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 girl called McCrea Beth. For his part, Artemis finds the new Jupiter and Mercury—Hayashi Miyo and Sharma Dhiti. Miyo is actually Kino Makoto, now reborn in her third lifetime; but when Artemis tries to re-awaken her memory of her previous life as Sailor Jupiter, he accidentally restores her memory of the Silver Millennium as well.
The first exploits of the Senshi are national news but public opinion soon takes a disturbing direction: some people hate them; others want to worship them. The Council, already searching for Bendis, create "vitrimorphs"—crystalline monsters designed to hunt Senshi.
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, causing Itsuko to send Artemis away.
Pluto has also survived the fall and, using the name Fumihiko Sadako, is secretly working to help the others—altering records to hinder the Olympus investigation, and sabotaging the Senshi detectors being mounted in a patrol vehicle.
Venus, Jupiter and Mercury meet for the first time while lending help at a major fire. Afterward they are attacked by a vitrimorph and defeat it. But the Council is strangely pleased…
By Angus MacSpon
Sailor Moon 4200 Home Page
Based on "Sailor Moon" created by Naoko Takeuchi
She stood in the road, facing a monstrous creature that was trying to kill her. Behind her, there was a building on fire. But that didn't matter; it was irrelevant. Her knee and her hands didn't hurt at all. The monster roared toward her and she stepped aside nimbly, and used her Love-Me Chain to trip it up. There was nothing to it.
Then the monster threw her into a wall, and Sailor Jupiter had to rescue her. That's not fair, she thought indignantly; I'm supposed to be the hero! And Jupiter mocked her, told her she was just an amateur, and should leave it to the professionals. But then Jupiter got into trouble too, and Beth saved her. It was an immensely satisfying moment. And suddenly there was another Senshi on the scene, appearing out of nowhere, and Jupiter called her
and together they defeated the monster, and everyone started cheering. Quite suddenly she realised that they were shouting her name, her real name, and when she looked down at herself she realised that she was just plain Beth, not Sailor Venus at all. That wasn't right, was it? But nobody seemed to mind. She smiled and waved to the crowd, and her hands and her knee still didn't hurt, and then she saw that Eitoku was in the crowd, cheering harder than all the rest. He ran up to her, and put his arms around her, and she felt a strange warmth in her belly; and then somehow the crowd and the other two Senshi were gone, and there was just her and Eitoku, and he bent his head to kiss her—
It became another kind of dream entirely.
She was at home on Callisto. She was six years old. Her parents were there—her real parents, her first parents. It was an ordinary, peaceful evening. Her mother was in the kitchen, cooking dinner, and she wanted to help; and when, for the first time ever, her mother gave her some simple task to do, she was so thrilled and proud that Mommy was trusting her to help that she made a complete botch of it, and dropped a glass bowl on the floor, and when it broke she started to cry and—
—And her daddy came into the kitchen and picked her up and soothed her, and she felt warm and safe and utterly secure in those strong arms. Somehow, even in her dream, she knew that within a year he and Mommy would be dead, and she threw her arms around his neck and clung to him desperately, wanting to hold onto this moment forever. And in the moment before he pried her loose so that he could breathe again, in that too-brief moment when she gazed up at his face, shining lovingly down at her, she realised something that she would never, ever, remember by daylight:
Her sempai looked like her daddy.
She saw the Ginzuishou. That was a wonder in itself; it had been lost after the fall of Crystal Tokyo, though she had looked for it when she escaped from the ruin of the Palace. As she watched, a Senshi—Itsuko couldn't make out her face—reached out her hand to pick it up. There was a shout; she looked up, to see Sailor Pluto (Pluto?!) crying out, "Don't touch it…!"
Shift She saw herself standing in a grassy field, talking to a Senshi; and she almost wept at the bitter knowledge that the Senshi was Sailor Mars.
Shift Then she stood in her office, here in the Olympus, facing two men—but again, she could not make out their faces. They were pointing weapons at her, and she knew there was only one way out. She reached into her desk drawer and pulled out a henshin wand, and shouted familiar words…
She awoke. There were tears in her eyes. She sat up in bed, trying to make sense of it, for a long time.
She was in an alleyway, watching her friend at work. Her friend who was risking her life to save people caught in a fire. Her friend who had unexpectedly turned out to be Sailor Jupiter.
That had been stunning in real life, and it had taken her some time to be able to breath again, and more time to remember to close her mouth. But in her dream, events went the way they should have gone. So she wasn't staring, her heart pounding, as Sailor Jupiter defied death. Instead she was shaking her head at her friend's antics, and considering how to drop a few hints about the episode—enough to make Hayashi nervous, but not enough to tell her for sure that Dhiti knew—and thinking that she really ought to leave before she got caught…when she heard the voice behind her.
"Just before you go, I wonder if I might have a word?"
She turned in surprise—caught after all!—but there was nobody there. Just a white cat, gazing up at her. Had she been imagining things? She shook her head, trying to clear it; and then the cat (the cat!) spoke again.
"You're one of Miyo's friends, aren't you? I'm sorry, I don't remember your name."
What came next was kind of embarrassing, and something in her tried to change it, rewrite this part too. But now her traitorous dream insisted on following the reality script, and she-the-dreamer could only watch and cringe as she-in-the-alley stared at the cat, slack-jawed, and made a pathetic gibbering noise: whaa-aa-aa-a-a…
For some irritating reason this seemed to please the cat. "My name's Artemis, by the way," he said, with just a hint of satisfaction, "and there's something very important I have to tell you."
She might have gibbered some more, but at that moment (thank goodness!) there was a sudden noise from the street: a shot, and then a scream. Dhiti and the cat raced to the alley mouth, and saw that things had changed. Jupiter and Venus were together, and facing them was a—what? A thing, a monstrous crystalline form that was all too clearly trying to kill them…
There was a strange, burning sensation on her forehead.
"Damn!" said the cat. "No time to talk. You've got to help them."
There probably wasn't much that could have gotten Dhiti's attention right then, but that did it. "What?" she demanded, forgetting (for an instant) who and what she was talking to.
The cat gave her a firm look that somehow she knew was a frown, and said, "I felt something from you before, and now it's certain. You are Sailor Mercury, and you must help the other Senshi."
And he spun about madly for a moment, and when he stopped she saw, lying on the ground, a short rod with a vaguely-familiar symbol at the tip…and suddenly she knew, with a cold shock, that this was real; she was talking to the legendary Artemis, and he was offering her—
She felt a grin beginning to form. He was offering her the chance of a lifetime.
"Pick it up," Artemis told her softly. "Say the words."
She reached out her hand—
Time seemed to freeze.
In the real world, what followed did not actually happen. But in her dream it did, and that was real too:
She reached out her hand and said, "What the hell. I'll give it a try for a while, see how I like it."
"No," Artemis told her solemnly. "This isn't something you can pick up, then drop. If you take this chance, there's no way out. No turning back. You must follow the path all the way."
His words seemed to ring in her ears. "All the way. Wherever it leads."
For a moment she hesitated. It seemed to her that she could see the road ahead, and it ran into impenetrable darkness. An inner voice urged her to think again, to choose the light. But then—
Hey, I'm Sharma Dhiti. I make my own light.
—And suddenly time was moving again, and reality was following its old path, and she took the henshin wand and raised it to the sky, exultant, and shouted the words that were her birthright.
"MERCURY POWER, MAKE-UP!"
And there was light aplenty. A cool light, a stream of cold fire that poured through her, thrilling, exhilarating. A flood of power that spun about her. She felt her clothes shifting and changing; then, more subtly, her whole body. And when it was done—
Sailor Mercury stood for a moment in what was half a pose, and half the end of an intricate dance, a dance of transformation. Outside the alley, she saw her friend in trouble, trying to fight a horrific creature that was clearly too strong for her. She burned to help, to strike at the thing…and suddenly, she realised that she knew how.
She sprinted out of the alley, on her first steps down the path laid out for her. When the time came, as always, she did what came naturally.
She was at home—the home of her youth, her childhood. It was a bright, warm, sunny day; her friends and her family were there, all around her, and for a moment, just for a moment, she felt happy.
Then she saw that none of them had faces.
None of them had faces, because she no longer remembered what they looked like. Somehow, even in her dream, she realised this. They were lost to the years, like her home, her youth, and everything else that had mattered to her. She faced that realisation for a moment, unflinching; and then, with the skill of unspeakably long experience, she turned her dream to other matters; and if she no longer felt happy, at least she got the rest she needed, to be able to continue to do what needed to be done…
The morning was grey and drizzly. Itsuko woke up at six-thirty as usual—she was seldom off by more than five minutes either way, though she never used an alarm clock—and got out of bed with a sigh. Another Tuesday. Another day running a gymnasium, hooray. I need a holiday, she thought sourly. Then she remembered that she couldn't afford to take a holiday at the moment; not with a crisis just beginning to take shape. Hooray. She shrugged on a robe, and stumped out to the kitchen for coffee.
All thoughts of coffee vanished when she saw Ochiyo's body lying on the floor.
She froze. What the—
For a moment that seemed like an eternity she stood, staring. Her thoughts moved sluggishly. Ochiyo? What was she doing here? Then, foggily, she remembered: the girl had worked the late shift, last night; and as usual Itsuko had let her sleep in the guest room, rather than sending her out at midnight.
But she's dead, the voice in her head insisted petulantly. What's she doing dead on my kitchen floor?
Then she saw that Ochiyo was breathing, and suddenly reality snapped back into focus.
Holy shit. She ran forward and knelt at the girl's side, feeling her forehead. She wasn't dead. But she didn't stir when Itsuko shook her. Some kind of attack, or seizure? Her forehead wasn't warm. No fever. Damn, what am I supposed to do now—
She realised she was dithering, and took control of herself firmly. Ochiyo was breathing steadily, but wouldn't wake up. All right. She fetched a blanket and wrapped it around the girl, trying not to move her too much. Then she walked briskly through to her office, and called for an ambulance. Ten minutes until it arrived, the operator told her.
She went back to the kitchen. On the way, she started to realise how different the suite looked this morning.
The absence of familiar objects was the first thing she noticed. It was just a nagging feeling, at first: something subliminally out of place. She stopped, confused for a moment, and looked around her. That was when she finally noticed the mess all around her.
It took her a few seconds to realised what had happened. That she had been burgled. Then, with a curse, she headed back to the office to make another call. It wasn't even seven o'clock, and already it was a lousy day. She had a feeling that it wasn't going to improve.
After calling 'P' Division, she started back to the kitchen again, and then had to turn back to the office again when she realised that she hadn't warned the night receptionist downstairs what to expect. Then, finally, she made it back to Ochiyo's side.
This was going to be bad publicity, she thought absently, stroking the girl's forehead without really noticing. The Olympus was a popular spot, and the newsies would probably pick up the story. At least there weren't many clients in at this hour; but even so, it was going to be bad for business. She really ought to go down, ready to handle the inevitable inquiries.
The hell with that. Being here was more important. The Olympus was just a business. If she didn't look after her people, how could she live with herself?
She thought of the girl-turned-queen who'd taught her that, long ago, and smiled.
The commset buzzed. It was the receptionist downstairs; the ambulance and the police had arrived. Itsuko rose and went to let them in.
"I got into a fight," Beth said nervously. "All right?" They'd cornered her as she arrived at school. She should have expected it.
"Just asking," said Nanako, shrugging. She eyed the bandage around Beth's knee and added, "Must've been some fight, though."
Beth sighed. "It was." She didn't know which was worse: her father, Bendis or Nanako. Her father's alarm at her injuries, and then his anger when she said she'd been fighting: that she could understand. Bendis…had acted kind of funny, once she'd finished her own lecture. But Nanako's brand of wide-eyed innocence and bubbly good-natured laziness was worse, in some ways. She felt guilty for being annoyed at Nanako, for one thing.
"Since when do you go around fighting, anyway?" inquired Eitoku.
"Look, I…I'd really rather not talk about it, all right?" It was, of course, impossible to be annoyed at Eitoku. Even if he was being nosy. He should be grateful that she'd saved him last night—or, no, that was just her dream, wasn't it? Well, she'd saved several people, and helped save more. That should count for something.
"I know! She was defending your honour, Eitoku-kun," giggled Nanako, unwittingly mirroring Beth's own thoughts. "It's so romantic! Beth-chan, tell us all about it—"
"Will you stop that?" said Beth, blushing. "That wasn't it at all—I mean, ahh, not that I wouldn't, um…" She trailed off, her face bright scarlet.
"It looks pretty bad," commented Iku unexpectedly. "And you've got a black eye, too."
"Yeah, my Dad took me out to the doctor," Beth said, grateful for the distraction. "He says my knee's sprained, but it's not as bad as it looks. I should be much better by Thursday." I hope, she added to herself. She did heal faster now, one of the few advantages of being a Senshi that she could see, but it was still pretty sore to walk on.
"I guess you missed all the excitement last night, then?" inquired Eitoku. He'd taken no notice of Nanako's teasing comments. He never did, when they were about Beth. Beth wasn't quite sure what to think about that. He had to know how she felt, didn't he? So why didn't he ever say anything?
"Excitement?" she said, somewhat lamely.
Oh, great. Suddenly everyone was staring at her. "You haven't heard?" demanded Nanako. Beth shook her head, trying to look puzzled.
"I don't believe this! You miss everything around here!" Nanako complained. "It was the Senshi! And there's three of them now! And they had a big battle last night, and Iku-chan actually saw it! How can you not have heard—"
"You saw it?" Beth said, startled. She hadn't seen her in the crowd. Of course, she'd been concentrating on other things at the time…
Iku looked flustered. "I was on my way home from school," she said meekly. "I saw the smoke, and went to see."
Beth remembered, just in time, that she wasn't supposed to know what had happened. "Smoke?" she said.
That was enough of a hint, fortunately. Nanako leaped in and started to tell her exactly what had happened, blow by blow, as if she'd been the one there. Beth listened, bemused. At least someone was pleased about the night before.
Bendis certainly hadn't been pleased. She had acted quite oddly, really, when she heard that there were two more Senshi. Almost as if she were afraid of something. But why?
Perhaps, Beth thought slowly as the lecture droned on, it had something to do with the cat's strange reluctance to discuss—or even mention—Artemis. The excuse that he was away on a secret mission elsewhere had long since grown thin, and now it was clear that he too was in Tokyo, recruiting other Senshi. Beth had gone through more than a dozen theories to try and explain it, but none of them really seemed to fit. And Bendis just became evasive when she tried to ask directly.
Maybe there was some kind of secret plan to bring her and the other Senshi together when the time was right, she thought. When the Moon Princess was found, possibly. Wasn't that how it had happened, two thousand years ago? Well, something like that, anyway. But why wouldn't Bendis say?
After a while Bendis' tirade degenerated into a telling-off for not using all the manoeuvres they'd practised. Beth hesitantly pointed out that none of the cat-fighting techniques really seemed to apply to a huge crystalline monster several times larger than Beth herself. Trying to bite its neck, for example, would have posed certain difficulties.
"That's just typical of a human," Bendis told her. "No flexibility! You're not thinking like a cat. There are lots of perfectly good ways of attacking something like that. I'll—" She hesitated, then went on, "I'll show you tomorrow night. You'll see!"
Beth nodded meekly, and the cat finally let her go to bed. As she closed her eyes, Beth smiled. She had suspected, for some time now, that Bendis was simply making up most of what she was teaching her. On the other hand, the cat was very creative, and her manoeuvres often worked quite well. Even the failures could sometimes be adapted into something useful. Beth was looking forward to seeing what Bendis would come up with this time.
She listened as Nanako's account of the battle droned on. It was pretty accurate, for the most part, though Beth didn't remember the monster carrying a bazooka. But of course that was Nanako through and through.
Eitoku, on the other hand, simply listened with little reaction. That was disappointing; though really, it was actually something of an improvement. He'd been rather critical of the new Senshi—of her—before. At least he finally seemed to believe that they were real. He'd come around in the end; she was sure of it.
As for Iku…Beth shook her head. The girl was, as ever, totally closed; a real mystery. What was wrong with her? She seldom spoke, seldom seemed to do anything much. She'd been the one on the scene last night, and she was letting Nanako do all the talking! Beth couldn't figure her out at all.
She'd asked Nanako about her, a couple of days before, but Nanako simply shook her head and said, "She's always been very quiet." Then, with a frown, she added, "She's worse since you came along. Funny…"
"Maybe she doesn't like me," Beth suggested. She had the impression that Nanako knew more than she was saying.
Nanako grinned. "Maybe she doesn't like your cat! She prefers dogs, you know." Then she looked annoyed, as if she'd said something she shouldn't, and added, "I don't know. It's odd, though…"
Now, Nanako was finally wrapping up her account of last night's action. Beth listened with half an ear. Something was nagging at her, right on the tip of her tongue. Something somebody had said. What was it?
"…And blasted it to atoms!" Nanako finished triumphantly. She gave Beth an expectant look. "So, what do you think?"
"Um…" Beth frowned. Suddenly she remembered what it was. "Do you know if there's anyone around here named Dhiti?"
The bell rang. Nanako stared at her for a moment; then, muttering something under her breath, she turned and headed in to class. After a few seconds, still puzzled, Beth followed her.
"I got into a fight," Miyo said testily. "All right?" They'd cornered her as she arrived at school. She should have expected it.
"So what else is new?" said Kin, unimpressed. Dhiti laughed, and Miyo shot her a withering look.
"Must've been some fight, though," Kin added. "You're pretty banged up."
"She was taking on someone bigger than her again," Dhiti told her. "I saw the whole thing."
"Will you shut up?" said Miyo, pained.
"What, are you kidding?" Dhiti was enjoying this far too much. "You should have see it, Kin-chan! She demolished him. I mean, really, she demolished him."
Miyo groaned. She was in hell.
Kin still wasn't terribly interested, fortunately. "I guess you missed all the excitement last night, then?" she inquired.
"Excitement?" asked Miyo.
"You don't know?" Kin exclaimed. "The Sailor Senshi had a big battle last night! Not far from here, too. It was on the news. Didn't you see?"
"On the news?" Well, they ought to have expected that, Miyo thought. Somehow, in the heat of the moment, she'd forgotten how many people had been watching. It was so different, this time around! Before, they'd been urban myths. In this age, they were celebrities. How were they supposed to handle it? I should ask Artemis, she mused. They had to keep their identities secret, of course, especially while they were still this young, but…she shook her head. Kin was speaking again.
"Yeah! There was some guy in the crowd who had a camera. It was so cool! Oh, and there's three of them now! Venus and Jupiter and, um, I forget who the other one was…"
"How fleeting is fame," murmured Dhiti.
"What? You know, sometimes I don't understand you at all. Geez, Dhiti-chan, you were all over the moon about Sailor Venus when she appeared, and now you're not even interested! Even you don't get usually bored with things this fast."
"Oh, well, you know how it goes," said Dhiti airily. "Venus is, like, ancient history. If there's two more Senshi, though, who knows? Maybe I'll like one of them better."
"I'm sure," Miyo muttered. Why couldn't she be like Dhiti? Always quick with the facile answer, never taking anything seriously—able to joke about it all without raising suspicion, because everyone knew she was always joking anyway…
"Mercury!" said Kin suddenly. "I remember now. That was the other new one."
"Mercury," mused Dhiti, with a rather-too-innocent look on her face. "Well, well. Mercury. Hmm. Now there's a thought. The smart one."
"What, are you kidding?" said Kin. "Sailor Jupiter, now, there's a Senshi for you. And she was the one who blasted that monster last night, too."
Miyo looked over at Dhiti, waited until she was sure she had the other girl's eye, and smiled at her. Dhiti rolled her eyes.
"Well, well," said a familiar voice. "The usual gang, at it already I see." Wright Mark strolled through the gate, grinning cheerfully, with Keenan Liam right behind him as usual. "So what is it today?" he inquired, noticing the war of grins going on. "Not more of your cooking, I hope."
"I," announced Miyo, "am going to be very unpleasant to the next person who mentions—"
"Perish the thought," said Liam hastily.
"You're not the one I was thinking of," she retorted, eyeing Mark and Dhiti. "Just so we all know where we're at," she added.
"I assure you," Mark said in an injured tone, "I hadn't the slightest intention of mentioning…certain gastropods…"
"Careful," said Dhiti, snickering.
"Pa dachiel!" cursed Miyo. This was just too much. "I suppose everyone at school knows about that by now, right?"
"Come on, Hayashi," Dhiti admonished. "Even Kin-chan needs a little time to spread rumours. Be fair. Give her an hour or so more."
"Hey!" protested Kin. "I don't go spreading rumours; you're the one who does that." Then she grinned. "At least, that's what I always tell everyone."
"Ah, so you're the one to blame for that! My revenge will be slow and terrible, possibly involving tweezers. Let's see, what can I tell people about you…?"
"Tell them she's in love with Mark," suggested Miyo evilly. "No, wait. With Liam-kun."
"Wonderful," murmured Mark. "I'm the lesser of two evils."
"With me?" exclaimed Liam at the same time. "Acushla!" he cried dramatically, falling to his knees before Kin. "And wasn't I thinking you'd never come to your senses?"
Kin groaned. "I'm going to get you for this," she told Miyo. Then she grabbed Liam by the arm and hauled him away, saying, "C'mon, lover-boy. Let's find you a bucket of cold water to soak your head in."
She was smiling, though.
Miyo watched them go, her mouth hanging open. "What?" she said. "Wait a minute. She really does like him?"
"Well, well," said Dhiti thoughtfully. "Did you know anything about this, Wright-kun?"
But Mark, too, was looking surprised. "No," he said. "I knew there's a girl he's interested in; he told me down at the gym, a couple of days ago. But I didn't think it was Kin-san. I hope—"
The bell rang. Mark sighed, then glanced over at Miyo. "See you at lunch-time?" he inquired, winking. Then he took off, without waiting for an answer.
"I knew it," said Dhiti. "He is sweet on you, Hayashi." She shook her head. "This is unfair! You get him, and Kin-chan gets Liam-kun…dammit, who's left for me?"
"Someone normal, perhaps?"
"Don't be silly, where'd the fun be in that? C'mon, we'll be late." They started to head in to class. As they walked, Dhiti added, "Hey, what was that you said before? 'Pa dachiel?' Or something like that?"
"What!" Miyo stopped suddenly. "I didn't say that, did I?" Dhiti nodded, and she sighed. "It's ancient Callistan," she said resignedly. "Not very polite."
"Callistan? What's—? Oh! As in the moon of Jupiter?"
"Yes. I used to live there. Damn!" Miyo hesitated, then said quietly, "Look, if you hear me start to talk nonsense—you know, other languages—let me know, will you? I…well, I don't always notice."
Dhiti stared back at her. "I'll do that," she said seriously.
After the policemen had left, Itsuko spent some time picking through the suite, trying to make a list of what was missing. She didn't like this one bit. It was a nasty feeling, knowing that somebody had been in here while she was sleeping.
Ochiyo wasn't sick at all. She had started to come around even as the paramedics examined her. One of the 'P' Division men recognised the symptoms. She'd been dosed with halogyne: a fast-acting knockout spray. Uncommon, but becoming more popular with the criminal world, it seemed. Ochiyo was incoherent for a few minutes when she awoke, but soon enough she was able to confirm that she'd met the burglar, and that he'd sprayed her with something.
The paramedics wanted to check her into the hospital, just in case; but Ochiyo put her foot down. She was shaken, and a little scared, but determined not to let this get to her. After being reassured that there were no known side-effects to the drug, Itsuko supported her. She called the girl's father—a rather cold and pragmatic man; she didn't like him much—and told him what had happened. He arrived to pick her up half an hour later, leaving Itsuko alone in her newly-denuded suite.
—It did seem rather odd. Her rooms were on the third floor of the building. Why had she been burgled, when nothing else in the building had been touched? The bottom level was filled with retail shops, but as far as anyone could tell, none of them had been entered. It was as if she had been singled out.
That might be it, she realised. She was running a successful business, after all. Perhaps they'd been after the takings? But most of her income was from monthly, quarterly and annual memberships, and from the rents on the shops downstairs. She kept little cash on the premises. Still…she went into the office and checked the safe. It did look as if someone had tried to get into it. Something else to report to 'P' Division.
She closed the wall-panel that hid the safe and leaned back against her desk, sighing. As she did so, her arm brushed against the little tub of paper-clips and knocked it to the floor. Groaning, she bent down to pick the clips up again. Quite a few were strewn under the desk, and she had to crawl to get them. As she came out again, her hair caught painfully on something. Muttering angrily, she glanced up to see what it was, and froze.
It was very well camouflaged. A casual glance wouldn't have noticed it at all. But she was looking in just the right spot, and she could see it clearly.
Somebody had bugged her desk.
She managed to suppress her gasp of surprise. The bug looked audio-only, thank goodness: a tiny device, smaller than her little fingernail, made of a clear, non-reflective plastic in which a fine web of wires was embedded. It was mostly transparent, virtually invisible in the darkness. If she hadn't been looking right at it…
She crawled out and stood up once more, slamming the tub of paper-clips down in the desk for the benefit of whoever was listening.
This put a whole new complexion on the burglary. On a lot of things.
She could rule out industrial espionage immediately. It was impossible to believe that another gymnasium was spying on her. The idea was simply ridiculous. That meant that somebody knew something. Probably something dangerous.
A few days before, she'd seen someone outside setting up cameras. She'd thought they'd spotted Artemis. But could it have been her they were after? Had she been careless? They wouldn't plant microphones to track a cat. Unless they knew the cat could talk, of course; but…
She buried her face in her hands, trying to think clearly. Her first impulse was to run—get out quickly, use her emergency kit and take up a new identity somewhere else. But if she was being watched, her chances of success were slim. And hiding would be difficult when she did not even know who she was hiding from…
In any case, she could not run. Not with the crisis coming.
And after all, she thought wryly, it wasn't as if she'd actually done anything wrong. Well, not very wrong. Being older than she looked wasn't against the law. The worst that could happen was that her cover would be blown, that she'd be exposed as Hino Rei. That would be bad, but at least she'd still be on hand, still able to offer help. Whatever help she was capable of.
And maybe she could even avoid that much, she realised. There was a chance that whoever was watching her didn't know much. She could try to keep it that way. Contain the problem.
After all, she had contacts. In her position she needed them; apart from anything else, every so often she needed a new name, and that was getting hard to manage. But she knew people who could do things.
She dressed for outdoors and walked downstairs, nodding to the receptionist on the way. Outside, she started briskly away from the Olympus building. This was a call she didn't want to make from inside. Especially not now, when she couldn't trust her own commset.
She walked down the street for a few minutes, then stopped, making a show of suddenly remembering something. There was a comm booth nearby. She hurried over, inserted her credit chit into the commset's reader, and punched in a number from memory.
The voice that answered was bluff, curt. "Yes?"
"Jiro? Is that you?" she said. "It's Itsuko."
"Itsuko? Jiro? I think you got the wrong number, lady."
She grinned, and named a few names.
"Itsuko!" Suddenly the voice sounded much warmer. "Yiasou omorfi! Ti kanis?"
She held back a sigh. Taking a half-Greek identity had seemed like a good idea when she'd thought of it, years before. No enclaves had survived in Greece (though the country was reviving fast), so it made her background very difficult to check. Also, having peculiar ancestry made it easier for her to get away with a few of her own peculiarities.
The disadvantage was that sometimes she met someone who spoke a little Greek. "Arketa kala, efharisto," she answered casually. "Koita, thelo voithia."
"Any help you need, you got," he said seriously. "You know that."
She smiled. Jiro remembered old favours. "Thanks, but this is some rather special help. Look—" She told him what she'd found. "I guess I have to assume there's more than one bug," she added.
There was a slight pause at the other end. "All right. I can handle that," he said after a few seconds. "You just want them removed? Or you want a false signal, so they think they're still working?"
"Can you do that?" she asked, surprised.
"Hey, why you calling me, if you don' think I can get the job done? Sure I can do it. I know some people, y'know?" After a moment's pause he added, "Listen, what you getting into, Itsuko-chan? Who you got on your back?"
"Believe me, if I knew that I'd tell you. You know I've got things to hide." Jiro didn't know the half of it, of course. But he knew that she was not who she said she was.
"Yeah. Well, maybe I can help with that too, maybe not. We'll see. It'll take me a few hours to get the people an' the equipment. Can you wait that long?"
She was surprised again. Jiro must think he owed her a lot more than she did. "I could have waited a couple of days, actually," she said, not trying to keep the pleasure out of her voice. "Jiro, you're a life-saver."
"Any time. You know that. Any time, ever. Can you get me an' my people in without being seen?"
She had to laugh. "Jiro, I run a gymnasium. Just come in as if you're going to get some exercise."
He laughed back. "Okay. I call you when we're on our way."
"Right. Thanks, Jiro." She hung up and stepped out of the booth, pocketing her credit chit.
All right. That was done. Now, to perform a few unnecessary errands before heading back. Just in case someone was watching.
Beth picked at her lunch dispiritedly. As usual, the four of them—Eitoku, Nanako, Iku and herself—had met for lunch in their favourite spot, in a little area off to one side of the school grounds. The other three had been coming here for a long time even before Beth was drawn into their group, she knew, and most of the other students seemed to tacitly acknowledge that their area was "theirs."
She leaned back with a sigh, her lunch still unfinished. They had started off talking about the new Senshi again—the topic was all the rage throughout the school once more—and Beth had tried to throw in some comments that didn't sound like she knew exactly what had happened. But after a while the conversation lapsed. Eitoku seemed nervous about something, and Nanako was preoccupied, which was unusual for her, and Iku…was her normal cryptic self.
Beth was just as glad, really. She didn't feel like talking either. Her leg ached like a demon, and her shoulder was throbbing again from when she'd been thrown into that wall; and more than anything else she felt like lying back and relaxing. The sun was warm, and she felt sleepy.
Nanako yawned, excused herself, got up and walked off in the direction of the toilet block. Beth watched her go for a few seconds, then glanced away, bored. She found herself staring at the clump of bushes not far away, and remembered the day (not too long ago actually) when Nanako had caught her there, lying hidden and spying on Eitoku. She shook her head, flushing at the memory. But of course that hadn't really worked out so badly, after all—
She blinked. What was that? A movement in the bushes. She tried to watch it from the corner of her eye. Yes, there. It was—
Oh. It was that creepy little kid. Nanako had spotted him yesterday, spying on them. She supposed he must have a crush on one of them. Perhaps even on her, she suddenly thought, a little startled at the idea. But that was silly, surely?
It was a pity Nanako had just left. She would have enjoyed seeing the kid.
Hideo peered out from the bushes, observing his quarry. He was trying to keep low and make no sudden movements, the way they did in action movies on the viddy. It seemed to be working so far.
Which one of them was Sailor Venus? There were four people, but Bendis had only been interested in three of them: Higoshi Nanako, Shiomi Eitoku and Kodama Iku. One of those three had to be the one. Well, not Shiomi, obviously; he was a boy. That meant Higoshi or Kodama.
Higoshi had walked away a few minutes ago. He continued to study Kodama, wishing he had a pair of binoculars. She did seem to be about the right height, but her hair was rather long, and braided. That didn't seem quite right. He spared a glance at the other girl, the one he didn't know. She would almost have done, he thought for a moment; but then he remembered that Bendis hadn't been interested in her, and dismissed the idea.
He turned his attention to Kodama. She was always so quiet. Maybe that was a pose, though. Like a superhero's secret identity. He frowned, and reached out to pull a branch out of the way—
He jerked upright with a yelp. Caught! One of the teachers must be snooping around. Resigned, ready for the inevitable telling-off, he looked up…into the grinning face of Higoshi Nanako.
Catching people spying from these bushes was getting to be a habit. Nanako watched a series of expressions flit across the kid's face: surprise, chagrin, confusion, anger, resignation…He was a cool one, she thought, amused. Pretty good for someone his age.
"Aren't you a little young to be girl-watching?" she asked.
He wasn't fazed. "It was a dare," he said.
"Uh-huh." She grinned. "Was it a dare yesterday, too?"
That one did throw him. He recovered fast, though. "I wanted to see if I could get away with it twice."
Uh-huh. Sure. She had to respect him, though; it was a pretty good story. Under other circumstances it might have been very tough to crack.
Not this time, though. "Funny thing," she said. "When I asked around yesterday, to find out who you were, I found out that you'd been asking who we were, a couple of weeks ago. That's quite a dare."
She watched his eyes widen, listened to him start to stammer, groping for an excuse, before she went for the knock-out. "I also heard that you'd been asking about cats," she said.
He fell silent, looking panic-stricken. Game and set, she thought smugly.
"Now as it happens," she went on, "I do know someone who has a cat. A tabby cat. And it's funny—this cat has a peculiar mark. Right on its forehead. Like a scar. Shaped like—hmm, how to describe it…"
"Full moon," he whispered.
She beamed at him. "Why, yes! Just like a full moon. Isn't that interesting?"
He was silent for a moment. Then he burst out, "It's you, isn't it! You're the one! Sailor Venus…"
Game, set and match.
"No, it's not me," she told him, shaking her head. "Sorry." She watched his face for a moment—saw the disappointment slowly shifting to suspicion—and then said, "But you know, there's another funny thing. This girl I know, the one with the cat—well, you remember a week or so ago, when Sailor Venus got shot? I'm sure you saw it on the viddy. And the next morning, this girl had a sore arm, in exactly the same place. Now isn't that interesting?"
"Why are you telling me this?" he asked.
She ignored him. "And as for yesterday…well, we both know what happened yesterday evening. And today, this girl can hardly walk straight, she's got a black eye, and it hurts her to move her shoulder. Quite a coincidence, don't you think?"
"Who—" he began.
"So many interesting things going on at the moment," Nanako mused. She threw him a sharp glance. "Now what I find interesting, just at the moment," she added, "is you. You and…a certain cat. What do you know about that cat, Kawatake Hideo?"
He visibly debated whether to tell her or not. At last he said, "I've talked to it. To her."
"Ah!" Nanako beamed at him. "It seems we have information to exchange. Isn't this fun?"
Reluctantly, he nodded.
It didn't actually take very long. Neither of them knew all that much, really. Nanako knew who Venus was, of course. Hideo knew Bendis' name, and had had some tantalising hints from her about the Great Fall, but that was all. Nevertheless, by the time the recitations were over, the two of them were unmistakably conspirators.
And Nanako had one other piece of information, but for now she kept that to herself, unsure whether it was really relevant. A name: Dhiti.
"Her?" Hideo kept saying, looking through the bushes at where Beth lay, dozing in the sun. "But…but Bendis said that she was interested in you, or Shiomi-san or Kodama-san."
Nanako grinned. "Perhaps Bendis is a little more intelligent than you gave her credit for," she suggested.
Hideo was taking a longer, harder look. "You're right," he breathed. "It is her. She looks exactly like Sailor Venus."
"She does?" Nanako blinked. Then she got down on all fours and peered through the bushes herself. "She does. I'll be—why didn't I ever see that before?"
It was uncanny. The pictures she'd seen on the viddy had been blurred, hard to make out; but nevertheless, the similarity was unmistakable. How could she have missed it before? It was as if—
—It was as if something had prevented her from seeing it. Her and Hideo both. After all, she hadn't worked out Beth's secret from the way she looked; it had been based on a cat, the girl's injuries, and her general uneasiness and shiftiness whenever the Senshi were mentioned. Beth really wasn't any good at hiding things. If Eitoku and Iku paid more attention to what went on around them (and if Eitoku wasn't so determinedly ignoring all the cow-eyed looks that Beth kept throwing him), they'd have noticed too.
But then, if nobody could see that Beth looked like Sailor Venus, why should anybody put the rest together? That took someone different. Someone nosy.
She exchanged glances with Hideo. There was more magic around Beth than either of them had realised. It was something to think about.
Beth opened one eye as Nanako came back and sat down. "You were a long time," she said idly.
"Oh, well, I got side-tracked," Nanako answered. She yawned. "Why, did I miss something?"
Beth yawned too. "Not likely. We've just been dozing."
Nanako beamed at her. "Yeah, it's too nice a day to spoil." Then she cast a suspicious glance at Eitoku. "Of course, there's always one," she muttered. Raising her voice, she demanded, "Have you been reading that book all this time?"
He jumped, clutching the book defensively. "What? No! Yes! There's nothing wrong with that!"
She shook her head, tsk'ing sadly. "All this studying…it's bad for you, Eitoku-kun. You'll strain that brain thing of yours, or something. You need to relax more. Go with the flow."
"But—" he began to protest.
"No buts. C'mon, just lie back," she ordered. "Give it a try." She followed her own advice with a sigh. "You see? Relax. Don't worry about anything. Take things easy."
She smiled. "Like I do."
When the commset buzzed, Itsuko was at her desk, trying (and failing) to concentrate on some of the paperwork that had been building up. She'd been neglecting her job lately; she'd had other things on her mind.
"Yes?" she said distractedly.
"We're on our way now," said a voice. "Five minutes." Then the speaker hung up.
She stared at the commset remote, trying to work out what the man had been talking about. Then she remembered, and groaned. Five minutes? All right. She finished skimming through the page at the top of her pile, and scrawled a few notes on it. Then, pushing the entire pile to one side, she got up and headed out. On the way she took a quick glance around the suite, checking that everything looked tidy. It wasn't that she was house-proud. She was just…nervous about guests.
Downstairs at the reception desk, she was startled to see that Ochiyo was on duty. She glanced at her watch and saw that it was after four. Where had the afternoon gone?
"Hi, Itsuko-san," said Ochiyo, smiling. "Looks like a quiet day."
Itsuko blinked. Quiet, after everything that had happened that morning? Oh. Quiet here in the gymnasium, anyway. "It happens," she shrugged. She studied the girl, noting with a little surprise the large bunch of flowers on the desk in front of her. "Are you all right?" she asked. "After this morning, I mean."
"Oh, I'm fine," Ochiyo said happily. "Actually, it was kind of cool. Well, not at the time, obviously. But—"
"I know," said Itsuko wryly. What on earth was the girl so happy about? She eyed the flowers again, and suddenly realised. "Oho. From your boyfriend?" Ochiyo nodded, beaming, and Itsuko laughed. "Not bad," she said. "What's his name?"
"I don't know," Ochiyo told her. Then she grinned. "Yet," she added.
Itsuko shook her head, still laughing. Flowers from a secret admirer; that was all it took to make the girl forget what could have been a highly traumatic experience. Was I ever like that? She tried to remember how she'd felt when she was that young. Maybe I was.
She heard footsteps and looked around. Jiro was coming up the steps, followed by a pair of other men. They were all carrying equipment bags. Itsuko breathed a sigh of relief. This could actually work.
Jiro came forward, his hand outstretched, pushing past a client who was just leaving. "Itsuko-chan!" he exclaimed. "To see your face again!"
She smiled, taking his hand. "It's been a long time, Jiro." Inwardly, she cringed. Did he have to be so familiar, right there in front of Ochiyo? All the other staff were going to hear about this within the hour. Her hard-nosed reputation was shot.
He took another look at her, and she saw his eyebrows go up. "You looking real good, lady," he said, almost in wonder. "Good as the day we met."
She winked. "Clean living," she told him.
Hmm. That could be a problem—as if she needed more problems. It had been twenty years since they'd last met. Jiro had put on weight; his face was lined, and his hair and eyebrows were greying. Itsuko hadn't changed at all.
"Glad you could drop by," she said, masking her worry. "Let's head on up." She indicated the stairs. Jiro nodded, his smile fading slightly, and he and the other two followed her up the stairs.
Inside her rooms she hesitated, not sure what to do next. Jiro held a finger to his lips and glanced at one of his men. The man pulled a small grey box out of his jacket and flicked a switch on the side. She heard a faint, crackling hiss. The man nodded shortly.
Jiro relaxed. "Okay, it's safe to talk," he said. "There's another team outside. Posing as an electrical crew, you know? Doing work on the wiring. They're making some interference, so your eavesdroppers, they don' know what's going on." He gestured to his two men. "All right, get started. We can' keep this up more than a half hour, maybe."
They began pulling equipment out of their bags. Jiro asked, "Is it just the office, you think, or maybe everywhere?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. It—it could be everywhere." It was unpleasant to have to admit it; but she could not take the risk. The only place she was sure about was her secret room, where the sacred fire burned.
Jiro only nodded. "No problem. What about downstairs? There too? Not so easy to check, down there."
Another shrug. "Maybe. I'll chance that, though." She gave a small smile. "After all, if there's anything secret going on down in the gym, it's none of my doing."
"I believe it," he said. He gave her a long, thoughtful gaze. "I think you got plenty enough secrets right up here."
"We've got trouble," Kuroi said as he stepped into the van, closing the door behind him.
"Imagine my joy," said Hiiro laconically. "What now?"
"Have we got a camera over the main entrance?"
"You know perfectly well we have." Hiiro looked at him quizzically. "What's got you so upset?"
"Check back in the logs. About five minutes ago, a group of three men walking into the building."
"By your command," Hiiro said, with just a touch of irony. He looked back at Mitsukai's work-desk. She was hunched over one of the receiver units, manipulating the controls with an intent look on her face. "Mitsukai, take a look, will you?"
She sighed, and turned her attention to a console to one side. Watching her, Kuroi said, "Problems?"
"Interference. There's a crew working on the power lines a couple of blocks away. Whatever they're doing, they're kicking up a lot of static. We're not getting much out of the bugs."
"Should have used the longer-range units."
"They're too visible. I send Kitada over to take a quiet look at what the repair boys're doing. They shouldn't be too much longer."
"Okay." For once, Kuroi didn't have anything bad to say about Masao. Truth to tell, for an Irregular the young man was working out pretty well. "Bad timing," Kuroi said at last. "You'll see what I mean in a moment."
They headed back to Mitsukai's console. She was rapid-scanning back through the camera logs. As they watched, she brought up a picture of three men entering the Olympus building: a bulky, middle-aged man followed by two others, younger and fitter-looking.
"Try and get the faces of the two in the back," Kuroi ordered. Mitsukai searched forward a moment longer, and found another shot of the three. "There," Kuroi said, pointing to one of them. "The one on the left. Okuda Jiro."
Hiiro studied his face. "What about him?" he said.
Hiiro sat bolt-upright, staring at Kuroi. Even Mitsukai looked shocked. "You sure?" Hiiro asked after a moment.
"Ninety-five percent. Ninety-nine."
"Shit." Hiiro rubbed his forehead. "This doesn't make sense. Why would the Sankaku clans be involved in this?" He glanced up at Kuroi. "Ryozo, how—?"
"How do you think? I've seen him before. Ran into him on a job, three, four years ago. He got away, but I remember the face."
"Could just be a coincidence?"
"Not a chance. I saw the three of them go in and walk straight up to Pappadopoulos. She looked real friendly with Okuda."
"Damn. And right when we can't hear a thing from inside."
"I said it was bad timing."
"All right. We don't want to fly off the handle, though. It could be some kind of sting, or even a protection racket…not our business." Hiiro paused, thinking hard. "Ryozo, get out there. Find Kitada, tell him to try and hurry the damn power crew up. Then get back and cover the entrance. Find out where those three go when they leave. Mitsukai…when's Aoiro due back in?"
"Six hours," she said. "He's on down-shift."
"Too bad. Wake him up and bring him in. Then get back on that receiver. Even if you can only make out a word or two…"
"So exactly what are they doing?" asked Itsuko, watching Jiro's men at work.
Jiro grinned, looking rather proud. "We found twelve bugs. Your burglar, he was pretty heavy-handed. Now, we fix them so they only send what we want them to send."
His grin widened as he pulled out a slim box from his bag. "I leave you this," he told her. "Very smart little machine. I got samples of your voice fed in here. When you switch it on, it overrides the bugs, sends out a nice little conversation in your voice—all random, not a tape. Clever computer program, you can listen for hours an' not guess it's a fake."
Itsuko had to grin in reply; his enthusiasm was infectious. "But won't someone get suspicious if I keep talking all night?"
"No, no. You only turn it on when you don' want anyone to hear. Most of the time, it stays off, an' they hear what you say for real. It's much safer that way."
"I suppose so." But a sudden thought struck her, and she shot him a suspicious glance. "Just where did you get samples of my voice?"
He burst out laughing. "On the comm, this morning! A little fuzzy, a little tinny, sure, but we don' need great sound quality for this. Those bugs—they're short range, low-power. At the other end, they sound like a commset anyway."
"Huh," she said, mollified. "Short-range, you say?" A rather predatory look appeared on her face. "Any chance you can find out where they're transmitting to?"
"Sorry, no," he said regretfully. "Could be anywhere within two, maybe three blocks. Doesn't sound like much, but it's a lot of territory."
"Pity," Itsuko said, just as regretfully.
"I could have some of my people search, but I got to tell you, it's just as likely they'd be spotted first. Then you'd really be in trouble."
Itsuko thought about it. "Don't worry about it," she said after a moment. The predatory look was back. "I know some people who can look around. They're very discreet."
There was, after all, no-one as discreet as a cat. Artemis was out of the question—they'd spot him in a moment—but his great-granddaughter would be perfect…once he finally found her. Bendis could snoop around and spy on the spies without the slightest danger of discovery. Nobody out there would be looking for a tabby cat with a full-moon mark.
It didn't take much longer for Jiro's men to finish up. Jiro himself installed the controller box, and went over how to use it with Itsuko. When they were all done Itsuko checked her watch: twenty-two minutes. Impressive, she thought, and told Jiro so. He winked.
"We got to go," he said. "The jamming will end soon, an' we don' want to get you into any more trouble, eh? You take care of yourself, pretty lady."
He took her hand, and for a moment she thought he was going to kiss it. But he simply gave her one more wondering look. "Whatever your beauty secret is, you should sell it," he told her. "Forget this place. You could make millions, easy."
She laughed, and saw the three out of the building. Her smile faded as she watched him go. It saddened her to realise that she was never going to be able to see Jiro again. But he'd noticed that she hadn't aged. And that meant that he, too, could be a danger.
"It'll be all right," Miyo said as they walked up to the door. "Miliko's got a netball practice, so she won't in the way."
"What about your brothers?" asked Dhiti. She'd visited Miyo's house before; she knew what to expect.
"They won't get in the way either." Miyo grinned suddenly. "Not if they know what's good for them."
The front door opened, to reveal Ichiyo and Fujimaro standing there in the hall, apparently on their way out. Miyo froze. "Uh—"
Her brothers exchanged meaningful glances. "Do we know what's good for us?" asked Ichiyo solemnly.
"Depends," said Fujimaro. "Is she in a bad mood?"
"Let me check." Ichiyo reached out and poked Miyo on the shoulder. Miyo glared at him and swatted his hand away. "No broken bones," he announced. "About middling, I'd say."
"Hmm." Fujimaro pulled out a coin and prepared to toss it. "Heads we run for it, tails we sit on her," he suggested.
"Tails," Ichiyo said without hesitation.
"Right." The coin flipped up into the air, spinning over and over—
Miyo caught it before it landed in Fujimaro's hand. "Allow me," she told him coldly, and inspected the coin. "What do you know," she said a moment later, giving the two a withering look. "Both sides are tails."
"I am shocked, deeply shocked—" began Ichiyo.
She snorted. "You probably lent him the coin," she said.
"You wound me," he said, contriving to look sad. "That my own sister could be so distrustful…you bring dishonour upon the family name—"
"Dishonour!" she yelped. "Who was the one who put slugs in my bed last night! Dishonour! I'd like to maroon the pair of you on Io, then we'd see who was dishonoured—"
Dhiti cleared her throat loudly, and she stopped.
Diffidently, Fujimaro said, "Actually, that was Miliko with the slugs. Word of honour."
Ichiyo said, "Io?"
"Sensei was talking about it in science class," said Dhiti quickly. "One of the moons of Jupiter. Lots of volcanos. Very nasty." Miyo shot her a grateful look.
"My, my," Ichiyo said gravely. "You're getting creative, sis. Maybe something's rubbing off from Sharma-chan." Dhiti stirred; but before she could say anything he added, with a faint grin, "Or should that be, from Wright-kun?"
Miyo gaped at him. "Where'd you hear about—" she began. He laughed, grabbed Fujimaro by the arm, and slipped nimbly past her out of the house. Just in time; Miyo almost managed to grab him as he went past. The two's laughter trailed behind them as they headed down the path and around a corner.
Miyo snorted. "Brothers," she said.
"Sure had you dead to rights, didn't they?" said Dhiti innocently.
"They did not! They—" Miyo stopped, and sighed. "Brothers," she repeated, with a little more force.
Dhiti snickered. "Have you actually been to Io?" she asked curiously as they stepped inside.
"What? No. There's a—there was a research station there, but that's all. The environment was too hostile. The Miranda Institute was talking about another terraforming attempt when…" She trailed off. "Well, you know. When."
Dhiti nodded. She'd been about to make a rather clever remark about volcanos and Miyo's temper, but she didn't. The mood was spoiled.
It always seemed to come down to that for Miyo, eventually: what had been lost. She was so wrapped up in the when. Why couldn't she open her eyes and see the now?
That was a clever remark, too. Pity it was true.
She followed Miyo through the living room, where Miyo's father was sitting, reading the newspaper, and into the room Miyo shared with her sister. Artemis was waiting for them.
Hayashi Hitomaru glanced up and smiled as the two girls went past. When they were out of earshot, he stood and went through to the kitchen, where his wife was busy getting the dinner started. He couldn't quite restrain himself from checking what she was doing—remembering a certain episode four days before when his daughter had been cooking—but managed to glance away before she caught him doing it.
"You look serious," Aki said tentatively.
"Miyo just got home," he told her. "She…" He hesitated.
Aki sighed. "Again?"
"Again," Hitomaru confirmed. "She was giving some wild talk about the moons of Jupiter. Her friend was encouraging her, I think."
"That would be Dhiti-chan. Yes, she would." She thought about it, her hands working steadily at the food. "Have you considered speaking to someone at the school?"
"Yes, but what can I say? My daughter is acting strangely, and talking nonsense all the time, and recently she cooked slugs for her family and didn't even notice until afterward?"
"I'm sure it's just a phase she's going through." Aki's face said that she wasn't sure at all.
"Let's hope so," Hitomaru answered. Reluctantly, he added, "Sometimes, it's as if she's…someone else."
"Nice of you to show up," said Artemis.
"Oh, don't be silly," said Miyo cheerfully. The argument with her brothers had left her in a surprisingly good mood. It was nice to see some things never changed. "School only let out a little while ago."
She found a chair, dumped a pile of Miliko's stuffed toys off it, and offered it to Dhiti, who looked rather glum for some reason. Sitting down on her bed, she said, "So…our first Senshi meeting." She chuckled. "Not quite as big as I remember them."
"I wouldn't worry too much," Artemis said dryly. "Judging by previous experience, that'll improve fairly quickly."
"Wait a minute. Shouldn't we be waiting for Sailor Venus to arrive?" put in Dhiti.
Miyo and Artemis exchanged glances. "Go ahead," said Miyo, slightly vindictively. "Tell her."
"Er…Venus won't be coming," said Artemis. "She's operating independently for the moment, with my great-granddaughter."
Dhiti wrinkled her brow. "Why?"
"This should be good," said Miyo.
"That's, ahh…a little complicated." Artemis sounded oddly nervous. "Bendis and I have been searching for you Senshi independently, you see. We'll be putting the two groups together later."
Dhiti thought about this. Then she looked over at Miyo. "Does that make any sense to you?"
Miyo grinned. "Nope."
"Good. I was afraid it was just me."
"I was thinking of withholding his cat food until he gives us a straight answer," Miyo confided. "Or making him go back to that stuff Mom bought."
"Hey!" Artemis protested. "You can't do that! You promised!"
Dhiti laughed. "Maybe I can come up with some…interesting ideas," she suggested.
"You can't team up on me like this! Show some respect! I'm thousands of years older than you are!"
"What?" said Miyo with a hoot. "More like thirty or forty years, isn't it?"
Artemis had to stop and try to remember. "Well…if you count from your first birth, sure," he admitted. "But remember, you've had two gaps where you were, well, technically dead. Those shouldn't count."
"Shouldn't count?" said Miyo, laughing. "Shouldn't count?"
"I—" Artemis looked over at Dhiti. "Well, I'm thousands of years older than her, anyway! So she shouldn't pick on me!"
"Gee, and you don't look a day over nine hundred," Dhiti said sarcastically. She looked over at Miyo. "Hayashi, are Senshi meetings always like this? I mean, well, just sitting around and yakking?"
Miyo thought about it. "Pretty much," she admitted.
"Well, we did use to do some other things," pointed out Artemis.
"Yeah, when we could persuade Usagi to stop eating, or leave Rei's manga collection alone. Come on, Artemis, you know what she was like—"
"This is 'Queen Serenity' Usagi you're talking about?" inquired Dhiti. Her eyes were sparkling.
"Uh…well, she did get a lot more serious later on—"
"She could be serious enough right from the start, when she had to be," Artemis said, dropping his bantering tone suddenly. "When those she loved were threatened." He caught Miyo's eye; after a moment she nodded, sobered. "And speaking of threats," the cat continued, "I'm afraid we do have some serious business today."
"The monster last night," Miyo said, nodding once more.
"Right," said Dhiti. "I was wondering if we were going to get to that. I mean, I'm sure it was nothing special to you guys…being thousands of years older than me, and all that…"
Miyo cleared her throat, looking slightly embarrassed.
"What do you call those things, anyway? I mean, I recognised it from the description, but none of the books ever gave them a name."
"Excuse me?" said Artemis. "You recognised it?"
"What? Didn't you?" Dhiti frowned. "I was assuming it was one of the monsters that destroyed Crystal Tokyo. They were supposed to be big, crystalline things, weren't they?"
Miyo and Artemis exchanged glances. "No," Artemis said definitely. "No, not the same." Then he added thoughtfully, "But…there were similarities, now I think about it."
"It acted quite differently, and it looked a lot too…human," said Miyo. "But…" She shook her head. "Something to keep in mind. Thanks, Dhiti-chan."
"Hey, I've got a brain, you know. Besides my gorgeous looks, I mean."
"Yes, well," said Artemis hastily before Miyo could reply. "If one of those things shows up again, hopefully you'll be able to do some kind of analysis on it."
"Analysis?" Dhiti looked confused. "How? With that?"
"With this." Artemis jumped up onto Miyo's dresser and indicated an object that was lying there. "The Mercury computer. I got it out of storage this afternoon. And there are communicators for both of you, as well."
"Ah! Now that sounds familiar," said Miyo, picking up her communicator. It had been redesigned slightly, she noticed, to fit in with modern styles; but it still basically looked like a wristwatch. It doubled as one, too; though she remembered that hers had always gained five minutes a week, for some reason.
Dhiti was looking at the computer dubiously, turning it over and over. It looked absurdly small in her hands. "What does it do?" she asked. "How does it work?"
"Oh, I'm sure you'll get the hang of it," Miyo said airily. Truth to tell, she'd never been able to make head or tail of it herself; but Ami had managed easily enough. "Hey, what's this third communicator?"
"Oh, that's for Venus," said Artemis casually. A little too casually. "Could you give it to her, the next time you see her?"
"Eh?" said Dhiti, distracted from her computer. "Why can't your granddaughter give it to her? Er, Bendis, was it?"
"It's better this way," Artemis told her unhelpfully. Then, as if eager to change the subject, he went on, "Oh, and another thing. Could both of you give some thought to finding a better place to meet? Here was all right for today, but we can't rely on meeting here regularly."
"Not with Miliko getting in the way," Miyo added, nodding.
"Somewhere with a bit of privacy, anyway. I did have somewhere in mind, but—" He hesitated for a moment. "Well, it's difficult at the moment. In any case, if either of you have any ideas…and we'll need to find somewhere to hold training sessions, as well. Makoto, you need to get back into practice with your Supreme Thunder, and Dhiti-san, we'll need to get you up to speed as soon as possible, too."
"Are you expecting more of those things?" asked Dhiti.
Artemis looked grim. "I wouldn't be a bit surprised."
Lieutenant Midori arrived at 'S' Division headquarters at seven o'clock sharp the next morning, exactly as usual. He pulled up the day's agenda, ran through it quickly, made a few notes, and transmitted it to Colonel Shiro's desk. Exactly as usual.
Then, most unusually, he sat at his desk, staring off into mid-air for several minutes. He should have been going over last night's logs, preparing a summary. That was his job, as Shiro's ADC. But something was bothering him.
At last, almost mechanically, he accessed the security system and pulled up the building entry and exit records. He stared at them for a while longer, puzzled. He knew what he was looking for; but the idea was preposterous. And yet…
And yet, he found himself scanning through the list methodically. He was looking for intruders. Intruders, here in 'S' Division headquarters! It was ridiculous. The security here was superb. Nobody could possibly break in. But—
But he could not leave it alone. Something inside him, some inner voice, drove him. Sometimes he even thought he could see the intruder in his mind's eye. A…woman? Tall and slender, and…tall…and the face, it…swam in him memory for a moment, elusive, and then flickered away again…and…
…and he could not remember! He slammed his fist down on the desk, hard, in frustration. Sometimes he thought he was losing his mind. Sometimes he thought he recalled searching the entry records yesterday, too, and the day before, feverishly intent…but that could be crazy, wouldn't it? Surely he'd remember? He'd remember, just as…as…
He blinked suddenly. What the hell was he doing, staring at nothing, when he was supposed to be finishing off Shiro's morning report? He glanced at his terminal, and his brow furrowed. Entry logs? What was he looking at those for? He shook his head impatiently, and reached out to clear the display—
A name on the list leaped out at him. A name he recognised.
He frowned again. What the hell was…? He tapped on the screen and brought up a more detailed display. Entry date and time…exit date and time…Now that was odd. What was going on here? He hesitated for a second, then got up. He thought he might check this personally.
He caught the elevator down to the records floor, three levels underground. Through two separate security checkpoints, and into the central filing office. There should have been nobody here, at this hour, but one of the terminals was busy. He recognised the person sitting in front of it.
"Mitsukai-chan," he said. "What are you doing here?"
She glanced up for a fraction of a second. "Checking records," she said tersely.
"No, really?" He began to smile. "The logs say you've been here since yesterday afternoon. What's Hiiro got you working on this time?"
With a sigh, she sat back from the terminal. "Go away, Midori-san," she told him. "I'm busy."
"You're always busy." Midori's eyes narrowed. "You wouldn't be in here at HQ if Hiiro didn't think he wasn't onto something big. But he hasn't filed a report on it, so he's playing it close to his chest…as usual." His tone became acid for a moment. "So what is it?"
"Midori-san—" she began. But at that moment, the door to the record stacks burst open and a man Midori didn't recognise came in, staggering under the weight of two large boxes of paper files.
"Got them," the man panted, putting the boxes down with a gasp. He wiped his brow, looked up at Mitsukai, and caught sight of Midori. "Who are you?" he asked.
"Midori," said Midori crisply. The man looked tired. Had he been here all night, too? "And you are…? No, let me see some ID, please."
The man rummaged through his pocket, pulling out a card. "Midori-san?" he said, sounding puzzled. Then he laughed. "Now I remember! You're my uncle Tomiji!"
"I'm your—?" Midori stared at the card. Kitada Masao? Then he, too, remembered. He grinned. "Well, well. Still with us, then, Kitada-san?"
"Sure…no thanks to you."
"Now, now." Midori thought back. Yes, perhaps he had given the man a hard time. "I told you it could be a couple of weeks or more."
Kitada snorted. "Quite a lot you didn't tell me, though, wasn't there?"
"Think of it as on-the-job training," Midori told him. "And speaking of jobs…what have you two been doing down here all night?"
Kitada glanced at Mitsukai. (Midori nodded to himself. Kitada seemed to be becoming part of the team. Just as well, if his mission was going to be an extended one.) After a few seconds, Mitsukai sighed, and nodded.
"We're looking up backgrounds, property records, anything we can, on a place called the Olympus Gymnasium," Kitada said. "Captain Aoiro is over at the 'I' Division offices, searching the records there."
Belatedly, Midori noticed the other boxes of documents that were piled up around the walls of the room. Kitada and Mitsukai had been at work for some time, all right. The filing staff were going to want to kill them. He raised his eyebrows, amused. "An old building, I take it?" he asked. Otherwise all the records would have been in electronic form.
Then, suddenly, he remembered where he'd heard of the Olympus. And what Kitada had been activated for.
"Wait a minute!" he burst out. "You're on that lost-cat case! What on earth are you still working on that for, after two weeks! And why do you have to check property records, of all things?"
"The lost cat?" Kitada said. "Right. I'd almost forgotten about that. No, Captain Hiiro wants us to look into connections with the Sankaku clans."
"Sankaku!" Midori stared, his full attention suddenly focused on Kitada. "What would the clans be doing with—no, never mind. Let me give you a hand there…"
He grabbed one of the boxes Kitada had brought in. "Olympus Gymnasium, you said? What date range are you looking for?" he asked Mitsukai. She told him, and he began to leaf through papers. Kitada started on the other box. "Why hasn't Hiiro reported it, if there's a Sankaku link?" Midori demanded as he worked.
"The connection is unproven," Mitsukai said softly. She had turned back to her terminal, and was working away there once more.
"Some people came to visit the owner yesterday," Kitada said helpfully. "Captain Kuroi recognised one of them as Sankaku."
"Pretty brazen of them. Typical. And as usual, I suppose Hiiro wants everything wrapped up neatly before he lets headquarters take a sniff? That figures."
He heard Mitsukai sigh, but of course she did not answer him. That wasn't surprising. He'd known her for a long time, and she almost never spoke when she could help it. She simply wasn't interested in people; it was data, words on paper, and by extension in computers, that she related to. She'd started in 'S' Division in the records section, and it had been a sad day for them when she'd left; but she'd helped Hiiro break a major case, a couple of years ago, and he pulled her out into field work. Unexpectedly, she seemed to be working out pretty well in Hiiro's team; the man did know how to handle his people. Of course, he had an advantage, though he probably didn't know it—
"Hello," he said, flipping through a sheaf of papers, loosely clipped together, that had been buried half-way down the box. "This looks interesting."
"What?" Kitada leaned over his shoulder.
"A copy of a property transfer record." He frowned at it. "There's almost nothing here. Lots of legal gibberish…financial statements…receiver name of Pappadopoulos Itsuko." He stumbled over the name. "There's a file number," he added, turning to the last page. "Mitsukai- chan, you should be able to look that up." He read the number out.
"Right," Mitsukai said, typing it in. The response flashed up almost immediately. "That's better," she said, sounding pleased.
"We tried this already, yesterday afternoon," Kitada told Midori. "But we only got a not-found indicator. What was that filing number again?" Midori read it out once more. "Right. Two of the digits have been transposed. That's why the computer couldn't find it." He stared at the page for a moment longer. "She's owned the building since 4179?" he muttered. "Boy, she's older than she looks."
"Never mind that," Midori said impatiently. "Let's see what you were looking for." Now it was their turn to look over Mitsukai's shoulder as she paged through the data.
"Oho," said Mitsukai suddenly, halting the scroll.
"What?" said Midori. He read a few lines, and then laughed suddenly and said "Oho" himself.
"What?" said Kitada plaintively.
"It looks like it could have been a false alarm," Midori said. "It seems that Pap—er, Pappadopoulos bought the building from the Hoseki Property Group."
"Yes, and?" said Kitada patiently.
"Oh. Sorry. Well, they're owned by one of the Sankaku clans, all right. But they're mostly legitimate. Occasionally some very minor money-laundering operations, no more. We keep an eye on them, but that's about all."
"So," Kitada said slowly, "her contact with them may be perfectly innocent?"
"Could be," Midori agreed. "Of course, it's odd that they'd come calling on her eleven years after she bought the building—"
"No," said Mitsukai. "She had a break-in last night."
"So? Oh! And—" Midori pointed to the screen again. "There. Her security contract is through Hoseki. So she calls them, and they send around—" He blinked. "A break-in? It wasn't you, was it?"
"Er, no," said Kitada, flushing. "It was Captain Aoiro, actually."
Midori laughed. "Sounds like one of Hiiro's operations all right," he said. "Well, I expect you can probably relax again now. Though I suppose Hiiro will—"
His comm chimed suddenly. He looked down at it, puzzled, then glanced at his watch…and squawked, realising the time. "I've got to head back upstairs," he told them hastily, heading for the door. "Good luck with your, er, lost cat."
"Hey!" shouted Kitada after him. "What are we looking for the damn cat for, anyway?"
Midori paused for a moment, looking back. "If you ever find out," he said fervently, thinking of all the effort and money that had been poured into the search over the last weeks, "I'd be most grateful if you'd tell me."
Then he closed the door behind him and sprinted for the lift. Colonel Shiro was not going to be pleased with him.
Masao pulled out his own comm and called Hiiro. "We found the records, sir," he said. "Apparently Pappadopoulos-san bought the building from the, um, Hoseki Property Group—"
"Damn," said Hiiro's voice. "Another friggin' red herring."
"Er, apparently," Masao said, a little uncertainly. "Lieutenant Midori said her security contract is with them, so the meeting was probably—"
"Midori? Why the hell was he butting into my case—?" Hiiro sighed. "No, never mind, it doesn't matter. He's right. It was probably a coincidence. Oh, we'll still keep an eye on Pappa-san, just in case, because I don't trust coincidences—not ones this big—and I'll get some extra coverage put on Hoseki. But I think we can relax, for now. You and Mitsukai can go and get some sleep, Kitada. Well done."
"Um. Thank you." Pappa-san? Masao thought, and stifled a chuckle.
"I'm getting a little suspicious of that girl, Aizawa Ochiyo. She was in a position to have put that lost-pet poster up, and it disappeared pretty quickly after you asked her about it. And Aoiro was right, last night; she could be the one Artemis is interested in. I want you to start checking up on her tomorrow."
"Yes, sir." Masao hesitated, then said, "Sir? I asked Lieutenant Midori about the lost-cat search. He doesn't know why we're doing it either."
"Doesn't surprise me. This order came from pretty high up, I think."
"Right." Masao closed the connection, frowning. It had only been two weeks, but he'd already learned that those orders were usually the worst ones.
Midori rode up in the elevator, trying to think of a good excuse to give Colonel Shiro. He was already half an hour late for the morning briefing. It wasn't going to look good.
Still, it had felt good to actually get his hands on some case-work, for a change. He smiled. He'd been stuck in headquarters for entirely too long. Maybe he should request a transfer.
As he thought about poring through the records again, for some reason he had a sudden memory of—
(a tall woman with green hair)
—He shook his head. It didn't make any sense. He'd never met anyone like that. Had he?
Several days passed. After the excitement of Monday night, it was almost a let-down. There were times when Dhiti could almost believe that it had been a dream. But she had her communicator; that was real (though as a watch, it seemed to run a little fast). And she had her henshin wand.
Oh, and she had the computer. That thrice-damned computer. She had never cared for the things much; they made her nervous. But this one seemed as though it were deliberately out to get her.
It was a bewildering machine to start with. When she finally dared turn it on (it started instantly, without any long boot-up sequence), she was presented with a positively daunting array of screens, windows, icons, displays, menus, and little moving things that she had no name for. There was a keyboard, but the keys were tiny and laid out in a strange order, and some of them had symbols she didn't recognise. There was a device that she eventually worked out she could use as a cursor; but sometimes it did other things as well, and she could not predict when it would behave one way and when another. Nothing worked the way she expected. Nothing seemed to make any sense at all.
(On Wednesday night, in despair, she called Miyo and got her to ask Artemis if there was a manual for the thing. Miyo said Artemis had just laughed.)
—She made some progress, eventually. After two days, she accidentally discovered that the screen was touch-sensitive, and suddenly a whole range of things started to make a dim kind of sense. She found that she could, slowly and hesitantly, find her way around the system. She was on top of it at last, she thought triumphantly. Then it pulled another fast one on her. Just when she was beginning to feel confident that she could find something, it changed—suddenly the displays were laid out differently, and doing the same set of actions produced completely different results. She had to start out from scratch, all over again. At least it didn't take her as long this time; but the changes kept happening, apparently at random. On Friday night, after she discovered how to access the sensory and analysis routines, she practised starting them up several times over, remembering Artemis' comments about analysing the crystalline monster. But the fifth time she tried to launch them, they weren't there any more. She eventually found them again, in a completely different location. After another three attempts, they shifted again. It was maddening.
On Saturday morning she woke up—after a totally inadequate night's sleep—with a sudden inspiration. There was a system to the changes. The machine was learning. Or trying to, at any rate. It was shifting options around to try and make them more convenient for her. And when she continued to try and find them the old way, both of them were getting confused…
She tried it out and it worked. Gradually, things started to make sense. And just as gradually, she began to feel a little grudging respect for whoever had programmed it. The damn machine was an intelligence test. Non-geniuses need not apply.
Fortunately her self-image had always been very high.
She couldn't stop grinning when she got to school that morning. (Kin and Miyo teased her about it unmercifully, and she was in such a good mood that she almost forgot to make some cutting remarks in return.) Then she fell asleep in class, got woken up by the sensei, and was brought back to reality in a hurry. Thank goodness Saturday was only a half-day.
When she got home, she looked at the computer and decided the hell with it. She needed an afternoon off.
She wandered cheerfully down the street. Her mother had announced that she was going shopping, and on impulse Dhiti had decided to go along. She wasn't planning on buying anything, but a little window-shopping never hurt anybody, and she felt she needed to get out of the house.
Stopping in front a music shop, she peered through the window thoughtfully. The trumpet lessons a few months ago had been a dead loss; it seemed to take forever to develop an embouchure and she didn't have the patience. But she did want to be able to play something. She wondered how long it took to pick up the flute. That didn't look too hard.
On impulse, she opened the shop door and started to step inside—
Not far away, somebody screamed.
Dhiti looked around, startled. A woman was running out of a nearby shop. She looked terrified. Somebody holding the place up? She heard a crashing sound, then the sound of glass shattering. More people ran out of the shop. What was going on?
Then she heard a roar, and finally realised that this might be a job for…well, for her.
The street was quiet; not too many people around. Good. She went to take a cautious glance through the shop window—and was stopped by a hand on her shoulder.
"Stay back!" her mother hissed. "Come away! You don't know what's happening in there!"
"That's what I wanted to find out," she protested. She was interrupted by more shouts, and a long, tinkling, smashing sound. "Um, maybe not. Maybe we should get out of here…"
"That," her mother said mildly, "sounds like a better idea." They made their way away from the shop in some haste. So were most other people, Dhiti noticed. That would help.
When they reached the corner, her mother stopped to look back. Dhiti managed to slip away. She felt a twinge of guilt—her mother would be worried—but she had a feeling that this was more important.
There was an alleyway that ran down behind the row of shops. She ducked into it and headed back toward the ruckus. When she reached the place that all the noise was coming from, she tried the rear door cautiously. It opened and she slipped inside.
She found herself in a small room at the rear, curtained off from the main body of the shop. She lifted a corner of the curtain and peeped around it.
She almost laughed involuntarily.
It was a dressmaker's shop, and two woman were being chased around and around the central display by what appeared to be an enormous animated dressmaker's dummy. It would have been hysterical if they hadn't looked so terrified. There was a third woman, ducked down behind a row of bolts of cloth, watching; but she seemed safe enough for now. Dhiti tried to work out what to do. Should she call for help, or…?
As she watched, one of the women being chased snatched up a pair of scissors and threw them at the dummy. They bounced off its padded torso with a ringing sound, and the dummy roared in reply.
—Wait a minute. What kind of padding made a ringing sound when you hit it? That dummy wasn't padded at all; it must be as hard as—
She opened her communicator and called Miyo.
The third woman in the shop, the one crouched down watching the action, was getting bored. This wasn't working at all. She'd known it was a bad idea from the start, but she'd had no choice but to obey.
She sighed, watching the dummy swipe at one of the other women and miss. This wasn't just a bad idea; it was silly. She'd give it another five minutes, then give up and leave. The hell with her orders.
Then the curtain at the rear of the shop opened, and a Senshi leaped through. Number Twelve sat up sharply. Well, what do you know? It worked.
"I am the miraculous Sailor Mercury," she declaimed, enjoying herself immensely. "And on behalf of the eponymous orb, I will discombobulate you!"
The women being chased stopped to stare at her. No reaction from the dummy, though. Bother. She'd hoped she'd at least confuse it. Instead it turned and started toward her. Uh-oh, that's not so good.
Never mind. This thing was much smaller than the monster last Tuesday. It should be a snap. She raised her hands, took aim, and shouted, "ICE SPEAR!"
The bolt took it squarely in the middle of its chest, and shattered in a blinding cloud of ice crystals. When the cloud cleared away—
The thing was still coming, apparently undamaged, and was only a couple of metres away. She yelped, ducked under its swing, and rolled. The dummy's fist struck the wall and went straight through. Hey, that was a brick wall! All right, maybe she'd underestimated it a little.
"Get out of here!" she shouted to the other women, who were still standing around gawking. She saw them start to move, and directed all her attention back to the dummy.
Go for the third eye. That worked last time. Always nice to have a system. She took aim, and—
This thing didn't have a third eye! It didn't even have a face, actually. It occurred to Mercury that she might just be in a bit of trouble here. Still, didn't she specialise in getting into trouble? She ducked another swing. All right, make that a lot of trouble.
She tried the Ice Spear again, hoping to at least throw it off-balance. No luck. Surely it must have a weak point somewhere? It was fast, but not too agile. How much weight was there behind those blows? Damn, that computer might be useful after all…if I had time to use it.
She ducked past it, and tried kicking it. That actually rocked it, surprising her. How strong am I, anyway? But her foot felt as if she'd kicked a brick wall.
She leaped back, putting a little space between her and the dummy. What do I do now? The Ice Spear won't touch it! She'd been able to punch holes in the other monster. This one seemed immune.
She let it chase her around the shop for a while, trying to think. It was irritatingly difficult to try to plan under this kind of pressure, she found. Let's see: it didn't seem too smart and all it did was come after her and try to hit her. What good did that do, though? If her attack didn't affect it…hmm.
She picked up a bolt of cloth and threw it at the thing's legs. It tripped up very nicely and hit the floor with a thunderous crash. She stepped closer cautiously as it began to struggle to get up. The floor hadn't broken, so it couldn't be too heavy. She took careful aim, and hit it with a point-blank Ice Spear right in the back of the neck. This time, she was rewarded with a splintering sound, and a tiny crack appeared, looking rather odd in what appeared to be foam padding. All right! As long as I hit it hard, from real close—
The dummy lashed out, shockingly fast, as she positioned herself for another shot. The blow caught her in the back of the legs, knocking her flying across the shop. She shouted in surprise and pain. Then she hit the wall, and she could no longer shout. For a few moments, she couldn't even breathe.
She watched, helpless for the moment, as it awkwardly levered itself upright again. Scratched it, she thought dismally through a mist of pain. All I did was scratch it. It was coming toward her, and she couldn't get up. Ice spears, what good were they? What she needed was a weapon, something like a rocket launcher—
As the dummy raised its arm to strike, a bolt of lightning hit it in the small of the back.
"Mercury!" shouted Jupiter, jumping to her side. "Are you all right?"
Mercury tried to grin. "Just dandy, thank you," she gasped. "I was just catching a nap while I waited for you to arrive."
Jupiter didn't turn a hair, which was annoying. Instead, she helped her up. Mercury was gratified to find that she could stand. What was less gratifying was to see that the dummy could also still stand. Jupiter had knocked it down again, but it was still struggling to rise.
It was glowing from Jupiter's lightning bolt. Just like the last time.
"It's fast, but clumsy," Mercury said rapidly. "Very strong. My Ice Spear hardly scratches it."
Jupiter nodded. "No third eye?" she inquired. Mercury flushed, but shook her head. "Right," Jupiter went on, grinning. "My Supreme Thunder did some damage. Keep back and try to distract it, and I'll see if I can finish it off."
"Gotcha." Mercury's right arm and leg felt hot and stiff, and her back ached, but at least she could move. She began to circle around, waving her arms and shouting to attract the dummy's attention.
She succeeded too well, perhaps. The dummy ignored Jupiter completely and made straight for her. She had to duck and roll again to avoid its blows. As she did so, Jupiter hit it again. A roar of thunder; chips of crystal burst out from the impact point of her Supreme Thunder. The dummy rang like a bell. But it continued to ignore Jupiter and advanced toward Mercury, a fist-sized hole gaping in its shoulder.
Must be my charm, she thought crazily. Charm or not, she was limping, and the pain was slowing her down, and the dummy's blows were getting closer and closer. Brute strength was all the monster seemed to have, but that was starting to look like all it needed.
She jumped out of the way of another charge, spun to one side, stepped back to allow space for Jupiter to attack again, then ducked, rolled…but she'd misjudged; this time there was only one way to roll, and when she got up again, suddenly there was no way out.
"Hit it!" she shouted frantically to Jupiter. "Hit it!"
Jupiter hit it. Sparks flew; crystal splinters flew. And the animated dummy ignored it all and followed Mercury.
She was caught. She was backed into a corner. The roof was too low to jump over it, and if she tried to get around it she'd get caught in the swathes of fabric. More lightning bolts smashed into the dummy, but as usual it paid no attention. She readied herself for a desperate leap down, between its legs, knowing she'd never make it—
Somebody shouted. A golden chain of love-hearts settled around the thing's shoulders, and suddenly it was yanked back, and she was free.
Sailor Venus grunted with effort, yanked again. The dummy lurched back, tottered, and fell once more. Venus released her chain with a gasp and it vanished.
"Hi," she puffed. "Heard there was a party…thought I'd invite myself in."
It was a pretty good line, actually. Mercury memorised it for later plagiarism. "Please," she returned, more than a little out of breath herself. "Feel free. Any time."
"Thanks, I—" Venus stopped suddenly, her eyes flicking to something over Mercury's shoulder. "Is someone else back there?" she said.
"What?" Mercury looked back toward the rear of the shop. To her astonishment, she saw that the woman who'd been hiding behind the racks of cloth bolts was still there. She had something in her hands, and she was—
"A newsie," she muttered under her breath. Off to one side, Jupiter had taken up a sentry pose over the fallen dummy, and was methodically blasting it back down whenever it tried to rise. Things looked safe enough, for now. Mercury started back toward the woman.
"What do you think you're doing there?" she demanded. The woman looked up, startled. She turned pale as she saw Mercury coming toward her, as if she was more afraid of the Senshi than of the monster, which was patently ridiculous—
"Vitrimorph! Protect me!" she shouted, backing away from Mercury.
"What?" Mercury began. But at that moment the dummy exploded into action behind her. If it had been moving fast before, now it was like greased lightning. It rolled to one side, knocking Jupiter sprawling, and whirled to its feet, showing none of the clumsiness it had displayed earlier. It hurtled down the shop toward Mercury, who could only stand there, staring at it, transfixed—
Venus yanked her out of the way just in time. The dummy thundered past her, ignoring her completely, to where the woman was standing. It reached out and, stupefied, Mercury saw it pick the woman up.
"Get me out of here," the woman snarled. The dummy obeyed instantly; it swung around and bounded out of the shop into the street, carrying her with it. Venus followed it; after a moment, so did Mercury and Jupiter.
"She was controlling it," said Mercury wonderingly.
"Yeah." Jupiter looked thoughtful. "You know, I think I've seen her somewhere before…"
"I…can't remember." She shook her head. "Never mind that now. If she's controlling that thing, this could be trouble."
Out in the street, the dummy—the 'vitrimorph'?—set the woman down. She looked back at the three Senshi, and shot them a venomous look. "I'm leaving," she told it. "Kill them all."
She turned her back and fled.
"Yep," said Jupiter. "It's trouble."
The dummy launched itself toward them.
Mercury and Jupiter snapped off their attacks together. The combined force spun it around, and disintegrated most of one arm. As before, it didn't even seem to notice. It continued on, accelerating—toward Jupiter, this time. But they were outside now, with a lot more room to manoeuvre in. Jupiter leaped high, evaded it—and it turned, instantly, and started for Venus.
Did she order it to only attack me, before? Mercury wondered. I wonder how that works…
And with that thought, finally, she remembered her computer.
The scanning functions were where she remembered them, thank goodness. She started the scan, and instantly the screen came alive with data: speed readings, mass figures, thermal graphs, tracking and targeting sights (what?), a dozen other displays she couldn't identify. Almost at random, she picked the thermal graphs. An oddly-hued image of the dummy appeared. The colours swam as it moved, darkening, intensifying, swirling like a pot of variegated, boiling goo. And yet…
There was a point, a single constant spot. A point where all the constantly-shifting patterns came together. A centre around which all the rest moved. It was like…like…
Like a third eye, she thought. An 'eye' that was right between the shoulder-blades.
"Jupiter! Venus!" she shouted. "Keep it occupied! I know how to take it down!"
The other two exchanged glances. Jupiter shrugged.
"No problem," said Venus.
Before Mercury's astonished eyes, she crouched down on all fours—head low, hindquarters up—right in the monster's path, and hissed at it. Then she sprang.
It was a perfect jump, Mercury recognised absently, but there was something eerie about it. It was smooth, graceful…but not quite human. Almost, well…feline. Just what kind of training was Venus getting, anyway?
I don't think I could do that if I practised for a hundred years.
Venus came down, head-first, straight for the dummy. At the last moment she shot her hands out, caught it by the shoulders, flipped herself up again, over, and came to a halt…clinging to the dummy's back, her legs wrapped around its waist. She began to buffet its head with both hands.
The dummy stopped. It seemed confused. Mercury couldn't blame it. It tried to reach back, pluck the girl from off its back…and failed.
"It can't touch her!" Jupiter whispered. "Its arms don't reach back far enough!"
It could have reached her legs, where they circled its waist, but it didn't even try. Perhaps it wasn't that smart, Mercury thought vaguely. Or did it even have a brain at all? Was it alive?
"Better hurry," Venus called, her voice tight with strain. The dummy was thrashing around, trying to dislodge her, and she was having considerable difficulty staying on.
Oh, right. She told Jupiter what she had to do. The other Senshi nodded shortly. Then, raising her voice, she called, "What I say 'now,' jump off it, fast!"
"Just…get on with it…"
As the attacks shot out, she caught a brief, confused glimpse of Venus leaping away. Then all sight was lost in the blaze, the burst of light and the thunder, and the noise that sounded like a million crystal goblets, all bursting at once…
And when her vision finally cleared, they were alone in the street.
Venus joined them a few moments later. She was brushing at her hair, and with each brush, a cloud of tiny, glittering particles rose up. Mercury gingerly patted her own hair.
"Careful," Venus said. "It's pretty sharp."
"Um, maybe I'll leave it until I can get a brush." Mercury studied Venus wonderingly. "That…was rather impressive," she said after a moment.
"Meh." Venus shrugged. "It seemed like a good idea at the time. You didn't do too bad yourself, you know. Or you, obaasan," she added to Jupiter, grinning.
"Now look—" began Jupiter heatedly.
"Obaasan?" said Mercury at the same moment. Granny?
"Oh, you should have heard her, last time. 'I've been doing this for centuries, just stay out of my way.'" Venus snickered. "You move pretty good for an old lady, Jupiter-sama."
"Hey, I said I was sorry! What do you want, blood?"
"Now, now," soothed Mercury. "Calm down. We're all friends here, right? I'm sure she didn't mean to be insulting…obaasan."
The two of them shared a giggle as Jupiter spluttered helplessly. Mercury had the feeling that she was going to like Venus. Just as soon as they sorted out who was the comedian and who was the straight man, of course.
"How did you know to come here, anyway?" asked Mercury curiously. "You don't have your communicator yet."
"My what? No, I was out window-shopping with Bendis, and we heard the noise. She said we'd better take a look."
"Bendis?" said Jupiter sharply, looking interested. "She's here? I've been wanting to meet her. Artemis keeps dropping these funny hints, but he won't say much about her."
Venus looked thoughtful. "That's funny. Bendis is just the same way about Artemis. I wonder why?" She looked around. "She was here when I went inside…oh, there!"
She ran over to a narrow gap between two buildings, reached down, and returned a moment later holding a squirming ball of fur. "Everyone, this is Bendis. Bendis, meet Jupiter and Mercury."
"Let me go, you idiot!" the ball of fur spat. It straightened out and leaped to the ground as she loosened her grip, and became a small tabby cat with a curious white circle on its forehead. It looked up at Mercury and Jupiter and said nervously, "Uh…hello."
"Hello," Jupiter said back gravely. "We've been hearing about you from Artemis."
"You—you have?" The cat sounded miserable. Actually, she looked as though she wanted to be anywhere but here. Cat? Mercury thought. She doesn't look much more than a kitten.
"What's the matter with you?" asked Venus suspiciously. "You sound like somebody's died, or something."
"You shut up!" the cat shouted. "You don't know what you're—" She wilted suddenly, glancing up at Jupiter. "Sorry," she muttered.
Jupiter stared down at her, perplexed. Mercury opened her mouth to speak—and at that moment her computer bleeped. She looked down at the screen, surprised. She'd forgotten to shut down the scanning program before, she saw. And now it was showing—
"Someone's watching us," she said, incredulous. "Someone—no, wait, something big, just over that way…"
She looked up, along the street. The others followed her gaze. For several seconds, they saw nothing: an empty street, buildings, the background of the city…and then, slowly, it glided out into view.
"It's 'P' Division," said Jupiter, sounding relieved. "About time the police arrived."
"What?" said Bendis, sitting up straight. "Oh, no."
"What's the matter?" asked Mercury.
"We've got to get out of here," the cat said urgently. "Be—I mean, Venus, come on. We have to leave!"
Venus picked her up obligingly, saying, "What's the rush? I mean, they've seen all of us before—"
"It's me I don't want them to see! Come on! Hurry!"
Venus glanced at the other two. "Um—"
"Don't worry," Jupiter said. "Past time we left anyway. Let's go, huh?"
They ran out of the street. Venus, in the lead, jumped effortlessly up onto a roof and began to leap across from building to building. Mercury stopped, taken aback; but Jupiter followed without hesitation, and after a moment Mercury tried it herself. It turned out to be easier than it looked, though she found she had to be careful with her landings.
It did not take long to put some distance between themselves and the battle site. After a couple of minutes Venus stopped to let the other two catch up. "Now," she was saying to Bendis as Mercury came to a halt beside her, "what was that all about?"
"Look," whispered Bendis. They looked back.
The Opal was only a few hundred metres behind them.
"It's following us!" Jupiter gasped. "What the—what do they think they're doing?"
"Let's lose them, then!" said Venus. "Come on, this way!"
She took off once more: heading toward the central district, Mercury soon realised. But surely more people would see them there? It was late afternoon, but there was still plenty of light to see by.
It took her a few minutes to realise what Venus had in mind. The taller buildings further downtown gave them more cover, more places to hide. They could play hide-and-seek here for hours, if need be. The Opal didn't have a chance.
They stopped for breath some time later. And when they looked up, the Opal was hovering right behind.
Slowly it became a nightmare. No matter what they did, they could not lose it. Even when they descended to ground level, ran into a hotel foyer—startling a number of guests and staff—and out through the kitchen doors at the rear, it was unshakeable.
It made no offensive moves. It took no action at all that they could see. But wherever they went, it was there. As if it had some kind of device that pointed them out, wherever they went. Transforming back out of their Senshi forms might have foiled it, but none of them were prepared to risk it. Not when they were being watched.
"We've got to split up," panted Mercury at last. She was on the school running team, but she was a sprinter, not a long-distance slogger, and she was nearly exhausted. She could not keep going much longer. "It can't follow all of us at once."
"No!" gasped Jupiter, her chest heaving. "We stick together!" They had stopped on a narrow ledge half-way up a twelve-story building. Jupiter was slumped down, her legs hanging over the edge. The Opal hung in the air, almost within stone's throw.
"She's…right," wheezed Venus. She had been leaning against the side of the building, trying to catch her breath; but now she stood up once more. "Let me go first. I have…an advantage here."
"What—?" began Jupiter. But before she could finish her sentence, Venus raised her hands and shouted.
"VENUS LOVE-ME CHAIN!"
The chain leaped out and caught on a cornice of a building a little way off across the street. Venus followed it, leaping off the ledge and swinging away in a long, flat arc. She disappeared around a corner and vanished.
"Show-off," Jupiter muttered. She stood up with a groan. "Come on, Sailor Mercury, let's go." They jumped down to the roof of the next building, a couple of floors below—
The new sensor suite that had been installed in the Opal was behaving perfectly. They had been able to follow the trio without a hitch. But now, finally, the three had split up. The 'S' Division officer piloting the Opal punched in the commands to track the girl who'd swung away, and prepared to follow the two who'd stayed together—
Dividing the tracking functions was the signal.
Inside the new black box that was bolted to the floor of the Opal—the heart of the upgraded sensor system—was a computer chip that wasn't supposed to be there. Undetected, it had been substituted for the correct chip five days before. Now, responding to the predefined stimulus, it began to send out a new set of commands. Within three microseconds they had reached nearly every component in the Opal. Then the chip erased itself and went dead.
The pilot cursed as her control board lit up red. Suddenly nothing worked. She wrestled with the inevitable for some time, but she really didn't have a chance. The sabotage had been impeccably planned.
The Opal hit the ground a few seconds later, with a long, rending scream of metal. All the officers on board were mysteriously unhurt, but the new sensors were a complete write-off.
Jupiter and Mercury watched the crash, dumbfounded.
They hung around for a few minutes to see if anyone needed help, but everyone seemed to make it out unscathed. The two Senshi gave up, detransformed, and went home.
"I don't understand," Beth protested. "Why would the police have been chasing us?"
It had been a short, quiet trip home after all. The Opal hadn't followed them; it must have stayed with Jupiter and Mercury. Bendis wasn't too worried about that. If Jupiter was really Lady Kino reborn, she'd get herself and Mercury out all right, somehow.
Now, safely ensconced in Beth's bedroom, with her parents watching the viddy in the living room, the girl had to go getting curious. That could be tricky. Bendis concentrated on looking relaxed.
"How should I know?" she said innocently.
"Oh, come on. It's not the first time you've gotten all weird about Opals, either."
"I—" Bendis hesitated, but for once the girl would not back down. Still…it wasn't a big secret. "I think it was me they were chasing," she said reluctantly.
Beth blinked. "You? Why? How?"
"Well, ahh, the Serenity Council, um, sort of…knows about me." Embarrassed, Bendis began to wash herself furiously. That was supposed to be a signal to change the subject; but the dratted girl simply waited patiently, and at last Bendis had to continue. "One of them heard me talking," she admitted.
"Which one?" Beth asked, interested.
"What?" Bendis was caught by surprise. "I don't know! It was dark! Anyway, I was concentrating on the fish—ahh, that is, I was concentrating on…oh, never mind," she said, exasperated. "Anyway, he heard me talk. After that, there were Opals after us all the time. Artemis thought it was just a coincidence," she added with a snort. "Shows what he knows."
Beth frowned in thought. "I suppose the Council would be interested in you," she said judiciously. "It goes with the name, after all." Then another thought occurred to her. "They must be interested in me, too. And Jupiter and Mercury. I mean, they say they're running things until the Queen returns, right? Maybe we should go and talk to them."
"What?" Bendis was shocked. "No! Are you crazy?"
"Well, why not?" asked Beth logically.
"Because—because—well, just because!" The cat turned her back on her, her whiskers bristling angrily.
"I mean, surely they have a right to know?" insisted Beth. "Maybe that's why that Opal was getting so creepy. Because they couldn't find us any other way."
"I doubt it," Bendis said darkly. Then she sighed. "All right. I'll…I'll talk it over with Artemis. Don't do anything until then, all right?"
"You'll talk to Artemis!" said Beth, excited. "Really? When? Can I come too?"
"No!" the cat snapped. "I…don't see Artemis very often. We're kind of operating independently for now. I'll bring it up the next time I see him."
"When's that?" she prodded.
"Mind your own business," Bendis said rudely. Then, seeing the look on Beth's face, she said hastily, "No, wait. I'm sorry. I…that is…look, just don't push it, all right? It'll probably be a while before I see him next. I'll…I'll let you know, I promise."
Beth's hurt expression didn't change. With an inward sigh, she got up and went and butted her head against the girl's arm. That didn't work either, and finally she lay down in Beth's lap and started purring. (The infuriating part was how good she felt there.) Finally, she felt Beth's hand on her back, stroking gently, and relaxed. Another situation defused…for now.
Later, they lay in bed together: Beth lying on her side, wrapped around her pillow, and Bendis curled up comfortably against the small of her back. She wasn't quite sure when she'd gotten into the habit of sleeping like that. It was almost perverse: sleeping with a human. Best not to think about it, perhaps. Fortunately Beth didn't usually move much in her sleep.
She heard the girl stir, and flicked one eye open. "Bendis? Are you awake?" Beth said softly.
She sighed. "What do you want?"
"Why were you acting so weird before, when I introduced you to the other Senshi? It was almost like you were afraid of them."
More like, she'd been afraid of what Artemis might have told them. But she couldn't say that. "You told me that Sailor Jupiter is Lady Kino reborn. And, well, I never met any of the original Senshi, remember. Meeting her was…was like…" She let her voice trail off suggestively. It was even true. Like meeting a living legend.
"Oh." A silence fell again. Bendis began to drift back toward sleep. Then she heard Beth chuckle softly.
"Oh, it's just…when we were leaving, right after we killed that…monster thing…I saw Iku-chan in the next street. She almost saw another Senshi fight."
Another chuckle. "I was just thinking what Nanako-chan would have said. She hasn't seen us at all yet, except on the viddy."
"Go to sleep, Beth."
"That's what she said?" asked Artemis sharply. "'It seemed like a good idea at the time'?"
"Yes," said Dhiti, puzzled at his insistence. "Why? What's the matter?"
Artemis shook his head slowly. "I don't like it," he said, almost to himself. "That, and this acting-like-a-cat business. It's just the sort of thing Bendis would come up with. But for a human to be going along with it…"
"You think she's going to have problems?" asked Miyo.
"I think she's going to get herself seriously hurt before long," said Artemis bluntly.
"Are you sure? I mean, she does seem to have a certain…gymnastic ability," Dhiti offered.
"So do you, in your Senshi form. You could probably do what she does, if you tried."
"I wouldn't dare," said Dhiti faintly.
"Right, and that's the problem. Those stunts today, and the ones I've seen her do on the viddy…Venus doesn't seem to consider the consequences of what she does before she does it." Artemis sighed. "Or…I don't know. Maybe I'm reading too much into this. But I'm worried about what Bendis is doing with her."
"What kind of damage can she do?" said Miyo. "She's not much more than a kitten. She seemed very quiet when we met her. Shy. Kind of cute, actually."
Artemis gave her an odd look. "This is the same Bendis we're talking about?" he asked.
"Oh, come on. I'm sure you're exaggerating. She can't be that bad."
"No. No, right…of course not. She's not that bad. How could she be? She's a perfect angel. Butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. She's…cute." Artemis growled, deep in his throat. "Give me strength."
Dhiti cleared her throat noisily. "About this monster we met," she said suggestively.
"Oh, right. What was it? A 'vitrimorph.' Can't say I've ever heard that one before." Artemis cocked his head. "Did your scans show up anything interesting?"
"Uh…" Dhiti flushed. "I haven't had a chance to look yet," she said. Honesty made her add, "I'm not sure what to look for, really."
"Well…try, anyway. Anything would help. Mm…I'm interested in this woman who was controlling the thing, too. You didn't notice anything in particular about her?"
"She looked familiar, somehow," Miyo offered. "But I can't place her."
"Dhiti-san, I don't suppose you got a picture of her on your computer?" Dhiti shook her head. "Ah, well. Keep it in mind, next time."
"I did have other things to think about, you know," Dhiti retorted.
"Yes, but…oh, you know what I mean! I need some information here! And that's supposed to be your speciality."
"So sorry," Dhiti snapped. "Next time I'll just prance around playing with my computer and throwing shabon sprays, shall I?"
"Hey, calm down," interjected Miyo. "We're all supposed to be friends here, right?"
Dhiti snorted. "I've heard that somewhere before, today," she observed. "Isn't that right…obaasan?"
"Dhiti-chan…" Miyo began in a warning tone. Then, unexpectedly, she chuckled. "Sorry," she said. "I just had a mental picture of you…dancing around, throwing shabon sprays." She snickered again. "You're no Ami, that's for sure…"
She stopped suddenly. Her face went white.
"No, you're not, are you?" she whispered.
"What's the matter?" Dhiti asked.
It gave her the creeps, sometimes, when Hayashi had her memory spasms, remembering past lives back when she was one of King Tut's handmaidens or something. It made Dhiti wonder if this was what being a Senshi was all about; if someday she'd be doing this too. It was enough to make her want to run for her life.
But in a way, it was kind of cool, too. The idea that she was a friend of someone who had actually been there, back in the glory days. Dhiti was interested in history—the only subject at school she bothered to do well at—but Miyo was history. And she was also fun to be around, most of the time.
Friendship was confusing, sometimes.
"Hayashi?" she tried again. "What's wrong?"
Miyo looked up slowly, blinking. "What? Sorry. It's…it's nothing. Sorry. I just thought of something, that's all." She gave a wan smile. "What were we talking about? That Opal that chased us?"
"Um, no," Dhiti told her, thinking, Nothing. Right. Sure. Aloud, she added, "Actually—"
"Good point, though," put in Artemis. "I was going to ask about that. Did you get a good look at it? Was it a regular 'P' Division Opal?"
"What other kind is there?" asked Dhiti, momentarily distracted.
"'W' Division has a fair number," Artemis replied. "They're usually pretty clearly marked as military, though, and you don't often see them inside the city. 'R' Division has a few, for traffic monitoring and so forth. Oh, and 'S' Division has a number; but you can't tell those from 'P' Division ones."
"Oh. Well, this looked like an ordinary police one to me."
"Hmm. Most likely the Serenity Council is getting interested in you. Bendis and I had a few close encounters with them, before."
"Oh? How close?"
"Well…the Council found out Bendis existed, and after that we had Opals on our tails a few times. Bendis always thought it was just a coincidence." He snorted. "Shows what she knows."
"Well, I guess they would be interested, wouldn't they?" pointed out Dhiti. "Goes with the name."
Artemis hesitated. "Yes," he admitted reluctantly. "It's just that…I don't know, there's something about them that bothers me, for some reason. They always seem just a little bit…slimy to me."
"Isn't that how politicians are supposed to be?"
"Not when they name themselves after Queen Serenity, they aren't." Artemis shook his head. "Anyway, it's beside the point. You girls have a job to do. The last thing you want to do is go getting mixed up with politics."
"Sounds good to me," Dhiti agreed. "Right, Hayashi?"
There was no answer.
"Hayashi?" Dhiti was getting seriously worried now. The tall girl was turned half-away from her, her face partially obscured, but she almost looked as if she—
"Hayashi? Are you listening? Hayashi?"
Hayashi looked up finally. She looked miserable. "Oh!" she said, making a dismal attempt to hide it. "Dhiti-chan? I'm sorry…"
Dhiti took her by the shoulders and shook her gently. "C'mon, Hayashi, please. Tell me what's wrong."
The taller girl shook her head, not answering. She looked like she was actually on the point of tears. Dhiti felt afraid. She had never seen Hayashi cry, never.
"I'm your friend," she said softly. "Please. Let me help."
"You can't help. No-one can help." Hayashi turned away. Her shoulders were shaking. "It's…it's nothing, it's silly. I…"
"Tell me," Dhiti whispered.
"I…was just remembering Ami-chan. I mean, Lady Mizuno. I…when you mentioned shabon sprays, I was reminded, and…and then I suddenly realised. That you're Sailor Mercury now. And that means she wasn't reborn." Hayashi was definitely crying now. "And I'm never going to see her again."
Dhiti felt cold. She didn't know what to say. Was she supposed to apologise for living? And yet, Hayashi had just lost a friend. Had just realised her loss, at least, even if it had actually happened long ago. How did you try to comfort someone, when you were, in a way, the one who was hurting them?
She lifted her hand, reached out to touch her arm. "Hayashi," she began.
"Please…" Hayashi took a deep, shuddering breath. "I'm sorry…but I…I'd really like to be alone now."
Dhiti stared at her. Let me help. But how?
Sometimes, no matter how good you were with words, there was simply nothing you could say. Nothing at all.
"Makoto," said Artemis softly after Dhiti had gone.
"Don't call me that," Miyo said through her tears. "I'm not Makoto. I'm not Hebe. I'm Miyo. Just Miyo. I can't be…can't be…"
She could not continue. It had been right in front of her, all this time, and she had refused to see it. How could she have done that? What did it say about her, that she be so blind, so unwilling to see?
"Miyo, I'm so sorry. I thought you'd realised before now."
It had been easier to accept Minako's loss. She had never met the new Venus then, and so she could treat it more impersonally, accept her as a replacement. An unpleasant truth, but not an unexpected one. But with Dhiti it was different. Dhiti was her friend, so Miyo had closed her eyes. She had not wanted to see the truth, accept the consequences. She had not wanted to face the facts.
The inescapable fact that a new Sailor Mercury, in this age, in this way, meant that the old one was gone.
She remembered her friend: solemn, studious Ami—so quiet, so shy, and yet always so quick, so dedicated; so ready to sacrifice her own dreams for the good of her friends. Then, horribly, she remembered seeing Ami die. It had been seven hundred years. But it felt like yesterday. Yesterday.
"What about the others?" she asked, her voice shaking. "Rei, Haruka, Michiru? What about Setsuna? What about…what about Princess Usagi?" She looked up at last, stared at him through puffy red eyes. "Artemis, what if I'm the only one left? What if I'm the last?"
He was silent for a long time. As if he were debating something in his mind.
At last he said, "Miyo, I want you to come with me."
"Leave me alone," she whispered.
"Miyo," he said insistently. "You have to come. It's important."
"Not NOW!" she shouted, clenching her fists. But the rage died away almost instantly. "Go away," she said dully. "Just leave me alone."
"There's something I haven't told you."
That did catch her attention, in spite of herself. "Big surprise," she muttered, not wanting to be distracted.
"Miyo, please. This is…I think you need to see this. Please. Come with me."
Unwilling, but still too depressed to put up much of a fight, she let herself be argued into it. She washed her face, changed her clothes, and left the house, carrying a canvas satchel with her at Artemis' insistence.
They walked through the streets for some time. In spite of herself, Miyo did begin to feel a little better. The fresh air, the breeze in her face…she still felt the loss. But it began to retreat.
They seemed to be heading downtown. "Where are we going?" she asked.
"You'll see," the sat said. "Just a couple more minutes now."
They continued on. Miyo knew this area, but she didn't come here often. It was a trendy sort of district: full of upmarket cafes, boutiques and salons…the area you went to be seen. Miyo's tastes were more traditional.
"That building up ahead," Artemis said in a low voice, waiting for a moment when nobody was nearby.
She looked. "You're kidding," she said involuntarily.
"No. Now, listen. I'm going to have to ride in that bag you're carrying. Don't go in the main door. There's an underground car park. Head down there. Let me out when you get to the second level down."
Confused, but oddly expectant, she opened the bag and let him in. She walked casually in through the car-park entrance. Nobody gave her a second glance.
She let Artemis out two floors below ground. He led her to a closed door at the rear of the car-park. There was a keypad on the wall next to it. Artemis recited a number and, bemused, she punched it in. The door opened to reveal a narrow staircase.
"Upstairs," Artemis said. "The third floor. Try to keep quiet."
She followed him up four flights of stairs. The door at the top opened with another keypad (and how did Artemis know these numbers?) and she stepped out into—
"Artemis, what is this?" she hissed.
"Quiet," he muttered back. "Through here."
They went down a short passage and turned into a large room that looked like an office. As they reached the door Miyo stopped, looking around. It was neat, tidy, almost fastidious. Windows filled most of two walls. The rest of the walls were largely bare, though the few decorations she could see looked expensive. The furniture looked expensive, too. The desk at one end of the room—
There was a woman sitting at the desk. She was slim, attractive, her close-cropped, spiky hair dyed a brilliant white. She looked up as Artemis walked in, and frowned. Then, oddly, she reached under her desk. Miyo heard a faint click.
"What are you doing here?" she asked the cat. "We weren't supposed to meet again for three more days."
Miyo blinked. This woman knew Artemis?
There was something familiar about her voice.
"Something else came up," Artemis said casually. "There's someone here who needs to see you."
"What?" The woman looked around quickly, and saw Miyo standing hesitantly at the door. Her eyes widened.
"Damn it!" she cursed. "I told you no!"
"I'm sorry," Artemis said. "But I had to, Itsuko. She has to know."
Miyo stared at the woman. Her voice was so familiar. Where had she heard it before? And the way she shouted at Artemis. And even her face looked oddly—
"Rei?" she whispered.
S A I L O R M O O N 4 2 0 0
END OF CHAPTER SIX
Next: A reunion; a mysterious stranger; a new assault on the Senshi; and an unexpected arrival.
Thanks to my pre-reader, Sandy Drobic.
Release version: 3 August, 1998
Updated: 22 October, 2005