FOURTH LABOR chapter 1

disclaimer: this takes place after 3rd Labor, uses characters originated by Naoko Takeuchi, and if you're taking any of it seriously you've missed the point.

"Keep conscience clear, then never fear." - Benjamin Franklin

Asgard:

"Why a memory blockage anyway?" Jared sat at the table, curious, as various figures set up their machines or enchantments or enchanted machines. One thing that appealed to him was the possibility of meeting all sorts of Beings who could be useful associates and allies for later. Such as that Tennyson fellow. He hadn't even known the beholders *had* a god who embodied the philosophy of "Live & Let Live" - but saw all sorts of possibilities if he ever ran into something like the Mulmaster Beholder Corps and had this fellow's pager number.

"When Grey was ejected from that Catgirl Nerima timeline," answered Celeste, "his memories were largely suppressed by your own spell - 'Blessed Oblivion' I believe. While in the Third Labor timeline, he was merely Grey with some Frostbite mixed in. On returning to Central, all those suppressed memories came surging back. And with several lifetimes worth of identities all crashing in, it basically reduced him to catatonic status."

"That's odd, it's never bothered me that much," Jared quipped. Then checked his watch, he still had 15 minutes before he had to get back to the piratical Kunos.

Celeste shrugged, technical data was her forte. She didn't know the fellow that well. Professionally, yes, but not personally. "That was the data I got anyway."

"Where's Ranko anyway?" Belle asked from where she was working on a completely seperate timeline.

"In the Forest Of Midnight Dreams with Totoro," responded Sif offhandedly. "Looks like she's having a much better time than on that Pokemon world."

Jared briefly scanned the text on the display in front of him. "So, his fourth Labor is to settle on *one* girl. His memories are pretty much screwed up and he's being put in as a reborn Nebula - the Knight Of Duty?"

"Yes, it would be more confusing to put him in as one of his other memory sets, and he needs to acclimate the others gradually." Celeste spoke more firmly now, as she was on more certain footing. This had been the best compromise so far. "Nebula was the Consort of Queen Serenity, briefly, then had a brief liason with Princess Jupiter after being dismissed from Serenity's Court. Nothing heavier than cuddling. Which was still further than he got with Pluto, after Jupiter went after Narcissus and before her appointment as Guardian of the Time Gate."

"As the ones pursuing him from the Evangelion timeline were merged with your own Scouts, and therefore lost, it's possible that his closeness to them - particularly that timeline's Ami, has caused further problems with his integration of his various selves." Sif pointed out, then blew foam off her ale. "To be in that sort of mutually affectionate relationship, and now not even be remembered except in a vaguely friendly manner. Not terribly good. I've known mortals to go locking themselves into caves over that sort of thing. Back in the old days at least."

"Very not terribly good," pronounced Tennyson. "Understand you bipedal bigendered take that sort of thing rather badly."

"So who are *these* girls?" Jared said, who'd gotten confused somewhere along the way. He wasn't changing the subject because he didn't particularly care for the reminder that he'd end up with an awful lot of the fellow's romantic subplots being snagged by him. It wasn't HIS fault that he had a Charisma of 22, was luckier, wealthier, scads more powerful and dashing, more worldly and commanding, or that Shan (and some of the others) had this weird idea that "more is better" as far as co-fiancees went. No, definitely not.

"During his Second Labor, timelines were rewritten repeatedly. The end result were several non-Senshi who accompanied him during his conquering of China and extradimensional journey." Celeste popped screens to display the girls. "During his Third Labor, these girls also became dragons of various species and fell under the Rules for Aramarian Dragons. I'm not sure what they all mean, though."

"That much I know," Sif said, smirking. As a Norse goddess, she could be quite earthy. "One of the things is that dragons of Aramar are *not* exactly the same as their Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms versions. They're more elementally inclined creatures, and the reference he made to you about 'not getting along' was actually a reference to *breeding cycles*. The females of the species bond to a specific male, but they're not interested in anything other than being friends until a certain cycle comes around. Then they get *very* interested and their scent triggers a similar state in the male."

Jared muttered about "way too much information" and was able to divert his imagination from going there. Then an idea *did* click into his head and he made a note to research it further.

"Uhm, well," Celeste was less successful in curbing her imagination, though the Richter Scale also figured in her likely consequences file, "in any case, err. The Nuku Nuku that accompanied him was actually a catgirl android built to serve as his bodyguard. The Honey Kisaragi is an associate who he rescued once, then came back later in another guise but was recognized anyway and she's been tagging along since then."

"He's also picked up a Sea Elf, three drow, Morrigan Aenslad, and Queen Serenity from his First Labor," added Sif. "Though the drow are from the latest adventure and they may drop when they accept that the girl whose idea it was to rescue them was actually a guy."

Jared shuddered. Drow. Ugh. Even if he knew that these particular ones weren't evil, there was an instinctive aversion to the blackskinned whitehaired betrayers of all elvenkind and horrid child-eating monsters... err those persons.

*krik* *krik*

Jared looked through his pockets, and discovered one of his pokeballs moving. ~What the heck? How did it get filled? WHEN did it get filled?~ Confident in his ability to handle anything, particularly with the goddesses Celeste and Sif, and the gods Apollo and Tennyson present, Jared thumbed the release.

*SHOOM!*

"For justice and friendship!
For truth and love!
Comes forth the pokegirl in training!
Let evil hearts quake in fear!
Sailor Pocky is here!
Yayyyyyy!"

Everyone blinked at the vision of an eight year old half-drow girl in a handstitched "Sailor Venus" costume. Currently posing on the table.

Jared groaned. She was obviously one of those girls from that Sabre Marionette world, one of Edema's cloned "daughters" that had been sneaking late night viewings of that hentai pokemon derivative on the television there. AND had watched some of Sakyo's left-behind tapes dealing with the Sailor Moon series. "Oh dear."

Celeste struggled for a few minutes before she started snickering.

Sif merely clapped her hands. "Well now, *this* I can genuinely say I haven't seen before."~A drow paladin-in-training? Very unusual. A fangirl drow, not terribly common. A drow fangirl paladin? But then Grey was always a 'weirdness magnet'.~

Jared mumbled that he didn't see anything. He didn't hear anything. Because this could very obviously *not* be happening.

With the girl further declaring her desire to champion the causes of good, scour evil from the universe, and "fight in the name of truth, love, and the true spirit of chocolate!" nobody was paying that much attention to the monitors, or those inserted into the Labor.

Or that it had quietly started.

------------

Azabu Juuban, Tokyo, Japan:
March, 1994:

"Oh, dear, would you stay a moment?"

Ami stopped, hearing a tone in her mother's voice she never had before. Also her mother looked nervous, which was almost unheard of. "Mother?"

Dr Mizuno seemed to consider the soup on the stove as if expecting to see some sort of answer in its depths.

Ami was about to ask again when her mother finally spoke.

"You've studied the Reconstruction, of course."

Ami nodded, having no clue where this was going now. The decade following WWII where Japan rebuilt itself. Some would also say reinvented.

"During the Reconstruction, your grandfather met and befriended an American serviceman that was here."

Ami nodded again. It certainly wasn't unheard of. Her mind raced ahead. No doubt there was some continuation of that friendship, and they'd have visitors soon. Well, English wasn't Ami's strong suit and maybe this would help.

"This arrived yesterday," Doctor Mizuno pulled a letter from her apron pocket and placed it on the cabinet.

Ami tried to ignore the way a little alarm bell started ringing in her head. She read the first page once, frowning at some of the unfamiliar words, then read the second letter stapled to the first. It was a photocopy of a much older letter, one written in 1953. As this was written in Japanese, Ami had no trouble reading it from *that* quarter.

"Is... Is this correct?" Ami asked in a tiny voice.

"I recognize the handwriting. That is indeed my father's handwriting." The pediatrician shook her head. "He never told me why he disapproved of my first marriage. Now I know why."

Ami twitched a little as she turned that one over, and scanned the quick and uncertain language of the third letter. Yes, that was definitely the case. Her grandfather went on for some time about his disappointment that his daughter hadn't even finished medical school before taking up with a vagabond artist. "An arranged marriage?! ME?!"

"Well, you still dream of being a doctor yourself. Trust me, the vast majority of Japanese men might marry a Doctor, but would expect you to retire to take care of the home." A sidelong glance. "I won't force you, but according to that, I was able to attend medical school largely through the assistance of this American friend of my father."

Ami blinked again, otherwise staring at the old document. Why did life have to be so complicated? Fighting the Dark Kingdom, maintaining her GPA, now an arranged marriage between families!

Waitaminute, what if he were cute? She'd have Makoto and Minako all over HER fiance!

Ami sighed and repeated her earlier thought about life's complications.

Kumori Mizuno, seeing that her daughter hadn't rejected it, crossed her fingers and made a phone call to confirm the meeting.

------

A week went by with little accomplishment.

News that there would soon be an exchange student attending, and one who had little learning in Japanese, leaked among the students from someone within the administration.

There were several reactions to the thought of a gaijin invading their school. According to the school paper: 10% regarded this as something to seriously disturb the "wa" of the school, 5% regarded this as evidence of the Apocalypse, 15% described it as neat, 30% as hopes that s/he would be cool looking, and 40% wondered if tutoring the gaijin in Japanese would be considered for extra credit in English.

Ami, keeping her nose in a series of books during the rampant speculation, declined comment. Though she *did* manage to overhear a discussion of "what American boys did to poor Japanese girls when they got them alone" and vowed to Shabon Spray anyone who tried to do *that* on a first date. Even on the second date. Well, maybe if he was cute... (blush, fidget, twitch)

Usagi, and Minako sensed *something* was up with Ami, but quickly came to the conclusion that (considering that it *was* Ami) this had something to do with studying or exams. And rather than trigger a study session dealing with subjects they didn't have to deal with otherwise they further independently came to the same realization: it was best not to say anything.

Rei had a few odd dreams, dealing with some Disarmament Era policeman with a chain style weapon. And he did... and then... and then Rei got up to get a cold shower and gripe about her hentai imagination getting out of control lately while she hung her bedding out to dry. She was *not* into those things. Nope. Uh uh. And thanked the kami that Usagi had never found her stash of *those* magazines.

-------

If he had been Ranma Saotome, he would never admit fear. If he had been the Pheonix Mage, he'd have strode off the plane with confidence and a smile on his lips, absolutely certain that he'd come out victorious no matter the opponent.

As it was a fellow named Grey Shard, a student in Junior High with halfway decent grades, going into a land where he barely spoke enough of the language to ask where's the bathroom and didn't know anybody OR the local customs that well, and was supposed to meet his fiancee for the first time, he didn't have any trouble with the concept. FEAR - a feeling of apprehension and nervousness, often marked by a concern for one's physical, emotional, or mental safety. F-E-A-R. Fear.

He'd read all the way over from LA, where he'd caught a flight via Singapore Airlines. Customs, trying to brush on catch phrases and a language that seemed designed to confound outsiders, and especially trying to figure out what the heck he'd gotten into.

Apparently the Japanese took personal honor seriously and family honor to be a matter beyond life and death.

The things he could do wrong seemed infinite, what he had a reasonable chance of getting right - infinitesimal. The path before him - hanging suspended by a thread over a minefield.

The only comfort he could think of was that he wasn't likely to cause an international incident and that his record of striking out with the "fair sex" was likely to remain unbroken. Not very great comforts at all. In fact, that last one was something he'd like to see proven wrong.

The long flight had done little to settle his nerves, and he'd found that packing a supply of Pepto-Bismol pills in his carry-on luggage had proven to be one of his best ideas so far. He was confused, he was afraid, he just *knew* that he'd say or do something wrong and destroy this girl's family honor. Mizuno-san. He didn't even have a first name, just a last.

His parents had apparently been quite amused by the whole thing. His father thought the experience might "toughen him up" while his mother was more interested in seeing him find a nice girl.

What if it turned out to be a guy? Or a crossdresser? Or some violent thug like Melanie? Or... no. The phone conversation his mother had had with Mrs Mizuno hadn't indicated anything like that. Surely it would have come up.

Grey cut that off with an effort. The problem was that his imagination was sufficiently fertile that he could see *lots* of possibilities for disaster. He tried to focus on what could be *right* with this encounter. She could be cute. She could make allowances for his scattershot Japanese, after all it wasn't like Spanish where it was damn near required in the American Southwest. Maybe they had something in common *despite* the language barrier and the racial barrier and the huge gulf that seperated man and woman? And maybe he'd hit the lottery, win ten million dollars, and be able to attend Wood's Hole Oceanographic Institute.

Yeah, maybe.

He exited the plane and went through the Customs line without much problem. When they'd asked him if he had anything to declare, he'd almost said yes, he would declare he needed more time to figure out the language. Say a couple of years and not being self-taught.

The Security Guards gave him a once over. Fifteen year old boy, looks scared half-to-death, might be an international criminal mastermind on his way to a major drug deal. Or one of those weirdos that kept popping up in some town called Juuban, at least according to "News Of The Weird." Right.

Grey continued on, noting the crowd of people meeting other people. Nope. No signs with his name on them. There was one girl about his own age, maybe a little older, but she was holding a sign with that katakana stuff on it. Or was that Hiragana? Too bad, she was really cute. His type too. Girls with glasses, especially ones that had the right kind to frame their eyes - like this one did. Wow. There was something else about her that just... wow. Not her though, he'd tried to make eye contact and she hadn't returned the gesture.

Maybe if he was lucky the girl he was supposedly engaged to would turn out to be that cute. And maybe NASA would get a budget and go back to the moon and set up a permanent colony so that the US would have something that we could actually brag about.

Grey walked past the crowd, still looking and carrying his bags. Nobody. Well, this certainly fit the way the rest of his life went. "'She'll meet you at the airport.' Here's another mess my parents have gotten me into. i couldn't get a break even outside the country. Rrrrrr."

---------

Ami waited until the crowd finished debarking, then glanced up at the monitor. Yes, this was the right flight. A quick question to one of the attendents indicated that no one was still on board.

Ami frowned ever so slightly. Had he come by? Finally she asked one of the attendents to check the passenger manifest. Yes, he'd been here. He debarked normally, passed through customs.

And had managed to get lost somehow apparently.

The kindly attendent looked over the sixteen year old and noticed something. "Uhm, Miss, does this Americajin know Japanese?"

Ami blinked. "Uhm, maybe not."

"Then why did you write your sign in Japanese?"

Ami stopped, blinked, and turned her sign over. It was a literal translation of his name in kanji with the katakana pronunciation below it. "Oh dear."

"Well, if it's any consolation, he probably hasn't gone too far." The flight attendent favored Ami with a smile. "Probably still looking around the airport." ~Providing he doesn't think you stood him up, in which case he's probably at the bar.~

Ami winced. "Well, thank you very much, you've been quite helpful."

----------

Grey used his precious VISA (precious because it had taken him a long time to get it) to rent a "capsule hotel" and was glad he wasn't claustrophobic. At least not much. The hotel "room" bore a rather distressing resemblence to a coffin. Albeit a coffin with a TV built into a wall. Or a torpedo tube, he supposed.

Tomorrow promised to be a difficult day. He had their address. Now all he had to do was navigate the Tokyo subway system, find a station relatively close to the address on this envelope, then walk the rest of the way. Carrying three suitcases. One of which was full of gifts because it was apparently a big no-no to show up at a friend's house without a gift.

Well, at least it was April. The night was cold but it'd be warm tomorrow if he'd figured out this Celsius stuff.

Though he'd have to see if he could get a job here it looked. He was supposed to be here at least six months, and he'd had to quit his job (part time Stocker/Sales) at Waldenbook's.

Pity. He'd really miss that employee discount.

----------

Elsewhere:
1,400 km beneath the surface of Terra Two:

Shan floated among the plasma currents.

Sakyo had turned it up among Lorelei's memories. A current among the plasma fields, that built up in a loop over 80,000 years. When it reached a bursting point, almost all life on Terra Two would be exterminated.

Sakyo had uploaded the relevant files to Shan and had spoken to Makoto Jupiter.

The Sailorjin had opened the path.

Shan had then spent some time absorbing plasma until she had developed the counter.

Between the three of them, saving the planet had been easy.

Of course, this was all getting away from the task that they had been set on. Necessary but still a diversion.

Shan comforted herself with the thought that while she was carving out channels that would safely allow the plasma to dissipate, Sakyo was busy carrying out her Master's plans.

----------

Ami Mizuno was NOT the most self-confident or extroverted girl in the prefecture of Tokyo known as Azabu Juuban. She might well have helped her friends to save the world from vampiric entities, be able to transform into a magical princess from an ancient kingdom, and be the fabled genius girl who remained at the prestigious top of the test scores and cram school rankings.

All this was quite true about the short haired girl in the glasses. Sometimes.

When facing energy leeching monsters from some Dark Kingdom, there was not a hint of back-down in her. Swarm of giant rats? No problem! Part of this was because she had come to regard her identity as Sailor Mercury as being seperate from herself. Sailor Mercury was the fearless warrior of love and justice. It was her way of coping with the role despite having more than the usual share of shyness common to Japanese schoolgirls. Ami Mizuno would have been embarassed to appear in public in that fuku. It wasn't a problem for Sailor Mercury.

Ami Mizuno, on the other hand, frightened and embarassed easily, did NOT have that much confidence in her looks or abilities outside the classroom, and would have run shrieking away from giant rats. At least until she could transform.

Telling her mother that she'd lost her fiance because she'd made a simple mistake (through nervousness she now suspected) in making up a sign. Well, Ami found herself wishing for a Dark Kingdom attack or the aforementioned swarm of giant rats. ANYTHING to take the attention off of her.

"You didn't?! You did? Oh dear," Doctor Mizuno said and covered her eyes with one hand. It had been a long shift at the hospital again. "Well, I suppose you left word at the station?"

Ami nodded once. It was HER fault that some stranger was in a strange land. HER fault he was lost and alone and not knowing where to turn. HER fault. Not the most auspicious of beginnings to what might (or might not) be a relationship.

"Well, we'll have to wait until we hear something. I'll call his mother. Hopefully he'll call home and we can arrange for you to find him. Now get some sleep, honey. Tomorrow's a school day." Doctor Mizuno glanced at the clock. "Okay, *today* is a school day."

----------

Slogging through the rain, glad that at least he'd Scotch-guarded the suitcases, Grey felt absolutely miserable. He was wet, he was cold (it turned out that 16 degrees Celsius was *not* anywhere near the mid 80s Farenheit), he was hungry, he was tired, he was also sick and tired of the natives moving to get as far away from him as possible.

He was also, after getting directions from someone who thought they could speak "Engrish" better than they apparently could, sitting on a bench waiting for the next train in some place called Yokosuka. He wasn't sure, but he was reasonably sure that he wasn't even in Tokyo anymore.

As for what station he was at, he had no idea. It was a wooden station with holes in the roof. Instead of the little gadgets where you bought a ticket, he'd found some old guy behind a booth. When he'd gotten the guy to wake up, he'd tried repeating "Juuban" repeatedly and pointing to the tracks. He thought the guy had finally gotten the right idea.

He hoped, anyway.

------------

Rei startled awake, realizing that the odd noise had been Usagi's snoring, but that word seemed to echo in her head. "Nebula?"

"Nebula?" Ami repeated. ~A large cloud of gas (and other matter) which gives birth to stars?~

"What's that?"

"I just had the oddest dream," Rei began. "And a phrase - 'Nebula returns.'"

"I had an odd dream too," Usagi cut in. "I had eaten too much ice cream when..."

Usagi was interrupted as suddenly Sailor Pluto was standing in the room leaning over Rei. This especially interrupted Usagi because the future moon princess had been knocked sprawling and was currently underfoot.

"AAAAAA!" This was the general consensus reached by three of the girls present at suddenly someone just appearing like that. Usagi merely groaned.

"Nebula?! He's back! Where? When?"

"Uhm, she might answer better if you put her down," suggested Usagi. "And could you please stop standing on me?"

Rei hesitated, taken aback by the intense look in Sailor Pluto's eyes. "I don't know. There was a wind, and three lights combining into one. Then a chain came spinning in to surround us, only it was broken by the wind, and then the statues of us got broken, and..."

"A chain? Sort of a grey color?"

Rei nodded, seeing an intensity about Sailor Pluto that hadn't been present when their paths had crossed previously.

"Nebula. Finally." Sailor Pluto seemed to relax for a moment, then straightened and looked directly at Makoto. "He's mine!"

Makoto blinked, unsure of why she wanted to argue the point.

Artemis cleared his throat, seeing *Pluto* distraught was, well, a bit strange. Best to guide the conversation to where everyone knew her opinion. "So what about the effect on Crystal Tokyo?"

"SCREW CRYSTAL TOKYO!"

The assembled Senshi had gone from staring to outright boggling at this point. Luna had turned nearly as white as Artemis.

"Do you think I wanted this damn job? Guard the Time Gate and let nobody near it? Well, when the job was given me the *last* time I had to turn away my lover and watch him and everyone I cared about *die!* And it's not like anybody *uses* the damn thing anyway! The Dead Moon, Esmeraude, even that meddling Doctor fellow! They *all* time travel and not one of them uses the gate! I am sick and tired of being the lonely Guardian of Time! My boyfriend from the Silver Millenium is back and I AM NOT SITTING BACK AND WATCHING HIM DIE AGAIN!"

This last had been shouted into Luna's face when Luna had tried to interrupt.

Setsuna Meiou vanished. Everyone was silent and continued staring for awhile. Luna's feet were sticking stiff and straight up from the depths of the pillow where she had landed.

"Uhm... right," said Rei beginning to recover. ~Why do I get the feeling the other shoe's about to drop.~

Minako reached out with one finger and pushed Artemis over. He thunked against the floor as if made of wood.

"I wonder if he looks like my sempai," wondered Makoto aloud. ~Nebula. That name means something. But what?~

Luna recovered with a blink. "It must be some new plot against the world. Mind control. Yeah. That's it. We'll just have to break the mind control and destroy this fellow."

Artemis frowned, which was difficult for a cat but he pulled it off. "There was something about Nebula. I can almost remember. Something bad. Some sort of scandal."

"Uh huh," Minako had her doubts but it sounded like everyone else had seized on the explanation as the one that made the most sense.

Ami nodded and nervously asked what she'd been hesitant to bring up since the study session began. "Uhm, Rei. Can I ask you about something else?"

Rei blinked at both the novelty of Ami asking her a question during a study session, as well as the not so smooth change of subject.

"Uhm, I," Ami began drawing in on herself, blushing furiously. Admitting her mistake and this strange situation was drawing more attention to her than she was comfortable with. She was sure they'd make more of this then there actually was. "I... my family... old agreement... then at the airport... I... well... in a hurry... so... and then... so I don't know where..."

Everyone leaned closer, trying to make out the mumbling, especially with Ami now trying to curl up in severe embarassment.

"So, err, I kind of lost my fiance."

*THWAM!* There was a simultaneous facefault and this mystery of some Dark Kingdom type was thrown aside as irrelevant. Well, to teenage girls, it was. The two mooncats merely exchanged a helpless glance. They knew from experience that they'd have to wait until the girls had gotten this out of their system before they could concentrate on anything else.

"FIANCE!" Rei, Usagi, Makoto, and Minako yelped simultaneously before they all started asking questions and trying to grill Ami on this development.

"...I'm so sorry..." Ami said, forehead pressed against the tabletop.

Minako hushed everyone. "You wanted Rei to do a fire reading?"

Ami nodded.

Another round of incomprehensible babbling as everyone tried to ask questions at once. This time Rei managed to cut everyone off. "What can you tell me about him? What's his name?"

"His name's Shard-san, he's American, his grandfather knew my grandfather, and that's about it."

"And you made a mistake in meeting him at the airport and now he's wandering around lost somewhere?" Usagi wanted to make sure about this. It sounded like Ami had pulled an Usagi.

Rei thought the same thing and nervously hoped it wasn't contagious.

----------

Rei settled herself before the sacred fire, beginning the ritual of a fire reading. It hadn't taken long for the study session to completely collapse after Ami's little bombshell.

Twice she tried to get a glimpse of the feelings of foreboding. This new enemy, the three points of light becoming one that seperated again and vanished, the Silence. Flickers of barely recognizable images, including a tree outside, but nothing else.

Tired, she nonetheless tried to get Ami's fiance. That should be simpler right?

----------

"Princess Mars?"

Rei turned in shock, seeing a palace grounds with a red sky above. The palace had a vaguely Arabic-East Indian look to it. Sort of. "What?!"

An officer of some kind, one with far less medals and ribbons on his chest than the Princess of Mars was used to seeing, saluted her briefly and with a certain rote fashion to it.

Glancing down, Rei noticed she was wearing a fancy gown embroidered with red. There was a kind of curious dual awareness. As if she was seeing all this through the eyes of her previous incarnation and just along for the ride.

"Princess, I am First Lieutenant Basalt, Marines Division 459. Reporting as required by protocols to a member of the court."

Rei was about to say something nasty, why bother HER over some minor requirement that she'd never heard of before?

Seeing her expression, the soldier raised an eyebrow. "I am a Class 4 Esper and Special Agent. It is required by Imperium Law that I report my whereabouts to the Court I'm passing through unless I'm currently on a mission."

Rei nodded in irritation. She knew that. Class Four? This guy didn't look that special. That was almost on a level with the Knights. It meant he could tap the manna currents of the Crystal. Nothing near what SHE could, of course. WAY short of Bennu's level. This guy was short and lean, not especially good looking, but had a toughened look about him. Like most Marines, if he had an ounce of fat on his body it was hiding. "Fine, fine, you've done so. Go ahead."

A slight smirk appeared on the soldier's face. "You know if you're going to pursue Bennu, you ought to just go ahead and do it."

"WHAT?! Howcouldyou?! I'mnot..." Rei wasn't prepared for the flood of embarrasment and confusion.

"You've been staring at him every time you're not glaring at me, Princess. It's a crowded playing field, but he hasn't made a choice yet." The soldier shrugged and looked off. "He's got his Pheonix Tower on Deimos, that's definitely within your sphere of influence. Maybe you should go visit, just officially keeping an eye on a powerful mage in your backyard of course."

Rei stared at the dashing figure that *had* to be the mage in question. She felt her heart speed up even though he was halfway across the courtyard. "Don't be ridiculous. There's no reason for ME to go visit HIM. If I wanted an audience with Lord Bennu, I would summon him to MY presence. I'm the Princess after all, he's merely a nobleman - and out of favor with the Court at that."

Shaking his head, the soldier left without another word.

----------

Rei shook her head. "What the blazes was THAT?!"

~Princess Mars? Basalt? Bennu?~ She'd rarely gotten as cohesive a section of her previous life as that had been. On a couple of occasions, she had met her previous incarnation. ~My goodness, I could make out the sand clinging to that soldier's uniform. For that level of detail, this must be terribly important.~

Splashing water on her face to wash sweat and soot off, Rei considered it. This had come up with trying to find Ami's lost fiance. So this tied in somehow.

Rei's head snapped up, sending a trail of water across the sink. What if Ami's fiance was BENNU?! Someone she had pursued in a previous life? And Sailor Pluto had this bit about some guy named Nebula, so there might be a connection.

But what?

----------

Floating in midair, a redhaired witch considered. There was a feeling, that perhaps this girl with the uncanny knack with fire readings was not the best candidate to start with. Perhaps another target would be better to start off with for a "pure heart" that could produce a Talisman.

No, despite the feeling that events were shifting and changing, Kaolinite settled for the priestess. Under her direction the daimon egg shifted and settled to the trunk of a tree, then merged with its akashic pattern. The potential would grow until it reached a critical mass, sparked by proximity to its prey, and then...

and then the game would be afoot.

Kaolinite smiled, certain that even if the priestess did not have a Talisman, that this first stirring of the waters would at least reveal what obstacles lay hidden to the Professor's plan.

---------

Grey continued to grumble, lugging his suitcases along, when he felt *something.*

Despite a lackluster attendence at school through frequent illness, he'd managed some decent grades. Mainly because of a "cheat" - he got flashes of things before they happened. Not quite precognition, but more than intuition.

This felt *bad*. Wrong. Twisted. It also had a direction. Grey's eyes looked up the stairs. That symbol on the gate was "fire" or "hi". The rest of it he wasn't sure about, having only a few simple kanji memorized at this point.

Frowning, Grey decided to investigate. If nothing else, maybe they had directions.

"MIKUJI!"

"Na- Nana no?"

Out came the (slightly damp) Japanese English dictionary. Unsurprisingly, there was no listing for "Mikuji". ~Watch it mean poison gas or something...~

Coming up to the top of the stairs, there was a woman(?) floating in midair, menacing one of those shrine maidens. Cute one too. More rapidfire Japanese, too fast for him to even make out a vague idea of what they were saying.

After a quick moment to look for the camera crew, and seeing the girl about to flee, Grey decided to put his year of Tae Kwon Do to use by using a flying kick. He'd wonder about the weirdness factor later.

He was proud of it, for a brief moment, he was sure he'd gotten it off perfectly. It slammed into the weird floating girl's head on the downward part of the arc, catching her right above one ear.

"DON'T INTERFERE!" *WHAM!*

Landing on pavement, Grey considered his options. He was fairly scraped up from his landing, he was still damp from a brief downpour this morning, he was waiting for all those little squiggly points of light to stop moving around, and the robot(?) had backhanded him rather handily. It felt like the time he'd gotten kicked by a horse. He couldn't call a cop, for the very simple reason that he didn't know how to say "can you help, there's a girl being attacked by some reject from a cheesy B-horror flick over at that Shrine over there" in Japanese. He got enough giggles and blank stares from "Maigo no watashi, doko ni jusho mieru?"

Getting up brought all the itty bitty floating sparks of light back. "Ouchie." Maybe he ought to stay right where he was.

A scream cancelled that notion. He couldn't very well sit here, feeling nauseous and useless, if some girl was being attacked, could he?

---------

Rei wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Well, not very often anyway.

Some gaijin had shown up and tried to take the youma on. Judging from the sounds, he had been fairly quickly flattened. Finding a moment, Rei took out her henshin pen and raised it up. "MARS STAR POWER! MAKE"

*WHAM!*

Rei heard the transformation pen land on the ground as her arms were pinned to the wall by the youma, who then floated back and gave a typical youma speech.

"Your fortune today is - bad luck!"

Then an obvious Dark Kingdom General type floated down. Something about her immediately reminded Rei of Esmeraude. Hopefully she didn't have that same annoying laugh. "Daimon Mikuji. This girl might have a Talisman in her pure heart. Get her pure heart!"

"Mikuji," responded Mikuji, demonstrating that she might be a pokemon as she had a tendency to say her name frequently for no apparent reason.

"Daimon?" Rei repeated. Looked like a youma, talked like a youma, therefore it was a youma. Unless it was a cardian. And a pure heart? If they'd seen her magazine stash, they'd likely not be targetting her.

Then a line of agony as a beam from the daimon's breastbone made contact with her own chest.

Rei lost track of most of the rest of the dialogue, twisting in pain from the beam. This hurt even worse than the usual energy-sucking attacks. Another weird thought was how this sort of lifestyle had gotten to the point where some little corner of her mind could calmly compare the attacks while it was going on.

The pain lessened and she gasped for breath, that corner of her mind now noticing that Sailor Moon had arrived, followed by the other Senshi, and all of them were really getting beaten on.

"Anyone else?!" The Daimon snarled and turned back to finish Rei off.

Rei's eyes went wide as she saw a chain loop in from somewhere.

----------

Mikuji dealt with the interference. First with the one with the highest power signature. Then with the humans, then having to turn her attentions to the one calling herself Sailor Moon again AND some guy, then with some stupid cats.

"Anyone else?!" Mikuji snarled, being thoroughly annoyed at this point. "Now I can get the pure heart without interference."

"Sounds like my cue." *THWAM!* *THWAM!*

Mikuji staggered back, noting an energy disruption field similar to that thrown rose from earlier. This one from - thrown chess pieces?!

From the woods it struck like a serpent. A dull grey chain, with a moon crescent blade on the end. It struck at Mikuji's neck, HARD. If she had been human, the strike would have seperated the Daimon's head from her body and likely her life. As it was, there was a wooden thunk and the retracting chain left a mark like an open wound on the magically enhanced wood.

*THWAM!*THWAM!*THWAM!*

Three more chesspieces (knights, Ami would notice) slammed precisely into bonds as the soldier ran into the clearing. The chain moved again, an arrowhead-shaped end rearing up like a cobra and pointing towards Mikuji.

Mikuji snarled as she blocked three more rapid attacks. No, they weren't attacks. This fellow was testing her defenses. He was different from the girl or the previous guy. Weaker. Also no speeches, just a nearly constant set of strikes as he tried to find a weak point. "Mi KU JI! Again- BLACK TRIANGLE ATTACK!"

The guy with the chain tried to block, only to be thrown entirely from the clearing.

"Jupiter -"

"Venus -"

"Mercury -"

" - Star Power. Make up!"

Mikuji turned as three more power signatures blossomed. "You, annoying, pathetic... HUMANS!"

--------

Nebula noticed the three transform and attack, though his attention was elsewhere. He also made a note to bring up that they were NOT using any sort of tactics. Merely unleashing medium powered attacks.

The arrowhead reared up again, this time darting around as if testing the air. Nebula concentrated on his link with the Chain Of Duty. Not there. Not there. Not there. Not there.

It had been a hope, that the boss was still in the area. ~Kill the general and the troops are easier.~ He was a soldier, he knew to go after the head of the beast when possible. As that did not appear to be possible now, he re-entered the fray, sending a chesspiece towards one of the bonds holding the primary victim.

"Jupiter, link with me - Storm Chain attack!"

The ponytailed girl blinked. "WHAT?!"

Grey sent the bladed end of the again, having it strike out and retract like a whip. "Don't you remember? Link your attack with mine. CRESCENT CUTTER!"

"...how do I do that..." Jupiter mumbled. There was something familiar about this guy in the vaguely "Three Musketeers" outfit. Something that caused some part of her to want to laugh and cry and sing all at the same time.

"Again?! VERY BAD LUCK FOR YOU!" Mikuji turned her attacks briefly towards the single male in the battle, using her binding attack to wrap him up. Then one after the other of the girls.

Seeing that Jupiter had landed nearby, Nebula couldn't resist. "Just great. I realize you broke up with me so you could go chasing after Narcissus, but did you have to forget my lessons on tactics and combining attacks, PRINCESS?"

Jupiter blinked at the bitterness in that voice. And a feeling of shame? The rest of her, the part that was Makoto Kino, was merely confused. The part of her that she'd come to accept as Princess Jupiter, her previous life, wanted to cry. Motion caught her eyes and she realized that the strangely familiar man was talking to cover his using that chain of his to try and break the wooden ties holding him in place.

"You and me, Jupiter, I thought we had something. Oh, I'll admit you ogling all the better looking members of the Moon Court bothered me. As long as you kept it to looking it was something I could deal with. I knew after the Queen dismissed me that I wasn't what you or the others could have considered 'prime materia' - and you have no idea how much it hurt when you'd talk about how fine some *other* guy was," the man's voice went beyond bitter now. "But when you dumped me to chase after Narcissus, extolling that courtier's good qualities..."

Mercury and Venus listened also watching the chain move and try to break the wooden ties.

"ANNOYING!" Mikuji noticed too and proceeded to add enough bindings to form a coccoon around the male.

--------

Mars twitched, reaching down with the freed arm. She could *almost* reach the henshin pen, if she could, she was sure that she could transform to Sailor Mars. Just a little further.

"MIKUJI!" Again the beam struck Rei's chest. This time there was no one to step forward, though the Daimon stopped three times as if expecting yet another interruption at any point.

"In a heart so many wanted to protect, there MUST be a Talisman," declared Mikuji as she held out a hand to pluck the crystalline form from the air.

*CRASH!* A ball of yellow energy slammed into Mikuji, causing her to miss the heart. "WHAT?!"

*SMASH!* A ball of blue energy struck immediately thereafter, overwhelming the daimon's defenses.

"Anything?" asked a girl in shadows as the bonds around the captured girls (and two guys) faded and vanished with Mikuji's death.

"It's not a Talisman," responded the girl holding the crystalline shape that emerged from Rei's chest. She prepared to hoist it and toss it back to where it had come when she noticed the group below.

---------

Ignoring the girls gathered around their fallen friend, Nebula held his chain and concentrated again. The arrowhead end moved and twitched, shifting as it sought. Not there. Not there. There!

Nebula ran, ignoring the called question. He found the crystal easily enough, as if it had been abandoned. He looked over the area, determined two people had been here, and planned a return for further investigation.

When he returned, he shouldered past the girls to place the crystal near the girl's chest. It merged without a mark. He backed away from the crying girls and their moment of tenderness, preparing to turn away.

"Excuse me," said Jupiter, breaking away for a moment. "Who are you, and how do I know you?"

The soldier sighed and gave her a hurt look. "You don't remember, Princess? i am, or was, Nebula, Knight of Duty."

There was mass blinking. "You?!"

"QUICK, KILL HIM NOW!" Everyone stared at Luna as she yelled. "I remember, he was banned from the Court by Queen Serenity!"

"i am *so* out of here," Nebula said, fading out.

"SEE! He fled! He's going to go doing something else!" Luna's fur was sticking straight up along her back. "I just *know* he's behind this whole thing!"

Rei cracked her eyes open to look up at Usagi. "Better switch Luna to decaff, Usagi."

"Huh?!" Usagi responded, not understanding.

---------

Setsuna fretted and paced before the Gate Of Time.

She hadn't foreseen this but the moment she'd caught an errant comment from Rei had been ready to latch on with both hands and not let go for ANYTHING.

Then she'd found where her boyfriend had turned up and had just stumbled to a halt.

Her current incarnation was 24 years old, at least in the understanding of the locals of biological age. She was a bit older than that chronologically, of course.

She was the lonely guardian of time who had been born during the Silver Millenium and had guarded it for a LOT longer than a thousand years. 10,000 years had passed. She had gone from being apparently 18 to apparently 24. Yes, she had aged well.

Her boyfriend, unfortunately, had not survived the fall of the Moon Kingdom. Now he'd been reborn. But was 15 years old.

This was a problem.

Oh to be sure, a mere nine years was as NOTHING to one raised in the Silver Millenium. A lifespan of a thousand years insured that attitudes about time considerations was considerably less than in this modern era. The problem was that Nebula had been reborn in 20th Century America. A woman nine years older was a BIG problem. Anyone over 18 dating someone on the other side of that line was looked askance at to say the least, thrown in prison and declaimed in the papers more likely. He was not likely to be receptive until after Nebula had fully awoken.

And if he did awake? He would remember being abandoned by her, called off to duty without a backwards glance. He wouldn't know about herr attempts to get the "no visitors" policy waived, he'd been sent away from Court and would have been completely out of the loop. ANOTHER big hurdle.

So Setsuna Meiou, guardian of the Gate Of Time, Sailor Pluto, fretted and watched and paced and tried to come up with a plan.

----------

Grey picked himself up. The headache and blackout indicating that maybe he'd hit his head harder than he'd thought.

He picked himself up in time to see the priestess return, this time with a crowd of others. Nodding briefly, Grey winced at the stab of pain that brought. "Uhm, do any of you speak English?"

That brought a couple of surprised looks from several of the girls. The shrine priestess was leaning on a tall girl and looked like she'd been through the ringer.

"I speak English," said a girl who had a red bow in her hair. She had an accent but it was minimal - indicating that she likely spoke quite well indeed.

"Oh, sorry to bother you, uhm," Grey decided to shelve questions about the whatever the heck that wooden girl was. They'd just think he was crazy if they hadn't seen her, and the priestess didn't look too steady yet. "i'm kinda lost. Do any of you know how to get to," here he took out his note and read the address off.

Everything was silent. Causing him to look up. Great, more staring. He'd never gotten the feeling of being on display quite as much as he had over this past day, and he was getting really tired of it. "Well, if you don't know, thanks anyway."

A short haired girl that looked *really* familiar cleared her throat. "Errr. Uhm. Shard-san?"

"Yes," Grey answered, finally placing the face. It was the girl from the airport yesterday. Had it only been yesterday? It seemed longer.

----------

Everyone stared. The boy looked a bit sullen, tired, irritated, and scruffy. He was scraped up, it looked like he had a head wound, his clothes were ripped in a couple of places, and he had obviously been not doing too well of late.

"He tried to intervene against the daimon when she first showed. He didn't do too well." Rei spoke in Japanese, of course, noting from the uncomprehending look that the boy either didn't speak Japanese or wasn't very good at it. "I think I can stand on my own, Makoto."

"Oh dear," Ami said, switching to English and bowing. "-I'm Ami Mizuno. I'm terribly sorry. I... missed you at the airport.-" She switched back to Japanese. "I'm so embarrassed I've forgotten how to say it in English. How do you say 'it was my mistake'?"

"-It was my mistake,-" said Minako, the English language being one of her strengths.

"Uhm, everyone this is, err, ahh, my, uhm, fiancee..." Ami's voice trailed off into nothing.

Makoto opened her mouth.

"Come on, Mako-chan, how does he remind you of your old sempai?" Rei prodded the taller girl.

"Actually, he doesn't look a thing like my old sempai. My sempai was tall and handsome and had this really great smile..." Makoto's voice trailed off, the boy had just reacted to something.

"He's not blonde. Aren't all Americans blond and tanned? Except for some of their movie stars of course." Usagi agreed that the fellow didn't look like much.

"Well, he doesn't look that bad," said Minako. "Uhm, he doesn't speak Japanese does he?"

---------

Grey let out a deep breath, this would let him know how much of what they'd said he'd gotten right. "Nihongo wa sukoshii hanashimasu." (i speak a little Japanese.)

Yup, multiple apologies and a lot of bowing. Oh, this was just *peachy.* This girl was embarassed to have him as a fiance, combined with the bits of dialogue he understood earlier, plus apologizing for what they'd said. It all added up. That he'd gotten some of their words wrong was not immediately obvious, tone and expression filling in blanks.

"Gomen nasai, Mizuno-chan, I shall endeavor to be less a burden to you and return home," Grey turned and walked off. He didn't need this. If he wanted to be insulted, abused, dismissed, or just plain treated as a doormat, there were plenty of *American* girls to do this.

He heard more Japanese being spoken behind him, but frankly this hadn't been a good day and he was *not* terribly understanding of these things at this point. He was *tired* and didn't want to focus on anything more difficult than a warm dry bed. He wanted somewhere where he could read the street signs, he wanted somewhere he could order food and not wonder if there was dog or cat as a primary ingredient (he'd heard stories), he wanted to be someplace where he was tolerated even if not particularly liked, and damn it - he wanted to be able to change into dry clothes!

The Shinto priestess from earlier ran in front of him and started yelling something that sounded extremely uncomplimentary.

"Get out of my way. I'm tired, I'm *still* damp, I'm cold and I am heartily *sick* of this crap!"

The priestess blinked for a moment, then threw her hand forward as if to slap.

Grey blocked, dropping his suitcases in order to chamber the other hand ready to strike. Except that at the moment they touched, the girl seemed to go off into la-la land. Picking up his suitcases again, Grey prepared to go past the seemingly stunned girl.

Except the tall one seemed to have some grudge now and she turned out to be a better fighter.

---------

Seeing Ami curling up in embarassment at this gaijin meeting her and then REJECTING HER, Rei found her feet and started forward.

"How *dare* you lay all this on Ami-chan! Then turn your back on her like that!"

The boy said something that sounded uncomplimentary.

Rei felt the boy's arm make contact with the flesh of her own arm and got an immediate dream image.

---------

"First Lieutenant Basalt? Here? How interesting," said Coral, one of the older members of the court, Princess Mercury's second cousin if Princess Mars had the genealogy right.

"He's boorish and clumsy, an oaf," sniffed Princess Mars in reply.

"He's the favorite uncle of Princess Venus," said Coral, as if to herself.

Princess Mars stumbled slightly. "Excuse me?"

"He's the favorite uncle of Princess Venus, a professional soldier who's spent most of his life away from the courts and its intrigues. Until about eight years ago, of course."

"What happened then? That mouth of his get him demoted?"

Coral seemed to consider something for a moment. "He became a Special Operative responsible directly to Queen Serenity herself."

The graceful Princess Of Mars bumped her knees into a chair as she stumbled again. "THAT PUMPKIN?!"

Coral nodded again, mysterious smile in place that said she was keeping the juiciest parts back for later. "He's been of great benefit to the Kingdom. Why, I've heard it said that Princess Serenity would not be here today if it were not for the man's efforts."

Mars-ohime grimaced slightly, considering that she'd not been terribly nice to him. Maybe she'd overplayed her princess role.

"Though, like Bennu, he's currently out of favor with the Queen. Whereas Bennu circulated that limerick about Her Majesty," Coral smirked in appreciation of the jest, however politically suicidal that had been, "Basalt merely failed to deal with some courtly intrigue. Or so the rumors say."

Again Rei grimaced. Courtly intrigue rarely suited her mood either. She'd rather "Fire Soul" her opponents than engage in indirect smear tactics or the like.

"Mako-chan!"

Rei shook her head, clearing it of the vision.

Just in time to see Makoto land a good one on the boy, a really devastating sweep-kick. Very effective as it knocked the boy into the air above the steps. He made a nice little arc, finally landing on the pavement below in a heap.

At which point a car ran over his outstretched leg.

"I didn't... I mean I didn't see..." Makoto was just now realizing how far the fight had escalated and what she'd done.

Rei winced. Take a certain fifteen year old, add another decade, and you had someone who looked an awful lot like First Lieutenant Basalt. "Uhm, Mako-chan. I'm okay. He's not Dark Kingdom either. Actually, err, I'm thinking he *was* on our side."

=============

well, i'm trying to take a few aspects of typical SM fanfics and twisting 'em. Am i succeeding?