The Inner Scouts meet to plan a strategy to fight the new enemies, while the Outer Scouts learn more about the threat they face.
Chapter 4: The Plan Before The Storm
Ryoko sighed, producing a hollow echo throughout the Negaverse. "That was a total waste of time! That girl wasn't even a Sailor Scout!"
"I told you it was too soon to know," put in Ranma.
"But I was so sure it was her!" Lina protested. "You should have heard her talking after class..."
"Well, she won't be making THAT mistake again," said Ryoko.
"Don't remind me," snapped Lina. "I feel bad enough, all right?"
"Well, it could be worse," Ranma pointed out. "We could have had to kill her."
"I still don't get it," said Ryoko. "There we were, ready to kill an innocent girl, and who comes to the rescue but shadow-face?"
"What's not to get?" asked Ranma.
"Why did she do it?" returned Lina. "I mean, I figured she'd be the cold-hearted killer of the group. Always walking around with that shadow spell or whatever it is, never saying anything... she just FEELS evil. So why would she be the one to spare Stephanie's life?"
"It makes perfect sense to me," said Ranma. "Beryl didn't want us mutinying, so she sent the girl in black to shut Stephanie up without killing her. Not having to kill our victims will take a lot of the pressure off of us when we have to point our fingers at innocent girls, won't it?"
"I suppose I see your point," said Lina. "But that doesn't seem like the Beryl I know."
"It's not like you're old friends or anything," Ryoko pointed out. "Maybe we had Beryl figured wrong, and she's not such a bad gal after all."
Lina began to reply, but Ranma shushed her. "Listen," he said. "She's talking to someone. Sounds like she's angry."
Ryoko and Lina instantly fell silent. Indeed, Beryl's voice rang out loudly and clearly throughout the Negaverse. "What did you think you were doing?" she demanded. Ranma motioned for the others to follow him as he crept closer to the throne room and hid behind a column. From there, they could see the girl in black standing tall despite the fact that Beryl towered intimidatingly over her. "How dare you try to undermine my authority?" continued Beryl. "Consider yourself lucky that I still have a use for your powers... for the moment. But I would advise that you not disobey me again!"
The girl in black vanished without a word to Beryl. "Such impudence!" fumed Beryl. "No matter. She'll outlive her usefulness to me soon enough, and then I'll be rid of her."
"Something tells me now isn't the best time to make our report," whispered Ranma.
"Right," Lina whispered back. "Let's give her time to cool off and come back later."
"You don't have to tell me twice," said Ryoko. She vanished.
"Is someone there?" demanded Beryl. Ranma and Lina glanced at each other, then quickly backed away in tandem to hide in the darkness. Seeing no one, Beryl returned to her throne and sat down. "Chronite!" she called out.
"Yes, my Queen," said the general from beside the throne. As always, his entrance unnerved Beryl slightly, but she was growing used to his appearances and disappearances by now.
"Chronite, it appears that our plan is not proceeding as I had hoped."
"A tragedy, my Queen," agreed Chronite. "I thought it a brilliant plan myself."
"Indeed." Beryl scowled at her top general. He appeared to be sincere, but she knew better than to trust appearances where Chronite was concerned. She sniffed. "Very well. In any case, it may be time to take matters into our own hands. The Sailor Scouts must not escape alive again."
"I'm not sure that is wise, my Queen," Chronite argued guardedly. "However, there is an alternative. I can feel that Sailor Pluto has released a bit more of my power, which I can use to summon another warrior from a different universe."
"Get me someone who can fight, this time," she commanded him.
"At once, my Queen," said Chronite with a bow. "I will not disappoint you." He vanished.
"That remains to be seen," said Beryl to the empty room.
"Now, shall we discuss our plans?" asked Trista, once she and her companions had settled into their motel room.
"I'm still waiting to hear this brilliant no-fail plan of yours," said Amarah, while Michelle sat on the bed and arranged her skirt.
"I'm afraid what I have to say may disappoint you, then," said Trista. "It's far from being a no-fail plan."
"But I'm sure it's a good start," said Michelle. "Maybe Uranus and I can come up with ideas you hadn't thought of."
"It's quite likely," agreed Trista. "This is my plan. We must be sure to separate the Sailor Scouts from their enemies during their next battle so that we can fight without fear of being seen."
"But how can we convince them to leave?" asked Michelle. "They won't leave an innocent victim to suffer, even if their own lives are in danger."
"Then we must remove the victim," said Trista.
"You don't mean killing her, do you?" asked Amarah.
"If that's what it takes, then yes," replied Trista. "The lives of all humans, and the very fate of our universe, is at stake in this battle. If one girl has to die to protect all of that, then so be it. But we must try to get her away from the battle without killing her, if at all possible."
"Sounds good to me," said Amarah. "So, how do we do it?"
"I'm afraid I haven't figured that part out yet," Trista admitted.
"Then what good is this plan of yours, anyway?" asked Amarah.
"If we resort to killing the innocent girl, the plan will work," replied Trista. "There are times when you will be forced to make sacrifices for the greater good, including killing an innocent victim in cold blood. There was a time when you were perfectly willing to do that, wasn't there? When you were searching for Pure Heart Crystals...."
"I never really accepted it," said Michelle. "Even though I went along with the plan, I never felt that it was right."
"Looks like we're going to have to do it again," groaned Amarah.
"Please understand, I have tried to come up with a better solution," said Trista. "But I cannot. If you can think of a less costly solution, by all means, suggest it."
"Why don't we just disguise ourselves?" asked Amarah. "That way, we could do whatever we wanted, and the Sailor Scouts would be none the wiser."
"It's not quite that simple," replied Trista. "There's no way to hide the fact that we are Sailor Scouts, especially if we use our powers in the presence of the Inner Scouts. Remember, our Sailor Scout forms were created to disguise our human identities so that no one, not even other Sailor Scouts, can recognize us. Although that magic protects our vulnerable human forms, it would give us away as Sailor Scouts in an instant, regardless of how we might try to disguise ourselves."
"And what's so bad about that?" asked Amarah. "So the Inner Scouts know that there are other Sailor Scouts besides them. Is that really going to cause a paradox?"
"It might. I can't say for certain. However, there is a greater danger in being recognized as Sailor Scouts. If Luna or Artemis were to see us, it might jog their memories and remind them of how the Sailor Scouts can ascend to the next level of power."
"That's good, isn't it?" asked Amarah. "At least then they could defend themselves more capably."
"No!" shouted Trista. "Their bodies are not yet mature enough to handle that much power! The effort of trying to harness it would tear their bodies apart. That is why I blocked the memories of the cats... so that they would not remember how to call upon power that the Sailor Scouts were not ready to use."
"Even if they could handle the power," said Michelle, "it might be enough to let them beat Queen Beryl without sacrificing themselves."
"And that's bad?" asked Amarah.
"Very bad," said Trista. "The Sailor Scouts didn't reach their second level of power until after their rebirth. They had to learn of their true nature all over again, which is what delayed them from reaching that level before the aliens, Ann and Alan, invaded Earth. The aliens were unprepared for that level of power, which is what allowed the Sailor Scouts to defeat them. But, if they had known about that power..."
"I see," said Michelle. "So the Sailor Scouts' sacrifice was what kept their greater power hidden until the right time."
"Exactly," said Trista.
"What if we wore the disguise in our human forms?" asked Michelle.
"Then we would be as helpless as the girl we were trying to save," replied Trista.
"But at least there's a chance we could save her," Michelle pointed out.
"Under normal conditions, I would take that chance. But because our enemies are from another parallel dimension, it is far too dangerous to rely on chance."
"What? Why is that?"
"Because actors only have the capacity to create oblique dimensions while within their own parallel dimension."
Amarah sighed and sat in a chair. "I get the feeling I'm supposed to understand this, but I don't."
"Oblique dimensions are rather stochastic in nature... do you know anything about stochastic theory?"
"Math was never one of my better subjects," said Amarah. "That's Neptune's department."
"Well, picture a parallel dimension, a universe, as a tree. There's a solid trunk, and everything at that height on the tree is in the trunk. Everything in the tree depends on that trunk to bring nutrients up from the ground."
"Sounds like you're taking this analogy a bit too far, but go on."
"As the trunk rises, it splits into branches. Each of those branches is an oblique dimension. Each one of those branches forks again into other branches, although not quite as many as the trunk does."
"So imagine the span of a universe as building that tree from the ground up, rather than the normal way that a tree grows. You begin with the roots, the fundamental principles on which the universe is based. Then, the trunk is created, a starting point for all of the timelines. Then, the actors are created and begin to live their lives."
"Then they start making decisions, and branches start to grow," said Michelle.
"Not all decisions are important enough to create new branches," said Trista. "For example, the fate of the universe hardly hinges upon whether you decide to have rice or noodles for dinner tonight. However, when an important decision is reached, the tree branches, and each branch is identical at the start. Then, in each branch, the decision is made in a different way, and the results are played out in that oblique dimension."
"It all sounds deterministic to me," said Amarah. "All possibilities exist somewhere on the tree."
"But not all branches are equally strong," replied Michelle.
"Exactly. Each branch of the tree, each way of making the decision, is unique. Thus, they are not all equally likely. For example, suppose that you are both in a fight, and Sailor Neptune is knocked unconscious. She is about to be eaten by a hideous creature, but you're not sure that you can defeat it alone. Do you try to fight it anyway, or do you leave her to her fate and escape to find help?"
"I'd fight it, of course!" said Amarah.
"My hero," said Michelle with a smile.
"It is a decision that could change the fate of the universe, but it is far more likely that you would try to save her. So the branch representing the possibility that you leave her to die would be very thin. Thin branches rarely grow very large. Most of them become mere twigs, and many break off of the tree entirely. If a branch falls off of the tree, all of its subsidiary branches are destroyed."
"We're not talking about twigs here, are we?" asked Amarah. "We're talking about oblique dimensions. So are you saying that dimensions that aren't likely to happen are destroyed?"
"The actors responsible for the choice do what they can to reconcile their decision," said Trista. "That is the pang of regret you feel when making any choice. The universe is delving into your past, searching for any motivation that would lead you to the decision you made. If the decision cannot be reconciled, the oblique dimension is destroyed."
"So, what does this all have to do with the people from other universes?"
"They are like cells that are foreign to the tree. They can interact with the actors of this world, but cannot spawn new branches."
"Why not?" asked Michelle. "They're actors in this parallel universe, aren't they?"
"Yes, but they will presumably return to their own universe when their work here is done. Their timelines extend beyond the moment at which they were brought here. However, if they were allowed to exist in multiple oblique dimensions within this universe, there would be multiple copies of them returning to the same oblique dimension in their own universe. It would be like grafting a limb from another tree, letting it grow branches, then trying to reattach it to the original tree. The stump would not have grown, but the branch would have grown thicker and heavier... too thick to fit where it had been removed."
"And that would cause a paradox, right?" asked Amarah.
"No, the result of that would be far worse," said Trista. "But the framework of the universe prevents it from happening by ceasing production of new oblique dimensions that contain actors from another universe. So when they act, they can never create new oblique dimensions. They only destroy future possibilities."
"So if they kill us, the alternative where they don't kill us can't possibly exist!" realized Michelle.
"Precisely. Similarly, if they kill one of the Sailor Scouts, all branches that originate from her actions will be destroyed. Those are the branches from which I brought the two of you."
"But if we already exist in this time, what happens if the future we came from is wiped out?" asked Amarah.
"Remember, the roots of the tree are the fundamental principles on which a universe is based," said Trista. "If one of those principles is violated, such as the existence of actors who cannot exist within the laws of the universe... those roots are destroyed. The entire tree is uprooted. And in falling, it often takes other trees with it."
"I don't like this analogy any more!" said Amarah. "Are you saying that the entire universe could be destroyed just because you brought us here to save the Crystal Millennium?"
"That's not entirely true," replied Trista. "The universe was in just as much danger before your arrival."
"So, there's someone else here from the future?" asked Michelle.
"Knowledge is power," whispered Trista. "I may have already said too much. The more known, the more fuel for the fire that will burn this tree to the ground."
"But we have to know what we're fighting!" protested Michelle.
"I know little more than you do!" shouted Trista. "Don't you understand? I am the Guardian of Time! I know all possibilities past, present, and future... but the future of this timeline is clouded. I can no longer see the future while I am in this timeline." A tear fell from her eye. "You can't possibly understand what it's like. Imagine suddenly not being able to see more than five feet away from you. Everything beyond that, in every direction, is totally black."
"Oh god... I had no idea," said Michelle.
"Normally, I can see what effect my actions will have. If something is completely out of place, I can act to repair the damage to the timeline. But now... the future is black."
Amarah hummed. "Well, we've still got to do whatever we can to make the most of that black future. So let's get back to the plan."
"Yes," said Trista. "The universe can be saved, or else we would all have been obliterated by now. The question is, how? Is it even something within our power to do?"
"I suppose there's only one way to find out," said Amarah.
Michelle nodded. "We'll have to do whatever we can and see what happens."
Trista sat down heavily on the bed and rested her head in her hands. "Pluto... are you feeling okay?" asked Michelle.
"It's just a headache," replied Trista. "The thought of not knowing what effect my actions will have... it's just difficult for me. I'll manage, somehow."
"As long as you don't lose it in battle," said Amarah. "So, what's our plan for saving the girl?"
"I think what Pluto said has given me an idea," said Michelle. "You and I can go in wearing disguises over our ordinary clothes and rescue the girl while Pluto distracts the enemies and gets rid of the Inner Scouts. Then we activate our Sailor Scout powers and take them on."
"It sounds like a good plan," said Trista. "But wouldn't it be better for only me to rescue the girl while the two of you provide a distraction?"
"You're the one who has the best idea of how much we can do without causing a paradox," replied Michelle. "Uranus and I work well enough together that we should be able to handle ourselves, even without our powers. All you need to do is convince the Inner Scouts to leave the fighting to us."
Trista hummed her assent and lowered her head. "So many possibilities... and only one will come to pass now."
"Don't feel bad, Pluto," said Michelle comfortingly. "We're going to win this battle. Even if you don't have the certainty of being able to see the future, you can still have faith."
Trista nodded. "It is faith above all that determines the fate of a universe. Enough faith can make even the least likely possibility give rise to a stable timeline, and the most certain events can fail if there is no faith in them. So, let us have faith in our abilities and prepare for the battle ahead."
"We've got to eat before they decide to attack again," said Amarah, reaching for the phone. "What should we order?"
"I don't think it will matter that much," said Michelle. "After all, it's not like the fate of the universe depends on it." She started to laugh at her own joke, and Amarah quickly joined in. Even solemn Trista smiled and wiped the tears from her eyes.
"No," she said to herself. "The fate of the universe depends solely on us now."
Lina and Ranma walked in silence through the Negaverse, neither able to summon the courage to speak. Her right hand gripped his left tightly, and his own grip was no less firm. Lina looked over her shoulder from time to time, as if expecting Beryl to sneak up from behind and demand an explanation for her failure. Ranma just squeezed her hand reassuringly each time, reminding her that she wasn't alone in dealing with her problems.
It was during one of these shoulder checks that Ranma drew to a sharp halt. Lina turned to stare questioningly at him, but his eyes were fixed on the crystal before him. She examined the short-haired girl within the crystal. "A friend of yours?" she asked quietly. Ranma nodded. "Who is she?"
"Her name's Akane," said Ranma. "Akane Tendo."
Lina watched a tear fall from Ranma's eye. "You must really care about her, huh?"
"Yeah, I guess," said Ranma.
Lina sighed. "You could sure fool me. Talk about Mr. Enthusiasm..."
Ranma sat down and cradled his head in his arms. "Back in my world, we're engaged to be married. But our fathers arranged it all. We spend all of our time fighting and arguing."
"But you don't really mean it, do you?" asked Lina, sitting beside him. "Even through all the yelling and fighting, you still can't stand the thought of being without her, can you?"
"It sounds kinda crazy, doesn't it?"
Lina gazed off to the side, where the crystal that held Gourry Gabriev hung suspended in space. "No, I don't think it sounds crazy at all."
Ranma chuckled. "You haven't heard the half of it. She's not the only one I'm engaged to."
Lina's brow furrowed. "You're in love with a different girl?"
"My pops would engage me to anyone whose father had some money, or food, or a dojo that he could try to gain out of the marriage. Then he'd steal the dowry and run off, blaming the whole thing on me."
"Sounds like quite a guy," said Lina sarcastically. "So, how many fiancÃ©es did you end up with?"
"I don't think even he knows for sure," replied Ranma. "There are more girls fighting over me in my world than we've been fighting in this world... Some of them I'd consider friends; some rivals; and some..." He looked up at Akane. "I don't think I could put those feelings into words. I don't even know what love is anymore. Any of those relationships could be love, and I wouldn't know it from the way I feel about any other girl."
"I bet turning into a girl yourself doesn't help."
"To say the least." Ranma sighed. "Why am I telling you all of this, anyway? Here I am, pouring my heart out to a total stranger..."
"It's a tough time for both of us," said Lina, wrapping her arm around his shoulders. Ranma shuddered slightly, but didn't push her away. "We're being forced to kill innocent girls to save the ones we - have undefinable feelings for. If we can't trust each other... we'll be alone."
Ranma nodded. "Yeah, I see what you mean."
Lina quickly pulled her arm back. "Hey, don't get me wrong! You're probably a really nice guy, but... well, I..."
"I know." Ranma looked back to Akane's crystal. "So... tell me about him."
"Who?" asked Lina naively. "Oh, right. You mean the guy in my crystal." She leaned back and stared into what passed for a sky. "His name's Gourry Gabriev. I met him not too long ago, just before I fought the Monster Lord Shabranigdo. He thought I was a little girl until he saw my magic. And I thought he was a klutz until I saw the way he fought with the Sword of Light."
"Akane thought I was a real girl when we first met," said Ranma. "That's the last time she actually treated me as an equal. Ever since then, nothing I can do is good enough for her."
"And what about all of those other girls?" asked Lina.
"They all have their own problems," replied Ranma. "I don't think there's a normal girl in my life. My mother's pretty normal, but if she ever found out that I was cursed, she'd force me to kill myself."
"And that's normal?"
"More normal than most."
"Geez, you must lead an interesting life."
"Is yours any less interesting?"
Lina laughed. "I can't say that it isn't. I get to fight all sorts of monsters and steal treasures from bandits..."
"Man, that sounds like fun. All I get to do is fight people all the time. Just about everyone in my world seems to want to kill me."
"Except all those fiancÃ©es of yours?" asked Lina.
"Even some of them."
"Yikes! That must keep you on your toes!"
"I'm a martial artist," replied Ranma. "Pops would say it's all part of my training." He turned to Lina. "You know, you don't seem like the type of person who'd want to kill anyone..."
"Is that supposed to be a pick-up line?"
Ranma shook his head. "I was just wondering... how do you work up the nerve to kill someone?"
Lina slowly edged away from Ranma. "What kind of question is that?"
Ranma sighed. "I saw you attacking the Sailor Scouts just before Ryoko and I showed up. But you really don't seem like the violent type. So... how do you do it?"
"Why are you asking me?" asked Lina. "Why not ask Ryoko? She seems to be pretty good at it."
"That's exactly why I can't ask her," replied Ranma. "She's probably used to killing by now. I expect she does a lot of that as a space pirate. I need to know how someone like you, who doesn't kill a lot of innocent people, can do it."
"It's not something I'm proud of," said Lina. "Why do you want to know?"
"Because I think I know who Sailor Jupiter is. She invited me over tonight to spar with her, and if her style is the same as Sailor Jupiter's, I'll know it's her. If not, the innocent girl won't know anything about us, and we won't have to hurt her at all."
Lina's eyes widened. "That's a great idea! But how can you be so sure?"
"I can tell," replied Ranma. "I've fought enough opponents to be able to distinguish their styles. Sailor Jupiter fights about as well as Akane does, but she likes to lead more with her right arm and keeps her stance a little narrower. Those little differences are enough for a martial artist with my level of skill to distinguish one opponent from another."
"Wow," said Lina, impressed. "I never thought of that. I wonder if I could learn to identify my opponents based on their level of magic use. Not that I have any problems with opponents in disguise..."
"But identifying Sailor Jupiter is only half of the battle," said Ranma. "If Lita does turn out to be Sailor Jupiter, I'll have to kill her. I'm no more ready to do that than I'm sure you were to attack Stephanie. So... how do you do it?"
Lina sighed. "Well... it's not easy. You've basically got to lose your mind. You have to force yourself to hate your target so much that you forget you're looking at a human being. You've got to let your rage take over. Just keep telling yourself that the world will be better off without them, and you're doing the world a favor by killing them. Then, when the critical moment comes, just before you let them have it, if you start to lose your focus..." She looked up at Akane's crystal. "... just remember why you're really doing it."
The air grew quiet as Lina let her words hang in the air. It took her a few seconds to realize that Ranma was no longer breathing. She turned back to him to see him staring back at her through wide eyes. "Hey, are you okay?" she asked, waving her hand in front of his face.
Ranma shook his head to clear it. "You've done it before, haven't you?"
"Done what? Killed someone? Plenty of times. Like I said, there were monsters and bandits -"
"No, I'm talking about innocent people. There was something... familiar about the way you described how you did it, like it wasn't just the one time."
Lina closed her eyes. "I don't really want to talk about it right now."
"I don't blame you," said Ranma. "I wouldn't want to talk about it either."
"So, you've never killed anyone?" asked Lina.
Ranma smirked. "I don't really want to talk about it right now."
"Wipe that silly grin off your face," snapped Lina. "It's not funny."
Ranma did so. "Sorry. I didn't realize it was a sensitive subject for you."
"You don't understand anything, do you?" Lina stood up. "I can't believe you're such a jerk!"
"Huh?" Ranma looked up at Akane. "Did you two switch minds or something?"
"Don't you dare look away from me!" shouted Lina. "I don't know what I ever saw in you! You make me sick! Why don't you just drop dead?"
"You're scaring me, Lina," said Ranma, backing away.
"You should be scared," replied Lina. "You're completely worthless. You don't deserve to live." A fireball appeared in her hand.
"Queen Beryl said we're not supposed to fight!" protested Ranma.
"I don't care! My stomach churns at the mere thought of you! The only thing that matters to me now is killing you and making the world a better place!"
Ranma leapt to his feet and raised his hands in defense. "Calm down! I don't want to fight you!"
"That's exactly why I do want to fight!" Lina aimed the fireball at Ranma. "Now, DIE!" Ranma shut his eyes and waited for the end. When it didn't come, he opened his eyes again. Lina smiled. "Then you let them have it. The key is to surprise them if you can. If they don't expect it, it will be easier to kill them. Got it?" Ranma nodded slowly. "Great! Just remember what I showed you and you'll be fine. Good luck with Sailor Jupiter!" Lina turned and walked into the darkness.
Ranma sat down heavily and began to breathe again. "I know I asked for it, but... did she have to demonstrate her technique on me?"
Serena closed her workbook in disgust. "I just can't take it anymore! We're fighting new enemies that are way too powerful for us, we have absolutely no idea how to beat them, and to top it all off, even if we do manage to beat them, I'm going to fail!"
Amy sighed. "Serena, we're never going to make any progress in either of those areas if we give up. Now, why don't we try Science again?"
"I don't see how you can concentrate on homework at a time like this," said Mina. "Grades aren't going to do us much good if we're dead."
"Yeah," agreed Lita. "Have you come up with a plan yet?"
"I'm afraid not," Amy admitted. "Although I hate to admit it, our powers simply aren't going to be enough. We're used to fighting one opponent at a time, and now we're facing four that are more powerful than any of the ones we've fought before."
"But our powers do work on them," Raye pointed out. "I even managed to hit the spiky-haired one with my fire when she was distracted."
"Hitting them is fine," said Mina, "but we just aren't causing any damage at all. It's like we weren't even trying."
"She's right," said Lita. "All the distractions in the world aren't going to help us if we can't get some more firepower."
"Luna and Artemis are working on that," said Amy. "In the meantime, we're going to have to make the best use we can out of the powers we have."
"What I want to know," said Lita, "is who helped us in that battle. We've got powerful allies. If we can figure out who they are, we might be able to work with them."
"If they wanted us to know who they are," said Raye, "they would have told us. As it is, I have a feeling that we can neither trust them nor depend on them."
"Well, there goes our best hope," said Mina. "I was counting on our invisible allies to pull us out of this one. What else can we possibly do?"
"We can't depend on the cats to help us find greater power, or on the powers we have now, or on outside help," summarized Amy. "I'm afraid there isn't anything else that can help us."
"Wait, that's it!" shouted Lita. "The cats!"
"What are you talking about, Lita?" asked Serena. "Amy just said we can't depend on the cats."
"I'm not talking about reaching our next level of power," replied Lita. "The one I was fighting, that boy... he was afraid of Artemis!"
"That's nothing special," said Mina. "I think anyone would get a little freaked at the idea of a talking cat."
"It wasn't the fact that Artemis talked," said Lita. "He said, and I quote, 'Is that a c-c-cat?'"
"I suppose it's possible," said Amy pensively. "Ailurophobia is a well-documented condition."
"What-o-phobia?" asked Serena.
"It means a fear of cats," explained Amy. "We'll have to invite Luna and Artemis to the next battle and see if that theory is true."
"And what if it is?" asked Raye. "How are we going to use that fear to our advantage?"
"Distraction tactics," replied Mina. "Luna and Artemis can keep him busy while the rest of us fight off the other two."
"Okay... I think I see the problem with this plan. That still leaves two of them for the rest of us to fight. And the two girls seemed to be the powerful ones. Assuming that black girl doesn't show up again..."
"I have an idea," said Serena, staring dejectedly at her workbook. "We can force them to do homework until their brains explode."
"Can't you take this seriously?" shouted Lita. "We're talking about life and death here!"
"Well, MY brain is about to explode," said Serena.
"I never thought I'd say this," said Mina, "but Serena... get your head out of that book! We're trying to figure out how to beat our new enemies, or is science really so fascinating that you'd rather read than survive?"
"Who knows?" asked Amy. "Perhaps the power of science will suggest something that we haven't thought of."
"Serena's chemistry experiments always blow up in the science lab," said Lita. "Maybe she can cook us up a bomb or something."
"The Sailor Scouts don't fight that way," said Raye. "We're defenders of truth and love, not mercenaries."
"But if it's the only way to fight..."
"I think explosives would be too dangerous," said Amy. "Innocent people could get hurt in the explosion, and so could we."
"We're going in circles!" shouted Raye. "Every time anyone comes up with an idea, it's too dangerous, or we can't trust it, or it's not good enough!"
"You were the one who said the cats wouldn't be a help," Serena pointed out.
"Thank you, meatball-head," said Raye, giving Serena a noogie. "The point is, we've come up with fifty plans that don't work. Can't we just put them all together and come up with a single plan that will work?"
"We certainly do have quite a large number of ideas," agreed Amy. "I only wish I had the time to come up with a plan that used them..."
"What could possibly be more important than coming up with a plan to save our lives?" asked Mina.
"Algebra," admitted Amy. She immediately shrank under four scathing glares. "All right! All right! My grades may slip, but I'll start working on a plan right away!"
"Your grades will never slip," said Lita. "I don't see what you're so worried about. You probably don't even need to study."
"On the contrary," replied Amy, "it's because I study so much that I do so well in school."
"I suppose that makes sense," said Serena. "On the other hand, I do bad no matter how hard I study."
"Badly," corrected Amy. "Studying is an important part of education. It's like athletes consistently practicing their sport, or a martial artist training daily. Right, Lita?"
"Training! Shoot, I nearly forgot!" Lita searched the walls. "Raye, don't you have a clock in here? What time is it?"
"It's a quarter to eight," replied Mina. "Why?"
"I'm supposed to meet Ranko at eight!" She grabbed her gym bag and bolted out the door.
"Who's Ranko?" asked Mina.
"She's a new girl at school," replied Amy. "She just transferred in today."
"Really?" said Mina. "We got a new girl at our school too!"
"What are you two thinking?" asked Serena. "That there's some kind of connection?"
Raye shrugged. "It does seem a bit suspicious. Does one of them have long red hair and the other white spiky hair?"
"She's got red hair," said Mina and Amy together. They looked at each other and laughed.
"I guess we were leaping to conclusions," said Amy. "It's just a coincidence."
"Why can't my answers ever be right by coincidence?" whined Serena. "No, all the good coincidences are wasted on new students!"
"That's why you have to study harder," said Amy. "Look, it's quite simple. Photosynthesis -"
Raye cleared her throat. "Amy, the plan? I don't think photosynthesis is going help us beat our enemies."
Amy put her finger to her lips. "True. But it does help plants make food from sunlight."
"If plant food will give us more power, I'm all for it," said Raye. "Otherwise, let's focus on our plan, shall we?"
Mina sighed. "Lita's so lucky. She gets to do that calming Zen fighting thing while we wrack our brains to come up with a plan."
"What calming Zen fighting thing?" asked Serena.
"You know... 'Clear your mind of all distractions, grasshopper.' What I wouldn't give to be able to do that right now..."
"It does sound relaxing," agreed Amy.
"Hey, what say we go pay Lita a little visit?" suggested Raye. "We could probably all use the break from studying, and we might get some ideas from watching the fight."
"Sounds good to me," said Serena. "A lot more fun than photosynthesis any day."
"There are only a few places she might have gone," said Mina. "It shouldn't take us too long to find her."
"But what about our homework?" asked Amy.
"AMY!" shouted the other three.
Amy blushed. "Sorry. I meant to say, 'Let's go find Lita.'"
"That's what I thought," said Raye.
"It's time," said Ranma. He poured the canteen of cold water on his head and tucked the thermos into her gym bag for safekeeping. "Lita... I sure hope you're not Sailor Jupiter. For your sake."