By Angus MacSpon
Sailor Moon 4200 Home Page
Based on "Sailor Moon" created by Naoko Takeuchi
Artemis took a quick glance around to make sure nobody was watching, then scrambled out of the rubbish bin. Some of the trash shifted as he jumped, and he landed in a most undignified manner. Truth to tell, he rather enjoyed it.
It was funny, but since Bendis had left he'd been feeling a lot more relaxed. He hadn't realised how tied-down he'd felt, having to look after a much younger cat. How much the responsibility had changed him, sobered him. Now that she was gone, he felt positively buoyant. Free.
Easy, he reminded himself. The whole reason you're here is to find her again, remember.
It was almost a pity, though.
With a sigh, he sat down and began to wash himself. He had checked the emergency rendezvous, the Olympus gymnasium, and spoken with the owner; but Itsuko had seen no sign of Bendis. Here, the alley where the two of them had parted, was the only other place she was likely to go.
My fault. I never taught her the list of rendezvous points. Just the emergency contact, in case anything happened to me… But of course, there had been no reason to teach her the other points, not yet. He hadn't expected the two of them to part ways for another year or two.
He looked around the alley glumly. Rubbish bins were all very well for a bit of fun, but it wasn't how he'd want to live.
I'll wait here for a while. A few days. If she doesn't show up by then, I'll…
He did not complete the thought. If Bendis didn't show up within a few days, he had no idea what he'd do.
Kitada Masao was walking into the Olympus when he noticed a new sheet placed prominently on the notice-board. It looked official. With a sinking feeling, he walked over to take a look. Please, not another membership hike, he thought. It's only been a few months since the last one.
It wasn't a membership hike. To his amusement, it was a "lost" notice about somebody's missing cat. And on management stationery, even. He wondered who'd had the nerve to put it up. Pappadopoulos-san was going to have a fit when she saw it.
He went on in and spent the next ninety minutes on his daily workout. For some reason, the notice about the cat seemed to keep coming back to him. It was puzzling. He didn't even like cats.
He showered and changed back to his street clothes. On his way out, he checked the notice again. This time, the oddity registered.
…tabby cat…circular scar on its forehead…
Scar on its forehead? Now where had he seen that before?
Then, with a sudden shock, he remembered. The regular weekly briefing sheet that he'd received, just yesterday. He'd scanned it, as always, and tossed it out. There'd been nothing there that concerned him, he'd thought. Now it seemed he'd been wrong.
It was most irregular, but he rushed home instead of returning to work. He'd make up some kind of excuse later. The sheet was still there, in the bin. (He was supposed to have them shredded, or burned, or disposed of in some secure manner, but he never bothered.)
Cats with odd, regular scars on their heads? What did 'S' Division want with cats? Somebody must have flipped.
But there it was, in black and white. And a contact code.
Masao hesitated. Four years ago, signing up as an Irregular agent with 'S' Division had been a joke. Lots of people did it—though they weren't supposed to discuss it, of course. The monthly payment wasn't much, but it was like money for nothing. All he had to do was attend an occasional weekend workshop—most of them were pretty interesting anyway—and of course report it if he ever saw or heard anything that affected national security. How was he supposed to take that seriously?
He never actually had anything to report, of course.
Until now. He looked at the poster again glumly. It wasn't a joke any more.
Get it over with, he told himself. With a sigh, he picked up the commset and called it in.
Bendis prowled through the grounds, trying to think. Somewhere at this school, there was a Senshi. But she didn't know who. She'd heard the girl speak; she'd felt her touch for a moment…but she'd never seen her face. Never heard her name. How to pick her out, one girl out of hundreds?
Artemis could have done it, she thought morosely. Artemis could have felt the girl from a distance and homed in, just like that. But she didn't have that kind of skill, that kind of sensitivity. She'd have to be right up close, almost touching.
After all, as Artemis was entirely too fond of pointing out, she didn't have the years—hell, the centuries—of experience he had. The first-hand knowledge. Or the…the purity.
Maybe I should go back and get him, she thought glumly. I did find her first, after all. He'd have to give me credit for that.
Sure he would.
"Damn," she muttered. Of course, if she went back, she'd have to face another lecture. Another long, boring speech about their mission, their great responsibility, the sacred trust, and all the other dreary old talk he loved to spout. And he actually meant it, too; that was the worst part. He had actually spent the last seven hundred years searching for someone he wasn't even sure existed.
Oh, she supposed she believed it too, when it came right down to it. The fact that she could talk (in spite of everything) had to mean something. But…that kind of devotion, the level of dedication that he expected her to live up to…it drove her mad. Finally, it had driven her away. And now, just when she'd been beginning to think she could make it on her own, she had to go back?
"Damn it," she said again. "Damn, damn, damn."
She heard a gasp. She looked up, far too late. There was a young boy there, about twelve, staring at her, his mouth wide open. Oh, no, she'd been talking to herself again, how many times had Artemis warned her about that? And now it was too late.
Maybe it wasn't too late…
She mewed and then stalked toward him, rubbed against his leg. Purred a little. I'm just an ordinary cat. See how ordinary I can be. Rubbed past his leg again, then strolled away without looking back, sat down and began to wash—
"You talked," he said softly. She couldn't help herself; she twitched an ear and looked up sharply. There was wonder in his face, and…delight? "I heard you talk. You even got the mark on your forehead." He stepped closer, and she got up quickly, poised to spring away. "It's supposed to be a crescent moon, though."
No good. Damn, damn, damn. He had her dead to rights. Another blasted Queen-Serenity-and-her-Senshi fan. Probably watched the anime, even had the figurine set. It was no good trying to fool him; he was young enough to believe in magic. He wanted to believe.
"Beat it, kid," she said. "I haven't got time for this." Then she took off, at a dead run. The bushes were only a few seconds away. She heard him gasp, heard him come after her, much too late. Losing him was effortless.
Have to be careful now, she thought, furious with herself. The kid will talk. Worse still, he'll be on the lookout for me. Artemis is going to have a fit when I tell him—
On the other hand, maybe Artemis didn't have to be told.
And maybe, just maybe, she didn't have to go and find Artemis at all. Maybe she could find the mystery Senshi herself…if she had an ally. Someone who was predisposed to help her. Someone who knew the school. Someone who could ask the right questions.
He sat under a tree, grumbling to himself. Why did she have to run away like that? He wasn't going to hurt her. He just wanted to talk to her. Hear her answer. Just…to know that it was real. To touch the magic.
But she ran away. And she was rude. The Moon Cats weren't supposed to be rude. He knew. He watched them all the time on the viddy. They were supposed to be wise and gentle and help people…
"Why aren't you in class, kid?"
He looked around wildly. Then he looked up. The cat was standing on a tree-branch up above him, staring down. The white circle on her forehead seemed to stand out of the shadows.
"You came back!" he burst out. "Please, I won't hurt you. I just want to—"
"Why aren't you in class?" the cat asked again.
He hung his head. "I fell asleep. Sensei told me to go stand in the hall."
"So you came outside instead?"
"Well—" He waved his hand around, trying to indicate the—well, the whole world. The futility and the boredom of school, when there was so much outside. He'd be in trouble later, but for now there was sunshine and trees and talking cats…
To his surprise, the cat laughed. "Fair enough. What's your name, kid?" She stepped forward delicately, poking her head out of the leaves and into the sunshine. Almost close enough to touch.
"Hideo. Kawatake Hideo."
"Hmm. All right, Kawatake Hideo. How would you like to lend me a hand with something…?"
Within two hours of Masao's call, the report was on Colonel Shiro's desk at 'S' Division headquarters. Shiro glanced through it quickly, then took a moment to examine the attached file.
This cat-search directive was driving the switchboard operators mad, he knew. Along with most of the rest of 'S' Division. Nobody knew why someone high-up had gone soft in the head about cats, but the directive had come from a long way upstairs, so it had to be treated seriously. No matter how insane it was.
Cat reports had come flooding in almost as soon as the briefing sheet went out to the Irregulars. Most of them could be eliminated from consideration immediately; but that was to be expected from Irregular reports. Less than thirty reports were actually sent up for further investigation.
The report from Kitada Masao headed the list on Shiro's desk. Partly it was because of the very definite nature of the report: not a half-remembered sighting of an odd-looking cat, but a firm description of a sign on a notice-board. And partly it was because his file showed that Kitada had never reported anything before. That made it a little more likely that he had something genuine to say now.
Shiro read the report again, more slowly this time. Then he called in his ADC.
"This Kitada sighting," he said without preamble. "Can we confirm it?"
"I've got someone on it now," said the ADC, Lieutenant Midori: a heavy-set young man with short, curly black hair. "We should have a report back within half an hour."
"That sign worries me," Shiro said thoughtfully. "It could just be a simple lost-pet notice. But Kitada says it was on official stationery. That suggests that someone else might know something."
"Sir…" Midori began hesitantly. Shiro looked up, his bushy eyebrows raised. Midori gave his lips a quick, nervous lick and said, "I don't understand. Why are we looking for cats, anyway? It seems like, well, an odd thing for 'S' Division to be doing."
"A waste of our time?" Shiro suggested, not unkindly. Midori nodded. Shiro sighed. "To tell the truth, Lieutenant, I don't know either. All I know is that the order came down from high-up. Very high up."
Midori nodded, his eyes widening a fraction. That meant the Serenity Council. "A lost pet, maybe? But why not give it to 'P' Division?"
"And yet they pass it to Security, not Police. I know. There's obviously something special about the cat. An experimental animal, perhaps."
"Escaped from 'Q'?"
They both laughed. 'Q' Division was an old joke in the Security forces; something out of an old book. It was supposed to be the group that designed and built high-tech gadgets and weapons for 'S' Division agents. It didn't actually exist, of course. What equipment they did have—far less than the public thought—came from 'M' Division, the Council's maintenance arm.
"Well, whatever the reason," Shiro said, "we're stuck with it. When you hear back about that notice, let me—"
Midori's comm buzzed. "Excuse me," he said. "That may be it right now." He thumbed the comm and read the waiting message. Then, nodding, he said, "The notice is confirmed, sir. It matches our description very closely, right down to the scar on the forehead."
"Very well." Shiro thought for a moment, running a hand through his thick white hair. "There are at least four possibilities. It may all be a fantastic coincidence, of course. Or, who knows? The cat's real owner may be there at the gym, looking for it. Or the notice could be put up by one of our own Irregulars, trying to get information. Or—" he gave Midori a sharp glance "—we could be competing with someone else. If the Sankaku clans know we're after a cat, they might decide it'd be useful to find it first."
"Right. Put a team of Regulars on it. Good undercover men. They're to watch the gymnasium, find out who placed the notice—you know the drill."
"Yes, sir. Any particular cover?"
"Let the team leader decide. Oh, and activate the Irregular who saw the notice—what was it? Kitada Masao—and have him work with the team."
"I'm sure he'll be delighted," Midori murmured blandly.
"Hell, he knew what he was signing up for. It's not likely to take more than a few days, anyway."
Midori nodded and marched out. He was trying to hide a grin, and Shiro sighed. His ADC could have a nasty sense of humour sometimes, and he suspected that Kitada Masao was not going to be a happy man.
"I think I found them," Hideo said excitedly. They were crouched down in a stand of bushes at the edge of the school grounds. Bendis kept a close lookout as she listened. It was lunch-time, and there were kids everywhere. If any of them came too close, she had to be ready to fall back into her I'm-an-ordinary-cat routine.
"Good news," she said noncommittally. The boy was enthusiastic, but she'd wait to see for herself before getting excited. "You're sure? Three people named Iku, Nana-chan and Eitoku-kun?"
Hideo pulled out a rather crumpled bit of paper. Clearing his throat importantly, he read, "Higoshi Nanako, Shiomi Eitoku and Kodama Iku. Those were the only ones I could find who—"
"All right. What class are they in? No, wait, they'll be outside at the moment. Where do I find them?"
Hideo told her. She listened to him chatter, thinking hard. She hadn't mentioned the fourth person to the boy, of course, the one she was really interested in. She didn't trust him that far. But the three whose names she knew would lead her to the fourth. To the Senshi.
"All right," she said at last. "I'll check them out. You can go back and finish your lunch, kid. Thanks."
"All right," he said. He sounded disappointed. "Can't I help, Luna? Maybe if I—"
"What did you call me?"
Hideo seemed taken aback. "Luna. That's your name, isn't it? I saw it on the viddy. You and the Queen and all the Sailor Senshi…"
Bendis groaned. "Get real, kid! That was a long time ago. I wasn't even born then!" With a sigh, she tried to take on a more reasonable tone. "Look, kid…Hideo. Luna's dead. She died in the Great Fall, seven hundred years ago, just like all the others. You must know about that, right?"
Reluctantly, he nodded. Then: "But on the viddy it said—"
He fell silent obediently. With a sigh of relief Bendis turned to go. But before she'd taken more than a single step he burst out, "But then where did you come from?"
She hesitated. Well, really, what did it matter? "Luna was my great- grandmother, kid. My name is Bendis. All right?"
She turned to leave again, but of course he managed to slip in another question. She was beginning to appreciate why Artemis sometimes seemed so impatient with her.
"Are there really no more Senshi, then?" he asked.
"Don't count on it," she said without thinking. And that really was too much. She took off before he could ask anything else.
There were quite a few people in the area of the school grounds that Hideo had described, but it didn't take Bendis long to find the ones she wanted. A group of two girls and a boy; there weren't too many of those. She tried three groups before she recognised a voice.
So. She took a look at the three before approaching them. It took a moment to tell which girl was which, until one of them spoke. Nanako's voice was unmistakable: bright, bubbly, and none too intelligent. She was tallish, with shoulder-length black hair; her face was rather plain and broad but she had an infectious grin that she wore constantly as she talked, which seemed to be most of the time.
The other girl had to be Iku. She was about the same height as Nanako, but was otherwise a complete contrast: lean but not bony, with a thin, sharp face and wary brown eyes. Her skin was darker than the other two's: a dusky golden shade. Her black hair was braided, falling half- way down her back. She listened to Nanako chatter, her face absorbed, but seldom spoke herself.
Finally, Eitoku: skinny, a little below average height, with a squarish, rather serious face and a crew-cut that really didn't suit him. A pair of reading glasses hung around his neck on a fine silver chain. He glanced up as Bendis approached the trio and gave a quick smile that seemed to transform his face.
"Well, well," he said. "Back for more, eh?"
"What are you talking about?" said Nanako, looking around quickly. "Oh, it's the kitty! Why did you run off before, you silly thing?"
Bendis strolled up to her, delicately sniffed the outstretched hand, and butted her head against it, purring. It was so degrading, she thought in a burst of self-pity. But in a good cause…
To her disgust, Nanako picked her up and started cooing over her. "Ohh…did the nasty girl give you a fright?" she said in a sickly-sweet baby-voice. Bendis wanted to be sick. It was very gratifying to see that the others seemed to feel the same way.
Iku winced. "Nana-chan," she protested.
"I was just eating," muttered Eitoku. "But now, I think I'll give it a pass…"
"Nobody loves me," Nanako lamented. "But you do, don't you, neko- chan?" She cuddled Bendis a little closer. Bendis managed to keep on purring, with an effort.
"What's that mark on its forehead?" wondered Eitoku.
Iku craned her head to look. "Some kind of scar," she suggested.
"Oohhh…" Nanako reached out and touched it gently. Bendis was careful to wince as if it were painful. If they thought of her mark as a scar, they were much less likely to associate her with her ancestor. "Yes, I think it's sore."
"Well, don't go touching it then," Eitoku suggested dryly. "I think the poor thing's had enough for today, what with you poking at it, and the way McCrea-san hurt it earlier."
"Don't you be nasty! Beth-chan didn't hurt it! She just startled it, that's all."
Bendis pricked up her ears, suddenly paying much closer attention. That was the Senshi they were talking about; it had to be. But…'Beth'? That's an odd name.
"Oh, come on. I know you always stick up for her, Nana-chan, but you saw how it took off when she touched it. She didn't just startle it. I think maybe she pinched it, or something."
"Beth-chan wouldn't do something like that! Why are you always so nasty to her?"
"Well, I don't like her. Those Clavers are always so stuck-up, thinking they own everything—"
"Beth's not like that!"
"Oh, no? Tell me she's not stuck up, when she's always sneaking around, sucking up to the teachers, and spying on people—"
"Spying on people?" Nanako sounded genuinely bewildered.
"Yes! Everywhere I go, it seems like she's there, trying to hide, always watching me out of the corner of her eye, and pretending to look away when I notice!"
There was a long pause. Iku covered her mouth with her hand and looked away quickly.
"I, um, don't think spying is what she's doing," Nanako said carefully. Eitoku shot her a suspicious glance. She looked as if she were trying not to laugh, for some reason.
"What do you mean?" he demanded. "What else would she be—look! There she is, right now! She's doing it again! See for yourself!"
They all looked. Bendis managed to squirm around in Nanako's arms just in time to catch a quick glimpse of a girl shrinking guiltily out of sight behind a tree.
"There, you see?" insisted Eitoku. "Tell me she isn't snooping around now!"
Nanako made a peculiar choking sound. For a moment, her arms loosened. Seizing the chance, Bendis wriggled free and dropped to the ground, then started to walk away slowly. Nanako made a half-hearted grab at her, then gave up and began to lecture Eitoku. The effect was rather spoiled by the way she kept giggling.
Bendis made her way gradually toward the tree Beth was hiding behind, taking a path that she hoped would seem fairly random to anybody watching. At last she was able to duck into some bushes, and then head directly for her goal.
At the same time, she was thinking: A Claver? That was unexpected. But the name, McCrea Beth, sounded right; and the glimpse she'd caught before made it clear that the girl was of enclave stock. 'McCrea'…now is that a Finnish name, or Swedish? She tried to remember what Artemis had told her—
The Great Fall came in the year 3478. The attack was unexpected, and devastating. Civilisation toppled almost overnight, all over the world. Crystal Tokyo held out for a time, but finally it too was brought low. Then in the wake of the first disaster came a second, even more terrible.
Suddenly, all modern crystal technology had stopped working. Nobody knew why, or cared; they were too busy simply trying to stay alive to worry about such things. Tens of millions had died in the Fall; now, billions more followed. The Second Dark Age began.
Here and there, pockets of light remained. A paltry few communities, scattered across the globe, struggled to hold on to the remnants of technology. Those that succeeded usually did so because they had access to ancient printed books, rather than the modern crystal-readers that no longer worked. These enclaves preserved a few vestiges of the great civilisation of the Crystal Millennium, and of the memory of those who fell in its defence: Queen Serenity and her warrior-companions.
As the years—the centuries—rolled by, one by one the enclaves began to fail. Some of them simply died out; others fell to attack by the have-nots. The dark is ever envious of the light.
A little over six hundred years after the Fall, everything changed again. An enclave in India, one of the last few remaining, sent a scouting expedition—by refitted sailing ship—to the ruins of Crystal Tokyo. What the expedition discovered there astonished them.
They set up a base to study what they had found. Their activities soon began to attract attention from Japanese survivors. Until then the locals had shunned the ruins of the city; but now, they were attracted by the sight of a ship…and by the lights that began to burn amid the ruins.
Within a year or two, the expedition found that a small town was coming into existence around them. It was the foundation of a city reborn, a new Tokyo: Third Tokyo. Small at first, but rapidly growing.
Ninety-eight years later, civilisation was stretching out to cover most of the world again; and Third Tokyo was the centre of that world. Most of her people were Japanese, of course; but a sizeable proportion were descended from the folk of the surviving enclaves, drawn to the reborn city to study, to learn—and to build. Today, a full third of the population came from the enclaves, or were descended from Clavers. The city was a world in microcosm—
The girl saw that the ones she'd been watching had noticed her, and hurried away. Bendis followed her silently through the trees.
So this was the new Senshi? Enclave stock, beyond a doubt, but she did look like she had some Japanese blood; perhaps a parent or grandparent. She had shoulder-length, slightly curly, light brown hair and green eyes. Average height; pale skin. She looked unhappy.
And she was unquestionably a Senshi. Twice, Bendis got close enough to be certain.
The girl stopped moving at last, pulled a book out of her satchel, and began to read. Bendis managed to sneak a glance at it. Poetry of some kind. Bendis settled down to watch her, and to think.
All right. The long, long search was over. The Senshi were returning at last, and Beth seemed to be the first. That left only one question: which Senshi was she?
Masao sat up straight at his desk and stretched with a groan. As he'd expected, his supervisor had been deeply unhappy with his long absence from work. Of course, Masao hadn't been able to tell her why he'd gone home instead of coming straight back from the gymnasium; and of course that only made it worse. The rather feeble excuse he'd come up with had not gone down well. He was having a very bad day.
He wondered if he dared go and get another coffee. The last time he'd left his desk (it had only been for a lavatory break) Sachiko had given him a glare that would have impressed a drill sergeant. And she was usually so easy to get along with.
His commset buzzed. He picked up the mobile unit. "Hello?"
"Yes, Kitada here."
"Your uncle Tomiji sends his regards."
"My—? I don't have an uncle Tomiji." It did sound vaguely familiar, though. Where had he heard that name before?
There was a pause. Then the voice said, "Your uncle Tomiji from Shikoku."
"But I don't know anyone in Shi—oh. Oh!" Suddenly the 'S' Division protocols he was supposed to have memorised came back to him. Puzzled, and slightly apprehensive, he groped for the right response. "Ah, yes, and how is Aunt, er, Kyoto? I mean, Kyoko?"
Another, longer pause. "This is just too painful for words. Look, can you speak freely?"
Masao took a quick glance around. "Er. Yes."
"Right. You're being activated. Get down to the Olympus right away. There'll be a team waiting there for you. They'll tell you what you need to know."
There was a sigh. Then the message was repeated, word for word. Perhaps that was what finally convinced him that he wasn't having a nightmare. This time, the voice added, "You ought to hurry."
It took a few moments to sink in. Then he realised the horrible truth. He'd thought he'd been having a bad day before. He hadn't dreamed just how bad a day could get.
Activated. He couldn't believe it. Of course, he'd known it could happen; he'd known that it was technically possible. But it never did happen. Everyone knew that. 'S' Division Irregulars were simply paid informers. They lived perfectly normal lives; they worked for a living like everyone else did…and they reported in if they saw anything that Security was interested in. Oh, yes, they knew that they could be called up—activated—to serve full-time if the circumstances required it. That was what the refresher workshops every three months were for. But the circumstances never did require it. That was how it worked.
That was how it was supposed to work.
"But…but…but…" He was gabbling. He sounded like an idiot. He closed his mouth before he could say "but" again. "How long will this take?" he asked plaintively.
"Probably only a few days," the voice told him. It didn't sound very sympathetic. Actually, it sounded as if it were enjoying itself. "But it could be a couple of weeks or more."
A couple of weeks. Or more. He tried to picture Sachiko's face when he told her that. It wasn't a pretty sight.
"But what am I going to tell my supervisor?" he whined. He sounded pathetic. He knew it. He felt pathetic.
The voice chuckled. "Use your initiative," it said, and hung up.
Masao buried his face in his hands. Life was hell. You spotted a lost- cat poster and suddenly everyone was out to get you. That was 'S' Division for you. He sighed heavily, got up, and started to walk toward the door, hanging his head. Things just couldn't get any worse that this.
Things got worse. "Oh, Masao-chan?" said a voice sweetly. He turned and saw Sachiko, beckoning to him. She was smiling. He'd never realised just how menacingly she could smile.
"Er…yes?" he said helplessly.
"Just where do you think you're going?" she inquired. She bared her teeth and snarled. No, that was just his imagination. She was still smiling. But it certainly seemed like she was baring her teeth and snarling.
His thoughts whirled crazily. Use your initiative, the man had said. He needed an excuse. A good excuse, something convincing. Something that anyone would agree meant he had to leave at once. Something that even Sachiko would have to accept. And quite suddenly, like a dream, it came to him.
"Good-bye," he said, and ran for it.
Elsewhere in the city:
In an alley in the business district, a white cat finished eating a lump of half-rotten meat (hardly noticing the taste; he'd eaten much worse before), found a spot that was out of the wind, curled up, and closed his eyes. Artemis slept, and dreamed of happier days; of the best friend he'd ever had; of a girl named Minako.
Elsewhere in the city:
Pappadopoulos Itsuko finished adding up a column of figures, sat back in her chair, and sighed. Day after day, year after year, it just went on and on. The Queen's line was ended, there could be no redemption this time; and so what was the point any more? Itsuko was thousands of years old, and sometimes she felt so tired of it all that she wanted to weep. And as she often did at times like this, she locked her office door, touched the series of contact points on the wall, stepped through the hidden door that swung silently open—and knelt down in the little room beyond, and bowed her head before the sacred fire. The fire that had once burned in her grandfather's temple long ago; the fire that she had brought out of the ruins of Crystal Tokyo; the fire that, in more than two thousand years, had never gone out. Itsuko prayed.
Elsewhere in the city:
The Darkness slumbered. For a little while longer.
McCrea Beth walked home. Bendis followed her.
Bendis was watching the girl very closely. She was waiting for the right moment. The perfect opportunity. The moment to strike. Bendis had a plan.
She had finally worked out how to tell which Senshi Beth was. It was really very simple. She remembered what Artemis had told her once, in one of his endless repetitions of the stories about the Good Old Days. It was back when Luna had first discovered that Mizuno Ami was a Senshi. There'd been some kind of attack going on; Ami had been grabbed by some monster or other; and the symbol for Mercury appeared on her forehead.
Apparently it had been the same with the other Senshi, too. A moment of peril, and the symbol appeared. Well, that sounded simple enough.
Bendis was looking out for ways to put Beth in danger.
They walked down the street. Beth was going slowly; she seemed to be off in some kind of daydream. Bendis began to get impatient. This could take forever! Then, finally, she saw what she was looking for.
Start small, she thought. After all, she didn't want to get the girl hurt…well, not unless she had to.
She leaped up onto the wall that ran alongside the pavement and ran quickly ahead. There were a few loose stones there. She eyed them uncertainly. Were they big enough? Too big? Then, as Beth drew near, she made up her mind, aimed, and knocked one of them with her paw. And watched Beth's face intently.
No change. Dammit. All right, maybe that wasn't dangerous enough. What next?
Suddenly she realised that Beth was staring up at her. She tensed.
"Bad kitty!" Beth said, rubbing her head, and walked on.
Bendis followed once more, thinking hard. This was going to be trickier than she'd thought. If Beth kept on seeing the same cat, getting her into trouble again and again, she was bound to get suspicious. Bendis would have to be more…subtle.
She grinned in anticipation. Up ahead, she could see another perfect opportunity already.
McCrea Beth walked home. She was bruised, dirty, scratched, bumped, battered, tattered, aching in a large number of places, and very, very puzzled. This was turning out to be quite a strange day. Quite a painful one, too.
She wondered if being accident-prone was like a disease: if you could suddenly catch it.
The really odd part was that so many of the accidents she was having seemed to involve cats. For example, there was the large, savage dog that had suddenly appeared, chasing after a small tabby-cat; she'd been knocked over, but fortunately the dog had ignored her and followed the cat. And there was the bicycle; she was almost certain she'd heard a hiss, just before it suddenly swerved and crashed into her. Then there were the old wooden boxes that had been piled up beside a shop; she could have sworn she'd seen a small, dark shape leaping into them, right before they all came down on her in a heap. And the two men who'd been carrying a large, heavy-looking crate; something had tripped one of them up, right as she walked past.
On the other hand…surely cats couldn't be blamed for everything. Surely? The flowerpot that fell out of a window above her, now; that could just as easily have been a curtain, blowing in the wind. And she didn't see how a cat could get hold of ice, though it was certainly odd that there'd been so much of it scattered on the pavement, just as she walked around a corner.
She walked on, thinking about it and rubbing some of her sorer spots absently. She was almost through the local shopping district; home was only a few minutes away, and there she would, presumably, be safe. And then—
Her leg struck something (something suspiciously furry), and she yelped and fell sprawling—thinking: Oh, no, not again!—flat on her face. She rubbed her bruised nose, sighed, and looked up. There was something moving, up above her—
With a squawk of pure panic, she rolled frantically to one side, getting out of the way barely in time before the piano hit, just where she'd been lying. The noise wasn't even faintly musical. A few splinters struck her, but she was otherwise unharmed.
Now this is just getting silly, she thought hazily, climbing slowly to her feet. Whoever heard of being hit by a falling piano, of all things?!
—On impulse, she glanced around. And—yes!—there was that cat again, staring at her. Somehow, absurdly, it seemed disappointed. With a laugh, she reached down and picked it up before it could get away. It reminded her of the cat she'd seen that morning at school. But that cat had run away when she'd touched it. This one had a funny mark on its forehead, a white circle.
It struggled in her arms, jumped down, and ran away. She sighed. She just didn't seem to be having any luck with cats today. She started on her way again, then paused and glanced back.
The cat had stopped some distance away. It was watching her. Probably to see if she was chasing it, she thought, and laughed. The way it stood there, with its head cocked on one side and its eyes half-closed, it looked exactly as if it were deep in thought.
Then she heard the engine-sound, and she realised. Her eyes widened in horror. The cat had stopped in the middle of the road.
"No! Look out!"
—The truck's horn buzzed, deafeningly loud—
—The cat looked around, and froze—
—And Beth took one quick breath and made a flying leap—
Time seemed to slow down in mid-air. She saw everything with crystal clarity. The cat, its eyes enormous, unable to move, staring up at the oncoming truck. Only a few metres away now. The truck driver, pounding his horn and shouting, and suddenly noticing the girl; his own eyes widening as he wrenched at the steering bar. The hum of the engine and the subdued roar of the cooling system, far too close—no, right on top of her, she wasn't going to make it—
A tingling, burning sensation on her forehead.
She grabbed the cat, hit the road and rolled. The truck roared past, missing her by centimetres, and lurched to a stop some distance ahead. The driver had swerved just in time. She lay there, panting, for a few seconds, unable to move. The cat in her arms was staring up at her.
She heard shouts. Footsteps approaching. She took a deep breath and sat up. A few new bruises and scrapes, that was all. The driver ran up to her; she saw the relief in his eyes. Then, of course, he got angry. She supposed she couldn't blame him for that.
She spoke to him, reassured him that she was unhurt, and apologised humbly for her rashness. Then, quite calmly, she picked up her satchel and started for home again. The cat was still in her arms; it wasn't trying to run now.
Half-way there, reaction set in and she had to stop for a few minutes and sit down, shuddering. After a while she could move again.
Nobody was home when she arrived. She let herself in, went into her bedroom, put the cat down, dropped her satchel and began to get changed. Her school uniform was filthy, and it was going to need mending as well. She winced. What was her mother going to say?
Something drew her eyes to the cat. It was standing there, staring at her, as if waiting to get her full attention.
The day got even stranger.
The cat sprang up and did a backflip. Cats couldn't do that, could they? And at the peak of its jump something seemed to appear in mid-air, out of nowhere: something short, and pointed. The cat landed, somehow contriving to look satisfied. It looked down at the thing, and waited.
She picked it up numbly. It was a short, yellow rod, like a pen, with a curious symbol at one end. It seemed to tingle in her hand.
"Say the words," the cat said.
"What words?" Now, at last, it all made sense. She was dreaming. Cats didn't do backflips; they didn't make cheap toys appear out of thin air; and they certainly didn't talk.
"The words in your head. You know. Say them."
As a matter of fact, there was a phrase running through her head. Something out of a children's viddy program, oddly enough. Queen Serenity and her—
"This is silly," she protested.
"Say the words!"
She shrugged. It was only a dream, so what did it matter? She held the rod up high—something about the moment seemed to demand that—and said the words.
"VENUS POWER, MAKE-UP!"
In the last moment before it began, in that bare instant when the words seemed to ring in the air and the world held its breath, she knew, knew beyond any doubt that it was no dream. This was no dream, this was real, and her life was about to change forever.
Then the power and the glory came. The light, and the electric smell in the air, and the flood of sensation, the energy pouring into her body, the transformation, and oh, what a rush it was—
Then it was over, and she stood there in her uniform.
And Senshi walked the earth again.
S A I L O R M O O N 4 2 0 0
END OF CHAPTER ONE
Next: Sailor Venus is back to save the world! But is the world ready for her?
Revised: 24 September, 2005