Neon Genesis Evangelion Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ Sailor Jupiter – Pilots in Nerima ( Chapter 1 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Sic Semper Morituri
Sailor Jupiter
(Pilots in Nerima)

Nerima Beginnings


I do not own any of the characters from Ranma 1 / 2, BSSM, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ah My Goddess, Tenchi Muyo or the Lovecraft Cycle involved in these stories. They belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Naoko Takeuchi, AIC Productions, Gainex, Kosuke Fujishima and Arkham House respectively.

C&C , MSTs are welcome


Author’s Note: Several people have asked I include how Asuka and Jeff arrived in Nerima. This is not the version that will appear in SSM, I decided to remove several details that would be spoilers at this point.

Nerima Beginnings 1 -PreSailor Jupiter

      Another of our beloved commander’s looney ideas, Asuka thought as she watched the small collections of concrete buildings, and the guard force surrounding them, ‘Capture the flag, it will be fun and easy, just remember, there are no rules!’ As if we didn’t know there are no rules in war.

      She glanced a distance away, and wondered if the others were having the same `fun` she was. She smirked and carefully tied her hair into a pigtail and slipped on the red silk shirt she’d `borrowed` for the occasion. Not that I didn’t offer the others the chance to raid my closet for this little operation, she thought, ‘You’re just jealous that nobody dressed like you,’ Jeff told me. I’m not weird enough to, yet, it is a bit uncomfortable, she thought, No one feels they can joke with me. Misato, even Horseface, but not me.

      She spotted her partner in the operation, and saw he had his hair colored black, and styled appropriately. Red silk shirt and black pants, she thought, Considering this is the building Horseface and Wondergirl are supposed to `protect` after they get their flag, the guards won’t be ready until it’s too late.

      Rei glanced at the mirror Ranma held. « The beard and hair are perfect, » Ranma said, « I don’t want to know how you got one of his uniforms, cause that one fits perfectly. »

      « It was an experiment, » she replied, « You are prepared. »

      « Proceed with the plan, you have my orders, » he said, mimicking Gendo’s voice perfectly.

      « Understood, Commander, » she said and slipped through the brush. When she had the guards attention, she slid her glasses up her nose and tapped Ranma’s shoulder.

      From concealment he shouted, « There has been a change of plans, report to blockhouse B-5 to reinforce the guard force there. »

      « Yes, Commander! » the guards shouted and saluted. Then they headed off.

      Rei grabbed Ranma by the shoulder, pushing him down and holding him in place.

      « That hurts! » he complained, trying to pry her fingers lose before they crushed the bone.

      « Not thinking hurts more, » she replied and held him in place.

      « I never ordered them to do that! » Misato complained. She looked around the command deck at the bridge bunnies and Ritsuko, all of whom were laughing at the kids’ antics. « I didn’t authorize that!’

      « You told them ‘No rules’, » Gendo replied evenly, « We are fortunate they didn’t simply take the EVAs and use them. »

      « Or the nuclear arsenal? » Simson added with a smirk, « Interesting they all attacked their target, rather than splitting up, one to defend and the other to attack. »

      Misato turned to stare at Ritsuko, who was chuckling softly. « You think this is funny?! »

      « I think it’s reassuring that only when they are told there are no rules, do they prove how paper thin our defenses against them are. Imagine if they had decided to use their full powers? »

      « That’s what they were supposed to be doing! » Misato countered.

      « Shinji and Nabiki have achieved their objective, » Maya reported, they are on their way towards Rei and Ranma’s blockhouse. »

      « Redirect them to Miss Langley and Master Davis’s, » Gendo ordered, « They might be able to defeat those two. »

      « Admiral, » Maya announced with alarm, « We have an energy transient at that location. Not an Angel – I’m not sure what it is. »

      « The exercise is canceled, » Simson told them, « Sound the alert, get the kids back here and aboard their EVAs! »

      « The pulse disrupted radios. I have the exercise coordinator on field phone, » Maya said as she handed the handset to Simson.

      « Go, both of you! » he ordered as he took Maya’s seat.

      Nabiki pulled off her red wig, glanced at Shinji running beside her. « What did you mean ‘That’s just weird’? What did you sense? »

      « I can’t really explain it, » Shinji replied as they ran, « Like something was there, then it wasn’t and something changed. »

      « Helpful as always, » Nabiki complained, « Maybe Asuka can explain it to the rest of us. »

      « Pick’em up! » Ranma ordered as he and Rei closed in at a dead run.

      Rei scooped up Shinji while Ranma collected Nabiki. « There was trouble, » Ranma said, « Rei’s weird sense got a jolt. »

      « There was a change in phase-space at the interface, » Rei explained, « The transference is incomplete.

      « At the interface of what? » Nabiki demanded.

      « Where they were, and where they are now, » Rei replied, content in her explanation.

      Nabiki left that for later. « Ran-chan, you pick me up so you could hold me in your arms? » she cooed.

      « No, you’re heavier, » Ranma replied.

      Nabiki frowned. « Ranma – dear – keeping running, maybe you’ll get away from me, » she said sweetly.

      Asuka slipped into the dark blockhouse. Poor guards never knew what hit them, Asuka thought as she looked at her fellow conspirator, I bet the others aren’t half as far. She pulled the flag from its holder and the doors slammed shut, totally cutting off the only light in the room.

      « DIE! Sorcerer! »

      « Ranma no BAKA! »

      « What’s going on here? » Asuka yelled.

      A scream from her left.

      That was Raccoon! she realized. « Security get in here! » she shouted.

      The muzzle flash and report from Raccoon’s pistol froze everyone. Illuminating everything like a strobe.

      Only Raccoon or Wondergirl would bring live ammo to this party! Asuka tried to get away from where the attackers had been, No, Raccoon should still be firing!

      The attackers she had seen in that instant had been a mixed lot, mostly Japanese, some with hand weapons, some without, most in martial arts or historical costumes. A second shot and a scream from the attackers.

      « Has she got a gun!? »

      « My little girl is hurt! »

      « I’ll get her! »

      That last voice was close, Asuka thought and attacked, Let’s see if this stuff really works!

      The four pilots were at a dead run as they heard the two shots and the sounds of fighting. Frighteningly, the sounds had subsided before they arrived at the blockhouse and the guards struggling to get the steel doors open. Rei arrived and tossed the guards aside, ripping the door off its hinges.

      « Soldiers, my apologies, » Rei said as she tossed the heavy steel door aside.

      Rei began to glow, to illuminate as much as she could, as she entered the room. « Get lights here, » she ordered.

      « Doctor, is anyone hurt? » Maya asked as she and Ritsuko arrived.

      Nabiki quickly moved into the room. The smell of blood and gun smoke assaulted her nostrils. The room was bare. There, she thought as she bent to pick up two spend casings, and noted there was blood on the floor and a nearby wall. « Don’t touch anything! » Nabiki ordered, « Let’s get out of here and let the forensics team do their work. »

      Nabiki practically had to drag Rei out of the building. Outside, Rei damped down her glow and stared at Nabiki with a less than placid expression that usually presaged an Angel being torn limb-from-limb.

      « Can you explain this? » Rei said as she dropped the bloodied strip of cloth in her hand into Nabiki’s, « The blood is her’s. »

      I don’t need a reminder who ‘her’s’ is, she thought as the striped pattern of the cloth pricked her memory. She shook her head, wanting to deny the simplest explanation. « Oh no, » her own rage grew to match or dwarf Rei’s. « Damn you, damn you. You couldn’t leave it alone?! You couldn’t leave us alone?! Damn you all to Hell! »

      The heavy steel cable bit into his sides and wrists. Whoever had tied me up, Jeff thought, I have to admire their thoroughness. The bag over the head is a nice touch, although I don’t need eyes to make out there are people around me. Somehow, familiar . . .

      « Ha, the foul sorcerer could never stand against my magnificence! » a haughty voice proclaimed in Japanese.

      How did they know I was a mage? he wondered, This is starting to sound very familiar.

      « What are you talking about? » another Japanese voice, cruder accent, « I got him, red hair and all. »

      Red hair? Jeff worried. « Langley speak only this language, » he yelled in German, « They may not know – »

      « Silence, cur! » a heavy stick hit him across the back and shoulder.

      « We understand them! They don’t – ! » Jeff continued.

      « Shut up Ranma! » What felt like a maul crashed down on him repeatedly, until he lay still and silent.

      From the force of those blows, only my AT field kept me from being fatally injured, he realized, Something about all of this is tickling old memories. I hope I’m not where I think I am.

      « Nay, cur, » the haughty voice again, « I shall prove my righteous title and claim. And prove to even the heavens. » A rumble of thunder. « That I am the superior claimant. »

      Oh, this can’t be happening, he thought, They must have had some hallucinogen in the flag. This can’t be really happening!

      They whipped the bag off his head, the torchlight in twilight gave the scene an unreal look. If I didn’t already know these idiots were bumblers, this might be frightening, he thought as he looked around at the expectant and angry faces surrounding him, Stupid, remember the injuries they’ve already inflicted on you! He started worrying again.

      « I demand to be returned to the West German embassy or consulate. The German Government will file a protest with the Japanese government, » he said in German.

      A short haired Japanese high school girl with a bandage around her arm squatted down and stared at him. « Kuno, this isn’t Ranma! He isn’t even Japanese. »

      « Langley, don’t let on you know Ranma. » Jeff made it sound like a question. Asuka’s continuing silence worried him.

      If they’ve hurt her, he thought, Nothing’s going to stop me.

      A pretty young woman with a pony tail rolled her wheelchair next to the high school girl.

      « Do you understand Chinese? » she asked in Mandarin.

      « I demand to be returned to the West German embassy or consulate. The German Government will file a protest with the Japanese government, » he repeated in German.

      The high school girl stood up, « Get Dr. Tofu, maybe he can understand this idiot. »

      « He can treat your injuries as well. » The ponytailed girl smiled, reached out.

      Jeff knew spitting at her would get him killed instantly, instead he flinched away, it had the desired effect, the girl looked shocked and offended.

      « No one will hurt you, » she assured him.

      Yeah, pull the other one, it’s got bells on, he thought, These can’t be the real people. There’s no way they could get to us . . . unless Nyarlathotep or the Elder Gods took a hand, in which case we are in big trouble! « Langley, if you’re alive, say something. Otherwise, I’m going to flash fry these morons and give you a proper warrior’s funeral pyre! »

      Another boy, with a back pack and umbrella yanked the bag off Asuka’s head.

      Jeff was glad to see she was gagged and not injured. The gag was removed, and she let fly with a stream of profanity, curses and imprecations, all mercifully in German.

      Jeff relaxed a bit. Names pieced together with behaviors, and things Nabiki had told him about her birthplace, his and Asuka’s dreams, all forming a lump of lead in his guts. They wouldn’t be dumb enough to -? he didn’t finish the thought, They obviously are that dumb and more. I should have known better. I guess you beat me on the head often enough I can’t think so good.

      « This isn’t my worthless son either. It must be another iinakuze, » a fat slob in a dirty white gi knelt over Asuka.

      That was too much for Asuka, « Iinakuze! IINAKUZE!! » she yelled in Japanese, then she caught herself. « Hey Raccoon, what’s an iinakuze? » she yelled at Jeff in German.

      Everyone in the yard fell over in a comical pose.

      « What kind of an asylum are we trapped in? » Asuka asked, looking disgusted at the idiots surrounding her, « Please don’t tell me this is what I think it is. Tell me I’m hallucinating, or I’ve finally gone insane. »

      « Don’t say their names, but this may be where the Fourth and Fifth Children are actually from, » Jeff told her with a growing despair. If we are in this place, it might be very difficult to get back home, he thought, Also our dreams may not be an accurate depiction. Great Old Ones are only so insane.

      « Schiesse. » Asuka looked around. « What do we do? »

      « Do you want to tell Fourth or Fifth you slaughtered their parents and siblings? » Jeff asked.

      Asuka shook her head.

      « Then we wait for an opportunity to use our escape and evasion training. Don’t let on you speak any language they use, except German. We’re Germans, and want to go to the embassy. »

      « I heard you, twice, » she replied angrily, « Then what? »

      « We explain we were mugged, dumped in this place without papers. Let the bureaucracy sort things out from there. With luck the rescue party will be here soon. »

      Asuka looked at the others who were standing up. « If we’re not lucky? » Asuka watched the high school girl help the wheelchair-bound girl up.

      « The First, Fourth, Fifth and Third can carry on the fight, » he continued, « If we can keep these morons off their backs, we’ll be doing all we can. »

      « He has refused to come here, » a pretty woman in a kimono entered and announced. The others digested the grim news.

      « What about her? » Asuka asked, « She seems reasonable. Unless I’m wrong, she isn’t who I think she is . . . is she? »

      « That thing she’s carrying is a sword, » Jeff replied, « She wants to make Fourth-kabobs with it. Remember? » He gave her a grim look.

      Asuka was horrified, « You’re kidding. A nightmare sent by an alien god, and we have to live it again! »

      « Oh, most certainly! She wants to chop off his head after he and fat-moron in the dirty gi slit open their bellies. I’ll tell you why – later – like when we’re safely back home. » Jeff looked around « You suppose if I summoned an Angel, these fools would even notice? »

      « You can summon ANGELS! » Asuka shouted at him, silencing all other conversations.

      « How do you think they appear? » Jeff answered, looked at the figures around him, « I think we scared them. » He gestured at group all posed in odd postures as if the shout had a physical force that affected them.

      « Just shoot me now, » Asuka lamented.

      « I can’t reach my guns, » Jeff told her, « But if you want to die. Just announce that you like the Fourth, use his name and their language. And bobtailed highschooler will mash you to death toot-sweet. Fat-great idiot engaged him to every homicidal female in east Asia. Is it any wonder he lost his memory? »

      « I lived it too, » Asuka replied with her usual snarkiness, « I’d just hoped it was all fake. Raccoon, I don’t delude myself about what happened, on both sides, during the last war. However, if the SS ever got a gander at this bunch, they’d lose their lunch, then they’d machine gun the lot of them. If this is the Fourth and Fifth’s family, how did they turn out so well? »

      « Maybe you can get a Nobel Prize for figuring that out. »

      « I want a drink instead. » Asuka bowed her head.

      « I am Soun Tendo. » The tall man with the long, black-hair and moustache announced, « Master of the Tendo school of Indiscriminate Grappling. This is my dojo. »

      « Great, now the commercial. » Asuka stared at the man. He’d evidently expected a better reception. So he repeated himself, v e r y – s l o w l y.

      « What say we wait until they go to sleep, then we escape, » Asuka suggested as each gave an introduction, more flowery, long-winded and boring than the last, until halfway through, Soun wanted to repeat his.

      « Sounds good, » Jeff replied as the combatants squared off and began fighting each other. « And yes, I don’t think we can kill them, I don’t want to explain it to our friends. Of course once we get their permission . . . it’s payback time! »

      « Weird then, isn’t it, » Asuka sighed, « Enough power to destroy this place ten times over, and we can’t use it. »

      « Well, stick boy and fang face aren’t relatives. We could do a nice brochette of fool, maybe it would scare the rest into – »

      Asuka’s screams interrupted him. A small wizened man had yanked her shirt open and was burying his face in her breasts.

      « Pervert, lecher, rapist, get off! » Asuka screamed in German.

      Bobtail grabbed the wizened man and immediately got the same treatment. The fight quickly became general, all of the others against this one. Asuka was screaming because no one had bothered to reclose her shirt. Jeff turned his back on the whole affair and began preparing to cast the enchantment that would convince the others to go to sleep, leaving him and Asuka the opportunity to escape.

      The crowd prevailed, barely, and the old man sailed over the compound wall on an arc, and at a velocity, that would have done a 105mm howitzer proud.

      « Did you see that? » Asuka asked, « That’s impossible, even – the Fourth isn’t that strong. Maybe Wondergirl is. »

      « Yeah, have they closed your shirt. I wouldn’t want to be accused of peeping, » he teased.

      « Two of the morons noticed, they both got nosebleeds and fell over, » Asuka commented, « I already hate this place. By the way, Fang Boy is fair game, but leave Stick Boy alive. »

      « Well, here goes the spell. »

      Jeff was rewarded by yawns from some of the participants.

      « We will make our attempt tomorrow, to recover my worthless son, » fat-idiot said, yawning.

      « AH! » Soun ran into the house. He ran out of the house holding a burning scroll and plunged it into the koi pond. He stood and took on a solemn expression. « Unfortunately, old friend, » Soun said gravely, « It appears damaged. » He folded his hands into his sleeves.

      Genma nodded. « Then we’ll have to send a smaller group, only our finest. »

      « It’s a piece of charcoal! » Akane protested.

      Soun burst into tears, turning the dirt to a sea of mud, « And my little girl won’t be hurt again! »

      « It’s only a small wound, » Akane replied, « I should have pounded that pervert with the gun. » She shook her fist at Jeff.

      « Rei would have killed her, » Asuka teased, « Took pity on her, or not as good a shot as you thought? »

      Jeff stared at Akane as if he didn’t understand her words.

      The groups tramped inside, yawning, except for wheelchair Ponytail. « We can’t leave them here in the mud! » she protested, no one else agreed. She reached down and buttoned up Asuka’s shirt, and managed to drag the redhead to the porch, before falling asleep in her chair, then falling out of it into Asuka’s lap.

      Jeff sat up.

      ‘What do we do now?’ Asuka mouthed, afraid to make a sound or move, then grimaced when she realized Jeff had no way to answer. So they both waited.

      Several moments later Jeff shed his bonds, Asuka saw him move and burned through hers.

      « What do we do? » Asuka whispered, moving the sleeping girl off her, into the chair in a stable position. Then they put it back on the deck that surrounded the house.

      « Like I said and you know, the Fourth was engaged to every homicidal female in east Asia, they formed factions. We go to a different faction and wait until help arrives. But first, I have to do something. » Jeff moved into the house with Kasumi, carefully tipping her and the wheelchair over and covering the girl with a table cloth, before disappearing deeper inside.

      Asuka looked at the sleeping girl and the environs. You think they’ll right her in the morning, Raccoon? Out of the goodness of their hearts? HA! I’ve never felt this alone before, even when Tembris’ men took me to die, she thought, I knew you and Anna were out there and free.

      « I think we need a piece of this more than they do. » He showed her the piece of scroll and several other items.

      « Why not take the whole thing? » She smirked at the destroyed item.

      « Then they’d know we stole a piece, and we don’t want that. Agreed? » Jeff replied with a smirk, « I figure it’s about 21:00 local time, that gives us some time. »

      She nodded her agreement as she reset her watch. The two of them slipped through the gate and out into the street.

      « West German consulate? » she asked, she stopped and looked around, « Something is out there?! »

      He shook his head. « Ignore it, not our problem. The German consulate is out. We have to think like the Fifth would think, she’ll be leading the rescue party. We have to go where she’d expect us to be. »

      « Why didn’t you use your gun effectively in that fight? » Asuka asked.

      « Stick Boy nearly took my head off with his first stroke. I was having enough trouble just staying conscious, let alone focusing enough to hit a target, » he replied, « Or miss a target. »

      « Only you and Rei would go to a party with a gun, » Asuka teased.

      « A – gun. I have you know I’m carrying two, and about fifty rounds for each. If I’d realized how porous our security was, I would have been shooting before the first blow landed. Next time, I teleport first, taking you and the room’s atmosphere, and questions come later or never. »

      « Thank you, come again, » Ukyo said to the customer. She looked around at the empty restaurant. She didn’t blame anyone but herself, I’ve been going through the motions since Ranma disappeared. I don’t know what I’m going to do. Everything I’ve focused my life around is gone.

      « Excuse me, ma’am. »

      She shook herself. Zoning out like that, she chided herself, When there were customers. She found herself going out of focus again as she looked at the two people in the familiar red shirt and black pants, even their battle-worn expressions made her remember. « Ranma? » she looked closely at the boy, then the girl. These two gaijin are dressed just like him, she thought, Like cosplayers do. « Sorry, you reminded me of someone I used to know. Can I help you? »

      « Yes, Kuonji Ukyo, Tendo Nabiki suggested we could come to you for help, » the boy said, « Saotome Ranma is safe. He’s my roommate. »

      Ukyo watched the entryway suddenly become the ceiling.

      « You got any more bright ideas, Raccoon? » Ukyo heard a girl say.

      Ukyo was on her feet in a moment, « Where is he, he’s all right? Is he happy? Can I see him? » She grabbed the boy’s shirt.

      « You’re choking me, » he croaked as he feebly pried at her grip. The girl seemed to be laughing at both of them.

      Ukyo was still in a daze. I can hardly believe what they had told me, she thought, These two gaijin. But they refused to answer some of my questions, the boy, Raccoon, had said ‘I want to tell the crew at Nekohanten at the same time.’ How does he know us?

      Ukyo felt ready to explode from all the questions she wanted to ask. The first question is why are the pair both dressed as Ranma? They wore the right clothes and had the right hair color. Could it be that Ranma wasn’t really Nodoka’s or Genma’s son, that these were his real siblings, or half-siblings? Ukyo wondered, Despite their obvious irritation with him, they both seem genuinely fond of him. I guess it’s true, nobody can exasperate or love you like your own kin. Far more than anyone in Nerima, except me. She smiled at the last thought but kept silent as they walked.

      Despite the late hour and the self-imposed curfew, there was shouting coming from the Nekohanten. She recognized the voices. « Why is Ryoga in there? »

      « Come on, » Raccoon said to the girl, Langley, and the two jogged towards the entrance, Ukyo followed closely.

      That’s just like Ranma too, Ukyo thought as she unslung her baker’s peel, Somebody needs rescuing, and they just charge in without a thought.

      Xian Pu was angry. Ryoga had charged in, screaming about two Ranmas and Akane. Then he’d hit her when her back was turned, knocking her down, and kept screaming nonsense. It makes my head hurt, she thought as she got to her feet to face him. « Stupid pig-boy charge in and start screaming about something Shampoo no care about, » she growled at him, « You hit Mousse, between you and stupid Mousse. You threaten customers Shampoo getting to safety, that Shampoo’s business. »

      You picked the wrong day, the wrong girl, and the wrong subject, Xian Pu thought, I think pressed pig out from this foreigner will go on tomorrow’s menu.

      Ryoga would not be denied. I’m going to beat this little gaijin tramp and her mummy mentor into a pulp for what they’ve done. First, they’d done something to Akane, they must have, then they destroyed the scroll that was the last hope to recover Ranma. « You’ve ruined everything! You’re going to pay for this. For everything. »

      Shampoo faced him, then her expression changed, she stared past him in confusion. « Ranma? With, Ranma? »

      Ryoga wasn’t going to turn his back on her. I’m not that stupid! he thought I can see the mummy has stopped as well. I’m ready for both of them! He heard the footsteps coming towards him.

      « You have an interesting habit of attacking people when their backs are turned. »

      Ryoga glanced at the gaijin dressed as Ranma, a second one with Ukyo were pulling Shampoo out of the battle line.

      The two who escaped. « So you do speak Japanese! You tricked us! » Ryoga sneered, « You have no honor. »

      « From a coward who attacks children under the cover of darkness, that’s a compliment, » the gaijin replied. Voice slack, eyes dead as they bored into him.

      « I’m no coward! I’ve seen Hell because of Saotome, and the demons he released! I will have my revenge! » Ryoga shouted back.

      « You are a coward, I can see it in your eyes. Pig-boy wasn’t it? It fits. »

      « You’re going to pay for that! » Ryoga couldn’t drag his eyes from the gaijin’s, or raise his hands to strike him.

      « Should I turn around? Give you an easy target. A familiar one? » The gaijin took a step closer, no change in his tone or voice, and still those eyes bored in.

      I’m not afraid! I – am – not – afraid! Ryoga assured himself as he stared back, I’m not moving, because I don’t want to. But he knew death was coming soon, I can’t move, if I do this gaijin will kill me. He knew it, he knew it better than he knew his own name.

      « Then start something, start something and see what happens. »

      « I don’t fight –  » Ryoga began, the boy was no martial artist.

      The gaijin’s slap interrupted him. Slapped me? Ryoga couldn’t believe it, I must be imagining things. It’s a trick! Still those eyes bored into him, reminding him that his death was here.

      « I said start something, put up or shut up, little boy. » Then the gaijin slapped him again. Neither slap hurt, he thought, ignoring his wounded pride, But I know they are a trick. The gaijin is looking for an excuse, any excuse to kill me. How do I know that? Why am I so sure? I should just hit him, it’s just a trick, a mind-control trick! But he couldn’t get his arms or legs to respond.

      « Attack from ambush, assault the weak. Have you got the guts to start something face-to-face? Ready to put it all at risk? » the gaijin slapped him again.

      Uncertainty had given way to the fear that paralyzed him, sapped his confidence, and his depression, he couldn’t move, now he couldn’t even reply. It’s as if I’m outside my body, he thought, Watching it all, unable to intervene.

      « No? » the gaijin sounded almost sympathetic, he signed, disappointed, « I didn’t think so. »

      Kho Lon had seen these two Ranma-like gaijin walk in. The male one confronted Ryoga, while the female helped Kuonji Ukyo pull a stunned Xian Pu out of the arena. I would have expected to watch Ryoga splatter this arrogant newcomer all over the walls, she thought as she considered, both the newcomers and the chill that seemed to emanate from both of them, Except Ryoga never moved, I’ve seen this in nature: a bird so paralyzed with fear of a snake, that it does not attempt to escape. Ryoga has the bird’s expression, as the newcomer stared at him. Questioning his bravery, his honor, then slapping him. She considered that none of it roused Ryoga to action. His tone is almost . . . soothing, Kho Lon thought, That would be a trick worth learning.

      Finally, almost reluctantly the newcomer stepped away, pulling Ryoga’s umbrella from it’s resting place. Interesting, this newcomer seems unconcerned about the extreme weight, Kho Lon thought, Handling it easily.

      Kho Lon considered, I must have misjudged these newcomers. Things are going to get interesting again. The boy grabbed Ryoga’s ear, twisting it. Ryoga grimaced in pain now, but he didn’t cry out.

      « Out you go, half-man. » He threw Ryoga bodily out of the restaurant and into the street, « Don’t come back, ’til you’ve grown some manners. »

      The newcomer turned to face Kho Lon with a genial expression, saluted with the umbrella as if is were a sword, then bowed low, « Honored Elder. Room and board plus a quarter of what Langley and I can bring in above what you’re making now? » he asked in perfect Mandarin.

      Before Kho Lon could react, the girl spoke up, also in flawless Mandarin, « Hold it Raccoon! »

      Ah! Kho Lon realized, That explains everything.

      « I didn’t agree to this, » she finished. Glaring at the boy.

      « How long will the money you brought with you hold out? » he asked, « Are you willing to say that Nabiki is better than you at something? »

      Before she could retort he turned, « Fiery temper, exotic good looks, and a nice figure, Ranma has trained her in the Art, a good cook, she also speaks Chinese and Greek. People have called her an Amazon, in both complementary and derogatory tones. »

      The girl started sputtering. Kho Lon hid her smile. I recognize the principle of using the opponent’s own energy against them, now transferred to conversation, she thought.

      « I’m arguably the better cook, and Nabiki has trained me in the Art, » he added, « To put it in your terms, we –  » He indicated himself and the girl. « Could and have taken Akane’s finished cooking, and made it a meal that not only didn’t poison the diners, but they all enjoyed it immensely. »

      « You cheated, that wasn’t – you finished everything. » The girl rallied, rehashing an old, and private, argument.

      « Where is Ranma?! » Xian Pu demanded in Chinese.

      « Safe, when the assault took place, he and Nabiki-san weren’t even in the room, » the boy told her. He glanced from Ukyo to Xian Pu, « No offense to either of you ladies, but aren’t you both a bit old to be engaged to him? For that matter, so is Nabiki’s older sister, Akane. »

      That boggled both girls. Kho Lon stepped into the breach, « How old is Ranma? »

      « Langley’s and my age, about fourteen, fifteen, sixteen at the outside, same as Nabiki-san. »

      The other girls exploded with comments on the impossibility of such a thing.

      Kho Lon banged her staff for quiet. « For the answers to our questions, a meal and a roof over your head for the night. Agreed? There are things that stalk aboard in the night, » she paused for a moment, then added, « And if you say you’re immune because you’re male, I shall strike you. » She thought she had the measure of both of them, the girl would have been an Amazon except for an accident of birth, the boy was a schemer in the Nabiki mold. Both had a hard edge to them she hadn’t seen since the Pacific War.

      « Very well. » the boy bowed, « I shall start with the background I know, and then we will segue into speculations. »

      Ukyo shook her head. Ran-chan is alive, and a hero, the thought warmed her heart, That he’s chased by a few girls is expected, fortunately none are serious . . . but the age difference? How did that happen? How can he not remember us, how can he not remember his Uc-chan?

      « You fight big monsters, with giant robots? » Shampoo couldn’t believe it anymore than Ukyo could.

      « Living beings, but the principle is the same, » Asuka told them, toying with the last of her meal. « Ancient creatures of darkest myth. »

      « And son-in-law uses his skills to drive the – device? » Cologne asked.

      Asuka nodded, « Ki blasts, a superfast punch, a few other tricks. » She glanced down. « It’s why he’s the best pilot, » she said bitterly.

      « Langley, he’s not the best, » the boy, Raccoon soothed, « Shinji is. »

      The girl stood up and began screaming at the impassive boy in a language Ukyo didn’t understand. He simply nodded as she wound down.

      « I have to do that occasionally, Colonel’s orders, » he apologized.

      « She was asking a question, not giving an order! » Asuka shot back.

      « Well, we’ve satisfied our curiosity for the moment. » Cologne prevented another explosion. « But if you are going to work here, I need to know about you two. »

      « Like why you called Raccoon, » Shampoo laughed, « More silly name than Pantyhose Taro. »

      « Well, Xian Pu, that’s correct isn’t it? » he waited for Shampoo to nod, Ukyo caught the subtle difference in pronunciation. « My parents christened me Jeffery Kevin Davis, none of which can be pronounced by the Japanese. »

      « Jeffuri isn’t so bad, » she said.

      « Neither is Yukio, » he replied with a smile.

      « My names is Ukyo, not Yukio, sugar. » she replied, a bit testily, returning the smile.

      « And mine is Jeffery, not Jeffuri. » He returned her smile. « Well, Nabiki commented that I was number six, and I was not a man but a free number. »

      « Be seeing you, » Mousse interjected, and made a two fingered salute, then left as everyone stared at him.

      « Where does that come from? » Asuka demanded, « Nabiki taught him the same salute and salutation. It’s creepy. »

      « Go beat up Mousse, easy enough, maybe he tell. » Shampoo snickered.

      « Anyway, Langley changed Roku-kun to Rakkuun, which Nabiki changed to Raccoon, from Tanuki. »

      « It fits, » Asuka grumped.

      « So, » Ukyo said, « Are you sweet on her? »

      « Yes, » Shampoo piled on, « I not recognized Nabiki you talk about. »

      « We have a business and teacher-student relationship, » Jeff told them.

      « Jeff – « Asuka began.

      « She’s my student, nothing more, » Jeff interrupted, « If she won’t trust me, how can we have a relationship? Heck, if she doesn’t trust Ranma, how can they have a relationship? »

      Asuka shook her head disgustedly.

      « Are you two still planning to take over the world? » Cologne asked.

      « Too much paperwork. » Jeff dismissed the idea.

      « Well, back to business, » Cologne said.

      They laid out three futons for their guests and Xian Pu retired to her own bed. It was too late for Ukyo to safely return to her restaurant, Xian Pu thought, Pig-Boy deserves to be out there, but no one else. Three strangers in our restaurant seems very peculiar. I was overjoyed that my Airen was safe and might be returning, at least to rescue these others, maybe I could go with them. She smiled broadly at that happy thought.

      Below in the main room, Mousse let out a yelp, and received a sincere-sounding apology from Raccoon.

      Stupid Mousse, just leave him alone! Xian Pu thought, Killing him won’t get you any revenge on my Airen! Although Raccoon, Asuka is right, the trickster name fits, told us all he and Ranma were sleeping together. He nearly had me and Spatula-girl kill him, until Asuka explained about the bunk beds. Xian Pu chuckled about that. I remember how Great grandmother believed my Airen was taken by a higher power, now we know this is true. I worry that he has never spoken about any of us. How can he not remember us, does he still love me? It is much to think about, she thought as she stared at the ceiling, What also worries me is how can this girl, Asuka, not love my Airen? Every other girl seems to, even cold-hearted Nabiki tries to take him away. Also, how can Jeff hate Ranma, but stand by him? It makes my head all spinny.

Sailor Jupiter 1

      The day was shaping up to be a typical day for Nerima, since Jeff was currently in Juuban, it meant the shineola had truly hit the fan in impressive quantities. Since Cologne and Ukyo are off dealing with their respective `homefronts`, not much to do in Nerima except dodge morons. Heard Juuban was a target-rich environment, as long as you beat the Sailor Scouts to the punch. Not that I really mind, I can cooperate or flee, as required, Jeff thought as he cornered a `youma` that had been luring young men and boys into an alley and `draining their energy`. She’s obviously a youma, or she’d be draining their wallets as well, or be downtown in the business district, 1000 to 10000 yen a grope, 50,000 to half-mil for more. I haven’t seen a woman that well endowed since Asuka dragged me in to see a Gainex porn site Mousse had `stumbled upon`. Asuka didn’t think her resemblance to the `star` of the site was either funny or coincidental.

      He teleported the creature to Happosai’s room in the Tendo dojo. Let the two of them decide things, he thought as he continued walking, after dispersing the disappointed `customers`. Funny, I don’t think any of us would have fallen for that, he considered as he dodged insults and a few thrown lunches, But I guess we were warped. That makes four, I thought these things operated sequentially, not simultaneously. So much for folklore.

      A distant explosion and a sudden eclipsing of the sun forced instinct to overcome training. It had taken months during his first dream of Nerima to learn to quit catching pretty girls who fell out of the sky. In Nerima, if you do, they think a) you have shown them and their art terrible disrespect; b) you’ve harmed their marriageability in some vast, inexplicable and unforgivable way; or c) both, plus, fill in the blank, he thought as he positioned himself for the catch, while everyone else scattered, he cast a spell to slow the girl’s descent to nonlethal speeds, So this should be far enough away from Nerima that letting a pretty girl go ‘Splat!’ is a bad thing. I never have figured out how picking a fight with someone able to launch you 500 feet into the air, and landing face-first makes you more attractive, rather than more repulsive. A mystery for another time.

      The girl was wearing a badly torn leotard, with some fringes reminiscent of a skirt, collar and perhaps some bows. Combat cheerleaders? Jeff wondered as he took mental inventory of her injuries, Cuts and burns clear through the uniform, bare feet with second and third-degree burns, right glove burned off, left glove and black bracer intact. Took the blow on the right, so catch her on the left.

      He caught her easily, then an identical black bracer formed on his left wrist and fused with the one on hers. That’s going to complicate things, he thought as he turned to face the two men running towards him, Bad guys, considering everyone else is running away, even in Nerima they’d just stand around and watch. So if they close, they’re in the fight.

      « Ah, caught an innocent, poor defenseless mortal, » the first target said, a boy so pretty he’d give most of the Nerima girls a run for their money.

      Except his pants are so tight, Jeff considered his new target, I can tell he hasn’t been circumcised.

      « Girl, you shall helplessly watch as we – gick. »

      The steel toe of Jeff’s boot slamming into a place specifically prohibited by Marquis of Queensberry rules silenced Mister Bishi, who rolled into his personal, private ball of pain. Bon Voyage three diamonds! That leaves Opera Man, Jeff considered the cape, cane, domino mask, and suit of his opponent with contempt, I wear a suit for the pockets and the hidden armor, what’s your excuse? Then the cane morphed into a shoulder-fired howitzer by M.C. Ecsher and Rube Goldberg. Crap! Jeff swung the waking girl out of the line of fire and raised his AT field to maximum intensity.

     Makoto wasn’t quite sure what had happened, she’d encountered Tuxedo Mask and another man, and she’d been shot. Now she had her arm around her own shoulders and was being forced into a tight little ball. A guy grabbed me, she realized, as she saw the arm under her knees folding her legs against her chest, He can’t hold me! I – Her thought ended as she heard the muffled sound of the weapon that had shot and wounded her before, and the glare as its energies crawled along the shield that encompassed her and her caretaker. The weapon struck the shield again and again. The wince and grunt from the man cradling her made it clear that maintaining the defense was costing him seriously.

      Then one blast struck and her foot brushed the inside of the shield. Makoto nearly screamed as the conflicting emotions sleeted through her. A warmth and passion like she only experienced around Usagi-chan at her `gushiest`, not even from her fellow Scouts. Then a dark cold so deep, profound and lonely she wanted to never stop weeping. Deep underneath it all, a rage so hot it threatened to consume her, only the chains of duty and love of Humanity wrapped tightly around it prevented its escape to kill and destroy everything she held dear.

      An instant later she was free of it, as she tried to draw in on herself, to retreat from the cold, uncaring world and to hold and cherish the light and warmth she had seen and felt. Absently, she realized that the shield was down, she could feel the sun and wind on her skin. All thought of her injuries had been driven from her mind by the contact, now she was becoming aware of the cuts, bruises and burns that dotted her body. Another thought, spurred by the image of the chained hatred forced its way to her mind. « Don’t kill him! » she prayed as her savior turned to face the corrupted Tuxedo Mask.

      « Brainwashed former ally? » the gaijin boy said with a sardonic air, as if he’d been expecting it.

      « Yes, » she admitted, taking a moment to admire the face and determination of her rescuer, and his easy acceptance of her word as fact.

      « Hold tight, » he warned, « This is not going to be fun, or pretty. It won’t kill him, but it will hurt him. » He cradled her with their linked left arms while his right arm rested beneath her knees and in that hand, he held a cane similar to the one the brainwashed Tuxedo Mask held.

      « Hey, Kuno Total Wacky! Toss a rose and spout a speech, I haven’t had a good laugh in ages. »

      Tuxedo Mask’s face contorted in fury, beyond any darkness the Negaverse could inflict on him. « You dare compare me to that – that –  »

      « Fancy pants, rose-tossing, poetry spouter? » her protector offered innocently, « I just can’t imagine how I would confuse the two of you. »

      Tuxedo Mask charged with a scream of pure fury, his cane raised in a double overhand grip, to chop both of them in half. The boy parried the cane with his own, and lashed out with a booted foot, catching Tuxedo Mask’s inner thigh. Her former ally gasped in pain and crumpled slightly. Her rescuer shifted and his other foot lashed out, catching the stunned Tuxedo Mask in the side.

      The dance continued, Makoto realized that the boy had been trained by a master martial artist. He rained kicks down on nerve clusters and chakra centers preventing Tuxedo Mask from mounting an effective counter attack, or even a semblance of defense.

      Bruised, battered, but no broken bones or permanent injuries, she marveled, All while avoiding abrading my burns.

      Suddenly a black circle formed underneath the fallen Tuxedo Mask, she had no time to shout a warning as her rescuer leapt back out of the circle. When the circle vanished, so had Tuxedo Mask and his new ally.

      « Sorry, » he said, looking at her frustrated expression, « I wasn’t sure I could prevent the escape without injuring one or both of you. There’ll be a next time. I’ll be more ready. »

      « You can set me down now, » she teased, « I’m not that fragile. »

      « Have you seen the soles of your feet? » he asked with a frown, « I have, and I’m not going to inflict that much pain on any one. »

      She saw the tenderness of his expression, felt sincerity of his words. He’s so sweet . . . and caring, she thought.

      « Unintentionally, » he added, immediately reminding her of the darkness he also carried within, « I’ll warn you, this is going to feel extremely strange, and if your injuries are as extensive as I think, you may have to catch me, when I fall. »

      She was about to request an explanation when she felt a warmth flow through her. Revitalizing, she thought, That’s the only way – oh ick! That is weird! She watched her cuts flow together like water or clay, and her burns shrivel up and vanish like dying flowers. In both cases, they left healthy, unscarred skin behind. As if the wounds had never happened. She quickly got on her feet and held up her reeling partner.

      « You’re tougher than I thought, » he admitted as she slung his arms over her shoulders, « That hurts – a lot. »

      « Sorry. »

      « No, your injuries. I transfer them, then heal them on myself. That’s what hurts. »

      « Oh. » I’m glad I didn’t hurt him by supporting him, she thought, I do feel a lot better. She lowered him to the ground so he was sitting next to her, their left arms still around his shoulders. I can feel his heart pounding from the effort, she thought, This is too much like those romance stories. The girl who is misunderstood and an outsider, comes across `Cruel Eyes` so dashing and handsome, but dark and cold inside, and she tames him with her own goodness and light. Usagi would think it was ROMANTIC!!, Rei and Ami would think I was being stupid, for different reasons. But I – She nearly broke down and cried. It’s the aloneness, she thought unhappily, Not loneliness, but the acceptance that loneliness, that sadness, that hopelessness should be fought, so others can be happy, but he can never banish them for himself. Like what the youmas believe, that the universe is dark and cruel, and strength is to be used against others. Yet, he also believes what we believe, that there is light and happiness. She touched his chin, turning him to face her. Maybe, I can show him that happiness and someone special are for him too, she thought, staring into his eyes.

      He smiled and her heart leapt. « Much as I enjoy your company, » he said as he helped her to her feet.

      He’s tall too, she thought, Not as tall as Tuxedo Mask, or Mamoru, but definitely taller than me, that’s good.

      He held the paired manacles in her field of view. « I think we should dispense with these, » he suggested, « Agreed? »

      You’re going to try to run away, she realized in shock, You think I’m going to abandon you too! So you’re going to leave quickly, before you feel anything for me. But I don’t want you to leave. I don’t want you to be alone.

      « I’m an expert in curses and enchantments, » he reassured her, « You won’t be harmed. »

      What about you?! she wanted to shout. Suddenly she was standing next to a glowing skeleton surrounded by a human-shaped, purple haze. Before she could scream, her rescuer was back, smoke streaming out of his ears and hair.

      « Ouch, » he said, a cloud of smoke issuing from his mouth as he spoke, « Falling now. »

      She caught him as he bonelessly collapsed. « Sir, sir! » she cried out. Wonderful, she thought, I know his pain and his soul, but I don’t even know his name! She sighed, centered herself. I know one place I can go where he’ll be safe, she thought determinedly, scooped up her rescuer, By the ancestors, he’s heavy! She sprinted towards her destination.

     Makoto opened one eye and saw the clock. As the numbers registered on her sleepy mind, she came fully awake. She sprang from her bed, and was immediately yanked back. I know Usagi’s claimed this happens, she thought, as she settled back into the warm softness, But I thought she was exaggerating.

      Suddenly her memories of the night came back. I was sitting in that chair last night, she realized, as she noted the sheets and blankets that had so firmly `retrieved` her, were in fact, someone’s arms and legs, I must have fallen asleep, and fallen onto the bed. Then he . . . collected me in. She realized she was still wearing her combat fuku, and her rescuer was lying behind her, with her spooned up against him. Her arm was over her breasts, and lying across her waist, his arms were just above, Risque but not terribly improper, she thought, Of course his legs wrapped around mine, and my fuku isn’t the most modest garment. It’s as if he could pin me down, and take whatever he wanted. She enjoyed the dark thrill of the thought, then discarded the entire idea of being ravished while she was helpless, If I was naked screaming ‘Take me take me, make a woman!’ ‘Plunder my nubile body before I die from need!’, and other things, he’d cover me with a sheet and determine if I was on drugs or under mind-control. It would be very irritating if I meant it, she thought as she snuggled back against him and felt him tighten his grip on her body in response.

      She was half-asleep when she suddenly tried to leap from the bed again. « Would you please fully awaken before you do that again? » she heard behind her as she was again restrained, « That’s twice you’ve tried to rip our arms out of their sockets. What’s so all fired important? »

      « You’re awake? » she asked.

      « Have been for almost half an hour, » he replied.

      « Wha – what have you been doing? » she asked as she blushed.

      « Trying not to wake you, » he said, « I admit I moved you around, but only after you nearly dislocated both of our arms when you fell asleep, literally. »

      « So . . . you . . . uh . . .  » Why can’t I just come out and say it? she thought, I know he wasn’t trying to take advantage of me. « Well, how did we end up . . . uh, » she said.

      « The arms were your idea, » he said, » I’ll admit the leg was mine, but you kick in your sleep. »

      « Sorry, » she said.

      « Who is Ken-chan and why were you so afraid he was leaving you? If you don’t want to tell me, don’t, » he told her as he lifted her to a sitting position, « But you seemed absolutely disconsolate about it, enough to sleep run after him. So it was weighing on your mind. »

      « An old friend. »

      « You’ve lost people in your life, » he said sympathetically, « Me too, frankly, it’s easier to count the ones I haven’t lost. It hurts, it hurts a lot, but you survive. Carrying on their dreams or their dreams for you is the best way to honor their memory. »

      She felt the world get all sparkly, she leaned towards him, her eyes closing, her lips puckering for a kiss. He really is thoughtful and deep, she considered their lives together, curing each other’s loneliness, becoming true soul mates, she leaned closer, her fingers entwining with his, I will never hurt you, I promise.

      « Mako-chan! It’s Usagi! » Someone pounded on her front door.

      If only it was a youma, she thought, frowning.

      « Ooo, scary face . . . and you’re squashing my hand. »

      « Sorry, » she apologized as she planned a suitable `welcome` for her friend.

      « Kino-san, it’s Tsukino, are you there? »

      Usagi’s mother, she thought as she looked around her bedroom, She can’t find us like this!

      « Oh, scared face, and it really is starting to hurt. »

      « What are we going to do? » she asked desperately.

      He pulled his fingers loose and stared at her. Suddenly her fear of being found by Ikuko-san retreated to the horizon. « You are a soldier, » he told her coldly as he stood, pulling her to her feet with him, « You will comport yourself as one. This was a directed enemy action specifically to damage your ability to fight your enemies. That is what you will tell Tsukino-san and Usagi-san. » His surety, dark gravitas and hauteur gave her some confidence back. He held the bond up, she noted it had changed from a pair of bracers into thick figure-eight encircling their wrists.

      « Yes, » she said, feeling herself standing straighter and more confidently, « Thank you. »

      They walked together to the door, Makoto noticed he fell into step with her automatically, and that he didn’t walk, he strode.

      She opened the door to her fiend – friend, and her mother and Sailor Jupiter – regarded – them.

      Usagi boggled at the pair.

      « Tsukino-san, » he said and bowed formally, « I’m afraid Kino-san is not here. »

      « You’re a Sailor Scout, » Ikuko said as she looked around.

      « Sailor Jupiter, » Makoto said, smiled with warmth but little friendliness, bowed, « You must be Tsukino Ikuko, Kino Makoto-san said you might come here, this must be Usagi-chan. » Please don’t see me as Makoto, she thought, Please don’t see me as Makoto.

      « Uh, » Usagi stammered, « What did Mako-chan want? »

      « She suggested you might have some way of contacting Sailor Moon, » he said as the two of them stepped aside, letting Usagi and Ikuko into the small apartment, « There was another girl who could contact Sailor . . .  » He turned to Makoto. « I apologize, which Sailor Scout, the fire expert? »

      « Sailor Mars, » Sailor Jupiter said regally, « She could contact Hino Rei-san. »

      « That – chain –  » Ikuko pointed to their fetter.

      « An enemy thought it might be . . . amusing, » he said the last word as if he might rip out the entrails of anyone who found it amusing. Ikuko and Usagi took a step backward towards the door. « My reputation is not good in any case, but to besmirch Sailor Jupiter’s is petty and cruel. »

      « Yes, of course, » Ikuko agreed as she backed towards the door, pushing Usagi as she went, « I’m sure Sailor Moon and Sailor Mars will be able to help you. We do have to go. »

      The Tsukino mother and daughter couldn’t leave fast enough, they were careful not to slam the door.

      Makoto remained standing in grandeur until she was certain that Ikuko was no where near them. She turned to her fellow prisoner and fell into his arms, laughing hysterically. « You are awful! But it was good to see them run out of here. »

      « You did very well, » he told her, wrapping his free arm around her waist.

      She looked up at him, felt a smile forming on her lips, she sought out his fingers with her own. « You even scared me, » she said tenderly, « But you don’t now, why is that? »

      « Because I don’t want to, » he explained as he smiled back at her.

      I could get lost in those eyes, in that smile, she thought. She blushed furiously as he leaned close, touching his nose to hers.

      « Should we try to get your friend to show up again, by trying to kiss? » he softly asked.

      I didn’t think I could blush more without exploding, she thought as she gulped, unable to speak.

      « Okay, we have time. » He stood back up, ending the moment. « But we do have a serious problem. »

      Makoto felt her heart freeze. « You aren’t hurt? »

      « I have to go to the bathroom. »

      « Oh it’s . . .  » she fell silent as she realized the real problem. With the fetters, the arrangement of the bathroom, the only place I could stand would be beside or behind him, and the same for him. Her heart chilled further. My uniform doesn’t have a – flap. I’ll have to transform completely out of it to . . . She looked at him saw a fear in his eyes matching hers.

      « Isn’t that ironic? Someone trying to kill us, it’s all in a day’s work, » he asked sardonically, « A natural bodily function, and we’re both terrified. »

      « Uh huh, » she said, « We’ll figure out . . . something. »

      « I do think we need to hurry, » he admitted to her.

     « So, » Ami said, fingers poised over her mini-computer’s keyboard, « What is your name. »

      Makoto nearly fell out of her chair. After what we’ve been through, she thought, I never even thought to ask that.

      « Jeffery Kevin Davis, born February 13, 1933 in Chicago, Illinois, the records might say I was born August 1st, the 213th day of the year, » he told Ami.

      Five Sailor Scouts, both cats and Jeffery made her apartment very crowded. Makoto sat near him by necessity. Both cats were peering closely at the binding, and suspiciously at the boy.

      Ami’s face suddenly fell as she looked from her computer to the boy and back again.

      He frowned slightly. « Look up Howard Phillips Lovecraft, and especially Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep and Yig, » he replied offhandedly, « In your world they are literature, in my homeworld, they are very real. »

      « That . . . that isn’t it, » Ami admitted, she cleared her throat and read from the screen, « Jeffrey Calvin Davis. Born February 12,1933, in Chicago, graduated from Harvard 1949, went into the Marine Corp as an officer. » Ami licked her lips nervously, looked at him. « You are reported Missing In Action during the retreat from the Chosin Reservoir, there is a posthumous Navy Cross, for knocking out three T-34/85 tanks, single-handed. No body or dogtags were ever recovered. »

      « Probably got clobbered by the others, » he replied, « Russian tank platoons of the time could contain up to 5 tanks. So I’m long-dead here. »

      « Yes, » Ami whispered.

      « What about Asuka Soryu Langley, born in Rottweil, Germany, 1933. »

      Ami eagerly took up the new task, so she didn’t have to consider the implications of what she’d just found.

      « So, » Minako spoke up, « How did you two sleep? » She tittered and Usagi giggled right alongside her.

      Makoto felt her blush rising.

      « Soundly, » Jeffrey replied coldly, « How do you sleep? Consumed with jealousy? »

      Minako looked like she’d been stung.

      « Rei, what’s your problem, » Makoto asked the miko, « You keep staring at him. » And not like Usagi and Minako have been, she silently added.

      « His aura, » Rei said.

      « Great Old Ones, » Jeffery explained, « That’s what she’s picking up. Dark gods of insanity and corruption. You know what happens when you fight something for too long? »

      He leaned close to Makoto, whispering in her ear, « I also need a shower. » He sniffed and wrinkled his nose.

      Makoto laughed at that.

      « I can’t see anyway to fix this, » Artemis said as he stepped away from the bond. Luna seemed to agree.

      « Look, I know enough that there is no way either of us can affect it. It will draw as much energy from us to defend itself as necessary, then hurl the power of the attack and the defense back on whichever of us made the attack. So, it has to be defeated by an outside agency. Unless the death of one of us would free the other. »

      « You can’t die! » Makoto told him.

      « No, as a minor Great Old One, I can’t stay dead, I can die, » he replied.

      Makoto was horrified. « That’s –  »

      « What your friend Rei is picking up, » Jeffrey explained, « Nothing can permanently kill a Great Old One. If a temporary death would free you, I’m willing to do it. »

      « Let’s – let’s find another way, » Makoto insisted shakily, turned to Ami, who looked back at the others. She didn’t seem pleased.

      « I don’t know, » Ami admitted, « I’ll keep working. »

      « What about you? » Jeffrey asked Rei, « A ward, spell or spirit? »

      Rei seemed shocked by the implication and his knowledge of her craft. « I don’t know. I can do a fire reading, and talk to my – talk to others about it. »

      « Well, we’ll let you talk, » Jeffrey said, turned to Makoto, « Let’s get them something to eat. »

      « Yeah! » Usagi said, « Mako-chan’s the best cook. »

      « Indeed? » he asked haughtily, « We shall see, shan’t we? » He smiled.

      Makoto felt burning need to wipe that challenging smile from his face.

     It’s like having an extra pair of arms, she thought as he lifted a lid out of her way so she could stir the pan’s contents, And he’s quick enough on his feet, I haven’t stepped on him or brushed up against him. Except when I meant to. She thought of her dancing shadow. « I thought you were an expert, » she teased, « You haven’t said anything. »

      « You know your friends’ tastes better than I, so I watch and assist, » he leaned close brushing her neck with his cheek and whispered, « Lessons are private. »

      Get your mind out of the gutter, she told herself as she briefly considered what those ‘lessons’ would include, If I had my way. But I also know you’d refuse.

      Spooky, to know someone so well, so suddenly, she thought as she cooked, What was that shield made of!? Did I `read` him because I’m a Sailor Scout? She considered the problem while she worked.

      « Heads up, » he warned.

      Makoto saw her best plates sailing through the air. They soundlessly landed in the clear space next to each girl, and two smaller one where the Moon Cats had been. When none of the plates shattered, she put her scream on hold.

      « Fraidy cats, » he said of the two felines clinging to the ceiling.

      « How did you -?! » she managed before her voice cracked.

      « Martial arts, » he replied with the arrogant smile that she both loved and wanted to wipe off his face instantly.

      « How come they didn’t shatter? » Ami asked.

      « Structural integrity field and an antigravity pulse at the last moment, their acceleration due to their mass counteracted their velocity. »

      « Oh, of course, » Ami said, « Makes perfect sense. »

      « Maybe to you it does, » Rei said, still staring at the plate which had landed in front of her.

      « Shall we serve? » he asked Makoto.

      « Of course. »

     Makoto wished she could pace, she wished she could think of some delicate way to address this. A Westerner probably wouldn’t be so sensitive about it, she thought as she glanced at her bed, Our bed, until we can get loose. Maybe even after that.

      This is ridiculous, she chided herself, If he asked me to marry him, we’d be in front of Rei’s grandfather so fast the dust wouldn’t settle for a month! I was thinking about how our children might look, AmeriAsians, whether they should be born here, or in the U.S. to get dual citizenship. And I can’t bring up one little subject.

      « Are you all right? » he asked, « You look one step away from chewing your arm off in frustration. Can I help? It helps to talk about it. »

      He’s a Westerner, so it won’t be as big a deal, she thought as she knelt next to him, And he did say we should talk about it.

      « It’s about . . . bed, » she said flatly, and couldn’t continue. Coward! Coward! Coward! Coward! she accused herself.

      « Oh, you can sleep behind me, » he said, smiled, « I prefer it that way. »

      « Wha? »

      « It’s not that I don’t like to wrap my arms around you, » he teased, pulling her into his lap, « And hoding you until the twin fires of our love untie eternally and the coldness of our loneliness is extinguish like an attic snow. »

      « Unite, not untie, and arctic, not attic, » she replied, « You nut. » She giggled.

      « Truth be told, your hair kept wrapping itself around my neck. It made me a little nervous. »

      « Oh, yes, sure, only . . . that’s not it. » How do I start this? she wondered. « My transformation, it . . . removes all the dirt, sweat, blood, and so on, from me and my uniform. »

      « But without it, I’m getting a little wiffy, as a Canadian friend put it. » He carefully set her off his lap.

      « Um, yes, » she said, bowed her head in shame at the insult to him.

      « I can cut the seams to the shirt and coat so I can get out of them, and sew some eyelets on so I can put them back together, but that still leaves several major problems. »

      « Oh, I can wash your back, » she said cheerfully. And your front, and sides, she thought, Quit smiling like that you’re scaring him.

      « That certainly answers the question about sleeping in the nude. You look like you hurt yourself just thinking about it. »

      « Damn! »

      « I heard that, » he accused.

      Makoto blushed, covered her mouth with her hands. « Sorry, » she squeaked.

      « It’s a bit flattering, but a bit overwhelming, » he said, « You just met me, you may not like me. »

      Makoto’s heart was in her throat. I do like you, I do know you, I do, I do! she thought.

      « And it’s a little early in the relationship for . . . bathing together, » he said sheepishly.

      Oh, the Westerners’ . . . he’s shy about it, she thought, laughed. « I’ve been to hot springs, I’ve seen naked men before. »

      « Have you seen naked soldiers before? » he asked earnestly.

      Makoto stared at him, not understanding.

     Makoto looked at the cloth in front of her. She reached out, and her confidence failed before she could touch it. Two of her shirt buttoned together made a decent nightshirt for him. A towel made his `kilt`. She felt ashamed as her partner slept with his back to her, curled up as much as the small bed allowed.

      « I’m sorry, » she said, for what seemed like the hundredth time, « I didn’t mean to scream, it’s just that . . .  »

      « I said I forgive you, and I told you a blindfold wouldn’t work, » came the muffled response, « At least your neighbors believed your explanation. »

      « Why didn’t you just become invisible in the bath? » she asked miserably. I’m sorry I shamed you, she thought sadly, If I could take it back, I would.

      « Because you were in the field, so dispelling the illusion was easy, » he told her, « So they didn’t see me, you did. The same will happen every time I use that spell. Please, let’s just get some sleep. We survived and your honor is intact, that’s all that matters. »

      Except I shamed you in doing it, she thought, And there’s no way I can make it up to you. Is this why you’re so sure you’ll always be alone? That everyone you let get close will betray or abandon you? You think I’m getting ready to do the same? Only silence answered her silent questions. I want to hold you to me, she thought Until your pain and fear goes away. But I can’t. I caused it, and I can’t bring myself to do even that. I’m sorry.

      The night passed slowly. The last time I was so lonely, Makoto thought as the sleepless minutes ticked by, Was the night of my parents’ death. People all around, and I was lonely.

Next: Knights are supposed to be grrls?

Sailor Jupiter (second section)

      Makoto woke, she muzzily realized she was wrapped around her new roommate, like a python strangling a kill. The first and important difference was she was face to face with him, their left arms raised above their heads. « Uh, hi. »

      « Good morning, » he replied, « I’d say you never slept as a Sailor Scout before, your strength is considerably great than a humans’. »

      « I didn’t hurt you . . . did I? » No, after last night, getting stabbed in the heart wouldn’t be considered `hurt`, she thought, Idiot.

      « No, I’m more resistant than a human, but I think we need to adapt some of your clothes so you don’t have to stay a Scout the rest of your life. »

      « Good idea, » she said, « Just one question, how? I’m not exactly rolling in money. »

      « Would three-quarters of a million yen be sufficient? » he asked dryly.

      « Yes, but where would you get that kind of money? »

      « Out of my pants pocket, » he replied, « A master wizard is never out of money, or ideas, that’s how you prove you’re a master. »

      « Yes, that would do very well. » The thoughts of a shopping spree suddenly collided with another fact. « School, I have to go to school today. »

      « I think you call in sick, » he replied, « That invisibility spell is limited in both effect and duration. It won’t be sufficient for an entire school day, and I can’t think of a good explanation for us being tied together. »

      « How do we hide it if we go out shopping? » she asked.

      « We don’t, » he said, « We merely minimize it’s noticeability and we keep a hold of each others’ hands. »

      « That will get noticed, » she countered, « How do I call in sick and still go shopping? High school isn’t mandatory, Junior High is. »

      « Leave that to me, » he said confidently.

      Definitely colder, she thought, But after last night, who can blame him.

     Makoto was idly wondering what form of youma she’d fallen for. No, this is more evil than any youma, she thought. She checked the slacks and wrap that concealed her fuku and would let her blend in.

      « Yes, Tatewaki and Kodachi Kuno, » he told the principal of Juuban Junior High, « Yes, sir, they’re on their way there. I’d recommend a full evacuation and a mobilization of the JSDF. » He paused, winked at her. « Yes, sir, I’m sure you have stood for education against the youmas, but have you considered why the youmas never hit Nerima, which has more people and . . . how can I say this politely, more energetic people. Yes, sir, very wise. » He hung up the phone and turned to her. « Everybody gets the day off. »

      « How – how did you get through to them directly – ! » she shouted, « To both of those maniacs! I’ve heard of those two, and their looney father! They’ve got more money that the rest of Japan and less sense that a rock. » Makoto found herself edging away from him. « And how did you know exactly what would direct those two so precisely? »

      « I will explain it again. Great Old Ones cannot be killed, but you can change the container their intellect and powers reside in. I have much of the intellect and some of the powers of all the ones I have destroyed. Understanding the ways and means of the clinically insane is childs’ play. » He gestured to the door. « Shall we go? »

     « Where is she?! » the madman with the traditional clothes, wooden sword and the poofy hair demanded of Zoicite.

      This can’t be happening! the General surveyed the dozens of dispatched youma, who’d all failed to stop this juggernaut, or even slow him down.

      « Play no games with me, » the man growled, « And I will not keep thee from thine appointed Hell, youma! »

      How could he know? Zoicite thought as he scrambled to get away, Even my most powerful attacks have no effect! « If you’ll tell me who you’re looking for I –  »

      « NO MORE GAMES! » the man roared, « I strike! »

     « This is where I got the reading for the youma, » Sailor Mars told her two fellow Scouts, Venus and Moon, as they stood outside the ring of tanks and cloud of attack helicopters. « I don’t know how the JSDF got here ahead of us. »

      « Don’t they need an order from the cabinet and the Prime Minister to even deploy? » Sailor Moon asked.

      « I believe so, » Sailor Mars replied.

      « Then why are they just waiting out here, instead of going in? » Sailor Moon asked peevishly.

      Neither Sailor Mars nor Sailor Venus had an answer.

     Makoto looked over her shoulder at the platoon of tanks rumbling down the street.

      « Hold still dear, » the shop owner admonished, « You want me to get these measurements right? »

      « Yes, ma’am. » Makoto kept calculating how much all of this had to cost, and kept coming up with a number that frightened her more than the tanks rolling down the street. She looked at Jeff, who seemed calm and unperturbed by events. Events he set in motion! she thought, then she spotted over a dozen tanks heading back from where the last ones had presumably gone, They look like wrecked toys! She considered the bent guns and armor, the pieces sliced off. « What happened to them? » she asked as she watched them meander down the road.

      « Same thing that’s going to happen to you if the young lady gets mad at you, » Jeff told her, squeezed her hand reassuringly. The woman taking her measurements chuckled.

      « Flatterer, » she accused him. Jeff managed to nod without moving any other part of his body.

      « Sanctuary! » someone outside the shop cried. Makoto turned, and saw the most gorgeous man she’d ever seen in her life. His long, flowing, hair, he reminded her of the guy Tuxedo Mask had been with. He held out a hand beseechingly, his eyes a window into a soul in terror. He saw her and headed towards her, as if only Makoto could assuage his torment. Only to have a tank land on him.

      Then a second. A third. A fourth.

      « That’s a self-propelled howitzer, » Jeff commented idly, another vehicle landed, « That’s a USMC Abrams, I didn’t know they called in the Marines. »

      « What the heck threw those? » Makoto asked. I’m the strongest Scout, she thought, I doubt I could pick up a tank.

     Private Abe Nishimura was not having a good day. He’d won, read lost terribly, at the impersonation contest, he had lost the draw of the straws from the contest’s finalists, a word he now considered prophetic. Now my Captain says I can receive the personal gratitude of the Emperor, or I can be shot, he thought despondently as he made sure the red wig was on correctly, that the sand-filled `balloons` in his shirt were correct. Last Will and Testament filled out, burial instructions all correct, he thought, glanced at the troops, even the generals saluting him, he returned the salute proudly, determined to die honorably for the good of Japan.

      He walked out of the concealing mass of truck, tanks and other armor. « Kuno-chan! » he squealed, « Don’t be such a silly playing with them. »

      « My pig-tailed goddess! » came Private Nishimura’s cue to run for his life.

      In the distance, a Marine band played ‘Taps’.

     « That was originally called ‘Butterfield’s Lullaby’, » Jeff explained the odd tune, as they shopped through the nearly empty grocery stores.

      Makoto nodded. How are we going to afford this?! she wondered, A lifetime of making every yen go as far as possible, and he’s buying beef enough for all the Scouts to have sukiyaki! He has to remember how Usagi eats! She realized she was in a totally alien world now. One where you didn’t settle, you got the best. This day is just getting scarier and scarier, she thought. Then she heard the laughter. A demented soul being dragged off to eternal torment would make a noise like that! she thought as she suppressed the shudders.

      « Fifteen hundred for the lot? » Jeff asked the equally stricken butcher. The man nodded.

      I bet he would do anything to erase the sound of that laugh, she thought, What kind of monster makes a sound like that?

      She followed Jeff out of the store, she had little choice with the fetter attaching them.

      « Having fun? » Jeff asked smilingly.

      « Fun – Fun? » she asked, her voice quavering, « I watched someone have a platoon of tanks land on them, I watched you spend more money on food and clothes that I spend on everything in a year. You think this is fun? »

      « Actually, yes, » he admitted, « Nobody is shooting at us. We got some great deals on this stuff. Besides, money isn’t a big problem. I can get more, I thought you’d like getting new outfits and get a chance to show off your cooking skills with first-class materials, instead of trying to make do. I also promised you some lessons, and I keep my promises. »

      This is all repayment for screaming last night, she thought, I just know it. Okay, that makes it a lot more understandable. I guess it has been kind of fun. In a bizarre kind of way.

     « I’m going to need a bath, » Usagi grumped as the trio trudged home, »And to wash my mouth out with soap. »

      « I’m going to need a bath, » Minako complained, « And to steam clean my ears. »

      « I’m going to take a bath, and burn these clothes, » Rei whined, « I don’t want any male to ever touch me again. I don’t think I want any other human to touch me again. Was that a human being, or an octopus youma. »

      « I did warn you, » Minako said, « But he was so fast. »

      « At least he didn’t kiss you, » Usagi replied, « I don’t think anyone will ever kiss me again, without me getting nauseated. »

      « Why was Kuno Tatewaki even in our town today? » Minako asked, « I thought youmas were bad enough. »

      « Maybe he was looking for this ‘pig-tailed goddess’, » Usagi offered then touched her hair, « Do these look like pig-tails to you? »

      « At least he didn’t compose a poem about you, » Minako said, « You two are lucky, you don’t understand English as well as I do. I’d rather have a pitchfork in my brain, I just can’t get it out of my mind. It’s so awful! »

      « I wonder if the Catholic nuns take transfers, » Rei said, « They aren’t allowed to be around guys, right? »

     « Where is she?! » the madman with the traditional clothes, wooden sword and the poofy hair demanded of Makoto and Jeff. Only by catching the blade on the fetter had they been able to avoid being chopped into bits.

      « Where is who? » Jeff asked innocently.

      « Play no games with me! I – »

      « Ranko or Akane? » Jeff interrupted the man.

      He paused, actually looked thoughtful. « My pigtailed goddess, » the man answered.

      « She isn’t on this planet, » Jeff replied, « That’s already been established. »

      The blade came down, miraculously striking the fetter again.

      My arms are beginning to hurt, how strong is that guy? she wondered, And why does Jeff keep egging him on?

      « My father assured me –  »

      « Your father, » Jeff laid on all the sarcasm the phrase could hold, « Been credible in the past has he? Always the source of reliable information? He’d never tell you something just to sit back and watch you react to it? »

      The man actually lowered his bokken and considered Jeff’s words. « I have been deceived. » He turned to run away.

      « Hey! » Jeff shouted.

      Don’t upset the madman! she wanted to scream as he turned back towards them.

      « I don’t care what you think of me, but you spoiled the lady’s afternoon. Now you run away as a churl would. »

      Don’t kill him, don’t kill him, Makoto thought as the man’s face contorted with rage.

      Then he bowed. « Of course, were I not pressed with matters of limitless urgency, I would date with thee. » He handed her a rose, from somewhere, gave Jeff a venomous look, and ran off at high speed, proclaiming, « The vengeance of Heaven is sure! »

      « That was Tatewaki Kuno, » Jeff said as he caught her before she fell.

      « You are crazy? » she gasped clutching him tightly to her, « Aren’t you afraid of anything? »

      « You’re well-aware of one of the few things I fear, » Jeff said quietly.

      Makoto expected him to push her away to the ground, but he didn’t. She took advantage of the calm to just stand there and hold him. I am sorry, she thought, Please don’t keep pushing me away.

      « We should get home, your friends are probably as shell-shocked as you, » he said gently, reminding her of their earlier tenderness, « We might want to put the sukiyaki off until tomorrow. »

      « Yes, » she said. Then what do I cook tonight for you? she considered.

     Makoto watched closely as Jeff moved through her kitchen, cutting, slicing, sauteing, so fast she couldn’t take it all in, she could barely avoid getting stepped on. Even with the on-going commentary, she thought, I’d never be able to keep up with all this information.

      « So you slice to avoid compressing the cells in the meat, » he told her, « But since we want the meat to absorb the liquid it’s soaking in –  »

      « You do this slow chopping motion, » Makoto answered, « I never knew it was so complicated. »

      « I am a college graduate, in chemical engineering, » he told her, turned and smiled, « All cooking is a process. And truthfully, I drove my teachers crazy by forcing them to help me figure all this stuff out. »

      « You make me feel like an amateur, » she complained.

      « You are an amateur, no one is paying you to do this, » he replied without condescension, « But you do know more about the presentation of the food. I never understood the rules of how that is done. »

      « Oh, » she said happily, « I don’t know the rules, but I do know the bits of advice I’ve heard over the years. » At least I know something you don’t, she thought, But I really have to figure out the best way to make thing up to you.

     « I’m stuffed, » Makoto said, « I think you’re trying to make me fat. »

      « With the stress and the exertions of battle, » Jeff replied, « I doubt you’ll have a chance. I also need to give you some training in martial arts. »

      « Not marital arts? »

      « You’re a little young. Besides, we haven’t known each other that long. »

      « I think we should get cleaned up and get some rest, » Makoto said, trying to ignore the slight droop in his expression. She stood and headed towards the bathroom. « I know you aren’t used to the public baths, » she said conversationally, « But I do miss just soaking in the hot water. Letting all the tension drain out. »

      « I always considered meditation for that, » he replied, « I do prefer the Japanese method of getting clean. » He was unbuttoning the underside of his sleeve so her could shed his shirt.

      Good, he’s distracted, she thought as she caused her sailor fuku to vanish, I knew Westerners were nervous about nudity, but I was the one constantly walking around in a suit of armor covering all my intimate bits. I expected him to set aside his terrible fear of being vulnerable, with someone he didn’t know. But I wouldn’t let go of my security, even though I knew he wouldn’t take advantage of me. He accepted his inferiority and was hurt for it, I was safe and wouldn’t release any important part of my `refuge`. Now I have to be more vulnerable than he ever was with me.

      She sat on the bath stool, forced herself not to cover herself with a towel or her hands. She looked at her stunned roommate over her shoulder. « Will you wash my back please? » she asked, trying to keep her voice from breaking. Please, I know you won’t hurt me, she thought, We both know you won’t take advantage. I can be vulnerable too, can I trust you. Please trust me again.

      « Yes, » he gulped as he knelt behind her.

      She ignored that he was still half-dressed as he used their linked hands to hold her hair out of the way as he wetted, then began soaping her back with the sponge she used. She forced herself not to sigh as he made slow circles with the soft sponge, removing the dirt, sweat and tension from her body. This is more like a massage, she thought as she relaxed, then more as he streamed warm water down her back to rinse away the soap.

      « What about your hair? » he asked tenderly, « I think it needs a shampoo. »

      « Yes, » she said, knowing how much he loved long, soft hair, like hers. Loved running his fingers through it. She shivered with pleasure as he wetted her hair, taking special care to keep first the water, then the shampoo suds out of her eyes.

      She luxuriated in his strong fingers working the shampoo into her hair and scalp. I haven’t had someone else do this, for so long, she thought as he painstakingly rinsed her hair, squeezing out the water. I may get so relaxed, I’ll fall asleep, she thought as she rested her head on his shoulder, so he had both hands available to bundle up her damp hair in a towel.

      Rather than finish her bathing, she turned to face him so she could help him unbutton his shirt. Their two hands fumbling as much as they cooperated unbuttoning the buttons. I must be blushing so much, she thought as she considered her nakedness as she faced him. When she could raise her eyes from the buttons to look at his face, he always looked straight into her eyes. She’d immediately drop her eyes back to the buttons or the floor. I’m so embarrassed, she thought as she helped him slip out of his shirt, I’ve got to do something! She looked up at him, keeping her eyes on his. Raising herself up, leaning close. Forget the outside world, forget the door, forget a youma climbing out of the drain! she commanded herself as she approached, putting her arms around his neck, Am I trembling, or is he? She cocked her head slightly, before their lips touched. She held like that, no wrestling of tongues, no frantic grouping at their naked bodies. His right arm encircled her bare back, holding her to him.

      She broke the kiss and dropped her arms to her sides. My cheeks must be on fire, she thought as she glanced down a the floor. She slowly sat down, aware of her nakedness, and her brazenness in kissing him. Maybe inviting more, she thought, I don’t want it to go further, but do I want to stop it if it does?

      When he took her chin in his left hand, she whimpered in a mix of fear and expectation. Just a kiss or . . . more? she felt her thoughts racing, I don’t know, I don’t know if I want more than that. He kissed her neck as tentatively as she had kissed him. He broke the kiss and it was all she could do not the throw her arms around him to make him continue. She squeaked as he kissed the other side of her neck, feather soft. Oh please, don’t tease me, she thought desperately, What are you going to do? She found her uncertainty exhilarating and terrifying. She clamped her eyes shut as he slowly drew a finger down each side of her neck and down her shoulders. A touch like gossamer drew forth whimpers as her mind played dozens of possibilities. Some were based on his gentleness, others on his rage, most were inspired by too many shojo manga. But he’s not `liberated`, she thought, as his fingers reached the curve of her shoulders and reversed themselves, moving up as she trembled in growing fear, He’s from Hino Ojii-san’s time, men were . . . different.

      She nearly screamed when his lips brushed hers, as softly as his fingers had teased her skin. Her eyes snapped open, she stared into his eyes, tears of fear forming in her own. « I said I don’t hurt people, » he said softly, « Unless I intend to, so I don’t play those games. »

      I don’t care, she thought, her lips trembling, I don’t care anymore. She threw her arms around his neck. She felt a dam had broken inside, she was always the strong one, the fighter. She had to be responsible and strong since her parents died, and people stayed away from her because she was too strong. She realized here she could be weak, here she could let someone else protect her, for a little while she could just let all the cares of the past weeks and months and years cascade out. She held him and sobbed her heart out. He won’t hurt me. He won’t hate me for needing him, she thought joyfully, And maybe we won’t lose each other.

     Makoto woke slowly, looked down at the face pillowed on her shoulder. She knew part of their position was the fetter and his much longer arms. But a big part of it isn’t. She smiled but restrained herself from running her fingers over the jawline, and other contours. He could stand off a youma, tell off one of the crazy Kunos . . . but he’s still afraid of so much. And yet . . . and yet . . . she thought warmly as she lay there, their arms and legs wrapped around each other, He trusts me to protect him while he sleeps. He trusts me not to hurt him while he is completely in my power. She sighed. And what insanity will come to us today? she silently asked, And how much of it have you already planned?

     Jeff looked at the approaching Sailor Scouts. Mars/Rei, Moon/Usagi and Venus/Minako looked like they’d been pounded into dog food and reconstituted. Mercury/Ami seemed far more chipper than her friends, but still deeply jealous of Jupiter beaming at all of them.

      « Are you three all right? » Jeff asked, « If you’re not up to this, we can take it from here. »

      « No, » Moon said, glaring at the entire world on general principles, « If there’s a youma here, we must fight it. »

      Something to take out your aggressions on, he didn’t say aloud, Cause they’d kill me if I did. « It shouldn’t take too long. »

      « Then we can have lunch, sukiyaki, » Jupiter told them, earning a dark glare from three of the four. « What did happen? » she insisted.

      « We ran into Tatewaki Kuno, » Minako said, « I don’t ever want to talk about it. »

      « We ran into him too, » Jupiter said brightly.

      Just drop it, Jeff mentally warned, while unsuccessfully trying to get Jupiter’s attention, We need the youma in condition where we can question it, without resorting to a Ouija board.

      « He was very charming, » she told them, turned the Jeff and patted him on the cheek, « He made him apologize for spoiling out shopping. I even got the most beautiful rose out of it. »

      There’s something going on here I don’t know about, Jeff thought as he could almost make out a thunderstorm forming over Moon, Mars and Venus’s heads, complete with lightning bolts. « You’re cute when you smile, but you’re overdoing it, » Jeff whispered to Jupiter, « Let’s avoid a fragging if you don’t mind. »

      Jupiter turned and beamed at him, further darkening the trio’s mood. How Mercury and those cats managed to open the distance that far without moving is a mystery, Jeff considered the `noncombatants` edging away from the little verbal scuffle he was witness to.

      « Ladies, the youma, » he suggested politely. The trio turned as one and march into the small shop, Jeff dragged Jupiter along behind him. Let’s keep the unnecessary cruelty to an absolute minimum, he thought, That is so out of character for me. I have to be the `nice` one, disgusting.

     The youma, a human-looking creature, hid. Keeping Jeff between him and the deathly trio. « No you promised, « You’ll kill me when I tell you what you need to know. »

      « That was the agreement, » Jeff said patiently, « Just tell us where Tuxedo Mask is. » It’s almost too bad you surrendered, he thought, They could have used the work out. But maybe we’ll find others.

      « He was with Zoicite, but after that crazy man attacked his base . . . I don’t know where he was moved, » the youma stammered.

      « That really isn’t very helpful, » Jeff said, sounding terribly disappointed, « I thought you were going to help me. That was the basis of our contract. » He tried to sound sympathetic.

      The youma grabbed him around the knees and wailed. « I don’t know anything! Please don’t let them kill me! »

      « Then how about something useful but unrelated, » Mercury offered helpfully, « Like the location of the other Generals’ hideouts. »

      « Yes, that might just do it, » Jeff agreed, smiled at the trembling youma.

      « Ah, I know that one has disguised himself as Masato Sanjouin. »

      « We already defeated him, » Mercury said, « Just before we met Jupiter. »

      « But he must have holdings, even if they are in probate after his death/disappearance, » Jeff said, smiling to the youma, « Yes, that will do nicely. »

      « Then you’ll kill me? » the youma asked with true hope in its voice.

      « Give me all the details, and I’ll do as I promised, » Jeff replied.

     Ami seemed to be the only one enjoying her sukiyaki. The cats look like they wandered into a rocking chair factory, and the other three look like the only thing that would improve their mood is stringing Makoto and Tatewaki up with their own entrails, Jeff thought as Makoto fed him. « Don’t you –  » He chewed and swallowed the morsel. « – trust –  » And again.  » – my cooking – ? »

      « Oh it’s delicious, » Makoto said happily, « You’re such a wonderful cook. »

      Even I can tell you’re laying it on thick, Jeff thought, Even Miss Computer Nerd knows you’re laying it on thick. But I don’t want to punish your teammates for past misdeeds. « I too want out of this fetter, » he told Makoto while dodging her chopsticks, « But I don’t want either of us dismembered to do it. »

      « Ahhh! » Makoto told him firmly, opening her mouth wide and her chopsticks at the ready.

      Jeff noted the trio’s faces. I haven’t seen expressions like that since I told Akane she might be cute, but not beautiful, he thought, I barely survived that excursion into unvarnished truth either.

      « Got it! » Ami said happily. Only the eyes of the trio moved, their shoulder remained hunched, their expressions presaging violent death. « It’s a warehouse only a block from where you met Makoto. »

      The growl from the three throats was like something that told ancient man in a box canyon, he was about to become an ancient boxed lunch.

      « Say, who’s up for trashing more youma? » Jeff asked brightly, and saw the flicker of smiles on the three. « We’ll let you three scout ahead, while we slip around the back to make sure no one can escape. » The flickers increased in intensity and frequency. Scary, Jeff thought as he set put the leftovers away.

     They returned to Makoto’s apartment. All were in a foul mood. « I had him! » Usagi wailed, « I – I – I had him in my ar – ar- ar -ar -ms. »

      And they yanked him away, Jeff thought angrily, I am not going to mention if you hadn’t held him, I might have been able to keep them from stealing him away. It’s only a theory and you don’t need to hear that. He glanced at Makoto, who was being stoic, the pair of them surrounded the sobbing girl. She doesn’t seem as eager to tease her friends about our relationship, he thought, Whatever that relationship is.

      He patted the sobbing girl, rubbing her back as she held tightly to him. Makoto doesn’t seem jealous, maybe she knows how I despise clingy, weepy types. But I can sympathize with her frustration, he thought.

      They sat around, eating the leftovers of the lunch’s sukiyaki. No one wanted to talk about the events that had unfolded. Jeff remembered the look on the enemy leader’s face, When he ran me through, I don’t think he expected me to yank the sword out of his hands. He regarded the blade they had recovered. I went after Tuxedo Mask, and all I got was this stupid sword. He sighed and centered himself. All right, it wasn’t the sword that let him open the gateway, Jeff thought, But now I have an idea how to open the gate into another plane. I may not be able to get home, but I should be able to get some help. I wonder how those jokers would enjoy meeting a real, heavy-duty bit of darkness? ‘You underestimate the power of the Negaverse!’ Steal something original why don’t you?

     Makoto woke, her arms around his waist tightened. She’s not fully awake, he thought as he switched to German to continue talking on the phone. « Langley, is herself in? » he asked.

      « No, » Langley replied over the phone, « You lucked out, neither is in. I think not all is well in happy land. »

      « Message received, » Jeff said, « How quick can you get down here? »

      « To Juuban? » Langley asked, « The trains run all the time. »

      « How did you – ? »

      « You were on the TV, » Langley teased, « Jupiter’s Knight, practically glued to the hip to your Sailor Scout. I spotted the shackle, I figure you’re stuck. You’d never get so close to a pretty girl you just met otherwise. » Asuka laughed. Jeff frowned and became aware of Makoto’s intensely querulous gaze.

      « Is she pretty? » Langley asked.

      Jeff switched to Japanese. « Yes, she’s very pretty. »

      Makoto blushed.

      « What does she look like? » Langley asked, « I assume she’s listening in. »

      « Yes, she’s listening. Tall, about 5’6″, ah 167 cm, so she’s on the short side. » That earned him a squeeze that wasn’t entirely hostile. « Athletic build. »

      Makoto fetchingly posed.

      « Not as busty as Misato or Ranko. »

      Makoto glared at him.

      « You aren’t 16 or 30, » he told Makoto, then to Langley, « She can only manage a Glare Of Death Mark 2, I’m immune up to a Mark 5, so she’ll need a Mark 10. Dark, long hair, dark eyes, nice smile. »

      Makoto blushed.

      « With something green between her –  »

      Makoto rubbed her teeth frantically, then glared at him.

      « Still a Mark 2. She’s also really easily embarrassed. » He shook his head sadly.

      Makoto stared at him in shock.

      « So, Langley, you will have to behave. »

      « Spoilsport, » Langley accused, « I think can trick some of the Nerimaniacs to follow me down there. »

      « Good Lord no! » Jeff exclaimed, frightening Makoto, « Let’s keep the collateral damage down to the nuclear exchange level. »

      « Spoilsport, » Langley accused again.

      « I know, I’m a spoilsport, » Jeff replied, « I’ll be waiting, also bring enough clothes for a week. It shouldn’t take longer than that. »

      « Got it, see you. »

      Makoto stared at him. « Who was that? »

      « Your friend Ami may be clever with her computer, » Jeff explained, « I need a brilliant engineer. There’s only one I know of locally. Your team also needs a bit more firepower. Langley doesn’t have the powers I do, but I wouldn’t bet against her in a fight. »

      « I mean is she your girlfriend, » Makoto asked in a icy tone.

      Jeff couldn’t answer, he was too busy laughing.

     Asuka set her bag down. Makoto glanced around nervously as she started thinking how crowded her small apartment might be. And her – personality – seems to fill up the room just standing there. She isn’t much older than me, nor is Jeff, but they seem so much older.

      « Don’t look so sour, » Asuka said, « I’m not staying, I’ve got a small room at a nearby temple. »

      « The Hikawa Jinja on the Sendai Hills, the Hino’s temple? » Makoto asked worriedly, « The head priest is . . . »

      « No comparison to Happosai, » Asuka said, then she leaned close to Makoto, « I don’t want to interfere with the development of your relationship. He’s so shy, it’s charming, but it can be frustrating. »

      Makoto thought she might die of embarrassment. « We never -! I wouldn’t – he wouldn’t -! » she stammered.

      « Yeah, he’s frustrating that way, » Asuka sympathized, patting Makoto’s shoulder, « Just hold him down and don’t take no for an answer. »

      Makoto stood their gulping like a beached fish. She looked at Jeff who looked vaguely displeased.

      « I thought I told you to behave, » he said sternly.

      « You get chained to a pretty girl, you have to sleep together, dress together, bathe together, eliminate together . . .  » Asuka said in frustration, « And you not only don’t take advantage, but I bet you ignored any invitation she made. I swear, you’re going to grow up into a eunuch. »

      Makoto relaxed slightly. « She pushes the limits, » she whispered to Jeff.

      « So does he. You don’t survive as a pilot if you don’t, » Asuka told her, « When can I get a look at the scans your friend took? »

      « Later today, » Makoto said. Why do I suddenly feel sorry for any youma the two of them run into? Makoto wondered.

     « No, » Asuka said, « Highlight that part and break it down into an augmented matrix as I described, and check for orthogonality of the resulting vectors. »

      Ami stared at her in shock, « Huh? »

      « We need a homogeneous matrix, to do that, we have to transfer from one mutually orthogonal basis to a different nonorthogonal basis, then we convert the matrix to vectors that can be individually analyzed. We need to determine if those vectors are independent or linear combinations of other vectors. » Asuka looked at the girl with the tears running down her cheeks.

      « I don’t understand a word you just said, » Ami said miserably, bursting into sobs.

      Asuka stepped away from the sobbing girl and tried to stare a hole in the wall. « Are these people the best that are available? » Asuka asked in a neutral voice, in Greek.

      « They aren’t college graduates, » Jeff replied in Greek, « Just Junior High Schoolers. »

      « So I have to lead the brains of the group through a simple mathematical analysis. She doesn’t even have or know how to use the advanced tools on that thing that would simplify that analysis, » Asuka said quietly, still in Greek, « What happens when I have to get her to do the finite element analysis on the mystical elements which are not in the normal, four dimensional space-time? »

      « Be patient, » Jeff replied in equally calm tones, still in Greek.

      « Ami, dear, » Asuka said in Japanese, with forced politeness, « I need you to take these data, do you know how to use a spreadsheet? »

      « Yes, ma’am, » Ami said fearfully.

      « Okay, put these data in these cells, and these data in these cells, » Asuka explained to Ami with painful patience.

      Jeff led Makoto outside, leaving the to mathematicians alone.

      « I never expected to meet someone who’d outbrain Ami, » Makoto said.

      « Ami may be smarter, although I doubt it, but Asuka is much better educated and more experienced. I doubt Ami’s a college graduate, nor were her math skills ever a matter of life and death. »

      « No, » Makoto admitted, « We’re all pretty new at this. »

      « For Asuka and I, it’s been over a year. If Asuka hadn’t been able to do complex math in her head, » Jeff explained, « A lot – a lot more people would be dead. She knows that. It’s made her a very skilled, very innovative mathematician, math-a-magician practically. Ami needs time to catch up. »

      « She was the one you asked about, » Makoto said, « The one born in Germany in 1933. »

      « Yes, » Jeff replied, « And before you get jealous, we’ve been friends and allies since we were four-years-old. Our – interest – in each other has never been romantic. We know each other too well. »

Author’s Postscript: This is not nor ever will be Sailor Jupiter 2, it conjures too many ideas of Ryoga Hibiki getting fuku’ed.

Sailor Jupiter 3 – By Daniel Gibson

      « Crescent Beam! » Ami shouted.

      « Supreme Thunder! » Artemis added.

      Asuka glanced over the battlefield. It’s always the quiet ones, she thought. « Two serious wounds, » she pronounced, « The youma is down. » She glanced at Jeff and asked in Greek, « Are any of them watching the rear? »

      Jeff frowned and shook his head.

      The Sailor Scouts and their advisors have learned, when Asuka speaks Greek, they’ve screwed up somehow. Of course sometimes I just ask which one is which, she thought, Keeps the tension high.

      « I’m pulling out my computer to scan the area, » Makoto said.

      Somebody’s paying attention, Asuka thought and told her, « Your scan picks up two youma. » Asuka put two pawns on the board that simulated the local beefbowl place. « Just before they blast you. Two minor wounds, unfortunately that knocks you down. You can’t warn the others. »

      « I –  » Luna began.

      « You don’t even know what happened, » Asuka interrupted as she concentrated on the others.

      « Still no Tuxedo Mask? » Usagi asked.

      « No Tuxedo Mask, » Asuka told them, « Sailor Venus, you detect some movement behind you. »

      « I turn and attack, shouting a warning, » Ami said.

      « One action, » Asuka corrected, « You can turn and fire blind, or warn, not both. »

      « I shoot the black pawn youma. Crescent BEAM! »

      « So much for Tuxedo Mask, critical hit, » Jeff said.

      « WHAT! »

      « It’s a youma, » Asuka told the panicked girl, « Clean miss. Sailor Moon, one serious wound, when the white pawn youma shoots you in the back. You’re down and out. »

      « Damn! » Rei said, turned to Usagi, « Can’t you do anything right? »

      « But you’re me! » Usagi retorted on the verge of blubbering, « It can’t be my fault. »

      « Those two youma duck back in their hallways. They shot at you, but both missed, » Asuka told Ami.

      « I run after them! » Ami said.

      « Which one? » Asuka replied, making notes for the debriefing later.

      « Uh, the one I shot at. »

      I’ve had enough of this, Asuka thought angrily.

      « You’re going to chase a youma into a hallway, alone? » Artemis pointed out.

      Finally! Asuka thought.

      « Asuka said there was one youma for each of us, we’ve only accounted for four of seven, » the talking cat continued.

      « We can’t let him get away! » Ami countered.

      « All right. I’ll go with. » The cat picked up its piece and moved it to the entrance of the hallway. « I’m watching the other hallway until we are around the corner. »

      « What are we supposed to do without you two against the youma with the hostage? » Luna complained.

      « Hey! I’m not exactly weak! » Rei complained.

      « You mean Sailor Mars isn’t, » Makoto replied, « You’re unconscious. » She chuckled at the others around the table. « Hey! Why are you moving my piece?! » Makoto demanded of Asuka.

      « Because once the others were out of line-of-sight, this youma kidnaped you. At this point, you are awake and can begin fighting back, » Asuka replied as she set up the cardboard pieces that indicated the hallway configuration.

      « Okay I’ll – drat, all right, I’ll scream for help, » Makoto said, earning a glare from Ami, « What else can I do?! You don’t know martial arts, your attack really won’t hurt them. What’s left? Beating them up with your computer? »

      « Wait one, » Asuka interrupted the impending screaming match, « Luna, Artemis, Mars, the youma starts backing towards the door, keeping his hostage between himself and Mars. He threatens to drain the woman if you don’t let him escape. Insert scary laughter. »

      « If he drains a pregnant woman, it might harm the baby, » Luna explained, « I, Sailor Mars, challenge him to release the woman and face me. I continue to advance, looking for an opening, but not pressuring him. »

      « I don’t talk like that, » Rei replied.

      « Wondergirl would, if it was necessary, » Asuka said. Jeff smirked.

      « Who’s Wondergirl? » Rei asked.

      « Private joke, » Jeff said in Japanese, then added in Greek, « Were we ever this disorganized? »

      « No, » Asuka answered in Greek, « But we had competent help looking out for us. » She returned to Japanese, « Okay, Mercury. »

      Makoto and Ami had their heads together, discussing what actually could be done. « Shabon Spray! » Makoto shouted, « Then I kick him as hard as I can. »

      « What version? » Asuka asked, « Fog or something else? »

      « Fog, » Makoto said, « And I run away under cover of the fog. » She turned to Jeff. « Can’t you do something? You’re Jupiter’s Knight! » A groan from the rest of the table displayed what they thought of that statement.

      « Sure, Jupiter’s Knight arrives, pour gasoline on the board and set it on fire, acceptable losses, » Jeff replied, « I’m taking notes for debriefing where I help all of you. »

      Makoto pouted, « Fog. Not like I’ve got a real attack. »

      « Hey! » Ami complained.

      « Admit it! » Makoto said, « You love to blast things. You’ve fired your crescent beam more than Minako ever does. »

      « That’s true, » Minako replied.

      « You can’t . . . since our cats can talk, » Ami complained, « So why can’t they fight. »

      « All I’ve got is what you provided, » Asuka replied, « I don’t know what a 37th dan in Kat-fu means. »

      « I told you, 56th! » Luna complained.

      « And your partner said 17th, I compromised, same way I left off his `furrimoan` control that makes him irresistible to female moon cats, it’s pheromone by the way. Okay. » Asuka slapped her hands together. « The youma escapes out the door, throwing the woman at you, what are you doing? »

      « I catch her! » Luna said.

      Asuka glanced at the others and they said nothing. « The one you zapped stays down. Mercury, you don’t escape, but Tuxedo Mask is waiting for the youma, he beats it up and rescues you. »

      « My hero! » Makoto took advantage to give Jeff a hug, pointedly ignoring the auras of Death emanating from her colleagues.

      « You got one out of four. »

      « You said there were seven, » Luna protested.

      « I said your information was there was one for each of you. They only thought there were four of you, since Venus is a new arrival, they haven’t been given the best information, and they didn’t count you cats. » She turned to them, steepled her fingers staring over the top of them. As the girls and cats shuddered, Asuka announced, « Now, the debriefing. »

      « No, » Jeff said, immune to her `Gendo` impression, « Let’s let everyone get up and stretch. We’ve been at this for over two hours. »

      The girls agreed, Asuka relented.

      « Where’d you ever get this idea? » Ami asked as she followed Asuka outside.

      « One of my colleagues, » Asuka explained, « We were supposed to ‘learn about each other’. » She shuddered at the memory of Gendo’s introduction to that. « Gott im Himmel! I still have mine. »

      « Your what? » Ami asked.

      « The one stuffed toy I kept, » Asuka said, stopped. I can predict the expression and stupidity, she thought as she whirled to face Ami who was sparkly-eyed and her hands cutely clenched under her chin. Asuka got nose to nose with the girl. « It was a Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausfuehrung B correct and perfect in nearly every detail. » She towered over the girl. « Right down to the overlapping rather than interleaved road wheels. Is that clear? »

      « Yes, » Ami squeaked, eyes all dewy.

      Asuka turned away and started walking. Good grief. I could beat her with a stick and she’d come back with the same worshipful look. No wonder these freaks are giving them trouble. I took out three of them myself. I just summoned my sabre-halberd out of fire and . . . « Ami, have you ever heard of ‘Sailor Saturn’? »

      « No, » Ami admitted, « I could find out if you like. »

      « No, thanks. » I can roast cats on a spit as well as you can, Asuka didn’t say aloud.

     Makoto was fixing snacks for the others. « We didn’t do too well. »

      « We’ll discuss that at the debriefing, » Jeff replied, « For amateurs, you did adequately. That’s what these training sessions are for. You take the job seriously, you train. »

      « I have to admit, Artemis used my powers in ways I wouldn’t, and I never realized how helpless Ami really is. »

      « Not helpless, just lacking an effective attack. Laying down a smokescreen, determining which enemies to hit first isn’t helpless. In the military, smokescreens are the job of the artillery. But you don’t put her in the front lines, same as the artillery. »

      « How long have you been a soldier? » Makoto asked.

      « I was created to be one. Later, I embraced what I am. Maybe all this ‘Love and Justice’ still only sounds silly shouted out in the open, in people’s hearts, it’s a powerful thing. By all rights, I should be on the other side, the forces of darkness. »

      « I wouldn’t like that, » Makoto said.

      « Oh, I’d be a kind ruler, no unnecessary bowing and scraping. Instill into the people an iron determination. If Hitler and the Soviets managed, I certainly could. I might even allow an active opposition, powerless but vocal and splashy. Sailor Moon and her terrorists. »

      Makoto was staring at him with her mouth hanging open.

      « You’re catching flies my dear, » he told her.

      « You like scaring me like that, » Makoto accused.

      « I like scaring everybody like that. It’s a Great Old One thing, now, where’s the step ladder, we’ve got to get Luna off the ceiling again. »

     « How did he figure out our secret identities? » Rei asked Minako and Usagi, « Did Makoto tell him? »

      « Ah, Rei-chan? » Usagi said.

      « We’ll have to find out, » Rei said, « I can’t trust him, can’t she feel the darkness around him? »

      « I think she does, » Usagi said, « Rei-chan? »

      « We have to figure out how to keep the identity of our families from him, » Rei said.

      « Like his friend staying at your temple? » Usagi asked, « Rei-chan? »

      « WHAT? » Rei shouted at Usagi.

      « He said our distinctive hairstyles gave us away, » Usagi said, « Should we ask Luna and Artemis to have the pens change our hairstyles when we change? »

      Rei stared at Usagi in shock.

     « So, if you have communicators, » Asuka said, holding her temper, « Why didn’t you use them to coordinate your approach? I used this place, because it’s one you’re all familiar with. »

      The Scouts and advisors exchanged bewildered looks.

      « Look, it’s got three entrances, one person can cover the outside two, a cat as an observer and one Senshi for a sneak attack, the bulk of the force goes in under the cover of a Shabon Spray, for hitting picked targets. That way your opponents don’t have time to grab hostages. »

      « We never had to do that before, » Usagi complained.

      « You may in the future, » Asuka struggled to keep herself calm. They’re just beginners. Nobody really died . . . yet. Stay calm, they’re still young enough to think this is all fun and games.

      « On to the entry, » Jeff suggested.

      « Yes. I don’t know if it’s your comment on Jupiter’s attitude, or just high-spirits, but you don’t jump through a plate glass door if you don’t have to. Even if – »

      « It’s what she’d do! » Artemis said.

      « It is not! » Makoto shot back, only Jeff’s efforts kept her from strangling the Moon Cat.

      « Enough! » Asuka said quietly but firmly, glanced at the bugged out eyes of the terrified Senshi and continued, « Kicking the door open is sufficient, the glass is adding a random hazard to the battlefield. Don’t complicate things. Next, why didn’t anyone follow her? Venus and Mercury were right on her heels and you waited outside. Why? »

      « We were waiting for Sailor Moon, » Rei suggested.

      « And if she never came? » Asuka asked, « You would allow yourselves to be picked off one at a time? That’s called ‘being destroyed in detail’ and it’s something to be avoided. »

      « We aren’t military, » Usagi told her.

      « Then quit acting and assuming you are, and leave the fighting to professionals, » Asuka snapped, « This was a board game with plenty of time to consider your moves and options. You still nearly lost a member, and the hostages. This was practice, maybe you can die in practice, but you can’t practice dying, » Asuka replied.

      « Softly, softly, » Jeff urged in Greek.

      « You did better towards the end. With training, you might be as good as your burgeoning reputation. Your enemies have been disjointed and uncoordinated, you’ve won by superior numbers and firepower. You have to learn to work as a unit, or the first group you run into who can cooperate, will kill or cripple all seven of you. You also were learning the strengths and limitations of each other. Makoto, how did it feel to be without your combat abilities? Ami, how did it feel to have those powers? We can try this again, and don’t get hung up on trying to be who you’re playing, try to get the most out of that person’s powers and abilities. With training, you might be as good as your burgeoning reputations. »

      « WAAAH! » Usagi opined, « We’ll never be good enough for you! WAAH! »

      Asuka slapped her hand down hard on the table as she stood and leaned to go face-to-face with the sobbing girl, who now stared in panic at the figure looming over her. « I find your lack of faith, disturbing, » Asuka whispered, then she smiled and patted the girl on the shoulder. « You will do better, next time. »

      And none of them dare say ‘we haven’t agreed to a next time’, she thought happily, she sat down, leaving Usagi to her shivers. « Now, the next thing to talk about is martial arts training. Both Jeff and I were adequate, then we met our teacher who was light-years beyond us, and if you repeat that Raccoon, I’ll kill you. »

      « Understood. »

      « While we can teach you some basic moves, I would strongly advise you take classes. Rei, your grandfather gives classes, have you considered your friends’ needs? » Asuka asked and stared at the girl until she looked away in shame, « Makoto, you are a martial artist, don’t you know any schools in the vicinity? »

      Makoto didn’t answer either, looking at the floor.

      « All right, there are Rape Prevention and basic self-defense classes, I already found a couple of those, the techniques are good exercise, or take them to ‘better understand your cultural heritage’ or just as a break from purely intellectual pursuits, » Asuka told them, « Now, let’s get down to how to search a building. » Asuka set up the cardboard pieces on the board to show the girls and their advisors the youma and their tactics.

     Minako is glaring at him, Makoto thought as she stepped between them. « What’s the problem? »

      « Him, » Minako said through clenched teeth, « He’s . . . he’s awful! »

      Rei I could understand, she might be able to sense his darkness, Makoto thought unhappily, Not Minako.

      « The best prank anyone could ever play on you! And it wasn’t ME! »

      Makoto hit the ground, not dragging Jeff with her.

      « Fascinating ceiling, » Jeff said, lying beside her.

      « Yes. »

      « Very . . . soothing. »

      « Yes, » Makoto said.

     Sailor Jupiter knelt behind the building’s parapet, ‘Jupiter’s Knight’ behind her. « So that’s what brought you here originally? » she asked regarding the spiky creature now entering the empty building.

      « Have you ever noticed that for all the tremendous rates for real estate, there’s always empty buildings for bad guys to set up their headquarters? » Jeff asked.

      « Only in Nerima and Juuban, » Makoto said, « It must be part of their charters. It doesn’t look weirder than the average youma. »

      « But it’s a demon from the elemental Hells, a real one, not like the youma. »

      « Let’s get him! » Makoto rose only to have Jeff haul her back down.

      « That’s an electrical demon. Notice how the street lamps dimmed as it walked by? Your best attack would feed it, make it stronger. I hadn’t realized why its path crisscrossed one area, until I wound up in your house. It was searching for you. »

      « Me? » Makoto asked, squirmed at the thought, « What was it going to do when it found . . . me? »

      « Feed off you, » he told her, smiled at her, « Other things first. »

      « EWWWW! » Makoto squealed.

      « That’s the difference between youmas and demons. Youmas care about human energy, but demons consume all of the human, your body, your sense of self, self-respect, everything. »

      « I still say ‘eww!' »

      « I agree. »

      « So what do we do? » Makoto asked. Then why are we out here? she wanted to ask, I’m going to have to do something about this ‘Oh I’m deep and mysterious’ bit. And what are you assembling?

      « We make preparations for an attack, note I said ‘an’ not ‘our’, you stay out of the way, and I intend to deal with it at range, » he told her, as he pulled an impossible amount of material out of his suit, dividing it into two seemingly unrelated piles.

      No wonder his coat’s so heavy! she thought. « Why don’t we just use the main battle tank you’ve got stored in there? »

      « It’s an M26 Pershing, it’s a little outdated. »

      « What about calling out the JSDF again, » she teased. I still want to know how you pulled that off, she thought.

      « I’d need another panicky, well-respected individual with Cabinet connections, » he told her with a smirk, « I didn’t call out the JSDF, I just figured out who would. Considering the terror the word ‘Nerima’ kindles in everyone, that was the wedge to get him to do my work for me. »

      « How did . . . whoever – toss that tank, they weigh tons? »

      « Tatewaki probably didn’t notice, not with an enemy before him. »

      Makoto closed her eyes. I’ve got to quit asking questions that make my head hurt, she thought, I have a terrible feeling he could logically explain it all. There are things I don’t want to know.

      « So you’ve decided what to do, » she said as he returned most of the contents to his pockets, « What is all that? And you realize I’m going to take that coat apart when we get home. »

      « The secret is hidden pockets. Projectile. » He held up a bolt with markings on the head. « Propellant. » He held up a small sphere. « Then the gun tube, it’s made from an AT field. Absolute Terror Field, the part that separates the soul from the outside world. That’s what you touched, I apologize, » he told her, no longer flippant, « I never meant for that to happen. It was the only shield I had that was strong enough. I knew what it might do, I thought I took adequate precautions. »

      Makoto blushed. « I . . . I like what’s . . . ah. »

      « Playing house? » Jeff asked sadly, « But that’s all we’ve been doing, playing. » Jeff glanced over the parapet. « This is what I am: hunting down and killing monsters. Trying not to become one in the process. »

      Makoto considered him, I can’t think of any of the boys at school who wouldn’t have taken advantage of this situation. But . . . I know it has to change, either we get rid of this manacle or we accept we’re bound together and we . . . take the next step. But I know what he’s looking for. « It’s all right, I forgive you, » she told him, laid a hand on his shoulder and delighted in his shy smile. So different from his usual ‘I’ve got everything under control’ grin, she thought happily.

      « The propellant is hydrogen slush. You place the projectile in firing position, then teleport some of the slush into the firing chamber, allowing some of it to interpenetrate. This causes it to flash to energy, instantly changing the slush to plasma at high temperature. » He pointed to the gun parts she couldn’t see, only the bolt hanging in the air. « The long barrel allows plenty of time for the gas to expand. Hydrogen allows a greater speed than other propellant gasses. It also has the advantage that the gun gas is hot hydrogen, so the residue becomes water vapor. »

      « Uh huh, » Makoto said. Is he still speaking Japanese? she wondered.

      « The impact and the enchantments on the weapon are the killing power, » Jeff explained, « Don’t look. »

      There was a thunderous noise and a stream of flame easily 12 meters long. Makoto blinked furiously to clear her vision, but it didn’t clear.

      « You looked, didn’t you? » Jeff asked.

      « I’m blind, » she said. I can’t see, I can’t see! she thought with growing fear, I don’t want to be blind! She felt his hand on her temple, and a strange hot-cold feeling around her eyes.

      « How’s that? There was no damage, you only used up all the chemical that lets you see. Don’t worry, your body makes more. »

      She looked around, a dark purple streak, where she’d seen the flash, remained. She looked at the results of the shot. « That’s incredible, » Makoto said. I can’t believe it, she thought.

      « Yes, » Jeff replied, packing the material away.

      « I mean I’ve never seen anything like that. »

      « You wouldn’t have seen anything ever again, if you’d looked at it directly, » he warned as he checked that he hadn’t forgotten anything, « Are you ready to go? »

      It’s just amazing, she thought, but said, « I mean with that big, long, complicated explanation –  »

      « Can we go? »

       » – and you missed. »

      « I didn’t miss, » Jeff told her haughtily as he stood, pulling her with him. « It’s immune, » he added sheepishly, « I didn’t figure on that. Let’s go! » He drew her after him, away from the parapet and towards the stairwell.

      « What next? » she asked. If he could take a hit like that – she dreaded the answer. « We run away? » she asked.

      « Yes, but according to Plan ‘B’. » They ran.

      » ‘In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade . . . ‘. I love Japan, nobody steals, except from a bank, » Jeff said as they jogged towards the bicycle.

      « Yeah, a little cash for watchin’ out for it. » A bunch of multihue-haired teenagers were lounging on the nearby steps and cars.

      Jeff slowed, as did Makoto.  » ‘And he carries the reminders -‘, » Jeff said, smirked to her.

      Oh no, she thought, Those poor people, but I do want to see what happens.

      « Oh man! » One girl with green hair stared at Makoto up and down.

      I need a shower, Makoto thought, feeling her lip curling and trying to cover more of herself with her uniform.

      The girl turned to a blue-haired boy. « Kai, why don’t you tie me up and dress me like a Senshi? » She rubbed herself against him and moaned, « Use your magic rod and fill me with your Negaforce! »

      I think – I am going – to be sick, Makoto thought, trying not to grimace, Right here, right now. She glanced at Jeff, who seemed bemused.

       » ‘Of ev’ry glove that laid him down, or cut him till he cried out, in his anger and shame,' » Jeff recited, then smiled, « I’ve got it, I’ll give you a piece of advice that will serve you the rest of your life, » he offered.

      « What’s the advice? Gai- jin! » Kai said to the tittering and laughter of the others.

      « Don’t be the last one to run away from an angry demon, » Jeff told them with real malevolence, then stepped aside and a let them see the thundercloud careen around the corner, it screamed in fury as it spotted them.

      Makoto turned back and saw only a cloud of dust receding in the distance.

       » « I am leaving, I am leaving.’ But the fighter still remains’, Simon and Garfunkel, » Jeff told her as he knelt beside the bicycle, « Axiomatic I’d say. Tear the top off that bag and get ready to pour it. » Jeff moved to the hydrant the bike was parked against.

      « Pour it into what? » she asked, tearing off the top and hefting the 25-kilo bag of salt. How is salt going to – she thought then she saw him pull the cap from the hydrant, Ah, salt water . . . I still don’t see how this is going to work.

      « Here! » A stream of water burst from the hydrant, Makoto poured the salt into it as something directed the stream to hit their enemy.

      The water made it spark, the salt water makes it scream and sizzle! she thought, Keep blasting it. She kept pouring until the bag was empty, then Jeff shut off the water from the hydrant.

      « Bring the other bag if you will, » he said as he fished a vial out of his pocket.

      « Oh, poor, weak, little girl, me, » Makoto said as she easily hefted the bag, « How could a delicate flower like me ever carry such a heavy thing? » She held the bag in one hand at arm’s length to `prove` her fragility.

      « If I thought that, » Jeff said as he smiled, « I would have gnawed my arm off at the elbow and slipped away. You ever want to get rid of me, acting like your friend Usagi would be a good way. Tuxedo Mask may have backed her up, but I can’t see her ever backing him up. »

      « Usagi is very nice! » Makoto countered. ‘Nice’? I make her sound like a puppy or a washing powder, she thought. « She’s just – emotional. »

      « She may be a good friend, but she’s a poor combatant, and I never said she wasn’t ‘nice’. If this really is a war, a nice person can’t afford to stay nice. They’ll be a corpse or learn some hard truths. »

      They arrived at the fallen demon.

      It’s . . . cute, like a rain-soaked, purple kitten, Makoto thought, as its big, soulful eyes looked at Sailor Jupiter, Such hope and love in those eyes. I just want to cuddle it.

      « You . . . you are . . . so . . . beautiful, » it told her, as if it couldn’t breathe in her presence.

      Makoto blushed at the heartfelt compliment.

      « So you just can’t wait to eat her? » Jeff asked.

      « Yes, » the demon agreed in the same breathless tone.

      As Makoto frowned, Jeff emptied the vial on the vile thing. The creature screamed and writhed as if it had been doused with acid. Makoto dropped the bag of salt on the creature, without opening it.

      « I don’t love you anymore, » came the squashed voice from under the mass.

Sailor Jupiter 4 – By Daniel Gibson

      « Moon Healing Escalation! » Sailor Moon shouted, releasing the power to destroy the youma, banishing the creature to wherever it had come from.

      « Damn fools, I’ll –  »

      « You’ll keep a civil tongue in your head, » Jeff warned the girl `tied up` with the uprooted poles from two street signs. He tapped her nose with his knife. « Or you won’t. Do you understand? »

      She pales at the threat and the intention to carry it out, Makoto thought, glancing from her ally to her enemy, I believe he’d do it. I know he’d do it.

      Venus rushed up. « I’ll guard her, you help Mars, » she told them breathlessly.

      Jeff and Sailor Jupiter rushed to Sailor Mars who had an arrow in her shoulder. Sailor Mercury was trying to staunch the bleeding, to no avail.

      After the shot, Asuka had bounced the archer’s off a street lamp, face-first. That enemy was down and unconscious, with Luna watching her.

      « I’m fine, » Mars growled, glaring at Jeff as he approached.

      Jeff knelt before her. « The way that’s bleeding, » Jeff explained quietly, « That arrow nicked an artery. That means you’ll bleed to death before help can arrive. »

      Mars looked away, Jeff continued on a reasonable tone, « I can heal this, at no cost to you. You can go right on hating me as much as you do now. »

      Mars chuckled. « Ow! Ow! Don’t make me laugh, it hurts. » She nodded.

      « Okay, Mercury, Jupiter hold her. Mars, bite this. » He put a strip of wood between her teeth. « She’s going to yell and scream and thrash around, everybody does. It’s normal. But I’ll need her still, or she’ll hurt herself worse, so hold her still. » He held a tool next to the arrow wound, it looked like a pair of spoons on tongs.

      She’s as frightened as I’ve ever seen her, she’s already crying, Makoto thought as she held Rei, She’s holding so tight it hurts, poor Ami’s getting it worse than me.

      « There’ll be a lot of blood, » Jeff told her, « I know that may cause religious problems, but you’ll be alive to purify yourself later. Ready? »

      Mars nodded, and Jeff began digging.

      Poor Rei, Makoto held the squirming, whimpering girl tightly, Ami’s having a harder time.

      « Got it, » he said, pulling the broad-head arrow free, then he put his hands over the rapidly spreading stain on her fuku.

      Hurry, Makoto thought as Jeff bowed his head, Here it comes. She felt the warm-cold feeling crawling at the edge of her awareness as Rei gasped. First in amazement, Makoto realized, Then in relief. Rei sighed and relaxed in their grip like a rag doll. Makoto let Ami support Rei while she caught Jeff as he sagged, his shirt sprouting a red stain similar to, but smaller than the one staining Rei’s uniform.

      « You okay? » Makoto asked anxiously.

      « Tired, » he admitted, « Rei needs rest, healing not complete, » he said, pausing to catch his breath, « So much blood. »

      Rei looked at her adversary. « Thank you, » she said shyly, taking his hand, « It’s ice cold. »

      « You lost a great deal of blood, your transformation proofs you against shock. I’ll survive, and recover in about an hour. You’ll have to rest for a day or so, before you’re back to full strength. »

      « I . . . was wrong about you. »

      « Not necessarily. I hope you stay wrong, and that you weren’t just . . . premature . . . in your judgement. »

      What did that all mean? Makoto wondered as she glanced from Rei to Jeff and back, Rei seems to understand perfectly. Rei nodded and stood. Rei paused as if to say something, then walked over to Asuka, who dug a corroded, old sword out of the debris.

      « I like you like this, » Makoto teased, « Quiet, and a little bit helpless. » She held him.

      « Then far be it from me to damage your illusions, » he replied, settling in her arms.

      He’s so cold, Makoto worried, I remember a little about shock from school, the first thing is to keep the patient warm. She held him against her and watched Rei approach Asuka. What a rotten-looking sword, Makoto thought as Asuka broke it into pieces, in her frustration, I guess we did better, just not ‘better’ enough.

      « I think we should leave, » Artemis told everyone, Luna nodded while looking around worriedly, « Dogs give me heartburn. Especially demonic warriors. »

      « That means they weren’t youma, they were yasha. »

     Makoto waited until they were back in the apartment, before asking what had been nagging at her. I can imagine what asking him in front of the others would have set off, she thought. « Did those . . . yakuza-wannabes really think that I’d dress up as a Senshi . . . and let you tie me up? Just so you could . . . have, ah . . . ? »

      « Oh no, » Jeff assured her, still pale and shaky from blood loss.

      « You’re sure? It sounded like . . . that’s what they were implying. »

      « No, I’m certain. You dress up as a Senshi, so you can tie me up and do unspeakable things to `punish` me. ‘In the Name of Punishment, I’m going to Moon you!' »

      « I think I’m going to beat you unconscious, then go be violently sick. »

      Jeff shook his head. « You got it backwards again, first be violently sick, then beat me unconscious. »

      « Oh, thank you, » she told him, as sarcastically as she could. « Your friend Asuka, I’m worried about her and Rei’s grandfather. »

      « Don’t worry, » Jeff told her tenderly, taking her hands in his, « She won’t kill him. »

     « AH! AH! I’m on fire! » the old man screamed as he ran through the courtyard. Flames dancing on his hands. He shoved his hands in one of the containers that caught rain run off.

      « Ah, » he said as he pulled his hands out of the water. ‘Poof’, and the fire was back, on his head this time.

      « AHHH! » He went running again.

      You won’t die, Asuka thought as she rolled over to go back to sleep, You haven’t even noticed you aren’t being burned. Fire Master . . . HA!

     Rei walked through the early morning light, the temple grounds looking so different from how they had the day before. She’d repurified herself, so she could again serve as the temple’s miko. The uniform rustled as she walked. She put her hand over the tiny area on her shoulder, felt the slight ache under her clothes. It’s not even a scar, she thought, Just an untanned patch. I really was dying, I could feel the blood pouring out. She sighed and looked around the temple grounds. The only light was a small fire some distance away. There shouldn’t be any fire, she thought as she headed in that direction.

      She spotted Asuka, sitting on one of the stone paths in the morning half-light. The redhead was clearly meditating, several pieces of trash lined up before her. Rei slowed her approach as she felt an indescribable something curling around the area. Not like a youma, not like when I do a fire reading, she thought, trying to analyze the feeling, Something like both, with something else. She looked around for the youma which might be causing the feeling. As she watched, she saw two of the leaves in Asuka’s line begin smoldering. She watched in fascination as both burst into flame and burned to ash in seconds. Leaving the other inflammable bits untouched.

      « That . . . that . . . was unbelievable, » Rei breathed, drawing closer to the seated figure, « With my fire powers –  »

      « I’d appreciate it, if you didn’t rub it in, » Asuka said angrily, as she set two more pieces of combustible debris in the line before her.

      ‘Rub it in’? Rei wondered at that, What does she mean? I could never do something that precise. « I can use my Fire Soul, but not –  »

      « I meant to set one ablaze, and let it burn slowly, » Asuka said tiredly, « Not burn two to ash. »

      « Ah . . . ! » Rei said, « Who –  »

      « Your grandfather, » Asuka told her, « I didn’t come here by accident. Jeff figured your grandfather could help me. Control is the important thing. I have all the raw power I could ever want. I could set this entire neighborhood, this whole district, even the entire city ablaze, and there’d be nothing that could stop me, except Jeff. That includes you five. Not that I’d ever want to. » Asuka turned to face the frightened Rei. « Is it any wonder that I want to control that power, rather than have it control me? » She turned back to her practice pieces.

      Rei watched her for a while, then walked away, leaving Asuka to her `failures`. I keep imagining all of Tokyo in flames, she thought, I know it happened during the war, but it couldn’t happen now. She glanced back at Asuka. No wonder she gets so mad about us, she thought with a shiver, A dozen, no a hundred, no a thousand times my power, and only a hundred times my control. I don’t have to worry about ending the world. At least, I hope I don’t. I can’t imagine being afraid of being able to do something like that. She paused glanced back at the redhead. « Or worse, not being able to stop myself. »

     It had begun with kisses grown deep and passionate, then nibbles and licks, slowly touching more intimate and sensitive areas. Then hands touched places that were usually forbidden. She gasped with excitement, feeling her partner grow bolder.

      She desperately wanted more, wanted to cross the last threshold to make them one body, one soul. She took her partner, her soon to be lover and told him, « If you aren’t dreaming about me, I’m going to be so jealous. »

     Makoto’s eyes shot open, looked down at the boy pinned beneath her, who was looking up in surprise.

      « You have a very active dream-life, » he said, « And while I appreciate the offer, I really would prefer you be awake and that we agree to it first. »

      Makoto froze in shock, realizing that the only things preventing them from consummating her desires in her dream, were his pajama bottoms and her Senshi fuku. I don’t believe it, she thought in horror, But both of us are . . . ready . . . to go through with it. Whatever our minds . . . our bodies are clearly . . . ready. She stared at their pajama tops, her modified shirts, wadded on their shackled left arms. One of the buttons from my top is lying on his forehead, like a third eye staring at me, she thought, still too dazed to move, If I wasn’t wearing my fuku, he’d be looking at my . . .

      « Adolescents have – carnal – dreams,  » he might as well have been speaking Martian for all that was getting through to her, « It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing serious happened. Nothing that can’t be fixed with a sewing kit. »

      She continued to stare at the welts on his neck that looked suspiciously like bite marks.

      « Not that I mind the view, » he said, « But are you going to move or say something? »

      Makoto continued to stare, frozen in the realization of what she’d dreamt, what she’d wanted to do, and what they could do so easily right now. He isn’t strong enough to wrestle a Sailor Senshi, she realized, So I have to let him go. She continued to stare at him. You could . . . talk about it, she thought, I could just tell him that . . . make some available . . . no, I can’t tell him that. I’ve got to tell him how I really feel, what I’d like –

      « Hey guys! » came the voice from outside, accompanying the knock on the door.

      Is the interruption a blessing or a curse? Makoto wondered as she tried to put her shock aside.

      « That’s Langley, » Jeff said, scooping her up and heading towards the door.

      « Like this? » she asked, desperately tried to untangle the shirts so she could cover herself. Asuka?! I can’t imagine . . . she thought, No! I can imagine exactly what she’s going to think! Jeff set her down as she desperately tried to unwrap the shirts from their arms. She gave up and tried to hide behind him as he opened the door. I run around in battles in this fuku, but right now I’m embarrassed by it’s . . . brevity, she thought. She looked in horror as Jeff’s friend walked in.

      He was right, she thought nastily, Asuka looks like she just ordered a truck to back over her own foot. She watched the normally-incorrigible redhead take in the subtle, and in Jeff’s case, not so subtle clues that they hadn’t been making breakfast.

      Asuka reached up, and removed the button from Jeff’s forehead. « I can . . . come back . . . later, » Asuka offered, blushing more than Jeff and Makoto combined.

      « No, no. We might as well start the day. Have you had breakfast? »

      « Ah. » Asuka yanked her attention away from Makoto’s sweat-plastered hair, the welts on Jeff’s neck, and other things. « Why don’t you two get . . . ah, cleaned up and I’ll get breakfast ready for you, » Asuka offered.

      « I had something in mind for breakfast, » Makoto said to Asuka, enjoying the indomitable girl’s wince at that.

      « Yes, the bathroom’s too small to do anything else, » Jeff commented as he headed towards it.

      Makoto glanced at Asuka who looked like she might die any second.

      « Uh, we . . .  » Makoto began, « Were just talking about . . . things. » She followed Jeff. « Dreams and such. »

      « How many kids, where to honeymoon, » she heard Asuka muttering, « Age of consent in Japan. » She raised her voice so Makoto could `hear`, « You don’t have to draw me a picture, I got it . . . I apologize. » She started muttering again, « It finally . . . who messes it up? Me, God hates me. » She drifted off into a string of German.

      « We didn’t do anything! » Makoto called back. Oops, that was probably the worst thing I could have said, she realized, watching Asuka react, then turned back to her `partner`.

      « That was awful, » Makoto whispered once the door was closed, « She actually thought we were . . .  »

      « Weren’t we? » he asked, « You certainly started without me, but . . .  » He let the gap draw out.

      « What? » she demanded.

      « The way you were carrying on, I was catching up, » he teased and turned his back on her.

     « What going -! Oh crap! Sorry, thought you were killing each other. » Asuka closed the bathroom door and headed back to the kitchen, trying to dispel the image of the two half-naked teenagers wrestling on the tile floor.

      « She likes to start rough, fine, good, all right. I don’t care what I hear from now on! I am not walking in on them again! » Asuka vowed, « If they set a date, I’m leaving the continent right after the ceremony. »

     The breakfast was quiet. Asuka kept glancing at them and blushing furiously. Jeff was quiet, glancing between the two girls, but saying nothing. Makoto broke the uncomfortable silence, « Asuka-chan, please don’t mention this to the other Senshi. »

      « Of course! » Asuka instantly told her, as if it were obvious.

      « I was always . . . dateless, and I don’t want the others to think I was . . .  »

      « Desperate, » Asuka offered, « I understand. »

      Makoto’s eyes bugged out. « No! Nothing like that! »

      « They’ll accuse her of forcing herself on me, » Jeff said.

      Makoto choked.

      « Yes, dear, you can kill him, » Asuka said, « Then there’s sawing through a corpse’s arm to deal with. »

      « I think the Senshi are prohibited from killing an innocent, » Makoto explained.

      « Then I want to ask you about your definition of ‘innocent’, » Asuka told her.

     « This makes no sense, » Ami said, looking over the processed readings.

      « Check it again, » Asuka told her, wiping her eyes, the second after-school, roleplaying session had gone better, but it was getting very late.

      « I did, I checked –  »

      « Check it again, » Asuka told Ami, using up the last of her patience.

      « I double checked and –  »

      Asuka seized the girl’s chin and turned Ami’s head to face her anger. « Since you couldn’t hear, because you were talking, » Asuka said in her most threatening tone, « You will check your computer’s sensors, check that the reading system is functioning properly, then you will make sure the data was transcribed into the spreadsheets properly, then you will verify the equations and resulting analysis are correct. » The girl had been wilting a bit more under Asuka’s gaze and tone. « If you understand clearly, blink. »

      Ami blinked, the only movement in a tableau of abject terror.

      « Then don’t let me keep you from your task. I expect a thorough job. Do you understand? »

      Ami blinked again.

      « Then commence. » Asuka released the girl and walked away. There was nothing wrong with her system, or her calculations, Asuka told herself sadly, Her knowledge of the human heart is all that’s lacking. The analysis didn’t meet the parameters she was expecting. Or she didn’t want to consider there was a source of power that reinforced the fetter’s defenses and structure, and not one it had to wrench from its source, but given eagerly. Asuka sighed, feeling very old and cantankerous. Misanthrope, she accused herself, That’s why I can see the source that would resist any attempt to remove the fetter, and one of the Pollyanna Scouts can’t even conceive of it.

      Asuka paused outside the bedroom, she concealed herself in the shadows and watched the `victims` while not disturbing them. She teases him, ever so carefully, Asuka analyzed as she watched, She will be able to stand firm against him, if she has to. She’s tall, especially for her age and race, so she’ll probably be between 175 and 190 cm, that would put her out of the running for most Japanese men, but not Raccoon. He’s already taller that she will be and still growing. She’ll be `petite` next to him, important in this culture where ‘Kawaii’ is all. He’s also a warrior, and from what I’ve seen of them, a drunken gaggle of howitzers is a good description. Small unit tactics and hand-to-hand training, he can see to it she and her friends survive, Asuka smiled at her next thought, She also seems to honestly like him, and his tentative, polite approach to her as a female. Asuka watched them `play`, little touches and teases that lessened the defensiveness between the two of them. And I’m the one who has to throw a turd in the punchbowl, Asuka thought as she walked to the doorway and knocked.

     Makoto drew away from Jeff as his friend entered. She caught herself blushing again. I guess this is what it’s like being caught necking by his big sister, she thought.

      Asuka told them, « Your friend is checking the analysis, but I’m pretty sure she won’t find any difference between the first results and any later findings. »

      Both she and Jeff nodded.

      « Raccoon. I need to talk to her privately. No listening in, and no lip-reading. »

      Raccoon, where did that come from? Makoto wondered while Jeff nodded. As Asuka sat on the chair next to the bed the two were seated on, Jeff laid down and pulled the covers over his face. Makoto sat on the edge of the bed facing the redhead.

      Makoto caught the faint shimmer that surrounded both her and Asuka, and excluded Jeff.

      « He takes orders when he thinks there’s a good reason, » Asuka told her like a good saleswoman. « You lost your parents, didn’t you? »

      Makoto felt her throat close up. How could she know that? she didn’t ask aloud. All she could do was nod.

      « You’ve been lonely for a long time, » Asuka said quietly, sympathetically.

      Makoto nodded, feeling as if the redhead had learned her entire history somehow.

      « Yes, » Makoto admitted, « I was tall, and I –  » I wanted to take out my loss and uncertainty on – by beating up people who challenged or offended me, she thought. « – I had to stand up for myself. » Ha, liar, she accused herself, Why don’t you tell her the truth? It’s as if she already knows. « Maybe I was too eager. I got a reputation as a fighter. »

      Asuka let that pass, letting Makoto continue. « So people stayed away from me. »

      « I take it the boys were even more intimidated, » Asuka said easily, almost wistfully.

      Makoto nodded, then realized, She’s talking about herself as much as she’s talking about me! You’re as sneaky as he is! You know, because you went through it yourself! « Yes, at least the ones I’d even bother with, » she replied, caught Asuka’s sympathetic shudder.

      « So you have abandonment issues, » Asuka concluded.

      Makoto felt ice-cold. If he thinks – Makoto thought as she glanced at the covered form, He’ll hate me! « You think this is my fault!? That I’m –  »

      « Stop! » Asuka didn’t raise her voice, but Makoto couldn’t even dream of interrupting, « I got enough of that from your dopey friend out there, trying to prove that with her computer, she’s the smartest one in the room. I want you to deal with each step, as I present them. »

      Makoto nodded. Dopey? Ami? Makoto thought, I guess to a college graduate.

      « Now. You have abandonment issues, » Asuka continued, « You’ve been on your own and had to look after yourself, no one to back you up? Correct? »

      Makoto hung her head in shame. I did this, he tried to help me and I did this to him, she thought, Some dream, changing to a nightmare. « Yes. »

      « Then you run into someone who can fight better than you, cook better than you, is taller than you. He was kind and polite, even a bit old-fashioned, and you suddenly thought you had the solution to all your problems, » Asuka continued.

      Makoto bowed her head. « Yes, he . . .  » And now he’s going to hate me for trapping him, she thought, He’ll be polite about it, but if there’s anything he despises it is being forced into things « He was so brave and wonderful . . .  » And boy isn’t this a fine example. I guess that’s why I’m ‘dateless’, I scare off the ones too far and drive away any of them who get close.

      « And fun, and infuriating, and painstakingly gentle, and incredibly ferocious, all in careful measure and seemingly whenever needed. »

      Yes, Makoto thought, And he liked me. It’s all gone. Wait! How does she know?

      Asuka seemed to read her mind. « I’ve known him a long time. He was one of the few people I could trust, one of the few I knew wouldn’t leave me, » Asuka told her with a smile, then it was if a darkness moved across her face, her expression didn’t change, but the placidness couldn’t match the conflicting emotions behind her words, « My father was supposedly evacuating me out of Berlin, before the Russians could get me. My father decided to take the batch of papers I was carrying – instead of –  » Her expression was unreadable.

      You still feel the betrayal, Makoto realized, My parents `left` me, and it still hurts, so I’m not alone in feeling this way.

      Asuka continued softly, as though saying the words hurt her, « He used them to buy into the Americans’ good graces. Jeff sent an ally to pluck me out from behind enemy lines. Yes, I was a prisoner of the British, but that’s better than being a prisoner of the Russians. » Asuka fell silent, staring at the bad memory, soaking in the pain of it.

      Makoto reached out her hand, Asuka turned slightly, indicating she did not want to be disturbed.

      She doesn’t trust me either, Makoto realized, Because of what I’ve done, or is there something deeper? That I’m not one of the `club`, I never went through the war, so I could never understand it?

      Asuka continued in a more wistful tone, « In the Dreamlands – don’t ask – it’s a reality where you can live months of adventures in a single night. We spent decades fighting alongside each other. » She looked at Makoto, seemingly reading her mind again. « No, we never were lovers. »

      But you loved each other, not romantically, but fiercely and deeply. Jeff’s prejudiced against the idea of . . . coupling with you, and he believes you feel the same. And so do I, Makoto thought, gleaned from her brush with who and what Jeff truly was, So why are you drawing this out? From what I’ve seen, it isn’t your nature. ‘Kick the tires, light the fires, first one ups the leader, beer and bratwurst waiting back at home.’ That’s your way.

      « Did he have . . . other . . . women? » Makoto asked.

      « That depends on whom you ask. There are always those who make claims, » Asuka said.

      That’s not what I asked, Makoto realized.

      « I know in the Waking World, whoever is next, will be first. »

      « Oh, » Makoto said, felt her cheeks coloring. And you think that’s especially important, Makoto noted Asuka’s appraising look, I guess it is. That something special for me will be special for him.

      « Now, we’ll get to your earlier assertion, » Asuka said.

      Please don’t! Makoto wanted to shout, Hurt me, just don’t tell him what I’ve done.

      « I bet each time someone considered cutting the fetter, it was a highly emotional moment. »

      That’s an understatement! Makoto thought of Asuka’s comment, while she squirmed under the slow torture of having her darkest secrets dragged out of her, and into the light.

      « A point when you didn’t want to lose your ally and protector. »

      That certainly fit when we were fighting Kuno, Makoto thought, It sort of fits when he first wanted to neutralize it . . . I’m the one who zapped him! He’s going to hate me! She looked down at her hands in her lap, his hand sitting next to hers.

     Same as Kasumi, Asuka thought, Proper Japanese girl marinating in misery. Asuka laid a hand on the girl’s shoulder. « It is not wrong to not want to be lonely, and it’s not wrong to not want to lose someone important to you. What I’m saying: the times chosen were inauspicious. » What a load of euphemism! Asuka thought angrily, People never see what’s obvious, you have to lead them to it. Don’t hate him for what he did, like what you did. He’s just lonely, like you. God, please don’t let her be like the Nerimaniacs ‘I’m perfect, you’re trash’. « The next time, you have to let him go. He won’t hold it against you if you did it out of ignorance, now that you know, then he’ll hold you accountable. » And I pray you’ll feel the same, Asuka thought, not letting her emotions show. She saw the girl’s lip trembling, But you have to be strong. So you don’t want to start blubbering. That’s a good sign.

      « He won’t reject you out of hand. » Please don’t do that either. « If you’ve been treating him gently, if you haven’t acted like Usagi, he’ll want to stay with you. » That was the sulphur, now you get the molasses. « The local monsters are a draw, and having someone to hang around with will be welcome. »

      Makoto looked at her. Asuka hurried on, « I know you are planning to get married, but give him a little time. Where you lost your parents, he never had his. Where you recently started fighting monsters, he was born and raised for only that purpose. You’ll both be better off letting him get used to the situation. Don’t take it as a set back, » Asuka soothed, then switched to a teasing tone, « See it as a chance to seduce him all over again. »

      Makoto gasped and covered her face with both hands, her blush clearly visible.

      Asuka couldn’t help herself. « And don’t make the mistake others have. He’s a homebody at heart, you’ll never impress him with adventures, he’s done things that would top your wildest dreams. You cook, and can’t study too well. Use that. »

      Makoto goggled at that and shook her head. « It’s all so boring, » she said.

      « Not – to – him, » Asuka assured her, « Home and hearth are not things he’s ever been GI-VEN! He’s always had to forge it by main force, and he’s done it everywhere he’s been. Think about that, » Asuka commanded, « It’s the things we can’t get that are our greatest dreams. » Just play it as you have been, Asuka wanted to tell her, And you’ll win. You’ll win everything you want.

      « It doesn’t hurt that he could outfight most of our opponents as well, » Makoto said.

      Trying to lighten the mood, Asuka thought, and refused to have any of it. « Then having a safe place to fall back to, to relax and remind him and you what you’re fighting for, that everything isn’t all fighting is especially attractive. »

      The girl squirmed, but didn’t break down.

      Full points, Asuka thought. « The other aspect is that it isn’t just you who has been reinforcing it. That fetter has been transferring energy between you two and siphoning off a portion. I hope whoever put it on you is getting a royal headache that the bulk of the energy they’re getting is beyond what they are expecting. Like expecting a car battery, and getting 880 Volts three-phase, don’t worry, that just means alien and a lot of it, possibly damaging. I’d bet you were supposed to get attached to some poor jerk, and the use of your powers was supposed to suck him dry the way the youmas do. »

      Makoto looked like she’d been kicked in a sensitive spot.

      « They never figured you’d be plugged into someone able to draw power themselves. My point is, » Asuka told her, « That both of you have been strengthening that thing at various times, also your energies have been mixing as you used the other’s energy to use your own powers. »

      Asuka waited while Makoto blushed worse that Asuka had ever seen. « There’s nothing special about it, » Asuka said shortly, « It was supposed to be a murder weapon, not a sex toy. »

      Makoto tumbled off her seat, nearly dislocating both her and Jeff’s shoulders. Jeff flipped off the covers and glared at Asuka, as the two of them helped the stunned girl into the chair. Asuka took Makoto’s place on the edge of the bed, dropping a pillow on Jeff’s face. She looked around and saw the disruption ensuring their privacy was still intact.

      « You have to be clear on how you feel about all of this, about him, and his place in your life, about the current situation. You know as well as I do that once that bangle’s off, the best you can hope for, is him sleeping on the floor, probably in the kitchen. Unless you decide to marry him as soon as you’re loose. »

      « Ah . . .  » Makoto opined.

      « Right, » Asuka continued, « There’s more, but I want both of you to hear it together. » She reached over and slapped his leg.

      « Take it down, » she told him and felt the field fade seconds later, and another one go up, shielding the room from eavesdroppers. Once Jeff sat up and took Makoto’s hands, Asuka knew it was time to start. « The analysis shows that you were reinforcing the fetter’s structure, at the times attacks were made on it. With your powers backing it, probably nothing short of an H-bomb could breech it. »

      « I had a feeling, » he admitted, « It was designed for energy transfer. I just never thought . . .  »

      « I did it too, » Makoto interjected quickly, « She said ‘you’, she meant both of us. » Makoto teared up slightly. « I’m sorry. »

      « I’m just so irresistible you couldn’t bear to be parted. »

      If I struck it right now . . . Asuka thought as Makoto frowned.

      « I feel the same. » Jeff rubbed his nose on hers.

      Too late. Sparkly eyes, Asuka thought, Let them float a bit, then reality.

      « Ahem, » Asuka said, « The point is, you two can break that, any time you both want to. Now, before you make any plans for after, » Asuka said tersely, « You and I both know, that if NERV had the intention or the ability to rescue us, they already would have. »

      « Yes, » he said.

      « You also know that Herself, Herself junior and `Spatula-Girl` need us like they need anybody, except of course, the divine Ranma. »

      « Also yes, » he replied, « You can drag a horse to water, but you can’t make him think. »

      « Truer words –  » Asuka agreed, « Frankly, this pack of good-natured incompetents could use a couple of trainers and a couple of decent field commanders. I don’t know what the Moon Cats did in this ‘Silver Millennium’, but it wasn’t front line service in a real war. » Like we’ve been through, Asuka didn’t have to add.

      « In charge of etiquette and protocol, » Jeff replied.

      Asuka noted Makoto looking frantically between them, oscillating between hope and despair.

      « We did make promises, » he replied, « Our word has to be worth something. »

      « I think we can break the contract, our agreement was for room and board. If we don’t require those, we don’t have to pay. I believe we’ve lived up to our end of the bargain, and I don’t think Herself will be as stable a teacher as we’d hoped. Bad news from Happyland and she and Herself junior duck and cover. »

      « You aren’t making any sense, » Makoto complained.

      « We’re talking about Nerima, » Jeff told her, as if that explained everything.

      Evidently it does, Asuka thought of Makoto’s change from curiosity/frustration to terror of being told what it all meant.

      « Never mind then! » Makoto assured them. « So that means you two are planning to move here? » she asked as drably as she could.

      « That’s what we’re discussing, » Jeff told her.

      « So, what say you? » Asuka asked. Makoto raised her head to speak, then dropped it, clutching Jeff’s hands.

      « Honestly, I haven’t given up. As you have, » Jeff told her, « Even if NERV’s Herself doesn’t come looking, Nabiki and the others will. »

      « You have more faith in them that I do. If they cared, they would have made it here in less than the weeks we’ve been here. »

      « There is the question of how we get paid, » Jeff pointed out, « Things do cost money. »

      « You’ll find a way, there’s always the cleanup squad, » Asuka suggested.

      « There’s a team that clears up the messes, rescues the collateral damage and restores the homes and shops damaged or destroyed. »

      Makoto stared at him. « What . . . what do you mean? » she gasped, « There’s already a . . . we haven’t been . . . fighting for a couple of weeks. »

      « They diverted operations from Nerima, » Jeff told her delicately, calming her considerably. « So Langley, let’s just say it’s not a problem. »

      Asuka nodded. I’ve been watching Makoto watch us like she’s watching a tennis match, Asuka thought, Except she still doesn’t know how to score the game. Frankly, neither do I, I wish I could just tell her we’re staying. They need us a lot more than the others want us. I don’t care where I am, I just care that I’m doing something important. She heard Jeff chuckling, then he broke into a full guffaw. « I already know you’re nuts, » Asuka said, « I’d like to know what the manifestation is this time. »

      « The bad guys have to have a base and a support system, » Jeff explained to both girls, then concentrated on Asuka, « Imagine what would happen if we could introduce these –  » he switched the German,  » – God-cursed bastards –  » then back to Japanese, « – to an old friend, if these girls have managed to hold their own, and they’re just meat for our table . . . imagine what he could do! » Jeff’s smile showed a truly evil glee, Asuka’s grin mirrored it.

      Oh that would be just too delicious. ‘We’re invincible, invulnerable! You girls cannot hurt us!’ Asuka considered her friend’s reaction, ‘Oh good, hard-shelled morons for lunch.’ « Getting him here, » Asuka said, « You could manage it? »

      « They pulled Opera Man away from us with one of those portals, » Jeff said happily, « I can deliver him air express. If these jokers are ‘Generals’ their king/queen/god sound be just right for an aperitif for a smorgasbord of violence. »

      Makoto was completely lost and vaguely frightened by the transformation of the pair.

      « That wouldn’t even be fair, » he said, « Like a puppy against a main battle tank. »

      « When have you ever worried about giving an enemy a fair chance? » Asuka asked disparagingly.

      « True. I did give my word, and I still think Herself can be of more help. But if Rei’s grandfather can help you, then by all means, stay. It will give me another excuse to visit, and it will give them a resource in town. »

      And Makoto takes a dagger in the heart, Asuka thought.

      « Yes, you should do what you think best, » Makoto interjected to hide her torment.

      You really don’t want to risk being alone again, do you? Asuka wanted to ask, But your would-be husband is a man of his word, you’d better get used to that.

      « All right, I’ve said my piece. I suggest you two talk about this between yourselves. I’ll escort Ami home. »

      « Who’ll escort –  » Makoto fell silent, « Oh, of course. »

      Asuka stood and left.

Sailor Jupiter 5

      Ami looked up from her computer at Makoto’s dining room table, and looked at the returning redhead. « Asuka-sensei. It came out the same, » Ami told her, on the verge of terror.

      « Then I’ve dealt with the anomaly, » Asuka told her, « Always check the equipment first, then check your calculations. Often the answer is a misplaced symbol or a bit of dirt on a lens or pick up. »

      « Yes, Asuka-sensei. Are we going to get together again tomorrow? » Ami asked eagerly, eyes shining worshipfully again.

      Asuka stifled her frown. « That’s up to the youmas, » Asuka replied, « Isn’t it? »

      « Oh . . . I thought. I meant the game. »

      « No, the lessons of today have to be absorbed, » Asuka replied, « I’ll be here another few days. »

      « So have you figured out how to free them? » Ami asked as she walked beside the taller girl.

      If I could fix it so they always had to have one wrist touching, any combination of his’ and hers’, Asuka thought as she opened the door, then closed it behind them, I’d do that, but it’s all or nothing. Damn! Maybe they’ve build it if I offer them a quick death, or I’ll tell them I’ll tell Raccoon that they wanted him to suck the life out of the girl.

      « Asuka-sensei? » Ami asked, as the walked into the night.

      « No, I haven’t. But Raccoon, that is Jeff, will. I just gave him the clues. »

      « Then when he’s lose . . . will he be staying? » Ami asked shyly, « Makoto-chan is there for us . . . but who’s there for her? »

      « That is the question, isn’t it, » Asuka admitted, not wanting to jinx anything.

     « I’m sorry, » Makoto said, bowing as formally as she could, given the circumstances.

      « For what? If Langley’s analysis is correct, we both did it, we got what we wanted, although you did zap me. I figure close contact with Kuno Tatewaki makes up for it. »

      Makoto chuckled, then sobered. There’s no way to sugar-coat this to make it easier. « Should we do this . . . tonight? » Makoto asked. I don’t know what worries me more, if he’ll say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

      Jeff held up a coin. « You call heads or tails. » He tossed the coin.

      « Heads! »

      « Magician’s force, » he said before the coin landed. It rolled around on its edge and stayed there, « Okay, try again. »

      « Heads, » Makoto said, watched land and it roll around on its edge.

      « I was going to say a Magician’s force gives the semblance of a choice. heads or tails, but I never said what each means, so I’d control the outcome is. This is getting weird. » He picked up the coin, examined it and returned it to his pocket, retrieving a different coin.

      « If that one lands on its edge, we go get married tonight at Hino’s shrine, » Makoto told him, making him drop it. She laughed as he stomped on it when it landed. « That’s cheating. »

      « No, I’m just skewing the odds. I could have driven it into the floorboards. » He moved his foot, the tails side was up.

      She picked it up before he could, and tossed it so it would land out of his reach. This time it landed heads side up. « You ruined it! » she accused.

      « I was going to say we should wait until tomorrow, in any case, » he told her, « I don’t think either of us is in the right emotional state, not after everything in the last couple of days. »

      « Aren’t you afraid I’ll have another . . . dream? » she tried to sound teasing, she suspected she sounded petrified instead.

      « No, I’m not worried, I am concerned about ‘what happens next’? My powers have been growing, increasing. I have to find a way of controlling them, or I could really do some damage. That frightens me, that’s why I understand your friend Rei. She’s just impolite, not incorrect. What’s so funny? » he asked Makoto while she laughed.

      « Usagi has been trying to get into a finishing academy. »

      « ‘Shanty Irish is Shanty Irish’, » Jeff said, « How does that apply? »

      « What? »

      « An old saying, like putting lipstick on a pig. I don’t doubt your friend is nice, but able to change, to dance, to sing, to give a witty dialog. Answered my own question. It takes a level of energy and dedication she hasn’t displayed in `boring` tasks. If she’s motivated and stays that way, she’ll do fine. If she isn’t, she’ll wander off, and as for her being `nice`: nice is to good what sludge is to Chateau Lafite-Rothschild 1945. Nice is easy, good is very, very hard. The more powerful you are, the harder it gets. »

      « Why? » Makoto angrily demanded.

      « Because people need strength and character, and the only way to increase them is by losing, getting bumped and bruised by experiences, or assuming you might lose and taking steps. Nice people don’t want others to suffer, good people want hairless apes to grow into good people. Those goals are mutually exclusive a lot of the time, so nice people do a lot of evil in the world. »

      « She’s not like that. »

      « Okay, who besides you four has she recruited to fight the youma? Has she set up an intelligence network out canvassing the streets, how many hours a day does she spend going over the tactical, strategic and historical context of the conflict? The martial artist who trained me and the others would wake up, an hour of practice while he trained us, practiced on his way to school, practiced during the breaks, practiced during P.E., practiced for at least two hours after school, and dreamed it practically every night. That’s dedication, it also made him a slightly-warped individual because he had to sacrifice so much to get there. How many hours have even two of you spent together training? Mars and Jupiter are both martial artists, have they sparred? »

      « No, and neither of us have trained the others, » Makoto admitted, « And before you ask, I can see what a disaster giving Usagi training will be. I’d be afraid she’d kill herself with any karate weapons, and she’d cry if she got hit in sparring. »

      « You expect her to go out and kill demon-like creatures, but falling on a mat is beyond her? » he asked in disbelief.

      Makoto squirmed. « I know it sounds strange, » she admitted, « But she has a Destiny. » She was embarrassed by the capital, « To be the Moon Princess. »

      « Oh please! » he said disparagingly, « Destiny is just a set of orders from the past. Accepting it is just accepting the easy path. »

      « You don’t believe in destiny? » She was shocked.

      « No, I believe in free will. The Bible is replete with people talking God out of doing things, negotiating and bargaining with the Ruler and Creator of the universe. They’re never punished, except for a direct refusal, and sometimes they change his mind. Destiny is just people making demands of their ancestors. That’s not Destiny, that’s just giri, and I’m being polite. My `destiny` is to be chained to a stone pillar on an island in the South Pacific, along with three of my friends, and have my life’s-blood poured out on those pillars to open the door to the greatest weapon in the Universe, in fact it was used to create the universe it was in. So no, I refuse. Do I not believe in destiny? History, gods, God, etc. finds a way. If Usagi doesn’t become the Moon Princess, what happens? The world turns into a giant ice cube? That would happen whatever she is, or whether she can do anything about it. If someone gives her the key to the power to do something about it, if she accepts the responsibility she gets the power, that’s not Destiny, that’s just a price. A price I accept, Destiny is an excuse. »

      Makoto considered, « I . . . I need to think about that. »

      « I’m not telling you not to follow your friend, to guide and protect her, I’m telling you to do it because you decided to either reject or embrace the job, its advantages and disadvantages, as your decision, not because of some long-dead incompetent decided to foist their baggage on you. »

      Makoto guffawed at that. « Sometimes I wonder about our advisors and how . . . helpful they are, I mean, if we could beat these things, how good were the people who faced them back at the fall of the Moon Kingdom? »

      « They were probably out of practice, and if Usagi is a carbon-copy of the ruler, then they had eliminated the military, even the military impulse. The military’s sole job is to kill people and break things, or threaten to do so, without half-measures or respite. The better the threat, the less they will need to ply their trade. That’s why I’m talking about `nice`, holding that over somebody’s head is not nice, but it will save lives, which is good. If they had troops, a thousand years ago, they would have had many warrior cultures to choose from. Failing that, they could have set-up a ‘Red-Flag’ or ‘Top-Gun’ school to train. »

      « Is that really necessary? » Makoto asked, examined his expression, « You certainly think so. »

      « I’m from World War Two, and we fought wars very differently. Entire nations fought entire nations, not small groups of soldiers against small groups of soldiers. So the machinist at his workbench, or in his bed is a legitimate target, and if the old lady down the street got the chop, well that’s her tough luck. You’re horrified, good, you should be, » he told her, « But a bunch of people forgot that, and we humans flushed 100 million souls down the toilet because a bunch of nice, decent people couldn’t see evil staring them right in the face. The world learned what war meant, and they avoided the world war that should have happened in the 1960’s, and the one that should be going on right now. »

      Makoto grimaced. « Do you really think they’d really try and destroy us, our families -? »

      « Your entire culture, or so they believe. You are facing such a war, have you considered taking the war to them, instead of accepting their attacks on your territory? »

      « No. How would we get there? » Makoto asked, « I think I need to talk to our advisors. They usually claim amnesia when they don’t know something. » Maybe it’s my contact with him, she thought, But it is beginning to sound a little too convenient that they give us only some information.

      « I’d suggest reconnaissance or a hit and run raid, » Jeff suggested, « Not a long, drawn-out campaign, but I’d wait on that, until I can bring in some help. »

      « That’s what you and Asuka were chortling about, » Makoto asked crossly, « What kind of help? »

      « Oh, some heavy assistance, » Jeff said and smiled broadly.

      Makoto knew she wouldn’t get any answers

     Makoto sat at the table in her kitchen. It was a wonderful night, she thought, I never wanted it to end, just holding and being held. I know he’ll help us. I won’t lose him, and he won’t lose me, she thought, I guess why I’m afraid it won’t work rather than it will. She watched his intent expression and his fingers drifted across the fetter.

      Oh, nasty thought about those fingers drifting over and brushing something else. She suppressed a shudder.

      « Ready? » he asked.

      She nodded.

      He brought his fist down on the previously-unbreakable material. It didn’t shatter, it vanished.

      « Where -? »

      An explosion in the distance interrupted her.

      « Mass into energy, » he said, smiled, « I think I overloaded their collectors, » he said with an impish grin, « I hope they liked it. »

      « You! » she challenged as she sat in his lap, « You are awful! »

      « I believe in letting my enemies set the tone and the rules for the battles. Against Usagi, I’d probably limit myself to banana peels, candy with dyes in them, and adorable stuffed-animals. » He hugged her tightly. « That suddenly smell like rotten fish. »

      Makoto laughed at the vision of Usagi with green teeth, facing the `activated` bear that smelled awful, after she hugged it.

      « Against Rei . . . I always thought British Racing green was an ugly color. » He ran his hand over his scalp. « Add a puce rally stripe, and you have something really hideous. »

      « You wouldn’t really dye her hair!? Would you? » Makoto covered her mouth with both hands to hide her smirk at the idea.

      « No, worse. She’d see it, but no one else would. Can you imagine how she’d go nuts as she saw that fright wig and everybody else thought she was crazy? »

      Makoto had to hold onto his shoulders to avoid falling, she was laughing so hard. Imagine, Rei so sure of herself suddenly thinking she’d gone mad. Makoto laughed until her ribs ached. « Oh, » she said, wiping away tears, « That’s terrible, I don’t want to know what you’d do to Ami. I probably wouldn’t understand. »

      « As smart as she is, she’s only a Junior High School student. Langley and I are college graduates, and combat veterans, that gives us the advantage. The war gave us this experience, as clever as she is, and the rest of you are in your areas of expertise, you’re all inexperienced. I could probably get Ami so tied up thinking her way out of a problem, she’d be confused for days. » He sobered. « But the truth is, it’s the dreamy, dopey types, like Usagi, hard workers like Ami, even those passionate believers like Rei, that’s why I do this job. Fight for you, instead of against you, protecting the dreamers, especially those who can carry through on their dreams. »

      « So my dreams of getting married and running a flower shop . . . they don’t count? »

      « If you keep them to yourself? No. If you plan to share your skill to improve yourself, then, yes. The human race is an anomaly in the cold, dark emptiness of the universe. We actively believe in love and truth and justice, we may put a different spin on things, you believe more in an ordered society, I believe more in the rights of the individual, but the basis of the discussion remains the same: ‘What brings the most good to the most people?’ Few of the races I’ve encountered would even consider the question, either on their own or if posed to them. »

      « You live in a dark place, if this is only a single candle in all that cold emptiness, » she said, putting what she’d felt in his fondness into words.

      « That’s why I do it. Hope isn’t the promise of gold tomorrow, it’s the knowledge that gold will be there, as long as you don’t go look for it. »

      « And the one of you who guards the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow doesn’t like a dragon eating the sun, » Makoto said.

      « Actually, » Jeff said, « I have another dragon eat them. »

      Makoto was shocked when Jeff slid her off his lap and stood her up. « You have to go to school today, Junior High isn’t voluntary, and you haven’t gotten all the homework, I would have thought Ami would have brought it over. »

      « What are you going to be doing? »

      « There was a large explosion, I intend to find out what happened, and trace it back. »

      Makoto nodded.

      « We should still go to Usagi’s charm school. She promised it would be special. »

     Three youmas watched the school. « Why is the General so certain that we’ll find them here? »

      « I don’t care, » the second said, « I just follow orders. At least we don’t have to fight them, just watch. Right Three? Three?! »

      The two youmas looked around for their comrade.

      « He wander off to eat somebody? »

      « I don’t know, » the first replied, then looked around, realizing he was very much alone. « Two . . . Three? » He looked around in abject fear.

     Asuka watched as the youma showed growing terror at what had plucked its allies out of its vicinity. Not so fun is it? she thought, The fear is not so enjoyable when you’re the one who fears. I just hope you kick this up to your boss, let him look over his shoulder, wonder what’s hunting you.

      When the last youma vanished, Asuka left. I know somebody is watching me. she thought, But they don’t know someone else is watching them. She felt the skulker abruptly vanish, not of his own free will.

     « So were we invited, or are we crashing this? » Jeff asked politely.

      He looked so marvelous in that Tux, Makoto thought as she squirmed under his gaze, despite her own fancy dress, I still feel like a little girl playing dress-up. « Usagi did invite us. » She squeaked, she thought of her tone.

      « But no formal invitations were given? » Jeff asked.

      She reluctantly nodded.

      He removed his arm from hers, and instead offered it to Asuka.

      Makoto shuddered. The change is startling! Makoto thought in spite of herself, I really do feel like a kid next to these two. They seem so much older, and more mature.

      « Our students, » Asuka said, including Makoto, Ami, Rei and Minako in that description. Jeff nodded then all began walking.

      « Why are we their students? » Rei whispered to Makoto.

      « If she wanted to learn about being a princess, why not Sandhurst? » Asuka asked, « That’s a question to all of you, Rei. »

      « Or VMI, » Jeff agreed, « Or Annapolis, or West Point? »

      « What are you two talking about? » Rei demanded.

      « Tone and volume, » Asuka replied with iron in her voice.

      Under Asuka’s steely gaze, Rei seemed to collapse in on herself slightly. « What are you two teachers talking about? »

      Asuka continued to stare at Rei, holding her gaze fierce until the girl visibly wilted. « Speak when you are spoken to, » Asuka intoned, « Kids these days, no manners, no class. »

      « Excuse me, » Ami said, her hand raised.

      « Yes, Ami-dear? » Asuka replied sweetly.

      « You aren’t much older than we are. »

      « I was born in 1933. I am much older than you, » Asuka replied.

      « You also died in a bombing raid of Stuttgart in 1944, » Ami said.

      « So you should respect your departed ancestors, » Asuka replied smoothly.

     The doorman had his orders. « Invitation? » he asked.

      Jeff extracted a magnifying glass and inspected the white gloves the man was wearing, he removed a pocket-sized clip board and made some notes.

      « Please say that again, » Jeff commanded the now-sweating man as he examined the shoulderboards, lapels, making furious notes while Asuka just stared at him, as if offended by his very existence.

      « Invitations? » the man said without the certainty and disdain his first comment had contained.

      « IN-vitation, IN-vitation, IN-vitation, please. You left out the ‘please’. Even if the King is speaking to scum, some thing simply aren’t done. You left out the ‘please’, it simply isn’t done, » Jeff told him in a nasal buzz, while orbiting him with the magnifying glass, occasionally flicking bits of invisible lint or dust off the man’s uniform, « When one had breeding, when one simply is better than the rabble, there is no need to tell them. It simply isn’t done. They either know, or they are stupid. Do you know why you don’t you don’t argue with the stupid? »

      « Ah, it isn’t done? » the man offered nervously, sweating buckets now.

      « Disgraceful, » Asuka intoned, as if nothing better could be expected.

      « Good Heavenzz no, because some people might not be able to tell you apart, » Jeff buzzed at him, still orbiting, examining, writing down the observations, « Bad for the side, don’t you know, makes them question. Terrible thing, questions in the wrong place. Leads to all manner –  »

      « GOOD LORD! » Jeff shouted, nearly causing the man to wet himself, « He wasn’t told! » Jeff turned to Asuka, and the other girls who were one step away from busting their slats to keep from laughing or even smiling. « This is an inspection! » Jeff stood at his full height and changed from supercilious to commanding, « We are supposed to stand around like tradesmen while your mistress hides the inferior students, » he loaded the sentence with all the disdain he could, « Your mistress told us that we were supposed to see the final examination, the students, the methods and results. » Jeff got face-to-face with the terrified doorman, « We were supposed to come in unexpectedly. » Jeff advanced, backing the man against the door, « How can a surprise inspection be scheduled? Can you answer me that? »

     The doorman stammered something unintelligible. Jeff yanked the clipboard from an alcove near the door, signed them all in and handed it back. « There, we have completed the requisite paperwork. Lady Langley, girls, attend. » He walked through the door, Asuka strode after him. Makoto curtseyed to the man, and was glad the others did the same.

      « I thought you couldn’t lie! » Makoto said when she caught up with him.

      « If your friend is the princess of a system-wide empire, she outranks the teachers and she did tell us to ‘drop by’, » he told her, « I don’t lie. I just didn’t fill in all the blanks, and I embroidered the part of faithful retainer a bit. »

      « Ah. » Still sounded like lying to me, she thought.

     The interior of the place was typical `grand style`. Tacky, Jeff thought, Why the Baroque period, or the antebellum South, why not the Regency, or even Art Deco. Why do people, trying to be `elegant`, always make places like this look like an upscale New Orleans whorehouse?

      « This place reminds me of a French cathouse the British had commandeered as headquarters, » Langley said in German, « Right down to the gilt cherubs and the phoney pillars, all that’s missing is the smell. »

      Jeff ruthlessly stifled laughter or a smile, instead looking stern and disinterested. I just have to copy Langley, he thought, She manages it effortlessly.

      They surveyed the two rows, one of boys, the other of girls, both looking like they were facing a firing squad, and their fellow `prisoners` were their executioners. A particularly severe-looking woman waited, watching over the proceedings. She caught Jeff’s eye, he bowed formally in the European style, Asuka gave a bob, the other girls managed to curtsey without embarrassing themselves. There was much tittering among the students at their poor showing. Rather than respond, they had to follow Jeff and Langley as they marched right between the lines.

      « Ah, Countess, » Jeff said as he approached the headmistress. He took her proffered hand, turned it and kissed her knuckles. Passed the first test, he thought as he straightened. Langley got the other four Scouts lined up echelon right, and silenced Usagi with a glare.

      Good ole, Mark 10, it always works, Jeff thought. « When you didn’t respond to my communique, I felt it best to come here and see the facilities and curriculum myself. It is not unheard of that claims made by others are just that, claims. I do pray we are not interfering. If it is troublesome to be here, we can schedule a more formal appointment. Her Highness was most adamant that we should see that the school met my exacting standards. »

      « Her . . . Highness? » the Countess stammered. « I’m sure her Highness –  » she practically drooled over the word, « Will find our school of the highest quality. »

      « I’m sure, but there is always the question of suitability. »

      « That girl seems to be waving to you. »

      « To my students, » Jeff commented automatically, « You’ll note they are not embarrassing themselves. » Because they are all within Langley’s reach, he thought, And they know what would happen. Fighting youma, dating youma is preferable.

      « She’s one of our most disappointing students, » she said respectfully, « We’ll have to let her go, I’m afraid. »

      Then why did you let her in, in the first place, Jeff wanted to ask, but the woman’s transformation startled him. Odd skin color, clams seeming everywhere: dress, hair, body. Then Mamoru and the General appeared. On cue, Jeff thought of the students, Scatter and scream. They must drill that in school. « How droll, » Jeff commented and gestured. The Senshi and the other kids all vanished.

      « YOU! » Mamoru shouted and charged.

      « Peasant, » Jeff commented, turned to the transformed youma, « Don’t you agree. Disputes needn’t be solved with fisticuffs. » Jeff gestured at the floor as the invisible Senshi transformed. Mamoru suddenly went skidding across the floor as if on a skating rink. Jeff took the appalled youma’s arm and led her away as Langley charged the General.

      « Youthful high spirits, » he explained away her attack. A fog began filling the room. Good Mercury, he thought, Make an appearance.

      Jeff sat the youma down in a chair at the wall, out of the battle. He extracted a flask and poured a small dollop in the cap. « The sun’s above the yardarm, » he said as he offered the cap to the youma.

      She drank, he took a short swig directly from the flask while Jupiter and Mercury stepped out of the fog.

      « Now I have you, » the youma said, and seemed alarmed when she couldn’t move.

      « Jupiter, find Moon, the Countess needs an exorcism, » Jeff told Jupiter and Mercury. Mercury left, Jupiter stared at Jeff and the frightened, paralyzed youma. Jeff seemed to ignore her. « So many people forget that politeness came from everyone at court not only being armed, but having assassins available. I’m a sentimentalist, I think poison is so much more mannerly than a knife in the dark, » he told the two in a `jolly` tone, then he concentrated on the youma, « You aren’t going to make a scene, are you my dear? »

      The youma couldn’t speak, she could barely shake her head. Jeff stepped away. Jupiter caught his arm, her expression horrified. « The poison only works on youmas. » He patted her cheek. « I’m not a complete monster. »

      « I think you enjoy scaring me, » Jupiter accused. The two stepped apart as Moon arrived. Jupiter directed her towards the youma.

      Jeff headed to see if Langley needed any help. The General’s attacks and shielding her from that fire burned away the fog. The general looked worried. One of his Nerima-esque leaps, found him landing practically atop Langley, who’d raced to intercept him.

      Go get him Langley, thought as he considered where he might be needed, The civilians are being evacuated by Venus and Mars, Mercury’s watching everything as are the cats. Good, don’t get distracted, aim at the real target. Langley and I occupied the secondaries, Moon and Jupiter have one neutralized, Langley has the other near the breaking point. So, what do I -?

      « You! » the furious yell came, « I will destroy you! »

      Enter, Opera Man, now Langley turns up the heat on the General, Jeff thought as he turned to face his new opponent. Intent on drawing him away from potential hostages or an escape.

      « Please! » Moon charged her once-colleague, as she glomped his arm, « Don’t you rememb –  »

      « Away! » he roared and shoved her, sprawling her on the floor, then froze in indecision.

      « Langley! Now! » Jeff shouted. I don’t need to watch, he thought as the General shrieked in pain, Jeff let his mystic senses take over from his more mundane ones, Wait for it. Wait for it. He felt the gateway to the Negaverse open, attempt to swallow up the critically wounded General, Tuxedo Mask and possibly Moon too. Jeff felt along the pathway, learning the twists and turns to get to their target. Once he had it, he shoved this end out of kilter.

      With an oddly muffled explosion, the General vanished. Moon and Opera Man remained, still staring at each other, Moon’s eyes tearing up, looking for all the world like the lost little girl she was, rather than the combat leader and princess she claimed to be. Opera Man seemed confused that someone had hurt her, and that someone could only have been him.

      Jeff also noted Jupiter standing in close enough to him that she could have intervened if Tuxedo Mask had attacked.

      « Mamoru! » Moon leapt to her feet, throwing herself into Tuxedo Mask’s arms.

      « I think a full purification ritual might be a good idea, » Jeff said, staying near to prevent an unseen enemy from snatching the pair back to their territory. He turned to Jupiter. « Thanks for the cover. » Not that I needed it, he thought, But it’s good to see, personally and professionally.

      Jupiter blushed as she joined the others encircling Moon and Mask. He ignored the angry look from Mars, and the jealousy from Venus and Mercury. Langley sidled up behind Jeff, her back to him so the pair could cover the entire area.

      « This gonna work out? » Langley whispered.

      « The battle or the relationship? » Jeff asked as the Senshi started glowing.

      « What do you think? » Asuka asked sarcastically, « I could have killed him. Easily. »

      « I thought you didn’t like to kill humans. »

      « It isn’t, or haven’t you felt that yourself? »

      « I felt it, I just didn’t think you could, » Jeff replied.

      Moon finished glowing and gave Mamoru a Shampoo-esque hug and turned on a Soun-style waterworks. « You’re safe! I’m so happy! » Moon wailed.

      « You can’t kill her, » Jeff told Langley in German.

      « Why? » she asked in German, « You reserving the privilege for yourself? »

      « No, I don’t want to kill all the others all at once, » Jeff said, watching the others clap and jump around the reunited pair.

      « Good point, » Langley said as she looked over his shoulder.

     Makoto gulped as Asuka ‘cut her out of the herd’, one of Jeff’s borrowed expressions. The others continued to walk and chat to each other as they walked home.

      « You and I need to get a few things clear, » Asuka told her.

      « Yes, ma’am. »

      « Why are you making this so hard? » Asuka asked without rancor.

      « I don’t understand, » Makoto admitted.

      Asuka seemed to be restraining her temper by sheer will power.

      I wish Rei would learn to do that, Makoto thought, She’s too easily distracted by her temper. Still, Asuka intimidates me more than Rei ever could.

      « You are going to lose him, is that what you want? » Asuka asked sharply.

      Makoto felt a chill in her guts.

      « What is it you dreamed of, something you always wanted? »

      « Uh, » Makoto said as her mind raced, « I wanted to be a florist, or own a bakery shop. Didn’t I tell you? »

      « Those are awfully girly dreams, » Asuka observed neutrally.

      « Yes, » Makoto admitted in her shame, « You think they’re silly. »

      « I think you’re being willfully stupid, » Asuka said sharply, and stared Makoto down as she tried to challenge Asuka’s avid statement. « You’re tall, the fighter, yet you’re dreams – are girly – what did I tell you about the things he wanted? »

      Makoto remembered, but was still totally lost. « Home and hearth you said. »

      Asuka nodded, some of her anger visibly subsiding. « Yes, and what is the big part of that, think simply, men are simply creatures. »

      Makoto simply shook her head.

      Asuka frowned and shook her head, more disappointed than angry. « Simply put, all men want to slay dragons for their ladylove, and get affirmation, intimacy and approval for the deed, and the girl who gives it to them, they’ll crawl through broken glass with their lips, to keep her happy. Don’t frown, it took me a long while to figure that out. Once I did, it was a lot easier to get what I wanted. »

      « I don’t want to . . .  » She wilted under Asuka’s stare.

      « Be manipulative like me? » Asuka asked with a dark chuckle, « And you don’t think Usagi’s constantly bursting into tears isn’t the same kind of emotional blackmail? She makes you do what she wants or she’ll make you feel terrible. The trick is to offer dragons to slay, and make him feel wonderful about `rescuing` you. That’s a way different thing, » Asuka explained, « It also gives you your greatest wish, » she said enthusiastically.

      « What? » Makoto asked as enthusiastically.

      Asuka slapped her own face, and muttered something in a language Makoto couldn’t recognize, and a harassed tone she could. Asuka took a deep breath to calm down. « What your dream is . . . is to be a girly girl. »

      « But he hates that! » Makoto took a step back from Asuka’s frustrated glare. « I’ll speak only when spoken to, » Makoto offered carefully.

      « No, » Asuka said with a calm that her expression and posture said was only the pause before someone fired the cannon. « But please think of what you are going to say, before you say anything. »

      « Okay. »

      « Examine what you know his real feelings about this are. You don’t have to guess, you know. You also know you could play a role. »

      « I could tell him . . . I understand, » she said as she realized what Asuka had been hinting at. « I can be what I want, until I have to play the role of warrior. »

      « Exactly, » Asuka said as she patted Makoto’s shoulder.

      « Why is this so important to you? » Makoto asked.

      « When you have a sister, you’ll understand, » Asuka said, heading off towards the temple as night began to fall.

      When Makoto arrived home, she found dinner on the stove and all the school books laid out on the table, Jeff stood at the stove, paging through one of the books.

      « What do you think? » she asked, taking off her shoes as she entered. My home, I want it to be our home, she thought.

      « That the math is what we should start on first, » he said idly, stirring what he was cooking, « The book is terrible, if I’d known this, I would have invited Langley over for dinner and gotten her help. But I remember enough to get you through this. »

      « I could have cooked dinner, » she offered.

      « No tasting it, » he told her, smiled, « Besides, I want you to set up each of the equations, don’t try to solve any of them, just write what you know from the book, and what the problem is asking for. »

      « Something to look forward too, » Makoto said sourly. Let him `win`, she reminded herself, This is one `dragon` I would like him to slay.

      « Ami hasn’t been able to help. »

      « Ami hasn’t had to earn her bread as a tutor. I have. It’s also obvious to her, Rei or Minako would have been a better study partner, they’d have to work on it and could talk you through the process. You keep confusing smart with experienced, and intelligent with comprehension, » he told her as he carried the rice to the table, « She’s smarter, probably smarter than Langley, but she hasn’t had challenges that take days to work out, or one that has had a dozen `correct` answers. For example, has she ever tried a fist fight with you? »

      « Of course not. »

      « Because you are more experienced and have training. Same with Asuka and me, we’ve gotten the education and experience. In college, you learn explaining why something didn’t work is more important than doing it right the first time. Put that aside, let’s eat. »

      « Yeah! » Makoto said eagerly.

Sailor Jupiter 6 By Daniel Gibson

      Ami stared at the ceiling as she lay on her bed, hugging her pillow to her chest. I finally felt I was really doing all that I could, she thought, I felt I was protected too, not so vulnerable. She couldn’t get the image out of her mind, of the girl who’d crafted the tactics for them. Ami sighed and hugged her pillow tightly. Makoto has her knight, I wish I could show how grateful I am, she thought, She’s a harsh `mistress`, but I believe it’s only because she cares. When we actually were in combat, she looked out for us, she protected us. She sighed, rolled on her side and looked at all the books. Makoto and Usagi have someone for them, Rei has her all to herself. I bet they’re laughing and talking about stuff, like a sleepover, Ami thought and sighed again, I wish she were my sempai, she’s so smart, so demanding, she wants the best for us and won’t settle for anything less.

      She laid on her side and smiled. « Asuka, » Ami said and wondered, What can I do to spend more time with you?

     Asuka slammed onto the mat and rolled to a kneeling position. She spotted two of the targets in the air, flamed both of them as she dodged the old man’s charge. « Your teacher must have been something exceptional, » Grandfather Hino told her as she rolled out of the way.

      « He was, » Asuka bounced to her feet, « But I’d never tell him that. »

      The old man laughed and threw three targets in three different directions. Asuka tried to incinerate the one heading directly at her, but it didn’t flash. She flamed the other two and fired a stronger beam of heat at the third as she twisted out of the way of the old priest as she bore down on the target. Still it resisted all the force she was willing to use in these close confines.

      The superheated object hit the ground, and shattered. « Using a tile! That’s cheating! » Asuka said, as the man called a time out.

      « When does an enemy play by the rules? » the old man tossed her a towel, as he toweled off and sat down. « It’s also a good sign that you didn’t use your full strength. Don’t tell me you couldn’t have destroyed it, no matter how fireproof it was. »

      « And set you or something else ablaze? » Asuka said as she sat down next to him, accepting the chilled tea he poured for her.

      « Control, » the man said, smiled, « Since you’re leaving soon, I thought I should give you a severe test: would your desire to win overcome common sense? »

      « Maybe a year ago, » Asuka admitted, « I’ve learned how to survive losing. I’m aware of unwritten rules. Burning down the entire temple isn’t really a win. » She smiled wanly.

      The old man smiled. « Yet you aren’t planning on staying . . . to help the Sailor Senshi. »

      Asuka didn’t react, kept sipping her tea. If you were half as smart as you think you are, Asuka thought, You’d know your granddaughter is the one who really needs this training. Unless, you’ve ordered her to spy on me, and these lessons.

      He laughed. « Very well, keep your secrets. From what I’ve seen and read, they’ll need all the help they can get. »

      « Then why haven’t you offered them training? You fought in the Pacific War. I fought in a war immediately after, so I know what infantry, artillery and air power are supposed to do in proper coordination. I already know they don’t. »

      « Children who don’t know war, » the old man said sadly, « It was a dream, now it might be a nightmare. »

      « There are enemies a-plenty out there to fight, » Asuka said, stared up at the stars, « The frontier is out there, among the stars. Getting us out of the nest and back on the endless road, that’s going to be the hard part. »

      The man nodded.

     « So the ellipse’s center is at 3, 4, the minor axis is 5 and major axis is 8? » Makoto asked, glancing worriedly across the table at Jeff, then staring at the equations as if they were a charging youma that would turn and bite her. As math always seems to, Makoto thought, Only physics is worse.

      « Yes, » Jeff told her with amusement.

      « Yes? It’s correct? » she said breathlessly, hardly daring to believe.

      « Yes. »

      « I got it. I got it! I can understand it, » she shouted as she scooped him out of his chair and went dancing through her kitchen, « I got it! I got it! I understand! It is easy! » she happily proclaimed to the universe, as she spun through the house. Feeling a joy she hadn’t felt in a long while, feeling a elimination of periods of endless drudgery and confusion of study, of feeling a host of possibilities opening for her instead.

      She stopped dancing for a moment, looking intently at the slightly stunned and dizzy boy she had in her grip. I only wish I could show him my AT field at this moment! Let him feel the joy and exhilaration I’m feeling! she thought as she pressed him against the wall with her body and kissed him, long and passionately, feeling him tenatively, then more confidently, return it. Their arms touching, holding each other as if frightened they’d lose the other like smoke.

      When she broke the kiss, she blushed furiously, but enjoyed his disappointment at the break. She smiled at her partner, before diving in for another deeper kiss, her hands roaming further than she had before, holding him tightly against her. I can feel my heart beating frantically, and I can feel his racing, she thought in delight. She felt like she was being buoyed up, supported in what she wanted and what she dreamed. I also know our dreams compliment each other, she thought, I can’t imagine how good this can be.

      She broke the kiss, easing her grip and settling into his arms. « I know as a gentleman, you’ll have to refuse, » she said softly, « But I’ve always been the tough one, the warrior, the first-line fighter. » She looked up at him, smiling demurely. « Would it terribly harm my marriageability, » she paused to let him wince at that, « To let me play the soft, girly girl, who needs her big strong warrior to protect her? » She laid her head on his shoulder, her fingers tracing patterns on his shirt. « Just once, can I let you look out for me, not because we’re fettered, but because I’m troubled, and I don’t want to be unprotected. »

      He cradled her close, not speaking.

      It’s his way, she reminded herself, He’ll say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, once he’s weighed all the points and come to a decision.

      « You do know, I’ll have to return to Nerima soon, » he said. She nodded. « And you’ll have to get used to sleeping alone again, when I’m gone. »

      That’s not a ‘no’, she thought. « That doesn’t change my request, » she told him as she snuggled against him.

      « Then yes. »


      « Tonight, tomorrow no. »

      She frowned where he couldn’t see it, her cheek pressed against his chest. Half-a-loaf, she admitted to herself, But it’s a start . . . besides, nobody said I have to sleep in the bed tomorrow. She smiled.

     « Concentrate, » the older man told her as they sat on the stone courtyard. Asuka did, focusing the beam of heat to a pinpoint before slowly boring through the stone. « Much better, » the old man patted her shoulder, he’d learned his lesson from earlier.

      « Thank you, teacher. »

      « Now send a wider beam a short distance in. Eventually, I want the cuts to form a square corner. »

      « Yes, sir, » Asuka said, sighed and began the task.

      « Your progress and control are remarkable, » the old man said earnestly, then in a troubled tone, « Yet it isn’t good enough, for you at least. »

      « I master the symptoms, teacher, not the disease. »

      « Your anger. You seem to have a tight rein on that as well. For all your power. » The old man rubbed his head. « You’re reaction is far gentler than some I’ve received from my granddaughter’s friends. There is something specific troubling you. »

      Asuka sighed as she completed the exercise. The best mills couldn’t have cut straighter corners, more precise angles into the stone. « I’m worried about my friend, although someone pointed out, he’s more like my brother. He and his new ladyfriend have been getting along well. »

      « Concern or jealousy? » The old man smiled, the smile faded as Asuka didn’t react.

      « Expectation. He hasn’t had much luck. Either she’s promised to someone else, or she has to leave, or she can’t handle the life we lead. »

      « Like the Sailor Senshi? »

      « Far more, » Asuka said quietly, setting the stone aside, « It all seems to be going well, that almost guarantees it will come apart. »

      « Perhaps this will be the time. »

      « That’s what I keep telling myself, » Asuka said, « I just can’t quite believe it. »

      The old man nodded. « It is something neither of us can change. It is fully their problem, and must be left for them to deal with it. You’re going to hate me, » he said, « Not for the challenge, but my mispronunciation of duodesahedron. »

      « Dodecahedron, » Asuka said, « Twelve-sided regular polygon. »

      « Ah, I meant a twenty-sided regular polygon. »

      « Yes. I’m sorry, I can’t just leave it alone. It’s not my nature, and I know they’ll trip each other up with their own doubts. ‘You can keep your God-damned lawnmower’. » Asuka selected a rock and examined it closely, and decided what chips to clear away to clear away to create the shape. The old man left her to her task.

      Perhaps I should have a fortune made, and have the two of them receive a blessing, the old man thought, Call them out here and talk to them about things. He glanced back at Asuka, impressed by the girl’s power, control and desire for excellence, But her maturity, he thought, And her ability to trust, that needs work. A lot of work, and the best one to do it isn’t helping. « Rei, you can quit spying on us and talk to your grandfather. »

      His granddaughter practically jumped out of her hiding place.

      « Tell me what you know about the girl’s friend and his girlfriend. »

      « Ah . . . grandfather, I –  »

      « Now, » he said calmly as he walked, Rei fell in beside him.

      « You can’t approve, » she exclaimed.

      « Because he’s undoubtedly a gaijin? I doubt that we’ll affect the outcome, and I thought you were too `modern` to be worried about such things, » the man teased, enjoying his granddaughter’s sour look.

     Makoto woke slowly, moved to find someplace more comfortable. Pillow’s awfully lumpy, she slowly remembered why the `pillow` was lumpy, Not lumpy, boney. She opened her eyes and looked up at his bemused expression. « Is everything funny to you? » she asked. It’s too early to be so happy, she thought.

      « Only that you are the most active sleeper I’ve ever seen. »

      She paled and fully awakened. « I . . . I didn’t have another – dream? »

      « No, but you did talk to, I presume, your parents . . . and Ken. Very hard on a man’s ego. Cuddled up with a pretty girl, and she calls out some other man’s name. »

      She buried her face in his chest in embarrassment.

      He stroked her hair gently. « I think you’ve got a lot of unresolved issues with your parents, and Ken. »

      « Ken . . . I might be able to resolve. » She craned her neck to look at him. « How am I going to resolve . . . what I have to . . . with my parents? »

      « Shamanism. After school, we’ll work on something. » He smiled at her.

      Only one word kept her heart from melting at that smile. « School. » She frowned, she racked her memory. « Did we do all the homework last night? »

      « Yes, of course, » he said as if it were obvious.

      « So that’s why you don’t have to go to school, » she accused, « You already know everything. »

      « Not everything, » he said, filled with false humility, « I’ve got a diploma in Chemical Engineering from Harvard. College graduates don’t have to go to Junior High School. Unless they’ve got a nut as a guardian. »

      « Ah, » Makoto said, she snuggled against him, « I’m going back to sleep, and there’s nothing you can do about it. »

     « So, » Usagi teased as they stood in the school yard, « Has he tried anything? » She and Minako giggled.

      Makoto blushed. Laugh, I’ve got my revenge. « It was wonderful, » she said, clasping her hands under her chin, « So clever. I felt like dancing, if fact I did. Picked him up, held him against me and danced around the entire apartment. Then I just held him in my arms, our hearts pounding in unison. » She smiled happily. There wasn’t a girl in the immediate vicinity who didn’t either have a dreamy expression, or was giving her visual daggers.

      « And that was just doing the math homework. Then we did the history homework together. »

      Minako and Usagi fell face-first onto ground.

      « Waking up, looking into his face. » Makoto sighed again. « I almost forgot I had school today. » She glanced at her Senshi friends, Minako and Usagi both had thunderheads over them, and the most depressed expressions she had ever seen. « Of course that was at the kitchen table, » she added, « I’m not saying a word about . . . what happened between. »

      « The kitchen TABLE! » Minako screamed.

      « What did you do at the kitchen table? » Ami asked as she approached the two fuming blondes.

      « Oh. Math homework. Circles, ellipses and parabolas, » Makoto said, and walked off humming a tune.

      Ami sighed. « I wish I could find a partner who loved math that much. »

      « One plus one equals one, » Minako said as she stormed off after Makoto.

      « WAAH! » Usagi announced her displeasure with the universe in general, and her part in it in particular.

      Makoto skipped towards the classroom, knowing every bounce hammered her friends’ mood down a little more. ‘Dateless Makoto’, she thought, I think I will marry him.

     Jeff sat alone in the park. The youma here had become aware of him too late. Its dismantled remains would help him focus the spell as he cast it. Searching through the myriad universes, examining each one, moving closer to his goal. A single, reptilian, flaming eye appeared before him.

      A ring-a-ding-ding to you too, he thought as he sidestepped it and continued on his task. As he closed in on his real target. The pair of baleful, yellow eyes regarded him cooly.

      « I had not thought to see you so soon, » the gravelly voice was filled with amusement.

      « So soon? It’s been weeks, » Jeff replied with curiosity.

      « Not from my point of view. » The eyes never blinked, continued to stare, to look at him and through him. « But perhaps Einstein was correct. »

      « I’m going to need your help. »

      « You usually do. » A rough rumble served as a chuckle

      « A little wholesale slaughter. »

      « Wholesale? » the voice said in horror and umbrage, « I can get it for you at cost. »

      Jeff frowned. He’s in one of those moods. « Then let me tell you about the opposition. »

      Within minutes, peals of harsh laughter echoed through the area. Jeff knew the ‘Negaverse’ was not going to like that laughter, and they were going to hear a lot of it. For a little while.

     « I don’t see why I have to be here, » Rei complained.

      « Because he invited you and your grandfather, » Asuka said as she grinned with the old man, who suddenly broke into a huge smile.

      Makoto and that boy approached, hand in hand. Makoto saw them and tried to yank her hand loose, but the boy didn’t let go. « Hee, hee, this is the one you were so worried about, » her grandfather kidded Asuka, who took it good-naturedly.

      Can’t they sense it? she wanted to shout, Feeling either one too close is like finger nails across a chalkboard. Both together is like a toothache! She wanted to scream and yell and run away from the feelings gnawing at her self-control. At least we aren’t infecting the shrine with this, she thought, I can feel the places Asuka has walked, even days after she passed a spot. Better here, in one of the haunts of the youmas. This looks like it was a nice shop.

      « Besides, I’m always willing to see another practitioner practice, » her grandfather told Rei firmly, implying that she should also, « This is the basis of our faith, it’s like seeing a piece of living history. »

      So this is why you had me do a fire reading, even though you’d already done one, Rei thought worriedly, I know what I saw, darkness and corruption all seething around both of them. I couldn’t see anything except unhappiness between Makoto and him. What did you see, grandfather? Something different?

      « Jeff, » Makoto said nervously, « Do we . . . need all these people? » She didn’t raise her head to look at them.

      « They won’t be taking part in your communion, » Jeff assured her, « But they will be here in case something tries to take advantage of the situation. »

      « We will defend you, » her grandfather insisted, « Although the Sailor Senshi might do a better job. » He peered over at Rei, as she picked herself off the ground. « Rei-chan you tripped? »

      « Just finding my footing, Makoto fell too. »

      « She swooned in her lover’s arms, » her grandfather said sweetly, his hands clasped and eyes all a-sparkle, then to Asuka, « Kids today, no appreciation of romance. Don’t put her back on her feet too fast lad, enjoy having her in your arms. »

      « Way ahead of you, » Jeff told the old man, then whispered to Makoto, « You’re supposed to close your eyes and go limp. Then I lean close to check if you’re okay, you wake and we brush lips. »

      Rei stared at the ceiling in disgust.

      « Jeff! » Makoto said in a cutely embarrassed tone, covering her face with both hands.

      I’m going to be sick, Rei thought.

      « Hey, just because your generation thinks rutting like weasels is the height of romance, » Asuka began.

      « AKK! » Rei said.

      « You fell down again, granddaughter, » her grandfather said, « Are you feeling all right? »

      Rei glared at all of them. You’re all doing this on purpose, she thought as she stood up and tried to regain her dignity. Asuka and her grandfather chuckling and exchanging eyebrow raises like a pair of old war buddies, didn’t help. Asuka set down the parcels she’d brought while Jeff used his cane to draw a pair of concentric circles in the debris surrounding Makoto.

      Rei knew quite a bit about magic. But I’ve never seen that kind of pattern, two simple circles, she thought, then looked at what Jeff unpacked, Nor a fringed jacket like that . . . he’s got bones and steel nuts tied in the fringes, what is this?! She looked at the herbs Asuka had carefully placed and knew those were also part of the ritual. The length of pipe and the short-bladed screwdriver were almost the last straw. None of the others find any of this the least bit strange, she thought, Or it’s all so strange they don’t know what to think. Makoto is fixated on him. Asuka and grandfather are taking it all in stride, and he’s using them as if nothing is wrong. What kind of ritual is this? ‘Living history’? They didn’t use screwdrivers in any Shinto or Buddhist ritual I’ve ever heard of!

      Finally, he sat down in the inner circle, across from him sat Makoto. A small brazier set between them, Asuka leaned close and gestured, dropping something small and glowing bright-yellow into the empty brazier. She quickly withdrew outside the outer circle. He began speaking and rapped the pipe with the handle of the screwdriver, making an odd ringing sound. Asuka stood outside the outer circle with Rei and her grandfather.

      Makoto added a bundle of herbs to the brazier, they began smoldering, then grandfather gave Asuka a nod.

      Rei tried to focus on the words Jeff was speaking. He’s only a few meters away, and I can’t make them out, she thought, Makoto is nodding off. She glanced at her grandfather. He’s studying the process. Asuka’s tipping her head back and taking a deep breath, Rei thought, then took a step back as Asuka lowered her head, It’s as if something else is looking out of her eyes. Rei shivered as those eyes fell on her, measured her, and found her not worth its time. It went on to scan the area. Rei felt very small and vulnerable. I wish I could be Sailor Mars right now, she thought, Not just Hino Rei.

      She glanced around nervously and waited. Makoto was still nodding off. Like the others say Usagi does in class, and she sometimes does when somebody is talking to her. I want to shout or throw something to get her to pay attention.

      « Quite a trick, to induce a trance in a novice, » her grandfather whispered to her, « I should have used it when I was training you. »

      Rei considered the process more carefully.

     Makoto walked through the clouds. She wanted to shout to someone, anyone. Please don’t leave me alone, she wished to whoever was listening.

      « You aren’t alone, » a calm, male voice she instantly recognized came to her ears.

      Makoto froze. I can’t turn around. I can’t turn around. I can’t turn around, she thought with overwhelming dread.

      « Mako-chan, is there anything wrong? » a pleasant female voice she also recognized asked.

      The two voices flooded Makoto with memories, of picnics and trips, `dull` times together, even getting scolded for various misdeeds. I can’t look, I can’t look, I can’t look, raced through her mind, I couldn’t bear if they really weren’t there. I’d die if I looked and they didn’t approve. I . . . I don’t know what to do! Someone please tell me what to do!

      Makoto fell to her knees, covered her face and began crying uncontrollably. She felt the two pairs of arms encircle her, heard the soothing voices without being able to make out the words they spoke to her.

      Slowly her sobs receded, and she could talk to the people who had returned, just to speak with her.

     Rei nearly jumped out of her skin when Makoto gasped, as if she were drawing her first breath in a new life. Her friend looked around as if seeing the world for the first time. She looked at Rei and smiled.

      Something’s possessed her body, Rei thought as she readied an ofunda, I almost think she’s possessed her body, rather than simply returning it. There’s something . . . different, almost alien.

      Makoto’s gaze fell on Jeff, the sagging figure across the circle from her. She threw herself at him, knocking the brazier out of the way and grappling him tightly. Rei prepared herself to strike, noted the unease in both her grandfather and Asuka.

      Makoto let out a sob that shook the rafters, « I’m so happppyyyy! »

      Rei hung her head. She’s been possessed by dumpling-head, she thought desperately, clapped her hands, There’s nothing I can do.

      Makoto had crawled into his lap, and continued to grip him fiercely and wail. Asuka snuffed out the contents of the brazier and began rubbing out the circles with her foot.

      « Brilliant, » her grandfather told Rei quietly, « A first-class job! »

      This is going to net me a lecture and a whole bunch of his `lessons` but . . . she resigned herself to her fate before asking, « What? I saw a slight shift, but that’s all. »

      « You saw the shift! » her grandfather seemed pleased, « Very good. I saw the spirts, you haven’t been trained to do that, yet. » Her grandfather smiled broadly at the pair, then continued, « She got a chance to have an adult talk with her mother and father. Every girl needs that occasionally. »

      Rei was thunderstruck by the implications, She spoke with her parents’ spirits?!! Rei thought in amazement, No wonder! she thought as Makoto’s cries had quieted, but she still held the boy, and her tears still flowed freely.

      I’m jealous, Rei sadly admitted to herself, Both of Makoto’s experience, and Jeff’s skill.

     Makoto hadn’t let go of Jeff all the walk home. Much to Asuka’s and Grandfather Hino’s amusement, and Rei’s disgust, Makoto thought, But I don’t care. She held his arm with both of hers, and laid her head on his shoulder, unwittingly taking the official `cute couple` stance as they walked.

      She couldn’t hear the conversation that Rei and Asuka were having, except Asuka’s occasional references to ‘Wondergirl’ and that Rei didn’t measure up. Why do both Asuka and Jeff think that’s hilarious? Makoto wondered, then dismissed the thought, concentrating on happier thoughts, They approve. They want me to finish Junior High first, but they approve. They also approve of me being Sailor Jupiter. Then she frowned at Jeff. Except my dad practically quoted all the things that Jeff said about the Senshi needing to learn about fighting, Destiny and our enemies. That must be why he approves of Jeff. She sighed. They would have gotten along, and they can talk together, strange. She laid her head back on his shoulder and smiled agin, unwittingly settling off another round of smiles between Asuka and Rei’s grandfather, and deepening of Rei’s scowl.

      Makoto suddenly blushed at the private talk she’d had with her mother. I never thought my mother even thought about those kinds of things . . . I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, I was born after all.

     « So have you picked out any curtains yet? » Asuka teased while she and Jeff sat in Makoto’s kitchen, while the Senshi was away at school. « Are you sure they’ll match the carpet? » she asked as innocently as she could. Score one direct hit for `Langley`, she thought as Raccoon looked like he’d been stabbed, he got up to get more tea. She waited, hiding her smile.

      « You seem in a better mood than I’ve seen you in a while, » he replied, setting the tea between them as he sat down.

      « Oh, I like to see you happy. No more competition between, or should I say among he- and she-Horseface, and Ice Princess. »

      « We’re eventually going to have to tell them that ‘Wondergirl’ is named Rei. Horseface is the infamous Ranma Saotome –  »

      « I don’t think they’ll care that the Ice Queen of Furinken got a demotion, » Asuka interjected, « My point is, that you’ve got a clean shot with this one, from her expression yesterday, even her parents approve. »

      « They suggested we wait until she graduates Junior High –  »

      « Which is what? A few months? You’re making a mountain out of a molehill, » she told him angrily, « Again. »

       » – then get married during the semester break. » He stood up and began pacing. « She even talked about converting to Christianity, so our kids wouldn’t be confused by having two religions in the home. »

      Asuka knew the pacing was the real clue to his feelings, not his placid tone. « So what’s wrong? Given a few weeks, and our help, they could take on these jokers and wipe the floor with them. Heck, the only reason I let Kunzite live was because you needed that as part of your plan, » Asuka told him peevishly, « So what is the problem? » She got up and walked directly into his path, so he had to face her. « You said you’d have your paranoia treated when it stopped serving you well, I think you’ve about reached that point. What is the problem? »

      « The Scholarly Dragon didn’t notice we were gone. That means we’ve been gone less than two weeks, maybe only a few days. »

      « It’s been weeks, » Asuka retorted, then made the connection, « Assuming it’s been, say one day, and it takes them another couple of days to get here . . .  » She took a deep breath. « You, a pregnant wife in school, roots beginning to take hold . . . and Stoneface and the Beerhound come to collect us. » Asuka shook her head. « Of course she’ll want to stay to protect the Bunny-queen. »

      « Of course, their royalty is god, even if they did screw up and end civilization. »

      « With ‘dumpling-head’ in charge, and those girls as her political and military advisors, I can believe it, » Asuka commented as she returned to her seat, « So that leaves you the decision to either stay and abandon your calling, or abandon your family. »

      « So do I even think about starting a family, or just put the heartache off until the rescue? » Jeff asked.

      You’re over-analyzing again. I never do that, or do I? Asuka thought sarcastically, A common trap, for both of us. « You’re assuming that those enemies are going to keep coming. I think we need to get those two `advisors` and convince them to recount all the potential landmines: the enemies they left alive and unconquered, any space monsters, etc. Once we have a road map, we can take the battle to them. We wipe them out, no further problems. The idea that a war can be fought `nice` . . .  » Asuka shook her head. « You either fight to win, or you surrender to accept slavery and death. »

      « We lived through World War 2, they are barely taught about it in school, » Jeff explained as he kept pacing, « It’s just this time I can see it coming. » He turned to face Asuka, she could see the confusion on his face. « I don’t want to go through that again. »

      I wanted to tease him about what Makoto did last night, she thought, I have to wonder what she did.

      « You aren’t necessarily foredoomed, » Asuka told him.

      « I still believe they’ll come after us. »

      « Do you really think the Beerhound would waste one second worrying about getting us back? If we’re the only ones lost, she’ll be too busy celebrating her good fortune to come after us. And don’t give me any crap about her doing her duty. »

      « The others wouldn’t stand for it. »

      Asuka shrugged. « You have your illusions, I have experience in top-down, personality-driven governments. It doesn’t matter what the orders were, she’ll sabotage what she doesn’t want to happen. »

      Jeff just shook his head.

      « How about, ‘You – are – over – think – ing – this’? » Asuka said, « It’s not something you have to worry about, or . . . can you imagine a flock of EVAs descending on their enemies, especially with monsters like you, me and Horseface aboard? We’d find their lair, kick down the doors and reduce the enemy to ash. Besides, if you put it to your ladyfriend, then you’ll know, then you won’t have any worries. You’ll actually know. »

      « It’s not that simple, » Jeff replied as he returned to the table.

      « Not in application, but it is in framing the question, but if you can’t talk to her about something this important, then you’ve got no business getting her hopes up, » Asuka said fiercely.

      « All right, all right! » Jeff said, held up his hands, « Like I said, I keep seeing the disaster I’ve seen so many times before. »

      Asuka nodded. « So the Dragon is available, are you thinking about dropping the world on them? That will be fun. » She smiled at the idea, Those youmas against the Scholarly Dragon, like using a steamroller on roaches.

      « I think I’ve got a good idea where they are, but not exact enough to teleport in. When I do, then we’ll hit them as hard as we can. Have you been able to contact either Cologne or Ukyo? » he asked.

      « No, but they will be back soon, » Asuka admitted, « But I still think we’ll need to at least touch base before we come back here. »

      « That’s also something we’ll have to deal with, » Jeff said.

      « Any chance of getting them trained by Cologne? »

      « Before or after she laughs herself sick, for us suggesting it? » Jeff asked, smiling the first time since Asuka arrived.

     « Then he woke her gently, kissing her face, her lips, her throat, » Makoto told her friends of a `dream` she’d had of Sailor Jupiter and Jupiter’s Knight, « Oh, she couldn’t let him get off so easily. She pretended to stay asleep, making him kiss her longer, more deeply. »

      The rest of the girls stared at her and sighed dreamily, except Minako and Usagi, who both looked like they were chewing glass. The boys had heard a few details, and left in a hurry to eat lunch anywhere else.

      « Oh, those kisses, » Makoto said dreamily, shivered, « He slipped her collar aside to kiss her shoulders. Oh she shivered, knowing he had to know she was awake, but he wouldn’t say it, so he could keep kissing her, and she wanted him to keep stealing kisses, he’s so shy otherwise. »

      She was interrupted by another collective sigh, even Ami participated. Minako and Usagi regarded their colleagues hatefully.

      « She finally `woke up`, yawning and stretching, and smiling at him, just making him melt. »

      « Why can’t we find men like Jupiter’s Knight?! » Sakurada-sensei sighed from the classroom’s doorway.

      Usagi regarded their teacher with the same disgust.

      « It was only a dream, sensei, » Minako explained.

      « It had to be real! » Naru insisted fervently, « It’s so romantic. »

      « And so romantic that he’s shy, » Ami added as she sat, her elbows on her desk staring off into space, « You should write this all down and send it to a magazine. Tell the rest of us how to catch a skittish love. »

      Makoto paused, a little stunned at Ami’s obliviousness. She has to know who I’m talking about, Makoto thought, Doesn’t she? She continued with her story, « Then he put a bowl of miso to her lips –  »

      « He fed you in bed!! » Usagi exploded, leaping to her feet, righteous fury and Lunar-appointed punishment ready to descend.

      She glanced around at every girl in the class, including Minako and Ami, glaring at her for interrupting. Fury cooled, she sat back down in chagrin. « Traitors, » she muttered.

      Makoto quailed at the eager, almost demanding gaze from the same girls, now aimed at her. « But a little bit got spilled on her chin, so he set the bowl aside and kissed down her chin and neck to catch it. » Makoto let the other girls all sigh at that. Lunch will be over soon. Makoto thought, I wonder if Sakurada-sensei will let me finish my story? She smiled at the girls, especially Usagi.

      « Tell us more! » they demanded, except Minako and Usagi.

     « I’m just saying, you should be more forthcoming with your information, more complete in your briefings, » Asuka said to the two mangy-looking mongrels. Both let out a short, mournful howl before dropping into an embarrassed silence. « Now, I think we should start with who are these ‘Generals’: Kunzite, Zoicite, etc, and who their boss is. I want known strengths, physical and psychological; weaknesses, physical and psychological; what’s the genesis of the conflict, that sort of thing. »

      The two dogs stared at her with anguished, soulful eyes, their tails wagging with forlorn hope. « Okay, Artemis, you begin, and Luna can fill in any gaps. »

      « Can’t you change us back first? » the dogified Moon Cats asked, « I mean, turning us into canines. »

      « My first choice was to turn you both into piglets and serve the less cooperative to everyone for Sunday supper, » Asuka said coldly, « If you keep evading my questions, I’ll implement that plan. »

      The two `canis felinus`s’ fur stood on end as Asuka smiled, as she considered the other packets of Choushuanshan niichuan she had. « Artemis, speak. »

     « So, how do you feel? » Jeff asked as he entered Mamoru’s bedroom, glancing around, taking in the decor.

      « I remember you from my nightmare! »

      « If you remember me, » Jeff said as he set down the thermos and bento he was carrying, he opened the thermos and poured the cap full, « How can you be certain you’ve awakened? » Jeff wouldn’t argue about the food he’d brought, he’d let Opera Man’s nose and stomach do the fighting for him. « I’ve always been fascinated by ‘Destiny’, that some force from the past directs our lives and leads us relentlessly towards a certain fate, or a certain fortune. The problem is how it absolves the Destined of any responsibility to think or analyze the situation. Any pitfall couldn’t possibly be avoided and any victory was foreordained. » Jeff noted the man’s nose twitching.

      Despite the high life, a simple soup and hot boxed lunch and I’ve got you, Jeff thought, You people are more alone than we ever were.

      « It cheapens the human condition, the human spirit. It makes people merely cogs in the machine, when the situation calls for heroes. »

      « You don’t think fighting the villains makes us heroes? » the young man snapped.

      « Heroes go into the darkness, the darkness within themselves or the darkness of the great unknown, and they return with some object or revelation or enlightenment that makes a huge difference in the history and culture of the people, even the entire civilization. Without that, all you and the others are, is exterminators, dealing with exceptionally dangerous vermin, » Jeff said flatly, « The first to steal fire from the gods was a hero, the second was merely a highly talented, very stupid thief. »

      Mamoru looked away from Jeff and the food. « Is that what you came for? To tell me to look at the darkness that has tainted me, and see how the foulness has corrupted me? »

      « No, I was going to tell you to look inside yourself at the darkness, and gain wisdom from what you see. You didn’t kill your real friends, there’s a girl who loves you and would march into Hell with open eyes to save you. She frankly needs a little bit of darkness on her side. Someone who can understand your enemies, how they think, what they plan, goals both official and private. The best person for that job is you. It’s not easy, but somebody around here has to be the grownup. If you don’t want the job, just say so. I’ll take it, leave you and those other children to follow my lead, to learn. »

      « Very pretty speech, » Mamoru said scornfully, looking back at Jeff with hate-filled eyes, « Worthy of Kuno Tatewaki . . . or Tuxedo Mask, do you want a rose? »

      « Since you’ve been out of the loop, I’ll bring you up to speed, » Jeff said patiently. Perfect mate for crybaby, a Soun/Tatewaki fusion, Kuno’s got more backbone than this clown. Maybe I can civilize the Blue Thunder and send him down here. Give Minako or Ami somebody to Moon over, and have as a Knight.

      « I was born in 1933, I completed Harvard in 1947. I’ve got a diploma in Chemical Engineering. I also lived through the times when the Germans regularly sank shipping off the Eastern Seaboard. I remember nights when you could read by the light of burning tankers off the coast. I even got shot at by one U-Boat when I foolishly swam out to help some drowning men. I fought creatures that would eat the youmas, their Generals and their boss –  »

      « Beryl. »

      « Thank you, Beryl, for a snack. So I know war, fighting, and killing. You don’t, the girls certainly don’t. I’d be happiest if they could continue in that blessed ignorance. They may talk about war, but they’re ill-equipped to deal with a serious threat. » Jeff noted that the bento and soup had migrated to the side table near Mamoru’s bed,

      « So what does this mean to me? » the man asked, staring at his clenched hands.

      « You can either lead, follow, or get out of the way. This deliberate and reactive method doesn’t work. If our enemies had any brains, they’d assemble about ten youma, drill them in teamwork, battlefield communications, coordinated attacks and send them against one Scout at a time, within four weeks, there wouldn’t be any Scouts left. »

      « They can’t master those skills, so they couldn’t supply them to any subordinates, » Mamoru corrected.

      « That’s a naive view, but that kind of intelligence needs to be shared. Saying they’re fractious and disorganized is what we need to know. The final battle with them is coming, are you willing to help us hasten that battle, so it can be fought on the enemy’s ground, instead of in the middle of Tokyo? »

      « I was their puppet, » Mamoru explained softly, « They didn’t trust me with their deepest secrets you know. »

      « The layout of the castle –  »

      « How did you know it was a castle!? » Mamoru exclaimed.

      « Princesses, Queens, Knights, » Jeff said dismissively, « It has to be a castle, laying out a Vauban-style fortress just wouldn’t set the right tone, no matter how much more sense it would make. »

      Jeff walked to the exit, he paused. « There’s one important thing you’d better realize. » He picked a rose out of the vase and showed it to Mamoru. « You lose your faith in yourself and your cause. » He replaced the rose in the vase. « You could kill some people with one of these, and not the ones you’re be intending to. » Jeff left.

Sailor Jupiter 7 By Daniel Gibson

      Makoto looked at the T-shirt and panties, white cotton. And very stretchy, she thought thankfully, Who would have thought my mother would suggest such a thing, but it worked wonderfully.

      « Did those shrink in the wash? » Asuka asked.

      Makoto jumped, so much in her own world, she’d missed the redhead’s approach. « Ah, no . . . that is . . .  »

      « They look like they’d fit an eight-year-old, » Asuka said as she reached for them.

      Makoto couldn’t keep herself from blushing while she hugged the garments under her chin. She stammered trying to explain, it hadn’t been her idea, she just wanted to spend the night together – where he chose to sleep, how she had wanted – a lot of things she couldn’t put it into words either last night or now.

      « Oh ho! » Asuka said and stepped up to Makoto, « That’s what had him so shook up. He probably was ready to sleep in the dining room, and you walked in wearing, or should I say, squeezed into that. Your mom’s advice no doubt. » Asuka laughed at her shocked expression. « Don’t look so surprised, women used to know a man’s imagination was their best help. It’s like judo, get them leaning and you can pull them right over. »

      Makoto wanted to die of embarrassment, but Asuka continued, her soft, teasing tone seeming to caress Makoto, « Him looking at you, thinking ‘just one deep breath from exploding out’, and you knew you had total control. Did you enjoy the feeling of power that you’d shut him up, trumped anything that he could conjure up? The promise of one deep breath, and you could lie with him, or just talk, and the fires of starvation in his eyes, looking at you as a woman to be taken and –  »

      « Eep! » was all Makoto could get out of her embarrassment. It had been fun, she thought, Shutting him up that way. « Don’t say such embarrassing things! » Makoto shouted as she shook her head to deny the truth of Asuka’s words.

      « Or you wanted to feel the warmth of his body nestled against yours, knowing he was there to cherish and protect you. »

      Makoto shook her head frantically and wondered if dying of embarrassment were actually possible, as Asuka continued in a soft, almost seductive voice.

      « His breath on your skin, the softness of his expression while he slept, his hair on your cheek. »

      Makoto gave up shaking her head and merely hung it. She’s right. I – she thought and suddenly her head shot up, How does she know?! « HEY! » Makoto glared at the smirking girl. « How’d you become such an expert? »

      Asuka laughed. « There’ve been nights, when we had only one way to hold off the cold dark, or have been hurt so badly that death was not only likely, but welcome. I’ve held him on a dark night when I had to drag him back from an abyss that would have consumed him, » Asuka’s tone had gone from teasing to chillingly severe. What looked at Makoto, while fiercely protective of the man they both loved, it wasn’t completely human. Ancient and terrible, looking at me, Makoto thought, edging away from the girl who’d suddenly become something more terrifying than any of their enemies, She’s just saying this to a Sailor Senshi, across a vast ocean of time and power.

      Then Asuka smiled. « Dark days and dark times, » Asuka said with merely human seriousness, « So I know, believe me, I know. »

      « I just – it felt like I was tricking him, » Makoto admitted, « Promising something – something I knew he wouldn’t ask for – no matter how much – but . . . if he had . . . would I have refused? »

      « It’s easy to promise when you already know the answer. You weren’t promising, you were only letting him know that there exists something he should want. You were only handing him a brochure, not telling him it was in stock, or could be bought and taken home. I’ve got a question for you! » Asuka asked very grimly, « If he’s rescued. Do you let him go, go with him, or beg him to stay here so you two can ‘protect the princess’? From what I’ve seen, she’ll need all the protection she can get. »

      Makoto frowned at Asuka’s aside about Usagi, even though she agreed with it. She considered the question deeply, Ami gave up a chance to study in Germany. If I left, I’d be leaving the – my – entire universe behind. There’s no way I could get back quickly to help them, I’d have to drop in for meetings, but I couldn’t respond to an emergency. The others aren’t front line fighters. Asuka and Jeff could train them to be, but they aren’t yet. « I . . . I don’t know. I have a responsibility here. »

      « And he has an even greater responsibility there, » Asuka replied, « That’s the crux of it. » Asuka sighed, looked around. « You decide to continue this, then you’re going to have to decide which will come first, your husband and children, or your princess. And I can tell you, if it’s your princess, don’t expect any children, not even adopted. If your first loyalty is the job, then you can’t have a family to distract you, or kids to ignore. »

      « But . . . running a florist shop – »

      « Is a business, not a lifetime avocation. It also doesn’t demand you ignore or even sacrifice your family. If you’re going to have to drop everything to serve your princess, or let Jeff or your kids die so your princess survives, that’s a whole different matter. »

      Makoto felt a cold chill at Asuka’s words, dropped her chin to her chest. Let Jeff . . . or our children die . . . to protect Usagi . . . I can’t imagine – she looked up at Asuka and considered what she had said, How can she think like that? Like she’s done it, or it’s easy for her. I think I could die to protect Usa – the Princess. I – could I sacrifice Jeff, or a child? My child? She felt sick just thinking those thoughts.

      « There’s also the Americans’ weird dislike of royal- or noble-classes. If Usagi keeps acting the way she does, she’ll never be the ‘Princess’ or ‘The Queen’, she’ll just be the twit who needs to grow up, or abdicate. »

      « But she’s –  »

      « Worthy of respect? » Asuka cut her off, « I’m not talking about your friend. I’m talking about your husband’s opinion of a political and military leader. An engineer’s first rule is always ‘does it work?’ He’s very much a male, and an engineer in that respect. You want a cuddle and whine session, you’d better make it clear the `answer` is him holding and perhaps kissing you. He’ll apply the same to any governmental agency, including one headed by your friend. »

      Makoto narrowed her eyes before asking, « Why are you so eagerly pushing us together? And not taking him yourself? »

      « It would seem . . . incestuous, » Asuka admitted, squirming slightly, « I like him, a lot, but . . . that just seems so wrong. » Asuka suddenly looked around, then focused on one direction.

      « Thunder? » Makoto asked. I thought I heard it too, she thought, Wouldn’t I know a storm was coming?

      « No, there is no rain scheduled, » Asuka said in a faraway voice, « There it is, in the harbor. » She turned and headed for the door. « I’ll be back, and we’ll finish later. »

      Makoto stared out the window in the direction of Tokyo Harbor. « I don’t see anything, » she admitted to herself.

     Jeff collected a pile of heavy blankets from the compartment in the side of the truck and turned, to face two men of the Special Rescue Service, both of whom looked ready for a fight. « Genka-san, Abo-san, Takata-sensei needs these at the triage center. » He looked at the men. They both seem a little confused. I guess the dreams Cthulhu sent to the rest of us were pretty accurate, he thought, Might as well go for broke with how much I know. « My name is Jeffery Kevin Davis. I have a ‘ka’ 4, ‘ne’ 135, ‘po’ 3, gamma 38 classification. I’m a delta-type special. Genka-san, your son is a budding sculptor, he’s won prizes, your father doesn’t approve. Abo-san, your daughter joined the JSDF, the ground division and is bucking for Special Forces training, your wife is worried she’ll never get married and give you grandchildren, if she’s ‘too tough.’ The code for the non-critical supplies, such as these blankets, is always the nearest prime number to the current date times the number of the month, plus the days to the last prime number. Takata-sensei is your resident chief medic and a ‘chest cutter’, thoracic surgeon, who chews number 2 pencils since he gave up smoking and gets very angry when he or his patients are kept waiting unnecessarily. »

      Both men were staring open-mouthed at him now.

      Thank you, Cthulhu, Jeff thought, then told them, « Look, if you want me to leave I will. »

      « If you really know us that well, » Abo-san said, « You know we need anyone who can move. »

     Makoto led Rei and Ami through the crowds to the cordon. They watched the controlled chaos. The activity was at the waterfront, the pall of smoke hung over the area.

      « Should we try to get closer? » Rei asked.

      « No, » Ami told them as she examined the readout of her computer, « The fire department rescue teams have got their hands full. The police are arresting people who trespass. »

      « Jeff and Asuka are in there? » Rei asked.

      « I can’t find that out, or what’s happened, » Ami admitted.

      Makoto looked at the crowds, the occasional ambulance entering or leaving the cordoned-off area. « Let’s get up there where we can see. » Makoto pointed to a tall office building.

      « How do we get up there? » Rei asked, « Fly? »

      « No, a little fog will let us just walk up the stairs without being seen, » she told them and stared at Ami, who writhed under the twin stares.

     Asuka supervised the repairs to the system, as she stood on the tanker’s deck. The metal all around her clinking and pinging as it cooled. « Such a small thing to cause such a problem, » she said, her voice muffled by the fullface respirator. Ridiculous affectation, she thought, If that thing blows again, a foot of Rolled Hardened Armor plate wouldn’t save us.

      « That’s it, » Jeff said, removing his hands from valves and piping, « Machineless machining. Something to be proud of. » He reeled slightly, one of the men steadied him. « I think I’m gonna be sick. »

      « Get him to the side, » she ordered. Some of the tests that old man gave me twisted my stomach up something fierce, she thought, I guess precision isn’t a trait of Great Old Ones, just brute firepower. She looked over the area while other men checked the repairs. The fog team stood by to flood the area with water, should it be needed. They brought Jeff back, and everyone held their breath as they brought up the pressure. New fittings and spell-crafted cold welds all held. Everything held.

      The leader of the fogging team signaled them and the rest of the repair teams to clear out. Once they were behind the first line of barricades, they surrendered the respirators, tools and protective clothing they and the others had carried on the job, to the maintenance teams. Once they were in the tent they were directed to, Asuka felt free to speak. « You think this is fun? » she asked wearily, collapsing face-down onto a cot.

      « I said ‘satisfying’, not fun. This kind of work is rarely fun, » Jeff answered as wearily as she had spoken. He sat in a camp chair.

      Genbei, the team leader entered, both kids immediately stood. « You two did an excellent job, » he told them, bowing slightly and smiling broadly.

      Weird, I only saw him a few times during my dream of Nerima, Asuka thought. « Thank you. Genbei-san, » Asuka and Jeff said.

      « It’s rare enough finding one delta, let alone two, both able to take orders. »

      « However, you’re worried that you can’t find us in the database. »

      « Yes, » he admitted, « I can’t offer you a place on the payroll, » the man was completely disgusted and a little ashamed.

      « Like I said, » Jeff countered, « Explaining where we came from would be difficult. »

      « I can offer you two pay as . . . specialists or on a case-by-case basis. »

      « Right now, sir, » Asuka said, « A six-pack of good German beer and a quiet bunk would square things nicely. I haven’t had a thirst like this since – I don’t remember. »

      « Proconsul’s Ridge, » Jeff said,  » ‘She danced till the dawn of that terrible day – she danced till the dusk of more terrible night.’ ‘And he gave ‘arf a pint o’ water green. It was crawling and it stunk. But of all the drinks I’ve drunk, I’m gratefullest to the one from Gunga Din.' »

      « Kipling, I should have guessed that, » Asuka said, glaring at Jeff, « Is there anything you don’t have a Kipling quote for? »

      « We have another problem, » Genbei said to head off an argument, « Someone set off a fire alarm just outside the cordon. You can guess that the police were not happy, but the perpetrators claim to know you two. » He pulled the tent flap aside, and the three girls were escorted in.

      Asuka laughed. Should we tell them? she wondered and glanced at Jeff, who was intently studying the girls.

      « Well, all our friends were supposed to stay home, » Jeff said distantly, « I don’t know if we should let you throw the book at them. Teach them to leave things to the professionals! » he added sternly.

      « You can’t! » Rei insisted

      « I can, and another outburst from you, and I will. Remember, I have to tell these gentlemen if you were malicious, or just had a stupid accident, » Jeff said angrily.

      Makoto clamped her hands over Rei’s mouth.

      She was going to let him have it, Asuka thought, Too bad, a couple of days in a cell would teach her to keep her mouth shut. She’s either going to learn, or somebody, probably Jeff, is going to knock her teeth down her throat.

      Ami made a prayer, Makoto smiled desperately, but kept Rei muzzled.

      « What were the police planning to do? » Asuka asked. I hope his sense of humor is the same as I remember, she thought. It was.

      « Oh, I think they were talking about shooting them. » All three girls froze, staring in horror. « But then they realized they couldn’t do that. » The trio relaxed. « They decided to have them shipped out as hazardous waste and have their families expunged from the registers. » Ami and Rei fainted dead away, Makoto looked too stunned to do anything, including catching Rei as she hit the ground. Makoto stood staring, posed as if still holding Rei.

      « I think they are appropriately chastened for the trouble they caused, » Jeff said.

      « Yes, » Genbei said, nodding sagely, « I’d agree. » The escorts pulled away.

      Asuka stood and waved her hand in front of Makoto’s face. « I think they need a full restart. »

      « Let’s get them home, » Jeff said.

      « Can’t we get a short nap? » Asuka complained, looking longingly at the cot.

      « And have them murder us in our sleep? »

      « Good point, » Asuka admitted as she took Makoto’s hand, while Jeff slung Rei over one shoulder and Ami over the other.

     « You won’t tell him, will you? » Rei pleaded with Asuka, who decided not to tell the Scout that the object of her pleas, her grandfather, was standing behind her. « What precisely? »

      « When we almost got arrested, and they’d either deport us or shoot us. »

      « I don’t think you should keep this kind of thing from him. I’d suggest going to him, and explaining the whole thing. » The way you’re reacting, Asuka thought of Rei’s furious head shaking, You aren’t going to win this. « Ask for some appropriate punishment. Preferably something to help you control your temper. »

      « I have –  »

      « Ahem, » her grandfather made his presence known, Rei nearly matched the standing high jump record, for kangaroos.

      « You can’t say I didn’t warn you, » Asuka said as the girl landed badly, « I’ll stop by later, family business should be private. » Asuka walked away from the girl who was trying not to rub the part of her that had cushioned her landing. I’ve still got exercises, she thought, And packing, we leave tomorrow. She considered an apartment in the distance. Oh, to be a fly on the wall, she thought before picking up her test rock and several bits of driftwood.

     Makoto felt odd, working alone in her kitchen. I was getting used to his wonderful meals or him helping me, she thought, she glanced at the bathroom, where she knew he was. I hope he’s okay. I want to check on him . . . but I don’t want to intrude. We saw part of what was happening, but he and Asuka were in the middle of it. She checked the food, stirring it idly, tasting and seasoning.

      All those hurt people, the thought kept coming back to her, I can’t get it out of my mind. She turned off the burners on the stove, walking back to the bathroom. Peering inside.

      Jeff sat on the tiled floor in one of her robes. He stared at the ceiling, breathing in and out, steadily, slowly.

      « I’m not dead, » he told her.

      « That wasn’t what I was worried about. » She knelt next to him. She glanced at the clothes she was wearing, a good outfit. Like I’d wear on a date, she thought, But I don’t think he’s noticed. His mind is where mine is, on the docks a few hours ago. « What happened there? » she asked to get him talking.

      « An LPG, liquid propane gas ship was offloading, when someone closed or opened the wrong valve and there was a hydraulic hammer, the hammer found a weak point and broke the pipe. Suddenly that supercold liquid sprayed out, killed the two men monitoring the pipe. The liquid flashed to gas, found a spark and exploded. »

      The recitation is like a machine, she thought worriedly as she moved closer.

      « That blast killed the people who could have fixed the problem. By the time additional people moved to prevent a disaster, the important equipment was either incinerated or surrounded by fire. »

      « That fire was no problem for your shields, » she said, trying to draw him back to the present, « Right? »

      He closed his eyes, sighed, « Yes, I was able to prevent more of the gas from escaping, that left the secondary fires which were bad enough. »

      I don’t want to hear about the fire, and its causes, she thought, What happened to you?! It’s like somebody punched a hole in you, and all the devil-may-care attitude, all the silly puns and bad jokes bled away. That’s what I want to know about. Why are you just sitting here, not moving, not seeing? She watched him stare at the ceiling. He answered my question, and he shuts off. Damn! What was it Asuka said? ‘Men are simple creatures.’ I’m expecting a crying jag or a temper tantrum, but that’s not how he works. Stoicism, that’s his way or dealing with pain. She slid next to him, carefully gathering him in, holding him tightly against her. It’s not enough, she thought, But it’s what I can do.

      He relaxed slightly, tentatively wrapping his arms around her waist, laying his head on her shoulder.

      « You did all you could. I’m proud of you, » she told him, « I love you. » He won’t cry, she knew, But this is enough. « I love you, » she repeated softly.

     Asuka stared at the flames, slowly shaping them into a double helix, two strings of pearls intertwining. More than just controlling fire, she thought with an odd mix of elation and terror, But the rate of fuel consumption. The flame from the single piece of charcoal was a deep red. Shifted down spectrum because the excitation rate is less than normal, she realized, So I’m controlling not only the fire, but the way time moves within its field of effect. Like what I did at the waterfront, all those fires . . . turning back, going out, all at my command. I could have done it all from the top of the Tokyo Tower, or anywhere else I could have watched from.

      She noted a hand passing through her `sculpture` which reformed immediately.

      « This is most impressive, » Grandfather Hino told her as he sat in field of vision, « Is this how you were able to snuff out so many fires today? »

      « Something like that, » Asuka said. I thought Raccoon was joking, calling us Great Old Ones, but I got a share of Cthugha and Tulzcha. I call forth flame and the time flames, and control them, like a sculptor or an animal trainer. Like Raccoon and Ice Princess share the powers of Chaugnar Faugh. I’ve become one of the enemy. Finally and irrevocably.

      « With your help, my control increases, » she said, « Thank you. » It would have been better if I lost control, and just incinerated myself, she thought.

      « I would think you’d be pleased by your level of control, » Grandfather Hino said, « Much better than my granddaughter, Sailor Mars. »

      Asuka thought she heard someone fall out of a tree.

      « I couldn’t see they were the same if I had a picture of both, but she began to act very differently as soon as Sailor Mars showed up. » He leaned close. « Don’t tell her I know, I’d like to keep it a secret, make her think she’s putting one over on me. »

      « I won’t tell, » Asuka promised. Although she may know already, she didn’t add aloud. « I need more and better control. »

      « Then stay here. Frankly, letting my granddaughter eavesdrop on your lessons will have a very positive effect, » he told her, « I can’t very well give the lessons out in the open can I? »

      « No, but I’m here to help a friend, my business is done, at least for the present. Unfortunately, I have conflicting obligations elsewhere. »

      « You will always be welcome here, when you return. »

      « Thank you, sensei, » Asuka said as she bowed.

      « Do you want to talk about what happened? » he asked quietly, « I’m willing to listen. »

      « I’m more bothered by the fact it doesn’t bother me, » Asuka admitted, « And that’s not something soluble by talking. No matter how welcome the offer. »

      « Then can you tell a worried old man something about the monsters my granddaughter and her friends are fighting? »

      Asuka bobbed her head. « Gladly, sensei. »

     Makoto stared at the clothing, the overly tight and skimpy `costume` she had worn last night when she’d approached Jeff. And that I changed out of as quickly as I could. I don’t think bulging out like an overstuffed sausage is what I want, she thought as she selected a pair of ordinary pajamas – slacks and a blouse. These aren’t the least bit sexy, so tonight these will be perfect. I wanted tonight to be romantic, one last fling. Instead, it was educational. There are limits, then everything stops being funny. Maybe that’s Moon’s safety valve, she’s so chipper and earnest about things or cries her eyes out, no matter how sugary-sweet or weepy we get, we’re sober realists by comparison.

      She changed out of her bath robe and into the pajamas. I don’t even notice he’s in the room. I’m not embarrassed about being with him like this. I . . . kind of like it, she thought as she slipped into the small bed with him, No arguments this time, I led him here and he just crawled in . . . maybe that’s what got me worried. she considered as their arms went around each other and their legs entwined almost automatically, Like we’ve been doing it a long time, she thought happily.

      But tomorrow is the end of it, she thought sadly, At least for a while. She wondered about all they had talked about, what the future really meant for her and the other Senshi. All my dreams, of home, family, running a little shop. If I have to constantly guard Usagi . . . the Princess, will I be able to do any of these things? she wondered, If I do lose all my dreams so I can protect her . . . are her dreams going to be enough? Are we just going to be extensions of her and Mamoru? Always at her beck and call? Ami could have gone to Germany to help become a great doctor, but she gave that up. Will Rei inherit her grandfather’s temple, or will her duties as a Senshi prevent it? Will we be able to have families, children of our own? It’s something I never considered before, I know I could date, but getting pregnant, raising a child, guarding them from enemies, and what happens when it’s a question of saving my child, or saving Usagi? Or worse, Usagi’s child? Jeff would look after the children, he’s a ‘homebody’, but Asuka was right, I know he won’t accept having the family a distant second in his wife’s life. He won’t even be happy if it isn’t first. Then what? Watch Usagi and Mamoru live their lives, while I and the others grow old alone? Maybe that’s why he condemns Destiny, because if we are just slaves to it . . .

      If we never end the war, what then? Usagi gets her life, but she also gets ours as well? Maybe that’s why Kings and Presidents have paid bodyguards, and whole staffs of servants and advisors. So those staffs, advisors and bodyguards can also have a normal life, can have some place to come home to. Someplace that is theirs.

      Then she realized something disturbing, Some reminder of real life, of what it means to be an ordinary person . . . a human. That’s the real touchstone he’s looking for! The ordinary travails are the clincher. What links him to the human race . . . is what Asuka was saying . . . that we need the same connection? Then I have to ask ‘What does being the Moon Princess mean?’ Aside from becoming the Sailor Senshi and the powers? What does that mean to the rest of the world? Do we return the Moon Kingdom to . . . what? Live there, instead of Earth? Take over Tokyo, Japan, Earth? Then what? Hakko Ichiu? Bring the eight-corners of the world under one roof? We’d have the power, or would we? Is that the right thing to do? She looked at the . . . young man holding her. He seemed to sense her troubled rest. I wish I’d worn the revealing stuff, she thought as she craned her neck, inviting his soft kisses, or his teeth to tear her throat out. I don’t want that responsibility, to suggest it, to carry it out, or just hold it inside. « I’m just a Junior High School student, » she murmured miserably, holding him tightly.

      She felt his lips, rather than his teeth caress her throat. This is what I really want, she thought, Someone to love, someone who loves me, someone to need, someone who needs me. She gloried in the gentle touches, his hand held her tightly, while he ran his fingers through her loose hair.

      « You’ll do fine, and you won’t be alone, » he reminded her.

      She cried softly as she felt the worries and concerns falling away, enjoying the safety, comfort and pleasure he offered her. She wrapped herself tightly around him, terrified of the morning, when she would again be alone.

     Asuka knew she wasn’t really in the Jovian atmosphere, that she wasn’t even in the Jovian Dreamlands.

      « You’re late, » she heard the gravelly voice.

      « He was entertaining a young lady, or was it seducing? » Asuka shot back, « Cut him some slack. » She enjoyed Raccoon’s embarrassment as she approached the pair, man and Dragon.

      « She’s beginning to understand the implications of what she is becoming, » Raccoon told them as he approached.

      « Good, » Asuka said, « Where are we? »

      « Walk with me. » He turned and waved for them to follow him, through the multicolored clouds, and tornado strength winds that touched none of them.

      Asuka glanced at the Scholarly Dragon, as they walked like ghosts through the roiling atmosphere. « Any ideas? »

      « I was going to ask you –  » the Dragon’s gravelly voice rumbled.

      « This is it, » Raccoon told them, as if it answered everything, he gestured around at the clouds.

      I didn’t see it, until we were on top of it, Asuka thought as she examined the devastated structure that had seemed to materialize out of the winds, Metal, pitted by both wind and chemical corrosion. « Is this a ship? » Asuka asked as she walked around, tapping more into the abilities she’d stolen from her victims, rather than her human senses. As she did, the scope and scale of the object appeared before her. « This was a city! » she exclaimed.

      « One of several dozen floating through the upper airs of the Jovian atmosphere. It and the others are slowly spiraling down to die. Sustained by magic –  »

      « And overwhelming arrogance, » the Scholarly Dragon said, « And dragons know arrogance. Only a fool would depend on magic of that intensity, with no physical or technological back ups. »

      « A dragon decrying magic and promoting engineering, » Asuka said with her hands on her cheeks, « I may faint. »

      « Ha! Ha! » the Dragon replied as he glanced around, « This city, it must have supported thousands. »

      « With the piers long ago ripped away by the wind, the ‘garden ships’ floating in formation, the transient population that plied the tradeways between the cities and the other planetary colonies, » Jeff said, « Millions on each city. There were similar structures on each of the other planets and major moons: Pluto, Charon, Neptune, Triton, Uranus, Oberon, Titania, Saturn, Titan, Rhea, Jupiter, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, Io, Mars, Luna, Venus, Mercury. From minor colonies of a few hundred to vast megalopoli of tens of millions. Shielded from the heat on Venus and Mercury, from the cold on Luna on out to the edge, from toxic atmospheres, from no atmosphere, and all the conditions that make like impossible except on Earth. Artists of all sorts flocked here, shielded from the titanic forces of Jupiter’s storms. They drew inspiration from the tempest. »

      « And when the shields failed, reality annihilated them, » Asuka said, « Nice. »

      « Better than starvation, or freezing to death, » the Dragon said fiercely, « A graveyard of shattered dreams and slaughtered dreamers. Even the Great Old Ones were not so cruel. They don’t erase a whole world with no warning. Even if that warning only creates despair. »

      « This was a legacy of our friends’ former kingdom, » Jeff said, « A thousand years of peace. »

      « Read a couple of centuries of watchful waiting, and a few centuries of utter complacency, » Asuka commented with unvarnished disgust, « So when they needed Winston Churchill, they got Neville Chamberlain. »

      « They got Colonel Smuts, » Jeff replied.

      « I thought you were German, » the Scholarly Dragon teased.

      « Even at that age, I wasn’t stupid enough to believe we’d stop at the Sudetenland, not with the Skoda works and the rest of the Czech and Slovak industrial might at our fingertips! » Asuka asked disparagingly, « You’ve got to be kidding. »

      « So what did happen? » the Dragon turned to Raccoon, « There have to have been enough spirits to tell you. »

      « There were a lot, mostly selfish, self-centered children of all ages, but one thing was clear. Someone or something had sucked all the turmoil out of their lives. The magic provided for everything you needed. Not necessarily what you wanted, but what you needed, » Jeff said as he began walking through the ruins, windowless buildings scoured free of anything except the heaviest and most durable structures.

      He’s agitated, Asuka thought, He’ll refuse to show it, keep it all bottled up. Until it boils over. So I need to direct it. « Makoto had nothing to do with this! Sailor Jupiter had nothing to do with this disaster. Unfortunately, all she did was her job. » Verdammit! He’s not even listening!

      « The reason this place became an artist’s colony, was you could go outside your apartment, look at the elemental tempest raging outside the shield, and get some of the emotions the rest of us have without any help. »

      « So what did happen? » Asuka demanded, falling in beside Raccoon as he walked the barren ruins. This place disgusts me, she thought, But I’m getting it second-hand. No, I can feel . . . something, practically ground into the metal. Something about all those deaths . . . and all the half-empty lives before them.

      « It’s not clear. A woman of the lower-classes named Beryl encountered Chaos. »

      « So? We all do, Horseface is practicably an avatar, this –  » she said and gestured at the ruins around her,  » – stagnation – could have used some shaking up. »

      « That was the last thing Serenity wanted. She and her four senior advisors had total control over all means of production. The ultimate Socialist state, any problem you had, you brought the problem to Serenity and her court, and it either got done, or it didn’t. »

      « And although Serenity was good and honest and wise and beautiful – oh, my eyes are getting all sparkly! » the Dragon said disparagingly, « She’d never hold the loss of magical support over someone’s head –  »

      « She didn’t have to, » Jeff interrupted, « Without the active support of one of the five people in the star system with real power, your project wouldn’t get done. The courtiers couldn’t play the bribery game, ‘Cross my palm with silver or give me your pretty son or daughter for an appointment.’ They were as dead to ambition as the rest of the populace, but they were still the orthodoxy, if they didn’t like your plan, or thought it would rock the boat, they’d see to it that neither Serenity nor the Senshi ever heard one word about it. »

      « The idea that you could force compliance without military force – overt military force – and those get the purity of thought and volition . . . that is the Japanese idea, living and working in perfect harmony. Forgetting it is the bumps in the road that make you stronger and that the people who don’t fit make all the difference, » Asuka said, refusing to complete the thought about that kind of domination, and how it could be achieved. And the cost of achieving it, she mentally added, Both to the giver and the receivers.

      « With the flowering of Arab thought from the synthesis of Greek and Hindustani ideas, » the Dragon began, « The West slowly leaving the Dark Ages, the Scandinavians trading with Hindustan, Byzantium, even the Orient; the Aztecs and Incas advancing, it must have seemed a terribly impure and chaotic time on Earth. »

      « So, she set her sights on Earth too? » Asuka asked, she shook her head at the thoughts of an All-powerful Usagi. Her attempts to `help` must have been disastrous. After all, she was used to the easily controlled sheep of the planetary kingdoms, not the fiercely competitive and combative Humans. « Let me guess the next step, rebellion. »

      « The warrior cultures, the knight errants and their Moslem, Hindu, Oriental and Amerind equivalents, all the mages, etc., » Jeff said, « Beryl didn’t have to recruit, Serenity was doing all the recruiting necessary. However, it all started with one minor Principality that had fallen under Serenity’s sway. »

      « Wasn’t Blood Weeper, Yahar Huacac, from that time period? » the Dragon asked.

      « Usagi may be a crybaby, but I doubt that she could do the things attributed to that character, » Jeff replied, then to Asuka, « Inca legends. Some of the stories probably are due to the civil war, and he’s also about three hundred years too late. »

      Asuka shuddered at that image. I saw exactly that in Germany during the war, she thought.

      « The generals saw which way the wind was blowing, pledged themselves and their armies to Chaos, and attacked. The battle was seriously one-sided, one side refused to understand war, the other fought for their survival as independent, thinking beings. Ironic that they became abject slaves, and that a good scolding would have brought Serenity around, » Jeff said.

      « Time is relative to us, » the Dragon suggested, when neither Asuka nor Jeff considered his suggestion he continued, « I take it that when Serenity and her four advisors/protectors fell, the various kingdoms on the other planets collapsed as well. »

      « Frozen, fried, suffocated, burned, » Asuka said, « Not the most pleasant ways to die. »

      « Last time I checked, » Jeff said, « There weren’t too many good ones. Now to impersonate Asuka Soryu Langley, so what do we do? »

      « Not bad, » Asuka replied, « If this ancient Chaos is behind it all. That would seem to be right up our alley. We hunt it down, and kill it, simple enough. »

      « I agree, » the Dragon said, « Let us march to the sound of the guns. I’ll be Ney, Langley already is Grouchy. »

      « Before you two kill each other, » Jeff interrupted Asuka’s intended demonstration of her new powers, « Better to educate them not to make the same mistake again. They’ve got much the same powers as those that allowed this, and much the same attitudes that would countenance such a `paradise`. I doubt they’ll have the wisdom to avoid making the same `nice` mistakes the originals made. I agree, let’s drop on the bad guys like a ton of bricks, but better, for our humanity, that we forestall a disaster, rather than continually pick up after one. »

      « Considering we would be cast in the Beryl role, should it come to pass, » the Dragon said, « I don’t mind suffering fools gladly, as they slide down my throat. I do draw the line at the kind of slaughter that this city represents. They were victims. »

      « So how do . . . I know! I have a great idea! » Asuka exclaimed.

      « You usually do, » the Dragon said, then cringed at Asuka’s upraised fist, « Should I stay in the background, or is there someone I should terrorize while you two are being reasonable? »

      « Two `people` in fact, » Asuka said, « They need a little memory work out. »

Sailor Jupiter 8 By Daniel Gibson

New problems:#1

As for « risqué » part from chapter 8 – it was very fine until an Asuka’s entrance. I just hardly consider a Senshi a sexual creature – no more than other normal fourteen-years-old. Dreaming about Jeff was fine, but going after Asuka, even playful has no psychological plausibility, regardless how it would look like in a dojinshi. While aggressive Asuka’s response is just brilliant and in-character, Mako could start something, but with much more restrain and uncertainty,.

 I don’t know if you’re remembering the age of consent in Japan at that time (for girls) was 13, one reason the Senshi and the EVA pilots are 14-years-old, is they are `available`. Also they are considered too old after age 25, the term is ‘Christmas cake’ of no use past the 25th . So they have from 13 to 25 to get married, one reason they’re all fixated on becoming a bride. If they aren’t by 25, they are unlikely to ever be married or have kids.

Makoto wasn’t planning to do anything, other than see if that would shock Jeff. What would have happened if Jeff started reciprocating her actions? She probably would have chickened out.

 True, the edited part is a bit risqué, but there is nothing to be ashamed of. Every human being above certain development level can understand what is going on and I can’t find there anything disturbing/immoral/offensive. Said part could disturb a balance of whole chapter, therefore some cosmetic changes need to be injected [a longer period of Mako’s shame, some more Asuka’s carefree prodding], but besides that everything would be fine and I strongly suggest including deleted material <after necessary adjustments, of course> .

Sailor Jupiter 8

    This kiss was unexpected. Makoto opened her eyes to the smiling face. The sunlight streaming in the windows. – « This is a dream, » Jeff told her as he knelt beside their bed. – She nodded. Of course, by this time I’d be at school . . . and he’d already be gone, she thought, Well, since this is a dream. I’ll just treat this as if we already were husband and wife. She smiled and tossed aside the covers, revealing the filmy chemise and white cotton panties she wore on her honeymoon. She enjoyed the slightly stunned look on his face. He always gets that way when he’s looking at me, she thought as she caught his face with both hands and kissed him long and deeply, When I’m dressed like this. Am I glad this is just a dream! It will be good practice, for our real honeymoon, as if I’d ever get the guts to do even part of this for real. She leaned over so he’d get a good look down the top of her night clothes.

    She broke the kiss, staring in his eyes, licking her lips like she’d seen in the movies. « Do you know how sexy you make me feel? » she asked huskily. I just wish I had the courage to dress, talk and act even one-tenth this brazen in real life, at least in private, she smiled at him, causing him to shy away. She stood up and stretched, feeling the hem of her chemise crawl up her stomach. Why not, this is just a dream, who’s to know? Besides, I can guess how he’d react, here I can try things, to really see how he’ll react. She watched him react to her languid walk towards him, chasing him slowly, exaggerating the sway of her hips. « Don’t you like me? » she asked, pouting as cutely as he could. I’m going to make myself sick, she thought, Playing games like this. Would you relax! It is just a game. One I’m going to win when it matters.

    Jeff began stammering, « Ah, I ah, I don’t think –  »

    She dashed at him, silencing him instantly as she pressed against him. She gave him a sultry smile as she leaned against him. « This is just a dream, you aren’t here, so you should relax and enjoy it, » she murmured in his ear, « My husband to be. »

    « That’s not right –  »

    Another kiss silenced his protest. « You’re right, I should do this for real, in the morning, » she whispered when she broke the kiss, « Let you know how I feel. Bind us . . . body . . . and . . . soul. » I can’t believe I said that. I can’t believe how he’s shivering. I’ve never felt him so afraid. What’s going on? Why is this so fearsome to him?

    « I – I -think I got that! » he shouted and tried to scramble free without pressing against her.

    She sprinted across the room and beat him to the doorway. She turned to face him, a predator’s smile on her face. I can’t believe I’m doing this, she thought, Heck, it’s only a dream. I don’t have to be proper. I can play. « You just need to relax. » She extended a long leg towards him, slowly, rubbing her toes on his chest. I can imagine somebody catching me doing this, she thought, I’d just die.

    « You don’t understand, » he plead with her, trying to back away, « This –  »

    She leaned against the doorframe, and ran her finger tips over her flat stomach, teasing the chemise further up as she sighed happily. What am I so nervous about? she wondered about her stomach full of butterflies, I’ve had dreams like this . . . and I was mortified the next morning. I’d probably never show my face again if anyone found out about this dream, but Asuka’s right, it’s so much fun to reduce him to mush like this. It’s even better that only a few girls could, just the ones he really cares about. « You make me feeeeel sooo good, » she told him, enjoying his growing discomfort and stupefaction, « You’re hands on my booodddyyy. » I nearly killed him with that. He’s so stunned and embarrassed, he might not be able to turn away when I – she thought, she pulled the chemise over her head and shook out her hair. If he actually saw this I’d die!

    She frowned a bit when she saw he’d turned his back on her. Probably when my face was covered by the clothing, she thought and considered her next move. Just go with something direct and shocking. That seems the most fun.

    « You shouldn’t be doing this, » he managed, « This isn’t you. This isn’t right. »

    She smiled as she marched over and spun him around, noted he’d covered his face with his hands. I figured that, she thought, He’s right and in character, but I don’t have to be. Makoto, the brawler, would never be this forward and brazen, I’d be too scared of scaring off the boy. Except this is the only place he’s vulnerable, and it is, he is, just a dream. She considered his bright red ears and forehead, and how endearing it was that he was embarrassed this way. Well, it doesn’t matter, I doubt Minako would be this forward, even if she were drunk, she thought as she shimmied out of her panties, picking them up off the floor. She turned him to face the wall and stepped up behind him, resting her elbows on his shoulders and dangling what she held where he could see them. She could feel the heat practically radiating off him, from the blush of his embarrassment. « Talk to me? » she tried to sound petulant, « You won’t look at me. Am I so ugly? » I’m glad he can’t see how badly I’m blushing, I’m disgusted by this, by having fun this way, she thought, I take it back, I could never do any of this, even if there was nobody else in the room. I’d be too embarrassed to be discovered accidentally or be seen through a window. He’d probably hate me if I did this to him, teasing him this mercilessly. When I say ‘no’, he stops. Not this time, when he says ‘no’.

    His hands dropped. « That’s what I –  » he trailed off in a sound like a chain dragging over a curb as he saw what she was dangling in front of his face, while she pressed herself tightly against him.

    This I might try, I’d have my clothes on, but he wouldn’t need to know that, she filed the idea away with a smile, If the others ever hear one word about this. Quit it! It’s a dream, who’ll know unless you tell them? She felt slightly ill at the idea of letting slip one word about what she was doing. « You do think I’m ugly! WAHHH! » she gave her best `Usagi-wail` while she plastered herself against him and hugged him tightly.

    « You – you – don’t – un – under – understand! » he stammered at the top of his lungs, « This – this isn’t – a reg – regular dream! »

    This is too much FUN, she thought with a smile wrapping her arms around his neck and legs around his waist, It’s all I can do to keep from laughing, he sounds so distressed and confused. « You mean we could finally have some real fun?! »

    She caught him as his eyes rolled up in his head and he collapsed. She glanced at the bed and grinned. « He’ll pass out again the instant he wakes up. »

    He woke swiftly and tried to cover her with the bedding, she wrestled him down and pinned him with the sheets and blankets. He really did fight to ‘preserve my dignity and modesty’, she thought, panting after the brief fight with him, He’s looking at my eyes, although he checked my deep breathing out first. « You shouldn’t tease me this way, » she told him huskily, « You play at being shy, then you look at me and get me all quivery inside. » ‘Quivery’, is that even a word? she thought, It certainly describes his trembling lips. She lay down on him, pressing her lips to his. « You’re so adorable like this, » she whispered, « Tried to tie me up and have your wanton way –  » She paused. I can’t – she thought as she closed her eyes and buried her face in his chest, I can’t look at him, he’s so lost and confused, I’ll burst out laughing and I’ll never stop. « You could have just . . . asked. I know you wouldn’t hurt me, » she sighed, « You must have learned some . . . faaaassscinnating things to do. »

    « This isn’t just your dream! » He sounded so abjectly miserable, she nearly burst out laughing.

    Jealous, that’s it, she thought focusing on the idea of having to share him with the other girls, so she could stay serious. She lifted her head to stare at him. « Oh, I need to share you with the other girls, » she pouted and nearly burst out laughing again, « I guess I shouldn’t think someone so yummy could be all mine. » She ran her hand over his shirt. « You look so uncomfortable. » She paused, slithered over him. « Maybe your clothes are too tight. » I can’t believe I’m doing this, she thought, But it’s fun, the control. Someone being afraid not because I’m a threat.

    « It’s my dream too! » he blurted out. Makoto’s hands froze hovering just above his buttons.

    « You’re dream too? » she asked in a small voice, wracked by uncertainty, her face against his shoulder.

    She felt him nodding frantically. « Please understand, » he pleaded.

    She felt tears beginning to form, glad her face was still hidden against his chest. He dreams of being with me too, she thought, smiled, draped herself tightly around him, He likes these games, but he wants to play them with his wife. She shook her head. It’s important to know, but that’s for the real world, she thought and steeled herself, This is a dream. « You’re so worried about my reputation and honor, » she said, raising her head and smiling seductively, « But who’d know. »

    He stared at her, completely stunned.

    « Maybe you should tie me up, then you’ll feel safe, » she purred to him, giving him a cat lick on his chin with an expression that promised more.

    « Tha – tha – that isn’t it, it’s a –  » her kiss interrupted his tirade and struggles as she slid under the covers next to him.

    Applause from behind her made her break the kiss and look over her shoulder in terror at being discovered.

    « Very nice muscles, a bit of definition, but still very feminine. I bet the carpet even matches the curtains, » Asuka said in an amused tone as she leaned against the doorframe, nearly mirroring Makoto’s earlier stance.

    Makoto frowned, then realized the truth. « Bringing Asuka in, » she turned back and accused Jeff, « That’s naughty. » Makes sense, she thought, Asuka’s the one he’d turn to when he needs rescuing. She turned him face down and spanked him once. « I’ll give you a proper spanking later, » she hissed in his ear, pinched his exposed cheeks and slid off the bed. She stood to her full height, just a little taller than Asuka. She walked slowly across the floor towards Asuka, the redhead’s stance of invincibility faded a bit with each step. What am I doing? Makoto wondered as she advanced, step by step, What is he doing, why is Asuka here? It’s not that he wants a . . . threesome. She suppressed a shudder at the idea. Asuka isn’t interested in girls that way, and neither am I, she kept thinking while she advanced, Wait a second, he didn’t bring her here, this is my dream. I did, why not, she’s walked in every other time we started getting physical, either intimate or fighting.

    She took another step, playing on Asuka’s growing fear. That’s right, all you are is an excuse. A symbol of my fear of getting together with a guy – that way. You’re also a temptation, a pretty girl I could `hang around with`, like Ami wants to `hang around` with you. You’re a better fighter than me, you’ve had his heart longer than I have. There’s parts of him that you have that I’ll never see or even understand. She advanced with more purpose now, with ewach step, her confidence grew, and Asuka’s visibly faded. I want him, I get you in the package. Fine! I’ll prove to whatever part of me is keeping me uncertain that I can accept Asuka into my heart and soul, that I can love Asuka anyway she needs to be loved. If it means that’s what I have to do to gain and keep Jeff’s love . . . so do it with firm purpose and an open mind. « There’s no way you can scare me or drive me off, » she told the apparition, « I’ll do what it takes! »

    The effigy looked worried and confused.

    I can do this! Makoto ordered herself.

    Makoto let her long legs carry her slowly towards the arrogant redhead, stretching them out ahead of her like the old goosestep, but giving it a more sensual look and sense. If this projection is like the original, then a show of equal or greater confidence is what works against her, she thought as she closed on Asuka, who had taken a couple of cowed steps backward.

    Makoto wrapped a leg around both of Asuka’s and pressed herself against her. I bet this wouldn’t work against the real Asuka, she thought as she looked into the fire blazing in Asuka’s eyes. « Maybe a little girl-on-girl will encourage him, maybe he doesn’t think of you the way you think he does, » she suggested loud enough for Jeff to hear, « Maybe that’s why you kept walking in on us, » then whispered as she smiled, « I’m lucky you aren’t real, or you’d kill me for doing this. » She squeezed Asuka’s behind with both hands. As Asuka’s effigy gave an outraged squawk, Makoto gave her an open-mouthed kiss as she held Asuka’s squirming body against her, turning slightly.

    Jeff ought to be watching all of this, Makoto thought as Asuka quit resisting and began kissing her back . . . Asuka could hardly believe what was happening. That! That! she thought as her fury built, Just because I don’t moon over any boy who breathes, doesn’t mean I’m a lesbian! she wanted to scream. No, a subtler revenge is available, she thought as what Makoto had told her registered, Since she thinks this is a dream, her own private fantasy . . . I can easily make it a nightmare.

    Asuka ran her fingers down Makoto’s bare sides as she began kissing the girl back. Laughing to herself at the girl’s surprised shivers, until her hands were behind Makoto’s knees. She lifted the Senshi off the ground, the girl squealed her surprise and awkwardly grabbed hold as Asuka carried her to the bed Jeff had so swiftly vacated. Makoto hung onto Asuka, trying to maintain her air of false confidence. Not sure now are you? Uncertain what you’ve stirred up? she thought with growing enjoyment of her revenge, At least she’s not kissing me so fervently. I’m going to enjoy telling her. She broke the kiss, so she could set the barb.

    « The chemise and panties were a good start, » Asuka whispered to her, « But you should have just kissed and hugged him, kept the expectations high but uncertain. No wonder your battles are so chaotic, you keep forgetting what was the point –  » Asuka dropped Makoto on the bed.  » – of the action, » she said as she stepped in.

    The naked girl let out a squawk, then looked up, gave Asuka a sultry smile. « You like it a little rough? » Makoto asked in a teasing tone, trying to rally.

    « The point is to get him here, with you, of his own free will, and make him unwilling to leave, » she said quietly, then Asuka leaned close. « I like to hear begging and whimpers from the helpless, » Asuka told her malevolently as she lay across Makoto, letting her own body hide the Senshi’s nakedness and her long hair to cover Makoto’s breasts. From her expression, it tickles and she’s now modest enough, Raccoon should watch.

    « Should I moan and plead? » Makoto asked, reaching for Asuka’s face.

    « It’s a good thing to remember when we all wake up, » Asuka told her, « Something for all of us to remember. » Asuka treasured the girl’s look of uncertainty. « You see, he told you this was a dream, his dream too, not your dream. »

    The look became an eye tic, but Asuka wasn’t done. « He explained it all while you were doing your striptease, I overheard, you’d do better in the future if there’s more tease and less strip. Men like imagining, you can even reverse things if you give them expectations. Gets them revved up, then frustrated, then you can get them to do anything. »

    The eye tic had become a whole face tic as realization dawned. The supine Senshi squeaked as Asuka ran her hand over Makoto’s stomach. « Oooo, good muscles. I like some muscles, » Asuka told her through a predator’s smile and narrowed eyes, « Makes the struggle more real. Just as useless, but soooo much more . . . titillating. »

    Asuka leaned close and whispered, « You can start anytime, he just loves watching. I won’t hurt you too much. I don’t break my toys . . . as long as they remember they’re my toys. »

    « You’re – both – here – likeifyou – were – awake – and here?! » Makoto breathed on the verge of a panic attack, her breath coming in rapid gasps.

    « Oh, good, very sexy, gets all the good parts jiggling, » Asuka purred, « Oh yes, you showed him all your goodies, and he was embarrassed I’ll hold him down while you –  »

      Asuka never got to finish, Makoto screamed, thrashed loose and ran from the room, her wail of despair Doppler-shifting down as she ran away. Asuka slipped off the bed and helped Raccoon raise the covers as Makoto’s scream now upshifted and got louder as she approached.

      « You’re awful, » Raccoon told her as Makoto dashed into the room and threw herself bodily into the offered sanctuary. As they dropped the covers on the naked girl, an arm thrust out of the bundle.

      « There’s a dragon sipping tea in my kitchen! » Makoto wailed.

      « All of him? » Asuka asked as Raccoon hung the chemise and panties on the outthrust arm. « He must have shrunk a lot. Or the kitchen expanded. »

      Makoto retracted her arm and the bedding rippled with activity. Raccoon headed for her closet. « I’d think he’d only be able to get his head in the door, » Raccoon commented, as he removed a blouse, bra and slacks, before returning to the bed and tossing them under the bedding.

      Asuka ignored Makoto’s squeak of outrage. « And that prehensile tail to fix the tea, » she added.

      « Good point. »

      A Usagi-like wail wafted from the bundle on the bed.

     Makoto had gone through abject misery, and out the other side. She’d passed through suicidal depression with the sure and certain knowledge that even death wouldn’t prevent a shaman like Jeff from summoning her shade and asking her ‘Just what did you think you were doing?’ She found a peaceful acceptance in realizing, « I’m doomed! You both think I’m a slut and a whore! » Makoto wailed, then glanced at Asuka and her despair intensified, « A lesbian whore! »

      « Bisexual, dear, » Asuka corrected sweetly, « Also, whores are professionals, dear, you’re clearly an amateur. » Asuka’s and Jeff’s seeming amusement at all of the events didn’t help.

      Makoto’s tears flowed freely, blurring her vision and making it impossible to make out the details of the black cobblestone road the three of them sat on. Don’t think ‘make out’! she told herself sternly, and went off on another crying jag. « I just – just wanted –  » she said, then steeled herself « I just wanted to not be alone! » her statement devolved into a howl of pain and embarrassment as the two sat on either side of her in the middle of the road between the rows of little pickets.

      « And you didn’t think you had that?’ Jeff asked softly, sighed in disappointment.

      That neither of them are teasing me about it just makes it worse, Makoto thought as she felt the road shift underneath her. « Earthquake? » she asked as she accepted Jeff’s hand to steady her, then she dried her eyes with her other hand. « I . . . I thought . . .  » Makoto tried to begin, she felt the tears welling again.

      « It’s just says you’re adventuresome in the bedroom, » Asuka said as if commenting on the weather.

      Makoto didn’t see Asuka smile or react, due to her tears flowing again. « WAAHHH! » Makoto vied for Usagi’s ‘Ultimate Crybaby’ title. « You hate me! »

      « We certainly do, » Asuka said coldly

      « That’s why we waited until we left the stratosphere before we calmed you down. » The gravelly voice seemed to come from the road itself.

      Makoto looked around at the now-darkening, purple sky. « Night time? » she asked as she dried her eyes, accepting Jeff’s handkerchief to help.

      « No, flight time, » the `road` told her.

      Dozens of niggling, little facts queued up in Makoto’s mind, and presented her with an inescapable conclusion. The cobblestone road between the pickets is the back of a dragon, she realized, And we’re flying into space.

      PLEASE DON’T LET ME FALL!!! she begged as fervently as she could.

      « You’re choking us, » Asuka croaked while trying to pry herself out of Makoto’s fear-strengthened grip. Asuka freed herself, Makoto wrapped her arms and legs around Jeff like a starfish, preventing any attempt he might make to free himself. She buried her face in his chest.

      « Fear of flying? » he asked conversationally, then added something Makoto didn’t understand, but Asuka laughed, « You aren’t hurting me. »

      « We’re in OUTER SPACE! Makoto replied, sounding considerably less hysterically afraid that she felt.

      « Actually, we’re in another dimension, » Jeff supplied, smiling at her, « I think we all need to show you a few things. I’m going to tell you to hang on, but that would be redundant at this point. »

      « Uh huh, » Makoto told him, easing up slightly, but holding on tightly and smiling back.

      « Relax, » came the dragon’s gravelly tone, « We’ll be landing in a moment. »

      « But wouldn’t it take days to get to the moon? » Makoto asked.

      « If you’re a slowpoke, » the dragon replied as his body shook slightly from the landing, only tiny clouds of lunar dust were raised by the impact, « All ashore what’s going ashore. »

      A massive set of jet-black fingers closed around Jeff and Makoto, the dragon gingerly set them on the lunar surface.

      Makoto slowly uncurled. « I didn’t hurt you? » she asked worriedly, « Are you sure? »

      « You didn’t hurt me, I’m immune to crushing, » Jeff teased, « Were you trying to? » He let go of her and walked around the dusty, gray landscape.

      « Is this really the moon? » Makoto asked to change the subject, « Wouldn’t someone have seen these buildings? »

      « We’re in a different dimension, » the dragon reminded her.

      Makoto turned to look at the immense creature. A few moments later she was relaxing her deathgrip around Jeff again, who’d been standing 10 meters away.

      « Relax, he’s all right, » Asuka told her, « We’ve been allies for ages. »

      « After you beat me into submission and took advantage of me, » the dragon said, taking a ‘oh woe is me’ stance. Until a huge moon rock shattered against his head. Asuka stood a distance away, completing the follow through, heat radiating off her in waves.

      « Is he . . . are they your friends? » Makoto asked Jeff.

      « I wouldn’t want either as an enemy. Otherwise, not really, » Jeff told her, « Asuka’s an ally, the Scholarly Dragon . . . well, he’s me, sort of. »

      Makoto stared at the creature who was larger than a jet airliner, who smiled and waved shyly at her. Then she stared at Jeff, who gave her the same shy wave. She stared back at the dragon in shock. « He’s you – ‘sort of’? » Makoto asked as she unwound from Jeff. I wonder if I could jump all the way back to Earth, she considered the insane people around her, Maybe it would be better if I just ran for the horizon. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about anyone finding out.

      « It’s . . . complicated. »

      « And it can wait, » Asuka said sharply, glaring at the dragon, then trying to soften her expression as she looked at Jeff and Makoto.

      She’s still scarier than I could ever be, Makoto thought.

      « We have these ruins to look around in, » Asuka told them, « I think we should start at the palace. » She marched off, as if no one would dare not follow.

      They walked through the shattered streets, looked at the ruined buildings and headed for a building that had been truly grand in its day. « These people fell as swiftly as those on the other kingdoms. Mars, Jupiter, Pluto, the natural environment came rushing in like an angry sea. Too hot, too cold, no air. Exposure, burns, asphyxiation or all of the above, » Jeff said without any emotion.

      Makoto looked around to see the bodies he was refering to, she saw nothing except the buildings. « Why did they attack? This was supposed to be a paradise, » Makoto whispered, feeling odd echoes from the devastation, an alien and all-consuming sense of deja vu. I can remember the battles fought here, she thought as she looked at the ruined buildings, seeing the buildings as they were, in her mind’s eye, I can also remember the balls and the plays. I can remember walking the paths, sampling the baked goods and the sweets, people asking my advice on how to make them better. ‘Jupiter-Senshi’ they called me. The aloneness she’d felt from Jeff became her own, as she remembered people long-dead, friends and rivals and allies, people she’d never see again, but would now remember forever. The sadness that filled her went beyond pain. An emptiness, she realized as she felt it crushing in on her, I can never fill it, not with love, not with pain, not with success or even with failure. When she opened her eyes, she looked on a different world. This is why they are why they are, she realized, They’ve been `tainted` this way, with a real emptiness. The only thing they can do . . . other than survive . . . is to prevent others – but they gave me a taste of it. To understand how serious this all is.

      She sighed looked up at the twisted metal poles topped by shattered crystals. It doesn’t hurt so much now. I can just look at it and see, but the joy is still there. The memories of all the smiles around me. My duty to them still remains as well. The lamps would give a soft `Earthlight` glow when neither Earth nor Sol was in the sky. No matter how hard I tried, I could never get them to work on Jupiter, but we had our own beauty. Even back then, I was considered rough and unfeminine, everyone on Jupiter was supposed to be a brawler, like the American cowboys, but it was beautiful, the poems, songs, paintings and sculptures. We were who we were, and proud of that. She paused and sank to her knees, the feelings of loss tearing through the void and into her heart. She felt Jeff’s arms around her, she just held him and let the tears fall.

      « What is paradise? » Asuka asked, looking around, « And who defines it? »

      Only seeing the ruins, Makoto realized why they were immune to the calamity surrounding them, Like the pyramids, or the Greek ruins, not seeing the vibrant living palace this had been.

      « This isn’t as bad as what the Americans and Brits reduced Germany to. This could be rebuild, » she said not unkindly, but seeing her own dark memories of loss, « I can remember my beautiful city . . . heaps of rubble as far as the eye could see, which wasn’t far for the dust and smoke. What wasn’t smashed, was burning, you’d think you couldn’t break something ephemeral, like a people’s spirit. You can’t forever, but with enough explosive, with enough incindiaries, you can for a little while. » Asuka seemed to shake herself free. She spoke as if to someone impossibly close, yet terribly far away, « You asked about paradise, in paradise, all is done. We need challenges, stresses, things to make us go. The decision to survive and rebuild, that allowed us to continue. Things here were complete, as soon as that happened, perfection could continue and the people were finished. I can see why those with things still to do went to Jupiter, or one of the other worlds. In those places, in that environment, they were constantly reminded that there were bigger things, uncontrollable things. But here, the illusion of unchanging transcendence was perfect. » She looked at the Earth, the great blue and white light just above the horizon. She continued in the same eerie ‘not-there’ tone, « They never saw there was so much work left to be done. »

      « You make this sound like a prison, or a museum, » Makoto complained. What’s gotten into her? she wondered worriedly, It’s like she’s not even human anymore, something, primaeval I guess, looking back at us. Like she was here and saw it, but wasn’t moved by it, because she’d seen it before.

      « A gilded cage, » Asuka agreed sharply, returning to the prickly teen-ager, staring at Earth as it slowly rose, « In a handful of years, in Italy, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, the Renascence, the seeds of the Enlightenment. In Switzerland, centuries of orderly peace. The cuckoo clock and Albert Schweitzer, who left to do his work and wasn’t even Swiss. »

      « Think about Japan’s development before and after Commodore Perry’s arrival. Japan went from an international joke, to a minor member of the Great Powers, it took on the three mightiest Great Powers, and was ground into the dust, now it’s a major player on the international stage, » Jeff offered.

      It’s like watching an intellectual tennis match, Makoto thought as her confusion increased, They know what they’re talking about. Maybe I’m not even here. « In words and thoughts a Japanese Junior High student can understand? »

      Jeff took on a bit of Asuka’s ‘not-there’ tone, « Yes, all Chaos was shorn from this place, and so was all passion. Sorry, modern Junior High, this wasn’t paradise as everybody would define it, this was paradise as Tsukino Usagi defined it. Sign me up to get my brain spooned out as cat food, thank you very much. I don’t think that your previous incarnations understood why the people hated them. Courtly love and erudite conversation, and full of condescension for those who didn’t match, or even want their paradise and prejudices. Imagine the queen bees of the school, with absolute power to back them up, not just the principal, but almost God Himself. »

      That I can see, Makoto thought, Jupiter was full of such `outcasts` and `weirdoes`, so too was Mercury, `nerds` mostly, Makoto thought, glancing at the three faces around her, trying to decide which of them was the oldest and most alien, I can remember my . . . other self, not understanding why. Now I do. I can also understand why the rebellion gained such strength so quickly. It’s right here in miniature, we all have the same number of years, but different paths through them. Adults would never bend their knees to be ruled by children, no matter their age. « Ivory tower, » Makoto said, discouraged by the implications.

      Jeff put his arm around her shoulder and took her hand, helping her to her feet. « They were out of touch with the people of Earth, that brawling, filthy mass. The other planets were filled with people who thought the same way. Serenity and her bodyguard did. Beryl was a young witch, who managed to plant the worm of uncertainty in Mamoru’s ancestor’s generals, so they balked at giving the Moon Kingdom a toehold on Earth. I can’t say I blame them, » Jeff said.

      « I wouldn’t blame them either, » the dragon said, « Homogenizing and enthralling, literally, the remainder of the Human race would have me up in arms. Beryl simply massed a lot of people with legitimate fears, then fanned the flames of that fear. Serenity assumed that they would discover the `Truth!` of who she was and what the Moon Kingdom stood for. She never understood that anyone would see things so differently. That the price for the paradise she offered was too high. »

      « No disease, no starvation, no war? » Makoto countered angrily.

      « No free will, and no privacy, even within your own mind? » Asuka said almost flippantly, « No challenges, no dragons to slay, all of them safely in books and stories. None of the great passions that stir men to excellence. Just existing, never striving for your destiny, or falling to your fate. I’m sorry, the First Circle of Hell sounds better, heck, Circles two and three aren’t too bad either. »

      « Then Serenity locked those people away, to marinate in their own concerns and the fury of thwarted Chaos, turning them to evil as they fed on each other. Fed on each others spirits and flesh until only the strongest and the most pliant survived, » the dragon said, looked around with disgust, « She thought that more merciful and enlightened, simply killing them was the act of an uncivilized savage. So while you remember this place, as I saw you are doing, » the dragon told Makoto, « Remember that to preserve Serenity’s ethical and philosophical purity, the Queen you so revere, saw to it you’ll never have a home, or children, or a life of your own. Beryl and the others were only one of an unknown number of such enemies. Enemies she was too emotionally weak to do away with in her strength, so a bunch of half-trained school girls will be forced to deal with them. The mighty foisting their troubles on the weak isn’t wisdom or compassion, but they’ll claim it is. The other Senshi will be the only family long-dead Serenity will allow you. Think on that before you cast her as a saint. »

      Makoto felt her soul freeze solid at the certainty that she heard in his words about her fate. I’ll live and die for the Princess, she thought, They will fight and if necessary die, but they have hope for an end to it, for homes and families after their war is over. That’s denied me forever.

      « That’s one reason we’re here, » Asuka said, « To find who they are, where they are, and how to destroy them. » Asuka laughed mirthlessly. « Great Old Ones are for death and destruction. We might as well serve a more noble purpose. »

      « You’ll have to make sure if Usagi reclaims her Kingdom here, » Jeff said to Makoto, « That she doesn’t make the same mistakes. »

      « I will, » Makoto told him, « I’d hate to have to fight you. » She smirked.

      « Oh, you wouldn’t have to worry about it for more than a few moments, » Asuka assured her, with a smile that gave Makoto shivers.

      « You like scaring people as much as he does! »

      « And I’m just a fluffy-bunny, » the dragon told her.

      « I think Usagi’s got you beat there, » Jeff explained as he leaned down and brushed moon dust aside from something. He pulled out a metal plaque out of the ground. « Interesting, no organic debris, no bodies, just metal and stone. On the other planets I could believe that, the environment would have swept or burned them away, but not here. »

      « What does that mean? » Makoto asked, looking at the plaque that was clearly a road sign. « Wait . . . I can read that, » she breathed and took the plaque in her hands, « It isn’t in Japanese, how can I read this? »

      « If you are the rebirth of the previous Senshi, some memories might bleed over. »

      Makoto wasn’t sure which of the three had spoken, she was too shocked by the words she clearly read, a language that had nothing to do with any language of Earth.

      « Let’s see if the library is still intact, » the dragon suggested.

      « Where would . . .  » Makoto’s voice trailed off as she looked around. She dropped the sign and began walking. I know where it is, she thought as the trio fell in behind her, I’ve been here before! Only the sound of their footsteps echoed through the city ruins. How do I know? she thought as she let old instincts guide her forward, I’m glad they aren’t distracting me, or I’d never keep a hold of the – memory – I guess.

      They arrived at a building that seemed to have received special attention by the attackers.

      « They burned it, » the dragon commented, « Keeps anyone else from finding out what the other side thought or felt. ‘The Universe begins with my reign.' »

      « That graffiti. » Jeff pointed to the scrawl in red over the surviving walls, « It was done after the burning –  »

      « Can you read any of it? » Makoto asked.

      « Yes, it says, we harvested our enemies’ blood and smeared it on these walls. »

      « I’m not going to ask you how you know that at this distance, » Makoto said, shivering at the devastation and the shocking memories the place brought up. Both of the peaceful use, and the fighting, Makoto thought, feeling a great chill filling her as she rubbed her arms in a vain attempt to drive it off. « I . . . I want to leave. » She glanced at the dragon.

      « Even if it means flying out of here? » the dragon asked, no teasing, just warning her.

      « No, we have to find some things, » Asuka said, she looked at Makoto, softened her expression, « But you two can stay here and keep each other safe. We’ll get what we need. »

      Makoto looked in terror at the huge creature, who reacted with the most pathetic cringe she’d ever seen. « She’ll hurt me! » it wailed, in a voice that would have sent most people scurrying for cover.

      Makoto frowned at them all. It’s better than being terrified, Makoto thought as Asuka and Jeff walked off. « So . . . ah . . . how do you know Jeff? » she offered.

      « I am the boy, in a way. You see, what he was, it contended with a dark nightmare of power and devastation. I am the remnants not only of the combat, but the combatants. I am the victory and the battlefield, the glory and the casualties. »

      « Oh. » Makoto stepped back, not knowing what else to say, or to ask.

      « In the dream, your kitchen was exactly as you wanted it? » the dragon asked.

      Makoto nodded.

      « Why’d you have such a lousy collection of tea, and why’d you put too much cinnamon in the sugar cookies? Awful! BLEECH! »

      « NOW WAIT A SECOND! »

     « That’s it? » Asuka asked, nervously looking around the ruins of the palace.

      « That’s it, » Jeff replied, « You get what you were after? » He stood up from where he’d been digging through the cubbyholes under the floor boards.

      « Or as close as I can find, » Asuka admitted, « No constitution, no limits on power. This wasn’t a monarchy, it was a theocracy, with Serenity as the philosopher-queen. Even the Great Old Ones would stay away from that. Technology? »

      « Like I said earlier, » Jeff carefully packed away the small objects he’d found scattered around the palace’s debris, « Everything was done with magic. No engineers, no watch makers, no toy makers. Not a motor, spring or circuit to be found. Scary. No attempt to supplant magic with anything that would function outside the borders of the Kingdom. »

      « So when Serenity and company went down, » Asuka concluded, « They took the whole civilization down with them. Why is none of this in any of the histories? »

      « Non-interaction, » Jeff said disparagingly, « The Moonies stayed up here, floating above the populace who grubbed like worms in the Earth below. They either reigned over it completely: body, mind and soul; or it was outside. »

      « And they had a fair dose of xenophobia as well, » Asuka added, « I found some notes on what was considered of Jupiter, Mercury, Pluto and their satellite outposts. »

      « Polite but disrespectful? » Jeff asked, smirking.

      « If someone said that about me, » Asuka said, « They’d be in the market for dentures and reconstructive surgery. What about that Silver Crystal thing? You find it? »

      « I found three of them, but they look like failed prototypes, not the finished product. » He sighed and sat back on the ground, staring up at Asuka. « Any one of them would at least act as a sustainer, it couldn’t start anything serious, but it’s clear they could continue what the real one set up. So why didn’t they send them out to the outer provinces. At least the Jovian or Mercurian civilizations could have survived, the scientists and artists could have rebuilt the rest. »

      « You didn’t hear what I just said about Jupiter, Mercury and Pluto. No, that’s not fair. I don’t think they considered the danger, until it was too late. The records say they tried to negotiate, » Asuka said.

      « Beryl and the generals weren’t in a negotiating mood? » Jeff asked as he packed away the last of the historical papers and the magical bits the pair had recovered.

      « They negotiated all right, kept everyone’s attention off the troop movements, » Asuka said, « Patton’s First U.S. Army Group made Beryl’s operation look like a pack of kindergartners, but it hit these twits like a tsunami. Nobody was spared. Terrific. »

      « With that Silver Crystal, Usagi will have the power to do the same thing again, » Jeff said, looked around, « We need more time, but I’m afraid we don’t have it. Why didn’t Beryl take the big crystal? If Usagi gets her hands on it, neither of us could stop her. Beryl would be toast. It would be like nuking a single snowflake. »

      « I don’t want to consider the alternatives, » Asuka said and shifted nervously, « We’re talking about one monstrosity to stop another. Does R’lyeh even exist here? So how else can we prevent a repetition of this? »

      « No, no R’lyeh. While I could, I don’t want to call Cthulhu. With the power of that crystal, her eight loyalists: Scouts, cats and Mamoru, there’s nothing to stop her. Even with that, I’d be more worried about the planets without Senshi: Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. They all had thriving populations, they all died just as suddenly, where were and are their Senshi? Maybe Serenity wasn’t so foolish, she may have had special forces, assassins and saboteurs no one knew about. »

      « Didn’t do her any good, they didn’t stop Beryl, » Asuka pointed out, then frowned, « Unless they were busy elsewhere . . . with what? »

      « Ah, that is the question. » Jeff held up a finger. « Magic isn’t free, perhaps whatever gave Serenity her Silver Crystal, and therefore her powers, decided the bill had come due. I found no clear records where the Silver Crystal came from, only that Serenity was its guardian, not creator, not user, not keeper or caretaker. The implications of that word: guardian, in the native language, hint what was guardian-ed was alive, perhaps sentient, and needed to be looked after, needed guiding. »

      « If you’re trying to scare me, » Asuka said sourly as she brushed aside a pile of moon dust, « Congratulations, you did it. The idea that Usagi is the heir to a nearly omnipotent, maybe sentient magic item . . . the mind boggles. It explains this place, it also explains why the fall. Beryl – or the crystal’s supplier – must have convinced the crystal to either side with Beryl, or stay neutral. »

      « I don’t think Nyarlathotep gave her the toy, but it is his style. ‘But she’s good and beautiful and so kind, how could she do bad?’ You’re over thinking it. The good news is Usagi gives her foes the chance to repent, then blasts them to atoms, so if she falls, the next one gets a easier job, » Jeff warned as he finished collecting the parts and making sure they were secure in the satchel. « There may have been a hidden cost to operating it. These three can’t initiate anything as they are, maybe I can adapt these to something useful with the other bits we picked up. The original may have different problems. »

      Asuka gestured at the ruins surrounding her, « Paradise, based on a lie and a flawed power plant. »

      « If she tried to rebuild and take over, the Soviets, the Chinese, the Americans, the Christians, the Moslems and the Hindus, will they all abandon their nations and religions and bow to Queen Usagi from whom all good things flow? »

      « Is it possible to nuke the moon? » Asuka asked as she frowned, « By ICBM or terrorist? »

      Jeff studied his hands. « You’ve felt it, maybe guessed bits and pieces. The Great Old Ones aren’t useless anomalies, they fit into the Cosmic Scheme of things. »

      « I’ve felt it, maybe I don’t go rummaging around in the memories, maybe I don’t study it like you, » Asuka replied, turning away, « But I am . . . aware. »

      « Then you have your answer. You just don’t like it. »

      « I don’t have to like it, I don’t even have to do it. Not with you and Wondergirl to do it with relish and panache, » she said without passion.

      « There, see? » Raccoon offered, « No problems. »

      They hiked back to where Makoto was confronting the Scholarly Dragon.

      « What did you say? » Asuka demanded.

      « She seemed to scared, » the Dragon offered before Makoto could answer, « So I decided to make her mad. » The Dragon craned his long neck to Raccoon. « She’s very sensitive about her cookie recipes. » The Dragon `hopped` 10 meters in the air, and landed out of Makoto’s reach.

      « You! You! You said those things . . .  » Makoto seemed to collapse in on herself. « And you didn’t mean them!? »

      « Of course not, the boy deceives without lying, I cut out the middleman, » the Dragon told her with a grin.

      « Can’t you do something about . . . ? » Asuka waved her arms in the direction of the pair of combatants.

      « Not until we’re married and find a place that sells ostrich feathers, » Jeff replied.

      Makoto stared at Jeff. « What are you . . . planning to do with an ostrich feather. » Makoto gulped.

      « The feather is for him. » Jeff pointed at the Dragon. « What you should ask is ‘What are you going to do with those pinball machine parts? »

      Makoto and the Dragon regarded each other, then turned away.

      « I don’t think I want to know, » Makoto said.

      « I’m certain I don’t want to know, » the Dragon said, « But it’s not my honeymoon. »

      Makoto blushed ferociously at that. « What are you planning to do with those pinball machine parts? » Makoto asked nervously.

      « Before or after? » Jeff asked innocently.

      And before she can ask, Asuka thought, She remembers what she was doing earlier, when we arrived in her dream. « Having seen the Senshi of Jupiter sufficiently embarrassed for one evening, we’re returning to Earth, » Asuka said finally, as she walked to the Dragon, « And Makoto. »

      « Yes? »

      « Plain white without ornaments or a simple pattern is a good choice, » Asuka said over her shoulder, « You’re going have a hard time keeping your tummy that flat after a couple of kids, but you should try. »

      Makoto stared at the ground, blushing so deeply she went as red as Asuka’s plugsuit. Asuka smiled at that as she climbed up on the Dragon’s back.

     « That’s one of the things I was worried about, » Makoto said, trying to distract herself from the fact that once again they were flying between planets.

      « It’s a reasonable worry, » the Dragon commented, « A study in your past, their future, proved that when a task had inadequate rewards, yet you had to carry it out, the more strongly you clung to the idea that it was rewarding. ‘Cognitive Dissonance’ it’s called. »

      « What does that have to do with the Moon Kingdom? » Makoto asked, trying to shift to the center of the Dragon’s back.

      « Only that the people strongly invested in its success and continuation, are the ones providing you with the information that it was a paradise. They have to believe it was a paradise, or all their efforts on rebirthing it are for nothing. My question remains, ‘If that’s the case, why no records on Earth’? » Jeff asked, « The Europeans had records back to Roman and Greek times, there’s the Kiev Chronicles, the Bible, Josephus. The Chinese have accurate records going back to at least 200 B.C. and fragments going back to biblical times. The Mayan, Incan, and Aztec empires existed south of the Rio Grande, the Anasazi and Midwestern Mound Builders had contacts all the way up to Inuit Territories, and no mention of the Moon Kingdom or any of the others in any of their legends. The Great Flood has world-wide coverage. »

      « Maybe Serenity erased all the records, » Makoto offered, trying to visualize what Usagi would do if all was falling around her. Besides run around and complain, she added ruefully.

      « There’s a simpler explanation, » Asuka countered, « The Kingdom made no attempt to assist, or as they saw it, interfere with Earth. »

      Makoto frowned. That does sound like Usagi, she thought, The job was too hard, so she’d avoid it.

      Asuka continued, « Which means you’ve got an insular, self-centered people who don’t care about `lesser races`. »

      « You make them sound like Nazis, » Makoto accused angrily , then remembered and softly apologized, « Sorry, that was unkind. »

      « Don’t be. The Nazis are guilty of a lot of things and are justly reviled. I was one of their heroes and even I saw that. What is untrue, is that they were the source of all sins. That no one ever spoke those words or thought those thoughts before. All they did was bring all of those words and thoughts to the surface, and put them into practice. »

      « Eugenics, anti-Semitism, racism, fanatic nationalism, » Jeff said, « I heard them all discussed at Harvard, when the Nazis started actually doing them, people were horrified. »

      « Sounds reasonable. » Makoto squirmed at that.

      « They were all discussed to death in the clubs and salons all over Europe and America, and had been for decades. Ask the Irish and the Welsh about English racism. The Nazis’ crime was they ripped it out of the darkness and made it official policy, » Asuka said, lying back on the dragon’s back.

      « That’s horrible! » Makoto said, « All those things –  »

      « Were things many believed, few believed all of them, but most people believed some of them, » Asuka replied coldly, rubbing her eyes, « I’m pointing out that when stupid chatter and petty hatreds of small-minded people suddenly has absolute power backing it up, disaster and death follow close behind. The Poles bled themselves white holding the full attention of the Panzer armies, but that same club/salon chatter withheld the Anglo-French counterstroke that would have shattered Nazi power, in 1939. »

      « But it ‘was only Poland’, ‘A United Europe is a good thing’, » Jeff said, « Another subject of endless cocktail party chatter at Harvard. Even at six, I recognized the stupidity of not killing the mad dog when the whole neighborhood is available. »

      Makoto felt whipsawed between the two. Usagi would never do such a thing, but they’re saying Serenity didn’t intend to but that’s what resulted, she thought desperately, Yet . . . I remember the battle, I remember the savagery of the fighting. I . . . I even remember being butchered after I fell. « Just killing me wasn’t enough, » she whispered, then smiled as Jeff put his arms around her shoulder. I can’t let it happen again, she silently vowed.

      « The Empire, and make no mistake, » Asuka explained, « It was an empire, was based on prejudices that were a good deal more altruistic. »

      « But they were still prejudices, » Makoto realized, « You’re predicting a disaster, if Usagi takes the throne. » Her heart sank as Asuka, Jeff and even the dragon nodded.

      « I doubt there was supposed to be a serious, even a measurable different between Serenity and Usagi, except Serenity had absolute power over a large number of people, not just of life and death, but of what they would think and feel. Usagi needs to learn what power means, and what power costs. »

      « From your tone, » Makoto said, « You wouldn’t approve of a reborn Moon Kingdom. »

      « If I had been there, » Jeff admitted, « I would have acted well before Beryl, and a good deal more diplomatically. »

      « I can just see you two marching into the throne room, » Makoto said with a smirk, « Beating the four of us into submission and giving Serenity a stern talking to, and a spanking. »

      The guffaws from the dragon had the three humans hanging on for dear life. Jeff and Asuka held the pickets, Makoto held on to them.

      « True, » Jeff said lying flat on still-giggling dragon, « I would have opposed the Moon Kingdom and their policies. » Jeff paused and considered « Why do I think she’d enjoy it. »

      « Usagi? » Makoto asked, still wrapped in her friends’ tight grip.

      « No, Rei, » Asuka said from beside Makoto, « Watching Usagi get spanked. »

      « You two are terrible!’ Makoto accused, hiding her smile by touching her forehead to the dragon’s back, « Usagi is a good person, deep down. »

      « No, Usagi is a nice person, she’d be more than willing to sacrifice herself to protect her friends, or to make people happy, » Jeff commented as the dragon stabilized and he sat up.

      « Humans are happiest when they are under a certain amount of stress, » the Dragon commented without a trace of his previous laughter, « Especially after the cause of the stress has been overcome. Like laughter, happiness cannot be sustained, it can only occur as the crest of a wave that must include troughs of unhappiness even misery. Contentment can be sustained, but it palls as much as hopelessness. Humans require the highs and lows to be healthy, let alone successful. »

      « So, we shouldn’t try to conquer the world? » she joked.

      « We leave her here? » the dragon asked, getting a laugh from the rest.

      « Besides, with the cities and structures scattered throughout the system, » Jeff began.

      « You can select colonists, » Asuka completed the thought, making Makoto slightly jealous at the pair’s close thinking and what it implied.

      « Artists to one, astronomers to another, etc. You could make people pay good money to ‘get away from it all’, » Jeff finished the train of thought.

      « How did you three learn such things? » Makoto asked, feeling very green and naive.

      The dragon’s chuckle shock her, sending all of them to `crash` positions, « I am ancient, even by the measure of the Moon Kingdom, even by the measure of the Sphinx of Egypt. »

      « Raccoon and I have spent a lot of time in dreams like this one. With training, such a dream could continue for days or weeks, and still take only one night. So we’re older than we look, » Asuka said as she sat up again, scowling at the dragon.

      « We also lived in a very different age. People were forced to exceed what they thought they could do, there was also not the feeling of immortality you and your entire society have. Between disease and the war, death was always over our shoulder. You do it today, or it might never be done, » Jeff added, patting Makoto’s hand.

      « So we’ll become more mature as the battles become more serious, » Makoto said. I don’t look forward to that, she thought, Can’t I keep any of my illusions?

      « If you treat them as real threats to yourself and your world, yes, » the dragon replied, « If you treat them as interruptions of your normal life, no you won’t learn. Humans never do. You hairless apes only pay attention when something pains or costs. » The Dragon’s laughter didn’t make Makoto feel very secure.

Sailor Jupiter 9

      « Reow reow, reow, reow! » Artemis screamed as the yoyo mooncat unwound as he descended alongside the building Jeff sat atop. Jeff glanced at Luna as she cowered in her cage.

      « You don’t understand, » Luna pleaded with him, « We told Asuka everything! »

      « You told her everything you remembered – at that time, » Jeff explained in a kindly tone as he flicked the rope up, sending the bound mooncat spinning up to his palm, « Now you might remember more, » he said as flick of his wrist sent the mooncat down. He addressed himself to Luna in her cage, « There’s also the fact that she’s a physicist and mathematician. I’m an engineer and historian. I’ll ask different questions, and interpret what you say differently. »

      Jeff flicked his hand up, and looked down over the edge of the roof at the spinning Artemis. « It’s amazing that something that small can barf that much. »

      Luna fainted.

     It was the smell of food that tickled Asuka into consciousness. Her nose dragged her brain forward with the promise of a real breakfast. Eggs: fried; sausage: fried, beef; orange juice; bread: rye, toasted, her nose crooned, enlisting her taste buds and salivary glands, who added her stomach, All I have to be, is awake enough to eat it before someone else does. Assembling a quorum, they overruled her brain and declared it was time to wake up.

      She opened her eyes and saw the tray, the report from her nose was confirmed by her eyes, but behind it sat Rei, in full miko get up, looking as ‘weak, feminine, submissive’ as the fiery girl could manage.

      « I don’t care how pretty and demure you are, or how well you can cook, » Asuka said as she sat up, « I’m not marrying you. »

      Rei let out a strangled sound. « No, this . . . I want to thank you for your help and . . . show my appreciation for what you’ve taught us. »

      « Especially what you learned eavesdropping on your grandfather? » Asuka asked, tired of the games Rei insisted on playing.

      Rei nearly fell over at that comment, « Uh, I’m certain that –  »

      « He was aware you were spying on us, » Asuka interrupted, enjoying the odor of the food, « You might want to ask him about training. »

      « How would I explain it? » Rei stammered.

      « Why explain it? » Asuka asked, shrugged. You can drag their head underwater until they drown, but you can’t make them drink, she thought sadly, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, I can only do what I can do. « Just ask, if he asks for an explanation, say you were interested in what he was teaching. I can almost guarantee he won’t ask why. »

      « I . . . do wish you’d stay, » Rei said shyly.

      « No, » Asuka said. Especially considering how Ami is acting, Asuka thought, The quicker I’m out of here the better.

      « This is something you have to discover for yourself, something I can’t make you decide by staying or leaving, are you going to be a dilettante or a soldier? Are you going to dance, or fight? »

      « That is a good question. »

      « You have my phone number. Jeff can teleport, so if you do need some reinforcements . . . or something quietly assassinated –  » She watched Rei choke at that. « You have people to call on. »

      « I’m sure that . . . I won’t need the . . . special services. »

      « Never say never, » Asuka warned as she sampled the eggs. Not bad, she thought, noting the miko’s intense interest in Asuka’s reaction to the quality. Asuka nodded to her and she relaxed. « You just don’t know. The threat is also useful, ‘Please don’t make us call in Asuka and Raccoon, they’ll sing!‘ »

      « Yes, we don’t know, » Rei said angrily, « That’s part of the problem. »

      « I may have something for that as well, » Asuka said as she removed a copy of her notes, copied, organized and wirebound, « Xerox, everyone a publisher ™. »

     Makoto heard the pen scratching frantically in her kitchen, seeming faster than she’d ever heard. Still dark outside, she thought as she peered around the corner. Jeff sat at her kitchen table, a large pile of paper beside him, writing and sketching furiously, adding sheets to the larger pile. She approached nervously. He seemed to forgive me . . . she thought fidgeting as she walked, Did he? Did he really? Does he forgive – what I did, for embarrassing him that way?

      She’d thought she was quiet. He suddenly looked at her, before she could take a step back, he’d leapt from the chair, run straight at her, gathered her in his arms and returned to the table, placing her in his lap as he sat down and returned to work.

      « What are you so nervous about? » he asked, seemingly oblivious to everything but his writing.

      « You’re leaving, and I made a fool out of myself. » She settled against him, feeling very small and vulnerable. The girl who beats up thing, she thought, Is afraid of words, of being alone.

      « If you think you’re the first to make mistakes, you’re wrong, » Jeff said, looked at her and smiled, « If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t be working on this. The history and all the known powers of the Senshi, torture makes people say whatever they think will stop the pain, so I use just enough discomfort to focus the mind. »

      « What did you do? » Makoto asked, staring worriedly at him.

      « I can manipulate dreams . . . if I can concentrate. »

      Makoto blushed at the implications of that statement.

      « Let’s just say I gave somebody a nightmare. I also figured that Luna would do anything to stop Artemis from being hurt while she was safe, and vice versa. So, all it took was two dreams. »

      « Huh? » Makoto asked.

     « You were the one who was spinning around! » Artemis insisted quietly to Luna.

      « No, it was you who were –  » Luna countered, then glanced at Makoto’s apartment.

      Artemis glanced that way as well. « He fooled both of us. What did you tell him? » he asked sharply.

      Luna bowed her head. « Anything to make him stop hurting you, » she said quietly.

      « Excuse me? » Artemis asked.

      « Anything I could think of, » Luna said in a clearer tone.

      « Same here . . . did you tell him anything you didn’t tell Asuka? » Artemis asked sheepishly, « I certainly did. »

      Luna chuckled. « It could have been worse. He could have locked us in cage and force-fed us Usagi’s cooking. » Both mooncats shuddered at that.

      « I wouldn’t mind throwing up after that torture, » Artemis admitted with a chuckle, then stepped closer to Luna, nuzzling her slightly, « Was it . . . bad? »

      « I didn’t want him to hurt you anymore, » Luna said with teary eyes, « You? »

      « Yes, much the same, » Artemis admitted, « We’d better get back to the girls. »

      Luna nodded and sprinted back to her Senshi, she stopped and glanced over her shoulder, and saw Artemis looking over his shoulder at her. Both blushed before looking forward and continued to their homes.

     Makoto finished cooking an early breakfast. « Do I want to know? » she asked, « Breakfast is almost ready. »

      « I’ll have this finished in a bit, » Jeff replied. Makoto couldn’t believe he’d used nearly a ream of paper, « I still have to get this copied, so each of you can have one. I want you to be safe, this is the best way to let you grow into who you need to be. »

      « It’s a . . . different way to think about things. »

      « Because if I took the idea that I can do it again in my next life, all of creation would be under Nyarlathotep’s heel the next time around. Asuka and I get one chance to win. I can see Usagi trying to recreate the Moon Kingdom in deference to the circular logic, taking her opportunity to do it again, and making the same mistakes. Mistakes because the process is where the flaws lie. The flaws are intrinsic. »

      Makoto placed the plates of food before him and at her place. She returned to get the tea for them. « People aren’t as bright and beautiful as she wants to believe. » I certainly am not, she thought. « You believe people are rotten, » Makoto said with a frown. She didn’t hear him move, but his arms were around her shoulders and waist, hugging her tightly to him.

      « I beleive: People are people. »

      She thrilled as he brushed her hair out of the way and kissed her neck, softly, tenderly. She shivered at his touch, then she squealed as she felt his hand slip beneath her shirt and caress her stomach. « Stop that! » she insisted as she slapped his hand away and rolled out of his grip, utterly mortified. She was surprised that he stood there, smiling.

      He held up two finger almost touching. « A little bit of darkness, just a dab. Easily squashed out and controlled, but you wonder what it would have been like to go further. If I had done that on our honeymoon, you wouldn’t have tried to stop me. »

      She smirked and nodded. Last night, I was trying worse, she thought, I guess I’m not the monster I thought I was.

      His expression grew serious. « People need shadows, little bit of darkness where they can hold things like those memories, where others won’t see them. You thought you could be whoever you wanted to be last night. »

      As she tried to turn away, he took her shoulders in his hands and turned her back to face him. He carefully lifted her chin so she had to look himinthe face. « I’ve thought the same thoughts. Don’t take the fact I never acted on them as I don’t care or I’m a eunuch, » he told her, « You didn’t understand the consequences. If you had, and then done the same thing, I would have reacted differently. » He released her chin. « People need dreams that others don’t know about. The Moon Kingdom didn’t allow that, those dreams weren’t forbidden, they were impossible. »

      Makoto hugged herself, feeling a profound shame at what she had done. The hug she got was less tantalizing, and filled her with a very different warmth.

      « You aren’t a bad person for having dreams like that, » he explained, « Everyone has things they want that they can’t get. Everyone has fantasies they don’t want made public. If you really want to destroy someone, you take away their ability to dream and fantasize. People also need the right to be small and selfish, at least in their minds. Good people don’t lose all those impulses. I’ve seen her eat, Usagi has them herself. »

      « However -? » she asked, looking into his eyes.

      « However . . . the people in the Moon Kingdom lacked them. The people may have loved her, but they psychologically couldn’t fight or die for her. As the inheritor of the powers of a Great Old One, I actually had his servitor race show up to serve. They would have been willing to die or kill on my order. That’s not something I believe Usagi would be comfortable with. »

      « Are you? » she teased, taking on a bit of the persona from the previous night as the pressed into him and pushed him back against the counter, « Are you able to take advantage of a poor, helpless girl who would give you her body and soul? »

      « Sure, where can I find one? » he asked, looking everywhere except at her.

      She gave him a disgusted sigh, blowing a strand of hair out of her face. « No, you’re too pure and noble. That such a man exists should make the angels weep for joy. »

      Jeff put the inside of his wrist against her forehead, then he shook his head sadly. « I knew I shouldn’t have exposed you to Kuno, » he told her, « I’m afraid we’ll have to have you shot. »

      She gulped and bowed her head. « If I’m starting to act like Tatewaki Kuno – » She `swooned` into his arms. « Then I do not wish to live. »

      « I meant Kodachi Kuno. » He started tickling her. « Don’t laugh, don’t laugh, » he pleaded with her, « Please don’t laugh! I couldn’t stand it! »

      She was trying her best not to laugh while she tried to squirm out of his grip and counterattack. « The food’s getting cold! » she shouted, then burst out laughing.

      « Oh no! » He scooped her up and dashed to the table, settling her in her chair. « You forgot the tea. » He moved off to get it.

      She got her chuckling under control. « I am going to hurt him, » she promised herself.

      Jeff returned and poured the tea. « You said about people doing things so pure and noble that even the angels would weep for joy, that isn’t just hyperbole, it’s happened and will happen in the future, » he explained, « People can also do things that would send demons off shrieking in terror and disgust. »

      « Usagi only believes in the first, » Makoto admitted.

      « She doesn’t know who Stalin or General Yamashita are. What she really needs to know is logistics. What do you need to move the resources to do the job, allocation and repositioning. »

      « So, it’s moving the Go or chess pieces around. »

      « And accepting that some have to be used up or sacrificed to win the game, » Jeff told her, « Sometimes that’s the hardest part. »

      Makoto nodded.

     « Where did you get all this? » Rei asked in amazement as she read through the packet Asuka had given her. They waited in the courtyard of the temple with Asuka’s luggage.

      « A little persuasion and your advisors remembered a lot they hadn’t known they knew. It was simple, get them talking and one memory would trigger another, » Asuka explained, « Things they couldn’t remember, suddenly became more clear when someone else mentioned them, like a snowball rolling down hill. » Asuka smiled. « It was also useful that ‘I don’t know’ ceased to be an acceptable answer. I simply went digging. Each packet contains the same information. Each is organized differently, you, in particular, need to know your powers and Martian politics, the others have less need, but if you want the crop reports on Plutonian mushrooms, they are in there. »

      « Crop reports? » Rei asked incredulously, staring at Asuka.

      « Tells you that the system did extensive trade and what in. Who was selling what to whom. If a country imports scrap metal, fuel oil and nitrates, that’s different from a country that imports wool, silk and objects d’art. »

      Rei nodded numbly, wondered if her head was going to float away. Makoto and Jeff walked towards them, Rei bristled at the pair.

      « You don’t have a problem with redeeming enemies, » Asuka whispered in a teasing tone, « She’s just using a different methodology. »

      Rei frowned at Asuka, who grinned back at her. She’s the same as he is! she thought, Why can’t I stay mad at her for more than an instant? I want her to like and approve of me.

      « This is your copy, hot off the copier. » Jeff handed Rei a packet, she stared at it.

      « What did you two do? » Rei demanded, « Torture Luna and Artemis to get them to give you all their secrets? »

      Asuka examined the cirrus clouds in the dawn sky, Jeff was examining his cuticles, and Makoto was trying to cough up a lung. Rei just stared at them. « You didn’t! »

     Jeff stepped up to Asuka. « Remember when we said we were only a phone call away? » Asuka asked, « We weren’t kidding. We’ll teleport back to Nerima, we can teleport back here just as easily. Any time you need us. »

      « Thanks, » Makoto said, then gave a pale imitation of Raccoon’s smirk, « I don’t think we’ll need to have someone killed. »

      « How about giving someone a good spanking? » Rei asked, and glanced at the stricken faces around her. « What?! »

      Jeff raised his hands in a warding gesture. « Nothing, nothing, » Jeff assured her.

      Which only enhanced her suspicions, Asuka thought, « Call us when you need us. » Asuka felt the odd sensation as they and their luggage dematerialized.

     « What do you suppose they meant? » Rei asked once Asuka and Jeff had vanished completely, and didn’t seem to be coming back.

      « About what? » Makoto asked.

      « They said ‘when’ not ‘if’, » Rei pointed out, « What do they know we don’t? »

      Makoto raised the packets she carried, « Quite a bit I think. »

      Rei frowned and nodded her silent agreement.

     « Foul sorcerer! Release the tidy Tendo Akane! »

      « Lion Roar Ball! »

      « Kuno quit picking on Ryoga! »

      Asuka turned to Jeff. « Are you sure they aren’t radioactive mutants from the third American atom bomb? »

      « Positive, » Jeff said, equally disgusted by the three-way fight that moved down the street.

      « Explain why you can’t just kill all of them, » Asuka demanded.

      « You are welcome to try, » Jeff told her as he headed for the Nekohanten.

      Asuka shook her head, followed him inside.

      Inside, they found a not-very-sharp duck. Jeff gestured, returning Mu Tsu to his human form, although not a human state.

      « Someone turned off all the gas! » he accused/whined.

      « We were gone a few days, » Asuka replied, « You just flew in from China and boy are your arms tired. »

      « Yes they are. That old mummy thinks I’m no better than a messenger! »

      « You do the job well, she trusts you with sensitive information that it will be faithfully and swiftly delivered only to that person, » Jeff pointed out, « She’d never trust anyone else that way. Why not take pride in that? »

      « You would never understand my torment! » Mu Tsu informed them.

      « On the other hand, the sooner you stop minding getting turned into a duck, » Jeff said in reasonable tones, « The sooner the curse will leave you alone and pick on someone more interesting. »

      « You don’t know! » Mu Tsu accused the potted plant, waving a fist under one of the plant’s fronds. « You don’t know the terror or the pain of such a curse! »

      « I do know enough to use my ears to guide me to a target, » Asuka commented in German.

      « I’m over here! » Jeff told him.

      « We’ve got to do something about his eyesight, as a first step, » Asuka whispered in German.

      « You know it, » Jeff whispered back in German. Both winced at an explosion outside, heralding an uptick in the current battles.

      « Delinquents! » a child-like voice thundered, « You destroyed my ice cream –  »

      « In the name of the Moon I will punish you! » Asuka and Jeff chorused.

      Mu Tsu had placed his glasses over his eyes and stared at the two giggling ‘foreign devils’. « Elder Kho Lon wishes you to know she will be delayed, Xian Pu will be returning shortly. »

      Jeff sighed. « They are demanding an explanation of how Ranma slipped through their fingers, » Jeff said, he and Asuka walked over to the now prone Mu Tsu and hauled him to his feet.

      « That’s secret Amazon business! How could you know that?! » Mu Tsu had Jeff wrapped chin to ankles in chains. « You will tell me! »

      « Gladly, » Jeff said in a near whisper, causing Mu Tsu to lean closer, « BECAUSE RANMA’S WHEREABOUTS ARE THE ONLY THING THAT HOLDS THE INTEREST OF YOU BLOODY IDIOTS!! » Jeff shouted so loud that Mu Tsu imbedded himself in the far wall.

      « Oh dear, » Jeff added as he noted a ribbon had been added to his bindings, a ribbon which trailed out of the building.

      Asuka stuck her fingers in her ears and began humming as loud as she could, when Jeff went rocketing out of the restaurant. I do not want to listen to the latest ‘bone-chilling laugh’ competition between those two, she thought as she glanced around and wondered what she’d do next, If Elder Kho Lon continues to blow us off, as far as I’m concerned, the contract is null and void. Then what? Go back to Juuban? Or blow this entire insane asylum and return to Germany? Or leave the planet entirely? I was always interested in the sun and the fusion process. I bet my powers would let me get some of the old Moon Kingdom stuff on Mercury operating. Or I could dive directly into the Sun itself. I bet my powers would make me immune, and I could do something useful for mankind. A fistful of Nobel Prizes wouldn’t hurt either.

      When she noted Mu Tsu had stopped writhing in terror and agony, she took her fingers out of her ears and set about cooking something for the three of them. I doubt Peking Duck had anything to eat on his flight. I agree that he and Xian Pu are doomed, but I wonder if he could be `persuaded` to see another woman as worthy. Adding him to the `Akane stakes` seems redundant, Kasumi would be interesting, and our resident vampire-shapechanger would be very interesting. I don’t hate him enough to pair him with Kodachi, but it’s always a possibility.

      Jeff returned, removing the last chain fragments.

      « What did you tell her? » Asuka demanded, the broth was on to heat up.

      « I asked her what she knew about the Brazilian art Capoeira, that it was designed to allow a fighter to fight while manacled, and it incorporates a great deal of dance to disguise its combat effectiveness. She left, hurriedly. »

      « What did the Brazilians ever do to you? » Asuka accused.

      « Nothing, but considering they have made great strides in Jujitsu as well. I thought they’d appreciate the practice. »

      Asuka shook her head, noted Mu Tsu had recovered enough to sit up. He looked at Jeff and made a warding sign against evil.

      « That laugh, » Mu Tsu shuddered, « You aren’t human. »

      Jeff and Asuka glanced at each other. « You’re just figuring that out? » they chorused.

      « I have to deliver a message to Ukyo-san, » Mu Tsu told them.

      « After you’ve had something to eat, » Asuka said.

      « The Elder commanded –  »

      « Is not here, » Asuka reminded him, « I am. How would you like Ryoga’s curse, instead of your transformation, both being lost and not being able to fly? »

      « That soup smells very good. I’ll wait so I can take a thermos to Ukyo-san. I’m sure she’d appreciate knowing you are both well, » Mu Tsu said.

     After Mu Tsu had left, while Jeff was washing the dishes, Asuka broached the subject she’d been considering. « Those kids need help. More than you or I could give. Better and more disciplined than the idiots running around here. »

      « I agree, do you have an specific ideas? »

      « Tomobiki-cho, for one, it’s right here in Nerima, there are reports of all kinds of strange things, » Asuka told him.

      « Not lately I’m afraid, » Jeff offered.

      « That could mean the events here overshadowed it. Or it could mean they settled down, which is exactly what we need, » Asuka countered.

      « Or it could mean they’re gone. What about the destruction of the Seto bridge? According to the others, Ranma and Ryoga were in town, » Jeff told her, « So it wasn’t them. »

      « Might be useful to look into it, there were also stories of weird goings on in Tomoeda. It’s something else to look into. »

      Asuka waited for Jeff to respond, he merely shrugged. « Okay, assuming Mu Tsu doesn’t call tomorrow, or later today with news, we go out and check these things. I’ll go to the Okayama area, you check Tomobiki and Tomoeda. Finding what destroyed the Seto bridge and then vanished . . . we ought to find something of use. »

      « Don’t bet your life on it, » Jeff replied.

Sailor Jupiter – Sasami 1

      Asuka watched the girl flying through the air. Considering the size of the explosion, Asuka watched and wondered, I can’t figure out why the `comet’s` long, teal tail isn’t on fire.

      Don’t forget Asuka, weird hair color, that’s also a warning of danger and insanity, Asuka reminded herself, Okay, I don’t know how durable the locals are, but a fall of several hundred meters would damage even a Nerimaniac. The only alternative to watching the screaming woman go splat . . . She extended her AT field, forming a curved surface. If I get caught like Raccoon did, she thought, Raccoon will never let me hear the end of it. She turned the woman’s upward velocity into lateral motion by curving the field, then adjusted her field into a tube, increasing the air friction as the woman forced her way through. I’m glad she’s got long sleeves and slacks, Asuka thought, Or I couldn’t risk slowing her down so gently.

      While Asuka brought her down, she ignored the other women rushing out of the complex. Oh great, more weird hair colors and styles, Asuka thought, I could bring Japan to its knees, by replacing all the styling mousse with peanut butter! Fortunately they’re all concentrating on the woman’s aerobatics, ignoring me, for the moment. Once the woman was safely on the ground, that changed. Cyan-, violet-, red-, blue-hair, and blonde all closed in.

      « Oh thank you -! »

      « How did you -? »

      « I want to thank you –  »

      And so on.

      Asuka bowed and walked away. I came here seeking help. Any help from this pack of idiots would be worse than the problem. She carefully moved on.

      ‘Please stop,’ she heard, this one high voice, in German. That she couldn’t ignore.

      The blue-haired little girl came to her, hands clasped, she bowed. « I want to thank you for saving my friend. »

      Asuka bowed back. « You’re welcome, » Asuka replied in German, « But I must be on my way. »

      « Please stay for tea, » she pled.

      The cyan-haired and the violet-haired girls, they were too immature to be women, were already screaming at each other, the lightning between them was building. The redhead and the sunburned blonde were locked in another argument. Can’t tell which of that pair is the bigger idiot, Asuka thought, The one with the meaningless technobabble or the one spouting apologies? Nothing as dangerous as what Red is describing should be left plugged in, let alone in operating condition. God, even pistols have safeties and removable ammunition.

      « I’m sorry. Here, it isn’t safe. » She patted the girl’s head, ignoring the incipient tears.

      She headed away before the twin battles increased and encompassed her. The two wooden wardrobes interposed themselves before her. « The lady asked you to stay, » they chorused in Japanese.

      « Excuse me? » Asuka asked in German, they seemed nonplused by that. Asuka took the moment to slip past. She increased her walking speed. I am going to get out of here! Then she saw the boy approaching from the other direction. The chorus behind her of ‘Tenchi!’ caused him to wince. Asuka walked past him, not even looking at him. I learned my lesson in Nerima, where even looking at a beloved is a source of an eternal feud, she thought as she kept her eyes on the road, Genocide, massacres of ancestors, bah, nothing compared to even glancing at ‘my future spouse!’ Insert sighs and heart-shaped eyes. She continued past as he said something to her, she ignored him.

      I don’t know Japanese, she reminded herself as the thundering herd closed in on the boy, I want no part of that. She heard the collision and the resulting battle, and kept walking.

      Asuka continued marching towards the train station and marinated in her disappointment. All the stories of high technology and magic had made this a place sound like somewhere we could have gotten help . . . however, help implies help. If I wanted an atom bomb, I’d use one of my own, she thought as the sounds of battle behind her began in earnest and grew, she thought it was excuse enough to break into a dead run. I hate failing!

     The train ride down had bored Asuka, as did the ride back home, after she publicly broke some groper’s fingers. Pinch me and expect a ‘Sumimasen’ will get you off? she thought as she smiled at the shocked looks from the other passengers as the man fell to his knees and moaned.

      « I’m terribly sorry, » she told him, « I’m sure Japan’s excellent public health-care system will ensure they won’t all have to be amputated. » The man looked up at her in terror, and raced off the train at the next stop. She wasn’t molested the rest of the ride home. No groper would dare try anything in this rail car, she thought, So, you’re all safe. Not that you did a damn thing to deserve or fight for it. No one even sat in the seat next to her, which was fine with her.

     Asuka accepted the tea Raccoon set before her. Restaurant seems so empty, she thought, Without the din and clatter that normally dominates.

      « Our Chinese hosts are still dealing with Amazon business, » Jeff told her, « Ukyo called, she liked the soup, too much tarragon. » Raccoon tool a Kuno-esque stance. « In revenge I shall make a supreme oko-sauce. » He returned to normal when he saw it didn’t lift her bleak mood. « I didn’t tell her that. She didn’t have to tell me that things are tense during the visit with her family, so we still have the place to ourselves, and orders not to open the restaurant. »

      « Ranma, » Asuka summed up Ukyo and the Amazons’ troubles in one word. « You know, if I suddenly became brain-dead enough to want to, I could not only take him away from the whole pack, but get him to drag me to the altar. »

      « No doubt. » Jeff poured them both more tea.

      Asuka drank it down, enjoying the warmth and sweet spiciness. « You know how? Just by talking to him, like we’re doing now. »

      « I’m not marrying you, » Raccoon replied deadpan.

      Asuka raised her empty cup. « I’m gonna mug you. »

      « You’re a sadist. » He refilled her cup.

      « Sad, istn’t it? » she chuckled, « You see my point, none of them could do what we just did. Not one of the baying pack can get ‘I must marry Ranma’ off their minds long enough to consider the hows and whys. You and Makoto talked and thought more about what actually happens in marriage, in just the time I was in the room, than all these idiots combined. »

      « Why are you pushing that so hard anyway? » Raccoon asked.

      « Because one, unlike you, I think we’d better consider setting down roots; two, while she can’t hold a candle to either of us in book-learning, she’s in no part stupid. Ignorant, too innocent, overly emotional, dreamy, but those are all things that we can cure or complement you, my cold-blooded, intellectual friend. Three, frankly the description her friends gave me makes her sound like Akane with PMS on PCP, yet she hasn’t taken a swing at you or reacted violently in any way. Which means she’s already adapting her behavior to make you comfortable. So she likes you, as well as loves you. »

      « Well there was –  » Jeff said embarrassedly.

      « Looked like sex to me, » Asuka interrupted, then thought, If I hadn’t walked in, that’s probably what it would have become. I’m an Idiot, who says I can’t be as stupid and clumsy as this pack of homicidal morons. She enjoyed watching Raccoon blush. « Fourth, you are both so shy and nervous about the opposite sex, it’s fun bouncing you two off each other to get sparks. Once the fire’s really going . . .  »

      « It all comes back to your evil desires, » Raccoon accused with a smile.

      « Like I said, none of the Nerimaniacs could sit and have this conversation. Heck, Kasumi and Mu Tsu couldn’t sit and discuss Gosenkugi and Sayuri getting together, without a war breaking out, » Asuka countered.

      « True, but what’s your point? » Raccoon asked, « Besides the obvious? » He considered a moment. « You didn’t get them, did you -? » He continued on before she could interrupt,  » – and they were all obsessed with some love interest. »

      « Oh, and don’t tell me you had some grand success and have an army at your beck and call. » Asuka frowned as she fell silent, then she threw up her hands. « Oh course you do! » She glared at him. « That’s what you do. YOu’ve probably got them convinced it was their idea too. »

      « Other than the amorous mailbox, » Jeff commented as he sat with his hands wrapped around his own tea cup, « There hasn’t been much to deal with. Again, I take it you had no luck. »

      « No, » Asuka admitted, frowning, « I found them, they had more than enough power to help us. Just imagine a cross between `Princess` Akane, and the Death Star, of course her romantic rival wielded equivalent firepower. »

      « Oh joy, » Raccoon said, « Good call. With enough amateur crazies, why add some professionals? »

      « What about you? » Asuka pressed. She was disappointed when he didn’t flinch.

      « No recent activity in Tomobiki, it’s been quiet there for a few years. »

      « Tomoeda? » Asuka asked and enjoyed watching Raccoon squirm a little. « What – did – you – do? »

      « I couldn’t let that thing hurt those people, » he said defensively.

      Asuka buried her face in her hands, she wanted to appear frustrated, instead of laughing as she was.

      « The girls we were looking for never showed up in costume, » Jeff said defensively.

      ‘In costume’, you spotted them didn’t you? So, what made them unsuitable? Too young, too innocent? I was afraid of that, she thought as she stared at him, trying to stare him down, I probably would have made the same decision, but no need to let him think that. So we both failed. She magnanimously broke off the staring contest. « Well, if they didn’t show up. Maybe if we catch Happosai, we can chain him in a lingerie shop and let the situation develop. »

      « If they didn’t show up when something tried to turn a steakhouse into its private buffet –  »

      « Maybe they’re vegetarians and animal rights activists, » Asuka suggested. She loved twitting him like that.

      « I suspect that they might have been in school, high school or junior high, and they couldn’t get out. Still, I suspect none of the magical girls showed up, because they are just a rumor. »

      « Or they picked up whatever you did to their enemy, and hightailed it out of there, » Asuka said morosely. The powers that they both had bothered her. I don’t want to admit my loss of humanity, but you, Raccoon, seem to have embraced it, without losing your ability to make human connections, she thought unhappily, I feel the distance between me and the human race growing as I grow in power. Even as my control increases, I feel who I always thought I was . . . slipping through my fingers. I don’t even use my powers the way you do.

      « I used fairly simple exorcism and banishment. No magic or spell, any regular person could have done it. »

      « I doubt that most people would have your faith and force of personality, » she told him, « Your certainty that ‘God is in his Heaven and all’s right with the world’. » He shrugged.

      The knocking on the door caught their attention. Rather than shout ‘We’re closed’ which was clearly posted on the door, in four languages, Raccoon got up and headed to the door. Asuka got up to follow. Time to start lunch for the two of us anyway, she thought, I can get to the kitchen first, then I get to cook. She shook her head. Only you and Spineless would make me develop stratagems to beat you into the kitchen to cook.

      « Langley, someone here to see you, » Raccoon sounded confused.

      The little, blue-haired girl who had spoken to her in German, stood near Raccoon and bowed low. Behind the girl, Raccoon glanced around outside, then closed and locked the door. Asuka understood his caution. Yeah, when are the rest of the crew going to arrive to participate in the warzone called Nerima? she wondered.

     She looks so mournful and melancholy, I just want to pull her into my lap, Asuka thought, staring at the teary, pink eyes, And just hold her until she could smile again. Asuka discarded the idea. She needs to talk about something that’s obviously important to her. Treating her like a grown-up is the best way to get it out in the open.

      « A long time ago . . .  » the girl, Sasami, said meekly, « There was an accident. I found myself in a strange place full of strange people, then we were attacked by all these monsters, and there were people running and shooting. Then those two machines arrived. A giant, red man, and a sandy centipede. They attacked the monsters, drove them away. »

      Then Sasami looked at her hands as the three sat in a booth. The ramen in front of them temporarily ignored.

      « Then this girl all in red. » She reached out and touched Asuka’s long hair. « So pretty, picked me up and took me to a tent. When I spoke Japanese, she told me in Japanese that everything would be all right. In German, she told a man to look after me. Washu found me a little while later. Still, I remember the red girl who looked after me when I was lost. »

      « I barely remember, must have been Chusovoy, » she laughed mirthlessly. « Me, The Hero of Chelyabinsk, Savior of The Tractor Factory, » Asuka admitted, « That’s irony in big, bold capital letters. » She sighed as she remembered the battle. « There were so many that day, I had to get them to the shelters. »

      « I remember holding them off, while the others escaped, » Raccoon said, also remembering, « Killing the last of the first wave of the Mi-Go. »

      « Raccoon here gets better fuel economy, » Asuka admitted, jerking her thumb at her partner. Sasami giggled slightly.

      Then she got serious. « Why did you leave? » Sasami asked, looked down in shame, « Did we frighten you? »

      « A little, » Asuka told her, « I was looking for help to solve a problem here. I thought your friends might help us, but they would have caused more damage than the problem we have. »

      « Yes. » The girl looked miserable. « They fight all the time. Nobody asks big brother Tenchi what he wants. »

      « Sounds like the situation Ranma was in, » Raccoon said sympathetically.

      « I’m sick of it, » Sasami insisted angrily, then covered her mouth, « I apologize. »

      « No need. We understand. We’ve both lived through similar problems, » Asuka said.

      « I shouldn’t have shouted, » Sasami said, bowed, « Forgive me. »

      « As long as it wasn’t ‘Langley DIE!’ or ‘Davis you must pay!’ I think an occasional shout is acceptable, » Raccoon told her gravely.

      She glanced around. « Is this a restaurant? Does it serve people? » Sasami asked.

      « Not really, just ramen and okonomiyaki –  » Raccoon said.

      « JEFF – rey! » Asuka interrupted him by covering his mouth. « Don’t scare the girl! » she angrily told Raccoon, « Yes, our partners are out of town, so we’re temporarily closed, » Asuka told her, sliding the bowl towards her, implying she should eat. « Raccoon was teasing you, asking if we used people as ingredients. »

      Sasami laughed, then removed her chopsticks. « Itadakemasu! » she said brightly and dug in. « This is delicious! »

      « Thank you my dear. » Raccoon bowed his head.

      « You cooked it? » Sasami asked in total amazement, Raccoon had done it by `remote-control`.

      « I wasn’t just wiggling my fingers at the kitchen. I am an excellent cook. » Raccoon took a Kuno-like pose.

      Sasami giggled, then sobered and glanced at the pair. « You aren’t . . . uh . . .  »

      « An item, » Asuka chuckled, shook her head, « No. We’ve been friends a long time. We’re older than we look. »

      « So am I, but I’m still a kid, » she said sadly.

      « You’ll grow out of it, » Raccoon told her, « Now eat up, your ramen is getting cold. »

      Asuka watched the little girl eat four extra-large helpings of Raccoon’s ramen. She wondered if the girl had to do all the domestic chores at her home, the `princess` and her rivals probably didn’t contribute. « You have to do all the work, don’t you? » Asuka asked.

      « I don’t mind, » Sasami said defensively.

      « Well, we’ll have none of that here, » Raccoon said formally, making Sasami giggle. Asuka envied his ability to be unashamedly ridiculous, at the appropriate times.

      Sasami abruptly stopped, deeply ashamed again. « I . . . I ran away, » she admitted, « I saw how scared you were . . . of . . . of us . . .  » Sasami burst into tears. Asuka knelt down and hugged the girl. When the girl clung to her, Asuka stood and began rocking her gently, singing a German lullaby. When the girl fell asleep, Asuka took her upstairs and tucked her into Xian Pu’s bed.

      « I’m going to let her sleep, » Asuka said quietly as she came down the stairs, « I may take a nap myself. I feel wrung out. »

      Raccoon nodded as he cleared the dishes. « I think her keepers are going to want their servant back. »

      « Do we give her to them? » Asuka asked, keeping her anger in check.

      « Same thing as Ranma, we give her the choice, » Raccoon said firmly.

      « You noticed she was hiding something, » Asuka said as she glanced around, seeing the beginning of an answer in the distance, « She was trying to figure out how far she could trust us. »

      « No, it was more than that, » Raccoon told her, « She was deeply interested in why you fled, what you’d be afraid of. She knew you weren’t afraid of Mi-Go or fighting, you weren’t afraid of me, but there’s something else . . . something bothering her. She’s caught between two forces, and she can’t see a way out. »

      « You saw all that? » Asuka said incredulously.

      « Or she’s bipolar and has the fastest cycle I’ve ever seen, » he xplained, « She went from giggling to miserable and back again. There’s something bottled up in there, and she can’t stand the pressure anymore. »

      « Depressurize her? Or confront her? »

      « Both, something that important, she’s going to dream about. I can play the heavy, you can go play girly-girl. It’s not like there’s much going on around here. » Raccoon began drying the dishes.

      Asuka headed upstairs and considered a few `touristy` things she’d always wanted to do in Tokyo, but had never wanted to do alone. I work out the details after my nap, she thought tiredly.

      Sasami was sound asleep, wrapped around and nearly strangling the life out of Asuka’s partially unrolled futon. « Big Brother Tenchi, » she murmured and gave the bedding a whole body squeeze.

      I think there’s more than one possible betrayal weighing on her mind, Asuka thought as she sat against the wall and meditated as `Grandpa` Hino had taught her.

     Sasami ran through the blackness as fast as her legs would carry her. « Big-sister Ayeka! Big-brother Tenchi! Grandfather Katsuhito! Miss Ryoko! Miss Kiyone! » she screamed until her voice was hoarse.

      « They cannot help you! » Kagato, the man with the white hair and glasses appeared before her yet again. « They have all been slain. You are the last obstacle to my taking my rightful place. » Sasami tried to stop, and only managed to fall at his feet. « Appropriate, you should beg, I can be merciful. »

      « You’re DEAD! » Sasami wailed as she tried to scramble away, « Big Brother Tenchi killed you! »

      « You cannot kill one who has dreamed the dreams I have, » he told her as he reached towards her.

      « If he’s dead, can I eat him? » a powerful, gravelly voice asked.

      Sasami and her tormentor looked around the darkness surrounding them. Sasami saw nothing, if Kagato saw anything, he gave no sign.

      « Good Heavens, no! » Raccoon became visible. « He hasn’t been properly seasoned yet. »

      « NO! » Sasami screamed as Kagato ran her new friend through with his massive sword.

      Raccoon’s only reaction to the huge energy blade sticking through his chest was to pull two metal seasoning shakers from somewhere, and liberally sprinkle Kagato with them.

      The source and center of her nightmares sneezed. « What are you? » He yanked the sword out and stabbed Raccoon through the heart again.

      « The definition of insanity is performing the same action, and assuming a different result will occur, » Raccoon lectured and put a necklace of garlic bulbs, tomatoes and peaches around Kagato’s neck.

      Sasami laughed at the absurdity of it all.

      « You dare – what is that? » Kagato shouted, as he slapped away Raccoon’s hands as he tried to pour something out of a bottle on the villain.

      From the darkness came the abrasive answer. « Chutney. »

      « Hey look 100 yen tee-times! » Raccoon shouted excitedly and pointed, still with the blade stuck in his chest. When neither Sasami nor Kagato reacted, « Oh, neither of you are golfers. I used to golf, until I found out you weren’t supposed to tee-off over hand. » He swung his arm as if teeing off, and hit Kagato, knocking him to the floor. « Sale on spices! » Raccoon pointed.

      This time Sasami looked away, when she looked back, Kagato was gone, replaced by faint screams and some very loud crunching noises. Sasami stared at Raccoon, who took her shoulder and led her away. Tossing the sword aside.

      « I think you need to tell us the real reason you came here, » Raccoon told her in a fatherly tone, « There’s very little that scares us. Lying does make us angry. »

      « Yes, » Sasami admitted shamefaced, « I should, Kagato wasn’t the real reason . . . it was another nightmare I’ve had. I saw you, and Asuka, and others . . . and you all died. » She began crying.

      « Dying, I’ve done that a few times. » He patted her shoulder. « It doesn’t bother me anymore. Staying dead bothers me a little. »

      « You’re teasing me, » Sasami accused.

      « Not as much as you might think. »

      « Too much garlic! » came the gravelly complaint from behind them.

      « Now we run. » Raccoon scooped up Sasami and ran off, screaming about armor-plated penguins. Sasami laughed at the ridiculous spectacle.

     Sasami walked downstairs, she’d thought of getting up early to make breakfast for her new friends, and explaining everything. Strange dreams, she considered.

      « Good morning, Sasami. »

      She stared at `Raccoon`, already in the kitchen with breakfast well underway.

      « After last night, I thought you’d sleep in, » Raccoon said, smiling.

      She glanced at the clock. « Six thirty, I did sleep in. Asuka-san was still asleep, » she said. She hopped up on one of the stools at the counter. She watched in fascination as he made an okonomiyaki, and chopped the fixings for soup. Her concerns momentarily put aside as she studied his techniques. « I thought you weren’t going to open? » she asked.

      « I am going to run some experiments, » Raccoon told her, « Then I need to get some supplies. »

      « Can I help? » Sasami asked.

      « I think Langley, that’s her name Langley Asuka Soryu, has some plans for the two of you. Shopping and maybe a movie. » He looked around theatrically. « She’s been trying to get me to see one movie in particular. I’d take it as a favor if you’d go see it with her . . . so I don’t have to. »

      Sasami laughed again, she rocked back and forth on the stool.

      Raccoon placed a huge okonomiyaki in front of her. « Open Sasami! » he commanded with a flourish.

      She laughed and eagerly gobbled it down. « Delicious. »

      « Thank you, milady. » He bowed low.

      « Do you like doing this? Working in a restaurant? » she asked, avoiding the explanation she knew she needed to give.

      « I like the break it represents. I was in combat for almost a year and a half. Working for a restaurant, for a few months, is a nice change. »

      « I’ve heard bad things about Nerima, » Sasami admitted.

      « Most of them are true, » Raccoon admitted, « Against our will, they brought us here to hunt and kill demons. We’ve gotten most of them. One of the martial arts masters tried to summon a pack of demons, but he got something a bit different, something he couldn’t control or contain. Typical of the region. People stir up things they should leave alone, or fail to make proper preparations. Around here, bomb disposal is done with a selection of mallets. »

      « What about all the fighting? »

      « The local Tenchi – is that his name? The local Tenchi is a girl named Tendo Akane, most of the fighting revolves around her. Most other girls are either ignored or have one crazy suitor, » Raccoon explained, « These are not happy people. »

      « What about you? » Sasami asked, she put her elbows on the table and stared at him with her chin in her hands.

      « Well, I am happy, but I’m usually happy anywhere. Relationships . . . it’s complicated, back home it’s more like a spider web, there’s girls I like who also like me, and someone else. There’s some who just want to be friends, others . . . like I said, complicated. The whole collection don’t fight each other over each other, except subtly. ‘Oh look what I can cook’, ‘I remembered your birthday,’ that kind of thing. »

      « No real battles? » The possibility fascinated Sasami.

      « The rest would never tolerate it. A war between two girlfriends breaks out, then the boy they were fighting over is the one most likely to put both over his knee and spank them. Come to think of it, the girls would do the same to a pair of boys. »

      Sasami laughed at the idea of big brother Tenchi spanking her sister and Miss Ryoko, at the same time.

     Three okonomiyaki and a sample of two soup bases later, Asuka came downstairs.

      « Sasami-san, if you are trying to get up before Raccoon here, » Asuka said as she slid into a stool next to the girl, « Don’t go to bed. » Asuka put her head on the counter.

      « I’m sorry about stealing your bed, » Sasami admitted, « I didn’t know. »

      « Not a problem, » Asuka said, reached over and patted Sasami’s head, without raising her own.

      Raccoon placed a cup of tea in front of Asuka’s face. « Okay. » Asuka tried to bring the tea into focus, hoping it would help bring the rest of the world into focus. « One special okonomiyaki and a large bowl of shrimp ramen, » she mumbled.

      « What about the boiled potatoes, sauerbraten and sausages? » Raccoon asked.

      « For breakfast? » Asuka frowned.

      Sasami laughed at their expressions.

      « You’re going to be experimenting all day? » Asuka asked, glanced at Sasami. Raccoon nodded. « We’re going shopping, » Asuka told Sasami.

      « He doesn’t need help? » Sasami asked worriedly.

      « Sasami-chan, » Raccoon said sweetly, then leaned over the counter to glare at her. « I don’t want help. »

      « Hey! » Asuka protested as Sasami drew back, « You didn’t breathe fire all over her. »

      « She’s cuter than you, » Raccoon retorted.

      Asuka clutched her heart and reeled back.

      Sasami laughed. « I wish Ayeka and Miss Ryoko would act like you, » Sasami said, then suddenly sobered.

      He’s right, Asuka thought, She’s got a lot of complex issues to deal with, and she’s lost.

      Sasami continued, « They never seemed to care how they hurt big brother Tenchi. »

      « Part of it is his problem, » Jeff told her, « He has to make his desires clear, and he has to grow up and be a man. I’d guess right now he wants the attention. Until he decides he wants a wife and companion, he’ll let it continue. The problem is not anyone’s fault, but it is his to solve. »

      Sasami nodded.

      Now that a man explains it, Asuka thought, She can understand and be relieved.

      « We’ll take the train to head downtown, » Asuka said. I am actually looking forward to a shopping trip in Tokyo, she thought.

     Jeff had cleaned up the breakfast dishes and was finishing up the last preparation for his experiment into soup and sauce. I’ll wait for Sasami and Asuka to return before testing, he thought, I need my exxxperrrrimentttal vic-tims! I can barely stand the things, although I can make them very well, thank you.

      The knock on the door was unexpected. The sign on the door clearly said, in Japanese, Chinese, Korean and English, that the Nekohanten was closed. I hope it isn’t the Nerimaniacs, he thought as he dried his hands and headed for the door, Or some government official the Tendos sicced on us.

      The collection on the doorstep was a weird one, even for Nerima. Hair colors that didn’t exist in nature and the odd clothing was just the beginning. The pint-sized redhead tried to push the door the rest of the way open, and found that Jeff and his AT field were more than able to hold it.

      « I apologize, we are closed, and will reopen next week Thursday, » he told them in letter-perfect Japanese.

      « We’re looking for a little girl, » the cyan-haired one announced.

      Jeff cocked his head and stared at her as is he hadn’t understood. « I apologize, we are closed, and will reopen next week Thursday, » he said firmly.

      « Please! We have to have her back! » the dark-skinned blonde wailed, « We’re all starving! » The outburst horribly embarrassed the entire group. « Girl, long hair. » She tugged at her own hair. « Little. » She held her hand low.

      « No little girls, just okonomiyaki and ramen, » he said in Japanese. « Freaking cannibals, » he added in German. A couple of them collapsed, those were the ones who spoke German or had some translation device. I can use that, Jeff realized.

      The violet-haired one stepped forward regally. Jeff instantly hated her. « I am Ayeka, First Princess of the Jurai, » she informed him in German, in haughty tones.

      « Does your mother know you say things like that to strange men you’ve just met? » Jeff asked in Japanese, in angry, disgusted tones, « I’d wash your mouth out with lye soap, if I thought it would do any good. » The girl looked like she’d swallowed her tongue. The cyan-haired one started laughing, earning the ire of the violet-haired one. Jeff noticed the boy had said nothing so far, chuckling nervously, rubbing his head and sweating. Tenchi, I presume, Jeff thought.

      Now the others broke into a complete babble, he couldn’t follow any part of any of their conversations, or even determine what language each was speaking.

      « Mrowr, » their little rabbity pet made herself known.

      « Myrawar? » You miss her? Jeff knelt down and asked. The little creature seemed as shocked as any of the others that someone could converse with her.

      « Myow? » Yes, is she well?

      « Myrownow. » Yes, let me get some carrots and we’ll discuss it.

      « Me Memerayowr! » the small rabbitoid nodded gleefully.

      Jeff closed the door, got a few carrots that he hadn’t sliced up, returned and opened the door. He handed the carrots one at a time to the shining-eyed little creature while he ignored the more human-looking ones and their shock. « Mermowrowyrw. » She needs a vacation, he told her, « Nyrnrowrmemeyowrowmrow, » I’m going to send them packing, let them appreciate all the hard work she does. I think she’ll want to come back in a few days, he added.

      « Meromyrmemryowmerow, » Okay, please tell her if – when she needs a ride home, I’ll be waiting, the little creature told him and loped off with the last carrot in her mouth.

      The others were still staring open-mouthed as he stood. « No cannibals or white slavers here, you go somewhere else now. » He waved his hands as if to shoo them away, then shut the door in their faces and slid the bolts. He waited, withholding his laughter while he waited for pounding or other sounds from the group.

Sailor Jupiter – Sasami 2

      Sasami couldn’t believe all the fun she was having. Trying on clothes, laughing with another girl, eating ice cream, soon they’d go enjoy an art gallery.

      Asuka made me change into one of the new outfits, she thought as they left the Laundromat, where they’d washed it first. She looked at herself and her very different hairstyle and clothes. I’d never pass for a `normal` teenager, but I don’t really look like me either.

      « Hold it, » Asuka commanded, knelt down and wiped some smudge off Sasami’s face. « We aren’t going to a gallery full of modern art, we’re going to see old Masters. »

      « What’s human art like?’ Sasami asked, « I’ve only seen TV and books. »

      « It depends on the piece, » Asuka said, « I don’t know what kind of art they have on Jurai, but I know a little about alien art. »

      « I thought there was . . . well you made it to the moon and back, but no alien cultures. »

      « The Earth I’m from, the first colonists landed about a billion years ago, they weren’t exactly great artists, at 750 million years another group, at 400 and 300 million years ago two others arrived. The last two were the great artists. They created sculptures and images, literature and poetry, even music. Not a lot, but some, when ordinary words and logical thoughts couldn’t explain what they felt and thought. It wasn’t until native life evolved that representation art appeared. »

      « Representational art? » Sasami asked, feeling that Asuka had slipped into being something else, something alien like Tsunami herself.

      « Drawing pictures with words or colors of something that doesn’t exist, or couldn’t be explained, » Asuka explained, them becoming a young woman again as she smiled, « Like drawing a picture of a unicorn or a dragon, or a poem about it. »

      « They couldn’t? » Sasami asked, « It seems to easy. »

      « Part of having all the answers, is you stop asking questions, » Asuka explained, she stared across the distance at the harbor and the sea beyond. « The human race has only been telling stories and drawing pictures for 50,000 years. In that time, we’ve lost more art and stories and pictures than many races have created, races with histories of millions of years. » Asuka turned back to face Sasami, a mischievous look on her face. « One of the creatures we fought, the Great Old Ones, one of them decided he likes us, humans, you know why? »

      Sasami shrugged.

      « Because, as Father of Serpents, the focus of his most treasured projects was to create the ULTIMATE reptile, » Asuka sang, with her fist thrust in the air. Scaring a lot of the people around her.

      Sasami frowned. « I don’t get it. »

      « Dragons. »

      « He made dragons?! » Sasami exclaimed.

      « No, we did, humans. Millions of years of effort and failures by a god and his most brilliant minions, and we do it completely by accident. Our dreams, our thoughts. We didn’t know it was impossible. We just assembled all our fears and aspirations into something reptilian. That’s what human art is, a mix of what is, what we want it to be, and what we know it never can be. »

      Sasami began to nod, stopped. « I still don’t understand. »

      « That’s why we’re going to go look, » Asuka said as she took her hand and led her forward.

     Jeff hung up the phone with a smile. « Ah yes, nothing like an irresistible farce meeting an immovable idjit. I just wish I could be there for the fireworks. » He sighed. « No, I just have to leave with the warm feeling that I’ve helped people come together as true friends. »

      He rubbed his hands together eagerly. « Okay, what do they want to eat when Asuka and Sasami get back? Something special. »

     Sasami was sad it had to end, but she was exhausted. She fell asleep on the train ride, nestled against Asuka-chan, and only woke up as Asuka-chan was carrying her piggy-back, back to the restaurant that was their home. All their parcels in the bags in Asuka-chan’s hands. My friends’ home, she thought as she held on to Asuka-chan. She glanced off to the side and caught a glimpse of Ryo-Oh-Ki following them at a distance. The cabbit broke away before they reached the restaurant.

      « You okay? » Asuka-chan asked as she noted Sasami stirring.

      « Sorry, I fell asleep, » she apologized, nodding off again.

      « Overdosed on fun, » Asuka-chan `diagnosed` grimly, « I prescribe a large dinner, bath and sleep. Then a regimen of more fun to increase your tolerance. Don’t even think of deviating from my instructions. »

      « Yes, Sensei, » Sasami said as she hugged Asuka-chan tighter and drifted back to sleep. She shook herself awake. I have to tell her, Raccoon warned me they don’t like being lied to, she thought. « Asuka-san. »

       » ‘Asuka-san’, sounds like bad news. You’d better tell me everything. »

      « I . . . I recognized you, like I said, » Sasami admitted miserably, « I . . . I really came down here because of a nightmare I’ve been having. You were in it . . . you died, and Raccoon, and a bunch of other girls. After you died, something ate all the people. Not their bodies, but what’s inside. What makes them alive, what makes them people, able to walk around and do art. » She found herself crying. « I tried to stop them, you tried to stop them, but they killed you all, and they made me watch. »

      She felt Asuka-chan swing her around front so she could hold her. « Relax, you warned us, we can be ready for them. »

      « I’ve had this dream over and over, » Sasami wailed, « Nothing you did let you win. »

      « Sasami, » Asuka-chan told her gently, « We will win. The first time you saw us, we shouldn’t have won there either, but we did. We should have been trapped there and the next city should have fallen. We found a way to win. »

      « I don’t want to dream it anymore! » Sasami cried and buried her face in Asuka-chan’s chest.

      « It’s all right. Tell me, was it just people fighting? On both sides? »

      « Uh-huh. »

      « Then there’s someone I think you need to meet, » Asuka-chan assured her, « No bad dreams, and I promise you, we’ll win any fight. »

      « You promise? »

      « I promise. If all else fails, we’ll let Raccoon sing. That will kill anything, ears or not. »

     « Poor kid, » Asuka said as she sampled the eight okonomiyaki in front of her. She rearranged them in order of preference, and cleansed her palate in between with some of the three broths, followed by some plain soda water.

      « That’s about what she told me last night, » Raccoon said, making notes on which ones she’d favored.

      « You’d think with the lot of them, she’d be able to confide this dream to somebody, » Asuka complained, « As bad as we had it, we could at least talk to each other. »

      « You’re talking about people without the wherewithal to get breakfast out of a can, » Raccoon explained, « Her `family` showed up today. Seems they want their cook and washerwoman back. ‘We’re starving!’ Then go off and die. »

      Asuka didn’t need any special abilities to sense Raccoon’s anger. « You can’t expect the poor dears to actually do any work? It might blemish their perfect skin, or give them a wrinkle. Girls aren’t supposed to be helpmates, comrades in battle, advisors in times of trouble or sources of physical pleasure and comfort. They are to be placed on a pedestal where they can look pretty, never touched, and endlessly worshiped. »

      « Oh, deary me! I’ve got it so wrong! » Raccoon said, with his hands on his cheeks.

      Asuka nodded. She indicated the two best okonomiyakis, and concentrated on the ramen. « Maybe you should introduce her to Kasumi. Along with the battle between the Nerimaniacs and the other parasites, that would be interesting to watch, » Asuka suggested, « Maybe I’ll do that tomorrow. If you can convince them to take a training trip. »

      « I already I had an idea, » Raccoon told her, « What was it Napoleon said? ‘When two armies are lined up, a dog fight could start a battle.’ I’ve given them considerably more than a dog fight. »

      « Something evil and cruel, I hope, » Asuka suggested, smiled. « Sending them right at the others? » Asuka asked hopefully.

      Raccoon smiled. « As evil and cruel as your suggestion about Kasumi, » he said and nodded.

     « Surrender the pig-tailed girl, demon! » the bokken-wielding idiot charged and attacked. He tried to get past Ryoko and get to Washu, who wanted no part of him.

      « Lion Roaring Shot! » the bandana-wearing maniac fired an energy ball.

      Which a guardian intercepted with a cry of ‘Princess.’ Then the guardian collapsed.

      « Ho ho ho! » the whip-wielding one had plucked Tenchi out of the battle and would have escaped with him, except for Kiyone’s snap shot which severed the ribbon binding him. Tenchi scrambled away.

      « Who are these idiots? » Ryoko demanded as she dodged the little pervert leaping for her shirt. She suddenly felt a distinct draft under her skirt. A shriek from the princess indicated she wasn’t the only victim.

      « What a haul, what a haul! » the evil gnome shouted as he bounded away from a cross-legged and seriously blushing Kiyone.

      « Waaaahh! I’m not Ukyo-chan! » Mihoshi screamed, as she shoved at her attacker, « Help me! Damaging a mail box is against the law! »

     Sasami stared into the huge yellow eyes. The words and the images of the story keeping fear of the storyteller at bay.

      « Then this gnat of a human mage broke the seal and stepped into my prison, » he told her, then let rage suffuse his voice, « How dare this upstart believe he could march in, where even the gods themselves should tremble. Had I not slain a dozen of those divine fools who believed their power matched mine?! In my rage, I drew my plans carelessly, believing power and fury would serve as they always had in the past. »

      He smiled wickedly. « They had first trapped me all those millennia ago, but I had bided my time, found the edges of the traps, found the weak points, and always I escaped. They thought I was unaware of how weak and pathetic the powers had grown. The Great Ones were nothing of the kind, Dread Cthulhu slept beyond the dreams of men, Nyarlathotep schemed to end all things, Bast and Hypnos waged their secret war against Brzegath of Saturn. As if the Cats of Saturn and their dreamselves would follow that pair of feckless, puling upstarts.

      « The God of the Hebrews left individual men to their fates, his eye on other things. The Angels called it with rapture ‘the ineffable plan’, as if ineffable meant ineffaceable. Vishnu and Shiva dealt with the new realities of the Kamis of Japan encroaching on their realm. None would stop me, before I had grown strong enough to spring on their throats. » He snapped his jaws on the unseen throat.

      Sasami gulped, but nodded.

      « All that stood against me, was a lone human, one pathetic mage with only a human’s understanding of magic. Humans understand magic like butterflies understand literature. His death would be the first of so many. »

     Katsuhito watched the . . . battle. If it can be called that, he considered, as the sides moved and flowed, without order or coordination, Just nearly two dozen people blasting away at each other. He watched one get too close to him, and older, mustached man. Clonk! The edge of Katsuhito’s blade sent the man flipping end over end, back into the fray.

      Someone arranged this, he thought, With the nightmares Sasami has been having, that’s the person I need to meet. Perhaps then I can convince Sasami that Tsunami will provide what is needed.

      He continued watching the battle. Is skill a substitute for firepower? Ryoko seems to be doing the best, he considered, Although there are some who seem able to hold their own against her. Interesting.

     The dragon heard Sasami’s soft murmur. No nightmares, the huge monster thought, as he lay in a circle surrounding her, She laughed at all the appropriate places, and was sad at the correct places. She better understands me and the boy. Now she knows the meanest monster in the Valley of Death is looking out for her.

      The woman’s approach was stealthy. Makes as much noise as a gnat’s heart breaking, the Scholarly Dragon thought as he felt rather than heard or saw her approach. Powerful, only way to hide that much power is spread it through the entire background like the boy can, and so can I. Or cloak it completely. Problem is, such a cloak also messes up the background `noise`, making the moving `hole` like sending up a flare, for those who know how to look for it. He enclosed Sasami in his fist, in case there was something even stealthier out there. If there is, it will get a rather lethal surprise.

      He waited until she was five meters away before he flicked his tail, slapping it down between the two of them, only then did he open his eyes and stare at her. « Please state your business, ma’am. » Never hurts to start polite, he thought, I can always kill her later.

      « The girl is mine, » the woman drew a sword and dropped her invisibility.

      Blade, clothes, even her scent screams ‘Juraian Princess’, the Dragon considered her. « You people really need a new record, that one keeps playing the same song, » he told her in a bored tone, »She’ll go back when she chooses to, not before, and not by force in any case. »

      « You cannot stop me. »

      « You don’t know me very well then. » She can’t be serious, the Dragon thought, I’m in my own Dreamscape, even an Elder God would be hard pressed to match me here, and none would be foolish enough to try. It would cost them far too much, I’d see to that.

      « I’ve always believed that to truly know someone, » she said and raised her blade to a guard position, « You must fight them. »

      The Dragon hastily removed his tail from her reach. « Cliched, stupid, you’re a Juraian noble all right. Me, I’ve always preferred Cervantes, ‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating.' » His tail smashed into her like a subsonic freight train.

     « Kiyone, you can borrow my underwear, » Mihoshi said, as her partner stood beside the washing machine, « He didn’t steal it, so mine must be safe. »

      « He didn’t steal yours, fancy that, » Kiyone replied as she waited.

      « Don’t expect help from –  » Ryoko made herself look and sound disgustingly cute, « Washu-chan. She locked herself in her lab and removed the door from the inside. »

      « What about the furo? » Kiyone asked, never looking away from the machine.

      « Her Highness locked herself in there, » Ryoko replied, « Screamed like she was being murdered when I walked in. Tenchi let me use the men’s side. »

      « Did you let him peep?! » Mihoshi sounded offended.

      « You’re only jealous you didn’t think of it first! » Ryoko accused.

      « That’s not true! » Mihoshi whined.

      « So, when did he take the scouring pad away from you? » Kiyone asked grimly, wanting the washer to end, wanting to wash herself clean.

      « He didn’t let me go in with it, » Ryoko admitted, glared at the detective, « Don’t tell me you didn’t think of it. » Ryoko shuddered. « I wanted to just . . . make sure he hadn’t left hand prints all over . . . you know. »

      « He was only after our underwear, and our breasts, » Kiyone said, continuing to stare at the washing machine.

      « He seemed like such a nice gentleman, » Mihoshi said.

      Kiyone glanced at her partner. No, I’m going to let Ryoko blow off steam, she thought.

      « Kiyone! Help! She’s biting me! »

      Kiyone stared at the washier and wished it would hurry.

     Tsunami felt the warm water cascade over her as she luxuriated in the bath. « Somehow, I wonder if I shall ever be clean again. »

      « I apologize, Milady, » the Scholarly Dragon told her, as he slowly poured, rinsing her for the fiftieth time, « But you did attack me. »

      « It was unwise, » the Goddess of the Jurai admitted, « Especially the juxtaposition of our respective philosophies. I certainly got the answer I was hoping for . . . but not the way I expected. »

      « God rarely gives us what we want, He often gives us what we need. An . . . alimentary postulate. »

      The goddess winced. « Next time I hear a prayer of someone having – ‘a load of shit dumped on them’ – I’ll know there are far worse fates to experience. »

      « This too will pass, and I do apologize. »

      « Thank you. » She sniffed the soap. « Tell me where I can get soap, shampoo and a bath like this, and all is forgiven. You are an excellent host, when you chose to be. On another subject, where is my sword? »

      The dragon pulled the twisted piece of metal from between his teeth.

      « That blade was supposed to be indestructible, » she commented on the piece of modern art he’d given her.

      « It’s not destroyed, » the Dragon replied, « It’s just now better used as a very sharp hat. »

      « A metaphor for a crown, my own I fear. While the Great Old Ones do not yet threaten this realm, we have our own foes. One, has been sending young Sasami the dreams which plague her. »

      « There are ways and defenses, » the Dragon replied, « I can teach her, if you have no objections. »

      « No, I was going to ask that very service. And perhaps one that will aid us both. »

      « I’m enough of the boy still, to know I should always at least listen to an offer, » the Dragon said.

      « You have a very serious problem, you and I both know the zenith is fast approaching. Beryl is trivial, the minions of Chaos of the Juuban girls are merely a sideshow. So is their master. Your true enemy still awaits you, what of the denouement that follows? A sustaining action, or a nadir? »

      « Considering neither the boy nor I will be there, » the Dragon admitted, « It is something we’ve consciously left for the others to decide. I or the boy will put the question to them well before an answer is needed. »

      « Then perhaps, I can offer a suggestion, » Tsunami said.

      « I’m listening, Milady. »

     « Welcome to my home, » Kasumi Tendo bowed as much as she could, given her disability, and was ashamed of her inability. She rolled her wheelchair back out of the way, allowing them to enter and remove their shoes. The threadbare condition of the guest slippers shamed her.

      « We thought Miss Sasami might enjoy talking cleaning, cooking and other homemaking chores with an expert, » Miss Langley introduced the young lady who bowed properly, while in the background, Mister Davis dropped off the groceries they’d brought with them.

      Kasumi’s eyes widened, more from the cornucopia the three gaijin were so casually dropping off, than the invisible force that carried them to the kitchen.

      The young girl with the odd hair style and color, bowed low again. « I am glad you could welcome us, » she said happily.

      Kasumi wondered, How long has it been, or how long has it seemed, since there was any real cheerfulness in this house? Let alone true joy? « You are very welcome here, » Kasumi said, and smiled at Sasami’s jubilant laughter.

      « I think she wants you to put her to work, » Miss Langley confided to her in Chinese, « So you can demonstrate. »

      Kasumi glanced at where `Raccoon` lounged outside, keeping his vow to ‘never set foot in that place, unless a life or a soul was in danger.’ Despite this, the debris in the yard, that no one else could be troubled to pick up, collected in a pile. The makeshift ramp, which had grown dangerous for her to use, with its shoddy construction and lack of maintenance, seemed to be reforming. Seemingly both under their own power, although Kasumi knew both the truth and the facts.

      « Well. » Kasumi was embarrassed to admit her weakness. « Dusting the top shelves has been a problem lately. » The girl virtually chirped with joy as Kasumi led her to the cleaning supplies. Miss Langley followed behind, keeping a proprietary eye on them.

      « You’d be a good mother, » Kasumi told Miss Langley. Not just to flatter, she thought, Because it is true.

      « So would you, » Miss Langley replied with forced cheer, « The quality of men around here just doesn’t measure up, does it? I simply refuse to just compromise on some things, don’t you? » Miss Langley smiled. Kasumi felt the edge behind the innocent-sounding question.

      Yes, I was lonely, and still am. Even a bane who comes to visit me is welcome, Kasumi silently admitted, Assuming that Akane and father had bothered to actually think through to a solution. Kasumi considered the possibility that Soun might finally figure out how to get Akane and Ryoga together. Now who is lying to herself? she thought as Sasami passed her with a duster and a step stool.

     Raccoon and Asuka were back in the restaurant, and bored. « We are evil, you know that? » Asuka asked, « We caused as much havoc in Nerima by sending Sasami to the Tendo home, as we did luring the rest of our usual slate of victims out of town to keep Sasami’s `family` pinned down and occupied. »

      « Not our fault if Kasumi is the real power in the region, » Raccoon said dismissively, « Even if she refuses to acknowledge it. Old rules of warfare, you break the enemy’s strongest point and the rest roll up and die. »

      « Still seems a little unfair using little Sasami to do our dirty work, » Asuka said, paging through another tome on Amazon history and legends. We’ve cleaned, repaired, recalibrated and maintained all the restaurant’s equipment, then the building itself, Asuka thought, All that’s left to do is read through not only Xian Pu’s and Mu Tsu’s library of Amazon history, traditions, laws and lore, but Elder Kho Lon’s as well. There’s got to be a way out of this mess for everybody.

      « Shows both of them what happens when that kind of service stops being a love-gift and starts becoming a duty demanded by others, » Raccoon countered, « I doubt either of them will continue to stand for the treatment they’ve been receiving. That will set up ripples we can exploit. »

      « And your ability to seem omniscient and eternally-prepared, is to know the ripples are coming and what they’re likely to do, » Asuka said disgustedly, slamming the book closed, « You’re as twisted as these idiot rules are, a Harvard lawyer couldn’t really untangle them, without resorting to bloodshed. »

      « Blood’s all those people really know. » Raccoon leaned back, yawned and stretched. « The Tendos and their satellites have forgotten that combat means blood and death. Death is supposed to be a deterrent to fighting, but none of them really close with the enemy and destroy them. They think it’s a game, so I play it as a game, I also cheat like I would when a game actually matters. »

      « I noticed that you cleaned up the yard, fixed her wheelchair ramp and made repairs on the gas, electric and phone lines. You could have just let the house go up in flames. »

      « Akane and Soun would abandon Kasumi to her fate while they saved their own skins, » Raccoon replied, « I know the limitations of my pieces, and how to keep them in play. Besides, there’s nothing so satisfying as having a front row seat while someone pays for their sins. A few more moves, and Akane will have to grow up, she won’t be able to play the spoiled-rotten, misandristic, 12-year-old. She has her reasons for her behavior, though I doubt even she knows why. I, however, intend to see that those reasons are swept aside, or dragged out into the light for all to see. Then Hell really begins for all involved. »

      « And you’ll refuse to tell me, » Asuka said.

      « If I told you, you’d kill some people who sincerely deserve it, » Raccoon replied, « It would be letting them off easy, and would allow Akane to avoid facing reality and growing up. I’d much rather give her only two choices, move to the next level, or die. Despite her supposedly Bushido upbringing, she’s far too much of a narcissist to let someone else kill her.

      « If I reveal the truth, it will be, in her mind, me attempting to destroy her. I think she’ll find a way to muddle through. Rather than surrender to a gaijin and – and – and – and – a boy! » He gasped as if having `an attack of the vapors`.

      Asuka was too frustrated to chuckle at his antics. « One day, you’ll have to explain all of this to me, » Asuka said, « Speaking of muddling through. Short of me challenging Xian Pu for the village champion spot, where I could beat her, the combat is to the death, but I think I’d lose the history and customs tests. Or you challenging Xian Pu’s claim to Ranko by claiming her as your chattel. Have you found any way out for Ranma? Short of vaporizing the entire village and all the Amazons with it? »

      « I found three that would only require I kill a handful of Amazons, two that would only require Xian Pu’s death, one that would only require Kho Lon’s, and one that let’s everybody live, but would probably have Xian Pu chasing us throughout eternity, if I carried it out. »

      « Sounds fun, » Asuka commented, « What is it? »

      « We get her thrown out of the tribe. A disgraced and `defrocked` Amazon can’t carry through the Kiss of Marriage or the Kiss of Death, especially an ex-village champion. I also found that Kho Lon could have released Ranma any of three ways, but she didn’t. »

      « Terrific, » Asuka said, turning away from the table full of books, « Do eugenics and power rule these people that completely? »

       » ‘fraid so, » Raccoon agreed, « They’ve got a pipsqueak country, an art that would have been war-winning in 1600, but a platoon of modern sniper/commandoes from any nation-state bigger than Monaco, could lay waste to that entire village in less than an hour. Forget what modern anti-tank artillery or a nuclear power could do. On top of that, they all know it. All they’ve got left is their pride, any real power is an illusion. Like around here, do you really think if you gave Soun Tendo Gendo Ikari’s determination and scope of vision, that any of this would be going on? Or put Ritsuko in Kasumi’s shoes? How about if we brought our Nabiki back here, throw in Ayanami-san to guard her back while she made changes. Do you honestly believe any of the current Neriman powers would stand? It’s all cobwebs and shadows, and they all know it. As long as no one mentions it, everyone stays as gods of their own little worlds. I’m just brooming some of them away. »

      « The gods or the cobwebs? Or is there a difference? I think just beating them to a pulp should work, » Asuka said.

      « Doesn’t work for them, why should it work for us, » Raccoon soothed, « You’re being European, practical, dealing with what is, and with the Judeo-Christian concept of an All-Powerful God looking over your shoulder. Here, you eat ordure until you get some power, then you eat ordure, but you can order those below you eat the same ordure you had to. By the time you reach the place where you can make changes, you’d rather make everybody eat ordure. That’s the game all the leaders here play, no charity, no innovation. It isn’t about doing good, it’s about payback, usually against people who are long dead. »

      « So you have to play by their idiot rules? » Asuka asked, « Beat them at their own game? »

      « It’s the only way to make them acknowledge they were beaten, » Raccoon said, « Besides, I could simply destroy them, if they get to be a problem. The Tokyo Police don’t come here, for any reason, so if this place and these people are above law, then there is no law. »

      « The ideal way, would be to –  » Asuka jumped out of her chair and began pacing the floor. « I bet that’s what all the meetings are about, » Asuka said, her mind racing, « Why Kho Lon and Xian Pu haven’t been back! That’s what the council must be planning to do. If all this is about power, then this would be the perfect time and method to oust Kho Lon from her position! » Asuka’s sudden enthusiasm waned. « Who am I kidding? If Kho Lon had the choice of saving Xian Pu or saving her own neck by throwing Xian Pu under the train, she’d do it in a heartbeat. »

      « Exactly right, they are following the dictates of their avarice, and tradition, never looking around and seeing what’s really happening. Now, what the heck are you babbling about? »

      « What’s really going on in Happyland. At least it sets up your ‘throw out the village champion’ scenario without us being implicated. They make a big deal about Xian Pu failing, give Kho Lon a big song and dance about her failing too. Suddenly Kho Lon has the decision of dumping her favorite great-granddaughter, or getting the whole clan demoted. Big surprise what she does, she’s probably trying to rally support to keep her Eldership, and have Xian Pu merely exiled and not executed. » She paused, took a deep breath, and saw Raccoon with that expression on his face. « Okay shaman, oh speaker to spirits, what is happening?! » Asuka shouted, « I really hate your all-knowing act. »

      « I have tried to teach you my intelligence gathering methods, » he offered as an apology.

      « I’d rather beat people up. »

      « Then refrain from being the best at what you do –  »

      « Selling comic books, » Asuka muttered.

      « I don’t get the reference, » Raccoon admitted.

      « Never mind, speak, » Asuka commanded.

      « The Amazons are dying out, there are fewer born every year, » Raccoon explained, « Many fewer in this last generation. Since power of an Amazon clan is dependent on the power of its mothers and daughters, this has severely warped their culture. »

      « Mothers are judged by how many children, daughters by their prowess in battle, » Asuka realized, « So mothers, are forced to become daughters, go from marital arts back to martial arts, and with peace among the Musk, Phoenixi, and the other tribes of the Martial Arts Balkans . . . there’s no one left to fight but each other. So the entire system of who is the strongest really depends on who beats who, on the challenge log or in the council chambers. The older warriors are also getting wounded as their reflexes slow, and the younger realize they have to take much greater risks if they hope to achieve anything. So it isn’t just the babies who are in shortening supply, it’s the healthy replacements for the elders as well. Fewer women are growing old intact. »

      « You actually exceeded what I’d found out, but I bow to your masterful analysis. » He nodded.

      « As well you should, » Asuka replied loftily, patting him on the head, « They must have inbred to such a degree they can’t produce viable offspring. That would certainly explain Mu Tsu and Xian Pu, and the fascination with Ranma, powerful new blood. »

      « If that were true, they’d have wanted Genma too, and they would have shanghaied Ryoga. No, it’s deeper than that, they needed his innocent overconfidence as well. One infusion of new blood wouldn’t stem the problem. They needed Ranma’s ‘never say quit’ attitude more than anything else. We’ll eventually have to go to the village, and both of us will have to watch out, we’ll be dealing with some pretty desperate people, on all sides. »

      « So what is causing the problem? »

      « No, » Raccoon said, shaking his head, « Better you don’t know, better you don’t act like there is a problem. You know how prickly Kho Lon can be, the others are worse. She’s a wild-eyed, screaming liberal compared to most of them. Xian Pu and Mu Tsu are actually pretty cosmopolitan, for Amazons. »

      « Fine. I just want your promise you’ll stay away from Jusenkyo, » Asuka accused, poking her finger in his chest, « No mage, especially an expert in curses could resist. »

      « I won’t give it, » Raccoon replied, shaking his head, then he looked up at her, « I only ask you to trust that I will take precautions so paranoid that the nuclear and chemical industries would think them excessive. The information is too important. »

      Asuka sighed and tossed her hands in the air. « Mages! » she shouted, « All right, that’s done, the Amazons are likely to do exactly what we need done. I’ll take it on myself to catch Xian Pu when she falls. On another path, it’s almost time for lunch. » Raccoon was still making notes on what Asuka had said. Asuka was pacing, incidently blocking his path to the kitchen. Each drawing plans in our own way, she thought.

      « I just realized something, » Asuka began, « Sasami’s `friends`. We know they’ll teleport in, probably right on top of us, just to prove how clever they are. »

      « Already handled, as well as dimensional shifts, » Raccoon told her, not looking up from his notes, « The sewers are getting boring. So, I’ll send them someplace . . . interesting. »

      « Do I want to know? » Asuka stopped pacing, and immediately restarted when Raccoon smiled. She shivered when he smiled like that.

     « I told you, » Washu said proudly, « The Greatest Scientific Genius™ in the Universe doesn’t need train tickets. » Washu threw her head back and laughed. Tenchi shivered uncontrollably.

      « Why are we in a tiny swamp? » Ryoko asked as she drifted about, above the water, looking around the strange enclosure.

      « Why are we standing on this slimy log? » Ayeka added disdainfully, lifting her feet to inspect her now-ruined shoes.

      « Kiyone? This is a funny-shaped log, all bumpy. » Mihoshi knelt down and examined their landing site.

      Kiyone paled and proved her credentials as a detective. « This isn’t a log. »

      Mister Green Turtle had been very patient with this loud, heavy lunch. Now to eat.

     « Kasumi-chan listen. » Sasami waved her to silence as they heard the arguing inside the restaurant.

      « You didn’t! » Miss Langley insisted as she laughed.

      « I most certainly did, » Mister Davis insisted right back, « I figure they’ll both have some fun. » Kasumi and Sasami listened quietly at the door to the restaurant.

      « You are truly awful, » Miss Langley told him, « Picking on that poor crocodile that way. » Sasami covered her mouth to restrain her laughter.

      « I thought it was an alligator, » Mister Davis said.

      Kasumi’s knock on the door interrupted Miss Langley’s retort.

      Sasami and Kasumi waited for them to open the door. Kasumi glanced at the strange creature called Ryo-Oh-Ki, as the ‘cabbit’ desperately tried to balance a large pot on her head. Kasumi’s wheelchair was likewise heavily burdened.

      « We had all that extra food, » Sasami explained as Mister Davis took the pot off of Ryo-Oh-Ki’s head and Asuka helped unburden the equally overloaded wheelchair. « And I wanted to see how the recipes worked. » Sasami laughed with delight at the sight of Ryo-Oh-Ki dragging a crate of carrots onto the main restaurant floor.

      « Just one, » Mister Davis insisted sternly. The poor creature looked so distraught, lips trembling, eyes nearly tearing up. « Until you finish helping unload, » Mister Davis completed his statement. Ryo-Oh-Ki myrowed happily, eagerly helped with the lighter items. Kasumi handed the small creature the easily carried items. The creature raced away with each of the objects.

      Sasami cried out in shock. Kasumi looked on in horror as Mister Davis stood by her wheelchair and threw the pots and containers of food through the door and into the restaurant.

      No! Kasumi wanted to scream, then she saw the rest.

      Sasami’s cries changed to delighted cheers as Miss Langley caught each one, with her hands, feet or head, her long hair whipping around like a tail as Asuka made the actions a dance.

      They do like scaring people, Kasumi thought, her heart pounding in her chest. Sasami clapped and cheered as Asuka whirled and spun, delivering each container to the table with a flourish, not spilling a drop.

      « YAY! YAY! » Sasami called and clapped.

      Kasumi stared at the pair in shock, but began to relax slightly. It’s entertainment, a show, Kasumi thought, I should just allow myself to be entertained. Odd, they both seem so terribly serious, but are able to play like this. She found herself longing for the same freedom, she gave vent to the only freedom allowed her.

      Kasumi began laughing at the activity. « I should have come here, and watched at least once, » Kasumi admitted, « That was wonderful. »

      « At the Neko-hanten –  » Mister Davis began.

      « We aim to please, » Miss Langley finished. Both bowed, then Miss Langley began whistling a waltz, tapping her foot in time.

      Mister Davis stalked over to Sasami, who stood just inside the door. He moved in time with the music. He took Sasami’s hand and taught her a simple box step, that wound up with Sasami seated in a chair at the table. He continued waltzing with an invisible partner. Ryo-Oh-Ki had worked out the waltz’s timing, and `myrow`ed in counterpoint to Asuka’s whistling.

      « Milady, » Mister Davis said as he stepped outside to stand next to her. He bowed to her. « It appears your dance card is empty. »

      « I’m not too light on my feet, » Kasumi admitted and stared down at her lap, and her restless hands. Is this a game, is it to humiliate me? Or to entertain? she thought desperately, They aren’t like the others here, I can’t predict what or why they do what they do.

      « That’s is my concern, not yours, » he said gently, as he carefully picked her out of the chair. Asuka and Ryo-Oh-Ki slowed the tempo. Kasumi held onto Jeff’s neck as he went through a series of graceful sweeps and dips. Each move in time with the music.

      She stared at the placid smile, the sense of absolute control he exuded. I’m safe, she thought desperately, He won’t hurt me. He might kill without warning, but a gentleman wouldn’t hurt a lady in his charge. She relaxed, enjoyed the dance.

      « Pretty, » Sasami said with shining eyes.

      As Mister Davis settled her in a chair at the table, « You are too hard on yourself, Milady, you never once trod upon my foot. »

      Kasumi stared at her lap and blushed right down to her toes. Too overwhelmed to manage an ‘Oh my.’ Her wheelchair rolled across the floor and stopped within reach, as if of its own accord.

      « So, since you two are the founders of the feast, » Miss Langley said as she gave her accompanist two carrots, much to Ryo-Oh-Ki’s delight. « What should we serve first? »

Sailor Jupiter – Pilots in Juuban