files." A.C. sat back. "How do you want them transferred?"

A.C. and Noah left the briefing room to discover Stellvia's chief pilot waiting for them. "A.C.! Sora told me you were here. I was hoping I'd get to see you before I had to leave."

"Hello, Yayoi. How have you been?"

"Good, thanks." Yayoi's cellphone beeped. "Oh, for... Sorry, I have to go - there's a Great Justice team waiting for me at the 'Blade." She stood on tiptoe and kissed A.C. on the cheek, then turned and ran off.

A.C. brought her hand up and touched the spot where she'd been kissed. "What in the Great Bird of the Galaxy was that for? I thought the girls were all in love with you."

Noah grinned. "Didn't you know? Yayoi's never been interested in guys, not that way at least. And she's always liked you."

"Suddenly I don't want to go to Oz today."

"She won't be back until next Tuesday, A.C." Noah put a hand on her arm. "I shouldn't have to say this to you of all people, but... She's a close friend and I don't want to see her hurt. Don't lead her on unless you're serious."

"No. You don't." Noah caught the expression of pain in A.C.'s eyes before she closed them and sighed. Opening them, she turned and looked at Noah.

"Noah, if I wasn't what I am I'd jump at the chance at someone like Yayoi. As it is, friends is probably the best we can hope for here." She snorted. "Unless I do something boneheaded. I may be a hyper-intelligent and cunning otherwise fully-functional combat cyborg with supposedly perfect memory Noah, but I'm only human. While my memory can be fixed with big enough reminders, relationships are far trickier. For Independence Sake, life's already complicated enough up here." She smiled wistfully. "Although I wouldn't have minded a friendly date. Ah well. And I'd better keep this from Greenpeace. The little minx has been trying to play matchmaker lately. Knowing her she's planning something with the Cyber I rescued from the first group. She obviously doesn't know about the fiancée he has back at Kandor."

She fixed Noah with a glare.

"And I'm too damn sober for this sort of talk. Do you know how hard it is to get drunk with this much 'Wave in you? Gah! And if I'm going to spout pseudo-wisdom on relationships I might as well go blue eyed and blonde and tie my hair up with a red bow. But I doubt YOU want to deal with all the Senshi that'll show up if I do. I'm trying to ignore the name they already call me, I don't want another! Or worse TWO! Or maybe all THREE of them! I'd look horrible in that dress! That happens and I SWEAR by the NORNS and their Infernal Step-Mother I'll stick you in a Lavender Tux and opera mask so you can share the torture along with me!"

"Good job I have drinks in my office then." Noah said nervously.

"Well?" A.C. slipped back into her German accent. "What are you waiting for?"

Noah suddenly imagined A.C. in SS style Dominatrix gear and shuddered.

~ I'm not going to be able to get that image out of my head for a month! ~ He thought sourly. Then he thought of her in an Asuka red plugsuit. ~ Or that. Damn the girls are going to kill me. ~

Thus he led the way to his office trying not to think of Unicycling Pink Elephants. And actually succeeding, much to his disappointment.

"So, what are you up to, now that you have a big ship to work with?" Noah asked, holding a beer while passing something stronger to A.C. He had to keep a clear head to go through the stack of OGJ reports on his desk later. (Paperless office? BAH!)

A.C. shrugged. "I was thinking about getting some supplies for some projects. I did think about offering secure field comms, but figured you guys would have that sorted."

"Hardly - we still use waved PDAs and suit radios. A single secure comms system for the field? I'd buy 500 right now."

"What do you need?" A.C. asked. "'Cause I could do anything from 'waved Bluetooth headsets to Trek-style comm-badges to wristwatch vid-comms. Depending on how general purpose you want them, I could have them tied into any network or supply nodes, modules or switches you could plug in anywhere."

"I don't like comm-badges - you can't work them when you're wearing a spacesuit. Unless you've got the bugs worked out of voice activation?" Noah scowled. "No, that's no good for covert ops. I like the wristwatch idea - I'm sure the video option will come in handy. And I can't be the only one who remembers the old Dick Tracy comics."

"Probably not." A.C. tossed the quad shot of Kohran's Moonshine back. "<cough> Damn, this has a good kick. Not as smooth as what Andy makes, but then he's trying for a good single malt. I'll see if I can bring some with me next time. I was also after some heavy workshop tools and equipment, cause I need to do some remodelling of the Stallion. I'll talk to Fred once I've figured out what'd be most useful. My plan is to hit Oz tomorrow, do some general shopping then place my orders. Get an email to me before 9AM Sydney time day after tomorrow and I'll see what I can do."

"I'll try." Noah glared at the damn paperwork on his desk. "Sometimes I wonder if it was worth it."

"Which 'it'? Lifting? Stellvia? Or are we talking about Operation: Learn Gooder Engrish?" That got a snort and a half-grin out of Noah, which A.C. figured was the best she'd get. "Yeah. When it started everyone was full of passion and what I'd term the Fen Zeal. Now? Passion has turned to vengeance and all we have left of the Fen Zeal is our bloody-minded stubbornness. The grind is getting to us. However, if the rest of the SOS-dan are like Mr. Koizumi then I'd seriously suggest we slip them out of direct OGJ control. I almost embarrassed myself enjoying the shocked look on that smug mug. My hands were just itching to punch his face in from the first moment I saw him. And that Haruhi's ability to convince people seems off to me, given what I've heard."

Noah scowled. "Koizumi's full of himself, and Kyon and Suzumiya aren't any easier to get along with in their own ways. If you must deal directly with the SOS-dan and you've got the choice, go through Asahina or Nagato. But please don't tell them I said that - I have enough problems with them already." Then he smiled an Abh smile that he'd had the occasion to steal from an elf who'd passed through. "Yeah, the look on Itsuki's face WAS rather enjoyable."

"That it was, By Crom. That it was. Speaking of things enjoyable, anything interesting come your way lately?"

"Not really. Except for this, things have become routine around here. Even Kohran's radio show is predictable nowadays, what with all the anti-Boskone propaganda in it."

"Radio show?"

"She's the star of the 'Red Lad' adventure serial. It keeps her too busy to blow stuff up, which helps keep things quiet." Noah paused for a second. "And boring."

"Boring in Fenspace. Never though it would happen." A.C. snorted. "Call me perverse, but the fact that someone can have a boring day rather tickles my fancy. The 'curse' is supposed to be 'May you live in Interesting Times' after all."

"Indeed," Noah acknowledged, taking a swig of his beer. "Still, being busy takes your mind off things. Like the girls not joining me for dinner."

"If she's got the prisoners and Thionite off the ship, Kasumi might be cooking something up for them. She can be annoyingly thoughtful at times. Besides, they probably want to catch up in person. Some sort of girls' night out."

"Leaving us with what? An evening date?"

"Oh, Greenpeace could only wish. No, I think not. If you don't mind Noah, I'd rather not have your ladies annoyed at me due to them thinking I'm poaching. I rather like having friends, so I'd rather keep what ones I have thanks. I'm quite certain one of the ladies has staked her claim on you as well, so no need to get nervous. Unless, of course, you're asking?"

Noah blinked twice. "No, I'm no Heinleinian. Like you said, I've already got a steady girlfriend. And I agree with you on the 'friends' part - I spent too long being shunned by half the factions to want to screw up a friendship that way." He downed his beer. "Damn, I wish I could have another. Too much paperwork," he grumbled.

"Then I'd better leave you to it, instead of distracting you with my problems." A.C. got up from her chair. "You thought about taking a holiday? The Forge is always open to you if you want to get away from things for a while. On the other hand I suspect I'm going to be fairly busy for a while."

"If I ever have time to take a holiday I'll probably go 'Dane-side - I still have relatives down there. But thanks for the offer. It's been good seeing you again."

"Same here, even if I would have liked it to be in better circumstances. We really ought to talk to each other more often. Without all the hubbub."

"It's a pity Yayoi can't be here. Oh my, I must remember to leave some recipes."

"Yeah, it is," said Kohran. "She said she wanted to know what you put in the sukiyaki that you had the last time she was at the Forge."

"Too bad about that OGJ job she had to go on," added Yoriko. I think she was working up to see A.C. about her feelings."

"Oh My! She likes A.C. like that?" Kasumi gasped in shock, before remembering her cooking and moving the food off the heat. "Oh Dear."

"It surprised me, too." answered Sora.

"What's wrong?" Kohran asked. "Does A.C. have someone?"

"Not as such, no." Kasumi sighed. "Oh my, this will be such a mess." Seeing the curious looks directed at her, Kasumi's entire demeanor turned serious. "A.C.'s very careful about who she gets that close to. With the amount of Handwavium in her body, she's afraid of biomodding someone by accident. Because of that she doesn't let herself have relationships like that, much to Greenpeace's disappointment."

Kasumi paused, and gestured to the table. Once everyone had sat down she continued in a lower voice.

"A.C. will let Yayoi down as gently as she can, and try to stay friends."

"But surely Yayoi and A.C. would be perfect for each other?" Kohran asked.

"Oh my, I'd think so too, but A.C. has decided that she'd rather have friends than lovers. She's very stubborn about that, and there are other issues."

"Other issues?" Sora asked. "Like problems with her biomod? I've always wondered how much she had to pay for being as stable as she is." Then she blushed and ducked her head. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to pry. It's just, she was flirting with Yoriko and me when we met her coming aboard."

"She was flirting with you?" Kasumi drew back in surprise. This quickly turned to cautious optimism. "Oh my how wonderful! Maybe all this sad business with the Boskonians has done some good. She must really like and trust you if she relaxed that much."

Kohran held in her giggles at Yoriko's and Sora's expressions as she blushed in sympathy with their rosy-cheeked looks of pleasant surprise. This turned into looks of total surprise as Kasumi offhandedly said:

"I wonder if she's come to terms with her bisexuality?"

"Her WHAT?" Yoriko asked in shock. "And I left her with Noah!"

"She won't jump him, even though I gather he's one of the few men she would if he asked. No, A.C. feels as though she'd be a threat if she allowed that."

"They're a lot alike that way." added Kohran.

Kasumi nodded. "And A.C. protects her friends, even from herself. The Accident severely messed with her biosystems. This, among other things, has left her both very sexually active and very actively bisexual. Oh my, if it wasn't for the fact Adonis and I were created soon afterwards as an instinctual reaction to her first quirk manifestations she'd have built some device to take care of those needs and we wouldn't be here right now. You have to understand, A.C. is a very private person in some ways. Having to go to someone else for help for something this personal hurts her."

"She must hate herself at times," Sora observed sadly.

Kasumi fixed each of her companions with a glare, reserving the fiercest for Yoriko. "Don't tell anyone else about this. A.C.'s just starting to build up her confidence to come back out into the Solar System long term rather than short trips and Conventions before hiding herself in Prometheus Forge. I think she's actually hoping for something to come up that will keep her actively traveling."

"We won't tell," said Sora. "Even if she doesn't really remember it, she is our mom, just like Noah's our dad. Don't piss off Mom and Dad, Yoriko."

"You know the rest of us don't think of them as our parents, Sora. But I'll keep my mouth closed too." Yoriko turned back to Kasumi. "What isn't there for A.C. and you to do?" she asked wryly. "The terraforming projects would sell their first-born to get you guys on side on a semi-permanent basis. I know Noah would hire you all in an instant, and not just because Greenpeace is with you. Oh, that came out wrong. Er... Great Justice would love a heavy combat team like you guys. Then there's the Senshi..."

"Don't go there," Kasumi warned in resigned amusement. "Oh my no, don't go there. The Senshi have offered everything from a full new estate and job as Secretary of Technology, to a Princesship, to a selection of their most beautiful Kamen and Senshi waiting on her hand and foot. Although that last seemed to be a hopeful group of Mars fen making a personal appeal."

"Really?" Kasumi couldn't help but giggle at the simultaneous question from her friends. Their near-identical expressions of interest made them seem so silly looking!

The three Stellvia residents flushed in embarrassment as they sank back into their seats.

"Shall I continue with the cooking?" Kasumi asked, smiling. Her smile widened slightly at their rapid nodding. "You know Sora, technically A.C. was your other Dad at the time. He'd probably have insisted you called him Uncle if you wanted to relate to him at the time."

Kohran snickered. "Talk about blowing the poor mundanes' brains. I can just see you doing that Sora, calling to A.C. over some poor mundane's shoulder and them turning around to see A.C. walk up in one of those revealing outfits she wears."

Yoriko was stifling a giggle. "There are women out there who'd kill for THAT biomod quirk. Kasumi? What's up with the disguise she was wearing?"

"Yeah." Sora agreed. "If it wasn't for her voice Yoriko and I wouldn't have known something was off. We probably wouldn't have recognized her if she hadn't dropped the German accent."

"Wow! She's that good?" Kohran asked. "Think she might be interested in appearing in a Red Lad show? She'd probably make a scarily good Crimson Lizard."

"Sorry Kohran. A.C. probably doesn't know the show exists, so that's most likely a no. She's not much for public performance. Greenpeace enjoys the show however. As to the disguise, oh my given what she was coming in with can you blame her? Besides, there are too many Senshi on the station and not enough places for her to hide."

"Makes our jobs easier too Yoriko." Sora pointed out.

"But then we can't pump the chase music over the P.A. speakers." Kohran playfully whined.

"And A.C. WOULD get you for that." Kasumi warned from the stove. "And she tends to her revenge."

Kohran gulped in fear. "No-one knows exactly how she got The Professor to back off when he wanted to examine Greenpeace." She remembered.

Sora and Yoriko paled. "Good point." Yoriko acknowledged.

"Before you ask," Kasumi interjected, "None of us know what truly happened as well. As it is, The Professor is remarkably calm around A.C. And there is this rumor that The Professor has or is on the verge of proposing to A.C."

The three of Noah's Angels' looked at each other and uttered the following simultaneously.

"Dear Lord."

"Of course that's insane." Kasumi noted, ignoring her companions' fear. "The Professor would never allow himself to be distracted from 'SCIENCE!' like that. And A.C. would have turned him down flat as nicely as possible if he had as well."

Yoriko, Sora, and Kohran swallowed.

"Good to know." Yoriko lied.

"Have any of you been down to Australia recently?" Kasumi asked. "Oh my, Yayoi would have been helpful here. I just wanted to know if there were any new shops down there?"

SS White Stallion, Avalon & Point Wilson Aerospace & Aqua port, Melbourne, Australia, Earth

Tuesday, April 16th, 00:19 GMT (10:19 AEST, UTC+10)

Settling to a stop at slip 107, A.C. muttered to herself "Home again, home again, gigity gig." At Kasumi's look she scowled. "Don't start. I KNOW I'm the wrong side of the planet for that. I KNOW I haven't seen my family for 5 years. Do you think they'd WANT to see me after The Accident? I sent them a letter, an actual physical letter with an actual physical photograph, after it happened. I haven't even had an EMAIL in two years!" She stopped and calmed down. "So I've sent emails every three months and they haven't bothered to reply. That gives me a bit of right to have problems with my family. Now, we're going to lock down the Stallion and break out the Thunder. Then we're going to drive out to the free trade zone's Shopping Centre and I'M going to have that vanilla ice cream raspberry cheesecake in the outdoor café in the sun and the fresh non-recycled air and not get embarrassed by pulling a 'When Harry met Sally'."

Kasumi gulped.

15:42 AEST (05:42 GMT)

The Head Office of Helios Holdings (Galactic) was located in the Avalon free trade zone in the Merlin Tower, one of the 'wavetech produced skyscrapers now dotting Australia. Here, in the south corner office of the forty second floor looking out across the bay to Point Wilson, sat the head of the leading organisation in Earth-based 'Wavetech. Mainly failing to do his paperwork due to the view.

The phone on his desk buzzed, causing him to return his attention to his paperwork with a sigh. Glaring at it for a moment he checked his phone and saw it was his secretary. He punched the intercom button.

"Yes Mrs Henderson?" He asked.

"Mr Ferdinand sir, She is here." Mrs Henderson was a forty year old happily married woman with a conservative disposition. Thus the description, while terse to the point of incomprehensibility, conveyed the identity of the visitors.

"Send them in Mrs Henderson." Fred Ferdinand, CEO of Helios Holdings (Galactic), told his secretary. He quickly tidied up his desk and stood up to greet his guests as the door opened.

A.C. was looking remarkably formal as she walked into Fred's office. She was wearing a bright scarlet strapless ankle-length dress slit scandalously high on her right side with the deeply plunging corset-bodice tied by a silver ribbon. This was matched by the silvery shimmering silk stockings held up by matching garters and opera-length fingerless gloves attached to the ring finger and her strap scarlet stilettos. And for the first time since he'd known her, she was wearing jewellery. Gold ruby rings attached the gloves to her hands, large gold bands inset with large oval red stones circled her ankles, thighs just under the tops of her stockings, wrists and tops of her gloves. A large gold torque was around her neck, again inset with a large oval red stone, dangling golden chains in a triangle pointing down the valley of her breasts. Dangling teardrop rubies hung from her ears, and a light gold chain arranged tiara-like dangled a smooth polished oval ruby over the exact centre of her forehead. The scarlet nails and lipstick with the silvery eye shadow finished the picture.

Kasumi looked almost plain following her in, if it wasn't for the blindingly white silk version of her normal outfit, delicately trimmed in gold.

Fred took a few moments to gape in awe before finding his voice.

"" He swallowed. "Wow! To what do I deserve this honour?"

"Kasumi hid everything else." A.C. said deadpan, glancing out of the corner of her eye at her happily beaming companion. "Good to see you again Fred. You're doing well. How's Janice?"

"Still working at BankWest. If you'd given me some notice you would be coming we could have arranged dinner." Fred, being the English gentleman he was, escorted his two guests to their chairs. "Can I offer you ladies a drink?"

"I'm fine thanks. Kasumi?"

"I'm good."

"So," Fred said as he sat down. "What can I do for you?"

A.C. pulled out a selection of DVDs (from where Fred was too polite to wonder) and placed them on the desk.

"The bad news is that I'm delivering these to the Institute. They're all the relevant files and a copy of the briefing I gave to OGJ yesterday on Stellvia."

"I see." Fred did see; if it involved A.C. herself bringing the files down it must be very serious. "I'll see Buckaroo gets these immediately."

"The good news is that I'll be placing some orders tomorrow. I'd thought I'd give you SOME notice this time."

"I wonder what you're up to." Fred smiled. "I suppose we can talk about it later. How long are you staying?"

"About four days. That should be enough time for things to get delivered."

"Plenty. And what are you going to do while you wait?"

"Not swimming." A.C. snapped out before Kasumi could speak.

"Oh my A.C., you haven't even tried to go swimming since The Accident."

"I'm a bit heavy for that these days. So are you technically."

Kasumi pouted.

"Although I probably should investigate my investments..."

"As of the end of last month, your mundane wealth currently rates as AS$ 6,467,354.29, or UK£ 3,001,865, before taxes. Liquid assets are UK£495,723." Fred interjected. "The Institute gives you a very nice nest egg, with all the medical equipment you've sent down. The UN is watching several cybertech developers, you and Winry among others, with respect to licensed cybertech. So there is a potential hundred million UK pound profit to be made from cybertech licensing as it currently stands. There are a lot of military veterans coming to the country to have new limbs fitted. The Yanks are upset as always, but given how much pull the veterans associations have there they can't really do anything about it as everything here is above board."

"Fred, you're scary sometimes." A.C. pointed out.

"Well, a little bird did tell me you might be in the area over the weekend. But I am keeping an eye on the cybertech licenses as the medical trials are coming to a close anyway. But we're getting off topic. What are you going to do while you wait for delivery?"

"Doing some light shopping. Checking out the latest tech. Stocking up on specialist materials." Here A.C. looked at Kasumi. "Maybe the latest movies. Normal stuff."

"Calling your family since you're on planet?" Fred asked, causing A.C.'s face to turn stony.

"They haven't responded to any emails I've sent in the last two years Fred, what does that tell you?"

"That they probably haven't been getting your emails." Fred told her. "Sorry, but we were not certain until last year. You've heard about bits of France dropping off the Internet last year I trust?"

"I heard about it, yes. At the time I thought some typical government contractor was doing maintenance on the lines to the nodes."

"It turns out that elements in the various western governments have been secretly using the anti-'wave laws to illegally spy on people. When several employees from various research establishments suddenly found their emails going missing, people started looking at possible industrial espionage. One of the Blazers volunteered to be bait, and the merry chase is what caused those blackouts. It seems they also managed to track down the 'wavenet relay nodes and intercept them. We're not sure what filters they used, but at least some domains were totally blocked. The final reports on the investigations and trials should be in next week. The various governments have been keeping it quiet. A few days after that... Well, Indiana will hear the screams."

Kasumi shot an ominous look at A.C., who ignored it.

"Would your guy in OGJ have known this?" A.C. asked, tense.

"No. We've been keeping it low key." Fred looked at the disks on his desk, then back at his guests. "This THAT bad?"

"Worse." A.C. sighed. "Now I need another piece of this morning's cheesecake. Sorry to put a damper on your day. We'd better be going."

"I understand." Fred said, standing and escorting them to the door. "Do keep in touch. We might be able to arrange dinner before you leave."

"Oh my, I hope so." Kasumi smiled.

"If we can." A.C. acquiesced. "Look after yourself Fred."

After they left, Fred sat back at his desk and stared at the horizon for a couple of minutes. Then he got out his Go phone and hit speed-dial #1. It picked up after one ring.

"Buckaroo, it's Fred. We need to meet. ASAP."

Sunday, April 21th 2013, 04:22 AM GMT

Prometheus Forge, Main Medical Bay

Dave Lister looked up from his bed as the door to the med bay opened, and a woman he hadn't seen here before but recognised easily came in. It wasn't hard (once his head was screwed on straight) to figure out where he was, given his nurse.

"Miss M'Zak. Nice to see you finally."

"Sorry, I've been busy." A.C shrugged distractingly. "Mostly because of things that you got us involved in. And A.C. is fine." She grabbed a medical tricorder and started running the 'saltshaker' over him. "Well, it looks as though the detox is coming along better than we hoped. It looks like you can go home in about two weeks; less if you keep this up."

"Cool. I can't wait to have a proper curry."

"I'll get Kasumi to make you one. Hot, Scorching, or Thermonuclear?"

"Can I get 'Eats through armour plate'?" Dave asked.

"Kasumi will be up to the challenge. I don't think she's had a request like that." A.C. finished the scan. "We'll get you on full physiotherapy tomorrow, so you'll note that your legs will be a bit different. Don't worry, I've just done their 20,000 mile service. I've also tweaked some of the systems, but given how good they were anyway, not as much as I'd feared." As Dave relaxed, A.C. noted, "I mean, I knew I did good work even in the early days when I fitted them, but they lasted better than I hoped."

The look of astonishment on Dave's face would amuse A.C. no end for weeks.