Sailor Moon Fan Fiction / Neon Genesis Evangelion Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction ❯ Sailor Jupiter - Pilots in Nerima ❯ Sailor Jupiter - Pilots Apotheosis ( Chapter 6 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
Sic Semper Morituri
Sailor Jupiter
(Pilots in Nerima)


I do not own any of the characters from Ranma 1 / 2, BSSM, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ah My Goddess, Tenchi Muyo or the Lovecraft Cycle involved in these stories. They belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Naoko Takeuchi, AIC Productions, Gainex, Kosuke Fujishima and Arkham House respectively.

C&C , MSTs are welcome


Sailor Jupiter II 18 - And Marches Alone Can't Bring Integration

      The admiral slipped out of his futon and walked to his private bathroom. RHIP. Getting all those people together was like herding a pack of fleas, although now I know even bringing up their parents brings Neptune and Uranus to heel quickly enough. Add the animosity that exists and you have untold problems. Maybe I'll throw a dinner party, invite the parents, and hold it at the castle. The resulting explosions and combat will probably wipe out all the problems at once. He yawned hugely, dismissed an urge to scratch. That's not even including Tenchi's group. Now I know how Europe felt in 1914, with so many 'princesses' all with hair trigger tempers, war is inevitable. Unless someone does something pretty spectacular, he thought as he looked up at the bathroom counter high above him.

      "Well, I must say," he said as he looked himself over and frowned, "This certainly qualifies."

      The sound of screams from the camp told him others were awakening to their new reality.

      "That explains the itchy feeling," he said as he forced himself not to scratch. A cluster of screams he recognized answered his next question, "I guess I won't have to assign them to the problem." He pulled himself up atop the counter and looked into the mirror. "Okay, it's worse than I thought." He rubbed his chin. "No point in shaving I guess." He turned to hop down, then turned back and took up a typical Sailor Senshi 'VICTORY!' pose, then shook himself violently. "There should be a law against making anyone over 20 look that cute."

      He jumped down off the counter and headed towards the bureau. "I hope I have some uniforms that fit. There's going to be a lot of people nervous enough. Someone has to seem rational and in control . . . then there's the people right in this camp, I wonder if I could order a lion-tamer's outfit in my new size. I wonder if this is random, or personality driven."

      The admiral was glad to see the Scholarly Dragon had decided to attend the 'all-hands' meeting. "I take it there will be explanations," he said calmly, trying to ignore how his senior staff and all the guests appeared, as well the prickliness of his current situation.

      "Ah," the huge beast said nervously, "It was the best solution, given the lack of time and warning I had."

      Extremely nervous, and extremely angry, the admiral considered, I wouldn't give two sen for whoever masterminded the necessity for this. I'll be certain to pass that on to the busybodies who are already demanding that I be omniscient, as well as omnipotent.

      Most of the senior staff and all the guests had assembled in the main briefing room, as per his orders. It seems they can follow orders, provided they are orders they want to follow, he thought, That could be something to work with. Give them orders they will follow, then later they may follow orders that are simply orders. He looked at the factions and divisions that had almost automatically formed, and the vague attempts at peace-making against the would-be piece-makers, and the few outright attempts at homicide. The division between those who would do violence and those who might merely disagree was marked by the full-sized polar bear in the tutu, and the tiger in the JNSDF jacket and skirt. How Tatewaki can maintain his dignity like that is a mystery, the admiral thought as he struggled not to scratch until he skinned himself, Or an act.

      "So," Ikoku, Usagi's mother nervously asked Rini, "How are your parents taking all of this?"

      Usagi hopped up to them, completely at ease with becoming like her namesake. Tugging on her ears, she interrupted, "Aren't my ears so floppy and cute?!" she squealed, "Everybody is just so cute!" She hopped off to someone else.

      The embarrassed, pink triceratops looked at the happy rabbit and sighed. "I'm an orphan," Rini answered the literal mother hen.

      "There's some evidence for personality," the admiral mumbled.

      "That doesn't explain why we're all pink!" Captain Tachibana parroted the Admiral's next thought.

      "Although some - one seems to have avoided that fate," Asuka said, recognizable even as a living, moving crystalline figure of a knight, "Rose quartz would be my guess," she said of herself. The faint fire flickering deep within slowly increasing in both activity and intensity.

      "I didn't escape," the dragon admitted as he shied away from the girl, "I'm just a very, dark pink. There were some who truly escaped, being pink. There are patterns in the universe which - "

      Makoto rushed up. "Why am I a yellow mouse!?" she demanded.

      "Case in point," the dragon said.

      "More of a jerboa or pika," Ami said as she cleaned her whiskers, "Real mice have different legs and tails." She displayed her own to prove her point.

      The admiral climbed to the top of the conference table. "Everyone take your seats . . . either at the table or on it. Kuno-san, Flag Captain, and Stirogi please assist any who need it." The bear, tiger and human girl nodded. He turned to the dragon as the cute animals and living toys assembled on or at the table. "Would your explanation include a 'why'?"

      "Of course, Admiral," the monster said, "The Jurains have a battle force in geosync orbit. They've been bombarding the planet for approximately three hours, in an effort to reignite the supervolcano beneath Yellowstone, in the U.S. of A."


      "Mount Rushmore currently is under 700 meters of rubber ducks."

      The admiral stared at the dragon, who seemed to be trying to ignore him.

      "Why haven't they stopped firing?" Tachibana asked.

      "They're stupid," the Scholarly Dragon said as if it were obvious.

      "They also have orders, Admiral, no doubt," the elegantly dressed wolverine said, "Can you imagine reporting back to your headquarters for clarification? Given the nature of your target and the effect you're having on it?"

      "Thank you, your Highness," the admiral said and bowed to Ayeka.

      Does anyone else itch as much as I do in their skin? he wondered, Maybe it's just doraphobia, I'm not really furfuraceous.

      "Can't get your grandnephew, so going for someone else?" the cat nearby Ayeka asked and preened, her tail swishing.

      Before war could break out, Tate reached over and scratched the table between them. He carefully picked up one of the curlicue wool shavings his claws had dug up and examined his hands. "Claws, what an interesting sensation."

      The two girls decided their argument could wait.

      "Admiral, you might wish to brief the American President. I think you two are the same species."

      "Spider monkeys?" the admiral commented, "I can live with this, temporarily," he warned and only barely managed not to scratch at the horrible, pink stuff covering him.

      "Couldn't you have just dealt with the fleet?" his flag captain asked.

      "Not when those idiots from the 30th century, and the FJM are both preparing their own major offensives," the dragon replied.

      "So the 30th century people are . . . more disturbed about this than I am?" the admiral asked, ignoring both the murmurs from the others and the near burning need to scratch.

      "Yes, as are the marines that landed from the Jurain fleet," the dragon explained and gestured. A sigil appeared. The gasps from the Jurains were immediately telling.

      "That's the 4/7: Seventh regiment of the fourth order. They are the King's own troops," Ayeka said in awe.

      "They are also called 'The Invincibles'," the crab next to her added, "So named because of their performance in the Battle of - " The adorable, sad-eyed puppy with the glaive shrugged as silence reigned, allowing the meeting to continue while Washu lectured.

      "They won't quit," Sasami summarized the lecture, which was continuing unabated.

      "I've already sent a force to deal with them," the dragon explained.

      " 'To deal with them'?" Ayeka asked, "They are the most formidable troops in the entire Kingdom. Probably in the entire galaxy!"

      The dragon smiled in response. "Compared with what they will face . . . ? The other major concern is the Flying Jellyfish Monster, making an attack on the southern islands. I have - arranged - for a temporary respite there as well."

      "Would you care to explain?" the admiral asked, then stared closely at the dragon, "I didn't know reptiles could sweat."

      The chipmunk in the leotard hopped and jumped across the stones near the beach, as it chased after the rapidly fleeing stuffed animal-styled jellyfish. "GIRONDON! Don't leave! I have more ribbons, and a pretty collar! All sparkly and nice, and they would all look so cute on you! Come back! Come back!" she plead with it as it headed out over the ocean and safety.

      The Scholarly Dragon shivered. "It's just the cutening effect. And - not today," he said, "There are some things that only I should have to answer for."

      "Speaking of that. Don't assume that you and you alone will have to answer for what you've done," the admiral said. He caught his hand and forced it back down to his side.

      The dragon changed the image to a figure that looked vaguely like a furry snake. "There is also 'The Mother of All Dragons' to be considered. Frankly, I could engage any of these threats by myself, but the plethora of threats required this . . . rather extraordinary action."

      "It seems that our alien, and alien-influenced people are far more disturbed than the Earth-born," Dr. Tofu said, glancing back at his rather spectacular peacock's tail in embarrassment, and folding it back.

      Don't bet on that one doctor. He seems not to have noticed that Sailor Vesta and Tendo Kasumi are the same, the admiral thought, Fortunate for both of them. The admiral glanced at Tenchi's harem, and the Senshi. They all seem more nervous than the average, even Miss Tendo and the recently refrocked Miss Mizuno.

      "We are all disturbed at being altered to appear as cute, pink animals," the elegant cormorant said, "Some of us are truly revolted by the change."

      "It is one of the primary effects of the spell," the dragon explained, "Most of our real threats aren't natives, so the disconcerting effects fall more heavily on them."

      "A tutu?" Tatewaki asked

      A bit too politely, the admiral thought.

      "You are nearly a metric ton of claws, fangs and muscle, in a sea of cute, prey animals and adorable, small toys," the dragon explained, "Certain trade-offs are to be expected."

      Tatewaki considered the dragon's words, then nodded.

      "So, what do we do?" Tachibana asked, "We have to set priorities."

      "I take it our 30th century cousins and enemies are as . . . disconcerted as we are," Princess Mercury asked. A mouse as cute and fastidious as Ami.

      "Without others around them who are not significantly disrupted," the dragon suggested, "They should be neutralized."

      "I and a team can keep them relaxed, and channel their uncertainty into inaction," Kodachi offered.

      "I volunteer," the beautiful peregrine falcon, Dr. Mizuno, said and fluttered her wings, puffing up her plumage.

      Interesting that the mother is a falcon, and the daughter a mouse, in both incarnations. If this is somehow linked to personality, the admiral thought, I need to have a talk with her, and how she's raising her daughter. That's one thing I have ample expertise in. He glanced at Mariko the lemur, who seemed unable to sit still for an entirely different reason than her father, and was looking around and occasionally scurrying over to look closely at one person or another.

      The peacock's tail bloomed. "Sorry," Tofu-sensei apologized as he folded it down, "I'll go too."

      The platypus raised her hand, Keiko offered, "Me too, I'd like to see what's so fascinating about them."

      "Mariko, you might want to interview them," he suggested to his lemur-daughter.

      "Gather intelligence you mean," she replied.

      "You'll get a great story," Keiko said, "Even if no one will ever believe you."

      "The battle fleet," Sasami said, "You'll . . . " She glanced at her sister, both bowed their heads and were silent.

      "Yes, they'll have to be destroyed. I suspect why they were sent," the dragon said sympathetically, then his expression and tone darkened, "Was specifically to put you two in this exact bind. They won't disobey the king's orders, no matter what." He ended in a growl.

      "This 'The Mother of All Dragons'? I thought we'd need an EVA or something similar," the admiral said. He kept his voice level, despite the maddening itch.

      "The effect will shield any assault force from the normal effects a Great Old One would have."

      "I'll take part in that," the elegant, white and blue haired woman said, "With Asuka's help and a few others."

      "How is it she's still human?" Haruka the duck asked peevishly.

      "Because I am a dragon, and a skilled shapechanger," Stirogi replied, "Being turned into a pink, feathered serpent didn't trouble me too much."

      "The Outers will go, all the Outers." Setsuna the swan nodded to Hotaru, Makoto, and their Princess counterparts.

      "As will I," Tatewaki said, "I believe my claws still hold the charm that the devious shaman forged into his gift-sword."

      "Agreed, and welcome," Michiru, a small, winged orca said, and bowed, and enjoyed the muffled quacking that Haruka was making.

      "The landed troops?" Ami asked, and nervously cleaned her whiskers again.

      "The boy can take care of them," the dragon said.

      "Not by himself he can't," Makoto said.

      "I never said he was alone. I just didn't need to assign help from this group," the dragon countered and chuckled.

      "That leaves the rest of us to deal with the other problem," Tachibana said.

      "Our - friends - who were after Rini," Setsuna reminded them, the faint growl evident to all.

      "We can drop all our remaining forces on them." The Admiral saw the nods of agreement from all the others around him. "We need group commanders to assemble their teams, and assign tasks. Dr. Mizuno, the Northern Group is yours and Kodachi-san's, 'The MoAD' is Asuka's, the fleet is yours, of course. I don't want to know how you got this!" He waved a piece of paper at the Scholarly Dragon, then handed it to his flag captain to deliver to Sailor Vesta.

      "I promised a research opportunity beyond belief," the dragon replied, "So . . . he did know."

      The admiral covered his fuzzy face. "Please don't tell me that his Imperial Majesty is currently a fish."

      "All right, I won't tell you."

      The tree sloth looked down from the rafter, while the gander buried his head in his wing and honked mournfully. The moose moved his umbrella to cover the duck and the rabbit, to prevent them from being totally soaked.

      "Kasumi's been drafted! By the Emperor himself! Waaack!" the gander honked piteously.

      The rabbit bowed her head. "I think I still have to finish making a man of my son."

      "I just have one thing to say before we separate," the admiral said as he stood and paced on the table.

      "Of course admiral," the dragon said, only to have the admiral leap atop his muzzle and grab both of the eye ridges.

      He jumped up and down on the dragon's muzzle and screeched in the dragon's face, "I don't LIKE being pink! I don't like being FURRY! I've been allergic all my life, do you have any idea what it feels like right now?!"

      "No," the dragon said quietly, his neck held back like a question mark, unable to get away from the furious little creature.

      "I don't like having my dignity destroyed by your little games!" he screeched like an angry spider monkey, "I've worked very hard to keep the government from simply capturing any or all of you to dissect you, so they can manufacture a thousand copies!" He swung loose and reattached so he was looking directly into the dragon's eye. "And to keep the government from simply nuking you, your eggs and Fuji-san. This little stunt has made that insanely difficult! I've already had three demands for explanations I'll never be able to truly answer, and I'll probably be court-martialed no matter what happens!" He calmed down enough to let go and drop to the completely vacant table, as all the others in the room were plastered against the wall. "Not your concern, but my replacement is a staunch 'cut'em up and see how they tick' fanatic," he said as he angrily marched around the table's perimeter, "The Russians and the U.S. have volunteered to nuke the target at Fuji-san, and the Diet is debating it, in closed session. If someone hadn't tossed some catnip mice and real rodents into the chamber, they might have decided by now!"

      His gaze swept the entire terrified assembly. "So don't think saving the world is going to end things. Nerima and Juuban are only a small part of one city of one nation on a very frightened and furious planet, many of who will be after your blood for this little escapade, for fear you'll do it again," he explained as he paced the perimeter of the table, realigning reports and periodically staring at his reflection in the polished surface to adjust his uniform. His tone was as calm and measured as his actions now, "You stuck me with having to explain it to those idiots, and to try to convince them not to do something abysmally stupid and probably suicidal in reply." He swept the entire assembly with a look, then fixed his gaze on the dragon. "Do you understand?"

      The dragon had withdrawn as far as he could, and still remain in the room. The others remained smashed against the walls. The dragon nodded. "Yes, I understand. I understand perfectly. And I do apologize. It seemed the only solution available at the time."

      The admiral nodded and brushed some invisible lint from his uniform. "I have no doubt it was, but I expect to be consulted in the future. A little warning, so I can pass it on." He turned to the terrified assembly. "I believe you had some kudos to pass out."

      "Ah, yes," the dragon stammered and unfolded slightly, "Without Hino-san going deeper than was safe or perhaps even wise, we now know all the threats facing us and can act and prioritize, instead of having the hammerblows landing on us by surprise and at once."

      The seifukued fireball grew even pinker for a moment as the entire force stood and bowed to her.

      I still think she looks like a tribble in a skirt having a bad hair day, the admiral kept to himself.

      "You have your assignments, move out." A moment later, only dust clouds and bits of paper remained with the admiral. Moments later, a cormorant raced into then out of the room, dropping a bottle of medicated shampoo at his feet. "Thank you, Kodachi-san, most generous and thoughtful."

      Ami caught up with the Scholarly Dragon. "Where you sent Jeff-san, I want to go."

      The dragon paused and looked sympathetically at her.

      Here it comes, 'poor, pitiful Ami', 'good for books and not much else', she thought as she patiently loathed the expression directed at her.

      "What he's going to do, it isn't going to be pleasant, Ami-chan. If he follows his standard pattern, he's only going to leave one alive, to tell the story."

      Ami froze at that. That's better than what Princess Mercury - I - did, at least there'll be one, she thought as she put forth her argument.

      "I have to do this. All those people, the planetary Kingdoms. Kagato was right, they all died because of me."

      "Kagato - "

      "Princess Mercury failed to act. They didn't die because of Beryl, nor because of Serenity, but because I never developed or implemented a contingency plan. I didn't develop fail-safes that would have allowed an orderly evacuation. I assumed that Serenity's magic would continue on in perfection and perpetuity, and that means I killed all those people through my own negligence."

      "How does this relate?" the dragon asked patiently.

      "Because I have to do something!"

      "Get yourself killed?" the dragon taunted, "Yes, that would certainly absolve you of the misplaced guilt you feel. Ami-chan, Princess Mercury literally couldn't think like that, nor could any of her subjects. Cognitive Dissonance - "

      "I know about Cognitive Dissonance, and it doesn't excuse what happened, that's just an explanation, not absolution. I have to do something. I vaguely remember being the planner, the scanner, never the fighter, as if a bruise or a fleck of blood would dissolve me into nothingness." She bowed her head. "When Usagi died, I just stood there. I wasn't afraid, or ashamed. I just couldn't think of anything useful to do. Some hero." She raised her head, and stared into the dragon's eyes. She stifled a flinch, but continued, "I have to do something. Even if it's just to analyze the enemies' movements. I know this will be the bloodiest, most brutal assault. It's why I chose to accompany it, to see the most terrible, first-hand."

      The dragon considered. "Very well, I'll send you on your way down the path to Hell. But I will guarantee nothing else: not survival, and no Orpheus to lead you back out."

      "I can . . . live . . . with that," Ami admitted.

      Kodachi, Dr. Mizuno and their team walked into an elegant crystal hall, filled with total chaos.

      "I remember some rather juvenile cartoons that seemed to mirror this insanity." Kodachi fluttered her wings.

      "I think you're right," Dr. Mizuno said as the rangers and Psychic Rumble Soldiers set to separating the Senshi who were following their instincts: mice dropping anvils on cats, cute birds firing 12 pound Napoleons at dogs, and the irrational chasing the inedible.

      "KNOCK IT OFF!" the falcon screeched and froze all the combatants, "What kind of a mess is this?!"

      The various Senshi cringed away from the angry doctor. Save one, a winged orca charged. "NeoSerenity rules here!"

      The angry doctor's wing lashed out, sending the unconscious whale sailing through the air. She swept the assembly with a piercing glare. "Anybody have something stupid they just have to say?"

      "Neptune again, seems to be a family tradition," Tofu-sensei said under his breath, "It's always the quiet ones." When Dr. Mizuno glared at him, he fanned his tail and smiled.

      She growled but turned back to the assembled Senshi. "Anyone else have something to say?!" the doctor screeched.

      "You're in charge," the mollusc wearing the crown announced.

      "All right, whose fault is this?!"

      Everyone pointed at someone else. The rangers and PRS were separating themselves from the Senshi, to hide in the corridor.

      "Since you're all guilty!" Dr. Mizuno managed to shout without screeching, "In the name of the Moon, I shall punish you."

      "Oh wonderful," Kodachi said and hid her head in her wing, "It's catching."

      The MoAD assault group were accepting a few special weapons from the military, as well as supplemental body armor. Which was presenting the armorers some difficult problems. Jupiter looked at the knife she'd been given. It was nearly a short sword at her new size. She turned it over and over in her hands, and wondered about many things.

      "You call that a weapon?" Sailor Uranus teased Sailor Jupiter, "Really plain."

      Jupiter looked at the taller duck. "It may be plain, but I know it will work on that thing. You can't make the same claim."

      Neptune poked Uranus in the side. "Unless you want the same beating Setsuna got -" she let the comment hang. Uranus and Neptune moved away.

      "Pika, pika yourself," Jupiter muttered as the bald eagle landed beside her, and Princess Jupiter approached.

      "They were - are - always . . . provocative. Reminding us they are soldiers, while we are mere bodyguards. 'NeoSerenity's meat shield' is their favorite insult."

      "We tangled with them once," Kiima said, as she checked her feathers, "We sent them to the hospital."

      "You two took on the Outers?" the Princess exclaimed, "Not to denigrate your abilities, but they must have let you win."

      "Ami, that is, Mercury was with us. So it was three on three. Frankly, any one of us could have defeated all three of them," Kiima explained.

      "Mercury attacked an Outer, and survived?"

      "Ami, attacked Michiru, and sent her to the hospital," Sailor Jupiter corrected.

      "Maybe we were softer than you. I can't imagine that," Princess Jupiter allowed.

      "It's all in the motivation," Kiima said as she took to the air.

      Sailor Jupiter looked after her sister, until Princess Jupiter spoke.

      "You've been avoiding me," The Princess told the Sailor, "I'm not hurt or offended. I'm just worried."

      "I have to admit, having another self, kind of worries me," Sailor Jupiter admitted, "I had these . . . dreams, I guess, of another life, another me. It was a bit of a nightmare. I was always alone, so alone it hurt, until Usagi showed up. Then I had . . . someone. It was the first time I felt - and the same person felt like that about me." Sailor Jupiter covered her face. "It's a trick! It has to be a trick! It can't be real!" She cried as Princess Jupiter hugged her.

      "Why?!" Sora shouted at the beautiful crystalline figure, "If it's a lie why can't you tell me that?! If it's true - ?!" the hare turned and ran for the pink Morris Mini. "I hate you! I want a life of my own! Not just what you'll allow me!"

      She threw herself into the car, which turned and raced away.

      "I thought she was good," Sora sobbed as she lay on the car's seats, curling up into a tight ball, "I thought I could trust her."

      "I know, Sora, I know," the car's radio played Megumi's voice, "I thought we could too. She fooled us, she fooled all of us."

      "Even Keiichi," Megumi whispered, just below the road noise.

      "Why did she lie to us?" Sora asked, "She acted just like that dragon said she would."

      "Skuld claimed she knew nothing about it," Megumi said as she dodged through traffic, feeling a helpless rage building inside her, "I don't think we should bother with Urd."

      Megumi mastered herself a little, and considered. "Magic. It explains how she does the things she does. It explains why nothing's real to her. We're all just pieces to be moved around. She doesn't want us hurt, but she doesn't want us to grow either, unless it's painless."

      "Why couldn't she tell us the truth?" Sora moaned, feeling more pain that she could understand.

      I wish I had an answer Sora, or something to comfort you, Megumi searched her thoughts and feelings, only to find the pain and loss of betrayal, But nothing comes to mind.

      The admiral looked at the forces assembling. I feel pride, but also a longing to go with. To finally feel the sting of battle, he considered, It is wrong? In battle, people are hurt, and killed. What was it Robert E. Lee warned? 'It is good war is so terrible, else we grow too fond of it.' So many brave souls. Truly the best of our nation, and I'm the one who orders them to go out and kill or die. I'm the one who stays behind, safe and isolated. Maybe being court-martialed and thrown out might not be so bad, he thought, At least then , I could join up and actually do something.

      He glanced over at Asuka as she entered the room. "Ready to head out?"

      "Yep," Asuka said and shrugged, "What I was trained for. I'd rather do it myself, from my EVA, rather than attacking it with infantry."

      Her low-key fatalism bothered him, but he filed it for later. "I know exactly how you feel," the admiral admitted.

      "Be careful what you wish for, Admiral," Asuka warned as she turned away, "It always comes up as you rather it didn't."

      Another officer approached as Asuka left. More paper work, or a communique, he thought, And I go back to being an admiral.

      Asuka walked back to the main force, as she thought of it. I wonder if anyone else has doubts, she asked herself, I look at these faces. Suddenly, they have confidence, 'Asuka will pull us through.' 'With Asuka on our side, we can't fail.' I may talk that way, but I never thought people would take it as anything more than my confidence or arrogance. I'd almost like to trade with the Admiral. He wants to go into a fight, I'd rather not see any of these people die.

      She noted the automatic division. Saturn/Pluto and the Jupiters, with Rini and Setsuna trying to bridge the gap to the other Outers, she thought of the formation they had taken almost unconsciously.

      "Stirogi? Are you ready?"

      "No, but I haven't been ready for what has happened since you broke me out," the dragon admitted, looking pink and almost feathery.

      "Where's Tate?" Asuka asked, failing to see the bear anywhere.

      "Sorry, Rini suggested we should trade," the cat said, as it floated by, seated, but upside-down, "You get me, Ryo-Oh-Ki - " The cat giggled. "And Pretty Sammi." The cat practically fell, she was laughing so hard.

      Sasami was a hummingbird of some kind, Asuka thought, Why would . . . Thought ended as Pretty Sammi lumbered up.

      "Remind me to kill Kitty, when I get my hands on him," the rainbow-hued, horned hippopotamus said plainly.

      "Why are you wearing a skirt, and why is it plaid?" Asuka asked, to keep from laughing herself, "I bet some of those colors don't exist in nature."

      "Your dragon has a very - sick - sense of humor."

      Asuka pointed in confusion at the horn.

      Sammi frowned and a little heart popped out of the end of her horn.

      "OKAY, we'll teleport in. Stirogi and Ryo-Oh-Ki will remain airborne to both observe and make air strikes. The rest of us will go back to Napoleonic tactics of massed fire, until we can discern a weakness to exploit." Asuka refused to look at the creature standing right next to her. "Then we'll concentrate on that weakness and supporting tactics, either distraction or fire support. I've kept it vague, because frankly, none of us know much about this thing."

      "What if it surrenders?" Princess Jupiter asked.

      Asuka scoffed, "Get out the smelling salts, because I'll faint at that point. If it surrenders, then it's the Scholarly Dragon's problem, because if it is a Great Old One or Outer God, it will be insanely dangerous to have it around."

      Tofu-sensei walked into the throne room. This time his tail was folded. "I think we've got them segregated into appropriate groups that won't kill or try to eat each other."

      "Did you notice that only a couple of the Senshi duplicated their 20th century forms?" Kodachi asked as she flew in from another direction, "Neptune will recover from the blow you used. Such a move should have a name to match its potency." She ignored Dr. Mizuno's glare.

      "Yes, I noticed it," Tofu said, "Despite the one-to-one correspondence of Princesses to Sailors in our group."

      "Usagi's was the most telling," Dr. Mizuno said as she paced nervously, considering deeply, "Venus and Plu - Saturn I can understand, but Usagi being a clam seems very telling to me. I don't know if personality absolutely decides, or if the form is only slightly influenced by personality." She looked up when only dead silence answered her. Her colleagues were examining the floor and ceiling minutely. "Very funny. Our Usagi is a rabbit, outgoing, friendly and active. Theirs is a clam, capable of some sudden movement, but generally quiet, withdrawn, static and even hostile to the outside."

      I may be going too deep with my analysis, she thought, as she stopped pacing and sat down, Or it may go very deep. Then the ones who are the same, are the ones who are the same. Considering who is the same, I should warn the Admiral, that we may have some turncoats in our ranks.

      "Doctor please!" Kodachi insisted, "Some respect."

      Dr. Mizuno looked around and realized in her hopping around thinking, she'd landed on NeoSerenity's throne. "Sorry, I get I have an instinct to seek the highest point in the room."

      "Doctors, ma'am!" a basset shouted as she ran up. She sat and scratched behind an ear, until she realized what she was doing and stopped.

      "Yes, Taupe?" Kodachi asked.

      "It's the bulldog, sir, ma'ams. She's . . . well she's . . . very attached . . . to one of the kittens. She's willing to promise 'Any oath you believe would bind me', to be with her."

      "Kittens?" Tofu asked.

      "One of the minor second tiers," Taupe explained, raised a leg, and stared at it until it went down. "Sometimes I wonder if the scratching has a mind of its own. It doesn't bother me, nearly as much as making sense of all the smells. That I'll miss. It's like having a lie detector and a time machine."

      "Yes, the dragon called humans 'nose blind'. I guess you really understand what that means," Tofu said.

      "Yes, sir."

      "Let us see the pair. Maybe we can find a place for them," Kodachi suggested, "We should interview them separately."

      "Let them explain alone, and then we can compare their explanations," Tofu said.

      "Very well," Dr. Mizuno said and sighed, settling her ruffled feathers.

      "Have you attempted to fly?" Kodachi asked.

      "I attempted," Dr. Mizuno replied.

      "Oh," Kodachi said, "Perhaps I could give you some helpful advice."

      " 'If man were meant to fly, they'd have given him wings'," Tofu-sensei said.

      "I take it you also were unsuccessful?" Kodachi asked, "You were from Nerima."

      "But not a trained gymnast," Dr. Mizuno pointed out, "Like you."

      Kodachi nodded. "And unlike me, not given to flights of fancy." The cormorant was out of reach and gone an instant later.

      "It looks like it's made of yarn," Neptune said of their opponent, as she orbited above the others.

      "What do you mean you can't fly?" Asuka asked Uranus.

      "How am I supposed to know how to fly?" Uranus replied.

      "She can fly, and you both have pilots' licenses! You have to know the mechanics," Asuka told her.

      "I fly helicopters, and she . . . she's always been that way," Uranus told Asuka, then both sprawled on the ground as the winged orca dive bombed them.

      "Okay, it's staying on the ground, so it isn't as big a problem as it could be," Asuka said, "Everybody get ready. Just like I said. We volley fire and see what happens."

      "My kind of plan!" Ryoko purred as she summon an immense energy ball.

      "I am not heartened by that bit of news," Asuka said to herself.

      "Fire!" Asuka commanded as she, the Outers, Ryoko, Rini, Pretty Sammi and Ryo-Oh-Ki discharged their attacks.

      Asuka watched the various energy blast hit, then came to one conclusion. "RUN!" she shouted as the creature came at them.

      "Worked like my plans do!" Ryoko congratulated her.

      "Shaddup!" Asuka replied.

      Ami had landed near the building her target was on. She saw the pink worm with the glasses, mortarboard and the large pincer for a tail, climbing a fire escape on the building.

      We seem to be going the same place, Ami thought as she climbed after it. As they reached the top, the oddest figurine joined them. I thought mice were supposed to be good at climbing, Ami didn't waste breath saying, I need more practice.

      She and the worm warily watched the odd confrontation. The angel figurine seems to be made of the most delicate porcelain. One head a platinum blonde, the other two yellow blonde, once you filter out the pink, Ami thought of the three-headed angel, She looks almost like Lind. Versus a gray, felt-covered box, once you filter out the pink.

      "You knew!" the angel's central head shouted and shook her halberd at the box, a mix of rage and heartbreak, "You knew of her relationship with Celestine!" The two flanking heads nodded.

      "Of course I knew," the box replied in a recognizable voice, "I don't hold grudges for no reason. I didn't practically drag the Senshi out of there because I was afraid of what you'd do to them."

      "I would not harm them!" the angel insisted.

      "Exactly, and you can't seriously harm me, so who else was I trying to get them away from?" the box replied, "If I'd killed her, before she killed all the others, if I hadn't been stupid."

      The angel practically shook with rage and shifted her halberd from hand to hand, until she'd regained control. "Why didn't you say something?"

      "Would it have made the slightest difference Lind?" the box replied, "She 'doesn't seem to remember' in my world, I doubt she or the others would change their story in this one. If she wanted to remember, she could. If anyone wanted her to know, it would be their job to tell her."

      "Gloriana died fighting Celestine!" the angel insisted, the tears forming showing the true emotion behind her shaking voice.

      "I know," the box said softly, and sadly added, "I was there! You weren't, don't lecture me on the proprieties."

      Now the box returned Lind's anger in full. "Your kind wanted the greatest threat since Legion swept under the rug and forgotten because Belldandy is destined for great things! RHIP, responsibility has infinitesimal priority! The ones who took Belldandy and Celestine's corpse made it clear we would have to fight them if we finished what we'd started. Not that Asuka or I could have finished off either of them at that point. Later, the ones I served with made that inescapably clear through word or deed. I certainly couldn't escape from their condescension."

      "The need of Heaven and Heaven's needs - "

      "You are NOT God. Don't pretend to be, to me who knows better. You understand less than you think, and nothing at all of the whole, do not pretend otherwise," Jeff's voice from the box was deadly cold, "Heaven is not God, and if you bow your head to Heaven, you are as blasphemous as those who bow only to themselves."

      The angel's rage passed. "You could have told me her murderer was -"

      "Belldandy didn't kill Gloriana," the box said firmly, regaining his composure, "That's one crime even I wouldn't accuse her of."

      "Then who did?" Lind asked, went to one knee, "Please, no more evasion, or fancy talk."

      "It's . . . complicated," the box sounded embarrassed, "She was my friend and teacher too."

      "Are you going after those monsters, or not?" the bookworm asked.

      "Burma Shave, and . . . Sailor Mercury," the box introduced them, "What do you two want here?"

      "We want to help," Ami said.

      I almost hope they tell us to leave, Ami thought, I thought they were going to kill each other a moment ago.

      "The killing fields are not for you, either of you," the box told them.

      "I am an Amazon," the bookworm, Burma Shave said proudly.

      "And she's a Sailor Senshi, and the two of you together wouldn't stand two minutes against those things," the box explained, "They aren't ordinary combat troops, they're killing machines, specially reenforced and altered to make them a match of all but the best Nerima has to offer." He paused, for them to consider.

      Lind continued, almost gently, but her anger at the previous topic still shown through. "And they will offer no quarter, not to you, not to anyone."

      "So why are you here?' the box asked the angel.

      "I have a duty to the people of this world." She looked out of the collection of buildings. "Can't you feel his taint?"

      "Yes," the box answered, "And you're as helpless as these two against it."

      The angel turned and two outer heads glared at the box, while the middle said, "They are at least partially where I can strike them."

      The box chuckled, "Dying for a noble cause still means you're dead. Even you could die against them."

      "Down! Down! Down!" Asuka shouted, "Up! Up! Up and around!" She watched as the two ends of the creature followed the evasive and irritating combatants.

      "Somehow, tying it in a knot doesn't seem to do much," Saturn told her.

      "It tires it out. Without an EVA, we'll have to go to close combat. Killing something like that is beyond even you."

      "So you're going to kill it?" Saturn asked, "OUCH!" she cried in sympathy as the knot tightened.

      "Either I kill it," Asuka said, "Or we keep it occupied until the dragon can get back here."

      "Yeah, we didn't do too much to it with our attacks," Saturn said.

      "Not your fault, it's too big, even if it wasn't a Great Old One," Asuka said, "I wish we had some of the new tanks, but we don't which is why it attacked now. And I've got until it unwraps itself, to figure out another plan."

      "If she's willing to fight," the bookworm insisted, "So am I, to the end!"

      "And me," Ami said.

      "I should let you paladins charge in and get killed, then nuke the place while they are killing you."

      Ami hadn't heard such a cold tone from anyone before.

      "Are you afraid we might not be able to handle the sight of all that killing?' Ami asked angrily, "Kagato was a manipulator, and a liar. He was right about one thing. Princess Mercury failed to find a solution to the hostile environment colonies on the other planets. I . . . she should have found a way to save all those lives. So yes, I've killed, through my deliberate in action. I will not allow my inaction to kill more people." She bowed her head. "So if I'm a rabbit, sent in to distract the tigers, so be it. If it saves the lives of the people of this planet, I accept my fate."

      "You have spirit," Lind said, "That is not the issue." She glared at the box and continued, "It is your training I question. You have power enough," she said, "Power without focus or discipline. This is not a fight for novices."

      "I am no novice," Burma Shave said brittlely, "A weak Amazon warrior is till many times better than the weaklings who you are allowing to do battle for their homes."

      "You have the opposite problem," the box pointed out, "Lacking the power to truly strike these creatures."

      Lind paused, then looked at the two silent faces on either side. Both nodded, and Lind hung her head. "My Angels and I have sensed your pure spirit. I could give you power, but your training is inadequate."

      "So we aren't the fighters you need, perhaps Xian Pu will be the warrior you need," Burma Shave said bitterly, "Then I shall provide the distraction for the bold warriors. Do not concern yourselves with my - our deaths." Burma Shave stood by Ami. "We are not afraid to die."

      "Davis, have you rope? We'll have to tie them up to keep them away from the battlefield."

      "If I had rope, I'd bond all three of you. You're as helpless as they . . . unless you want to risk a reunification," the box said innocently.

      "Of what?" Lind asked, almost dismissively.

      "Of parafusion."

      Lind looked like all three faces had been hit with a shovel. "You can't know that! Even our . . . Alcazar and Manticore, you trained with them to slay the traitors who served El Nureenen, those renegades." Even the two Angel heads looked angry now. "But there's no way for any one person to master the effect, even if they were instructed."

      "What is 'parafusion'?" Ami asked, "I parsed the word, but get no real clue."

      And why were you getting so crazy about it? Ami didn't ask though she longed to.

      "It allows a novice to gain the skills of a master, and the master to see through the novice's eyes," the box explained, "It is more complicated than that, but it would give you the ability to be more than moving targets."

      Or hindrances, Ami translated mentally.

      "Temporarily, or permanently?" Lind asked coldly, rubbing her arms as if she too felt the cold in her tone.

      "They always used the temporary, which is how I learned it. You show me something a few dozen times, I'll get every subtlety and nuance."

      Lind stared at him, all three mouths hung open.

      "So . . . " Ami prompted, "If we do that, you'll - "

      "You'll let us fight!" Burma Shave concluded.


      "It's not that simple. You'll need a counterbalance to . . . " Lind's certainty rusted and blew away as dust. "Oh, no," she said and backed away from the box fearfully.

      "You are helpless against them as well," the box said smugly, "I may not be up to yours or even Burma Shave's level in hand-to-hand, but only Ami and I can affect the targets."

      "Speaking of them, why haven't they swarmed out of their ship and swamped us, while we've been arguing?" Ami pointed out.

      "They're 10 miles, 16 klicks in that direction," the box told them.

      "You do know you don't have any arms?" Burma Shave laughed.

      "Nor'-nor'-west," the box grumbled, "And I do have arms, they're just in here with me."

      "He's probably all cute and fluffy in there," Burma Shave stage whispered to Ami, even Lind's lips nearly smiled, "That's why he's hiding, because he's so adorable. Bad for his reputation as bad and scary."

      Ami giggled at the image, remembering Rei's appearance.

      "Vorpal Rabbits notwithstanding," Jeff said, finally. "The question still stands, do you want to participate, or watch?"

      The angel walked away. Her center head speaking, and the other two communicating through expressions and movement.

      "I think the two outer heads are happier with the prospect than the center one," Burma Shave said.

      The tanks had moved up stealthily. Their approach covered by the trucks commandeered to screen them visually and seismically. The infantry approached equally cautiously.

      "The reports of the enemy's advanced fighting weapons has stripped the eagerness of our warriors," Tatewaki said as he watched the half-hearted approach of the legions of Japan.

      "That and having to improvise makeshifts to operate all the controls doesn't help the speed and efficacy of our fighting," Captain Tachibana replied, "It all takes the edge off, even if the opponent is hurt worse than you are."

      "You assume they are completely unaware of our approach," Tate pointed out, "If their blades are more advanced, so might be their eyes and ears."

      "That's something that's been worrying me," the captain admitted, "I think they are playing with us, waiting for us to commit or do something stupid, and then they'll pounce."

      "Then a more direct action is called for," Tatewaki said, "One that reveals none of our hidden strength, but may release the pounce." Tate vaulted over the short barricade and marched towards where the best estimates put their command post. He easily uprooted a parking meter as he passed.

      I hear the shouted warnings, but the clown must occasionally play the clown, he thought, If audacity is required, they shall find no lack in Kuno Tatewaki. He hurled the packing meter through the wall of the warehouse, and heard it ricocheting around within, as well as the cries of alarm.

      "Come forth!" he shouted, the bear giving it a growling overtone he rather liked, "The Emperor of Japan, and his loyal servant Kuno Tatewaki demand you come forth, repent of your evil ways, beg his Imperial forgiveness, and depart forever!"

      And all the while I prepare to leap from the site of their attack, he thought, Ah, they respond.

      A mech easily 8-meters tall unfolded through the roof of one of the warehouses. It lumbered clumsily forward to face the bear.

      The Captain was correct, he thought, Despite their advanced systems, they are not wholly immune to the effect of their transformation.

      "Yeah, you're Kuno Tatewaki, did the spore tell you that?" the mech's loudspeakers blared.

      "I am Kuno Tatewaki." Kuno bristled at the implied insult. "A demonstration can be arranged." He clenched his fists, then opened his hands, extending his claws to the utmost. "Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike!" he shouted as his hands blurred forward, then back.

      The mech's shields and deflector screen flared and faded, its ablative armor shattered and fell in shards to the pavement. The tougher reflective armor beneath distorted under the invisible shockwaves. The mech staggered backward, teetered on the edge numerous times, but never fell. Kuno only smiled as he knew he had won.

      "Yeah, that's pretty good," the mech blared, "But against a real . . . " The kanji for 'surrender ' stood out clearly, hammered into the armor. "Ah, can you excuse me for a moment?" The mech stepped back into the warehouse.

      Tachibana approached with a few of the Senshi. "How did you do that?"

      "With great skill," Tate replied, "Now we wait. Obviously, they fear my prowess with the sword - er, claws."

      "Yeah, they heard of the great Tatewaki Kuno, and they just had to surrender," Venus scoffed.

      "Only a thousand years have passed," Kuno said, "My legend has not yet faded."

      He ignored the mirth of those who were approaching to bask in the glory of this moment.

      "I must say, I'm not completely sanguine about the possibility of battle when others seem to hold our chances of success and even survival are so poor," Burma Shave whispered to Ami as the three angel heads debated and discussed.

      "I think the sneak-in-the-box would have just left us here and gone on about his business, if he thought things were truly hopeless. He seems to like getting people to rush into his traps. Friends and enemies. Friends are taken to places and through experiences they would sooner have avoided. Enemies . . . get off quicker, but not as easily as friends," Ami replied, cleaned her whiskers, and waited, "Except, I have considered the possibilities, and what he's said, not just what he'd like us to think he's said."

      Burma Shave nodded.

      "What he hasn't said doesn't concern me as much, and I'll ask a few questions before we begin."

      The angel fluttered over, the two outer heads were practically beaming with joy, while the inner looked as if her best friends had just died, by accident and at her hands. "I agree. I know the balance, Angels and Great Old Ones, plus, you need a buffer to bridge the gap. Neither of us can do that."

      "Correct," Jeff replied.

      Ami smirked. "So you need both of us for this to work. And I assume that the intellectual gets paired with the warrior, to balance instinct with intellect, or a fighting spirit with analysis."

      "Very well thought out, but wrong," Jeff said, "All four of us will be needed. Lind, you and I need a human anchor, other than that, correct. I just wish I had some better equipment for Burma Shave. Even a weak Amazon is powerful, but against what we're fighting, even a full power Senshi is weak."

      Lind stepped up to the bookworm, staring at her. Burma Shave held her ground and stared back. "There is something I can do," Lind said.

      Those two blonde heads have been looking extremely intently at one another, Ami noted.

      When Lind looked at one, the other laid her head against Lind's cheek. Then the head began to pull free, manifesting arms, a torso, and she beckoned Burma Shave closer.

      Ami felt her knees knocking as she watched the Angel fully manifest.

      "Beautiful," was all Burma Shave could manage as she stared at the angel who touched, and began to merge with her. With the angel ensconced in her body, Burma Shave began looking around in utter amazement. Much to the amusement of the two Angels.

      "I . . . I understand it all," Burma Shave said, then looked at the box, "You're so wrong, about so very much."

      "Maybe," the box said, "But the underlying hypothesis still models all behaviors of the system accurately."

      "There is more to life than knowledge," Burma Shave said, "Can you trust no one? Can you love no one?"

      "When they all quit dying on me, maybe I'll consider it," the box said, "There may be more to life than knowledge, but that and faith are all we really have."

      "And you have faith, only in God? Reverent, but so limiting," Burma Shave said.

      "Practically everyone else has let me down."

      The crater was miles across, and devoid of any water ice or space probes. Exactly what I need, the Scholarly Dragon thought as he `carved` the last runes into the soft lunar soil. Above, the Jurain fleet continued firing its main armament at the planet. Orders or insanity holds them in an iron grip, he thought happily, Thank you for providing the nearly limitless power to fuel the spell that so befuddles my other enemies, and the means by which I shall defeat you.

      And thank you Adonai, for making most of my enemies idiots, he added more reverently.

      Of course, they'll turn their main armament on me. They wouldn't dream of doing something rational like just using their secondary and tertiary batteries, or dispatching one ship to deal with me. It's the sledgehammer or nothing. No, when all you have is HMS Dreadnought, or HMS Glorious, big guns become the answer to everything.

      He glanced at the path the fleet seemed to take through the lunar sky, and waited. I could hit them from here, but better position in a little while, he thought, Better tell the others that the show's about to start. I'd rather not upset the Admiral again.

      Ami felt slightly nauseated, and sleepy. As the herbs burned, Lind and her Angels softly sang four-part harmony with Jeff's chanting, and the sound of a chime rang in her head, It's as if reality is coming unraveled, Ami thought as her head lolled and she forced back her bile, 'Let the hallucinations take you where they will, and don't be concerned about the twitching. Your muscles must be trained as well.' I just wish I didn't feel like I was having a simultaneous attack of food poisoning and epilepsy, she thought as she watched an arm, not her arm, go through a complicated parry and counterthrust and her own arm flop loosely in a ridiculous parody of the smooth move of her hallucination.

      The hallucinations deepened, grew more real as the world around her slipped away. I know they are hallucinations, but what is more real, your environment, or your senses' reactions? Ami gave in to the visions and experiences, practicing the sword in a mediaeval training field, and in a much more modern gymnasium, in proper fencing attire and protection.

      She marched alongside rough men and women who looked like they knew and enjoyed the face of war. Stratagems, plans, details of plans filled her mind while her body flopped around in practice, things to do, things not to do, all sleeted into her mind. I don't think I'll need Roman-camp sanitation procedures, but information is information, Ami thought and winced as 'she' tripped an opponent and knifed them in the back, So much for chivalry, and I don't know if that came from Jeff or Lind, or if there's a difference.

      Then the image changed. The hard but beautiful woman, with the flowing black hair, brought her pole axe down on the one Ami thought she held. That's weird! I know I dropped the axe, but my body reacted from the mediaeval training and would have held it, she thought. Again and again she was defeated by this woman. There's love there, Ami realized and blushed, While she's harder than any of the mediaevals, there's more encouragement. The mediaevals were trying to weed out the weak, she's trying to make a fledgling strong. Ami enjoyed the memory of another warm hug and encouraging smile. I wish my mom could show approval that way, Ami silently wished, then she was in battle.

      She watched a young cavalry officer who seemed so much like Asuka. But the subtle differences I wouldn't have noticed before, before I knew what to look for. The carriage, the look in the eye, Ami realized, That's the Meliorist! Ami saw battles against things that defied description. Sometimes she fought alongside hard-bitten humans and dragons, sometimes alongside Angels and Kami. The ferocity's the same, but the humans make the struggle more real, she thought, The Angels and Kami give it a nobility. But I see - patterns and insights, that fighting is more than knowing where to stick the pointy bit.

      She nearly screamed as an arrow hit her in the belly, she nearly screamed again as she charged across the field to slaughter the archers who'd fired on her. I even killed them when they tried to surrender, she shuddered, And I understand why I - whoever actually did it - did it, and it makes sense.

      She saw the new tricks and the real abilities of her own powers. They're so obvious - now, she thought ruefully, They would never have occurred to Sailor or Princess Mercury if she'd lived ten thousand years.

      The white flag was unexpected, as were the stream of terrified toys and animals who spilled out of the warehouse.

      "We - we're going to need a lot more men," Captain Tachibana whispered as the true size of the force they faced became apparent.

      One rooster looked at the others filing out and then at the small group of soldiers and Senshi across the road.

      "Why'd the rooster cross the road," Venus said, "To get at the Senshi on the other side."

      "As long as he doesn't cross us," Tachibana said, "I'll take that as a good omen."

      While the crowd behind him jostled each other for a better view, he took the flag and marched towards the group. At 10 meters, he stopped. "You have proven to be Kuno Tatewaki."

      "I am," Kuno stepped clear of the others and replied stoically.

      "I will not submit myself or my soldiers to Serenity's . . . servants," the rooster proclaimed.

      "You will be in the custody of the Japanese Self-Defense Force," Captain Tachibana promised, "You have my word."

      "What's the matter?" Mars asked angrily, "Do we smell bad or something?"

      "Just pour gasoline on troubled waters," Venus replied.

      "And light it," Mars said.

      "You have my word as well," Tatewaki said.

      The soldiers and Senshi braced as the rooster threw away the white flag and with outstretched wings, charged the line. Tatewaki, clearly the intended target braced, then relaxed as the rooster threw itself at his feet and gently pecked as if kissing them.

      "We knew you'd save us, that even in this world you'd not abandon us."

      Tatewaki looked at the others as their mouths hung open in stunned amazement as the rest of the force swarmed Kuno. The time displaced all begged for salvation, autographs, permission to name their children for him.

      Venus put her hand over her face. "Don't tell me this won't have an effect on his ego."

      "Naught can inflame the ego of Kuno Tatewaki," he proclaimed, causing several of the group to swoon.

      "It's already too big," Mars said, "How are you going to explain this to Asuka?"

      "Asuka?" the weasel who'd been pushed close to Mars demanded, as all the others fell silent, "Asuka Soryu Langley, the Second Child, the Lady of Dragons, Pilot of Unit 02 is here too?"

      Mars was too frightened by the ferocious expectation on all the faces to answer.

      "Sure," Moon said happily, "She's our friend."

      The entire enemy force fainted. Moon looked around desperately, then looked at Rei's growing irritation.

      "This wasn't my fault!" the bunny bawled.

      The ballerina was beauty in porcelain, a moment of motion caught and held still. In the line of dozens of similar pieces, only one stood out. Kagato's initial rage at being small, immobile and worst of all female, had slowly cooled, and transmuted to fear, and then terror. Unable to move, unable to express his slightest thought, and unable to manipulate the world around him. The tiny tears running down the figure's face marked him as the only one of the entire line as truly alive.

      The hand that turned the key, released the tinny music, and set the figure rotating in a macabre parody of life. The next in line received the same treatment, its motion and music off-sync making a cacophony rather than a harmony. Key after key, mechanism after mechanism was wound tight and released, setting the immobile figure to turning slowly.

      Soon enough, it was Kagato's turn and he nearly fainted with relief at the ability to move, if only at the behest of the clockwork base. The rest of the line received the same, until all slowly turned and the tinkling music warred with itself. The figure stepped back into the room's only light source. An ordinary monkey, one of macaques that dotted the hilly landscape over Japan, save that it was fully clothed, and it was pink, like the rest of the world. It looked at the line, and Kagato in particular with a kind of dull disinterest, as if setting them to motion had been a whim, and now the next step was coming hard, or unimportant.

      The figure plucked one of the ballerinas off the shelf, and smashed it against the wall. The shadows concealed the monkey's expression at the destruction, but Kagato saw the seeping red from the shards of chinawork, where the lifeless creature bled from its murder.

      Another received the same treatment, and another, seemingly at random. Kagato tried to breathe a sigh of relief as one beside him fell, while he remained. But the math was against him, from fifty, to thirty, to ten, and now just five. The monkey brought the five off the shelf and set them on the ground in the light. Now Kagato could clearly see the shattered limbs, the bodyless leg stumps still turning as the clockwork ran down. The five all ran down and the monkey gently rewound them. As he spun, Kagato could see the odd patience in the creature's face, not the malice he had expected, or the fury that Kagato himself had felt.

      The monkey gripped the delicate arms of one figurine, and snapped them off, then the waist, then the head from the torso, finally the knees. The base with only the legs remaining was set to continue rotating undisturbed, as the next figure received the exact same treatment. And the next.

      Kagato refused to beg for mercy as the next to last, and last figure received the almost ritual annihilation. The monkey picked him up, the face seemed more sad than anything else.

      "You've threatened my child," it told him. Kagato realized he didn't know if this was male or female. "You don't know how much I want to kill you," it told him, "But the dragon has told me what he plans to do to you, and it frightens even me. So I leave you." It set him down on his side, so the base rolled on the carpeted floor rolling him in a circle as monkey withdrew. Leaving Kagato alone with the shattered, bleeding remnants of the toys who had looked just like him.

      In the room's only light, the figurine screamed soundlessly.

      The admiral climbed atop the magic table looking down at the image being transmitted. "Your Majesty, you are looking well."

      "I'm a clam," NeoSerenity replied.

      "An oyster, I believe your Majesty," the admiral said.

      "That explains this." She spit out a pearl.

      "Don't fret, your Majesty," the admiral said as he examined it, "Irritation causes pearls."

      "Very funny," she replied.

      GrandMaster Saturn was neither a swan like Pluto, nor a puppy dog like Sailor Saturn, but a small long-bodied cat, almost a ferret. "They are turning in," Saturn told them.

      The Jurain fleet clearly was taking an aggressive posture.

      "Energy converter is standing by," the dragon's voice told them.

      "We are picking up a high energy source near the north pole of the moon," Saturn told them, "He's practically on top of the old Moon Kingdom."

      No wonder they're being stupid, the admiral realized, They're terrified. They think the Moon Kingdom is doing this. He noted the look of satisfaction on the GrandMaster's face, while the Queen clammed up tight. Ah, so there is an added dimension.

      "They're firing!" the queen shouted.

      The bolts from the fleet's main guns struck a scintillating barrier dozens of meters from the dragon.

      Idiots are powering their own demise, the admiral realized, He must have done the same with their previous bombardment. The energy had to go somewhere. 'Energy converter' he said. If they used weaker weapons, they might have been more effective.

      The glow of the barrier intensified. Saturn added filtering to make the action viewable. Within the bubble, the dragon made weird gestures while he seemed to dance.

      Like a damaged earthworm, the admiral thought. Then the bubble burst, and a beam shot out. Saturn changed the setting barely fast enough to let them watch the brilliant search light scythe through the fleet destroying shields and armor. Three vessels vanished, leaving not even dust in their wake. Two others drifted helplessly. That left three still under power and on the field.

      "Wow!" NeoSerenity said.

      I think 'Oops' better sums things up, the admiral thought, While they're weakened and damaged, I bet that's the bulk of the fleet's firepower, we just destroyed the screening vessels. They can take a hit from their own armament and keep operating.

      "I believe GrandMaster Saturn and I need to speak privately," NeoSerenity said, "You can see yourselves out."

      "Of course your Majesty, your Excellency." The admiral led the troops away. He surreptitiously checked to see if he still had NeoSerenity's pearl in his pocket as they walked.

      Jupiter watched the combined blows land on the flanks of the monster. The 'strings of yarn' that were actually tentacles ending in a fanged mouth were destroyed in great numbers. But they'll grow back, Makoto remembered, There has to be a better way, a more effective way to hurt that thing.

      She pulled the knife she'd been given and stared at it.

      "Hey, no more daydreaming," Uranus quacked angrily at her, "Get back in the fight."

      "Better to fight effectively," she said, paraphrasing Master Happosai. She ran to where Ryoko lobbed bolt after bolt into the creature. "Ryoko-san! Can Ryo-Oh-Ki fire electricity, I mean a lot?"

      "Sure, but it won't be as effective as what she's using now," Ryoko said, then added sourly, "Not that it's too effect anyway."

      "I have an idea," Jupiter told her, and smiled.

      Ami opened her eyes, seeing the two-headed bookworm similarly stunned by the revelation and training. "I think I'm ready . . . once I can move again," Ami admitted. She looked over at Lind, who was staring aghast at Jeff.

      "Why didn't you tell me?" she asked quietly.

      "Would it have mattered?" Jeff asked, as unreadable as a box as he seemed to be as a man.

      The surface displays what he wants you to see, but I saw the inside, but I can't understand it even partially, Ami thought as she put her head down, Lind knows more than I do about it. Except I knew she loved her teacher, Gloriana. Loved her with her entire heart and soul.

      Ami rested and tried to find her center in the welter of her new knowledge she had been given by her friends.

      Jeff tilted and calmly said, "It begins."

      Asuka watched The preparations for Makoto's strike. It's a good idea, and it will work. I don't want to know where she got a weapon that could kill a Great Old One, but I can guess. I can also guess who she was planning on using it on, Asuka thought, uncertain of her feeling on the one missing item, But they won't be able to keep it dead, no matter what weapons they bring to the battle, no matter what force they apply, nor how bravely they endanger themselves. But I can. It's what I'm for. But something like this . . . no, I needn't worry. If I can just get off the planet, Jeff or the Dragon can finish me off. She chuckled mirthlessly at that. So I've got nothing to worry about.

      The energy built up around Sailor Jupiter, as Ryo-Oh-Ki fed all her power into the field surrounding Jupiter. The girl grimaced and struggled to remain standing as she strove against the power she needed to make her strike.

      She's brave, and tough, I'll give her that, Asuka thought and turned her attention on her target, But she won't be the one who delivers the mortal blow. I didn't want this, now I have no choice.

      The rest of the force kept the MoAD busy. Asuka maneuvered for one of the creature's few weak spots.

      I don't know how much more she can take, Asuka thought as she picked her way across the battlefield, But I've got to be ready when she strikes.

      Jupiter's bolt struck, and the creature, who had made no noise previously, screamed in pain and rage. It also went completely rigid.

      I should be thinking about something other than wondering if alternating or direct current is causing the paralysis, Asuka thought as she leapt bodily into and through the creature's eye, letting a aura of fire burn her way through the monster, Even it's regenerative powers are overtaxed by Jupiter's shot. She paused and centered herself. Your pain will not be for naught, my sacrifice will see to that. That allows me to do this, she summoned all the powers stolen from her previous victims, And I was afraid of losing control.

Sailor Jupiter II 19 - When Human Respect Is Disintegratin'

      The collection of armed cute animals, toys and semi-military bric-a-brac massed against them gave way before their assault. The box's handgrip slots spouted swords, gunfire, even the occasional rocket, with the backblast venting out the other slot. Mercury concentrated on her computer, while she stayed close to Burma Shave, who seemed a forest of blades, kicks, blows and thrown explosives. Mercury quietly fought, throwing up fogs and clouds of bubbles to obscure herself and her friends, and countered the jamming that the Jurains were using, in order to keep a close eye on their actual forces.

      "They're closing in," Mercury reported as they moved towards the loading ramp of the largest transport.

      "Herding us," Lind explained as she too-easily carved through vast quantities of the Jurain soldiery.

      Mercury stopped long enough to examine the unit flash tattooed, or some such, on the arm of one of the fallen. The rest of that soldier was nowhere to be seen. Mercury picked up the arm and moved towards Lind as the enemy opened the way to the ramp, and closed the escape back. She ignored the stuffing silting out of the arm as she carried it, her mind easily identifying what it would be if the arm returned to humanity.

      "The unit isn't the elites who came here," she explained.

      "That's probably them now." A blade from the box pointed at the troop now coming down the ramp. The troop with the improvised powered armor and heavy weapons.

      Mercury's computer scanned them and reported the truth. "They're much more heavily armed and augmented," she explained, "They've got shields, and the unit flash we were warned about."

      "Then die well," Burma Shave said stoically as she raised her blades, "I shall die with my sword in their guts. We shall win this war, hang the cost!" she growled.

      Both Lind and the box seemed to be grinning, without appearing to be. "Fight as one," Lind said quietly.

      "Heart, hand and soul," Jeff-in-the-box added somberly, "What say ye?"

      "Send all to the ferryman," Lind replied as she used her ax to flip the box spinning high in the air. As it spun, small, glowing beads poured out of the slots, to scatter among the crowd of Jurains. The beads exploded, throwing Jurains and pieces of Jurains in all directions.

      Mercury physically restrained Burma Shave, before she could race into the holocaust. While none of the charges landed near Lind, the Valkyrie still moved more warily than she had when surrounded by enemies. The box fell to the ground and the explosions died down. Lind and Jeff rushed forward, Mercury followed Burma Shave into the disorganized attackers.

      The huge pink wyrm writhed as its glow increased.

      "I think we'd better take cover!" Ryoko shouted as she dove behind the heartiest structure she could find, "If this is anything like Washu's stuff, we don't want to be around."

      The Senshi and their allies took to their heels. Stirogli swept down, caught the slowest of the bunch and raced towards a line of hills as the glow intensified.

      "It's gonna be that bad?!" Ryoko shouted in alarm and raced into the air after the fleeing dragon.

      "I think we're gonna be in trouble even here!" the dragon shouted to the arriving Ryoko as the glow intensified further, erasing all the details, save the shadows. He hunkered down in behind a meters-thick pile of constriction debris and earth torn up by the earlier advent of the 'Mother of All Dragons.

      The glow winked off. No explosion, no kaboom or thunderclap. Only the sound of their blood rushing in their ears could be heard. All looked around nervously, then at the slope above them.

      "What are you doing?" Michiru shouted at her paramour as Uranus climbed, "This is Asuka, she's probably waiting to blast the first person who sticks their head up!"

      Sailor Uranus sneered as she climbed to the top of their 'battlement', and screamed as she came tumbling down. "Fooled you," she told her horrified partner as Neptune bent over her. The other Senshi's expression ceased Uranus' laughter, and told her she'd be sleeping in her own room, alone, for the near future.

      The others glanced at their restored, familiar human forms. Ryoko whispered to Ayeka, "I think Tenchi would have like cuddling with a cute stuffed animal." She paused to let Ayeka's outrage build to explosion, then added, "Or two."

      'The girl's total blush is worth it!' Ryoko's expression at Ayeka's thwarted outrage seemed to say. The others focused on the probable reason for their restoration.

      "Anyone else think this is ominous?" Sailor Saturn commented quietly, and listened intently for a reaction. Then she and Princess Pluto carefully climbed the hill to observe.

      The two Jupiters were less willing to watch and wait. Both charged up the hill, and back the way they came. "Asuka!" "Asuka!" they shouted, then all four Senshi stood stock still, stunned by the complete and sudden disappearance of the 'Mother of All Dragons'.

      The hard-packed earth seemed as barren as the surface of the moon, and the crater more apropos of the lunar surface than earth. The crater was glass floored, and the heat of it drove the Senshi back. But it was small, scarcely 4-meters in diameter. In it stood a girl in a black-trimmed red body suit, with long red hair. Asuka, restored and in human form, stood alone and apparently untouched, in the middle of the crater where the monster had writhed and battled only moments before. She looked towards the rim as the others, also restored to their human-shapes, began gathering.

      Asuka, her skin-tight jumpsuit causing no embarrassment to the girl, seemed disconnected from her surroundings, like a sleeper awakening from a dream. She regarded her odd clothing neutrally, as if recognizing it. Ryoko began floating towards the crater. Ryoko watched Asuka look up at the sky, then down at her hands, before the space-pirate approached with the entire force. In twos and threes, the others followed. The silence of the surroundings and her companions disconcerted the space-pirate as she walked.

      They paused as Asuka stared at them, her face a pageant of curiosity. Then she seemed to grow disappointed and confused with them, and her surroundings. She turned to look at the devastation, and the city beyond.

      "Is that her uniform?" Sailor Jupiter asked, as she shied away from the heat radiating out of the crater. She steeled herself and stepped forward carefully, and realized that the heat wasn't coming from the glassy floor of the crater, but the figure itself. "And I thought our costumes were embarrassing."

      "Is it leather, or plastic?" Princess Jupiter asked as she joined Sailor Jupiter out in the crater.

      "Ask Setsuna, she's a fashion designer," Sailor Jupiter replied, "I doubt even Happosai could steal her underwater out of that."

      In a cool and preoccupied tone, Asuka explained, "I - remember - sunlight, warm on my face." She stared at them in confusion, turned away to look at the city visible over the rim of the crater, then back turned to stare at them, "It all seems colder now."

      They looked at the orb in the sky, and the shadow Asuka was throwing. Ayeka seemed ready to point this out when a glance from Ryoko warned her off.

      Asuka suddenly turned to face them. Both Jupiters tried to dodge, but Asuka held both off the ground with a hand around each of their throats. The heat had vanished the instant Asuka had taken an interest in them.

      "Am I all right? Am I alive?" Asuka shook both Jupiters. "You dare ask me that with an assassin's weapon at your side?" Asuka lowered them, then pushed down, forcing both of them to crouch. Asuka brought them closer, so she could look into each face. "I still remember the world, through the eyes of a child," Asuka said quietly as if about an incomprehensible memory, "Those feelings . . . obscured by what I know now." She shook her head and looked at them intently, as if seeing them clearly for the first time.

      Sailor Jupiter saw the intense gaze and horrible smile, and tried to recoil, but Asuka's grip was a vice of iron.

      "Am I hurting you?" Asuka asked, and relaxed her grip slightly, then laughed. Kodachi at her worst couldn't have created a more terrible sound than that. "If you kill me, of course I can't hurt you!" Asuka explained, "So why don't you play out the drama you had in mind? He saved you, he loved you, and you'd knife him the first chance you got." Asuka laughed again, a spine-chilling, mad sound that made both Senshi and their arriving allies writhe. "Then because you love him and not me, should I expect better, or worse?" Again, Asuka made the horrible hair-raising pandemonium. She bowed her head as tears streamed down her cheeks. "I want to go back to believing in everything, and knowing nothing at all."

      "Asuka," Ayeka began, and froze when Asuka turned her full attention on her. Ayeka approached, and Asuka backed away in alarm as if she might hurt Ayeka in some way. Dragging the two Jupiters along as she did it.

      "I am not as insane as the world," Asuka explained placidly, turned back to the Jupiters and smiled, "Nor as insane as you." Asuka appeared to come out of it, gain lucidity for a moment. She stared at Ryoko, who backed away in fright. "Tell Ami, warn her, that certain things are perhaps not worth knowing. Washu -" Asuka frowned, then continued. "Tell Washu that any school child would be able to answer her questions, and she and the others will soon pay full measure for all the blood spilled for her asinine, fiddling experiments." Asuka leapt into the air, leaving the stunned Senshi behind.

      "Does anyone want to explain that?" Haruka asked.

      "Something very bad just happened to our friend," Ayeka said quietly as she watched the red figure dwindle and disappear in the distance, "And a lot more people are going to be affected by it."

      Ami looked at her restored companions, and then at herself reflected in the computer's screen. "We're back," she said.

      Jeff was staring at the sky. Lind and Burma Shave halted their planned advance into the Jurain ship. The scattered bits of cloth and stuffing had returned to human form as well. Ami was trying to ignore the sights and smells that now surrounded her.

      "I have to go," Jeff said, and raced into the sky.

      "Are we going after him?" Burma Shave asked Lind, who was staring after the vanishing streak.

      "No, there are places even angels fear to tread." Lind turned her attention from the sky and charged into the Jurain ship. Ami jogged after her.

      The dragon considered the grazing fire from the widely dispersed fleet, and the battlewagons heading straight at him. They seem to have learned from earlier mistakes, he realized as the battlewagons maneuvered to unleash full, coordinated broadsides to blow through his shield without powering a potential counterstrike. He nearly missed the massive energy surge from the planet.

      Either Tenchi's getting into the game, or . . .

      The immense bolt passed among the battlewagons, sending them toppling like bits of bark in a raging sea. Several collided, exploding violently and sheeting radiation through those that remained. As the other smaller vessels also went dark, the dragon extended his power and found that he alone remained alive in the near lunar space.

      Somebody is in for a special butt-kicking, he thought as he tracked a second, more contained energy surge follow the first into translight velocity, And I'm glad it isn't me. He considered Earth, and realized his spell had been neutralized. Very glad.

      Where to go? Where to go? he asked himself as he considered the possible courses of action, when he found himself thinking of Winnie and Rini, he was amused, They are in greater need of me, at the moment. The others will need to follow my advice later, better to set the hooks deeper. I just hope the boy's plan works. I'd hate to have to destroy this whole universe to contain them.

      The forces had reassembled. None of the Jurain invaders remained in any condition to talk, save through a Ouija board. So Rei had been detailed to talk to them later. The forces from the future had been disarmed, and were led back to the compound under heavy guard, for debriefing.

      "What the Hell is that?" their leader, Colonel Patterson asked of the crystalline castle in the distance.

      "Maybe someplace where your attacks succeeded," Tatewaki explained, "They landed, molested many of the locals, and laid claim to that piece of land."

      "Sounds like NeoSwine-ity," one of the cadre commented.

      "I'd never do that!" Sailor Moon insisted.

      The dubious looks from the others told her their opinion of her and that statement.

      The troopers were questioned, identified and placed under lock up. The officers went to be debriefed.

      Tatewaki walked into the tent where Colonel Patterson waited.

      "Are you going to ask me questions I can't answer too?" the man from the future asked.

      "Perhaps," Kuno said as he sat at the table across from the Colonel, "Let's start with your mission. There are enough rumblings from your forces that guessing the basic outline is child's play."

      "Simply, it was to destroy NeoSerenity, in the past, by destroying Sailor Moon and the other Senshi." Patterson leaned back, bored with the endless, repetitive questioning, of which Kuno's was the latest round. "I would have thought you of all people would side with us. You see for yourself what NeoSerenity's reign spawned. And you wonder why we opposed her?"

      "Perhaps," Kuno said, his tone equally bored. He examined his hands, the callouses the sword had left on them, the lines that some claimed told the future. He wondered which, the lines or the callouses had a greater draw on his future. He looked up at the man from the future. "I just wonder if you are taking the letter of your orders to heart, and are ignoring the spirit of them."

      "How so?" Patterson asked merely to be polite. By looking at the man, his boredom with the proceedings hadn't decreased a whit.

      "Your job is to destroy NeoSerenity. Killing her here, will prevent her rise in the future, correct?"

      "That's elementary deduction, sir, congratulations." The bored man frowned at the time being wasted.

      "Then let me restore your faith in me," Kuno sat forward. Laid his hands flat on the table and explained, "You have no knowledge why Tsukino Usagi became first Sailor Moon, and why Sailor Moon became NeoSerenity."

      Patterson mocked Tatewaki's posture by leaning forward. "Why does it matter?" Patterson asked.

      "Isn't your real mission to prevent the rise of NeoSerenity? And thereby prevent the destruction of all the lives you claim NeoSerenity has slain. To the best of my ability, I cannot reconcile Sailor Moon, with a woman who would have sent so many to exile from an otherwise empty planet. Sailor Mars, or the Queen Serenity and her court up north, yes. But Tsukino Usagi?" Tatewaki sat back and shook his head. "The thought boggles my mind."

      "It happened," Patterson stated flatly.

      Tatewaki smiled knowingly at him. "Not yet it hasn't. And you are uniquely positioned to prevent it from ever happening. You know all the events leading up to Sailor Moon's transformation to NeoSerenity, both the folklore, and the indoctrination by your side. But you have never considered the effects of that history on these impressionable, young girls. You and your people can, if you can restrain your tempers, make certain Moon, Jupiter and Mercury know what to avoid, and what to embrace. You have mentioned not one word about Sailors Uranus, Neptune or Saturn, yet Pluto lives and is still trapped at the Time Gates. Those have been destroyed here, freeing Pluto to live and move among the others. You can assist us, in preventing NeoSerenity from ever existing, by helping and guiding the Senshi. Where the ones from your time received little if any training in tactics, leadership, survival skills, and were bereft of allies of any sort, here, you can rectify that." Kuno leaned forward, nearly nose to nose with the man. "You can help mold Sailor Moon into a hero, rather than let her fall to being merely a queen. She can inspire, rather than reign. She can be the rallying cry, not the rallying point." Kuno leaned back, and smiled at the wary man. "All this lies within your grasp. Even a place to advise her. If you merely give up your vengeance on someone unborn, you may make certain she will never exist at all. Serenity tried to kill Tsukino Usagi, the instant she became Sailor Moon. You can save the hope-filled, Japanese schoolgirl, or help your true nemesis to rise from the corpse of an innocent life. Congratulations, you stand in the unique location that you can 'shoot Adolf Hitler', and actually prevent another from taking his place."

      The man seemed shaken. His eyes roamed the room, as if trying to avoid looking directly at Tatewaki. "It is - something to think about," Patterson admitted.

      "Perhaps. Perhaps you can complete your mission, and avoid slaughtering a pack of innocents along the way. NeoSerenity is your foe and target, destroying her only requires she never exist. The death, or the attempted murder of Tsukino Usagi and the other girls, will only hasten her arrival. If Sailor Moon could count on allies who would stand with her, she would no longer be acculturated to stand alone."

      Patterson stared at him a long while, as if measuring Tatewaki's words against his own thoughts. "I will consider it," he finally, shakily said.

      Kuno stood. "I can expect nothing else." He bowed slightly and left the room.

      Patterson stared at his hands, his fingers and the scars there. His hands moved, as if physically wrestling with the problem that his mind grappled with.

      "Uh, why isn't he changing back?" Dumpling-Head asked as she lowered her hands and wand after a healing attempt.

      "Because the magic got to him," Rei said, "Maybe the dragon messed up? How should I know?"

      "Perhaps because this is my natural form," the large wolfman among the prisoners said patiently, "You didn't think we drove off those furry spies with good intentions did you?" He snapped his jaws shut while staring at Luna. "Good eating on a cat, if you can catch enough of them at once. If you just catch one, it's fun slowly tearing it to pieces. Like it does to weaker prey."

      Luna had retreated behind Usagi, keeping her between them as the wolfman walked off to join his fellow captives.

      "Mustard, they're even better with mustard," he called over his shoulder.

      Moon picked up the shivering Luna and walked back to her quarters.

      Admiral Morita read the reports without laughing too much. Admiral Takarada quietly packed his office, in light of his 'reassignment'.

      "I know the rumors going through the camp already. It was Davis and Langley I was hoping to meet," Morita said.

      "If the dragon is correct, you may not ever meet them as they were," Takarada replied. He paused in his packing, and frowned. "Unfortunate, they were coming along nicely, and seemed to be able to jolly the Senshi into the necessary military drills and thinking."

      "I'll have to find other ways," Morita said.

      "Don't be surprised if they throw their henshin on your desk and walk out," he warned his replacement.

      "I think I've got a plan that will keep them here," Morita explained, "One that I hope will not make me as unpopular with our political leaders as you have become. At least they didn't ask you to retire, like General Horai."

      "They needed a sacrifice for Beryl's continued negotiations." Takarada wrapped a few of the more fragile mementoes. "When they couldn't locate the Senshi, he was picked."

      "He should shortly be providing the carrier for those cannons Langley developed," Morita said, "So he hasn't done badly."

      Takarada nodded.

      "I've also learned quite a bit on the things I need to know." The knock on the door interrupted Morita. "Here's one now."

      "I beg pardon, but I'd heard that the Admiral was leaving," the man-form of the Scholarly Dragon said as he entered, "And I apologize for the inconvenience. There was literally nothing else I could do in the time I had."

      "He's being sent to advise the Cabinet," Admiral Morita said, nodding to Takarada, then he stared at the dragon, "You might consider going with him."

      The continent-destroying creature, in human form, raised an eyebrow. "Are you asking me to leave?"

      "Not at all. Close the door please."

      Now he had both the Scholarly Dragon's and Admiral Takarada's undivided attention. When the door closed, and a faint ripple seemed to course through the room, he began, "There is a cancer at the heart of the Japanese, and possibly the American government. A nihilistic cult who hopes that the 'new age', which they will usher in, will remake the world into something without limits and without judgementalism. Ironic, considering the sneering and judgmental attitudes of those working to usher it in."

      Takarada turned to the dragon. "The Cabinet's new soothsayer," Takarada explained.

      Morita nodded, and looked at the Dragon, "She has an uncanny ability to see the weaknesses and history in people. It could be real: psychic and mystical abilities, or the spy network of the charlatan."

      "The only true mages in the area are concentrated here," the Dragon explained, "And if she has psychic powers, I do wonder what she'll read if she reads me." He grinned.

      Morita nodded, knowing he'd hooked the dragon successfully. "That's why I want to 'throw you out'. Japan needs someone willing to do whatever it takes. The Admiral will need a pragmatic sociopath to watch his back, while he offers reasoned counsel, and the assassins of our future plot their attempts."

      The studied gaze of the dragon fell on Morita. "Have you heard if Kagato is involved?" the dragon asked.

      Morita shook his head. "I've heard no names bantered about. But I get the feeling whoever is behind her and her allies aren't technological, even taking Clark's Law into account. They are religious, spiritual, or mystical. These are not technologically sophisticated people, but great manipulators."

      The dragon looked from one admiral to the other as he considered. "Kagato disdains superstitions," the dragon said thoughtfully, "If Nyarlathotep is making his move, he's in for a rough awakening."

      "Isn't he an Outer God?" Admiral Takarada asked, "Jeff and Asuka would be no match for him."

      "Add that they have me, Yig, and probably Cthulhu backing their play?" the dragon sounded amused, "Even if he could manage to take us all down, big if, he'd be in no condition to fight any of his myriad other enemies. So it would be a pyrrhic victory at best. A military man might sacrifice himself to save everything else, a narcissist will have to survive to enjoy his victory. Or her's. There is another possibility, considering Serenity pissed off every superpowered, psychotic mage in the local group. It could be one or more of Serenity's enemies, come to beat up on the Senshi. In that case, they're cannon fodder, once we can fix and pulverize them."

      "What about a combination?" Morita asked as he gestured to the briefing folders Takarada's people had provided their new commander, "This Kagato, with Serenity's enemy, and Ny . . . " He put on his glasses to read the name, but seeing it more clearly didn't help.

      "Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos," the dragon replied idly, "It could be. If they could enlist, or simply coordinate with the local monster we've blown up a few times," he smiled warily before concluding, "It becomes much more of a threat."

      "It would oblige us to divide our forces at the least," Takarada said.

      "True, but I think the boy and girl will soon take Nyarlathotep off the table as an active player. But he has no problem working through willing proxies," the dragon explained, "He loves giving poisoned presents to people who care only about the power, or a specific goal, who ignore the possibility that he might have other interpretations and uses for that present in mind. The legend that witches use cats as servants was very useful in spreading the Black Plague. The plague spread by rats, the cats were killed for spreading the plague, and the plague rats spread further."

      "Whoever it is, we need to neutralize their ultimate plan," Morita said firmly.

      The dragon waved a finger. "No, we don't," he corrected, "We just kill them all, and make everyone abandon anything that had anything to do with them." The dragon stared at the two disconcerted military men. "You did say my sociopathy was a plus in this didn't you?"

      "As I said, the admiral needs you," a rather pale Morita told them.

      Rei walked the odd dog-soldier's dreamscape. The forest was as thick as any she'd seen in real life. While audibly, it teemed with life. I haven't seen anything, but he has to be here, Rei thought as she broke into a clearing. There on a ridge 50 meters away, Rei saw a wolf the size of a pony.

      "You chase me even here?" the wolf asked, then let its tongue loll in a canine form of laughter, "Then I will let the yearling chase to her death." With that, he raced down the back of the ridge.

      "I'll catch you soon enough!" Rei shouted as she ran up the ridge and after the wolf.

      For what seemed like hours, she chased the animal through the woods, and onto a dark plain. It's getting almost too dark to see, she thought as she ran after the wolf, who for hours had managed to stay ahead of her, and yet always paused to assure himself so followed, Except for the stars.

      Finally he stopped and stayed motionless long enough for her to stagger up to him. "Was - there - a - point - to - this?" she gasped out her demand. The stitch in her side made her even less pleased with foolishness than usual.

      "Oh course," the wolf said, "I lured you out to destroy you."

      Rei staggered back and drew her bow. From only 3 meters away, she aimed the arrow at the wolf's heart.

      "I'm certain I told you that," the wolf seemed less playful, and substantially more threatening.

      "I've fought wolves before," Rei warned as she kept the immobile creature in her sight.

      "Oh, I don't mean talons and teeth. Fangs ripping sinews and the like," the creature's tone was toleration with a distinct undertone of malice, "I just thought you should see something."

      There was a brilliant flash so nearby that Rei jumped. Her bow twanged and the arrow disappeared into the darkness. She whirled to see a spaceship closing on them. A cloud of something vented from the side of the ship.

      "Cosmic Flaming Sun!" Rei heard in her own voice. A tremendous bolt of fire raced past her to strike the nose of the ship. In response the ship began to tumble.

      Rei watched as Sailor Mars flew past, and fired another anti-ship beam into the aft section. A section of the ship, attached only by a long spar, dropped away. As Rei watched, the wolf raced after the tumbling ship. Rei stared at the look of exultant joy on her own face, and back at the ship that was moving across the emptiness.

      That isn't me. It looks like Princess Mars, older, she thought, But I'm never that callous. Even if that ship was full of enemies. Once it's no threat . . .

      She watched her image relish the helplessness of the ship for a time, then Sailor Mars turned and raced away too fast to pursue. Rei looked at the spaceship. Only in a dream could I run after and catch a spaceship, she thought as she ran after it. Before she reached it, she encountered something that turned her stomach. It's one of the crew. The burnt remnants of a spacesuit clung to the charred portion of the corpse. She looked into the unburned section of the faceplate and saw the young woman's terror. She's about the same age as the Admiral's daughters. What were they carrying that I would have killed them like I killed Youma? she wondered as she raced after the ship.

      She entered through the ruined wall to the bridge. Despite the spacesuits, everyone in the compartment was dead. The wolf waited by a figure at a console.

      "My master, and my friend," he said wearily, the sadness obvious in both the canine form, then on the humanoid hybrid form, "The transition isn't easy. You humans have been fully sentient for millennia. We hadn't. Maybe there's some genetic memory that you have that lets you accept all the things around you, filters out all you can sense. It's not so easy for us. Many simply die of the overload, some go mad. A few have a partner who can guide them through the horror and onto firm ground. A balance between feeling and sensing all a wolf does, and being able to ignore everything except what's important the way a human can. He was a deputy communications officer."

      "What were they carrying?" Rei asked as she examined the dead that surrounded her in the ruined compartment.

      A growling laugh. "Does it matter?" the wolfman asked.


      "But it doesn't matter that Sailor Mars, great friend of her Holiness NeoSerenity, crippled this ship and left it for dead, to drift forever as tomb for those aboard?" the wolfman growled, displaying large, white teeth in black gums.

      Rei drew back and brought her bow and a nocked arrow into position.

      The wolfman didn't advance. "That in order to preserve her illusion that 'I didn't kill them!' She simply left them in deep space?"

      "You were trying to destroy them," Rei said quietly, "Rini told us how you allied with Wiseman, who'd been banished decades before."

      Another growling laugh. The inhuman eyes bored into Rei's, a canine challenge to battle. "Yeah, funny how you banished us right on top of that freak. Maybe you thought he'd eat all of us and you wouldn't have to dirty your hands with the massacre. 'So sad they didn't live through it all, the ingrates.'" He broke off the stare and looked around. "Oh well, what's for lunch?"

      "What were they carrying? Weapons? Munitions? Were they on a mission to bomb Crystal Tokyo?"

      "They were heading out. To trade with the Jurains for food, medicine, all the things we couldn't get from Earth."

      "You could have swallowed your pride and asked her forgiveness," Rei countered, but kept her arrow ready.

      "Who? Sailor Mars?"

      "NeoSerenity," Rei said, "That dumpling head probably hasn't changed."

      The lupine head moved side to side. "What makes you think we would have gotten within shouting distance of her?" the wolfman asked, "You really think you and the other purists would have let us plead our case to her about mistreatment? Why do you think we left in the first place?" The wolfman walked to, then through the bulkhead.

      Rei growled herself, eased her tension on the bowstring, then followed through the soot-covered metal. The room on the other side was not anything Rei was expecting. People in sleeping bags, strapped to metal shelving. All seemingly still alive.

      "What is this!?" Rei demanded.

      "The cases we couldn't treat ourselves," the wolfman said dismissively, "Burns, poisoning, cancer, plain old worn-out parts," the wolfman replied, "Seventy people the Jurains had offered to treat. Of course this wasn't the only cargo, and that was the reason for the attack." He cocked his head and stared at Rei. "You seem to have forgotten that when a nation declares they own everything in a system, they have to be able to enforce it somehow. On Earth, you can create a naval blockade, or mine a harbor, but in space how do you enforce a blockade?"

      "Mines or ships?" Rei said.

      "Unless you are closely blockading a planet, there's just too much space in space for a minefield or naval blockade. With only a few Senshi, the way they blockaded our home, was to attack and cripple any ship that headed out. They created the blockade in our minds, and our unwillingness to risk our lives for nothing. Except occasionally, it was tested, by the brave, by the foolish, and it always ended this way."

      "At least you can send a rescue ship."

      "Any ship. After all, any ship could be filled with contraband. They could pick up the crew of the damaged ship, and then continue to their destination."

      "They could fly escort and . . . they'd just shoot first and not bother with the questions," Rei finished and she caught herself lowering her bow. She brought it back up in an instant.

      "You and the others never actually killed anyone but the crews. But once the crews are gone, who gets the ship home? Who figures out how to repair the damaged drive? But it's their fault for not having a backup crew to make repairs and take them home, or wait for gravity to pull them back to the inner system. But while your friend Mercury might be able to use her computer to calculate the intercept, we didn't have the computers or skilled pilots to pull that off with any hope of success."

      "You could have just lived with the blockade." Rei narrowed her eyes and retorted.

      He gave her a look that Rei usually bestowed on dumpling-head. "These people wouldn't," the wolfman told her, "For everyone in this bay, the chance of dying in space beat the certainty of dying on the ground." Before she could reply, he walked through the bulkhead at the rear of the compartment.

      Rei grimaced as she looked at all the critically ill people around her. "It's just what he's been told," she told herself, "It isn't what actually happened. Usagi would never stand for it." She walked through the bulkhead after the wolf.

      "Not much to kill people for," he said as he tossed her a piece of pottery.

      She caught it, dropping the arrow in the process. She moved to put something between herself and the wolfman. "Nice artistry, but why not something valuable?" she commented acidly as he smirked at her earlier fumbling.

      "Because you have to sell something the other side is willing to buy. That's the definition of trade. Ah, here's something you really might appreciate is worth killing for." He pulled a blanket out of the package. "Hand knitted you see, an obvious threat to the balance of power between the nations in the system." He tossed it to her. This time she sidestepped it.

      "Considering you were planning to kill all of us," Rei replied, "All this is hardly proof that you are right, and NeoSerenity is wrong. It is proof that you're so desperate to justify killing people who have not had anything to do with it, that you'll construct all of this."

      "My only friend died aboard a ship full of sick people and handicrafts. Killed by you!" the wolfman growled, "And you want us to forgive you?"

      "I don't want forgiveness for something I haven't done, and will probably never do. You want to blame me for something, blame me for something I've done, or at least something I've planned to do. Slaughtering helpless people in rinky-dink spaceships isn't what I do."

      "I watched it happen!"

      "I watched Ultraman kill hundreds of monsters, that doesn't mean it ever happened," Rei countered, "You plotting to kill us really happened, and would have affected both of us. Why don't we talk about that? Preemptive war sounds smart, if the enemy has their forces on the border and plans to attack. You're on our home territory, with plans for murder. We've done nothing to you. The events you're talking about haven't happened, and even by your accounts won't happen for centuries. Or are you so blinded by grief and stupidity that you can't see that?"

      "You could never understand," the creature returned to wolf form and dashed through the bulkhead.

      "I'm through trying to understand prejudice and idiocy," Rei told the departed creature and left to see to her own tasks.

      Colonel Patterson walked in among the other captives. He took a moment to verify everyone was present. "Has anyone else been interrogated?"

      "Questioned would be a better term," Quaril, their intelligence officer, suggested, "It's all been polite, low-key: name, rank, serial number, and then some gentle probing about our mission and what we'd hoped to accomplish."

      "Killing Sailor Senshi," Thomas the heavy gunner said, eliciting some chuckles from the others.

      "You said 'interrogation'," Quaril pointed out, "What happened?"

      Patterson looked over the group, weighing the effect his words would have. "After the military got through with their questioning, exactly as you described, Kuno Tatewaki walked in."

      The room was about two to one people drawing closer to hear, and those who rolled their eyes in disgust at the hero-worship. The Colonel continued, "In a roundabout way, he pointed out that our real mission is to destroy NeoSerenity, and her realm. Anything else is a distraction, anything that advances that cause is to our benefit, and any method to advance that goal needs to be considered."

      "Its oppression sure," Duncan's Highland's burr lengthened the r's.

      "True, but, Tatewaki gave the impression he knew the 'official' history, and what may have actually happened. I was expecting thumbscrews and hot irons during part of the questioning. Instead, he told me something I hadn't considered: All it takes to slay NeoSerenity, is to preserve Tsukino Usagi. The two cannot coexist, and the latter goal is well within our capabilities."

      Duncan was on his feet, his face red with rage. "You want us to befriend and train those murdering scum, those bitches from Hell, those -"

      "To prevent everything that happens to bring our people to their current state?" Quaril asked as she walked over to the hero worship side and sat down, "We've got proof of the effect of unsupported Senshi in that castle up north. They're a near mirror of the prigs in Crystal Tokyo, all 'we're sublime, and you aren't'."

      Thomas had moved up to support Duncan. "They, or who they'll become, killed my wife. Killed my son. Killed my brother, and countless others. They banished us right on top of that bastard Wiseman. Considering that they banished him too, they had to know what they were doing."

      "And we can prevent any of that from happening," Patterson calmly told them, "Think of it as assassinating NeoSerenity and her court, rather than assaulting them. Inoculating the current Senshi from the disease of NeoSerenity, and prevent her from ever rising. Protecting Earth, and the human race, which we've all sworn to do anyway, and that also gets rid of those Black Moon bastards who are no more than Wiseman's puppets." He glared at Thomas and Duncan. "Earth for the humans," he told the pair sharply, "Not as servants of some magical creature, of any stripe, but as free people."

      He had them, some more tenuously than others, but he knew he had them. "Now let us talk about what we'll do when we're on 'parole'."

      "You expect us to forgive what they've done?" their canine corp soldier growled, "How they hurt us?"

      "Why settle for killing your partner's murderers, when you can prevent the murder from ever happening?" Patterson asked coldly. "You can hate them all you want. But, do not act against them. Every smile, every piece of good advice, every shot fired at any enemy of humanity, is a nail in the coffin of NeoSerenity, her twisted utopia, and her whole damned court. You wag your tail at one of them, it's the same as drawing a knife across the throat of one of those bitches from Crystal Tokyo. Revenge enough?"

      "It'll do," Duncan grudgingly admitted. He smiled. "Any chance we can pulverize those mirror images up north?"

      Patterson smiled. "If we're all good boys and girls, they may ask us to."

      Morita looked over the camp as the dawn approached. "Why do I think I got the worst of this deal?" he thought aloud. The other soldiers had been wary, and a few sycophants had offered that his reputation and opinions about the Senshi had been widely distributed.

      They hold what I said against me, he thought, And how are they better than Patterson's men? I'm not guilty of what they are afraid of. He considered the dawning light. The castle up north glowed slightly in the predawn light. There's a problem that we have to deal with delicately. Some of us are from there, and they also serve as a warning to ward off what Patterson fears.

      He looked at several of the tents that held not military forces, but allies. Kunos Tatewaki and Kodachi, two Nerimaniacs under my command. 'Whom gods destroy, they first make mad.' Are they up for being destroyed, if they can be remade in a better image? And do I have the force necessary? A pair of empty barracks worried him more. What left here, and is it coming back? Do we even want them to come back?

      He considered the sealed suggestions he'd gotten from a collection of people in the Diet. I'll let Takarada and the dragon guard that flank. I need to concentrate on other things.

      He saw several more of the tents were unoccupied, then remembered that the dragon had taken some of the people back to their house for a 'sleep over'. And to be in Tokyo to support Admiral Takarada, he thought, Good luck, you'll need it.

      The Scholarly Dragon continued fixing the blueberry pancakes as Rini and Hotaru watched. Rini's knowing grin worried him a bit, but he took it in stride. "You eat too many more of these, and you won't be able to fit into your costume," he teased as he handed over another platter, and the two girls sitting at the kitchen counter pitched in to devour them.

      The two dark clouds walked in, both looking grim and exhausted. They spotted the empty table and headed that way.

      He couldn't help it. "Sleep well?"

      The twin death glares were worth it. Both the teen-agers practically dropped into the chairs at the table. Haruka glanced at Michiru. She looked as if she desperately wanted to say something, anything, but when Michiru wouldn't meet her gaze, the `butch` girl couldn't say anything.

      He poured coffee as the pair liked it, and grinned at the two younger ones. Both giggled, alerting the older pair. He set the coffee down, along with two short stacks of pancakes. This is going to be fun, he thought as the pair glared at him as he smiled pleasantly at them. Behind him, the utensils continued their motions, producing more pancakes.

      "Cat got your tongue?" he asked, and enjoyed the wince from Haruka. He leaned over the table and lowered his voice. "I know that Stalin said 'quantity has a quality all its own,'" he explained, and enjoyed the blanch and worried looks to the younger, who were already giggling at the elders' dismay, "But there has to be an inherent quality to that quantity. You two were competing on pure numbers."

      Michiru coughed furiously and spit up much of her coffee, on Haruka and the table. The pair looked aghast at him, then at the two laughing girls.

      If they think an appeal to 'preserve their innocence' is going to work, they don't know much about those two, he thought as he held out his hand, and his magic pulled a towel from the rack to him. He efficiently mopped off the table.

      "Now you really need a shower," he offered, switching Haruka back into 'death-glare' mode, "You see, numbers aren't as important as the feelings you engender in your partner. You can program an automatic milling machine to do the necessary mechanics -"

      Haruka cringed at that. The dragon continued, "The real key is to let your partner know you care about her wishes and needs. They change, even during a single session, and if you keep doing 'what works' it's not pleasant, it's just boring, and frustrating for both of you. A little difference, a little push outside your comfort zone is what's nice. Blueberry pancakes are a nice change."

      "You said it!" Rini announced.

      "But every day, and you'd be looking forward to toast and a boiled egg. Certain things pall even faster. As you both discovered," he said and grinned.

      "Should we be discussing this," Haruka rasped, "In front of them?" She jerked her head at the pair.

      "You don't think they didn't hear you two last night?" he asked incredulously.

      "US!?" Michiru shouted.

      "I was quite quiet, and Winnie was laughing most of the time," he replied, "They know what causes laughter." He leaned close and whispered, "I haven't told them how much she was laughing at you two trying to keep up."

      Haruka hit her head on the table, while Michiru looked like she'd bitten a live cable.

      "You see girls," he said in a normal voice, "It's important to make your partner feel cherished. To understand her hidden needs, and feed that desire. To make sure they can come to you for more, when others would fulfill, or what they offer is stale and repetitive."

      "Like more pancakes!" Rini and Hotaru announced and held up the empty platter.

      "Where are you putting them all?" he asked, and returned to the stove. "See it isn't just that something is warm and filling, or even the skill and flourishes used -"

      "Don't talk about embarrassing things like that!" Michiru stood and ordered.

      "Making pancakes?" Rini asked in innocent confusion. Michiru sputtered at the question. Rini and Hotaru almost pulled it off, but they laughed as Michiru and Haruka struggled with their confusion and composure. "Nine hundred years at court and what happened with Ta-chan's dad, taught us about men and women. You two acting like we don't know what you were failing to do last night, is just silly."

      The Dragon had just set another platter between Rini and Hotaru, when Setsuna drifted in wearing slacks and a loose blouse. She put an arm around the Scholarly Dragon's waist and another across his chest, before resting her head on his shoulder. She let out a contented sigh as she molded her body to his. He was aware of the dreamy looks from the younger pair, and the deep envy from the older. Grow up and quit being so interested in proving you're 'different but better' and maybe you can enjoy just being. She stood there while he worked, holding him to her.

      "Hi," she said finally, and focused on the room around her, "Enjoying breakfast?"

      "You bet," Rini said happily, then sighed, "I wish I could have a boyfriend like him." A matching sigh and dreamy look from Hotaru completed the montage. Haruka and Michiru looked disgusted.

      "Young love isn't just for the young," Setsuna said, she kissed him on the cheek, "And evidently neither are other things."

      Haruka jerked at the comment.

      "Maybe they should try what you did," Hotaru suggested.

      "What we did?!" Setsuna said with alarm.

      "You know," Rini added, "Cuddling, holding each other. You liked that a lot in the cave." Setsuna relaxed at Rini's comment. "As loud as they were, it didn't make them happy." The grinning girl ignored the cries of alarm as she dug into the stack of pancakes.

      "You shouldn't tease them that way," Setsuna scolded and stole a pancake from Rini's stack, "They're very sensitive about that." She looked at her companion and asked, "They didn't hear us?"

      "I put sound dampeners up," he explained, "You do squeal so when I tickle you." Setsuna glared at him, but he continued. "I find it cute, but I didn't want them worried I was trying to murder you. It would have spoiled the mood completely."

      Setsuna relaxed a little. "Just the little death," she suggested, and snuggled against him again.

      He looked at the pair who now couldn't meet anyone's gaze. He grinned. Yes, so uptight and rigid, he thought happily, This place is going to be fun!

      "Since you didn't like what you were eating last night," he told the pair at the table, "Maybe you'd like some more pancakes."

      Kasumi walked along the roads of Nerima. Only Makoto and Doctor Mizuno's presence gave her strength. "I phoned ahead," she offered, "I don't think Akane-chan was pleased by this."

      "She's young," the doctor told her, "She'll bounce back."

      "I hope so," Kasumi said quietly, "I knew I would eventually have to step aside for Akane-chan. I never expected it would be this way, or so soon."

      "What are they doing standing out there?" Makoto asked of the somber group assembled before the compound's walls.

      "I don't . . . " Kasumi's voice faltered as she saw the stern expression, and the resolution on her once-family's faces. Akane, Soun, Genma and Ryoga, all glared at her.

      "Kasumi-san," her father said sternly, "These are yours. Take them and go." He stepped away from two medium-sized suitcases.

      "That's all your stuff?" Makoto whispered to Kasumi.

      "The rest goes to the lady of the house," Kasumi said quietly. She'd hidden the frown that had flitted across her countenance.

      Makoto growled and balled her fists. "That's - "

      "That is the way they want it," Kasumi cut off Makoto, "That is the way it shall be." She whispered to Makoto, "Neither of us could beat Akane-san or Ryoga-san, let alone father and Saotome-san. Better we withdraw."

      Makoto grumbled something Kasumi couldn't make out.

      "It seems you are left with your prize, Hibiki-san, enjoy it," Kasumi said as she took the two suitcases and turned away.

      "That's insane," Doctor Mizuno said, "They can't just throw you out like this."

      "And steal a large number of my possessions? Yes they can," Kasumi quietly admitted as they walked, "I do wish I could visit my mother's shrine at least once, to tell her goodbye." Kasumi frowned. "That is the insult that hurts. I was her daughter, even if I am no longer part of the family."

      "I happen to know where you can borrow an army," Makoto offered, "If that's what you want."

      Kasumi nodded, but remained silent as they walked back to the car that would take them back to base.

      "I'm surprised, but pleased that you agreed to accompany me to the Cabinet meeting," Admiral Takarada told the Scholarly Dragon as the pair headed up the stairs to the meeting room.

      "I am intrigued by the possibility of this confrontation," the dragon in human form admitted, "I will be . . . there are two men following us and I suspect a force in front."

      "Who are they?" the Admiral asked and struggled not to turn to look.

      "Special Forces," the dragon answered as they reached a landing between flights of stairs, to see the two men waiting for them. "Let's see how special."

      The dragon took the Admiral's arm and led him up the stairs towards the pair. One soldier drew a baton that telescoped into a jo-stick. The other revealed he wore a pair of heavy leather gloves. As the Admiral and the dragon approached the men, both men attacked.

      The dragon and the admiral walked through them. Then the dragon kicked back hard enough to send one man crashing against the bottom of the flight of stairs above them. The second had his leg kick caught, and the dragon swung and threw the man overhand hard enough to send the pursuing pair tumbling down the staircase.

      "I noticed the people were thinning out rather quickly," the dragon admitted as he looked at the fallen figures, "So I deduced there would be a problem."

      "Do we call the police?" the admiral asked.

      "Don't be naive, those were the police," the dragon said as they continued towards the door for their floor. "It will be interesting to see who is surprised by our arrival," the dragon commented jauntily.

      "You really are crazy," the admiral said, "We were nearly assassinated, in the Diet building itself, and by members of the Japanese government, and you are treating it as a lark."

      "You're part of the Japanese government. If you or General Horai had caught the Senshi, you would have turned them over, bound and helpless, to Beryl. And don't think you knowing what Beryl was or would have done to them, would have had any effect on your decision. So treachery from your government, is par for the course," the dragon corrected acidly as he opened the door for the admiral. "After you, sir."

      They walked into the cabinet room, a large, somewhat plainly decorated place, with a large area for the cabinet members to sit above their subjects and shower questions down on those who sat in what looked like a college lecture hall in miniature. Sitting with the elites, was the woman they'd been warned about, and her cloud of sycophants. The woman seemed amazed they'd arrived. Her sneering, supercilious, preening little friend seemed considerably less surprised.

      "Narly!" the Dragon greeted the pretentious nothing as if they were old friends, "I know you like hanging around with scum, but this is low-rent even for you." He marched over to their table, the sycophants having the survival instincts to get out of his way. He looked the shocked woman over once. "Spiritual power?" he mocked, "You have got to be kidding me. Do you actually have her believing she'd be anything without your influence?" He looked at the discomfited civil servants. "Or that they rush to her defense and support because they're hoping to get in her pants? They're politicians, not statesmen."

      The woman was apoplectic. The chair gavelled for order. The dragon held up a finger. A lightning bolt punched through the ceiling, incinerating the gavel and blowing the man's toupee off.

      The dragon grinned at the sneering, little man. "See Narly, easy pickings. You really think that you can take over this government, and then take the entire universe, that's a stretch. But your reach always did exceed your grasp."

      He turned to the woman. "You'd best trade on your influence quick, because once this chained dog gets hit with a newspaper, you'll be back on the street with door-prints on your butt, before you can say 'Omoshiroi'."

      He ignored the strangled protests from the woman and her supporters and returned his full attention on the supercilious man. "What, just the occasional flicker of your disguise, the warping of flesh as your scheme is laid bare?" he asked, "No thunderbolts, no proclamations of your victory and power. The Nyarlat so mighty the Egyptians had to add the 'hotep' has nothing to say? Don't tell me you're a wussy, it'll break my heart. When I was so eagerly anticipating eating yours."

      The preening egotist seemed to regain his mental footing. "And so you come to their aid because a woman snares you? Who is the weakling now?" He tittered as he examined his nails. "You accuse them of being tied to a woman's charm, yet you are snared the same way," the creature accused, "Are you so besotted that you can do nothing save what she approves of?"

      The Scholarly Dragon smiled, but shook his head. "Oh, that's low, and a miss, strike one," the Dragon replied coldly, "You don't see the bigger picture. You aren't facing Washu, Tokemi and Tsunami anymore. You've got the first string involved now, and they are going to give your proxies a pasting." The Dragon smiled. "Yes, I have taken a human lover and one far more attractive than the prize you dangle, or the `actresses` and `models` that these men hire and boast of. I'm not ashamed to admit I enjoy her company."

      "And all those little girls, do you bend to them as well?" he accused. But small motions of the flesh, like bugs crawling beneath the skin showed his emotional state.

      "You think you could possibly understand?" the dragon asked incredulously, "You have no power to create, and you're afraid of everything, so I guess I'll have to explain simply." He leaned forward and whispered, "I haven't changed, I kill where I wish, however I wish, and as many as I wish, but I'm just circumspect about the timing." He leaned back and explained, "Let the girls offer 'peace and love', let the government try to recruit the beast, and when both fail, I can slaughter as I choose. And I'm lauded as a hero for it. They'll decry my viciousness, but I am still within their sphere. That means I may sleep with a beautiful woman, every night, save when we stay up all night, and have no fear of a knife in the ribs." He stood to his full height and threw his arms wide. "I have thousands of minions I don't have to pay for or reward, searching for my kills. I can offer the darkest advice to the innocent and impressionable, and they accept it as my testing their steely resolve towards goodness and mercy." He relaxed, and smiled at the Outer God in human form. "Or they pass it off as dark humor. I may threaten a foe with tortures of unimaginable brutality, but when they surrender and beg for mercy, I am lauded for my cleverness. I am the dark threat that they beg the villains not to force them to employ. I may be comically, moustache-twirlingly villainous, and degrade my malevolent grandeur not a whit." He laughed at the horrified woman and her equally terrorized sycophants. "In short, I do as I wish. I just choose to be more discreet about the timing. I chose the chains, and accept the inherent limits and freedoms." He smirked at his target. "You seek to break every chain laid upon you, which means you can be led around by the nose, simply by putting the right chains upon you. You should thank whatever dark power your heart still fears, that your masters are merciful, or foolish enough to not have employed this against you."

      "You don't think I know what you're doing? Here, in this place. Ally and thrall of Cthulhu and Yig, their little play toys against me?" the sneering man thundered as he stood, the symmetry of his face and form warping as he shouted, "They are nothing! I nearly broke them before!"

      "They had you chasing your tail, before," the dragon responded calmly, irritating his opponent no end, "If they'd known they were permitted to kill you, you'd be a grease stain now," the Dragon said quietly, "And that's before they knew who and what you were. Now they'll scrape you off their shoes, once they're done with you. That's why you're hiding here, behind a woman's skirt, in this pathetic little pocket. You can fool the others into thinking you a great power, but all you have is stolen dominion, stolen puissance. If you could actually create something, and let it exist as something other than a target for your childish rage, you might actually understand what the others are doing," he said sympathetically, then sighed, "But then you wouldn't be 'their soul and messenger'. I don't know what's more pathetic, that you can't stomach the idea that you can go anywhere and speak with the full authority of beings who you really aren't fit to serve, or that you want to steal what they've built up, and think that just because you were 'only their servant', that you'll escape from their enemies with the treasure." He sighed and continued patiently, as if to a stupid child, "The others from outside won't care who's holding the swag, they'll just want it back. And they'll beat you to a pulp to get it."

      "As if you don't want the tablets for yourself!" the figure shouted back as its arms twisted slowly in ways no human's could have.

      The Dragon laughed at that. "Why would I want those? I can create without them. Half the people in this room, boring, hedonistic, blinkered drones that they are, could create without them." His gesture encompassed all the terrified politicians in the room. "Everyone here is here because they can create a compelling story out of a tissue of lies, or have the ability to find others who do. That's what makes helping them so fun! Ten thousand trivial, personal little plots, and they still managed to get work done. It's fascinating! There's not one person within this building who is not your superior in every way in that respect. You don't get it." The Dragon's gaze swept the room, some of the functionaries had the strength or humility to meet it. "They are alive. They can create. You might mock their creation, but you'll never match it." He leaned close to his opponent. "I'm living, breathing proof of that."

      "Your illusions make you no different than I. You're an illusion yourself," the horribly shifting and warping humanoid figure countered, "You are just a puppet. You don't even know why you're doing what you do."

      "Why am I doing what I'm doing?" the Scholarly Dragon asked thoughtfully, then sighed and shook his head, "You're so full of yourself, I'll have to explain in detail. This is a third-rate planet, orbiting a third-rate sun, in a fifth-rate galaxy, in a decidedly fifth-rate universe. The monkeys running round thinking they can actually have a real effect on this universe are more pathetic than the planet they're traipsing around on. It's been only a few thousand years since they learned that if you pick up a stone when you're hungry, you throw it, you don't eat it. And all I am is a collation of their childish fears of things they can't possibly understand, and will still be around in a few thousand years when they 'enlighten' themselves out of existence."

      "And you think that impresses me?" the non-man shape asked.

      "Oh no, I seriously doubt Azathoth or even the Elder Gods impress you," the Dragon said coldly, "You walk along the spaceways, bestriding the greatest universes in creation like a colossus, passing out your little poison pills to anyone stupid enough to accept them. But you have all the majesty of a turd. You'd give a lonely kid an exploding puppy, just because no one can stop you. And you think that makes you powerful," the Dragon sneered, "If you are trying to be funny, you aren't. If you're trying to be terrifying, you are, only because none of them really want to think about how vast and dangerous the universe really is. You're a pipsqueak in comparison to that, jumping up and down on ants to prove you're big and you can, but the real big boys step on lots more, because they have more important things to think about."

      The Dragon smiled at the cone of flesh as it continued to mutate. "But the hilarious part is: I'm going to write their name and mine, across the souls and nightmares of every one of the creatures who is their superior. And I'm going to write it in your blood. I'm going to take a bunch of schoolgirls, who still believe in all the lies about fairness, justice, kindness, and love. Things these people around me have given up on, or only use as tools of manipulation. Take those beliefs, that very innocence, of guileless ingenues who should be pissing themselves in terror at the sight of me, and teach them how to tear out your throat with their teeth, without losing more than a sliver of their ignorance of what a dark universe they live in. You'll die, and all the real powers of the universe who yank your chain and make you caper and prance like a trained ape, are going to wonder how they survived with as stupid and foolish a messenger as you. You're going to be like the Martians in War of the Worlds, except the microbes are going to be laughing at you as you die."

      The snarl from the inhuman shape didn't deter the dragon. "I know if I left well-enough alone, that in 10,000 years or so, I would be gone, faded away. They would cease dreaming, or cease fearing, and I would drift away, and they'd follow. But with this, even the Outer Gods will remember me. Remember them. The Sailor Senshi will be their bogeyman, and I the hidden master, even gone to dust and oblivion with the race that created me, we will live as the threat that will not safely remain in the shadows. And you, you will only be remembered as my victim. My test case for them. How does that stack up against your plans, oh mighty master of not even your own destiny? Do you think any of the others will protect you from it? From us? Or will they laugh at your stumbling attempts to defeat us. The man covered in stinging gnats who dives over a cliff in his hysteria. Blind, idiot Azathoth? Patient, dreaming Cthulhu? Hastur who thinks himself a master planner? The Mother of All Dragons has already fallen, do the others fail to understand what that bodes? Even you, hide in this mutating human shell for fear of attracting their gaze. Do you fear they will rip out your guts and eat them raw?"

      "We are being televised," the returned man-shape warned.

      The Dragon stood up and looked straight at the petrified camera crew, then back to his victim. "Is that your only defense? 'They can see you bullying me'?" He raised his voice and gestured at his foe, "The mighty Nyarlathotep of a Thousand Forms calls on the children of Japan to save him from his deserved fate." Now the dragon laughed, a dark evil sound. "They will forgive me, when I reveal what you are. And why I so brutalized such a pathetic and helpless foe."

      The room was suddenly missing someone. Some gasped, some whimpered, and a few tried to return their ivory tower to its usual and mundane purpose. The Dragon turned to look for the Admiral. The man was standing with the crowd of absolutely terrified security guards and soldiers. "Do I have something on my face?" the Dragon asked worriedly.

      "When did they leave?" Morita asked Lt. Takarada in the comm center.

      "About two hours ago. It was supposed to be an informal briefing with several of the Cabinet members. I checked, the car came through proper government channels."

      The Admiral sighed. "Thank you for checking that out. Why wasn't I informed? There was an exercise laid in, and I expect to be informed if there is a change in my orders."

      "Sir, they aren't in the military chain of command, but under government control. I apologize for not informing you personally, but the government orders for the Senshi trump the military chain of command."

      "I was referring to why no one in my headquarters informed me. Henceforth, I will be informed of the disposition of the Senshi at all times."

      "Yes, sir." The woman glanced at the door as she saluted.

      The admiral took the hint and headed outside.

      Once she'd closed the door on the comm shed, she spoke quietly, "I did give orders to inform you. It is clear those orders were not carried out. Unfortunately, the same soldier also verified the validity of the Senshis' limousine."

      The Admiral considered. "How do we send a rescue force, which is outside the normal chain of command? Without alerting our friend?"

      "Better you don't know until they're safely back," she replied.

      The admiral nodded.

      "You are evil," Admiral Takarada said as they walked back down the stairs, passing the point where they had been attacked on their way up, "Why didn't you do the whole 'I am Smaug' speech, you could have been proclaimed Prime Minster for life at that point."

      "Bah, paperwork," the dragon sneered, then looked at the admiral, "What? They only wanted to verify the accuracy of your report, while they had you under oath, in front of the cameras. Once it was clear you were restraining a dangerous and insane god, suddenly whatever you did became adequate, if not above and beyond the call of duty. Public acclamation may force them to give you a medal."

      "Calling each Diet official by the condiment or seasoning that would make them 'the most delectable' certainly convinced them to cut the meeting short. I'm just surprised we are walking out of here without an armed guard. And don't say 'I ate him while you weren't looking.'"

      "I won't have to. The soothsayer browbeat them into calling you to task. With her discredited and the link to Nyarlathotep revealed, they suddenly wanted the whole issue swept under the rug. And probably you along with it. I haven't made your life easier, I just transferred it back to strategy and tactics, and away from political subterfuge."

      "They do know about your nest in Fuji-san, and what it holds," the admiral warned.

      "And I have traps and guards innumerable. When you have a treasure, make it a killing ground as well," the dragon replied, "They'll hit us elsewhere, and you'll need to be ready for it. They will not be military, or fair about it. I suggest you also divest yourself of that limitation."

      "I'm not like you, I still have a conscience."

      The dragon stopped and confronted the man. "And just how many lives is your self-respect worth?" the dragon replied acidly, "You want to play the noble 'Batman' while the 'Joker' slaughters thousands, because you have standards, fine. Chamberlain has been judged for his peace proposals, and even if they whitewash away all his active suppression of every warning voice who described exactly what would happen, history still judges him the fool and moral coward he was. If that is the company you wish to keep, so be it."

      The admiral watched the dragon continue down the stairway, then followed. There has to be another way then those two options, he considered.

Sailor Jupiter II 20 - This Whole Crazy World Is Just Too Frustratin'

      Kiyone waited in the brush and scrub outside the mansion. Her senses and advanced technology had come to the same conclusion, There's no way I can cross the empty zone and get in there quietly, without help, she thought as she carefully stalked through the moonless darkness after one of the anomalies her senses and sensors had picked up, while the mansion's guards and sensors kept missing it.

      'Are you planning to break in?' came a voice that startled both Kiyone and her target, as it came through Kiyone's burst-encrypted radio, and her target had detected it through more esoteric means.

      The sight of Happosai crouched in a small clearing, with Mercury's computer, stunned both women. "It's amazing how easy it is to work this, when its owner is in danger," he explained, "I don't think the girl knows what this really is." The old, once-panty thief smiled as the two women drew closer, each eyed the other suspiciously. "Makibi Kiyone, Detective of the Galaxy Police," Happosai said politely, "Lind, one of God's own Valkyries. I was not being euphemistic or evasive with either introduction."

      "Shouldn't you be pawing us and displaying your other disgusting habits?" the tall woman in the fancy garb asked. She spared Kiyone a glance, then stared at the seated little man.

      Kiyone's own skin crawled as she remembered her last encounter with the famous Nerima martial artist.

      The ancient oldster sighed. "They spoiled me," he said plaintively, "All that 'goodness and purity' gets under your skin, changes who you spent decades becoming. All over in a heartbeat." He sighed again. "I need you two to get them back, and with Nerima luck, you'd only do it after you fought and drew all the guards down on us like flies to natto, so I decided to go past that into the introductions."

      "So are you going to help us?" Kiyone asked.

      "My dears, I told you, I just did." His tone was a bit sharper. "But if you still need an old man's help . . . ?"

      Kiyone was trying to imagine what he meant, when Lind picked him up, held him tight against her breasts. Then she smirked at Kiyone, and glowed. Happosai struggled and squirmed to escape the woman's grip, but he could only reach one area, and every time his hands approached her breasts, he yanked them back. Kiyone scanned the walls to see if the guards had noticed the flare or the muffled shouting. When she saw only darkness around them, she looked back at brightly glowing Lind in confusion.

      The Valkyrie set down the chibi-master, and smiled as he staggered about drunkenly.

      "That's dirty pool," he complained as he sat down heavily and shook his head to clear it.

      "Then don't tell others your weaknesses," the Valkyrie chided, then looked at Kiyone with real interest, "Only a pure spirit could see that light." She gestured at the compound wall in the distance. "I could stand beside any of them, and they would not see it. Maybe you should give the Master a heartfelt hug."

      "No, no, no, no!" Happosai moved away from Kiyone. "I still have to get you ladies a distraction, once they spot you - and I need to keep my hand in the old game," he said proudly. He took on a more serious mien. "Rescue my students, that's all I ask."

      Lind nodded. "You wouldn't know of what else lies within that place?" she asked, "I can feel it, but cannot place it."

      "Never saw anything but people," Happosai said, "They're on the top floor, one of the interior bedrooms."

      "You know where they are?!" Kiyone hissed, then glanced at the wall.

      "They can't hear us," Happosai said happily, then frowned, "If I get the right question for this thing." He held up the computer and told it, "You do know you won't get her back if you don't help me." He waited a moment, then held the computer for them both to see the screen. "That's where they are."

      "Why does Mercury have to hit all those buttons?" Lind asked, "When you just talk to it?"

      "Mercury's a nice girl, who'd stroke a cat to get it to work. I'd hold it over a cook fire until it realized who was boss," Happosai explained.

      'I suspect your interest in these events is different than mine,' came over the radio to Kiyone, 'There are questions that need answering, and your help may be critical, once I get my answers.'

      Kiyone nodded. The moonless night and strong wind disguised their approach. How is she seeing in this? Kiyone wondered, Is she really . . . an angel? I wonder how her powers stack up against the technology of the Galaxy Police? I wonder if she'd be recruitable or would take the occasional job? I wonder if she'd mind me swapping Mihoshi for her as a partner?

      She watched the troops manning the walls. Either they're good actors, or they really can't see us. She briefly considered how to cross the wall. But when Lind simply leapt over it, Kiyone did the same.

      'Get near the closest girls, then wait for it,' came Happosai's voice came over the radio.

      For a 'primitive' planet, they sure do have some high tech solutions, Kiyone thought as she moved to the wall, and pressed herself against it. Some three meters away, Lind did the same. Or does magic compensate?

      The scream of outrage cut through the night. Suddenly every guard came alert, and dozens of searchlights swept the courtyard between the house and the wall.

      "What a haul, what a haul!" came the cry that Kiyone remembered with revulsion s she sought to cover herself from the probing hands. Every female guard the little gnome approached, reacted exactly the same way as he passed. The tiny master jumped up on the wall, threw bombs at the searchlights, taking out all but a few of them, and leapt away. Darkness restored and tracers from their weapons reaching out into the night, the little man fled the guards' fire and zigzagged across the open field.

      Lind grabbed Kiyone by the belt and the collar, and threw her upwards. Kiyone landed so gently on the roof, she almost assumed she'd floated there. Lind landed next to her, just as silently, a moment later.

      He did good work, Kiyone thought as she surveyed where the thrown bombs had 'missed' the searchlights, He took out plenty of sensors in our landing zone, and a few across the roof so it doesn't look like a pattern.

      Lind had raised her axe, to carve a hole in the roof. Kiyone caught her arm and pointed to the hole caused by the destruction of a sensor turret. 'That isn't big enough to wriggle through,' came the encrypted transmission from Lind.

      'Yes,' Kiyone answered, 'But that's where we should cut, and it drops us into a blind spot on the building's internal sensors.'

      'You remember that from just one glance at the diagram that evil gnome showed us?' Lind asked, her expression all curiosity.

      'It's my job,' Kiyone replied.

      And I also noticed that a lot of this stuff is Galactic tech. Terrans haven't built this kind of technology yet, Kiyone thought, but didn't share.

      The Valkyrie's axe split the beams and roofing material with nary a sound, and the pair dropped into the darkened corridor with nary a sound.

      Kiyone noted that Lind was looking around with near desperation, while Kiyone cycled the optics of her goggles through all the settings, trying to dispel the gloom.

      'I'm blind,' the Valkyrie said. Her worry was clear despite the static of the transmission.

      Kiyone caught one of the woman's questing hands. 'I can see less than a meter,' Kiyone replied, 'We move by feel and memory. Even the passive sonar is useless. It must be a spell.' She set the Valkyrie's hand on her shoulder.

      'I can feel no magic,' Lind answered, her voice going in and out of sync, 'But there are magics I cannot sense.'

      I don't like that, Kiyone thought as she moved, And I don't like that something can completely overwhelm GP sensors over such a defined area. I don't even know if it will defeat the sensors they have installed here. Amateurish, or brilliant, and I have to pray for amateurish.

      'Let's just hope this was triggered by Happosai's attack, and they're as blinded by it, as we are,' Kiyone told Lind.

      'Whatever sent this, would not have been blinded by it,' Lind told her, 'I have heard of such spells, but no demon or angel would touch it.'

      Not angel, not demon, should equal human, but it could mean . . . oh boy, Kiyone realized as she checked the door, and found it locked, Better hurry, carefully. She crushed the knob and twisted it to let her quietly shove the door open. The effect here was less than in the corridor. Arrayed on the sleeping mats in fancy dresses like fairy tale princesses, were the four Senshi: Moon, Jupiter, Venus and Mercury. I bet Mars is never going to let them hear the end of this, Kiyone thought as she looked for the surveillance system. Lind released her grip and began examining the walls for other surveillance systems. A blackened spot on the ceiling marked where it had been. I'm not going to wonder, I'm just going to thank Jupiter when she wakes up. That looks like a lightning bolt hit it.

      Kiyone pointed at the wall, and Lind carefully and almost silently buried her axe in the plaster. Within moments, she'd cut her way into the next room, where there was a window. 'Do we just toss them down one at a time?' Lind asked, 'I can't carry four.'

      'I've planned to teleport us to my ship, with a car as back up, but I can't reach my ship,' Kiyone replied, 'I can handle two, and still run, can you?'

      The Valkyrie grinned predatorily at the challenge, 'Oh course.'

      'Then out the window and away, I don't think we have to be too subtle,' Kiyone told her.

      'Then I'd better kill that tank, first,' Lind told her from her place near the window, but not visible to those outside.

      Kiyone rushed to the other side of the window and glanced down. An old M24 Chaffee waited below. 'We could always steal that,' Kiyone suggested, 'I think I could drive it.'

      'I know I could,' Lind replied, 'But it is alive.'

      Kiyone felt an icicle down her spine at the Valkyrie's tone.

      'If you can get the five of you over the wall and away, I recommend you do that,' Lind told her, 'While I slay this monstrosity.'

      I'd hoped to use the jump pack for an emergency, not right off the bat. And all five, which would pretty much use up the power cell, or burn out something else. It would get us over the wall, Kiyone thought, then nodded to the Valkyrie.

      The pair collected the somnambulant Senshi near the window. Lind loaded Kiyone with the four girls, then drew her axe. At Kiyone's nod, the Valkyrie blew out the window and the frame, and leapt down at the monster. Kiyone leapt through the window behind her. Immediately, warning telltales appeared in her visor, warning of overload and other alarms from the jump pack. Kiyone ignored them, pushed off from the perimeter wall as she floated by, and landed outside the compound. In the far distance, stuttering gunfire was still visible. Behind her, the Valkyrie landed.

      'I don't hear anything,' Kiyone said as Lind took Jupiter and Venus.

      'I struck one blow, and it died,' the Valkyrie responded, 'That is our way.' She took off at a run, with Kiyone slowly overtaking her. 'I know how to call my ship, and where the car is.'

      'I wanted to open the distance between the house, those patrols, and ourselves,' Lind answered, 'Lead on.'

      Lind carried the nearly comatose girls easily, and was glad that her partner was able to do likewise.

      'You sensed something in the house,' the police officer directed a thought to Lind, 'What was it?'

      Ever the detective. Something I am less skilled at, Lind fondly considered before answering.

      'They are not right, they feel like an infection on the world. I mayn't explain it better, like a dissonant sound that is not heard but felt, a smell of corruption that has ground itself into the walls and floor after everything else has been removed, or a touch of death for the whole world.'

      'What would you do facing one?' her partner asked.

      'I do not know. They are truly vulnerable only to things of their own kind. A human who dabbles in those things goes mad,' she answered Kiyone.

      "Asuka and Jeff," the woman breathed allowed, then gave Lind an apologetic look.

      'We are far enough away, they probably heard nothing,' Lind soothed, 'Probably.'

      'So where do you know those two from?' Kiyone asked, 'Slow down, the car's around here someplace.'

      'There was a great war, during this planet's last upheaval. Jeff and Asuka helped us fight renegades who'd sided with Humanity's enemies. As I understand it, once the renegades were destroyed, all of Heaven's and Hell's help was summarily withdrawn. Leaving the humans, who warred on each other in the waking world, to fight an ultimately forlorn battle for Humanity's Dreamlands. That the pair located something that became the Scholarly Dragon, was all that prevented the battle from becoming a defeat. And all that Humanity was, from being destroyed. I can understand their dislike and mistrust of our kind.' She set her Senshi down. Lind stacked her two beside them.

      'I can see why they might hold a grudge,' Kiyone said as she probed around, 'The problem with perfect camouflage is that it works against everybody.'

      Lind smiled at that. I'm glad she doesn't know about Celestine. Even I cannot fathom Heaven's decisions surrounding him.

      The pile of twisted, sharp metal shards that materialized looked nothing like any car Lind had ever seen.

      'How did they destroy the car, without disturbing the camouflage?' Kiyone asked coldly, then bent her head in concentration. 'I can't reach my ship either,' the vague worry in her voice took on a more definite note, 'If they got that, it's a long run to safety.'

      Lind noted the faint desperation in the woman's tone. The Senshi themselves were beginning to stir. This is going to make running to safety difficult, Lind considered as she looked around.

      Two searchlights caught the rescue team in their brilliant glare, and the guards who'd somehow evaded all detection appeared in a line, backlit by the searchlights. Some of the guards laughed at Lind's and Kiyone's confusion.

      "They says bring the Senshi back untouched," their leader said, marking him as her first target.

      "They said nothin' about those two," another man leered.

      Lind couldn't have cared less. Mixed in with the armed humans were a trio whose shapes twisted and writhed as they shifted into and out of the rational dimensions humans inhabited. The sight, even the presence of such abominations, made the Valkyrie queasy. That explains it, Lind realized, and turned to tell Kiyone.

      The officer was staring through her technology at the same dimensionally-unstable creatures. Her skin had gone pale, her breathing rapid, and her movements jerky and unsettled.

      Her technology is no friend to her, if it leaves her senses naked before their reality, Lind thought.

      The kidnapper laughed as Kiyone finally managed to focus well enough to tear the visor from her face and cover her eyes. "Oh, she's all excited already!" one of them laughed. Noise and movement among the Senshi drew Kiyone's attention back to them. When she returned her gaze to the men and the monsters, she was steadier.

      'I still can't get through to my ship, or anyone else,' the officer admitted, 'But I think I know why.'

      "Then die well," Lind said. The guards tensed and focused their weapons on her.

      A jelly-like gunk sprayed over the backs, shoulders and heads of kidnappers, and their monsters. "What is this?" one wit managed. The monsters turned correctly towards the source, while both Lind and Kiyone caught the odor of gasoline.

      Another source of light bloomed, and Lind had a revelation, So that is why people fear angels: salvation, succor and terror, all in one.

      The blast from the flamethrower caught the ankles and calves of the farthest kidnappers. The napalm he'd already sprayed them with ignited instantly, then Tatewaki swept the blast back down the line towards him, reducing the entire force to flaming pyres. A flash of cloth high over the flames cut through the lights on their stanchions, reducing the only light to those burning figures. Kuno turned and directed another blast towards truck that had brought the men, and still contained a few more. The driver and his companion were immolated in the cab, and one figure, still afire, fell from the canvas-topped back and tried to roll out the flames. Another flame blast caught him. On Kuno's face rested a terrible madness, a sublime yet ferocious serenity as he pivoted back to face the trio of creatures his first attack had wounded, but had not destroyed. The spray caught each one and lingered a moment before moving on.

      Kodachi spared her brother a worried look as she helped Kiyone lift Usagi, and carry her to the limo that lay just out of sight. Tatewaki stood fast, to cover the extraction, and to spray more fire on the creatures. As the last of the Senshi were loaded aboard, Lind ran back to collect him. She saw on his face the focused battle madness she had sought her entire life to achieve.

      No thought but protect the innocent, and destroy the monsters, she thought as he looked at her, and returned to searching for targets. She pulled on his arm, but he might have been rooted to the ground. The final blast of fire on the monsters cut off, as the flamethrower ran dry.

      "You've done all there is to do," she told him, "Come."

      "They will pursue. They must be destroyed," came the calm response.

      "They will flee, once we've gone," she told him, "That is their way."

      He looked at her, then at the limo that waited. He nodded and jogged to the limo, putting the spent weapon in a sealed box in the trunk, before climbing into the spacious passenger compartment.

      "Brother," Kodachi asked carefully, as if for the first time, fearful of his madness.

      "I am well enough, dear sister," he replied heavily, "I doubt I shall ever be truly well again." He looked at Lind. His tiredness had dimmed the fire, but did not veil it from her. "If that is what we face, the sword of Kuno Tatewaki shall be at your side."

      Lind nodded. "Be aware, that Jeff and Asuka have become -" The fury of Kuno's glare silenced the Valkyrie.

      His words were calm, but the hatred she'd seen against the creatures Tatewaki directed full force at her. "The Devious Shaman, and the Lady Asuka may have taken on their characteristics, their powers, and even ape their ways, as their only means to protect the human race, but they did not 'become' those things. Once the battle is over, for good or ill, they may need our help remembering this, but - we - will - not - forget - it. Is that understood?"

      Lind drew back from that fire. "Yes, but convincing them will not be easy."

      "It shall be done," Tatewaki said firmly, then leaned back against the seat and closed his eyes.

      "What else did we miss?" Usagi asked quietly.

      Kiyone started to answer them, before Minako cut in, "Who put us in these fancy clothes?" she asked.

      Kiyone's eyebrows raised, and she looked unable to speak. Lind also caught the implications of that.

      "I gotcher original clothes right here," Happosai said, as he climbed out of the front passenger seat and thought the window to the passenger compartment. He struggled a moment, getting the bundle through the gap, then dropped it in front of the girls. "They're in here somewhere." He opened the bundle spilling out huge numbers of womens underwear.

      "How did you find my car?" Kiyone asked.

      "How do you think I got up here in the first place?" the old man chuckled as he tossed out each of the girls' clothes, along with their henshin pens and other personal effects.

      "How did you get all this?" Kiyone asked in amazement.

      "Walked in, and stole it to cover planting all my bombs, then raised the ruckus outside," the little man replied as he began repacking the bundle.

      "I thought you were cured?" Makoto said as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes.

      "There's cured, and there's doing it for a good cause."

      "Why didn't you simply sneak in and rescue them?" Lind asked in amazement.

      "How was I supposed to carry all four of them?" Happosai asked.

      Lind and Usagi both reached for him. He fearfully backed away. "Easy girls. Enough Happi to go around later. I've got so much energy now, I feel like I might pop."

      They let him be for the rest of the trip.

      Admiral Morita looked at the orders, and the smarmy Major who'd presented them. Just days after taking command, and . . . this is just too coincidental, he thought quietly. The sounds of alarm from the Senshi who were being herded towards the two trucks was bringing everyone out of the building and from their posts. "Now that your men have satisfied themselves that Sailors Moon, Jupiter, Venus and Mercury are not present in the camp, I believe you will be leaving," he told the man, "Per the orders you showed me orders, of course."

      "You understand?" the man asked, just a shade below what could be considered direct insubordination. Now in the background, the families and friends of the Senshi were being held back by a line of troopers openly brandishing their rifles with bayonets fixed.

      Some of those look ready to storm the line regardless, he thought unhappily. The limo pulled up, and only Kodachi and Tatewaki got out. He spotted Happosai pulling the door shut hurriedly.

      "I understand completely," Morita said darkly, "No one under my command will interfere with you, or your orders." He signaled for the troops he'd brought with him to start moving people back from the Major's men. The Kuno siblings were a major worry, both unstable, and probably immune to any attack anyone in the camp could make.

      The major saluted, a sloppy thing as if he had never bothered to learn better. The admiral glared at the man.

      "You may go, Major," the admiral told him disdainfully and walked away, enjoying the look of suppressed fury on the man's face for getting back some of the disrespect he'd been showering others with. The admiral didn't need to go far. "No one under my lawful command will interfere," he announced loudly enough that his voice carried to the parents, and the Senshi themselves. Both groups were equally horrified by the revelation. "As soon as our communications are restored, we will get to the bottom of this." The looks of the assembled now varied from stunned outrage to betrayal, with murderous fury appearing on several. For the moment, he didn't care. "You will follow my orders!" he thundered. His own troops began dragging the mothers and fathers away from the line of troops, while he approached the Kuno siblings. He noted that both conspicuously dropped their hands to their sides.

      Not that it would mean anything in a real fight, he reminded himself.

      "As for you two," he said quietly, ignoring the menace radiating from the pair, "Good job on the rescue. You're both fired." He walked between the confused teens and on to the commo shed.

      Tatewaki glanced after the admiral, hiding his grin beneath a stoic facade, as befits a true samurai. "General Horai," he told his sister.

      She nodded and sprang away. He headed towards the holding barracks, and hoped the seeds he had planted had borne fruit.

      The marines on the guard post outside the prisoners' stockade came alert.

      "Open the door, there has been a misunderstanding, if not a breakdown in the chain of command."

      The man stared at Tatewaki in confusion.

      His noble brow furrowed. The deft stroke of his mighty blade slit the hasp of the lock. "Tell them I hit you," he told the denser-than-necessary guard.

      The man stared at the fallen lock. "I'll do that right now." He dashed off. The other simply opened the door.

      Tatewaki strode into the milling hornet's nest of Colonel Patterson's captive force. "I believe now would be the best time to begin your crusade against NeoSerenity, as we discussed, Colonel," he told them simply. He retained his stoic mien, yet inwardly leapt for joy as two dozen of the force moved to accompany Patterson and himself.

      Lieutenant Takarada stood before Admiral Morita as the man looked over the shoulder of the radio man. She saluted perfectly at the man, and reported, "Half the prisoners have escaped, they also raided the weapons' locker and stole their equipment. We believe they left aboard businessman Horai's assault truck. We can catch it and them, by sending one force down the post road to the highway and the other down the mining road they took."

      The admiral stared at her incredulously, then turned away. "And violate our orders of noninterference with the convoy?" Admiral Morita asked while he watched the man manipulate the controls, "No, I won't risk that. We'll contact the convoy and warn them."

      "Sir, communications are still down," the comm officer reminded him. The man's forced politeness mirrored that of the Lieutenant.

      "Yes, how unfortunate." He straightened up and returned her salute. "Thank you Lieutenant, I'm sure a band of escaped prisoners wouldn't even consider engaging that convoy. It would be against all logic to do so."

      Her jaw tightened slightly, as her temper warred with her training. "Sir, Tatewaki and Kodachi Kuno were with them. As well as Sailors Moon, Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury."

      The facileness of the Admiral's concern was transparent. "Hostages?"

      "No, sir, they may be the ones who broke into the armory," she explained carefully, "And broke out the prisoners."

      The admiral considered carefully. "They took being fired worse than I thought," Morita said dismissively.

      Former general Horai grinned as the product of his new masters bounced down the old mining road. He'd intended to show it was capable of carrying, and powering, the new twin launcher. Events intervene, and instead of driving around the practice field, I'm on a rescue mission. I almost prefer it, less paperwork, and more what I originally signed on for. Being a hero, not a paper shuffler.

      In the back, the Kunos and Senshi were assisting the future soldiers with their preparation, and discussing the overall plan. Kodachi said I had to get close, then get way, he thought, That still means engaging the escorts, and considering not one of them recognized me or my name, I'd bet they aren't real Japanese soldiers. The laws of war are very strict about insurgents masquerading as soldiers. He grinned again. The vehicle's military GPS showed his track, and the track of the highway. If they went down the post road, and the lack of caked dirt proves they stayed on paved roads, we'll intercept them on the highway. Eight lanes, I hope any drivers know to get out of the way.

      Patterson nodded as Kuno absorbed the information and altered his plans accordingly. He seems to accept the idea of body enhancement pretty easily, the Colonel thought, then glanced at the two adult women he'd brought along, So a fight without powered armor, Nerima-type training, or some other advantage will only yield dead victims. But it's a clever plan really. They won't understand it, until it's already mostly over. Assuming they don't just blast us the instant they see us.

      The trees flew past as the immense truck took both lanes of the mining road. Filter masks or their full face helmets kept the stinging dust under control. He looked over the cab and spotted the highway, but not the convoy. He considered loosing a drone for recon. Until we can get replacements, I'd rather not use up what we'll never be able to replace.

      "That highway should have vehicles on it," Tatewaki said through his mask, "That it does not, bodes ill for the chance that they are soldiers of the Empire."

      "Soldiers of the King?" Quaril asked, referring to Azusa, current king of Jurai, "Or Kagato's mercenaries?"

      "I would greatly enjoy crossing blades with that one," Tate said grimly.

      "His energy blade would cut through that sword, then you," Quaril reminded him and looked at the strange woman smiling at her statement.

      "The Devious Shaman's cunning charms proofed this blade against such. The indomitable will of the scion of House Kuno will break ere this blade ever will." Kuno dropped back into the bed of the dumptruck and discussed something with his sister. The suiting up complete, Moon and Jupiter had separated themselves slightly from Patterson's troops. Mercury and the GP officer had disappeared into the workings of the massive cannon, to get it operational.

      "He's confident, I'll give you that," Quaril told him and dropped back onto the bed.

      He'll show you more than that, Patterson thought as he spotted the convoy, Much more.

      Tatewaki noted their assault landed them in the middle of the convoy, and seemed to throw their foe into complete confusion. We attack, he thought as he leapt from the high side of the modified dumptruck, into the rear of the canvas-covered truck carrying some of the Senshi, and several guards. Sailor Uranus, he thought of his first target, grabbing the rather-mannish Senshi, and throwing her bodily out of the truck. The guards stared after the screaming woman, rather than moving to prevent the swordsman's next move. Sailor Neptune's cry of alarm marked her as the next target. Tate grabbed her by the chest bow and threw her clear of the truck. Princess Mercury babbled a plea or appeal unintelligible due to its speed, and went sailing through the air, over the dumptruck in a high arc. Mamoru's hands were tied behind his back, and it mattered to Tatewaki not a whit. He joined the others in flight. Only Sailors Mars and Vesta remained.

      "Tatewaki, please don't," Sailor Vesta pled with him, marking her as his next target.

      The guards hadn't reacted to the apparent slaughter, as first Vesta, then finally Mars sailed out of the back of the fast-moving truck on a clear arc to meet the pavement on the far side of the dumptruck. The Senshi dispatched, Tatewaki grabbed the rearmost rib supporting the canvas cover, and flipped himself atop it. He ran along the top of the truck, from rib to rib, and leapt over the cab to land on the hood. He drew his blade, and as he leapt off one truck for the other. His 'goodbye' slash cut through the hood, and the engine inside.

      The truck he'd left jerked sideways and went over on its side as Kuno Tatewaki, Japan's newest and most skillful hero, landed amid the stunned guards, and the astonished Senshi. These guards reached for their weapons, clearly not wishing to join their comrades in death.

      Alien weapons, Tatewaki thought as the weirdly shaped death dealers appeared, and the fully functional assault rifles were ignored, Alien soldiers. Tate decapitated both guards, wiping the bloodied blade on one man's tunic before returning it to its scabbard.

      "Enjoy the ride," he told Sailor Saturn, as he grabbed her and hurled her up and over the dump truck. His mad sister caught the girl with her long, gymnastic ribbons, and moved her safely to the interior of the truck bed. Sailor Pluto, and Princesses Jupiter and Pluto were hurled into the air after the other Senshi.

      My mad sister has lost none of her skill with her gymnastic toys, Tate thought as Rini joined and ended the flight to safety, Else I would not have entrusted her with so vital a mission. Tatewaki flipped himself up atop the truck's cover and ran, rib to rib, until he leapt down on the truck's hood and drove his mighty blade through the engine, symbolically and genuinely driving his blade deep into the heart of a monster. The sudden jamming of the engine threw the truck sideways. Although Kuno Tatewaki, master swordsman of the nascent Earth Defense Force landed easily, as befits a hero. He looked in astonishment as several of the men from the other truck were already clambering out, to run after the fleeing dumptruck, at speeds great enough to catch it.

      He leapt at them, cutting down two before they were past. Then he too made pursuit, cutting down the driver and navigator of the second truck, before they could join the pursuit. Kuno Tatewaki, swordsman par excellante made deadly pursuit of those aliens who dared threaten the Senshi and future of Earth.

      "Get the Mercuries working on the cannon," Patterson ordered, "And get some snipers on the back end to cut down our pursuers."

      Their medic was already seeing to the bruises on some of the Senshi, and a grinning but exhausted Kuno Kodachi.

      "This is nuts, why send body-enhanced troops after the Senshi? It's like sending up a flare," Quaril said on the officers' channel.

      "If they don't have to worry about the fallout . . . " he replied as the convoy's `escorts` closed in.

      Typical Jurains, never expect anyone will put up a proper fight, he thought disdainfully at the troops running after, and slowly catching the truck doing 120 km/h, Your ships can't do much for you here, can they? The snipers began making head shots, taking out those in the rear of the formation, so their deletion wouldn't be as easily noticed. Any that fell, but looked ready to get up, Kuno dispatched with swift decapitations.

      "He's a loon, but I love the man's style," Quaril said of their rearguard.

      Haruka had detransformed and crawled through the hatch and into the cab of the truck. General Horai seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. He sat behind the immense wheel, one hand on it, with the hand on the gear shift. He nodded to her, looked from side to side in the large rear-view mirrors. Then he steamrollered a military motorcycle, and drove on searching for targets. The placidness of his expression never wavered.

      "Put on a headset and throat mike," he ordered and frowned, "The cab needs better soundproofing, I'll have to remember that."

      While she did as ordered, he called on the radio/intercom, "Patterson, two command cars, one on either side, they are trying to board."

      Haruka looked at the large rear and side view mirrors. She saw the grim faces of the opposing drivers. Then one of the future soldiers popped over each side of the truck and fired something into the car on that side. Flames exploded, wreathing both cars in a blaze, burning the tires away and cooking off all the ammunition aboard.

      "I'm afraid that won't stop them," Horai told her as he scanned the instruments, the mirrors and the road ahead.

      Haruka was about to respond, when she saw men climbing out of the still-moving flaming wrecks. They didn't stumble or fall, but staggered a few steps before running after the truck. "What are those things?"

      "Galaxy Police, or Jurains," Horai replied, "We'll have to do an autopsy to figure out which."

      Haruka blanched at that revelation. Why would they be after us? she wondered.

      "Hang on!" Horai cried as he jammed on the brakes. As the deceleration threw her against the seat belts, Haruka scanned for something, anything that would cause his reaction.

      "They'll catch up!" she shouted at him as she considered taking the wheel herself. She saw the disturbance moving through the trees, and approaching the road. Nearly the height of the trees, two mechs broke through the forest lining the side of the road.

      "Soldier's instincts," Horai announced as he jammed the truck into reverse. Tires squealed and the occasional shot rang out as they crashed through the lines of alien soldiers who'd been pursuing them. "Split button, with six reverse gears," the man said happily as he ran through the gears, sending the massive truck accelerating backwards, "We can't go as fast as forward gears, but fast enough." He looked at the approaching mechs, which reacted to the hard concrete like men walking on rough ice. But as they pursued, they gained experience and accelerated. "Or maybe not." The man scanned frantically from side to side. "But we can't go toe-to-toe with those monsters. Patterson, where's that cannon?"

      "Still working," came the harried colonel's reply.

      "We need a distraction," the ex-general said, then his face bloomed into a huge grin.

      Haruka searched their surroundings for anything that would bring such joy, as the ex-general turned the wheel and the massive truck swerved across four lanes, the grassy median, and across two more lanes of the highway.

      Tatewaki cursed that his foes had not only run away, but had done so with such alacrity. If only I were not so obviously fearsome in my devotion to the sword, he thought, leaving any breath for running in pursuit.

      He saw the two huge machines break through the trees, and the truck immediately backed away. If only I - he paused in thought as the truck swerved across the entire highway, towards the lane he stood in. Tatewaki grinned with exultant joy.

      As the trio of huge machines barreled down on him, he crouched low, drawing his blade, but keeping it at his side. The scion of house Kuno, the last true knight of Japan gripped the blade with both hands, all muscles trembling for release, all senses honed for that one perfect instant when all his devotion to the blade would shine forth, when all his true martial spirit would be revealed to the world. When all those future legends of his heroism, valor and power would have a natal day that all would recognize.

      Three hundred tons of Japanese steel barreled down on him, pursued by at least as much in alien metal. Kuno crouched lower, trusting to the skill of General Horai, and his own instincts. He waited the fateful moment, and time slowed. Pursued and pursuer inched towards him. He saw every cloud in the sky, every face of the crew who likewise moved in slow motion as they dealt with the infantry. The beauty of this moment eludes any words I can conjure. Such is my fate, to know such a moment of perfect destiny, yet not know with whom I could speak of it, he thought I doubt even the Devious Shaman could find the words, though if Lind speaks the truth, perhaps he and Asuka have found it, and not found it so sweet, he thought idly, freed of all ties to Earth, awaiting the moment that drew slowly closer as if the gods themselves wished to savor every moment. Only his sword, and its foe mattered now. Even Kuno Tatewaki was transcendent, the blade and target alone remained concrete in a world of illusions and trivialities.

      He could see every detail of the truck's undercarriage as it swept over him. General Horai had placed it so the differential of all three axles passed by. Still Kuno waited, aware of, yet not hearing, the thunderous noise and vibration of the vehicle over him, and those approaching him.

      The truck was nearly past, as he felt the gentlest of zephyrs tugging at his clothes. But is a mighty torrent of wind to buoy me up, he knew as he leapt straight up and towards the nearest mech. Already his blade moved, without conscious thought by the wielder. Thought had become irrelevant, only instinct and training mattered.

      The blade forged by the Devious Shaman passed in the most graceful arc imaginable, through some energy barrier, and thence through the armor of the mech, as if through a mere cloud or mist, as if in a Noh play.

      Not a play, Kuno realized, Death had been dealt. The finest swordsman in all Japan was already considering the soldiers he would land among. This is no even contest, though there are dozens. None can match whom the gods themselves have smiled upon this day. If it is the defense of the Earth that they desire, Kuno Tatewaki shall not disappoint! Before he'd landed, his blade had taken the first of many.

      As the two halves of the mech parted ways, General Horai slammed on the brakes and jerked the wheel. All ten tires screamed their protest as the truck slid backwards in an arc. Haruka watched the mech scrabble on the hard concrete as it couldn't match the speed of the maneuver.

      Having completed his bootlegger turn, the General slammed the gearshift into forward and charged the stumbling mech. He crashed into the hip joint, spinning the mech to crash to the ground, and passed beyond.

      Again he slammed on the brakes and jerked the wheel. The screaming of tires and the stench of burning rubber came again as the vehicle swapped ends and charged towards the mech they had been fleeing only moments earlier.

      The truck shook violently as it drove over the mech and crashed down amid the infantry. Flattening many, dismembering a few, and scattering those with any sense of self-preservation.

      "Body enhancement isn't perfect," the general said as he made a more leisurely turn and raced back towards the mech. It had managed to get to its hands and knee, one leg hung limp at its side, when the truck crashed into it head on. The skull of the mech crushed against the heavily reinforced bumper, the alien machine collapsed.

      "Let's go find their base ship," General Horai said into the mike and drove towards the path the two mechs had carved in the forest.

      Only one man now pursued the truck, and Kodachi snared him with her ribbons and brought her brother aboard. Haruka noted the calm demeanor of the man, a direct contradiction to the grinning madman behind the wheel of the steel behemoth.

      "Keep this beast steady for a bit," Colonel Patterson's voice came over the headset, "And we should have some cannons for you in a fraction."

      "I think you'll get your wish," General Horai said as he slowed a bit, but still happily aimed the truck towards the gap in the trees, "This is turning out quite well. I have very few complaints about our performance, and those are easily rectified."

      Haruka nodded and stared in mute horror at the man.

      "How did she make it seem so simple?" Sailor Mercury called to Princess Mercury, as the pair finished the power hookups, while several of the future soldiers tried to clear the feed mechanism.

      Another jolt slammed them against the structure of the weapon. "Probably weren't trying to do it inside a moving truck," one of Patterson's techs said.

      "Power feeds are up, the capacitor banks are already fully charged. Power should be getting to the firing chambers," Princess Mercury called from her position, "What about the training systems?"

      "If you mean the gears and hoses down here," the two Jupiters and Kiyone shouted back, "They're all hooked up and working."

      Sailor Mercury smirked at that. Figures Makoto would be a decent mechanic, as long as there are no boys around, she doesn't have to be too self-conscious, she thought as she checked the power to the sighting system.

      "Then clear out of there," Patterson transmitted to their headsets, "Because we've got a target."

      The Jupiters and Kiyone cleared out as the Mercuries and Patterson's soldiers climbed out of the huge machine. As soon as they were out, Patterson fired up the air movers and another of his soldiers sealed the entrance.

      "Water-cooling would have made more sense," the large man said, then gave Mercury an unpleasant look. Ami took the hint and retreated to where the other Senshi waited.

      The trees still moved by above them, as the gun seemed to come to life. It elevated and moved, as if sniffing the wind for its target. The truck bounced and rumbled over the trail it drove down. The turret slewed suddenly and began tracking.

      "Eyes down!" Patterson shouted.

      Ami averted her eyes and covered her face. Even through her hands and eyelids, she saw the flash of the gun. The clank and rattle of the machine sounded, as another firing chamber was loaded, and the machine lit up the world again. Ami risked a peek at the gun, and saw it tracking a spaceship that was trying to gain altitude. The craft was already smoking from two small holes. Ami covered her eyes as the rattling stopped, and again she saw the veins in her eyelids clearly through her hands and closed eyes. A moment later she saw it again.

      "Cease fire, it's out of range," came another voice, "Twenty miles before the bloom disrupts the beam, that's not bad, considering."

      Ami opened her eyes and looked around. A large smoke trail hovered in the air, she couldn't see the vehicle still making it. But we hurt them, badly, she thought, I shouldn't be happy about that, but they did want to kill us. What have we done that would make regular people hate us so? she wondered as she looked at Patterson's people, who'd moved as far from the collected Senshi as the bed of the truck allowed. I could just ask, she reminded herself, looked at the distrustful, and even hateful looks aimed at her, and decided otherwise.

      Admiral Morita watched the extremely battered truck drive back into camp. One tire was flat, and there were scores of burns on the sides. But it maneuvered well and came to a stop near him. Businessman Horai opened the door to the cab and climbed down the ladder.


      Morita nodded and bowed to the man.

      The Senshi who had climbed out after Horai, seemed very much worse for wear. Her partner, and the others from the bed of the truck, had climbed or jumped down. The young woman raced to her stricken partner.

      "He did a bootlegger, in reverse, in a dumptruck!" the wild-eyed Senshi told her more composed partner.

      "I know," the aqua-haired Senshi said soothingly.

      "He did a bootlegger, in reverse, in a dumptruck!" the shorthaired Senshi insisted.

      "Maybe if you ask, he'll teach you," her partner tried a different tack.

      "He did a bootlegger, in reverse, in a dumptruck!" the wild-eyed Senshi said miserably, "He did a bootlegger, in reverse, in a dumptruck!"

      Michiru looked at him and shrugged. He nodded back.

      He looked at Patterson's troops handing over their weapons and armor, then heading to the showers. Then he approached the two Kunos. "I think I can see my way clear to rehiring you."

      Both bowed. "Admiral, if you could find it in your compassion and wisdom," Tatewaki said, "To rehire us tomorrow, and spare these two weary vagabond two cots in a quiet corner."

      "How about I rehire you, and my first order is get cleaned up, and get some sleep?" Morita asked.

      "That too would be acceptable," Kodachi offered, "Thank you, Admiral."

      It's not so easy to save the world in real-life, as it is in an anime show is it? he didn't ask the departing teens.

      Usagi shifted nervously, glanced back at the dragon, who was unable to hide his nervousness even from Usagi. It made her feel more like Tsukino Usagi cosplaying Sailor Moon, instead of the genuine article. "Why don't we send Mina out there by herself?" she asked.

      Sailor Venus, the only one among them who seemed unfazed by events, just smiled. "It's not so bad. Once you get used to it. Although somebody better wake up Rei."

      "Sailor Mars," Sailor Vesta gently corrected.

      "I think the new general is trying to make us crazy," Usagi quietly whined.

      Rini shouted over the growing noise, "I had to face this a lot. Don't look at any one of them too long, and don't focus on how many of them there are. Just look at one, then another. Concentrate all your attention on that one for an instant, and move on."

      "We're all going to get destroyed," Usagi mumbled, then glanced at Ami, who'd backed up against Makoto, and was practically shivering in terror. Only the larger girl's tenacity let her stand the mounting dread without breaking.

      "What's the worst that could happen?" Hotaru asked, "Beryl already killed the Inners, it's the Outers who haven't been through that. They should be the least worried."

      Usagi looked at their brash on-again/off-again allies, and saw them bearing up, but offering no encouragement to their supposed allies.

      "Ten seconds," a soldier told them. Now, a new noise could be heard, the sound of expectations from thousands.

      "Once more unto the breach," the dragon said nervously.

      The Senshi faced the barrier, faced the beginning of the new campaign the general now led them on.

      "Figures, Artemis and Luna would go and hide," Usagi grumbled, the barrier moved aside and there it was. Nearly blinding light prevented them from clearly seeing any details, other than first dozens, then hundreds of smaller, randomly scattered flashes of light.

      I can't see. So I shouldn't be afraid, Sailor Moon thought as she boldly walked forward.

      "Pretty, Sailor-Suited Guardians of Love and Justice," she called loudly. Only a strange clicking and more of the dispersed flashes of light answered her. "How is Sapporo doing?" she shouted.

      The thunderous ovation nearly set her to flight as the crowd shouted, screamed, stamped their feet and took hundreds more pictures.

      "Senshi of Justice and Wisdom, Sailor Mercury!" Moon shouted, and pointed back to her friend.

      The spotlight speared the terrified girl in place. She couldn't run with that brilliant light in place. The roar of the crowd terrified her. Her smile was a rictus of terror to anyone who knew her. She managed a shy wave, which only redoubled the crowd's clamoring. Only a gentle push from Jupiter propelled her forward to stand beside Moon.

      "Senshi of Love and Justice, Sailor Venus."

      Venus walked forward boldly, blowing kisses and posing for the crowd. "I love you all, almost as much as you love me," she announced and took a victory pose. The crowd, and especially the photographers went nuts. The flash of cameras continued after the tumult of the crowd had dropped back to a dull roar.

      I'm not even going to try to figure out what she meant, Moon thought.

      "Senshi of Thunder and Courage, Sailor Jupiter!" Moon shouted.

      Jupiter managed to advance smoothly to stand beside Mercury. Then she struck a pose showing off her biceps. The crowd went crazy. "I'd rather this was a pack of Youma," Jupiter whispered. Mercury covered her mouth and giggled. The answering roar of the crowd staggered both girls.

      "Senshi of Flame and Passion, Sailor Mars," Moon shouted as the noise dropped to a dull roar.

      What force propelled impelled the nearly comatose girl forward remained unseen. She managed an even more wooden wave than Mercury made, and only Venus's firm grip on her arm kept her from turning and running.

      "Senshi of Silence, Sailor Saturn!" Moon shouted, to move the crowd's focus to something other than the terrified girl.

      The youngest Senshi walked forward confidently, past the other Senshi, and shyly waved to the crowd. The shattering of hearts could be heard over the roar of the crowd. As the tumult ceased, Saturn waved for quiet. To everyone's amazement, the Senshi of Silence managed it. "Thank you for coming to see us all," she said in what seemed to be a normal tone, but everyone heard it. The answering roar as she bowed and backed away to the others, would have drowned out an exchange of naval gunfire.

      "Senshi of Skies, Sailor Uranus!" Moon called out.

      The tall Senshi strode forward, and gave the entire crowd an icy glare. The crowd loved it, and made their approval heard.

      "Senshi of Depths, Sailor Neptune!" Moon called.

      The spotlight caught the Outer, and she walked forward, every bit a princess. The noise of the crowd less raucous, but just as universal.

      She's so beautiful, Moon thought as she watched, I wish I had her poise.

      "Senshi of Revolution, Sailor Pluto!" Moon shouted.

      The dragon's tail picked up the petrified woman by the ankles, making her appear to hover statue-like, bare centimeters off the ground, rather than walk forward. The crowd was hushed as she settled, and managed to wave to them. The calls and cries of the crowd froze her into immobility again. Neptune sidestepped to hide Pluto's still-upraised arm from the crowd.

      I hope none of the audience saw that, Moon thought, relieved, She must have been stiff as stone to move like a chess piece, rather then flop over when he picked her up.

      "Senshi of the Hearth, Sailor Vesta!" Moon called.

      The former-Nerima housewife walked forward casually, and curtseyed to the crowd. The people's whoops and hollers fazed her not a bit as she stepped back beside Moon. "You will remind me to remember to use Akane's favorite recipe when I cook dinner for the General," she commented to Moon as she politely waved to the crowd, "Won't you Sailor Moon."

      Of course, after I've found out if the field hospital has a stomach pump available, Moon thought of the shyly smiling woman who still waved to the crowd.

      "Knight of the Rose, Tuxedo Mask!" she called.

      The spotlight came on, to an empty spot. Suddenly Tuxedo Mask dropped into the pool of light from above, and furled his cape around himself.

      He's MINE! Moon kept from shouting as the girlish squeals in the crowd overwhelmed every other noise in the immediate world.

      He advanced, producing a single rose from beneath the cape. He approached Moon, and carefully touched the rose to her lips. She took it, blushing furiously as she did.

      He bent down and whispered. "That crowd's turning ugly."

      Moon stifled a frown. He's right, I think I need a distraction.

      "Knight of the Sword, Blue Thunder!" she called.

      Tatewaki accepted being called out of order. With the light on him, he pulled a single silk handkerchief from his keiko-gi and tossed it into the air. An iaijitusu slash sent the kerchief flying into the air, as it drifted down, several deft strokes cut it into four separately floating pieces. Tatewaki carefully caught each section on the sword point with quick thrusts, but didn't pierce them. The fascinated sound of the crowd as the display of Kuno's prowess was repeated on screens scattered among the audience. Tatewaki pulled the cloth off the end of the blade, all in one piece.

      Tatewaki bowed to the sounds of the crowd's amazement, and joined the Senshi.

      "No speech," Mamoru teased.

      "Like you, my actions were eloquent enough," Tatewaki replied calmly.

      Moon shook herself loose of the spell of the Blue Thunder's swordsmanship. "Knight of Grace, Black Rose!" she called.

      The spotlight should have caught Kodachi. But it touched only empty space. The spotlight swung around, searching the stage. When the spot moved next to Moon, Kodachi dropped straight into it. She casually bowed to the crowd, while Usagi sagged against Mamoru.

      "Where did you come from?" Moon stammered.

      "From a state of grace," the Black Rose told her and smiled enigmatically

      Moon looked at her ally askance, then looked at the crowd. "Champion of Justice, Pretty Sammi."

      The girl capered up, and bowed. The crowd shouted their approval. Pretty Sammi bowed and posed. The cameras fired steadily for several minutes. The girl grinned happily.

      "Last, but definitely not least," Moon called out, "The scariest monster in Japan, or even the world, able to drive off even our greatest enemy. And our best friend -"

      "KITTY!" most of the other Senshi and allies called out, and ran back to hug their huge friend.

      "Times like this, reminds me why I'm a humanitarian," the dragon rumbled.

      Confused muttering began in the crowd, then nervous laughter here and there, as some people got the joke and explained it around them.

      "Our friend, Princess Rose of the Psychic Rumble Soldiers!" Moon called and a spot illuminated another stage, and another group of girls. Moon stepped back as the lights came down around her. Leaving the other girl to make her introduction. Someone passed Usagi a drink, and she gulped it down, soothing her throat.

      "Admiral," Lieutenant Takarada, "This isn't what I expected." She stood beside him as he watched the introduction, and then the question-and-answer session that followed. The 'executive suite' isolated the group from the bulk of the crowd. She tried not to think about the snipers who were also in position in the structure, watching the crowd.

      He glanced over to the junior officer. "I didn't advise removing your father as part of a nefarious plot. He's among the finest asymmetrical warfare experts we have, possibly one of the finest in the world. If the Senshi were going into battle, I'd recall him in an instant and put him in command. But he's never trained novices, and he hasn't set foot in a training position in eight years. Even then, his performance was lackluster."

      "But you've been training troops, to train troops, for several years," she said and nodded, "I guess I was wrong about you."

      "Live and learn." He paused. "You didn't come over just to chat, what do you have to report?"

      "Oh, we got the results. We got lucky, this artist was in the top three of all the Senshis' lists. Only Luna put her less than fifth."

      He took the packet and stared at the results. "I wonder what she did to irritate the cat. Amazing, they voted for the pharmacist?"

      "Yes sir, they liked her work better than the established manga artists. Moon even complained that she made her more graceful than she could ever be in real life."

      The admiral smiled. "Have we given her the initial scripts to write the first chapters?"

      "Yes, sir," the lieutenant said, "She can start. We cleaned up a few details on their origins and she came up with the false lead that Venus operated independently in England, so their enemies shouldn't be able to gather any real intelligence. We can also feed them plenty of disinformation in the Venus solo stories."

      "Tell the lady she has the job," the admiral said.

      The colorfully clad girls piled into the line of limos, which raced off down the highway. The photographers and reporters considered following, but the jeeps with the tripod mounted machineguns, manned by soldiers apparently willing to use them, dissuaded pursuit. The idea of chasing them down, to get a photo through the tinted windows, and get a 12.7 mm round in reply was judged to be not worth it. A few had spies placed along the routes into the city, and the hotels and clubs had been staked out. But the convoy continued on through the city without stopping. When they heard the convoy had reached the harbor, most of the reporters began calling for boats and helicopters to pursue the Senshi. Then they heard that the convoy had assembled on an empty wharf, emitted or surrounded by a huge flash of light, and the convoy had disappeared. Any question about the magical ability of the Senshi vanished, as the Senshi themselves had. The reporters arrived on the wharf and examined it minutely for any way that some kind of stage magic could have been responsible for the disappearance. As their search turned up no evidence, all the news hounds became more and more nervous.

      The owner of the ski lodge smiled and put aside his newspaper. Typically, in the summer, the inn was practically empty. Only a few hikers. This season, the military had stationed a team in several adjoining suites.

      "Good evening, any trouble?" he asked the team arriving. He'd ferreted out that this was the team who would deal with any trouble, should the Sailor Senshi be kidnaped. He looked forward to telling his granddaughter.

      One of the women approached his desk. He blanched at her stern expression. "The Senshi asked us to leave this with you, for keeping their presence secret," she explained and held up a 25 cm by 35 cm glossy of all the Senshi, and several of the boys as well. There were signatures next to each of the people in the picture, each wishing his granddaughter well, or some other salutation. The woman set the photo on the counter. "I trust we can rely on your continued discretion."

      He carefully collected the photo. "Of course. Thank you."

      The woman nodded and moved off.

      Once the door closed, Usagi yawned hugely, "That was fun!" She tossed the fatigue cap in the air and began unwinding the long laces of the military boots she wore. The other Inners also removed their caps and collapsed into the chairs around the room.

      "Fun?" Rei complained, "You were petrified!"

      "Yeah, but I got over it," Usagi told Rei, "I see you didn't."

      "So all it takes is a crowd to keep you from arguing?" Rini asked as she shook out her hair, "Those disguise pens are just scary. He didn't even look at me."

      "When's the dragon going to return?" Setsuna asked. Both Hotaru and Rini looked at Setsuna and sighed happily. Haruka and Michiru both looked sour. The two youngest Senshi began laughing at the Senshi of Time's blush.

      "Why didn't the Kunos come with us?" Ami asked, and looked at the others, "What?"

      "They're crazy, remember?" Rei asked.

      "So are we," Ami replied, "This good will tour would be the perfect time to reveal their transformation. If we can cure them, we can do anything."

      "She has a point," Lt. Ima said as she entered and started checking the room.

      "Should we be talking, if you're sweeping for bugs?" Ami asked.

      "Bugs! Ick! I'm not sleeping in a -"

      "Listening devices, Usagi!" Rini interrupted, "How you became queen still amazes me." She sat down next to Setsuna. "Do we have to wait for the Dragon before we go to bed?" She looked where Setsuna pointed. Sasami and Hotaru leaned again each other, both fast asleep.

      Michiru stood and walked into one of the rooms, and returned with a couple of blankets.

      "There are extras?" Haruka asked as her fellow Outer wrapped the two little girls.

      "No, I took them off your bed," Michiru replied.

      "Where am I gonna sleep?" Haruka asked peevishly.

      "And people call me clueless," Usagi grumped.

      Then Haruka blushed and glanced carefully at her fellow Outer, who stared at her with one elegant eyebrow raised in silent question.

      "Where's Kiima, and the Princesses?" Makoto asked, "I kinda miss them."

      "The other Senshi are still deciding, and she's keeping an eye on them," Officer Takarada explained as she arrived and looked over the assembly, "Kiima especially has opted to stay out of the limelight."

      "Cheater," Michiru said, "It was fun. But I don't look forward to doing the same in Sendai, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and . . . how are the schools handling our absence?"

      "We still have our course work," Ami said, then glared at the other Senshi, "Although some people are ignoring it all." When most of the others looked away, she continued, "It's kind of nice, getting them all at once. That way I can do them, and go on to study other things."

      "You already did two months of work, in three days?" Rei gasped.

      "What else was I supposed to do on the drive to Tokyo and the flight up here?" Ami told Rei, who flopped over in a dead faint.

      Usagi just stared at her in bewilderment. "Those people from the future are right. I don't want to be Queen." She looked up at Ami. "You can be Princess Regent, and I already know where you can get an evil Vizier, cheap."

      "The Dragon isn't that evil, Usagi," Setsuna pointed out.

      "I meant her." Usagi pointed at Rei.

      The Fire Senshi transformed, and stared at Usagi. Makoto pointedly sat down between the pair, and ran a hand through the hair of each, until she had a good grip on their heads. "I wonder what happened to our friends," Makoto said quietly as she pushed them both to a sitting position, "Asuka seemed . . . so lost, and frightened, when she left."

      "You can ask the Dragon," Setsuna offered as she picked up a sleeping Rini out of her lap and carried her to one of the adjoining rooms, "He's not shy about doing what needs doing, or saying what he sees as the truth."

      "Yeah, we noticed," Makoto said. She looked at the now much calmer Rei and Usagi, then released them. Ami took Makoto's hands as she knelt in front of her.

      "I don't enjoy what they did. But maybe I understand what they did. I worry that we have no chance without them." Ami looked around. "And I worry what the power-up will really cost them. Asuka absorbed the Mother of All-Dragons, Patterson's people called her 'the Lady of Dragons', and not because Jeff and the Scholarly Dragon are her friends. She seemed very worried about what might happen to her, if she - did what she did against that monster."

      "People who fight monsters -" Rei began.

      "Hush!" Usagi shouted, shrugging off Makoto's grip, she confronted Mars, "We fight monsters too! We don't have to become monsters, unless you want to just give up and tell Colonel Patterson he's right!"

      "Usagi!" Minako said as she woke from her nap, "Don't say such disturbing things."

      "They are not monsters!" Usagi shouted at Rei, "We won't become monsters! The Scholarly Dragon isn't out burning down Tokyo, raping maidens, and collecting a gold horde! He's helping us! Asuka and Jeff are doing the same, sacrificing the one thing they really care about, to protect us! We aren't going to abandon them just because they've gotten scary!"

      Ami stood between the angry Usagi and the stunned Mars. "Rei is just worried," she soothed.

      Usagi was having none of it. "They did what they did, to help us," she growled at the others, "And if you think we won't help them get it back, then leave now. I don't need your help." She marched off to one of the rooms and closed the door behind her.

      The Senshi blinked, looking around at each other and wondering.

      "I can believe she became a Queen," Lt. Ima said.

      "Yes, and I can believe she didn't have her friends when she needed then," Lt. Takarada followed Usagi into her room.

      Lieutenant Takarada found Usagi, pretty much as she'd expected, curled up in a ball, wrapped in all the covers, and crying her eyes out. "You put on a good show out there," the older woman said, "Then you go where no one can see you cry."

      "They helped us," came the muffled, teary voice from the mound of blankets, "We can't abandon them, or we'll be as bad as Patterson says we'll be."

      She sat down on the edge of the bed. Her mother should be doing this, the lieutenant thought, But her mother hasn't been trained for this either. I guess we'll have to train their entire families.

      "I just want to know what you think you are going to do," she asked Usagi.

      The girl sat up. "I don't know! Asuka is the most brilliant girl I know! Jeff, I've never even seen him, but if he's Asuka's and the Dragon's friend, he has to be smart too. If they can't figure out how to fix this," Usagi slumped and continued in a lost voice, "What are we going to do? If smart people like Asuka and Ami-chan can't think up a solution, what's dumb ole' Dumpling-Head going to do?"

      "Maybe there isn't a solution to think of," the lieutenant offered, "Maybe you and Makoto are the answer. Asuka stayed with Rei, who isn't the brightest, but is ruled by emotion. Jeff fell rather hard for Makoto, who is a better student than you, but still near the bottom. Maybe thinking can't get you out of it, maybe feeling can, and maybe, that's why they did what they did. They had faith that you and Makoto would feel an answer, rather than Ami thinking of one." She saw the girl was feeling better about it. "I thought you trailed him for a while, what do you mean you never saw him?"

      "Every time he appeared, I was looking somewhere else, and by the time I looked back, he was gone." Usagi laughed nervously and rubbed her head. "Kinda silly, right."

      "You mean you were daydreaming while you were supposed to be watching him," Takarada said. More nervous laughter from Usagi answered her.

      The Dragon sat down opposite her in the suite's tiny dining area. "Are you serious about going to Nerima? From all I know, you'd be better off nuking that place and starting over."

      "The school board wants an accurate assessment from someone who is impartial," Setsuna said, "And I have a reputation for both resourcefulness, and impartiality."

      "If that's a request for me to accompany you, I'll do it," he said gruffly, "Impartial shouldn't be an excuse for them to buffalo you, and bullshit is that region's chief export."

      "Thank you," she said. She smiled and leaned forward enough for her robe to fall open. "But I was hoping you'd make me beg."

      "I can do that too," he replied as he pointedly pulled her robe closed, "But some things, I wouldn't send Nyarly into without back up."

      She stood up, moved next to him, pouting the entire time and complained, "And here I was hoping to seduce you into helping me."

      "Isn't there something else worth seducing me about?" he asked coyly.

      She grinned and leaned over. She slapped his hand away as he tried to conceal her decolletage. "Your little trip to look at where those stones came from."

      "I could lie, and let you `convince` me, but I was planning to take you with. You are cleared for diving?"

      "Yes, but not to 115 meters. We'd need HeliOx mixtures, and some other special gear," she countered as she drew her long legs under her, and perched in his lap, never taking her eyes away from his. "I think Neptune has some experience with that, but I've only gone about half that deep."

      "The water will be breathable, and the pressure effects moderated by magic," he replied, "But I've already arranged for the gear to be delivered. It will attract the kind of attention we need."

      "You're walking into a trap," she said, and frowned, "And you want me to come with."

      "Who is trapping whom, is open to interpretation. Humans are very vulnerable at those depths. So much can go wrong. So tragically." He gathered her against him. "But you need to be ready, these are people who'd plunge the whole world into the soup, just to get a seat on the last floating noodle. They will not hesitate to kill both of us."

      "I think you're trying to lure me out there so you can ogle me in a skintight wet suit."

      "That deep, a drysuit might be a better idea," the dragon pointed out.

      The Admiral looked at the pile of figurines his aides had carefully placed on his desk, alongside his morning coffee. "Which ones are counterfeit?" he asked, "Whatever was I thinking, authorizing this?"

      "You'd better not look at some of the web sites that are popping up. The ones where guys are putting on masks, dressing up as Senshi, and then other guys are -"

      "Thank you!" the Admiral interrupted, "This was supposed to be a dignified way to introduce them to the people they are protecting. When did merchandising, pornography, and look at this: websites that have other people writing hypothetical stories. The ones in Japan I could understand, but these are in the United States, the Senshi have never been there!"

      "I think you let the genie out of the bottle, and all you can hope for is that it will grant the wishes you need," Lieutenant Takarada suggested, "I think we'll have to live with it. As for the counterfeits, leave that to the government lawyers. The pornography, keep it away from the girls, because I don't think we can stop it legally. The Americans . . . they're crazy."

      The admiral sighed. "The weapons' familiarity training?"

      "Davis and Langley trained the Inners in basic firearms safety. They passed it to some of the Outers, and the pink one. The Psychic Rumble Soldiers, not so much."

      "Please don't tell me one of them managed to hurt themselves with inert ammunition."

      "Ejected it straight into her face," the lieutenant said, "The two high-school-aged Outers can't seem to understand keeping their finger off the trigger. Even Moon got that."

      "Langley probably threatened to bite off her finger," he said, "Sit down lieutenant."

      She sat as ordered and considered for a moment. "I do think you'll need to let one of them fire a 12.7 mm machinegun from a standing position." When the admiral looked at her in horror, she added, "One round only, sir. Quickest way to cure them of the idea that if they have the strength to do something, they don't have the mass to do something. I think that some of the Inners can handle heavy weapons training. And training with laser designators. After some work, the Outers should be able to get the same."

      The admiral leaned back. "Okay, I've heard this Inner/Outer business, where is the line? Astronomically, Jupiter on out should be Outers, but Jupiter is an Inner, and some people put Saturn with the Inners, others don't. Is Vesta an Inner or an Outer? Where's Ceres, Pallas, Juno, Astraea, Hebe, Iris, Flora, Metis, and Hygiea? Let alone Icarus, Geographos, Toro, Apollo, Antinous, Daedalus, Cerberus, Sisyphus, Midas, Aten and who-knows how many others?"

      "You might want to ask the Mooncats about that."

      "Lieutenant, what makes you think I haven't? They have such convenient memories, I suspect they or their programmer didn't want the Senshi to be independent and able to plan."

      "I think that may not have been intentional on the part of Serenity," the lieutenant said, "If Moon and the Mooncats are any example, I don't think they had dedicated military thinkers. Like Kuno told Patterson, teaching Moon about the options of military action may prevent some of the problems that Patterson's people and the folks up north may have gone through."

      "True," the admiral said, "I can't wait to get them trained and give them back to your father."

      "Yes, sir."

Sailor Jupiter II 21 - Swallowed up in the sound of my screaming

      Ami walked across the yard towards the stockade. The marines there had been informed of her mission, and agreed with it. She smiled, nodded, and knocked on the door. The large man opened the door and stared at Ami with deep suspicion.

      "I'd like to speak to Colonel Paterson," Ami said as politely as she could.

      The huge man stared at her as he stepped out of her way. Ami entered and suppressed a shudder as the door closed behind her. She hugged her notebook to her chest, and steeled herself.

      Patterson approached, putting on an extremely neutral expression. "Mizuno-san."

      "Colonel," Ami replied, "I was wondering. Do you have any really good strategists, who'd like a chance to kill Senshi?"

      The pair walked into the courtyard of Furinkan High. The collection of student athletes and club members waited as Setsuna and the Scholarly Dragon entered, and are dismissed from consideration. They carried gear and uniforms that were completely different, in fact, the only thing similar was their ugly haircuts. The girls also had haircuts that not even Haruka or Ami would match in shortness.

      "What is going on here?" Setsuna asked as she looks at the confusing tableau.

      "They're going to ambush a girl, in order to 'date' her," the Scholarly Dragon said as he prepared a couple of tear gas grenades. He tossed the canisters into the crowd.

      "Delinquent!" a small girl shouted as the canisters exploded and began clearing the crowd.

      "Another of the 'I can't believe that' facts that is true," he said as he gestured at the girl who' pulled out a 5-yen coin and aimed it at them.

      "What is she trying to do?" Setsuna asked as the little girl stared at them in confusion.

      "She's trying to steal our life-energy to return to an adult state," the Scholarly Dragon said, "She's one of the teachers."

      Setsuna tried three times to reply, finally just shaking her head in disbelief. The crowd had dispersed as a number of girls entered. One who vaguely resembled Ami, except for the awful bowl cut, had come in at a run, and now slowed to a walk. She looked around in confusion.

      "Tendo Akane, the girl they were planning to 'date'. She usually beats the crap out of them, and continues to class," he explained as he led Setsuna into the offices, "Oh, I should mention, the Principal is Tatewaki and Kodachi's father. Although he'd abandoned them for years."

      "I wish I thought you were kidding me," Setsuna said as they walked up the stairs.

      "While she's down and unconscious, I tear out Moon's eyes with my teeth," Thomas said happily. He grinned at Luna, who hid behind Usagi, "Never trust cats."

      Usagi quickly put the Mooncat behind Rei.

      Ami grimaced at that, but consulted the paperwork. "Well, that finishes all the Senshi. In less than . . . " She looked at the notes she's been taking. "Thirty-seven minutes. All of us, all the Psychic Rumble soldiers, and our Knights."

      "By two men with rifles and two Mooncats," Keiko managed, and looked at her fellow Psychic Rumble Soldiers. They all were as depressed as their princess.

      Rei shook her head. "If Setsuna and Kitty had been here -"

      "He would have replaced one of Colonel Patterson's troopers," Usagi said as she sighed and threw up her hands, "How did we miss that trap!?"

      "At least you did better with my powers than I did with Ami's," Makoto admitted.

      "You want to switch sides and try it again?" Thomas asked eagerly.

      "You're on!" Haruka shouted.

      "Wait!" Ami said, as she paged through the thick notebook, "Here, I thought I saw it in here. Let's see how you can do against Beryl's army." She stopped and stared at the notes on the battle, unaware of the silence that descended on the table, or the warning looks from the Kunos, and Sailor Saturn.

      "Where did you get that notebook?" Minako asked of the centimeters-thick book.

      "Asuka had one, and evidently gave a similar one to each of us. I found mine, and started reading through it. I was done with my homework, so I wanted to read something."

      "She did a month's homework in a few days," Usagi whispered to Thomas, who stared curiously at her.

      "I did just rip out your eyes," Thomas pointed out. Then he quailed at the small girl's smile.

      "I know who he wants to be in the next battle!" Usagi announced and grabbed the character sheet from Taupe and put it in front of Thomas. Then she stuck her tongue out at the man.

      "Colonel!" the heavy gunner complained.

      "Quaril, is he going to commit suicide as his first action, or fight like Hell?" Patterson asked.

      "Tough question," Quaril said as she considered, grinning at the big man's distress.

      "Admiral Morita!" Michiru said as the man peered into the room, "Would you like to see how Jeff and Asuka's training technique works?"

      "Roleplaying?" the man asked.

      "Yes, evidently we switched roles," Ami explained, "To teach us not only tactics, but to teach us to use each other's powers, and to use each others' powers in ways we wouldn't think of."

      "Give him your character," Haruka teased.

      Ami frowned. "I was going to give the Colonel -"

      "Give it to Quaril," Patterson said, "I think you'll learn a few things about use of smoke."

      "Admiral, do you think you can run Beryl's army?" Ami asked, "You might want to get a few other officers."

      The man nodded. "Yes, give me a few minutes to collect some officers."

      "Thank you," Ami said cheerfully.

      "So, the Inners, the Outers, the Psychic Rumble Soldiers, and our Knights," Rei said disgustedly, "What chance did Beryl have? After all, we beat Beryl without the help or more training."

      "You all died," Tatewaki pointed out coldly, "Perhaps we should improve on that, first."

      "He's got a point," Princess Jupiter said.

      Setsuna carefully bound the whimpering woman's wrist together under her knees. She looked over and saw her companion had prevented the principal's escape. "Tell me again why they went nuts when we told them we were from the School Board," she said politely.

      "Just a second," the Scholarly Dragon said as he removed the AK-47 clearly marked 'Made in Hawaii' from its hiding place. "Because Nerima is all based on illusions. As soon as reality intrudes, the illusions are threatened." He carefully broke the weapon, and returned it to its hiding place.

      "Our -" Setsuna shut up as she considered the bound and gagged principal. "Our friends seem to have survived, encountering an even greater reality than a readiness audit."

      "They were able to adapt their illusions, and maintain the grandeur of those illusions. These fools will see how trivial they are, and they can't handle that." The Scholarly Dragon removed the folders from the drawer of the filing cabinet, then tripped the switch hidden in the cabinet. "Pay dirt."

      The woman and man became more frantic in their struggles as the dragon swung the filing cabinet away, to reveal another filing cabinet concealed within the wall. "I think this is what your bosses were interested in." He handed Setsuna a number of file folders.

      The Senshi of Time scanned a few entries, then her expression grew dark. I should transform, and beat them to within an inch of their lives, she thought as she favored the bound and gagged pair a withering glance.

      "Yes, I believe it is," she said coldly, "I'll give them a carbon of the receipt for all of this." She ignored the pleading expressions of the pair.

      "Just one last thing," the dragon said and picked up the microphone that had been on the principal's desk. "The principal is bound and gagged to immobility and helplessness, in his office, that is all." He set down the microphone and dragged the bound woman to a cabinet. He locked her inside. "He deserved whatever happens, I won't leave a sexy woman to the vengeance of a pack of hormone and anger-filled teenagers."

      "How gallant," Setsuna said, "But I think anywhere else, you just incited murder." She noted the sound of angry voices rapidly approaching.

      "In Nerima it isn't even inciting to riot," he replied as he cleaned out the hidden filing cabinet and left the office, and the occupant, to the approaching crowd. "So, you want to go to lunch? I know some great restaurants around here."

      Setsuna stared at him, then at the crowd carrying pitchforks, torches and buckets of boiling tar.

      "I can't believe you killed Sailor Moon last!" Thomas complained as he threw up his hands.

      "Well, that finishes all of us," Patterson said as he stared across the table at Morita, and his picked staff.

      "It took him eighty-five minutes," Ami said, "Of course in real life that would have left her to face Asuka, Tenchi, the Dragon, Ryo-Ohki, Jeff, and well, lots of firepower."

      The heavy gunner glared at Ami. "Thank you so very much," Thomas said.

      "We didn't live through that battle either," Usagi offered.

      Quaril frowned at her. "Yeah, but at least you killed her in return!"

      "You certainly have your father's flare for the unconventional," Admiral Morita said to Lt. Takarada.

      "Thank you, sir," she replied, then smiled to the Senshi and Psychic Rumble Soldiers, "I hope there are no hard feelings."

      "Oh no, of course not," Makoto said, "Just understand if I see you with an air hose, I'm running the other way."

      "I'm certain that organ failure and fatal hemorrhage would occur before a person actually popped," Ami said, then looked up at the horrified expressions around her, "What?"

      "And thank you, ma'am," Lt. Takarada told her colleague.

      "It was, interesting. And I could be convinced to play again," Lind said, "Although I suspect that it was somewhat unrealistic."

      "That's what you think, girlie," Happosai said as he stood and stretched. He grinned at all the teenagers. "That's why you are all getting trained up, starting tomorrow. To keep this from happening for real."

      "Does everyone want to kill us?" Rini lamented as she laid her head on the table.

      "It's not that they want to," Rei added, "It's that they enjoyed it so much." She turned to Usagi. "And you walked straight into that ambush, on purpose! Get me turned into a little toy and stomped into dust. Then get set on fire. Me, killed by fire, that's humiliating."

      "Why would I have done that?" Usagi asked.

      Rei just growled in reply.

      "I think we will have a training regimen in place soon." Morita said, "And familiarization with some small unit tactics. That will go a long way to preventing a recurrence."

      The people groaned at the prospect of that.

      "Could be worse. I could have really decided to humiliate you," Morita said, "After all, I know the Senshi's secret weakness."

      "What is it?" Thomas asked.

      "They're ticklish," Morita said, "And if you decide to use that against them, I think the Dragon will see to it you fall in love with and marry the one you try it on."

      Thomas paled for a second, then grinned.

      The star was considered ancient. A long-cold piece of space ash. The idea that such a stellar remnant would have been recently created would have stunned the troops aboard the pair of ships monitoring the comings and goings in the system. They were to ignore all occurrences save ship passage, and destroy all ships save those that the system's sole inhabitant allowed.

      What literally exploded out of hyperspace took them by surprise, but they soon prepared to challenge it, and when possible, bring it under fire. The loud arrival of the first, completely camouflaged the arrival of the second, who saturated their shields, then their hulls and bodies with a massive and lethal dose of gamma and cosmic radiation. Circuits as well as cells died instantly as the beams of hard radiation penetrated every defense they had thought more than adequate. The sentinels exterminated, the eyes of their enemies blinded, and the cry of alarm stifled before it could be sounded, the second did the same to two manned and five unmanned sentry asteroids. Their enemy trusted no one and nothing, so redundancy in servants was his watchword.

      The silence will be an alarm in itself, but it will have its own explanation when he arrives, the second thought as he plunged after the first, ignoring the intense gravity of the cold body and the passive and active defenses seeded throughout the substrate. He found her exactly where he expected.

      "A while ago, I would have marveled," she said of the huge hall that surrounded them, deep in the stellar remnant, "Now I feel only cold contempt. Such genius, inflicting such suffering, in seeking what a humbler soul could have by asking."

      "Are you speaking of Kagato, or Washu?" he asked as he took in the museum of marvels that would have made their foe a hero across the galaxy a thousand times over.

      "You still intend to save her?" she sneered, faintly amused at the idea.

      "You still intend to bring Tsunami out of her adolescence," he said cheerfully, "Which of us has the fool's errand?"

      "Touche," she replied, "This should be burned. All of it. Every scrap consumed, and the reminder made that real powers stalk the space between worlds."

      "I can imagine no one more qualified."

      She nodded and began to glow. Not in the visible or infrared spectrum, but with energies even Washu would have sworn did not exist. Ancient and terrible energies awoke in the heart of the star as it was agitated to life. Fusion began, silicates and degenerate matter breaking down to form free atoms. Those fusing with their neighbors. The tremendous gravity needing only that heat to begin what had been denied them. It spread across the core in moments. Igniting the dead star that had never truly lived. The massive gravity-repulsing walls of the lab/museum were consumed in the incredible heat. All inside incandesced to vapor, burning merrily before the walls breached and fusion fires roared in.

      "Don't be afraid," she warned her friend as she drew close, "For I am with you."

      "Even I would be hard-pressed to survive this for long, without your protection."

      "I am just glad I remembered," she said and frowned, "It would be better for us to die, once our mission here is complete. Such power to be so casually used, and such fragile, beautiful things everywhere."

      "I have arranged our rescue," he said as he comforted her.

      "You are already mad," she told him fondly, "And I am weary."

      "Then trust me again," he told her as he carried her out of the newborn star, "Fitting it will last only a cosmic instant, but will always be remembered."

      "Fitting," she replied before letting oblivion take her.

      He paused, shielding them both from all sensors, until several familiar ships appeared in the system, now apparently scoured clean by the stellar birth. So Kagato, to whom do you pray to now?

      Makoto really did not want to talk to anyone. The person who should have known that better than anyone else, was the one who seemed to insist that she talk. "Sailor Jupiter, Makoto," Princess Jupiter said as she walked fast to catch up with the Senshi, "That fight, your mind wasn't in it. What's wrong?"

      "Wrong, nothing's wrong, I'm just going crazy, that's all!" Makoto growled back.

      The Princess proved as unfazed by Makoto's anger, as Makoto was to most other people's. "Oh, crazier than winding up back in my own past, except it isn't, then getting rescued by the exact kind of people who drove me from my home in the first place? No, that happens every day."

      "All right!" Makoto shouted and turned to confront the Princess, "I remembered the battle, all of it. What I was thinking, what I was feeling, but it couldn't have been like that. Because I kept remembering growing up alone. Because I kept remembering first having people around me when Usagi befriended me. Because I -" She fell silent as she stared at the other Senshi. She took a few breaths to get herself back under control. "Because I started remembering what idiots we were, for charging out without our friends. And the man I wanted to grow up to marry. Have kids with. Grow old with." She shook her head violently to scatter the errant memories. "He must have planted those memories! He wanted to mess with my head! Now he's really a god, and he's got me on the ropes chasing illusions! Yes, my parents died! Yes, I got sent to live with my aunt, until she died! But I moved in with the professor, Kiima and Hotaru after that! I didn't live on my own for years! I got scolded by dad for fighting, I didn't get thrown out of school! I fought alongside the Senshi, but I didn't have any fairy tale romance! Usagi's got the market cornered on that. That I remember him is a trick. Probably from the first time we met outside the school. He just wanted to test how strong we were, so he planted all these memories in my head that would blossom later." Makoto angrily wiped away a tear she was ashamed she'd cried. "When I see him again, I'll kill him! For playing these kinds of games with me! I'll kill him!"

      Makoto stormed off, leaving the Princess looking stunned and confused.

      The room was dark, to conceal the identities of the guilty, and to intimidate those still with consciences. "You failed."

      "Our forces engaged and followed the plan as ordered. The loss of four of the Senshi would have given them a nucleus to reform more. Especially when Sailor Moon was among the missing. She has already resurrected herself from disintegration, then death at the hand of Queen Beryl. With that being the case, we could hardly leave her behind, to replace the Senshi we would execute."

      "You may go, Captain."

      The man in question saluted, and left. His life was not worth hearing the argument he knew would follow.

      "If you had bothered to reign in that idiot cult of yours, we could have had them all in our hands," Azusa told his erstwhile ally.

      "You blame me for the stupidity of your troops?" Kagato asked and grinned, "You forget who needs whom, Your Majesty. Your eager and ever-loyal court now has two possible replacements for their king. Both well out of your reach on Earth. Without my help, you would not even know about them. If Tenchi, who has captured your daughter's and Tsunami's heart, isn't the heir, then Yamada Seina, who has the GP, Balta, Neju Na Melmas, and your mother, backing him, will be. And don't think they aren't looking for an opportunity to do so."

      Azusa growled at that. "And you are close to finding the treasure that will buy off the other god you've offended?" he asked politely, "Or do you need more of my help locating it?"

      Kagato merely smiled. "I already know where it is. However, even Washu couldn't open that door. I am close, it will merely be a case of enticing the key. That will be easily done."

      "So your base hasn't been destroyed in a nova? You don't think they are on to you? Or did you accidently leave the tea pot on?" Azusa asked politely.

      "Washu might build a teapot that causes supernovae. I assure you, I would not," Kagato said, "What are their plans to deal with the Senshi?"

      "Do you have any plans that mine would interfere with?" Azusa asked innocently.

      "I think I can restrain my followers," Kagato offered politely, "Or I can direct them to distract our enemies."

      "I think that it's best if they sit this one out. After all, we wouldn't want them tripping over each other, would we?" Azusa replied.

      "Of course not. But I am concerned, that the Black Moon Kingdom has seemingly disappeared. Weren't they supposed to drop a monster a week on our Senshi?"

      "Maybe they've decided on a more aggressive schedule," Azusa replied, and both men chuckled.

      "Maybe we should coordinate with them?" Kagato offered. Both men laughed at the idea.

      Kasumi looked at the two suitcases she'd emptied into her tiny closet, and the small chest of drawers. Despite how little space I have, I still haven't managed to fill it, she thought, took a cleansing breath to drive off the anger, It's what they do. I should have expected it. I should be grateful they left me anything. She found the thoughts worsened the anger, rather than lessening it. I had so little, why couldn't they have let me keep it, she wondered, Just some clothes, not even my photos, my diploma, or anything that might make this place a home.

      She set those thoughts aside as she changed into a set of trousers and an old gardening shirt. Time to do as I'm told again, she thought quietly, I wonder what would have happened if I would have challenged Akane for the dojo's sign. With my Senshi powers, I might have beaten her.

      She stepped out of the small room and proceeded to the practice field.

      The Scholarly Dragon, in human form walked along the path leading to the field. He glanced over to her, seeming to look deeper into her than her skin. "You might want to get rid of that anger, it'll burn you alive," he said idly.

      "I don't know what you mean," she offered, and hid a giggle.

      He shook his head. "I just came from the principal's office, Setsuna delivered the files and then I took her home. I know what anger does, and what anger deserves. They aren't worth it. Whatever they took, can either be replaced, or it never was yours to begin with."

      "I would have liked to have visited my mother's shrine, one more time," she admitted.

      "I think I know where you can get an escort," the dragon said.

      She smiled politely. And again, poor Kasumi needs others to help her. Poor Kasumi, can't do anything herself, she thought, then glanced around. She saw that the dragon was doing likewise.

      "Someone is watching us," the Dragon said, then he grinned, "Maybe a secret admirer for you."

      She frowned at his teasing, then marched off to the field. Eyes front, back straight.

      "You might want to change your trousers, there's a rather large hole in the -"

      She ducked down to cover herself. "Don't look!"

      "Calf," the dragon finished, "It might rip more or catch on something." He looked at her. "You really ought to see the quartermaster about getting some new clothes, or ask about getting an advance on your stipend."

      "Stipend?" Kasumi asked as she straightened up, and located the hole in the trouser leg.

      "You don't think that you were held here, getting trained and used where the military directs, for free, did you? Okay, you did."

      "No one mentioned any of this," Kasumi said.

      "Then the Admiral needs to talk to all of you," the dragon said.

      "Why is Setsuna at home?" Kasumi asked.

      "She had to deal with the Nerima High School. Imagine having to watch Akane teach Usagi to cook," the dragon offered.

      Kasumi shook her head and kept walking. "You are evil."

      "You say the sweetest things!" the creature squealed happily.

      The crack across the front of the mirror irritated the scryer. She was certain that she could not be detected, yet two had. She was also certain that nothing she watched could reach her, yet the crack across the mirror made that untrue.

      "It is nothing," the woman at her side assured her, "They will soon have too much else to worry about."

      The mirror user kept her expression blank. Her patron was far too confident. And their enemies had forces that also had not been fully committed.

      Lind concentrated on her target. "Don't drop your elbow, keep the tip of your weapon and your target in view."

      "Yes ma'am," Hotaru said, as she adjusted her stance and attention. She let Lind knock her blade aside and instantly brought the weapon back to her target.

      Elsewhere Haruka threw Makoto to the ground. The woman rolled to her feet to confront the older, taller girl. "Too easy," Haruka told Makoto.

      "Maybe you'd like to try me," Kiima asked the high-schooler, "I wouldn't work so hard to avoid hurting you."

      Haruka gulped and braced herself for Makoto's approach.

      Mamoru blinked the sweat out of his eyes as Kuno lowered his shinai, letting the other man steady himself. "Are you taking it easy on me out of pity?"

      "No," Tatewaki said quietly, "Because this is training. My victory is to make you able to challenge me."

      "Gee, am I that bad?" Mamoru stood and took the stance to attack.

      "Even I have been unable to press my opponents to defeat. Some have fled, denying me victory." He parried Mamoru's strike easily, then the follow up riposte. "Better, but transition must be smooth. You must believe that your stroke must be the last."


      "And you must also prepare to make another, instantly," Tatewaki offered, "Both at the same time."

      "Great," Mamoru said.

      Kodachi worked with Keiko to unwrap Cream from the ribbon-like weapon. "If you can manage that with your enemy," Kodachi began, "You will be formidable indeed." She ignored the muffled comment, but glared at the girl, making her nod. "Very well, let us begin again, with fundamentals."

      Keiko managed to free her soldier's mouth.

      "But wouldn't the magic give me the skill to fight?" Cream asked plaintively.

      Keiko frowned, and pulled the ribbon back over Cream's mouth.

      "WAAH!" came in stereo from across the field.

      Rei looked over her shoulder, and glared at Mauve. "If I have to cut my hair to get loose, I am going to KILL you!"

      "WAAH! Rei quit pulling my hair!" Usagi demanded.

      The dragon, in dragon-form looked at the 'Senshi-king' formed by the tangled tails of the girls. "I thought I could desolidify just one of you, but I think the entanglement is too much even for that," he looked at the trio, "This is truly a fascinating phenomenon."

      "Quit being fascinated and DO something!" Rei complained, "I can feel her stupidity leaking though her hair into my brain!"

      "Well, you really want out?" he asked carefully.

      "YES!" Rei shouted, "What part of the yes can't you underst -"

      Rei was reduced to nothing, freeing the other two girls. The dragon gestured and murmured words that set the two others cowering.

      Rei sat up, and stared at the dragon. She spoke calmly and reasonably, "No matter what I say, you never have my permission to do that again."

      "WAAH! Rei you're all right!" Usagi cried as she latched onto Rei.

      Lieutenant Takarada watched the entire tableau. "If this is what we can expect, we are doomed," she lamented.

      "Lieutenant, this is the first day. If they look like this after a week, then I'll join you," Admiral Morita said.

      "It can be worse?" the woman asked.

      "For the Pacific War, the Americans developed a baseball-sized, impact-fused grenade. On the day the ordinance corps unveiled it, with all the Washington dignitaries there, a Brigadier General picked up one of the live ones, pulled the pin, threw it into the air, and caught it. Needless to say, he was alone on the platform when the grenade went off. Even the doyens of Washington had a firmer grasp of ordinance than that particular general. The Americans ceased their development of the impact-fused grenades, reasoning that if a general wasn't smart enough to avoid so obvious a suicide tactic, the recruits wouldn't be either. The Senshi aren't that bad."

      "Point taken, sir. I just thought that people who'd been in battle before, would be less . . . uncoordinated."

      "You think a Yakuza thug would be a good soldier?" the admiral asked.

      "Eventually," the lieutenant admitted, "We just have to train them better." She watched the admiral nod and head off.

      "You really shouldn't tolerate them." Kasumi heard the words, and looked around her room.

      "This is my room at home," she whispered, "This is just a dream. Or a nightmare."

      "All your things, all your mementoes, and your treasures," came the voice.

      Kasumi pulled the blankets up to cover the soft nightgown she'd also been forced to leave behind. "Voyeur."

      "Your friends all want you to just forget about all this, but have they given up their homes, their treasures, or are they just expecting you to do so?" came the voice.

      "I'm going to have a stern talk with the cook about improper seasonings, if it's going to give me nightmares like this," she told the voice, before pulling the pistol out from beneath her pillow and shooting out the lights.

      "It's sooo cuuute!" Usagi squealed as she dashed around.

      Rei shook her head, steeled herself and walked through the 'Greater Yamato dreams of all Japan's children' to keep up with Usagi. "This place certainly has changed, since I was here last."

      "We do good work," a turtle in a rowboat, floating a meter off the ground, said as he rowed up to Rei, "She's the one?" He pulled out a clipboard, that looked suspiciously like another, much flatter tortoise.

      "That's her choice," Rei said as Usagi went into cute overload, racing from object to object, proclaiming how cute it was, before racing off to the next cute thing.

      When Usagi picked up and hugged a half-meter tall superdeformed Godzilla, Rei sprinted up to her. "Usagi put him down and run away!" she warned, as the reptile grew more angry with the treatment.

      "Why?" Dumpling Head asked, then caught its expression. She bent backward as well as Kodachi would have, as the bolt of blue-white flame shot above her arched body. Usagi quickly set the creature down and ran off. "He's not cute!"

      Rei paused beside the creature who was dutifully picking up the occasional piece of trash, and eating it.

      "Trying to make it nice for all the kiddies, can't leave an honest man to his work, it's always 'you have to be cuter' like the rest of those melon heads, or 'you'll scare the kiddies' well kiddies like a good, safe scare occasionally," it grumbled as it worked.

      Rei could barely keep a smile from her face. "I apologize for her, she's new." She bowed to the critter.

      And I think you're adorable! she struggled not to blurt out.

      "Are you two a little old to be round here?" he asked.

      Before Rei could react, the turtle sculled over. "She's trying out the new Queen."

      The critter's eyes went wide. "HER?"

      "She's all right, once you get her focused. It could be worse," Rei said quietly, her attempt to remain stoic warred with her desire to squeal over this endearing grouch.

      "How?" the turtle and critter both said.

      "Kiyone! Follow me, they've got to have karaoke here!"

      Liter-sized sweat drops appeared beside all three faces as they hung their heads.

      "When can I get transferred back to the nightmare sessions?" the critter asked the turtle, then continued picking up and eating trash.

      "Oh, hi Rei!" the dark-skinned blonde called as she dragged her teal-haired partner after her, "Do you know where the door to Washu's lab is? I kind of got lost looking for a bathroom."

      "Do I know you?" Rei asked, a faint memory tugged at her.

      "Oh sure, we met before you died. Or did we meet her, or just get briefed on her?" the woman said. Her partner managed to get her hand loose. "It's so confusing sometimes. I just - goldfish catching!" She ran off, arms waving.

      Rei half-expected speedlines and a cloud of dust.

      "I'm Kiyone, and she's Mihoshi, we're detectives in the Galaxy Police, and we would appreciate some directions out of here."

      "You're in the Dreams of All Japan's Children," Rei explained to the astonished woman, "I think your friend proves that age and birthplace don't really matter."

      "What does that say about you two?" a wolf Rei recognized said as it padded towards them. Then it cringed back and stared past Rei in abject horror.

      Rei looked back along his sight line, and saw Kiyone grinning and looking at the wolf like Usagi would at a window full of stuffed animals posed in a wedding scene.

      "You think he's cute?" Rei asked in disbelief.

      "He's like the puppy I had growing up. So fluffy and soft," the woman said wistfully, then seemed to shake herself out of it. "Uh, yes, enough of that." She turned suddenly, shouted 'Mihoshi' and ran off after her partner.

      "That was extremely disturbing," the wolf said.

      "Well, you are cute, in a noble beast sort of way," Rei said, and ignored the bared, white teeth.

      "What took you 15 chapters to get back here?" the turtle in the rowboat asked, "We thought you'd come back here quicker."

      "Chapters? Like story chapters? Is this a story?" Rei asked in confusion.

      "The Masons, the Rotarians, the Shriners, the I-triple E, they're a real problem, we had to throw out the Esoteric Order of Dagon after the earthquake that everyone agrees sounded like 'just five more eons mom!!'"

      "Not everyone," the clipboard told him.

      "Yes, but you think Karl is one of the Marx brothers," the turtle reminded him.

      "He's a slow read, but after a while, it's hilarious!" the clipboard replied.

      Rei was rescued by Usagi. "Rei come quick! Look what I found."

      The yank as Usagi dragged her along nearly gave Rei whiplash. The sudden stop nearly pitched Rei to the ground. Arrayed before them were chibi and teen-aged versions of the Senshi, some looking exactly like the real Senshi, others, many others mixes of the real Senshi's eyes, hair style, hair color, uniform style, uniform color, and even some who replaced the white base with every shade of the rainbow. Others had heroines, and some heroes, wearing the Senshi's fukus. Cutey Honey looked rather fetching. A chibi Darth Vader girl in a pink one with a tiara was nearly a Mythos-level affront to the universe. The fukued Fist of the North Star cast, Rei tried her best to ignore. Some were total chimeras, the nearest one having one of Rei's shoes, one of Makoto's boots, Saturn's skirt with Setsuna's top, one of Moon's gloves, with one of Mercury's, and topped off with Tuxedo Mask's cape and Venus's mask.

      "Egad!' the wolf said as he caught up. He looked around desperately before announcing, "This is a frikken nightmare! Oh crap!" The turned and ran away.

      Over a dozen faces wore an expression mirroring the one Kiyone had worn.

      "Aren't they great?" Moon squealed happily.

      "Just shoot me now," Rei closed her eyes and moaned.

      "You heard her!" Usagi announced, "Bring her head to me on a platter at the palace!"

      "WHAT!?" Rei announced. Before she could escape, at least a dozen Senshi had seized her arms and legs. A penguin-girl, and tiger-girl, both in very brief seifuku, and both clearly the fanservice for their shows, approached and bolted a platter around her neck. "Wait! What are you doing? Are you crazy?"

      "Yeah!" announced one who appeared to be a mirror-image of Moon, except for the huge mallet she had slung over her shoulder, "Are you crazy, get her a chair!"

      "That wasn't what I - YIPE!" Rei announced as someone shoved a chair under her and lifted it up. Behind her, she heard a chainsaw fire up. Rei craned her neck as far as she could, and saw a Sailor Mars clone approaching with a chainsaw, and a manic grin.

      "Who told you they were supposed to be separated?" Ersatz Moon wound up with the mallet, and drove imitation Mars straight through the road. "She's brutal, but really useful if we can keep her pointed at the enemy," the phony Moon confided to Rei.

      "Gee, that makes me feel so much better," Rei said.

      "Say," the phony Moon said, "You look just like her."

      "Gee, you think?" Rei asked.

      "You sound just like her," the ersatz Moon said worriedly.

      "I wonder why?" Rei replied.

      Ersatz Moon seemed horrified. "You're sarcastic like her." She backed away and started screaming, "Mad dog! Mad dog! Mad dog!"

      Rei looked around worriedly as the pseudo-Senshi ran every which way. Then looked in horror at the approach of two heavily-muscled guys she would have loved seeing in anything other than a Sailor Senshi seifuku. "Eek!"

      "I can't wake up Rei or Usagi," Ami said as she charged into the officers' ward room.

      "With Usagi, I don't doubt it," Haruka said as she stretched out sore muscles and looked around.

      "We need her and Rei if we're going to protect Okinawa," Ami replied, looked at the others who'd been awakened with the others.

      "What's the excitement about?" Minako asked as she entered, followed by the Psychic Rumble Soldiers she'd rounded up.

      "Our old friend is back, and has attacked the US Marine base on Okinawa," Admiral Morita said as he entered, "I also haven't been able to raise Miss Kiyone or Mihoshi, so getting starship support is out of the question."

      "What about Washu and Ryoko?" Ami asked, "Right, bad idea."

      "I guess that leaves me," Stirogli said, "His lordship is collecting Setsuna, Admiral Takarada, and a few heavy weapons, and will meet us down there."

      " 'His Lordship'?" Minako asked.

      "The Scholarly Dragon," Makoto replied, "I guess if I were a, smaller, dragon, I'd call him 'His Lordship' too. So when do we go?"

      "Immediately," Morita said, "I'll contact the Americans, and warn them you're coming."

      "Once more onto the beach!" Minako announced grimly.

      "For once she might have gotten it right," Makoto said.

      Rei looked out of the cage she'd been placed inside and brought into the palace. Usagi was on the throne, trying to get situated. In another similar cage, were Kiyone and Mihoshi. Some non-Senshi denizens were throwing things at the other cage. Mihoshi was eagerly catching them with her mouth.

      "Yummy, bean jam!" Mihoshi exclaimed at her latest catch. Kiyone sat in the cage and just shook her head at Mihoshi's antics.

      In the throne room itself, a familiar figure was cleaning up the mess. He looked at Rei, her neck still trapped in the silver platter. He sighed and shook his head. A cloud of smoke surrounded Rei, along with the sound of hammering, saws, and the occasional quacking of a duck. As the smoke cleared, a wooden trestle had appeared beneath the platter, holding it up at a comfortable level.

      "Thank you," Rei offered.

      "Not a problem, you have to be in good shape for the human sacrifice," the small Godzilla figure said.

      "Human sacrifice?" Rei exclaimed, "I thought this was a kids' fantasy!"

      "Oh, kids love that kind of stuff. Worms, death, slime, and of course all kinds of torture," the small figure assured her as he moved away to collect and eat the trash on the floor.

      "Usagi!" Rei shouted.

      "Ah, my own little Rei of sunshine," Usagi said regally, "And you brought her exactly as I wished." She looked over at the people throwing food at Mihoshi. "Did you give her all my cream puffs?" she asked darkly.

      The characters quickly hid their ammunition and tried to look innocent.

      "That does it," Usagi pronounced, "Feed her to the ogre!"

      "Feed her to the ogre!" the court crowed happily, "Feed her to the ogre!"

      "Usagi! You can't do this!" Rei exclaimed. Then felt them remove the platter from around her neck.

      "Why not?" Usagi asked as the cage with the two detectives was lifted off its perch.

      "Kiyone!" Mihoshi pleaded with her partner, "Save me, they're gonna feed me to an ogre!"

      "They aren't going to feed me to an ogre," Kiyone replied calmly.

      "You're mean!" Mihoshi bawled as they carried the cage across the room.

      Rei's horror faded, and she grew irritated as the cage with the two detectives in it was set right next to her cage. "Oh, funny! Har dee har har!" Rei told Usagi as the doors sealing and separating the cages were removed. She looked at the grinning Kiyone. "And you're as bad as she is!"

      Usagi and Kiyone began laughing at Mihoshi's desperate pleas not to be eaten by an ogre.

      "I'm the bloody ogre!" Rei shouted at Mihoshi.

      "I guess that makes sense," Mihoshi responded, then rattled the bars of the cage, "I don't wanna be eaten by a miko-oni!"

      Rei hung her head. "This can't be happening." She raised her head and looked around. "So what's all this business about a human sacrifice?"

      Usagi stood up from the throne, and walked to stand beside the paired cages. "That's going to be not so funny," she quietly admitted. She waved, and several of the mice wearing tuxedos walked out. A few moments later they led in a pair that even Rei felt pity for. The red hair and tweed suit identified them clearly, but the two figures lacked even an iota of the self-confidence the pair normally exuded from every pore. Asuka and Jeff stood back to back, watching everything, frightened of everything, and afraid of offending anyone. They whispered apologies, and watched where they stepped.

      "I think they've sacrificed sufficiently," Usagi asked Rei, "Don't you agree?"

      Rei nodded.

      "I understand what being ruler here means. I also know what powers it gives," Usagi said calmly and clearheadedly, "And I think we're going to need every one of those advantages." She looked at Rei. "Don't you agree?"

      Rei could hardly tear her eyes from the pathetic pair to acknowledge Usagi's statement.

      The elegant woman, and the Japanese admiral walked into the command post, both had the appropriate passes and the admiral was known to several of the general officers. The two-star trying to coordinate the counteroffensive ordered them brought up immediately.

      "Admiral Takarada, what exactly are we dealing with?" the Marine general demanded.

      "Alien science so advanced, that most people call it 'magic', and go on from there," Takarada said formally, "I've seen it. At Tokyo, my daughter's skull was crushed. The prognosis was a vegetative period, then death. She's up and around now. This is much the same."

      "So your Sailor Shenshi are going to be able to deal with it?" the Marine asked.

      "They are, and their aircraft," the woman said.

      "I don't know whether to laugh, or sit back and watch, then laugh," the general told them, "But backing down to let a bunch of school girls take on something that can engage heavy armor is counterintuitive."

      "Have the heavy armor, the artillery, or the warplanes had any effect?" Takarada asked.


      "Then it's not as counterintuitive as you think," Takarada said.

      "How soon can they be here?" the general asked.

      "Six minutes, we can coordinate on your radios," Takarada assured him, "However, communication protocols have not been high on their curriculum."

      "Yeah, I've had fresh lieutenants like that," the general admitted.

      Rei, Mihoshi and Kiyone followed Usagi through the brightly colored streets. There were shadows between buildings, but nothing dangerous lurked in those shadows. The monsters here lived under beds, or in closets.

      The scene they came across in the alley made all of them long for an encounter with monsters.

      Three Asukas circled in the middle of the alley, their voices overlapping, as they walked around a chair Jeff sat in. Completely out of character was the look of resignation and terror on each Asuka's face.

      "You saw me in the corridor."

      "It like they're trying to drag me to their world."

      "These dreams and thoughts are alive."

      "I don't know if I can resist any more."

      "Walking through this world like a dream."

      "Maybe they'll honor our sacrifice"

      "I can suddenly be elsewhere, and I can hardly tell which is which."

      "Which would be worse, them horrified, or not even noticing?"

      "You might be able to tell, but I can't."

      "It would be dangerous for me."

      "I don't know if I can resist any more."

      "Maybe they'll just kill us."

      "The others know we're unimportant, insignificant to the grand plan."

      "How can you know they can save us?"

      "Wondergirl might think like that, but I can't."

      "It would be too dangerous for those around us."

      "It happened again, I can't keep doing this."

      "If I do this, I'll lose."

      "Sometimes, I just want home and hearth too."

      "No one has ever come back."

      "I don't know if I can resist any more."

      "I'm sorry, I can't be strong that way, it's the one thing I'm afraid of."

      "I can't do it."

      "But if we bleed, or we die, it's what we're for."

      "There has to be another way, but there isn't, is there?"

      "I don't know if I can resist any more."

      "I don't know if I can resist any more."

      "I don't know if I can resist any more."

      Mihoshi ran off, wailing miserably. Rei noted that Usagi was not tearing up.

      She seemed torn between anger and pity, Rei realized, I keep expecting an 'oh ice cream' moment, but I think she's past that..

      Usagi spoke up, "I had to watch it a few times to understand it all. It repeats each time, the exact same way. She never showed us how terrified she was. She knew what was happening, and what she was going to have to do to save us." She turned towards Rei. "We weren't there when Asuka left, but we all felt it. She knew. She knew what she'd have to give up to save us, the one thing she really cared about. Her humanity. Everybody has already decided they'll come back monsters." Usagi pointed to the tableau beginning again. "Is that how a monster would begin? Terrified, but determined to protect others? I can't see Asuka becoming a monster. Yes, we kill monsters who hurt people, but what are we supposed to do to monsters who don't want to be monsters anymore?"

      "I don't know," Rei admitted. She looked at Kiyone who was ignoring the circling Asukas to concentrate on the fourth member of the vignette.

      "I think you aren't going far enough," the detective said as she stood up, "They were sacrificing not their own humanity, but their own, and that of their best friend."

      Rei wiped away her own tears while Usagi was distracted. "So what do we do?" Rei asked.

      "We save them," Usagi said as if it were obvious, "Isn't that what Senshi do?"

      "How?" Rei asked and saw Kiyone wanted the same answer.

      Usagi hung her head. "I don't know."

Sailor Jupiter II 22 - Cannot Cease for the Fear of Silent Nights

      The roar of the mobile artillery's main gun temporarily overrode all the sounds of small arms, and support weapons. And had no more effect on the floating jellyfish-like creature than the individual Marines' rifles had provoked. Lightning still rained down on the fighting men. Desperate radio cries for heavier support were received and dispatched to Japanese and American military units. The unmanned drone displayed this and more.

      "Two American carrier units are closing the range, and preparing precision munitions, but that was still the better part of an hour away," the general said to Takarada, leaving the unspoken question hanging.

      He picked up the handset. "Roll in primary and secondary strike packages," Takarada ordered, nodding to Setsuna, who left quickly, "I authenticate, Zulu Tango Sierra Mike four two. This a danger close fire mission, friendlies within 50 meters of target. I say again, danger close fire mission, friendlies within 50 meters of target. Over."

      The voice replying was young and female. "Sierra India acknowledges, danger close fire mission, friendlies within 50 meters of target. Request status of Darkstar. Over."

      "Darkstar inbound," came another voice, older and male, "Darkstar acknowledges danger close fire mission, friendlies within 50 meters of target. Over."

      "Get your people under cover," Takarada told the Marine officers in the CP.

      "Red smoke marks target, friendlies southeast of smoke, attack direction northeast to south-west," came the voice of a very young and badly shaken Marine lieutenant. The drone's visual feed showed men and machines trying to get under cover.

      "What is that thing?" one of the colonels asked of the `aircraft` that had appeared.

      "Lots of radar jamming," Mercury reported to the others atop the dragon, "Nothing for us though."

      Jupiter and Mars smirked as they moved up to lean on the dragon's shoulders. Behind them, Venus and Moon prepared their attacks.

      Mercury glanced over the side to the `wing` positions. She tried to ignore the ground moving by in the distance. Pretty Sammy and Sailor Saturn rode in Stirogli's foreclaws, where their faster firing attacks would let them continue tracking the target. Firing over the dragon's haunches were Sailors Uranus and Neptune.

      Stirogli opened the action, breathing dragon fire at the Flying Jellyfish Monster. Moments later Mercury heard the shouts from Sammy and Saturn, and a stuttering sound of their rapid fire attacks.

      "Super Supreme Thunder!"

      "Mars Flame Sniper!"

      "Rainbow Moon Heart Ache!"

      "Venus Love Megaton Shower!"

      A moment later the two Outers added their attacks.

      "World Shaking!"

      "Deep Submerge!"

      And they were past. Mercury concentrated on the readings from the sensors of her computer. "Even at Cosmic power we barely scratched it," Mercury murmured, then activated the radio, "Sierra Mike, Sierra India, Condition Charlie, no effect. We can repeat. Request Darkstar, maximum effort. Bring the hammer. Over."

      "They've requested maximum effort," the Scholarly Dragon told his two passengers.

      Setsuna nodded and leaned down to whisper something to Rini. The girl immediately began tearing up.

      My breath will blast that thing easily, the dragon thought, But with Mercury out there scanning, let's see if something weaker has any effect. The dragon banked into a pylon turn as he extended an arm to cast his spells.

      The magically enhanced wail from Rini hurt his ears. Sailor Pluto's repeated 'Dead Scream' attacks used a protrusion in the Garnet rod as a makeshift gunsight. An answering wail from Sailor Moon also struck the creature. His spell slammed into the creature, breaking it apart.

      I hope Mercury is getting this, he thought as he continued to circle out of the creature's grab range, The attacks are useless against the whole beast, but against the smaller fragments . . . enough of this. He turned his head and vomited forth darkness. Where it touched, great rents were torn in the creature.

      The monster broke apart into a cloud of tiny objects which dispersed in all directions, fading to nothing like a dispersing mist.

      Well, that's worrying, if it can reform after doing that, he thought as he scanned the surroundings, and his two passengers.

      Rini was wiping her eyes, but grinning at Setsuna. Sailor Pluto accepted the gleeful hug from her comrade.

      "Sierra Mike, Darkstar," Takarada's voice came over the radio, "Verify condition of friendlies. Over."

      "Sierra Mike acknowledges. Over."

      "Darkstar acknowledges. Over," the dragon said as he looked down at the men pulling themselves out of the cover and concealment they'd used a few moments before.

      The lieutenant lowered the binoculars and watched the departing air support. "Gunny, did we just get saved by a bunch of combat-cheerleaders riding dragons?"

      "Amazing what modern camouflage can make a strike aircraft look like," the grizzled sergeant said carefully, "Isn't that so, Lieutenant."

      The young man had the sneaking suspicion he was being tested. "Yes, I'll report how effective their camouflage, and their weapons were."

      "You do that, Lieutenant," the older man saluted and moved off.

      Kasumi's stood before her mirror, and was totally embarrassed. The date had promised to be a whirlwind where he'd lavish money on her. She'd laughed at that, thinking they'd be going to a fancy restaurant. Instead, they went to clothing stores, lots of them. Not fancy ones where they sold 100,000 yen dresses, but places to buy regular, durable, long-wearing clothes: blouses, skirts, aprons. To half a dozen stores like that, building an outfit or three at each. Then to a shoe seller, where she bought five pairs of shoes, ordinary flats, closed-toes: practical, good quality products. She even bought two pairs of rain boots, and a pair heavy work boots, for yard work. If that wasn't extravagant enough, the boots had a steel toe and steel shank.

      As exhilarating as that had been, it was still her practical side running things. The clothes weren't the latest styles, in fact they would have been a little out of style anytime in the past 20 years, they would be in the next 20. They were a housewife's clothes, practically her uniform. Nothing fancy or special. Still, she was so happy, these were her first 'new' clothes in a long time, her dresses had been her mother's or gotten second-hand elsewhere. Kasumi didn't need new clothes like Akane did. Nabiki had borrowed Akane's clothes when she needed something, Kasumi couldn't. Akane's clothes wouldn't fit her.

      She carefully selected the outfits, her date simply paid without commenting about the cost. He did comment on the color or pattern, so that many of the outfits could mix and match.

      Then came the lingerie shop. Kasumi shook her head at that, her blush returning. Her escort had to practically throw her over his shoulder and carried her inside. Silky Doll had been a nice shop, very tasteful. The elegant lady behind the counter had understood her embarrassment. She'd taken Kasumi to a large private dressing room and measured her. The woman had clucked her tongue at the ill-fitting garments. It embarrassed Kasumi she was so much bigger than her mother, or Akane. One of the reasons she'd pressed Ranma to start wearing bras was, she could share ones that actually fit her. The bras and panties the woman brought fit wonderfully, they didn't pinch or bind the way her usual garments did. She almost fainted when the woman told her the garments were silk. She'd envied the women who could afford such things, even if it meant Happosai stole them. Nylon, and cotton for special occasions, not silk. She desperately asked the cost, and was gently, politely and firmly told it wasn't her concern. The woman then told her that she was a little jealous of her having such a thoughtful boyfriend. Few men would let their girlfriend shop and pick what they wanted. Kasumi had blushed at that.

      When she'd left the fitting room, she'd been wearing some of the new lingerie, properly washed and dried, under her clothes of course. Jeffery was there, with Ranma-chan of all people. She seemed as embarrassed about being there as Kasumi was. Yet neither took her to task. They greeted her and continued with their discussion as they drifted around the shop. The two of them were having an argument, about marital arts of all things. He was talking about Savate and Pan . . . something, for combat, and Ranma-chan insisted, also heatedly but politely, that Tai Chi Chaun as meditation was needed to give the other two arts balance. Another fiery, beautiful redhead who eavesdropped was apoplectic that anything beyond boxing and Judo were necessary. That a pleasant-looking brunette and a teenager with pink hair, were agreeing with Jeffrey and Ranma-chan's reasoned arguments weren't helping the redhead's temper.

      Kasumi still relished the look of shock and horror on the women's faces when Kasumi told her 'You should listen, those two live and work in Nerima.' The redhead couldn't apologize fast enough, although it had the tone of someone trying to placate an insane man. The proprietress told the girl she could get a demonstration, when she delivered the custom to the Tendo Dojo.

      The other girls laughed at their friend's stricken expression. Jeffery said that she'd hardly be in a position to appreciate a demonstration if it was learned she was delivering lingerie in Nerima. The poor girl looked so stricken, Kasumi took pity on her and told her to tell anyone she was delivering to Kasumi Tendo, and never say the word Akane, until she was safely back home.

      Kasumi was still worried about the extravagance of having all that clothing delivered rather than trying to carry it on the train home, which she realized would have provided its own difficulties. Kasumi had been simply mortified by the sheer volume of the boxes that were delivered. She hadn't realized she'd purchased, that her date had purchased for her, let alone tried on, so many things. She knew she hadn't purchased any slacks, yet there were four pairs in the boxes, and they all fit perfectly. There were running sneakers and low-heeled, open-toed pumps in the shoes, those she vaguely remembered trying on, but 'just for fun', then setting aside as impractical.

      Her closets would never hold all of it, unless she put all her mother's clothes back in storage. It seemed a little disrespectful, but ignoring the gift would also be disrespectful.

      The dresses were something she hadn't expected, hadn't ordered, but the merchants had her size. The black sheath with the spaghetti straps was the most unexpected. The other dresses weren't all for going out to dance clubs, some were more appropriate for going to a concert, or the museum, elegant without being sexy. Several included hats.

      Also included was a good, winter coat, two fine, trenchcoat-style raincoats. All superb workmanship, all of timeless styling, so they would serve today, and in a few years. She also noted one pair of shoes in particular she knew she hadn't tried, black leather knee-high boots that laced up one side, so shiny she could see her face in them. She couldn't imagine when she'd actually wear such boots. They were probably waterproof, but she couldn't imagine wearing them to walk through the rain and the mud.

      She didn't know what to do with them or the other clothes for going out. She was always the housewife, she rarely went to the museum, or concerts, or out to dinner, except with her family. She hadn't ever gone to a dance club, but she saw how the young people dressed when they went out.

      Young people, she thought, I'm 19, not 90. She looked around her room. She'd had never even had a man in here, even her father hadn't been in here for eight years, until she'd been possessed. She blushed at that memory. The demon had wanted to 'unpurify' her, she'd dragged Jeff in here, the demon had expected him to react as a normal 16-year-old boy to a girl.

      She almost laughed as she remembered he'd yelled 'FIRE!', threw a blanket over her head and dragged her into the bathroom. When Akane demanded to know, he ordered her to get Kasumi a robe and the first aid kit while he ran cold water on her head.

      Akane hadn't reacted so he yelled at her, called her a peeping tom and claimed she was enjoying her 'omoto-chan's pain. Akane had run off without beating him, she'd gotten neither the robe nor the first aid kit. Once he had the door closed again, she'd gotten control from the demon and gotten a good look at herself in the mirror. She had looked like a drowned rat wearing an ill-fitting bikini. As she stood in the bathroom in her underwear. She didn't hear all the details of Jeff's confrontation with her father when Jeffery had slipped out to get her something to wear. She'd been horrified by her forwardness, and Jeffery had reacted to it as if nothing untoward had happened, explaining the demon could make people do strange things. Later he'd privately asked her why she didn't have a boyfriend. She was nice, could cook and listen, and think, and she had a body most women would kill for. At the time she'd wondered about why he'd said that. Now she was beginning to understand that it was very much his way to act immediately possibly to inflict slight pain now, to avoid suffering greater misery/injury later. So he apologized not for drenching her with cold water, but for declining her 'invitation' because, she later learned, the demon couldn't cause her to do anything that wasn't in her heart, or that she'd at least considered. She just didn't know if she'd thought about it as a way of revenging herself on Akane for her pursuit of Tofu-sensei, her insults, a way of knocking some of the smugness out of the arrogant boy, or a desperate cry for attention, not as Kasumi, but as a beautiful, young woman. She didn't know, she had some suspicions now, but only suspicions.

      Then she'd gotten to the lingerie, she nearly fainted. There were extras of the things she'd tried on and ordered. The camisoles were a nice addition, then she saw the reason for them. The lingerie for them. The cut and styling were the same as the rest of the panties and bras, but these were RED!, there was no other description. Not like apples or fire or even blood, all those seemed to be just feeble pinks or inadequate oranges compared to this color. She wouldn't dare wear those without the camisole, they would show through her white blouses, as if they glowed. Even with the camisole, Kasumi thought she could still see the RED! coming through the two layers of fabric. She'd never seen Happosai bring back anything remotely close to that color. She'd never be able to wear something like that in public. She did think it would be fun to leave them damp and hanging up in the bathroom after her next date. Both she and her date could honestly claim nothing had happened. Kasumi could even pout when she told Akane, and Akane would screw herself into the floor in frustration that she had PROOF! and the denials of her always truthful sister . . . Kasumi gigged at that possibility, then put the thought safely away in her mind. She'd only do it if Akane merited some punishment.

      Then there were the sets so dark black they were almost blue, shiny and different from the silk, and small. They fit well enough, they'd do their job of support, but they had less than a third of the cloth of the others, minimalist was the politist way of describing them, scandalous would be better. The idea of wearing them in public mortified Kasumi, Happosai had never had in his hoard anything like these in it. Good girls didn't even own such things, or they never left them where Happosai could find them. She considered just tossing them in `Grandfather's` room, then watching the reaction. She chuckled at that, the next box contained the special soap for the undergarments, that at least was practical. She grimaced at the memory. She'd shied away from purchasing that, so Jeffery and Ranma-chan had bought it for her. It seemed that neither had lost their practical side.

      The coup de main was the strangest garment she'd ever seen. It was plastic or rubber, and flesh-toned. It looked vaguely like a wetsuit with a zipper down the front. She'd struggled into it, and discovered it stopped being opaque when stretched. It fit like a second skin, a slightly too-small second skin, then she'd looked at herself in the mirror and gasped, that too had been an experience. While it was thin enough to be translucent, almost transparent, which had elicited the gasp. It was also rigid enough that the gasp caused everything else to be squeezed slightly. That was an entirely new experience. The leotard she'd worn had been too tight all over, but it hadn't hugged her the way this did. She blushed from her reaction, and saw the blush clearly through it, which only intensified her embarrassment. Wearing this was worse than being stark naked.

      It had come with a garter belt and black fishnet stockings. Now she understood about the knee-high, lace up, patent leather boots. Even more disturbing was the riding drop, as long as her arm, stiff as a shinai with a supple leather tab at the end. That had elicited another gasp, and another gentle squeeze.

      That was it! She had to get out of this wicked apparel. She was having troublesome thoughts about using the costume. 'You want me to cook dinner, kiss and shine my boots, or I'll let Akane do it!' She desperately tried to think of anything except what she could do with the riding crop, especially to her date for purchasing it! Or any of the boys and men who'd ignored her for so long.

      She struggled out of the suit, practically had to peel herself like a grape, which was another disturbing, electrifyingly sensual experience in and of itself.

      It was a wicked, wicked thing, she was wicked because she'd enjoyed how it felt, both on her skin and in her mind. Kasumi would never own anything like that, ever, let alone wear it. How wicked was she because she'd let herself fall into the role the costume so obviously implied?

      Once she was back in normal clothes, she took a look at the totality of it. She'd picked clothes for a woman easily twice her age: durable, long-lasting, easily cleaned, still usable after 10 to 15 years of service - as long as you neither knew nor cared they were out of style. Her date added the clothes of a young, single woman, and an adventurous one at that.

      She had lamented being considered just a kitchen appliance. Being considered a bedroom `appliance` was so shocking a commentary, she retreated from it with embarrassment and a bit of loathing. Then she realized he was just making her aware of the possibilities, then leaving her to make the decision of which, or both, or several, or none of the above, in the privacy of her own home, in the sanctuary of her own room, in her own secrecy of her own mind.

      She knelt down next to her bed, laying her head on the covers. She burst into tears.

      Kasumi woke from her sleep, not to her room at the Tendo household, but her private barracks at the base. Not to closets bursting with new, expensive, and somewhat mortifying finery, but the plain, few items she had been able to keep. They didn't let me keep mother's clothes. They only let me keep what little I'd bought out of the saving I could scrape together, she thought as she completed her survey of her environs, Another dream. She wiped away the tears she'd cried in her sleep, and put the imaginings behind her.

      Even the other Senshi hadn't asked me along on this mission, she thought angrily, then shook away the cobwebs still in her mind from the dream and waking, They needed someone as a reserve, and to deal with our friends from the future. They don't react to Kasumi, the way they react to any of the Senshi.

      She looked at herself in the mirror. Plain, old, reliable Kasumi. Not excitable, or exhibitionist enough to draw attention from Akane, or Ranma-chan. Just a placeholder for mother, until they didn't need me anymore. But these people need me, as much or more than my family did. Why isn't that enough? She put aside those thoughts and left her room for the commo shed, to find out how the battle down south was going.

      Admiral Morita was just exiting the shack. "They got it, for now," he admitted, "I wish we could have tested those cannons on it. That is what they were designed for."

      Kasumi glanced around in concern. "Do you hear something?" she asked. She tried to focus on whatever had brought her attention to full alert.

      "No, I . . . the animals, the insects are all gone," Morita said, then shouted into the commo shack, "Sound the alarm!"

      The only warning, was Taupe bursting through the wall of the commo shack low enough to take out much of the gear, before pieces of the girl continuing out through the other wall the rain on the ground in much smaller pieces. Kasumi felt her gorge rising as the shattered remains splattered her and the Admiral, and alarms sounded throughout the camp.

      She centered herself as her hand found the henshin pen in her pocket, and her transformation began.

      The Admiral had already rushed off to the auxiliary control, which also had radios. The sounds of anger and cries of young women told her who the attackers were. And I'll find out why!

      Quaril roused Thomas as the door to the stockade was wrenched open. "Head for the forest, wait there for the others," Kuno Kodachi warned as she ran away. Outside was chaos. Minor Senshi were everywhere, ignoring the fire of the soldiers, and searching for something, or someone.

      "Armory?" Patterson asked the heavy gunner.

      "With all of them? Not a chance," Thomas said, "Even if we could, it's ten minutes to suit up and get everything online. Without out suits, we're dead meat."

      The Colonel grimaced, but remained reasonable. "To the forest, hopefully they won't be searching for survivors later." He slipped out, looked around to gauge the success of the attackers and defenders, and to see if escape was escape, or an invitation to a barbeque.

      Sailor Vesta was getting a little tired of not having an effective ranged attack. Being invulnerable and skilled in martial arts is only useful if you can actually close with the enemy! she thought as a trio of lesser Senshi fired together, sending her sailing across the compound. She twisted desperately through the air to avoid impacting anyone. The result was no casualties from the Kasumi-missile, and her getting a mouthful of dirt as she hit head-first into the ground before flipping end over end several times.

      "I am getting rather tired of this," she growled as she considered the way to catch just one of the attackers unawares.

      Then I'll deal with them, she thought, then saw another trio spotting her, and charging into range, Not again! she thought as she took off running away from the camp. If I am a target, at least I can draw them away from the rest of the camp.

      Morita had gotten to the radio, a burst transmission model that warmed up quickly, and emitted no signal until it was ready to transmit.

      "Darkstar and all Sierra forces, main base is under attack by the northen force. Proceed to camp immediately. I say again, Darkstar and all Sierra forces, main base is under attack by the northen force. Proceed to camp immediately. I say again, Darkstar and all Sierra forces, main base is under attack by the northen force. Proceed to camp immediately," he spoke, waited a moment, then transmitted the burst. "Here's hoping they don't pick it up."

      Keiko watched the blood running along the ground. It found tiny cracks and hollows, where it pooled before overtopping the obstacle, and continuing. Each little track seemed to race with its fellows, waiting at some block, then sprinting ahead for a sort while, them slowing, unless it found another block. Is that my blood, or hers, she wondered of Princess Jupiter who had fallen afoul of Grand Master Saturn, and Princesses Neptune and Uranus, Whatever they ripped out of her chest, it sure took the fight out of her. Then why did they beat her that way?

      It was a worry for another time. She raised her eyes and looked at the little pillars of smoke that rose it the sky. Not enough tentacles to catch the sun, she thought, Silly camp. And somebody would just take it away from you. Someone stronger. The vague giddiness passed. I should get up now. I should get to the hospital. That's my blood down there, racing around outside, when it should be racing around inside. Slacker, not doing your job, just playing with your friends in the sunlight. I know it's dark and crowded in there, but you have an important job to do. She thought of the hole she concealed with her body, and her magical aura. Maybe I need to stay here too. Let you run off and get help. While I stay here. It's not like I could drag myself to the hospital. They broke my back right off. I guess it's not so bad. We were a joke. A pack of bumblers who never really had a chance. But maybe, we can do one thing right, one thing important, and make a difference. She thought of the punch she'd delivered as she'd realized what the attack was about, and who she'd stuffed in the hole. You can't win if you don't know. Maybe you'll get us. Maybe you'll get Vesta. But the dragons and the real Senshi are coming back. Asuka and Jeff are coming back. And they are going to do to you, what you did to us.

      Keiko laid her head back on the ground. My poor brother. Just got himself back, and now, all gone. She finally cried at something that penetrated what her delirium couldn't deflect. I'm so sorry I got you all into this. I'm so sorry that I couldn't convince you to all escape when we had the chance. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

      Sailor Vesta shook her head to clear it. Being invulnerable seems not to grant an inability to be battered into insensibility, she thought as she rolled to her hands and knees to stand up. The gold armor of her foe tugged at her consciousness.

      "Who?" She gasped as the woman reached into her chest and drew out what looked like a quartz crystal.

      Kasumi was barely aware of the woman's derisive laughter as she collapsed. Darkness closed over her.

      The shadows that appeared over the camp were a welcome sight to the soldiers digging themselves out of the rubble. The dragon landed, but eyed the red spaceship warily.

      "This is Detective Kiyone of the GP, we are here to assist you," the female voice said over the ship's loudspeakers.

      Rini and Whinny had already run off his back and down his tail to begin digging the able-bodied out of the destroyed camp, so they could search for the dead and wounded. The ship's ramp extended, disgorging two women he recognized. Patterson's troopers came out of the woods and approached the two GP officers.

      "We'd like to help," the Colonel said.

      "Detectives, take charge of them. Send someone to check the infirmary. If it was destroyed, we'll need to use your ship's sickbay."

      The pair looked at the soldiers from the future, then accepted that neither wanted to argue with the dragon. They headed off.

      The Dragon spotted someone else who might be of assistance. "Chooser of the Slain," he addressed the woman in the white costume. Predictably, she recoiled, but he didn't have time for that. "You can sense when someone is close to passing over." He ignored her stunned amazement that he could speak her people's tongue fluently. The Valkyrie gulped and nodded, still staring in horror at him. "Very well. We need to find those who will not survive."

      She looked at him in confusion.

      "Triage," he explained, "The first people you treat are those who will not survive without help."

      If she gives me some lip about it better for them to go to Heaven . . . he thought briefly.

      "I don't understand why something like you would command such a thing," she said, "But I shall find them."

      "Thank you." He directed a few soldiers to accompany her as she pointed out the worst wounded.

      When did I become the reasonable rescue leader? he wondered as he glanced around, Simple. Instead of stupidly raging at them and screaming 'vengeance over all', you realized that saving lives denies them their victory, and give you time to systematically plan your vengeance.

      The arrival of Stirogli and his cargo high overhead gave the dragon pause.

      When did they master teleportation? the Scholarly Dragon wondered as the other dragon dropped like a stone, then flared at the last moment to get his cargo to the ground quickly. Mars and Mercury carried Moon away to where the infirmary had stood. Their leader looked exhausted. Jupiter ran up to him.

      "She and Rini brought us here. Where do you need us?" Jupiter asked.

      "Find the worst wounded, and get them to where doctors, medics or healers can work on them," he ordered.

      "Should I call Tenchi and the others?" Pretty Sammy asked.

      "Would they really be of help?" the Dragon asked.

      Sammy frowned, and led Saturn towards the infirmary.

      The Dragon directed Stirogli to find Lind and assist. He used his own senses to locate the trapped, and his massive strength to carefully remove the debris over them.

      Venus looked at the exhausted Mars as she carried a sleeping Saturn back to their quarters. "Bad day," Venus said to her fellow Inner.

      "I don't understand any of this," Mars commented as she walked beside Venus, "Why kill the Princesses, but cripple Kasumi? And what is this 'Sailor Crystal' business. I thought the big crystal was what gave us our powers."

      "I don't know. I was operating in England before the rest of you, so I always thought the power was inside me," Venus replied.

      "Do you, want to stay up?" Mars asked quietly.

      "Bad dreams?" Venus asked, and sighed, "I thought it was just me."

      "Something weird," Mars admitted, "Like I know there's someone in my house, going through my stuff, but when I get there, everything is untouched. And the house is empty. In some cases, really empty."

      "They call them 'half-sets'," Venus replied, "A floor, no walls, a window frame hanging from wires. Really weird."

      "That's better than what I've been having. I'm a guy, who turns into a girl. Then I get given a henshin. But it turns me into a talking pony in a sailor fuku. Unless I'm a guy when I use it, then I turn into a Kenworth truck that changes into a robot." Mars looked at her friend, who was staring back at her. "I'm not a cabover, so when I'm a robot I'm like out to here. It's very embarrassing."

      "Rei, I think you've been watching too much anime, before you go to bed," Venus said.

      "I don't even have a television up here!" Mars insisted.

      "Then the evil villain trying to corrupt your brain has been watching too much anime," Venus replied.

      "How are Dumpling-head and the kid?" Mars said to change the subject.

      "Both will be fine with a little rest," Venus said, "Can you get the door? My hands are full."

      "Sure." Mars opened the door to Saturn's quarters.

      "I guess they can teleport, but all of us was too much for them," Venus said as Mars turned down the covers. She slipped the Saturn into the bed, and the two of them tucked her in.

      "Where's Jupiter?" Mars asked as they slipped out.

      Venus closed the door before answering, "Practically restraining Kiima from charging those people single-handed. We still have no orders from the government, and the Admiral has been adamant about not junking the gun."

      "Yes, mustn't do that," Mars said, "Am I wrong thinking we should wait until we're at full strength before we attack?"

      "What's 'full strength', rested Inners? Usagi and Rini? The Dragon leading? Princess Mercury and Vesta back among us?" Venus paused, "Jeff and Asuka back with us?"

      "Rested Inners, and Tenchi's forces, for a start. The Dragon seems oddly sanguine about this."

      Venus shrugged. " 'Don't trifle with dragons, for they can make your ketchup crunchy.'"

      Whinny found him, resting in his human form, on a hill that let him stare at the crystalline abomination on the horizon. "Other than Princesses Jupiter and Pluto, and all the Psychic Rumble Soldiers except Purple, we seem to have survived with very few casualties."

      "I saw what they did to Keiko, and how she guarded Princess Mercury," the dragon replied idly, "It seems out of place for Moon, even in desperation. She was never this savage."

      "Maybe they realized having someone apart was sapping their strength, and since they couldn't coerce their return, they killed them to stop the leakage," Whinny told him.

      "Then why attack Kasumi?" the Dragon asked, "The mooncats practically jumped out of their skins when my scrying turned up the woman in golden armor. They know who she is, although not even a mind probe turned up who or why."

      "You seem to have tolerated this rather well. Are you restraining yourself, or aren't the dead in your purview?" Whinny asked.

      "The Psychic Rumble Soldiers are of little consequence to me. The attack on Kasumi is merely irksome. The death of the two Princesses troubles me only secondhand, you and Rini are, and the boy and girl would have been troubled by this. I prefer to let our political 'masters' realize the weapon they'd hoped to use against the Senshi-run-amok, has turned on them. My report strongly implied this was a dry run to attack other defended targets. The politicians will assume they are the targets I was referring to." He turned to face Whinny. "Soon there will be orders to move, and then we will strike. I see this as a testing of us, and an opportunity to clear the field of obstacles. The politicians will now feel more secure with Usagi's Senshi, rather than other forces."

      "Is this all a game to you?" Whinny asked.

      "You are not game, or stratagem. Rini is dreadfully important to you, so she is neither as well. All others, save the boy and girl, are tools to preserve your and Rini's world. If I must mislead the gullible and self-absorbed to protect the innocent, I shall do so. The 'maser' tanks will need a field test and deployment en masse." He pointed to the softly glowing spot on the horizon. "They have volunteered to test our technology and doctrine. We will show them that we are good students."

      "I'm going to bed." She approached him and he smelled the subtle perfumes of her body. "Care to join me?" Whinny asked.

      He kissed her hand. "I'm afraid I would be very bad company. Peaceful dreams, Meioh Setsuna."

      She frowned at that, but left him there.

      Sailor Moon did what her instincts demanded. She ran. "It's not fair!" she wailed as she raced away from the half dozen enemies who pursued her. Branches seemed to rip at her clothes and hair as she scrambled through the scattered copses of trees over the rough landscape. She'd used her tiara already, and it was stuck in one of the pursuers. She'd given the speech, and they'd shot at her halfway through. She'd never had time to power-up any of her heavier attacks. "It's not FAIR!" she wailed, trying again to use the caterwaul-based sonic attack.

      The enemy fell back slightly.

      Great, I can cry my way to victory! she thought hopelessly as she ran.

      "Flame Sniper!"

      "Thunder Dragon!"

      "Dead Scream!"

      The forces behind her scattered as the fire crashed into them. Moon spotted Jupiter, and ran towards her at her best speed.

      "Deep Submerge!"

      "World Shaking!"

      And the two Outers enfiladed the attacking line of monsters, then pulled back, easily outrunning the exhausted Moon.

      "Hurry up!" Venus shouted as the other Inners clustered together and a high hill, and began raining fire down on the following monsters.

      "Dead Scream."

      "Silence Glaive Surprise!"

      The two Outers further slowed pursuit, and the pair scrambled up the hill to reach the Inners as an exhausted Moon did. Moon dropped to the ground panting from the extended sprint in terror.

      "I prefer the half-sets and tea parties with invisible mechanical mice," Venus announced.

      "I don't think she misspoke," Mercury said, "I've been having scary dreams for the last couple of days."

      "What kind of dreams?" Jupiter asked as she and Uranus moved up to meet the attackers hand to hand. Saturn and Venus hauled a wobbly Moon to her feet.

      "I flunked the Tokyo University entrance exam," Mercury admitted with tears and shame.

      Mars let out a sigh. Jupiter chuckled at her friend's distress.

      "Well what was your nightmare?!" Mercury demanded, "Did you finally beat up your mystery boy and got pregnant after you took advantage of him?" Mercury gasped as she saw Jupiter's expression. "Oh, Makoto, I'm sorry. I didn't think, I just, I didn't mean to say -"

      "I did NOT rape him!" Jupiter growled.

      "Who catered your wedding?" Moon asked, her eyes asparkle and her hands clasped beneath her chin. All traced of fear and exhaustion fled before the image of Mako-chan and her true love in wedding kimonos.

      Jupiter took a look at Moon's giddy expression and turned her attention to the more comforting sight of the monsters approaching their hill.

      "It was a nightmare, you and pink probably," Mars said.

      "You're so mean!" Moon complained.

      "Okay! Come on up! I'm ready to beat up somebody!" Jupiter announced and waved to the monsters.

      The half-dozen monsters, were joined by several dozen more. Then several dozen joined them, and several dozen joined them. Moon stared down at the growing horde.

      "Great. You take the hundred on the left," Uranus complained, "I'll take the hundred on the right. The rest can take the dozen in the center."

      "I'm glad they didn't attack like this before," Venus said, "How many are there behind them?" she asked Mercury.

      The smaller girl frowned. "Uh, my computer says they aren't there," Mercury said as she keyed more commands into the machine, "Not even the ones right in front of us."

      "They're real," Moon assured them, "Can you locate my tiara?"

      "Um, yes, there it is, but it's not connected to anything. It's just floating there."

      "Great, can we just shoot them?" Mars asked.

      "Of course, dear," Neptune told her.

      "Appearing out of the Moonlight! The Masked Treasure emerges!" the tuxedoed gnome announced as he leapt over the Senshi and raced down the slope, a bomb in each hand, complete with a lit fuse. Each was nearly bigger then he was.

      "Yes, this is a nightmare," Pluto commented.

      Admiral Takarada looked around the railcar compartment. The boy sitting across from him seemed to be doing the same.

      I seem to be younger, the admiral thought, on examining his hands, then catching his reflection, I look barely old enough to be a Senshi. I wonder what happened.

      He looked around the compartment. The boy across had stood and pulled a small travel bag down from the overhead rack. Takarada checked his wallet. His identification was all in English, and the cash was all in English pounds, with a few francs. He sensed the other boy's intense interest.

      Better put on a good face, he thought as he returned the boy's suspicious gaze.

      "I didn't see you come in," Takarada said in English, "I must have been asleep."

      "Yes," the boy answered in Japanese, "Interesting that I was going to stay the same. And you might want to use English. I doubt most people around here speak Japanese." The boy sat down and began going through his bag.

      Japanese!? I was sure . . . Takarada thought, Something's wrong here. Most kids his age don't act like that.

      "How's this?" he said in Japanese.

      The boy nodded. "Good, you even have a British accent." He paused and considered. "So you speak Japanese and I hear English, yet when you speak English, I hear it as Japanese, but my language seems to be what I expect. Either your translator spell didn't work properly, or -"

      " 'Or'?" Takarada asked.

      The boy gave a weary smile. "Or, this is a dream."

      "Considering how little I know about magic, I think your hypothesis is correct," Takarada said, "What a time to lose Langley and Davis." He caught the sudden and intense attention of the other boy.

      "Asuka Soryu Langley and Jeffery Kevin Davis?" the boy asked cautiously.

      "Yes," Takarada said, equally suspicious, "And you are?"

      The boy seemed to weigh this for a moment. "Vice Admiral Simson. You can call me 'Lee' if you must." The boy offered his hand.

      "Rear Admiral Lower Half Takarada. You can call me 'Tak', if you must." He took the boy's hand. "They've mentioned you."

      "I find that hard to believe."

      Takarada nodded and released the boy's hand. "It took weeks to gain their trust to that extent."

      "Weeks!" Simson exclaimed. He gathered himself in, and continued in a more moderate tone, "Admiral, I was taking a nap, after a meeting on arranging a rescue force. They were kidnaped, this afternoon."

      "They've been here months, possibly a year. I don't have a time line to their exact arrival."

      "Months." Simson sat back down. He grimaced. "I bet they think we've abandoned them."

      "Asuka more than Davis, but it has preyed on their minds. When I get back, I'll tell them it isn't even tomorrow from your point of view."

      Simson nodded. "You do know them, if you are sure they'll get that on the first try." Simson looked at his bag. "I'd like to find out a little more about where we are, and what we're doing here."

      "The railcar is British, but is seems both older and younger than I'm used to," Takarada said.

      "You've been in England?" Simson asked as he searched the clothes and small pouches in the small suitcase.

      "I was at the war colleges here for two years, in the seventies." He grinned. "We, with the British and the Australians, were working on how to defeat American carrier groups: Naval asymmetric warfare. The Americans were of course working on countering our countermeasures."

      Simson nodded. "These are newer than I'm used to. My folks decided to send me to an English boarding school. I joined the Navy as soon as I was old enough."

      "Bad experiences?" Takarada asked.

      "It was pre-World War One, the British were less tolerant of the colonials. Hmm. Here's something." He opened an envelope. "Yep, this is a dream, or a nightmare. Maybe for someone else."

      Takarada had found a similar envelope. "Strange. I thought I knew a little about English horticulture, but I've never heard of this plant."

      "I've got two competent mages, one's also an expert on desert plants," Simson said, "You start learning, just for your own defense."

      Takarada snorted at that. "I thought I was the only one who had to do that."

      "We've got full doctors who've had to do that, in their own field. The kids are scary, loyal and competent, but scary. Amazing, 'Southwestern Plants'." He held up a book.

      Takarada nodded in agreement.

      "Also called woolly croton, croton oil is a laxative. I wonder why they misspelled it?" Simson asked as he read the entry and glanced at the letter.

      "You don't suppose they really meant verrucas for pigs, do you?" Takarada asked.

Sailor Jupiter II 23 - Oh How I Long For The Deep Sleep Dreaming

      "It's not fair!" Happosai wailed as he hung from Kiima's arm, "Where'd they all come from?"

      Kiima was using all her energy to fly. Behind her, Lind was firing massive blasts into the hundreds of targets pursuing the Senshi. Kiima scanned the forested area ahead to guide the girls away from traps and ambushes.

      "There! There!" the gnome shouted as he spotted the ice bridge over the lava river.

      "If that isn't a blatant trap, I don't know what is!" Kiima called back, "This is a rigged game. Even I know that."

      "Have you got a better idea?" the gnome asked archly.

      I don't, Kiima admitted, Maybe the Senshi can preserve the bridge long enough to get across. That will leave only the fliers to worry about. Lind and I can take those.

      The Dragon walked the absolute darkness of their camp.

      "Oh GOD!" a sentry shouted on encountering the remarkably quiet, yet huge creature.

      "Certainly not," the Dragon said, "I prefer my worshipers more magically-inclined."

      The sentry didn't quite know how to take that.

      "Contact the sergeant of the guard, and get him to check the other guards. I checked on some of the sleeping people, and they aren't there. The bodies are in their beds, or slumped wherever they were snoozing, but what would make them alive people is missing. You're the first person I saw who was awake and moving around."

      "Somebody is stealing them out of their dreams?" the man asked, "I'll contact the sergeant of the guard immediately." The soldier ran off, pulling his radio has he did.

      Hmm, 'stealing them out of their dreams', it seems that he might be a worthy worshiper after all, the Dragon considered.

      The dirty blonde hair, and rather cursory searching marked the girl as clearly as her name. Her large and protruding eyes and usual expression reminded Takarada of an Akita that had been kicked without reason, and desperately wanted to know what it had done wrong. And that seems to elicit more cruelty from our peers. Simson taught me enough about 'speaking Ayanami' to recognize the girl is asking for help.

      Except she can't find the means to actually voice her request, he realized as he looked around, and concluded the common room was completely empty.

      "Can I help you, Miss Lovegood?" he asked.

      I thought we'd convinced them to knock off the low-level terrorism of our first year. Our tricksters never thought that they'd be facing so ruthless a counterattack, and that they never figured out who'd launched it, he thought of the girl who seemed to draw out the worst in too many of their classmates, Even the Weasley brothers knew not to strike against Ravenclaw youngsters. Convincing them they were going to die was a treat to everyone who been previously victimized. Especially when they found out their histrionics were for nothing.

      "I seem to have lost my Kedogenous Natterjack. I suspect that it wandered off, with some help," Luna said.

      Takarada sighed. "Well, there is the spell that Simson taught me."

      "Your friend taught you a spell?" Luna asked in confusion, "He's practically a squib, isn't he? I beg your pardon."

      "As long as you don't say that where he can hear, you'll be all right," Takarada said, "He trained with two of the most powerful, and dangerous wizards I've ever heard of. Neither would ever train anyone who couldn't do magic . . . eventually."

      Luna frowned. "Yes, people are quite cruel to him, aren't they. It is good he has a friend like you."

      Takarada smiled. "The spell is simple. It turns everything, except what you are looking for, transparent."


      "Transparent," Takarada replied, "Just hold your wand. Concentrate on what you seek, and say, 'Kokorono yokubouwo akiraka ni shimashita'."

      "That's not Latin," she said.

      "It's Japanese, what else would a new spell be in?" he asked incredulously.

      She practiced the pronunciation several times, with her wand in her pocket. Then drew her wand and spoke. She gasped and grabbed hold of him. "Where's the floor!?"

      "It's still here. It's just that it is transparent. The spell only affects you. The rest of us see things as they were," he told her, "Do you see what you were looking for?"

      She carefully looked around, then fixed on an object. "Yes."

      "Remember, just because you can see it, that doesn't mean you can walk straight to it. Walls and floors are still real."

      "Yes, I can see the outlines of things, when I look at them. I should be able to find it now," she said, and carefully walked towards the door.

      Takarada shook his head and carefully followed.

      "Why does this keep happening to us?" Moon lamented as Mercury and Lind desperately tried to maintain their ice raft in the middle of the lava river.

      At least this isn't like real ice, Venus thought as she awaited the arrival of the bad guys, who were perched on a stone bridge over the lava river.

      "Hark to the plan of the scion of House Kuno!" Tatewaki announced as they grew closer, "We should await their invasion, and be prepared to abandon this craft. Without the exertions of Sailor Mercury, and Valkyrie Lind, it will swiftly succumb."

      "Except then they'll be able to swarm us on dry land," Uranus pointed out.

      Kuno growled. "I would prefer facing my enemy, with a weapon in hand, rather than be extinguished should Lind or Mercury's concentration ebb."

      "I'm with Kuno!" Venus announced, froze, and shouted, "I didn't mean it that way!"

      "We'd better find a landing spot!" Rini announced.

      "Can you teleport us all?" Pluto asked.

      Moon and Rini exchanged glances. "Yes, but we won't be able to walk or do anything else, once we do."

      "Great, transportation, and silence," Mars commented, "What a wonderful power."

      Moon glared at her 'friend' and walked over to Rini. "Everyone get close."

      "Makes it look like we're trying to receive their assault," Jupiter told them, then glanced around, "Hey, I listened in tactics class!"

      "Here they come," Happosai said excitedly, as the first groups leapt from the bridge.

      "Here we go," Moon said as she and Rini glowed.

      The hand over his mouth woke him instantly. Takarada's eyes snapped open, and Luna jumped back in shock at the hostility of that gaze.

      "I apologize," she offered hastily, "But it's time."

      He looked at the time, and frowned at that. "I thought I explained yesterday about this. Five more minutes, mom," he replied, and received a glare that would have doubled as a Killing Curse.

      "Only if you can dress and be down in two seconds," Luna told him, and immediately retreated to let him dress.

      He quickly noted that Simson was not in his bed either, but it was made.

      So he left earlier, Takarada thought. He hastily dressed.

      Takarada's appearance in the Ravenclaw common room was greeted by glares and welcome smiles from nearly the entire female population of the house, and some of the boys.

      "Hurry up," the Head Girl informed him.

      He froze and stared at her. "You are not an instructor," he warned, "I can quit doing this at any time I like, and request kitchen duties at breakfast instead."

      The pure, unadulterated malevolence aimed at the Head Girl told her she'd again crossed swords with the wrong opponent, and none of the others wanted her to win this battle of wills. Luna simply ushered him forward, getting him seated before the crystal. Someone set some proper green tea beside him as they drew back to let him work.

      He politely ignored the dressing down several of the Seventh Years were giving the Head Girl. Then he spotted Simson carrying the large slate that had gotten his friend considerable teasing of late. Simson also carried an easel. Takarada continued tuning the crystal ball.

      "Great, Squib-o-vision!" one of the First-Years lamented.

      Simson, predictably, sidestepped the insult. "True genius is never appreciated in its lifetime." He set the slate on the easel, connected the wires to the slate, and began making the attachments to the crystal as Takarada tried to stabilize the thing. "Besides, I can pull the plug if it interferes, like last time."

      Takarada found what he'd be searching for, and concentrated on the target. To his amazement the slate, some 1.5 meters across the diagonal, was mirroring the vision in the crystal.

      "Squib-o-vison!" Simson said triumphantly.

      "Quiet!" came the harsh whisper from a dozen girls.

      Takarada grabbed the tea and put Luna in the seat he was vacating. It earned her a few glares, but like most, her attention was fixed on the crystal, or the slate behind it.

      Then the song came through the translation spell Takarada maintained through the show. "I'm sorry that I'm not honest. If I were in a dream, I could say it. Right before my train of thought short circuits I want to see you immediately I feel like crying in the moonlight I can't even call you at midnight But what should I do about my pure feelings? My heart is a kaleidoscope."

      Simson and Takarada drew back and watched the rapt attention of the fans. One of the Sixth-Years separated herself and approached them.

      "Don't you want to watch?" Simson whispered as the trio drew away.

      She shook her head. "I know what a rerun is. I still think we should introduce Slytherin to this. And after they're hooked, tell them it's a Muggle TV program."

      "From Japan, of all places," Takarada agreed, "I wonder what Tsukino Usagi would think of that, if we told her."

      The three of them shared a short laugh about it, each for a very different reason.

      Captain Samarth checked the stealth systems yet again.

      "They're as good as last time," the sensor officer replied, "Neither the locals, the GP, nor any of the specials should be able to find us."

      The ship shook violently in response. The Captain left the suddenly pale officer, and moved to the science station. "Not an attack," the science officer reported, "Incredibly powerful."

      "Teleport chamber reports remote activation," the commo officer reported.

      As the Captain headed for the shuttle car, his science officer following, the head of the ship's guards was coordinating a security response.

      "Maybe more historical," the science officer said as he rode.

      "You must be nervous," the captain teased, "Your hiss is leaking."

      That earned him a faint frown from the normally stoic officer. They left the shuttle car as they arrived at the teleport chamber. It seemed to be operating normally, receiving an incoming traveler, except all power had been cut to the unit for this mission. The seals doing so were still in place.

      Predictably, his chief engineer was there, manning the controls. "Captain, it fused most of the circuits to reject reception, and I can't redirect without external power, and even then, we only have a fraction of what we need."

      "If we can't keep it out, let's welcome it," the science officer said, placing his pulsar where the engineer could reach it, but where it wouldn't be seen from the arrival pad.

      "Here it comes." The chief engineer struggled to contain the massive energies that the unknown teleporter was using.

      The captain decided on careful diplomacy. "There are possibilities," he reminded his officers.

      "They were not known teleporters," his science officer said.

      Slowly, the figure materialized. A young man in an out-of-date business suit, carrying an equally young, redheaded girl in his arms. The young man surveyed the group facing him coolly. He glanced back at the chamber, now as dead as it was supposed to be, and set the girl against one of the walls.

      "I am Captain Dirk Samarth," the captain introduced himself.

      When the man straightened up, he stared straight at the science officer. "A serpent man serving openly aboard a Jurain vessel. That's one for the history books, Captain Samarth. Yes, you're from the future. Why are you here? Historical research, or further interference?" he asked.

      The Captain stared at the strange men. "Considering your means of transportation, I should ask you the same."

      "Captain, I am of this time period. You are not. Detaining me at this juncture will probably change history. You will be dooming the people of Earth, and yourselves also."

      "Against who?" the chief engineer asked.

      "If you are from the future, you should already know," the man said, "And if you don't, then our enemies will win, and you are his servants."

      The arrival of four armored security troops changed the situation.

      "You'll be accompanying them to security confinement," the captain said. He gestured the troopers forward. The man seemed to accept this, and moved back towards the girl he'd been carrying.

      The one the troopers collapsed, another flew back, the last two flew back and collected the science officer and chief engineer. The captain charged as the man approached the teleport console. Samarth landed several disabling nerve cluster strikes as he watched in shock as the console came to life. The man tossed him across the room as he began programming the console.

      The chief engineer raised the pulsar and fired. The man staggered slightly, but tried to run back to the transmission pad, before the engineer hit him with a heavier blast from the weapon. The science officer powered down the console before either man or girl could leave.

      The captain pulled himself to his feet and toggled on the comm system. "Doctor, you have two patients on their way. I want a report, are they human?"

      "Seven o'clock, eleven hundred yards," Takarada reported another Death Eater rampaging through the ruins of the Quidditch World Cup camp.

      "Got it," Simson replied as he swung the Barret 82 to its target.

      "Wind six knots, south-southwest."

      The gun made little more noise than a breaking a chopstick. Nothing could disguise the supersonic whipcrack of the bullet, without drawing attention with a magical aura. Both military men had decided to let the effect of the bullet disguise its approach. The Death Eater went to pieces as a .50 soft nose tore the man to pieces.

      "Eleven o'clock, six hundred yards," Takarada reported, "Damn, she's searching for us."

      "We're surrounded by magical junk, and small fires," Simson said to calm his spotter, "Got her, but apricot shot."

      "Right, apricot. Wind eight knots, southwest."

      The gun fired, but the woman shrieked in agony and writhed on the ground.

      "Damn." Simson got off a second quick shot, then changed magazines. "What the Hell happened?"

      "Sorry, steel post about 50 yards in front of her," Takarada replied, "It went through that first. Freeze! Broomstick."

      The two didn't move and even slowed their breathing. Letting their ghillie suits disguise them where magic would have marked them out. After a few moments, the flier moved out of range.

      "I wish there was a manpack that would track a human on a broom," Takarada said.

      "There is, a Ma Deuce, but we'd be up to our ears in spell bolts if we used one," Simson replied, "Let's get back to work."

      "All right. Six o'clock, fourteen hundred yards. Good lord, that's Bellatrix herself."

      "Got her," Simson replied coldly.

      "Wind zero."

      The gun fired, and the Death Eater flipped back over the wall she'd been lounging against. She did not appear above or around it while Takarada watched.

      "New - group, eight o'clock. Damn, hold fire, it's Fudge and a bunch of his cronies."

      "Okay, that's our signal to pack up and go home," Simson said, "Let him take the credit for our kills."

      "Or maybe he'll think we were SAS, or Force Recon Marines," Takarada said as he packed away the binoculars and other spotting equipment, "Who were encroaching on the magical world. That bastard deserves a few sleepless nights worrying about his position and power."

      "Don't lose that ghillie suit," Simson said, in a tone that warned teasing would be next, "Luna worked so hard on it."

      "What?!" the Japanese admiral hissed.

      "You said yours didn't fit. So I gave yours to Luna, in return for her making you that one. So she learned to make them for her and her father, and you get one that fits. I think it's rather charming." Simson finished packing away the rifle.

      "Just because I'm a widower, would you kindly quit playing matchmaker with me and a girl younger than my daughters!" Takarada said quietly.

      "First rank fire!" Pluto called, as she released her Dead Scream with her fellow Outers, "Fall back."

      "Second rank fire!" Mercury called, firing with Lind, the Kunos and Mars, "Fall back."

      The enemy is getting bolder, Pluto thought as she gave the command again, and her line fired, as Mercury's set up a yard behind and prepared their volley. On the hill they were backing towards, Venus and Jupiter guarded the recovering Moon and Rini, and had assisted Happosai. Pluto fell back through Mercury's line and took a breather to recharge and reprepare.

      "First rank, fire!" she called as Mercury's line fell back through them. Five more times they fell back, looking more haggard and weary with each volley.

      "They keep going down, but they keep being replaced," Mercury reported as she fell back to the edge of the steep hill.

      Fortunately they haven't gotten any smarter, she thought as her line fired, then climbed halfway up the slope and took their position. More monsters straggled out of the trees, replacing the fallen, and those who'd become wary of the Senshis' massed firepower. They attacked straight into Mercury's or Pluto's fire, and fell back on their fellows, only to be replaced as the other Senshi leader brought her line to bear.

      Mercury scrambled up to the crest of the hill. Jupiter, Lind and Venus helped the exhausted girls to the crest, where they let them lie down. Pluto's group fired their last volley, and followed. Pluto collapsed theatrically, and waited.

      The monsters, believing they had the Senshi now, didn't flank or even scout the hill, they charged straight up the steep slope, stumbling and sliding as they did.

      "Crescent Beam!"

      "Supreme Thunder!"

      Lind's attack had no warcry, but like the other two, it was continuous, and slashed among the overconfident, tightly backed troops. All the other Senshi added their attacks to the fusillade. The scene was like one out of World War One. The few survivors went screaming down the hill, tumbling the ones behind, making them easy targets for the Senshi with slower-firing attacks. Within moments, the entire clearing around the hill was empty of attackers, and the paths of the few survivors were marked by screams and the thrashing of underbrush.

      "Do we chase them?" Uranus asked eagerly.

      "Into an ambush?" Lind and Happosai asked together, then stared at each other. Happosai grinned, the Valkyrie looked vexed.

      "We wait, and let them try again," Happosai said, "They'll sneak around a little, and find the nice easy slope up the back of the hill."

      "We should be gone then, by that time," Neptune suggested.

      The others nodded.

      "But they shouldn't know that," Happosai reminded them.

      "Doctor?" Captain Samarth asked his medical officer as the man entered the briefing room.

      "They're human, for a given definition of human. But I don't see how they were able to stand, let alone fight. In their condition, you wouldn't need a type-3 pulsar to knock them out, a stiff breeze should have done it."


      "Both are suffering from severe dehydration, exhaustion, and malnutrition. Both have a plethora of burns and bruises, like someone beat both of them with a flaming stick. Those two kids are staying in the security ward of sickbay," the doctor told his captain.

      "I -" a tone interrupted the captain, "Yes."

      "Signal, sir, priority one."

      "Let's hear it," the captain said as all the officers in the briefing room stood.

      The image passing through time appeared before them.

      "Lord Tenchi, to what do we owe this honor?" the Captain asked.

      "The boy who fought your security guards, how is he?" the adult Tenchi asked the staff.

      "He's recovering in medical. Sir, he'll receive the best of care," the doctor said.

      "Sir, that boy overpowered seven of us," the science officer said, "It took a mark three to take him down."

      "I'm surprised it was that easy," Tenchi replied thoughtfully, "The events you were sent to study have begun, at the time, all of us were distracted. I want a report on events surrounding those two, and a full medical work up. Keep the girl where the boy can see her. He'll tear your ship apart looking for her otherwise."

      "Sir, we only just subdued him, how do you know about this?" the Captain asked.

      "He told me," Tenchi said.

      "The key to defeating sentries, Luna," Takarada explained as he and Simson played a wargame, "Is not to be invisible to the sentry, but be invisible to the commanders."

      The girl's confused look prompted Simson to explain, "The insurgents do something innocuous, but it looks suspicious. It gets reported, some insurgents with few ties to the real insurgency get 'caught' doing it, and it's something the commanding officer either approves of, or is not worth their time. A bad commander will start reprimanding the sentries for reporting that. So even though the sentry can see what the insurgents are doing, it stops there. No sentry will risk getting reprimanded again for reporting something the commander doesn't care about."

      "Say a band of you starts mopping the floor," Takarada said, as he set a cunning trap for his friend, "Mister Filch won't know what's going on, and he'll report it, and Minister Umbridge will come down on him like a ton of bricks for complaining about a team of students obviously trying to do what Mister Filch always complains about them not doing. After a while, even he will take it in stride. It's called 'disinformation', and is part of making what is seen different than what is going on."

      "Are you sure you want to hear about this?" Simson looked up from the board and asked, " 'Muggle Military History is so boring'."

      "Perhaps if you spend some time away from Malfoy and Pansy, you wouldn't hear that so often," Luna pointed out sagely, "I find the customs of Mug - Mundanes, fascinating. It helps me as a naturalist as well."

      Both boys shrugged and continued.

      "Once a group of insurgents are invisible to command, they can use the activity to cover a whole host of activities," Takarada said.

      "But be careful, a good commander will not reprimand his, or her, sentries and subordinates, but will train them to make the kind of important decisions to screen things at their level."

      "Are you and your fellow Inquisitors trained?" Luna asked.

      "Good Heavens no, Minister Umbridge does all the thinking and planning. That's why we have to be so vigilant," Simson said. Then whispered, "They say that Dumbledore's Army is everywhere, so we can't talk about our duties with the Inquisition."

      "Besides, it was hard enough, being Ravenclaw, to even be accepted," Takarada said.

      Luna stood. "Then I shouldn't keep you from your patrol."

      Simson glanced at his watch, then swept the game pieces into their bag.

      "Hey!" Takarada complained.

      "Strategy my friend, strategy. That's something too, Luna. If it works, it isn't cheating, it's a new tactic or a new strategy. But be careful, if one side does it, it basically allows the other side to do it," Simson said, " 'In nomen de luna', Luna."

      " 'In nomen de luna'," she replied to both of them.

      "That was dirty pool," Takarada complained.

      "I saw the trap, and knew I just had to hang on until patrol time came," Simson said, "Always keep all aspects of the game in mind, Admiral."

      Granger approached in dark spirits, with a band of First-Years. She looked indignant, the First-Years looked terrified. "They were preparing to make chalk marks, on the floor. I suggest, that if they think making a spot of mess is such a good idea, they should learn how much fun cleaning it up is."

      Takarada and Simson exchanged glances. "Why don't you take that up with their Houses' Prefects?" Takarada asked.

      "Because you are permitted to punish all houses, and they are from several houses," Granger replied archly.

      "I'll show them the mop closet, you tell the Minister about this," Simson told Takarada.

      "Trade?" Takarada asked hopefully.

      "Three, one," Simson said firmly.

      Takarada left. Simson moved towards where the cleaning supplies were stored. Granger and the First-Years followed.

      " 'Three one'?" Granger asked, "There's no ordinance thirty-one."

      "He's only a Commodore, I'm a Vice Admiral," Simson explained.

      Exasperated, Granger rolled her eyes.

      "So, how are you and Weasley getting on?" Simson asked as he opened the mop closet, "He will grow up. Boys do, once they become men."

      Granger gave his grin a hateful stare.

      The Youma made their advance behind the cover of trees. Voices still bickered at the top of the hill, but the Youma had discovered the easy backslope. Their forces massed in large numbers there, while other forces surrounded the base of the hill to catch them when the Senshi were driven off the crest.

      With a shout, the force surged up the gentle slope. Kiima and Lind rocketed skyward as if jet propelled. The soldiers shouted their approval of the pair abandoning their allies. They continued forward.

      Three seconds later, several of Happosai's biggest bombs, surrounded on five sides with heavy stones, and on the sixth with light, sharp stone chips, exploded. The chips scythed through the packed lines and those not killed outright were left wounded, writhing and screaming.

      Six kilometers away the Senshi saw the fireball, and heard the screams. Most squirmed at the horror they had wrought.

      Happosai patted Moon's knee. "They could have avoided that by not attacking us, or by surrendering. You didn't do anything wrong."

      "I wish I could really believe that," Moon replied.

      "There aren't any polite ways to fight a war," Lind replied as she and Kiima landed, "They will be more hesitant on their next approach."

      "I don't think that's really a good thing," Jupiter replied.

      "It is not, but they have a wide area to search, and they will not find us easily," Kiima replied to her sister, "Then, we will fight. But until then, we can rest. Some of us need it." She glanced at Saturn, and Venus, who both looked worse for wear.

      "We can wait here, get some water," Mars said, "If we had some food."

      "If this is a dream, we could just make some food," Moon said.

      "What makes you think this is a dream?" Mars asked.

      Moon squirmed, then steadied herself. "It feels like that other place you brought me. Only colder, sharper, and less friendly. There even the grumps were nice. Here, nothing is nice. Not even us."

      The interior of Professor McGonagall's office was one neither Simson, nor Takarada had ever desired to see. The old woman actually looked her age as she tried to stare either of the two out of countenance. Neither was vulnerable to such, they had too much experience in their careers exposed to superior officers using the same techniques.

      "I would never have thought either of you capable of this," she said angrily, "Neither of you has lost your House any points due to your actions. And even as Inquisitors, you've managed to perform in the finest traditions of both this school, and your House."

      "Thank you, Professor," Takarada said, with Simson only a moment behind him.

      "But this, event, casts all that aside," she added sharply.

      "With respect, Professor," Simson said, "Our explanation should wait, until the Headmaster arrives."

      "Your connection to her won't save you," the elderly witch stated.

      "I should think not," the pink claws of the Ministry announced as she entered.

      McGonagall's expression betrayed what little tolerance she had for the woman. Umbridge's equally candid expression revealed her contempt for McGonagall's powerlessness against her. Both students remained standing at attention.

      "Your explanation," the Professor quietly ordered.

      "Were we out after curfew, yes. Were we off grounds, yes. Were we in possession of large quantities of corn bread and other foodstuffs, which we'd made not pinched, yes. Were we in possession of inflammable spirits contained in whiskey bottles, yes. We were not, however, having a drunken, moonlight picnic."

      "What were you doing?" the Headmaster asked.

      "Setting an ambush," Simson replied, "A Molotov cocktail doesn't have to be petrol. Pure enough alcohol can be used, and is more readily obtainable here."

      The two women exchanged glances. Umbridge went first. "What exactly were you ambushing?"

      "At the risk of being punished for telling tales, we suspect that we have found the link, between the Ministry's insistence that Voldemort is dead, and Master Potter's insistence that he is very much alive."

      "Potter is lying, it's as simple as that," Umbridge insisted and shook her head sadly, "I had such hopes for you two."

      "With respect, Headmaster," Takarada said, "We have a theory that he is accurately reporting what he has seen and been told. That doesn't make it the truth, but it does explain why he is so adamant. The late Dark Lord came out of nowhere, rose meteorically, and vanished as suddenly. What if the Dark Lord was granted that power, by something. Something that wants a new recipient. Potter is a Parseltongue, as was Voldemort."

      "There is a series of stories by a Muggle-born author in the United States. Among Muggles and unconnected mages, Lovecraft is usually dismissed as a dreamer, or perhaps having encountered an incautious wizard or witch. Among the magically talented with deeper knowledge, a different tale is told. Of heathen gods or demons, or something else. Something very old, and very alien, that collects followers, and are ruthless when betrayed. Potter's Voldemort may be the avatar of such a creature."

      "And you left here to get proof," McGonagall said quietly.

      "You would quite reasonably dismiss our allegations for telling tales out of class without it," Takarada said, "Japan has numerous such legends, and the occasional author touched by such darkness."

      "Then what we, what the whole countryside felt . . . " Umbridge trailed off in horror.

      "Proof," Simson said, "If it was the force behind the late Dark Lord, it may be trying to entice Potter to be its next apprentice."

      "You are guessing," McGonagall said.

      "Yes, ma'am," Simson admitted, "But I can't think of anything worse."

      "The Minister must be informed," Umbridge whispered fearfully.

      "Apologies, but we should be punished," Takarada said, "To maintain discipline, and deniability."

      "Yes," Umbridge said nervously as she glanced around. "See to it," she told the Professor as she left hurriedly.

      The two never slipped out of their at attention stance. They waited.

      "Since young Potter is the one in danger, and you two are such experts on these creatures. You will teach him all the defenses you know to use against these things," McGonagall said, "I will arrange a time that does not interfere with your studies or other duties."

      "Yes, Professor," both said at once.

      "Good night, gentlemen," she said quietly, and sank into her chair.

      "Blue on blue?" Takarada asked as the pair walked back to their quarters. Their code for 'We being observed.'

      "Undoubtedly. Will we be able to teach him enough if Yig comes for him?" Simson asked.

      "We have our orders, and we will do our utmost," Takarada replied, then smiled, "Big brass ones."

      "Yours?" Simson asked, for Takarada's suggestion to go and summon Yig. "Or mine?" for Simson's telling the pair the truth and some reasonable, though misleading speculation.

      "There's a cliff behind us," Kiima reported, "And all the lava rivers lead into that pool."

      "Somebody doesn't know geology," Mercury complained as she accepted the data, along with the other reports and her computer's sensor readings, to chart a path among the wide-ranging patrols. "They'll have us boxed in, and push us right off it."

      "So, we fight," Uranus said, "We're stronger than any of those groups."

      "Not stronger than a bunch of them," Kiima replied, and turned to Happosai, "I thought you were teaching them tactics as well."

      "Patterson is teaching them that," the old gnome replied cooly, "But she is right, we can beat any one or even two groups. But they will try to push us off those cliffs, and call for reinforcements."

      "We can't climb down," Pluto added, "And going around will take hours, maybe even days."

      "Especially if we have to keep zigzagging to avoid them," Mars replied, "Why don't we take out a group, then another. If we can hit one, and crush it, then escape, we can destroy them one at a time."

      "I like how you think," Uranus said.

      "Have you noticed that these groups always get replaced?" Moon asked, "It's like there are infinite numbers of them. And their leaders don't care how many they lose, as long as we don't get a chance to rest or settle. They drove us out of our last three positions by pure numbers."

      "Are you saying we should just give up?" Uranus shouted, "That we should just curl up and die?"

      "Big talk for people who refused to go after Beryl," Venus replied, stepping up beside Moon, "What? If you run away, you think people will think you're chestnuts or something?"

      "I think," Neptune said as she stepped between Uranus and Venus, "What they are saying is that we are fighting the symptoms, not the disease."

      "Exactly." Moon smiled at Neptune who led Uranus a short distance away. "If this is a dream, then whose, and how do we break out or wake up?"

      "We haven't seen Patterson, the Admirals, any of the other soldiers, or the Dragon, Jeff and Asuka. Those three are the strongest dreamers, why aren't they here?"

      "Maybe they don't care about us anymore," Uranus offered.

      "I doubt that," Mars offered sharply.

      "I do not usually sleep," Lind offered, "I do not see how I could be trapped in a dream, yet I am."

      "This isn't a dream, it's a nightmare," Neptune said.

      "How do you break out from a nightmare, or other dream?" Moon asked, and grinned as the others shook their head or refused to meet her gaze. "You take control. And like you said, we have very strong dreamers as our friends. We just need to get their attention."

      "Like what? Sending up a flare?" Uranus asked.

      "That's exactly what I mean," Moon said, and pointed towards the lava lake Kiima had spotted, "Where else would you call up a fire god? Right, priestess Hino?"

      Mars stared at her in horror.

      "Please, we'll take you to Dumbledore's weapon!" Granger shouted, in response to the Headmaster's threat against Potter.

      Umbridge smiled at that, and to her Inquisitors, all assembled and guarding the leaders of Dumbledore's army. It made the office somewhat cramped, but she clearly wanted her moment.

      Simson approached. "Headmaster, it isn't my place to question your decision. But before you decide, consider this. The group is Dumbledore's Army, not Potter's. This smells like a trap. He wouldn't leave a bunch of kids to run things, unless it was a diversion for the real action. This isn't a story for children, where the good children go heroing because the adults can't, this is real life. He'd give them an emergency fall back, if things got all pear-shaped. Please, call up some troops from the Ministry. Get a platoon of good soldiers to accompany you."

      She smiled indulgently and patted his cheek. Dumbledore's Army regarded the gesture as equal to a Cruciatus Curse. "You worry too much," she said.

      "I hope my worries have been of service, and not a burden," he replied and bowed his head.

      Granger said something unpleasant. Luna stared out the window, and the rest looked at the faces of their fellow students, looking for mercy, or some opportunity.

      "Where is this weapon?" Umbridge asked and leveled her wand at Granger.

      "The Forbidden Forest," Granger said.

      Umbridge glanced at Simson. "Yes, ambush country, but I doubt they'd plan so far ahead. I do know your thoughts, Mister Simson, cunning as you think you are."

      "I never thought otherwise, Headmaster."

      The leaders of Dumbledore's Army were chivied out of their seats. Simson took up a position between the group, and Umbridge, walking backward out of the office. Takarada took up the rearguard. The Slytherin mixed with the members of the Army.

      "Not so tough now. Eh Potter?" Blaise asked.

      "Who's dumb now, Granger?" Goyle asked. Everyone held their tongue at that.

      Simson glanced over the stair's railing to the flagstones below. "Everyone is locked down?" he asked.

      "Yes, even the instructors," Umbridge said, "Can't have them interfering. The Ministry's will must be obeyed."

      "Yes, Headmaster." Simson pulled the wand from Umbridge's hand, and with his other hand, grabbed the back of her head. Before she could protest, he slammed her throat-first against the banister.

      Takarada's punches flattened Blaise and Adrian. Simson took Marietta, Daphne and Millicent with a spin kick. Graham and Warrington ran into office. "In Nomen de Luna!" Takarada fired on them.

      Luna targeted her wand on Pansy, Malfoy and his pair. "In Nomen de Luna."

      Takarada looked at the fallen girls. "That does it. Happosai is giving me lessons, or I'll throw him in irons."

      Malfoy and hisfriends quit struggling to free their wands from their robes. Crabbe fell on his back and threw the King of all Wobblers. Goyle simply passed out. Malfoy himself looked from face to face. His abject terror etched in his expression. His disgust at himself was equally apparent. Pansy regarded him with contempt and stood up. Takarada flattened her with high-low combination.

      "I don't like this spell," Luna said, as Takarada gave a dose to all of the other Slytherin Inquisitors, conscious or unconscious, "I cannot even hate them anymore."

      Concurrently, Simson grabbed the choking Umbridge by the neck of her dress, and by the waist, and heaved her over the banister, to the floor more than forty feet below.

      "You killed her," Granger exclaimed in horror.

      "Would you have preferred her to kill you?" Simson asked, "That was her plan." He started jogging down the steps.

      Takarada followed, with Luna close behind.

      "What are you going to do?" Potter asked as he ran to catch up.

      "Mister Potter, I have to keep reminding myself you aren't a combat veteran. The kids I usually deal with have spoiled me. Simply put, she was working hand-in-glove with the Minister, and the Minister was working for Voldemort."

      Potter and the others staggered at that.

      "Impossible!" Longbottom exclaimed.

      "Oh, nothing so crude as money changing hands, but he was an earnest fellow traveler," Takarada told them.

      "But he's the Minister!" Granger and Weasley said together, glanced at each other.

      "Granger, I expect that kind of stupidity from Pan Magus, but you grew up around humans," Simson said as he reached the floor and raced for the crumbled figure of the Headmaster. The blood revolted most of the kids. "Surely you've been taught about Vidkun Quisling?"

      " 'Pan Magus', that's good right?" Weasley tried to ignore the sight.

      "He called you a chimp, Ron," Granger replied, "Even if Fudge is a traitor, nothing excuses this!" Granger gestured at the corpse.

      "How about avoiding the extermination of the entire Wizarding World, starting with your beloved school?" Simson asked, "I don't know how high up the anti-tech barrier goes, but I doubt it's more than 2 kilometers, and three is the ideal height for an air-burst thermonuclear weapon of say, 40 megatons."

      "They wouldn't!" Granger exclaimed as the others struggled to keep up.

      Takarada and Simson used Umbridge's blood to draw symbols on the stone that seemed to writhe and twist even as they drew them. Most of the others turned away in horror.

      "There is also a protocol to deal with nuclear accidents: someone going nuts and firing off a warhead or three," Takarada said, "So if they wanted to target the Ministry in London, the Russians send over a squadron of ICBMs loaded with city busters, and immediately send a message to the Mundane government 'oh dear, so sorry, we'll implement the protocol'. Any guesses what's the second, Russian city, the Russians wipe off the map?"

      "Kiev," Granger choked out.

      "Why Kiev?" Longbottom asked.

      "Because that's where the Ministry is for Russia and much of that region," Granger managed.

      "Exactly," Simson said as he stood up and surveyed the circle and runes they'd drawn. "We just need -"

      "Here!" Luna ran back from the Room of Requirement carrying a duffle bag. Both admirals began stripping out of their robes, and their civilian clothes.

      "You aren't going to cast magic naked, are you?" Weasley asked in horror.

      "Good Lord, no!" Simson replied as he began putting on what looked like a white suit.

      Takarada's was a black coat and white trousers.

      "What are you playing at?" Potter demanded, "My godfather is facing Voldemort alone, while you're playing dress up."

      "It's all right, Harry," Luna told him, "They're calling up some help."

      "From that, oh I'm going to sick up," Weasley said.

      "Now you know how your brothers felt when they watched me change their wall scrawls to 'In Nomen de Luna', and it caught on," Simson said, "Short of blowing the place up, they'll never top that."

      "They provided me a N.E.W.T.-level course in doctrine and tactics, which I passed on to Dumbledore's Army," Luna said and giggled, "Double agency was one of the early lessons."

      Properly uniformed and covered for the first time in years, the two admirals stepped back. "Get against the walls, this is going to be large."

      None of the others doubted it. They pressed against the walls as Simson and Takarada began a chant that hurt the ears and disturbed the mind. Neville screamed, but no one blamed him.

      The two admirals swiftly joined the wall denizens as an eldritch light appeared over Umbridge's corpse. It swiftly lengthened and solidified. Everyone save Simson gasped at the apparition, and he was grinning like a maniac.

      The huge centipede-snake looked around, looked between its legs, then fixed on the students. A young, male voice told them, "Kids, you are in a lot of trouble."

      Simson stepped forward. "We the forsaken ones, yield our humanity, to save the humans. Our makers' blasphemy, success profanes our blood, we kill Great Old Ones. The star gods now return, in us their deaths are met, we kill Great Old Ones! No mortal live in fear. God deal to us the blame, we made it happen." Simson stepped back from the machine.

      "We forsaken ones!" the machine answered, and eerie combination of male and female voice.

      "And that's Admiral to you, Pilot Davis," Simson said as he walked boldly towards the head, "And keep the 'Admiral Kidd' jokes to yourself. Miss Granger, Miss Lovegood, Pilot Kevin Davis, Twice Hero of the Soviet Union; Dame Nabiki Tendo, GCMG; and Unit 04, also twice a Hero of the Soviet Union."

      Luna curtseyed, the others, including Takarada, just stared.

      "That's an EVA," the Japanese Admiral whispered.

      Rei sat down heavily on the flat, solid, cool lava plain. Hotaru sat near her. Neither looked well. Neither looked long for this world.

      "Keep an eye on them," Venus ordered Jupiter, "They are going to figure out what we did soon enough."

      Moon nodded her agreement. "Did it work?" she asked in reply.

      "We'll find out," Neptune said as she pointed towards the troops picking their way down the sides of the slope into the now-cool lava lake.

      "We certainly will!" Lind shouted as she pointed to the figure in red leather leisurely walking across the air towards them. Each step brought her closer to the ground, as if she were descending a staircase.

      The Senshi called to Asuka, but she ignored them. Until she set foot on the flat ground. She turned briefly, waggled her finger at them, then turned back to face their enemies. More and more of their foes joined their colleagues on the surface of the frozen lava lake. She drew a long, odd polearm and advanced slowly towards the massing enemy army. With some 400 meters separating them, Asuka stopped. She made passes through the air, and seemed to wait.

      Within moments, dozens of girls dropped to the solidified lava, on either side. Some were young, perhaps four to six years, others were as old as the Senshi. All had eerily similar faces, and identical red eyes, short, blue hair and pale skin. Unlike the placid Asuka, the newcomers all looked eager for the battle.

      "I think we just became superfluous," Venus said as she fell back to where Rei and Hotaru rested.

      "I find that acceptable," Tatewaki said as he too backed away from the newcomers.

Sailor Jupiter II 24 - the Goddess of Imaginary Light

Disclaimer - I do not own the characters of Ranma 1/2, NGE, Tenchi Muyo or BSSM, they belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Gainex, AIC Productions and Naoko Takeuchi, respectively.

      Simson had managed to calm down Takarada, then the two of them managed to keep the cadre of Dumbledore's Army from panicking. "We just need one more thing," Simson said, "Where we get egg all over our -"

      "He's beautiful!" came the exclamation, not from any student.

      "Professor Hagrid, we can explain," Takarada said as he moved off to intercept the man.

      "Davis, this boy has a connection with the local Sauron-wannabe. I think that sympathetic link goes both ways. If you can draw him here, I doubt he'll pose a problem to you or Tendo. In an EVA or out."

      Simson practically dragged Potter closer to the EVA, which was holding very still in the confined space filled with terrified youngsters. The head moved closer to Potter, and studied him intently.

      Davis said something that Potter woke up to. "You're a parseltongue?"

      "No, but I do speak Serpent Man," Davis said distractedly from within the huge war machine, "Tendo, are you seeing those threads, or am I imagining things?"

      "I see them, right out of that scar," came Tendo's voice through the loudspeakers, "If that's the link, it's to multiple people, or multiple pieces of the same person. Are you thinking that I'm thinking?"

      "How do you arrange to have multiple phylacteries?" Davis answered, "Or this evil mastermind is actually a committee."

      "We can still reel them all in," Tendo replied.

      "What are you talking about?" Granger finally couldn't contain her curiosity any longer.

      Davis began, "Whoever did this, placed a piece of him -?"

      "Yes, him," Tendo agreed.

      "Himself in that scar, and there are several other leads. Like the red string of fate, leading to the people you are connected to. This one looks like he did the same trick, hiding his soul, to make his body unkillable. Or rather 'unstay-dead'able."

      "You're saying - He Who Must Not Be Named - hid his soul outside his body? To gain immortality?" Granger asked incredulously, "What can you do about that? We'll have to search for those receptacles! It'll take months, and we don't have - what are you laughing about?"

      Tendo's voice was still chuckling, as Davis explained. "We can just reel in the pieces. Collecting souls like this is what EVAs were designed to do. It'll be child's play for us."

      "You WHAT!?" Hagrid shouted, and rushed under the EVA to find the corpse of Umbridge, "I can't believe you two boys would -" he stammered and came out pointing his umbrella at them.

      "You might wait until later," Tendo said as she carefully picked the man up and set him on the EVA's back, "Or go get some other authorities. I suspect that as soon as whoever you all refuse to talk about gets wind of what we're doing, he's going to come here and be righteously pissed at all of us."

      "You're bringing him here?!" Hagrid whispered, he seemed ready to say more.

      "Got it," Davis said, as he closed the EVA's claw on something in front of Potter. "Somebody hang on to him, this isn't going to be pleasant." Weasley and Longbottom stepped up beside Potter, and the huge machine tugged at something. Potter hissed and put his hand to his scar. A nauseating green and brown shape appeared slightly in front of the boy. "Ugly thing, let's get it into containment as an anchor. We can reel the rest in from there."

      Hagrid had kept silent during the removal, then managed, "I need to get Professor Dumbledore, no I need to get Professor McGonagall."

      "Get Professors Snape and Flitwick too," Takarada called after him, and turned to Luna, who was already running down the corridor.

      "Dumbledore's Army, yes I know!" she shouted back.

      Takarada turned to a badly shaken Granger. "She's trained, you're not. It's the same dynamic as Asuka and Ami, the former is a college-graduate, the latter has a higher IQ. That's not what's bothering you? Well, spit it out."

      "I'd still very much like to know how you managed to sit for O.W.L.s you never had classes in, and get E's and O's in them," Granger said.

      "He read my notes and I coached him, and I read his and he coached me. It isn't specifically required to attend classes before taking an O.W.L. in them. It's just common sense that you'd get a Troll on the test, if you've never taken the class. Both of us already have Masters Degrees, mine are in Engineering and Military History, his are in Military History and Teaching. You're way ahead of where we were at your age, but both of us have lived a lot longer than you have."

      "Get ready!" Tendo called, "We're getting some feedback from the piece we pulled from the boy."

      "Can you get him into containment?" Simson asked.

      "That's where he's going to show up, whether he wants to or not," Davis added. The EVA gestured with its front limbs and the swirling eye watering pattern appeared above and below a cylinder of pure force that housed the loathsome bit they'd pulled out of Potter.

      "Harry! Ron!" Granger shouted as Takarada and Simson drew their wands and advanced.

      "I thought you were supposed to be a coward, Longbottom," Simson said as a third member joined their line.

      "I don't think running away will help," the frightened young man said as he raised his wand.

      " 'I mustn't run away,' not the most braggadocios warcry, but it does the job," Simson said.

      All three drew back and nearly tumbled over Potter, Granger and Weasley who'd crowded in behind, as the semi-human figure appeared in the cylinder. The manthing turned towards then and grinned. His discovery of the resilience of the cylinder to anything he could conjure lessened the impact. That it was soundproofed and turned his threats and gestures into a weird pantomime nearly made him laughable.

      Simson kept a clear eye on priorities. "Can he get out of there?"

      "No," Tendo answered, "But in a few hours we'll have to pile out and do this manually."

      Several thin, glowing red threads appeared through the cylinder, touching the figure within, and extending out of sight.

      "Is he escaping?" Potter asked as his group advanced on the trapped wizard.

      "No, the resistance the objects are putting up forced us to increase power. The effect of neutralizing the resistance dumps the energy in the visible spectrum at the terminus," Davis said idly, concentrating on his tasks.

      Most of the group stared at Granger, although both Admirals were grinning. "Pulling hard on the lines makes them glow," she explained, frowning at the two Admirals.

      "I think she'd pass the 'do you know the meaning of the word concise' test," Takarada said, then noted the large lumps approaching the cylinder through the lines, "Like a boa constrictor's meal."

      The wizard in the cylinder grew frantic. Whatever his pleas or threats were, no one who could hear them related them to those surrounding his prison.

      "See!" Hagrid announced his return, with the other three professors.

      "My word," McGonagall took in the entire scene, "What are you playing at?"

      "It's called an execution," Tendo said from within the EVA.

      The teachers stared at the huge machine.

      "I said it could talk," Hagrid offered.

      Each line bulged, and once the bulge entered the cylinder, and the man inside it, the line faded. Within moments it was done. The dark wizard fired spell after spell at the cylinder, to no effect.

      "We can send him to Azkaban," Hagrid said, "What other place can hold him?"

      The dark wizard froze as the cylinder glowed yellow, then white. "Step back," Davis warned, "When we drop the shields, there's going to be quite a bit of heat left over."

      "What kind of heat?" Flitwick asked as he and the others herded the arriving member of Dumbledore's Army away from the glowing cylinder.

      "At the moment, it's in excess of eleven million degrees Rankine and dropping. It'll be down to about two thousand before we vent," Davis said, "We picked up lesser traces from him, enchanted followers would be my bet."

      "You'll need to go after them next," Simson said, "They were going to ambush young Potter here, when he and his friends showed up. If you hurry, you may be able to catch a lot of them."

      "They would have dispersed when Voldemort vanished," Granger explained.

      "Which is why he's still there, urging them to wait for Potter," Tendo said, "Such sheep for the shearing."

      "She sent a simulacrum to keep them in place," Simson explained, "Like I said, seasoned professionals." The glow of the cylinder had faded.

      "Done, clear everybody away, we're going to release it," Davis said. There was an angry hiss, but no malevolent figure stooped over them, vowing vengeance. Then the EVA itself vanished.

      "I think now's the time for explanations," Takarada looked at the professors and the horrified members of Dumbledore's Army seeing the corpse of Umbridge lying in a pool of blood drawn into eyewatering sigils, "Professor Snape, if you have any Veritaserum left, I think you're going to demand we use it."

      The strange girls looked from the Senshi, to the enemy army. Asuka seemed content to wait. Three of the Senshi-aged ones turned to face Moon and the others.

      The first spoke, "We the forsaken ones -"

      The second added, "- yield our humanity -"

      The third, "- to save the humans." And they continued, each speaking in rotation. The same voice, the same vaguely reassuring tone. The effect gave the Senshi shivers.

      "Our makers' blasphemy - "

      "- success profanes our blood -"

      "- we kill Great Old Ones."

      "The star gods now return -"

      "- in us their deaths are met -"

      "- we kill Great Old Ones!"

      "No mortal live in fear." They turned away.

      "God deal to us the blame -"

      "- we made it happen."

      "We forsaken ones!" the entire line of girls said. Some drew short swords, others spears. Two groups of the youngest, smallest ones, positioned at the farthest ends of the line produced machineguns. Two girls held the improvised trunnions, the third fired the weapon.

      Asuka remained silent throughout, but now led the charge straight into the massed enemy. She raked the ranks with fire, while the machinegunners raked then as well. Although each trio struggled mightily to avoid being pushed back by the recoil.

      "That's coordination!" Happosai said excitedly, "Look! Look! Each one knows where the others are. A moment's distraction, and another goes for the kill. Someone pins down one of them, and another blasts them!" He jumped up and down happily. "That's what I've been trying to teach you all!"

      "It's . . . terrifying," Kodachi tearfully admitted, "But beautiful."

      "Isn't that your art?" Lind asked, as the girls carved through the immense Youma army.

      "I'll be, you're right! Not very good, but well organized." The old master considered. "We shouldn't leave this to them alone."

      "If you think we're walking into the middle of that, you're crazy!" Neptune stammered.

      Happosai sighed. "You're right, we'd only be in their way."

      With a third of the army destroyed. The two sides suddenly drew back. Asuka and the girls putting or willing away their weapons as they ran back to their start point. The army was pulling back to the cliffs.

      "What's happening," Rei asked wearily. Jupiter lifted her up onto her shoulders to see the battle. Moon tried the same with Hotaru, and collapsed. Tatewaki lifted the little girl off of Moon and swung her onto his shoulders.

      "No weight jokes," Hotaru said, "With all you eat, you should be stronger."

      "Oh, but you can tease me about my eating?" Moon complained.

      "What are they doing?!" Rei shouted, and nearly fell off Jupiter. Only Lind and Venus steadying her kept her in her place.

      Asuka and the girls tightly clustered around her were glowing with red light. Across the plain, amid a sickly green luminescence, the Youma were joining together, becoming few, but huger and more hideous monsters.

      Asuka reached skyward, and yanked her arms down, seemed to pull something down upon her. The impact shook the entire landscape. Dust and landslides from around the rim of the lake, and further out things flew from every tree.

      "I think Asuka wins the scary monster contest," Mercury said as she stared at the huge red humanoid figure. The black, white and other accents seemed there just to accentuate the blood color of the thing with four separate eyes.

      "It still knows your art, old man," Lind said as the huge humanoid leapt into the middle of the pack of giant Youma and began scattering pieces of them in all directions. Some tried to run, but they were too large and heavy for the cliff walls to support them. The monster's four eyes glowed white as the battle continued. The smaller Youma swarmed the creature, only to hit a wall. Hexagonal and octagonal patterns formed in the air. Then the wall pressed the Youma against the cliffs, crushing them utterly.

      The monster stood alone. Standing to its full height. It stood tall enough it's chin just reached the tops of the cliffs. As the Youma still on the plain surrounding the lake fired on it, it gestured. White-hot fire engulfed the tops of the cliffs completely.

      As far as she could scan, Mercury could only pick up that hot, cleansing fire. A moment later it stopped, and only bare rock remained, out for hundreds of miles. "She didn't even leave any bacteria," Mercury breathed in amazement, "But we weren't even scorched. Amazing."

      "Uh, Mercury? Mercury? Ami? AMI wake up it's coming over here!" Moon shouted.

      The machine was walking over, leisurely, like you might to a kitten or small bird you didn't want to spook.

      "It's still Asuka," Mercury said, "For all it's done, for all it can do, it's still Asuka," she told the others. She looked at the other Senshi and saw only their fear. Even the Valkyrie seemed terrified of the red figure. Its footsteps shook the ground as it approached.

      That's Asuka, Mercury thought fiercely, Whatever happens, that is Asuka! Think! You're supposed to be the smart one!

      Mercury grimaced, then gathered her courage. She turned and began walking out to meet it.

      Jupiter grabbed her shoulder. "It'll kill you." Rei nodded frantically.

      Mercury shrugged it off, then calmed herself. "No, it won't. She won't."

      The thing had stopped perhaps a hundred meters from where the trio stood. It was obviously waiting, or deciding. Some twenty meters behind Mercury, the rest of the group huddled in fear.

      Mercury smiled at Jupiter. "I can prove it." She took Jupiter's hand. "Come."

      "Do I get a vote?" Rei asked as she clung to Jupiter.

      Mercury approached the thing, and it watched them. "Ob's stürmt oder schneit," she sang fearlessly, "Ob die Sonne uns lacht Der Tag glühend heiß Oder eiskalt die Nacht Bestaubt sind die Gesichter Doch froh ist unser Sinn Ist unser Sinn Es braust unser Panzer Im Sturmwind dahin."

      She began stomping, as if marching. Jupiter looked at her askance, but did the same. Rei just whistled the tune as she hung on. "Ob's stürmt oder schneit, Ob Ob die Sonne uns lacht Der Tag glühend heiß Oder eiskalt die Nacht."

      The Kunos joined Mercury, Rei and Jupiter, and added their voices, "Bestaubt sind die Gesichter Doch froh ist unser Sinn Ist unser Sinn Es braust unser Panzer Im Sturmwind dahin."

      The others slowly joined Mercury. The figure stared off into the darkness, as if listening to something far away and hard to hear. "Mit donnernden Motoren" Lind added her voice reluctantly, after both her angels had already begun singing with Mercury. "Geschwind wie der Blitz Dem Feinde entgegen Im Panzer geschützt Voraus den Kameraden Im Kampf steh'n wir allein Steh'n wir allein So stoßen wir tief In die feindlichen Reihn."

      "Ob's stürmt oder schneit, Ob die Sonne uns lacht Der Tag glühend heiß Oder eiskalt die Nacht."

      The figure's arm extended towards the Senshi. Mercury felt a terrible tugging. It's as if my soul is being ripped away! But I have to trust Asuka. She's our friend!

      She continued singing, even as the others were affected as she was, "Bestaubt sind die Gesichter Doch froh ist unser Sinn Ist unser Sinn Es braust unser Panzer Im Sturmwind dahin." The entire group vanished, leaving the scoured clean area in silence.

      "This is preposterous!" Fudge overrode Dumbledore's milder expression of the same sentiment, "They murdered a woman, and concocted this story to obfuscate their crime."

      "Should we charge them with Lord Voldemort's murder as well?" Snape asked archly.

      "Voldemort is dead!" Fudge insisted.

      "Certainly true, now," McGonagall added, "That is the definition of murder."

      The Minister fumed but stared at the two in question, who had surrendered their wands to Professor Flitwick and seemed content to allow others to argue the points.

      "If his followers are not all dead," Flitwick offered, "They will be interested in coming here and dealing with the boys, and girls, who thwarted his schemes."

      "Death Eaters, coming here?" Fudge seemed alarmed at the prospect. He looked to his two guards, then at the instructors. "We must evacuate the students at once."

      "And scatter them over the countryside to be picked off at their leisure?" Flitwick asked, then looked at the two Admirals, "Don't think Miss Lovegood only shared your lessons with Potter's group." He turned back to Fudge. "If you want to punish them, draft them as the Defense Against Dark Arts instructors."

      "Under Professor Snape's able oversight, of course," Takarada offered to quell the retort from the man.

      "I'm more worried that Davis and Tendo should be back by now," Simson said, "I've never known a battle to last this long, once the EVAs were deployed."

      "If the Death Eaters are coming here," Dumbledore said, "They will be coming soon, and the students will be disorganized and frightened, strung out between here and the rail station, or Hogsmeade, or aboard the Express. We can fortify the school, and hold until the Ministry can send proper reinforcements."

      Fudge seized on that. "You intend to send me off, to the Ministry, with that thing of yours rampaging through it, searching for Death Eaters who aren't there? The Aurors will put a stop to that."

      "That 'thing' can withstand point-blank atomic bombs," Simson said impatiently, "Your Aurors are nothing to it. First you say there's no Voldemort. Now you say there are no Death Eaters. Yet you personally vested a homicidal maniac with the full faith and power of your office, and sent her into a locked building to torture over a thousand children. We don't need Death Eaters when you're here!"

      "That's quite enough," Professor McGonagall snapped.

      Takarada noted she's snapped after Simson had said what needed to be said. "There is also the Japanese and American forces stationed in preparation for Voldemort's public breakout. Reagan and Ozawa briefed us themselves. The others will not stand for a Second Wizarding War to go as far as the First did." Takarada fixed Fudge with a glare. "Ask the Prime Minister if the 'Task Force' protocols have been invoked. While the States' Wizarding community still has bad feelings about the Ministry's successful assassination of Lincoln and attempts on Teddy Roosevelt, they and the Mundane population have great fondness for the Muggles of Britain. Japan is the same. The quarrels between the mages are overshadowed by warm feelings for the mundane populace. Those two will side with the Muggles against a dark wizard, or his supporters. Bleeding-edge miltech is such wonderful camouflage for magic."

      Fudge had gone pale and gulped air as if strangling.

      Filch broke the deadlock by rushing in. "There people coming, from the train station, lots of them. Getting on the boats. Wearing masks."

      Hagrid was following. "Another party's going through the Forbidden Forest. Nothing's getting in their way there. They look ready to deal with anything that tries."

      The instructors looked back, and found the Minister gone.

      "That simplifies things," Dumbledore said he looked at the instructors, then at the students of 'Dumbledore's Army'. He seemed to be weighing the pros and cons. "The gates are shut and barred?"

      Hagrid nodded and held up the keys.

      "Have you two got any more tricks up your sleeves?" McGonagall asked the two admirals as Flitwick and Snape began assembling the students.

      "Professor, I thought the EVA would be back by now," Simson said.

      Takarada looked pleased. "I wasn't going to mention it with the Minister here, but I added another little call for help. I can only hope it gets here."

      "I'm afraid that the trick I used on Unit 04 and the two pilots won't work on any of the other units or pilots," Simson explained.

      "This one goes a little beyond that," Takarada said, then noted McGonagall's stare, "I think Asuka has slipped the bonds originally set."

      "She's - then how do you intend to control her?" Simson asked.

      "How did you?" Takarada replied, then turned to the instructors who were none too pleased with being left out.

      Serves them right for their games with Potter, he thought.

      "Another critter like the EVA, but more compact, and a good deal more unstable. Not suitable against Voldemort, but against an army threatening a pack of kids. More than sufficient."

      "If it arrives," Dumbledore said.

      "That is the problem. They do tend to arrive only at a truly dramatic moment," Takarada admitted and shrugged, "Nothing is perfect."

      "Your Highness," the figure detached itself from the shadows and walked across the mirror-laden room.

      The Queen fired, and a mirror and frame appeared where the intruder had stood. The image in the mirror was the intruder. His business suit and tie hardly made him seem adventurer material.

      The Queen winced as he scratched an 'X' on his side of the mirror. An elbow against the scored surface and the mirror shattered, releasing him back into the room.

      "That's a real good trick," he said jovially, then his smile grew malevolent, "Want to see a better one?" The Queen drew back as the slightly ridiculous man transformed into a nightmare almost beyond imagining. A black so dark he appeared more as a hole in reality than an object, and so huge that the immense room could barely contain him.

      Before she could even scream, a finger thicker than her thigh wrapped around her throat, stretching her neck slightly as he lifted her off the ground. Her lust for immortality and wish to never grow old and ugly fell away in the realization her life might be measured in ill-chosen words. "I don't want to die!" she pleaded.

      The tone was conversational, but the Queen knew death personified when she faced it. "Now now," he said, "One of two things happened. Either this is a desperate cry from a lonely, lonely being, who wanted to show how powerful she was, and how useful her powers could be."

      She looked at the smile, the huge black teeth that would shear through bones or armor without stopping. The odd grout and water-smoothed stone texture of his skin.

      "Or this was the clumsiest, most foolish assassination attempt in history. I'll let you think real carefully about which. Now, if you were forced to this rash action by someone dangling a threat over your head, there are two ways I can fix that, real quick." He lowered her to her throne, but only enough to let her take some of the tension off her neck by straining on her tiptoes and fingertips.

      "Now I'll give you a little time to think, I just hope I don't sneeze while you're thinking. I always try to do that outdoors, otherwise things get messy."

      From the Ravenclaw tower, they had a good view of both possible battlefields. The force in the forest couldn't be seen, but dozens of boats were taking the invasion across the lake.

      "What I wouldn't give for a decent mortar crew right about now," Simson said, "A little white phosphorus hello."

      "My dad saw one of those 'hellos'," Takarada said, "I'm not sure I could do that to anyone."

      "When all they care about is killing you and your friends, your opinion changes," Simson said.

      "What is that?" Professor Flitwick asked, as he pointed at the roiling in the lake, "Your reinforcements?"

      "I hope not, some of them can't swim too well," Takarada said as he swung his binoculars to see. He blinked, refocused the binocs, then handed them to Simson. "Okay, I give up, what is that?"

      Simson focused on what had surfaced. "It looks like a destroyer-sized version of a Tillman-class battleship. Twenty-four 16-inch guns in four sextuple turrets, but this one is a three-eighth scale model, and appears to have been upgraded to modern capabilities."

      Professor Flitwick stared at the one, then two odd lake denizens. "If those are battleships, why aren't they staying in the lake? I can't imagine they're sailing across the grounds to protect the Quidditch pitch from invasion."

      Simson and Takarada glanced at each other, and both sighed. "Unfortunately, sir, we can," Simson said, "The two most powerful mages I know, would think nothing of sailing a battleship across a parade ground."

      The two vessels moved to the wall surrounding Hogwarts, leaving two deep trenches in their wake. Reaching the wall, they turned smartly and proceeded to the edge of the forest. There they began firing. Small guided missiles roared out of box launchers, while the guns fired a full broadside, paused, and fired again.

      "I think that flank is covered," Flitwick said, "Although I suspect that the other denizens of the forest will be none too amused. And detention will be restoring the grounds, for some weeks."

      "Forty-eight 6-inchers, batteries of 57mm automatic secondaries and two sizable antitank ditches, I think you're right Professor," Simson said.

      "That still leaves that flank totally exposed," Flitwick pointed out, "And no sign of your EVA."

      "That worries me more than you can know, Professor," Simson said as he leaned on the edge of the battlement, "I hated sending the kids out, even though I knew there was nothing I could do to help. I trained them, taught them, arranged for every tactical advantage I could think of. Yet it was always a bunch of teenaged kids between us and disaster."

      Takarada felt his friend's despondency. "It hasn't really happened yet, to me. Does it get any better?"

      "It got so bad, that once when even a three-star was a junior officer, I went out with Tendo. It was as bad in that cockpit as I thought it would be. But she never gave up, even when she was sure she was dying, she never gave up. And she's the most 'pliable' of the pilots. I can't imagine what it would take to down Davis or Asuka."

      "I'm sure they're fine," Luna said.

      Simson smiled. Then concentrated on the boats crossing the lake. " 'Are we?', is the question."

      "We have some of the finest Wizards and Witches in the world as our staff," Flitwick assured them, "You two remembered I was a dueling champion when you came to seek private lessons."

      "Yes, Professor, I tend to get, melancholic before a battle," Simson apologized.

      "The First-years and Second-Years are safely in the Slytherin dungeon, with Professor Snape and Malfoy's groups guarding them." Flitwick looked over the force in the tower. "They seemed, anxious for a chance to redeem themselves."

      "If the invaders get that far," Takarada said, "The fighting is going to be very nasty. I can't think of anyone better suited than Malfoy and Blaise."

      "There are your reinforcements!" Flitwick pointed to the collection of girls and a few boys, who'd appeared on the grounds between the castle and the lake. "Quiet!" he hushed everyone, so he could listen.

      "Ob's stürmt oder schneit, Ob die Sonne uns lacht." The girl in red began chivying the others in the short skirts into a long line, some dozens of meters separating each girl from the next.

      "Der Der Tag glühend heiß Oder eiskalt die Nacht Bestaubt sind die Gesichter Doch froh ist unser Sinn Ist unser Sinn Es braust unser Panzer Im Sturmwind dahin."

      "Is it THEM?!" Luna shouted, nearly jumping for joy, "Is it really them?"

      "It's them," Takarada assured her.

      "I thought they were just a TV program!" Luna said as many of the other girls jostled to get to the battlements. Professor Flitwick began pulling people, seemingly at random, from the battlement for a conference.

      The line of the Senshi and allies formed between the red-bodysuited and white-bodysuited girls with the polearms, all the girls and boys in the line marked time, and many kept lustily singing. A gesture from the red one, and the line fired. The Death Eaters who'd made it to shore found the attacks beyond the power of any counterspell to deflect or shield against completely. Bodies, pieces of bodies flew into the clear air. Some died where they'd stood. Others drown as they skipped across the water and sank into the depth. The Death Eater's reply was ragged. All spells, charms and curses fired back flared and died against an invisible wall that didn't seem to touch the Senshis' attacks. Another signal from red, and the line marched forward a few paces, then returned to marking time. Moments later, another volley rushed out, shattering the clusters of those who'd gained the shore. The line had not targeted the boats, or those within them, yet.

      Professor Flitwick grabbed Takarada's arm. "They're called Senshi, correct?" he asked as if it were the most important thing on Earth.

      "Yes, Professor."

      The man returned to the small collection of students. A moment later, he dispatched several of them down the stairs and then turned towards the crowd at the battlement.

      "I've seen that expression before," Simson warned, as he began helping the Professor's group clear a path to the battlements.

      The two ships had slackened their fire, indicating that front was holding. The Professor seemed to be listening intently to the singing and marching of the Senshi. Facing the students, rather than the battle, he raised his wand authoritatively, and brought it down.

      "Whether it storms," the student group and Professor Flitwick sang.

      "Or the sun shines on us." Simson and Takarada shrugged and began clapping to keep time. Others began joining them.

      "The day burning hot Or the night freezing cold All dusty are our faces But happy we at heart We are at heart Our Senshi roar forward along with the wind."

      From the Astronomy, Gryffindor, North and West towers, the song was taken up. As the other students heard the stanza a few times, they joined in, many in their own key, but enthusiasm counted for more than melodic performance. The students thundered the song over the sounds of the battle.

      Takarada felt the stirrings of magic within the singing. He smiled slightly, and sang with all that was in him.

      The Death Eaters were falling back in numbers, some in the boats tried to turn around. The battleships salvoed their guided missiles, sinking all the boats and leaving many of the Death Eaters to drown.

      Takarada listened, and heard that the Senshi had altered their song. "Ob's stürmt oder schneit." Ob die Sonne uns lacht Der Tag glühend heiß Oder eiskalt die Nacht Bestaubt sind die Gesichter Doch froh ist unser Sinn Ist unser Sinn Es braust unser Senshi Im Sturmwind dahin." He smirked at that.

      Simson was scanning the Death Eaters as most tried to fall back to the far lake edge. Neither Asuka, nor any of the others had slackened their fire against those few who held out on the Hogwarts side of the lake, and none of the Death Eaters was even attempting to surrender. He handed the binocs to Takarada and pointed. "Dementors?"

      They were hard to pick out in the evening gloom. "They can handle that easily," Takarada said, then saw Simson's apprehensive expression, "Can't they?"

      "Against one or two, probably." Simson seemed to be desperately trying to calculate. "But hundreds of Dementor's Kisses against an AT-field, I just don't know," he admitted, "It could be worse than no protection at all."

      "Professor!" Takarada called to the choir director, "Dementors, hundreds!"

      "Expected, handled!" Flitwick replied lightly and continued to direct the choir.

      Takarada and Simson turned to watch the battle. The younger admiral with interest, the older with deep concerns. Luminous figures appeared over the battlefield. Cats, dogs, stags, horses, a phoenix, a battleship, an EVA, birds, a Senshi in full battle armor, and many others. The figures smashed into the Dementors as they swooped to attack the Senshi's line at the water's edge.

      "I love working with professionals," a grinning Simson told Takarada before he rejoined the singing. The Dementors foolishly turned to face their attackers, but were massively outnumbered. From below came a Patronus that silenced everyone on the field and in the castle. Two huge angels leapt from the ground, and burned all the fleeing Dementors out of the sky. The beautiful, but utterly terrifying creatures turned and bowed to Hogwarts and the defenders, before vanishing utterly.

      "I think, I am going to chapel this Sunday, whatever world I'm in," Simson breathed.

      "Fortunately, I know where I can find a Shinto miko," Takarada agreed, "And you might want to get there early, I've a feeling it's going to be standing room only."

      The Death Eaters who'd either not made it to the boats, or had made it back, fell back to the train station. The angels destroying the Dementors had turned their retreat into a chaotic rout. Approaching the station, they encountered Unit 04, and a huge dragon. The EVA sang, the dragon, thankfully kept silent. The Senshi and student took up the song again.

      Rather than surrender, the Death Eaters opened fire, often at point blank range. Dragon fire and spells tore through their ranks and bodies. Occasionally the EVA or dragon resorted to physical means, which proved just as overwhelming.

      "They aren't Apporting away," Luna commented as she used the binoculars, without taking them from around Takarada's neck.

      "Those two probably extended the block that protects the school proper," Simson said, but took Takarada's warning glare to heart.

      The singing of the Senshi died off, the students followed suit, and everyone looked at each other.

      "We won," Luna said as she released the binocs and stood away, then looked concerned, "I know they wanted to kill us all, but I almost feel we've been throwing kittens into a mincing machine."

      "Yes, we did. And that's the way most people feel. It's odd to feel such guilt over defending your life or the lives of others. It's completely normal," Simson said, "Now we have to care for the wounded, and pay the price for our actions."

      "I half-expect to have Fudge come running in to arrest us," Takarada said.

      "Three pilots and an EVA," Simson said, "Good luck. Besides, where do you think all those Dementors came from, Professor Flitwick guessed right about that, I doubt the others are in the dark about it, and they sure weren't swarming the Death Eaters."

      Most of the Senshi had returned to their unpowered forms, and had drawn back towards each other. The exhausted girls had dozens of eerily skittish girls in weird uniforms approaching them. It was those carrying torches, and moving with purpose that had Usagi and the others worried.

      Usagi walked out to meet them, with only Rini as back up. Everyone else was either too tired, or wounded. Usagi looked at the odd faces all around her. I'm not sure if I should be terrified, she thought as the expressions seemed to waver between disbelief and almost religious awe. She laughed nervously. Am I glad we're all in one clump, she thought of her fellow Senshi, most were as exhausted as she was. The Kunos and Happosai seemed to have roused themselves and were ready to defend them, if necessary.

      A loud, somewhat familiar voice came through, and the girls grudgingly parted. "Not bad, Usagi, not bad at all," the young man greeted her in Japanese.

      The face and voice tickled her memory, but even in the flickering torchlight, the uniform was a dead giveaway. "Admiral?" she asked.

      The man snapped to attention and saluted, it was as distinctive as a fingerprint. She threw herself into his arms and hugged him. "We were so worried!" she said as she burst into tears.

      He hugged her back and ordered a couple of girls. They assembled stretcher parties to take the weariest Senshi with them. "It's a few days in sickbay for all of you," the Admiral explained, "You all look like you could use it."

      "We won, and Asuka - where's Asuka?!" Usagi said as she frantically looked around.

      "Hagrid has her, she couldn't be in safer hands," Takarada told her, pointing to a large dark shape in the distance, then scooped her up in his arms.

      She giggled. "Mamo-chan will be jealous," she told him.

      "I can live with it," he replied as she drifted off into an exhausted sleep.

      "I thought they were just a TV series," Granger said as she carried Makoto's stretcher with three other girls.

      "Can you think of a better way to hide them? Oh, that was just special effects. Oh, we were just shooting a scene, yes the monsters did look real." Takarada easily carried Usagi refusing to let her be stretcher-borne. "When can you see that episode? Well the light was wrong and we got all this traffic noise, so we might have to reshoot it in a sound stage."

      Granger nodded.

      While throat drops were being distributed in large numbers, most of the Senshi were completely hoarse.

      Never was happier for a communications gap, Takarada thought as Madame Pomfrey chased all but the 'most sensible' girls from the Senshis' sick ward. None of those sensible girls spoke a word of Japanese, and most of them spoke English only Ami or the Kunos could have deciphered. All of them were almost voiceless.

      Happosai and Simson were with the faculty, determining what was going to happen next. Dumbledore came to the same conclusion we did. The Minister ordered the Dementor attack, Takarada thought as he ignored the nervous whispering from his fellow students, who fled his presence more earnestly than they had when he was an Inquisitor, Now comes the question of what to do about it. He can claim it was the reinforcements, and that they got out of control. Happosai's rage at Umbridge and his 'reform' of not stealing underwear makes him apparently a reasonable authority for my side.

      Tendo approached, he could see the similarities from Kasumi's appearance. The stench that clung to anyone in the EVA's cockpit had taken some time to wash off. Someone had gotten her clean clothes to wear.

      "Admiral," she said wearily, and saluted.

      "Dame Tendo," he said as he returned it.

      She smirked tiredly at that. "You wouldn't happen to know where I could get a meal and a bunk?"

      "You could probably snap your fingers and a dozen people would be happy to get it for you."

      "That's why I asked you, and in Japanese," Tendo said, "Being a hero is bad enough with these people. Being a Dame Hero, is almost too much."

      He gestured towards the Great Hall, and began walking that way. "How did you get that? Not that your performance today doesn't show your bravery," Takarada said as he led her to towards the Great Hall, and the kitchens beneath.

      "I survived getting the crap beaten out of me, by something that should have killed me, and then the world," Tendo said tiredly as she walked, "It wasn't bravery, or anything else. It was realizing that I was going down anyway. I might as well go down with my head held high." She looked at him. "No offense Admiral, but I never wanted anything to do with my family, or my home, ever again. The idiocy of this kidnaping is proof of that. If you've met my family, you'd see they really don't matter."

      "Your sister Kasumi seems brave enough," Takarada said.

      "My sister Kasumi wants everyone to think she's as good as our mother. She's not even close. And I don't respect her passive-aggressive attitude any more than Akane's aggression, or my father's passiveness."

      "I've heard a few dark things about you too."

      "I've grown up since then. All my little tricks to get a reaction out of them. I realized my cruelty was like torturing a trapped bug. Tormenting it to see if it would finally break and sting me. Trying to make people see me, rather than fixing on my sisters. It was stupid, but nothing ever fazed those people. It's like the end of a TV episode, in a few hours, or at most days, it would be completely back to normal. No lessons learned, all slights forgotten, nothing I'd done ever mattered." She blew out a breath and apologized, "Sorry, hot button issue. I think you can guess what would have happened to me if I tried that with Jeff or Asuka," Tendo said.

      "Yes, I can," Takarada admitted, "I'm rather surprised he isn't sitting at the foot of her bed as a dragon, growling at the nurses."

      "Jusenkyo, figures he couldn't stay away from there. So where is he anyway?"

      "It seems he hates hospitals more than he fears for Asuka's safety. He's in my and Simson's room, with the door locked from the inside and a guard inside and out. We nearly had a war when he wouldn't swallow any potions, and Simson and I suggested using an IV to introduce it into his system. Asuka and some of the Senshi too. Imagine two admirals having to teach doctors about IVs," Takarada said, "Oh, Dumbledore thanks you for not exterminating the Order of the Phoenix when they attacked you at the Ministry."

      "Anyone that Voldemort hated that much, we weren't going to kill," Tendo said, "But we weren't going to lead them back here either. Sorry it took so long to neutralize their tracking spells and get back."

      "Some things about magic you don't know?" Takarada asked.

      Tendo glared at him. "Admiral Simson has saved my life on several occasions, he's earned the privilege. You haven't, understood?"

      "My apologies," Takarada said and bowed.

      Tendo nodded. "It wasn't so much we couldn't find the trackers. It's that they kept plastering us with them. We couldn't get them all off before they'd find us again."

      "How did you beat them?" he asked.

      "Wizards have a very low service ceiling. An EVA can survive much higher. You teleport thirty-five or forty kilometers straight up, and they can't follow. At that altitude, even a free falling safe would give you time to clear off all the tracking spells. Teleporting down lets you bleed off that energy constructively," Tendo explained.

      "You got all the Death Eaters at the Ministry?" Takarada asked.

      "We got all we could find. I'm afraid that Dumbledore's Army has a generation of work to do before they muster out," Tendo said. She stopped and stared at a patch on the flag stones that had been sandblasted clean. "That was an evil person. How much trouble are you in for killing her?"

      "Let's just say you hanging around to break us out of Azkaban has been discussed," Takarada admitted.

      Usagi ignored the laughter of the English girls as she wolfed down another helping of whatever this delicious stuff was. It's like warm ice cream! she thought happily.

      "Tank oo," she said, and held out the bowl for more. Which elicited more giggles and a full bowl.

      She paused eating as she looked over at Ami, who was still asleep. She's all curled up, Usagi thought, I wish I could cheer her up, but she'd have to be awake to do that. If this is a dream, do you dream in dreams. Or do you just dream you are dreaming? Ugh! Too hard to think about that! She felt the spoon scrape the porcelain of the bowl.

      She held out the empty bowl and grinned. The stunned girls filled it up again, and Usagi happily ate.

      Minako walked the corridors. Her English was good enough to let her eavesdrop, while using her assumed ignorance let her get closer to hear. So, we're on TV here, manga even, I guess Admiral Morita's plan is working. But all the time I was in England, I never even heard about this place, she thought as she heard the awe-struck murmurings of the girls mentioning her, but always with the others. They never heard of me when I was here, only from the manga and the television. I guess they do live in a separate world. I wonder if Ami would like it here. So much to study, but it isn't as 'logical' as medicine.

      One girl, who Admiral Takarada had specifically warned her about, approached with a notepad, a Japanese-English dictionary, and an expression demanding answers.

      "Hello, It matters not for others but do you in exclusion of all others speak the English people?" the student asked in Japanese.

      Either she's really winging it, or someone has a bigger ego than Tatewaki, Minako thought.

      "Oh fred, I can hat English language perfidiously!" Minako happily declared and grinned.

      The girl's pained expression told Minako she'd scored a direct hit. "So you really do get your powers from a henshin pen? I'd like to examine it," the girl said in English, slow-ly, ac-cen-ting each syl-lab-le.

      Minako stood and took a pose of considering deeply. "Cat droppings not good for your complexion," she answered gravely.

      The girl's brow furrowed, then she paged through the dictionary. "The transformation pen," she said in Japanese.

      "Yes, Henshin," Minako agreed.

      "Can I see it?" She pointed at her eyes, then at a pen in her hand.

      Minako said, very slowly and carefully, "Cat droppings not good for your complexion." She carefully touched the girl's cheek. "Complexion. Cat droppings not good for your complexion."

      The poor girl looked positively mystified. "What do cat droppings, my complexion, and your Henshin pen have to do with each other?"

      "How Henshin's make?" Minako asked carefully.

      "That's what I - you don't seriously mean that - that's disgusting!" the girl announced.

      Minako merely smiled and shrugged. "You warming autograph? I sign with Henshin pen!"

      "No, no thank you. Sorry to have bothered you," she said backing away.

      Minako grinned, waved happily to the girl and resumed her walk through the corridors.

      Now I need one to use on Jeff and Asuka, she thought happily.

      Simson felt he'd been drug through a knothole, several times. The interrogation had been thorough, and everything not classified had been revealed. Which meant another round of questioning could be expected.

      The Admiral spotted Hagrid walking the corridors, looking rather like the Admiral felt. "Professor. Professor Hagrid," he called to the man.

      The half-giant turned slowly, and seemed to be having trouble focusing on the Admiral. "Simson," Hagrid slurred, "Yes, Mister Simson. The EVA."

      "What about the EVA?" he asked worriedly.

      "Don't bother the EVA," Hagrid said dreamily, "Don't bother the lady camped out on top of the EVA."

      "Lind," Simson said, "But Luna went out to talk to her earlier today, and got two feathers from her."

      "She seems real protective of that EVA. So do her other two bodies," Hagrid said, "Real protective." The man wandered off. "Real protective."

      Simson debated rushing out to check on Unit 04, or taking the man's advice on leaving it and Lind alone. Instead, he spotted Takarada, walking towards the Great Hall. He looked like he had also been through the questioning Simson had. "Hagrid just had a run in with Lind. She was sitting atop Unit 04," he said as he approached.

      "Yes, she was 'communing with him,'" Takarada said, "And I'd just leave them alone."

      "What's the deal?" Simson whispered to Takarada, in Japanese.

      "She's one of God's Valkyries, perhaps the only Angel it - he isn't supposed to kill," Takarada replied, "I guess they're swapping tips, or sharing war stories."

      "As in 'fear not mortals for I bring tidings of great joy' angels? And I thought I knew some interesting people," Simson admitted.

      Makoto looked down at the figure in the cot, wrapped in blankets, with an IV running into his arm. I have the knife, she thought quietly, According to Minako, they're still whispering about hidden spies and mind control spells. I could do it, no one could stop me, and no one could blame me.

      But I can't make myself reach up, and draw it. If he were awake . . . then I wouldn't have a chance. He's a better fighter than me. She felt the tears coursing down her cheeks. Tell me what to do! Someone tell me what to do?

      She angrily wiped the tears from her face, and unlocked the door. "I'm done, thank you," she told the guard who'd waited outside while she visited her friend. The boy nodded and returned inside. Makoto drifted back to the common room in a daze of warring feelings. The warm hand taking hers brought her back. She glanced around and then down to the small teacher who was 'boss' of this group of students.

      "I think we need to talk," he said in perfect Japanese, "Privately, in my office." He led her out into the hall and down the corridor.