Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Soldier's Duty ❯ Chapter 25

[ P - Pre-Teen ]


A Soldier's Duty, chapter 25

"...whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - thing about such things." _Philippians 4:8

"1500 years ago, everyone KNEW that the Earth was the center of the Universe. 500 years ago, everyone KNEW the world was flat. And 5 minutes ago you KNEW people were alone on this planet. Imagine what we'll KNOW tomorrow." - Agent K, "Men In Black"

---------

Queen Serenity of the Kingdom of the Djinn was many things. Stupid was not on the list.

"So, you're saying that a partial retroactive temporal flux caused an adjustment in our past that had little effect on the present day Tokyo, but completely rewrote our ancient kingdom, and that only those of you who were cut off from those ties were completely unaffected?" Serenity idly chewed on knuckle as she pondered. "Interesting."

"Actually, I wasn't cut off, and I remember the Moon Kingdom," Mamoru said, still eyeing Usagi and Rei nervously.

"Perhaps the change ran out of power," said Grey over Amieow's purring. "Though if it *was* the Enemy, i think it likely it was stopped because this was *not* the sort of results he was after."

"Rrrrrrr, lowerrrrr Grrrey-chan," purred Amieow. "Oh yeeeeeeeahhhhhh."

Makoto watched Amieow practically melting down while her calves and feet were being rubbed. "Me next!"

"Excuse me, the line is *after* me," disagreed Setsuna.

"Nuku Nuku want try!"

"If I may," said Serenity, "was this 'Moon Kingdom' of 'Senshi' any happier? Will some 'Crystal Tokyo' be a better choice than the reborn 'Djinn Kingdom'?" Serenity openly considered. "Setsuna Meiou. You are among the best informed, if I may ask of you to make an unbiased opinion. What say you?"

Setsuna blinked. SERENITY was asking her opinion? "Well, that would depend on who you ask..."

"Actually," said Serenity wryly, "I had a bit more detail in mind. Basalt?"

Grey kept his attention on a knot of tension in Amieow's low back for a moment until he felt it unwind. Though it was odd feeling the vibration of her purring through his hands. "It depends to some extent, as Setsuna said. The Senshi were less powerful, but more independent, than your Djinn. They were not prone to being stuffed into lamps or anything for example."

"Lamps are only for common Djinn such as Phobos, Deimos, Luna, and Artemis," corrected Serenity. "Rings and gems are more common, while Uranus is bound to a sword and Neptune a mirror. Still, your point is accepted."

"There's also Chibiusa, who is not stuck at a very young age," admitted Grey. "And this group marriage concept wouldn't have flown nearly as well prior to this change."

"I *have* noticed that neither you nor Endymion seem as comfortable with the idea," drily commented Serenity. "How peculiar."

Grey shook his head. He knew some some teenage boys who would be joyful at the prospect of polygamy. It seemed to him, however, (actually facing the possibility of such a relationship) that you took on the problems of a marriage multiplied as well as the good points. Not to mention expenses, the amount of time and affection spent on one curtailing into the others' time, and just plain exhausting (he was thinking specifically of laundry and cooking here actually. When he would eventually get around to the idea of the honeymoon, he'd likely faint.) In fact, it would be likely to dilute the good points in favor of the bad.

"Why me?" Mamoru demanded of the heavens, then realized he was looking at the mural on the ceiling again and shut his eyes rather than burn those images into his retinas. "You know, things were simpler in the fight against Beryl."

"Which one?" Rei asked. "Back when your four chief sorcerers (Jedite, Nephrite, Kunzite, Zoicite) were mind controlled by Beryl and you had to free us, their genie, from enslavement to their base wishes? Or do you mean the one we just got through a couple of years ago with the Blue Djinn and Metallica?"

"That was Metal'la," corrected Makoto. "And Beryl was a moron."

"Well, duh!" Usagi said. "Making pacts with Class Three Freeroaming Entities in a bid to destroy the world because she had the hots for my Mamo-chan? Like, that just totally was bogus."

"Would you stop it with the Osaka-ben language, Usagi?" Rei rubbed her forehead while managing to keep one arm around Mamoru's arm. "You're gonna give me a headache!"

"Good, that means that I'll go first!" Usagi said from her position on the other side of Mamoru.

"I think that *I'm* getting the headache," said Mamoru wearily. Prince of Earth or not, he was in college, he had to study. Where he was going to get the solitude or time was rapidly becoming a major concern.

----------

Somewhere in the multiverse, a boy named Ataru Moroboshi gave a howl of envy and frustration.

This was followed by an electrical crackle and a "Darling No Baka" on general principles.

Which didn't hurt nearly so much for Ataru, as the idea of someone, somewhere, somehow, getting HIS harem.

This would eventually lead him on a quest to find and catch the most beautiful women in the multiverse and put them in pokeballs, up until they got out and started whomping his butt into the ground. But that is another story.(1)

Right now he was just getting zapped.

--------

"So it's sort of mixed, neither particularly better nor worse?" Serenity said, getting tired of everyone talking AROUND the subject. What were they, djinn or politicians?!

"The Senshi were not slaves," offered Grey *very* reluctantly as he worked the kinks out of Hotaru's shoulders. It was kind of alarming that Hotaru seemed to be purring. Just a little, but still!

"Very well then," said Serenity, coming to a decision. "We must correct this. The good of my subjects comes before all else."

"Now THAT sounds like the old Serenity," said Setsuna, then looked down at her feet. "Mineko, why did you bite me in the ankle?"

"Nyah? I did that during the pie fight. Sorry, I had egg creme in my eyes." Mineko went back to watching Grey work. She was beginning to appreciate strong hands in a guy. Even if the guy wasn't that cute. On the other hand, he *was* the closest thing to an offer she'd had since Ace/Danburite.

"Endymion, Basalt, you two are ins. Stand at the center. My daughter, my granddaughter, link hands with me. My djinn, link hands around us." Serenity firmly grasped the two hands and noticed the puzzled look from Basalt. "A magic circle, and three is a number that has its echoes in power. The good of the Kingdom, and my people, is first. If the Senshi Kingdom was superior..."

"Moon Kingdom, and i'm not sure i'd say 'superior' really..." Grey's voice trailed off. He understood that if the changes were still occurring that they had to move quickly if they were to hope to reverse it, but there were so many aspects (*not* the polygamy angle) that he wanted to explore.

"Focus on this Kingdom of color coded warriors," advised Serenity. "Wish for things to return to normal. Genie can provide the power, but it is mortals who provide the focus and the wish. Through cooperation between the two, the sum is greater than either part. Focus, my sha'ir."

The two humans in the center exchanged a helpless shrug. "I wish everything was back to normal," they said in unison.

Endymion tried. He really tried. Though he was getting looks from Usagi, Rei, *and* Uranus and Neptune. Which made him quite self-conscious.

Grey tried, though the looks from Amieow, Mineko, Sakura, Setsuna, and Hotaru were distracting. Especially when he could *swear* that that looked like a cat tail poking out from Hotaru's back?!

(FLASH!)

------------

Celeste checked. "Well, it looks like the time's almost up."

"I thought they had more time," complained Fleece.

"All of these sweeping changes are speeding up the process," Celeste replied and flicked a switch.

A well modulated female voice spoke. "Time until simulated timeline overlays biodeath earth timeline: 5 minutes 37 seconds our time. In simulation: 5 hours, forty four minutes."

"You see?" Celeste said.

"Warning," interrupted the computer voice. "Retroactive alteration occurring. Merger hastening. Recalculating time remaining."

"Oh dear," said Celeste. "Well, there's one chance of pulling something successful out of this now."

---------

"It's not my fault," said Grey. "Though i'm getting this odd feeling of deja vu."

"Nyaaa," agreed Queen Purrenity, not indicating which statement she was agreeing with.

"Usako is a lion-girl," said Mamoru, a little bit in shock.

"So's her mother," pointed out the M'rei as if it were perfectly normal.

"The Moon Kingdom was originally settled by refugees from the Ctarl-Ctarl Empire, fleeing a war with Tau Ceti, what else would you expect?" asked catgirl Artemis. (2)

"I don't even want to ask," responded Mamoru.

"Werecat Tokyo?" Grey stared at the tiger striped Jupiter, the blue furred Mercury, the cheetah-marked Venus, the pantherish Mars, lionlike Usagi and Serenity. He wasn't sure *what* kind of cat the two Plutos, Uranus and Neptune were. Even Hotaru was looking feline. So was Catti Honey, Nuku Nuku, and Phobos and Deimos? "Let me guess, the ancient enemy from Tau Ceti were werewolves?"

"Of course," agreed M'rei. "Oh, waitaminute. You really *don't* remember all this?"

"I didn't ask, I didn't want to know, I still don't want to know."

"And Rei..." began Grey.

"M'rei," corrected the shrine priestess who could turn into Nekosume Bisenshi Panthera Mars.

"And Usagi are engaged to Mamoru here?"

"Nyaaa," agreed Usagi, hugging her Mamo-chan.

"Grey-san? I really could have done without knowing that." Mamoru tried not to picture him and two girls who could literally rip him into ribbons.

"We'll try again, then," said Queen Purrenity, "if this is clearly not right yet."

"Maybe we ought to stop while we're ahead?" Grey was not at all sure what to make of all this, or the eerie feeling of deja vu.

"NO! ABSOLUTELY NOT!" Mamoru didn't agree with the concept at all.

---------

Black asteroids tumbled closer, passing the orbit of the moon. Travelling at speeds measured in hundreds of thousands of miles per hour, it would take them less than a few minutes to cross that gulf and impact the Earth. Though the largest three would miss, the fourth one was still twenty miles long and eight miles wide.(3)

Sailor Galaxia, having followed some strange person with a strong aura, had found herself in some place called Libya and was trying to find someone with a Star Seed. So far she hadn't had any success. What confused her was that everytime she hit someone with her attack, they faded out as opposed to transforming. And why had the landscape started shifting around her into this barren, bombed out, desolate wasteland?

Ryouga Hibiki, having no idea who that strange woman with the funky hairstyle was, had absolutely no idea that he'd given Tokyo a reprieve. Of course, by the time he realized she wasn't following him anymore, he'd ended up in the "Pottery Inlayers and Glaziers Convention" (PIGcon, though it was actually more of a tradeshow) in Cairo. Thousands of handcrafted pieces of pottery, sculpture, glassware, and the supplies needed to turn them out. Which is why Ryouga sat down and tried not to move through the crowds. Even he could see this disaster coming.

And in a place known as Japan, in the Minato-ku, Azabu Juuban, section of Tokyo, Death met up with Tiger Tanaka to share one last drink.

And in a place known as the Goddess Relief Office, a woman named Celeste prepared to try and snatch victory from the maw of disaster. Interference had caused the problems, interference could fix it, but the choice had to come from the candidate.

-------

Grey looked around. A void stretched in every direction. The only things present seemed to be a large section of stone, in the center of which was a well, attended by an old woman with a staff. "Oh dear."

"I am a representitive of the Norns," said the woman in a raspy voice. "Fate is upon you, and you must choose."

"Choose what?" Grey's natural response to what was apparently a not immediately hostile but powerful being. Be polite and stall.

"You have several young ladies who may, or may not, end up being with you for quite some time. You must choose one. As your time was curtailed by forces outside your control, you may ask three questions, which I must answer truthfully."

Grey bit back the immediate and obvious questions "Is this for real?" or "Why don't I have time?" Those would obviously count among those three questions. Which meant that one would have to try and be tricky. Unfortunately he wasn't ready for this.

"You may begin," said the older woman, making a gesture and causing a large hourglass to appear and begin marking time.

Letting out a deep breath, Grey focussed. If this was some kind of trap, the girls might be in trouble. So a question to maybe serve the purpose the woman was stating, but also determine if this was one of those nasty little Edgar Allan Poe sort of things. "Who among any of them needs me?"

Celeste winced in her disguise. That had NOT been a good question from her point of view. "None. None of them need you." Seeing his puzzled look, Celeste expounded on the simple answer. "All of them: Senshi, Queen, Warriors, Spies - they are all strong and proud and quite capable of living out their natural span of years without you or any man."

"Oh..." Grey let out another deep breath, trying to squash the feeling of disappointment. At least they were safe, *if* the woman was telling the truth. That didn't mean they were all lesbians, did it?

"Next question," prompted Celeste, looking upwards and asking that the boy before her get a clue.

Trying to center himself and concentrate, Grey tried again. "Who..." He had the feeling he was missing something. Something important. He just couldn't figure out *what* with the sand pouring down. This was a test. He hated tests. Nobody needed him, so what did that leave? "Who would I be able to make the happiest?"

Another wince. "In each case, there will be good times and bad times. From Ami to Setsuna, each would have times when they love you dearly, and other times when they just want to shake some sense into you. In each case the seeds of a serious and long term relationship have been planted, and in each case it all depends on how you and she interact over the nurturing of that relationship that will determine how it grows. In other words, you have more or less normal odds."

"Oh," repeated Grey. That hadn't been much help either.

"Last question," said Celeste, still slightly hopeful. It was an obvious question, why didn't he just ask it?

Grey started working at it, keeping an eye on the hourglass. Or rather more of a 10min glass considering how much was already gone. Still, if choosing one wouldn't necessarily make one happier than the others, and none needed him, then none of them would particularly be upset if he just quietly left and went back to America, would they? He'd heard Mamoru and Rei and the others. Things hadn't been as crazy prior to his appearance. Things had been predictable.

"Any time now," indicated Celeste. Why couldn't he just ask the darn question?

"Uhm," said Grey, just *knowing* there was a question to ask. But what? If choosing one didn't make anyone happy, and nobody needed him, then they weren't in any danger from this were they? So... "That is. I think that. If it's just up to me, that is. Then... argggh!"

Celeste groaned herself. Classic case of Tenchi Syndrome. Nice guy who fell apart into a ruin of indecision when it came to anything regarding women. "Time's almost up."

"None of them actually want me, I think, so I can't ask that. None of them love me, half of 'em are after Basalt - my previous life. Not sure what the other half want. So... Got it!"

"Finally," growled Celeste.

"Whose life would I improve the most by being able to share it with them?" Grey thought this had the most potential for being a good question.

"Idiot," grumbled Celeste. "That's essentially the same as the 'happiness question' and the answer is the same. ANY of them could have their life improved or ruined by you, depending on the decisions you and she make. Now you've got to choose one."

Grey nodded, filled with the absolute certainty of a fifteen year old making a choice that he would have to live with for the rest of his life. "My choice is clear then. If I could bring ruin to any of them, I choose none. If I could make any of 'em happy, if one of them actually wanted or needed me, I'd just go ahead and marry 'em right now."

Celeste covered her forehead. "Moron," she said with a certain painful tone.

"Let the record show then: that during his Fourth Labor, Grey L Shard has failed." THIS voice was male and echoed oddly. "Let his memories be returned, as well as those of the other test subjects. The simulation is ended."

"Huh?! Oh crap," said Grey as memories fell into place.

Celeste pointed. "Sorry. Elevator's over there."

Grey nodded and started walking towards it. Expulsion from the Heavens. In fact, there was only one way to go in THAT elevator. All the way down. He stopped with his hand on the button. "Will any of them at least be happy?"

"We'll see what can be done," said Celeste. "There's a good chance."

Nodding, Grey got into the elevator. There was a certain contentment in that he'd brought some happiness their way at least. Though the music from the elevator was *way* too appropriate.

"In a little while from now
If I'm not feeling any less sour
I promise myself to treat myself
And visit a nearby tower
And climbing to the top
to throw myself off.
In an effort to
make it clear to whoever
What it's like when you're shattered."

Grey found himself going back over the Labor. Yeah, he'd have done a few things differently given the chance. Still, he knew in his heart that he just plain wasn't worthy of the affection of any of those girls. He'd been dirtied and soiled by living entirely too long, and in one set of nasty circumstances after another. Better they find someone without all the mental baggage.

"Alone again, naturally," continued the music.

---------

Celeste snapped her fingers and threw off the old woman disguise. "Damn. I had hopes too. Setsuna really deserved a chance too."

"So why so glum?" Toltiir asked.

"Because the boy's gone to hell?" Bast asked in reply. "Frankly, I think he's already been there."

"You weren't just pulling his leg?" Toltiir stared. He'd thought that Bast, Celeste, and Susanou were just setting up for a punch line. It was how *he* would have handled it, after all. "Wasn't *anyone* paying attention to his words? Yeesh."

"But he said..." Celeste began to think about what he'd said. "But the Labor was for him to decide on... but then he *did* didn't he?"

"Put the guy on hiatus, he needs it," advised Toltiir. "Besides, there's a wedding and honeymoon to plan."

"A marriage that goes well can be heaven, one that goes bad can be hell, so there is something of a continuation there of his Labor, yes?" Susanou frowned. He still wanted to kick the little schmuck for leading Amaterasu on like that, but thought that this was a little much.

----------

Grey got off the elevator, head held high. He may have been a failure all his life, and been kicked out of Heaven, and be a really pathetic loser, but he wasn't going to whine about it. He'd done his best! If that wasn't good enough, then it wasn't. He was going into the pits of Hell, but at least the girls he'd met would be better off.

His stride faltered as he realized that this was *not* a stygian depth backlit with volcanic wounds oozing putrescence. Not Hell's lobby after all. There wasn't even the Gates with their made-famous-by-Dante logo. ("Abandon all hope, ye who pass through these portals." Grey had been planning on making a remark about how Hope was among his favorite comedians and he wouldn't abandon him.)

There was no sign of Marller, Charon, or even Oscar. No indication of supernatural evil anywhere he could sense.

A forest? A *green* forest? With normal looking plants and trees? This didn't fit. And why did he feel so *different*? He shouldn't have adapted unless he was...

...in a different timestream.

*Crackle* *THOOM!*

Lying in a daze on the ground, smouldering, Grey wondered if someone was trying to tell him something.

-------

Ami looked at the swirling gate before her. "Why are we seperated like this?"

Amaterasu tsked. "Grey's gone on to finish a little job. He's been expelled for failing in the Labor..."

"There was interference! That wasn't a fair test!" Ami faced the goddess with only a little bit of nervousness showing. *Inside* was another story. She was quite aware of the gap in power levels, the gap in experience levels, and that Amaterasu Omikami had changed from wallflower to warrior princess. Someone who could transform her to drifting ash with less effort than raising an eyebrow, likely even if she were Sailor Mercury or Amieow at the moment.

Amaterasu looked stern. "Interference is *part* of the test. Being able to adapt to different situations and developments is necessary in any of the positions he had applied for. Ahem. Now as for his failure - this is just a temporary respite before he goes to recycling."

"Recycling?" Ami wasn't too sure about that.

"Reincarnation," Amaterasu shrugged. "Not bad enough for Hell, not good enough for Heaven. Of course *he* would end up in a grey area. He failed to choose one of you, and none of you chose him. Room 42's gate was used, just projected into the elevator. He's in for a mortal lifetime, but then as soon as he gets done he'll go on."

"Oh," Ami said, still not satisfied.

"As for seperating all of you, each of you are going to different timelines. The Queen, for example, is going to return to the universe of her origin. You, an Ami Mizuno who has never been Sailor Mercury outside a virtual reality, are going to go through that gateway when the light goes on. You'll forget entirely about the penitent Grey and go on to live a normal life, merged with an aspect of yourself that *is* Sailor Mercury. The same with everyone else, we managed to find ways of hooking you directly into a mainline."

"...can't I even say goodbye?!"

Amaterasu shook her head again, still looking quite stern. Even if one corner of her mouth kept twitching. Funny, Ami hadn't thought Amaterasu the sort to develop a facial twitch. "No, if you entered that timeline you'd change and adapt to that world. You'd be stuck with him and whatever changes occurred to you. Besides, there really shouldn't be any retaking of tests. Bad precedent if it were allowed."

"I see," said Ami, not a sufficiently good actress that she could keep a crafty look from briefly appearing. "Uhm, so what kind of reality was he inserted into?"

"Not of your concern," said Amaterasu. "I didn't look other than it was an SM line and a 4xx series, so it's a bizarre variation on the Silver Millenium. It could be one where you'd have ended up being a catgirl, a bunnygirl, an android marionette, or even a pokemon. Fortunately you're not going there, isn't it? Now, if you don't mind, I have other things to do."

"You've split, haven't you?" Ami deduced suddenly from an odd feeling she'd had ever since the goddess had appeared. "You're just an image projected here while you're having conversations with everyone else who took part in the simulation."

"Still have your feline instincts, Amieow?" The sun goddess almost smiled. "Projecting a mirror image is perfectly within my portfolio. Besides, did you know you came out of there with two more people than had gone in? That was supposed to be impossible but there's a lot of chaos in that boy's karma. You're actually a lot less stressed without him. Keep in mind, as a Goddess First Class, I cannot lie."

Ami silently added "directly" as she was already familiar with the concept. She watched Amaterasu's image turn translucent then fade. Then looked at the door behind her then at the swirling gate. Go ahead and accept that things had turned out like they had, and meekly go through that gate. It would be easy and it would be following the local rules, doing what everyone told her to do. She wouldn't get in trouble with any divine authority, she'd be reunited with her friends in this other life, and she'd be reasonably content.

Ami checked the door she'd entered in. Locked, of course. Ami sat down for a moment, deep in thought. She'd seen some of those 400000 lines while waiting for the simulation matrix to finish setting up. SM meant Silver Millenium, *not* (to Usagi's disappointment) Sailor Moon, so that could mean that there were no Senshi or some odd variant, or even that the Silver Millenium had been completely different. Both the genie and catgirl Moon Kingdoms would have been considered SM 4xxx timelines.

The Ami Mizuno she'd seen in various "Sailor Moon" timelines would have considered this a no-brainer. She'd have sat on the bench, waiting to be reunited with Usagi and the others, and a boyfriend would not have been a concern. The Ami Mizuno who had been one of a group of nonSenshi friends who had followed a transformed gold dragon as he accidently conquered China, she would likewise have waited to be rejoined with her friends. The Ami who had grown up with her best friend Grey, only to discover that she was part of NERV's genetically engineered soldiers, would also have not have a had problem deciding - she would have battered down the door by now and gone to "room 42" by now.

------------

Amaterasu reformed. They had all been given the idea. Now that the seed had been planted, it was time to determine *what* would result.

She was beginning to see what Urd found so interesting about this matchmaking stuff.

-----------

"To: Penitent Grey, recently of the Rival Relief Office, Alley of Lingering Smells, Asgard
From: the Almighty"

Grey got to *that* line and stared. In his more mortal experience and roles, any time you got the bosses' personal attention it was Bad. It being easier to notice a Screw Up than the opposite, after all. This was not *a* boss. This was *the* capital-B Boss.

The thought of screwing bad enough that it got *His* attention was stressing enough that Grey considered going off into those bushes over there and quietly throwing up. Except that his knees didn't want to cooperate. Not to mention that this was unprecedented. The "Norse runes lightning bolted into the ground" treatment was *never* done for anyone less than a Goddess 2nd Class. Well, hardly ever. Seperation Of Heaven & Earth Clause and His desire not to micromanage anyone.

Another problem was that he had a *lot* of trouble reading Celestial, which was the variation of Norse runes that everyone used in Asgard. He was still mortal, despite the Binding and other events, and nobody really mastered that language without either using a spell or some other aid.

"As an agent of the Celestial Bureaucracy, you gave your word regarding marriage. He just wants to remind you that your word is binding as such an agent.
Sincerely,
Frigga, secretary for the Almighty."

Grey sighed a little, relieved. Not nearly so bad as he'd first feared.

Waitaminute? He was still an agent?! That meant that this was NOT his original destination? It *was* a real timeline? But if that was the case, where was his mission briefing?

*crackle* *THOOOM!*

Grey groaned, smouldering again. "Ask and ye shall receive... ouch..."

-------

The Earth that had suffered from plague and war shimmered briefly. Just before it would have been overwritten by a simulation, that simulation had been cancelled.

The simulation itself was broken down into its various parts, which Celeste could then later study and determine what kind of fine-tuning was necessary for better performance. Too many unexpected events had taken place for her to be comfortable with it as it was.

The "Heart Of Darkest Chocolate" was put up for sale, where it remained for a week before being remodeled into a tavern named the "Magni's Meadhall." Other places catering to the sweet tooth were eventually able to pick up the slack.

Rei Ayanami was eventually able to enter a Ranma timeline, oddly enough as a Chinese Amazon.

Others assisted where they could. Some of the other entrants into the simulation had to be placed, having failed to make their choice - thereby making a choice.

------

Grey stretched out, wondering where the rest of it was. His mission would depend on who joined him and would be a mortal lifetime? Who was to meet him?

"Basalt."

Grey turned and saw her standing there, tall and regal in her gown. For a moment he looked hopefully about. Setsuna or Ami?

"Basalt," repeated the Queen. "It is time."

Grey sighed and summoned his "costume" of Basalt/Nebula. His Silver Millenium identity, complete with the Chain. Love had, it appeared, been too much to hope for.

He was not Ranma Saotome, who could forgive and forget betrayal in an instant. It had taken decades to put the pain behind him, but Nebula had eventually forgiven and come to peace with Queen Serenity. In that time, love had died.

Had Jupiter not gone pursuing Narcissus or had merely noticed him at the Ball, she could have reached out her hand and collected a suitor more constant than the General had been. Had Pluto thought to leave a letter or message with other than the Queen herself, she *could* have had a love dedicated to her that would have survived 10,000 years undimmed. Neither had.

Basalt nodded and strode to the Queen's side. At her look, he crooked an arm so that she could take it.

Kingdom always came first, so while there could be affection, Basalt had learned the lesson well that her foremost and most abiding love would always be for her kingdom and her position. No doubt he would be expected to beget another Heir for the Moon Kingdom. Another Heir for the position of Knight of Duty would also be required.

No, there was no love in his heart for the Queen anymore. He simply couldn't summon a false sincerity, so there it was. She had her role. He had his.

He was the Knight of Duty after all, adventures with friends and companions to the side. Basalt, the Marine engineer, the soldier. Nebula the Knight, the Consort, the Queen's Right Hand. He had sought Love and Comfort and a Home of his own. And failed at all three.

Duty was all he had left.

Putting on a false face to return to the Queen's palace and his role as Consort, Basalt, aka Grey, alias Nebula, found himself hoping that at least the Queen would permit him to keep some friends this time around. Perhaps he could even give Pluto a break in her vigil.

Duty.

Well, it was *something* at least. (5)

=======

well, that's it. The end of the Labors and my experiments with doing an SI.

It was interesting seeing the votes. So far the only surviving member of Studio Aesir wanted this pairing, so here it is.

Celeste had requested Setsuna + Grey. i've wondered what she'd think about my characterization of Sailor Pluto...

======

(1) can you picture this? Scary, ain't it?

(2) has anyone else seen Outlaw Star and been struck with the fusion possibility:
Jim Hawking replaced by Nabiki Tendo
Gene Starwind = Ranma Saotome
Melfina = Kasumi Tendo
Gilliam = Soun Tendo
Aisha Ctarl-Ctarl = Shampoo
"Twilight" Suzuka = Kodachi Kuno alt: Ukyo Kuonji
Fred Luo = Tatewaki Kuno
The McKenzie Brothers = Ryouga and Mousse
alternatively have Nabiki be Fred Luo, the McKenzie brothers be the Kunos, and Jim could be played by Ukyo

(3) No, i hadn't forgotten about this.

(4) "Alone Again Naturally" by Gilbert O Sullivan.

(5) That's pretty much the end of Grey, a touch of realism here. Stuck in a relationship that the Silver Crystal couldn't bring love back into (Sorry, Sky, but i just cannot see anything less than significant rewriting of the character by mind control magic ever putting something close to love or trust back in that relationship. At which point he ceases to be anything other than a puppet under the Queen's control.) i was considering having Basalt seperate from Grey, as well as the other parts, and having seperate ends for each, but figured that was too trite. This, however, fits with my life experiences as to likely outcomes.

And now for something more upbeat:


___omake_omake_omake_omake___

"What if someone *else* had fulfilled Genma's role," mused Toltiir.

"With Ares, we saw a capable martial artist who frankly didn't take much crap off anyone," reminded Bast. "Unfortunately, or fortunately if you prefer, he had little in the way of traditional Western morality."

"Yeah, none of this 'don't hit girls' or 'let other people push me around' sort of thing." Ares felt that he'd done a pretty darn good job there. And it had been strangely fulfilling to take on the role of father-sensei. Much better than he'd done with his two real sons.

"I disagree, Genma did a much better job of raising Ranma," argued Fleece. "Look at that Ranma! Anybody who jumps him shouting 'Ranma, prepare to die' is gonna get killed! Heck, if the Nabiki in *that* world tried half the stuff I did with *my* version of Ranma, she'd be lucky if she didn't end up in the hospital!"

Ares considered the idea briefly. "Nah. More likely he'd just contact the local Yakuza and tell them that this little girl was poaching on their territory. Once he did that..."

Fleece flinched at the likely consequences of *that* sort of thing. "You see what I mean? THAT Ranma is going to have even more social problems than the original."

"So. You're saying you could do a better job?" Bast purred as she regarded the Nabiki Tendo that had dared to cross path with the gods, and had ended up becoming a minor goddess herself due to the whims of Toltiir. There were times when Fleece was in serious danger of being demoted as per Titania's suggestion - to tooth fairy.

Nabiki *almost* said "Yeah, right." The grins around her were enough clue. "NO! NO WAY! I am *NOT* going to play the part of Genma Saotome!"

"Spoilsport," said Ares. "Put your money where your mouth is."

"Well, who do *you* think would do a better job of being Genma?" Toltiir blinked at the girl, yellow eyes gleaming. "Keeping in mind the following points typical of Ranma timelines:
a) Ranma must be a highly ranked martial artist, it may not be his only focus, but it's got to be in there.
b) His orbit must intersect the Tendos. He may not end up engaged to any of 'em. Maybe neither group knows about the arrangement, but they'll at least meet. The test point is Ranma meeting them, and how different it is from the original.
c) The person who does the raising has to spend at least ten years subjective in the simulation."

"This ain't another Bet, is it, Toltiir?" Bast glared at the cat.

"Heaven forbid, no. Just a possibility of related omake." The cat waved a paw.

"Well, in that case," suggested Nabiki with her own catty expression.

Almost everyone traced her gaze to the side where a visitor had been preoccupied with other concerns. More smiles.

The old man looked up.

----------

"He'll be here any moment," said Soun, smiling at the prospect of joining the two families. Though the calligraphy was much more neat and precise than he'd expect from Genma. The wording had been odd too. "Tendo- I will be bringing Ranma on Mar-11. We shall discuss the engagement then. -S"

"So is he cute?" Nabiki asked, not quite as mercenary as she would later become. In an unaltered timeline, that is.

"How old is he. Younger men bore me," said Kasumi, not quite as oblivious as she would later become. Were everything to remain normal, of course.

"Hmmmph, boys," Akane grumbled. Boy=pervert=target. Math wasn't her best subject but some things were obvious. The entire gender could be deleted from existence or chained into dungeons and she'd be a lot happier. She hated boys. She loathed boys. Boys had ignored her most of her life, and then suddenly she couldn't literally beat them off. Boys were beyond icky.

There came a knocking at the door as if someone had not gotten into a fight on the way to the dojo.

"That must be Ranma!" Nabiki hoped for cute. Rich would be even better. Cute and rich? Too much to hope for. But she would certainly settle for cute.

"I do hope he's older," sighed Kasumi.

"ACK!" Soun made a warding sign. There was no paunchy Genma present, just Nabiki (who had somehow gotten out the door before him) eyeing a tall and broadshouldered young man. That wasn't the ack part. An old man, still standing straight and proud, was eyeing him as if judging him on his entire life experience and deciding that he was just barely worth continued existence.

"Oh my," Kasumi looked over the boy. Tall, strong, lithely muscled, immaculately dressed in a nice dress shirt, slacks, and boots of some kind. Very nice if a bit Westernized in appearance.

"hmmmmph," hmmmphed Akane, then turned around and walked back into the house. Okay, the boy was fairly good looking. THAT didn't mean anything.

"Genma couldn't make it," said the old man. "May we come in?"

--------

"So Genma died and you took over his training," Soun said, nodding.

"Yes, Genma fell into a pit of starving cats. Terrible tragic story." The old man didn't look as if he thought it was terribly tragic. "So we've been wandering back and forth, hither and yon."

"Yes, well, these are my three daughters," Soun said, indicating each girl and her age, then turning back to Ranma, "pick any one you like. She'll be your new fiancee."

"Geez, they're not bagels, Mister Tendo. Pick one? None of them seem interested. Besides there are other more pressing concerns."

"AH?! It's a matter of family honor." Soun glanced over the three. "Akane is a martial artist, she'll be your fiancee."

"Oh my," said Kasumi, who was too old and housewifeish to be chosen. And was regretting it. Ranma was polite and had a cute... he was nice.

"WHAT?!" Nabiki and Akane reacted with entirely different motives.

"You see?" Ranma gave a helpless shrug. A beeping from a pocket caused him to consult a pager. "Ooops. Gotta go. Old man, you handle this?"

The old man nodded.

"But but but but but...?!" Soun was going into shock. If only Genma were here to back him up!

Nabiki, Kasumi, and Akane blinked. Ranma had gotten lost by going off into their backyard. Their reactions were quite different. Nabiki was intrigued by the boy's butt... err purposeful stride. Akane was wondering what the pervert was up to. Kasumi wanted to make sure there were no hard feelings, sometimes her father made a rather poor first impression.

Ranma ducked around the side of the dojo. This really got the three curious, as there was nothing back there. As one they approached from a different angle. Yes, there was that fiance. He was standing still, looking heavenwards, and his mouth opened as he said a single word.

"SHAZAM!"

*BOOOM!* Thunder answered.

Nabiki had just realized that she'd leapt up and was being held by Kasumi as all three sets of eyes watched a major hunk fly up and away in a high speed blur.

"That was *Captain Marvel*..." Nabiki said to Kasumi.

"Oh my, oh dear," said Kasumi who had little hearts floating in her eyes. Not a boy at all. Oh heavens no. There had been a nobility and maturity in the Captain that just did not fit any of the categories she placed younger boys in. Nope.

Akane stood where Ranma had stood, took an identical pose, and tried something. "Shatsamu. Shatsam! Sha- tsa - mu! Damnit, why won't it work for me?"

Kasumi let Nabiki go, her arms were getting heavy anyway, and considered. Captain Marvel seemed very mature. Perhaps she should speak up. Running off to save the world probably made for not eating as well as he should normally.

Nabiki thought about this. Let anyone know she knew who Captain Marvel was? Oh yeah, duh! The moment she even advertised something like that, she'd be kidnapped by supervillains and tortured for the information. She was allergic to being tortured. Not to mention she'd be alienating someone who could wrestle Godzilla and any friends he happened to have!

Akane sulked. If some stupid boy could transform into Captain Marvel, why couldn't she? Twenty years ago there had been a Mary Marvel, there was a girl named Aoi Marvel who'd briefly appeared in Osaka, so why not Akane Marvel? She was noble and worthy and nobody could say she wasn't a great fighter! Dang it.

Three girls found their father alone, crying to the extent that there was going to be no answers from that quarter.

Nabiki mused. Captain Marvel made headlines. When he was in China recently, he made news fighting some sort of Juggernaut. All she had to do was wait for him to start appearing in a particular area, then track him down. She was sure that she could make a good press manager.

Kasumi thought. It seemed to her that if the Captain was off saving Japan or the world, he'd need someone to cook and clean and maintain a home. Well, what an amazing coincidence that she currently had no suitors or prospects. Look for where the trouble is, he'd be nearby, then she could grab him and make mad passionate... uhm apply for a job and get to know him.

Akane glowered. She'd catch that boy and make him tell her the secrets of whatever martial arts technique he'd used to transform! Then she could go assist the Senshi!

Soun wailed. Prior engagements?! "Waaaaaaaaa!"

-------

Ranma sped across town so quickly that he was just a blur, and smiled. THIS was living. Everything that was so confusing was suddenly clear, the world was his rice bowl, he felt a thousand times more alive than as plain old Ranma Saotome.

One didn't need the Wisdom of Solomon to see the dangers in staying as Captain Marvel for too long. Black Adam was still around, somewhere, a wonderful advertisement of how power could corrupt. Then there was that mysterious Juggernaut who had appeared in China. Someone who could hurt *him*. But here was the thing that had drawn him.

Captain Marvel came to a halt to observe the battle before he weighed in. It looked like he should do something...

Now.

------

Usagi shrieked like a little girl (which she was actually - being fifteen years old) as the big yoma prepared to bring that gleaming claw down and reduce her to the consistency of fish paste. Her Moon Rod had been knocked out of reach and the other senshi had been scattered about with a few swipes.

"SAILOR MOON!" Several young girls cried as they watched what was about to be a gruesome scene.

Tuxedo Kamen prepared to throw a rose despite that the past three had bounced off the armor plating on the creature.

"Excuse me, may I cut in?"

Everyone blinked. Some guy had popped out of nowhere, and was lifting the yoma up into the air by a grip on its outstretched paw.

Tuxedo Kamen dropped the rose, feeling completely and totally inadequate.

The yoma roared and tried to swing at the caped man holding it.

"Shall we dance?" The man threw the yoma straight up, giving the crowd a good look at the chest emblem of a stylized lightning bolt.

"CAPTAIN MARVEL?!" Venus, Mars, Mercury, Moon, and Tuxedo Mask exclaimed.

"My new sempai..." Sailor Jupiter said dreamily, little hearts beginning orbits around her head.

The yoma came down, Captain Marvel stopped its progress with an uppercut. The yoma disintegrated.

Sailor Venus sighed longingly as she checked out a powerful physique and high charisma level. Idol singers suddenly dropped on her priority scale to a new low.

"Well, Sailor Senshi," said Captain Marvel, floating slightly above head level. "I've wanted to make your acquaintance. Shall we arrange a meeting to discuss pooling our resources?"

Seeing that Mars was too starstruck, Venus was drooling, and Jupiter was repeating something about a sempai every so often, Mercury quickly set up a meeting for after school the next day on the roof of her mother's hospital. (Which had the benefits of being remote and accessible. Thoughts of a home court advantage were ruthlessly suppressed.)

There was a group sigh as the Captain flew away.

"I don't trust him," said Luna as soon as the fellow was out of earshot. "He wasn't present in the Moon Kingdom after all, and... why is everyone looking at me like that? HEY! LET ME OUT OF THIS! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! USAGI!"

"Where'd you get a mailing box anyway," Venus asked Mercury.

"Oh dear, ha ha, I just happened to have one handy," Mercury said, blushing furiously. After all, the Captain was said to be quite intellectual, and well, Ryo hadn't been around for over a year, and well... (blush twitch shrink blush-some-more)

Venus smirked. She knew one way to make sure he was considered part of the group. And if Sailor Venus had to drag the stud off by his cape, she was gonna make sure he knew she was willing to be his... friend. Or something like that.

Jupiter was already gone. She had to make sure she had plenty of cookies baked so she could bring them along and introduce herself to her new sempai!

Mars wanted to check the sacred fire and see if Shinto priestesses and Divinely empowered superheroes were a good match. She was sure they were, but maybe a horoscope would be good too.

Tuxedo Mask waved his hand in front of Usagi's face and sighed. Well, at least he knew that he'd end up with Usagi. And maybe the Captain could deflect some of the looks that had been heading his way lately from the other Senshi.

"LET ME OUT OF HERE!" Luna called from inside the box marked "To: Paris" by Usagi and "by way of Elbonia" by Ami.

"You weren't going to really mail that were you?" Venus turned to find Mercury running off. Wait a minute! She had to get things ready for meeting her new boyfriend tomorrow!

Tuxedo Kamen became Mamoru and picked up the boxed kitty. Looked like their current adventure had gotten more complicated.

===========

Chapter 24
Chapter 26
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