True Terran
by Queen Serenity III

         Serena lied lazily upon the couch in her living room, dreamily gazing at the ceiling.  Her mind, as usual, was elsewhere engaged in a wonderful fantasy.  Beneath her in this daydream was a carpet of clouds which intermittently flashed short bursts of light, revealing their true power.  Serena’s feet were not on the clouds, rather she suspended herself, hovering in the sky more steadily than anything man or nature could ever create.  She turned her head to see the orange remains of the day clinging to the horizon.  The carrier of light had only minutes retreated, and his fiery train was slowly receding.  Soft twilight blue spilled across the rest of the sky like blood across a battlefield, leaving only the crescent moon and her companion star untouched.
         The teenager marveled at her surroundings, yet her mind was not to remain on them for long.  She felt a penumbra cast over her, and at once she turned her head to find Tuxedo Mask floating beside her.  Without hesitation he took her into his arms ever so gently, with Serena fully aware of what was to come next.  In anticipation of the assured kiss, Serena poked her lips out slightly, while feeling his mouth coming closer to hers by the second.
         That kiss would never come, for at that moment, Serena was torn from her daydream by a soft, distinct creak.  She was startled for a split second, her senses sharp as if she were preparing for another battle with the Negaverse.  Her apprehension, though, faded more quickly than it had arrived, and was replaced by a slight feeling of displeasure.  She quickly shifted her weight and moved into a sitting position.  In a rushed panic, she picked up a book she had lied on the carpet and placed it in her lap.  After glancing at the title to ensure she had picked up the right book, she opened it in haste, parting the pages in two and letting them fall in whatever direction they pleased.  Serena completed this series of actions just before the approaching force reached her.
         “Is everything all right?”
         Serena heard the question, but did not immediately reply, and instead slowly turned toward the one who asked the question.  Not to her surprise she found Amy standing on the other side of the couch, concern written on her face.  In her hand, Amy steadily carried a small tray of cookies and laid them on the table in front on Serena.
         “Yeah,” Serena finally answered with false enthusiasm.  “I’m just studying away!”  She closed her eyes and laughed nervously.
         “You must have been studying very hard,” Amy commented.
         Serena recoiled in surprise, not believing her ruse had worked.  “Oh!  Er…I mean of course I have.”
         “You’re four chapters ahead of the material we were going over for the test.  I guess this means you don’t need my help.”  Amy then grabbed a notebook and a pencil and put it in the bookbag she had laid to the side of the couch.  Worried that Amy was actually leaving, Serena placed her hand on Amy’s textbook.
         “No!  Amy!  Wait!”  Amy stopped putting her stuff away and sat down on the couch, appearing as if she had no idea of what Serena was going to say next.  Serena withdrew her hand from the book, her face turning red as she tried to explain.  “You see I really wasn’t…”
         “Four chapters ahead,” Amy finished upon hearing the confession.  “I know.  I saw you lying there daydreaming.”  She turned her eyes to the floor in disappointment.
         “You aren’t mad, are you?”
         “No.  But I do want you to take this seriously.”
         “Relax.  It’s only an algebra test.  It’s not like it’s going on my permanent record or something.”
         Amy narrowed her eyes as much as her normally calm face would allow, her voice also becoming more forceful.  “Then maybe it’s time you acted like it did.”
         “What?”
         “I know this material is hard, but you have to make an effort.”  Amy’s face returned to the worn expression of someone who had been let down, and her voice underwent the same change of tone.  “I didn’t come over here so that we could talk.  I came over here so that we could study.  I thought you wanted my help and wanted to improve yourself.”
         Serena felt a slight pinch of shame at Amy’s words.  While Amy was as close to Serena as any friend could get, studying was not one of Serena’s favorite activities.  Amy was right about one thing -- Serena didn’t call her over to help her study.  Instead she had wanted to spend some time with Amy.  If it were possible that evening, Serena would have spent time with all of the gang -- Mina, Lita, Raye and Amy.  However, Raye had to help with a ceremony at the temple tonight, while Lita and Mina had already made other plans.  This left Serena with Amy and the blue-haired girl loved to study.  To Amy, there was an intrinsic benefit to studying; she didn’t pour her soul into learning because of academic competition or out of boredom, but instead to acquire more knowledge.  Serena, however, did not view the activity in the same light, which caused the disagreement between the two.
         “I’m sorry.  The two of us don’t get to spend that much time together, at least not by ourselves.”  Serena turned the pages of her algebra book to the correct chapter, to Amy’s delight.  “But you’re right.  I’m going to get serious about studying right...”  She glanced at the display clock on the VCR.  “…after Entertainment Edition goes off.”  In one quick movement, she picked up the remote control and turned on the television before Amy could reply with another scold.  Instead, Serena’s study partner let out a sigh and lowered her eyes.
         No sooner than Serena had turned on the television did the two hear footsteps bouncing down the stairs.  Serena groaned, knowing that the sound meant trouble, but Amy was quite pleasantly surprised as a boy with short, light brown hair approached the two of them.
         “Hello, Sammy,” Amy greeted.
         “Hi, Amy!” Sammy returned cheerfully before turning to his sister.  “Meatballhead!”
          Sammy then positioned himself in front of the television, ensuring that Serena could not see the images displayed on the screen.  For an added effect, he faced the television, so that he could simultaneously watch it while obstructing Serena’s view.
         “What are you studying?  Tabloid shows?”
         “Ooh!” Serena cried angrily, putting her book to the side as she stood up.  “Don’t call me that!  And who are you to tell me about my study habits?”
         Sammy turned around with folded arms.  “Someone who could tell Mom and Dad…”
         “Fine!  So why are you bothering me anyway?  Don’t you have an ‘annoying little brothers’ convention to attend?”
         “I just wanted to get a few cookies before you ate them all up.”  Sammy extended his hand over the plate, but Serena swiftly removed it from the table and held it in the air, out of Sammy’s reach.
         “Not until you get out of my way.  You know I always watch this show.”
         “I wouldn’t be in your way if you hadn’t hogged the entire plate.”  Sammy leapt in vain attempts to grab the plate, but the treasure was simply too far away from him.  “Come on.  It would be quicker if you just let me have one or two.”
         “Nope,” Serena replied adamantly.  “Move and you’ll get your reward.”  After a few more seconds of hopeless jumping, Sammy gave in to the ultimatum, stepping to the side and allowing Serena a clear view of the television.  Keeping to her word, Serena set the plate down on the table, and Sammy snatched two cookies no sooner than she completed her end of the bargain.
         “Thank you,” he muttered snottily after collecting his bounty.  He retreated up the stairs and into his room, leaving the two young ladies by themselves.  Despite this, Serena was still frustrated, as the only images on the television screen now were advertisements.
         “Great!” she complained.  “Sammy caused me to miss the preview.”
         “You could have just given Sammy what he wanted,” Amy remarked.
         “And miss out on the chance to see him squirm?  No way.”
         “But don’t you think you should be nicer to him?  He’s your brother.”
         “He’s Sammy.  That’s reason enough to pick at him.”  Serena could see her answer did not clear up the confusion on Amy’s face, and gave the only explanation she could.  “It’s just something that siblings do.”
         As if struck by a massive hand, Amy cast her head down on the ground upon hearing Serena’s words.  For a minute she kept the expression, as she debated with herself if she should speak while the moment was right or if she should keep silent.  Deciding that she had kept this secret to herself for too long, she began to let the words move from her soul to her mouth.
         “Serena, there’s something I have to tell you…”
         Before Amy could finish, she was silenced by the fanfare that came from the television, signaling the end of the commercial break.  Serena was completely absorbed into the program, and Amy’s chance had passed.  On the screen was an exceptionally beautiful young woman with brown hair and eyes.  She had the appearance of someone with larger goals in mind, a person who accepted this position for the promise of something bigger down the road.  Nevertheless, when she spoke, the words came out of her mouth with the exact amount of enthusiasm required for the job.
         “With all the talk of multi-millionaires recently, EE has decided to do a follow-up story on the winner of last year’s 225 million dollar jackpot.  As it turns out, we’ve got a whole lot more than what we’ve bargained for.”
         The subsequent images that appeared on the screen were quick snippets of footage of a woman emerging from a limousine at the entrance of a social event.  While one could clearly see that her dark blue hair was sculpted into an elaborate fountain, both the terse nature of the clips and the fact that she was wearing sunglasses rendered her identity a mystery.  The voiceover seemed to play on this deliberate attempt to obscure this celebrity.
         “She’s beautiful!” another female voice exclaimed.  “She’s intelligent.  And she’s one of the world.”  One of the clips shown was a quick pan from her elegant purple high heels all the way to her partially hidden face.  The camera’s motion stopped and the moving picture instantly became a still, black and white image upon the sound of a closing door.  “But who is Janet Vaughn, really?  I attempted to find that out in this latest interview.”
         Amy had watched the television with a detached interest to this point, all the while not believing that Serena was falling hook, line, and sinker for this sensationalized product.  However, the next image that appeared captured Amy’s curiosity completely.  A close-up was shown of Janet, this time with her hair loosely pulled back in a ponytail and her body in more casual attire.  It was the woman’s eyes that captivated Amy, each iris an alluring blue that seemed to mystify those who gazed upon her face.  The remainder of her tanned visage was equally as lovely, her pulchritude as priceless as a relic from the past.
         Still, Amy was not staring at Janet merely because of her beauty.  Something else about this woman had grabbed her attention and refused to let go.  Amy knew this woman from some place, some time, but she couldn’t figure out the reason for this.  She scanned the woman’s attire, or at least what she could see of it from the camera angle.  The low-cut blue and purple blouse was the first thing that Amy noticed, but the swirling pattern did nothing to help her.  Amy then shifted her focus to Janet’s jewelry, in particular the rather large choker around the latter’s neck.  In the center of the silver band was a bluish-green stone, which gave the impression of being more of an appellation than a decorative accessory.  Amy, though, could only think of the color, trying to remember what was so special about it.  At last, in a wave of memory it engulfed her, sweeping her mind a thousand years into the past.  But after crashing upon her the wall of water retreated back into the ocean of past experience, leaving Amy only able to whisper one word.
         “Aquamarine…”
         “What!” Serena shouted, bringing Amy back to the present.  The genius blushed, for she thought Serena must have heard her speak.  But from the rest of Serena’s words, it was clear the blonde was talking about something else.  “This woman is wacko!”
         Although Amy had been staring at the television screen, she had not followed the interview.  Serena’s cries, though, brought her focus away from the woman and onto the interview as a whole.
         “So you believe aliens are trying to take over the world?” a voice off screen asked.
         “Of course,” Janet replied in a low alto pitch, facing the reporter in a fashion that ensured she did not gaze directly into the camera.  “The proof’s right here.”  She reached over the arm of her chair, retrieving a brown folder, then placed it on her lap to open it up. Inside of it was a well-organized collection of pictures, news clippings and reports.  “A year ago, self-made millionaire Maxfield Stanton disappeared, never to be heard from since.  Five months ago junior high school students Alan and Ann Granger vanished without a trace.  These disappearances are not random acts of violence.  They are proof that aliens have been abducting Terrans -- in your term, humans -- for the sole purpose of finding out our weaknesses to exploit them.”
         “I’ll admit there had been some strange activity over the past year, but how can you be so certain that extraterrestrial activity is involved?”
         “Last winter, a UFO hovered over the heart of the city in plain sight.  A few months later, a dark crystal-like structure engulfed a large area, turning the sky black.  How much more proof do you need?  I can…”
         “And they say I have noodles for brains,” Serena interjected, causing Amy to momentarily lose track of the interview.
         “But given the evidence, I don’t see what other conclusion she could come up with,” Amy countered, causing Serena to stare at her in surprise.
         “You aren’t defending her, are you?”
         “No.”  Amy would have said more, but she wanted to hear the rest of the interview.  Serena, sensing this, did not reply and immersed herself in the television again.  A shot of the interviewer was shown, a red-haired woman with a conservative air about her.
         “If there are aliens,” the woman asked, “why haven’t we seen them?”  The camera then returned to Janet, who let out a sigh before replying.
         “Because they look just like Terrans.  They pretend to be people, dressing, walking, talking like us.  In reality, they are entities with powers beyond the supernatural or the paranormal.  These creatures who use their abilities for evil purposes must be stopped!”
         “You’re not the first person to claim to be guarding against mystic threats.”
         “Not mystic,” Janet hastily corrected.  “Alien!”  In response, a shot of the interviewer was put in the screen.
         “In fact, some people claim to have experiences which support your idea of this battle between good and evil.”  The interviewer appeared as though she were going to ask another question, but Janet cut her off.
         “What those people don’t know is that their heroes are on the same side as the villains!”
         After that there was a pause, and the interviewer again was shown on the screen, trying to appear intrigued but unable to hide her frustration.
         “Do you care to explain?” she asked, already knowing Janet would speak whether the question was posed or not.  Again, Janet answered as the camera returned to her.
         “In all the reports and sources I consulted in my investigation, there is a mention of a group which has been sighted at the same times and locations as the aliens.  This group, known as the Sailor Scouts, shows up almost after one of these events, claiming to ‘save the day’.  But they aren’t.  They’re using it as a front.  They gain the people’s trust, then slowly take over.”
         “The Sailor Scouts?”
         “Remember the disappearances I mentioned before?  In every report I have read these girls are present!  And in other instances as well.  I think the Sailor Scouts are personally responsible for the abduction of Stanton, Granger, and several unnamed others.  These creatures amaze us with their powers and their show of standing for love and justice, but are really just a bunch of vile, deceitful, treacherous, aliens who want nothing better than to take over this planet.  I won’t have it!  I say we kidnap them, figure out what makes them tick the same way they did to those they abducted.”  She then ceased to face the reporter and turned so that she stared straight into the camera.  “Sailor Scouts, messengers of evil and violence, trying to rip Earth from the Terrans with your powers--!”  Those were the last words that Amy heard of the interview, for Serena pressed the power button on the remote, turning off the television.
         “I can’t believe her!” she shouted. “Calling us aliens.  Can you Amy?”  Seconds passed, but Serena heard no reply, so she turned her head to see her friend.  “Amy?”  Her friend didn’t respond, and Serena found her uncharacteristically staring into space, not knowing the sole question Amy had on her mind.
         Aquamarine, what happened to you?

*            *            *

         At the same time, another figure sitting in a large, black chair had her eyes fixed on the telecast.  What had transpired a minute ago angered her equally as it had Serena, if not even more so.  The urge to throw the remote control overwhelmed her, but she quickly remembered that tossing objects at an expensive television set would do nothing to solve the problem, and laid the device on the table beside her seat.
         A second later she picked remote control up and threw it at the screen anyway.
         “How dare they!” she exclaimed.  “They tried to make me look like a fool.”  She turned around as if talking to someone, but to her knowledge no one else was in the room. “Oh why can't they see what I see?  The proof is right before their eyes.”
         “Miss Vaughn?”
         She aimed her eyes at the direction of the voice and saw two figures standing across the room, both of them wearing large bulky outfits that resembled black spacesuits.  The first figure, a short effeminate fellow with long, brown hair, only focused his gaze on her.  Every few seconds he batted his eyes, only heightening his androgyny.  His partner, a tall Amazon with short, black hair absorbed any trace of his masculinity, radiating it herself.
         “What is it?” Janet asked angrily covering her embarrassment.
         “We’re ready,” the taller woman answered in a low tone to match her masculine appearance.
         “Excellent.”  She smiled, as though her former mood were nothing but a ripple in a quiet pond.  “With your services and my equipment, the menace will soon be contained.”

*            *            *

         Sweat poured down the sides of Lita’s face, but the brunette gave no sign that she even noticed the extra moisture.  Her eyes were fixed upon the flashing, brightly colored screen in front of her, noticing even the tiniest of changes in the action.  Furious pressing the buttons on the console, only one goal was on her mind -- avoiding taking any damage to her character, Sailor V.
         That proved to be quite difficult, especially on a Sailor V game where enemies were replaced at a faster rate than they could be destroyed.  In response Lita pushed down on the buttons more forcefully, even though she had learned from prior experience it would not improve her performance.  She was caught up in the insanity of desperation, her eyes widening and her heart racing, with a single thought on her mind.
         Don't die.
         She wanted to relay that message to the figure that she controlled on the screen, believing that her plea would affect the outcome.  Sailor V’s health bar was down to one unit; if the enemy nicked her even in the slightest the game would be over.  Lita watched as three bouncing spheres -- common enemies in this game -- approached from the opposite side of the screen.  Blinded with anxiety, she pounded on the attack buttons, hoping to destroy the balls before they got close to her.  The first two were destroyed in a flurry of shots from Sailor V’s gun, but the third escaped the barrage, and made its way to the masked heroine.  It bounced onto Sailor V, taking away her last bit of health.  Sailor V fell down to the ground, and a huge counter appeared on the screen.  Beginning at the number ten, it counted down at a slow speed.  Angrily, Lita arose from the seat and walked away, not noticing a small group of opportunistic boys who placed their money in the machine to continue her game.
         For Lita, her experience today in the arcade had been a waste of time.  While she certainly had enough money to play the games, she hadn’t come inside merely to test her skill.  Rather, she was hoping to run into Andrew, but she hadn’t seen him there at all.  Then again, he could have walked past her while she was occupied with the Sailor V game and she would have never known.  However, Lita was not giving up on seeing him yet and decided to go to the only area of the arcade she had avoided -- the Carnival.  It lied a floor above the main portion of the arcade, but could only be reached by the solitary flight of stairs on the far side.  Lita climbed the steps to reach the Carnival, undeterred by the slight challenge.  Full of many machines designed to give out tickets according to one’s skill, few people were in this area at the time.  On the right there was a balcony with a high barrier, one that Lita could easily see over without falling off.  Leaning upon the barrier, her eyes regained the focused look of before as she searched the crowd below her for Andrew.
         Then she heard a sound, one that would change the course of several lives forever.
         In of itself, the noise was meaningless. But the soft jingle that tickled Lita’s ear caused her to turn around.  The source was easy to spot -- a small, brown, stuffed bear with a bell on its collar had fallen on the floor next to a sack.  Immediately, Lita recognized the large bag and her eyes moved upward to find its bewildered owner.  He bent down and searched the floor for the missing toy, unaware that it was only a few feet away from him.  Without hesitation, Lita walked over to the stuffed bear and picked it up.  She waited a second before speaking, allowing the young man to become aware of her presence before she spoke.
         “Were you looking for this?” she asked.
         The young man tilted his head back to find Lita standing over him.  Though he wore a baseball cap on his head, his short, brown hair could easily be seen.  Likewise his glasses did not hide his dark grateful eyes.  He wore an oversized orange shirt as a jacket, with a white T-shirt underneath it.  They gave him a laid-back image that was heightened by his blue jeans and his white sneakers.  Something inside Lita stirred while she rested her eyes upon him, a faint feeling she once cast aside but returned to her nevertheless.
         “Yeah,” Game Machine Joe answered.  “Thanks.”  He took the bear and put it in the sack alongside its dozens of brother toys.  “I haven’t seen you in a while.”
         “I just don’t come to the arcade as often.”  Between her Sailor Scout duties and school, she hadn’t checked up on him as much as she had liked.  “You haven’t seen Andrew today, have you?”
         “I think today was his day off…”  After hearing the news, Lita lowered her eyes, but Joe did not seem to pay attention to her reaction as he lifted his bag and threw it over his shoulder.  “I’m outta here.”  Before he could leave, Lita grabbed his arm ever so lightly.  The prospect of wasting of the afternoon was disappointing enough; the idea of being alone afterward was completely pathetic.
         “Would you mind if I came with you?” she asked.
         “Huh?”
         “You’re going to drop off those toys at the shelter, aren’t you?  And my apartment’s along the way.”  Joe mused over her request for a second, and Lita couldn’t tell if he were going to say yes or no from his expression.
         “Why not?”  Those words sealed the agreement and the two of them headed downstairs, and passed through the sliding doors of the arcade.

*            *            *

         Not far from the arcade a short man and a taller woman stood behind a wall, the eyes of the female veiled by a pair of semi-transparent visors.  Though their dark, baggy outfits would have cause anyone who saw the two to do a double take, their strange attire was no more unusual than the large weapons they carried.  The black objects resembled a pair of rifles, but instead of barrels, the end of each weapon was covered by a piece of transparent material that resembled a large jewel.  For now, though, the pair remained unseen to the general public, lying in wait for their target.
         “You know,” the male said to the female, “I doubt this is going to even work.”
         The woman shot him a look full of frustration.  “Will you quit being so pedantic?”
         “The word’s ‘pessimistic,’ Alex.  You’re so quick to use words you don’t the meaning to.”
         Alex’s stolid face did not show any humiliation upon hearing the reproach.  “Regardless, we’ve got a job to do and whining won’t help us catch our target.”
         “I still don’t see why we couldn’t do this at night or something,” the man suggested. “Wouldn’t it be easier to catch someone when they’re asleep?”
         “If it were that easy we’d be out of a job.”
         “I don’t like it, Alex.”
         “Shh!”  All of a sudden, white numbers, symbols, and text appeared on the inside of her visor, and Alex inched her way toward the edge of the wall.  She peeked around the corner, and saw Lita and Joe walking in their direction on the opposite side if the street.  “Here she comes.”  She paused, waiting for the right moment to strike, then turned to her partner.  “Shelley, are you ready?”
         Not believing her, the man stuck his head in the open to verify what she had told him, before pulling it back and hiding behind Alex.  “Are you sure it’s her?”
         “Yes, I’m sure!”  She shifted her eyes back to Lita and her male friend as Shelley pressed a weapon, powering up his gun.  After a second, her eyes narrowed in response to the information from her visor.  “Wait a minute.  I’m getting strange readings from both of them.”
         “Both?”  Shelley paused in speculation.  “Maybe he’s that guy who hangs out around the Scouts.”
         “She didn’t say anything about him.”  Alex took a moment to rethink the strategy.  “We’ll focus on getting the woman and only deal with him if he gets in the way.”  She checked her weapon and his, observing the gems at the end of both started to glow a soft blue, and tightened her grip on her gun.  “Now let’s go!”
         She had hardly finished the words before she leapt out into the open, with Shelley following her lead.  The pair pointed their weapons at the unsuspecting Lita, and pulled the triggers of their guns.  Instead of firing bullets, a blue stream of energy emitted from the weaponry.  At the last moment, Lita observed and pulled both Joe and herself out of the way before either of them got hit.  Only after the immediate danger passed did Lita or Joe see the approaching duo.
         Alex and Shelley fired again without hesitation, and two more surges of energy struck Lita in the chest.  The same energy knocked Joe several feet back and onto the ground.  By contrast, Lita was being lifted off the ground, her feet several inches off of the sidewalk.  Once in the air, a spherical, translucent forcefield formed around Lita, and with the twin energy streams feeding it soon the thin membrane grew into a thick bubble.
         “Lita!” Joe shouted, getting back to his feet.
         Lita turned her head toward him.  “Get out of here!” she pleaded.
         Joe’s first impulse was to do as Lita begged and retreat.  After all, they were apparently after Lita, not him, and the last time he had encountered a situation this weird he had not fared too well against his foe.  Before he could follow his instincts and run, he remembered that Lita had continued to follow him when he was in trouble, even though he couldn’t completely recollect what happened after he was chased out of the cafe.  It would have been wrong to abandon her, but he had no idea of how to help.  If he charged them they might fire at him, and he wasn’t much of fighter regardless.  He quickly scanned the ground and saw that there were several small stones scattered about, and an idea occurred to him to throw a few stones at the man.  That notion was quickly dismissed, though, when Joe recalled his not-so-stellar performance in physical education due to his bad throwing arm.  Desperation clouded Joe’s mind as the bubble grew thicker around Lita who continued to motion for him to leave, to the point that he almost didn’t hear the jingle of the stuffed bear as it fell out of the bag behind him.  He turned around for a second and looked at the bear as though it were going to give him an answer.
         And it did.
         Setting his plan into motion, he stretched his right hand out in front of him and concentrated on one of the rocks nearby, and as he expected, it rose a few feet into the air.  Turning his gaze toward Shelley, he sent the rock through the air to his target.
         “Ow!” Shelley shouted as the small stone collided with his head.  Another rock flew into him, causing the man to drop his gun, stopping the stream of energy.  Lita’s bubble did not burst, but it did stop growing thicker.  Inside the clear sphere, the brunette watched, noticing that Joe was standing still his hand open in front of him.  It took her a second for it to register that he was the one causing the barrage of stones, and it appeared as if he’d be saving her this time.
         “Take this!” Joe yelled as another stone took to the air and collided with Shelley as he tried to reach for his gun.  Alex, though, quickly fired her weapon at Joe, and the young man was lifted off the sidewalk.  Joe tried to lift another stone to fire at the woman, but as the sphere of energy surrounded him, he found that he couldn’t levitate any more objects.  Had he had enough experience using his powers in battle, he would have been able to tear a hole though the ever-thickening bubble with telekinesis.  Not knowing this, he could only pound on the bubble with his fists, which had no effect.
         Joe turned toward Lita, expecting her to give him an angry or disappointed scowl.  Instead, her focus was on an object in her hand, a green wand with a star on the end and a “4” in the middle.  For some reason the number has a special meaning to him, but Joe had no idea why until she shouted three simple words.
         “Jupiter Star Power.”
         Before his eyes, the young teenager transformed into the awesome warrior of Sailor Jupiter, the transformation destroying the bubble she was encased in.  The sight was a trigger for his memory, and all that he had forgotten came back to him in a rush.  His encounter with Zoycite seemed all the more real, especially the excruciating pain he endured when she extracted the Rainbow Crystal from his chest.  He remembered the transformations, his own into Game Machine Man and Lita’s into Sailor Jupiter, and the defeat that followed when Sailor Moon healed him.
         But there was something else that came back to him -- his previous life in the Negaverse, a life filled with terrible crimes.  He didn’t just recall performing those horrible deeds; he remembered taking pleasure in them as well.  Even in his death he prided himself in the assurance that Beryl would destroy the Moon Kingdom.  His past self had emerged from the prison in his mind, and already it had begun to conflict with his current identity.
         “Joe!  Look out!”
         Joe didn’t hear the cry, caught in his own inner struggle.  Even if he had, it would have been too late for him to act, for a stream of energy was headed directly toward him.  Jupiter knocked him to the ground, but even the jarring blow of pavement against flesh didn’t break him out of his daze.  To him, what he saw was no more than a memory, almost like a dream.  His eyes fell on Jupiter, who happened to smile a little upon seeing that he was okay.  She had saved his life.  But wasn’t he her enemy?  Or was she his friend?  All of the memories confused him, and at that moment Joe couldn’t decide whether to thank her or kill her.
         Jupiter prevented him from doing either by getting up and turning toward the two enemies.  A new emotion was in her eyes, and angry, Jovian thunder rumbled in response.  In turn, the skies darkened with thick, dangerous clouds.  Foolishly, the two assailants stood around looking at the sky, not taking the opportunity to get rid of her when they could.  A lightning bolt struck Jupiter, the electricity surrounding her as she shaped it in the image she wanted.
         “Jupiter Thunder Dragon!”  The shout came as the released the energy, which was in the shape of a very large dragon.
         “I think that’s our cue to leave!” Shelley screamed in a high voice.  With Alex in complete agreement, the two of them proceeded to run.  The large dragon, though, had already begun to dive at the pair, and with their suits hindering their movement, the two were unable to completely avoid it.  The dragon crashed into the ground behind the two, narrowly missing them, but electricity ran along the ground, the resulting shock causing Shelley and Alex to stop and cry out in pain.  After the electricity faded away, though, the two continued to retreat, knowing they would suffer worse if they didn’t escape.
         At the same time, Joe knew he had to get out of there.  He couldn’t face Sailor Jupiter -- or Lita -- like this.  As if even glancing at the brunette was a mortal sin, he turned his head so that he would not have to face her as he got up.  He ran as fast as he could away from the scene, leaving the bag of toys behind him in a panicked rush.
         Jupiter, though, misinterpreted his reaction.  He had abandoned her in the same fashion as her first boyfriend, Freddie.  Worse yet, he did it because he found out who she really was; the secret she could never tell cost her yet another crush.  Less than a minute later, Sailors Mercury, Mars, Venus, and Moon arrived belatedly.
         “Hey!” Sailor Moon shouted.  “It looks like you took care of everything yourself.”
         “Yeah...” Jupiter answered softly, her eyes frozen in the direction that Joe had ran.  After a second she rejoined the others, but a piece of her heart had been lost today, and despite the history that the five shared, not even they could mend the damage that had been done.

*            *            *

         Luckily for Shelley and Alex, their injuries were only minor and their exit swift enough not to be followed.  For them, though, their troubles had only begun, as they stood before Janet, heads down in submission.
         “You two are such idiots.  I could have done a better job than what you did!”
         “We barely escaped with our lives!” Alex yelled in response, unable to take the verbal assault without reacting.
         “‘We barely escaped with our lives!’” she mimicked in a mock-whining manner.  “It doesn’t matter if you live or die!”  Alex lowered her head, as though the anger in Janet’s voice stuck down any resistance.  “I pay you to do a job and you do whatever it takes to get it done.  This is a matter of global security.”  After she finished her sentence, the two underlings kept their heads down and maintained a frightened silence.
         “If I were a truly evil person,” Janet continued.  “I could have the two of you disposed of.  But I’m not that type of boss.”
         “Thank y--.”  Janet held her hand up as soon as Shelley spoke.
         “I'll just fire you two.  Now get out of my sight.”  Without delay, Alex and Shelley headed for the door, but before they could exit the room, their former employer called out to them. “Wait!”
         The two turned around, hoping that Janet had changed her mind.
         “Leave the guns here,” she ordered.  “I wouldn’t want you to put an eye out with those things.”  Angrily the two tossed the weapons into the arms of a small woman with auburn hair who happened to be entering the room.  Their departure seemed to go unnoticed by Janet, whose only interest now lied in the arriving female.
         “Ah, Maven,” Janet lamented while she removed one of the weapons from Maven’s arms and held it in a firing position.  “Sometimes to get a job done right you have to it yourself.”

*            *            *

         Drops of water fell from the sky, their unrelenting barrage on the earth below, soaking any creature that dared to step outside.  In response, both man and animal found shelter from the cold rain in any enclosed space they could find.  Amy and Lita, though, pushed their way through the heavens’ assault on the ground, the tall brunette carrying a black umbrella.  The dark shield, sturdy as it was, could not hold back all of the water, and their school uniforms, far from ideal attire in such conditions, did nothing to protect their legs and feet from the chilling liquid.  Their deliberate pace only allowed the rain more time to strip them of their remaining heat, a pace set, surprisingly enough, by Lita.
         Amy glanced at her companion every few minutes, and with each look she grew more concerned about her friend.  Lita had not spoken since the two set out on their journey, and she appeared to be more reserved than normal.  From her face to her body language, Lita wore the mood of one in brooding but the mood was too restraining for the expressive Amazon.  In the end, she could not let her doubts remain silent and finally spoke up.
         “Are you sure we have to do this?”
          Even though Amy had sensed the aura of hesitation that Lita emitted, she was still taken aback by the words she heard.  Never did she believe that Lita, the fearless warrior known as Sailor Jupiter, would retreat from any challenge large or small.  Regardless, she and Lita continued in their course, and in kind she was to continue their conversation
         “We have to follow up on this to make sure the news hasn’t spread too far,” Amy answered.  Her words were only crumbs for the ever-hungering silence that followed seconds after, which let only the tapping of the raindrops and the footsteps of the two disturb its presence.  Amy could not remain quiet forever as the pressure built inside her to speak again.  “Are you hiding something?”
         “No,” Lita replied.
         “Then what’s the matter?”
         “It’s just that he left me…”  Her eyes stared straight ahead, focusing on nothing but the  painful, unforgettable memory.  “Just like Freddie.”  The drops that bounced off of her leg now felt no different than those of that day so long ago.  Only then, the water immersed her, the sky drowning her in its sad tears as Freddie walked away, leaving her alone in the rain.  Lita shook her head slightly, remembering how she told herself she would never let it happen again.  She let herself fall in and out of love over and over again, hoping by going through the constant cycle of love, she would not fall into the pit of heartbreak.  Despite her efforts, the all too familiar pain weighed upon her chest, as heavy as humid air that passed through her nostrils.
         A light hand on Lita’s shoulder brought her out of the past, and she found Amy’s fingers resting on her broad collar.  Seeing the tension and worry on Amy’s face, Lita smiled, and action that lessened the pressure ever so slightly.  She decided that the best way to recover was to begin acting like her normal self and in turn she would feel the same way.
         “If I didn’t know better,” Lita said, “I’d say you were only doing this to set me and Joe up.”  She waited for Amy to scold her for not keeping her mind on the task at hand, only to be caught off-guard by the answer that was given.
         “Maybe I am.”  The response came distantly, and Lita saw that the concern on Amy’s face had not vanished.  Amy had her own burden, something that Lita could not see before while blinded by her own cloak of problems.  But the blue-haired girl was a master at keeping her problems close to her heart, even if her honest face always easily revealed her emotional state.
         “Are you okay?”
         “I’m fine.”
         “Do you want to talk about it?”
         “No.”  Amy then put on a face of determination.  “I’m not going to let personal matters get the best of me when there’s work to be done.”
         Lita smiled again, this time genuinely.  “Now that sounds more like the Amy I know.”
         The two of them walked a few more blocks until they reached a building with very large windows and the words “Tenth Street Café” painted on them.  Spotting Joe sitting at a table from the outside, Amy and Lita went into the café, the latter closing her umbrella.  They made their way over him, and saw he was having a cup of tea, and that his hand was shaking as he lifted the cup to his mouth.
         “Joe, we need to talk,” Amy said softly.  Joe lifted his head and gestured for the two of them to have a seat.  “Not here, outside.”
         Finishing his tea in several large gulps, the young man rose and walked out of the door as quickly as he could.  Amy and Lita followed him with the same alacrity, stopping only to reopen the umbrella.  Although neither Joe nor the two females broke out into a run, a chase was afoot between the two parties.  Joe was quickly losing ground, though, and soon the soaked man found himself only a few feet away from the pair.
         “Wait!” Lita cried.  The command caused him to stop and spin around.  Lita recognized the expression on his face.  He was in trouble, and like most men she knew, he didn’t want to admit it.  He proved this with the words that he spoke next.
         “If you want to know if I told anybody about what happened, I didn’t, and I’m not planning to.  End of story.”
         “Joe…”  Lita moved forward to touch the drenched man, her heart full of worry.
         “Go away!”  The shout was even more forceful than he expected, causing Lita to draw back slightly.  “I’m sorry.”
         “If there’s something bothering you, we could help.  We did before.”
         “But that’s the problem!”  His body shook as though it were being rocked from the inside. “You can’t help.  You don’t even know what’s going on.”
         “That’s why you have to tell us,” Amy demanded.  “Is it the Negaverse?  Are they after you again?”
         “It’s not that.  You wouldn’t understand.”
         Lita and Amy both smiled slightly in amusement, the former giving a reply. “As the Sailor Scouts we’ve been through everything.”
         Joe picked up on the “we,” and asked Lita, “Does that include your friend?”
         Amy gave a slight nod for her reply, then said, “We want to help you, but you have to explain to us what’s going on.”
         Joe didn’t respond at once, but after several seconds gave in to them.  “It all started yesterday when Lita and I were attacked.  When Lita transformed, all of a sudden I began to remember everything for some reason.”
         “We’ve had to deal with the memories of our past lives ourselves.”  Amy hoped her words would be an assurance but instead they had the opposite effect on him.
         “But it’s different for you!  You don’t have to deal with an evil inside, having two identities fight over the same body…”  Another seizure overcame his body and he sunk to the ground, covering his face in shame.  The rain continued to pelt him, a helpless victim saturated not only by the water from above but of the deeds of his former life.  Stripped of his cool exterior, he was a desperate young man struggling to cope with a past thrust on him.  “I am Game Machine Man…no...I’m not, or am I?”  He cast his confused head up and saw that the two young ladies had not left his side.  They were the only source of constancy in his life, the only two people he could count on for now.
         “We’ll be here for you,” Lita assured quietly.
         The frightened, wild eyes of Joe softened as Lita’s comforting words found their way into his heart.  Quickly, but calmly, he rose from the ground.  He and Lita locked eyes, and what had been a causal friendship between the two yesterday had over the past twenty-four hours deepened into a much stronger bond just short of romantic love.  Two entities, originally born to be enemies, were now allies; two beings granted powers beyond those of any normal person, but given hearts and minds all too human to ignore the obvious link between them.  With some time, they would prevail over this obstacle with the help of the unfailing power of storge.
         And Amy only hoped a happy ending could be in the works for her as well.

*            *            *

         After talking with Joe some more, Amy decided to leave, leaving Lita and Joe to work out this situation themselves.  In truth she was glad to be alone, not able to carry on the pretense that she was okay any longer.  She walked down the sidewalk at an ambling pace, her mind not on the journey home but on events a millennium ago.

~~~

         “Mercury!” The name sent a chill through the child’s body, a reminder of who she was and where she was supposed to be.
         “Mercury!”
         She was supposed to be on the castle grounds, swimming in the lake or playing in the lawn.  However, she found herself sitting in a tree, her light blue swimsuit covered with small splinters.  She had climbed in one of the rare forests on the watery planet, and while she had figured out how to ascend the tree, getting back to the ground was too scary of a journey for her.  A rustle caught her attention, and Mercury searched the ground, her aerial view.  A girl a few years older than the princess caused the noise, her mannerisms indicating she was searching for someone.  Her long, dark blue hair matched the color of a large symbol on her purple swimsuit.  The shape was close to that of an ankh, except instead of an oval at the top there was a heart with a small, curved line protruding from of each side and the base resembled a lowercase H.  After looking left and right, the girl was about to leave when she heard a whimper.  Turning her head skyward, she soon found the small princess sitting on a tree branch.
         “There you are,” Aquamarine declared.  “ I was getting worried about you.  Are you okay?”
         “I think so,” Mercury replied.
         “Hold on.”  Aquamarine turned her left hand so it faced the ground, and with ease created a spout which pushed her off the ground and into the air.  Upon reaching Mercury’s height, she held her right hand out to Mercury.  Hesitantly, the princess took Aquamarine’s hand and the two slowly descended.  Landing with a soft thud, the age disparity between the two became even more visible when both were on the ground.
         “You know you shouldn't wander by yourself.  Do you know how much trouble you could have gotten in?”  She asked the question both rhetorically and in jest, but Mercury was too young and too straightforward to know this.
         “No, I don't,” she answered.  “I'm sorry.”
         “Don't worry.  It’s no big deal.  As long as you stick by me, you’ll be okay.”

~~~

         Months passed and the incident became one of those faint memories to be reflected upon in old age, but soon another, more important day arrived.  Princess Mercury and Aquamarine stood on a balcony above the throne room, watching the proceedings that were going on.  Three Mercurians, all with long blue hair, stood in the room.  Queen Mercury was regally in the center of the room, her sleeveless sky blue gown more an extension of her body than a piece of clothing.  Her consort, dressed as conservatively as his wife, was to her side, in all aspects a listener of the conversation rather than an active participant.  The third figure dressed in blue military garb was Caspian, a general of Mercury’s army.
         “Are you sure you want to do this to your daughter?” the queen asked.
         “It's always been a pleasure to serve the royal family,” Caspian answered  “Besides, Aqua and the princess are already good friends, and my daughter is an excellent fighter.”
         “This isn't a question about ability.  I ask if you are prepared to deal with the consequences.  You've already lost one loved one.”
         “Rhea...”  It was evident from his voice that the pain of losing his wife had not ebbed over the years.
         “My daughter may be a princess, but she is also imbued with a power, a power she, nor did any of the other princesses choose.”  Queen Mercury lowered her eyes as she revealed her deepest fear.  “Each day I worry that one day she may have to use that power and in the process lose her life.  That danger is a constant burden on my heart.”  She looked into Caspian’s eyes, motherly concern overriding regal composure.  “I do not wish for anyone else to go through that.”
         “I understand, but I'm prepared for this.  I have been ever since the moment she was born.”
         “What about her?  Do you think she would want to give her life to protect another’s?”
         “I’m sure of it.  If you don’t believe me, then ask her.”  Upon finishing those words, Queen Mercury appeared more pensive than usual, then motioned for a servant to come closer.  The servant, a small Mercurian in a dark blue dress, approached her upon receiving the command.
         “Bring Aquamarine to me.”  Hearing this, the princess and her friend quickly headed for the princess’s room.  When the servant opened the door to the room, the two were playing cards and acted surprised that the woman’s presence.
         “Aquamarine,” she said, “the queen summons you at once.”
         In response, Aquamarine rose without delay and followed the woman out of the room and down the hall.  Before going down the stars she stopped and turned around, finding Mercury standing at the balcony, giving her a smile.  Not wanting to lose ground, she broke away her gaze and hurried her pace, so that the when she and the servant reached the queen it was as if she had not lagged behind at all.
         “Aquamarine,” Queen Mercury stated, “your father tells us that you care a lot about Princess Mercury.”
         “Yes, ma’am,” she answered all too readily.  “I mean, Your Highness.”
         The queen was unaffected by the mistake.  “Would you be willing to give your life for her?  Would you be willing to throw everything away to protect her?”
         The girl answered with a sincerity beyond her years.  “Yes, Your Highness.”
         “What if a situation developed in which both your father and my daughter were in danger?”  “If you had to choose between the two of them, who would you save?”  Aquamarine cast her eyes to the ground and was silent for several minutes, to Caspian’s surprise.  “You can’t answer that question”
         “No, Your Highness.”
         “But I didn’t expect you to.”  She could sense the confusion on the minds of those in the room and explained further.  “Had you answered that you would save my daughter I would have known you were lying, for no one of your age could honestly rid themselves of the parent they loved.  If you had told me you would have saved your father, though, it would raise doubts as to whether you truly meant that you were willing to give up everything.  Your silence indicates that you are unsure, that both duty and love have an equal balance in your heart.  It also indicates that you chose your words carefully, although your hesitation may also be a reflection on your actions.”  Mercury paused, stopping herself from analyzing the child’s answers even more.  “You may have to make that choice someday, I warn you, but for now you must undergo your training.”
         “Training?”
         “Yes.”  The queen’s stern face softened into a smile.  “If you want to become a bodyguard, Aquamarine, you must have the proper skills.”
         “Queen Mercury!” her consort shouted, entering the conversation at last.  “I beg you to reconsider.  She’s part Saturnian.”  Aquamarine took no offense at the remark, but Caspian gave him an angry glare, causing the man to amend his statement.  “Now they make excellent healers.  In fact, Rhea was our chief healer and helped us develop techniques that have put us on the forefront of medical technology.”  Caspian did not appreciate the backpedaling on the consort’s part, prompting the man to return to his original point. “But they aren’t known for their stamina.”
         “My decision is final,” she answered, both dismissing any further complaints and decreeing the fate of Aquamarine.
         A bodyguard was born that day.

~~~

         Several years later, Princess Mercury, now in her fighting uniform, and Aquamarine were on the Moon, surrounded by several soldiers with murderous intent.  The two young women ran as quickly as they could, their powers only scarcely able to hold back the advancing army.  All of a sudden, Mercury ceased to run and pulled out her miniature computer as the visor appeared over her eyes.
         “Mercury,” Aquamarine said between firing blasts of water, “why are we stopping?”
         “I’m scanning that phenomenon in the sky,” she answered as she typed.  “I believe that’s the power source for our enemies.”
         “We don’t have time for this, princess!”
         “It’ll be just a second.”
         While Mercury read the data that came through on her visor, three soldiers approached them, with gun-like weapons ready to destroy them.  Aquamarine directed two streams of water from her hands, knocking the enemies down.  She wasn’t able to fire at the third, who had his gun pointed directly at the princess.
         “Mercury!”
         The princess turned upon hearing her name, not seeing the energy beam headed directly at her.  Without even thinking for a split second, Aquamarine knocked Mercury to the ground and placed herself in the path of the beam.  Grimacing with pain, the symbol she had sported on her swimsuit now appeared on her forehead, glowing a bluish green as she took the hit.  Mercury’s face beamed pure surprise, for despite Aquamarine’s willingness to sacrifice her life, Mercury was not prepared for losing her best friend.  The princess automatically responded by getting to her feet and initiating her attack.
         “Mercury Bubbles Blast.”  A chilling fog cloaked the two of them, throwing the remaining soldier in confusion and allowing the two one last moment.  “Why didn’t you just tell me to move?”
         “You wouldn’t have gotten out of the way in time,” answered Aquamarine readily, despite her weakened condition.
         “We can’t be in the open like this.”  She tried to help Aquamarine to her feet, but the woman did not move.  “Come on, there’s shelter nearby.”
         “Forget about me.  I’m your bodyguard.  I’m supposed to protect you…”
         “Stop it!  You’re not going to die.”
         “If there’s one thing you are, it’s a poor liar…”  Aquamarine wanted to say something else, but fate decided that those words would be her epitaph.  She did not close her eyes, but instead continued to stare emptily at the princess.
         Mercury wanted to call her, as if shouting her name would bring her back.  But she didn’t.  She knew she had to find the other princesses as quickly as possible.  Mercury hoped that together they would be able to destroy their opponent, so that Aquamarine’s sacrifice hadn’t been in vain.

~~~

         “Miss Anderson.”
         For a moment, Amy could not tell if the verbal address came from her memory or the outside world.  A figure from an alley, partially hidden by the shadows, had uttered those words.  From the outline it could have either been the person she believed it to be, or a wraith from her imagination.
         “Aqua?” Amy asked. “Aquamarine?”
         The figure stepped into the light, and Amy saw that it was Janet, although dressed much differently than in the interview.  A visor similar to those of her former employees covered her eyes, but the black, full-length bodysuit she wore fit her with tailor-made perfection.  Even her gloves and low-heeled boots were custom made to fit her and her alone.  She also carried a similar type of gun as the pair that attacked Lita, though it was slightly more slender and the gem at the end of it was larger.  Amy could see clearly see the spirit of Aquamarine in her essence, despite the attire and equipment, and was paralyzed with disbelief.  Janet, on the other hand, brought the weapon up to her chest and pointed it at Amy.
         “I don’t know which one you are,” Janet said, “but I’ll find out soon enough.”  Janet pulled the trigger, sending a stream of energy in Amy’s direction.  Amy jumped to the right to avoid the energy, a move more out of instinct than a conscious action.  Janet showed no mercy, though, and fired surge after surge at the schoolgirl, believing each shot would make up for a prior failure to hit her.  Every time Janet missed, but with every shot she became closer to hitting her target, and Amy knew that time was running out.  At last, Amy pulled out her transformation wand and closed her eyes before giving out a shout.
         “Mercury Star Power!”
         Soft, blue light swallowed the area as Amy transformed into Sailor Mercury.  Janet, not surprised by this action, decided to wait and see what action her enemy would take next.  The two stared at each other, Mercury hesitant to go on the offensive out of respect for her former friend and Janet immobile while figuring out Mercury’s next move.  After a few seconds, Mercury’s eyes softened, betraying the lack of willingness to fight within her heart.  Janet knew the Scout wasn’t going to attack, and took the opportunity to aim her weapon at the immobile Scout.
         “Venus Crescent Beam Smash!”
          A beam of energy slammed into the gun, knocking it to the ground.
         “What?” Janet asked, before turning to find a golden-haired Scout standing to her left.
         “How dare you attack innocent young women on our city streets!  I am Sailor Venus and I won’t tolerate this!”  As she finished her exclamation, another shout assaulted Janet from the opposite direction, one that came from a raven-haired Scout.
         “And I am Sailor Mars.  If you play with fire, you’re going to get burned.  The flame of Mars cannot be extinguished.  On behalf of Mars…”
         “…and Venus…”  Mars and Venus then leapt in the air, landing side by side.  They continued their speech with their voices in unison.
          “…and on behalf of men and women everywhere we will punish you!”
         “Bravo,” Janet said dryly.  “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some business to attend to.”
         “Not so fast!” Venus shouted as she lifted her right hand.  “Venus Love Chain--”
         Mercury intercepted Venus’ attack with her own, shouting, “Mercury Bubbles Blast!”
         From nowhere fog rolled into the street and spread out, the cold white mist kissing the skin of all in the area.  It hindered the visibility of the Mars and Venus, and the two instantly knew Mercury had directed the attack at them.  After a few minutes, the fog’s icy grip weakened, and the three Scouts could see each other.  Neither Janet nor her weapon was anywhere in sight.
         “Wha--!” Venus yelled in surprise before tuning to her fellow Scout.  “Mercury, I had her.”
         “I know,” Mercury answered with her head down.  “But she’s only a human.”
         “Only?” Mars asked in disbelief and anger.  “Did you forget about the weapon she was carrying?”
         Venus stepped toward Mercury, ignoring the ire of Mars.  “I was only going to tie her up.”  Mercury still refused to face them, which was the verification of Venus’ suspicions.  “There’s something else, isn’t there?”
         Mercury knew she had to say something.  It would be so easy to lie, but while she desperately wanted to simply tell them there was nothing bothering her, her conscience wouldn’t let her follow through.
         “She was someone I knew…” she confessed.
         “From your old school?” Venus asked.
         “I mean from the past…the past.”
         “You’re not saying she’s from the Moon Kingdom, are you?” Mars inquired.
         “And if so,” Venus asked, “why don’t we remember her?”
         “Because she was my bodyguard,” Mercury answered.  “Other than you and my family she was the only friend I had.”  She became silent, and turned away from the two.
         “I see…”  Venus put her hand to her chin.  “Maybe if we got her to remember…”
         “Are you forgetting that this is the woman who threatened us on national television?” Mars reminded after Venus’ voice trailed off.
         Venus turned to the Scout of fire.  “Mars, what would you do you were in Mercury’s position and had to fight Serena?  Wouldn’t you try anything to get her back?”
         “This isn’t Serena!” Mars shouted, as though raising her voice were a guarantee against the dreaded scenario.  “This woman is insane.  She will do whatever it takes to get rid of us, and it’s our job to stop her, at all costs.”  Mars grabbed Mercury by the shoulders, almost shaking her while trying to get the message across.  “You have to fight her.  There’s no way around it.”
         Mercury at last raised her head, signifying that she had not only heard the words of Mars but had absorbed them into her mind.  The words only strengthened her hope that Janet would not attack them again for fear that next time, she might lose someone she cared about.

*            *            *

         Amy, Mina, and Raye informed Lita and Serena of the events that had transpired, then headed for their respective homes.  The rest of the night passed without incident, but the five of them could capture little sleep, the fear of an attack acting as a potent stimulant.  Darkness eventually gave way to day, and each of the five young ladies had to resume their lives as students, with varying success.  Serena, as a result of her lack of rest, performed none too well in her schoolwork and she soon found herself serving detention in Miss Haruna’s classroom.
         Miss Haruna had given Serena a worksheet on basic grammar to complete rather than an essay, but as simple as the assignment should have been for Serena, she could only stare at the paper absentmindedly.  Several trains of thought ran in her mind, and none of them having anything to do with the worksheet.  First, the matter of stopping Janet was a top priority, but Serena didn’t even have a plan to begin finding her, let alone dealing with her once they did.  Then there was Amy, who despite the confession still carried a burden far greater than anything Serena could imagine.  She had to wonder if Amy was ready to continue in her duties as Sailor Mercury.  Lastly there was Joe, and even though it appeared that situation was under control, Serena wondered if she shouldn’t have tried to heal him again.
         All of those thoughts were derailed by the opening of the classroom door.  Serena raised her head and to her surprise a woman in a black outfit with a gun to her side and a visor over her eyes.
         “I was strolling through the neighborhood and look what I find,” Janet announced.  “An alien.”
         Serena turned her head left and right, and asked, “Who me?”
         “Yes, you.”  Janet slowly raised her weapon, pointing it at the blonde.
         “I’m not the person you’re looking for.”  Serena waved her arms in front of her, crossing and uncrossing them in a panicked flurry.
         “These readings tell me otherwise.”
         “Maybe you’re thingy is broken, you know.”  Her words prompted Janet to pull the trigger, sending a discharge at Serena that barely missed the schoolgirl.  The woman lowered her gun, Serena taking the opportunity to call for help. “Miss Haruna!  Someone!”  Her cries went unanswered, and Janet’s lips curled into a wicked grin.  “Anybody?”
         “There’s no one around, not even any of your fellow aliens.”  Serena swallowed hard, finally realizing the bind she was in.  “You can either transform…”  Janet raised her gun again.  “…or I can take you prisoner just as you are.”
         “What if you’re wrong?  What if I’m not what you think I am?  You might kill some innocent person.”  Despite this last attempt to reason with Janet, Serena did not dare give away the real question on her mind aloud, but asked herself, Why does she want me to transform?
         “Don’t worry.  This weapon isn’t set to kill…yet.”
         Janet fired again, but Serena did more than merely dodge the shot.  She burst out the room, running down the hall until she came to a stairwell.  Her first choice was to go down to the first floor, but a surge of energy fired in that direction changed her mind.  Fighting to keep herself from freezing in shock, Serena started to run up the stairs, pulling out her wrist communicator and turning it on.
         “Guys, I’m in trouble!” she yelled, not even stopping to see if anyone had answered or not.  “Janet’s here!  I can’t hold out on her by myself!”  Glancing behind her, Serena noticed Janet had begun to close the distance and accidentally turned off her communicator.  She maintained her pace, feet pounding on every step in a seemingly endless escalation.  Every time she placed her foot on the ground, fatigue claimed a bit of her strength, but a glimpse of her armed attacker inspired her to sustain her pace.  The number of stairs decreased, the stairwell leading to a pair of black doors.  Using her momentum to aid her, Serena rammed the twin black doors open only to find herself surrounded by a chain link fence through which she could see the world from above.
         That’s when she realized she was on the roof.
         An endless series of flaps struck her eardrums while a strong wind threatened to knock her down.  She found the source of the noise almost instantly, for a large, black helicopter sat on the roof, the swirling blades causing a maelstrom of air.  Only by luck she glanced at the doors she had come through a few seconds ago, and she caught sight of the encroaching figure.  She had no choice but to remove her brooch and lift it into the air as she shouted three magic words.
         “Moon Crystal Power!”
         Her transformation happened in the blink of an eye, far too little time for Janet to take advantage of her inactivity.  Sailor Moon found that the wind was less imposing in her Scout form, now feeling more like a summer breeze than a deadly gale.
         “I am Sailor Moon,” she declared, “the champion of ju--”  A stream of energy headed for Sailor Moon in the middle of a pose, and the surprised Scout only narrowly managed to escape.  “Hey! Aren’t you going to let me finish my speech?”
         “No!” Janet answered fiercely.  She lifted her gun again and fired a series of shots at Sailor Moon, the Scout nimbly able to avoid them all.  Knowing she couldn’t remain on the defensive, Moon planted her feet on the ground, checking a split second to make sure her stance was correct, and reached for her tiara.  At the same time, Janet, directly across from her, had her weapon aimed directly at the Sailor Scout.  From the positioning of the pair, the energy from the gun and the tiara would have collided in a glorious demonstration of power had it not been for one fact.
         Janet was ready while Sailor Moon still had to prepare her attack.
         “Moon Tiara...”  The tiara in Sailor Moon’s hand changed to a discus, unaware Janet’s finger was on the trigger of the weapon.
         A thorny, sharp rose interrupted the showdown, slashing the outer portion of Janet’s upper arm.  The woman checked the area and found that not only had the suit been torn, but in addition a slight, red scratch had been drawn on her arm.  She found the man who threw the flower standing on top of the fence and stared at him.  Sailor Moon also saw him, but instead of carrying on in her plan, she too stopped her offensive.
         “You’re mind is brilliant, but twisted!” Tuxedo Mask yelled over the noise of the helicopter.  “Why not put it to better use than going after those who protect this city?  The Scouts have done nothing to you.”
         Janet simply made a noise of contempt and replied by pointing her weapon at Sailor Moon, the youthful warrior still distracted and awed by the presence of Tuxedo Mask.
         “Sailor Moon!”
         For Sailor Moon, the world became a blur as she found herself knocked off her center of gravity, the ground came closer and closer to her face.  She put her hands in front of her to stop her descent, then swung her head to the side.  She could hardly believe her eyes when she spotted Tuxedo Mask lying on the ground and a current of energy colliding with him.
         “Bingo,” Janet said as his body rose from the ground.  Sailor Moon was horrified upon seeing her only love trapped within an orb of energy.
         “Tuxedo Mask!” she cried.
         The bubble grew thicker under the continuous stream of energy, until a series of beeps indicated that the circular forcefield was at maximum density.  Janet stopped firing and lowered her gun, but the gem at the end of her weapon continued to glow, and a strand of energy connected the bubble to the jewel.  A stunned Sailor Moon was absolutely immobile while this happened, the sight before her eyes too much for her body to respond.
         “I think you might want this,” Janet said to Sailor Moon, while unzipping one of the openings in her suit near her hip.  From the pocket, she pulled out a small roll of blue paper, but before she could do anything with it, four figures in Sailor uniforms ran onto the roof from the stairwell.  Upon seeing the other Scouts, Janet tossed the roll on the ground, which remained on the roof despite the wind’s attempts to return it to the air.  She then made a hasty retreat to the helicopter, diving into it as soon as possible.  The string of energy pulled the bubble along, and the unconscious Tuxedo Mask inside.
         “Let’s go, Maven!” she shouted over the noise made by the whirling blades.  Immediately, the helicopter ascended into the air, with a rope of energy connecting the sphere to the aircraft.
         “Mars Celestial Fire Surround!”  Mars shot several rings of fire into the sky, but none of them touched the fleeing helicopter.
         “Jupiter Thunder Crash Zap!”  Jupiter threw the disc of electricity into the air, her attack also ending with a miss.
          “Venus Love Chain Encircle!”  Venus’ chain nicked one of the landing bars of the helicopter.  Nevertheless, even her attack wasn’t enough to bring the vehicle out of the air.
          Mercury held out her hands as though she were going to initiate an attack, but at the last second she relented, letting the helicopter and sphere fly out of her range.  In an attempt to cover up for her inaction, she picked up the piece of paper that Janet had thrown earlier, unrolling it to read the numbers on it.
          “These look like coordinates,” Mercury said.  Without even a second thought she caused her mini-data computer to appear in her hand.
          “Do you know where they lead?” Venus asked.
          “I’m putting them into my computer right now.”  After a few seconds of typing, the computer gave her the location.  “I don’t believe it.  Apparently these are the coordinates to her mansion.”
         “Which way is it?” Sailor Moon asked, finally breaking out of her daze.
         “Out there.”  Mercury pointed to her left, and Moon instantly headed in that direction, as though she forgot that she was on top of a building.
         “Sailor Moon,” Venus cried.  “Where are you going?”
         Moon turned around and answered in the most severe tone Venus had ever heard her use.
         “We are going to rescue Tuxedo Mask…now!”

*            *            *

         Darien awakened slowly, trying to fight both the sense of drowsiness and the confusion that beckoned him to return to sleep.  His eyes creaked open like an old, stubborn door, and at best he had a vague awareness of where he was.  The only thing he could be certain of was that he was no longer Tuxedo Mask, which told him that Sailor Moon was not in any danger for the time being.  Fortune was not so kind to him, though, for his arms, legs and torso were strapped down on a flat cold surface.  Worse yet, the surface he was attached to lied in a vertical position.  This caused his restraints to be even more discomforting as they fought against the force of gravity, his body the only victim of war between the two powers.
          Before he could get an idea of where he was, he felt a sudden, light burn in his left arm.  Shifting his eyes in that direction, he saw a woman with auburn hair holding an empty syringe.  A few feet behind her was a woman with blue hair, and even in his sedated state Darien could make out the smirk on her face.  However, his vision faded and slumber reclaimed him once again, covering him in its cloak of darkness.

*            *            *

         “All right, Darien. I want answers.”
         Despite the demanding tone of the voice and his own will to leave his lethargy behind him, his body refused to be removed from the essence of sleep.  A cold splash in the face, however, aroused him enough to open his eyes, and he found himself lying on a couch.  Surprise and confusion caused him to lift himself up, an action that by itself told him that he was no longer bound.  Instinct alone instructed Darien to take a good look at his surroundings, and despite his inability to focus he saw he was in a large room, with furniture and carpet in a soft blue and lavender scheme designed for comfort.  It did not take long to see the table in front of him, with an empty plastic glass in the center.  Only with a great deal of concentration, could he see Janet, now wearing a sleeveless blouse and a pair of khaki pants.  She sat cross-legged in a chair across from him, showing off her expensive sandals.
         “It’s about time you woke up,” she said just on the border of exclamation.  She waited for a second, as Darien appeared to be pondering which question to ask.  It was clear, though, he was not going to speak in what she felt was a reasonable amount of time so she started to talk again. “I suppose this is the part where you ask, ‘Where am I?’ or ‘What do you want from me?’  I’ll let you figure out -- ”
         “Dream,” he interrupted groggily.  “Must be an illusion…”
         “Oh, no.  This is no dream.”  Darien’s eyes wandered around the room some more, and an important detail he had missed before now became clear.  There were no doors, windows, or any openings of any sort leading beyond the room, but Darien knew both him and Janet had gotten in here, so there had to be some way out.
         Janet continued, oblivious to her captive’s thoughts.  “It looks as though you’re still a bit out if it.  I suppose I should inform you of what happened while you were out.  I had my assistant give you a shot of thiopental, commonly known as truth serum.  What I found out was quite interesting.”  She studied Darien’s face, hoping for a reaction, but his daze strong enough to hold back his surprise.  Disappointed at the lack of a response, she kept talking.  “It didn’t make any sense at first.  You threw out names I had never heard of, calling yourself Prince Darien of the Earth.  But the more you talked, the more sense it made, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I have been talking to royalty.”
         “Why are you keeping me here?” he asked, slightly more lucid than before.
         “There are two reasons why I need you around.  As I said before, I want answers.  I need to know the whole story.”
         “Why should I tell you anything?”
         “Because if you’re the Prince of the Earth as you claim, you’ll want to be concerned with the future of Earth.”  Her words produced a slight chuckle from Darien, a man who had seen both his past and his future within a year.
         “What’s so funny?” Janet questioned, clearly irritated at not understanding the joke.  Darien soon fell silent, and Janet saw that she was not going to get an answer from him.  “That’s the problem with you regal types, you don’t want to listen to anyone else, even at the threat of an invasion.”
         “There isn’t any invasion!” he shouted, breaking though the wall of languor.
         “So the Moon Princess was sent to Earth so she could have tea with us?”
         “No, it wasn’t like that…”
         “Maybe you should clarify that.”
         Darien, for once, had no idea on which action to take next.  If he said anything she would use it against him, and if he remained silent she could retaliate with worse punishment, forcing him to talk.  The thought crossed his mind to force Janet to free him, but somehow he knew she wasn’t as vulnerable as she appeared to be.  Thus the only option for him was to tell the truth.
         “Princess Serena…”
         “You mean Sailor Moon?”  He didn’t give an answer.  “I’ll take your silence as a yes.  Go on.”
         “She wasn’t the only one.  There were thousands, millions who were sent to the future.”
         “How do you know?”
         “Because I was one of them.”
         “What?”
         “I was there when the Moon was attacked.”  For a second, he could see the surprise on Janet’s face, as though she had been thrown off schedule by this information.  She straightened up, though, and determination returned to her in full force.
         “And why weren’t you on Earth where you belonged?”
         “It was too late for Earth.  The invasion had already begun.”
         Janet pounced upon his words like a lioness.  “But you said there was no invasion.”
         “That’s not what I--”
         “That’s what you meant and you know it!” she shouted.  “The Terrans, your people were being attacked and so you went to the Moon in order to make an alliance to save your own skin.  And then you were granted some sort of powers in the exchange then sent back to Earth to conquer the planet!”
         “No!  You’ve got it all wrong.  I didn’t receive any powers!”
         “Ha!”  She directed her eyes upward in disbelief, then turned her gaze toward him.  “I suppose you just happen to be a human gifted with certain extraordinary abilities.”
         “It’s not as uncommon as you may think,” he muttered, barely loud enough for her to hear.
         “Tell me.  If you didn’t get this power from the Moon, then where?”  All of the accusation left her voice, leaving it sounding desperate, if still determined.  “You’re a human, as human as I am.  How do you make those leaps?  How do you throw those roses?  How?”
         “I don’t know!”
         “You have to know!”
         Darien steadied his eyes on Janet, not able to figure out this woman’s motivation.  There was more to her than a mad quest to rid the planet of a non-existent threat, but he had no idea what else could have been driving her.  Suddenly, the answer came to him, and upon receiving it he let out a slight smile.
         “Now what is it?” she asked.
         “You’re jealous.”
         “Excuse me?”
         “Jealous.  That’s why you’re after the Scouts…”
         Janet answered with a hearty laugh.  “I can’t believe you are so narcissistic to think I have a thing for you.  Men…”
         “No.  You envy the Scouts for their powers.”  Both her laughing the smile evaporated into nothingness.  “Admit it.  The way you go on about how those with powers have to be contained--”
         “I am trying to protect global security!”  It was clear that Darien’s words had hit a nerve, as she closed her eyes to shut out the truth.
         “Then why not let me go?  I’m a human.  You know that.  So what’s the point of holding me?”
         Janet lifted her eyelids, her eyes immersed in a new calm.  “My, my.  The great Prince Darien pleading for his freedom.  Pathetic.”
         “You haven’t answered my question.”
         “I told you before I’m keeping you around for two reasons, neither of them yours.”
         “I’ve given you my answers.  Why am I still here?”
         For a few seconds, Janet made no indication of a reply, but only gave him a sly grin.  Then she gave a final answer so cryptic that Darien didn’t understand it at first.
         “To catch the fish, of course.”
         She rose from her seat and walked to the wall behind the chair.  Darien tried to follow, but the sedative still hindered his every step and could only make one or two every ten seconds.  The wall slid upward to reveal the exit, and light poured in the room from the outside.  Janet confidently stepped through the open space and the wall returned to its place as soon as she had passed though.  Several seconds later, Darien reached the wall, but it did not slide up for him.  Instead a hiss filled his ears and the young man turned around to find a mist filling the room.  He dropped to the ground to avoid the expanding cloud, but a few breaths later he found that his action was useless and in a few seconds, sleep received him with open arms again.

*            *            *

         A brisk, night wind tossed the twin golden tails of Sailor Moon’s hair while she stood at the gate in front of the mansion, her eyes on it and the winding road that led up the small hill.  Sailor Mars and Sailor Venus placed themselves slightly in front of her, while Jupiter remained in the back, completing the protective triangle around the leader.  To the side was Sailor Mercury, who had her miniature computer to scan the area for any suspicious activity.  Sailor Moon took a good look at Mercury, the face of the latter partially hidden by her visor, and considered how difficult this confrontation would be for her.  If there was any doubt on Mercury’s face. The blue glass obscured it well and Moon couldn’t help but think of the visor as a mask.
         Mask.  Tuxedo Mask.  The name brought to mind all that the two had experienced in the past, the present, and the future.  All of the love and hardship they had shared brought them closer than either of them thought they could ever be.  But his name brought back the pain of separation, how hurt she was when he was distant in terms of space or his state of mind.  That hurt reached into her soul and spread outward, washing over her mind and body.  It increased moment by moment despite her efforts to ignore it, the pain begging her to snap.
         “Can’t you go any faster?” Sailor Moon complained to Mercury, giving into the hurt.
         “I’m trying my best,” she answered softly.  Moon hadn’t expected a reply at all, though, and Mercury’s words broke through the wall of pain.
         “I’m sorry, Mercury…”
         “This is hard for all of us,” Venus reassured.  “Don’t worry, Sailor Moon.  We’ll get him back.”
         Mercury let out a sigh, one so soft that the others couldn’t hear it.  Trying not to dwell on her thoughts, she turned to the other Scouts, ready to give them the information she had gathered.
         “I’m done,” she announced, though data continued to come in through her visor.
         “So what’s the deal on this place?” Venus asked.
         Mercury interpreted the computer’s analysis as she presented the news.  “On the surface it appears to be normal, but underground, there is a huge area full of hidden circuits and chips.”
         “You mean booby traps?” Jupiter asked her.
         “I’m not sure.  It’s not likely, since she knows I’m scanning them right now.”
         “How would she know that?”
         “There’s a camera over us, right there.”  She pointed to a small box on top of the edge of the all which was pointed down at them.  “And there are probably many more hidden around.”
         Jupiter turned toward the camera and clenched her fist, shouting, “Let us in, you old hag!  We know you’re watching!”
         “Relax,” Venus said.  “She’s trying to make us sweat.”
         “Is Darien in there?” Mars asked Mercury.
         “Yes.  He’s being held in some sort of containment field.”
         “Is he hurt?” Sailor Moon inquired, upset by the information.
         “He appears to be unconscious,” Mercury replied, “but not injured badly.”
         “What about monsters?” Venus asked.
         “The visor didn’t pick up anything.”
         “That means that we can get to Darien all the faster,” Mars stated.
         “Not necessarily,” cautioned Mercury.  “We’ve faced threats before that I couldn’t detect.  That’s why I’m keeping my visor on, just in case something comes up that I can warn you about.”
         Venus fired off another question.  “Did it pick up Janet?”
         “Yes, and one other pers--”  Mercury quickly stopped talking as her visor fed her new information.
         “What’s wrong?”
         “As I said there was another person, and she’s leaving right now.”
         Less than a minute later, the five could see a pair of headlights coming toward them, and the motor of the car grew louder as it approached.  The twin gates swing open, preparing for the exit of an unwanted guest, and down the winding road approached a small, brown sedan.  The driver, upon seeing the Sailor Scouts, slowed down, giving them time to stand to the side.  When the car reached them, it stopped completely, and the car’s front windows slid down, revealing Maven at the driver’s seat.
         “Oh thank you!” Maven shouted in relief.  “You’re coming to stop her!”
         “What?” Sailor Moon asked.  “You’re glad?”
         Maven confirmed it by nodding. “She’s lost it.  She accused me of being an alien.”
         Sailor Mars stepped forward to speak.  “So now you know how it feels to be hunted.”
          “Just stop her,” Maven begged, not even wanting to look at the Scouts. “Please.”  The five Scouts watched as she sped away, hoping they would never have to see her again.  As a unit, they entered the open gate, which closed automatically behind them.  The five then returned to their original formation and continued on their way.
         Due to the quick pace set by Sailor Moon, the road leading to the mansion seemed all the shorter, and the incline proved to be less steep than when looked on from a distance.  Taking no time to let themselves become fascinated by their surroundings, they reached the enormous doors of the mansion within only a few minutes.  There they stopped, and Sailor Venus stepped to the left, pressing her finger against the doorbell.  Before she released the button, the doors automatically opened.  Believing it to be a sign to proceed, they stepped inside.
         Once the Sailor Scouts had entered the building the air became still, and a curtain of quiet draped over the five.  Although the lights were on, as Mercury had said earlier there were no people in sight.  It still came as a surprise to the Scouts that there were no servants around, as such a large place could not operate without them.  But any speculation for the reason behind the lack of people was cut short, for Mercury broke formation and scanned the area.
         “This way,” Mercury said as she pointed down a corridor, taking the lead.  The others followed without question and without protest, and by doing so, the Sailor Scouts were able to navigate their way through the mansion quite easily.  As the blue-haired Scout had predicted, there were no booby traps or any puzzles to solve.  However, all of them were aware that Janet was still inside, forcing them to come to her.  They were on the enemy’s base and thus they had to be twice as careful not to let false confidence gain a foothold in their minds.
         They traveled in an unusual silence, as though talking was a crime punishable by death.  The lack of external voices caused the individual internal voices of the Scouts to rise up, and each of the five had to struggle not to let the river of thought sweep her focus away from her task.  Still, it was impossible for them to completely ignore their thoughts, and all five at one point or another, admonished themselves for not staying on the task at hand.
         Jupiter’s mind was a turbulent as the storm clouds she summoned to initiate her attacks.  Electric anger flowed through her body, her green eyes sparkling with ire.  She recalled her own experience with Janet’s henchmen, how they forced her to transform in front of Joe, returning to him memories that were sealed away for his protection.  His frightened face remained with her -- the events that happened after that moment were a blur.  She was going to make Janet pay for what she had done, no matter what the cost.
         Moon, on the contrary, carried the twin sisters of hurt and regret in her heart rather than anger.  Being separate from Darien for any reason tugged at her soul, but when the separation was due to force the ordeal was unbearable.  Worse yet, her own guilt reminded her that she should have been captured instead of Darien; it was only because of his sacrifice he had been taken prisoner instead of her.  The twins consumed her step by step and the more she tried to shut them out, the stronger they became.  As the leader of the Sailor Scouts she couldn’t allow herself to give into either feeling, so she silently accepted them, and hoped that they rescue him as fast as possible.
         Mars also felt Sailor Moon’s pain, partly out of the empathy that the two close friends shared and partly because she had a strong tie to Darien herself.  However, her concern overrode her pain, as she knew that Moon could not be as strong as she tried to appear.  Moon had to be protected at all costs, even if the leader threatened to put herself in danger because of her emotional state.  The Scouts may have been on a mission to save Darien, but Mars understood that she might have to save Serena from herself.
          Unlike the others Venus struggled to keep the emotion within to a minimum, attempting to maintain a clear head.  Although she wanted Darien back as badly as everyone else, she also remembered that Janet was a human and that Jupiter could easily kill or seriously injure their enemy in her state of mind without realizing it.  Venus could tell that Moon was hurting badly inside and the same pain that made her focus also made her impatient and impulsive, hindering her ability to lead.  Mars, although relatively calm given the circumstances, was able to perceive this as well, but Venus worried that Mars may perform some self-sacrificing action for either Moon or Darien.  Yet the biggest worry on her mind was Mercury, for her behavior in the previous two battles could not be easily forgotten.  Both times she had allowed Janet to escape, unwilling to defeat her when she had the chance.  Now that there was nowhere for Janet to go, Venus couldn’t be sure if Mercury were ready to give it her entire effort or if she would continue to pull her punches.
         Mercury wrestled with this same dilemma as she directed the Scouts, the battle between her present sense of duty and her past friendship a stalemate.  Never before facing Janet had Mercury held back in battle; even when fighting against Greg and Darien she did not hold back.  Why did she have doubts now?  Why couldn’t she bring herself to defeat Janet?  Could she bring herself to harm -- let alone destroy if she had to -- the woman she once called her best friend?  Each time she asked the question she came up with the same answer, an answer that came from the soul.
         “Mercury!”
         The shout came from Sailor Mars, who grabbed Mercury by the shoulder.  “Where are you going?” the fiery Scout asked.
         Mercury wondered what prompted Mars to ask the question, for the visor showed her that the room where Darien was held lied straight ahead.  Before she could reply, Venus stepped forward with a piece of advice.
         “I think you should take off your visor.”
         Mercury grabbed her earring, and the translucent blue strip vanished.  Upon seeing with her natural eyes, she gasped as she found herself barely two feet away from a steel wall.
         “Great!” Mars yelled.  “Now we’re back where we started.  Nowhere.”
         “Wait,” Venus said softly.  She placed her hand against the wall, finding it to be solid.  As soon as she let her arm fall to her side, the metal wall slowly rose, revealing an extremely large room full of digital displays and blinking lights.  The Scouts slowly entered the room, then stopped when they heard a loud slam behind them.  Turning around, the five saw that the steel wall from before had replaced the entrance to the room; there would be no retreat from this battle.
         It didn’t take them long to spot Darien.  He was trapped within a column of light, hanging from he ceiling by a rope that bound his hands.  His feet rested on a cement block, one both small enough to fit inside of the pillar but large enough for him to hang above without his shadow going beyond the surface.  He appeared to be stirring, fighting the force that kept him asleep.
         Then they saw Janet.
         Wearing the same suit she had worn for their previous encounters, she stood with her arms crossed in a manner that dared the Scouts to attack her.  Yet even her attitude could not hide the fact that she was wearing a pair of large, combat boots, the soles of which were the same color as the burgundy floor.  However, a grunt caused Sailor Moon to take another look at Darien, who was fighting even harder to wake up.  He moaned in agony, attempting to break through the veil of sleep.  A flicker of energy coursed through him, followed by even more grunts and more currents of energy.  Finally a bright flash illuminated the room and now Darien, though still bound, was now clad in a black tuxedo with a cape and a mask over his eyes.  He was now Tuxedo Mask.  Surprised by the sudden nature of the transformation, the reason behind it did not hit Sailor Moon until it was after she could do anything about it.
         A ring of light barely wide enough to encircle her body lied on the ground below her.  Less than a second later a white wind blew her hair and Scout uniform upward, extracting from her an ear-piercing scream.  She covered her eyes to protect them from the resulting explosion of light.
         “Sailor Moon!” the other four Scouts shouted simultaneously.  Their leader was trapped within the same type of containment field as Darien.
         “I’ll get you out!” Sailor Mars promised.  “Mars Celestial Fire Surround!”  The rings of fire collided with the invisible barrier but fizzled out, leaving Mars frozen in shock.  Before she could recover, a circle of light appeared underneath her, and in a flash she was trapped as well.
         “What did you do to them?” Mercury asked Janet, the eyes of the former shedding clear, salty blood.
         “I’d tell you,” Janet answered, “but I think you can figure it out on your own.”  Her words had a hypnotic effect on the Scout of ice, who was unaware that a circle formed around her on the ground.
         “Mercury!”
         The shout once again pierced Mercury’s heart, as the selflessness and sacrifice was evident in the call.  This time, though, the cry came from Venus, who pushed Mercury out of the way.
         And this time, neither of them lost their lives.
         The instant Venus moved Mercury out of the circle of light it vanished, leaving no trace that it had ever been there.  Venus observed this and already her mind created the framework of  a plan, but Mercury was still caught up in the fact that she had avoided an almost certain capture.
         “Thanks,” Mercury said.
         “Don’t thank me yet,” Venus replied.  She cast her eyes down, and not to her surprise she observed a ring surrounding her.  It was quite large at first, but in less than five seconds it had grown tight enough to barely contain her, resonating ever brighter.  Testing her hypothesis, Venus quickly placed one foot outside of the circle.  The ring disappeared in the same fashion as the one that has almost captured Mercury.
         “We’ll be safe as long as we don’t stand still for too long,” Venus announced.  She, Mercury, and Jupiter walked slowly in a circle, spreading out and surrounding Janet.  Their adversary only let out a smirk, a twisted congratulation to her enemies for finding a solution to her trap.
         “We don’t want to hurt you,” Venus stated.  “Just let us all go and…”
         “And you’ll what?” Janet asked.  “What will you do?  Leave me alone?  That’s the problem with you aliens, trying to make yourselves look like heroes to the bitter end.  Why don’t you just attack and get it over with?”
         “You’re on!” Jupiter shouted, planting her feet solidly on the ground as she crossed her arms and the antenna on her tiara began to rise.
         “Jupiter!” Venus cried, stopping for a second.  “No!”
         Jupiter turned to Venus.  “Don’t worry, I’m going easy on her.”  She then faced Janet again, who silently taunted the Scout.  Jupiter, in the midst of gathering electricity, was blinded by her eagerness to attack.  The other free Scouts watched in horror as a circle on the ground closed in on Jupiter.  Neither of them could even draw near to Jupiter without getting hurt by the electricity themselves, and attacking Janet would do nothing to prevent Jupiter from being trapped.  There was only one solution and as much as Venus hated it, she raised her right arm and pointed at Jupiter.
         “Venus Crescent Beam Smash!” she shouted as quickly as her mouth would allow, sending a thin beam of energy at Jupiter.  Although the beam was faster than the tightening circle, she had fired it too late and a column of light caught the Jovian warrior in its grasp.  Remembering that the same scenario could reoccur with her as the victim, Venus started to move around Janet like a satellite, with Mercury following in her lead.
         “Is it just the two of you now?” Janet mockingly inquired.  “I thought you would have provided more of a challenge.”
         “Why?” Mercury asked with a chill of sadness in her voice.  “Why are you doing this to us?”
         Janet let out a sigh of exasperation. “I thought I just answered this question a billion times today.  Besides, don’t act as though I were the one on the offensive.  This is preventive maintenance.”
         “This is madness.”  Mercury stared into Janet’s eyes, hoping that her plea would reach the soul inside.  “Please, listen to me.  There is no invasion, or a master plan to of any kind.  We Sailor Scouts are fighting for Earth, not against it.”
         “So, then you deny that you are from another planet, that you were sent here from a place outside of Earth.”  Mercury struggled not to let Janet know of her surprise at the woman’s knowledge, but the elder female detected the shock all too well.  “Yes, Darien confirmed that part of the story, and he was pumped full of truth serum!  What do you have to say now?”
         “I can’t deny what happened in the past, but I must tell you that I am no less human than you are.”  Janet, unaware of the truth behind Mercury’s words, became incensed upon hearing the remark, and for a second she forgot that there were two Scouts free instead of one.
         “Venus Love Chain Encircle!”  Janet’s momentary lapse had left her wide open to attack, and the golden chain of hearts wrapped itself around Janet’s arms, binding her so quickly that she almost didn’t follow what was going on.  Despite the apparent success for the two Scouts, they continued to circle her and did not follow up with their attacks.
         She snarled impatiently, “You have me at you mercy.  Why don’t you finish me off already?”
         “Because we don’t want to destroy you, or even a war,” Venus answered.  “All we want is for our friends to be released and left alone.”
         “Fine.”  Her voice lost all of its power, and she sounded like a child who had been told to go to bed.  “The control device is in my left pocket.”
         Venus approached Janet, who made a face of disgust upon having Venus violate her personal space.  The blonde first unzipped Janet’s right pocket and slid her hand in the fold, only to find that there was nothing there.
         “I said my left,” Janet repeated.  While Venus unzipped the woman’s left pocket, Janet watched the floor, and saw that a golden ring was closing on them both.  “I forgot to tell you one thing.”
         “What?”
         “I lied.”
         At the last second, Janet stepped away, leaving Venus alone in the ring.  The athletic Scout tried to flip out of the circle, but the cylindrical barrier of energy held Venus, her long golden hair billowing upward.  Upon Venus’ capture, the golden chain binding Janet disintegrated, and the woman turned to Mercury, who continued to orbit her.
         Janet proclaimed, “It’s just the two of us now -- Terran vs. alien.  Your kind have fooled the people of Earth for too long.”
         “Aquamarine,” Mercury begged, “please listen to me.”
         “Aquamarine?  You called me that before.  It must be your native term for ‘stupid human.’”
         “No…”
         “But I’m not so stupid, am I?”  Janet reached into her large boot and pulled out a thin, short gun that resembled the weapon she had been carrying in her prior attacks.  She pressed a button on the side, causing the gem at the end to glow an ominous red.
         “Janet!”
         “You didn’t think I was going to rely on this room to get rid of you.”  Janet walked toward Mercury, her eyes awash in obsession.  Mercury shook her head, not believing what was happening.  “Before, I just wanted to capture you to see where you got your powers from, so I could give you a taste of your own medicine.”  Janet closed in on the Scout, whose retreat was too slow to preserve a safe distance between the two.  “But after my chat with Darien I came to the conclusion that you all are too dangerous to live.  You’ve already brainwashed him into thinking you all are the good guys.  I’m not going to let you do the same to me.”
         By the time she was finished, Janet was standing about a foot away from Mercury.  With a smirk she smacked Mercury across the face using the handle of the gun, knocking the Scout to the floor.  Mercury tried to get to her feet, but Janet kicked her in the ribs, causing an agonizing pain to nag her in her side.  Knowing she couldn’t stand still, Mercury crawled around on the ground, but as soon as she even give a hint of coming to her feet, Janet kicked her again, and pointed the gun at the fallen Scout.
         “Come on, Sailor Mercury,” Janet tormented.  “How does it feel being helpless?”  Janet’s voice echoed in the Scout’s head, a voice so similar and yet so different from that of Aquamarine.
         How does it feel being helpless?
         You were always a poor liar…
Aquamarine’s dying voice countered.
         The two voices underwent several iterations, battling back and forth in an effort to sway Mercury’s heart.  As another blow struck her in her side, Mercury knew that for her survival, she had to fight back.  All she had to do was say four words to let out a fatal stream of ice and water, and it would be over.
         But she knew she would never forgive herself if she killed her best friend.
         However, another blow, this one to her leg, broke her out of her indecision.  While she was still able to move around enough to avoid being trapped by a ring, a few more blows would incapacitate her.  Her soul arrived at the conclusion that her mind had been screaming ever since she first saw Janet on television.
         This was Janet Vaughn, a woman who was completely mad -- not her former friend Aquamarine.  The latter had been dead for a thousand years and with a hard swallow, Mercury decided to act.  She quickly twisted her body to face Janet, whose face changed from a triumphant smug to surprise.  The Scout put her hands in front of her as she initiated her attack.
         “Mercury Ice Storm Blast!”
         Janet, recognizing the position of Mercury’s hands at the last second, quickly jumped to the right of the expulsion of wind, ice, and water.  The Sailor Scout, though, had intended to miss and as soon as Janet landed, Mercury performed a sweep kick on her.  The execution was far from perfect, but Janet lost her balance as a result and fell onto her posterior.  Gritting her teeth in a useless attempt to shut out the pain, Mercury made her way to her feet as quickly as possible.
         “Mercury Bubbles Blast!”
         Fog filled the area, disorienting an already confused Janet.  Everything happened so quickly; one moment she was kicking Mercury senseless and now she was on the ground.  Slowly she shifted her weight to the side, placing her hands on the floor to help herself onto her feet.  Yet there was a golden ring on the floor, surrounding her, and it was too late for her to move.  All she could do was scream as the wind blew her hair toward the ceiling.
         Despite this apparent victory, Mercury had no reason to smile.  She circled the trapped Janet, partly to avoid being captured and partly to make sure the woman was truly stuck.  Janet’s cage was not as restricting as the others, for the ring had been large enough to surround Janet while lying on the ground, not standing up.  Indeed after the first few seconds, Janet stood up and slammed her fist into the semi-transparent barrier.
         “You…” Janet snarled.
         “There’s only one way out and you know it,” Mercury said in a scolding tone.  “Just tell me how to free you and the others.”
         “No.”
         “You mean you’d rather be trapped in there to keep the others prisoner?”
         “No.  I mean that there’s no need for you to free me.”  She then took a deep breath, then let out the loudest shout her throat would allow.  “Olly, olly, oxen free!”  Upon the spouting of the phrase all of the columns of light vanished, including Janet’s.  The fog was able to spread a bit more and lessened, but it still hindered Janet’s visibility.  Her gun still in hand, she readied the weapon, pointing it in random directions.  Not missing a beat, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Moon all closed in on the red light.
         “Give it up, Janet!” the leader of the Scouts shouted through the thick, cold haze.  “It’s over.”
         “I beg to differ.  I don’t see any fat ladies singing around here!”  She fired the gun, but the ray hit nothing but the wall.  Janet then fired a series of shots in the fog, hoping at least one would connect.  Instead, a large, strong fist slammed into her jaw, knocking her to the floor.  The blow, so unexpected, caused her to drop the gun and by the time she found it through the mist, a green boot fell like a curtain between her and her weapon.
         “That was for Joe,” Jupiter declared as the fog dissipated.  Sailor Moon and Sailor Mars ran over to Tuxedo Mask and untied him, both using their shoulders to support his weight.  He was still groggy, but no longer completely unconscious.  At the same time, Venus and Mercury were at the wall that had once been the entrance to this room, and Mercury reactivated her visor.  In addition she summoned her mini-data computer to perform a thorough scan of the area.
         “Mercury,” Venus asked, “is the floor still rigged to trap us?”
         “No,” she replied.  “And there don’t appear to be any other traps.  In fact, we’re free to go.  Look!”  Mercury put her hand on the wall for a second, then removed it, causing the barrier to slide up, revealing the area they had come from only moments before.  Venus and Mercury then ran over to Mars and Moon, but the latter two waved off any help.  Tuxedo Mask slowly regained his independence, able to stand and walk a little bit but still needing the support of Mars and Moon.  Jupiter, though, had her eyes fixed on Janet, both faces betraying the powerful divergent currents of anger -- the sizzling crackle of Jupiter’s and the sweeping rapids of Janet’s colliding in a staredown.
         “Jupiter!” Venus called.  “Let’s go home.”
         The brunette’s Jovian eyes softened, her anger insulated by the blanket of relief.  She joined the other Scouts, the five of them slowly exiting the room due to Tuxedo Mask’s condition.  To them the crisis was over -- the battle had been won.
         But to Janet, this sight before her eyes caused her current of rage to become even more violent.  Her plan had failed, but worse yet she had been humiliated by these alien beings in her home.  They were allowed to retreat and continue in their actions while she lied there helplessly, unable to do anything but watch them escape.  A whirlpool of anger swirled in her heart, growing stronger in response to every step the Sailor Scouts took toward freedom.  In response, a symbol appeared on Janet’s forehead, the sign of Mercury meshed with the symbol of Saturn.  The bluish-green symbol grew increasingly brighter, to the point where the entire room was immersed in its light.  Mercury, the only one to see the glow at first stopped and turned around to find Janet producing the radiance.  A second later, the others noticed Mercury lagging behind and also turned around, only to find themselves astonished by what was before their eyes.
         “It’s not fair!” Janet shouted, her voice seemingly magnified by the light.  Sticking her arm out in a vain attempt to grab the heroines who were well out of her reach, a forceful stream of water gushed forth from her palm.  Although the Scouts were caught with their defenses down, the horizontal column of water was not aimed perfectly at them and with a communal lowering of themselves, the water passed safely overhead.  At last the brilliance faded and the whirlpool of fury returned to tranquility.  Janet, her moment of ire passed, studied her trembling hand.  Feeling no water on her palm she stared at her hand, not believing what she’d done.  The shock on the faces of the Sailor Scouts was convincing enough, their reactions proving that her actions were real.  A chuckle of disbelief escaped her lips, which soon developed into a full laugh.
         “I…did that.”  Her voice was full of madness, but not the insanity of a zealot.  This was a woman, crazed upon finally being granted the desire closest to her heart.  She swept aside her giddiness to concentrate, forming another stream of water in her mind.  Reality imitated her will as a column of water shot into the air, bouncing off the ceiling and splattering everywhere.  “I have powers too.”  Laughter filled her heart and her throat again, her mind bathed in ecstasy.
         But a second later, her happiness turned to dread as the full impact of her actions hit her.  Her face changed from a mask of happiness to a stage of tears.  Now her eyes were the only part of her body releasing water, and the noises she now made were moans of grief.
         “I’m…not…a Terran,” she stated.  “I’m an alien…”
         “Aqua,” Mercury called, her voice hushed in astonishment.  “Aquamarine…do you remember me?”
         “Mercury?”  The broken woman looked up at the Sailor Scout, Mercury appearing different than the enemy before.  She didn’t quite recognize Mercury as the princess she once protected, although she could feel a connection.  “I know you…somehow.”  Before she could figure out the truth, her present identity regained control of her body completely.  “No.  My mind is playing tricks on me.”
         “No, it’s not.”  Mercury moved toward Janet.  “Just concentrate on me.”
         Janet cast her head down, ignoring the voice.  “I’m an alien and all aliens must be eliminated.”  She narrowed her eyes and lifted her head again, glaring at Mercury.  Not breaking her stare, she felt the ground beside her for the gun and grabbed it.  She picked up the weapon and pointed it at Sailor Mercury.
         “Aqua…”
         “As I said…aliens must be eliminated.”  With those words she bent her elbow and pulled back her arm, putting the point of the gun to her temple.  “And I can’t live knowing I’m not a true Terran.”
         Mercury attempted to knock the weapon out of her hand, but Janet moved out of the way, temporarily removing the gun from its position against her skin.
         Or at least Janet intended it to be temporary.
         “Venus Crescent Beam Smash!”
         A ray of energy slammed into Janet’s hand, causing her drop the weapon.
         “Aqua!” Mercury shouted.  “Look at me please.”  Janet turned toward Mercury, as though the Scout were an answer to her prayer, but one that she had not yet figured out yet.
         “Mercury,” she said, the name so familiar to her.  If she could have only made the connection between Scout in princess, her soul would have a chance to emerge.  But as soon as she even thought of linking the two, her broken, confused mind took over.  “No!  You’re an alien!”  she then screamed and dropped to her knees.  Her hand still hurt from Venus’ attack, but the pain was a distant feeling to Janet, her mind waging an internal struggle against the memories of her soul.  Jupiter watched her, thinking of how Janet was fighting the same war Joe had been through only a few days ago.  Venus, Mars, and Moon also felt her anguish, knowing the pain of the collision between their past and present lives.  Mercury, though, felt more than a slight empathy or mere pity at the situation.  Each scream Janet let out pierced Mercury to her soul, forcing tears to spill out of her eyes.  The seconds lurched forward at the pace of a funeral procession, each second for Mercury lasting longer than the last, and the hurt steadily rising within her spirit.
         “Sailor Moon!” Mercury cried.  “Please, help her!”  The leader of the Scouts seemed uncertain, taking a glance at the weakened Tuxedo Mask on her shoulder.
         “Here.  Let me,” Venus offered.  Sailor Moon lifted up his arm, letting Sailor Venus take the burden.  She walked over to Janet, who was now rocking back and forth on the floor muttering phrases in between her tears.
         “Alien…that’s what I am…an alien that must be eliminated…but I’m Aquamarine…or am I Janet?”
         “I can help you,” Sailor Moon said softly.
         Janet turned her head up toward Moon, her fragile mind perceiving the warrior as an angel.  “Then kill me, please.  I can’t live like this.”
         “I can’t kill you, but can heal you.  I can help you forget all those negative emotions.”  Janet lifted her head, and seeing the calm in Sailor Moon’s eyes assuaged her.
         “Forget,” she repeated.
         “I can make the pain go away.  All you have to do is want it.”
         “I do.  I don’t want to remember.”  The tears flowing out of the woman’s eyes came to a halt.  “Too many memories.”
         Sailor Moon turned to Sailor Mercury, who had also stopped crying, before taking off her brooch.  She lifted it in the air and waved her hand in front of it.
         “Moon Crystal Healing Activation!”  The pink light shined upon Janet, whose eyes glazed over.  She felt the Crystal purge her mind and soul, leaving only serenity in its wake.  After several seconds, the Crystal’s light faded, and Janet passed out, drained of all her former strength.
         Wordlessly, Moon and Mercury rejoined their teammates, Moon relieving Venus of the weight of Tuxedo Mask.  Once again the five started to leave the room, but Venus grabbed Mercury’s arm, stopping her.
         “Aren’t you going to stay with her until she wakes up?” Venus asked.
         “No,” Mercury replied softly.  “I’m putting the past behind me.”  Venus said no more to her about the subject and the Scouts left the building without saying another word.

*            *            *

         One by one the days flew by, each of them bringing the Scouts a little more peace of mind.  Darien fully recovered from his ordeal both physically and mentally, allowing him and Serena to make the most of their time together.  Raye dedicated herself as usual to the temple, but relished her moments with Grandpa and Chad.  Lita continued to be a regular visitor at the arcade, except it was Joe instead of Andrew she always went inside to search for and it was him she always cheerfully found.  Mina watched the others from a distance and while the seeds of discontent were planted within her heart, she let her daily routine be a comfort to her for the time being.  In short, on the surface everyone had returned to normal -- except Amy.
         As Amy walked home from school, her heart was heavy as she replayed the final confrontation with Janet.  Two weeks had passed since then, but Amy could not forget how she had abandoned Janet.  She had told Venus that she was putting the past behind her, but weed-like doubts started to choke her mind.  What if Janet had remembered everything and was trying to get in contact with her?  Or even if Janet had no memory of her former life, how would she know?  Amy let these thoughts spread over her as she began to cross the street, her body automatically responding without even a conscious command.
         A honk of a car horn changed that, and Amy turned her head in the direction of the approaching automobile.  Amy leapt back onto the sidewalk before being run over by a black convertible.  She would have dismissed the incident altogether if she had not caught a glimpse of the driver, a woman with long, navy blue hair and evenly tanned skin.  At once, Amy recognized the woman and called out her name without hesitation.
         “Aquamarine!” she shouted, ignoring the little voice in her head that told her it was all too easy.  The woman turned toward Amy in surprise as though she recognized the teenager.  Amy smiled in response, and inside of her a hope was renewed that the two could be friends once more.
         “What did you say?” Janet replied, her question more of a demand than a request.
         “Aquamarine,” Amy repeated, not yet understanding the truth.
         Janet narrowed her eyes.  “Excuse me?”
         At that moment, Amy knew that Janet had indeed forgotten everything.  The weeds of doubt had died, leaving only a sterile, cold certainty in its place.  “I’m sorry,” Amy said.  “I had you confused for someone else.”
         Unaware of Amy’s condition, Janet gave her a piece of advice.  “Next time you should look both ways before you cross the street.”  After saying those words, she placed her foot on the gas pedal and sped away, with Amy unable to watch as the ghost from her past left for possibly the last time.
         An empty gust stirred the air, tugging at the sleeves and skirt of her school uniform while ruffling her short, weightless hair.  The breeze carried all of Amy’s hope away, leaving her as barren as the thieving wind.