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. When Artemis tries to awaken her memory of her previous life, he accidentally restores her memory of the Silver Millennium as well. Miyo has problems coping with three sets of memories, and her family begins to worry.
When the new Senshi appear, the Council, who were already hunting for Bendis, create “vitrimorphs”—crystalline monsters designed to hunt and kill Senshi, under the command of Twelve, a Council member who was given strange powers by the unseen Master who rules the Council.
Meanwhile other survivors of Crystal Tokyo have also become involved: Pappadopoulos Itsuko (formerly Hino Rei) and Fumihiko Sadako (once Meiou Setsuna). Itsuko, now powerless, is the owner of the Olympus Gymnasium. The Olympus comes under Council investigation when Artemis is seen there and to preserve the secret of her past, Itsuko requests help from an old friend with criminal connections. But this only makes the investigators more suspicious.
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. When Bendis locates the new Sailor Uranus, Itagaki Suzue, they do not realise that she is a member of the Church of Serenity.
Meanwhile, without Beth’s knowledge, two students at her school learn about Bendis, and work out that Beth is Sailor Venus; and one of them is looking for the identities of the other Senshi as well…
By Angus MacSpon
Sailor Moon 4200 Home Page
Based on “Sailor Moon” created by Naoko Takeuchi
Beth went out early on Sunday morning to get some exercise. It seemed appropriate to her new lifestyle. She wasn’t entirely sure how effective it would be—could developing her “normal” body affect her Senshi one?—but it seemed worth a try. And anyway, it was a beautiful morning, clear and crisp, and she was glad to have an excuse to be out.
She jogged for a few minutes before slowing to a brisk walk, still pondering the question. She wasn’t too out of breath; but then, she didn’t think she would have been if she’d done this before she became a Senshi. So was there a difference or not?
Her Senshi form was certainly developing. Sailor Venus had been marvellously strong, fast and agile from the beginning; but Bendis’ constant “training” sessions had produced a very noticeable difference. When she’d started out, she’d had trouble jumping up onto the roof of a building. Now she performed acrobatics that, frankly, scared her a little, when she thought about them afterwards. Fortunately it never seemed to bother her when she was actually doing them.
But was that a physical development, or was she just getting used to her new abilities? Sometimes it was so confusing.
She started to run again, trying to put the question out of her mind. Life was getting too complicated lately. Best to enjoy the quiet moments when they came.
She smiled to herself, remembering the night before. That certainly hadn’t been quiet. Her mother had taken her out shopping for clothes. Really, she was more than old enough to go by herself, but shopping with her mother was too much fun to pass up. McCrea Helen was a sober, sensible, serious woman…most of the time. But when she went shopping, she changed. She became a whirlwind, a dervish, with a wild glint in her eye that said that she had a credit wand and she wasn’t afraid to use it. The sort of customer, in short, that shopkeepers either longed for or dreaded. Or sometimes both at once. With Helen it was quite often the latter.
It didn’t matter that they didn’t actually buy very much, or that what they did get was quite reasonably priced. It was the process that mattered. The shopping process.
So they went from store to store, up and down street after street, poking through dusty shelves, trying things on, comparing prices, talking and laughing; and for one evening Beth forgot everything that had happened to her lately, forgot all about vitrimorphs and Moon Cats and Senshi, forgot even about Eitoku, and became her mother’s daughter again. One evening of grace.
There was that odd interlude, though. In the middle of it—this part might be just a dream she’d had last night, but she thought that perhaps it was real—they stopped for tea, and for a moment the sober, sensible McCrea Helen was back. She looked at Beth quietly for a time, and then said, “Beth, dear, is there anything you want to tell me?”
Beth looked back at her, puzzled, and said, “About what?”
Her mother smiled softly. “Nothing, dear. That’s all right.” She sipped her tea, and then added, in an oddly reflective tone, “Remember to be careful, Beth. That’s all.”
Beth sat staring at her, trying to decide if she had been talking about Beth’s mostly-theoretical boyfriend or about…something else. She rather thought it was something else, but she could not work out how to ask…
And then her mother jumped up with a wink and a smile, and they were off, out of the little cafe and down the street, window-shopping and bargain-hunting as before, and Beth’s memory of the evening after that became choppy and disjointed, so that she thought now that maybe that odd moment was a dream; or at least she hoped it was, because if it wasn’t, it suggested that her mother knew things that Beth didn’t see how she could know, and that meant—
She jogged around another corner, shaking her head and frowning faintly. She could not complete the thought. ‘Trouble,’ perhaps. After a few minutes she gave up.
She ran onward. The morning was beginning to heat up, and her forehead had broken out in a light sweat. Tomoe Park was not too far away, and she decided to stop there for a few minutes.
As she approached the park, she checked her watch. It was still fairly early, and there wouldn’t be many people around. It was tempting to change—to become Sailor Venus and climb into the trees, leaping from branch to branch and playing in the cool green shade. Maybe chasing a few birds. If Bendis had been with her to keep watch she might have tried it, but as it was it was too risky.
(Something inside her said: chasing birds?)
She walked through the park for a few minutes, cooling off, then stopped to sip from a drinking fountain. Then she walked on, still looking up at the trees. It really would be nice to go for a climb today. She hadn’t been tramping lately, and a chance to really stretch herself would be—
But of course she couldn’t do that. She couldn’t go swinging through the trees; Venus was the one who did things like that. Sometimes it frustrated Beth. Sailor Venus got all the fun. She was everything that Beth didn’t dare be…
…Still, why not? She glanced around, looking for a private spot to change. A moment later she realised what she was doing, and forced herself to stop, shaken.
What had she been thinking of? It would be madness to change here! The park was nearly empty, but there were a few people in view. And Venus wouldn’t care who saw her; she’d just want to enjoy herself…
(But it would be fun.)
With a sigh, she turned and started out of the park again. If she was going to get some…more exotic exercise, she couldn’t do it here. But there was a place she could go, one that she and Bendis had found some time ago. A group of old, abandoned warehouses in the factory district not too far away. The property was fenced off, but of course fences didn’t bother Venus. She could leap about all she liked there, practise acrobatics, swing from the rusting old industrial cranes—even try target-shooting with her Love-Me Chain at the metal drums that had been left in one of the loading docks. It was, in short, an almost ideal training ground (or at least Bendis thought so); and right now, it was just what the doctor ordered.
She jogged through the streets for another twenty minutes. As she entered the warehouse district, she slowed a little, keeping an eye out for anyone else in sight. At last, when she came in sight of her destination, she stopped, glanced around quickly, then stepped into an alleyway to change.
A few seconds later, Sailor Venus jumped up onto the roof of one of the building adjoining the alley, and stood for a moment, getting her bearings. Then, with a chuckle of anticipation, she sprang forward, bounced lightly off the roofs of two other warehouses, and landed in a yard that was lined with rusting machinery and piles of rubbish.
She stood motionless, looking around, planning her attack. Then she let out a yell, fired her Chain at her chosen enemy—an inoffensive boiler—and dove for cover before it could fire back. The next few minutes were very vigorous ones.
“She’s back,” said Yoshimitsu, peering cautiously out of the window.
Takamori came over to take a look. His usual mournful expression was replaced by a faint smile. “Will you look at the way she moves,” he whispered. Outside, Sailor Venus demolished another implacable foe.
“Been a few days,” Yoshi remarked. “I was starting to think she’d found somewhere else.”
“Keep your voice down! You want her to hear you?” Takamori did not take his eyes off the Senshi outside. He frowned. “Are you sure we shouldn’t report this to the company?”
Yoshi shrugged. “What for? She’s not doing any harm here.” There was a crash of falling metal from outside. “Much,” he amended.
“We’re supposed to be caretakers—”
“Oh, relax. As long as we keep our mouths shut, who’s to care?” Yoshi blinked. “Besides, if we raise a fuss she’ll stop coming.”
Takamori sighed. “You have a point there.” He raised his camera to get another shot. All his pictures had come out blurred so far, but he was persistent.
Venus killed another few enemies, then got bored with the shadowplay. She sat down on a wooden crate, wiped the sweat out of her eyes, and thought about what to do next. She wasn’t ready to go back home yet, but what else was there to do?
She looked around the warehouses. Pity none of them were really very tall. She could do with more practice climbing buildings, but the tallest one here was three stories, and she could jump that high. Well, nearly. It was a shame that Bendis always got nervous when she wanted to climb office buildings…
Idly, she wondered what was inside the warehouses. They were all locked securely, and most of their windows were too dirty to see through. She stood up and wandered around the courtyard, peering at the buildings. The windows on one of them did look a little cleaner than most. She started toward it.
“I thought I’d find you here.”
She looked around, startled, to see a small tabby cat some distance away, watching her. “Bendis!” she exclaimed. “There you are! Where have you been?”
“Here and there,” said the cat evasively, stepping delicately toward her. “Are you busy? We need to talk.”
Takamori breathed a sigh of relief. “I thought she was going to find us there,” he whispered, as Venus moved away from their window again.
Yoshimitsu nodded, wiping nervous sweat from his face. “It’s that talking cat again,” he muttered, returning to the window.
“Wish I could hear what they’re saying,” grumbled Takamori.
“Me, too. What did Sailor Venus call it? Bento?”
“So what happened?” asked Venus, sitting down and stretching. “Did you find that girl? Was she a Senshi?”
“Yes,” said Bendis. She sounded annoyed. “I found her. She’s a Senshi, all right. Sailor Uranus.”
“Uranus?” Venus blinked. Bendis had said that with some emphasis, as if it were somehow significant. What was special about her being Sailor Uranus? Well, she was bound to find out sooner or later.
“Oh,” she said. Then she grinned. “So what’s she like? When do I meet her?”
The cat looked pained. “Not just yet,” she said, shaking her head. “She’s going to be training with Artemis for a while.”
Venus stared at her. “Her too?” she said. It felt like a slap in the face. This wasn’t fair! Why couldn’t she ever get to work with the others properly? She didn’t even know their names yet! It was as if there was some kind of conspiracy against her. It was as if—
Hey, wait a minute.
“Hey, wait a minute,” she said out loud. “Of course! Now I get it!”
“Get what?” Bendis looked worried for some reason.
“Why didn’t you tell me before?” Venus demanded. “I mean, I did notice, you know. I’m not stupid.”
“Jupiter and Mercury just weren’t all that good at fighting. Back when we were being chased by that Opal, neither of them even knew how to jump the right way! All that training we’ve been doing…you—” She bent down and picked Bendis up, rubbing her fur affectionately. “You’ve been giving me the advanced course, haven’t you?”
Bendis stared up at her. She’d seen Venus do some pretty bizarre things before, but this was a new high point. Or maybe a new low point.
“That’s just so cool!” Venus laughed, spinning gaily around in a circle. Then a new thought seemed to occur to her, and she stopped suddenly, her voice becoming serious. “But don’t you think the others could use the training too?” she asked.
“Umm…” said Bendis, lost for words. “Beth—”
“Hey!” Venus tapped her tiara. “Sailor Venus, remember? You’ll give my secret identity away!” She blinked. “I wonder if Moon Cats have secret identities? Hey, Bendis, what should I call you when we’re out fighting those crystal things? Maybe—”
Bendis coughed. “I don’t think that’s necessary,” she said hastily. Best nip this one in the bud, or she’d end up having to call herself Sailor Neko. She shook her head slowly. “Maybe you’re right,” she said, half to herself. “Maybe this is the advanced course. I wonder which of us is supposed to be the student…?”
“What?” said Venus, confused.
“Never mind. Look, there’s something else I remembered yesterday, while I was out. I need to give you your communicator, so you can call the other Senshi if you need help.”
It would also, of course, put Beth in contact with them at other times. Giving it to her was a risky move—if they got talking, Artemis was almost certain to find her—but there was, she’d finally decided, a limit to how far she’d go to protect her independence. Being able to fight the enemy effectively was more important.
Not that there wasn’t a chance she could stay free for a little while longer, she thought. “This is for emergencies only,” she told Venus sternly. “Not for casual gossip. Understand?”
Venus nodded humbly enough, but her eyes were alight with anticipation. Bendis breathed an inward sigh. The girl was going to want to play with it, she could see. Oh, there was a chance that, if she stressed it enough, she’d be able to bully Venus into not using it; but Beth was another matter. Beth would think about it, and sooner or later she’d talk herself into trying it out.
It can’t be helped, she told herself. This is necessary. She took a deep breath and leaped up, turning a backflip in mid-air. As she came down again, she listened confidently for the clatter of the communicator falling to the ground.
“Umm, is something supposed to happen?” asked Venus.
“What?” Bendis stared behind her, perplexed, at the spot where the communicator should have lain. She was certain she’d done it right; she’d practised it any number of times, back when Artemis was teaching her. She couldn’t perceive the subspace interstices the way he could, so she had to open the pockets by rote; but she was sure she hadn’t done anything wrong.
“Try it again,” Venus prompted.
With a shrug, Bendis tried. Several times. There was nothing. She found herself wondering if it had ever been there to start with. But Artemis had been so positive that he’d retrieved all the Senshi’s equipment and put it into storage after the Fall…
“Er…sorry,” she said at last. “There’s something wrong. It’s not there, for some reason. It’s as if…uh, I don’t know, actually. I think you’ll have to go without for a bit longer, until I can work out what the problem is.”
“Maybe Artemis might be able to help you?” suggested Venus. Bendis looked up sharply, but the girl’s expression was perfectly innocent. Too innocent, perhaps.
“Maybe,” she answered grudgingly. She found herself wondering if Artemis might have already retrieved the missing communicator. But why would he do that?
It also occurred to her that she could pull out another Senshi’s communicator, and let Venus have that for a while. Sailor Saturn’s, perhaps. In the end she decided not to, though. Not until she had a better idea of what the problem was.
Damn, she thought. I really ought to talk to Artemis about this. It was almost funny. For the first time in weeks she actually wished she could see him again—but she had no idea where to find him. For once, she was in his position.
Mind you, there were options. She could talk to Suzue, for example. The new Senshi probably knew where to find him. Or, she had a vague memory that there was some kind of backup contact point, though she didn’t quite recall where.
She could just imagine what he would say, though, if she slunk back to him looking for help…
“I’ll look into it,” she promised. Then, deliberately changing the subject, she said, “In the meantime, there’re some new training exercises you need to try. You need practice in attacking a target that shoots back.”
“Shoots back?” Venus cocked her head. “Since when do cats have to deal with that? No, wait a minute, you get shoes thrown at you, right?”
Bendis looked at her.
“Umm, yeah. Okay. Shoots back. So is this, like, a gun, or a death ray, or a…a small leather object…or a ki-blast, or a jet of acid that we’re being shot at with here?”
“Er,” said Bendis. “For now, let’s pretend that it’s some kind of energy bolt. But keep that acid thing in mind, huh? You never know who might be getting nasty ideas.”
After the Senshi and the cat left, an hour and a half later, Takamori stood up and stretched. “I was starting to think they’d be here forever,” he said.
“So what are you complaining about?” inquired Yoshimitsu, grinning. All the same, he stood up as well, rubbing his back. “What was she doing there, anyway?” he wondered. “All that dodging and rolling and stuff. And when she kept grabbing her shoulder and shouting, ‘Ahh! Got me!’ That was weird.”
Takamori shrugged. “Who knows?” He held up his camera. “Whatever it was, I got some good pictures of it.”
“Bet they come out blurred like all the rest,” said Yoshi.
Suzue sat in her room, staring at the framed pictue on the wall. She had had plans for the weekend, but none of them seemed to matter now. She had too much to think about.
I’m a Senshi. This isn’t right, this has to be a mistake. Doesn’t it? It can’t be me! Holy Lady Serenity, why did You choose me?
The picture, a photograph of Queen Serenity from the Archives, looked back at her and did not answer.
She wondered what the Intercessor at church would say if he knew. Maybe he’d call it a blessing. Suzue did not feel blessed; she felt terrified. Things like this weren’t supposed to happen. Not any more. The age of miracles was long past…
The Church of Serenity was founded sometime during the first few decades of chaos after the Holy Serenity sacrificed herself to defeat the Great Enemy. Records from that time were incomplete—unbelievers called it the Great Fall—but at some point during those dark years, a few of those who still remembered the years of light had realised the truth. In a time when most people were trying to forget the past, this was a memory worth holding onto. Twice now, Serenity had died to save humanity. Someday she would come for the third time; and then those who still revered her name, who stood ready to aid in her final triumph over evil, would enter with her into paradise: into the Diamond Millennium, where they would dwell in peace for all eternity…
The word spread slowly. Today, the Church was still small, with less than thirty thousand adherents in all of Japan. Most people thought they were crackpots; they called them ‘loonies’ and worse things. Suzue had learned not to talk about her beliefs at school, and to ignore the whispering of her classmates.
And now this.
Now the day of Her return was coming in truth. Her Warriors were appearing, one by one, clearly precursors to Her own incarnation. It had certainly never occurred to Suzue that she might be one of them. It seemed inappropriate; presumptuous. Blasphemous, even.
But she had the power. All she had to do was say the words, and she would become…other. For the fifth time that morning she called her henshin wand out of—wherever it went when she wasn’t using it—and stared at it, in wonder and not a little fear.
It was seductive: the knowledge that she could reach out for that power, touch it, be shaped by it. Speak one short phrase, and become one of the elect. It was so simple, so tantalising. So wrong.
She was sure of that much, at least. To misuse this would be a terrible sin. The Lady had set Her eye on her, and to take that lightly would be like spitting on the altar. If she was to be one of Her Warriors, she must strive to merit the honour. She had been cast in the shoes of Ten’ou Haruka: a mighty example to live up to, and a daunting one.
(It was also a little disturbing, for other reasons. Ten’ou-sama had been one of the Shadowed Senshi: not pure and unsullied like the Inner Four. She had at times done things that were…questionable. There could be no doubt that she was due as much honour and reverence as the others, but still…And there was the way she had died, when the Great Enemy struck. Suzue shivered, and hoped that the Holy Serenity’s hand would be lighter on her.)
Her eyes returned to the henshin wand in her hand, and she dismissed it with a quick shudder.
She was still trying to decide whether to tell anyone about this. After all, surely her parents ought to know? Or the Church, at least? The College of Intercessors had been debating the appearance of the new Senshi ever since Venus first appeared. Should she tell her Intercessor what she had become?
She had kept silent so far. Talking about it would seem like boasting, she thought; as if she were trying to seize glory from it. That would be wrong. But mostly, she had not spoken because she…simply had a feeling, deep inside, that this was not something she should talk about. Perhaps it was the Holy Mother, speaking in her heart. Perhaps not. For now, she would hold her tongue.
So, what was she to make of this? It would be too easy to say that she should do her best. That much was obvious. But the situation wasn’t that simple.
Consider the company she was expected to keep! The other Senshi, Mercury and Jupiter, were not so bad; they were in the same position as her, at least, and she understood that Venus was a similar case, though she had not yet met her. But then there was Artemis—
Artemis! One of the Holy Mother’s closest companions, and she had met him in the flesh! And it was unmistakably the Artemis; how many other talking cats were there? That was another wonder. She had spoken to a being who was older than the Holy Mother, who had served the Blessed Serenity’s own mother, who had actually trodden in his own flesh the hallowed halls of the Queen’s palace in the Silver Millennium…
It was like being approached by a demigod—that was exactly what it was like—and being asked to join his band.
What business did she have, being in such august company?
The Queen’s business; that was easy. Certainly, if She had chosen Suzue to be one of Her Senshi, then She had a reason; and it behoved Suzue to submit to Her will. To be a Senshi, and to do all that was associated with that role: to right wrongs and triumph over evil…and to prepare the way for Her coming.
The thought made her shudder; the other Senshi seemed to think that they might be fighting the same evil that had destroyed Crystal Tokyo. Suzue knew what that meant: the Great Enemy. It seemed hopeless, on the face of it. But still…in the battle on Friday night she had been able to severely weaken the creature they had been fighting, enough for Sailor Mercury to destroy it. Perhaps she did have a place—at least among the newcomer Senshi.
Artemis was another matter. She had been too dazed on Friday night to really take in the implications, but now…how was she supposed to treat him? Should she bow, or prostrate herself? But she had spoken to him normally on Friday, and he had not seemed offended. Perhaps that was how she was supposed to continue?
She reached a hesitant decision. There was to be a meeting at Sailor Jupiter’s house—no, at Hayashi Miyo’s house—on Tuesday evening. She would keep quiet, watch how the others behaved toward him. Surely that was appropriate for a newcomer anyway. She would especially watch the flippant one, Sailor Mercury (she forgot her real name), and see how she treated him. If Suzue had to speak, she would follow Mercury’s lead. That ought to be all right.
Of course, Sailor Mercury wasn’t a believer either. And that was a very disturbing thought.
She wished there was someone she dared talk to about it.
Dhiti sat quietly at home, doing a jigsaw. It wasn’t something that she would normally try—she didn’t have the patience for it—but today she’d thought of a rather ingenious short-cut, and she’d just had to try it out. The best part was that it counted as double duty. Well, in a way.
She picked a large, complex jigsaw, showing a scene that had plenty of plain blue sky. Exactly the sort of tedious puzzle that would normally drive her absolutely mad, in fact. She spread out the pieces, got them all turned over face-up…and started cheating.
It worked like a charm. The Mercury computer took less than half a second to scan all the pieces into memory, and another tenth of a second to finish matching them together. If she’d blinked, she might have missed it. Then it flashed up the solution.
She stared at the screen for a little, half-smiling, not quite believing it. Then she started to put the puzzle together. She only had to tap on a spot, and the computer showed her which piece went there. Who said jigsaws were boring? Three thousand pieces, and she had it finished in an hour and a half. It was an anti-climax, actually.
She sat back, scratching her head and wondering what to do next. She was starting to get pretty good with the computer. Well, with the mechanical skills of using it, at any rate. She’d spent a little time sorting through the contents of its memory, and was beginning to get an uneasy idea that she might spend years at it, and not finish.
For now, she wanted to be doing something, not just sitting around tinkering with the thing. Something practical.
An idea occurred to her. She rummaged through a drawer in her dresser, and pulled out a small fold of paper. Inside were a few of the slivers of broken crystal that she had combed out of her hair after the battle on Friday night. She had shuddered to look at them, then, remembering how close she and the others had come to being defeated. Now, by daylight, they looked perfectly innocent. All the same, though…
She told her computer to scan them. Dozens of displays began to open on the screen, pouring out screeds of information about them: size, mass, volume, temperature, albedo, thermal and electrical conductivity, capacitance, an analysis of stress fractures…and more and more, a plethora of data, and how was she supposed to know what was significant? When she saw that it had started to generate a 3-D model of the exact shape of each sliver, in ever-increasing detail, she reached out and stopped the computer.
There must be some way to restrict the thing to useful analyses, but she was damned if she could find it. She would have traded her soul for a half-hour talk with Lady Mizuno, about how to operate the machine properly. Or, well, no, not her soul. Her next three or four meals, perhaps. Dinner, definitely.
All right, maybe if she worked out exactly what she did want to know about the slivers, and set it specific questions? She started with the obvious one: what were they made of? The computer promptly told her, in excruciating detail. A pretty good trick, actually; did it have some kind of spectroscope inside it? Well, never mind that now.
Chemical formulae and molecular structure diagrams, they were not a lot of help. Lists of isotopes, ditto. No doubt if she let it, it would start analysing subatomic particles for her. All very clever and thorough, and none of it any use.
If she could somehow get it to give her a…a higher level of detail? She hunted around for a little, swearing silently to herself, and then suddenly found it: the summarise function. A simple click on one of those keys marked with the odd symbols, and the display seemed to zoom out. Detail started to vanish, but in its place, emerging out of the chaos, she began to see…patterns? The molecules formed vast, intricate chains, looping and arcing and joining…
That was strange. Weren’t crystals supposed to be a simple lattice? But it might explain why the vitrimorphs were able to move without shattering. If they weren’t actually crystal, but something that… looked like crystal?
She hesitated, feeling strangely uneasy. Then, shaking her head, she pressed on.
At this higher level of detail, the computer was offering her a whole new set of functions. Experimentally, she asked it to correlate the patterns she’d seen with other patterns in its data banks. The screen seemed to freeze, and for a moment she was afraid she’d done something wrong. Then, slowly, answers began to appear. She blinked when she saw what the computer was finding. She must have told it to match the patterns against absolutely everything it had in storage. How else to explain these matches?
A picture of a chambered nautilus.
An intricate lace of cobwebs, shining with dew in the early morning light.
A glittering starfield.
She paused the search, frowning. Yes, some of those bizarre loops and whorls she’d seen could be similar to the spiralling curve of a nautilus, or the ordered tracery of a spiderweb. But constellations? She touched the choice, and the screen changed again.
CASUAL SIMILARITY ONLY, NO MODERN MATCH
That did make more sense. Viewed objectively, constellations were just chance similarities in the stars. Accidental patterns. Completely meaningless, of course; with a little imagination, you could think you saw anything at all in the stars. Was that what the computer had done? Still…she bit her lip. There was something strange here. And… Regressing? What did that mean?
MULTIPLE MATCHES FOUND
She stared at the display for some time. Match found? No, wait a minute, more than a hundred matches found? And with such a high degree of precision? What was going on here?
And that time index figure, that was ridiculous, it was…Let’s see, that was in seconds, so it worked out to…she tapped out a calculation, and stared at the results.
A little over two million years ago.
“This is some kind of sick joke,” she muttered. But somewhere in the back of her mind, a voice seemed to whisper: Everything is ruled by the stars… A dead voice, dry and dusty.
She shivered, and resumed the search.
PRIMITIVE CAVE PAINTINGS
A confusing swirl of curves and shapes painted on a rough stone wall, faded but still clear, still powerful.
A small-scale map of a countryside, with a web of interlocking lines superimposed over it.
A vast, double-spiralling molecule.
She did not want to read any more. Her head ached; her eyes were swimming. She was cold, she thought; but when she touched her forehead she found that she was sweating heavily. She wanted to stop. She needed to get out. Out in the open air, where she could breathe—
One final entry appeared on the screen. She stared at it for a moment, frozen, then reached out and deliberately turned the computer off.
When she looked up again she saw to her surprise that it was dark outside. It had been light only a few moments ago, it seemed. Had she really spent the entire afternoon working? She had never done that before. It wasn’t like her.
She got up from her desk and turned on the light. At once she felt better. That strange, oppressive feeling—that feeling of suffocation—was gone, and she could laugh at it. It was the year 4200, and there was surely nothing to be afraid of in a few tiny pieces of crystal. Nothing at all.
She picked up the slivers and stared at them for a few seconds. They looked quite innocuous, lying there in her palm. Tiny shining motes, showing nothing of the world inside…
She forced a laugh. Bah! It was all humbug. Chance resemblances, and nothing more. If she were to scan a piece of fluff, she’d probably find just as many peculiar matches. She stepped over to the window, and—before she could change her mind—threw them out. They glittered for a moment, then were gone.
It had to be a coincidence, she told herself as she turned away from the window. It had to be. After all, the last entry in the list was impossible! There had been none of them for thousands of years.
But the word appeared before her eyes again.
Impossible, she reminded herself. Just a coincidence.
But as she stood there, the world around her seemed to swim and vanish, and she saw something else: not the long-ago streets of Tokyo that she had been thinking of, but an altogether alien scene. A darkened plain beneath an unfamiliar starry sky, and a group of small, apelike creatures that clustered around a waterhole—and then fled, barking and screaming, as the skies opened up and something dreadful descended into their midst…
Then the image was gone, and she stood in her bedroom once more, blinking and gasping for breath.
She could not restrain a final shiver as she opened the door and went out to look for something to eat.
Her dreams that night were filled with the sound of drums.
Hideo spent much of Monday trying to track down Nanako and talk to her in private. It took some doing; she was all the rage today. Normally she hung around on the sidelines, avoiding attention, but today everyone had heard that she was on the scene during the last Senshi battle, and they all wanted to hear the details.
That was understandable. Hideo wanted to hear them too. But he wanted to hear the details that she wasn’t telling the rest.
When he finally managed to corner her, that was the first thing he asked. “Did you see her change? Who was she?”
Nanako groaned. “You’re at least the fiftieth person to ask me that today. Can’t anybody ask anything original?”
“Well, did you?” he demanded.
She gave him a dirty look. “No, Kawatake-kun, I did not see Sailor Uranus change. I was watching Jupiter and Mercury. I didn’t know anyone else was still there until Uranus attacked.”
He sighed his disappointment, and began to ask more questions. For a little while she kept up the pretence of being annoyed, but soon enough she abandoned it. She was enjoying retelling this, beyond any doubt.
“—Mercury and Uranus hit it together, and it exploded,” she finished. “The pieces went everywhere. I thought I’d never get them out of my hair, later.”
Hideo snorted at the irrelevance of hair and said, “Then what? Did they say anything?”
Nanako hesitated, for a bare instant. “No,” she said. “Not really. They talked for a few seconds—I couldn’t hear anything, worse luck—and then they ran out of the hole at the back.”
She was lying. If Hideo hadn’t been so habitually nosy, he might have missed it. But that moment’s hesitation, and the way she didn’t quite meet his eye…no, she was lying.
Furious, betrayed, he rounded on her. “I thought we had a deal!” he hissed. “You said you’d tell me everything! You promised! What happened? What really happened?”
She stared at him. “Are you calling me a liar?” she demanded indignantly.
She stood motionless, clenching and unclenching her fists. Something crossed her face. It might have been anger, or rue. “Dammit—” she began.
“You promised!” he insisted.
“I—” She hesitated for one moment longer. “Look, kid, you really can’t talk about this.”
“I don’t talk,” he said proudly.
“You talked to me.”
Deflated, he protested, “You talked to me first!”
“I think I have a better idea of what’s at stake—oh, damn, damn it all, I did promise. I—”
She turned away, and he heard her take a deep breath. Then she started to speak. “They were talking,” she said. “The Senshi, I mean. I couldn’t hear most of what they were saying. Then suddenly, someone else appeared. A woman. She just…appeared out of thin air. Floating, up above their heads…”
She told him the rest of what had happened. He had enough sense to hide his triumph, and listened in silence. “Who do you think she was?” he asked, when she finished.
Nanako shook her head, scowling. “Who knows? I think she said her name was Ishmael, but I could be wrong. I was too far away to be able to hear properly.” After a moment, frowning faintly, she said, “She looked familiar, somehow.”
“Do you think she was controlling that crystal monster thing?”
“Well, duh. Of course she was. What else would she have been doing there?”
He thought about it, then shrugged. This was getting better and better. Giant crystal monsters, and now teleporting villains…it was like the old stories come to life. “Why did you…I mean, why didn’t you want to tell me about this part?” he asked curiously.
He’d expected her to get angry again, but she only looked pensive. “It was after the woman disappeared,” she said slowly. “The Senshi. They were looking up at where she’d been, and, well, they looked worried. Scared, even.” She glanced down at Hideo. “Something she said, or something she did—it upset them. I just didn’t think I wanted to—” She stopped, looking a little bothered herself.
“Anyway,” resumed Nanako, “that was when they did leave. I trust that’s satisfactory?” she inquired sardonically. He nodded again, and she snorted. “Right. Look, I have to go. I’ll see you later, Kawatake-kun…”
Hideo watched her go, his mind whirling. What could make the Sailor Senshi afraid? Nanako had been right; that was worrying. Still lost in thought, he turned to leave himself, thrusting his hands into his pockets. Something crackled there, and he pulled it out. A piece of paper? Then he remembered.
“Wait! Come back!” he shouted. Some distance off, Nanako paused and looked back, irritation clear in her face. He ran after her, and offered her the paper. “I think you dropped this, a few days ago. I found it,” he said.
She sighed, but took it. “Not mine,” she said after a moment. “Where’d you find it? No, never mind. You were watching us at lunch again, right?” She frowned down at the paper. “Looks like Iku’s writing. What is this? English notes?” She snorted. “Well, I’ll give it back to her. Thanks, kid.”
“Hideo,” he said. But she was already walking away.
Nanako stopped to look at the paper again. It was in Iku’s handwriting, all right; they had been partners on assignments, a few times, and she recognised it well enough. But the words made little sense. They were in English:
With a host of furious fancies
Whereof I am commander,
With a burning spear, and a horse of air,
To the wilderness I wander.
By a knight of ghost and shadows
I summoned am to tourney,
Ten leagues beyond the wide world’s end.
Methinks it is no journey…
She recognised the quotation, vaguely: a poem their class had briefly studied, a few weeks before. (Where did Sensei come up with these things?) Underneath the words was a drawing. Iku’s work for sure: spiky, angular, out of proportion, but curiously striking for all that. A figure on a ghostly horse, holding aloft a burning spear. Most of it was only roughly done, a mere sketch, but she thought the figure looked a little like Iku herself. The spear, though, and the hand that held it, were drawn in great detail. The flame seemed to flow off the spear, right up the figure’s arm.
She shook her head. It was strange; but then, Iku had always been strange. Nanako, Eitoku and Beth were her only friends; and even they barely knew her. She seldom spoke; she was always so uncomfortable when anyone showed an interest in her…
She looked at the paper once more. At least it wasn’t a picture of a dog. Nanako knew as much about that story as she wanted to. Sighing, she folded the paper once more and put it in her pocket. She’d return it to Iku when she got the chance. For now—
She glanced at her watch, and sighed again. It was almost time to get back to classes. Bother Hideo!—he had made her miss her usual lunchtime with the others.
She didn’t ask much out of life, did she? She just wanted to lounge around peacefully with her friends, talking and laughing and teasing Eitoku. And of course to know absolutely everything about anything that was going on. Was that so much to ask? She didn’t want to do anything with the information. Just to know. Surely that was reasonable? But no, life kept on serving her up fresh complications.
Bother Hideo! Bother and bother again! Well, at least she’d managed to keep one thing from him: the question of the mysterious Dhiti, who was Sailor Mercury. She supposed she’d have to tell him, sooner or later; she had promised, after all. But not yet, she thought. Not until she knew a bit more.
She started toward her classroom, smiling faintly as she replayed the events of Friday evening in her mind. ‘Dhiti’…and a girl’s face, still clear in her memory: a Claver, Indian from the look of her. Yes, she would recognise the girl if she saw her again.
Her smile widened a little as she recalled how the evening had developed later. It was only the third time she and Eitoku had gone out, but once she’d found him in the crowds outside the theatre, just after she’d run into Iku, things had proceeded very satisfactorily indeed…
She stopped suddenly.
She had run into Iku outside the theatre. But Iku shouldn’t have been there. She had told Nanako that she wouldn’t be anywhere near the theatre that evening.
Why had Iku lied to her?
Kin was on her way out the school gate when she felt an arm curl around her shoulders and squeeze affectionately. Without glancing around she said, “Careful, Toshi. If anyone saw us, they could get jealous.”
The arm stiffened. A hand grasped her and spun her about. “And who,” demanded Liam, “would this Toshi be?”
She hid a smile. “Oh, Liam-kun!” she exclaimed. “It’s you. You should be more careful. You surprised me.”
“Surprised, is it?” There was a wounded look on his face, as much of it as she could see under that wild mane. “And just who might you have been expecting instead?”
“Expecting?” she said innocently. “Who would I be expecting but you?” The hurt look did not go away, and she tsk’d to herself. Really, he could be so dense. Her mother said all men were like that, but she’d never really believed it until now.
She decided to take pity on him. “I was joking, silly,” she explained carefully. “I knew it was you all along.”
“Ah, now, a joke, was it?” he said, looking relieved. “Sure and wasn’t I thinking I’d gone and grabbed the wrong girl?”
“You what?” she said before she could stop herself. Then she saw the glint in his eye. He’d known all along, the rat. Then again, maybe that was why she put up with him—he did keep her interested…
They started down the road together—not arm-in-arm, or holding hands, or anything that might suggest they were—well, together—but close. Comfortably close.
They talked amiably about this and that for a little. After a while Liam said, “And where would the inestimable Hayashi-san and Sharma-san be today? It’s a rare uncommon thing to see you without them, lucky fellow that I am.”
Kin spent a few seconds decoding this speech, and said, “Oh. Right. They had to go to Miyo-chan’s house for something. I forget what they said, but it sounded pretty dull.” After a moment she added thoughtfully, “Funny, but they’re always going off together lately. I wonder what they’re up to?”
It was odd, now that she thought about it. Almost as if she were being shut out. Oh, it was only her imagination, surely; they were her friends, she knew that. But next time, maybe she’d tag along, even if it was something boring.
“Together without you, is it?” Liam appeared to consider it gravely, and then grinned. “Ah, maybe they’re having a passionate affair, now. That would explain it, I’m thinking.”
Kin stopped dead and stared at him, shocked. “What? An affair? Them? I mean—them?” Liam stared to laugh and she flushed, humiliated. Then she started to laugh too. “Idiot,” she managed to say after a moment. “Everyone know that Miyo-chan’s crazy about Mark-san. Well, everyone except Miyo-chan and Mark-san, maybe. And Dhiti-chan is—well, Dhiti-chan is…” She trailed off. “I don’t know,” she finished at last. “But I’m sure she’s not like that.”
“Saving herself for the man of her dreams?” suggested Liam helpfully.
“Um.” It was hard to imagine Dhiti-chan being like that, either. “Well, maybe,” she said reluctantly. Then another thought occurred to her, and she was unable to hold back a smirk. “I wonder what her dream man would be like?”
“I shudder to think.” Then Liam snickered. “He’d have to be fast on his feet, sure enough.” He eyed her suggestively. “And what would your dream man be like, I am wondering?”
Kin found it rather difficult to look at him, suddenly. “Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “Some kind of fairy-tale prince, maybe. You don’t happen to know any of those, do you?”
He scratched his head. “Lately, in my dreams I’ve been a cat-burglar,” he admitted. “That may not be quite what you’re looking for.”
It was kind of romantic, though, Kin did not say. She walked along for a little, staring firmly at the ground. When she finally nerved herself to glance up at him, she found he was already looking at her.
“I enjoyed Friday night,” he said softly.
She resisted the urge to look away again. “So did I,” she said in a tiny voice.
He cleared his throat, unnecessarily loudly. “Um, look, would you like to go and get something to eat?” he suggested awkwardly. “I mean, I’m supposed to meet Mark later at the gym, but that’s not for—”
“Sure,” she said, causing him to stop in mid-sentence. She had to laugh at the mixture of nervousness and relief in his expression. “And by the way, your accent’s slipped again.”
He sighed. “I’m sorry I ever told you about that. Oh…well, would you be coming, then?”
She laughed and grabbed his hand, and they ran off together.
“Don’t worry,” Miyo said in a low voice as they walked up to the house. “It’s Miliko’s netball practice this afternoon. She won’t bother us.”
“That’s what you said last time,” muttered Dhiti back. “But what about your brothers? As I recall, you ended up threatening to—”
“Ha! If they try to poke their noses in, I’ll make them wish they were on Io!—Oh, hi, niisan,” she added as she opened the door.
“Don’t mind me,” remarked Ichiyo as he stepped past her on his way out. “I’m sure I’d prefer Titan, anyway.”
“You wish,” she jeered at his retreating back. “Anyway, that’s a completely different planet—” She cut off suddenly as Dhiti poked her in the back. “What do you think you’re doing?” she demanded.
“All part of the service,” Dhiti said cheerfully. Then, seeing Miyo’s expression, she cleared her throat. “You did ask me to remind you if you…” She trailed off, giving Miyo a meaningful look.
“If I what? Oh,” Miyo said, suddenly remembering. “Right. Sorry. I thought I’d gotten over doing that.”
“You have improved,” Dhiti admitted. With a smirk she added, “You haven’t been making a fool of yourself more than the usual two or three times a day, lately.” Then, before any minor injuries could occur, she went on hurriedly, “Are we going in, or what?”
“Wait a moment. I thought I saw what’s-her-name…Suzue-san coming. Yes, there she is.” Miyo suddenly shouted at the top of her lungs, “HEY! OVER HERE!”
“Thanks so much,” Dhiti grouched, gingerly removed her fingers from her ears. She watched as Suzue waved in response and started toward them, and said slowly, “What do you think of her, anyway?”
“Suzue-san?” Miyo pursed her lips. “I’m not sure. A bit quiet…that’ll be a nice change.” Dhiti poked out her tongue. “Certainly not much like Haruka,” she went on, holding in the pang of loss she felt as she said it. “C’mon, Dhiti-chan, what am I supposed to say? We only just met her, and that was right after she’d just been attacked by one of those crystal things!”
“Just asking,” Dhiti said wryly. “Take a look at what she’s wearing.”
Miyo did, and raised her eyebrows. Suzue must have gone home and changed out of her school uniform before coming here. She was wearing a blouse and slacks, with a light jacket over the top, all in dark browns and greens. Ostensibly simple clothes; but the material was good, they looked expensive, and fit her as if they had been tailored.
“Maybe her family has money?” Dhiti wondered aloud.
Miyo did not answer; Suzue was too close. Instead she put on a smile as the girl walked up to them, and said, “Hi! Come on in.” In a lower voice she added, “Don’t talk just yet.”
The three of them trooped through to Miyo’s room, nodding politely to Miyo’s parents as they passed through the living room. Once they were settled down, Miyo closed the door firmly and breathed a sigh.
“So,” she said. “Suzue-san, it’s all right to talk here—my sister shares the room, but she won’t be home until later. Just remember to keep your voice down.”
Suzue looked at her quizzically. “Do your parents not know about…all this?” she asked slowly.
“No. Why, have you—you haven’t told yours, have you?”
Shaking her head, Suzue said, “No. I wasn’t sure if—I mean, I don’t like to keep secrets. But this seemed so…” She shrugged.
“Yeah,” said Dhiti. “It’s a pain, not being able to talk about it. But it’d be worse the other way.” Her eyes acquired a familiar gleam. “After all, think of the alternative! ‘Bye, Dad, I’m just off to fight some more giant crystal thingumajigs, don’t wait up. Reserve my usual room at the hospital, just in case…’”
“Dhiti-chan…” said Miyo.
“‘Tell Tetsu-chan he can have my second-best stamp collection, and tell Mark-kun that I’ll always remember his smouldering kisses, that night on the beach. I regret that I have but one life to give for the Moon Kingdom—’”
“‘Smoke me a kipper, I’ll be—’ Well, anyway,” Dhiti finished, “what it boils down to is, it’s probably best not to worry them. See?” She looked disappointed when Suzue only raised a delicate eyebrow. Miyo continued to glare at her and she said, “Come on, obaasan. Lighten up a little!”
“I thought,” said Miyo through gritted teeth, “that we agreed that you weren’t going to call me that any more.”
“Sure, but did you get it in writing?” Dhiti eyed Miyo’s clenched fist and muttered, “Oh, I see, this is the other kind of agreement…”
“‘Obaasan’?” inquired Suzue.
“Don’t ask,” snapped Miyo.
“One of dear little Venus’s dear little jokes,” said Dhiti blithely.
Miyo snorted. ‘Dear little joke’ indeed. Dhiti had certainly borrowed it readily enough. When they finally tracked Venus down, it would be interesting to see which of those two would end up on top.
“Where is Sailor Venus, anyway?” asked Suzue. “Shouldn’t we wait for her?”
“Now that sounds familiar,” said another voice. They looked around, to see Artemis squeezing in through the partly-open window. He leaped down onto the bed, looked up at Suzue, and said, “The answer is no. Venus is not coming.”
Suzue stared at the cat. There was a strange expression on her face: as if, Miyo thought, she were trying to get up her nerve to do something. Odd. But then, it could be pretty weird, being faced with a talking cat like that. She remembered her own first time…
“Well, go on, furball,” she said, grinning at him. “Tell her why not.”
Now it was Artemis’ turn to get an odd expression. As far as cats could have expressions, of course; but Miyo had gotten to know him rather well, over the years. He glanced up at Miyo, and then away quickly; almost looking guilty, she thought, puzzled. At last, though, he gave in. “All right,” he said with a sigh, and explained briefly about Bendis and Venus, being as cryptic as ever (to Miyo’s irritation) about the reasons for their separation.
To Miyo’s delight, Suzue called him on it immediately. “Why are you working apart, then?” she asked.
Artemis glanced up at Miyo again. Then, to her utter astonishment, he answered.
“Well…Bendis and I don’t get on very well. Why…is rather a long story, and I won’t go into it now. But—” Another quick, guilty look at Miyo. Why? But he kept on talking, his words slow and unwilling. “A month or so ago, we had a big fight about…well, that doesn’t matter either. She ran off in a temper, and I…”
He sighed. “The truth is, I have no idea where she is, or where Venus is, or even who Venus is. I’ve been looking for Bendis ever since, but no luck. I saw her briefly last Friday, but she ran off again. I don’t think she’s forgiven me yet…”
He eyed Miyo sidelong, then looked down and said, “I’m sorry. I should have told you all before this.”
“So that’s it,” Miyo breathed. A lot of things started to make sense. The way he had been watching all the schoolgirls on the day she first met Venus, for example.
Artemis looked annoyed. “You don’t have to pretend you didn’t know already,” he said.
“What?” Miyo stared at him. “But I didn’t!”
“Of course you did! Itsuko must have told you!”
“She refused to! She just laughed and said she didn’t want to spoil your story!”
“What? Why, that—if I’d known you didn’t—I’d have never—” He spluttered to a stop, visibly fuming.
Dhiti started to laugh.
Suzue asked, “Who is Itsuko-san?”
The front door opened, and a girl stepped inside. Hayashi Hitomaru looked up in surprise. “You’re home early,” he said.
“They cancelled practice,” said Miliko. “Sensei broke his leg.” The idea of missing out on netball for a week didn’t seem to upset her much.
Hitomaru tsk’d, shaking his head. As Miliko headed out down the passageway toward her room, he called after her, “Oh, Miyo’s got some friends over.”
“Okay,” Miliko returned. “I’ll just leave my bag and go over to Masumi-chan’s place.” Hitomaru shrugged, and returned to his newspaper.
Miliko started to open her bedroom door, then paused, hearing voices from inside. To her surprise, one of them sounded like a man. Did Miyo have a boyfriend in there? Grinning in delight, she pressed her ear to the door and listened intently.
After a little, her eyes widened.
“I can’t say,” admitted Miyo reluctantly.
“You what?” Dhiti gave her a very old-fashioned look. “This isn’t like when you couldn’t tell me if there was a Sailor Pluto, is it?”
“Like—?” Miyo blinked. “Oh! No.” She grinned for an instant, then looked uncomfortable. “I—well, I promised not to say.”
“Oh, come on,” wheedled Dhiti. Suzue, watching, hid a smile.
Artemis cleared his throat. “Itsuko is an old friend of mine,” he said smoothly. “Someone I’ve worked with a few times over the years, back before any of you became Senshi. She, err, knows that Miyo is Sailor Jupiter. Don’t worry, Dhiti-san; she can be trusted. She’s just…protective of her privacy, that’s all.”
Dhiti looked at him through narrowed eyes. “Hmm,” she said. He began to sweat.
Then she leaned over to Suzue and stage-whispered, “I can’t make up my mind. Sodium pentothal, do you think?” Suzue looked startled, then gave her a pained look. Artemis visibly relaxed, which made Dhiti snort. The mood, which had become tense, was broken.
In the midst of the laughter, Dhiti shot Miyo a we’ll-talk-about-this- later look. Miyo bit her lip, but nodded back.
At last Artemis cleared his throat and said, “If I may break into the merriment…? Thank you. There are a few other things we need to talk about. Suzue-san—I suppose I should say ‘welcome’—”
Miyo sighed, then laughed softly. “I suppose we all should,” she agreed. “I don’t think any of us were expecting to see Sailor Uranus so soon, but…hey, four is better than three, right? And I think we’re going to need every Senshi we can get, by the end of this.”
“Almost certainly,” confirmed Artemis seriously. “Suzue-san, you should take this.” He indicated an object that was lying on Miyo’s dresser. “It’s your communicator. You can use it to stay in touch with the others.”
Suzue picked it up, examining it carefully. It looked like an ordinary wristwatch. She check it against the one she was already wearing. “It’s a little fast,” she observed.
“Umm, yes,” said Artemis. He looked over at Miyo hastily. “Miyo, I assume you haven’t managed to give Sailor Venus her communicator yet?”
Miyo snorted. “I’ve only seen her once since you gave it to me, and I didn’t have it with me at the time,” she said.
“Yeah, well, keep trying, okay?” Under his breath (though still audibly) Artemis added, “The sooner I get the lot of you together, the better. This stupid division has gone on far too long…”
“You got that right,” muttered Dhiti.
Suzue cleared her throat. “If I could ask,” she said hesitantly. “I was wondering about the ble—uh, about Sailor Moon? Do you expect to find her also?”
Artemis looked uncomfortable. “I hope so,” he said at last. “But that’s a different thing altogether. Sailor Moon isn’t just a Senshi—in fact, she needn’t be a Senshi at all. What she is is the heir to the throne. The princess of the Moon Kingdom. But when Queen Serenity died, there was no heir. Princess Usagi died months before the end, when the disaster all began, and the Queen never had any other children. It’s possible…” He hesitated, then said it. “It’s possible that this time around, there will be no heir. No princess. No Sailor Moon.”
Suzue swallowed. She looked shaken, aghast—as if she’d been slapped, or had had a glass of water thrown in her face. Miyo felt a moment’s sympathy. She really seemed to take the news hard. Even harder than Miyo had, when Artemis had first told her.
“Still,” Suzue said anxiously, “you hope that there will be?”
“Yes. There could be. When she died, the Queen was working to send the spirits of the dead forward into this time, the way her mother did. We know that she at least partly succeeded—Miyo is proof of that—”
“Miyo-san?” Suzue looked puzzled.
“Miyo is Kino Makoto reborn. In her previous life she was the Sailor Jupiter of Crystal Tokyo. And before that, the last Sailor Jupiter of the Silver Millennium.”
“Are you okay, Suzue-san?” asked Miyo, concerned. “You look awfully funny.”
“I’m all right,” said Suzue faintly. Her face was pale, her eyes very wide. She looked up at Miyo and said, “This is true? You’re…you were…?”
Miyo shrugged. “Yeah. But look, it’s not that big a deal. Okay, I remember what it was like back then, thanks to Artemis”—she shot the cat a dirty look—“but apart from that, it doesn’t actually make that big a difference. I can’t even use most of the powers I had back then; I have to learn them all over again.” Another dirty look.
“Not my doing,” said Artemis innocently.
“So you…are not who you were?” said Suzue slowly. She seemed to be struggling with the idea, as if desperate to accept it. “This…you…is a different person?”
“Well, I mean, it is part of me, of course. To start with, when I remembered everything, it almost swamped me. But I’ve been learning to sort things out, and—” Miyo shrugged. “Still…I guess you could say that, yeah, I’m not who I was. I’m not Kino Makoto any more. I’m Hayashi Miyo, and that’s the way I like it.”
“Yes. All right.” Suzue closed her eyes, then opened them again and said something very odd. “I’ll try and remember that,” she told Miyo.
Miyo stared at her, then shrugged. “Okay, whatever. Look, Artemis, we still have to decide what to do about that crazy floating woman and her whatchamacallits, vitrimorphs…”
Things degenerated into a general discussion of the attack at the theatre. Even Suzue seemed to lose her reserve after a while and offered her impressions of what had happened.
Unfortunately, there were no real conclusions to be reached. Miyo thought that the floating woman was the same one who’d been controlling the vitrimorph at the dressmaker’s, but Dhiti disagreed. They speculated on the jewel embedded in her forehead, and theorised about the mysteriously-functional Crystal Tokyo tracker she’d used, but in the end they simply had nothing concrete to work on. Artemis had hoped that Dhiti might have been able to find something about the fragments of shattered vitrimorph she’d taken away from the last two attacks. But Dhiti only made a face and said that her computer had not been able to get anything meaningful out of them.
In the end, they were no wiser than when they began. It was a disgruntled Artemis who eventually told them that they might as well stop as they were getting nowhere. He suggested that they look for an isolated spot to practise their powers in, for a group training meeting that weekend. And finally, they broke up and filed out of the room.
Miyo went to the door with the other two. She held Dhiti back for a moment after Suzue left. “Dhiti-chan—”
Dhiti stood looking at her, almost expressionlessly. “Yeah,” she said.
“I really did promise. I’m sorry.”
“Yeah.” After a little, Dhiti sighed. “That explanation’s going to have to be a pretty good one, Hayashi.”
“Oh, it is.” Miyo ventured a smile, and Dhiti grinned back. Things weren’t perfect—she was keeping secrets again, and Dhiti knew it and clearly resented it. But Dhiti was willing to let it go, for now. And so maybe it could be all right after all…
As Dhiti turned to go, Miyo touched her arm. “You were asking me what I thought of Suzue-san?” she said.
Dhiti raised an eyebrow. “Yeah?”
“Well…she is a bit quiet. And a little weird. But I think she’s okay.”
“Yeah,” said Dhiti. “Yeah, that’s about what I was thinking. Seeya, Hayashi.”
As Miyo headed back inside, her father stopped her. “Miyo, might I have a word for a moment?” he said quietly.
“Sure,” she said cheerfully. “What’s up, tousan?”
He led her into the living room. To her surprise, everyone was there: her mother, Ichiyo, Fujimaro, and even Miliko. She hadn’t heard Ichiyo come back in. And what was Miliko doing back at this hour?
“Miyo,” said Hitomaru slowly, “Miliko has given us some rather…disturbing news. I was hoping that you could clarify matters.”
“Mili-chan?” Miyo began to feel worried. Miliko looked nervous, upset. Had something happened at her school? “What’s the matter?” she asked.
Her mother spoke up. “Miyo, Miliko says…” She stopped, looking flustered, then said in a rush, “Miliko says that you are Sailor Jupiter. Is it true?”
“I—” Miyo froze. “What?”
“I was just going in to leave my bag! I heard you talking!” Miliko blurted out guiltily. “I—I thought it was cool! But—” She looked up at Hitomaru, and seemed to flinch.
“Is it true?” her father prompted her.
Miyo stuttered to a halt. Of all the things that could have gone wrong, this had somehow never occurred to her. What do I say? she thought, half-panicked. What am I supposed to do?
She found no answer. It was simply not something she’d ever had to think about before.
This situation, this moment of confrontation, was something the others had all gone through, one way or another, back in the Twentieth Century. For most of them it had been easy enough, when they’d finally decided to tell their families. But one way or another, it was a moment that all of them had faced. All of them except her. She was the one with no parents, the one who didn’t have to explain anything to anybody…
She’d never thought of being an orphan as an advantage before now. But suddenly, for one brief moment, she wished she could be Makoto again. She had lived three lifetimes, and nothing in any of them had prepared her for this.
“I know you would not lie to your family, Miyo,” said her father softly.
“This is stupid!” said Fujimaro suddenly, turning away from her. His face was screwed up in exasperation and disbelief. “It’s just Miliko playing another one of her stupid jokes! How could you ever think—”
“It’s true,” whispered Miyo.
The blood drained from Fujimaro’s face. “—What?” He looked betrayed.
“It’s true. I am Sailor Jupiter.” She took a deep breath. “I’m a Senshi.”
He stared at her incredulously for a long moment. “You’re lying,” he said. He sounded like he was trying to convince himself. “This is a trick—”
“No. It’s not. I—” She stopped, biting her lip. There was no other way for it. Something more concrete was required.
She did it; there, before their eyes, she pulled out her henshin wand and said the words. Light and sound and energy filled the room; the thunder and the glory shook the house, sending magazines and papers fluttering through the air and momentarily making everyone’s hair stand on end. And then she was Sailor Jupiter, and her family were staring at her as if they’d seen a ghost.
“I’m sorry, Fuji-kun,” she said simply.
Her mother gasped, a long sound that was almost a cry. Ichiyo sat down quickly, his eyes very wide. Fujimaro stared at her for a long time, then looked away. Miliko looked relieved, vindicated. And her father was—
Hayashi Hitomaru’s face was unreadable. “For how long?” he asked.
She let the transformation lapse, became Miyo again. “I don’t know,” she said wearily. “About three weeks now, I suppose.”
Hands clasped, the fingers steepled, he nodded slowly. “So,” he said, very quietly. “I was reluctant to believe such a wild story. And yet, it explained so much of your…odd behaviour of late.” He pursed his lips; in the same quiet tone he asked, “And when were you going to tell us about this?”
She could not look him in the eye. “I wasn’t,” she admitted. “Not for a while…maybe not for a long time. At least, not until we’ve dealt with this—these monsters that are—”
He grimaced. “Monsters.” His voice held dismissal. “Monsters are not the problem here.” His eyes were impersonal, stern. “Dishonesty is the problem. For sixteen years I have believed that I could trust my daughter. Now I find that I cannot. That is the problem here.” He bowed his head; still quietly, he said, “I am very disappointed, Miyo.”
“You don’t understand!” she protested. “Otousan, this is something I have to do!”
“Indeed?” he said. “That, too, is not the issue.”
“I thought you’d be proud of me,” she whispered.
“Proud, that my daughter is a liar? No—” He held up a hand as she started to speak. “A lie of omission is still a lie. Whatever your motives, that remains.”
Anger began to stir in her. “And why should I have told you?” she demanded. “I don’t have to tell you everything I do! I don’t tell you if I get eat an ice-cream on the way home from school, why should I have to tell you about this? It doesn’t concern you!”
It was an infantile argument; she knew that even as she said it. But he only said patiently, “If my daughter is becoming a costumed hero and fighting monsters in her spare time, I would say that that concerns me very much.”
She looked away, defeated—and then hesitated. He’d called her a ‘costumed hero’…could that mean that he didn’t entirely disapprove?
“What are you going to do?” she asked.
“I have not yet decided,” he said.
Her heart sank. He only put off a decision when he didn’t trust himself to be fair, and that meant…She looked him in the eyes, and saw, finally, the depth of his anger.
“Oh,” she said meekly, and turned away.
She hated being meek. She had always believed that anger was a better solution; better to face your problems with an angry fist than cower away and cry. But this situation was different. This was family. How could she fight this?
Nothing seemed to fit. She still did not know what to do. Frustrated, depressed, she started toward her room.
“One moment,” he called after her. She stopped, and he said, “I trust that there are no other such secrets you have been keeping from me?”
The formality in his voice was like a slap. She shook her head slowly and said, “No.”
Then she remembered.
And she told them about her past lives. About being Makoto, and Hebe.
A black silence fell when she finished, like the silence of a graveyard. They stared at her as if she’d been talking gibberish. Or as if she’d grown a second head. As if she were some kind of monster. Or a total stranger—
“You…are not my daughter?” whispered Aki. She buried her head in her hands and started to cry.
“No—okaasan, no, it’s not like that—” Suddenly, terrified, Miyo was gabbling, talking as fast as she could, saying whatever came into her head, trying to find something, anything, that would take this hurt away. “It’s not—I’m still the same—you’re the one, the only mother I ever—please, don’t cry, I’m still the same as I always—”
She felt a hand on her shoulder. Her father spun her around. His face was dark with rage. “Is this true?” he demanded. “Tell me! Is this true? You are no true daughter of mine, but some kind of…cuckoo?”
She tried to force calmness into her voice, to still her wildly-racing thoughts. Her hands were trembling. “Please,” she said. “Please…you don’t understand! It’s not like that at all! I am your daughter! You—you sired me, and mother gave birth to me—”
“What did you say?” he hissed.
The fury in his voice was so great that she flinched. “Don’t you see?” she begged. “You raised me, all these years—you loved me—you truly are my parents! You—” She searched for the words to explain it. “Don’t you see?” she repeated. “I’m not just Makoto and Hebe—I’m Miyo too! I’m what you brought me up to be. Part of me may be what Queen Serenity sent forward in the Fall, but—”
She never even saw the blow coming. It spun her around, knocked her sprawling on the floor. She stared up at her father in disbelief, lifting one hand to her cheek. It was just beginning to hurt.
“Damn you!” Hitomaru shouted. “Damn you, and your damned Queen Serenity too! How dare she play games with our lives like this? How dare she? She…she used us! You used us! You…you invaded this family, stole yourself a home…you lived off us, all these years—”
“No!” she wailed. “Otousan! Okaasan!”
“Go cry to your father and mother on Jupiter, not to me!” he roared. “You are nothing of mine! You have no place here! Get out! Leave this house and do not return!”
“No—” she whispered, unable to move.
“Will you not? Will you make me throw you out? See here!” Hitomaru reached out, and pulled Miliko to him. “You are not my daughter!” he shouted at Miyo again. Frightened, not really understanding, Miliko burst into tears, and he picked her up, holding her to him protectively. “This is my daughter—my only daughter,” he hissed. “You are a stranger to me!”
“Papa,” she said. “Papa…”
He turned his back on her, holding Miliko close, muffling her wails. Miyo stared around the room, desperate, trying to understand how this had happened so quickly, trying to make sense of it all…trying to see some way to make it better. Her mother was still weeping bitterly, not looking at her at all. Ichiyo was at Aki’s side, his hand on her shoulder, talking to her quietly. Fujimaro was staring from Miyo to Hitomaru, his face white, looking as if he were about to faint. Her father…had just disowned her.
Ashes. Everything was ashes.
She turned and left.
Captain Aoiro was at work. Working out, that is, at the Olympus gymnasium.
It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it. He came in here every day, spent an hour or so exercising, and struck up conversations with the other people. Quite often, the subject of cats came up.
An odd way of making a living, really, but not too bad, considering some of the other missions he’d been on for ‘S’ Division. It was just too bad that he detested gymnasiums; but that couldn’t be helped. This certainly had its fringe benefits, anyway. He was making a lot of new friends. His physical fitness rating had certainly never been so good. And sometimes, he was able to remove a name or two from the long list of people who might know something about a lost-and-found poster that had appeared one day and disappeared the next.
He certainly wasn’t getting anywhere today, though. He had to rotate his hours, according to the schedule that Captain Hiiro had worked out, so as to meet a different set of faces daily. Today he was working the evening shift, and he already recognised all the people who were here. He’d spoken to most of them and eliminated quite a few already. The rest just weren’t talkative. He wondered how Hiiro would react if he suggested spiking the water cooler with something to lower their inhibitions a little. Not too favourably, probably.
Some of the people here didn’t have many inhibitions, at least. He grinned to himself as he remembered the look on the receptionist’s face when he’d arrived earlier. It seemed that Aizawa Ochiyo’s secret admirer had left her flowers again last night. Ahh, young love at work. Well, good for her. He’d felt guilty about what he’d had to do to her, the night he broke into the suite upstairs. It was nice to hear she was having a little better luck now.
Pedalling furiously, he suppressed a sigh. Things were pretty hard up when a teenage romance was his main interest for the day. This whole investigation was dragging on ridiculously. After almost a month, they were virtually certain that the Olympus was a dead-end; the only reason they were still here at all was that the damn cat-search had such a ridiculously high priority, and the Olympus was the only half-reasonable lead the Department had ever gotten. Morale in the team was dropping through the floor. Kuroi hardly paid any attention to the investigation any more, spending most of his time training Kitada. Hiiro’s attention was all on the Hoseki probe. Mitsukai had quit monitoring the bugs they’d planted; she glanced at the transcriptions once a day, but otherwise buried herself in technical journals. Aoiro himself was the only one who made half an effort any more, and that was only because he had nothing else to do…
The timer blipped, and he stopped pedalling with a sigh, mopping his brow. As he made his way over to the rowing machine, he saw two more young men coming in. Automatically, he checked them against his memorised name lists. Wright and Keenan. Yes, he’d seen them a few times before. Both were definite ‘no’s on the poster.
He sat down and started rowing.
Mark saw someone glance up at them as he and Liam came in. A tall, blond man in his thirties. Mark had seen him before, even spoken to him once or twice. A nice enough bloke; talkative, but he seemed to have a fixation on cats. It was odd, too, the way he always seemed to check everyone out as they came in.
He and Liam started on their warmups. Liam had a silly smile on his face, which probably meant that he’d been seeing Kin again. Mark found it a little hard to imagine those two together; Kin was such a tiny thing. Mark found taller girls far more attractive. Girls like—
He suppressed the thought hastily. He didn’t want everyone in the gym to be able to see what he was thinking about.
They finished warming up and started in on their usual routines. As always, Liam seemed to want to try out every piece of equipment the Olympus had. Mark preferred to stick to weights, for the most part. Both approaches seemed to be producing more or less the same results, which was a little annoying.
He could hear loud music pulsing in the background. There was an aerobics class going on in the next room. The dividing wall was only a sheet of dark glass, so he could see them at work. Pappadopoulos-san was taking it herself, he noticed. She looked pretty good in a leotard; he made himself look away before he started to think about how good. Damn, what was wrong with him today? Only one thing on his mind…
The music was infectious, and after a little he realised that he was moving in time to it. After a little, he started humming under his breath. In the moments when he had enough breath to spare, anyway.
When he looked up again, he saw Miyo.
He stopped what he was doing, startled. She was standing in the next room, talking to Pappadopoulos-san. Apparently she’d just walked in and interrupted the class. There was somebody behind her, trying to pull her away, but she was ignoring whoever it was, and now Pappadopoulos-san was waving them away…
There were tears running down Miyo’s cheeks. Her eyes were puffy. She looked as though the world had just ended.
He heard somebody come up behind him. Liam said, “What’s the matter? Hey, isn’t that—?”
“Ssh.” Miyo and Pappadopoulos-san were going off to one side, out into the corridor. What was happening? Why was Miyo here, and talking to the owner? And what could have happened to her, to make her look so desolated…?
Without thinking, he went to the doorway and snuck a glance out. Nobody was in sight, but the door into the office was just closing. He bit his lip, then snuck silently up to the door and pressed his ear to it.
He wasn’t an eavesdropper. He wasn’t. But this…this was Miyo.
The sound was muffled, but he could just make out Miyo’s voice saying, “I didn’t know what to do…I don’t have anywhere else to go…” She was crying again.
“Yes, of course,” he heard Pappadopoulos-san answer. “I’ll do whatever I can. Look, go upstairs now. You know the door code. Make yourself comfortable. I’ll have to make a few excuses, but I’ll be with you in a few minutes…”
Mark froze, startled. Miyo knew the owner of the Olympus? And knew her very well, from the sound of it. But he’d never seen her here before.
Then the full import of what he’d just heard settled in. I don’t have anywhere else to go… What had happened to Miyo?
He heard footsteps, and hastily made his way back down the corridor before the door opened again. Liam shot him an enquiring glance, and he shrugged in return.
For want of anything else to do, they returned to their workouts. A minute or two later, he saw another instructor enter the room next door and resume the aerobics class. Pappadopoulos-san did not reappear.
The Council meeting on Wednesday afternoon began normally enough, but it went to hell very quickly after that.
Only twelve of the fifteen Councillors were there. Two of the absences were to be expected; the directors of ‘A’ and ‘C’ Divisions were uninitiated and thus were routinely sidetracked when there was anything important to discuss. Whereas the director of ‘K’ Division was…no longer precisely human, and had her own priorities these days.
That was the theory, at least. Fifteen minutes after the meeting began, Number Twelve appeared anyway, rippling into view with a faint whisper of displaced air and dropping lightly into her chair. She grinned around at their shocked faces, and magnanimously waved at the chairman to continue. The glow from the jewel embedded in her forehead reinforced the motion rather dramatically.
The other Councillors shifted uneasily. Since her transformation, Twelve had become…unsettling. Uncomfortable to deal with. But it did not do to go against her…
They were all linked to the Master, of course. Usually, the chairman served as a focal point, relaying instructions; but if necessary, the shadow might descend over their thoughts at any time, filling them with the Master’s presence and telling them what was required. That was how it worked. You received orders and obeyed them; and if you did well enough, then the Master hardly ever did speak to you personally, and that was infinitely to be desired.
But Twelve now had a far more direct link to the Master than any of them. She spoke with the Master’s voice. That was reason enough to be wary. But she was also a reminder: an example of what might happen to them if they didn’t perform satisfactorily…
Only the chairman seemed immune to her presence. He simply nodded to her, and said, “Let us resume. The governments of Tejico and Catalonia have asked for an official statement of position on the Senshi issue. The Duchy of Grande Brasile wants to know if we intend to stand down in their favour. There are a number of other official communications on the subject—I’ll spare you the list—”
“Thank you,” muttered Nine sourly, just audibly. She was a woman in her mid-thirties, the director of ‘P’ Division.
The chairman raised an eyebrow, but said only, “Indeed. One way or another, I think we must adopt a public position, and soon. The economy is beginning to be affected; I believe that ‘F’ Division can confirm that the markets are down…?” Number Four, a tall, dark-skinned man, nodded slightly. “So,” the chairman continued. “The effects are minor, thus far, but it would be well to ensure that they remain that way.”
“I don’t see that there’s an issue,” said Eight, with a sidelong glance at Twelve. Emboldened by her silence, he added, “It’s only an heir to Serenity that we’d be obliged to stand down for, and there isn’t any.”
“Yet,” put in Five.
He shrugged. “If you insist. Yet. Perhaps an announcement to the effect that we’re monitoring the situation, but that unless an heir presents herself—”
Four was shaking his head. “I think we’ll need something a little more concrete than that,” he said firmly. “Without a firm, definite position, things will only deteriorate. We can’t afford to look weak to the rest of the world.”
Twelve stirred. “Or you could ask me,” she said brightly.
The eyes of everyone else at the table were suddenly on her. She smiled, seeming to enjoy the attention. Then, as if a mask were being removed, suddenly the smile was gone, and they saw another kind of mask: the mask of a power that wore this body like a puppet.
“These discussions are irrelevant,” she snapped. “Locating and observing the Senshi, and forcing their development, is the only priority. All effort must be devoted to this.”
“We are of course doing everything we can in that respect,” said Two smoothly. He was a middle-aged man with short, curly hair. “But to be able to continue doing that, it’s vital that we keep a firm control over the country. If we relax our grip before we’re ready, the political and diplomatic repercussions could seriously inconvenience—”
“This is also irrelevant,” said Twelve flatly. “Play your political games if you must. But the search must take priority over everything.” She paused, and a glint of dark humour glittered in her eye. “Perhaps it is time for the search for the Senshi to take a new path. One that utilises tactics which”—she smiled coldly—“I believe are much favoured by ‘S’ Division.”
Most of the Councillors glanced at Three, who frowned, puzzled.
“Here is what you are to do,” Twelve went on. She spoke for several minutes, giving them a clear and detailed set of instructions. As they listened—as the full import of what she was ordering settled in—their faces became paler and paler. A few of them looked sick.
“Any questions?” Twelve finished, smiling around at them maliciously.
There was a long, horrified pause.
“You—you can’t be serious,” whispered Six, her face ashen.
“I think this is very ill-advised,” said Two gravely.
“There are some lines,” said the chairman tentatively, “which it would perhaps be better not to cross—”
“You are not questioning the plan’s efficacy?” Twelve sounded curious.
“Efficacy?” burst out Six. “I question its sanity! This is the most abominable…monstrous…you cannot do this! You must not! How dare you even suggest such a—”
“Yes?” said Twelve sweetly. Six stared at her for a moment, then turned away. She looked sick.
Number Seven cleared his throat. “Efficacious or not, I think this highlights another point,” he said a little pompously. “Number Twelve, do you really think it’s appropriate for you to remain a member of this Council? After all, you do have, ahh, other duties now. And it can hardly be possible for you to remain the head of ‘K’ Division, with your current, er, appearance. Not to mention the fact that we can no longer hold a full Council meeting, since we cannot allow numbers Thirteen and Fifteen to see you, looking as you do! May I therefore suggest—”
Twelve stared at him. “You’re trying to get rid of me,” she said, delighted. She started to laugh. “Oh, this is priceless!”
Seven looked pained. “Priceless it may be,” he began, “but I believe I have raised a number of valid points—”
He recoiled, shock registering on his face.
Twelve had changed. The jewel in her forehead gave a single, brief flicker; then suddenly it was gone, and her blue-and-silver bodysuit was replaced with the uniform of a Councillor. To all appearances, she was the old, untransformed Twelve again. Except for the dark, malicious grin in her face.
“Appearances,” she said softly, “are irrelevant.” And she started to laugh once more.
In mid-laugh, she changed again. Without warning, there was a duplicate of Seven in her seat, laughing at him. Even her voice had become a perfect match for his.
“No,” he whispered.
“Yes,” his doppelganger said. “Yes.” As it laughed, it suddenly began to bleed: a trickle from the nose at first, and then more; and then drops of blood began to leak from its eyes and ears, and as it opened its mouth to laugh again a great crimson gout spurted forth, and Seven scrabbled back, screaming—
The apparition was gone, and Twelve was back, the jewel in her forehead pulsing. She was not laughing any longer.
“Just remember who you’re dealing with,” she said. “That’s all.” She shimmered and vanished.
Pandemonium raged for some time in her wake. Everyone started talking at once, complaining, arguing, sympathising, and lamenting. The chairman eventually had to shout for order.
“What are we going to do?” Fourteen asked, when she could make herself heard once more.
“Do?” The chairman smiled humourlessly; but they could all see that he, too, was worried. “Why, we’re going to obey her orders, of course. Unless you’d like to argue with her?”
Fourteen seemed to hunch in on herself, shaking her head repeatedly.
“I thought not. Well, then, you all know what’s required of you. In the meantime—” He grimaced. “I do have a thought about how to resolve our political situation…”
The ‘S’ Division forces began to converge before first light on Friday morning. Twenty men and women gathered at predetermined points around the target, arming themselves and strapping on body armour.
At 0530, Captain Hiiro received a “Go” from headquarters. He gave the signal for Stage One. For an area of several blocks around the target, officers began redirecting traffic. Opals began to move in overhead to scan the area and monitor for any escape attempts.
At 0532, Stage One was declared in operation. Hiiro nodded quickly, and gave the order for Stage Two.
‘S’ Division closed in on the Hoseki Property Group.
Beth finished eating, closed her bentou box, and lay back with a sigh of contentment. It was a quiet, peaceful day—it had been a quiet, peaceful week, actually—and she was pleasantly drowsy.
It seemed to have affected the others, as well. Even Nanako and Eitoku had left off their usual bickering. Eitoku was lying on his stomach, reading a book, and for a wonder so was Nanako: a book of poetry, of all things. Beth had stolen a look at it earlier, but gave up when she saw that it was all in English. Who’d have thought that Nanako went in for that stuff? Beth was fond of poetry herself—not just the verses she wrote in secret—but at least she stuck to comprehensible languages.
Ah, well. Each to her own. At least she was keeping quiet, which was about the best you could generally ask of Nanako. Whatever poem she was reading, it must have been a murky one, from the way she was frowning. Every now and then she’d look up and rub her forehead, as if her head ached, and then steal a glance across at Iku. That was a little odd. Maybe she wished that she were drawing a picture instead, the way Iku was. (Beth had stolen a look at that, too. Iku wasn’t much of an artist, but it might have been a dog. Or an elephant.)
She took a long, slow breath, then released it. It was a beautiful day, warm and clear. There was just time to catch a decent nap before she had to go back into class.
Then Nanako sat up with a start, exclaiming aloud. The other three looked over at her, frowning as one.
Nanako cleared her throat. “Sorry,” she said. “Just something I read. It…surprised me, that’s all.”
“The butler did it,” said Eitoku absently. Nanako whacked him with her book.
Beth sighed again. Maybe, when you came right down to it, some things never did change.
Nanako stared blankly at the page in front of her, frowning in concentration. It had taken her some time to track down the poem on Iku’s lost sheet of paper, and trying to read it was taking even more time. The damn thing was pretty obscure, and half the time the words were in the wrong order…
She was not entirely sure why she was going to all this trouble. But in the last few days, Iku had begun to interest her strangely. What was going on behind that closed face? Why was she apparently so interested in an unintelligible poem? And why, why had she lied about going to the theatre?
Nanako had considered just asking her about it. After all, it was a minor point. Maybe she’d finished her dentist appointment early, and simply changed her mind about coming. And yet…when she arrived, she was out of breath, as if she’d just run a mile; and that was more than an hour after the film started. Why run so hard to get to a film that you were going to miss anyway?
Most interestingly, it wasn’t the first time Iku had lied. Two and a half weeks ago, there’d been that big fire downtown, when the Senshi fought the first one of those crystal monsters. Iku had been there; she said that she’d seen the fire as she was passing on her way home from school. But Nanako happened to know that Iku lived almost in the opposite direction.
Why lie? Especially, why lie about something so trivial? It was almost as if Iku didn’t know why she’d been there, either time…
Shaking her head, she returned to the damn poem. Tom o’ Bedlam’s Song, it was called. It seemed that that was a reference to a bunch of wandering beggars who had roamed about England, thousands of years ago. Apparently a lot of them had been mad, or half-mad, which Nanako had to admit fitted the poem.
It had several more verses than they’d studied in class, but they weren’t any easier going. Then, as she read further, muttering the unfamiliar words to herself, she came across a verse that made her sit bolt-upright, exclaiming aloud in surprise.
Everyone else gave her dirty looks, of course. “Sorry,” she explained sheepishly. “Just something I read. It…surprised me, that’s all.”
“The butler did it,” observed Eitoku wisely. She hit him, and, even more wisely, he shut up.
As everybody settled down once more, Nanako returned her eyes to the page in front of her. Now that’s an interesting coincidence, she thought. She read through it again:
I know more than Apollo,
For oft when he lies sleeping
I see the stars at bloody wars
In the wounded welkin weeping,
The moon embrace her shepherd
And the queen of Love her warrior…
She stopped there. The moon, and the queen of Love? The stars at war? And she happened to know that in Greek legend, Apollo had a twin sister named Artemis. She shook her head dubiously. It had to be a coincidence; it simply had to be. But all the same—
Quite suddenly, a number of facts rearranged themselves in her mind.
She stared down at the page, shocked. This, of all things, she would never have suspected. It was ridiculous, it was quite impossible, and yet…She reassembled the evidence, went over it piece by piece. A ludicrous conclusion, and yet it all fit.
The poem. And the lies. And that picture. With a blazing spear…I summoned am to tourney. And even the way Iku had gotten shyer than ever since Beth had joined their group. And all the other, niggling little strangenesses…
Iku was a Senshi.
Later, she managed to find Hideo and talk to him in private. She was going to need his help.
“Really?” he said doubtfully. “Kodama-san? Her? Which one is she, then? Jupiter, Mercury or Uranus?”
“No, you don’t understand,” Nanako said impatiently. “Not one of them. Don’t you see? She’s one of the ones who hasn’t become a Senshi yet.”
“Oh.” He blinked at her. “What do you want me to do, then?”
Nanako grinned. “You’ve got to help me talk to Bendis.”
When school let out, Miyo headed for the gates as quickly as she could. Avoiding her friends had become one of her main priorities in life over the last three days.
At first, when she went to school on Wednesday, she’d hoped that she’d be able to keep it all a secret—that somehow, in spite of it all, she’d be able to carry on normally. That hope had been shattered almost immediately. Somehow, Wright Mark had found out about what had happened—a distorted version of it, at least. By lunchtime, half the school seemed to know that something was up.
Eventually, she hadn’t been able to take the whispers, the veiled hints and the sly half-glances any more. In the middle of a crowd of students, she announced flatly that her parents had disowned her and that she was now living with an old family friend.
When she was finished she walked up to the boy who’d been the most vociferous in his comments, knocked him unconscious, and then walked back to the Olympus and cried for hours.
Thursday was worse. All she wanted was to be left alone; instead, she was deluged in sympathy—some of it genuine. She’d never guessed that she had so many well-wishers. The fact that most of them were secretly hoping to hear some details on what she’d done to be disowned was not lost on her, however. She was the biggest scandal to have hit the school in years, and they lapped it up.
Let them. Those ghouls she could handle. She did have a reputation for fighting, after all; growing up with two active brothers had forced her to become rather physically-inclined herself. No, it was the others who could hurt her the most now. The ones who really did care.
She told Dhiti the truth about what had happened. Dhiti was shocked, horrified. She offered to help, of course; Miyo had lost count of the number of people who’d offered help. She gave Dhiti the same answer that she gave everyone else: she didn’t need anything except to be left alone for a while.
Dhiti asked where she was staying. Miyo almost told her; but then she remembered that Itsuko still hadn’t given her permission to reveal her identity. Instead, she simply shook her head to Dhiti and walked away. It seemed that she was rejecting Dhiti rather a lot, lately.
Kin, Mark and Liam were harder. Well, Mark was easy; after all, his wagging tongue was responsible for her current publicity. He was terribly contrite, but for now she really didn’t care. She told Kin, at Dhiti’s suggestion, that her father had discovered that she was secretly a Sankaku assassin and had thrown her out. She felt bad about saying it. Kin wouldn’t believe it, of course; she’d probably even realise that Dhiti was behind the story, though she’d pass it on to Liam anyway. But still, it was unfair to have to lie to her friend.
And so it went on. She’d hoped that that things would improve, once people got used to the idea. But then, she’d hoped a whole lot of things that hadn’t happened. She’d hoped her father might change his mind, for a start. That was wishful thinking, though; she’d learned that all too clearly after Itsuko talked to her father.
By the end of Thursday, she was simply trying to stay away from everyone, friend or not. Today merely continued the pattern. She had decided that if she didn’t talk to anyone, they couldn’t remind her of what she’d lost. It didn’t seem to be working all that well—the constant effort of trying to stay away from everyone left her thinking about nothing but what had happened—but she simply could not think of anything else to do.
And so, today. As soon as class let out, she ran for the door (ignoring a few shouts to wait) and sprinted for home—
A little too slow. Somebody stepped out to block her as she approached the gate. She had to stop, or run him down.
When she saw that it was Mark, she half-regretted stopping. Right now, she wouldn’t have felt too bad about flattening him. Oh, she knew that it wasn’t his fault, not really; his questions had been innocent enough. Still, it was difficult not to hold it against him.
“Wright-kun,” she said coolly.
“Miyo-san, you’ve got to stop doing this,” he said quickly, as if afraid that she’d cut him off. “Don’t keep running away. Please. Let us help you—”
He was being pretty familiar, but she ignored it. “Help me?” She laughed bitterly. “And what do you think you could do to help?”
As she’d expected, he didn’t have a ready answer. He was all full of noble intentions, but short on specifics. All the same, to her surprise she felt faintly disappointed.
“We could—I could talk to your parents,” he offered after a moment’s thought. “They might have changed their minds. After all, it’s been a few days…”
She shook her head. “It’s been tried,” she said. “Don’t waste your time.”
It had been tried, all right. Itsuko had tried, that first evening. She got Miyo settled into the spare bedroom, and then drove straight around to the Hayashi house. She refused to tell Miyo exactly what had happened there, but had admitted that eventually it became a spectacular shouting match. The only positive thing that came out of it was that she managed to bring away several armfuls of Miyo’s belongings.
The bad news was that the next day, she’d been formally notified that Miyo’s father had contacted ‘I’ Division and registered the break. Miyo was now officially ex familia.
How could he do that? How could he simply walk away from somebody he’d cared for and loved for sixteen years? His own daughter? How? If their positions had been reversed, she’d have cut her right arm off first. If she could find some way to understand it, maybe she could work out how to make it better…how to go home again…
She laughed bitterly. She couldn’t go home again, not any more. That was about as official as it could get, now. And her father had thrown her out because she wasn’t his daughter at all; she was a cuckoo, an outsider who’d invaded his home, his family, and used him as a nesting- place, lived off him for years…
She realised that Mark was staring at her. Well, let him stare. It didn’t matter any more. She said as much to him.
“Whatever happened,” he asked, “to the Miyo who’d fight back?”
“What good did it ever do her?” she replied bitterly. “Tell me how to fight this. Tell me!”
He did not answer. She turned her back on him and walked off.
Coming back to school so soon had been a mistake. She’d thought so before, but she’d let Itsuko persuade her otherwise, that first night, after Itsuko returned from her fam—her ex-family’s house.
Itsuko had initially suggested changing schools. By that time, Miyo’s initial crying fit had eased, and she was able to consider the question in a kind of half-calm. “I don’t know,” she’d said slowly. “I don’t think I’d want to leave Dhiti-chan and Kin-chan.” Or Mark, really, but she wasn’t about to admit that.
“In that case,” Itsuko had said, “I’d suggest that you don’t take any time off. Go back as soon as you can. Tomorrow.”
“Are you sure?” Miyo had asked doubtfully.
Itsuko had hesitated before answering, “No. I just think that…I’d want to get it over with, if it were me.”
In retrospect, changing schools might not have been a bad idea. Kawasemi wasn’t too far away, or even Hibari, which was where the Olympus’ receptionist went. (Ochiyo was totally mystified by Itsuko’s new guest, but was trying to take it in her stride.) And perhaps a clean break would be better…
No. She clenched her fists as she walked. No, she wasn’t going to run away. Itsuko had been right, and wrong. She hadn’t been in Miyo’s shoes; after so much time on her own she was a little too far removed to be able to really remember how it felt to lose a family. Miyo had gone back too soon; she would have been better off waiting until next Monday, at least. But still…maybe it was true that hiding wasn’t doing her any good. Sooner or later, she would have to face her troubles, and find a way to go on…
At that moment, as she walked around a corner, she came face-to-face with one of her troubles in person. They stared at each other for a few seconds, startled.
“Oneesan,” said Fujimaro at last.
“Do I know you?” she said coldly.
He winced. “Don’t,” he said. “Please.”
“‘Don’t, please,’” she mimicked. “Oh, that’s nice. Don’t you think it’s a little late to start getting friendly again?”
He seemed to shrink back a little. “I didn’t mean—” he began lamely.
“I’m sure.” She looked at his unhappy expression, and all the helplessness and depression that she’d felt over the last four days seemed to melt away. What was left was anger. Anger at her father, and at Mark; anger at Itsuko for sending her back to school; anger at herself, for not having the courage to face up to what had happened. And anger at her brother. Yes, especially at him; because in a way, his betrayal had been the worst.
“What did you mean, then?” she demanded. “Just a casual ‘hello’ to someone you used to know? Is that who I am?”
“No,” he said desperately. “No. You’re—” He swallowed, then burst out, “You’re my sister. All that…all the rest…that doesn’t matter. You’re my onee—”
“Oh, and my little brother wants to say sorry,” she said sarcastically. “Isn’t it a bit late for that, too?”
“It wasn’t my fault,” he said wretchedly.
“No? Whose was it, then? Otousan’s? Mine? Whose fault was it? Whose?” He started to say something, but she reached out and poked him in the chest with her forefinger, hard enough to rock him back. “I’ll tell you whose fault it is,” she said softly. “Otousan’s. And mine. And it’s also your fault. Do you know why? Because you knew that it was wrong, what he did. You knew, and you watched it all happen…and you didn’t do anything.
“You never spoke up. You never said a word. And that,” she snarled, “makes you just as guilty.”
She stared down at him—they were the same height, but right now it felt as though she were towering over him—and said, very quietly and very very clearly, “I have nothing more to say to you.”
She left him standing there, and walked onward without looking back.
At the Hayashi home, Hitomaru opened the last family album and began to page through it, removing photographs. When every one that showed Miyo was gone, he closed the album and put it to one side, looking at the pile of photographs in his lap. Then he picked them up and walked over to the fireplace.
He wept silently as he did it; but his hands were rock-steady as he burned them.
Early on Saturday afternoon, Nanako knocked briskly on the McCrea door. A tall woman in her late thirties answered. “Can I help you?” she said.
“McCrea-san?” enquired Nanako. The woman nodded. “Excuse me,” Nanako went on politely. “Is Beth-san in? I’m one of her classmates.”
The woman raised her eyebrows and gave her a welcoming smile. “Oh! I’m sorry. I’m afraid Beth isn’t home right now.” Nanako already knew that; she’d watched Beth leave half an hour ago. She’d also noted that the girl hadn’t taken Bendis with her. Then Beth’s mother added, “I think she was going to a movie; there was one she wanted to see last weekend, but she couldn’t make it.”
Nanako blinked. Why that sneaky little…I never got to see the ending because of that monster attack, and now she’s going to see it before me!
Aloud she said, “Oh, no!” She put on a carefully-practised rueful look. “I lent her a book a few days ago, and I need it back again. Is there any chance I could—”
“Yes, of course. Do come in.” Nanako followed McCrea Helen through to Beth’s room. It looked pretty much the way she’d expected it: very neat and tidy, almost fussily so, except for the writing desk which was comfortably sloppy. There was a little stack of shelves in one corner, half-filled with books. A few others, library books, were piled on the desk.
And there was a tabby-cat lying on the bed. It looked up as they came in.
“Now, what was it you needed?” asked Helen.
“It was an English study guide,” answered Nanako glibly. “With a green cover.” She made a show of inspecting the pile on the desk, then stared at them in genuine surprise. “I didn’t know Beth-san was interested in martial arts,” she said.
Helen looked around, and frowned when she saw what Nanako was holding. “She never used to be,” she said, sounding puzzled herself. “Just lately, she’s started reading all sorts of peculiar things. Last week, it was medical texts…Has she been getting into fights at school?”
“Beth-san? Not likely,” said Nanako, putting the books down. It occurred to her that she knew one very good reason why Beth might be expanding her reading habits; but of course she couldn’t say that.
Shaking her head, Helen returned to her inspection of the books. At that moment, there was a knock at the front door. With a sigh, Helen turned once more and said, “Excuse me, I must see who that is.” She bustled out, leaving Nanako alone…with her quarry.
She sat down on the bed, moving casually, and reached out a hand to stroke the cat. Hideo should keep McCrea-san busy for a few minutes. Plenty of time.
The cat started to purr, and with a chuckle, Nanako picked her up, rubbing her head. “You like that, do you?” she murmured. The purr increased, and she smiled. “I’m glad,” she went on. “You see, I think we need to have a little talk…Bendis.”
The purr cut off dead. She felt the cat stiffen in her arms.
“There’s no need to make a fuss,” she went on quietly. “I’m not going to tell anybody about you. But I know who you are…and what you are. I know Beth-chan is Sailor Venus. I know Dhiti-san is Sailor Mercury. Is that enough to convince you?”
No reply. But she hadn’t expected one.
“All right,” she said. “But I need to talk to you, urgently.” She put Bendis down. The cat backed away from her hurriedly, watching her intently. Nanako got up and opened the window. “I’ll be waiting outside, by the trees down there, in five minutes,” she said. “I’ll have a…mutual acquaintance with me. Please…” She bit her lip, suddenly uncertain. “Please come,” she finished.
Still no answer. She glanced around. McCrea-san would return soon. “Please,” she said urgently. “I have to close the window before Beth’s mother gets back.”
The cat gave her one long, unreadable look, and then leaped to the window and jumped out. Nanako breathed a sigh of relief, and closed the window silently. The bit about Dhiti could have been awkward if Bendis had called her bluff, but she seemed to have gotten away with it.
One thing left. She reached into her jacket and pulled out a thin book with a green cover. When McCrea Helen returned, she waved it and said, “I found it! Thanks, McCrea-san.”
Helen smiled and said, “That’s quite all right. I’ll tell Beth you were here, er—” She paused expectantly.
“Oh, I’m sorry!” Nanako said. “I’m Tsurara, Hyogano Tsurara.” That should puzzle Beth, especially if she really was out watching the new Icewalker film.
She let Helen escort her out, and walked casually down to the trees that she’d pointed out to Bendis. Hideo was waiting there. He grinned at her as she walked up. “Piece of cake,” she said.
“Piece of cake?” said a voice from above them, before Hideo could reply. They looked up to see a small, angry tabby cat sitting on a branch, just out of arms’ reach. “Is that what you call it? You’d better have a very good explanation of this, Kawatake Hideo!”
Hideo flinched. “Bendis—” he began.
“I should have known you couldn’t keep your mouth shut,” she went on bitterly. “You had to go talking! And you, Higoshi Nanako! I don’t know how you got involved in this, but what kind of person goes sneaking around behind her friend’s back? I doubt she knows you’re here…”
“I didn’t—I didn’t!” stuttered Hideo. “I never told her—she—”
“Relax,” suggested Nanako cheerfully, cutting him off. “About the only thing Kawatake-kun told me was your name, Bendis-san. I already knew the rest.” She smiled modestly and added, “It wasn’t hard to figure out. Beth-chan made quite a few mistakes, to start with.”
The cat gave her a long, measuring look. “So what now?” she asked finally. “If this is some kind of blackmail—”
“Relax,” Nanako said again. “We’re not going to make trouble.” She grinned. “As a matter of face, we’re here to help you. Now, why don’t we go and find somewhere a bit more private and comfortable, and I’ll tell you what we’ve discovered…”
“Interesting,” said Bendis, some time later. She was a lot calmer now, but she was keeping a careful distance between herself and Nanako. “But it’s a bit thin,” she went on. “And…honestly! Iku-san? Kodama Iku? I’ve only met her a few times, but she’s—well, she’s so—”
They were seated comfortably on the grass on the outskirts of Tomoe Park. A group of young men were kicking a football around some distance away, but other than that there were few people in sight.
“Yes, I know,” agreed Nanako. “She’s a bit quiet.” That was certainly understating it. “But you must admit, it does seem to fit.”
“I don’t see that it fits at all,” Bendis objected. “Iku-san as Sailor Mars?” She shook her head. “I can’t see it.”
“Why Sailor Mars, anyway?” asked Hideo. “You didn’t say that before.”
Nanako hesitated. “I could be wrong about that,” she admitted. “But it’s that picture she drew. The figure with the flame running right up its arm.” She pulled the paper out and showed it to Bendis. “And she drew it looking like herself…”
Bendis studied the picture for a while. “Not much of an artist, is she?” she muttered after a little. “I don’t see any resemblance, but if you say it looks like her, well…”
“All right, so it’s rough,” Nanako said defensively. “But what about the way she keeps showing up at Senshi battle sites? And lying about it?”
“I don’t see how she’s supposed to have worked out that she’s a Senshi,” protested Hideo.
“But don’t you see?” said Nanako excitedly. “She hasn’t! She doesn’t know! That’s why she was lying to me—because she keeps finding herself, well, drawn to these places, and she doesn’t know why! So she makes up stories to try and explain it to herself, but she knows they’re not true and it just makes her more upset—she’s been even shyer since Beth came along—”
“It’s like the Senshi in the olden days,” murmured Hideo. “They always seemed to turn up at just the right time…”
“Right!” agreed Nanako. “The right place at the right time, apparently by complete coincidence. Normally you’d probably have spotted her by now,” she said to Bendis. “But Iku-chan’s so quiet—she always hangs back, tries not to be noticed—so she keeps on finding herself on the spot, over and over. First at that fire, then at the theatre…I wonder if she was there at the other battle too? The one at the dressmaker’s.”
“No,” Bendis answered. “I was there; I’d have seen her. There was nobody around that—um. Wait a moment.” She hesitated. “Beth said something, later…she thought she’d seen Iku-san, a block or two away, as we were leaving…”
“Wait a moment,” Hideo burst out, “you mean she really is—?”
“It’s quite a coincidence,” admitted Bendis. “Once is nothing, of course. Even twice. But three times in a row…that’s quite interesting.”
“I wonder if, subconsciously, she knows that she and Beth are the same?” Nanako mused. “That might be another reason she’s been so quiet lately. And of course there’s that poem…’By a knight of ghosts and shadows I summoned am to tourney.’ No wonder she’s haunted by it…”
Bendis gave her a long, thoughtful look. “Not quite the bubble-head you like to appear, are you?” she said. Nanako flushed, but did not reply.
“I think,” Bendis said slowly, “that I’d better check Kodama-san out.”
“I’m surprised that you haven’t done this already,” Nanako said some time later.
“I couldn’t get near her,” Bendis said absently. “She said something about preferring dogs. Of all the absurd ideas!”
Nanako made a face, but did not answer. Bendis looked up at her curiously for a moment, before returning her attention to the girl they were watching.
The botanical gardens were beautiful, she had to admit; the flower-beds, and the delicate landscaping, and the carefully-shaped trees and hedges, all lovingly tended. Iku was sitting on a bench in a quiet nook, knitting. Occasionally she would lift her head and glance around, and then look back down to what her hands were doing. Bendis could not read her expression.
“She comes here almost every Saturday,” said Nanako quietly. “She spends most of her free time here.”
Right here, in this exact spot, she did not say; but Bendis understood it anyway. All this beauty, all around her; but Iku had eyes only for the wool taking shape in her lap. She wasn’t here to look at the gardens; she was here because it was a place where hardly anybody else came. Who was she hiding from, here in this out-of-the-way corner?
She would find out, Bendis decided.
“You two ought to go now,” she told Nanako and Hideo. “I’ll handle this.”
She started forward slowly. Behind her she heard a faint scuffle as the two humans moved away. They would remain to watch, of course; they’d probably think that she didn’t know they were there. She couldn’t do anything about that. But at least they’d keep out of the way.
She made it almost to Iku’s feet before the girl noticed her. Then she heard a sudden, startled hiss of breath. She looked up into Iku’s face, gathered herself, and jumped up onto the bench beside her. The girl flinched, almost imperceptibly.
What was wrong with her? Iku was acting as if she were expecting to be attacked. Was she afraid of cats, or something? But she hadn’t been afraid, that time at the school. Just…unwilling. So what was the problem?
She looked up, saw the girl staring down at her uncertainly, and decided to take the risk. Moving very slowly, she got up and stepped toward her. Iku almost seemed to be holding her breath; but she did not flinch again, not even when Bendis bent her head and rubbed it against her skirted leg.
And then Iku lifted her hand and touched Bendis’ back, stroked her gently. And Bendis, quite unable to help herself, stiffened at the feeling that flooded through her.
Such power. Such a flood of potential. For one dizzying instant Bendis glimpsed it all: a hundred Ikus, a thousand, a multitude of Ikus as she might have been—the totality of the labyrinthine space-time entity whose intersection was Kodama Iku. She saw an Iku all clad in shining mail, mounted on a warhorse, and holding aloft a spear that burned. She saw an Iku who rode a fiery chariot between the stars, and laughed as the wind that filled the void swept her hair back, like a glittering black train. She saw an Iku in the garb of Sailor Mars, and then an Iku dressed as Sailor Mercury; then, bizarrely, an Iku dressed as one of the Senshi of Kinmoku; and then an Iku wearing a Senshi uniform that she did not recognise. And she saw an Iku who stood alone on a vast battlefield, red-gold in the light of the setting sun and littered with the slain bodies of a great host; an Iku who lifted her hand against the vast, shadowy form that loomed over her, dwarfing her, and unleashed a bolt of energy that was too bright to look at…
And then it was gone, the vision cut off, as Iku, frightened again by her sudden tension, lifted her hand from her back.
Bendis held very still, staring up at her. Slowly, hesitantly, Iku reached out and stroked her again. And this time Bendis felt nothing at all.
No, not quite nothing. There was a power there…flickering at the borders of perception, so faint that it was almost unnoticeable. Faint, and yet potent. As if it were sealed away, somehow.
Well, Bendis knew a very good way to break those seals.
She looked up at Iku once more, took a deep breath, and said, “Iku-san, it’s time to stop hiding. I have a job for you.”
While Iku was still staring at her, mouth hanging open in shock, Bendis jumped down to the ground, gathered herself, and leaped into the air—turning a single, perfect backflip. As she landed, she heard the soft thump of the henshin wand hitting the grass behind her.
It was not the original wand for Mars. As far as she could tell, that one seemed to have been lost after the Great Fall; it was not in storage, at any rate. This was Younger Mars’: the seldom-used transformation wand of a Senshi-in-training. But it would do well enough.
“Pick it up,” she said softly. “Say the words.”
Iku stared at her, unmoving.
“Do you want to be sitting here, knitting, for the rest of your life?” Bendis demanded. “Pick it up!”
For a long time Iku remained frozen. Then, in a very low voice, she said, “Are you real?”
Bendis sighed theatrically. “Yes, I’m real. Why, did you think you’d fallen asleep or something?”
“You’re a cat.”
“Very good! Yes, I’m a cat.”
Obediently Iku got up, and stooped down to pick up the rod. As she straightened up once more, something seemed to awaken in her face: some echo of the other Ikus Bendis had seen, something fierce, and wild…
Then she shook her head, and it was gone. She looked enquiringly down at Bendis and said, “What words?”
She should have known the words, from history lessons if nothing else. They should have been thrumming in her head, crying out to be spoken. But Bendis simply told her quietly, “Say ‘Mars power, make-up.’”
Iku stared down at the rod in her hand for a moment longer, her face blank. Then she grimaced, and held it up high—as always, the moment seemed to demand that—and said softly but very clearly, “Mars. Power. Make-up…”
For an instant that seemed to last forever there was silence. Then it came out of nowhere: a swirl of flame, lighting up the nook with a reddish glow. It licked about her, surged, ebbed—and then roared up into an incandescent pillar, crackling with energy and power. A wave of heat rolled across the clearing. In the centre of that pillar, at the heart of the fire, Iku hung suspended, turning slowly, barely visible. Her clothes vanished, consumed by the force that was reshaping her. Then the flame wrapped itself about her, firmed, took on shape and colour…
And the energy surged one last time, and was gone. And where Iku had been standing was the Senshi of Fire, Sailor Mars.
“What was that?” said Itsuko, sitting up with a start.
Miyo glanced over at her. “What?” she asked.
“I—don’t know. I thought I heard something. Or maybe I…” She trailed off, looking puzzled.
“I didn’t hear anything,” Miyo offered.
Itsuko relaxed back in her chair, shaking her head. “Must be my imagination,” she said. “It seemed…almost familiar, somehow.”
“Maybe somebody took a fall downstairs in the gym?”
“I don’t think so,” Itsuko said doubtfully. Then she shook her head. “Well, never mind. If they need me, they’ll call.” One of the privileges of being the owner of the Olympus was that she was on call all the time, even when she was nominally off-duty. Fortunately there hadn’t been any major crises for a while, apart from the break-in a couple of weeks ago.
(That break-in still rankled. She still hadn’t found out who had bugged her office. But she could be patient when she had to be; and sooner or later, the guilty party was going to get a very rude shock.)
With a sigh, she sat back and tried to concentrate on the news program on the viddy. It was stupefyingly boring, and after a little her attention started to wander again. She found herself watching Miyo. The girl was busy re-potting a collection of rather sorry-looking plants. From the look of it, she was taking cuttings as well.
Itsuko stifled another sigh. It wasn’t going to be long before the suite was ankle-deep in greenery, she just knew it. Oh, it wasn’t as though she disliked plants; actually she rather liked a few around the place. But her idea of how many were appropriate was a long way from Miyo’s…
Well, if it kept Miyo happy, Itsuko supposed she could put up with it. The girl was humming quietly as she worked, and that was certainly a big improvement over the last few days. In fact—
“You’re certainly a lot more cheerful today,” she said.
Miyo looked up, surprised. “I am?” she said, as if it had not occurred to her. Then she seemed to think about it. “Maybe I am,” she admitted.
She’d been better since she got home from school the previous night, actually. Itsuko gathered that she’d had some kind of row on the way home; perhaps it had cleared the air a little. All the same, Itsuko suspected that the problem had only been buried for a little. Miyo had gone through several major upheavals recently, and sooner or later it was all going to explode if something wasn’t done. The trouble was, Makoto had always tried to be the tough one, braving it out and in the process, shutting out anyone who tried to help…
“Is it because you’re done with school for the week?” she prompted the girl.
Miyo’s face fell at the reminder, and she looked glum. “I suppose so,” she said slowly. “It’s just…”
“Yes,” Itsuko sighed. “I know.” She was sorry that she’d mentioned it at all, and spoiled Miyo’s good mood. But the subject needed to be aired, and maybe it was better to have it all out now. She went on, “I shouldn’t have told you to go back so soon. But I thought that—”
“I just wish they’d leave me alone!” Miyo burst out. “They always keep on pestering me, and trying to make me talk about it…why can’t they just let me be?”
“Maybe it’s because they’re your friends,” Itsuko suggested. “They can see you’re hurting, and they want to help.” It was always so easy to look at Miyo and see Makoto, her friend of more than a thousand years. But the truth was, while this girl shared Makoto’s past life and memory, she was predominantly a sixteen-year-old girl—and just as capable of being hurt as any teenager.
“There’s nothing they can do to help,” said Miyo sulkily.
“Of course there is. They can be your friends, Miyo, and that’s what you need right now. They’ll help you, all right. If you’d just let them.”
Miyo did not reply for a moment. Then she muttered, “You’re my friend. What do I need them for?”
Itsuko stifled the answer that sprang to her lips. Her friend? It wasn’t a friend that Miyo wanted her to be; it was a substitute mother. The situation was not a comfortable one for Itsuko. Worse still, there was the danger that if this went on much longer, it might really end up that way.
“You don’t mean that,” she said steadily. Miyo still looked stubborn, and she decided to try another tack. “Mako-chan, tell me something,” she said. “What would Usagi do if she were here? If it was her out there, instead of these other friends of yours?”
Miyo whirled about, staring at her in shock. Itsuko did not back down, and at last Miyo looked away.
“She…she’d do the same thing,” she admitted. “Maybe more. She’d be around here, pounding on the door and shouting for me to let her in. She’d never give me a moment’s peace until I let her h-help me…” She smiled. There were tears in her eyes, but she smiled.
“That sounds about right,” said Itsuko judiciously. “Nothing subtle about her, was there?” She smiled too, fondly. Then, returning to the subject, she said, “Something else. The ones who keep pestering you at school. Who’s doing it? Is it everyone, still? Are the gossipers still gossiping?”
“Some of them are!” said Miyo indignantly. A moment later she added, sheepishly, “Sometimes.”
“So who are the ones who are still pestering you?”
Miyo did not answer.
“What are you going to do about it?”
Still no answer.
“This Dhiti sounds like a good one,” Itsuko said thoughtfully. “A bit of a dilettante, maybe, but it sounds like her heart’s in the right place. And—what’s his name—Mark—”
Miyo shot to her feet. “Mark-kun!” she shouted. “What, are you crazy? If you think I’m ever going to talk to him again—”
She broke off, because Itsuko was laughing. “You really are feeling better, aren’t you?” Itsuko managed to say after a little.
“I am not,” mumbled Miyo.
Itsuko snorted. “Of course you are. Three days ago, you’d probably have burst into tears. Today, you bite my head off.” She shot Miyo a sly look. “So, you like this Mark, huh?”
“Oh, that much, eh? So what’s he like?”
“He’s—” Miyo broke off, and sighed. “He’s tall, he has black hair, he—well, he looks a lot like Mamoru, actually. If he wasn’t a Claver, anyway.”
“He does?” Itsuko mulled this over. She wasn’t sure that she liked the sound of it. “Do you think it’s a coincidence? If Mamoru was reborn as a Claver—”
“I hope it’s a coincidence,” Miyo said flatly. “I mean, think about it. It just wouldn’t be fair…to bring him back without her.”
Itsuko thought about it, and winced. “Still, maybe we should ask Artemis to check him out,” she said.
“I already asked him. He won’t. He says that if it is Mamoru, it’s kinder to let him stay without his memories.”
“That’s—” Itsuko paused. “Damn.” They had all had a bit of a crush on Mamoru, back in the twentieth century, but most of them could read the writing on the wall. For Itsuko—for Rei—it had gone a little further. “And you like him, and he obviously likes you…”
“No!” Miyo shot Itsuko a beseeching look. “I mean…I can’t like him. It wouldn’t be right. Don’t you see?”
Itsuko shook her head. “That’s one fine mess you’ve got yourself there, girl. I don’t know what to say. Except…be careful.”
“You think I don’t know that?” Miyo scowled. “Can we change the subject, please?”
“Whatever you say,” Itsuko replied. She considered going back to Miyo’s problems at school, but decided to let it rest. If she pushed it too hard, Miyo would just get angry and make it all ten times harder. Instead she said, “Oh, I forgot to tell you. Ochiyo-chan’s on late duty tonight, so she’ll be sleeping over, up here. Do you mind if she shares your room?”
“Nah, that’s okay. Does she snore?”
“I have no idea.” Itsuko laughed. “She’s going mad, trying to figure you out, though. I told the staff that you’re the daughter of an old family friend, but some of them saw you come in on Tuesday evening. They’re all pretty curious. I’m going to have to think of some kind of better story to explain you…”
Miyo rolled her eyes. “I—” She stopped suddenly. “Wait a moment. Turn the viddy up.”
Puzzled, Itsuko did so. The news program was still running; the announcer was saying, “—statement issued by Dr Fukuda today, the Serenity Council has issued an open invitation to the Sailor Senshi to meet with them. Dr Fukuda said that he looked forward to meeting with the Senshi to discuss their future role in national affairs.”
The screen changed to show the chairman of the Council, standing outside the Council chambers. A slight, balding man wearing a dark suit and heavy gloves, he smiled at the camera and said, “I think it’s time that we meet with the Senshi and discover what they’re here for—why they’ve come back, and whether they intend to re-establish Crystal Tokyo. This is a very exciting time for us all—perhaps we’ll be able to offer national assistance against these crystalline monsters that the Senshi are fighting—”
Miyo cut off the sound. Her eyes were very wide. “Forget Mark-kun and Ochiyo-san,” she said. “What are we going to do about that?”
“I don’t see what’s so urgent about this,” Beth grumbled as she walked down the street, Bendis in her arms. “I mean, training is training, but what’s the hurry?”
“Maybe I think you’re getting out of practice,” Bendis said, in an irritating I-know-something-you-don’t-know kind of way. “Come on, hurry up, will you? We’re going to be late.”
“Late for what? And I am not out of practice.”
“Yeah? Who missed the last battle, then? I was there.”
“That wasn’t my fault,” Beth protested. “If you’d given me my communicator I’d have been there!” She stared down at Bendis, trying to frown convincingly. “Did you manage to find it yet?”
Bendis gave a nervous cough. “Never mind that now,” she said. “Look, just hurry up, will you? I want to get to the training ground before—I mean, we have a lot to get through tonight, and—”
“I know, I know, you don’t want to be late. Honestly, you make it sound as if we’re meeting somebody.”
Beth hurried on, still arguing with Bendis. Quite why the cat was insisting that she needed such urgent training was beyond her; but then Bendis did love to be mysterious. Beth decided to simply add this to the list of little puzzles she had to solve about what was happening to her.
This was the second new puzzle today, actually. Earlier, when she’d come home from seeing ‘Icewalker III’, she’d found out that somebody had been around to pick up a book that Beth was pretty sure she didn’t have. What was more, whoever it was had called herself Hyogano Tsurara, and that didn’t make any sense at all. Sometimes Beth wondered if it was just her, or if everyone’s life was this peculiar.
Eventually they reached their destination, only five minutes late: the deserted warehouse yard where she usually trained. Beth eyed the fences warily. They didn’t look easy to climb. It would have been far simpler to arrive as Venus and simply jump over, as she’d always done before; but for some reason (again!) Bendis was quite insistent about her coming as herself today. Maybe this was supposed to be a drill on quick changes, or something.
A few minutes later, at the expense of several new scrapes and some interesting bruises, she made it over the fence, and walked over to a piece of reasonably clean junk to sit down and catch her breath.
Something moved behind her.
She looked around, her heart in her mouth…and froze in surprise when she saw what it was.
“Iku-chan?” she said, dumbfounded. “What are you doing here?”
“Beth-san?” Iku sounded just as startled. “I—I don’t—I mean, I didn’t…” She stuttered to a stop, her face crimson. “I didn’t think anybody else was going to be here,” she muttered feebly.
“But—” Beth came to a rather awkward halt herself. She didn’t know what to say. What was she supposed to do now? She couldn’t do any training here, that was obvious. And things could get difficult if Iku started asking questions about why she had broken into this place—
No, wait a minute, Iku had broken in too! What on earth was going on here?
She looked around for Bendis. She’d had to put the cat down to climb over the fence, and Bendis had said she’d make her own way in. Where had she gotten to this time?
“I…er…” Iku fumbled with the words for a long time before finally bursting out, with more force than Beth had ever heard her use, “Beth-san, what are you doing here? I—I mean, I was supposed to…to meet…that is…” She wound down to a halt again, looking frustrated and nervous.
“Huh?” said Beth. “Who were you supposed to meet here? What are you here for, anyway?”
“Why don’t you show her, Iku-san?” came a new voice. Bendis strolled out from behind a rusty iron boiler, tail high, whiskers groomed, looking very smug and self-satisfied.
“Bendis! What are you doing?” shouted Beth.
“Bendis! You’re here!” said Iku at the same moment.
They stared at each other.
“Go ahead, Iku-san,” said Bendis casually. “It’s all right. Show her.”
Iku stared at Beth, and then at Bendis, for a few seconds more. Then, suddenly abashed, she lowered her eyes. “I thought it was supposed to be a secret,” she mumbled.
“It’s all right this time,” Bendis told her. “Go on, now!”
Iku nodded reluctantly. Then she pulled a small object out; Beth couldn’t quite make out where she’d gotten it from. It looked strangely familiar. She held it up in the air, and spoke four words. And the yard filled with light and sound. And when Beth could see again—
“Iku-chan?” said Beth, stunned. “Iku-chan, you’re Sailor Mars?”
Mars looked up at her quickly, and then away again. “I’m sorry,” she muttered guiltily.
“No!” Beth shouted. “No, that’s great! I thought—I mean, I was starting to think I’d never get to meet any of the others!” She looked over at Bendis quickly. “Bendis, should I—?”
Bendis nodded. Beth pulled out her own henshin wand and said, “Venus power, make-up!” Her own power filled the air about her—the colours and the surging energy, the sharp, electric smell, and the tingling feeling all over her body as strange forces shaped her, remoulded her into what she always should have been—and in another moment, Sailor Venus stood looking at her companion.
Her companion stared back at her, dumbfounded. “Beth-san?” she said. “Is that you?”
“Isn’t this cool?” said Venus excitedly. “Wow, Iku-chan, I never thought it’d be you! I mean, you know, you’re always so quiet. Hey, I wonder if maybe you’re going to be the brainy one, like Lady Mizuno—the new Mercury’s got the computer thingummy, but she doesn’t seem to use it much—Bendis, how did you find her? Oh, this is so great, we can train together and everything—maybe we should come up with a secret handshake or something—boy, wouldn’t Nanako-chan be spitting nails if she knew about this—”
Mars simply looked at her. “What?” she said nervously as Venus paused for breath.
“Pay no attention,” Bendis muttered to her. “She’s always like this.”
“How did it happen?” Venus went on, ignoring them. The smile on her face was so wide that it almost hurt. At last, at last she wasn’t being left out any more, at last she was getting to work with other Senshi! “Tell me everything!” she demanded. “When did you find out? How did Bendis spot you?”
Bendis jumped down from the crate she was sitting on and said, “Never mind that just now. We have more important things to worry about. Sailor Mars, I’m sure you’re aware of the monster attacks that are happening in Third Tokyo. We need to get you up to speed on combat techniques and other training, so Venus and I are going to work with you on a special accelerated training system.”
Venus winked at Mars, who was looking more and more bewildered with every word that Bendis spoke. “Don’t worry,” she said. “There’s nothing to it, I promise. Hey, watch this! VENUS LOVE-ME CHAIN!”
She fired her chain out and caught a wooden crate, flipping it toward them and bringing it down a few metres away. It hit rather hard, with a splintering sound. “Whoops,” Venus said. “Wait, let me try that again…”
“Never mind,” said Bendis, sighing. “This will do for a start. Mars, I want to see what kind of firepower you can raise. Try burning that crate, will you?”
Mars stared down at her for a moment, clearly baffled. “How do I—” she began.
Bendis sighed again. “Look, you take aim at the crate and—”
“What do you mean, ‘how?’” interrupted Venus. “Don’t you just know? I thought we all just, you know, automatically learned our attacks!”
“This from the girl who still can’t get ‘Crescent Beam’ to work,” muttered Bendis.
“Hey!” Venus picked Bendis up by the scruff of the neck and held the cat up, looking her directly in the eyes. “You can’t work out why that doesn’t work either, remember?”
“Let me go!”
“Look, just try it, Iku-chan, all right?” suggested Venus, dropping Bendis casually. “Oops. Mars, I mean.”
Mars looked down at the crate dubiously, but raised her hands in what looked to Venus like a very shaky parody of an attack stance. She stared down at the crate for a few seconds, and then—
—Venus saw the sudden light of recognition in her eyes—
—she shouted, “BURNING MANDALA!”
There was a sudden flash: a wink of light, as if some vastly powerful searchlight had shone down on the yard for a fraction of a second. With a curious hissing sound, lines of fire etched themselves in the ground, forming a complex helical pattern around the crate. The lines shifted, began to converge, gradually at first but then faster and faster, spiralling crazily in toward the core—
There was a smoky “foof.”
“Interesting,” murmured Bendis. “That wasn’t anything like Lady Hino’s ‘Burning Mandala’ attack. I wonder why not?”
“Hey, this crate is barely singed!” complained Venus.
“Umm…sorry?” ventured Mars.
“I can see we’re going to have our work cut out for us,” sighed Bendis. “I’m just glad nobody was watching that…”
The lights were off in one of the nearby warehouses, but their voices carried quite well. As the sound reached a certain level, a small device attached to the wall activated itself. A tiny red light began to flash regularly. It disturbed one of the flies that were crawling about over the outstretched hands of the caretakers.
The fly took to the air, buzzing aimlessly around the room for a few seconds and passing over a mass of pictures of Sailor Venus that were scattered across the floor. Then the fly came in to land again—this time on a face. There were quite a few other flies there already, mostly about the eyes and mouth.
Yoshimitsu and Takamori weren’t watching Venus practice this time. They weren’t taking any more photographs, either.
Itsuko shot to her feet with a cry, as if pricked with a pin, startling Miyo and Artemis. “There!” she shouted. “There it is again!”
“What?” said Miyo, startled. “I didn’t hear anything…”
“Somebody is using the Mars Power,” said Itsuko grimly. Her eyes were distant; she kept on turning her head this way and that, as if trying to pick a direction. “I can feel it.”
“Using the…you mean Sailor—” Miyo caught her breath, seeing the look on Itsuko’s face. “Oh, no. I’m so sorry…”
“Sailor Mars, yes,” Itsuko replied. “She’s arrived…just as Setsuna said.” There was a slight edge of bitterness in her voice as she repeated, “I can feel it.” Gradually, her eyes came to rest as she spoke. She raised her arm and pointed south-east. “That way, I think. A long way off—maybe a few kilometres.”
“There must be another attack going on,” said Artemis sharply. “Miyo, you’d better call Dhiti-san and Suzue-san.”
“But where do I tell them to go?” asked Miyo.
Artemis hesitated. “Itsuko, can’t you pin it down any closer?”
“No,” Itsuko said, frustrated. “Not from here.” She frowned. “Look…I’ll take you. That’s the only way. If you two come in the car with me, I can give you better directions as we go, and Miyo, you can relay them to the girls. As long as I stay out of sight when we get there, it should be all right.”
“I could just carry you,” Miyo suggested. “It might be faster.”
Itsuko shook her head. “Too awkward, and much chance we’d be seen.”
That was an excuse, of course, and Miyo and Artemis probably knew it. But she didn’t want to have to tell them that she didn’t think she could take being carried by a Sailor Senshi without breaking down entirely.
They didn’t argue, thankfully. The three rushed downstairs to the car park.
“Come on, give it another go,” Venus urged. “It’s not that hard, really. Your sense of balance ought to be terrific. It’s really just a matter of timing. Look, I’ll show you—”
She took three steps back, and then suddenly ran forward; leaped up onto the roof of a nearby building; bounced smoothly to another roof (with a double somersault in mid-air); launched herself head-first down from there, catching herself on a protruding metal pole just before she hit the ground; spun three times around the pole, flipping herself up into the air again; touched a wall feet-first, and kicked off it, pushing herself back in the opposite direction, still travelling upward and spinning like a whirlwind; straightened out in mid-air and arced downward again in a perfect swan dive; caught hold of a rusting old crane; slipped, yelped, and plummeted; and rolled in mid air and landed on all fours, catlike, in a pile of debris, sending a spectacular shower of rubbish flying all around.
“Ow,” she said distinctly. Then, as if nothing had happened, she got up again, brushing herself off casually, and said, “There. You see?”
“Umm…” said Mars, dazed.
“Very pretty,” said Bendis. “But all she’s supposed to be doing is practising jumping up onto the roof. As I recall, you had trouble with that too, to start with.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” said Venus airily. “Like you told me, just go with the flow. Just follow your instincts. Roofs are boring. This is much more fun!”
“Instincts?” said Mars. She sounded horrified.
Bendis said, “Look, Sailor Mars…just try it again. Just the jumping onto a roof. Please?”
Mars stepped up to a building reluctantly and looked up at the roof. From her expression, she didn’t have much confidence in the outcome. She bent her knees, took a deep, audible breath that sounded like a gasp, and jumped up. She made it perhaps half-way up to the roof, then lost her balance and windmilled her way down again, bleating in fear. She landed in an ungainly heap at the foot of the wall.
“I don’t understand,” Bendis said softly to Venus. “What’s wrong with her? She’s a Senshi, right enough, and when I checked her out she certainly seemed strong enough. But this…” She trailed off helplessly.
“Kind of sad, huh?” said Venus, just as quietly. They watched Mars try again. This time she made it almost all the way up; at the top of her jump, she managed to grab hold of the edge, and hung from it, kicking her legs awkwardly. “It’s as if…everything she is normally, just gets more so when she’s Mars. She can’t jump, she can’t hit…her attack would barely light a newspaper…”
“Yeah, it’s not a pretty sight, is it?” said someone else behind her. Venus turned, startled, and saw a woman in jeans and a sweatshirt, watching Mars try again.
“Excuse me, but who are you?” Venus asked.
“Me?” The woman sounded surprised. “Oh, I’m sorry. Look, don’t mind me. Just pretend I’m not here.”
“Um,” said Venus. “I don’t think I—”
The woman smiled. “After all, you’ve got much more to worry about.”
Venus blinked. That didn’t sound too friendly. “Like what?” she asked cautiously.
“Like that,” the woman said, pointing. Venus followed her arm, but saw nothing out of place. Mars was just getting to her feet again; apart from that, the yard was just as it had always been—
Then, with a roar, the wall of one of the nearby buildings burst open, and something came marching through.
It looked like something out of a technologist’s nightmare: a fantastic Heath Robinson device, all rods and levers and pulleys and cogs, pistons and flywheels and parts she couldn’t name. It had arms and legs of a sort, spindly-looking things that shouldn’t have been able to support its weight. It looked like parts of a dozen machines had been thrown together randomly and welded in place. It should have fallen to pieces at the first movement. Instead it ponderously advanced, step by step, whining and creaking—
Flakes of rust fell. She saw the glitter of crystal underneath.
It was heading toward Mars, but moving very slowly. She saw Bendis streaking to Mars’ side, and relaxed a fraction. She looked back at the woman. “You—” Then she stopped.
The woman in jeans and sweatshirt was gone. In her place was a very different figure, dressed in what looked like a midnight-blue jumpsuit, with silver chains at the wrists and belt. In her forehead, a huge crystal throbbed and pulsed with light.
Venus took an involuntary step backward. “Who are you?”
The woman, if that was what she was, seemed taken aback. “The others haven’t told you?” she said. Then she laughed. “Well, it doesn’t matter. My name is Legion. That will do.”
Venus stared at her, frowning, then shook her head in disgust. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she announced. “But who cares?” Suddenly grinning, she adopted a dramatic pose. “Interrupting a Senshi’s training exercise is inexcusable, and cannot be tolerated! I am the lovely sailor-suited warrior Sailor Venus, and on behalf of the planet Venus I will—”
The woman reached out and slapped her.
It felt like a sledgehammer. The blow lifted her off her feet, flinging her back against a massive, half-dismantled industrial crane. She felt a stunning impact, and for a second or two the world seemed to swim around her. When it solidified again, she saw the bejewelled woman staring down at her in contempt.
Contempt. That was irritating. It was downright infuriating, in fact. Who did this gaudy bimbo think she was dealing with?
She sat up, not without a certain amount of difficulty. Nothing seemed to hurt too badly. Good. “Not bad,” she said though clenched teeth. “But try this. VENUS LOVE-ME CHAIN!”
The Chain spun forth, arcing and cracking, and wrapped itself effortlessly around the woman, pinning her arms to her sides. Venus stood up, rubbing her back, and smirked at her opponent. She hadn’t actually cast the chain from a seated position before; it had worked better than she’d expected.
“Well?” she said. “Nothing to say?”
The woman sighed, and shook her head. “This is depressingly easy,” she said. With that, she shimmered and disappeared. The Chain settled to the ground and vanished.
“Hey!” yelled Venus. “Come back here!”
“All right,” a voice whispered in her ear. And the hammer-blow struck her again, and sent her smashing head-first into a solid metal beam.
The pain was unbelievable. The world turned black around her, then came back tinged with red. Venus rolled over, shaking her head to clear it, and groaned as the motion sent dagger-blades of agony through her skull.
She heard footsteps hehind her, approaching leisurely. She tried to get up again, but her arms did not want to obey.
No. No. No, this was ridiculous. It wasn’t supposed to work this way; she was the hero, she was Sailor Venus, she couldn’t be defeated so easily. She couldn’t, it just wasn’t possible.
Get up, she had to get up—oh, please, help me get up—
“Still not finished?” said that voice. It was right over her, the woman was standing right over her, she had to move now but she couldn’t do it, she couldn’t—
She heard someone shouting. The words seemed to come from a long way away.
The hiss of flame.
“Is that the best you can do?” the woman mocked. “Oh, this is pitiful! I thought I was coming here to fight two Senshi, not two little girls barely out of kindergarten! Sailor Jupiter and Mercury and that new one, Uranus, at least they were competent! You two…you are just pathetic!”
“No,” whispered Venus. “No. You don’t call me pathetic. I’m a hero. You don’t do that.” With a supreme effort she managed to get to her hands and knees. The beam was right in front of her, smeared with blood. It made a convenient hand-hold. She staggered to her feet, swaying, barely conscious…and raised her hands in an attack posture.
“Ready?” she managed to say.
The woman looked at her, almost kindly. With a sudden start, Venus realised that she wasn’t standing on the ground; she was floating a few centimetres in the air.
“I’m really very impressed,” said her enemy. “Really. But I don’t think we need to prolong this any further.”
She lifted a hand to strike. And as the blow was launched, Venus dodged lightly to one side and closed in for the kill…
That was her plan. But she was moving so slowly; her body refused to obey her, and the blow landed squarely in her forehead, and the world became filled with strange colours and
Bendis saw Sailor Venus go down for the third time, and knew she wasn’t getting up again. That left only her…and Sailor Mars.
She had a very bad feeling about this.
Perhaps there was still time to call for help, she thought desperately. If she could get Mars’ communicator out of storage and call the other Senshi—
Then she looked up and saw the vitrimorph closing in, and knew it was a vain hope.
The monster wasn’t moving slowly any more. It was big, heavy, still insanely spindly-looking but undoubtedly a lot stronger than it looked…and it was fast. It lashed one limb at Mars, who gasped incoherently and tried to dodge. One foot skidded and she fell backward. The blow passed just overhead.
If it had been a calculated move it would have been quite good; but Bendis knew that it wasn’t calculated. Mars wouldn’t be able to repeat it, and that meant…the next blow wouldn’t miss.
“Run!” she shouted. “Don’t just lie there, run! You can go faster than it can! Keep moving!”
Mars tried to obey. She stumbled to her feet and lurched into an awkward, stumbling run. Her speed increased dramatically as the vitrimorph struck at her again. Maybe this could work after all—
To Bendis’ horror, the vitrimorph simply increased its own speed. It was going just as fast as Mars was, and what if it could go faster yet? This yard wasn’t all that big, and when Mars had to turn a corner it would have her.
Sailor Mars had other ideas. As she approached a wall, she slowed for an instant, and then jumped. Bendis felt a sudden hope; if she could make it to the roof, the vitrimorph wouldn’t be able to follow…
But this attempt was no better than the last. She landed sprawling at the foot of the wall, and when she looked up the vitrimorph was almost on top of her.
“No!” she shouted in terror. “Burning Mandala!”
A shower of sparks danced uselessly off the vitrimorph’s body. It raised its arm to strike. Mars wailed in terror and closed her eyes.
“Hold,” said a voice quietly.
The vitrimorph froze. The woman with the jewel in her head walked slowly out to join her monster. She stared down at Mars, and shook her head.
“Pitiful,” she said. “Venus at least had some courage. If she’d been thinking about what she was doing, she might actually have had a chance. But you…”
With a frown, she said, “No. Inexperience is no excuse. The others have all done far better, even during their first battles. You are simply afraid to try.”
She sighed. “I think an object lesson is called for.” Then she turned away, an oddly rueful expression on her face. “Do it,” she ordered.
With a metallic sound of triumph, the vitrimorph ground back to life. Bendis watched, horrified, unable to help. Its arm lifted once more, and paused for an instant, mockingly, glinting in the sun. Sailor Mars covered her eyes and screamed in despair. The blow slammed down—
“MUSIC OF THE SPHERES!”
Three blows struck home simultaneously from three different directions. There was a rending noise like the tearing of metal, coupled with the sound of shattering glass. The air was filled with shards of crystal.
When Bendis could open her eyes again, she saw the three Senshi walking slowly across the yard toward the woman in blue. For one blurred instant she thought they were ten feet tall. They looked like the avatars of some ancient, beautiful, deadly power. They looked like goddesses.
They looked pissed off.
“Have you,” said Jupiter, “any last words?”
The blue woman wiped a trickle of blood from her forehead, where a splinter of crystal had struck her. Her face lit up in a broad grin. “What-ho,” she said. “The fifth cavalry arrives.”
Jupiter ignored this magnificently. “Mercury, if she starts to disappear again, hit her,” she ordered. Mercury gave a quick acknowledgement, which Jupiter seemed to ignore as well.
“Damn you,” she whispered to their enemy. “What do you want?”
“Want?” enquired the woman sardonically. “Why, a good job at steady pay…a husband and two children…a summer house by the ocean…who could want more than that?” Her grin became dark, malicious. “Or maybe I came in answer to an invitation.” She pulled something out and tossed it to the ground at Jupiter’s feet.
From where Bendis was standing, she could just make it out. It was a blurred photograph of Sailor Venus, firing her Love-Me Chain up into the air. Jupiter glanced at it quickly, and then back up again.
“Some people,” observed the woman, “just can’t help talking when they have a really big secret.” She winked. “But you needn’t worry about that, not any more. I took care of it for you.”
“I think,” Jupiter said slowly, “that I’ve heard about enough of this.” She took a deep breath, and raised her hands. “Once again,” she said, “—Any last words?”
The woman laughed. “Look to your own,” she said. And in the blink of an eye, she was gone.
After a moment, Jupiter lowered her hands. “Damn,” she said. But Bendis thought she looked relieved.
“Sorry,” said Mercury, moving to her side. “She disappeared so fast, I couldn’t—”
“Never mind,” Jupiter answered, rubbing her forehead wearily. “Take a look at—what, Sailor Mars, I suppose. See how badly she’s hurt, will you? I have to—I have to think about this.”
“Would you have killed her?” asked Mercury, so softly that Bendis could barely hear.
“Would I have had a choice?”
Bendis moved away from the pair, not wanting to hear any more. She saw Uranus kneeling at Venus’ side and ran toward them, suddenly furious at herself for forgotting her charge. If Beth was dead—
But Sailor Venus was already stirring. As Uranus did what she could to help, she opened her eyes, blinked at her, and said, “Oh. Hello. Did we win?”
Uranus appeared taken aback. “Uh, yes,” she began.
“That’s good.” Venus rubbed her eyes. “You aren’t my aunt, are you?”
Bendis breathed a sigh of relief, and rather sadistically left Uranus to try and cope. Venus was obviously recovering, that was the main thing. It would probably do Uranus good to try and handle her, anyway; that girl was a little too serious for her own good.
That left Mars. But when she headed over to the wall where the Senshi of Fire was lying, she saw that the girl was sitting up again. Her face was pale and she looked close to tears, but she was apparently unharmed. The other three had arrived just barely in time.
“Are you all right?” Mercury was saying to her. “It didn’t hurt you, did it?”
Mars was clearly flustered by the attention. Really, what was the matter with her? “I—no, it—that is—” She gave up, and shook her head nervously.
Mercury brightened. “Oh, you’re the talkative type, are you? That’s good, I need a straight man.” She reached out a hand to help a very confused Mars up. “You stick with me, girl, you’re going to make me a star.”
Bendis gave up. Everyone was obviously all right, and what was she getting so concerned about? They were Senshi, of course they were all right. (That Mercury, though…was she for real? The idea of her and Venus in the same room together made Bendis unaccountably nervous.) She breathed a sigh, sat down and began to smooth her ruffled fur. This hadn’t been quite the evening she’d planned, but perhaps it wasn’t a total disaster after all.
Then she heard a very familiar voice shouting, “Bendis? Where are you? I know you’re here somewhere!” and changed her mind.
She looked around wildly, trying to see where Artemis’ voice had come from. Taking a guess, she whirled and ran in the opposite direction. If he caught her now, she would be in so much trouble…
She dodged around a stack of rusting machine parts, ducked under an abandoned truck, ran down a short alleyway between two buildings, and made for the fence. There was a gap that she could squeeze through not far from here, and if she could reach that she’d be away free—no, wait a minute, she’d gotten herself turned around, the gap was in that direction and she was…
She was in a dead end, she realised frantically. As she started to turn back, she heard somebody drop lightly to the ground, right behind her.
“Gotcha!” said Artemis.
S A I L O R M O O N 4 2 0 0
END OF CHAPTER EIGHT
Next: The five are together at last; and the story of the fall of Crystal Tokyo.
Thanks to my pre-readers: Sandy Drobic, Bob Schroeck and David Farr.
Draft version: 22 December, 1998.
Final draft: 14 January, 1999.
Revised: 4 December, 2005.