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Disclaimer and credits will be found after the end of the chapter.
Drunkard's Walk S:
Heart of Steel
by Robert M. Schroeck
2. Basic Training
Your world needs a great defender
Your world's in the way of harm
You want a romantic life
A fairytale that's full of charm
Beware that the Light is fading
Beware as the Dark returns
This world's unforgiving
Even brilliant lights will cease to burn
Day and night will sever
Hope and peace are lost forever
— "This Will Be The Day", Theme to Volume One of Rooster Teeth's RWBY
To do good is noble; to teach others to do good is nobler, and no trouble.
— Mark Twain
I've got my clipboard, text books
Lead me to the station
Yeah, I'm off to the civil war
I've got my kit bag, my heavy boots
I'm runnin' in the rain
Gonna run 'til my feet are raw
Slip kid, slip kid, second generation
And I'm a soldier at thirteen
Slip kid, slip kid, realization
There's no easy way to be free
No easy way to be free
— The Who, "Slip Kid"
Friday, April 10, 1992, 12:06 AM
Usagi's eyes snapped open as she was catapulted directly out of sleep to full wakefulness. She'd been having an absolutely yummy dream of going to an all-you-can-eat ice cream buffet with a cute boy, and something had reached right into it and demanded that she wake up. She turned her head to check Luna.
The moon cat was still asleep on her pillow next to her.
Usagi began slowly snaking her hand under her covers toward her nightstand, where her brooch lay. "Who's there?" she asked softly. If Luna wasn't already awake, Usagi wasn't going to be the one to wake her.
"Um. Hi." A figure appeared out of the shadows in the corner of her bedroom. For a moment, Usagi swore she could see a line of leaf-green light flicker around it, but it was gone as soon as she thought she saw it. The figure came closer and was lit enough by the light through Usagi's window that she could see it was a girl — a pretty girl a few years older than her, with long, straight dark hair that fell almost to her waist. When she got close enough, Usagi saw that she wasn't Japanese but a Westerner, and she was wearing a short-sleeved green top with tight, shiny leather pants.
"Sorry to wake you," she continued in perfect Japanese. "Now that I think about it, this was a bad idea. I should have shown up during the day and approached you on the street." When Usagi's hand emerged from under the covers she noticed. With a little nod, she added, "You don't have to sneak. If it'll make you feel safer to turn into Sailor Moon, go ahead."
Usagi paused. She knew? "Who are you?"
The girl glanced at the brooch, then at Usagi, and chewed her upper lip for a moment. "You can call me Reimei Midori."
Usagi pushed herself up to sit in her bed. At her side, Luna continued to sleep, oddly undisturbed by the bouncing of the mattress. "So, why are you in my bedroom in the middle of the night?"
"Well," Midori said, bobbing her head left and right, "partly because I could be, and partly because I wanted to tell you something, and finally because I wanted you to tell Doug something for me."
Usagi's eyes grew wide. "You know Doug-sensei?"
Midori smiled brilliantly. "Yeah. I met him when I was about the same age as you are now. I owe him a lot for helping me and my sister when we needed it." She blinked. "You said 'Doug-sensei'. You've already started training with him?"
Usagi shook her head. "I'm starting tomorrow."
Midori huffed in annoyance. "Well, darn, my aim was off. I was trying to get here right after your first night as Sailor Moon to tell you how important it was to train with Doug."
"...Get here right after my first night?" Usagi rubbed her eye and frowned. The only way that sentence could make sense would be... "You... are you talking about traveling in time?"
"No... well, yes," Midori said, then promptly added, "Not just time travel, but yeah, from where I come from Doug met you a long, long time ago."
Usagi's heart broke, and tears began to form in her eyes. "He's not home yet, is he?"
Midori grinned, a very sly and happy grin. "Well, 'Sagi-chan, that's what I wanted you to tell him. He will get home. I'll let you in on the whole story in a moment, I promise, but I have to be honest and say it was really just an excuse for me to come meet you."
Usagi felt like she was doomed to only ask questions in this conversation. "Meet me? Why?"
The grin morphed into another brilliant smile, and then Midori plopped herself down on the edge of Usagi's bed. Usagi shot a glance at Luna, who bounced again but never stopped snoring. "Because, 'Sagi-chan, far in the future you're going to be the best friend I'll ever have, and I just wanted to say thank you."
Baffled, Usagi just mumbled, "You're welcome?" as she was caught up in a completely unexpected hug.
Next to her on the pillow, Luna slept on.
The next morning, Usagi glared at Luna while getting dressed.
"What?" Luna demanded.
"You snore," Usagi accused as she adjusted her skirt.
"I what?" Luna tilted her head.
"You snore," Usagi repeated, reaching for her middy blouse. "I woke up in the middle of the night last night and heard you."
"How can I snore?" Luna demanded. "I'm a cat!"
Usagi rolled her eyes as she pulled the blouse on over her head. "How can you snore? How can you talk?" She studied herself in the mirror as she adjusted her collar. "Doesn't matter. No more sleeping on my pillow right next to my ear."
Friday, April 10, 1992, 8:09 AM, Tokyo Head Office of the Asahi Shimbun
Tokyo had two sailor girls now.
And a man in grey on some kind of flying motorcycle-thing, if some of the witnesses could be trusted.
Yoshi viciously ground his cigarette butt into a crumpled mass of paper, ash and cellulose filter, and shoved the ashtray aside. He had witnesses, but not enough for a real story. Not yet. A handful of housewives and schoolgirls who were half-convinced they'd dreamed the whole thing anyway — he couldn't get the EIC to bite on that.
He was going to have to go hunting again. Not for the first time he thanked Sailor V for helping him re-hone the skills he'd first gained in Vietnam, and Cambodia, and Indonesia, and which had decayed with every Comiket and flower show he'd had to cover in the years after.
Sooner or later one of them would cross his path, if they were real. And he'd get the photos — and maybe the interview — he'd need to announce the existence of a new superhero in Tokyo.
He pulled out a new cigarette and was about to light it when a thought struck him. Sailor V had been known to cooperate with the Metropolitan Police Department; maybe these new heroes were the same. He'd have to check in with Keiko at HQ and see what she might know.
And what the hell, he hadn't called Hiroshi in a while. He could say hello and find out what, if anything, the JSDF might know as well while he was at it.
Yoshi smiled as he lit the cigarette. Hell, he might even get a lunch out of this.
Friday, April 10, 1992, 7:00 PM. Tsukino Home.
"I'll get it." Tsukino Ikuko dried her hands and stepped into the hallway to answer the ringing telephone. "Moshi-moshi?"
"Good evening, Tsukino-san." A male voice, a stranger. "My name is Douglas Sangnoir, and I'm a volunteer tutor here in the school district. I received your daughter's name on Thursday and was told she needed help in her classes."
"Oh, my." Ikuko's eyes widened, and she glanced down the hall to see if Usagi was listening in. "I didn't know that Usagi-chan's school had a tutoring program."
"Honestly, ma'am, if there's a formal program I'm not aware of it. I just was contacted by an acquaintance at the school and informed of your daughter's need." A faint chuckle came across the line. "I must admit, I find it hard to believe that she could be quite as badly off as she was made out to be. But even if she is, I should be able to help her bring her grades up at least somewhat."
Ikuko sighed into the receiver. "That would be wonderful. I'm afraid Usagi-chan is quite hopeless at academics. Nothing my husband or I do is of any use in motivating her to improve."
"Well, I'm pretty sure I'll have at least some success where you haven't. While I'm currently employed as a software developer here in Tokyo, I have quite a few years' experience as a teacher, particularly with difficult cases."
"Well, that does sound encouraging..." Ikuko allowed.
"Now, I wouldn't expect you to trust your daughter to a random voice on the phone," Sangnoir continued smoothly. "So I was hoping that you might join me at a restaurant near your home tomorrow afternoon, so that I could meet you and your husband and your daughter, and let us all get a feel for each other before anyone agrees to anything."
Ikuko found herself nodding thoughtfully at the suggestion. "I think that's a fine idea. How about at two?"
"Two would be perfect."
After settling on a restaurant and getting directions to it from Usagi's mother, I said goodbye and hung up. Then I shut off the iPod in front of me (one of a dozen or so such devices I'd picked up here and there on my journey), and removed the earbud from my other ear. I don't like using mind control outside of combat or emergency situations, but I needed to guarantee that Usagi's parents would meet with me.
Fortunately, I hadn't needed it.
It wouldn't've been the first bit of mental domination I'd used that day, though, if I had. I'd gone through several different songs in the process of setting up contacts in the school system who would vouch for me, and in getting documentation of my teaching skills inserted into the appropriate files here and there. Some of the latter would take a few days, but this timeline was nowhere near as digitized as Homeline was, and they would all be in place well before anyone could ask to see them. If anyone bothered.
(I was expecting that someone would bother. This was Japan, in a well-to-do area, and judging by the conversation I'd just had, the elder Tsukinos were actively involved in their daughter's life, if not actually hovering. If they were remotely competent parents they would want to confirm that I was who I claimed to be. My long-term plans depended on it, in fact — I needed them to trust me and maybe even come to consider me a family friend, the better to be able to run off with Usagi on short notice to fight the "Great Enemy". It would also help if/when Usagi blew her cover around them.)
I had also arranged to get time and space at need in a local gym, a place called "Joy Fit" a couple blocks south of the Azabujuban market street. But that didn't take mind control, just money and a little schmoozing with the staff.
Saturday, April 11, 1992, 1:56 PM. Edoya Wine & Restaurant, Azabujuban.
Usagi gnawed on a knuckle as she followed her parents and Shingo into the restaurant. It was a fancy place; not so upscale as to be completely out of the reach of her family (who were, she would admit upon thinking about it, rather well off), but certainly a bit fancier than they normally went to.
When Doug-sensei had said he'd make arrangements and get in touch with her, this had been the last thing she'd expected. She'd thought they would have to sneak around, slipping out of the house to train in secret. Which frankly would all have been very cool and very fun. Even if it might have gotten her in trouble. Finding out from her mother that he had called and set up an appointment with all of them had surprised and panicked her for a moment. And Luna had actually hissed when Mama had mentioned meeting up with him at the restaurant.
Usagi was glad that cats weren't allowed into Edoya because she was sure Luna would forget she was pretending to be a normal cat and lay into Doug-sensei — the way she had laid into Usagi when they were finally alone later that night. And she was glad that as far as she knew Luna had no money, otherwise she might try to go to the restaurant in her human form — and that wouldn't possibly end well for anyone. Either way, who knew how Mama and Papa would react to learning that Luna — who they'd only just started getting used to having in the house — wasn't just an ordinary cat, but a really very bossy talking one. Who could turn into a pretty girl, too.
Usagi blanched at the thought of her mother getting completely the wrong idea about Luna and dragging her off to give her a lecture about trusting strange talking animals off the street and warning her (again!) about "inappropriate touching" just like she had after that one time with Naru and the spilled cola and... she wrenched her mind from that oh-so-disturbing image as the host ushered them into a private dining room. Doug-sensei was already there and bowing to her parents.
Usagi tried very hard to look like she was seeing him for the very first time. Which to be honest wasn't too hard, as it was only the third time she'd ever seen him, and the first time he wasn't wearing grey leather. He was in a very nice charcoal suit that made him look very handsome... "Ow! Shingo!"
"Stop drooling, dumpling-head," her little brother hissed. "He's too old for you."
"I'm not drooling," she hissed back, then quickly wiped the side of her hand across her chin. Just in case. By the time her attention had returned to Doug-sensei, he was already bowing and presenting a business card to her parents.
I had (briefly) considered holding the meeting at the Hard Rock Cafe in Roppongi, but thought better of it when my usually-hibernating common sense woke up and kicked me in the head. No matter what world it is, an HRC is usually way too loud to hold any kind of meaningful discussion. And to be honest, I wanted to project the image of a solid, sober citizen whom the elder Tsukinos could trust with their daughter.
And let us not even consider the potential problems that the soundtrack at an HRC could cause. (Then again, that's what my tuneplug is for.)
So when Mrs. Tsukino suggested the Edoya, I quickly agreed. I was actually familiar with it: it was located not far from the Azabu market street and just a block away from Joy Fit (which is how I had discovered it in the first place). It was a yoshoku place — Western food done Japanese style — and one of the better ones in the area, higher-end but not over the top. Given what I'd been able to deduce about Usagi's family, I was pretty sure it was right in the middle of their comfort zone. I'd reserved a private room to give us a quiet space for this all-important first meeting, and for the discussions to come after.
I arrived fifteen minutes early to make sure all was as I had requested. I was in my best suit (well, the best one appropriate to this here-and-now), and had a couple of sample textbooks and a small stack of my meishi — the Japanese version of business cards — with me. At the maître d's podium I let the staff know that I was expecting the Tsukinos and what they'd look like, and made arrangements to cover the entire dinner with no check to be presented at the table.
With that taken care of, the maître d' led me to the room I'd reserved. I gave it a quick but careful once-over. Finding it to my satisfaction, I turned to him, smiled, and bowed deeply while expressing my thanks. He returned the bow and then bustled off to take care of his other clientèle that afternoon.
I didn't have long to wait. The Tsukinos — four of them — showed up promptly at the stroke of two, escorted by the maître d'.
It took a while before we finally sat down at the table. First there were the introductions with bowing followed by a handshake between myself and Mr. Tsukino: Usagi's parents were Kenji and Ikuko, and her little brother was Shingo.
Then I offered her father one of my business cards. I had checked the etiquette for meishi in this timeline just to be sure, and presented my card to him with exquisite care and formality. I did not want to mess this up. I could train Usagi without her parents' cooperation, but it would be so much easier with it. And not messing up on the etiquette would help so much.
Mr. Tsukino took it just as seriously as I did, thankfully. He carefully read my card before looking back up at me. "Choudai itashimasu," he said softly before bowing. When he straightened up again, he drew a flat case of black leather from his jacket pocket, and made a show of inserting my card into it.
Once that was done, I nodded, then gestured at the table. "Please," I said. "Join me for a meal."
If the melon-sized mound of ice cream she'd consumed the previous week hadn't already clued me in, I would have been astonished at the sheer amount of food that Usagi could pack away. For all that she was one of the tinier teenaged girls I'd ever met, she had one of the biggest appetites I had ever seen, hands down. (Only that young lightning-slinger from California whom I'd met a couple timelines back could rival her.)
And some of the worst manners. She got elbowed by her younger brother a couple of times, and Mrs. Tsukino had to cough meaningfully once or twice before Usagi got the idea and slowed down to a point where the rice wasn't flying across the room. I tactfully ignored the byplay and concentrated on establishing my bona fides with her parents.
Which went over quite well. To be honest, the documentation and testimonials I presented were only fraudulent insofar as they claimed to be from this version of Earth, and the locals who now thought they'd provided them had had their memories very carefully modified to support those claims. (Modified, I might add, to the barest minimum necessary. Sapient beings are the sum total of their memories of themselves, after all, and it is possible to break a mind with careless or indifferent memory modification.)
It also helped that the elder Tsukinos were not only concerned about their daughter's academics, they were genuinely nice people who were maybe a bit more trusting than they should be. Well before we reached the dessert course and after only the briefest look at my references and other paperwork, they had surprised me by agreeing to let me tutor her. I'd been prepared to mind-control them into doing so if I absolutely had to, but they were so desperate to improve Usagi's performance in school that they were ready to accept any help that presented itself, especially help that was offered gratis.
They were lucky I was as benevolent as I claimed to be.
And once we'd gotten that out of the way, "Sangnoir-san" and "Tsukino-san" gave way very quickly to "Doug-san", "Kenji-san" and "Ikuko-san" — far more quickly than I would have thought likely. We moved on to my "lesson plans" — at least the ones I would admit to them — and Usagi's eyes grew a bit wide at what I was proposing to cover with her. I could see that she was starting to panic, and when her little brother was looking elsewhere, I shot her a reassuring wink.
She visibly forced herself to calm down. A moment later, during a pause for breath in the discussion between us adults, she said, "Excuse me, may I be excused to go to the restroom?"
Ikuko-san looked up from one of the texts I'd brought with me, and replied, "Oh, of course, dear."
"Thank you!" She extricated herself from under the table, turned and promptly tripped on the pattern in the carpet, as best as I could tell. I winced in sympathy as she faceplanted.
"Owie," she mumbled into the floor beneath her as her brother burst into mocking laughter.
I was out of my seat and helping her back up so quickly that the rest of her family was blinking at my reaction speed. "Are you okay?" I asked as Ikuko-san shushed Shingo.
Usagi smiled ruefully as she blinked back unshed tears. "Yeah, I'm kinda used to it. I do that a lot."
I raised an eyebrow at her and she gave me a little nod, as if to confirm her claim. Well.
Never let it be said that I can't capitalize on an opportunity. "You know," I said, glancing between her and her parents, "it's not in the paperwork I showed you, but I'm also a martial arts instructor. I have a license to teach martial arts, although it probably wouldn't be recognized here in Tokyo." Because I got it in another universe, at a monastery on a mountain outside of Tokyo-3 in 2015, I very carefully didn't say. "If you'd like," I said, turning my attention back to Usagi alone, "I can take you through some basic exercises for balance and grace."
"Oh, that would be wonderful!" Ikuko sighed, giving some credence to Usagi's claim of chronic klutziness.
"Well, then," I said after a moment. "If Usagi-san is willing, we could start with that first. I have an arrangement with a local gym, and if she can meet me there tomorrow we can jump right into that."
Usagi bit her lip and looked over at the table. "Mama, Papa? May I?"
Kenji and Ikuko shared a glance. Being a married man, I know "married person telepathy" in action, and there was definitely some of it going on there. Then Ikuko smiled at her daughter. "Of course, dear."
Usagi squealed in delight, bouncing up and down and sending her ponytails whipping wildly about. Then she remembered why she'd gotten up in the first place and ran off to the bathroom.
"What time would you like her to show up at the gym?" Kenji asked.
As I settled the bill after the Tsukinos left the restaurant, I marveled at how agreeable they had been. For a moment I wondered what would have happened had I asked them outright for permission to train their daughter as a metapowered vigilante.
I could almost believe that they might have agreed to it without blinking an eye.
Saturday, April 11, 1992, 8:36 PM. Tsukino Home.
"...And I still can't get over how cool he was. He just smiled and charmed Mama and Papa, and they agreed to everything!" Usagi laid on her bed with her arms spread out to her sides as Luna sat primly near her feet. "Even Shingo liked him!"
"Charmed?" the cat asked. "He enchanted them?"
Usagi rolled her eyes. "Noooo," she replied. "I mean he was very polite, and he dressed in a nice suit, and he did everything he could to make them like him. And they did. No magic involved at all." She sat up, propping herself with her arms behind her as Luna hopped to avoid her feet. "You are such a suspicious kitty."
Luna sniffed. "It's my job to be suspicious. And my job to train you. I don't like the idea of someone else doing that."
"Well, you're just going to have to get used to it, because it's happening," Usagi declared.
"We'll see," Luna muttered darkly.
"I just wish I hadn't tripped in front of him," Usagi mused. "I must've looked so stupid. Oh! Oh, oh, darn it!"
"What?" Luna's tail began lashing about as she glanced around the room, looking for whatever Usagi had reacted to.
"Oh, darn it!" Usagi repeated. "I forgot to give him the message from..." She suddenly snapped her mouth closed and glanced at the mooncat. "Never mind."
Luna's eyes narrowed, and her tail, if anything, lashed harder. "Message from whom?"
"Oh, come here, you silly cat." Usagi lunged at her and before she realized it, Luna was clasped tightly to her charge's breast. "From someone you don't know. Don't worry about it." A set of tiny fingers started scratching her behind her ears.
Luna briefly debated clawing the girl to make Usagi release her. "It's not a good idea to keep secrets from me, Usagi... Ooh, that feels nice," she moaned. "How am I supposed to... oh, don't stop... I'm supposed to... mmmmm."
"Supposed to what?" Usagi asked, never stopping her ministrations to Luna's ears.
"Mmmmm. Something," Luna murmured, eyes closed. "Talk later. Scratch now. Yesssssss."
Usagi smiled to herself and kept scratching.
Sunday, April 12, 1992, 1:00 PM. Joy Fit athletic club, Azabujuban.
The next afternoon, I met Usagi in the lobby of the Joy Fit. She was wearing what looked to be a brand-new jogging suit, and carrying a small gym bag, equally new-looking. We exchanged greetings, and then I got her set up with a membership at the club. "So you can come in and use their facilities without me," I replied when she asked why.
She nodded and bit her lip. "Are Mama and Papa going to be paying for this?"
"Nope, it's on my dime," I said as the receptionist led us back to where they'd take Usagi's picture for her ID. "I volunteered to teach you, and I can afford things like your membership as part of that." Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a black cat with red eyes stalking back and forth on the other side of the gym's glass front. Oh, hello, Luna. Lovely to see you again.
"So can my parents," Usagi objected.
I shrugged. "I don't doubt it. In fact, your dad probably makes more than I do."
"Then why..." she began.
"Call it a matter of honor, teishi," I said just before the receptionist dropped us off with a very nice lady who had a Polaroid and a laminator.
Fifteen minutes and one plastic card on a lanyard later, Usagi and I found ourselves alone in one of the smaller rooms. Thick foam rubber mats were spread out over the floor, and three walls were similarly padded; the fourth had the door plus a mirror stretching the rest of its length. I pulled off my shoes and took up a position near the center of the room. Usagi stripped off her jogging suit to reveal a bog-standard Japanese gym class outfit of bloomers and T-shirt, and joined me on the mat. She looked uncertain but determined.
"Don't you want me to change into Sailor Moon?" she asked, glancing down at her gym clothes.
I shook my head. "If I train Sailor Moon, only Sailor Moon will get anything out of it. But if I train Usagi, both of you will benefit. Plus I promised your mom that I'd teach you — Usagi."
"Okay..." she said doubtfully.
I crossed the mat and put a hand on her shoulder. "Trust me, teishi. I've trained transforming metas before. It's how it works. Okay?"
She bit her lip and thought for a moment, then nodded.
"I do want to see your transformation," I added. "It's a good idea that I know what it looks like, what you need to do to trigger it, and how long it takes, but that can wait until later, when we're in a more private place."
Usagi looked around and seemed to notice the window in the door for the first time. "Oh! Okay."
"Right then," I said. "Now before we start, let me say that I wasn't lying to your mom — I can and will help you be more graceful and poised. It won't be instantaneous, but it'll happen. Beyond that, well, I was planning on teaching you the basics of my personal martial art, but just how much we get into will be up to you. That said, every little bit you learn will help. I can attest to that."
Luna lurked by the door to the athletic club, and waited for her opportunity. She'd tried several times already to gain entry after Usagi had managed to slip in without her, but had been blocked each time. Now she was waiting for a patron either entering or leaving who was just the right degree of distracted.
The moment came when a heavyset young man, sweating profusely, came out carrying several duffel bags. He juggled them clumsily as he backed into the metal bar that spanned the width of the glass door, unlatching it. As the door swung open, Luna burst into motion, scampering madly between his ankles and into the building. Ignoring a shout from the receptionist, she dashed down the hallway that led deeper into the club, skidded through an open door into an unoccupied office, and shifted into human form.
A moment later the receptionist slid to a halt and clung to the doorframe. "Did you see a cat come this way?" she asked, slightly out of breath.
Luna tried to look as innocent as possible as she nodded. "Oh, yes, I did — it went right past the door." She raised a finger to her lips and looked thoughtfully at the floor to her left. "I'm afraid I didn't see where it went, though. I'm so sorry."
"That's okay," the receptionist replied and turned to go. Then she turned back. "Say, who are you, anyway?"
"I said I wanted to learn how to fight and win." The uncertainty left Usagi's eyes. "And that means everything. Teach me all you can, Doug-sensei."
I nodded approvingly. "Then that's what I'll do, teishi. And the first thing we'll cover... well, if you're as clumsy as you claim to be, the standard first lesson of any martial art, and one of the hardest: falling." I gave her a prompting smile and waited, but she just stood there, watching me earnestly.
I leaned forward a bit. "This is where the student traditionally says, 'But sensei, there's nothing hard about falling.'"
She gave me a "who are you kidding?" look, but obediently recited, "'But sensei, there's nothing hard about falling'," trying hard not to giggle at the end.
I grinned. "Sure there is! It's called 'the ground'!"
This time she actually did giggle.
Still got it, Luna thought smugly as she strolled through the athletic club. The receptionist had remembered Usagi and Sangnoir, and then had told her exactly where to find them. Luna thanked her and took off at a brisk pace.
"All right, that's enough for now," I said after an hour or so of going over basic breakfalls with her. "Go get showered and changed, and we'll talk magic when you get back here, okay?"
"Okay, Doug-sensei!" she chirped brightly as she wiped sweat off her face. She dashed over to her bag and jogging outfit, scooped them all up and ran out the door.
I smiled to myself as I watched her, then sat down with my back against one of the padded walls and reviewed the past hour. I'd started by running Usagi through a few exercises to get an idea of her general fitness and level of coordination. I realized very quickly that her sense of balance seemed to abandon her at unpredictable intervals, and when it did, she had an odd tendency to fall on her face even in situations where by all rights she should fall to the side or backwards. Consequently, I focused on introducing her to forward techniques, starting with a front breakfall I'd learned from a US Marine when I first joined the Warriors.
She'd been amused by having to start out by laying flat on her stomach, but she took the lesson seriously. She paid close attention, did everything I told her to, and was actually able to pull off a breakfall from a standing position a lot faster than I'd expected her to. Not that it's a complicated move, but a lot of people flinch for a while before they get the hang of it. Once she learned what to do, she took the fall and slapped the floor perfectly the first time.
After three more repetitions, I advanced her to the forward shoulder roll, with which she wouldn't just break her fall, she would use the momentum to get back up on her feet.
It was odd, really. Just in that first few minutes of evaluation I had seen enough to warrant that her self-description as "clumsy" wasn't entirely without merit. But at the same time, she had a profoundly good kinesthetic sense. I rarely had to walk her through a move or position more than twice or at most three times. And once she'd mastered a move — quicker than many, at that — she always did it perfectly afterwards.
I chalked up the contradiction to just entering puberty. She might never actually be tall, but she was starting to grow regardless. I'd lay odds that in particular her legs were growing faster than she could get used to them, hence the stumbling and tripping. Give her a couple years or so and she'd reach her adult height or most of it, after which the clumsiness would vanish.
And yeah, like she warned me, she whined and complained. But she never stopped trying. She never gave up. And honestly, she was giggly as often as she was grumbly.
I started wondering just who had convinced Usagi that she was a loser.
As I waited, I saw a flash of black and yellow through the window in the door. I closed my eyes and tilted my head back until it bumped into the padding behind me. "Are you going to come in, Luna, or just lurk in the hall?" I called out.
There was a longish, making-up-her-mind pause, and then I heard the door open, followed by a swish of fabric. "How did you know I was there?" she asked.
I opened my eyes and lowered my head to give her Asuka's favorite "Are you stupid or what?" look. "You're not exactly invisible in human form, you know. And the window in that door is a good 60 or 70 centimeters square. I spotted you watching us several times."
She frowned. "I thought you had all your attention on Usagi-chan."
Chuckling, I shook my head. "I never have all my attention on any one thing, my dear. A hard lesson learned long ago — even in 'safe' surroundings, keep an eye out." I smirked at her. "The only place I ever fully relax is in bed with with my wife, and not even always then." The smirk drained away from my lips. "And it's been more than seventy years since I've been there."
She studied me for a long moment, then said, "Not willingly, I take it?"
"No," I replied flatly. "Not willingly at all."
Neither of us said anything for several minutes after that. She walked around the room as if inspecting it, while I stayed seated on the floor. Finally, she said, "You were taking Usagi-chan seriously, and truly training her. I remember seeing the..." She paused, scowled, and continued. "...Seeing others training like that, a long time ago." She turned and studied me. "Why?"
I raised an eyebrow. "Why? Because she asked, and because I could, and because it was the right thing to do. I would have thought that was obvious."
"If you say so," she said doubtfully.
I shook my head. "What a sad world you must live in."
Luna's eyebrows shot up. "What?"
"I mean it. To be so sure that no one besides yourself can possibly be acting from the goodness of their hearts and for the honest benefit of another. To be convinced that everyone other than yourself is an enemy in disguise just waiting to strike." I gave her a pitying look. "Does Usagi-chan even get the benefit of the doubt, or are you anticipating and planning for the day that she inevitably turns on you?"
Luna stared at me, mouth gaping in shock. But before she could gather herself to retort, the door flew open. "Okay, I'm back!" Usagi called out. "Oh, hi, Luna," she added with a fair bit less energy and enthusiasm. "You're going to try to drag me away now, aren't you?"
Luna turned to her. "I..." She stopped, looked back at me, then at Usagi again. "Not at all. I've been watching you working and have satisfied myself that Sangnoir-san is an... adequate teacher for you at this early stage."
Usagi brightened, almost literally. "Really? That's so great, I was so worried about trying to learn everything I could when you didn't approve of Doug-sensei, but now you're okay with him and it's all going to work out just fine!" She lunged forward and seized Luna in a hug, spinning her around and bouncing in place.
Luna shot me a look that very clearly said, "You see what I have to put up with?" I just smirked at her.
After dinner, Usagi retreated to her bedroom with Luna, who had returned to her cat form, to discuss the afternoon.
"You're going to help me with the magic exercises Doug-sensei gave me to do, right?" Usagi asked. She lay spread-eagle on her bed, her head hanging over the edge with her ponytails draping down to either side of her to pool on the floor below.
"Oh, certainly," Luna said pensively. "I must admit that he has a most unusual approach to magic, though. I have never encountered anyone who thought of it as a kind of science and engineering combined." She was sprawled out in a typically feline boneless-looking puddle, and had her eyes closed.
"Really?" Usagi rolled over onto her stomach, and began kicking her feet.
The cat nodded absently. "Every mage I've known treats... treated it as an art. Oh, there are fundamental principles and techniques one learns, even a lay practitioner like myself, but every true mage then develops along their own special path, which reflects and in turn shapes the unique qualities of their very being. The Queen..."
"The Queen?" Usagi interrupted. "You mentioned her that first night, but that was all."
"Queen Serenity of the Moon," Luna explained. "She was your sovereign and commander in your earlier life, and she was the one who sent your soul forward to be reborn in this era. Serenity-sama was one of the greatest sorceresses in history, with a style and form of magic unique to herself, bathed in and built of purest light."
"Wow." Usagi bit her lip and tried to imagine what the Queen might have looked like while using her magic, but all she could bring to mind was an image of herself all grown up in a white silk gown. "Baka Usagi," she murmured to herself.
Luna continued on, unaware of Usagi's momentary distraction. "The Queen had a great artifact of light magic that amplified her power, which in Japanese would be called the Maboroshi no Ginzuishou..." Her eyes snapped open and she gave a gasp. "The Ginzuishou! How could I have forgotten?"
Usagi turned to look at her. "Huh?"
Luna met her eyes. "The Ginzuishou is tied to the line of Queen Serenity. Wherever the Princess is, it will be. And its magic is very distinctive. If we can locate it, it could lead us right to the Princess."
"Cool!" Usagi rolled over on her back again. "Now who is this Princess? And why are we looking for her?"
Luna opened her mouth, then shut it again. "I haven't told you about the Princess? At all?" she asked after a moment.
Eyes wide, Usagi shook her head. "I don't think so. Or all that much about the Queen until now. I'm guessing it all has something to do with being Sailor Moon, though."
Sighing at her own undependable memory, Luna sat back down on the bedspread. "That's right. Let me go back and start at the beginning..."
Monday, April 13, 1992, 12:27 PM, Sanuki Udon Noodle Restaurant
The small talk out of the way and their udon already half-eaten, Yoshi laid his chopsticks on the improvised rest he'd folded out of their paper wrapper, straightened up a bit and took a breath just a bit deeper than usual.
"You've got something on your mind." Lieutenant Keiko Tanakawa, Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, was being very careful not to get soup on her dress uniform. ("Can't go back to the Chief's office a mess now, can I?" she'd said when they'd sat down fifteen minutes earlier.)
"Yeah," he admitted, and wished he could light up. But the proprietor of this noodle joint hated cigarette smoke and would toss Yoshi out on his ear if he did.
Keiko laughed softly. "I figured as much. You only do the lunch thing while fishing for info if you're chasing a story so big you forget to eat. What is it this time?"
He spun the stool top to face her. "Has Sailor V been in touch with her 'friend' in the department recently?"
She tilted her head and studied him quizzically. "Not that I know of. Why?"
Yoshi chewed his lip. "I think we have a new sailor girl running around. I'm trying to get some solid verification, but I have a lot of unreliable eyewitnesses who've all reported the same thing. I was wondering if she had a connection to V, because, you know, super-powered schoolgirl in a sailor suit."
"Hm." Keiko looked off thoughtfully. "I can ask."
"Thanks. But that's not all," Yoshi added. "This new sailor girl — she's got some kind of partner."
"What, like V's cat?" Keiko asked with a smile.
Yoshi snorted. "As if. No, this is a guy — an adult, not another teen. Dresses in grey with a motorcycle helmet, carries a bo staff."
Keiko's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Really?"
He shrugged. "That's what the witnesses said. I have no idea what their relationship is. For all I know he's her father and he's teaching her the family business."
Keiko laughed. "Wouldn't that be a kick? A line of espers or something secretly fighting crime for centuries. Sounds like something out of a manga or anime." She chuckled once more, then grew serious again. "I'll ask about V-chan for you, Yoshi. And when you get some harder evidence for this new girl and her partner, give it to me and I'll pass it on, okay?"
Yoshi nodded. "Deal."
Monday, April 13, 1992, 3:00 PM.
Because she was already reasonably close to human in appearance even before applying a glamour, and was surprisingly intelligent as well, Furau had been a natural choice for General Jadeite to include in the youma forces he'd deployed to Japan. She had also been a natural choice to spearhead the "Midnight Zero" operation.
Her first step had been to study the human world and learn what it had become. Too many youma simply leapt in, assuming nothing had changed in the ten thousand years of their imprisonment.
Once she had familiarized herself with the people and culture, she formed a plan and put it into motion. It had only taken a bit of disguise and a little domination to slip into the staff of Azabujuban's local radio station FM No. 10, and if you now asked any of the other employees, they'd swear she had been working there for years. And with that accomplished, she'd begun to lay down a subtle web of compulsions and memory spells across the district wherever her intended targets were likely to stumble across them. When the command came, it would take the merest twitch of magic fired into the web of enchantments to turn the girls and young women of the district into a ready-made, devoted audience for a radio program which did not — yet — exist.
Taking care of little details like that was what made the difference between a successful operation and a debacle. Some youma just couldn't think clearly enough to even pretend to be human, but Furau prided herself on the planning, execution, and overall the quality of her work. It was how she intended to stand out among all the other youma running the various operations that General Jadeite had planted around the district, to be activated at a moment's notice. Furau was an ambitious youma, and she planned to springboard off the success of the "Midnight Zero" plan into a higher position in the General's forces.
And now was her chance. The secretary for the marketing department had just handed her an innocuous telephone message whose contents were actually a pre-arranged signal: General Jadeite was activating "Midnight Zero". Furau smiled to herself. It was her time to shine.
Monday, April 13, 1992, 7:32 PM, Tsukino Home.
"Here we go," Ikuko trilled as she placed a tea set on the table just past the stack of books I'd brought with me.
I looked up from where Usagi and I both had had our heads down together over her math textbook and a sheet of paper covered with algebra problems in various states of completion. "Thank you, Ikuko-san!" I debated a moment about pouring myself a cup immediately, then decided to let it steep for a few minutes.
"I think I've got it now, sensei," Usagi mumbled around a pencil stuck in her mouth without looking up. "Is this the right way to balance the terms on both sides?"
"Let me see." She lifted her head from where she had hunched over the paper and slid it over to me. I took a quick look at the fairly basic algebra problem and nodded approvingly. "Yes, very good, Usagi-chan," I said.
"Yay!" A smile like a dawning sun broke out across her face and she waved her arms like a boxer celebrating a win. I chuckled and quickly scribbled another equation on the paper before sliding it back to her.
"Okay," I said with my own smile. "Now try this one."
"Ack!" The smile vanished and she seemed to fold in on herself. "That's complicated!" she complained.
"Not as much as you might think, teishi." I handed her the pencil, which had fallen out of her mouth and onto the table during her chair-bound victory dance. "Just try it, using what we've covered. I promise no surprises or traps, okay?"
"'kay," she said dubiously, then bent back over the paper, pencil at the ready. She tilted her head first one way, then the other, then, "Oh!" She began rapidly writing. I sat patiently, finally pouring myself some tea and then sipping it slowly, until she finished with a flourish that almost tore the paper, and handed me the sheet.
I looked over the solution as she waited, almost visibly quivering with anxiety. I was tempted to stretch out the moment just a bit more, but I took pity on her. "Perfect, teishi."
"Yeah!" she leapt up and screeched, then collapsed back into her seat. "Sorry," she mumbled, embarrassed.
I scruffled the top of her head — which did very little, because the hair there was drawn tight into the buns from which her ponytails hung. "That's all right, Usagi-chan. Tell you what — go tell your mom I said you deserve a couple cookies as a reward for your accomplishment."
"If she hurries, she can have mochi," Ikuko's voice drifted in from the kitchen.
Usagi perked up even more, if that was possible. "Mochi!" She almost teleported out of her chair and made a dash for the kitchen.
Only to catch her toe on the rug and fall forward as Ikuko made another appearance, a small plate with mochi on it in her hands.
Without thinking about it, Usagi pulled in her arms, tucked her chin, and landed on her shoulder while curling into a ball. She let her momentum carry her through a complete somersault and back up onto her feet. Miraculously, she'd threaded perfectly between the table and the nearby credenza without smacking into either. "Mochi!" she repeated in a delighted squeal as she popped upright and lifted the plate from her stunned mother's hands.
As Usagi dashed back to the table, already shoving the sugar-coated treats into her mouth, Ikuko shook herself and gave me a wide-eyed look.
"Did you teach her that?" she asked after working her mouth for a moment.
"Yup, first lesson."
Usagi, her face full of mochi, ignored us.
Ikuko smiled and shook her head. "If you do nothing else for Usagi-chan, that alone justifies allowing you to teach her, sensei."
I waggled a finger at her. "C'mon, Ikuko-san, none of that. 'Doug-san', remember? You and Kenji-san insisted on it."
She smiled at me. "True enough."
"Are you done yet?" Usagi whined from behind a plate empty save for a very light dusting of powdered sugar. "I want to get through all of this before it gets too late — there's this new show on the radio I want to listen to before I go to bed tonight!"
I pulled a face and Ikuko laughed again. "Well, you heard the boss," I said. "Back to the salt mines."
Her lips still twitching in amusement, Ikuko replied, "Don't let me distract you," and vanished back into the kitchen.
In the kitchen, Ikuko listened to Doug-san starting on the next lesson and shook her head in wonder. Usagi-chan showing enthusiasm for math? It was a miracle. And that somersault... only a week earlier, her daughter would have fallen flat on her face and cried about it.
Ikuko was starting to think that Doug-san might be the best thing to ever happen to Usagi.
She couldn't wait to tell Kenji.
Wednesday, April 15, 1992, 12:27 AM, Azabudai
Sailor V landed silently on the roof of the apartment building situated at the top of the hill in Azabudai. Compared to the nearby Tokyo Tower it was downright stubby, but it was still one of the tallest buildings in the area; combined with its hilltop location, it gave her an ideal vantage point from which to look out over the district.
The Enemy behind the Dark Agency had been moving again, but Artemis had assured her that other, allied, forces were taking care of them. For now.
"They'd better," she murmured to herself.
"What was that, Sailor V?" How Artemis managed to keep up with her — particularly when she scaled an apartment building like this one — was a question she'd never gotten a satisfactory answer to. But she was glad that he could.
"Just saying that those allies of ours you were talking about had better do a good job against the Enemy." V looked out across all the smaller buildings toward Azabujuban Station to the southwest. "There's a lot of Dark energy out there — I hope they're up to the task."
The white cat rubbed up against her ankles, then sat down, wrapping his tail around himself as he joined her in watching the city below. "From everything I've seen and heard, they are."
Sailor V continued as if he hadn't spoken. "Because if I have to step in and do their jobs for them, I'm going to give them such a talking-to afterward."
Artemis sighed. "I'm sure you will."
Thursday, April 16, 1992, 9:30 PM.
"Well, teishi," I said after finally witnessing Usagi's transformation. "I've got some good news, and some bad news."
"Sensei?" Sailor Moon looked worried.
I nodded. "Yeah. The good news is, despite how long it seems to you, it only takes a moment or so for you to change. From the outside, it looks like an explosion on fast-forward. The bad news... well..." I took a deep breath, having a good idea how she would react. "You're very briefly naked right in the middle of that whirly light show."
"What?" she shrieked, then spun to glare accusingly at the cat perched on the bench nearby, watching us. "Luna!"
Luna visibly "ack"ed. "It's not my fault!"
Saturday, April 18, 1992, 3:37 PM, Joy Fit athletic club, Azabujuban.
Luna and I watched Usagi dash off to the showers. I'd spent the afternoon drilling her on the next set of basics, the movements fundamental to the most common defenses. If you, O Hypothetical Reader, are from a certain era in certain timelines, the phrase "wax on, wax off" might evoke the idea, if not the exact specifics for my homegrown style.
Usagi, being the walking mass of contradictions that she was, had picked them up with an ease that I could almost envy, while still occasionally tripping over her own feet.
When she got back, the second part of the day's lesson would be on situational awareness. But before that, while we waited, I had something else to take care of. "Luna?" I said, watching the door as it clicked shut behind Usagi.
She turned toward me. I'm not sure where a sapient masquerading as a house pet got the money, but she'd apparently gone shopping at some point, as she was in jeans and a cardigan instead of the yellow sundressish thing she'd been wearing the first couple times she had shifted into human form. "Yes?"
"We need to talk, without Usagi-chan present." I dug into my pocket, pulled out the piece of paper I'd put there before coming to the gym, and held it out to her. "This is my address. Could you please come by this evening? In either form, whatever you're comfortable with?"
Luna's eyes narrowed. "What is this about?"
I suppressed a sigh. "I'd rather not discuss that here." I took a breath. "If you're concerned about being ambushed or attacked, I am willing to swear any oath you would like me to, or accept any binding you choose for the duration of the discussion."
Frowning, Luna studied me for a long time before she finally said, "I don't think that will be necessary."
I would have been pleased by that if she hadn't sounded so grudging about it.
About quarter after 8 that evening there was a knock at my door. I set aside the newspaper (in which I'd been reading with growing suspicion about the two dozen or so cases of what had been dubbed "Sleeping Sickness", all women and girls from the Minato area), and got up to answer it.
As I had expected, it turned out to be Luna at the door, still in jeans and cardigan. "Hi," I said, stepping back. "C'mon in. Would you like something to drink?" I asked as she entered. "Tea? Milk? Cream?" I smirked a little.
She rolled her eyes at me. "Tea will be fine."
"Cool." I waved at the collection of chairs which made up my "living room". "Please, make yourself comfortable."
I quickly prepped a pot in my kitchenette. Looking up from the task, I found her standing in front of the shelf where I'd placed the photos I had from my previous stops. As always, the picture that Lisa had taken of Maggie and myself kissing held place of pride in the center. To the left were Sana on stage, and me with Buckaroo and the Cavaliers in front of their tour bus. To the right was me with Asuka, Shinji and Rei in my old dojo next to Utena and Anthy's wedding portrait. In front, taking advantage of its smaller size and landscape orientation, was a photo I'd taken of dinner with the whole gang at the Tarikihogonji temple, featuring Skuld giggling and giving the camera a red-eye.
"Is this your wife?" Luna asked, gesturing at the photo of Maggie and me.
"Good deduction. Yeah," I said as I assembled a tray while the tea steeped. "Maggie's still back in my home timeline, if you're wondering."
"And the others?" she inquired.
I paused in my preparations as the memories washed over me. "Friends. Allies. Students." I smiled to myself. "Adopted family, too."
As she made a little wordless sound of acknowledgment, I popped the lid on the pot and picked up the tray. "Okay, the tea's steeping. Join me, please?"
I carried the tray to the sitting area and set it on the end table I had between my two armchairs, then sat down in one. Luna primly took a seat in the other. "So, before I forget, thank you for coming by," I said in as conciliatory a tone as I could. She nodded an acknowledgment. "I've got a few questions for you, about some things that don't quite make sense to me."
"What kind of questions?" she asked, bristling a little. I ignored the implied hostility.
I leaned back in my chair. "Let's start with a simple one. I'm guessing you were somehow fed modern Japanese as part of your arrival and awakening in this era." I wasn't really guessing, of course — I'd seen the "gift of tongues" enchantment on her that first night — but I wasn't quite ready to reveal all my cards yet.
Luna blinked and tilted her head in confusion. "Yes. The spells Queen Serenity wove together to make the capsule in which I slept implanted it in my mind shortly before I awoke."
"Just Japanese?" I inquired mildly. "No other modern languages?"
Luna thought for a moment, I'd guess digging through her memories to see if there was more there than she'd thought, then shook her head. "No, just Japanese."
"Then why," I wondered, "is Usagi's costumed identity called 'Sailor Moon' and not, say, 'Tsuki no Kaihei'? Why is it rendered in English? I mean, I'd expect either Japanese or whatever it was in the language of your lost Moon civilization." I had to suppress a sudden urge to chuckle at the thought of using "moon language" in this context.
Luna opened her mouth, closed it, opened it again, and closed it again, all without saying anything. She looked up at me, a look of complete bafflement on her face. "I have no idea. It hadn't even occurred to me — but when I think of any of the Queen's warriors, the Royal Guardians, that is how their titles come to me."
I nodded. "I wonder..."
She raised an eyebrow. "What?"
"The Earth and Moon of your time both sound monolithic in culture and language, from what little you've said. Is that an accurate assessment?"
She nodded thoughtfully, pursing her lips. "Yes."
"Okay, then. But late 20th Century Japan — this one, and its counterparts in most of the versions of Earth I've visited — is remarkably multicultural. Unlike my home timeline," I parenthesized. "This whole district is very typical in that regard. I'm wondering if your Queen's spells didn't allow for that, and when they scanned the local population for their language, you got mostly Japanese but also assorted bits of other languages shoved into your head. And those bits get plugged in here and there when you try to speak Japanese."
"Oh, dear." Luna looked very concerned.
I waved it off. "Don't worry about it. You're fluent enough to sound almost exactly like a native; think of the extras as a bonus." I leaned over the end table and peeked into the teapot. Not quite ready yet. "The thing is, it raises all kinds of other questions. Like — 'serenity' is an English word less than 500 years old, so it couldn't have possibly been your queen's name. So what is the actual name that you keep unconsciously translating as 'Serenity' when you talk about her? And why does Usagi have to use an incantation in English to transform?" I raised a finger. "Actually, I have an idea about that, but let's table that for a moment."
"All right..." Luna agreed, more than a little uncertainty in her voice.
I checked the tea again, and decided it was good enough. I poured two cups and offered one to her. "What's really curious is how you refer to the team Usagi was a part of in her previous life."
Luna had accepted her tea and took a cautious sip before replying. "What, the Sailor Warriors?" Well, she didn't say 'Warriors", not in English. She actually said 'senshi', one of those annoyingly multipurpose words Japanese has which cover in a couple characters what English needed an entire page out of Roget's Thesaurus for.
"Yes, exactly." I took a sip of my own tea. "'Sailor', in English, and 'Senshi', in Japanese. Why do you need to translate it, however unconsciously, into two languages? Why not simply use something like 'Sailor Warriors'" (which I said completely in English) "or, say, 'Kaihei Taiin'?" While composing my thoughts earlier for this conversation I had fished around for the closest approximate term I could use instead of the English loanword which was the default term for "sailor" in so many different worlds' versions of Japanese. "Kaihei" was "Marine" or "Leatherneck" instead of "person who operates a boat" but then again, given the military bent of the group, probably all the more appropriate.
(And really, strictly speaking it wasn't even "sailor" — setting aside Luna's odd little not-quite-accent for the moment, after the Japanese had finished running it through their phoneme set it actually came out sounding closer to "sarah". Honestly, I only even recognized it as "sailor" because of decades of exposure to the English-saturated versions of Japanese that seemed to be the norm everywhere but my homeworld. And boy, won't that give me trouble if I'm deployed to Beta Team again after I get home!)
Luna didn't answer me right away, instead staring into the teacup as she held it in her lap and whispering "Sailor warriors, sailor warriors" over and over again to herself for close to a minute. Then she looked back up with blank, shock-filled eyes. "I had no idea I was doing that, at all. That is very disturbing — whenever I want to say 'sailor warriors' all that comes out is 'sailor warriors'. Aaaah!" she gave a little screech of frustration. "I can say 'royal guardians', why can't I say 'sai—' Damn it!"
I blinked. Luna's speech, while not formal, was very proper most of the time. To hear her swear over a matter of words and phonemes...
Words and phonemes.
An idea suddenly coalesced in my mind. It was crazy, it was stupid, it didn't make any sense. But maybe, just maybe... Words and phonemes. And training and expectations. I took the one apart, and put the other together. Linguistics wasn't anywhere near to being one of my specialties, but I knew just barely enough to take a wild stab in the dark. And I knew the weird ways magic could glitch if you were rushed or distracted when using it.
"Luna," I said softly. "In the language of your Moon Kingdom, what does 'tserla' mean?"
"I'm sorry, what?" she asked distractedly, her gaze having returned to her hands and the tea held in them.
"'Tserla'," I repeated.
"Firstly, you're not really pronouncing it right," she said primly. "The 'ts' should be a bit more palatized and the 'rl' softer, more like the Japanese 'r'. As for the meaning, well, it's partially context-driven and not easily translated without a valid linguistic matrix to give it the necessary connotations and defining inflections. In isolation it's more like the noun equivalent to a verb in the infinitive mood. It needs to be part of a phrase to give it focus and specify its function."
I was surprised that she hadn't caught on yet. Then again, for all I knew, I was wildly off base and asking her what "ragweed" or "fishbone" meant. "In the simplest terms possible, what does it mean?"
She thought for a moment, then drew a breath. "In plain Japanese... 'of, involving, or relating to individuals or family units bound by blood, marriage or formal decree to those who have been granted supreme leadership by the people in recognition of their magical or political skill...'" She trailed off as it finally struck her, and she slowly looked up at me. "Where did you learn that word?"
I offered her a small friendly smile. "All this time you've been saying 'sailor warriors'. Except you haven't been saying 'sailor', not the English word. You've been saying the Japanese version, the loanword they formed from it, 'sera'." My smile grew larger and a bit conspiratorial. "Except you haven't been saying that, either. We've all been assuming that you were because what you were actually saying was a near-perfect homophone for it." I paused for a moment. "And because Usagi wears a weird kind of serafuku as Moon."
Luna's eyes were growing wide. "So what I was really saying..."
"Remember I said you sounded 'almost' like a native? That first night at the LunchCounter, I noticed that you've got a few really subtle phoneme substitutions. Not enough to even call an accent, but there nonetheless. And even then most folks wouldn't notice, but I've got a good ear." I tapped the organ in question with a fingertip. "Again, I think it's due to your Queen's slightly-off linguistics spell, like your word choice issue. Polylexia?" I mused, then shrugged. "Anyway, when I thought about those two together, I had this crazy idea..."
"That I was saying 'tserla' instead of 'sailor'!" Luna cried.
I laughed. "I said 'sera' while exaggerating your 'accent', and out came..."
"'Tserla'," Luna breathed. "All this time, I've been saying a mangled version of 'Royal Guardians'. I've been getting worked up over nothing."
I patted her hand. "Don't worry about it. Usagi and I are used to you getting worked up over nothing."
She tried to give me a death glare, but couldn't hold it long enough to make it really work.
"So now my next question becomes, why is Usagi 'Tserla Moon' instead of 'Guardian Moon' or something like it?" I took another sip of my tea.
"That was the proper form of address for all the Guardians," Luna said slowly, apparently having to think hard to remember it. (Which made me wonder why she had to work so hard to recall stuff like that, information that ought to have been right at the metaphorical tip of her tongue.) "The Guardians were the heirs to their worlds' thrones, and were both a military unit and a ... school of sorts for future rulers."
I nodded. "So 'Tserla' in this context means 'Prince' or 'Princess'. Which means Usagi was actually Serenity's daughter, the princess of the Moon?"
Luna froze and turned white as a sheet. "Find the princess," she whispered. "Dear gods."
"Luna?" I put down my tea and leaned toward her. She didn't seem to notice me invading her personal space. "Hello! Earth to Luna!" I suppressed the sudden urge to add a whistle and beep like an old NASA recording.
"Find the princess," she repeated, and looked up at me. "I have been a fool."
I frowned. "In what way?" She had a look I've seen more than a few times before on my own face — she'd just had some key assumption about her world knocked out from under her, and now she was re-evaluating everything she had believed was true.
I studied her with no small concern. Some people, when this happens, end up all but shutting down for days while they rebuild their representation of the world again; others somehow process things incredibly fast and recover almost instantly. It's a very individual thing in my experience. Fortunately, Luna seemed to be one of the latter cases.
She took a deep breath. "I would ask that you not repeat what I'm about to tell you to Usagi-chan, because it might damage my working relationship with her."
Luna visibly composed herself. "When I awoke from my time in coldsleep, I discovered that my memory had been damaged," she said softly.
Oh, hell. Sucks to be you, kitty. I closed my eyes and made a wordless noise of agreement. "Mm. Hibernation amnesia. I should have suspected, but you were so clearly functional it didn't even occur to me." I opened them again. "You were damned lucky. Ten thousand years could have — should have — robbed you of sapience entirely."
"Believe me, I am aware of this," she said with the faintest quiver in her voice. "It has made fulfilling the last orders of my queen, left for me in a message that played after I awoke, far more difficult than it should have been. The first of which was..."
"Find the princess," I parroted back to her. "The princess of the Moon."
"Exactly." She laughed mirthlessly. "But I could no longer remember what she looked like."
"Well, damn. Agnosia, too. How extensive?"
Luna grimaced, then knocked back all of her tea in one long gulp. "Very. Possibly total. I cannot bring to mind any visual memory of the royal guard, the Princess, the Queen... I doubt I could recognize any of them on sight without some other cue to inform me, such as Usagi-chan's aura."
I poured her another cup of tea. "And I'm guessing you forgot that 'Tserla Moon' was the Princess."
She picked up the tea cup and held it wrapped in her hands. Wisps of steam drifted up as she stared into its contents. "This must not get back to Usagi-chan, but now that I re-examine what's left of my memories, I'm not entirely sure there was a royal guardian of the Moon. Other than the Queen herself, that is. During my first days in this era I convinced myself that it was so, but it was far less based on certain knowledge than it was a deduction drawn from what scraps of memory I still possessed." She looked back up at me. "But if I were to admit this to Usagi-chan..."
"Her confidence in you as her adviser, not to mention the confidence she's already showing in herself and her abilities, could both be undermined," I finished the thought. "And despite her age and inexperience, she is already effectively fighting your Enemy. About which...?"
Luna shook her head. "Nothing, save that they exist, they can be detected with even a layman's magecraft if one knows how, and that they were responsible for the fall of our civilization. And that they are not human, but some variety of evil supernatural creature," she added. She scrunched up her eyes and gave another cry of frustration. "This will drive me mad! For me, the Moon Kingdom fell less than a month ago. How can I not remember any important details about it?"
I thought about the songs I had in my helmet, rapidly sifting through the ones I knew or suspected did things with and for memory. "If you can trust me enough, I might be able to help with that. It depends on how closely your brain matches a human's when it comes to encoding memories."
She sighed. "I think we've just proven that my decision to handle matters entirely on my own was not exactly the wisest. If you will forgive me my paranoia, I would be grateful for any help you could offer."
"Of course. Believe me, I understand being alone in a strange world, facing a difficult duty." I rubbed my chin. "Before we try anything, though, I'd want to do some checking first. I don't want to attempt something on the spur of the moment and make things worse for you." Luna made a sour face. "Yeah, I know. In the meantime, I agree with your request — we shouldn't let Usagi-chan know about your... cognitive issues, or the possibility that she wasn't a warrior in her previous life. After all, we still have your Enemy to fight, she's done quite well so far, and you just might be wrong about being wrong."
I shot her a grin, and she rolled her eyes. "That said," I continued, "our discussion now leads me to more questions. If 'tserla' has nothing to do with 'sera' or 'sailor', then why the hell is Usagi-chan wearing a sailor suit in her powered form? Particularly one based on designs that aren't much more than 150 years or so old? And what the hell is the gizmo you gave her which lets her transform in the first place?"
Luna looked at her tea, then at me. "I think I'm going to need something a lot stronger to drink."
Later that evening, after Luna had gone back to the Tsukino home, I donned my leathers and helmet, headed downstairs and stepped into the alley between my apartment and the building next door to the southwest. (To the northeast was another mansion with several floors of balconies — and the front windows of all its apartments — looking out over both the parking lot behind my building and the space between them. It was a bit too exposed a view for what I was going to do.)
Safely out of sight between featureless concrete on one side and a brick wall with only a couple windows on the other, I murmured, "System. Load song, 'I'm A Pioneer'. Play song." As the first few piano notes sounded my metagift engaged, and I took off. I accelerated to a couple hundred kph almost immediately, but waited until I was at least two kilometers up before flooring it. I was in hard vacuum within a minute. I aimed myself at the full moon overhead, then blinked in and out of FTL.
Using FTL to get to something as close as the moon would normally be overkill, but I only had five minutes and seven seconds of flight and — more importantly — life support. I'd already used a minute of both just getting into space. Trying to fly to the moon at my atmospheric maximum of Mach 6 would have left me stranded somewhere in LEO when the song ran out. But outside of the atmosphere, I could "shift gears" and instead of Mach 6, I could hit 6c. And at 6c, the moon was easily reachable.
Besides, this was far from my first rodeo; I'd perfected the quarter-second FTL hop to the moon back when Homeline had been threatened by an alien invasion staging there. I'd gotten into the habit of dropping by once a day to fuck their shit up until we finally blew the hell out of them. (Hyperflight plus several big bags of ball bearings can make for one nasty anti-personnel and anti-materiel weapon.)
During our conversation earlier in the evening, Luna and I had gone over some maps of the Moon. Although there obviously had been substantial changes since it had lost its biosphere, she had been able to identify the approximate location of Serenity's palace and capital city. Up to this point I had been trusting my gut and taking Luna's word on her personal history and Usagi's case of reincarnation, but frankly, no other modern Earth I had ever been to had been the successor to a prehistoric interplanetary civilization. (That I knew of, at least.) "Trust but verify," as the saying goes, and I wanted a little verification.
Which I got after only a brief search. City, white marble, ruined, one each, almost exactly where Luna's fractured memories said it would be. Ironically, it was less than 20 kilometers from the Apollo 11 landing site. How NASA and every astronomer ever had missed it... and then I reconsidered the proximity of that lunar lander. Who but my own prejudices said that they had? The maps Luna and I had studied had been low-resolution mass-market things that showed little more than the major features of the lunar surface. I hadn't made a survey of academic astronomical literature in this timeline; maybe the city was a known anomaly...
I made a mental note to do a little light reading when I got the chance.
As I got closer, I saw that the lunar regolith had begun to invade it, but not by much. Ten thousand years isn't a lot of time in selenological terms, and only the outermost edges of the city showed more than a fine layer of dust. And most of it didn't even have that much.
As I flew over the city I saw obvious signs of battle all over. Improvised barricades blocked every road I passed over. The ruins of war machines of some sort dotted the streets. The buildings that hadn't been demolished outright still showed all manner of damage, particularly fire. And bodies, human bodies — ranging from skeletons surrounded by dust puddles to well-preserved freeze-dried mummies — were everywhere. Some had been brutally dismembered, their parts flung widely in a way that could not have been caused by anything other than a powerful enemy tearing its opponent limb from limb. Amongst and on the bodies were items I was sure were personal weapons and gear.
The place was a lunar Pompeii, preserved by vacuum instead of volcanic ash.
Zipping along a dozen meters or so above the highest rooftops, I arrowed in toward the center of the city. There stood the remains of what could only have been the palace of Queen Serenity (or whatever her real name had actually been) — an almost Romanesque white domed structure oddly reminiscent of the US Capitol building, with what looked to have been long reflecting pools leading up to it from each of the cardinal directions.
To my surprise there was still a functional environmental support spell enclosing the palace grounds — as I approached I could see a rainbow sheen where light refracted through the border between vacuum and atmosphere. I paused and tested the edge of the spell, and when my fingertip passed through it without a problem, I dove down to hover above the palace grounds. There I could see more skeletons, their flesh long gone thanks to the bubble of air allowing bacteria to attack them, dressed in rotted fragments of clothing or the corroded remains of armor. All showed signs of violence.
I had gotten to the steps leading up and into the palace proper when the counter showing the time left in the song reached 1:15 and started blinking in red in my HUD. Stifling my annoyance and disappointment, I shot up out of the air bubble, oriented myself toward the Earth, and blinked back into FTL for a well-practiced fraction of a second.
About a minute later, I landed in the parking lot behind my apartment building, with ten seconds to spare on the song. I shut it down and returned to my apartment, thinking on what I had just seen and promising myself I'd go back and check out the palace.
While I'd experienced enough in my life both before my exile and after to know that it was possible to fake an entire ruined city on the Moon, it wasn't easy or cheap to do so, and I couldn't devise a scenario in which doing so here and now made any sense. Anyone who could make a city on the moon would also know that they were the only ones who could get there to see it. No one in this timeline outside certain Celestial beings could even anticipate that I was able to take a jaunt to the moon on little to no notice, just to see if the city was actually there. (And invoking them as an explanation for the city would be worse than no answer.)
So. Apply Occam's Razor. Empirical evidence strongly supported Luna's story. Given my exposure to an agent of the "Great Enemy", I was even willing to grant that her side really were the good guys. Which, to be honest, I found reassuring — I hadn't liked the possibility that a sweet kid like Usagi was getting suckered. Luna's control-freakery about her had had me worried — it was very much a "dark mentor" kind of thing — but the revelation of her memory damage (and her desperate need to prove to herself that she was still capable of fulfilling her queen's final orders despite it) went a long way toward explaining and excusing it. I found myself sympathizing with her.
So even before I went sightseeing in Mare Serenitas we had come to an agreement. (Note to self: investigate "Sea of Serenity". Coincidence, ancestral memory, or something else?) We'd work together on Usagi's training, each making sure the other knew what they were covering. We'd retain the focus on physical and magical combat, and if Usagi did turn out to be the missing princess of the moon, she would be the most kick-ass combat-capable princess this side of Xena. Speaking of which, we'd hold back on that revelation until we were absolutely certain we were right. Meanwhile, I would cover for Luna's memory problems until they were no longer an issue one way or another, as well as see if I could find a fix with my metagift. Luna would quit passive-aggressively undermining me and actively support my efforts both on the meta side and the school side. (The state of Usagi's academics positively appalled her. As well they should.)
And Luna would get one more thing that she needed: an adult to talk with as an equal, who wouldn't freak out about her. Several weeks of having only an early teen for conversation while pretending to be an ordinary cat the rest of the time had been wearing on her. Her human appearance was as misleading as mine when it came to actual age, so even transforming wouldn't get her the intellectual stimulation she needed, at least not easily. Given that she had worn — so she told me — several very important hats over the course of her time in Serenity's court, ranging from Admiral of the Fleets to something between a nanny and an instructor in politics and diplomacy for the Princess, Luna was used to a far higher level of discourse than she had been getting recently. And while Usagi was bubbly and accepting and often very fun to be around, she was still not even 14 and more than a little silly at times.
And I won't deny that having an adult who knew of my origins with whom I could have a conversation was also something I could make use of.
Sunday, April 19, 1992, 2:00 PM
Spending an hour in the gym working hard on katas without Doug-sensei there to push her was not something Usagi would normally have done. But every time she started feeling lazy about it, she reminded herself how scared she'd been both times she'd had to be Sailor Moon, and firmly told herself that being tired after katas was way better than being scared in the dark facing a monster.
It didn't hurt that she had Luna encouraging her, too.
And even better, Mama always had cookies or sweets waiting when she came back from the gym!
Today, though, Usagi decided to treat herself to an afternoon in the park after doing her katas. Even though it was overcast, and the temperature had dropped almost six degrees since she'd arrived at Joy Fit, it had at least stopped raining, and it was only a little chilly. It would take a lot more than that to keep her from having a fun little outing to round out her day. And she'd top it all off by listening to "Midnight Zero" on the radio before going to bed!
Hair still damp from her after-workout shower, she hopped a bus to Prince Arisugawa Park. There she bought some takoyaki on a skewer from a yatai at the entrance, and slowly wandered the paths from level to level of the park as she consumed her treat.
On one of the upper levels, just off the plaza where the statue of Prince Arisugawa Taruhito stood, Usagi came across two women practicing martial arts. She stopped to watch them — a tall, slender Westerner with emerald-green eyes and ice-blonde hair, and a shorter, curvier woman whose eyes were almost purple, with braided night-black hair through which a bright blue streak ran. A matching bright blue bow decorated the end of the braid, and when she smiled — which she did a lot — she looked almost like she had little fangs. They both wore low boots and richly-colored silk outfits that made them look almost like fashion-conscious ninja — both beautiful and dangerous.
Usagi nearly giggled to herself at that thought, but before she could, her eye was drawn to the slow but intricate kata they were performing together. Even to her still-inexpert eye it was obviously designed for two people, but — it seemed to her — it was almost a kind of dance as well.
She stood stock-still and watched them, completely forgetting the last takoyaki on the skewer in her right hand as she tried to take in what they were doing. I wonder if I'll ever be that good?
Without quite realizing it, she began to copy the blonde, always a moment behind as the next move was never quite what she was expecting. After nearly spearing herself in the eye with the skewer, she ran it quickly through her mouth to drag the last takoyaki off it, then dropped it at her feet and hurried to catch up again.
The pair had given no indication that they'd even noticed her standing to the side copying them, but suddenly they opened their stances to her, and Usagi found herself part of a three-person kata rather than watching and copying half of a two-person one. The next few moves were slower and much less complex, and Usagi realized that they were prompting her. She stepped closer, gave a short, curt nod as much to herself as to them, and settled into the same focus and attention she gave Doug-sensei.
At first the moves were very simple, and Usagi was grateful; they were no more difficult than what Doug-sensei had started her on in the last week. After several exchanges, it occurred to her that the pair were feeling her out, getting an idea just how much training she really had, and for a moment she felt embarrassed at messing up the beauty of their masterful dance with her beginner's clumsiness. But if the smiles shared with each other and with her were any indication, they were delighted with her.
And once they'd finished feeling her out, they started getting fancy. Without touching her, and without saying a word, they not only demonstrated moves, but guided and corrected her as she copied them. After ten minutes, they were leading her through things a little more advanced than Doug-sensei had been covering with her.
Fifteen minutes more, and she was following them through things beyond even that, and she knew she'd be hearing her muscles complain about them tomorrow.
Usagi did her best, but she could only keep up with them for a couple more minutes after that. Overextending in an attempt to follow one move, she lost her balance. In a reaction that had become a reflex for her, she tucked herself into a ball, rolled through the fall, and ended up sitting on the ground. For a moment, her old habits threatened to overwhelm her, but instead of giving into the urge to burst into tears, she rubbed the back of her neck and laughed.
"I guess that's my limit," she said as her impromptu instructors held out their hands and helped her to her feet. Around them, a crowd which Usagi had been too focused to notice gathering applauded, then began to break up.
"Don't be embarrassed. That was very good, imouto-chan," the blonde said. Her voice was high-pitched and sweet. "You're quite talented for a beginner."
"Yeah," said the other, pulling her braid around and over her shoulder. Her voice was deeper and smoky-sounding. "How long have you been training?"
"Just a couple weeks," Usagi admitted, suddenly bashful in the face of this pair of obvious masters.
The women shared an appreciative look, before the blonde smiled at her again. "It seems your sensei is very capable. Are you part of a class?"
Usagi bit her lip. "No, not really. I'm kind of getting private lessons."
The black-haired woman nodded. "That's really good. You have a lot of potential."
"I do?" she blurted in surprise. Doug-sensei had said the same thing, but to have a martial artist she just met say so, too...
"Oh, yes," said the blonde. "And one-on-one training with a good sensei is the best way to get the most from it. Don't waste the opportunity!"
Usagi drew herself up straight. "I won't!" she declared, then bowed deeply to the two women. "Thank you very much for including me in your kata."
The pair smiled again. "You're very welcome, imouto-chan," the blonde replied. "Perhaps if we meet again you can join us for some more."
"Yeah," her partner said with a broad grin. "That'd be fun."
"I'd like that," Usagi said.
Monday, April 20, 1992, 8:51 AM, Azabujuban Shopping District
Luna studied her reflection in the shop window, imagining the outfit worn by the mannequin behind it on her own, currently human, body. She smiled at the image, then shook her head. Not until I can manage some kind of income. I can't count on finding any more lost banknotes under the furniture in Usagi's home, and I will not stoop to actively stealing from her family. It's bad enough that they're paying for my food and care. She winced at the memory of certain inoculations which were necessary before Usagi's parents would agree that she could stay in the house.
She turned away from the shop window and continued down the street, acutely aware of how many of the stores were closed and empty. She'd learned of Japan's current economic straits within a day of joining the Tsukino household — no one paid attention if she sprawled about in cat form while Kenji watched the news — and the evidence of its impact was very visible on the streets now that she thought to look. There weren't many jobs for unskilled workers — which was what she was. Being a courtier, or an admiral, or a watcher-o'er-the-Princess had given her nothing in the way of useful skills that the world needed ten thousand years later.
Except she was still a watcher-o'er-the-Princess, at least if the suspicions she and Doug shared were correct. Just getting the girl up and ready for school this morning had been a challenge almost as great as any Luna had faced in her old life.
If only she were getting paid for it.
"And if only Usagi listened to me," she muttered to herself, then nearly jumped out of her skin as the metal shutter covering the front of the shop next to her rattled and began to slide upwards, revealing the facade of the Crown Arcade.
"Oh, I'm sorry, didn't mean to startle you." A young man in an apron emerged from behind the shutter as soon as it was high enough. "I couldn't help but overhear you before I opened the shutter. Are you a friend of Tsukino Usagi-chan?" He caught himself, suddenly realizing he was interrogating a stranger. "I'm sorry." He bowed to her. "Furuhata Motoki. I work here at the arcade, and Usagi-chan's one of our regulars."
Luna eyed him speculatively. A good-looking fellow, a few years older than her apparent age. Polite, too, and treating her like a fellow adult. She opened her rudimentary mystic senses just a bit. No touch of the Enemy on him, either. She gracefully returned the bow. "Mauno Luna," she said with a smile as she met his eyes. "Yes, I'm a friend of Usagi-chan and her family; I was just bemoaning how much effort it took to get her off to school this morning."
Furuhata-san chuckled. "Knowing her, I can't say I'm surprised." He tilted his head, studying her for a moment. To her shock, Luna found herself enjoying it. "You're obviously not a middle-schooler. I'm guessing you're Usagi-chan's sempai from one of the high schools?"
Luna couldn't help but laugh. "I'm sorry, but no... I'm a bit older than I look. I've already completed my studies." She smiled ruefully. "In fact, I'm contemplating starting a job search, but with the economy the way it is..." She made a vague, helpless gesture.
He sighed and nodded. "Tell me about it. I'm lucky that the arcade hasn't been hit too badly. There'll always be kids with a few yen to spend on video games, right?" He suddenly looked away — shyly, to Luna's surprise. "You know, my boss is always looking for attendants. It's not a career, but maybe it could tide you over until you find the job you really want."
"Hmm." Luna considered this. A part-time position in an establishment that Usagi-chan frequented would allow her to watch over her charge and still be free to take off and fight the Enemy at need. Not to mention it would let her reimburse the Tsukinos much sooner than she'd hoped. "You know," she offered, "that doesn't sound like a bad idea at all."
To her mixed surprise and amusement, Furuhata-san's face lit up with delight and eagerness. He finds me attractive, she realized, and took a moment to relish the thought. It had been far too long since she'd encountered a male (human or Mau) who'd been genuinely attracted to her, and not her power or position. Not since... since... And the wisp of memory that had danced tantalizingly at the edges of her perception evaporated, leaving her wondering just who it had been who had last been attracted to Luna of the Mau.
Whoever he or she had been, though, they were most assuredly ten thousand years in the grave. And even without a name or face to go with that presence in her memory, a sudden surge of melancholy threatened to overwhelm her. She fought it back in time to hear Furuhata-san say, "Why don't you come in? I'll make you some tea and you can fill out the application."
"Yes," Luna said, still wrestling with the ghosts of her past, and walked into the arcade when he opened the door for her. Some minutes later, she was seated at a table, pen in hand, with a Styrofoam cup of tea and an application form before her.
If she even registered the siren of a passing ambulance outside, it was only as one of the thousand distant noises of the city.
Monday, April 20, 1992, 10:17 AM, Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department
"Okay," Yoshi said, stubbing out his cigarette in the ashtray next to the TV. "Show me."
"Right." Keiko picked up an unlabeled videotape cassette from where it sat next to the player and slid it in. "Now, mind you, technically I shouldn't have a copy of this at all. But after I heard about it, I asked around, called in a favor with Inspector Sakurada, and... well. See for yourself." She pressed the "play" button.
The image was the usual low-resolution black-and-white security camera footage of the kind he'd seen a hundred times before. Except this time... this time there was a sailor girl and a woman who'd turned into a monster.
Yoshi silently lit another cigarette as he watched the action, slowly nodding to himself when the man dressed like a motorcyclist dropped into the image from somewhere overhead. He only betrayed the slightest surprise with a widening of his eyes when the bo and the tiara struck the floating creature and it crumbled to dust.
When the man and girl left the frame together, Keiko pressed "stop".
"Where?" Yoshi asked. "And when?" He crushed his cigarette into the ashtray next to its predecessor.
"The Osa-P Jewelry store across from the Azabujuban station," Keiko replied. "Two weeks ago last Friday. From what I was told, the silent alarm went off, and when the patrol officers got there, they found an unlocked building full of unconscious women and girls, no missing stock — at least none that wasn't on the girls and women — and that video in the back room recorder."
He turned and glared at her. "And why didn't the press learn about this?"
She glared back. "Hey! I had nothing to do with it — I didn't know about it either until I started asking around. What I was told was the brass had it handled quietly, because they were afraid it was some kind of disease at first."
Yoshi paused in the middle of lighting another cigarette. "What, like the Sleeping Sickness?"
"Yeah," Keiko said, as she shut off the TV and pulled the tape from the machine. "Exactly."
He yelped and shook out the match, which had burned down to his fingertips. "You don't think the Sleeping Sickness..." he began, then stuck his seared fingers in his mouth in the hopes of soothing the burn.
Keiko glanced about as if for eavesdroppers, even though they were alone in a closed conference room. "That's what I heard the brass are afraid of, even though the doctors say it's too soon to even make a guess at the cause yet."
Yoshi considered this, and nodded slowly to himself before abruptly standing up. "Thanks, Keiko."
She raised an eyebrow. "That's it?"
"It's enough. Now that I know they're actually real, it's time to do a little old-fashioned legwork."
Monday, April 20, 1992, 4:21 PM
"That's what I'll do!" Usagi exclaimed suddenly. She and Naru were proceeding down the market street toward the Crown Arcade — Naru walking forward, Usagi walking backward facing her. "I'll send a love letter for my future boyfriend to 'Midnight Zero'!" Naru had already sent in a letter, and Usagi wasn't going to let not having a boyfriend keep her from having her own read on the air. Better that than Doug-sensei or Tuxedo Mask, she thought. Writing a love letter to Doug-sensei would be like writing one to Daddy. Ewww. She winced, confusing Naru. And as handsome as he is, Tuxedo Mask is a little weird. He's never even really talked to me, and the formal wear thing is kind of silly.
"Usagi-chan, turn around," Naru suddenly said. "You're going to run into..."
Still walking backwards, Usagi sidestepped to her left, neatly avoiding a tall young man in a green jacket.
"...someone," Naru finished lamely.
Wow, those lessons with Doug-sensei actually worked, Usagi mused as she strolled on past the big jerk who'd been haunting her the last few weeks. As he turned to look at her, one eyebrow raised above the frame of his fancy black sunglasses, she pulled down an eyelid and stuck her tongue out at him. "Biiii-dah!"
Both eyebrows appeared above his sunglasses. Then he snorted, shook his head, and turned back to continue on his way.
"Jerk," Usagi muttered to herself.
"Usagi-chan," Naru called out as she caught up. "How did you do that?"
Usagi blinked. "Do what?"
Naru huffed. "Step aside just at the right moment to avoid walking into that guy!"
"Oh! My martial arts sensei was teaching me 'situational awareness' the last few days. 'Paying attention to all your senses without paying attention', he calls it." Usagi smiled brilliantly at her friend. "I kinda sorta felt he was there without even thinking about it, so I guess it works!"
Naru rolled her eyes. "You're weird, you know that?"
Tuesday, April 21, 1992. 11:41 PM.
I wasn't quite ready for bed when the phone rang. I raised an eyebrow, laid down my book, and picked up the receiver. "Moshi-moshi?" I said, as I expected any caller to be Japanese.
I sat up straight. "Usagi-chan? What's up?"
"We've found an Enemy operation."
The cord on the handset was long enough that I could cross to the wardrobe where I kept my gear. "The Sleeping Sickness, right?" It hadn't been out of the papers all week, and the increase in victims was too linear for it to be an actual disease.
"Where?" I asked as I yanked my leathers and polykev off their hangers and tossed them on the closest chair.
"FM Number 10 — the radio station? It's in Azabudai, block 3, building 3." There was a murmur that I couldn't quite make out but which was clearly Luna's voice. "Luna says to tell you it's right next to the Fijian embassy, if that helps? Ooh, and there's a place that sells karinto manju across the street!" You could almost hear the drool in her voice.
I rolled my eyes at Usagi's obsession with sweets, then took a moment to think. After living the best part of a century in gods alone knew how many different versions of Tokyo, I had something close to a native's grasp of both the geography and the Japanese street address system. This radio station would be on the other side of the Inner Circular highway from my apartment, at the top of the hillier part of Azabu. Which made sense if their transmitter was part of the facility. "Yeah, I know where you're talking about. I take it you want backup?"
"Uh-huh. If you don't mind, Doug-sensei." Geeze, Usagi, I said I'd help when you wanted it.
"I don't mind at all," I reassured her as I snagged my boots and then my helmet. "Give me... um, ten minutes. Is that okay?"
Her relief was palpable, even over the phone line. "Yes, that's okay. We won't do anything until you get here."
"Good." I started unbuttoning my shirt. "Are you in your working clothes?"
"My... oh! No, not yet. Should I be?"
I chuckled. "Get out of sight if you can and change into them right now. Lesson for tonight, teishi: always transform before you start your op. That way you're protected both physically and identity-wise if things go pear-shaped right from the start."
"Right, sensei! That makes so much sense. See you in ten minutes! Bye!" And with that she hung up.
As I stripped out of my civvies and pulled on my armor, I chuckled again. Usagi didn't sound as scared as she said she'd been during the last two incidents. I guess having backup made all the difference for her.
Sailor Moon stepped out of the shadows with Luna at her heels as I touched down a short distance from the building that housed the radio station. I hopped off my cycle and sent it back up to hover half a kilometer overhead in stealth mode until I needed it again. "Sailor Moon, Luna," I said with a nod as soon as they got close enough.
Usagi looked for a moment like she was trying to decide whether to hug or salute me, then split the difference by giving a little wave. "Thanks for coming, sensei."
"I told you I would, teishi," I said with a smile. "So, what've you got?"
She gave a short, brisk nod. "Right. There's this new radio show called 'Midnight Zero' that's gotten real popular real fast. The host reads love letters sent in by listeners, and anyone whose letter gets read on the air gets a flower-shaped brooch from the station."
"I think I see where this is going," I said. "Everyone who received one of the brooches now has the Sleeping Sickness, am I right?"
She bit her lip. "I didn't check everyone, but my teacher at school got one a couple days ago and she's in the hospital now. And one of the girls in my class at school got one this morning and passed out. And I passed out, too, because it was so close."
"I woke her up, and confirmed it," Luna spoke for the first time. "The brooch had some kind of life energy drain effect on it."
Inside my helmet, I raised an eyebrow. "'Life energy'? That's kind of abstract, isn't it?" Then I shook my head and waved the question away. "Never mind. Stomp the baddies now, magiphysics and philosophy later. And the baddies are...?"
"That's where it gets stranger," Sailor Moon said. "The people working at FM Number 10 don't know about the show. It's not in the listings, either. But it's definitely on the radio every night and everyone seems to know about it. So Luna suggested that I investigate the radio station while it was on the air. She gave me a magic pen that let me disguise myself..."
Another gizmo like Usagi's brooch? I glanced at Luna. "You did?"
She gave a feline shrug. "It's a toy I'd taken away from the Princess a few days before... before," she verbally stumbled, and glanced away. "She'd been playing pranks with it. It seemed to me that Sailor Moon could make good use of it." She took extra care to say "sera" and not "tserla", I noticed.
I nodded approvingly. "Good idea, that." I turned back to Usagi. "So you disguised yourself. And?"
"We got inside just as the show was starting, and everyone in the station was asleep except for the host of 'Midnight Zero' and some woman watching him," she replied.
"Both felt like the Enemy," Luna added.
"Yeah. As soon as Luna said that, we snuck back out and I called you."
"Okay then." I smiled, there inside my helmet. "If I were marking you on your performance so far, the only thing I'd take points away for was not transforming first."
She bit her lip again. "Right. I'll remember for next time."
"Other than that, a perfect grade. Good investigation, even if it was spurred by a convenient coincidence. You found what might be the bad guys' base, got in, scouted, confirmed you were right, and got out again to call in reinforcements. Good job, Moon. Luna," I went on, "if you've got any other 'toys' in your back pockets, we'll need to sit down later and go through them to see what's useful and what's not."
The cat nodded. "Of course."
"So now what?" Sailor Moon asked.
I laughed. "Why, now comes the fun part. Butt-kicking!"
She giggled, and Luna gave me a disgusted look.
"Now, this is your operation," I said, raising a finger. "I'm here as backup only. If these two are like the critter in the jewelry store, you should be able to handle them by yourself. I'll be hanging back, and I'll only step in if you get in trouble." I put a hand on her shoulder. "This should be easy."
It would take less than ten minutes for me to regret jinxing us that way.
Furau smirked as she watched General Jadeite through the glass window into the studio. Offering him the role of host had been another good idea. The General had a well-known habit of personally involving himself in the plans being executed by his underlings, whether they needed him or not; explicitly planning for that eventuality not only put him in a position to witness her competence and success, it dealt with his inevitable presence by explicitly assigning him to a very visible and "important" position that also kept him out of her way.
Purely by coincidence, of course. That it also played to his ego by making him the object of devotion from "Midnight Zero"'s many fans was a bonus. She suspected that he would have agreed to be the host even if there'd been no chance of harvesting any energy, just for the stroking it would give his ego.
Metaria knew, the Generals all had immense egos. Why not make that work for her?
Furau was watching the slow build-up of life energy in the local accumulator and quietly congratulating herself for her extreme cleverness when the studio door suddenly slammed open. She spun to see a tiny blonde girl in an abbreviated blue and white outfit that looked like a middle school seifuku. Furau blinked. "Who...?"
"Trampling on the innocent hearts of young girls in love is crossing the line. And this isn't a crosswalk!" the child declared.
"Just leave out the 'crosswalk' part," muttered a black cat that wove between her ankles.
"Right!" the girl said with a pert little nod. "Anyway, I'm Sailor Moon! And in the name of the Moon, you will be punished!"
How dare she! How dare this impertinent child burst in, disrupt her perfectly executed plan, and ruin her ascension in General Jadeite's forces! Furious, Furau abandoned the glamour hiding her true form; the elegant OL evaporated to reveal the youma hidden within. For a moment she savored the sensation of returning to her true size and shape — had she not been in sight of General Jadeite she would have enjoyed stretching every muscle and cracking each joint. But she could not afford to be so leisurely in his presence.
She took a moment to study the interfering child before her. As weak and stupid as she appeared, she was no doubt the agent of her two predecessors' failures.
Furau would not be the third to fail.
Looming over the girl with all of her nearly two meters of height, Furau swung her jaw open wide and loosed the breath weapon that was her unique attack among Jadeite's youma. The beam of almost transparent purple energy lanced out only to miss the irritating child, who adeptly dove and rolled out of the way. It struck the floor instead, detonating and showering the room with shrapnel.
The child retreated back into the hallway outside the studio, showing she was not entirely a fool. Furau grinned viciously and followed. From the corner of her eye, she could see that the General had abandoned his seat at the microphone, and was close on her heels. I'd best make this good, she thought.
"Don't think you can get away with this," Furau growled. She leaned forward, opening her mouth wide again, until she felt a hand on her arm. Glancing to the side, she saw General Jadeite standing beside her. He gave her a sidelong look and tiny shake of the head.
"So you're the one who's been disrupting our operations," he said to the little girl.
Her eyes grew wide. "You're the one behind all this!"
The general smirked. "I am Jadeite."
"And I'm Elmer J. Fudd, millionaire!"
Whoever this Jadeite was, he had reflexes (or survival instincts) on a par with mine — he ducked before the end of God's Toothpick could impact his skull. Instead it barely parted his neatly-coiffed blond hair as it whistled past.
"I own a mansion and a yacht!" I finished the line and was already somersaulting backwards to avoid his return strike. I'm not sure what it was, but it was bright, and fast, and would have taken me in the chest had I not already been bent mostly parallel to the floor. The female humanoid was already unleashing another salvo of breath attacks, and I finished the somersault to the sound of explosions interspersed with Moon's panicked yelps. I heard concrete falling; a wash of cool outside air swept over me, and through the dust I saw Moon and monster both exit through a hole blown all the way through to the roof.
Dammit. I needed to get out there now — I'd started training Usagi to keep her from getting killed while running solo, and I'd be damned if I let her die while on an op with her — but I had Laughing Boy here to deal with. Fortunately for me, he was arrogant enough that he didn't stop to make sure his killer attack had actually killed me, and was turning to pursue his minion and my student. I combat hyped, and as the world blueshifted around me I threw both myself and the biggest haymaker I could manage at him.
Yeah, he had reflexes almost as good as mine — he heard me coming, and began to turn back to face me. But the only thing that did was put his chin in position to be my target instead of the back of his skull. I hit him right on the point of it with every bit of the not-inconsiderable force I could put into an all-out attack.
His open mouth snapped shut with a very solid "crack" (which I rather uncharitably hoped heralded broken teeth) as the power of my strike lifted him off his feet and sent him flying back and sideways. Either my imagination or my field was working overtime, because I would swear I actually saw "NO SALE" flags pop up in place of his eyes just before he fell into a messy — and hopefully painful — heap amidst the chunks of shattered concrete. Grey dust sifted down onto his natty blue uniform.
Good. That should keep him out of our hair until we can come back to interrogate him.
I dashed over to the hole in the ceiling (kicking Laughing Boy in the head for good measure on my way) and paused a moment looking up and out through it at the night sky (apparently starless to my lightblinded eyes) above. No mechanical space between the ceiling and the roof? I mused to myself. Who designed this place?
The hole was three meters up, give or take a few centimeters. Sailor Moon had cleared it in a single massive jump; not bad for a thirteen-year-old. It wouldn't be as easy for me, though. I retreated down the hall just far enough to give me a good start, then ran and leapt. I got enough air to grab the edge of the hole, then pulled myself up and out onto the rooftop.
I found myself in the midst of a moonlit fusillade of purple beams and explosions. Moon was dodging and rolling adeptly to avoid being hit, but from where I stood, I could see that demon was herding her toward a corner of the roof where she'd either have to make a stand, or leap into space. Before I could even call out to warn her, the hovering creature shot forward, its claws outstretched, howling, "This is where you die!"
I launched myself at it as Luna yelled, "Usagi-chan! Your tiara!" Moon pulled the tiara off her head and slung it at the thing, only for it to go wild when the demon dodged. I dropped to the rooftop as the tiara — now a disk of yellow light — shot over me. Growling wordlessly at my student's lousy aim, I rolled over in time to see the glowing disk unexpectedly boomerang and nail the gloating demon from behind. Like the creature in the jewelry store, it turned to dust — which vanished before it could finish falling to the tar-and-gravel surface below.
"Great shot," I called across to her as I got to my feet.
"I'm on my middle school's Ultimate Frisbee team," Moon called back. "That's my signature move."
I blinked. "You've been holding out on me, teishi."
She giggled, but before I could follow up there came a slow golf clap from behind us. I spun around. That bastard Jadeite was hovering over the hole in the roof — all but spotlit by the gibbous post-full moon overhead, with neatly combed hair and a dust-free uniform, dammit. "Impressive," he said with a smirk, "but not..."
Usagi flung her tiara, which she'd still had in hand, right at him. Jadeite made a gesture that stopped it cold halfway there. "How crude," he commented with a smirk. "And sadly for you, child, ineffective against me."
Fuck. Usagi was a one-trick pony right now, and this Jadeite had just shown he could neutralize her one trick. I needed to distract him from her immediately. Fortunately, I'm a multi-trick pony of a different color. "<System. 'Lightning's Hand'>," I murmured. "<Play.>" Time to do something tactically inadvisable but attention-getting. Or, as Hexe would put it, "business as usual for Looney".
"Hey, asshole!" I shouted as the power flooded me and I spun up a set of electromagnetic fields that I could levitate with. And as Jadeite, eyebrow raised, turned his attention to me, I loaded a lightning bolt into each fist and lit off the ion drive.
When Jadeite had halted her tiara in mid-air, Usagi'd wanted to drop to her knees and cry. It wasn't fair that he could stop her only attack! But Doug-sensei was there, and while he wouldn't be angry with her for giving up and crying, he would pity her afterward — and work her harder, too. Usagi didn't want either of those. So she grit her teeth and, remembering her lessons, waited for the right time to act.
When Doug-sensei suddenly shouted, "Hey, asshole!", she felt an entirely useless urge to giggle in embarrassment at his language. As she stomped that urge down, Sensei was surrounded by a cloud of glowing blue-purple light from the waist down. Almost before that registered with her, he shot across the roof — actually flying half a meter in the air, with a cone of the same blue-purple light trailing behind him — and plowed into Jadeite, with a double flash-and-boom that sent the youma leader tumbling along the gravel surface.
Taking advantage of the moment, Usagi ran forward and snagged her tiara from where it had landed, scooping up a handful of pebbles at the same time with her clumsy grab. She skidded to a three-point stop, her hand with the tiara behind her and ready to fling it at the first available target.
A surprising moment of stillness encompassed the rooftop, and Usagi realized that she could hear music. And not just music, but...
"<Can you see me? Do you know my position? How quick is your eye?>"
The last thing Usagi had expected in the middle of a fight with youma was to hear a song.
"<I have no home, no reason to roam, yet I travel the length of the sky.>"
And certainly not coming from Doug-sensei.
It just seemed horribly out of place.
But as blue-white electric sparks erupted from nowhere to crawl across his body, it was obvious to her that it was more than just something to listen to. Standing there with her tiara at the ready as Jadeite lay in a groaning heap, Usagi wished she'd paid more attention in English class so she could understand just what the song was about — because it was clear to her that it had to have something to do with what was happening.
It took me only an afternoon to figure out how Silverbolt flew instinctively, not long after she joined the Warriors. Figuring out how to do it myself — that took me nearly four decades. But once I'd mastered it, I could do it almost without thought with the right song: a set of rotating and counter-rotating currents creating a "harness" with which I hung myself on the Earth's own magnetic field, paired with a pure brute force ion drive built from more current-driven fields, strong enough to push me at a couple hundred KPH in atmosphere.
Don't knock brute force. It's incredibly useful if for one reason or another you can't manage finesse. Brute force wasn't necessarily going to keep Jadeite down, but it was an excellent way to knock him down. I'm a big fan of brute force, in case you can't tell. Particularly when I'm the one wielding it.
Speaking of Laughing Boy, he'd had some kind of body-hugging force field protecting him, but between the impact and the lightning payloads in my fists, I'd overloaded it and it had collapsed. I could feel the resistance to the first hit, and then it gave way completely just before the transferred momentum sent him across the roof.
"How's that for ineffective?" I snarled as he rolled to his hands and knees.
He lifted one gloved hand to wipe at his face, and stared down at it when it came back smeared with blood. "Who... dares...?" he growled around the pain.
I kept my mage senses wide open in case he tried something magical. "Don't you know?" I asked with as audible a sneer in my voice as I could manage. "Video killed the radio star." I grinned nastily at him, even though he wouldn't see it inside my helmet. "And you can call me 'Captain Video'."
Usagi saw her opportunity when Jadeite wiped his face, and dashed across the roof, gripping her tiara by one end. If he could stop her tiara when she threw it, then she'd smack him with it close up! The crunch of her boots on the gravel gave her away, though, and he looked up at her as she got close enough to swing the tiara at him.
Jadeite's eyes widened, and suddenly a black shimmer surrounded him. Then it vanished, and so did he, and she nearly tumbled off her feet when her tiara swung through the empty space where he had been.
"<Son of a...>" Doug-sensei growled in English as she stood up straight, three of the few words she knew for sure, and she irrelevantly wondered who was a son of what.
"Sensei?" she said, reaching out to him with an uncertain hand — the one without her tiara in it. The sparks still running all over his body crackled and snapped, and she yanked it back.
"While I cannot say it wasn't entertaining..." Jadeite's voice came from above, and Usagi snapped her eyes up to see the youma leader hovering in the air a few meters above the roof, one leg slightly bent. A smear of blood covered his lower face, and there was a trickle from one nostril, visible even at this distance.
"I'm not sure what this putz is capable of," Doug-sensei murmured to her. "Be ready to run away if things get bad."
"But sensei..." She didn't know what a "putz" was, but she was pretty sure it wasn't good.
"No arguments, teishi. If things go south... Hey!" he suddenly shouted, and punched the air in Jadeite's direction. Usagi flinched as a lightning bolt exploded from his fist. Thunder was scary, and she didn't like it! The youma leader didn't either, though, and jerked away from the bolt. Instead it hit and vanished into the spinning black disk that had formed in the air next to him, and which just as suddenly disappeared.
Doug-sensei barked something more in English, and Usagi wished she knew what he had said. "And I do hope there was something or someone important on the other side of that gate," he added a moment later in Japanese. He kept his hand — cracking sparks crawling all over it — pointed at Jadeite, and murmured something else Usagi couldn't catch.
Jadeite shimmer-teleported again, and another disk of roiling black mist formed in the air next to him, almost invisible in the dark sky without the moon behind it. Of course I tracked him — and so did Usagi. As she threw her tiara again, I lobbed another bolt through his escape hatch, dissipating it once more. As I did, I used my free hand to slip open the cover to the keypad on the side of my helmet and tap out a rapid sequence of codes.
Once more a disk of black mist formed as Usagi's tiara boomeranged back to her and I took the opportunity to smack it with another bolt. The asshole actually gave a put-upon sigh. "I find you are growing quite tedious," he declared superciliously. "I suppose I have no choice but to..."
We never did find out what he had no choice but to do, because it was right then that my motorcycle hit him.
I'd sent it the command to go high and out, then home in on him at a good fraction of the speed of sound with the sound suppression on the turbine dialed up to max so as not to warn him. I was hoping the impact would kill him outright, but he was even tougher than I thought — instead of being rendered into chunky salsa he was just knocked out of the sky and back into the roof, where he bounced several times and then fetched up in a pile against a vent pipe, with at least a couple of his limbs bent in encouragingly abnormal ways.
I'm not stupid, I leapt onto him again and started beating the ever-loving crap out of him with more thunderpunches as my bike vanished back up into the night sky. This time he didn't have a force field up — and I doubted he had the clarity of mind to raise one while I rained megawatt blasts of lightning into his body, the cracks from each discharge echoing off the nearby buildings until they became a continuous roar.
As the air around us began to stink of ozone and cooked ham, and both Jadeite's natty mauve uniform and the flesh beneath it began to char and smoke, I couldn't see Usagi, but I was trusting her to stay out of the way. For all that she made herself out to be a ditz, she had enough common sense to not get close.
It was the one without common sense who screwed things up.
My danger sense went off — not for the pummeled mess of Jadeite below me, but something behind and above me. Instinctively I ducked as something whooshed past my head to embed itself in the concrete no more than a couple feet away.
It was a gods-be-damned long-stemmed rose.
"You can defeat them both, Sailor Moon!" a male voice announced behind me, and I made a rookie mistake -- I looked over my shoulder to see that formal-clad geek Usagi had mentioned encountering.
And that's when something exploded between me and Jadeite.
I went flying.
Usagi had turned to stare at Tuxedo Mask when he appeared out of the night. "You again?" she began, then something blew up between Jadeite and Doug-sensei.
She screamed, dropped her tiara, and ran to his side as he smacked hard into the roof and rolled, barely missing the hole down to the studio. "Sensei!" she cried as she dropped to her knees and skidded to a stop next to him. Some remote part of her mind noticed that being Sailor Moon must make her tougher, because that really should have scraped them raw and she didn't feel a thing. Except terror and panic and hope against hope that Sensei wasn't dead. A moment later Luna scampered up to his other side.
Usagi rolled him over and stifled a scream at the bloody mess she revealed, then saw his chest was still rising and falling. He was breathing, good. She couldn't do anything more than see that, bad. "Can you help him?" she asked Luna.
"I'll try," the cat said, and blinked into her cardigan-clad human form.
As Luna bent over Doug-sensei, Usagi turned to glare at Tuxedo Mask. "You big jerk! What was that dumb rose supposed to do? It... Hey!"
Beyond him, Jadeite was crawling slowly across the roof, a half-meter wide trail of what could only be blood — black in the light of the just-past-full moon — smeared across the gravel of the roof, as he stretched one hand out to touch yet another swirling black portal. She reached for her tiara, then remembered she'd dropped it when running to Sensei's side.
"Don't just stand there, you dumb... Stop Jadeite!" she bellowed at Tuxedo Mask, but it was too late. Jadeite touched the portal, and vanished.
"Aaaaugh!" she screamed in frustration and launched herself at Tuxedo Mask. "He got away! You... you..." She threw a punch at the masked man, who easily dodged it — then got his feet knocked out from under him when she completed the combo and followed it with a clumsy leg sweep he clearly didn't anticipate.
He hit the roof with a grunt of pained surprise and a crunch of gravel. The moment he was down she kicked him in the side, almost flipping him over with the force of it, and getting another cry of pain out of him. "'You can defeat them both, Sailor Moon'? Both? That's Sensei, and he was already taking care of Jadeite! Then you distracted him and let Jadeite get away and now Sensei's hurt and he might die..." She kicked Tuxedo Mask again as she wiped away the tears that were suddenly pouring from her eyes. "I thought you were cool, but you're just a useless jerk in fancy clothes!"
Luna bit her lip in worry as she leaned over Doug, wracking her damaged memory for the battle healing spells that she knew she'd known. He was seriously injured, though, and even if she did remember one she wasn't sure it would be enough. Whatever Jadeite had set off between them had ripped right through the grey leather and what looked like an armorcloth layer beneath it, and had all but ripped open his chest. It was a miracle that he didn't have a sucking chest wound and could still breathe.
She closed her eyes and forced herself to take a deep, calming breath, and tried to ignore the sound of Sailor Moon assaulting the formally-clad idiot who had interfered in the fight. Centering herself, Luna felt for the nearby flows of magic, hoping that the familiar sensation would spur her memory.
It did, and she gave silent thanks. Eyes still closed, Luna laid one hand upon Doug's chest and whispered, "Na envinyanta." "Be healed" in the ancient lore tongue — it was the simplest possible healing spell, easily cast by laymen because it was little more than a mnemonic for using mana to help the subject boost his own body's healing potential. It wasn't much, but it was something, and it just might keep him alive long enough for her to dredge up something more effective.
Her eyes snapped open when she felt his hand close weakly around her wrist, and she looked down to find him looking back at her, as best she could tell through those goggles. "Keypad, on my helmet, right cheek," he rasped out. "Press three... nine... six, then '<go>'."
Luna blinked. "What? No, never mind." She turned his head gently and found the sliding panel right where he said. Opening it revealed twelve buttons, each larger than her fingertip — ten marked with this era's numerals, which she understood, and two labeled in what she vaguely recognized as English, which she didn't. She quickly pressed the three numbers he'd specified, then hesitated. What would happen if she pressed the wrong button at the end?
She gritted her teeth and tried to reason it out. The right-hand button had a longer marking than the one on the left — six characters versus two. "Go" was a short word in English. She took a deep breath and pressed the left-hand button.
Tuxedo Mask lay curled into a ball on the rooftop, wrapped in his cape. His top hat had fallen off at some point; not only did he not know where it was, he didn't particularly care, as he was too busy ignoring the gravel digging into his side and back and hoping that Sailor Moon wouldn't kick him a third time. He was pretty sure she had broken a couple of his ribs with her first kick; he could feel bone grating on bone in his chest, and breathing had become agonizing.
For some minutes since the second kick she'd simply loomed over him, alternately ranting and sobbing; he could feel teardrops falling on his cheek and ear. If he hadn't been terrified that she'd take his head off if he moved, he would've wiped the wetness away.
As he lay there in pain, Chiba Mamoru cursed the compulsion that drove him out in the night after this girl and swore to himself that he'd do everything in his power to resist it in the future. This girl was not the delicate, fragile flower who needed encouragement and protection as his dreams had suggested, and he wondered how he had ever thought she might need his help. And she was right — what did he have besides a rose and empty platitudes? Why had he ever thought they had been something useful?
And why had he thought the man in grey might be an enemy? He'd seen him working with Sailor Moon that first night. But something in him thought he was a threat.
Oh, god. He could feel a bubbling sensation in his chest when he breathed in, now. He didn't need medical training to know that couldn't possibly be good. He was debating with himself if he should try to crawl away from the distraught girl when he heard music — ripples of synthesized sound, to which was added a wordless chorus of female voices before crashing into a pounding line of guitars and drums.
And at that very moment, he felt like he'd just stuck a finger into an electric socket.
And the world shines for me today!>"
a chorus of tenor voices suddenly sang out, and Sailor Moon's rant ended in mid-word.
Suddenly I am here today!>"
Cold fire raced through his body from the top of his head to just below his breastbone, where it split four ways to shoot down his limbs, pulsing in time to the beat of the music. He didn't dare uncurl or open his eyes, but he was sure that if he did he would find that he was shining like a floodlight.
Everywhere the power touched, pain vanished. The bone-on-bone grate in his chest diminished, then faded away completely. The dull throb at the point where Sailor Moon's toe had caught him under his arm disappeared.
"<Seems like forever, and a day.
Thought I could never feel this way.
Is this really me?
I'm alive! I'm alive!>"
As the song drove through another verse, he felt as though he were being wiped clean, not only of every injury and hurt, but every fear and doubt that had ever plagued him. As the voices cut out and the music reached a crescendo and slid into a bridge, he realized that no matter what the cost, he could not stay there on the ground. He would rise, and face both Sailor Moon and his own culpability.
He had just opened his eyes to see the lining of his cape, illuminated with rippling pulses of light racing across it, when he heard a man's voice above him say, "Teishi. I'm all right."
The music abruptly ended.
Usagi spun, her eyes wide and her cheeks tear-stained, and all but tackled me. "Sensei! I thought you... But you were..."
I rested the chin guard of my helmet on the top of her head. "I got better. I do that, you know." I watched as the guy in the tuxedo very cautiously got up off the roof, and wrapped my arms around her as he dusted himself off.
"We'll talk later, son," I said to him. In my arms Usagi started and, protesting, tried to pull away from me. It was a strain, but she didn't have the leverage to break my grip. "I suggest you get going now while the getting is good, though."
He looked me in the eyes and nodded solemnly. Without a word he picked up his top hat, brushed it off and replaced it on his head. Then with a swirl of his opera cape launched himself into a prodigious leap that took him to the roof of the building across the street, where he made another huge bound, and another, until he vanished into the night.
In my arms Usagi had stopped struggling. "Why did you let him go?" she demanded. In the distance, I heard police sirens.
"Why shouldn't I have?" I asked as I sent a recall signal to my bike's autopilot.
"He almost got you killed!"
"Ah, I've had worse," I said as I watched my bike come in for a one-point landing. "Remind me to tell you about the time I fought a remote-controlled robot CEO."
She blinked. "A what?"
"Later," I said. "We need to get out of here, the cops are coming. Not unexpected since a good chunk of that fight was probably broadcast to the greater Kanto Plain area. Luna?"
"Right here," she replied from behind me. I turned to see her back in cat form, and nodded to her.
"Good. Both of you, on the bike."
Five minutes later we were lifting straight up into the sky over the radio station as police cars and emergency vehicles started filling the streets around the building. I had the full stealth suite on, so of course they didn't, couldn't, see us. I hovered us at about 125 meters up, and angled the bike to face the west-northwest, on a line with the main drag immediately below us, then started off at a relatively sedate 50 KPH.
"Sensei, where are we going?" Usagi called over my shoulder.
I smiled to myself. "The Hard Rock Cafe in Roppongi. They're open for business at this hour. We all need something after that, and we need to do an after-op debrief. Two birds with one stone. And it's less than a dozen blocks away, much closer than the LunchCounter."
"Oh," she said. "Okay."
The Dark Kingdom
Beryl seethed as she stalked back and forth along one side of the chamber while three of the few youma in her service with any talent for healing magic treated Jadeite. Who had done this? The wounds stank of magic, but there were no spell-casters left on the Earth, so how was it possible?
She halted in her steps, then grit her teeth, clenched her fists and squeezed her eyes shut. If she had known such a danger existed, she would never have sent her generals to Earth. The Shitennou were precious to her, and irreplaceable — they were her prizes, her great successes. Before Metaria had insisted on advancing their schedule, Beryl had intended for them to plead her case to Endymion and lure him away from the younger Moon whore. And after the older whore had banished them here, they had been her only true company, the only four beings in her entire realm of the damned who could hold a decent conversation.
Sometimes she thought the only thing that had kept her human these past ten thousand years was their presence.
And Jadeite... She would admit it to herself. He was her favorite. He had the same boyish charm that she imagined Endymion did, and a sly little smirk that she loved to see grace his lips. If something happened to him... to any of them...
She managed to suppress the start of surprise she nearly gave at the youma healer's cautious call. It would never do for a ruler to be so distracted as to flinch at an unexpected sound. "Yes?" she snapped as she turned to face the creature.
Like most of its kind it was vaguely humanoid, but clearly of demonic origin. Its features were long and sharp, almost animal-like, with sharp fangs and claws to match on both hands and feet. As with so many of its fellows it eschewed clothing, revealing all of its brightly colored scaled skin — this one was a vibrant mauve.
It bowed to her, and kept its eyes to the floor even when it had straightened. "Lord Jadeite has been fully healed. He will need to rest for another three full lesser cycles to replenish the energies expended, but he will bear not the smallest scar from the magewounds."
Beryl released a breath she had not realized she'd been holding. She resisted the urge to blurt out her thanks; that was not the way of the Queen of the Dark Kingdom. She took hold of herself and nodded regally at the creature while wracking her brain for its name. "You and your compatriots have done well... Braga." Yes, that was it, Braga. "I shall find a suitable reward for your service."
Braga bowed again. "Thank you, Majesty."
"Now," she continued, "I would speak with Jadeite."
The youma looked back over its shoulder at the sleeping platform on which Jadeite lay, overseen by the other two healers. "He is awake and aware, Majesty, though quite exhausted. He may fall asleep despite his best efforts otherwise."
She allowed herself a small smile. "I believe I can forgive him such a insult — this time."
Braga studied her for a moment, clearly unsure how to take that. "Indeed, Majesty," it finally said, and bowed once more. As she strode to Jadeite's side, the other two bowed as well and backed away to leave the two of them alone.
Despite what Braga had said, Jadeite's eyes were closed, and she thought perhaps he had already drifted off. "Jadeite," she whispered, half-fearing to wake him.
His eyelids flickered and opened halfway. "My queen," he rasped, raising one hand slightly from the sheet where it lay. "Forgive me. I was careless and failed you."
She took his hand in hers. "Shhh. There will be no talk of fault or failure this day, my loyal general. Tell me who did this to you. Was it the girl?"
Jadeite shook his head slowly. "No. I faced her but she is nothing but an untrained child, barely capable of a trick or two."
He took a deep, rattling breath. "She has a teacher — a man she called 'Sensei'. My queen, he is a War Wizard!"
Beryl dropped his hand in shock. "Impossible!"
"No, my queen. An armored mage who took flight and beat me senseless with spellborn lightning in each fist — what else could he be?" Jadeite grimaced. "There must be a school or order hiding from even the other Earthers for them to have escaped our notice. And being unaware of their existence and thinking myself safe, I left my defenses low for convenience. It was almost the end of me."
Beryl took up his hand in hers again. "You will not make that mistake again, Jadeite. And you will find this War Wizard and destroy him," she said softly. "Your queen commands it."
Jadeite smiled for the first time. "As your Majesty commands."
"And from this point, every harvester youma will be accompanied by a hunter-killer as its guard."
He nodded, slowly and sloppily as exhaustion began to take him. "Yes, of course, Majesty."
She studied him for a moment. "One last question, my faithful Jadeite, and I will leave you to rest. Did the wizard give his name?"
Another sloppy nod. "He did. He called himself 'Elmer Fudd' and 'Captain Video'."
She patted his hand. "Have no fear, Jadeite. We will find this Elmer Fudd and kill him, and his student, too."
END OF CHAPTER TWO
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This work of fiction is copyright © 2018, Robert M. Schroeck, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.
The Sailor Moon universe and the settings and the characters thereof are the property and/or licenses of Takeuchi Naoko, TOEI Animation, DiC, Kodansha, Bandai, Cloverway and others, and are used without permission.
"Douglas Q. Sangnoir," "Looney Toons", "The Loon" and any representations thereof are copyright by and trademarks of Robert M. Schroeck.
"Wetter Hexe," "Hexe" and any representations thereof are copyright by and a trademark of Helen Imre.
"The Warriors", "Warriors' World", "Warriors International" and "Warriors Alpha" are all jointly-held trademarks of The Warriors Group.
Lyrics from "I'm Alive", recorded by Electric Light Orchestra, music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne; copyright © 1980, MCA Records, Inc.
For a full explanation of the references and hidden tidbits in this story, see the Drunkard's Walk S Concordance at:
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Many thanks to my prereaders on this chapter: Christopher Angel, Kathleen Avins, Nathan Baxter, Andrew Carr, Kevin Cody, Shaye Horwitz, Helen Imre, Eric James, Rob Kelk, Josh Megerman, Berg Oswell, Peggy Schroeck and Amanda Stair-Duran.
C&C gratefully accepted.