Yuuichirou gave a grunt as he hefted the last log into place. They had been cut from trees that grew in the northern most islands of Japan and brought here through a device called a "Gate". They seemed to be perfectly dry and well aged, which should have been impossible for trees cut only a day or so ago. If the past few weeks had taught Yuri anything, it was that the word "impossible" was in desperate need of redefining. He ran a hand across his damp forehead and took a deep breath.
"I think that does it, Sensei-sama," he said to the old man who watched him so closely.
The old man walked around the wood and muttered to himself in satisfaction as he went. "Very good, Yuri, very good indeed. Now Rei, are you ready to light it?"
Rei stood quietly in the back of the small, impromptu shrine. Her grandfather had announced that he was going to the moon with her. If Dr. Mizuno was going to set a clinic to take care of the bodily ills, then someone had to be there to tend to the ills of the soul as well. No amount of arguing would dissuade him, and Rei was secretly glad.
Her eyes strayed to Yuri and a smile came to her lips. He'd told her, in a much more intimate way, that he had no intentions of being separated from her. Such an ordinary looking man, Rei thought, but capable of the most extraordinary things. Yuri saw her looking at him and winked.
She coughed to cover the blush that rushed into her cheeks, "Ready when you are." She reached for her henshin wand, but her grandfather put a hand out to stop her.
"No," he said, "You, Hino Rei, will light that fire, not Sailor Mars."
Rei opened her mouth to protest, "But grandpa…"
He placed a gentle hand on hers. "I told you. The sacred fire lives inside you. Pray, granddaughter and you can release it." He gave her a nudge towards the stacked wood. "Believe in yourself, Rei."
Using the discipline she'd been practicing since childhood, Rei knelt before the wood. She closed her eyes and began to pray. The words came easily enough to her lips and flowed as easily from her heart. She chanted, over and over, humbly begging the Divine to come to this place.
At first nothing happened. Then slowly Rei felt the heat building. In her heart an ember caught, and flared to life. Smoke rose from the stacked wood. Slowly at first, the smoke became flame. The fire rose, and then banked to burn steadily.
Rei opened her eyes, surprised by what had just happened. Yuri had a confused, but very please look on his face. Her grandfather only chuckled in delight as he came up behind her.
"I told you," he said placing his hands on her shoulders, "the sacred fire lives in you."
Rei reached up and placed one hand over the old man's, "No Grandpa, it lives in all of us."
He looked at her and at the fire that burned so warmly. "Well said, my wise, young priestess," he sighed, "and so very true."
Minako looked around the spacious apartment that was her living quarters. Everything was just as she remembered it, right down to the small bottle of lilac perfume she kept in the center of her dressing table.
A large sword of crystal was mounted in a clear case by the doors that led to the balcony. She stopped and with a touch opened the case. The sacred sword that protected the crown princess of the Moon Kingdom was light in her hand. It felt as if it were a part of her.
Returning the sword (technically it shouldn't be brought out until Small Lady would be born now that Usagi was Queen), she stepped out onto the balcony. The air was fragrant and Minako took a deep breath. She closed her eyes in sheer bliss. After living with people who never understood her, after years of never quite fitting in, Minako finally had a place where she belonged.
She was at long last, home.
Ami took a deep breath as the last of the medical supplies her mother had purloined were put away. The palace, thankfully, had well equipped medical facilities that were restored along with the rest of it. Some of the equipment was still a mystery to Ami, one that she could spend years trying to unravel. Her mother seemed to be thinking along the same lines, and gave a sigh as she tinkered with what looked like an x-ray machine.
"I'm sorry about all of this," Ami said before she could stop herself. "I'm sorry you have to..."
Dr. Mizuno looked surprised. "Sorry, for what? That I had to give up all the paperwork involved with my practice? That I no longer have to deal with the bureaucrats and bean counters that run the insurance companies? I'm not sorry, not in the least. Once your 'reborn children of the moon' start arriving, I'm going to do what I spent all those years in medical school training for. I'm going to be a healer to all those people. I'm going to make a difference in their lives and you are going to help me."
A smile broke out across Ami's face as she listened to her mother. The simple truth in her words touched the Senshi of Mercury's heart. "Really? I'm still just an undergrad student. I'm not truly qualified for…"
Dr. Mizuno went to her daughter, "You have a good head and an even better heart, Ami. You'll make a fine doctor." She raised a finger to shake at her stunned child. "Mind you, that doesn't excuse you from bookwork. You still have a lot to learn and I can be a very hard taskmaster."
Ami gave her a hug. "But the very best teacher I could ever ask for. I love you mom."
A kiss was placed on the top of Ami's hair, "I love you too, sweetness. Now let's go find that library you told me about and get those studies started."
It had been easy enough for Setsuna to give up her so-called life on earth. To be honest, she'd never been completely comfortable around "normal" humans. Setsuna knew she could be remote at times, but this that was how living alone for most of a thousand years had left her.
Part of the way she'd been able to stay sane was to shut off her emotions. It had so much easier not to constantly feel the horror of the loss that had been visited on her. Since Lorilei had come back into her life these past few years, Setsuna had ever so slowly started to open up again. Her twin was the other half of her soul. With Lorilei, Setsuna was at last whole once more.
But now Lorilei was leaving her.
Setsuna could understand all the reasons why it had to be so. Lorilei wasn't a Senshi. With the shard of the Silver Millennium still sleeping inside her, she could still pass as a base line human on the genetic tests that most governments were moving to implement.
Since Lorilei was a concert pianist, it gave her the perfect excuse to move from place to place. She would have the freedom to help find those citizens of the Moon Kingdom who were just now awakening. Lorilei was only doing her duty, just as Setsuna would have done in her place. So why didn't that sound piece of logic give her any comfort?
"Do you have the letter for the Tsukino's?" Setsuna asked to break the silence.
Lorilei gave a short nod. Her waist long green hair had been cut to her chin and dyed an inoffensive black. Brown contact lenses hid the magenta eyes and helped her to look like just another unremarkable face in the crowd.
"Right here," Lorilei patted her handbag, "and I memorized the names of the first four people on the contact list. Makoto wanted me to eat it if I was caught so I figured this way would easier on my stomach. Well, I guess I'm as ready as I'll ever be."
Time was now the enemy of the Keeper of the Timegate. In a moment Lorilei would be back on earth and Setsuna would be alone once again. The Senshi of Pluto said nothing, afraid of what would happen if she tried to speak. She merely gave a curt nod of acknowledgement.
Lorilei sensed the distress her twin hid so well. "The distance apart doesn't matter, you know. It's not like we can ever really be separated," she said when Setsuna didn't. She raised a hand, palm out. "We are two but we are one. We are…"
Setsuna brought her hand up to meet Lorilei's. "…Kayashan," she whispered the secret soul name they shared between them. Setsuna savored the peace it brought as she heard it echo in Lorilei's soul. The Senshi of Pluto laced her fingers through Lorilei's and pulled the two hands closed.
Lorilei gently broke away from her twin and stepped towards the portal of Setsuna's Gate that the Soldier of the Underworld opened. "Don't worry, I promise to be as careful as possible, Suna. And I'll be back to torture you with my music before you know it."
Setsuna watched as Lorilei disappeared into portal, closing the gate down as soon as she was sure that her twin was through. Setsuna took a moment to look at the blue planet rising above the horizon.
Taking up her staff, the Senshi of Pluto headed back to the palace and to her solitary duty.
On an incongruously sunny, mild day, they came together to mourn for Tsukino Usagi and Chiba Mamoru. It was intended to be a private ceremony for two who died such a very public death. The small group of grief stricken friends and relatives tried their best to ignore the throng of reporters that followed their every move. It wasn't easy.
There were no caskets to put in the graves that lay side by side. Nothing could found of either Usagi or Mamoru after the explosion. Ikuko has insisted that the simple markers be placed together in the cemetery and her husband had quietly agreed.
With their son between them, the two placed a single white, rose near the stone that read, "Tsukino Usagi – beloved daughter and sister. At rest with her Prince". Ikuko placed the second rose at Mamoru's stone, "Chiba Mamoru - at rest with his Princess". Behind them the flash cameras washed their grieving forms in a blue white light.
Tsukino Ikuko snapped. She jerked away from the supportive arms of her husband and turned to the reports. "My baby is gone because of all of you! Vultures - are you happy now," she shouted at them. "Is this going to give you the ratings you want? Did you make enough money off their deaths yet?!" She broke down into sobs that stopped her from speaking. Kenji and Shingo led her away towards the waiting car.
They barely noticed the woman with the chin length black hair who waited by the car. She handed an envelope to Shingo and whispered something to him that made him give a jerk of shock. Before he could question her, the young woman disappeared back into the crowd and out of sight.
The palace was simply too big for Makoto to be comfortable in it. Ever since her parents had died she'd lived by herself in a small two room flat. The Moon was a big place for the very few people who currently occupied it.
She wandered the empty halls listening to the echo of her footsteps until she couldn't stand it anymore. Finally coming upon a door, she thrust it open and went into a garden. The scent of green, growing things was comforting.
The gardens were as much of a maze as the palace itself and she went down one path after another. The sound of water lapping on a shore came to ears. Mako followed the sound and, as she emerged from a hedgerow, saw an inland sea. There was a single figure staring out over the waters. Makoto had a pretty good idea who that figure was.
Michiru watched as the distant, blue earth rose above the horizon. "Hello Mako-chan. This place draws people to it, ne? You're the second visitor in under an hour. Hotaru just left to find Setsuna."
"Is something wrong with Setsuna?" Mako asked.
The Senshi of Neptune gave a gentle, knowing smile. "Lorilei left for earth a little while ago. I thought perhaps Hotaru-chan could cheer her up a bit. And this will help to keep Hotaru's mind on something other than the lack of young men we are currently experiencing."
Makoto gave a grumble. She'd noticed the dearth of eligible males, too. Hopefully some of those reborn children of the moon would be single men. "Where's Haruka?"
"On patrol," Michiru replied. "She volunteered to take the outer perimeter today. Leaving earth is hard for her and this will give her some solitude to come to grips with what she's lost."
"No cars to race, no motorcycles, no motorized vehicles at all," Mako agreed. "But I'm sure Haruka can find something to keep herself busy. Maybe she'll build her own vehicle. Just think of all the records she can set here on the moon."
Michiru gave Mako a look of delighted surprise. "You know, you're right. I think I'll mention that fact when Haruka gets back. It just might be the lift her spirit needs."
The silent, blue planet rose above the sea of Serenity. Cloud formations danced in the upper atmosphere like veils. They parted every now and then to offer teasing glimpses of the landmass below. Usagi stood and watched as the clouds slowly parted to reveal the islands known as the nation of Japan – the place she'd always thought of as home.
They should have finished the "burial" services by now, she knew. Usagi could only hope that the letter she'd sent her family was explanation enough for them. Now that those in power thought that she and Mamoru were dead, her family and friends would be able to stay on earth safely. Their grief at her "death" was so genuine that people wouldn't think to question it.
Just thinking those words made her remember how shaky she was. God, she was so tired, so very tired. Usagi knew she'd been using the Ginzuishou too hard and much too frequently lately. It had drained her dry both physically and emotionally, left her with no reserves inside. Usagi was tapped out and frightened.
If she was forced to go into balance with the Ginzuishou again anytime soon, she wasn't sure that even Mamoru would be able to pull her back from losing herself in its deadly bliss. Tears of fear and exhaustion sprang up behind her eyes. All the new Queen of the Moon Kingdom really wanted to do was forget that the last few weeks had ever happened, even if only for a few hours.
Inside the room, Mamoru finished putting the small photograph on the nightstand by the bed. This was the only picture of his parents he had and the one thing he'd brought to the moon. Mamoru wished he could have known his parents better. He always hoped that they would be proud of all he done with his life.
An almost Doctor, a caped hero and now King, he thought. Not too shabby for a lonely orphan.
Usagi was still staring at the distant earth when Mamoru came to join her. He slipped his arms around her shoulders and she sighed, leaning back into him.
"You're so quiet Usako," he said. "This isn't like you."
Usagi shook her head, "Haven't you heard? Tsukino Usagi is dead. She died in an explosion."
Usagi moved away from the shelter of Mamoru's arms to lean on the railing of the balcony. Her back was to him so he wouldn't see the tears that threatened. "It's so strange. I never really got used to being Serenity, the Moon Princess who died a thousand years ago. And now…" she paused, exhaustion making her voice rough, "Now, I'm Serenity, Queen of the Silver Millennium and it's Tsukino Usagi who is dead and buried. I'm not sure who I am anymore."
"What's in a name? A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet," Mamoru said, quoting Shakespeare. With a flick of a wrist he produced a white rose and coming up behind her, stroked the side of her neck with its silky petals. "Whatever you call yourself, you're still the same woman I've always loved. Maybe Tsukino Usagi is hiding right now, but she's far from dead."
"What if she doesn't want to come out of hiding?"
"She'll come back." He turned her around and gathered her in his arms. "I have faith in my Usako. You see, I'm hopelessly in love with her." He leaned down to kiss her, "And I'll wait as long as it takes for her to come back to me."
Usagi slipped her arms up his back and pulled him close as they shared a deep kiss. When at last their lips parted she gave him a small smile. "I also seem to remember that you promised to show her just how 'shameless' you can be."
There was a wicked light in Mamoru's midnight blue eyes. He swept Usagi up into his arms. "So I did. Will you help me find my Usako, so I can keep that promise?"
"Perhaps that could be arranged." The door closed behind them, shutting out the world as Mamoru carried Usagi into their bedroom. It seemed she'd be able to forget about her troubles for at least a few hours after all.
Haruka, Sailor Uranus, had watched the small, toaster sized machine for the last hour. It rolled across the renewed lunar landscape with very only minor problems. The tires on the tiny rover had not been designed to take into account the presence of vegetation and kept getting fouled. Obviously this project had been put together much too quickly. This development wasn't unexpected though, at least not to her.
Miserable cretins, she thought, they chase us from earth then hound us here, too.
A camera on the machine whined as it came to life. A small red light flickered on to show that it was now recording. This was what Haruka had been waiting for. She called on her talisman and walked directly in front of the camera's field of vision. Uranus wanted to make quite sure what she was about to do could be clearly seen.
The mission room in the Kennedy Space Center had been ruled off limits to all but a few people. The rover that the CIA had sent up was supposed to send back pictures and data on air samples from the moon. The long dead moon was once again viable, and the United States was going to be a first to stake a claim to the verdant lands there.
The grainy black and white pictures from the camera flickered on a large screen that dominated one wall. The silence in the room was absolute. The scientists present were stunned by the variety of life they saw. The CIA operatives were by nature and training, taciturn in the extreme.
A tall, athletic woman with short, sandy hair and dressed in a sailor fuku suddenly dominated the picture. She held a glowing sword in one hand. When she opened her mouth to speak, and her words were clearly audible to everyone present.
"By order of the rightful Monarchs of the Silver Millennium, trespassing by the Governments of Earth upon the sovereign territory of the Moon Kingdom will not be tolerated." Uranus raised her sword, and it pulsed, reflecting her anger.
Those in the control room saw a flash of light as Uranus ran her space sword through the small machine. The picture immediately scrambled to snow then stopped. The last transmission from the moon was of Haruka's voice. It summed everything up quite succinctly.
Author's Notes: Let's see if everyone has been paying attention. Our heroes are in exile from Earth. Usagi is near physical and emotional collapse. Various powerful people have designs on the land that is the Moon Kingdom, an uncounted number of people are about to awaken to the fact that they are not of this world – and this is the last chapter of this part of the story. Does everyone hate me now, or what?
This may be the last chapter in "Fatal Exposure", but not the end of the story. "Fatal Exposure" is only the first of three books that will detail the fall of earth into the great frozen sleep, and the rise of Crystal Tokyo.
I know some of you aren't happy where I ended book one, but I promise the greater story will continue soon. In the mean time keep cool, have fun and always remember that objects in the mirror are closer than appear.
Onward to the future!