THE PRICE OF FREEDOM,

Part One: "The Mysterious Dream"

A Neo-Sailor Moon fanfic

By Bill K.

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Sailor Moon and all related characters are (c)2004 by Naoko Takeuchi/Kodansha and Toei Animation and are used without permission, but with respect. Story is (c)2004 by Bill Kropfhauser.

As always, for those only familiar with the English dub:

Usagi/Queen Serenity=Serena

Ami=Amy

Rei=Raye

Makoto=Lita

Minako=Mina

Haruka=Amara

Michiru=Michelle

Setsuna=Trista

Mamoru/King Endymion=Darien

Chibi-Usa/Usa=Rini

Finally, Haruka and Michiru are NOT cousins.

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She wasn't alone. Everywhere around her were faceless shadows of people huddled in misery. All around her was a sea of degradation, degradation so thick it seemed to smother her. Why was she here? Why did they suffer so?

Hotaru took a step toward one of the suffering, then another and another. For some strange reason she couldn't get any closer. Stopping, she reached out with her hand, but the wretch was tantalizingly beyond her grasp.

"Who are you?" she heard herself ask. The wretch ignored her question, absorbed by its own misery. "What's happening here? Who's doing this?"

None of the huddled shadows acknowledged she had even spoken. Confused, Hotaru continued on. Everywhere she looked were more of the things. Some seemed almost human while others weren't even close. She surveyed the room without even being sure it was a room. Everything was so dimly lit, so oppressively drab and spartan, that nothing seemed to register with any familiarity. Hotaru had no idea how she got here, nor why she was here.

Then something, a sound or a movement or just a feeling, caught her attention to her left. She spun and saw something, a black shape that was almost familiar, but not quite. She wanted to reach out, but suddenly realized she held her glaive. Why would she have her glaive as Hotaru? But further inspection told her she was wearing her Sailor Saturn fuku. When had she transformed? The question was lost when the shape shifted in front of her.

"Who are you?" Saturn asked, reaching out to the dark shape. It seemed fairly human, and so annoyingly familiar. "Did you bring me here?"

The shape just looked at her without speaking, without moving. Her white glove, phosphorescent against the gloom, came nearer. The shape didn't shy, barely acknowledged her presence. It was human - - once. If she could just see who it was, Saturn felt she'd have her answers. Her hand neared the mysterious person's shoulder. The person didn't move. Her hand gently closed around the shoulder.

Instantly Saturn felt herself sink into the floor up to her ankles. Looking down with alarm, she saw the floor had become soft like melted chocolate. But only moments later the floor hardened again, locking around her feet and ankles in a vise of solid rock. Saturn didn't even have time to struggle. Instantly she felt some threat looming over her. She just had time to look up.

Hotaru felt her pillow on the back of her head. Disoriented, her heart still racing in her tiny chest, the girl looked around. Through the long shadows of the darkness, she recognized furnishings that were part of her room. Was she back in her room?

"Time?" she whispered breathlessly.

"The time is one forty-four and thirteen seconds," the computerized room monitor replied.

"Where did it go?" she whispered to herself.

"Non-linear query," replied the computer. "Please restate your question."

Ignoring the computer, Hotaru rolled over. She was in bed. It was her room. She was in her pajamas, not her Sailor Saturn fuku. The only trace of what happened was her heart still hammering in her chest and the disorienting confusion in her mind.

"I had it again," she whispered.

* * * *

The queen lay in her bed, covers drawn over her and her pillow covering the wet spot where she'd drooled during the night. She lay on her stomach, arms curled beneath her and face buried as far into the pillow as she could and still breathe.

"Serenity," Endymion sighed. "Get up." How many centuries had they gone through this?

"Dnn wnnngh," came the queen's voice from somewhere inside the pillow.

Smirking to himself, Endymion walked over to the side of the bed his wife lay on and swatted her across the bottom.

"OW!" she wailed melodramatically. "That hurt!"

"It's what bad girls get when they don't get up," Endymion replied. "Now please get up."

"No," Serenity pouted, then grew coquettish. "You come in with me. We can cuddle."

"Why do I have to go through this every morning with you? Your breakfast is ready."

"It'll keep," Serenity grunted and buried her head into the pillow again.

"Get up or I'll get Luna to swat you," her husband threatened.

Serenity replied with a frustrated growl and reluctantly climbed up to a sitting position on the side of the bed.

"I hate mornings," she groused. Turning, she gently patted her mattress. "Stay warm, dear friend. We'll be together again soon."

Endymion shook his head, but couldn't hide his smile.

When his wife was in some semblance of order, Endymion escorted her out to the private dining chambers. They were just in time to see their daughter speeding for the door.

"You're not going to have breakfast?" Endymion asked.

"I'll eat in the dining hall," Usa replied, her twin tails of pink hair streaming behind her. She wore a form-hugging blue bodysuit of breathing polymer and a retro twentieth century brown bomber jacket made of artificial leather.

"Honey, why can't you eat breakfast with us just once?" whined Serenity.

"Mom!" Usa fumed dramatically. "I want to be with my FRIENDS!"

"They're more important than us?" Serenity asked.

Usa let out a grunt of frustration.

"Oh, go ahead," Serenity fussed.

"Mom, stop with the guilt!" Usa grumbled, then disappeared out the door.

"Brat," muttered Serenity.

In the dining hall, Usa spotted three of the Amazons at one table. As usual, Palla-Palla was parked in front of a big bowl of frosted cereal while the others were dining more sensibly. Usa remembered all the effort Makoto and Ami wasted trying to convince Palla-Palla that high sugar cereal wasn't good for her. When they would explain it to her, Palla-Palla would smile and nod and the minute they left she would continue eating. When she came up for air, Palla-Palla spotted her approach.

"Good morning, Princess!" she beamed happily.

"Why are you so chipper EVERY morning?" Usa grimaced.

"Because the nice lady on the holo-vid told Palla-Palla it was a good morning and Palla-Palla believes her!"

"The one from 'Yumi-chan's Toyshop'?" Usa asked. Cere-Cere and Jun-Jun nodded in indulgent unison. "You do know she's CGI, don't you?"

Palla-Palla just gave her a vacant grin, then went back to eating.

"That's a good look," Cere-Cere marveled as she noticed Usa's ensemble.

"You like it?" Usa asked. "The jacket's kind of hot, but it does look cool."

"You look like an utter action girl," Cere-Cere confirmed.

"Thanks." Usa looked harder at Cere-Cere. "Is that makeup?"

"Just a little crushed pseudo-emerald eye shadow and some liquid polymer lip gloss," Cere-Cere shrugged. "No big." She seemed to tense slightly. "It does look good, doesn't it?"

"Very flashy. I'm beginning to wonder if there's anything you can't look good in."

"Tell me about it. It's very easy to hate her," Jun-Jun quipped. Her sister Amazon smirked proudly.

Ves-Ves approached with her tray, avoiding eye contact with everyone in the dining hall. Trying to call as little attention to herself as possible, the girl took a seat at the table as far away from Usa as she could manage. The memory of her attack on Sailor Moon in the nightmare realm adjacent to Elysian was still fresh in everyone's mind, particularly hers.

"Good morning, Ves-Ves," Usa said hopefully.

"Good morning, Princess," Ves-Ves whispered, keeping her gaze on her food.

Usa looked to the others, appealing silently to them to somehow fix this situation. Cere-Cere and Jun-Jun looked back at her helplessly.

"Good morning, Palla-Palla," Ves-Ves said suddenly. Cere-Cere raised an eyebrow, then whirled on the blue-haired girl.

"Would you stop thought-casting!" Cere-Cere fumed.

"You're just jealous because Palla-Palla can't do it with you yet," the girl replied smugly between bites of cereal.

"Baby," grumbled Cere-Cere.

"Hey, Hotaru," Usa waved. Hotaru approached and sat down between Usa and Ves-Ves. "You don't look so hot. Is something wrong?"

"I didn't sleep much last night," Hotaru revealed reluctantly.

"Did you have that dream again?" Jun-Jun asked.

Hotaru nodded. "I wish I knew why."

"Recurring dreams are usually your body trying to tell you something," Jun-Jun said.

"Or it might be some sort of psychic impression," Cere-Cere offered. "That's what Sensei Hino-sama says. You should hear her talk about dreams and dream-interpretation. I swear she knows EVERYTHING!"

"Maybe that's it," Usa told her. "You've always been receptive to that sort of stuff. Maybe Rei-san can help you sort it out."

"Maybe I'll ask her," Hotaru said.

The girls felt the presence of a boy approach. All heads turned except for Palla-Palla and Ves-Ves. They found the angular Yutaka standing there, a hopeful look on his baby face. Yutaka was the fifteen-year-old son of a palace maintenance officer and lived in the palace with his family in quarters the king and queen provided to the families of all staff members.

"Hi, Hotaru," he smiled, ignoring the others.

"Hi, Y-Yutaka," Hotaru replied, shrinking into herself.

"Um, I was wondering if you were free tonight," he ventured. "The Synthozoids are playing at the entertainment hub. Would you like to go?"

"I'm not really familiar with that group," Hotaru said, barely audible.

"Oh," Yutaka said, crestfallen.

Usa gave Hotaru a subtle nudge.

"But this would be a good way to, um, learn about them," Hotaru added.

"Then you'll go?" Yutaka asked excitedly.

"I guess so," Hotaru replied, smiling timidly. "When should I meet you?"

"I'll pick you up!" he exclaimed. "Nineteen hundred. Maybe we can get something to eat after?"

"Sure," Hotaru nodded.

Yutaka nodded back. He was so happy it took him several beats to realize the deal was done and he could leave. With an awkward nod to the others, he departed. Instantly they all turned on Hotaru.

"You are SUCH a smooth operator," Usa said sarcastically.

"Oh, shut up, Usa," Hotaru grumbled, flushing with embarrassment.

"Honest, girl, we've GOT to work on your self-confidence," Cere-Cere said, shaking her head.

"Leave her alone, you vulture," Jun-Jun said. Then her eyes narrowed and she grew a wicked smile. "After all, 'YUTAKA' likes her just the way she is."

Hotaru felt her cheeks burn even hotter.

* * * *

Thirteen hundred hours - - normally Ves-Ves would be headed to self-defense class. But not anymore; now she had sessions three times a week with Sensei Mizuno-sama.

Not that she didn't enjoy Sensei Mizuno-sama. The woman was very sympathetic and very gentle. Ves-Ves had been afraid the woman would be harsh or judgmental, given what she'd done. But she genuinely wanted to help and it was something Ves-Ves appreciated.

However, Ves-Ves enjoyed self-defense class. She enjoyed the contact. She enjoyed the competition. She enjoyed winning, because she usually did. And she enjoyed learning new moves and new tricks from Sensei Kino-sama and Sensei Aino-sama - - especially Sensei Aino-sama. The woman was everything Ves-Ves wanted to be: beautiful, multi-talented and possessing a self-assured demeanor that told the world "here I am - - accept me or it's your loss". To her, Sensei Aino-sama was a god.

But Sensei Aino-sama no longer trusted Ves-Ves to be in her self-defense class. And she was so cold now. Ves-Ves knew she had screwed up. She knew. That's why she was going to Sensei Mizuno-sama. It's not like she enjoyed ripping open her soul and letting someone examine her deepest secrets and oldest wounds. Ves-Ves knew she had to, though, to pay for what she'd done and to keep it from ever happening again. She was so very sorry for what had happened. Why couldn't Sensei Aino-sama see that?

"Hello, Ves-Ves," Ami smiled as she ushered the girl into her office in the palace.

Ves-Ves nodded and took her seat. By now knowing the process by heart, the girl eased the sensor halo over her head and grasped the armrests where the biological telemetry sensors were embedded. She always felt like a lab animal when she sat in this chair, but she dismissed the thought. She was no longer permitted objections of vanity.

"You seem quite glum today," Ami remarked. "Is anything wrong?"

Knowing her biological and encephalic telemetry was already recording, Ves-Ves felt she had no choice but to tell the truth.

"Just thinking about how bad I've screwed my life up," Ves-Ves mumbled.

"It's understandable to feel guilt over what happened," Ami told her. "But you're working to correct it. That's all anyone can ask. You shouldn't obsess on your past guilt, though. Accept that you did wrong, be grateful that no one was hurt and strive to do better. Don't you think that's a more constructive attitude?"

"I wish it was that easy. I feel so bad about what I did! It's not easy to put that behind you. And even if I could, there's plenty of other people around here ready to remind me."

"Well you have to look at it from Usa's perspective," Ami told her as she monitored her patient's vital signs and scribbled notes on a personal notepad computer with a light stylus. "Having a brush with imminent death can be traumatic, particularly if it's at the hands of someone you trust."

"Hell, the Princess is the least of my worries!" Ves-Ves snapped. Instantly she caught herself and shrank back. Ami noted the change in the readouts. "Sorry for swearing. But she's already forgiven me!"

"Then who is giving you problems?"

"Well," Ves-Ves began, reluctant to continue, "the staff, for one. They act like I'm a wild animal or something. I feel them staring at me when I walk down a corridor or eat in the dining hall. And they're so stiff and formal around me, like they're scared I'll go off if they speak to me wrong." She sniffed. "And Sensei Hino-sama acts like I'm Neherenia, Beryl and Galaxia rolled into one. But at least she's up front about not liking me. It's . . ."

"Go on."

Ves-Ves sighed in frustration. "I know I let Sensei Aino-sama down. I wish I could take it all back! I wish I could make it disappear! I want her to know how sorry I am! But she's so distant now. I know I disappointed her." Ves-Ves squeezed the armrests until the veins popped out in her hands. "I want to make it like it was, but I don't know how!"

Ves-Ves paused to wipe away the tears in her eyes.

"Sensei Kino-sama always told us that what we do will always follow us. I never knew what she meant until now."

"Well, Makoto is right," Ami said, keeping her voice non-judgmental. "There's no way to undo the past. And people are never going to forget what you did. But your current reputation isn't set in stone, Ves-Ves. What you do from this point on will always follow you, too. People will be wary of you until they're sure they can trust you again. If you work hard and continue to show them you're determined to be worthy of their trust, most people will come around. People want to forgive. You just have to give them an opportunity. It won't be quick and it won't be easy. But it can be done."

"I don't know if I can," Ves-Ves whispered, looking at her lap. "Sometimes I get so frustrated that I just want to punch the first person that gives me that nervous fish eye look."

"But that's why we're here, isn't it?" Ami said.

"Yeah," Ves-Ves replied glumly.

"Did your father ever strike you?"

"Dad? A few times; he usually saved himself for Mom."

"How did you feel when he struck you?"

I don't want to do this, Ves-Ves thought. Ami noted the change in vital sign readings.

* * * *

She wasn't alone. Everywhere around her were faceless shadows of people huddled in misery. All around her was a sea of degradation, degradation so thick it seemed to smother her. Why was she here? Why did they suffer so?

She took a step toward one of the suffering, then another and another. For some strange reason she couldn't get any closer. Stopping, she reached out with her hand, but the wretch was tantalizingly beyond her grasp.

"Who are you?" she heard herself ask. The wretch ignored her question, absorbed by its own misery. "What's happening here? Who's doing this?"

None of the huddled shadows acknowledged she had even spoken. Confused, she continued on. Everywhere she looked were more of the things. Some seemed almost human while others weren't even close. She surveyed the room without even being sure it was a room. Everything was so dimly lit, so oppressively drab and spartan, that nothing seemed to register with any familiarity. She had no idea how she got here, nor why she was here.

Then something, a sound or a movement or just a feeling, caught her attention to her left. She spun and saw something, a black shape that was almost familiar, but not quite. She started to reach for it, then noticed she was dressed in her fuku. When had she transformed?

"Who are you?" she asked, reaching out to the dark shape. It seemed fairly human, and so annoyingly familiar. "Did you bring me here?"

The shape just looked at her without speaking, without moving. Her white glove, phosphorescent against the gloom, came nearer. The shape didn't shy, barely acknowledged her presence. It was human - - once. If she could just see who it was, she felt she'd have her answers. Her hand neared the mysterious person's shoulder. The person didn't move. Her hand gently closed around the shoulder.

Instantly she felt herself sink into the floor up to her ankles. Looking down with alarm, she saw the floor had become soft like melted chocolate. But only moments later the floor hardened again, locking around her feet and ankles in a vise of solid rock. She didn't even have time to struggle. Instantly she felt some threat looming over her. She just had time to look up.

Her eye opened. She was where she'd been when she closed her eyes, in her bed in her room. Aware of the trip-hammer beat of her heart and the way her thoughts raced from being goosed with adrenaline, she struggled out from under the sheet and propped up on her elbows.

"That had to be a premonition," Rei thought. "But of what?"

continued in Chapter 2