BLINDED BY SCIENCE

Chapter13: "Goin' To the Chapel . . ."

by Bill K.

Ami walked up the steps of Hikawa Shrine with a steady gait. Dressed in her usual bland, safe white blouse and dark skirt, from which she would change into the pink off the shoulder bridesmaid dress that Usagi had picked out for them, the girl was lost in thought. For one thing,the thought of appearing in public in such an ensemble made her quite uncomfortable. She only agreed to wear it so as not to offend Usagi, but the idea of wearing an off the shoulder dress made her cringe.

"Still, it's a step up from being in a plastic cube in just my bra and panties," Ami mused.

That's what really dominated her thoughts: memories of her captivity at the hands of Viluy and of Viluy herself. The woman was barreling down a path of self-loathing destruction and because of that was clearly a threat, both to the world and to Ami. But she kept thinking that, given a way to reach her, that Viluy could be turned to good. That is what Usagi always believed, that everyone had some good in them and as a, one might say, disciple of Usagi's she wasn't wrong to think it.

Or was she? Was she clinging to that hope for another, less concrete reason?

A dark shape rose up and wrapped around Ami, jerking her from her thoughtful reverie. It took a moment for her to realize it was Rei who had her in a gigantic hug. When she let go, Ami saw the genuine concern in her friend's face.

"I felt you approaching," Rei shrugged in anticipation of Ami's query. "How are you doing? You look like you're dealing with some pretty deep stuff."

"Just thinking about Yui," Ami admitted. Rei seemed confused. "Viluy - - her real name is Yui Bidou. She's been bothering me for a while now."

"First name basis?" whistled Minako as she and Makoto approached. "Just what went on during your 'captivity'?"

"Oh, put a sock in it!" Rei snapped.

"Yeah, don't pay 'tabloid brain' here any mind, Ames," Makoto said. She gathered Ami up in a bear hug and squeezed gratefully.

"Scoff if you two wish," sniffed Minako. "I saw the way Viluy was looking at Ami. That woman had the hots for our quiet little heartbreaker here." Makoto gave her an impatient look.

"Actually," Ami began, blushing involuntarily, "I've reasonably certain that Minako's not that far off - - in a way." She paused while Rei and Makoto gaped at her. "Despite her pronounced disdain for my 'weaker characteristics', Yui time and again expressed a good deal of admiration for me as well. I'm one of the few people she sees as a peer - - possibly the only one."

"But that doesn't mean she," Makoto stammered, "um, you know."

"We're all searching for love and approval, Makoto. It's part of being human, whether we deny it or not. Yui is no different, except that she values the approval of so few that it's hard to acquire it. Looking back on her behavior, I can't help but wonder if, on some level, it was all designed to impress me. Yui wants love and approval, but she doesn't know how to give it in return and she ends up committing misanthropic acts for the gentlest of reasons. If we could only find a way to reach her long enough to modify such anti-social behavior, I honestly think she could be resurrected as a useful member of society."

"Why do you care?" scowled Minako. "The woman kidnapped you, nearly killed us and tried to remake the world in her own image. She hasn't exactly earned a lot of sympathy points."

Ami sighed and looked down. "Because I could have been Yui. If I hadn't had the stern love of my mother or the gentle hand of my dad on my shoulder, I could have turned out just like her."

"Not you, Ami," Makoto shook her head resolutely. "You've got something Viluy will never have - - strength of character."

"But what creates strength of character, Makoto? Is it something we're born with or something shaped by our environment? If you somehow went back into time and switched Yui and myself at birth, would she be on her way to Oxford now - - and a senshi? Would I be a twisted, vindictive sociopath bent on destroying an entire species because I've never truly identified with it?" She swallowed self-consciously. "I suppose that's why I hope so fervently that Yui can be redeemed - - because that would mean there would be hope for me if I ever became like that."

"Don't worry, Ami," Minako grinned warmly. "If you ever decided to rule the world, all we'd have to do is say the word 'sex'. That'd stop you in your tracks."

Rei snickered in spite of herself while Makoto gave Minako a look that said "you're terrible for saying such a thing - - and I wish I'd thought of it". Ami rolled her eyes, but turned to hide the smile forming on her mouth.

"Ami!" they all heard Usagi squeal. Ami turned just in time to see Usagi run up. Her dear friend hugged her long and hard, to Ami's delight. Finally she pulled away and gripped Ami's arms. "Are you going to be OK?"

"Watching you get married?" Ami smiled. "How could I not?"

"Ohhhhh!" Usagi said, threatening to start bawling right there. "I am so going to miss you when you go to England!"

"Now don't start that," clucked Rei. "Your makeup will start running."

"I got the waterproof eyeliner, just in case," Usagi grinned sheepishly.

"We'll say our good-byes when the time comes," Ami told her. "This is too happy an occasion to concern ourselves with partings. Is everyone else here?"

"I saw Haruka and Michiru just now," Usagi said. "Haruka's flight from Milan just landed. She looks like she's had about ten minutes sleep. In fact I've spotted everybody except Setsuna." Rei and Minako exchanged a curious glance at that bit of news.

Setsuna paused by the cherry tree near where the others were congregated. She could see the bride and her gathering friends. She hoped they couldn't see her. Setsuna was no longer sure she belonged in their company. Ami's head momentarily bobbed into view, smiling and joyous. Setsuna felt her heart sing that the girl was safe and among them again. Seeing that made it worth it. Usagi popped into view and once more Setsuna felt buoyed by the girl's smile. Usagi was so happy, happier than Setsuna could ever remember seeing her. And Setsuna knew no greater joy than seeing her princess happy.

Then Rei turned and looked directly at Setsuna, like the miko had sensed her presence. For a moment, anger flashed on the dark girl's face, along with a silent accusation. Then that look washed away, replaced by one of guilt and confusion, for Setsuna was a teammate. Would her conflict be mirrored in the others? Would Setsuna's presence put a damper on this happy occasion?

Perhaps she should go. Setsuna turned away with a heavy heart.

"Setsuna!"

Turning back, she saw Usagi running toward her. The others were following at a calmer pace. Setsuna wanted to flee, but to run from the princess would be the ultimate insult to her and she couldn't do that. Instead she took in a steadying breath and prepared for the worst.

"Setsuna?" Usagi asked, timid and confused. "You are coming to my wedding, aren't you?"

"I," she began, then looked down, searching for words. "I was uncertain I would be welcome." As she finished, she glanced at Rei. Rei looked down in shame.

"Of course you're welcome!" cried Usagi. "Setsuna, you're my friend! You have to be here! Why would you think you wouldn't be welcome?"

"I," Setsuna stammered, "did nothing to aid you in your search for Ami - - nothing to aid in your battle against Viluy and her androids." Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Minako glance away uncomfortably.

"I'm sure you had very good reasons, Setsuna," Usagi replied with the earnest innocence of a saint. "I trust you. You're my friend. You wouldn't do anything to harm me or any of us."

"And what you said isn't entirely true," Ami added. "I know for a fact just how much you did to help me. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for you - - and the dream we all fight for would be gone, too."

Setsuna smiled gratefully.

"Anyway, Ami's back and safe and that's all that matters," Usagi proclaimed. "Now come to my wedding - - please?"

A lump formed in Setsuna's throat. Truly she was in the presence of greatness. Her eyes misting, she reached out and took hold of Usagi's hand.

"It would be my honor," she choked out, noticing the warm smiles on Rei and Minako as well as Ami and Makoto, "my Princess. Thank you."

"No, Setsuna!" Usagi squealed, jumping up and hugging the woman. "Thank you!"

"And if you hurry, you just have time to get changed and get back," Minako added.

Setsuna looked at her, stunned. Then she looked down at her outfit, which consisted of a white blouse with a large green bow at the collar mimicking a bow-tie, a houndstooth jacket of black and white, and a green and white tartan knee-length skirt.

"My outfit is - - not acceptable?" Setsuna asked, perplexed.

Ami looked away uncomfortably. Rei suddenly got interested in the cloud patterns overhead. Makoto closed her eyes and grimaced, then reached over and smacked the back of Minako's head.

"Um," Usagi stuttered, "if, um, if you're comfortable with it . . ." and her voice trailed off.

"Forgive me, My Princess," Setsuna bowed. "I will change into more appropriate attire. I vow I will not miss your wedding."

Setsuna turned and hurried off. However, she wasn't quite out of earshot.

"This ought to be good for a few laughs," Minako said. Rei snickered involuntarily.

"Will you shut up," Makoto hissed.

"Hey, can I help it if she's fashion challenged?" Minako defended herself.

For a moment, Setsuna felt bad. Then she realized that, in their own way, they were trying to help. Perhaps she needed to consult Minako and Rei on what was and wasn't fashionable. After all, they always seemed to look good.

And suddenly Setsuna found Sailor Pluto walking beside her.

"The Princess is a remarkable woman, is she not?" Sailor Pluto said.

"Indeed," Setsuna nodded. They walked on for a few paces. "Is there new trouble? Or have you come to witness the wedding, too?"

"I already saw it once," Pluto replied and gave her a knowing smile. "I have come to explain to you why you could not act, so you may no longer be wracked with the guilt you feel."

"How kind of you," Setsuna scowled.

"A rebuke?" Pluto smirked. "What would Freud say to that?"

"Your explanation," Setsuna prompted.

"Very well. Had you participated with the others in the final battle against the androids, you would have died."

Setsuna turned and looked at Pluto with astonishment.

"And you would not have come into being," Setsuna continued the line of thinking. "Then all of this was an elaborate bid for - - for self-preservation?"

"What you say is true," Pluto nodded solemnly, "but your assumption behind your conclusion is inaccurate. I did not act out of selfishness."

Pluto stopped and turned to Setsuna, her expression grave.

"Setsuna, you are destined to play a vital role in the formation of Crystal Tokyo. I cannot tell you how or when, but you will. And if you died in this year, Crystal Tokyo would not have formed. I know this. I have seen it. And so, to remain true to the vow I took to Queen Serenity to protect her and the dream she works for, I took it upon myself to preserve that which she would need to see that dream take seed." Then Pluto gave her a playful smile. "Besides,
Setsuna, I am quite fond of you."

Setsuna digested this. "Thank you, my future self. Your words are a help to me."

Pluto nodded, then raised her staff. But before she turned it to return to the Door Of Time, she glanced back at Setsuna with a wicked smile.

"And yes, you really should consult with Minako and Rei," Pluto told her. "That outfit is truly hideous."

Setsuna blushed while Pluto faded from view.
- - - -
It almost seemed to flash before their eyes like a will-o-the-wisp. One moment, four friends were waiting by the bride's door, fighting down nerves of anticipation. Then, seemingly in a blink of an eye, they were at the reception after the ceremony, sitting at a table watching the bride and groom sweep around the room in each other's arms to the waltz played by the hired band. Suddenly Minako began giggling again, drawing a baleful glare from Rei.

"It wasn't that funny, Blondie," huffed Makoto.

"Oh yes it was," Minako gasped out between chuckles. She glanced at Rei, still glaring at her, but refused to be brought to seriousness. In fact, the reverse happened. The corners of Rei's mouth twitched, then burst out in a rude snort of laughter.

"Rei!" Ami gasped in outrage.

"Come on, Ami, it was classic Usagi!" Rei laughed as Minako wiped tears from her eyes. "Grampa does the whole 'do you take this man' thing and turns to her - - and what does she say?"

"I dill!" howled Minako, holding her sides.

"And then she gets that look - - the same one she always got when she forgot there was a test - - and then says . . .!"

"I woo!" howled Minako. She and Rei collapsed against each other, laughing hysterically.

"Some friends you two are," Makoto scowled. "Isn't that right, Ami?

She glanced at her friend and suddenly became aghast.

"AMI!"

"I'm sorry," Ami twittered, covering her smile with her hand. "But once you get past the tragedy of it, you must admit that it's funny."

Makoto softened into a small smile. "I guess so. Aw, but Mamoru really saved it, didn't he? He reached out and took her hands and looked her right in the eye and said . . ."

"'She will'," Rei said happily. "I could have died right then and there."

Four girls bordering on womanhood sighed in unison.

"You four better not be talking about what I THINK you're talking about!" Usagi said,hovering over the four. She was still in her wedding gown, a brocaded white chiffon with long sleeves, puffed shoulders, a plunging neckline and tight bodice that flared out from the waist with a large floor-length skirt.

"Or else what?" chuckled Minako.

"Or I'll beat you with my bouquet!" Usagi replied with mock anger. Mamoru hovered in the background, enjoying the byplay.

"You dill?" needled Rei.

"SHUT UP, REI!"

"How many years did you practice that line, twinkle-tongue?"

Usagi scowled, reluctant to answer. "Eight," she said finally. Then she shoved her hand with the gold band on her third finger into the center of the table. "But I don't care! I've got the ring and I've got the man who goes with it!"

"Amen," nodded Makoto. "Now how about you two sit this dance out and let the other couples have a chance at the dance floor."

Usagi and the others motioned the bridegroom to sit beside them, but Mamoru begged off to talk to some of his college friends. Usagi took a seat. Instantly, though, she turned to Ami.

"Ami?" Usagi inquired, drawing the blush of apprehension from the girl. "Are you OK? You seem kind of down."

"It's nothing," Ami lied. "This is a happy time."

"You're not still thinking about being Viluy's captive, are you?" Makoto asked.

"Ami, it's OK! She's gone!" Usagi told her.

"Actually, I'm wondering about going to England," Ami admitted.

"I thought you were jazzed about going to Oxford," Minako wondered.

"I - - was. But - - this emergency has made me realize something," Ami said. "What if Sailor Mercury is needed?"

The table fell silent.

"Are we allowed to have normal lives?" Ami wondered. "Responsibilities come with the power and mission we were given. If I'm in England . . ."

"We'll handle it," Usagi said. She reached over and squeezed Ami's hand. "Yes, we're allowed to have normal lives. That's what we're fighting for."

"You can't be on duty twenty-four/seven, Ami," Minako added. "You've got to have something to go home to. Otherwise what were you fighting for?"

"We'll handle it, Ami," Usagi reiterated. "You're a valuable member of the team, but there are other members of the team, too. Setsuna has already told me she'll do anything she can to help out. And even though they won't admit it, I know I can count on Haruka and Michiru, too. Who knows, Chibi-Usa and her crew of Asteroids might just pop up. Go to England, Ami. Go and become the best doctor the world has ever seen - - well, second best behind Mamo-chan."

"Listen to her, Ami," Rei smiled. "She's already run this speech by me, so you know she's been practicing it." She glanced mischievously at Usagi. "And she didn't stumble once."

Usagi stuck out her tongue.

"But I feel guilty leaving you without my help," Ami confessed. "Particularly with Rei going to study for the priesthood now."

"Don't," Usagi smiled and you couldn't help but love her when she did that. "If you stay, you'll just be helping me. If you go and become a doctor, you'll be helping so many more people. It's the right thing."

Ami looked down and smiled. "I surrender to your logic, Usagi."

Minako started to open her mouth, but stopped when Makoto pointed at her. The blonde scowled, downed her cup of punch and excused herself. The others looked and saw Minako was headed for the handsome young man talking with Mamoru. Makoto turned around and folded her arms over her chest.

"How does she always manage to spot the hotties before me?" she fumed.

- - - -
Haneda Airport, early September. Amid the boarding and departing passengers was a girl of eighteen, bound for England, and her parents. The mother, a lean woman of thirty-six with short, stylish black hair and a girlishly pretty face that hid the most piercing stare ever imagined, stood looking at her daughter. She was prim and stylish in her dark suit, handsomely tailored, and white blouse.

Next to her was a man, thirty-seven, with light sandy hair going prematurely gray. He had thick round glasses and a thick, burly frame, but the most sensitive hands and the most sensitive eyes and mouth. He was dressed casually, almost indifferently, wearing beige slacks, a light blue cotton sport shirt, deck shoes and a fisherman's twill hat. He made a stark contrast to the expensively tailored woman beside him, a fact she made a point of indicating to him. He didn't care. He only cared about important things and the girl before him was one of those important things.

The girl, Ami Mizuno, was dressed in a tweed skirt, white blouse and a dark sweater - - conservative to the end. She held a carry-on bag and looked up at her parents uncertainly. A voice in the back of her head pleaded for them to wrap their arms around her and refuse to let go until the huge plane waiting on the tarmac flew away and she'd be forced to stay here where it was safe and familiar. Another, more rational voice reminded her of the lure of the unknown, of new places and new experiences, of wonders yet to be discovered and puzzles yet to be solved. The girl in the middle, Ami, wanted to listen to both and didn't want to admit she couldn't.

"Oh, Ami," her mother sobbed, the rational doctor facade cracking and falling away to reveal the mother below. She hugged her daughter, crushing her to her bosom even as she struggled to regain control of her emotions.

"Mother," Ami whispered. "That's the first time I've seen you cry."

"Yes," Dr. Mizuno whimpered, "it's the first time you've seen it." She squeezed her daughter again. "I'm going to miss you so!"

"I will, too, Mother," Ami whispered back.

Dr. Mizuno felt the gentle hand of her ex-husband on her shoulder. For all his faults, and there was a long list of them in her mind, the gentle touch of his hand was one thing she would always remember fondly. It gave her the strength to let go of Ami.

"You've made me so proud, Ami," her father said, gathering her up and hugging her. "You've already accomplished more than I ever could have envisioned for you." He patted her on the back as he hugged her, rubbing between her shoulder blades. It was a familiar gesture that made her flash onto so many cherished memories. "Go for the record, Ami."

"I will," Ami smiled when her father released her.

The loudspeaker called the boarding of her flight to England. Ami took a last look at her parents. With a heavy heart, she turned, then caught a glimpse of Rei, Makoto and Minako watching her from the second floor railing. Usagi was still on her honeymoon, but the others had shown up to see her off. They'd said their good-byes before her time with her parents.
Makoto waved, Minako flashed a 'v', and Rei merely nodded. And once again Ami had the overwhelming urge to tear up her ticket and stay forever in the company of family and friends.

However, the lure of the unexplored was just too great. Waving to them, Ami turned and resolutely headed for the boarding gate and her future at Oxford. Watching from the railing above, Makoto sighed.

"There she goes," the tall, striking woman said with the air of the condemned.

"She'll be back," Rei said. "Nobody and nothing is going to bust up five friends like us for very long. She'll be back - - count on it."

"You see that in a vision?" Minako needled.

"No. But what if I did?" Rei asked defensively, cocking an eyebrow.

"Then I'd have to say," Minako replied, a grateful smile sprouting on her red mouth, "thank goodness."

Makoto grinned. She wrapped her arms around what was left of her surrogate family and pulled them in close.
- - - -
"Anyway, that's what Michiru told me," Haruka said as Hotaru listened thoughtfully. Then she grinned. "And I slept on the plane, so I wasn't a zombie. She made that up."

"Sure, Haruka-Papa," Hotaru smirked. The girl sobered. "But I still don't understand why the Queen would ban androids. Androids are just machines. They're not evil. If they do evil things, it's the fault of whoever programmed them. They can only do what they're told - - unless one manages to evolve an artificial intelligence."

"Ami told her the same thing," Haruka said. "And repeatedly told her. It's kind of a sore spot between them. But Serenity looks at androids sort of the way she looks at guns. There's too much of a risk to human life connected with them and she won't allow it. The bad outweighs the good in her mind. So there are no androids in Crystal Tokyo, just like there are no guns. And the 'Android Riots' in America in 2159 only made her think she was right even more."

"Android Riots?" Hotaru asked.

"They don't teach it here because of the ban," Haruka shrugged. "If you can get on the right net, though, you can find the story."

"Did they ever find Viluy?"

"Yeah, she came back a couple of times," Haruka scowled. "Arrogant little bitch."

"What happened?"

"Another time," smirked Haruka. "It's getting to be your bedtime."

"Papa!" pleaded Hotaru. "Tell me!"

"You'll just have to look that one up yourself - - tomorrow! Right now you need to go to sleep. You want to get your rest so you can be beautiful for 'That Boy'."

"His name is Yutaka, Papa, not 'That Boy'," Hotaru huffed.

"Scoot!" Haruka grinned. Hotaru got up to go to her room. "Give me a kiss first." She leaned down and pecked Haruka on the cheek.

"Thanks for being honest with me, Papa," Hotaru smiled.

"Anytime, Firefly," Haruka smiled back.

THE END