Sailor Venus learns more about her mysterious captors, who want to learn about her powers... but for what purpose?
Chapter 3: A Prisoner Of
"I think she's waking up," said a harsh female voice. Venus couldn't place the accent, but it was probably mixed European or Asian. "Yes, pay close attention to the monitors. Any changes could be important. We won't know what we're looking for until we find it."
A groan escaped from deep within her. She wasn't in pain, but her body felt stiff, as if she'd been in the same position for a long time. She figured out why as she tried to move. Some kind of straps secured her firmly to whatever she was lying on. They chafed her bare skin as she rubbed against them, and she realized that she'd been stripped naked. There was some kind of blanket draped over her body, but it felt thin and flimsy.
There was movement in the room, but she couldn't open her eyes to see what was going on. Her heart raced as she realized how helpless she was. Her captors could do - and probably had done - anything they wanted to her. "Sailor Venus?" asked the voice she'd heard before, much softer and gentler this time. "Can you hear me? Can you understand me?"
Venus tried to answer, but her voice was as tired as her muscles. She managed to nod.
"Good. I expect you are hungry and thirsty. You have been unconscious for nearly three days. Please do not try to talk. I have brought water, and some food."
Venus tried again to open her eyes, but it was still too soon. She felt the end of a straw poke at her lips, and she sucked on it, drawing water into her mouth slowly. It felt wonderful as she swallowed, irrigating her parched throat. She took a few deep breaths through her nose before continuing to drink.
"How do you feel?" asked her captor.
Venus spat out the straw. "I'm naked, and I'm tied to a table. I have no idea where I am or who you are. Take a guess how I feel."
"You are undoubtedly confused." She felt the woman sit down next to her. "I shall endeavor to explain what has happened to you, and hopefully this will make your situation clear."
"Why should I trust you?" asked Venus. "You kidnapped me!"
The woman's smile was evident in her voice. "I would prefer that you listen to my story before deciding whether or not to trust me. You can do little else while secured, in any case."
"You could just untie me," Venus suggested pointedly. "I listen a lot better when I can move."
"I am afraid I can't do that just yet," the woman replied. "Everything will become clear soon enough."
Venus finally let her eyes flutter open. The woman sitting beside her had long blonde hair fastened in the back with a clip, and was wearing a sanitary uniform with no name tag. "Who are you?" she asked. "What's your name?"
"Call me Dr. Ytriel, if it is important to you. It is but a tiny matter. You are aware of the political situation here on Earth, yes?"
"I know it's unstable," replied Venus. "That's why I came down here... to learn more."
"You put it mildly," said Dr. Ytriel. "Today's governments are operating in what can only be called a state of total chaos. Nearly every country, including most of those who claim to support you, hopes to get its hands on your Planet Power by any means necessary. Their armies prepare for war, but they do not plan to attack the Moon directly. They intend to eliminate all competition in their race to attain your power. Any alliances will be temporary, and in the end, only one nation will remain."
"But if they know that's going to happen, they'd be crazy to start a war!" Venus argued, forgetting about her discomfort as the doctor's words struck at her compassion.
"They are drunk with the promise of power," replied the doctor. "If a country wins the war, it will stand astride the Earth. And if it loses, it will have no hope of standing up to the power it could not obtain."
"Nobody HAS Planet Power," Venus pointed out. Tears were forming in her eyes, and she had no idea why. "And they're not going to get it by fighting each other!"
"Humans have always overcome the obstacles in their paths," said Dr. Ytriel. "To them, the question is not whether they will gain Planet Power, but when. The details are a formality best left to scientists and thinkers. To governments, the imperative is to put their country in the best position when that discovery is made. Just like the atomic bomb in the twentieth century and the neutrino bomb in the twenty-fifth, everyone wants to either have control of the new weapon or be in the good graces of the ones who do."
"What new weapon?" asked Venus. "Planet Power isn't a weapon! It's meant to protect people, not kill them!"
"That is precisely the difficulty. Nobody on Earth knows exactly what Planet Power is. All they know, or think they know, is that it can either freeze time or defeat the aliens who froze it. The only other records of the Sailor Scouts are hundreds of years old - before the technology to produce verifiable recordings existed. Scientific method requires that we consider them no more than speculation. And even if we could believe them, they provide little new information. Nobody has anything to work with." She stared into Venus meaningfully.
"Me. They all want me," Venus realized. "They think they can use me to figure out how they can harness Planet Power. But then, you...?"
Dr. Ytriel nodded. "We are a small group with no ties to any country. We, too, intend to discover the secret of Planet Power, but we have no intention of using it ourselves. We believe, as you do, that it is not a superweapon, and if we can prove that to the world, we may be able to avert the war."
Venus blinked. "So... to prevent them from experimenting on me and finding the secret of Planet Power, you want to experiment on me and find the secret of Planet Power?" She sighed. "Why does it have to be me?"
"You came to Earth," replied Dr. Ytriel. "Someone - we don't know who - arranged for one final shuttle from the Moon to Earth before the diplomatic lockdown went into effect. We intercepted you and brought you here before they could get their hands on you."
"Why didn't you just tell me all that before?" Venus demanded. "Why did you knock me out, strip me, and strap me to a table and start experimenting on me?"
"We had to knock you unconscious to prevent them from tracking your vital signs," said Dr. Ytriel. "Earth technology has improved since you left, and not all developments are made public. But the gas we had to use to avoid detection took three days to wear off. We could not afford to wait that long to begin our experiments. We've been monitoring you while you slept, hoping to learn something. So far, we've had no results. That is why we must ask for your cooperation."
"You gas me, tie me up, experiment on me, and then expect me to help you?"
Dr. Ytriel stood up. "To be frank, there really isn't an alternative. We don't have to release you."
"So you're holding me hostage to get Planet Power?"
"Hostage is such a negative word," said Dr. Ytriel disdainfully. "As a group that keeps its finger on the pulse of Earth politics far more closely than you possibly can, we know that if we cannot unlock your secret within the short time we have, countries will be destroyed in the war that will come. Millions, perhaps billions of innocent people will die."
"You can't stop that yourselves," warned Venus. "Let me go back to the Moon. Queen Serenity and the other Sailor Scouts can -"
"There is no time for that," Dr. Ytriel interrupted. "At least three countries are already prepared to mount an attack at any moment, and the only thing keeping them in check is the desire not to be the first country to violate the CCS directive. It is a strained situation that cannot possibly last long. Besides... there is no way back. The shuttles have indeed been stopped. No one can reach the Moon right now... and no one from there can come here."
"Then let me talk to Sailor Mercury. She needs to know about this. She'll figure something out."
Dr. Ytriel smiled. "That, I believe we can arrange." She extracted a key from her pocket and placed it on a shelf beside the door. "That key will unlock your bonds."
"Well, what do I have to do to get you to use it?" asked Venus indignantly.
"I understand that telekinesis, the power to move objects freely, is among your powers, yes?"
"It is," Venus confirmed, not liking where the discussion was going.
"Then the one who will free you, Sailor Venus, is you," declared Dr. Ytriel. "Once you've done so, we will take you to the terminal where you can contact your friends on the Moon."
"I can't use my powers to turn a key!" Venus protested. "I'd have a hard time getting it in the lock!"
"Do what you can," advised Dr. Ytriel. "This will give us a chance to see your powers in action. If you cannot manage to free yourself, we will release you when we've seen what we need to see."
Venus glared at her. "So you still expect me to trust you before you tell me why I should."
"More lives than you can comprehend hang in the balance," Dr. Ytriel reminded her. "You can work with us, or you can stay there on the table until they're all dead. The choice is yours." She opened the door and swept out of the room before Venus could reply. The door slammed shut, and Venus was alone.
Venus took a deep breath to calm herself before assessing the situation. Anger wouldn't change the fact that she was a prisoner in an unidentifiable place, and her captors probably weren't going to release her until she gave them what they wanted. Not that she knew for sure what that was. Would they be content with a demonstration of her telekinetic power, or would they keep demanding more? Would they let her go free at all and risk her retribution? She'd been too blinded by her own emotions to sense much from Dr. Ytriel, but she was certain that the woman had been telling her the truth, if not the whole truth.
But all that would have to wait. No matter what happened to her, she intended to be in a position to defend herself, and that meant being able to move. Whether she was playing right into their hands or not, she needed that key. With a weak sigh, she set her sights on the distant shelf and focused her energy. "VE-" was all she got out before her throat seized and she had to force out a series of coughs to clear it.
She had to take a few deep breaths through her nose for fear of throwing up. She didn't have the energy in her to shout the name of her technique as she usually did. Dr. Ytriel hadn't given her any of the food she'd claimed to have brought before she left, and she hadn't gotten much water either. If she lay there long enough without doing anything, they might realize what was wrong and feed her before making her try again, but she couldn't count on that. Desperation could lead a person to previously untold power, and that was probably what they intended.
Well, she'd be in for a long ordeal if she couldn't surpass the first hurdle. She swallowed and strained to get into as comfortable a position as possible - which was the same position she'd been in before, but less comfortable - and reached desperately for the key with her mind. The bond of Planet Power slowly formed, joining the key to her hand by a long rod of energy.
As she began to draw the key to herself, there was a dull thud from behind a wall, and the room shook. Momentarily forgetting her situation, Venus tried to sit up, only to be choked by her bonds. Her throat aching from the sudden impact, she let her head rest on the table and tried to remain as calm as she could. There was nothing else she could do while she was tied down, and whatever had just happened had to have been loud enough to attract some attention.
Or was it all in her head? Maybe she was just hearing things. She was starving, after all. Dr. Ytriel had left the food nearby, but Venus had no way to eat it unless she could escape from the cuffs, which would be a lot easier if she had something to eat first. The usual endless circle, of course.
It looked like trying her telekinesis again was the only solution. Before she could muster the energy, though, the door burst open and Dr. Ytriel flew into the room, her hair tousled and her hands shaking. "Sailor Venus! Are you all right?"
"What's going on here?" asked Venus. "What was that noise?"
"We don't know," Dr. Ytriel confessed. "We're trying to figure that out. In the meantime, we must ask that you do not use your powers again until we can determine that it is safe." She grabbed the key from the shelf and set to work unlocking Venus' cuffs. "I'll return to show you to your room shortly. You will want to dress and eat first."
"Damn straight," said Venus.
Dr. Ytriel paused. "Please, do not hold this against me. All of us here... we are only doing what we must. You will no longer be restrained while you are here. You have not yet received the warmest of welcomes, but from now on, you will be our honored guest. We will provide for all of your needs, and in turn, you will help us gather our data. Yes?"
The lock at Venus' left wrist clicked open, and she hastily snatched the key from Dr. Ytriel's hand. "I'm not agreeing to anything yet. You people aren't exactly on my good side, remember."
Dr. Ytriel bowed as she stepped away from the table, toward the door. "Yes, yes. Please, do attend to your needs privately. The door will be locked, for your protection."
"That still makes me a prisoner!" Venus shouted as the door closed behind the doctor, leaving her alone once again. However, she'd been a bit more in control of her senses during the brief visit, and she felt that the doctor was indeed telling her the truth. She was in the clutches of an organization that planned to save the Earth rather than destroy or conquer it.
How screwed up had her life become, that that was so reassuring?
The door opened, and a woman in a lab coat stepped into the office. "You wanted to see me, Dr. Schneider?" she asked.
"Damn straight I did!" shouted the gruff man seated at the desk. "What the hell's going on out there? Why was the alarm sounded, and why was it shut off? And why haven't I been informed about any of it? I make the decisions here!"
The woman bowed. "I'm sorry news has been slow to travel, but we needed to check on Sailor Venus, and we didn't want her to know that the alarm had been raised... per your orders, sir."
Dr. Schneider grunted. "Ah, yes. That." He took a deep breath and continued in a calmer tone. "So, what caused the alarm?"
"We're preparing a full report. It will take -"
"Forget the report, Ilyovich," snapped Dr. Schneider. "Just tell me what happened in your own words."
Dr. Ilyovich sighed. "Well, from the looks of things, the Benson radiometer in the third observation room overloaded and melted down."
Dr. Schneider put his elbows on his desk and leaned forward, interlocking his fingers and resting his chin on his thumbs. "An equipment malfunction set off the alarm?"
"The Benson radiometer is a nuclear hazard, Dr. Schneider. When it melted, the room had to be vacuum-sealed to prevent leakage of nuclear radiation. Everything in the room will have to be abandoned... including the two scientists operating the machines."
Dr. Schneider's lips pursed. "How did it happen? I ordered top-of-the-line equipment!"
"It was the most sensitive device on the market," replied Dr. Ilyovich. "But even a thermometer would melt in a stream of molten lava. Somehow, the amount of Benson radiation that Sailor Venus emitted was more than the machine could handle."
Dr. Schneider nearly fell backward. "She emits dangerous radiation?"
Dr. Ilyovich shook her head. "No... it's not dangerous by itself. It's a completely natural phenomenon. It simply causes reactions in some objects that are already unstable. How much do you know about Benson's quantum theory?"
"I never paid much attention," said Dr. Schneider. "It hardly seemed relevant. A bit of quackery that happened to lead to a revolution in computing after a number of researchers dismissed all the tomfoolery and found something worth salvaging in it. Something about a particle being in two places at once, wasn't it?"
Dr. Ilyovich nodded. "It's highly probabilistic. High-energy, low-mass particles can transcend the laws of mass physics and travel over incredible distances in instants - approaching the speed of light asymptotically for periods of time the human mind can't even perceive. The distance covered is minuscule, but it would be like circling the Earth up to seven times in a second."
"I know all of that," said Dr. Schneider. "Get to the point."
"Alfred Benson believed that quantum travel could reach or even exceed the speed of light - quackery, as you said. We all know that's impossible. Obviously, he could never get the mathematics to work out. But he did theorize that there must be some quantity of energy released during quantum travel, and that there might be a way to measure that energy. The device he proposed contained a barely stable radioactive core in a vacuum, suspended by a force field that couldn't be created in his time. That's where the radiation leak came from. At normal background levels of Benson radiation, the core decays so slowly that the harmful radiation is released in quantities too small to damage living tissue. But if something abnormal happens, a fluke of probability that sees the ambient quantum travel much higher than average, then the core radiates at levels detectable by a Geiger counter."
"And that's what happened during the experiment?"
"We believe so. Somehow, when Venus used her Planet Power, the level of Benson radiation leapt to a level that even Benson never believed possible. The only explanation would seem to be that, somehow, she created a condition in which subatomic particles consistently traveled very close to the speed of light - if not faster."
"Faster? But that's impossible!"
"With respect, Dr. Schneider, so are many of the things that the Sailor Scouts have done with their powers. We have them on record. At this point, we can't really dismiss anything as 'impossible'."
Dr. Schneider shook his head. "There must be another explanation. Nothing moves faster than light. It's absolute!"
"Don't forget, the Sailor Scouts claim that their power comes from the planets. Even moving at light speed, it would take minutes for that power to reach Earth even from the nearest planets... and weeks from the farthest ones. Unless they're planning their attacks that far in advance, to the second, the power must be traveling much faster."
Dr. Schneider waved his hand dismissively. "It must be a trick. Their so-called link to the planets is just showmanship. There's a simple explanation for it."
"And would it also explain the buildup of Benson radiation?" asked Dr. Ilyovich.
Dr. Schneider sighed. "I suppose that's our only lead right now. Is there anything we can use to detect it that won't overload?"
"There are a few theories, in the old archives, about the effects of large concentrations of Benson radiation," said Dr. Ilyovich. "We'll need to do some research and prepare some trial machines."
"Do it," ordered Dr. Schneider. "And this time, isolate them. We can't afford to lose anyone else."
"Yes, sir," Dr. Ilyovich said obediently as she backed out of the room with a bow.
Venus sighed heavily. She'd dressed, eaten, slept, and been shown to her room by a male doctor who refused to say a single word to her the whole time, and it hadn't made her feel any better about her predicament. She still needed to make use of the facilities in the attached bathroom, but she didn't trust her captors to have left even that room free of hidden cameras. She didn't really trust them at all, despite the apparent honesty of Dr. Ytriel. The woman was telling the truth, but it may only have been the truth as she understood it - if what she said was untrue, but she didn't know that, she couldn't be said to have been lying. And Venus wasn't sure her own senses were working properly. Who knew what long-term effects that gas might have had, or how long it would take each part of her consciousness to return? There were just too many things she didn't understand. Figuring things out had always been Mercury's department anyway....
While she was lost in thought, the door slid open. Dr. Ytriel stepped into the room with a somber expression on your face. "Are you well?" she asked.
"Better now that I can move," said Venus sharply. "So, did you figure out what caused the noise?" And the sudden change in heart, she didn't add.
"We did," replied Dr. Ytriel. "One of our measuring devices broke down in a rather spectacular fashion - we're not sure whether to call it equipment failure or merely an unexpected result just yet, but it gives us a starting point for future experiments."
"If I agree to future experiments," said Venus, the tone of her voice still cold and terse. "You can't keep me here against my will."
"Are you suggesting that you can escape from this facility under your own power?" asked Dr. Ytriel, amused.
"Give me a reason and we'll find out," retorted Venus, crossing her arms.
Dr. Ytriel sighed. "We don't want it to come to that. Your cooperation is essential to our success."
"Then I suppose you'd better give me what I want, hadn't you?"
"I am not personally in a position to offer you much," said Dr. Ytriel, fidgeting just a bit. "I am a caretaker, a friendly face so that you don't feel alone here."
"Your face would be a lot friendlier if I'd been clothed and on my feet the first time I saw it."
Dr. Ytriel lowered her head. "I'm truly sorry about the way you were treated. If there were any other way to get the data we needed, we would have used it. But you must understand that the fate of the entire world rests on you!"
"And you people need to learn basic human decency!" snapped Venus.
"What more can I do?" asked Dr. Ytriel. "Now that we've come to this point... what can I do to show you how much we need you?"
"I want to talk to Sailor Mercury," Venus said with finality. "I won't agree to anything or submit to any more tests until I've talked to her."
Dr. Ytriel nodded. "Very well. I believe we can arrange that."
"You don't need to arrange anything. Just give me back my inventory. My communicator's in there."
"That, I'm afraid, we can't do," said Dr. Ytriel. "Our security officers are inspecting your possessions to determine which ones you can be allowed to have. The communicator is too much of a security risk. It could give away our location."
"You're not endearing yourself to me, Doctor."
Dr. Ytriel shrugged apologetically. "All personnel in this facility are subject to the same security rules. We will, of course, return your belongings once we release you. But we are already setting up a secure line of communication to the Moon for you. You will be able to use that to contact Sailor Mercury."
Venus sighed in exasperation. "I guess it'll have to do."
"We both want the same thing in the end," Dr. Ytriel reminded her. "We'll wait until you've spoken with Sailor Mercury before we continue our discussions. I hope they will be favorable."
"We'll see," said Venus.
Dr. Ytriel turned to leave, but paused in the doorway. "By the way... there are no visual or audio sensors in the restrooms. We will continue to monitor your vital signs at all times, but you will have your privacy."
"That's good to know," said Venus, who was indeed relieved to hear it. However, the mention of the restroom brought up another disturbing thought. She could only think of one reason they'd be monitoring her need to go to the bathroom. "Will you people be examining...?" She trailed off, not sure how delicately she should phrase the question.
"There is no way to know where we might find pieces that can be assembled to complete the puzzle," said the doctor. "The things we must do for the good of science, particularly science that can save the world, are not always pleasant."
"Now I'm not sure I want to be part of your experiments even if Mercury says it's okay."
Dr. Ytriel seemed taken aback. "I wasn't referring to YOU, of course. If you cooperate voluntarily, you will of course be able to decline any procedure that you deem inappropriate."
"You're going to explain everything to me? Fully?"
"I'm sure the researchers will explain enough."
"You're avoiding the question. I assume that means you don't actually have an answer for me. I further assume that if I DON'T cooperate with you, you'll run your experiments on me by force again."
"We are not monsters," Dr. Ytriel said coldly.
"I'll be the judge of that," said Venus, equally coldly. "If you'll excuse me...?" She took a meaningful step toward the restroom door.
"Of course," said Dr. Ytriel with a slight bow. "I will inform you when the communication is established."
Venus waited until the door had closed behind Dr. Ytriel before stepping into the bathroom. She didn't believe that the doctor had lied to her - the lengths to which she'd gone to avoid answering touchy questions were only one sign of her determination to be honest in every possible respect - but she still covered herself with a towel, just in case.
It was only a few hours before Dr. Ytriel returned to tell Venus that the communication system was ready. The doctor led her to a room several halls away, entered a nine-digit combination on the keypad beside the door, and ushered Venus into a large room where several men were already waiting for her. A giant screen filled one of the walls.
"It's good to see you up and about," said one of the men, offering Venus his hand. "I'm Dr. Schneider, the head researcher at this facility."
Venus held her hand out, palm a few inches from his, and they shook. "I take it you're here to monitor my call?"
"I'm here to provide answers if Sailor Mercury has any questions that you can't answer," he explained. "And these are Roger Andrews, one of the technicians responsible for this communication system, and Georg Stirnbeck, a liaison to the CCS." Each of the other men bowed his head slightly as his name was mentioned. "Roger's here in case something goes wrong with the equipment, and Georg knows the political situation well enough to answer any related questions that may arise and advise us if necessary."
"Do I get to ask you guys my own questions?" asked Venus. "I've got plenty."
"There will be time for that later," said Dr. Schneider. "We must make this call quickly. There is a narrow window for this type of communication through space, and if we miss it, we will have to wait another day before we can try again."
Venus stared suspiciously at him. "You just don't want me preparing what to say, do you?"
"We would prefer that you reach the heart of the matter quickly, yes," he replied. "We are limited by more than one deadline."
Venus looked over Dr. Schneider's shoulder at Georg. "What kind of deadline?"
"The CCS conference to discuss the New Moon Kingdom's monopoly on Planet Power will take place in ten days," said Georg. "The committee will conduct a week-long inspection of the New Moon Kingdom, assuming that Queen Serenity accepts their terms."
"And if she doesn't, then the CCS votes on whether to declare war on us," Venus finished.
"Effectively," Georg agreed. "The political term is 'invasion and seizure', but it means entering the New Moon Kingdom by force and seizing or destroying anything relating to Planet Power. But there is another option, which we fear may be employed if the committee considers Planet Power too big a threat to engage directly."
"Another option? You're not talking about more discussions...."
"I'm talking about the graviton bomb, Sailor Venus."
Venus gasped. "They've completed it?"
"Probably not," said Georg, "but they may consider even an imperfect prototype a better alternative than allowing a power they don't and can't understand to exist."
Venus shuddered. The graviton bomb was an idea of legend - mass of such incredible density that any matter caught in its event horizon would be almost infinitely compressed - a targetable seed that could create an instant black hole. "Haven't they considered what that would do to the Earth?"
"Again, they are well aware of the risks involved. I'm sure the threat of the graviton bomb is merely a scare tactic to force the New Moon Kingdom's hand. But there must be some government that will act on it if sufficiently pressed. History has proven time and again that leaders with incredible power will seek to use that power at any provocation."
"Which is why we'd like to get on with this call," prompted Dr. Schneider. "If nothing else, getting word to Sailor Mercury will help your people be better prepared for what's to come."
"All right," said Venus. "Let's hurry it up."
Dr. Schneider nodded to Roger, who waved a remote at the screen. "There will be about an eight-second delay in the transmission each way," he explained to Venus. "So Mercury will respond to us about sixteen seconds after we've spoken, and vice versa. But I'm sure you're used to that, if you've communicated across space before."
"Our communicators don't have delays over any distance," replied Venus. "That's why I wanted to use that instead of this."
The screen flickered to life, and Sailor Mercury's face appeared. "Hello? Is that Sailor Venus?"
"Yes!" cried Venus, happy to see a familiar face at last.
It was an agonizing wait for Mercury to speak again, but Venus held her tongue for fear of interrupting Mercury mid-reply. Finally, the face on the monitor smiled. "Thank god you're all right! We've been so worried! When we didn't hear from you, we assumed the worst!"
"I don't know that I'm really safe yet," said Venus, "but they don't seem to be hurting me, for now."
"If you're alive and unharmed, that's a good start."
"We are taking every precaution to ensure Sailor Venus' comfort and safety while she's in our care," Dr. Schneider interrupted.
"Aside from the strapping me to a table naked bit," said Venus darkly, eager to make sure Sailor Mercury learned the truth about what was happening to her.
It almost hurt to watch Mercury continue to smile during the pause before she heard Venus' words. Suddenly, she gasped. "Nobody mentioned that to me before! See here, all of you! If I hear that you've mistreated Sailor Venus, I will personally figure out where you are, and -"
"Hey, no need for anything that drastic!" Sailor Venus cut in, but Sailor Mercury continued in the eight seconds it took for the words to reach her ears.
"- with a rusty spoon, and good luck sitting down after that! And furthermore -" she paused. "Oh, well, perhaps you're right. Well, then, tell me what's going on down there. We haven't heard anything from Earth in the past four days."
"The political situation is, for lack of a better word, volatile," said Georg. "The world's governments have been incited by recent events and are demanding to know the secret of Planet Power at any cost, or failing that, for it to be destroyed at the source so that it can never threaten humanity."
"But it's not a threat to humanity in the first place!" Mercury protested. "Planet Power was granted to us to protect mankind! Time and time again over the past two millennia, Planet Power was the only thing that stood between the Earth and the forces that sought to enslave or destroy humanity."
"And how you've managed to live through it all, or claim to, is just one more of the many mysteries that make it so difficult to understand the phenomenon," said Dr. Schneider. "Mankind's lust for immortality is legendary, and many see your power as the key to achieving it."
"This isn't the first time people have tried to seize Planet Power for their own use," Mercury said sadly.
"But it never worked," added Venus. "And the results of their attempts... too horrible to contemplate."
"We certainly don't want to try to use it," said Dr. Schneider. "But if we could only measure it, that would be an excellent start. We hope to find out what it's made of, what makes it work, and what its limits are. If we find that it's something intrinsic to the Sailor Scouts, so much the better. And if we discover that it could, potentially, be used by mortals... well, that's a bridge we'll have to cross if we ever reach it."
"How do you intend to do that?" asked Mercury.
"We obtained an interesting result in the one impromptu experiment that we, ah, forced Sailor Venus to participate in," said Dr. Schneider, quickly continuing, "But we won't do anything else without her consent, of course!"
Mercury glared at him, once his words had reached her. "And you want me to convince her to participate in your experiments?"
"They will be passive. Sailor Venus will not be harmed, and we will not need any invasive procedures to continue with this line of research," Dr. Schneider assured her. "We simply need Sailor Venus to use her power in situations where we can monitor her, so that we can collect data and determine as much as we can in the time we have."
"I suppose that doesn't sound too bad," Mercury agreed. "Sailor Venus, what do you think? Do you trust these men?"
Venus had to think about that for a few seconds. She'd been looking forward to talking to a familiar face again that she hadn't been paying much attention to Dr. Schneider's motives. He wasn't showing any of the telltale signs of lying, but she had the feeling that he wasn't telling the whole truth. He was the boss, so the other scientists were following his orders, and he might not have told them any more of the story than he'd told Mercury. But he also didn't seem to have any of the greedy ambition she usually felt from the dictatorial type. While he may have had plans that he wasn't divulging, they didn't involve taking over the world, gaining political advantage, or making money. Maybe he just wanted to be famous as the man who discovered the secret of Planet Power... not really dangerous, as long as he didn't do something drastic to make it happen, and somehow, he didn't seem the type to do that.
"Not completely," she said at last, "but I don't think they're going to hurt anyone."
"I suppose I'll have to leave it up to you, then," said Mercury. "If you feel comfortable participating in their experiments, do it. But don't be afraid to refuse if something seems at all suspicious. Trust your feelings."
Venus nodded. "What's your take, Mercury? Do you think there's anything to be gained from figuring out how Planet Power works?"
Mercury seemed thoughtful even before she could have heard the end of Venus' question. "There may be," she said at last. "I'd like to know more about it myself, to tell you the truth. I just worry about what that knowledge might do in the wrong hands."
"We have the top security in the world," said Dr. Schneider. "I'm sure you've discovered that for yourself already."
"It is impressive," Mercury agreed. "I still can't determine where you are, even by tracing your connection. And even with most communication with Earth interrupted, I was hoping to find out something about your computer network, but it's impenetrable."
Venus smiled inwardly. Even if it hadn't given her any information, Mercury was still using every means at her disposal to track down her captors.
"If you find any security holes, let us know," said Dr. Schneider. "Sailor Venus is only as safe as we can keep her as long as she's on Earth. We're not the only ones who want the information she can provide. I just like to believe that we're the ones who will put it to the best use - averting what will surely become a system-wide catastrophe."
"Well, if Sailor Venus trusts you, then I will too," said Mercury at last. "But I'd like to receive regular reports on your progress - both to ensure Sailor Venus' continued safety, and for my own research."
Dr. Schneider nodded. "We'll re-establish communication whenever we can. This method is unfortunately limited."
The silence stretched longer than usual, until Venus realized that Mercury wasn't planning to respond to that. Deciding that this was her chance to have the conversation she'd wanted in the first place, she quickly asked the question that had been plaguing her for hours. "Mercury, how are things back home?"
The last sixteen seconds before she got her answer were torturous, as tiny flecks of static appeared on the screen for instants at a time, but Mercury finally responded. "Things here are pretty quiet," she said. "Most people still only know that you're on a diplomatic mission to Earth and nothing of what's happening there, but a few have started to suspect that something may be wrong. I'll be sure to tell them everything I know as soon as we're done here."
"What about Queen Serenity?" asked Venus. "Surely she knows what's happened, since I haven't been in touch with her!"
"She knows you can take care of yourself," replied Mercury, as the static began to cover her face. "She's busy as usual with affairs of state, but I'm sure she's duly concerned for you."
"That's weird," said Venus. "She's always worried about us when we're away from the Palace."
"Oh, yes!" agreed Mercury, speaking loudly to be heard over the increasing static, which was now cutting through the audio stream and all but obscuring the video. "She's... and making... but there's really... and I -" The screen finally dissolved completely into loud snow.
"That's it," announced Roger from the back of the room. "The window's closed." He waved the remote again, and the screen went dark and silent.
Venus continued to stare at the screen, as if expecting Mercury to reappear any second, until Dr. Schneider put a hand on her shoulder. "Come, Sailor Venus. You should return to your room. I will have a meal prepared for you, and you can take some time to decide what you want to do. I cannot insist that you answer immediately, but if you are to help us at all, we need to begin as soon as possible."
Venus didn't say anything. She didn't really know why, since Mercury had assured her that everything was okay on the Moon, but she had a horrible leaden feeling in her stomach now that the conversation she'd been looking forward to for hours was over. It was as if she'd believed that Mercury would be able to do something for her, to free her from the hidden prison or convince the doctors to let her go, and had discovered her to be just as powerless as Venus herself was. She was still trapped, and still at the mercy of her captors, whatever freedoms they pretended to give her.
"Do you remember the way back to your room?" asked Dr. Schneider kindly. When Venus nodded, he continued. "While all classified areas will be sealed, I must ask that you not wander around the facility. However, as long as you remain within your boundaries, we will not require you to be escorted to familiar places. We've programmed your biometric data into our computers, so you'll be able to open your door and any other areas to which we grant you access. We have gymnasium facilities, a swimming pool, a small library with some books for recreational reading as well as a few films...."
"Once you can trust me enough to let me use them," she finished for him.
"Do you fully trust us yet?" he retorted.
Venus stared into his eyes briefly, summing him up, then left the room without answering.
Dr. Schneider nodded to his companions, who left the room to return to their own jobs, but waited a few minutes before stepping out himself. He did not return to his office, but made his way down the hall, in the direction opposite Venus' quarters, and pressed his thumb to a plate beneath a keypad next to one of the many identical doors that lined the corridor. He tapped in a twenty-digit access code, stared into the sensor that scanned his eyeballs, then stepped into the room as the door opened. A woman with a wide crop of dark brown strawlike hair was waiting for him, leaning on the back of a chair that faced a video monitor and a small camera that was connected to an array of computers by a thin cable.
"How did I do, Doctor?" she asked eagerly, standing on her tiptoes in apparent excitement.
"Well enough, until the end," he replied. "I think she began to suspect something. You should have cut the transmission as soon as she started asking personal questions."
"Well, I didn't want it to seem TOO suspicious that the connection went out just when she started making chitchat," the woman said with a shrug.
"You gave her a potentially falsifiable answer!" snapped Dr. Schneider. "Next time - if there is a next time - don't offer information on subjects you know nothing about. We've studied Sailor Mercury, but know next to nothing about Queen Serenity."
"Yes, sir," said the woman, her face falling. "Still, as long as she thinks it was real...." She slid around the seat and sat down, smiling into the camera. The monitors on the bank of computers showed images of Sailor Mercury's face, all wearing the same smile.
"That remains to be seen," said Dr. Schneider. "We can't afford to miss this opportunity. I've been waiting too long, manipulating the political scene too carefully, to be thwarted because my test subject finds out that I'm lying to her."
"It's a tough job, Doctor," said the woman. "Sailor Venus is pretty smart about that stuff."
"And call her 'Venus' next time," said Dr. Schneider impatiently. "Nobles don't use titles like that all the time when they speak to each other."
"Whatever you say, Ernest," she trilled.
Dr. Schneider's fist clenched. "Don't play games with me! I hope you haven't forgotten your place in this organization, Dr. Violetta."
"N-no, sir!" Dr. Violetta stammered. "I'll try harder next time, honest!"
"See that you do," said Dr. Schneider with a satisfied air. "Until then, your pool privileges are revoked."
"What?" she cried after him as he left the room. "No fair! You know that's my favorite!" She sat huffily in the chair and angrily tapped at the keyboard until the Sailor Mercury faces had morphed into perfect facsimiles of Dr. Schneider. "Mildred's pool privileges are hereby reinstated," she said into the microphone, watching the heads around her move their mouths in unison, "and she is designated queen of the lunchroom, with full line-cutting privileges and first choice of desserts." She gazed longingly at the deluminated TRANSMIT indicator, then flipped the computer's switch off and slumped in her chair as the machinery wound to a halt. "Someday...."