Sailor Pluto travels to the past, changing history while she tries to set the present to rights.
Chapter 13: To Protect the Future
"Ouch! Let me go! I'm not a kid anymore!"
Queen Serenity sighed, as much from thinly veiled happiness as from exasperation at her daughter's precociousness. She got to see so little of Serena any more that even routine acts of discipline came as a welcome excuse to spend time with her. But she had to be firm. She was the girl's mother, after all, not to mention Queen of the Moon Kingdom. She straightened up in her throne as Sailor Venus approached, dragging Princess Serena by the arm.
"I caught her trying to sneak out through the kitchen, Majesty," Venus reported.
"Oh, it's just not fair!" Serena whined. "Why do I have to be locked in the palace all the time? I can't go out and make friends, or explore the Moon, or even talk to anyone!"
Queen Serenity glared sharply at her daughter. "You know these are dangerous times, Serena. We are at war! There is no way for me to protect you outside the palace walls." She placed her warm hands on Serena's cheeks lovingly. "Remember, you are our last hope for the future. It will be up to you to assume the throne after me."
"I'll be really super-careful, honest!" promised Serena. "I just want to have fun, and be a normal girl! Is that too much to ask?"
"Sometimes, we all must make sacrifices," replied Serenity. "The entire Moon Kingdom is depending on you, and you have a great responsibility."
"I don't care about being Queen of the Moon Kingdom!" shouted Serena, punctuating her sentence by stamping her foot on the floor. "You never let me do anything fun! I always have to sit around and be bored because of stupid responsibility!"
"I know you don't want it," agreed Serenity, "but responsibility is not something that you can choose whether or not to accept."
"Well, I DON'T accept it!" Serena whirled around, flaring her skirt, and stormed all of two feet toward the door before bumping into Sailor Venus. "What are you still doing here?" she demanded.
"I'm not going to let you try to run away again," explained Venus. "For your own safety, you must stay within the palace walls."
"But that's so BORING!" whined Serena.
"Would you rather be bored or dead?" snapped Venus.
"That will be all, Sailor Venus," Serenity said abruptly. "I understand your concern, but I would appreciate it if you did not speak to my daughter in that tone of voice again."
Venus stiffened at that, but quickly brought herself to attention and bowed deeply. "My apologies, Your Majesty. I forgot my place."
"And as for you, Serena..." Serenity continued as Venus made her hasty egress. Serena turned back to her mother, belatedly pulling her tongue back into her mouth. Serenity sighed. "I understand that you're a teenage girl with particular needs, but the times simply are not suitable for that type of activity." Serenity stood up and stepped forward, raising a hand to Serena's cheek. "I care only for you, Daughter, and keep you here only for your protection. I would die if anything happened to you."
"I know that, Mother," grumbled Serena, doing her best to fight the power of the maternal guilt trip. "But I can take care of myself, honest!"
"Is that so?" asked Serenity, the light in her eyes taking on an entirely different type of glow. Without warning, she backhanded Serena in the face, knocking the Moon Princess to the floor.
"Ow!" cried Serena, rubbing her cheek as she sat up. "What did you do that for?"
"Had I but had a knife, I could have stabbed you in the heart just as easily," replied Serenity.
"But why would you do that, Mother?" asked Serena.
"I would not. But the power of darkness is everywhere, enslaving the hearts of innocent people. Anyone out there could be a vicious killer, and you are one of their most important targets. The man who sold you apples yesterday could slit your throat today, and you'd never know the difference until you were dead!" She had knelt to lower herself to Serena's eye level as she spoke, and by now her face was less than an inch from Serena's. "I have been outside since Beryl began this war, and the streets are a madhouse. The Sailor Scouts have their hands more than full trying to keep the common people safe, and they have no time to play chaperone to you."
Serena swallowed hard. Her mouth was too dry to speak, even if she could think of something to say.
Serenity smiled warmly. "Serena, I don't tell you this to frighten you. I do it because I love you so much. I know how much you hate being imprisoned in the palace, but if you went outside, you would learn too late why we tried to keep you here." She threw her arms around Serena in a tight hug. "Please, promise me you won't leave these walls where I can protect you with all my love."
Serena returned the embrace. "I promise, Mother." When she leaned back, the tears running down her face had coalesced into a full stream. "I'm really sorry I tried to sneak out."
"Now, go to your room, Serena," said Serenity. "I'll ask one of the retainers to bring you some hot cocoa later."
Serena nodded and stood up. Gathering her skirt, she turned around and quickly walked out of the room. Serenity smiled after her daughter, but it was a melancholy gesture. "She's going straight for the outside," she said aloud. "And there's nothing I can do to stop her."
"She'll be safe for the moment," said a heavy voice from behind her. Serenity turned to face Sailor Pluto, who was struggling to hold up a body so covered in blood that Serenity almost couldn't make out the slight feminine curves. "Right now, I desperately need your help."
Serenity gasped at the sight. "My god! What happened? Who is that?"
"I don't really have time to explain," said Pluto. "Can you heal her?"
Serenity laid a hand on the woman's head, feeling the severe dent from a hard impact. "I'll try," she replied. "But it's difficult to use the Silver Crystal to heal someone unless I feel a special connection to that person."
"Please try," pleaded Pluto, laying the girl on the floor. "The fate of our universe depends on it."
"Can you at least tell me her name?" asked Serenity as she knelt beside the prone girl.
Pluto paused to consider her answer carefully. "Her name is Amarah," she said at last. "She's a strong woman with many friends, who excels at... her favorite sport, and she is a champion to those weaker than herself. She also holds on to a love that is understood by few and accepted by fewer."
"You hesitated," Serenity noted. "There is something you are not telling me. Something that you cannot tell me."
"There is much I cannot tell you now," Pluto admitted. Namely, the concept of 'racing', which would be quite foreign in this time period. "But this girl was struck down while defending the innocent from unbelievable evil. She gave her life for her ideals, and I want to give it back!"
"One who fights for the innocent, just as the Sailor Scouts do," said Serenity. "There are precious few like her, then. But why would the fate of the Universe depend on her?"
"I have no time to explain," Pluto returned curtly. "I have other business to attend to, and my time is short." Serenity chuckled at that. "What is so funny?"
"I realize that the gravity of your situation must be enormous," said Serenity, "but you must admit that it is rather ironic for the Guardian of Time itself to find herself short of it."
"The irony does not escape me," replied Pluto, "but it is difficult to laugh when our Universe faces such grave danger."
Serenity looked up, meeting Pluto's eyes for the first time. She seemed much more mature than when Serenity had last seen her, if it was possible for an ageless being to mature, and her dark gaze told Serenity volumes of how desperate her situation was. "This is a matter far beyond my ability to comprehend, isn't it?" she asked timidly.
"Very much so," replied Pluto. "But I can promise that, except for this favor that I wish I did not have to ask, the situation I am facing will never affect you."
"How can you be so sure?" asked Serenity.
"Because if it does," replied Pluto snappishly, "then there will no longer be a you for it to affect."
Serenity's face went ashen at Pluto's tone even before the words had sunk in. "No longer...?"
Pluto paled to a shade that made Serenity's face look flushed by comparison. "I have to leave," she announced. "I cannot afford to risk revealing the truth to you and destroying everything."
"Truth? What...?" Before Serenity could form a question, Pluto vanished, leaving Serenity alone but for her own half-formed thoughts and the dying girl in front of her. Her lips tightened at the thought that her own advisor was keeping such important secrets from her, and leaving her with this task as if she were a mere servant, and not the Queen of the Moon Kingdom! And yet... the urgency of her tone had struck at Serenity's core, and Pluto was not the type of woman who would take any action without a very good reason. If she felt that knowledge would be dangerous, then Serenity would have to live in ignorance.
Not to mention the fact that, all questions of trust aside, there was a life that needed saving whether she understood the cosmic significance of her actions or not. Serenity turned her attention to the body that was slowly spreading the last of its blood across her floor. She could still faintly feel the girl's life force, but she had already stopped breathing. Serenity quickly summoned the Crescent Moon Wand to her hand and held it over the still body, concentrating on what little she knew of the girl. Amarah's life lay in Serenity's ability to love a complete stranger.
It was going to be the most difficult battle of Serenity's life.
Sailor Mercury paused in her work as the door to her laboratory opened. She'd distinctly asked not to be disturbed in her work, but apparently someone had decided that their business was more urgent than the development of new defense technology for the Mars district. Ah, well The sooner the intruder was dealt with, the sooner she could get back to work. She turned away from her workbench to give her visitor a cold greeting, but when she saw who was standing there, she immediately warmed up. "Sailor Pluto, what a surprise!"
"Likewise," replied Sailor Pluto. "I had not planned any further business in the mortal world, but circumstances have forced me to ask a difficult favor of you."
Mercury's smile vanished as quickly as it had appeared. "A difficult favor? What is it?" Mercury asked with the distinct feeling that she wasn't going to like it.
"I need you to repair something for me." Pluto stepped to the workbench and placed a paper bag on one of the few clear spots. The bag emitted a sound of crunching metal as it hit the hard surface, making Mercury's teeth grate.
Mercury carefully opened the bag and looked inside. "This is just a bag of spare parts!"
Pluto shook her head. "I know it is no longer recognizable, but that is in fact the Mercury Computer."
Mercury's eyes fell to her workbench, where her miniature computer lay half-buried in a pile of schematics. "What are you talking about? The Mercury Computer is perfectly fine!"
Pluto's eyes shifted as she considered how much information she could safely give Sailor Mercury. "That is the computer that belongs to your future self," she said at last.
"My future self?" repeated Mercury. "That's an odd way of putting it.... Does that mean you've brought this computer back in time to be repaired?"
"That's right," affirmed Pluto, glad that Mercury had been able to figure out enough of her meaning without requiring an impossible explanation.
But Mercury was still confused. "Why was I not able to repair it in the future? I'm sure my future self has better tools, and more experience...."
"Your future self is indisposed at the moment," Pluto replied curtly. "She needs the computer back immediately, and this is the only period in time that I can travel to for help. You must repair it quickly!"
"You'd do better to replace it completely," said Mercury. She picked up her own computer and offered it to Pluto. "I don't think it will take me more than a few months to build a new one."
"I'm afraid it won't work," said Pluto. "Your future self has a slightly simpler version of this design, and I'm sure this computer has information that she cannot be allowed to have."
"I don't understand," said Mercury, looking down at her computer. "If she's a future version of me, she should know everything that I know, and her computer should have more data, not less."
"I can't tell you about the future," said Pluto, "but you must trust me. I need this computer in working condition immediately."
Mercury glanced into the bag again. "But it's a mess! Even if I could fix it, it would take years!"
"I don't have years," Pluto said sharply. "I have minutes, if that long."
"Why don't you just come back later, when I've had time to work on it?" asked Mercury. "You can travel forward in time to that point instantly, can't you?"
Pluto blinked several times, nonplussed, before she could speak. "Yes... I can do that. It would certainly speed up the process a bit."
"Come back in a few years," Mercury invited. "I'm sure I can have it finished by then."
Pluto's entire body tensed. "I will be back in six months. That is as long as I can give you to complete the job."
"Six months?" cried Mercury. "Even if I had nothing else to do...!"
"Six months," repeated Pluto, her voice leaving no doubt that she meant that deadline to the second. "Have the job finished when I return." She bowed and vanished in a swirl of darkness.
Mercury stared at the spot where Pluto had been for a few minutes before returning her attention to the bag of mangled machinery. "Six months..." she repeated to herself yet again. "She really sounded serious. I wonder what's going to happen in six months."
Serenity was so deep in concentration that she didn't hear the footsteps approaching her until they stopped just beside Amarah. She saw the shadow fall across the girl's body and looked up to see Pluto standing over her. "How is she?" the Guardian of Time asked.
"Not well, I'm afraid," Serenity replied, ashamed to admit her failure. "I'm sorry, Sailor Pluto. But I simply do not have the compassion necessary for the Silver Crystal's power to work."
"I know," Pluto said simply. "I did not expect you to be able to do the job alone. That's why I brought you some help."
"Help?" Gratitude beamed through Serenity's face. "What have you brought?"
Two figures stepped into view to either side of Sailor Pluto. Serenity's weakened eyes tried to focus on their faces, failed, and fell to their distinctive dark miniskirts. The two Sailor Scouts knelt to examine the body, allowing Serenity to recognize the Sailor Scouts of the Outer Planets at last.
Sailor Uranus' face twisted in disgust. "What the hell happened to her?" she asked.
"What does it matter what happened to her?" Neptune admonished her partner. "She needs treatment first. The details can wait until afterwards."
"Right," agreed Uranus. "So what can we do to help?"
"It is difficult," warned Serenity. "You must focus all of your energy, and more importantly, your love for this girl, into the Silver Imperium Crystal."
"Love for this girl?" asked Uranus. "But we don't even know her!"
"That is what makes the task so difficult," Serenity pointed out. "But once you have committed yourselves, you will not be able to pull away, or she will most certainly die."
"Why is that?" asked Neptune, a bit shocked at the severity of the situation.
Serenity hissed a quick breath and winced at the effort of maintaining her own concentration while speaking. "When a person is this near death, the pain of the healing process can be too much for their weak bodies. The power of the Crystal shuts down the body's life processes to prevent the healing from killing its target. It takes a great amount of energy to hold the person in that state of balance between life and death, and yet greater power to heal them on top of that. But if the energy is removed, they will pass completely into death, never to awaken."
"Then you need our power to help heal her?" Neptune surmised.
Serenity nodded. "I have enough energy to keep her alive, but the energy that heals is the energy of love, and I fear that I do not have enough love for this girl to heal her from such dire wounds."
"And you expect us to love her more than you do?" asked Uranus. "I may 'swing that way,' but my heart belongs to Lady Neptune!"
"I don't think she's talking about that kind of love," Neptune countered with a slight blush.
Uranus looked down at the blood-covered body. "Yeah, I know. Still, she's not much to look at." She produced a small handkerchief and did her best to wipe some of the blood off the girl's face. "Good thing you caught me while I have a cold."
Neptune clicked her tongue disapprovingly. "Uranus, what are you doing?"
"I can't very well love a girl if I don't even know what she looks like," Uranus replied as if it should have been obvious. But as her eyes returned to the girl's face, her impatient air turned to shock.
"What's wrong?" asked Neptune, instantly detecting Uranus' change of mood.
"I feel like I know this girl," said Uranus in a hollow voice. "I don't know why, but I think I've seen this face somewhere before."
Neptune shifted her position and stared hard through the sticky coating of blood. "I'm afraid I don't recognize her at all." She looked up at Uranus with an apologetic look on her face, but Uranus' expression had not changed. Something in that expression sent a chill down Neptune's spine. Uranus really did know the girl in front of her. And when Neptune looked down at that face again, she did notice something familiar about it. Her heart jumped in her chest; yes, she had seen it somewhere. Why Uranus had sparked the mysterious memory was a mystery, but the girl in front of her was someone she would sorely miss if she died.
"So we just focus on the Crystal, right?" asked Uranus, bringing Neptune's attention back to her surroundings. "We just concentrate on the Crystal and think about how much we love this girl?"
Serenity nodded. "It will be exhausting, but with all three of us working together, I'm sure we can succeed."
Uranus took a deep breath and placed both of her hands on the Crescent Moon Wand's handle, covering Serenity's hands. Neptune did the same, and the three women closed their eyes to concentrate on beginning the healing process.
Sailor Pluto smiled as she returned to the Gate of Time. She hadn't been able to be sure, even in the past, but she'd had a feeling that the past Uranus and Neptune would be able to love Uranus' future self, even if they couldn't recognize her in her disguised form. She would be able to return soon to recover Uranus, but there was another piece of business to conduct first. That is, assuming Sailor Mercury had done her part....
The young boy's screams echoed through the empty corridors of the Moon Palace as he ran, fleeing the dark form of the pursuing monster. Pure terror-fed adrenaline coursed through his body, giving him near superhuman speed, but the monster was effortlessly keeping up and even closing the gap as it chased him. A slight misstep would cost him his life if it caused him to trip, but the only thought in his mind was escape, the dire need to be anywhere but here; a place where no monsters could threaten him. But there was no such place left in the Moon Kingdom.
A flash of blue among the gray of the darkened palace caught his eye, and he turned toward it, pushing his body through the last few meters to what he could only hope was safety. Sure enough, as he drew close, he heard a female voice encouraging him. "Get behind me, young man. I'll protect you!" Gratefully, he ran right past the woman before turning to watch as she stepped in front of him and raised her hands.
Wind swirled around her feet, blowing the hem of her blue miniskirt up to her waist as she concentrated power into her hands. "By the power of Mercury!" she shouted, not flinching as the monster loomed over her. "DRIVING ICICLE RAIN!" The energy became a collection of giant spear-shaped wedges that floated in the air before Sailor Mercury, filling the entire hallway with shards of ice. With a forceful gesture, she sent the icicles flying toward the monster.
The monster bellowed more from rage than pain as the icicles that struck the body within the cloud of shadow pierced it deeply. Mercury stared into the darkness, waiting for a sign that her opponent was still alive before wasting any more precious energy on another attack. She received no warning, however, as the darkness itself wrapped around her waist and lifted her off her feet. She barely had time to scream before another tentacle encircled her neck and began to strangle her.
"Sailor Mercury, hang on!" shouted a voice from the general vicinity of the boy she'd been protecting. "By the power of Mars! SCORCHING INFERNO BLAST!" Mercury braced herself for the moment she'd always known would someday come, when she would have to sacrifice her life to protect the innocent citizens of the Moon Kingdom, but the flames of Mars were not as fierce as she had expected. In fact, they never touched her. The only thing even slightly warm was her feet. Mercury carefully looked down to see a thin line of fire tracing its way across the floor toward the monster. The flames penetrated the dark cloud without touching it, and for a few seconds, she feared that the attack would have no effect. Then the entire hallway in front of her was engulfed in a column of fire and screams of true agony. The tentacles relaxed their grip, and she slid to the floor and rolled to her feet a safe distance from the blazing monster.
Satisfied that the threat was no more, Mercury turned gratefully to her savior. "The fuse technique.... So you HAVE been paying attention to my research after all."
"It was better than frying you along with the monster," replied Sailor Mars. "This new breed is tough. There are dozens of them swarming all over the palace, and they don't answer to any sort of physical attack. Even Venus can barely keep them at bay. Jupiter and I are stuck doing all the work."
Mercury glanced at the monster with a whole new sense of unease. "I suppose I could try my freezing mist, but I don't know how effective it would be."
"Well, you're the brains of the group," Mars reminded her. "Think of something. The shelter's still safe, last I heard, but I don't know how much longer we can hold out." She turned her eyes to the ceiling and lowered her voice so that her young ward couldn't hear. "I think this may be the end for us."
"Well, your attack seems to work, at least," said Mercury. "You take this young one to the shelter. I'll try to get to my lab and see if I can find something that will help."
"Be careful," warned Mars. "You'll be alone at that end of the palace. Run if you have to - there shouldn't be anyone there who needs protecting."
Mercury nodded her acknowledgement. "Stay alive, Sailor Mars."
"You too," returned the warrior of fire. She grabbed the boy's hand. "Let's go, kid. We'll get you to someplace safe."
Mercury watched until Mars and the boy had turned the corner and disappeared from sight before setting off at a sprint for her lab. The besieged building now felt twice as empty after the brief interaction with other people, and every time she passed one of the gaping holes in the wall or ceiling that gave her a view of the pulsating black sky outside, it was a painful reminder of the power that Beryl had spread across the face of the Moon. The fact that the destruction had already reached the palace was the surest sign that the end had indeed come. For most of Beryl's invasion, the Moon Palace had stood as a bastion of security that not even the darkness could touch; now that it had finally fallen, it was a tomb for those who had come to it seeking sanctuary.
She wound her way through the claustrophobic maze, taking more than one shortcut through the holes in the walls and using the once beautiful courtyards to her advantage. Once, she spotted a winged monster flying overhead, but it was one that would have fallen easily to her attacks had it come within range. It flew off quickly, though, and she proceeded without further incident to her destination.
Something seemed to have dripped from the ceiling onto the hinges, as it took all of Mercury's strength to force the lab door open, but she finally managed to gain access to her lab. The windowless room was still miraculously intact, shutting out what little light would have come in from outside. Her foot reflexively flipped the switch on the small generator near the door, providing power to the string of small lanterns that circled the walls of the room and giving her a bit of illumination, if not quite enough to work by. Then again, she would most likely never be able to work in this lab again.
"There you are," announced a deep voice from the inner part of the lab. "I was worried that you wouldn't make it in time."
Mercury slid toward her workbench. "Who's there?" she demanded. "Show yourself!"
Sailor Pluto stepped into the light. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to startle you. I forgot how stressful this time was."
Past tense... "You're a future version of Sailor Pluto, aren't you?" Mercury surmised.
"I gave you a job to do six months ago," said Pluto. "That time has elapsed. Is the Mercury Computer ready?"
Nothing like getting right to the point. "I finished the body work sooner than I'd expected," replied Mercury, "but recovering the data took a bit longer. I've really left the other Scouts high and dry these past few months working on the computer, but I knew how much it meant to you." She pushed some blueprints and half-finished - never to be finished - devices aside to uncover the future Mercury's computer. She handed it to Pluto, who eagerly flipped open the lid and watched it light up with activity.
"Amazing," assessed Pluto. "You've really outdone yourself."
"It was nothing, other than sleepless nights and missed battles," Mercury humbly replied.
"But there is one more thing I need you to do. A simple thing." She handed the computer back to Mercury. "This computer has access to the data archives of this time. I need that access removed."
Mercury gasped and glared at Pluto as if she'd asked her to erase a chapter from a holy text. "But that's all of my research! Hundreds of years of work, all for the sole purpose of providing valuable information for future reference... and you want me to destroy it all?"
"She'll figure out how to restore that access in due time," Pluto assured her. "But it's too soon at this time. She isn't ready for the information in the archives yet."
"'She?'" repeated Mercury. "Who are you talking about? I thought this computer belonged to me!"
"I suppose it's no secret now," Pluto said grudgingly. "You and the other Sailor Scouts will not survive this battle. However, my past self and Queen Serenity will use our powers to send your souls into the future to be reborn as ordinary girls until the time when you will be reawakened as Sailor Scouts to fight Queen Beryl again. Your reincarnations will have no memories of their past lives, and will have to mature as Sailor Scouts before they can use their full powers, as you now can. That information must remain hidden from them until the time is right."
Mercury's head had begun to ache as Pluto had confirmed her worst fears. The Moon Kingdom was indeed about to fall. But at least there was hope. "All right," she agreed. "I'll do it." She tapped in a quick sequence of commands on the keyboard. "There. I've restricted this computer's access to the database and deleted all of the files in the temporary directory. That should destroy anything that she may have accessed prior to the computer being smashed."
"Excellent," said Pluto as she recovered the computer. "I'm sorry to have been such a burden on you, but I truly had no choice."
"It's all right," Mercury assured her. Of course, if she removed that access from her own computer in this time, then Pluto's visit would turn out not to have been necessary in the first place, wouldn't it? She silently decided to do that before leaving the lab.
"I have one more order of business to attend to before I return to my own time," Pluto announced. "I'll take my leave of you now."
"Go in peace, Sailor Pluto," said Mercury. "If you happen by the shelter, let the others know I'll be there shortly. I just have to gather a few things."
"Certainly," agreed Pluto. She bowed gracefully before quickly making her way out of the lab through the door. She heard Sailor Mercury begin shifting the contents of her workbench around, searching for equipment that might help in the upcoming battle, as the scream of a rapidly falling object echoed through the sky. Seconds later, the ceiling of the laboratory caved in, burying the entire room under a ton of rubble as yet another monster landed to begin its assault on what was left of the Moon Palace.
"I'm sorry," Pluto whispered, clapping her hands together for a brief prayer. "This was your time." Even without Pluto's interference, this was where Sailor Mercury's grave had been - among the inventions that she had so treasured. This was the hardest part of having chosen to work so closely with the people of this universe... but she had no time to mourn. There was one last order of business before the past was closed to her forever. And once again, it all depended on Queen Serenity and the Outer Scouts upholding the faith that she'd placed in them....
Uranus pulled a hand away from the Crescent Moon Wand to wipe the sweat from her forehead. "I don't know about you two, but I'm about to collapse here."
Serenity's muscles tensed. "You can't. The healing process has barely begun. If we lose your energy now, she will die."
"I can keep going," said Neptune, "but I don't know for how much longer. I feel so drained...."
"We all have to keep going," said Serenity. "Sailor Pluto is depending on us."
Neptune glanced up at the queen. "You're getting a bit pale, Queen Serenity."
"I have a duty to uphold," replied Serenity. "I cannot let my weakness stand in the way of what must be done." With that, she started to pitch forward, but Uranus caught her with her free hand.
"I think you may have to, this time," said Uranus. "We're not accomplishing anything but wearing ourselves out."
"We must keep trying," urged Serenity as she tried to sit up. "We have to save...." Her breath halted for a few terrifying moments before she managed to catch it again. Her hands fell from the wand, and she slumped forward across Amarah's body.
"Queen Serenity!" cried Neptune.
"It was impossible from the start," Uranus grudgingly admitted. "Even our combined powers weren't enough to save her."
"No... Pluto would not have entrusted us with an impossible task," Serenity sobbed, a single tear falling from her eye to splash onto the crystal floor. "This was entirely the fault of my frailty."
The great door slowly swung open. Serenity raised her head, prepared to face the Guardian of Time with the shame due her failure, but her visitor was none other than her own daughter, with a very shocked expression on her face. Serena ran toward the group in the center of the room without even remembering to lift her skirt, but for once, she managed to make the entire distance without tripping. She slid the last few inches on her knees to kneel beside her mother. "Mother, what happened? Are you all right?"
Serenity pushed herself into a sitting position and shook her head. "I am not hurt, Daughter... but I do not deserve such good fortune. I have failed her."
"You mean this woman?" asked Serena, trying to keep her gaze on the bloody mess of a body on the floor without throwing up. "What happened to her?"
"Sailor Pluto brought her to me," replied Serenity. "But I couldn't save her."
Serena picked up one of the bloody hands and held it lovingly between her palms. With a start, she immediately let it fall to the floor again. "She's still warm, Mother! She's not dead!"
"She is beyond our help," countered Serenity. "There is no way to revive her now."
"But you can't just give up!" protested Serena. "She needs you!"
"There is nothing that can be done, Daughter...."
"Don't say that!" Serena shouted angrily. "You can't give up! I won't let you!"
"Better watch your mouth, Princess," warned Uranus. "That's the Queen of the Moon Kingdom you're talking to!"
"All the more reason that she can't just let this woman die!" Serena turned to her mother with remorse in her eyes. "I know you only yelled at me before because you love me and wanted me to be safe. But as the queen, you have to love everyone equally! How can you place me above anyone else?"
Serena's words shocked her mother to the core. "You're my only daughter, Serena! Of course I love you more than anyone else! How could I not?"
"If it were me lying on the floor dying, you wouldn't quit trying to save me," said Serena. "So why should anyone else deserve any less? Everyone deserves to live, Mother. And if you have the power to save them, as I know you do, it's your duty to use it."
Serenity regained her composure quickly. "You're right," she agreed. "I must try again."
Serena felt a flood of relief as her mother gathered her strength and raised the Crescent Moon Wand again. All too quickly, however, the queen collapsed again, her energy already completely spent. Serena lunged forward to catch her and prop her up until Uranus and Neptune could support her. Once her mother was in the hands of the Sailor Scouts, Serena grabbed the Crescent Moon Wand and held it over Amarah's body, closing her eyes in concentration.
"Serena, what are you doing?" cried Serenity. "Leave her be! There's nothing you can do!"
"Wait, Queen Serenity!" urged Neptune. "Look at the Imperium Silver Crystal!"
Serenity tried to do just that, but the glow of the Crystal was so bright that it hurt her eyes even when she turned away from it. The heat radiating from it coated her in delicious warmth that was deceptively comfortable, and she could feel the weariness melting away from her as if the energy filling the room were seeping into her body and reviving her tired spirit.
A few mere seconds later, the light faded, and the Imperium Silver Crystal's glow shrank into the jewel until it was gone. Serena took a deep breath and wiped her forehead with the back of her arm. "I think she'll be okay," she announced.
Serenity looked down at Amarah to see that the girl's clothes and face were still dotted with small spots of blood, but there were no visible injuries remaining, and her chest was moving as she breathed. "Amazing," she whispered. "Without even knowing her name...." She glanced up at Sailor Uranus, hoping for some indication that her mind was just playing tricks on her, but Uranus' attention was fixed raptly on the princess. Neptune's as well, she noted out of the corner of her eye as she looked up to see what was so fascinating about her daughter - then gasped as she saw the glowing mark of the crescent moon outlined on Serena's forehead. It shone for just a second before fading, as the fabric of Serena's dress settled around her as if it had momentarily escaped from gravity's pull and was only now subject to physical laws again.
The girl blinked and stared at the three wondering faces, her own face wearing an expression that was no less puzzled than theirs. "What are you guys staring at?" she asked. "Do I have something on my face?"
"You did," Uranus replied bluntly.
"It was the symbol of Planet Power," said Neptune. "The crescent moon, symbol of the power of the Moon."
"It is an ill omen," Serenity said darkly. "Planet Power is never this strong on a thriving world. If the power of the Moon is gathering here, into Serena... then the Moon is weaker than I thought."
"The Moon is weak?" asked Serena, still confused. "What are you talking about?"
Serenity shook her head. "Don't mind us. Political matters are weighing heavily on my mind."
Uranus took the cue. "It's just Sailor Scout stuff. Your Highness certainly has more important things to worry about."
Serena had to think about that for a bit. Uranus wasn't normally the type to use such a formal tone, even when addressing the Princess of the Moon Kingdom. She was obviously trying to cover something up, and it would probably be worth looking into when the excitement had died down a bit. For now, to cover up her intentions, she pouted, putting on her most disappointed face. "All right," she whined. "I'll just go to my room and study." She handed the Crescent Moon Wand back to her mother, stood up, and left the room, her air of angst hiding the smile within.
Neptune chuckled as Serena left the room. "What an overactor. You may want to keep an eye on her, Queen Serenity."
"Perhaps," mused Serenity. "But the fact that she bears the symbol of the Moon's power might very well mean that she can take care of herself. No, I'm afraid that Serena is the least of my worries right now...."
"Indeed she is," agreed Sailor Pluto.
Uranus stood up to bring herself to Pluto's level. "Do you always have to just appear like that?" she grumbled.
"I don't have the time to make a proper entrance," Pluto replied as the other two women stood up. "I've come to bring Amarah back."
"Would you mind telling us whose life we busted our butts trying to save?" asked Uranus. "Who is this girl?"
Pluto smiled mysteriously. "You know her better than you think." She knelt to pick up the still-unconscious Amarah.
"Sailor Pluto, please," said Serenity, stepping forward. "The things I have seen today speak of great disaster to come. I beg you, tell me what is going to happen to my kingdom and my people!"
Pluto lowered her eyes despondently. "I cannot. To know what will happen, whether it be pleasant of painful, can bring only misery. You will learn in due time what course of events awaits you."
Crestfallen, Serenity seemed ready to ask another question, but held her tongue. "Go with the power of the Moon, Sailor Pluto."
"And you as well, my Queen," replied Pluto. With a slight bow - the best she could manage with Amarah still in her arms - Pluto vanished from the throne room for the last time.
"I suppose we should be going as well," said Neptune.
Uranus nodded. "There's something about the way she was acting that I didn't like."
"Her voice gave me the chills," agreed Neptune. "Has she always been that cold?"
"She seems very different from the trusted advisor I have known for so long," added Serenity.
"Then what are you going to do?" asked Neptune. "Are you going to prepare for whatever is to come?"
"There is no secret about it," Serenity replied smoothly. "Beryl is preparing her invasion. Her minions draw ever closer, and if the Moon has entrusted its power to my daughter, then it is time for us to fight to defend it." She strode to her throne and pressed a button on one of the arms. "Sailor Mercury, are you there?"
"I am, Your Majesty," replied a voice from the opposite arm.
"I would like to speak with you about the Moon Kingdom's defenses," Serenity announced.
"I'm afraid something of the utmost importance has come up," Mercury apologized. "I need to get started on it right away, but I'll go and see you as soon as I can."
"Some people..." bemoaned Uranus as Serenity removed her finger from the button.
"This, too, worries me," said Serenity. "Of all the Sailor Scouts, Sailor Mercury must best understand the nature of the danger facing this kingdom. What could possibly be more important than that?"
"It would not be my place to say anything further on the matter," said Neptune. "Uranus and I should return to our posts, lest more trouble creep into the Solar System while we relax our guard."
"Couldn't even take the time to bring us back," Uranus grumbled under her breath. "She's got a lot of nerve."
"Come on, Uranus," urged Neptune. "We've got a long way to go, so we'd best get started." Uranus nodded gruffly in response, and the pair bowed hasty goodbyes and made their way to the door.
Serenity watched them leave, almost sad to see them go. "Perhaps Sailor Pluto is right. The one who spends her time worrying about the future will never get to experience the present - and that is where all true experiences lie." Yet even those comforting words, lost in the empty room, could not shake the premonition she'd received from Sailor Pluto - a vision of impending doom that could not be stopped, even by the Guardian of Time herself.
Neptune cautiously pushed open the door of the supply closet and peeked inside, hoping that her luck would hold out and the room would be empty. Thankfully, it was so. Relieved at her discovery that the restaurant was indeed as empty as it had appeared from the outside, she carried Amy into the small room and closed the door tightly. Hopefully, Mewtwo would be unable to track them down - at least long enough for the injured girl to recover a bit.
"Now, let's take a look at your injuries," said Neptune. She laid Amy on the floor and carefully examined her, prodding at her joints for signs of tenderness. Amy's left leg sat at an unnatural angle, which was an immediate cause for concern, but Neptune had to be sure to check for all possibilities before addressing any problems. Relocating a leg could be harmful or even fatal if it exacerbated another, more serious injury. Fortunately, though Amy's muscles were still tense from her struggles, her bones seemed to be intact. Neptune carefully rolled Amy over and ran her fingers along Amy's spine, applying just enough pressure to feel any impending fractures without worsening any damage that might be present. She had to check some of the middle vertebrae a few times to be sure, but she concluded that there was no permanent damage.
"You're a strong one, Sailor Mercury," said Neptune as she rolled Amy over again, keeping her left leg on the floor. "Now, about that leg.... This is going to hurt a bit, but you'll have to forgive me." She sat down at Amy's feet and grabbed her left knee in both hands, bracing one foot in her crotch. With a sudden motion, she yanked on the leg with full force, twisting Amy's hip back into place. Amy cried out in pain, sending a chill down Neptune's spine, but when the girl fell silent, she was still peacefully asleep. "That's it, get your rest," Neptune encouraged her brave charge. "I can't do anything for you once you wake up."
Everything was quiet now, Neptune thought to herself as she sat with Amy in the closet. Perhaps a bit too quiet for her liking, but it was better than the sounds of battle that she'd heard all too much of recently. She felt a bit guilty taking a break while the other Sailor Scouts - not to mention Uranus - were still out there fighting for their lives, but she couldn't leave Amy alone.
Now that she thought about it, what had become of Uranus? She had stayed behind to distract Mewtwo long enough to buy Neptune time to escape, but had she been able to escape herself? Well, of course she had, there was no question of that; but where would she have gone afterward? Probably to find the other Sailor Scouts, assuming she was strong enough to keep fighting. All the more reason to get back out there and find her quickly - but if anyone were to see her leaving this place and find Amy while she was helpless....
Her head jerked up as she heard footsteps from just outside the door. Someone must have seen her enter the building! She spun around, positioning herself between Amy and the door, and readied herself for an attack. It wouldn't be enough to stop Mewtwo, but if it was one of the other enemies, she might stand a chance.
The intruder stopped just outside the door and knocked. "Sailor Neptune, it's me," said Sailor Pluto's voice. Neptune relaxed as the door opened and Sailor Pluto sidestepped into the room; but her mood changed when she saw the body in Pluto's arms. She leapt to her feet to take Amarah from Pluto and cradle her.
"Uranus! My god! What happened to her?"
"Mewtwo was too strong for her to fight alone," replied Pluto with a touch of regret. "I was unable to help her without placing myself in danger as well, until it was almost too late."
"Almost?" repeated Neptune. "Then she's all right?"
Pluto nodded. "The strength to save her came from the last place I would have expected... but perhaps it was the first place I should have looked."
"I don't understand," said Neptune, unconsciously wrapping her arms just a bit tighter around her partner.
"I'm sure you've heard it said that to protect the future, we must preserve the past," Pluto exposited. "But in my case, the past and the future are no different. Though it pains me to have done so, I was forced to meddle once again in the past. I have irrevocably changed the history of this timeline. And yet, perhaps it was for the best. The fall of the Moon Kingdom was much swifter this time around, with much less suffering on the whole."
"According to the Royal Archives, Beryl crushed the Moon Kingdom of the Silver Millennium with little resistance," said Neptune.
"And be glad you no longer remember the way it was before," returned Pluto. "I know of pasts and futures full of more tragedy than you can imagine. Even the possibilities that never came to be... I remember them all."
"And what of the present?" asked Neptune, feeling like the question was begging to be asked.
"The present...?" Pluto smiled sarcastically. "It is really none of my business." She fished the Mercury Computer out of the air and tossed it to Neptune, who let it land on Amarah's chest. "Give that to Sailor Mercury before she wakes up. I have done enough for the time being." With a final wave of her staff, Pluto vanished yet again, this time satisfied that her work was at last done - for the moment.
Neptune blinked at the now-empty air and shook her head slowly. "I don't understand that woman at all."
Amy groaned and stretched her arms and legs. Neptune held her breath, expecting Amy's eyes to open at any second and see her, but the girl rolled onto her side and remained asleep. Neptune let out a relieved sigh. "That was a close one," she said. Not willing to take any chances, she shifted her grip on Amarah so that she could grab the Mercury Computer and put it on the floor just far enough from its owner that she wasn't likely to roll on top of it. "I'm sorry, Sailor Mercury, but I think Sailor Pluto had a point. I can't be here when you wake up. But I'll be watching you from far away." She lovingly brushed the hair from Amy's forehead.
"Mother..." moaned Amy. Neptune quickly checked the smile that was forming on her face and pulled her hand away. What had she been thinking? She was acting rather motherly....
The next groan startled her even more than any of the ones that had come before, but this time, it was Amarah who was beginning to stir into consciousness. Neptune gave Amy one last lingering look before hefting Amarah and backing out of the room. Her course was clear: while Amy was safely recovering from her injuries, the other Sailor Scouts were out there fighting an impossible enemy without any help. Maybe Neptune didn't have the power to travel through time, or see the future as easily as looking down the street, but there was one thing that could not be any surer. To protect the future, she would have to fight the enemies that threatened her past.