Sailor Moon 4200: What has gone before
In the year 3478 Crystal Tokyo was destroyed in an as-yet unexplained disaster. Queen Serenity and her Senshi died fighting a hopeless battle against the invaders. Civilisation fell; a new dark age began. Now, in the year 4200, a new world order has risen, centred on the city of Third Tokyo and 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 "vitri- morphs"—crystalline monsters designed to hunt Senshi.
Meanwhile another survivor of Crystal Tokyo has become involved: Hino Rei, once Sailor Mars, now powerless, and owner of the Olympus Gymnasium under the name Pappadopoulos Itsuko. Her office is bugged by a group of Council investigators after Artemis is seen at the Olympus. To preserve the secret of her past, she seeks help from an old friend in the Sankaku clans, a mysterious criminal group. But the investigators learn of this and their suspicions are only deepened.
When vitrimorphs appear in the city, Venus, Jupiter and Mercury begin to work together, fighting them. They are followed by an Opal, a flying patrol vehicle fitted by the Council with Senshi detectors; but the Opal has been sabotaged by Sailor Pluto (who has also survived, now using the name Fumihiko Sadako), and crashes.
Without Beth's knowledge, two students at her school realise that she is Sailor Venus. And Miyo, upset by the realisation that Minako and Ami have not been reborn in this time, is taken to see an old friend…
By Angus MacSpon
Sailor Moon 4200 Home Page
Based on "Sailor Moon" created by Naoko Takeuchi
"Hello, Makoto," said Itsuko. "How've you been?"
Miyo just stood there, looking stunned. "Rei?" she whispered again.
"It's probably best that you don't call me that," Itsuko said calmly. "And you're Miyo now, right?" She glanced down at Artemis. "I take it he didn't tell you who you were coming to see."
Miyo closed her mouth, finally, and swallowed hard. "Rei," she breathed for the third time. "What are you…how…I mean, you've been reborn too? Oh, thank goodness—"
Itsuko closed her eyes for a moment. "No," she said. "No, I haven't been reborn. I got here the hard way."
"The what?" After a second she saw the sudden comprehension in the girl's eyes. "Oh. Oh, no."
"Yes. It's been a while." Itsuko got up from her desk and went to the window. It was a struggle to keep control. Part of her wanted to throttle Artemis, for springing this on her without warning. Part of her wanted to run to Miyo and hug her. And part of her—
Part of her remembered the last time she had spoken to Makoto.
"The truth is," she'd confessed to Artemis several days before, "when it happened, when everything fell apart and she got killed…we hadn't spoken in more than fifteen years."
That day in Crystal Tokyo…they'd gotten together, she and Makoto and Haruka and Michiru, for a meal and a chance to gossip about old times. Rei hadn't seen the others in a while, and it was nice to be able to catch up. All of them had their duties, and they carried them all over the globe and beyond. Chances to meet like this were few.
They talked about what they'd been doing. Michiru spoke about some of the work she'd been doing on Europa, and Haruka told a story about a drunken flare-rider she'd had to chase all the way out into the Oort cloud that had them all laughing. And Rei and Makoto had their own stories to tell.
It had all been very pleasant and amicable.
"It was just a silly argument. Nothing important at all. But it got out of hand…neither of us would back down, and…oh, it just went on and on! For weeks, whenever we saw each other, we'd just end up bringing it up again…"
Just a silly argument. Meaningless.
Makoto was telling a long and rather unlikely story about when she'd last seen Minako, and Rei saw the punch-line coming and beat her to it. That was all. They laughed about it, but Makoto got annoyed, and gradually the conversation turned into friendly bickering. Then not-quite-so-friendly bickering.
All the same, the evening ended up well enough. After all, they'd known each other for so long, hadn't they? Haruka and Michiru made their excuses and left together, their arms around each other, and Makoto and Rei watched them go and breathed envious sighs, and exchanged rueful glances—none of Makoto's marriages had lasted more than five years, and Rei's record was even worse—and then they too parted, perfectly satisfied with the evening.
A few days later Serenity called them in to the Palace. She had a job for them in Holland, a fiddly thing; they'd have to work together pretty closely for the next few weeks. Well, that was fine, wasn't it? They were the best of friends. Rei was quite looking forward to it; she so seldom left Crystal Tokyo.
Which one of them brought it up again? Such a little, petty thing. It was certainly only meant as a joke. But the bantering became carping, and the carping became an argument that turned acrimonious, and before long they had to cut short the day's work.
Still, it wasn't important. They were adults, and they were good friends, and neither of them really wanted to continue with an argument that was, really, so trivial.
But neither of them could leave it alone.
"It just kept getting worse. We knew each other so well, we knew all the wrong things to say…we usually ended up shouting at each other…"
Rei would never have dreamed that the day would come when she dreaded seeing her friend. She was quite sure that Makoto felt the same way. And underneath it all, they were still friends. They both of them knew that what they were doing was foolish, insane. A simple apology could have ended it at any time.
Somehow, though, the apologies never quite came. There was always the need for one last quick jab before the humble words could be said; and so of course the humble words never got said at all. They had all but forgotten the original argument by now.
So, little by little, the rift deepened. Little by little, the hurt accumulated, shaping something terrible out of a friendship nearly fifteen hundred years old. It was all unravelling, everything they had gone through together; and neither could turn aside from the dark road they were travelling. Hot, angry words had been spoken, words that cut deeper than any knife.
There came a time when there were no more words to be said.
"One day I…it was my fault, I went too far…I said some horrible things to her, really horrible things, things I couldn't take back. And then she said—" Itsuko had stopped, shaken her head. "No. I don't want to think about what she said. Not ever again. And we fought, Artemis, we actually fought…"
It came down to this: two Senshi, alone in a room, staring at each other, enraged, fists clenched, each waiting for the other to make the first move.
Makoto had never been the type to back down. Neither had Rei; and they had gone far past the point when either would have considered it. The damage had been done; the insults and curses—and worse—had been exchanged. Only two people who had been such good friends for so long could have hurt each other so badly.
The time for apologies, for calm, reasoned words, was past. Neither of them could bear to try it again. The hurt was too deep, the anger too hot, and the pain of shattered friendship too raw.
It came down, finally, to this: two Senshi, alone in a room, staring at each other. And then, with no visible signal, flying at each other.
"I think that was the worst thing I ever did. We'd been such friends, for so long—and all we could do was try to kill each other…
"I don't remember how it ended. I truly don't. Nobody stopped us, I know that much. I don't think anyone else even knew. But finally…afterward…
"From that day until the Plague began, we never spoke. We tried never to be in the same room together. The few times we couldn't avoid each other, I could see that she hadn't forgotten a thing…and I'm sure she could see that I hadn't either…"
"How did you get up here?" Itsuko asked coolly.
She could hear the confusion in Miyo's voice. "I came in through the car park. I don't—Rei, what's wrong? Why are you so—"
"I asked Artemis not to bring you here. Apparently he decided he knew better." Itsuko turned, looked Miyo in the eyes. "I had to tell him about—before. I'm sorry."
For a second longer she saw puzzlement in Miyo's expression. Then it vanished. She saw the sudden memory dawn. She saw the astonishment, the horror; and lastly, in the instant before Miyo's face went perfectly blank, what she had known would be there. The anger.
Artemis must have seen it too. "Um, excuse me…" he began. He stopped when he saw how completely they were ignoring him.
"It was a long time ago," said Miyo slowly.
"Fifteen years," answered Itsuko.
"More like…what, seven hundred and forty?"
"Fifteen years for you, though."
"That's true. But I—" Miyo stopped, shaking her head. "Rei, I don't want to do this. I don't…do we really have to dig this up again?"
"Oh, please. Are you going to tell me that you just want to let it drop? After everything you said? After everything I said, for that matter. After that…that day in Amsterdam? I still have the scars, if you don't."
"Unfair." Unconsciously, Miyo rubbed her side, just below her ribs. "I had my share of scars."
"Just a moment," said Artemis sharply. "Itsuko…no, Rei. You told me that you'd forgiven her. You said that after seven hundred years, you'd—"
"Butt out, cat." For an instant, real anger entered Itsuko's voice. "That's beside the point…isn't it, Makoto?"
"Beside the point? Is that all you can say, 'beside the point'?" Miyo demanded, outraged. "Where do you get off? You accuse me of trying to just bury it all under the table, but you want to do the same thing? What the hell are you trying to pull here?"
"I—" Itsuko broke off. It was all going wrong. She wasn't ready for this. She wasn't ready for any of this.
"I know what you're doing," Miyo said in a low, dangerous voice. She didn't look sixteen years old at all, not now. "You're trying to manipulate me, just like before. You want me to be the one to let it drop, so you won't have to admit you were wrong!"
It hit Itsuko like a hammer-blow. Was that what she was doing? Did she really feel that strongly about it, after all this time? Was she really that much of a hypocrite?
No. She couldn't be. She couldn't bear it.
"That's not it," she heard herself saying. It was as if someone else was speaking through her lips. "That's not it at all."
"What then?" demanded Miyo icily.
"I—" She hesitated. But there was nothing left now, nothing but the truth. "I need to know if you can let it drop."
Miyo stared at her.
"Seven hundred years, Makoto," Itsuko said softly. "Seven hundred years is a long, long time. Alone."
And so it was out at last. Out in the open. The two of them stared at each other. Itsuko bit her lip uneasily. Miyo opened her mouth to speak—
The commset buzzed.
Itsuko swore furiously and snatched the remote up, ready to bawl out whoever it was. But the words died unsaid when she heard Ochiyo's voice. "Itsuko-san? There are some 'P' Division officers here to see you. They want to ask some more questions about the burglary on Monday night."
Itsuko sighed. "All right," she said heavily. "Tell them I'll be down in a couple of minutes." She hung up and turned back to Miyo and Artemis once more.
They were gone. She was alone in the office.
A little distance away from the Olympus, Miyo stopped to aim a vicious kick at the wall of the building she was passing. The wall stubbornly refused to disintegrate, so she kicked it again, then again and again. The violence was better—anything was better—than having to think about…things. About the very bad day she was having.
"You could go back," Artemis suggested.
"Not a chance," she snarled. "I'm not going to get sucked into that again. I won't let her…won't let her manipulate me again, not the way she—"
"Rei? Manipulate?" said Artemis incredulously. "Since when was she ever that subtle?"
"Oh, don't be ridiculous. Rei can be the most subtle person I ever met when she—" Miyo broke off in mid-sentence, shooting an unfriendly glance at Artemis. "Now who's trying to manipulate who?"
"Dammit, Miyo, can't you see she wants to end this? She admitted it herself! And you said you didn't want to keep it going either! Why can't you just—"
"YOU SHUT UP!" shouted Miyo at the absolute top of her voice. He recoiled, shocked. In an only slightly lower voice she went on, "Damn you, you weren't there! You don't know! You—you had no business butting your nose into this! You don't know what happened!"
They stared at each other for a moment: Artemis tense, ready to run; Miyo white with rage, her fists and her teeth clenched.
A hand fell on Miyo's shoulder.
She whirled, furious, ready to strike—and stopped suddenly. It was Ichiyo standing there, looking unusually serious. Fujimaro was a little distance behind. He looked scared.
"Calm down, Miyo," said Ichiyo in a low voice. "You're making a spectacle of yourself."
"What are you—" she began.
"Everyone's looking at you, oneesan," said Fujimaro in a thin, strained voice.
She looked around quickly. There were several other people in the street, and most of them were watching her. As she met their eyes, they looked away quickly. How much did they hear? she thought. Her anger was gone, melting away in a sudden rush of embarrassment…and fear.
Her eyes flicked back to Fujimaro. Why did he look so nervous? And Ichiyo seemed so serious—
Oh, no. They think I'm cracking up.
Maybe they're right…
"What are you doing here?" she asked stupidly. A moment later she felt like biting her tongue. This was the fashionable part of town, the place where the trendy set hung out; and it was after nine on a Saturday evening. Ichiyo fit in here perfectly. It was she who didn't belong.
"I think you should come home," Ichiyo said quietly, ignoring her question.
She looked at him for a moment, then back to Fujimaro; and finally, quickly, down to Artemis. But the cat had his back turned, refusing to look at her. As she watched, he slowly walked away, never looking back.
She turned back to Ichiyo. "Yes," she said, in a low, defeated voice.
They escorted her home, one on either side of her. She was surrounded by family, by brothers she knew cared for her. But she had never felt so alone.
Number Twelve knocked gingerly on the door. A voice said, "Come," and she opened it and entered the office.
The chairman looked up briefly, said, "Sit," and went back to the file he was reading, occasionally adding an annotation. Twelve sat down and waited, trying not to appear impatient. It wasn't easy. The waiting game was an old power ploy—childish, really—but that did not stop it being effective.
"Have you seen the latest reports from 'D' Division?" the chairman asked suddenly, not lifting his eyes from the monitor screen.
"I haven't had much chance to keep up lately," Twelve answered shortly. The chairman knew that as well as she did. The Vitrimorph project was taking all her time.
"Mm. We have to remember there's a world outside, though." The chairman shook his head, sighing, and switched the monitor off. "We're getting quite a lot of pressure from other countries to take an official position on the Senshi. After all, we rule in their name." He laughed dryly.
Twelve frowned. "Is it serious?" she asked.
"Not yet. 'D' Division can take care of any situations that develop. But before long we will have to make a statement on the matter. We're beginning to look bad, and we can't afford that. The Yen has dropped slightly already."
"But—what kind of position can we take? We can hardly announce that we're going to stand down in favour of a bunch of young girls!"
"Mm. And yet, our other solution to the problem doesn't seem to be working too well, does it?" The chairman's eyes hardened suddenly. "Report," he ordered.
She took a deep breath and began describing the operation: the selection of an attack site in the area where they suspected the Senshi were based; the commencement of the attack; and the arrival of Sailor Mercury. The chairman stopped her once or twice to ask questions, but for the most part he listened in silence, expressionless.
When she reached the end of her story, he nodded slowly. "And your analysis?" he inquired.
She shrugged. "Their powers and their teamwork are still raw, and their grasp of tactics is almost non-existent. The only thing that saved them was the…the childish nature of the attack. An animated dressmaker's dummy! If we were to to use the full range that the vitrimorphs are capable of—"
"That is out of the question, as you should know. These…childish attacks, as you put it…are exactly what we need." He smiled. "At least for now."
"Which brings me to another matter." He glanced down at a sheet of paper on his desk. "Your report seems to have been incomplete in one important respect."
She froze. He'd had somebody else watching? Checking up on her?
"'I'm leaving. Kill them all,'" the chairman read aloud. "Those were your words?"
She licked her lips nervously. "I—they scared me. I didn't—"
"You were well aware of the purpose of this operation. The Senshi must not be harmed until they have achieved our objective. And yet—" He shook his head sadly. "You ordered the vitrimorph to kill. You told it not to hold back, when holding back is precisely the point." He folded his gloved hands, and looked up at her. "Have you any excuse to offer?"
"I was afraid! I—please—"
"I thought not." He touched a button on his desk. "This is not the first time your behaviour has been…unsatisfactory. I'm afraid that our Master takes as dim a view of it as I do."
Behind her, the door opened. She tried to get up, to run, but her muscles refused to obey. Her body was no longer her own. The Master was in control.
"You have been allowed too great a level of autonomy. Fortunately, this can easily be corrected."
She felt hands on her shoulders, dragging her to her feet. Her neck still worked; when she turned her head, she saw Three and Five, her colleagues, standing there. She opened her mouth to beg for help, but her tongue froze before she could utter a word.
"A second-stage initiation should take care of matters." The chairman leaned back in his seat, his face expressionless. "Take her away."
She could not speak, but she could still scream as they dragged her out.
The chairman sat at his desk for some time, staring down at his hands. He had fought too, once. He still paid the price, even today. But it was for the best. Now, he knew how foolish it was to struggle. Twelve should have remembered that. She would be reminded, soon enough.
With a sigh, he turned to the next report on his screen. A preliminary analysis of another one of the day's disasters. That was one he wasn't going to be able to discuss in his office, though.
He glanced at the clock display on his screen. Almost three in the morning. Well, too bad. The one he needed to talk to would still be up.
He left his office without ceremony. A chauffeur was waiting outside. The chairman gave his orders, allowed himself to be helped into a car, and settled back with a sigh. Moments later they were humming through the night.
It took fifteen minutes to reach the 'M' Division offices. The building was mostly darkened at this hour, but there were still lights on in some of the assembly and maintenance bays. He nodded at that, satisfied. Whatever else he was, he was still the director of 'M' Division, and it pleased him to see that his people were on the job.
He nodded to the security guard in the lobby, and was allowed through promptly—he couldn't use one of the palm-print readers, of course. In the elevator, he slipped a plain white card into the maintenance-key slot. The elevator started downward immediately.
Sixty metres below ground, he stepped out into a dimly-lit passage. The guards here didn't wave him through; they covered him with their weapons while they checked his retinal print. At last he was allowed to pass, and walked through the doors into M's workroom.
One end of the laboratory had been cleared of equipment. The space thus created was filled with the remains of an 'S' Division Opal. Disassembled components and pieces of wreckage were strewn across the floor in what, to him, looked like a haphazard arrangement, but to M was probably perfectly logical. He stepped through them gingerly.
M was not in sight at first, but after a few seconds he heard a scraping sound and the scientist clambered awkwardly out of the wreckage, carrying a complex-looking unit that dangled a maze of severed optical connectors.
"What have you found?" the chairman asked quietly.
M jumped, apparently seeing him for the first time, then sighed. "I should have known you'd come here tonight."
"Have you found anything?" the chairman asked again.
"There has scarcely been time—" M stopped suddenly, seeing the chairman's expression, then dumped the unit unceremoniously down on a workbench and sat down, yawning. "No. Or rather, nothing useful. Something caused a whole series of failure signals to go off at once. Everything in the Opal simply shut down. I can't explain why."
"Was it something to do with the new sensors you designed?"
"No! Nothing I designed could possibly do that."
"But are you sure?" the chairman insisted. "If it was some kind of flaw that was already in the Opals—"
"All right. All right." M sat back, rubbing eyes that were reddened from lack of sleep. "That much I'm sure of, at least. The other Opals are safe. But—"
"But you have no idea why this one crashed."
"I only received the wreckage two hours ago!" M snapped. "No, I've no idea, yet. And I cannot see how it could have been the new sensors, either. Most of the internal logs were erased, but I managed to recover enough to show that the sensors had been active for some time, and were functioning normally when the failure occurred."
"That matches what the pilot says," the chairman said.
"Eh? Oh, yes, of course. Can I get a copy of the debriefing report? It might help."
The chairman hesitated. The debriefing report would show what the Opal had been doing when it crashed, and he didn't want to give too much away to the scientist. "I'll see what I can do," he temporised.
"Huh." M scowled at him. "It would be helpful if I had some idea what these sensors are for. The specifications you gave me were so broad, I—" The chairman raised his eyebrows, and M sighed. "All right. I'll keep on checking. I suppose it's possible that there was some kind of interference between the wave buffers in the sensor unit and the propulsion field sink, though it's hard to see how. Or maybe a hysteresis effect…I'll have to run some simulations…"
The chairman ignored the gobbledegook. "How long will that take? There is a certain amount of urgency in the matter."
"There always is." M considered. "I'll try to push it, but these things take time. Just calculating the parameters—"
"I'm sure it would be very inconvenient for you if you had to do your work from a wheelchair."
There was a short silence.
"Yes, it would," said M softly. "There's no need to make threats, though. I'll do my best. But it's still going to take time."
He was regretting his words already. "As long as we understand each other," he said mildly. "I'm sure that your best will be sufficient, as always."
M snorted. "How trite. I never give less than my best." And then, after a pause: "Anyway, it's not as though I have anything else to do, down here."
"No," said the chairman. "No, you don't, do you?"
Hiiro looked up from the report he was reading. "What is it, Mitsukai?"
There was a slight frown on her face. "There's a message from headquarters. They want you for a meeting there tomorrow."
Now it was his turn to frown. "Unusual," he said thoughtfully. "What's on their minds, I wonder?" He got up and stepped back to her 'control centre'—the tiny corner of the van that had been fitted out with her comms equipment and computer.
"Let's see," he murmured, reading over her shoulder. "'Lack of progress'…I expected that, and they should have too. What else? 'In line of recent developments'—that's interesting. I wonder if someone else has made a breakthrough?"
"They could mean the Hoseki connection," she offered.
He shook his head. "HQ doesn't know that has anything to do with our case. I've got a couple of people looking into Hoseki, but that's nothing unusual. No, it must be something else. They—" He stopped suddenly, and swore. "Wait a minute. Midori found out, didn't he? Last Wednesday, when you and Kitada were checking the property files."
She nodded. "Damn!" he went on. "That'll be it. Midori knows perfectly well that Hoseki is a dead end, but someone's leaning on Colonel Shiro for results, so Midori's brought it up. That's all we need—another red herring to get in the way."
"So what do we do?" she asked after a moment.
"What can we do?" he shot back. "You send back an acknowledgement and tell them I'll be there for the meeting, that's what we do." He thought about it and added, "Tell them I'll bring Kitada with me. He saw the files section, and it'll do him good to get a look at the desk-job end of things."
"Yes, sir." Her fingers rattled briefly on the keyboard. "Anything else?"
"I don't think so." He eyed her sharply. "Wait a minute. How long have you been on duty there?" At her sudden change of expression he said, "What have I told you about that before? As a matter of fact…"
He stepped over to a wall chart and scanned through it. "I thought so. You were supposed to be in the gym an hour and a half ago."
"Sir—" she began. He cut her off.
"It's not just to spy on the clients, you know. It's important for you, as well. You can't stay glued to that console all day long." He patted her shoulder, smiling. "Go on, now. Get moving."
He returned to the report he'd been working on, carefully not thinking about how many hours he'd been on duty himself. Rank had its privileges.
At her console, Mitsukai sat for some time, touching her shoulder where he'd patted it, a curious expression on her face. At last, obediently, she got up, fetched her gym bag, and stepped out of the van, blinking in the afternoon sunlight.
Beth trotted cheerfully toward school, Bendis just behind her. It was a cloudy Monday morning, but the air was warm and the day promised to be sunny by afternoon.
"What's got you so happy today?" grouched Bendis as they went. Beth hid a smile. Yesterday the cat had announced that she would be going into school with her. She insisted that she had some important things to check out at the school, but Beth was pretty sure that she was just going stir-crazy, stuck in the house all day. Today, though, she'd been downright testy when Beth woke her up. In almost three weeks at the McCrea home, Bendis had developed a definite preference for sleeping in in the morning.
"Oh, nothing," Beth answered.
It was nearly true. Actually, she was rather looking forward to school today—or, more specifically, to seeing Nanako. After all, she and the other Senshi had destroyed another monster on Saturday afternoon, and then been chased all over Third Tokyo. She was eager to hear what the rumour mill had to say.
Who are those other Senshi, anyway? Jupiter and Mercury. Maybe next time I'll get a chance to talk to them properly…
She was so lost in her thoughts that, as she veered around a corner, she ran straight into someone before she noticed they were there. A moment later, both of them were sprawled on the ground.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Beth said hastily as she got up onto her hands and knees. "I wasn't looking where I was going, I'm so sorry—"
"It's all right," said the person she'd run into. Another girl, Beth realised; a little taller than herself, with dark brown shoulder-length hair and a sombre expression. She was wearing a different school's uniform, with red-copper piping on the sleeves, and she was rubbing her elbow as she stood up.
"Are you okay? Beth asked. "I didn't—"
"I'm fine," said the other girl patiently, still rubbing her elbow. She bent down to pick up her satchel, and Beth caught a glimpse of a name printed neatly on its side: Itagaki. "I have to get going," she added before Beth could say anything else. "Good-bye."
"Er—sorry," Beth repeated weakly as the girl hurried off. Shaking her head and sighing—and rubbing one or two sore places herself—she picked up her own satchel and started back toward school.
"Just a moment," Bendis said before she'd gotten more than a few steps. She looked back. The cat was watching the other girl hurrying away in the opposite direction.
"What is it?" Beth asked, a little impatiently. If they didn't hurry, she'd be late.
"There's something funny about that girl," Bendis said slowly.
"What?" said Beth, not really paying attention. "No, that's just a different school uniform. Hibari, I think—" She stopped suddenly. "Funny in what way?" she asked cautiously.
"Umm, I'm not exactly sure," Bendis admitted. "I'd have to touch her to be certain."
"Do you think she might be another Senshi?" asked Beth excitedly.
"I don't know! She—it didn't feel anything like when I first found you. It could be something else entirely."
Beth blinked. "Like what?"
"Er—" Bendis hesitated. "Well, I'm sure there could be other explanations—" She saw Beth's expression and hastily added, "I'm going to follow her, just to make sure. I'll see you later, okay?"
Beth scratched her head, watching as Bendis took off after the other girl. Something suddenly occurred to her. "Hey, Bendis!" she shouted.
Bendis stopped, looking back. "What?"
"Don't go dropping any pianos on her head, all right?"
Dhiti listened to the teacher with half an ear, toying idly with a pencil. She was bored. She usually enjoyed history class—it was the only subject she liked enough to bother to do well at—but she'd already read several books about the Refounding, and the teacher wasn't saying anything she didn't know. Actually, she probably knew more about it than he did.
Instead she was thinking about Miyo. Something was wrong there, something she couldn't make out.
Saturday evening, at least, had been comprehensible. Then, after the battle, Miyo had been grief-stricken at the loss of a friend. Dhiti could understand that, at least, and it had troubled her that she hadn't been able to do a thing. (Strange, really, how much it did bother her. When had Miyo's well-being started to become so important to her? They were friends, sure, but this was different.)
Today, though, Miyo wasn't sad. She was…different. Distant. Cold. Depressed, perhaps. She looked straight through people as if they weren't there. She brooded. Sometimes, she looked as though she wanted to kill someone. Even the teachers noticed it, and left her alone in class. It was…Dhiti groped for the right word. It was eerie. Completely unlike the Miyo she knew. Normally she was so totally open, you could read her like a book. Today, all the pages were blank.
Dhiti had been watching her all morning, and she couldn't make out what it was. At times she thought Miyo was about to explode, fly into a rage. At other times it seemed more as if she were about to cry. Something had happened over the weekend, but Dhiti couldn't get her to talk about it. When they'd arrived at school that morning she'd tried to speak to her, but Miyo just brushed her off, as if—
"—tell us, Sharma-chan?"
She jumped, her attention suddenly brought back to the classroom. Eguchi-sensei was looking at her expectantly. Whoops. What had he asked her?
"Sorry, sensei," she said, beaming at him. "I was so wrapped up in your brilliant oratory that the question just flew right past me."
Nobody in the classroom even snickered. They were used to this. Pity.
Eguchi-sensei just sighed. "I asked, Dhiti-san, if you could tell us some of the guiding principles that allowed the Refounding to occur?"
Dhiti thought about it for a moment. An easy question, but…"Blind luck, and royal whim," she said.
It would have gotten her into trouble in any other class. Eguchi-sensei knew her well enough—and, more importantly, knew how much she loved history—that he only raised his eyebrows and said, "Explain."
Dhiti grinned. "Blind luck that the Archives weren't destroyed in the Great Fall, so the Founders' expedition could find them in 4102—"
In 4102, the world was in the depths of a new Dark Age.
The fall of Crystal Tokyo in 3478 had left a ruined planet in its wake. When Queen Serenity died, the world died with her. Every crystal-based form of technology simply stopped working; and after so many centuries, few other forms of technology still existed. Every piece of machinery, every computer, every lamp and every library-reader was suddenly dead. Before long, so were most of the people.
Without technology, the automated farms stopped working. Without readers to display the library crystals, nobody could look up how to run the farms themselves. And without the farms, everybody starved…
Not quite everybody. A few settlements remained, mostly built around places where rare troves of printed books remained. They weren't much help, usually—there are few practical hints for running a farm in an antique copy of "Oliver Twist"—but sometimes they were enough for a primitive kind of civilisation to survive. In time, they learned to do better.
Inevitably, though, the enclaves themselves became targets for those who had nothing. Over the years, bands of raiders and petty warlords took their toll. By the year 4102, not many enclaves were left.
Some of them did well, though. In 4102, the Cuddalore enclave in south-east India was both prosperous and secure. During a brief period of expansionist zeal they outfitted a sailing ship and sent an expedition to Japan—to the ruins of Crystal Tokyo itself, where, it was hoped, they would find some kind of booty or relic that might make the enormous cost of the trip worthwhile.
The ruins were deserted. The fall of the city had devastated the area for a long way around, and though the blasted regions had finally grown over and become fertile again, few people had returned. The Cuddalore expedition simply walked in, pitched camp, and started exploring.
Two weeks later they struck gold. No, not gold. Platinum, diamonds…no, more valuable than that. They struck history. They found the Royal Archives.
The man who found the entrance—who managed to break the seal and open the door, and descended the steps into the first underground vault—had never heard of Howard Carter, and never would. But the sense of wonder and awe that he felt, as he raised his lantern and looked out over the contents of the first chamber of the Archives, were feelings that Carter, thousands of years before, would have recognised.
He had expected to find another library: a computer core, filled with racks of crystals. Pretty things, but useless; worth a little as trinkets, but barely enough to make them worth taking home. Instead, he found the future.
Because the room didn't contain storage crystals at all. It contained books. Printed books. Thousands upon thousands of books.
"Yes, it has been commented upon," admitted Eguchi-sensei. "The survival of the Archives was certainly remarkable. Calling it 'blind luck' might be a little excessive, though."
"Practically nothing else in Crystal Tokyo survived," pointed out Dhiti, "not even other underground facilities. But all of the Archive vaults were intact."
A treasure trove beyond imagination. The stored knowledge of an entire civilisation, perfectly preserved. Vaults of books—and, in other chambers, different kinds of treasures: paintings; sculpture; other works of art; audio and video records, etched onto little silvery metal disks; and so much more. A short-cut to civilisation, everything the explorers needed to know to be able to start again. Within a year, there were electric lights shining in the ruins. In ten years, they weren't ruins any more.
The teacher chuckled. "All right, then. I'll accept 'blind luck' for now. But what about 'royal whim'?"
"Why else would they contain books, instead of storage crystals?" Dhiti said promptly. "Nobody was making books any more. Queen Serenity and the Senshi were the only ones who really even remembered them. It has to have been a Royal decree."
Today, the Archives were sheltered under a great dome at the heart of Third Tokyo. That was a 'royal whim,' if you like; the Serenity Council decreed it, and it was so. The dome had been completed twenty years before, at colossal expense. It was surrounded by a huge forested park, and was lit up at night. From the air, it looked like a giant glowing eye in the middle of the city.
"It might have been Lady Mizuno's suggestion," Dhiti added cheekily. "She's supposed to have liked books. Or maybe Meiou-sama knew the Fall was coming, so she arranged it—"
"Ah, yes," said Eguchi-sensei. "The mythical Sailor Pluto. But I think we're getting into some grey areas here, historically speaking. As I'm sure you're aware, there's nothing in the Archives to suggest that such a person actually existed—"
The lunch-break bell chimed, cutting him off. A few students had been following the argument with interest; most of the rest simply breathed sighs of relief as they hurried out of the classroom.
Dhiti stayed at her desk for a few moments, watching Miyo. The tall girl rose slowly and started for the door. Her expression was difficult to read: distracted, distant. At least she didn't look actually hostile at the moment. Maybe she'd be willing to talk now. Dhiti hurried after her.
"It wasn't quite like that," Miyo said absently as she caught up.
Dhiti blinked. "What wasn't?"
"The Archives. It wasn't just a…whim. It was supposed to be a memorial. A reminder of what the world had been, before the Great Ice. It was a museum as well as a library."
That was an interesting idea. Dhiti thought about it. "But what about the records from Crystal Tokyo itself? Shouldn't they have been on library crystals, then?"
"I think most of them were. There were copies of everything on crystal, of course. But the archivists got very proud of their books, and they kept on making them. They invented some kind of special paper that would last almost forever…I remember they set up a printing press behind the Palace."
"And what about Meiou-sama? Sailor Pluto? Was she for real?"
There was the ghost of a smile on Miyo's lips. "Sorry, that's a state secret."
"Oh, come on!" Dhiti burst out indignantly. Miyo's smile widened a little.
"Fine," Dhiti grouched. "Be that way. See if I care. Some friend you are."
The smile vanished like a soap bubble bursting. A quick flash of something—pain, perhaps, or regret—flashed across Miyo's face. Then, her expression quite blank, she started to turn away.
Dhiti stared after her. She'd said something wrong, but what? "Wait a minute!" she said. "What's the matter?"
Miyo did not respond. She stood, her back turned, her head hanging. She did not appear to be breathing. Dhiti grabbed her by the shoulder and shouted, "Dammit, Hayashi! What's the matter? What did I say? Will you talk to me!"
The other girl did not answer for a moment. At last she said in a low voice, "Talking doesn't help. Sometimes it just makes it worse."
With some difficulty, Dhiti bit back the flippant answer that tried to burst out. The walls were down, she realised; just for a moment, Miyo was wide open. But something told her that she had to be careful. One more careless remark and they'd slam back up. Maybe for good.
She took a deep breath. "That depends on what you say," she tried gingerly.
Miyo looked back at her, and there was a world of torment in her eyes. "What do you say when you've said everything, and nothing helped?" she asked.
Has she been fighting with someone? Dhiti thought frantically. But who? Why? She didn't know what to do. But Miyo was waiting, waiting for her to make it better, and she had to tell her something.
"You could say 'I'm sorry,'" she suggested.
Miyo actually flinched. "But what if it's too late?" she whispered.
"What if it isn't?" said Dhiti.
They stared at each other for some time. At last Miyo said, in a voice that cracked, "I'm scared that she won't be sorry."
And finally Dhiti could no longer hold back the question. "Who?" she asked. "Who is it? What's happened?"
"Who?" Miyo laughed mirthlessly. "Nobody you know. Somebody who's been dead for a long time."
"You mean—" Dhiti swallowed with difficulty. "Do you mean…Lady Mizuno?"
"Ami?" Miyo gave that laugh again. "No. Don't you remember? She died on Saturday evening. You were there."
And with that she turned her back and strode off. Dhiti did not try to follow.
After a while she felt a tap on her shoulder, and turned to see Kin, Liam and Mark grinning at her. She managed to grin back, and for the rest of the lunch break she gave a very convincing simulation of having a good time, which fooled nobody.
Masao followed Hiiro in through the foyer of 'S' Division headquarters. Rather to his surprise, there was a sign outside clearly marking the building as 'S' Division. He'd expected it to be hidden somehow: perhaps disguised as a shipping corporation, or something. When he said as much, Hiiro laughed.
"Sure, we've got camouflaged offices and depots and safe-houses and so on. But we are a government agency, remember. We have to have a public face too. Someplace where the crazies can come in off the street and report their neighbours for hoarding beans. Somewhere"—he shot a wry glance at Masao—"where people can sign up as Irregulars."
Masao cleared his throat. "I promise you, I've never hoarded a single bean in my life—"
They made their way up to the sixth floor, both laughing. Public offices or not, Masao noticed that security was tight. They had to show their IDs three times on the way. Hiiro's was a pale blue card. Masao, as an Irregular, had an orange one.
Two men were waiting for them in the sixth floor reception. Masao recognised one of them: Lieutenant Midori. The two exchanged cool nods. The nod Midori gave Hiiro was even cooler.
The other man, Colonel Shiro, was tall and lean, with iron-grey hair and thick, bushy eyebrows. He smiled as he shook Masao's hand. "Kitada-san," he said. "With us a little longer than expected, I see."
"It's been a very, er, educational experience, sir," Masao said, grinning.
"I'm sure," Shiro said with a chuckle. "You've met my ADC, Midori, I think." At Masao's nod, he turned his attention to Hiiro. "Captain, good to see you again. Sorry to pull you in like this—" Hiiro shrugged. "Yes. Well, we've got one other guest coming in for this afternoon's meeting. He should be arriving in just a few minutes…"
As he spoke, the elevator chimed, and two men stepped out. One of them, to Masao's admittedly inexperienced eye, looked like a typical flunky. He recognised the other one immediately, though. A little less than average height, with a bullet head and bright, lively eyes, and a face that was famous not through public appearances (for he made almost none) but through his frequent appearance in caricature in editorial cartoons. Takeda Ryobe, Number Three of the Serenity Council, the director of 'S' Division.
"Director," said Shiro, bowing his head respectfully.
Takeda nodded quickly. "Colonel," he said. "These are the officers you mentioned?"
"Yes, sir. Captain Hiiro Yoichi"—Hiiro bowed—"and this is one of our Irregular agents, Kitada Masao." Masao bowed too.
"Irregular, eh? And not doing quite the sort of work you imagined we do, I'll wager." Takeda gave a quick smile. "I assure you, we do do other things besides looking for lost cats." Masao started to stammer an answer, but the director was no longer paying attention. "Colonel, let's get started, if you please. I have another appointment at half past three—"
Shiro nodded. "Yes, sir. This way, please." They followed him through into a meeting room, except for the flunky, who remained behind at the reception desk. As Shiro closed the conference room door, the atmosphere inside took on a curiously dead quality, and Masao realised that the room was sound-proofed.
"Now," Takeda said briskly, almost before Shiro was seated. "I hear that our cat search has unearthed some…unexpected connections."
Shiro's eyes flicked toward Hiiro. Hiiro sighed. "Yes, sir," he said. "Or at least the possibility. Our investigations have been centred around the Olympus Gymnasium. Kitada-san here reported a lost-and-found poster on the notice-board there, for a cat which closely matches the description of the cat we're after—right down to the scarred forehead."
"I have confirmation of that," said Midori, sliding a sheet of paper across to Takeda.
Hiiro shot him an irritated look. "We confirmed the existence of the poster ourselves," he went on. "But the next day, it had been removed, and none of the gymnasium staff claim to know anything about it. We've been questioning clients and—"
"Yes, yes, that's understood," said Takeda impatiently. "I've seen your reports. Get to the new developments."
Masao caught his breath, wondering if Hiiro was going to reveal that they'd seen Artemis prowling around the gymnasium. To his relief, Hiiro avoided the subject completely.
"Last Tuesday, the owner of the Olympus received a visit from three men. One of them was a known Sankaku agent." He slid a photograph across the desk. It showed three men entering a building. A ring was drawn around one of them.
"And the other two?" inquired Takeda, studying it.
"Unconfirmed. The man in front is Okuda Jiro, a security consultant. Reported as a Sankaku agent four years ago. He does occasional work for the Hoseki Property Group—"
"Hoseki?" said Shiro sharply. "Damnation! Then—"
"Yes, sir. There'd been a break-in at the gymnasium that morning, and their security contract is with Hoseki."
"And Hoseki is owned by the Sankaku, but is ninety-nine percent legitimate," completed Shiro. "So the contact with them was quite possibly innocent. Is that it?"
"Yes, sir," said Hiiro reluctantly.
Takeda frowned. "So it's a false alarm, then?"
Hiiro shrugged. "Probably. I've put extra surveillance on Hoseki, just in case, but I'm not really expecting to come up with anything."
"After all, why would the Sankaku be interested in a cat in the first place?" put in Masao. "There's not much a bunch of criminals can do with one, except maybe hold it for ransom…" He trailed off. All the others were exchanging glances. "What?" he asked.
"The Sankaku are not precisely criminals," said Shiro carefully. "That is the image we prefer to give them, true, and the way they get reported in the news media. But while they support themselves through criminal activities, we are fairly sure that they have some other goal than the accumulation of wealth or power. It is possible that they are revolutionaries—"
"Probable," said Takeda curtly.
"Probable, then." Shiro's face showed how likely he thought that was. "The Sankaku are a group of three organisations—they call themselves clans. The three often work together, but they have their own separate leadership and methods…and, we suspect, their own agendas." He sighed. "Hiiro, you'd better give him some of the briefing papers on the Sankaku. It looks as though they may be helpful. This cat case is turning into a nightmare!"
"Yes, sir. Kitada, the point to remember is that while we've managed to infiltrate the clans, several times, we've never gotten anybody into their very top leadership. We don't know what they're after, but we're sure it isn't just money. And they've managed to infiltrate us a few times, too. So the situation is, we watch each other very closely. If the Clans know we're interested in cats—and we can be sure that by now, they do know—then they'll be interested in cats as well."
Masao shook his head. "But why are we interested in cats?" he said plaintively. "Nobody seems to know!"
A curious hush fell around the table. Shiro's face was quite blank. So was Hiiro's. Midori started to turn toward the head of the table, but stopped suddenly and stared downward.
Finally, Masao realised just who had issued the order for the search.
"So," said Takeda softly. "To summarise: we have a possible link between your investigation and the Sankaku. A dubious link, to be sure." He pursed his lips. "Under the circumstances, it would be safest to check it thoroughly. Colonel, do we have anybody inside Hoseki?"
"Lieutenant?" said Shiro.
"One moment, sir." Midori tapped an inquiry into his comm. "Ahh…yes, sir," he announced a few seconds later. "One Irregular."
Takeda frowned. "Not enough. Colonel, I'm thinking that it would be a good idea to send a few teams in and clear out Hoseki thoroughly. Even if we don't find anything, it's always wise to cut the Sankaku back occasionally." Shiro raised his eyebrows, then nodded slowly. "Good. See what the Analysis section can come up with. It might be best to raid a few of their other fronts at the same time, to hide what we're really interested in."
"Yes, sir. I'll let you have our proposals by…Wednesday?"
"Good." Takeda stood up. "Well, gentlemen. Thank you for coming. Good to see you again, Shiro." He opened the door and strode out. The other three followed him more slowly.
Kitada sent downstairs with Midori to look through the latest briefing papers on the Sankaku. Hiiro remained for a few moments to speak privately with Colonel Shiro.
"Very interesting," he murmured.
"So it was," replied Shiro, equally quietly. "I'm most grateful to you for bringing Kitada in. I don't think I'd have dared ask that question. At least not quite as directly as he did…"
"No." Hiiro smiled. "Kitada can be quite direct."
"So how is he working out?" asked Shiro, raising one eyebrow. "The truth, not what you put in your reports."
Hiiro shrugged. "The truth is what's in the reports. He's working out very well. He doesn't have all the training he needs, of course, but he's bright and he's picking it up fast." He scratched his chin thoughtfully and added, "Actually, that's one of the reasons I brought him in today—so he could get a look at the other side of the business. When this job is finished, I'm going to invite him to sign on permanently."
"Oh? Do you think he's likely to accept?"
"Quite possibly. He does have an aptitude for thinking around corners…once he got over the shock, that is." Hiiro grinned. When Kitada had started, he'd been quite horrified at some of the underhanded techniques he was being taught. "He's been running a background check on one of the Olympus staff for a few days. Kuroi's monitoring him, but Kitada's doing quite well on his own."
"Well, we'll see," said Shiro, shaking his head and grinning back. "For now…let's head down to my office. I'm going to want your input on these raids—"
"Umm, I'm sorry," Beth said reluctantly. It was Wednesday lunch-break, and the group were gathered in their usual spot. "I can't. My Mom wants to get me some new clothes, and the way she goes about it, it usually takes hours. I'm probably going to be tied up all Friday evening."
Nanako wrinkled her brow. "Are you sure? I already bought my ticket."
"I'm sorry," Beth repeated with a sigh. "I told you already, yesterday. I can't." Curiosity made her add, "What movie is it?"
"'Icewalker III'. Oh, come on! You've got to have seen the ads! You know—'He treads the wastelands of the Great Ice'…c'mon, you must have seen the first two in the series?" Beth shook her head nervously and Nanako looked pained.
"That whole series is so stupid," grumbled Eitoku. "I mean, the whole world was asleep during the Great Ice. Everyone knows that."
"They explained that in the first movie!" pointed out Nanako, irritated. "There was this stasis capsule that malfunctioned and—"
"Oh, please, that is just so—"
"Well if you think it's so dumb, why did you agree to come and see it?"
As Eitoku spluttered and fumbled for an answer, scarlet-faced, Nanako turned to Iku. "What about you, Iku-chan? You've got to see this!"
Iku looked taken aback, flushing an even brighter red than Eitoku. "Oh, no…I couldn't. I have a dentist appointment on Friday afternoon, and…I…I'm not going to be anywhere near…" She trailed off uncertainly.
Everyone winced in sympathy. "Heckuva lot better excuse than yours, Beth-chan," muttered Nanako.
"What?" said Beth. "But it's not—"
She was cut off as the school bell rang. With a sigh, she shook her head and stood up, trudging back inside. The others, with their own various groans of disappointment and sighs of resignation, collected their things and followed her.
Nanako hung back for a moment. As Beth and Iku walked on ahead, she glanced over to Eitoku and said, "You see? I told you it'd work."
Hideo crept out of the bushes after the two were out of sight. He was doing much better now; he was fairly sure that even Nanako hadn't spotted him today. He stood up straight, stretched, and began to brush the dead leaves and fragments of bark off his clothes as he, too, headed back in to class.
A moment later he stopped, seeing something lying in the grass where the four had been sitting. He picked it up. It was a sheet of paper, crumpled and dirty. He stared at it for a few seconds, uncomprehending, then stuffed it in his pocket and ran off.
Miyo lay in bed, listening to Miliko's regular breathing and trying to think. The last two days had been pure misery. Artemis wasn't talking to her. Dhiti seemed afraid to breathe when she was around, let alone talk. Her family acted as though she were made of glass—
That last frightened her. Her brothers seemed to think she was going mad, and now that she was aware of it, she could see how gingerly her parents were treating her, too. They acted as if they thought she was made of gelignite. Only Miliko still treated her normally; the twelve- year-old didn't really seem to understand what was going on. She could see that something was wrong, though, and it clearly worried her.
Everyone's worried about me, Miyo thought bitterly. How nice.
If she could just decide what to do…She sighed. They all had their ideas of what she ought to do. Relax and have fun. Be a normal sixteen-year-old. But none of them were in her shoes; none of them could possibly understand—
Well, perhaps Artemis could. He had the perspective.
What he lacked was the involvement. He hadn't been there when she and Rei had fought. He hadn't heard what they'd said to each other; he hadn't felt the betrayal and the rage. He hadn't bled. It didn't matter how good his intention were; he didn't—he couldn't—know what he was asking.
Can't you see she wants to end this? he'd said. And Rei had virtually admitted the same thing, earlier. Miyo had been tempted, so tempted. It would have been so easy to let it go, to finally let it end…
But no. Even today, even seven hundred years later, Rei hadn't changed. I still have the scars, if you don't, she'd said. Still the same old Rei, as sarcastic, as aggressive as ever. Under the blankets, Miyo's hand crept up to touch her side. There were no scars there, not any more. Did Rei think she was inferior, because she'd been reborn?
Are you going to tell me that you just want to let it drop?
For a moment there, she had wanted to. The thought of seeing an old friend, someone who could understand what she was going through, had been seductive. But then Rei had thrown it in her face. She clearly wasn't prepared to forget, even if Miyo was. That cynical question—and then her casual accusation: That's beside the point, isn't it? Oh so clever. Turning it around, casting the blame on her.
How could she make her peace with someone like that? With someone who only paid lip-service to wanting to end the breach?
I'm scared that she won't be sorry, she'd told Dhiti. That was only part of it, though. The truth was worse. The real truth was, she was afraid that if she tried to apologise, Rei might laugh at her.
And yet, there had been that look in Rei's eye.
I need to know if you can let it drop, she'd said. Seven hundred years is a long, long time. Alone. Miyo could almost believe that she'd seen sincerity in Rei's eyes in that moment. That she truly did want to let it end.
If she dared—if only Rei could be trusted—
Miliko's sleepy voice, from the other side of the room. "What?" Miyo answered softly.
"Can you stop sighing all the time? You're keeping me awake."
"Sorry," she said involuntarily. She heard Miliko mumble something, then turn over and resume her slow, steady breathing.
Quite suddenly, the absurdity of it struck her, and she found herself laughing silently. So much pain and heartache…and all it amounted to was that she was keeping her little sister awake. How Rei would laugh, if she only knew…
She stopped laughing as the implications sank in. All it amounted to…
Was that it? Could that be it? Could that be all?
"Sorry," she whispered again. And realised that she was crying.
Wasted. That was it. All those years of rage and hatred…and it was all in vain. Wasted. What good had any of it done? What had it accomplished?
No-one else had ever even known about it. They had argued and fought and bled, and still, seven hundred and thirty-seven years later, nobody but them cared! What was the point?
She remembered what Artemis had told her, a week before: The only person messing your life up…is you. Then and now, it was true. The more she fought Rei, the worse she hurt herself; but after so long, she was afraid to stop fighting…
She clutched her pillow, soaking it with her tears. If she dared…if only she dared—
Her last thought, before grey sleep finally claimed her, was of what she'd said to Dhiti on Monday: What if it's too late? And Dhiti had answered, What if it isn't?
What if it wasn't?
They came for her early on Thursday morning. Number Twelve was dozing fitfully in her tiny, windowless cell. She'd been locked there since Sunday, naked, with no food and little water. To lower the psychic defences, she supposed. This hadn't been necessary at her first initiation. She didn't like what that implied.
When the key clattered in the lock, she snapped open instantly. Sitting up made her head swim for a moment, but she was ready and waiting for them when the door swung open.
She did not try to fight or run. She knew how pointless it would be. Any such attempt would fail instantly: her legs would freeze, or suddenly go limp; the cloud would come down on her thoughts; and for a time she would not be herself at all, but only an extension of the Master.
That was what they were going to do to her again this morning. This time, though, it would be permanent.
She stood obediently when they took her by the shoulders. She stumbled a little as they led her down the corridor; she was light-headed with hunger. They helped her patiently.
She stole glances at them from the corners of her eyes. Numbers Two, Five and Seven. Always numbers. She knew their names, naturally, but within the Council they were always supposed to think of each other as numbers. Why was that? It made it harder to work with people, it depersonalised everyone…maybe that was the point. The Master didn't much care for personalities.
The floor under her bare feet was cold. The air on her naked skin made her shiver.
They took an elevator down to the basement. It was colder down here. The lights were spaced a little too far apart, so that the corridors became a bewildering, semi-dark maze. Twelve was shivering constantly. She kept tripping over obstacles that weren't there.
Down another interminable passage, and into a cramped changing room that was filled with racks of heavy clothing. Two, Three and Five dressed warmly, pulling on thick leather boots. They did not offer Twelve the chance to dress.
Finally they left the changing room and stepped into another room, small and empty. It was like stepping into a freezer. There were actual patches of ice on the walls. Twelve wrapped her arms around herself, shuddering and trying to keep her teeth from chattering.
At the rear of the room was a massive steel door, set in an otherwise blank wall. Its surface was coated with frost. The door, in some indefinable way, seemed to be the centre of the cold; it radiated a deep, bone-numbing frigidity.
The chairman stepped forward as they entered. He was dressed as warmly as the others accompanying Twelve. He nodded briefly when he saw her, but his expression never changed. As the group approached, he held one gloved hand up toward the door. It swung open ponderously, with a faint tinkling of ice crystals.
Beyond it lay a dark, narrow tunnel, perfectly round. Its walls had a curiously smooth, polished appearance, as if it had been melted out of the solid rock. It led sharply downward.
Twelve was trembling constantly, but not from the cold. Her legs did not want to support her. She felt like throwing up…if only she had anything to throw up.
She closed her eyes and drew a deep, shuddering breath. When she opened them again she saw the chairman watching her quizzically. She took another breath and said, as calmly as she could, "Let's get on with it…Fukuda-san."
His lips quirked in a half-smile. "As you wish…Araki-san."
Her momentary bravado vanished as soon as she stepped into the tunnel. The stone was so cold that it burned; she felt her toes clenching, uselessly, against the fierce pain. She gasped and tried to step back. But there were hands behind her, forcing her onward, and she had no choice but to continue. She gritted her teeth, clenched her fists, and took another step. And another.
She heard the chairman stepping into the tunnel behind her. Then the door boomed shut. Instantly all light was gone. She was alone with the darkness and the cold…and the man who had put her here.
The tunnel went down a long, long way. She'd been here once before, of course; but the last time, she'd been warmly dressed, and she hadn't been starving. This time, the journey seemed at least ten times as far. She knew she would remember it in her nightmares. If she ever had any nightmares again.
In this icy blackness, she could easily believe that she would have nothing but nightmares. Forever.
It was completely dark, and she had to feel her way. The air was dead, tasteless. The stone under her feet was smooth and slippery, and she fell repeatedly. Each time, she found it harder to rise; after four days without food, she tired rapidly. It was tempting to simply give up, to lie down and not move again. But that would not help, she knew. If she tried it, the Master would take control, moving her limbs for her; and whatever pain she was in now, that would be worse.
On, and on, and on, further than she would have believed possible. After a while the pain in her feet seemed to fade, leaving only a dead numbness. At last, the descent came to an end. She saw a faint glow, far ahead—and then rounded a sharp bend at the bottom and stepped out of the tunnel, into a cave far below the surface of Third Tokyo…and into the presence of the Master.
This was the very heart of the cold. This place seemed to draw in all energy, draining all heat, all life, leaving only a glacial emptiness. The air was painful to breathe. The cave was lit with a pale, dead, frigid glow, pulsing slowly as if to a monstrous heartbeat.
When she looked down at herself, she saw that the skin of her hands and feet were white with frostbite.
The chairman emerged from the tunnel behind her, took three steps forward, and bowed. Twelve followed suit a moment later. She felt the Master's contemptuous amusement rolling over her, like a wave of thick, cloying mist.
A command formed in her mind. Her eyes widened and she stepped back involuntarily, her lips shaping a soundless denial.
The command was repeated. There was no compulsion to it; it was only an order. But it would not be given a third time, she was warned silently. If she did not obey now, she would be given no option. And she would be punished.
A quick vision of the chairman's gloved hands swam in her mind.
Her head was swimming, her hands shaking with dread. The Master, the Master was everywhere, everything, suffocating her. She was weeping in horror and despair, but the tears froze almost instantly on her cheeks. She could not seem to breathe. Behind her, she heard the chairman turn and leave her to her fate.
She raised her hands and stepped forward, and the Master claimed her.
Two, Five and Seven waited patiently outside the door. Seven paced up and down, clapping his hands to keep the circulation going and occasionally complaining about the cold. Two and Five stood silently, never moving.
At last Seven stopped his pacing, blew out a breath in a cloud of mist, and said, "It's been three hours! How much longer is this going to take?"
There was no answer for a moment. Then Two sighed and said, "Stop complaining. You know how far down it is. They may not even have gotten to the bottom yet."
From his expression, Seven knew that perfectly well, but was not inclined to admit it. "What are we doing here, then?" he demanded. "She can't escape, we all know that. What good are we doing up here, freezing our a—our butts off?"
Two shrugged. "We're here because we were ordered to be. What else do you need to know?"
"Oh, don't go getting sanctimonious with me. All I want is to—"
He stopped suddenly as Five stirred. "We're here as a reception committee," she said quietly.
The two men stared at her. "Reception committee?" said Two. "For what?"
"As a precaution." She shrugged. "It seems that it's possible the Master might decide to try a very…traditional approach to the Senshi problem."
Seven glared at her. "What the hell does that mean?"
She repeated the shrug. "The chairman didn't say. But the Master hasn't been this awake in centuries, from what I hear. The Senshi are appearing again, after all this time. Once the last one of them shows her face—"
"When the last one shows her face," said a cold voice, "it will be time to finish what began seven hundred years ago."
They looked around sharply. Just in front of the steel door, there was a sudden stirring in the air, a rippling. A patch of space seemed to twist, distort…and then a human form shimmered into view. A woman stared down at them in haughty derision.
Number Twelve had changed.
She was floating a few centimetres off the floor, for one thing. She was clad in a deep blue bodysuit, with boots of a slightly darker shade of blue. There were silver bracers on her wrists, and a thin silver belt was clasped around her waist. The metal glittered unnaturally in the light that came from her forehead. Her forehead—
There was a crystal the size of a walnut, embedded in her forehead. It burned with an icy, pale light.
"Number Twelve?" whispered Two.
She rotated in mid-air, and stared down at him. Her eyes were cold and dead. "'Number Twelve'?" she said. "How prosaic. It might be more appropriate if you were to call me…Argentite."
Two swallowed with difficulty. "A—Argen—?" he said, stumbling.
She laughed contemptuously, a horrid, grating sound. "Perhaps not. 'Number Twelve' will do well enough, after all."
She made an impatient gesture. "When your chairman reaches the surface again, tell him that matters are in hand." With that, she blurred and vanished.
The three stared at each other for a few moments. At last, Seven gave a shaky laugh and said, "'Traditional approach.'"
Two shivered in a way that had nothing to do with the cold. "I don't know if the Senshi are in trouble…or if we are," he said.
Five bit her lip. "I think," she said slowly, "both."
Miyo walked slowly toward the Olympus. There were butterflies in her stomach; she felt sick with anticipation. She had been dreading this moment, and at the same time, longing for it. Would she be welcomed, or rejected?
However this meeting went, she thought, when it was over, in a way, she would be free.
Just getting this far had been difficult. Everyone kept watching her all the time, and it had been hard to slip out, get away from her family. Who'd have thought a concerned family could be such a nuisance? Artemis would have been a big help, but she hadn't seen him for a day or so now. Well, sooner or later he'd show up. She hoped.
(She remembered when Artemis had asked her: Do you trust me? And, shame-faced, she'd answered, No. Now the boot was on the other foot. It was so funny, she could cry.)
She stood in the street, looking up. The Olympus building towered over her. She eyed the letters cut into the stone over the main entrance, and wondered vaguely why Rei had picked that name. Or had someone else built it…?
She was waffling, she finally realised. Trying to delay the moment. Clenching her fists, she turned sharply and stalked down into the car park.
On the second level down, she stopped outside a plain, unmarked door in the rear wall. There was a combination, she remembered, looking at the keypad beside the door. Artemis had given it to her when she'd been here before, but she couldn't remember—
Wait. She closed her eyes for a moment, and let her thoughts grow still. Her hand rested lightly on the keypad, unmoving.
(As she lies on her bed, the white cat stares at her and says, Miyo-san, just lie back, and relax. Relax…and remember.) (And they pause outside the door in the car park, and the cat recites numbers and she punches them in, wondering what she's doing here.) (And she's standing outside her house in the early morning, and he says, How well do you remember?) (And, Really? You remember everything?) (And she stares into his eyes, and they seem to grow, swallowing up the world.) (And Relax…and remember) (and he recites numbers) (and relax…)
Her hand moved quickly, pressing the keys.
The door clicked, and she pulled it open. Inside, in the stairwell, she rubbed her head, which was beginning to ache. That had been…harder than she'd expected. Artemis had opened a door in her mind that day, and it had never fully closed again; but trying to control it consciously was obviously going to take practice.
Shaking her head to clear it, she started up the stairs. Three steps up, the reason she was here suddenly came back to her and she stopped dead. She didn't want to do this; she wanted to turn, run…
She shook her head again, sharply. No. No more running. No more stalling. Time to put an end to it.
Time to face the music.
"Captain?" said Mitsukai. "There's something happening inside. I think…it might be a burglar."
"Oh?" said Hiiro, raising his eyebrows. "This could be interesting."
Itsuko yawned and stretched, and finished towelling her hair dry. Her last class of the day had been a bitch. She'd slept poorly the night before, and today her timing was slightly off and that had thrown the whole class off too. It had been a chaotic mess. Some of them seemed to enjoy the confusion—the younger ones, anyway—but even so, it was a bad precedent to set.
It wasn't as though she had to teach classes. The Olympus was turning a reasonably healthy profit, and she could have sat back and relaxed if she'd wanted, letting the instructors she hired take care of it all. And, she thought sourly, gone as crazy as a loon within two months, with nothing to do.
Running a gymnasium wasn't a bad life. It was quite satisfying, mostly. But it sure wasn't what she'd had in mind for her life, way back when.
The thought of 'way back when' brought Makoto—no, Miyo—back to her mind, killing her momentary good humour. Miyo, and the reason Itsuko had slept poorly last night. The last several nights, actually.
Artemis had been back twice since he'd brought Miyo to see her. He'd apologised both times, but Itsuko hadn't had the heart to blame him anyway. From what he'd told her, Miyo had been in a pretty bad way that night. It didn't sound like she was doing any better now, either. If only she'd stayed and listened, just a few seconds longer…if only the commset hadn't gone off…
Miyo had good reason to be upset, Itsuko thought morosely. I wanted to apologise to her—and a fine mess I made of it! There had, after all, been some truth in the accusation Miyo threw at her. Old habits died hard.
What a pair of screw-ups we are! I've gotten too cynical…and she can't trust anyone any more…
She finished dressing and walked slowly out of the changing room. It was after seven in the evening. She thought about heading back upstairs to eat in her rooms, but the idea of another evening up there alone was unbearable. She didn't want to eat in a restaurant, surrounded by strangers. That left—
Well, that didn't leave too many alternatives at all, really.
She had been alone for most of the last seven hundred years. Always moving around, taking identity after identity. Never daring to settle down for long, for fear that people would notice that she didn't age. Never daring let anyone get too close, for fear that they'd discover the other great secret she carried…
The only one she'd been able to confide in, in all those years, was Artemis; and even that was difficult. They didn't really see eye-to-eye, and until recently he seldom visited.
There'd been times when she'd thought about ending it all. Not many, but a few. But there was always the chance that, somehow, the Senshi would be reborn yet again. She held on for that. And even when, as the centuries rolled past, she finally gave up hope, there was still duty. The evil was still out there, somewhere. If it stirred again, someone had to be there to fight it.
Now, of course, it was stirring again with a vengeance, and the Senshi had been reborn after all. So why did she feel worse than ever before?
She groaned, walked to the stairs, and started up them slowly. There was still one, faint chance of reconciliation. Something she hadn't dared to try yet, because if it didn't work, the last hope for the two of them was gone. She could still give Miyo a comm call and plead with her, beg her to listen. She dreaded the idea, but if that was what it took—if that was the only way left to get through—
As she opened her apartment door, she stopped suddenly.
The lights were on. There was music playing. And the air was thick with a wonderful odour. Cooking smells…?
As she watched, dumbfounded, Miyo poked her head out of the kitchen and said, "Hi! I thought you'd never get back. Come on in, the dinner's nearly ready."
Surprising them both, Itsuko burst into tears.
"Hmm," said Hiiro, amused. "Well, I don't think that sounds like a burglar." He removed his earplug. "All right, false alarm. Stand down, Mitsukai."
"Bendis!" exclaimed Beth. "You're back! Where've you been? I haven't seen you since Monday!"
Bendis jumped in through the window. Her fur was dirty and bedraggled, and she looked tired. "Looking for that girl," she said. "I told you."
"What girl?" Then Beth remembered. "Oh! You mean…" Her eyes widened. "Did you find her? Is she a Senshi?"
"Yes," said Bendis wearily, "I found her…eventually. At least this time I knew which face I was looking for."
"Never mind. I don't know if she's a Senshi yet, but I found out where she lives. I'll be able to check her tomorrow." Beth opened her mouth to ask another question, but Bendis wasn't finished. "In the meantime, there's something more important to take care of," she said. "Do you have anything to eat…?"
Miyo and Rei ate slowly, sneaking quick looks at each other. After the initial catharsis, neither of them seemed to be able to think of anything to say. But it didn't matter, for now. The tension, the urgency, was gone.
Once, Rei excused herself, a stricken look on her face, and hurried out. Miyo stared after her, concerned that something was wrong; but Rei came back a minute or two later, a small control pad in her hand. She manipulated it for a few seconds, holding a finger to her lips, then laid it down on the table with a sigh of relief.
"What is it?" Miyo asked dubiously.
"It's a—well, a safety policy." Rei shook her head. "Don't worry. I'll tell you later." She resumed eating, looking unconcerned. After a few moments, Miyo followed suit.
Afterward, they carried mugs of coffee through into the living room. They sat, and exchanged nervous smiles. And then, finally, it was time to talk.
"On Saturday I asked you, how've you been?" said Rei quietly.
Miyo took a deep breath. "I've been—" She stopped, staring down at the floor. "Well, to tell the truth, I've been pretty shitty, for the last week," she said.
Rei laughed mirthlessly. "Same here," she said.
"I—" Miyo struggled to find the words she wanted. "Why?" she asked at last. "After all that time, why did you have to bring it up again?"
Rei did not answer at once. "Because I was afraid," she said slowly. She looked Miyo in the eyes. "Seven hundred years," she said. "Seven hundred and—what? twenty-two years. It's a long time to carry a grudge." She looked away again, and took a careful sip of her coffee. "After a hundred years or so, I would have given anything to have seen an old friend again. Eventually, I realised that I'd have given anything to see you, too. I think that's when I found out that…none of it mattered to me any more.
"And then you came back. And I was so afraid…"
Miyo stared at her uncertainly. This was a side of Rei that she'd seldom seen: a Rei totally open; the Rei under the shell, as it were. Not wanting to break the mood, she said quietly, "Afraid? You?"
"Me." Rei gave her a crooked smile. "When Artemis told me he'd awakened your memories…all I could think was, She's going to remember it all, we're going to start fighting again, and I just want my friend back…"
She took a deep breath. "And then Artemis brought you up here, and took me by surprise. And I needed to know if you could…let it go, but it all came out wrong and…and oh damn, I didn't want to start crying again—"
Miyo hesitated for one moment longer. Then she got up and went to sit by Rei, and took her in her arms. They clung to each other for some time, until Rei finally stopped shuddering.
All this time, Miyo thought bitterly, as she held her friend. All this time, and I never thought that she might be hurting as much as I was. Her own cheeks were wet with tears.
At last she said quietly, "Can we…forget it all, do you think? Let it go, pretend it never happened?"
"I don't think so," Rei answered. "I'd like to, but…I don't think that's possible." Miyo sighed, but before she could speak Rei went on, "Maybe the best we can do is…is to say, we both made mistakes. But that doesn't mean it all has to end. Maybe we can…go on anyway."
"I'd like that," Miyo replied gently.
Rei pulled away from her. "In that case," she said…and there was a definite glint in her eye…"supposing I give you a hand with the dishes?"
Miyo almost agreed without thinking. But—"Excuse me?" she said, a challenge in her voice. "Who's going to help who with the dishes?"
"Didn't you tell me, a couple of thousand years ago, that the cook always does the dishes?" asked Rei innocently.
"Oh? I could have sworn that—"
They stared at each other. The moment was deceptive; it was so much like old times, so familiar and comfortable, that it would have been easy to let it slide, to fall into the well-remembered patterns. And yet, here and now, just as they were edging back over the brink—
And then, finally, Rei laughed. "All right. You help me, then. Come on, let's get this over with…"
And Miyo let herself relax, and followed her into the kitchen. Maybe, just maybe, this could work after all.
And later, they sat back with fresh refills of coffee, and talked about everything under the sun. About what it was like, running a gymnasium of all things. (Rei laughed). About being back at school again, after all this time. About shoes, and ships, and sealing-wax, and cabbages and Kings…
"After the Fall?" said Rei at one point. She made a face. "That was a bad time. You're lucky to have missed it."
"No, really," Miyo prompted.
"Oh." Rei shifted uncomfortably in her seat. "It was, well…you must have gotten an idea in history classes. The whole world was falling to pieces. Everybody was starving, nobody knew how to do anything any more, and I wasn't much better off. I was hurt, and…" She shivered. "I headed for the evacuation camps, but I never managed to find them. Later on I heard they'd been overrun just after the Fall anyway. There were a lot of hungry people around…
"Eventually I found a farm where they took me in, looked after me until I was on my feet again. They were having a hard time running it, but I did remember a few things—enough to keep them all alive for a while. They never asked if I was…you know, me…but I think they knew.
"Then, after a couple of years, they were attacked by raiders, and tried to defend themselves, and all of them got killed, and I had to run." Shaking her head, she said, "It was like that for a long time. Decades. Eventually things settled down a little, but it was just, you know…look, I'd really rather not talk about it. Not tonight."
"Why didn't you use your powers to help them?" asked Miyo softly.
"My powers?" Rei stared at her for a long time. At last she said, "Come with me. I'll show you."
She led Miyo through into her office, and carefully pulled the curtains shut. Then she opened her desk drawer and took out a small object. Tossing it to Miyo, she said, with an odd smile, "Recognise it?"
"It's your henshin wand," said Miyo, puzzled.
"Normally I keep it…well, hidden away in a safe place. But I saw myself holding it in a dream, last week, so I got it out again. Toss it back here."
Miyo obeyed, and Rei stared down at it for a few seconds. Then, taking a deep breath, she held it up in a familiar gesture and shouted, "MARS CRYSTAL POWER, MAKE-UP!"
"Rei—" began Miyo, shocked.
Rei's face was pale, and her hand was trembling. "It's been three hundred years since I dared to try that," she said in a voice that was little more than a whisper. "I didn't think it would…" She trailed off. "No. Never mind that. But I'm not Sailor Mars any more, Makoto…Miyo. I'm sorry."
"Rei-chan, what happened?"
"Not Rei," the other whispered. Then, louder: "Not that either." She looked up at Miyo sharply. A little colour was coming back into her face, though she still looked pale and shaken. "Do you understand? I'm not…what I was. I'm not Sailor Mars. And I'm not Hino Rei, either. My name is Itsuko now. Pappadopoulos Itsuko."
Patiently Miyo repeated, "What happened?"
Itsuko shook her head wearily. She looked old, in that moment; old and tired. "I don't know; I never…When I woke up, after it was all over, I found I was back in my—" she made a face "—civilian form. And I just couldn't change any more. I found my henshin wand nearby, but I couldn't use it. None of my earlier transformations worked. I even tried changing without the wand—you remember what a bitch that is—and I couldn't do that either. It just didn't…" She shrugged. "When Serenity died, maybe my power died with her. I don't know."
"I'm so sorry," Miyo said softly. "I never dreamed…" Hesitantly she added, "Does it…hurt?"
"Hurt?" Itsuko repeated. "To be cut off from the power? To be a…a pitiful shadow of what I was?" Her voice was rising. "To know that there are people that need my help, and I can't give it any more? To know that now, especially, you need Sailor Mars back, and I can't do it?" She almost spat the words out. "Hell yes, it hurts!"
Miyo recoiled from the rage and the pain in her voice. Itsuko spun on her heel and stalked over to her desk, where she slammed her henshin wand back into the drawer. After a moment, in a tight, controlled voice, she said, "I'm sorry. This isn't turning out to be much of a reunion after all."
"Any reunion is better than what we had before," Miyo said firmly. "Rei…no, wait. Itsuko. Are you sure it's permanent? If there's anything I can do—or Artemis may have some idea—"
"I talked to Artemis about it, five hundred years ago," Itsuko said with a sigh. "He thinks I just…burnt myself out, in that last battle. It's happened before, apparently, in the Silver Millennium."
Miyo raised her eyebrows. "Oh, yes. I'd forgotten about that. Sailor Neptune, the third one back before Michiru. She—" She closed her mouth suddenly, remembering that that Sailor Neptune had committed suicide. Not the most tactful thing to say, not now.
Especially considering what had happened to Michiru herself.
Itsuko didn't seem to notice, fortunately. She simply looked glad of the change in subject. "That's right. You remember all about the Silver Millennium, don't you? Artemis said." She managed a faint grin. "So, what was it like? What am I missing?"
"Save your envy," Miyo advised her dryly. "It's just confusing. It was all so…different, then. Beautiful, wonderful, yes, but not like Crystal Tokyo. It's hard to relate that life to now. It just gets in the way…" She blinked. "In some ways, it's actually better now. Did you know that this is the first life when I've actually had a family? Both times before, I lost my parents. The first time around, I was only seven."
Itsuko made a face. "Seven? What an age to lose your folks."
"Well…yeah. But I didn't mean it like that. It's just, I think I'm actually better off, this life, than I've ever been. For a while there, after my memories came back, I didn't see that. But now I've had a chance to…you know, let things settle down…I really think I'm better off." She rolled her eyes suddenly. "Even if I do have to go back to school, and be a kid again. I can handle that. And…well, even if my family do think I've gone nuts."
Itsuko raised her eyebrows, and Miyo flushed. "Um…well, you know. With three sets of memories, it's kind of hard sometimes to—are you laughing at me?"
"Perish the thought," said Itsuko hastily, her face suspiciously stiff. "Let me guess. You've been acting strangely, and saying all sorts of incomprehensible things in front of them—"
"You don't have to put it like that—"
"—and it probably doesn't help that you disappear at odd hours, to go and fight as Sailor Jupiter, right?"
"No, I've been okay there, actually—" Miyo sighed. "You're right, though. That's going to be a problem, sooner or later. And then, this last week, things have been kind of rough, and my brothers caught me talking to Artemis, and I was kind of upset, and…"
Itsuko nodded slowly. "If there's anything I can do…?" she offered.
Miyo smiled. "Actually, I think I'm going to be all right on that count…now," she said. After a moment, Itsuko smiled back.
And later yet:
"Why did you pick Papa—Padapo—Pappado—whatever it is?" asked Miyo, with some difficulty.
"Pappadopoulos," Itsuko said easily, with a grin. "'Cause it's such fun to hear you trying to say it, why else?"
"Really? Oh, well…I can hardly go using my real name, of course. Have you seen that awful viddy program? Just imagine what it'd be like if everyone knew who I was. I'd never have another moment's privacy, I'd be buried alive in…" Itsuko blinked. "Mind you, it might be really good for business—"
"No, no. Itsuko, remember? Dangerous to get that wrong. Well…I've had a lot of identities, over the years. Usually I try to pick something a little oddball. If people think I'm weird to start with, it covers up a lot of mistakes I could make. Being half-Greek is handy, since none of the Hellenic enclaves survived. And I learned a bit of the language, a long time back. It's like a false nose."
Miyo was not quite sure she'd heard correctly. "A false nose?" she said cautiously.
"Yeah. You know—if you want to disguise your face, you wear a big false nose. Or something like that. Everybody's too busy looking at your nose to see the rest of your face at all." Itsuko blinked at her. "Right?"
"So…everyone's too busy thinking you're weird because you're Greek, to notice that you're weird in other ways too?" Itsuko nodded. "That has got to be the silliest idea—"
"But it works! Really! Maybe I'll try being German next time; I think I could fake that—" Itsuko broke off, shaking her head. "What can I say? It's a pain in the ass. Every twenty years or so, I pretend to die, then go off and start again as someone else. It's getting difficult, creating a new identity, but I have some contacts—people I've done favours for, over the years. It's…" She shrugged. "It's how I live."
"How long have you been here, then?" asked Miyo, suddenly concerned.
"I'm about due for a change, actually. The last few lifetimes, I've been trying to hold onto this building, which makes it harder, but…I figure I'll go on holiday and have an accident. Something like that. My niece, who lives overseas, will inherit. In a few years, enough to blur people's memories of me, she'll come back and move in. She'll look a little different from me—maybe I'll let my hair grow again—and she'll talk differently. I'll have to shut down the gymnasium first, of course—that's a shame, but there's too much chance people might recognise me. And then…"
She sighed. "Who am I kidding? That's what I'd been planning to do. But I can't move on, not now. Not with this new Senshi crisis coming on. I may not be Sailor Mars any more, but I think I can help a little. I hope. And anyway, it's…" She hesitated. "It's dangerous to attract attention, at the moment."
Miyo sat up a little straighter, her eyes narrowing. "Dangerous? What do you mean?" Something made her add, "Is this anything to do with that 'safety policy' gadget you had before?"
"In a way. Yes." Itsuko stood up and walked over to the curtained windows. "About two weeks ago, Artemis was here. We think somebody saw him…and recognised him." She turned, and saw the expression on Miyo's face. "Yes. This place is under surveillance. I don't know who it is. You probably saw on the news, there were some odd anti-Senshi feelings out there for a while? Well, the majority opinion seems to be pretty positive at the moment, especially since that fire, but I'd be surprised if all that distrust has just vanished. There are a lot of whackos in the world. I sent Artemis away, and he's been very careful when he comes back—"
"So that's why he made me come in by the car-park entrance."
"But—I mean, have you thought that they might have…" Miyo trailed off, fumbling for words.
"Bugged me?" Itsuko smiled at Miyo's dismay. "Oh, yes. The suite is bugged, all right. The rest of the building probably is, too. That's what my 'safety policy' is for. It sends a false signal—blocks the bugs, substitutes an innocuous conversation for whatever is actually happening. Don't worry, it's safe to talk."
"Safe?" demanded Miyo. "How can you call it 'safe'? How can you just stay here, knowing somebody's watching you—"
"Calm down. In the first place, they're not watching me…I hope. They're watching for Artemis, and if he stays away, sooner or later they'll quit watching. Or ease off enough for me to get out, anyway. That's the second point: the worst thing I can do is to panic. That really would attract attention, and attention is the last thing I can afford."
"Damn." Miyo shook her head. "I wouldn't like to be in your shoes."
Itsuko snorted. "Well, I'm not exactly happy about it, either. And I do have one or two ideas about dealing with it, but there's nothing I can do right now. The important thing is that as long as I stay calm and act normally, I'm probably safe."
Miyo wrapped her arms around herself, shivering unconsciously. "I'd been thinking…well, hoping…that maybe we could meet here. You know, me and…the others. You could sit in, too, of course. But now, well…" She smiled feebly. "I guess not, huh?"
Itsuko raised her eyebrows. "Actually, that could still work, you know." Miyo started to protest, but she went on, "Think about it. The Olympus is a natural meeting place for teenagers. A couple of the smaller rooms at the back get used in the evening by local clubs right now. Nobody'd look twice at a new group that started coming in."
"You think so?" Miyo started to look hopeful.
"Sure. I mean, you wouldn't be able to have training sessions here; that'd be asking for trouble. But if you want somewhere where you can get together and talk things over, that's no problem." Cocking her head to one side she added, "You'll need some kind of cover, though. Right now people could be a little too interested in a group of girls who're total strangers but suddenly start meeting together." Then she grinned. "I do have a few schemes in mind—"
"You sound just like Minako," said Miyo, a little nervously.
"Mako-chan! That's a horrible thing to say!" They both laughed. "All the same," Itsuko went on, "what do you think?"
"Well—" Miyo shrugged. "I'll check with Artemis, see what he says." She shot a look at Itsuko. "Um, does this mean I can tell Dhiti-chan who you are?"
Itsuko hesitated, her eyebrows raised. "Let me think about that, okay?" she said at last.
Miyo did not try to hide her disappointment. "Okay," she said reluctantly. She added, "There's probably not much point just yet, anyway. Not with only two Senshi."
"Two?" asked Itsuko, frowning. "Don't you mean three?"
"Eh? No, I—oh. You mean Sailor Venus. But we still don't know who she is."
Itsuko laughed. "Tell Artemis to get a move on, then. The sooner he tracks Bendis down, the better."
"What? Tracks her down?"
"Hasn't he told you yet? Typical. He and Bendis…well, no. I wouldn't want to spoil his story." She laughed again.
"Oh, come on, you can't just drop hints like that! Please!" Miyo folded her arms sulkily. "You're just like him, you know—always picking on me…" But at that point, she could no longer keep the glare up, and had to start laughing herself. "Oh, it's so good to be able to talk to you again," she said with a sigh.
Itsuko raised her eyebrows. "Likewise," she said. "Though it does have its downside, too. For example…have you noticed what time it is?"
Miyo glanced at her watch and yelped.
"And it's a school day tomorrow, too," said Itsuko mock-sympathetically.
"AUGH! MY PARENTS ARE GOING TO KILL ME!" Miyo suddenly became a whirlwind of activity, frantically gathering up everything she'd brought with her, and trying to find where she'd hung her jacket when she came in. Itsuko sat back and watched her, enjoying the impromptu Usagi imitation. After an amazingly brief time, Miyo sprinted out the door, with a hastily muttered "Bye!"
A silence fell in the suite. Shaking her head in amusement, Itsuko started to clear up the coffee mugs and plates of snacks they'd gone through during the evening. There was a sudden knock on the door and she looked up, startled.
Miyo poked her head back through the door. "Um…" she said hesitantly. "You mind if…well, I mean, could I…well, would you mind if I came back, you know, tomorrow or something?"
Itsuko smiled. "Kino Makoto, you are welcome here any time. Day or night. You should know that."
Miyo's face split into a broad grin. "Yeah…yeah! Thanks!"
The door slammed and she was gone.
Bendis prowled through the streets, following a tall, slim girl. It was early Friday evening, and her prey was out of school uniform. Her clothes looked expensive, though she seemed to have a taste for dark, gloomy colours.
She was definitely a Senshi. Bendis had finally managed to touch her for long enough to be sure.
The question, as it had been with Beth, was which Senshi she was. Bendis was pondering ways and means of finding out. She had, regretfully, abandoned her idea of using the same tactics she'd tried before. Beth's cautions about pianos notwithstanding, she was sure that the idea was basically sound; but she had an uneasy feeling that the girl might not see it the same way.
There had to be a better way of doing this, she thought irritably. Why couldn't she have waited a few months before getting into that argument with Artemis? There was so much he'd never taught her…
The girl turned a corner, and Bendis hurried a little to keep her in sight. She was keeping her distance, trying not to be noticed, but it did make it harder to keep an eye on the girl. Where on earth was she going, anyway? The streets were getting crowded, it was becoming awkward to dodge feet.
Suzue, she thought. Have to remember that. Itagaki Suzue. At least she finally knew her name.
The girl slowed a little, and Bendis finally saw where she was heading. A movie theatre, covered with big, gaudy posters. She stifled a groan. This is going to be awkward, she thought, as Suzue stepped inside.
"I don't know about this," said Dhiti, looking up at the posters dubiously. "It doesn't look that good."
"Oh, come on," said Kin impatiently. "The first two in the series were terrific! Anyway, just a couple of weeks ago you were talking about how much you wanted to see it!"
"Yeah, what's up, Dhiti-chan?" said Miyo, grinning at her. "I'd have thought you'd enjoy a movie with so much ice in it."
"Stick it up your nose, Hayashi," Dhiti grouched. She studied the posters for 'Icewalker III' again, and tried to hide her misgivings. It wasn't that the animation didn't look good. It was just that…
"At least you look a bit more cheerful today," she said, not wanting to complete the thought.
Miyo smiled. "I got some good advice from a friend, and I took it," she said, throwing a quick glance down at Dhiti.
"Oh, it was nothing," said Kin modestly, polishing her nails on her blouse. "Any friend would have done the same."
"You?" said Miyo, startled. "What are you talking about? You told me to pull the sock out of my ass!"
"Hey, that was good advice! The way you were acting—"
"Good advice? That's the sort of advice I'd expect from my worst en—" Miyo stopped suddenly, and looked thoughtful. "Actually," she said slowly, "come to think of it, maybe that was good advice."
"You see? No-one ever listens to me till it's too late," said Kin mournfully. Then she stole a sly glance at Miyo. "Mind you, in your case it was probably more like a pair of socks…"
Miyo giggled. "More like a dozen pairs," she snickered.
Dhiti winced, and put her hands over her ears. "I don't want to hear this," she said loudly. "I am not listening to this…"
"Hmm." Kin looked up at her sidelong. "And I wonder just what you've got stuck up there today?"
"Look, let's just get the tickets, all right?" said Dhiti hastily. She hurried toward the ticket stand, and the other two followed her, still giggling.
As she stood in line, Dhiti wondered what was the matter with her today. Normally she'd have been the one making the off-colour suggestions, and Miyo would have been pretending to be outraged. But then, Miyo had been acting bubbly all day; it was clear that, whatever had been bothering her (and she still wouldn't say what that was), it had finally been resolved. So, if one of her best friends was happy again, why was Dhiti feeling out of sorts?
She scowled, feeling like a fraud. The truth was, she knew perfectly well what was wrong with her today. She'd been feeling depressed ever since Kin arrived. Kin, and her news that Liam had asked her out on a date.
It wasn't fair. Dhiti had said that once before, but suddenly it was starting to seem real. Kin and Liam were clearly interested in each other, and she was fairly sure that Mark and Miyo liked each other too, even if they were both a little too weird to have admitted it yet (and the idea of Mark dating someone who was, in a sense, thousands of years old was pretty weird in itself)…and that left poor old Dhiti all on her own, and wasn't that a sucky feeling.
And then those damn posters had to show Icewalker with his arms around Tsurara, the woman of the Ice Folk, in a classic pose. Just to rub it in, as it were.
It wouldn't be so bad, she thought glumly as the three trooped into the theatre, if she at least had any prospects. But she'd never really met a boy she'd been interested in. There'd been a few sniffing around her, from time to time, but none of them could keep up with her. She was, it seemed, as slippery as ice.
"Come on, Dhiti-chan," said Miyo as they squeezed past a boy and girl holding hands to get to their seats. "It can't be that bad."
"Can't it?" said Dhiti, looking down at the couple. "If you say so."
Rather to her surprise, the girl she was stepping past looked up at her and said, "Excuse me, but did she say your name is Dhiti?"
"Excuse me," Nanako said to the dark-skinned girl who was treading on her toes, "but did she say your name is Dhiti?"
The girl looked down at her, clearly taken aback. "Yes," she said after a moment. "Why?"
"Oh, nothing," said Nanako easily. "Sorry. I thought I recognised you for a moment."
The girl, Dhiti, stared down at her for a second longer, as if she were crazy, then shrugged and moved on down the row.
"What was that all about?" asked Eitoku.
Nanako hesitated. "Oh…just someone I didn't expect to be meeting here," she said finally. She squeezed his hand, and felt him squeeze back. "Hush, now. The movie's starting."
Bendis crouched under an unoccupied seat, and tried to keep one eye on Suzue and one eye on Icewalker. It wasn't easy; she kept getting distracted by the action onscreen. She wondered if she should try to call Beth somehow, then remembered that Beth was out with her mother tonight.
Well, it probably didn't matter. She'd just sit here and enjoy the movie, and worry about Suzue afterward.
It was a pretty good movie, Suzue thought. She watched as Icewalker and his little band of allies from the Ice Folk mounted their assault on the Frost Fortress. Unbeknownst to them, Icewalker's true love Tsurara had broken into the fortress by night, disguised as a man, to confront the evil wizard, Shimo, who'd killed her parents. But Shimo had taken her younger brother Hyoga hostage, and she was forced to throw down her weapons or see him die. At the critical moment, Icewalker burst into the throne-hall, and while Tsurara rescued her brother, he engaged Shimo in furious battle. They launched massive attacks at each other: Icewalker hurling his trademark fiery bolts at Shimo, who responded with whirling clouds of energy-sapping ice crystals, and frigid bombshells that burst into hails of razor-sharp ice shrapnel. In no time at all, the Fortress was crumbling into ruin from the force of their battle, shattered by massive explosions—
A real massive explosion went off, right inside the theatre.
For a few confused seconds Suzue could not see, blinded by smoke and dust. Then she managed to make out the screen again. There was an enormous hole in it. Standing in the hole was a—
Some kind of…of creature. Vaguely manlike, but immensely tall and thick, its body all angles and planes. Light from the movie projector reflected off its skin, making it glitter with a madly-dancing rainbow of colours. Or was that skin? It gleamed; it looked as though it were made of ice.
How appropriate, she thought vaguely.
Then the creature moved: swiftly and surely, with none of the awkwardness she would have expected. It leaped forward toward the movie-goers. Most of them just sat and watched, stunned. This couldn't be a publicity stunt, could it?
It raised an arm, and brought it down on the first row of seats. Fortunately, nobody was sitting there. A fraction of a second later, the seats weren't there either. There was an indescribable shattering sound, and the air was filled with splinters and flying pieces of wreckage. Suzue heard somebody scream in pain.
The monster threw its head back and let out a roar: a deep, resonant bellow, thoroughly chilling. Finally, panic began to set in. People began to stand up, shout. Then, in one frenzied rush, the whole audience seemed to make a single, mass dash for the doors. There were more screams as people were crushed or trampled underfoot.
Suzue sat tight. Partly it was because she was waiting for the crowd around the doors to clear. Partly it was because her legs didn't seem to want to support her. She felt…strange. Faint. She hunched herself back, trying to avoid the monster's attention.
She wondered why she did not feel afraid. The fear was there, yes, but it was as it it were sealed away. She was trembling, but not because she was afraid. She felt an urge to…to do something, but she had no idea what.
The creature smashed more seats, then stood still for a moment, moving its head back and forth. As if looking for something, she thought. Something, or someone? Then, to her horror, it stooped down, picked up an armful of wreckage, and threw it with terrific force.
The crowd was thinning, but there were still a lot of people clustered around the doors, trying frantically to get out. The wreckage smashed into them. Suzue was fairly sure that she saw blood splash. She heard screams of agony, and several people fell. Apparently encouraged, the monster roared again.
As it made its way further down into the theatre, still blasting out its challenge, she poked her head around the corner of a seat to get a better look.
That was a mistake.
The movement must have caught its attention. It swung in her direction. She squirmed backward, horrified, but it had clearly seen her. She almost thought she saw a gleam in its eyes—but that, surely, was hyperbole. Surely?
It stepped toward her, and raised one enormous fist. She scrambled back again, retreating seat by seat down the row, never daring take her eyes off the thing. Step by step, seat by seat, it followed her. Then she felt the wall at her back.
Nowhere to turn, nowhere to run. No way out. She was going to die.
She felt a sudden burning sensation on her forehead.
And at that moment, a voice rang out across the theatre.
"I am Sailor Jupiter! Movie theatres should be places of innocent entertainment, not bloodthirsty butchery!"
"I am Sailor Mercury! Er, what she said! We are the Sailor Senshi, and on behalf of the planet Mercury—"
"—And the planet Jupiter—"
"We'll punish you!" they chorused.
Mercury stole a glance at Jupiter out of the corner of her eye. "I am so embarrassed," she muttered.
"Can it," murmured back Jupiter. She raised her arms and shouted, "SUPREME THUNDER!" And with a roar of energy, the bolt lashed out and caught the vitrimorph squarely in the chest. It bellowed in what might have been pain, and reeled back.
"It's glowing again," said Mercury. "Why do they do that?"
"Maybe you should scan it and check?"
"Umm, not right now," gasped Mercury, leaping frantically to avoid an armful of rubble hurled at her at what looked like supersonic speed. She took aim and shouted, "ICE SPEAR!"
The vitrimorph dodged her shot with uncanny quickness. Then, to her shock, it took aim at her and let out a roar that almost sounded like it had words in it. And a bolt of pale-yellow energy leaped out from its hand, straight back at her.
She ducked, barely evading the shot. As it passed her, missing her arm by no more than a centimetre, she felt its blazing heat. "I think we're in trouble," she gasped.
"No kidding," grunted Jupiter, dodging another bolt. They dived behind a row of seats and wormed their way along frantically. "Did you notice, though?" Jupiter added in a low voice. "It looks more vulnerable than the last one. It's dodging more, and my lightning seemed to hurt it."
"Uh…right." Mercury hadn't noticed. "Hit it from two sides at once, then?" she suggested.
"You got it. Let's go!"
Bendis followed the vitrimorph down the row of the seats, keeping to the shadows, as it advanced toward Suzue. She was burning to help somehow, she was pretty sure that she could distract the creature before it got to the girl…and yet, the girl herself would be more help than anything, if only she could take her Senshi form. If she only waited a second longer…
There. The vitrimorph raised its arm to strike…and a symbol burned on Suzue's forehead. The symbol of the planet—
Bendis blinked. She certainly hadn't been expecting that.
Never mind. Now, at last, she knew; finally, she could act. She gathered herself to spring. She would hit the creature on the shoulder, distract it, make it turn away, give the girl a chance to escape while it went after her instead. Piece of cake, she thought smugly, carefully ignoring the rather strong possibility that she'd be seriously hurt herself.
And at that moment, a voice rang out through the theatre. She looked around, startled. Sailor Jupiter announcing herself, followed a moment later by Sailor Mercury. How had they gotten here so quickly? Never mind. They were throwing their attacks; the vitrimorph was moving away, distracted; now was her chance to act—
She looked back to where Suzue lay, her planet symbol still bright on her forehead. But there was someone else there too. And Bendis screamed in outrage.
"Noooo! Not now!"
Artemis found a sunny spot outside the theatre to doze in while the girls went inside. He'd been following Miyo, staying out of sight, since her outburst on Saturday. Just in case, he told himself firmly. He'd seen that she had made things up with Itsuko, and was glad, but all the same…he didn't really feel that he wanted to talk to her again, not just yet. Cats had feelings, too.
When he heard the explosion, though, and the screams that followed it, he forgot his anger immediately. There was trouble, and that, in the end, was all there was to it. Miyo might know what she was doing, but Dhiti was still pretty green…and the hell with pride. He streaked into the theatre.
It took him a little time to get inside without being trampled by the rush of escaping people. By the time he made it, Miyo and Dhiti had already gotten out, changed, and were heading back in. He followed behind them, watched as they began their attack on the vitrimorph.
When Mercury suggested they split up and hit it from opposite sides, he started to call out a suggestion of his own. Then, suddenly, he froze. There was something else in the theatre—a strange feeling, almost familiar somehow.
Finally, he recognised it. Another Senshi? Here?
He ran down the aisle, looking right and left. At last, near the front, he saw her. A girl lying against the wall, her skirt up around her hips, her hair wild around her terrified face, and on her forehead shone the symbol of—
He blinked, astonished. Uranus?
He shook his head, and started toward her hastily. Time to ask the obvious questions later. For now, he had to give her her henshin wand, so she could transform and help the others—
Then, from behind him, he heard a wail of rage and frustration. "Noooo! Not now!"
He whirled—to see the absolute last person he'd expected to find here.
"It's not fair!" Bendis hissed at him. "I found her first!"
"B-bendis?" he stuttered. Involuntarily, he took a step toward her. Her eyes widened; instantly, she spun around and fled.
Torn, he watched her go—wanting to follow, knowing it was too late. She'd been faster than him for a good while now, and he had no chance of catching up. But oh, how he wanted—
Never mind. Right now there were more important things to worry about.
He ran back to the girl's side. She stared at him as he approached her, and flinched back when he spoke. "Are you all right?" he asked gently.
After a second or two her mouth moved. "Wh-what—" she began.
"I'm sorry, but there's no time to explain," he said. "You're just going to have to trust me. Here—"
He spun about madly, stretching out with his will for what he wanted. After a second, it came. The henshin wand fell to the floor with a faint clatter. He nosed it toward her. "Take it," he said.
Hesitantly she reached out and picked it up. "What—I don't understand—"
"Hold it up, and say the words, 'Uranus planet power, make-up.'"
She stared at him. "This is some kind of silly dream—"
He stole a quick glance behind him. Jupiter and Mercury were still playing cat-and-mouse with the vitrimorph, but which of the two sides was cat and which was mouse seemed to be debatable. It looked like a stalemate, and in battle that was a very dangerous position.
"Just do it!" he urged the girl. "The others need your help!"
She, too, stole a glance out at the battle that was raging. "This can't be happening," she whispered. But then she took a deep breath. She gathered herself, stood up smoothly, raised the stick toward the ceiling, and cried out:
"URANUS PLANET POWER, MAKE-UP!"
The power descended. It lifted her, held her in its grip, etching out around her a circle of energy. The circle flared—a sudden burst of light, a ghostly web of force, taking her, claiming her. Shifting the universe around her, making her what she had to be. The brightness was too much; he had to close his eyes. Then it collapsed; the glare winked out, the figure within spun to a halt.
The Senshi of the Sky stood before him.
She looked down at herself. "No, not me," she wailed suddenly. "It can't be me!"
"Sailor Uranus," said Artemis, softly but very clearly. "The others need your help."
"But—" She closed her eyes. "All right. I'll try."
Bendis' first reaction had been fury. After all the effort she'd put in to find Suzue, now Artemis was just going to waltz in and take over? Talk about injustice. Then, when he started toward her, she panicked. It was blind instinct. She had a very good idea of just how upset he was going to be with her, and she was not at all eager to face that. Not yet. Not ever, preferably, though she was uncomfortably aware that there would have to be a reckoning someday.
So, she ran. Down the aisle, and out through the hole that the vitrimorph had blasted in the rear wall. And outside, blinking in the late sunlight, she stopped, and tried to think what to do next.
Call Beth, was her first reaction. The more Senshi the better when fighting those things, as far as she could see. But there were two problems with that. First, she had no idea where Beth was—she had a vague memory that the girl was going out shopping this evening. Second, Beth didn't have a Senshi communicator. Now why didn't I ever think to give it to her before?
So Jupiter and Mercury were on their own with this one. Oh, and Uranus of course, she thought bitterly, once Artemis finished awakening her powers. Damn him!
Then she remembered that Artemis really would have his paws full with a new Senshi. And Jupiter and Mercury could certainly do with some hints, since they hadn't had the benefit of her training.
And really, she thought ruefully, there was just no way she could run away from a fight.
Muttering a curse, she turned and dashed back into the theatre.
Sailor Jupiter was still going strong, but Sailor Mercury was beginning to flag. She ducked out of sight for a moment to gasp for breath, shaking her head frustratedly. She just didn't have the stamina for this kind of fight.
This blasted monster was quite different from the others. It didn't seem to be orienting on either of them, for a start. The last two had picked on one Senshi and attacked her persistently, all but ignoring the others. This one seemed happy to attack at anyone. Maybe that was because they'd come in together? And then those shots it fired—they were hard to dodge, and it could do them so fast! It took her a couple of seconds to get off an Ice Spear, but this thing could fire two or three shots in the same time.
Hitting it from two directions at once had been a good idea. The trouble was, so far they'd been unable to manage it. It seemed to have an instinct for their tactics; whenever they began a simultaneous attack, it appeared to sense it and dodge in plenty of time. It had taken a couple more hits, and they seemed to have hurt it, but not enough. It was moving noticeably slower than when the fight began, so perhaps they were wearing it down. The question was, who would wear down whom first?
She crouched down behind a seat, dodged along the row a little way, and stole a quick glance over the top. The vitrimorph was roaring and clutching its shoulder, where Jupiter had just managed to clip it. Way to go, Hayashi! she thought. Taking a quick breath, she stood up and prepared to fire off her own shot. But at that moment, someone else decided to join the fight.
"MUSIC OF THE SPHERES!"
It sounded like the faintest chiming of bells. There was a faint glow in the air, stretching out from the palm of the girl who'd shouted. If the theatre hadn't been darkened, Mercury was sure she'd never have noticed it. And suddenly, her teeth ached. Some kind of sonic attack? she wondered.
Who on earth was that who'd cast it?
Whoever she was, whatever she'd just hit it with, it was having an effect. The vitrimorph seemed frozen in place. It almost looked as if it were vibrating. She was sure that the steam coming out of its ears was her imagination, though.
The newcomer dropped her beam suddenly and sagged back, as if exhausted. Well, Mercury could sympathise with that. She'd lost count of the number of Ice Spears she'd cast this evening, and she was about ready to sag too. And that beam had looked pretty potent.
Who on earth—And where had she come from?
The vitrimorph was starting to move again. No time for idle speculation. Mercury threw her Ice Spear and leaped for more cover before the enemy could retaliate. As she landed she saw her attack strike home; the vitrimorph was still moving too slowly to dodge it. This time when the Ice Spear hit there was a sharp cracking sound, and she saw splinters of crystal fly.
"Looks like Uranus seriously weakened it," said a voice. "That gives me an idea."
She looked around, but for several seconds saw nothing. Then, finally, she made it out: a small cat, with the full moon on its forehead. It was a tabby, almost invisible in the darkness.
"Who are you?" she said stupidly. Then: "Wait a minute. Bendis, right? Good! Is Venus here?"
The cat didn't take her eyes off the vitrimorph. "She can't make it. Look, when Uranus attacks again—"
"Uranus? Sailor Uranus?"
"Shut up and listen! Get ready to attack. When Uranus hits it again, throw your Spear at the same time."
"Right. That might work. What about Jupiter? We need to get her to hit it too—"
"No! It's the physical impact that's going to do the damage! Her thunderbolt might just fuse it back together!"
Mercury blinked. Great, she thought, now I've got to start studying physics. Wait a minute, though, maybe the idea did make a kind of sense? "Sonic attack," she said slowly. "I…see. I think."
Bendis glared at her. "Well, stop thinking, and get ready to attack! Honestly, what's Artemis been teaching you?"
Mercury opened her mouth to reply, then carefully closed it again. That's one uppity cat, she thought. All the same, she realised grumpily, it did have a point.
She sneaked a peek over the row of seats. Jupiter was manoeuvring around for another attack. There was a streak of blood on her face. When did that happen? No, Hayashi, stay down, let us handle it—
"MUSIC OF THE SPHERES!"
Mercury jumped up and roared out, "ICE SPEAR!"
The two attacks struck home. And then the air was filled with flying crystal shards.
When Mercury could see again, she looked over to where Bendis had been standing, to thank her. But the cat was gone.
Jupiter stood up slowly, rubbing at a dozen new cuts on her arms and face. She'd been standing entirely too close to that explosion. Pity they didn't have Hotaru here—
And who on earth was that new Senshi?
The three of them trudged toward each other, carefully brushing shards of crystal out of their hair and clothing. She finally got a good look at the newcomer, and recognised her colours with a start.
"Sailor Uranus, I presume?" she said. It wasn't Haruka, though. She felt a sudden pang. Another old friend lost.
"Umm. I suppose so," said Uranus. She looked dazed and tired. "This is all so—it's just—"
"Yeah, I know." Jupiter managed a weary grin. "Don't worry. You'll get used to it. Listen, we ought to—"
"Sailor Uranus, I presume?" said Mercury, hurrying up to them with a smile on her face. "Hi, I'm Mercury—I guess you've met Jupiter…"
Jupiter scowled at her. "Dhiti-chan, this is no time for—"
"How touching," said someone. A cold, grating voice. They looked around wildly, but there was nobody in view. Then, almost as one, they looked up.
There was a woman hanging in the air. Jupiter had a sudden sense of d&ecute;jà vu. How many times had she seen this scene played out…?
"A reunion of old friends, I see," the woman said. She was dressed in midnight blue, with silver trimmings at her waist and wrists. The steady flickering of the movie, which was still, inanely, playing on from the projection booth, made it hard to make out her face. It could not, however, disguise the enormous glowing jewel embedded in her forehead.
"And now there's another one of you," she continued. "How sweet."
Jupiter scowled up at her. "Who are you, and what do you want?"
"'Call me Ishmael.'" The woman's laughter was like a buzz-saw cutting through crystal. "And I want…I want…the Moon. On a platter."
"You're crazy," said Mercury, shocked.
"Am I? We shall see…when the Moon is full." The woman laughed again. "In the meantime, you seem to have won the day, so I must be going. Rest assured, little Senshi, we will meet again." She raised one clenched fist, and they saw something glittering attached to her wrist bracer. "I guarantee it."
"Don't jump to conclusions," Jupiter called out. "SUPREME THUNDER!"
The levinbolt lanced out, catching the woman by surprise. It was not aimed at her, though. It struck the object on her wrist squarely, with a shower of sparks.
The woman in blue stared at her wrist in shock. The device that had been mounted there was shattered, ruined. Blood was dripping from where it had been.
"The unkindest cut of all," she whispered. Then she raised the wound to her mouth and sucked it. When she lifted her head again, her lips were stained red. She grinned.
"Bravo, little Senshi," she said. "Another victory. Enjoy it while you can." She bent her head to the wound again, and as she did so, the air around her seemed to shimmer. In another moment, she had vanished.
"I think I'm going to be sick," muttered Mercury.
"Save it for later," Jupiter advised her. "Right now, we've got another problem. I recognised that thing on her wrist. It was a tracker; she probably used it to find us here."
"So…it was Crystal Tokyo technology. And none of that works any more. So how was she able to use it?"
They both stared at her: Mercury in growing dismay, Uranus in utter confusion. "You mean—" began Mercury.
Jupiter shook her head, suddenly tired. "I don't know what I mean. For now, I think we should get out of here, and go somewhere where we can talk." She winked at Uranus. "It seems introductions are in order."
Nanako watched them leave from her hiding place in the back row. When they were safely gone, she stood up and stretched, brushing a thin sprinkle of crystal fragments off herself.
"That," she remarked to nobody in particular, "was much better than the viddy program."
She had seen the Senshi at last! And a new one had appeared! They'd called her Sailor Uranus—such a pity that Nanako had been looking the other way when she changed…
Oh. And Jupiter had called Mercury 'Dhiti.' So, that theory was confirmed. And I actually spoke to her when she wasn't transformed. A Claver…I think I'll recognise her when I see her again…
She made her way out of the theatre, humming softly to herself. Now, should I tell Hideo about this or not? she wondered.
Out on the street she started to look around for Eitoku. They still had a date to finish, after all. As she hunted through the crowd who were still staring at the theatre, she bumped into Iku, of all people. The girl looked as if she'd just run a marathon. Nanako debated telling her an edited version of what had just happened, but at that moment she finally saw Eitoku, a little distance away. Well, Iku could wait.
The rest of Nanako's evening was very enjoyable, in quite a different way.
Artemis ran quickly through the streets, his mind whirling. So many unexpected things, all cropping up at once. Sailor Uranus…Bendis…a new enemy…and of all things, functioning Crystal Tokyo technology!
He had followed the three girls out of the theatre, watching them just long enough to make sure they got away safely. He expected they were heading for Miyo's or Dhiti's house. Good, that should be safe enough. It gave him time to carry out his own errand.
He reached his destination, finally: the Olympus building. Now, if only Itsuko could tell him what he needed to know…
He made his way up to Itsuko's suite. This took some effort; he could not reach the keypads to get into her private stairwell, so he had to follow quite a circuitous route. It was an embarrassingly hackneyed solution, but sometimes ventilation ducts actually did work as access ways.
A little over an hour after he left the theatre, he dropped to the floor in Itsuko's kitchen and stood for a minute, panting. Then he set out in search of Itsuko herself.
She was in the living room, watching the news on the viddy. She glanced up as he nosed the door open. When she saw who it was, she raised her eyebrows silently and tapped a key on her control pad. Then she nodded. It was safe to talk.
"I take it there was something about us on the news tonight?" he asked.
"A battle at a movie theatre. They didn't have many details. Was there some kind of problem?"
"Not exactly." Artemis hesitated. "Itsuko, this may sound strange, but…have you seen Setsuna lately?"
"Setsuna?" Itsuko said, looking taken aback. "No, I haven't. What on earth do you…?" She broke off, considered, and then said slowly, "It's funny you should ask, though. I'd always thought she died back during the Fall. But then, about a week and a half ago, I saw her in a dream. So maybe…" She shook her head. "I don't know. Why do you ask?"
"Umm. It may be nothing. But, well, I was hoping you'd know how to get hold of her—"
There was a knock at the door.
They exchanged glances. That hadn't been the door to Itsuko's suite; it had been the door to the living room itself.
"Come in," Itsuko called. Her hand reached down under a cushion and took hold of something. A weapon? Artemis prepared himself for action.
The door opened, and a tall, beautiful woman with long, green-black hair walked calmly into the room. She gave them a curt nod. "Rei, Artemis," she said. "I believe you wanted to speak to me."
Itsuko managed to close her mouth after…not more than a year or so. "Setsuna," she said. "What—how—"
"I'm using the name Fumihiko Sadako, at the moment." The newcomer sat down gracefully, without waiting for permission. "And I believe you're now calling yourself Pappadopoulos Itsuko?"
"Yes, I…" Itsuko finally managed to gain control of herself. She released the weapon she'd been holding. "Yes, for the last twenty years or so. How did you—no, wait a minute, that's a stupid question—" She took a deep breath, and calmed herself with an effort. "Uh…hello."
Sadako regarded her with cool red eyes. Then, suddenly, she smiled, and the tension in the room seemed to vanish. "Hello," she responded. "You're looking well, Itsuko…Artemis."
"Looking well?" The cat snorted. "Set—Sadako, you can't just walk in like this! Where have you been all these years?!"
Sadako lifted an eyebrow. "Doing my job," she said.
"Oh, that's helpful—"
"Let's get to the point," she suggested calmly. "I don't have a lot of time to spare. Artemis, you wanted to see me about something. Well, here I am."
"Oh…yes. Umm." Artemis looked flustered, and Itsuko wondered just what had happened at the theatre earlier. "Well, we…we found a new Senshi today."
Itsuko blinked. Sadako simply cocked her head at him. "Ah. That would be the new Sailor Mars, I assume?"
"No, it—dammit, Setsuna, that's pretty cold, even for you!"
"Oh?" Sadako looked back to Itsuko. Itsuko simply stared back at her, trying to keep her face perfectly expressionless. It wasn't easy; that question had hurt. A lot.
"Itsuko," said Sadako gently. "You knew this was coming. You knew that the torch had to pass onward."
After a moment, Itsuko bowed her head. "Yes," she said. "I knew it." There was more than a trace of sarcasm in her voice as she added, "Forgive me if I can't…accept it quite as easily as you."
"I have to accept many things. Don't make the mistake of thinking I enjoy it." Itsuko looked up hotly; but Sadako was no longer paying any attention to her. "You said it was not Mars?" she said to Artemis.
The cat stirred. "No. It was…ahh, it was Sailor Uranus."
"Uranus?" repeated Itsuko, startled.
Sadako's face became very still for a moment. At last she said, "Ah. That would be your great-granddaughter's doing, I suppose? How very enterprising of her."
"Umm, yes…she was there, but she ran for it when I arrived."
"Your family relations are not really my concern." Sadako almost looked as if she were suppressing a smile, but it was hard to tell. "What is your problem?"
Artemis took a deep breath. "Are you going to want to take command of her? The Outer Senshi have always been, well, almost a separate group, usually taking their orders from you. I mean—"
"I know what you mean. Hmm." Sadako cocked her head in thought. "It won't be necessary," she said at last. "That role for the Outer Senshi is no longer required. Go ahead and take her into your group."
"What?" From his surprised look, Itsuko realised that he'd been hoping for this, but hadn't expected to get it so easily. "I mean…are you sure? The Outer Senshi—"
Sadako shrugged. She was definitely smiling now. "If there were a Sailor Moon you could ask her, of course. She would have the ultimate authority."
Itsuko sat up straight and glared at her. "Oh, please. Is that some kind of hint? Damn it, why can't you ever answer a simple question, or just come out and say what you mean? For heaven's sake, you came here to talk to us—so talk! What happened to you after the Fall? Where have you been? And…is there going to be a new Sailor Moon or not? Or did Serenity manage to send herself forward somehow?"
Sadako shook her head. The smile was gone. "If you want predictions, try a fire reading. Don't ask me to be your oracle; the future is too delicate a web for me to risk that way. You know that."
"Yeah, that's what you always say," Itsuko grouched. "But you're still the one who can pop forward whenever you want and see what things are going to be like. Do you call that protecting your 'delicate web'?"
"I call it irrelevant." Sadako's tone was cold. "I am no longer able to travel in time."
"What!" Itsuko and Artemis stared at her. "What happened?" asked Artemis, horrified.
"The Gate of Time is sealed. I no longer hold my talisman. I am bound in time now, just as you are."
"But…how? Why?" asked Itsuko.
Sadako sighed. "The Fall had many repercussions. Some of them were far worse than this. You might consider the loss of the Ginzuishou, for example. In any case, I am not completely powerless. I still see the probabilities, the branching of the world-lines. I can still guide events, with some difficulty. But I am undeniably…less than I was."
Itsuko said hesitantly, "So…you don't know how all this is going to end up? What the future's going to be like, this time?"
Sadako's expression was grim. "I know how it must end up. If it does not, there is no future. But the path…" She shook her head slowly. "The path is unclear. The world-lines are blurring. I can see only a little way."
She stood up suddenly. "Enough. Artemis has his answer, and you have…perhaps more than was wise. And I cannot afford to delay. I must go." She started toward the door.
"Wait!" cried Artemis. Sadako looked back. "At least tell us where you're staying," Artemis suggested. "Where can we contact you, if necessary?"
Sadako gave him a cool smile. "Don't worry. I'll be seeing Itsuko again, before very long." She closed the living-room door behind her.
The cat and the woman stared at each other for a long moment. "Well," said Artemis at last. "That was—"
"Wait," said Itsuko suddenly. "Wait a minute." There was one more thing she had to say to Sadako—to Sailor Pluto—before she lost her nerve. Something that she'd been thinking about for quite a few years now.
She opened the door and ran after Sadako, catching up with her just as she woman was opening the door into the stairwell. Sadako raised her eyebrows as Itsuko ran up, but did not speak.
Itsuko took a deep breath. "We always used to wonder about you," she said. "How it must feel, just…surviving on like that. I mean, you've never said how long you've been—doing what you do—but…" She stopped, fumbling for the words.
"Yes?" Sadako's expression was unreadable.
"It's just…after the last seven hundred years…" Itsuko let out a long breath. "I think maybe I have an idea what it must be like for you. I just wanted to say that."
"Seven hundred years?" The Senshi of Time gave her a long, thoughtful look. Then she shook her head. "Wait twenty times as long again. Then you can tell me that."
Itsuko stared at her. "That's how old you are?"
"No. But it will give you an idea of the perspective." Sadako closed the door behind her, and was gone.
Suzue walked home slowly. She felt dazed. She had spent the last hour at the house of Sharma Dhiti…who, it seemed, was Sailor Mercury. The real Sailor Mercury, not a fake after all.
And she had been talking to Hayashi Miyo, who was Sailor Jupiter. Another legend brought to life.
And earlier at the theatre, she had unmistakably met Artemis. The Artemis.
And they had told her that she was one of them.
This was all impossible. Unthinkable. Dreadfully wrong.
What do I do now? she thought, bewildered. Oh, Holy Mother, what am I supposed to do now?
She walked up the path to her front door and let herself inside quietly. She almost forgot to remove her shoes; that was how confused she felt. She went through to her room, nodding to her parents as she passed the family room.
At the door of her room she hesitated. Then she left it, unopened, and went on to the door at the end of the passage, and into the family shrine.
It was small and simple, as was fitting. Theirs was a small and humble faith. She bowed to the altar, dipped her finger in the little bowl of oil, and sketched the sacred mark, the crescent, on her forehead. Then she knelt down before the altar and tried to pray.
It was no good. The words wouldn't come.
She raised her eyes to the painting on the wall above the altar, the painting of her goddess. And in her heart she cried out to her:
Oh, Holy Mother—oh, blessed Lady Serenity—what am I supposed to do now?
S A I L O R M O O N 4 2 0 0
END OF CHAPTER SEVEN
Next: A conspiracy is unmasked; so is a Senshi; and a training session goes horribly wrong…
And so we reach the one-third mark in this story. Seven chapters down, fourteen to go.
It wasn't intended to be this big when I started. I began with a very simple idea: what if Crystal Tokyo didn't last nearly as long as nearly everyone expects it to? The usual assumption seems to be that once CT is founded everyone will live happily ever after. There are exceptions, of course, and a few stories have shown a CT that is hardly a paradise. But still, Utopia or not, CT is generally held to be the endpoint.
But, I thought, what if Crystal Tokyo were destroyed? Perhaps the story would have to begin all over again. Some of the faces might be new, and some of them might be the same old ones, reborn yet again. A fresh start, in a distant future that's a mixture of the familiar and strange. (And in this chapter, we finally get a glimpse of how and why that future was shaped.)
Where does it go from here?
Well, the enemy behind the Serenity Council still hasn't quite shown its face…and there's still the mystery of who or what destroyed Crystal Tokyo in the first place. A lot of questions (though not all) will be answered in chapter 9, when the story of the Great Fall is finally told. From there, the story continues to build up to a climax in chapter 12, and thereafter takes a change in direction, developing toward the ultimate confrontation with the Enemy.
A few miscellaneous notes:
Thanks to my pre-readers, Sandy Drobic and Bob Schroeck.
Draft version: 3 October, 1998.
Release version: 17 October, 1998.
Revised: 5 November, 2005.