'Kidou Senki Gundam Wing' is copyright Sunrise Entertainment, Fox Entertainment, Viz Communications, Mixx Enterprises, and others. 'Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon' is copyright Takeuchi Naoko, Kodansha, Mixx Enterprises, DiC Entertainment, and others. In other words, NOT ME.
This story contains reference to a same-sex couple. If the Honoured Reader dislikes this, the Author recommends the use of the delete button. NOW.
She stood in the dark, waiting for the light.
There were no indications of the light to come. Neither sound nor sensation rippled through the darkness surrounding her. She had nothing save her certainty to tell her that the dawn she anticipated would arrive.
A shard of lightning ripped across the sky, illuminating a figure. It was holding... a scythe?
She stepped towards where the figure had stood.
"Who are you?"
Another flash of lightning revealed huge wings unfurling from the figure's back. She shivered. No elegant feathered beauties these; they were leathery and veined, stretched skin over fanned bones. Bat wings.
"What are you?"
A halo sprang up around the figure, a delicate lavender glow that drew attention to It's silhouette, revealing the figure of a woman. The strange weapon the woman held was a staff of carved fluorite, topped with a blade of white metal. It was a scythe only in vague outline - although clearly of the same family, it more closely resembled a naginata or a bayonet. The blade itself stood almost straight up from the rod it was affixed to, curving only slightly. A quarter of the way up the blade, it separated into two. One stood tall, curving thickly over the rod and its smaller sister, while the second was smaller, thinner and straighter, dividing into a jointed curve, the flattened top of a heart. Both blades gleamed with that sheen that is only found on razors.
The figure began to step towards her. She moved slowly. In the glow of Her halo, a tear trickled slowly down the strange woman's cheek. She made no effort to stop it or to wipe it away.
"Why do you cry?"
The strange woman stopped Her advance. She turned Her face slowly. Following Her line-of-sight, all there was to see were...
Ruins. Collapsed skyscrapers lay in ruined heaps on deserted homes. Empty streets with rusty junkheaps that had once been cars.
And the bodies. She was abruptly glad that she couldn't smell the rotting slabs of meat that had once held souls, as she saw flesh, so rotted it literally slipped from the bones it had once clad. The vultures...
There were no vultures. Nor flies. Nor any insects. The bodies were rotting in peace, untouched by any of Nature's scavengers.
She swung back to the strange woman. "Who did this?"
The Other said nothing.
Abruptly she remembered her catechism. 'The Angel of Death has no voice, to warn of Her coming. Her wings are black as a bat's, and Her colour is of royalty,' the priest had droned at her, that long-ago Sunday afternoon.
She stared at the other, Whose face was still hidden. "Are you Her? The Angel of Death?" Her throat was suddenly dry.
A second tear followed the first down the Angel's cheek, as She raised Her weapon and aimed at her throat...
... and Relena sat up suddenly, the eiderdown falling away from her shoulders as she clutched at her unthreatened throat in an effort to shield it from the dream-threat.
Why would she dream of a long-unthought-of Catholic icon? Religion had been neither inspiration nor solace to her, and so she had abandoned it in her crowded schedule, along with so many other staples of her childhood. Why would its imagery suddenly terrify her so?
She rolled over and snuggled down once more, blowing her fair brown hair away from her cheek. It was a long time before she managed to fall back to sleep.
Luna, snoozing in her basket beside the fireplace set into the wall, noticed nothing.
"%Scout Ship 'Mizu no Ryuu', you are cleared to land at co- ordinates zero-alpha-nine, four-gamma-seven. Water, Dragon, welcome home.%"
Po Sally smiled, even though the visual circuit hadn't been activated. "Acknowledged, Central. It's good to come home."
Chang Wu Fei tapped the boards in front of him, his delicate fingers dancing across the computer panels. "Course laid in, Sally. We should be making planetfall in twenty-seven minutes."
Sally nodded, even though she knew her shipmate wasn't watching her and wouldn't see the gesture. "We'll be making planetfall in approximately twenty-seven minutes if we begin descent now, Central Control."
"%Acknowledged, Water. Take your time; it's a slow day today. We'll give you an hour window, beginning... now.%"
Sally tapped the activation button, beginning the ship's descent. The computer would take over from here, so she swivelled in her seat, the better to watch the main viewscreen. The fact that she could also subtly observe Wu Fei from this position was one she had not chosen to emphasise. She knew it, he knew it, and they each knew the other knew it.
Anne and Lucrezia had each mentioned that they didn't understand how she could be so content with her lover. "He's so undemonstrative," they each said. But then, they were European. Westerners often didn't understand the concept of subtlety. Private things, such as one's heart, didn't need to be shouted from the rooftops. One didn't need to have a love that could be read from orbit. If one loved and was loved, and knew it, what more needed to be said?
Wu Fei had tied back his hair again today; she preferred his hair that way, rather than loose. It drew attention to his eyes and features when he tied his hair back. When he had it loose, he looked like a black unclipped maltese terrier - all long, silky, beautiful hair, with a distinct lack of eyes, nose, ears or face.
Then again, when they had visited the resort on L3-24, that look had been an advantage. All their contacts and their targets had assumed that Wu Fei's hair was a signal that he was as short of wit as his hair was long and had behaved accordingly. The hidden ears were still sharp ones; the hair only blocked people seeing his eyes, not his eyes seeing people; and the mind behind both was very, very active. The number of clues he'd picked up that hadn't been dropped when she was around was astounding.
Sally was the sort to appreciate that sort of asset.
All in all, she was altogether pleased with the world and her place in it. She had mentioned to Wu Fei that there didn't appear to be any major crises at the time and that they both had vacation time accruing. He had promptly suggested that they take it straight after the end of this particular mission.
Now if only she could explain this strange feeling that she should be on Earth. She had awoken each day with a jangled, unsettled feeling in her chest, until finally Wu Fei had spoken to her about it. She had been embarrassed; she was by no means a still sleeper, but she had prided herself on being a quiet one. Writhing about until her bedmate had to go to the other cabin to get some sleep was more than a little embarrassing.
Now that she thought about it, Wu Fei looked as if he had not been sleeping very well either. He had been even quieter than usual recently, and she hadn't even mentioned her feelings before he suggested Earth.
/Where will we go?/ Sally speculated idly. /Montreal, Tokyokohama, Sydney, San Frangeles, London..../
"... Sanq Kingdom."
"I beg your pardon?" Sally asked, coming back to herself with a lurch.
"I think that while we're on Earth, we should go see Sanq Kingdom."
"I don't think we can. Lucrezia told me it had been completely destroyed in the Romefeller Invasion. She compared it to Carthage, and 'the salting of the ground'."
"I doubt even Romefeller would have enacted 'scorched earth' on Sanq. They could not be that honourless...." Wu Fei's voice trailed off as he took in Sally's nodding. "They could."
"Could, would and were. It's why Relena never went back to being a Ruling Princess - Romefeller firebombed the bridge behind her."
Sally watched Wu Fei turn back to his station, his back ramrod straight. She turned back to her own board, sympathising.
It was hard for honourable people to cope with the knowledge of just how honourless the War of the Gundams had been. It sometimes seemed to her that it was only the individuals who had chosen to fight on their own that had retained any kind of honour. At least they had never broken their promises.
Milliard Peacecraft tapped his fingers on his armrest. He pulled at his plait (Lucrezia had suggested he change his hairstyle to something less conspicuous, so he'd braided it), fiddled with his wedding ring and twisted his watch.
He hated being a passenger.
After reflection, he'd decided it was because he just didn't like not being in control. He'd never felt so antsy when he was sitting in the command chair, and captains didn't get to drive the ship.
Lucrezia glanced over at him and nudged him in the ribs. Firmly. With her elbow. "Settle down," she whispered. "We'll be landing soon."
"I know," he murmured back. "I just can't relax."
Lucrezia sighed. The trip from Mars to Earth still took a week, even with the tourist industry starting to build up. And he had been fidgety and restless for the entire journey. "I understand," she replied. That was the worst of it. She did understand, for she was usually the same.
For all of that, this time both she and Milliard were much calmer than usual. As they watched the blue-white swirly globe on the viewscreen give way to brown-green-grey landscapes, and the captain announced their imminent arrival at Cape York Spaceport, Lucrezia felt something inside her that she hadn't even realised was tense begin to relax.
She was home.
It just wouldn't stop singing.
Trowa gunned the Kawasaki's motor and tried to ignore the wind's chanting as it rushed past his ears, concentrating on the road and avoiding the pedestrians that were also walking along the banks of the Seine. He didn't need to know that a pod of dolphins were just outside the harbour, chasing a school of schnapper. He didn't want to know that a pair of eagles who had built a nest on one of the buildings on the Ile de Cite had just become the proud parents of an egg. He especially didn't need to know how happy the wind was about that.
No, what he needed was to get out of Paris, away from people, away from what had happened last night and far, far away from the Parisian Gendarme. Who were not going to be happy when they caught up with him. Police have a tendency to be unhappy with people who drive straight across roundabouts. People who drive straight across the Place de la Triomphe, across the eight- lane roundabout at the head of the Champs Elysees and under the Arc de Triomphe, narrowly missing the Eternal Flame and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, tend to find themselves at the top of the Traffic Branch's 'Get this guy NOW' list.
A group of three police bikes roared out of a side-street, sweeping up around him. The leader of the group gestured at Trowa, making it clear that he was to pull over to the side of the road, where they would like to make his life interesting for a while.
Trowa did not want to beat up a squad of policemen this early in the day, so he gunned the motor and opened up the throttle. He'd tinkered with the engine a little (he was a Gundam mechanic before he ever was a pilot, after all, and he liked to keep his skills active) so when the muffler suddenly spat flame, two small wheels descended from the frame, and the speedometer suddenly registered 200 mph, Trowa was the only one not surprised. He merely noted an effective modification.
The squad came to a sweeping halt as they watched the bike and its rider roar off into the distance.
"Sir," one asked, "what do we do?"
The constable shrugged. "Report to the station," he replied.
Marimeia was sitting in her hotel room, logged into school. She would rather have been doing almost anything else, but even double heiresses with more hereditary retainers than you can shake a stick at who are really superheroes in disguise have to know how to spell. Even if they can hire umpteen-dozen secretaries to do it for them.
She was currently solving a complex chemical equation and plotting how to get back at Mama-Anne for repacking the schooling computer after she'd accidentally-on-purpose forgotten to pack it. The two were coming out somewhat mixed up. The computer recorded her marks as much lower than usual, and informed her that 'frog' was not a known chemical compound.
Duo sighed. The shuttle was in a holding pattern over the Cape York Spaceport, and it had been for an hour. Hilde, at least, had bought a trashy romantic novel in the gift shop at the transfer station (Duo privately decided that she'd selected it because the cover picture of the hero had deep blue eyes and a long braid, but knew better than to say so aloud), but he had planned to sleep all the way and so had nothing to amuse himself with. So far he'd cadged a second meal, stolen Hilde's book (and privately resolved to steal it again and burn it, because, no matter how flattering the description, he just didn't look good in a kilt and he didn't need Hilde getting ideas), flirted mildly with a cabin stewardess (and gotten his foot stomped), apologised profusely and been forgiven. So now he had nothing to do but fidget.
Hilde shot him a Look, one he knew well: [There isn't anything you can do, so sit down and behave, Maxwell!]. He sent her one of his own in return: [I'm being good! What am I gonna get for it?]
Her lips twitched. "Soon. We'll be on Earth soon. And you can show me everything."
Duo grinned slowly.
` "The Great Barrier Reef, the Grand Canyon, the Great Wall of China...."
He winced, until he caught her grin.
"Soon," he agreed. "Ne, Hilde, you have any biscuits left? I'm staaarrrrrving!"
Quatre sipped at his morning orange juice. Hang the expense. Winner Industries could afford it.
Trowa was off on his bike again. When he got back to the quiet villa, he and Quatre would be discussing it. Probably intensely and at length. Arguments were rare in the Barton-Winner household, but when they happened, they were doozies.
|Plus ca change, plus tout la meme,| Neptune put in.
Quatre paused, and searched his psyche.
When he had been Neptune, he had been a different person. Quatre was very similar in some respects to the Princess of ancient Neptune, but in some ways, his previous incarnation had been very different. Some very important ways.
For example, Princess Neptune was far more pragmatic than the young Winner. Neptune was also very independent; the only person she had permitted herself to develop any kind of partnership with was Princess Uranus.
But in some ways they were very similar. Quatre knew very well Neptune's isolation, that sense of being alone among many. Neptune had been a quiet leader, as Quatre was; neither caring much for the appearance of leadership but somehow always managing to influence events so they came out their way.
Altogether, it seemed to the young Winner that he and Neptune would reintegrate, eventually. But in the meantime, it was almost like he had a passenger inside his head.
|I meant,| his otherself volunteered, |that Uranus has always been like this. I talk things out, she broods. I drag it out of her, we have a stand-up fight and then we make it up.| He felt his own memories being examined. |Wow. Some things really do stay the same.|
|Uranus still loves triple fudge ripple ice-cream.|
"Definitely Trowa's favourite," Quatre agreed, pleased that his otherself hadn't mentioned any of his more salacious memories.
Dorothy was not amused.
Artemis smiled a furry cat-smile at her from behind the mouse corpse he was presenting. She took a firm grip on her temper and smiled at him grimly. "Thank you, Artemis," she told her new kitten calmly.
"Mow," he commented, depositing the body beside the other bodies he'd presented to her that morning, and strolled out of the room.
Dorothy, for her part, surveyed the rodent Somme that lay before her. She was not a weak-willed girl, but a woman who had faced war. She'd seen battlefields. Quatre Rarbera Winner had fought her on his own ground and she'd held him to a standstill. Zero System had thrown its worst at her and she had held her own.
The stupid dead mouse would not phase her. She wouldn't let it phase her. She would ring for a maid and get it cleaned up. And get a new carpet. And take a shower and change. It was bleeding on her!
Smiling not-quite-serenely at the maid who had appeared in response to her frantic ringing, Dorothy stood and gestured at the pile of mice at her feet.
"Clean that up," she ordered, with a shaky smile, and swept out of the room. As soon as she was alone in the corridor, she immediately dropped all pretence at dignity and, holding the affected portion of her skirt away from her, almost ran to her rooms.
After a long, hot shower and a change of clothing, Dorothy sat back and meditated on the feelings she had discovered that morning.
/I have no problems with blood shed on the battlefield, or even in ordinary day-to-day accidents,/ she considered. /Nor have I ever liked mice. Why should their blood upset me so?/
"Because they have no ability to choose their fate."
Dorothy glanced up but there was no other person in sight.
"Who is there?" she asked angrily. To just barge into her room like this... they had some nerve!
"You are revolted by the death of the mice because they are not human. That has always been your philosophy, has it not? That humans choose their fates, and refusing to choose is in itself a choice," The voice continued as Dorothy looked around. "A choice that has consequences. But the mice never had even the chance to refuse that choice."
She kept searching around wildly, completely overlooking Artemis, perched just inside the closed door.
"There is an Enemy."
There was no-one at the window.
"More than humanity is at stake."
"Who are you?! Who is this?! Schreibecker, if you've just arrived and this is your idea of a greeting, you've been living with Maxwell too long!"
"Um... who is Schreibecker?" the voice asked, losing its portentous tone.
"You know perfectly well exactly who you are," Dorothy snapped.
"Yes, that's true," the voice replied thoughtfully. "I am Artemis. Who is Schreibecker?"
Dorothy turned to look at the kitten sitting in the doorway. He looked back at her, and his green eyes were wide with knowledge that no kitten could have.
"Hilde Schreibecker is a friend," Dorothy said slowly. "She lives on L2 colony."
Artemis cocked his head. "Hilde? Oh dear," he murmured. "Well," he began, raising his voice, "I am Artemis. Guardian cat to the senshi of Venus." Noticing her blank look, he added, "that's you."
"The senshi of Venus." Dorothy dropped into a chair, staring at the kitten. "Let's assume for a minute that I actually believe I'm hearing a cat talk - not that I do, of course, but let's pretend - and you can tell me what the senshi of Venus is."
Artemis took a deep breath. /Did Luna have this trouble with Moon? No, of course she didn't./ "The Senshi of Venus - Sailor Venus - is the soldier of Love and Beauty, defending them and their existence in this world."
"Sailor Venus is the guardian of the defenceless, the shield of the innocent -"
Artemis stopped as Dorothy interrupted him. "Nobody! And the defenseless are that way because they don't choose to defend themselves! And - and - Love and Beauty - those aren't things that exist on their own. There's beauty in everything. Everything is loved by someone. Defending them is like defending space! They're always going to be there!" She took a deep breath, and appeared to remember who she was speaking to. "That's assuming you're talking, of course," she said, more subdued.
"How about defending those who admire beauty, and defeating those who would destroy it?"
Dorothy frowned. "I'm listening," she said, her tone saying 'and this better be good'.
"The Earth is under attack. Energy-vampires are trying to drain it of all its life. Not just humans, but trees, flowers, insect, dogs, cats, and yes, mice too - everything is under threat. Everything that is beautiful. Life itself will become extinct."
"I am afraid," Dorothy said, "that I still have no idea what that has to do with me. I am not your Senshi of Venus."
Artemis sighed. He did a backwards flip in front of her chair. Energy swirled along the path of the loop, and swirled down, coalescing into a golden brooch. Dorothy picked it up off the cushion it had fallen onto.
It was a simple, oval-cut cabochon golden topaz, set in gold. Plain and unadorned, the severity of the setting highlighted the beauty of the smooth gemstone. For a moment, Dorothy almost thought she could see the image of a long cross, surmounted with a circle - the symbol of Venus - deep within the stone.
"Wear that tonight," Artemis told her. "You'll see what I mean."
The first thing Milliard did, when he made planetfall, was make a phonecall.
Happily, Lady Anne was with Relena at the time. So he didn't have to make a second call.
"Dinner tonight sounds like a good idea," Relena told him over the link. "How is Lucrezia?"
"%We're both fine," her brother replied. "She says the young one likes space travel, because she settled down straightaway, as soon as we moved into space.%"
"It's a girl?" Relena asked. "You've found out?"
"%No,%" her brother returned, in a long-suffering tone. "%We decided to wait, remember? But Lucrezia says she's going to be a girl, and I will not call my child 'It'.%"
"Smart move, that man," Anne commented.
"%Thank you very much, Commander,%" Milliard returned trenchantly.
"Shall I call Dorothy, or you?" Relena asked, ignoring the exchange.
On the viewscreen, an expression of mild panic crossed his features. "%Dorothy's here?%"
"What's wrong, Milliard?" Anne asked sweetly. "She's a perfectly nice girl."
"%You never saw her on Libra, did you?%"
"Don't worry, Elder Brother," Relena soothed. "She's over you now." She frowned. "At least, I think she is...."
"Much as I would enjoy discussing the subject of Dorothy Catalonia with you further," Anne interrupted, "I think we should return to the subject at hand. Given that Chang Wu Fei and Po Sally are arriving today, Quatre and Trowa Barton-Winner have been here for a week, and sources tell me that Duo Maxwell and Hilde Schreibecker will be arriving later this afternoon -"
"Hilde's coming? Why didn't you tell me!" Relena demanded. "I don't have her rooms ready or anything - impulsive girl! She never warns me, but you could have -"
"I did warn you," Anne replied. "Just now. Anyway, a reunion dinner tonight seems like a good idea to me."
"%Agreed,%" Milliard said. "%Lucrezia and Sally have always been good friends. They should appreciate the chance to catch up.%"
"We'll call everyone, so you can go tell Lucrezia," Anne said.
"%We'll come, if you promise to seat Dorothy and Lucrezia well away from each other.%"
"Afraid of feminine gossip, Elder Brother?" Relena teased.
"%Yes,%" Milliard replied promptly, and cut the connection.
Baratte stepped into her laboratory, breathing a sigh as she slid the door shut behind her. She stepped forward, looking at the contents of the three incubators before her. Each one was growing well, maturing at the correct speed. It was an experiment that might well prove valuable to their race.
"You would have been pleased with them, Maritt," she murmured to the empty air. She was correct; Maritt had been a most obliging mate, supporting her in all her endeavours. He had been so sweet, so tender....
Delicious, in fact.
She sighed in resignation to the way of the world, and moved towards the back of the laboratory, where her current assistant was monitoring the power flow monitors she had set up.
Yindi was a young male, not yet in his tenth cycle. He hadn't yet taken a mate, but Baratte understood that he was much sought-after among those who preferred short-term liaisons. Intellectually, she could understand why; he was physically attractive and he carried an air of confidence and interest that attracted many.
Baratte was not among them. Close to entering her twentieth cycle, she considered herself past the age for a casual mating, and she was still quite fond of the memory of her last mate. Normally quite observant, she did not notice the way Yindi's eyes would follow her around the laboratory.
"Any changes?" she asked him calmly.
"There have been some fluctuations in one particular reservoir - but it isn't one of the ones that have been active so far."
"So a new 'Sailor' is becoming active?" Baratte asked.
"I'm not sure. This reservoir is nothing like any of the others. It's one of a group that are interconnected. I can't find any other information on it."
Baratte sighed. "It would be useful if we could find out more. I'm sick of sending out brainless flunkeys that pose prettily as they die. What we need is a soldier who's strong enough to fight the Sailors, intelligent enough to exercise tactics and skilful enough to evade the unexpected. If we had some idea of what 'the unexpected' is -"
"Then it wouldn't be unexpected!" Yindi interrupted.
Baratte laughed. "True," she conceded. "But we need a victory. He is growing hungry."
"Is He ever not hungry?" Yindi commented.
She levelled a flat glance at her assistant. "Careful," she warned. "Were I someone else, I might report you for disloyalty. The penalty is distasteful." Yindi would have said 'Painful, embarrassing, public and deliberately non-fatal', but realised, suddenly, that it was distasteful to the observer; to her.
"I have noticed this in you, Yindi, and I must speak to you of it. Speak respectfully of your superiors, no matter your true opinion, and let none hear you do otherwise. Speak ill of them and they will take steps to end your disrespect. You will not like the steps." Baratte smiled suddenly. "Now. What of our plant experiment?"
The portable vidphone <buurr>ed in his pocket.
"Hey," Duo said into the phone.
"%We have to meet.%"
"Yo, Heero, long time no talk! How are you?"
"%I'll tell you at the meeting.%"
"Hilde's here, so we'll meet you -"
"%Call Relena and tell her you're here. Go to the dinner she's organising. I have to tell you what's going on.%"
Duo shrugged. Putting the now-dead phone back in his pocket, he turned to Hilde.
"I heard," she told him with a grimace. "So he doesn't want me to know what's going on?"
Duo shrugged. "Don't know. He's never cut you out of the loop before, but he's never let you into a briefing that didn't concern you either."
"Calling Relena, though, is a good idea," Hilde commented. "She's a good friend, we should catch up. Maybe see Anne and Marimeia while we're here."
"I can't believe you get along with Anne and Marimeia," Duo told her as he stretched his arms above his head.
"Yes, well,I can't believe you get along with Heero and Wu Fei."
"They're not so bad, once you get past the fact that Heero believes that silence is a golden mirror and breaking it means seven years' bad luck, and Wu Fei has issues."
Hilde snagged his arm and pulled him to a stop in front of a drink vending machine. "We all had issues. We wouldn't have been soldiers if we were normal."
"Yeah, but you never named your mobile suit after your dead wife."
"I would have had a job of that," Hilde conceded, dropping coins into the designated slot and tapping the selector button, "given where my tastes lie. Dead husband, on the other hand..." she glanced sideways at Duo from under her eyelashes.
Duo turned slowly to look at her.
She took a thoughtful swig from the can the machine had dispensed. "I don't know, though. A Taurus isn't really cool enough to be called 'Shinigami'."
Duo grinned in relief. "No way!"
He waited until Sally was busy with last minute landing details before opening the very private channel. Nobody except the owner knew he had this number, and he intended that it stay that way.
The face on the other end didn't change. "%Chang.%"
"You called." It had just been a message in his email, 'Call me', but he knew Yuy would not have sent it if there hadn't been need.
"%We need to talk. All of us.%"
Wu Fei felt his eyebrow twitch. "You are being very circuitous," he said. The Japanese was harsh on his tongue. Dreadful language, all long vowels and half-aspirated words. He and Sally rarely spoke anything but Mandarin to each other, and he loved his mother tongue; a conversation was more song than speech.
"%This isn't something we can talk about online. Lady Anne and Relena are organising a reunion dinner. Go.%"
Wu Fei felt himself twitch. "Will you explain yourself there?"
"%Yes.%" And with that peremptory command, Yuy signed off.
Before Wu Fei could decide exactly what Yuy was, Sally turned to him. "Wu Fei, we are invited to dinner with Anne, Relena and the Barton-Winners. Shall we go?"
"Of course," Wu Fei replied, fighting to keep himself under control. There was no reason to take Yuy's rudeness out on Sally.
Sally, however, seemed to pick up on it. Giving him a Look, she turned to her own call. Relena, on the other end, smiled; and Wu Fei looked down at his instruments.
Yindi looked at Lady Baratte as she measured out the proportions of the nutrient mixture for the incubators towards the front of the laboratory.
"Lady Baratte," he asked quietly, "have you decided which minion to send?"
She laid down the instruments. "No," she replied quietly. "Nor am I confident about sending one. We have fielded three losses already. Querte - she was one of our strongest. Had she succeeded, I'm sure that the Sailors would be dead. But she was destroyed."
"You are truly worried," Yindi said.
"Yes," his superior said quietly. "I'm responsible for planning the invasion of this planet and selecting our troops. Yet so far, none of my selections have been successful. I need a victory."
Yindi frowned. Lady Baratte couldn't fall from grace; such a thing couldn't be permitted. He had to do something...
Lady Baratte eyes opened wide in surprise. "Yindi?"
"Send me, milady. You know I'm capable. I am at least as powerful as Querte. I am intelligent and I follow orders. Send me. I will bring you back your victory."
Baratte studied the figure before her. "Very well then," she said calmly. "You may go."
Yindi smiled as he left the laboratory. He would bring back the victory, and Lady Baratte would be impressed and then she....
He licked his lips. Yes, all manner of things would happen after he destroyed the Sailor Senshi.
He nibbled at the breadroll calmly. They were all there; good. Even the Prince, sitting to one side.
Aiden Lowe felt himself smile as he saw Maxwell and Chang looking around, obviously for him. He would approach them later.
He'd have to be careful with Chang. But, as his ex- commander, it was his responsibility to inform him of what was going on.
Schreibecker was also looking around. It was a pity she wasn't one of them; when he had fallen in love with her was one of the few times Maxwell had demonstrated any common sense outside combat. Still, it couldn't be helped.
It had been disturbing, the first two times. The first, he'd simply followed the internal prompting. The second, he'd watched Sailor Moon take care of the monster quite handily on her own. The third, he hadn't been needed at all.
The fourth would be tonight.
Dinner was boring.
Dorothy felt disappointed for no apparent reason. Five minutes had been enough to convince her that Milliard was happily married, that Lucrezia Noin, while nice enough, was simply not a woman of her calibre (but what else could be expected of a common soldier?), and that she was not interested in the man he had become.
That last was probably what disappointed her most of all.
Zechs Merquise had been a terrifying warrior. Milliard Peacecraft was completely focussed on his wife, their child-to-be and his work on Mars. It was as if he had completely discarded that persona and was trying to build a new one.
Dorothy could not understand it. Yes, Zechs had truly lost everything in the end of the War of the Gundams, but he had reclaimed it, person and glory, during the One Day War. There was no need to leave it behind.
She had worn the topaz brooch, at Artemis' insistence, but nothing had happened. Nothing was going to happen.
Then something did.
Yindi teleported into the kitchen of a busy Parisian restaurant. He had taken the precaution of shaping himself into a human, darkening his skin and clothing while flattening his hair and widening his eyes.
He found a tray being thrust into his hands. "Table thirty- seven! And hurry, they've been waiting a while!"
He took the tray, holding several vegetable and meat products, heated and burnt and shredded and otherwise processed in some manner, and moved out into the main restaurant.
Against the wall was a large table, holding a crowd of some thirteen people. A young Chinese couple sat to the end nearest him, chatting with a young Aryan couple - the male of the Aryan pair had the longest hair of anyone in the room, and would be a good match for Yindi's own. His mate, on the other hand, had short black hair so fine it resembled a skullcap made of black feathers.
Beside them was an older European couple. The male had long blonde hair, and his mate was....
Yindi blinked. The female of the older pair was pregnant! A breeding pair! Maybe he should forget about wiping all these people out and just take that valuable pair back to the laboratory. Lady Baratte had been speaking of the need to establish more data.
Then he shook his head. /No; the energy of an unborn's death will attract the Senshi like nothing else. I sacrifice knowledge for the mission./
He took the tray over to the table.
"Thank you," a young girl with braided-back hair called, from the centre of the table. Yindi stepped over to her, putting the tray down in front of her.
Relena stared at the tray. This wasn't how a waiter was supposed to serve food. She breathed in, and smelled a very odd perfume....
"Who are you really?" she asked the waiter, who was still standing there.
The waiter smiled. His limbs stretched like rubber bands and his mocha-coloured skin brightened to indigo blue. His black hair flared up and out into a neon-purple blaze, while his eyes shrank down into wrinkled little sultanas.
"Not AGAIN!" chorused Relena, Catherine, Trowa and Quatre.
"You're early," Anne said.
"Yippee! I get to beat up monsters again!" cheered Marimeia.
"What?" said Duo and Hilde, in sync for once.
"Who spiked the drinks?" demanded Milliard.
"I think this is a bit more than spiking a drink," Lucrezia commented.
"I am Yindi," the apparition intoned. "You are about to die."
"No, we're about to kiMMMPHH!" Marimeia began.
"Please excuse my daughter," Lady Anne smiled grimly over the struggling girl in her arms, one of her hands muffling Marimeia's mouth accidentally-on-purpose. "Small children - excitable - I'm sure you understand. I'll just take her to the ladies room."
"NOBODY IS GOING ANYWHERE!" the creature yelled, waving its arms. "YOU ARE GOING TO DIE!!"
Relena sprang to her feet. "No, we're not! Moon Crescent Power, Make-UP!!"
"Uranus Crescent Power, Make-UP!!" "Neptune Crescent Power, Make-UP!!" Trowa and Quatre each cried.
Duo and Wu Fei watched in near-stupefaction as huge sheets of what looked like glowing light shot out of Trowa and Quatre's tiepins. They spun out around the boys' bodies, wrapping close before melting away.
Trowa and Quatre were both wearing the strangest garments. They had on skintight, long-sleeved, white V-neck tops - but the V-neck was lined with a sailor collar. Trowa's was dark blue while Quatre's was sea-green. White gloves came to mid-forearm over the end of the sleeves, and the ends of the gloves were ribbed in the same colours as the collars. On the chest, the collars tied down into two big bows - yellow for Trowa and blue for Quatre. At the waist, a narrow belt in the same colour as the bows was cinched tight about them, and the top flared out into a small whaleboned skirt that came to the hip. Under that, they wore tights. Very tight, very white tights. Which were tucked into knee-high boots the same colour as the collars.
Wu Fei goggled. Duo was nowhere to be seen.
The monster knocked down a wall, which landed on top of a group of diners that had nothing to do with their group. Screams, shrieks and gurgles came from the unfortunates, and Wu Fei's sensitive nose caught the unmistakable scent of blood.
Not fair! Not fair! Those diners had not expected a fight. They were not warriors, to expect attack at any time. They were innocents, and there was no honour in their pain.
"Honourless," he breathed. "Is there no honour left?"
|Would you bring it back?|
Wu Fei watched as an expertly-flung dining chair knocked Relena off her feet. Marimeia and Lady Anne, who were also wearing similar skimpy leotards, both shouted some imcomprehensible phrase. A tiny blizzard leapt from Marimeia's hands, while a red blast came from the staff Lady Anne was holding. The monster laughed at both, then waved its hand at the two. The potplants behind them immediately exploded into vines, wrapping them up neatly.
"I would fight beside them, and lend my honour to theirs," Wu Fei muttered, watching as Trowa and Quatre created between them what looked like a very small typhoon and sent it spinning towards the enemy.
|Then raise you up your hand and cry: 'Mars Crescent Power, Make-UP!!'|
The creature literally leapt over the typhoon, and blasted Trowa and Quatre with a wave of force. The pair went down like a row of skittles.
Wu Fei lifted up his right hand and yelled, "Mars Crescent Power, Make-UP!!"
It felt as though Shen-Long's flame cannon still existed and was aimed directly at him. The fire scorched and burned, until he was sure there was nothing left of him save nerve endings and a skeleton.... but then the heat, while not abating in any way, began to change. The heat of the flame nor longer scorched, but soothed instead; it twisted along his bones, leaving itself in its wake.
He opened his eyes and glanced down.
His collar was red and his bow was purple, but apart from that, he was wearing the same... things... as Trowa and Quatre.
/Well, at least it isn't Relena's leotard./
Turning to face the monster, Sailor Mars saw that not more than three seconds had passed. It was in the process of swinging around to face him.
Wu Fei had never been one to stand still and let events overtake him. Pressing his fingertips together, he felt the fire gathering up where the gloves touched. He took a breath.
A ball of fire leapt from his fingertips, rolling towards the Enemy. It swirled and churned in on itself, engulfing the monster... scorching it mildly.
Sailor Mars gaped in shock.
Dorothy felt the edges of her brooch digging into her palm as she clutched it.
/But it wasn't real... but it wasn't real.../ a part of her mind gibbered. The rest of her ignored it.
So she was Sailor Venus. Well, it seemed it was time to make an appearance, and teach a certain monster that interfering with one Dorothy Catalonia was not a pastime the monster with a long- term life plan should indulge in.
"Venus Power, Make-UP!"
For a second, it was just like being plugged back into the Zero System. All was dark and silent.
Then all lit up and it was as if she was standing in a cone of light. It coalesced down around her, into her, until she was the light and the light was her...
She came back to herself, to see the slightly-battered monster advancing towards her. Closing her eyes, she felt something in her hands and words swimming up to the forefront of her mind.
The monster fell heavily onto its back.
"Yes!" yelled Marimeia, still securely trussed to the potted plant.
Then it got up again.
Sailor Venus stared at the monster. "Now what do I do?"
The swirling dust from which the voice came parted, blown apart from within. Yindi turned to face his new enemy, only to be knocked down by what seemed to be simple, insubstantial air.
There had been nothing there - it was as if something had persuaded the air to weigh a hundred times its usual density.
A dark wave of force came from the same direction the heavy air had. Yindi had just managed to struggle to his feet when he was blasted by the wave of power.
It looked like it was glass, or maybe crystal. It also looked like it was over a foot long and it was heading straight for him.
Yindi also shortly thereafter discovered that he really disliked having crystal shards embedded in his shoulder.
/Oh, hell,/ thought the creature grimly, just before the pale-green coloured blast swept him down, off his feet and into the dirt.
But he wasn't licked yet, and he struggled gamely to his feet. If he wanted Baratte to take him as her consort, he had to prove himself worthy, and the only way she would accept is if he won this....
"LA - SMOKING - BOMBER!!!"
Yindi noticed the rose-shaped blast of golden-red force heading straight for him; and shortly thereafter, in a haze of unimaginable pain, stopped noticing anything at all.
The Sailor Senshi stood and watched the haze where the five attacks had come from. Five figures could be seen moving towards them through the haze. It wasn't hard to realize that these must have been the source of the five attacks.
"The Five Kings," Luna said softly.
"Yes, they would appear now, wouldn't they?" Neptune commented.
"Who?" asked Mercury.
"In the time of the Silver Millennium, Earth was made up of five independent Kingdoms. The Jade Empire of the East, the Green Islands to the South, the Tanzanite Kingdom to the West and the Whitelands of the North. And the central Kingdom ruled over all of them. The Five Kings - Lord Jadeite, Lord Nephrite, Lord Zoisite, Lord Kunzite and the High King, Prince Endymion. They would awaken to defend the Earth, if we have; and those were their attacks," Artemis told them.
The first figure stepped out of the dust.
Her dove-grey, chinese-cut tunic was limned with red, and piping of the same shade ran down the outside of her pants, till they tucked into soft, grey leather boots. Her belt was red, as was the lining of the cloak that fell from the epaulets on her shoulders. Her pigtails curled over her shoulders, but now, instead of simple black elastics binding them, her hair was threaded through rings of red jade.
The woman whom they had known as Po Sally smiled at them as the second of her companions stepped forward.
His hair fell loosely over his shoulders, and the wind caught and danced with the platinum strands. He was dressed identically to his colleague, save that where her uniform was red, his was green.
Milliard Peacecraft nodded to the Sailor Senshi. They nodded back.
"He-llo there!" Zoisite bounced out of the fog and into their midst. Unlike his companions, the top button on his tunic was unbuttoned, revealing a hint of chest and blue lining in his tunic, matching the piping on his uniform, the lining of his cloak, and his eyes. His long, golden-brown braid danced as the boy they had known as Duo Maxwell moved into line. "Wow, that is a good look for you guys! Tell me, Wu Fei, are you really wearing tights?"
"Shut up, Maxwell," Sailor Mars growled.
"I like them," Jadeite commented.
"Be quiet, woman," Mars commanded. Jadeite rolled her eyes while Zoisite commented, "I knew that already, Sally!"
"You should listen to Mars, Zoisite," a fourth voice commented. "He's better with a sword than you are."
The fourth figure moved out of obscurity, his dark hair moving in the wind as he took his place. Lord Kunzite moved efficiently to his place... but then, the Perfect Soldier had always believed in the economy of movement. And somehow, Pilot 01 looked right in the grey and gold of the uniform of the kings of the Whitelands, as he never had in spandex and khaki.
The fifth figure stepped forward.
"Prince Endymion?" Luna asked in a disbelieving tone of voice.
Endymion's head inclined to the kitten. Blue eyes crinkled with a smile as the short wavy black hair was pulled by the wind. The royal-blue cloak fluttered behind the figure in black pants, black boots and gold-and-blue enamelled breastplate.
"I take it," the woman they had known as Lucrezia Noin- Peacecraft asked mildly, "that we are not what you expected?"
1. 'Plus ca change, plus tout la meme': a French proverb. Translated into English, it reads: 'The more things change, the more they stay the same'.