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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
3. Missed Connections
You have to believe we are magic
Nothing can stand in our way
You have to believe we are magic
Don't let your aim ever stray
And if all your hopes survive
Destiny will arrive
I'll bring all your dreams alive
— Olivia Newton-John, "Magic"
Move like a beam of light;
Fly like lightning,
Strike like thunder,
Whirl in circles around
A stable center.
— Morihei Ueshiba, creator of Aikido
So keep on kicking
The bomb is ticking
Don't stop, don't be a runaway
Go for the fire
Baby you're tough enough
Just keep on living
And don't start giving
The devil good reason
To get you in the seasons of heartbreak
Baby you're tough enough
Baby you're tough enough
— Vanilla Ninja, "Tough Enough"
Wednesday, April 22, 1992, 12:38 AM
We touched down a short distance from a glowing, neon-clad building that save for its garish visibility would have been hidden by the more conservative structures that surrounded it. In this universe, the Roppongi Hard Rock Cafe was on a narrow little street, almost literally wedged into a small space behind a mall with a couple schools and assorted businesses crowding in on it from the other sides.
Even though it was after midnight, the limited parking in the area was completely full. (Not that it mattered to me, since I could and would "park" my cycle a hundred meters or so up.) So I dropped us onto the street a dozen meters or so from the front of the building, next to an entirely incongruous loading dock. The three of us hopped off, and I set the stealth system before sending the bike back up to wait for us.
As soon as Luna had hit the concrete, she swapped back out of cat form and into human. "Disguise pen, please, Sailor Moon?" she said, holding out a hand, and Moon obliged almost absently while staring at the giant neon guitar over the Cafe's front door.
"Sensei?" she asked, pointing at the neon-lit English text that ran along the building's zigzagging, pseudo-industrial roofline, "What's that say?"
I looked up at the familiar motto of the Hard Rock Cafe, making a mental note to start focusing more on English during our tutoring sessions. "'Love All, Serve All'," I translated.
"Love all, serve all," she repeated, half-whispering, as Luna raised the device into the air, murmured something, and suddenly blipped from a Japanese-looking brunette to a European-looking blonde.
I raised an eyebrow at the transformation before turning my attention back to Usagi. "Ever been here before?" I asked her.
"No," she said wonderingly. "I never could talk Mama and Papa into it."
"Your lucky night, then," I said, putting a hand on her shoulder. "Even better, my treat."
"D... Looney Toons-san." Luna held out the disguise "pen" to me. "You'll want to use this if you intend to take off your helmet when we get inside."
I took it from her and studied it. "Pen" was right — it looked pretty much like a thick biro with a fancy cap in 14-karat gold. "Mm. Good point. So, um, how does it work?"
"Hold it up and tell it what you want to be," Moon said.
"And it'll last until you choose to release it," Luna added.
Shrugging, I held the "pen" above my head and said, "Ten centimeters taller, more muscular build, brown eyes, black hair, mustache, bad complexion and a prominent mole on the left cheekbone, please." I felt the thing's magic fight my field for a moment, and then it washed over me. Whatever it was, it was more than a simple illusion, but not quite an actual physical transformation. And quite powerful. Impressive.
I pulled off my helmet and grinned at my student. "Well?"
"Bleagh." She stuck out her tongue in a "yuck" expression. "I like how you really look."
I dug out my tuneplug and carefully inserted it in my ear. (No way in hell I was going into an HRC without it — it was absolutely necessary when I needed to enter an environment where I was likely to run into songs that might trigger my gift. When powered by my body heat, it continually synthesized music that "confused" my metatalent and kept it from activating if I should come upon a song that normally gave me a power.)
"Me, too, teishi," I replied as I made sure the tuneplug was properly seated. "But the idea here is to preserve my so-called secret identity." I grinned at her. "Some of us have neither magic face-fuzzing nor the ability to turn into a cat to ensure our privacy."
She huffed good-naturedly, and Luna actually chuckled.
"Okay, ladies, let's do this. Oh, and codenames only when we're inside — either 'Looney' or 'sensei' for me, you're always 'Moon', and..." I looked at Luna. "Hm."
She smiled. "You can call me 'Sherada'." Heh, there was that liquid phoneme again. "It means 'adviser' in the language of the Silver Millennium."
I nodded. "'Sherada' it is. Ladies, inside that building is a massive bacon cheeseburger with my name on it, and I intend to consume it with extreme prejudice. Let's go."
The Hard Rock Cafe, Roppongi. Five minutes earlier.
"Guys?" Shinsuke called from the host station near the front door of the restaurant. "Something weird's going on."
"It's quarter of one in the morning on a Tuesday," Yumi noted as she walked past the podium. "Just having a customer is weird."
"No... this is even weirder," Shinsuke insisted. "I just saw a flying motorcycle land on the street out front."
Yumi stopped and gave him a flat look.
"No, I'm serious," Shinsuke insisted. "Look, they're coming in!" He quickly schooled his features into the standard "customer greeting" smile. "Welcome to the Hard Rock Cafe!" he proclaimed as the door from the stairway rattled.
Yumi turned to see three customers. One was an ordinary-looking blonde in jeans and a cardigan. The second was a homely fellow with a mustache in grey motorcycle leathers, a matching helmet dangling from one hand. And the third was another blonde, smaller than the first, and...
Yumi blinked. And blinked again. She simply could not focus on the girl's face. Yumi was pretty sure she had one; when she looked away, she could vaguely remember huge blue eyes. Looking right at her, though, Yumi found her gaze sliding off the girl's face and toward her clothes, which were ... outlandish, even for the Hard Rock. Ignoring the high red boots and white opera gloves, it looked like she was wearing a swimsuit styled on a girl's seifuku, white with a blue skirt and collar, a huge red bow on her chest, and assorted red and blue accents.
Sailor V! The thought shot across her mind, followed immediately by, No, Sailor V's outfit looks more like a real seifuku than that does, and close on the heels of that realization was, A new sailor girl!
"Thanks!" the guy in the leathers said to Shinsuke. "Table for three, please?"
As Shinsuke led them to a table, Yumi dashed to the kitchen to grab one of the disposable cameras kept there in case of celebrity patrons.
I was not surprised to note that Usagi skipped the rest of the menu to go right to the desserts on the back. "Ooh, the hot fudge brownie looks amazing!" Then her face fell. "But it's so expensive!"
"Don't worry about it," I replied absently as I reaffirmed my decision to get the double cheeseburger with bacon. And extra cheese. And fries. The vast majority of my recovery had been fueled by magic, but it still ate up a lot of my body's resources, and I needed to replace them, both protein and carbs. "I said it was my treat, remember?"
"In that case, Looney Toons-san, would you mind greatly if I ordered the Catch of the Day?" Luna asked without looking up from her menu.
I chuckled and caught her eye. "A welcome break from cat food, Sherada?"
She smiled back. "Royal Canin is more appetizing than I would have thought, but yes, I do long for a proper meal on occasion."
I gestured at the menu. "By all means, whatever you want."
She nodded. "Thank you."
It wasn't the first time the staff of the Hard Rock wanted to get photos of a patron without their knowledge, and Yumi was very familiar with all the spots in the restaurant where candid pictures could be taken without revealing one's presence. Yumi suspected that most if not all of them had been deliberately designed into the Cafe's layout; some of the locations were entirely too convenient for the would-be paparazzo.
Like this one. Between the angle she had on the table and the arrangement of seats around it, she could easily catch all three of them in a single shot. The older girl, who appeared to be in her middle to late teens, was pretty enough, but the sailor girl's face was even more of an unidentifiable blur through the viewfinder. And the guy was ugly as sin.
Yumi took several shots while she had the opportunity, then faded back into the kitchen when their server showed up. She'd come back out and take a few more pictures, perhaps from a different angle, once they got their food.
As soon as the server took our order and was out of earshot I took a drink of my iced tea, then looked around the table. "Okay," I said. "Now that we've got that out of the way... what did we do wrong tonight?"
Usagi looked genuinely confused. "Don't you mean 'what did I do wrong', sensei?"
I shook my head. "Nope! We all made at least one mistake. I made a couple of them — including one that could have gotten you killed had things gone worse. I know what they were, but I want to see if you can identify them in hindsight."
"Should we really be talking about this in public?" Luna objected.
I gestured to the almost-empty restaurant around us. As was the case in every Hard Rock I'd ever been in, in any universe, the music level was loud enough that we all had to raise our voices a little bit in order to be heard just on the other side of the table. "With this soundtrack, no one is going to be able to eavesdrop without literally standing next to us, Sherada."
Luna looked around and raised her eyebrows. "I will grant you that."
I nodded an acknowledgment. "OK. So, mistakes. Tell you what, I'll go first so you don't feel like you're being put on the spot, Moon. After all, I'm not exempt from being stupid or from being yelled at for being stupid. As my C.O. back home would be the first to tell you." I took another pull of my iced tea as Usagi giggled. "My first mistake: not coming kitted out with all my equipment. I assumed the composition of the enemy wouldn't change, and that they would be inferior to our combined forces."
"We both should have known better," Luna agreed. "I knew that the Enemy had been powerful enough to bring down the Moon Kingdom. Even a single individual should be treated as a serious threat." She bit her lip and then turned and bowed her head toward Usagi. "Forgive me, please, Sailor Moon, for failing you in this way."
Usagi's eyes grew wide. "Lu- Sherada!"
Head still bowed, Luna continued. "I will endeavor to give you better advice and intelligence whenever possible — and in the future I will be very clear when I do not have useful or complete information."
Usagi shot me a look of complete confusion, then turned back to Luna and seized the cat/girl's hands in her own tiny grip. "You haven't failed me," she insisted earnestly. "We're both doing this for the first time, aren't we? We're learning together, Lu- Sherada."
Luna looked up into Usagi's fervent gaze, and a slow, tentative smile appeared on her lips. "Yes. Yes, we are."
"I have to agree with Moon, Sherada," I added. "But!" And I held up a finger. "You did make an error, and a serious one." Both of them turned to look at me with comically identical quizzical looks on their faces. I leaned in a bit. "You called Moon by her real name at least once in the presence of the enemy."
Luna blanched. "I..." she began, horrified.
I waved off her initial reaction. "I think we're safe this time. It was personal name only, and after the way things went tonight I suspect that Laughing Boy is far more likely to remember me than Moon. However, I'm going to add a unit on operational security to next week's training, and both of you are going to attend. All right?"
Usagi nodded as Luna said, "Yes."
Then Usagi asked, "What's operational security?"
I opened my mouth, then shut it and chuckled. "It's almost ten years too early for this joke, but... 'The first rule of Sailor Club is you do not talk about Sailor Club.'" I looked across the table. "Yeah, I was expecting those blank looks. Never mind. Operational security is not letting the enemy know anything they can use against you. The idea is easy. The execution... well, it can be harder." I sighed. "Back to the topic at hand. I made a second mistake and it was far more serious than my first. Either of you want to venture a guess at what it was?"
They shared a look. "Honestly, Looney Toons-san?" Luna offered. "I cannot say I saw anything I'd call a mistake." Usagi nodded in agreement.
I shook my head, then took another sip of my drink. "I made a first-timer's error that almost got me killed. I let myself be distracted by Captain Opera and his corsage of doom. That was a rank beginner's mistake on my part. I was so surprised by his interference that I stopped what I was doing — which was disabling the enemy — to look at him." Even as Usagi's expression grew dark, I chuckled again. "If I were home, my C.O. would kick my ass from one end of the Mansion to the other for being so stupid. And I'd deserve it."
"No, it's his fault for sticking his nose into our fight," Usagi declared sulkily.
I sighed. "While no, he didn't belong in our fight, it's important to remember that there will always be distractions in combat. You have to learn to acknowledge them but not let them draw you away from your goal — which is to defeat the enemy. I've gotten sloppy and I need to fix that." I took another drink. "And while we're on the subject of distractions.... 'In the name of the Moon, you will be punished'? What was that?"
She shrunk down into her seat, a sheepish look on her face. "It seemed like a good idea?"
I wagged a finger at her. "Maybe it did. And it did sound nice and dramatic..."
Luna rolled her eyes. "Except for the part about a crosswalk."
I stifled a laugh. "Yeah, except for that part. But Moon — it gave the enemy that much more time to get in the first hit. You are damned lucky they didn't! I'm the last person to complain about banter in combat, but if you must give a speech, give it while you are kicking their butts. Or better yet, knock them down first, then rant at them. Otherwise you're just making yourself a target."
She bit her lip. "Okay, I'll try. It's just that, every time I've done this, I just kinda automatically say stuff like that."
I tilted my head at that. "'Automatically'?" She nodded and I glanced at Luna. "Some side effect of the transformation, Sherada?"
Luna looked thoughtful. "Not one I'm aware of. We'll have to look into that."
"Yeah," I said.
Yumi ducked back into the kitchen after the servers showed up with their orders. She'd pretty much used up every shot in the disposable anyway, and she wanted to grab another just in case. She just wished she could get close enough to overhear some of their conversation, enough to figure out if they were cosplayers or something else entirely.
Although if you asked her, the fact she couldn't actually make out any details of the sailor girl's face was proof enough that she was more than just a cosplayer.
She waited at the kitchen doors for the servers, so she could interrogate them on what they might have heard.
Luna delicately sliced a piece of her fish, speared it with her fork, and placed it in her mouth. She closed her eyes for a moment as she savored the taste. Behind my double bacon cheeseburger, I smiled at her obvious enjoyment. After a long moment she finally swallowed, then opened her eyes.
"We're going to have to take you out for dinner more often," I said with a chuckle.
She smirked at me as Usagi giggled. "I'll hold you to that, you know." She cut another piece of fish, but before she brought it fully to her mouth she paused and said, "If I may, Looney Toons-sensei, when we first met you described yourself as 'kind of a wizard'. I didn't give it much thought at the time, but your performance tonight was... unique. I was very surprised by it. Just what kind of wizard are you?"
I put down the remains of my burger. "Ah, the 64-million-yen question." I took another long swig of my iced tea. "Okay, what you need to know first is that the version of Earth where I grew up is home to hundreds of thousands of people who possess... how did that show put it? Right. 'Powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men'. What we call 'metatalents'." I saw them both nodding as they remembered the word from our first meeting. "For many of them this is because of mutations to their genetic code, or their parents' — what we call mutates or mutants, depending on what makes their talents first manifest. My world is also home to a small number of very powerful mages, despite being quite poor in mana, the energy that powers magic. With me so far?"
"Certainly," Luna said between bites. Usagi just nodded, her eyes wide and her spoon stuck in her mouth.
I took another sip. "I'm unusual, possibly unique, in that I am a mage who is also a mutant. Because of my mutations, I'm much faster, more agile, a bit more durable and far more intelligent than a normal human. Unfortunately, my magegift suffers from a dominant negative mutation that makes it impossible for me to exercise any kind of direct conscious control over it, particularly with a formalized spellcasting system. Instead, my magegift is always 'on', taking in mana from the environment, 'consuming' it without direction and leaking a seemingly random, probability-shifting effect back out into the world immediately around me."
Luna froze and stared at me. "Oh, dear." Usagi just looked blank.
I laughed. "It gets worse. Whenever I hear a song — music and lyrics together — my subconscious mind interprets it as instructions to be issued to my mage talent."
Understanding dawned across both girls' faces. "So the song you had me play..." Luna began.
I nodded. "'I'm Alive' by Electric Light Orchestra, and thank you for doing so, by the way. It makes my metatalent heal just about anything that might be wrong with both me and anyone else who happens to be within about 35 meters of me."
"Heal?" Luna looked hopeful, and I realized what had to have occurred to her. I caught her eye and shook my head ever so slightly.
"Yeah, wounds, disease, broken limbs, that kind of thing," I went on as the subtext completely slipped past Usagi. "If it's physical, it gets fixed."
"So that was a song about lightning you played when you were fighting Jadeite!" Usagi declared, eyes wide.
"Pin-pon. I have a very large collection of songs that are as good as, and sometimes better than, spells — and a couple solid workarounds that let me avoid most of the bad side effects of my talent."
Usagi tilted her head. "How large is 'very large'?"
I looked up and to the right as I tried to remember. After all these years I didn't keep the whole collection on any one device anymore. At first that was because my helmet started running out of storage, but then I re-engineered it completely several times in a row, in timelines with increasingly better tech than home possessed. By then, though, I had started keeping parts of it on the little portable music players that were everywhere in most Earths that had reached the 21st century or later. Multiple copies of things, too, because redundancy and backups are always a good idea. And of course, everything that I hadn't yet tested and certified for use with my metatalent was kept in its own isolated set of players.
How many of those did I have now, anyway? At least a dozen, but now that I thought about it, there could easily be twice that. And that's just MP3 players. Gods alone know how many cell phones, digital cameras and other pieces of personal electronics I've picked up and stashed in my panniers over the years, either for my own entertainment or with an eye to reproducing (and patenting) them when I finally got home. Hell, I even had a couple of SDAT players of the kind Shinji had liked so much. (They reminded me of my first uniform design, which had had a "utility belt" filled with microcassettes and a tape player in the buckle.)
I closed my eyes and started counting song files, which I estimated at four to the seventh power. I put two and two together, and added twelve, and carried five, and said, "Best guess? At least twenty-five or thirty thousand songs, all told. In my helmet, though, about ten thousand."
Usagi looked stunned. "Wow. Can I listen to some of it?"
I blinked, then shrugged. "Sure. You can borrow one of my MP3 players."
"Cool! Thanks!" Then she paused and tilted her head. "What's an MP3?"
After 1 A.M. on a Tuesday night, the staff room at the Roppongi Hard Rock Cafe was empty and silent. Down the hall, Yumi could hear the kitchen crew joking with each other over the last few orders of the night as she picked up the handset of the bright green public phone. She waited for the dial tone, then inserted the 10-yen coin she'd had waiting, and dialed a number she hadn't had reason to call in a few weeks now.
It rang. And rang. And rang. Yumi knew to be patient, and let it keep ringing.
Finally, it picked up. "What?" a man's gravelly voice, thick with interrupted sleep, demanded.
"Jitsuha-san? This is Murata Yumi at the Hard Rock Cafe in Roppongi? I apologize for disturbing you at this hour, but I have something you might be interested in..."
I wiped my mouth one more time with my napkin, and laid it on the table. The check was paid, Luna and I had finished our meals, and Usagi had all but licked her plate clean of the last drips and drizzles of fudge. I debated telling them that the hostess who'd seated us — "Yumi" according to her name tag — had been watching us all through the meal, and even taking some snapshots, but I decided not to bother them with it. Honestly, it would have happened sooner or later, anyway. And that's why we'd disguised ourselves and used aliases, after all. "Well, ladies," I said. "I think that's going to be it for the night. We've identified and planned fixes for our errors this evening, we've got our new subjects for training, and Moon needs some sleep for school tomorrow."
"Mou," Usagi groaned. "Don't remind me."
I wanted to reach across the table and scruffle her hair again. "Coffee tomorrow, teishi. Mass quantities. You'll need it."
She just rolled her eyes and stuck out her tongue. "Bleagh. I hate coffee."
"I have one more thing I wish to bring up before we go, though," Luna said as she delicately dabbed at her lips with her own napkin.
"I can't help but notice that you seem to possess a fully functional identity in this world, complete with a valid financial footprint." She nodded at the leatherette folder with the Hard Rock logo which held the check and goodly amount of cash — which she had seen me retrieve from a wallet with ID and credit cards in it. "I presume that you must have acquired it somehow after you arrived in this world. Would it be possible to use the same methods to arrange a proper identity for my human form?"
Oh. Oh. Of course. I should have anticipated this, but I had kind of assumed that she would be content to spend her time masquerading as a house pet. I gave it some thought. Luna almost certainly had no money or other resources to speak of — like I had been in Velgarth, she'd been dumped in an alien world on pretty much no notice. However, I could easily cover the cost of papers for her. I could even offer a little seed money for bank accounts. In the months since I'd arrived, I'd earned far more than it had cost me to get my papers from the Minato-kai. If she was willing to deal with them, I had no doubt it was doable.
"I think it is," I said. "But let's talk about it tomorrow, okay?"
She nodded. "Of course."
"In that case, then, ladies, I declare this meal — and the evening's festivities — at an end." I pushed back my chair and stood. "Shall we?" I held out my hand to Usagi, who now that food was no longer in front of her already looked three-quarters asleep. She wobbled out of her seat and took it, then slid under my arm and supported herself on me.
"Moon's certainly willing," Luna said with a chuckle as she rose from her seat.
Usagi stuck her tongue out at her. "Some of us can't lay around the house sleeping all day," she mumbled, and Luna and I laughed.
Fifteen minutes later, I was hovering my bike, fully stealthed, next to the open second-floor window Usagi had directed me to. I held it rock-steady as she climbed off and into her bedroom. Watching her, I shook my head in disbelief. "How the hell did you get out of here after midnight without waking up your folks?" I asked. "Especially since you didn't transform first."
As soon as she was through the window she released the transformation, wiping away Sailor Moon's costume and replacing it with a sweatshirt (complete with cute bunny print) and jeans. Interestingly, she went from low-heeled boots to flat-soled sneakers without a sound or movement. (Her return to civvie form reminded me to release the disguise I still had on me. I was going to have to study that pen one of these days.)
"It wasn't fun," she replied, somewhat more awake (temporarily, I was sure) due to the speed and the temperature of the ride home. Luna, back to cat form again, leapt through the window after her, and bounded past her to land on the bed. "I'm going to transform and jump out next time." She leaned back toward the window, preparing to close it.
"Good plan," I said with a nod. "Good night, teishi, Luna."
"Good night, Doug."
I drifted the bike back a meter or so as she closed the window, and remained just long enough to watch her turn down her bed and retrieve a set of pajamas covered with a fish roll-like pattern from a dresser drawer as Luna curled up on the coverlet. I smiled to myself and then took off for home.
Usagi wasn't the only one who was going to need mass quantities of coffee come the morning.
After the motorcycle vanished into the night sky, Shinsuke turned to Yumi. "Was it just me, or did the older girl turn into a cat?"
Yumi shook her head. "No, it wasn't just you. She turned into a cat."
They stood there together at the door looking out on the street below for a minute before Shinsuke said, "I'm not sure if I'm glad or sorry they've left."
"Sorry," Yumi declared firmly. "I feel like we just brushed the edge of something big and... magical. But that was it — we were lucky tonight, luckier than most people ever get. And we'll never be that lucky again."
Shinsuke thought about that for a bit. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah."
Wednesday, April 22, 1992, 10:20 AM
"Did you hear what happened on 'Midnight Zero' last night?"
"No! I missed it! What happened?"
"There was a big fight, right on the air! That Sailor Moon girl burst in and accused the host of breaking all these poor girls' hearts, and then there were all these explosions and then the station went off the air!"
Doing her best to ignore the exchange of whispers behind her, Mizuno Ami peeked over her textbook at Tsukino-san. She was sprawled across her desk, drool puddling from the corner of her mouth, as Haruna-sensei loomed angrily over her.
Ami resisted the urge to shake her head in disapproval. The girl would never make it into a good high school — let alone a good university — if she continued to sleep through her classes like that. Ami winced and turned away slightly when Haruna-sensei began to harangue Tsukino-san — who, to Ami's amazement, actually began to snore instead of waking up.
She turned a page and wondered what it would be like to be free to ignore her classes like her.
Wednesday, April 22, 1992, 11:12 AM, Tokyo Head Office of the Asahi Shimbun, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Yoshi allowed himself the faintest smile around his cigarette when Hideyo finally exited the darkroom and shoved a packet of photos into his hand. "Whoever gave you that film is shit as a photog," he snapped. "That one girl is out of focus in every shot, you know."
He laughed and took the cigarette from his mouth. "Yeah, I expected as much."
Hideyo shook his head, a look of disgust crossing his face. "I don't know why you're wasting your time with lousy pics of a Sailor V cosplayer, but hey, it's your career, not mine."
Yoshi was already turning away, paging through the shots, when he waved over his shoulder. "Thanks, Hideyo."
The photo technician rolled his eyes and vanished back into the darkroom, but Yoshi didn't notice. He was too busy studying the photos and smiling to himself. None of them were any good for publication, but that wasn't important. What they were was confirmation that the new sailor girl had been out and about last night, less than twenty blocks away and twenty minutes after the radio romance show turned into a running battle. And that meant that while he may not have a face to go with the sailor suit — not yet — thanks to both Yumi at the Hard Rock and the transcript of last night's "Midnight Zero" in his pocket, he had a name. A name, and a headline for the article already being laid out for the next edition: "'Sailor Moon' Cancels Mystery Radio Show Linked to Sleeping Sickness".
Yoshi chuckled softly. On top of everything else his contact at the hospital had let him know that the sleepers had all woken up this morning within a few minutes of each other. Some days everything came together perfectly.
Wednesday, April 22, 1992, 12:20 PM, Circuit Akigase, Saitama.
Tenoh Haruka tugged her driving gloves on as she stepped out of the shadowed entrance to the drivers' lockers and looked up at the overcast sky. At least the rain had held off and the track was dry.
She smiled smugly to herself as she strode out onto the track. It had taken a lot to get to this point — some wheeling and dealing here, a bribe there, and at least one fistfight — but she finally had the chance to prove herself. After this, it was all uphill.
She stopped at the car and nodded at the head of her pit crew as he handed her the helmet she'd had custom made for this moment. Without a word she pulled it on and climbed through the window to strap herself in.
Time to drive.
Wednesday, April 22, 1992, 7 PM.
When I arrived at the Tsukino household that evening for my next regular tutoring session with Usagi, she was a bit more fidgety than I was used to. No explanation was forthcoming, though, so I shrugged mentally and figured I'd find out sooner or later. Besides, I had something that would no doubt affect Usagi's mood for the better.
When Ikuko left the dining room after sitting us down there, I turned to Usagi and placed one of my spare iPods in front of her, along with a charger/cord and a set of vintage 2025 Skullcandy wireless earbuds. "Here you go."
She picked it up and turned it over in her hands. "Huh? What's this?"
"That, teishi, is an iPod Zoom. It's like a Walkman, only smaller and with a lot more music on it."
Usagi frowned at the device, which at about a third the size of a pack of cigarettes was probably smaller than any music player she'd ever seen before. "How much more?"
I chuckled. "Remember I said I had something like thirty thousand songs in my collection?" She nodded and I went on. "There's about fifteen thousand songs on there."
I'm going to miss Usagi-chan's wild takes when she gets older and jaded, but for the moment I enjoyed the wide eyes and the sudden fumbling grasp. "How far in the future is it from?" she finally managed to get out.
"The first version of this device will come out in less than ten years; this one is from maybe a decade after that. Here," I said, rescuing the iPod before she dropped it, "let me show you how to work it."
Five minutes later I got her to (reluctantly) turn it off and take out the earbuds. "Thank you, sensei," she said as she coiled up the cord and slid everything into her pants pocket.
"You're welcome, teishi. Enjoy. Now," I said, shifting gears, "why were you so twitchy when I came in?"
Usagi bit her lip and lowered her voice. "Did you see tonight's paper?" She reached under the table a pulled a copy of the Asahi Shimbun out from where it must have been sitting on the seat next to her opposite me. It was folded such that I could only see the top left quarter of the front page, but just above the fold I could see part of a relatively sedate 24-point headline:
I took a quick glance around. Kenji and Ikuko were in the living room watching a jidai geki show with the volume turned up just loud enough to drown us out. And I was pretty sure I would detect Shingo sneaking around in the unlikely case he was at all interested in his big sister's schoolwork. I turned my gaze back to my student and raised an eyebrow. "So?"
"You were right," she whispered. "The fight was on the radio. Everyone heard me introduce myself."
I studied her for a moment. "Are you worried?"
She shook her head. "I mean, no one saw my face, right?"
Chuckling, I scruffled the hair on the top of her head. "No one saw your face, not even Laughing Boy. Magic blur, remember?"
Usagi rolled her eyes. "You know what I mean." Then she sighed softly. "I just hoped we would be secret for a little longer." She thought for a moment, then added, "I'm glad everyone in the hospital woke up."
I patted her hand. "Me, too." Then I rubbed my chin. "It's also good intelligence."
"How so?" she asked, head tilted.
"Well," I replied, looking off into the middle distance for a moment, "based on that, and what we've seen so far, we can deduce several things about what the enemy is doing: First, they were continuously extracting whatever it is that constitutes 'life energy' from their victims; it wasn't like sucking down a can of soda and discarding it, it was more like putting a tap on the line and draining them slowly, but faster than they could generate whatever it is. Second, and more importantly, regardless of what they're actually doing, it's not immediately fatal or damaging. And the victims snap back almost immediately when it's stopped."
Usagi bit her lip and nodded. "You're right, I hadn't thought about that. That's good, right? If they could just drain them all at once, like a vampire, I think they would, so they must not be able to."
"Either that or there are important reasons why they don't do it. Expertly reasoned, teishi." I scruffled her hair again and she grimaced cutely at the indignity even as she preened at the praise. "There's one — no, two — more pieces of information we can deduce from what we know. Can you figure out what they are?"
She bit her lip again as she thought, then her eyes widened and brightened. "It's easy to mess up what they're doing! We didn't have to do anything more than just beat the monster to stop them from draining the people in the hospital."
"Pin-pon. The creature is controlling all the draining, and when we take them out, the drain just goes away. Which also means that they're most likely using magic, and not tech, since tech wouldn't care if its user was alive or dead." I grinned. "I'd suspected that already, since magic lets you manipulate things that would otherwise be unusable abstracts, like 'life energy'."
"That's the second time you've called it that, sensei," she said, scrunching up her face. "Isn't life energy what keeps you alive?"
I chuckled. "That's what we call a 'tautology', teishi — something that defines itself as itself, without any actual, you know, information. What's the energy that keeps you alive? The sugar in your blood? The tiny flashes of electricity in your brain, nerves and muscles? Your soul? Something else entirely? Which of those are the creatures 'draining'? And why?"
"Um." I could see I'd stumped her. Then again, I'd stumped me with the very same questions, too. I'd been planning to sit Luna down with a bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream and interrogate her on just what the enemy was doing, as it didn't fit neatly into any magical paradigm with which I was familiar. "I don't know," she finally admitted.
"Frankly, teishi, neither do I," I admitted right back. "But I plan on finding out. In the meantime, I'm supposed to be going over social studies with you tonight. Let's get started, why don't we? We don't have that much time."
Usagi rolled her eyes again, then stuck her tongue out at me.
I had the newspaper buried in among my tutoring supplies when I left the Tsukino home about ninety minutes later, with the intention of reading it when I got home. I put that thought aside, though, when I saw that Luna was waiting for me by my motorcycle in her human form, in cardigan and jeans.
"I was wondering where you were," I said with a smile as I opened a pannier and stuck my stuff inside.
Luna returned the smile and held out several folded sheets of paper. "I decided to save us both a bit of time. While you were working with Usagi-chan I took a walk to a cafe nearby and worked out what I needed in an identity over a cup of tea."
"Oh, good." I took the papers, unfolded them, and glanced at their contents. "I wasn't sure how we'd manage this around teishi's family." I came back to one item and looked up at her. "You know you don't look much older than 16 or 17, at least for this era. Are you sure you want to officially be 22?"
She glanced away sheepishly. "I've already used that birth date on a job application, so..."
"Right. Job application?" I asked with a raised eyebrow.
Was she blushing? "Just a part-time position at an arcade."
I shrugged. "We all have to start somewhere. Remind me sometime to tell you the story of my six disastrous weeks as a production assistant at my dad's studio in 1977. I still can't stand the sight of cream cheese and lox." I chuckled ruefully, then tilted my head. "Did you get the job?"
"Yes. Fortunately, I didn't need to provide any documentation. My manager has been very... understanding, thanks to a co-worker vouching for me." If anything, the blush intensified.
Riiight. If that was all that was going on, I'd eat my helmet. And who was this co-worker and what was their deal? But hey, it was none of my business unless she made it so. I had to keep reminding myself, but even discounting her time in coldsleep Luna was decades, maybe centuries, older than me, had military, diplomatic and magical training, and could handle herself.
Maybe I should refamiliarize myself with some old favorite video games, though. Purely for the relaxation and entertainment, of course.
I nodded again, folded the papers back up, and stuck them in my inside breast pocket. "Okay, then. If my experience is any indication, this should take about a week." I gave her a wicked grin. "I trust you'll be okay with Royal Canin and litter boxes until then?"
The blush went away and she sniffed disdainfully. "Quite."
I chuckled at her reaction. "My ... contacts ... will need a few photos of you for some of the paperwork. There's a camera shop over on the market street where you can have instant passport photos taken — get a half dozen or so done. Just take a couple different tops so they all look a little different."
Luna glanced away again, this time in embarrassment. "I'm afraid my tea this evening used up the last of my small supply of cash, and I won't get my first paycheck from the arcade until Friday."
Ah. I should have anticipated that. "No problem," I said, digging into my pocket. I pulled a wad of bills out of my wallet, then took her hand, pressed it into her palm, and folded her fingers around it. "Here. This should cover the photos and anything else you might need in the short term."
"I can't take this!" she protested.
I leaned in and put myself nose-to-nose with her. "Yes, you can. Unless you want me to start giving you gold bullion and egg-sized gems."
"We are allies in the support of that sweet child inside the house behind me, Luna. We are pooling our efforts and resources to train her and keep her alive in the face of your ancient enemy. And when necessary that means financial resources. So shut up and take the goddamned money."
Her mouth snapped shut, and I felt her fingers clench around the bills. A moment later, she closed her eyes and very quietly said, "Thank you, Doug-san."
I released her hand, leaned back, and smiled. "You're very welcome, Luna-san."
April 22, 1992, 11:55 PM.
Usagi sat up from where she had sprawled in her favorite yellow pajamas on her bed listening to the miraculous little device that Doug-sensei had given her. She found and pressed the "stop" button before pulling the earbuds from her ears, then turned to her radio. At the foot of her bed, Luna lay in a boneless puddle, asleep.
She'd had to wait until Mama and Papa were safely asleep to try it out, so she'd only had a chance to listen to half a dozen or so songs, but wow! The sound was so clear and sharp, and there were new things from singers and bands she knew, and so much more from ones she didn't know. She couldn't wait to listen to it all!
But right now, there was something else she needed to listen to instead. She rolled over to her radio, turned the volume down low, and switched it on. She wasn't surprised to find it in the middle of a spot commercial, and scrolled idly through the list of songs in the iPod while waiting for midnight. Her English was getting better, thanks to Doug-sensei, and she was actually able to recognize more words here and there in the titles — like "chocolate"? A song about chocolate? Ooh, she had to listen to that one.
But first what she had stayed up for. The commercial ended, and an announcer's melodious voice whispered out of her radio. "It's midnight and this is FM No. 10 Tokyo, 81.3 on your dial. To our listeners looking forward to Midnight Zero, we regret to inform you that it's going to be on a brief hiatus, but it will return in just a few weeks. So keep those letters coming! For now, though, please enjoy..."
Usagi giggled to herself and turned off the radio. Yeah, she'd figured that now that the Enemy wasn't hijacking the station they'd try to keep the audience Midnight Zero had built up. As she crawled into bed, iPod in hand, she wondered if a version without monsters would be any good. Putting the earbuds back into her ears, she idly pondered if it'd only been popular because of the Enemy's magic. She shrugged and put it out of her mind.
Holding the iPod up to her face, she checked to make sure it was still on the song. Yeah — there it was. "Gimme Chocolate!!" She didn't recognize the group — someone from another universe, she supposed, or maybe from the future. Or both. She just hoped this BABYMETAL was good — it'd be unbearable if there were a bad song about chocolate. They had a nice logo, all shiny with wings — hopefully that was a good sign.
She pressed "play".
Beryl's Palace, The Dark Kingdom
Kegon resisted the urge to fidget as General Nephrite studied her from behind his large, laden, but uncluttered desk. She'd been summoned to his offices in the palace with no explanation — not that a youma of any level would dare require an explanation to respond to a summons from one of the Queen's four field commanders.
"Well," Nephrite said after a few more moments. "You're human-looking enough. I am told you are proficient at the necessary cloaking illusions for a deployment to Earth?"
She nodded briskly. "Yes, sir. I'm the best of my clutch." She rapidly cycled through a set of illusions casting her as a member of each of the humans' major ethnic groups. "Where do you need me, sir?" Getting an Earth assignment was a major coup; she wasn't going to turn it down.
Nephrite smiled ever-so-slightly at Kegon's enthusiasm. "Japan. The Queen wants information on these humans." He rose from his seat, and walked around the desk to stand in front of it with her. With a wave of his hand a pair of images appeared in the air to one side. One was a human male in grey, wearing a helmet and goggles that hid most of his face. The other was a girl-child in red, white and blue with long blonde hair; in contrast to the sharp detail of the rest of her image, her face was indistinct. "These are memory renders provided by General Jadeite, who encountered both of them."
Kegon leaned in to study them closely as the General continued. "The child calls herself 'Sailor Moon'. The adult has laid claim to both 'Elmer Fudd' and 'Captain Video', although we believe the latter to be a title of some sort rather than a genuine rank and name."
She nodded absently as she walked around the images, fixing their details in her memory. She paused when she came around to the front of the girl again. "Forgive me, sir," she asked, "but I assume that because you haven't showed them to me already, we have no better views of their faces?"
The General grimaced. "No. The adult never removed his helmet during General Jadeite's encounter with him. And the girl's face is magically obscured at all times, hiding all identifying details." Kegon nodded, and returned her attention to the General, who continued. "Both are dangerous, to different degrees. Despite having to our knowledge only a single, somewhat weak, magical attack, the child has foiled or helped foil our last three operations in the Tokyo area. The adult..."
Nephrite stared at the images and scowled, something no youma among Beryl's forces ever wanted to see, even if it wasn't aimed at them. Swallowing heavily, Kegon steeled herself. "Sir?"
The General never took his eyes off the male. "We believe the adult to be a fully-qualified War Wizard."
Kegon paled, her violet hue briefly fading to mauve. "But there aren't supposed to be any left!"
The scowl vanished as one corner of the General's mouth momentarily quirked upwards. "Apparently, we were wrong." He abruptly spun to face her. "Youma Kegon, you have been reassigned and now report directly to the High Command. You are to go to Tokyo, establish yourself there, and investigate both of these humans. Anything and everything you can find out about either you report back to me, but your priority is this 'Elmer Fudd'. We need to know if he is alone, or if he is just one member of a surviving order of War Wizards. You are not to engage either of them, or to break cover, under any circumstances. Do you understand?"
"Sir! Yes, sir!" Kegon barked.
"Good. You likely have a short window of opportunity in which to establish yourself among the humans; Jadeite reports that the wizard was badly wounded at the end of their encounter. Even if they have healers on hand it should still take him at least a few days to return to full health. Make good use of that time." Nephrite turned back to the desk and retrieved a sheet of writingskin which he quickly signed with a glowing fingertip before handing it to her. "This authorizes you to draw a class one infiltration kit from the palace stores; do it. The guards on the passage to Earth are expecting you, and there'll be a copy of the memory renders waiting for you there. This will be a long-term assignment, so if there's anyone you want to bid farewell to before you leave, you can do so, but we need you in Tokyo yesterday. Got it?"
"Yes, sir! Thank you, sir!" She paused, then said, "If I may ask, sir, Tokyo is General Jadeite's territory, and those were his memories. Why didn't he give me this briefing?"
The General grimaced again. "General Jadeite is still recovering from injuries he sustained when he encountered 'Elmer Fudd'. He barely escaped with his life, and that only because a third party intervened in the fight. He is certain that he severely injured 'Fudd' in return while escaping, but does not believe that he succeeded in killing him. Confirming his survival is one of your tasks. But be circumspect. If this Fudd can take down one of the Shitennou, he will certainly be able to destroy you, possibly without even noticing. And the girl is to be considered a significant threat as well. I repeat, do nothing to bring yourself to their attention.
As Kegon high-tailed it from his office, Nephrite thoughtfully watched her go. Solid illusion ability and substantial intelligence. Too many youma barely had the brains to obey an order. If she survived this mission, he could use her on his staff.
Thursday, April 23, 1992, 8:30 AM.
"Check-it-out chocolate. I can have a bit of chocolate, can't I?
But my weight worries me a bit these days.
However, chocolate. I can have a bit of chocolate, can't I?
But wait a while! Wait a while! Wait! Wait! Wait!"
Naru turned and looked quizzically at her best friend. "What are you singing?"
She could swear that Usagi made an actual "eep!" noise as she stopped singing and almost reflexively rubbed the back of her head. "Just a song I heard last night. Aheh."
Naru shook her head. "You act so weird sometimes."
Thursday, April 23, 1992, 3:10 PM. The Crown Arcade.
Luna dumped the bucket of coins into the counting machine, and sighed as it spun to life with a whir and a rapid-fire jingle of metal-on-metal. Compared to most of the jobs she'd had during her long life in the Silver Millennium (that she could remember), being an arcade attendant was far from the most challenging — or fulfilling. It did little to keep her mind occupied even when it had her running about from video game to video game, and the long minutes in between were a special kind of boredom she was sure had to have been created by the Enemy as a demonic torture.
Then again, there was entertainment to be had in people-watching. Most of the time, at least, she corrected herself as she watched Usagi fawning over Motoki, her charge's crush on the young man on display for all to see. Motoki-kun, for his part, was manfully ignoring her ardent admiration.
Luna nodded approvingly. He was a grown man and much too old for her. It wouldn't be proper.
And besides, Luna was going out for coffee with him when their shifts ended in a couple hours.
Thursday, April 23, 1992, 4:30 PM. Hikawa Jinja, Akasaka, Minato, Tokyo.
Hino Rei, miko, knelt before the sacred fire of the Hikawa shrine and performed her regular devotions. Eyes closed, she swayed slowly to and fro, sending her long ebony hair swinging gently. Before her the fire blazed, crackling and popping as the sweet smoke from the incense sprinkled on the wood filled her nostrils. Her hands were clasped before her, an ofuda entwined through the fingers of her right, as she chanted.
She had been a shrine maiden since her grandfather had taken her in when her mother had died and her father had all but abandoned her. She had begun serving as a way of both filling the day and pleasing her grandfather, whom she loved dearly, and it had become a calling as she'd grown from a child to a young woman.
And with that calling had come the visions. For the past year and a half, the spirits would occasionally see fit to grace her with cryptic glimpses of past, present and future, which she was left to interpret for herself. Some were easy to understand, but others would baffle her until events transpired which cast them into sudden clarity.
Rei did not seek a vision today.
Rei never sought a vision. To be honest, while she felt honored to be the recipient of messages from the spirits, they were ... inconvenient at the best of times, and too often distressing. She was fourteen! She couldn't do anything about most of the things that were shown to her, which both frustrated and angered her. What was the point if she was helpless?
But despite her frustration, the visions still came.
And one came this day.
Almost before she realized it, the flame surged upward and her mind's eye opened; she caught a brief glimpse, once again, of the guardian spirit of the shrine — fierce, armored, a little like an oni in its appearance, but its presence was comforting and reassuring instead of frightening. Almost as soon as she saw it, it vanished from her inner sight.
In its place the moon, brilliant silver-white against the black of a starless night, swam into view. Nearly blinding at first, it dimmed enough for her to make out the familiar shadowy form of the Rabbit, eternally pounding mochi in the sky. Grey against the brighter white of the moon, the Rabbit paused in its endless task, laid aside its hammer and, to her shock and surprise, climbed down from the moon. As it did so it changed shape, from a realistic rabbit to a grey-furred humanoid form that she suddenly recognized as a Western cartoon character. Chewing on the carrot it held in one hand, it stood before her and studied her.
"Yup," it finally said, pointing at her with the truncated vegetable, its greens swinging wildly. "You're the right one, kiddo."
Rei gaped at it. "I'm the right one for what?"
It chuckled and bit off another piece of carrot. "Eh, don't worry about that right now. Yer gonna run into some old friends and a new one who'll tell ya everything. In the meanwhile, though..." It reached into a pocket that appeared in the fur on its hip and, frowning in concentration, dug through it as though searching for something. Its eyes lit up and it withdrew its closed fist from the pocket, which immediately disappeared. "It's dangerous to go alone," it said with a human-like grin. It took her hand in its open one, and placed whatever it'd found in its pocket into it. "Take this."
Rei looked down to find a red-yellow flame dancing merrily in the palm of her hand, without heat or pain. She looked up, and the rabbit-creature was gone. She glanced at the flame again, only to find it was racing across her body. Before she could panic, she had become the flame, and she knew there was no harm here. In the distance, a bugle sounded a call that seized her heart and demanded she answer. She turned from the moon to look where it had come from...
And found herself back in the shrine.
Thursday, April 23, 1992, 5:30 PM. Joy Fit.
"Are you ready to try this for real, teishi?"
Usagi nodded once, briskly. "Yes, sensei."
I smiled. "Good girl. We'll take this as slowly as you need at first. We can work on speed and efficiency after you've mastered the basics."
"I'll help you with that," Luna said from where she sat, her back against the far wall, watching both us and the door to the room far to our right. Usagi and I stood at the other corner on the same wall as the door, where only someone actually stepping into the room could see us. Luna was guarding against that unlikely possibility while she watched the day's magic lesson.
After confirming that the exercises I'd had her doing were indeed letting Usagi sense and touch her magic, I had decided it was time to move on to the next phase.
"Now, you remember all the steps?" I asked.
Usagi bit her lip and closed her eyes, clearly going through the steps in her head. She opened them again and replied, "Yes."
I smiled encouragingly. "Then go for it."
She took a deep breath, then stretched out her right hand as though she were holding a softball in it. "<Light>," she said in English, staring — almost glaring — at her open palm.
A spark appeared there and then expanded into a grapefruit-sized sphere of brilliant, absolutely pure, white light. I shielded my eyes from the glare and glanced at my student's face. Her mouth was slightly open and eyes were wide with delight and wonder.
I'd spent our last two days' training time introducing her to a magic system frequently called "Will and Word", which was simple in concept and, I felt, perfectly met her needs with its flexibility and speed. And she had just had her first success, casting the mage's equivalent to "Hello, World!": the basic light spell.
"I did it," she breathed, and almost as though that was a signal, the light blinked out.
"Aw," she moaned, then looked up at me. "But I did it! I cast a spell!"
"Bravo, Usagi-chan," Luna said from her post.
"Congratulations," I said with a broad smile. "But honestly, I knew you could do it."
"Now you do it another twenty times."
"While maintaining it for longer than a second."
"And then we'll discuss combat uses for a simple light spell."
She sighed. "Yes, sensei."
Friday, April 24, 1992, 7:12 PM
I was relaxing after dinner and enjoying a little TGIF time when there was a knock on my door. Given that my coworkers only came over when invited, my neighbors were friendly but distant, and Usagi usually phoned me, that left only one person it was likely to be.
"Come on in, Luna," I said as I opened the door. "What's up?"
I suppose it goes without saying that she was in human form. As I'd suggested, she'd used some of the cash I'd given her on more clothes — the blouse-and-sweater combination she wore with her jeans was unfamiliar to me, though only the third outfit I'd seen her in. She had an envelope and a folded piece of paper clutched in her hand.
She waited until I shut the door behind her before she held out the envelope to me. "Here are the photographs you asked for."
"Thank you." I took the envelope, glanced into it to see the half-dozen or so headshots, and nodded before sliding it into my pocket. "Good. I'll get this to my 'friend' in the morning." I looked back up and saw that she was unexpectedly agitated; if Luna had been in cat form I'd expect to see her tail bottled out and swishing wildly. "What's wrong?"
She hesitated, then held out the piece of paper. "I found this on Usagi-chan's bed this afternoon. It is a message to me."
"A what?" I took the paper. It wasn't anything special, just part of a page from a composition notebook like any student might own. But carefully written on it in what looked like ordinary ballpoint ink was a decidedly unordinary message.
I'm not a linguist — that's one of Hexe's gigs — but I've been exposed to a lot of different languages and scripts over the years. And one of the benefits of my enhanced memory is that I remembered them, at least enough to identify them. What Luna's message was written in looked like a bastard hybrid of Harappan, Linear Elamite and Early Sumerian. I couldn't read it, of course, but I could recognize the characters.
I looked up at Luna's worried face. "Let me guess. This is written in the language of the Silver Millennium." She nodded. "So there's either another direct survivor like you around, or else someone with a really good recollection of their past life."
"That, or it's the enemy," she countered.
"Yeah, there is that." I gave the note back to her. "Either way, they clearly know more than they should about you. Is it some kind of blackmail?"
She shook her head minutely. "No. But it may be worse."
I raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
Luna looked down at the message in her hand and grimaced. "It's a standard encoded order for an undercover agent in the Moon Kingdom Intelligence Service to check in with their handler, specifying a means of contact with signs and countersigns. It's signed '0091', the traditional designation for Serenity's spymaster." She paused a moment, then added, "The means of contact is a 'Sailor V' video game at the Crown Arcade."
There was a long moment while I processed that.
"You're shitting me," I finally said.
Luna sniffed primly. "No," she said, "I am most certainly not. And I want your help to find out if it is genuine — or a trap."
Well, Luna and I made our visit to the Crown Arcade not long after midnight that night. Using parts I'd accumulated over the worlds and years, along with a dose of Oingo Boingo's "Weird Science", I'd quickly kitbashed a neat bit of magitech that acted as a signal and spectrum analyzer for both mystic and mundane comms, among other things. With a little work it would let me get a good fix on anything but a hardwired link. (Which, since Luna was going to be using a video game as a comm terminal, was a distinct possibility. But let's think positive, why don't we? And besides, if it was a hardwired link, well, I could trace that, too, with the right equipment.)
The streets were completely empty, which was not unusual. Minato's a lot like Manhattan's financial district that way — packed to the gills with people during the day, and a ghost town after dark. It certainly made our task easier.
As we approached the arcade, the security gate rose up on its own about thirty or thirty-five centimeters, and the front doors slid apart 20 centimeters — basically a cat-sized entry; curious human-sized Warriors need not apply. So I lurked outside, ready to cloak myself in an illusion with Heart's "These Dreams" if necessary, eavesdropping on the conversation and watching the readouts on my signal snooper.
Ten minutes later, Luna came back out (the doors and gate obediently closing themselves behind her) after a conversation in what she confirmed was the language of the Moon Kingdom. She was not entirely sure "0091" was on the level but was willing to give him (her? it? the voice was flanged and modulated to hell to disguise it) the benefit of the doubt.
As for my side of the process, well, we were lucky — the connection was not a hard wire. Ten minutes hadn't been enough to get a solid trace, but I could tell by the data that I'd been able to gather that whoever "0091" was, he was using an encrypted magical comm system with a carrier piggybacked on one of the tinier ley lines in the area, and was likely somewhere within a couple kilometers unless he was very clever and using relay stations to obfuscate his location. And he probably was.
But he, or someone he employed, knew who Usagi was, and where she lived. Until we could absolutely confirm what side he was on, "0091" was a security risk to my student.
It was time to ward the Tsukino home to hell and back. I was going to have to buy a full set of colored Sharpies.
Artemis shut the communicator and frowned at it. He didn't like doing things this way, but it was necessary for the moment, especially if he was to keep Minako and Sailor Moon from running into each other long enough for the latter to gain more confidence in her abilities. Although that teacher she found seems to be helping quite a bit in that regard, he mused.
Moon's teacher seemed to have won over Luna quite handily as well. Artemis had expected her to leap at the offer of support from the Intelligence Service; instead she had been suspicious and hesitant. It had taken sharing confidential information from the last days of the Moon Kingdom to convince her he wasn't a Dark Kingdom trick. And even then, she was still doubtful.
As well she should be, I suppose, he thought. I just wish I had something to offer her in the way of genuine help right now. It's hard to be the head of a spy agency when you have no agents to actually do the legwork.
Other than that little adventure, the week after our encounter with Jadeite was pretty much uneventful. On Saturday morning I passed Luna's photos along with the list of required documents — and, of course, a large amount of money — to my friendly neighborhood Yakuza contact. Luna and I discussed her alleged spymaster several times, and we agreed that if he was indeed the real deal, that meant Sailor V had to be another of the royal guardians — probably Tserla Venus because, hey, "V". Meanwhile Usagi and I had several more tutoring sessions in the evenings after school, and I started insisting we discuss her schoolwork almost exclusively in English.
We also discussed the mystic protection of her family home in English, as I taught her the warding schemes Urd taught me, and explained how they worked. This not only continued her practice in the language, it also gave us a little security from accidental eavesdropping.
In between all this I also intensified Usagi's non-scholastic and non-magical training. In addition to the unit on operational security, I started with simple first aid. After some back-and-forth between the three of us we resolved that, even in the absence of any obvious injuries, there would always be at least a simple medical evaluation after any fight.
Now honestly, at that time I didn't know more than a handful of actual first aid, because naturally, I always cheat and use one of the various songs that give me healing abilities. But I wasn't going to be in this world forever, and Usagi didn't (yet) have healing magic of her own. So I signed all three of us up for a basic course provided by the Japanese branch of the Red Cross: six hours on that Saturday afternoon, covering first aid, injury and illness assessments, bandaging and splinting for fractures, and CPR. (But not until I had confirmed with Luna that her humanoid body had no "red flag" differences from actual humans that would be easily noticed by a medical professional.)
Of course, I also had a long-term goal with the training as well: when Usagi eventually did learn healing magic (which I had no doubt she would), having actual medical knowledge, even something as rudimentary as a first aid course, would dramatically boost its efficacy. It's a simple fact — willpower plus knowledge will always trump willpower alone.
And just to give us an extra edge when in the field, I also sprang for a professional level first aid kit, complete with its own rip-stop nylon bag. When I let them know I'd done so, Luna volunteered to keep it in the extradimensional storage space where she kept everything else she carried around on a daily basis.
So that was that.
Sunday, April 26, 1992. 12:43 PM
Outside of emergency medical training, I made sure to cover a few more of the things I felt were vital since the appearance of a boss-type suggested the war was starting to heat up. Number one was accelerating her magical training. After her success with basic spellcasting, I began to teach her defense.
"You've kept up on your magic practice, teishi?" I'd taken advantage of the pleasant afternoon weather — 20° C, acceptable humidity, and comfortable despite being mostly overcast — to hold a training session in an isolated clearing in Prince Arisugawa Park. Usagi was untransformed, in her tracksuit. I was in jeans and T-shirt, my helmet in my hand. (My shirt read "Zaphod Says Yes To Zaphod" on it; refusing to explain my T-shirts, I felt, gave Usagi extra motivation to master English.) Luna sat to one side on a blanket, watching intently as she always did when I worked on magic with Usagi.
"Of course!" Usagi replied earnestly. "<Light!>" she said as she raised her arm from her side. By the time it was at waist-level she had a fistful of glowing white — which she then lifted over her shoulder and released to hang unsupported in the air, bright enough to cast visible shadows on the ground. She gave me a proud (and slightly smug) smile. "I figured out how to make it work off the magic around me instead of my own power," she added.
"Excellent!" I declared, impressed. "You're advancing even faster than I'd anticipated, teishi. Which is good, because today we're going to start work on using your magic in a slightly different way."
"Different?" Her brow furrowed in confusion. "Different how?"
I grinned. "Today, teishi, we're going to start on proper magical combat." When she opened her mouth to object, I added, "Without the stuff built into your transformation. You're going to learn to fight a magical battle without your sailor suit."
She looked dubious. "Really?"
"Really," I answered with a smile. "And like the other stuff I've been teaching you, it'll carry over into your transformed state, so you'll be able to do more than just fling your tiara at the enemy."
Usagi nodded thoughtfully. "Okay," she said. "Where do we start?"
"Good girl. As the great Master Sato once said, 'Never spoil a good day by getting the crap beat out of you.' So just like with the martial arts, we're going to start with defense first," I said.
"Not with falling flat on my face?" she asked with an impish smile.
I laughed. "Not this time, teishi. We're going right to the fighting stuff. Now, you should recall that there are, as I've told you a few times, almost as many ways of using magic as there have been cultures and civilizations to come up with them. 'Will and Word', which I've been teaching you, is just one of them. Now, because each of these systems of magic has a different set of axioms and rules..."
"Sensei?" Usagi raised her hand. "What's an 'axiom'?"
"Ah," I said. "Sorry. An 'axiom' is a basic assumption or belief, assumed to be true because it's self-evident or useful, and which needs no proof." At her still-blank look, I added, "Let me give you a couple examples. 'One plus one equals two' is treated like an axiom in math. 'Murder is evil' is a common axiom for morality. With a set of axioms and a set of rules for using them, you can then express other, more complex, truths in their terms."
She frowned and shook her head. "I'm so stupid sometimes. It sounds like they're like atoms for ideas, but that's too silly when I say it out loud."
I laughed. "You are not stupid, teishi — that's a good, simple way to get the idea across."
Her eyes grew wide. "Really? I understood that right? Wow." Then she tilted her head as her expression grew thoughtful. "You said '1+1=2' is 'treated like' an axiom. Does that mean it isn't one?"
I laughed. "I should have realized you'd catch that. Short answer, yes. Long answer... well, remind me later to tell you about Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell and their book Principia Mathematica, okay?"
"Oooookay," she said dubiously.
I clapped my hands. "Anyway, the reason this is important is because each system of magic has different rules and thus different things that are possible and impossible — and they don't all play well together. You can't come up with a defense in one system that's guaranteed to protect you against magic from all other systems." A sudden look of worry crossed her face, and I suppressed a grin. "...So I'm going to try to teach you to do intentionally what my metatalent does instinctively."
Sunday, April 26, 1992. 8:53 PM.
As the radio played and Luna snoozed on the bed, Usagi slowly and carefully brushed her long, long hair in preparation for going to sleep. Not for the first time she considered a shorter hairstyle — calf-length hair required a lot of care — but she just couldn't bear the thought of looking like every other girl with a "typical" haircut. And if Usagi wanted a unique hairstyle, Mama had said long ago, she would have to do the work to keep it looking good.
It helps that I don't think of it as a chore, otherwise I'd probably whine about it every time, Usagi thought, surprising herself with her self-awareness. But still, it was a lot of work. She was amazed that she didn't have big muscles all over her arms from all the brushing. Then again, training with Doug-sensei was even harder work than brushing her hair, and she didn't have big muscles from that.
Usagi paused. The fact that Doug-sensei was paying for her membership at the Joy Fit still bothered her. While it wasn't the most expensive gym in the ward, it was still a bit pricey. Maybe she should look into other gyms or health clubs and see if there was one that cost less.
Didn't Miss Haruna say something in class yesterday morning about going to a new gym? she thought. I could start with that one.
Satisfied, Usagi nodded to herself and went back to brushing her hair. Yes, she'd do that tomorrow, right after school.
Monday, April 27, 1992. 5:37 PM
"Poppa!" Hotaru cried as he entered the room, and held her arms out to him. He leaned down into her embrace and when they had wrapped their arms around each other lifted her up into the air.
"How's my little firefly?" he murmured into her hair.
"Tired," she whispered. "I've been sleeping all day because I was too tired to do anything else."
"Soon," he crooned to his daughter. "Soon you'll be all better. Even better than better. It won't be long now."
Monday, April 27, 1992. 7:08 PM
"So when I realized he knew where it was, I got the address from Umino, and right after school I went to check it out," Usagi said. "It's called 'Gym Shapely', and it's this big, fancy place with a Jumbotron over the front door."
"A Jumbotron? Really?" I asked.
"Uh-huh!" She nodded vigorously, sending her ponytails swinging. "It was running a video of Rie Gotou — you know, the actress? — doing a workout and advertising free memberships."
"Can't say I'm familiar with her." I hadn't been planning on meeting with Usagi that night, but as I was cleaning up from dinner there was a knock on my door — guess who. Luna was with her, of course, which explained how she found out my address. (I rather doubted this Umino fellow had pictures of me exercising.)
"I went in to check it out," she continued between bites of one of the cookies I'd brought out. "I figured, if it was as nice as Joy Fit, and free, I could save you a little money." She grimaced. "I should have known better."
"Let me guess," I offered. "Enemy operation."
"Yeah." Usagi sighed, then stuffed the cookie into her mouth.
I shook my head. "You have the damnedest luck, teishi."
She made a wordless sound of agreement around her mouthful of cookie. After swallowing, she continued. "The instructor I met gave me the creeps, and then I realized that if he took off the fancy sunglasses which hid a lot of his face, he'd probably look a lot like that Jadeite guy from the radio station. So I got out of there as fast as I could, went home and got Luna, then I headed back as Sailor Moon."
I looked at her over my tea. "And why didn't you call me, teishi?"
"I was only planning on investigating, to make sure I was right first," she huffed, rolling her eyes for a moment. "Except the instructor did turn out to be Jadeite, and he caught me when I found him draining girls of their life energy with these weird pod things in the gym basement."
I raised an eyebrow. "And you got away from him?"
She gave me a sheepish smile. "I didn't have to. There were these three big guys — personal trainers, you know? — and he ordered them to attack me then teleported out."
"They weren't the enemy," Luna interjected over her tea. "Just mind-controlled humans." I acknowledged her with a nod.
"For a moment I wanted to run away," Usagi admitted, "but then I saw how they were moving and I realized, as big as they were, they didn't know anything about fighting. They didn't even coordinate their attacks, they just came at me one at a time." She snorted in adorable disgust. "I let them try to hit me, and when they were off-balance I took them down. And when they tried to get up and keep coming, I washed the walls with their faces for a couple of minutes." She smirked. "They didn't feel like coming after me after that."
I laughed. "That happens. Some folks just don't have any stick-to-itiveness." I sipped my tea, then added, "Well, that was better than I was fearing for a minute there. Good job."
She immediately sat up straighter and smiled brilliantly. "Thank you, sensei!"
"Now," I added, putting my teacup down, "I'd like to get a look at those pods."
"I don't understand it," Usagi, now turned back into Sailor Moon, cried. "It was a big, brand-new building this afternoon!"
"She's not mistaken," Luna said from around our ankles. "This is the exact address we went to."
"This", as it turned out, was (now, at least) a run-down, vacant storefront, with "for sale or lease" signs in its grimy windows. I shook my head. "Well, that's not what it is now." I turned back to her. "Try switching to magesight, teishi, and tell me what you see."
She bit her lip, then concentrated. A moment later her eyes went slightly unfocused in the tell-tale sign of a magic-user looking at a different level of reality. I quickly slipped into magesight myself.
"There's kind of an outline of the gym there, sensei," she said after a moment, describing the very thing I was seeing. "Like a pencil drawing in pale blue lines over the shop. Does that make sense?"
"Perfect sense, teishi," I replied. "What you're seeing are the fading traces of an illusion so powerful that it was almost a conjuration. We're not going to find those pods now, they're long gone." I came back out of magesight. "Let's call it a night."
"Okay," she said, then hesitated.
"Teishi?" I said.
Usagi glanced back at the storefront that had been a gym, then at me again. "Sensei, I'm not fat, am I?"
Where the hell had that come from? I gave her my best "Whatchu talkin' 'bout, Willis?" look. "Are you kidding me, teishi? You're nowhere near fat. If anything, you might be a touch on the skinny side, but our training will fix that. Who told you that you were fat?"
She grimaced. "My little brother was teasing me this morning, and I got worried."
I scruffled her hair, right between the red ornaments. "Teishi, one of the constants of the universe is that younger siblings exist to torment their older siblings. Get worried when he doesn't tease you." I turned back to my bike. "C'mon, let's get you home before your folks notice you're out of the house."
She looked up at me. "No debrief at the Hard Rock Cafe tonight?" she asked pleadingly.
I laughed, knowing what she was really asking for. "Okay, if you want."
"Jitsuha-san? This is Murata Yumi at the Hard Rock Cafe again. They came back."
Beryl's Palace, The Dark Kingdom
"My queen." Jadeite bowed, savoring how pain-free the movement was. In his right hand he held the pulsing ball of life energy acquired in his most recent operation in the human world.
"Rise, Jadeite," Beryl commanded, and he straightened to catch a glimpse of a fond smile on her lips. "It pleases us to see that you have recovered entirely from your recent injuries."
"All thanks to your majesty's generosity and care," he replied. "And may I return your generosity with energy to both widen the passage back to Earth, and to help awaken the great Metaria." He held out the ball of energy.
Beryl smiled and made a gesture; the energy was siphoned away through her scepter, from which she would later feed it to the sleeping creature. "We thank you, General Jadeite. Will this operation of yours continue to provide us with such a plentiful bounty?"
She knew from the change in the cast of his face what the answer would be before he said it. "I regret to inform your Majesty that the enemy child Sailor Moon discovered it," he replied with downcast eyes, "and I felt it was wiser to retreat with what my transformed youma had already gathered than risk its loss, as has happened in our previous encounters with the girl." He looked up with that little smirk that always stirred her heart so. "In truth, Majesty, we lost only a physical location which itself cost us nothing. I left my mind-controlled human minions to fight the girl, and when she departed afterward, confident in her victory over us, I returned and retrieved our transformed youma, who can now be redeployed at need." The smirk grew. "All in all, a very successful operation, however briefly it lasted."
"Indeed," Beryl murmured as she assessed the retrieved energy. It was nowhere near enough to awaken Metaria outright, but it would make a visible difference in its empowerment. "And what will be your next operation, my general?"
"It depends on circumstances, Majesty. I have nearly a score of youma at work implementing different plans in different states of preparation; when I return to Earth I will review them all, and activate one which is ready and different in focus from this last one." He smirked again. "It would not do to attract attention by repeating ourselves, would it?"
Beryl allowed herself a small chuckle. "No, it would not. Go then, my general, and see to your next plan. We thank you for your diligence and look forward to your next report."
Jadeite bowed deeply. "As you will, your Majesty," he intoned, then vanished from the room, leaving Beryl to muse upon their good luck that the War Wizard was apparently still too injured to have made an appearance.
Tuesday, April 28, 1992, 4:00 PM. Minamiazabu 3 Chome, Tokyo.
Shutting the door of her apartment behind her, Kino Makoto carefully set her bookbag down on the bench in the small entry. On top of it she laid the bundle of mail that she had retrieved from her mailbox, carefully not looking at it yet. She pulled off her loafers and stepped into her slippers, then picked up the mail and stepped into the apartment proper.
A careless toss deposited the pile of mail on the low table in the center of the room as she crossed to the curtains that lined the opposite wall. A quick tug on the cord at one end drew them back to reveal the sliding glass doors to her balcony, beyond which she could see the overcast sky and, in the distance beyond the buildings across the street, the nearby elementary school. The fingertips of her right hand lightly touching the glass, Makoto studied the grey clouds and gentle sway of the trees surrounding the school's athletic field.
As far as first days at a new school went, it hadn't been as bad as it could have been. But it wasn't as good as it could have been, either.
It never was.
At least Prince Arisugawa Park was practically across the street from her new school. It made up a little for being an outcast. Again. How was it her reputation always seemed to reach the other students before she even got to a new school?
She sighed softly and turned back to the room. As she had every day since moving in, she couldn't help but think the Western-style apartment, with its several rooms and separate kitchen, was far too large and luxurious for a single middle-school girl. She still couldn't decide whether it was intended as a bribe to keep her in Tokyo, or as a deliberate guilt trip to emphasize just how much supporting her cost. Then again, it might just have been a status thing, the least they would accept, regardless of how they felt about her. No matter what the reason, her offer to take a much smaller apartment had been dismissed curtly and without discussion, leaving her with no clue either way.
She snorted. Knowing them, it was probably all three at once.
Finally, having put it off for as long as she could, Makoto picked up the mail and sorted through it. As she had both expected and dreaded, among the bills and advertisements there was a familiar crisp, cream-colored linen-paper envelope with a Sapporo postmark and an embossed return address, just like she received every month like clockwork. Her name and address were neatly typed instead of handwritten, as usual.
Makoto closed her eyes and drew a deep breath before opening them again and reaching for the letter-opener.
Granddaughter, the exquisitely formal, typed letter within read, We are displeased to learn from the Tokyo branch of our law firm that you have been required to change schools yet again. We have expressed our concern about your behavior in the past and are not happy to need once more to address the issue with you.
"So what else is new?" Makoto muttered under her breath.
Sadly, it appears that this bears repeating: Your propensity towards inflicting violence upon your classmates is not only unacceptable from a young lady of our social standing, it is also actively damaging your prospects in both schooling and a career. You have nearly exhausted the better schools in Minato ward, and our representatives have determined that your reputation as a delinquent is already spreading to those few remaining schools which might be approached to matriculate you should you be required to leave Azabu Junior High School.
She grimaced. "Like I need a fancy school for what I want to do with my life."
Be warned that in that case, we will no longer be making the effort and expenditure to move you to a location where you can still find better prospects. Instead, we have decided that you will remain where you are and transfer to a school of lesser quality than we have found for you in the past. And if you still will not moderate your behavior, we see no purpose in trying further to provide the kind of opportunities that we have heretofore seen fit to make available to you, and will allow you to sink to the level appropriate to the offspring of our late son's unfortunate choice of wife.
The sheet of expensive paper made a sudden crunching sound as her fist tightened around it and crushed its right half into a creased wad. A moment later Makoto un-grit her teeth. With a deliberate slowness and care, she opened her fist and tried, not entirely successfully, to flatten the crushed letter again.
Similarly, should you fail to perform even adequately, we will be forced to rescind the privilege of living alone in Tokyo that you currently enjoy, and will have you placed with a family who will be eminently suited to handling — and correcting — your behavior. And while we cannot take control of the financial windfall you gained from the deaths of our son and his wife without more official attention than we care to attract, we will, if necessary, remove from you the benefit of the clan name and support.
Expel me from the clan, they mean, she thought. Like the clan's ever really done anything but exile me to the other end of Japan to keep me from reminding them every day of the "shame" of my parents.
We trust you will take these warnings to heart, and give us no further reason to regret taking responsibility for you in the wake of your parents' deaths.
It was signed with the neatly typed names of her father's parents, as usual. No signatures. No affectionate diminutives. No honorifics beyond the most remote, formal and perfunctory. Not even a "Sincerely" above their names, which even the most formal of business correspondence would have. The letter was deliberately devoid of anything that might suggest they had any feelings for her above grudging tolerance of her mere existence.
Makoto wadded up the letter again, crushing it into a tiny ball, and carried it into the kitchen, where she stomped on the pedal that opened the trash bin and hurled the wad of paper into it with all the force she could muster — just as she had every other letter from her grandparents since her exile began. If she could get through a semester at a school without a fight, she'd happily do so. But that wasn't up to her. She didn't start the fights.
But she always made sure to end them.
Still, she mused as the lid slammed down, if she just had some friends in the area — real friends — it would be easier to cope with it all.
Maybe she should give Shinozaki a call.
Wednesday, April 29, 1992, 1:10 PM. Shirokane 3 Chome, Tokyo.
Shutting the door of her new apartment behind her, Kegon paused and smiled as she looked about. This empty space was to be her base of operations for as long as General Nephrite needed her in the human world. According to the rental agent it was supposed to be "small", but it was larger than the cave in which she and the rest of her clutch had been raised — and it was all for her!
Letting her fingers trail along the walls, she slowly walked around the perimeter of the chamber that served as both sleeping and living space, then followed it through the food preparation zone and into the personal care area. This last was the only truly separate space from the rest of the apartment, and as she entered she toggled the wall-mounted lever which ignited the illumination globes. (Flipped the switch and turned on the lights, she reminded herself. I need to stay in character.)
Pausing in the bathroom she studied that character in a mirror that so exceeded the polished metal sheets she was used to that she could barely believe it. The human face staring out at her from its surface had a name — Tanaka Kigoko — that she was still growing used to. Kegon — no, Kigoko — made faces at herself in the mirror, looking for flaws in the illusion and seeing none. She nodded once, watching the human nod back, and abruptly spun on her heel.
Back in the large room, she started making a mental list of the furnishings she needed in order to maintain her cover by properly living as a human. This was so much harder than just wearing a human face and stealing energy would be, she mused. But she had had her orders — draw no attention to herself.
She swore to herself that the illusion of a human's home would be as perfect as the illusion of a human's face that she wore.
Thursday, April 30, 1992, 6:30 PM.
There was a faint hint of something floral wafting through the air of the Tsukino home when I showed up for the evening's tutoring session. "That's a very pleasant scent," I commented after slowly inhaling and filling my lungs with the fragrance. "I don't see any flower arrangements," I went on. "What is it?"
"Oh," Ikuko looked momentarily surprised. "That's not flowers, it's Shingo's new pet."
I raised an eyebrow. "New pet?"
"Oh, yes," she said, nodding. "He just got a chanela."
A what? "I don't think I've ever seen a chanela," I replied carefully as we walked into the dining room. Usagi was waiting for me at the table, humming a snatch of something familiar to herself, with books, papers and pencils at the ready.
"Hi, sensei!" she said, visibly brightening.
"Good evening, teishi." I made a tiny "wait a moment" gesture behind her mother's back and she nodded infinitesimally at me.
"You haven't?" Ikuko continued as though Usagi hadn't said anything. "Shingo!" she called out. "Come show Sangnoir-sensei your new pet!"
I heard a lackluster "Okay" from upstairs, and a minute later Usagi's little brother dragged himself lethargically into the room. He held in his hands what looked like a candy-colored angora rabbit with large pupil-less red eyes. I was just about to comment on it when those eyes lit up and a psionic attack smacked ineffectually into the mental shields Psyche spent two years drilling into me. It didn't react to its failure, oddly; its eyes lost their glow and the pink-furred thing continued to sit placidly in the boy's hands.
I took a quick look at it with magesight and somehow wasn't surprised to see that it wasn't a living creature but a magical construct. Ooooo-kay then. Time for a quick change of plans. "It's adorable," I said with absolutely no sincerity. "Where did you get it?"
"Pet Shop Perfume," Shingo replied listlessly. "They're the only ones selling them."
"I'm going to have to go check them out," I replied, this time with complete honesty. "However, this is the night that Usagi and I are supposed to go to the library."
"It is?" Over at the dining room table, Usagi caught herself and continued, almost seamlessly, "Oh, of course it is! I'm such a dummy for forgetting."
"You're not a dummy, teishi," I replied automatically, glancing over at her. "Don't ever let anyone tell you that." She shoveled her books and papers into a pile, thrust the pile into her bookbag, then practically teleported to my side as I bowed to her mother. "Ikuko-san, a pleasure as always. Please give Kenji-san my best wishes."
"Of course, Doug-san," she tittered as Shingo shambled out of the dining room. "You two have a good time at the library now," she added as she led us to the front door.
I paused just at the threshold. "We shouldn't be more than a couple of hours. If we're going to be longer — say, because I get an uncontrollable urge for ice cream..." Next to me, Usagi stifled a giggle. "...I'll be sure to call."
A moment later we were on the front step, the door closing behind us, and Usagi's little smile vanished. "Sensei?" she asked.
I hopped down the steps and strode over to my motorcycle, and Usagi half-ran to keep up with me. "Your brother's pet is a magical construct, and as soon as it saw me it tried to hit me with some kind of mind control." I opened the rear pannier and took out my helmet and a second one for Usagi. "Pop your bookbag in here." I gestured to the open pannier.
Her eyes widened comically when she looked in and realized she couldn't see a bottom. Or sides. "That's..."
I smiled. "Don't worry, it won't get lost."
I'll give her this, once she had my reassurance she didn't hesitate. In went the bookbag, and I shut and locked the lid. "Are we going to the pet shop?" she asked a moment later as she settled in on the saddle behind me.
"Eventually," I replied. "But first we're going someplace where we can both change into our work clothes." I looked back over my shoulder at the black cat who had appeared on top of the wall surrounding the Tsukinos' yard. "You coming, Luna?"
"Of course," she replied as she leaped down, then hopped onto the only open space left, the bit of saddle between me and the bike's dashboard.
"Then we're off," I said, and started up the turbine.
Long story short, the pet shop had nothing but chanelas and a couple lizardish female demon-things running it. I'd hoped to study one of the chanelas to get an idea just what they were trying to drain, but the demon-things cottoned on to us almost immediately and attacked. We beat them up, of course. Then Usagi delivered a stylish double coup-de-grace, turning them and all the devilbunnies into quickly vanishing dust. Afterwards, we indulged the sudden urge for ice cream about which I'd warned Ikuko and had both snacks and another after-action debrief at the Hard Rock. By the time I got Usagi back home, her family had already forgotten that Shingo had even had a new pet.
It's so nice to have an enemy that cleans up after itself.
Now my only remaining concern was whether Shingo's critter was a coincidence, or evidence that the enemy suspected that Usagi was Sailor Moon. After our good friend 0091 found her so easily, I was just a touch paranoid on that front.
The Dark Kingdom
Jadeite studied the energy accumulator, barely glowing in the palm of his hand, and frowned. The War Wizard had re-emerged, fully healed, from hiding. Worse, he and his apprentice had uncovered and destroyed Iguana's operation less than 36 hours after it had gone live.
How did that cursed mage find it so quickly? Jadeite wondered if there was a turncoat among his youma feeding the human intelligence, but immediately dismissed the idea. Sympathy for any outside of their clutches was alien to the youma mind — and that little was solely to permit the members of a litter to grow to maturity without murdering each other. The youma had been created as killing machines to destroy the Moon Kingdom, and despite ten thousand years of bloody culling and training that was still all they were.
He regarded the accumulator once more. Her Majesty would not be pleased with the poor harvest this time. Then again, since his recovery from the battle with the War Wizard, the Queen had been oddly indulgent and even — dare he say — protective of him. Perhaps it would not be fatal to report failure.
Friday, May 1, 1992, 7:14 AM
Minako finished the article, then set the morning edition of the Asahi Shimbun aside. "So, Artemis... what do you know about this 'Sailor Moon' and the grey-suited man of Missouri who helps her?"
Artemis sighed. "That's 'mystery", Mina-chan."
Friday, May 1, 1992, 3:47 PM
"Naru, you've got to hear this! It's like the jazz that you like, but it isn't like it at all!"
"Usagi, you aren't making sense."
"Just listen!" It took Usagi a minute to show Naru how to use the earbuds; then she pressed play.
Almost seven minutes later, Naru looked up from where she had been focused on the music. "What was that?"
"The group's called 'Opium Moon' and they call that 'Caravan'."
"So strange, but I think I like it. Where did you find it?"
"My tutor loaned it to me."
Friday, May 1, 1992, 8:43 PM.
The day after our pet shop adventure, I spent my time at work split evenly between worrying about my current project, and worrying about Usagi. After her second encounter with Jadeite earlier in the week, it had become patently obvious that I needed to up the ante on my student's training so she could better face the monsters' boss (or sub-boss, at least) on her own, if necessary.
There was no guarantee that he didn't have stronger minions than we'd seen so far, either. She needed to be ready for that eventuality as well.
The problem was, to get her to that level I needed much more time than we had. Especially if we continued to stumble over enemy operations twice a week. So I was going to do what I did best.
I was going to cheat using magic.
It was possible to accelerate someone's training using magic. I'd seen it done — and if someone else could do it, I could, too. I just had to find the right song or songs.
Once I got home, I spent my evening going through all the untried songs in my helmet. What I was looking for was anything that would provide accelerated training, preferably in any subject I chose, but at the very least in basic combat skills. That, or outright permanent physical enhancement. Fortunately, I already had a couple of candidates, including one song from a Disney film which had come out just before I'd been ejected from Homeline.
Yeah, let's start with that one. "System. Display lyrics and metadata for 'I'll Make a Man Out of You'."
I glanced through the words of the song as they floated in my HUD. Let's get down to business/To defeat the Huns... I nodded to myself and then paged down into the metadata to check my notes. Yeah, I'd remembered this right. I'd gotten the sense I could use it as a kind of high-speed "boot camp" effect, and all these decades later, it came across that way even more strongly.
Just what we needed.
Before I'd been ejected from Homeline, my original plan had been to confirm that it did what I'd thought it would, and then give Gracie, Ruth and Nina first shot at trying it. Too bad, girls, now Usagi is going to get the benefits of this song before you do.
There were a few others. Vienna Teng's "Level Up" might work, although it would be a bit of a stretch despite the title. Maybe Barns Courtney's "Champion". Oh, and definitely the Alive Radio Edit 2007 version of "Harder Better Faster Stronger" by Daft Punk.
Oh yeah, tomorrow's training was definitely going to be Bootcamp for Bunny.
Saturday, May 2, 1992, 3:37 PM.
The song ended and Usagi, who had been sitting on the floor per my advice four minutes earlier, suddenly collapsed bonelessly to lay flat on her back on the foam rubber pad beneath her. "What was that?' she demanded between wheezing breaths.
I was tired, too, but I did my best not to show it. "That, teishi, was Warriors basic training."
"Basic training?" she asked, staring up at the ceiling of our usual room at the Joy Fit. "It sucks."
I laughed, and so did Luna. I'd used "I'll Play For You" to focus the effect solely on Usagi, since I didn't want to expose everyone else within 33 meters to three virtual months of magical boot camp, and so Luna had contented herself with watching us during the three minutes and twenty-two seconds we were both silent and immobile.
"Even in the Silver Millennium basic training for the Moon's military had a reputation for being grueling, and it was easily the most disliked part of any service," she commented. "Be glad you got it all over with in one afternoon this time."
"You speaking from experience, Lu?" I asked.
She rolled her eyes at the diminutive. "I didn't leap directly into the upper echelons of the Moon Kingdom's military from nowhere," she said smugly.
"It didn't feel like one afternoon!" Usagi whined, ignoring the byplay between us. "It went on and on and on and it was awful." She paused, and with a confused frown on her face, pushed herself up to a sitting position, propped up with her arms behind her. "This time?"
Luna shared a quick look with me, then said, "Of course. You were a royal guardian in your previous life; every guardian went through rigorous and exhausting training." They may have, but if we were right and Usagi had actually been the Princess and not one of her guard, well, this had been a new experience for her in two lives, not just one.
That said, it was time to work with that experience.
"Okay, teishi, up, up!" I barked, clapping my hands once. "That three months of physical training you just got? It's use it or lose it — if you don't spend the next week or so physically reinforcing what you just acquired magically, it's all going to go away, and I will be annoyed at having wasted our time. And you know what I'm like when I'm annoyed..." I contorted my face into a mock grimace of anger at her.
Usagi couldn't help herself. She giggled as she crawled to her feet. "My sensei is a great big bully, Luna. He threatens me and overworks me terribly," she moaned melodramatically.
Luna tilted her head at her charge, unimpressed. "My heart bleeds for you, Usagi," she replied, absolutely deadpan.
My student giggled again as she took her usual "ready" position.
Saturday May 2, 1992, 7:51 PM
Luna thanked the server for the cup of coffee, waited for her to return to the front of the near-empty cafe, and then opened the large manila envelope that Doug had given her at Usagi's training session that afternoon. The size and thickness of it had momentarily surprised her, but given what she'd required, she realized, it was only to be expected.
As her coffee cooled a bit, she reached in and pulled out the first thing that fell into her fingers — a set of three thumb-sized cases bound together by a band of some elastic material. A small piece of yellow paper filled with writing was stuck to them; she tugged experimentally at it and it popped off after a token resistance. On it was written, "These are your new personal seals. Ask Usagi which one you use for what — it's a little complicated. Basically, you have one for day-to-day stuff, one for banking, and one for big official paperwork. Don't lose them! — Doug".
Luna raised an eyebrow at that. She shook the three cases, getting a set of muted rattles, then studied them for a long moment before deciding to examine their contents later. Setting them aside, she reached in for the next item to present itself, a flat, hard, palm-sized something. It was a bright red booklet with stiff covers — a ten-year Japanese passport for "Mauno Luna", born March 15, 1970 in Tokyo, about halfway to its expiration if she correctly remembered how the modern calendar ran. Unexpectedly, it was slightly worn around the edges and had several visa stamps in it, including two for the United States, one for South Korea, and two for Finland.
She furrowed her brow at that last. Only her daily reading in the public library since her arrival in this era gave her a clue what those places were, but that was enough for her to know just how far away Finland was from Japan. So why two visits in her recent (if fictitious) past?
Another small yellow note attached to the first page marked where she needed to sign it next to one of the photos she'd given Doug. That raised a question in her mind for the first time — she could read Japanese, thanks to Her Majesty's spellwork, but could she write it? Best to practice before she put a signature on anything.
Placing the passport with the seals, she reached back into the envelope and felt several loose cards. Rather than gather them up, she simply tipped the envelope on end and let them slide out into her hand. Putting down the envelope, she spread them out on the table before her.
Several were unfamiliar in appearance, but she knew what they were almost immediately. She smiled — some things never changed. The financial institutions of the Solar System in the Silver Millennium had settled on a similar form factor for their debit and credit tokens, although no doubt the specifics of their function were different in the current era. She would have to ask Doug-san for more information before she tried to use them. And if he had "pooled" more financial resources for her benefit — well, she would just have to repay him at some point.
One card was... she studied it closer. It appeared to be some manner of vehicle operation permit for "Mauno Luna", with another of her photos and the address of the Tsukino home below the name. Luna frowned at that detail before studying the rest of the text on the card. It had an issue date not quite a year earlier, and an expiration date some two years hence on a blue background that stood out from the rest of the card.
She would have to talk to Doug-san and see what a... she glanced at the card again. What a "class 1 ordinary" vehicle was. And how to operate one.
The next two cards certified her membership in various national insurance plans — one for health, another for a pension. When she realized what they were, she was struck by a pang of guilt. Although it was unlikely that she'd ever have to collect on the pension, and if she did, she'd no doubt have contributed quite a lot to it by the time she needed it, the health insurance was another thing entirely. She hadn't earned any of the benefits it offered. Not yet, at least.
She'd just have to avoid using it until she felt she'd paid in her fair share.
Luna smiled when the next card turned out to be a membership at the Joy Fit. It'd be a pleasant change to walk into the gym alongside Usagi instead of being smuggled in inside a handbag.
There were a few other membership cards rounding out the collection including a couple of video rental shops near the Tsukino home; Luna chuckled as she imagined how much use they would get if Usagi learned of them.
She collected up the cards into a stack and set them with the passport and seals before picking up the envelope again. A thickish sheaf of papers remained in it, and she drew it out. It had more of those adhesive tabs noting required signatures sticking out from both the left and right sides, and the whole thing was held together with an ingenious little clip made from a loop of stiff wire, which she fumbled off before paging through the stack. At the top of the pile were several pages of printed text that appeared to be a biography of her new identity. She put it to one side for later study and memorization, and flipped through the remaining sheets.
Just beneath the biography were several years' worth of income tax returns, a high school diploma dated 1987 from Tokyo Metropolitan Kokusai High School, and a college diploma dated 1991 declaring she had a "bachelor of arts" degree in Politics from Tokyo Metropolitan University. Another thing to ask Doug about — what did "summa cum laude" mean?
Next in the stack was a legal document recording her "birth", and she studied it with interest. Mauno Luna, with a birth date matching the passport (she would have been rather upset with whomever had manufactured these papers if it hadn't), born at St. Luke's International Hospital in the Tsukiji district of Chuo ward. Mother's name, Mauno Taigami. "Beautiful tiger"? She suddenly wondered how much input Doug had had on her new identity's details, before turning her attention back to the document. Father's name... she raised an eyebrow. Lennert Mauno. Even with the minimal knowledge her Queen's spell had imparted, she knew that was not a Japanese name.
She put down the document and picked up the biography again, scanning it for the Roman characters. There. Lennert Mauno, naturalized Japanese citizen born in ... Well. That explained the visa stamps in the passport. "She" had obviously visited her "father"'s family in Finland twice in the past few years.
She scanned down the page. Her fictitious self was an only child, and conveniently an orphan. Her "father" had been killed in an automobile accident when "she" had been five years old. And her "mother" had died from cancer only two years ago.
Luna looked up suddenly and tried to remember any details about her real parents. She squeezed her eyes tight against the sting of tears when she realized she could once again remember nothing.
She sat there, eyes shut, for far too long, only risking opening them again when she heard the server approach.
She would have to look through the rest of the paperwork later.
What I didn't tell Luna when I gave her the packet of identity papers is that when I went to pick them up, my Minato-kai contact gave me back half the fee. And bowed to me.
"The Minato-kai are aware of the war you and the esteemed young ladies are fighting on behalf of the people, Sangnoir-taisa, a war against forces that are beyond our ability to defeat," he said. "You and they have the greatest thanks of the ninkyo dantai of Tokyo and hope that you will consider us friends and allies. If for any reason you need aid of any kind in your campaign, the Minato-kai will give it without hesitation."
As I bowed and thanked him in return, all I could think was, how the hell am I going to explain this?
Sunday, May 3, 1992. 8:42 PM
As Luna dozed on her bed, Usagi carefully picked up her hairbrush and held it as gently as she could as she began brushing her hair. Doug-sensei had told her that the changes his magic had made in her today weren't going to make her super-strong or super-fast or super-anything — they'd just make her the best a 13-year-old girl could possibly be. Which was still stronger, faster, and tougher than she'd ever been before, even after "boot camp". It only made sense to be careful with things until she got used to how she was now.
She was still clumsy, darn it, but she handled the breakfalls even better than she could before.
As she brushed out her hair, she found herself softly singing the song that sensei had started with, and which had made the most changes in her:
Work it harder
Make it better
Do it faster
Makes us stronger>"
It'd been hard to make out the English words with the singers' voices made so weird by all the electronic stuff they used, but after a little while it got easier and by the end of the song she'd actually sort of memorized them. Not that there were a lot but it was still kind of neat to know and sing a song that was entirely in English. It helped that they were all simple words that she remembered from class and sensei's tutoring, but still, she didn't normally pick things up that fast.
Did the song make her smarter, too? Usagi stopped brushing her hair and stared at herself in the mirror. She didn't feel any smarter and she certainly didn't look any smarter. And the song hadn't said anything about being smarter. But smarter was "better", right? She shrugged and finished brushing her hair.
When she was done Usagi twirled the brush through her fingers, letting it dance along her knuckles and roll through the spaces between them. She smiled delightedly — if she had tried this just the day before she'd have dropped the brush almost immediately. Today, though... the brush spun and twirled and wove between her fingers until it was a blur, and kept doing it until she chose to stop and put it back on her dresser instead of watching it fly across the room to clatter against the wall or floor.
Impulsively, she held her hand out over the brush, focused her will, and said, "<Up!>" The brush obediently leapt up into her hand, and she closed her fingers around the handle before the spell ended and it fell. Another thing that Doug-sensei had done for her. If only she could do more with it...
Then she reconsidered. They were being very slow and careful in how much magic she learned. And she knew why. When he'd started teaching her Will and Word, she'd asked Doug-sensei why he had her use English instead of Japanese. He'd said, "So it's harder to use magic by accident."
"Harder?" she'd asked, and sensei nodded.
"When your English gets better, we'll want to change the language you use, but until then... well, it's what you're already learning, which makes it better than teaching you Sanskrit or Latin," he'd replied. "For now, though, it's unfamiliar enough to you that you have to stop and think about what you're doing, which is incredibly important at this stage of your training. You have a lot of power, teishi, even without your sailor suit, and this way you won't get careless with it while you're still learning how to control it."
"Oooooh," Usagi'd said, comprehending, before asking, "I have a lot of power?"
He'd snorted. "I know I've told you this before, teishi, but yeah, quite a bit more than I do. And it's so very important that you learn to understand and control it, because if you don't, it will control you." He dropped into a sloppy seiza on the mat and patted the floor in front of him. Obediently, Usagi dropped to sit facing him.
He seemed to think a moment, and then he'd said, "Power of any kind is a terrible thing, teishi. It can turn the weak into bullies and an innocent into a tyrant if it is not understood and used sparingly. There is a responsibility that must be acknowledged by those who gain power on the scale you and I possess — a responsibility to know when and when not to use our power — and how. Always be wary of using too much, because there is always a way to solve any problem that is simple and easy and massive overkill, and which will have so many unexpected side effects that they will swamp out any good you intended to do. In anything but the defeat of your enemies, always use the lightest touch and the least power necessary, because there is a great difference between a drinking fountain and a fire hose."
She'd giggled at the image that suggested before stopping and thinking of what it meant. If she didn't sip her magic slowly, it would throw her across the room and into the wall.
She'd come back out of her musings to spy a sad smile on sensei's face. "And yes, I know I am a hypocrite where this is concerned," he'd added then. "But for many uses of my own power, I have no chance to be subtle or learn subtlety."
She bit her lip and nodded, then leaned forward in a seated bow. "I think I understand, sensei."
"Good," he'd said, and reached out to try (and fail) to muss the hair between her ponytails like he always did. "Besides, while you're also lucky as hell, luck and overwhelming power will only take you so far if you don't know how to apply them right."
Usagi emerged from the memory and nodded to herself. This was one time it was better to be too slow than to be too fast. She glanced back at Luna, then returned to brushing her hair.
Monday, May 4, 1992. 3:20 PM.
"It's so nice to have Ms. Haruna back in class," Usagi said as she and Naru put their outside shoes on. She pressed back against the lockers as a couple of boys in gis rushed by on their way to the Martial Arts club, then slipped into her street shoes after they passed.
"Yeah, I know." Naru bent down to gather up her uwabaki. "The substitute was okay but I like Ms. Haruna better." She straightened back up. "And doesn't she look so svelte and shapely now?"
Usagi turned back to the lockers to hide a grimace. According to Doug-sensei, Ms. Haruna had spent the best part of the last week in the hospital recovering from starvation. She still looked a little unhealthy, in Usagi's opinion. "Yeah," she said without enthusiasm. "Shapely."
Another gi-clad boy dashed by, and as Usagi watched him go an idea occurred to her. "Naru," she said as she toed off her outside shoes again, "I just remembered something I need to do, can you go on home without me?"
"Sure," Naru said, studying her curiously. "What did you remember, Usagi?"
"I'll let you know if it works out," she replied absently as she put her outside shoes back in her locker and slipped her uwabaki on again. They were decorated with little bunny faces, and for a moment she got lost in admiring her handiwork.
"'K, bye then," Naru said, startling her out of her reverie, as she took off, bookbag in hand.
"Bye!" Usagi called back, before turning and following in the path of the boys in gis.
Shujuku Daisuke watched impassively as the last few members of the Martial Arts club hurried in and took their places in the line at the edge of the mats. He noted who was last and made a mental note to give them some "special attention" during the session. Martial arts were about discipline, and it showed poor discipline to rush in out of breath at the very last moment.
"That's everyone," his second, Kaizoe Toshihiro, said from where he stood to the right and slightly behind Daisuke.
"Right," Daisuke grunted, then gave the club a stern looking-over. But before he could address them, he heard a tentative "Excuse me?" from the door.
There was a girl peering in around the door frame. It was that blonde — the ditzy one with the long ponytails who was always the last one in the gate in the morning, but who threw like a demon on the Ultimate Frisbee team. He couldn't remember her name. "Can I help you?" Daisuke asked gruffly.
"Um, yeah, I think so." She stepped fully into the room, and bowed. "Tsukino Usagi," she introduced herself, then stood, feet together, rocking nervously forward and back as she held her bookbag before her in both hands. "I know it's a little late, but I was wondering if I could join the club?"
Daisuke and Toshihiro traded glances. "Do you know any martial arts?" Toshihiro asked the girl.
She nodded once, briskly. "Some."
"What style?" he pressed.
She let go of the bookbag with one hand to rub the back of her neck. "Um, I've been taking private lessons for the last few weeks, and sensei doesn't really focus on any one style."
Daisuke raised an eyebrow. Private lessons? Interesting.
"Your sensei won't be upset that you want to join the club?" Toshihiro asked.
"Oh no!" she said brightly. "Sensei says, 'learn from everyone you can — there's no one who can't teach you something useful'." She gave them a hopeful smile.
"Whaddaya think?" Toshihiro asked in a low whisper.
Daisuke shrugged. "Eh. Give her a chance. If she's no good, we tell her to come back next year, like everyone else. Okay, Tsukino-kun," he raised his voice, "I'm club president Shujuku. To join the club, you gotta, what d'ya call it... audition. You'll spar with one of us and if vice president Kaizoe here and I think you're good enough, you can join."
The hopeful smile transformed into a brilliant one. "Thank you, Shujuku-sempai!" She bowed deeply, then set her bookbag against the base of the wall next to her and pulled off her uwabaki. As she was about to step onto the mat, she paused. "Do you have a spare gi I could use? Sensei says, 'If you can't fight in the clothes you wear every day, you can't fight', but my mother will be upset if I mess up my uniform."
Daisuke raised an eyebrow again at the aphorism. Huh. "Not a problem." He turned to the other club members. "Someone get her a gi. And safety gear."
As Tsukino ran off to change, Daisuke motioned Kinzoku to the center of the mat. "Sempai?" he asked.
"You're best in the club after me and Toshi. I want you to take her through a few basics, see if she really knows anything," Daisuke told him.
Kinzoku nodded once. "Got it."
"Oh, and Kinzoku?" Daisuke added. "Try not to hurt her if she's not as good as she thinks she is."
Kinzoku snorted. "I'm no animal." He stepped off the mat to put on his own protective padding.
When Tsukino returned a few minutes later (tripping on the edge of the mat to Daisuke's private amusement), the pair faced off in the center, then bowed to each other. He stood to one side to act as referee while Toshihiro took his usual place behind and to one side, clipboard in hand.
Daisuke barked, "Begin!"
For a girl who claimed to have only been taking lessons for a few weeks, she was good. Uneven, but good — she was far better at defense than offense, avoiding and deflecting Kinzoku's punches and kicks with a surprising grace and ease, but launching few attacks of her own. Then again, if she was as new to martial arts as she claimed, that made sense — her sensei would no doubt be focusing more on defensive moves and tactics, maybe even exclusively so depending on the Art.
And just which Art it was, well, that was an interesting puzzle. Daisuke had studied Shotokan karate, but he knew several other styles and arts by sight. It seemed that whatever Tsukino-kun had been taught had elements of Shito-ryu and Wado-ryu, at least as far as her defenses were concerned, but her few attacks looked like they had their roots in Krav Maga or Wing Chun kung fu. And, he amended as she snapped out a kick, maybe just a bit of taekwondo? He wasn't sure. Daisuke could tell the unorthodox and eclectic combination was giving Kinzoku a little trouble, but he wasn't letting it get to him, instead slowly raising the level of the spar to see how Tsukino-kun would respond.
"She's actually not too bad," Toshi said softly, stepping up to his side, and Daisuke nodded without taking his eyes off the sparring pair.
"Weak on attack but pretty good on defense," he said. "And for someone who's only been training a few weeks? She's doing damn good. I want to meet this sensei of hers." He watched silently for several seconds. "I think that whatever he's teaching her, it's a combat style, not a sports style," he added.
"A combat style?" Toshi whispered after a moment. "You sure?"
"Hell no," Daisuke chuckled as Kinzoku just barely avoided one of the girl's few punches. "But the way she moves makes me think so."
"So," Toshi said after a couple seconds. "She's in?"
Daisuke snorted. "Yeah. She's in. Okay, that's enough," he called out loudly, clapping his hands. Kinzoku and Tsukino disengaged, stepped backwards, and bowed to each other again. Then Tsukino pulled off her head protector and turned to him, her eyes bright and her smile brighter. Her breathing was a bit heavy but she showed no signs of fatigue.
"That was fun," she declared. "How'd I do, Shujuku-sempai?"
He laughed at her enthusiasm. "Okay, Tsukino-kun, you've impressed us. Welcome to the club."
"Yatta!" she squealed in ear-piercing tones and bounced up and down on the mat, which did things to her modest bustline that Daisuke decided that he enjoyed watching. She abruptly stopped and bowed to them. "Thank you, sempai!"
Daisuke and Toshihiro both returned the bow. "You're welcome." He turned to the rest of the club, still lined up along the wall. "Members of the Martial Arts Club of Juban Municipal Junior High School, I present to you our newest member, Tsukino Usagi!"
Ninety minutes later, a euphoric Usagi burst through the front door home. "I'm back!" she called out as she pulled off her outdoor shoes and slid into her slippers.
"In here," her mother called out, and Usagi followed the sound of her voice to the living room — only to stop cold at the entrance at the sight before her.
Her mother rose from her seat and turned to her. "Usagi-chan, this is Mauno Luna-san."
Luna, dressed in a nice blouse and crisp slacks, stood up from the armchair where she was seated, smiled and bowed deeply. "It's very nice to meet you, Usagi-san," she said as Usagi boggled.
Tuesday, May 5, 1992, 7:20 PM.
"Thank you again," Luna said over her tea.
I valiantly restrained the impulse to roll my eyes. "Well, you couldn't very well stash your new clothes in Usagi's bedroom. Sooner or later Ikuko-san would find them and wonder who they belonged to." I sipped my own tea before adding impishly, "You'll have to do your own laundry and dry cleaning though."
I think Luna was getting used to me, because I didn't see the mildly offended sputtering I'd been expecting. "Of course," she just said with a tolerant smile. "I still wish I didn't have to impose on you, but at my wages, I am unlikely to be able to afford an apartment of my own for quite a while."
"That's Tokyo prices for you," I said. "As long as you can cope with my neighbors' speculations about our relationship, you're welcome to keep whatever you need to here."
Luna didn't dignify that with a response, instead taking a sip of tea before asking, "What do you think of Usagi-chan joining the martial arts club at her school?"
"I think it's a great idea," I replied immediately. "She needs to go up against more opponents than just me in a safe environment." I took another sip. "How'd Kenji-san and Ikuko-san take it?"
She smiled. "Surprisingly well. While Usagi-chan's grades still aren't stellar, thanks to your tutoring they are rapidly improving. And her parents quickly realized that the club gave them another bit of leverage over her."
I laughed. "Keep the grades going up, or she'll have to quit?"
Luna nodded, still smiling. "Exactly."
"Good," I said. "A little more motivation won't hurt."
"I agree." She took another sip. "That's why now that I have identification papers I have made myself known to the Tsukinos in my human form — I am, of course, just a recent college graduate taking a struggling middle school student under her wing as part of a social outreach program." She gave me a smug little smile. "They've welcomed my help, though they warned me that they already have a tutor."
"What poor schlmazel has that thankless job?" I asked with a smile, then added, "They don't suspect anything?"
"Of course not," Luna sniffed. "In this era, what sane person would imagine that Usagi's cat and her new sempai were one and the same? They have, of course, dismissed the identical names as an amusing coincidence." Then she chuckled. "Ikuko-san has already jokingly offered me a saucer of cream."
"I like her, she's silly." I had some more of my tea, then added thoughtfully, "Just be wary that they don't wonder why they never see the two of you at the same time."
That smug smile came back. "I have that covered. I am, after all, an outdoor cat — they don't expect me to be around all the time anyway."
"That works," I said with a nod.
Friday, May 8, 12:47 AM. Roppongi Hills complex.
"We've got to stop meeting like this, teishi." I shut off my cycle and hopped off.
Sailor Moon rolled her eyes. "Tell me about it. This is the second time this week."
We were standing on the stage of the Roppongi Hills Arena, an amphitheater several blocks northwest of the Azabujuban shopping district and almost due north of my apartment building. I'd gotten a panicked call from Usagi about protecting a civilian from a bat-winged whatsit with a sonic attack that, unlike the usual demon-thing, seemed bound and determined to get this one particular guy. I'd dropped in through the arena's retractable roof — open to the overcast night sky for some unfathomable reason despite the intermittent heavy rain — just in time to see my student take out Batgirl by feeding her sonics back at her through the stacks of speakers still in place on the stage.
In the usual way of things, Batgirl turned into a pile of dust that didn't last long enough for the janitor to sweep it away.
I studied the spot in the rain-dampened seats where the creature had stood only a few minutes before, then turned back to Sailor Moon. "I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Don't ever let anyone tell you that you're stupid, teishi. That was a clever and well-executed plan."
She blushed and looked away. "Thank you, sensei."
I reached out a finger and turned her face back toward me. "I'm serious, kiddo. You have good instincts when you're not hobbling yourself with doubts. Listen to those instincts." I scruffled the hair on the top of her head in the usual way before adding, "Speaking of listening, what happened to your musician friend? Is he okay?"
Moon immediately brightened. "Oh, yeah. Turns out the monster thought he had a magical cassette tape she'd misplaced, and she was chasing him to get it back. When we found and destroyed the right tape, she forgot all about him and ran off." She gestured at the arena around us. "I followed her here, and well..."
"Sailor Moon triumphs again!" I said in an exaggerated "narrator" voice.
"Oh, stop," she whined, rolling her eyes at me.
"Indeed!" Luna agreed. "Good job, Sailor Moon."
"Thanks, Luna," Moon said, then continued, "I want to check in on Yusuke-san and make sure he and Akiko-san are all right."
I nodded. "Of course." I gestured toward my motorcycle. "Your chariot awaits, my lady."
She giggled and smacked my arm.
"One of these days, though, I'm going to have to buy or build a helmet that fits your hair," I added after a moment, which got me another giggle and smack.
In the minute or so it took me to get Sailor Moon (and Luna, of course) back to the record company where everything had gone down less than half an hour earlier, it had started to rain again. While the bike's "virtual cockpit" kept us dry, the downpour hid us from the couple in the doorway as we touched down nearby but out of their sight. Moon hopped off to eavesdrop on them.
She dashed back only a moment later, smiling broadly and eyes shining. "They're getting together!" she proclaimed breathlessly as she hopped back on the bike. "He's been hoping for it for so long, too."
"Good for them," I said as we shot back up into the rainy night. I took us up above the cloud layer where a crescent moon — much like the ones on my passengers' foreheads — shone down and faintly limned the cloud tops with silver. The autopilot knew where to go so I didn't worry about not being able to see the ground. I turned my head and said back over my shoulder, "So... Jazz, teishi? You've got broader tastes than I thought."
It took her a moment to reply, and I amused myself by imagining Sailor Moon sticking her tongue out at me in that moment. "You don't know everything about me yet, sensei," she said.
Where we were going, of course, was the now-traditional stop at the Hard Rock for eats and after-op debrief. Sailor Moon tried the bacon cheeseburger this time, and pronounced it to be very much to her liking.
Yoshi forced himself to walk slowly through the door of the Hard Rock Cafe in Roppongi instead of bursting through it, sweating and out of breath. He shot a glance toward the restaurant floor.
"Jitsuha-san?" asked the girl at the podium.
"Yeah. Murata-san?" She nodded as he kept staring past her at the dining area. "I missed them, didn't I?"
"I'm afraid so," she said. "They left maybe five minutes ago?"
"Which way?" he demanded. Maybe he could still chase them down.
"Up," said the young man next to her, gesturing to match.
Oh. So much for that idea.
The Dark Kingdom
Jadeite scowled at the dead, black accumulator. So much for Kyurene and her plan to infect recordings of music with an energy drain. It had been a subtle, long-term plot which wouldn't have exposed her to the humans, unlike most of the schemes his forces had ready, and would have paid off magnificently. But Kyurene's temper and single-mindedness had been her undoing. Instead of simply requisitioning a new drain enchantment, she had gone haring off after the cassette tape she'd lost and come to the attention of Sailor Moon.
He abruptly clenched his fist around the accumulator, crushing it. At least this was a plan whose failure he could delay reporting to the Queen for at least several months. In the meantime, he had a few unoccupied youma to whom he needed to assign tasks. Perhaps he would treat himself to a quick jaunt to Tokyo to investigate possible new operations...
Jadeite paused. ...Or perhaps not. Assigning the investigation to his unoccupied youma would give them something to do while he attended to ... political tasks in the Kingdom that he'd been ignoring for far too long.
And that was the only reason, he insisted to a treasonous corner of his own mind which begged to differ. It certainly wasn't because he didn't want to risk encountering Elmer Fudd again.
Not at all.
Wednesday, May 13, 1992, 2:13 PM.
Kaioh Michiru frowned as she hung up the phone. Why would Shanshan Plaza's concert hall cancel the recital? And on such short notice!
She glared at the phone for a moment more before giving up and sighing. It wasn't the orchestra manager's fault that the venue was playing stupid games. But it still stung that her premiere as a solo performer would be indefinitely delayed.
She took a long breath and centered herself. It would do no good to hold onto the anger and disappointment. Instead, she returned to the converted bedroom she used for practice and took up her violin once more.
Soon the strains of her favorite piece drifted out the window and into the overcast sky.
Wednesday, May 13, 1992, 6:30 PM. The Tsukino home
It wasn't uncommon for Usagi to be singing something, either out loud or under her breath, when I showed up for her tutoring sessions. Of late I had been amused to find her in the middle of something I suspect would have been outside the realm of possibility for her only a couple months ago — I'd heard hummed snatches of melodies by Lindsey Sterling, and bits of verse from artists as diverse as Talking Heads, Bruce Springsteen, Frank Zappa and even the odd bit of Metallica.
I swear, I've been a bad influence on the girl.
Today, though, she wasn't humming or singing under her breath — she had a small cassette player right in front of where she was parked at the dining table, bracketed by book piles, and it was playing something distinctly J-poppish, to which she was singing along at conversational volume:
"The moonlight guides us to our destination, dear —
Time and again, we'll find each other
Counting the sparkles of the constellations,
Foretelling me the future of ..."
I reached over her and pressed "stop" before it got any further; fortunately, I still had my tuneplug in my ear from work. (Who knew Muzak could be so dangerous? The Shadow knows!) As it was meant to, it kept something unexpected and potentially hard to explain from happening, but still... no need to tempt fate. Usagi got another word of the song out followed by a yelp of surprise and protest, before she saw it was me and smiled brilliantly. "Hi, sensei!"
"Good evening, teishi. 'Sup with the soundtrack today?" Even though it'd been our habit for more than two weeks now to use English exclusively during our tutoring sessions, this was pre-tutoring socializing, so I addressed her in Japanese.
She gestured vaguely at the player. "There's going to be a talent show called the 'Cinderella Caravan' on Sunday. Naru and I..." She stopped short and tilted her head. "Have I ever told you about Naru? She's my best friend." Her smile suddenly collapsed. "Or she was... we had a fight. We were going to be a singing group together but now we're not." She looked about to burst into tears. "And now there's the talent show, and I want to be in it and win it and be famous and I can't because I don't have an act and..."
I laid a finger over her lips to stop the escalating wail of despair. "Breathe, teishi, breathe!" She cut it short and nodded vigorously, drawing a deep breath and visibly calming herself. "Now," I continued, "you're only thirteen, you have plenty of time to become famous. It's not like this talent contest is the only chance you'll ever have." I didn't mention that she was already becoming famous as Sailor Moon, and would only get more so if we kept on being as public as we had been.
"But Mikan-chan is only seventeen and she's making two million yen a month!" she said around my fingertip.
"Mikan-chan?" I asked with a raised eyebrow.
"She's a gymnast who used to go to my school and now she's famous and rich and..."
"Teishi, do you know how long the average teen-aged singer is famous for?"
That stopped her cold. "Um..."
"Two years, teishi," I said confidently. I didn't actually know how long they lasted in this universe, but I remembered that in Homeline's Japan they were used up and discarded by their agents and producers so fast it would make your head spin.
"But..." she began.
"Besides," I continued before she could get another word out, "it's not like singing is the only thing you can do, after all. Have you been practicing your martial arts on the days I don't see you?"
"Yes?" she said, drawing the word out and infusing it with all the confusion the subject change had left her with. "And there's the club, too?"
I smiled broadly at her. "Just imagine the kind of act you could put on with your improved physical conditioning and the skills you've learned recently."
Usagi opened her mouth, then closed it, then opened it again, and closed it again. "Huh," she said after a few moments' silent thought. "You think?"
I gave her a Look. "Would I have suggested it if I didn't? Now c'mon, we've got math and English to get through tonight."
"Bleagh," she said, then giggled.
Saturday, May 16, 1992, 11:15 AM, Shanshan Plaza
It had become pretty damned obvious to Usagi over the next few days that something was up with that talent show. Exposure to a half-dozen of their previous schemes had given her a certain feel for the way an enemy operation worked, and to her annoyance almost immediately the "Cinderella Caravan" had started ticking off boxes on her mental checklist.
She kept me up to date on her suspicions — and her unhappiness about them — as they mounted. I was pretty sure early on that she was right, but she didn't want to believe the talent show she so wanted to be in was really nothing more than another scheme to drain poorly-defined "life energy" from the people of Tokyo. It was only when practically her entire school had begun to ignore classes to "rehearse" — and the faculty let them — that she threw up her metaphorical hands and admitted that it had to be another enemy plot.
Then she heard that the whole thing was going to culminate in a "final round" to be held at a place called "Shanshan Plaza" on that coming Sunday. By some strange coincidence, everyone who had tried out for the show had qualified for the finals.
"Yeah, right," I said when Usagi told me. "Like that's not a dead giveaway."
"Are we going to check it out?" she asked me.
I grinned. "You bet your little blue miniskirt we are."
"I don't have a little blue..." she began to protest. "Oh. That little blue miniskirt."
We began with a little investigation on Saturday morning. Usagi cut school, not that anyone noticed what with all the furious "rehearsal" going on. Three waves of the disguise pen later, a promoter and his two personal assistants appeared at the Shanshan Plaza's business office to make a few inquiries. We quickly learned that while the staff of the building and its concert hall were all aware of the talent show, no one could remember who had arranged and paid for it or even where the paperwork for it was. Even more suspiciously, no one cared. Checking with the union rep for the concert hall's stagehands revealed that none of them were going to be working the show, not even the contractually-mandated minimum crew — and they didn't care either.
If the behavior of the students and staff at Usagi's school hadn't already been indicative of some manner of mental influence, well, that certainly would have clued us in.
As we left, we exited by one of the building's many side doors and made a wide detour around the mobile stage that had been set up in the plaza proper, beneath the building facade. (Shanshan Plaza, by the way, appeared to be a counterpart to the Nakano Sun Plaza from Homeline's Tokyo. It wasn't in exactly the same location but the similarity of design was a bit blatant.) The crowd gathered in front of the stage was large and suspiciously well-behaved, even for the Japanese.
"Hold on, sensei," Usagi said, tugging on my jacket sleeve. "I want to try something." We stopped and watched as she stared at the stage and the solitary female figure standing upon it, her face scrunching up into that look of concentration she made when she used her magesight. "Check me, please, both of you?" she asked after a few moments. "I don't think that Mikan's human."
"Ok," I said at the same moment Luna said, "All right." I dropped into magesight myself, and sure enough — whatever she was, it wasn't a 17-year-old girl, not with that aura. Therefore, in the absence of any proof to the contrary, she was most likely one of the enemy's demon-thing operatives. "Spot on, teishi. Luna?"
Luna nodded. "I agree. She has a dark energy about her. She must be one of the Enemy."
"Well, then," I said, turning to the obvious next question, "if that's one of the bad guys, where's the real Mikan?" After a half-breath pause I added, "If there is a real Mikan."
"There is," Usagi declared confidently. "She's been famous for a few years now." She tugged on my arm. "She's in trouble, I'm sure of it! We have to find her and rescue her!"
Which is how, a couple hours and one Internet search later, Sailor Moon and I came to be breaking into the apartment of one Shiratori Mikan, the 17-year-old Japanese gymnastic sensation of 1992. (Someone really needed to tell Shiratori's manager about Rebecca Schaeffer.) Luna chose not to join us, instead keeping watch in her cat form on the fake Mikan.
Despite Usagi's pouting, we didn't go in through a window. Instead, we took the elevator, me with my helmet hanging from one hand and my jacket open, and Usagi untransformed. She did her whirly light show as we rode up to Shiratori's floor, while I did up my jacket clasps, swapped out the Harley-Davidson patch on it for the "LT" shield icon, and put my helmet back on.
The elevator opened into a little mini-lobby with hallways stretching out left and right; her apartment was at the end of the left branch. We made our way down to it and I used "Open the Door" by Magnapop — one of the more depressing choices I could have made, but effective — to flip all the locks and latches that stood in our way.
We stepped into an apartment that, despite its furiously running heat, was the same temperature as outside — because the sliding door to its balcony was wide open, its curtain blowing in a faint breeze.
"See, sensei?" Moon smirked. "We could have come in through the window."
"Silence, impertinent child," I replied with mock-sternness.
She stuck her tongue out at me.
What with the open window and all, the apartment would have felt like it had been abandoned a few days earlier had we not been able to hear a shower running. Curious, we followed the sound into the bathroom where we found what was presumably the real Shiratori Mikan in her tub, trapped in a glassy green cocoon down upon which the shower rained, as it had possibly been doing for several days now.
And "glassy" was certainly the right word for Mikan's prison, because it shattered into sublimating shards when struck, releasing a naked teenaged gymnast whose last clear memory, we found out shortly afterward, was being attacked by a green-faced creature while taking a shower.
Naturally enough, she screamed.
I waited in the living room while Sailor Moon comforted her and got her dried off and dressed. Mikan was understandably upset and confused, but she was physically unharmed, and Moon's general aura of innocent sincerity and determined helpfulness — and unending stream of friendly chatter — helped her calm down.
Eventually, about half an hour later, the two of them came out to the living area. Moon had her arm around Mikan, who was now dressed in a red tracksuit and bunny slippers, and guided her to the sofa. She plopped into the space next to her and kept her arms around the older girl.
I slowly settled myself into an armchair. "How are you doing, Shiratori-san?"
She looked at me, wide-eyed, and I can't blame her — a Westerner a good head or more taller than her, in grey leather and heavy boots, wearing a helmet with big black goggles inside? I must have looked like some kind of monster to her. Or at least I would have had she not already encountered the real thing. "A-all right, I think, now," she finally whispered. Moon hugged her encouragingly, and Mikan gave her a wobbly smile in return. "Was it real? What happened to me?" she asked, turning back to me.
I nodded slowly. "As I'm sure Sailor Moon must have already told you, yes."
"But that kind of thing is impossible..." she protested. "Isn't it?"
I thought of all the answers I could give her, all the different shades of reassurance that the world wasn't going mad on her, all of them false to one degree or another, and settled for the only thing my ethics would allow me to say — the truth — but Moon beat me to the punch.
"It's all real," she said softly, hugging Mikan again. "It's all real and I wish it wasn't and I wish we didn't have to fight them, but we do and it's hard and it's scary but if we didn't people would get really hurt."
She looked a little confused at Moon's rapid-fire run-on sentences, but accepted the hug gratefully. "And who are you two?"
I smiled, although how much of it she could see around my helmet was probably minimal. "Well, you've met Sailor Moon already. And you can call me Looney Toons."
"...Ruuni Tuunusu?" she struggled to pronounce the English.
I shrugged. "Code names. What can you do?"
"You told me you picked your code name yourself, sensei," Moon said with a naughty smile. She turned to Mikan and added in a conspiratorial whisper, "He's a very silly man sometimes."
"Hey!" I protested. "That's entirely accurate!" I tossed my head back and pressed the back of my hand against the forehead of my helmet in an exaggeratedly melodramatic manner. "What did I ever do to deserve such an ungrateful student who says true things about me?"
Mikan erupted in a giggle, then looked shocked at herself. Moon hugged her again, and she bit her lip and smiled. Mission accomplished.
"So what happens now?" she asked after savoring the hug for a bit.
"Well... there's still a creature out there that's wearing your face," I said. "We need to keep you safe until we defeat it." I glanced around the apartment, which I had inspected closely over the last half-hour. "It doesn't look like it's been using your place as a lair, but I still wouldn't want to let you stay here."
"She can't go to a hotel, sensei," Moon objected. "She's too famous, she'll be recognized and the Enemy might find out."
"Agreed." I looked at Mikan. "Do you have family in Tokyo you can stay with on short notice?"
She shook her head. "I'm an orphan. My coach and my agent are my guardians. And I don't know about my coach, but my agent left a message on my machine after... a couple days ago about me canceling all my appearances without talking to him. But just the one. He hasn't called back since."
I grimaced. "You know what that probably means."
She nodded grimly. "Yeah."
"Don't you have anyone else you could stay with for a couple days?" Moon asked.
"Well, there's my aunt and uncle in Furano, on Hokkaido," she mused. "But it's so far away! How could I get there without anyone spotting me?"
Moon and I shared a grin. "I think we can handle that. Moon, help our friend here pack a bag for a couple days."
Another half hour later, Mikan boggled at the sight of my motorcycle pulled up to and gently bobbing next to her balcony, and boggled some more at her rather large suitcase being easily inserted into a pannier that looked to be about a quarter its size. But she gamely climbed on behind me with Moon's help.
After a round of hugs and good-byes, Sailor Moon finally stood back from the rail of the balcony. I dialed the virtual cockpit, the stealth suite, the inertial compensator, and the local gravity all up to full, and pulled away from the apartment building. Pointing us at the north-northeast, I slowly brought up the acceleration.
While we were still over Tokyo and environs, I kept it down to a reasonable speed — mostly to let Mikan get used to flying on the bike. (And to sightsee a bit once she relaxed some.) But once we were over countryside I let out the throttle. Not all the way — the stealth suite couldn't hide a sonic boom, after all — but at three-quarters the speed of sound we covered the 885 kilometers between Tokyo and Furano in a bit under an hour.
Mikan hardly said a word the whole way but was effusive in her thanks when we landed in front of her aunt and uncle's home. I unloaded her bag from the pannier and we traded phone numbers, her in case anything happened, and me so I could tell her when it was safe to come back. Which if all went to plan would be Sunday afternoon — about 24 hours.
Sunday, May 17, 1992, 1:00 PM. Shanshan Plaza.
We showed up early for the Cinderella Caravan finals to beat the rush and get tickets before they sold out.
We didn't need to.
"No audience, sensei," Sailor Moon said as we stopped at the doors which led into the concert hall's orchestra seating and peered through their windows. "I guess everyone who heard about the show wanted to be in it."
"Not to mention the box office was sealed up tight and there aren't any ticket takers or ushers," I said. I felt a futile attempt to breach my mental defenses, not unlike the devilbunnies from a couple weeks earlier, and looked up. "Do you feel anything, teishi?"
She was studying the closed curtain spanning the stage. "Like what, sensei?" she asked.
"Like mind control." I pointed at the ceiling and she followed the gesture to see what I had spotted — hanging from the middle of the otherwise flat and Danish-modern ceiling was an honest-to-gods disco ball, looking incredibly out of place.
"From that? No," she replied, puzzled.
"Hm. I think we found something else you get from your transformation, Moon. I can feel it running up against my shields and failing to get through."
She and I studied the ball for a moment. "I'll bet it's affecting everyone in the show."
I chuckled. "Not gonna take that bet, teishi."
"So," she said after another moment. "Someone ought to do something about that."
I chuckled again. "Yes, someone should. And maybe someone should do something about not-Mikan and her green spit of doom."
"And they should do it now," Luna said from behind us.
Moon and I shared a grin and an eyeroll. "Yes, mom," I said, then turned back to Moon. "I go high and you go low?" I asked.
She nodded. "Yeah."
And so we did.
"<System. Combat mode on. 'I am a Pioneer'. Play>," I murmured to my helmet. The song started to play, and I gently lifted straight up to the ceiling. Below me, Sailor Moon began to stride down the aisle into the hall's orchestra seating. From this angle I could see that there was one and only one person in the audience — and surprise surprise, from behind she was a dead ringer for a certain young gymnast of our acquaintance.
From the way Moon halted halfway down the aisle, I could tell she'd spotted the creature. Good. That meant I didn't have to warn her and could turn my attention to the out-of-place disco ball. I stopped a few feet short of it and studied it with my magesight.
Below, the house lights dimmed and the curtain rose, revealing a stage filled with what looked to be a few hundred people performing their acts simultaneously. It made a hell of a racket.
The ball was, as I expected, a fairly simple-minded artifact — a basic radiating paired illusion/compulsion effect tied to a nearby ley line, cast on the ball as a whole. For a moment I wondered who had thought a disco ball was a good choice when there were dozens — hundreds — of less conspicuous items they could have used to host the spell. Hell, a marble would have served just as well, with the added bonus of being much harder to find.
But Mama Sangnoir's favorite son never complains when the bad guys are stupid. He just takes advantage of it.
I pulled off one glove, laid a bare hand on the mirrored ball, and released a little control over my field. There was an audible sizzle, a sudden fluctuation of the local magic roughly equivalent to a "pop", and the spell shattered.
Below me, Moon had nailed the demon-thing in the neck with her tiara as it rose from its seat. It crumbled into the usual dust and all the performers on the stage collapsed. As they did, a bit of movement in one of the upper boxes just at the edge of my (admittedly limited) peripheral vision caught my eye.
Tuxedo Mask leaned over the edge of the box, confused. He had gotten here... too late? Down below, in the orchestra seats, Sailor Moon was kicking at a pile of vanishing dust as she put her tiara back on.
Why was he here if she didn't need him? He shuddered as he remembered his ribs splintering under the force of those kicks. Why was he here at all?
"I said we'd talk again later, son. It's later."
Tuxedo Mask spun around, sending his cape fanning out and rippling. The man in grey leather was standing behind him. How had he...?
"I would point out that while you're properly dressed for the theatre, this is hardly a formal occasion. And then there's the mask. Definitely not formal wear, that. Makes it pretty clear that you're not here because you thought this was a production of La Boheme or something."
Tuxedo Mask simply stood, stunned and speechless, as the man in grey looked him up and down. "Phantom of the Opera, maybe," he continued. "In which case, I would be very justified in demanding to know why in hell you're stalking my student." He paused a moment, then growled, "And if I hear the phrase 'angel of music', you are toast."
"I... I..." he stammered, his confusion growing rapidly. No, no, this was wrong. He wasn't needed. He wasn't supposed to be here. As the man in grey reached out for him, he threw himself backward over the railing.
By the time I'd kicked the chairs in the box out of my way and reached the low wall, "Captain Opera" had safely landed between two rows of seats and was fleeing under the boxes, probably to a fire exit I couldn't see from here. I hesitated to throw myself after him — the distance to the floor was farther than I knew I could safely drop, and neither Moon nor I needed me to break a leg just to chase a semi-helpful dork in formalwear.
But dammit, I was going to catch and corner that guy one of these days and get a straight answer out of him.
Sunday, May 17, 1992, 2:20 PM, Furano, Hokkaido, Japan.
"Mikan-chan! There's a call for you! A girl, she says her name is Seira?"
"Seira?" Mikan frowned. She didn't know anyone named... Oh! Sera! She somersaulted out of the couch — literally — and threw herself across the room to take the receiver. "Thank you, Auntie!" Her aunt smiled and stepped away, and Mikan turned her attention to the phone. "Moshi-moshi! Sera-chan?"
"Hiiiiii, Mikan-chan!" The now-familiar voice of Sailor Moon, slightly tinny, was cheery and almost too loud to stand. "We got it, and sensei wants to know if you want him to come get you right now or wait. Oh, and it had your agent and coach both caught up in its mind control but they're okay now and all kinds of worried about you."
Shiratori Mikan looked around her aunt and uncle's home and reflected that it was the first break she'd gotten in six months or so. "You know, Sera-chan, if Ruuni-san could let me have until Wednesday, I'd really appreciate it."
"Wednesday? Hold on a moment." There was the hollow sound of a hand going over the end of the receiver, and the faint, garbled sound of voices. "He says Wednesday is okay, but it'll have to be in the evening, around 6:30 or so? Is that all right?"
"That's fine," Mikan replied.
Mikan smiled to herself. "And let Coach and my agent know I'm okay, and give them this number. But not for another day or so, okay?"
The two of them giggled together.
"Thank you so much for helping me," she added. "If there's anything I can ever do for you, just ask."
There was a pause during which all she could hear was the crackle of the phone line. "Well... if it's not too much trouble... being Sailor Moon is usually a late-night thing, and I get really sleepy at school the next day. And I really don't like coffee that much. Could you get me a box of that energy drink you've been doing ads for?"
Mikan laughed out loud. "Sure. I'll get you a whole case."
Since it was still close to lunchtime, Sailor Moon tried the Hard Rock's "Pig Sandwich" during the after-op debrief. She proclaimed the BBQ pork "really yummy!", and not much longer after that we learned that while her sailor suit is self-cleaning, her face isn't.
The servers — and the lunch crowd — were amused.
Sunday, May 17, 1992, 4:50 PM.
"Dammit!" Yoshi smashed his cigarette into an unidentifiable wad in the ashtray. "For weeks they run around at night and this time they show up at the Hard Rock in broad daylight? And I find out about it too late!" At least he had an idea what they might have been up to, with all the unconscious people found at the bogus "talent show" that somehow got itself booked into the Shanshan Plaza concert hall...
The Dark Kingdom
Jadeite swore as he studied the accumulator for his latest harvest operation. They'd gotten a fair return, but not nearly as much as he'd planned on. Although the War Wizard and the girl had taken almost a week to detect and counter this harvest, they had still managed to take it down just before the yield peaked.
He studied the glowing accumulator as he pondered his next step. It was clear that operations staffed by one or two youma simply weren't secure enough to guarantee long-term results. The passage to Earth was now stable enough to support more than two youma at once — it was time, perhaps, to start dispatching entire teams for new operations, and to add extra hunter-killer youma as guards to the plans already in progress. The harvester youma he already had deployed solo in Tokyo wouldn't like sharing the recognition and credit for their efforts, but with those two humans on the prowl solo operatives simply weren't secure enough.
Monday, May 18, 1992, 6:00 AM.
Chiba Mamoru groaned, rolled over, and clumsily smacked his alarm clock, eventually hitting the "off" button. He rubbed his eyes, then forced himself to sit up in bed.
"Crazy dreams," he muttered, shaking his head. "I've got to find something better for my insomnia than Ambien."
END OF CHAPTER THREE
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This work of fiction is copyright © 2020, 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.
"Psyche" and any representations thereof are copyright by and trademarks of Frank Lazar.
"The Warriors", "Warriors' World", "Warriors International" and "Warriors Alpha" are all jointly-held trademarks of The Warriors Group.
Lyrics from "Gimme Chocolate!!", recorded by BABYMETAL, music by Takeshi Ueda, lyrics by Miki Watanabe and Kei Kobayashi, copyright © 2013 by Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC.
Lyrics from "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger", recorded by Daft Punk, written by Thomas Bangalter, Christo Guy, Manuel D. Homem and Edwin Birdsong, copyright © 2001 Delabel Editions, Because Editions, and Universal Music Publishing Group.
These and all other quotes are included in this fiction without permission under the "fair use" provisions of international copyright law.
Special thanks to Rob Kelk, Andrew Carr and "nocarename" at my forums, for a few lines of dialogue each that I just had to incorporate.
For a full explanation of the references and hidden tidbits in this story, see the Drunkard's Walk S Concordance at:
Other chapters of this story can be found at:
The Drunkard's Walk discussion forums are open for those who wish to trade thoughts and comments with other readers, as well as with the author:
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.