EPILOGUE (Chapter 26) A Soldier's Duty

"Life shared among people who love each other is the ideal of happiness."- George Sand

"Duty, by itself, is not enough to sustain us." -Basalt

----

"Real" Epilogue:

Basalt sat at the bar with Artemis. If one looked at a similar scene Silver Millenium and this one in a new millenium forged by an elven swashbuckler, many things were similar - almost identical in fact.

"Luna's acting up again?"

"She can be *so* uptight," said Artemis while licking a last little bit of cream off. Then Artemis fully considered his companion. He'd seen Basalt after Queen Serenity had dismissed him the first time. He looked less haggard but more depressed somehow. "So how are you and the Queen Mother..."

"I just can't do it..."

Artemis blinked. "Huh? Have you considered medication? They've got... never mind."

Basalt kept the glare up for a few minutes. "Not THAT. Fortunately I haven't had to put THAT to the test. She wants everything to go back to how it was. I... can't. I just don't think I'm capable of loving her, of loving ANYONE like that again."

Artemis sniffed. "Waitaminute. You don't drink."

"Didn't. Started when I got back." Basalt sipped at his drink. "It doesn't seem to help. Let me tell you what she tried last night."

Artemis listened for a few moments. "Feather dusters? And jello? This is Queen 'Dignity Is Job One' Serenity we're talking about, right?"

"She's trying. I'm not sure where she got the idea that I even *like* getting tickled," Basalt's voice turned curious for a moment, "much less having my shirt slimed. But I just... can't feel anything more than a distant echo of what I once did."

Artemis lapped up a little more cream while he thought. "Well, I kinda noticed the way you looked at some of the Senshi. Especially Pluto and Mercury."

"I'm happy for them, they've found someone to love who loves them back. The whole group marriage thing is kinda strange, but if *they're* ok with it..." Basalt shrugged again. "And it's not like me and Pluto or Jupiter ever had anything going. That was in *other* universes. Or Ami..."

The white mooncat looked at his old drinking buddy with some concern. The most he'd ever seen the Knight drink was a roasted tea.

Basalt slugged a small glass back then let out a deep breath. "I've got to go, Artie."

Artemis knew immediately what Basalt was talking about. "Give it a few more years, it's only been a few months."

"Not fair to Sera. Not fair to anyone else. And frankly, I don't need this. Name one thing I can actually contribute to this kingdom that someone else, if nothing else Bennu, can't do better."

Artemis opened his mouth to speak, then tried to come up with something. "Uhm... well."

"Not a damn thing, is there?" Basalt sighed. "I ran across Obsidian. You want to come too, Artie?"

"But Luna?! And Diana! I mean."

The Knight Of Duty chuckled for a moment. "Fine. I did some predictions and checking. Did you know that two of the menaces Sailor Moon faced originated from the regions near Tau Ceti? Death Phantom came from Nemesis, but before that the dark crystal came from Tau Ceti. Pharoah 90? Tau Ceti."

"So you two are going to Tau Ceti to do some reconn?" Artemis deduced. "What about your duties as Knights?"

"Obsidian saw that there was no need in this new court for an axe-wielding barbarian Knight Of Fear. He relinquished the post. Here."

Artemis stared at the dull gray chain laid beside his bowl. "What?!"

"I've been the Knight Of Duty long enough. It's a new age, a new millenium, a new kingdom. Best to find new Knights." Basalt looked up at the ceiling while he rested his chin on his hands. "You remember some of my old friends in the Marines? Graphite called me the 'Queen's sparrowhawk' - after the small hawk that ladies fly when they practice falconry. He meant that I was the Queen's hawk, whom she flew out to spot enemies. Well, I can do one last duty as the Queen Mother's kestral. This new kingdom needs a space marine engineer about as much as it does an old wolf barbarian."

"Serenity will be quite upset."

"Will she be any less upset to find her efforts to break into my heart have found only an empty room? No. Before you ask, I have timestamped a message to Bennu. We will be well underway by the time he gets it." Basalt shrugged and carefully put the shot glass on the table, upside down. "A flash communicator has been bespelled, when we find what we shall find, a message will be sent."

Artemis looked over his old friend then shook his head. "You don't expect to come back, do you?"

"If the evil *is* there, then it is best we not survive. There are steps that can be taken to make sure we're not possessed. If the evil is *not* there, then we will go on to the next site. We'll signal when we find it or find such allies as may be out there."

The cream didn't look nearly so inviting. "When?"

"Now," said Basalt, unsteadily getting up. "I wanted to give you a chance to go, the Chain if you chose to stay. Be well, Artemis, and give my best to Luna."

Artemis watched Basalt stagger off, knowing that this was the last time he'd see his old friend again. They were supposed to, as Lunarians, have a lifespan of a thousand years or more. Basalt looked very very old.

And there was one other thing that crossed Artemis' mind as Basalt left:

Luna was *not* going to be happy with this news.

-----

Basalt held the sphere in one hand and grinned at the host of demonic beings. Obsidian stood nearby.

"Outnumbered 10,000 to 1. Power level exceeds ours by a factor of three each. i've lost a lot of blood, one leg's broken, and i think three ribs were cracked in that last assault." Basalt said this companionably to Obsidian in a tone as if discussing the weather.

"Yeah, but we found the menace and sent the message." Obsidian struck a cigarette, knowing his companion wouldn't object for once. "One thing left. You made that damn thing all the trip out here. Let's do it."

Basalt smiled. They were both fulfilling their offices, even retired as they had done. Obsidian would cause Fear to the kingdom's enemies, while Basalt would serve Duty.

A containment field around an ostrich egg sized piece of antimatter cut out as a trigger was depressed. Basalt smiled in the brief moment before the substance within the case reacted to the case itself. There was a time when the burdens of life grew too great. In which case the only thing to do was hope for a better chance. Next time.

--------

The scales settled. A death here, a birth there.

--------

"Meowth, that's right!"

"A talking Meowth?" Ami momentarily overcame her fear of the thieves in order to speculate about this. "How intriguing."

"Never mind that," growled the Meowth. "You're the bigshot genius girl who won that big contest. So fork over da prize money and ya won't get hurt."

Ami felt the tree behind her and knew she was in serious trouble. "But the prize in the Interschool Math Finals was a scholarship. It wasn't money."

"No money," James whimpered. "But I'm so hungry!"

"I've got an idea," said Jessie with a smirk. "This little girl's mother is a Doctor, who will pay considerable for the return of her precious daughter."

"And we can swipe all her pokemon! If she's rich she's got to have a few rare pokemon we can sells to da boss!"

"We don't *have* any pokemon," said Ami. "My mother's a pediatrician who works at the hospital, we don't have *that* much money."

"Arbok, Wrap attack," ordered Jessie, "we'll get the money AND pokemon from her mother."

"Eeeee!" *WHAM!*

Arbok went down as something small and fuzzy bounced off his head.

"I'll bet it's those twerps again," growled Meowth. "I oughta... HEY! It's just some Eevee!"

"Ooo! That'll be a good catch for the boss," James realized.

"Eeeee! Eeeveeee!"

Meowth laughed. "You don't know why you're doing this, but you ain't gonna let us hurt this girl? That's real amusing. Now just surrender and we'll take her hostage and give *you* to da boss!"

"VEEE VEEE!" One foot nothing, fourteen pounds, of bristling fur declined the generous offer.

"Wheezing, Sludge attack!"

-------

Ami held the poor creature in her lap, stroking its fur. She didn't understand this. Some wild pokemon had come rushing to her aid, despite how badly it had been outgunned.

"Veee," the injured pokemon said, looking up at her.

The blue haired Junior High School student considered the injured animal as she stroked its silky fur in the late evening sun. "Why?"

"Eeee. Eveeee." The animal went back to resting, panting slightly from either nervousness or pain.

Ami wondered if she'd ever see her mother again. "Well, if we ever get out of here, maybe I *should* have a pokemon."

"Eeeee?"

Ami surprised herself, kissing the little furry on the bridge of the nose. "Don't go dying on me, I don't have any friends and... What?!"

The Eevee glowed and seemed to double in mass and size. "Espeon!"

"Well, that was impressive," said Ami. "So, do you want to be my pokemon?"

"Espeon, espe," said the silvery creature with a nod. It glared at the lock of the cage, which abruptly clicked.

Ami checked the door, found it unlocked and began to sneak out.

"Espe?"

Ami turned back to the panting and tired looking creature, then knelt and held out her hands. "Shall we go?"

"Espeon," said the creature as it gladly scrambled into her hands and up to her shoulder.

"So what should I call you?" Ami asked the creature as they snuck past the sleeping members of Team Rocket. "Michelle?"

"Pfeh," said the Espeon, sticking out its tongue.

"I guess not. What are you, anyway?"

"Espeon," said the newly evolved Espeon.

"Oh. An Espeon. Sorry, I'm not familiar with pokemon, I've spent all my life studying to be a doctor." Ami tried to look at her companion. "How about a name like 'Reckless' or maybe 'Diana'."

"Ick," managed the Espeon, ears going flat.

Now that they were away from the compound, Ami looked over her new friend. "Oh, you're a boy, aren't you?"

"Espe!"

"What about..." Ami looked at the fur. "How about 'Grey'?"

"Espeon! Espeon!" The fox-squirrel declared. (That's at least a lot better than Michelle.)

"Grey it is then," Ami declared. She hoped her mother would let her keep him. And that this wouldn't detract from her studies.

The pokemon just kept up his psychic attack on Team Rocket, keeping them deep asleep. He wasn't sure what this connection he felt for this human was. But maybe, just maybe, it was time to give up living wild and free.

Though *why* did this girl seem familiar anyway? And why did he feel... happy?

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

The following were created for people who weren't satisfied with Basalt ending in this manner. Each of the "Shards" could end differently, after all.

ALT EPILOGUE #1

Grey watched the Basalt part of himself vanish with Queen Serenity.

This was it, he guessed. After a few moments, the image of Kestral appeared. The superhero from a world of costumed Champions gave him a wink and a thumb's up before vanishing. Returned to his home timeline, no doubt.

Then others that he'd been briefly. Artemis Gray, the Rebellion pilot. A pokemon trainer. Others who were gone too quickly to classify.

Frostbite/Grey closed his eyes, waiting for the final wisps of him to dissolve.

"How long are you going to stand like that, Grey-chan?"

(BLINK BLINK) Grey looked at the concerned face a few inches from his own. "Hah?!" he managed intelligently.

"You're still a dragon, you know," said the drow samurai, slapping him in the chest with a folder. "And we've still got a mission."

"We?"

Kitty Honey cleared her throat, drawing attention away from the samurai girl. "Really, what was with that promise?"

"Hah?!" Grey managed again.

"Grey-san, Grey-san, Grey-san," said Amieow, shaking her head.

"Looks like an orchunt," suggested Silkshadow, looking an awful lot like some reversed image of Sakura Shinguchi.

Grey fumbled with the folder, thinking that it was a lot safer to focus on.

[Hear Ye All Heroes & Adventurers]
[The area known as the Stonelands]
[Hath become like a den of orcs]
[An other unsavory types. Zhents]
[do also gather. Therefore if one]
[should clear the Stonelands of]
[such foul influence and build ye]
[a castle to protect it, We shall]
[grant a title to those lands, to]
[hold in the name of our nation a]
[hereditary title of Baron. The]
[same offer as was made by mine]
[late father.....................]
[Alusair Obarskyr, Regent- Cormyr]

He looked from the parchment to the small crowd, then back. It was true, he realized. He was still, by decisions made previously, an Aramarian silver dragon primarily. He had come under those Rules, and they didn't let go that easily.

Setsuna stood up raising her Power Key Staff. "Well, shall we go?"

"A noble cause, and frankly those human supremicists in Cormyr could use a little shaking up too," suggested Silkshadow.

"Nyaow?" Amieow asked, blinking and smiling.

Grey put the paper back in the folder, reached within and willed the change. His form blurring to a fifty foot long creature with silvery scales and long leathern wings. "i think... it needs to be done." And Grey realized another joke had been played. A mortal lifetime for a dragon could be over 1000 years, and an Aramarian dragon might double that.

---------

Kthom had been a sentinel at Orcsgate Keep since they'd slaughtered the humans and taken it over. Now the old veteran suppressed a yawn. It wasn't like anyone was dumb enough to challenge their control of the place. Eh? A shadow?

Kthom looked up and felt his heart leap in his throat. "DRAGON! A DRAGON! GET THOSE SIEGE ENGINES READY!"

----------

Grey smiled. A human keep that was currently in disrepair, having fallen into orc hands some time ago.

Magic built within his middle and then was expelled in a stream of frost as he swooped over the battlements. A few arrows managed to tap against his hide without penetrating before he was past the walls and circling up. "Everyone okay?"

"Hai, sempai!" "Rrrrready!" "Silk leapt off!"

Eyes that could pick out a rabbit in brush from a half mile away examined the keep. Silkshadow seemed to be mowing through the scattered orcs like an automated threshing machine. "She's fine. Everyone ready to give her a hand on the next pass?"

"Haiiiiiiiii," yelped Hotaru as he dove again, dodging incoming ballista bolts as he did so.

Those manning the siege equipment were obviously having a hard time too. They were used to anything that big being a clumsy flier. He was an *Aramarian* silver dragon, however, and could shunt some magical energies from his breath weapon (unusable now anyway due to Silkshadow and Setsuna being *within* the keep) to manueverability.

"Forget the transformation pens and cutesy attacks. It's a life and death struggle of good versus evil. I want a Venus High Caliber Cannon," grumbled Mineko as she leapt to the attack.

"Honey FLASH!"

Grey smiled toothily as he finished his pass, then circled around to land outside the Keep. He could count on the girls to rip apart the siege equipment, which left him available for clerical spells and support. As well as to ponder one basic truth of existence.

It was GOOD to be the dragon.

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

EPILOGUE #2:

Grey sat upon the hillside and waited, eyes closed and feeling the sun upon his face.

"Is this seat taken?"

The former Knight Of Duty opened his eyes, and smiled when he saw the girl standing there. "Not that I know of."

"Ah," said Setsuna, taking a seat and just relaxing for a few moments.

Grey's eyes flicked to the tail twitching from the back of dress. "Uhm..."

"Setsuna Meow," said the Catgirl of Time. "Of course, I can banish this and revert to Ifurita Pluto at any time. Things apparently got a little mixed up."

"Sorry," began Grey.

"Don't be," Setsuna covered his lips with one finger to stop him. Feeling the claw at that fingertip was sufficient warning. "I spent 10,000 years on a thankless job guarding the Gate Of Time. I have entirely new burdens and freedoms as a result of knowing you."

"Oh," said Grey, not sure of what to say. "Uhm, so you're here because..."

"Grey? There are burdens and duties one chooses to bear, and therefore can bear them easier. Particularly if you are not alone." Setsuna Meow's ears briefly flicked. "I choose you."

"Oh, well, in that case. There's only one thing to do," Grey said, smiling back.

The girl whose name was "moment of the meow" considered for a moment. "What would that be?"

Grey had noticed a black cat sunning himself on a rock nearby. Toltiir was *not* evil, after all, just prone to humor. So give the cat his due. "Cue music."

Setsuna nearly leapt into the air, claws accidently ripping through her shoes in startlement as music suddenly began filling the air and Grey pulled a microphone out of nowhere.

"I thought love was only true in fairy tales
Meant for someone else but not for me
Ah, love was out to get to me
That's the way it seemed
Disappointment haunted all my dreams."

Setsuna stared at the background singers popping up from behind rocks. How had she been followed?!

"Then I saw her face
Now I'm a believer
Not a trace
Of doubt in my mind
I'm in love."

THAT word caused Setsuna to fall over and begin twitching.

"I'm a believer
I couldn't leave her if I tried"

"And you better NOT try," grumbled Setsuna, flicking the claws of one hand in and out.

"I thought love was more or less a givin' thing
Seemed the more I gave the less I got
What's the use in tryin'
All you get is pain
When I needed sunshine I got rain."

Setsuna nodded. The lyrics seemed tailor made for this situation.

"Then I saw her face
Now I'm a believer
Not a trace
Of doubt in my mind
I'm in love...
I'm a believer,
I couldn't leave her if I tried."

Setsuna had had enough, and reached out to cover his mouth so she could take over the song. She had her *own* share of loneliness and pain.

"Ah, love was out to get to me
Now, that's the way it seemed
Disappointment haunted all my dreams
Yes, I saw his face
Now I'm a believer
There's not a tra-a-a-ace
Of doubt in my mind
Well, I'm a believer
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah ah-uh-uh."

Toltiir merely watched the antics of the two briefly with a smile. The others would catch up eventually. Honey and Nuku and Phobos and Deimos not having any real desire to rejoin their original timelines and knowing the boy was going on one last big adventure. Rei and Asuka both desperate to go into ANY timeline but their own. Rei Ayanami he'd split into two, just so a promise could be kept.

And, in the end, Grey had chosen. He had chosen someone who would choose him back, which was important from his point of view.

"Well, I'm a believer..."

What could Toltiir say? He was a sucker for a happy ending.

===========

EPILOGUE #3

Kitty Honey came to a halt as Grey came into sight. She'd added the Nekomusume form, which had increased strength, speed, and enhanced senses. Not to mention making huge leaps and having a really high stealth factor. She'd also added a Sailor Honey form which had the costume and possibly magical attacks, and a cyborg-soldier form, and a gold dragon form, so she hadn't exactly been wasting time.

"Honey Flash!"

Returning to her basic Honey form had been surprising afer Hephaestus' upgrade. She was technically a fully functional bio borg in that form. Her redheaded warrior had also been upgraded, to a partial construction borg.

"Grey-chan, time for your mission briefing," said Honey as she approached the startled boy. "I picked it up on the way."

"Hah?"

Honey flipped through the folder briefly. "Looks like we've got a long term mission in this timeline... Could take years. Decades, even."

"Really? What kind of timeline? What kind of job?"

"Raising children," joked Honey.

*THUD!*

"Joking! I was joking!" Honey addressed the fainted boy lying on the ground. "Oh bother. Better get that out of your system though."

---------

The bell attached to the door jingled merrily.

"Good afternoon, miss. A cup of 'Hubei silver tip'?"

The older of the three girls bowed politely. "Sorry, it just started raining so we... 'Hubei Silver Tip'?" She was on a very tight budget, and an expensive tea wasn't on it. Though she loved tea, it was something her mother had loved and she had shared that love with Kasumi before her death.

"Come in, Tendo-san," the woman said. "That's a cold rain and you're wet. Some hot tea would help you avoid catching cold."

"Uhm..." The fourteen year old began to look nervous. She was pretty sure she hadn't been here before.

"Don't be concerned, Tendo-san, we do fortunes here. We sell curios and magic and train heroes. It *is* that sort of shop after all." The woman behind the counter smiled at the three young girls. "And if we were any good at doing fortunes, we'd know our customers, ne?"

Nabiki looked over the curio shop while Kasumi continued to look concerned and Akane looked thoughtful. "Fortunes?"

Akane mumbled something about training heroes.

"Yes, Tendo-san. My name is Honey, by the way. It's only fair you should know my name," the blonde woman said with a wink. "Oh, and since you're low on cash, we happen to need some part time help. Maybe an hour on weekends?"

Kasumi was really getting flustered. Her mother had shared a cup of the Hubei once. The dojo could use a source of income. Two definite incentives to sit down. Yet there was a certain nervousness inherent in the situation.

"Could you tell *my* fortune?" Nabiki said slyly. "Money back guarantee?"

"You only have 247 yen on you, Nabiki Tendo, what do you want to know?"

Nabiki stopped cold. Knowing their names might have been a clever set up. Knowing exactly how much money she had was not likely to fall into that category. "Uhm," she began.

"Training heroes?" The ten year old looked both a little scared and a little determined.

"Yes, Akane Tendo. Heroes." Honey bowed slightly. "Honey... FLASH!"

"...that's kinda ecchi..." Akane noted.

"Magical girl transformations often are," said Sailor Honey.

"Uhm..." Kasumi *really* was unsure about this now. "Akane, Nabiki, I think we ought to leave."

Honey sighed as the three left. "I didn't handle that at all well, did I?"

Grey came out of the back room with a tea tray. "Hey, just because we work for the Heavens doesn't mean anyone should expect us to be perfect. Besides, i think we'll probably see Nabiki again. Her curiosity's been engaged."

Thinking back to the various gods and goddesses she'd met, Honey nodded. "So, do we wait for Nabiki?"

"Nah," Grey said, laying out a quick pattern of cards. "We've got a few years before Usagi shows up, Ukyo Kuonji will wander in on her vengeance quest Wednesday, Ryoga's two months from now (providing he doesn't get lost so badly he doesn't confuse my prediction spells) and Makoto's next week. There's also four vengeance quests and family feuds to defuse, but those are also next week. Tomorrow's when Ranma shows up... See! Nabiki shows up in three months, on a Thursday after school."

Honey nodded, then got her own crafty expression. "So you're saying we have the rest of the afternoon?"

Puzzled, Grey set out another three cards. "Yeah, oddly enough. Doesn't look like we get anyone else until we get an attempted shoplifting tomorrow morning at six. She gets one of the cursed puzzle boxes, but that's what we've got them for, after all."

Honey rubbed her hands. "Well then, I think we've got some time to get all hot and sweaty."

Grey winced. "Sword practice again?"

Honey's grin was enough indication.

"Oh dear."

=========

Epilogue #4

Grey found the deck of a starship fading in around him. He'd been on a few, mainly in the Star Wars universe but some others as well, and so knew what to look for. There were differences between a starship, a sealed Post-Holocaust habitat, and a submarine. All had similarities too.

Electronic touch panels could be found in a starship or a habitat, but were *not* found in passageways aboard submarines. Habitats in a post holocaust era tended to look fairly ratty after a short amount of time, and accumulated dust. Therefore, tentatively at least, a starship.

Passageway, doorway, and access controls were all examined. Grey determined that whatever the normal size ratio, he was of slightly greater than normal height. He was massive as well, though lean.

His eyes flicked through several spectrums, and he smelled the air. Typical starship protocol would have minimized anything with a strong smell, as the air inside a starship didn't get to circulate that often. So, people's scents meant an increased olfactory ability, plus being able to see heat patterns and the faint ultraviolet sheen from the lights meant something.

He was no longer a dragon, and was now back to being a cyborg of sorts. He "looked" organic, but the color was slightly off.

Energy briefly crackled around one hand as he concentrated. Not Kestral, he couldn't "read" the energy flows and patterns.

The door opened onto some spartan quarters. A bunk bed that quite obviously hadn't ever been used.

Instead a square of thin blanket. Though there was something he *was* looking for. A little square box with a tree image. Picking the box up, Grey activated it.

"Mission briefing," began the box. "You are currently Greylle, one of seven elite bio-androids developed by the Tao Pirates as 'ultimate weapons' for use against their rival pirate 'kingdoms' in an experiment that developed genetic material from the ruins on planet Dragon's moon, Ctarl-Ctarl DNA, as well as more traditional sources."

"Interrupt," instructed Grey. "Clarify this is an OS/LU style universe?" Meaning one that followed the basics of either Outlaw Star or Lost Universe.

"Correct. Continuing. Each of the Seven Weapons was developed to have elemental properties by the Tao Mages and Wizards. Fire, Water, Earth, Air, Holy, Darkness, Wood. Unit Greylle is Holy. Unit Greylle rebelled when used as a weapon to attack small freighter. After boarding ship and being told to slay captain/operator, Greylle refused and returned to vessel of origination. Resulting battle destroyed pirate ship 'Moving Violation' and Unit Greylle was rescued by operator of freighter and reactivated. Unit Greylle has currently imprinted on captain/pilot of freighter as Master."

"Oh dear," said Greylle. Of course, with a name like that. "So I'm the 'Holy Weapon' of the seven? What's this 'Master' like?"

"Correct. Captain of this vessel, the 'Lookfar' displaying image."

Greylle smiled. "Ami? Okay. This *might* be interesting."

And it proved to be so when the archaeologist-turned-trader Ami met up with the Ctarl-Ctarl orphan Hotaru and the twin assassins Fear and Terror. Especially with pirates out to recapture their Weapon and ending up with two more defecting to the Lookfar's crew. Not to mention a figure from Ami's past trying to catch up with her, a Quest for a lost shipment of Dragonite, and an interstellar slaver after some of Ami's old friends AND Hotaru.

All of which complicated the relationship blooming between the cute archaeologist and the Weapon who had decided he wouldn't kill her.

But that is a completely different story.

========

Epilogue #5

The Aspects had peeled away from him, one by one. Except one. This was concerning.

When the scene of his destination faded in, he looked around for either a manila folder or an Yggdrasil datacube. Neither. Which meant figuring it out on his own.

Walking carefully to a street sign, he wrapped his fingers around the post and casually crushed it. Frowning, he walked to a shop window.

His skin was a little "plastic looking" and his eyes were solid blue-green. One more test.

Fifteen seconds later he stopped in geosynchronous orbit at an altitude of 22,500 miles. There just wasn't any point in going further. Grey dropped down a bit slower than he'd gone up. He had a lot to think about.

He was Kestral in this new timeline. His first Champions character. A character who had been rewritten four times, each being referred to as a "stage" - once as a beginning 180pt character who had apparently undergone something similar to what a guy named Simon Williams had done in Marvel Comics as Wonder Man. The next stage had been essentially an evolution, with the character spontaneously altering during an adventure. Third stage had been an attempt by the character to use resources to return to near human status, but he'd been a "Justy Cosmo Police" style Esper. Fourth stage had been on a level with a Herald of Galactus, a return to the original concept and increased power with darker implications.

This was the Fourth Stage version. This was bad.

It was bad because Grey knew things as the player that the character Kestral did not. Kestral had been an experiment by an alien race to infuse one of these extremely adaptable lower lifeforms (humans) with a creature called the Swarm. A race of energy beings that weren't intelligent in the human sense, but possessed of the ability to absorb energy and then make more of themselves from that energy source. Heat, light, sound, the binding forces of matter, magic, and life energy. The Swarm devoured nearly everything that it moved over, so that a life form which existed and bred in the galactic core and developed to face the hazards there had no natural predators or problems outside that area.

If he was Fourth stage this universe had the Swarm. If he was Fourth stage he had a *serious* mess to clean up. And he was in for a mortal lifetime? Kestral's Fourth stage was ageless.

This could *really* be a mess.

Yeah he was. Kestral stopped in mid flight. What was he doing? He had to get to the airport, his fiancee was waiting for him.

That was right. He was here to meet his fiancee by an arranged marriage from his grandpa. Weird, but it got him out of the mess currently stateside. What with the Mutant Registration Act and all, and empowered being mistrusted as much as they were, it was best to go somewhere relatively neutral.

Finding a place to land, Kestral changed clothing quickly. Once he got to the concourse, he started looking around. Not only did he have to find his new fiancee, he'd have to find this local superteam and introduce himself - the Sailor Sun-tea or something like that. Apparently a group of mutants with projective or elemental energy powers. Well, maybe they could get along.

"Grey-san?"

Grey turned and caught sight of an *extremely* cute young lady who attempted to bow and shake hands at the same time. Which confused him as he was four seconds behind her in trying to respond. Finally she settled for shaking hands. She had small, slender, soft hands, he couldn't help but notice.

"How do you do," the girl said in a thick accent. Oddly enough, it was a *British* accent. "I am Minako Aino. I am pleased to meet you."

=========

End file.
End labors.