Sailor Moon 4200: What has gone before
It's the year 4200. More than seven hundred years ago, Crystal Tokyo was destroyed in an as-yet unexplained disaster. Queen Serenity and her Senshi died fighting a hopeless battle against the mysterious evil. All over the world, civilisation fell. Then, one hundred years ago, a great renaissance began. Today the city of Third Tokyo is the centre of a new world order, ruled by a body known as the Serenity Council.
Artemis survived the final battle, and now wanders the world with his young great-granddaughter Bendis, hoping that the Senshi will somehow be reborn once more. When Bendis inadvertently talks to a Serenity Council member, the Council begins a surreptitious hunt for her. Shortly after, Artemis and Bendis argue and split up. In a nearby school, Bendis finds that one of the students, McCrea Beth, is the new Sailor Venus: first of a new generation of Senshi.
Meanwhile Artemis asks an old friend to help find Bendis again: Hino Rei, once Sailor Mars, who somehow survived the final battle for Crystal Tokyo. Now powerless, she tries to avoid recognition, going by the name Pappadopoulos Itsuko, owner of the Olympus Gymnasium. However, Itsuko's efforts to help Artemis draw attention and a secret investigation of the Olympus begins…
By Angus MacSpon
Sailor Moon 4200 Home Page
Based on "Sailor Moon" created by Naoko Takeuchi
"This is just so cool."
Bendis stared at Sailor Venus, a little alarmed. Whatever reaction she had been expecting, this wasn't it.
"So let's see if I've got this straight. I'm the reincarnation of some dead moon girl, and I get to fight all sorts of bad guys, and kick some serious bootie, and become a princess, right?"
"What?" said Bendis dazedly. "No! Maybe! Who told you all that?"
"It's only on the viddy every day! 'Queen Serenity and her Senshi.' Not that I watch it any more of course, that stuff is like for little kids only. Hey, am I going to get my own action figure?"
"Well, never mind. Oh, and I get all those neat attacks too! I've just got to try that 'Lovely Chain' thing."
"Attacks? No, wait! Don't! Are you nuts?" shouted Bendis. Somehow she'd thought she was going to be the one in control here. How could she have been so wrong? "Anyway, it's called the 'Love-me Chain,' not 'Lovely Chain.'"
"What? But 'Love-me Chain' doesn't make any sense! Oh, let's just give it a try anyway—"
"VENUS CHAIN THING!"
There was a sudden loud noise.
"Hmm," said Venus slowly. "I'm going to have to get that window fixed."
Bendis simply stared at her for several seconds, unable to speak. Then she burst out: "You're crazy!" Venus raised an eyebrow. "What do you think you're doing?" the cat yelled. "You can't just go doing that indoors! What if somebody heard you? What if somebody saw you?"
"Oh, relax," Venus said cheerfully. "There's nobody else home."
"Well, what about the neighbours? What about me? You could have hit me with that…that 'chain thing'!"
"Oh, come on! I didn't, did I? It went great! Well, except the window, I suppose."
Bendis shook her head in disbelief. "'Chain thing.' If Artemis heard you say that, he'd have a fit."
Then again, she thought privately, that might be worth watching…
"Ooh, Artemis?" said Venus, her eyes shining. "You mean he's for real? He's so cool! Where's Luna, then? And who are you, anyway? I never heard of a tabby Moon Cat before. Are you on the viddy program? Maybe I missed an episode. Um, back when I used to watch it, I mean. And when do I get to fight some bad guys?"
Bendis stared for a moment. "Which question do you want me to answer first?" she asked helplessly.
Venus rolled her eyes. "All of them, of course!"
Of course, Bendis echoed silently. She wondered if all Senshi had multiple personalities. "Um, right," she said aloud. "Yes, Artemis is for real. He, uhh, he isn't around right now. He's…off on an important mission, ahh, somewhere." If Artemis finds out what I've done before I calm this girl down a bit, he's gonna tear me to pieces! "What was the next one? Oh, right. Luna is…Luna is…what are you doing?"
Venus was staring at her reflection in the mirror. "This is pretty good," she announced. "I must be four, five cents taller, and I got a bust job as well! Wow, look at that—"
Bendis coughed. "Yes, I can—"
"Hmm. Let's take a better look—how do I undo this stupid costume? Who designed it, anyway? Must be pretty draughty on a cold day outside. Hey, I can't get this thing off!"
"It's, uhh, it's not meant to come off, you just change back to your normal self instead."
"What? Change back? No way!" Venus gave her bust-line a final admiring glance and turned away from the mirror. "Oh well. What next? Bring on the bad guys!" She leaped across the room, landed awkwardly, knocking over a chair, but managed to turn it into a dramatic pose as if she'd meant to trip. "Yes! The valiant, daring, and devastatingly beautiful Sailor Venus is on the scene! Evil-doers, beware!" She levelled a finger at an imaginary opponent. "Prepare to face your worst nightmare, villain! In the name of the Moon—no, wait a minute, let me try that again. In the name of Venus—no, in the name of the planet Venus—that's better—you're history! Ahahaha! CRESCENT BEAM!"
Bendis watched the posing rather nervously. This girl could change moods in a microsecond. Still, she seemed confident enough—for the moment—and it certainly looked like she was getting the hang of the speech-making. All in all, perhaps it was promising after all.
—Then she heard her trying another attack, indoors again, and thought, Promising? I must be out of my mind. She looked for somewhere to hide.
"Wait a minute," said Venus, sounding puzzled. "Nothing happened."
"Eh?" Bendis poked her head out from under the bed. "What do you mean, nothing happened? Try it again. No, wait, DON'T TRY IT AGAIN—"
"Hmm," Bendis said. "You're right. Not even a fizzle. What are you doing wrong? I wonder if—what was that?"
Downstairs, a door slammed.
Venus panicked. "Ohmygosh!" she gabbled. "It's my parents! Quick, how do I change back out of this thing—"
"Just relax and picture yourself changing back. Hurry!" Bendis watched anxiously as Venus closed her eyes and grimaced. Nothing happened for a moment; but then she seemed to find the trick. She shrank slightly; her fuku melted away, replaced by her dark-grey school uniform.
Her tattered, filthy school uniform. Whoops.
"Better get changed, fast," Bendis suggested helpfully.
"Oh, no—" McCrea Beth jumped across the room to the dresser, tripping over her school-bag half-way, and started to rummage desperately though her drawers as she tried to yank her uniform off. Bendis watched, interested.
"Beth-chan? Are you home?" called a woman's voice from the other side of the door.
"Just coming," Beth shouted, pulling on a clean shirt frantically. As she made for the door Bendis thought about pointing out that she was still filthy, and covered with scrapes and bruises. But no, the cat decided. She had to learn to cope with adversity.
The door slammed shut. Bendis relaxed, and looked around the room. It looked like a hurricane had struck. The floor was covered in clothing: piles of clean clothes left hanging out of open drawers, and the grimy, torn remains of a school uniform. A satchel lay in one corner; it had burst open and there were papers and books everywhere. An overturned chair lay in the middle of the pile, a bizarre centrepiece. One window was shattered, and broken glass lay all around, glittering in the evening sun. A cool breeze blew into the room, stirring the papers and scattering them even further.
"Well," Bendis murmured. "That didn't go too badly."
When Masao finally reached the Olympus, he found a group waiting for him as promised. What came next, though, was anything but promising.
"Where the hell have you been?" demanded one of them, a burly man with short black hair and a thickly-stubbled face. "You were supposed to be here more than two hours ago!"
"Oh, ease up, Kuroi," said the tall, lantern-jawed one. "I'm sure he's got a good excuse."
"He'd better," rasped Kuroi.
Masao thought about telling them the truth—about how Sachiko had chased him down thirty-four flights of stairs, yelling threats at him all the way; about the half-hour he spent in the men's room, gasping for breath and occasionally throwing up from sheer terror; about his mad dash home to change out of his soiled clothes—and thought better of it.
"Sorry," he said.
The third man, who had been leaning on the wall, straightened up with a sigh. "All right, enough chitchat," he announced. He was a tall, athletically-built man with dark hair, a little smaller than the second speaker. "Kuroi, if you're going to beat him up, do it later. Aoiro, stop needling him. We've got work to do."
"Right, we've got a kitty-cat to catch," Kuroi grumbled.
"Yes, we do," said the third man. He offered a hand to Masao. "Captain Hiiro," he introduced himself. "And Kuroi there, Aoiro, and Mitsukai." The last was a woman, tall and thin, with dark shadows under her eyes. She glanced up as Hiiro introduced her, but did not speak.
"Kitada Masao. Er, I really am sorry—"
"Save it," Hiiro said. "Let's get to work. I assume you've been briefed on what's expected of you?"
"Um. No. The man who called me just said I was being activated, and I should get down here. He wasn't very helpful, actually—"
"Activated?" Hiiro stared at him. "You're an Irregular?"
"What the hell?" Kuroi burst out. "What do those idiots thing they're doing, saddling us with a boy scout?"
"Quiet, Ryo," Hiiro said absently. "I wonder if…Kitada-san, did the man you spoke to give his name?"
"No," Masao said, trying to hide his annoyance at the 'boy scout' tag. "He just made a few sarcastic remarks and told me to get down here."
Hiiro was beginning to grin. "What sort of sarcastic remarks?"
"Um, he said something about 'This is just too painful for words.' And then he told me I should just use my imagination when I asked what I was suppose to tell my boss—"
"Midori," said Kuroi and Aoiro together.
"It does sound like it," said Hiiro with a sigh. "He probably won't have been all that helpful, no. So. All right, then, how much do you know about all this?"
"Not very much," Masao admitted. "All I know is that you're—we're—looking for a cat for some reason."
"'For some reason' is about right," said Hiiro. "That's all anyone knows. Though I've heard about a hundred theories, some more likely than others."
"We've started a pool on them," put in Aoiro, with a grimace. "Want to buy in?"
Masao blinked, trying to decide if the man was serious. "Er, no thanks," he said. Aoiro shrugged.
Kuroi snorted. "Yeah, save your money," he said. "There's been enough thrown away on this damn-fool operation already; it must have cost millions by now—not to mention everyone's wasted time. Goddam cat must be the most valuable animal in the world!"
A silence fell. It was plain that all four of the group, even the silent Mitsukai, agreed with Kuroi. At last Masao said, "So what are we supposed to do here, anyway?"
Hiiro shrugged. "Check the notice, see who posted it, find them, and find out if the cat they're after is the same one we want," he said. "Shouldn't be too hard. You ought to be back at your regular job in a day or two."
Aoiro gave Masao a thoughtful look. "I wonder why they brought you in in the first place," he murmured. "Are you an expert on cats, perhaps?"
"No," answered Masao. "I just happened to see a lost-pet notice stuck up that sounded like the same cat, so I reported it."
"Very odd. I wonder what the brass are up to…?"
Mitsukai laughed. Masao jumped; it was the first time she'd made a sound. "Second-guessing again?" she inquired.
Grimacing, Aoiro said, "All right, but you must admit it's strange." Mitsukai rolled her eyes, but did not answer.
"Suppose we get started," Hiiro suggested. Masao had been wondering if he was the leader of the group; from the way the others reacted to what sounded like a casual comment, he knew he was right. "Ryozo, you and Mitsukai stay out here for the moment. Try and stay alert. There's not going to be any trouble, but we might as well be ready for it anyway." Kuroi and Mitsukai nodded. "Aoiro—you, me and Kitada-san will go take a look at the kitty-cat poster. Try to restrain your enthusiasm and let's just get it over with, all right?"
The three of them walked into the building and up the steps to the Olympus's reception on the second floor. Masao pointed out the notice about the lost cat. Hiiro and Aoiro studied it carefully.
"No name or address," Hiiro noted. "Just says to give any details to reception. Odd."
"What surprised me was that it's on management stationery," said Masao. "Usually that's only for official announcements—membership notices, things like that. I'm surprised Pappadopoulos-san hasn't pulled this down yet, actually."
"Could—what was that name again?—Pappadopoulos-san have put this up herself?" inquired Aoiro.
"About a cat?" said Masao dubiously. "I doubt it."
"Well, we can always ask," Hiiro decided briskly. "Aoiro, get a copy of that notice. Kitada-san, go to the desk and tell them you've seen a strange cat. Make it something completely unlike the one in this notice. Tell them you want to ask the owner if it's theirs. You should be able to get a name and a comm number, at least."
Masao shrugged and approached the desk. He recognised the girl on duty. "Hi, Ochiyo-chan," he said, trying to sound cheerful. "They've left you stuck with it again?"
"Oh, hello, Kitada-san," she smiled. She was a teenager with long dark- brown hair in a ponytail. "Yes, I'm holding the fort until the evening shift arrive. How can I help you?"
He explained what he wanted. Ochiyo frowned. "I never heard anything about that," she said. "Let me see." She went over to the notice-board and read the sheet carefully. At last she said, "It must be some kind of joke. I'll have to check with Pappadopoulos-san, but it must be."
"Could I speak to Pappadopoulos-san about it?" suggested Masao.
Ochiyo gave him an odd look, and he realised that it must sound strange to be so insistent about a cat. Well, the truth was even stranger.
"I'm sorry," the young girl said. "Pappadopoulos-san has gone home for the day. You'll have to see her tomorrow."
Masao shrugged. Ochiyo started to head back to her desk, and then paused as she noticed Hiiro and Aoiro, still hovering in the background. "Can I help you gentlemen?" she asked politely. "Did you want to become members, perhaps?"
Aoiro raised his eyebrows, but Hiiro answered smoothly, "Possibly. We really wanted to get some idea of your facilities first. Do you have some kind of a brochure…?"
"Yes, of course." Ochiyo handed them several sheets. Hiiro took them with a smile of thanks, and he and Aoiro left, pretending to study them. Masao followed them out a minute later.
"Well, what now?" Masao demanded as they met outside.
Hiiro snorted. "We come back tomorrow, of course." He frowned in thought. "I wonder…" He looked over at Kuroi. "Ryozo, you and I are going to head in to Supply. There are a few things I think we're going to need. The rest of you"—he addressed the group—"can take off. Back here at eight-thirty tomorrow morning. Kitada, be on time."
The group started to break apart. Masao turned to leave, but stopped when he heard his name once more. "Kitada," Hiiro said, "if your boss gives you trouble, you can tell him you're on a 'W' Division Civil Awareness course. Midori should have told you that. Our people will have notified 'W' Division when you were activated, so the authorities will back you up."
Masao nodded gratefully as he turned once more and hurried away. He was fairly sure that Sachiko would be calling him that evening; at least he wouldn't be at a complete loss for an explanation to give her. A Civil Awareness course? He wondered what that was supposed to be. But then, if it was run by 'W' Division—the government's military and civil- defence arm—nobody was going to inquire too closely anyway.
He hurried home. Somehow, he felt more tired than he'd ever felt before.
After Masao left, Ochiyo thought about the strange notice for a few minutes, then punched a button on the comm.
"Yes?" came Itsuko's voice a moment later. Pappadopoulos-san had gone home, all right; but then for her, home was on the next floor up.
Ochiyo told her about the strange notice, and about Masao's inquiries. Itsuko was most interested.
Beth returned to her room some time later. She had bathed, and the worst of her cuts and bruises had been treated. Still, she looked rather subdued.
"Well?" said Bendis expectantly. "How did it go?" She'd been getting bored in Beth's room. There wasn't much to look at or do there, though she'd been interested to note the number of (rather badly-drawn) pictures of a young man that she'd found hidden under Beth's bed. She rather thought that she'd seen the young man in question, at school earlier that day.
Beth stared at her for a few moments. "Oh, no," she whispered. "This can't be happening."
"What? Why? Don't tell me you—"
Beth made frantic shushing gestures. "Quiet!" she hissed. "Someone will hear you!"
"You didn't seem too worried about that before!" Bendis whispered back indignantly.
"I—" Beth hesitated. "Talk outside," she whispered. Bendis nodded. Then, to her horror, Beth picked her up, walked briskly to the broken window, and simply dropped her out. She landed on her feet, unhurt, of course, but it was the principle of the thing. That girl needed a serious talking-to.
A couple of minutes later she heard a door open and close. Footsteps approached. "That was very rude," she complained.
"Sorry," Beth muttered. She glanced down at Bendis. There was an odd expression on her face: as if she were…afraid?
"All right," said Bendis. First things first. Find somewhere private. That was easy; she'd seen somewhere perfect on the way in. "Come on, this way," she ordered. There were a pair of trees at the side of the house. One of them was fairly tall, and nice and bushy. Perfect for a cat; and if they kept their voices reasonably low nobody would ever know they were there.
She leaped up into the branches. Some distance up there was a convenient fork. She settled down comfortably, then looked around for Beth. The girl wasn't there. She got up and peered down. Beth was standing down on the ground, looking up at her. "Well, come on," she snapped.
"You…want me to climb up there?" said Beth. She sounded dubious. What on earth was wrong with the girl?
"Yes, of course!" Really, these humans, Bendis thought, annoyed. They were lacking in the most elementary skills. She would just have to bring the girl up to scratch…
With some effort, Beth climbed up and found a seat on a branch near Bendis' fork. She looked rather uncomfortable.
"Now then," said Bendis briskly. She'd had some time to think about this. By all reports, Artemis and Luna had made rather a hash of training the last Senshi. Oh, they didn't like to admit it…but it was obvious, even in the stories Artemis himself told. What was needed now was a bit of discipline, a bit of strategy, and quite a bit of sheer creativity. And she was just the cat to handle it.
Remember, sound cool and confident, she told herself firmly. "We need to get you settled down and confident with your powers," she stated. "Working out your problem with the Crescent Beam is a big priority. Also we need to work on your aim with the Love-Me Chain. And I think you're going to need some physical training as well, if you can't even climb a tree…"
She trailed off. Beth was simply staring at her. "What?" she asked, annoyed.
"You're talking," Beth whispered. "You're a Moon Cat. It's real."
"Oh, very good. I thought we'd already covered this before. Yes, I'm talking. Very clever of you. My name is Bendis—not Luna," she added quickly. "And I'm—now what?"
"It's real," whispered Beth again. "Oh, God. It's real. I'm a Sailor Senshi. Oh, no. What are my parents gonna say? I can't be a Sailor Senshi! They're all supposed to be dead! What am I going to do?"
"You," Bendis said with unaccustomed gravity, "are going to fight for love and justice, in the name of the planet Venus."
"Don't say that! It's sacrilege!"
"It's not sacrilege. It's what you were born to do. To guard and to defend. To fight in the service of the Queen."
"The Queen? But she's dead!" Beth burst out. Then, rather hesitantly: "Isn't she?"
"Well, technically, yes," Bendis admitted. "But Artemis is pretty sure there's an heir around somewhere." Artemis could be a little fanatical on the subject, actually. "But don't worry about that. She's bound to turn up sooner or later." Maybe. Hopefully.
"I don't understand any of this," said Beth mournfully. "If everyone died back during the Great Fall…er, they did die, right?" Bendis nodded. "If they all died back then…then why is it all starting up again now? And why pick me?"
"I didn't pick you. Like I said before, this is what you were born to do. I only recognised the potential in you."
"Potential…" Beth took a deep breath. "So, I'm Lady Aino reborn?"
"Oh, no," Bendis told her, startled. "What gave you that idea? No, you're an original. But don't sweat it," she added nonchalantly. "That's what I'm here for. Just stick with me and you won't have any problems. Right?"
"Right," Beth said dubiously.
Inwardly, Bendis frowned. What was this girl's problem? "Don't worry," she reiterated. "After all, there's no Queen Beryl around this time to cause trouble…so you've got nothing to worry about."
"Who's Queen Beryl?"
"Huh?" Bendis eyed the girl suspiciously for a moment. "I thought you said you watched that viddy program," she accused.
Beth's eyes widened guiltily. "Me?" she said. "No! Of course not! That's a kid's program! I mean, I used to watch it…once or twice…when I was little, but, um…"
"Oh, boy," said Bendis, shaking her head. "Look, on this program that you…used to watch…there wasn't anything about Queen Beryl? The Dark Kingdom?" Beth shook her head. "Geez. Well, what about the Black Moon? The Death Busters? Pharaoh-90? Nehelenia? Galaxia? What, none of them? Really?" Beth kept shaking her head, looking confused. "Well, what did they fight, then?"
"Umm, there were these alien invaders called Zentraedi…and then they fought Queen Ryoko and her space pirates…and—"
"Stop. Please." I can't take this, Bendis though, agonised. How could they do this? It's…it's a travesty! A mockery! It shouldn't be—hmmm. I wonder if Artemis has heard, though? I'd like to see his face if I—
"Isn't that right?" asked Beth.
"Not quite," Bendis understated. "Let's say that, er, you're not likely to be seeing too many pirates. Or, well…" She sighed. "Let's start again, all right? You're a Senshi. The first one in more than seven hundred years. You're supposed to fight for love and justice in the name of the Queen."
"But fight who?"
"Um." That was a good question, Bendis had to admit. There didn't seem to be any mysterious threats in the city at the moment. Well, maybe something would turn up. Artemis would probably know, but there was no hurry to explore that option. "You won't need to worry about that for a while," she temporised. "For now, we have to start your training. Getting you used to your abilities. That sort of thing."
"Training?" Beth said, making a face.
"You don't sound too happy about it," Bendis remarked, frowning. "Geez, I thought every kid wanted to be a Senshi!"
Beth sighed. "Oh, I suppose so. It's just…not what I'd been expecting. I mean, where are all the others? Where's the Queen? And I thought we got to fly in Colonial Vipers, or something."
"Are you sure that was 'Queen Serenity and her Senshi' you used to watch?"
"Oh, no reason. Look, you're the first Senshi to be found. I expect the others will be showing up soon enough. Hell, Artemis may have found some of them already!"
The moment she said the words, she regretted it. But it was too late to take them back. "Artemis?" Beth said, her eyes shining. "Wow. Where is he, anyway? When do I meet him?"
"Soon, soon," Bendis said hastily. No way, girl! You're mine now! I'm not letting Artemis horn in on this! "He's away on a scouting mission at the moment," she added for good measure.
"Oh, all right. So, what sort of training am I supposed to be doing?"
"That's the spirit! Transform, and we'll get started."
Beth pulled out her henshin wand and looked at it dubiously. At last, she seemed to make her mind up. "VENUS POWER, MAKE-UP!"
It was different when she was Venus. She didn't have to worry about things. She was taller, stronger, faster; but that was only the beginning of it. All her senses seemed sharper. Before, the touch of the evening breeze on her face, her arms and her bare legs had been almost imperceptible; now, it was like a caress, cool and invigorating. The air seemed alive with smells: delicate, sharp, sweet, pungent, exotic, faint, overpowering…tantalising. Her hearing seemed magnified; she could hear her parents speaking inside almost as clearly as if she'd been standing next to them. And where she had sat nervously on this tree-branch before, holding on firmly to the trunk, now she stood upright, perfectly balanced, her arms hanging by her side, easily riding the motion of the branch as it swayed beneath her weight. She felt…she felt totally alive.
"Oh, yes," she said.
The cat looked up at her. It seemed uneasy, for some reason. What was there to be uneasy about? Everything was perfect.
"Um, are you all right?" the cat said.
"Fine," she said cheerfully. "What did you say your name was again?"
"Bendis," the cat said huffily.
"'Bendis?' What kind of name is that?" she wondered aloud. A moment later, she dismissed the thought again. Really, who cared? There were much better things to think about. Without waiting for an answer, she stepped off her branch and dropped lightly to the ground, a few metres below. She landed with barely a jar. Nothing to it.
She heard a muffled squawk of outrage from above. Moments later, the cat raced down out of the tree and stood glaring at her. "What are you doing?" the cat shouted.
She picked it up by the scruff of the neck, and held a finger to her lips. "Shh," she whispered. "Don't want my parents to hear, remember? Now, let's go train."
With the cat in her arms, muttering indignantly, she bounded off.
It was half past seven; the sun had set, and the twilight was deepening. On the north-western horizon, the planet Venus was just setting. The street-lights were coming on. There were not many people about, but enough that she had to duck out of sight occasionally. For a few minutes the impromptu hide-and-seek game was fun, but she quickly became bored with it.
"How'm I supposed to get around without being seen?" she asked the cat at length. What was its name again? Oh. Right.
"Try the roofs," Bendis suggested.
Hmm. That might work. She eyed a nearby house for a moment, then took a short run and leaped. She made it, but only just; she had to catch hold of the guttering, dropping the cat for a moment, and pull herself up. She made a fair bit of noise doing it. Maybe the cat was right; she did need to practise this.
"Cat?" she whispered. "Where are you?" What was its name again? Bendis. Remember that. What kind of a name was 'Bendis,' anyway?
"I'm down here, idiot!" came a low voice.
She dropped off the roof, found the cat, and picked her up once more. "Let's try that again," she said. Ignoring Bendis' protests, she stepped back and jumped. She made it this time; actually she overshot and skidded when she landed, making a lot more noise. Definitely more practice needed. This was fun, though.
She was about to drop off the roof and try it again when the ca—when Bendis made her feelings felt by sinking her claws into Venus' arm. "Ow!" Venus hissed. "Stop that!"
"You stop!" Bendis shouted. "What in the world do you think you're doing?"
"Practising," Venus said in an injured tone. "I need to get the hang of this, right?"
"You're making too much noise! Somebody's going to hear you!"
"Oh, come on. I wasn't that loud—"
"What the hell's going on out here!"
The outside lights came on unexpectedly as a new voice spoke. Venus acted without thinking: she jumped once more, landing lightly and soundlessly on the roof. She crouched down and waited. Down below, she heard the man moving about and swearing. After a while he went back inside.
"Now that's more like it," Bendis said.
"But I didn't mean to do it that time!" Venus complained. "I just, y'know, did it."
"Um, that's what I meant," said Bendis quickly. "You did it on instinct. That's what you need to practise! You see, when you stop to think it all out, you get all muddled. You tense up, trying to override what your body already knows how to do. Yeah, that's it! What you really need to do is just relax and, uh, just go with the flow!"
It was odd, the way the cat was speaking, Venus thought. Hesitant, stammering at first, and then suddenly talking in a rush, almost gabbling. Almost as if she were making it up as she went along, in fact. But of course, that couldn't be right, could it?
"So you're saying," she said slowly, "that I should just…relax, and let my instincts guide me?" That sounded easy enough.
"Er, yes…" Bendis sounded nervous, all of a sudden. Venus wondered why for a moment, then shrugged inwardly. What did it matter? She had to follow her instincts, and her instincts said: Who cares why the cat sounds worried?
She lifted her head and looked around, wondering what to try next. The office buildings a few blocks away caught her eye. Her instincts said: Go for it!
With a wild whoop of glee, she picked up the cat (whatever its name was) and went for it.
"That's the fourth report of alien invasions this evening," the duty officer said.
Lieutenant Nishihara groaned. It was going to be one of those nights, he could tell. Back when he'd joined 'P' Division, he'd been under the impression that a cop's duty was to fight crime. Instead he seemed to spend most of his time pandering to nutcases.
"Any particular sorts of aliens?" he said, trying to sound interested.
"Bright lights in the sky, loud noises, and a lot of shouting and screaming," the duty officer told him. "Apparently they shoot yellow rays out of their hands. One guy said there's actually two kinds: one human-shaped, and one small and furry."
"Of course. No evening would be complete without small furry aliens. Anything else going on? Anything serious?"
The duty officer checked her stat sheet. "Bunch of burglar alarms going off," she noted. "We sent an Opal over. All false alarms, probably a power surge or something. They were all in the same office block."
Nishihara nodded, and made a note. They'd have to get the alarm systems checked tomorrow.
"Oh, and Tsukamoto-san called to say his hedge is singing to him again."
"Ah. Well, at least something is going normally tonight."
"I think," Bendis said with some difficulty, "that we need to make a distinction between instincts and impulse."
Venus did not reply at once. She was still lying flat on her back on the building's roof, gasping for breath. Thankfully, her face was no longer that alarming shade of purple.
Bendis' own breathing had finally slowed enough for her to start lecturing. "That was the most ridiculous display I've ever seen. Supposing somebody saw you? What would they think?"
"Oh…come on," Venus gasped. "It was…fantastic! And when that…police Opal…came buzzing around…"
Bendis shivered at the thought. If the police had seen them, there would have been trouble. She remembered a close encounter with another Opal, in an alleyway the night before. Was Artemis right? Was somebody searching for them?
"Oh, man, that was so good!" finished Venus.
"It was not! It was—" Bendis found that she couldn't think of a strong enough word for what it was. "What on earth possessed you to try and climb up here that way?" she asked plaintively.
"Hey, those window ledges were a good five centimetres wide," Venus protested. "There was heaps of room!"
Bendis stared at her, the memory of Venus leaping up from ledge to ledge horribly vivid in her mind. "Heaps of room? You fell off three times!"
"Well, it was good practice with the Chain Thing, wasn't it?"
"It's supposed to be for fighting with, not using as a rope! And that's another point. You have got to stop calling it the 'Chain Thing.'"
"People are going to laugh at you if they hear you calling it that!"
"But…well, 'Love-me Chain' is so…sappy-sounding," Beth insisted. "Come on, I'd just be so…embarrassed!"
Bendis snorted. "What you should be embarrassed about is those jumps of yours," she commented acidly. "Honestly, you humans have absolutely no idea how to do it right."
Venus looked up at her, interested. "Oh yeah? How should I be doing it, then?"
Bendis demonstrated a proper cat jump. After a few tries, Venus started to get the hang of it; and that encouraged Bendis to point out a few other points where (in her opinion) humans fell short.
Venus turned out to be a quick study. The evening turned out to be quite a lot of fun, actually; except when Venus insisted on climbing the building three more times, to try out what she'd learned. A cat just couldn't win…
Masao made sure that he arrived at the Olympus a good ten minutes early the next morning. None of the others were there. He sat down on a bench near the entrance and waited.
Rather to his surprise, he found that he was actually rather looking forward to the day's "work." It was certainly different from his usual grind. And now that the initial shock had worn off, he was beginning to think that being paid to take time off work and search for a cat (of all things) might just be fun.
Aoiro showed up a quarter of an hour later. He nodded politely to Masao and leaned back against a wall, hands in his pockets, without saying a word. After a few seconds, Masao shrugged mentally and ignored him.
Mitsukai arrived ten minutes after that. She had a heavy-looking satchel over one shoulder. She didn't say anything either. She ignored Masao when he smiled in greeting.
Finally, nearly an hour after the time Hiiro had ordered, Hiiro himself got there, Kuroi right behind him. Kuroi was lugging a bulky tote-bag; he looked hot and annoyed.
As Hiiro came to a halt, he shot a glance at Aoiro, who gave a quick nod. Masao wondered why.
"All right," Hiiro announced. "Has anybody checked upstairs yet?" They all shook their heads. "Good. Kitada, get on up there. Try and get in to see what's-her-name. Pappadopoulos. Same story as last night. Clear?" Masao nodded, bewildered. "Right. Go!"
Masao went. He headed up the stairs at a run, remembering just in time to slow down before he ran into the reception area. He was already heading toward the young man at the desk—Ochiyo only worked in the afternoons, after school—when he noticed that something had changed.
The missing-cat notice was itself missing.
He took a second look to be sure. It wasn't there. He thought for a few seconds, then headed back downstairs.
Hiiro looked up as he walked out of the building. "Well?" he inquired. "Is the poster gone?"
Masao stared at him. "How did you know?" he burst out.
"It seemed likely," Hiiro said laconically.
"Look, that girl last night may have pulled it down herself. Or she may have left a note for her boss, who pulled it down this morning. All perfectly innocent, right?"
"Or any one of a dozen other perfectly reasonable explanations. Or…there might be something funny going on. In which case we'll find out what. Clear?"
"But how did you know?" demanded Masao.
Hiiro sighed. "I didn't know it'd vanish. But I thought there was a good chance. That girl at the desk last night—she hadn't noticed it. But you saw it immediately when you went in yesterday morning…"
He trailed off, frowning in thought. Then, with a sudden shake of his head, he seemed to came to himself. "In any case," he said crisply. "Either the poster was stuck up by one of the staff, or by someone else, probably a member of the gym. We'll have to check both possibilities. Ryozo, please—"
Kuroi pulled open the tote-bag and began handing out bundles. Everyone got one except Masao, who watched, puzzled. They looked like packages of clothes. Gym clothes. "Wait a minute…" he began.
"We'll be signing up as members," Hiiro went on, ignoring him. "You've all got identity details? Good. Not you, Kitada, you're already a member. Now, I'll work out a schedule for everyone. You go in, you get some exercise, and you have a casual chat with the other members. Find out if anyone remembers seeing the poster. Find out if anyone knows who put it up."
"This could take forever," Aoiro protested. "They get a lot of people in here."
"I know. Mitsukai, we'll get you a copy of the membership records; I want you to track names and usage patterns. We'll concentrate on the early-morning and late-evening crowd to begin with—that's when the poster's most likely to have gone up. We may have to rotate those times, though; all of you, be prepared for some odd hours."
"But even so—" said Aoiro.
"But even so, we'll do what we can. I know, there aren't enough of us to cover everyone; if necessary I'll get more people in. If it looks like this isn't just a wild-goose chase, that is. For now, there are a few other avenues to try as well…
"Aoiro, I want you to be a journalist. Make an appointment, interview this Pappadopoulos woman. The other staff, too. Find out what you can about the place. There may be security cameras in the lobby, though I didn't see any; we may be able to check a tape of who put the poster up. If not, I want to know about demographics—who comes in when. Maybe we can narrow it down to a group of people who're most likely to have stuck the damn thing up."
"For now, though, get upstairs and sign up as a member. Make sure you get a receipt for the fees."
Aoiro sighed and left.
"Okay. Ryozo—wait an hour or so, then go and sign up too. And shave, will you? Kitada—go get your regular gear, then head up and get some exercise. Ask a few questions. Try and be subtle. Mitsukai, you're to…"
Masao trudged off, sighing. Maybe this wasn't going to be as much fun as he'd thought.
School that day was torture. Beth had had far too little sleep the night before, and her arms and legs ached as if she'd been running a marathon. Actually, she supposed, in a sense she had. A vertical marathon.
At least she'd been able to leave Bendis at home today.
Beth still couldn't believe it. She was a Senshi? The idea seemed so ridiculous. It was the year 4200, not the Crystal Millennium! The Senshi were legends. People you learned about in history class, or characters on a viddy program. They weren't real.
And yet…there was a talking cat back at her house. She had the henshin wand. She knew what would happen if she pulled it out and said the words. That was real.
Maybe, if she was very very careful, she could manage to keep anyone from finding out about it.
Morning classes went badly. She dozed off four times; the first three times she got away with it, rousing with a jerk as her head touched the desk, but the fourth, she was suddenly woken by the teacher's hand on her shoulder. That was bad enough; but everybody laughed at her, even Nanako. She thought she was going to die of embarrassment.
It was better at lunch-time, for a while at least. The fresh air revived her somewhat, and she began to think she might be able to get through the rest of the day after all. She should have known better.
She finished her lunch and moped around for several minutes, rubbing her sore legs and thinking dark thoughts about a certain cat. Then a much more pleasant thought occurred to her. Why was she dawdling around here when there so much better ways of spending her time?
With a casual glance around to see if anyone was paying attention, she stepped into the bushes at the edge of the grounds and began to work her way silently around. She'd had a lot of practice at this, and she was an expert. Nobody ever saw her.
A few minutes later, she reached her favourite spot. She knelt down and parted the leaves cautiously. Would they be in the usual place? Yes, there were Eitoku and Iku…she couldn't see Nanako at the moment, but that didn't matter. Her eyes were filled with Eitoku.
Since the first time she'd seen him, months ago, she hadn't been able to keep her eyes off him. That serious face of his, so intense, so solemn; and yet when he smiled, it was like the sun rising, lighting up the whole world. She sighed happily. She saw him by day at school and by night in her dreams, and when he gave that smile, when she heard his voice, something inside her melted and she thought she might expire with passion.
(That was a line from a poem she'd written. One of her better ones, she thought. She'd torn the poem up later, of course, in case her parents saw it. But still, it had been a good line.)
He always seemed to hang around with Nanako and Iku, and for a while she had been worried that he liked one of them. But that was impossible. Nana-chan was nice, but she was such a bubble-head, always talking and laughing and gossiping; nobody as serious and intelligent as Eitoku could possibly want her. And Iku? She was so distant. Remote. Like a robot, almost. She hardly ever even talked. Beth snorted; what kind of girl was that for her Eitoku-kun?
No, sooner or later he would see that he was wasting his time with those two. He would come to the one who really loved him. She knew it. She could see it in her mind's eye…
What have I been doing? he says. How could I have been so blind? I have been searching for the woman of my dreams for so long…and yet when I turn around I find that the one I've sought has been there all along, waiting… Oh, Eitoku, she answers, a tender smile on her lips, How I've waited to hear you say those words. I always knew you'd come for me someday. His strong arms encircle her. My princess, he murmurs, for so long my eyes have been closed…but now they are open, and I see the truth…you are my destiny, my Angel, and we are fated to be together, though all the world should try to keep us apart. Oh, my prince, she cries, the light of true love burning in her eyes, a thousand years parted from you would be as nothing, set against a single hour in your arms. I am yours, now and forever… My own heart, he says, and she whispers back, My soul… And then his lips touch hers, and a golden light fills the world, and she is swept away on an endless sea of bliss—
"I thought I'd find you here."
Beth screamed. She couldn't help it; the unexpected voice, rudely jerking her out of her fantasy…the shock of discovery…Heart racing, blood thundering in her ears, she scrabbled back, trying to get away from…from…
"Geez, are you all right?" said Nanako. "I didn't think I'd startle you that much."
"N-Nana-chan?" she stuttered, her heart still pounding.
"I've been looking for you," Nanako said innocently. "C'mon over here. There are some people I want you to meet."
She stepped out of the bushes, heading toward Iku and Eitoku. After a few steps she stopped, looking back at Beth expectantly. Over her shoulder, Beth could see the other two, staring in her direction.
Beth wanted to scream. Her face was a blazing scarlet, she knew. This could not be happening to her. This was terrible. This was disaster. She was going to have to meet him…talk to him…
He was watching her. She could not read his expression. There was absolutely no way out.
She went to meet her doom.
The Olympus was higher than most of the surrounding buildings, and from her office Itsuko could see a long way over the rooftops of Third Tokyo: all the way to the Archives Dome in the centre of the city. She stood looking out of her window, her hands clasped behind her back. She felt uneasy, and she was not sure why; and that made her all the more uneasy. Something was wrong, somewhere. But what?
That missing-cat poster? No. She was pretty sure she'd caught that before it could become a problem. Thank goodness Ochiyo had called her when someone asked questions about it. It had been a mistake to put it up in the first place; but Artemis had been quite persuasive. Granted, they needed to find his missing great-granddaughter; but the risk was just too high. If people got inquisitive about cats with moon-markings, they might start asking other questions. And Itsuko could not afford too many questions.
What, then? She could not pin it down, the reason for her worry; but there was something, she could feel that much. Vague, obscure; distant as yet, barely perceptible; but slowly getting closer. The sense of danger.
With a sigh, she turned away from the window. There were papers piled high on her desk, work that needed to be done, but she knew she'd never be able to concentrate in this mood. She knew what she needed to do.
She touched the hidden contacts, and stepped through the secret door that swung open. After a moment's indecision, she removed her clothes and put on the miko robes that rested on a narrow shelf inside. She'd had to have them specially made, some years before; but they'd been worth the price. Here, alone, she could doff her false name and be Hino Rei again. For a few minutes.
She knelt before the sacred fire and prayed. And for the first time in more than seven hundred years, she saw visions.
Were they past or future? Memory, or prediction, or warning? She struggled to analyse what she was seeing; but the images danced, and there was no time to think. She could only watch. The ghost of the dead queen, speaking to a kneeling figure. An army of crystalline monstrosities, tramping through the streets, killing all in their path. A light in the darkness—an eye?—and a sense of overpowering danger. A young dark-skinned girl, lying in a pool of blood. A man wearing gloves. Her office in the Olympus, in ruins. Herself, staring in shock at a shadowed figure sitting behind a desk. A young boy, holding a tabby cat with a full-moon mark on its forehead.
The visions faded. She found herself lying face-down on the floor, gasping for breath and sobbing.
When she was able, she got up, changed out of her robes, and left the hidden room. She stood in the shower, with the water turned scorching hot, and still she shivered. She could only repeat to herself, over and over again:
It's beginning again. The Great Fall is beginning again.
Beth managed to escape from her new friends at the end of the lunch break. She had never had such an excruciatingly embarrassing time in her life.
Eitoku had been most polite.
He knew. She was certain of it. Nanako knew, so he had to know. He must have known she was watching him all along. All along. She had been making a total fool of herself all along.
He never even mentioned it. He was polite. Friendly, even.
That made it worse, of course. If he had yelled at her, or laughed at her, she could have taken that. She'd have been upset, but she could have taken it. Instead, he treated her perfectly normally.
For some reason, she found herself getting angry. How dare he? How dare he be polite to her? He was supposed to be her prince! Her knight in shining armour! The man she loved with a passion like no other! How dare he be friendly to her?
She thought about that for a moment. Then she burst into laughter, startling everyone else in the class…including the teacher. The teacher was not amused. Very shortly afterward, neither was she.
She and Bendis trained again that night. She was tired and sore and depressed, but the cat managed to bully her into it. To tell the truth, after she changed to Sailor Venus, she didn't mind.
Bendis continued to lecture her on ways where humans fell short of cats. To hear her talk, cats were the supreme intelligent life-form in the universe. Actually, Venus found herself thinking, Bendis might have a point. After all, which one of them spent all day stuck in a stuffy classroom, and which one got to lie around and get fed by willing humans?
They spent a lot of time working on combat techniques. There was a lot to cover. McCrea Beth was no fighter; the very idea of physically attacking someone repelled her. As Venus, she was a lot stronger and faster, but no more skilled.
Bendis thought that humans made indifferent fighters, at best. However, she had a lot of ideas about how things might be improved; and Venus was ready to try. Unfortunately, some of them didn't work too well—humans had a deplorable lack of claws, and their teeth were simply inadequate—and one or two of them were physically impossible; though it took a lot of effort to persuade Bendis of this. The cat was genuinely upset when Venus refused to practise pouncing on rats. Still, they made progress. Of a sort.
Venus continued to have no luck with the Crescent Beam. This baffled both of them. It was supposed to be her most basic attack, but she couldn't get it to work at all. Whereas the Chain Th—the Love-Me Chain, supposedly a much more advanced attack, came to her effortlessly. For a while Bendis actually accused her of faking her problem, and it was only with great difficulty that she persuaded the cat that she wasn't.
Another thing of which Venus had trouble persuading Bendis was that humans weren't naturally nocturnal. It was after midnight when she finally refused to do any more; and by that time she was too tired to run home, by rooftops or otherwise. To her relief, she managed to catch one of the late buses (having changed back from her Senshi form).
As she walked toward her house from the bus-stop, she remembered what time it was, and groaned. "What are my parents going to say?" she wondered aloud.
"They didn't say anything last night," Bendis pointed out.
"They didn't notice last night. They were out at the theatre, and I got back before they did. Tonight…"
"I'm sure you'll think of something," said Bendis unhelpfully.
Beth looked down at her. "I don't suppose I could just tell them the truth…?" she asked hopefully. At Bendis' look, she added, "No, I suppose not. They'd ground me for a decade."
She sighed. "This is all your fault," she complained. "Everything's been going wrong since you arrived. First you follow me home from school, get me into dozens of accidents on the way, you drop a piano on my head, and almost get me run over by a truck—"
"Hey, the truck wasn't my fault!" protested Bendis. "You did that one on your own!"
"But what if I'd gotten hurt?" asked Beth plaintively.
"Oh, well…" Bendis somehow managed to look ashamed. "Maybe I got carried away. But it worked, didn't it?"
"I don't know! You won't tell me why you were doing it!"
"Er—" Bendis was saved from having to answer as they came in sight of Beth's house. The porch light was on, and Beth's father was clearly visible. "I wouldn't worry about that, if I were you," she murmured. "I think you've got other problems right now."
Beth swallowed, and advanced to face the music.
It could have been worse, as it turned out. Her parents had somehow gotten the idea that she'd been out with a boy. Beth was able to truthfully confirm that there was a boy at school that she liked. And after all, she was sixteen.
So she ended up getting away with it. She had to listen to an extremely embarrassing lecture, and make some rather firm promises about hours, but she actually got away with it. This time.
So it continued. Long hours of training in the evenings (but not as long as before), and exhausted days in school; and at school, forced association with Nanako and her friends. Including Eitoku.
(She was definitely making progress there, at least; she could actually speak to him without blushing. Well, sometimes.)
The long evening hours were beginning to make themselves felt in more than one way, unfortunately. She kept on falling asleep in class. She'd had detention twice already. Her homework was suffering, too—inevitably. Well, it hadn't gone too far yet, she hoped. But she was going to have to find a way to deal with it before things got too bad and the school did something disastrous, like calling her parents.
But still…when she said the words, and the energy surged and the ripples of transformation swirled around her…then, none of it seemed to matter very much. She was Sailor Venus, a Champion of Justice. And what else counted?
Then it all changed once more.
It was her fifth night of training. She was trying to get the hang of swinging from building to building on her Love-Me Chain (Bendis kept complaining that it wasn't cat-like, but even she had to admit that it looked totally cool) when she heard the gunshots.
They sounded pretty close. She jumped across the gap to the next building, carefully doing it by the Bendis-approved method (crouch down, hindquarters up, gather yourself and spring, landing on your hands), and peeked down to the street, eleven stories below.
Oh, wow, she thought. Real bad guys.
There were two of them, both armed. Her enhanced vision could make them out clearly. They were holding up the vehicle charging station across the street: one of them was standing guard outside, while the other, inside, pointed his weapon at the station attendant. The latter was a balding, middle-aged man. He looked terrified.
Real bad guys. And they're all mine!
She glanced up and down the street. Nobody else around…check. A quick look around the skyline. No Opals on patrol…check. And the face of the building below her. Plenty of handholds…check.
Finally, behind her. Bendis not in sight…check.
She took a deep breath. Grinned. And dropped over the side of the building.
It was such a rush, going down this way. A bit like abseiling, she supposed, but better. Bouncing from ledge to ledge, almost without using her hands at all—just a touch here to steady her, a quick tug there to duck under the overhang—and then she touched down, silently, in the street below.
The man outside was no threat, she decided. The man inside was a different matter. Unfortunately, the door was closed, so she couldn't just burst in and take him by surprise. (Surprise attacks were a good thing, Bendis had taught her.)
Hmm. I guess I'm going to have to be subtle.
Inside the checkout office, Asano Katai stared, almost hypnotised, at the gun pointed at his chest. At the barrel. It was like an eye, a dark, cyclopian eye. One that might wink at him at any moment.
It was strange. He'd seen guns before. He'd even handled them. But he'd never realised before just how different one could look. When it was loaded. And when that blank, one-eyed gaze was staring at him.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "The safe's on a time-lock. I can't open it."
"Oh, I think you can," said the man holding the gun. "I think you can, if you really, really want to."
He grinned, and adjusted his aim. "I bet you really want to right now, don't you?"
Katai took a step back, opening and closing his mouth soundlessly. This was the end, he knew. He could see the man's finger, tightening on the trigger—
Something subtle changed. A slight draught, perhaps. Or a shift in air pressure. He glanced automatically at the door, but it was still closed. Perhaps a window?
The gunman raised his eyebrows. "Looking for a last-minute rescue?" he inquired mockingly. "Sorry. Not gonna happen. Only way out for you's in a box." He lifted the gun, took aim. "Or by opening that safe."
"Or maybe there's a third way," said somebody.
They both looked around, involuntarily moving in perfect sync. Across the room, standing on one of the component racks, was a young girl.
Katai blinked. Wait a minute, she was wearing—
"I am Sailor Venus!" the girl proclaimed. "A champion of justice, in the name of the Planet of Love! And you, buster—" she addressed the gunman with a rather unnerving grin "—are catfood."
The gunman stared at her, mouth open. "Catfood—?" he began.
He didn't have a chance to say any more. The girl—the impossible girl—leaped at him, a strange, almost feline leap. Katai almost thought he heard her hiss. She struck him in mid-air and the two hit the ground hard, rolling over and over.
The gun went skidding across the floor, and Katai picked it up, dazed. When he looked back, the gunman was lying prone, and the girl was sitting on him, buffeting his face with her paws. Well, no. With her hands. Why had he thought 'paws'?
She stood up, dusting off her hands in a self-satisfied sort of way. The gunman stirred, started to get up; she sighed, stepped back and threw a precise kick that caught him on the chin and flipped him half-way across the room. He did not stir again.
She turned to Katai. "Are you all right?" she asked cheerfully.
Katai stared at her. She had to be some kind of gymnast, he realised. And she really was wearing a Senshi uniform, or at least something pretty close to one. Didn't she realise how dangerous that could be? Dressing up was all very well for little kids, but for a teenager to try to emulate a legend was just asking for trouble.
But she had saved him.
"Miss," he began. "You really shouldn't—"
There were three sounds, so close together that they sounded like a single noise:
A smash of glass.
The whining of a ricochet, somewhere at the back of the office.
The girl cried out, clutching at her arm. There was a long bloody streak from her shoulder half-way to her elbow.
Another gunshot, this time a clean miss. Katai and the girl dove for cover. They had forgotten the second gunman.
They stared at each other for a few seconds. The girl's eyes were wide with pain and shock. "Don't worry," whispered Katai. "I triggered the silent alarm when the first one came in. 'P' Division will be here in another minute or two."
The girl's eyes narrowed. For some reason she did not like that. Then to his horror he saw her gather herself for a jump. He reached out to pull her back, but was half a second too late. She was going to get herself killed, and it was all his fault—
Then she burst out of cover, whooping and grinning that manic grin, and she gestured and yelled the words, and Katai's preconceptions took a final body-blow.
"VENUS LOVE-ME CHAIN!" she shouted.
And the Chain came. The spiral chain, bright flashing gold, whining with energy and glittering with power. Bursting out through the shattered remains of his window. There was a sudden roar of bullets as the gunman outside opened fire. Then a single, terrified yell. Then silence.
The young girl—Venus, Katai realised dazedly, she really was Sailor Venus—took a short run and jumped out through the broken window, head-first. She returned a few moments later, through the door, carrying the second gunman over her shoulder, and his weapon in her other hand.
She dumped the man unceremoniously next to his companion. "He's only unconscious," she said reassuringly. "You might want to hold onto that gun, though. Until 'P' Division get here."
Then she winked, and held up two fingers in a 'V' gesture. "Seeya," she said, and ran out.
Katai stood there, staring after her, for a long time. Until 'P' Division got there.
"That was so cool!" Venus gloated. "You shoulda seen it, Bendis! They didn't stand a chance! They fell before the just wrath of the scion of the planet Venus," she intoned, "and—"
"And one of them shot you, I see," said Bendis coldly.
"What? Oh, that's nothing, just a scratch. Look, let me tell you what happened. You see, I—"
"It's still bleeding," Bendis pointed out.
"Huh? But—" Venus trailed off uncertainly.
"Three centimetres to the left, and it would have hit bone. Then where would you have been? Have you ever heard of hydrostatic shock?"
Venus stared at her. Her face was beginning to turn pale.
"You should put a handkerchief over that scratch," Bendis said briskly. "That should stop it from staining your clothes when you change back. Your parents would notice that."
Venus obeyed silently. It was only eight o'clock, but she followed the cat home as if she were exhausted.
Itsuko dozed in her armchair, in her suite on the third floor of the Olympus building. She had been watching a long, rather pointless drama on the viddy, but around half-way through her eyes had simply given out on her.
When she woke up, for a few seconds she thought she was still dreaming. The late news was showing; and what it was showing was pictures of a Sailor Senshi.
"—This film taken from a hidden security camera at the charging station," a voiceover said. "The picture quality is not good, but we can see what appears to be a young girl dressed as one of the legendary Sailor Senshi of Queen Serenity's court—"
The girl stood on top of a rack of equipment, shouted something, and threw herself at a man. There was a struggle. The girl seemed to be fighting in a most peculiar style.
Itsuko watched carefully, frowning. Which Senshi was the girl meant to be? It was hard to tell from the blurred, black-and-white picture. Don't do it, girl, she thought, you'll only get hurt…
There had been other people who'd tried to imitate the Senshi, over the years. None of them had lasted long.
Then Itsuko saw the girl explode from cover, shouting silently, make a familiar gesture, and cast a Love-Me Chain at somebody out of the camera's range.
The announcer was still speaking, saying something about unexplained phenomena, but Itsuko paid no more attention. When the clip began to repeat she switched the viddy to record mode.
Oh, no, she was thinking. It's starting again. It's starting all over again. The cycle isn't broken, it's going to happen all over again, and they don't know what's waiting for them!
She strode into her bedroom and began to change into outdoor clothes.
I've got to find Artemis.
And somewhere, down in the endless darkness, a light awoke.
S A I L O R M O O N 4 2 0 0
END OF CHAPTER TWO
Next: The Senshi are back! The world reacts! But not all of them are applauding…
Revised: 24 September, 2005