Subject: [FFML] [Fanfic][SM] Sailor Moon 4200 - Chapter 12 (Part 1 of 2)
From: Angus MacSpon
Date: 11/28/2005, 2:15 AM
To: ffml@anifics.com


For those who may need one, there is a 'who's-who' of characters here:
<http://shell.ihug.co.nz/~macspon/fanfic/sm4200/sm4200a4.txt>


------------------------------------------------------------------------
SAILOR MOON 4200:  What has gone before
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Crystal Tokyo was destroyed in the year 3478.  Civilisation fell; a dark
age began.  Now, the year 4200 is a time of renaissance, and the city of
Third Tokyo is defended by a new generation of Senshi.  Some of them are
old faces, reborn yet again.  Others are newcomers.  But all of them are
in trouble -- because the enemy that annihilated Crystal Tokyo was never
defeated.  And it is waiting for them ...
------------------------------------------------------------------------
In recent chapters:
------------------------------------------------------------------------
* The five Senshi are together at last, under the mentorship of Artemis,
his great-granddaughter Bendis, and Itsuko. * After an accidental battle
at an abandoned warehouse, the Senshi erroneously conclude that they are
being opposed by the criminal Sankaku Clans. * Suzue, a member of a sect
that worships Queen Serenity, continues to debate the issue with Itsuko;
and the two begin to develop a tentative friendship. * Artemis is forced
to leave the Olympus after an 'S' Division raid, and ends up living with
Dhiti. * Number Thirteen starts to investigate her fellow members of the
Serenity Council. * Beth makes peace with her friends, and Miyo begins a
cautious reconciliation with her brother. * Hideo forms a "Senshi Watch"
of young school children, dedicated to secretly observing the Senshi and
trying to find out who they are. * After much discussion, Miyo and Dhiti
finally reveal to Kin that they are Senshi. * During a battle at a local
shopping mall, in which half the mall is demolished, Iku's new powers as
Sailor Mars are finally made clear. * The 'S' Division team realise that
Itsuko is the former Hino Rei, and -- believing that she is working with
the Sankaku -- are sent to arrest her.  Itsuko flees the Olympus, and is
rescued by Sadako. * And an unidentified girl is given a familiar brooch
by a spectral figure resembling the dead Queen Serenity ...
------------------------------------------------------------------------


------------------------------------------------------------------------
      S   A   I   L   O   R       M   O   O   N       4   2   0   0
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                             by Angus MacSpon
                            macspon@ihug.co.nz
        http://shell.ihug.co.nz/~macspon/fanfic/sm4200/index.html
                     Comments and criticism welcome!

             Based on "Sailor Moon" created by Naoko Takeuchi
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                       C H A P T E R   T W E L V E
                               Night Raid:
                         Flight, Faith and Flame
------------------------------------------------------------------------


The car moved at a steady pace through the streets of Third Tokyo.  Once
they were well away from the Olympus building, Sadako had slowed down to
the speed limit.  Now, she waited for her passenger to catch her breath
before speaking.

"I told you I'd see you again before long," she said.

Itsuko's face was pale and sweating, but she managed a weak grin.  "Yes,
but somehow I didn't picture ... quite these circumstances."

Sadako did not smile back.  "No, neither did I," she said.  She sounded
almost angry.

"What?"

"Never mind."  She spared Itsuko a quick look, then turned her attention
back to the road.  "What about you?  Are you all right?" she asked.

Itsuko drew a long, shuddering breath, and relaxed back in her seat.
"Not too bad," she said.  "Sorry.  It all came as ... a shock."

Sadako glanced at her again.  "No.  Seriously."

"Really.  I'm fine.  I mean, they shot at me, but they didn't hit me --"
Itsuko caught her breath.  Then, suddenly, she lashed out, punching the
dashboard in front of her with all her strength.  The glove compartment
burst open, showering her with a collection of maps, tissues and other
junk.  She swore viciously, rubbing her fist, and pushed it all off onto
the floor.  "Don't be ridiculous," she said venomously.  "Of course I'm
not all right!  They know who I am!  _I can't go back_!"

Sadako nodded.  Her eyes were back on the road.

"Damn them," Itsuko swore.  "It's all gone, isn't it?  I can't go back
to the Olympus.  They'll be watching; they'd be on me in a flash.  I
can't even use the same _name_ any more."  She turned a burning look on
Sadako.  "And you have the nerve to ask if I'm all right?  What the hell
do you think?!  I just lost my home -- the place where I've lived for
nearly sixty years -- and everything I own.  My livelihood.  And my
name.  And all to a bunch of idiot men who thought I was playing with
the bad boys!"  Her voice had risen to a piercing roar.  "Of _course_
I'm not all right!"

Sadako only nodded again, her expression not changing.  She drove on in
silence.  At last, Itsuko flung herself back in her seat.  "I'm sorry,"
she said quietly.

"It's okay," Sadako said.  A moment later she added, "I'm sorry I was so
long coming."

"At least you were there," Itsuko said bitterly.  Glancing over at the
other woman, she gave her a twisted grin.  "You always did like to
arrive at just the right moment."

Sadako did not answer at once.  At last she said, "No, that wasn't it.
I literally did not see this coming ... until almost too late."

"Oh."  Itsuko thought about this.  Then, deliberately changing the
subject, she said, "Where are we going?"

"Where would you like to go?"

Itsuko rubbed a hand across her eyes.  "God, Setsuna, don't go playing
games, please.  I can't stand it right now."

"No game this time."  The corners of Sadako's mouth twitched slightly.
"I can take you wherever you want.  If ... you need it, you're welcome
to stay with me for a while.  Until you find your feet again."

"I -- I don't know."  Itsuko leaned back, shading her eyes.  "It's ...
everything's moving too fast."  She paused.  "What I really want right
now is a nice hot cup of tea."

Unexpectedly, Sadako chuckled.  "That, at least, I can offer you," she
said.

She signalled and turned left.  The car began to take a more purposeful
route; they passed out of the residential district they had been moving
through and started to head consistently north-west.

"I wish Artemis would call in," Itsuko said, half to herself.  "Just to
let me know he got out okay."


                             ****************


Captain Hiiro stared around the office.  "Well, that was about as
botched an operation as I've ever seen," he said coldly.

Kuroi, Aoiro, Mitsukai and Kitada looked back at him.  None of them had
anything to say.

Hiiro lifted a handkerchief and dabbed at his cheek, which was still
bleeding.  His face was covered with scratches and claw marks, and he
was holding one eye half-closed.  "At least," he rasped, "we have
_something_ to show for it.  If not what we were sent for."

He glanced over at Itsuko's desk, now set upright again after the
struggle.  A small form lay on it, wrapped firmly in the strands of a
net.  Through the mesh, a pair of eyes glared.

Artemis was staring at him, with a look that suggested that he would
like to deal out more scratches ... and worse.

"Good reaction there with the net gun, Ryo," Hiiro said.  Kuroi nodded
without speaking.  Hiiro crouched down to look the cat in the eyes.
"Nothing you want to say?" he asked lightly.  "About where she might
have gone, for instance?"

Artemis did not reply.  Hiiro sighed and straightened up, wincing at the
pain the movement caused in his damaged eye.  "Yeah, well, I wouldn't
know how to interrogate a cat anyway ... and I'm sure as hell not about
to try," he muttered.  Turning back to the others, he asked wearily,
"Mitsukai, are you sure you didn't get a look at the car?  Or the
driver?"

The gaunt woman shook her head.  She could not meet his gaze.  "I'm
sorry," she said in a low voice.

He sighed.  "All right.  Let's get moving, then."  Addressing them all,
he said, "Start combing this place.  You know the drill: address books,
comm numbers, records.  Keep an eye open for anything that might give a
hint where she's gone.  And make it fast, people; we don't know if she's
coming back with friends.  Kitada, you stay here; I have a job for you."

As he spoke, he pulled out a pocket comm and touched a quick series of
keys.  "Meanwhile," he finished in a flat tone, "I get to face the
music."

The others took the hint, and got busy.  Kitada hovered nearby
uncertainly, but Hiiro ignored him for now.

Into the comm he said, "Good morning, Colonel.  Nice to talk to you.
How have you been?"  He had to hold the comm away from his ear for a
moment.  "Yes, and you, too.  Sir, I have some bad news, and some ...
other news.  Maybe good."

Honesty made him add, "Probably not, though."

                                  --**--

Hiiro's report filtered its way quickly up the chain of command.
Colonel Shiro passed it, reluctantly, to his superior, who passed it on
to hers, who passed it on to the head of 'S' Division.  But the head of
'S' Division was also Number Three of the Serenity Council ... and he
passed it on to the chairman.

The chairman considered the news for some time.  They had dispatched
Opals to look for the fugitive car, naturally, but nobody expected them
to find anything.  In the meantime there was a more difficult question
to consider.

The cat-search had at last borne fruit, if not quite the cat they had
been expecting.  The question was, did they still want moon cats at all?

They had, after all, begun the search back before any Senshi had
appeared.  Back then, the cats were the only option available.  Now,
they had much better alternatives.

He could have asked Twelve what to do.  But he had been serving the
Master's will himself for a long time now; and the question was
certainly easy enough.  Was there anything to be gained by bringing
Artemis in?

When he thought about what they were trying to do, the answer was just
as easy.  How could there _not_ be?

He gave the order.

                                  --**--

A car pulled out of the Olympus garage.  Inside, Masao looked down for a
moment at the cage on the seat next to him.  From behind the bars, the
cat stared back at him silently.

He glanced away hastily and returned his eyes to the road.  A lot of
things that had been happening lately made no sense.  This, perhaps most
of all.

To begin with, there was learning that Pappadopoulos Itsuko was actually
Hino Rei.  Masao had been a member of the Olympus gymnasium for a long
time; he had even been in one of the group sessions that Itsuko led, a
year or two ago.  To think that his aerobics instructor was secretly one
of Queen Serenity's closest friends was ... surreal.

Then they were ordered to arrest her, which made it worse.  They were
told that Hino Rei was a criminal.  He had seen the evidence himself; he
had even helped to gather some of it, and the conclusions were hard to
deny.  But it felt bad.

For a while he had hoped that there had been a mistake -- some kind of
incredible coincidence, that the woman they were investigating might not
be Hino after all.  But she had admitted it; she had actually admitted
to being thousands of years old.  And then she had pulled out what could
only have been a henshin wand, and transformed into Sailor Mars.

Except that she hadn't transformed.

Something, somewhere, was horribly wrong.

Then Hino escaped, with the help of ... the cat.  Artemis, it had to be
Artemis; but Masao did not even want to think about that.  Was he
supposed to believe that Artemis was a Sankaku agent, too?

Well, when in doubt, follow orders.  Captain Hiiro was a man Masao
admired, and he could be counted on to know what to do.  But even Hiiro
had been thrown by the whole affair; you could see it in his eyes.  He
had recovered, and his orders had been clear enough, but still ... he
had his doubts.  He, too, realised that the whole situation didn't add
up.  It didn't make sense.

What Masao was doing now should have made perfect sense.  The cage,
hastily brought in from the van, was safer than leaving the cat wrapped
in netting; less chance of the prisoner choking during transport.  And
it made sense that Masao should be the one to take him, because the rest
of the team had to search the apartment, quickly, and get as much
evidence out as possible in case the rest of the Senshi arrived to help
Hino.  It even made sense that Masao should take Hino's own car, using
the keys from her desk drawer, because the van would be needed to
transport the evidence.

The fact remained that he was transporting Artemis, one of the heroes of
Crystal Tokyo, as a prisoner.  And that made no sense at all.

"I'm sorry," he said to the cat.  "I don't want to do this.  Really."

"Then why are you?" the cat asked.

The car swerved, almost hitting a lamppost before Masao got it under
control again.  He glanced down at the cat, then hastily back to the
road.

"Um," he said.  "Sorry."

Unbelievably, Artemis chuckled.  "I used to get that a lot, actually,"
he said.  "Back in the old days."

"In Crystal Tokyo?" Masao asked.  He could not help himself.

"Oh, yes.  People knew what to expect, but it still threw them."  He
paused.  "Funny thing, though.  I might have made them nervous, but they
never tried to arrest me for it."

Masao shifted uncomfortably in the driver's seat.  "I know," he said.
"And I'm --"

"Sorry?  Yes, you said.  But you never answered me.  If you don't want
to do this, why do it?"

"Because ... because ..."  Masao trailed off.  "I don't know," he said
miserably.  "Because of ... her, I suppose.  Hino-sama."

"Ah."  There was gloomy satisfaction in Artemis' voice.  "Kitada-san,
you do know that the idea that Itsu-- that Rei is involved with the
Sankaku is ridiculous, don't you?"

"I --"  Masao bit his lip.  If Hiiro knew that he was talking about this
with the cat, he would kill him.  "I saw the evidence," he said at last.

"You _saw_ --!"  Artemis broke off.  "What evidence?"

Masao shook his head.

"Dammit," the cat exploded, "this is not some two-bit thug you're
talking about!  It's Hino Rei!  One of Queen Serenity's own Senshi, and
one of the greatest heroes in recorded history!  What can _possibly_
make you think that she would --"

"She was seen," Masao whispered.

"She -- seen _what_?"

He pulled over to the side of the road so that he could look at the cat
properly.  "Seen," he said through clenched teeth, "meeting with known
Sankaku agents.  Dealing with a known Sankaku business front.  And using
Sankaku counter-espionage techniques and equipment.  Artemis-sama ...
there's really no doubt about it."

Artemis stared at him.  "You can't be serious."

"It's true.  -- I'm sorry."

The cat began to pace furiously back and forth in the cage.  "This has
got to be some insane kind of mistake," he said tightly.  "The idea that
Rei would be mixed up with -- that she would even consider -- it's --"
He let out a breath.  "It's ridiculous."

Masao shook his head.  "I wish I could believe that."

"You can!"

"How?" Masao insisted.  "How can you be so sure?"

"Because I _know_ her, you fool!" Artemis roared.  "I've known her for
longer than you can imagine, I know her _better_ than you can imagine,
and _I know you're wrong_!"  He faced Masao, his eyes blazing, his fur
bristling, for a moment that seemed to last forever.  Then, slowly, he
relaxed.

"And none of that matters," he said softly, "because she's already been
tried and condemned.  Isn't that right?"

"What?  No!"

"Oh?  Haven't you already made up your own mind?  Isn't that what you've
been telling me?"

"I didn't --"

"So what will it be?  Some sham of a trial?  A media circus, of course;
the great Hino Rei brought low!  Or perhaps that might be inconvenient.
Far better to just lock her up and throw away the key."

"No," said Masao, almost pleading.  "I -- I don't --"

"And what about me?  I suppose I'm guilty by association?  Not that I'll
get a trial, of course.  I'm just a cat.  I'll probably just get locked
away in some --"  Artemis paused, and looked around deliberately.
"Cage."

Masao's mouth opened and closed several times.  He groped for words --
for a way to say, no, that wasn't what he wanted, that he would give
anything to avoid it.  But at the same time, he knew that it was exactly
what he was supposed to do ... and what he was doing right now.  He was
poised on the knife-edge, and there seemed no way to escape.

Then he looked again at Artemis and saw, to his wonder, that the cat
understood.

"It's hard to know what to believe, isn't it?" Artemis said gently.

A nod.

"You're afraid that your heroes have feet of clay."

Masao nodded again.

"I've got news for you.  There was never a hero who didn't, not even the
best of them.  But they were heroes anyway, Kitada-san, in spite of
their flaws.  Maybe even because of them.

"Being true to their hearts, Kitada-san, that's what made them heroes.
It sounds trite, cliched, I know; but that's the long and the short of
it.  That's what makes a real hero: someone who stands true.  No matter
what."

The white cat fell silent.  The two remained looking at each other for
some time.  Then, at last, Masao nodded.

"I understand," he said.

He had told himself that he was simply obeying orders; that he had no
choice.  But the truth was, the choice had never left him.  And once he
realised that one simple fact, the decision was so easy to make.

In the end, it simply did not matter what Hino might or might not have
done ... because Hino was not the one being judged.  Right here, right
now, that was not Hino Rei, but Artemis ... and Masao, too.

It made sense.  And knowing that, he made his decision.

He reached past the cage and opened the car passenger door.  Then,
carefully, he unhooked the cage door and pulled it up.  Artemis stepped
gingerly out onto the seat.

The cat gave Masao a quizzical look.  "Will you be all right?"

Masao smiled.  "Oh, yes," he said.  "There's just one thing I have to
do, and then it'll be fine."

Artemis stared at him for a long moment.  "We all make our choices,
don't we?" he said cryptically.  "And stand by them."  He turned to go,
then hesitated and looked back at Masao one last time.  "Tell me ...
have you ever met a woman wearing dark blue, with a glowing jewel in her
forehead?" he asked.

"What?  No.  Why, who is she?"

"Hmph.  Nobody ... safe.  Stay away from her, if you can.  Good luck."

In another moment, the cat had leaped out the door, and was moving
quickly away down the street.  Masao watched him go for a moment.  He
felt ... warm.  At peace.

But there was one more thing left to do.

He reached over and pulled the car door closed, leaving it half-latched.
Then, with some effort, he leaned on the cage in the passenger seat,
putting his full weight against it.  It buckled quite satisfactorily.
He studied it for a moment, and nodded.

Then he took his seat again, and made sure that his safety belt was
securely fastened.  He started the engine, put the car in gear, and
started forward at a brisk pace.  The road ahead was long and straight;
for the moment, it was empty of traffic.

He took a deep breath and accelerated to full speed.  As he passed
through an intersection, he threw the steering bar to the left, hard.
At the same time, he stood on the brakes.

The car skidded nicely.  The last thing he saw was a solid stone wall,
coming toward him horribly fast.


                             ****************


Sadako pulled up outside a little cafe overlooking the harbour.  They
went inside and ordered tea.  As they sat down, Itsuko saw that they had
the place almost to themselves.

They sat without speaking for a few minutes.  The tea was not
particularly good; but it was hot, and it was what Itsuko needed.  She
could feel herself relaxing as she drank.

After a little Sadako said quietly, "I suppose you have questions."

Itsuko gave her a wry smile.  "Where do I start?"

Sadako took another sip from her cup.  Her cool red eyes studied Itsuko
in silence.  Then she said, "Wherever you please.  At this point, there
is ... very little I will not answer."

"You -- what?"  Itsuko stared.  "Why?"

"I do not keep secrets without reason.  You should know that, Rei."
Itsuko frowned at the name, and Sadako added, "Itsuko, then.  Or would
you prefer another name, now?"

"... Never mind that.  Go on."

"Very well.  The last time we met, you accused me of never speaking
clearly.  Then you told me that, after seven hundred years on your own,
you thought perhaps you could understand my point of view."

"And you told me to wait twenty times as long --"

"Yes."  For a moment Sadako's eyes narrowed testily.  "I was speaking
metaphorically, as I think you understood.  But that is beside the
point.  I take the long view, as I must.  Sometimes, often, to say too
much too early would be to prevent the end we are working for."

"The end justifies the means?  Is that it?"

"Justifies?  Hardly.  The means brings about the end -- as always."  She
shook her head, and there was something like regret in her eyes.  "I
leave justifications to ... those who have a little idealism left."

Itsuko looked at her steadily.  "Don't underestimate yourself."

"... Thank you."  The Senshi of Pluto glanced away for a moment.  "In
any case, the current situation is different.  The ends ... are no
longer visible to me.  My sight is running out."

"Running --"  Itsuko froze.  "What do you mean?"

Sadako quietly refilled her cup from the pot.  "Just what I said," she
replied.  "My perception of the timelines is clouded, and becoming more
so.  Every day, I can see less.  We are approaching some kind of crisis
point, and I cannot see the way forward."

For a minute, Itsuko could only stare at her.  "That ... doesn't sound
good."

"It is very much like going blind," Sadako said tersely.

"No, I meant -- oh."  Itsuko felt herself flush.  "I'm sorry."

"I know what you meant.  Again, it is beside the point."  Sadako sipped
her tea, made a face, and said, "Let's go outside."

Itsuko tried her own tea, found it cold, and stood up.  They paid, left
the cafeteria and headed down toward the waterfront.  The road ran
around the side of a hill; to their left, bordered by a low stone wall,
a steep bank dropped down to the docks and wharves below.  The two women
paused, leaning on the wall and looking out across Tokyo Bay.

It was half past eleven.  Traffic was light, and there were few people
around.  A pleasant breeze was blowing in from the water.

"I can still see some things," said Sadako at length.  "Less than
before, though, and it grows more difficult.  I held off your ...
encounter this morning for as long as I could, but in the end I could
not prevent it."

Itsuko gave her a startled look.  "_You_ held --"  She broke off.
"How?" she asked.

"'S' Division has been investigating the Olympus building for some time.
I'm really not sure why.  But there was an excellent chance that they'd
stumble onto your identity sooner or later, so I planted a false
computer trail about the building's ownership.  It kept them sidetracked
for a while."

"Well, thanks," Itsuko said, suddenly angry.  "I suppose your hacking is
what made them think I was Sankaku at all!"

"No.  Actually, I believe they started to suspect that when they learned
that you'd called in Okuda Jiro."

"Jiro!  What does Jiro have to do with this?"

"Itsuko," said Sadako patiently.  "Okuda Jiro _is_ a Sankaku member."

"... Oh."  Itsuko's eyes widened.  She had known that Jiro was a crook,
but she had certainly never suspected this.  It was like learning that
someone she thought was a housebreaker was really a Mafia don.  She fell
silent, working out the implications.

"Yes.  That much, I did manage to learn.  But I could not cover up for
you forever.  I knew you'd be found out eventually, but I could not see
the details of _how_.  I didn't even find out about Jiro until three
days ago.  I did what I could to give you more time -- I erased the
recordings they'd made of you and the building, for example.  But I
still don't know what finally brought them down on you.  And I did not
see them coming for you this morning until almost too late."

Itsuko did not speak for a long time.  At last she said, "I've been
rather stupid."

"Very much so," Sadako agreed.

Itsuko started to bristle; then, slowly, she made herself relax.  Under
Sadako's steady gaze, she worked it all through: the full, damning
history of her folly.  The number of times she had ignored evidence that
she was being watched -- the cameras; the bugs; even the comm call from
Ochiyo, right back at the beginning, to say that someone was asking
questions about her cat poster.  The madness of allowing Artemis to
return to the Olympus, when she already suspected that he was being
hunted.  Was there any hint that she had not missed?

"I thought I was being so careful," she said bitterly.  "The truth is, I
didn't _want_ to see.  Because seeing would mean that I'd have to leave
-- just when I'd finally found a home again, after so long."

"It is difficult," Sadako admitted.  There was an odd note in her voice,
so fleeting that Itsuko almost missed it.  Then, suddenly, she wondered:
how often had Sadako faced the same situation herself?

"Why didn't you warn me?" she asked, unsure which question she was
asking: about the mistakes she had made; or the other, deeper pain, of
living on while others died; of never daring to stay in one place for
too long; of always having to stand apart.

"Would you have listened?"

"Maybe.  I --"  She shook her head, realising.  "No, I suppose not.  I'd
just have made other mistakes, wouldn't I?  I didn't want to know."

Sadako did not answer.  Itsuko straightened up and started to walk
again, and after a few moments the older woman followed her.

"You never did say why you're suddenly willing to tell me everything,"
Itsuko said at last.

Sadako gave a sudden, dry laugh.  "Didn't I?  I thought that's what
we've been talking about.  You told me you could understand, Itsuko, and
maybe you're right after all."  She drew a long breath.  "We are nearing
the singularity -- the pivot on which the future turns -- and I cannot
see what must occur."

"But why _not_?"

"I'm not sure."  Sadako made a face.  "No, that's not entirely true.  I
suspect that our enemy is responsible, but I cannot see the details.
And there are other possibilities.  I could only be certain by using the
Time Gate, and that is --"

"Sealed.  You said."

"Yes.  Itsuko, don't you see?  The very last future event I've seen is
... not so far away now.  After that, I am blind.  And if I cannot see
the way we must follow, then --"  She made a vague, frustrated gesture.
"There is only judgement to rely on.  And the circumstances do not
permit ego; I must admit that yours is as likely to be correct as mine."

She turned cool, crimson eyes on Itsuko.  "Now do you understand?  I
will tell you what you want to know ... and the price is that you, too,
must bear the burden of the future."  With a faint, mocking smile, she
added, "Be careful what you ask for."


                             ****************


Artemis had not gone far when he heard the long screeching sound, and
the sharp crunch of impact.  He stopped and pricked up his ears
automatically.  An instant later, he realised what must have happened.

He turned and hurried back up the road, moving as fast as he could.
Even so, it took him several minutes to catch up with the car.

By the time he arrived, a small crowd were already standing around,
looking at the wreck and talking in quick, low voices.  None of them
were the heroic type, it seemed.  He snaked his way past them and
approached the car cautiously.

A quick sniff of the air, before he got too near.  An electric car
had no fuel to leak, of course, so there was no danger of fire, but
there were other things scent could tell him.  He might be able to smell
ozone from a sparking battery, for example.  Or human body fluids.

The windscreen and the driver's-side window had shattered.  He jumped up
on the bonnet and looked inside.  Kitada was slumped forward in his
seat, unconscious.  There was blood on his face and shirt, but he was
breathing.  Artemis noticed that his seat belt was fastened.  It had not
been, when the man had freed him.

"Brave soul," he whispered.  Had Kitada been trying to manufacture an
excuse?  Or to kill himself?  Artemis might never know.

Far off, a siren began to wail.  The voices of the crowd grew louder and
more excited.  The cat looked around, then remembered where he was.  He
jumped down from the car and hurried away.  Nobody got in his way.  Why
would they?

He had only gone a little distance when he remembered that he still did
not know if Itsuko had made it away safely.  He started to look around
for a concealed spot so that he could call her.


                             ****************


Itsuko took a deep breath.  She was, she realised, about to cross a
line.  Perhaps a better metaphor would be jumping headlong into a chasm,
with no idea of the depth or whether there was anything to break her
fall.  And yet, turning back would be ...

"All right," she said.  "First question.  Why did you disappear like
that in Crystal Tokyo, right when things started going bad?"

[Right when Princess Usagi died,] she did not say.  Or perhaps, [Right
when we needed you.]

Sadako only lifted an eyebrow.  "Now you've disappointed me," she said.
"You should have worked that out for yourself, long ago."

"I should --?  No; never mind.  Just answer the question, okay?"

"Itsuko," Sadako said patiently.  "What was the enemy's great power?
What was it that made it so dangerous?"

"Well -- those monsters, the crystites.  Ami-chan worked out that it
could control anything crystal."

"Indeed.  Tell me, then: perhaps you remember my staff?"

Itsuko glared.  "What is this, twenty questions?  Of course I remember
it.  Big thing, shaped like a key."

"And at the top of the staff?"

"Eh?  There was that big, what was it, a garnet -- _oh_."

"Oh," repeated Sadako sarcastically.  "Yes.  A crystal.  And if I had
stayed, if the enemy had gained control over my staff, then ... do you
really think it wise to give it access to the Gates of Time?"

Itsuko snorted.  "You're right, dammit.  I _should_ have worked that out
for myself.  How could I -- wait a minute."  She gave Sadako a sharp
look.  "You disappeared right _before_ the enemy attacked.  As if you
knew what was going to happen."

Sadako's expression did not change at all, but she did not answer for a
long time.  At last she said, very quietly, "Yes."

"And you didn't say anything."

Another long pause.  Then Sadako said, "There was no time, Itsuko; there
was simply no time.  It had been so long -- by the time I remembered,
realised what was happening ... it was too late.  The only chance I had
was to escape, and even that much was ... a close call."

"But you do know what caused the disaster."

"Yes."

"And who the enemy is."

"... Yes."

Itsuko hesitated for a moment, almost afraid of what she was about to
hear.  But there was no going back; not now.  She had a princess to
avenge, and a queen.

"Tell me," she said.

Sadako gave her a weary look.  "I'll tell you if you insist.  But think
carefully before you ask, Itsuko.  This is something you must not share
with the other Senshi."

"Why not --?  No; never mind."  Itsuko bit her lip for a moment.  Then
her eyes hardened.  [Serenity.  Usagi-chan.]  "Tell me," she repeated.

And Sadako told her.  The whole, long, damnable story.

                                  --**--

Later, they sat on a wooden bench, looking across a narrow strip of
water toward the marina.  It was nearly lunch-time, and a few early
leavers were puttering about in their boats.  Gulls wheeled and cried
overhead.  The breeze had picked up a little.

"So," said Itsuko.

Sadako said, "Yes."  She did not look at Itsuko.

"And the others can't be told because --"

"They would want to attack.  You know they would.  No matter what we
told them, sooner or later they would attack the enemy directly ... and
they would not stand the slightest chance."

"I suppose so."  Itsuko clenched her fists.  "I want to attack, myself.
Only I'm not sure who: the enemy, or ... you."

Sadako shrugged.  "It's been said before," she admitted.

"I wish I'd kept my mouth shut, now.  I wish you hadn't told me."

"Knowing too much is never a comfort."  A grim smile.  "Just ask
Cassandra."

"Who?"

"... Never mind."  She gave Itsuko a long, cool look.  "You know the
stakes now, at least.  You know what I've been working toward.  I trust
you'll tell me if you see any possibilities I may have overlooked."

Itsuko returned her look, fire for ice.  "You hate it, don't you?
Having to ... open up like this."  A moment later she added, "Having to
ask for help."

Something in the other woman's eyes hardened.  "You would not be my
first choice of confidante, true," Sadako said.  "If circumstances were
otherwise."

"Yeah.  'If.'  You're working with a lot of 'if's, Setsuna-chan."

Shrug.  "Inevitably."

Itsuko held her gaze for a moment longer; then, satisfied that she had
finally gotten under Sadako's skin, she let herself back off.  "It's
all so risky," she said, her voice softer, more thoughtful.  "The only
chance we have to win --"

"Is to do exactly what they want us to do," Sadako agreed.  "Exactly
what they need in order for _them_ to win.  I'm not unaware of the
irony.  But --"  she sighed.  "I cannot see another way.  I was hoping
that you could."

"You must be joking.  You unload all this on me, then ask me what you've
missed?  Give me some time to take it all in, first!"

"Hm."  The Senshi of Time's lips quirked in a faint smile.  "I suppose
so.  A few days, perhaps?"

"At least."  Itsuko's eyes grew distant.  "How much more can you
actually see, anyway?"

Sadako frowned.  "I'm not sure of the exact timeframes.  The last thing
is ... a battle of some kind.  You and I are both there, but the details
are blurred.  It may be a few days away, or a week or two; I can't be
sure.  Not long."

"Sailor Moon?" Itsuko asked, trying to hide the sudden eagerness in her
voice.

"She is there."  Sadako gave her a quick glance.  "And I can't see her
face.  I'm sorry, Itsuko."

"... Damn."

"I think I have an idea, at least, of how there can _be_ a moon princess
in this time, if that helps."

"Mm.  I've had a thought on that, myself.  Something Suzue-san said to
me the other day.  But the idea ... raises some interesting metaphysical
questions."

"Oh?  Do you --"

Sadako broke off as Itsuko's communicator beeped.  Itsuko looked down,
startled, then lifted it up.  "Hello?" she said.  "Artemis, is that
you?"

"How'd you know?" the cat's voice said ironically.  "Itsuko, are you
okay?  You made it out all right?"

"Me?  Yes, Setsuna-chan picked me up.  I'd been worried about _you_."

There was no reply for a moment.  Then, "Setsuna?  Huh.  I suppose that
figures."

Sadako raised one eyebrow, and gave a rather satisfied smile.

"I'm okay," the cat continued.  "Had a little trouble, but -- well,
that's over now.  I'll tell you about it later.  Itsuko ... what are you
going to do?  It would be dangerous to go back to the Olympus --"

Itsuko cut him off, her face darkening.  "I know," she said.  "Don't
worry about it.  I have other ... alternatives."

"Are you sure --?"

"Yes," she snapped.  "Miyo may not like it much, but --"  She broke off
suddenly.  "Oh, _no_."

"What?"

"Artemis, I'll talk to you later.  I have to go now."  She stabbed at
the communicator, shutting it off before he could reply.  Immediately,
she pressed another button.

"What is it?" asked Sadako.

"Miyo," she said tersely.  "If those bastards knew who I am, they've
probably worked out who she is too.  I've got to warn her!"


                             ****************


It was still a little before noon, and Miyo was in class when her
communicator beeped.  Everyone turned to stare at her.  The teacher's
glare could have melted cold steel.

She made a feeble excuse and left the classroom, her face crimson.
Dhiti and Kin gave her knowing smiles as she went, and she hoped, just
for a moment, that it was another monster attack so that Dhiti would
have to think of an excuse too.

The trouble was, Dhiti would manage without blinking an eye.  Half the
teachers had given up listening to the girl anyway.

Out in the corridor, she ducked quickly into a quiet alcove and tapped
her communicator.  To her surprise, Itsuko was the caller.

"What is it?" she asked.  "An attack?"

"No," Itsuko said.  "Miyo, you're in school?"  Miyo nodded, startled.
"Get out of there.  Now."

"-- What?"

"Hurry!"

Bewildered, Miyo stepped out of her alcove and started down the corridor
toward the stairs.  As she went, she said, "Itsuko-chan, what --"

"Just listen!" the white-haired woman insisted.  "Keep your eyes open.
If anyone tries to stop you, be ready to run."

"Itsuko, what's _wrong_?"  Seriously worried now, Miyo began to move
faster.  On the tiny communicator screen, she could just see someone
else over Itsuko's shoulder.  Who?

"They found me, Miyo.  They tried to arrest me.  A team from 'S'
Division ... no, never mind, I'll explain later.  Miyo, they knew who I
am.  If they know about me, they might know about you, too!  You've got
to get out of there!"

"'S' Division?"  That made no sense.  "They tried to _arrest_ you?"

"They had some kind of crazy story -- it doesn't matter now.  Look,
concentrate on getting clear, okay?"  Miyo caught another glimpse of
the person behind Itsuko and realised, startled, that it was Setsuna.
So she _was_ still alive.

"Don't you think you're overreacting?" she asked.  In truth, Itsuko
sounded on the point of panic; but it seemed like a bad idea to say so.
She kept moving at a brisk pace, down the stairs and then out of the
building.

"Miyo ... don't you see?"  It was hard to make out on the tiny screen,
but she thought Itsuko looked apologetic.  "I'm on the run.  I have to
leave the Olympus.  And that means you can't stay there either --
especially not if they know you're Jupiter.

"I'm sorry, Miyo; I really am.  But I have to go ... and you're going to
have to come with me."


                             ****************


"The address you gave her," said Sadako a few minutes later.  They were
back in her car, driving methodically south through a maze of suburban
streets.  "You do have a place to go, then?"

"What?" said Itsuko, distracted.  "Oh.  Yes.  I have a bolt-hole; had it
for years.  I learned that a long time ago."  She made a face.  "I
suppose you do the same, right?"

Sadako smiled cryptically, but did not reply.

"Yeah.  Well, it's not much; just a run-down old house.  And it's not
really ready, and the cover ID is pretty thin ... but at least I have
somewhere to sleep."

"You'd be welcome to stay with me until you can get your feet on the
ground, if you wish," Sadako told her quietly.

"I --"  Itsuko shot her a quick look.  "Thanks, but I don't think it's
necessary.  What I've got should hold up."  With a sigh, she added, "At
least for a little while."

"As you like."

Itsuko glanced at her again.  There was a ghost of a smile on her lips
as she said, "Anyway, I don't think you really want me there -- any
more than I want to go.  We're not exactly the most ... compatible of
personalities, are we?"

Sadako raised one eyebrow.  "If you say so," she murmured.

"And _that's_ exactly what I'm talking about!" Itsuko snapped.  "Damn
it, if I did try staying with you -- within a week, I swear, I'd be
stark raving mad, or trying to kill you.  Or both."

Unexpectedly, the Senshi of Time laughed, a low, throaty chuckle.  "It's
a talent I have," Setsuna said.

"It's a wall, you mean," Itsuko retorted.  "And you never let it down,
do you?  You always have to keep your damned distance.  When was the
last time you actually let anyone in?  Was it Haruka and Michiru?  Or
Hotaru?"

The silence that met her remark was shattering, and finally she realised
what she had said.  "Oh," she whispered.  "I -- I'm sorry ..."

"There was also," Sadako said coldly, "a queen."

"I --"  She searched for words.  "I know," she said at last, in a low
voice.  "We all let her in, didn't we?"  Unbidden, something Suzue had
said came back to her -- [For more than two thousand years now ...] --
and she winced.

"I'm sorry," she repeated.

"It doesn't matter."  Sadako's face remained set in stone.  "There can
be little you could say to me that I have not heard many, many times
before."

"And the wall goes up again," Itsuko said softly.  "Setsuna-chan ...
Sadako ... Don't you ever just get _tired_ of it?  Of shutting yourself
away from everyone?  Always being on the outside?"

"Itsuko.  Rei."  For a moment she thought Sadako was mocking her; but
for a moment, there was a softer, thoughtful look in those red eyes.
"You of all people know how many reasons there can be to hold yourself
apart."

"But you didn't always, did you?  In Crystal Tokyo, you were relaxed,
friendly ... happy.  I still remember how you helped me, that time."

"Mm."  Sadako's lips quirked briefly; but then she looked away, her eyes
darkening once more.  "And yet it all ended.  Again."

"It didn't end," Itsuko said fiercely.  "It's not over.  Not yet."

"No?"  They drove in silence, each alone in her thoughts for a little.
At last Sadako sighed and said, "Perhaps you're right.  Letting go ...
can be difficult.  Of ideas, as well as other things."

"Just remember that we're all here.  We'll be your friends ... if you'll
let us."

"I'll remember."  The green-haired woman hesitated, then said, "I may
need the help, to tell the truth.  Not now, but ... sometime in the
future."

Itsuko looked at her quickly.  "What's wrong?" she asked.  "You mean,
with losing your ... your foresight?"

"Not that.  Well, perhaps that, too."  Sadako frowned, chewing her lip
briefly.  It was as uncertain as Itsuko had ever seen her.  At last she
said, "Someone -- or something -- is hunting me."

"Hunting!"  Itsuko stared.  "Who?"

"I have no idea; not who, or why.  Just, every now and then, a glimpse,
as if through a darkened window, of a net, slowing weaving itself around
me."  She shivered suddenly.  "There's something insidious ... almost
obsessive about it.  It's quite unnerving."

"A net ..."  Itsuko understood the reference to a darkened window, all
too well.  Her own glimpses of the future, in the fire or in dreams,
could be every bit as elusive.

"Yes.  The hunter is being quite clever, actually.  He is surrounding
himself with, well, with _me_.  I see a recurring image of a room full
of pictures.  Images, memories, even dreams ... every kind of psychic
cue; and there's just enough of a snatch of talent there to bind it all
together.  He is building a web of causality that, in the end, may well
draw me to him.  And when that happens ..."  Sadako shook her head.  "I
don't know.  I don't know."

"You said 'he'?"

"I could be mistaken; but it has that feel to it, yes."

"I could look in the fire for you, if you want," Itsuko offered.  "See
if I can make out any--  Oh, _no_."

"What?"

Itsuko did not answer.  Instead she began to swear, violently, profanely
and at great length.  Her eyes blazed; the air about her almost seemed
to smoulder.  "Damn them," she finished at last.  "Oh, damn them, those
misbegotten pismires!"

"What is it?" repeated Sadako patiently.

"The sacred fire!" Itsuko cried out.  "Damn them all, they've made me
lose the sacred fire!"


                             ****************


Artemis checked that nobody was watching and leaped nimbly down out of
his tree.  He glanced around to orient himself, pondered for a moment,
and then headed toward Dhiti's house.

The sky was bright and clear, and the pavement was hot beneath his paws.
The street was nearly empty of traffic.  None of it really registered.
Instead, as he trotted along, he became lost in thought.

Itsuko was going to have to move.  There could be no doubt about that.
He wondered, though, if she had seen all the implications yet.  He
wanted to discuss it with her, but she had sounded quite agitated when
she'd cut him off.

For a start, if she left the Olympus, Miyo would have to go with her.
Artemis had no idea why 'S' Division thought that Itsuko had been
dealing with the Sankaku -- unless the attempted kidnapping of Iku last
week was related -- but it was a sure bet that they'd guess Miyo was a
Senshi.  They might or might not connect her with the Sankaku as well.
It hardly mattered; with Itsuko gone, Miyo could scarcely stay on at the
Olympus.

Having to move was going to cause problems, though.  Itsuko would
probably have to take a new alias.  That was nothing unfamiliar; since
the re-founding of Tokyo he'd known her as Izumi, Yuko and Junko.  But
would Miyo need a new name, too?  It would make it hard for her to see
her friends again -- and Artemis was beginning to realise how big a blow
that would be to both her and Dhiti.  However, if 'S' Division really
did start hunting Miyo, they would be certain to watch her friends; and
that put Dhiti's identity as Mercury at risk as well.

Damn it all, was there _anything_ that wasn't going to be turned upside
down by this?  The whole ability of the Senshi team to work together
could be on the line!

If only he had a better idea of what 'S' Division were planning.

If only ...

And then, suddenly, he remembered the van.

That blasted van, the one that had been parked behind the Olympus.  The
van that Bendis had said was full of computer gear, that sounded like a
mobile base of some kind.  He had seen it, just an hour or two ago!  The
'S' Division agents had been climbing out of it, on their way in to
arrest Itsuko.

He knew where it was parked.

He started to run.

                                  --**--

The van was gone.

The street where it had been parked was empty.  Artemis approached the
spot and sniffed it, to no avail.  He stood there for some time,
disappointment sharp in his mind.  He had been counting on the van; he
had hoped to learn so much --

An odd thought came to him.  He considered it for a little, and then
decided to take a calculated risk.

He headed back to the Olympus.  The building was only a few blocks away;
just a minute or two to a cat.  And there, sure enough, was the van --
parked exactly where it had been previously, in the alley behind the
building.  He stared at it, suddenly furious.  The _gall_ of them!

The doors and windows were all closed.  He circled the van a few times,
pondering the situation, burning to get inside; even, for a moment,
considering taking human shape to do it.  Then a movement caught his
eye.  Hastily he scrambled up into a recessed window ledge, just above
the van, to watch.

A woman came down the alley, a large cardboard box in her arms.  He
recognised her after a second: the pale, skinny one who had been with
the other 'S' Division agents.  She put the box down to unlock the van,
then loaded the box in the rear.  Artemis saw that there were a number
of other boxes in there already.

They were stripping Itsuko's offices, he realised.  Taking all her
papers ... probably taking everything they could find.  Just in case
there was something there that could lead them to the big bad Sankaku
agent.

The woman started to close the rear door again, then paused as a man
started to follow her down the alley.  The newcomer was carrying three
boxes at once, and he was having a tough time balancing them.

[Typical male,] Artemis thought, not unaware of the irony.

The top box slipped.  The man tried frantically to recover, but without
success.  The box hit the ground and burst open, spilling out a pile of
folders and loose papers.  They were caught by the breeze immediately,
and began to flutter across the road.  The woman sprinted to help.

Artemis seized his chance.  While they were busy he sprang down from the
ledge, landing lightly on the van's rear step and ducking inside before
they looked up.  He glanced around hastily for somewhere to hide, then
squeezed underneath a low shelf.

Most people not familiar with cats would be surprised at how small a
space one of them can fit into.

He lay there, taking quick, shallow breaths, and waited.  Before long he
heard the man and the woman finish picking up the spilled documents and
load them into the van.  Other footsteps approached.  He heard voices
outside, too muffled to make out.  The van's front doors opened; people
climbed in.

The van doors closed, and the engine hummed to life.  They started to
move.

Artemis wondered if he had made a big mistake.


                             ****************


The car moved on in silence for some time.  After a little Sadako said
cautiously, "Forgive me if I'm being ignorant.  You can't just light
another fire?"

"And damn you as well," Itsuko hissed.  "_You_ should know better.  That
flame has been burning for over two thousand years, and you think it can
be _replaced_?"

"Itsuko --"

"That's my _life_ back there!"

Sadako glared back at her.  "What would you have me do, then?" she asked
coldly.  "Take you back to fight them all over again?  You could not win
unless I transformed to help you, and I won't do that."

"And why not?  If you --"  Itsuko stopped suddenly.  Her eyes widened.
"You -- you can still transform?"

"Certainly."

"I ... thought you were like me.  I thought --"  She clenched her fists,
her face twisted into a mask of self-loathing.  "Oh, gods, gods, is
_everything_ I thought wrong?"

"Itsuko."  Sadako's voice held nothing but sympathy, the growing anger
of moments before forgotten.  "I'm sorry, truly.  But you have to let it
go.  There's no going back."

"Easy for you to say.  Two thousand years, Setsuna-chan!  Could you just
walk away from that?"  Then Itsuko snorted.  "What am I saying?  You
probably _have_, haven't you?"

"Once or twice."  There was a hard glint in the woman's eye; but she
only went on, "Let me repeat: is this so very important?  I realise how
long you've tended that flame, and just how much of an emotional
investment you have in it."  Itsuko tried to interrupt, but Sadako went
on.  "All the same, surely fire is fire.  Is it worth your life?  Would
it be so ... inadequate for you to simply light a new one?"

"Oh, Setsuna-chan."  Itsuko tried to muster her scattered concentration.
It felt as if she were talking to Suzue again.  She took a deep breath
and managed to speak calmly.  "All right.  Ignore the question of the
kami of the flame.  It's an important point; but ignore it for now.
Instead, consider this.  You must know how much of religious ritual is
symbolic: a way to centre the mind and focus the spirit.  Prayers;
chanting; the sound of the bells; the temple building itself; all of
them are symbols to concentrate the mind."

Sadako frowned.  "All right.  Then --"

"Well, Setsuna-chan," Itsuko interrupted, "a flame that has been burning
for over two thousand years is a _very powerful symbol_."

For a moment, there was only silence.

"I ... see."  With an odd, almost disappointed look, Sadako said, "Is
that it, then?  You need to get it back as a focus for your psychic
vision?"

Itsuko sighed.  "No, of course not.  I need to get it back out of
respect for the kami.  I need to get it back because _I_ believe, even
if you don't."  Her voice had begun to rise.  "And I need to get it back
because my grandfather and his forefathers before him have been tending
that flame for generations; and whether the temple itself is gone or
not, still I am the last priestess of the Hikawa Shrine and I will _not_
fail in my duty!"

There was a long silence.  It was broken by the sound of clapping.

Itsuko looked around at Sadako, surprised, to see the other woman
putting her hands back on the steering bar.  "Bravo," Sadako said
softly.

She felt herself flush.  "What --"

"You had me worried, Itsuko-chan, with your talk of symbols and focus.
Do you think I don't know what faith means?  Do you think _I_ don't know
what it means to hold to one's duty?"

"I --"  Itsuko had to look away.  "Of course not."

"Of course not," Sadako repeated ironically.  "But I'm glad that _you_
remember."  She shook her head slowly.  "I truly had not realised that
the fire meant so much to you.  Yet at the same time --"  She paused,
and her voice became a little wistful.  "It is ... oddly comforting."

They drove in silence for a minute.  Then Itsuko said, in a quiet,
reflective tone, "It did go out, a couple of times.  When I was young.
I remember Grandpa saying it was a bad omen ... I always swore to myself
that I'd never let it happen again, no matter what.  And since then ..."

Sadako said, "How long do you have?  Before it burns out?"

Itsuko glanced at her quickly.  She muttered something inaudible.

"Excuse me?  I didn't quite catch that."

Another mutter.

"Itsuko --"

"I said it won't burn out, okay?" Itsuko snapped.  "Damn it ... how do
you _think_ I managed to keep a fire burning in a gymnasium without
anyone noticing the smoke?"

"Eh?"  Sadako's eyes widened.  "You don't mean --"

"It's gas, all right?  It's a gas fire.  Go ahead and laugh."

Sadako's face twitched, but she did not laugh ... quite.  "How very
traditional," she murmured.

"Oh, shut up.  I told you the importance was symbolic, didn't I?  And
flame is flame."  Itsuko could feel her face burning.

"And the kami?"

"Hasn't complained to _me_.  Look, can we change the damn subject?"

"Certainly."

Again, the car moved in silence for a while.  At last Itsuko said, "You
must think I'm an idiot."

Sadako chuckled.  "I think you're human.  That's not a bad thing to be,
you know."

"So I've been told."  A moment later, Itsuko went on, "I still remember,
you know.  How you helped me before, with the -- you know."

"Mm.  That was a long time ago."

Back in the founding days of Crystal Tokyo, it had been.  The Great Ice
had swallowed the world for centuries, and the Hikawa Shrine had not
escaped.  The sacred fire had been quenched, the long tradition broken
at last.  Until, not long after the ending of the Ice, Rei had gone to
Setsuna and asked an enormous favour; and, for a wonder, the Senshi of
Time had agreed.  They picked a moment when they would not be disturbed,
stepped into the past, and brought back a firepot -- and the sacred fire
burned once more.

Had the tradition been broken, then, or merely interrupted?  Reason said
one thing; faith, another.  But the fire that burned in Crystal Tokyo
was unquestionably the same that had burned in Rei's youth, a thousand
years before.  Paradox or no, it was enough.

Itsuko smiled at the memory.  "I was always a little surprised that you
said yes," she admitted.

With a sigh, Sadako said, "You would have been unhappy without it."

Itsuko blinked.  "What?"

"And if you were unhappy, Queen Serenity would have been unhappy."

"Wait a minute.  You mean the queen --"

"The queen," Sadako said heavily, "suggested to me that she did not want
you to be unhappy.  All right?"

For a long time, Itsuko did not reply.  "I never knew," she said at
last.

"You were not supposed to."

"I --"  She could not think what to say.  "Thank you."

"It's okay."  The car slowed as Sadako looked over at her.  "They won't
keep watching the building forever, Itsuko-chan.  You have time.  We'll
find a way to get the fire back.  All right?"

"I know."  Itsuko made a brief, impatient gesture.  "I just wish ..."

"If I were to take you back there now, we would probably have to fight.
But if I do that -- if I fight them for you as Sailor Pluto -- it will
bring the Senshi into direct, active conflict with the security forces
of Third Tokyo.  It will be a declaration of war against the government.
Do you really think that would be wise?"

"I ... no.  Of course not."

After a moment Itsuko added, "Forgive me if I can't be quite as detached
about it as you."


                             ****************


The 'S' Division van hummed its way through the streets of Third Tokyo.
Inside, wedged under a low set of shelves, Artemis felt every bump in
the road that they passed over.

It was hard to breathe, his spine was killing him, he needed to pee, and
the damned agents weren't even talking much.  So far, his brilliant idea
had been a total bust.  He wondered how much more of this he could
stand.

For at least the twentieth time, he tried to stretch a little without
making any noise.  Why couldn't the shelves have been a little higher?
Half a centimetre would have been enough.  Didn't anyone design their
vans with cats in mind?

[I sound like Bendis,] he thought giddily.

The van rounded a corner a little too fast, and the tyres squealed in
protest.  "Slow down," said a man's voice from the front.  "There's no
rush.  Not any more."

Artemis recognised the voices.  He had heard them all earlier, while
lying wrapped up in that damned net.

"That's not what you said before," came a second voice.  Aoiro, the
blond, lantern-jawed one.

"We're well away from the building," said the first voice, Captain
Hiiro.  "Even if Pappa-san comes back with her friends, she's too late."

Under his shelf, Artemis blinked.  [Pappa-san?!]  He tried to imagine
Itsuko's face if she heard them calling her that.  Even in his current
situation, the idea went a long way toward cheering him up.

Then he realised what else they were saying.  [If Pappa-san comes back
with her friends ...]  They wanted to be away from the Olympus, in case
she returned.  They were afraid of her.  They were actually _afraid_ of
her!

He hoped Itsuko was sensible enough to stay away.

"We don't even know that she's working with the others," said Kuroi's
voice.

"Can you take the chance that she _isn't_?" said Hiiro.  "She's got two
girls staying with her, for heaven's sake, and neither of them is
family.  That's too much of a coincidence.  What are the odds that
they're --?"

"Well, we know one of them is clean," said Aoiro.

"The hell we do!" snarled Kuroi.  "Oh, wait, you mean the one you
mugged.  Yeah, big man, Aoiro."

"I did not mug --"

"Same difference."

"The hell it is!"

"Enough," cut in Hiiro sharply.  "Lay off, Ryozo.  Save it for the bad
guys."

"Yeah, yeah."

A fourth voice -- Mitsukai -- said, "If only there _were_ any bad guys."

Aoiro started to reply, but Hiiro cut him off.  "Enough, I said!" he
ordered.  "Bad guys or not, we have a job to do.  Let's keep this
professional, people."

That seemed to kill the conversation.  The other three shut up, and the
van droned on in silence.

Artemis tried to work out what they were talking about.  Two girls, and
a girl who had been mugged?  Miyo had to be one of the girls, but who
was --?  Then he remembered the Aizawa girl.  He had never actually met
her, but she slept over at the Olympus sometimes.  And hadn't there been
an incident, weeks ago, when Itsuko had found her unconscious?

Slowly, he put the pieces together.  Aizawa had been attacked by a
burglar and drugged.  The next day, Itsuko had discovered that her desk
had been bugged.

Dear gods, had these people suspected Itsuko for _that_ long?

"Hey, boss," said Kuroi in a mocking tone.  "Speaking of professional,
what happened to Kitada?  He's been a long time calling in."

"Good point," said Hiiro.  "Mitsukai, check it out, will you?  They may
be holding him up at headquarters."

"Right."  Artemis heard somebody moving, and then Mitsukai began
speaking in a low voice; over a commset, he realised.  But he did not
want to think about Kitada, that foolishly brave young man.  He tried to
ignore Mitsukai and concentrate on the others.

"So what happens with Pappa-san now?" asked Aoiro.  "Think we'll be kept
on the case?"

"After the botch job we've made of it so far," said Hiiro darkly, "we'll
be lucky not to end up handing out leaflets for 'I' Division."  More
thoughtfully, he added, "It depends.  She's on the run, now; she'll be
more vulnerable.  It gives us some options."

"I suppose we'll follow up on the other girl?  Hayashi?"

Hiiro did not answer for a little.  Then, in a curiously thoughtful
tone, he said, "I'm told that Lieutenant Chairo has been assigned to
check her background."

"Chairo!"  It sounded as though Kuroi was about to explode.  Then he
broke off.  When he continued, it was with a subtle note of respect.
"That Colonel Shiro.  He's a sly one."

"Indeed.  Nobody could ever accuse Chairo of being incompetent."

"Hell, no.  He'll give them the most thorough check they've ever seen."
Kuroi started to laugh.  "In a few months' time."

Aoiro said, "So you think the colonel has ... doubts ... about arresting
Pappa-san, then?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about, Captain."  Hiiro's voice was
suddenly flat and clear.  "To my knowledge, Colonel Shiro has never
shown anything but the highest dedication to his duty.  If he had
concerns about hunting moon cats, or Senshi, or Pappa-san or anyone
else, he would certainly never allow it to affect his loyalties."

"Er ... yes."

"_Understand_?"

Artemis could almost hear the salute in Aoiro's voice.  "Yes, sir."

"Good."  Just as suddenly, Hiiro's voice relaxed again.  "Now ...
Mitsukai, have you heard anything back about our missing Irregular yet?"

"Yes, Captain," the woman answered.  "Ah ... headquarters say they
haven't seen him.  He never arrived there."

For a few seconds there was only the sound of the van's engine.  Then
Hiiro said, "Well, this day just keeps getting better and better,
doesn't it?"


                             ****************


The car passed through a small shopping district and Itsuko became more
animated, watching their route carefully.  After a little she said, "Can
you head left here?  There's something I have to pick up."

Sadako turned left obediently, and for the next minute or two Itsuko
gave her directions.  At last they pulled to a halt at a small charging
station.  Itsuko got out of the car and said, "Hold on.  I'll just be a
moment."  She disappeared into the station office.

While she waited, Sadako got out of the car herself and thoughtfully
plugged in a charging cable.  Her car's battery was not very low, and it
did not take long for the meter to trip.  She unplugged the cable and
went inside to pay.

She handed her credit chit to the attendant and looked around the room,
ignoring his attempt at small talk.  A typical checkout office; racks of
automotive components, magazines and junk food.  She noted with interest
that there was no sign of Itsuko.

As the attendant was passing her chit back, a door at the rear opened
and Itsuko came out.  There was a small leather satchel under her arm;
it looked fairly full.  She paused for an instant as she saw Sadako.
Then she turned to the attendant and said, "Thank you, Asano-san."  He
bobbed his head jerkily in reply and Itsuko strode out of the office.

Sadako followed her a few seconds later, humming an ancient tune under
her breath.  She got into the car and drove out of the station,
carefully not noticing the angry look Itsuko was giving her.  After a
little, she said, "Your emergency kit, I assume?"

"Yes," Itsuko said shortly.  She opened the satchel and rummaged around,
pulling out a sheaf of papers.

"And should I still call you 'Itsuko'?"

Itsuko sighed.  "I suppose not."  She flicked through the papers and
produced a driver's license.  "The name on this is Hiyama Seki, but I
don't dare rely on it for too long.  I'll have to replace it when I
can."

"Be careful.  'S' Division may be looking out for things like that."

A pause.  "I hadn't thought of that.  Yes, you're right."  She swore
under her breath.  "This is going to get expensive."

"Had you considered doing anything about your appearance?  Your hair is
rather distinc--  Oh."  As Sadako was speaking, Itsuko pulled two more
items out of the satchel: a pair of glasses, and a wig.  "Oh, dear."

"Yes?" said Itsuko dangerously.  "You have something to say?"

"No.  No.  I --"

Sadako stared at her for a moment longer.  Then she pulled over to the
side of the road and leaned over the car's steering bar, her head in her
arms.  She began to laugh helplessly.

Itsuko ignored her.  She turned the rear-view mirror around so that she
could see herself and fitted the wig in haughty silence.  The hair was
straight and black, tied back in a pony-tail.  The glasses were
round-framed and tinted a pale yellow, and -- though the lenses surely
had to be plain glass -- somehow seemed to magnify her eyes.  She
examined herself in the mirror, nodded once, and then turned to Sadako.
"Well?" she demanded.

Sadako looked back at her.  "You -- you look like an owl."  She started
to laugh again.

"Thank you so much.  I'd never have picked you for a comedian,
Setsuna-chan."  Her words were acid, but after a moment Itsuko softened.
"Look, this is how the neighbours at my bolt-hole know me, all right?
If you can't keep a straight face, let me out here and I'll get a taxi
the rest of the way."

"No, no."  Sadako wiped her eyes.  "I'll be good.  I wouldn't miss this
for anything."

"Lovely."  Itsuko scowled at her, then wrenched the rear-view mirror
back into position with rather more force than necessary.  "All right.
The address is --"

"I remember.  You told Miyo earlier."

Sadako started the car again and drove off briskly.  They headed back
through the shopping district, the way they had come.  After a minute
Sadako said casually, "It's quite close to the mall, isn't it?"

"Eh?"

"The address you gave.  It's quite close to that mall; the one that got
wrecked last night."

Itsuko tried to remember.  "Oh ... about five or six blocks away, I
suppose.  I hadn't really considered --"  She gave Sadako a sharp look.
"You don't think ...?"

"No, no.  I'm sure it's just a coincidence.  Quite convenient, though,
don't you think?  That your new place is nice and handy to where all the
action is happening."

"But I found that house more than eight years ago.  It couldn't possibly
be ..."  Itsuko trailed off.  "Coincidence?"

Sadako shrugged.  "I thought it was interesting.  That's all."

Itsuko nodded, but the troubled look did not leave her face.

They drove for a minute or two more, leaving the main roads.  At last
Sadako turned into a narrow street, lined with trees, that wound its way
along the side of a hill.  She pulled to a halt in front of an
old-fashioned brick house.

It was small, only one storey, and had a rather shabby air.  The yellow
paint on the window frames and door was faded and peeling, and the front
yard was unkempt and overgrown.  Most of one wall was covered with ivy.
In spite of it all, the building looked to be in reasonably good repair.

The two climbed out of the car, and Sadako was immediately struck by the
quietness of the street.  Above them, the trees stretched over their
heads, branches almost meeting above the centre of the road.  They
seemed to soak up all sound.  There was a distant murmur of traffic from
the main roads, several blocks away, but nearby there was only the sound
of the breeze, lifting a cloud of leaves from the roadside, and the
calling of birds in the trees.

Itsuko walked to the front gate and paused, hunting about in her
satchel, before bringing out a set of keys.  Behind her, Sadako looked
around curiously.  The sound of the birds was getting closer --

Then they burst out of the trees: a pair of ravens, huge and black,
calling out harshly as they spiralled down to perch on the roof above
the front door.

Itsuko froze for a moment, her hand still on the gate, looking up at the
birds.  They stared back at her, their heads cocked to one side, their
black eyes unfathomable.  A faint smile crossed Itsuko's face.  Then she
moved on, up the path to the front door.

With a loud clatter of wings, the ravens took to the air again and flew
back into the trees, cawing raucously.  When Sadako looked back, though,
they were still there, peering out through the branches, watching her
intently.  No, not watching her; watching Itsuko.

"Those surely cannot be Deimos and Phobos ... can they?" Sadako asked
quietly.

Itsuko glanced back at her.  She smiled again, small and secretive.
"Ask me no questions," she said, "I'll tell you no lies."

Before Sadako could reply, she indicated the front door and said, "Do
you want to come in for a moment?"

Sadako considered.  She had intended to offer further help.  But --

"Perhaps I had better not," she said slowly.  "Miyo will probably arrive
before long.  And she is likely to ask ... the same questions you did."

Itsuko's eyes narrowed.  "Yes, I see your point," she replied.  "We
certainly wouldn't want things to get awkward, would we?  Never mind
that she'd be glad to see you.  Never mind that --"

"Itsuko."

"Seki," she said rebelliously.

"-- Seki-san," Sadako said.

"I -- oh, all right.  All _right_!"  Itsuko sighed.  "I do understand;
really.  I just don't like it."

"Nor do I."  The look in Sadako's eyes was old and inexpressibly weary.
"Sometimes what we do not like cannot be helped."

"You think I don't know that?  Still -- we're keeping things from them,
Setsuna-chan.  Even lying to them, in a way, and I ... I wanted to
believe I'd never do that.  I just wish I knew if it'll be worth it.  If
we even have a chance."

Sadako nodded.  "And yet," she said, "there is hope.  What was the line?
'All will be well, and all will be well; and all manner of things will
be well.'"

"Julian of Norwich."  Itsuko raised her eyebrows.  "But do you believe
it?"

Sadako hesitated.  At last she said, "Let us hope so."


                             ****************


Artemis waited for several minutes after the van stopped moving and he
heard the humans depart.  Then, with some effort, he struggled out from
under the shelf.

The rear doors of the van were closed, but one of the front windows had
been left half-open and he managed to slip through, landing lightly on a
concrete floor.

He looked around cautiously.  He was standing in a car park, filled with
dozens of vehicles of all descriptions.  The only light came from dim
electric tubes in the ceiling, suggesting that he was underground.  The
area was almost silent.  He was alone.

He found a dark corner and took care of certain urgent business.  Then
he began to prowl around the park, sniffing experimentally at cars and
trying to work out where he was.  The people in the van had mentioned
"headquarters."  If so, he might be in the middle of 'S' Division.

[Great,] he thought.

A door opened somewhere, and he heard footsteps approaching.  He hid
under a car and watched as two people walked past.

"Figures he'd lose the damn cat," a voice grumbled.  Artemis recognised
the speaker: Kuroi.  "Damn it, why do we have to be saddled with an
Irregular at a time like this?  Couldn't they give us someone
competent?"

"Just the other day, you were saying he seemed pretty promising," came
Hiiro's voice lightly.

"Not me.  Must have been some other guy."

"Sure.  Well, we'll see what he has to say when we get to the hospital."
Hiiro's legs paused, and Kuroi halted a few steps later.  "I'm a little
more concerned about the other thing," Hiiro said.

"Do we have any choice?" asked Kuroi.  For a moment, the usual tight
rasp of his voice softened.

"Maybe.  I have a friend in 'Q' Division.  He may be able to help -- off
the record."

"'Q'?"  Kuroi sounded half-amused, half-contemptuous.  "You're getting
into blue-sky stuff there, Yoichi."

"I know.  It can't be helped.  If he can give us an edge ..."

Hiiro stared moving again, and Kuroi followed.  Seconds later, Artemis
heard them climb into a vehicle -- it sounded like a car, not a van --
and then drive off.

He remained where he was for a little, considering.  It sounded as
though the young man, Kitada, had survived.  That was good.  But he
could not make head or tail of Hiiro's cryptic remark about 'Q'
Division.  There was no such government section.  What had the man
meant?

At last, none the wiser, he emerged from under the car and resumed
searching the car park for a way out.  A ramp led up to more levels, and
he followed it hopefully.

The top level was open to the sky and was filled, not with cars, but
with Opals.  He watched them suspiciously for a minute and wondered if
any of these had been the ones that chased him, back when he was still
travelling with Bendis.  Then, forcing himself to relax, he went to the
outer wall and looked over.

It was a fair distance to the ground -- three or four storeys -- but
there were places here and there where a cat could get a footing.  A
human could never have done it.  Slowly and carefully, he made his way
down.

Once he was safely on terra firma again, Artemis looked around quickly,
working out where he was and memorising the location ... just in case.
 From the outside, it appeared to be a perfectly ordinary office building
in the central business district.  There was even a sign, clearly
labelling it as 'S' Division.

Feeling somehow cheated, he started the long walk back to Dhiti's house.
He did not try to hurry; he had a lot to think about.


                             ****************


Sadako left, finally, and Itsuko was alone at last.  She had been
grateful for Sadako's help, more grateful than she could have said; but
the day's events, and their implications, were beginning to pile up to
the point where she felt like she was drowning.  She needed time to sort
things out, to settle herself.  She needed to be alone.

She glanced down at the low table in her new living room, at the little
business card lying there.  Sadako's contact details.  The card was
printed with the logo of a company named "Suisho Productions" -- a
riddle, but one that could wait.  She picked it up and tucked it in a
pocket absently.

Too much to think about, too much to do; and it couldn't be long before
Miyo arrived.  Miyo was not going to like the situation, and Itsuko
could not blame her.  There would be explanations, and arguments, and
recriminations.

Even when that was settled, there was still endless work left to do.
There were plans to make.  There was ... there was shopping to be done.
She made a mental note, adding it to dozens of others: the pantry was
nearly empty.

And she was going to need money, a lot of it.  She had some emergency
reserves, squirrelled away under various false names -- in much the same
way that she had had this house -- but they would only stretch so far.
She would need to find a new source of income, quickly.

It might still be possible to draw funds from Pappadopoulos Itsuko's
bank accounts, if 'S' Division hadn't frozen them yet.  Another mental
note.

And her head was already beginning to itch under this damned wig; and
there was no cure for that at all, because it would be a long time
before her own hair grew out long enough to be able to get rid of it.

Her thoughts swam chaotically.  If Pappadopoulos Itsuko had to vanish,
her identity as 'Hiyama Seki' would need to be fleshed out, or replaced.
That took serious money nowadays; a good false identity, one that would
stand up to scrutiny, was hard to come by.  She suddenly realised that
she was going to need documentation for Miyo, too.

There was only one place she knew to get it.  She would have to go to
the fair.

She remembered, with a momentary flash of amusement, Artemis' surprise
and indignation at the idea.  Had it been only a week or so ago?  She
had admitted to him that she occasionally dabbled in Third Tokyo's
underworld.  He accused her, half in jest, of being a wanted criminal.
Oh, the irony!

Visiting one of the black market fairs was a risk, but she did not see
how she could avoid it.  Okuda Jiro might perhaps have been able to help
her with papers, as he had done once before, twenty years ago; but the
revelation that he was Sankaku made it hard to trust him.  She did not
know where to look online for help; computers had never been her forte.
That left few choices.

The fairs were where the underside of society met, host to everything
from innocent barter and exchange to arms and drug dealing.  Itsuko
herself ran a minor smuggling operation: essentially benign, though the
authorities would probably take a dimmer view.  She did it mainly to
keep up contact with a criminal element that she occasionally needed.
For things like identity papers, for example.

If she was honest, she had to admit that she might do it anyway.  There
was a certain vicarious thrill to it: the straight-laced temple girl
playing smuggler.  Undeniably absurd; but still, her pulse raced
whenever she drove the van out with a load of contraband ...

The schedule varied, but there was usually a fair every two or three
weeks, in an ever-rotating location.  She had asked at the charging
station, and the next fair was due tomorrow night -- another
'interesting coincidence,' Sadako might have said.

She rubbed her forehead, wincing.  She was getting a headache.

So many things to keep track of.  New identities -- and other, more
everyday things.  Clothes; she had nothing but what she was wearing.
Toiletries.  Extra bedding.

And what was all this going to do to Miyo?  Would she have to pull the
girl away from school ... and friends?  'S' Division would surely try
to trace her through Miyo.  Yet at the same time, Itsuko could hardly
afford to create a rift in the Senshi.  Was she being selfish?

Perhaps it would be better to go back to the Olympus after all.  To give
herself up.  If it would help the others ...

She sat at the little kitchen table and buried her face in her hands.
She did not know what to do; like Sadako, she could not see the way
forward.  She longed, desperately, to meditate before the sacred fire.
To reach out for clarity of vision and purpose; to purify her soul in
flame.

But the sacred fire was far away, denied to her.  Lost.

And at that thought, unbidden, a memory returned, one she had tried hard
to bury.  A dark time, long ago.  Another day when she had lost
everything --

                                  --**--

After she awoke, 722 years before, in the ruins of the palace in Crystal
Tokyo.

Rei staggered out into the grey morning light of a new age, half-mad
with grief and pain.  Behind her she left the bodies of friends: Minako,
Endymion, Luna, Makoto, Ami.  The others, gone before: Usagi, Haruka,
Michiru.  And, most precious and most loved, the queen, fallen on the
steps of her own palace.

She saw no sign of Artemis or Diana.  Perhaps they had escaped.

She left them all.  There was nothing she could do for their remains,
as injured as she was; no way to give them a fitting repose.  She
could only walk, and grieve.

Her back was a solid, burning knot of fire, and putting weight on her
right leg was agony.  She had several broken ribs, at least.  She spat
blood occasionally.  After a while she found a long, stout stick to
support herself with, and went on.

With every step, she found new reasons for grief.

The city around her was a shattered wreck.  Behind her, the great
crystalline spires of the palace were charred and broken.  Ahead, the
streets were littered with rubble, almost impassible in places.  Fire
had swept across the metropolis.  Many buildings were smouldering ruins;
here and there columns of smoke still rose, thick and black in the dim
light of dawn.  Bodies were everywhere, many of them torn almost to
pieces.  The air was thick with dust and the smell of smoke, fear and
death.  Perhaps worst of all was the silence.  This city, that only two
months before had been filled with life and love and music, was now a
charnel-house, as silent as the grave.  A burial-place for dreams.

And there were the enemy; the crystites.  They, too, were everywhere,
lying silent and motionless.  It looked as though they had simply fallen
over and turned to glass.  Rei kicked one, and it broke into pieces with
a faint clink.  She gave a thin, rusty laugh.

When you wake up and the world has ended around you, what do you do?
Where can you go?  She wandered the streets for an hour or more, filling
her heart and mind with desolation and despair.  As the sun rose, the
sights all around her only grew worse: rack and ruin, outlined against a
clear blue sky.  The pain became too much to bear at last, and she had
to stop.  She sat down beside a fountain that had once been a famous
work of art, but which was now choked with corpses and worse things, and
wondered whether she had the courage to go on.

When you wake up and the world has ended around you, where do you go?
You go home.

The long stairway up Sendai Hill took her nearly two hours to climb.
Each step brought new pain.  Several times on the way, she had to stop
when her head began to swim and she thought she would pass out.  At
last, she stood at the top and looked across the courtyard.

The temple was a disaster.  She almost wept again at the sight of the
beloved old buildings laid waste.  They had been rebuilt with such
devoted care after the end of the Great Ice; and all, all for nothing.

The dead were here, too; hundreds of them.  When disaster had struck,
they had fled to the temple for shelter.  It had not saved them.  The
crystites had come -- to kill, and then die in their turn.  Now, refugee
and invader alike lay baking under the morning sun.

Parts of the main building were still standing.  Rei stepped past a
mound of bodies lying outside the door, noting with distant regret how
small some of them were.  She did not weep; there was no more grief left
in her.  She was numb.

At the end of the corridor inside, three more people lay, unmoving, cut
almost in half by crystalline shards.  One of them, she knew: the
priest, Genichi.  She had known him for centuries; he had taken over
after the death of her grandfather, when it became apparent that Rei
herself would have other priorities in life.  He had been a close
friend, one of the few people outside the palace to whom she could
unburden herself.

Unable to kneel by his side, she could only kiss her fingertips, then
reach down and touch his forehead softly.  "Rest easy, old man," she
whispered.

Then she left them behind -- as it seemed she had left everyone -- and
went into the final room, to bow down before the sacred fire and greet
the kami and -- please, oh please -- to lose herself in meditation and
perhaps forget, for a little while, the world outside.

A little light filtered through the door, enough for her to make out
details.  The room was broken, ruined; the walls were splintered and
torn apart, and the massive old beams had fallen.  Rubble littered the
floor.  Once, the air here had been scented with fragrant resins.  Now
there was nothing but the smell of old, stale smoke.

The fire was out.

Rei stood blinking in the darkness for a full minute.  Her mind was
blank.  It was not real; none of it was real.  Then, gradually, she
became aware of a sound: a low, keening moan.  After a while she
realised that it was coming from her.

"No no no nononononono --"

She stumbled forward toward the low altar.  There was no answering
warmth in her face.  Alone in the darkness, she threw back her head and
howled her denial.  She reached the fire pit and, desperate, thrust her
hands deep into the ashes.

There was a sting of heat, and she realised with incredulous hope that
there was still a chance.  The embers were not dead yet.

The hours that followed were madness.  Later, she would remember only
fragments.  The wild search for fuel.  Desperately trying to control the
shaking in her arms as she fed fresh kindling to the charred embers.
The agony of broken ribs grating as she fought to blow gently on the
little pile.  The taste of ash in her mouth.

She begged; she pleaded; she prayed feverishly, offering her soul to the
kami anew, and watched in despair as the dull red glow faded from the
wood.  Still she worked, prying the black cinders apart with burnt
fingers to expose the last precious heat to the air, and delicately
touching fine wood-shavings to the surface revealed.  They blackened;
there was a faint trickle of new smoke.  Then they seemed to darken once
more.  She breathed on them, not daring to do more.

A brilliant red spark danced to light.  A tiny, fragile tongue of flame.

She fed it more tinder gingerly, nursing it like a baby.  As she worked
she mumbled incoherent thanks, barely noticing that she was speaking
aloud.  The kami had heard her; the fire spread from shavings to twigs.
The kindling began to crackle softly.

Slowly, she realised that she was actually half-lying in the pit itself.
She pulled herself out gingerly and began to bow toward the altar.

The room swam around her and went black.

When she came to, the fire she had built was still burning.  The room
around her was still a ruin; but it was a holy place once more.

As she struggled upright, she saw that her sleeve and her hair had
actually been trailing in the ashes.  The fire had been burning all
around them.  But somehow, neither hair nor robe was even singed.

                                  --**--

Itsuko opened her eyes.  "No," she whispered.  "No, damn it.  I won't
give up.  We'll find a way to make it work.  Somehow, we'll find a way."

As if from a great distance, she heard a faint knocking.  The front
door.  Miyo had arrived at last.

For a moment longer, Itsuko paid no attention.  Her eyes were fixed on a
dream.  "We'll find a way," she whispered again.  "And somehow, I _will_
get you back."


                             ****************


Dhiti was not particularly worried when Miyo left class.  The situation
could not be urgent, or Dhiti would have been called too.  She simply
exchanged a knowing look with Kin -- who looked just as amused by the
incident as Dhiti was -- and waited for lunchtime, when Miyo would tell
her what it was all about.

Except that Miyo didn't come back; and when lunchtime rolled around,
there was still no sign of her.

"How are we supposed to take a horrible revenge on her if she isn't
even here?" Dhiti complained to Kin.  They were sitting at their
desks, finishing their lunches as they talked.

"Maybe that's the idea," Kin offered.  "Maybe this is her, taking a
preemptive horrible revenge for _your_ horrible revenge."

"Too subtle for Hayashi.  Nah, Beth-chan probably got a hairball and
called for help, that's all.  Still, Hayashi might have _said_."

"Beth-chan."  Kin looked thoughtful.  "That's one of the others I
haven't met, right?  You mentioned her once before."

Dhiti cursed.  "You remember too much."

"Well, it doesn't help if you keep _on_ mentioning her, does it?" asked
Kin reasonably.  Then she said, "Hairball?"

"That, believe it or not, is a story even weirder than Hayashi and her
slugs.  And that's all I'm sayin'."

"Wow.  I knew you Senshi got up to some weird stuff, but I didn't know
it got kinky."

Dhiti winced at the mention of Senshi.  "Can we _not_ use that
particular word in public, please?"

"What, 'kinky'?"

"No, 'Sen--'"  Pause.  "Uh.  Yes, 'kinky.'  As you know, we prefer the
word 'exotic' instead."

"Well, I can accept that.  You yourself, Dhiti-chan, would have to be
about as 'exotic' as they come."

"No, no."  Dhiti tugged an imaginary forelock.  "I defer to the master."

"Oh, I don't think so.  I'm not much of one for exotica.  Though --" Kin
leered at her -- "kinky is another matter."

"Fair enough.  If you insist that I'm the master, how can I say no?  All
the same, Kin-chan --"  Dhiti grew a little more serious for a moment.
"A little care and attention, huh?"

Kin had the grace to look abashed for a moment.  "Okay.  Sorry."

"Hmph.  Okay.  ... So, you like it kinky, though?  Is that why you and
Liam-kun broke it up again?"

The other girl stiffened.  "Drop it, Dhiti-chan."

"After all, you --"

"I mean it.  Drop it.  Now."

"... Right you are."  Dhiti looked around.  "Damn it, what's happened to
Hayashi, anyway?"

"Oh, nice segue."

"No, I actually meant it this time."

Kin glanced at her watch and raised her eyebrows.  "She has been a
while, hasn't she?  Maybe you should try calling her.  Aren't you
supposed to have some kind of magic dingus?"

Dhiti winced.  "Do you have any idea how that sounds?"  She clasped her
hands together and warbled theatrically, "'Oh, Dhiti-chan, won't you
show me your dingus?'"  Several other nearby students started to look in
their direction.

"Hmm," said Kin.  "Now that you mention it --"

"As it happens," Dhiti interrupted, smirking, "I do indeed have a
dingus.  You wanna see it?"

Kin sat up straight, her eyes sparkling.  "I can't wait!"

"Huh.  You _said_ you liked it kinky and I didn't believe you."

Behind them, a boy said, "It's just Sharma and Okamura again."  The
other students started to lose interest and turn away.

Kin waited a little, and then snickered.  "You could stand up, right
now, and tell them all that you're Sailor Mercury, and they wouldn't
believe a word."

"Yeah.  Isn't it great?"

The other girl giggled again.  "Tell them that I'm Sailor Moon.  See how
they react to that."

"Har-de-har-har.  How do you know you're _not_?"

"Oh, wouldn't that be cool?  Then I'd be a princess and you'd have to
bow down to me."

Dhiti huffed.  "You can make me bow down, but I ain't gonna kiss your
foot."

"Oh, you're no fun any more.  I _do_ wash my feet ... sometimes.
Anyway, weren't you going to call Miyo-chan?"

"Nice segue."  Dhiti grinned at her.  "Okay, okay.  Anyone watching?"
She waited for Kin to shake her head, then touched buttons on her
communicator.  Kin watched, fascinated.  A few seconds later, the tiny
screen lit up with Miyo's face.

"Yo, Hayashi," Dhiti said before Miyo could speak.  "So what is it?
More bad guys?"

Miyo did not answer at once.  At last she said, "No, it's not ... not
like that.  I --"  She took a deep breath.  "It's complicated.  I can't
... can't talk about it now."

Kin leaned forward.  "Miyo-chan?  Are you all right?"

"Oh, gods.  Is Kin-chan there too?"  The picture on the screen gave a
sharp jerk, as if Miyo had sat down suddenly.

"Hayashi --"

"After school, Dhiti-chan.  I'll tell you then.  I ... I have to go
now."

The communicator screen went blank.  Dhiti and Kin look at each other.
Neither spoke for some time.

"She looked like she'd been crying," said Kin at last.

"Yeah," said Dhiti.  "She did."

She thought, briefly, about ducking out of school and running to help.
She might have done it, too, if she had any idea where to go.  But Miyo
hadn't sounded the way she had when her parents threw her out.  Upset,
yes; but ...

"You think it's her family again?" asked Kin.

"If it is, I'm going to kill Fujimaro-kun."

"I might help."

"I'll tell her you said so."  Dhiti stared blankly out of the window.
After a little she muttered, "After school, she said.  I suppose I'm
going to miss my club meeting."

"Oh, there's a hardship," said Kin.  "_Another_ new club?  What happened
to the ikebana?"

"That's Mondays.  And it's an evening class, anyway, not a club.  No, I
thought I'd try the film club.  Today was supposed to be my first day."
She sighed, and looked down at her communicator.  "Normally I go to at
least a _few_ meetings before I start dropping them.  This could give me
a bad name."

"The things you do for Miyo-chan, eh?"

"Well, yeah.  Now why can't Hayashi see it that way?"  But the moment of
humour faded from Dhiti's face.  "She sounded ... pretty unhappy, didn't
she?"

The school bell rang before Kin could reply.  The two exchanged a final
doubtful look, then obediently put the remains of their lunches away and
got out their math books.  It looked like being a long afternoon.

There was more to come, as it turned out.  At the end of the next class,
as Ihara-sensei was leaving, their homeroom teacher came in.  She had a
troubled expression.  She stood silently at the head of the classroom as
the students stood and bowed.  Then, quietly, she announced that, due to
a personal emergency at home, Hayashi Miyo had been withdrawn from the
school by her guardian.  She was not expected to return.

The class erupted in an uproar.  The teacher's voice was almost drowned
out as she added that the next class would be treated as a study period.
Then she left.

Dhiti and Kin's eyes met.  It looked as though the afternoon would be a
very long one indeed.


                             ****************

(continued in part 2)

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