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 shadowy Serenity Council.
Artemis survived the final battle; now he and his great-granddaughter Bendis are searching for a new generation of Senshi. Shortly after they argue and split up, Bendis discovers the new Sailor Venus: a young girl, McCrea Beth, at a nearby school. She decides to train Beth on her own.
Venus' first exploits are national news but public opinion soon takes a disturbing direction. Some people hate her; some want to worship her. Frightened and upset, Venus runs. The Serenity Council, already hunting for Bendis, make plans to deal with Venus too.
Meanwhile Artemis asks an old friend to help find Bendis again: Hino Rei, once Sailor Mars, who also survived the fall of Crystal Tokyo. Now powerless, she tries to avoid recognition, taking the name Pappadopoulos Itsuko, owner of the Olympus Gymnasium. But her efforts to help Artemis draw attention, and a security team begins a secret investigation of the Olympus. When the team see Artemis at the gym they decide not to report it—yet; but Itsuko (who has had visions suggesting that the evil that destroyed Crystal Tokyo is beginning to move again) realises that she is being watched and sends Artemis away.
Sailor Pluto secretly alters records to obstruct the investigation of the Olympus. And Artemis finds another schoolgirl, Hayashi Miyo, who is Kino Makoto, Sailor Jupiter, reborn. But when he tries to re-awaken her memories, he accidentally restores her memories of the Silver Millennium as well…
By Angus MacSpon
Sailor Moon 4200 Home Page
Based on "Sailor Moon" created by Naoko Takeuchi
How to begin?
Bendis took a deep breath and said, "Beth, we need to talk."
She had been prowling the room for hours, trying to decide what to do. This crisis had been building for too long. Beth had been upset after her disastrous second public appearance as Sailor Venus; but Bendis had hoped that she'd get over it, bounce back, become her old self again.
It didn't seem to be working. For the third day in a row, Beth had come straight home from school, barely grunted in response to her mother's greeting, thrown her bag into the corner, and lain down on her bed. Not saying anything, or doing anything. Just lying there.
Her parents were worried, Bendis knew. She had heard them talking in hushed voices when they thought they were alone. At first they'd thought Beth had just had an argument with her boyfriend; but it had gone far beyond that point. They had begun to mention the word "psychiatrist." Bendis couldn't blame them, really; their daughter was trying to shut out the world, and they didn't know why.
Bendis knew why. Whether she would be able to get Beth to snap out of it was another matter. In the end, all she could think of was: "Beth, we need to talk."
For some time there was no reply. At last Beth rolled over on her bed and said flatly, "What do you want?"
Oh, boy. Worse than I thought. Bendis fervently wished she were somewhere else. Aloud she replied, "Look, I know you're still upset about the other night—"
Beth rolled back, facing the wall once more. Her voice was muffled as she said, "I don't want to talk about it."
Bendis jumped up onto the bed, padding around the girl's feet until they were face-to-face once more. "I know you don't," she said. "But this can't go on. You've got to pull yourself together. Look, it's not always going to be like that!"
"No?" Beth sat up suddenly. "What if it's worse? Bendis, she hated me! You didn't see! That woman hated me! What if they throw things at me next time? What if they do that?"
Bendis did not answer at once. Then she said slowly, "That's not what you're worried about, is it? It's…the other one."
Beth turned away again. "Shut up."
"The one who wanted to worship you."
"I said shut up!" Her face was pale, and she was breathing quickly. "That's not what he—" She swallowed, hard. "He didn't—no, he—he—"
Bendis reached out and touched her arm with one paw. "Beth, it's all right—"
"No!" Beth started to cry. "No! It's not all right. It's…it's wrong! He shouldn't—I'm not—Oh, Bendis, what am I going to do? He thought I'm some kind of goddess like Queen Serenity, but I'm not, I'm just ordinary, and I don't want this any more…" She buried her face in her pillow, shaking silently.
What am I supposed to do now? Bendis thought in dismay. How do I handle this? Dammit, Artemis would know what to do—he'd know just the right thing to say…
Yeah, Artemis would play the voice of sweet reason, and cajole her out of her misery somehow. Bendis wasn't too hot on sweet reason, though.
Bendis thought about it. Then, very deliberately, she leaned forward and bit Beth's arm.
"OWWW!" Beth sat bolt-upright, clutching the wounded spot. Bendis scooted back hurriedly. "WHADDYA DO THAT FOR?!"
"Well, it stopped you crying," Bendis said innocently. She dodged a pillow. "Now listen to me. There's something very important you have to know."
Beth hesitated, the book in her hand cocked to throw. "What?" she said suspiciously.
"Firstly, self-pity is very unattractive." Bendis dodged again. "Secondly, Queen Serenity wasn't a goddess. Right?"
"I know that!" Beth said crossly.
"Really? A minute ago you said she was. Change your mind?"
"I mean—" Beth stopped, confused. "No, what I meant was…she wasn't a…she was…I don't know what I meant!"
Bendis stared her in the eye. "Beth, listen to me. Queen Serenity was not a goddess. She was a human being. She started off as a girl just like—well, not too different from you. She laughed, she cried, she…she loved ice cream. A lot of things happened to her, a lot of changes, but in the end…all the way…she was a human being. She was not a goddess. And neither are you."
The relief, the hope in Beth's eyes was inexpressible. But some doubt remained. "But—the officer, he said—"
Bendis snorted. "Oh, sure. So what? So he's a bonehead. Why should you care?"
Beth stared at her. Then she snorted. Then—finally—she smiled.
Later, after dinner, they talked again. Beth lay on her bed and made a show of doing her homework, just in case her mother or father decided to check if she was all right; but after a few minutes of cursory effort the exercise books were closed, the pencils and erasers put away.
"Your parents looked a lot happier," observed Bendis.
Beth raised her eyebrows. Come to think of it, that was true. They had seemed a lot more cheerful. Her father had seemed relieved, for some reason, when she thanked him for passing a dish; and when she cleared her plate, her mother had actually offered her seconds.
"Do you think they've been worried?" she wondered aloud. She hadn't really noticed. But then, she hadn't been noticing much for a while.
"Worried?" Bendis sounded annoyed for some reason. "No, what would they have to worry about? Their only child doesn't speak to them for three days, barely eats, lies in her room all the time doing nothing—what's there to worry about?"
"Oh." Beth considered it. "I suppose I'll have to tell them something. Make up some kind of excuse."
"Very good. Try to make it a convincing one, all right?"
"Hmm." Beth fell into a reverie. What might her parents believe? They already thought she had a boyfriend, so something to do with that would probably work. And really, she realised, it was sort of true: she did have a boyfriend. Or at least, it was only a matter of time. After all, Eitoku was her friend now, wasn't he? That was something a bit more pleasant to think about. Sooner or later he was bound to see how much they were meant to be together, and come and sweep her off her feet. It was inevitable.
How to hasten that day? She smiled, a little dreamily. It was an old, familiar fantasy, that one. How to make him Notice Her. How to make him Realise how much he Needed Her. (There was a notebook hidden in the back of one of her drawers in which she sometimes wrote down some of her more interesting fantasies, and the poetry that she couldn't bear to tear up. Most of the fantasies, and virtually all the poetry, had a common subject. Fortunately, Bendis couldn't open drawers.)
Let's see, how should it be? A prince on a white horse, galloping up and taking her away to the palace of her dreams? That was a nice one. But lately she had been beginning to think that it was rather…well, juvenile. Soppy, even. The one where Eitoku saved her from terrible danger, now, that was better. So many dramatic variations to choose from. He could step in to defend her from the ruffians who wanted to make some kind of (unspecified) attack on her (undoubted) virtue. Or he could leap to save her from being hit by a runaway truck. Rather like how she'd saved Bendis, actually. Hmm. Or he could rescue her from the villains who held her hostage when they tried to rob a bank. The way she'd rescued the hostage at the jeweller's…
Lately, she was beginning to have a completely new, utterly delicious kind of fantasy. One in which she saved Eitoku from terrible danger.
It was amazing how satisfying that was. How much better it was that way. The look of admiration and respect in his eyes as he stared at his saviour was just so sweet. So thrilling. It made her feel strong. Alive. Confident. Powerful.
And that was the thing about being Sailor Venus, of course. Because Sailor Venus was strong, and fast, and agile, and had special powers. Sailor Venus was her fantasies come to life. Sailor Venus was a Senshi, someone who didn't have to be meek and polite and (admit it) alone all the time. When she was Sailor Venus she didn't have to be afraid. She could do anything. Say anything. Be anything.
She liked that. And she feared it.
"Beth? Beth, are you all right?"
She opened her eyes with a start. Bendis was staring at her, looking anxious. (How could a cat look anxious? But Bendis did.) "Uh, what did you say?" she stuttered.
"You were just staring off into space. I thought—well, never mind. Did you have any ideas?"
"Er." Beth thought frantically. "If I tell them I had an argument with my boyfriend?" It wasn't very good, but the best she could come up with on short notice.
Bendis sighed. "Oh, well, it'll probably work," she said.
It will? thought Beth, startled. Bendis went on, "You humans and your relationships…why do you let them get you so twisted around? You should try the cat way—"
She stopped suddenly, and was silent for some time. Then, sounding almost angry, she said, "No, you shouldn't. Forget I just said that. Nobody should…" She stopped again.
"Bendis, are you all right?" said Beth, staring at her.
"I'm fine," said Bendis savagely. "Just forget it, will you?"
Suddenly it became clear to Beth. Her mouth opened in an O of surprise. "You did, didn't you?" she said. "You had a…a relationship…and you—"
"Me?" Bendis stared at her. "Me? Of course not. Who on earth would I have a relationship with? Another cat? An Earth cat? Don't be ridiculous. It would be…obscene."
Beth frowned. "But—"
"Forget it, I said," Bendis snarled. Then, in a very obvious effort to change the subject, she said, "Look, it's still pretty early. Why don't we go out? Do a patrol. Get a bit more training in. You know."
Beth tried to hide her flinch. "Maybe not tonight," she said, as calmly as she could manage. "I've got quite a lot of homework—it's been building up…" She trailed off.
It wasn't so easy, she realised glumly. She couldn't just put it behind her and forget about it. The spectre of the disaster at the jeweller's was still with her.
When she dared to glance up at Bendis once more, she saw that the cat was looking at her steadily. "You can't hide forever, Beth," Bendis told her quietly. She turned, padded silently over to the window, sprang up onto the sill and leaped out.
Beth watched her go, biting her lip. She took a deep breath, held it, and let it out once more. Then, shaking her head in defeat, she picked up her books, opened them again and set to work. She did her homework in complete silence.
Not forever, no. But just a little while longer…
"Oh, not that stuff again," Artemis said, groaning. "I hate it. It tastes like…you don't want to know what it tastes like."
"Don't blame me," snapped Miyo. "I didn't buy it. And it has to get used up somehow."
"Can't you persuade your mother to get something else? Or buy something else yourself?" He watched as she spooned some of the stuff out into his food dish, wrinkling his nose in disgust.
"Are you kidding? She wasn't exactly happy when I told her I wanted to keep you." Artemis muttered something about 'keeping' but she ignored him. "I'm pretty sure she's not going to want to shell out for gourmet cat food. Can't you just, I dunno, catch mice or something?"
"Thank you so much. Do you have any idea what the average city mouse tastes like?"
Miyo shrugged. "I never thought about it before."
"Imagine my surprise. Field mice, now, out in the countryside, that's different. But here in town, most of them live on garbage and all sorts of—well, never mind that." After a moment he added, "Chase them, okay. But eat them?" He sighed. "Well, I've done it when I had to. Frankly, this stuff is five-star by comparison."
Miyo scowled at him. "You know, I haven't eaten yet. Can we find something else to talk about?"
"Ha! And we both know what sort of food you'll be eating. Who's cooking tonight? You or your mother?" He saw her flush, and gave a cat grin. "What was I saying about five-star?"
"Look, I get the message, all right? I'll see if I can afford to get another brand of cat food. Just remember, I'm not made of money!"
"Um, thanks," Artemis said, slightly embarrassed. "Look, don't let me distract you. Remember what happened the day before yesterday—"
"Don't remind me." She had gotten too involved in her cooking, and ended up with a dish that nobody had eaten in millennia. It had been good—nobody had denied that—but afterward, her mother had thrown a minor fit when she found out what the main ingredient was.
Miyo brightened suddenly. "Hey, maybe I should write a book. A recipe book, I mean. 'Recipes of the Silver Millennium.'"
"Hmm, that could be—" Artemis did a double-take. "What? Makoto, have you lost your mind? I mean, Miyo—"
"Guess not, huh?" Miyo shrugged. "Oh, well." She grinned at him. "And watch the name, you. That's the last thing I need: anybody putting me together with 'Lady Kino.' It's bad enough I look the same as before; I don't need the extra attention."
"You don't have to worry about how you look, actually," he told her. "You have the same kind of protection you used to have. You remember, the old 'don't-notice' effect? People might realise you look a bit like Sailor Jupiter—or Kino Makoto—but they wouldn't think any more of it than that."
Though that, he thought but did not say aloud, was an advantage that Itsuko did not have. Not any more. Her protection had been broken, over two thousand years ago. For the twentieth time that day, he wondered if she was safe.
"I've been thinking about that," said Miyo slowly. "Looking the same, I mean. Does it always work that way? That we get reborn looking like we did before?"
Artemis shrugged. "In your case, I'd say so. Your rebirth each time was magical, done by the power of the Ginzuishou. For a more normal kind of reincarnation, probably not…but for you Senshi, it looks like you're staying pretty much the same."
"That's what I thought." Miyo hesitated. "Artemis…this Sailor Venus who's been in the news. She doesn't look like Minako-chan."
Artemis did not answer at once. At last he said, "I wondered if you'd noticed that."
She swallowed. "I thought—well, that if I'd been reborn, the others must have been too. But…"
With a sigh he said, "But no. I'm sorry, Miyo. I miss her too."
"I miss all of them," she said in a low voice. Then: "Artemis, what happened? After I…died?"
"Tell me. Please."
"Slaughter is what happened," Artemis said bluntly. "Miyo, you really don't want to hear it." He shook his head. "In the end, there was only Serenity left. But that's the way it always went, wasn't it?" He laughed humourlessly. "Only this time, it wasn't such a happy ending. By the time she broke free, it was too late. In her last moments, she was trying to do what her mother did. To send her people forward…"
Looking up at her he said, "I don't know why it came out like this. Maybe it was because of what had been done to the Ginzuishou. Maybe it's just that she ran out of time. Maybe…maybe a lot of things. But you made it. And Minako didn't. I'm sorry. That girl out there isn't her. Minako is dead. I'm sorry," he repeated, almost in a whisper.
He felt Miyo's hand on his head, his back, stroking him. They were silent for some time.
At last Miyo said, "So what's she like? The new girl, I mean. Is she any good? What's her name?"
"I don't know," he admitted, then yelped as her hand stiffened suddenly. "Ow! Careful! Look, it's complicated. Venus is with my great-granddaughter. I haven't actually met her yet."
Miyo gave him a suspicious look. "There's something you're not telling me."
"Don't worry," Artemis hedged. "We'll be getting you two together soon, I promise." Right after I find Bendis, he added silently.
"Hmm." She did not look entirely convinced, but to his relief she let it go. "I thought you said this…Bendis?…was pretty young. I'm surprised you'd let her take something like this on."
"Bendis…well, Bendis has a lot to prove," Artemis said carefully. "To herself as well as to others. She was, ahh, rather insistent about doing it by herself, and she seems to be doing well enough so far."
I hope. There hasn't been a sign of Venus in the news for more than a week now—
Miyo shrugged. "I suppose you know her best." With a grin she added, "It's hard to imagine you as a great-grandfather though. Hey, what kind of name is Bendis, anyway—?"
They heard the front door open. "Whoops," said Artemis. With a sigh, he stepped up to his food dish, sniffed at it disgustedly, and began to eat just as the kitchen door opened and Ichiyo came in.
"Hi, sis," he said cheerfully. "Are you cooking again? Hey, can you do some more of those purple things you did the other night? What do you call them, anyway? They were pretty good."
"Spiced Europan slugs."
"Yeah, right. Come on, what were they really?"
Artemis decided the rest of the cat food could wait. He didn't need to hear any more of this.
A young man with short blond hair, dark glasses and a charming smile walked into an upmarket restaurant that evening, pointed a gun at the woman at the reception desk and invited her to hand over the night's takings. They came to quite a respectable amount. But instead of leaving, he stood waiting, as the diners and the staff watched him and cowered. As if he were expecting someone.
Eventually, someone in the kitchens called the police. A few seconds before they arrived, the young man suddenly ran out. On his way, he fired at one of the patrons, hitting her in the leg.
It was after midnight. Itsuko stood in her office for some time, staring out the window. The city was a shifting maze of light: vehicle headlamps, crawling through the streets below, tracing out intricate, unpredictable paths like earthbound fireflies; the pale-blue street lights, cutting their long, straight lines and arcs through the darkness; now and then, the guide-lights of an Opal, sweeping across the city; and everywhere, constellations of office windows, still glowing even at this hour.
Glowing like her own window was, she realised, and laughed softly. She crossed the room, turned the light off, then returned to the window. The sight always entranced her. It was alive, alive in a way quite unrelated to human life. The life of a city, measured in the dancing and flickering of its lights. For a moment, she was reminded of a beehive; but then she rejected the thought. It wasn't the metaphor she was looking for.
She remembered other cities. The frenetic life of the Tokyo of her youth: similar in so many ways, and yet uniquely different. Lost in time, but forever near in her memory: full of childhood and friends and so many many beginnings. Grandparent to this city, perhaps. And then Crystal Tokyo: stately, elegant, but also vibrant, alive, ebullient. A city of light and life and love and wonder, where romance and beauty were queen. Night-time had been magical, then.
Until, seven hundred years before, the lights had gone out all over the world. They continued to glow in Crystal Tokyo for a little longer: perhaps two months, before the final end. And then, for so long, the night had been merely dark.
A hundred years ago, the first of the lights began to return. She had been a long way away at the time, living quietly under a different name. But when she heard of the rebirth of Tokyo—of the rebirth of so much more than just Tokyo—she came. Like so many others, she came; and today Third Tokyo, like Crystal Tokyo before it, was the centre of the world. Today, it was almost as if nothing had ever changed. Almost.
The difference was that now she knew how easily those lights could go out.
Back then, there had been Senshi to defend the light. They had failed. Now the light was back, and the Senshi were returning; only two of them so far, but there would be more. But when the darkness struck again, would the outcome be any different?
She wished she could talk to Artemis about it. She wished she dared talk to Makoto.
So she was up past midnight again, finishing off her homework. Sharma Dhiti yawned, and stretched. Was it her fault there weren't enough hours in the day?
Well, it didn't matter. She didn't need that much sleep anyway. She'd catch a nap at lunchtime tomorrow, or something. Hayashi would probably think it was funny.
All the same, it would be nice to get to bed. She sighed, staring down at what she'd just written. She had a feeling that Komagata-sensei wasn't going to like it.
"Animals may be classified as herbivorous, carnivorous, omnivorous or bodacious. Herbivores eat plants, carnivores eat meat, and omnivores eat both; while bodacious animals are too cool to eat anything at all, and generally starve to death at an early age."
It did have a nice ring to it. Perhaps she'd leave it in, and see what happened. It would be a shame to waste a good line, after all.
She stifled another yawn. Her father had sharp ears, and he'd get pretty upset if he realised she was still up, and why. Then there'd be more sarcastic lectures about how she wasn't living up to her potential, how she could be so much more…
It didn't matter. None of that mattered. Sure, she could do better in school, but really, why bother? Her marks were all right: not great, but better than average. She could be top of the class if she wanted, but putting in all the effort that'd take would be a pain. What was the point?
Especially when there were so many other, more interesting ways to spend her time. She had her sport—the running team, and the fencing. And she was a member of the go, chess and bridge clubs. And she collected coins; and she'd been working on the school newspaper (but that was getting kind of dull now); and she'd been a stage hand at a couple of plays; and she'd started (and abandoned) trumpet lessons; and she was getting pretty good at soap-carving; and she'd taught herself to juggle; and she'd learned a bit about photography; and all that was just in the last six months. And there was a meteorology evening class starting in a few weeks that sounded interesting; and there was this really weird thing from England called Morris Dancing that she was dying to have a go at. And so many, many other things waiting to be done. There was no end to the number of things she could do, and Dhiti was determined to try them all.
She sighed again. Why couldn't her father understand that? Why could none of them understand? Her father, her teachers—they all wanted her to steady down, apply herself, pick something and stick with it. Commit herself. But there were so many things to try, so many possibilities to explore. How could she bear to tie herself down to just one path, restrict herself like that?
They kept telling her to choose what she wanted to be. But Dhiti wanted to be everything.
She grinned suddenly, her black mood of a moment before gone as quickly as it had come. If they didn't understand her—well, that was all right, too. Just let them try to bind her. She was too quick for them, too smart. Nobody would ever tie her down. Nobody could catch her. Nobody could touch her. She was as slippery as an eel.
No. She was as slippery as ice.
'M' Division had a number of maintenance and manufacturing plants dotted around Third Tokyo. Most of them were innocuous enough: public transport depots, repair shops for the fleet of city-works vehicles operated by 'C' Division, and the like. One of them, though, was a bit more than it seemed. There were palm-print readers at the doors, for a start. And, though they weren't obvious, there were security guards on duty, night and day.
This was the plant where they built and maintained Opals; and 'M' Division was very protective of the secret of the field generators that made the vehicles fly.
Just before ten o'clock in the morning, a strikingly beautiful woman with long, green-black hair walked in through the front gate. As she entered the lobby she stopped, seemingly confused. Then she approached a tall, heavy-set man who was waiting there. "Excuse me," she said diffidently. "Are you Takekawa Yutaka?"
He gave her a broad smile with more than a hint of a leer. "You're from head office?" he inquired. At her nod, his smile widened. "Excellent. You're a few minutes early, but we may as well begin. This way."
As they stepped to the door she brought out her ID card, but he held up a hand. "No—allow me." She gave him a smile that set his pulse throbbing, but allowed him to insert his card and palm the lock. "I'll give you a quick tour before we…get down to business," he said. The door clicked shut behind them.
Four minutes later, another woman entered the lobby. She seemed quite annoyed that nobody was waiting for her.
Takekawa guided the visitor briskly through the plant. She showed a lively interest in the work being carried out, surprising him a little. But then, the intelligent ones were often the best, he thought. And she did seem…impressed by what she saw.
The doors to one of the maintenance bays were closed, apparently sealed. As they passed, the visitor asked, "What's in this one?"
"That?" Takekawa tried to remember. "Oh. They're doing an upgrade to the sensor suite on an Opal in there. Some kind of prototype, I think. I don't know why they have it secured. We'd better skip this one, though."
"Oh, can't we see?" She gave him an appealing look.
He was all set to lead her away…but somehow, she looked so disappointed that he found himself saying, "Well, I'm sure it won't matter if we take just a quick look." After all, he told himself, it didn't really matter. What could be so secret about a mere sensor upgrade, anyway?
He palmed the lock, entered an override code, and they went in. The visitor gave an oooh of surprise. There was an Opal laid out on the work floor, half-disassembled. The domed roof had been lifted off, and the seats and equipment lockers and most of the control boards removed, leaving a mass of tangled components visible, strewn haphazardly over every available surface. A team of six men and women were hard at work on the machine's innards. At a long workbench at the rear of the bay, another three, wearing optical enhancement visors, were working on a stack of circuit cards, delicately removing chips and replacing them with new ones.
As they went in, the shift leader stood up with a curse and came over to demand what they wanted. Takekawa took him aside to explain. The visitor didn't seem to notice the argument that followed; she wandered around the room, peering uncomprehendingly at bundles of fibre-optic cables and delicate field-grid wafers. She stopped to talk to one of the men at the workbench, asking him a series of rather inane questions, which (after she smiled at him) he was happy enough to answer.
—In the midst of the confusion, nobody really noticed it when the visitor's hand rested on the workbench for a moment, next to a set of new microchips waiting to be installed. And afterward, when she was gone, the chips were all still there, so obviously no harm had been done.
A few moments later, Takekawa collected his visitor, apologetically explaining that they really shouldn't have been in that bay after all. She took it with good grace, and they continued on their tour.
At last, they ended in Takekawa's office. He closed the door carefully behind them, smiled at her, and stepped forward, reaching for her—
She smiled back and said brightly, "I'm so grateful for all the trouble you've gone to. I didn't think couriers got the red-carpet treatment like this."
Takekawa stopped dead. "Couriers?" he said stupidly.
"Mm." She lifted her satchel. "Let's see…I was supposed to bring you this set of reports from Iwasaki-san, and there are two packages for Chikanatsu Kimie—she's here, isn't she?—and—"
"You're a courier?" he demanded. "But I thought—" He had a sudden vision of another visitor—his real visitor—arriving in the lobby, and waiting in vain. She would be long gone now, of course. Lost opportunities swam before his eyes. He groaned in despair.
"Are you all right, Takekawa-san?" she asked anxiously.
"Fine," he managed. "I'm fine…" He took the reports she had offered him, managed to smile in thanks, and directed her to Chikanatsu's office. He heard the door close behind her as she left, but did not look up.
Ten minutes later the visitor—the name on her ID card was Fumihiko Sadako—left the building, still smiling. As she went out of sight of the gate, though, the smile vanished, as suddenly as if it had been switched off. She pulled something out of her pocket, tossed it casually to the ground, and stepped on it. It was a microchip.
Just for a moment, a very different kind of smile hovered on her lips. She used the tools she needed to do the job. Today, it was a pretty face—and, as always, knowing the precise moment to act.
She could still do everything she had to do. Who needed a time staff?
"Well, look who's showing her face," said Nanako as Beth approached the trio. Eitoku glanced up from his book, grunted, then went back to his reading. Iku raised her eyebrows, but did not speak.
"Um, hi," Beth said a little nervously, glancing at Eitoku.
"Oh, you're talking again!" Nanako exclaimed. "That's nice. You've been like a robot for the last few days. Something wrong?"
"Oh, er, not really," answered Beth, smiling feebly. "I just, um, had something on my mind, that's all."
Nanako raised her eyebrows. "Mind?" she repeated. "Who needs 'em? Look, whatever it was, forget it. Just lie back and relax. The sun's shining, it's a nice day—who needs anything else?"
Eitoku lifted his head once more. "Some of us," he commented, "have slightly better things to do than lying around in the sun all day."
"Like what? What could be better than that?" Nanako asked.
"Ice cream," Iku murmured. Beth overheard and grinned at her. She looked surprised, then hesitantly smiled back.
"Like learning something," said Eitoku earnestly. "Getting an education. Improving yourself. Trying to be something more than…than—"
"Than someone who knows when it's time to sit back and relax?" Nanako suggested.
"There's a big difference between relaxing now and then, and doing nothing but relaxing!" he protested.
"Looks like nothing much has changed here," muttered Beth to herself. Didn't those two ever stop arguing? Sometimes she wondered why they always ended up together at lunch breaks.
But then, she realised, where else did they have to go? Neither of them really had any other friends; Nanako was too lazy and bubble-headed, and Eitoku never seemed to have time for anything but his books. And Iku, too; she fit the pattern. She seemed so painfully shy that it could be an ordeal just speaking to her. In a weird kind of way, it made sense that the three would end up together.
Then it occurred to her that she seemed to fit the pattern too. She wasn't sure that she cared for the thought. But she did seem to have gradually fallen into being part of the group—
"—lo? Beth-chan? You alive in there?" She suddenly realised that Nanako was waving a hand in front of her eyes. "What'd I tell you, Eitoku-kun? Too much schoolwork, that's her problem."
"Um, hello?" said Beth plaintively.
"Oh, you're back. You see, Eitoku-kun? Too much stress. All the effort of trying to get her homework done is making her have blackouts. Just lie back and relax, Beth-chan. Let your brain cool off. Hey, you should bring that little kitten back to school. That'd help you relax."
"I'm not so sure about that," muttered Beth.
"Oh, come on. It'd help me relax. How come you had to be the one it picked, instead of me? You Clavers have all the luck."
"Hey!" Eitoku said indignantly.
"What? Did I say something wrong? It's just what you were saying, a couple of weeks ago, when we saw Beth-chan spying on you—"
"Hey!" Beth said indignantly. Then she blushed.
"Oh, did I say something wro—wow, look at that! It's happening again!"
"What?" Beth looked around, following Nanako's pointed finger, just in time to see somebody duck out of sight behind a tree.
"Another secret admirer!" said Nanako delightedly. "Oh, this is so good. I wonder which one of us he's watching?"
"Who was it?" asked Iku, looking interested.
"Some kid. Why, do you like them young?" Iku looked horrified, but Nanako carried on obliviously. "Naah, you'd be robbing the cradle. He couldn't have been more than twelve."
"Nana-chan…" began Beth.
Nanako winked. "Relax. I'm kidding." She lay back in the grass once more, a broad smile on her face. "This is great," she said happily. "Things are getting really interesting around here. Secret admirers…Sailor Senshi…what next?"
"Oh, not Sailor Senshi again," groaned Eitoku. "You don't still believe that, do you? It was a hoax!"
Beth looked up at him, startled. "A hoax?"
He groaned. "Not another believer. Come on, why else hasn't she appeared for more than a week? You must have seen that police tape they played on the news. The police caught her at it, told her off, and she ran for it."
"But—" Beth began.
"Oh, relax," Nanako interrupted. "Eitoku isn't going to believe in a Senshi unless he sees her face-to-face. Anyway, if Chairman Fukuda says it was a hoax, it has to be a hoax, right? Right?"
"Just because you don't think much of the Serenity Council—" said Eitoku hotly.
"I didn't say that. Did you hear me say that?" said Nanako in a mocking tone. She sighed. "Though if it's a hoax, I suppose they ought to know." Then, suddenly, she looked over at Beth, a mischievous grin on her face. "Y'know, Beth-chan, it's a pity about that kitten of yours. If only it'd had a crescent moon on its forehead, instead of that round patch! Think how close you came!"
Beth flushed, feeling Nanako watch her with interest as she floundered for words. "I suppose so," she said at last. "Though I hardly think I'm Senshi material." And that, she thought glumly, might very well be true.
"Oh, I don't know," Nanako mused. "Lady Mizuno was supposed to be the quiet sort, wasn't she?" She laughed. "Now if it was Sailor Mercury out there, not Sailor Venus, we'd know for sure!"
Iku and Eitoku laughed too, and Beth tried to join in. It felt false. Sailor Mercury wouldn't have just run away, she thought. She was so smart. She'd have known what to do. But of course, Sailor Venus—the old Sailor Venus, Lady Aino—would have known what to do, too. Maybe I'm not Senshi material. Maybe Bendis should try to find someone else…
The bell rang, and they headed back in to class. As Beth walked, still wrapped up in her misery, she felt a tap on her shoulder. She looked around, startled. It was Eitoku.
"Listen, you don't want to let Nanako get to you," he said. "That crack about Clavers got you pretty upset, right?"
Beth simply stared at him. He seemed to take that as an affirmative, and went on. "Well, I said something like that once too, and I'm sorry. But look: Nanako, she just does it to be outrageous. You shouldn't take it personally. Just—well, maybe you should try hitting back. Argue with her. She won't mind."
Suddenly looking embarrassed, he nodded once to her and hurried away. Beth watched him go, feeling almost light-headed. He cared; he had actually spoken to her! He had said—
She found herself thinking about what he had said. Maybe you should try hitting back. That struck a chord, somewhere. That was what—
That was what Lady Aino would have done. That was what a real Sailor Venus would have done. She would have hit back. She would never have run. She would have hit back, and she would have won.
Maybe Beth should give it a try.
The young man with the short blond hair and dark glasses robbed a licensed betting agency. After he filled a canvas bag with money he hung around for some time, as if waiting for something. A few seconds before the police arrived he suddenly left. On his way out he shot two people, one of them seriously.
As he stepped out of the door, he sniffed the air. He smelt smoke.
Miyo made her way out through the crowd milling around the school gate. Another school day over. She stretched, sighing. Another day spent learning things she half-remembered already. Another boring day.
At least she was doing better at not drawing attention to herself. She'd only made a couple of mistakes today, and she thought that nobody had noticed either of them. At this rate, pretty soon she'd be able to relax and feel "normal" again. Or as normal as she could be—
A movement caught her eye. She glanced up, and saw Artemis standing on the fence nearby. She walked over and said, "What are you doing here? I thought you were trying to stay out of sight."
"Oh, I just felt like some fresh air," he answered vaguely. He was not looking at her, she realised; he was watching the other students coming out the gate. "It gets stuffy in the house, you know."
"Yeah, right," she said impatiently. "Come on, the day before yesterday you were so sure that you were in danger, and suddenly you're just strolling around in the open? When are you going to tell me what's going on?"
He did not take his eyes off the students. "Nothing's going on," he said. "And I'm perfectly safe…here."
Here? "Who are you looking for?" she asked. "Another Senshi?"
"What?" He did look at her then, startled. "Er, no. Not exactly."
She frowned at him. "What, then? Why won't you tell me? Dammit, why do you have to be so secretive? You never used to be like this—"
"Uhh, Hayashi?" said a voice. "Look, I hate to interrupt, but there's something I've got to tell you."
"Who—" She looked around and saw Dhiti. "What?" she said crossly.
Dhiti leaned forward and whispered, "I know the reason why he's so secretive."
Miyo stared at her, wide-eyed. "You do?"
Dhiti shook her head sadly. "He's a cat, Hayashi. He can't talk. I'm sorry to have to be the one to break this to you, but—" She shrugged. "You had to learn the truth someday."
Miyo felt something warm against her legs. She looked down, and saw Artemis rubbing himself against them, purring. She closed her eyes for a moment to keep from screaming.
"Excuse me," she said tightly. "I have to go and bang my head against a wall for a while."
"Yeah?" said Dhiti, interested. "Let me know if it works."
"If what works?" said someone else. They looked around to see Kin coming out of the gate.
"Oh, Hayashi's decided that smacking her head against a brick wall will stop her talking to cats."
Kin thought about it. "Actually, she could be right."
"You don't happen to have your camera with you, do you? 'Cause I'd like to record this for posterity."
"Will you two—please—stop?" said Miyo.
"Hey, you started it!"
"Was she really talking to her cat?"
"She was accusing it of keeping secrets from her."
"Doesn't surprise me. Those cats…you can never tell what they're up to."
"Hey, that's right!" Dhiti's eyes lit up. "They could just be pretending to catch mice and eat fish and stuff, when really they're planning to take over the world!"
"Dhiti-chan, what planet do you come from?"
"Mm, I'm not sure, but it'd better be a planet without cats."
"So let me get this straight," put in Miyo. "You think I'm weird?"
Dhiti patted her on the shoulder sympathetically. "Of course you're weird, Hayashi. But don't let it go to your head. Me, I'm genuinely strange."
"Oh, so you admit it?"
"Was there ever any doubt?"
"The truth is out at last," said a new, accented voice. "Newsflash! Dhiti-chan admits all!" They looked around to see Mark there, hands in pockets, grinning. The other new boy, Liam, was just behind him, hands in his own pockets, also grinning. The two of them looked remarkably alike in that pose.
Dhiti was the first to recover, of course. "Oh, great," she said in mock-disgust. "The Alaskan Terror and his sidekick strike again."
Mark winked. "Got to keep you three on your toes."
"Toes, is it?" put in Liam. "Sure and I thought there was something else you were telling me you'd like to keep them on."
"And just what might that be?" demanded Dhiti, bristling.
Laughing, Mark said, "In your case, possibly tranquillisers."
"Ha! They haven't made the tranquilliser that can keep me down!"
"Or shut you up," murmured Miyo dryly, just loud enough for everyone to hear. Then, a little louder: "Better watch out, Mark-kun, you're dealing with high explosives there."
"Ha!" he declaimed. "I laugh at danger! Danger is my middle name!" He threw a beseeching look over at Liam. "C'mon, back me up here, they've got me outnumbered."
Liam chortled. "'Danger,' is it? And wasn't I after thinking it was 'stupidity'?"
"Hey, whose side are you on?"
"Wouldn't that be telling, now?"
Sympathetically, Kin said, "You just can't win, can you, Wright-kun?" She shot a quick glance over at Miyo out of the corner of her eye. "No, what you need is someone quieter…more reliable…someone who can cook…"
"Huh?" said Miyo, suddenly smelling a rat. "Wait a minute—"
"She can cook?" exclaimed Mark. "Heaven be praised!" He fell to his knees before Miyo and tried to kiss her hand. "Oh most noble goddess of the kitchen—"
"Will you get up?"
"Gee, Hayashi," said Dhiti, "he really seems to like kneeling to you, doesn't he?"
"—Vouchsafe, I beg thee, a sample of thy glorious wares upon thy lowly servant—"
"I think he means, will you cook him something?"
Miyo brightened. "Oh! Well…how do you feel about spiced Europan slugs?"
A little silence fell.
At last Mark said, "Er, what?"
"I mean—" Miyo stumbled to a halt, flustered.
"Slugs?" said Kin, wrinkling her nose.
Dhiti gave Miyo a suspicious look. "Is this some kind of weird revenge for that 'strange' remark, Hayashi?"
"Now, wait—" Miyo began.
"Slugs," said Mark meditatively. "Now I come to think of it…I have to admit, that's one dish I haven't tried lately. Liam, have you—"
"Mark, my friend…I'm thinking that you're on your own this time."
"I didn't—" Miyo protested.
"I mean," went on Dhiti, "we're not talking real slugs here, are we? Are we, Hayashi? Hayashi, you're not answering me—"
"I just can't wait to hear what the second course is," Mark said dolefully.
Kin said, "I can."
"Will you all just stop it!" burst out Miyo. She glared around at them, almost too angry to speak. They were supposed to be her friends—well, Dhiti and Kin were—and Mark, she had almost been beginning to think that maybe Mark—but one little slip of the tongue, one more damn stupid mistake, and they were all over her like wolves—
She reached down, picked up Artemis roughly (ignoring his mew of protest) and, not caring what the others thought, snarled at him, "This is all your fault!" Then she stalked away, the cat in her arms, without looking back.
The others watched her go, wide-eyed. Mark and Liam made their excuses and left quickly. The mood was entirely broken.
Dhiti stood for a while, watching Miyo's retreating back. "You know," she said, her face unusually thoughtful, "I hate to say it, but there are times when that girl sincerely worries me."
"You think she's got some kind of problem?" said Kin.
"When doesn't she?" Dhiti shook her head. "I'm going to go after her, make sure she's all right. Seeya tomorrow."
"Hey, wait—" Kin shouted; but Dhiti was gone. Kin snorted. She had no chance of catching up with her; Dhiti was in the school running team. "Well, great," she said. "Now what am I supposed to do?"
"Slugs," Mark said, for the ninth or tenth time.
Liam laughed. "Sure and that's quite a girl you've set your sights on, Mark, quite a girl altogether."
"Will you stop that? You can talk perfectly normally when you want to."
He laughed again. "I just love to watch their faces when they're trying not to notice."
"You would." Mark sighed. Three years living in Eireland with the Keenans, and then he and Liam had to win these exchange scholarships. Back when he left Alaskay, he'd never dreamed what he was getting into.
"A very pretty scene," said Artemis coldly.
"I know," Miyo said guiltily. She looked like she wanted to run back and apologise, but they both knew how that would look.
"Not content with making yourself look like an idiot, you insist on calling attention to your mistakes; you call attention to me; you insult all your friends…have I missed anything? I won't even mention how much it hurt when you grabbed me like that."
Miserably, she said, "I'm sorry. I—I just can't win…"
"Why do you think you have to win? This isn't a contest, Miyo! This is your life!" Artemis took a deep breath, then continued in a lower voice. "Look, nobody's out to get you. This isn't like some battle between you and the bad guys, with Serenity waiting to step in to save the day when all is lost. It's up to you. I know things are tough for you at the moment, and I know it's partly my fault. But Miyo, right now the only person messing your life up…is you."
She tried to grin, but failed. "Same as usual, huh? Makoto, the eternal screw-up."
"You know that isn't true."
"Isn't it? Artemis, I…just don't know what to do. I thought I was getting it under control, but I can't! There's—" She struggled for words. "There's too much of me! I can't just bury it, I can't make myself forget…and I don't know how to pretend any more! And it seems like when I make the slightest mistake, everyone's jumping all over me, and…" She shook her head wildly. "How do I cope?"
"What you need," Artemis said slowly, "is someone to talk to. A friend." The next part hurt to say, but he said it anyway. "Someone you trust."
"I trust you," she said.
She looked away, shame-faced. The answer was a long time in coming, but at last she said, "No."
He'd expected it, but the answer still stung. She had cause to distrust him, he knew. Some reasons that she probably wasn't even aware of, not consciously. There was the accident in restoring her memories, of course. And the way he was keeping secrets from her. That wasn't entirely of his choice; but he couldn't hide the fact that he wasn't telling her everything, and it had to hurt. And then—deepest of all, something that she'd probably never admit, not even to herself—there was the undeniable fact that seven hundred years ago, she had died, and he had not. Again. And that, he thought morosely, might just be unforgivable.
He sighed. "I'm sorry, Miyo. I'm trying to do something about it, I promise. But for now, I'm afraid we're simply stuck with each other."
"It's not like that!" she said hastily.
"I know. Just…try to accept that it won't always be this bad, all right?" He squirmed around in her arms, leaped up onto her shoulder, and curled up there. Hmm. She was a bit bonier than Minako had been. "For now," he said in her ear, "try to have a little patience. They are your friends, you know. If it seems like they're overreacting when you make a mistake, it's because they care about you."
He could feel her smile. "Yeah," she said. "Isn't that amazing? I never really had many friends before, except the other Senshi. But Dhiti-chan and Kin-chan are…well, like you said. Friends. It's…nice."
"And Mark and Liam," he added.
"No!" she said, a little too quickly. "I mean—they're new, they only got here about three weeks ago. They don't know me, they're just interested in—well, you know."
"Maybe," said Artemis obligingly. Privately, he doubted it; he thought Mark had a bit more depth than that, though it was harder to read Liam. But he'd learned a long time ago to let humans form relationships at their own pace.
Miyo smiled again. "You know," she said thoughtfully, "as a matter of fact, Mark-kun almost reminds me of—"
"Oh, please. Not your sempai again."
"What?" She laughed. "No. Well…maybe a little. No, actually I was thinking that if he wasn't a Claver, he'd look rather like Mamoru."
"Hadn't you noticed? Maybe it's just my imagination."
Artemis certainly hoped so. Wouldn't that just be perfect? Trying to tell him what had happened to his wife…no. No, let him and Serenity rest together. Please. It was better that way.
But he had felt something, back there. Had it been Mark, though? He wasn't sure. He would have to check it out, he thought glumly.
Looking for a way to change the subject, he glanced around. "Hey, what's that?" he said. A cloud of smoke was rising from a building not too far away.
"Looks like a fire. Why, you want to go and watch?"
"I was thinking that there might be people there who could use help."
"Oh. Good point." Miyo started to head toward the building, moving a lot faster now. As she ran, she said, "Just don't think I've forgotten that you still haven't told me what you were watching all those other girls for."
Beth didn't notice the smoke at all, not to start with. It was the sirens that drew her attention first. She glanced over her shoulder and saw the fire trucks, and automatically looked around for smoke. Then she had to wonder how she'd missed it. Had she been walking around with her eyes closed?
It was a large department store, a few blocks away. She couldn't see any flames, but the smoke was pouring out of it. She was tempted to go and watch; but that would be…sort of ghoulish. And the police could be pretty hard on sightseers, and she really didn't want to see any more police…
Silly, she told herself. After all, she wasn't Sailor Venus now. She didn't have anything to be afraid of.
Then she looked back at the fire trucks. They were stuck in traffic. Some idiot had tried to pull over to let them past, and a car in the next lane had run into him, and now there was traffic piled up all over the road on both sides, with the fire trucks helpless in the middle.
She shook her head. It was going to be some time before they were able to move again. That was bad. People might be trapped by the fire, hurt, maybe even killed with nobody to help.
With nobody to help—
She looked at the department store again, with a sinking feeling.
Maybe it would be all right. Maybe she wouldn't have to do it. Maybe the building had been evacuated. Maybe nobody was in danger. Maybe.
She started toward the building at a dead run.
She had trouble getting close. There was quite a crowd gathered in the street, clustered around the store. A lot of them were rubberneckers, but there were a fair number in the store livery. They must be people who'd made it out. So they were safe. She breathed a sigh of relief.
Then she saw somebody pointing, and looked up. There were faces in a window, four floors up. The fire escapes were in flames. The people inside were trapped.
She dithered helplessly. To change, to go out there…with hundreds of people watching…the thought was unbearable. The fire trucks would arrive in time, surely. Or maybe the police could land an Opal on the roof to take them off to safety—
As if in answer to her thought, she saw the lights of an Opal moving in toward the building. But something seemed to go wrong as it got close. It seemed to lurch in the sky, rocking crazily. From the updraft, perhaps? Or maybe the heat was knocking out the superconductors? She tried to remember what she knew about Opals. It wasn't much.
The Opal made another pass at the roof. This time it couldn't even get close.
And so there was nothing else for it.
She looked around for somewhere secluded. A comm booth? None in sight. In the end, she simply ducked around a corner into a quiet side-street and hoped that nobody would some into sight at the wrong moment. She pulled out her henshin wand, stared at it for a moment. Her hand was shaking. The words wouldn't come. She was afraid.
Maybe you should try hitting back.
It wasn't much to take comfort from, but it would have to do. She closed her eyes for a moment, then raised the stick high—
"VENUS POWER, MAKE-UP!"
A bolt from the blue.
She ran up the side of a building, springing from ledge to ledge in the approved Bendis manner. A few moments ago she'd been upset, even afraid, but for the life of her she couldn't remember why. She was Sailor Venus, and what did she have to be afraid of?
She stopped on the roof to take a better look at the burning store. Hmm. Tricky. The fire was on the lower floors; it would be difficult to enter. Perhaps if she got to the roof, and worked her way down? She looked from the store to where she was standing and back again, trying to judge angles. She wasn't sure she could jump across that far.
She heard noises from below, and glanced down. Some of the people had seen her. As she watched, more and more of them were looking her way. Some of them were waving, and shouting. Well. It was nice to be appreciated. She supposed she ought to give them a good show.
She looked back to the burning building, took careful aim, and fired her Love-Me Chain at it. Even as it was arcing out to the top of the store, she jumped off the roof she was standing on. She remembered practising this with Bendis: swinging from building to building. Who'd have thought it'd come in so handy? Of course, she'd never really got it to work properly—
The chain wrapped itself around something, and with a sudden jolt she found herself swooping across in a long, shallow curve. She let out a wild yell of exhilaration. Then twisted herself at the last moment, to hit feet-first—
Her heels hit the window she'd been aiming for. She burst through it in a shower of glass. And into an inferno.
The flames seemed to roar higher as she entered. Oops, wait a minute, that was her fault, wasn't it? Letting more oxygen in, or something? Oh, well. No time to worry about it now.
She took a quick glance around. The air was hazy with heat. It was hard to breathe. She couldn't see very far, but it looked like there was a clear path to her right. She moved forward, looking for a staircase up to the next floor.
It was like moving through another world. Through hell. Everything was burning, everything except her. The light was all shades of red, orange and yellow, with brief flickers here and there of blue and green and even violet. There was a constant roar of sound: the thunder of the flames, the groaning and creaking of the building, the sound of objects falling. Once she heard a whole series of explosions in a row, as half the bottles in the perfumes counter detonated. The heat on her face, arms and legs was enormous. When she inhaled, it was like breathing in solid flame. The pain wasn't too bad yet, but it was getting worse. She moved as quickly as possible, dodging around blazing piles of wreckage. It occurred to her that her fuku was probably protecting her from the heat somehow, that without it she would be blazing herself. For some reason the thought made her laugh.
Perfume counter, up in smoke. Cosmetics, a mass of multi-coloured flame. Fumes, thick and sharp, catching at her throat. She stopped to cough, feeling giddy. Coughing hurt, but for a long time she couldn't stop. Lingerie section. Furnace-hot. As she passed through the racks, there was a sudden squeal as something gave way, and she had to leap through a ball of flame to avoid being pinned down by the falling shelves. Her eyes were dry. It hurt to blink. She couldn't swallow. She was dizzy.
Finally she saw the staircase. Absurdly, the emergency light in the well was still working. As she watched, it flashed once, then burst, spraying her with tiny stinging particles. Broken glass? Or was it molten glass? She wondered why her hair wasn't catching fire. She stood, staring owlishly up at the remains of the light. Then she wondered why she wasn't moving any more. In one last burst of rationality she understood that she was close to passing out. Somehow she made herself start up the stairs.
The heat seemed to increase as she climbed. Worse, the smoke thickened as she went; the stairwell was acting as a chimney. She took a deep breath—a mistake, and her chest screamed at her, but she didn't dare start coughing again—and tried to run. It didn't work very well. The rubber nosings were on fire, melting as they burned, and sticking to her shoes. She staggered, almost falling, but managed to keep going. Onto the landing, turn, and up again. Smoke and flame were everywhere. She couldn't see. She couldn't breathe. How much further could these stairs go? Then suddenly she ran out of stairs. There was a door in front of her: a heavy metal smoke-stop door. That was good, wasn't it? It might be cooler on the other side. She pushed it. There was a sizzling sound, and she screamed at the pain in her hands, even through her gloves—
And then she was through, and the door swung shut behind her, and it was oh blessedly cool, and she could breathe again. She collapsed onto her hands and knees, gasping and coughing, retching at the awful taste in her mouth. When she spat, it was black.
At last she could stand up again. She looked around. The air was dim and hazy with smoke, but still relatively clear: clear enough to see the knot of people at the far end of the room, staring at her.
She couldn't resist it. "What's the matter?" she said. "You never saw a Senshi before?"
And then they were clustering around her, exclaiming in wonder and amazement. It was sheer bliss. She had to say "Yes, I'm Sailor Venus" and "Yes, I'm real" half a dozen times at least. Bendis was right. That policeman had been a bonehead.
At last she had to break off the questions. "All right," she said crisply. "What's the fastest way to the roof from here?"
Silently, one of the men pointed to the door she'd come in through. All right. Scratch that idea.
She went to the window, looked down. Hmm, quite a long way to jump. And if she was trying to carry someone else at the same time—no, perhaps not. Maybe if she anchored her Love-Me Chain to something, and had the others climb down it? But it would mean maintaining the chain for an awfully long time, and she wasn't sure she could manage it. Besides, she had an uneasy feeling that it might not be safe for them to touch the chain, not with their bare hands.
So there was nothing else for it. There were two children among the group, both of them thankfully rather small. If she tried starting with them—it would have to be two at a time, she wasn't going to have time to make many trips—
She clenched her fist, wincing at the pain in her burnt hands, and smashed the glass in the largest window, glad once more of her gloves. There was an impressed murmur from the others, and she guessed that they'd already tried to break a window. Safety glass, tcha.
"All right," she said, as calmly as she could. She beckoned to the children and they stepped forward nervously. "Now," she told them softly, "we're going to take a ride. Okay?" She held out her arms to them—and smiled as, with the instant trust of the small child, they came to her without hesitation.
She lifted them both, one in each arm, and jumped up and down a few times, trying to gauge how their weight would affect her balance. At last she thought she had it. Maybe, maybe, this might work. Please.
She turned to the other four, all adults. They looked worried. One of them, probably the children's mother, looked more than worried. Venus winked at her. "Trust me—I've done this a million times before," she lied.
She went to the window and looked out again. It was still a long way down. I can do this. I'm a hero. Please.
She held the children close. "I want you to hold onto me tight," she ordered. "When we land, there's going to be a big bump, and we'll roll over and over, but that's all. All right?" They looked scared, but they nodded. Of course. She was a Senshi, and they knew they could trust her. It was the older ones who couldn't.
She took a deep breath. All or nothing, she told herself. She wasn't sure what she meant by that, but it sounded good. Then she jumped.
The fall seemed to last forever. She was off-balance; she could feel herself starting to go into a spin. Somehow, maybe by sheer willpower, she kept herself straight. There was a rush of air—a sudden blast of heat as she passed through a cloud of smoke that hadn't been there a moment before—
Then she hit. The impact wasn't as bad as she'd feared, but it was still pretty bad. There was a blaze of pain in her left knee and she cried out. She rolled, sprawling, feeling as much as hearing the children screaming in fright. Then she was motionless, flat on her back, panting and groaning.
There was a rush of footsteps. When she opened her eyes, she was surrounded by people. She heard the words "Sailor Venus" repeated a hundred times. Well, that was nice, she supposed. She managed to sit up, looking at the two children. They were scared, crying, but they didn't seem hurt. Oh, thank goodness.
She stood up. Somebody took the children away from her. Somebody else stuck a microphone under her nose and started asking questions. She knocked it away, irritated, and asked, "Have the fire trucks got here yet?" Half a dozen people said no. "Right," she said, and started back for the store entrance.
"Are you crazy?" demanded the newsie with the microphone. "It's an inferno in there!" He didn't look concerned for her, though. He looked excited about the story he was getting.
She gave him a cold look. "There are four more people up there," she said flatly. Then, ignoring him, she went back inside.
It was worse this time. She had expected that, but she hadn't dreamed just how much worse it could be. It wasn't just the pain in her leg, or the renewed agony as the heat hit her hands. It was hotter, far hotter, and there didn't seem to be any air to breathe at all. She lurched forward anyway. What other choice was there?
After a few seconds she began to realise that there was another choice after all. She could die in here. The further she went, the more likely that seemed. If she stopped, she knew, it would be the end. She was running through almost solid flame. Her chest heaved, struggling for air that wasn't there. She ran anyway. Four more people. Four more people, and nobody else was going to say that Sailor Venus was a failure. Maybe you should try hitting back. Yes, damn you, just watch me hit back.
She reached the stairwell. She'd come in on the ground floor this time, so she had to go up further. Was it three floors, or four? And the stairs were blazing, she had to watch where she stepped or she'd fall straight through. And she had an uneasy feeling that there was more than one stairwell in the store, and this was the wrong one.
She ran out of stairs on the third floor. At least one more floor to go. She looked around desperately for the other stairwell. There was a patch of darkness off to her right, and she made for it. No, no, it was a dead-end, damn damn damn, she turned back to head the other way—
With a long, tearing scream, the roof fell in.
She stared at the mass of blazing wreckage in front of her, horrified. She was trapped. There was no way out. She looked up wildly, hoping to see an opening that she might be able to jump through. All she saw was more wreckage.
She stepped forward, grabbed a beam, and tried to pull it out of the way. The pain in her hands was much worse this time. She could not bear it; she dropped the beam with a scream that was swallowed up in the roar of the fire. She had moved it perhaps five centimetres.
She stared at the pile of blazing rubble in despair. So this was it. This was the end. She backed away helplessly, shaking her head, unable to believe it—
Then she heard a voice. A voice, here? Impossible, it had to be. But it sounded like somebody shouting—and then she heard the words, very clearly—
And the barrier burst open.
There was another figure there. Tall, slender—and unmistakably, a Senshi. Another Senshi. Another Senshi, she couldn't believe it, she wasn't alone, she was saved—
"Come on!" the other shouted, barely audible. Venus nodded quickly, and dove head-first through the hole in the wreckage. She burned her hands a third time on the floor as she hit, but this time she hardly noticed. She was alive, and it was distinctly possible that she was going to stay that way. She could do anything, knowing that.
As they ran, she began to work out where she was. In the short time since she'd first come through the window, the floor had changed almost beyond recognition; but now she recognised the pile of fallen shelving that had almost killed her before, and that meant the stairwell they needed was…"This way!" she shouted, not knowing if the other Senshi could hear her; but when she turned slightly, the other followed. They almost flew up the stairs. Venus was alive, alive, borne by a wild exultation that overrode the pain, overrode any other consideration. She was alive, and she was not going to fail after all. She hit the door at the top of the stairs with her shoulder, bursting it open, and rolled through. The other Senshi followed her before it could slam shut, and the two of them landed on the floor.
And not a minute too soon, she saw as she stood up again. (Strange, how her legs felt so rubbery. But worry about that later.) This room, too, was ablaze now. The four who were left were clustered around the broken window. They looked around quickly as Venus and the other Senshi came in.
The other Senshi! Venus looked at her quickly. Odd, but she seemed familiar. Like a face out of a history book, but that couldn't be right. But the uniform was recognisable enough. "Sailor…Jupiter?"
Jupiter winked. "Talk later," she said. She gestured at the window. "I heard someone down there say you'd gotten two people out already. How did you get them down?"
"I jumped," Venus admitted.
Jupiter's eyes widened. "From this high? Holding two children?" She shook her head. "Okay. If you can do it, I certainly can." Venus blinked; but Jupiter raised her voice to the others before she could say anything. "All right," Jupiter called, "we're going to get the rest of you down now." To Venus she muttered, "It'll have to be all of them now; we'd never make it up here again."
Venus nodded, still a little surprised at the condescending note that had been in Jupiter's voice. Well, she could worry about that later too. For now, she had other things to worry about—like how she was going to manage another jump when her knee felt like it was going to explode. But that was all right; she was Sailor Venus and she'd just think of something and it would work. Somehow.
At the window, Jupiter had already divided the adults into pairs of roughly the same size and was telling two men to hold on to her tightly. "Hey, watch it with the hands," she snapped at one of them, and he shifted his grip hurriedly. Then, as Venus watched, she stepped up onto the sill and dropped out of sight.
Venus poked her head out just in time to see Jupiter hit the ground and roll. She did it better than Venus had, but she was limping when she stood up again, and one of the men was clutching his shoulder. It looked like the extra size was more of a problem than the weight. At least she'd taken the bigger ones. And her height must have helped.
My turn now.
"All right," Venus said to the last two. "Let's get out of here, huh?" They nodded quickly.
A woman and a fairly slight man. How was she supposed to handle this? She tried lifting the woman in her arms and having the man hold on to her back, but when she tried to move it felt incredibly clumsy, and her knee flared again. This wasn't going to work, she realised. She could barely move, and if she jumped they were going to get smashed to bits. And the room was full of smoke, and it was hard to breathe, and her head was swimming again from all the effort of the last few minutes, and—
—And she glanced out the window and saw her salvation. The Opal she'd seen before was gliding past, still trying to get close enough to the building to help.
She stepped up onto the sill, gasping at the pain as she flexed her knee, and told the woman, "Hold on tight. I'm going to need my arms free." The woman obeyed, looking terrified. To both of them she said, "We're going now. There'll be a big jerk. Ready?" She felt the man's arms tighten convulsively around her neck. Then there was no more time for thought.
She jumped outward as hard as she could. She felt herself begin to spin. But at the same time, she was shouting the words, and throwing out her hands, trying to keep her aim—
The Love-Me Chain arced out, and wrapped itself around the Opal in mid-air.
The jerk was enormous, the flare of agony in her hands even more so. Somehow she hung on. And then—
Suddenly they weren't falling any more, they were swinging. The biggest, longest, most glorious damn swing ever—no, not a swing, it was a swoop, they were trailing behind the Opal as it glided down the street, and oh, what a rush! She yelled in delight, and heard the man and woman hanging onto her yell too.
The Opal veered around a corner, and Venus and her passengers swung wide. But it was all right, they were low enough now, and as they reached the very top of their arc, hanging motionless for an instant, Venus released the chain, and dropped no more than three metres to the ground.
The impact hurt—she gasped, trying not to cry out as her knee seemed to explode—but it was nothing compared to the knowledge that she was down. On the street, out of danger, safe. And she'd saved the last two people. That made up for the pain. That made up for everything.
When she saw Sailor Jupiter get to her feet again, Dhiti gave a sigh of relief. She leaned back against the alley wall behind her, mopping at her forehead. The crate that she was standing on, to see over the heads of the people that filled the street, wobbled and almost toppled over. She had to clutch at the wall for support.
Unbelievable. Just absolutely unbelievable. Hayashi—her Hayashi, her friend Hayashi from school—was Sailor Jupiter. She'd seen it with her own eyes, and she still wasn't sure she believed it.
(Although it did make a certain kind of sense. Hayashi had been acting pretty weird lately. Maybe becoming a Senshi did something to your brain. But how did that tie in with the slug fixation?)
Dhiti shook her head, remembering. She'd been worried about Hayashi after that blow-up by the school gates, and had followed her. Unfortunately, Hayashi was a pretty fast runner, and it took her a while to catch up. She wondered why they were headed toward a burning building; but then she saw Hayashi duck into an alley, and followed just in time to see—
—Well, that thing she did. With the thunder and lightning and all the swirling around and changing costume and stuff. Kind of gaudy, really. But it did look like fun.
And then Hayashi went and ran into a blazing building, and came out again through one of the top-floor windows carrying two men. Geez, talk about your double life. She was going to have to have a serious talk to that girl…a person could get hurt doing that sort of thing—
Not that Dhiti was worried about her. A Senshi, getting hurt in a fall? Ridiculous. Dhiti, worried? Even more so.
(But she'd gotten up again after jumping out of the building. She was all right. Thank goodness.)
Dhiti took another look around. The fire trucks were arriving, finally, and Sailor Venus had made some preposterous show-offish escape with two more people—it had looked kind of cool, actually, but you had to be loyal to your friends. Dhiti decided the action was probably over for the evening.
She jumped down off her crate. Time to get out of here before something went wrong and Hayashi spotted her. It wouldn't do for Hayashi to get the wrong idea, that she was getting soft or something. Not Dhiti. She was as slippery as—
Behind her, somebody cleared his throat. She froze. A voice said, "Just before you go, I wonder if I might have a word…?"
Jupiter's first impulse was to get away.
The crowd swarmed around her, shouting, cheering, applauding, and she didn't like it one bit. The impact when she landed had been tremendous; her arms and shoulders ached; she was fairly sure that she'd sprained her ankle; Venus was still up there with two more people; and all these people could do was cheer? They weren't even leaving a clear space for Venus to land in!
She started shouting orders, trying to get them to move away from under the window. A few people obeyed, but not many. They were too excited. Crowds always seemed to get this way, she remembered.
—Venus. How was Venus going to handle it? She'd been limping, Jupiter suddenly remembered, and having jumped down herself she could understand why. She wouldn't like to make a second jump herself; and for a raw novice…
(That still hurt. A novice. It should have been Minako up there.)
…This could be nasty, she realised. If Venus landed wrong, it could be a lot worse than nasty. She looked up at the window, trying to see if the girl was ready yet. She was just in time to see Venus jump.
It was all wrong, she realised instantly. Venus was spinning, tumbling in mid-air, clearly out of control; the two people hanging on to her were close to flying off. Around Jupiter, people started to cry out in horror, and Jupiter felt like doing it herself.
Then she saw the chain fly out. In a sudden flash of insight she realised what Venus was trying to do. That clever little—oh, Kami-sama, if she misses—
But the chain caught cleanly, and Sailor Venus soared. Jupiter sighed in relief. So many things could have gone wrong—the chain could have missed, Venus could have lost her grip, the people she was carrying could have been torn away from her—
Venus dropped to the ground not too far away. She fell oddly, with an almost catlike grace, but the effect was spoiled when she stumbled on landing, collapsing to the ground. Even above the shouting, Jupiter could hear her cry out in pain.
She made her way toward her, pushing rudely through the crowd. When she reached her, Venus was trying to sit up. She was clutching her knee. Her face was pale.
"Are you all right?" Jupiter said, almost having to shout. There was another noise in the background: sirens. The fire trucks were arriving at last. "Can you walk?"
Venus gave her a twisted grin. "Are you kidding? Give me a couple of minutes and I'll fly!"
Sure you will, Jupiter thought. She grinned back. "Let me see that knee." She wasn't Ami, but she did know something about first aid. You learned a lot in a thousand years.
Venus closed her eyes for a moment, grimacing as Jupiter gently probed her knee; but then she was grinning again. "Did you see that? What a ride! Did you see? I've got to try that again sometime—"
"Yeah, well, I don't think you're going to be trying much for a while."
"Hey, don't worry." Venus glanced down at her arm; following her gaze, Jupiter saw a faint white mark there. Some kind of scar. "We seem to heal fast," Venus said blithely. "I'll be fine."
Jupiter sighed. "I know how fast we heal. But this is a pretty bad sprain, and you're going to have to stay off it for a—look, this is a lousy place to be talking, do you feel up to moving somewhere else? I'll carry you—"
"Can I help?"
They looked up at the interruption. Jupiter suddenly realised, to her dismay, how much the situation had changed around them. The road was filled with fire trucks, and firemen were rushing about, getting their equipment set up. The crowds had finally been forced away, and were lining the pavements some distance off. The Opal that Venus had lassoed had landed, and most of the policemen were busy keeping the spectators under control. Two of them, though, were keeping a close eye on her and Venus. And there were lights in the sky: another Opal coming in to land. It was definitely past time to leave.
Her eyes returned to the speaker. He was a young man, with short blond hair and dark glasses. He was grinning cheerfully. Well, at least he looks friendly, Jupiter thought. Maybe he was a doctor?
"Sailor Venus?" he inquired. Venus looked up at him, startled. His grin widened. "Found you at last," he said jovially. He reached into his jacket and started to pull something out.
Jupiter sighed. Great, another autograph hound. Well, maybe the police would get rid of him; 'P' Division had to be good for something.
Then she saw the glint of metal.
The young man pointed his gun at Venus, smiled again and said, "Good-bye." His finger started to tighten on the trigger—
Jupiter hit him at waist-height, flinging him back to the ground. The gun went off with a flat, dull bark. Someone in the crowd screamed. With a shout, Jupiter caught the man's wrist, slammed it down against the road, hard. His fingers opened, and the gun went spinning away. He struggled for a moment. Then more hands closed on him. The police, finally.
He lay there, limp for a moment, held immobile by the two officers. Jupiter got up and took a step back, watching him intently. Behind her, she heard Venus say, "Huh?"
The man began to laugh.
At the same time, he changed. His face seemed to ripple and blur. His body began to twist, reform. He flicked his arms, almost casually, and the policemen went flying. They hit the road some distance away, and did not move again. The spectators screamed and started to run.
The man got to his feet slowly. Only he wasn't a man any more. He was—what? Something vile: huge, swollen, misshapen. Three metres tall, at least. His arms and legs were monstrous, club-like things. His face was worse: distorted, like a warped parody of a human face. In the centre of his forehead was something that looked like a third eye. All three eyes glowed blue.
His clothes had split and torn as he changed, and the flesh that was revealed had a strange, translucent cast. It glinted in the light from the burning building. It almost seemed…faceted.
The creature was still laughing. He—it—was looking at her. No, she realised, not at her. At Venus. "Good-bye," it said again in a voice that was thick and guttural. Then it started forward. It moved with a lurching gait, surprisingly fast, and Jupiter had the impression that nothing weighing less than an elephant would stop it. Or a Senshi. Perhaps.
She jumped in between it and Venus without hesitation, stumbling on her bad ankle. "Stop right there," she shouted.
It paid no attention. It didn't even seem to notice her. It kept right on coming. Like a juggernaut. Unstoppable.
On the other hand, thunderbolts had a lot of stopping power.
Jupiter said the words. "SUPREME THUNDER!" And the heavens opened. Energy arced downward, played for a moment about the rod in her tiara. Then she cast it outward. It caught the thing right in the middle of its chest.
The creature seemed to light up like a flare. As if it were a giant light bulb, and Jupiter had just supplied the current.
Great. Instead of fighting a giant crystalline monster, now she was fighting a giant glowing crystalline monster. The blue glow from its three eyes had become cyan. Well, at least it wouldn't be able to escape in the dark.
Her Supreme Thunder didn't seem to have hurt it at all.
It was still coming. Still laughing that irritating laugh. And it was still paying no attention to her, focused solely on Venus.
—Who was standing, she realised. Her face was pale, and she was keeping all her weight on her good leg, but she was upright, and she looked like she was going to try and make a fight of it.
Jupiter ran back and yanked her away, out of the thing's path. Fast it might be, but something that big had a lot of momentum, and it took it a while to stop and turn around. "You've got to get out of here," she whispered to Venus. "You're in no condition to fight, and it's after you in particular. If you leave, it might confuse the thing, make it easier to take out." Venus looked like she was going to argue, and Jupiter added, "Trust me. I've got a lot more experience at this than you."
"More experience?" Venus gave her an incredulous look. "Excuse me, who was here first?"
"We don't have time to argue!" Best to just tell her outright. "Look, I'm Kino Makoto, and I've been doing this for centuries. You're just a beginner, and the best thing for you to do is to get out of my way and let me handle this. All right?"
She saw the disbelief, and then the resentment, in Venus' eyes. Well, it couldn't be helped. Venus was young, and inexperienced, and above all, injured. Once she'd dealt with this monster, she'd find a way to soothe the girl's feelings.
For now…the creature was coming back. Still glowing, still laughing, still as big as ever. It was really starting to creep her out. Well, if her Supreme Thunder didn't seem to have bothered it, it was time to trot out the big guns. She took up a pose and launched her attack. "OAK EVOLUTION!"
There was a brief flicker. Then, nothing.
Jupiter suddenly felt dizzy, and fell over.
She tried to get up, and failed. She felt…drained. What had happened? Why wouldn't her attack work? What was wrong with her? She groaned, trying to stand up again. Had the monster somehow drained all her strength?
She felt someone dragging her out of the thing's path. Venus, returning her earlier favour, she realised. "That was real impressive, obaasan," Venus panted. "Got any more good tricks like that? Or can Chibi-Venus have a go after all?"
"You idiot!" Jupiter hissed, trying to move once more. She managed to make it to her knees this time.
Venus paid no attention. "VENUS LOVE-ME CHAIN!" she shouted. The creature was only a few metres away, slowing down to turn again, and the chain wrapped itself neatly around it. Sparks flew where the chain touched the thing's 'skin.'
Venus didn't wait to see if they would have an effect; she braced herself and yanked. It looked preposterous: a young girl pulling at a thing that must have weighed thirty or forty times more than she did. But when the girl was a Senshi, the odds shifted. Impossibly, the monster was dragged off balance.
It hit the road with a crash that Jupiter felt in her bones. She half- expected it to shatter, but it just started to get up again.
"Now!" Jupiter shouted. "Hit it now!"
"Hit it with what?" Venus shouted back.
"Your Crescent Beam! Hurry!"
"But I can't do the—" Whatever Venus was trying to say was cut off suddenly. She had left the monster tangled in her Love-Me Chain; now, ignoring the sparks that flew at its touch, it grabbed the chain and pulled. Venus was jerked off her feet with a cry of surprise and pain. She flew through the air and slammed, horribly hard, into a brick wall.
The monster finally regained its feet and started toward where she lay. She was moving feebly, trying to get back up, but it was clear that she was not going to make it. Behind them both, Jupiter made a supreme effort and managed to stand up. Knowing it was useless, she headed for Venus too; but her fastest run was more of a totter and she realised that she was not going to make it either.
Someone else made it for them both.
It came as a blast of frigid air, a hail of tiny, stinging, blinding ice particles, like a snowstorm driven before a hurricane…and in the centre of it, the spear. A spear of ice, long, pointed, wickedly sharp. It caught the monster in the back, and shattered with an ear-splitting crack and a burst of ice splinters. The monster went down again. There was a gaping hole in its back where the spear had struck.
The newcomer bounded into sight. A Senshi. A little taller than Venus, with black hair falling just below her shoulders; her skin was very dark. Her skirt and her boots were blue, as was the bow on her chest. Jupiter blinked. She was—
"I am the spectacular Sailor Mercury," the Senshi announced. "And hey, is my timing good, or what?"
Jupiter said, "Dhiti-chan, that had better not be you."
"Hark. I hear a voice. And who might you be, O tall Senshi who I've definitely never seen before?"
"Oh, no." What have I done to deserve this? But there was no time to question her further—not now. Jupiter gave her a sharp look. "We can talk later. I have to check if Venus—"
"Too late," said a rather indistinct voice. Jupiter looked around quickly. Venus was sitting up. She looked battered and still half- stunned; her nose and lip were bleeding, and one of her eyes was bloodshot. But she was conscious.
Jupiter limped over to her. "How are you?" she asked.
"Umm, I've had better days," Venus admitted. Then she gave a bloody grin. "But we won, right? And Sailor Mercury showed up, too! That only leaves two to go—"
"Don't worry about that now. Can you stand? I think maybe we ought to get a doctor to look at you."
"I'll be fine." Venus winked, and managed to lever herself to her feet. "Can't keep a Senshi down, right, obaasan?"
Jupiter winced. "Look, I'm sorry I said that, all right? But—"
"Uhh, I hate to say this," Mercury said from behind them, "but I think that thing is starting to—LOOK OUT!"
Jupiter rolled to one side without even thinking, just fast enough to avoid the massive fist that swung through the spot where she'd been standing. At the same time, she saw Venus leap upward, flipping over in mid-air and landing a few metres away with that same strange, catlike grace she'd seen before. Where on earth had she learned that?
Jupiter came to her feet once more, relieved at how much easier it was to get up this time, and ducked back as the monster swung again. It was still trying to get at Venus, and Jupiter had to move quickly to keep blocking its way. The eerie glow from her Supreme Thunder had mostly faded; but the strange blue light from all three eyes remained, and the hole in the thing's back didn't seem to bother it at all.
"Try that attack of yours again!" she shouted to Mercury. Then she had to duck another swing. Was it moving faster than before, or was she just getting tired? It felt as if it had been turbocharged.
Another Ice Spear struck the monster in the arm, gouging out another hole. But the thing didn't fall this time; it kept right on coming. It didn't pay any attention to Mercury, either. Why?
"Venus! Try your Crescent Beam!" she shouted.
"I can't!" Venus shouted back. "It doesn't work! The Love-Me Chain is the only one I can do!"
What? That didn't make any sense. Could it be related to the reason why her Oak Evolution hadn't worked? But she didn't have time to think about it; the monster was coming for her again…
It was becoming a game of tag. Mercury kept throwing Ice Spears; but they were draining her, and it was clear that she couldn't keep it up much longer. Jupiter couldn't dodge for much longer, for that matter. The creature's misses were getting nearer. One slip, and it would be all over.
Then the slip came, literally. Her foot skidded on a sliver of ice left over from one of Mercury's attacks. She went sprawling, flat on her face. When she looked up, she saw the arm beginning to descend, straight for her, and knew it was the end—
—Mercury shouted, "Now!" And Venus' Love-Me Chain wrapped around the monster and snapped taut, holding it immobile for an instant—
—And, "Now!" Mercury yelled again. "Aim for the third eye!"
—And Jupiter cast the lightning forth, acting on a blind, instinctive trust in the certainty in Mercury's voice—
—And the thunderbolt struck home, and the third eye blazed for an instant, brighter than the sun—
There was a massive explosion. A blinding light. A cloud of thick, vile-smelling smoke. And when she could see again, the monster was gone.
She stared at the empty spot where it had stood, and said clearly, "Thank goodness." Then she fainted.
She came to a couple of minutes later, and realised she was being carried. "Where are we?" she asked muzzily.
"Almost at your house," Mercury told her. "Do they know you're Sailor Jupiter?"
"Right. We'd better stop here, then."
She was set on her feet. Her ankle hurt, but wasn't as bad as she'd feared. One of the advantages of being a Senshi, healing so fast. "What happened?" she asked.
"Oh, well…everyone started running around and shouting after you zapped that thing. What was it, anyway?" Jupiter shrugged. "Oh, a random wandering monster. Great. Happens to you guys all the time, I suppose. Well, Venus got kind of upset when the newsies started pestering her, and she took off, and I thought I'd better get you out as well. Who is Venus, anyway?"
"I don't know." Jupiter rubbed her forehead. She still felt a little dizzy. "Artemis won't tell me. Oh, that's right, you haven't met Artemis yet—"
"Want to bet?" said Artemis.
Jupiter looked around, startled. Artemis was following them, a little way behind. "I should have known," she mumbled.
"You should probably change back," Artemis told her. "It wouldn't be a good idea for anyone to catch you two running around here in costume. Too many awkward questions."
"Right." Jupiter shifted back. Mercury looked confused, and Miyo told her, "Just think about becoming yourself again. Picture it in your mind." Mercury nodded, and closed her eyes, concentrating. After a few seconds she shimmered, and became Sharma Dhiti.
Miyo shook her head in wonder. "Dhiti-chan, how on earth did you get mixed up in all this?"
"Are you kidding? I was born to get mixed up in all this!"
"In more ways than one," said Artemis dryly.
"Did somebody say something? No? Must be my imagination. Oh, well—I sort of followed you after you took off this afternoon. Y'know, you've been acting kinda weird lately, Hayashi. I was—"
Miyo rolled her eyes. "Don't tell me you were concerned?"
"Hey, I wouldn't want to lose my best straight man! Anyway, I followed you, and saw you change in the alley. Nice skin show, by the way." Miyo tried to hit her, and she dodged. "Well, I watched the fire thing. Then this flea-bag came and told me I was one of you two too. True?"
"Dhiti-chan, one of the only tolerable things about you is that you don't make puns."
"Why, thank you. You know I value your opunion."
Artemis cleared his throat. "Maybe I should explain. I thought I felt something at the gate this afternoon, but I'd almost decided it was my imagination. Then, when you went in to rescue those people, I felt it again. I poked around, and found Dhiti-san watching you."
Dhiti snickered. "So he strolls up to me and says I've got to help you. And I say, hey, she's doing pretty well playing toreador with that thing all on her own. And he says—"
"As I recall, what you actually said was—"
"Hey, quiet there! It's rude to interrupt a punch-line!"
Miyo laughed and said, "All right, I get the idea." She shot Artemis a glance and added, "I thought you said you weren't looking for Senshi this afternoon?"
"I wasn't. But it's not my fault if one just stumbles along, is it?"
"'Stumbles?'" said Dhiti. "I like that. I'm not the one who was doing all the stumbling tonight, you might recall."
"Yeah, well, you weren't the one jumping out of burning buildings tonight, either. Let's not forget that, hmm?" Miyo blinked. "But you were just full of some other surprises. How did you know the third eye was that thing's weak point?"
Dhiti hesitated. "Well…it made sense. I mean, that guy only had two eyes when he changed. Why should he suddenly sprout a third one? So it had to be something special."
"Uh-huh." Miyo nodded wisely. Just when Dhiti was starting to relax again she added, "And what's the real reason?" Dhiti's flinch was very satisfying.
"Oh, come on, Hayashi, you know! It was inevitable! A big glowing eye in the middle of its forehead? What else could it be? It was just like that viddy program—"
"'Lords of the Black Moon.' Didn't know you were a fan, Dhiti-chan." Dhiti muttered something under her breath, and Miyo snickered. "Yeah, well, it's okay for an anime, though I don't seem to remember Nemesis being quite like that, myself."
"Oh, I suppose you remember seeing it personally."
Miyo grinned. "Funny you should say that. But hang on, there's another thing—what's this Ice Spear thing that you were throwing around, anyway? I've never seen that before. What happened to the Shabon Spray?"
"Shabon Spray? Oh, wait, that's that fog thing, right?" Dhiti gave her a pitying look. "Hayashi, please. Remember who you're talking to. Can you really see me going around spraying fog?"
"Uh, maybe not. But…Artemis, what's going on here? Venus said she couldn't do a Crescent Beam, and when I tried to do my Oak Evolution I almost passed out!"
"For Venus and Mercury, it's a matter of temperament and personality," Artemis told her. "It's not surprising that they'd develop at different paces…and Dhiti-san is certainly a lot more, um, let's say assertive than Ami was." Dhiti grinned. "On the other hand, it'll be interesting to see how much she can do with the Mercury computer." The grin vanished.
"Okay, but what about me?"
"Well…" Artemis looked nervous, for some reason. "After all, you've been reborn. You may remember everything, but you don't have all the training reflexes and physical conditioning that you had back then."
"What are you saying, Artemis?" said Miyo dangerously.
"Um…have you ever heard the expression, 'back to basics'?" Artemis said, and ran for it.
Chairman Fukuda of the Serenity Council answered the commset before it could buzz twice. "One here," he said crisply.
"Twelve here," said the voice on the other end. "I've just had a report that our vitrimorph found Sailor Venus and attacked. Apparently it was defeated by three Senshi—Venus, Jupiter and Mercury."
The chairman smiled. "Excellent news," he said.
Beth straightened her school uniform as well as she could, took a deep breath, and opened the front door. There was nobody in sight inside. She stepped in silently, stifling a gasp as she bent her knee a fraction too far, and closed the door behind her, fumbling a little with her burnt hands. When she turned around, there was still nobody there. Maybe she was going to get away with this after all.
She very nearly made it to her room before her parents caught her.
"Let me get this straight. You've been reborn as Sailor Jupiter twice now?"
"I'm afraid so."
"I mean, doesn't that get sort of monotonous?"
"Never with you around, Dhiti-chan."
"Well, all right. Thanks. Umm…just one thing, though."
"If, in some past life of yours, you were in the habit of eating slugs, I do not want to know about it."
Eventually Artemis remembered the meeting he'd set up with Itsuko, two days before. He managed to slip away from the girls, and dashed through the streets at full tilt. Even so he was very late, and Itsuko was tapping her foot angrily when he finally ran into the alley.
Her anger didn't last long though. He had quite a lot of news for her. They found a secluded spot in a nearby park and talked for a long time.
Much later that night, Captain Aoiro finished adjusting the bug on the reception desk. He checked with Mitsukai that the signal was coming in clearly, then headed back to the stairs. Up to the third floor of the Olympus building. He hoped this was going to turn out to be worth it; it was two o'clock in the morning and he was tired. But Hiiro thought they ought to do a thorough job, so here he was.
He stifled a yawn. Most of the third floor was given over to health club facilities: the sauna and sun rooms, and the like. He didn't need to bother with any of those. But the gymnasium office and records were here, too; and apparently the owner of the place, Pappadopoulos, had a number of private rooms as well. An apartment, it seemed, though why anyone would want to live over a gym was beyond him.
The lock on the office door was pretty good, and it took him a few minutes to get in. Placing the bugs took a while longer. It was after two thirty before he let himself out again. That only left the private rooms.
They really were an apartment, he saw. Quite a nice place, too, and surprisingly big for a single woman. He was tempted to leave—after all, Artemis was hardly likely to be wandering around in here, so there didn't seem much point in bugging the place—but Hiiro's voice, coming through the tab in his ear, ordered him to get on with it. With a sigh, he set to work.
The last thing he expected to see, when he stepped into the kitchen, was a girl in a night-dress, getting a glass of water.
She saw him, too, worse luck, and opened her mouth to scream. He lunged forward, grabbed hold of her—she was too startled to resist—and covered her mouth. All that escaped was a muffled squawk that wouldn't wake anybody.
He recognised her, he suddenly realised. It was Ochiyo, the girl from the reception desk. What the hell was she doing, sleeping here?
At least she wouldn't have recognised him, not with the balaclava and the face paint he was wearing. It felt silly, dressing up this way, but it had saved his ass a number of times. And once more tonight, he supposed.
He hesitated, knowing what he had to do now and not wanting to do it. He liked Ochiyo, dammit. But Hiiro, in his ear, said, "Get a move on," and with a sigh he pulled out the spray and gave her a jet in the face. She stiffened, then relaxed; she would have fallen if he hadn't been holding on to her. He laid her gently down on the floor.
She hadn't had a knockout dose; the drug would make her drowsy and very suggestible. "I want to find out what she's doing here," he said to Hiiro.
There was a pause; then Hiiro, rather reluctantly, said, "All right. Make it quick." At the same time, Ochiyo yawned and said, "All right, Daddy." He suppressed a chuckle.
He pulled her up into a sitting position so he could whisper in her ear. "What are you doing here tonight, Ochiyo-chan? Tell me very softly."
It was simple enough, in the end. On the nights when she worked a late shift—usually once a week—Pappadopoulos let her sleep over in the guest room. Sensible enough, Aoiro supposed; after all, the streets in some districts of Third Tokyo weren't too safe at night. Not many employers would make that kind of offer, though. It almost made him feel bad about what he was doing.
He shrugged, and let the girl slide to the floor. Nothing he had to worry about. He raised the spray again to give her the second, knockout dose…and suddenly hesitated as a new thought occurred to him. If Artemis was interested in this place—
Leaning down, he whispered, "Ochiyo-chan, are you a Sailor Senshi?"
"No, silly," she mumbled back.
He nodded, and sprayed her unconscious. She wasn't a Senshi—but what if Artemis thought she was, or might be? Could that be why the cat had been hanging around the Olympus? He whispered the suggestion to Hiiro, who said, "Could be. Good thought. Now hurry up with the bugs and get out of there; you've been too long already. And don't forget you-know-what."
Aoiro sighed, and got moving again. He'd been seen, and that meant he was going to have to leave a reason for having been here. In other words, he was going to have to burgle the place.
And all the bugs would have to be positioned extra subtly, so they weren't found when Pappadopoulos was looking over the damage. He had a long night ahead of him. He sighed again, pocketed a rather nice silver picture-frame from the mantelpiece, and got back to work.
S A I L O R M O O N 4 2 0 0
END OF CHAPTER FIVE
Next: Trouble for Itsuko, a meeting of spies, an aerial chase, and a long-overdue meeting…
Thanks to my pre-reader, Sandy Drobic.
Revision: 8 October, 2005.