In the distant future, humans have grown distrustful of the Sailor Scouts and will do anything to discover the secret of Planet Power. Sailor Venus tries to prevent war through diplomacy.
A General Time Paradox sidestory
Chapter 1: Prelude to Destruction
The chairman stepped up to the podium and cleared his throat. "I hereby call this meeting of the Coalition of Civilized States to order at 2:52 p.m., Greenwich Mean Time, October 5, 2986."
"So noted, Herr Director," replied the secretary, watching the numbers flash across his screen.
"I will now turn the floor over to President Auberge of the nation of France," said the chairman, blinking out and appearing in his seat behind the podium. The French president stood up and disappeared, reappearing at the podium facing the representatives from every country on Earth as well as the few colonies on other planets that had been granted representation in the coalition.
"Ladies and gentlemen," began the president, addressing the sea of holographic faces, "I come before you today with a message that is not news to any of us, but bears grave significance for us all. This news concerns the denizens of the colony known as the New Moon Kingdom."
A representative of the New Moon Kingdom stood up abruptly. "I would like it stated on record that the New Moon Kingdom was not made aware of the agenda of this meeting in advance!"
"The comment is out of order," said the chairman. The secretary obligingly wiped it from his screen.
"Your presence here is only a matter of formality," said Auberge. "We will of course require you to leave before the final vote."
Sailor Venus joined her partner in standing. "That's not fair!" she protested.
"That is a matter for the entire coalition to decide," replied Auberge. "The vote of removal need not be unanimous if the vote concerns your nation directly. And I feel that it does."
Venus sneered at him, but she knew the law as well as anyone. She sat down heavily and waited for her partner to do the same.
"Thank you," Auberge continued, his tone openly mocking her. "Now, as you all know, there was a recent event that we have only been able to describe as a 'loss-of-time epidemic'. Somehow, in a space that not one person on Earth remembers, two years have passed. Our crops died, unharvested; buildings fell into disrepair; power plants wound down and stopped running; computers controlling every aspect of our lives shut down, many of them losing irreplaceable data. Our way of life nearly ended, and people are still toiling in every nation to restore what was lost and return our world to the prosperity we once knew.
"But this event was not completely without explanation. No, the woman who 'rules' the New Moon Kingdom, this Neo-Queen Serenity, has told us what happened during those two years. All of us, every human alive, were frozen in time, while aliens from a planet called Nemesis tried to take over our world. But somehow, despite the fact that all of us were unable to act, they were thwarted. How? By a group of women called Sailor Scouts, led by the Moon Princess, Rini. A girl of no more than eleven, whose birth records are dated nearly ninety years ago!"
"All of that is true!" Venus put in, on her feet again.
"With respect, Miss Venus," the president interrupted, "your own records date back to the twentieth century. Yet even with our greatest life-enhancing technology, no human can live for more than three hundred years, and even then, their minds deteriorate into a state of living death. So how, with only thousand-year-old technology, could you possibly have lived over a thousand years?"
"Are you saying the records are wrong?" snapped Venus. "I thought they were absolutely foolproof. The Big Brother program makes sure all data is recorded and verified, doesn't it?"
"Everywhere except the New Moon Kingdom," Auberge smoothly replied. "But the matter of imposing our data collection methods on outlying colonies is a matter for another time. Madam, if you will permit me?"
Venus' partner had to forcibly pull her back into her seat.
"We all know your explanation for both your longevity and our deliverance from the Nemesians," said Auberge. "Your queen called it 'Power of the Planets'. It seems like a miraculous thing, this Power of the Planets. It grants immortality, fighting strength, and indeed, the power to render an entire low-gravity, zero-atmosphere moon inhabitable by humans, if the histories of the twenty-third century are to be believed. In fact, it seems like it would be beneficial to all of mankind for this secret of Planetary Power to be turned over to the world's scientific community, so that we may all benefit from it."
Venus pulled out of her partner's grip and appeared on the speaking floor. "That can't be done! Humans were never meant to possess Planet Power!"
"Then, are you not human?" retorted Auberge. Murmurs rose from the assembly. "I believe the clause was added to our bylaws several hundred years ago requiring all representatives to be human."
"Now, see here!" began the chairman, but he was ignored.
"I am human," replied Venus. "But I'm different. All of us Sailor Scouts are. We were chosen by the planets to guard their power and use it to protect humanity."
"But this lapse of time proves that you aren't doing your job!" Auberge pointed out gleefully. "Because we ordinary humans lack your Planetary Power, we were helpless before these alien invaders. Wouldn't we be better served by giving us this power to defend ourselves?"
"Yeah! Give us Planet Powers!" shouted a voice from the crowd. Everyone looked around, unable to tell who had called out. One of the East Canadian delegates smacked her partner's elbow.
"W-we can't do that!" Venus protested, feeling trapped. "It's just not possible!"
"Why not?" countered Auberge. "Explain for us how it works, and why you can't give it to us."
"I don't know," said Venus. "Sailor Mercury might know, but she's not allowed in our closed sessions...."
"Then perhaps you could have her prepare a report for us before our next meeting," offered Auberge. "I think we're all looking forward to hearing it."
"We don't need you antagonizing our members!" shouted the chairman. "Mister Auberge, if you would please dispense with the personal discussion and get back to the matter at hand. And Miss Venus, please return to your seat at once."
"Yes, Herr Director," they both said sheepishly as Venus shifted back to her place.
Auberge raised his hands. "Now, since the next matter is rather sensitive, I must ask that the representatives from the New Moon Kingdom remove themselves from the room."
"I second!" called out a Moroccan delegate.
The chairman sighed. "All in favor?"
"AYE!" shouted most of the room.
"The ayes have it," announced Auberge. Venus and her partner vanished.
"You're making a mockery of our organization, you know," the chairman muttered.
Auberge reached out of the range of the hologram and returned with a book, which he dropped noisily onto the floor. "Ladies and gentlemen, this is a book of the history of the late twentieth century and early twenty-first. I will tell you what became of my country in those years, and why we were nearly destroyed. We failed to recognize threats to our country because we trusted other nations, and were willing to do anything to avoid fighting a war... including giving our enemies more time to prepare for that war."
"You mean to declare a pre-emptive strike on the New Moon Kingdom?" asked the Nebraskan representative.
"Warmonger!" shouted a delegate from Chinese Ural.
"I am not the warmonger," spat Auberge. "It is the New Moon Kingdom who hoards power that they claim we cannot match. It is they who know of this time-freezing power and do not disclose its true nature, instead naming planets that our best astronomers cannot find. It is they who ask us to place our unfettered trust in them while they defend us from threats only they can see!"
"That is not true!" put in a delegate from Honshuu. "We have records of creatures attacking humans throughout our nation in the twentieth and twenty-fourth centuries!"
"In those days, anything could be written down, whether or not it was true," said Auberge. "And still, in the New Moon Kingdom, that remains true. We cannot trust anything they tell us."
"I thought we weren't discussing Big Brother," an Eastern States of America delegate slyly noted.
"We are not," replied Auberge. "Instead, I suggest we investigate the New Moon Kingdom ourselves and satisfy our curiosity in that way."
"You propose an invasion without the consent of the New Moon Kingdom?" asked the chairman. "That would be an act of war!"
"We will seek their consent first, of course," said Auberge. "But ultimately, we must know the truth. What is the power that they hide from us, and what threat does it pose?"
"Do you really think Planet Power is a threat?" asked the ESA delegate who had spoken up earlier.
Auberge took a deep breath as if preparing to deliver a prepared speech. "We don't truly understand Planet Power. It could be nearly anything. It could be of great benefit to mankind, but without being able to study it, we will never know. It is just as likely that the reason the New Moon Kingdom will not give us Planet Power is that it is in fact a great weapon, which they are hoarding under the pretense of needing to protect us from invaders that we cannot detect."
A Dutch German representative stood up. "Then that IS what you are suggesting... that the New Moon Kingdom has fabricated this entire event as a way to gain our trust?"
"It is a strong possibility," replied Auberge. "However, we do not want to make false accusations. We only wish to learn the truth, to reassure ourselves that there is no threat... or if there is a threat, to disarm it swiftly before it can be brought against us."
Throughout the room, heads nodded. "We have a right to the truth!" announced the East Canadian with the sore elbow.
"Then here is my proposal:" Auberge said with finality. "We will demand to see the true nature of Planet Power and will determine for ourselves, as a coalition of nations, whether it may be allowed to remain solely in the hands of the New Moon Kingdom."
Someone in the back of the room clapped their hands at that declaration, and it wasn't long before the rest of the room had joined in for a standing ovation.
The chairman turned to the secretary. "What do our laws say about this?" he asked.
The secretary searched his database. "This is a valid proposition," he announced. "We vote on it without the presence of the nation in question, then take two weeks to prepare a fact-finding mission with the consent of their governing body. Without consent, we need to take another vote with their representatives present before an unauthorized invasion can begin."
Auberge smiled. "Then let us have a vote."
"I second," said the Moroccan delegate.
"All in favor?"
"Unanimous," said Auberge with a smile, although a few scattered audience members had not spoken.
"So noted," replied the secretary.
It seemed just like any other day in the New Moon Kingdom. The weather was clear, as it had been since the influence of the Dark Crystal was broken, and the level of moon dust in the air was only slightly above average for mid-month. The sun was just beginning to rise over the Crystal Palace, its slanted beams creating the famous beautiful Murals of Light in the hallways which were one of the two reasons Neo-Queen Serenity had chosen this time of the month to hold audience with her subjects. She considered it improper to speak of the other reason.
It hadn't taken long to recover from the time-lapse, particularly under the guidance of Sailor Mercury's knowledge and Sailor Mars' spiritual blessings. Already, it was difficult to find any signs that the New Moon Kingdom had ever been less than a prosperous, thriving community full of happy people, all of whom had a useful place in society and enough money to support their families. In fact, in all of the land, there was only one person who wasn't thankful for all that they had. That person was Neo-Queen Serenity herself, who was suffering from a rare stomach virus that day. Even the power of the Silver Crystal that protected the people of the kingdom could not erase all traces of disease, it seemed. Her doctors wanted her to lie down and try to sleep it off, but she had important duties, and she considered the ache merely an inconvenience. As long as the sickness would not spread, and the doctors assured her that it would not, she would hold audience with King Darien and hear nothing to change her mind.
But peace did not come easily that morning. The sound of running footsteps echoed through the empty halls in the wee hours before the hearings began. Before Darien could shout a warning, Princess Rini barreled across the room and leapt into her mother's lap. "Mommy! Mommy! You're awake!"
Serenity smiled down at her as warmly as she could, fighting back the pain that welled up in her chest. "Good morning, Small Lady. What are you so excited about?"
Rini frowned in disappointment. "Don't you remember? You promised we would go on a picnic today, before the boring meetings start."
Serenity sighed sadly. "Yes, I did. I would love to eat breakfast with you in the garden, but I'm feeling a bit ill today. I'm afraid we'll have to have our picnic another day."
"But you promised!" whined Rini.
"Your mother said no," Darien scolded her firmly. "She's in no mood for your tantrums today."
"But, Daddy!" Rini whined.
"No means no!" snapped Darien.
Serenity put her hand on his leg. "Don't be so cross, dear," she urged. "I'm sorry I can't keep my promise. I would love to spend the morning with you, but I doubt that either of us would enjoy it much while I'm not feeling well."
Rini's lips drew tight as she tried to bite back her disappointment. "All right," she said at last. "I understand." She reached up and lightly brushed a tear from Serenity's cheek. "Just promise me you'll feel better soon."
"I promise," agreed Serenity. "And that is a promise that I intend to keep."
Rini hopped off the throne and made to leave the room, but stopped short as she saw Sailor Venus approaching, garbed in her robes of state. The formal dress always meant that something important was going on, and it was probably more fun than playing alone in her room would be. She slunk back to the side of Serenity's throne and did her best to avoid notice.
Sailor Venus stopped at the foot of the throne and fell to one knee in a bow. "Queen Serenity, I bring news from Earth."
"Rise, Sailor Venus," said Serenity, observing the protocol as befitted her station. "What is your news?"
Sailor Venus stood. "It's not much, I'm afraid. We were forced to leave the room before President Auberge gave the details of his plan."
"What do you know of the plan?" Serenity asked patiently.
"Your intuition was correct, my Queen. The people of Earth mistrust us after the recent invasion of Nemesis. Many of them blame us for the 'loss of time epidemic', as they call it."
"I see." Serenity's expression grew grim. "I had hoped to sway those fears, but it seems that their natural distrust is not so easily overcome."
"I believe that the government of France, and possibly some of their supporters, hope to gain Planet Power for their own use," continued Venus.
"That cannot be done," said Serenity. "Planet Power rests within the souls of the Sailor Scouts. Other humans should not be able to touch it."
"Perhaps that's true," agreed Venus. "But these are the same humans who, a thousand years ago, believed that flight was impossible. With what little technology they had, they overcame that false belief. Now, with those thousand years of advanced technology, they approach the light barrier more and more every year. Even if gaining Planet Power is impossible, they will stop at nothing to have it."
Serenity's face darkened even more. "Yes, you are right. And as Sailor Mercury might say, the risk is always there. My own daughter managed to control the power of the Silver Crystal - who can tell what people might do, if it were to fall into the wrong hands?"
"The Silver Crystal is under constant guard," Venus reminded her. "And those guards answer directly to the Sailor Scouts. Not even Princess Rini is allowed near it anymore." She gave Rini a meaningful glare at that, and it took all of Rini's willpower not to hide behind the throne to escape it.
Serenity nodded. "We need not worry about the people of Earth gaining Planet Power. What worries me is what they might do in their attempt to obtain it. As you made clear, they will stop at nothing, and their actions might threaten the peace of the New Moon Kingdom. That must not happen."
"We should try to find out what Auberge is planning," Darien put in. "We can't influence the political machine unless we know that much."
Venus nodded. "I'll contact our allies on Earth who were present at the conference and try to learn what I can. I only hope that their loyalty to us exceeds their fear of Auberge. France has become very powerful in the past century."
Serenity smiled. "Even after all this time, the governments of Earth are still run by more men than women. You have quite a commendable record in influencing men."
Venus blushed. "My Queen... that wouldn't be right!" she said bashfully.
"Do what you feel you must," commanded Serenity. "Serve the New Moon Kingdom and its people with all your heart."
"And with all my spirit, all my intelligence, all my strength, and all my courage," Venus finished. She nodded. "Don't worry. I'll find out what's going on and let you know as soon as I do." She turned and left the room, plucking a communicator from the air as she crossed the threshold.
Eager to find out what was going on and possibly have something to do for the rest of the day, Rini followed and listened to the conversation. "Monique? Venus. Some urgent business for you."
"Yes, ma'am!" her chief of affairs readily agreed.
"I need you to contact our allies on Earth and see if you can arrange a meeting with any of them. Press them as hard as you have to. Try Honshuu first... they've always been close to us. If you can't get the heads of state, anyone on the CCS will do. If you can't get them, try the colonies on Mars and Venus, Nebraska, Australia, Mozambique... hell, if we run out of other people, go straight to France if you have to. We're that desperate."
"I'll leave no database entry unchecked," Monique assured her.
"Good. If they ask what it's about..." - she took a deep breath - "go ahead and tell them it's about this morning's meeting. If they're going to be willing to talk to us at all, they're probably as disgusted with the whole affair as I am. They might talk to us just to spite Auberge."
"Play the spite card liberally," repeated Monique. "Got it."
"Thanks. Let me know the minute you've got something. Venus out." She closed the communicator and let it vanish. Her robe shimmered and became her usual Sailor Scout uniform as she spun around to face Rini. "Something I can help you with, Small Lady?"
Rini couldn't help blushing as she realized that Venus had been aware of her presence all along. Had the woman not wanted her to listen, she would have sent her away sooner. Rini swallowed and spoke up. "Mom said she'd have a picnic with me this morning, but now she's sick, so I don't have anything to do."
Venus put a finger on the side of her mouth. "Well, I would say I'm busy, but with my staff handling things, I don't expect anything to happen for a few hours. So, I suppose I could play with you for a bit, until -"
"Yay!" cheered Rini.
"So, what do you want to do?" asked Venus. "Want to go ice skating?"
Rini shook her head. "Nah, I did that last night. What about hide-and-seek?"
Venus considered the idea. "It sounds good. Boundaries are the Sea of the Guardians wing, minus the living quarters, so we don't get in anyone's way. Okay?"
"Okay!" agreed Rini. "Give me a hundred counts to hide!"
Venus stepped to the wall and covered her eyes, then began to count slowly. Rini quickly set off into the Sea of the Guardians wing, turning the first corner she came to and stepping as quietly as possible. Both she and Sailor Venus knew this part of the palace like the back of their hands, but there was no shortage of clever places to hide, and Rini always managed to find a new one somewhere in the expansive hallways.
She rounded another corner and came to the main storage hallway, a nearly interminable stretch of crystal corridor lined with doors. One could potentially hide in one of them for hours while their pursuer combed them one by one, but somehow, Venus usually managed to guess which one Rini was hiding in within a few tries. Still, it was usually a good spot for a first round, so Rini set off down the hallway and tried to forget how many doors she'd passed.
She found herself drawn to one of the doors on the right side. It didn't look at all different from the hundreds of other identical doors, but somehow, it felt important in a way that she couldn't explain. She'd felt something similar the day that she'd found her way into the Silver Crystal's chamber, but that had been awe at the power of the object rather than what she felt now, which was more of a sense of duty. She was meant to be here, somehow.
She heard footsteps coming from the end of the corridor and knew that she'd run out of time. She quickly stepped forward, watching the door disintegrate as she approached, then crossed the now-unbarred threshold and entered the storeroom. The door closed behind her as she entered, and she was left in darkness. She gasped in surprise - she'd never seen the interior lights of the palace fail, even when Queen Serenity and the Sailor Scouts had been frozen in time. Only when the time came for sleep did a room darken below a comfortable level for sight... yet this room had no light at all. She took a careful step backward, and the crystals of the door began to disappear one at a time, letting the light in from the hallway - as well as the sound of Venus' footsteps, right outside the door. Rini quickly picked out the silhouette of a stack of boxes and ran through the darkness to hide behind it.
Unfortunately, the door opened before she could cross the distance. "There you are, Small Lady," said Venus. "You picked a good spot this time. I almost didn't even notice this door here at all."
"They all look the same," agreed Rini. "But you found me."
Venus smiled. "Don't worry. I'll hide someplace easy. You'll find me in no time."
"Okay!" said Rini. Venus left the room, and the door closed, leaving Rini in darkness again. "Oh, I should have asked her about the lights in this room," she said belatedly. "Oh well." She covered her eyes, mostly out of habit, and began to count. "One, two, three..."
"... sixty-nine, seventy, seventy-one..." The door opened, and Rini blinked in the sudden brightness. She could make out a person's shape in the doorway, but couldn't identify her until she spoke.
"Are you still in here, Small Lady?" asked Venus. "I got worried when you couldn't find me, but I thought you were at least looking for me!"
"I hadn't finished counting," replied Rini. "I was only up to seventy."
Venus put her hands on her hips. "It took you over an hour to count to seventy? No way."
"It hasn't been an hour," Rini protested. "I don't count THAT slowly. It was maybe two minutes."
"Are you feeling okay?" asked Venus, stepping into the room to feel Rini's forehead for signs of a fever. As she left the vicinity of the door, it closed, enveloping them both in darkness. "Hey! What happened to the lights?"
"It's been dark like this since I got here," replied Rini. "The lights must be broken."
"The lights don't break," said Venus worriedly. "They're powered by the magic of the Silver Crystal. And if that's breaking down again...."
Rini shivered. The room suddenly felt much colder. "Let's get out of here. I'm scared."
"I'm with you," agreed Venus. There was a short pause. "Do you remember which way the door was?"
"How could you forget where the door is?" shouted Rini.
"I wasn't paying attention when I stepped into the room," Venus replied sheepishly. "I wasn't expecting the lights to go out like this."
"Well, it has to be around here somewhere!" said Rini. "Just feel around until you find it!" She groped in the darkness, moving toward where she'd last heard Venus' voice. She heard Venus shuffling around to her left and turned to avoid her, only to smack into a stack of boxes. She grabbed one of the boxes to steady it, but she still heard the crash as the uppermost box fell from the stack, spilling hundreds of tiny objects across the floor. Venus jumped in surprise and tripped over Rini, losing her balance. She grabbed blindly in the darkness as she went down, hoping to find something to break her fall, and her fingers closed around a thin string. It wasn't enough to hold her up, but as she tugged on it, a small glass globe lit up, immediately illuminating the room with just enough light to blind both of them.
"I can't see!" whined Rini. "The lights are on and I still can't see!"
"It's what used to happen back when lights came on suddenly," Venus explained. "It goes away after a while."
"I know. I was in the past a few months ago, remember?"
"Well, it was a long time ago for me." Venus rubbed her eyes and blinked a few times. "Okay, I can almost see now. How about you?"
"I'm fine." Rini picked up the box and returned it to its place atop the stack. "Look at all this stuff. It looks like junk."
Venus stared through the last of the spots at the collection of articles on the floor. There were a few books, but most of the clutter was assorted knickknacks that seemed somehow familiar, even though she couldn't remember having seen them before. She bent down and picked up the largest pieces of what appeared to be a shattered ceramic cow. "Do you recognize any of this stuff?"
Rini examined the scattered objects carefully. "Yeah, now that you mention it... didn't this stuff use to belong to Mommy, way back in the past?"
Venus gasped. "You're right! I remember now! She had shelves full of these things! But it's been almost a thousand years... how could this stuff still be in such good condition?" She let the pieces of cow fall to the floor. "Well, it WAS in good condition...."
"Ooh, this is pretty," said Rini, holding up a small star-shaped locket with a dome lid covering its center. She pulled the lid back to reveal a small crest embossed with a crescent moon, which began to spin slowly as the music box played a haunting tune. Venus recognized the song almost immediately, although she hadn't heard it in centuries. It was the tune that had inspired the theme song of the show she and the other girls had worked on in the early twenty-first century, back when the world still respected them and their twenty-something hearts still yearned for the glamour of being on television. The show had suffered quite a bit from plot problems and cheesy effects (after seeing live monsters, the costumed actors and animatronics had been impossible to take seriously), but people were willing to watch just to see the real Sailor Scouts in action. The theme song had been a particular hit, eventually being translated into nearly seventy languages and released as a top-selling single long before the ill-fated soundtrack album. But contrary to the upbeat, energetic feel of the full song, the tinny chimes of the music box made the song sound as sad as it was romantic. It almost hurt to listen to it, as it brought back memories of those times long past, when she'd still harbored illusions that she could safely fall in love and envied Sailor Moon's romance only because she hadn't found one of her own yet....
"Is something wrong?" Rini asked innocently.
Venus reached out and slammed the lid shut, silencing the eerie song. "No. Just a little nostalgic." She took the locket from Rini and carefully placed it back in the box from which it had fallen. "You know... I think I remember that locket."
"Mommy used to really like that locket," Rini recalled.
"Yeah, it was the first thing Darien ever gave her." Venus fretted. "I wonder why she'd leave it in here. I thought she'd keep something this precious with her wherever she went."
"Maybe this is where she keeps all her most special stuff," Rini suggested as she resumed picking up the strewn objects and putting them into the box. "That might be why the lights didn't work."
"Oh, they work, all right," said Venus, looking up at the bare bulb that hung from the ceiling. "Lights used to work that way, remember? You had to flip a switch or pull a string to turn them on."
"I never saw one with a string before," replied Rini.
"The lights in attics always worked this way," explained Venus. "Nobody really knows why."
"Hey, Sailor Venus, take a look at this!" cried Rini, pulling a heart-shaped locket out of one of the larger piles. "Wasn't this Mommy's old transformation locket?"
"Sure looks like it," agreed Venus. "Boy, it's been centuries since I saw that old thing."
"Why is it in storage?" asked Rini. "What if Mommy needs it someday to become Sailor Moon again?"
"She won't," affirmed Venus. "She swore never to use its power that way again. In fact, I thought she'd had it destroyed, but I guess she just hid it with the rest of her stuff and forgot about it." She paused, again suppressing a powerful memory from her past. "You'd better put it back."
"But I want to keep it! It reminds me of all the fun times we had together in the past."
"There are some things your mother wouldn't want to remember," said Venus. "Seeing that locket would be very painful for her."
"Why?" Rini asked casually. "What doesn't she want to remember?"
Venus shuddered. "There were a lot of battles you weren't there for," she replied.
Rini hugged the locket to her chest. "Well, anyway, I'm going to keep it. Maybe if I hide it in my room, she won't have to see it."
"As long as you don't use it, that might work," joked Venus.
Rini chuckled. "I can't use it! I don't have Planet Power!"
Venus smiled nervously. "Yeah, I guess not."
"I mean, what would my transformation phrase be? Small Lady Power?"
"I think it was Mini Prism Power," Venus muttered quietly.
"Mini Prism Power?" repeated Rini. The locket glowed brightly in her hands. "Whoa! Something's happening!" The locket opened, and the light from within poured over Rini. When it faded, she was wearing a pink sailor fuku that looked made for her diminutive body. "Wow! Look at me!" she cried, examining her new outfit. "I look like a real Sailor Scout!"
"You are," whispered Venus, wondering what she'd just done. "You're the Sailor Scout of the Crystal Moon." And I sure hope you were supposed to find out about it this way, she added silently.
"Crystal Moon? I thought the Moon was Mommy's planet."
"She's given up the Moon's power," replied Venus. "It's been passed on to you now, Sailor Mini-Moon."
"Sailor Mini-Moon...." Her fingers closed around the locket, which was now a pink star small enough to fit in her hand easily. "Are you sure I'm not dreaming?"
"Still trying to make sure I'M not," said Venus. "I mean, you never told us how you got your Planet Power, but I never imagined it would be your mother's old locket!"
Sailor Mini-Moon's eyes narrowed. "Wait a second. You knew I was a Sailor Scout all this time? And you never told me?"
"Well, we didn't know when it would happen," said Venus. "And we didn't want to interfere with the... uh... natural process...." She sighed. "Would you believe we just didn't think about it?"
"This is so cool!" shouted Mini-Moon. "If you already knew about it, that means I must go back to the past again!"
A bead of sweat ran down Venus' forehead. "Yeah... I guess that would be the bright side."
"It's going to be so much fun! In the past, I can be just like a normal kid and not have to worry about being the Moon Princess and studying to take over the throne and everything. And Serena's so much fun to tease! Plus, now that I'm a Sailor Scout, I can fight monsters with Sailor Moon and everybody else!" She paused just a bit between every pair of sentences, waiting for Venus to say something, but the older woman was oddly quiet. Mini-Moon finally looked up at her and saw two drops of water trace their way down her cheeks. "Is something the matter?"
Venus shook her head. "No, it's nothing. You're growing up before my eyes."
Mini-Moon blushed. "Come on, let's finish cleaning this stuff up so we can go tell Mommy! She'll be so happy!"
Venus declined to comment. Instead, she bent down and started scooping up handfuls of trinkets, putting them back into the box. Mini-Moon reached down to do the same, but another relic from the past caught her eye. "Hey, it's Mommy's old disguise pen! I remember this thing!"
"Now there's something that brings back happy memories," said Venus.
"I always wanted to try it out for myself," said Mini-Moon. She held the wand aloft. "Turn me into... a Sailor Scout!" she shouted.
"You already are one," Venus reminded her.
Mini-Moon chuckled. "Oh, yeah. It's been my dream for so long I just said that without thinking." The transformation pen began to glow in Mini-Moon's hand. "Hey! What's it doing?"
"I don't know! It never used to do that when your mother used it!"
"I think it's changing shape," said Mini-Moon. "Stupid pen! You're supposed to transform ME, not yourself!"
Ignoring Mini-Moon's tirade, the wand sprouted a large projection that quickly took the shape of a heart. The glow faded, leaving an instrument that bore almost no resemblance to the original pen. Mini-Moon gazed at it in wonder. "What happened to it?"
"That's your wand," Venus informed her. "Way back when you first had your powers, you used it to attack."
Mini-Moon's wondering grin widened. "My own wand? This is the coolest!"
"Well, it didn't work all that well at first," Venus continued. "It took you a long time to get the hang of it."
"It's been a thousand years since then," Mini-Moon reasoned. "I can handle it." She took a few practice swings, with all the grace and skill of a one-legged giraffe crossing a briar patch.
Venus groaned in disgust. "That's not how you use it, unless you're trying to make your enemies laugh themselves to death."
Mini-Moon let her hands fall to her sides. "Then how?" she asked indignantly.
Venus sighed. "You point it at the target and say the attack phrase. I think your first one was 'Candy Heart Shooter' or something like that."
"Candy Heart Shooter? It shoots candy?"
Venus shook her head. "No, that wasn't it... I forget what the words were, exactly."
"Valentine Candy Attack?" suggested Mini-Moon. "Heart Sprinkles? Sugar Candy Hearts?"
"That was closer... something about pink hearts, I think."
"Pink Sugar Heart Attack?" guessed Mini-Moon. It felt right as she said it, and even more right as a succession of pink hearts shot from the tip of the wand and knocked over one of the boxes. It landed with a crash of breaking glass, and Mini-Moon and Venus gasped in unison.
"Now you've done it!" said Venus. "That sounded expensive. Probably some family heirloom or something."
Mini-Moon belatedly hid the wand behind her back. "Well, at least we know it works."
Venus shook her head disapprovingly as she picked up the fallen box and opened it. Inside was a smaller box with what had once been a curved glass lid, which now lay in pieces among the wires and electronic components inside. There were two knobs beside the opening, surrounded by numbers, and a small button below the knobs. Venus lifted the small box out of the larger one, gathering up the cord that dangled from the bottom. "Wow, it's been ages since I saw one of these."
"What is it?" asked Mini-Moon.
"You should remember," replied Venus. "It's an old television set, like the ones they used to have before wallscreens were invented."
"That's a TV?" Mini-Moon reconstructed the screen in her mind. "I guess it looks like a TV... but what are those knobs on the front? And those funny wires on the top that look like bunny ears?"
"The knobs change the channel, and the wires are the antenna. It picks up signals from the air. It used to be all they had before they came up with a way to run the signal into the TV through cables."
"Wow! I wanna see that!" Seconds went by before the smile faded from her face. "Oh, yeah. It's broken."
"You know, I wonder why TV started out wireless and then got tied to land wires, when everything else people invented back then was wired first and then became wireless later," Venus mused.
"But what are we going to do about the broken TV?" asked Mini-Moon.
Venus gave it a few seconds of thought, then put the TV back into its box, closed the flaps, and hefted it. "Sailor Mercury might know how to fix it. And she probably won't tell the queen if we ask her nicely."
"Good idea!" agreed Mini-Moon. They left the room, forgetting to turn off the light behind them. But it probably didn't matter in the end. For as long as it took them to cross the hallway, the door stood resolutely in place, the portal to the mysterious electrically lit storage area where Rini had become Mini-Moon. But once they had turned the corner, all that remained in that spot was a smooth wall, with no sign that a door had ever existed there.
The door to Sailor Mercury's workshop disintegrated, providing Mercury a welcome excuse to set her work aside. She turned to greet her visitors, but the words caught in her throat when she saw who had interrupted her. "Sailor Mini-Moon!" she cried excitedly. "I can't believe it!" She leapt out of her chair and ran across the room to lift Mini-Moon off her feet and swing her around.
"Hey! Put me down!" screamed Mini-Moon. "I'm not a kid anymore!"
Mercury promptly returned Mini-Moon to her feet. "Of course not. I'm sorry. I was just so surprised to see that you've finally gained your Planet Power that I got a bit excited."
"A bit excited?" repeated Mini-Moon. "It's a good thing I didn't eat much for breakfast." She staggered until Venus could prop her up, dropping the box she was holding to catch the girl.
Mercury gasped. "Sailor Venus! What are you doing here?"
Venus blinked. "You sound surprised."
"Your aides have been looking for you all afternoon. I've been paged four times already, and I'm expecting them to call again any minute. Where have you been?"
"Wait, back up," said Venus. "What do you mean, all afternoon? It's only -" She looked down at her palm, and a digital readout of the time appeared there. "Whoa! When did it get that late?"
"As soon as it was done being earlier," replied Mercury. "Nobody's seen or heard from you for hours."
"I didn't think I was that good at hide-and-seek," said Venus. "It was an hour and a half at most. Besides, if they were really looking for me, they'd have called me."
"They did," said Mercury. "Every fifteen minutes."
"Is your communicator broken?" asked Mini-Moon.
A shrill beep filled the room until Venus could flip her communicator open. "Venus here," she said, bracing herself for the torrent of anger.
Instead, her aide sounded more concerned than anything else. "My God! Lady Venus, where have you been? We've been worried sick!"
"I'm still trying to figure that out myself," said Venus, feeling the onset of a major headache. "I'll let you know what I find out. Meanwhile, how's the meeting preparation coming?"
Monique sighed heavily. "No luck yet. I just called the first time to ask why you hadn't called me yet. After that... well, I got worried."
"I know what you mean. Just keep working on it."
"I will. But you have to promise to call me every so often this time. I can't concentrate without your impatient nagging."
Venus sneered sheepishly. "Right, right. Just do your job, Monique." She slammed the communicator shut and let it vanish. "The poor girl probably wouldn't even be able to get to work in the morning without me." She stepped forward, tripped over the box she'd been carrying, and fell flat on her face.
Mercury shook her head sadly. "I'll just point out that her job DOES revolve entirely around you."
"Thanks. I needed that extra insult for my injury."
Mini-Moon threw her arms around the box and picked it up. "Sailor Mercury, we found this box in a storage room, but it fell down and the TV inside broke. Can you fix it?"
"A TV?" asked Mercury. "I didn't think we still had any of those in the Moon Palace." She took the box from the struggling Mini-Moon. "And I was quite certain we didn't have any cardboard boxes left. Everything was vacuum sealed centuries ago."
"Well, apparently, it wasn't all vacuum sealed," said Venus as she picked herself up. "The whole room was full of those boxes."
Mercury set the box down beside her workbench and opened it. "Oh, my! This isn't even one of the late models! This predates hyperwave, raster-pixellated screens, even plasma! I'd be surprised if it even has a coaxial connection." She hauled the TV out of the box and put it on the workbench. "Indeed. This is some of the earliest color television technology from the middle of the twentieth century. I can't imagine why anyone would have kept one all this time."
"Well, someone clearly did," Venus pointed out. "And we broke it. So...?"
"Let me see what I can do," offered Mercury. She extracted a piece of glass from the inside of the set and dropped it into a slot on her workbench. "Computer, analyze this material and produce a substitute."
"ANALYZING," replied the disembodied voice of the computer.
Mercury leaned back and sighed. "Fortunately, this is the easiest thing I've had on my plate today. I've been running palace security detail nonstop, what with you missing and Jupiter fighting monsters in the Sea of Rage with Mars since mid-morning."
"Jupiter went with Mars?" asked Venus. "Since when has Mars needed help?"
"The miasma readings were abnormally high," explained Mercury. "Nearly three times the highest on record over the past seven hundred years. We think it might be linked to the queen's illness, but defeating the monsters is a much higher priority than investigating the cause. Fortunately, Mars and Jupiter seem to have the situation under control. They called you for backup early on, but you were unreachable."
"We've established that," said Venus.
"ANALYSIS COMPLETE," announced the computer. "CONSTRUCTING LIGHT-SENSITIVE DISPLAY GRID."
"That took an awfully long time," said Mini-Moon.
"The computer didn't want to interrupt us," replied Mercury. "It probably finished that analysis long ago. Computer, vacuum." A tube emerged from the wall, and she pulled on it and aimed it into the television. With a quiet whirr, the tube sucked the remaining pieces of glass from the inside. When the job was done, the tube retracted into the wall. A curved crystal screen rose from the workbench surface, and Mercury carefully fitted it into the opening. "There. Good as new."
"Really?" asked Mini-Moon excitedly.
"The picture will be much sharper than it was on the old screen, but I doubt anyone will remember the original picture quality well enough to notice," explained Mercury. "It's still far inferior to modern screens."
"I still wanna see!" said Mini-Moon.
Mercury sighed again. "Computer, give me a VHF hookup to the signal from Earth." A wire with a pair of forked leads poked out of the wall, and Mercury pulled it out and connected it to the back of the TV. "There's a single channel that still broadcasts on Earth, and that signal makes it all the way to the Moon with some delay. It usually isn't very interesting, but it carries some of the most important news stories as well as the worst of amateur programming." She pushed the plug into the wall and turned the power knob. The screen slowly filled with snow.
"Is it broken?" asked Mini-Moon.
"No, it's just on the wrong channel," replied Mercury. "I believe this station broadcasts on the lowest frequency." She turned the knob to 2, and the picture changed. It was an image of President Auberge descending a staircase, waving off the floating cameras and reporters shouting questions.
"Hey! Turn it up!" Venus shouted urgently. "It's a story about that jerk Auberge!"
Mercury obligingly turned the volume knob. "- his plan to uncover the secret of Planet Power, which has been rumored for several months. Auberge refused to comment, but an aide who wished to remain anonymous was willing to discuss the details of this plan."
Venus leaned in close to listen, unnecessarily holding up a hand to silence the other two.
"'The President hopes to convince other countries that Planet Power might be a threat if the New Moon Kingdom remains the only nation capable of wielding it,'" continued the announcer, reading the text that appeared on the screen. "'With this motivation, he will head an investigation into the nature of Planet Power, either with the aid of the New Moon Kingdom or the collective aid of every other country on Earth.' When asked whether this action would constitute war, the aide assured us that it would not, then closed the connection before we could ask any further questions."
"That bastard!" shouted Venus. "I can't believe he'd pull something so...." The color drained from her face as she realized what she'd said. "Um, Rini, could you not tell your mother I said that?"
Mini-Moon rolled her eyes. "As IF I'd tell her. Mommy shelters me too much as it is. She thinks I'll fall apart if I hear the word 'underpants'."
"Your mother's just trying to raise you properly," said Mercury.
"She's trying to prevent me from being raised at all," countered Mini-Moon. "I wasn't going to be a kid forever. I just grow really slowly."
"It's what comes of being born to immortals," said Mercury.
Venus angrily reached past Mercury to turn the power knob so hard that it nearly broke off. She spun on her heel and stormed toward the door.
"Hey, where are you going?" asked Mini-Moon.
"I have to tell Queen Serenity about this," she replied. "That man has gone too far this time!"
"Wait!" Sailor Mercury called after her. "Should we tell her about...?" She jerked her head toward Mini-Moon.
Venus sighed. "Well, she did ask us to tell her the moment it happened.... It's a pretty stressful time for her right now, but I think it needs to be done. Something tells me she'll be making that decision soon, and she needs to know."
"Know what?" asked Mini-Moon.
"Nothing," said Venus. "Come on. We've got more to tell your mom about than what's going on on Earth."
Neo-Queen Serenity rolled over in her bed at the sound of the urgent knock on the bedroom door. "Who is it?" she called out in as regal a voice as she could manage.
"It's Venus," came the reply. "There are some urgent matters that need your immediate attention."
Serenity fought down a wave of nausea. "Come in."
Venus opened the door and entered the room just in time to see the pain in Serenity's face. "I'm truly sorry about this," she began. "I know you're not feeling well, and I wouldn't disturb your rest if this could wait even a few more hours."
Serenity nodded weakly. "Yes. I trust your judgment. What did you need to tell me?"
Venus hesitated meaningfully. "Well... I suppose the first thing would be... you have another visitor." She stepped aside, beckoning Mini-Moon into the room.
Serenity's heart caught in her throat as she laid eyes upon her daughter in her Sailor Scout uniform for the first time in centuries. "My god... it can't be... the Sailor Scout of the Crystal Moon?"
"For now, she's Mini-Moon," corrected Venus.
Serenity held out her arms and forced a smile. "Come here, Small Lady. Let me see you in your beautiful new uniform."
Mini-Moon obligingly approached the bed, preparing to turn around to give her mother a better view of the uniform. But as soon as she was within arm's reach, Serenity swept her off the floor and into a hug. It was an uncomfortable position, but she did her best to return the hug despite having no leverage. Her arms quickly started to ache, but she kept that to herself, sensing that her mother needed this embrace for some reason she couldn't fathom.
When her spine started to hurt, she could keep it to herself no longer. "Mommy... it hurts."
"Just a little longer," whispered Serenity. "Please... just a little longer."
Mini-Moon felt a tiny bit of moisture on the back of her neck and shivered. Was she sweating? No, it was... "Mommy, are you crying?"
"They're tears of joy, my daughter," replied Serenity. "You've grown up so quickly."
"I still look like a kid after ninety years," Mini-Moon reminded her.
"Too fast," Serenity whispered. "All too fast."
Venus stood in the doorway, tears pouring down her cheeks as she watched.
"Does your father know about this?" asked Serenity.
"We didn't see him on the way here," said Mini-Moon. "Sailor Venus said we should tell you first."
Serenity sniffed daintily and finally released Mini-Moon, allowing the girl to breathe freely once again. "Thank you for bringing her to me, Sailor Venus."
Venus grimly nodded.
"You mentioned more business," continued Serenity. "Should we send my daughter away?"
"She's already heard more than she needs to," replied Venus, thinking of her lingual slip. "I think it would be best if she stays here."
Serenity nodded and began to pet Mini-Moon's head lightly. "Then please, carry on."
Venus took a deep breath. "My aides haven't been able to arrange a meeting with any Earth governments yet, but our plans may have to change anyway. We intercepted a signal from the broadcast channel that gave us an idea of what President Auberge is planning. It looks like he's planning to lead the CCS to declare war on the New Moon Kingdom."
Serenity nodded gravely. "As I feared... yet another omen."
"He's using Planet Power as the catalyst," Venus added. "He has to know that we can't reveal the secret of Planet Power, because there isn't one. But he's convinced the rest of the world that we're hoarding it for ourselves, and by the time he's done propagandizing, they'll be willing to do whatever it takes to get their hands on it."
"It has been tried before," Serenity reminded her.
"But never by the entire world at once," countered Venus. "Small groups tried to harness Planet Power and usually destroyed themselves before they could get very far. But if the entire world's scientific community bands together, that inevitable destruction will wipe out more than just a few people."
Before Serenity could reply, the palace loudspeakers clicked on. "Attention, citizens of the New Moon Kingdom. We have just been informed that shuttle service to Earth will be terminated effective immediately. There will be one final shuttle for emergency transport in exactly fifty-seven minutes. Repeat -"
Venus had her communicator out before the message could replay. "Monique, change of plan. Get me on that shuttle!"
"Already making the arrangements," replied Monique. "Are you going to be able to pack, or should I have someone prepare your inventory?"
"Get someone to do it," ordered Venus. "I've got more business to take care of here." She closed the communicator and turned back to Serenity, who was hugging Mini-Moon tightly once again. She decided to keep quiet and not interrupt the precious moment.
"Is Sailor Venus going to go away now?" asked Mini-Moon, who had finally found a reason to shed tears.
"Yes, she will," replied Serenity. "But don't worry. You're going to be spending lots of time with her and the other Sailor Scouts."
Mini-Moon's eyes lit up. "You mean... you're sending me back to the past?"
Serenity nodded slowly. "I think things are going to be rather hectic for a while in this time, and nobody will be available to train you in the use of your new powers. I think you'll be safest in the past until everything here is settled. My past self and the other Sailor Scouts will teach you how to use your powers to the fullest in the meantime."
"Yay!" cheered Mini-Moon. "Thank you, Mommy!" This time, she was the one who started the hug, but her mother returned it in full.
"Run along, dear," said Serenity. "I'm sure you're going to want to say your goodbyes before you leave."
"Yeah." Mini-Moon let go and stepped away from the bed. "I'm going to miss you while I'm gone."
Serenity smiled. "I'll be right there with you. I'll just be a few centuries younger than I am now."
Mini-Moon giggled. "Oh, Mommy... I love you so much."
Serenity's smile became rather comically twisted as she tried to hide her tears. "Go on, dear. I'm afraid I won't be able to see you off, but my love will go with you."
Mini-Moon gave her mother one final hug and a kiss. "Bye, Mommy. I promise I'll come back so strong you won't recognize me!"
"I know you will," said Serenity. "I was there." She waved as Mini-Moon ran from the room, excitedly proclaiming her joy at being sent to the past again.
"Are you sure about this?" asked Venus once the girl was gone. "You know what happened to her when she went back the second time."
Serenity's eyes closed. "Yes. I'm reminded of it every day while Mars fights to keep my people safe. I know I'll never see my daughter again. But if our suspicions are correct, then her fate is better than what would become of her if she were to stay here. What will become of all of us."
Venus swallowed nervously. "What would that be?"
"I don't know," Serenity sobbed. "I'm never going to see her again... and I don't know what's going to become of my kingdom...." She buried her face in her hands and cried.
"It's not that bad!" protested Venus. "It's just a political thing. All I have to do is patch things up on Earth a bit diplomatically, and we'll get the shuttle restored, and everything will be back to normal."
Serenity didn't respond. Venus started to embrace her, then thought better of it and left to prepare for her flight.
It would be three days before Serenity's tears stopped, and two months after that before she spoke another word.
Venus stepped off the ramp and into the cold night air, clutching her inventory tightly in both hands. She didn't recognize the spaceport where the shuttle had landed; in her frustration over the political situation she was being forced to leap into headfirst as well as her haste to make it to Earth in the tiny window of opportunity she had, she hadn't noticed that the shipboard announcements had not once mentioned their destination. The other passengers seemed unconcerned, making their way into the spaceport or to the waiting taxis as if they were in full control of their situations. She couldn't be the only one who'd hopped the ship urgently and hadn't been able to make plans for her arrival, could she?
She grabbed someone by the sleeve as he tried to walk away from the shuttle. "Hey, where are we?" she asked him.
"Earth," he replied. "Look, I have to go. My wife and kids are waiting for me." He pulled away from her and ran.
"Hey! I meant what spaceport is this?!" she called after him. But he didn't respond, leaving Venus alone beside the shuttle, lost and clueless.
Venus sighed heavily and set off for the spaceport. The name of the building wasn't featured anywhere she could see, but there would probably be something inside that would tell her where she was.
She turned toward the source of the voice and saw a man in an orange business suit standing beside a limousine. "Who are you?" she asked. "Did you know I was coming?"
"We expected that you would be arriving when we heard about the shuttle termination," he replied. "Our president arranged to have you picked up here. Unless you have other arrangements...?"
"No, nothing," she replied, shaking her head. "I could use a ride. So, which president are you talking about?"
He bowed. "Forgive me. I represent a resistance group that hopes to stop our country's leader from siding with President Auberge. We don't have much political power, but with your support, we may be able to realize our goal."
"I'm not a miracle worker," said Venus, blushing slightly. "But I didn't really have a plan... I guess I have to start somewhere." She approached the car, and he opened the door for her before climbing in himself. The engine started as soon as the door was closed.
"I didn't catch your name," said Venus as they started to move.
"I didn't give it to you," the man quipped.
Venus laughed. "No, seriously, who are you?" Something was beginning to stink about the whole situation, and she wished she'd smelled it sooner.
There was a soft hiss, and the smell became considerably less figurative. Venus quickly held her breath, hoping that she hadn't already inhaled too much of whatever gas was being pumped into the passenger compartment.
"Even the great Sailor Venus has to breathe eventually," the man pointed out as his eyes began to close. "Don't try to fight it."
Venus covered her mouth and nose with her hand and swung around in her seat, kicking the nearest window as hard as she could. The polysteel didn't even scratch. She turned over and grabbed the door handle, but it predictably refused to budge. Her lungs were already starting to ache, and she was trapped in the tiny compartment filled with gas and her unconscious abductor. She reached across to feel his wrist, but her fingers were already too numb to detect whether or not he still had a pulse. Her eyes clouded, and she couldn't hold it any more. Her mouth opened of its own accord, and she gasped a lungful of the gas. A chill instantly filled her body, and her head dropped.
Thinking quickly, she ran her fingers across the top of her inventory and extracted her communicator. It fell through her weakened grip and landed in her lap. She could only hope it had fallen open as it tended to whenever she dropped it accidentally. "Help me," she whispered as the darkness took her. Her body slumped in the seat, and her senses shut down completely.
The limo sped on through the unmarked streets, taking its two unconscious passengers to their ultimate ill-fated destination.