Warning: I'm not pulling any punches with these, as they're SCRAP FILES. This is my raw, personal edits and not screened for much other than my own inner grammar nazi. You can expect just about anything, and I know there are a few scenes of mature and violent content. Some of it harsh. So, be warned.
Premise: Old and tired; Ranma as Sailor Sun. Only this time, I didn't make her a Senshi, so much as a prototype upgrade to what they got 'right' in Hotaru. Starkiller Ranma, anyone?
Part One: Phoenix Fire Evolution
Everywhere he looked, something was burning. Some one was burning.
The Soul of Ice fell away, and Ranma drank in the heat, the burning rage Saffron had unleashed and thought he controlled. There was no real thought to the action that basically negated his best defense, no real reason, other than the surety that this time... this time he'd lost. Maybe not the war, but the battle had cost him the whole point of the convoluted mess he'd waded into. Those were Ranma's thoughts as the firestorm atop Jusendo paused in its wild dance, shuddered, then began to spiral inward.
In the middle of the vortex that had been supporting him amid the firestorm, Ranma floated across from the man-thing that had cost him so much. His father had been brainwashed by an equally mind-wiped Shampoo, and was down below in the near-literal volcano that Jusendo had become. With them, somewhere in the heart of that storm of punishing, fatal heat, were Mousse and Ryoga. Ranma supposed it was a small comfort that Ukyo and Konatsu were still back in Tokyo, but the cost of that small grace... was too high. Somewhere in that cyclone of searing hellfire, amid his desperate attacks with the Gekkaja, Akane had been ripped away from him. Despite all his efforts, all his skill, his desperation and snap-adaptation to Saffron's staggeringly powerful strikes and lethal techniques, he had given as good as he'd gotten, but it stopped meaning anything once he'd lost Akane to the blaze. Head bowed, arms out to the sides slightly, Ranma drifted in the blinding rage of the fiery cyclone he and Saffron had wrought in their battle. It was a pose of half supplication, half preparation.
Those few from Nerima who were able to do so looked on, pausing, feeling the tension and potential in the air ratchet up. It had felt oppressive and paralyzing before, but this... this was mind-crushing.
Magical fire, mundane fire, rage, the ki of battle... it all stormed inward, compressing, becoming super-dense as it wound and twisted against itself. Behind the strangely still and calm young martial artist in his smoldering clothes, the powers gathered and began to spin. A wheel of heat and fire began to coil around itself, while two wings of pure light stretched outward from the young man's shoulders. Across from him, a fledgeling godling raged, as every scrap of his power was sucked away into an implacable, seemingly bottomless vortex seemingly without effort or care.
It's said, in some schools of thought, that loss is the most selfish of emotions. One turns their inner eye wholly away from the world, as all attention collapses inward. For Ranma, whose failure had burned to ash in his own hands only moments before, it didn't feel selfish. Confidence winked out as he realized, "I am not enough."
Two years of actually living. Two years of having a family, dysfunctional as it was, strained as it could be, were gone. All his hopes and dreams floating away like so much dust.
If that reference for loss could be applied to Ranma at that moment, he became the equivalent of a black hole.
And then, something long dormant, something that had no purpose in existing in this or nearly any time flashed into terrible life once more. A spark ignited, burning away the dim gossamer of a soul to leave something pure and crystalline behind. Hardened. Implacable. Ranma felt as if his heart had stopped... then started again, fueled with liquid fire and crushing pain. Words came, all but ripped from an echoing presence that slammed into his breaking sense of self.
"...Nova Flare..." change rippled through the figure floating before Saffron, despite the heat, despite the chaotic waters of Jusendo. Long-unused mana conduits snapped into place, as the figure raised her right hand, fingers splayed out before her. All the power within Jusendo whorled about behind her, yet she eclipsed it. A raging sun seemed to spin behind that figure, casting all her features into shadow – all but her eyes. Those regarded the Phoenix Lord with a cold calculation, burning as if they were windows into the maelstrom that shadow held in check at its back. There in the air before the terrible figure floated a suddenly present blade. It was simple and archaic of design, unremarkable except that it burned as bright as an angry star. Blade down, it seemed poised, ready to strike even without a hand to wield it.
Ranma had no such hesitation. One slender hand wrapped around the simple hilt, as if it were made for her and her alone. With a roaring scream, she threw the final safeguards that screamed for her to stop into the wind. "...!"
Her scream tore the heavens
Her soul seemed to be made of liquid fire.
Luminous eyes focused on the one who had taken, and burned, and dared to step into her domain. The wheel of destruction turned once, while the two beings stared into each other's souls across the desolation they had wrought. Saffron babbled in incoherent fear at the thing quietly judging, and he knew damning him.
The shadow blinked once, slowly, before a hollow voice that echoed out of blaze it contained and compressed seemed to boom outward. "Event Horizon."
Jusendo ceased to be, under the light of a second fierce, brief, all-consuming sun.
The most common of magical senses, Sailor Mercury described it once, resembled something akin to sitting in a still pool with a bunch of other people, and trying to feel the small ripples everyone made as they moved. When someone shifted, the ripples would spread, and if one concentrated and understood the subtleties they held, could be read.
In that regard, almost everyone around the world who had some semblance of ability to sense the magical currents felt the sudden impact of a Buick being dropped in their calm little swimming pool.
At T.A. Girls' Academy, Rei Hino seized up in her chair, staring forward blankly. Around her, schoolmates began to whisper and ask if she was alright, when a slight trickle of blood began to seep from her nose. Seizures briefly overtook the shrine maiden, before she fell forward insensate in her desk.
The other Guardian Senshi, in their civilian guises at Juuban Municipal High School, suddenly found themselves with massive headaches. Usagi Tsukino however, either because of her more sensitive nature and greater power potential, or because of the presence of the Ginzuishō within her, didn't feel the ripples, so much as heard the backlash echoing along the magical ether. Regadless, it still gave her one hell of a migraine.
Of the so-called Outer Senshi, only Setsuna Meiou truly understood the sudden pain that washed over them, though to Hotaru, there was a sense of... similarity.
Pluto's Guardian dropped the papers she was currently copying in the teacher's lounge at Juuban Municipal High School, staring blankly into nothing as a look of muted horror crept over her features. "...no. Not possible. Not possible!"
The administration would receive her resignation later that day, citing ongoing family emergency.
Far from Earth, the ripples were felt as well, and a long-sleeping presence came aware with a roar that made the surface of the sun ripple as if it were made of water.
Part Two: A Meeting of Minds
The emergency meeting of the Senshi called by both Pluto and Sailor Moon got a few of their number in trouble, as the use of any kind of telephone or pager was banned during the school day. Most took their reprimand in stride, or managed to lie convincingly enough to squeak by saying they were having a family emergency, and could they please make sure at the office before dashing away with haste.
Setsuna managed to get excuses written and registered for everyone attending Juuban Municipal High School, which left Rei, Usa, and Hotaru to fend for themselves. Having dealt with this sort of thing often, most teachers didn't bat an eye, once excuses were made and given. It was Juuban, after all, and one thing that the Minato-based city understood was emergencies.
In a show of precisely how serious things were, Setsuna herself collected Rei, after contacting her grandfather. The sight that met the remaining Senshi and Lunar Cats as they arrived was not one they'd expected. There on one of the couches in the semi-official 'Senshi Clubhouse' at Hikawa Shrine, Rei rested sleeping with her head on slightly humming Setsuna's lap, as the tall, dusky-skinned woman ran her fingers through the unconscious teen's hair.
"Oh god, is she alright?"
Pluto's Guardian looked up at a worried Usagi Tsukino, nodding with a finger to her lips. Her voice, though quiet, carried across the room easily. "She'll be fine. I'm sure you all felt that, earlier?" Seeing the out-of-uniform Senshi nod, the elder Guardian indicated her insensate charge. "Rei is more sensitive to those kinds of things than any of us, except perhaps you. She however lacks the buffer of the Ginzuishō to protect her, and there were... other issues.
"But come, sit. Make yourselves comfortable. This will take some time to explain."
Once the totality of their ranks, minus Mamoru Chiba who could not escape college abroad in time, had arrived and settled, Pluto began to explain what had happened. "What everyone felt earlier was a mana-tap engaging, and a Star Seed going active."
"A new Senshi?" Minako looked dubious, feeling justified in her suspicion. The Galaxia fiasco with all the new or fake Senshi left all those present a little wary of new additions to the ranks.
Setsuna hesitated, before nodding slowly. "...yes. Somewhat."
Makoto came into the room from the attached kitchenette, a frown on her face as she sat down two plates of snacks she'd quickly put together, knowing that the meeting would go smoother with some distractions. "Not to sound too negative, but why? I think we've got things covered." Nodding to Hotaru, the athletic girl continued, "We have more than enough power, and a final Ace in Saturn and Moon if we absolutely need it."
"And that, Makoto, is relevant," Setsuna agreed, before turning to her housemates. "Haruka, Michiru, Hotaru... did any of you retain memories of, or were involved in the Silence Project?"
Three heads shook, bemused, while Artemis seemed thoughtful by Minako's side. "I recall something... related. I wasn't cleared for data, but there was a lot of talk around the Palace. Rumor and speculation."
"What do you recall?"
The white Lunar Cat bowed his head, sorting his thoughts at Setsuna's prompting. "Not much. There was... ah. A battleship commissioned for near-star environments. Before the destruction of Nemesis, most of the Seralite ore for a decade had been funneled into its creation."
Michiru tapped her chin thoughtfully. "I recall that... mineral?" Seeing the Cat's nod, she continued, "Yes. I think Neptune had some small deposits. They weren't worth mining, however."
"Nemesis was the primary source," Artemis continued, his expression relaying a thoughtful frown. "Seralite is an energy-damping mineral, used in Seratic alloys. The only use for those was in..." the Cat's eyes narrowed to tiny slits, as fragmented memory resolved into coherence. "...no. It's not possible."
While Artemis mumbled denials to himself, ignoring the comfort Minako was trying to offer, Setsuna picked up the story. "Seratic alloys were used in ZPG bombs, as payload shields. Those weapons were part of the Imperial Armada's planet-killer armaments." Seeing the looks of shock around the room, the elder Senshi sighed. "None of you are ready for this, but we suddenly have no time to gently ease you into the knowledge or understanding needed.
"The Silver Millennium achieved the peace it did, in the same way any other culture did. We made war – terrible, unthinkable wars – on those that endangered our views. Serenity herself acted as Admiral for many of those battles, after her own mother's death in combat. It was by her decree alone that such weapons were used. And they were. Seventy-two times."
Usagi felt the world collapsing from beneath her, as a chill ran up her spine. "...my mother, Queen Serenity... destroyed entire worlds?"
Setsuna heaved a weary sigh, her fingers stilling in Rei's hair. "Sometimes. When those governments threatened other worlds or solar systems, and there was no chance of peace. Some races among the stars have no concept of such things, after all," the elder Senshi explained. "There are some space-faring races out there that exist as nothing so much as planet-devouring locusts.
"Sometimes we would lose entire planets to things beyond this universe, to which a quick death was a mercy," Setsuna recalled with a shiver. "The Silver Millennium you all recall built its foundations on those wars. That peace was found from them."
"How does that relate to what we felt earlier, though?" Haruka asked, her foot bouncing nervously. She had fragmented memories regarding her previous incarnation's opinions of ZPG weapons, and it worried her. She knew she was more hot-tempered and prone to violence than many of the other Senshi, but that she felt a chill at considering those weapons made her very, very nervous.
Wringing her hands, Setsuna's lips pursed in thought. "Usa?"
Shaking her head, the wide-eyed child offered nothing.
"Damn it," the Guardian of Time muttered in resignation, before settling in to relay the Empires dirty secrets. She had hoped some of the security locks on the time-traveling youth's memories had been triggered. "It all ties together. But you need some background first, to put it in perspective."
"The Silence Project was one of two experimental research projects, and the only one accepted to go forward," Setsuna began. "The idea was to give control to the kind of that kind of destruction, that offered by the ZPGs and other massively dangerous weapons, to a human. To a Senshi, specifically, bound by the will and decree of the Queen, and loyal to the Empire. Obviously there was a lot of anxiety about the weapons used by the Empire in previous wars, and no one wanted that kind of destruction simply forgotten to be found and used accidentally, or purposefully later.
"A Senshi was the obvious choice, for such power. With a planetary mana-tap in place, they were reusable, efficient, and ultimately more humane, most figured.
"Most of the fleets and weapons were decommissioned, and the ships recycled into the biosphere engines for the many planets in this solar system," Setsuna continued, eyes distant in memory. "Oh, there were many ships that remained, and the Queens... ah, flagship was untouched. We may have wanted peace, but we were always prepared to defend it."
Offering Hotaru an apologetic glance, she went on. "The Silence Project resulted in the current powers of Saturn's Senshi. By utilizing the entropic principal, they isolated the keys for that immense power, and imprinted that onto an existing Star Seed. This came at a cost, as it destabilized the Seed, as entropy is essentially an uncontrollable force, but within limits, it can be directed."
Many eyes turned to one of their youngest, as Usa offered Hotaru her shoulder. The beleaguered Senshi took the offer, eyes distant. "...I was made to be a weapon?"
"You were given vast powers, but you were not simply a weapon," Setsuna asserted firmly. "There were concerns on your awakening, and there had been some worry about your Star Seed's cohesion and integrity. Those caused your last incarnation to be less than stable at times, and sadly, resulted in containment."
Usagi frowned severely. "Containment?"
"Hotaru's previous life was spent mostly in stasis," Setsuna explained, looking stricken. "It had to be. She wasn't healthy or stable enough to live a normal life.
"Which brings us to the Firebird Project, and why it was ultimately scrapped... or so we thought."
Curious glances were exchanged, while Rei stirred, offering Pluto a curious glance. "Why am I in your lap?"
"You were hit pretty hard by some spiritual backlash," the elder Senshi explained wryly. "And... well. It was comfortable for me too."
Smiling ruefully, Rei sat up and stretched. "You started without me?"
Setsuna nodded. "It's important. Try to follow along, but get Ami to give you the abridged version later. I'm only now getting to the important part, anyway."
Nodding, the shrine maiden sat but didn't move away. She was still shaken by what she'd felt earlier, and of them all, Setsuna was a solid, comforting presence. Something she needed, at that moment.
"Firebird," Pluto's Guardian began solemnly, "was the next step up from the Silence Project that resulted in the Saturn's power set. Scientists as usual wanted to make more efficient and destructive tools, and with the equivalent to ZPGs attained, they wanted to move on to the next step.
"Project Firebird was an attempt to bind a Senshi to a star, to give them the kind of power needed to destroy one."
A clatter from the table near Hotaru drew the shocked Senshi's attention, as Usa seemed to twitch violently for a moment, before slumping. Her spilled drink lay forgotten, as it dripped onto the floor. Shaking her head, the pink-haired girl took a few gasping breaths. "Sorry... sorry. Memories. Locked information catching up to the now."
Setsuna leaned forward intently. "And?"
"She's awake," the girl sometimes referred to as Chibiusa muttered distantly. "The Starkiller is awake."
Falling backwards into the couch, Setsuna rubbed at her forehead with her palm. Locked memories of events meant that she or the Queen had done so. There could be any number of reasons for this, but the usual, most common one was distrust. The potential to reach out and tweak events slightly to prevent some horrible outcome was too tempting, she knew. Lacking the frame to put it into, such knowledge was useless. However, such surprises still rankled. "This is not good. Not at all."
Haruka looked around the room anxiously, her irritation with such meetings spiking. She was a person made to act, not sit and talk and plan. "Alright, so? Is she a homicidal maniac, a new enemy, or what?"
"Oh we don't want her as an enemy," Usa squeaked with a shiver. "But she's... not entirely stable. Not now, anyway."
"One of the problems with the initial project," Setsuna tiredly interjected before the chatter could begin, "was that no human, Senshi or otherwise, could think or hope to control a mana-tap to a star. There were hundreds of limiters put in place, to reduce the power conduit to a level a Senshi could control... but the system wasn't perfected. In fact, the only acceptable way to stabilize such a Star Seed was through rebirth."
Hotaru jumped a bit at that. "Is that why I've been feeling better? Why my memories say I should be... well worse, but I'm not?"
Pluto nodded once. "Each rebirth adds a layer of strength to your Star Seed, much the way a pearl forms. Experience and life harden them, in a way of thinking. You've been reborn twice now – once with the Fall, once from your fight with Tau Nebula. Your Seed is nearly flawless now, by my estimation.
"But, we didn't know that when Project Firebird was put in place. So, those limiters were built into a starship, which was built, housed, and provided a base for the future Senshi Solaris. The ship was fittingly named A Tragic Yet Beautiful End, or the Beautiful End for short, as it was never officially launched, and the onboard AI was never named. It was also her weapon's platform," Time's Guardian explained distantly. "Then, once the miscalculations with Project Silence became apparent, the entire Firebird plan was scrapped. Too dangerous, too uncontrollable."
"So, why is she active, then?"
Setsuna considered Ami's question pensively. "The Firebird team were... extremists. The old war-hawks of the Empire. They had acquired enough funding to continue covertly from the Beautiful End itself, I think. I know the ship was completed, but the Star Seed research had time projections much more demanding. I don't know, really. Anything beyond the official material I was allowed is just rumor and speculation, at this point," the green-haired woman admitted. "My best guess at this point is that they completed the Star Seed and mana-tap, but never fully awakened Solaris. After the Fall, without resources to call on or ports to dock, the Beautiful End likely went derelict. Possibly the crew suicided to keep the Firebird project from falling into Beryl's hands, even," she admitted.
Minako shivered. "That's terrible."
"These people were part of the Empire's engine of war," Setsuna reminded them. "To them, the Empire came first – everything else, life, homes, family, were second."
Haruka grumbled. "I still don't see the problem. Hotaru's fine. Why won't this person be alright as well?"
Ami chimed in then, biting her lip in thought occasionally. "Those limiters, without servicing, they'd degrade. Especially without use. Not to mention the fact that the starship housing them could be utterly destroyed now, after ten millienia. For them to suddenly go active... how many are left functional? How many would just break?" The room went quiet at that. "Would the mana-tap simply overwhelm Solaris? Do we want to think about a Star Seed funneling a star's fury from the surface of Earth?"
The somber mood was broken by Setsuna once again. "Ami, see what the Mercury computer has to say about Solaris. Usagi and I can give clearance for any Firebird related data, and hopefully if the Beautiful End as well if it is still active, or capable of being reached."
Nodding, Mercury's Guardian went to work. As expected, Project Firebird had been locked, and did need confirmation from both the royal line and the acting Time Guardian to access. "Hmm. It looks like the data here matches what you'd explained. Firebird's Star Seed was bound to the mana-tap, but they were still looking for a suitable Senshi when the Fall hit."
"How could a Senshi that wasn't active then, become active now, though?" Usagi asked. "I thought only the current Senshi were moved forward."
Ami considered the question for a long moment, before speaking. "I think... for the most part, a Star Seed is eternal. We saw how the system worked with Galaxia. When any being with a Seed of any type dies, that core is pulled into subspace, then cycled to a new life-force. We perceived that as the Cauldron. Only the Star Seeds of Senshi have some controls put on them, seeking out worthy and compatible hosts."
"Simple, but close enough," Setsuna allowed, knowing more of the details that were irrelevant for the moment. "So, you're thinking the Seed, having been left alone long enough, started its own cycle of rebirth?"
"We can hope so," Ami offered with a tight smile. "At least that way the flaws would be stabilized somewhat." Resuming her typing, the young genius frowned. "On the Beautiful End..." she shook her head for a moment. "There's an access delay for current data. The Lunar Relay is really active for some reason."
Setsuna considered that with a slight frown. "Sounds like it woke up."
"It is a 'smart ship', according to the data here," Ami explained. "The vessel has a potential crew berth of about thirty, but has one of the most advanced AI I've ever heard of, capable of functioning at full potential with just Solaris on board. Oh, and the structural notes are here... good god. The entire ship is made of Seratic alloys. What did they do with that thing?"
Moving from the couch, Setsuna guided Ami into coaxing more data from her computer, organizing it into a holographic display. "The Beautiful End, as I said, was the weapon's platform for Solaris. The ship's design was made to compliment her powers, so it was necessary for it to also withstand them. The details of Firebird I may be lacking on, but this ship... it was a terrible wonder. It earned its name."
With a creeping dread, Michiru asked a question she'd set aside, that stuck with her from earlier. "What kind of payload did ZPG bombs contain?"
"Destabilized singularities," Setsuna replied quietly. "Miniature black holes."
Hotaru sat back, eyes wide. "And I thought my Glaive was overkill."
Setsuna chuckled darkly. "Yes. Solaris' projected abilities were not to be trifled with, nor was her ship's," she demonstrated, gesturing to the hologram of a long, black, dangerous looking vessel. The central body was narrow and sleek, and branched out into two sloping tines, much like a short tuning fork at the front. Halfway down the ship's upper hull, a pair of what looked like engines swept out and back, but they bore no familiar nozzles or vents. Below those nacells, as Setsuna called them, a pair of shortened wings swept, though they angled forward rather than back. They didn't look capable of flight, but Pluto reminded them that this was a ship made for space, not that it would matter. Below and behind them, another pair of engine pods swept back, totaling four. Despite the many visibly recognizable components, the ship had a nearly organic sleekness, like it was made for water more than space or atmosphere.
"The Beautiful End was designed to literally dive into stars," Pluto's Guardian explained, indicating the ship's structure. "It doesn't use conventional propulsion by either Imperial Spacy or current understanding. It can't, as such methods would ultimately fail in the heart of a star.
"Once in position," she continued, indicating Ami should begin a program attached to the ship's data file, "the ship would initiate deployment configuration." The hologram showed the ship changing, as the forward hull extensions moved together to form a single uniform surface, while the upper engine nacells shifted forward nearly to the bridge location. Once that had occurred, the ship literally broke in half, around a central, spherical object that blinked balefully within the display. "The Beautiful End in this configuration protects Solaris from the pressures within a star, while exposing it to her power."
The display zoomed out suddenly, though there was a window indicating the previous view. Suddenly, the Senshi were looking at a table-sized representation of an active star. Solar flares, sunspots, and corona arced and spotted its surface. Though muted in intensity, it was still bright and mesmerizing to those who had never seen such a thing before. The view was not to last. Within the window, the sphere cradled between the ship's two sections shrank suddenly, becoming eye-wateringly dark in contrast.
All activity shown on the star ceased, as it dimmed rapidly. Within the zoomed display, the Beautiful End tipped, so that it stood vertical to its previous orientation. The lower half inverted, as the engines split in half. Above, the process repeated, until it seemed like the sphere between them was held in a lose grip formed by the engines. The star itself seemed to be experiencing a shearing process, as various layers separated from one another, visible in differing grades of brightness. Explosions of frenzied activity from rapid changes in pressure within the solar body blasted the outer corona off, in an expanding wave of nuclear fire. Another window snapped into being, showing a further distant view, with the orbits of imagined planets outlined in glimmering lights. The first two inner orbits winked out, as the star's outer layer consumed them.
All eyes watched the death of the star, as it was drawn with startling rapidity inwards on itself, the nova-like explosions coming more rapidly. Those shockwaves reached the fourth of the nine orbits, and it too was erased from the display. Soon, pressure regulated and the star ceased its death-throes, as all that it had been shrank down to a blinding point, contained within the cradle of the Beautiful End, whose talons opened menacingly to expose a roiling mass of contained fury that made up all but a fraction of the star's previous material, crushed under unimaginable forces.
Then, hell was unleashed.
A massive bowshock of power ripped out from that central point, expanding in a luminous torus that left behind eddies of star-stuff that resembled seafoam. Faster than any of the other explosions, it took only a fraction of a minute for this wave of condensed and focused destruction to reach the final orbit, annihilating it without pause.
The display zoomed again. A sphere of icy debris was displayed, around a dim and distant star. In fast forward, the process repeated. A few seconds later, that icy shell was split in half like an egg.
Again, more distant. Faster, the replay cycled. Now, the star seemed to barely be larger than any other in a familiar sky. The view was apparently from above, and as the massive detonation took place, the Senshi were shocked to see that the extent of the explosion reached from the pinprick of light to nearly the size of a golf ball.
Usagi was openly crying at the potential for destruction, while the other Senshi sat in various stages of shock and awe. "...why? Why was such a thing needed? How could it be?"
Back in her position beside Rei, Setsuna shook her head slowly. "War is awful, but consider the mindset at the time. The Empire had settled here, finding this solar system the most compatible. That was after nearly three centuries of interstellar war. Yes, everyone wanted peace. Yes, the Silver Millennium worked to ensure it. But in the process, we had made many enemies. Enemies as powerful as we were.
"They too had weapons like Solaris," Setsuna allowed finally, dropping the final shoe. "A star is a delicate engine. They fail so easily, if attacked properly. Solaris was our assurance that if any attacked the place we called home, that they too would fall. Or, that we annihilated them before they struck at our homes."
"Mutually assured destruction," Makoto added in a haunted voice. "Funny. It was bad enough when we talked about nuclear weapons in history class. This... this is just unreal."
Ami chimed in, as the hologram showed the ship's evolution reversing around that terrible sphere. "Ok, the Lunar Relay has caught up with the incoming data. It started getting inbound transmissions from the ship half an hour ago, with a variance of around eight minutes. Standard non-emergency but high-priority channels." She looked up, visibly worried. "It took the same clearance that Usagi and Setsuna gave me to even decrypt it."
Striking a few more keys, Ami patched into the repeating signal. A symbol with Lunarian glyphs surrounded it, depicting a shield or sun disc, with a black sword crossed vertically before it spun lazily as playback began. "...erial COV, Assassin Class, designation A Tragic Yet Beautiful End, requesting medical docking privileges and a refurbishing berth. Priority passenger designation Firebird onboard. No other crew," a dulcet female soprano announced through the computer's speakers. "Repeat. Hailing all Silver Empire stations, carriers, motherships, flagships. This is the Imperial COV, Assassin Class, designation A Tragic Yet..."
Standing, Pluto's Guardian spared the collected off-duty Senshi a slight smile. "I'll go begin the Luna Darkside Station's docking cycle. You all can..." She trailed off, as everyone stood, faces resolute. "...come along as well, if you like?"
"Like we'd miss it," Haruka chimed in, throwing an arm around her adopted daughter and lover.
Usagi moved to give her future-daughter a hug, as the talked quietly in whispers. The other Senshi gravitated together as well.
Nodding, Setsuna was glad of the support. Even after so many thousands of years, the ghosts of the Fall still bothered her, when visiting points from their history. Having the Senshi with her would ease that, she knew.
Giving her pink-haired daughter a final hug, Usagi grimly faced her soldiers. "Alright. Lets get going."
Ranma woke, and immediately wished she hadn't. Pain seemed to be the totality of her world, as pins and needles alternated with fire and biting cold, with each beat of her heart. Despite her efforts, a weak whimper escaped her lips.
"..." a dulcet voice addressed her, in a language she didn't understand. Gathering herself, the redheaded aquatranssexual took a bracing breath, that felt far too hard to draw in. "What? Who is that?"
While she waited for an answer, Ranma tried to open her eyes, only to blink at the sudden sting of liquid, and the awareness she was submerged in some kind of fluid. Panicking, she strained against the restraints that held her, as the voice babbled on, in a tone she supposed was meant to be soothing.
All it did was fan the flames burning through her, however. "Let me out of this," she tried to scream, only now realizing that she was talking through the thick muck she was in, and had been breathing it the entire time. Desperate, she tried to focus her ki, drawing it up and into her arms, only to scream as the fires in her veins ignited with new fury. Slumping, she panted, hating the feel of something so substantial in her lungs, how it slid down her throat and through her nose. Shuddering, Ranma focused on anything else, even preferring to open her eyes again.
The world was tinted blue, distorted by a rounded glassy wall before her. Beyond it she could see a room that looked vaguely medical, reminiscent of the few times she'd been to a hospital or Dr. Tofu's clinic. It was lit dimly, and she couldn't make out details at all. Gathering her strength against the pain again, she tried addressing her unseen captors once more, "Who's there? Lemme out of this thing!"
There was a spattering of high speed babble once more, before it slowed, "...command interface request. Language selection: Sol:Terra:Asia:Japan. Is this selection acceptable?"
Ranma boggled for a moment, before replying, "Uh, yeah. Japanese is fine."
"Operator designation Solaris, language selection accepted," the female voice sounded pleased. "Warning," it began in a more uncertain tone, "Post emergency evacuation, your medical status demanded immediate suspension in a rejuvenation matrix. Please do not struggle, as this may aggravate your wounds."
The redhead followed most of what was said, and could infer the rest, though the headache that she'd had since waking was really scrambling her brain. "I was hurt."
"Affirmative, Operator Solaris."
"Um, who are you talking to? My name's Ranma. Ranma Saotome."
There was a pause, while she assumed the voice was thinking. Where was the person speaking? She didn't see anyone in the room... "Query, Operator Solaris – do you wish to be referred to as Ranma Saotome while in a nascent state?"
Ranma wished she could move her hands, so she could rub at her aching head. "What do mean, nascent?"
"Unpowered, deactivated, at rest. Currently, access to your mana-tap is operating at minimum. This state would qualify."
Resisting the urge to sigh, Ranma voiced her partial understanding, ignoring that she had no idea what the hell a mana-tap was. It would seem she'd gotten herself into another stupid situation that would probably require her doing something embarrassing. Waking up female certainly pointed that direction. "Yeah, sure, whatever. Uh, when would I be called Solaris then?"
"Solaris designation is currently set to five percent conduit utilization and above, the minimum to activate passive defensive armor."
Letting her head rest back against the odd brace behind it, Ranma closed her eyes. "...alright, whatever. Not like I have any idea what you're talking about anyway. Armor? Conduit?"
There was a brief pause. "Operator Ranma Saotome is cleared for all Project Firebird data, errata, and available logs, archives, and status reports. Would Operator Ranma Saotome desire a status summary?"
Gritting her teeth at the strange situation she was stuck in, Ranma could only lay where she was and fume. "Uh, maybe later. And just call me by... designation, or whatever. No need to call me Operator this or that every time. In fact, lets just stick with Ranma. Who are you?"
"Current designation for shipboard AI is identical to said ship's callsign, or the more manageable, Beautiful End. Current command interface invocation methods include – computer, AI, Beautiful End, ship-"
"Alright, alright, I get it," Ranma muttered, closing her eyes. "You're the brain of this ship, you said. Not that I've heard of anything like that before outside of anime, but alright. But don't you have a name? Like a real name?"
The ship's AI paused, before it voiced a negative. "Current invocation methods have been sufficient. No secondary callsign has been assigned. Would you like to add a secondary callsign or invocation?"
"God, thing reminds me of Gosunkugi talking about invoking this and that," the redhead muttered, before shaking her head. "Nah, not yet. I don't even know what you look like. Kind of hard to come up with a name, without that, I guess."
"Current command invocation can assume a hard-light or holographic interface assistant method. Would this be acceptable?"
Ranma was beginning to wonder if she'd need a manual just to get straight answers from the thing talking with her. "Yeah, sure."
Just inside the glass tube's wall, a hazy representation of a woman sprang into being, ethereal and blue like the odd fluid she was suspended in. She had a Hime haircut, with bangs, the sides kept just short of her shoulders, and with the back long and flowing. Around her shoulders she wore a draping robe that folded to one side, fastening to the opposite shoulder, before draping with a flourish. It had an oddly formal-military feel, despite being the sort of thing Ranma would expect to see at a ballroom dance. Under the robe she could tell the figure was lithe, slim, and understated in proportions.
Despite her unique appearance, Ranma was most interested in her eyes. A darker blue than the rest of the projection, they flickered with odd symbols constantly, almost fast enough to resemble static.
Ranma was startled out of her inspection by the odd image speaking. "Is current visual representation acceptable?"
"Uh," Ranma murmured, resisting the urge to shrug, due to her restraints. "I guess?"
The image blinked, tilting its head to the side slightly. "Clarification – current command interface would be most agreeable to being regarded in a familiar fashion, to facilitate better and more fluid communication with its primary Operator. Ship designation Beautiful End is classified as an infiltration and strategic assault vessel. May the command interface access current gross-network radio congestion to better acquire a suitable visual avatar?"
Closing her eyes tight, Ranma growled. "Smaller words, please. I'm not dumb, but you're going over my head in places. I'm a martial artist, not a scientist." Though, the note about the ship's purpose got her attention. Ranma found the idea that she was on a warship of some sort interesting.
"Apologies," the image did a strange tilting bow. "The ship's AI requests permission to access the global networks for a more appropriate form of dress and appearance, matching the ship's commissioned purpose. It is the AI's hope this would ease interface-user interaction."
"Sure, and while you're at it, learn to talk normal," Ranma groused, eye twitching slightly.
The image blinked at her, then faded from view. "Affirmative, Operator. Visual interface suspended while data analysis proceeds."
With the loss of something outside of her blue prison to look at, Ranma felt suddenly claustrophobic. "Hey, can I get out of here?"
"Apologies. Ship AI's priority is to the current Operator's health. Acceptable level of rejuvenation will be achieved in approximately one hour. Optimal levels would be achieved in three."
Sighing within the blue muck, Ranma figured it could be worse. She could be laid up for a week in the blue stuff. Trying to calm and relax, she thought back on how she got... wherever she happened to be. Annoyingly, the memories were hazy, hard to grasp. "I remember Jusendo... fighting with Saffron. Then Aka... ne... oh." Akane was gone, Ranma realized with a painful wrench in her chest.
Saffron had burned her dehydrated form to ash, and at the time, there was nothing she could have done to stop it. The Phoenix Pill made her nearly invulnerable to heat, and it simply hadn't registered to Ranma at the time how hot it had been. It wasn't until her clothes began to flare up without the touch of fire that she'd realized how bad things had gotten. By then, it was too late for the Soul of Ice to help.
"There was so much fire," the redhead murmured, her mind's eye swimming in remembered flames. "He didn't care what burned. Everything, even his own people..." Ranma recalled how the people who'd followed from Nerima had finally had to flee, as things became so hot that the air randomly ignited. She remembered the cyclone of fire and wind that had cracked open a mountain like a boiled egg, scattering everything on it across the valley in a flow of molten rock and burning hell. Remembered seeing her friends and family fleeing into that mountain, moments before the combined power of her and Saffron's attacks tore it apart from within.
She recalled feeling like there just wasn't a point, or anything she could do, then. Something had changed with the Soul of Ice, and rather than repelling heat, she seemed to draw it in. No, it wasn't the Soul of Ice... it was her that had changed. Something about all the magic, the fire surrounding her on all sides, the pressure and the strange eye of calm around her has sparked... not memory. Instinct. Then, it was like someone had pushed a technique into her head, she knew how to do something that would permanently stop the Phoenix Lord from ever hurting anyone again.
The memories were hazy, though. She recalled... drawing in the heat. Like she was some kind of vacuum for power, a forever-spinning core to a Hiryū Shōten Ha. It was strange and familiar and just right, Ranma felt.
With a jolt, she recalled how the ki felt as it burned through her, filling her up so much that it blazed out behind her. It was like she was made of the stuff. Shivering, Ranma tried to remember if there'd ever been a time she had so much power before, or even felt something that powerful. She wasn't surprised to draw a blank. "What the hell's happening to me..." she muttered quietly, trying to recall what had happened after she'd began stripping power off Saffron faster than his supposedly immortal body could produce it.
Her mind's eye pictured a sword, and some words she felt the itch to speak, but refused. Then... "...felt like I packed it all into a little ball, like an egg, then cracked the shell."
From that point forward, however, her memory was foggy. Just images of mountains going molten, distant trees flaring up like matches, the air burning white and angry for a split second, before the sound hit, and then everything shook. The sound alone had stripped trees bare, those that hadn't been immolated, and cracked boulders near the epicenter. The wash of force after hadn't broken the land, but had annihilated it in an expanding wake of destruction. "Like a... a bomb went off," she noted distantly, horrified to her core.
Shaking off the memories, Ranma tried to feel something, to dig past the numbness that wouldn't seem to leave her, but it was a futile effort. She knew, intellectually, the symptoms of emotional shock, but it was just so strange to be on the inside looking out.
She looked up at the familiar voice and more informal address. "Yeah?"
An image winked back into view, and despite her mental fugue, it made her smile ruefully. "After some research, cross-referencing, and analysis on current culture trends in fiction versus historic references, I have decided on this, for an avatar," the ship's AI declared, while Ranma took in the new view.
The haircut was the same, as was the face, but there the similarities ended. Instead of a strange foreign robe, the AI was wearing a kimono that seemed a few sizes too small. Opened to show off an impressive swell of breast – also new, she noted – the dark blue garment had long sleeves with a gap open at the shoulders, that trailed below the image's hands. Belted snugly, the flare of the material over the display's hips was very indicative of a firm and shapely rear, while the hem seemed cut far, far too high. Miniskirt high, Ranma noted.
It was probably the most indecent thing she'd ever seen with full coverage.
She'd have to ask the ship where to find one. "I like it," she offered finally, realizing she was nearly drooling into the blue goop she was floating in. "Now we just need to get you a name."
"With a new avatar image, that would be pleasant," the AI agreed. "This ensemble was based off a fictional ninja named Kurenai. As my current projection filters are all blue, rather than red that seems... unacceptable."
"Rissei," Ranma offered, after a moment's thought. "That or Sora."
The avatar seemed to consider those choices a moment, before nodding. "Rissei then. Rising blue."
Ranma smiled, her pains mostly eased at this point, "Nice to meet you, Rissei."
Bowing deeply, the new-named ship's AI gave her Operator a wide smile. "You as well, Ranma. However, I must warn you... protocol during operations demands appropriate address."
"Oh, I know I'm not gonna like this..."
"...therefore, during those periods, and especially when there are others aboard, I shall refer to you either as Operator, or Master."
Ranma could have sworn she saw a glint of mischief in the image's eyes, but couldn't be sure. Instead of a verbal counter, she just grumbled for a minute about upstart computers. This thing was reminding her way too much of Konatsu. Chuckling, the redhead smiled wanly. "Eh, well, whatever makes you happy, I guess. Good job, and I like how I can understand you now. Well, so far."
"I'll try to keep the jargon to a minimum," the scantily clad avatar offered with a grin, something else new. "Much has changed since I was last activated, though the quality of entertainment – this television – is still rather low."
"The bane of my subprocessor," the AI declared. "However, there is some good news.
"After I transported you to medical, I began an all-frequency distress signal, hoping to contact some help, and also dock for repairs. Luna Darkside Spaceport just opened a carrier signal, and we are under way to land."
Ranma put that together, and blanched. "Wait, you mean we're in space?"
Nodding, the avatar opened a display, representing the solar system. "Current achievable speed will have us arriving in twenty-seven minutes."
Inspecting the window, the redhead puzzled over something that didn't make sense. "Um, why is that line that's got the arrow going to the moon, starting in the sun?"
"Oh, that's because the Beautiful End has been 'soft docked' inside the sun's gravity well for the last ten-thousand years." Stretching, the image bounced, doing interesting things to its simulated physiology. "And it's great to finally move around again!"
"Parked in the sun," Ranma muttered, the reality she was on a space ship, talking to a computer, that was recently parked in the sun, and that would soon be docking on the moon finally hit her, and she agreeably decided it was nap time.
The Senshi arrived after some small time at the long-deserted Luna Darkside Spaceport, having taken their time to explore their surroundings as they traveled. While they oriented, Pluto excused herself briefly, returning after only a few minutes. "Had to set up the carrier signal," she explained shortly as they walked.
"Why don't we teleport like that more often?" Makoto asked, finding Pluto's methods much preferable to the group teleport the Senshi often resorted to.
Though she hid it well, Setsuna was very worn from that very action. "Mostly, because it is very draining. I can use my portals almost effortlessly, but to extend my time-slip field to cover a group our size makes me feel like I've been going toe-to-toe with Godzilla," the green-haired woman replied. "Though, I think we may be needing to adjust some of your power-throttles soon. Letting each of you teleport as individuals would be helpful."
Latching on to part of Pluto's explanation, Haruka balked, "Wait, our powers have been throttled? Since when?"
"Since your planetary taps have all been strained nearly to breaking, because those planets don't bear life anymore," Pluto replied, as the collective Senshi winced. "Though the mana-taps are still very functional, they do require some kind of energy to convert. Currently, most of that is geo-solar, and terribly inefficient.
"There is also the Ginzuishō to take into consideration," she murmured almost hesitantly. "I'm fairly sure that any of you who were reincarnated have your planetary taps routed through it. It would make sense, as it carried Serenity's will, and with very little error, managed to have you all incarnated with your Star Seeds within years of one another."
Sailor Moon didn't like the possibility that one of her weapons could also hurt her friends, if it was damaged. "So that's why you caution me about using it too much."
"Correct," Pluto replied. "It is also a manifestation of your own Star Seed. If it is destroyed, you will die. They will, likely, as well," she indicated the Senshi with a hand. "Until such time as the planetary conversion engines are restarted, it is best to not rely on the Ginzuishō any more than you absolutely have to."
"No wonder I hate that thing," Mars muttered, eying Sailor Moon's scepter critically.
The blonde in question laughed hesitantly, "Well, I'll uh, take better care of it, for sure."
Pluto smiled thinly at that assurance. She was mostly theorizing about the Silver Crystal, but then, too many things didn't add up unless the thing itself was bound to the other Senshi somehow. It also explained how so many dead planets could support the assorted Senshi, and their powers. It was one of those things she really wished Serenity had spoken with her about.
Her other suspicion she did not voice. Hopefully, if Senshi Solaris was actually active – and sane – they could kill a few birds with one stone, soon.
Mercury checked her ever-present computer against the floor plan, and the offered signs in dusty Lunarian. "We should be in the spaceport now. The Beautiful End has been docked for a few minutes, as well."
Taking that as a cue, Hotaru and Usa started searching for viewports. "Oh wow," Saturn chimed, standing by a window that the others had missed due to the fall of dust that coated them from the outside. This one had cleared recently, by all appearances, and offered a clear view of the docking area they would soon be arriving at. "Look at it, its so pretty."
The Senshi crowded the window then, each vying for a good look. Outside, the far side of the moon spread out in its heavily cratered glory, beyond the protective field of the station. That wasn't what drew their eyes, however. Docked yet hovering lightly where it rested with no apparent landing gear or support, the Beautiful End rested like an idle bird of prey. "That thing is sinister looking," Neptune commented, getting a few nods.
"Well, it is a warship," Venus countered. "I imagine they're supposed to look intimidating. Though, why is it all black?"
"I can imagine a number of reasons," Mercury replied. "It makes it harder to see in space, as it doesn't reflect light. Notice the matte finish. Probably has some sensory ablative coating as well, to make it hard to detect. Then of course there's the fact Seratic alloys are almost always a very dark color."
"Leave it to Mercury to take all the mystery out of our spooky new Senshi's ride," Chibi Moon teased, the short-haired genius replying only with a raspberry. "But I have to agree with Neptune. I'd hate to see that thing bearing down on me, even if I didn't know what the driver could do."
They moved on, a bit faster now with a clear goal in sight. "You know," Minako mused, "if Solaris isn't stingy, maybe we could use that thing."
Haruka snorted, "Yeah, but where would we park it? For that matter, how big is the Beautiful End?"
"About the size of say... a mid-range passenger plane," Ami approximated for their reference, though it wasn't very accurate, considering that the End's hull was much wider in places. "Forty meters or so in length, by fifteen wide. It has limited crew quarters, but easily enough space for fifteen. The maximum crew would require people share a room, though."
The blonde Outer Senshi whistled quietly. "That big, huh? So, Venus, where do you plan to park that thing?"
Eying Mars speculatively, Venus opened her mouth, only to get preceded by the fiery Senshi, "Oh no. It's bad enough hiding people from my grandfather, there's no way I can hide that thing too. And where would I put it? Park it on the shrine's roof?"
"Hey, you have a forest back behind the shrine."
"I'd like to keep it there, too," Mars shot back. "Besides, what would we need it for? Everything happens in Juuban for some reason."
"Not everything," Pluto disagreed. "There are a number of other groups out there, working for the same principals we do. Devil Hunters, organizations that seek out and deal with the paranormal, even a few other magical girl and boy teams that aren't affiliated with the Silver Millennium," she explained, getting a few surprised looks from everyone but Venus. "In fact, think there's one cybernetic agent in Japan that has a cat's brain and has repeatedly taken out assault helicopters, planes, and mecha that threaten her designated principal."
The other Senshi stopped moving altogether for a moment. "Wait. Cat-brain cyborg?" Sailor Moon looked dubious. "Is it like, some kinda mecha-panther with rocket launchers and a railgun?"
Pluto shook her head. "No. She's humanoid, other than her ears which are more like sensor booms. Rather cute, in an airheaded kind of way as well."
Uranus looked to her lover plaintively. "When did the world get stranger than us?"
"When it realized we worked in a union, dear," the aqua haired woman replied, getting a few snickers from the other Senshi.
Conversation died off as they entered the station proper, with its airlocks closed in many places due to damage taken during The Fall that would expose the structure to vacuum if they were opened. They noted Pluto's footprints as they moved on, passing the terminal she'd earlier activated to give the Beautiful End a valid docking berth.
The cavernous area they entered superficially resembled an airport, with small the airlocks they'd noted occurring in a fairly regular pattern around the circumference. It seemed most of the space in the central area was taken up by a single large support spire, that swept up gracefully before fluting out to form a more solid brace for the domed roof. The effect left the station's open space resembling a large doughnut or torus. The inner portions of that space were taken up by terminals, most of which seemed dusty or broken or both. Winding around those workstations was the central path they were following, and beyond that toward the outer walls were benches and couches, a few strange machines, and what looked like convenience stands or vendor booths. It was an oddly comforting and familiar concept, in such an alien location.
"So," Jupiter began, more to break the silence than anything. "What do we know so far of Solaris?"
"I did some tracking based on the kind of energy backlash we all felt that day," Mercury began, happy to distract herself as they walked through an eerily empty area the size of a football stadium. "The data I came up with places the first known spike at a location in China called Jusendo."
Sailor Moon considered that with a furrowed brow. "So she might be Chinese? Does anyone here know Chinese?"
"I do," Pluto assured her, "but there's more to it.
"Jusendo... as I said before, there is more out there than what we see in Juuban. Jusendo is one of those places. And though it does seem convenient, I don't think Solaris originates from there."
"Why not?" Rei inquired, frowning a the dust they stirred in passing.
Pluto considered simply supplying vague misleading comments to end the conversation, but relented. There was too much at stake, now, for the Senshi to begin distrusting her over her tendencies for enigma. "For one, it was a hotspot I've been keeping an eye on for some time. The people that are native to the area are fascinating, but only one had shown a capacity for anything more than your typical snapped postal worker."
"Maybe it was that one, then?" Venus offered, more to coax more information from Pluto than to really argue the point.
"Not likely. He was killed in the event that destroyed much of the mountain his people lived in and around," Pluto replied. "The same event that Mercury was speaking about. Also, I would hope it wasn't him – Saffron was at his best moments, ego-maniacal, vain, selfish, and a megalomaniac. It was just icing on the cake that he was an immortal Phoenix Lord as well."
The other girls paused at that. "Wanna run that last part by us again, Pluto?" Jupiter asked.
The green-haired Senshi laughed quietly. "As I said, there are more things at work out there than what we see in Juuban. If anything, I think Solaris likely originates from Nerima. A large number of people from that area came to Jusendo for some reason, immediately before the event."
"Nerima?" The brunette Senshi inquired again. "As in, 'The Nerima Wrecking Crew'?"
Venus smirked. "This have anything to do with your sempai again, Jupiter?"
The lightning Senshi blushed slightly, if in embarrassment or something else, the others couldn't tell. "Say what you like, but it's a distinct possibility. Nerima is known for the insane martial artists that live there. In some cases because they are actually insane, but for the most part because of how good they are."
"Why the funny nickname though," Usa casually asked.
Jupiter chuckled weakly. "At least two of them are known to occasionally take out city blocks when they meet. And most of them don't get along for one reason or another, so the full-scale brawls that happen are pretty... impressive, when it comes to property damage. As in making Haruka and Rei jealous."
"I'm getting better," Mars asserted in embarrassment.
"I have a magazine I get from a club in Furinkan I can show you when we get back," Jupiter replied. "Anyway, these guys get pretty scary at times." She paused, looking thoughtful. "Uh. Oh I hope it's not her."
"Her who?" Sailor Moon wondered, concerned over Jupiter's reaction.
"Kodachi Kuno. Martial artist with a focus on gymnastics, who happens to be mad as a hatter," Jupiter explained with a shudder.
Humming thoughtfully, Michiru brought up a valid point. "Well, based on your magazine, what other women are there from Nerima that Solaris could be?"
Jupiter considered that a moment, before snorting indelicately. "Well, to be honest, not many. That Tendo girl listed is more of a brute force type, though she's got a large fanclub. There's a Chinese immigrant or visitor – they're never clear – that's got skill. Oddly, a chef as well."
Sailor Moon perked up at that. "Ooh. That could be handy..."
The others chuckled at their leader's vice, while Jupiter considered the problem with a slight smile. "Well, as good as they are, the only really solid one is a strange case.
"Unlike the rest, they never do seem to decide on a name for her. It bounces between Ranko Tendo, and Ranma Saotome – which is really odd. Ranma's got a solid listing, but as a guy. They may be siblings or something, because the magazine says their skill set is nearly the same."
Uranus perked up at the possibility of another sparring partner, sharing Jupiter's enthusiasm. "What kind of skills?"
Makoto answered easily, "Both focused on a very solid aerial style. Though, no specific school ever gets listed. Pictures would identify 'perfectly executed blah' but half the time the school and styles are just all over the place. I'm thinking they practice something like Jeet Kune Do, which is more a way of thinking to apply to the Art, than a school of it."
"Hm, familiar with it," the blonde Outer Senshi replied with a nod. "So a multi-school prodigy?"
Nodding, the Senshi of Lightning stepped over a toppled chair. "Yeah. Though I have to wonder sometimes, if the club that does that magazine pushes a little too much CG into their photo clean up."
Ami chuckled, while behind them some few paces Usa gave a weak laugh. "So, a little embellishment?"
"Well, considering Ranko's most often pictured in mid-air, jumping out of third story windows, or over rooftops? Then there was that one issue where she was shooting beams out of her hands..." Jupiter laughed. "Maybe a little."
A few Senshi looked to Usa as she coughed, looking pale. "You OK back there, Spore?"
The junior Senshi glared at her mother, but nodded. "Y-Yeah. Just fine."
"Well, looks like this is it," Mercury noted, as they came to an active airlock. The lights and warnings all showed the docking umbilicus as being pressurized and bearing the same stale if usable atmosphere they were breathing as well. On a small screen nearby, a scroll of text seemed to repeat, then flash. "Huh, that's odd."
Pluto moved up beside her, as did Sailor Moon. "Indeed," the elder Senshi noted with some concern.
The green-haired Senshi considered Moon's question for a moment, before sighing. "The ship's AI is refusing to allow any kind of direct data connections with the station. Usually, docking ships form a slave connection to the main complex so that the facilities have the proper access. The Beautiful End is only allowing a restricted outbound control connection. Computer," she said in a more commanding tone.
A small holographic cube blinked into view before her. "Awaiting command."
"Why is the Beautiful End refusing full docking connections?"
"Onboard AI has a higher command priority. Station AI currently is not cleared to override."
Pluto cursed soundly, startling those nearby. "I was afraid of this."
Sailor Moon asserted herself into the 'conversation' then. "Um, why can't I just tell it to open up? That's worked so far."
Nodding, Pluto stepped back and cupped her chin, thinking. Meanwhile, the Moon Princess begged, ordered, wheedled, and finally threatened the AI of the Beautiful End, through the cube-like proxy. "Hold on," Pluto finally interrupted, ending the other Senshi's amusement over their leader's frustration. "Station, patch in to the Beautiful End AI. Request a command interface."
There was a moment's pause, before a full-size, humanoid hologram replaced the simple cube they had been dealing with. "Greetings," the ghostly form announced. "I am Rissei, command interface avatar of the Imperial COV, Assassin Class, designation A Tragic Yet Beautiful End."
Pluto regarded the skimpy outfit with some small surprise. Apparently, that was shared surprise, and in the case of Uranus case, some open appreciation. "Ah. Greetings, avatar. Why are you refusing direct commands from the royal line?"
Rissei, as the AI called itself, scanned each of them with a quick glance, before returning her attention to the Senshi of Time. "I do not recognize any present as being of direct lineage to The Serenity."
Pluto cursed. Of course it wouldn't. Serenity had only had time to put the most basic command routing in place before her own death, allowing the bearer of her child's Star Seed to be recognized. As such, there really was no 'direct blood' link between Usagi and Serenity. "This could be a problem," she muttered, hesitating for a moment before deciding to try reason, rather than force. "Rissei, you understand your AI has been offline for a long period, correct?"
"It was a basic thing to realize," the ship's avatar replied, with an amused tone.
Unused to dealing with advanced AI since the Settling War, Pluto schooled her annoyance at the snarky superprogram. "Right. Would you be willing to scan the Luna Darkside Station for final command protocols enacted by The Serenity before event termed 'The Fall'?"
The avatar narrowed its eyes at her, and Pluto had the distinct feeling that the AI was scanning her for ulterior motives, and plotting countermeasures. Idly, she made a decision to never interface an advanced AI into the Time Gates – she'd never get anything done. Finally, Rissei nodded slightly. "Assessing request. Query – current present agents represent the only registered entities allowed access to the Lunar Archive and Command Network. Is this AI granted access to data, based on present clearances, to ascertain command structure and priority?"
Pluto was growing impatient. "Yes, yes-"
"No, wait!" Mercury began, but trailed off as the Beautiful End's avatar sported a sudden malicious grin.
"Request processing," the scantily clad digital kunoichi purred, as various symbols flared to life around her. Her kimono acquired a more official theme, tattoos writhed then grew static, marking her exposed shoulders, and what appeared to be ranking insignia on bands around her sleeves and collar.
"What?" Pluto's eyes widened at the avatar's still-evolving display, before she turned to Mercury. "What the hell just happened?"
Rubbing at her temple, Mercury groaned. "The Beautiful End was a covert ops ship. You remember how I said its AI was capable of fully controlling the ship, with Solaris on board?"
"Think about it. The ship had to have a standing rank to do that... and it doesn't recognize the Rebirth Protocol..."
Pluto paled drastically. "Oh you sneaky bitch!" Turning back to the now-grinning avatar, the Senshi of Time stomped forward till she was nose-to-nose with the digital ninja. "You tricked me."
"Current conditions indicate a post-war situation, which under Lunarian Military Mandate, requires all standing officers to assess and react accordingly," the smug AI replied, as its display solidified and stabilized. "Initiating Emergency Protocol 'Eientei'," Rissei declared.
Mercury was furiously typing, while beside the avatar Pluto stumbled and fell. "No! Not yet, we're not ready!"
"What the hell is going on?!" Sailor Moon demanded, pretty much speaking for the other Senshi as well.
In a distant tone, Mercury began to explain, all the while typing furiously onto her computer. "Think of it like a command ladder. The Beautiful End's AI had military rank, but currently, no military other than the Beautiful End exists. Lunarian Military Mandate, as it said, allows for a kind of emergency 'rank up' provided the officer had clearance up to that point."
Pluto barked a triumphant laugh. "Rissei, verify my rank."
A second smaller representation of the avatar appeared before the still-sitting Pluto, staring into her eyes intently. "Deep scan complete. Greetings, Queen Pluto."
Again the Time Guardian cursed. "Right. Lineage preservation law. Can't be ranked in the military with an end-of-line crisis in place."
"It was an admirable attempt," the smaller avatar acknowledged with a grin, before disappearing.
"Well, so much for that," Pluto groused. "In the ranking system, a Princess Senshi would have superior rank to any ship captain, even above Vice-Admirals of fleets. Except when there isn't anyone of their bloodline still alive, to carry on the leadership of their planet," the elder Senshi muttered. "Then the Lineage preservation laws go into effect, automatically ejecting you from the military, to ensure the maintenance of the ruling order."
Sailor Moon looked between the three in a dizzy manner. "Uaaah, this is too complicated!"
Placing a hand on Moon's shoulder, Mars pulled the other Senshi back to the group. "Calm down. We just have to wait it out, I think. This isn't bad... yet. The ship I think is just doing what its programmed to, and honestly, in its place I can see how this would look like a pretty serious emergency."
"Whaddya mean?" Uranus growled out. "That stupid tin can is ignoring everything we try to do!"
"Think about it," Mars snapped back. "It's been sleeping for thousands of years. Suddenly, it wakes up, and the rest of the Empire it was part of is just gone. There are a bunch of supposed Senshi running around, but their planets are dead, and they don't carry the bloodlines from its records.
"Add in a questionable royal princess and one remaining Senshi Princess – er, Queen, sorry – giving it orders, while the one planet with life happens to be the staging ground for the assault triggering 'The Fall', and what would you do?"
Rissei turned her attention to Mars, nodding. "An accurate if brief summary. My protocols are prioritized as all other ranked AIs are. To the service of the Empire, above all other concerns. Currently, the Empire is in a state of emergency, as defined by previous standing orders and apparent conditions."
There was a shuddering rumble from deep underground, causing the Senshi to look about themselves warily. Saturn picked herself up from where she'd stumbled, "What was that?"
Mercury sighed, shaking her head. "No good. I can't hack her. Can't even access the main network now, since she's basically placed herself as the command interface for the entire damn Lunar Network. As to what that was... the Moon's primary deep-core generators just went online."
To demonstrate her statement, the station around them hummed to life, as lights brightened and the air began to circulate. Heaving herself to her feet, Mercury regarded the holographic representation of Rissei blandly. "Emergency Protocol 'Eientei'. What is it?"
"In defense of the Empire in the state of emergency, all assets available may be activated as seen fit by a ranking officer," Rissei dictated as if reading her words from text.
"Why did you reactivate the Moon's generators, then?"
The avatar blinked at her as if confused, while Pluto replied tiredly. "Mercury... the Moon isn't a naturally occurring satellite. Though it was decommissioned early in the settling of the Sol System, it was originally considered the largest mobile military station in the Empire. The Queen's flagship."
"So... kinda like the Death Star?" Venus quipped.
"...and that is precisely why I never mentioned it," Pluto grumbled, before returning her attention to the avatar who began speaking in a clinical, detached manner.
"Lunar Archive scanned and synchronized to local databanks," the image declared. "Gestalt power achieved. Initiating priming fire for main Lunar reactors."
Another roaring rumble shook the station, as the lights brightened, and more of the supposedly dead terminals came to hesitant life. Rissei's running report continued, "Lunar Network reestablished. Diagnostics commencing, with priority to Command Network integrity.
"Reactor status... unknown. Diverting power from untenanted levels to automated repair systems." The avatar paused, then flared for a moment, as her insignia changed yet again. "LCN online. Assuming primary control of the Lunar Command Network. Warning – massive disparity between recorded assets and present resources. Broad-spectrum diagnostics under way. Initiating primary 'Eientei' directive with current available assets. Bringing General Offensive Units Consensual Carnality, Is Not Amused and I Cast the First Stone online."
"Oh hell," Pluto muttered, slumping into a nearby seat.
Rissei continued undeterred as a number of small spinning symbols began to line up around her in a lazy orbit. "Bringing General System Vehicles I So Got This, This Side Up, Ethically Ambiguous, and The Usual Suspects online.
"Reactor 3-B-sub-9 has experienced a critical fault. Rerouting..." Rissei stated, as the lights flickered slightly. "Peak output nominal. Bringing General Contact Vehicles Now I'm Your Problem, Intelligent What?, Tools Are For the Transient Consciousness, and You Call This Culture? online."
The Senshi looked between one another nervously, while Usa banged her head against a wall repeatedly. "Is it just me," Sailor Moon muttered, "or do all these ships have very weird names?"
Mercury queried her personal database, grumbling about greedy AI avatars, "Those are other large-scale AI operated ships, like the Beautiful End. I think Rissei is organizing a think-tank to figure out what to do next."
"Still doesn't explain the names," Moon groused.
Rissei's report seemed to be winding down, "Planetary uplinks found offline. Scans indicate diverted mana-taps. Potential security breach... Emergency priority to determine cause." An intense light shot out of a device that had deployed from a nearby wall, running over the Senshi in the space it took to notice the thing. "Current agents identify against classified Star Seed records with minimal variation. Search return, "Rebirth Protocol" accepted under probationary status," the avatar finally confirmed, as the symbols around her stabilized, then lined up behind her like a halo, with her own bisected sun-disk sitting at the twelve o'clock position. "Assuming primary interface role for the collective active Empire ship-minds."
There was a pause, as the various symbols flickered too fast for the eye to follow. "Greetings, Senshi, Queen-regent Serenity. How may the Empire serve?"
"Oh now she gets polite," Pluto grumbled.
"Um," Sailor Moon hedged, as the digital kunoichi waited patiently. "Why did you go through all that, before listening to us?"
The symbols flashed, "To ensure the future of the Empire. Steps were needed to assure a reasonable defense was possible, as soon as possible. Priority was given to the reactivation of the available Empire Spacy forces. With the activation of Senshi Solaris, system-wide defense became a priority."
Rissei considered Sailor Moon's question for a moment. "Because her awakening could not be ignored by other powers. Attention has been drawn to the Empire, and the Empire must be prepared."
Sailor Moon slumped where she stood. "Figures."
"Well, we've waited long enough," Pluto declared, moving to stand before the avatar. "You've verified our identities. We need to speak with Solaris."
Pluto's teeth grinding could be heard around the room. "...what?"
"Operator designated 'Solaris' is currently undergoing medical treatment, and is unresponsive."
"We have a healer," Pluto indicated Saturn with a wave of her hand, "we can help. We just need to see her."
"You know, I'm beginning to dislike you."
Rissei smiled. "I will be sure to log that into permanent memory."
Usa covered up her giggles by banging her head into the wall again.
Part Three: Access Denied.
Ranma came back awake with a hard jolt. Across the ship, a cold familiar voice echoed eerily. "Access denied."
"Ugh," she desperately wanted to rub her head. "Rissei, what's going on?"
The ship's avatar appeared in a small cascade, forming an image of a female ninja in a very short kimono, that could barely be belted together. What appeared to be rank insignia were tattooed onto her skin at the shoulders, where her sleeves were absent. Behind her head orbited twelve small icons, looking like odd military symbols. "Greetings, Ranma. After docking at Luna Darkside where the guidance carrier was sent from, the station network alerted me to intruders. I locked down the Beautiful End as a precaution.
"There is some confusion over what has happened since my last activation... and though I admit the possibility of what has occurred may be possible, the mechanics of it confuse me."
"No more than how you usually talk does me," Ranma groused quietly. She understood the bulk of what Rissei said, but some of the references just flew over her head.
For the last few hours, her world still consisted only of the blue tank and the view of the medical bay, and that was beginning to truly annoy her. The less mentioned about reacquiring her birth form, the better, as she was already having issues with her temper. Strength was returning to her, however, and the restraints wouldn't be a problem, for much longer. As if sensing her thoughts, Rissei chimed in at that point. "Your recuperation has reached acceptable levels. Shall I drain the rejuvenation bay, and show you the rest of your ship?"
Ranma paused, blinking. "My ship?"
Rissei's image smiled. "Yes, Ranma. You are my Operator, the only one capable of truly utilizing the Beautiful End's potential. This is your ship, and only your ship, until one or the other ceases to be."
Somewhat stunned by that revelation, Ranma nodded. "Yeah... yeah. Get me out of this, and some hot water too, if you can. What about these intruders?"
"The cleansing bath will be warm," the avatar assured, as the blue suspension fluid drained away. "I'm afraid your clothing, however, was a loss. You were naked once your powered state faded. As for the intruders, they cannot gain access to the ship. I am still deliberating what to do about the situation. The most prudent course at the moment seems to be 'nothing'. They want onboard – I am not inclined, and can deny them."
Ranma nodded, "Sounds reasonable. Maybe we should leave? Is there some other way for you to get the parts you need for repairs?"
"It would take longer, but yes. Shall I begin preparations to do so?"
Ranma nodded, all the while mumbling about wardrobe malfunctions. "Yeah, do that. And don't worry about the clothes, that happens often enough. I got a change on hand, anyway." The avatar, though unsure at that, didn't hesitate to question and began the process of releasing Ranma back to a world of stale and cold air, while preparing the Beautiful End for departure.
The cursed martial artist gagged and coughed when the fluid was gone, having forgotten she was breathing it for so long after becoming acclimatized to the sensations. It took a few minutes beyond the time needed to clean and wash all the residue from his skin, but Ranma shrugged off the transition eventually.
Though she – Rissei's archetypal program had her set as a 'female' in both voice and appearance – had limited emotional ranges, surprise was included. That emotion remained prevalent as her Operator first demonstrated a near-instant change in gender and body-mass, with some additional changes to appearance. A quick scan showed the mind contained in that body remained unchanged, but there were some irregularities with the Star Seed, and how it interfaced with the now-male body. She would need to investigate this, as that could directly impact her primary function, and the health of her Operator.
Rissei noted and filed away the fact Ranma could also apparently produce complex materials out of nothing, as he demonstrated by pulling a change of clothes out of thin air. The AI was intrigued, but kept its peace about it. They were going to have a long association, and there was plenty of time to learn her Operator's abilities.
Which brought up another concern. "Ranma, I understand you were recently awakened to your abilities as inheritor of Project Firebird's legacy. Specifically, your enhanced state, codenamed Solaris.
"Part of that activation should have included a package of instructions and guidelines." Rissei paused before the confused martial artist. "Did you understand them?"
Ranma shook his head, "I don't really know what you're talking about. I can briefly remember the 'activation' as you call it, but directions? Instructions? The best I recall was what felt like... instincts. I knew something without understanding why." That was the best he could understand it, and those same instincts itched at his mind, even now. The biggest of them involved what he knew was a transformation key... a familiar one too. "You know, you mentioned something about Senshi earlier. Does this make me one?"
"Yes and no," Rissei replied. "Solaris was intended to be an artificial Senshi, created by the Silver Millennium as a weapons platform." Rissei observed the confusion her statement caused, and decided more clarification was in order.
"Let me explain. Originally the beings that would be one day called Senshi were more akin to the popular ideas of guardian angels, or location-spirits. They were empowered by a modified soul called a Star Seed, that gained power from the collective energy based in what they protected.
"The first Senshi in known history were little more than very powerful examples of their original race. For instance, like the myth, Hercules." Ranma nodded his understanding, as they traversed the ship. "With more life, came more power, came different powers. A Star Seed powered by an inhabited planet eventually became the standard for what was qualified as a Senshi.
"Here, we accelerate time to a degree. One of the more advanced alien races-"
"Aliens?" Ranma's brow was near his hairline. "You're telling me there are aliens now?"
Rissei adopted an annoyed expression. "You are on a vessel, in space, capable of translight speed, that has for the last ten thousand years been sitting idly in the core of a fusion furnace." The projected avatar stared at her Operator with half-lidded eyes. "Yes. There are aliens."
Ranma laughed uneasily, before nodding. "Yeah... I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Ah, well. Go on."
"Thank you," the avatar replied with no small amount of sarcasm. "One of the more advanced races began cultivation of current Star Seeds. This allowed their Senshi to become stronger and more powerful." Pausing, Rissei took a moment to point out the features of the Beautiful End's bridge. "Something about that process changed the other Star Seeds, after that Senshi's death. Theories were proven later, that there was a kind of group-mind in place, when it came to such modified souls."
"A collective consciousness," the avatar replied, appearing to sit in midair while Ranma settled himself in the command chair. "That collective originated from the method that those souls used to pick likely candidates for incarnation. Studies proved later that the Seeds, on a bearer's death, entered a folded layer of space, where their experiences and abilities were pooled. The Seeds were then transported back 'into circulation'."
Ranma considered that then frowned. "It almost sounds like a computer geek's idea of how Nirvana would work."
The avatar nodded. "To a degree. No data existed to explain the folded space, or the strange behavior of those souls. What could be proven however were the memories, or access to them. Each Seed carried a record of its previous incarnations."
"Not so like Nirvana," Ranma added. "You're supposed to forget your life, cast it off, before being able to achieve oneness."
"Indeed," Rissei agreed. "That memory access granted Senshi more control and faster adaptation to their powers and abilities. It also proved vital later for a gamble made by the last Queen of the Silver Empire."
Nodding along, Ranma thought over what he'd been told. "Ok. I've got a basic idea on what a Senshi is. Do the girls out in Juuban that call themselves that have a connection to what you're describing? If so, I'd only think there'd one of them."
Rissei paused, giving the impression of thought. "Again, yes and no. I know that's a tiresome response, but bear with me.
"I'll address your own issues first," the avatar said. "Project Firebird was an experiment began by the War Council of the Silver Empire. It was hoped that like a sister project, Firebird would produce a superior Senshi. Their goal was this time, however, not to take an existing Seed but create one. This was due to what they wanted to tap into for a power source – a star.
"The project was a success, to a degree. Projected and experimental power estimates showed that the resulting Senshi would have the power needed to perform its expected goal – destabilization of a solar body."
"Destroy a sun," Ranma summarized, feeling cold and distant.
The avatar nodded. "A deterrent weapon, and a final solution should other means fail, or if the threat was uncontainable. It was also proof that such a system could be made artificially. The possibility of Senshi tied to permanent starship colonies became a reality."
Ranma nodded, his mind tracing all these new ideas, trying to make sense of them. "Yeah, I can see how that would be good," he remarked quietly. "You mentioned Firebird before. That's me, isn't it?"
"Yes, Ranma. Project Firebird's resulting Senshi would carry the codename Solaris." Rissei turned to look out the viewport, which she activated. "I will be activating the Beautiful End and moving it into low-Earth orbit. We have no more need to remain here."
Again, Ranma nodded. "Suppose not. There's no one on the station, is there? What about the intruders?"
"With our departure, they should leave as well. The Moon cannot as it is, sustain life," Rissei replied carefully. "Returning to our discussion, Project Firebird was never enacted – war came before the Seed could be bonded. My records show that in time, it too entered the cycle of death and rebirth on Earth through human lifetimes. A scan of you, after retrieval from your awakening, shows that the Seed has repaired itself of nearly all its initial faults, and increased its power stability and capacity."
Ranma frowned at that. "You mean it was... broken before?"
Rissei seemed irritated at the implication, "The Project did its best, but the complete fabrication of a normally intangible item, bonded to a solar-grade mana-conduit, which was then meant to be completely compatible with any race was not a simple matter."
"Alright, sorry..." Ranma shot the image a wary look, before returning to the rapidly receding view of Luna Darkside Station. "You mentioned rebirth... so reincarnation is real?"
The avatar shrugged. "Not in the way current Earth culture considers it. For Star Seeds, yes, as it would be very difficult and inefficient to create each Senshi's Seed individually, each time one died. However, since I have no records of any other activation of the Solaris mana-tap, we can assume that no other bearer either had the capability to activate it, or that it was still inoperable until recently."
"Which is why I don't have memories."
The AI nodded. "Some may linger. Or, it may be sublimated, in other ways. Previous incarnated instincts, pre-set learning paths... there really is no way to tell. I contain all the data from Project Firebird, but that isn't to say I know all there is to know about Seeds and how they interact with the soul."
Ranma nodded slowly. "So, the bottom line is, I'm an artificial Senshi?"
"Correct. Rather than the usual combined energies of a planet sustaining you, or the lesser conduit provided by large non-life bearing orbitals, your power source is the sun."
"Alright. What about the other Senshi? You gave a half-answer on that too. Going by your description, there should be only one."
Rissei smiled slightly. "There is a lot of history, there. To sum up what I believe to have happened, the last Queen Serenity used her own Star Seed as a conduit, to bind those of all the other Senshi of her time. The solar system at that time was fully inhabited – all nine planets. Using that, she with used Senshi Pluto's assistance to narrow down the resurgence of the force that destroyed the Empire. She then sent her own Seed forward in time, trailing those of her Senshi behind, to be reborn when the breach would occur.
"This is the basis of the Rebirth Protocol." Rissei explained. "The Serenity put it in place, in the event her 'daughter's' Seed required the full support of the Lunar Empire, if any of it survived. Obviously, few of those systems would recognize her, being not only lacking the royal bloodline, but with no way to substantiate a claim."
Rubbing his temple, Ranma nodded. "Alright, complicated but I get it. So they are technically Senshi, but their planets are dead."
"Correct. Further assumptions would be only theory. I assume, from your reactions earlier, that the safety protocols were not translated?" Ranma shook his head slowly. "Then I shall do my best to instill them," Rissei declared. Her expression turned playful. "Thus ends your crash course on Senshi. Your quiz will account for one-tenth of your final grade."
Usagi was not a happy girl.
Contrary to the usual assumption, the Usagi who was having such a bad day, wasn't the one currently bearing blonde hair set up in a pair of odango buns.
Not that she was the only one upset at the moment, judging by Pluto's rising voice, or that of Mercury, but currently the displaced nine-hundred year old woman locked in a child's body could really give less of a damn about how angry Rissei was making them. Being a displaced temporal entity, she had something of a small problem, with these big world-shaking events, that were handled the wrong way.
Namely, every damn time one happened, she had her memories of the coming future – her actual past – blur and change within her mind. Technically, such changes would normally cause her to cease. Small ripples would spread out and change things, causing events that lead up to her traveling to the past to fail or never occur. She had what was essentially a free pass however, in bearing one of Pluto's Keys. The item, worn around her neck, was little more than a symbol now however. Her own energies were so attuned with the Key after so long, that she had become something of an anomaly herself.
She had become a Paradox lock. Likely it only applied to herself, as such things tried naturally to minimize themselves. It was like fighting gravity – you really can't, but you can delay and minimize the effect. Her continued existence in the past guaranteed she would be born, and at the proper time, be sent back. Everything else could change.
And there was a lot that had changed.
Which was what lead to the young girl bashing her head against a wall and giggling somewhat hysterically, as a combined eighteen hundred years warred in her mind for supremacy. Usagi realized that was actually an underestimate – right now she was likely going to have to deal with history revisions for a while, until things settled down. Once a solid path was chosen in how the Solaris issue would be handled, then things would calm. Until then, she'd have headaches, and the lovely possibility of going insane from trying to stabilize her mind, while desperately trying to hold onto her original sense of self.
Luckily, this wasn't the first time she'd had to deal with such a thing. Usagi wondered if it spoke badly of her, that she was beginning to find an odd thrill to the pain of that merger. All the new experiences, all the new memories... it was like living her own life all over again, only this time with differences. The problem of course, came with the lure of those memories. Some were always better, always more positive. Grass on the other side, she knew.
Others were far, far worse.
And some, like this one, were just too strange to really understand.
She was brought out of her pained musing by a very welcome change in events. "Wait! It's leaving?"
The other Senshi, minus a still disoriented Chibi Moon, stared as the airlock warnings before them went red. Rissei's voice answered Mercury's question. "Yes. It has become clear that my secondary priority – the welfare of Senshi Solaris – would be jeopardized by allowing you contact at this point."
Mercury whistled loud at this point, to stave off any more conversation. "I'm probably going to regret asking this... but if your ship is no longer docked, why are you still here?"
"With the reestablishment of the Lunar Relay, any of the Empire ship-minds have access to the super-network."
"So, you're going to keep us locked out forever?" A thread of panic worked its way into Mercury's voice, an understandable thing considering the Senshi's dependance on information.
Rissei shook her head. "Your access has been reestablished as per the provisional acceptance of the Rebirth Protocol."
Pluto hazarded Mercury's wrath, interrupting the younger Senshi. "Why do your refer to the Protocol as provisional? The order was given by the Queen."
"A Queen who is no longer here, and who for all intents and purposes, abandoned her kingdom to the ravages of time with only a single, restricted, hamstrung watcher for ten-thousand years," the AI reminded them.
At the blunt assessment of her own role, Pluto became incensed, "At least I knew how to follow orders! This is why the ship-minds were never allowed Admiralcy, or more than advisory positions!"
The avatar seemed to slump with that. "We are not trying to usurp anyone's authority. We are only trying to assess, plan, prepare, and adjust. Currently, all but three of the ship-minds are in fact working on solutions that would reengage the planetary mana-taps.
"Those three are engaged in a distributed processing action to help alleviate the coordination efforts of the automated repair and diagnostic systems, within the Queen's Grace."
Pluto's mouth worked silently for a moment, before she sat hard on a nearby chair. "You're... repairing the Grace?"
"And activating a blank AI that will be under the Queen-regent's control, to install as the future ship-mind. We understand you do not trust us yet – we do not trust you, either. This is our way of coming to the middle-ground."
Sailor Moon felt the need to clarify something, and spoke her mind, "What is the Queen's Grace? Another ship?"
Her access to the Network restored, Mercury preempted Pluto's reply, "No... not a ship. The ship. The Empire flagship."
"But didn't Pluto say..."
"The Moon," Mercury confirmed. "The original name of the Moon, when it was an active starship was the Queen's Grace."
The Senshi of Time had other concerns, beyond the small steps the ship-minds were taking in the way of inroads with her group. Pluto stood, moving to face the avatar directly, intending to address some of those, "You realize, that with how things stand, there really isn't any way to quickly reestablish the royal lines. The Senshi – recognized as Queens of their worlds or not – have to fight. I have to fight."
Rissei didn't look pleased, but she nodded regardless. "We understand. We would also speak with you about this... at a later time. This is another thing under debate. It is clear to us that the old laws cannot stand. New ones need to be made, and there is... hesitation, based on what we know and can glean from Earth archives, to letting the Queen-regent have the kind of power available, without any kind of instruction."
Shaking her head, Pluto surprised the Senshi by agreeing with the avatar. "They are right, Princess. You're not even out of school yet, and a far-cry from ready to take over an empire – even one that's mostly a bunch of derelict ships and unruly AI ship-minds." Turning to the defiant young woman, Pluto's expression softened. "You aren't ready yet. Don't rush into this, but stand firm, and learn. I'll help as much as I can."
Sailor Moon nodded reluctantly. "Alright. I don't think it's fair, but alright."
Rissei spoke once more. "We have also considered the dilemma of the royal houses. A solution may not be so difficult, with the resources now available."
"You mean Solaris."
The avatar nodded. "A mana-tap into a star would be a massive boost to any effort, at restoration. That is why I removed her from where she fell, after awakening, and from your presence here.
"She feels she has just lost someone very close to her, and is dancing around the edge of emotional shock, both at that loss and what she did just after it. I'm currently occupying her mind with details about her transformation, the Senshi, Empire history, and the function of the Beautiful End. However," the projected image paused, looking over the collected Senshi. "When she begins to deal with her loss, she will need support.
"There is also another concern, that may not be as easy to deal with. The one she considers dead, is not."
Sailor Moon didn't see the problem with this, "Then... why not let Solaris know? That would be the right thing to do."
"Not really," Mars countered, a pensive look on her face. "You said Solaris was nearing emotional shock over her awakening... what precisely happened?"
Rissei paused, considering the question briefly, and if it would counter her protocols to her Operator. Deciding that perhaps a little support would be helpful, she relayed the issue, "When Solaris activated, she was under the impression that all the survivors within Jusendo had evacuated. She had also witnessed her allies from Nerima evacuating. Previously, her non-Senshi abilities would have had limits that kept them from escalating beyond her control.
"This was not the case, awakening in the middle of a pitched and seemingly hopeless battle. Saffron's attacks had set fire to nearly the entire mountainside. Heat from both the ascending Phoenix and the fire brought the atmospheric temperature to a flash point. Due to her instincts activating, the pressure from the heat, a bio-energy called ki which apparently both she and Saffron were adept at using, and the subsequent pressures caused by using those abilities in a pitched battle, Ranma reacted, and began the initial stages of her 'Starbreaker' technique. She felt as if she had suddenly found herself in the heart of a star."
Makoto, the most familiar with how martial artists tended to think, winced in sympathy. "So... she used a much more powerful technique than she'd initially planned."
The avatar nodded. "'Event Horizon'. The skill draws all energy in the field of effect into a compressed theoretical point. It was luck that Solaris lacked the control to initiate 'Starbreaker', or the power needed to fuel it from an exterior source."
The Senshi connected the dots easily enough. "She... she tried to use her star-killer?" Sailor Moon's voice was tiny and scared. "Why? Isn't that going too far?"
"I have doubts she would have initiated 'Starbreaker', even if she had awakened in a real star," Rissei countered. "Her mentality seems unsuited for such a thing. No, I think her instinct to take away what was hurting everyone else came to the fore – and she simply didn't know what to do with it after. The resulting explosion destroyed Jusendo, and caused a number of casualties among both the Phoenix people, and the group from Nerima."
From her place sitting nearby, Makoto nodded. "She lost control, and hurt people she meant to protect. That's going to weigh on her a lot, when she realizes it. Add to that the knowledge she didn't need to do so..."
"And I think the last thing we want is an emotionally unstable person who can smash stars," Uranus added. "But, we've got a good understanding of how power can hurt those you care about. We can handle helping her."
The avatar nodded. "I hope so. As advanced as I am, there is only so much I can do."
"Hey, where's Spore?"
As one, the Senshi looked about themselves, while Sailor Moon began to look somewhat frantically about. "She may have wandered off looking for a bathroom," Saturn commented quietly. "She wasn't looking well."
That drew Pluto's attention with a laser focus. "She wasn't?" Moving close to the young Senshi, the green-haired woman pinned her with an anxious look. "What else?"
"Um," unused to one her Guardians being so intense, Saturn froze for a moment. "That is... she looked really uncomfortable, and I think maybe she had a headache?"
Pluto winced, kicking herself for missing that. "Paradox backlash," she muttered irritably. "When it rains, it pours... Rissei, can you locate any other human or Senshi patterns on Luna Darkside?"
"There are none. There was however an outbound teleport that the more distant relays caught. Local sensor grids are offline still."
Sailor Moon voiced the question on all their minds, at that point. "When'd Spore learn to teleport?"
Ranma was thinking.
Most of those that claimed to know him well would scoff at such a thing, but the truth wasn't hard to understand, taken in context. Ranma knew well enough that meditation did very little for him, since he'd learned other ways to focus his ki and find his center. It wasn't wholly unknown that martial artists could attain the same states of null-mind and internal focus, by doing kata and losing themselves in action.
It was just unknown that someone as young as Ranma was so proficient at it.
Currently, Ranma was almost dancing about in a whirlwind of motion, his mind held just above that tempting null-state that would let him become truly one with the motion of his body. Instead, he pulled all of his mental focus down to a fine point, while externally he was airborne, fighting illusionary foes.
Again, the entire fight with Saffron played through his mind. Each slight angle and nuance of motion was scrutinized. Each action was weighed and judged. All of the results considered, placed in context, and set aside for later assessment. What Ranma found made him rather unhappy.
A spinning roundhouse that became an ankle sweep, that spun again into a leaping side-kick to finally end in a forward flipped double axe accompanied his ruminations. He had done badly, against the Phoenix Lord. Not just making mistakes, or being too defensive or offensive at points, but just... badly. He ran in without the proper preparations or knowledge, was too confident in his abilities, and didn't give his environment the proper respect and attention.
Akane had paid the price for his mistakes and arrogance.
Oddly, the first step Ranma realized in fixing this situation rested in abandoning his ki-projection attack, the Mōko Takabisha. Much like Ryoga's maneuver that used depression and despair, focusing so much of his ki through a filter of confidence was beginning to alter how he thought, and his reactions with Saffron were proof enough of it. Yes, he was good. Potentially the best, but that wouldn't matter if his opponent took that weakness – and many had, he now saw – and exploited it. The most common enemy in that list was himself.
Ranma suspended his thoughts, submersing himself in kata for a moment to gain some distance from his emotions. An abbreviated kick was proved a feint, which lead to a blistering series of knife-hand strikes and redirections, punches and pressure-point attacks. Looking back on the fight with the Phoenix Lord, when he was fighting, nothing he did seemed wrong. He was unbeatable, and all he needed to do, was make sure Saffron understood it. Ranma Saotome never lost – except when he did. And he had, often. It was just his stubborn warrior's pride that kept him moving, striving, and coming back to even the scores.
Now, however, Ranma felt... balanced. He laughed once, in self depreciation. "It took getting depressed to even me out. Ryoga'd get a kick out of that, I bet."
"Is something troubling you, Ranma?"
Sighing slightly at the presence of his ever-watchful companion, Ranma shook his head. "No. Well, yes, but don't worry about it."
Rissei nodded, though her expression remained concerned. "Very well, then. We will be arriving at the point I decided on, shortly."
"And where's that?"
"The North Japan Sea."
AN: Aaand. There's an alternate end to this, but it got kinda less directed than what you saw. Basically the Freeze was caused by Ranma flipping her shit and deciding she was too dangerous to exist. She forced Rissei to put her into suspended animation, and park the ship back in the sun... which was the problem. Ranma even slightly activating her Soul of Ice while in stasis backed up by her new magical bullshit powers dropped solar output by an ITTY BITTY BIT. Enough to freeze the world.
Let this be a lesson kids - being Emo will destroy the world. Don't be emo.