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 the Serenity Council (the "Serries").
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 accidentally speaks 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. Bendis decides to handle it on her own, and begins to train Beth in a very eccentric style. Several days later Beth successfully captures a pair of gunmen staging a hold-up, but is shot in the arm in the process. Later, a security-camera recording of the event is shown on a national news program.
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. At the same time, she starts to have visions suggesting that the evil that destroyed Crystal Tokyo is beginning to move again.
By Angus MacSpon
Sailor Moon 4200 Home Page
Based on "Sailor Moon" created by Naoko Takeuchi
The Council Chamber was not very large, or very grand. It was a simple room, with plain, undecorated walls. The only furniture was the table, shaped like a broken oval, and the chairs around it: fifteen of them, made of plain, varnished wood. This room was not designed for comfort. It was a place where people got things done.
This was the room from which the world was ruled.
The Serenity Council was in session. It was an emergency meeting; the urgency of the matter could be seen from the fact that most of them were dressed informally. Only two members were absent: the directors of 'A' and 'C' Divisions. But they were hardly required for this matter anyway.
The chairman cleared his throat deliberately. He was a slight man, balding; he wore heavy black leather gloves. A polished brass plate set in the table in front of him was marked with the number '1'. His voice was calm and precise as he said, "You've all seen the recording, I assume."
The others around the table murmured in agreement. In truth, it would have been difficult not to have seen the recording. It was playing almost continuously on viddy channels all over Japan, and over much of the rest of the world as well.
"The most important question, to begin with, is whether it's real or not," the chairman went on. "At the moment it's not possible to answer that for sure. I understand that there's a group working to enhance the recording, but I believe that may take some time…?"
Another councillor nodded: the director of 'K' Division. "The Tenshin Institute have been passed a copy," she said. "Their image-processing lab does a lot of work for 'D' and 'S' Divisions, so they're discreet and reliable." The ID plate set in the table before her was numbered Twelve.
"Do they have an estimate?" asked the chairman.
"By the end of today, they think. Tomorrow morning at the latest."
The chairman nodded slowly. "It will have to do," he said. "In the meantime, we must consider the implications if…what the recording shows is genuine. If the Sailor Senshi are returning."
There was an uneasy stirring among the other councillors. "Aren't we overreacting?" wondered a tall thin man with bushy white hair. His ID plate was numbered Eleven. "This is probably a bad publicity stunt, or another impersonator. The real Senshi were killed when the palace fell in 3478, after all. The children's stories that they could return from the dead…you know who're the only ones that believe that nowadays."
"True," the chairman admitted. "But still, we can hardly afford to ignore the situation. Public opinion will force us to pay attention, if nothing else."
"But really—on such flimsy evidence—" spluttered Eleven.
"Flimsy or not," put in a tall, stern-looking woman numbered Five, "it would be a tactical error to ignore the possibility. The possible consequences are just too severe—"
"Oh, tactical possibilities," scoffed Fourteen, a stout woman with a broad, normally-cheerful face. "I'd expect that from 'W' Division. What are the tactical possibilities that we're panicking over a simple hoax?"
"Quite good," said Five, her face expressionless. "Nevertheless—"
"Enough," said the chairman sharply. They fell silent. "We are not going to panic. We will conduct a careful, thorough investigation into the incident, and if—I say if—there is any evidence for concern, then we will…have a whole new set of priorities, as you are well aware. We will need to take appropriate measures. What we are here to do now is to consider what those measures might be."
There was a long pause. Then, "Surely it won't be a problem?" suggested a tall, dark-skinned man. "After all, they were all dealt with once before." His ID plate was numbered Four.
"'Dealt with,'" the chairman said with a chuckle. "I like that. But remember the cost of that dealing. The matter cannot be considered other than a failure. Crystal Tokyo was destroyed around them, and still they did not give in; they had to be brought down, one by one. And in the end, all for nothing. It would be best if we could avoid a repetition of that."
"This could even work in the opposite direction," suggested Twelve. "It could short-cut so much…"
"Oh, really," said Fourteen. "You can't mean—" She broke off suddenly; her eyes widened. "You do," she said.
Around the table, heads turned as the councillors considered the idea. None of them seemed displeased.
"Back then, they were easy to find," mused number Ten, a sweet-looking old lady. "Everyone knew who the Senshi were. They were public figures. These days, things could be more difficult."
"We do have one lead," pointed out another man, numbered Three. "The investigation that 'S' Division is carrying out. An investigation," he added dryly, "that has suddenly acquired a whole new urgency."
"Indeed," said the chairman. "How is that proceeding? Have there been any results? Do you need any further resources?"
Three shook his head. "No results as yet. We've had a great many responses from our agents, but it'll take some time to follow them up. Frankly, I wouldn't hold out much hope. Finding a human being can be hard enough. Finding a single cat that could be anywhere in Third Tokyo…that's almost impossible."
"It's not a cat," pointed out Four. "It's a Moon Cat. There's a difference."
Three shrugged. "Cat, Moon Cat…what does it matter? Unless it speaks, there's no way to tell the difference anyway." Another councillor started to say something, but he waved her silent. "Oh, I know. There's a moon-mark on its forehead. But we can't emphasise that too much, or our agents will realise what we're looking for. And who notices cat-fur markings, anyway?"
"An interesting problem," mused the chairman. "We don't dare tell 'S' Division exactly what they're looking for…but without knowing that, they're much less likely to find it."
"The mark puzzles me," said Twelve. "I thought the Moon Cats were supposed to have crescent-moon marks. But we were told this cat's mark is a plain circle…?"
There was a moment's silence. Three nodded thoughtfully, but offered no explanation.
"How sure are we that there is a Moon Cat at all?" demanded number Nine, a younger woman, at last. "We only have Fifteen's word for it, and he's…not exactly reliable." Several councillors glanced at one of the two empty seats.
"Fifteen may be junior—" began the chairman.
"I think we can be absolutely certain that the cat is real," put in Five suddenly. "After all, suddenly we have a Senshi to deal with as well. And we know that Senshi and Moon Cats go together."
"Circular reasoning!" snapped Nine. "The Senshi is real; therefore the cat is real. The cat is real; therefore the Senshi is real. It could still be a hoax, remember."
Five shrugged. "Well. True."
Number Eight, an inoffensive-looking middle-aged man, said thoughtfully, "It's a pity we can't initiate Fifteen. We'd be able to get a lot more out of him then."
The chairman sighed. "It would help, yes. Especially since he runs 'C' Division. But we can't afford the risk. His psych rating suggests he might not survive the process. Besides, we need to keep a couple of uninitiated in the Council, and he and Thirteen are all we have."
There was a brief silence as they all remembered their own initiations. Then Fourteen said, "We can at least narrow down 'S' Division's search. Where's the charging station in that recording?"
Nine consulted her notes. "Just south of Tomoe Park," she said.
"So the Senshi is probably based somewhere around there, and the Moon Cat as well."
Three nodded. "Quite possible—though we can't afford to take that for granted, of course. But I'll arrange to have the search intensified in that area."
The chairman nodded. "Good." He looked over to number Nine. "You'll be examining any results 'P' Division find?" She nodded. "Very well. Please pass them on to 'S' Division as well. I think 'S' may as well coordinate the investigation." Nine looked irritated, but nodded again.
"So," said Five crisply. "I take it that our current priorities are to find the Senshi and the cat, if they exist. But then what? Simply monitor them? Or should we try to draw them out into the open? That could be a popular move with the public—"
"Too risky," replied Three. "What if they decided they wanted a new Crystal Kingdom? After all, we're supposed to be ruling 'in the name of the Queen, until Her return.' It might be difficult to tell them 'no.'"
"Don't be absurd," said Eight. "One Senshi, trying to rule alone? Anyway, this is Sailor Venus. The only one with a claim to the throne would be Serenity's heir—and that's Sailor Moon."
"Not necessarily—" began Three.
"That's enough," said the chairman wearily. "The point is moot, in any case. We need more information to be able to make any kind of decision. I think we should reconvene when the enhanced recording is available, and discuss it again then. In the meantime"—he glanced at Eight—"you could consult the Archives. A better idea of what we're facing would be useful." Eight nodded.
"Very well then. We'll meet again tomorrow morning." He sighed. "I'll make some kind of press announcement later today. That should buy us a little time."
They all nodded. Most of them looked satisfied. As they filed out, the chairman caught Twelve's eye. She blinked, but remained behind as the others filed out. "What's up?" she asked when they were gone.
"Our biggest problem will be finding the Senshi," the chairman said. "If she—or they—exist, that is."
"Yes, of course."
"There is one traditional method of drawing out Sailor Senshi," observed the chairman. After a moment he added, "We may need to adopt it."
"Traditional method? But what—" Twelve stopped suddenly. Her eyes widened. "You don't really mean—"
"Indeed. Vitrimorphs take some time to construct, don't they? So you'd better start as soon as you can. We may need a number of them, if we really do have to deal with Sailor Senshi."
Twelve stared at him in horror. "You can't really mean to—"
She froze suddenly. Her face went taut; her eyes seemed to glaze over. She gave a little gasp in what might have been pain. The chairman watched patiently.
Just as suddenly, the spell ended. Twelve sagged back, breathing hard, and wiped sweat from her forehead. "Yes," she said. "I understand." She nodded shakily. "I'll need some…raw materials."
"Talk to 'J' Division," the chairman suggested. "I'm sure they have plenty of warm bodies that nobody will miss. Jailbait, and the like."
She nodded again, and left abruptly. The chairman watched her go, then looked down and studied his gloved hands for some time, his expression unreadable.
Itsuko stifled a yawn as she turned the corner. She had never realised before just how many alleyways there were in the central district of Third Tokyo. Or how much they could resemble one another, especially when all she had to go on was a vague description. This was either the fourteenth or fifteenth one, she had lost count.
She flashed her torch around. No people in sight; so far, so good. "Artemis?" she called softly. "Are you there?" There was no reply.
She took a few more steps, holding her breath. The torch in her hand was a comforting weight; but the weapon in her other hand, the one she kept in her pocket, was more comforting. Poking around in dark alleys at night was about as risky a way of spending her time as she could think of. But anybody who tried to jump her would find her ready.
Back in the twentieth century, guns had been almost unobtainable in Japan. How the times had changed.
"Artemis?" she called again. No answer. Damn. She turned to leave the alley again, and—
"Itsuko?" said a startled voice. "What are you doing here?"
She whirled, startled, automatically beginning to pull out her weapon. Then she saw him, and relaxed. Artemis stood a few metres away: a white cat with the moon on his brow, his head poking out of a pile of decaying old cartons.
"About time," she grouched. "Do you have any idea how long I've been looking for you?" He started to answer but she didn't give him the chance. "No, never mind that. Artemis, you've got to come with me. Something's happened."
"Bendis has shown up?" he said eagerly.
"No. Well…maybe. Look, you've got to see this for yourself. I'm not sure I believe it myself yet, but—oh, just come on!"
She reached forward, picked him up without ceremony—ignoring his startled yelp of protest—and ran out of the alleyway, her tiredness forgotten. As she ran she heard Artemis mutter, "You sure your name isn't Minako?" She snorted.
Her car was a few blocks away. They drove back to the Olympus, making good time. Outside the central business district the streets were almost empty. A few minutes later they pulled to a halt in Itsuko's private spot in the underground car park, two levels below ground.
And then, up in her private suite, Itsuko showed Artemis the recording.
"Oh, no," said Artemis when it was finished. "That poor girl…we've got to find her, Itsuko!"
"You think it's real?" inquired Itsuko.
"You notice how she was moving? The way she fought? It's real, all right," Artemis snapped. "Bendis has been busy with that girl." He sighed. "How on earth did she manage to find her? That young idiot…two years old and she thinks she knows everything. Heaven knows what she's been telling the girl…"
Itsuko nodded slowly. "Enough to get her into trouble, at least," she noted. "You saw she got shot?" Artemis nodded. "Hard to tell how badly she was hurt. I'm guessing it was just a scratch; she looked all right when she did the Love-Me Chain. And…" She hesitated. "That's odd," she added thoughtfully. "That's quite an advanced attack for a beginner."
"Not necessarily," said Artemis, shaking his head. "People develop at different speeds. It's a matter of aptitudes. Minako found the Crescent Beam easy, but it took her a long time to develop the Chain. But there's no reason why this girl should take the same route."
Itsuko eyed him. "You never said that before," she accused.
"It never came up before. But you must remember how Princess Usagi had a whole different repertoire from her mother."
"Mm…yes." Itsuko grinned for a moment, remembering pink sugar hearts, then bit her lip. "Artemis—it's going to start all over again, isn't it? Once one of them shows up, there'll be more."
He nodded, and she winced inwardly. The Senshi were coming back; the great cycle was turning once more. Ultimately that might be very good for the world, she knew.
But for herself it would be different. It would be hard, very hard. Knowing that they were out there, using their powers, fighting…just simply being what they were.
Knowing that she'd once been a part of that. And that she couldn't any more. Because she was cut off. Powerless.
Artemis was looking at her sympathetically. He understood, she knew. It didn't make it any easier. She had had so much—she had been so much—and what was she now? An old, old woman, for all her eternal youth; a woman who had seen too much, lived too long…who was tired of it all. She hadn't really been alive for more than seven hundred years; she'd just been marking time. Standing still, going nowhere through all the centuries, as civilisation fell and rose around her. Waiting, hoping that somehow, if she endured for long enough, somehow things might change, that she might be able to get back what she had once had.
"I'm sorry," she said softly to Artemis. "You were right."
"Itsuko—" Artemis began.
"No. You were right. I told you I'd given up hope, that it couldn't start again. That it was all over. But you never accepted that, did you?" She shook her head. "Even when you had no reason to believe, you never gave up. I thought I was being realistic. Maybe I should have had the courage to dream a little."
Now, things were changing indeed; and she saw that her time was gone. The role was there once more, but for others to play. She would be banished to the sidelines, to watch while a newcomer took her place. It was a bitter pill to swallow. But then—
"Don't be too hard on yourself," Artemis suggested. "After all, I'm not exactly the one who succeeded, either. Maybe if I'd spent a little less time preaching about how the good days would come again, and more time actually searching…" He gave a cat shrug.
But then, she'd swallowed a lot of bitter pills over the years, hadn't she? Itsuko drew a deep breath. She'd been the strong one, the stubborn one, the one with the fire in her heart. The one to stare unflinchingly at the truth, however dark it might be. And…and just maybe…
Just maybe it didn't have to be so dark. Maybe she could still have a role to play, she thought with sudden hope. Because she'd been there. She had the experience. She might be able to help them, guide them. Give advice. If there was to be a new Mars, she might be able to help with the training. After all, she knew the ropes.
Maybe she could still be useful—
She laughed quietly. "Maybe this, maybe that…or maybe it's simply that the time had come." She shrugged. "We just have to deal with it the best we can, I suppose. It's going to be very hard for them, you know," she added, shaking her head. "The new ones, I mean. Trying to be Senshi in this day and age. They're going to be mobbed."
"I know," Artemis replied. "It's going to be like it was for you, back when you revealed your identities to the world. You remember, when the crowds invaded the Hikawa shrine—"
"Don't remind me," said Itsuko ruefully. "But that's not what I meant. It's more that—well, people remember the Crystal Millennium as a Golden Age. Hell, they almost worship the memory of Queen Serenity—"
"Some of them do worship her," said Artemis softly.
She groaned. "I know. I try not to think about it. I suppose it was inevitable, but oh, Artemis, poor Usagi-chan! She hated all the adulation, but at least they never did that while she was still alive." She shook her head. "But what I was trying to say was…the sort of people who'd worship Serenity, how are they going to react to this? What the newcomers go through…is going to be nothing like what we did."
"You think there's going to be trouble?"
"Oh, I'm sure of it. But there may not be much we can do to prevent it. We'll simply have to keep an eye on things…and do what we can to help them deal with it.
"In the meantime…" She took a deep breath. "What do we do now?"
"Now…we go out and we find that girl and save her from my crazy great-granddaughter before something horrible happens." Artemis snorted a chuckle. "I don't believe I'm saying this, but I actually miss that kit." He sighed. "Her…even her father…and Diana, and Luna. Gods, I miss Luna."
"She died bravely," said Itsuko softly.
"So she did. But she still died. And we can't afford to sit around reminiscing, or that girl out there might die bravely too." Artemis' tone became grim. "If the Senshi are reappearing, you can bet there's a reason. There'll be work for them to do, and probably not much time to get them ready for it."
He looked up at Itsuko. "You know what's probably coming, don't you?"
She nodded. "Yes. And there's no 'probably' about it. I've seen it." And she told him about her vision in the fire.
"Well," he said at last. "Could be a lot better. But it could be a lot worse, too." She raised an eyebrow and he added, "You didn't see us all dying, at least."
"I saw someone die," she said.
"You don't know that for sure. It could have been…no, never mind that now." He paused, thinking. "All right; the Great Fall is coming again. We always knew that could happen. But it doesn't change anything; we still have to find the girl, as quickly as possible."
"Right. I'm not sure what I can do, but—"
"Play that recording again." Itsuko did so, and the cat watched intently. "How old would you say she is?"
"Hard to tell. Fifteen…maybe sixteen."
"Right. It's something to go on, anyway. We know the rough area where she appeared; that, and her age, narrows down the list of schools to check." Artemis yawned. "What time is it? Oh, great. Well, I'll grab two or three hours of sleep, and then get moving."
Itsuko raised an eyebrow. "Not just yet," she said. "There's one very important thing you have to do first."
"Artemis, you just spent the last few days in an alley. Do you have any idea what you smell like? I'm not even going to mention fleas." She gave him a distinctly nasty smile. "It's time for a bath…"
The school was abuzz with rumours when Beth arrived. Most students had not heard about the mysterious appearance of a Sailor Senshi the night before—the news had broken quite late—but they soon made up for the lack of facts with vivid imagination. When Beth herself walked in the gate she was intercepted by Nanako, who solemnly told her that a group of five Senshi had defeated an armed terrorist uprising, and that Queen Serenity herself was expected to be announcing plans for a renewed Crystal Millennium later that day.
Beth blinked at that, not quite sure how to respond. She grew steadily more incredulous as, over the next ten minutes, she heard six more versions of what had happened. None of them made much sense. Nanako's was actually one of the least outré; others featured time machines bringing the historical Senshi forward in time; various species of aliens; secret cloning laboratories; and (her personal favourite) the personal intervention of one or more kami to restore the dead Senshi to life.
Things settled down a little once classes started; but at lunch break, the rumour mills swung into full force once more. A few students who had smuggled pocket radios into school—strictly against the rules—were mobbed when news bulletins came on. Unfortunately, the newsies had little new to report. Dr. Fukuda, the chairman of the Serenity Council, had made a speech appealing for order and promising an immediate investigation, pointing out that the whole incident could easily be a hoax.
Many of the students listening booed at that announcement, to Beth's secret delight. To her surprise, though, a number of others only nodded in apparent satisfaction. Did they want it to be a hoax? she wondered, shocked.
Nanako was one who booed. "The Serries've got no more idea of what happened than we do!" she exclaimed. "Do they just really expect us to sit back and wait and see?"
"What else can we do?" pointed out Beth.
"That's beside the point!" Nanako spluttered indignantly. "How can they suggest this is all a hoax? Didn't you see the recording?"
"Um, no," said Beth truthfully. She'd had a slightly better view than a recording. Her arm still ached from the gunman's bullet. She rubbed it absently. At least her sleeves covered the wound.
Nanako flushed. "Well, neither did I," she admitted. "But my father did!"
Beth stared at her. "You knew all about the recording? So what was all that you were telling me this morning about terrorists?"
"Oh, never mind that," Nanako said, flushing a brighter red. "The point is, he saw it! And he thinks it must be real!"
"Oh, yes," put in Eitoku. He was one who hadn't booed. "That settles everything, of course. Come on, Nana-chan, the chairman's right. Of course it's going to be a hoax! Things like…like Sailor Senshi…just don't happen any more!"
"Yes they do! You'll see! Anyway, I bet you didn't see the recording either!"
"I saw it," said Iku.
There was a moment's silence.
"What?" said Eitoku.
"What?" said Nanako at the same moment. "You saw it?"
Iku flushed. "I was just going to bed," she said. "I saw it when the news report came on."
Beth stared at her, horrified. What if Iku had recognised her? Then it struck her: sooner or later, everyone was going to see that recording. Everyone was going to know who she was. She felt like screaming. Why, oh why hadn't she noticed that security camera and…and broken it, or something? She held her breath, waiting for Iku to answer.
"There wasn't much to see," Iku said, looking embarrassed. "Just a blurry picture of a girl in a fuku. She got shot in the arm, and then she did something and this…kind of spiral ray appeared."
"There, you see!" burst out Nanako triumphantly. "That proves it!"
"No it doesn't!" returned Eitoku. "She said a blurry picture! Anyone could fake that!"
Beth sighed to herself. A blurry picture? She could live with that. She looked back at Iku, a little curious. That was the longest speech she'd ever heard the girl make. And she seemed so…disconcerted at being the centre of attention.
Her arm twinged and she rubbed it again. The motion caught Eitoku's eye. "What's the matter, Beth-san?" he asked, apparently glad of the distraction (he'd been losing the argument badly, overmatched by Nanako's ability to say three words for every one of his). "You've been rubbing that arm all day."
"Oh, nothing," Beth said, startled. She found herself blushing, rather to her annoyance. He noticed me! "I just knocked it on a door, that's all."
Nanako laughed. "That's because you walk around in a daydream all day." Eitoku and Iku laughed too, and Beth looked away, biting her lip. So she never noticed it when Nanako suddenly frowned, looking thoughtfully at her arm.
"Anyway," Nanako said after a slight pause, "it must be Sailor Venus. She's the one with the Love-me Chain attack. And she was the first Senshi to appear, back in the Old Days."
"That doesn't mean anything…" Eitoku was quick to argue. The battle was soon joined again. Beth listened to them bickering, a half-smile on her lips. Yes, they argued all the time; but it was kind of fun to listen to them. Fun to be with them. Fun to have friends…
She glanced at Iku again. Iku was watching the two of them too, wearing an almost identical half-smile. Beth raised her eyebrows. Now what did that mean?
The bell rang, signalling the end of lunch break. Nanako and Eitoku reluctantly abandoned their argument (both of them looked at the same time disappointed and relieved) and the four started back across the fields. As they walked Nanako looked at Beth, grinned and said, "At least you look a bit more wide-awake today, Beth-chan! You've been half-asleep for the last few days."
Too many late nights training, Beth though with a mental sigh. "Oh, I managed to get an earlier night last night," she said casually. That was true enough. Bendis had insisted; and after she realised just how close she'd come to being seriously hurt, Beth had been glad to agree.
Nanako only nodded, looking thoughtful. As they entered the classroom, Beth relaxed with a sigh. Actually, it was a relief to be able to concentrate for a while on something other than what she'd done the night before.
Lieutenant Midori whistled cheerfully to himself as he walked through the foyer of 'S' Division headquarters. He was jingling the loose change in his pocket and trying to decide where to go for lunch as he pushed the door open and stepped outside. He paused to hold the door open for a woman who was going in.
He stayed there, holding the door open for longer than was strictly necessary, so that he could watch her as she stepped through. She was certainly worth a second look. Tall, almost as tall as he was, and exotically beautiful, with a magnificent mane of black hair.
He checked the ID card clipped to her lapel as she stepped past him. It was purely an automatic reflex—he was a security officer, after all—but it also gave him her name: Fumihiko Sadako. He smiled, and started to step forward to speak to her—
She turned her head and looked him in the eye, and…something strange happened. A moment's giddiness, perhaps? Or perhaps it was something about her expression. Quite suddenly, Midori realised that he didn't want to speak to her after all. He nodded politely, closed the door behind her, and went on his way. Within ten minutes, he had forgotten he had ever seen her.
One last memory remained: the sight of her hair. Extraordinary. Such a rich, deep black; but when the sunlight caught it, just for a moment, it had the most amazing green highlights.
She checked her ID card as she walked calmly onward, putting the young officer from her mind. The card looked perfectly in order, but if she tried to swipe it through a card-reader, alarms would ring all over the building. She wasn't worried about it, though. She had the situation covered.
For a moment, the name on the card caught her eye: Fumihiko Sadako. She shrugged. What's in a name? And she'd had so many names.
She watched the probability flows, timing her footsteps carefully. Just as she reached the next door, it opened and a pair of officers came out. One of them held the door for her, of course. She nodded curtly as she stepped through.
So it went, door after door. Always with the most natural-seeming timing. When she needed to catch an elevator up to the ninth floor, there happened to be a clerk going the same way; and she smiled in thanks as the young woman pushed the button for her.
Who needed to be able to teleport? Who needed a Time Staff? This way worked just fine, too.
Fifteen minutes after Midori let her into the building, she was in a cubicle at the rear of 'S' Division's main Operations room, standing in front of an unlocked computer terminal. The keyboard operator had stepped out for a coffee; she had three minutes and eleven seconds before he got back. She typed quickly. Property records; historical files; name of property: Olympus Gymnasium. She studied the display for a few seconds. Yes, the trail of ownership was clear enough, if anyone knew to look. She typed again. A few critical pieces of information were changed: a serial number here, a date there. That would buy a little time. Then, without showing the least bit of haste, she cleared the log of what she'd been doing and walked away from the terminal. Five seconds later the terminal's operator got back, holding a steaming plastic cup. Seeing nothing unusual, he resumed his work.
Fumihiko Sadako retraced her steps and walked calmly out of 'S' Division into the bright sunshine. On the street outside, she bought a newspaper and read an analysis of the previous night's Sailor Senshi incident with interest. "About time," she murmured to herself, and walked on. Nobody noticed her. That was the way she preferred it.
Fukuda Ikemoto, chairman of the Serenity Council, paid a call to the 'M' Division offices that afternoon.
Each member of the Council managed one or more government divisions. They were allotted more or less by seniority. However, because the chairman had so many other responsibilities, he was traditionally only given 'M' Division, the smallest and least significant of the government departments.
At least, that was the theory.
He spent some time handling routine paperwork and speaking with his chief operations officers. It didn't take long; there wasn't much to do, there never was. Really, 'M' Division didn't warrant being a separate arm of the government at all. It was the Council's Maintenance arm, responsible for the manufacture and maintenance of all the premises, vehicles, machines, tools, stationery and other specialty equipment used by the other branches of the government. It was a glorified factory and accounting organisation, that was all.
At least, that was the theory. That was what everyone was told.
The chairman finished his paperwork, bid a cheerful farewell to his secretary, and caught the elevator down to the car-park. As the doors closed, though, he slipped an ID card into the maintenance-key slot. The elevator car did not stop at ground level; it went down a lot further.
There was a security checkpoint at the bottom. The guards all knew him by sight; but still, they covered him with their weapons as he bent over the retinal scanner.
Finally the machine blipped and he could go on, into the inner sanctum. Into the real 'M' Division. The secret for which all the rest was just a cover. The Serenity Council's hidden think-tank.
And here, at the centre, was the chief thinker. One of the Council's greatest assets. M in person.
(The name was partially a joke, he recalled, like Security's mythical 'Q' Division. Wasn't there some ancient book or viddy in the Archives? Some kind of spy story? Well, it didn't matter.)
M looked up with as he came in, then returned to studying a complex piece of equipment. The chairman looked at it briefly, then away again with a shrug. "Busy?" he inquired.
M grunted and said, "What do you want?"
"I have a little job for you. We need some of the scanners in 'S' Division's Opals refitted—"
There was a sigh from M, and the chairman nodded. The Opals were flying patrol vehicles: fast, sturdy, utterly reliable, and one of the most valuable assets that 'P' and 'S' Divisions had. And they had been invented here. The field generator that drove them was one of M's greatest triumphs: a tiny unit, less than half a cubic metre, that spun a delicate web of interlaced fields so complex that few others could follow even the theory behind them.
But they were only one of the technical wonders that had come out of this room. Much of the equipment used by 'D' Division—the Diplomatic Corps, who also doubled as Japan's external-espionage agency—had been developed by M. To say nothing of some of the innovations for the War department.
The scanners were another matter. There was nothing terribly secret about them, and this refit could have been handled by someone a little less rarefied than M. But then, if it was done through M, there were no questions to be answered.
"What do you need?" asked M wearily.
The chairman smiled, and explained. He didn't say that he wanted a Senshi-detector, of course. There was no point in letting even M know too much. But it wasn't too hard to describe his requirements in broad enough terms that nobody could have worked out what he was really after. After all, he was a politician.
M sighed again when he stopped talking. The chairman waited for the expected protest at the waste of time, but none came. Well, good. Perhaps M had gotten the message at last. You didn't question the chairman's orders. You just obeyed them.
"It will take a few days," M said after a moment. "I'll have to do a little figuring. I'll give you a better estimate by tomorrow morning." The chairman nodded and M added, "Is that all?"
"Yes." The chairman turned to go, saying over his shoulder, "I'll expect your report by ten o'clock." Looking away again, he started briskly toward the door.
"I've made up a new batch of the salve," M said to his back.
The chairman froze.
"It's right here," M said softly. Almost involuntarily, he turned, to see M indicating a broad, shallow bowl covered with a cloth.
He stopped hesitating. As M removed the covering, he gingerly took off his gloves, staring expressionlessly at the horrors beneath. The smell filled the laboratory almost immediately. Neither of them showed any reaction. After a few seconds, the chairman lowered what had once been his hands into the thick gel. He hissed through his teeth, then sighed softly in relief.
He remembered his initiation into the Council. He'd struggled at first. The price had been very high. But the memory was distant, unimportant.
"You should do this more often," said M remotely. "There's no need to be stoic about it."
"Perhaps," the chairman said. "If you could develop a formulation that doesn't decay so fast—?" As M's headshake, he shrugged. "So. It doesn't matter, then."
He drew the gloves back on without a wince, turned, and started out of the room without ceremony. He could feel M's eyes on his back, and could not resist smiling to himself. After all, they both knew what the guards at the end of the corridor were really there for. M was far too useful to the Council to ever be allowed to resign.
Sometimes it's hard to be a genius, he thought ironically.
Bendis was waiting anxiously when Beth got home. Beth suppressed a sigh when she saw the cat. Don't I ever get any time off? she wondered. She didn't say it out loud, though. She was pretty sure she knew what Bendis' answer would be: something long-winded about duty. For all her disparaging comments about Artemis, Bendis could be pretty fanatical herself.
(And what was it between her and Artemis, anyway? When Beth raised the subject, Bendis always got very evasive. It was almost as if she wanted to avoid him. But why? This was Artemis, for heaven's sake! The idea of meeting someone who had actually known Queen Serenity made Beth's head spin. But Artemis had even known the Queen's mother—Serenity the First. He had actually lived back in the days of the Silver Millennium! So why did Bendis—)
"About time," the cat grumbled. "I thought you'd never be back."
"You always say that," Beth pointed out.
Bendis glared at her. "You try being cooped up in this house without anything to do all day," she muttered darkly.
"Oh." Beth thought about it. "But I thought you just, well, lie around and sleep all day, or chase mice, or…" She trailed off uncertainly. Somehow she had the feeling that she was in a lot of trouble, though she was not quite sure why.
Bendis shot her a venomous look. "Are you under the impression that I'm an ordinary housecat or something?" she snarled. "Perhaps you'd like me to go play with a ball of string or something…?"
"Er…" Beth began. She had a sudden vision of Bendis playing with a ball of string. It was a very endearing image, but she had the impression that it might be wisest not to share it. "Sorry," she said, flushing.
"I should hope so," said Bendis imperiously. "Mice! Look, we need to talk about last night. How's your arm, anyway? And we—"
"Oh, right—they were all talking about it at school," Beth burst out excitedly. "Apparently there was a security camera in the charging station. I'm on the viddy! Everyone is watching me! This is so…so weird!"
"What?" Bendis stared at her, aghast. "Oh, no. This is terrible. Artemis is going to kill me—" She broke off. "Ah, I mean, Artemis is going to be pretty annoyed. When he gets back, that is. From his mission."
"Oh?" said Beth after a moment, filing the slip away for later contemplation. "Why? What's wrong with being on the viddy?"
"You don't understand," Bendis told her. "If the Council—"
She cut off suddenly as there was a knock on the door. "Beth?" called a voice. "Who's in there with you?"
"Oops," muttered Beth. She opened the door. "Hi, Mom. Nobody's in here."
"Oh." McCrea Helen stepped into the room and took a rather obvious look around. Inwardly, Beth groaned. She'd had to pretend to have a boyfriend to explain why she was out so late at night, and her mother was clearly nervous about the whole idea.
Seeing nobody else there, she headed back out, pausing to stare at Bendis for a moment. "I hope you're feeding that cat properly," she said. "Remember, if you want a pet, you pay for it yourself."
"I know, Mom," Beth said patiently. Inwardly, she groaned. That 'pet' remark was going to make Bendis explode, she knew. She was going to have to listen to cat lectures for hours.
Then, with sudden delight, she realised that she didn't have to listen to a thing. Smiling, she followed her mother out before the cat could say a word. She closed the door behind her.
They walked into the living room. Helen seemed bothered by something. "Beth…" she said after a few moments. "Is there something you want to talk to me about?"
Beth stared up at her. "What do you mean?" she said evasively. She was thinking, She knows! She must have seen that recording, and recognised me!
"It's this boyfriend of yours, isn't it? What's his name?"
Beth's mouth hung open. She had no idea of what to say. She had no idea, for that matter, of what her mother was talking about.
"Oh, Beth…I knew this had to come someday," Helen went on. "And I know it's very wonderful and exciting when you fall in love for the first time. But I'm a little worried about you, dear. All these late nights, and the detentions at school, and now I hear you talking to yourself…" She took a deep breath. "You haven't…done something foolish, have you?"
"Mom!" Beth almost shouted, shocked. "Of course not!"
Helen looked at her doubtfully. "Well, I'm glad to hear that," she said. "But…be honest with me, dear. There is something you're not telling me, isn't there?"
Beth flushed. She looked down at the floor, not daring reply.
"I thought so. I…dear, would you rather talk about this with your father?"
Beth shook her head furiously. She had never been so embarrassed in her life. This was even worse than when Nanako had cornered her and made her talk to Eitoku, a few days ago. She wished she were somewhere else. Anywhere else.
"All right." Helen sighed. "I suppose you're old enough that you need to handle this on your own. Just remember…we're here, and we love you. All right?" At Beth's nod she added, "And remember this, too: be careful. Not all young men are gentlemen."
"Yes, Mom," Beth managed to say. For heaven's sake, she was sixteen years old! She wanted to laugh, or cry, or quite possibly scream. Or something. Instead she meekly said, "Yes, Mom."
"Are you going out again tonight?"
"Er—" Beth didn't know. She hadn't discussed it with Bendis yet. "Yes," she decided.
Helen frowned. "I really wish you wouldn't," she said. "I don't know if you've heard, but there are some dangerous people on the streets at the moment. It was on the news today. I want you to be especially careful, do you hear me?"
Beth smiled. At last, this was something she could be confident about. "Don't worry, Mom! If there's any crooks around, the Sailor Senshi will take care of them! Everyone at school today was saying—"
"What? Beth, it's this 'Senshi' I'm talking about!" Helen shook her head, tut-tutting. "Oh, if we're lucky it'll just be some poor deluded girl playing a silly game. But if it turns out to be for real, I want you to be careful, understand? And if you see any of these Senshi, you stay well away from them!"
Beth stared. "What are you talking about?" she demanded. "The Senshi help people, they don't hurt them!"
"Oh?" said Helen. "I know that's what everyone likes to think. And I admit things turned out well in the end. But back when they first appeared…Beth, you go to the library sometime, and look at some of the twentieth-century history books. Those girls attracted a lot of trouble back then. A number of people got hurt, and some of them nearly got killed, when they were around."
Beth couldn't believe what she was hearing. "How can you say that? Everyone knows the Senshi were good!"
"Meaning well is not the same as doing good," her mother said firmly. "And I'm not saying they were bad. I'm saying that when they were around there was always trouble." She gave Beth an unnervingly direct look. "I don't want you getting hurt, dear. So you stay well away. Promise me!"
"All right," Beth said with a sigh. She thought fast. "I promise; I'll be careful, and if I see this Sailor Venus I'll stay away from her. All right?"
Helen nodded. "Thank you, dear. Now, I must start on dinner—" She bustled off. Beth watched her go indignantly. The Senshi, trouble? Nonsense!
Then she rubbed her arm, which was still quite sore, and frowned in thought. Perhaps she ought to talk to Bendis about this. She headed back to her room. As it turned out, this was an unwise decision. Bendis was not happy with her.
After dinner Beth headed out once more. She didn't really want to, actually; she would have preferred to spend the evening at home for a change. But she'd already told her mother she was going to go, and it might look odd if she didn't. Besides, she needed to talk to Bendis, and it didn't seem to be safe at home at the moment.
Once she found a secluded spot, she sat down with a sigh. "I don't know what to do," she complained. "She thinks the Senshi are nothing but trouble-makers! What if she finds out I'm one?"
"So don't let her find out," said Bendis.
Beth gave her an irritated look. "That's not very much help," she complained. But another thought troubled her. "Bendis, she said the Senshi used to attract trouble. Was that true?"
"Well…" Bendis thought about it. "They didn't cause the trouble," she said at last. "But it's certainly true that after they appeared, trouble seemed to seek them out. I suppose it's natural that defenders and enemies should be drawn to—"
Beth did not seem to notice that she was still talking. "But then…if they attracted the trouble…" She made a face. "If I'm only going to draw in the bad guys and put other people in danger, maybe I should just give the whole thing up before it starts!"
Bendis made a rude noise. "Don't get carried away. Remember, they weren't the cause. All those things might have happened even if the Senshi hadn't been around. And then where would we all have been? If they hadn't been there to stop Queen Beryl…"
Nodding slowly, Beth said, "But there aren't any monsters around now. So why am I here? Why give me the power?"
"I already told you, I didn't give it to you! Look, you were born with the capacity. I just recognised it."
"You're make it sound like some kind of Cosmic Destiny thing," protested Beth. "Don't I get any choice?"
Bendis gave a cat shrug. "Do you want to give it up?"
"No! I mean, well—" She broke off, struggling to say what she meant. "I just don't want to think that, you know, everything I do is all laid down or something, like I'm some kind of puppet."
"Maybe you should talk to a priest," Bendis told her, rolling her eyes. "I'm not talking about predestination. It's more like an inheritance, you know? What you do with it's up to you. You can still fail. You can still get hurt."
Beth rubbed her arm reflexively. "I got hurt last night," she said, almost inaudibly.
"Sure, and whose fault was that?" said Bendis. "But you have to keep it in perspective. Okay, you got shot. It's not a particularly serious wound, but even so—you'll heal faster as a Senshi, but you're still going to have a sore arm for a few days, and probably a scar." Rather primly she added, "Actually, that might be a good thing. Now you know you're not invulnerable, you might be a bit more careful in future."
Beth sniffed. "When did you get so keen on being careful? A couple of days ago you were saying—" She stopped suddenly. "Wait a minute. A scar? I can't have a scar!"
Bendis shrugged, unconcerned. "In the hero business, it's almost bound to happen before long—"
"You idiot!" Bendis stared at her, startled. "I can't have a scar!" Beth shouted. "Everyone at school will see it! They'll know I'm Sailor Venus! This will ruin everything!"
"Er, that's a pretty good point, actually." Bendis tried to think. "I don't suppose you can just wear long sleeves all the time? All right, scratch that one. Um. Ahh…let's see, what kind of excuse would explain—"
"Excuses won't help! Thanks to that recording, everyone knows exactly where Sailor Venus got hurt!" Beth took on a sudden wild look. "I know! I'll change schools! That way—no, wait a minute, that won't work, will it?" She clutched her head. "What am I saying? Oh, no, what am I going to do?"
"Calming down would be a good start," muttered Bendis.
Unfortunately, Beth heard her. Bendis suddenly found herself picked up by the scruff of the neck. "You're…not…helping!" hissed Beth.
"What do you want me to say?" protested Bendis in a rather strained voice. "Panicking isn't going to do any good! You don't even know if it's going to cause a scar yet!"
"What? But you just said—"
"Maybe I was wrong! Maybe you won't get a scar! Or maybe it'll be so faint nobody'll see it! Or, or, or will you let me breathe!"
"What? Oh. Yeah." Beth put Bendis down. She had an odd expression on her face: as if she didn't quite believe what she'd just been saying. She stared at Bendis for a moment, rubbing her arm without even noticing.
In the sudden silence, they both heard it. The approaching hum.
"Opal!" said Bendis unnecessarily. The cat jumped for cover. Beth watched her, puzzled. Why was Bendis so wary of Opals?
The hum grew louder quickly. Beth looked up. After a few seconds she saw it: a dark shape in the sky, some distance off, barely visible in the twilight except for the steady winking of its running lights. It was headed north, and moving quite fast, she noticed with interest. And that meant—
She smiled. Then she stepped into the nearby bushes, and said three words.
Light and energy flared.
Sailor Venus stepped out of the bushes once more, grinning like a fiend. She picked up an astonished Bendis before the cat could move; then, bounding from rooftop to rooftop at a furious pace, she started after the Opal.
"—Earth were you thinking?" ranted Bendis. "We're supposed to avoid being seen by the police! Not go following them!"
Venus glanced down and held a finger to her lips. "Shh," she shh'ed.
"Dammit, aren't you listening to a word I—" Bendis stopped suddenly as Venus crouched down beside her. They were hidden on a rooftop overlooking the Opal's landing site, just outside a jeweller's shop. Or, in other words, a great deal closer than Bendis had ever wanted to come to an Opal again.
"They're right below us," Venus whispered, smirking. "Keep it down, willya?"
Bendis was silent for a moment. Finally, choosing her words carefully, she hissed, "What the hell are we doing here?"
Venus shrugged. "Righting wrongs. Triumphing over evil. That sort of thing."
The cat stared up at her, speechless. She said that with a straight face, she thought inanely. "Er—" she said at last.
"Hey, anywhere an Opal's going in that much of a hurry, there must be some kind of crime going on, right?" said Venus brightly.
"Yes, and we'd all be much better off if you let the police in that Opal handle it, too! They're the ones who're trained to fight crime! What makes you think they need you?"
"Probably they don't," the Senshi admitted. "I was just planning to watch. Check out the action. Good idea to see how the pros handle things, right? Good training."
Bendis stared. "You mean…you never intended to—"
"Well, duh. You think I want to get shot again? I'll just sit right here." Venus paused. "Unless it looks like they can't handle it, of course."
"Unless—?" Bendis shot her a suspicious look. Then a movement below caught her eye.
As they watched, four police officers climbed out of the Opal and cautiously approached the jeweller's, their weapons at the ready. Two of them disappeared inside. A third disappeared down a side alley; the fourth took up a position by the door.
Nothing happened for some time. Then, suddenly, they heard gunfire: individual shots, and then the chatter of automatic fire. There were shouts, and a single short scream.
The policeman at the door raised his gun and stepped into the doorway. Almost instantly, another shot rang out. He spun around with a cry of pain and fell to the ground. Moments later they heard running feet, and the third policeman reappeared. He ran to the fallen man's side, pulling him clear.
Venus looked down at Bendis. She seemed uncertain. Her face was pale. "Guns," she whispered. Then, suddenly, she shook her head, and the grin was back. There was an anticipatory glint in her eye. "Do you think I should—" she began.
Bendis shook her head firmly. "It's still not your job," she insisted. "Those police down there would tell you the same. There'll be more of them on the way."
"Oh…I suppose so," Venus said. She looked disappointed. "But still—that man in the street. He, he's b-bleeding, and…and if I—"
"If you go down there, the chances are that it'll be you shot and bleeding," Bendis pointed out. "Face it, this isn't your fight. It isn't your kind of fight."
"Then what is?" asked Venus, very softly. And Bendis could not answer her.
They continued to watch. The third policeman spoke quickly into his commset, then did what he could for his wounded comrade. Then he straightened and took up a position covering the entrance, his weapon drawn. Bendis whispered a running commentary. Venus nodded. She was starting to fidget.
There were shouts. A single shot. More shouting. A group of people came out of the jeweller's.
It took a few seconds to make out the details. There were four men with guns, holding a policewoman hostage. They were shouting out demands. The two watchers on the roof could not make out everything they said, but it was clear enough that things were going badly. One of the burglars held a gun to the hostage's head.
Bendis heard a sound behind her. She glanced back, and saw Venus crouching down, measuring distances with her eyes, ready to leap.
Venus winked at her. "Don't worry," she said. "After all, there aren't any security cameras out here to record this, are there?"
"No! Don't—" Bendis began. Too late. Venus took a deep breath and sprang out into the air. For love, and justice.
"You idiot," the cat whispered. "That's a police Opal down there. It's full of security cameras."
The wind in her face was cold. She relaxed for half a second, enjoying it. Then she started concentrating on where she was going to land. And on what she'd have to do when she got there.
Four bad guys, with guns. Hand-to-hand, she wasn't sure if she could get them all fast enough to keep them from getting off a shot. And the Love-Me Chain wasn't really much use from close up. So she'd have to keep it from getting close up. That made it more difficult.
That made it a challenge.
She touched down lightly on a ledge just a few metres above the little drama that was still playing out below. Nobody noticed. She nodded; good. This might just work. She waited until they were in the perfect position—
First, the announcement.
She stepped forward into view. "I am the lovely sailor-suited warrior Sailor Venus!" she declaimed. "You have broken the law, and seriously injured an officer of the law. But now you face a higher law!" Gesturing, she took up a dramatic pose. "In the name of the planet Venus—" she told them "—you're mine!"
Seven pairs of eyes stared up at her. Seven faces reflected total disbelief. She paused for a moment, relishing the moment. Then she sprang.
Her aim was true. She caught the hostage policewoman, waist-height in a perfect tackle, tearing her from the burglars' grasp and tumbling them over and over, stopping several metres away. Then, still on the ground, she flipped over and shouted, "VENUS LOVE-ME CHAIN!"
The chain arced out. All those hours of practice paid off. It looped itself neatly around the group of burglars—and around the lamp post they had been passing. Venus let the drag on the chain flip her to her feet, braced herself, and hauled it tight.
And that was all there was to it. The chain tightened around the little group, drawing them in against the lamp post. Most of them had their arms pinned down at their sides, helpless. The one man who kept his arms free dropped his gun at the sudden jerk. He plucked at the chain, cursing, then yelped as a spark of energy stung his hand.
Venus smirked. "Yes!" she shouted.
Then she turned to the police. For some reason, they didn't seem so happy.
One of them didn't, at least. The policewoman she had saved climbed to her feet, shouting, "Who are you, and what the hell do you think you're doing? Don't you know you could get hurt?"
Venus glared at her, annoyed and hurt. "I'm Sailor Venus," she told her. "And I'd've thought you'd be a bit more grateful, when I've just saved your life!"
The woman stared at her once more, and something peculiar changed in her face.
Then she slapped Venus' face.
It was a hard blow, and it rocked Venus' head back. Venus stared at her, shocked. "Damn you," the woman hissed. "I've worked to be where I am today. You think I'm going to be replaced by some prissy bitch in a short skirt? Why don't you get back to the kindergarten where you belong?"
"W-what—" stammered Venus.
"I ought to arrest you here and now," the woman continued. "You—oh, the hell with you. Shoji-kun—" She turned to look at the other policeman, still standing by the door. "I'm going to check on Tanaka. Look after Miss High-and-Mighty, will you?"
She stalked back into the jeweller's, her body stiff and taut with rage. That left the last policeman, still staring at Venus. Venus tried to smile, but it didn't work very well. She felt as if she'd just been punched in the stomach. No, worse. "Your turn," she said. Her voice sounded shaky.
"I thought you did very well," he said softly.
"Don't mind her." He indicated the direction the woman had gone. "She hasn't gotten used to the idea yet. That it's starting again. It's all coming back."
He smiled brightly. "She doesn't see it, not yet. Her eyes are still closed—"
Then, to her horror, he knelt down and bowed his head before her. "Oh, please," he whispered urgently. "When you see the blessed queen, tell her…tell her…" He reached for her hand, and she realised he wanted to kiss it. She tried to squirm away from him, nauseated and—finally—afraid; but she could not move too far without releasing the Love-Me Chain, and if she did that it would vanish—
And then someone else was there. The wounded 'P' division officer, pulling the would-be worshipper away. His left arm hung limply at his side, the shoulder stained a dark red that was nearly black under the street lights. His face was pale, but his eyes were alert and there was nothing unsteady in his voice.
"You'd better go," he said quickly. "I'll take care of him."
"But—" She indicated the chain, and the bundle of trapped burglars.
"Right." He fumbled at his side with a short hiss of pain and produced another gun. "Just drop them," he said. "Then get out of here. I'll handle it."
"I—" She took a deep breath. "Yes. Thank you."
Thank you for being normal.
She released the chain. Suddenly freed, the four prisoners staggered forward. Three of them dropped to the ground. Venus paid no attention. She turned and ran away. She did not watch to make sure the officer could manage. She did not stop to pick up Bendis. She did not look back at all.
She just ran. And ran. And ran.
Bendis got back to the McCrea house on her own, hours later. She found Beth lying in bed, wide awake, her face stained with tears. Bendis did not say a word. She jumped onto the girl's bed, and Beth took her in her arms, and cried for a very long time.
The next morning—
Hayashi Miyo walked towards school, talking animatedly to her friends Dhiti and Kin. Dhiti had heard that there'd been another Senshi sighting the night before. They were discussing the possibility that the new Sailor Venus might be someone at their school.
Kin still didn't believe in this new Senshi. "It's got to be a trick of some kind," she insisted. "Maybe they're shooting some new movie, or something."
"Yeah, sure," snorted Dhiti. "You think the newsies wouldn't know about that?" Dhiti was obviously a Claver, her skin was very dark; but she spoke perfect, unaccented Japanese. "C'mon, tell her, Hayashi!"
Miyo jumped. "What?" she said. "Ah, sorry, what did you say?" Dhiti repeated herself. "Oh. No, I don't think it was a movie. It could be some kind of impostor, though. Or…"
She trailed off uncertainly. She'd had the oddest dream last night. She was fairly sure it had been about a Senshi. It had been all blurred and strange, though, as if seen through fogged glass—
She thought about telling the other two about it, but Dhiti was already talking again. She was running through a list of girls they knew, rating each one on her potential Senshi-hood. Miyo listened, amused.
It was odd, this business, she thought. Unsettling. Did new Senshi mean there was going to be a Queen again? That would be interesting. Then the Serenity Council would have to step down—after all, they only held power until the Queen returned. It was in their charter.
She said as much, and Dhiti and Kin both stared at her. "Geez, politics!" said Kin in disgust.
"Hey, what's wrong with you this morning?" inquired Dhiti. "You look pretty out of it." Then suddenly, she gasped. "I know!" she said theatrically. "It's you! You're Sailor Venus!"
Miyo joined in their laughter. "Yeah, that'll be the day," she said. But something inside her added, No…that's not it…
"Anyway, let's talk about something more interesting," Dhiti suggested, and launched into a description about what she was going to do in the fencing tournament the next week.
Miyo rolled her eyes. Only Dhiti would think western-style fencing was more interesting than Sailor Senshi. But then, that was Dhiti all over. The smartest girl Miyo knew, but she could never stay on one topic for more than five minutes.
Shaking her head, she walked on, trying to appear interested in what the smaller girl was saying. They came up to the gates of Aosagi School. As they passed through, Miyo glanced down and was surprised to see a small white cat sitting just inside the gate, staring up at her. That was odd. White cat, something inside her said. But what was so special about a white cat?
She shook her head, bewildered, still looking at it. Its eyes followed her as she went past, and she almost thought it seemed surprised to see her—
"Are you listening to what I'm saying, Hayashi?" demanded Dhiti. And Miyo laughed, apologised, and walked on, the cat forgotten…
Artemis stared after the girl, stunned. After all these years, he thought. Who would have believed it?
Oh, he'd put up a good talk for Itsuko. He'd claimed to have been so certain. But somewhere deep inside…he had not been sure. He kept up the search, doggedly, year after decade after century, but he had not been sure. He had doubted.
Oh, Serenity, he thought. You managed it after all.
He had seen the girl clearly. Seen the moment of recognition in her eyes. Felt the power within her.
You did it…you sent them forward, to be reborn yet again…
There could be no further doubt. Not any more. Because the girl he had just seen, Miyo, the tall girl with the ponytail of chestnut hair, was the living image of Kino Makoto.
S A I L O R M O O N 4 2 0 0
END OF CHAPTER THREE
Next: Chaos continues to build; trouble for Bendis; and—the return of Sailor Jupiter!
Updated: 24 September, 2005